By Joopaka Subhadra
The collection, Rayakka Manyam contains vignettes of different aspects of Dalits. We are exposed to the cruelties of the system, be it on the life of the Dakkalis, or of the Madigas, or of the people in the villages, or of the uneducated, or of the educated, or of the government employee. Subhadra attacks the corporate hospitals and the doctors who have no compassion, and the social welfare hostels which care not for the welfare of the girls but put them through cruel tests. At a time when Telangana is celebrating, “Bautkamma” as a State festival, Subhadra questions what it means to the Dalits. Now, when we are debating issues relating to food habits, Subhadra’s story on her vegetarian colleagues becomes all the more intriguing. Subhadra comes up with a very interesting story on the use of Telugu language. These and many more make up her collection of short stories.
About the Translators:
Alladi Uma and M. Sridhar taught in the Department of English, University of Hyderabad before they took voluntary retirement. They have been translating for over two decades now. Among the publishing houses they have published with are Katha, New Delhi , Orient Black Swan and Sahitya Akademi. They were commissioned by OUP to write the Introduction to the translation of Mahidhara Ramamohan Rao’s Swarajyam translated by Vegunta Mohan Prasad. They have also published short stories in the volume on Muslim lives brought out by OUP. Their translation of “Bonsai Life” by Abburi Chaya Devi has been used in schools and pre-university/Intermediate in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
Our language is just like this
“Wo, amma, I beg/salute you. Get me transferred from here. I can’t take it here. Scared even to cough, scared even to sneeze. I can’t stay here and work, amma. Have children. Drive me back home from here. When I die, I’ll be born to you. If not, I’ll leave this job and survive doing some coolie or other work. Have we from the beginning been living doing a government job?”
Saying this, Yellaiah, who worked as an attender with us, came to my seat and was pleading.
“Why so, Yellaiah? It’s not even a week since you came here. Why are you already talking of transfer? Isn’t it because there is no such post in your village that they put you here? When all the people are crying that there are no government jobs now or in the future, how can you go away leaving the job? Unable to find coolie and such work in the village, they are going any which way. What will you do by going away?” As I was speaking so…
Another attender, Narsimma listening to all this said, “Madam, you at least tell him. No matter how much we tell him, even a louse doesn’t crawl on his ear. Saying he is going, going, he’s getting ready to leave. It’s becoming very difficult to stop Yellanna.”
“Why Yellaiah? Tell me what happened?” I asked him a little insistently.
“Don’t know, amma, more than working with these saars, talking to them has become extremely difficult. When I speak, even the attenders who work along with me burst out laughing. Don’t know about work, but I get scolded. It’s very worrisome. I’m scared of a word coming out of my mouth; they find fault with it. What do I do? My mind has not a bit of calm/uppusa. No joy. The story at home is not good either. My wife, children and my parents live all by themselves. Can’t get by without me. Don’t know what they’re eating. Don’t know how they’re getting by.
As for me, they put me in this unknown jungle. I’m unable to understand anybody’s words in this office. I feel I’ve fallen into the wrong place. Don’t you know that? Don’t you know this? Don’t talk like that, don’t talk like this—saying so, they find fault with every word I say. I’m unable to think properly.” Saying this, he was about to say something more when…
“Oh, Yellaiah, the PA is calling,” as if someone else was yelling…
“It’s like this, amma. They don’t let me put a step. I’ll come again.” Saying so, he left.
With globalisation came privatisation! It had shut down Corporations. Among those shut down this way, Irrigation Corporation was one such. The government people offered a golden hand shake to the employees and drove them home. Those district employees who insisted, “We don’t want a golden hand shake,” were placed in the government offices in the city. That’s how Yellaiah came to our office as an attender.
Yellaiah was from Karimnagar. He spoke the sweet Karimnagar Telugu. Yellaiah’s was the language of mud mixed with water. Yellaiah’s language was that of generations of my layers of mud; when Yellaih spoke…my veins that had fallen asleep become like the rain drenched mother earth smiling a green smile.
Ninety percent of the attenders in my office were from Telangana districts. As for clerks and officers, they were not even thirty percent. All were from Seemandhra districts. They controlled everything—leaders, lobbying, lording over, businesses, employee unions. Though our office was in Telangana in name, curries, meals, tiffins, cooking, festivals, attire, they had a say in everything.
When I joined this office as a clerk, I too suffered a lot like Yellaiah. Had problems and felt insulted. When they made fun of my attire, food and language, I too felt like leaving my job like Yellaiah. Yellaiah had many of his people in his cadre (Class IV). To share and to come to support. But in my cadre (NGO), there was none. Alone, isolated, I stuffed all the insults in my heart.
Didn’t know which of the attenders told him that I was from their region (ilaka). That’s how Yellaiah thought I would help him and poured out his woes.
Two days later, holding a paper, Yellaiah came bringing another attender, Narsimma along.
“Amma, please, tell me if this is right. I’m neither a thief nor a loafer (langa?), but that big saar has given me a memo.” Saying this he put the paper on my table.
“What…why did he give you this, Yellaiah?”
“Don’t know, amma. You must know that, how do we know that Ingileesu?” said Yellaiah.
“On the one hand, Telugu, Telugu! Write Telugu, read Telugu, speak Telugu, they say. They write on boards, hold meetings. But then all written things and such only in English! If they give it in Ingleesu to even Class IV employees like us, how can we understand? Please read and tell us,” said Narsimma looking towards the paper…
Looking into the paper, I asked, “You seemed to have abused the officer. That’s why he seems to have given you this memo, Yellaiah. By the way, why did you abuse saar?”
“Abusing, what is the need for us to abuse officers? It’s they who speak to us as if they’re removing flies from gruel. Why would I go and abuse him, amma?” asked Yellaiah perplexed.
“Is it written there that you’ve abused him?… How did you abuse him, Yellanna? …Don’t know when all this quarrel took place,” asked Narsimma to find out what had happened.
“Are, mother promise, Narsanna. Why will I abuse him? Will we live if we abuse? I came here just the other day. I’m saying it on my honour. I swear on my children. I’ll swear on anything you want me to, amma. If he doesn’t like me, he can sullender me to my home town, but why all these troubles? Why this act of burning clothes and putting them on me? I don’t know why that saar is angry with me? He keeps on blaming me. Whichever way you look at it, it’s not even a week since I’ve come.” Yellaiah was saying all this beating his head.
“Yellanna…try to recall everything well and tell me. What happened recently? If you haven’t said anything, done anything, will they give a memo just like that so soon?… Because of that I won’t say officers are good people (sokkapollu). I too worked with officers and came out saying that’s enough.
It’s no easy thing to work for them. Have to wipe the tables in their rooms, keep water; have to wipe the chairs, pen trays with towels and arrange them neatly (saulatuga). Must be watch dogs in front of their rooms and not allow outsiders to go in. Have to pay water bill, current bill, house bill, those taxes and these taxes. Have to bring chai ten times. Have to take files to their houses and bring them back to the office. If anything goes wrong in the house or office, it is we who ought to run. Have to wash used plates and cups. More than us the dogs in their houses lead royal lives. They spend twenty thousand a month for their food, hospitals and nurturing, but if we are unwell, they’ll not shell out even a rupee, or even give us a day’s leave. They treat attenders worse than dogs…what lives are these?” As Narsimma was speaking agitatedly, tears welled up in my eyes.
He then pulled himself up, and pacified Yellanna saying, “Madam is our person. Say things openly, openly…whatever matter.”
“Aa, with you around Narsanna…the officer made a big issue of a small thing,” Yellaiah said recalling it.
“What argument took place? Tell me, what was that, Yellaiah?” I asked, urging him.
“As for what happened the other day…I sat in front of saar’s room, as I do every day. Someone came and said, ‘I want to meet saar.’ They were the ones who had come in the morning too. So, I thought I would ask saar once, went in and asked politely, ‘Saar…Those who spoke to you in the morning, have come again to meet you. Should I drive them in, saar?’…O… just for that he created a big scene.”
‘Hey, what are you saying? What language is that? Why are you addressing me as “you” in the singular?…’
‘Ayyo, what’s that saar, I thought I must ask “you”.…’ As I was about to say something…
‘Shut up, again the same language. Don’t say “you” (singular) but say “you” (honorific) said saar. ‘Again you’re saying the same thing saar, you’re just one person. How can I say “you” (in the plural)? We say “you” (plural) if there are two or three.’ I said this to make him understand. ‘Chut…don’t talk. Who gave you the job? Where did you come from…what do you mean by “driving” them? As if you’re driving cattle, get out.’ He shouted so as to make the roof collapse.
That’s it, Madam amma, that’s all that happened. You tell me, where did I abuse him? Saying driving in and driving out are used for cattle, saar abused me and gave me a memo. Is this just, amma…every place has its mode of speaking. Can this become abuse? Saying don’t use ‘you’ (singular) for a person, he uses the same ‘you’ to me. Can’t understand what all this topsy-turvy talk is about,” said Yellaiah angrily.
“Isn’t that true, madam. Even if he were a dora from our area, or a patel, we call him, ‘you’ (singular). But, it seems we must address these Andhra people, even if there is only one of them, ‘you’ (plural/honorific). We’ve got used to it. You too learn it, Yellanna…”
“How can that be, Narsanna…Those who come to our part must learn our mode (yirti), our way of speaking. Instead of that, why should we learn the language and manners of those who have come from elsewhere?” When Yellaiah said this, Narsimma and I looked at each other.
I felt how well Yellaiah had expressed such great logic.
“Yellaiah! Finding fault with this language hasn’t happened to you alone. I too have suffered a lot about this. I’ve had fights with my Andhra friends.
When I knew my colleague was in the hospital, when I said to my Andhra friends that I would go and ‘find out,’ they quarrelled with me saying, ‘What kind of a person are you? If you’re angry, you must admonish her after she gets better, not when she is in the hospital.’ Even our polite words have become curse words for them.”
“O! Let your stories rot, how can we work if we’re given memos just for the heck of it? How can we survive? I’ll go if I’m sullendered,” said Yellaiah.
“Hey, where will you go? To get to the bottom of this memo issue, let’s drive our union people to saar.” Saying this, Narsimma drove Yellaiah along with him.
Friends only at school, not in the village
“Flag hoisting is day after. Have you got everything ready?” asked Srilatha, exchanging her bag with Suvarna.
“Everything means…,” asked Suvarna, rubbing her feet against the ground, kicking up dust, and dragging her feet…
“Those things, have you got the school dress, ribbons etc., ready?” Srilatha said, she too kicking up dust (dubba).
“I’ve a new dress ready. Have new ribbons too. What about you?” Suvarna asked Srilatha.
“I don’t have a new dress, abba. I have to make the old one only a bit stiff. If I wash it with soap two or three times, apply blue and starch, and iron it, it will shine like a new one,” said Srilatha (oorinchukuntu). She asked Suvarna, “And, when did you get the new one stitched?”
“My bapu had three school dresses stitched when the school reopened. I took out only one of them. I kept the other two aside,” said Suvarna hesitantly.
“My mother said she would get a new one stitched after she picked cotton. Till then I have to wear only these old ones,” said Srilatha angrily.
Srilatha and Suvarna studied together from the “a, aas” in the same school. Were from the same village. After completing primary school in the village, Srilatha’s parents did not send her to the high school in the neighbouring village. Not just Srilatha’s people, no parent of girl children in the village sent them. Things were okay when the school was in the village as they could do work at home and also go to school. “Forget it, what will a chit of a girl study like a boy in a school in the neighbouring village, leaving the hen and (konkanakka) unattended at home, and (kundabodini agam chesi)? She’ll leave once we give her away to someone,” they thought. Though Srilatha wanted to study, she did not object to her parents.
When the school teacher came to know that Srilatha was not going to school, he came and chewed off Srilatha’s parents’ ears saying, “Your daughter is very intelligent. Don’t ruin a girl who studies so well by confining her to the stove and pots.”
Not just that, Suvarna’s father, Sale Sambanna feeling that Srilatha would be company for his daughter, and they could go together, made Srilatha’s father, Poshalu sit next to him and said, “Poshanna, how far is Sennapuram where the big school is from our village, not even a shout away. We can go and come back even before the spit we’ve spat out dries up. My daughter, Suvarna too is there. Both of them can do the work at hand in the morning and appear before us by dusk.”
“I too want to ‘drive’ her but I’m scared that the route is not safe,” said Poshalu.
“This is not (innoddula) times. When the world is going one way, we are going another way. For seven generations, will you keep squeezing mud and poking the bull’s buttocks? Leave all this aside, and ‘drive’ your daughter to study.” Sambaiah rubbed this into Poshalu as one rubbed…(oorabiskeku digabosinattu).
“Just as you say, if our children do well, we’ll twirl our moustaches. Okay, I’ll somehow ‘drive’ our Srilatha to Sennapuram to study.” Saying so, he gave his word.
From then on Srilatha and Suvarna became good friends. They would go to school together. Would come back home together.
Suvarna’s father would put a bundle of clothes on his motorcycle and would go around villages selling them. Her mother would look after agriculture.
As for Srilatha’s people they had half an acre of land. Only a bit of grain would grow on it. Both the parents would do coolie or some such work.
Srilatha studied better than Suvarna. She would take down notes nicely. She would do her homework well. She would go to school without absenting herself. The saars would praise Srilatha a lot… If Srilatha had to miss school because of work at home, Suvarna too would not go. Suvarna would feel bored without Srilatha. For Srilatha too, it was the same. Even if they fought at times, they would make up and talk on the way back home. They would play together. They would come back home, playing. Srilatha and Suvarna would each bring eatables and share them. They would exchange fashion chains, bangles and bottus and feel thrilled.
All these would happen in school and on the way…In the village, they would each go their way home like innocent onions.
“Then, you won’t wear new clothes?” asked Suvarna.
“How can I wear when I don’t have them?” said Srilatha with a sad face.
“I’ve two, right? Wear one.” Suvarna said happily looking into Srilatha’s face.
“Ammo, no abba. If your people come to know, will they keep quiet?”
“I’ll bring it without their knowledge,” said Suvarna confidently.
“Ammo! If you even hold me in front of your mother, she looks up and down and makes a face,” said Srilatha.
“It’s just for one day, right? You’ll put it on just like that and take it off too. Come on, aren’t we exchanging chains and bangles? This is just like that,” Suvarna said trying to convince her (sadumayistu geemalinatluga).
Though Srilatha wanted to wear a new dress and felt elated, feeling smiles would turn to sesame seeds, if someone came to know it would end in unnecessary fights… Even if she was prepared for any fight… even if she was scared it could lead to her being asked not to go to school, she said okay only for Suvarna’s sake, and having agreed, each went her way home.
In the morning as she left for school, Suvarna put the new dress in her bag, and put it in Srilatha’s bag on the way, saying, “You must wear it tomorrow”…
On 15th August morning, though Srilatha and Suvarna went in the new uniforms to school and took part in the flag hoisting celebrations, Srilatha was trembling within herself thinking, “Borrowed things can demean a person’s honour.”
When they were returning, a couple of people remarked, “Your father says he doesn’t have a paise in his hands, (thootu paiseledani) but has made good clothes for you, polla.” Eating the chocolates and biscuits the teacher had given, as they were reaching their homes, Suvarna told Srilatha, “Don’t wash the dress as soon as you reach home. Wrap it in a paper, put it in the bag and bring it tomorrow.”
“Shouldn’t I wash it?” Srilatha asked Suvarna in surprise.
“If you wash it, people at your home will ask you where you got the new dress.” Saying this Suvarna rushed home.
The next day Suvarna brought back home the clothes Srilatha had wrapped in a paper in her school bag.
As soon as she saw her daughter, Suvarna’s mother said, “Have you come, bidda? Look, that calf has broken the rope and run off. Please go and get it back.” Saying this and taking the school bag from Suvarna’s shoulder, she continued, “May the calf rot! It doesn’t stay at home at all. Can’t find any rope to hold it,” and hung the bag on the wooden peg in the house.
In the meanwhile, Goundla Boomakka came and asked, “Kovurakka, has your daughter come?”
“Aa, she’s come. She has gone to bring the calf back. What work do you have with her, selle?”
“I wondered if she could give me her pen.”
“Pen? Why do you need a pen?…”
“My son…he wants to write down that Butchireddy’s son’s address, Kovurakka,” said Boomakka.
When Suvarna’s mother went into the house and couldn’t feel the pen with her hand in the bag, she removed the clothes bundle and books that came in the way, took the pen out and gave it to Boomakka. When she was putting the books back in the bag, clothes were visible in the squashed (icchukapoyina) paper. When she saw a slightly soiled white blouse and blue coloured lehnga, she wondered, “Why did the girl put the soiled clothes in the bag?”…Thinking she would ask her on her return, she kept it to a side. After Suvarna brought the calf back, she asked handing over the rope (tagula) to tie, “What are those worn clothes in the bag, bidda?” When she asked her so suddenly, Suvarna was perplexed. She didn’t think her mother would see it and ask her…She didn’t know what to say. Unable even to concoct a lie (mosamarrakka), she told her things plainly. Mumbling, feeling scared…
“What’s happened to you…? You wretched bitch. Giving it to that Madiga girl and bringing it back, keeping it back with the books, what’s all this?” Saying so, she rushed into the house and threw the clothes in the paper outside the house.
“I gave it as she is my friend.” She added softly, “What’s wrong in giving?”
“Friend or anything else—only in the school, not in our village. You’ve ruined the new clothes! I’ll set these clothes on fire…Why then did you bring them back home? Will you wear the ones she wore? If you don’t know, doesn’t she know better? How can she let you carry the clothes she has taken off?” Saying this, she beat her daughter all over. Even more angrily, she chased her daughter saying, “May her studies become dead rocks. Just because she has studied a bit, can she forget the difference between smaller and bigger castes, and become arrogant? Haven’t her parents taught her the difference between the high and the low? How come you’re still here? Pour kerosene and set them on fire…,” and went to the water pot and washed her hands. Because she had touched those clothes.
Suvarna stood crying looking at the clothes that had fallen out of the paper. Poor thing, all that Srilatha had feared had happened. To catch hold of this run away calf, she had to leave her bag and run off. She blamed herself thinking she would have otherwise taken these clothes off from the bag the moment she entered the house and hid them where no one could find (gee duddekuna vareddu).She was not as upset at her mother hitting her as she was at her mother abusing her best friend, and stood leaning against the thatched screen crying bitterly.
“You’re not human. I asked you to pour kerosene on the clothes and set it on fire…you’re standing like (makura).” Saying this, Kovuravva went and brought the kerosene from near the stove, poured it over the clothes and set them on fire.
 Here is an instance of how the word drive is used instead of send in a non-pejorative manner. The so-called “standard” Telugu would abhor such use. There are many places where the translation may not appear “smooth”. This is because we have tried to retain the same Telangana expressions used in the original where the writer is making a point regarding the use of language.
 The word “mandalinchu” is used hear to suggest “find out”. It has a different meaning in the Andhra region—“admonish”.
 Sale refers to the weaver community. They are of a higher caste than Srilatha.