Raw Wound

Gogu Shyamala

Father was at work in the ploughed field, levelling the ridges and removing weeds from the red soil At home, mother searched anxiously for someone who could carry his lunch bundle to him. She was in a hurry to leave for her work site, and told her friend, Nagamma, "Let me know if anyone is going towards the red hillock where my husband is, I need to send him his meal."

A moment later, Nagamma shouted to my mother from behind the house, "My child, Ananthamma, no one I know is going in that direction. It is time, and the men will be looking homeward for their food. Take care of this matter, and then start for work as soon as you can."

Not knowing what to do, mother thought of abandoning her day's work, but hesitated, muttering: "For the last four days, fifteen of us have bent down and planted paddy without having stood erect for a moment. I'll get my wage of forty rupees today. But I'll lose the money if I don't go." She tied the bundle of rotte and lentils silently, and filled the aluminum pot with buttermilk. She put a small bit of charcoal in the white buttermilk to protect it from the evil gaze, and wondered who could carry it to Appa.

"I'll take it, you go on to work," I blurted, without even thinking. Mother's face was worth seeing-it shone with the brightness of five moons!

"Will you, my dear?" she exclaimed. She rushed into the kitchen, bringing a bit of soot and marked my foot, palm and temple to protect me from the demons on the way. "Be careful now. Walk on the side of the path, looking ahead-don't stumble on the stones. If any old men joke with you and ask you to look here or there, don't!" she said.

I put the rotte bundle on my head and started walking. 'My father will be very pleased. He'll praise me,' I thought and wanting to meet him quickly, hastened along. As I crossed the road and entered the path between the fields, grandpa Talaari Samuel saw me. He was surprised. "What, my granddaughter! You are now old enough to carry food to your father, are you? Go carefully, little one," he said.

"Okay grandpa," I replied. After going some distance, I placed the buttermilk pot and the lunch bundle down on a black rock, turned my stiff neck this way and that, shook my numb arms and clenched my aching fists. I took a sip from the buttermilk and wiped my mouth. Putting the bundle back on my head, I picked up the pot and began walking again.

Uncle Anthaiah, bringing his cattle back from the grazing grounds, said to me, "It's you, my niece, carrying your father's lunch! Look, an eagle is carrying a chicken up into the clouds-look up!"

"Uncle! I'll throw you over my shoulder," I retorted half-angrily. He was bluffing, and my mother had warned me about this. I didn't look up and hurried on. It was time to eat. Appa would be hungry, and looking towards the house. I walked faster. I finally reached the field. Appa had not yet stopped levelling-he kept working. He saw me and leapt on to the boundary and walked up to me. He took the bundle and the pot of buttermilk and put it down.

"My dear, you have brought the food at the right time, just when I am hungry," he said happily. He then growled, "Why have you brought the food? Your mother should have done so."

"Mother would have come, but today is the last day of her labour contract and they will pay her wages. I heard this and offered to bring the food. I also wanted to see the fields," I replied.

He beamed at me. "My dear, you have a big mind, and a large, courageous heart-just like my mother did." Both of us sat down to the meal. When we finished, Appa said, "Sit under the tree, my child," and got back to work.

It was winter, when the sun sets in the evening like a diving bird. Appa hurried up, wanting to finish this plot to the boundary, so that he could start the next field tomorrow. I couldn't see him at work now. Just then, he called. "Syamamma, come here!" I ran to him, hoping to see him work from up close. "The levelling plank is not sinking into the earth properly-the weighing stone on it is not heavy enough. Be a good girl and sit on the plank," he said.

I agreed happily, pulled my skirt up between my legs, cross-tied my braids and sat on the levelling plank. Up close, I could see the plank digging into the ridges between the furrows clearly, as my weight pushed it down. It lifted the soft moist mud underneath, which frothed over with its sweet scent. I saw without sadness the weeds being pulled out with their roots. 'It is, after all, to plant crop that the weeds are removed,' I thought.

Just then, my father said, "Don't look down, you'll get mud in your eyes!" My thoughts interrupted, I raised my eyes and looked ahead. In a while, the hard soil ended and the soft earth began. "Weight is not needed any more. Go sit under the morinda tree," my father said. I did as told.

The breeze wafted lovely smells from different sides. From the field to the left, the mature tuvar branches, deep green and filled with flowers, delivered their fresh aroma. From the right, the growing jowar field with its lush leaves rustling in the wind, sent its new green scent. I went amid the jowar plants. The leaves, running sap, beckoned and I looked. It was different in each place: on some leaves, sweet sugar-like crystals, on others, glistening in the sun like diamonds... I began tasting-eating the crystals and licking the sap off the leaf. I went through the rows tasting different leaves. While at it, I forgot the time and the sun had descended overhead. "Syamammo!" my father called out.

I leapt out of the field and stood on the boundary. "What is it, Appa? I'm here," I said.

"What are you doing, ra? Are you licking the jowar sap? Don't! It'll cut your tongue, you won't be able to eat rotte! Chilli will burn-be careful," he said.

I know, but it is very tasty. I can't let go,' I thought.

"I'll continue planking till it gets dark. Go home while it is light, daughter," he said. He tied the lunch vessels into a bundle, placed it on my head and gave me instructions to reach home safely. The path was filled with cowherds, and I walked with them all the way home. Mother's contract labour was over, and she came out to meet me.

She took the empty bundle off my head and asked how I fared. "Did your father scold me for sending you?" she asked.

"No mother, I told him that it was your last day at the contract. He didn't say anything."

"My daughter has my mother's qualities," she exclaimed, caressing my cheeks with both hands and then pressing her folded knuckles against her temples. Hearing the loud and ready cracking, she said happily, "My daughter always thinks about me." Weary, I fell asleep early. I don't even remember my mother waking and feeding me.

***

The cock had not yet crowed when my mother woke me up. I got up sleepily. She took me out and gave me some charcoal for my teeth. "Brush your teeth quickly and I'll braid your hair."

I wondered why-I couldn't understand anything. "Why did you wake me up now?" I grumbled.

"Don't speak loudly." Hearing my mother speak like that, I felt nervous and my sleep evaporated. As I quickly finished brushing my teeth and came into the house, I found that my father was up already. He was arranging some papers and clothes in the suitcase. I watched him, and silently went to my mother at the stove. "Have you finished, my dear?" she said, pushing the firewood into the stove. "Unbraid your plaits," she said. I questioned her with my eyes: "Why this hurry?" She pacified me with a nod. I nodded back in assent. After she had tied the rotte bundle, she began combing my hair. "Such thick and long hair! How will this little girl comb it herself every day?" she muttered, and then, turning to me, she said, "Don't fight with other girls. Be friendly with everybody. Do each other's braids." I then understood that I was going to the hostel at Tandur. "I am supposed to go in two months, aren't I? Why the hurry?" I asked.

At that moment, my grandmother Sangavva woke up and spoke almost in her sleep. "The plague be on them! May they die and their waist-cord be thrown into the tree! May their eating and shitting be stopped!" she cursed. "They have been keeping an eye on us. It seems someone in the past laid a rule for our family. And we have to follow it-like a rule of god. Curse that god! Does he not have children? A lineage? What sin have we committed? They have come like Yama himself to spoil our child's life." She began weeping inconsolably. My mother leapt to Sangavva's side, held her shoulders and said to her, "This is no time to cry aloud. If you do, it will be heard and the news will find its way to the landlords. If they come to know, father and daughter will not leave the village today. Don't cry, my dearest mother-in-law. Keep your mind strong."

"Why do you cry, mother? Our god is with us and we'll go as far as we can with our strength. I'll never put my child in bondage and grief!" Appa said to Sangavva. She raised her head and looked at us. Her eyes were glowing red, and wiping them, she said, "Yes, my son. You have expressed what I feel in my belly. Such an act cannot be committed in this family. My mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother-nobody could point a finger at them! However much the landlords insist, don't agree to this. In the end, even if they put a sword to your neck, stay true to your word. Keep the family's honour up, my son."

What was all this commotion about? I didn't feel like asking them at that moment. 'I'll come to know by and by,' I thought. But my mind didn't stop wondering. I kept listening to their words. The village seemed to be thinking about me. It was clear that the matter at hand was as prickly as a thorn bush! That was why my family was so concerned. This much I understood. Then mother said, "If we sit talking about this, it will be dawn and you won't be able to leave. Go quickly!"

Appa wore his freshly washed dhoti and shirt, tied the striped towel to his head, and put the black shawl on his shoulder. He picked up the suitcase in one hand, his wire-wound staff in the other. He touched his mother Sangavva's feet. He told me to do the same. I fell at her feet too. "Go safely, my children. May your task be successful," she blessed us. My mother woke my brothers up. "Wake up, my sons. Your sister is going to the hostel. Send her off," she said and had them touch my feet. "Be careful," she said to us.

Without speech or sound, we left the village. It was not yet dawn-an hour to go. The morning star hadn't yet appeared. The Three Plough Spikes constellation was high in the sky. The moon shone bright on the path. My father walked ahead, and I followed. No, my father strode ahead and I ran to keep up with him. The path was wet and marshy. The frogs in the paddy field croaked loudly and, as we passed, they leapt back into the water with a series of plops. The snakes on the plot boundaries slithered into the fields. We had to cross the village border by dawn. We had to go beyond the Mampuru lotus lake to a bus stop a mile ahead-only then would we find a bus to Tandur. My father leapt across the field canals on the way and helped me across holding my hand, saying, "Be careful." We reached the road just as the bus came.

***

In the morning, all the girls stood in a queue with their plates in hand. My father asked them and found out that it would be some time before the warden arrived. We sat under the neem tree and ate our packed food. As we finished, the warden arrived. My father went to her, knelt and touched her feet with his hands and forehead. "Oh, my good fellow, why are you doing this? Tell me, what has happened?"

"Amma, you are my daughter's mother and father too! Now you alone must take care of her. We gave her birth, but we cannot confront her fate. If you show no mercy now, my daughter's life will remain a raw wound. Everything is in your hands. We've been told that it will take two months for her name to come from the head office for admission. We don't have the freedom to wait these two months for the orders to come. We have been waiting so far, but the upper caste patel of the village have made a sinful decision that my daughter should become a jogini."

"A jogini?" the warden asked.

"A jogini is a girl from my community, the madiga community, dedicated to god."

"I know what a jogini is," interrupted the warden, but Appa continued, "The patel will take her as his woman in the name of god, with the approval of all the upper castes and the priest in the village. She will then be available to every man in the village in god's name! I brought her here without the knowledge of the elders as soon as I heard of the decision. They had heard that I was going to put this girl in the hostel for her studies. They summoned me." My father went on to narrate every detail of what had happened. "'Balappa, you son of a bitch! Sending your daughter to study, are you? Don't you know the ways of the village, you bastard? If blight descends upon the village what will we do? How dare you stop a tradition that we have upheld in this village for so long, you ignorant fool?' the landlord said. To which I replied, 'Oh Patela, what do you not know? If my only child becomes a jogini, how can she live? All the mala-madiga children in the surrounding villages are being sent to school. I have left both my sons to bondage. I would like to send at least this child to school.' The dora's eyes went red with rage, and he said, 'Have we spoken to you gently only to hear all your lame excuses? First tell me, are you going to make this girl a jogini or not? In this village, our word is law. We speak for the good of the village. Tomorrow, we may have deaths, disease, drought, or famine. To try and appease the gods after that happens would be futile. We should do our dharma-only then will god look after us. Goddess Ooradamma's festival is coming up-who will mount the stage? Who will set up the swing at the goddess Polepalli's fair? Our village's jogini, Lasmi, has become old and barren. She can no longer recite the required verses on the stage. The last time there was an epidemic of smallpox in the village, we wanted to sacrifice a buffalo, hang a strip of its flesh from her mouth and take her on the customary circuit of the village. She tried, but her legs buckled and she fainted on the boundary wall of the paddy fields. To go on the stage at Ooradamma's festival, she was to fast from the previous day. She was supposed to climb on the pot as the oracle and foretell the fortunes of the village. She failed. She couldn't climb Polepalli's swing either. Even younger women can't climb the swing, how could that old hag? All this will not do. We have to dedicate another girl to the jogu. This should be done under the mentorship of the old jogini while she is alive, the sooner the better. We have the responsibility to ensure that an ill wind does not blow across the village. All of us have to look to this. How could you send your daughter to study without seeing to this need? If you don't do your duty and I mine, we are doomed. We have to follow what is written on our foreheads. Who are we to change our destiny? You know that the fingers of the hand are not equal, don't you, my man?'"

"This is what he said, Amma," said my father to the warden. "We have brought up these children skipping a meal every day. We are sending them to study so that they will not be bound to our slavery. How can I give my daughter as a jogini after having watched her grow under my own eyes? My stomach burns. I feel more dead than alive." At this, Appa choked in grief and, speechless, he began sobbing out aloud. This was the first time I had seen my father weep uncontrollably and I felt the village's lake flooding with sorrow. I held fast to my father and could not help but cry myself.

Appa wept, I wept, and the warden's eyes filled with tears. She wiped her eyes and said, "The girl is getting frightened-don't weep, Balappa. What you are trying to do is very good. Stick to your decision." My father replied, "Whatever happens to her life later, take her into the hostel now, my mother," and fell at her feet again. The warden said, "The government banned the jogini system ages ago. Don't the landlords know this? Why are they continuing with this foolish practice? All right Balappa, I'll take this girl into the hostel and send her to school. Go back and be at peace. Should the landlord tell you to bring your daughter back and offer her as a jogini, you come straight here! We'll file a police complaint against him," advised the warden sternly.

"All right, my mother. I'll repay your favour by working for you. I'll plough your land if you need me to. As of now, I'll bring you two bundles of hay for your milch buffaloes," said Appa. She replied, "All right, bring the hay for now." My father bent over fully once again and touched her feet before he came out. I followed him. The warden returned to her work. Appa put his hand on my head, "Your luck is good, my child. Study well and be careful. I'll return now, I've to get back under the eyes of the landlords." He put his shawl on his shoulder, tied his turban and strode away rapidly. I stood there and watched him.

***

Three girls, who were clearly looking for an opportunity to speak to me, came to my side and greeted me. They became my friends. The day passed quickly in study and play, but at night I remembered my mother and brothers; Appa too came to mind. I was not used to sleeping alone.

At home, I used to snuggle against my mother's warm body. If I had to go to the bathroom, my mother would wake up. When we went to bed, my grandmother Sangavva and her mother Lasumavva would regale us with stories. When we slept in the yard, we would count the stars in the sky and tell each other stories about the constellations-the Three Plough Spikes, the Golden Bed, the Hen and the Chickens, the Scorpion.

In the hostel, we told each other whatever stories we knew after dinner. I would tell the girls all the stories my mother and grandmothers told me. After that, we studied for a while, and then spread our mattresses and lay down in a row. When the watchman came and said, "Now go to bed, all of you," I would cover myself fully with my sheet, but wouldn't be able to sleep. I remembered events at home with a shudder and my stomach sank in anxiety. I wondered what had happened to my father, what the landlords had said to him, whether they had abused him or beaten him up, and how they might have made him suffer. I thought about how much my mother and Sangavva must have cried, and wept myself. I never knew exactly when I cried myself to sleep. I had nightmares and would wake up suddenly, sitting bolt upright. I missed my family deeply and wanted to go back to see them.

In the morning, the mess cook would ask, "What is it, my dear? Your face is swollen, your eyes are red-are you ill?" I would not reply. Not knowing what to say, I would shake my head and my desire to weep would increase. But I couldn't cry, because I was afraid they would say I wanted to go home and send me back. So I swallowed my tears. One day when the cook saw me all pensive like that, she inquired, "Remembering your mother and father, are you? In a few days, we'll be having a four-day holiday. Everyone will go home and come back. Why are you so sad? You should go too." I cheered up.

On the day I had to go home, I removed my ribbons, lightly combed the hair plaited the day before and tied it up in a loop. I quickly washed, ate my breakfast and went to school with the other girls. When the evening bell rang, I put the money my brother had given me from his winnings at the game of marbles into my skirt pocket. I put the new books that I had been given in the hostel into my bag, so that I could show them to my father. I slung the bag across my shoulder and started for home.

***

It was spring and the jowar plants were pregnant with seed. Sparrows swooped, circled and dived among the plants, waiting to eat grain as they burst out of the ears. Unlike these impatient sparrows, the wise crows, as if knowing that the time was not yet ripe, flew confidently across the fields in groups. The trial begins when the ears pop and the grain comes out. This is when a guard platform must be put up in the middle of the field. This is because the field is just by the road, and is overrun with melon creepers. When the cowherds come, their cows will run into the field and crush the jowar plants. Passers-by will pluck the raw ears of jowar to roast as a tasty snack. That is why one person must remain on watch day and night in this crucial period. Now, Sangamma has a two-month job at the field. She must be there twenty-four hours a day. Someone will have to bring her meals each day from the house.

The sun was rising, and Sangamma told her son, "Balappa, arrange for poles for the platform during the day," as she picked up the broom, ready to go and gather the remaining grain from the threshing grounds in different fields. "All right. We have the poles, but I need to locate sticks for the platform. I'll cut a few branches from the acacia trees lining our fields, okay?" said Balappa, shouldering his axe. He picked up his rotte bundle and set out. He hadn't crossed the village boundary when the landlord's bonded labourer came in his way. Balappa maintained an outward calm, but inside he was trembling as he tried to walk by. The boy, giving him due respect, said, "Uncle, the landlord is calling for you." Balappa's heart froze, because he knew immediately that he was being called because of Syamamma.

"How long can we hide a secret in a village? It will come out one day. What shall I do? What will be, will be. I sent her to the hostel fully knowing the risk, didn't I?" Balappa muttered to himself, his thoughts in a whirl. "What for, my son?" he asked. Downcast, the boy replied, "About Syamamma's going to school, what else?" As if done with his duty, the errand boy left in a hurry. Balappa was at a loss. He turned around and walked back into the village. As he crossed his neighbour Talaari Pentappa, he said, "The landlord has called me. Tell your sister and my mother, brother-in-law," he said and walked towards the landlord's house.

Passers-by who already knew the bad news looked anxiously at Balappa as they crossed him. 'Only God will protect me,' thought Balappa, looking up to the sky, pressing his hands together and raising them in prayer. He appealed to the passers-by with fear in his eyes. He crossed the madiga quarter, then the mala colony, the telaga bazaar and went to the landlord's house at the centre of the village. Balappa had thought that the landlord would be alone, but he saw him from afar, sitting with the sub-inspector of police, the ex-sarpanch Chandra Reddy, the moneylender Badrappa Setu, the village revenue accountant Karnam Srirama Sharma Pantulu. The landlord's name was Anantha Reddy and he was the sarpanch of the village. The watchman stopped Balappa at the gate.

***

"Wait, Balappa, the elders are in a meeting," he said.

"My man, the Patel called for me. He should know that I came as soon as he called. Let him see me once, and I'll wait as long as necessary," pleaded Balappa.

"You sit down. I will tell him. They'll get angry if you interrupt them," the watchman replied.

Balappa sat at one side. In two hours, some of the people from the meeting walked away. Only the landlord Anantha Reddy and Srirama Sharma remained. They left the meeting room and came out to sit on the platform where they met the people of the village. The watchman came out and said, "Balappa, the Patel is calling for you. Come."

Balappa stood immediately, took off his turban and held it in his hand, left his slippers outside the door and walked in, saying, "Salute Patela!"

Anantha Reddy and Srirama Sharma talked among themselves, paying him no heed. Balappa folded his arms across his chest in submissive obedience and stood there, eyes cast downwards. The landlord looked him up and down and asked, "Where did you go off to, Baliga?"

"Where did I go, my lord? The jowar field is ripe for the sparrows and I was going to cut down some acacia branches for the watch platform," said Balappa.

"You are getting too clever, you rascal. This is not about today. Where have you taken your daughter?" the landlord asked, raising his voice.

Even as Balappa tried to continue, "Patela, my daughter..."

"You have learned to reply to each word, have you, you son of a bitch? What do you think of yourself? Do you not want to live in this village? Even though we have spoken as gently to you as to a parrot, you have sent her to study! The moment you sent your daughter to study, you disobeyed your village's order. How daring you are!" said the landlord sarcastically.

"My wife was stubborn, saying that the girls in the next village are going to school, and that her sister's children are studying too. She was the one who insisted that I send Syamamma," said Balappa, trembling.

"Who has given you your lip and your impudence, you scoundrel?" the landlord raged, looking around for a weapon to beat Balappa with. Finding no stick, he picked up a paperweight from his table and flung it at Balappa's face. It struck him on the forehead and blood flowed copiously. Balappa stood still. The landlord's wrath did not abate. "However much we beat you, your kind shows neither respect nor shame!" he said, and standing on the platform, kicked Balappa on the chest. Balappa fell backward on to the wall behind him.

Srirama Sharma, looking on, said, "Why do you beat him? It's such a nuisance! Look ahead at what needs to be done. What is the use of beating these mala and madiga, or talking to them? The government has no shame. 'Education for all' they say! If everybody is educated, who will do the work? Each person has an occupation, a skill. Our village is a self-contained republic-where the barber, the dhobi, the cobbler and the labourer... each has his own function and place. Each has to do his duty. The work of the jogini has to be done by Baliga's daughter. We have already taken this decision."

Turning to Balappa, Sharma continued, "You knew this. This obstinacy is your downfall, you wretch. What has happened to you? Didn't the poor Patel explain everything to you with the greatest patience?"

Turning to the landlord, Sharma said, "He is bleeding profusely. If he is left here for long, this place will become impure. What if he dies here? Have him sent out immediately."

The patel's labourers hurried in and picked Balappa up by his legs and shoulders, carried him out, and threw him on the street. The news of Balappa's beating spread through the village like wildfire, reaching his wife and mother.

His mother Sangamma, hair undone, came hurrying to the spot, and seeing him, wailed, beating her chest and forehead. She clutched Balappa to her bosom and sobbed inconsolably. "You were born to me after so many penances, my son. You were never a man who harmed even an ant. How did those hands find the will to beat you? Who were the blackguards who did this? May those hands be stricken by leprosy! May robbers crush those fingers!" Muttering to herself, she cried, looking around her for something. She cradled his head on her lap, and used the sari end to press the wound on his forehead. The bleeding continued.

Balappa's wife, who was beside him, cried out, "What injustice is this, my lord? What sin have we committed? May we not live in this world?" She started looking around for a healing shrub. She found it behind the landlord's cowshed, brought a few stalks, and squeezed the juice on to Balappa's forehead. Even then the bleeding continued. She squeezed the stalks even more and put the crushed residue in the wound and pressed it down. Sangamma held it fast on the forehead. Balappa's wife went to the inner door of the landlord's house and began to ask his wife for some water. Even before she had completed her request, the landlady cut in, "Why have you come here, woman? If the patel sees you here, he will kill me! Go away," and banged the door shut. Balappa's wife went to the house of another landlord, Ram Reddy, who belonged to another political party, and begged at the inner door-"Amma, I'll fall at your feet, I beg you. Please give me some water. My husband's mouth and tongue are caked dry and he cannot speak. Blood is flowing in a stream. Please give me some water."

"Yes, all of you had raised Anantha Reddy on your heads, calling him Patela, Patela! All of you cast your votes for him and made him win the election. You got my husband defeated. Didn't you have any brains then? Now you come asking for water! I went to every mala and madiga house asking each one of you to cast your vote. All of you said you would. But none of you did. This is how our times have become unjust! What can we do?" said the landlady, pouring out her woes to Balappa's wife.

"Amma! Please give me some water, Amma," she reminded her.

"Water? You are asking for water? Where should I pour it? Why haven't you brought your vessel? Go! Get it now," replied the landlady.

"Amma, where can I get a vessel now? My house is far away. By the time I return with it, he'll be dead. I beg you. I am your servant. Please give me the water in some vessel," she pleaded.

"There is a toilet mug on the shelf in the cattle shed. Bring it. I'll pour water in it for you," said the lady.

Ananthamma's heart broke. She looked at the landlady's face. But she realized that it was not her moment, ran and brought the mug. The landlady poured water. As she carried the leaky mug back, all the water drained away. She flung the mug to the ground and looked around her. The doors of all the houses were shut. The reddy-komati neighbourhood was deserted. There was no chance of getting water anywhere. Just then, the mala woman Kashamma was returning from work to feed her child. She looked at Ananthamma and asked, "What happened, my aunt? Why are you crying?"

"Your uncle has no water to drink and is half-dead," replied Ananthamma.

"Ayyo! He is in such a bad condition!" Kashamma replied. Then she had a wild idea, and hesitated, looking around furtively. "We could give him some breast milk at least," she suggested. Ananthamma looked at her, speechless with gratitude. Both of them hurried to Balappa's side. Ananthamma cupped her palm and Kashamma squeezed milk from her breast to fill it up. Ananthamma carefully poured the milk into Balappa's mouth. In this way Kashamma gave seven or eight palms full of milk. They put some of the milk on the wound.

"Enough. You need to feed the baby," said Ananthamma.

"Don't worry. There will be more milk soon. But if people know I did this, my life will be hell! I'll go now," said Kashamma and hurried away into the lanes between the compound walls. Slowly, the bleeding stopped, but Balappa's eyes did not open. He lay in a faint.

The landlord emerged from the house after making a phone call and saw the fallen Balappa and the women surrounding him, the rusty mug on the ground.

"Where did you find the water, you bitches? Why are you gathered here as if your house has been burned down?" he shouted. Turning to his labourers, he asked, "You madiga bastards, why did you let them come here?" He ranted at the women, "It is because I employ your mala and madiga men that they let you in," and then wheeled back at his workmen, "You have great love for your caste, have you? Remove these people from here immediately! Take them to the grass stacks. Leave them there and get back to work at the well," he said.

The two men took Balappa and put him near a grass stack. The women followed them and sat down. His mother called out, "Balappa! Balappa!" He stirred a little and tried to open his eyes. The women watched him, and wiped the bloodstains off his face with their sari ends. The labourers said, "God knows when the landlord will come, and when you will go home. Take this tiffin and hide it so that someone doesn't see it," and, giving them their lunch packs, left them.

***

Appa slowly opened his eyes and saw us. He saw me and tried to get up immediately. He swayed, "Amma," and fell back again. He waved me close to him. "Why did you come, my dear Syamamma? All this is for your sake!" he cried. My mother and grandmother sobbed inconsolably. I wondered why, after having beaten him so much, the landlord had had him put near the haystack. Nobody knew. Whatever the reason, my father was awake, and the bleeding had stopped. He could speak to us, and we were all a little calmer. We waited anxiously, wondering what the landlord was up to. In a while, five or six men in white khadi walked towards us, among them the police sub-inspector and the village elders. My father saw them and sank back. He then remembered what the hostel warden had assured him and took courage. The landlord too was not as angry as before. They were advancing with some papers in their hands. We saw them and stood up immediately. My father tried to stand, but fell back and lay there, as limp as the bloodstained clothes he had on him. He cried out, "Amma, Amma," and bit his teeth to try and stop the pain.

The landlord walked up and said, "Baliga, you did not listen to our words. You made me beat you unnecessarily. We all know what a good person you are. You saved my life once. Will I ever forget?" Turning to his companions, he said, "On that day in the fields, Baliga and Kurva Malliga were with me. Malliga took the cattle home to tie them up and bring me food. At that time, robbers came to steal the tuvar dal, and were filling up their sacks. When I tried to stop them, they raised their axes. At that moment, Baliga snatched an axe from one of the robbers and brandished it at them. All of them ran away. While he turned on them, I found time to hide behind the paddy heaps. Then Baliga chased them away with his ironclad staff. He saved both my life and grain worth thousands of rupees. At that time I had called him a hero."

Turning to Appa, he said, "Now you have become too stubborn and wooden-headed, and do not listen to anyone. We are telling you this for your own good. When you live in a place, you must maintain good relations with everyone. You must listen to the village voice. You should not forget the village's command. Without thinking of all this, you put your girl in school. Even if she does study, what is going to come of it? How is she going to study alone in a different town? Times are bad now. If we settle her as a jogini in our village, she will constantly be watched over. What is there in study, Baliga? However much you study, you can't escape labour, can you? If she grows up a bit, what guarantee is there that she won't follow some man who makes a living selling tea and washing teacups? If you decide to keep your girl in school after this much has happened, it is your decision. But you'll not be permitted to stay in this village. We'll tell you what we want, you listen," said the patel.

Appa looked at the group of men, cowering like an animal in front of a pride of lions. All of the others nodded in unison, agreeing with the patel. Sangavva, standing by him, began sobbing. My mother, standing beside the grass stack, cried out, "Oh my god, my home has been destroyed!"

The elders were furious. "These women make an unnecessary racket. Kick them on their kidneys! The pain will shut their mouths and keep them down!" one of them said. My mother and grandmother fell silent.

"Listen carefully. The Patel is speaking only for your good," advised Srirama Sharma, as if he were taking a class.

The patel said, "Look, we don't know what you are thinking. Until now, if we have told you to do one thing, you have done something else. If we told you something for your own good, it did not enter your thick skull. I'll now tell you what I have decided. After this it is your choice. I asked you to make your daughter a jogini, but not for my sake. It was for the good of the village. Why is it that this fact does not enter your dull mind? I have no patience to talk to you any further! Either you make your girl a jogini, or leave the village. If you persist and stay on in the village stubbornly, you'll share Madiga Jangadu's fate! Beware!"

As soon as they heard this, my parents and my grandmother trembled. They saw before their eyes, Jangayya, a strapping young man, screaming as he was burnt to death. All the mala and madiga were grief-stricken by Jangayya's death, but no one could cry. Why? This was because the patel alleged that he practised magic, searched his hut and found turmeric, kumkum and lemons-the well-known and convenient tools of that trade! So they garlanded him with old truck tyres and set him afire in the village square. Everybody was terrified-if they cried, they too would be charged with practising magic. No one-relatives, siblings, or parents-came to his funeral. After he died, people felt that nobody should die such a death. Appa used to say so often, "Jangayya was an innocent man. Nobody could say an ill word of him. He saved money by working hard and often starving himself, and bought a bit of land. Then the patel's eye fell on that land and he killed Jangayya. Everybody knew this, but nobody spoke up." When my family was threatened with this fate, they feared the worst. My father's eyes were downcast.

"Now, without being too clever, sign these papers, and I'll write the land transfer document," said the patel.

Appa could actually write well-he was the first person who taught me how to read and write. Not only that, he was also the person who taught the dramatist Pothuluri Veerabrahmam's play to our community troupe. But he did not make any move to sign the papers. The realization that his land was being grabbed from him was such a great blow that he forgot he knew to write. He looked on, dazed. He had to lose either his daughter or his land. Left without an escape route, my family stood silent like puppets.

"Come on now! How long do we have to wait for you?" said the patel men. They came to my father and Sangavva, and forced both their thumbprints on the paper.

"Here-take this money for your bus fare! Leave the village immediately," said the patel, giving Appa a few green notes.

"From now on, the red earth field will not be ours!

The black clay field beside the canal will not be ours!

The madiga quarter will not be ours!

The home and yard we were born and brought up in will not be ours!

The house we had built with lime and mortar will not be ours!

We have become birds without a nest!

We have become orphans without a place to go!"

Sangavva and my mother cried out in lament, rolling on the ground.

To no avail! We boarded the bus to town-only the clothes we wore belonged to us.

"We've suffered this fate because we decided to send you to study. We'll support you through our labour as long as our limbs are able. Don't worry, daughter. Study well and become a big officer," said my family, and this was the courage that took me through my education.

My childhood, marked by a refusal to become a jogini, and by my father losing his land, is a raw wound for my family, for my community and for me-a throbbing memory even today.

Translated from the Telugu original by R. Srivatsan

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