I feel like stopping a while and taking a deep breath peacefully. But it is not possible. Seem to be in a hurry all the time. A rushed life. Not that there is no leisure at all. Some thoughts seem to gnaw at my mind. In between, some memories keep haunting. They caress the cheeks in a friendly manner. Drowsily they pat me to sleep. Lovingly they mesmerize me. Make me laugh heartily. Bring down a shower of tears. Make me angry. Irritate me. Endless memories. Yesterday’s events are memories of today. Hardship or loss, happiness or terror or whatever it may be, memory is invaluable. More than happiness, memories of head-on injuries, from a life of servile obedience like that of a goat, sustain you.
My Chinnayanamma is one who had survived on memories and left on us an indelible impression of her memories. Her name is Chittemma. It is more than five months since she died. She had had at some point in her life very close contacts with the Communist movement. She was one among those who experienced captivity when the Malabar police ransacked all the villages in the Andhra region in the forties. While her husband served the movement as a full-time activist, she had cooked and looked after all the members who visited them day and night. As the darkness of capture engulfed her, she took her child and went far away in a bid to escape. She could not stop her journey anywhere and get settled. She would be a captive again. To avoid this, she would set out to another place. When her husband was in Cuddalore jail, she would travel alone hundreds of miles to see him. She knew no other language but Telugu. And her tender age made life even more precarious.
Chittemma was not even nine when she got married. Hearing that the Sarada Act (Child Marriage Prohibition Act) was going to be implemented, they seemed to have taken her to some place across the port which was not under the British and got her married! When she climbed trees, her relatives used to shout, “Why are you playing like a tomboy? Get down immediately.” She felt elated when her bordered langa spread out and looked like a basket as she spun around fast and sat down! She used to describe such things in great detail. Marriage bound her with a sense of unanticipated responsibility.
She opened up many such memories with ease. When she revealed her life through minute details, we got involved in it, feeling that perhaps we too had played a role in her past. No matter how many times I heard them, I felt like hearing them again and again. She did not allow me to record her memories even once. She believed that the tape recorder did not allow her to speak whole-heartedly.
When independence was declared in 1947, she was living incognito, imprisoned in some village, with her six-year-old daughter (my aunt Tanya) and her seven-year-old nephew (my father). Till she breathed her last, she had a lot of faith in the movement. I never ceased to marvel at her many talents. If she had directly participated in the movement, she would have been a good organizer. She had the personality that could mobilize many people. But her talents remained unrecognized. We did not know anything of her martial life. But if there were quarrels between them, they never came out in the open. She did not speak even a word against her husband. When her husband totally neglected his duties for the sake of the movement, the upbringing of their daughter became her sole goal in life. Afterwards with the same zeal she toiled for her grandchildren’s well being. Till her death, she was the centre of that home.
Chittemma was a very friendly and cordial person. There was always an endless flow of relatives and friends to her house. Others’ friends were hers too. They felt more friendly with her than with us. She used to be close with every one. She very much enjoyed personally feeding all those who visited the house. But, death unexpectedly made its entry into her life in the form of cancer. It caused burning in her stomach. But with clenched teeth she put up with it. She yearned to be alive till December. The reason was none other than that she desired to see her daughter retire on 30th November. To realize her dream, she silently suffered the bitterness of medicines and the sting of the needles. But three and a half months before that date, she died very quietly, in the evening of an Independence Day.
Chittemma lived a silent life. Though she was closely associated withthe movement, though she suffered the tortures of captivity, though she showed the courage to go alone and visit her husband in Cuddalore jail, though she shared all the problems of life in the movement through her husband, though she remained alone and firm in a remote village with her children and carried on her life struggle, perpetuating her life story in the form of memories, she lived like a silent hidden movement. If her life story has not become history, isn’t it only because she is a woman?
She will not speak any more. She will no longer smile or tell stories. Nor will she open her memory page and converse. Cruel death has claimed her life. Chittemma! How wonderful it would be if your life were to be relived! How wonderful it would be if you were to wake up in the morning for the sake of all of us! There is not a day when your family members do not wish for this.
Memories live beyond death. They give assurance saying we are here. Chittemma is now our very dear and strong memory.
Translated from Telugu by M. Sridhar and Alladi Uma.
Now that Literature has taken a larger meaning and ungrudgingly includes autobiographies of not-so-significant people, oral histories and narratives, especially of the marginalized groups, letters, diaries etc., we felt this piece should reach out to a wider audience.
The piece also raises questions of historiography, of the role of women in the margins of movements etc. And needless to say, we like the very manner in which the narrative reads. Hope the translation reads as well!
ALLADI UMA AND M.SRIDHAR. Teach English at the University of Hyderabad. They have been doing collaborative work in translation for several years. They published a translation of a collection of short stories by Volga, a Telugu feminist writer, titled The Woman Unbound. 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.