"Silence is peace.
Silence is a boon.
Silence is the blue sky’s spread out.
Silence is the beauty of the flower-decked valley."
As he opens the door of the bedroom, the Sikhara (tapering tower) of Rama’s temple grants Rao its august presence. Offers Namaskaram from within the heart. Hazy darkness. Tulasi (holy basil plant) at the dawn. Silence—the spiritual encasement as of Indra’s bow.
Walking slowly, entering the central hall, he switches on the bulb, lights an incense stick before Saibaba’s photo; offers Kakada Aarati (worshiping with a lamp having five wicks), a silent reassurance from behind: “Bhai, why fear about the amassed karma, when I am here, around you?”
Withdrawing from there, he takes three sips of water from the copper pot, turns on the radio for listening devotional songs. Mild silence. Mind’s eye in its fullest bloom. Great peace.
Well within ten minutes, the buzz of the milk van; token for two litres.
In another two minutes, Ram Lal Mishra, father of Major Kishan Lal—the resident of the first avenue of the colony—announces his arrival: “Rao sahib … mai aya hu (Here, I am)” …
White canvas shoe. A kind of morning-circumambulation … of the colony … three kilometres.
Widowed Mishra … problems with daughter-in-law. In that silent beauty of dawn’s merriness … a conventional lamentation … a sort of silent cry …
On return, attending to morning chores …… bathing in cold water… two idlis followed by a cup of tea.
Homeo medicines to those four or five waiting outside…
Mother tincture for the insomnia of Mishra; tuza for the wart on the finger of Paramashivam.
Kamala: “You’ve given me Palsdella earlier.”
“Yes! But changing the potency now.”
Rao garu never heeded the advice: “Sit quietly chanting ‘Rama’, ‘Krishna’… why this flood of people all around?”
Silence is like the giant tree that spreads wide with prop roots.
Silence is the exit door.
Time—a wreathy-serpent hiding in a corner.
Milk van’s bell … once, twice, thrice. “Milk” … “Milk … Sir”
Coming down from the upper floor, elder son of Rao took the milk bottles… silently wondering: Nannagaru (Daddy) won’t be that lazy ever to respond! Five minutes.
Mishra’s call: “Rao sahib”…. “Rao sahib, aren’t you alright?”
“OK ... OK”
“Amma, didn’t dad get up? Not to be seen in the room!”
“Dhanurmasam (the period between 14-16thDecember to the mid-January, considered as auspicious period). Might have gone to the temple nayanaa (my child).”
Those waiting for the sweet homeopathy pills have left. Mishraji came again and went back. Temple doors were closed. Grandson and granddaughter are in a hurry to go to the convent—“You are to remind in advance about the replacement for white shoe polish, Right? Where are the tiffin boxes?”
It’s perfect peace after the kids have left for the school—in that ultramodern house.
Son doubted. Daughter-in-law came. Sandals are here only. Water in the copper pot is as it is—full. Blanket is as it was folded last time. Hasn’t slept in this bed last night! Window is shut. No incense sticks before Saibaba. Radio is silent.
“Dial up younger sister.”
“No ... no, hasn’t come. Why so anxious… what’s the matter?”
Daughter-in-law is intelligent.
“Look at the letters.”
“None new. Old ones were already spiked to the iron rod.”
“He keeps his bank passbook in the drawer, look for it.”
“It’s very much there.”
“Send wire to bavagaru (brother-in-law). Send wire to babai (uncle).”
“Take out scooter… go… look around the hospital and come back”—instructions to the younger brother.
“It’s an insult if others come to know of this … tell he has gone out.”
“When likely to return?”
Son – sank into chair …holding head in hands.
“Amma, what was it … last time you and naanna were arguing about?”
“Got annoyed at my saying, ‘watching TV pillalu (children) went to bed late; turn off the radio’.”
“After all, he too knows it, doesn’t he? Does it warrant so big an argument amma?”
“Don’t know what was in his mind. He was speaking in an irritated tone with akka (elder sister) too. The concern for his [side] people is ever predominating. Affairs of this house never mattered to him.”
“Why, akkayya too, with aggressive postures, talks so harshly to him. Everyone wants to maintain a sense of self-respect. What else, after all, remained to be done by him in this house?”
“She was worried about her son not catching up with mathematics; whereas he is pestering him to recite Sumati Satakam verses. Naturally, anyone will get annoyed.”
“Just for that…?”
“Nayanaa… why speaking of this and that person? What did you do? When he came to say something to you in front of your friends, coming inside, you asked him to keep his mouth shut—was it appropriate?”
“That’s not the issue… He talked about performing obsequies for his father… ‘not possible in the house, arrange it in a mattam’ (monastery), said attayyagaru (mother-in-law). Since then he stopped talking”, said thus intelligently, younger daughter-in-law. Double-edged tongue!
“He hasn’t implored to any of you … It’s his money. After all, right from cooking-maid he is making every arrangement on his own. Who will not have concern for his own kith? Is it wrong? Chi-chi-chi—I have nowhere seen such people.”
From far off, Pedanaanna (father’s elder brother), babai (father’s younger brother), bava came. Went away.
“Rao sahib se kuch khabar (any information) —kuch letter?”
“For all this, you are responsible.”
“Can’t he understand us, we aren’t strangers to him! Yes! Uttered something in a bad mood. But you don’t know—that very night I went to his bedroom and sought his pardon,” said son.
Silence is perfect knowledge.
Silence is a word of seven letters.
Four or five years after—
… a letter came from Palem hermitage.
“For the last four years, Sri Rao garu had been the resident of this ashram (hermitage). He conducted himself as a great Rishi (seer) as though always in a transcendental meditation. Served the fellow old-residents to the extent he could. On the last Rathasaptami day, while in his sleep, his atma (soul), merged with the paramatma (god). Recently we could lay hands on his old papers, and got this address. We are also in receipt of money that he intended to gift to the ashram through the bank. Dhanyajeevulu! (the blessed one). If you wish, we can send you his papers.”
Silence – a shade of the tomb.
Silence – a giant serpent.
Silence – a great dream too.
An enlarged photo of Rao garu is now prominently visible on the wall. There in front are the incense sticks … smouldering. And a garland right on it, as an adornment.
…authorities of the Palem ashram have sent all his papers.
No one dared to open and read them. Remained as silent sounds of the worn-out palm leaves.
The bell of the milk van didn’t stop ringing.
Gudisikharam—continues to glitter in the rising sunrays.
Ram Lal Mishra’s call, however, is not heard.
Now silence: a fear. An anxiety.
(Original in Telugu By Munipalle Raju, First published in Netram, a quarterly, in 1995)
About Munipalle Raju:
Shri Munipalle Raju was born on March 16, 1925 at Garikapadu, a village near Tenali in Andhra Pradesh. He spent his childhood in Tenali, a town that is known for its contribution to arts and literature in the early 1950s. He has four short story collections, including 'Munipalle Raju Kathalu' and 'Divo Swapnalatho Mukha Mukhi', two collections of free verse, one collection of literary essays, 'Journalism Lo Srujana Ragaalu', and one novel, 'Poojari' to his credit. His 'Astitvanadam Avali Teerana', a collection of short stories, won the Central Sahitya Akademi award for Telugu fiction in 2006. It contains sixteen stories that are rooted in the rural milieu. They take the readers on a nostalgic trip to the ancient Vedic culture, as the characters in these stories struggle to come to terms with the all-pervading modernity. The result is: while the writer is pursuing his spiritual quest, his protagonists encounter intense conflicts. Cumulatively, the reader enjoys a meaningful discourse about life and its complexities in today’s world. The Central Sahitya Akademi termed his work as an exceptional contribution to Indian short fiction in Telugu. The present story, 'Silence’ is Not a Mere Word' is from the collection that won him the Central Sahitya Akademi award.
This brilliant short story writer in Telugu of progressive outlook died at his residence in the wee hours of Saturday, Feb 24th.