Telugu: Challapalli Swarupa Rani
Translated by: Alladi Uma and M.Sridhar
“Amma, even if I die, I won’t go to the hostel,” I told mother emphatically.
“You’re a darling, aren’t you? Somehow, put up with it for another two years! Then, you won’t have any problems.” Mother was pleading, as she arranged my clothes and books in the bag.
There was nothing unusual in my being obstinate about not returning to the hostel every time I came back home, and for my father and mother cajoling me and sending me back to the hostel! Of late, our Bobby too started to behave like me. He would always insist, “I won’t go to the hostel. I’ll stay at home and help amma with her work.”
As our village school had classes only till the fifth, we had no option but to go to the city to study in the high school. I stayed in the hostel from the sixth class and somehow managed to come up to the eighth.
Along with me, Aruna, Vasanta, Nirmala and a few other girls from my village stayed in the hostel, and we were pursuing our studies. We were from the same village and we also remained friends in the hostel.
There were students from different schools in our hostel. The hostel was set up especially for girls by the Social Welfare Department. Girls like me from the neighbouring villages would all come together there.
We used to get up at five thirty in the morning and sit down to pray. As soon as prayers were over, we would sit in front of our books and study till eight, finish our bath and eat food between eight and nine, and leave for our respective schools.
Daily quarrels at the bathrooms! There was a separate place for small children. There, everyone had their bath next to each another. There was only one bathroom for the older girls. We used to push each other vying to be the first.
In the afternoons we would come to the hostel for lunch, eat hurriedly and rush back. On Sunday, it would be as festive an occasion as Christmas.
If the next day were to be Sunday, we could not sleep because we would have a lot of wonderful thoughts. I used to dream about the things mother would bring and about her coming. I used to get up earlier than usual. I used to pretend to pray while looking towards the gate now and again.
Wanting mother to think that I was neat every day, I used to wash my hair, wear a loose plait and wear the best frock among the ones I had.
No sooner had my mother stepped inside the gate than I would run up to her and hug her tight. With her tender smiles, mother would come and sit under a tree.
I used to place my hand inside the basket and search for the pulihara rice and payasam mother would bring. My mother would bring without fail a garland made of kanakambaram flowers that grew in our garden. All the flowers in the hostel garden were nothing in the presence of these! Considering them prized possessions, I used to wear them till they fell off.
Mother would take permission from the warden and would take me along to Bobby’s hostel. My brother and I would not allow mother any respite with our news. As for him, he used to complain to mother about his friends. Saying, that this one had beaten him, that that one had abused him, he would ask mother to fight with them.
But mother would laugh at everything and keep quiet.
Poor things, those whose mothers did not come would cry a lot! I used to feel very sorry for them. On days mother went to work, she too would not come. I used to lie down in my room and cry copiously.
To think of the hostel where I was happy with friends and studies made me cry.
All of us were terrified of our hostel warden! When we saw him, we who were chatting loudly would become absolutely silent! For no reason at all, he would beat us and shout at us.
If we committed a small mistake, he would call us in and beat us so badly that it would leave a mark.
“How can those who clean up dung heaps study?” he would say.
The warden’s quarters too were in our compound. He equated us with the servants! Very often, he would make us work in his house. If we did not do what he wanted us to, he would not give us food that day.
I used to be pained by all this. Thinking about his abuses would make me cry.
Whenever I went home for the holidays, I would make a fuss saying I would not go back to the hostel. Bobby, who had till then pleaded, “I too will join the hostel with Bujjakka,” started crying once he joined the hostel saying, “I won’t go to the hostel. I’ll stay back with you, amma.”
Unable to persuade us, mother and father would feel totally exhausted.
“As for this village, it doesn’t have a high school. Okay, if we were to move to the town for your education, it would be difficult to live there on the money we earn as coolies. We aren’t even sure whether we’ll get coolie work there or not. Put up with problems and somehow or the other study in government hostels! If you don’t have even this education, you’ll have to live like us doing coolie or some such work. If you work hard and learn a few things, aren’t you the ones to benefit by it?”
Mother and father would convince us both in many ways and send us back.
In our hostel if girls in the seventh or eighth class matured they would be sent home with ayamma. As soon as the girl who had matured returned from the village we would look at her in an odd manner.
As for the warden, his eyes were always on the girls who looked older. Even if it were not necessary, he would place his hands on them and speak to them.
I used to be good in my studies. As I was also very sprightly, he would call me for each and everything and say, “Vidya, come here! Pray. Do that. Do this.”
But if I made any mistake, he would say, “However learned you are, how can you put aside the characteristics of your caste?”
I would not feel like eating that entire day.
If the warden went out of town on any occasion, some of us girls would go and sleep to keep company with his wife. But as for her, she was very loving towards us.
I used to like speaking to her. I would call her, aunty.
One day, after prayers, the warden called me aside and said, “I’m going out of town today. Come at night and sleep there to give company to aunty…”
“Okay, sir,” I said respectfully.
After dinner, without going for the study hour, thinking I could study at aunty’s, I left with my books.
As soon as I rung the bell, the warden came and opened the door. Perhaps his trip had been postponed, I thought!
I waited for a while and when I looked around, I found no one.
“Aunty is having a bath. Sit on the chair, Vidya.” Saying this, he shut the door.
It felt as if a demonic lizard of the Stone Age was crawling all over my body.
“If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you! Act as if nothing has happened!” He warned me. Even though tears were bursting out, I forcefully contained them and returned to the hostel.
All my sprightliness evaporated. I could not concentrate on my studies. I had no interest in doing anything. An inexplicable fear and shivering enveloped me. I felt like telling all that had happened and cry out.
If I told mother…! Ammo! …What then…
If I told anyone, I would perhaps be sent out of the hostel! If they threw me out of the hostel, how would my father educate me…? Wasn’t it because I was interested in studies…I had eaten insect filled rice in the hostel and studied…!
If I stopped studying, it seems I wouldn’t be worth anything!
Then, I too would have to work in the fields like my mother…how? Feeling hurt within myself, crying secretly within myself, I was somehow biding my time.
The warden, who seemed to be glaring at me saying, “If any one comes to know, see what’ll happen,” appeared like a ghost. If I looked at him, my hair stood on end. It appeared as if someone had forcefully put a hand into my stomach and had stirred it.
When mother came on Sunday, I could not jump up with excitement as usual. “Bujji, my dear! Why are you like this? Do you have your periods? Is your stomach hurting?”
“Why do you say umm for everything…? Are you missing your father? Shall we take permission from the warden and go home…?”
“No, amma! I am all right. I have a slight pain in my stomach. That’s all…,” I said.
That day, I did not feel like seeing Bobby. But it was mother who kept turning back to look at me, who left unwillingly and said, “Careful, my dear!”
Talking of stomach pain, I remembered. The stomach pain that came unwanted every month and made me cry stopped coming.
Let it be! I had felt a little happy that the stomach pain did not come. The pain in my stomach had disappeared but my stomach was growing heavier. I felt weak worrying about the stomach that was growing every day. Why did it happen like this…?
If I wanted to ask someone, no words came out of my mouth due to fear. Not just that, of late, I had lost the habit of speaking to anyone and felt lonely.
If I told anyone, perhaps the warden would send me out of the hostel…! How could I study…?
( “Bhadram Thallee!” from Telugu Katha 1998, 178-183.)