Dec 01, 2023
Dec 01, 2023
Continued from Previous Page
Yet, his heart is pounding. Involuntarily, a wild thought process overtook him: Did I ever crave for distant comforts? Did I ever run a race that I am not supposed to be in? Who asked me to write the promissory note for Rs. 5,000 favoring the father of my son-in-law? Which farmer will ever cut off a piece of land from his holding, to give away? Because, it wasn’t done, all these problems today.
What are these debts after all for me, if only the rates of paddy remained the same? Wouldn’t they have been cleared in four to five years? Why at all the prices should crash? I have been listening to the almanac every year. Why has not even a single siddhanthi  written about the fall of prices? Well, how do even they know the karma  ?
Then, what is the karma that I did? I have not cheated anybody. I have not transgressed my Varna Dharma — the eternal laws of my caste. Why then, this ill-fate for me? Why then, such ‘fortunes’ to the village shavukar? What ‘good’ has he done? Hasn’t he ruined many families? Hasn’t he extinguished many lamps? 
He might have performed ‘holy-deeds’ in his previous birth. Does it mean that karma then lords over even God? If that be so, why then God?
For my intelligence, am I to ridicule God? Venkayya shivers with fear. Praying to God for forgiveness, he slaps himself on his cheeks.
So, what am I to do? I may have to straightaway sell the land, cattle — whatever there is — and pay off the debts. If I were to keep my word and be off my debts, that’s it! Yes. I will dispose of them all. What after the disposal? Two children, me, and wife — how to manage? I may have to work for another Asaami, for what else can I do other than farm work? When no land is owned, perforce one has to mortgage himself to another farmer!
Having lived thus far, am I to work for another farmer to earn a wage? Am I to sell the land inherited from my grandparents and great grandparents and leave my children in destitution? Is it for this that father handed over that chunk of land? Instead, wouldn’t it be better to hold the breath — it won’t take three minutes.
Venkayya, of course, could neither dare to dispose of the land nor dare stop his breath. If there is God, wouldn’t he be kind enough?
Early morning, Pullai, in the anxiety of not finding Raghavulu, wakes up Doragaru. Everyone is stunned: “Where is he? Where has he been?” Woken up by the commotion, Chittodu starts crying. With great difficulty, Lakshuvamma pacifies him. Having seen everything with his own eyes, Pullai could not say anything against Dora. Placing the money that her husband had given the previous night in the hands of Pullai, Lakshuvamma assures him, “Nothing would happen to Raghavoi,” and sees him off.
As the day draws nearer to afternoon, Raghavulu returns home with a lantern in hand.
“Came, amma, Raghavoi came. For me, he brought a fruit too,” shouts Chittodu, and chuckling with joy, runs to his mother to pass on the fruit.
As she comes out of the house, Raghavulu is washing his face in the backyard with the water from the brass vessel. Seeing him, out of frustration, she swears at him: “Where the hell have you buried yourself all along?”
“As the nursery in the western field was drying up, went there to water it. What else do you think have I taken the lantern for?”
“When your father came to see you with great anxiety, you rascal, you hid yourself from him?”
“Scold anyway amma. You can swear at me. And I am to honor it. Aren’t you scolding Chinnadora?
Now, coming to my father? For all these ten years, where was this father? Whether it is fever or pain, it is you who has been looking after me. Did he ever come to take care of me? Tell me?”
“What is it that after all, Pullai said? Isn’t it for your good?”
“Aaha! How nicely you have put it! Do they need my welfare? It is only my wage. They have been taking away my wage every year. If they are really interested in my welfare, let them show how much money of mine they have with them? They have swallowed everything. There is not even a paisa today.”
“Why then give birth to and nourish children? Isn’t it for their support to the family?”
“True, as you said, had they brought me up, that’s right. But you cared for me. Did they ever?”
Lakshuvamma could not argue any further, “That’s not the point, if you hide yourself from him, what will your father think? Won’t he think that we told you to behave that way?”
“What is there for you to say in this? Yesterday itself I told him on his face, ‘I am not coming.’ How could he then say anything against you?”
“OK! Whatever is destined to happen, will happen. It’s already too late. Go, get ready quickly to gulp down two morsels.”
Immediately after eating food, Raghavulu leaves for ploughing the field.
The whole village, including Venkayya and Lakshuvamma, is surprised at his behavior. Since then, whenever anyone talked of workers in the village, no one could converse without mentioning Raghavulu. Why so much concern for Asaami? Why all are not like him? Why don’t all others work so diligently like Raghavulu? It is these issues that have today become intractable international issues for the villagers.
Whenever the other Asaamis in the village were to scold their laborers, they used to cite the example of Raghavulu. Similarly, laborers are also asking for new things under one pretext or the other. Besides, they are laying down many conditions — they should not be asked to pound paddy, they should not be fed with stale food, and their elders should not be abused. They must be given a pair of dhotis and a pair of upper clothes per annum. Every month, they must be supplied with a quarter pound of dry tobacco leaves. And Asaamis should be content with whatever work is turned out, and should not scold for this and that. There are a few other such conditions. But no farmer observed them; nor did the laborers ever work like Raghavulu.
Yet, kaalavahini  didn’t stop for even a minute. The rainy season came. Wetland villages all have become cesspools of water. Raghavulu never used to come out of the cattle shed. He is always busy either in collecting urine in pots and throwing it outside so that the floor remained dry for cattle to lie down, or in feeding them from time to time. Immediately after eating food, he used to take a handful of jute fiber, and egarra  to weave ropes for the cattle. He wouldn’t allow any unevenness or blotch to go unnoticed in the woven rope; he wouldn’t mind even to unwind the whole length and weave it again.
At times he wonders: why this passion? How does it matter if the rope is not neat and clean? All that matters is its serving the purpose. Still his mind will not yield to such arguments.
Although the cattle and the farm are not his, as long as he is in the yard, everything must be in perfection. By the bye, Asaami said that he couldn’t afford him. Why did he say it? What if he was serious about it? — Oh! no way. How could he be? Wasn’t he aware of justice? Having had me for all these years, how could he now ask me to leave? Am I alone becoming a burden to him? It’s perhaps my madness — why would he think so?
His young heart, which is not able to see the reality, is however, dreaming of sweet castles. He wishes for his Asaami’s farmyard to be flourishing. There should be no cattle that can compete with his Asaami’s, not only in that village, but also in the neighbouring villages. The farm that he is cultivating, he dreams, must yield thirty bags per acre. This season they have puddled the land twice before transplantation. Tillering is also good. If every tiller comes out with an ear-head, it will surely yield thirty bags. No doubt about it. But, Vishaka  must be watched? Who knows, it may ruin the whole dream?
In his heart of hearts, Raghavulu silently prays for ‘time’ to move on alright, and for his farm and the land that he tilled, though it belongs to Asaami, to produce bountiful of grains. How come, he cultivated such affection? What did he gain from it? Perhaps, Pundits alone can attempt an answer for these questions.
Just as the rains receded, good days too receded for Venkayya. His son-in-law’s father sent a registered notice demanding the payment of Rs. 6,800 that is due to him under the promised dowry. His village shavukar too demanded the payment of his dues of Rs. 1,608 within that very month. The milkmaid started pestering Lakshuvamma to repay her dues of Rs. 75. Since then, Lakshuvamma started fearing that something was wrong with their stars; she wondered if the rotation of sun and moon was not in order.
Rueing on his karma, Venkayya became restless. Even if he was getting a wink of sleep late in the night, the creditors suddenly would appear before him, demanding repayment of loans — literally poking at him, like the messengers of Yama  . Even if he escaped from their poking, the milkmaid, Durgee, would not leave him. He used to feel as though Durgee was dumping her milk pot on his head saying, “Take this too.”
Not being able to put up with the pain of debts, he silently disposed eight acres of his much-cherished wetland for Rs. 7,500 to Surayya. He also sold the stored paddy of forty bags for Rs. 400. Yet, he was still left with sundry debts amounting to Rs. 600. Venkayya was still not free from the debts. One night, he gave a hint to his wife that he might have to dispose of the bullocks and the cows too.
“Thank God! You haven’t said about ‘selling the children too’,” exclaims Lakshuvamma.
“What am I to do if the creditors press for payment?”
“Do whatever, but don’t sell the cattle....worst comes to the worst, can we not clear them in the next harvesting season?”
“Having disposed the wetland, how many more hundreds of bags of yield, do you think we would get?”
Lakshuvamma could not speak immediately.
“Had we sold the land that we have sold today three years back, we would not have ended up in this grave,” says his wife, blowing her nose.
“Who thought karma would force itself upon us like this? I’ve been hoping — debts would get cleared out of the annual returns from the crops.”
“Our karma being what it is, no point in blaming you.” Lakshuvamma wipes her tears with her sari.
Venkayya, identifying his karma as the sole cause for his current plight and throwing the entire blame on it, feels himself relieved of the burden. But, will the world leave at that?
For the world, a man’s weakness in one aspect could mean weak in entirety. No sooner had the news of selling his land spread than the other creditors started pressing for repayment. Unless the debts were many, would he sell eight acres of land? If all were to be cleared, why would he sell it so secretly? Which means, the debt must be huge! The moment it struck their minds, the creditors unleash a ‘run’ on him.
This makes Venkayya feel as if he is rolling on a bed of burning coal. One day, when cattle buyers came, he disposes off the young bull and bullock for Rs. 350 and quietly arranges for sending them away, for if Lakshuvamma sees, would she let that happen?
On that day, Raghavulu, sweating profusely, returns late from the field, carrying a heavy bundle of green grass. When he hurries to the cattle for feeding them with grass, there are no bullocks. He is stunned! Even if they ever untethered themselves, they never left the yard on their own. Asaami may entertain an obligation with anything else, but not with bullocks. Even if there was any such compulsion, he would only send the cattle along with him.
What then would have happened to the bullocks today? Wondering if owing to urgency Asaami himself might have gone with the bullock cart, Raghavulu looks for it. But the cart and its chiruthalu  are very much in the shed. Even the plough and its accompaniments are all in their respective places. Unmindful of the ruckus created by the other cattle for the green grass, Raghavulu hurriedly runs to Lakshuvamma and asks, “Who has taken away the bullocks?”
“Aren’t they in the cattle shed?”
“Your dora might have gone out with the bullock cart.”
“The cart is very much there in the shed.” Dragging his feet towards the yard, Raghavulu squats in the middle.
Dropping the vessel in the hand meant for collecting milk, and the rope for tying the legs of the cow while milking it, in the middle of the hall, Lakshuvamma too rushes into the yard enquiring, “Aren’t bullocks there?” After all, they aren’t a needle not to be seen, though present?
As her elder son enters the yard, she hurries him out saying, “Go and get your father saying bullocks are missing from the shed.”
A while later, her son returns saying, “Father is not at the library pyol.”
In the meanwhile, darkness advances. Lakshuvamma, having fed the cow with bran, sends the milk-vessel and the rope to fasten the legs of the cow before milking, with Chittodu, to Raghavulu to ask him to milk the cow. Raghavulu, lying on the hay-sheaf under the cart, does not respond. Lakshuvamma too comes and requests him. She even shouts at him. It is of no avail. She then asks her elder son. He expresses his inability. She wonders, being a woman, how can she milk the cow. She waits for the arrival of her husband, who, however, hasn’t turned up, though considerable time has lapsed. Peeved at the delay in milking, the milch cow and the he-calf moo restlessly, creating cacophony in the yard.
Lakshuvamma feels terribly disturbed. Finally, she ventures out to milk the cow herself. She then calls Raghavulu for dinner. He doesn’t move. She calls her elder son. Initially, he too refuses, but finally yields to take two morsels of food. Chittodu, feeling sleepy, presses his mother for making the bed. When Lakshuvamma goes into the room for bed-sheets, she sees her husband moaning on the bed covering himself fully with a blanket.
Carrying away the bed-sheets, she makes the bed for both the sons and asking them to lie down, she returns to the room with the lamp and laying her hand on the temple of her husband, enquires, “Are you feeling feverish?” Warm water falls on her fingers. She is taken aback.
“Looks like you are suffering from fever!”
“No,” moans Venkayya.
“All sorrows have come together! The bullocks too have fled away from the shed.”
After a while, heaving a sigh, Venkayya says, “I have sold them.”
Lakshuvamma, shell-shocked, stands motionless for a while. She could not utter a single word. Later, with a lantern in hand, she goes into the cattle shed and sitting a little away from Raghavulu, tells him, “Seems, your dora sold away the bullocks.”
Raghavulu doesn’t say anything. He merely keeps staring at the bamboos of the roof. Blowing her nose, Lakshuvamma narrates to him the debts and the plight of the family in detail.
“After all, what can he do, when our karma is like this? Our plight has quite worsened. How can you stop it? Get up, my child, get up to take food. Whole day you have labored so hard, unless you take some food, you may faint by morning. Come on… get up…”
“What can you too do for my karma,” says Raghavulu.
Despite her varied pleadings, Lakshuvamma could not make Raghavulu eat food. She too, feeling an aversion for food, lies on the cot drawing Chittodu closer to her stomach, engulfed in fear — fear of the ‘future’.
That night was a Shivarathri  for Raghavulu. Like a cinema, the whole of his past rolled before his eyes. Why have I been staying with Venkayya all along? Sweating it out for all these years? What was the outcome? Even Asaami didn’t gain anything out of it. Did I gain anything? The empty stomach is making mere noises. Why, then, this labor? What if, it was to be under someone else? What extra would it have resulted in? If that be so, why this labor, unmindful of one’s own well-being? Just for belly’s sake? Is it merely for the belly? Is that what I lived for? What if, I don’t live this life at all? Which god will cry?
What is that I am craving for? After all, isn’t it for bullocks and farming? No doubt about that. Isn’t it the loss of the young bull that I fed and trained, which is terribly disturbing me? Means, all that I need is the bullocks and a handful of farm, which is productive. I can be content with them. My life could then pass on happily. Despite selling my labor and my independence, how is it that I am not getting them?
Finally, Raghavulu too, throws the blame for his current plight on karma? However, the shackles that have been holding him for all these days have simply broken without his realization. So, why should he then stay here alone?
That night he couldn’t sleep a wink. As the thoughts rolled on, it is dawn. Getting up and completing his morning chores, he puts on washed clothes, packs the soiled clothes and hanging them to one end of the staff, walks straight to the house and calls Lakshuvamma. Along with her, Asaami, Chinnadora and Chittodu come out to the yard. Looking at Raghavulu’s attire, they are frozen — simply stand like wooden statues.
“Going amma!” says Raghavulu.
“Where?” asks Lakshuvamma in a surprised tone.
“Haven’t thought of it, yet.”
“Will you go to your father?” asks Venkayya.
“No! I won’t.”
That makes everyone speechless.
Lakshuvamma stops him saying, “Eat food and then go. Last night too you haven’t had anything.”
In the meantime, the he-calf comes jumping to Raghavulu and holds his dhoti in mouth.
“No amma, you have asked, that is enough for me.”
Holding his chin, Lakshuvamma implores, “Babu  , listen to me…”
“Not now, let me go.” Raghavulu pulled out his dhoti from the mouth of he-calf.
Chittodu cries at once. He-calf bellows. Led by it, all the cattle in the yard moo in chorus.
That day, all that bellowing could not lay shackles on Raghavulu’s legs.
Thanks are due to Dr. G. Umadevi, daughter of Dr. G.V. Krishnarao and the copyright holder for granting permission to translate and publish it.
More by : Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty