FatherDont Die Please!

(Telugu Original story “Naayanaa Nuvvu Chacchipovadde” by Dr K. Meerabai)

-Dr K. Meerabai

“ Amma! I am very hungry. Will you give me something to eat at least today?Sayilu who came running into the house asked even as he was gasping for breath.
Pochamma did not reply.
Their house had iron sheets for roof. Sayilu looked into the other room partitioned by bamboo net.
There he found his younger brother saidulu lying on a black -stone bench with his knees pressed into his tummy.
Saidulu was younger to him by two years. His hands and legs looked like broom sticks. He would regularly get fever once in three days.
Both of them attended school till they were in fifth class and left studies.
“ Where did Amma go? Did she cook millet pan cakes at least today? “ Sayilu asked in an unhappy tone.
“ Landlord Reddy sir’s people came and took her to his home. She left in the morning and till now no trace of her. I too did not eat anything. I got stomach pain because of hunger.” Saidulu replied and closed his eyes.
Sayilu opened the mud pot, in which they stored water, to quench the burning sensation in his stomach with a glass of water. Nobody seemed to have brought water from the bore- pump .
“ There is not even a glass of water.” He said desperately sitting by the side of Saidulu.
“ You know our Suri’s father committed suicide taking poison. The government officers came in a jeep and gave them a bag of rice and some money for his last rites. Later the Government will give them more money it seems.” Sayilu brought the news.
“ Why did uncle Beesanna commit suicide? Suri was crying for his father. Will his father come back if they gave compensation money?” Saidulu tone was grief -stricken when he said it.
How could Sayilu know what prompted Beesanna to take away his own life?
Beesanna had gone to Kurnool three times to get fertilisers. Every time the farmers had to stand in a queue for hours under the hot sun, waiting for their turn to get the fertilisers but came back empty handed. . The fourth time, the vexed farmers attacked the vehicle that brought the fertiliser bags and tried to loot the bags. Beesanna got hold of one bag and tried to run away.
Police started beating the farmers to disperse the crowd. Beesanna got wounded and returned home limping. Looking at his crops dying for want of fertilisers, Beesanna felt hopeless. Burdened by the loans he had taken to raise the crop; surrounded by darkness with no ray of hope to repay the loans , he killed himself by swallowing pesticide .
Unable to bear the pangs of hunger, the brothers started searching every where for any kind of food . Sayilu found some millet floor in a jar and put a fistful into his mouth. He started coughing when the floor got into his throat and nose . He brought out the last few ounces of water from the pot, gave a little to his brother and drank the rest. He immediately vomited it as his empty stomach could not take it.
“When would mother and father come home?” With this question in their heart they looked into the street.
Veeranna was standing at the boundary of his field. The seeds he bought with the money he had borrowed seemed to be spurious. To add to it the untimely rain harmed whatever little crop that was there.
He hoped to get good crop of peanuts this time. He planned to repay his loans by selling it. For the last three years he had been toiling hard buying seeds and fertilisers with borrowed money but the yield was not enough even to pay the interest on the loans.
It was hard to feed the four members of their family twice a day. The children lost weight. Their house was no better than the cow -shed . If it rained the house was flooded. If it was summer the iron sheet roof radiated heat.
That Landlord Reddy who gave him loan was after him for repayment. Every day he would send his servant to veeranna’s house. How long could he avoid showing his face to him? Unless he sold away his land he would not be able to repay him.
Once his field was gone what reason was there for him to live ?
Veeranna sat down with his hands on his head, contemplating if it would not be better to die swallowing pesticide like Beesanna, instead of letting his wife and children go hungry and be looked down by others.
“ You are still sitting here? That Reddy’ servants came to your house and took your wife saying their boss ordered her to come. Go and find out what the matter was.” Narasaiah who was passing by that way advised him.
Veeranna got up in a hurry not bothering whether the towel around his head was in its place or not and proceeded towards Reddy’s home.
The moment veeranna saw Reddy, he automatically removed his head cover and held it in his hands to show his respect to that man. With his eyes down cast , he spoke after a great effort “ Sir why did you send for pochamma ?”
“ I was wondering why you did not turn up till now Veeranna. So you are here. If your wife is absent for an hour you have come running. You have been avoiding paying the loan money. Pay the interest and take your wife home. Till then she would be here helping my wife.” Said Reddy twirling his moustache .
Veeranna’s eyes turned red. He could not utter a word. He was angry. He felt humiliated. He was sad. ‘ It was true . He did not pay the interest on the loan. How could the man bring his wife as pawn? What kind of justice was it? ‘
“I will leave my bullocks here by way of interest on the loan Sir!. Send my wife home. Our children must be waiting for her. “ Veeranna said with folded hands.
The children waiting for their parents were worried when they did not return for long.
“ Just like Suri’ father, our father too might have consumed poison” saidulu said fearfully, opening his eyes which were drooping because of hunger and weakness .
“In that case would the Government give us money and rice? “ Sayilu wondered.
The very thought that they could eat freshly cooked rice mixed with prawns soup made his mouth water. His stomach made gurgling sounds.
“ Did your father come home? He had gone to that Reddy’s house to bring back your mother. “ Narasaiah who was going home peeped into the house with this question .
Sayilu turned his head sideways to signal that they had not come back. The boy was worried about the safety of his father.
The moment Narasaiah left, it started drizzling. Veeranna came home drenched in rain. The tears on his cheeks flowed down getting mixed with the rain water.
“What a fate? He must pawn his bullocks in lieu of his wife.” He mourned silently.
At the sight of their father, the children came out into the street running “. He is here. Father! Where is our mother? “ they shouted.
Without answering them Veeranna walked into the cow- shed. He patted the bullocks, fed them some grass and brought them out.
The rain which started as a shower now turned into a heavy rain. Veeranna was not thinking of the peanut crop in his field that might be spoiled by the unwanted rain.
His mind was projecting the pitiable picture of pochamma cringing with shame and disgrace for the insult of being house arrested in the Landlord’s house as a surety for the interest on the loan.
The bullocks who could not voice their protest, were following their master on the muddy road while the small bells tied around their necks were making rhythmic sounds.
After tying the bullocks in Reddy’s cow- shed, Veeranna stood there waiting.
“ You can take back your bullocks once you paid the money. Why do I snatch them away from you? “ Reddy spoke like a philanthropist.
He called out Pochamma .
Pochamma covered her face with the loose end of her saree and walked behind her husband.
The sight of her dear husband released the locked up emotions of grief and shame. She was not a royal -lady like Droupadi in Mahabharata to vow revenge against the Landlord who had brought her by force.
The incessant rain proved to be a boon to her, for nobody came across her to ask inconvenient and probing questions.
No sooner did she step into the house, she took the children into her embrace.
“ Why did you stay there for such a long time ammaa?” Saying so the children put their arms around their mother.
She read their question as ‘dont you know we are hungry ?’
She immediately stepped into the kitchen to light the firewood stove.
Veeranna instead of entering the house walked into the cow- shed. He sauntered around like a mother cow looking for its calves. The rods to which the bullocks were tied looked empty without the animals. Then he entered the bamboo partitioned room and lied down on the black- stone bench.
The pesticide tin in the cupboard was inviting him, promising freedom from all the worries. He got up slowly and took it into his hands.
Pochamma who ignited the firewood was blowing wind through a metal pipe to dispel the smoke . She started coughing when the smoke got into her lungs. The wet firewood was taking time to catch fire.
Finally the fire burst out like the fire of disgrace and insult in the heart of pochamma.
She added a handful of broken rice to the boiling water to make rice porridge .She added little salt before pouring the liquid into tumblers.
Then she looked for the children. They were not there. Pochamma was frightened. She peeped into the bamboo-net partitioned room.
She saw the children sitting at the feet of their father who was lying on the stone bench and heaved a sigh of relief.
The next moment her eye caught sight of the pesticide tin in her husband’s hand and her heart missed a beat.
“ FatherDont die pleaseDont consume pesticide like uncle Beesanna to take away your life. When you are not there , if Reddy sir’s people come for our mother, who will bring her back? “ crying pitifully the children were embracing the feet of their father.
Veeranna sat up. He looked into the face of his wife. He turned his looks at the pesticide tin in his hand.
“ Sell away our field to that Reddy and pay back the loan. We will leave this place, go somewhere and live as daily wage labourers . Dont desert me and leave the children and myself as orphans.” She took the pesticide tin from his hands and threw it out.


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