By Joopaka Subhadra

Pushing a couple of donkeys with loads of luggage on their backs, Dakkali-Raajakka was carrying her child in the saddle. Another son followed holding his father’s little finger. Madiga Muganna of Damarancha, the village was around; he brought his bullocks to the tank for water. Running into the Dakkalis, he asked, ‘Raajakka! When did start? Have you arrived just now?’

‘We started at Kakkarlapalle at noon, thammi, brother,’ and she added, ‘How is your avva, mother doing? How are the children and all?

‘Aa! Everyone is fine, Raajakka. Are you all fine?’ He enquired.

‘How can we be fine, thammi! We are worried about the draught. We hardly find a fistful of ash  in the village (stopped cooking). Anyhow, how is it like in this village, thammi?

‘It’s so so; It’s same with us too,’ he said walking. Having reached the tank, she stopped the donkeys, and said, ‘We’ll stay put at these fields, thammi; I’ll come to your house at the dusk.’ Then she turned the donkeys in the direction they were planning to stay put. While on his way home, Muganna told everyone that Dakkali-Raajakka had arrived in the village, and that they were stationed at the fields.

Dakkali-Raajakka was entitled to her share from the Madigas of the village. The Madigas of the village speak high of her. Everyone – the young and the grown up – in the village would usually address them by adding derogative suffixes ‘Dakkalidi,’ and ‘dekkalodu.’ But when it comes to addressing Dekkali-Raajakka, everyone would invariable add akka, elder sister. They do so at least in her presence, whether they did so in her absence or not. She appears like a hefty elephant; sturdy like a man, and was too tall for anyone to reach up to her head. She would tuck the pleats of her sari at the back, and wear earrings and anklets. The earth would shudder when she walked in the streets. They would say that she was too shrewd a woman. If she were to arbitrate a dispute, any man of any stature would be inferior to her. She would attend to all sorts of the Dakkali work. She would arbitrate the disputes of the caste men; she would be in the good looks of everyone in the village, especially the Madigas. She would speak touchingly, narrate the history of the families referring to the patam, palm-documents. She learns about wellbeing of the Madigas. If anyone ailed in the village, she would exorcise the evil spirits. She would collect, at the harvesting time, a bunch of paddy crop and a potful of paddy from each of the Madiga family. When without work, she would go hunting to fetch fowls and birds for cooking.

Such a woman that Raajakka used to be. She had married a man belonging to Malas. Though many a man was after her, no one had come forward to marry her scaring that she knew black magic. The Madigas hesitated to marry her because of black magic. Further it was not within their convention to marry outside the caste, “There is, between their castes, a partnership of the platter but not that of the bed,” as the saying would have it. She didn’t find a man in her caste to match her.

The Dakkalis would visit the villages. Not any and every village. They would visit only those villages that they have a right to entitlements. They have to collect the grains offered to them by the Madigas in lieu of the land given away for tilling; they beg for food by narrating the legend of Jambavantha. They were not supposed to own lands or sites; shouldn’t do agriculture. This was the accord as well as the way of life destined for the Dakkalis. Thus when Raajakka visited the villages, she liked a Mala man. She married him, and eloped. Later she had come back to her parents.

Her father told her husband, “My child! For good or bad, both of you liked each other, and married at last. It would have been a different matter had my daughter married within the caste. It would be suffice if she lived happily. The chiefs of your caste wouldn’t induct my daughter into your caste; wouldn’t allow her home. She can’t live amid hostility and disputes. It’s better that you joined my daughter instead. Don’t ever discard my daughter. Don’t be under an impression that there’s no livelihood. I would share with you half of the forty villages, from which I’m entitled to collect the manyam-grains. You can live happily,” he offered them the right to entitlement of twenty villages by means of dowry. He shared half of the villages and advised him, “They wouldn’t offer you the right to beg at the houses of the Madigas. You are not supposed to settle their disputes and differences. You can’t be their chief, and question their caste men since you are a Mala. Raajakka would look after everything. You can attend to your work. Share the suffering and pleasures of my daughter.”

Raajakka’s father made all the arrangements required for running their family. Tending the donkeys and attending to the work outside, he had been living with Raajakka happily. He didn’t go back to his caste leaving Raajakka behind.  It was said in the village that though he had to give up his caste, he could get the comforts of life living with Raajakka. Thus Raajakka gained the right to the entitlements gifted by her father. It was Raajakka, who had to settle the disputes about violation of caste accord, offering and receiving the grains and so on. This was the accord of their caste; the respect that the Madigas bestowed on the Dakkalis.

* * *

Raajakka, her husband and their children put loads off the donkeys under the shade of a tree at the tank. They drank some water they had brought, made the children drink water, and relaxed for a while under the tree. Raajakka’s husband took the donkeys to the tank for water. Handing the child to her son from her saddle, Raajakka cleared the garbage, gravel and pebbles for raising a makeshift shack, and swept the floor. Raajakka’s husband left the donkeys for grazing, and erected the posts for raising the shack while Raajakka helped him with ropes and rags of mats, ‘Let it be like this for now; we shall fetch palmyra fronds tomorrow.’ She set three stones forming a stove, and made fire by gathering a few twigs. It got dark in the sky as though someone had put out the lights.

Raajakka had the child in her saddle, and walked towards the houses of the Madigas accompanied by her elder son with a begging bowl. She hollered, ‘O Mallakka! I’m the Dakkali, a slave of yours; came begging for food!’

Mallakka, who was winnowing rice in a tray, came out and asked her, ‘What Raajakka! When did you come; is everything fine with you all vay?’

‘We came by the evening, Mallakka!’ she replied.

‘I got delayed at the fields; I’m yet to light the mud-stove. Why don’t you come back after a while!’ Mallakka said. Meanwhile, Mallakka’s husband spoke to her while washing his feet, ‘What’s the matter, Raajakka? When did you arrive in the village vay?’

‘We arrived just today!’

‘Why was it that you didn’t come last year vay? Is everything fine with you all? How’s your husband?’

‘Not bad; we didn’t want to trouble you last year as it was a year of draught.’

‘It’s alright but will you wait till we cook the rice or will you go to other houses, and come back after a while?’

‘Why to come again; I’ll come tomorrow,’ she got ready to leave along with her children.

‘Raajakka! You are at safe. You have no worries at all to go for the field work; to cook and to serve. You are born lucky vay,’ saying so Mallakka washed rice, put the pot of rice on the mud-stove. Raajakka left without paying attention to what she had said.

‘What’s new in begging? She was born into the caste of Dakkali, and it’s been in practice for ages. How is she at fault? Mallakka’s husband Saaranna defended Raajakka.

After visiting four-five houses, Raajakka could fill her bowl to half its capacity with rice, curries and pickle. She thought to herself, ‘If visited another house, the bowl will be full. I need to visit one more house since the children might be feeling hungry. They ate long ago.’

‘O Posavva! I’m the Dakkali, a slave of yours! I came begging for food!’

When she listened to Raajakka, Posavva said, ‘Did we ever benefit from your manyemland? Why should we offer you rice? No rice or anything; you may leave!’ Posavva shouted angrily.

Raajakka, who was hungry, grew furious when Posavva had shouted at her, ‘What vay Posavva! Are you offering me alms for nothing? I’m asking you for rice since you are cultivating my manyem-land; I came to your house because you are a Madiga. Or else why is it that I have come to your house leaving out so many other houses, vay?’ she wanted to say. But she didn’t say so. She behaved oneself. She continued to think to herself, ‘Why to find fault with her having gone to her for alms; why to be at fault?’ she left the place along with her children for her makeshift-shack in the outskirts.

She served the rice to her children and her husband. She too ate the stale food, and asked her husband, ‘Didn’t you get toddy?’ She spread the dates-mat for sleeping. All of them were asleep. But she was thinking of the way Posavva sent her back shouting at her. It would have been a different matter had she said, “No rice today.” She fell asleep thinking as to why she had to shout like that.

Dakkali-Raajakka stays put ten to fifteen days in each of the villages she had bequeathed from her father. She would go begging for rice both in the mornings and the evenings. Every noontime, she would go to the threshing-grounds of the Madigas, and collect a bundle of paddy-hay and two potfuls of paddy in lieu of the manyem-land that belonged to the dependent castes like Chindus and Dakkalis. The Madigas have to cultivate it, and offer fixed amount of grains to the Chindus and Dakkalis. This is in accordance with the practice. However poor the Madigas might be, they must offer rice to the Dakkalis and the Chindus. The Madigas will be considered a part of the village only when they offered rice to the Dakkalis; it was like that. Lest they are not considered a part of the village. They would lose the entitlements (rights) of the Madigas in the village. Further, as an offence, the matter would be settled by penalizing them.

When the Madigas ask Raajakka to narrate the legend of Jambavantha, she would narrate it with the help of other Dakkalis. When the Madigas considered it as Raajakka’s responsibility to get the legend of Jambavantha narrated, Raajakka had the right to all the entitlements like begging for rice. Raajakka left for the threshing-grounds at the early noon pushing the donkeys comforting her child in the saddle. Having collected a bundle of paddy-hay, and a couple of pots of paddy from each of the Madigas, she put them on the back of the donkeys and set off to the threshing-ground of Posavva, who had refused to offer her rice previous night.

She called out to Posavva’s husband, ‘Muthanna!’

He said, ‘What? What should Muthanna do for you?’

‘I have come for manyem-paddy, Muthanna!’ said Raajakka.

‘Manyem? Where’s the question of offering you manyem-paddy vay? We didn’t get manyem nor anything; you might leave,’ he said as though chasing her.

When Muthanna said so, Raajakka felt a kind of simmering in her innards. She thought to herself, You Muthanna! Why to discuss the matter now. You’ll fall in line when I get you dragged for the resolution of the dispute.’ But she said to him, ‘It’s alright then,’ and left for another threshing-ground. While on her way back with the load of paddy on the back of the donkeys, she recalled all the struggles she had faced in life. She felt, ‘Wish my husband’s a Dakkali too; I would have been spared of visiting the threshing-grounds, collecting manyem-paddy and settlements. Even if I were to tell him of my travails, how does this Mala fellow understand? Only a Dakkali would understand such problems. Why is this life of begging befallen me? To work for the wages could have been better than this kind of living on alms. But I’m not supposed to! Being born a Dakkali, I’m subjected to so many sufferings. May this caste be damned! May there be a corpse in the house of the creator of this caste! May there be my urine in his mouth,’ she called names within her mind. Then regaining her usual poise, she thought to herself, ‘This woman, Posavva is not offering me rice; not offering manyem-paddy. Are they not cultivating my land? Aren’t they consuming the paddy yielded in my manyem-land? Are they not entitled to Madiga occupation? Aren’t they eating the meat of the cattle? Aren’t they staying in the village? Don’t they belong to the caste? This is no way! How does one survive this way,’ she was determined to settle the matter.

Early in the morning, Raajakka went to the the Madiga-chief and told him her problem. She stood at a corner asking him, ‘Peddayya! Summon Muthanna!’

The Madiga-chief sent his son asking him to fetch Muthanna. Muthanna came brushing his teeth with a neem-stick. Seeing Raajakka, he understood the matter. He sat on the plough which was leaning on a wall and asked, ‘What’s the matter?’

Raajakka started, ‘Peddayya! We’re not asking for the alms for the first time now; this has been in practice ever since the birth of the caste. We survive by begging you; we survive at your mercy. We are the ones who narrate the family lineages, exorcise evil spirits, and benefit your village – ourselves living away in the outskirts. Such people that we have been, it’s to be resolved as to why we are denied of alms now!’ saying, she sat at the wall.

Looking at Muthanna, the Madiga-chief said, ‘Do you hear, Muthanna? Why are you not offering her manyem-paddy?’

‘Why should I? Am I cultivating her manyem-land,’ Muthanna made it clear.

‘What’s it that you are speaking ra? You and your brother got the manyem-land,’ the Madiga-chief said raising his voice.

Muthanna said, ‘It’s not me; you should ask my brother, Mysanna,’ said Muthanna.

‘Raajakka! That’s it. This matter has to be settled by you. You had better summoned both the brothers for settling the dispute,’ concluded the Madiga-chief.

Following three-four days, Dakkali-Raajakka spoke to both the families separately to find out why the elder brother didn’t allow the younger brother cultivate the land; what kind of differences were going on between both the brothers. She gathered information from them. She explored who was on the right and who was trying to cheat whom. She decided to settle the dispute on Wednesday. The dispute was about demanding whatwas due to Dakkali-Raajakka; an attempt to regain her right to get the paddy, which had been denied to her. She got ready to know the differences between the strong and the weak; to ask them to cultivate the land equally; and to demand them for the manyem-paddy due to her. She tempered the required judgment.

On the given day, she met the Madiga-chief and arranged for summoning both the brothers – Muthanna and Mysanna and a few other Madiga elders. They assembled under the tamarind tree at the public well. Those who gathered there sat at the base of the tree and on the surfaced-roots while a few others were standing to know what the dispute was about. The two brothers, their wives and children too attended.

The Madiga-chief looked at everyone, and gazed at Raajakka, suggesting to her to speak. She began to speak, ‘Peddayya! Why we have gathered here is that Muthanna refused to offer me rice when I went begging. He also denied me the manyem-paddy due to me. He says he was not allowed to cultivate the land by his elder brother, Mysanna. It’s Mysanna who should disclose why he didn’t allow his brother cultivate the land,’ she spoke with conviction.

Mysanna said, ‘You only know it that I didn’t allow him cultivate the land; but you are not speaking about the actual story.’

Raajakka said scribbling something on the floor, ‘How do we know what the actual matter is; we have assembled here only to let everyone know everything about it.’

‘Doesn’t he know why I’m not allowing him to cultivate it? Having done everything, he’s masquerading like an innocent boy. Didn’t he know it when he had sold the babul trees that were part of the manyem-land? Was he not aware that half of what he had received was due to me! Without making the payment to me, how can he come to the manyem-land now, and how do we allow him cultivate it?’ Muthanna said with big voice.

Meanwhile, Muthanna’s wife addressed her husband, ‘You! Dumb fellow! Why don’t you speak out? Are you not born of your mother?’ she began to call names.

The Madiga-chief silenced her, ‘Why do you intervene when we are talking about it?’ he shouted at her.

Raajakka asked Mysanna, ‘How much is he due to you out of the money he had received by selling the babul trees?’

‘I don’t know; he says it’s five hundred rupees, but it’s more than that!’

Raajakka asked, ‘Muthanna! Don’t you have to pay his share of the money obtained from selling the trees? They belong to both of you.’

‘What’s due to them has to be paid. When I thought of paying them, my daughter attained full-term pregnancy. I spent the money on the hospital expenditure. What to do? Then I expected to get wages. I couldn’t get money at home. When I thought of paying him at the harvesting time, my brother and his sons revolted against me. They didn’t allow me cultivate the land. This is the crime I committed, if any,’ Muthanna told the matter precisely.

‘If you speak like an innocent man, will it satisfy one?’ Mysanna got up saying, ‘Raajakka! If I’m at fault, you may beat me with your cheppu, sandal; spit in my mouth.’

‘With a mistake on your part, you are speaking a lot! What’s the worth of babul trees after all, and what are they up to? You didn’t allow me to the land just for not paying you the scant amount. You may enjoy the land yourself. When we die of hunger, you may rule the countries. You will then be happy,’ Muthanna’s wife, Posavva spoke cursing.

Mysanna’s wife too joined her, ‘What’s the matter vay? You are speaking a lot though we are silent? Is it only you who know name-calling? I too know it, you! A fellow with protruding forehead!’ she tried to attack her.

Thus the people of either side were calling names finding fault with each other. The Madiga-chief, Raajakka, and the other elders reprimanded and pacified them, ‘If you call names, why are we here?’ They seemed like simmering water even after the removal of fire under the pots.

Raajakka addressed them, ‘Muthanna! Let’s stop these quarrels. I’m resolving the dispute; here you listen! Nobody would appreciate it if you don’t pay. Mysanna! There shouldn’t be trivialities like these between the brothers. Your younger brother didn’t pay you because he had financial problems. Did he refuse to pay? Where would he go without paying! Why did you have to deny him his right to cultivate the land? You would be at a big fault if you don’t allow him cultivate the land,’ she reprimanded both of them.

Then she had let them know the judgment, ‘Here you listen carefully about the resolution. The money due to Mysanna has to be paid by selling the paddy in the present harvest; excluding the investments and the wages, the remaining paddy has to be divided equally between the two. Muthanna has to offer me the paddy due to me! If anyone defies, one has to pay a penalty of two thousand rupees.’ She resolved the dispute, and fetched toddy for the chiefs and the others. Having drunk along with them leisurely, she started for her makeshift shack.

* * * * * *

Telugu version published in 2006

*Manyem, is agricultural land belonging to Dakkalis (a nomadic caste dependent on the Madigas) given to the Madigas for cultivation in lieu of which the latter have to offer to the former manyem, which also means fixed quantity of paddy.