Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Subbi

Padma Raju

BY PADMA RAJU, M.Sc.

(Rendered from the original story in Telugu)

After a pleasant tour in the summer vacation with some of his friends, Jagannadharao came home for only a week’s stay before having to go to college. He was the only son of his old parents, and it was not just his sense of duty that brought him home but also his innate desire to be in his native village for however short a time, for he knew he was always happy with his father and mother.

A youth in the early, inconsolable twenties, he had been experiencing a strange malady, and this malady gripped him rather firmly. The one thing that worried him most was that, while many of his class fellows were married, had wives, and some had children too, and had houses of fathers-in-law as a vacation resort, with all the consequent excitement, and if nothing else, the excitement of having plenty to eat and nothing to do, his own father most disconcertingly turned away every match that came his way, however beautiful the girl and however tempting the dowry. One day he actually approached his father, with a pretence purely of being disgusted with this uncouth treatment meted out to his prospectiye fathers-in-law, and said, "Father, why not accept some match or other? Every body seems to think we are waiting for a bigger dowry."

His father smiled good-humouredly, as if accepting that the conjecture was not far wrong, puffed away the seriousness of the situation with his cigar-smoke, and asked, "Where is the hurry?"

Then twitching his eye-brows into a more serious pose, he took another puff at the cigar, and added, "We can wait till your education is finished. Can’t We?"

Jagannadharao could not proceed any further without letting out his own secret anxiety to get married, and he was by no means inclined to do this. So he said, "You know best, father," and left it there–though he had no doubt at all that in this matter it was he himself who knew best.

The mere sight of a woman was enough to disturb him. He became awkwardly self-conscious whenever he met one. Unending was his toilet every day. When he dressed to go out, he would adjust the folds of his dhoti a thousand times, would take care to raise the collar of his shirt, would look into his face in the mirror to make sure which expression of the lips would lend an air of seriousness to his person. He would walk uneasily in the street, fearing that others might deem his gait inartistic. He never doubted that every girl was scanning him with her eyes from head to foot, was observing the colour of his shirt, and his manner of wearing the dhoti……

And now there was Subbi–who seemed always to look at him with devouring eyes.

He knew Subbi from her very childhood. She was an orphan girl brought up on the verandah of his house. He remembered her mother, a servant of his household, who died when this girl was barely three years old. Subbi herself had been a very faithful servant of the household for sometime now, and nothing about her had hitherto struck him as noticeable or peculiar. But now there was a difference. Subbi had grown up! And he was actually attracted by her! He would gaze perturbed at her beautiful limbs that seemed to swell out of her insufficient rags. He knew she was taking notice of him. Of course she did not smile or screw up her left eye mischievously as he read of more well-bred girls doing. But he was sure of this, that she looked up to him with profound respect and admiration. She was incapable of showing anything more than admiration in her eye–young, foolish and untrained in such situations as she was.

One evening, his father had gone to some neighbouring village on his business, and his mother was busy in the kitchen. Subbi was all alone in a secluded corner of the house with a heap of rice before her, picking out small stones. Jagannadha rao made bold and went near her. She looked up at him and then timidly let down her eyes. He felt encouraged and touched her on her bare shoulder. Both of them experienced a sudden thrill course through their bodies. At that moment he fancied that he heard some noise outside and hurriedly came out. But as he found nobody there, he mustered courage and went in again.

As for Subbi, nobody had touched her on her bare shoulder so tenderly and the sensation was by no means unpleasant……..She yielded.

Soon the vacation came to a close and Jagannadharao returned to his college.

Subbi was not intelligent enough to look deeper than into the immediate future. She knew only two things: firstly, that she should keep secret as long as she could the fact of her having conceived; and secondly, that she should attend to her daily duties despite the strain it meant to her in her condition.

But she could not conceal the fact of her being pregnant. She did not know what to do with the increasing evidence which her body put forth. This became unmanageable and everybody could see clearly what the matter with her was.

Ratthamma, Jagannatharao’s mother, called her one day to her room and asked her, with more than motherly tenderness, "Tell me who it is that seduced you, you foolish girl. Tell me his name. We shall force him to make amends for what he has done to you."

By now, Subbi understood another thing, that she should only weep without muttering a single word when anybody was so kind as to question her regarding this affair!

The news soon spread like smoke, but nobody connected Jagannadharao’s name with Subbi’s affair. He had been in the village only for a week, and nobody even remembered that he had been there this vacation.

When Subbi began to weep, Ratthamma’s tender feelings were touched and she patted the unfortunate girl, and asked her not to weep, and almost assured her that she need fear nothing. The good old lady approached her husband and told him all about poor Subbi. Venkayya was alarmed at this information and hurriedly said, "Send the wretch away from the house and be done with it. The jade! She ought to have known better."

Ratthamma pleaded, "You see that she is an innocent, poor little thing. And what is the use of driving her out? She would only get more lost. Some vagabond has duped her and she has to suffer all alone, poor thing."

Ratthamma had brought up Subbi from the days when she was a tiny tot, and had developed an affection for Subbi’s simple innocence. But Venkayya was incapable of making any allowances, especially in matters like these. He got up from his cot a little irritated, not with Ratthamma but with the situation itself.

"Drive her out," he repeated. "She ought to have thought twice before she allowed herself to be duped. How can she expect us now to keep her in the house as usual?"

Ratthamma got enraged against the male species, and the signs of irritation were prominently in her eyes. She raised her voice suddenly and said defiantly, "What can men understand about the difficulties of women? The fellow who spoilt her walks about the streets like a prince, and this poor wretch has to put up with it all. God himself is partial to men. I cannot ask her to go away. You can neck her out yourself if you are so particular."

She grew very excited, and Venkayya was utterly disarmed. He said indecisively, "What can we do then? She has brought it down upon herself."

"Yes, but where is the harm if we keep her in the house? She is no relative of ours, and people cannot possibly find fault with us. It is a bit of generosity that we are showing, and generosity never goes without its reward. She has grown up under this roof and therefore let her continue to be here."

Venkayya did not say anything just then but walked out, frowning as if the whole business was muddled by the wife and rendered too difficult for him. Ratthamma, of course, took it for granted that her husband’s permission was as good as given for Subbi to continue to serve in the household.

So Subbi continued to live with them, and she got on quite well indeed, with the unfailing attention of Ratthamma on the one side compensating for the utter disgust of Venkayya on the other. Though Venkayya could not express himself strongly, he frequently lost his temper over trifles. This only resulted in Ratthamma sticking to her resolution more strongly and in her taking even greater care of Subbi as if to shield the girl from the growing wrath of her husband. In short, Ratthamma treated Subbi as if she were a daughter come from the husband’s home to the mother’s for the confinement.

Ratthamma had faint recollections of all that preceded the birth of her one child, Jagannadharao. It was a unique experience for every woman. There would be a strong desire to eat special dishes, but nothing finally would please the palate. There would be moments when the whole world would seem loaded with despair. An extreme tenderness of spirit would be induced even in the wildest-tempered woman. Men too would regard a pregnant woman with more than ordinary tenderness. She would be conspicuous, and would herself quite uncoqsciously assume an air of self-importance above all the people in the household.

Though Subbi asked for nothing, Ratthamma cooked for her a variety of puddings; and whether Subbi liked them or not, Ratthamma derived the utmost satisfaction that she was performing the sacred duties of a mother towards this fallen woman.

In course of time Subbi gave birth to a male child. The child was very good-looking and plump. Ratthamma’s heart over-flowed with pleasure when she saw the child, and she was tempted to take the child immediately in her arms, though she did not do so in fact. For twenty years now the rafters of this house had not heard the first shrill cry announcing the arrival of a new member of the species, and it did not matter to Ratthamma whose child it was that now renewed the cry. In fact, she did not pause to think that the child was an illegitimate one, the fruit of an inexcusable breach of good conduct on the part of Subbi.

Ratthamma tried to make Subbi confess at least at this stage who the father of this buxom baby was. But Subbi repeated the same old trick of weeping without a word.

One day Venkayya called his wife aside and said, "What has happened has happened. I think at least now we can send her a way. The difficult time is over and she can take care of herself now."

"That is exactly why we need not," replied his wife. "We allowed her to give birth to the child under our roof. And now, why should we send her away? She will not repeat the mistake, now that she knows what she has to put up with."

The child grew up in a shabby cradle in the verandah and all his lullabies were from the crows in the day-time and the rats at night. The child was however perfectly satisfied with his surroundings and scarcely cried except when hungry.

It was more than a surprise to Jagannadharao to find a baby of three months in the verandah when he came home for the next summer vacation. He approached his mother and asked her in a doubtful voice, "Whose child is it, mother?"

"Our Subbi’s," replied his mother.

For the first time in his life, Jagannadharao realised that women, as a result of certain experiences, gave birth to children!

"You know she is foolish," Ratthammma went on, slicing the potato, "and some villain has done this mischief to her. And poor woman, she conceived. Father wanted to drive her out of the house, but I persisted in helping her. And she gave birth to this bright little thing in our own house."

She then began to generalise about the heartlessness of men and about the sympathy and generosity that women alone were capable of. But Jagannadharao understood not a word of it. The one fact that Subbi had become the mother of a child stood like a nightmare before him.

The same evening, Ratthamma was going to the well, carrying a brass vessel, and she had to cross the verandah. She saw two figures faintly, a little distance away, in the courtyard, and heard something like a murmur and a sob. She paused a little and listened attentively.

Don’t weep. Here, take this rupee and buy something for the child. Why do you weep? I know it is my child. I will help you. Don’t be afraid. You see, I…..

She could easily recognise the voice of her son. And the two figures were Jagannadharao and Subbi! Involuntarily she dropped the vessel to the ground. At the clink of the vessel, Jagannadharao and Subbi separated and disappeared.

Oh, what was this that had happened? She had never thought of this possibility! Her son! Her own dear son! How could he have done such a horrid thing? She had paid too dearly for bringing up a street-wench in her house. The rogue! These wretches had no gratitude. It was Subbi that had seduced her son! She had all the while tended a venomous snake with her own hands. She never thought her own kindness would ultimately bring about this danger to her son. She once thought Subbi was foolish. But now she knew better! Subbi must have always known those vile tricks with which to dupe innocent young fellows like her son! What a fine pretence the jade kept up all the while! What horrid things these low-born women were capable of!

She ran to her husband’s room and broke out into a loud wail, as if the very foundations of the earth had been shaken. "Everything is finished" You must come at once! All is lost! All is lost!

Venkayya came out, and Ratthamma told him what she had overheard.

Venkayya lost his balance of mind; he could not think sanely–but that was only for a moment.

He called for his son and for Subbi, but he could not extract anything at all from either of them, in spite of his assumed seriousness. Subbi continued to weep silently, and Jagannadharao kept silent with a frown on his forehead.

Venkayya then called his son into his room, made him sit down beside him, and cajolingly begged of him to reveal the truth. For a long time Jagannadharao denied all knowledge of the affair, but when his father tenderly persisted and assured him that he need not fear any evil consequences, he nodded his head and accepted his role in the drama under review.

Ratthamma held her hands tightly against her temples. She felt disgusted with herself for the unbounded kindness she had shown Subbi while Subbi was pregnant. She had been rightly fooled. This wench knew everything, but kept quiet; and she was misled about Subbi’s real nature. Subbi had successfully played upon the innocence of her son. The wretch!

"Get out of this house," she roared. "Get out of my sight. We did not know that you were such a vile creature."

On the other hand, Venkayya was now sure that there could not be a more foolish creature than Subbi. The really clever ones, among whom his wife was classing Subbi, the street type, knew only too well how to deal with such a situation without letting it come to such a pass as having to give birth to an illegitimate child.

"Let her stay now, the poor girl," he said, hesitatingly, "and we will think out afterwards what to do with her."

When he knew it was his own son that was responsible for the birth of this child, he was himself seized with a sense of moral responsibility, and could not see the victim driven out without home or prospect.

But Ratthamma was stubborn. She kept on saying, "No, she cannot remain any longer in my house, after what she has brought down upon us."

"She was only foolish, you know," pleaded Venkayya. "Let her stay for the night. We will send her away tomorrow. Where can she go in this darkness now?"

He remembered the days of his own youth. Though nothing of this sort had befallen him, he knew that was merely luck, and he realised that nobody need be blamed in matters like this. People lost all foresight in the blinding instinct of the moment. His son was just as human as himself or as any other person that walked this globe. And Subbi was human too, and not so wily as his wife now imagined her to be.

But Ratthamma broke into a fury. "You can build a palace for her if you like, but I cannot go on living under this roof with her. Either she or I must leave this house immediately. You can keep her if you are so particular. My word has never prevailed in this household, and what more can I expect now when both father and son are against me?"

She was almost weeping, and Venkayya was again disarmed. He did not want to raise a family feud on account of a stupid little creature like Subbi, and so he said at last, addressing Subbi, "Go away to your grandmother’s place." And he took out some money from his cash box, and added, "Here, take these twenty rupees with you."

He threw two ten-rupee notes in her direction, as if in disgust; but Ratthamma snatched them away, saying, "Why these twenty rupees? She has already enjoyed much more than she deserves at our expense. We need not give her anything now."

Poor Subbi had to leave the house, in that dark, chill night, with her child.

Venkayya did not sleep well that night. He kept thinking of poor Subbi and her ill-clothed baby. Next day he enquired about Subbi’s whereabouts, and went personally to a neighbouring village where she was reported to be, and gave her–not just twenty rupees but a great deal more. And when Subbi started weeping, he not only assured her that he would look after Subbi’s child as the child grew up, but even promised to take Subbi into service as soon as he could pacify the good old lady at home!

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