Into the room abetting the street, morning light filtered in like the ghal ghal of silver anklets. That sound resembled the breathing-in of the Seas and the breathing-out of the tides.
For the sound of that light, he woke up in that lonely room. He threw open his doors anxiously. Through the wafting layers of dust and mote, a folk-song disentangled itself, and eschewing rustling leaves, bustling feet, the mad rush of life on the street, filled the room like the overwhelming emotion that sometimes seizes man. It filled his mind's room.
The song then might have appeared to him like a green dew-washed field. That song …embedding words like panicles, poured out its substance into the beads of sweat embracing his feet…had left as mysteriously as it had come, but had nevertheless, left behind the angst of the gullet through which it had come out. The recollection of that song turned his mornings to afternoons, his afternoons to evenings, his evenings to nights, and his nights into guilt daylights...
That Telangana village girl was very fair. There was glow about her pupils. Her eyes were dark and deep-as-farm-well. She donned colorful Lambadi dress; white plastic bangles covered her hand from wrist to back arm; wore a blouse, red as red could be, and embroidered with small mirror-moons and fancy shapes with variegated threads.
Having been careless to properly tie up her blouse behind, and the shapes on her chest being too big to nestle into the cups of her blouse, and due to inadequate covering, the gibbous moons, the deep navel below, and the green petticoat studded with colorful mirrors, and a pair of unclean silver anklets adorning her feet were visible.
"Where do you come from?" He asked her.
There was a grocery store not far from his room. The girl visits that shop everyday while returning from work to make purchases. There was another lass, about ten years, beside her. The two go to work together and return from work together. If the older one was a date-flower, the younger one was a date-bud.
The village girl did not hear his words.
"It's you, maid! Answer him," the Muslim shopkeeper goaded her.
Then she looked at him. And knit her mascara eyes enquiringly.
"Where do you come from?" He repeated his question.
"Palamuru," she answered looking at the wares in her lap. What she was reminded of, she asked,
"Why? Do you have any work for me?" looking at him now.
"No." He replied rather coolly.
With a careless look of 'then why do you make enquiries?' at his demeanour, might have taken him for a mischief monger or an idle fellow, she minced words within as if talking to her mate. Counting the change she drew out from her navel, she paid up and briskly walked ahead with her mate.
Looking in the direction they left, he asked the shopkeeper,
"Where do they live?"
"Nagamayakunta. In the Nayathanda."
"What do they sing Hyderabadi songs or Telangana?"
The shopkeeper was perplexed.
"Speak about Khavvalis, I can answer. But don't ask me about those Telugu songs, Sahib."
That evening – When dust and mote were melting into the receding light – He was taking tea in an Irani hotel at a four roads junction very close and to the left of his room. At that moment, the hotel was as chaotic as Nampally railway station. As if somebody was setting her aside, light was quickly receding from the sky. A cool breeze carrying the smell of rain, and very soon, a small drizzle followed.
He looked towards the door beside the cash counter. He did not notice when that village girl had entered. Her mate was by her. They were sitting on their feet. The boy served them two teas and she was sipping the tea leisurely. She might have just returned from work then. Though she seemed to have had a face wash, the dirt did not clear fully.
Just then, the village girl found her voice. The voice was not suave, but song was.
Angst mingled with the smoothness. Where did the angst originate from!
There was no more drizzle, it was raining outside; there was no more twilight and everything went dark around; there was no bustle of people, it was all silence; there was no more dust outside, just the song filled the entire space.
And in the Irani hotel the usual blurb, the buzz of nonstop playing radio, sounds of empty cups, everything froze still for half an hour. With the backdrop of steady rain, there was a cascade of folksongs before them.
The rain thinned into a drizzle back. Paying for the two cups of tea, the village girl walked into that fine rain with her mate without looking back.
She left that place as suddenly as a peacock would, seeing the clouds disappear, which up till then was dancing blissfully spanning her plumes under a steady rain and feasting the eyes.
“Your songs of yesterday at the Irani hotel were so good. Will you sing them for me? I shall record them. Pay you some money, too." He asked her at the grocery shop the following day.
Rolling her eyelids roundly she asked," you may pay for it, but will the song come out again?"
"I will record them. You sing. " He asked her again.
“What is there in my songs? Are they film songs? Was there any music? They are just songs of travail, songs of labor. For you townsman, everything seems strange," she dismissed his offer.
"He wants to tape them. Why don't you sing for him? He will pay you your daily wage," the shopkeeper spoke in Urdu in an attempt to convince her.
" You mean I sing him skipping my work? My maistry would fuck me," she said rather uninhibitedly funking at that very idea.
" No, no. You can come while you return from your work. That is the house. Will you come tomorrow?" He asked pointing in the direction of his room.
" Of what use are these songs to you?" She asked innocently.
“I just want to listen."
"Oh! Just for that!" She did not resist any longer.
She went to his room around seven in the evening. She looked around and finding none asked,
“Isn’t the housewife at home?"
Darkness had not set in outside. The room was however dark already. He switched on the light and set the tape recorder. She started singing. It was nine by the time she finished. She looked into the open. It was a cake-like silent darkness.
"I must go." There was fear in her voice.
"Won't you listen to your own voice?" He tempted.
"Yes," she nodded.
He rewound the cassette and played it. "It is so good to hear," she said to her mate, faintly displaying her pleasure through her eyes.
"How many songs can you sing?" he wanted to know.
"Then, can you sing all of them for me?" There was appeal in his voice.
"When there is a patient ear to hear, will the voice lag behind going dumb?" She questioned. He took out a ten-rupee note. "Take this." He offered.
"What did I do? Did I lift a bag of sand for you or, a load of bricks? You offer so much for just singing? No. No. My boy. It may be your fancy to offer money for a song. But it won't go with me."
So saying she hurried out, passed the doorway, and soon the beating of her anklets was lost in her brisk pace.
He never looked at her physical form. He only saw the song in her. She never gave any thought to his manliness. She saw in him the love for her song. She would anyway sing at some place or the other. But she needed some loneliness ... It could be the loneliness when she would breast-feed her suckling; or, the loneliness of her footsteps when she goes for work; or, a loneliness of the kind she yearns, reclining in bed, to pour out her heart to her mate.
Next evening. Same time, same place. In the small room folksongs took flight like the chirping of birds at dawn.
If one song depicted the frolicking of farm boys, the other gave Colour to the budding desires of a young girl coming-of-age; another spoke of marriage practices of Gulbarga tribes, yet another one about the fear and blushing of newly weds on their nuptial-bed; still another the heart-rending scene of people migrating to towns in search of food. He listened to the songs as if he had almost become a statue hearing them. He tried to offer her money once more when she wanted take leave. She once again refused. He mock admonished her not to come if she wouldn't take any money. She then turned her head gracefully. There was an inexplicable meaning in that look. A meaning without any color.
He pulled her right hand suddenly and tucked the ten-rupee note into it and closed her fingers.
She laughed at him for taking such liberty. She came out into the street. There wasn't a light anywhere. That white dame from Telangana, that folksinger, walked away like a walking-lamp.
In that itinerant Thanda, raised about six months back, there were about thirty huts huddled together. They were all asleep now in dirt. Here and there, a light was bickering; a vague incoherent talk was heard as of the yawning of dogs.
Just about that time –
A lone distressed voice "my god! I am killed!" was heard.
As she entered the hut, her man held her by her hair and dragged her out. She faltered and fell into the mud there. He went near her again, pulled her and kicked indiscreetly on her chest. Wriggling in pain she fell at a distance. She tried to speak between her wails but he did not allow her.
" Am I blind? Lame? You leave me and flirt with that townsman?" He roared at her.
" Am I flirting? What did you say? Are you blind? You drunk…” she said in a shrill voice, struggling to get up.
“Is mine a blurb of the drunkard, you bitch...”
He ran up to her again and pulled her by her blouse. It seared. He took a stick near by and beat her wildly on her face, chest, abdomen, legs and what not. Unable to bear the pain she ran in every direction to escape from his onslaught. She tried any number of times to explain to him the reason for her delay in coming home, but not once did he allow her. In that hard-to-see glimmering light, she was looking like an idol sacrileged. There was blood oozing from her face, her chest, abdomen, hands and legs. She lost her senses.
The Thanda, which witnessed the atrocity perpetrated on her half-asleep, went full sleep thereafter. She was lying in the mud beside her hut. The mutilated ten-rupee note in her hands – given in appreciation of the song – was looking as if it was on its deathbed.
About twelve noon the following day –
That village girl came to his room. She held her two-year-old child in her arms. He was surprised to see her at that time.
“Didn’t you go for work today?"
"I am not feeling well."
Then he looked into her face. There were cuts and bruises on her lips, a thin line of clotted blood on the bruised nose and healing wounds on her cheeks.
"Is it your child?" He asked.
'Yes.' She returned the ten-rupee note.
"Had that been hard earned money it would have done me good," she said. He thought something went wrong at home.
"Like to have some tea?” He asked and before she answered, ordered the Muslim prop of the tea-stall for two teas with a shout.
The tea was ready in five minutes. He gave her one.
Angry with her husband, she did not take anything since morning. Her husband went to work as usual early in the day. Women folk of her Thanda called on her. Some greeted her while others advised: if husband suspects his wife, life would be difficult for her; there are many wonders in the town and man was one among them. Be careful.
She was not guilty. She took rest for sometime closing her eyes. His mind went woolgathering.
After a while she felt like having a tea and walked up to the four roads junction when she remembered the ten-rupee note and then she decided to return it to him. That's why she walked up to his room.
"Had you been educated, learnt the language, you would have become a great singer. I was hearing your songs late into the morning."
He switched on the tape recorder.
She did not speak a word. She was hearing her own voice coming from the tape recorder in rapt attention. Five minutes passed. And suddenly there was a thundering shout from behind. The two looked in the direction of the sound. On the road opposite to his room the husband of that village girl was standing.
" Badmash! I know you will come here. You bitch," he came to her, seized her by her hair, hit and flinged her to the wall. Not satisfied, he pulled her out on to the street, dragging her in the sand and kicking her intermittently, ' What do you call this, whore! Isn't it flirting? Born to defame your community, bitch." He continued his spree of rebukes and beating till he was exhausted.
Putting up with his rage and violence, bearing the injuries, she did not leave the child. Her husband pulled the boy away from her and flung him onto the road. The child whimpered like a chicken. For ten minutes the violence continued unabated. Until after ten people gathered and seized him from all sides, he did not leave her. Still angry, he spat out and warned her that he would see her end if she dared entering the Thanda, and left the scene.
The village girl was lying unconscious in the middle of the road. Nobody was sure if she was dead or alive.
He stood spell bound in his room.
The boy walked up to his mother wailing, and held one of the uncovered breasts and started sucking. There were bruises everywhere... Bloody wounds. The breast did not give out milk. The boy wasn't aware why. Tape recorder continued pouring out music. The voice merged into the song, as would a cataract into the sea. That cataract... flooding the people... from dust and mote, through the green foot paths up the hill, passing through the deep dark forest valleys, touching the abysses meeting the skies... was running along with time.