“Sister, I may be poor. But I will look after the guest lovingly even if I land up in debts, won’t I? Why don’t you send Munni during summer vacation, at least this time? I don’t have girls. I’ll have her here for a few days and give her a flower or a fruit when she leaves. It’s only my foolishness to ask you. Will your ladylike daughters come to our poor houses? Leave it aside, sister. I’ll go now. I don’t know when I’ll see all of you again.” Saying so and weeping, my bademma Karimbi embraced my ammi Yakubbi, thrust the mandara deeper in her hair and left blowing her nose, wiping it with her sari end and looking back again and again with her flushed face.
I am doing my undergraduate course now. But so far I had gone only to my abba’s relatives during vacation but never to my ammi’s relatives. I had gone years ago but I don’t remember. I was determined to somehow go to Karimbi bademma’s house this summer vacation. As a solution to my peoples’ fear to send young girls out alone, I thought of taking my younger brother with me. When I said this to my mother her face blossomed like the banti flower in our backyard. My abba too did not object. There was a reason for my mother’s brightening up. My aapa and bhai felt irksome when my bademma came home, as she used false hair, wore bougainvillea, talked bluntly, wore dirty clothes, cried every now and then, blew her nose and wiped her hand wherever she liked. They breathed with difficulty until she left. Once she left, they talked freely, imitated her speech and laughed. They wouldn’t sleep unless the bed sheets that she had used were sent to the laundry. They were like that.
If it became difficult for them to breathe when my bademma came here, they might die if they went to her place. That was why my ammi was so happy when I said I would go to bademma’s place. My aapa and bhai looked at me as if I were a strange creature but kept quiet not bothering much. My younger brother liked me very much and obliged me. Because there was not much of a difference in age between us we did everything together. When I asked him, “Will you come?” he readily said, “I’ll come aapa.” Vacation came soon. We packed our clothes and started. My abba said, “Your badebba will get toddy. If I come to know that you have had it, I will kill you both!” We nodded and walked out at three in the morning towards the bus stand. There was a bus from there to Kothagudem. That was normally full of passengers who were on their way to Singareni. We were in the railway station by four thirty. The train came in at five and it started at six. It reached Kesamudram railway station by nine.
Both of us got off the train and came out from the station. We enquired about the bus to Upparapalli and were told that it was at twelve. Thinking why should we wait till then we asked the auto driver. He said that if it were exclusively for us it would be thirty rupees and if he took other passengers it would be three rupees. We understood by looking at the auto that passed by that other passengers meant ten to fifteen people. So my younger brother said, “Aapa, let’s go by the special auto.”
We gave twenty-five rupees and got off at the village in fifteen minutes. We reached there but we did not know the route. My brother asked one of the passers-by, “Where’s Latif’s house?” He could not understand and said, “Tell me again.” He could not understand even when he was told repeatedly. I remembered ammi’s words, and said, “No, thatha…Doodekula Lathaiah… Doodekula Karimbi…that is shehnai Lathaiah…their house.”
“Oh…you are going to Doodekula Lathaiah’s house…come…I’ll show you. Are you related to them? “ He asked.
“I am Karimbi’s younger sister’s daughter. He is my younger brother,” I said.
“I think this is the first time you have come here. Karimbi always talks about you. Never gets tired. Now she’ll really celebrate. Will you stay for a few days, my dear? but how can you stay in this village? it is difficult to stay even for half-a-day.” He was talking to himself and walking through the streets as we followed him. We reached home.
“Karimbi…won’t you see who has come?” the old man shouted.
Bademma came out from the house. With widened eyes she came near us, stroked our hands and face and started weeping loudly. “Did you feel like coming after such a long time, my child? at least now your bapu took mercy, my child…they don’t want to come, my child…they may have come if we were well off, my child…how is my younger sister, my child….” Her weeping went on like that. Madigas from the neighbourhood, Goundlas from behind the house and the milkmen adjacent to the house gathered at the doorstep.
“Who is that…who is that…?” Somebody was asking and the old man who brought us said, “Karimbi’s sister who lives in Palvancha, her daughter and son.”
“Karimbi! That’s enough. Take them inside. Children look flabbergasted. They’ll come. Where else will they go? Your sister and brother-in-law. How does it matter whether you go or they come? But they don’t feel like coming to this village. What can you do…Give them water to wash their feet.” When Maadigavva reprimanded her in a loud voice, bademma quickly took the suitcase in, gave water to wash our feet, and took out a towel from the box to wipe our feet. By the time both of us finished it, she put a cot with a quilt on it under the bougainvillaea tree. She sat on the floor and said in a depressed tone,
“How is our Yakubbi? You should have brought my sister…She would have had some toddy. How long it is since she came here!”
“You know about our house, bademma. All of us cannot come at a time,” I mumbled. Bademma did not say anything. “Sit my child, I’ll come in a minute,” saying this, she rushed into the house, came out with a sackful of paddy on her head. After fifteen minutes, she came back with tomatoes and eggs. It pricked me when I realised that she bought them selling the paddy and when I mentioned this to her, bademma said, “That’s enough my child. After a long time my dearest people have come. Does it matter…just wait — when your badebapu comes I’ll ask him to bring plenty of fish in a day or two. They are available in plenty in the lake. There is country chicken in our house. Badebapu may come tonight.”
Probably she had informed the Goundla man on her way back; he brought in two pots of toddy looking strangely at us.
“Who is this, Karimakka?” he asked.
“My younger sister’s daughter and son…from Palvancha. Thammi, they have come for a vacation. As long as they are here, you should give us good toddy,” said bademma.
I blushed, wondering if people would think that we drink toddy. I asked bademma, “Where are Pentu and Gorimiya?” I felt bad for not asking about them so far. “Pentu doesn’t listen to our pleadings, though we tell him that we will get him educated even if we have to sell ourselves. He got used to going to movies in Kesamudram Station and spoiled his education. Now that he is accompanying his father, he has learnt playing the shehnai. He resembles his father, even in his drinking. Gori is in the eighth now. Even if there is no food, he goes to school regularly. He wants colourful shirts and shoes. Now he’s goading us for a bicycle…. He wants to show off.” As bademma was talking Gorimiya rushed in, chuckled on seeing us and asked, “Aapa, when did you come?” Without even listening to our response, he threw away his bag and started gulping down the toddy poured into a glass from the pot.
Bademma said angrily, “Gori, I got it for the guests. You have started. Once you start, you don’t stop. Clean the glass and pour some toddy for aapa and bhai first.”
“What are you doing? I have to go to play. My friends are waiting outside. Don’t boil the egg for me, fry it,” Gori ran out.
“They don’t work at all but ask for different things…these fellows.” Abusing them bademma brought glasses full of toddy. I said no. Akbar was looking at me. It looked as if he was asking me not to inform abba. I said, “Take it.” He drank two glasses of toddy. After some time he stood up and tried to walk. But, probably as he was feeling dizzy, he lay down on the cot.
We had our meal outside and slept outside. Intoxication along with the happiness of our arrival, bademma started blabbering. Akbar and Gorimiya were both dozing off under the influence of toddy. Everything was new to me, so I could not sleep.
I felt that if I stirred bademma, she might talk about many things. So I slowly asked, “How did your nikah with bade bapu happen?” That’s it. My bademma started talking.
“My ayya was Rustum, you know, amma Ankoosu. We were in Rajolu earlier. We were living in a thatched house. We used to make beds. In the beginning they sold well. Later on the demand came down. Sponge beds came. My father started selling arrack. There were two rooms and some place behind. We sold arrack in the front room. My mother made eatables to go with the arrack and sold them. We were four sisters. Older sister Lalbi, I, your mother Yakubbi, after that Salimbi. Everyday my father went to Maibadu, brought depot arrack and sold it in Rajolu. He managed to marry Lalakka to a person working in the railways. So much money was spent then. I had already grown up. Your mother was grown up. Salima was also almost like that. There was only one year between us.
Among us, Yakubbi was fair like the moon. Salima also. Though Lalakka and I were dark, we were good looking. We had long hair. Whenever we came back home from outside, my mother would take the dishti to ward off evil.” Suddenly she stopped as if she was reminded of something and asked, “Oh Maadiga Buchchavva! Had dinner? No sign at all?”
“Had it, my dear…what have you cooked for your child…did you bring meat?” she asked.
“I made egg curry. I didn’t bring meat. I’ll bring it tomorrow.” She stopped talking to her, turned towards me and started talking, “Are you listening, my dear…an elderly man at the arrack depot wanted to come to Rajolu to drink toddy and take country chicken with him. He came, saw Yakubbi and Salima and asked bapu for them in marriage to his elder brother’s sons. My bapu was scared that they were Sayibus and we were Doodekulas and how the two would go together. But, as the girls were looking like moons, the Sayibu man, that is your chinadada convinced my bapu. My bapu also said yes but as I, the elder one was also unmarried, my bapu started looking for a match for me. Then this shehnai-playing fellow caught my bapu’s eyes. We were distantly related. Your badebapu also was very particular of marrying me once he saw me and married me. He came from Upparapalli.
Then your mother and Salima were married at the same time. Your bapu was a teacher and your uncle was working in a bank. Only we were inferior to everybody. Laalakka died of cancer. Her children got married. They forgot us completely. Are you listening, my dear, you’ll also be like that. The minute you get married you will forget.” She started after a pause. “Then started my trials. My mother-in-law was alive at the time of my nikah. She harassed me to the extent possible. Saying that my hair was long and will cost a lot for oil, she would comb my hair pulling it and snipping it off. Like that I lost all my hair and now, look, this baldhead is what remains. I look like a mother before my sisters. Do I look like their elder sister? Since I did not conceive, my mother-in-law threatened to get my husband married again. Then only I gave birth to a girl child. But she died of a disease after five years. If she were alive, she would have been just like your elder sister. I wept thinking that I may not have any more children. After a long time I became pregnant with Pentu. But I was scared as to what would happen. Then people said throw him into the garbage soon after he is born and he will survive. I did that. That’s it. He survived. Then I was pregnant with Gori. Throw him on the grave, people said. We threw him on the grave and named him Gorimiya. He too survived.
And your badebapu goes to play shehnai in summer. That’s all, my child! The money that he brings home at that time is the only income. He doesn’t earn a single paisa otherwise. He wants good non-vegetarian food and drink. Tell me my dear, how many days will this three months’ income last! I never experienced what joy is since getting married. I go for sowing, weeding, reaping…after that for collecting grains, cotton, chillies. I go for whatever work is available, get some grains home and that is how this family is running. If I go to collect chillies, I get chillies, if I go to collect tamarind and clean it, I get tamarind. After collecting cotton and chillies, I fall at people’s feet and bring piles of wood and people abuse me for that too, once in a way.… ‘Your husband has plenty of money to drink but you have no money for the firewood,’ the world finds fault. Your badebapu has never bothered as to how the house is being run and what his wife and children are eating. He sells the grains that I bring home, drinks and creates nuisance. If he looks after us during one season, I have to look after them during two seasons. Slowly the energy in my body is also being drained out. During my periods, blood flows out in potfuls. I can’t even sit up. Even then I have to force myself to cook and go for work. Yes, my child. Then my body starts aching terribly. Even at this age, I have to work so hard. That is why I feel better if I drink a little toddy…what shall I do my child, my fate is like this.”
As if she remembered something else, bademma said, “Oh Munni…I forgot to tell you. Don’t forget to tell your mother also…recently we have fixed up a match for Pentu. In our neighbouring village…only daughter, two sons. The boys are younger. The girl is older. That is why they are trying to get the girl married off. These people went to play in their village and they saw Pentu then. They sent word that he is really cute. We too agreed. The girl’s name is Aleeva. She is good looking though she is dark. She works very fast. Even at this age, she is ahead of others in sowing and reaping, I believe. She does other work also very well, I understand. She makes beedies even in summer. No one can match her in making leaf plates. She makes them so round. The girl is very small but her work is very good. We saw all this and fixed the marriage in two months’ time. Pentu, like his father, has started drinking. I thought if the girl earns, then she can manage the family without starving with a drunkard husband like him. Tell your ammi…come what may…she should come here ten days in advance. You should come one month in advance. You will know better about the clothes and other things for your sister-in-law.” She paused and said, “I talked at length my child, and you may be feeling sleepy, go to sleep.” She yawned and slept.
I felt very bad after knowing about bademma. I remembered my house.
In my house abba does namaz. He had taught that to ammi. Ammi might have wandered like a bird in the village before marriage. Now she did not come out. Even if she came she had to come in burkha. At home all of us talked Urdu. Because I had studied in Telugu medium, I knew Telugu very well. My abba had now become a lecturer. In a few days he might become the principal. Ancestral property. Added to that his earning! He does not eat if there is no mutton or chicken every day. Ours was a two-storied bungalow. We lived downstairs and let out the floor upstairs. Sometimes when he was angry at my ammi, he abused her saying, “Doodekulawoman”. If he was angry with me, he abused me saying, “You have inherited all your mother’s qualities.” He looked after bhai and aapa very well. They had all nawabi features. They did not wear ordinary clothes. My aapa did not even go out without dressing up for an hour at least. But I did not hesitate to go out and talk to anybody even if my clothes were dirty and torn. Then my abba abused me saying, “Mean mentality.” But where did this meanness come from, from poverty! Bademma seemed to be groaning in sleep. Again my thoughts turned back.
That depressed night gave way to dawn.
By the time I woke up next morning, badebapu and Pentu were sitting next to the stove and drinking tea. Two rows of dry meat were hanging next to the stove.
“Badebapu, how are you?” I asked.
“Fine my child. You have come after a long time. Your bapu and ammi have not come. It would have been good if they were to come.” He put aside the tea glass and went out saying, “I will just go up to the lake and be back soon.” “He is going to get the fish. He will bring fish but he will come back drunk. Then see, what a nuisance, what a ruckus…the whole street will gather here. Wait to see your badebapu’s drama.” Saying this, bademma sighed, cleaned the glasses and kept them in.
Around three o’ clock badebapu came staggering with fish in one hand and a towel in the other.
“Karimbi…Karimbi…f…your mother, don’t you hear? I am calling you, what are you doing? Here is the fish…should cook them well…as the pulusu drops onto the tongue, heaven should come down. I am going to the neighbourhood on some work. The pulusu should be ready by the time I come back…f…your mother, you never listen to what I say.” Saying this he started walking towards the market.
“Let Maisamma eat you up…your limbs break…when will you be carried away to the burial ground…only good people are dying…” bademma said in a low voice and shouted, “You’re already reeling…enough, come now.”
He was not in a position to listen to anything. Walking like that he went up to the arrack shop.
Bademma cooked fish curry deliciously. Fearing that he might create a ruckus if he came back, she gave food to all of us and she also had two morsels hastily.
It was already eight. Staggering even more and falling on the ground and getting up badebapu came back. He did not even have the consciousness of his own clothes. As he came in, he said, “Karimbi…Karim…give me rice.” Bademma kept rice, pulusu in a plate and water and said, “ Why don’t you come? I have kept it here.” As he was coming swaying, he was about to fall down. Bademma held him and made him sit properly. “I am not able to mix the rice. Kareeva…you feed me, “ he said. Abusing him inaudibly, she started feeding him. “What is that…you have started abusing me…you are planning to kill me by giving fish bones…don’t I know…are you planning to celebrate after my death? Your tricks won’t work. You are no less…you are planning to dispose me of by killing me…are you giving me your lover’s money…or your father’s money…f…your mother…you are planning to kill me and take talaaq…” Badebba did not stop.
Bademma hit the roof. “Why are you after my parents…they’re not eating your money…I earn and you eat like a child…everyday where is the money coming from for your food and drink…is your father giving money…only you are earning in this world…is anybody else earning! Thu…wretched life…” bademma took the plate to the tap to clean it.
“You bitch…let donkeys f… you! You accuse my father…my father is like God! He made me taste nectar. Who do you think my father is…God…” badebapu was stammering.
“It’s because he introduced you to that bloody arrack that this family is like this! How can the fellow who made you a drunkard become God? Wretched father…you born to him are all the more wretched.” Bademma started abusing.
“F…your mother…how many times should I tell you? Do you call my father wretched?” He stood up, his body swaying, he took the pestle and beat her twice from behind.
“My God…I’m dead…curse you…you be buried…your death rituals be held…your hands be paralyzed.” Weeping loudly bademma was trying to escape from his beating, moving from one place to the other. He was beating her wherever possible, staggering and abusing. Though I tried to prevent him he did not stop. Gori started weeping loudly. Pentu was not at home. Hearing that noise and both of them weeping, women from the neighbourhood came running. They dragged him out by his shoulders.
“You sister f…now all these people have come…I will never let you live…what do you think of me…f…your mother.” Shouting, he shook himself loose of madiga Eeraiah’s grip and went away staggering.
All the women made bademma lie on the cot. It seemed her hand was badly injured. There was a profuse swelling. Bademma was moaning and weeping. People convinced her to stop weeping. When everybody left, she slowly fell asleep very late. I could see badebapu’s drama whether I closed my eyes or kept them open. My brother was sticking to the cot with fear.
Next morning we were supposed to leave. Bademma’s right shoulder had swollen up even more by next morning. I suspected a fracture. I told her the same hundred times and asked her to go to the hospital. “What is this my child… I was beaten up worse than this in sensitive places, but I am living! Your badebapu is also good but only when he drinks he behaves like that.” Saying this she went inside and came back with three hundred rupees. She touched my feet and said, “My child…you know we are poor. We couldn’t buy anything though you came from that far! What good things will be available here…buy something there my dear! These quarrels will always be there, till my death. Don’t think about these things my child! I am a poor woman, I have given you whatever I have…don’t think, ‘Is this the way I am looked after when I have come here for the first time.’ I will give you a good sari for Pentu’s nikah.” Although I objected she kept the money in my hands and took my suitcase into her left hand. When I said I would take it, she snatched it. She came up to the road to put us into an auto.
By the time we reached the road, the auto came. We got into it. “Give my salam to ammi, abba, aapa and bhai, Munni! Don’t forget; tell them that all of you should come for the marriage. I’ll remain…” Tears rolled down bademma’s eyes. She was waving her hand till the auto was visible. Tears started rolling down from my eyes as well.
Translated from Telugu from K.Suneetha Rani.
SHAJAHANA. Is a powerful young woman writer who writes with the consciousness of a woman and a Muslim belonging to the backward class / community. She has published several poems and some short stories. Some of her poems have appeared in Zalzala: Muslimvada Kavitvam which contains poems written from the perspective of Muslims in Andhra Pradesh. Special mention must be made about the way in which she defines her identity in terms of the language used.
SUNEETHA RANI, K. Teaches at the Department of English, University of Hyderabad. She translates from Telugu into English and English into Telugu. Many of her translations into English have appeared in leading journals. She has recently published translations of Wandering Girl, an Australian aboriginal autobiography and a Marathi dalit play, Vata Palvata into Telugu. Her research interests are in the areas of Indian writing, Subaltern literatures and Australian literature.