‘Do you call it a marriage without serving chakinaalu and pheneelu, homemade snacks?’ criticized Rukkamma turning her face.
Anjana was setting the saris, which were scattered over there. She was angry within herself at her vadina, sister-in-law’s remarks, ‘She always finds fault with me and does not appreciate me for anything; picks loopholes in whatever I do. Who eats chakinaalu these days?’ Anjana murmured to herself, but smiled at her vadina to cover her feelings. She looked more beautiful when smiled that illuminated her face as though thousands of torches were lit.
‘How can I attend to everything all alone, vadina? Till the other day, I was busy shopping. The marriage is to take place within a few days, and the tailor is yet to stitch Rajani’s blouse. The priest wanted Rajani to be made up as the bride a day after tomorrow, the auspicious day. How can I attend to everything alone? So, I am getting the refreshments prepared in a sweet shop. My husband agreed too,’ Anjana justified her inability of making chakinaalu.
‘Chakinaalu, pheneelu are the basic refreshments. They can be made very easily. We are all here to prepare them. If we all work, we can make them in a day. Procure flour for chakinaalu,’ ordered her vadina. Her sister Radha, elder co-sister Susheela, elder father-in-law’s daughter-in-law Shantha, younger mother-in-law’s daughter Bhagya and daughter-in-law Sudeshna were all there at the scene. In fact, Anjana invited them to show the wedding saris and jewellery of her daughter. After seeing the saris and jewellery, her vadina resumed the topic of refreshments. She was in fact angry since her own son is not the proposed groom. She found fault with the god too for not granting this boon.
‘Don’t we help, if you asked well in-advance? You have invited us only when the wedding day is fast approaching. Haven’t we turned up the moment you had invited? You bought clothes and jewellery but did you ever bother to get pusthe and mattelu done? asked her vadine sarcastically.
‘How can I forget all those important things vadina? I got everything procured like poluku vadlu, thalwalla biyyam, jilakar biyyam, parada batta, peetalu the priest asked for. They can be shifted to the marriage pandal on the wedding day. I have changed my mind about prepararing the refreshments on my sister’s advice. She told that no one is taking refreshments like chakinaalu and pheneelu these days,’ Anjana tried to answer her vadina’s queries.
Her vadina started criticising even before Anjana could complete, ‘Ah, heed your sister’s words. You don’t seem to listen to my suggestion!’ Anjana was scared of her vadina. It being the first marriage in their house, she wished that everything is done perfectly and incident free.
‘I didn’t mean to cancel them! If you are keen on making those refreshments, let’s make pheneelu. Chakinaalu too can be prepared within no time. We can ask Pullamma to pound flour immediately,’ Anjana appeased her vadina pleadingly.
‘Are you skilful enough to make chakinaalu, my dear vadina?’ asked Bhagya laughing malignantly. Bhagya is the daughter of Anjana’s mother-in-law’s sister.
‘I don’t know how to as i hail from the country side.’ Anjana told Bhagya. Rukkamma moved her lips characteristically to express her displeasure and asked, ‘If you don’t know how to make chakinaalu, will you learn now?’
Paying no attention to Rukkamma, Anjana called out, ‘Pullamma!’ Pullamma, sweeping in the adjacent room, came to Anjana.
‘Pullamma! You have to pound tomorrow two kilos of flour for chakinaalu,’ ordered Anjana.
‘Amma, I can’t do it as I have to attend to the house hold chores. Instead, ask Giramma to do it. She would do it better. We will do it together. I’ll call her and you discuss the matter with her,’ pleaded Pullamma tucking her tattered sari-end in her waist.
‘Go and call Giramma immediately,’ ordered Anjana.
‘I’ll go at once and bring Giramma here amma,’ Pullamma left to attend to her work.
‘Akka, how much dowry are you offering?’ enquired Shantha, daughter-in-law of Anjana’s elder paternal uncle.
‘Aa…they would accept whatever we offer. They didn’t demand and we didn’t offer anything in the form of dowry,’ replied Anjana locking the suitcase.
‘Being aware of your status, they might expect more offer,’ Bhagya said.
‘If age is matching, Rajani should have become my daughter-in-law,’ Rukkamma sighed in a very depressing mood.
‘How is it possible akka? Rajani is the first born and Sudheer second,’ Bhagya answered quickly.
‘These days age is not a criterion. Though Rajani is elder to your son, you could have fixed the alliance. What will happen?’ suggested Anjana’s co-sister laughing spitefully.
‘Aa you have only one child and that too a son. Otherwise I would have fixed my son’s alliance with your daughter,’ laughed Rukkamma and everyone laughed.
‘How would I know? If nobody had known the age of the bride and the groom, the alliance could have been fixed telling lies about age. How can the alliance be fixed when the bride is elder than the groom?’ Rukkamma tried to pacify her mental agony.
Rukkamma’s haunting feeling was that her brother Govardan’s property was to belong, in the form of dowry, to the outsiders.
Rukkamma’s son Sudheer was pursuing his second year B.Com but the bride Rajani had already completed her M.C.A. How could the alliance match? She knew it all pretty well but she could not resist the fact that her family would miss the dowry her brother would have offered.
‘If your son completes M.B.A., you will also get a good alliance with suitable dowry for him, don’t bother much about it,’ Susheela tried to console Rukkamma sensing her feelings.
‘Aa, nowadays who is fixing the maternal alliances. Everything has changed in the world and also the alliances,’ said Shanta, who has a daughter and wanted to fix the alliance with Rukkamma’s son but she could not propose it, as she was not in a position to offer enough dowry.
‘Till now Rajani doesn’t reveal the amount of dowry. It seems she is afraid of income tax officials. These days people claim much more than what they actually offer. How much dowry are you offering, vadina?’ Bhagya asked with a smile.
‘Aa, one, inclusive of all the gifts,’ Anjana told in a low voice, and continued, ‘They did not demand dowry.’
Immediately Rukkamma retorted sarcastically, ‘When they know pretty well how much you are offering them, why will they demand any way?’
‘One means is it a crore ! How much in cash out of it?’ asked Bhagya to know the details. Bhagya is much younger to Anjana.
‘Already we paid twenty lakhs, out of which we spent ten lakhs on a diamond set for Rajani,’ Anjana told them.
Rukkamma was mortified, ‘The property of my own brother is going to outsiders. My brother being a builder, is he offering only a crore? He might have offered more than what Anjana was admitting. He has only a daughter and a son, and entire property my brother has will belong to both of them,’ thought Rukkamma.
‘They are not greedy about dowry. The groom’s father is rich enough. They have only a daughter and a son,’ Anjana gave the details.
‘Let’s try for the alliance of her daughter to your son vadina!’ Susheela suggested to Rukkamma.
Rukkamma did not like Susheela pestering the alliance of her son.
‘Aa, is there any dearth for brides to my son? Will he marry a stranger without considering the family and relations?’ Rukkamma’s face flushed with anger.
‘Akka, if you people keep raising the amount of dowry like this, what would be our position! Can we offer dowry in crores like you? Is it possible for us?’ Shanta expressed her helplessness.
‘Are we increasing the amount of dowry? Is it in our hands?’ replied Anjana.
‘They are asking for an educated bride initially. Then they demand for lakhs and crores as dowry. You can offer as much as they demand but what is our position?’ repeated Shanta.
‘There is more demand for dowry?’ Bhagya wanted to say something.
‘Some parents are saving money as soon as they are blessed with a girl child so that the savings can be offered as the dowry. That is the reason for the rising dowry. These days parents prefer to have only two children so that their wealth could be shared between them,’ Sudeshna, silent for a long time, expressed her opinion. She is Anjana’s younger aunt’s daughter-in-law.
‘Why do you bother, my sister-in-law! You have enough lands nearby the city. You can make money by selling them. You are running a marriage hall and your husband is a practicing lawyer! In spite of having enough income, why do you bother about the rising dowry?’ Rukkamma criticised Sudeshna.
‘Bhagya, are you selling your lands for real estate business?’ Thara’s cousin asked Bhagya.
‘It is highly impossible to cultivate the land! We are selling our land as everyone does,’ said Bhagya in a dejected tone.
‘Why do you worry? It seems your husband has invested money in business which he got by selling the land in the real estate business?’ asked Rukkamma.
‘Yes, he is not making profit as he had no sense of business! He was a good farmer and how can he become a businessman overnight, akka? We are in trouble as soon as we sold the land,’ Bhgya explained.
‘Don’t be pessimistic, which might turn out to be true! Nothing will happen since our maridhi, brothrer-in-law runs a marriage hall also!’ consoled Tara.
‘I don’t know much about it, but there is a cut throat competition in the business of marriage halls in the city. Customers bargain a lot and the maintenance charges are soaring high. We are not getting enough profit,’ replied Sudeshna to Bhagya, who is her husband’s sister.
‘People doing jobs are always secured when compared to business men,’ declared Bhagya.
‘Every profession has its own merits and demerits,’ Tara differed with Bhagya as her husband is working in excise department.
‘What is your problem vadina! You have extra income in the profession,’ said Sudeshna looking at Shanta with a smile.
‘Your husband is a lawyer, he gets lakhs of rupees by winning the cases!’ replied Shanta. Sudeshna’s husband is a practicing advocate in the high court.
‘Every profession has its own merits and demerits! Bhagya, We heard that you have fixed the alliance of your daughter, tell us the details!’ asked Rukkamma participating in the discussion.
‘They have seen my daughter. Initially they said that it would be enough if the girl is beautiful, then they asked if the girl can operate computers, and finally they are bargaining for dowry. The matter is under discussion,’ replied Bhagya.
‘Are they demanding three lakhs or four lakhs?’ asked Rukkamma.
‘If it is two or three lakhs, it would have been fine, but they are demanding fifteen lakhs,’ answered Bhagya.
‘Vadina you have only one daughter. You have to fulfil their demands, if you really like the alliance. Otherwise someone else might be interested in the alliance. These days there is so much of demand for grooms. As soon as they land in India, many people are after them in testing their luck. They say that the population of girl children fell drastically, still there is a demand for grooms!’ laughed Anjana. She settled with her relatives by placing the suitcase in a corner of the room.
‘Everyone wants to marry someone settled in America! Hence the demand!’ Rukkamma said satirically. Everyone over there knew that Rukkamma targeted Anjana.
‘You have got an excellent American alliance vadina! The groom is a doctor and earning much in America but Rajani studied engineering. Can it be a good alliance?’ Bhagya expressed her doubt without listening to Rukkamma.
‘We have searched for an engineer in futility and at last fixed this young doctor as a suitable match. We have to follow the divine grace and finally we have accepted.’
‘Whatever be the profession, income is important,’ declared Sudeshna.
‘I didn’t mean income! If the groom is a doctor, he is always busy and moreover he has to attend to night duties also. My intention is that Rajani may be in trouble in future. Of course, we learnt that someone else wanted to offer two crores to the same alliance. Why have they agreed to marry Rajani only for one crore?’ enquired Bhagya jealously.
‘You are right Bhagya! Since the groom liked Rajani, he wanted to marry her even with less dowry. My husband also agreed for it though the groom is a doctor. Everybody is jealous of the alliance because we got it for lesser dowry,’ said Anjana turning her eyes around.
There was silence in the hall for some time, and someone called out, ‘Amma.’
‘Who is over there? Oh Giramma! Come here! Why are you standing away?’ enquired Anjana.
Giramma approached Anjana by covering her shoulders with the end of the thin and old nylon sari.
‘Did Pullamma tell you everything?’
‘Yes, amma! Did you call me?’
‘I called you for pounding flour for preparing chakinaalu! Pullamma said that you would pound the flour nicely.’
‘Fine, amma, why not…Pullamma and I will pound the flour.’
‘These days people are getting the flour pounded in machines, but Rukkamma vadina says chakinaalu will not be crispy and tasty with the flour pounded in machines. Chakinaalu made of the flour pounded manually will be tasty. How much will you charge to pound a kilo of flour?’ asked Anjana.
‘Twelve rupees a kilo, amma,’ answered Giramma.
‘What! Twelve rupees!’ wondered Anjana. ‘In the flour mill, they charge only six rupees a kilo. But why do you demand so much?’ asked Anjana.
‘In my village, they charge only four rupees a kilo,’ said Rukkamma turning her face.
‘But where can we get pestles, mortar and ledge here. One should borrow them. What profit can we get amma? You tell us.’
‘Oh! I have forgotten maradala! Have you arranged for the ledge of the mortar, pestle and hand mill for kotnam? If not ask them to get those things right now,’ suggested Rukkamma.
‘Oh! I too have forgotten about them vadina. How can I remember everything? Giramma, bring pestles and mortar on the day when Rajani is made up as bride! We have a small hand mill, we don’t need it!’ Anjana told Giramma.
‘Rajamma, my neighbour, supplies them all on rent, don’t worry, I will fetch them.’
‘That’s fine, but twelve rupees is too much. Pound it at the rate of eight rupees a kilo. I will soak two kilos of rice this evening for the purpose,’ said Anjana closing the matter.
‘Just eight? I can’t, amma, we are struggling hard to survive. Nothing will remain for me after paying rent for pestles, mortar and ledge,’ murmured Giramma.
‘Why are you murmuring? Ask frankly,’ threatened Rukkamma. Nobody among them group said anything.
‘Eight rupees wouldn’t work out,’ said Giramma in a bargaining tone.
‘After all they have to work hard to pound, why don’t you pay what they are asking for? Why bargain over it? Hearing Bhagya’s words Anjana looked at her angrily as if she would say, ‘You keep quiet.’ But she did not say anything and turned to Giramma furiously.
‘What a business you’ve got! Are you demanding so much because we are in need of it? Wedding being auspicious, you could as well pound it free of cost! But you are riding on the head demanding too much,’ said Anjana. Giramma drew her worn-out nylon sari past her shoulders.
‘We will pound it for eleven at last, amma! We won’t be able to do for anything less!’ Giramma’s face hardened.
‘You intend to force us to agree? Pound only if it works out for you. I am not going to pay more than eight rupees,’ Anjana’s voice meant to say ‘that’s it.’
‘Amma, why do you bargain so much about this? We will pound if you pay eleven. If we both pound together, we’ll get twenty two. We need to pay the rent for pestles, mortar and ledge,’ repeated Giramma.
‘Akka, they know when to extract money from us and we are fools to oblige them,’ said Shanta who had been following the conversation keenly.
‘Yes, they know it pretty well when to hold tight and when to hold loose in bargaining,’ said Anjana as she looked at Giramma.
‘Oh, you won’t stop being stubborn. You are not at all coming down. I have never seen anybody like you bargaining for so long. Pound it for eight,’ Anjana grew stubborn.
‘What are we, can we bargain, amma? We beg to feed our stomachs. We can feed ourselves if you give a little money. We gratefully remember you,’ said Giramma pitiably.
‘Or at least, pound for nine rupees,’ said Rukkamma compromisingly. Anjana was angry at Rukkamma’s intervention.
‘Won’t you have dinner at wedding? Will you stay away from the feast? Let it be as my vadina proposed, I’ll pay nine. Go and start the work,’ conceded Anjana.
‘Amma, thousands of them eat at the wedd banquet. What we eat is not worth what you throw away. Why are you not relenting?’
‘How commanding! You haven’t stepped down from what you first said. You have stuck to one refrain,’ Rukkamma said angrily.
‘I don’t know. It’s not like this in our village. The times have changed. They bargain only in towns but not in villages. We in the villages simply ask if they would pound, and they simply oblige. They accept whatever we pay,’ said Rukkamma.
‘Which times are you talking about vadina? Everything has changed even in villages,’ said Sudeshna.
‘I don’t know. In any case, there isn’t so much of bargaining in villages,’ said Rukkamma ruefully.
‘Amma, if you speak like that we will pound free of cost,’ replied Giramma, her face bearing no expression.
‘What! Are you being sarcastic? Do we get the flour pounded free of cost? What do you think of us?’ Anjana shook with anger.
Giramma realized that she had spoken wrong. She trembled with fear.
‘Amma, I don’t mean…!’
‘What do you mean! You pose being ignorant. You claim to be poor. But you let go powerful digs,’ Anjana’s anger was still unabated. She looked at her vadina, Rukkamma furiously and said, ‘Vadina! You insisted that there must be chakinalu for the occasion. See now we are in troubles with the workers,’
‘In that case, we don’t need chakinalu,’ Rukkamma was upset.
‘Amma, why do you grow furious? I am like your slave, anyway,’ beseeched Giramma.
‘You have a big mouth and you are bent on having your way alone,’ Anjana said still angrily.
‘Amma, you are not relenting a bit. You have been bargaining to this extent. You are arranging so great a wedding and…’ Giramma didn’t even finish her words.
‘How great is the wedding! Damn your bloody mouth. All your eyes are set on us. Are you jealous of us? Can’t we celebrate the wedding without chakinalu?’ Anjana said looking wrathfully at Rukkamma.
Giramma was terrified.
‘What amma! Why do you say so! In that case, we will pound for whatever you offer,’ Giramma said with a faint voice as if emerging out of a well.
Anjana’s rage knew no bounds,
‘Be careful about your words. What do you think of us? You talk as if you were condescending us. Go and find out about us; they would vouchsafe for us. We will pay a little more but never do we give scope for an adverse remark. Pullamma! Where are you? I asked you to pound the flour, and brought here this woman,’ said Anjana loudly looking for Pullamma.
Pullamma, who was at a distance, ran to Anjana and stood before her in humility.
‘Did Pullamma ask you to bargain with me?’ Anjana asked Giramma looking angrily at Pullamma.
‘No, it isn’t like that, amma,’ said Giramma fearfully.
‘Then what? I know it all! Day by day you are finding it difficult to work. That’s why we have machines now for all kinds of work! If you work for us, we are blamed of exploiting you. Now that we have machines, there will be no more talk of exploitation.’
‘Vadina! Why do you get emotional? It will raise your B.P. They always behave so,’ said Bhagya.
‘Amma, we survive by working. I bargained for a little more and you are so angry,’ said Giramma quietly.
‘You don’t look like one who survives unless you work hard?’ said Anjana calming down a little.
‘What can we do amma? It’s all in the hope of getting a little more money. We have already been deprived of our food by the machines. All right, we will pound for the price you fixed. Soak the rice tonight. I’ll come in the morning,’ said Giramma. Nobody noticed the red streak in her eyes, Anjana cooled down.
‘Pestles and ridge are needed day after tomorrow as a part of the ritual. If you demand separate payment, I won’t give,’ said Anjana with certainty.
‘Then, Should I bear the rent of pestles and ridge for two days?’ Giramma’s words stuck in her throat.
Giramma looked at Pullamma with eyes filled with tears; Pullamma’s face bore the expression of helplessness too.
‘Everyone wanted to bash on our stomachs! Since we have accepted, we have to do it. What can we do?’ these words did not come out of her mouth,’ Sighed Giramma silently and left the place with heavy feet.
‘Come tomorrow early in the morning. You have to drain the water out of the soaked rice. Come soon!’ ordered Anjana.
‘Sure, amma!’ said Giramma.
Anjana was exhibiting the jewellery which she had bought for her daughter. A diamond in one of the jewels sparkled and flashed on the face of Giramma. The tears in her eyes flashed in the light of the diamond. But no one noticed it.
‘Now you can go! Come tomorrow early in the morning!’ Anjana ordered Giramma and Pullamma again.
~ ~ ~
Original Telugu: Kosari Kosari Beraalu by Mudiganti Sujatha Reddy
Translated by Palakurthy Dinakar and K. Purushotham