Braveheart Badeyya

Gogu Shyamala

The entire madiga gudem is filled with the sounds of 'tung, tung, tung.' It is the peak of summer, a difficult time to get daily-wage work. It is now a regular practice for every household to send two or three people to get tangedu branches from the nearby forest to complete the leather work. In each of the forty households, one can see the same work taking place. While the adults work in the house, children play in the courtyard.

Enkayya and Ellamma had left for the forest before the cock's crow to

get tangedu branches. They got back by lunchtime with two headloads. Standing at the doorstep, they drank some rice water. Then they sat down at the verandah, catching their breath. Their eldest daughter Sammakka fetched rice and sour curry in two bowls, saying, "Eat something now."

Ellamma asked her, "Where are your sisters and brothers, bidda?" Enkayya immediately got up from where he had sat down to eat, calling out to his son, "Ori, Badeyyo!" There was no response to the first call. At the second call, Badeyya emerges, holding on to his bone-cart. He is breathless from having run so fast.

There is a particular fondness for Badeyya-not only in the house, but

also in the whole madiga wada. That is because . . .

Badeyya is not the only name that he has. His mother calls him by one name and father by another. But as he is the only one from the gudem who attends school, the name Badeyya has stuck. His mother had named him after her brother Mysayya, who died of snakebite in the red gram fields. She was extremely fond of him. She wanted everyone to remember her brother every time her son's name was called out. His father named him Muthaiah because he was the last of the seven children and looked as good as a pearl. So his mother calls him Mysayya and his father calls him Muthiah. Uncles, aunts and other members of the community call him


Badeyya has always had a special talent for making toys. Whenever it

was his father's turn to dispose off a dead animal in the village, Badeyya would follow him till the animal's body was skinned. He would get hold of the head to make a bone-cart. He would dry the skull, turn it over, chip off a small piece from the centre, insert a rope from the holes where the ears were, and the cart was ready! Then two children would pull the two ends of the rope like two bullocks. They would play the game of 'load-the-cart'-loading the cart with fertilizer, and then unloading it in the fields.

But at school the teacher made Badeyya sit at the back of the classroom, on the floor. He thought that he would pollute the other students. Badeyya would listen to the teacher intently, do the homework without fail, and recite the lessons the next day. But, because he was from the madiga caste, his place never moved from the back bench to the front bench.

Now as Badeyya's father calls out to him, his two brothers and sisters

also come home, running. Everyone eats a little rice and sour curry and

then gets busy with work. Enkayya goes to the adda-the usual spot in

the corner of the street where he works everyday. With him are all the

necessary tools of his craft-leather, thread, thick needle, leather beating tools, and a little water in a leather pouch. Ellamma gets busy with the tangedu branches that she had brought-piling them up for drying outside and taking out the yarn. Badeyya picks up his bone-cart, gathers the other children and goes out to play 'load-the-cart'.

The children have collected cow dung from the outskirts of the village and then dumped it in small pits in the spaces between their houses to prepare fertilizer. Their mothers, unknown to the children, use this raw dung with water to clean their front yards. The children realize that their dung has been stolen. They keep watch and soon discover the thieves. Any urge to fight with their mothers is quickly put to rest when they are firmly warned that their fathers would be informed.

Badeyya transports the dung from the small pits to the fields. The

children feel their fertilizer will be more useful if it is transferred from the small pits to the big field. Outside the village the children prepare a field beside a path created by constant use. They till the small piece of land with toy sickles and make a boundary. Then they sprinkle it with jowar and rice seeds. But to what use? As people and cattle walk on it, the field is trampled into a path again. The adults feel sorry for them, "Ayyo, land tilled with all this labor got ruined."

They suggest, "Children, instead of sowing the seeds here, why don't

you look for some other place where your labor will not go waste?" All

the children agree that this is worth taking seriously. They search for a patch of land and find it next to the drinking water well. They now start cultivating this piece of land.

That day, at Badeyya's home, there is no firewood to cook the evening

meal. Ellamma asks her son, "Badeyya, why don't you come with me to

gather firewood?"

He readily agrees. It is almost dusk and not much daylight is left. He

wonders when they will be back if they start now. "As it is," he thinks, "Awwa suffers from night blindness. After dark she can't see and stays put in a corner. She needs my help for every little thing. How can we go now? Maybe if I go with her, we can quickly collect some firewood together. I can carry it on my head and both of us can get back home soon."

He tells his mother, "Let us go, Awwa."

They pick up a rope to tie the firewood and set out from home.

They start gathering firewood from the red gram fields next to the village. Right at that moment, Ellamma sees Ramreddy dora walking by. At the sight of him, she swiftly removes her slippers and resumes work. The field is full of thorny bushes that poke at her feet. As if that is not enough, a long dry red gram stalk pierces her foot like a knife. Blood gushes out. She controls her pain and calls out to her son,

"Badeyya, it is killing me."

Badeyya runs to his mother, pulls out the stalk, squeezes some blood

out. Running to the side of the field, he plucks some nallalam leaves,

crushes them between his palms and applies it to the wound. He brings

some water from the pond in a leaf-bowl for his mother to drink.

"Awwa, you sit here. Let me collect some more wood and then we can go

home with the pile."

Badeyya has leather slippers on. While he gathers the firewood in the fields, the thorns simply get crushed under his feet. Once he has enough wood, he ties them up in a pile. Before lifting the pile onto his head, he helps his mother to her feet and looks out for her slippers. But they are nowhere to be seen. Suddenly he sees a dog chewing at them at a distance. The slippers are in shreds by now. Mother and son give up hope of getting the slippers back and start for home.

As she limps along, Ellamma starts lamenting, "This dora appeared like Yama, right when we were collecting firewood. I barely removed my slippers and my foot got pierced. See what happened! Now the dog has

eaten them. I am left without slippers. Isn't that dog's life better than mine, Badeyya? As madigas it is our work to make slippers. Your father makes slippers for all the small and big castes in the village. Our slippers shield their feet from mud, stones, thorns, twigs, worms and everything else. Even when they go the moon they wear our slippers, don't they? I am born in the caste that makes slippers for everybody, but my own feet are left bare. Let me sit for a while."

Badeyya helps her sit down. His mother's words have left him saddened.

They keep ringing in his ears. Even if his mother had slippers, they still could not be worn in front of the dora. That was how the red gram stalk pierced her feet. When they started for the fields, how swiftly she had walked, and now she has collapsed in pain. Unable to contain himself any longer, Badeyya asks his mother a question that had always bothered him, "Why do you always have to remove your slippers when the doras walk by?"

"Badeyya, do you think they will keep quiet if I don't remove my slippers? Even when they look as if they have not noticed anything, they will keep it in mind and vomit it out some other time. Do you think we can live if we offend them? This pain will disappear tomorrow. The snake has poison in its fangs; the scorpion in its tail; but the doras are poison all over. They keep their vengeance alive till they die. To fight them, we need caste, power and land. We have neither the caste nor the power. If we have to gain that power, caste has to go."

It has become dark by now. Awwa is not able to see because of her night blindness. A hundred thoughts race through Badeyya's mind as he balances the pile of firewood with one hand and holds his mother's hand

with the other. "Awwa took off her slippers just for a moment and she got hurt. Now the dog has eaten those slippers. How will she manage if she has to go to the forest tomorrow for the tangedu branches?"

Suddenly a thought occurs to him and calms him down.

Once he reaches home, he secretly takes the leather hidden by his father in the shelf and soaks it in the clay barrel under the tamarind tree. Everybody falls asleep after dinner, but not Badeyya. His heart is in the leather, soaking in the barrel.

He gets out of bed right after midnight; takes the leather out and picks up the shoemaking tools from his father's bag. First, he cuts out enough leather for slippers. Then he takes the measurement of his mother's foot; cuts the leather to the measure of the sole, the toes, and the rest of the foot. He sews the slippers; puts nails on them; then he polishes them. He has made a new pair of slippers for his mother. He thinks they may not look as good as the ones his father makes, but surely they would be useful when Awwa goes to the forest the next morning. Keeping them on the shelf safely, he goes to sleep.

As usual everyone wakes up in the morning. Enkayya tells his wife,

"How will you come to the forest with the wound on your foot? Stay at

home." Through the night, Ellamma's children have taken turns to nurse

her, applying a warm poultice of medicinal leaves to her foot. It feels a little better now though she is still weak. However, she insists on going with him. "No. How can I stay home without doing any work? I want to come but I will need slippers. And why don't you arrange for some medicine for my night blindness?"

"I can make new slippers for you; just give me three or four days. I cannot do much about your night blindness though. I have been telling you that if you patiently go around our neighborhood to beg, and eat that food for three weeks, you will be cured. You never listen to me," Enkayya says.

"Let your begging idea go to hell. I feel terrible doing that!" Ellamma says.

"Why, are you begging from strangers? Are you asking people from other castes? You are only going to our madigas. They are of our own kith and kin. Why should you feel bad about it?" Enkayya tries to placate Ellamma. "Since you don't have slippers today, why don't you wear mine?"

Badeyya wakes up to the sound of his parents talking. As his father begins to take off his slippers, he says, "Bapu, Awwa has her own slippers. Why are you taking yours off?" With those words, he brings out the new slippers and keeps them at his mother's feet. Both his parents are taken by surprise, "Where did you get these slippers from?" they ask.

"I made them," Badeyya says proudly, his voice brimming

with happiness.

Unable to believe what they are seeing, both Enkayya and Ellamma say in

unison, "You have done such a wonderful job!"

Enkayya says in a voice full of joy, "Now that your son has made you

new slippers, why don't you wear them?"

"Why wouldn't I? Do you think you are only one who can make slippers? My youngest son Muthaiah is no less. He is a mountain of gold, he is! You don't need to teach him. He learns simply by watching." Ellamma can't stop praising Badeyya. After coming back from the forest, she tells everyone in the village about his achievement, "Look, my youngest son has made these new slippers for me. Look, he simply watches and learns! Look!"

Translated from the Telugu original by A Suneetha

p. 224: Watch an advertisement that shows a young son quickly making a pair of tongs for his tired mother, burning her fingers as she makes chapathis, at

p. 225: In most cultures through the world, fathers have played a different role in tending and raising children….

p. 225: Watch the advertisement of a jewelry brand that shows a different kind of

marriage at http://www/

12.5 Further reading: Rosa Parks-The braveheart

p. 227: You can watch a mini-biography about Rosa Parks at

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