My America Tour -4
Telugu Original : Avula Gopala Krishna Murty (AGK)
English Translation: Komala Venigalla
America hospitality is a special feature found everywhere.In ancient days India was well known for its hospitality.But these days that spirit is changing in our own country. Americans are very good hosts. I was a house-guest at Albert Kaufman`s house, for three and half days. The family left the whole house at my disposal when they had to go to work. they made meticulous arrangements for my food and other needs. Daily they took me out to visit places driving two three hundred miles giving me an opportunity to observe their system of agriculture.
One day they threw a party inviting 23 families. The guests brought their own crockery and cutlery along with an item of food-a potluck party. I , as a special guest, had to taste all their dishes, if I did not do it they would feel disrespected. After that heavy dinner all of us sat for discussion -that is their tradition. Poets, singers, teachers, film personalities, lawyers, doctors and agriculturalists comprised the group gathered there. All of them posed innumerable questions to me which showed their knowledge and also their ignorance about India. They all heard me with interest and some even took notes.
In Milwaukee the Malinger family invited me for dinner. I asked them what they were interested in about India.
Mary Malinger said that they invited me specially because they came to know that I have six children. I remarked-`may be you have more children`!
`How do you know?` She asked. I started saying -`otherwise`-she interrupted me saying that they have nine daughters and one son. She laughed pointing to herself. She was pregnant with her eleventh child.
`Are you Roman Catholic`? My question to her. The couple wondered how I knew it. The Catholics are against family planning.
The dinner with them created a festival atmosphere. The kids actively participated.I was reminded of Tenali Ramakrishna`s story-Nigam Sarma`s sister. Their uncle joined us at the table.
It was the birthday of the one of the girls, they brought the big birthday cake, which I cut being the guest of honor.
The youngest girl was three years old. All children giggled, chirped and laughed around me. Their mother reminded them that they should respect the guest, Children are children-anywhere, anytime, they bring cheer and pleasure to the grown ups. After meals they asked whether my mother tongue was English.
I said `No`.One of them asked me how then could I speak English. I told them that I had learnt it. The third and fourth girls wondered who could teach me that good English. My answer was – like your country my country was in slavery ruled by the British . One of them remarked that they never had slavery . Their mother corrected her saying that they had slavery once upon a time. I continued- `you got freedom in 1776 and we got in 1947 Your mother tongue is English. We have learnt it and so it is our adopted language.` -They looked at each other assimilating what I said. The eldest girl- a college student expressed the desire to know how mother tongue sounds.
I got a cassette out-Athota Ratna kavi, and lawyer Johnson sang and recorded them.The children`s father relayed them on the tape recorder. They all jumped up and down appreciating the song. I told them that Telugu is called Italian of the east.They requested me to sing. I recited two poems. They gaped at my mouth in surprise.
After sending the children away Mary came and sat with me with a notebook in her hand.
She was looking at me intently as she asked me-what is the status of women in your country? My answer-`You call her better half. We call her Gruhalakshmi- Arthangi. To tell you frankly they are given secondary status. Of late that situation is changing slowly, treating them equal to men`.
She tightened her lips. Her husband looked at her smiling. Her next question was `how long, would it take women to be treated equals`. I coolly and calmly said- A few generations- changes in our country take place slowly. We are very slow in social change.
She asked me-Do you still observe untouchability in your country?
My response-`yes.Our constitution abolished untouchability , laws have been passed saying that it is crime to practice untouchability in restaurants and other public places.`
She-`Has is it gone?`
Me -`No it did not. It will not go this soon. It has not come up all of a sudden. No single person is responsible for it. The responsibility lies on the past history of India. All of us are accountable to it. All of us have to work seriously to abolish it. Even then it will take a very long time. Inter caste and inter racial marriages and other such changes will help to abolish it.`
While she took notes she asked me why should it take that long.
I said- Social problems do not crop up in a single day,Such social evils take real long time to die down.`
She —` but——/`Me–` There is no but in social problems.They have to go in course of time. These people should be given special preference and place in education, professions, marriages and technical fields and in state legislatures. Such encouragement will slowly help the needed result- abolition of the evil.
She could not say anything further. Her husband retired to the next room. The older gentleman was just listening to our conversation. The children were busy playing.
Let us turn to the discussions in Kaufman`s house. I was asked everywhere why our women are treated unequally. I had to explain to them clearly and patiently.
One poetess wondered why men are so selfish and narrow minded.
My response–some such men you will find even in your country-.The men gathered there laughed at my remark.
I continued–Apart from men`s selfish narrow thinking- we see that they are tradition bound.Without trying to change their thought process to come out of the old evils thinking that old is gold. This type of social behaviorism we can see in all the countries. If we look back to history and social revolutions we know that men are slaves to old ways. But there are some social activists who opposed the existing social set up. Such people we meet in all countries. We are closer to 16 th century in our social norms. This is 20th century. You are measuring our old social system with your 20th century yard scale. `
They looked at me, at each other hesitating to question further.
Me–`You find similar conditions in all backward countries.
Kaufman asked me whether the deep rooted untouchability and caste system had been abolished.
Me—Though our constitution abolished untouchability , the society did not do it yet. Caste system is strong in our society. Some are trying to do away with it. In our country Nationalism was fully supported by our freedom fighters. It was basic hatred towards Britishers. After the Britishers left in our country hatred against muslims flourished during the partition of the country.Then it turned into the evil caste system.The inherent hate spirit in Nationalism helped the caste system to become deep rooted . Even elections reflect caste system.People marry within their own caste thus strengthening the system further .
They were shocked to know that marriages do not cross the caste barriers-expected me to suggest alternative.
Me–We are trying to bring a change. We are hoping that the educated will encourage inter caste marriages. But it will have to go a long way, even generations to take place for the change.
They sighed and looked at me sympathetically. I am a representative of the unfortunate lot.
Kaufman told me that some of our own people denied that those two evils are no more in our country. I emphatically told him that it was a lie.
I asked them about the problem of blacks in their own country, and if they tell lies the problem will not go away. Same is true with our problem even if some tell lies.—
We should bravely face the problems`–I said.
Similar questions were raised everywhere I met people. I answered them clearly and truthfully just as I talked about them in India. I referred to the historical events, foreign invasions and our traditional social background.
In those meetings I could see their enthusiasm to know about our country. They even expressed their readiness to help to redress our problems .
They depend more on machines than on manual labor because the later is more expensive. They believe in buying a new machine instead of getting the old one repaired.
Sixty, seventy per cent of women smoke, almost all take drinks. Sixty per cent of workers in offices are women . Their women lawyers are even more in number. They don’t differentiate men from women -may be they are 18 crore angels!
But their family system is a bit odd. The parents take less responsibility once their children grow to be 15, 16 years. But this freedom to children is making them go astray in some cases. I felt their family system is defective.
The whole families eat at restaurants.Some even do not cook food at home. This practice destroys togetherness of the family in some way. Restaurant smells pervading their houses.
Another special feature of theirs is not to interfere in others` lives. They keep to themselves. General population does not bother about neighboring nations. Hundred year old Monroe scheme could be responsible for their behavior.
They do not like to waste time.Men and women walk very fast and even speak fast. Their walk is equal to our running. they use their time methodically. If they have to meet somebody they fix a time and promptly be there and finish the work on time.
One day I fixed up 10 am as my time to meet a person. Though I was there at 10 am it took 10 minutes for me to trace and reach his room. He turned to next work as though he had done with me.
I approached his secretary who said he was looking into his next business.
I argued—– Our meeting time is for 30 minutes .Only 10 minutes are already spent–there are 20 more minutes he has to give me. She did not know what to say but went in saying that I was raising law points.
The gentleman called me in after 20 minutes of talking. I promptly got up to leave. He said that I use my 30 minutes and continued discussion. time is important for them..
Even when we tell things not to their liking, they listen to us without showing irritation. They look for the important points in what we said and reason in our ideas.
So rational thinking is welcomed by them.
I argued with them in many meetings that they were allowing too much freedom to their children at a very young age which is leading some to wrong paths.I mentioned the same in my radio and television talks there.
They attacked me in return saying that we control our children too much not allowing them to grow. Their objection is to our system of the parents finding life partners to our sons and daughters. This point was raised by them in all meetings.
My answer was—–We take good care in raising our children and we sacrifice many of our comforts to enable our children to have better future. You too do that to a certain extent. But you leave them free to find themselves even before they are mature enough to take their own decisions. We in India advise and guide them even in matters of their marriages with a view to make them have proper married life. They did not agree with me. But I did not leave the matter at that.
I said—–With modern education and lifestyle marriages taking new roots even in our country. But most of the parents take that responsibility too in selecting the life-partners to their children. We are not making changes as fast as you do. It will slowly move with education and industrial advancement. I am not defending that we are right. But I see some irresponsibility in your system.~
They emphatically denied it.
But I still insisted saying that you are leaving more responsibility on children and call it giving them freedom. I call it your irresponsibility. I could see their anger.
I continued——What is wrong if you guide your children regarding their marriages giving them advice and suggestions. It is not an order on your part. But guidance is not a sin. The family system is still strong in our country. Yours has loopholes. —
They remained quiet , some moved their heads.Some could see the point in my argument.
(to be continued…)
Komala Venigalla, wife of Sri Inniah Narisetty is a retired Assistant Professor of English from Ambedkar Open University, Hyderabad. Written on Modern Women covering various aspects of their lives in contemporary world. Traslated M.N.Roy’s Memoirs of Cat into Telugu. Contributed articles to Misimi Telugu monthly.