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....

Life Donor

Madhurantakam Rajaram  (Translated by B. Syamala Rao from the Original in Telugu)

(A short story)


Translated by B. SYAMALA RAO

from the original in Telugu

It was ten O’ clock at night.

It was quite warm inside the room, though cold winds were blowing outside. The room was like a small ocean with the glimmering rays scattered from the small electric bulb covered with the blue paper, in between the white walls and upon the black stones. A cotton-taped cot beside the wall. A white cotton bed on the cot. Niraja with dishevelled curls and heavy eyelids, lost in a chain of thoughts, was sinking into the lap of the Goddess of sleep.

Niraja looked like a picture made of turmeric powder. It would be more fitting to compare her to the lotus flower plucked along with its stem. Lassitude is quite apparent in her face.

It is true that Niraja was tired, having attended to her professional duties right from eight O’ clock in the morning till the evening. But her weariness adds lustre to her beauty. No exaggeration about it. Kalidasa inscribed long “what does not constitute an ornament for those that are naturally beautiful!”

It was not even two months since Niraja joined the profession. Her old mother placing meals before her daughter that comes home quite exhausted, would remark “you seem to be getting weaker, Niraja!” of course, ‘Duty’ tells upon one’s health.

Niraja was astonished. It no doubt springs up a surprise if a dream becomes a reality. More so a reverie. She lived only in that daydream all through these ten years. She was afraid that the dream might get blurred at any time. Nectar is for goddesses. That she–of the type of Rahu–should yearn for that nectar, would be all in vain, she thought sleeping quite in thoughts, dreaming in that sleep and imagining that her daypream got withered–she used to shudder in her heart of hearts, imagining that she was sinking down into the deep depths of the under-worlds, from Heaven. But the expected ambrosial vessel had not become a mirage for Niraja. Why did it not happen so? Was it due to her grand-father’s self-confidence? Was it because of the sanctity of her previous births? Or was it the grace of God? Niraja does not know the reason. Some invisible hands gave her shelter. They were of perfect succour and led her to the final goal.

Niraja grieved much that no body was there to look after her in the early days after her grandfather’s death. Gradually she regained her faith that God alone is the refuge for those that are helpless. Niraja knew it for certain that in no other case this last word has been disproved and felt that it would be the same with her too.

The wall-clock in the neighbour’s house struck suddenly. It was getting 10-30. The whispers of people returning from the picture houses were softly touching the ears of Niraja. Record music silently penetrating through their din was heard from a marriage function, celebrated at a distance. It was an old song. Still it was very sweet. In the song, a beloved was questioning herself “who am I, who am I”. Age is bad. It would search for those who would enable us to know that we are such and such and somebody. Perhaps such a doubt might arise in that search. This novel idea dawned on her mental horizon like an impulse from a flower garden. As this idea struck her like the sprouts of a neem stem, might not an inauguration for such a search form in her mind, Niraja felt shy in that mental state of drowsiness in between her awakening and sleep. A tiny smile danced on her lips and brightened her face with a red glow.

Niraja liked to think that this would not look decent. But she could not help it. How could she think that her idea–which was quite sweet like kheer served in a silver vessel, or like milk-cake on the lips–was not nice?


Niraja was startled to hear three knocks at the door and opened her eyes.

“Who are you? What do you want?” The old woman questioned.

“Is the doctor inside? Amma! There is an urgent case. His condition is very dangerous. It is critical.”….An old man replied with a shivering voice.

“The doctor is not doing independent practice here. Moreover, she is sleeping. Go and find out some other person.”

“Oh! don’t disappoint us, Madam. No other doctor is to be found in the vicinity. Unless some quick medical aid is given, the boy has no chance of recovering.”

“What if! Why do you press me still? I told you she is not doing independent practice…” As steps were heard behind, the old woman stopped talking with him and looked . Holding the medical bag in her hands, Niraja was putting on her shoes.

Niraja and the old man were going through narrow lanes and streets in great anxiety and proceeded a furlong or two.

A small tiled house. The patient lay unconscious on a mat in the room facing the street. It was so small a room that one could not lie down across it. If one lies down straight only a little space will be left between the person and the door. The walls were constructed with the usual bricks. The pavement was plastered upon pebbles. Credit goes to the architect for having constructed such a nice house–that does not permit much breeze and light inside–fit for the dwellers on this earth. The wall looks like a specimen arena of a battle-field with innumerable blood marks smeared over them. Mildew formed over the roof like a canopy cloth. Black flies proclaimed their skill and knowledge, having started a musical concert in that room–decked with all these facilities. Some dailies lay scattered round the mat. In one corner was a heap of books. In another corner was an old steel trunk. The very next moment after she had entered the room, Niraja who had taken her diploma in medicine could realise that she had landed in the enemy kingdom.

The patient was not so young as she was informed by the old man. Of course, he was still in his youth. But that youth does not seem to be in the early stages. His grown beard, his dishevelled hair, a heap of bones–this heart-rending scene of the crumbled patient–appeared like a boat–splashed by the waves, smashed by the winds and tossed up and down by the whirlpools–that was brought to the shore in a completely withered condition. The death-like sea on one side and mother earth on the other side and the boat in between them. Niraja stood dumbfounded before the patient for a while, to treat the first case that she had to tackle independently.

The old man went on. “Look here, Amma! You must immediately attend to the patient by giving either some medicine or injection. I was not at home for the last two days. Were I here, I would not have allowed matters to precipitate so far. Days are such that sin comes ahead of virtue. I have rented out this room in spite of the protestations of my family. He said he would stay here for four months and look out for some other portion. He should have done so. But meanwhile he fell a victim to this ailment. He said he was taking medicine in the hospital. I thought he would be all right. But one evening scarcely had I opened the door, when I found him lying on the floor unconscious. It is doubtful whether they would admit him in the hospital at this stage. You do what all you can, Madam! I shall have to meet out my pocket the cost of the medicines somehow. What else am I to do! Whatever comes to us we have to bear all these difficulties having given our house for rent. How can we avoid it?

Niraja felt disgusted with the discourse of the old man. The world does not much care whatever happens to an individual whether he lives or dies. The world will be immersed in auditing the profit and loss it would reap, on a account of his birth and death. One may question whether the doctors are not human. They too are human. Some other person is likely to bring up some other argument that the doctors are more particular about extracting fees than curing the patients. Niraja has no high ambition of constructing mansions by collecting fees. But it is a fact that a small desire arose in her heart of hearts. It would be a good beginning for her profession, if she could make this patient all right with her own hands.

She has finished examining the patient. Niraja could diagnose the disease even from the external symptoms. Dried lips, scorched tongue, heavy breathing–all these are symptoms of a typhoid fever that was sucking out his blood. There is one sure antidote like the never failing Ramastramfor this disease. But there is a restriction on its use. It should not be used except when the disease reaches the crisis.

Niraja sought the support of God. Getting the medicine into the syringe, she enquired “Has he not any relations or acquaintances here?”

The old man pursed up his lips. “Who is there for him? Not only here, but even in the whole world, he has none, I fear. In case he had, would he not receive at least letters from them? He said, he was working as an agent for some Clock Company formerly. His health, it seems, was upset, due to too much travelling. The doctors advised him to take rest. He has lodged here to take rest. Even here, he did not waste his time. He had tried one or two jobs, but discontinued. He used to speak quite politely, whenever I met him. He is no doubt a nice person. But of what use? If his wisdom qualifies one to reign over lands, fate may lead him to look after the donkeys.”

With the help of the old man, Niraja made him lie down on the cot in the proper posture and folding up his sleeve, injected the needle in the upper part of his elbow. “There may be some improvement after fifteen minutes. We can try still further in case of betterment. Otherwise we have to give up all hope. Meanwhile it is better if you can get a glass of hot milk. The reason for the worsening of the disease is not merely the lack of medicine but also the want of proper nutritive food…”

“Milk! How can we get it? That too in this dead of night….”

Niraja got irritated. “What! you should not forget the fact that you are dealing with the life of a human being. Please go and find out. It is not difficult to get milk in such a big city. Enquire in some tea-stall…..”

The old man placed a reclining chair for Niraja in the verandah andwent out into the street with a vessel. Niraja sat in the chair gazing at the dim darkness of the interior of the house. The old man himself seemed to be somewhat better more humane. All the others in the house were soundly sleeping with deep snores. A small lamp was lighted in the patient’s room. Otherwise darkness should have danced there also. That lamp too would not burn long. Its life also also was flickering. Niraja sighed. People are showing such carelessness where it ought not to be shown. Life is valued even worse than straw in some places–life, which can neither be bought, with money nor created with intellect. In a country where people are sometimes prepared to sacrifice their lives for the sake of one single life, some unfortunate people are withering away like insects with no one to feel sorry or shed tears for them.

Niraja crumbled down in the chair, being unable to sit erect. She was able to hear perfectly the tik tik of the watch in that dead silence. Minutes rolled on slowly. The prescribed time of fifteen minutes was rapidly slipping away.

As she thought that the murmur of the patient was being heard from the room all of a sudden, she stood up startled and gazed into the room. Yes! There was some motion in the patient. His lips were moving like dried leaves in the wind.

Niraja thought that it would be better to place a pillow under his head to facilitate his breathing freely. There was no other article to serve the purpose of a pillow, except books. She picked up a big volume from the heap of books. She would place the book as a pillow, after removing the dust on it. But while she was so doing, some paper strips slipped down from the book, which filled her with astonishment. She took all the papers in her hand one after another and closely examined them in the light of the lamp. She stood rooted to the spot like a statue.

They were not mere strips of paper. Money order receipts! Her own signature was seen legibly on every receipt above the printed column of the signature of the payee.

It is impossible to describe her astonishment in words.

Niraja’s mind lost its bearings in her boundless surprise and became silent, like one whose eyes become blind on seeing the light of the sun.

Niraja was not aware how long she stood like that. She could not come to her original state of mind till she heard the words of the old man “Doctor, I have brought the milk.”

Taking the glass of milk from the old man, Niraja stood near the patient. The old man was surprised to find Niraja pouring milk between the lips of the patient with a spoon. The scene did not appear like that of a doctor treating a patient, but that of a close associate looking after the comforts of a beloved friend or relation.

After ten minutes the old man himself broke the silence. “It is getting midnight, Madam! I shall drop you at your house…..”

“Why! I shall stay here alone,” said Niraja. The reply that came out so unexpectedly, sounded to the old man as if she was questioning as to what right he had to order her to get along”–his surprise was doubled.

Past reminiscences were moving like scenes in a drama on Niraja’s mental horizon.

Her parents passed away leaving her to the winds. She was looked after by her grandfather, by God’s grace. She grew up under his shadow. She could forget the loss of her parents in that shade.

The world is a flower garden–one can play, sing and construct a doll’s house and cook food–with these childish fancies, her younger days passed away like sweet dreams.

Her grandfather admitted her in the high school. She used to have a special place among so many hundreds of boys and girls. All the teachers thought that she would have a bright future. She thought in those days that obtaining good marks in examinations alone will prove the royal road to a bright future. Life shone before her quite attractive and delightful.

But those veils of ignorance began to fade away gradually. As circumstances began to manifest themselves in their stark reality, a dread of life began to burn in her. Her grandfather was like a yellow leaf ready to drop down at any moment. He had no property except name and fame. His dwelling was in a cottage, a kuteerat the end of the town. Even that kuteerwas not his own. He did not live for the sake of his family. He lived for the society. He followed in the footsteps of noble men who dedicated their lives to the cause of social reform. He participated in various social reform movements, being in the forefront in those days, when people considered widow marriages, non-observance of untouchability, cosmopolitan dinners as great atrocities. He stuck steadily to his ideals, even though he was attacked by the public and the world passed strictures against him.

Her grandfather was a teacher in a Government school. For sometime he worked as a headmaster also. He used to receive some amount or other in the form of salary every month. But he used to spend one fourth of his salary on poor students for their school fees and their books. There were some months during which he would come home with empty pockets even on the pay-day. Her grandmother too was not worldly-wise. She would closely follow in the footsteps of the grandfather. She did not care to find fault with him for whatever he had done. Her grandfather knew something of medicine. He was a sort of a doctor without a diploma of a board. He had some knowledge of medicine by inheritance. He held the belief that education is not fruitful when we expect reward for work. Some had confidence in that type of medical treatment. Her grandfather would not object to visit the patients at midnight or late in the night. He used to say that it is not enough if we preach that every human being has a right to live, but he must have some support also. Every man should have at least a bellyful of food, clothes for the body and medicine for disease unless society assures these minimum necessities at least, the so called progress in civilisation over the past so many centuries, would be a farce, he used to argue. Whenever guests visited their house, he would show her and tell them: “Look here, Sirs, the girl has not yet completed fourteen years. She is already in the fifth form. I shall send her up for medicine. I am very fond of female education. But on one condition. They should either teach lessons to students or treat the patients.”

Neither she nor her grandfather knew then that for educating a person, the mere intention to educate is not sufficient but it requires several other things.

In his old age her grandfather had no other resources except twenty-five rupees a month by way of pension. With that income, he could have spent the remaining part of his life quietly. But, for educating her, he had to commence earning. Even though he had not enough strength in his body, he used to give tuitions to ten students. With the hope of that additional income only, he could send her for further studies to the college.

It was only from then that the battle had started between himself and goddess Misfortune.

Shortly after she had joined the college, she received a thunderbolt-like news from home. Her grandfather could not stir from his bed. His legs would not move. The name of that disease–that keeps the person like a living corpse on the bed-is paralysis.

When she had gone home during vacation, she sat near her grandfather and wept over his condition. She said she would discontinue her studies and seek a job. But her grandfather was strongly opposed to it. “Look here, Niraja! I have become successful in whatever I have undertaken in my life. My last wish was to educate you. I must find out whether I become triumphant or not in this attempt. You must study at least for my sake. You can’t say ‘no’ to it,” her grandfather said.

He could only affirm his resolution but did not have any plan as to how he could educate her. However, she could not help going to the college again, owing to her grandfather’s insistence. As usual she used to receive money. The real secret could not be known till she went home after finishing her Inter examinations. The house seemed to be a complete blank. The old chairs and bureaus had disappeared. The old vessels were found missing. Even the ear-rings of her grandmother were not to be seen.

Hence she thought that the desire of her grandfather to educate her must have sunk down deep into him.

But it seems a great sport for fate to play with human beings. It sometimes does certain funny things. She stood college-first in Inter. It seemed that she would not merely get a seat in the medical college but also a scholarship by virtue of her marks.

Now the problem of what to do could not stand against her grandfather’s self-confidence. With closed eyes and tightened fist and with firm determination he said “I am quite confident, Niraja! your education would not be stopped in the middle. I am sure we will obtain God’s support. You go and join in the college.”

That was the zenith of the fight that continued between her and the goddess of Misfortune.

Twomonths after she joined the medical college, her-grandfather wrote a letter to her. She still remembers every sentence in that letter packed with hopes and despairs like the warp and the woof. The last letter–that he wrote lying on the cot, unable to sit, with shivering fingers–made its appearance on her forehead.

Her grandfather writes to Miss Niraja with all blessings–

Ammayi! My health is breaking down day by day. I am standing on the brink between earth and heaven. At this moment there are two chains that are pulling me towards the earth. One is your grandmother and the other is yourself. I am not much worried about your grandmother. You are there for her. But you have nobody. You are far far away from your destination. All the while I hoped that you would reach the goal. But in the last act of my life, that hope also is gradually fading. The days that would not pass quickly, sleepless nights, endless thoughts, doubts and fears–all these are spoiling my mental peace. Sometimes I feel that this paralysis also is a blessing in disguise. In the absence of this, I could not have been aware of my helplessness. I could not have visualised the truth that I was after all an insignificant being.

I have recently addressed letters to some of my friends and acquaintances. I did not refer to my past help to them. I did not desire any reward for my services. I bowed down and begged them with folded hands. There were no replies to my letters. My prayer had become only a cry in the wilderness. What am I to do! All these days I lived under a delusion. Now I confess my inability to do so any longer.

I should have finished and posted this letter with these words, but, I know not what wonder is it that from the time you had started on your career, beams of hope are seen in the worst darkness. I shall narrate a wonderful incident that has recently taken place, and close this letter.

Ten days a young man of twenty-five years came searching for me. He informed me that he was a newspaper correspondent. He felt very sorry over my situation. If I agreed, he said, he would write an essay on me and publish it in the papers. I got irritated. My first reaction was laughter. But the very next moment, I grew irritated again. I replied to him “I liked such an essay being published and the papers in which the essay would be printed would aid them to make packets and that even after my death it would bring peace to my soul.”

`Oh! It looked as if there would not be a single drop of blood in his body even if it were hit by a sword.

He got depressed and went away with a bent head. I did not give much importance to his entrance or exit. But later a letter came from him.

It looks rather amazing. In this vast Andhra land, it seems, there is an institute somewhere with the name of ‘Manava Seva Samithi (Society for the service of mankind). One of its aims is to provide financial help for old people like me who have rendered some service or other to the society. He mentioned in that letter that the society had consented to give me thirty rupees every month.

I could not believe my own eyes. It is not an event worthy of being believed. But this was unsought for help. There would be no sorrow in case it is not obtained but there would be pleasure, if it is got. Then I wrote a reply to that person to make arrangements to send that amount to your address, if that promise of help was real.

“The person that is struggling in water hopes to revive with the help of any small stick. Hope is natural for all human beings. Let us also wait and see. Hope to receive a reply surely.”

That is her grandfather’s letter.

As per his letter, in less than two weeks, she received the first M. O. from the Secretary of the Human Service Association. Ever afterwards, she continued to receive money orders regularly every month without any break.

She wrote a reply intimating the death of her grandfather in due course. But money orders continued to be received. They were stopped only after two months, after she had completed the course.

But some doubts regarding that Human Service Association lingered in her mind. The money orders that she was receiving every month, were not remitted from the same place. They used to come from the four corners of the country–one month from Nellore, another month from Hyderabad and still another month from Bangalore. She could not understand the underlying motive, in this continuous tour, of the office of the Association, round the country. The greater wonder was that there was not to be seen even the slightest difference in the writing on the money order coupons. She made enquiries in several ways with a curiosity to understand this deep secret. But she did not come across even a single individual that was in the know of this human service Association.

“Where am I?” That question was not heard clearly, it was so weak as if it was coming out from the bottom of the well.

“You are here, Sir…..” Niraja replied softly.

The patient gazed at Niraja with close attention. Niraja was like a marble statue carved by the expert hands of a sculptor. Niraja appeared before him like the incarnation of sweetness of life to that helpless person who had just escaped from the clutches of death. Meanwhile he had a fancy. He did not revive perhaps! Perhaps some Aswani Diety was treating him after he reached Heaven.

He closed his eyes once and opened them again. He turned his eyes in both the directions and with the help of the electric lamp lit in the room, and the statue of Lord Buddha appearing on the table with a face of ineffable serenity and the movement on Niraja’s eyelids, he could decide that he was still in this world of human beings.

Tears of thoughtful gratitude swelled and bedewed the eye of Niraja. The bony hands that lay on his chest slowly moved up and got folded together.

Approaching him and dissuading him from that attempt Niraja said, “You shouldn’t embarrass me by doing such things. There is not so much of greatness in me that deserves such a salutation from you.”

“There is nothing wrong in my saluting a person that has given me life. I do not know how I could come over here from that dirty dungeon. You are still standing. Be seated on the chair….”

“I shall no doubt sit; but you must listen to what I say.” He laughed. “What do you say! Whatever you say I will hear. But it does not look nice if you do not enable me to know of you…..”

Niraja too laughed. “We shall discuss the aspects of our goodness or otherwise; at leisure. This is not the time for you to speak. You must now take a lot of rest….”

Looking at the roof; but not towards Niraja; he began to speak, “You have awakened me from long rest. But you now suggest to me to take rest. I have to narrate so many incidents to you. This is the second time for me to be protected thus. You may be astonished to hear it. I am so unfortunate a person that I should have died even before I was born on this earth…..”

“Then; you sum up the story in a brief synopsis.” So saying Niraja drew her chair nearer to the cot.

“That crime is called a kind of murder. Some marriage-like function was celebrated for my mother in her younger days. Within two years after the marriage, she became a widow. In that prison like house, as she was labouring hard for them, ten years elapsed. It was only then she became pregnant.” He stopped there for a while and looked at Niraja. “Carryon,” said Niraja.

“Because you can understand well, I am not stressing much on the bearings. You can imagine how much she must have wept, prostrating herself at the feet of the person that had won her confidence. He too thought of protecting her from this danger. It was well known that Pantuluwas a great doctor. He went and begged him. For what purpose you think? For the removal of the pregnancy.

“The epithet of Incarnation of God applies only to a few persons in this world. Pantuluwas of that type. He looked at him furiously for having come to him with such a request. He infused in him reverence for the life of the child that was to be born. He exhorted him, that as he was born a man, he should live as a man.

“With the chit that he gave to his friend, recommending him for a job, and with the money given by him for their expenses, my father and mother went a long way off and married. Three months after their marriage, I was born.

“Had my father not approached Pantulu, one or two lives must have been ruined wholly. He had saved a child in the embryo. He had showered happiness on the life of a woman that should have otherwise become a prey to a miserable plight. My mother used to recollect him every day when she lighted the lamp in the dusk. Parthasaradhi was his name. To express her reverence and gratitude to him, I was named after him by my mother.”

Her grandfather appeared before her mental vision with an umbrella in his hand, a long coat, a white turban, and with smiling grey moustaches.

“Now you have rescued me a second time like this…..”

Niraja interrupted him. “There is nothing great in what I have done for you. I am a doctor. You have come to me as a patient. I could cure your disease. That is my professional duty.”

Niraja rose from the chair and slowly went out.

After one week, Saradhi woke up early at five O’clock one day and enjoyed a stroll on the terrace upstairs, and came down-stairs. Niraja sat in the room and was reading a magazine.

Niraja enquired of Saradhi, when she saw him. “So you have already started morning strolls!”

He entered the room and sitting in the chair, said, “I believe that this ‘A’ class political prisoner has that much of liberty.”

“Oh! you speak so wittily! I did never think of you so much then!”

Niraja was immersed again in reading.

Saradhi adjusted his tone as if to speak. He looked down for a while. Then he raised his head.

“You seem to be disposed to tell me something….” Niraja herself started the conversation.

“There is nothing, of course. It does not strike me as to how I should convey my thanks to you for your help. I cannot forget your help for my life to come. But I cannot be a guest for long taking advantage of your goodness. I have been trying to take leave of you since a couple of days…..”

Hiding her face behind the magazine, Niraja said “So you would like to go away without paying the bill!”

Saradhi felt much. “I am not such a traitor. I am not I penniless. But I am confident of earning. I can clear off your debt very soon…..”

Throwing the magazine from her hands on the table, “If you are so particular of going away, take this bill also along with you…..” so saying she took out an envelope from the drawer and handed it over to him.

Saradhi opened the cover and took out the paper. There were no numbers on the paper. There were only letters….only one sentence. And under it her signature.

“What I desire is ‘you’–yours sincerely, Niraja”

Saradhi read it twice over. He looked at Niraja. Again at the paper! Once again at Niraja! Saradhi attained divinity.

“Niraja! Are you the same?” he questioned her casually.

“Yes, Sir! Saradhi! I am your Niraja–” tears of gratitude shone in Niraja’s eyes.

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