Political Stories by Volga

Political Stories-12

What is to be done? (Part – 3)

          All the prominent players from the Final Year class assembled in the shade of a pogada tree. Nobody was in a mood to let a girl from the B.A. group win the election without a fight. But then nobody had the confidence that anybody other than Soba could even split the vote of the B.A. girls. Was anybody ready to contest? Everybody had the same problems at home. There was no chance of anybody being elected unopposed.

          The girls engaged in a heated debate for some time on these matters. They argued about who would be the best candidate now. Some demanded an explanation for the five hundred Rupees already spent.

          Looking at the unfamiliar guilt displayed on Soba’s face, Santha felt devastated and argued spiritedly in defense of her friend. “What can any of us do if our folks are vehemently against it? Aren’t you all saying that your folks are opposed to it? Sobha didn’t think her folks would be against it. But when they found out there would be a contest, they were scared. How can she jump into the contest against the wishes of her folks? Is there anybody here who would do such a thing? Sure we lost five hundred Rupees – let’s say ve each lost a five or a ten. If you insist, Sobha will somehow beg her folks and come up with the five hundred and give us back our fives and tens.”

          Finally everybody relented. Nobody had ever seen Sobha so sad for such a long time. They decided not to pursue her candidacy and also to write off the five hundred Rupees spent on her campaign, but they weren’t prepared to let a girl from B.A. become the president of the student body.

          They turned to Santha.

          One girl said that if Santha would contest, they wouldn’t even have to write off the money spent already, for the name Sobha could easily be altered to Santha on all the handbills and time table cards with relative ease, and she demonstrated how easy it was.

          That ignited new enthusiasm in the group. It wouldn’t take more than a day’s work to change the name on the papers.

          They all beseeched Santha to agree. “We will do whatever it takes to win it for you,” they all pledged. Sobha too pleaded with Santha, taking her hands into hers.

          Santha agreed. That very afternoon, Sobha, Santha, Vandana, Kala and a few others skipped classes and corrected the name on the handbills.

          Over the next fifteen days, Santha knew no rest either at home or at the college. At the college, she met every girl at least twice to ask for her vote, went to each classroom between lectures to talk to the students, and gathered students during the afternoons and evenings and spoke to them. In the evening, she would invariably be late reaching home and hear a host of complaints from her mother Sundaramma, who, until her father Narasimharao arrived, behaved like a constable in charge of the police station.

          Narasimharao, for his part, no matter what time of the night he came home, behaved like the officer who never shirked his responsibilities, scolding Santha and threatening to pull her out of the college. Her brother Seshatalpasai never missed an opportunity to ridicule her. He had recently found a job and had since been trying hard to prove that he was the accomplished child of the family and that Santha would amount to nothing. Home felt like a police station for Santha all through that fortnight.

          But like a true revolutionary who wouldn’t turn informer in spite of horrendous torture by the police, Santha didn’t surrender to her parents. While she suffered abuse, insults and ridicule, she stood her ground as a self-respecting individual.

          As Sobha’s parents predicted, students from the boys’ colleges showed interest in the election. Fortunately Sobha was with her when some of them came to see Santha. “We have our sisters and some relatives in your college. We will make sure they will all vote for you,” they came pledging.

          While Santha remained agitated and unsure of how to deal with them, Soba escorted them politely to the visitors’ lounge and talked to them amicably. “We are delighted you came to help us. However, boys from another college will come here tomorrow, find out that you are supporting us, and decide to go over to the other side and support Bharathi from the B.A. class. You and they will begin fighting in the streets in our names. You have no idea how many problems we’ll have to face because of that. As it is our parents are afraid. If you turn this election into a much bigger mess, our folks will ask us to quit college and stay at home. That is why I request you to kindly not meddle in this election.

          No matter who wins here, there will be no hard feelings.

          We are contesting the election just for fun, not because we are angry with each other or have a grudge.”

          While Sobha was talking to them, Santha asked the principal to come speak with the boys. She in turn invited them to her office, offered them cool drinks, and reiterated more elaborately what Sobha had told them earlier.

          Either they were pleased with the courteous treatment or convinced of the points made, the boys agreed to the request and left in good spirits. The principal called for Bharathi and told her firmly that if boys came to support her, she should also tell them to stay out of the election.

          Santha realized how many problems one had to face and how much one had to struggle both at home and outside to contest an election in a college with a thousand girls. But the fight turned out to be as much to her liking as it was distasteful.

          Santha knew she could never stay on the sidelines like Sobha, and hurtled into the campaign. In spite of all the care taken, handbills with her name on them reached the hands of boys in other colleges and they were rocketed back at her with ugly scribbles on them as one would have expected.

          The anger, sorrow and the humiliation she felt redoubled her determination to fight. Any other girl would probably have quit at the very prospect of her name dragged into the street.

          Bharathi was in the same boat, with the exception that her Family wasn’t so opposed to her contesting the election. Her father was one who believed girls were human beings, too, which was a far cry from the situation at Santha’s place where the fire burned regularly with her brother Seshatalpasat aid. ing it with various types of firewood such as: people are talking about you like this or like that; you have lost all scruples; I can’t keep my head up in the street anymore thanks to you. All this in front of their mother. Sundaramma used to break into a wail hearing all this. Santha would be infuriated with humiliation. Thanks to this daily ritual, on many days during that month she had gone to bed without having eaten her dinner.

          At last the election was over and Santha won. Sobha relished the success more than Santha, but even on that day she went home at five. She wouldn’t stay back though Santha and the other friends pleaded with her. For their part, Santha and her friends chipped in to buy sweets and organized an impromptu party to celebrate their victory.

          Santha was on a cloud that evening. Even after her friends had left, she didn’t feel like going home, though going home and getting yelled at, one last time, couldn’t be avoided.

          As she was dragging her feet homeward, she saw Ramkumar.

          She had in fact been hoping to see him that evening.

          Ramkumar was a student in the A.C. College and had a reputation as a poet and as an actor. Santha had met him quite a few times during the last three years at the intercollegiate drama and debating competitions. Conversations with him had been enjoyable and he always had interesting subjects to talk about. He inquired whether she had read specific books and introduced her to a lot of new ones.

          Santha had developed a particular affection for him and she told Sobha about him, too. Occasionally Sobha would tease Santha inquiring about ‘her’ Ramkumar.

          Santha was delighted to see him. After all, she had been thinking the whole evening that he was the one friend who would happily share the joy of her victory.

          He congratulated her enthusiastically, and invited her to join him over a cup of coffee. She hesitated. Though she would have liked to spend some time chatting with him over cof-fee, the fear of being seen with a boy held her back.

          “Oh, come on. It won’t take more than ten minutes. In fact, you should be the one inviting me for coffee today, and here you are, turning me down,” he teased her.

          Santha walked with him reluctantly. Even after sitting down in the restaurant and drinking a glass of water, she remained uncomfortable.

          “Looks like I caused you a bit of a problem….

          he said,

          looking at her inquisitively.

          “A bit…..It is more than a bit of a problem.”

          “How so?”

          “If anybody from my family sees me here, it would cause problems.”

          “I can’t believe it! These are the seventies. It has been more than a century since Viresalingam started the movement for women’s enlightenment. And here you are worrying about being scolded at home.”

          enlightenment, yes. But he didn’t say that women should go to restaurants with men to sip coffee. Did he?» laughed Santha.

          “How does a woman get enlightened then?”

          What do you mean? I can’t get enlightened unless I drink coffee with you?”

          You see, there are different kinds of enlightenment. You are getting enlightened through education. You can also get enlightened by observing the society around you in restaurants and streets. One aids the other,” Ramkumar said.

          True. When it comes to you boys parents will say, Buddhavataram, how will you know the world if you sit at home. But when it comes to girls, they guard them watchfully to make sure they don’t step out of the house.” Ramkumar picked up his coffee cup without responding to her remark.

          “I would really like to sit with you for a while and chitchat, but I am afraid I may be doing something wrong. Then I tell myself there is nothing wrong. I am caught in this dia-lectic. It is difficult to explain to you the turmoil I go through.

          But our Sobha is quite different. If there is something that shouldn’t be done – in her judgment or that of her pat-ents- she stays away from it, with no regret whatsoever. I can’t be like that. For me there are a lot of gray areas and I am always debating them within myself.? Santha reeled off what she was going over in her mind.

          Ramkumar kept looking at her astonished.

          “I don’t think you can really understand my problems. You don’t need to engage in such a huge battle in your mind to go drink a cup of coffee. It is a trivial matter for you, but not for us. For us it is a huge struggle. It wouldn’t be surprising if this cup of coffee becomes an instrument in maligning my character. What if somebody says, this girl goes to restaurants with boys.’ To tell you the truth sometimes I yearn for a bad reputation. Earning a bad reputation means rebelling I would like to rebel against everybody and ev-crything.”

          Ramkumar remained spellbound.

          “I should go now,” Santha said, as she rose from her chair and strode away.

          That year concluded without further problems. Santha and Sobha studied together for the exams and both were confident of passing in the first class. Soba hoped to go to graduate school, but decided to leave that decision, too, to her parents. But Santha couldn’t leave the decision to her parents, so she had been preparing for the inevitable fight.

          Both girls were from middle class families who consider their burden relieved on having their daughters married off.

          Ever since her puberty, Soba’s parents had been saving money for her dowry. Santa’s parents had been relying on the dowry their son’s marriage would bring. That was the reason why Sundaramma wasn’t hurried while Annapoornamma was busy making inquiries of alliances for Sobha.

          Anxious about Sobha preparing to get married, Santha asked her one day, “So you are not going to do M.Sc.?”

          “Maybe, if I don’t get a match. Sometimes they may have no objection to my studies even after a match is fixed?”

          est in studying further?”

          Santha felt like scolding her. “You personally have no inter.

          “Of course, I do.”

          “Then why don’t you tell them you don’t want to be married now?”

          “Why should I tell them that? Even after M.Sc, marriage is inevitable. What is the point of losing a good match if I get one now?”

          “Don’t talk like your mother,” Santha bristled.

          “In fact they are my mother’s words, and they sounded true to me. No matter what degree I earn or what job I get, I have to get married and raise children. That is what is im-portant, isn’t it? Then, why not give importance to that when we make future plans?”

          Santha did not respond as there was no point in saying anything at this stage. She had already known that a prospective groom was coming in a few days to see Sobha.

          On the day of the pelli choopulu, Santha was surprised to see Soba agitated. She had never seen her nervous, not before an exam nor during preparation for a competition or stage play. But that day, she was quivering like a leaf.

          Which sari should she wear? Should the bottu be small or big? Should she line her eyes with kohl or not? Would a simple chain with locket do or should she wear a necklace?

          One braid or two?

          Too many uncertainties and too much hanging on them!

          She tried everything. Decorated her eyes with kohl and then washed them; tried a small bottu and then made it bigger.

          You are not much help,” she accused Santha.

          You always look pretty, so don’t worry. Just go with a smile on your face as you go to a test or a competition.”

          You and your stupid jokes.” Sobha’s nervousness heightened further.

          The prospective groom was a physician. He wore very thick glasses which covered almost his entire face.

          As Sobha entered the room, the folks who were chit chatting till then suddenly fell silent and started gazing at her.

          Their countenances reflected rejection, as if disappointed by mediocre looks. Santha couldn’t dream of anybody being disappointed with Sobha. Her beauty, smile and intellect were being looked down on that day!

          For a while nobody talked.

          “What did you study?” Sobha asked the sister of the groom who was seated next to her, in order to break the ice. That turned out to be a faux pas. That girl happened to have had written her Intermediate exams and learned just a couple of days ago that she had failed. Offended by the question, she remained tightlipped.

          The groom’s mother blatantly exhibited her displeasure on her face.

          Sobha felt awkward as the mood in the room soured.

          “We’ll take leave,” the groom’s mother rose to her feet.

          The rest of her party followed her.


(To be Continued-)


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