By Devanoora Mahadeva
Translated from Kannada by Susan Daniel
Odalala literally means the depth of ones being. Translated it could mean – From Hunger,
From a hut here and a hut there – that sent up smoke signals – the clacking
of cooking pots rose and fell, stopping at Sakavva’s ears, like an invitation. Sakavva called to Shivu. When Shivu came out, ‘Come son we’ll go around and look for my rooster,’ she said. With an aahnn… and an oohhm…Shivu said, ‘Go granny… If the rooster were around it would’ve come by now … It’s this dark, … I am scared. I’m not coming. Sakavva who sat with her legs out stretched, said,
‘Why baby … I’m there…aren’t I !’
‘…What if you are…?
‘…Seeing it’s me, even Yama, the Lord of death…he ‘ll run away !’
Shivu couldn’t get the picture into his eyes. And he stared back like a dope. Sakkavva then said:
‘His moustaches… as thick as a banyan tree! His teeth…broad as a doorway…’
‘…S’pose he drags you off …then what ?’
‘Ayee… “Come come…Why’d you drag me, you demons. I’ll come on my own. Walk on ahead, I’ll say…’
‘ …And then…’
‘ And then, even before they do, I’ll walk up to Lord Yamadharmaraja …
And even as these words went out of Sakavva’s mouth, her wrinkly skin that was a quiver, the toothless mouth in her face, and her grey hair – they vanished. Sakavva was now Aunt Puttagowri.
‘ What will Lord Yamadharmaraj do… ?’
‘ Ah! …Well he sits on a throne the size of our hut …Then…you know the chaps Yama’s messengers bring in …? He punishes them…’
‘ And you aren’t afraid of that ?’
‘ …Me?Afraid …? Ayee…why should I be, my boy … What’s all that compared to the troubles I’ve been through on this earth. I’ll say so son…tell it to his face.’
Sakavva who in the boy’s eyes had changed into aunt Puttagowri, is in a white saree, her hair afloat in the breeze as she floats around like a sylph.
‘ And what’ll Lord Yama say to that…?’
‘To that, he’ll say…Well well well …Alright old hag, I’m taken in by your courage …What will you? Ask for a boon, he’ll say’.
The sylph in the white saree, her hair wafting in the breeze, is now swaying coyly, the earth atop her little finger.
‘ After he says… Ask for a boon …?’
‘ I’ll say… Lord, bless me so that my grandson can rule on earth… That’s all I’ll ask for.’
Shivu sat dreaming it up.
Destroying his dream,’ Come babe, let’s go look for my rooster now’ Sakavva said. Sivu stood up. ‘Go get a tumbler from your avva ‘she then said,
Tumbler in hand, Sivu’s mother came out. “Why must you go stumbling in the dark mother…leave it be. Think what’s gone is gone, and be quiet. A hand thrown back to prop herself, Sakavva pulled herself up. Holding onto her walking stick, she then said, ‘ Hand me that tumbler will you…!Let what’s gone, go, she says. Where to…? Just let it ….and I’ll show you what I can do. I’ll smoke dry chillies before these household gods. And till I’ve shouted it over land and water, I’ll not let go…’ So saying, she held Sivu’s hand( the tumbler in his other hand) and leaning on her stick, they fell into the echoing darkness.
In the dark – leaning on her stick and holding Sivu’s hand, at every hut she came to, Sakavva would stop. Stop and breathe in deeply. Testing the air for smells, she’d then walk on. She must have passed ten huts in this manner. Then twenty. If anyone at all said, ‘Who’s there?’ ‘It’s me good man,’ she’d reply. If they said, ‘ What’s it mother…?’ ‘Oh, just a passing by’ she’d say, and walk on. And though her feet felt they would crack, and her nostrils were unable to trace a whiff of anything from step-wife Kempamma’s hut, Sakavva worried and walked.
This going on, a strong whiff now dragged her and stood her at the front door of a nearby hut. It was the hut of one Parvathayya. Parvathayya and Sakavva were related in some round about way. Knocking at the door, ‘Mother…Ammee, who’s there?’ Sakavva called out. Parvathayya’s wife Deviramma opened the door. ‘Come mother, come right in…What’s brought you…?’ she said. Sakavva pulled in her breath, and entered to find Parvathayya was busy having a meal. Turning to Deviramma Sakavva said, ‘There was this half measure of rice left over from the Mari festival which I’ve cooked for my grandson. Who in our village has money to buy flour for dumplings, my dear. I’ve come as far as your hut only to get a little curry.’
Deviramma brought out that much curry, and poured it into the tumbler that was in Shivu’s hands. ‘I must be going, I’ll see you my child ‘ Sakavva said, and stepped out. Soon as she did, she lifted the tumbler that gave out strong smells, to her nostrils. Pulling out a piece of a something from the curry, she then gave it to Sivu. ‘Eat, tell me if it’s meat, son’ she said to him. Chewing on it, Siva said, ‘ This ain’t meat granny.. it’s mushroom.’ And though she was somewhat surprised, unwilling to give up, she continued with the raid on the smells that came from the other huts. In the end, weary and weak, she came back to her own hut.
Over there, Cheluvamma and neighbour Kalakka were standing under the eaves. After Sakavva and Sivu went in, Kalakka said, ‘Sister in law, I have a something to ask of you…Don’t say no.’ To which Cheluvamma said, ‘Speak it out mother, why would I say no if it’s something I have ?’ And to that Kalakka said, ‘It’s nothing sister in law. I left the pot over the fire before I came here. There’s not much flour for dumplings and it’s going to end up thin like porridge. If you’d ….a measure of flour, maybe I could give it you… when I’m back from the mill tomorrow.’ Slapping her forehead Cheluvamma said,’I swear to you sister. Why would I say there’s nothing, if there was something around. ‘ In the dark, that look on Kalakka’s face couldn’t be seen.Cheluvamma shut the door, and went in.
Sakavva was sitting in her usual place. ‘After all that trouble! To think I didn’t find it…God! Siva! Ayyoh! The pains I went through raising it…Dam you my household Gods! Eyes wide open …you were watching. Or were your eyes shut at the time…? she wagered on.
The sick child was at her elbow tasting the curry in the tumbler…Licking up the last traces with its tongue .