Earthly Bonds(Story)

Telugu Original & English Translation: Dr. K.Meera Bai

Sivayya completed the task of cleaning the bicycle , stood at a distance and examined it. His eyes  reflected the longing of a mother who was looking at her  baby for

 the last time after having  carrying it in her womb  for nine months,  giving birth to it going through hard labour, now handing it over to strangers due to unavoidable circumstances.

     He rubbed his face with the towel hanging on his shoulder,   poured the left over water In the bucket on his feet and walked towards the entrance carrying the empty bucket.

    At that moment Krishna murthy stepped out opening the door .

         His eyes scanned the face of his father, the empty bucket in his hand,and the bicycle standing  in the early morning sun.

     Reading the question in his father’s eyes,  he looked at him with disapproval  and said ” mother  has been moaning . She is feeling giddy. “

Sivayya knew the meaning of his son’s looks. He could read the scorn in his son’s eyes ” what kind of a man are you who cares less for your dying wife than you do for a  lifeless object made of iron .”

 A  ghost of smile played on his lips.

  After getting his B.S.C degree ,krishna murthy wanted to study M.S.C in the university.But sivayya  bluntly told his son he better found a job  as he could not afford to spend so much money on his son’s  higher education  and that he had the responsibility of educating his younger son in addition to getting married his last daughter. 

      krishna murthy’s  wounded pride prompted him  to find a job as medical  representative in a company within a month .

   He secretly  nurtured  a grouse against his father  for  what he thought injustice meted out to him , long after having settled in life with his wife and kids.

     Sivayya entered the room, stood at the head of the bed and enquired his ailing wife ” how do you feel vardhini?  If  you can make it, we can go  To hospital tomorrow ” .

        Vardhanamma  looked at her husband for a second and closed her eyes.

 ” here she is – confined to bed . Doctors declared she would not survive unless her leg is operated upon. There is no  guarantee that she would make it even after surgery.

           “  What comfort did she  enjoy with this man  who had been married to her for thirty five years,  who would not sit by her  side  for a minute to say a word of solace when she fell ill , but would tend to the garden fence,water the plants and polish his bicycle ?“  Vardhanamma did not feel like answering his question .

      ” Bhavani ! My throat is parched . Get me a glass of water ” she called her daughter.

Sivayya  , felt unhappy  observing her swollen and  rotten right leg  while adjusting  the sheet on her legs .

       When vardhini came to his house as a bride she was just  sixteen years old. Though she was not a beauty , she looked attractive with her youthful charm. She  being the single child to her parents , was brought up as a carefree  girl , had not learnt even  basic cooking. Sivayya would  do more  than half of household work patiently.

         Though he was not rich,  Vardhini craved for a luxurious life . Sivayya who did not inherit  any parental property , was  rather prudent in  spending money  as he had to provide for household expenditure, children’s upbringing and save for future from his meagre earning .

      As time passed , this caused dissatisfaction to vardhini. She used to  share  her unhappiness  with the children.  As she expected, they empathised with their mother  even as they scorned their father.

       Bhavaani brought a glass of water , helped her mother  to drink it,and started to fan her.

        Vardhinamma objected to her saying ” you sat by my side the whole night. Go and take rest . Any way I won’t survive. Why do you do this service “.

      ” Mother. I may not have the money to get good  medical treatment for you. But I  am strong enough to nurse you. If  we don’t look after you ,what is the use of  our presence. ” Bhavani  replied.

    Sivayya ,who had been standing there  felt the bitterness in her tone, walked into the kitchen with heavy steps.

        Every  unmarried girl dreams of beautiful future. When her dreams could not be realised because of economic situation she would blame some body responsible for that and find solace. Bhavani got married to a clerk  five years ago but still had not forgotten her  shattered dreams and hence could not forgive her father.

       Now she was  angry with her father who she thought , was doing injustice to her mother hesitating to spend  money to get proper midi care   for her .

      Sivayya sat  on the ground by the side of his second son Mukund who was waiting to get his food served. Sivayya’s daughter in law put the silver plate  in front of him.

Sivayya took away the plate and put it in a box.  He  said  ” serve me in the banana leaf “.

That plate was gifted to him by his father in law when he was married to vardhini.  Since that day Sivayya had never eaten from any other plate.

    Sivayya’s daughter in law  was surprised at this but never the less served both of them in leaves.

  ”  You should have brought your wife and kids too  ” observed Sivayya speaking to Mukund .

    ” If all of us land here, who will bear the expenses? Mukund said without looking at his father.

Sivayya could not swallow the food he ate and felt as if it got stuck midway. He felt a constriction in his heart.  He  gulped a glass of water .

     He could read his children’ s mind. But the pity is they could not understand his feelings.

           When Mukund got his degree ,unlike his brother he did not raise the topic of higher studies. He knew what he needed to get a job was not  a master’s degree. So first ,

through his mother and later he personally suggested to his father that he could ‘  buy ‘a job.

 Sivayya  made it plain that he could not afford to give money  to bribe people .

     Mukund  raved and ranted and said he would repay the money in due course and if needed would sign a promissory note to that extent.

        Vardhanamma nagged at her husband if money was more important to him than his progeny. When they die they would not carry the provident fund money with them ,she pointed out to him. She even threatened him that his children would not come to his rescue when he needed them.

        Sivayya coolly observed ”  that is the reason why  I refuse to go penniless and be a burden to our children. I want to make sure you have a place of your own to live and paid advance for a house. To the best of my capacity I got them educated and  got our daughter married . Though I haven’t given them parental property  they should be happy that I am not leaving them any debts to be paid. “

     As if to avenge his father Mukund started to work in a book- shop.

On the  day Mukund  gave fifty rupees to his mother as his share  of household expenses , vardhanamma  shed tears. Sivayya  was unmoved. After working for four years and saving money Mukund got a loan and opened a book shop on his own in the near by town.

   That day Sivayya slept without a worry.

Before he could relax peacefully  having  all his responsibilities being fulfilled ,vardhini ‘s  health deteriorated .

Once he finished eating , Sivayya washed his hands, put his towel on his shoulder, and got into his slippers. Mukund who was relaxing in an easy chair was reading a book.

      ” I am going to the town. May not return till tomorrow . Your brother and yourself better stay home .” Saying so Sivayya stepped out .

     Mukund was surprised to observe his father hang the heavy bag to the handle of the bicycle and push it forward.

     Sivayya could not  complete his work and reach home  till next day evening. The bicycle and the silver plate were sold away.

     By the time he neared his home vardhini’s dead body was  at the threshold and his children and daughters in law were crying .

       The money  in his pocket which gave him courage and  elevated his spirits till then, seemed to gather weight and put pressure on his heart. He walked the four steps with great difficulty  and slumped into a chair.

       With in no time vardhini ‘s brother who lived in a nearby village came rushing.

He took charge of the situation saying the last rites should begin as soon as possible.

     Sivayya who was sitting motionless, got up and brought out five hundred rupee notes , put them in his brother in law’s hand and said ” please attend to what ever  is to be done  brother”.

Then he sank into the chair  and closed his eyes as if he had no strength to face the three pairs of eyes looking at him.

      During the following ten days Sivayya did not utter even ten words. He never bothered about expenses or extravagance . When ever a relative visits , his daughter and daughters  In law  would weep and his sons would remember their mother’s goodness . But nobody ever saw Sivayya  shedding tears for his wife’s death.

       Bhavani would recall  ” My mother always said she would give her pair of gold bangles to me.”

 The older daughter in law said ” for every festival mother in law would adorn her grand daughter with her gold chain. When my little one innocently asked if she would give it to her,  mother in law  always promised to bestow it to her. “

  ”   Father spent all his money on this house. Who will stay here now? He might as well sell it away and distribute that money among his children. ” krishna murthy spoke  in general.   

        Mukund  immediately cut him short cautioning him  ” Don’t say it aloud brother.  His life is linked to money. He would think we have an eye on his money. “

That night  when everybody was  sleeping Sivayya could not get a wink of sleep. He got up without making a sound, and opened his wife’s  box. One pair of bangles and one gold chain glowed in the light.   He took into his hand  the   ‘ Tali ‘ he tied around her neck at the time of wedding . The touch of the yellow thread with two gold pendants brought out many memories associated with his wife. Clutching the ‘ Tali ‘ in his grip , he walked into the backyard and sat by the side of  the well.

           Unbearable loneliness  made his heart heavy. The sadness of the loss which was in his subconscious level erupted with all the force . Sivayya covered his face with both his hands.  He  was unaware of time.

        ” grand papa why are you crying? Has grand mother gone to God?  ” the lisping words of his little grand daughter woke him up.

       ” Don’t cry grand papa! Let us also follow grand mother.” She wiped his tears with her tender hands.

 ” Chinni! ” Sivayya took her to his bosom .

Chinni was the daughter of his eldest son krishna murthy .  The mother died after giving birth to the baby. Krishna murthy married again one year after her death.

      Chinni had been brought up by her maternal uncle. Sivayya would bring her to his home once in a while and send her back after ten days.

      ” come on grand papa! Let us go to sleep. “. Holding his hand  the little girl pulled him towards the house. Sivayya held her in his hands and walked into the house.

                   When the last rites  of Vardhini were completed , all the relatives went back. Sivayya was sitting on the porch and writing the words ” To Let” on a drawing pad. His two sons ,daughter , son in law, and daughters in law  were surprised and  stared at him .

     ” I am going to keep Chinni  with me and raise her. Two rooms will be enough for us. So I am letting out a part of the house for rent ” Sivayya said calmly and continued with what he had been doing.

*****

(Telugu story “Bhava bandhalu ” published in Andhra Prabha Telugu Weekly dated 1-12-1976)

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