Mother says my eyes are beautiful. She daubs kohl to my eyes. My sister-in- law too says, “Black kohl on your fair cheeks and black kohl in your white eyes— how attractive are your eyes!”
True, my eyes are indeed large — but of what use? That Ramudu has eyes like tamarind leaves. Narrow eyes. I’m only ten. He too is ten. Actually, I’m ten days older to him. But I’ve not seen even a hundredth of the wonders of our town that he has. The other day, there was a big commotion in front of our house. I ran out and stood in the crowd. I don’t know from where my brother came, but he dragged me and dumped me in the house.
“You’re a good girl. How come you stood there without any fear? Even as we listen to their screams from inside the house, our hearts are pounding,” said mother.
When I said, “I am not scared,” every one scolded me. How happy my brother is at my sister-in-law’s cowardice! He’ll scare her and laugh heartily as she trembles with fear. My sister-in-law too adds to all this. For no reason, she closes her eyes saying, “Oh, my God! I’m scared!” Even if you say, “Open your eyes and see, it’s nothing,” she’ll not do so. Her eyes too are large but what’s the use? She likes to keep them closed. When mother and sister-in-law come out into the street, they don’t lift their heads. Their eyes are fixed on the ground. But what’s there on the ground? Even if there’s something, how many days can we keep looking only at it? They don’t observe clearly what’s in the street. On the contrary, mother yells at me.
Saying, “Why do you look all around? Walk with your head bent. Look at the ground,” she hits me on my head with her knuckles.
Oh, no! I don’t walk like that at all. If I don’t look this way and that when I come out into the street, how’ll I know all that is happening? Will Ramudu who roams about the street all twenty four hours take me seriously?
But he too doesn’t know many things. He doesn’t know that it’s enough for women to look at just a few things. Mother knows all this very well.
We shouldn’t even look at our bodies properly. Mother keeps shouting about those looks. As we grow older, we shouldn’t look closely at all at men. Now I’m playing with Ramudu, but in another two years I shouldn’t play with him. I should go into the house as soon as I spot him. If I see him in the bazaar, I shouldn’t lift my head but only my eyes and see him. Padmakka, who lives next door, looks just like that. When I ask her why she looks like that, she says that such a look alone is really beautiful. I’m not yet able to look like that. I don’t know when I’ll be able to. As for Ramudu, he can’t, try as he might.
I believe tears should come very quickly to women’s eyes. The other day, mother was abusing the woman next door, “Stone hearted. Not a drop of tear in her eyes.” It seems, that women should cry for no rhyme or reason. I don’t know why I get angry, but don’t cry. I get angry when I’m scolded for no reason. But my sister-in-law cries. Then my brother’s anger subsides.
“That’s enough. Stop crying,” he says. Even then, my sister-in-law continues to weep uncontrollably. When brother and sister-in-law quarrel, it’s only she who cries. Brother doesn’t cry even once. Between mother and father too, mother has to cry, always. I don’t like crying. When I cry, my eyes will not look good at all. My face will become black with kohl. God, I’ll never cry. No matter what our eyes see, it seems we should not say anything, nor do anything.
If I see a basket of mangoes in my father’s hand, I feel like jumping, saying, “Hey! Mangoes! But I believe I’m not supposed to jump. It seems I shouldn’t shout till that mango reaches my plate. After it is put on the plate, I should eat it properly. If we don’t jump on seeing mangoes, what’s the point in seeing them?
Just like this, if there is something which angers us, we’re not supposed to scream. You know what happened the other day! When Kalyaniakka was coming back from college, a boy fell off his cycle. He sprained his leg and couldn’t get up. There was no one on the road. Kalyaniakka helped him up, lifted his cycle and placed it against a pillar. I believe she held on to him so that he wouldn’t fall down when he stretched his leg. The uncle who lives opposite our house saw all this and told Kalyaniakka’s father. Kalyaniakka’s father too was like an uncle, but I got so angry when he beat akka up that I stopped talking to him. He beat up Kalyaniakka very badly. He beat her up as he scolded her saying how she could hug a stranger on the road. When she said, “I lifted him up as he fell down,” he scolded her saying, “You may have seen all that but why are you out to serve the country instead of going about your business?” We have to do something when we see, don’t we? Otherwise, why see? If we are the same before and after we have seen, why see at all? If I say this, mother doesn’t understand. She asks me to shut up.
I must close my eyes. Must shut my mouth. The woman who works in my brother’s office came. You know, how well she laughed. But what is strange is that she doesn’t have a bottu. Doesn’t use kohl. Even so, she’s so beautiful. She laughed all the time she was there. Mother and sister-in-law didn’t seem to like her. I believe not having a bottu on the face and not wearing a chain on the neck make the face look disgusting. I said many times, “Is she really not good looking, mother? Is she really not good looking?” Mother said, “To my eyes, she looks disgusting. I don’t feel like looking at a face without a bottu.” If I grow up to be like mother, will my eyes too become like hers?
Oh, no! If they change like that, my eyes won’t be able to see anything.
Mother says, “How come only your eyes spot all kinds of things?” Mother’s eyes see nothing. Mother doesn’t pay attention to what she sees. Why are women’s eyes like this?
Translated by Alladi Uma and M. Sridhar from Telegu.
“Kallu” is one of Volga’s stories where a woman’s body part becomes the subject. “Ayoni,” one of her most powerful stories (a translation of which has appeared in our volume on Volga), is a poignant rendering of a young girl, a victim of sexual abuse, who dreams of her life without a yoni. We chose the present story, for it successfully captures a serious theme in a simple style which is bound to make an impact on the young and adult readers alike. We have rarely come across an Indian woman writer in English who uses the body to emphatically bring out a woman’s sensibility the way Volga does.
VOLGA. One of the leading feminist writers in Telugu. A writer of novels, short stories and articles, Volga is also an activist. She is the Secretary of Asmita Resource Centre for Women, Hyderabad. The Central Sahitya Akademi chose her to represent India in a writers’ meet in China a couple of years ago. Among her well-known works are Sahaja, Swechcha, Akasamlo Sagam, Manavi, Rajakeeya Kathalu and Prayogam: Rajakeeya Kathalu-2. Recently she co-edited a volume on women who made a mark in different walks of life in Andhra Pradesh in the last century entitled Mahilavaranam which was also published simultaneously in English. She has translated feminist writings from English to Telugu.
ALLADI UMA AND M. SRIDHAR. teach English at the University of Hyderabad. They have been doing collaborative work in translation for several years now. They published a translation of a collection of short stories by Volga, a Telugu feminist writer, entitled The Woman Unbound. A collection of translations of Telugu short stories from 1910 to the present with woman as the main focus is to be published shortly by Katha, New Delhi. They have recently helped the Sahitya Akademi in bringing out two special issues of Indian Literature on contemporary Telugu writing. Sahitya Akademi is bringing out their translation of a novella, Govulostunnayi Jagratta! (Beware, the Cows are Coming!) by Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastry. They won the Jyeshtha Literary Award in 1992 and the Katha Commendation Prize in 1996 for their translations.