The daybreak was a little away. It was dark all around. Outside…inclement weather…nightlong drizzle. Humidity in air…a little dampness…nippy…a lightning followed by thunder at a distance…somewhere a thunderbolt strikes, with a booming sound…
With wide-open eyes, leaning on the wall, looking at him intently, forty year old Vakula was startled.
Across the room…faint light from zero watt bulb…a blend of orange and yellow hues…
“Then,” she said as though speaking in a vacuity to a blankness.
Sambasiva…around fifty years…stretched on a thin soiled cotton mattress…with his stomach on the mattress, he pressed his face ,like an ostrich, in to the pillow…was listening to her for more than a couple of hours.
“Then, nothing happened?” he asked turning on his back, looking at the soot coated asbestos sheets on the roof.
A sort of dank smell…dampness…smell of pigeons behind the grilled screen of box beyond the window… gurgling noise of the birds…in the room… a few hours earlier as he disembarked the railway coach, carried a shawl, fragrance of faded flowers in the garland on a small wooden seat…beside was gleaming a copper plaque fixed in transparent acrylic box…picture of a lighted lamp with a curled holder with the letters in Hindi reading “Sahitya Akademi.”
The room was flooded with smell of alphabets, scent of a lady, smell of a man too…
All pervasive silence.
Just then a train streamed in to the railway station…rolled away rhythmically with sound of wheels,with out halting there. Noise. Sudden loud noise…dissolving into silence.
A couple of poetic lines electrified him…disappearing next moment…as though emptied completely…a sort of vacuum.
“Do you feel that it lasts till the morning?” she asked.
“A feeling that there won’t be day break is pessimism…it is sheer inanity that the sun won’t set…isn’t it,Vakula?”
She did not respond.Looked into his eyes in the dim light.
He was looking at the roof of faded sheets of asbestos.
‘I did not expect you at the railway station,Vakula,”he confessed.
“I too did not plan. But reached. As no customer came, it was possible.”
He remained silent. Still looking up at the roof.
“Every night I shed the body I own.In a hurry…this midnight I rushed wrapping it around me…had there been a customer,I would not have reached the station.”
“Telling customers it may not be convenient, you might have come there.”
‘I may be a prostitute. I respect my profession.What did Gandhi state? ‘Customer is God at the door.’’’
Sambasiva had a hearty laugh.
“At times I feel why all writers and poets like you shower lots of unwanted sympathy and compassion. Our lives are not as wretched as depicted by these writers. This is also a profession. That’s all. Every dumb headed correspondent or writer asks us if we are willingly carrying on our trade. Tell me honestly, who does his job cheerfully? Ask any auto rickshaw driver…he doesn’t like what he does. By force of circumstances, to eke out a living, he does his job. In this society many a person do not choose the profession they like and function. As there is no choice available, every one chooses some work as a profession. That is life.”
“Yes. That’s right.”
Four or five pigeons…to escape the drizzle outside…sit on window sill… closely, quietly… making in audible sound…sound of flapping wings.
“May I tell you …I feel you are tormented without getting any work to do…perhaps women are better placed than young men…at least this body may be offered to earn money…for you poor men no chance…who will offer you money?”Vakula laughed heartily.
Sambasivudu…got up and sat leaning on the rough patch of the brick wall…gestured to Vakula to reach him,with a sparkle in his eyes.
Overwhelmed by such an affectionate and very rarely seen gesture,in a trice she slid towards him and gently landed on his bosom.
He stretched his arm,handing the memento given to him by Sahitya Akademi and unfolding the shawl to wrap her…He held her face in his two cupped palms and looked into her eyes.
“Eyes are two great oceans
so much turbulence, so many disasters, intrinsic fire beneath…
just like tranquil sky …eyes…incomprehensible entities.”
Among many poetic lines Sambasiva composed with his pseudonym ‘Sathadeva’ these three lines he recollected then…she too remembered them.
Vakula was ecstatic. Unfolded…bloomed…hugging him entwined in excitement…without her knowledge tears swelled in eyes…she melted. Flowed…flooded with elation.
Carving a branch reveals not
traces of leaves that sprout
scanning the body shows not
trail of tears that swell."
This poetic expression was composed by Sathadeva.
Who is this Sathadeva? who is she?
Sathadeva is the pseudonym of Sambasiva.The one who loiters a lot…
No one knows any information about him---place of birth, education, background… movements…avocation…
He sometimes does carpentry with carpenter Venkatrajam.Expert in making doors with floral patterns and leaves. At times seen in welder Rahim’s workshop. On Sundays and Wednesdays when demand is more he is seen helping the meat-seller in slicing meat neatly…drives an auto rickshaw for a fee. Whatever work he undertakes, does dedicatedly, perfectly. Whole hearted effort, lovingly rendered. Collects whatever money is offered, never demands for more.The moment he earns what is required,he stops the work and walks off. No craving for money nor for saving his earnings.
When asked why he does not care for money, he quietly responds that his requirements are minimal.
Once Sambasiva was seen shaving beards of men in the city’s biggest unisex saloon ‘Anand.’
When questioned why he was there,he laughed it off casually,saying, “All work undertaken here.I am master of all trades.”His smile was as sweet as that of an innocent child.
Vakula told him once,”why not settle down in life ,taking up some fixed profession .”
It was he who explained to her ‘how to make a life ‘constructively.’
“Vakula…My life is well defined. Why make further efforts?Long before Mahatma Gandhi stated , it was Lord Krishna who disclosed in a discourse in Bhagavdgita that whatever is earned more than the required quantum in life results in misery.Moment by moment…life is for the day…is it not!” he declared nonchalantly.
She realized that the glow in his face at that moment was due to the impact of his untainted conscience.
He saves money systematically, indicating his intention to publish one more anthology of poetry. The moment a book is published with Sathadeva’s name, the very next week all books are sold out.He also arranges to gift his books to lovers of poetry in big, reputed book shops on certain days. Sort of state-wide-movement it is.Thousands of copies are distributed freely.Press and electronic media men search for him for their coverage of news.No where he is found.He shuns publicity.
Sathadeva’s poetry touches the heart. Converses, converges, extending elation and inexplicable delight to the readers.
Who is this Sathadeva?
Where does he live?
How to meet him?
Several people search in vain. If he is seen by some one inadvertently, next day sensational news and stories are in circulation.
“Vakula,we need to think differently…so as to support the society…should behave and live differently.”Sambasiva used to tell her.
His books do not carry his address. Publishers’ address only is visible. Telephone number, email id…nothing is known. Many a time publishers too find it difficult to trace him.
It happened so, the other day.
Kendra Sahitya Akademi, having decided to honour him with an award tried to inform him through their state level officials. Tried to consult him in myriad ways. But he was elusive.Finally they got in touch with Navodaya publishers who bring out his books. They sent their clerk to different parts of the city.
First…their room…adjacent to the railway station, near Sankar Mutt…a solitary room with roof of asbestos sheets…he was not there either…Carpenter Venkatrajam…Rahim’s welding workshop…the lane in which the meat-seller’s shop was located…nowhere he could be traced. Finally,they managed to contact Vakula…
She convinced and sent away the official assuring that she would inform Sathavdeva.
Vakula was delighted to know that Sathadeva…pseudonym of Potter Sambasiva…was going to be honoured with an award by Kendra Sahitya Akademi,.She virtually jumped with joy. Ecstasy and exhilaration extended wings to her to glide like a bird…
She too started her search.
No…he was elusive as ever.
Vakula looked for him at the school for the visually disabled in Adilabad where he donated regularly ten thousand rupees a month, the home for senior citizens in Suryapet where she and Sathadeva are long- term patrons, the public dormitories in Hyderabad where he stayed for a week or ten days at a stretch studying and collecting information in the State Central Library in Afjalganj …everywhere she tried. Finally he could be traced at the guest house near Ramappa Lake.
She informed him.
He was neither excited nor elated. Vakula forced him to communicate his acceptance of the award, connecting the office of Kendra Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi through her mobile phone.They furnished details of the date, venue and related information.
Vakula was in seventh heaven at that moment. She felt as though she herself was extended the honour.
But she came to know a piece of personal information from the doctor that day itself…that she was HIV positive and reached advanced stage of AIDS, which pushed her deep down the crevices of darkness, devastating her future life, reducing it to a forest on fire.
She desired to share the shattering news with her only soulmate in life Sathadeva, cry to her heart’s content clinging to him, receive a little solace and die then itself.
Noticing the silence and serious mood of Sthadeva from a few months, she could not divulge. Checked herself.
After a week or ten days…
One day she found a plastic folder in the window sill of his room near Sankar Mutt.He was in the wash room at that time.
Sambasiva was diagnosed with cancer…abdominal cancer…
He was on chemotherapy at the Basava Tharakam Cancer Hospital in Hyderabad…visiting the hospital and receiving treatment…all alone…
The docket in the folder revealed every detail.
He did not share with her. Kept it a secret.
“Human being is the ultimate secret, Vakula. No one unwraps himself completely before any one on this earth. Something or the other, everyone keeps for himself.” Sambasiva told her casually one day.
She recollected it at that moment.
In about a week days …the day Sathadeva had to reach New Delhi to receive the award…quietly the money he spent without her knowledge for his treatment…money…Vakula too was spending for her undisclosed ailment…money…
“I am not going to Delhi,Vakula…”Sambasiva informed her.
“No money to travel…that’s the reason, I know.” She said.
Sambasiva was stunned. How could she guess?
Vakula smiled…like a mother…like a daughter…like a friend…like an angel.
“I will buy the tickets for onward and return journey, Siva. Kindly do not refuse…It is my life’s dream to see you receive this award…for my sake, please.” She pleaded with him.
She also noticed that he made an attempt to sell all his invaluable books so painstakingly collected, buying them all with his hard earned money, he saved solely for the purpose.
“Is it not like death for you , if all books are sold away?” she asked him.
Siva did not respond. Hugging her tightly, he cried inconsolably…loudly…like a child…sobbing all the while.
Siva went to Delhi…alone… on her insistence…though he wished that they travel together…insufficient funds…
A thunderbolt…somewhere…landed with a deafening sound.
Vakula was startled.
Her face in the cupped palms of Siva…tears swelling in her eyes…
Wrapping her shoulders with the warm shawl offered to him during the felicitation function…
She did not notice it.
He was gently stroking her face.
Showing the cheque for fifty thousand rupees, Sathadeva, Sambasiva told her, “This is the reward given to us by the Akademi…do not refuse Vakula…it is for you…kindly do not reject.”
He was pleading.
“Is it for me, Siva?”
“Money…what else you can give me?”
“All my books…”
“What else is there Vakula to give you further…”He embraced her affectionately with moistened eyes.
“Yes…Nothing is there,”she said.
“Finally… to give anything to anyone nothing remains, Siva! You mentioned it, do you remember?
‘Trust the sun, certainly daybreak will be there.
Don’t trust the clouds…
there may be rain even before they reach destination,
or there will not be any rain at all;
Some clouds are just like that…simply glide away purposelessly…’”
He observed that her voice was getting feeble…holding her firmly, he scanned her face.
Vakula closed her eyes…
As the eyelids drew nearer, tears trickled down, warming his palms.
‘Vakula…” he was calling her. Once…twice…repeatedly.
He realized…the cheque slipped from his hands.
Sliding back, leaning on the wall he embraced her tightening the grip.
Sathadeva…Sambasiva… “Sivam,” as Vakula loved to call him…he…who visited as a guest, lived with words…gently wafted as breeze…closed his eyes.
Dawn is not in sight.
Steady, gentle drizzle outside…inclement weather…
On the window sill, in the room, pigeons in groups were gurgling, as though mourning…
[Translation of Telugu short story tilted ‘Aa Tharvaatha’ from the anthology Pidikedu Pakshi… Visaalaakaasam by Dr Raamaa Chandramouli]
Raamaa Chandramouli, well known writer has to his credit 9 anthologies of poetry, 18 novels, 2 plays and 5 volumes of short stories in Telugu. Six books have been translated into English. A prolific writer, Dr Raamaa Chandra Mouli has written 276 short stories in Telugu. He has been honoured with many awards.He has represented India in international literary meets in Greece, California among several countries. Vice-Principal of Ganapathi Engineering College,he lives in Warangal, Telangana.]