Somehow, I got used to woolgathering sitting all alone. If you ask me, “What are you thinking so seriously about?” There would be no specific answer from me. Just that.
In my lonesome life, there were only shadows of the receding moonlight but no traces of swells of slowly unveiling moonshines.
Some worth forgetting, some about the roads not taken, and some very rare moments of high-flying like a kite… like the stills of a movie … is the essence of my memories.
Most of my memories were not sweet.
If you corner a cat from all sides it would turn wild enough to pluck your eyes … they say. But if it were to be a kitten, it might remain cool helplessly.
Wouldn’t that kitten mew, mew at that time? Would there be any noticeable difference between its mew-mewing and purring?
Well, the thrill of catching a purring cat is altogether different!
I don’t understand why poets do not describe a helpless kitten as eloquently as they would a cat drinking milk?
Take an ant. Draw a wet circle around it with water. You can notice it getting tired after going to the same spot, and travelling along the same route time and again. If only you could imagine what was going on in its mind and its brain!
Don’t argue with me whether an ant would have a head and a brain. They say insects have larger brain in proportion to the size of their body.
Won’t that tired ant feel shocked and stare helpless?
If only the ant and the kitten could speak, perhaps they might have turned stammerers like me.
I was late in crossing my milestones in baby talk. I said the first few words Amma (mother), Atta (aunt), Tata (grandfather) like everybody else, but I failed to pick up further. I don’t know why, but in my childhood I never had any pal to play with. I never went out of my house. When I try to recollect things now, perhaps it must be for the reasons of social status or some such thing, I was never allowed to play with our neighbor’s kid Nani. He was the only person of my age in our surrounds then.
How long can anybody play with toys?
My mother looked like a beautiful doll. At least, I thought it so in those days. When I think about it now, I feel she was really a doll… a beautiful doll. Not only she was a beautiful, she was also a mechanical toy.
In the perspective of men like my father, all women were not only mechanical toys, they were persons sans any individuality playing to their tunes.
In those innocent days, time passed in my house as tardily as there’s an imminent death. Clock tick-ticked apprehensively and with despair.
My father was never in his elements; his hair and dress were always out of place, particularly at night.
I was not able to comprehend then why the person who went out so neatly dressed in the morning returned so shabbily in the evening.
The whirlpools of tears in my mother’s eyes never crossed the limits of her eyelids.
You should look into her eyes. They would seem as though you were watching an aquarium through its glass walls.
True to the spirit of the song “Where is the room for sleep when my eyes were preoccupied with tears?” … my mother never had any satisfactory sleep.
I never saw such beautiful eyes starved of sleep in my life again.
Did I not see again? Sure? Or did I?
By the time I reached four years, I used to talk with a stammer… struggling to vocalize the words properly. However, that was amusing to some in the beginning. They used to enjoy my baby talk asking me to speak again and again. They even used to reward me with kisses. Perhaps, that was the only time I received a semblance of compliment or something close to it.
My doll-like mom… a mom who shed such pure tears… seldom spoke to me. And on the few occasions she did, there were more curses and swearing than anything else. I mostly remember the sharpness of her beating.
Impatience and helplessness were her two hands.
She beat me with impatience.
She covered cover her face and cried out of helplessness.
I was very mischievous… they said. I cried and threw tantrums for everything… from taking bath to taking food. I was not sure what circumstances, before I arrived and after, prompted them to behave that way; not only then, even now.
By the time I reached second and third standards, it was confirmed that my baby talk was no longer the sweet-kind of talk but was just stammering.
Once when somebody called me a stammerer, I beat him and received, in return, twice as many at school and at home.
While he shed blood, I shed tears. That was the only difference. While his blood was visible to everybody, mine wasn’t.
It so happened not once, not twice!!
I shunned playing. I had to spend time alone at home and at the school.
Whenever I ventured out either to play or to watch others play, some one used to call out “na…na…na” or “ma…ma…ma…” I got used to suffer it silently both when I responded and when I did not.
That’s why I put a full stop for all fun and frolic with everybody.
One day when I was idle, and sitting alone restlessly… it turned out to be an epiphanic moment suddenly with the remembrance of such words as:
“The best friend of a man is a book”
“A house without books is like a room without windows”
“When the mind moulds, the best thing you can do is to dust your books.”
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed on and digested.”
What some other person had said stuck to me.
“There are no good books and bad books.”
“It is only the books that can tickle us when our mood gets off.”
“Each book is a life… and its experiences”
“Each human life is a half-open book,” he said, “and more than the open pages, to read the unopened pages one needs experience and intelligence. One must know what life is.”
“What you can learn through a life you can learn through a book beforehand”
Though I remembered those words then, I did not exactly understand their full import.
The same person was also the first gentleman who said, “Even children can read detective books besides the comics.”
I went on reading every book that I could lay hands on. I read every sentence that came my way…
I read even the writings on the newspaper wrappings around munchings purchased on the roadside.
I learnt literature was strewn all around. I learnt that these oft quoted phrases “it’s hard to find good literature”, “the best literature is a rarity”, “we aren’t getting any good works these days,” aren’t ‘that’ true; why ‘that’ true, they’re not true at all.
If only you have an eye for it, you would find good writings wherever you look.
It depends on how we take it.
In fact, the junk literature is a parameter… like the plaits of damsels.
I heard many short stories, poetry, songs, and musical productions over radio.
From whatever I heard and whatever read, I understood one thing: all works that have innate human values, and those that touch human passions, human dilemmas and prejudices are great… and noble.
We should look if the works reflect, even cursorily, the abundant human drama and tragedy so pervading in life.
The stream of thoughts did not snap.
Every great book taught me a lesson; made one underlying moral clear.
It was written everywhere that submission and prostration were the chief offences.
“Life is an errata” said someone.
“Life is doing mistakes without repeating,” said another.
They prohibited… bribe, dowry, lying, selfishness, cruelty, indecency, hatred, injustice, meanness, miserliness, greed and what not.
Some they interdicted.
Some my consciousness interdicted without branding them as such.
Strangely, this new thinking entered my reasoning on its own.
How did it enter?
I can’t say.
By the time these thoughts settled as my opinions, I grew another fifteen years after six.
How many books did I read?
What books did I read?
I did not have a count. I do not remember.
But by listening to radio one thing was clear to me:
Every language has beautiful vocabulary. There is beauty in pronouncing each word. There is grace behind it. No word can replace another word in a language; in any language, for that matter.
Whether I heard this sentence or read it somewhere I can’t say. It reads like this: “When we hear something over radio or TV, most of the time we pay attention to what we hear; but if we want to speak that language, forget the content and pay attention to the words.”
After following that advice for some time, I started wondering.
Why people fail to pronounce so many words properly … no matter how many times they hear.
I couldn’t even if I knew how.
They couldn’t because they knew not how.
If you cannot pronounce a word the way you should, shouldn’t you call it stammering?
Maybe that it’s not cognizable as such, but stammering is stammering.
What’s the defect in me for this kind of stammering?
What’s the defect in them for that kind of stammering?
They have been reading in books.
They have been acting on the stages.
Holding “Gita” in their hands, they are cleaning their spectacles.
What did they say?
What did they do?
Isn’t 'failure to conduct oneself the way one should' be called ‘stammering?’
What disability fails me to utter the words the way I should?
What disability prevents me from correcting others?
I heard no road is straight. But at the turns, they are even worse. Names on the other hand run smooth and straight. Sarala comes to my mind. I don’t remember how we met. However, I remember it growing deep.
That was second time for me to see such beautiful eyes.
I thought her name must be Miss Smile.
I thought her address must be “C/O Happiness”
And thought her destiny was me.
“All your worries are mine; and all my comforts are thine. You live and let me live.” I felt my heart cooed that song sweetly within .
Is it what is meant by echoing in heart as you hear with your ears?
I sang alone: ‘I look for my sunsets in the shadows of your black flowing tresses.”
I hailed: “There is something in you which is not in your photo” and “O Spring! Won’t you brace and embrace me?” in my lonely chiaroscuros of the evenings.
The letter filled with my dreams had been torn to pieces.
The bulging diary of sour memories, had added another leaf.
Yes, the same.
What is that?
A frailty that’s not a frailty if your mind has it
A frailty that’s not a frailty if your life has it
A frailty that’s not a frailty when you fail to keep your promise…
Is it a frailty just because you utter the word wrong?
Will all other frailties won’t count? Will all other strengths fade before that?
How many nights ever I might think…
How many pages ever I tear…
How many days in the calendar pass…
Net result is the same. One and just one remains: the tears shed. Is there a smith that can value its worth?
Can any scientist find the pH of tears shed in ceaseless pain?
Take another turn…
Grow as a man.
Every “…ly” breaks me.
Eats me away.
Makes me stammer… mentally.
Than the inability to distinguish between good and bad…
Than the ignorance of what is right to do…
Than the ignorance of what not to do…
My stammering is far better.
I’ll go to Bangalore for the cure.
But what is cure for this stammering brought by science,
Enhanced by discretion?
Where is the cure for this handicap?
Where is the end
To this unfair conduct?
For this mispronunciation?
Telugu Original: Medico Shyam
Translation: RS Krishna Moorthy & NS Murty