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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sashtipoorthi (60th Birthday Celebration )

Original in Telugu by Dr. GV Krishnarao

What will sanatanalu[1] say if they hear this? “‘Cause there is neither God nor the feeling of God amongst us”, they would argue, “Life appears insipid and meaningless and hence, people are committing suicide”. Labeling it as awful, they would all seriously attempt to propagate religion.

What will socialists say?

“This disease is purely that of the rotten imperialists. Terming it as the right time to revolt”, they would fan socialist revolution.

Except for a stalemate, there would be no change in people’s life by the propaganda of these two sects. That being the truth, what benefit will flow out of my suicide?

Should I therefore give it up? Stomaching all these abuses, not knowing what pleasure, beauty, joy mean, and living without even once getting a chance to find a place in a newspaper … would mean living a futile life with no purpose! Being lucky, she [wife] had gone to her heavenly abode without seeing all this.  

What for should I live? Even if I die, the Sun will rise in the east …as usual. And, will set in the west. For my naughty chitti[2], even if my bushy mustaches are not there, she would anyway have my kirru cheppulu[3] to play with. Her sister is anyway there to carry her piggyback all around. And, of course, my daughter-in-law will have a respite from bringing me the fire to light my cigar in the noon. 

So if I die, all that it can grant is only relief to my daughter-in-law from the labor of bringing fire for lighting my cigar! Ho! … forgotten. How about the expenses of funeral rights? Poor son … already struggling a lot to manage the family alright. If I die now, he may scold me left and right: “Should he die now? Why such great hurry! Eating merrily, should have stayed back? Oh, what a double whammy!”   

Instead, suppose I go to jail by resorting to hunger strike! That would fetch fame too, besides satiating the pent up fury against the society. This struggle too vanishes. Well! It sounds alright. But what if, as Roy said, it is not in anyway useful to the nation? What if fascism sets in because of the hunger strike? Oh! That’s more horrible.

Thought over it. Sensing that the cigar had died down, flinging it away, he spat out.

In his prime, he let his power rule the roost. Everyone in the home, including the children, would sit if he said sit, stand if he said stand. They would even piss. Right from the menu for dinner, everything happened as he wished for. While he lived like an emperor, his wife and son remained like two colonial neighbors. But things have changed in the last ten years. He had only one son. Six years after the marriage, his daughter-in-law came to live with her husband. Since then his power had steadily slipped. It could not be swallowed. Felt like separating from his son. But he is the only son! What would people think if he separated from him? With terrific anguish, he had cursed the Hindu society. Praised the Western civilization. That’s why it is ruling Bharatdesam[4], said he.

There is yet another secret. Seshaiah, who underwent a little English education, would have— defying the society—even separated from his son, but there remained nothing of inherited property. They might have, at the most, got a vessel and a rope to divide between the two. Nor did he have energy in this old age to earn. Whatever property he had inherited, and whatever he could earn, he had expended all that on his son’s education and for securing him employment. Of course, it was all for his own satisfaction.

Day-by-day his life at home—his son’s home—is becoming difficult. It’s OK even if his dictum makes no sense. But even his advice is no longer required by anyone. As long as his wife was alive, though never bothered to take his nod for the menu, she had at least fed him on time. Being angry, if he had ever turned down food, she used to coax him towards food. What now? If once, saying no to food, he lies down, nobody is bothered to enquire again. No more vacillation, for there is none to coax.

Wondering if by virtue of old age and the resultant irritability life might be appearing thus, Seshaiah thought over the whole matter afresh. His son might truly wish that he should live for long? However, to verify it, one day, while taking dinner along with his son, he said: “Elders are all kicking the bucket. My turn also may come soon.” Neither the son nor the daughter-in-law said, “Ayyo! Ayyo![5] Why do you say that? We all rely on you heavily.” None of them uttered any such pleadings even just to please him momentarily. Nor did they laugh at it even. So, it became clear that whether he is alive or dead, it is one and the same for them.

What if I don’t live this life that matters to none? His heart was in his throat. Felt like scribbling a few verses. He searched for papers. Had seen a sheaf of papers on one corner of his son’s table. Didn’t feel like touching them. What right he had to touch the papers that his son had earned? Pulling back the hand that stretched out to get the paper, he looked at the wastepaper basket. All are shredded papers. How good they are! Shouldn’t he be blessed with one piece! After searching for a while, he could lay hands on a white roll. Unfurling, he straightened it. His labor had fructified. It is a quarter sheet. Written only on one side.

Carrying it away with great pleasure, he drifted into his musing. Scribbling something in shining letters, he, pulling his hair in between, sat there thinking. His younger granddaughter came. Standing behind, she said, “Your white hair looks beautiful. Why don’t you comb it? Should I comb? You will look beautiful. I will make one jada[6] in front and one at the back. OK?” Seshaiah, who was deeply engrossed in his thoughts, nodded his head. She then ran to her mother and pestering her a lot, fetched a comb. Returning with it, she combed his hair and made two plaits for tatayya[7], just as she had. Turning his head this and that side, she started jumping around saying, “Oh! Nice. How beautiful they are!” Seshaiah, who was submerged in his musings, chided the child saying, “Get away! You naughty child!” She jumped away from there. Thinking hard for the right rhyme in the verse, Seshaiah scratched his head. Something had struck to his hand. Looking at it searchingly and saying, “Oh! Naughty, when did you do this, not one, two plaits”, he undoing them, fell back into his writing again. Pencil is moving fast on the paper. Having felt like sniffing snuff, he searched in his lap. It was not there. Thinking that he might have placed it aside, he searched around. It was not there. Deciding that the granddaughter might have taken it away, for she had laughed while going away, he went into the kitchen and asked the child who was sitting beside her mother, “Come on, where is my snuff bottle.” “What do I know?” said the girl.

“I know, you are laughing, come on, give it.” “Truly tatayya, I have not taken it! How do I know about it!” said the child. Irritated for reasons best known to her, her mother spanked the child thrice on the back.

Seshaiah’s heart lurched. Turning away from there with a jerk, he came back and dumped himself on the sofa. What is all this, if not anger against him? Why should he live! Would daughter-in-law behave thus if he had been living on his own earnings in his own house? Instead of getting humiliated thus, it’s better to die. Come what may, must die he.

That night Seshaiah finished his dinner earlier than usual. Set right all his belongings. After all have slept, he brought a rope and a stool to hang himself. For reasons unknown, he then remembered his son. It struck him that if he died by hanging himself, his son would come into trouble. If so, what should he do? He slipped into thinking. Finally, he decided to write a letter and then die.

He then remembered his younger granddaughter. Thinking that I killed myself because of her, they might spank her black and blue. For that matter, could she live for a minute without seeing tatayya? With whom will she play hereafter? Whom will she tease henceforth? Missing me badly, she might become sick.

That cute face that laughs and chatters all the time … if it droops … it became unbearable for Seshaiah. Though he felt like dying because of his anger against daughter-in-law, he couldn’t but live for the sake of the child. Without making noise, placing the rope and stool at their respective places, he slept.

One evening, the younger granddaughter said: “Tatoi! Akka’s[8] marriage.”

“Who said!”

“None other than amma[9]”.

“Oh! As if you are the great lady, she muttered in your ear.”

Saying, “Lest why should she promise to get four silk gowns stitched for me,” she hugged tatayya’s neck.

“Oh! You sound too pretty … as though wanting to become a bride much before your akka.


“Ok! Four gowns for you, what then for me!”

“Silver snuff-container.”

Having already immersed in his own thought, he didn’t hear her. After a while, he enquired: “How many days are left for the marriage?”

“Ten days. They are cooking aresalu[10]. I shall get one for me”; saying “will not give you”, she ran away.

“Shouldn’t they keep me informed of it? Became that irrelevant! What kind of alliance it might be? Who knows! Doesn’t matter, if it’s not even as per my wish, at least for the sake of informing me, shouldn’t they ask for my opinion? True, who am I? Am I their benefactor? Nurturer? Why should they tell me? After all, I am not entitled to know what even the child knew.”

Chi, meaningless life! What if, instead of living as an outsider to everyone, I die; which god will cry? I have become an unbearable burden. Instead of stomaching this insult, if I close my nose, it will not take even three minutes …” 

After everyone had slept, Seshaiah came out in the midnight. With a strong determination to die, he set out, but with a shaft in hand. Otherwise, will he not fall on the way itself?

Walking along, he fell into a thought.

Must die. Why to live any longer? What for? Performed what a man is basically supposed to do. If I die now, the child’s marriage might get postponed? Poor girl, she will curse him, cry at it. His son might say: “If he had to die, shouldn’t the wretched fellow wait for these fifteen days to elapse?”

The stride has slowed down a little. He fell into a deep thought.

Every time it is getting deferred like this … If not this solemn day, they will fix up another auspicious time, after all, will the marriage stop? … This is the only well for the whole village; if I die jumping into this, they might all reprehend me for making the water unfit for their drinking. It doesn’t sound nice to get cursed by them even while dying. Instead of doing good to the villagers, my death will cause a great harm to them.

Seshaiah stayed back.

Suddenly he remembered: What will happen to the poetry—“mudijodu[11]”—that I have been writing? Without finishing, without delivering it to the society, would it be alright to die? Must finish it, must get it published! At least with this book, the society might celebrate my 60th birthday. In the meanwhile, the child’s marriage will also be over. Thereafter can die leisurely.

Seshaiah turned towards home.

Yes! It’s not one, two, when there are four roaring reasons, how Seshaiah could commit suicide!

[1] Sanatanalu—Hindus believing in Vedic philosophy
[2] Chitti—pet name for a girl child.
[3] Kirru cheppulu—leather sandals of yesteryears that are known to make ‘kirr’ ‘kirr’ sound as one walks; obviously excites kids to play with.
[4] Bharatadesam—India.
[5] Ayyo! Ayyo!—an exclamation when something goes wrong.
[6] Jada—hair plaited or braided in coils, matted hair.
[7] Tatayya—grandfather.
[8] Akka—elder sister.
[9] Amma—mother.
[10] Aresalu—a sweet dish made from the mixture of rice flour and jaggery fried in ghee.
[11] Mudijodu—proposed caption of the poetry book.


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