(Telugu Original story “Chaithanyam” by Dr K. Meerabai)

-Dr K. Meerabai

Yadamma was sweeping the market yard . Along with the dust, a very obnoxious smell wafted out and pervaded the air.

She was holding two coconut brooms in each of her hands and was applying all her strength to clean the yard. Her Back was bent because of her sweeping work for years.

Her hair was dishevelled and she wore a long -sleeved loose blouse and saree. Her fore head showed wrinkles even though she was only forty. She had a big round dot on her fore head.

She felt breathless, but continued to sweep alternately with her right and left hands using all her strength.

Spoiled tomatoes, discarded cabbage leaves and rotten vegetables were spread all over the walk way, emanating foul smell .

Though it was her regular routine, she hated it every time she did the work.

By the time fresh vegetables arrived at the market in bullock- carts and horse- drawn carts, she had to finish sweeping and cleaning the whole area.

The man in charge of the market would shout at her if she came in the way of the vendors carrying the vegetable baskets to their allotted sheds.

When her eyes caught sight of a good tomato or green chilli lying down, she would collect it into her saree fold around her waist.

Hearing the sound of approaching carts, yadamma speeded up her work.

“ when I go home I must buy jaggery in the shop.” She reminded herself.

“ Though Sankranti festival is over just a fortnight ago, already the days are getting hotter. Berries( Indian plums) are still available along with sugar canes. Mangoes appear in the market before the season.”

“Times are changing. Jasmines, mangoes and water -melons used to appear in summertime . Winter would bring fruits like custard apples. But now fruits and flowers follow no seasons. “

“Times are changing but the royal authority the upper caste Reddy and Kapu communities exercise on us, the lower caste people, is not changing. Otherwise why should I be afraid of that Narasimhulu? “ After finishing her work in the yard , yadamma was walking home with these thoughts in her mind.

“ Why are you walking in such a leisurely manner? Are you going to give me a cup of tea or not? Before you leave for work should you not sweep our front yard and decorate it with rice flour ? Did I not tell you that I have to attend a meeting in the Panchayat Office today early in the morning? “ yadamma’s husband Sunkanna started shouting at her, the moment he saw her approaching.

Yadamma stepped into the house without replying him. She kindled the fire in the stove made of three stones and started boiling water for preparing tea.

‘ He told about the meeting three days back.At nights he would come home fully drunk, use abusive language against her and kick her. Actually it is his duty to sweep and clean the market – yard. He leaves it to her but collects the money and poses like a master.’

Yadamma’s thoughts continued while she added a little jaggary and a spoonful of tea powder in the boiling water.

“ I have been shouting at you and you don’t care to reply. Do you think you are a queen? You impudent woman. “ Sunkanna approached her from behind , pulled her hair and banged her with his fists.

As she was taken by surprise, yadamma fell forward and touched the burning firewood. She screamed in pain.

“ Unless you behave yourself I will kill you. I heard you have been visiting other ladies. Do you think you have become a great leader? “ Sunkanna kicked her once again and walked out.

Yadamma sat there for a while crying silently.

A fat pig which took a bath in the open sewerage in front of her house, peeped in and when yadamma hushed it, ran away swinging it’s tail.

Some of the boys who gathered under the berries tree ( Indian plums tree )were throwing stones at the fruits in the branches and were pushing one another to pick the fruits when they fell down.

Yadamma saw her son among the group and got wild. She pulled out a piece of dry wood from the furnace and ran there.

“ I fought with your father and was beaten by him to send you to school so that you would escape this kind of mean labour and have a good life. Now you have escaped from school to join this good for nothing fellows to plunder berries .” Shouting at him she raised the stick to beat him.

“ It is intermission time mother. That is why I came here. All the time you pester me to study. My father is a good man.” Her son Sankar said trying to free himself from his mother’s grip.

Yadamma let him go .

“ Yes. Your father is better than me. He wanted you to be a servant at the house of that rich man. Go. Do the back- breaking work there from morning till evening. Quit your school and go. Be a slave to breweries just like your father and hit your wife when you get married.” She said in desperation and came home sobbing.

Sankar who observed the burnt skin on his mother’s hand was moved to tears. He came running to his mother, clutched his mother’s neck and sobbed :“ Mother I will go to school. I won’t be like my father. Don’t cry Amma.”

“ Yadamma! It is getting late. We are still stuck here. Are we going or not?” Seeing four of the neighbourhood women enter their house enquiring his mother, Sankar ran out.

“ I was wondering whether you people would come or not. Let us go.” Yadamma sprinkled some water on her face, dried herself with the loose end of her saree, applied a red dot on her forehead, combed her hair and stepped out along with them.

On the way they gathered more women calling them by their names and proceeded to the Panchayat Office as a group. Yadamma gained confidence with the increasing number of followers.

She made them sit at the door before she entered the office.

All the Members of Panchayat were sitting around a table. The Vice- Sarpanch( officer) Acchi Reddy was sitting in a chair in a relaxed manner.

Sunkanna was standing by the side of Acchi Reddy in all obedience saying “ Yes sir. What ever you say. Who is she to say anything? I will get her thumb impression where ever you indicate.”

Yadamma straight away approached Reddy and greeted him with folded hands.

All the other Members were shocked to see her. It was more than a year since she had stepped into the office.

“ Let your mother’s hair be cut” He cursed her. “ Who asked you to come here? How dare you? Did you not have enough beating in the morning? Let us go home and I will make you cry for your mother and father.” Sunkanna approached her menacingly with his hand raised to give her a blow.

Yadamma who had tucked the dry wood she had carried to beat her son at her waist, pulled it out.

Spitting red fire from her eyes she raised the stick aiming at her husband.

“ You will regret if you touch me. What are you doing here? I can look after my work. Go home without looking back. I am the Sarpanch ( officer) of this Panchayat. That Reddy sir, sitting there is the Vice – Sarpanch( officer.) All the others are Members. Why did you come here?” Yadamma questioned him at the top of her voice.

Sunkanna took a step back. All the members rose fom their seats.

Acchi Reddy, the Vice- Sarpanch, understood the situation and used his political strategy.

“ Yadamma ! Did you have a fight with your husband before you arrived here? Yes. You are the Sarpanch. It is I who nominated you as the Sarpanch for this seat reserved for scheduled castes.Do you think I forgot that? Your husband has been attending to your official work because you can not handle this work. This is a man’s job. From the beginning Sunkanna has been looking after the work in the office. He is getting your thumb impression on the official papers. Today, all of a sudden why are you objecting?” Acchi Reddy asked in an authoritative voice.

“True sir, But all the women in our neighbourhood Pester me with questions. They demanded I should tell them what good I did for them. Look there. They are sitting under the tree. They came to know that the Government sanctioned money to dig bore- wells and construct community toilets for women. Now they are demanding that I should get the work done. “ Yadamma bowed down to Acchi Reddy to show her respect and sat there.

“So you went to places and gathered these women . How dare you stand in front of Reddy sir and talk? I won’t leave you.” Sunkanna raised his hand again.

Before Yadamma answered with her stick, Acchi Reddy checked Sunkanna in a stern voice.

“ Sunkanna! This not your home but Panchayat Office. Here Yadamma is not speaking as your wife but as the Panchayat Sarpanch. Go back and attend to your work. “

Sunkanna walked out with his head bent down. The other members were looking at Acchi Reddy in astonishment.

AcchiReddy’ s eyes were on the group of women gathered outside the office.

There was a kind of excitement in them . There was a readiness in them to ambush the office if Yadamma signalled.

Acchi Reddy, a seasoned politician, understood the situation.

“ It is true that the Government is ready to finance. But the problem is half of the expenditure should be borne by the public. Do they have so much money to contribute?” He asked.

“ Sir! If you are prepared to implement the scheme, these women are ready to take loans and pay their share. “ Yadamma said politely.

The women seem to be ready to do anything to escape the curse of going out in search of an open place early in the morning, each one carrying a vessel full of water, walking through rocky paths and thorny bushes looking for the cover of bushes and trees to squat and empty their bowels, all the time dying with shame and humility at the thought of being observed by men walking that way.

They shouted in unison “ Here is the money sir. Please get the work sanctioned by the Government and be blessed for the act of kindness.”

All the Panchayat Members were stunned to see this kind of demand coming from the women. This was the first time for the lower class women, to step into the office and raise their voice.

The Members looked at each other meaningfully, thinking that these women got emboldened because of the Government’s policy of supporting women in self- help groups financially.

Yadamma walked to the door, removed the towel she tied around her waist and spread it on the ground. She took out the money she carried and put it on the towel and looked at the other women.

Each one of the group of women came forward and put her share on the cloth. Yadamma tied the money into a bundle and put it in front of Reddy, the Vice- Sarpanch.

The Panchayat Members understood that they would be the losers if they went against the wish of the voters.

“ Yadamma! I am very happy and feel really proud to see that you women showed the spirit to improve your living conditions and are ready to deposit the money by taking loans. As you wish, this time we shall use the Government Matching Grants to construct toilets and dig bore wells to get water supply to your area.” Acchi Reddi said in a compassionate and at the same time a very dignified tone.

The faces of the women showed their happiness. “ Our salutations to you Sir.! We will not forget your help.” They said with folded hands.

Yadamma bowed down with gratitude as she thanked the Vice- Sarpanch :

“ Sir! Forgive me for raising my voice while quarrelling with my husband in full view of great people like you. You honoured my promise to these women. Hundred salutations to you for that.”

“Yadamma! You are the Panchayat Sarpanch. How can we say no to your proposal?” There was a hidden warning in Acchi Reddy ‘s reply.

He did not under- estimate yadamma who could gather the support of so many women.

“ Sir! It is all your kindness. Who ever you propose, would be elected as Sarpanch. I know I am nobody. “ Yadamma said humbly with folded hands.

“ Okay. Now you can go home. I will get the papers ready and send them to you. You can put your thumb impression and send them back through your husband Sunkanna.” Acchi Reddy said.

“Sir! Let the resolutions we have taken today, be written in Telugu and be read aloud so that all of us can hear. I will wait here. Here after I will not put my thumb impression. I will come here and sign on the papers. “ Yadamma replied in a shy but firm tone.

Acchi Reddy was surprised to hear her. There appeared to be some change in Yadamma. She was speaking in a polite tone but was not shivering with fear as she used to .

He felt that the Awakening he could see in Yadamma and the other women would not stop at that.


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