Twenty years thence….
My brother Bhaskaram was working as a lecturer in the university those days. He was not married by then. He spent his time reading books all the twenty-four hours. Everybody called him intelligent, and an ‘intellectual’. I used to hear from his friends that he was by then read a good deal of literature, science, and philosophy and that he possessed all the knowledge becoming of a professor and one day would turn out great.
After I passed my BA, all the family members said it was ‘enough’. But I wanted to do MA. From my childhood I yearned of reading voluminous books like my eldest brother Bhaskaram. My elder brother put a full stop to his studies with SSLC and was into the business. And my younger brother was waging wars with lower forms. My father was an illiterate. For that matter, in my entire lineage only Bhaskaram had the touch of education. Though I entertained hopes of further studies, I was afraid that I should bid good bye to studies with this BA and dedicate rest of my life to some gentleman. While I was thinking like that I received a telegram from my brother Bhaskaram:
‘Million kisses to Kamu… MA seat reserved here.’
He looked to me God incarnate. If I speak about his love for me through childhood, people would be surprised. A six foot hefty-built Bhaskaram used to tease … a short little me… lifting me up with a single hand. Mother never concealed her displeasure, saying, ‘what is this? Do you think she is a child still?’
My elder brother talking to me was a rarity. To him I always looked like a spectre. And my younger brother and I were always at logger heads. He was envious that I was advancing in studies. The four of us were born to my mother at one-year intervals. Bhaskaram passed SSLC when he was only fourteen. None of the rest got through before seventeen.
I should learn things like my brother Bhaskaram…I should speak about things that nobody new… should attract people like him…That was what I always cherished. I was a girl… that too short-statured. When it comes to intellect, very average and except perhaps for the destined one, there was no chance of even looking good for others. It was a big question mark how I could become one like him. When I was reconciling that it would remain a dream, I received this telegram from brother.
Two days later we received a letter with all other details. ‘That he would bear all the study expenses of Kameshwari, that they both would take care of boarding, cooking at home, and to send Kamu to join in MA,’ was the essence of the letter.
Father hesitated a while. “Why MA? What would she do after study? Besides, we should look for a groom with an MA. What else would she achieve? Will she go in for a job? And for this toy who is prepared to offer a job? And making her study a plea, he would not send even that amount of money he was now sending…” Perhaps his fears were not totally unfounded… sometimes, it would be hard to find meaning of desires and wishes.
Mother remained neutral saying, “Who knows what was written on her forehead!”
Elder brother said, ‘leave it to her will.’ Younger brother said, as if he had known everything, ‘not necessary.’ When I looked at him, I controlled an urge to kick him. He was struggling to get through Inter for three years, and he thinks MA was unnecessary for me!
Father had one weakness. What ever he said or thought about, ultimately, he would agree to whatever Bhaskaram had said. And to precipitate the matters, I stopped taking food for a day. After one week Bhaskaram wrote another letter, “Time is running out for the seat. Send her immediately”
Buying a ticket to waltair, father gave Bhaskaram a telegram.
I joined MA Philosophy.
Brother rented in a small portion for hundred rupees. We used to cook together, dine and go to university together. I took pleasure in walking beside a brother who walked tall, gracefully with his thick eye-glasses and jostling curly hair. I used to hear his students and colleagues calling in hushed tones “Bhaskar’s sister” And Sastry used to address with familiarity. ‘May not be beautiful but there is great glow in the face’ he used to say.
Mr. Sastry was one of the important friends of my brother. He was doing research in his department. He had a good knowledge of music and was a good singer himself. His other friends were Chandra and Krishnarao. Chandra was a poet and he used to read out his poetry coming to our house. Krishnarao had gift of gab and he entertained everybody with his lively comments. Everyday after dinner they met in our house. Meeting started with poetry recital by Chandra. After a long and elaborate fun-fare from Krishnarao, they would request Sastry to sing a song. He was shy and a bit hesitant. After a while when once he opened up, we paid full attention to him.
‘Sastry, it’s wonderful! Another Saigal in the making,’ was my brother’s usual remark.
‘In the crawling…’ was the witty addendum by Krishnarao. And the meet would break into peels of laughter. All said and done, what ever they said, they always waited eagerly for my brother’s final comment. And my brother always sat tight like a string under tension and responded instantly where there was merit.
Once my brother asked Chandra, ‘you poet! Say few lines on my sister!’ And looking briefly at me for a while he said instantly:
“Dear little Kamu, a student of philosophy
Why girl, you wrestle and fence with epee?”
Then my brother laughed with his sides splitting, and applauded him saying,” You are another Arudra in the making, poet!”
Come Sunday all of us used to go to beach. The spirit of their discussions matched the spurt of the tides and was always lively. Having had to walk on the sands one followed the other. And being a taciturn, Sastry always fell behind as if he was in no hurry to meet them. Unable to match their speed, I was always behind and once, watching at my trouble at walking, Sastry remarked quoting: “Why girl you wrestle, and fence with epee?” and laughed. I joined him in the laughter. He looked into my eyes for the first time. It was thrilling. I felt like looking into his again and again.
Whenever Sastry sang the song … “Why don’t you sing Radha?” or the song “Have all the tales of the past turned to mere dreams”, I felt like looking into his like ‘thus’. But whenever he sang, he looked into the air but never looked at anybody.
Once as usual, we went to beach. We were tired after trudging through the sands. We sat at the Ramakrishna Mission canteen to have coffee. Waiter served five coffee and went in to get the bill. Sastry sipped his coffee, and noting sugar was less, he went in suddenly putting his cup aside. We never noticed it and were lost in our gossip. He asked, ‘where is my cup?’ after returning. Then I noticed I was taking his cup and had already taken half. The extra cup was lying beside Mr. Krishna Rao.
‘Oh! I am sorry, I sipped it already!’ said, Sastry. I shrank abashed.
‘Why, couldn’t this exchange of coffees been premeditated?’
‘Would the sweetness then have diminished?’ added the poet.
‘There is something in the Sampradayam (tradition)!’ said brother. For a second time froze for me!
Sastry eased the atmosphere saying ‘don’t worry’ and took the remaining cup, laying aside the sugar-spoon.
‘Sister, sugar could be less, why don’t you add this,’ said Mr. Krishna Rao. And the comedy of errors reached the climax with the comment of my brother.
‘Not necessary. Sugar and sweet songs flow out of his mouth. They are Siamese twins.’ I felt an urge to wrench him by his neck. And the sudden dying down of all talk there after was a proof how brazen was his comment.
Brother used to tease Sastry and me together for no reason. And passed comments deliberately. Either desiring ‘something’ to be between us or assuming that ‘something’ was there already, he created a lot of interest. If either Chandra or Krishna Rao asked, ‘sister, are you following us to the picture?’ he would say, ‘no, she is waiting for Sastry.’
I could not make out my brother’s mind for a long time. I never gave myself away that I had special interest in Sastry. And what to speak of Sastry…even if Varoodhini were to stand before him, he would question her without inching an inch, ‘what is this?’ How many times ever my brother might pass extreme comments, or crossed his limits, he would never took any liberties with me.
Many times brother delayed coming home staying back in the college or library. Sastry and I talked together for hours on in our room. Not a single word side tracked. Not a look digressed. Hands never crossed the bounds. Not that I was not anxious to know what was there in his mind. Any time, if had he ever took my hand into his, I wished I would nestle into his hug and speak out many things I dreamed of!
And a brother …who had provided this golden opportunity of a life, a father beyond my father, I wished he should always be happy. But for him, for my age I should be attending to domestic chores in a remote village. Giving meaning to my life, he stood me amidst great people. He gave me a chance to get knowledge about this world. And on cool evenings, provided me a chance to meet people on the beach and listen to some good words. Many people have elder brothers. But can they have one like mine?
My brother knew what poetry is; knew what fine arts are; can talk endlessly on Communism. He can criticize threadbare the message of Pope John Paul or the theory of Jean Paul Sartre! Bertrand Russell is his favorite. Bernard Shaw is his God! He claims that his heart is with Socialism while his mind is with Democracy. Whether the primacy of Mao Tse Tung, or importance Vietnam he can explain effortlessly. He can speak on the similarities between Shelly and Krishna Sastry or between Sri Sri and Mayakovsky. He can critically appreciate how the Sitar of Ravi Shankar or the voice of Subba Lakshmi is great.
He can analyze songs of Bala Murali or the bouts of Mohammad Ali with equal ease. And how many people can have brothers that can explain with erudition the role of Dr. S Radha Krishnan in universal Humanism?
When my MA first year was about end in two months to come, there was a letter from my father… ‘That there came a good match for me…groom is Anjaneyulu…passed Bhasha Praveena and employed…very charming to look at.’
There was an agitation in my mind. Time was passing so pleasantly, and there was eagerness to write the exams well and enter into the final year, and before my pleasure… of being charmed by the looks of Sastry… running its course this letter from my father irked me.
When he read it first time, Bhaskaram gave the letter a cursory look. On the next morning reading it a second time, he alternated his looks between me and the letter, changed his expressions on his face and with an onomatopoeic ‘pch’ declared,
‘Well Kamu, you marry Sastry.’
My heart missed few beats. He just got up went out.
His words echoed in my mind the whole day like drum beats. What did he mean?
Did he agree to it? Had the two decided everything? Why didn’t he enquire whether I liked or not to marry Sastry?
Why did he say ‘you marry Sastry’ as casually as you would say, ‘you eat ice cream’
I decided to accost him that night. Sastry came to the room before him. I greeted him with a different smile. He did not notice the difference. He took it a casual greeting.
After giving him a cup of coffee, I wanted to ask him for his opinion. Such chancy opportunities come seldom. ‘What if he thinks differently? How differently can he think? It couldn’t be worse than what Baskaram had bragged on several occasions! At least he would look into my eyes… That would be enough for her…let whatever happens … happen.’ I mustered all my courage.
‘How is the coffee?’ I asked.
‘Good. Why don’t you have a cup for yourself?’ said Sastry.
‘No. I have to take my meal.’
‘Then you take it‘…the same respectable you in his words.
‘Why that respectable you with me?’ I made the first move.
Sastry looked up. He did not take it wrong. ‘Anything wrong with it?’ he asked.
“Not about being wrong. I am speaking about being right…” I spoke like a child daring to teach philosophy to Sankaracharya.
‘Then will it be good if I say you…’ There was glow in Sastry’s eyes.
‘Why don’t you try for once and see?’
Sastry let out a meaningful laugh… Emptying half of the coffee into the saucer he said, ‘you take this.’
I took it without a word. It was the coffee I made. But it tasted like never before.
Before I left for home for summer vacation, brother got an offer of scholarship for two years for doing research in Germany. He threw a big party to his friends. Seeing Sastry sitting beside him, Krishna Rao asked, ‘where is Subhadra?’
‘She was inside,’ said brother without a hint of hesitation.
I was listening to them. I observed nothing beyond a fleeting smile on the face of Sastry sitting as cool and composed as ever.
Leaving for home, I asked brother,
‘What I shall I say to father if he asks me?’
‘Tell him that I will be home soon.’
‘Not this. About that.’
‘Tell him that I will speak to him before I leave for Germany.’
I was disappointed. His words did not satisfy me. Sastry came to see me off. Brother was talking to him about the ‘German way of life’. He was detailing about the superiority of German railway system. It never occurred to him that he should leave us to ourselves for some time. Time was up. When the train was moving, ‘good luck Kamu, carry on,’ said brother.
Sastry touched my hand resting on the window grazing one or two fingers. Train moved. Bhaskaram was already on his way to the Higgin Bothams book stall. Sastry waited so long as I was visible.
All through the summer father insisted that I should marry that ‘Bhasha Praveena’. Theirs was cultured family… related to us…and coming forward without demanding any dowry… was the refrain
Learning that I was not inclined towards it, he finally said, ‘why? Do you want to marry that boy Sastry? I inquired everything… their lineage is beggarly. There were inter-caste marriages…they are weak in their emotions…”
“Brother Bhaskaram…” I minced words not able to imagine what to say.
‘When I wrote to him in detail, he concurred with my view.’
‘What did he say?’
‘To go ahead with my decision.’
Sky broke above me. Earth melted under my feet. It rained fire over my body. And the hand that dried my eyes all the while looked like a cobra to me
I was married to Anjaneyulu.
Brother did not turn up home before he left for Germany. I never knew what correspondence ran between my father and him. Bhaskaram boarded the plane for Germany in Bombay two days before my marriage.
I wrote a letter to Sastry detailing all the events. He replied to me promptly…
“I wanted to talk to your brother about this any number of times. In his hurry to leave for Germany he just spoke few words conveying in essence… that he had no role to play in the marriage… and that it’s your father who was looking after everything.
“Kameswari, I have a sister. She is now in Madras. Her husband was working in cinemas. They are living very happily. It’s true that they did not get the permission of the society for their marriage. But I can’t understand why they should. They never expected anything from the society. But that event has not absolved our family of that guilt. And if the society was to punish my family for her crime (?), I am prepared to accept the sentence without demur.
“But the irony is it was the people like Bhaskaram who inspired an illiterate like my brother in law to rebel against society, to live freely and confidently. Taught him to ignore the mean barriers of caste and run away with the girl of his choice. I doubt if the Bhaskarams had ever observed that the preaching that crossed their lips applies to them as well. I don’t think that the Bhaskarams had learnt that they can not teach life like a science lesson in a classroom.
“One more thing. The other day on some occasion he said, ‘Sastry! When we intellectuals fight hard breaking our heads with problems of the mind, where is the time to bother about the problems of the heart? ‘. True. It is worth lakhs.
“It sounded there was a link between what he said and our marriage. He is leaving this sixteenth.
‘Whether I marry you or not, you are the first and the last woman in my life.
“It is true. I swear on Bhaskaram’s intellect.
Twenty five years hence…
My brother was now a Professor in the Delhi University. After a long time we were meeting in the marriage of his daughter ‘Navata’. It was a love marriage. A Bengali boy was marrying her.
There was great hubbub under the tents. Many friends of brother turned up. And locked up amidst them, he could not find time even to greet his relatives. It was years that I could talk to him. I felt like breaking down when I could not find time to talk to a brother who talks so sweetly.
After my marriage, he was talking less and less to me.
But… but…I wanted to ask him. Before my marriage, I wrote him…brother you said, ‘Kamu –you marry Sastry, but I am marrying Anjaneyulu.”. I wanted to ask him what his reply was. I wanted to ask him where Sastry was …
I wanted to ask him just for once if he still remembered the days spent on the beaches of Visakha… He was big now. He had status. I was a poor wife of a village school teacher. Talking this way and crossing him and wailing in his daughter’s marriage, I shouldn’t invoke ill luck to him. It was the time when his daughter shines like full moon. How could a life like mine befall Navata? And, Why should? Her father knows everything! Knows every thing!! After all, he’s an intellectual!!!
Telugu Original: Dr. Chandu Subba Rao