Fiction: Unfathomable Feelings (L. R. Swamy)

Translated by: T. S. Chandra Mouli


[Please read the Postscript first]

I glanced one more time…
The sun rising just then looked like blooming on my mother’s face. I breathed serenely. The train was hurtling into brightness dissecting layers of darkness enveloped around. As we passed Coimbatore, probably in an hour we might reach Palakkad.
My spirit swelled with delight! After so many years my desire was going to be fulfilled. I was travelling with my mother to her place of birth!
I was not sure whether she was inclined or not to visit the place she belonged to. She never uttered a word about her feelings. Nothing she demanded. Her eyes appeared like the sky during inclement weather. 
Never opened up in pain or pleasure.
She was gazing through the window with rapt attention.
She was gazing through the window with rapt attention. Did her face glisten with joy? Who knew? I could not unravel by myself. From my childhood I could never read her. She pampered me with her love. But she did not implore for anything.
I was obstinate by nature. I always made a fuss about what I wanted to be done with my obduracy for any length of time. I remembered well to have stretched my tantrums for week once. It was during summer vacation, I made a big fuss about vising maternal grandmother’s place. As usual my mother did not utter a word.
“Why don’t you take me there? I have been asking from such a long time.”
She was unmoved.
“All my friends have gone.” Rising from the place I sat for my meal, I approached her. “Let us go there.”
She was silent!
“You must show me the place,” I cried loudly, shaking her shoulder with my left hand. I was stretching it too far.
She was unresponsive.
“What happened? My grandmother died? Tell me.” I shouted unable to control my temper.
My mother mopped her eyes with free end of her sari hem. Then very quietly told me, “You eat your meal my darling daughter. I will tell you later.”
 “What will you tell? Some tale you will narrate. This time it will not be possible. If you tell me that we would go, then only I will eat.”
Keeping hem of her sari across her mouth, she moved towards kitchen.
“Without a word you are going away.” I was in frenzy. “I don’t want this food. Nothing I want.” I kicked my plate.
In a flash she reached there and banged me. “Has food become so trivial for you!” 
She left the place sobbing. I stood there crying, looking at the scattered meal reminding mother’s trickling tears on floor.
Food was so divine to my mother! She was very kind to hungry people. Even when beggars came, if she felt they were hungry, she cooked a meal and served them, though cooked food was exhausted by then. I knew it very well.
When I was studying intermediate course…
I reached home around three o’clock from my college. Three kids appeared there, as I was crossing the threshold… they were beggars in the street… Sitting on raised platform in our front yard, they were eating their meal…standing beside them she was serving them food affectionately! 
I was mad with fury. Unhygienic fellows in rags, with running nose… they ate food there earlier also, I remembered. I disliked them. That aspect I disclosed to my mother too. But, still…
Of late they were trying to develop contact with a smile, on seeing me. At the bus station also, they tried to greet addressing me, “Akka!”, when I was busy conversing with my friends.
I was furious. I charged kicking their bowls of food. I got a tight slap.
Like a raging volcano my mother stood there!
“How dare you kick meal reaching a mouth, you… ill-gotten gain like girl!”
I was stunned. Anxiously I looked around.
“What do you know about pangs of hunger? One who had suffered knows it.” My mother broke into sobs.
“My father had to sell me, as he was unable to give a square meal.” 
It struck me like a bolt from the blue. What was my mother talking about?
Subsequently I learnt slowly.
My grandfather lived in an agraharam, where Brahmin quarters were located, near Palakkad. The poverty stricken family was the worst affected one. Five girl children… People in the agraharam visited houses seeking alms by telling about the details of star, day as per lunar calendar and served as cooks…ate when food was available… mostly slept on empty stomachs…
“Many nights we slept on empty stomachs,” she told me.
“My father used to go out after bathing early in the morning. He came back at noon. My mother waited keeping hot water ready for cooking a meal. She transferred the rice so fetched as alms [if at all he got] immediately into water kept ready for cooking.”
Tears tricked from her eyes, voice choked. After a minute suppressing grief, she further disclosed.
“Those were days of impoverishment. But time and growth of a girl halt not. Whether well fed or not, children grow with time…attain puberty. As one was watching we all reached marriageable age. Five grown up daughters ready for marriage! My father’s state was terrible like that of a rat that fell into trough of water and grains meant for cattle to consume.”
I listened intently.
“One day mamayya, my mother’s brother, came. He spoke with my parents. I don’t know how he managed, my father got me two long skirts and upper garments to wear spreading over shoulder, covering my bosom.”
“Then…?” I was inquisitive.
“I was so delighted that day. We didn’t see new clothes in the last four years. But my mother…”
“What ammamma did?”
“She did not allow me to wear new clothes. Entire day my mother was crying. Even at night she was grief-stricken.” 
Mopping her eyes once more she continued. “Next day I was given a traditional bath as on a festival day. She applied mixture of turmeric paste and lime that turned red on drying to my feet, as was done on auspicious occasions like weddings. Looking at me dressed in the new clothes she burst into sobs. I too cried. Don’t know from where she got, she prepared porridge like dessert with milk and rice. Feeding me she said, ‘You must be careful there dear daughter. There won’t be dearth of food or clothing.’ Then we started.”
“Where?”
“To this place!”
“Then, how old were you amma?” I had to mop my tears.
“I was just like you…same age. I, my mamayya and my father got down from the train here. In the railway station a couple of men looking like purohits, priests who conducted rituals, were seen. They had some secret talk with my father. We were all led to a temple. There I saw your father. I also saw your father handing over money to my father. He tied the knot around my neck that day.”
“Then what?”
“What is there? Like this… in this house… like this…”
“Did you know Telugu at that time?”
 “Absolutely no. Even this cuisine was unknown.”
“How did you manage?”
“Hunger knows not language or type of cooking, dear!”
“There after…?”
“I followed your father’s instructions. I learnt language and traditions of this place. Gave
 birth to you and you’re your younger brother.”
“How about…your father and mamayya…?” 
“They boarded the immediately available train. I never saw them again.”
“Didn’t you feel like meeting them?”
“Why not dear? But…I am not supposed to visit my parent’s home. After handing me over to your father, they performed obsequies for me on river Krishna banks and left the place.”
My mother bitterly cried in anguish.
River Krishna originating in western ghats moved towards the sea flowing in front of my home. Occasionally the river swelled with cheer and twirled. At times she wept inconsolably. Inundated us all when enraged. Now and then she was emaciated. Yet, the same river Krishna had been sustaining us!

Now, after nearly fifty years I was accompanying my mother to agraharam where she was born and raised.

My brother who came on holiday to India from America called me and asked me to accompany mother, who lived in Vijayawada with me, to agraharam near Palakkad. I learnt that he was transferred to that place. He lived in a rented house there!
My joy knew no bounds. 
After fifty years my mother was going to see her own home there!
She would meet her people!
She would spend the rest of her life in the soil she was born in!
The train halted.
“I wanted to stay in the agraharam amma!” he said the moment we emerged from the railway station. “But there are no decent houses. All are in dilapidated condition.”
He spoke truth. In evening as we visited the place, all houses looked like relics of bygone ages! Tiled structures in decrepit state reflected the impoverished condition of those who lived there. No signs of financial development made by the country were visible. No trace of life on roads could be seen. Emaciated bodies in tattered clothes without an upper cloth to cover, squatted on the raised platforms before every house, like embodiments of poverty.
“This is an old-age home, akka!” my brother joked.
“All are elderly people here. Anxiously await funds remitted by their children in far off places. Whether they send sufficient funds to these people is highly debatable.” 
My mother who was looking at each house keenly halted suddenly. She mopped her eyes with hem of sari.
“Any issue?” I asked her.
“Nothing, my daughter!”
“Tell me amma! What did you remember?”
“At that time I was ten year old girl,” she confided. “Roads were cut for installing poles for fixing power lines. Look here, in the pit dug for this pole, I came running and fell that day.” She paused for a minute.
“My father thrashed me like hell that day for falling in the ditch…”
“Very strange! Why should he thrash you? He was supposed to comfort you first…”
“How can I explain to you dear? If injuries are sustained, we should consult a doctor. For that money was needed. Situation was so pathetic that meagre amount worth a damaged shell too was not there. He shifted his helplessness targeting me.That’s all. Look here, this scar is a result of sutures used to close cuts on my chin that day.”
My heart grew heavy. I was startled to know how pathetic some lives could be.
We entered the agraharam streets where western light permeated. My mother searched for the home she was born in and raised. She could not locate it.
We reached Shiva Temple at the far end of a street. It looked like rush hour. Only ladies were on view! They were busy with circumambulation of the main shrine in the temple. We too joined them.
I noticed a lady constantly gazing at my mother. She took after mother.
“Akka…are you fine?” She embraced mother in a trice. She spoke fluent Tamil.
I could not understand a single word. Yes, mother spoke Tamil. But I could not.
Immersed in conversation they walked till a banyan tree at a distance.
Slowly visitors to the temple turned thinner. Those who could put across their turmoil to the God came out with relief. It was time for the temple to be locked.
Then they came near me…with swollen faces, red eyes… having cried to their hearts’ content…
“Dear daughter, she is your aunt.” Cheer overflowed in mother’s voice.
“She is in this place only. Her children are employed in Dubai.”
I could see clearly nascent moonlight spreading on my mother’s face!
After our supper, we sat on the terrace. Mother spoke eloquently! 
I never visualised the wealth of words treasured by her all the days!
That’s why it was said ‘a parrot is comfortable where it belongs to’!
A week passed by. Steady stream of relations and friends of mother continued every day. Her face was glowing. I was greatly relieved. I never saw her so happy! 
After my father’s demise, she continued to live alone in Vijayawada. 
If she could spend the rest of the days with such ease… 
I shared my feelings with my younger brother.
“Certainly akka!” he said. 
“With such an intention only I requested for a transfer to this place. I will be here for ten years. If required it can be extended by five more years. I think mother is in her seventy fifth year…”
That day I had to leave for Vijayawada. As I was packing my baggage, mother stood beside me.
“Pack my saries too, dear!” she told me.
I looked at her in surprise.
“I too will follow you to Vijayawada. Just now told him to buy a ticket for me too.”
“What happened amma?” I asked anxiously.
“You came here to settle well…has any one …brother’s wife offended you?”
“No dear!”
“Then… aren’t you happy here?”
“I am comfortable.”
“What is this amma? It is your own place. Those that speak your language…your sister, relations, friends… all are here. In your own town you can live with your son in the same house. He requested for a transfer to this place with that intention only.”
My mother did not speak.
“Tell me, who is there in Vijayawada to take care of you? I leave for America. You will be alone there… at this age…” 
“I will be really comfortable there, dear!”
I was speechless. Tell me, are feelings fathomable?

Post Script: It is historically established that poor Brahmin girls in Palakkad area were brought by their fathers to Vijayawada and sold to Brahmins there for monetary gain during the period 1940-1950.Widowed or aged men used to marry such innocent unmarried girls to spend the rest of their lives with them.
***
T. S. Chandra Mouli
About the Translator:
T. S. Chandra Mouli, an academic, poet, translator and critic, is a Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society, Great Britain and Ireland. He published 32books [19 edited anthologies of literary criticism and 9 authored works besides 4 books of poetry in English]. He completed translation assignments for institutions of higher learning. His translations of Telugu poetry and fiction are extensively published. He is Chief Editor of VIRTUOSO, a Refereed Transnational Bi-Annual Journal of Language and Literature in English. Vice Chairman of AESI [Association of English Studies in India] for a second term, Dr Mouli made presentations in International Conferences in universities in China, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, the U.K, France, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Cambodia, Australia, Taiwan, Borneo [East Malaysia] besides Japan, France and Spain [online]. He visited Vietnam and Singapore. He lives in Hyderabad, India.
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About the Author:

L. R. Swamy, a prolific writer and winner of several awards, keeps a low profile and loves to lead simple life like major characters in his stories. He is a much respected, senior writer among Telugu creative writers. Lakshmanaayyar Rama Swamy was born and brought up in Kerala. Tamil is his mother tongue. Impact of Malayali culture and traditions are perceptible in his works. A chemical Engineer by profession and retired General Manager of Andhra Petrochemicals Ltd, he learnt Telugu while working in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. He translates texts in Malayalam and Tamil into Telugu and Telugu fiction and poetry into Malayalam. But he writes fiction and poetry in Telugu. He won Kendra Sahitya Akademi award in 2015 for translation of Malayalam novel into Telugu. He translated more than 200 short stories and published 40 books so far. He is president of Mosaic Literary Association and Sahridaya Sahithi, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India.
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