Distant Hills 

-Telugu Original &Translation by Dr. k. Meera Bai

Sunanda walked into the balcony, drying her wet hand with her saree pallu and stood there looking into the street. The hullabaloo children created having subsided , the house looked peaceful.
Phani, her eldest son who had overturned a glass of coffee and insisted on having bournvita which would make him win in sports, got chided by her and went out to play subdued by an armful of puffed rice in his pocket.
Her second child Purna was howling for a bell- bottomed dress similar to the one worn by her friend, got her share of mother’s anger and adjusted with the cheap dress bought from the pavement and went out to play with neighbour’s children.
The third baby was disturbed from her sleep because of the noises, cried for a while and went back to sleep.
The intermission was a welcome blessing.
Sunanda who was waiting for her husband who had not reached home though it was late in the evening , suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to freshen up . She knew her husband’s disapproval of her tired looks. So she dashed into the bathroom,washed her face, adjusted her saree and came back into the balcony.
She would get very little time to think of herself and evaluate her life.
The best part of her day would be spent in attending to her children and husband apart from preparing breakfast and packing lunch for them .
By the time they leave for school and office the little one would be crying . Once the baby was attended to and pacified it would be time for her lunch and she would eat cold lunch.
She would barely get an hour’s rest before the children came back. The routine would start again of feeding them, cleaning the dishes, washing clothes, sweeping and mopping the floor and attending to the baby etc . By the time she finished her work it would be evening and this one hour of Leisure was very precious to her.
She would recollect the dreams she had prior to her marriage, her sweet expectations in the early days after her marriage , after the birth of their children, her hopes for their future and the frustration and worries of the present.
 
Once her school final results were out, Sunanda was waiting excitedly for her college admission. Her father, who had been postponing the topic till the results were announced, made it clear to her that he could not afford to send her for higher studies.
Sunanda’s mother tried to console her. She reasoned with her that if she did her graduation they would have to look for a master’s degree holder as her life partner. That meant more dowry which would be beyond their financial capacity and so it was better to get married and be happy with her husband and children.
Sunanda knew there was no point in arguing . After her marriage, her hopes of going for long ride with her husband on his motorcycle like her neighbour Varija did, never materialised. She was disappointed to realise that in her case taking a stroll with her husband and buying a length of jasmines too was a dream unfulfilled.
Sunanda heaved a sigh. ‘ If only she had college education and remained unmarried….’ suddenly she remembered there was no coffee powder for next day . She knew how upset her husband would be if he had to buy anything at the month end. She sighed again and was about turn back from the balcony and stopped abruptly.
Her eye caught the sight of three fashionably dressed ladies walking on the road. All three of them wore eye catching sarees and were carrying hand bags. One of them had her hair done in a stylish knot . They were chatting and smiling happily.
Sunanda felt heavy hearted. At that moment she heard the baby crying. She dashed into the house, picked the baby and came back. She wanted to see the hand -work on the saree one of the ladies wore,so that she could get it done on her saree she was hoping to buy. At that moment it did not strike her that she had been planning to buy a saree of that type but could not because of escalating prices and that her hope might remain unfulfilled.
The baby in her hands smiled contentedly. The three ladies crossing her house looked up towards Sunanda. She felt embarrassed , turned her head and saw her husband coming and ran into the house to open the door.
***
Kaveri, who was climbing up the stairs,dragging her tired feet stepped on the fringes of her terlin saree and was about to trip, but balanced herself. She saw her neighbours – heavy bodied Sanjeevamma followed by petite Navaneethamma coming out of her house.
“ Oh dear why are you so late today. “ Sanjeevamma enquired .
Navaneetamma replied on behalf of Kaveri, “ how can you expect someone working with men and women rush home without chatting with her colleagues?”
Kaveri felt like throwing her hand bag on them but controlled her anger and replied sarcastically : “ My father has not engaged a special bus for me “ .
After changing her dress Kaveri stepped into the backyard to wash her feet before she entered the kitchen.
Kaveri’s mother offered her a cup of coffee and chided her gently “ you should respect the elderly people Kaveri. If you show your frustration on them, they would bad mouth you that you are proud of your education and job.”
Kaveri’s sister in law grabbed this chance to express her dissatisfaction, “ what are you saying mother in law ? If a lady like Kaveri who is highly qualified and earning a lot is not proud of her self who can be? A nobody like me?”
She had her own grouse against Kaveri for not buying costly dress for her son on his birthday.
“She is unmarried and has no family of her own. What would she do with all her earnings? Who would she spend it on, if not her own nephew? Your sister is very miserly.” She murmured to her husband on that day with in the earshot of Kaveri.
From that day onwards Kaveri was not very communicative with her sister- in- law. She was offended by her sarcastic comment.
Kaveri answered her mother “Let them think that I am proud and arrogant mom. When I come home After a long and tiring day why should they be so inquisitive about my being late? If I am educated and employed why should they grudge me?” Kaveri left the place without finishing her coffee.
‘In this society an unmarried girl would always be looked at with suspicion . If she were to be educated and employed and single,all the eyes would be on her.’ Kaveri felt unhappy.
She heard her father speaking to her mother in the kitchen : “ your daughter seems to have come home. She would not even say hello to me. She does not care about us these days.”
“ does he care about her? If she got promotion and got her salary increased, he would announce it proudly to his friends. But he never bothered about getting her married,though she was already twenty eight years old.” Kaveri mused.
Yielding to her mother’s Insistence, he brought one or two alliances for her. But nothing came out of it, because they expected huge dowry from an employed lady.
It is easy to ask why a woman earning a decent salary should depend on her parents for getting married. In this society men have no respect for independent working women and all their talk about ideals is humbug.
Kaveri remembered the recent incident . When she was running to catch the moving bus, some road-side Romeo started humming a film song . Kaveri turned around and warned him to mind his business.
Another youngster intervened saying it is not proper to comment family ladies. A third man sarcastically observed that these working women go grey by the time they find a husband and family.
When Kaveri was about to react seriously, her friends pulled her inside the bus.
The conductor closed the bus door with a thud saying the bus would not wait for her while she was arguing with such people.
Kaveri was so upset thinking of the incident “ why are unmarried women treated with least respect both at home and outside?” She sighed.
She felt miserable thinking of her lonely life. During college days she was dreaming of becoming a college lecturer and getting married to a colleague and have a peaceful and happy life.
Kaveri thought of her friend yamini. Yamini ‘s husband dropped her at the office in the morning and picked her in the evening. They had a servant to look after the children. Today she wore a foreign nylex saree with silver flowers. It was a gift from her husband on the occasion of their wedding day. Though it was expensive, her husband bought it because the colour suited her. He wanted to take her to a film in the night and had gone to buy the tickets. That was the reason why yamini came with her in the bus. How lucky of her!.
Kaveri applied some pain balm to her forehead and tried to sleep.
***
By the time Yamini reached home, her second son was sitting on the front veranda in his crumpled dress,chewing a pacifier . Yamini warned the babysitter not to allow him chew the pacifier for fear that it might affect he shape of his teeth.
As she entered the house she saw her elder daughter Neelima, crying at the top of her voice .
Yamini threw her handbag on the table and shouted for the servant “ Anjanamma! get me a cup of coffee.”
“ You better come into the kitchen and show me where the matchbox is. Your favourite daughter wants to chew betel leaves like the servant. Attend to her. The kitchen looks like hell. What a family!” Saying so her husband Chandramohan dashed out of the kitchen in frustration.
“ Where is Anjanamma? I am not a machine who can work in the office and also maintain the kitchen like heaven. Why don’t you understand ? Just like like you, I am also tired after having worked in the office the whole day.” Yamini shouted back at her husband.
“Who taught you to chew betel leaves?She slapped her daughter giving vent to her anger.
“ Don’t beat me. I don’t like you. I like Anjanamma” . Neelima raised her voice.
“ One of her relatives passed away it seems. Anjanamma left the children to the care of neighbours and left for her place. You can’t teach discipline to children by beating them. She might even long for the babysitter.” Said Chandramohan sarcastically.
“If you want you may also long for the servant. I don’t care.” Yamini threw him an angry look and went to her room. By the time she came out after freshening up, Chandramohan was stepping out along with his daughter.
Yamini stood there tight-lipped.
He came back late in the night, put the sleeping child to bed and sat in the easy chair.
“Shall we have dinner? “ Yamini asked.
“ I am not hungry.” He answered curtly.
“What is it that makes you unaware of your hunger? “
“ I got a letter from mother.”
“Oh! They reminded you that you haven’t yet sent money to them…that you have become a henpecked husband .. that is it. right?” Yamini said lightly.
“ Though you are educated and earning, you need not be so arrogant. The are not expecting your money.” Chandramohan was furious.
“ what is it I gained by being educated and employed? Though I have no freedom to spend even ten rupees on my own, I get the blame that my parents receive all my earnings. Though I slog in the office and at home,I am looked at as a negligent housewife. You showed your male ego and walked out, but have you thought of me as a fellow human being? Is this life of mine worth living?” Yamini sounded very emotional.
“ Why do you make things sound so bad? What did I say to make you so frustrated?”
“Was there a friendly and loving conversation between us at anytime?” Yamini turned to leave. She could hear him heave a deep sigh.
Once Chandramohan was asleep,Yamini got up and sat at the window. One look at him brought tears to her.
“What is the reason for these fights between them? She could neither please her husband nor could she be an ideal mother to her children. If she could not be happy, what did she gain by being a career woman?”
“Though both of them were earning, their bank balance would always be minimum because of relatives’ expectations and expenses on servants. Every once in a while some misunderstandings would crop up to take away their peace of mind.” Yamini felt heavy hearted.
Suddenly she remembered the lady she saw in the evening-carrying a smiling baby, waiting for her husband .
She was lucky that she could lead her life according to the expectations of her husband not bothering about her own individuality . She could be like a a shadow of her husband and live without any frustrations. How lucky!
Yamini could not sleep.
***
After having completed her daily work, Sunanda finally could get into her bed.
“ One more day in her routine life is spent. Day after tomorrow is the salary day for her husband. “ She should ask him to buy at least two sarees for her. The ones she has been using are too worn out”. Then she remembered her son going to to bed crying that his teacher would not allow him into the class with the torn uniform.
“ She can some how manage with old sarees, but her son should get a new uniform this month.” She thought and lovingly touched his head.
Then she thought of the ladies she saw in the evening coming back from office. “One should have done good deeds In the previous birth to have a good life now.” She sighed.
Thinking of how to make both ends meet next month, Sunanda fell asleep.

*****

(Original Telugu story “ Durapu kondalu “ by K. Meera Bai was published in Andhraprabha weekly dated 26–02 – 1975)

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