One’s Performed Karma
[Dr. G V Krishnarao (1914 - 1979), the author of this story in Telugu, wrote four novels in Telugu, a volume of playlets, a couple of plays, a pair of anthologies of short stories, and a critical survey of the Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna’s Vigrahavyavartani (The End of Discussions). He has also translated Plato and Kant into Telugu. His writings give us a true reflection of his personality — “curious, humble, rationalistic, humane, and true to life.” His playlet — Bikshapatra (Begging Bowl) — was proclaimed a ‘National Play’ and was translated into sixteen Indian languages and broadcasted through All India Radio. His last play — Bomma Yedchindi (The Idol Wept) — portrays “a clash and crash of ideas and ideals” rather than personalities, which “leaves the audience in a subdued mood of sorrow.” Keelubommalu (Puppets), his maiden work, has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding novels in Telugu. In yet another novel, Papikondalu (Papi Hills), he advocates that ‘natural truth’ is better than ‘didacticism.’
Chesukunna Karma is a story of three characters: a farmer, his wife, and his farm-worker, Raghavulu, and their struggle for existence. All the three are having a strong character. They are people with good intent. They work diligently. But their Karma is bad. Of course, they blame it but never give up their karma — of doing what they are supposed to do with unswerving devotion. And all this is narrated in a language of rasardrata — heart-rending — sans rhetoric. Moved by it, though not a professional, I ventured to translate and present it here.]
“Eme! Ninne!  Looks someone has come into the courtyard. Go and see.”
“Who would come now? It could be Raghavulu with the hay bundle,” says she, while hurriedly breaking cow dung cakes to place them on the fire before the straw in the hearth burns out.
“Ha! You and your intelligence! If it were Raghavulu, why does the milch cow moo so restlessly? Go and see,” shouted the husband, a little harshly.
The jug filled with milk is right there. If I go out into the yard, she wonders, the cat may turn down the jug. Lakshuvamma then asks her son who is hanging around holding her sari entreating her to serve food, “Arey! Chittoda!  Go and see who has come into the yard.”
Of late, Chittodu has become obstinate. Venkayya, on tying the dhoti  around his waist, looks at his wife. Setting the hearth on fire, she is transferring milk from the jug to an earthen pot. What can he say to a woman who is fully occupied? Wearily, he himself walks towards the courtyard.
The eastern sun is fast rising. Putting his hand against the rising sun, he shouts, “Who is it?”
“It is me, Sir.”
Peering at the man walking towards him with a huge turban around his head, Venkayya says, “Oh! You, Pullai, when did you come?”
Seeing Venkayya, Pullayya removes his turban and keeping it on his shoulder replies: “Just now.”
“Are the children and everything fine?”
“With your grace, so, so.”
“Had you needed our grace; would you stay this long without turning up this side? If not for our sake, at least, for your son’s sake, whom you have left with us? Have you seen your son, at least once in the last two years? Tottukodaka!  Giving birth to children and leaving them to their fate! Animals are giving birth and so are you!” Although Venkayya is scolding him, Pullayya is enjoying it, for he could sense a kind of warmth in it.
“What can I do, Dora?  Umpteen times I tried to come here, but couldn’t. Once, it was my wife who fell sick. Then it was the turn of my younger kid. Later, it became my turn to fall sick. What can I do? Thereafter, it was the farm work that held me back this long.”
“Say all this elsewhere, not to me. If only you had the desire to see your son, wouldn’t you get time for two long years?”
True. If Pullayya really had that urge to visit his son, he would have certainly made it one day or the other. To tell the truth, he was not much attached to his elder son, Raghavulu. There is a reason for it. Hardly at the age of five, he left Raghavulu in the house of Venkayya. What else can poor villagers do? Indeed, for the last ten years, Venkayya himself has been taking care of Raghavulu’s welfare. He is the teacher and Asaami  for Raghavulu — he has been getting every farm operation done by him after training him well. Whatever has been the treatment meted out to him by the Lady of the house, for the last thirteen years Raghavulu has been refusing to leave them. Even when Pullayya left the village for a far off place, Raghavulu refused to leave Venkayya’s house. That made Venkayya too develop a kind of fondness for Raghavulu. Of course, Pullayya used to come every year around Bavoi punnami   to collect the annual wages.
Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that Raghavulu had no affection for his parents! But Lakshuvamma, being a mother, used to force Raghavulu to go and visit his parents, at least, once a year.
“Eemei  , Raghavulu’s father has come. Give him a jug, he will wash his face,” shouts Venkayya to his wife.
“Dora, you have become so lean? Fell ill, or what?” asks Pullayya.
Sitting on the deck, Venkayya replies, “No, but as we advance in age, aren’t the years added? Or do they get deleted?”
Keeping a jug before him, Lakshuvamma asks: “So, you felt like coming after this long? Anyway, the chantadu  is near the well. Go fetch water.”
People with no association with farmers’ families and their way of living may feel disturbed by Lakshuvamma giving him an empty jug. But Pullayya feels quite happy about it, for he feels that the Lady has thus treated him as an inmate of her house.
Lakshuvamma questions him: “Did you see your son?”
“Yes amma, I did. On my way here, I went to the haystacks yard. He was there pulling hay from the stack.”
“So, on the way itself you have coolly made the purpose of your visit clear to him,” says Asaami (Venkayya).
Taking the side of Pullayya, Lakshuvamma says, “Oh! Come on, after all, they are meeting after so many days. Shouldn’t they talk?”
“Oh! you and your stupid fondness for them! Do you know why Pullai came? It’s neither to see you, nor his son.”
“Then, for what?”
With a smile, Pullayya takes the side of the Lady saying, “Yes, so must you ask Dorasanigaru10.”
“Don’t be a smart rascal. If it was to see your son, you should have come as usual four days after the full moon.”
“He might have found time only now,” says Lakshuvamma.
“You duffer, you, too, have free time now, haven’t you? So only, you are dubbed as the inheritor of craziness for people. Not for anything?” taunts Venkayya.
“Each of us has our own intelligence. Go Pullayya, go and wash your legs,” so saying she goes inside.
There is then a sudden stirring and a fluttering in the cattle shed. The cows in the yard start mooing. The black young bull, hitting the land hard with its foreleg, moos ferociously. Listening to the sound coming from the backyard, the aged bullock too suddenly wakes up and stares at the backyard door. Hopping and jumping, the young he-calf runs to the first hay bundle that comes into the yard and smelling it, jumps to the second bundle, carried in by Raghavulu.
Rinsing his mouth, Pullayya watches how his son is loved by everyone — right from the young he-calf to Asaami, everyone is fond of his son. He wonders if Asaami can afford to lose such a worker.
“Hey! Be off, pulling the dhoti?” shouts Raghavulu at the he-calf, which circling him does not allow him to move forward. Venkayya shouts, “Orey Chittoda! Your bujjai  is running away.” Leaving his mother, Chittodu at once runs to the backyard.
“Where is my bujjai?”
“There, behind Raghavulu. Pull it away and tie it to the peg.”
Chittodu, holding the belt around the neck of the he-calf, pulls it. Yet, it does not move away from munching Raghavulu’s dhoti. Raghavulu yells at it.
When Chittodu pulls it forcibly for the second time, the he-calf could not but leave Raghavulu’s dhoti.
Placing the hay bundles under the eaves of the cattle shed, Chinnadora  and Raghavulu pull them inside. Asking his young master to keep the leguminous straw bundles on the loft, Raghavulu comes to Venkayya.
“Despite going that early, is this the time to return?” shouted the landlord.
“What else can I do when not a single blade of straw is coming out? When I said I would break down the top of the haystack, you said no.”
“It is true nanna  , we could not pull out even a single blade of straw. Hey Raghavoi, shall we break the top tomorrow,” asked Chinnadora.
“Not tomorrow, seasonal activities are on. Let these few days go,” said Raghavulu.
Venkayya feels sorry for his son for not having even this little sense of priorities.
“Arey Raghavoi, your father has come,” says Lakshuvamma, entering the yard.
“Let him come. Serve me food. I have to go quickly for ploughing the field. The ploughs of the other villagers are already in the fields,” says Raghavulu.
“He has come after two years, how you could say that?” says Chinnadora.
“Let it be. He has come, so he will see me. Having seen, he will coolly go back. You untie the cattle quickly,” warning thus, he sees off Chinnadora.
“Arey abbai!  Listen to me,” calls Pullayya. But Raghavulu goes into the house without responding.
“Orey ninnera!  Your father is calling,” shouts Venkayya, after him.
Karma: What it Means for Hindus
Karma has different connotations. But it essentially denotes ‘action’. It is the path of work. According to sage Vashishta, mind and action put together becomes karma. And these two go together as fire and heat — the one cannot exist without the other.
Mind is the most powerful of all our senses. Mind is the medium of knowledge — its unfathomable range and depth as well. Mind is the source of our actions. It is the cause of bondage as also the key to liberation. Our battles of life are primarily fought and won in our minds. Great thoughts precede great actions.
Karma or action is universal. It manifests itself as different actions in different men. It is said that the variety of the world is born of karma — ‘karmajam loka-vaicitryam’.
According to the law of karma, there is a law in the mental and moral world just as there is one for the physical world. The world is said to be an ordered cosmos. What we sow we will reap. The law of karma governs the growth of the human being. Our acts determine our character and character in turn defines our actions. Karma thus reflects in man’s nature, in his temperament, sensitivity, self-control, balance and equanimity and in the way one reacts to a given situation.
The law of Karma emphasizes the importance of conduct, for piling of the past goes on without interruption. Each thought, each action of an individual has definitive consequences – “What a man wills he does; what he does even so he becomes.” Thus, our character, our personality, our makeup, our sensitivity to right and wrong, joys and sufferings are the result of our past.
How one faces and braves life, how well or ill one lives from day to day is due to one’s makeup as shaped in the past. Therefore, every moment a man’s character and his destiny are being created by himself. This past follows a man as karma.
Intriguingly, Hindus believe that every choice that men make will exercise its moral influence not only in this life but for ever. They believe that law of karma is not a mere rule but the very organic nature of life where each successive phase grows inevitably from what has happened before. The law thus highlights the significance of every decision that a man makes for the right or the wrong. What follows us as the inevitable and destined consequences of our past is termed as Prarabdh.
Now the obvious question is: Are rewards and punishments in life predetermined/arbitrarily decided by God? Sears say it is not so, for although we carry the whole past with us, we do enjoy what is called ‘free-will’. Freedom denotes human plasticity — the scope for development of a variety of possibilities — as against the karma, the limiting force of our equipment and environment. If the present state of a man is the product of a long past, it is argued that the same man can as well change what he has made. True, his past and his present environment may create obstacles but they will all give way in the end to the will of a man, just in proportion to the amount of sincerity and insistence with which he/she pursues a cause.
Hindus, it is said, believe that the roots of our existence lie in the transcendent sphere. According to them, there lies in human beings the ‘Eternal different’ from the limited chain of causes and effects in the phenomenal world. And when man realizes that he is one with this power of Self-existence which manifests the universe, he ceases to be bound by karma. Mind, life and body then become his apparatus to surpass the karma. So, according to law of karma, life is a constant self-creation, unless one lives in inertia.
Indeed, Gita teaches us to transcend the rule of karma — the natural order of deed and consequence. It says that the “chain of karma can be broken here and now, within the flux of the empirical world.” We, Radhakrishnan says, can become masters of karma by developing detachment. What he means here is: action to be undertaken for self-fulfillment. Once our svadharma — out-world life — answers svabhava — inner being — our action will become free, easy and spontaneous. Then work simply becomes worship — a consecration at the altar of the divine.
It is these concepts that this story teller, Dr. GV Krishnarao — a philosopher more by nature than by training both in eastern and western philosophies by virtue of his extensive reading — expounds through Venkayya and Raghavulu, who undergoing an intensive and penetrating examination of their own beliefs and motives, identify their true svabhava, and undertake an action that answers their inner needs. In the process, their action is depicted more as a laksana rather than a sadhana. And through them he perhaps wants to say that that’s where the ultimate bliss for mankind lies.
Source: Adapted from The Bhagavadgita, S Radhakrishnan and The Bhrahma Sutra, S Radhakrishnan.
Raghavulu comes to Asaami and stands before him. Pullayya also comes to the deck.
“Your father might wish to talk to you about something, go with him,” says Dora.
“What is there to talk with me? He came to speak to you. You and he may talk to each other.”
“See Dora, how mad he is — like the anecdotal one who said, ‘Am I too to go for my marriage?’”
“What is there for me to speak? You are the elder one, he is the Dora, the knower of the dharma  , why me in between? I have to go for ploughing,” Raghavulu starts walking into the house despite his father’s calling.
“Orey Raghavulu! It’s alright if you don’t want to stay, but plough carefully — being diligent of the young bull. Else, it may turn bad for farm operations,” says Asaami.
“Have the cake and eat it too, but how? Water is about to be released into the canals. Still, seven acres of our dry land is to be ploughed. How to get all this done with a single pair of cattle well before water is released?” Saying, Raghavulu walks into the house.
“Hell with it! Whenever it is to be over, it will be!” Asaami reaffirms his point.
“How to pull on with this kind of a son,” says Pullayya, after his son goes inside the house.
“That’s OK! Go, you too take your food. We shall talk later.”
After taking food everyone goes about their work. Lying on a bench in the veranda, Venkayya leisurely smokes his cheroot. Picking up the midrib of the tobacco leaf thrown off by the Lord, Pullayya breaks it into pieces and throws them into his mouth to munch.
“Hey, what are you doing, wouldn’t I give you a full leaf if asked?”
“No, Dora. These strips taste better.”
In the meantime, Lakshuvamma, having finished her household chores, comes out and sits with them.
“Dora, listen to me!”
Coming out of his pondering, Venkayya asks, “What?”
Pullayya hesitates for a while.
“Why this hesitation, Pullayya! Ask, whatever you want,” says the Lady of the house.
“Doragaru, I want to get him married this year.”
“Selected a bride?” asks Lakshuvamma.
“Not yet, Dorasanigaru.”
“Then what is your ‘crying alas!’ for,” asks Asaami.
“As you know, Doragaru, it is only upon knowing that one is earning reasonably sufficient sum that someone will come forward offering their girl as bride.”
“Isn’t he earning? Sure, he is not roaming like a he-calf.”
“How can a wife and husband live on 50 bucks Dora? That’s why, wherever I go for a bride, everyone questions me about his earnings.”
“So, you want to say that unless the annual wage is increased, you will not let your son work for me. Right?” asks Asaami.
“Ups and downs in our lives, you know well! Yet, if you say that, what do I have.’’
Thinking over it for a while, Venkayya says, “So, what do you want to say?”
“My village shavukar  is offering two pairs of clothes and a wage of Rs. 75.”
“Then, you keep your son with them for the promised wage.” Venkayya, who is lying on the bench, turns towards the wall.
Wondering at the proposal, Lakshuvamma exclaims, “Would anyone at once raise the wage by Rs. 25?”
“I swear on you Dorasanigaru, the shavukar came to keep the hard currency of Rs. 75 in my hand. And I am conscious; I am saying this, sitting under a house built by many.” 
Lakshuvamma couldn’t say anything.
“Orey Pullai, why turn down a good offer? Take along your son and place him happily with your village shavukar. That lessens our burden too. Then coming to the dues, Raghavulu has been working with no absence all through last year, and I shall pay you the dues in the morning.”
“If you forsake kindness, what would happen to poor people like us?”
“Certainly, I mean it … I am not taunting. Tell Raghavulu when he comes in the evening, and take him with you.”
No one spoke for a while. Hearing that Raghavulu would be taken away, Lakshuvamma’s eyes welled up. He had lived in their house for so long. And, he used to carry out his work without ever being asked to. Though ‘skilled workers’ are available, no one can be sure of their trustworthiness. She feels like asking her husband to retain Raghavulu by raising his wages a little, say by Rs. 10 or 15. Is it necessary for her to tell him anything in particular about it? Isn’t he aware of how everything is going on, irrespective of his presence or absence at home? She wonders: If the man steering the family himself asks Pullai to take away his son, there must be a valid reason for it. The moment this thought dawns on her, she could not press for retaining him.
“What — want me to jump into the river?”
“Alas! Why such inauspicious words? If only you can explain it vividly.”
“Haven’t you said?”
“I did, but you have heard what he said a while ago. Unless you tell him to leave, Raghavulu will not leave your yard Doragaru.”
“If that is so, will he listen to me?”
“Certainly, my son has tremendous faith in you.”
“Alright! I shall tell him tonight right in front of you.” Venkayya then gets up and wearing his chappal walks away to the field.
In the night, after everyone finished dinner, Venkayya, sitting on the deck, lights his cheroot and calls for Raghavulu, who is putting hay before the cattle, and Pullai who is sitting in the front yard. Both father and son come and sit on the floor before him.
“Raghavulu, did you enquire why your father came?” asks Asaami.
Raghavulu nodded his head. In the meanwhile, Chinnadora and Chittodu come and sit beside their father on the deck.
“Then, what did you say to your father?” asks Asaami again.
“What have I got to say? You know everything,” says Raghavulu, smiling.
“Would you both, father and son, then, obey what I say?”
“Do we have anything to say against your word?” says Raghavulu.
“If ‘equity’ is delivered who can deny it?” says Pullayya.
“Arey Raghavulu, the shavukar of your village seems to be ready to pay you Rs. 75 if you join him to work in his yard.” Venkayya flings away the dead cheroot.
“What have you to say?” Raghavulu stares at Asaami.
“What is it that you want me to tell you? Can I say no to your earning a few more rupees? Even if I say no, how would you feel? Shouldn’t the society approve of it? You go with your father tomorrow. No doubt, you have all along reposed faith in me. You are no way different to me from Chittodu. I understand you are not heeding your father’s persistent pleadings. But let me confess, it’s not that I don’t feel like retaining you with me. But what am I to do? Time is against me. Rates of farm produce have dipped so low. How can I afford? Get up early and go with your father tomorrow.”
Venkayya, turning to the other side, pulls Chittodu closer to him.
“Where is Raghavoi going?” Chittodu asks his father.
“To his home.”
“Where is his home? Isn’t this his?”
“No. It is far off.”
“Why are you going Raghavoi? Did father beat you?”
Everyone laughs, except Asaami.
“He is going to his mother,” says Venkayya.
“When will he return?”
“Never again,” says Chinnadora.
“Don’t go Raghavoi, aren’t we friends?” saying so, Chittodu goes to Raghavulu and puts his tiny hands around his neck tightly.
“I won’t go, you go and lie down.”
“Ha! I know, by eluding me, you want to get away. Tonight, I shall sleep beside you.” Chittodu then starts pestering Raghavulu.
“He won’t go nanna  , you go and sleep inside,” says Venkayya.
“I know, tonight I will sleep near Raghavoi only.”
With Chittodu on his shoulder, Raghavulu goes into the cattle shed.
“Arey Peddoda!  Ask your mother to go and fetch Chittodu,” saying so, Venkayya sends his elder son.
“Doragaru,” Pullayya reminds Venkayya of his presence.
“Haven’t I said? You take him with you in the morning. I have given your dues to Dorasani. Take it from her. Why, it’s already late. Go and sleep on the mat, spreading it on the deck.”
Venkayya then goes inside the house and lies down. Lakshuvamma adds yeast to milk and tidies the kitchen. Then, taking a lamp in hand, she goes to the backyard, closes the back-door and picks up Chittodu from Raghavulu’s cot and places him on her bed in the house. She then adjusts the wick of the lamp to lessen the light in the room. She puts the pillow that was thrown off the cot back under the head of her elder son and sets his dhoti properly by pulling it down to his ankles. She then returns to her bed and sits on it. Like a child, her husband is still rolling up on the cot.
“Emandi!  Are you asleep?” Lakshuvamma laughs.
“Yes,” replies Venkayya.
“Didn’t know that sleeping-people could also speak? By the bye, why was Raghavulu weeping? Have you said anything to him?”
“I haven’t said anything to him. I advised him to go away with his father. What else can I do, when I can’t afford?”
“Is it difficult to pay Rs. 75 for the kind of his labor?”
“OK! Pay, then, if your father has given something?”
“Why, working for you, but payment by my father?” quipped Lakshuvamma.
“That’s what I am saying — I can’t afford it.”
“True, when it comes to me or him, your hand will never ever move towards the wallet,” taunted Lakshuvamma.
“You do not perceive the ups and downs. When would you become wise? You were restless till I wrote that promissory note for Rs. 5,000 favoring your son-in-law. Spent around Rs. 1,000 on laying the roof of the cattle shed. While I am haunted by the question of how to get rid of these debts, you want to add this burden too? After all, I am also a human being,” yells Venkayya.
The poor lady just remains silent. After a while, chanting the name of ‘Rama’, she reclines on the cot. But Venkayya could not sleep. He suddenly feels the presence of his son-in-law’s father reminding him, “Makham, Phalgunam  — with the coming of Phalgunam, the promissory note becomes due for payment,” and his village shavukar saying, “we need money back Abbai,” standing right before him. This makes him feel as though ants are crawling all over his body. He pulls his legs further closer to his body. Yet, the more he flinches, the more the ants are building huge molehills over him. A wild shiver rattles him. With a jerk he wakes up and sits on the cot, opening his eyes. The light of the lamp, however, gives him a little confidence.
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