Kanukali (The Sight)

[Original in Telugu by Swargeeya Malladi Ramakrishnasastry (1905-1965). He was a noted short-story writer, with more than 200 stories to his credit which depict Telugu nativity. One of his stories, Du, Mu, Vu, Lu, was translated into 14 Indian languages. He wrote two novels—Krishna Theeram and Tejomoorthulu. A reputed lyricist of Telugu film world—he composed lyrics for the films, Suwarna Sundari, Chiranjeevulu, and Jayabheri, which are popular even today. He was also a noted dialogue-writer of Telugu films of the 1950s and the 1960s.]

New moon day. In the Munsif’s [1] cattle shed, Karanamgari’s [2] cow is in labor. The whole village assembles there.

In fact, on hearing the news about Karanamgari’s white cow’s pregnancy, the villagers put their fingers on their noses—muttering ‘what a wonder!’ After collecting dime charges, Sahadevudu, coming from a neighbouring village, examines the cow, holding this and that side, percussing on the belly, and finally, by around noon, says—it could be pregnancy. No sooner does the Karanam hear it than he jumps in the air with pleasure and gets rudrabhishekam [3] performed in the temple.

There is, of course, a reason behind the celebration! It is almost three decades since Karanamgari’s wife came to live with her husband! In a year or two, she may attain menopause, and so the need for the man to lay the fire in the hearth during even daytime for those ‘three days’ [4] in every month would cease. Which means, for the past thirty years, as though cursed, she has been regularly spreading the hem of her sari in the veranda and lying down those ‘three days’ of every month—never missed her periods; the routine has not deviated even by three or four days either side. In which Ganga have all their prayers and vows drowned?

And even the she-calf nurtured by them appeared to have inherited the tradition of the mistress of the house. All the calves of her age have by now even seen grandchildren. This one has, however, not bothered. It doesn’t even appear to have had that salasala—‘heat’.

And all of a sudden this preternatural event…

Labor pains are advancing. The poor dumb creature! Somehow bears the unbearable pains. Once in a while, it stops winking. Karanamgaru starts praying to all the gods. He restlessly walks to and fro. Whenever the cow bellows “Ambaa![5]”—that great man makes an enormous effort to hold back his tears.

Finally, all his prayers have been answered—the crisis passes off. Karanamgaru gets all the rituals associated with the birth of a child meticulously performed. He baptizes the new-born he-calf after his father, Narasayya. He distributes jaggery and almonds to the whole village. After celebrating the completion of the first month of delivery, he purchases national savings certificates worth hundred rupees. He gets the insignia of Anjaneyaswamy and a tiger’s claw charm prepared for adorning his neck. Day-by-day the he-calf grows—physically and mentally—healthy and hale.

With the passing of a year, one day, when a girl from the ‘Alla’ family, tying her hair round, instead of walking on the road that everyone takes, ambles around the elephant-foot yam fields, one end of her sari is blown aside by the wind, and it becomes a red rag for Narasayya. Seeing the rag Narasayya gets panicky, jumps up at once and tries to butt her with his just sprouting horns. Shocked by it, the lass somehow gathers her courage and runs back to the village. Many assemble. Shouting, “Who is that?” everyone takes a shaft in hand. The lass, recovering from the shock by then, says, “Narasayya”. On hearing her reply, some laugh, while others jeer.

The lass’s father complains to Karanamgaru. After listening coolly, he sends him back satisfied, saying,“A childish act! Won’t you let it off, bava![6]’’ Thereafter, he spanks Narasayya, left and right, on the face, saying—‘‘Why would the inheritance go wrong!”—and in disgust, chiding his father—‘‘Though born differently, the mind-set has not changed!” and cajolingly reprimands Narasayya, “This is no good for us! Shouldn’t you be accepted by others! You have to be honorably married off. But if you behave like this, who would give you bride?” Then on, as Appayya, the priest, has said, “Bad habits seldom die hard”; one complaint or the other is piling up.

One day, in the very morning, Narasayya has eaten away half of Avadhanulu’s [7] madi dhovathi [8]. Yesterday it was the turn of Venkammatta’s step daughter: the wig that she had been protecting from the sight of every living being for all these days by hiding it somewhere in the seventh floor of a building, when put under the sun, in front of the kitchen doorway, for drying, Narasayya, attracted by it, somehow, jumped over the bare wall and holding the wig in the mouth ran away, despite the poor lady’s crying from behind, “What have you got to do with it!” Are these deeds meant for those who want to live and prosper!

Fearing Narasayya’s deeds, no lady could dare come on the main road!

Won’t it frustrate Karanamgaru too? When he already looks like a bull, is it appropriate either to beat or scold! In utter disgust, Karanamgaru curses Narasayya’s mother in anger, “To which rascal-bull did you bear this fellow!” Hearing it, the poor mother doesn’t pick to mouth even a blade of grass.

“A bad guy being anyway bad, why don’t you leave him stamping as ‘Bull’ for the good of villages,” suggests Munsif, who is otherwise not known to intervene in any matter. But Karanamgaru does not have the heart for it.

Though not given birth to him, nor carried him on shoulders—after all he has reared him all these days! However, realizing that this way it is no longer good, on an auspicious day, Karanamgaru engages the blacksmith for making a cart with a low base—sufficient for one man to sit—so that he can ride it alone. One day, he drags Narasayya under the yoke and placing himself in the cart hurls the whip. That’s all! Narasayya’s feet are no longer on the ground! Pulling away the cart with deadly speed, he climbs the river bank. At the very first hurdle, Karanamgaru is thrown off the cart, and somersaulting thrice, of course without his nose getting soiled, he rolls down almost ten feet, and settles down finally on a thorny bush.

With it, Karanamgaru’s head reels. Of course, with that fall, he could not come again in public!

Thereafter, Narasayya, recovering, runs away from there.

Narasayya keeps on moving, moving and moving, grazing whenever he wants, staggering now and then, running till the hooves wear out, with no destination—crossing fields—crossing rivulets and orchids—finally settling down in a manyam [9], wandering towards a corner of it, scared…

One day, sometime in the morning, from a little away, there comes a rumbling sound. Some creature moves. Hears a cry, “Ammo! [10]” Narasayya, bellowing suddenly, jumps up. There, a young cow, shaking like a tall, thin stem of a reed, trembling like a dry leaf in the blowing wind, stands with an averted face, like a sunflower. Right in front of her is a butcher holding her firmly—tightly holding the upper part of foreleg. She droops her neck. As he jumps, Narasayya gores the butcher’s belly, and in one stroke throws him off somewhere.

“Ambaa!” bellowed Narasayya!

“Anna!—Basavanna!”[11]—cries the cow. Throws arms around the neck. Resting her head on hump and crying incessantly, she caresses the dewlap.

The cow starts moving forward—Narasayya with an erect tail, shuddering at every sound, follows her like an escort.

As he ambles along the alley, there comes a palm grove; crossing the grove he sees a canal bank, beside it is a blinking light, behind it is a hut.

In front of that hut, an old man, Munsif’s look-alike, staring all around, holding a hand over his forehead, sensing the coming of the lass from a distance, shouts, “Ammei! [12]” The cow—galloping to him—saying “thata [13]”, cries at once. Hearing—hearing the cry, the old man goes to Narasayya and holding his chin in his hand kisses his forehead.

Without tethering him, the old man brings hay and puts it before him. He gives him bellyful of bran-water. That night Narasayya has a wink there.

It is dawn. Sunrays hit the eyes. Narasayya opens his eyes. The eyes are filled with light—right before him the lass, tied to a post, stares in confusion.

Narasayya—suddenly gets up. Putting one step behind another, moves towards that side. All of a sudden—the body of the lass trembles. Jumping and hopping, she untethers herself and runs far away, stops for a while and looks back leeringly. Narasayya starts running.

Running and running, till the sun becomes hot, she stops at an orchid under the shade of a tree. As they stand, the grass under their feet is crushed down a foot below.

By eventide, the cow starts walking towards home. But Narasayya doesn’t allow a step forward towards home.

The couple moves away beyond the sight of human beings.

After a long time, one day, at dawn, before the darkness dies out—after the first crow of the cock and before its second—Narasayya is blessed with a son.

Seeing the newly born infant—Narasayya remembers his birth. He remembers the ecstasy that his father had experienced. Father reflected in his eyeballs. As soon as the infant can stand on his feet, taking mother and child along with him, Narasayya, without letting his feet touch the ground, in one go, comes to his village.

As they reach the outskirts of the village, the sun sets. Taking bath in the tank beside the temple, bowing before the temple, and leaving the mother and child there itself, Narasayya goes all alone in search of his mother.

She is not where she is supposed to be—not even the remnants of tying-post; moving from that side, he comes to the front yard of the house. There is no front door, nor is there the roof above a wider patch.

Narasayya goes inside the house. The cot on which his father used to sleep is placed along the wall, full of dust and cobwebs. There on one side of the cart are termites—the whole house is covered with weeds, gigantic swallow worts and thorn apple twigs. In disgust, Narasayya hits his head against the wall.

From there he comes to Munsif’s house. Snoring is audible from the pyol. “Yes! That’s Munsif naidu.” Conforming to childhood intimacy, felt like greeting him by scratching with his horn. As he bends his head forward, on the ground there is a pair of chappalls [14]—the eye that sees them just freezes—the leather is his mother’s!

Without letting any sound out of his mouth, grinding his teeth, Narasayya bows to his mother by touching the chappalls with his forehead, and moving away a little farther by dragging his feet, bellows, “Ambaa!” that reverberates all around.

That bellowing is greeted by two more bellows. Narasayya jumps towards the side from which the bellows are heard, that is the border of the village—where the members of his family are supposed to be—where are they?

There are again echoes of bellows! Narasayya runs to that side! Mother and child—bodies are there—no life. The spotted wild cats sitting there snarl.

The first jump is of Narasayya’s—three become one lump in their fight; each lump, getting reddened, falls separately.

Two horns, in their last gasp—from that reddened heap—rise a little and bellow, “Ambaa!”—fall to the ground!


  1. [1] Munsif—a village head.
  2. Karanamgari’s—Karanam is a village revenue record keeper and garu is suffixed to indicate respect.
  3. Rudrabhishekam—a kind of prayer offered to Lord Siva.
  4. ‘three days’—traditionally, women folk used to stay away from daily cores for the three days during the menstrual period.
  5. Ambaa!—bellow of a bull.
  6. Bava—brother-in-law.
  7. Avadhanulu—a Brahmin well-versed with Vedas.
  8. Madi Dhovathi—a man’s wet garment worn round the loin while performing prayer and its associated rituals.
  9. Manyam—land given as grant to a priest.
  10. Ammo!—a cry in moan.
  11. Anna—way of addressing elder brother—Basavanna—a revered way of addressing a bull; basava means bull and anna means elder brother, together it means—Oh! Brother bull!
  12. Ammei!—Oh! Girl.
  13. Thaata—grandfather.
  14. Chappalls—footwear.


More by :  Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty

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