Amidst the Violent Crowd

English Translation: Srinivas Banda

Telugu original: “Gudem cheppina kathalu-1” by Anuradha Nadella

I was heading home after teaching the evening class in the hamlet. Streetlights were lit, making the night darker, except for the feeble light from the huts flanking the street spilt on to it. My torch was helping me to find the way, which I was quickly winding up. Only sounds in the street were the Christian songs flowing out from the Churches that dot the hamlet. As Christmas was nearing, the hamlet will soon be filled with a lot of hustle and bustle.

I felt some movement near me and turned my head. But by then, I was hit hard on head by something. My hand automatically gone to my head and I managed to utter ‘who is it?’ 

Another blow on my head answered the question.

“Oh…” writhing in pain, I held my head. someone ran away from me whispering ‘did you hit hard?’

I stood in the middle of the road. By now, blood is streaming down from my injury. Bearing the pain, I pressed my hand hardly on the wound, to stop the oozing. 

I saw an auto-rickshaw coming towards me and stopped near me. It carried me to a nearest hospital, where I got the wound stitched up.

‘What happened? Who did it?’ I felt weaker to dwell upon such queries now. 

I reached home, had food and took the pain-killer given by the doctor. 

Fever accompanied the wound’s pain, completing my debilitation.

Mom came. 

“Why would you need to continue in this job in this faraway village? That too, teaching in the evening classes in the hamlet? Enough with this service to the society. Just chuck this job and follow me to our home.’

‘Amma, please stop. I have no problems here.’

‘If there were none, why would you be hit? Who would have done it? Had it not for the timely arrival of the auto-rickshaw, something drastic would have happened.  But still, who had the ‘compulsion’ to injure you? Tell me if you can, I am ready to listen’. Mom supported her argument with a query.

‘How could I know? They might have targeted somebody else and mistook me in the darkness,’ I spoke out my thought.  

‘Is that so? Then you should never be in such areas. You just do not need to be roaming in the crowd of head hunters.’ 

My responses were muted by her gaze, as a stiff barricade.

The fever was intense and I have lost count of the days that slipped away, lying in bed. My head was aching like hell and made me unable to think. Weakened, I closed my eyes. Only relief was that mom is alongside me.

Some colleagues from the school came to see me. Kamala, attendant at our school raged with anger.  

“Ma’am, you can’t change those idiots. Devayya sir rightly said so. They are illiterates. Do you suspect anyone? Please let me know. I will drag them on to the road and handover to the police. Till now, none of us have let the children know about this. We told them that you were only suffering from fever.”

I was listening with my eyes closed…

“Tell us Ma’am, if you suspect anyone. We shall pay them in the same coin’. She pleaded again. 

“No Kamala. It must be a mistake.  That is my belief.   No one would have hit me intentionally’. I tried to pacify her.

“I will say that you should resume your classes only if the hamlet’s elderly approach you with a request to do so. You need to be tough with them. Else, please don’t go there.”  

I smiled. “Don’t worry Kamala. I have all of you to support me.” They seemed to be surprised with my reaction.

Mom had to leave, since her leave is about to end. Before leaving, she tried her best to take me along with her. “I will not come here even if I get to know that you were hit again’ she tried to issue a threat. 

“Don’t be stubborn. You know better. You are qualified to get a better job than this. Stop your experiments and come back home.” 

She left after stuffing me with that piece of advice.

For me, the evenings I spend with the children of the hamlet give more happiness than the ‘Sarkari’ job that could conveniently pay my bills.  In my life, the space occupied by those children has become very important to me, in a wonderful way.

Two days later, I re-joined the duty.  When I came home that evening, mom called and her singular advise to me was not to resume my classes in the hamlet. 

“Mom, please. Such episodes don’t recur. People of the hamlet really admire me.’ I assured her.

“Deepu, I too admire you a lot.“ her voice choked with affection.

“I know mom, and I also know that it is saving me from every evil.” 

I started walking towards the hamlet. Once again those familiar surroundings engulfed me in them, with their love and tender comfort.

Some women stood in their doorstep and watched me with a new interest. Or, is it my fig of imagination?

I was surrounded with children, when Devayya sir came to me. 

“Ma’am, our elders want to discuss something with you. Can you please disperse the kids for the day?”

What would they discuss with me? I wondered. 

The kids were sent away. 

A group of twenty people, both men and women came and sat on the mats laid out for the children. Devayya sir occupied an empty chair. 

“Ma’am, we thought that you were down with fever only. We came to know about the incident later. We wondered that who might have done such a ghastly thing. Please indicate who the culprits are and we will punish them. We need to know.” the first speaker showed his aggression. 

“Please, let us forget it. It must be a mistake” I tried to brush it off. 

Some people stood up to speak. 

“Ma’am, this is a matter of honour for us and our hamlet. How can we tolerate such an attack on you, while you are spending your time here for bettering our children’s lives?”

“We need to know who it is.”

“You are suffering the pain silently, without sharing it with us.  Thus, you are indirectly helping the culprits roam about scot free. Why should you do so? We need to know who they are and what is the reason behind this. It doesn’t matter whether they are kids or grown-ups, we must know.” a woman spoke agitatedly. 

I was listening to them, silently. 

Yes. Such questions occupied my mind when while I was down with fever, when mom repeatedly pressed for answers. 

Slowly, pieces of this puzzle have started falling into place.  It is still a mist. so I chose to share nothing of that now. 

A couple of minutes passed by.

“Ma’am, we are ashamed that you were attacked brutally, while you should be worshipped for striving to change our lives. You will have to share your thoughts about the suspects with us, otherwise, none of our kitchen fires will burn today”, another elder person has requested, laced with affection. He used to sit on the big rock and watch me teaching.  He used to scold the kids and give his wisdom to me.

“Maám, please do not spare the rod on these kids, these mules won’t learn that easy”. 

What should I do? What should I tell them?

I decided. Inhaled and began.

“Many kids come to my class for studying. Since last few weeks, girls started to trickle down.” 

I paused. Everyone was listening to me intently.

“I presumed that they might be busy with household work and hoped that they would re-join the classes at their convenience.  

Then I came to know from one of the absentee girls that some boys teased them and it created troubles for the girls to attend the classes. 

The group exchanged glances among themselves.

“I wish to put across something delicate before you. We all have a collective responsibility to guide our children into correct paths, in their formative years. I hope you all will ponder about this.”

I have reprimanded some boys when I saw them teasing the girl students. They backed off then, but repeated to do so. Obviously, they haven’t taken me seriously. When I caught them again, I scolded them. Next day, neither the girls nor boys of the senior classes came to class. 

A younger boy told me that.

‘Ma’am, the boys you scolded yesterday… have decided to injure you.’

I have not understood this, then. But I was pained by the realisation that the “Kids” are capable of planning violent acts. The attack happened on the same day. Anyway, we should forget this episode and move on. All I wanted to convey is, though difficult, we all should try and ensure that our kids are treading the right track.”

Even before I complete, four people stood up angrily.

“Ma’am, tell us who they are. We will set them right.’

“Please, I request you to leave this episode here itself. Mere punishment cannot change Children. I believe that they should be treated with affection and it will bring about changes in them. Let us try and see. If the results are not as we expected, then the next course of action can always be charted.” 

“But Ma’am, if you don’t indicate, how could we know about our children? We presume that they went to school. How can we know what our kids do, when they are out of our gaze? We can strictly warn them only after you inform us about their misdeeds.”

I smiled. 

“As parents, we fairly know that our children are mischievous. But it won’t be palatable for us to receive complaints from our neighbours about it. Even our kid is at fault, we find it difficult to accept it.”

The group soaked in my words. 

“No Ma’am, this is not trivial. You must tell us clearly.”

I pleaded with them that I have nothing more to reveal and assured them that I would inform them if I face any difficulty. Not fully satisfied by my pacification, they loudly discussed among themselves for a while. I took leave of them and started for home. 

Some students of senior classes have started coming again, which made me happy. I awaited them every day while taking attendance. 

After a week, while I was returning home, a man requested to talk to me. He seemed a stranger. 

“Ma’am, I live in this hamlet. I am a truck driver and I tour the countryside. At the most, I can be at home twice a month. I came to know that you were attacked recently. There is a talk that some students of senior classes might have done so. My son studies in eighth class. My wife is also complaining that nowadays, he ignores her and have become very mischievous.  If you suspect him as the attacker, please let me know”. 

“Oh, please leave it as it is.” I said, and got up to start for home…

“Ma’am, please tell me. I will ensure that such a thing will never happen again”.  

His pleading and the way he spoke, reminded me of somebody. 

“Right now, I am not foreseeing such violence. And I don’t think they would ever recur”.  I started walking.

He started following me from a distance.

“Fine Ma’am. You might be knowing my boy Anil. He studies in eighth class. Please make him sit next to you and teach him”. With that final request, he turned back. 

Yes. Now my doubts were clarified. He is the father of that boy. 

Though I am trying to brush it aside, people of the hamlet haven’t stopped rekindling that episode.

That evening, after completing some of the school’s work, I tried to sleep, but wasn’t successful.

My heart became heavy. 

Mom’s presence felt good. I grew homesick after reminiscing those ten days when mom had accompanied in this very house. 

But she left me. She is still annoyed at me. 

Mom is my role-model. I watched her participating in many social activities along with her teaching profession. 

I sensed her anger about the hamlet, since she was never introduced to it properly. 

Now I will try to do so.   

I got up from the bed. Took out the laptop and started keying a mail to Mom.  

*****

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