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Thursday, June 13, 2013

All in Wives* (Bharyallone Undi)

Original in Telugu By -  Tripuraneni Gopichand
Translated by - GRKMurty

Tayaramma sat crying. What else can an Indian woman do? In the past, a woman would have, tying a cloth around her head tightly, wept while tears flowed in streams. But now, sitting in a corner of the room, she sobs interminably. Nonetheless, it’s one kind of weeping or another. Weeping all through her life, while leaving, she would cast a little senseless smile. “A woman of great chastity! What a holy death she died!”—the women around would mutter in chorus, longing for such an end for themselves. Men will write books about its glory. They will describe the place from where a teardrop wells up to the place where it ultimately drops. They will also describe how the teardrop, having dropped, graciously sprinkles and evaporates. How can a woman who has grown up under such circumstances surmount the hurdles? Unable to counter them, she will cry and cry and finally end up as a pativrata1. That is how India is moving.
Of course, what I am writing now is not about India or about pativratyam2.
I was saying that Tayaramma was crying. Now, I say it is no fault of hers; what else can she do? Relying solely on her husband, she has surrendered herself to him. But now, she has become redundant for him. It would have been all right if it was because of her harming him someway, doing wrong, or insulting him. But it’s nothing of that sort.
The obesity that began a year back persisted, though not to her liking. She knew that with the extra weight she would look awkward. She tried her best to become slim. She took medicines. She stopped eating food, she lived on fruit juice, and with that heavy body—muttering one, two, one–one, two—she even did exercises. Whatever she did appeared to work for a few days, but then she puffed up again in no time. After all, will the body, being what it is, remain static? For just this, should it be troubled so much?
In the beginning, Tayaramma’s husband was quite affectionate. Like her long plait, her shadow, he used to hang around her all the time. One day, he said, “Tayaramma, this name is no good for you. We shall change it.”
“It’s OK! Isn’t it?”
“No, listen to me.”
She too felt like changing her name, but the question was which name would suit her.
“Pushpavathi,” said he.
Chi3, so bad,” she said because it reminded her of the description of a girl married at the break of puberty.
He suggested another name.
“Raja Rajeswari.”
Since it reminded her of Goddess Kanyakaparameswary—the popular idol associated with the trading community—the tall buildings that merchants build, their account sheets, their gunny bags filled with paddy—all of them passed before her eyes. She didn’t agree.
“Then, you suggest a name,” said he. “Nothing else strikes me.” Nothing struck her, either. The next day, she suggested the name, “Mythili.” It reminded him of mithuna4 constellation. Playing on the word, he joked: “Mithuna”—the couple, “karkatakam”5—the crab.
Embarrassed, she never raised the issue again. One fine morning, he himself announced his proposal calling her—
What a difference between those days and these days of her obesity? Nowadays, he has stopped taking her out for a stroll. And if he did, he took her for a late-night movie only after dark and then returned from there straight back home. If another woman could accompany them, he would also take her to the park, for it gave him confidence that the onlookers would not be able to decide who his wife was. The moment he saw her, he would put up a disgusted face. In the evenings, after tucking flowers in her neatly plaited hair, Tayaramma appears with an adorned face. After looking at her as though measuring her body or staring at a cylinder, he walks away.
How then, can Tayaramma stay in that house?
Why should she? In addition, she is a chaste woman—she thinks, “Anyway I have no happiness, why trouble him?” She immediately starts for her father’s place. With great difficulty, she somehow brings her heavy body to the bus station.
Buses are coming. People are alighting, and people are boarding.
Looking at the stream of people, she feels sad. Suddenly, she feels disgusted. In this dirty world, nobody bothers about anybody! Where to these journeys? Why this hurry? Are heavens falling? She then feels that she has no relationship with mankind. With whom then? With that bus? Her body trembles. In the meantime, a bus starts making a big noise. She can no longer stay there. She thinks about sitting a little distance from there until the bus that will take her to her father’s place arrives.
About twenty yards away, there sits a girl. With her luggage on one side, she sits leaning against a tree. Tayaramma walks toward her. She sees the girl, and her heart beats faster. How slim she is! How pretty—slim like an arrow, sharp like a knife, like the string of a bow. Her profile looks like a slicedhalva6. The more Tayaramma looks at that girl, the heavier her body becomes. Her heart stiffens. Supporting herself by first placing her hand on the ground, she sits down slowly. She feels like asking how she maintains such a slim and beautiful body. But how to ask? What to call her? Nothing strikes her. After a while she says, “Leaves are falling.”
“Yes?” she asks, turning toward Tayaramma. As she turns, her eyes rivet on her. Staring at Tayaramma in surprise, she cannot turn her eyes away.
Tayaramma’s body simmers. The girl is still staring at her. Realizing that she must say something, Tayaramma says, “There are more people in this village than the leaves that have fallen.”
The girl doesn’t reply. She is still looking at her pathetically, longingly. Is she measuring her body as her husband does? Feeling that she must divert her stare, Tayaramma says, “Dried leaves make crunching sound.”
“Yes,” says the girl.
“Only when stamped on.”
“Without stamping, too.”
How sweet the girl’s voice is! As her lips move, ambrosia drips. As she speaks, her voice sounds as though it’s coming from a deep well. It’s like the sound of water drops simmering in boiling oil. Thinking about the shrill voice coming from her bulky body, Tayaramma’s mind is agitated. Come what may, she decides to ask her. She must ask how the girl cultivated all these good things. Drawing in the sand with a twig and looking at her, she asks—
“That, what?”
Their conversation could not proceed further. Two buses arrive noisily and stop. Another bus starts with a roaring sound. For reasons not known, with the sound of that bus, Tayaramma becomes bold—”Bloody racket!”
“Yes,” says the girl, who isn’t even blinking.
The girl is still looking at Tayaramma longingly. Tayaramma feels terribly shy. She thinks of the washroom. People are either boarding buses or alighting from them. Are these buses transporting people from this world to another world? How nice it would be to travel like that without alighting anywhere! Only the carts of crippled people roam like that. For them, it is their home—their world as well.
“To which village are they going?”
“Who knows?”
Tayaramma becomes more courageous—”Which is your village?”
“Where to!”
“Father’s place,” she says sadly.
“Why is it that even a slim and smart girl has to go to her father’s place,” Tayaramma wonders.
A bus starts. An old woman arrives, staggering with two packages. The bus conductors start pulling her, asking her to board their bus, each holding one of her hands. Each of them takes a package and sits in his respective bus. Looking this way and that, the old woman stands, puzzled. Tayaramma says to the girl, “You are so thin.”
“Lean, you mean?”
She doesn’t say anything.
“How do you manage that?”
“My fate.”
The mist clears. Tayaramma stares at her.
“My husband doesn’t like my being lean.”
 “Doesn’t like?”
“Because, he thinks I’m too lean!” Tears well up and flow down her cheeks.
Tayaramma’s body shakes. She feels energized afresh. Her heart grieves. What’s this? Pain. Unknown enthusiasm. Incomprehensible anxiety disturbs her. An anxiety that is incomprehensible to some has shaken her wildly. Some don’t like one who’s lean? Among husbands, again, are there so many classes? A wife must mold herself according to the class that her husband belongs to! Doesn’t a wife have a different life? Has she to simply enmesh herself with whatever the husband’s life is? Why don’t husbands do that? Forgetting about the girl sitting by her side, Tayaramma falls into a deep contemplation.
“Won’t you please tell me one thing?” asks the girl, wiping her tears and leaning forward eagerly.
But Tayaramma doesn’t listen. She is not in a listening mood. In front of her, a wife and husband are coming toward the bus. The husband is walking as though unconcerned about the entity following him. But the entity following him, with a package under her arm and her eyes fixed on her husband, is hurrying to catch up with him.
Meanwhile, the girl asks miserably, “Won’t you please tell me how you have become that stout?”
The girl is no longer visible to Tayaramma. Her words are not audible. Another husband boards the bus. Holding a baby in her arms, the wife attempts to board the bus. The baby is slipping from her arms. Unable to board the bus and consumed by embarrassment, she looks at her husband miserably. The husband, looking at her angrily, swiftly turns his head away. The baby cries. “A new nuisance,” mutters the conductor. The husband boils within but does not turn his face. He holds himself back firmly, anxious not to let others know that she is his wife.
Tayaramma reflects over this. Is every husband like this? Is my husband one among these many varieties of husbands? Scenes, like those in movies, appear to have hit her on the face:
Scene I
Neighbor Subbayya always tortures his wife for not bearing a child—”Go, jump into anything to die, and the annoyance will end.” The poor lady cries inconsolably. The next day, Subbayya brings another wife.
Scene II
Venkayya appears. Accusing his wife of giving birth to more children than what he wanted to have, he drives her out. She commits suicide—that too, by sprinkling kerosene all over and setting fire to herself.
Thinking of them, Tayaramma’s body trembles wildly. Are wives responsible for everything? Why should it happen like this? Whose fault is it? Is it of the wives who follow their husbands’ orders without questioning? Why should I become lean? Why shouldn’t my husband become stout like me?
Suddenly, she realizes that her husband, thin with sunken cheeks, looks awkward. He must become stout. I will ask him to become stout.
The girl asks, “Won’t you please tell me? Won’t you save my family life?”
Without listening to her, Tayaramma starts for her home. Her stout body becomes a feather. Not knowing where her weight has gone, she goes home swiftly. In the house, her husband is busy in the kitchen. A kitchen knife lies in one corner. Sliced lady’s fingers are in the plate. Something is cooking on the hearth. Seeing his troubles, she takes pity on him. Her anger evaporates. All the questions that she wanted to ask have evaporated. She stands, staring.
He brings masigudda7. He attempts to remove the vessel from the fire with the masigudda, which slips to one side. His hand holds the other side of the vessel. It burns; shrieking “Ush!” he puts his finger in his mouth.
Tayaramma’s heart pounds. Men are all children; they behave differently but all are innocent. The slavery—”motherhood” in the word of littérateurs—that has become the very existence of women in all ages at once surfaces. Her tears overflow—”Why… are you taking this trouble?”
He raises his head and looks. Tayaramma appears, covering the whole doorway. Indignation engulfs him. Removing his finger from the mouth, he attempts to remove the vessel from the fire again. Pulling his hand from it, Tayaramma says, “Enough is enough; go and take bath. I shall finish the cooking by the time you finish bathing.”
Furiously, he says, “Where the hell did you die until now? Roaming around whose houses?” Raging and yelling madly at her, he again puts his finger in his mouth.
Seeing his anger, she feels happy. His anger has given her enslaved heart joy. Being ruffled for a while, just for a while, by newer ideas, her mind, which had boiled in them and become restless, at last acquired peace.
“So what next?” she asks, looking at him with a smile.
Feeling disgusted, he walks away briskly. Remembering something, he stops at the door, looks back. Tayaramma, fully contented, like Bhudevi8, sits before the hearth, bending forward to blow into it.
Murmuring, “Chi, how rock-like she sits,” and cursing himself, he walks out.
*   *  *  *


1    Pativrata—a chaste woman.

2    Pativratyam—chastity.

3    Chi—a sound uttered to show aversion.

4    Mithuna—one of the twelve signs of zodiac—Gemini; also, couple.

5    Karkatakam—one of the twelve signs of zodiac—Cancer; also crab.

6    Halva—a sweetmeat made out of milk, pretty soft to touch.

7    Masigudda—a rag used as a mitten to handle hot vessels.

8.   Bhudevi—Goddess Earth; a symbol of patience.

*First published in South Asian Review, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 74-81, 2009. I am thankful to them


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