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Original in Telugu – Dr. G V Krishnarao Translator - GRK Murty
About the Author
Dr. G V Krishna Rao (1914-1979) belonged to Tenali, Andhra Pradesh, India. He has written four novels in Telugu, a volume of playlets, a couple of plays, a collection of short stories, and a critical survey of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna’s 'Vigrahavyavartani' (The End of Discussions). He has also translated Plato and Kant into Telugu. His writings give us a true reflection of his personality—“curious, humble, rationalistic, humane, and true to life.” His playlet—'Bikshapatra' (Begging Bowl)—was proclaimed a ‘National Play’ and was translated into sixteen Indian languages and broadcasted through All India Radio. His last play—'Bomma yedchindi' (The Doll Wept)—portrays “a clash and crash of ideas and ideals” rather than personalities, which “leaves the audience in a subdued mood of sorrow.” 'Keelubommalu' (Puppets), his maiden work, has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding novels in Telugu because of its ‘unity of effect’, achieved in portraying man as a mechanical doll—a doll driven more by “circumstances and animalism.” In yet another novel, 'Papikondalu' (Papi Hills), he advocates that ‘natural truth’ is better than ‘didacticism.’
As the Tenali station was nearing, her elation mounted. Looking at her state of mind, she felt surprised. Where had been all this longing when she was in jail? This nostalgia for the native village … this longing to see the kith and kin … to which country have they emigrated? Looking at all that anxiousness, she felt amused. Didn’t she curse her village innumerable times! Didn’t she often damn it saying it wouldn’t burn out even when set fire to in the midday?
Why this intense affection for such a town? Why so much love today for a brother who would always scold her for nothing and a father who would always frown upon her for one reason or the other? Father belongs to yesteryears. How does he know the modern trends and traditions? As one advances in age, it’s natural to behave irritatingly. Besides, father is suffering from asthma. Must be suffering a lot! Might have weakened terribly! Could he remain without ever thinking about her? Might have worried a lot about me! My absence might have made him bedridden. Brother is after all still young. In the attendant immaturity, might have uttered something. Am I to feel bad about it? By the bye, when I came out, sister-in-law was carrying. When was it? September … two years have elapsed. Male-child or female-child! Might be a male-child. Yes, a boy. One year three months. Which means, he must be walking now. Might already be smattering, “Amma … Atta …” When I enter home,
he might, as well, come to me smattering “atta ... atta”! Crazy! Has he ever seen my face? Have I ever taken him onto my lap? How would he come to me? Seeing me, he might cry, or hiding behind his mother, might fling a glance at me… If, on the other hand, a girl-child…
All the earlier thoughts have become something like bombed houses. She frowned … Stream of thoughts started again. How could one say that the child is not a girl but a boy? At least, brother should have written a postcard. How could he? How could they know where I was? Didn’t anybody tell them? Hadn’t news papers written about me? After all they keep publishing so many names daily! Smt. Usha is arrested – Rigorous imprisonment for two years For following Mahatma’s independence message! Everyone might have heard when Chenchayya was reading in the library. Couldn’t they see my name? Even if they had seen, how were they to know in which jail I was? That’s why annayya hadn’t written
any letter. Had it been known, I am sure, father would not have kept quiet. He might have got a word or two written by somebody or other and posted the card to me. Is annayya blessed with a boy or a girl? Looking at our family heredity, the first offspring must be a male-child. And the heredity of annayya’s mother-in-law’s side too is same! Why should she so strongly believe that the child is a boy? Couldn’t she get a bridegroom for the girl she is going to give birth to?
Her heart quavered at this thought. It’s where her life … was axed. Her husband had abandoned her, for he didn’t get the dowry that was promised at the time of marriage. That being the reality, she felt absurd about her thinking that her brother must have been blessed with a male-child. If annayya was blessed with a male-child, he would not suffer the fate that she had faced! It’s always better to be born as a tree in the forest than as a female! Usha could not refrain from thinking about herself and her marital life. What her husband will say now, what the villagers will say? Returning from the jail, as she got down at the station, she expected people to garland her. They might even give a welcome address. There was a women’s society, a youth society; a Harijan society might have also been formed by now. Will they keep quiet without giving her a welcome? Is there a nation that will not honor its patriots who, sacrificing their lives, have gone to jail? No race having self-respect will ever fail to honor its patriots. Certainly they would honor. If not looking at this lady of darkcomplexion, but looking at the patriotism that is popping up from that dark skin, and the respect it has for Gandhiji, the society will certainly respect her.
What then will her husband think of her? Will he shrug off the wife whom the people so affectionately revere? What will people think if he shrugs off? Won’t they accuse? It’s because of your previous birth’s gift that she became your wife. Else, would she have become the wife of a fellow like you? When people tease him with comments—“No way are you a match for her”—who could stand against it? He can’t but come to take her back with him. What then, is she to go with him? How can a lady live with a man who tortured her for so many years? She will not go to live with him. What will people think if she doesn’t go? Doesn’t matter what people will think of her. What will happen to the movement? How will they treat Gandhi Mahatma’s message? Will they accuse the message of the jewel among mankind with petty interpretations? Doesn’t matter what happens to her life; even if thousands like her perish, the movement must continue. Yes, the message of Gandhiji must be transmitted to every nook and corner of the country, be passed on to every living being. How would it be possible if one gets entangled with family-life? It’s due to lack of such sacrifice among the people that ignorance, poverty and narrowmindedness are ruling the roost. Why to get shackled with these new
bondages today? To follow Gandhiji’s command is the only path for her; will the world deny it? Oh Father! you have shown me the way. Preached the way to salvation. I will not give away the nectar of your message. What would have happened to this poor creature had your message been not there? There would have been no way forward. You have put life into me, Father! Silently, Usha offered salutations to Gandhiji. Eyes swelled with gratitude. The train came to a halt. On the long platform, electric bulbs in the dark domes were caressing the darkness just as the government employees cajoled the capitalist class of the society. ‘Tenali, Tenali’s special pan, soda, biscuits’ were ringing loud in the ears … like slogans. The second phase started with the alighting and boarding of passengers. Usha stood up with her khadibag. Jostling her, this side and that side, the crowd had ultimately lodged her onto the platform. All around, sea of people. Usha looked around observantly. People with garlands… The crowd had carried her to the gate… She reached the little vacant space around the iron grill that stood left to the main gate. Usha could
see none there to welcome her with garlands. She could, of course, see an old flower-vendor on the platform with wilted chrysanthemum, jasmine and rose flowers. Even then it didn’t strike her mind that felicitations and welcome addresses were available for sale only. In the meanwhile, all those passengers who alighted had gone. Of course, the train had left long before. Hardly, there were twenty to thirty people on that long platform. Usha laughed at her anticipation. Who could welcome her in the middle of night? Might not know of her release even. Newspapers might not have published. Papers do publish all sundry happenings in any corner of the world—even the news of a bedbug giving birth to ten piglets will be published with all the spice. Will they not publish about her release? Might have … but then how were they to know by which train and on what date she would be arriving in Tenali. Once they came to know that she had arrived, they would conduct the meeting and invite her to speak. Didn’t they do so for Buttchayya garu? At that time no one went to the station. The next day, they conducted a meeting and garlanded him. Giving away the ticket, Usha came out. Could see nothing in that pitch darkness. Except for three to four bullock-carts and two rickshaws, there was nothing else.
“Need a cart, amma?” asked the old man on the cart. Usha felt like hiring a cart. But she immediately remembered the money that was with her and also the message of Gandhiji. Didn’t Mahatma say that one should lead a simple life? With two strides, she could reach her village. Pushing herself forward, she took the road to Nandivelugu. As her village was nearing, her legs started trembling. Her thoughts wavered this side and that! Can she reach home? What will father and brother say? What will happen to her? Her whole body sweated. Could not step forward. Is she destined to lead a miserable life again? Is she to listen to her brother’s abuses and suffer silently sister-in-law’s taunts? Is she to stay in the maternal home like a destitute? She is no longer the Usha of yesteryears—suffered two years of imprisonment for participating in the Nonviolence Movement. Who will not treat her honorably when the whole world is honoring her for participating in the Nonviolence Movement and undergoing two years of imprisonment? What would anyone say to a person who volunteered to work for the country? As she was ruminating thus, her feet dragged her to the village. There were none either at
the kacheri or under the neem tree. The morning-stars are straight above the head. She went to her maternal home—her brother’s house. Whom to call? Annayya will be in deep sleep inside his room. Why to wake him up and spoil his sleep? Father will be sleeping in the eastern part of the house. He would not be in deep sleep. Will respond the moment I call him. Shall call Nannaonly. “Nanna Nanna!” Knocked on the door. Called again and knocked on the door. More than her calling, it was her knocking on the door that sounded louder. There was noise as though someone had got up. Who could it be? The foot sound is not her father’s. “Who is that?” “Me” “Me, Who me?” “It’s me, annayya” Coming with a lamp in one hand, setting right his dhoti with the other hand, annayya, opening the door, was shocked to see her. With the lamp in hand, he stood there as a wooden post.
“It’s me annayya” … Usha dropped her head. His throat was parched … could not mutter a single word. Both stood perplexed for a while. “Get in. Why the hell should you stand at the entrance?” She came in. “Did anyone see you coming?” It made Usha fear more. What is there to lose if someone has seen her? Yet her heart trembled. Usha stood against the bench on which gunny-bags were stacked. Keeping the lamp on the floor carefully, annayya, hurriedly going to his father’s bed, rocked him. Moaning, the old man, perhaps just then might have winked, turned to the other side. Usha stood there staring blankly. “Nanna, Nanna!” he stoked father intensely. The old man got up with a jerk. “What?” “Has come, she has come!” “Who?”
“She, that devil” The old man looked at her tremblingly, but could not recognize immediately. “’She’ who?” “Who else – your daughter.” “My daughter?” Everything became clear to the old man. “My daughter? Do I have a daughter? She died two years back. I have thrown her out then itself. With these hands, consigned her to fire. Where then is my daughter?” Usha cried at once. “Nanna! Nanna!” “Chi, Shut your mouth. Am I your father? Who said? Every villager knows. My daughter died two years back. If you want, can enquire with the priest if I am performing the annual rites? If you were my daughter, should have been with husband, or with me.” Saying, “What wrong did I do, Nanna?” Usha suddenly rushed to her father and circled his legs with her hands. “Chi, stay away, who are you? My daughter was good – would fetch lots of honor to her father … elevate the prestige of her clan. Could a fallen woman be my daughter? Who says? I will throttle whoever says that.
My daughter died long back. Making this old man a destitute, she left. Hoped she would nurse me in this old age, but went away. Gone way beyond. Poor kid! Are you my daughter! Do you think the old man has lost his senses? No. Get lost; my daughter makes her presence in my dreams daily.” Tears rolled down from the old man’s eyes. Usha sobbed loudly. “Chi, shut your mouth, neighbors will hear,” growled out her brother. Waking up at that sound, her sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s brother, Raghu, hurriedly came out enquiring anxiously, “What happened?” “What’s there? The debased woman has returned home lest we should live in honor”, said anna. Usha could not restrain herself. What wrong has she done? How could she live with her sister-in-law if he speaks so cheaply of her? Seeing her sister-in-law, Usha could not contain her anger. “Annayya! Speak decently! Otherwise…” “Ah! Why this anger? What happened to this pride and honor while leading a wayward life? “Talk like a man of sense.” “How dare you? Besides returning, scowling at us, you?”
“I told you already… Beware, if you repeat…” “Living with whom for these two years, have you returned? You should not stay in my house even for a minute. Get out! Why still standing?” “I haven’t come to your house. I’ve come to my father’s home. Say that if I come to your house. In our struggle for independence, I, for removing rails from the railway track, went to jail. Is it a wrong deed? Is it stealing? Is it debauchery? It is in response to the call given by Mahatma Gandhi that I went to jail. Putting bangles on your hands you stayed at home like a destitute woman. It’s because of worthless creatures like you, women had to come out.” Choked by anger, anna remained quiet. Frowning at that, Raghu wished how nice it would have been, had a CID been around. “Gandhiji never gave such a message. He never advised to do such ghastly deeds. Will peace-loving Gandhiji ever appreciate such dastardly acts? It is only recently that he publicly condemned such acts. Enough of your senseless talk, but don’t you attribute that sin to Gandhiji, ” said her anna. “What Raghu! Haven’t you read out that pamphlet, ‘Success or Death’ to me? Weren’t you there on that day? What did you say on that day? When I said, ‘I will join the movement,’ what did you say?”
“When did I say? Did I ask you to remove rails? When my party is shouting about it as people’s war, what did I say to you? Having roamed here and there, instead of being silent, started this too?” Usha felt sapped. She never anticipated that things would turn out like this. She never thought that the very philosophy that she believed in would accuse her ever. Involuntarily, she muttered, “truth, people’s war.” Suddenly, the walls in the village and the palm trees along the roads reeled in her mind. “With whom did you live for all these days? Don’t think nobody knows about your foul acts”, said annapouncing on her. “Don’t these people know whether I am speaking the truth? Didn’t God above know?” uttered Usha pathetically. “You are not to stay in the house even for a minute. Go. Get out. It’s enough – the dishonor we have put up with so far is enough” said anna. “Go talli , go! At least, our daughter… shouldn’t she get married?” said
sister-in-law. Usha held on to her father’s legs tightly. Her tears washed the old man’s feet.
“Why don’t you go? Right two years ago we told the villagers that you died of fever at your aunt’s house. Shouldn’t we live in this village with our heads held high? Go, go to him with whom you lived thus far.” Crying and saying, “Nanna, Nanna,” Usha grasped her father’s legs more tightly. Like tigers, Raghu and anna pounced on her. Perplexed, the old man stared blankly. Both of them together battered her. Having become a skeleton by virtue of her living in the jail, she could not sustain the beating. And the swan flew away from the skeleton. That early morning, the canal alongside the village overflowed. The Sun, as usual, rose in the east. ******
 Amma—mother.  Atta—father’s sister.  Annayya—elder brother  Kacheri—the house around which the elders of the village usually gather.  Nanna—father.  Dhoti—the loincloth worn by male Hindus.  Talli—used more in a style of sarcastic adoration—go mam go!