(A short story)



Translated from the original in Telugu by

K. VISWANADHAM, Reader in English, Andhra University


I do not precisely remember if I was sixteen or fifteen then. We went to a village for a marriage in a relative’s house. We were of the bridegroom’s party. A house was allotted for our stay. The owners of the house adjusted themselves in a part of the house and vacated the rest for us. It was a village, and the marriage was a five-day affair, and the house owners too had their food twice in the day along with us of the marriage party. Within two days both moved intimately with each other.


I think it was in the afternoon of the third day. I was lying in the hall. The master of the house was no more; his wife and daughter lived in the house. The sons had gone, perhaps,

elsewhere for studies; they were not in the village. In the two days the mother and daughter came to know who I was. She learnt that I was a student, that our family was above want, for meat and drink. I was by then acquainted with Telugu literature and accustomed to reading Telugu verses sweetly and distinctly. In our houses women, after the demise of their husbands, while away their time by reading the Bharatam, the Bhagavatam, the Bhaktavijayam or such books. The lady of the house was one of that type, and so in those two days, after getting to know that I was acquainted with Telugu books, developed some respect towards me.


Her daughter was ten years old. She was long-legged. You could snip a bit of her beauty and set up a light. The mother of course heavily built. When the girl grew up, she bade fair to be like her mother. She was strong; her hands were like parcels. The beauty of her face beggared speech–her wide eyes and thick-penciled eyebrows. Her face was a successful experiment by God in creating beauty, as if to point out: Beauty should be like this. My recollecting, now, her laughter, shows how much my mouth watered then. But my mind grieved as much as my eyes joyed at the sight of her beauty. My father had got me married in my tenth year. That afternoon the mother and the daughter came to me lying in the verandah. The mother asked me to read some verses. I recited some. She was happy.


The daughter was as mischievous as she was beautiful. She was affectionately playful with me. Those were days of masked youth when the obsession of love had a beauty about it. If that girl approached me, talked to me or laughed or joked, my body horrippilated; my mind was the home of ecstacy. Her complexion was carat gold. It was as if her glow suffused my body and I became an embodiment of radiance.


That day was ‘sadasyam’; so the marriage party was in the bride’s house. We three were in the bridegroom’s lodge. I do not remember all the mischievous pranks of the girl; one incident I recollect faintly.


From my childhood I studied in a town and hence there were many things of a village beyond my comprehension. I have a knowledge of many trees and plants. But I didn’t have any idea of capsicum frutescens; it is of the size of a big ant; it gets ripe within that size. The girl went to her backyard, brought a capsicum fruit and asked me to eat it saying it was sweet. Cleverly she removed the stalk and brought it. I know fruits like solanumrubrum. I thought this was one of that species. I put it in my mouth and masticated it. Imagine! the mouth was burning. It was not easy to alleviate the burning pain. I ran for water, gargled my mouth, and spat out; still the pain did not lessen. The eyes watered; the ears were steaming; I was fidgetty with pain and the girl was laughing at my agony. The mother was smilingly neutralist. They had no hatred towards me; both of them respected me. Was it not silly of me to bite the capsicum fruit? I felt ashamed to myself. The shyness arising out of my callow silliness mocked at my love for the girl. Of course I was angry at her enjoyment of my pain. But I suppressed that shyness and anger and could not but pretend that the whole thing was a playful prank. The mother learnt through my mother in casual conversation that I was already married. Laughing she said, “Alas! Is that so? I thought you would wed my daughter.” After the fifth day we came away. A year or two later my wife joined me. 1 used to think of that girl for five or six years. There was no relationship between them and us. There was no tie between us and that village. The whole thing was clean forgotten.




It was midsummer. I had no food since morning. I boarded the train at Bezwada at 6 A. M. I reached Guntakal at 5 P. M. That day was the seventh in the bright fortnight and the evening moonlight was waxing. The Anantapur train started. The tongue clave unto the roof; the wind sawed through the ears. The wind was withering as much of the face and hands as it touched. The train moved unwillingly. In the distance small mounds sat like heaps of darkness. Wherever the eyes turned, only stones were to be seen. The train was moving over streams and the sand in the moonlight appeared like a parched tongue sticking out. In the bogies there was no water. I looked forward to drinking water as soon as a station was reached. We passed by one station and another and there was no water. Tins meant for storing water were empty. My life was fluttering at the end of its tether. It was nearing 9 P. M. Getting down at every station and seeking water on the platform in that night, the moonlight spreading itself away, was my business. At a station, as I got off the train, and proceeded in search of water, a woman from the ladies’ compartment called me with the request: “Please, can you get some water for my children whose mouths are parched with thirst?” The light in my compartment was dim; the light in the ladies’ compartment was very bright. But as she leaned out of the window and spoke to me, the light did not fall on her face. Her facial features could not be seen distinctly. Still she struck me as handsome. I said, “All right. I am going for water only. I shall get you some, if found.” She handed to me a vessel, having unscrewed the lid, with ‘Please, take this vessel’. In that condition of thirst, man-woman differences were nil; the idea of a stranger was nil. That woman’s hand touched mine. Death was certain if water was not available for another hour. If I derived happiness out of that contact within an hour’s reach of death, is it animality? Is it adharma? Water was available at that station. I drank my fill, filled the vessel to the brim. More than the pleasure of being rescued from death was the pleasure of the feasibility of procuring and handing some water to the lady. Was I doing her a great act of kindness? As a return for this should she think well of me? I gave her the vessel of water. This time she received the vessel, carefully, avoiding contact with my hand. She gave some water to the children; she drank some herself. I could have gone away then. But I didn’t. I stood there enquiring of her: “Is it enough? Shall I bring another vesselful of water?” She said, ‘There is no need.’ The signs of gratitude that I brought her water were in her face. Of course, she didn’t utter words of civility like: ‘I am grateful to you. Thanks,’ unknown to the non-English knowing. But gratitude, more than double what is contained in those words, peeped out of her face.


Her face was distinctly seen by me in that bright light, as she moved this side and that to give water to the children. First her beauty struck me vividly; later I felt I saw her somewhere. Her face didn’t indicate if she saw me earlier. If I saw her once, she should have seen me too! Let this alone! When we see some persons, it is as if they were former acquaintances though we knew them not. We might have seen some with the same facial features. Because of such resemblance we feel we knew them earlier. Perhaps it would have been better, if I had questioned her: “Which is your native village? Where are you bound to?” She appeared like a woman of the Krishna or the Godavari districts and not like one of the Ceded districts. Intending to enquire of her but without enquiring, I went to my compartment. But she and her beautiful face were imprinted on my mind.




Two years later I was posted to that place. I went there and searched for a rented building. At last I secured a portion, of a building. That evening my ‘people’ arrived. The other portion had been locked since four days. The house owner was living elsewhere. I made enquiries about the tenant of that portion. I learnt that the tenant was a clerk in the Collector’s office, that his wife went to her mother’s house for delivery, that he was alone in that portion, that he went home on a four-day casual leave. On the fifth day he returned. After his term as a sub-magistrate, he waft posted to the Collector’s office as one of the head clerks. In the nights he used to return at about 10 P. M., and in the forenoon he used to go away at 9 A. M. It was 7-30 A. M. when I got up daily. We had no chance of meeting and talking to one another. Further he had a bit of snobbery that he had served as a sub-magistrate. Though we were together for four or five months, we never met and talked to each other. Who was he? Who was I? Another month passed by.


One evening a jutka came and stopped at the house. Out of it got down three children, and a mother, with a child in her arms. I was writing something in the verandah. I lifted my head and saw her. Immediately I could not identify. It was the same face which I saw two years ago at night in the bright light of the compartment. Those eyes and eyebrows spoke: “We are here.” She got down from the jutka and went into the house without raising her head. Perhaps she thought: ‘Someone is in that portion; it does not concern us’. Or the husband had hinted to her that somebody was a tenant in that portion. Whatever we may think, it is human nature to look up and look at a person nearby. Or perhaps her mind was filled with egoism that she was a magistrate’s wife, and that her husband would become a Tahsildar soon. I was looking in her direction till she went inside the house. Her husband was with her. He knew I was looking in the direction of his wife. He might think I was unmannerly but could not possibly ‘bang’ me. There was no scope for litigation. In his looks and carriage there were rejection and discourtesy which, however, did not flow out. But why should I write like this? Is it a sin to see? It is just human nature. How do we know whether persons look at a woman just because it cannot be helped or with a bad motive? Though that day the woman was struck by heat, her body and face appeared full of embonpoint, now she was reduced. The physical fullness of that day was not, there. The cheeks were depressed. The eyes concealed themselves within the sockets. Perhaps it was a difficult delivery and she did not yet recuperate. Ten days passed by. My mother said: ‘Oho! they are snobs. They do not talk to us, even when we take the initiative’. I said: ‘Let alone’.


The wells in that village were as deep as nether regions. One day their maidservant did not turn up. The lady had to draw water for bath, for drinking, etc. She was very weak. If by 9.30 A. M. she did not give him food, her husband would boss over her like a magistrate. It seems he told her that she should prepare his supper very early so that he could go to his office after food. In the evening when I reached the house at 5 P. M., she was drawing water. Her life seemed to ebb out, when a single bucket was drawn from the depths. She kept two big vessels and she needed two vesselfulls of water. Four buckets of water would fill a vessel. I said: “I wish to wash my feet. Will you give me the bucket?” She left the bucket and went inside. I washed my feet, filled the two vessels and entered the house.


Three days later, one evening, as I was getting into the house, she came face to face to me. She fixed her eyes on me and it seemed as if the eyes grasped at something. Perhaps she was more appreciative of us because of my drawing the water for her, or recollected my bringing the water to her compartment; she began conversing intimately with my mother and family. The talent, of reciting a verse tunefully, of my young days, grew within me. Lifting my voice and singing ten or fifteen tunes in union with verses, and the listeners okaying it, was a matter of frequent experience. It was my habit once in a week or ten days to sing in the nights after food. One night I sang like that. The next day that lady seemed to have told my mother: “Your boy, madam, can sing.”


Later, after a week, while I was taking my food in the day, my mother informed me: “Ore! do you know this girl? She is the same girl who made you bite capsicum frutescens, when we went to their village for a marriage. Day before yesterday I buttonholed this woman and made enquiries ab ovo. It seems the brother of this lady is employed in our village. Two houses after our house, there is Ramarao’s, and he has rented that building. Her mother, like me, is pretty old. She was trying to recollect where she saw you. After you sang, she could ‘spot’ you precisely. You sang that verse, it seems, exactly as you sang in your young days. Then it came into her memory.’


It was being talked about already. Her husband was promoted as Tahsildar. The day after my mother informed me of this, they vacated the house and left.




Three years later I resigned my job in that place and went to my native town. The brother of that lady and his family tenanted Ramarao’s house. We daily referred to their welfare and whereabouts. We learnt that the lady was enceinte again and would be brought by her brother for delivery. The fifth month passed by; it didn’t happen in the seventh month; the ninth month arrived and, unable to put up with his mother’s complaints, he brought her and her delivery was expected in a few days. On the third night the woman had birth pains; the doctor was brought and the night passed by somehow. Two days later her condition was very uncertain. The disease was not connected with delivery; some other disease seized her. I too went there. Within a minute after my going, her life made its exit. There was none to ‘put her down from the bed’. The husband was wired to; he didn’t come. Her brother and I ‘set her down’. The next day none came forward to carry her. It was a matter of carrying two extinct lives and inauspicious for all. I was one of the carriers of the bier. After the day sank, and I had a sight of the stars, I took my food.




That night I had a dream. That lady was a girl of ten. I was a sixteen year old youth. I recited verses in their house. That girl brought a capsicum frutescens and asked me to eat. I ate it. The mouth burned with pain. I woke up crying. Perhaps I slept with an open mouth, snoring, and a ‘fire worm’ settled on the tip of my tongue; it burned with pain. When I woke up, I understood the situation. Not only the tongue but the lip too was injured. The wound did not heal for ten or twelve days; I could not even take my food.