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Scintillating Stories- Book-1. (‘Time Warp’ and Other Stories.)

 

 

 

 

[*                   Introduction.*]

 

Human nature is essentially the same in all cultures; traditions are evolved as a result of history and climate and tend to differentiate societies.

 

Short story affords an opportunity to study human behaviors and attitudes, in the particular contexts of life the episodes deal with. The collection covers different moods and situations common in life. Stories are snap-shots of life. A journey through them gives the reader a bird’s eye view of the human society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of contents.

 

1. Time Warp.

 

2. Another World.

 

3. Crime and Punishment.

 

4. A.I.I.E.

 

5. So Was It Written!

 

6. Divine Justice.

 

7. Scorpion’s Sting.

 

8. A Husband’s Folly.

 

9. Extraction of Truth.

 

10. A Tale of Two ‘Friends’.

 

 

1. Time Warp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This story is conceived differently.

Whenever one has to take an important decision concerning one’s career, one’s experience (Past) and one’s aspirations (Future) will usually be in conflict. I have tried to give forms and voices to the Past and to the possible Future and brought them on the same plane as the Present, to consider one such situation.

It is something like, J. B. Priestley’s “The Time And The Conways”

 

Anand Lodge was a small posh lodge away from the city. Yadagiri put up some tables in the veranda opposite the western sea and it was patronized by his exclusive clients.

 

Murthy entered and was about to sit at a vacant table when Yadagiri went towards him saying,

 

Y: Not that table sir, this one is reserved for you. (He showed him the table). We know how fond you are of watching the sun set from that location.

M: What! How did you know that I was coming … I didn’t ask for any reservation today.

 

Y: Yes sir, you didn’t ask.

 

M: (Sits at the reserved table) Then?

 

Y: News has a tendency to travel of its own accord sir!

 

Murthy continued to remain surprised. Yadagiri brought a glass of water and placed it on the table in front of him. 

M: This is a quiet place, away from the hustle bustle of the city. So I came here this evening.

 

Y: It is not only quiet but also secluded sir!

 

M: But how did you know that I was coming here this evening?

 

Y: (Smiling) Are you still thinking about it sir! It is simple. If you didn’t inform me, someone else did.

 

M: (Relieved) Oh I see. I became concerned unnecessarily!

 

Y: What will you have sir!

 

M: It is too early. The sun is still peeping through the leaves. Moreover, the others haven’t arrived yet.

 

Y: As you please sir! It might be boring to sit all alone sir. (Starts leaving)

 

M: Alright, bring me a glass of lime juice for which this place is famous.

 

Y: Very well sir! (Leaves)

 

Murthy remained seated thinking for some time. The sun emerged from the clouds and was almost on the verge of touching the sea. The veranda was drenched in bright reddish light. Murthy rose from his seat and walked forward to get a better view of the sunset. Even before the sun dipped half way down into the sea, he felt that the veranda was getting darker! Surprised, he looked back

 

****            ****          ****

 

Murthy found that it was somewhat brighter at his table which was in the middle and that it became progressively darker on both sides. It appeared as though the veranda was elongated; the walls on either side could not be seen. He wondered what was happening as he slowly walked back to his chair. He casually looked to his left. It appeared to have brightened up a little. He could notice Suryam, a teenage boy occupying a chair at a table. As soon as Suryam caught sight of Murthy, he said “Hello”. Murthy did not respond as he was submerged in his own thoughts. This irritated Suryam.

 

S: Hum! Pearls would probably drop off if you open your mouth!

 

Murthy was suddenly aroused and said “Sorry sir! I did not notice you. I was drowned in my own thoughts.”

 

S: How would you? It is no longer election time!

 

M: It was unintentional; please don’t pay any attention to my lapse. (Trying to be friendly) Where is the end to elections; one has to start preparing for the next election which would be waiting in the wings.

 

S: Where is the need for any exertion? As long as common people keep trusting your false promises, you can continue to rule over them.

 

M: Oh! You have already acquired a few revolutionary arrows to shoot!

 

Since his arrival, Suryam was restlessly looking for Yadagiri. He banged on the table to attract attention. Murthy was annoyed at his crude behavior and remarked “People don’t make such noises here.”

 

S: (Sarcastically) Don’t they? What will they do then?

 

M: They wait for the arrival of service.

 

S: That might suit people who have nothing else to do, not me.

 

He banged harder many times till Yadagiri arrived with unconcealed displeasure at Suryam’s conduct and went to him. Yadagiri was quite different in his appearance bearing and speech from what he was earlier. (He would remain like this almost till the end of the story, when the reader would be informed again). He was more dignified and knowledgeable and talked with self confidence and authority.

 

Y: (To Suryam) Please excuse me! What will you have sir!

 

That area became darker even as Yadagiri spoke; he took the order and returned soon with the ordered items and placed them on Suryam’s table. Meanwhile, Murthy’s right side brightened and Narayana, a dignified suave aged politician who was about to sit at a table there, noticed Murthy, came closer to him and in a pleasant cultivated voice said “Good morning Sir!”   

 

M: (Pleased) Good morning Sir!

 

N: Is that boy annoying you?

 

M: (Somewhat surprised).  Oh no. But I don’t like his behavior. I am disappointed in today’s youngsters. I wonder what kind of people they would grow up into!

 

N: Just like us.

 

M: (Startled and annoyed). What!

 

N: (Smiling) It is the magic of time.  

 

Murthy became thoughtful. Yadagiri noticed Narayana as he returned from Suryam. Yadagiri salutes the guest and waited for his order.

 

N: The usual.

 

Yadagiri returned with whiskey and placed it on the table where Narayana intended to sit when he arrived. Murthy and Narayana continued their conversation. Yadagiri stayed to listen. Suryam also came after some time.

 

M: One day during the last elections, I lost my way. The road merged into a vast barren stretch of land. The car headlights pierced through the darkness but I could not see much or recognize the place. Strange thoughts began to occur. For some strange reason, I am restless today and am experiencing the same thoughts.

 

N: I see!

 

M: When I look back into the past, whatever I am able to remember, appears to be the experiences of someone else I knew intimately but not something I myself passed through. However, some incidents, which are really trivial like my experience that evening, remain vivid!

 

Suryam who was also close to them listening to their conversation said “Yes, that is true”

 

Now the illumination became even throughout but it was not as bright as it was when Murthy entered.

 

All the three were surprised at Suryam’s intrusion.

 

S: Why, can’t I speak?

 

Y: Why not! This is a free country; everyone can say whatever he liked.

 

Narayana and Murthy looked at each other. As Suryam moved away towards his table, he said, “These elders are a strange intolerant lot! Although we are three customers here, they feel that they can ignore me and suppress my presence.

 

M: (Exasperated but in a lower tone) Oh! I hoped that I could spend some quiet peaceful time here.

 

N: (In a still lower tone) If you are so annoyed with his presence, tell me; I will drive him away in a moment.

 

S: (From his chair) You can’t do that and you know it very well!

 

Murthy was surprised how Suryam could hear them.

 

S: You don’t have to be so surprised. I can not only hear you perfectly but also read your thoughts before your lips complete their movement.

 

N: That is a lie; don’t believe him.

 

S: I have no need to lie. I have no secrets to conceal or crimes to keep covered up! Murthy! Don’t be fooled by his polished behavior and his sweet talk. That is a tiger with the face of a cow, which has tasted blood and is looking for more. He came up to this level by fraud and deceit

 

N: Stop exciting and exerting yourself! The wind is blowing towards my side only. Accept the fact and depart quietly. Your time is up.

S: Nonsense! I have come here today to hound you out of his life forever. Mr. Yadagiri please bringe me some whisky.

 

Y: Yes sir! (He starts to go in)

 

M: (To Yadagiri) Please stop! Are you going to serve whisky to that tender boy?

 

Y: We are your servants; our duty is to supply customers what they desire to have, if it is available with us. We are not concerned with anything beyond that.

 

N: Why are you so concerned about that boy who had been so rude and who was showing no respect towards you? What does it matter to you what he does with himself?

 

M: How can we just keep quiet looking at a tender boy, when he is taking his first step to ruin and destitution right in front of our eyes? What does he know what one has to suffer if he lapses into that habit?

 

N: (With a smile) Yes, what does he know?

 

Yadagiri brought whisky and placed it in front of Suryam. Turning to Murthy, he said “Saving a person who is bent upon ruining his life, by intervention and pious advice is extremely difficult sir.”

 

M: (To Suryam) Look here son! Because this is outside the municipal limits, my hands are tied. Otherwise I would have got you and Yadagiri arrested by now. What is your name, son?

 

S: Why do you want to know?

 

M: So that I might call your elders and show them this scene.

 

S: (Laughing wildly) My elders!!

 

N: Don’t disappoint him! Be a sport! Tell him.

 

S: I won’t!

 

N: Are you feeling shy to reveal your name?

 

M: Look here son, your parents must be harboring several hopes and aspirations on you. Don’t wreck their fond dreams by acquiring bad habits.

 

S: (Laughing) I don’t have a mother. My father (Showing the whisky bottle) will empty it in one gulp if he can get hold of it!

 

M: I will look into that myself; let me have his name and address.

 

N: Why do you tease him so much; please do tell him.

 

S; I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.

 

N: That’s alright. I will tell him. His father’s name is Ramaswamy. His name is Suraai.

 

Murthy was startled and felt uneasy. The other two were aware of the reason for his unease. Suryam was irritated because Narayana used a form of his name used to demean and ridicule him. He became angry and advanced towards Narayana. He thundered, “Beware! Don’t you dare call me by that name again! You were saved because you were a lifeless creature! Otherwise I would myself have finished you this very moment.”

 

M: (Rushed to prevent Suryam) Stop it please! Please listen to me.

N: (Laughing) Even if I had life, you are powerless to extinguish it! It is like a lame person attacking a blind one. Why should I provoke a quarrel with you and waste my time. Alright, I will call you Suryam.

 

S: Now, you have come to your senses!

 

M: (To Narayana) I am sorry! I never expected a gentleman like you to indulge in ridiculing that boy!

 

S: (Laughing) He a gentleman!! Hai hai!

 

M: (To Narayana) May I know whom I am talking to?

 

N: I am Narayana.

 

S: Ah! That person has a different name for each incarnation! He changes names like a chameleon changes its colors! When frauds and misdeeds exceed the capacity of the name to withstand it, he discards that name and chooses another name. His name is Suryanarayanamurthy. He cut off its head and tail and became Narayana now.

 

Murthy was startled.

 

N: Where is the need for a permanent name in this transient universe for a human being with no guarantee of life! It is best to keep changing according to circumstances.

 

S: Do what you like with yourself. What do I care!

 

Suryam sat at his table and sipped some whisky. Being new to the drink, its bitterness caused him to cough and suffer. Murthy was unable to resist himself. He went to Suryam, pulled out the whisky glass from his hand and the bottle from the table and said “I won’t let you drink that poison”

 

S: I don’t care! I don’t like its taste myself. When I saw people drinking it with relish I thought that it would be something very tasty.

 

M: Fine!

 

N: Of course it would feel bitter in the beginning but once you get used to it, you will begin to appreciate it.

 

 

M: Stop it Mr. Narayana! I have been giving respect to your age and tolerated you. If you encourage that boy to drink I won’t tolerate you any longer.

 

N: That’s alright sir. He will grow up and mature without my interference.

 

S: But certainly not like you!

 

N: Let us see. I will continue my efforts all the same.

 

M: (Gets excited) I will break your teeth if you encourage him to ruin his life.

 

N: My teeth! I can’t control my laughter looking at your naivety!

 

S: Don’t bother. He has no teeth at all.

 

Both of them lapsed into wild laughter. Murthy becomes exasperated and said “Stop that! Stop that savage laughter immediately! (They stop) Who are you? Why did you come here? Who gave you the right to interfere with me and ruin my tranquility and peace? Why are you tormenting me with your misbehavior? Who are you?

 

S: Me? I am you yourself.

 

N: You are myself later in life!

S: No no. Never. (To Murthy) Don’t let that happen. It is a tiger who tasted human blood several times and is still looking for more. Keep away from him.

 

M: (Moving away from both of them) Mr. Yadagiri! Mr. Yadagiri! (Yadagiri entered) Who are these people? Why are they after me? What is this drama?

 

Y: Creation itself is a drama. The world is a stage; all human beings are actors; God himself is the director.

 

M: I didn’t call you to teach me philosophy. These people are making me mad. Is there no way I can escape from them and their torment?

 

Y: If you are so annoyed, you can go home.

 

M: No; I have to meet some people here.

 

Y: I see! You may drive them away.

 

M: Really! Please tell me how?

 

Y: It is not difficult also. If you decide that you don’t like that elderly person, ask him boldly and emphatically to get lost. He will disappear from your life.

 

M: How about that boy?

 

Y: He is a tough guy! He can’t be driven away so easily. I suspected that such an eventuality might develop and prepared for it. I have concealed a small bottle in that flower vase. Please keep that bottle in front of him; he will drink it himself without your effort.

 

M: Are you suggesting that I poison and kill him?

 

Y: So what?

 

M: No no. I can’t do such a treacherous thing. What crime did that innocent boy commit, to deserve such a harsh punishment?

 

Y: How innocent you are Mr. Murthy! They are not humans with life. So there is no question of killing them.

 

M: Not humans?? Who are they, then?

 

Y: They themselves told you who they were.

 

M: What did they say?

 

Y: (Showing Suryam) He is yourself some fifteen, twenty years ago. (Showing Narayana) If you desire with all your heart, you could be like him in another twenty or twenty five years. They are virtual beings. You can’t change your past; you can’t destroy it. But the future is within your hands; you don’t have to grow into someone like him if you don’t like it. You can mold your future according to your ambitions and aspirations.

 

M: It is very strange and I am confused! Why did they come here today like this with shapes and voices?

 

Y: They are always present in your mind. A life span can be broadly divided into three stages. During boyhood you have several ambitions including many unrealistic ones. As one grows up, the aspirations tend to consolidate. Depending on ones education, environment, opportunities as well as personal qualities like determination, tenacity, perseverance and good luck, one achieves a certain level of success. That is the second phase. Soon one gets ambitious and sometimes even avaricious. Anyway, one desires something more than what one achieved and looks at possible alternatives. As at every crucial stage in ones life, the conflict between the past and the possible future continues to rage. Sometimes they take virtual shapes to influence the person to follow their choices.

 

M: How can past and future assume any shape, real or virtual! Past is past; future is unknown. Only the present is real.

 

Y: That is also true. Our memories are our past and our aspirations are our future.

 

Murthy lapsed into thought. Yadagiri quietly departed. Suryam and Narayana who sat quietly at their respective tables during that conversation were eager to achieve the purpose of their visit and came to Murthy’s table.

 

N: Both of us know why you are here today. You are being sounded if you would be interested in contesting for a seat in the legislative assembly.

 

M: How did you know?

 

N: Don’t bother about it!

 

S: I have come here to remind you about your life’s ambition of becoming a judge and to reinforce it. Don’t waver and don’t follow Narayana

 

N: It is after all your life and your career. It is the time for a bold daring decision.

 

S: No. It is time for a cautious and wise decision.

 

N: Recognize your strengths and capabilities and move forward to grab the opportunity to demonstrate them.

 

S: Don’t build castles in the air; let your feet remain firmly on the earth.

 

N: Wavering weaklings can’t achieve anything.

 

S: Let the considerations of peace of mind and happiness discipline your ambitions. You have earned reputation as a competent lawyer; you have earned wealth; now you have also won an election. Stop with that and concentrate on your profession. A bright future awaits you.

 

Even as Suryam was speaking, it became darker. All the three persons continued to remain at the table. After a while it became brighter on the left side of the table. A person was seen sipping lime juice. He looked almost like Murthy but appeared to be older by ten or fifteen years (He would be referred to as Senior Murthy ‘SM’). He was composed dignified and reserved. A well dressed person came and saluted reverentially and occupied a seat at the same table.

 

P: My name is Prasad. My friend Mr. Tirumala had spoken to you about my case.

 

SM: Yes he did. I don’t discuss the cases my bench is dealing with, outside the court

 

P: I am aware of that sir… My friend…

 

SM:  I don’t discuss cases with my friends also.

 

P: I have come to make a proposal sir. (He places a suitcase on the table)

 

SM: Did you meet Tirumala before coming here?

 

P: Yes sir, I met him yesterday.

 

SM: Excuse me. (He went in and returned after a while) I am sorry to keep you waiting. Would you have something to eat or drink?

 

P: I don’t mind a cup of coffee sir.

 

SM asked Yadagiri to fetch a cup of coffee. As he was waiting for his coffee a Police Inspector came with his assistant and said,

 

I: You are under arrest Mr. Prasad, for trying to bribe the Judge.

 

The Inspector held him by the arm, while his assistant collected the suitcase. As they were leaving, Yadagiri who looked somewhat older, entered with the cup of coffee. He understood what must have happened. Turning to Prasad he said, “Didn’t you know how reputed Judge Murthy has been for his honesty and fair play?”

 

As the police took Prasad out, it began to get dark on that side. Suryam, Narayana and Murthy continued to sit at the same table in the middle.

 

M: Do you think I can become a Judge.

 

S: Why not? You have the necessary qualification, experience and competence for the job.

 

N: That will not be difficult for you. But tell me what authority does a judge have? He can only decide the cases that come to his court. Can he intervene and take any action by himself? Look at a minister. He might not be so well educated, so competent or so intelligent. But he can intervene or take action by himself! Why, even a judge’s appointment has to be cleared by a minister. People like you should get into politics.

 

S: Stop Murthy stop. Don’t believe his sweet words. He is guilty of several crimes including murder. Law can overtake him at any moment and he shall have to spend the rest of his life behind bars. He is riding a tiger and can’t dare to disembark before destiny chooses to punish him.

 

Murthy hesitated and looked at Narayana questioningly.

 

N: Our police and courts are quite competent and alert. If a public figure like me committed any crime it gets exposed immediately and I would be hauled up on red hot coals.

 

S: You are avoiding the issue and trying to blow it off with empty hot air.

 

N; Oh I see.  Alright I declare that I am not guilty of any crime.

 

S: And you want us to believe that!

 

N: I can do little to eliminate popular misconceptions! People think that every person playing the role of a villain is a villain also in real life and the one playing the role of a hero is a paragon of virtue. Could that be true? Similarly every politician need not be a crime-sheeter or a villain

 

S: Don’t generalize. Talk about yourself.

 

M: (Ignored the remark) Did you go to the legislature?

 

N: I was not only a member of the legislature but also the Finance Minister in the last cabinet.

 

M: Now?

 

N: This time L surrendered my constituency in exchange for a deal with the Party High Command, that they would support me for the Chief Ministership of the state.

 

S: How many pre-election promises did you fulfill?

 

N: They know my strength and my capacity for mischief.

 

Now the light began to grow brighter on the right side and it equaled the illumination in the middle. Prasuna entered and occupied a seat at the same table Narayana occupied earlier. He felt happy and relieved and said, almost to himself, “At last! I feared that she might not come today”. He approached Murthy and said, “Look at that beauty.”

 

M: (With obvious interest) who is she?

 

N: Look carefully. You too know her.

 

M: I don’t think so. (After looking at her carefully) I see some resemblances to Prasuna.

 

N: Exactly!

 

S: She is the wife of Ramarao of our locality.

 

N: Youngsters are expected to keep away from such things; otherwise they get spoiled. (To Murthy) Look how beautiful she is even now!

M: Yes, what a stunning beauty!

 

S: You should be ashamed of yourself.

 

N: Why why why?

 

S: If she is so beautiful, marry her.

 

N: My dear child, beauty is for enjoyment, not for marriage.

 

S: Why should I waste my time arguing with you? What I want is this Murthy.

 

N: I have also come here for the sake of Mr.Murthy only.

 

S: (Angrily) You can’t get him; he won’t follow you.

 

N: The very fact that you are angry shows that you are losing and you are aware of it.

 

S: Nonsense! (He noticed that Murthy was being attracted towards Prasuna) Stop Murthy, stop. That glittering gold is in a lion’s hand. Don’t go towards it; you would get entangled in the marsh from which you can’t escape!

 

N: A daring person only can achieve success!

 

M: What should I be doing?

 

N: Just follow me. I will teach you all that is necessary. Even maharshi Viswamitra could not resist Menaka. Why should we bother? Prasuna is a very intelligent and a useful person. Under my guidance you can get her and achieve wonders.

 

S: Stop Murthy stop. What more do you want? You have acquired wealth, name and fame. You have also won an election and gained some authority as a municipal councilor. Resist the temptation. Be satisfied with all that good fortune and live in peace happily.

 

N; Once you taste some authority you want more and more of it; no one is satiated with the authority he has, at any time.

 

S: What about peace of mind and happiness?

 

M: (Turning to Narayana) Yes, what about them?

 

N: Do you also believe that everything written in books is true? When you have money and authority, where is the dearth of happiness?

 

S: (Became apprehensive that he was losing Murthy.) You have lost your sense of discrimination but I am not the one to give up. I will adopt a different method. (He went to Prasuna) Hey! Why did you come here?

 

P: What if I did?

 

S: Aren’t you ashamed? I taught you a good lesson on the street, don’t you remember?

P: Why not? I also remember how much you regretted your foolish action.

 

S: Not I! (Showing Narayana) It was that old jackal over there. Leave this place immediately. Don’t drag Murthy also along with you into the abyss of crime deceit and evil.

 

P: I will do as I please. Who are you to order me about? Keep your advice with yourself and get lost.

 

S: I see!

 

P: Yes. I didn’t interfere with you; please keep away from me. There are several people who are eager to befriend me.

 

S: That means you are disregarding my advice. I know how to drive you out of Murthy’s life.

 

Suryam became very angry and went out. Narayana approached Prasuna and said, “Are you angry with me?” She turned her head away without replying. He pulled a chair close to her, sat down and said “How can we withstand the resentment of our queen of hearts?” (She turned her head to another side)

 

N: Are you still thinking of that Suraai? He is a mere child; what does he know?

 

P: What difference did it make? You were sitting right there without opening your mouth! Is that all the strength and utility of our relationship?

 

N: Don’t mistake me; he is a crazy person and always talks through his head. We should just ignore him.

 

P: I was replying to him boldly but I was terribly afraid within.

 

N: Why fear when Narayana is by your side!

 

P: Suraai is tenacious and is quite capable of harming me.

 

N: So I am a nincompoop! Hum! After remaining with me for so many years is this your estimate of me? I am ashamed of myself!

 

P: I didn’t mean that … But I am frightened.

 

N: You are under Narayana’s protection Prasu; you don’t have to be afraid of anything and anyone! Now cheer up. Let the enchanting smile return to your face. Let the moon emerge out of the dark clouds and radiate its cool silvery luster.

 

P: Stop your poetic fancy and return to earth.

 

N: Of course I will… why are we wasting our time!

 

Narayana held her hand and lifted her up from the chair and lead her towards the door of their private room on the right. Murthy also tried to follow them. Prasuna entered the room. Narayana noticed Murthy following them. He stopped at the door and looked at Murthy, indicating that he was not welcome into the room. Murthy stopped. Narayana was about to enter the room.

 

M: Wait a minute Mr. Narayana!

 

Narayana stopped, closed the door behind him and looked at Murthy questioningly.

 

M: I am confused; I don’t understand how it is possible. I am so shy that I don’t speak to ladies unless they talk to me first. I can’t understand how I can gain the friendship of a woman whom I insulted years ago.

 

N: That is magic! Woman is magic incarnate in God’s creation.

 

M: You are evading my question. I think you are showing me water in a mirage.

 

N: No no, I am not! Politics is a strange selfish game. ‘Selfish’ is not a dirty word; survival itself is eminently selfish. Attitudes change for mutual advantage. One must bury the past and compromise with the present for the sake of a bright future. Help and assistance of a competent and beautiful woman who is prepared to do anything and everything for you is essential for accelerated political progress. The world of a frog in the well is confined to the well; it is happy and satisfied with it as long as it remains in the well. By chance, if it came out of the well along with the water and thrown up into the wide world, its perspective improves, its ambitions sore high and it is restless for growth and development. Compare yourself with what you were before this petty election for the municipal council. Now you are beginning to desire and aspire for higher things!

 

M: Everyone has plenty of desires of one kind or the other throughout life which remain largely unfulfilled.

 

N: Don’t lose your faith and self-confidence. Competent and intelligent people keep their faculties alert, find opportunities, grab them in time and achieve fulfillment of all their desires and ambitions by cautious planning, determination and bold venturesome actions. This is your opportunity!

 

M: (Suddenly remembers Suryam) Where is Suryam?

 

N: He disappeared long ago. Why do you think of those that are not present? Look at me; your life is ahead of you; think of your future. I will make you a greater person than I am. Recognize the golden path in front of you. Come with me! (He extended his hand. As Murthy reaches to take the hand, they heard Suryam’s voice, loud and clear. “Don’t Murthy, don’t! Don’t follow him. Don’t be fooled by his sweet talk! Don’t trust him.”

 

M: (Frightened) Suryam’s voice!

 

N: Ignore it. He will keep shouting like that from somewhere, from time to time; you don’t have to bother.

Suryam’s voice was heard again, “Narayana! I am warning you for the last time. Get off Murthy’s back and leave him alone. I won’t let you ruin his peaceful life!”

 

N: Do what you can; I will do what I can. You know that I am winning.

 

Suryam’s voice, “Is that so! Wait, I am coming there to settle scores”. Murthy is frightened.

 

N: It is an empty boast; don’t be afraid. He won’t come.

 

M: Why?

 

N: He can’t come. Even if he came, he can’t do anything… It is your life and your future Murthy. You have to decide it for yourself. If you stand bold and firm and look sternly, even a tiger which came to attack you will stop and turn back! You are unable to recognize your own strength! Get up, stand on your toes and peep into the golden future waiting for you!

 

After waiting for a considerable time Prasuna became restless, opened the door and peeped out looking for Narayana. Hearing the door open, Narayana looked at Prasuna, took the hint and went into the room. Murthy became contemplative, walked back to his table and sat in his chair. He remained a silent spectator during the ensuing incident. The light around his table becomes dim.

 

After a while Suryam entered along with Ramarao, on Murthy’s right side. Ramarao was very angry and restless. Suryam sat at Narayana’s table, pulled Ramarao by hand and made him sit by his side; both were looking anxiously at the door of the room occupied by Prasuna and Narayana. Ramarao looked questioningly at Suryam.

 

S: I swear on my conscience that what all I told you was absolutely true.

 

R: Then show them to me!

 

S: Be patient; I will certainly show them to you.

 

R: I can’t believe it! Prasuna is working in the legislative section of the secretariat: when the assembly is in session she is bound to be late.

 

S: Will I take such a serious risk unless I had strong evidence? Will I dare bring you here unless I was sure that I can show you the proof?

 

R: Where are they??

 

S: They will come out of that door in a few minutes.

 

R: I had been thanking my stars that although I retired from service, my wife had been working day and night to bear the burden of the family entirely by herself!  Was it this way, she had been earning money! Shame on her! Cursed be the women’s tribe! How easily can they cheat on their devoted loving husbands!! Who is that scoundrel?

 

S: What does it matter who he is? When one is permissive, it can be anyone. But   politicians are always in the forefront. Because you are retired and old, she fooled you by telling you some sweet lies and had been making merry openly. Such persons are a curse on society; the contagion should be eliminated as fast as possible.

 

R: So, that is the reality of these politicians! How exemplary is their conduct in public! One would think that they were paragons of virtue. In reality they are jackals in the garb of lambs!          

 

S: However lusty and lascivious a politician might be, he will always be guarding his public image. So unless the willing cooperation of a woman is forthcoming, no harm occurs.

 

R: But why are you interfering in our family matters. What does it matter to you what Prasuna does and how she behaves?

 

S: It is my fate.

 

R: If you evade an answer, I will thrash you first!   

 

S: In the recent past she has been trying to trap one of my close relatives… I tried to advise both of them, without much success. I felt that this was the only way to save my relative and have decided to take such a big risk. (Extends a revolver towards him) It is fully loaded. Prasuna will come out of that room with a politician; I need not tell you what you should then be doing. If she comes out all by herself, you can shoot me. Okay?

 

R: (Almost pulled the revolver from him) Okay.

 

S: (Showing him a seat) Please sit over there; from there you can see them as they come out before they see you.

 

R: Alright. (Complies)

 

After Ramarao occupied the seat shown, Suryam went to Murthy. As Suryam reached Murthy, the light brightens a little and remained like that till Suryam left. He said “Murthy would you listen to me at least now?”

 

M: I am thoroughly confused. Can you please show me a way to get out of this whirlpool I am thrown into?

 

S: There are several ways but the best one is to take my advice.

 

M: (Loudly) I won’t! I won’t listen to any advice from any body!

 

S: That means you are not taking my advice. I hoped that you would come to your senses at least by now.  So the drama has to be continued to the very end! So be it!

 

After a little while, they heard laughter of Narayana and Prasuna from within the room. Ramarao’s blood boiled and he tried to come out. Suryam noticed it and signed him to remain seated at the same place. He complied. Prasuna almost ran out of the room. Ramarao was unable to resist himself and sprang out with the revolver pointed out at Prasuna. She saw Ramarao and Suryam and could guess what must have happened; she was frightened but remained cool and composed.

 

R: (Loudly) You demon of a cheat! Is this the place of your employment? How long have you been throwing dust into my eyes and carrying on this affair? I am going to put an end to your game and your life instantly.

 

Ramarao advanced towards Prasuna with the revolver pointed towards her. Hearing the commotion, Yadagiri entered. He was able to understand the situation and immediately stepped between Ramarao and Prasuna to save her.

 

Y: Please stop at once! (Ramarao was forced to pause) I have no intention of interfering in your private affairs; I don’t care how you settle your personal scores. But this is my hotel; it is my livelihood. It is a place visited by several people. Please let there be no shooting or bloodshed on its premises. Please spare me my business.

 

R: This is no lodge, it is a brothel! You are equally guilty for encouraging these clandestine extramarital affairs. This, perhaps, is your main business. You too should not be spared.

 

P: (Recovered from the shock) What is all this commotion.

 

R: I will tell you!

 

He pulled Yadagiri out of the way and advanced towards Prasuna with the revolver pointed at her. When he was about to pull the trigger, Narayana, who also reached them, held Yadagiri’s hand and turned it away from her and said “How dare you kill a person, right in front of so many of us!”

 

R: She is my wife. I can do anything with her; who are you to question me?

 

Prasuna approached them fast and said “Please wait, both of you. (Turning to Narayana) He is my husband Mr. Ramarao.”

 

N: (With a broad smile) I am extremely sorry Mr. Ramarao! I was actually wanting to meet you myself to convey the good news. Congratulations!

 

Ramarao was confused. Meanwhile, Prasuna said, “Darling, who do you think he is? He is ex-minister Mr. Narayana.”

 

N: (Extending his hand to Ramarao) Your wife Ms. Prasuna is an exceptionally talented, brilliant, skilful and intelligent woman with sharp presence of mind. The Election Committee has concluded its deliberations just a few minutes ago. It has unanimously proposed the name of Ms. Prasuna for the next election to the State Assembly, due in a couple of months. We are certain that she would effortlessly glide to victory. I wanted to convey the good news to you and obtain your consent.

 

Suryam was so surprised that his voice failed him.

P: I told them emphatically that I am devoted to my home and my husband and requested them to spare me the burden and anxiety of politics. They are persuading me to accept the nomination.

 

N: Yes Mr. Ramarao; please ask her to accept. I assure you that she would be appointed a minister in the ensuing cabinet. It is rare to find such a competent woman. We don’t know to what dizzy heights she would rise!

 

R: (Upset with excessive happiness) Really! My Prasuna a minister!! How fortunate I am!!

 

N: If we held the Election Committee meeting at the office we feared that secrecy might not be possible and therefore arranged it here.

 

P: Some people were so annoyed and jealous that they are succumbing to every foul means to wreck my chances. I came to know that a person named Suryam challenged that he would use any fair or foul means to spoil my chances.

 

Suryam was unable to withstand and cope with the series of lies, especially the last one, hurled at him. Ramarao believed everything and was so enraged, that he directed the revolver towards Suryam and shouted “Aren’t you ashamed of creating rifts and differences between a happy couple for your nasty narrow political gain? Such persons should not be shown any mercy or be spared.”

S: (Recovering quickly) Stop Mr. Ramarao, stop. They are all a heap of lies told in order to fool you. Don’t trust them. Verify my word if you don’t believe me.

 

R: It is you who have fooled me. You won’t live to do that again!

 

Ramarao tried to shoot him but Suryam was quick to realize the danger. He jumped off the chair and ran out. Ramarao went out chasing him with the revolver pointed at him. After a while two, three shots were heard in quick succession.

 

It was quiet for some time. The light at Murthy’s table brightens to the level it was when Suryam went there. The voice of Suryam was heard saying “Murthy, rein in your wild dreams; resist your temptation; don’t sacrifice your happiness and peace of mind and stick to the path of virtue.”… Murthy became frightened.

 

Then the light in the veranda began to fade and it became dark.

 

****            ****          ****

 

Soon thereafter the scene returned to what it was at the beginning of the story.

 

Murthy remained seated thinking for some time. The sun emerged from the clouds and was almost on the verge of touching the sea. The veranda was drenched in bright reddish light. Murthy rose from his seat and walked forward to get a better view of the sun set. Just when the sun sank into the sea completely Yadagiri returned with the glass of lime juice. He was looking just as he was at the beginning.

 

Y: Sorry to keep you waiting sir! The limes in the fridge did not appear to be good enough. So I sent my assistant to the garden for a couple of ripe luscious limes, (Placing the glass on thetable) I hope you would like it sir!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Another World.

 

 

 

 

Venkat was on his way to Ramnagar.

 

They lived in a tiny village – a conglomeration of a cluster of huts. It was difficult to spend time there. There was a small shop and a single-teacher school, run by Sivayya.

 

Venkat had always desired to go to Ramnagar. Once in a way, his father used to take him to Ramnagar for Melas or the Chariot festival of the temple. The wide streets lit with bright electric lights and the big beautiful houses used to fascinate him. His father had forbidden him to go to the town all by himself. He asked his father several times why he should not go to the town by himself but never received a satisfactory reply.

 

It was Venkat’s birthday – he completed ten years. He had been eagerly waiting for this day. He woke up before sunrise, had an overhead oil bath and adorned himself in colorful new clothes. He went to school and proudly showed off his finery; he was very happy. He went home and had a sumptuous meal with curry and sweets and came out into the street. It was the road leading to Ramnagar some distance away. Sivayya told him that a yagna was being performed in the town for universal peace and prosperity. He knew how his schoolmates often quarreled; perhaps elders also quarrel; perhaps it is necessary to perform yagas to settle their quarrels. He was curious to know what a yagna looked like. Ramnagar appeared to beckon him. He was ten years old now. He felt he was old enough and wanted to see the yagna. Involuntarily he started going towards Ramnagar.

 

 

You could call Ramnagar a small town or a large village. There were a number of Brahmin families in the town, steeped in traditional customs and lifestyles. Venkat was happily strolling along the streets. No one welcomed him or obstructed him. Finally he reached Ramalaya. It was a large ancient temple. Daily pujas and other religious services to God Rama were systematically performed. Bhajans, harikadhas and festivities were also held frequently in its premises. It was the venue of the yagna also. Several people were sitting in the pandal, watching the proceedings reverentially. What is that fire in that square pit? People in scant clothes and tufted heads, sitting round it were reciting something in measured tones in unison. They took what looked like oil in properly folded leaves in small quantities in their right hands. Put it into one similarly folded leaf held in the left hand. After a certain phrase was uttered, they took the filled up leaf into their right hands and emptied it into the fire! They repeated the act several times as they continued to recite something in perhaps, Sanskrit. Once in a while they stopped the process in order to take some water in a copper spoon, putting it into the right palm and swallowing it; they repeated it three times. The fire leapt high whenever all people poured oil in the fire. In his village if flames leapt high people would pour buckets of water to put down the fire. He was surprised that people were creating fire deliberately methodically and enthusiastically. He could not understand what they were saying but the chorus was pleasing to hear. Most of those sitting around the fire were scantily dressed; perhaps they too were poor like him. Look! Now they are throwing coconuts into the fire which are exploding with a big noise, sending the onlookers into raptures! Now they are throwing into the fire flowers, betel leaves, yellow rice, pasupu, kumkum, bananas, sandalwood, fine new dhotis and sarees! What a waste! All of them are poor, they could have used those clothes at least; why are they destroying them? He asked a person sitting there, why they had created fire deliberately by wasting oil and destroyed fruits, coconuts and fine clothes all of which were useful and expensive. He was told that it was not oil but sacred ghee prepared from butter obtained from cow’s milk and that they were not destroying or wasting all those precious items but were reverentially offering them to the fire God. Venkat was surprised.

 

He went into the temple. When he used to come to the temple along with his father but they always remained outside and saluted the deity with folded hands from outside; he urged his father several times to take him inside the temple and show the God. His father used to admonish him and tell him that they were not supposed to go into the temple. Now he was inside the temple and nobody objected to his presence. Why was his father reluctant to take him into the temple? He walked along, admiring the grandeur of the structure and the decorations on the walls. He soon reached the sanctum sanctorum. It was a marvelous sight! It was Sree Rama’s temple. Sivayya told them the story of Rama in their school. How beautiful were those tall idols standing at the centre! Because it was Rama’s temple, the conspicuous person in the middle must be Sree Rama; the beautiful woman on his left must be Sree Seetha and the person on his right must be his inseparable brother Sree Lakshmana. All the idols ware made of lustrous black stone. Venkat stood looking at them in amazement for quite some time. He saw people going into a corridor on his left, beyond the deities’ enclosure and after some time, returning from the corridor on the deities’ right. He also followed them. The corridor ran round the deities’ enclosure. Along with the group, he too completed three revolutions and again stood in front of the beautiful Gods. They had a Poleramma temple in their village. How ferocious that Goddess is? Why don’t they also have such a beautiful goddess as Sree Seetha? An elderly person was coming out of the sanctum sanctorum. He was carrying water in a copper glass with a copper spoon in it. He was distributing small quantities of water with the copper spoon to the assembled persons who were stretching their right hand to receive it reverentially and swallowing it. He too did likewise. He looked at the paintings on the walls and carvings on the pillars. They were all enchanting; he could recognize scenes from Ramayana but could not understand most of the others especially the various pictures with human bodies and animal faces. He was engrossed in the fascinating spectacle and the eerie ambience of the temple.

 

Some children of about his age were playing in the temple premises. He went to them hoping that they would invite him to join the game but even when he requested them to admit him, they refused. He left them crest fallen and stood watching them. At some distance, there was a vessel full of water; a glass was kept on the cover and another on the floor near the vessel. He saw that children were dipping into the vessel with the glass on its cover, pouring the water into the other glass and were drinking from it. When the vessel was emptied, a woman used to fill it up. When he saw water he too felt like drinking a glass of it. He went there and took the glass absent mindedly and as he was about to dip it into water, he heard that woman calling out “Not that glass my son, use the other one to dip into the vessel”. By the time he could hear her, he already dipped the glass he had in his hand. She became very angry and shouted at him “You fool! You have contaminated all the water!”  She rushed towards the vessel. As she came closer, she recognized him, stopped suddenly and exclaimed “Aren’t you Yadagiri’s son?” Venkat was happy that even in that strange place there was somebody who recognized him. Happily he nodded his head in agreement.

 

All hell broke loose! She was enraged and started blaming and abusing him for daring to enter the temple premises. Venkat could not understand why she was so enraged with him and what he did to deserve it. He stood there with a vacant look. The commotion attracted some people to the scene. One of them shouted, “You scoundrel! Why are you still standing here?” and emptied the vessel of water on his head! Venkat was bewildered and he didn’t know what to do. A heavy built person with broad moustaches and long beard who had triple white stripes on his face, arms and stomach was some distance away. Advancing menacingly towards the boy he thundered “That is not enough! I know how to teach him a lesson. I will tie his hands and feet and throw him into fire.” He looked so ferocious that Venkat feared that he might actually carry out his threat! He was quick to realize the danger. Without loss of any further time, he threw down the glass and ran out as fast as he could, not daring to look back till he could see his village. Thank God! No one was pursuing him! He felt relieved. He slowed down, went into the fields and sat on a boulder in utter exhaustion. Moreover, all his new clothes became wet; his mother would give him a good thrashing if he went home immediately.

 

After all what was his mistake? Like other boys, he too went to drink water. Why did the water become polluted? How was he responsible for it? Both glasses were alike, what difference did it make if he used one or the other to dip in and take water? … But actually she flared up after she discovered who he was. What had that to do with his simple act similar to what the other boys did? He was taught a good lesson for disregarding his father’s advice!

 

Sivayya was returning from the fields and was surprised to see Venkat sitting on the boulder, downcast and melancholy on his birthday! He approached Venkat and asked him what the matter was. He had a great regard for his teacher. In fact, he was the one who changed his name from ‘Enkanna’ to ‘Venkat’. He believed that his teacher knew everything. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he told his teacher all about his visit to Ramalaya and asked him what his mistake was.

 

S: One is expected to use the glass placed over the cover to dip into the vessel so as to prevent the glass used by different boys to get dipped into the vessel. If that was the only mistake she would have admonished mildly and advised you not to repeat it.

 

V: Was there something else that I shouldn’t have done?

 

S: Yes my son! We are Harijans. We are not supposed to go to such places; we are not supposed to touch that water in their pot. They believe that if we went there, that place would get contaminated and if we touch their water or other things, they become polluted.

 

V: What is meant by contamination and pollution?

 

S: To get spoiled, to become dirty, to get defiled.

V: But I had an overhead bath and was wearing clean clothes. Because I was not playing, my hands were not soiled like those of other boys!

 

S: All that is true. They are Brahmins. They belong to a higher caste. We are not supposed to go to the venues where they perform puja or any religious function. We should not go to their temples or touch any belongings; if we do so, they believe that they get defiled.

 

V: Appanna makes the pots. Water is drawn from the same canal from which we also draw water down the stream. I don’t understand why the water in the pot gets contaminated or defiled when we touch.

 

Sivayya was nonplussed but he cleverly advanced an explanation which he hardly believed. “That is the difference! They take the water from the higher reaches and we take from the lower reaches. Anyway, we should follow without question, what the elders advise us.”

 

V: Did the elders advise us like that?

 

S: Yes.

 

V: I went to the Sree Rama Temple also. Will the idols get polluted?

 

S: I don’t know! But perhaps the temple premises might get contaminated and polluted. You were very lucky. Had they found out who you were within the temple itself, you wouldn’t have been spared!

 

V: If a Brahmin comes to our house and touches us will we become sanctified?

 

S: How is that possible? He himself would become polluted and defiled! We are Harijans. Brahmins do not come here.

 

V: Can’t we perform pujas and other services to God?

 

S: We can’t. We are not entitled to.

 

V: Why? Did the elders ordain so?

 

S: Yes.

 

V: How can we get sanctified then? Can’t we become Brahmins?

 

S: What a fool are you! Caste comes with your birth and remains with you for the rest of your life. We are Harijans and we remain so.

 

V: We have our “Poleramma” temple. Yellayya performs some pujas in that temple.

 

S: Of course we can perform our kind of pujas in our temples; that’s all. You can’t understand these things completely just yet. When you become old enough, you would realize completely yourself.

 

V: Am I not old enough? I am now ten.

 

S:(Smiling) Oh yes! That was why you could run away from them fast!

 

****            ****          ****

 

Venkat continued to sit on the rock till late in the evening. Several questions, for which he could not find answers, began to torment him. So far, he only knew that they were poor; did he belong to such a low caste that his very visit to a temple or contact with Brahmins or their belongings could pollute and contaminate them? If he could not go to the temple or perform pujas how could he get rid of his impurity? There appeared to be no way out. He decided never to go to Ramnagar and get humiliated. He did not feel like going back to his home and returning to the contaminated existence. What was the point in continuing with this miserable existence? He hated himself. He got down from the boulder and went straight across the fields and away from home.

 

The fields began to thin out and the ground became increasingly sandy. The sea in front was turbulent with waves rising high and falling flat partly on the sea and partly on the beach. He felt as if the sea was beckoning him with myriad extended hands. The sun which now looked like a red ball of fire was already touching the sea and the sea at that edge appeared like a huge cauldron of molten iron. The sea permitted the sun one final glance of the earth till the horizon and began to gently persuade the sun to rest in its bosom till the next morning.

 

Venkat continued to walk towards the sea unmindful of the danger from the leaping waves. Now he crossed the watershed on the beach and went forward.

 

Incredible! Amazing! The sea itself parted to make way for him!! He continued along the path the sea provided for him, without a moment’s hesitation, as the height of the water walls on either side began to grow and it looked as if the water walls were touching the sky. Now the narrow path began to widen and lo! A golden palace appeared right in front of him! He was wonderstruck and remained transfixed. He looked back; the path along which he walked to reach the palace disappeared, leaving only the wide front yard in front of the palace. He was no doubt slightly embarrassed, but boldly decided to continue forward towards the palace. As soon as the gatekeepers caught sight of him, they reverentially bent down and saluted him and both invited him into the palace with gestures from their hands. Venkat could not even dream that anyone could invite him into such a beautiful palace so courteously and looked back to ascertain if there was someone else behind him for whom the invitation was meant. There was none. When he turned towards the palace, the two gatekeepers again saluted reverentially and made a sign with stretched hands inviting him into the palace. He no longer doubted whom the invitation was meant for and was very happy. He joyously entered the golden palace. Servants sprinkled rosewater, applied sandalwood paste and took him to the queen. She received him affectionately and told him that she had been waiting for him. She told him that there were several other kids like him in the garden and took him to the garden where the colorful trees were studded with lustrous gems of all nine kinds. The water in the stream was so pure that it appeared as if moonlight was flowing in it. The atmosphere was enchanting. Several boys and girls were merrily playing on the soft fluffy green grass. They wore silk clothes and had golden crowns of different designs. Perhaps they were royal children. Would they permit a poor boy like him to play with them? He involuntarily looked at his own clothes; he was extremely surprised to find that he too had silk clothes and a golden crown. He could not understand how he got them and what had happened to his birthday dress. The queen was smiling at him sweetly and said “Venkat! There is no place here where you are forbidden to go to and there is nothing here which you can’t touch. All these children are your friends. Run to them and play with them as long as you please.”

 

Venkat was warmly welcomed by other children. He spent hours like minutes in ecstatic merriment… Then he remembered his house; the queen could read his mind like an open book. She approached him smilingly and handed him a pearl. She asked him to keep the pearl in his palm securely and asked him to close his eyes for a moment. He did as he was asked to do. When he opened his eyes after a moment, he was surprised to find himself standing in his village close to his home. His silk clothes and his crown disappeared; he had his birthday clothes on, free of moisture and wrinkles, just as they were when he wore them in the morning. However, the pearl was still in his hand. The sun was just rising. He casually entered the house.

 

When Yadagiri returned from work late in the evening, he did not find Venkat in the house. He thought that the boy was still busy playing with his friends because it was his birthday. They became anxious when he did not return even after it grew dark. They began searching for him everywhere. Sivayya told them what he knew and they went to the place where he met Venkat. They searched for him in the fields and at every conceivable place and returned disappointed. They woke up before dawn, went out again and searched at the same places with the same result. Tired and dejected they returned to their huts and were wondering what they should do. They could not believe their eyes when Venkat walked into the hut as if nothing happened. His parents embraced him with great relief and deep affection and anxiously asked him where he spent the night. He didn’t understand why they were so worried. He told them all that had happened. But who would believe the boy and his extraordinary story? They imagined that the boy somehow got the pearl and was trying to weave a credible story to conceal his involvement.

 

The next evening Venkat went to the sea again. The sea made way for him right up to the golden palace. He spent the whole night playing with children in the queen’s wonderful garden. By dawn he returned to his hut. His parents were worried but not so badly as before. As soon as he returned, they asked him where he had been to. He repeated the story but none believed him. He became very angry. Why did his own parents not believe his true story? He was tired of the same question being put to him again and again. He was vexed. He offered to show them the palace in order to convince them. That was a blunder he shouldn’t have made.

 

Anyway, the next evening, Yadagiri and Sivayya accompanied him to the sea. Venkat headed towards the sea as usual. The sea did not make way for him! Refusing to give up his effort, he dashed straight into the sea; a wave overpowered him and just as it was about to carry him along into the sea an alert Sivayya grabbed him and pulled him back. He tried again and again and failed every time. Finally he gave up the effort. He lost his face and felt awfully dejected. Why did the sea behave so unusually and let him down?? The elders thought that the boy was taught a good lesion and that he would not repeat his folly. He spent the day like a cat who stepped on fire mistaking it to be mere ash. He was ashamed of himself and remained downcast and silent throughout the day. In the evening he went to the sea again. He was not sure how it would behave and approached it cautiously. The sea parted and gave way as usual! He was very happy but kept wondering why the sea misbehaved in the morning and let him down. He walked down the path, reached the golden palace and spent the whole night with his friends at the queen’s garden.

 

Venkat’s parents were angry that he disregarded their advice, hoodwinked them and managed to escape for the night. Sivayya had other ideas. The boy’s story and behavior were strange. Sivayya wondered whether the boy was under any spell or influence of an evil spirit. Did someone with an evil design gain control over him by witchcraft or black magic? Sivayya told Yadagiri about his fears; they called a witchdoctor. His fearsome looks and makeup were enough to make even a nonbeliever revise his opinion about spirits. After an elaborate ritual he took a Darbha grass blade, recited some mantras sprinkled puja materials and holy water on it. Finally he picked it up, dipped its tip in holy water and wrote something on the left palm of Venkat and ordered him to keep the palm open till all moisture dried up naturally. He was so frightened that he kept his palm open almost till his hand began to ache. The witchdoctor noticed that the boy still kept his palm open and ordered him to relax. The witchdoctor assured everyone that they need have no fear thereafter because no spirit can dare touch him. The boy had no other alternative except to go through the process meekly without any resistance. The elders were pleased and satisfied.

 

By sunset Venkat reached the sea as usual. It was a new moon night. The sea was much more ferocious. The waves rose much higher and the noise became more deafening. Undeterred and undaunted, he headed straight into the sea which parted and gave way as usual. As soon as he entered the seabed he felt that his left palm was beginning to experience a burning sensation where the witchdoctor wrote something and his left hand started to ache. The burning and pain were gradually increasing as he approached the palace. He kept thinking about the queen and his playmates in the palace and braved the suffering. He reached the golden palace. The gatekeepers did not have their usual smile of welcome for him on that day; on the contrary, they turned their faces away. Venkat was surprised but decided to enter, all the same. The burning in his palm intensified as he entered the palace. “Stop there! Don’t you dare take another step forward!!” roared someone. He stopped immediately and looked up. He was surprised that it was the queen herself who commanded him! He always found her kind affectionate and soft spoken; he was frightened to find her so enraged. She continued in the same tone “After doing everything, why did you come here?”

 

He was puzzled and perplexed; he was unable to figure out what she was referring to and said “What did I do?” in innocent surprise.

 

Q: Look at your friends! See how they are groaning under pain caused by the boils on their left palms, right from the time you entered the sea. You are responsible for all their suffering.

 

V: Me! What did I do? My palm is also burning as if fire is on it.

 

Q: That was your own doing! It was the result of what the witch doctor wrote on your left palm. Of course, you are welcome to have anything inscribed on your palms. But why should you come here and cause pain and misery to all the kids? Go back to your village and remain there. You don’t need that pearl any longer. Give it back.

 

V: Please mother! I beg of you not to turn me away. I can’t live without your grace. I was forced to submit to the witchdoctor. How can a small boy like me resist pressure from our elders? He wrote something on my left palm with the darbha grass. Nothing was visible on my palm then nor is anything visible now. There was also no pain till I came to the sea. I did not imagine that it would cause blisters on my friends’ left palms also! I did not harm my friends deliberately. Please pardon me for all the mistakes I committed without my knowledge. I beg of you to be kind and forgive me.

 

Q: That is not enough.

 

V: Please order me what I should do to obtain your pardon. I will gladly comply with your direction instantaneously.

 

Q: Then listen carefully. You must first decide whether you want to be here with your friends or in your village with your parents.

 

V: I would like to be here with you and my friends.

 

Q: Hereafter, it will be impossible to permit your to and fro visits to your parents, because your village elders would continue to create obstructions to your freedom and happiness as they did now. Steeped in ignorance, yielding to the imposed traditions, they blame everything on destiny or on the deeds and actions of their previous births. Their lives have been conditioned by those beliefs and they are unable to break loose from those shackles. They are blind to reason and are afraid to accept the reality they themselves can see if only they dared. Instead, they suffer in silence. Castes came into existence based on the work they did and their professions but now, they degenerated to be based only on the accident of birth. No caste is superior or inferior to the other. Clever people have manipulated the ignorance of the gullible for selfish ends, and imposed intolerable restrictions on the weak. All human beings are equal in the eyes of God. They are all children of God equally. People in your village do not subscribe to this view. They do not revolt against injustice. They do not care for freedom of thought and action. They are not worried about remaining in perpetual bondage and in sacrificing their lives. It is entirely the fault of your own people. They should have rejected the insinuation that they are of a lower caste. You should get rid of such a feeling. They are able to exercise their authority over you because you accept their analysis and their dictates. Once you gain confidence that you are their equal and begin to behave accordingly, the discrimination would end automatically. Without your consent, their power and authority crumbles down and disappears. Be that as it may, this is the time for you to take a decision after careful consideration. Where would you like to be? Would you like to be in your village or here with us?

 

V: I would like to be here with you and my friends.

 

Q: Then you have to make a sacrifice to get yourself sanctified.

 

V: I will.

 

Q: Would you do what I want you to do?

 

V: Sure, I will!

 

She took out a dagger and throwing it in front of him ordered “Cut off your contaminated left palm. Your friends would also be relieved of their suffering.”

 

He picked up the dagger and without the slightest hesitation, cut off his left palm immediately and threw it off! Surprisingly, he did not feel any pain! On the contrary all his burning sensation disappeared. All the blisters on the palms of his friends also disappeared and they were jumping with joy! The queen was pleased; her face turned kind and affectionate as before. She walked down to Venkat, patted him gently and pulled him close to herself. As soon as her soft hands touched him, the dismembered portion of his arm got restored as if by magic. He was very happy; all his friends were jubilant. The queen led him to his friends. He remained with the queen and his friends.

 

3. Crime and Punishment. 

 

 

 

 

Marthandam was busy tallying the daily accounts after the banking hours. It was a tiring monotonous work which required attention and concentration. He usually retired into his private room to attend to that part of the work.

 

The bank attender Mutyalu, who was the only person permitted to enter the room during that period, came and told him that his wife was waiting on the phone for him. Concealing his annoyance, he went to his Manager’s cabin, picked up the receiver and said,

 

M: Hello!

 

“It is me, Chidrupi.”

 

M: How many times did I advise you not to disturb me in the office?

 

“Of course you did … but..”

 

M: But what? Did the heaven fall on your head?

 

“Sasank has not yet returned from school.”

 

M: So what? He might have been delayed for some reason. It is only four thirty now.

 

“That’s why I am worried! He used to come much earlier than four everyday.”

 

M: Stop worrying so much for every trivial thing! 

 

“I can’t help being concerned and frightened. Please go to his school and find out what the matter is?”

 

M: Me!! How can I do that? I have a lot of work to be completed, I am so busy here.

 

“Is it more important than Sasank?”

 

M: Do something yourself!

 

“What can I do? I do not know anything in the town. I don’t know where his school is. Did you ever take me out and show me anything?”

 

M: Now please don’t bombard me with your charter of complaints!

 

“Alright, do something about Sasank.”

 

M: Okay, okay. I will send Murthy to school.

 

“Alright; ask him to start immediately.”

 

M: Sure!

 

****            ****          ****

 

Marthandam remained with his uncle Ramarao and completed his B.Com. with distinction. A close friend of Ramarao offered his daughter in marriage to Marthandam. He was obliged to his uncle and so he had no choice; to gain time, he insisted that he was unwilling to get married before he could get a good job. Fortunately for him, Ramarao had influential friends, one of whom was a director of a bank in a neighboring town; fortunately for Marthandam, that bank was looking for a reliable and competent manager. Because of his academic brilliance, they overlooked his lack of experience and appointed Marthandam. He too was quick to learn and impressed the directors with his competence and devotion.

 

Soon thereafter Marthandam married Chidrupi. As soon as their son Sasank completed four years, Marthandam put him in the LKG, disregarding Chidrupi’s advice to let him remain in the house at least for another year.

 

Marthandam believed in the natural superiority of man. He believed that women have been created to serve men in every way he desired. He did not recognize that she had a personality of her own. He believed that her desires, ambitions and behavior should always be subservient to her husband’s wishes. Moreover, he was very suspicious. He always kept a close watch on Chidrupi’s movements and behavior, especially when she dealt with men, be they his office colleagues or street vendors. He convinced her that if doors and windows were kept open, the house would easily be accessible to thieves, vagabonds and unsocial elements and asked her to keep them closed at all times when he was away from home. Recently the management allotted him official quarters which synchronized perfectly with his tastes. It was a solitary house in an upcoming locality, with the closest house being about a hundred yards away. Fortunately for Chidrupi, they also provided a telephone connection. Except for a limited number of times on specific purposes, he never took her out of the house. Her world was confined to her house; she knew nothing about the town in which she was living.

 

Chidrupi came from an ordinary family of a village. She had a sister who was married when she was eleven; she was never sent to school. Chidrupi survived after two successive babies died within months of their birth. Her survival brought some cheer to the family but there was a tinge of regret that it was not a boy. Within a year a male child was born, which brought a great jubilation to the family. They named him Varaprasad. He was the darling of the family and was very much pampered. Every festivity in a child’s growth and development was celebrated with pomp and enthusiasm although nobody bothered about Chidrupi’s growth. The parents fulfilled all his demands even when they exceeded their capacity. Because he was a male, the parents were keen to send him to school but delayed it till his sixth year, fearing that he might not be able to withstand the strain. Because he was a pampered child they had all sorts of apprehensions, that he was so timid and innocent that his classmates might molest and harass him if he was all by himself in school. Therefore, fortunately for Chidrupi, she too was admitted into the same class along with him to act as his bodyguard and immediate guardian. She had to carry his books and share the text books; she had to do his homework before she could attend to her own. In those days, promotions to the next class were automatic irrespective of one’s performance, through the high school. They had to face a common examination only at the end of the high school course which they were required to pass before entering college. Chidrupi passed the SSLC examination but Varaprasad could not succeed. No one was happy that she could succeed; no one could digest the fact that a boy failed and his sister passed! Everyone blamed and abused the SSLC Board for failing Varaprasad. Chidrupi begged her parents to permit her continue her studies but she was totally ignored. Her father remarked “Where is the need for higher studies for Chidrupi! Has she to join any service or rule the land? What she learnt is itself more than enough for her”. She also heard her parents say how much harder it became for them to find a suitable alliance for her. Fortunately for her, not long after that, her marriage with Marthandam was settled. She had been suffering the discrimination against women right from her birth and resented it but realized that she was powerless to do anything about it; she knew that any precipitate action would be no better than fighting against the windmills. Now she felt happy that soon, she would be starting a new life and entertained several dreams about it. But soon after she went to live with her husband, she realized that she fell from a burning pan into the fire! She was vexed and exasperated with that jail life and the conduct of the jailor.

 

Under the influence of his friend, Marthandam selected Murthy as a clerk in his bank; he remained grateful to Marthandam. He used to take the liberty of assigning some petty domestic jobs to Murthy who used to oblige. He was requested to go to Sasank’s school and take him home.

 

The rickshaw which used to take him and four other children to school and back, did not turn up that evening and the children were stranded at school. Mothers of three children went to the school already and picked up their children; only Sasank and Karan were still waiting in the school. The peon-cum-watchman who resided in a small house at the farther corner of the playground, was with them and had been reassuring the frightened kids that their parents would soon arrive. In those days telephone connection was difficult to get and so, they were not very common. Marthandam got one at his residence because he happened to be a bank manager. Sasank was happy to see Murthy who used to come to their house. Sasank did not want to leave Karan all alone in the school and asked Murthy if he could bring Karan also with them and drop him at his house which was on their way. The three went to Karan’s house first. His mother was employed and used to return home around six, depending on the bus which was never on time. Karan’s grandmother who used to remain in the house was old and infirm and was in no position to go anywhere without assistance. She had been waiting anxiously for Karan outside the door gazing in the direction the boy was expected to come from his school. She was very grateful to Sasank and Murthy for their kind gesture.

 

By the time Murthy and Sasank reached home, Chidrupi became very anxious, wondering why they did not arrive yet. She felt relieved on seeing them. Sasank told her the whole story. She was very grateful to Murthy and requested him to wait for a while in the hall. He wondered if she also had some errand for him but waited in the hall. She attended to Sasank, giving him a wash, changing his clothes and feeding him with snacks and warm milk. Then she prepared some coffee and gave it to Murthy, expressing her gratitude to him for the trouble he had taken. While he drank the coffee she remained in the hall and kept him engaged in conversation, out of social courtesy.

 

Marthandam replaced the receiver and requested Murthy to go to Sasank’s school and take him home. Then he returned to his room to complete the pending work. Although he reassured Chidrupi not to worry, he himself could not overcome disturbing thoughts in regard to Sasank. He completed his work as fast as he could and rushed home. He was relieved to see Sasank playing in the veranda. As he stepped into the hall, he was enraged to see Murthy drinking coffee and Chidrupi conversing with him. He was an employee in the bank and was sent on their own work to their house by Marthandam. He felt very much constrained to display his outrage and resentment at that time. He formally thanked Murthy and rushed into the house as if he was late for some urgent work there, without sitting down for a moment and sharing a word for the sake of courtesy and decency. She could easily understand his mind but Murthy was unable to do so. After completing coffee he thanked her and took her leave to depart and paused to take leave of Marthandam. She told him that her husband was busy inside and assured him that she would tell her husband on his behalf. Murthy took her leave and departed.

 

Chidrupi was collecting the coffee cup and adjusting the sofas in the hall. Soon after Murthy left, Marthandam entered and asked,

 

M: What were you both talking about so animatedly?

 

C: It is nothing. I was just asking him about his native place and about his family.

 

M: Why?

 

C: (Surprised) For no particular reason! I didn’t know what else to talk about.

 

M: Where was the need for you to talk at all?

 

C: He went all the way to Sasank’s school and brought him home safely. I felt like giving him a cup of coffee and to say a few words of thanks.

 

M: He is doing such odd jobs for me because I gave him that job in our bank.

 

C: You have given jobs to many others also; why doesn’t anyone else show you the same degree of gratitude?

 

M: That is exactly my point. Why are you both trying to get close to each other?

 

Chidrupi was appalled at his accusation. Because she was a woman, she was endowed with a high degree of tolerance. She felt that it was prudent not to take the conversation any further. He was somewhat restrained this time because it was he who was responsible for Murthy to come to their house.

 

One evening after Marthandam returned from office, a couple knocked at their door. They introduced themselves as Sankar and Kamala, the owners of a plot almost opposite their house. They told Marthandam that they were planning to begin construction of their house next Sunday. He talked with both of them jovially. The standing instructions for Chidrupi were that she should remain inside the house when anybody, male or female, came to meet him. After a while, Kamala asked him whether his wife was not in the house. He told her that perhaps she was busy with some household work and called her. She heard who they were and why they were there; she too was eager to meet them because they would be the first family to build a house so close to them. She restrained herself till her husband called her. She went and sat next to her husband and began talking freely with both the guests. Marthandam was not very comfortable with that. Moreover, he felt that he was being ignored after she joined them. An idea occurred to him.

 

M: Chidrupi! Why don’t you bring some coffee to our guests?

 

S: Please don’t bother! We have actually come to invite both of you to the Sankhustapana, (The function for starting a new construction), next Sunday.

 

K: We would be delighted if both of you could grace the occasion.

 

M: Of course we would come; that doesn’t mean that you can’t have coffee now. Chidrupi, please look into that.

 

Chidrupi prepared coffee and served them. The conversation continued. When a couple of ladies meet, they have plenty of things to discuss. Men can’t speak to each other so freely so fast. Sankar soon became a mute spectator and Marthandam had to remain mute, wondering on what pretext he could send Chidrupi away. They completed drinking their coffee and were wondering where they should put the empty cups.

 

M: Don’t worry. Chidrupi would take them.

 

She received the cups and went into the house. Soon thereafter, the guests also departed.

 

One day as Marthandam returned from office, he found Chidrupi doing her hair looking at her image in a mirror placed on the window facing the street. He was enraged and as he entered, shouted at her “What are you doing at that window?”

 

C: What else. I am doing my hair. The visibility is better here.

 

M: Light will also enter through the window facing the backyard.

 

C: I am almost through… After all, it is a deserted street.

 

M: Not any longer! The workers are busy with the construction work of Sankar’s house.

 

C: So what?

Marthandam was further enraged both because she stood her ground and because she did not comply with his instruction immediately. In a fit of emotion he rushed towards her and slapped her saying, “How dare you disregard my advice and start an argument?”

 

The blow was so hard that she felt dizzy; tears began to fill her eyes. She left the mirror and the comb in the window and went into the hall without closing the window, even as he was looking sternly at her. He himself picked up the mirror and the comb and closed the window.

 

The frequency of his abuse started to rise. Sankar could build only a hall, a bedroom and a kitchen with the money they then had. All the same, they decided to move into their own house and continue the rest of the construction, as and when they could manage to pool some money or obtain a bank loan. They invited Marthandam and Chidrupi for their Gruhapravesam, (The ceremony of entering a new house). Chidrupi was very happy and thrilled to get an opportunity to participate in an auspicious function, after a long time. She was helpful to Kamala and shared the work at the function, like her sister. She was jovial, free and enjoyed herself. Marthandam also enjoyed the opportunity but he continued to keep an eye on Chidrupi. He was uncomfortable to see her so free, so jovial and so friendly with everybody. After returning home he asked her “Did you know them before?”

 

C: Yes.

 

M: (Surprised) Since when?

 

C: (Smiling) Since they came to our house to invite us for Sankhustapana of their house.

 

He did not fail to notice a mild ridicule in her replies. For some reason, he did not react as he naturally would have done. Perhaps the jovial spirit excited by the auspicious function still lingered and reined him in, from returning to his normal mood so soon.

 

****            ****          ****

 

Chidrupi wondered why her doorbell was ringing at that unusual time. She thought that Marthandam forgot something and sent Murthy to bring it. She went and opened the door. She was very surprised to see Jalaja, standing at the door; she could not believe her own eyes. Jalaja was her only friend from childhood. They studied together till SSLC. She was married soon after she passed SSLC and they did not meet each other thereafter. Overwhelmed with joy and emotion on seeing her, she embraced her saying “How fortunate am I to have met you after ages! Where have you been? How many children do you have? When did you come to our town?” She shot off a series of questions without a pause.

 

J: Stop, stop, stop. How can I answer all your questions in one breath? Anyway, will you keep me standing at the door or will you care to invite me into the house?

 

C: Do I also need to invite you?

She dragged Jalaja into the house and both sat down in the hall. They kept talking for a long time exchanging the highlights of their lives since they separated.

 

Jalaja was unfortunate in another way. She was from a poor family and was also married into a poor family. Her husband was a late born only child. His father cultivated the small piece of land they had and somehow maintained his family. After he became old and infirm, his son took over the job of cultivating their land. One day, as he was working on the farm, a poisonous snake bit him. Because they did not have adequate medical facilities in the village to attend to such calamities, his life could not be saved. Jalaja became a bird whose wings were suddenly clipped. Her father-in-law advised her to go back to her parents, if she so desired. She considered her options. Her father was also a poor farmer. Moreover, he had also to get his two daughters married. Both her parents-in-law were in poor health and had no one to look after them. She decided to remain with them and share their burden. She began searching for a job consistent with her meager qualification. At that time the state government began seriously trying to prevent and cure AIDS. It established district-wise teams in phases, to visit populous places like cities and towns initially, to test for and detect HIV infested persons and to extend free treatment to them and protect them from developing AIDS. She secured a job as a field worker in that scheme. In addition to supporting herself at the place of work, she also assisted in her in-law’s support in the village.

 

Her parents had a large family to support and commitments like daughters’ marriages. Although she was keen on continuing her education, she was mature enough to understand her father’s domestic compulsions and kept quiet. She was able to complete her high school because the government was gracious enough to extend free education facility for girls for high school study. She realized that with her present qualification, it was impossible to improve her career in that or any other department. She tried hard and achieved a transfer to that town because it had a facility for an evening college. She was determined to obtain a degree at least.

 

Marthandam did not have any objection for Jalaja’s visits, so the friends used to meet several times. In fact, he also used to talk to her in a friendly and a jovial manner. Once she asked Chidrupi, “You have been residing in this town which has an evening college; why didn’t you continue your studies?”

 

C: Me? I can’t even go into the street alone!

 

J: Why?

 

Friends who have been intimate from childhood do not harbor any reservation or keep any secret between them. Chidrupi told Jalaja how her husband had been treating her and described a few recent incidents. She was not a little surprised.

 

J: He appears quite normal in his behavior and in his appearance; I could have never suspected what type of a person he really was! How come, he is so friendly and jovial with me?

 

C: He is a male! Therefore he considers himself above and beyond every restriction that applies to his wife!

 

However, since that day Chidrupi began to wonder why she too could not continue her studies. She admired Jalaja who, in spite of innumerable difficulties and responsibilities, was still so determined to pursue her studies. Chidrupi’s mind was gradually tending towards her latent ambition, submerged in life’s day to day struggles. Of course, Marthandam was not going to like it and was sure to create as many hurdles as possible. Still, she told him that she would like to continue her studies in the evening college. He became very angry and surprised because till then, she never asked for anything nor did she express her desire to do some specific thing. He said “What you learnt is enough; you don’t need to learn more.”

 

C: (Trying to plead) I have been wanting to study further, since I passed SSLC. There was no scope when I was with my parents. Please let me fulfill my ambition.

 

M: You are no worse off because you didn’t study further. It is enough if you remain at home and look after the family.

 

Once or twice the topic came up but there was no change in Marthandam’s attitude.

 

After the mirror incident occurred she tried to avoid friction which made her more depressed and melancholy. After Jalaja started visiting her, somehow, she began to feel more relaxed. Cheer in life appeared to be returning to her. With the new idea acquired from Jalaja taking a firm root, she was becoming more optimistic. Once a woman comes to a decision, she would be prepared to face any challenge and endure anything to achieve her objective. Gradually Chidrupi reached that stage.

 

One evening the doorbell rang; it was unlike the peculiar way in which her husband rang it. When she opened the door she found Sankar there, who said “Excuse me…”

 

C: Please come in.

 

S: It is alright! I just rang up to find out if Kamala gave you our house keys.

 

Because he remained outside the house, out of courtesy, she also stepped out and answered, “No she didn’t. Isn’t she at home?”

 

S: No. Perhaps she went to the provisions store for something she needed urgently. Please don’t bother! I will look out for her. Sorry to have disturbed you.

 

C: (With a smile) Oh, no. You are always welcome.

 

Just as she stepped out, Marthandam was returning from office. He saw her talking with Sankar and replying to him with a broad smile. Marthandam was immediately excited and infuriated and began to imagine all sorts of stories between them ending in that happy cheerful send off. As soon as he reached her, he thundered, “What was that private discussion between you and Sankar which had to be called off as soon as you saw me approaching the house?”

 

C: (Surprised to hear him) I didn’t notice you till now! It was nothing. He found his house locked and came to find out if Kamala left the keys with me.

 

M: Why should she leave the keys with you?

 

C: What is wrong with that?

 

M: How dare you raise your voice? (He slapped her) Do you imagine that I can’t see through your incessant overtures?

 

She did not think that she was offending him; she did not think that she did any wrong. She was not prepared for that heavy blow. She lost her balance and fell over the step. Her face was hurt by the impact and blood began to ooze. He left her as and where she was and hurried into the house. She was amazed to realize that he passed her as if he passed some inanimate object on his way, ignoring that it was a human being and his own wife. For the first time, she felt ashamed of herself and loathed her existence. She wondered why her husband continued to ill treat her even though she was not guilty of any wrong-doing. She tried her best to live according to his dictates but he still continued to pick up some imaginary fault or the other, to abuse her physically and mentally. Her emotions rose to a critical level. She began to feel the futility of her efforts and wondered what she should be doing. Many times, she wondered what right a husband had to misbehave with his wife in the manner Marthandam had been doing. Her patience and endurance were proving to be wasted efforts. For people who refuse to understand civilized norms and silent protests, there should be a different way which they understand, to teach them a lesson. But what is it? The feeling that even if she was unable to reform him, she should take some revenge for all the atrocities she suffered at his hands, was gathering momentum.

 

One portion of her brain was constantly contemplating ways and means to achieve her objective of continuing her education in the evening college. Candidates like her, who had a break in their educational career exceeding two years, had to pass an entrance examination, which inevitably involved some fee. Marthandam was certainly not going to cooperate. She had no money with her; where should she be getting it from? She had a gold chain given to her by her parents on the occasion of her marriage. Like any daughter, she too had a great sentimental value attached to it, more so because it was the only gold present from her parents who had been unnaturally partial to her brother! It was the only thing she could call her own in that house. After careful thought for a couple of days, she decided to sell the chain and was determined to justify her act by securing a degree. Jalaja did not visit her during the last few days, perhaps due to work in her job. The last day for payment of the examination fee was just two days away and she became very restless and anxious. Fortunately for her, Marthandam sent Murthy to their house on some work. The idea to utilize him for her purpose, flashed across her mind. She explained her purpose and convinced him. In the process she had to reveal instances of the abuse her husband subjected her to. Murthy became very sympathetic and advised her to mortgage, rather than sell her gold chain so that she could keep open her option to retrieve it when conditions improved. He paid the fee and submitted her application.

 

Jalaja had been camping in an adjacent town for the past few days. She returned to town on Saturday morning and came to meet Chidrupi the same evening. They exchanged all the news. Jalaja was extremely unhappy and wondered which of them was more unfortunate; she wondered how Chidrupi would be able to continue her studies in that hostile domestic environment of constant turmoil. After sometime, Marthandam arrived from the bank and joined them. He was a sweet darling when someone else was also present in the house. As usual he was quite friendly and cracked jokes. During the conversation Jalaja said “Why don’t you let our unit test your bank employees for HIV? This service is free now through our unit”

 

M: Why not, if you so desire!

 

 

J: Thanks. That would be nice; I would be credited with attracting one more institution into our scheme… I think you know that it is voluntary.

 

M: Yes… But ours is a very small unit; we are just eighteen.

 

J: That’s alright. Little drops of water make a mighty ocean!

 

M: … I will send the official request on Monday after formally consulting my colleagues.

 

J: Each member would be tested confidentially. The samples collected from the individual would be sent to the lab under pseudo names or numbers by the Head of our unit. The reports would be coordinated by the Head and sent under a sealed cover to that particular individual.

 

M: so you are taking all possible care to ensure secrecy.

 

J: Our job does not end there. For anyone tested HIV positive, we extend free treatment secretly to that individual, at least as long as our scheme lasts.

 

M: That’s fine.

 

Fortunately or unfortunately, Chidrupi’s hall ticket arrived when Marthandam was in the house. He opened the envelope and was very surprised to find Chidrupi’s hall ticket for the entrance examination in it. He was very upset that she was continuing her efforts for admission into the evening college in spite of his firm refusal to allow it. His emotions worked up as usual and abusing her in the choicest terms he advanced towards her with a raised hand. She was quite aware of what the situation would be like when he came to know; so she was prepared to face it. She remained standing calmly and when he came close enough said, “Wait a minute. I am fully aware that I am doing something which you did not approve of. I knew that you were going to become wild, abuse and beat me. I am determined to complete my degree, come what may. Now go ahead! Abuse and beat me to your heart’s content; I won’t give up my life’s ambition.” He was startled and stunned to see her so composed, so fearless and so defiant. He lowered his hand and said

 

M: I will see how long you can continue without my…

 

C: Please stop there! Don’t dare complete what you were going to say. If you contemplate anything like hat, be sure that I would come to your bank and expose your behavior entirely. I also have a witness in Mr.Murthy.

 

He suddenly felt confused and powerless and remained motionless. She took her hall ticket from his hand and departed.

 

****            ****          ****

 

Fast-forward four years.

 

The scene in Marthandam’s house was startlingly different. He had no resemblance to the previous Marthandam. He was now very subdued, resigned and listless. He was not living his life but was merely dragging himself through it. He was going to the bank and attending to his work and after returning, he used to confine to himself in his room. He looked like an imbecile invalid at home. Chidrupi was attending to all household work, including going to the market to fetch required provisions and vegetables. She began taking complete care of Sasank and was attending to Marthandam’s needs…It was looking like the house of a different family.

 

One day Chidrupi received a letter appointing her as an officer in a National bank at a salary which was more than twice Marthandam’s total emoluments. She felt pleased and vindicated. She began to feel that Marthandam has suffered enough for his misconduct with her and she wanted to relieve him from the falsehood he had been living with.

 

She gave the letter of appointment to her husband. He read through the letter and without betraying any emotion on his face, he quietly returned it to her.

 

C: Wouldn’t you now agree how useful my education has been?

 

M: To whom?

 

She realized that it was his bitterness that was talking through him. She sympathized with him and said,

 

C: You have to answer that question yourself. Be that as it may,  I have decided to reveal a secret that I have been harboring in my heart for some years now.

 

M: We hardly speak these days, what secrets do we still have, to share!

 

C: (Ignoring his comment) For no reason at all, you used to abuse, beat and humiliate me several times. Do you still feel that you were right and justified in doing so?

 

M: Why do you need to excavate the past events now?

 

C: So your masculine arrogance is still preventing you to own your crimes! Anyway, I am not anxious to extract a confession from you.

 

The sea change in their domestic environment did not come about naturally all by itself. After the altercation on the day the hall ticket was received, Marthandam was restless for revenge and was waiting for an opportunity to show her place and regain his dominance. He wondered why he behaved that day, in the manner he did. Chidrupi was easily able to read the working of his mind. That dose of defiance was not sufficient to reform him. She began to think desperately; she also took care not to provoke him. Suddenly an idea occurred to her; she was frightened at her own idea! But how could she forget the intense torture, abuse and humiliation? How could she escape their continued threat in the future? Again and again she returned to the same idea which was operative then and would be lost soon. She came to a decision and shared it with Jalaja when she came to meet. She was startled at first and explained how risky it was.

 

C: Don’t I know how risky it is? It means that we should be extra careful in planning every step and in executing that plan. You are my friend; I am sure you would cooperate and help me out.

 

J: He is none other than your own husband! Did you consider the possible consequences?

 

C: I have done nothing else than thinking all aspects of my proposed plan, for the last two or three days. Now, don’t try to frighten me or to dissuade me. Let us sit down and plan carefully to enable me achieve my objective. Let us consider the risks and prepare to face them.

 

They planned meticulously and had a fake officially sealed report sent to Marthandam that he tested positive for HIV. He was stupefied to see the report! For one full minute he lost his senses; he could not believe what he saw. He was upset and was terribly agitated He tried to control his thoughts and emotions but was unable to let the signs spill over to his face. When he reached home Chidrupi remarked “What is the matter with you? You are looking so out of sorts and dejected.”

 

M: It is nothing new; it is the pressure of work.

 

C: It doesn’t look like the usual tiredness.  Your face is listless.

 

M: (Irritated at her persistence) I told you already that it was nothing unusual. What more do you want to know?

 

C: Alright, alright… Have your wash. Coffee is ready. He returned after the wash and dropped into a sofa. She served him coffee. After he drank it she extended her hand and collected the empty cup and quietly said “I can guess why you are like that.”

 

M: Oh, I see!

 

C: (Continued quietly) Jalaja told me everything.

 

His spirits which already fell to the ground, now sank underground. He was more distressed because the one person, from whom he wanted to keep the news away for ever, already came to know about it. He felt that the mask he was laboring to protect was no longer necessary or useful. He felt damned and cursed and could no longer control the outburst of tears of utter desperation and degradation. His present state made even Chidrupi to feel sorry for him for a moment.

 

She assured him that only she and Jalaja were aware of his HIV and promised to keep it that way. She added, “Jalaja convinced me that you were at a stage when it was curable. She promised to bring you regular supply of medicines. She requested me to ensure that you took the medicines regularly as per the doctor’s advice. She gave me the first installment of medicines for two weeks. She offered to collect the blood samples for testing as and when required, from our home. She also cautioned that treatment needed to be continued for an extended period.”

 

He was speechless and meekly assented like a pet lamb.

 

C: Don’t worry. I won’t desert you. I will remain with you and help you overcome your affliction in the shortest possible time.

 

Marthandam was extremely grateful to her and expressed his gratitude through tears which blocked his speech. She made arrangements for looking after Sasank while she attended college. Marthandam did not raise a word of protest; on the contrary, he paid her fees and bought her the required books also.

 

Days rolled on into months and months into years. Sometimes Chidrupi used to seriously wonder whether what she did was right. Although what she did was treacherous, she convinced and justified herself that what she did was merely a reaction to his actions and therefore the responsibility for both rested with him.

 

Now she completed her B.Com. and passed the examination for the selection of bank officers with flying colors; she was selected for an officer’s position in a national bank.

 

Chidrupi continued her introduction to the revelation of the secret to Marthandam.

 

C: If you imprison even a small kitten in a room, close doors and windows and try to beat it with a stick, it will no longer remain timid and frightened nor would it try to run away. It will display all its ferocity and try to counterattack, in spite of the fact that you are much stronger and also armed with a stick. That is the power of the compulsion of self-preservation… I am a human being and your wife! You have cruelly abused me physically, always without reason. You have directed your inferiority complex, your lack of self-confidence and your diffidence, in the form of suspicion against my character and harassed me endlessly. Do you think that it is difficult for a wife to cheat on her husband, if she really desired to do so? What keeps one within the constraints of civilized society is only a self-imposed moral restraint but not the silly restrictions of a suspicious husband. Your frenzy degenerated you into ignoring the fact that I was also a human being. I was deeply anguished. My blood used to boil every time you misbehaved. Sometimes I was so frustrated and depressed that I contemplated suicide also. I wanted to teach you a proper lesson but I did not want to adopt another crude method… Now listen carefully. You were never affected by HIV; you never tested positive to HIV. All medicines administered to you were vitamin pills of different colors, shapes and sizes; that’s all. In collusion with Jalaja I engineered that report and the rest of the sordid drama. We played our roles according to a plan. I caused you suffering and anguish not only out of revenge but also because I wanted you to experience them to realize their intensity and their consequences. I hoped that the experience would reform you. Krishnadevaraya treated his mentor, guardian and eventual minister Timmarusu, like his own father. Just before coronation, Timmarusu took him aside and slapped him. Immediately embracing him, Timmarusu told him as tears filled his eyes, “While discharging the duties of a king, you shall have to impose punishments. I want you to always remember the pain it causes before imposing it”. What I did was a similar act. Of course it was a reaction to what I suffered. Still I apportioned a part of the punishment to myself also. I sacrificed a wife’s life in the prime of my youth and voluntarily imposed a solitary maiden’s life on myself. I also took over the burden of managing the house and the family. From this moment onwards you can consider yourself free and independent as a husband and the head of the family. If you still feel that what I did was wrong, you are welcome to take any action you might desire; I won’t raise any objection.  But I have to decide an issue immediately. What is your advice to me regarding the job offer from the bank?  Do you want me to accept it or reject it?

 

4. A.I.I.E.

 

 

 

 

In spite of Murthy’s efforts, by the time he completed his work and got ready to go to the party at his friend Sastry’s residence, it was already five. Murthy was transferred to Hyderabad last January. The All India Industrial Exhibition (A.I.I.E.) was an annual event there for the first forty five days of a New Year. It was recently shifted from the Public Gardens to the more spacious Exhibition Grounds and had been gaining in popularity year after year. It was patronized also because its profits were used to establish and run educational institutions. Saraswathy heard a lot about the exhibition and was eager to pay a visit and persuaded her husband Murthy. Last year they went on the Republic Day and enjoyed the visit very much and spent a lot of time there. This year, she started persuading him from Sankranthi onwards. A middle class family has to plan and provide for every additional expense.  The bread winner can’t be as impulsive or spontaneous as his wife. So Murthy postponed the visit till the Republic Day and managed to convince his wife, pleading that the stalls would not be filled up if they went too early. She told all her friends about it and was eagerly awaiting the Republic Day.

 

Murthy was crazy about dramas. He had been planning to stage a drama for a long time but was forced to keep postponing it because he could not find a suitable and competent lady for a character in the drama. Decent girls were not forthcoming to act in public performance of dramas. Sastry was Murthy’s friend. When he was a student at Guntur, his college mate Chaya won the first prize in dramas for four consecutive years. Sastry also played a minor role in one of the dramas and knew Chaya. He happened to  

meet her recently. She was also working in the same city. He renewed his acquaintance with her. He learnt that she was still very much interested in dramas. He told Murthy about her. He was anxious to get acquainted with her and to request her to act in his drama. Unaware of Murthy’s commitment, Sastry arranged for a party at his residence on the Republic Day evening, essentially to enable Murthy and Chaya to meet each other. Murthy could hardly forgo the opportunity. Honestly, he did not want to disappoint his wife but what could he do? He had to plead his inability with her because of Sastry’s party. Naturally, she was enraged. He cajoled and begged her and finally convinced her by promising to take her to a cinema on the next Saturday and to the exhibition on Sunday. She lamented that it was always the husband’s will that had to prevail in a family. She remained cross and irritable because he was giving more importance to the friend’s party than to his promise to her. And, she said, what about her loss of face for her among her friends?

 

Because he was already late, he rushed to Sastry’s place as fast as he could. None of the invitees, except Ramarao, turned up; Chaya did not come. Ramarao declared that he was sure that Chaya would not come. He called Sastry an inexperienced simpleton to have trusted her word. He declared that ladies’ behavior was strange, especially that of the modern educated girls. They would talk sweetly, speak eloquently about emancipation and modernization of women but the inherent fright in their hearts continued to hold them back. Change had not come about in their thoughts, personal attitudes or sub conscience. Even if they worked in the same office and were friendly, they discover some pretext to avoid accompanying a male colleague during a lunch-break for a cup of coffee. It took a much longer time than one’s most generous estimate, for trust to get established in them. This was Ramarao’s philosophy of women.

 

They waited till six for the invitees; everyone was tired and bored. Murthy asked Sastry to phone to Chaya’s flat and find out the reason for her delay. She told him that she suddenly became unwell since the afternoon and requested him to excuse her; she assured him that she would herself pay a visit to him as soon as she was well again. Murthy was very disappointed. Sastry was angry and restless like a cat who stepped on ash unaware of the fire underneath it. Ramarao, who remained in the chair sporting an ‘I already know that’ smile, broke into a chuckle. It enraged both the other friends. With the principal invitee absent the party ended in less than half an hour. No one was eager to return home so early on a holiday evening. They went out and began strolling down the street aimlessly. All shops were closed and the traffic was sparse. The street looked very different from what it was on a normal day. Soon they reached Abids cross roads and paused wondering which road should they be taking. Ramarao suggested “Why don’t we go to the exhibition? On a holiday evening we can see lots of color.”

 

They entered the exhibition and paused unable to decide which way they should be going. Ramarao was peacefully smoking his cigarette. Murthy and Sastry were looking from one side to the other, considering their options. Murthy saw a group of ladies emerging from a stall and going right. One of them captivated his attention. She was in a yellow Kanchi silk saree with black floral buta work and black Chittur mango border and was wearing a black georgette blouse. She was walking stylishly talking and laughing with her friends, in a carefree abandon, and appeared to be enjoying herself. Her supple shapely body appeared to have been drenched in the hue of the rising full-moon. Her waist length left plait was dancing and took a variety of serpentine shapes as she tossed and turned her head. The right plait was dangling away from his sight, except when it was tossed farther right. Broad red ribbons were tastefully tied a few inches above the ends. He thought that she was a young woman who had not yet grown out of her fascination for bright colors.

 

Unable to decide which way to go, Sastry said “Alright. Let us follow the majority and go left.” Murthy immediately interjected “No we are going right” and lead the way. Sastry said “Our friend espied some chip of a moon.” And all three started walking. Ramarao was quick to perceive the reason for Murthy’s choice and said “It is not a chip of the moon, it is a cheetah!”  Murthy’s secret was exposed and the other two started making fun of him. Someone rushed towards Ramarao bellowing a wild ‘Hello’ and landed his hand on Ramarao’s back. That person was very happy to find Ramarao after a very long time. He caught hold of Ramarao’s hand and tried to take him away. Ramarao explained that he was with friends, and introduced them. After talking with him for a while, Ramarao took his address and promised to meet him the next Sunday.  He left the friends and went his way. Now, three pairs of eyes began searching for the yellow saree beauty in vain. They were disappointed but continued to walk in the same direction.

 

Why should the sight of a fashionable girl in tasteful attire, who was enjoying herself in a gay abandon, attract their attention and disturb them? Why should they feel so disappointed when she disappeared? What would they gain even if she remained within their sight till eternity? Will it satisfy them when and if they succeed in confronting her? These were the issues for the mind to consider; what was reacting now was their ‘Manasu’ (Just as the brain is considered the centre for thought, manasu is considered to be the centre of emotions and feelings. Manasu has no physical existence whereas the brain has).  It can’t think; it need not have a purpose; it is not bothered about the consequences; it does not recognize any restriction to its freedom and it reacts to what it sees. How can it help reacting to an exquisite piece of nature’s creation, getting tickled and excited and tending to provoke desire? That is ‘Maya’, the illusion. God has graced humans with this gift. How can three young people resist it? It is not entirely their fault!

 

They went to the stall where they first saw her and searched for her in the stalls all around it. They could not find her. The exhibition occupied a large area and stalls were arranged in clusters. There were four entrance and exit gates. As they continued their search they came to an exit gate. They concluded that the yellow saree slipped through that gate. They felt dejected and listless. They continued to walk and watch the stalls. They did not appear to be interesting any longer. In fact one can spend several hours, just watching different people who came to visit. One can recognize innumerable types of people displaying different attitudes and various styles of wearing the familiar dresses.

 

Although the three friends were walking together, each was immersed in his own thoughts. Murthy was reminded of his wife. He promised to take her to the exhibition that evening but now he was here, not with her but with his friends! What would she think of him, when she came to know about it? How can he convince her that the visit was not preplanned but was accidental? He told his wife several times that a pair of plaits would suit her better than a single one and asked her to do her hair accordingly. She ridiculed him saying that he was getting wild ideas looking at the girls going to schools and colleges. She also had a yellow silk saree her mother presented her. She was angry that her mother gave a yellow saree of her choice instead of the rose colored saree she asked for. Therefore she never wore that yellow saree as a protest. Sastry was thinking of Chaya and of her dramas he saw at the college. He was musing over the character he played in one of them. He was sorry that she could not meet them as promised because of ill health. Although Ramarao spoke like a wise experienced man, he was younger to both the others. He was still inexperienced in life and did not confront its raw side. He held some definite views, whether or not they had any relationship with reality. He was a happy-go-lucky person with many friends. He used to spend an hour or so every evening with them at one of the busy cross roads, usually on Kingsway.

 

Once, an interesting incident had occurred. As usual he was standing at a Kingsway cross roads along with his friends. A lady coming from the road facing him, kept staring at him as she walked. She turned left at the cross roads but continued to turn back and to stare at him. His friends noticed it and asked him what was cooking up. He told them that he had no idea who she was but no one was prepared to believe him. The next day also she behaved in the same manner. He felt embarrassed. The next day happened to be a Sunday. In the morning he went along the same street she went, discovered her house and rang the doorbell. She herself opened the door and was stunned to see him. She recovered fast and had the presence of mind to invite him into the house and to talk to him for sometime. She was a student of the M.A. class in the same college in which he studied. She was residing in her uncle’s house. That acquaintance put an end to her stares and relieved Ramarao.

 

Ramarao was looking at the different stalls and the people. He wondered why not even one of the fluttering butterflies all round him was returning his smiles, although he was flinging them in various directions. He felt tired and suggested that they should have some tea to refresh them. Sastry saw a signboard of his favorite Swastika brand tea and persuaded the other two. They went to that stall. The tea was piping hot and they hoped that it would be equally refreshing. When they tasted it, their faces began to change color. If one removed the heat and sugar from it, it was difficult to say what remained in the drink. They blamed Sastry for dragging them into that tea stall. They began sipping the tea taking care not to burn their lips or their tongues. Obviously it was not Sastry’s day. When they were half-way through, they heard ruffles of silk and synthetic fabrics, giggles and chirping noises on the other side away from them. A group of ladies were vacating the table. They went out and turned right. What caught the attention of the friends was the flutter and sight of the yellow saree they had been trying to find all along! All of them suddenly got up. Both these events attracted the attention of the people sitting at the tables close by. The friends felt self-conscious and shy to pursue the group immediately. They regretted their hasty impulsive action. They gulped down as much tea as they could and went out. Because they lost time, they planned to confront the group by going through a shortcut and went straight through two clusters of stalls. Unfortunately for them, that path led them into a hotel. They hastily retreated from it and continued their quest but again without success. Because the yellow saree still remained in the exhibition, they were more determined than ever to search her out.

 

As they were walking through the various paths desperately searching every nook and corner their eyes could reach, Ramarao stopped suddenly. Murthy remarked “Sudden break has been applied to the train!” The other two also stopped. Pointing with his eyes towards somebody he remarked, “It is Anasuya over there.” The others did not know who Anasuya was but they heard a lot about her from Ramarao. It so happened that one day during the September Examinations, a girl saw a mathematics book in Ramarao’s hand about fifteen minutes before the examination commenced and asked him if he could help her solve a problem she showed. They didn’t know each other but because a girl asked him for help, he tried and fortunately solved the problem. Fortunately for both of them, the same problem appeared in the examination. She was very grateful to him for his help. They used to spend some time together during the examination period. That was Anasuya. She came to the exhibition along with her parents and siblings. She was busy looking at the exhibits in the stalls, talking to her family members and enjoying herself. She did not see Ramarao. He dragged the other two to the same stall. They moved all about the place trying to attract her attention. Once or twice she turned in Ramarao’s direction but did not notice him. She skillfully reverted to the family and continued her conversation. Then they went to a china-wear shop. The trio also followed. Ramarao made frantic efforts to attract her attention, without success. She moved about fashionably radiating tantalizing smiles. She was deliberately avoiding Ramarao. He was amazed but was still not prepared to believe what was so obvious to the other two.

 

The clock struck nine. It was the time for the star attraction of a person to set himself on fire and jump into water. Many people waited for it and many more used to throng to the venue at nine. Sastry pulled Ramarao out of his dreams and they joined the crowd. During the entire period the acrobat climbed up a forty feet ladder, drenched himself in petrol, set himself on fire, dived into the water tank, surfaced from water, mounted the pedestal and waved them good bye, Ramarao was standing hardly a meter away from Anasuya. She did not turn her head towards him even by mistake. She was not a simpleton like him. She was clever and experienced. It was difficult to say whether he was more surprised or angry but he felt exasperated.

 

Some days are such that whatever one attempts to do, he is faced with impediments and disappointments. This was such a day for the friends. Anasuya phobia so enslaved their minds that they forgot about the yellow saree while it lasted. Now they climbed out of it and remembered the yellow saree and tried to concentrate on their search. But how long can they go along the same paths and look into the same stalls? They were tired and dejected and decided to give up the woman-hunt. They started dragging their feet to the nearest exit gate. As they approached the entrance of a bangles’ shop, a woman stepped out of the store at the very moment they reached the entrance. Behold! She was the very yellow saree woman they were in quest of! That woman and Murthy looked at each other simultaneously and both were stunned. She was none other than Saraswathy!! The two friends who accompanied her stepped out of the stall and were surprised to see two live statues. It was now Sastry’s turn to be stunned. Within a short time Saraswathy recovered and introduced her friends. “This is Chaya the daughter of our village revenue official. This is Rupa, Chaya’s colleague and friend. They came to our house and forced me to come to the exhibition.” Murthy could hardly recover but somehow introduced his friends. All of them exchanged salutations. Chaya behaved as if she did not know Sastry but kept smiling at him mischievously with her eyes. Sastry was speechless. Ramarao was looking at the sky and began counting the stars.  

 

5. So Was It Written!

 

It was the seventh day and Bhadradri couldn’t go to work.

 

At dawn he rolled out of his low cot. He could hardly sleep that night. His thoughts kept changing like the patterns in a kaleidoscope and they were throwing up new visions.

 

Throughout his life he had been a day dreamer. He drifted gradually and almost gave up bothering about anything. He was a migratory laborer engaged in a construction job. Soon after marriage his wife left him. Now he has no home or family and did not care very much about either.

 

He kept a pot with some rice and water over the stove. He snatched a new branch from the neem tree, cut it to size and started chewing it at one end. It was not till he chewed off a good half of it that he remembered that he had yet to commence brushing his teeth. Hastily he went through the mechanics, washed his face and sat down upon the cot wiping his face with a soiled towel. His thoughts soon returned.

 

Suddenly he noticed a smell. Yes, it was the smell of burnt food. But where was it coming from? Good heavens! It was from the pot with water and rice, he placed on the fire. He sprang up to his feet and pulled the pot off the fire and saved a good portion of his breakfast and lunch.

 

He went to the well and fetched some water. He spread a banana leaf, sat down and began to eat. His thoughts were astray. He finished his food without saving any portion for lunch. He smiled to himself at this thoughtlessness. He cleaned up the place and settled down once again on his cot which almost touched the ground. He gently leaned across and opened the box. It was there, glittering as ever and beckoning him as usual. He could not resist taking it into his hands. He looked at it affectionately, fondled it and put it down carefully on his lap. Now his eyes turned very keen and started looking at it, straining every nerve.

 

It was the plate he found seven days ago when he was digging at the site for the new community development complex. The plate was about 8” x 10” and almost one millimeter thick. It was almost black when he found it. He took it home and washed it with coconut fibers and lemon halves. The dirt and the black coating came off and the plate which was made of copper, shone brilliantly. On one side there were crude drawings of a serpent, a lion and a woman standing in a lotus flower. On the other side something was written. The writing was not engraved too deep into the metal and consequently it almost faded out at a few places. But what remained was sufficiently intriguing. He could hardly read or write in any language. By the habit of looking at posters, cinemas and advertisements, he had some familiarity with the scripts of the languages common in that region. The writing on the plate did not resemble any of them.

 

For the first two days he almost forgot about it. On the third evening he happened to fumble upon it and picked it up. He casually cleaned it. As a piece of tamarind left over from the morning was lying close by, he took it and rubbed against the plate. The black deposit came off at that place and the brilliant shine from the copper startled him. He never held anything so luminous. So he brought a few lemons, cut them into halves and began to wipe off the dirt from the plate patiently. The next day he showed it to some of his friends. They were quite astonished but they too were illiterate. In the evening he took it to the contractor.

 

“What is it? Where did you get it from?” shouted the contractor merrily.

 

“Pray, can you read it to me please?” said Bhadradri.

 

“Where did you find it?”

 

“It had been with me for ages”.

 

For obvious reasons he did not want to reveal the whole truth. The contractor looked at it up and down, turned it to one side and then to the other. Finally with a good humored laugh, handing it back, he shouted “You might as well ask me to read what Brahma wrote on your face” and added after a pause, “Or on my face” as an after-thought. Bhadradri did not laugh. He was too serious to enjoy a joke. He took the plate and left.

 

Lying down on his cot he began to think. He did not know when sleep overpowered him and his thoughts. The early morning breezes planted their sweet kisses softly on his eyelids. A single thought reigned supreme in his mind that day and that night. He fancied that the plate should have been a very ancient one. He concluded that it would not serve any purpose if he asked any modern educated person about it.

 

It was a tiny hamlet amongst the many that dotted the outskirts of the forest that extended right up to the river Godavari. But for this community development complex, that hamlet would have remained almost unknown. No one would have come to the village in search of employment. The village was quite remote and very few residents knew how to read or write. He talked with several people in an effort to find a suitable person who could help him. Finally, he decided to pay a visit to a certain Sastry who was reputed to be well versed in sastras, puranas and Vedas and who lived a few miles away.

 

Soon after work, he hurried to Sastry. He was a grand old man who was at peace with the world. He was spending the evening of his life in quiet detachment. Bhadradri paid his respects with folded hands. Sastry smiled sweetly and showed him a seat. He did not feel like sitting in the presence of that venerable old man. After a brief pause he showed the copper plate and explained the purpose of his visit. Sastry readily offered to try. He looked at the inscription in absolute silence for a long time. He brought a paper and a pencil and began writing down a few letters and words at long intervals, after carefully trying to decipher the script. Finally he sighed and gave up the effort exclaiming, “My dear man! I beg your pardon. I am not equal to the task”. Bhadradri was dumbfounded. He tried to say something but the words struggled in vain to come out of his mouth. The old man noticed how greatly disappointed his visitor was. “Believe me my son. I am very sorry I couldn’t be of much help to you. I could understand a word here and a letter there but all that adds up to very little”.

 

“Please tell me whatever you have been able to know”.

 

“Half-knowledge can make monkeys out of men! I can tell you only about what I am absolutely certain”

 

“Pray, what is it?”

 

Sastry looked at the plate once again and began in a slow measured tone. “This concerns a hidden treasure. But it is very clear that it involves some great danger”

 

Bhadradri waited for a while, expecting him to continue and then asked “Where is the treasure? What is the danger?”

 

“I am afraid I do not know. Look here! Hold it diagonally. What do you see? Right at the top there is a human skull; way down at the bottom you see a lotus. Look at the pattern this particular character traces.”

 

Bhadradri could see in the relief a remote resemblance of the picture of Goddess Lakshmi. His face lighted up. Next moment a shadow of doubt crossed his mind. Was it true that Sastry did not know? Could he not understand completely what was written?” He made a final effort “I would be extremely grateful to you sir, if you can tell me all about it”.

 

“But how? I have not been able to make any sense out of all these scribbles. It could as well be a lunatic’s prank”

 

“Do you really think so?”

 

“Perhaps not! But what is the difference? It is about the same.”

 

Bhadradri did not reply. He sat looking at the plate wrapped up in his own thoughts. Sastry went into the house and returned with a piece of paper “If you are really serious, go to this man at the college. He might be able to help you”

 

Bhadradri was overjoyed and clasped the old man’s hands. He continued, “But beware!  Don’t chase a shadow and hope to get rich. If you are destined to be wealthy, Lakshmi will come in search of you, you need not go in search of her”

 

Bhadradri nodded and smiled but did not believe a single word of the old man’s caution. Soon thereafter he reverentially took leave of the venerable old man.

 

On his way back he recalled several stories his grandmother used to tell him when he was a small boy. They fascinated him and excited his curiosity. Little did he imagine that something like that would turn up in real life. He was too excited to think coherently and too restless to get any sleep…

 

And so he did not go to work that day.

 

For a long time he sat looking at the plate. He wondered whether he could discover any other pattern or any other resemblance. “Alas! I can see nothing more! Perhaps I should consult the professor. How about today? Yes, why not?” So thinking he went straight to his contractor, borrowed some money, returned to his hut, wrapped up his plate and set out to the railway station five miles away.

 

It was nine in the morning when Bhadradri tapped at the professor’s door. He was getting ready for the college. He looked quite ordinary. Bhadradri was not sure whether he was fooled. Any way it was too late to turn back; he explained the purpose of his visit and showed him the plate. The professor looked at it briefly. His face lighted up like that of a child on receiving a new toy. He literally jumped with joy and he even forgot to offer a seat to his guest. Bhadradri looked at him with some wonder and alarm. After the flux of his excited emotions began to subside, the professor asked his guest how much he wanted for the plate. Bhadradri looked blankly at the professor but he was too absorbed in the plate to notice anything else. Without lifting his eyes, he continued, “Come on  … Tell me what your price is? I shall pay fifteen rupees. What do you say?”  Bhadradri did not fail to notice the professor’s interest and wondered why he was offering a price when no mention was made of selling it. Now he was absolutely certain that some very valuable information was inscribed on it. If so why should he part with it? At last the professor lifted up his head and looked at his visitor and repeated “What do you say?”

 

“I beg your pardon sir! I brought it to you to know what is written on it.”

 

“Never mind what is written on it. It is a rare inscription. For the past several years, I have been trying to get something like this”. Finding his visitor still undecided, he went on “You would never get a better deal. I am not rich but I want it so much that I am prepared to offer you a very handsome price. I will give you twenty.”

 

“But what is the message? What does the whole thing mean?”

 

“Listen, my dear man! It is the age of the inscription and the language in which it was written which make the piece valuable. What is written is really not important. I don’t care what it is.”

 

“But I do! I came all the way just for that reason.”

 

The professor was startled. Why was that ignorant villager so curious about what was written? He must have had some funny ideas about it. The professor looked at the plate again. Shaking his head he exclaimed, “Of course I can’t read it right away. It takes about a day or two to identify the syllables and characters and know the meaning.”

 

“I can wait.”

 

“You can what!!” exclaimed the bewildered professor almost to himself trying to assimilate what he heard. It was some time before he could speak. “I can’t work unless you let me have the piece. I have been very fair. I will go a step further and make you a generous offer of thirty rupees. I am sure that you can’t get even half that from anyone else”.

 

Bhadradri did not say a word in reply. He quietly collected the plate and left. By the time the professor could believe his eyes and regain his senses, his visitor was gone! The professor ran into the street and looked everywhere but couldn’t find the person. The professor was very disappointed and dismayed and not a little surprised.

 

Bhadradri returned to his hut. Right from the start he had been suspicious of the professor. He was certain that the professor was able to read it and because of the significance of themessage, he wanted to buy it from him. He was no fool. Sensing that it could be very valuable, he clung to it. But now he was at a loose end. He went as far as he could go but he ended up no wiser than at the beginning. However his mind was no longer agitated. He felt more relaxed. He decided to wait and watch.

 

Days rolled on. Whenever he found time he used to look at the plate in contemplation. Gradually his emotions began to build up. If only he could know where the treasure was hidden! The risk? Of course he wouldn’t mind that. He asked a number of other persons, without any success. He reconsidered the whole situation calmly. His only hope appeared to be the professor. If he was able to read the matter, the plate was not going to be of much use to him. Perhaps the professor was telling the truth. After all the plate was not as important to him as what was written on it. Finally he decided to pay another visit to the professor and strike a satisfactory deal with him.

 

The professor welcomed Bhadradri with a smile remarking, “I knew that you would come back. No one would offer you a better price”. Bhadradri said that he was not interested in the plate as such but in the information on it. He told the professor that the information might help him discover the hidden treasure. The professor had a good laugh. He cautioned Bhadradri not to expect the good old fairy tales to come true in real life. After considerable bargain on either side, the plate was sold for a hundred rupees. Bhadradri needed money to start his exploration. The professor agreed to read the inscription and also to allow to let him look at the plate in future, whenever he so desired.

 

After three days of intense examination the professor came out with what appeared to him to be the most probable interpretation.

 

“Three yojanas from where I am, Jaganmatha stands guarding huge treasures inside the bosom of the earth. Offer a human sacrifice, please Jaganmatha and enjoy the wealth.”

 

Bhadradri was immensely pleased. But what was a yojana? What was its length? Where should he begin and which way should he look? The professor did not have any answer to any of his questions. But he cautioned Bhadradri once again, “Look here Bhadradri! This is a very ancient plate. Suppose the treasure was concealed as described. It is quite possible that someone might have already discovered it and discarded this plate which was of no further value to him”

 

“Perhaps you are right. Still, I would like to try my luck,” he pleaded.

 

He felt that he had sufficient information to start the treasure-hunt. He wandered through the woods hoping to get further clues. It was a regular wild goose chase. He applied himself to the job with a singular devotion.

 

One day by noon he came to a small temple on the banks of a tank. Water from a hillock nearby was trickling down fresh and pure. He drank some of it and went into the temple. A large peepal tree spread its umbrella over the temple and it was cool inside. The temple was almost in ruins. He saw no idol. He stretched himself and soon fell asleep. Then he saw Mahakali riding on a lion and entering the temple. He was frightened and surprised. He woke up suddenly, rubbed his eyes and looked round for Mahakali and the lion. He realized that it was a dream, felt relieved and smiled. The sight of an idol arrested his attention!! He did not remember to have seen the idol before going to sleep! He went closer and examined the idol. It was as dusty as any other object inside and appeared to have been standing there for ages.

 

Did the experience have any message for him? Could it be that he was nearing his goal? Was this the place? But who could be so foolish to dump a treasure in a public place like a temple? Somehow, he intuitively felt that the treasure should be lying not too far from the temple. He started looking for probable sites in the neighborhood. He looked at each bush and every tree and the ground between them. He gradually drifted farther and farther from the temple. It was evening and the failing light made his task impossible. He sat down under a large banyan tree sighing deeply. Soon it was pitch dark. He was tired and hungry and felt dull and drowsy. Suddenly he heard a deafening roar not too far from him. He jumped spontaneously on to the tree and climbed it up like a cat. It was fortunate that he acted quickly, for, the next moment a lion slowly walked up to the tree and roared again. It sniffed hither and thither and settled down right at the spot where he rested a while ago. He thanked his stars for the narrow escape. He was shivering with fright but clung to the tree. After a while the lion moved away. He thought it to be prudent to remain just where he was till daybreak. The branches were wide. He made himself as comfortable as possible.

 

At last it was dawn. To be on the safe side, he waited for a while. On the branch in front of him, he fancied that he saw a drawing; rather, it could have been a drawing many years ago. The lines bulged out and broke at several places and a pattern was scarcely visible. There were patterns in an equally bad shape also on the two branches on its either side. One of the patterns looked like a drawing of what could have been a serpent. From the other two, he tried to guess what might have been the original drawings. He noticed resemblances of a lion and of Lakshmi. The combination was too familiar to escape his notice! So that was the spot!! It was destiny which drove him up the tree!!!

 

He hurried down the tree, marked it well and returned to his village. He needed help. He went to one of his friends, Narasayya and tried to get him interested. He listened with interest but couldn’t believe that they could discover any treasure. He advised Bhadradri to give up his mad pursuit. Bhadradri promised Narasayya daily wages at twice the normal rates and begged him to cooperate.

 

So the two friends set out on the next phase of the treasure-hunt. They lodged in the temple and began digging at various sites near the tree. They worked from dawn to dusk and soon the place began to look like a punched card.

 

Right from the beginning, Narasayya tried his best to dissuade his friend and was never tired of repeating the advice. However, Bhadradri firmly believed that he was destined to discover the treasure. Narasayya also reminded him of the human sacrifice mentioned in the inscription and asked him what he proposed to do about it. He answered “Let us find the treasure first. I know quite a few people who would willingly sacrifice for money”. Narasayya could never make out whether he really meant what he said or whether he was evading a direct answer.

 

It was the seventh day and no end was in sight. By turns, they were digging and carrying the earth. Towards the afternoon they began digging at a new site. After going down about a meter, they found a layer of small gravel. As they went deeper the gravel increased in size. It did not appear like a natural formation. Here was something unusual! And who knows what it might lead to! Beneath the gravel, there was a thick layer of soft mud. Bhadradri was working vigorously, overwhelmed with the joy of expectation. And lo! He hit against something hard. He carefully dug around the place and pulled it out. He passed it on to Narasayya who cleaned it carefully. It was the idol of Balakrishna in a crawling position, made of polished black stone and looked very pretty. He laid it aside and informed Bhadradri. He heard it and continued to dig. He found what appeared to be another idol and passed it on to Narasayya who cleaned it up. It was a neatly chiseled beautiful idol of Adilakshmi; he was very happy and took it to place it by Balakrishna’s side. He was amazed to find blood oozing from the injured portion on the back of Balakrishna’s idol where a chip came out when it was hit by Bhadradri’s crowbar! He was struck by a cold terror. He shivered from head to foot. Perhaps some stories could come true and some stones could have a kind of life, after all! He informed Bhadradri everything. He was not a little surprised and became very curious both to see the idols and the blood. He crawled out of the pit and saw the idols. They were indeed beautiful but he saw no blood! There was not even a trace of redness at that spot except the rough surface where the chip came off. He showed Narasayya who was amazed but swore that he did see the blood oozing out. Bhadradri tried to convince him that it was only an illusion he suffered. Narasayya believed that it was some kind of a divine warning.

 

Narasayya thought that what was written on the plate could be equally true or equally false. Half of it appeared to be proving true; perhaps the remaining portion is also true…Then how about the human sacrifice?  An evil thought crossed his mind. “Good God! Was Bhadradri thinking of me!! He is certainly capable of doing just that!” He came to a quick firm decision. Treasure or no treasure, wages or no wages, he was determined to quit then and there. Bhadradri begged him to bear with him and cooperate at least just for that day. He even promised him a good share when the treasure was found. He pleaded that what Narasayya saw was a mere illusion and asked him not to read any sinister meaning or implication into it. All was in vain. Narasayya firmly struck to his resolve. His mind remained closed to all further arguments and explanations. At last Bhadradri had to agree to relieve him immediately and promised to settle his account after returning from work. Narasayya went to the temple and Bhadradri went back to work.

 

Bhadradri worked feverishly hard. He was now doing both digging and carrying the debris to the top of the pit all by himself. It was the ninth night after the new moon and the sky was clear; the moon light reached half way down the pit. He was happy to continue. When the moon was overhead, he struck something that sounded like metal. He cautiously dug around that object and managed to excavate a large vessel. With great difficulty, he lifted it step by step, brought it up, placed it on the ground at the edge of the pit and pushed it farther away from the edge. Then he slowly managed to crawl out of the pit. He was thoroughly exhausted. With one final effort, he lifted the vessel and placed it on his head and shouting with joy advanced towards the temple.

 

It was cool with clear moon light. Cobras were dancing merrily. Bhadradri happened to step on the tail of one gay fellow who was so enraged, naturally, that he spiraled up Bhadradri’s leg and bit him with all his might, before he could shake it off. Tired as he was and with a load on his head, he lost his balance and fell prostrate on the ground. White froth and a stream of hot blood flowed out of his mouth. And then … and then he was quiet. The long hard day had ended for him.

 

Narasayya waited and waited at the temple until he could wait no longer. He set out to see for himself what was happening. As he went he heard something rustling past the dry leaves. He became alert with his stick ready to strike and proceeded cautiously. As he approached the spot where Bhadradri fell down, he noticed several objects on the ground shining brightly. Perhaps the moon was reflected in the droplets of dew on the grass or in small patches of water here and there. He went closer and found that they were gems of all colors littered all over the place!! Nearby there was a large vessel, tilted to its side, which contained several gold coins and gems! A little farther away, he could see a fallen person. Narasayya approached, recognized him and wept and wept like a child till his tears dried up.

 

6. Divine Justice.

 

 

 

 

Tejaswi sat quietly looking at the floor seriously; he did not seem to like it at all. His elder brother Anirudh and his wife Syamala appeared to be feeling ashamed; perhaps one could also discover a trace of guilt in Syamala. Tejaswi’s wife Kiran appeared to be feeling triumphant already; she was sure that the medical report and the judgment had to be in her favor.

 

It was a strange property dispute. Before he passed away, Venkatratnam, the father of Anirudh and Tejaswi made a will. After allotting a portion of the property, with all rights to his wife Rajeswari, he distributed the rest equally between his grandchildren and got the will registered. Anirudh’s daughter Kalyani was younger to both Nalini and Sanjeevi, the children of Tejaswi. He filed a case alleging that Kalyani was not a biological daughter of Anirudh and therefore she should not have any share in the property.

 

The marriages of both his children were performed according to Venkatratnam’s choice. Anirudh did not very much like the alliance with Syamala and requested his father to stop the marriage. Venkatratnam told his son that Syamala’s father was his friend, that he made the commitment years ago and kept confirming it from time to time and that it would be an unpardonable act if they withdrew from their promise at that late hour. He persuaded Anirudh to accept the alliance and save the family from disgrace. Anirudh was left with no choice.

 

Anirudh continued to remain cold towards his wife; in fact they did not have any physical relationship for several months after the marriage. Syamala concealed the truth within herself to safeguard family  

prestige. The couple behaved as a newly married pair in public. However, Syamala;s mother-in-law Rajeswari suspected that something was amiss. Syamala could read the mute questions of Rajeswari’s eyes but behaved as if she did not notice them. Silent whispers started in the air because Syamala failed to become pregnant even after one year. One day, Syamala had a frank talk with her husband.

 

S: I am able to understand that you don’t like me but I didn’t know it before marriage. I believed that a marriage takes place after the consent of the bridegroom. In any case now we are husband and wife and this relationship will continue for the rest of our lives. It is more than a year since we were married; I did not become pregnant so far and you know why. People started whispering about it. I am sure that your mother is able to suspect the cause correctly. Soon, others will also begin to discover; such things can’t be suppressed forever.

 

Anirudh did not respond. That night Syamala made herself more attractive and waited for her husband. As he stepped into the room, she embraced him. The male within him woke up and performed his duty reluctantly, without much success. She was grateful for the delayed beginning.

 

Religious custom prohibited marriage of two brothers during the same year; Tejaswi’s marriage was performed the next year. Kiran was distantly related and Venkatratnam decided to get her married to Tejaswi, long ago.

 

Women are endowed with keener perception. Kiran could smell that there was something amiss between Anirudh and Syamala and asked Tejaswi about it; he said that he did not find anything unusual between them.

 

Before the first anniversary of their marriage, Kiran gave birth to Nalini; Sanjeeva was born the next year and they decided to put a stop. Syamala still remained childless. After her initial success she thought that Anirudh would behave like a normal husband but he continued to be cold. She became angry and refrained from making any special effort. In comparison to Kiran, she became more conspicuous. The whispers grew louder. In such cases it was always the woman that was held responsible and blamed. A woman incapable of bearing a child was considered incomplete and a bad omen to the family.

 

Syamala suffered silently for years; she began to wonder whether she could ever have a child through Anirudh. She decided to prove by hook or by crook, that she was not incapable of bearing a child. She considered her situation in the context of family prestige. Perhaps Vyasa, the great poet and author of the Indian epic Maha Bharata, could foresee the problems people might encounter and offered some solutions. During this age, she could not obtain a boon from any sage to enable her invite a celestial being to beget a child; she was compelled to find a willing donor. Their neighbor, Ramavatar had just sent his wife for her fourth delivery in four years. Syamala decided that he was the right choice; she approached him and requested his cooperation. He was not a little astonished; he was also frightened. Quoting from the epics and puranas, she convinced him that what they were going to do was no sin, according to sastras. Finally, she had her desire fulfilled.

 

She was sure that she would now become pregnant but she wanted to make it appear as if it was through Anirudh. The next day she had a talk with him.

 

S: Please listen to me… For over three  years we had been pretending to be living like a husband and a wife. I do not know why you married me when you were unwilling to do so. This pretension is becoming tiresome; what did we gain from it? Whether we like it or not, we can’t dispute the fact that we are married. What is the point in wasting our youth aimlessly in this manner? Don’t you think it is time we reconcile to the inevitable and get along with our lives?

 

Anirudh did not reply but he could not help thinking seriously about her advice. She decided to be nice and attractive for him, irrespective of his behavior towards her. Gradually their relationship changed almost to that of a usual couple.

 

Syamala became pregnent  and eventually, gave birth to Kalyani. Anirudh and Syamala were elated; everyone in the house were happy but Kiran was suspicious that the child did not belong to Anirudh.

 

Syamala did not have a second child.

 

Venkatratnam died suddenly. After a few days, Kiran started prodding Tejeswi to seek his share of property. Finally, he broached the topic with his mother, Rajeswari. She called both her sons and showed them the copy of Venkatratnam’s will; they seemed to be satisfied and informed their wives. Kiran felt disappointed. Venkatratnam used to show a special affection towards Sanjeevi and she hoped that all the property would be given to him. She spoke to Tejaswi.

 

R: … Your father was so fond of Sanjeevi; I wonder why he did not leave all his property to Sanjeevi!

 

T: Look here Kiran!. It was his self- acquired property; he had a right to do what he liked with it.

 

K: … Still, … it doesn’t seem right to me.

 

T: I am earning enough for our needs. We must consider father’s gift to our children as an unsolicited bonus.

 

K: Stop it! What you earn is not sufficient for our needs; we are limiting our needs according to your salary, that’s all!

 

T: Yes, but where is the limit? … The more we get, the greater would be our needs and stronger would be the desire for other unfulfilled needs!

 

K: Stop your silly argument! That is the argument of incompetent people devoid of ambition; don’t fall into that abyss.

 

He merely smiled but did not reply, in order to put an end to the discussion. The bug in her head did not let her remain quiet. She was the type of person who remained restless till she achieved what she desired; she would not hesitate to do anything foolhardy, in its pursuit. She tried to provoke Tejaswi into action but did not succeed. She recalled her suspicion regarding the parentage of Kalyani and decided to make an issue of it to disinherit kalyani from a share in the property. Kiran told her husband. He laughed and said, “You can’t prove anything on the basis of suspicion.”

 

K: My suspicion may turn out to be the truth, what then? … I always felt that Anirudh was incapable of becoming a father.

 

To avoid further argument, Tejeswi did not reply. Kiran could not be silenced so easily. One day she told Tejaswi, “Listen to me carefully. Either you file a case alleging that Kalyani is not the biological daughter of Anirudh and therefore ineligible for a share in the property  or I will file a case against you for divorce alleging that Nalini and Sanjeevi are not your children. The choice is yours and you should decide within two days”.

 

Tejeswi was well aware that she meant what she said; she was strong willed and determined. One day when she was about ten, she was playing ball with her friends in the dry fields. The ball fell on the other side of the stream which was believed to be too deep for the children. Ignoring her friends’ advice, she started to cross the stream to retrieve the ball. The stream was in fact too deep for her and she began to lose her balance. Her friends shouted for help; a farmer passing that way, jumped into the water and saved Kiran. One day, one of her teachers ridiculed her unkempt hair; she became very angry and for the remaining two years, she went to that teacher’s class with her hair deliberately turned shabby.

 

Tejaswi was compelled to choose the lesser evil and agreed to file a case. He informed Rajeswari about his intention.

 

R: Both of you are grown up and don’t need my advice. Let me tell you what your father did not write in the will. He wanted both his sons to live in harmony with each other and wanted that I should manage the property till the division. He said that if there is any difference between the brothers or if one of them seeks the division of property, both the brothers should vacate the ancestral house and move out; only after that, the property might be divided. I will inform Anirudh also.

 

That was the history of the litigation.

 

Anirudh was very upset to receive the notice; he asked Syamala.

 

S: Of course Kalyani is our own daughter.

 

A: … Then why did they institute this case?

 

S: Kiran is avaricious, that’s why.

 

T: Can you swear that Kalyani is our daughter?

 

S: … That means, you are suspecting me.

 

A: (Irritated) -Why don’t you give a straight answer?

 

About two years after Tejaswi’s marriage, Anirudh and his wife attended the marriage of one of his friends. As they entered Syamala noticed a woman looking accusingly at Anirudh; he withdrew his look immediately. She met him later and talked to him. Syamala overheard her say, ‘It was fortunate that you were impotent; otherwise my life would have been utterly ruined’. Syamala did not let Anirudh know about her brief knowledge of his past.

 

S: (After a brief silence) … Suppose I ask you the same question; can you swear that you did not have a physical relationship with any other woman?

 

Anirudh was startled and became speechless.

S: … Marriages survive on mutual trust… Let us not try to dig into each other’s past and destroy the peace, happiness and tranquility of our present lives.

 

She persuaded herself to forget her transgression and came to believe that Kalyani was Anirudh’s daughter. She succeeded in creating the same impression in others, except in Kiran.

 

Anirudh was unable to decide one way or the other but the court case succeeded in damping the couple’s mutual relationship.

 

Finally, it was the day for the court to consider the medical report sent in a sealed envelope. Syamala was struggling to suppress her rising anxiety. Kiran’s effervescent joy of anticipated victory was already darting on her face. The brothers hid their eyes from the court and from each other.

 

The bench clerk showed the sealed envelope to the judge, opened it and handed over the report to the judge. After examining it, he read it out. “After examining the scientific evidence, the medical team confirms that Kalyani is the biological daughter of Anirudh.”

 

The tension in the court eased and it gave a sigh of relief. Syamala was so dazed that she could not believe her own ears. Tejaswi felt greatly relieved and smiled broadly. Anirudh disregarded the etiquette of the court, jumped up from his seat and embraced his wife. Kiran turned into an expressionless living statue. Nobody paid any attention to the verdict, “Case dismissed with costs”, delivered by the judge.

 

7. Scorpion’s Sting.

 

 

 

 

The passage of a beautiful woman along the street creates an excitement in the onlookers. Myriad indistinct emotions arise. They trigger a feeling of pleasure momentarily, quickly yielding place to some disappointment, perhaps on the realization that the vision is transient and the object is beyond reach. Often one does not care to analyze the impulses. In addition, if the woman is youthful, mischievous or unusual in any manner, the heart is swayed into a world of dreams.

 

Lachchi was an attractive woman. It was her first visit to the city. She was impressed by the roads, vehicles, shops and buildings. However, she was preoccupied with one mission only – the mission of finding her husband Ramigadu. She was a strong willed woman. She took a fancy for Ramigadu, who was a simple hearted hard working peasant laborer. She married him against the wishes of her parents. They had nothing against him in particular but they preferred Valladu, who was prosperous, influential and possessed a couple of acres of land. Moreover he was distantly related and had been doting on her. Lachchi hated him from the beginning. She did not like his overbearing and vain behavior. In any case, she already decided whom she was going to marry. So, when her parents proposed Valladu, she not only rejected him but also declared that if they settled her marriage with anyone else other than Ramigadu, she would put an end to her life. The parents were frightened because they knew that she was quite capable of carrying out her threat.

 

Ramigadu took some land on lease and was living on the profits. Soon after his marriage, he had to perform the marriage of his sister and took a loan from  

the landlord. The next year it was difficult to pay even his lease dues. This year torrential rains just before harvest washed out his crop. The landlord was afraid that the new land laws to be promulgated soon, might divest him of the land under lease. He used the opportunity of non-payment of dues of the lease share by the tenant and began to pressurize him for its immediate payment and also for the clearance of the loan amount with interest. Ramigadu explained the situation to the landlord and requested him for time. Although the landlord was aware of the calamity he refused to yield. On the contrary, he abused and insulted the tenant and insisted on terminating the lease. Ramigadu was a self-respecting docile person. He vacated the lease without any protest. He sent Lachchi to her parents and left for the city determined to earn some money to meet the urgent requirements. He promised to return in about a month.

 

After marriage, Lachchi did not go to her parents till then. They were happy to receive her. Days were passing on peacefully. Gradually Valladu’s visits became more frequent. He used to accost Lachchi on one pretext or the other and to indulge in needless conversation. Although she resented his show of familiarity, she used to put up with it for the sake of appearances. Even her parent’s warmth appeared to be waning with each passing day. She awaited the return of Ramigadu restlessly counting the days and hours. Why is there so much discrimination between sons and daughters? It is alright for a son, unemployed or useless, married or unmarried, to remain for ages with his parents. But if a daughter, especially a married daughter with or without her husband and children, goes to the parent’s house out of necessity, why does the society fail to show the same consideration? Why do even parents differentiate between their own children? Nine weeks slipped by without even a letter from Ramigadu. Lachchi became an object of ridicule. In spite of her best efforts to avoid relatives and neighbors, they used to accost her and pass needless comments directly or indirectly to hurt or make fun of her. Her life in that village was becoming intolerable.

 

One evening she was waiting for the return of her parents from the fields as usual. It was late and was getting dark; still they did not show up. Lachchi had her dinner and was sitting in the veranda looking into the street. She saw someone coming towards the door. Soon it was more distinct. It was Valladu. She told him that her parents had not yet returned from the fields. He answered that he knew it. She began to feel apprehensive. He told her that there was no chance of Ramigadu returning to take her with him, that he had been waiting for her hopefully for the past three years, that he had no objection to accept her even now and so on. He gently held her hand. She was infuriated and pushed him back with all her might. He was unprepared for such a reaction. His pride and vanity were hurt. Springing back to his feet, he violently pulled her into an embrace. She fainted in his arms. The lunatic was unaware of it.

 

By the time she regained consciousness she was still in his arms. Having succeeded in his mission, he was in deep sleep. She disengaged herself. It was late in the night. She went into the house to look for her parents. They were sleeping quite peacefully as usual. It was obvious that they were partners in the scheme. She could never imagine that parents can stoop to such mean depths. She felt so disgusted, betrayed and lonely that she instantaneously decided to leave immediately to town in search of her husband.

 

She reached town early in the morning and went to a choultry. It was an old structure with an open yard in the middle and rooms all around. Each portion had a kitchen. The present manager was the third generation owner. He was known to be God fearing and pious. Poor single women generally preferred that choultry because not only the lodging was free but they were also provided free rice and other requirements for a maximum of three days. Single women were generally given the portion next to his lodgings. His wife passed away recently. His old deaf mother used to manage his household as best as she could. Lachchi was not only given the room but was also given food.

 

There are various kinds of people in any town. One comes across persons with different attires, languages, vocations, thoughts and behaviours. Some groups are busy seriously discussing matters as they walk; some keep exchanging pleasantries; some quarrel among themselves; some hurry to catch up with something; some loiter aimlessly and some stand and stare at passers by. Lachchi was going from street to street scrutinizing people in great expectation of finding Ramigadu somewhere. She spent several hours in this wild goose chase and began to feel tired. Perhaps she could talk to people and gain information. She saw a gentleman standing at a street corner and smoking leisurely. She asked him if he knew Ramigadu. Often people tend to deny what they may secretly long for. There might be several reasons for such duplicity. They might have realized the impossibility of attaining it and save themselves the disappointment of failure. They might feel that it is morally wrong to entertain such desires or they might feel that their public image might suffer if and when others come to know of it. Some dare not analyze their latent feelings lest they should surprise them or overpower their will. But experienced crooks belong to a different category; they know the tricks and nuances of conduct and they are daring. Honey oozes from their speech; they can easily fool the gullible. That person belonged to the above category. She was alone; she was beautiful; his body was electrified. He said “Of course I do! He is that fair strong person…”

 

“No he is somewhat dark and short”. He noticed the accent of her speech and told another lie. “OH, that one! He is working in a house in our neighborhood. Come on, I will show you” So saying he called a taxi. She had her doubts but because he looked like a gentleman, she decided to trust him and entered the taxi. However she tried to probe him further and asked him, “How long has he been at work there?” He was nonplussed and blurted out “About a year or so, I think”

 

“That is not my Ramigadu”, she tried to get up.

 

He laughed meaningfully and exclaimed “It is alright!” She was enraged. Her fiery eyes frightened him. She ordered the driver to stop the car, got down and walked away in disgust. Unprotected beauty is a curse, especially for a single poor young woman in a strange town.

 

It was past sunset by the time she walked back to the choultry. The manager was very kind. He gave her utensils, rice, vegetables, pickles and firewood. She was very pleased and grateful. She prepared her food and ate it. Being tired and exhausted, she went to sleep immediately thereafter. After sometime her sleep was disturbed by the noise from the adjacent room. Somebody was in distress, “OH! Where did this cursed scorpion come from! My God, the whole body is burning! Water…water… Can someone give me a glass of water please! Oh, oh”… She remembered that the manager resided in that portion. “Yes. It was his voice! Poor man, he must be suffering terribly from the scorpion sting”. She recalled how badly she suffered from the attack of a scorpion. She got up immediately, picked up a glass of water and entered the other room whose door was partially left open. She turned up the kerosene lamp and gave him a glass of water. He did not appear to be suffering at all! He took the glass and drank from it leisurely. As if groping in the dark to find her hand to return the glass, he caught her right wrist in his left hand and tried to place the empty glass in her palm. It was not a casual act but a deliberate move. It was a means of communicating his passion and restlessness. Her recent experiences were sufficiently educative for her to immediately understand his behavior. She withdrew her hand spontaneously but was very surprised. She was amazed how different the real world was from what she imagined. People told her that the manager was a good and a kind person. His behavior so far, confirmed it. Was it possible that she was mistaken? She collected the glass and asked him about the scorpion. He laughed mischievously and said that it disappeared. He got up from his bed, stretched himself and started advancing towards her with a meaningful grin. She was enraged beyond control and pushed him so furiously that he fell back on the bed. She quickly went back to her room and bolted the door securely from inside. As a matter of abundant caution, she shifted her bed into the kitchen. Try as hard as she might, she could not get any sleep. Several thoughts kept tormenting her. She imagined that Valladu was the only wicked person. What a rotten world this is, which can’t respect a woman! Men are all alike. For them, a woman has no right of self-respect, no individuality and no morality; she is merely an object to quench their lust.

 

However, the manager was not to be blamed entirely for his present conduct. Sometime after his wife expired, a woman on a tour of holy places happened to spend a couple of nights in the same suite of rooms now occupied by Lachchi. Around midnight the manager heard shouts for help and wailing over a scorpion sting. He immediately rushed to her and asked her where the scorpion stung. She smiled sweetly and pointed to her heart, making her message explicit for him. He made use of the scorpion technique subsequently many times. This time he was unlucky and his deduction turned out to be incorrect, therefore the scorpion trick failed to click.

 

Lachchi was tossing and tuning in bed unable to get any sleep. She had no idea what a town would be like. She thought that she could meet Ramigadu without any difficulty soon after reaching town. Already one day passed without her being any wiser or closer in finding him. People only tried to use her. Nobody bothered to help her or at least genuinely sympathize with her. She blamed her fate but did not lose hope or courage.

 

She felt something crawling on her feet. She sprang up from the bed. There was no light in the room. She began to comb the bed with her palms and fingers. Suddenly she felt a shock as if she touched a live electric wire! Her hand felt as if it was dipped in boiling oil. It took some time for her to realize that some insect stung her. In the poor light filtering through the open window in the other room, she could scarcely see something crawling away fast towards the pile of firewood. It looked like a scorpion. She remembered her plight when a scorpion stung her previously. She was gripped with fright; she shrieked, “Scorpion! Scorpion! Help! Help!”

 

The manager also could not get any sleep after his misadventure. He was not a bad person really but the easy virtue and bold advances of some of the previous occupants of that portion spoiled him in the recent past. He was still fretting and regretting his conduct when he heard her frantic calls for help. For a moment, his baser instincts were aroused and he imagined that it was a belated signal from her. Flush with expectation, he rushed towards her room. He was surprised that it was bolted from within. He gave it a smart powerful push and the bolt gave way. She was not in the front room; he found her wrenching with intense pain and in great distress. He was ashamed and loathed himself for his base lustful thoughts. He shrank within himself with remorse and tears trickled down his cheeks. He reformed himself fast into a human being. She did not fail to notice the change. He asked her where the scorpion was. She pointed towards the pile of wood. First he wanted to ascertain whether it was really a scorpion or something else that stung her to evaluate the degree of danger. He brought a light and carefully searched through the firewood. The scorpion sensing the danger tried to move away but was outsmarted by the manager. He was startled to find that it was a scorpion with a single beaded tail; it was said that such a scorpion was very poisonous and it is believed that there was no cure for it. The manager was frightened out of his wits! Meanwhile she began to lose his consciousness. With the help of neighbors, he managed to take her to the hospital. The resident doctor on duty could not be traced. Seeing the serious condition of the patient, the Chief Medical Officer was called immediately. He resided about a mile away.

 

When he came into the street he could find no taxi or a jatka to take him to the hospital. There was a hand drawn rickshaw waiting for customers at some distance. That was not unusual at that part of the night and any available conveyance charged twice the usual fare. The doctor was past fifty and somewhat flabby. The person who was obviously a novice asked for almost the same fare as during the daytime. The doctor asked him to take him to the hospital as fast as possible because he had to attend to an urgent case. To break the monotony, the doctor began to talk to the rickshaw man. He told the doctor that he pulled rickshaw only in the nights because he worked at a factory during the day. The doctor cautioned him that at that rate he would ruin his health very soon. He told the doctor that he wanted to earn enough money to clear his loans and then he would return to his village. The doctor was impressed with his devotion and honesty and paid a little more than what was mutually agreed to. As he went into the hospital, he asked the rickshaw man to wait.

 

The manager did not stop blaming himself for what had happened. But for the incident he faked, she might have slept in the front room and not shifted to the kitchen and exposed herself to the scorpion sting. He remained with her to be of any needed help and constantly kept praying that God may grant her enough strength to overcome the danger. He felt what he did was nothing short of murder; he hated and cursed himself incessantly. Why should he lose hope already? He did not hear of anybody dying of a scorpion sting. But this was a unibeaded scorpion. He wept like a child and fervently prayed to God to save her life. She lapsed into a delirium. She would shiver from fear or become restive from pain. She muttered incoherently. He could hear the name of Valladu.  Then her teeth grinded in anger and her face became red with rage. She screamed “Scorpion, scorpion! Help, help!” Tears rolled down. Occasionally a smile darted on her face when she uttered ‘Rami…’ incoherently.

 

By the time the doctor returned from the hospital, the same rickshaw puller was waiting. The doctor mechanically climbed into the rickshaw. The rickshaw puller asked the doctor the nature of emergency. The patient’s serious condition excited the doctor’s sympathy. “Poor woman! Apparently she was from a village. She came to the choultry near the river this morning. A scorpion stung her.”

 

“Oh! Just a scorpion!” he said with some relief.

 

“But it is a unibeaded scorpion! Some people react violently to a scorpion sting; she is of that category. She is suffering intense agony. I myself could not bear to see her!”

 

The rickshaw puller was Ramigadu and he suddenly remembered how badly his wife suffered once from a scorpion sting. His heart missed a beat and he became apprehensive.

 

“Is she conscious sir?”

“Oh no. She lost it even before she was brought to the hospital. Nobody knew where she came from or where the scorpion actually stung her.”

 

“Poor woman!” Thoughts about Lachchi were returning with increasing frequency. ‘Could it be Lachchi? How could it be? She was with her parents in his village!’ But he could not rein in his thoughts

 

The doctor continued, “She writhes in pain and blabbers something incoherently ‘ v.a.l.a…’, her face becomes tense, her fists become clenched and the teeth grind! She tries to say ‘ R.a.m.i…’ she smiles in peace…”

 

Suddenly the doctor felt that the world was turning upside down; it was a while for him to realize that it was he who somersaulted and fell on the ground. The rickshaw was leaning in a stationary position and the rickshaw puller was racing towards the hospital! In a moment truth dawned on the doctor. He picked himself up collected his box and went to the hospital.

 

As soon as Lachchi heard Ramigadu’s voice she opened her heavy eyelids with great effort and smiled at him in recognition. He took her into his arms. The smile remained frozen on her lips while her motionless body rested in his arms.

 

The manager was overwhelmed with sorrow and believed that he caused Lachchi’s death. Anguish and repentance weighed him down heavily. He gave away the choultry and all the rest of his property to Ramigadu, shaved his head clean, joined ascetic order and became a sanyasi.

 

8. A Husband’s Folly.

 

 

 

 

Sarala: At this rate, how long can you survive in this city, Janaki? It is already two years now since you arrived; why are you still frightened to spend one night all alone in the house, as if someone is just waiting somewhere to carry us away?

 

Vijay: I am sure that no body would dare carry you away.

 

S: When did you master the art of prediction?

 

V: That prediction requires no art or science; God would not have been able to create another simpleton blinder than I am!

 

S: Oh, no. I bet! There are plenty of others; do you want me to prove?

 

V: Go ahead and get a single person! I will present him a pair of silk dhotis also.

 

S: Shut up. Don’t pretend to be Karna; you would regret all your life. But now we are talking about Janaki.

 

J; Dear sister, stop this silly prattle and get ready soon.

 

S: Why are you in such a hurry Janaki! After all, Narayana is not also in town!

 

J: Stop it Saru, you also seem to have lost all sense of shame!

 

V: Do married people also need it?

 

J: Don’t pay any attention to what Mr. Vijay says. They need something to keep themselves engaged; how can we women afford to waste time in such futile talk!

 

V: Your sister has a very subtle way of serving marching orders!

 

S: Yes… But I wonder when some people understand and start acting.

 

V: (As he leaves the room) Seetharam! (Stopping in the door) I think there is a tenant in the front portion of the house?

 

J: Yes but he is not also in the station. He might return this night but it depends on the situation there. He received a message that his wife was in labor pains and was shifted to the hospital.

 

V: What for did he go? What role has he to play at this stage in the process?

 

S: How can you understand what a responsible husband would behave like?

 

J: Come on Saru, hurry up! There is no one in the house!

 

S: So what?

 

J: Don’t you know! Four days ago there was a theft in Visali’s house in the broad daylight.

 

S: I was always suspicious about their servant woman. She must have engineered it!

 

J: There was a theft in another house in the same street

 

S: Obviously some novice gang is honing its skills. Otherwise which fool of a thief would expect to gain from such a wasteful exercise at rented houses in that poor locality?

 

J: Novices among thieves are much more dangerous. Because they lack skill and experience, they could turn desperate impulsively.

 

****            ****          ****

 

The marriage between Janaki and Narayana was an arranged one. During the visit of the boy to the girl’s house, arranged traditionally before marriage to allow them a brief interaction, Narayana was so much impressed with Janaki that one could call it love at first sight. Although she wore ordinary clothes, the manner in which she dressed herself was startling. Her makeup was simple and appropriate. Her bearing, her smile and her way of speaking was endearing. So he married her even before he completed his studies. He was careful to specify that he would marry only such a girl who was prepared to wait till he got a job. But once he saw Janaki, he suspended that condition. He managed to wait till he completed his degree and brought her home even before he got a job. However, he was fortunate to get a job soon after. Everyone said that his wife brought him good fortune along with her.

Man is a strange animal. When he realizes that the qualities and the behavior which impressed him and induced him to marry her, were natural to her and not specially caused in response to his presence, he feels disappointed. In some individuals it tends to distort his perception and to cause a feeling of inadequacy. Sometimes it night even tend to jealousy. Now Narayana began to reassess his original perceptions of her venturesome inquisitiveness, tender mischief and effervescence of early youth which tickled and pleased him earlier. Now they appeared to be calculated actions of a clever knowledgeable girl. She was fashionable and maintained a pleasant smile all the time.

 

Every gesture was misinterpreted. His procrastination led him to the virus of suspicion which kept getting stronger as time passed on.

 

Janaki was a simple minded girl leading a happy contended life. She was level headed and did not entertain untenable ambitions. She woke up early in the morning, tidied up, bathed and did her hair in novel styles. Her makeup was simple, subtle and elegant. She was never tired of trying new modes and improvisations. She was artistic by nature which used to peep through her every action. The vermilion mark on her face took different shapes and sizes but its color always remained bright red like the chilies of Warangal and it appeared as if she compressed the morning sun into a shape that pleased her that day and fixed it to radiate from her face rather than from the sky. She always tied up her ordinary saree in an extraordinary style. By the time Narayana woke up, she was ready with a cup of piping hot coffee.

 

In the beginning their life was cheerful, happy and comfortable and they remained affectionate towards each other. Then the bug of suspicion entered his mind and things began to sour up for him; she remained as affectionate and as caring as ever and thought that the pressure of office work was responsible for his change of mood at times. It all began with an unfortunate incident. One day his colleague Sarat dropped in to meet Narayana. As usual Janaki served them coffee and made some formal inquiries. When she came to collect coffee cups Sarat deliberately touched her hand. Impulsively she withdrew her hand taking care that the cup did not drop. She noticed a suppressed vicious smile on his face, but did not want to jump to any conclusion. She revealed her reaction with a subtle gesture. Sarat was able to understand her meaning and felt insulted. He began to poison Narayana’s mind. Janaki made the mistake of assuming it to be too trivial an incident to caution Narayana. He succumbed to the malicious designs of his so-called friend. Now he was reduced to a state where he suspected her every action and tried to read unintended meaning into every casual remark she made.

 

They were residing in a three room portion. There was also another room in the front in which the son of the owner of the house used to reside. He was a student of B.Sc. in a local college. He was quiet, well behaved and studious. He kept to himself and did not interfere in the affairs of other people. He vacated after he completed his degree. Narayana wanted to take that room also but the owner wanted to let it together with another vacant room in the house, which was beyond what Narayana was able to afford. It was let out to one named Syamsunder. Syam meant black. Sunder meant handsome. The name was used to describe God Sreekrishna. In case of this tenant, the first part of the name was eminently suited and the second part indicated the vision of his parents. Syam was fond of cricket and had been the team captain for two years in the college. As a token of its appreciation of his services, the college presented him a cricket bat which he reverentially placed on a stool in a corner which attracted the attention of anyone who entered the room. He was a happy-go-merry type of person who mixed freely with people and made friends easily. He used to speak to Narayana and Janaki as a co-tenant and a friend. He was open and witty but always remained within the limits of decency and good neighborliness. Because of the vicious tutoring of Sarat, Syam became a prime suspect for Narayana. For a few weeks, he used come late from the office due to heavy work. One day Syam casually remarked “You are coming very late from office these days!” Janaki joined with the comment “If there are a few more persons like you, the office can manage with half the staff.” Both were casual remarks without any ulterior meaning or implication but for Narayana it appeared as if they were coordinating in ridiculing him. One day Janaki said “Why do you wear those half-hand bush shirts? Why don’t you change over to full- sleeved ones? They look more decent and dignified.” Some days later Narayana noticed that Syam always wore light colored or white full sleeved bush shirts only.

 

What is the problem with the psyche of a husband? Why does he consider the comments he makes about other women, casual and harmless even when they tend towards the border of decency but reads unintended meaning and implication into similar comments made by his wife? Can’t a wife remain friendly with other persons if they are males, especially when the husband doesn’t feel obliged to follow a similar obligation? Why does he feel that the bounds of matrimony apply primarily to a wife and perhaps only consequentially to him? Why should anyone expect that the rituals of the marriage undergone by the couple, who does not understand anything of all that the priest recited, possess a force to keep the couple united throughout their lives? Every religion has its own method and procedures. Countries and regions have their own traditions superposed on them. Civilized society can’t afford to permit an unbridled freedom and allow itself to turn chaotic. Civilization itself implies restriction and discipline! Marriage ritual of any society is a public acceptance of their obligation to society with well defined safeguards, of their intention to lead a life in partnership with each other. If one believes in a latent divine directive behind the event, it becomes easier to honor their societal obligation; one will not be hasty to take any precipitate or impulsive action.

 

Narayana wondered why a woman was so impulsive and fickle. He asked himself what merit or superiority did Janaki discover in Syam to become attracted towards him. Syam did not study even up to the level he did; he was lower in the job hierarchy. In terms of looks, he was certainly inferior. What did Janaki find in him? Perhaps anything beyond the norm is attractive; breaking the bond is itself bravado! Perhaps D.H.Lawrence also could not understand! Narayana wondered why she left the earlier tenant alone. Perhaps she felt that the college kid was too young. Perhaps he did not cooperate. Did she really leave him alone?

 

Although Sarat poisoned his mind, his conscience was stoutly refusing to trust his mind. She looked so innocent! She might have been feeling bored, sitting throughout the day all alone by herself and might have exchanged a few pleasantries with Syam once in a while. Perhaps he himself was reading meaning into such innocent acts. Sarat had already cautioned him to be careful with such innocent looking people: he said that they were capable of concealing a world of secrets.

 

Finally, Narayana wanted to find out for himself and thought of a plan. He told Janaki that he had to go out of station on office work directly from office that evening. He told her that he would return after the work was completed, perhaps before the next evening. In fact he did not have to go anywhere. He remained in the office till late after office hours and left at last because the watchman hastened him.

 

He ascertained from a distance that there was no light in his portion of the house; he also noted that Syam’s portion also remained dark. He cautiously went closer and found both portions locked from outside. That was the time Janaki went to Sarala’s house. Syam had not yet returned from his village. There was a street light near his house which was not very luminous. The street in front of his house merged with another road at right angles to it, after some distance. From that spot one could have a hazy vision to the entrances to both portions. Narayana waited at the cross roads looking towards his house hoping that Janaki and Syam would be returning soon after their outing and that he would be able to catch them red-handed. The snacks he carried to the office were digested long back. Janaki used to prepare some snack or the other by the time he returned from office; that day he continued to be hungry because he didn’t choose to go home. His stomach began to noncooperate and kept reminding him. At last he had to succumb. He went for a quick bite at one of the eateries close by and returned to his sentry duty. He felt that a thin streak of light was coming from Syam’s door, he was not quite sure. He cursed himself for having left the place at the right time for a brief interval. Within seconds a rickshaw stopped in front of the house. A person disembarked and went into the house; from that distance and in that scant illumination it was not clear whether it was a man or a woman or into which door the person entered. The rickshaw still remained; obviously there was someone else still in it. Soon another person descended from the rickshaw and quickly went in, perhaps after paying the fare. Narayana could recognize the person in half the illumination and from twice the distance! Yes, she was none other than Janaki! So the person who accompanied her must have been Syam! Narayana became furious and his blood boiled. He rushed towards the house in a fit of jealous frenzy intending to attack Syam. As he approached, he clearly saw the light filtering through the small slit between the doors of Syam’s portion, as they remained unbolted. Narayana charged like a mad bull and kicked open the door. Although he intended to attack Syam, in his anxiety and haste he did not remember to carry any weapon or even a stick with him. He saw Syam sitting on the floor in front of the open trunk picking up the clothes from it in an effort to vacate it after the journey. The sudden noise disturbed his attention and he looked towards the door. Narayana now realized that he had nothing with him to attack Syam. He looked around and caught sight of the cricket bat. He grabbed it with both his hands and rushed towards Syam. All this must have happened in a second or so. As he neared Syam with uplifted bat, it hit the electric light hanging down from the middle of the roof. The incandescent bulb broke into pieces with a loud noise and the room immediately became pitch dark. The time interval gave startled Syam the opportunity to perceive the imminent danger and to move away from the path of the approaching cricket bat. It landed heavily on the iron trunk with a big bang. Before the light was extinguished, Syam was able to recognize Narayana and was very surprised why Narayana was rushing towards him. The rebound of the bat was so severe that Narayana fell back dazed on the other side of the trunk and appeared to have lost his consciousness. Everything became suddenly quiet and silent. In spite of his astonishment, Syam did not lose his cool entirely. He remarked “What is the matter Mr. Narayana?”

 

Sarala and Janaki kept talking about thieves and robberies of the present and the past, throughout their rickshaw journey and were terribly frightened by the series of loud noises so close to themselves and feared that thieves must have entered their house that night. They shivered from head to foot and embraced each other for comfort and relief. They feared certain danger for their lives and began to pray to their favorite Gods. As soon as they heard Syam’s voice and the name of Narayana, their breath returned and they felt very relieved. Now they gathered enough courage to venture to go to Syam’s room to find out what the matter was. Narayana woke up and was surprised to see Sarala with Janaki. They all spoke to each other. The venomous dense curtain Sarat was able to weave round Narayana’s mind melted away into thin air and happiness was restored to Narayana’s tortured mind.

 

9. Extraction of Truth.

 

 

 

 

After purchasing her requirements, Kamala stepped out of the Super Bazar and reached the road. She stood there and began to look on both sides of the road, apparently for an auto. She could find no vacant auto on the road. Her sight stopped at a particular spot, a few yards before the road took a turn. She fixed her gaze at the spot for a few minutes. Tears began to fill her eyes; a drop or two overflowed. She did not notice the two or three autos that passed along the street without any passenger. Gradually she wiped her tears and stabilized herself and resumed her search for an auto. She caught sight of a small boy who ran across and stopped in the middle of the road, turned back and looked perhaps for his mother who was still at the edge of the road. Kamala’s heart missed a beat and she began to look anxiously at the mother and the child. She happened to see his face and was struck with amazement. Yes! It was the same face; it was the same manner of taking a u-turn; even his mischievous smile was identical! Involuntarily her heart called after the boy, “Pandu!” Of course the boy could not hear the voice of the heart. His mother reached him. Both of them crossed the street, entered the car parked on the other side and drove away. Kamala was so perplexed that she could not recover till the car almost started. However, she could manage to see the registration number of the car.

 

For the rest of the day she kept thinking about the boy. “Who was that boy? Did he really have such a strong resemblance to Pandu or did I fancy such a resemblance because I had been thinking of Pandu? Alas! I did not have the opportunity to reexamine closely! What can I do now?”  

Her husband Tirumalrao was an advocate. When he had to prepare for difficult cases, he used to go late to bed. Usually he would find Kamala asleep by that time. Because she had been thinking about the boy that night, she remained awake, deeply immersed in her thoughts. He casually remarked “Didn’t you go to sleep yet?” She did not reply. He was quite tired after work; he lied down on the bed and was fast asleep. She could not go to sleep. She was determined to see the boy again but did not know how.

 

When one is determined to do something, one will always be able to discover ways and means to achieve one’s objective. Because the boy was of school going age, she gathered details of schools in that neighborhood. Because they had a car, they must be sending him into a reputed sophisticated school. For the next few days she tried to go to all such schools before the time they stated and ended the day’s work, and watched the cars that entered or left them. One day just as she was getting frustrated at her failures and returning from a school, she saw the same car speeding into that school. She waited at the same spot for some time to verify that it was in fact the same car; it was!

 

Carrying plenty of chocolates, she went to the school in the afternoon lunch interval and found the boy having lunch along with his friends. She went to him, entered into conversation, drew him close to herself affectionately and gave him and his friends plenty of chocolates. She spent the rest of the interval with them. His name was Prasad.

 

Finding many chocolates in Prasad’s pocket, his mother Manasa questioned him about them. He told her what had happened during the interval. She admonished him for accepting things from strangers and cautioned him that some women befriend them by sweet talk and toffees in the beginning and eventually, by luring children with drugged eatables, kidnap them. She asked him not to talk to any stranger or to accept anything from them.

 

The next day Kamala returned to the school in the lunch interval with sweets, presents and joyous expectations. As soon as she saw Prasad, she smilingly stretched her hands and beckoned him affectionately. He withdrew his face and turned aside. She went to him and tried to offer the sweets and presents she brought.

 

Prasad said, “My mother asked me not to talk to strangers and not to accept anything they give,” and maintained his distance. Her joy and expectation suddenly vanished. She felt like a bird in flight whose wings were suddenly cut off. She did not realize till then that she was nobody in relation to Prasad! She had no right over him whatsoever. She remained in a state of shock.

 

Manasa was intrigued why the strange women tried to befriend Prasad and wanted to find out for herself. She was certain that the other woman would surely come the next afternoon also. So she went to the school in the lunch interval just as Prasad ended speaking to the stranger. Manasa did not think that Kamala was the type of woman who could be suspected. But then, appearances could be deceptive; otherwise why should she try to befriend Prasad?

 

M: What business do you have with my son?

 

Kamala was still in a state of shock and did not reply. Her face continued to be blank and her looks, vacant. Manasa feared that she might be some mentally deranged person. However, Manasa repeated her question. Kamala gradually returned to her senses and said “I wanted to spend sometime with that boy”.

 

M: Why? Why are you after my son?

 

K: Please madam, believe me. I am not contemplating any harm to the child.

 

M: Why should I believe you? Who are you and who am I?

 

K: Please don’t be angry. Trust me. Please come along with me, everything would be crystal clear.

 

Kamala’s appearance and manner of speech began to convince Manasa that Kamala was not one to be suspected. She appeared to be in some deep distress. Curious to find out what the matter was, Manasa accompanied her to her house.

 

As Manasa stepped in she was stunned to see on the wall in front, a large sized photo which could easily be mistaken for Prasad’s photo. She remained transfixed with one foot still outside the door. Repressing her overwhelming sorrow, Kamala said “He is our darling Pandu, our dear son, who was crushed under the wheels of a bus, six months ago due to the callous driving of a drunken driver. “She could no longer control herself or her tears. Manasa’s eyes also became wet.

 

For the next hour or so, Kamala spoke to Manasa only about Pandu. She brought his album and explained the different occasions when the pictures were taken. She told how their happiness was suddenly destroyed. Manasa was very surprised. As she left the house she gave Kamala her address and phone number and told her that she could come to their house at any time she desired and meet Prasad. Their friendship began to strengthen. Manasa was older to Kamala by six years. Prasad was their only son.

 

Kamala was more open and talkative. She was treated by Manasa as her own sister. Kamala told her that she was unfortunate and could not have a child for a number of years. They went round and round several doctors and finally went to Dr. Satyamurthy who was running a fertility clinic. She became pregnant through the IVF method and gave birth to Pandu. Six years were spent happily. Then their good fortune came to an end abruptly with the fatal accident. Dr. Satyamurthy was careful enough to fertilize two eggs and told them that the second one could be used in case the first trial failed. He also told them that the fertilized egg could be preserved for a very long time, at some cost. Because the first trial itself succeeded, they did not bother much about keeping the second one alive. Its necessity arose after the accident and they went to the doctor hoping that they could have another child through the second fertilized egg they left with the doctor. He told them that because they neither spoke to him regarding the second egg with him nor sent money for keeping it alive, he allowed it to perish. They requested him to try the procedure again on them. He took them into the lab, conducted some tests and told them that they were no longer fit for the procedure. The couple was very disheartened and blamed themselves and their fate. Kamala lapsed into depression and remained sick for several weeks. Only recently she began to show some improvement. Since she started meeting Prasad, she compromised with her situation and now, almost regained her normalcy.

 

Although Kamala used to go to Manasa’s house frequently to meet Prasad, Tirumalarao did not go even once – either because of the pressure of work or because he was not convinced. However, he was happy that Kamala was progressing rapidly and he did not want to interfere in that process.

 

One day Manasa went to Kamala’s house and invited both of them to come to Prasad’s birthday party. Kamala insisted that her husband should accompany her to the birthday party. He adjusted his work and both of them went to the party. He was amazed to see Prasad and could not believe his own eyes. After returning from the party also, he could not help wondering how such striking resemblance to Pandu was possible in Prasad. After lying down on the bed he asked his wife “Is Prasad their only child?”

 

K: Yes, dear… It was a very late pregnancy in her forty third year. (A thought occurred to her suddenly) If God is kind enough, why can’t I conceive and give birth to another Pandu? After all I am only forty two now.

 

Although it was eleven thirty, neither of them could go to sleep. They were busy with their own thoughts. But Tirumalarao’s brain was that of a lawyer. He felt that such close similarity could have been possible in only one way. Noticing his movement Kamala remarked “Didn’t you go to sleep yet?”

 

T: Listen to me carefully. I believe Prasad is our own child.

 

K: That was what I had been telling you for months but you did not pay any attention.

 

T: No. That is not what I am saying. I am not saying that Prasad is like Pandu. What I am saying is that Prasad is also our own son.

 

K: (Startled, she sat up) What is it you are saying!!

 

T: That’s right Kamala! In my opinion the doctor lied to us. I am almost certain that Manasa became pregnant with our second fertilized egg. Otherwise, how can a totally unrelated person give birth to a son almost exactly like our son?

 

K: It is said that there would be seven persons in the world who are exactly like each other.

 

T: That is merely a fiction promoted and popularized by the Hindi cinema community to suit their convenience.

 

K: (Opening her eyes as wide as possible) Yes, dear! It might have happened just the way you surmised.

 

T: I am certain about it. Manasa did not have a child before or after Prasad was born at her forty third year. I am sure that she must have become pregnant through Satyamurthy Fertility Clinic.

 

K: She did not tell me details of Prasad’s birth. She behaved as if he was born to her.

 

T: Of course, he was born to her just as Pandu was born to you. In both cases we are their biological parents. Wait I will drag them all to the court and bring Prasad to our house!

 

K: (Almost to herself) Do you think our son would return to our house? Are we destined to be so fortunate once again!

 

In the ecstasy of her dreams about her possible good fortune, she went to sleep. Thinking of the best way to serve notices on all of them, he lapsed into sleep.

 

The next day was Sunday. Kamala was cheerfully going through her daily chores. Tirumalarao was busy preparing the notices to be served. He completed the task by the lunch time. He said “With this, the doctor’s shady activities would be publicly exposed. Prasad would come to our house”

 

Kamala was confident of her husband’s competence and felt very happy. Soon, another thought began to torment her. “Bringing Prasad to our home inevitably means creating a void in Manasa’s home! I still remember the anguish and depression I passed through for several months after our good fortune abruptly deserted us. Manasa has been very considerate and affectionate towards me and treated me like her own sister. Doesn’t our action amount to exploiting her confidence and deceiving her? They are so attached to Prasad; is it fair to pull out the child from their house, with the help of a court order? Prasad has been an intimate part of the couple with five-year-strong bonds of affection binding all the three. Is it not inhuman to separate Prasad from his parents? Can I remain at peace after committing such a treacherous act? Prasad is a mere child; can he withstand the shock of separation from intimate relatives and accustomed familiar environment? The solution we are contemplating is quite unfair from a humanitarian point of view. Perhaps they are not aware of the doctor’s deceit and are under the impression that Prasad was their own biological son. Should we ruin their world of happiness and contentment by revealing the truth? Certainly not. Let them live happily with the lie and with Prasad.” She reconciled herself to the present situation and picked up courage to speak to her husband.

 

K: Manasa has been very sympathetic towards us and has been treating me as her own sister. Is it fair for us to pull out Prasad from their house and bring him to our house?

 

T: Why? What is unfair about it? After all he is our own child.

 

K: That’s alright. What if we did not see Prasad? What if they had been living in a different town? We would never have come to know of the doctor’s foul play.

 

T: What are you trying to say?

 

K: In all probability, that couple might not have been aware of the doctor’s deceit. They might be thinking that Prasad is their biological child.

 

T: So what?

 

K: I feel it was the avaricious doctor who stooped to this device to fleece the Manasa couple desperate for a child. I feel it is only the doctor who is guilty; only he should be punished.

 

T: They are the beneficiaries of doctor’s crime. Unless we bring them into the loop we can’t recover Prasad.

 

K: Poor Manasa! Please think of the state she might be reduced to.

 

T: Then you must forget bringing Prasad to our home. If it is alright with you I will frame charges against the doctor only.

 

So, Dr. Satyamurthy was dragged to the court. He maintained that he was honest and not guilty of any malpractice. Many people gave evidence supporting his claim. Tirumalarao realized that the doctor was in no mood to accept the guilt. Finally the lawyer told the doctor “You are speaking under oath in a court of law, you promised that you would speak truth and nothing but the truth. In spite of that you are not telling the truth. I have strong evidence with me to prove my allegation. When I do that, you are bound to face serious consequences for what you said. You are a reputed doctor. I am giving you one more opportunity to think carefully and come out with the truth at least in the next hearing. It would be in your own interest”

 

The case was adjourned for ten days.

 

Lawyers have a knack of speaking and of using their body language to frighten the accused, especially those belonging to honorable professions and are appearing in the court for the first time, to confess to the accusation if it is true. The doctor was frightened. “If the lawyer in fact has such strong evidence, it means an end to my career and my personal prestige. Listening to him, it appeared as if he had some such evidence in his possession. Somehow, I must save myself from the eventuality of utter ruin”. It did not occur to him why the lawyer would postpone till the next hearing, if he really had such evidence in his possession already.

 

Late that night when the hustle bustle of the town subsided, Satyamurthy went to Tirumalarao’s house and confessed to his misdeed. “About a year after the IVF procedure succeeded in the case of your couple, another couple came to me. I tried the same procedure with them three times without success. They were desperate for a child. I had been keeping alive the second fertilized egg collected from you. I did not imagine that you would need that fertilized egg ever again. I thought that implanting it in that woman might help her become pregnant. Fortunately for them my trial succeeded. In Mahabharata more serious infractions were condoned. Whether you believe it or not, my sole intention at that time was to somehow satisfy the desperate couple longing for a child. The only mistake I am guilty of is that I did not inform you and obtain your prior permission. I did not also inform the couple in advance what I contemplated to do nor did I inform them later. I thought that it was better for them not to know the truth. To cover up my mistake, I had to speak one lie after the other. I request you with folded hands to pardon me for my lapse and please withdraw the case. Otherwise I will lose the good name I have earned and the prestige I now enjoy professionally; this would be an end to my career. Please be merciful and save me. I promise never to commit any malpractice in my future career. I will give you three times the money I received from that couple.”

 

K: Who is interested in your tainted money? You keep all that and more. What did you lose anyway? It is our house that was deserted. What does it matter to you? It is after all one more case for you.

 

S: I am guilty of another greater crime and a greater sin which no one, not even the best lawyer would be able to detect. Yes… I was surprised when you came to my clinic after your misfortune asking for the second fertilized egg which I already used. I was so frightened that I feared to continue to have any relationship with you because it might one day lead to your discovering what I did. So I told you a great lie that you were unfit for the IVF procedure at that time. I believe you are quite fit even now for the repetition of that procedure. I will try my best and see that you would become pregnant again. Believe me. Please come to my clinic tomorrow. Please give me this opportunity to wash off my sin at least partially. I am sure that you will have a child again. I will not charge you anything for my service. Please enable me to continue to run my clinic; please withdraw the case. I will remain indebted to you throughout my life. I promise you with my conscience that I will never commit any kind of malpractice hereafter and never deceive anyone to cover up mistakes I might have made. I am placing my career, my honor and my life in your hands.”

 

10. A Tale of Two ‘Friends’.

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the three years of their college study in Hyderabad, Vagesa, Gireesh and Madhurima remained inseparable friends. All of them came from well-to-do families. Gireesh’s father had business both in Hyderabad and in Bangalore and maintained a house at each place. Gireesh used to visit Bangalore frequently. It used to be a fun game and a pass-time to keep guessing the choice of her life-partner Madhurima would ultimately make.

 

Vagesa was quieter and always allowed her enough space for independent thought and decision; he never tried to force his opinion on her. He was very sensitive; he used to feel very happy for a trivial reason and very sad for an equally trivial event.

 

Gireesh was an extrovert; he was effervescent, talkative and handsome. He had no doubt at all, whom Madhurima was going to select.

 

Both loved Madhurima intensely. The former tried hard to conceal his feelings but the latter, tried to impress her.

 

After their studies, Vagesa started looking after their business; Gireesh opted to remain in Hyderabad and look after their local branch. For want of doing any better thing, she joined the law course.

 

The friends were meeting frequently.

 

One day Madhurima said “My parents are persuading me to get married…”. Vagesa listened with his head bent down;

 

Gireesh was all smiles. “… Your parents might be doing the same with you. So I have been thinking about marriage.

 

Whatever decision I come to, it is going to disappoint one of you… Whatever  decision I take, I want both of you to promise me that we will continue to remain friends for ever, in the future.

 

V: Sure, we would continue to be friends.

 

G: Do you need a specific promise for that!

 

 

M: … Alright; watch out for a message from me in the next two days, on your laptops.

 

Madhurima tried to analyze and extrapolate into the future, the behavior of both her friends objectively; she returned to the same conclusion. Her first impulse was to let her friends know her decision via email; later she felt that she should be bold enough to communicate her decision personally and hoped that her friends would receive it gracefully.

 

The next evening Madhurima phoned and invited Gireesh. He was overjoyed and rushed to her with a bunch of red roses.

 

M: Please take your seat Gireesh. (He extended the roses to her, as he sat). Oh! They are very beautiful; thanks. (She sat opposite him. She was hesitant and he was restless)… We knew each other for a much longer time…

 

G: Yes, since our intermediate days.

 

M: I have really come to know Vagesa from about two and a half years. I love both of you immensely and I knew that both of you loved me dearly. That made my choice very difficult; I debated with the question over a number of days. You were closest to my heart and Vagesa was closer to my conscience. It was a tug-of-war between the two … and the conscience finally succeeded.

 

G: Congratulations! That was a very wise decision indeed!

 

M: (Surprised at his reaction) Gireesh!!

 

G: You have done the right thing Madhurima! … If you had asked for my advice, I would have made the same suggestion; you were indeed made for each other. I am not only the first but I am also the happiest person to celebrate the happy news.

 

M: I am very thankful to you for accepting my choice so gracefully… I was apprehensive about your reaction.

 

G: That shows how concerned you are about your friends.

 

M: Let me tell you Gireesh! If Vagesa did not enter my life, I would have married you by now.

 

Gireesh was handsome and intelligent and was popular in the college. Madhurima was beautiful; their friendship began to strengthen into love. He had a feeling that if he loved anyone, she would reciprocate unhesitatingly. It was during that early phase of their love that Vagesa stepped into her life.

 

Some people speak unimpressively but they might be able to sing melodiously; some people might have ordinary looks but they might be able to act impressively. Some persons have a knack of detecting a singer or an actor among ordinary looking people; Jayanth was such a lecturer in their college, who was fond of dramas. He planned to have a drama enacted by the students, on the occasion of their College Day. Some students gave their names; Jayanth himself asked some students to participate. Madhurima was one such student. She urged Gireesh to also participate. He told her that he didn’t like the idea of repeating what was written by another person! To their own surprise, Vagesa and Madhurima gave excellent performances; they also won the two best awards. The drama also won for Vagesa the friendship of Madhurima and Gireesh. Gradually, both of them began to love her and she appeared to reciprocate her love equally towards both of them.

 

Towards the end of their studies, Gireesh began to sense some traces of her preference for Vagesa; he could not digest the very thought. Madhurima was one of the main reasons for his continued   residence in Hyderabad. He quietly labored hard to impress her. He took it as a personal rivalry and challenge. When Madhurima announced her choice, he was crest fallen and became very angry. Because it was not unexpected, he was clever and cunning to have adapted a sweet understanding disposition and continue with it externally.

 

G: Forget it Madhurima, I believe in the proverb, ‘Whatever happens, happens for our benefit’. Entry of Vagesa into your life, resulted in a wonderful consequence for you!

 

M: Yes, that is true.

 

G: … Did you inform Vagesa?

 

M: No, not yet. I asked him to come later this evening; he might be here anytime now.

 

G: Please allow me to break the good news to him.

 

M: Why not!

 

Vagesa arrived after a while; he did not bring any present for Madhurima.

 

G: Come on Lucky Boy! We have been waiting for you.

 

V: (Perplexed) Don’t try to pull my leg Gireesh!

 

G: I am not! Please accept my sincere congratulations.

 

M: That is true Vagesa! He is telling the truth.

 

V: (Overwhelmed by emotion, he remained silent for a moment) … My God! I am unable to trust my ears! … I never imagined that I was destined to be so fortunate.

 

G: Come on Vagesa! Don’t be so modest. You were the most deserving suitor to Madhurima.

 

V: I always imagined that you were Madhurima’s choice and that you were made for each other.

 

G: But I always knew that you were her choice!

 

V: I am surprised! … Now that she made her choice, I will endeavor to deserve it and to justify her choice.

G: You would accomplish both in no time, my friend!

 

V: I am surprised and happy that you are able to receive the news so sportively and with such equanimity!

 

G: That was because I always knew her choice.

 

V: If her choice was what I imagined, I would not have been able to face the actual news with such self-restraint.

 

M: Yes Vagesa! It was a great relief to me.

 

G: Don’t praise me unnecessarily; after all, we are bound by our promise to remain friends forever.

 

Soon thereafter, Madhurima informed her parents. They spoke to the parents of Vagesa and the marriage was performed ere long. At the marriage, Gireesh behaved as a responsive host from the sides of both the bride and the groom.

 

After marriage, Vagesa moved out of his parent’s house and set up a separate residence. The nascent couple was extremely happy to have such a dependable friend.

 

After their marriage, Gireesh intensified his friendship with them. On one pretext or the other, he used to invite them home for a party or dinner. He used to take them along with him for outings or to shopping; if both of them were not free he used to take with him, one that was free. His sister Pratyusha was working as a Teacher in a High School. Gireesh invited the couple to  Bangalore for Pratyusha’s marriage. Vagesa had some work; Gireesh took Madhurima to Bangalore; Vagesa joined two days later. Both of them were treated as distinguished guests. All the three went to Bangalore to celebrate the ‘Shastipurthi’ (Sixtieth birthday) function of Gireesh’s father. People began considering the couple as members of their extended family.

 

Gireesh knew that Madhurima was once quite interested in drama and in acting. Jayanth left that college after that year of service. Her acting talents remained dormant for want of opportunity and encouragement; Gireesh wanted to take advantage of it. He asked Pratyusha to plan performing the drama “That is life!” in her school. She was quite enthusiastic about it and selected some students for the roles. She could not realize the nature and intensity of the practical difficulties one had to confront in bringing it up to the production level, till she faced the first rehearsal. She was scared and phoned to Gireesh. He rushed to Bangalore along with Madhurima and tried to teach the actors how to deliver the dialogues so as to conform to the moods and contexts of the story. He took the opportunity to revise the script and introduce some crucial dialogues. They promised to come again to help the students.

 

Two weeks later, Vagesa had a Business conference at Delhi for three days from Wednesday; he was due to return on Friday evening. Gireesh asked Pratyusha to arrange for rehearsals on the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday. Gireesh and Madhurima reached Bangalore on time. There was some improvement among the actors but it was far from satisfactory. Gireesh told Madhurima, “This is a crucial part of the drama. As a practical demonstration, let us both enact it to show how it should be rendered”.

 

M: But can you do it?

G: I have been studying this drama for a while. I think I can articulate and enact it. (Actually, he had been rehearsing it for several days)

 

M: Alright. Let us try.

 

He asked Pratyusha to tape-record it for future reference of the actors. Gireesh and Madhurima demonstrated the following portion of the drama.

 

Raj: You made your choice already, didn’t you?

 

Sweta: Yes, I did… Perhaps, like Kaikeyi, I was under some evil spell which forced my choice.

 

R: But you continue to live with him as a pair of contented lovers!

 

S: … I was continuing to wear that mask because of the compulsion of my choice. What else can I do??

 

R: I don’t know.

 

S: … I know. You loved me dearly, once upon a time… I was not sure what your feelings towards me now are.

 

R: Oh my God! I never imagined that you had such doubts regarding my love towards you… Let me tell you; in whatever condition you are and at whatever moment you choose to return to me, I would welcome you with open heart.

 

S: Oh! I am the luckiest girl!! (She fell into his arms and they kissed each other repeatedly. Between the kisses, she said) I will remain with you happily till the end of my life.

After the rehearsal Madhurima remarked, “I am surprised that you could act so convincingly! Why didn’t you participate in the drama at the college?”

 

G: I told you… I didn’t want to repeat the stuff written by someone.

 

Gireesh added the following introduction.

 

Dear Vagesa,

You are under the impression that Madhurima continues to love you. You are being fooled, my friend! Listen to the disc… Good Luck my friend.

 

He copied the matter on audio disc and emailed it to Vagesa from a service center, to conceal the sender’s identity.

 

***                      ***                ***

 

There was only one daily flight at 7 a.m. from Bangalore to Hyderabad. Gireesh already reserved their return tickets for Friday, so that Madhurima could reach home before Vagesa’s arrival in the evening. Their driver arrived on time and they started to go to the air-port in their family car, as usual. Unfortunately they had a flat-tire on their way. As the driver tried to replace the tire hastily, one nut got stuck up and the task was delayed. By the time they reached the air-port, the plane was still standing there but the passenger’s entry was closed. Gireesh pleaded with the authorities, claiming that their tickets were reserved days ago. The authorities did not relent but stuck to their wooden rules; they transferred the reservations to the next day’s flight.

 

Passengers were required to switch off their cell phones during the flight.  They boarded the flight on Saturday and reached Hyderabad. As they proceeded to the exit, they were surprised to hear announcements alternatively asking Madhurima and Gireesh to go to the ‘Enquiry’ for an important message. They rushed to the ‘Enquiry’; the message merely asked them to go to the government hospital immediately. Madhurima activated her cell phone and tried to contact Vagesa. A hoarse voice merely asked her to come to the hospital immediately. Both of them rushed to the hospital.

 

Early that morning, a policeman on his regular beat, discovered a person lying motionless on a road. He was shifted to the government hospital where he was declared ‘Brought dead’. They found the phone numbers of Madhurima and Gireesh in his cell and were trying to contact them. They obtained the address of the owner of the cell-phone and sent a policeman to the house. It was wide open but there was no one inside. Neighbors told him that Madhurima who went to Bangalore was due to return on Friday morning and Vagesa who went to Delhi was due to return on Friday night. He was told that Vagesa’s parents were in town and gave him his address.

 

By the time Madhurima and Gireesh reached the hospital,the parents of Vagesa were already with his body at the mortuary. It was a sudden profound tragedy for the parents and the wife. Gireesh remained close to her consoling and reassuring her. He accompanied her to her home and assured her that he would share her sorrow and help her regain her life.

 

M: Where is life left for me Gireesh!

 

G: Don’t say so Madhurima… Where did you see life yet! You have a long life in front of you. God would have had some purpose for it. Take your time and get back to life… Remember that I will always be ready to assist you. (Her eyes rest on Vagesa’s laptop) Don’t keep looking at that; it will only keep you reminding of poor Vagesa. (Gireesh tried to move the laptop away).

 

M: Leave it alone! …

 

G: Okay, Madhurima… I will go home and return in a jiffy!

 

M: That’s’ alright Gireesh; This is a calamity which I have to face by myself!

 

G: What are friends for, if they can’t help a person in distress.

 

M: You are very considerate, Gireesh; do as you please.

 

Gireesh left. Soon thereafter two policemen arrived.

 

P: We are sorry to have come now to ask you some questions.

 

M: That’s alright; go ahed.

 

P: Was there any dispute lately between you and your husband?

 

M: None at all! … What made you ask such a question.

 

P: Duty, madam… Sometime back an aged person came to the police station. He is a first floor resident of a flat on the other side of the road where the accident occurred. He told us that soon after the 9 o clock cinema on T V ended around twelve, he came to the balcony of his flat which opened to the road. He saw a truck coming fast. A person apparently standing in the shadows suddenly darted forward into the path of the truck; the impact of the truck threw him a few feet away. The truck stopped, the driver dismounted and went to the victim. The person thought that the driver was taking care of the victim and retired to bed. He heard the story of the accident on TV’s Local news and rushed to tell the police what he saw… Sorry to disturb you madam; if you come across any information that is likely to assist our investigation, please inform us.

 

M: Sure!

 

So far, Madhurima did not have an opportunity to think calmly about her tragedy. The information given by the police surprised her and prompted her to consider their suspicion seriously. He returned from Delhi; Madhurima wondered why he went out again that night. She recalled that after returning from an out-of-town journey, Vagesa first looked into his unread email. She opened his laptop; it remained at the ‘Play’ position of the disc and the audio commenced from where it stopped. She was startled to hear the recorded portion of their rehearsal!! As she continued to wonder, the disc  played out and stopped. Pratyusha and Gireesh were the only persons who knew about the recording. Why would any of them send it to Vagesa?? Involuntarily, she brought the disc to the ‘Start’ and started playing it. With   the speed and fury of a thunderbolt, Gireesh’s vicious scheme became obvious!!

 

Gireesh’s mask of good behavior was a part of his elaborate scheme for revenge. In reality, he was suppressing a volcano of anger. That anger was not directed against Madhurima whose choice of Vagesa was responsible for it but it was directed against Vagesa!! Gireesh concluded that it was all because of Vagesa who intruded between them and eventually won her heart. Gireesh remained cool headed but he was not the one to accept defeat; he began considering various schemes to regain Madhurima by hook or by crook. After brooding over the issue for days, what Madhurima said unwittingly, evoked wild misinterpretations for him. Once she said, ‘Let me tell you Gireesh! If Vagesa did not enter my life, I would have married you by now’. Gireesh concluded that if he eliminated Vagesa, she would be his, forever!! Soon, it became the mission of his life; he was aware that it was a mission he should accomplish without evoking Madhurima’s suspicion. He made an elaborate long term plan and began to operate it.

 

The entire truth became evident so suddenly that her body shook with anger and revulsion as she wondered ‘Was this the cobra I had been trusting so implicitly!!’

 

Soon she regained her cool and came to a decision. She phoned to Gireesh. “Gireesh! I am feeling lonely and frightened… Can you please come and spend some time with me?”

 

Gireesh was overwhelmed with joy and answered “Sure”.

 

She phoned to the police Inspector; “I have some news for you; can you please come to our house now; perhaps I can deliver the criminal to you.”

 

Police Inspector: Sure, Madam; we will be there immediately.

 

Gireesh was in conversation with Madhurima by the time the police arrived.

M: Come in Mr. Inspector! This is our friend Gireesh. The two of us and Vagesa used to be intimate friends during our college.

 

I: I see!

 

G: Vagesa’s demise was as much of a personal loss to me as it is to Madhurima.

 

I: Yes. I can understand.

 

G: God has been very unkind towards her.

 

She wanted to make sure that Gireesh’s voice had been well recorded with the police.

 

M: Inspector, I requested you to come to let you listen to the disc Vagesa received and listened to, last night.

 

She switched on the disc; Gireesh was quite unprepared for it; the color on his face disappeared and he froze in his seat.

 

M: (When the disc ended) That was a portion of the script added to the drama. Its author is the criminal who is right in front of you Inspector; find out all about the drama from him. What you see is not a human being, it is a wolf in a lamb’s garb. Handcuff him and drag him to the police station; use the worst third degree methods to extract the last bit of truth of his nefarious scheme!

 

G: (Last attempt to save himself) Madhur…

 

M: Shut up you scoundrel! Never let those dirty lips of a vicious heart ever utter my name! Inspector! Please drag this rascal out of my sight and out of this sacred temple of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Scintillating Stories- Book-1. (‘Time Warp’ and Other Stories.)

This is a collection of stories; so I am giving a brief idea of each story. Time warp: One’s experiences are one’s ‘Past’; one’s expectations and ambitions are one’s ‘Future’. A successful advocate Murthy was due to be elevated to the bench; he was also a member of the city municipal council and tasted political power. There was a chance of his being sponsored to stand for election to the Legislative Assembly. To decide his preference he went to Anand Lodge and ordered a glass of fresh ‘Lime Juice’. In this story ‘Past’ and ‘Possible future’ were personified and brought to the same plane as the present to advice Murthy. Another World: On Venkat’s tenth birthday, he went to Ramnagar all alone. He attended a Yagna and went to the Ram temple. In those days persons of his caste were prohibited from temple entry; he was soon discovered and chased out. Humiliated and intending to end his life, he walked into the sea which parted and gave him way which lead to the palace of a kind Queen who gave him shelter; along with others like him… Fiction drifts into a fairy tale. Crime and punishment: Marthandam’s torture crossed the limit of tolerance of his wife Chidrupi. With the help of her friend Jalaja, she faked a report that Marthandam was HIV positive; he became docile and submissive. She used the lie for four years, obtained a degree and a Bank Officer’s job. Then she revealed the truth and asked him whether she should accept the job. A.I.I.E. : Murthy promised to take his wife Saraswathy to the All India Industrial Exhibition on the Republic Day but went to meet a prospective actress for his drama; she failed to turn up. So he and his friends decided to go to the A.I.I.E. That actress was Saraswathy’s friend and went to visit her the same evening; the friends decided to go to A.I.I.E. Murthy and friends were bewitched on seeing a young lady in yellow saree, from behind. They longed to see her from the front and kept missing. Finally they see her step out of a shop just as they approached it; she was none other than Saraswathy! So was it written: A construction worker, Bhadradri, found an inscribed copper plate; he got it read out which lured him to find the treasure. He struggled for days and found the spot. With the help of Narasayya, he succeeded but as he returned with the treasure, he stepped on a serpent which bit him; he died but could not enjoy the find! Divine justice: A greedy claimant Kiran, tried to grab Kalyani’s share of property by disputing her parentage and demanded a DNA test which nailed her lie in the open court. Scorpion’s sting: Lachchi who came in search of her husband Ramigadu, was staying in a choultry of a spoiled manager. At night he gave a distress call of a scorpion sting; Lachchi rushed to him to help. He laughed and revealed his desire; she became furious and returned to her room. Later she had a scorpion sting and screamed; the manager went to her hopefully and found a suffering Lachchi; he had a change of heart and took her to the hospital but could not save her. He gave the choultry to Ramigadu and became an ascetic. A husband’s folly:. Induced by Sarat, Narayana began to doubt his wife and made an elaborate plan to catch her red-handed. The plan revealed the truth. Extraction of truth: Professional etiquette is more essential for physicians. Dr.Satyamurthy used IVF method for Kamala through which Pandu was born. The doctor used the second egg that was fertilized, without donor’s knowledge or consent. When the fraud was discovered, Kamala’s husband filed a suit and extracted the truth. A tale of two ‘Friends’: Vagesa, Gireesha and Madhurima were college friends. Gireesh was more savvy and more wealthy and he was sure that she would select him but she married Vagesa. Gireesh continued to behave like a friend but he was jealous and vengeful. He felt that if Vagesa did not exist, she would have married him. He plotted to eliminate Vagesa. She saw through his plan and got him arrested. . ---------

  • Author: Ramakanth Jonnavittula
  • Published: 2016-04-23 17:20:10
  • Words: 41988
Scintillating Stories- Book-1. (‘Time Warp’ and Other Stories.) Scintillating Stories- Book-1. (‘Time Warp’ and Other Stories.)