The rays of the rising sun are becoming white on the flowers and nandivardhanams are in full bloom. While he was gathering the flowers, the green of the little tree became striking. It was as though a veil was suddenly lifted. In his heart of hearts Sivayya felt the radiance of a sudden flash of lightning.
He came into the little room where he worshipped the family deities. On the little platform the scrubbed copper vessel shone with a rare brilliance. Sivayya thought of the deity once again. Lifting the curtains of shades without being seen, the sun too made his appearance. The room was flooded with the sun light. The holy lamp was lit too. The vermilion mark on Sivayya’s forehead gleamed. With the chanting of the mantras prescribed in a low key, the daily worship began.
Sivayya was contemplating the glory of Shiva extolled in the Namaka - Chamaka and it filled him with a rare peace. He looked at the flowers he worshipped the deity with. Much to his surprise the eyes of the innocent woman appeared to be peering at him from the flowers. There was intense piety and delectable purity in those eyes. There was some affection and some helplessness in those eyes. Behind the flowers was the picture of Shakti in her glorious appearance. It took a lot of time for him to bring the worship to a conclusion. He came out to empty the water used in the offering into the pot of basil in the inner courtyard.
After a while, he sat with his morning paper when his cook brought him his morning cup of coffee.
-“For the last two days Ramaswami has been sending word to you. He is not in a position to stir out. He requests you to come and see him once.”
“Did Seetayamma’s holidays come to a close? Did she return to college?” Sivayya asked absent-mindedly.
“It’s three days since she had left. I thought she had told you,” the cook sounded surprised.
“I told her there was no need to tell me. All right, then, I’d go and see him right away.” Sivayya threw the upper cloth on his shoulder and walked out.
It was a very comfortable house in the old style in the middle of an acre of land. In the western end there was a tiled two-roomed house where the old servant of the house Ramaswami had been living for more than forty years after his father died.
Sivayya stopped suddenly near the big old mango tree.
“Babu, babu! You are dharma incarnate…” Ramaswami’s wife was wailing in anguish, here at this very spot twenty-two years before. She fell at his feet. “I can’t take way my life and become a homeless spirit. While living, I can’t look into my husband’s face without guilt either. You are like my father…”
It was just a morning like the one when he started out to see the old bed-ridden servant after finishing his daily worship. Ratti, Ramaswamy’s, wife fell at his feet.
-By then it was clear that the couple had no chance of having children. Rama Devi, Sivayya’s wife, was desolate but then she had a little hope that her own little brother would fill that void. She thought that, if he had a son, at least it would be some solace: she could be happy like Yashoda with a kid going about in the house.
When he recalled his wife’s brother, Sivayya’s face became livid. The fellow never knew the value of money. He misled his sister into believing that he had been good at his studies. Year after year he failed. Rama Devi, however, never knew much about his wrong doings for a long time. When she came to know of those of his misdeeds slowly one after another it had become too late. He fell in bad company and began even to drink. One day she came to him utterly distraught. “ I don’t know what to do now. We must turn him out of the house. He is not fit to be with us. I tolerated his failures in the exams. But this is too much now. I’m after all a woman and you too are too kind to him. Now he is past all hope. That Ratti was anguished: the scoundrel went to the extent of molesting her in our own compound. A drunkard like him should not be forgiven. How can I console that poor woman? What shall we do now?”
Rama Devi lost her cool..
“There is nothing we could do now. And then we cannot sit back either as if nothing had happened. Ramaswamy is in the fields, now let’s go see that unfortunate woman.”
“No, no, I cannot see her face. She would place a curse on us. Already we are childless and I don’t know what more should we have to suffer after this heinous crime of my brother. Please, don’t ask me come to see her. Having known of the serpent, we have done nothing. Now that she’s stung what use is our consolation now!”
Within three days the retribution came. Kasipati, Sivayya’s brother-in-law, was crushed under a truck: along with his motor cycle. His body extricated from the ruin was brought and laid on their pyol.
Tears didn’t come into her eyes. She felt her heart breaking. She lost consciousness and Ramaswamy tended her. From a distance Ratti’s sobbing was heard. It was much later that Sivayya was told that Ratti had been with child.
Within a week, Rama Devi asked her husband: “Wouldn’t you fulfil my wish?”
It was not a new wish for Sivayya heard it many a time before. When he was telling the rosary in the pooja room he felt someone had patted him and he lost no more time.
“Now I am ready to fulfill your wish. Wouldn’t you come too?”
In about ten minutes the couple started with an overnight case packed. “God would never fail us!” She said and Sivayya never forgot the radiance in her eyes when she said the words. It had been the same light that had been taking him for years now. It was she who suggested the name Ramanath to the kid they brought from the city. Sivayya added Sarma for his own satisfaction. A child looks the cutest at three and when Ramanath Sarma was playing in the house, Rama Devi’s joy knew no bounds.
“Now I don’t care what happens to me. We have had the fire ritual associated with the adoption ceremony.”
Sivayya never forgot the light emanating from the vermilion mark on her forehead.
“Why do you stare at me like that? I’m your Rama Devi!”
“Ah!” he would say as if woken from torpor.
“You are the incarnation of dharma… how can I kill myself? How can I deceive my godlike husband? I should have killed myself that very day. But I was afraid of leaving my husband alone. Now I carry another man’s child in me? What could be the punishment for my sin? How can I ever show my face to him?”
-Ratti was at his feet, her tears flowing down inconsolably. He was under the mango tree. The vermilion mark on her forehead was shining as an insignia of the Lord’s glory.
-“Ratti, you are the sister that God has not given me. I will see that your child is looked after well. Don’t break your husband’s joy. My wife knows and so do I that you are spotless. God knows it. It’s my wife Rama who told me about her brother’s sin. You get me flowers everyday and I’ d pay my worship with those.. You are the one who could pronounce a curse on all of us. But don’t do that. I pray to you.”
“You are of a noble birth and it is not fair on your part to pray to me.”
The poor man reaped the wages of his sin. If she were so powerful, why was it that she couldn’t save herself! When the old lady was at her feet Ratti broke into gooseflesh.
-Ramaswamy was blissful. “God is with us! He is giving us a kid: it’s god’s grace and your blessings, sire!”
His servant’s innocence and joy, the poor woman’s composure and Rama Devi’s understanding made Sivayya more devout than ever. He saw God’s own hand in the way things were shaping out.
Ratti was sent to a nursing home in the city and they said that she would deliver in a couple of days.
Ramaswamy came running to tell Sivayya that Ratti had died delivering the child. Sivayya was stunned.
“It is all His will. Though the dead woman cannot be brought back, your daughter would never be left in need of anything,” said Sivayya and in a short while the farm hand’s wife came forward to be wet nurse to Ramaswamy’s infant daughter. Rama Devi named the little infant Seetayamma and she grew in the two-roomed tiled house.
“Sire! Sire! Here’s good news!” Seetayamma came running and stopped short on the veranda.
“What now! You told me that you passed in First Division yesterday.” Sivayya’s face showed a glow.
“Seeta, how many times did I tell you not to address him as sire? You call me attayya. I wouldn’t live long for my paralysis wouldn’t be cured. You can call my husband mama. Why don’t you come up?” Rama Devi said
“Father would be cross.”
“Rama Devi, why do you speak like that. You’d be cured soon. Seetalu, you tell her.”
“Sire! Let me tell you. My daughter got what she calls a rank. She’d become a Doctor. Can I afford all that expense? After all, what am I? It is only because of your kindness she could go to college.”
Rama Devi was lost in thought. Her brother’s eyes appeared before her pleading: ‘Sister, this is my daughter. You must help.”
“Ramaswamy! Don’t worry about money. Ramanath too would be happy if Seeta goes to the medical college. Anyway he has his books and we need not buy them again. Let them be together: we needn’t worry that the girl is away from us.”
“Oh! It’s you! I wondered who it was who called me like that.”
“Forgive me china babu! Your mother asked me to call you like that. Forgive me. I ‘d never call you again like that.”
The old woman on her bed heard only the young woman’s call and lapsed into a contented slumber.
The wick in the ghee lamp was burning upright. Nandivardhana flowers were sparkling in the plate. The fragrance of incense was eddying even outside the pooja room. Ramanath Sarma was engrossed in performing mrutyunjaya japa to propitiate the deity. His lips were not moving: only the beads in the rosary were being told slowly.
Sivayya was in the veranda waiting for the japa to conclude. His wife was struggling for breath and he found no way of telling this to his son. At last he made up his mind and called out the young man.
Sarma opened his eyes.
“Your mother …”
With the rosary Ramanath Sarma went into the sick mother’s room.
“My dear! I’m going. Father would tell you what we both desire…” Later she became incoherent. The light in her eyes disappeared.
-“Attayya!” Seetayamma fell at the old woman’s feet.
“It’s the Lord’s will!” Sivayya said closing his tear-filled eyes.
The rituals came to an end.
Seeing that the time had come to tell his son what his wife had in mind, Sivayya cleared his throat suggestively.
“Father!” Sarma sat down near his father.
“With these hands I brought you up…” Sivayya began and Sarma looked at his father for this strange kind of beginning.
“I’ve been asked to tell you by your mother. There is nothing new in this world. Our religion always tried to keep people together. It is our duty to perpetuate that noble tradition. Either you call it, religion, tradition or culture, all these are meant to promote faith in human touch and goodness. This is culture, irrespective of schooling. “
“Father, did I do anything to offend you?. It has always been my conviction that I should obey you in word, deed and thought. Mother loved me as any mother does, making every sacrifice for me.”
“Suppose I asked you to do something not much to your liking?”
“You’d never ask me to do anything that has no sanction in our tradition.”
“Then I shouldn’t lose any more time. They say, not a moment is ours… Your mother thought you’d infer without her telling or my telling.”
Sarma looked into his father’s eyes glowing with a strange radiance. There was a moment’s silence.
“It is your mother’s devout wish to fix your marriage with Seetayamma. She never brought herself to reveal this secret desire of hers. There are no answers to some questions. Though we can infer some answers it is not always easy to give them expression. Now I go to my pooja.” Sivayya rose abruptly.
Sarma recalled Seetayamma’s calling him “bava” and telling him that it had been his mother’s intention. But then, why did she have a desire like that? Why did his father not tell him when she was alive?
“Pedababu…?” Seetayamma came looking for his father.
“Seeta, did I not tell you not to call me chinababu?’
“I remember your asking me not to call bava.” She looked into his face and he averted his gaze.
“Is it not true that mother loved you?”
“She’s divine, she loved everyone around.”
“Did she ever tell you about me?”
“No, I came because Pedababu sent for me.”
“He has gone to his pooja.”
“Tell him I came and went,” she said and turned on her heel.
The basil bush, the badam tree, the mango in the distance, between the leaves and foliage he found no answers to his questions. Inside the sivarchana must be coming to a close. It had taken a long time. Sarma was worried. He went in.
Sivayya’s eyes remained shut. The lips were not moving.
“Haraharamahadev! Haraharamahadev! Haraharamahadev!” Sarma heard the chant softly in his heart.
The moving rosary stopped. For a split second Sivayya’s body appeared to have shaken a bit. The next moment he collapsed. The rosary remained in its place between his fingers.
(First published in Telugu in the volume Kathala Kolanu in 2001)