Ladder of hopes 

English Translation: Dr K. Meerabai

Telugu original: “Aasala Metlu” by Dr K. Meerabai

Penchalamma could not wipe off the droplets of sweat streaming down her forehead because both her hands were engaged in cleaning the road.
The red kumkum powder she applied in the middle of her brows spread to her nose along with her sweat. Her blouse got stuck to her body . She had tied a piece of red cloth around her head to protect herself from the heat and to prevent dust settling on her head.
With one hand she was sweeping the road with a broom and with the other, she was collecting the trash on to an iron tray.
The road roller parked on the left side of the road was making ear- splitting sound. Seenayya was adding coal to the fire to melt the tar.
Pentamma who was crushing the stones stored at one side of the road looked at the make shift swing hanging from the branch of the tree and called penchalamma “The baby is awake. go and feed him. I will explain to the chief of workers”.
Putting aside the broom and the iron tray, Penchalamma cradled her son in her hands and sat down under the tree to breast- feed the baby. She took out two betel leaves , a piece of cheroot and a pinch of betel nut from the cloth purse that hung at her waist and put them into her mouth.
There came a scooter at a high speed continuously sounding the horn. Like disobedient students who never acknowledged the presence of the lecturer in the classroom, the labourers attending to road work never bothered to move aside.
The irritated rider slowed down, cursed them with clenched teeth as dirty rogues,
crossed the patch and speeded up.
Pentamma who was breaking the stones and penchalamma who was breast-feeding her baby had been looking spell-bound at the couple on the scooter.
The rider looked like a film hero with his wide belt and sun glasses.The graceful lady had a modern hair do and was dressed in a nylon saree . She wore a shiny fancy dot on her forehead. She looked at them contemptuously throwing a “ How dare you people obstruct our way” look and turned her head away.
Penchalamma was so absorbed in looking at them that she was unaware of the baby moving in her lap. Once the couple was out of sight she looked at pentamma.
“ we are the ones who lay the roads and they enjoy the ride.” Pentamma muttered with disdain.
“ we have not done good deeds in our previous births to be fortunate like them. Our lives won’t change.” Penchalamma said putting back the baby in the cloth cradle.
She imagined the beautiful picture of herself and her husband dressed like that couple and going on a scooter and sighed.
The scooter which sped like a race horse, stopped after travelling just a mile and refused to move like an untamed horse.
The owner of the vehicle handed his sun glasses to his wife and was trying to find where the trouble lay in the engine .
The lady in the nylon saree felt uncomfortable in the heat. The make up on her face was gone because of her repeated wiping of her facial sweat. As if she could not carry the weight any longer she put down her two year old child on the road. As she was adjusting her ruffled hair, the baby started howling. The mother realised that the baby wore no shoes and immediately took her into her hands.
The discomfort caused by the heat, the fact that the baby wore no shoes and the troublesome old scooter made her turn the anger on to her husband.
“If you sell away this ancient scooter it would be a good riddance. People like us, who think twice to buy shoes to the child, should not plan picnics like this.” she hissed.
Having lost all the enthusiasm and happiness of the morning, the man went on pressing the pedal to start the vehicle.
At that instant, a beautiful car running so smoothly as if it was sailing in the wind passed by them. For a split second there appeared the beautiful face of a woman at the window.
The lady’s face looked freshly made up and she wore an expensive silver flowered georgette saree . The scent of the lavender perfume she used hung in the air for ten minutes after the car sped away.
The wife of the scooter owner, burdened by the weight of the child at her waist, irritated by the scorching heat and the troublesome scooter was all the more pained by this sight.
“ what a miserable life is ours! Though both of us sweat the whole day teaching students, the salary we get is barely enough to make the ends meet. I have been longing to buy a georgette saree like the one worn by that lady for a long time. When we can not afford to buy three pairs of dresses for our three children, how can I even think of fulfilling my wishes? We have stopped going to films with our children because we cannot meet the expenses of rickshaw fares and cinema tickets. At long last, we have planned this trip to nearby sea shore in Maipad.. The two elder children left to the care of our neighbours might be giving them a hell of a time. We should plan picnics if only we could go by car like those people and not sweat in the heat like this. What kind of lives are we leading?” she sighed with dissatisfaction .
The car that sped along the road stopped at the travellers bungalow . The lady dressed in georgette saree and her husband got down along with their two children and carried their luggage into the building.
The two excited children were trying to get a view of the sea.
Their mother who sat down listlessly started thinking aloud “ What does it matter if one has money? One should have power to command people. The other day when the District Collector’s wife attended our Deepa’s birthday, one servant opened the car door for her and another carried the gift packet on her behalf . When she was walking like a queen every body was paying great respect to her. That is power. That is good fortune.”
Her husband who heard her was nonplussed and started wondering how he could get that kind of power. He earned a lot of money in business but how could he command power!
The sweltering heat continues..the labourers continue crushing the stones. They skip a meal to spend the hard earned money to visit a cinema theatre . They forget their hunger and hard work looking at the romantic adventures of the hero and the heroin on the screen and vicariously live the colourful dream like- life for a while which gives them the tonic effect for next day’s hard labour.
The waves in the sea continue their effort to cross the shores. People riding on scooters, travelling in cars, flying in aeroplanes continue their effort to climb the ladder of hopes to reach next higher levels.


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