Rani did not heed my repeated advice to engage a maid.
“Why a servant? We are only two persons. Washing dishes and clothes is not a big deal. Tones body well too,” she declared.
Exercise is a simple word but she won’t use it. Studied M.A Telugu!
After a little more insistence she revealed the truth.
“These servants won’t wash dishes properly. I need to rinse them again, let it be for the time being. If so required I will certainly engage one.”
However, she fixed Posamma to clear garbage. That lady collects garbage from the ten or twelve apartments in our complex and dumps in the garbage bin a little far away. She is paid a hundred rupees per month. In addition she cleans vessels and washes clothes in four or five houses. It was her primary occupation.
Posamma was scared of Rani who always stressed on cleanliness and hygiene. Standing at a distance she collected garbage, after Rani kept the bin outside and bolted the door.
“I worked in so many Brahmin households. But I haven’t seen a lady like you. Believe me!” she told her one day.
“Highly educated people never bother about cleanliness; keeping, allowing things, leaving everything as it is. You are also well educated but more hygienic.”
“No link between education and personal hygiene. Such was my brought up. My mother wanted everything to be neat. Without a wet cloth meant to keep her pure she never cooked. I don’t follow it but don’t compromise on neatness and personal hygiene,” said Rani.
True. Even a particle of dust on the window-sill made her restless.
“How could you whileaway time without a job, though well qualified?” someone in one of the apartments asked her.
“Who told you that I am jobless?” Rani countered.
“Is it? A job? We don’t know. Never saw you going to office.” They commented.
“My home is my office. My job is to take care of my home and husband well. Do you know how busy I am? Not a moment’s respite. I just can’t find time to sit and gossip, trust me.” Rani retorted.
I never objected if Rani wanted to do a job. Even if I objected, she won’t stop attending office if she so wanted. Such a strong individuality she had.
It was a Sunday around 9 o’clock in the morning. Keeping three or four newspapers around me , I was extending my part of support to literary activities of the papers. Every Sunday I buy and read papers like Andhra Jyothi, Vaartha, Eenadu, Andhra Bhoomi, Andhra Prabha, Visaalandhra.
The door bell rang. It was Posamma, standing a little away as usual.
Rani emerged from the pooja room and kept out two plastic bags with garbage. Trying to bolt the door she halted looking at Posamma who retreated a couple of steps.
“Posamma, why are you limping?” Rani asked.
“A dog bit me, amma.”
“A dog? Where?”
“Yes. Collecting garbage from four flats I dumped in the bin and turned back. I didn’t notice. Stepped on a dog lying there. That’s all. In a moment it caught my calf and bit.”
“Just now. Not even ten minutes elapsed.”
“Ayyo, what have you done? Applied any medicine?”
“I am perplexed not knowing what to do.”
“When a dog bites you shouldn’t be complacent. Come here.”
Posamma came upto the door and halted.
“It’s alright. I’ll stand here.”
“I am telling you to step in,” Rani held Posamma’s hand and pulled.
Stupefied Posamma stood in the middle of the hall.
Rani went in to fetch dettol (antiseptic), cotton and dressing cloth.
“Sit Posamma,” as Rani instructed Posamma sat, as if she was in a trance.
“Which leg Posamma?”
“Right leg calf muscle.”
“Don’t bother. Show me.” Rani also sat before her.
Posamma pulled sari a little up and showed the wound.
“Ayyo! Blood is oozing.”
Rani stretched Posamma's leg and put in on her thigh.
“Oh God! My leg,” Posamma mumbled in fear.
“What happened? So painful ?”
“No,amma. A person like you touched my leg.”
“Without touching how can I dress the wound?” Rani said with a smile.
“We are maala people. You should not touch.” Trying to pull her leg away Posamma said.
“Very fine. I should not touch you. Am I untouchable?”
“I and my people are untouchables.”
“Only bad people are untouchables. Not you and me.”
She cleaned the wound with cotton and then with dettol. Applying antiseptic ointment she dressed the wound keeping cotton in place.
Posamma was yet to recover from the daze.
“I salute you. So nice you are,” she bent down in gratitude and went away.
After Posamma left I told Rani “Have you noticed how dirty her feet were?”
“For a lady like her who collected garbage and did odd jobs in many homes, would her feet be clean and tidy without any dirt?” Rani asked.
“You came away in the middle of pooja you daily perform after bath. How could you touch her leg?”
“Other than the fact that a dog bit her, I never realised that she was a lady dumping garbage and her feet were dirty. Except the desire to clean and dress the wound I never thought about disruption to my pooja.”
“Rani, how could you be so kind?” Thrilled by the idea how fortunate I was, I asked.
“Though people say it is culture by birth, I don’t believe. Brought up, parents’ outlook, love we get from them, the environment, childhood experiences — all these have profound impact on the minds of children. You said kindness just now. Compared to what my mother did, this is nothing.”
“Tell me in detail.”
“In my childhood we lived in Kaasipaadu, a veritable village. My father was a teacher in the school there. One day my mother went to Kaasamma pond to get pure (untouched by others) water. I followed her. After collecting water my mother said, ‘follow, without touching me.’
‘Yes amma,’ I was following her at a distance.
Washer woman Enkatamma was approaching. Seeing my mother she stepped a little away and was walking. Thickets and bushes were there all around.
‘Ammo!’ cried Enkatamma.
My mother and I turned back.
My mother thought a thorn might have pricked her.
‘Snake...,’ Enkatamma wailed.
My mother dropped the brass pot with water and went back quickly.
Looking at my mother Ekatamma was stepping back.
‘Be there. Let me see where the snake has bitten,” my mother said.
The marks were clearly seen on the left heel. With the water in the vessel, my mother cleaned the wound. Tearing strips from the wet cloth meant for keeping the water pure, my mother knotted a little above the spot. She sucked and spat out blood from the wound.
‘Amma. I am a washerwoman (caste).’ Enkatamma was insisting.
‘I know it.’ My mother replied.
‘You touched my leg.’
‘Yes I did nothing wrong’ my mother comforted her.
‘You are Brahmins. You are clad in a cloth meant for keeping water pure.’
‘You are also like me. Life is more important than unmolested water’ my mother said.
Human values triumphed.
My mother took bath again and went to the pond to collect pure (unmolested) water.” Rani concluded.
I looked at her in wonder!
[Original Story from Rani Gaari Kathalu in Telugu by Syed Saleem.]
Syed Saleem is a poet and fiction writer in Telugu.He won several awards and honours for his creative work. He was selected for Kendra Sahitya Academi Award for his Telugu novel Kaaluthunna Poolathota. The story chosen here is from Rani Gaari Kathalu, a novel in the form of sequential stories, an experiment that was highly successful. He is a high ranking official in Income Tax department