A Tale of Two Fathers

Still remember it vividly…

Indeed whenever it hacks my mind, my heart quivers …

Those were the happy days of Taluk high school. To be precise, I was in Fourth form (the present day 9th standard). Quarterly examinations were about to begin. One day, as the afternoon long-bell rang, the whole class rushed out of the classroom … like a 10000 Hz sound wave … we all ran out of school …homeward.

It was slightly drizzling. And walking in the Nethivari Street was a real challenge for I had to navigate through many red-cesspools without slipping into … no, not pools of ghee—though the street was named Nethivari street, as my class teacher, Kesavarajupantulu garu used to quip—it was only filled with syrupy red-slush.

Reaching home, washing feet and hands, sat on a wooden flank in the kitchen to have my midday meal. As I was eating, amma goaded me to be quick for I had to go to the farm to deliver coffee to naanna— father.

Hurrying through meals, I picked up the flask filled with coffee and a small box with some snack, all tucked in a tiny bag … wondering how to walk through the foot-deep muddy black cotton soil road that too, on a drizzling day, asked amma, “which field?”

To my luck, amma said, “barlakuntakadi chenu” –the tank-side field… “Oh! Thank god”, I was so happy to hear her… for I need not walk in the slushy black mud track... I can as well walk neatly along the railway track to reach this field.

Soon reached the outskirts and was right on the railway track … briskly walking … jumping from one sleeper to the other for saving time. Making up pretty past…

Suddenly I heard the whistle of the midday-Repalle-bound train … turned back … the train was chugging out of the station… behind me.

I increased my speed… already nearing our field … I could see my father and labor that were engaged in weeding the paddy crop—could see the women labor … bending in the paddy field pulling out weeds…

As the hissing of the steam engine was fast nearing me, I started running, of course in the middle of the railway track, all in the anxiety of not getting my feet soiled……whistle was blowing hard … train was fast nearing me...

The whistle had become a continuous nuisance… irritated by it I looked back… the train was almost behind me … giving up the work in hand, labor, craning their necks out of the paddy leaves…were looking towards me… I wondered why they were paying so much attention to me… from behind the train was shrilling continuously… as though my amma was yelling at me from behind to get out of the way…

And was still running in the middle of the track…. Father and labor came out of the field onto the bund but without taking their eyes off me… wondering at it, I looked back … by then the train was right behind me.

… Didn’t know, what prompted me… but at once jumped out of the track…. And the train whizzed past … in that daze, I could still hear the yelling of the fireman leaning out of the engine pointing his finger at me questioningly… I didn’t know what… the passengers from the first compartment too shouted at me… though, in that din, I could not make out what they were saying …why they were yelling at me… I was, no doubt, dazed by their shouting at me… felt ashamed too … but didn’t know what for…

Suddenly I became conscious of the flask … wondering if in my hurry to jump out of the track I had inadvertently hit it with my knee… and ensured everything was alright… ensuring my nanna would have his coffee alright … and as I almost made it to our farm, got down from the railway track, taking the mud road to the field.

As I reached the farm, my father, coming out of the field, was already standing on the tank bund abutting the farm with a frozen stare at me. I had never seen him wearing such a look ever in the past. His eyes, in deep silence pierced through me… His face was tensed up… I could make nothing out of it… It was a new experience to me…

As I was nearing him, some unknown fear encircled me ….

As I bent down to keep the bag by his side … he caught hold of me in a jiffy and gave a spank on my back… I was dazed at this sudden development…

By then Mariti—a regular female labor at our fields and knew us all pretty well—who stood behind him on the bund, perhaps anticipating the scene, rushing to me and snatching me from my father’s hand…hiding me behind her, blocked my nanna’s hand from reaching me; she attempted to get my father to his senses saying … “pillalni champukontara dora … tappuchesti cheppali gani (Are we to beat kids to death! ... if erred we must only teach them) and then turning to me saying, perhaps… why perhaps, for sure in anguish: “ainaa… entayya… ee pitchi pani… maa gunde lagi ponai… katta diguthayo ledo nani … inkeppudoo alaa cheyakandi… itununchi ellipondi (What’s this stupid deed my child… our hearts were frozen in horror … whether you would get out of the track in time or not… don’t ever do such acts… go by this way); she pushed me away from the reach of my father on to the track in the middle of fields.

I walked away from them, of course, in shame… of what, I didn’t know, either … And as I was walking away my father shouted at me, “Never ever again come to field on railway track, remember!”

On the way back, I was still in haze... could not make out what made nanna so furious! Of all the things why did he spank me… why did he do it which he never did in the past—even while signing my school progress card as his eyes, gliding through 70s and 80s when landed on 41 against arithmetic, all that he did was to stare at me with raised eyebrows, that’s all… of course, that was a good enough warning for me to be more attentive—such a father, how is that he could spank me today, that too, in front of farm labor! And Mariti had to save me from further embarrassment! But I was happy of Mariti’s concern for me, of course.

That was a mystery that remained with me for long, till at least I encountered another incident, of course, after I had quite grown up.

It was summer 1983. Schools were closed for summer holidays . We—me, my wife and our two daughters—went to Simla on LFC. We stayed there for three days in our Institute’s rest house. One day we were out on a day’s conducted tour to Kufri and the surroundings in a bus. By evening we reached an Apple orchard. The guide, leading us into the garden, warned us not to pluck apples and granted us 20 minutes to go around the orchard, and also enjoy the lush green deep valley from the cliff.

In no time, the fellow tourists dispersed in different directions. Enthused by guide’s advice, we proceeded towards the cliff to see the valley. It was so deep and silent... as it was late in the evening, the valley gave a grey look … as though a green carpet was spread across the valley as far as the eye could gaze… here and there deep down smoke was circling up… except for it there was no other sign of human life down the valley …. we four were all alone on the cliff … except for the intense drone of the strong winds that blew through the pine trees, there was no other sound… no sounds of even chirping birds … perhaps, shuddered by the setting Sun and the creeping-up chill they too might have flown away to their nests …an indefinable trepidation overtook us. Suddenly, holding Chinni’s [younger daughter] hand tightly, my wife uttered, “Let’s get back to the bus.”

I could sense her anxiety. So, we started walking back to the bus. Panicked by the absence of fellow tourists anywhere nearby, my wife speeded up her walk. We followed her. As we were nearing the farm gate, Rajani wanted to buy something from the canteen located a little away. Fearing that the bus might go leaving us behind, her mother refused to yield to her demand and walked straight out of the garden along with the younger one towards the bus.

It was my turn now to cajole Rajani towards the bus pleading that there would be nothing in the canteen except tea at this hour. She being ‘she’, didn’t yield to my pleadings. I could see unhappiness written large on her face at our turning down her wish. As a patch-up, saying, “OK! Fine, then go and see yourself”, I stood there keeping an eye on the bus.

Ten minutes passed. She didn’t turn back. Bus fellow was honking perhaps that’s how he called us in… Alerted by his honking, I went close to the canteen. It was getting closed. No one was around… I could not see my daughter anywhere nearby. Guessing she might have slipped through the woods to the bus, as I was walking back to the bus, my wife came running for fetching us. When I enquired if Rajini was back to bus, she said, “No”. Her ‘no’ alarmed me a bit. Then, we both started looking for her around the woods. The driver was honking relentlessly. The guide was shouting for us.

Then he came out shouting at us. As we said that we were looking for our daughter, he started airing all kinds of unsolicited counselling… In my anxiety to trace my daughter I was in no mood to respond to him. I went back to the path that we earlier walked on ... No, I could not see her anywhere on that lane, nor did my wife. Minutes ticking by… guide was shouting in the ear. Driver was honking aggressively.

What to do? Where is she? Did she lose her way in the woods? Sun was going down fast… Driver was honking… Woods were getting darkened… what if I cannot trace her soon? What if she slipped down the cliff? … Can she put up with the rising cold with that simple jerkin till I lay my hand around her shoulder? Will I be able to locate her at all in these darkening woods? Can she stand up against the creeping night? What would happen if I can’t trace her immediately? Will the bus fellow go leaving us behind? Then, what? As all kinds of crazy thoughts swarmed my mind, for the first time ever in my life my knees buckled. I really lost myself for a fraction of a second!

As I was frenetically looking for her in all directions… moving incoherently hither and thither... Ha! Here she comes… nonchalantly from under a tree… with a twig in hand swinging it in gay abandon… I rushed to her before my furious wife could lay her hand on her… could quickly dump her in the bus silencing the bloody honking…

As the bus started rolling down the lane, for sure, we were in the bus … all four of us intact … my daughter by my side with her hand in my hold… heading back to the hotel in Simla. At last, silence revisited us. That silence did give me my comfort back. It however didn’t last long as an aged lady from behind said with a large smile: “Bhaishab, ab tho chode bacchiki hath… vo ab kahi nahi jayegi”( Brother! You can as well leave her hand free now; she will not go anywhere now!) A few others who heard the comment giggled at it full throttle.

Suddenly, like a flash it dawned on me as to why my father became that furious with me that day…


More by :  Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty

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