Rootless plants

(Telugu Original story “verlu leni mokkalu” by Dr K. Meerabai)

-Dr K. Meerabai

Gouramma gently pushed aside the feet of the little boy from on her waist, got up without making noise, opened the back door, stepped into the backyard and walked towards the well.

She had not yet crossed her fiftieth year but had so many creases on her face . All the trials and tribulations she had gone through, brought untimely old age to Gouramma.

Not when her child died, nor when her husband breathed his last, or when they had to sell away the farmland did she lose her courage.

Now when the time came for her to leave her house in which she had lived for thirty years, she was feeling as if her very life was being taken away.

“ Oh God! If I could die in this house I would have joined my husband who had protected me like the eye lid would protect the eye ball.” She wailed.

Her son Gopal and his wife Lakshmi were sleeping like logs after having packed all their belongings the whole day.

She observed that even four days after the full moon day, the moonlight was bright.

She peeped into the well. Just like Gouramma, , the well also dried up.

Though there was no water in it , she did not feel like closing it. As a result all the household trash was dumped into it.

Even during Summer season there used to be water in their well. When people started drilling bore wells , the water levels went down.

Like every one else, her husband veeresu got a bore well drilled in their field.

When people started using motors to pump water to the fields, the remaining water in their back yard well totally dried up.

Gouramma would feel at a loss if she did not sit at the well at least an hour a day .

She would boil water with the firewood she collected from nearby fields for Veeresu to take bath. After having worked the whole day in his field, Veeresu would come home and take bath at the well to relax his tired body.

Then both of them would sit under the tree eating millet balls dipped in onion soup and chatting.

Gouramma walked round the well and sat under the mango tree.

All her thirty years of married life were spent in this house. Though Veeresu died had at a young age, leaving her half the way, she continued living there carrying the memories of Veeresu in the premises of her house, the well and the mango tree.

All of a sudden the government officers came to them and asked them to vacate the house.

“How could she live in any other house other than this one where she had shared her life with Veeresu? “

Gouramma walked back into the house rubbing her tearful eyes.

She was irritated to see her son Gopal in deep sleep and thought “ How could he sleep with out feeling even a prick of an ant when the house in which he was born and brought up is getting bulldozed? “

She walked to her bed and lay down beside the little boy.

Her eyes were burning but she could not sleep.

Gopal had started packing things from early morning that day telling her “Today is the last day of our stay here mother! By tomorrow morning we have to surrender our house to the Government officers.”

When she heard this news she felt as if her heart would break . Unable to bear the sadness, She started crying .

“ why do you cry mother? They have been warning us that we should vacate the house. It is not as though we alone are loosing our house. What ever the fate of others would be ours too. They are giving money to build a ramshackle house tentatively. They will pay us pro rata per acre according to the market value . Why are you creating a scene? “ Gopal spoke in a stern voice.

Gopal himself was not less affected than his mother, and was heavy hearted to leave his house and field but he controlled himself because people would laugh at him if he cried like a woman.

He fought as much as he could. Taking the other-affected people along with him , he attended the meeting of the people who held red flags .

When the police lathi- charged the crowd , they dispersed quietly.

Somebody advised them to move the court. Who would give them the money to meet the expenses? Like fancy houses and bungalows, justice also had become expensive.

The news papers said the original route map for laying roads was changed in order to protect the fields and houses of the MPs and MLAs.

There was a raging fire in Gopal’s heart for his inability to fight against the injustice meted out to them.

He remembered how lovingly his father was teaching him how to raise crops right from sowing, transplanting, watering, strengthening the soil with manure , spraying pesticide and gathering the yield. Gopal who stopped going to school after studying fifth class was a constant companion to his father from the age of ten.

When he was lying down under the shade of the neem tree planted by his father, the touch of its cool breeze gave him the assurance of his father’s hand on his shoulder.

Though outwardly Gopal let out his frustration on his mother for crying, in his heart of hearts he too was distressed.

When Gouramma refused to eat that night, her daughter in law explained to her “ The Government is constructing a huge air port at Shamshaad mother in law. ! People from various countries would come and go from that airport. Those rich people would not commute in carts and buses as we do. They travel in huge cars.So they need wide roads. That is why they are laying four lane roads. Also they must build star hotels and big shopping malls for the foreigners. They are bulldozing big houses too. Who cares about small houses like the ones we live in? Any way they promised to provide us with house- sites at some other place.“

“ Who can say how much time the Government would take to give them the compensation and how many visits they would have to pay to the offices to get it.” Gopal mused as he was listening to his wife’s words.

‘ Last year Ranganna committed suicide by consuming pesticide because the crop dried away,and he could not repay the loans. His wife and children did not get the compensation announced by the Government till today. Some important person had come and registered the name of Ranganna’s wife promising that cheques would be issued to her. When that woman went to the meeting they said her name was not there. She came back crying.

Later it came to light that Ranganna’s name was removed because he was not a supporter of the party in power and the compensation was given to another affected family of their own party .

Gouramma ate a few morsels of food just to please her daughter in law .‘. ‘ When the heartless bulldozer tramples houses, nobody would hear the cries of the poor people’s hearts. ‘She lamented.

‘ The rich who fly in aeroplanes don’t see the hardships and tears of the poor . They want wide roads and comfortable travel. No one cares about the broken hearts of the poor and the miserable. How many baskets of jasmine flowers should be crushed to get a bottle of scent? ‘ Gouramma went on thinking.

‘This road construction work started five years ago. Poor farmers who surrendered their one acre or half acre land to the Government joined as workers. Tomorrow Gopal too might become a day labourer. However small one’s field might be, the dignity of tilling their own land was different.’

Gouramma put the loose end of her saree into her mouth to suppress the sound of her sobs.

They got married during the rainy season . She had stepped into that house at the age of sixteen as the wife of Veeresu. The very next day night it rained. Gouri got up from sleep when rain drops fell on her. Veeresu could sleep in a corner but Gouri was awake the whole night.

“If it rains it is common for the roof to leak. You would not sprout because of that.” Veeresu teased her.

“It never happened in our house because of the concrete roof.” She said.

Veeresu’s self pride was wounded. He started construction of proper room the very next day. He prepared bricks by putting them in kilns, mixed lime and sand for building the brick walls, laid Kadapa black stones for the floor and used tall palm tree trunk reefs for the roof and filled the gaps with slabs.

After having worked the whole day and getting tired, he would take hot water bath at sunset , eat the soft millet- balls and there after would not leave Gouri’ company. .

Veeresu’s father and mother had died in a bus accident. He was left with four acres of land when all the loans were paid off by selling away some land.

One year if the crops dried for want of rains, the next year pests would eat away the crop.

During the first days of of his married life Veeresu would be in a hurry to go home for lunch and was laughed at by people who teased him saying it was the wife’s company that attracted him to go home for lunch.

Once Gouri expressed her desire to have lunch with him at the field. From that day onwards she used to carry food for him.

Knowing that Gouri was the only daughter to her parents and hence was pampered , Veeresu was taking good care of her.

Three months after they got married, one day Gouri brought jowar flour pancakes and brinjal curry for Veeresu. She asked him to eat and lay down in the shade of a tree saying she was getting reeling sensation.

Veeresu felt guilty thinking that Gouri’s ill health was because of her hard work at home and at the cowshed.

He was overwhelmed to know that it was due to her pregnancy.

Her parents took her home because the first delivery of the daughter should be taken care of by girl’s parents. Gouri gave birth to a baby boy .

In his happy mood, Veeresu added another room to his single-room house.

With a big smile on his face he assured Gouri that their son would not face the problem of leaking roof when he got married and be with his wife.

Gouramma countered “ Do you think your son would work in mud and soil like you do? He would be educated and work in the city. “

“ The eldest one should inherit his father’s profession. As my father gave me the land, I will pass on this to my son. If you want an educated and employed son, you had better give birth to another son.” He quipped

Though Gouri gave birth to her second son after two years, they were not lucky to see him grow up as a well educated man and employed like a prince. .

The boy died of meningitis at the age of six.

This was a hard blow to Gouri . Veeresu tried to console her saying , ” You gave me a son who has taken after me, so next time you should give birth to a daughter who looks like you.”

Thinking of her life Gouramma was sobbing quietly.

Gopal, her son, saw her plight and gently spoke to her” what is this mother? The cart will be at the door early in the morning. Why don’t you have some sleep?”

“ How can I sleep my son? I entered this house as a bride. Your father built it single handed. Every brick in the wall is the result of his sweat and reminds me of him. How do you expect me not to cry when I have to quit this house?”

“ Do you think I am not sad to leave the home and our field? What is the use of feeling devastated? Listen to me and go to sleep.” Gopal cajoled her.

Gouramma stretched herself beside her grand son and closed her eyes. But he mind continued to think of her husband Veeresu.

Gouramma was blessed with a female child in her third delivery. Wishing that the girl should be educated, she named her after the of Godess of enlightenment, Saraswthi. By the time saraswathi was in her seventh class, Veeresu fell ill. They admitted him to private hospital hoping to get a better treatment than in a government hospital. To meet his medical expenses they had to borrow money. The medicines had no effect on him. Without saying a word to his wife, Veeresu died in his sleep.

Gouramma took courage and sold away an acre to repay the loans. Saraswathi’s studies came to a halt. Gopal occupied his father’s place in the field. Gouramma started taking Saraswathi along with her while attending to menial jobs in other houses.

Gouramma married away Saraswathi at the age of fifteen to her younger brother . Next year she had chosen Lakshmi as her son’s wife. Lakshmi adjusted herself in her mother in law’s house like a tongue in the mouth. Lakshmi proved herself a very affectionate daughter in law to Gouramma and a good wife to Gopal.

Gouramma was elated on the birth of her grand son with the belief that Veeresu him self was reborn as Gopal’s son.

Now that they had to leave the house, she was feeling that they were doing injustice to the boy by depriving him of his legacy.

By the time Gouramma woke up the next morning , she could hear the road engine’s loud noise.

“ Mother in law! I did not wake you up thinking that after all this is the last time you could sleep in this house. The cart is waiting at the door. If you brush your teeth and eat some thing we can start.” Lakshmi spoke softly.

Gouramma got up without a word, took a palm leaf broom, and swept the front yard , sprinkled water there and drew a design on the ground with rice flour. Then she swept the house clean.

Lakshmi tried to discourage her saying , “ why do you break your back sweeping the floor? The moment we leave the house, they would start demolishing it. Do you have to clean and decorate the house for that?”

The driver of the horse- drawn vehicle called from outside “ How long should I wait mother?”

“We are there brother! “ said Lakshmi , carrying the luggage to the front door.

For the last time Gouramma stepped into the backyard , peeped into the well, looked at the mango tree longingly and came back into the house. She touched the walls and closets lovingly as if touching her own baby before she alighted the vehicle.

When they were crossing the neem tree in front of their house, she felt as if they were abandoning Veeresu all alone there and closed her eyes.

‘ When they built their house it was far from the main town. In course of time the town got extended and the rich bought the fields and transformed them into house sites which they sold for profit. Now their houses were targeted for expanding roads. ‘ this thought brought heart burn to Gouramma .

When they reached the newly built ramshackle house, Gouramma quietly spread a mat in one corner and lied down with her eyes closed.

The next evening when Gopal was going to their house, Gouramma followed him.

In the place of their house built by husband’ hard labour, what remained there there was dilapidated walls and heaps of stones. The neem tree in the front yard and the mango tree in the back yard looked like human trunks without limbs. Gouramma burst out in an unbearable sorrow.

Gopal dragged her back saying “ That is why I asked you not to come here.”

Gouramma grabbed two loose bricks of the broken wall and followed her son.

She told her son “If you build a house of your own, use these bricks along with heather ones and show them to your son as his grandfather’s legacy.”

They saw crowds on the road and enquired what the matter was.

“ Have you not heard the news? It came to light that in order to protect the lands of the rich the original root map for the new roads was changed and the poor were affected by this. The court had ordered that our lands should not be touched.” One farmer explained.

The moment Gopal heard the news , a ray of hope lighted his face and vanished instantly.

“ If the order had come before the houses were demolished, we would have been benefitted what can we do now?” Looking at the remains of his house Gopal said gloomily.

Gouramma banged her head with her hands and started lamenting “ They cut the trees, smashed the houses and now if they say the place is ours of what use would it be? The rich never look at the poor as fellow beings. They snatch the houses and fields and offer compensation. They don’t realise that a house does not simply mean bricks and mortar . It stands as a testimony to their loving memories of their ancestors. Do they think the poor people don’t have any feelings and emotions? “

Standing amidst the ruins which reminded them of the funereal ground, Gopal could see no ray of hope.

“ The courts would take years to settle such matters. Will it be possible for him to build a house here? Even if he could build, it would not be the one raised by his dear father.

“ If a tree is cut, it might bloom again because it has roots deep in the ground. But the farmers whose roots are in their fields, once uprooted will not survive . Do those who talk of compensation ever realise the value of the lives of the poor? “ with these thoughts Gopal’s eyes were filled with tears.

That night Gouramma called her son and daughter-in-law and said “ If ever you build a house of your own, use these two bricks while raising the walls. They stand as icons of your father and mother. You have to tell your son these are the bricks from his grand father’s house. “

“ Where are you going? You can tell that to your grandson when he grows up. Take heart and go to sleep.” Gopal tried to instil hope in her.

“ When your son build the house, you have to decorate the front yard with rice flour designs mother in law. “ Lakshmi spoke in an encouraging tone.

The next day Lakshmi noticed that her mother in law was still sleeping, though it was late in the morning and thought she might have been awake till late in the night. She tried to wake her up patting her and gently saying “” It is already nine o clock mother in law. Wake up and freshen up.”

Gouramma who was lying on a mat did not open her eyes. Her hand which rested on the two bricks she had brought from her house, slipped away from them lifelessly.


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