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....

A Pond in the Sand

Madhuranthakam Rajaram (Translated from Telugu by K. S. Shanmugh Seshan)

A POND IN THE SAND
(Short-story)

MADHURANTHAKAM RAJARAM
Translated from Telugu by K. S. SHANMUGA SESHAN

Some people like to travel often. I too like travelling; but is it enough to possess the liking alone? Possibilities should also be there–and I lack only such possibilities. But who on earth is worried about my possibilities? A Postcard or an invitation comes to my house. I may not be having money at hand, casual leave won’t be here, or some one in the family would not be well–all these difficulties of mine will not serve as genuine causes for them. Whatever might be the conditions, some bus or train should be emboarded.

Recently, I was bound to make such a journey to attend an obsequies ceremony at my relatives place.

About the treatment that I may get if I attend–you should not ask and I too should not tell; but somehow I must go.

The train which should reach the Central Station exactly by daybreak was late by two hours that day. I got down from the train at eight O’clock. I never knew the fact before I got down in the central, that Madras has not seen either sunrise or sunset for four or five days. The sky was awfully dark. I waited for a while with the hope that the drizzling would stop. But soon, it turned to be a heavy downpour. To the vocal music of the rain, the zinc sheets of the roof over my head provided the instrumental. The buses on the road never ceased to run. But how to imagine them to be buses? They were reminding the submarines. To go and stand at the bus-stop, the rain should give way. There was utterly no sign of such a possibility. I got into a taxi and told ‘Rayapuram.’ The taxi moved.

In Madras, rain has many postures. It falls beautifully over mansions; fearfully over huts, threateningly over workshops and rhythmically in streets. Only Madras rain can have all those styles. On the way the taxi driver asked, “Tell me exactly Sir, is it Rayapuram or Royapettah?” I told “Rayapuram” after verifying that the slip of paper in my pocket agreed with my memory. Taxis in Madras are but the hunting dogs or a forest in identifying your destination! Yet the taxi in which I sat, could not escape some difficulty in spotting my destination. ‘North-Eastern Shrine Garden’ is a new name for the people of that locality. It was familiar there, only as the ‘obsequies garden.’ When we reached there, the watchman told, “People come here only for obsequies rites, but for all other purposes like food, etc., they arrange in that choultry.” He directed us to the choultry away in the third or fourth street. I reached the choultry in the same taxi. As their house could not provide enough space for all, my relatives have arranged in the choultry. Soon they all started in batches to the ‘obsequies garden’ telling that by the time they come , the food would be ready to be served. By the time they finished all the rites of the obsequies by invoking the name of the departed soul it was nearly two O’clock in the afternoon. By half past three, the food was served in the choultry. After finishing my meal, I went outside, as there was heavy noise in the choultry. When I returned, to my surprise, I found the choultry empty! I could see only the servant who was watching the building “Babu, all the relatives have gone. Only this bag is left here. Please see whether it is yours” he said.

I liked very much the courtesy of my relatives. They relieved me from the trouble of getting their permission and other formalities for my departure. I am now my own master, and the city of Madras anyhow is there. Very rarely it happens to me to go over to a city like this. Why should I make the return journey immediately? I can stay and go only tomorrow. Are there not pavements? Can’t I get a bench in a park? Are there no theatres? Even if the theatres are closed, won’t the railway stations be awake?

I had with me my bag and my thoughts. The damp weather with the mild sunshine was quite enjoyable. The people of Madras were making their vehicles, roads and shops to the maximum use as they could see sunlight after four or five days. I don’t knowprecisely how much I walked aimlessly. It was getting dark. My legs were also paining. I felt like taking rest somewhere. I stood on the pavement near a hotel looking at the old books spread for sale.

Exactly then an unexpected thing occurred.
“Look here! Mister, ……… Yourself.”

Is it myself? What? That too such a big gentleman! His hair was quite long and curly. In a dark long coat he appeared as the French Governor, Dupleix. From a black pipe in between his lips, he was leaving smoke in a gentle manner. Leaning on a nearby long car, he was standing in an august way. How can I believe that such a gentleman would call me? But when I could hear and see with my own ears and eyes how can I be without believing?

It issaid that men are equal. Except in the act of breathing. I don’t understand in what aspect all men are equal. He who stands at the car and calls me is also a man! But in that bushy crop, with dark eyebrows and with tomato-like body, he was just like a lion! I must have approached him only as a deer.

When I went near him, he questioned.

“You are a Telugu man, is it not?”

I nodded my head in an affirmative way. I might not have opened my mouth.

“Which district?”

I told him. 

“Your place is Chintalapalli. Am I Correct?”

I was really shocked. How could he knew me? It appeared that the pavement below my feet Was shaking.

“Your father’s name is Seshadri. Is it not?”

I really fell into a big sea of wonder and astonishment.

By the time I came to my senses, be patted me on my shoulder, “Don’t be astonished, boy. The reason for your wonder is, that you don’t know me. If you know the truth, you won’t feel any surprise. How I could tell your place and the name of your father, is a mystery to you. But if you know the way in which I could tell, you will feel nothing great in it.”

“Tell me, sir, I am anxious to know how you could know my village and how you could tell my, father’s name. I never saw you before!”

“O! You seems to be a clever guy! Will I tell you so easily?” he laughed.

I could not understand what he expected from me without revealing it immediately.

“If you want to know how I could know about you, there is only one way for it. But, first you should answer my questions.”

“Yes I will”...the words were about to slip from my mouth. But I could compare myself to him. I am not definite as to what sort of questions he would ask. Do I possess the necessary knowledge to answer them? O hell! will he do any mesmerism or hypnotism and extract secrets from my mouth! I felt that I was caught in a net.

He must have read my face. “Look, I don’t know your name. I don’t want to know also now. Instead of calling you by your name, I like to call you as Seahadri Junior. I will call you like that. My dear friend, Seshadri Junior! Don’t have any suspicion on me. I will do least harm to you. For the past quarter of a century, I have been keenly searching for one like you. Today, at last I could find you. But, for every good cause in this world, you know, how obstructions are inevitable. Now the time is about six-thirty. I have an important engagement at seven. I will finish it by eight. You should meet me then.”

He continued in his own world of thought striking the forehead with his fingertips. “See how people are. Their own affairs are great to them. I am looking to my own convenience and not at all thinking from your point of view. Did I ask why you have come here? Where you were going? Whether you will have time to meet me or not?...”

“I don’t have any important work, sir,” I said. I could not understand why I should meet him by myself. I do not know whether he was asking me or ordering me to meet him.

“Then you do one thing. You can go anywhere you like up to eight O’clock. After eight, get into a taxi. Show this slip. Within fifteen minutes you will be at my house. I hope you won’t disappoint me! You should come without fail. I will be waiting for you.”

I could not dare say ‘no’ to him.

By then, the driver came with some books and few big packets.

He sat in the car. “My dear young fellow! Don’t forget. I will be waiting for you. I heard his words from the moving car.

The broad streets in Madras, and the huge mass of population floating up and down furnished a feast to my eyes. It appears that the people here are well-trained to deceive the villagers who once in a way make visits. My thoughts were like the horses, let-off. The detective stories full of murders, plots and counterplots came to my mind. What I could not understand is, why he should wait for twenty-five long years exactly for a man like me? What for I am discovered by him today? The Arabian Nights’ story in which Aladin was caught by the magician appeared before my eyes. I thought a while ‘to go or not to go?’

Curiosity is a very bad thing. It will force a person to do even impossible things. If I don’t go to him as he prescribed, it will haunt me throughout my life as a big thrilling episode. Those who listen to this may also lament. “You must have gone. So much of cowardice?”

I came to a decision. I will go to him. Soon I felt that the wheel of time has stopped moving. During that period of one or one-and-half hour, I saw the slip of paper he gave, four or five times. “A. J. Devabandhu, Wisdom Villa, Mylapore, Madras”, was all that I could find on it. Nothing else I could see. There was no symptom of finding any clues from it.

Just as the footwear remains a few yards away from the temple, the taxi stopped on the road itself. I saw the name, engraved on a marble stone studded on one side of the gate. The Gurkha looked once into the slip I showed, but many times into my face and allowed me to enter in.

Inside the gate, with tall trees, flower plants and bushes, I could see a forest-like garden. There is a curved cement path in the midst of the garden. The place has more darkness than light and more silence than sound. Yet the traces of white walls through the branches of the trees, the rays of light from within, the music of the radio from behind the bushes, and above all, the laughing voices from within the compound made me believe that it was after an inhabited place.

Suddenly the cement path came to a dead end. I was standlng in front of the huge building.

Near the pillars which are meant more for beauty than to bear the weight of the roof of the verandah and opposite to the row of steps which descend to the floor like the waves of the sea, I stood. Close to me I saw a fountain.

In between the fountain and the house, on the green patch of grass, about seven or eight people, men and women, young and old were sitting–all in cane chairs. They were talking in a very gay manner, it appeared.

The person who first saw me was a middle-aged European lady. Among others were, a youth of twenty-five years, a boy of sixteen, two girls of marriageable age; and the rest were all children, about twelve or thirteen in age. More than indigenous, western features were strikingly visible in them. The middle-aged lady who sat in the centre of them, called “Jacob, Jacob” raising her voice. A dark-complexioned boy appeared in response, in the verandah, but suddenly disappeared into the house. Within minutes a bit light was put on, at the top of the house. A window in the first floor opened without any noise. Behind the iron bars of the window, I spotted the familiar face. “O! You have come! Come…..come up” he said waving his hand.

As Jacob showed the way, I went up. Not only the doors of the house, even his hands were thrown open to me. He received me with great courtesy. He lead me to a chair where I was seated. A tray containing apple slices was put before me, on the table. I was so overwhelmed at the formalities of my host that I have forgotten even to observe well the room where we sat. I noticed few shelves close to the walls containing, large number of books. Big paintings skillfully framed below the glasses were hung to the walls at prescribed distances. In the centre of the room, on the table I noticed a statue of Jesus and the Holy Cross. The slowly-burning scented sticks filled the room with sweet smell. Mr. A. J. Devabandhu who appeared to me as Count of Monte Christo, was sitting on the other side of the table in an easy chair. He stretched his hands to the of the easy chair, with half-closed eyes turned towards the roof of the room. He never uttered a word for many minutes.

I emptied the tray. He got up and poured the fruit juice in a cup for me. While sitting , he broke the silence.

“I was afraid, you may not come. Anyhow you came. I am very happy Seshadri Junior!”

“I am called at Rajasekharam” I said.

“Well, I call you like that. See Mr. Sekharam, you must answer directly to my questions. You must suppress all your anxiety to know why I require all these details till the end.”

“Yes. I will. You can ask.”

“My first question–the important one also–How is your Chintalapalli?”

If his intention was only to dump me in an ocean of suspense, anxiety and wonder, I was not prepared to become a toy in his hands. There may be differences between him and me. Let them be, what If? Each one has his own individuality. I collected enough courage and answered in a bold way.

“What is there for our village Chintalapalli? It is quite well. Except that the tamarind trees by which the village got its very name, are razed to the ground, Chintalapalli is all right. Some made them into coal and sold; and some others prepared bricks by burning the trees. Huts disappeared and pucca buildings have appeared in their places. Electric lights are provided in the new houses. Old houses are leading their lives without even the proper oil-lamps. Till recently the number-one man of the village was Ramanna. In the recent Panchayat elections he polled only nine votes in his own ward! The scales of values are tilted. No one is subordinate to another. If one is great, the other is greater. For some people this Change is quite welcoming, but, for others it is tasteless. But minding our likes and dislikes, the days are passing. A father, who has a school-going son can talk of everything from the affairs of primary school, to that of the matters of university. An ordinary ryot with few questions can easily embarrass a degree-holder in agricultural science. In short, the life there is at cross-roads. It is all like a boiling pot on the oven. We have to see what the ultimate result would be of all this development.”

I could visibly see great interest and attention in the face of Mr. Devabandhu.

“Well said! Mr. Rajasekharam, as I hear your words, I fell as if I went forty years tearing off the limits of time. Seshadri was just like this. He used to talk similar to you. Both of us used to swim in the village tank and get lotus flowers from there. We climbed to the top of the trees to pluck the fruits. We went to many carnivals and festivals in the neighbouring villages together. Seshadri always used to insist that I should eat with him during festivals. Now, I toured many countries, and I have tens of hundreds of friends. But what is never effaced, and what endures for ever is the indelible stamp of Seshadri’s friendship and Seshadri himself. Tell me Sekharam how is Seshadri? Is he well?”

“No, sir, he is no more…he passed away long .”

He turned his head away from me.

“I am his eldest son. He had many aspirations about me; but he left this world when I was in the high school stage itself. As a result I could not climb the steps of a college.”

“Rajasekharam”, he turned towards me. I could see his eyes turned slightly damp. “There was one teacher Hari Rao; though the Government never paid him regularly, he was teaching us. It was not a school in the sense of the term. We used to sit in the shade of a peepul tree. It was not the education of the present type that we had at him. I can now recite to you what all is in many of these books like a tape-record. I never saw anywhere the type of education that we had the fortune of having in those days. Hari Rao was a man of great temper also! He used to beat without any mercy, but later he would provide a dinner at his home, to the one who was flogged. He alone should beat and he alone should give!”

“Yes, I too heard about Hari Rao through my father, but never knew him. He died by then.”

“There were two sons for him, I remember...”

“Damodaram was the eldest. He was mad after medicine. Once he went for some herbs into the Srisailam forests and never returned. The younger is Srihari. The hearsay is that he is running a small tiffin-shop somewhere near Dronachalam.”

Devabandhu sighed heartily.

“The last house of the village was a hutment. Where washer man Munnenna lived. He was a very tough fellow indeed. In youth he had been to Natal and worked there in mines and gardens. He was a mine of stories. During the evenings in summer we used to sit around him to listen to his stories and experiences. Unfotunate man. He faced several difficulties in his last days. Sons and daughters flew away from him like the birds when they get wings. His wife was already dead. He was washing the clothes of the village and spending the days. His body stooped to the weight of the age. He started to drink heavily in order to make himself work. He lost his digestive power; and developed cough. His cough was so great that man in the village could not have proper sleep during nights. They collected some money for him and he was sent away finally from the village.”

Devabandhu, pressing his forehead with the left hand fingers got on from the easy-chair. He stood turned towards the window.

“Rajasekharam! I am not going to disgust you any longer. But I want to know about this particular fact. In the centre ofChintalapalli there were two houses; one was of Papaiah’s and the other was Veeraswami’s. Those two houses turned to be one family about forty years . What all I require now, is the later details.”

“Among the two people, mentioned by you, I know only the former, Papaiah. He too died several years . He had only one daughter and that was Tulasamma. The neighbour Veeraswami had a son Ranganayakulu. The two houses were united with the marriage of Tulasamma and Ranganayakulu. Even this marriage, I don’t know, but only heard. They have a son who is older than me.”

“Is Tulasamma well, Mr. Rajasekharam?”

It appeared as though the train was halting exactly at the station after a long and protracted journey. When there are scores of families in Chintalapalli what makes him to ask only about Tulasamma?

Who is this Devabandhu? And what is the connection between him and the history of Chintalapalli? I could not furnish answers to my own questions. I felt my head as heavy as a rock with all the unsolved questions.

He went on, “Tulasamma had one paternal aunt’s son. He was Anji. When Tulasamma was born, everyone in the village said that the wife for Anji was born. But God”s will was different. Anji was a boy of ill-luck. He lost his parents very early. He had to full upon Papaiah, his uncle. Anji forgetting his own position, built many castles in the air. When he was admitted in Rangannapet High School, Anji thought that his uncle would definitely give his daughter to him. But before he could finish this education and much earlier than Tulasamma could attain the age, her marriage was settled. She was married to Veeraswami’s son, Ranganayakulu. Veeraswami in more than one way could weigh with Papaiah. In power, position and money, he was equal to him. Tulasamma was simply fortunate as the only daughter of Papaiah. He wanted to multiply that fortune. But he never knew that a tender heart was put to saw. It was all the work of ego in him. What was after all the worth of Anji in the eves of Papaiah? He was an orphan. Papaiah believed that those who depended on him should never have great aspirations. Anji never wanted to cling to the house of his uncle. He thought that begging before few houses would be better than to live in Papaiah’s house. And he went away... … …Have you ever heard, any one talking or thinking about that Anji Mr. Rajasekharam?”

“Why not! In our own house, there is still a photo which he and my father have taken during the days when they were studying in the Rangannapet High School. Not even a single day used to go without my father thinking about him when he was alive. His name also often rolls in the talk when the elders ofthe village meet. But nothing is known of his whereabouts now. Some people say that he has joined the Sanyasi bandits. Some others believe that he is selling idlies in some railway station somewhere.”

“But fate never compels a man to become a Sanvasi bandit or an idli-seller just because some people think him to be so. The Creator has not passed any ordinance, that a person’s headline should not be different from what others imagine of him. Do you know how Rajasekharam?” He suddenly turned towards me and placed a step. He stood sternly before me and appeared as the incarnation of truth. Holding his breath, ...“I am that Anji!” he laid.

“You are Anji!” I was thoroughly flabergasted.

“Yes. Papaiah’s nephew, your father Seshadri’s boosom friend and the one who could not become the husband ofTulasamma…I am the same Anji. Without a single pie, how I came to this Madras, and how I faced the difficulties in the streets of this city–all that I don’t want to tell you now. To reach the top of the tree was my aim. I could attempt to climb with the help ofa rope. But the rope was cut off. If I fall, I will break my bones. I have decided to crawl downwards through the trunk of the tree. There was no other go.

“In those circumstances, my mind went towards the change of religion. Conversion is a peculiar thing. The bodyis not converted by this; nor the soul. All that we do is to shed one particular society and try to live in a different society. In mental and physical features, no great differences arc found between the two. Only in the outward practices we find certain differences in the modes of life. What did I lose if I develop new modes and customs of life? I was thoroughly prepared for it. The new society provided me with enough means to study. Within five or six years, I got my degree. I was not satisfied with it. During my childhood days, Hari Rao used to tell a poem, “An intelligent man is like a rubber ball. Even if you hit the ball down, it will rise up, a dullard is like a mass of mud. Once you hit it down, it will cling to the ground only.” Am I a ball or a mass of mud? I never wanted to rest till I succeeded in testing myself. I could get a scholarship donated by a big educational institution. I went to England. I studied there, and also worked. Before I completed eight years of service, I got married. Margaret, my wife, is much devoted. I am blessed with children and they are all well. The British rule was then still in our country. When I returned, a big post was waiting for me and I spent nearly twenty years in North India. When I attained the age of retirement, I have decided to live the rest of my days in this city which showed me the light to the path ofmy life. This house is mine. The one you have seen in the lawn is my family and this which I narrate and end is my life history.”

M mind lost its senses. I felt that I have seen a picture full of adventure. The room where I sat appeared to me as a spacecraft which took me to the past.

“Boy, boy.” He called Jacob. He asked to get water. At a stretch, he drank two glasses of water. Wiping out the drops of sweat on the face, Devabandhu sat again in the easy-chair.

“But you should not mistake me, Rajasekharam! I asked you to come here not to narrate my life history and disgust you.”

I looked at him. Then, why should he call me?

“I want to express my great agony which I have in my heart as a great volcano……”

“What agony you have?” I could not suppress my curiosity.

“I tell you. I get sleep during nights. Before dawn, I wake up. The moment, when I get up, I forget that I am Devabandhu. That I read much, that I visited foreign countries, that I am the husband of Margaret–all these go out of my memory. I feel as if I am sitting on the cot after waking up in the open yard at Chintalapalli. But in their view now, I am a run-out, idli-seller or a bus-stand cooly. Yet my soul goes away often to roam about in Chintalapalli and its surroundings. The swing tied to the huge stone pillars in front of Virupaksha temple, the gauva fruits in the garden of Dalavayi Narasanna, the sugarcane in Veera Reddy’s field, the lotus flowers in the Anantaraya tank–all these come to my memory. I feel as if all those people move before my eyes. In whatever I travel, wherever I go, my looks appear to be searching for somebody. Why so much, Rajasekharam! Today when I saw you, I could see the features of Seshadri in you. I thought the same Seshadri stood before me! I held big positions, I travelled widely and earned a lot. To tell you in short, I have enjoyed all the happiness that life could provide. But in the heart of hearts I have a great desire–the only desire. Do you know what it is, Rajasekharam!…..Before I close my voyage of this life...to come to Chintalapalli once, to make a small pond in the river Chintaleru and to drink away its water to my heart’s content. This is the only desire I have.…I don’t know whether this will be fulfilled or not…..”

Electricity made advent to Chintalapalli.

First electricity, and then came the pumpsets. New wells were dug. Old ones were deepened. The springs even from the stomach of the mother-earth, were all tapped. The fact that if a pond is made now in Chintaleru, only sand and not water will appear, is not known to Anji of those days and Mr. Devabandhu of today.

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