Original in Telugu By Dr. GV Krishnarao
Translator - GRKMurty
My aunt, who never suffered even minor cold, suddenly took to bed. There was none else in the house to cook food. It wouldn’t have been a problem, had I been alone. There was my father who had become a ‘tri-ped’. There must always be someone around him to cater to his needs. Over and above, there was the farm-worker who ate thrice a day, and, of course, the very farming.
Of course, I wasn’t inconvenienced at all by cooking. But my aunt had become a real problem. The doctor advised me not to let her get out of bed. Particularly, he prohibited her from going near the hearth. If only she listened! She craved to undertake the daily household chores like a normal woman. Despite earnest pleadings, she kept coming into the kitchen. Angered by it, I used to yell at her. But what use? My chidings got evaporated and she continued to do as she was habituated to.
My heart quivered. For all these years, we got her to serve us in many ways. But the very moment it dawned on me that we could not arrange even medicine for her sickness today, I at once felt down in the dumps. But what can I do? Whatever little we get out of the harvest hardly suffices to take care of the clothing and farming expenses. The only alternative is to borrow. But then how to repay? Rocked thus in conflicting thoughts.
My aunt’s condition was fast deteriorating. She was not sitting quiet for even a minute. She was always found tossing between the kitchen and the eastern-side house. As the doctor advised, it appeared the earlier that I took her to the hospital, the better it would be. Unless she was kept out of the house, she would not sit in a corner.
We must, therefore, start for the town soon. But then, whom to approach for money? Mustn’t the request be honored? Am I to hold back, fearing that my request might be turned down, that too, when the life is in danger? Why at all to be afraid of it? After all there is no dearth of money in the world. No one needs to shy away from lending him money? With that confidence, I went to Narasayya’s house.
It must be said that Narasayya was an enigmatic person. Although he was circulating around twenty thousand rupees on interest, he never went to court even once. Whatever could have been the greatness of his money, his debtors used to repay loans to the last paisa, even when their life was in tatters. Nor did anyone ever hear of him pressurizing the borrowers for money. Even it was said of him that he had an aversion for the apparent world. I had heard people talk that there was no philosopher, no wise man like him in the surrounding villages. Of course, I didn’t have much intimacy with him, except that I had seen him twice or thrice near the library.
As I went, making me sit on the bench that was in the eastern side of the house, he, setting alright the uttareeyam on his shoulder, sat on the ground in front of me leaning against the pillar, and said,
“What abbai, how is your father, walking around alright?”
“Alright, he is able to walk around.”
“He used to come to the library pial and sit there in the evenings. Since I haven’t seen him for the last four days, thinking he might be ill, I enquired thus.”
“He is alright. But my aunt is bedridden now. There is none in the house to cook even a fistful of rice. That has thrown everything haywire.”
“Alas! What a difficulty! Even when everything is around, samsaram is a hell. No further explanation is needed to describe life when someone in the family is bedridden and there is none else even to cook and serve food. That’s why elders said: “Samsaram is an ocean of sorrow”. That’s how troubles frequent us and, of course, walk away. But is there a greater folly than thinking about such an uncertain world and life as certain and pleasant? You should have sent a word for your sister, then?”
“What could even she do by coming here? Moreover, with a big family of her own, can she afford to come and stay for three to four months?”
“If nobody is there in the house to even cook a measure of grain, how to go about?”
“Of course, we shall somehow manage that. The real problem is that of my aunt.”
“Doctor advised us to take her to Madanapalli sanatorium.”
“Doctors! What’s there, for them it’s a mere advice! They simply say it. Will the doctors ever think whether it is possible … can the patient afford it? As we do what they said, we get ruined. Why don’t you show to our achary in the village?”
“If it’s some other kind of disease, perhaps, yes; but in case of diseases like TB, we can’t but do as they say.”
Not being able to contain ourselves, we feel like that, but are doctors gods? Who can tell what happens when? If that time comes, not only the doctor, even the God cannot retain life. If one is destined to live, will live wherever one is. Those destined to die will die even if they drink ambrosia. Births and deaths are the eternal streams. One wonders if one thinks of whence from they start and what for.”
What can I say now? Could not open the mouth to ask for money. But remembering aunt’s grappling for breath, I ventured to say –
“What you said is the truth. Yet, shouldn’t man do what he can do? I have to take my aunt to Madanapalli. Arrange to give me two hundred rupees. I shall give it back in January.”
“That’s OK! Take away. Don’t think I said this because I may have to give the money. Because a context arose, I am saying.” Saying, “Even otherwise, you are not that immature; can’t you understand why I am saying this?” he went inside.
Being relieved from the anxiety that he might decline my request, I had recomposed. For unknown reasons, I started thinking why he said all that. I could not make it out. In the world, there are different kinds of people. Different theories are there. What wrong will result if there are so many theories? What else is needed so long as the humanity didn’t die down and people help others in the hour of need?
Scribbling down the promissory note, he took money from Narasayya garu. As I was leaving, he said repeatedly, “You are going along with your aunt, aren’t you? After getting her admitted in the hospital, keep writing about how her health is.”
I felt guilty for having doubted a man of his nature. His sympathy, his indifference to the worldly affairs had amazed me. Realized that there is no greater stupidity than assessing people from what they speak.
Making necessary arrangements at home, I took my aunt to Madanapalli and got her admitted in the hospital. Soon a letter came from Narasayya garu enquiring, “How is your aunt’s health? Did she get any relief?” and advising me to “write about the developments without neglecting.”
Seeing that letter, I felt ashamed. I had thought that he asked me to write a letter as a matter of routine, but never believed that he would be so enthusiastic to know about our welfare. How am I to expect that our welfare will matter to a man for whom the very world is a myth?
It is necessary to write a letter immediately. It’s not enough to merely tell how my aunt’s health is. Must request him to tell about his and his family’s welfare, for that is fair and it’s also my bounden duty. But I do not know anything about anybody in the village. Nor did I ever try to know. Looking at the circumstances in the village, I felt it was good to keep away from them. Now, while writing a letter to Narasayya garu, whose welfare should I request him to inform me?
Immediately I wrote a letter to my father asking him to inform me about the family of Narasayya garu at the earliest possible. Incidentally, he too gave a quick reply.
Narasayya has only one son. His name is Vidyaranyulu. It seems he is studying at Tirupathi or some other place for ‘Vedantasiromani’. It seems Vidyaranyulu has a son. He is of about nine months old. The child appears to be pretty like a golden doll. Mother and child stay with Narasayya garu.
After receiving the letter from my father, I wrote a letter to Narasayya garu saying: “Doctors say that two side rib bones are to be removed. I don’t know how it would be thereafter. As you said, if our fate is good and she is destined to live she would live. Hope your health is fine. Baby Shankar must be crawling in and out of the house and playing. When will Vidyaranyulu come home?”
I didn’t get a reply even twenty days after my writing the letter. I was surprised at it. Either he must not be in the village, or a catastrophe might have struck. I could not, of course, think of it seriously, for my aunt’s condition was fast deteriorating. That night, my need to worry about her had evaporated.
Next day I came home with her corpse. As aunt had anyway passed away, there was no point in thinking about her. Nor did it make any sense. Of course, the debt remained.
After settling the affairs of the house, one day I enquired about Narasayya garu. I learnt that his grandson had died a few days back by falling into a well. Whether he had fallen by going there crawling, or any enemies had thrown him into it was, of course, not known. It seemed, by early morning, that baby Shankaram was floating in their well in the backyard.
Alas! What a crisis has befallen Narasayya garu! Felt like paying a visit to console him. When I went to him, he was sitting on a bench in the eastern house, all in sorrow. Seeing me, nudging himself to a side, waved me to sit. As I sat, he asked, “When did you come? How is your aunt?”
My eyes welled up. Saying, “Being unaware, I asked, babu. Hold yourself, I was not aware that she had passed away. Who can say what will happen when? Look at my Shankaram’s fate. Never thought even in dream that it will happen like this. A divine person said, ‘old people may drop out; there is nothing to worry about the kid’. I felt so happy. I was overjoyed by the thought that I would be seen off by my son and grandson. See, what has happened now! Everything is maya babu, mere maya”, he heaved a sigh.
“How could have the boy fallen into the well?”
“What could I say? I can’t say it was the handiwork of thieves, for the golden rope around his waist, the chain around the neck and the bracelets on the hands were all intact. Do I have enemies that I don’t know of? It’s all his karma and our karma that popped out like this.”
“Where is the well?”
“There, in the backyard. I am afraid my legs are not cooperating to let me show it to you…”
Saying, “I shall go and have a look at it,” I went and saw it. The height of parapet wall around the well was roughly three-fourths of a yard. Returning to him, I asked, “How old was Shankar? How many years?”
“Years! Not even nine months completed. Maybe to die he grew up like a healthy bush.”
“Everything is maya,” said I.
“What kind of maya you say?” Asked he with an expanding face.
Saying, “Don’t elders say maya is indefinable?” I immediately walked out.
Next day Narassyya sent a word for money, saying it was urgently required.
(Published in Jayanti Vol 10. No 2&3 pp138-140)
 Uttareeyam—plain cloth that men wear on shoulder.
 Abbai—an informal and warm way of calling a younger male.
 Samsaram—family, life.
 Achary—a village physician.
 Garu—a polite form of address in Telugu, often placed after a person’s name or title.
 Vedantasiromani—a kind of degree certificate for proficiency in Sanskrit literature.
 Babu—affectionate way of addressing anybody.