Paddy threshing is not over all through the village. Having received a message from uncle, applying leave for the college, I came home by bus. And that very next night this frightful incident happened.
It was Bahula trayodasi . Like a lion’s claw, the biting chill of Dhanurmasam  has tightened its grip. The darkness has spread its might right at the twilight. The blinking stars, peering timidly through the dark sky have suddenly vanished as if frightened by the devilish whistle of the mail on the faraway railway track.
Finishing his dinner, Pedananna garu , walking to and fro on the long pial in front of the house, is reciting Jaimini Mahabharat  in prose. It is about the assemblage of huge forces by Pandavas and Kauravas at the beginning of the epic war. As the prose stanzas chanted by Pedananna garu in his sweet and profound voice are gushing out like the flow of Ganges, the assemblage of 18 Akshauhinis  and their strategy to sing the ultimate song for the end of the Yuga  flashed in my mind. Overawed by its sheer beauty, I listened to his recitation standing still.
No one noticed Jiyyardas, who, coming in the dark as darkness from the hamlet, stood a little away leaning on his shaft. Listening to the untimely and the sudden howling of an owl from the babul grove on the tank bund, Jiyyardas coughed loudly, perhaps, out of shock. Noticing him just then, Pedananna garu enquired, “What, Dasuu, late in the night?” Jiyyar’s shaft just shook a little.
“Better if we soon thresh the paddy heap, lord!”
“Water drained fully?”
“Floor is still a little bit damp, but no water lord!”
“How then to prepare threshing floor?”
“Shall plan for it along the road, lord!”
“Why so hurry? Wouldn’t it be alright to wait for a couple of days more?”
Dasu stood silently – hesitating to answer as though something got stuck in the throat.
“What is holding you back, Dasuu?”
“Yes, I have an apprehension, lord! Last night as some people were moving around the paddy heap suspiciously, Yanadi  Tirupalu had seen them, lord!”
“Men! Who are they?”
“Who else would come, lord? It’s only Munsif’s  brother-in-law’s men, lord...”
Remaining in deep silence for ten minutes, Pedananna garu heaved a sigh. In that silence everyone could hear it.
“Alright! Day after tomorrow is Trayodasi . We shall start on Sunday. Inform the cart-fellows tomorrow. Also keep your people ready.”
But, the very next day, the fear of Jiyyardas turned into reality—the paddy heap of around padiputllu (100 bags) turned into ashes on ekadasi  in the western farm.
Living in towns for almost two generations and being acclimatized to the urban lifestyle … … fondly visualising rural life as calm and quiet as the nature; imagining the even-paced life of the forthright rural folk as brimming with happiness … … having been engaged in churning the world of fictional writing, when the hardened wickedness of landlords manifested before me for the first time as an impregnable fort in its true colours, I am to spend the whole day restlessly being torn apart by anguish and anxiety. Wondered, if the demon emerging out of the venom spewed by the landed-gentry and duly supported by the Mleccha  and the Britishers is hurting whoever is defying the profession-based caste system developed under the Aryan civilization? Is it that the force of a bullet—as is being propagated by the revolutionary student unions through their slogans on the compound walls—alone can stand against these demonic murderers? Why this holy land that claims to be the home of Mahatmas, seers, moral preachers, Vedas and their derivatives, today has chosen the path of violence and crime? Centuries-old Vedantam  and civilization … where are they hiding?
But Pedananna garu remained undisturbed. That night he went and saw the burnt heap of paddy sheaves. Next day, Sunday, as usual, early in the morning, he offered oblations to sun-god; after reciting the Aditya mantra  he came out and sitting on the pial, like a modern-day Sahadeva, looked at the disease-stricken cattle standing before him in the front yard. He suggested suitable course of treatment for cattle’s ailments to the farmers. Then turning to the impoverished men, women and children standing on the other side with scabs on skin due to the bite of poisonous creatures and dried-up faces, and examining them he, packing a few peppercorns that had been sanctified by reciting appropriate mantras in a white cloth and tying it around their arms, seen them off. There were none who hadn’t offered their salutations—either explicitly or implicitly—to that icon of a great seer, an accomplished purusha .
By then half of the poor people from the Harijan hamlet have assembled in front of the house. Around ten to twelve farmers of repute sat on the pial at the other side.
Jiyyar Das, Ramjogi, his sons Philip, Yakobu and Lukoi who had converted to Christianity, were sitting in the front row restlessly. Behind them there were other youngsters either sitting or standing in groups. Except Jiyyar Das, all others were having in their hands either a shaft, or a spear. Besides them, there was another group—pot-makers and a few others from different rural professions. Mutrasu Narayudu, who is known to stand against anybody in the village without fear, sitting with his upper cloth tied around his waist and knees, is about to light his cigar but suddenly giving it off and putting it behind his ear, waited restlessly for his turn to speak, with reddened eyes.
There was pin-drop silence—a kind of momentary silence that occurs before a robbery. The only disturbance was the sweet conversations that pedananna garu was having with the farmers who had brought their cattle for treatment. Is that all there is? Or, is this village going to become a battlefield in a few more minutes? Are fire and wind getting ready for a killing spree to satiate their hunger? Is this village going to burn its future into ashes in the wild flames of hatred that has no salvation?
As the cattle and their owners were returning home, the big farmers who could not express their sympathy in mere words too started leaving one by one. By then it is around eleven o’clock. Yet, none of the poor stood up. As the farmers were leaving, they glared at them furiously. Their attitude perhaps gave shape to the kind of uncertainty that engulfed the yard. Washing his hands and wiping with his Uttareeyam (upper cloth), as Pedananna garu stood up, Rangacharyulu butted in, perhaps, as an ambassador of Aswini gods,  saying: “Sanjeeva Rayudu garu! If somebody could do this heinous crime against a great man like you, what could be the fate of ordinary mortals like us?” He has thus broken the silence that had till then remained frozen like the Himalayan peak.
Mutrasu Narayudu, who was indeed waiting for an opportune moment, suddenly got up and staring furiously said: “That’s it. It’s to decide on it that we are all sitting here. Asarlu babu, isn’t it that upon his lordship’s nod alone that we could jump into action?” At it, the youth of the Harijan hamlet, at once pushed themselves forward. Daniel, who returned from military, waving his hands and with his body shaking in anger, shouted: “Lord has only to say ‘Yes’, we could annihilate ten such Lachmi naarayans.”
So, the whole village, including kids, have come to know that the paddy heap of Pedananna garu was set on fire by Laxminarayana!
Coming forward, Jiyyar Das pushed Daniel back. Pushing the matter forward gently, he said: “Lord, is this a village or a jungle? Isn’t it because of Sanjeevaiah garu, standing by dharma, got the barren land alongside the tank distributed to us that Laxminarayana became envious? Despite committing such a heinous crime, did anyone from his caste said a single word against him? But they are all great leaders—all with silk clothes, diamond rings, watches with golden straps! Aren’t these Panchayati members who conduct big meetings about silly thefts—events like plucking tamarind pods or cattle straying into vegetable gardens—and summon police? Where has that justice gone now, baabuluu (lord)?”
Reciting a Sanskrit verse, Acharyulu said: “Panchayati is nothing but an assemblage of Pancha yatulu (five gentlemen) whose passions are completely under hold! But where from we can get such Yatulu (gentlemen) in today’s world who could look around with equanimity!”
Ramjogi, the Panchayati member from Harijan hamlet, getting angry at it, retorted thus: “Don’t tether the horse and the ass to the same pole! Isn’t for giving evidence in favour of the poor from the Harijan hamlet in the case of free land distribution that Laxminarayana fed the Munsif poisoned food, without even caring about his relationship, that of brother-in-law, with him? And don’t forget! When none from them reported the matter to the police, it is this Panchayati member, Ramjogi, who stood by the truth!”
As one by one is thus speaking, the politics of the whole village came out. I stood listening to them. Mutrasu Rayudu, getting up in a jiffy, looking at the gathering started shouting: “We haven’t come to listen to philosophy. These murderous landlords, the henchmen, who living under their mercy, setting fire to the cattle feed… their time is out!”
That day was Maasa sivarathri . Time is running out for Pedananna garu to perform Abhishekam . Putting his one foot inside the door, he stared back. It was piercing. Staring straight into the face of Acharyulu garu and pointing his finger towards the sky, he said: “Sun, the all-pervading witness, has heard all this. You are wise, aged and the knower of the difference between dharma and adharma. The act of deciphering the justice and injustice by the grama sabha  is again god’s will. We are not the one who are empowered to punish. For that dharma is there.” Then turning to the people, he said: “It’s already late, go and attend to your works. Narayudu, Ramjogi, Jiyyaru—Did you hear?”
Everyone stared at each other’s face. Reciting the holy hymn, “Aaditya hrudayam punyam / sarva shatru vinaasanam / Jayaavaham jape nityam …”—that is, being dedicated to Sun deity will result in the destruction of all enemies, victory and never-ending bliss…—Acharyulu garu offered his namaskar to pedananna garu, the very embodiment of piousness, who is going inside.
I returned to the college. But the disposition of pedananna garu and the village that was drowning in the dirty politics of land-owning higher castes was terribly disturbing my mind. What is the use of dharma if it cannot protect a gentleman like pedananna garu? How fair it is to discourage those impoverished folks of the village who, staking their lives even, craved for justice even in that wicked setup? For changing whose heart did Pedananna garu fan the cold breeze on their zeal for revolution? Or is he a mere timid person? How could the independence of village that Gandhiji dreamt of emerge in such an unfair setup? Is it by land reforms? Is it by proportionate voting rights? Or only through class struggle? I could not decipher.
Rajarao, my friend and fellow political science lecturer, says: “Landlords are the politicians of today! When all your legislative assemblies are filled with such people, where is the scope for land reforms? If you ask me—listen my dear, as yet we don’t have any force that could consolidate the revolutionary capabilities of the teeming poor villagers! That’s possible only for great leaders like Lenin. You might ask, what in the meanwhile? Well, the cinema culture has spread to every village. Under the sway of its glamour, the youth that you are referring to is already migrating to urban agglomerations. Finally, it’s all govinda!  Don’t get hesitated. Coolly teach your lessons. Simply see two movies a week. If you still have energy, open a tuition outlet. And if you have courage, open a chit fund company. But never feel sorry about your pedananna garu.” I, for one, wouldn’t like to go that side and spoil my peace of mind again.
But as the axiom, “Man proposes, God disposes,” goes, within six months, the marriage of my niece was fixed to be held at pedananna gari house. It was already summer holidays. Amma insisted that I must come for the marriage. So, the whole house moved to the village. Baskets full of mangoes, jasmines, lots of lemonade and buttermilk and whatnot. Though, it’s a marriage in summer, it went off exceedingly well. But our relatives had kept on postponing our return journey by almost a week. In the meanwhile amma performed archana  in the Chennakesavaswamy temple. As we are returning, Ramjogi, joining us on the way narrated the village politics at a stretch.
There was the government’s barren land admeasuring seven to eight acres alongside the tank outside the village. The landlords of the village might have succeeded in occupying it but for the proposed project of digging a drainage channel through that land. Subsequently, as the alignment of drainage channel was shifted to the border of another village, Pedananna garu, running around many government offices, could at last succeed in getting it distributed among the poorest of the village along with necessary documents. All this took about five years. As Pedananna didn’t hesitate to expend either his labor or to put up with the expenditure thereof, the greed of Laxminarayana could not fructify. With it, the quarrels started in the village. Though Munsif was the relative of Laxminarayana, by virtue of his making their unfair business public, he became a victim of poisoned food. That is the history of the village.
I asked Ramjogi: “With it you think all these quarrels have come to an end?”
“People of our hamlet—be it men or women, including children—have stopped attending to the farm activities of Laxminarayana!”
“He is getting labour from other villages by paying heftily. Our people are, of course, obstructing them. But after all, their craving too is for that little belly, isn’t it?” Thus, concluded Ramjogi.
So, this fire would not subside! One day, it might become a wildfire swallowing both the good and the bad! When will Chennakesavaswamy, who is receiving the salutations of people, restore this world, in which tyranny and sorrow are crawling like twin kids, as promised in the Gita that he delivered to the world? Or, when will the revolutionary leader of the century that Rajarao referred to, will emerge in this land? In the nightfall of the very next day I could get the answer for all my agonies and supplications.
At the creeping in darkness of the dusk, as pedananna garu, finishing his sandhyavandanam  came out to pial, a horse-drawn cart stood in front of the gateway. It is the son of Mantrasu Narayudu and Yesu, the brother-in-law of Suvartha, who manage this cart jointly. Peddulu, the son of Narayudu, hurriedly setting right his towel on the head, said, “The cow of Bharatapudi Karanam  garu is in grave danger—could be a snakebite! They asked us to fetch you at once in the cart.”
“Where did you see karanam garu?”
“We had been going for railway track repair works… lord!”
Without even picking up his Uttareeyam, pedananna garu, sitting in the cart, looked at me enquiringly, “like to come?” Bharatapudi village is just on the other side of the railway track—hardly a mile and a half.
As I said, “Shall put on my trouser and come with a torch. You please start”, the cart started in a jiffy.
It took about ten minutes for me to reach the main road from the home—Jiyyar Das, standing across the way in the darkness, signalled me to stop.
“Who! Is it Das?”
In a whispering tone, he said: “In the haystack yard a snake has bitten Laxminarayana’s son! It appears to be a cobra. Froth is coming out from his mouth profusely. They are carrying him on a cart to your house! That’s why we have sent away Sanjeevaiah garu in the cart—you please walk slowly.”
“Then how about Bharatapudi karanam garu’s cow?”
“What cow? It is more than a year since they sold it off.”
I was shocked. I did not know what to say.
“This… This… What you all did is perhaps not a good thing, Dasuu! It’s the question of a man’s life…”
“We haven’t done it sir. It’s the god above who ordered it. It’s a right expiation for the deserving person.”
Before he completed his saying, I could see Laxminarayana running before us turning towards the track going to Bharatapudi. In that dark, he is waving his hands, swaying his upper cloth in air.
Hearing the echo of his crying, “Sanjeevarayudu garu… my son, my son….”, I started running.
“My son… my son… you only can save him.”
So many stories I heard from amma about pedananna garu restoring life to so many victims of snakebite coming from the nearby villages.
In that darkness, I could see the cart stopping and again starting—more perhaps an imagination of mine! I had put on the torch twice. The rays could race to the cart. As I reached nearer to the cart, the Mantrasu boy is arguing very angrily with pedananna garu. Meanwhile, Laxminarayana, hit by an obstruction, has fallen flat on the ground.
“Yes sir. We did lie. That’s the right punishment to him. Lord, do you think we will keep quiet when he hit us under the belt? Didn’t he see this god that day when he set fire to your paddy heap?”
Saying, “Chi—shut your mouth. Where from you got this stupidity?”—pedananna garu jumped out of the cart. Holding the reins of the horse, I turned the cart towards the house.
By the time we returned, the snake bitten boy is lying on the pial. He is breathing heavily, while froth was profusely flowing out of his mouth. Appeared to be in the terminal stage. Ignoring the lamps around, he took the torch from my hand. Examined the patient for a minute. In the meanwhile, amma, coming from inside, placed Pedanaanna’s uttareeyam (upper cloth) on his shoulder. Without even thinking for a second, he, tearing that upper cloth recited mantra with half-closed eyes, intermittently blowing air with his mouth on the boy.
Watching that scene, all my doubts have been blown into pieces. All those half-truths that I read in newspapers about snakebite vanished like silk cotton drifting in the air.
The froth gushing out of his mouth stopped. Pedananna garu wiped his face with his own upper cloth. His breathing stabilized. The boy appeared like a kid in deep sleep. As amma handed over water in the copper vessel, Pedananna garu, reciting mantras, sprinkled water on his face. The boy opened his eyes slowly. It is only then that I could turn back and see. I saw Laxminarayana prostrating at the feet of pedananna garu with joined palms.
Amma hadn’t returned with me. As colleges opened in July, I could see Rajarao.
“What my dear, your doubts aren’t still cleared? Saying, “returned from your village, aren’t you?” he put his hand affectionately on my shoulder.
I said, “It’s not one, but two doubts.”
“Oh! One more problem?”
“Tell me Rajarao! People write that snake has no venom, those who die are not due to poison but more out of shock; all these mantras are only trash—how far it is true?”
Rajarao gave the answer without giving much scope for me to speculate: “Nonsense! I have seen my uncle dying due to snakebite with my eyes. You know my father retired as a station master! He used to tell about his giving messages to Pamula (snake) Narasayya who was known to treat people bitten by snakes by reciting mantra, at least on four or five occasions during his tenure and restoring people to life. Why did you get this doubt?”
I told him. Also, shown him the letter written by mother on the previous day. “Read. After reading it, tell me: Is Gandhiji relevant to today’s world or not?” I demanded him to answer me.
“So, Laxminarayana, the villain, had sent ten cart-loads of paddy to your pedanaanna? And he distributed it among the poor people in the Harijan hamlet? Good! Regarding Gandhiji, my answer is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’—coming to a pious person like your pedananna, he is very much relevant. Gandhiji is relevant to even nuclear arms. But not to the whole of today’s setup”, said he.
I had very poor knowledge of politics. Felt it as improper on my part to talk much about it. Perhaps, Rajarao might be right!
‘Pamukatu’, originally in Telugu, written by Sri Munipalle Raju was first published in Andhraprabha, a weekly, in January, 1985. This is translated more out of my reverence for the story writer and his story than of my ability to translate.
 Bahula trayodasi—The lunar months are split into two pakshas (fortnights) of 15 days each: Shukla paksha(waxing paksha, light half) and Bahula paksha (waning paksha, dark half). Bahula trayodasi is the 13th day of the dark half.
 Dhanurmasam—auspicious month for the devotees of Vaishnava tradition that comes in December - January.
 Pedananna garu—‘Pedananna’ is father’s elder brother and ‘garu’ is the social art of expressing respect by using plural to address a person or appending the suffix ‘garu’ to a name and so on.
 Jaimini Mahabharat—a version of Mahabharata, which is known for its Aswamedhaparva, was written by Jaimini, an ancient Indian rishi (sage), who was a great philosopher of the Mimansa school of Indian philosophy. He was the disciple of the great rishi Veda Vyasa.
 Akshauhinis—an Akshauhini is an ancient battle formation that consisted of chariots, elephants, cavalry and infantry, as per the Mahabharata (Adi Parva 2.15-23).
 Yuga—in Hindu philosophy, it is the name of an ‘epoch’ or ’era’ within a cycle of four ages.
 Yanadi—one of the oldest tribes in Andhra Pradesh.
 Munsif—village head.
 Trayodasi—13th day of a lunar fortnight.
 Ekadasi—12th day of a lunar fortnight.
 Mleccha—“non-sons of the soil”, “barbarian”.
 Vedantam—a kind of philosophy.
 Aditya mantra—hymn to sun-god.
 Purusha—virtuous person.
 Aswini gods—Rig Veda describes them as Lords of speed.
 Massa sivarathri—holy day for devotees of Lord Shiva that comes in every month.
 Abhishekam—a ritual in Hindu temples where the deities are bathed with milk, honey, etc..
 Grama sabha—the Grama Sabha is the grassroots level democratic institution in each Village Panchayat.
 Govinda—Oh! God.
 Archana—The god is worshipped as an icon (archa) and the devotee is the archaka. The rite performed is archana.
 Sandhya vandanam— meditating on the chosen excerpts from Vedas thrice daily during transition periods: one during sunrise (when day proceeds from night), next during midday (which is the transition from ascending sun to descending sun) and during sunset (when night takes over from day).
 Karanam—village revenue record keeper.