Fear

-Telugu Translation by Dr. k. Meera Bai

” Sir! Please give  me one paisa. Show mercy on an orphan “
Veeraswami  woke up from his sleep with these words as if it were a wake up call for him.
         The beggar crawling on the ground was pleading pitifully with the hope of touching the heartS of  people.   
  ” You already started  your day ! ”  he looked at him with disdain  and sat up on his old cot. The cot made a screeching sound as if protesting his weight . Veeraswamy  brought out a cheroot from his waist, bit out the end part , spit it out and lighted it. He Got up,lifted up  the cot and put it by the side of his makeshift shop. Then he opened the lock on the wooden door of the bunk and sat in his seat like king Vikramaditya.
    ” what is this wailing man ? Right from the morning you have been bleating  like a goat . Has anybody offered a  single  paisa? ” he barked at the old beggar .
  The beggar turned his gaze to   Veerasaami  , looked at him for a second with his single  good   eye.  There was a hint of rebellion in his looks  as if  challenging him ” what do you know of  the fire in a hungry stomach?”
      Veerasaami  who was looking at the ugly face of the beggar felt as if he was going to throw up. He could not bear to look at the sight of his unkempt hair, protruding eye,  the unsightly wart that covered  the other eye, wrinkled cheeks, the  last remaining two teeth that looked like fangs , skinny legs and  hands  eaten away by disease, now smeared with  pus and blood  attracting  flies.   veeraswamy turned away from the ungainly sight , took out a half rotten banana and threw it at him .
          By the time  the day became scorching hot , more and more people started moving in that street.  That street joins Anantapur town to the newly developed colony called new town.
        The railway lines crossing the area provided suicidal point to the students who had   failed in examinations and girls cheated by their lovers. Some times  people  who wished to live  a full  life also got killed by train accidents.
      The municipality  woke up  and built an over bridge on the train track . The money was spent  in vain  but left the headache uncured.  This in no way solved the problem of suicides and accidents . People cursed  the government  as they had to pay a lot more to  cycle- rickshaws and  horse drawn carts  to go from one side of the bridge to another side.
      Students   who came to the shop to buy  Charminar   cigarettes  waited there to ogle  at the girls passing that way.  Veerasaami commented to them at least a hundred and one times that    ” this widow government had no brains to build an over bridge train track ” .
    Some aimlessly wandering  youngsters felt happy that as tank bund was to Hyderabad ,the over bridge would be to Anantapur, a place to hangout .
     The unfortunate homeless  people  found  refuge under the bridge.  To the disappointment of those who looked forward to the  coming up of some shops under the bridge, within no time  the place was occupied by beggars, people who had neither food nor shelter and poor  daily -wage earners.
      some of the partitioned areas  came in handy  to small time wood -workers to setup shop, an old Muslim peanut seller and an old  lame woman who sold fresh hot fritters .
            ……..                        ……..                 ……..
The  unfortunate man who could not do any work continued to beg in the utmost pitiable manner.
Veeraswamy  who was driving out the flies sitting on the  the ripe bananas with his upper cloth , lighted the end part of a coconut rope and hung it on one side of his bunk. Observing the youngsters coming one by one, he thought it must be time for college and yawned.
     Girl students and  women working in schools and colleges pass by that road. That was the reason why  Veerasaami  never had a dearth of customers.
    Seeing three girls crossing the railway lines , a man in tight pants leaned against the bunk and started singing a Hindi film song in an effort to catch their attention.
      All the three girls  wore similar long, black skirts and blouses and white upper cloths. Each one had her hair made into two plaits, and arranged one plait on the front shoulder and another was left at the back, and each of them wore a red hibiscus flower in one of the plaits. They could be either sisters dressed similarly, or friends who planned to come dressed similarly.
       They  crossed  the railway lines and were commenting among themselves about the youngster standing  near the bunk. 
 The beggar came in their way asking ”  Mother one paisa  please” .
The girls speeded up adjusting their georgette upper cloths  saying ” oh  what a  nuisance ! Wish there were another route to our college ” . Their comment was meant for both the beggar and the ogling young man.
     The road-side Romio followed them with a smile.
Veeraswamy flicked the ash gathered at the end of coconut rope and lighted another cheroot with the help of it.
      When the beggar got tired of repeating his plea for alms ,his wife took over the charge. Her body was so humped that her  white hair  almost touched the ground.
      When she felt they were not going to get any alms there,she would make her husband sit on a wooden plank and drag him to the main road.
     Though the husband was  a lame old man nearing his end , as  a holy Indian wife she still depended on him .
        Now she started pleading people in an unmodulated tone like a stuck- gramophone record ”  give a paisa to the lame man who can not walk “
   The beggar’ s wife blocked the way of a  newly married young lecturer dressed In new pants gifted by his father-in-law ,enthusiastically  hurrying to teach a class full of girls .
   ”  These fat  thief widows beg for alms. What else can be expected in a country ruled by a woman? He commented to a  bald-headed man walking  by his side and walked away.
     That bald-headed man stopped at Veeraswamy’s shop and bought a packet of beatlenut powder.
” It  must be time for the lady to come” Veeraswamy thought looking towards railway lines while counting the small changes.
          There came a lady in high heels  walking voluptuously. Her hair was knotted high on her head adding  half a  feet extra height to her five feet stature . The rose flower in her hair tilted side ways as she was walking as if dancing on  marble  floors . She  scoffed at the beggar at her feet, eyed the bald -headed man through her goggles  and walked away swinging her vanity bag leaving  behind a whiff  of  lavender perfume.
       At eight o clock in the night Veerasaami was about to close his shop.  The devoted wife of the lame  beggar collecting the small changes thrown at him by people,  was cursing him “ why not death come to take you , you old loser!”

     “ Oh my God! Why do you leave me?“ veeraasaami woke up with this ear- splitting cry of the beggar’s wife. It seemed the last glow of life that kept him alive till the day before was extinct because of the cold weather . His wife was wailing at the top of her voice.
         “Good riddance “ thought Veerasaami.
    Within half an hour she removed the last piece of cloth covering his  body, kept the naked  dead body on the road-side and started begging people to help her attend to his last rites.
      The ugly sight of the naked dead body with flies hovering over it,  a coin covering his protruding open eye appeared to be defining the meaning of human life.
      The tight- pant  youngster did not stop either for Charminar cigarettes or  for the college girls but walked past with a twitched face ,throwing a coin at the dead  body.
       The three girls who were looking for him saw  the dead body and ran away like ghosts disappearing at the sight of magic wand  ,  throwing a few coins at the old beggar’s body.
       The young lecturer large- heartedly donated a ten rupee note without pondering over the point of how far the prime minister Indira Gandhi was responsible for the dead body by the side of the road.
     The bald-headed man who was chewing betel nut started teaching the Bhagavad Gita to Veerasaami .
     The five feet tall beauty who was doing cat-walking throwing side glances, was shocked to see the dead man, lost her balance and was about to fall, checked herself,  threw a half rupee coin at the old woman  and walked away hurriedly without looking at the bald-headed man.
       At nightfall,  when the municipal workers were taking away the dead body,  his wife let out a howl like the national anthem played  at the end of a film.
      Later Veerasaami saw the old woman counting the day’s collection, smiled at her and asked “ how much did you make?”
     “Don’t ask. Just ten rupees and odd. That’s all.“ replied the old woman blowing her nose.
“ wow! Your man earned more after his death” saying so Veerasaami put down the cot to rest for the night.
Veeraasaami who did not know that  a wise man long back observed ‘ as children are afraid of darkness, men fear death‘ , fell asleep in no time.
 
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