Dogs in a Firepit

Telugu: Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao


​I don’t know what my sister ​d​oes at her place, but whenever she comes to her parent’s, she finds it hard to kill time. That’s why my brother-in-law brings every kind of magazine. Making no distinction whether it is children magazine, ladies’ magazine or gentlemen’s, my sister reads every book. Chitti and  Bullabbai read if they were children books. Otherwise, they flip through pages only looking at pictures and sketches. My sister is no exception.

Once​, my brother-in-law ​r​recommended a story​ from a magazine to my sister. She read it but said she could not comprehend it.

“Let me read it to you. Then you can understand,” ​volunteered my brother-in-law.

Bava! Please read it. I want to hear,” Chitti seconded his proposal.

“Me too,” said Bullabbai.

“What is that? Is it such a good story? Then read it aloud. Let me enjoy that,” father expressed his willingness.

My mother called out my sister and said, “Girly! Light a lamp in the corridor. I can hear it from here,” my mother called out from kitchen.

My brother-in-law started reading. My mother, my father, Chitti, Bullabbai, and not to forget, my sister and everyone was listening to the story with rapt attention. My brother-in-law was explaining intermittently, what is civil resistance, why the workers go on strike, how the owners try to repress them, what is meant by lockout, how police subject labor to all kinds of violence at the behest of owners etc. and completed the story.

“It’s really nice story,” said my sister.

“It’s no sin if the owners were shot dead,” Chitti vent her anger.

“That lathi-charge should be done on the owners, instead of the workers. Then they will come to their senses,” said Bullabbai.

“Poor workers! Who is there to pity them? These are the times for only moneyed. Does anybody care for them or attend to their need? If we people face terrible challenges despite being able to get two meals a day, what to think of them?” said mother busy with the preparation of curry.

“I don’t think things were this bad in my childhood. Those days workers commanded great respect. Did they ever lack basic needs of food and clothing? If you take our serfs for example, they almost managed our household affairs single-handedly and were treated like our own family members. It’s awful to treat workers like strangers. Say what you will, the advent of factories and railways, made people materialistic and they lost faith in God and godliness. The factory owners make such vast sums of money! What prevents them from throwing a few bucks at these poor workers? There should be a limit for their greed. No use. Ugh! Chee, Chee!”  said father.

“Forget about that. Is there any justice in police opening fire on poor striking coolies? Who is at a loss if they don’t turn up for work? Only the poor coolies. But don’t they have a right not to attend work if they don’t want to? How can they be forced to work?” asked my sister.

“Do you think so? It’s not. If the worker does not turn up for work, his loss is limited only to his daily wage. But the stakes of the owner are very high. Besides, if a worker wants to leave, should give advance notice of fifteen days. So is the case with the owner if he wants to retrench the worker. Such notice might have been given by each party to the other,” explained my brother-in-law.

“They might have given advance notice to strike. Isn’t it? Then?”

“Normally they do. But going on strike and leaving the factory are not the same. The worker who is not interested in working at a factory anymore, shall go to another factory. But a striking worker shall stay outside the factory and shall see to it that nobody else takes his place.”

“Is it for that police had opened fire?”


“Will the factory owners pay the salaries of police?”

“No. It is the government that pays them from the taxes we pay to the government. But the governments, to safeguard the interest of factory owners, might exercise their power to repress such strikes.”

“What if the police refuse to go?” asked Chitti.

“In that case the strike might be successful, and the owners shall be forced to pay higher wages to labour.”

“Then that will be nice,” said Chitti cheerfully.

“In such a case, owners might be tempted to close their factories.”

“What happens then?”

“Then, there won’t be any spinning mills. We don’t get any cloth for our dresses. And many mills shall be closed, and we will be short of many necessities.”

“How can we manage without anything?” asked Bullabbai with a lot of concern in his voice.

“Government may demand the factories to reopen. In fact, the then government did enforce certain factories to work during the war,” said my brother-in-law.

“Then, why don’t they do it now?” asked my sister

“Crazy girl, don’t you think the government needs such guts and commitment? As things stand now, so long as the factory owners run their mills only to earn profits, the workers cannot escape from their penury. It is inevitable for them to resort to strike unable to put up with their misery, and with their sympathies towards the mill owners, for the governments to suppress those strikes. We should understand the intensity of their suffering when they are staking their lives in the bargain,” said my brother-in-law.

“Say what you will. As per our custom, he who refuses a beggar is the greatest sinner. And worse disposed is the fellow who could give but refuses. That is exactly what Kali is all about. They condemn it as communal kitchen, but I admire the practice prevalent in Russia. Everybody has work at hand. And nobody shall have to sleep on an empty stomach. What more does anybody want? Irrespective of what we think, Russia is a veritable heaven for all working class,” commented my father.

“How awful it is to kill people so deliberately? Just because they refused to work, will anybody array the guns against them and shoot? What a ‘state’ is this?” said my mother, aligning herself with my father.

My brother-in-law got up to take a bath. My sister led him towards the bathroom, taking the bath soap and towel with her. My brother-in-law followed her with the lantern.

We heard a vehicle stopping in front of the house outside.

Setu Mamayya who walked into the house.

“Mother! Setu Mamayya has come,” Chitti ran up to the kitchen to announce the arrival of our maternal uncle Setu.

“Hi, Setu. What news? Hope everyone at home is doing fine.” greeted father enquiring about the wellbeing of people at home.

“Yes, they are fine,” replied Setu mamayya. But the angry intonation clearly indicated that he was not making a statement but the exact opposite. However, his anger was not towards my father.

Noticing it, my father asked, “What happened?”

“What can I say? That scoundrel promised me to supply twenty Maunds[1] of sugar by last week. He has not supplied to this day. Do you know how much I lost?” said Setu mamayya.

“That reminds me Setu, didn’t you promise to bring ten Kg. sugar?” asked mother coming out of kitchen to greet him.

“Poor fellow. What could he do if was short of supplies?” said father defending Setu mamayya.

“I could somehow manage a Viss[2] of sugar. It’s in the bedding,” replied Setu mamayya.

“Thank God! You saved me. Sugar is selling at such an exorbitant price; we are not able to meet our needs. By the way, who is that fellow who promised you twenty Maunds?”

“There is one. You don’t know him.”

“If he is so incompetent, why should he make a promise?” said mother.

“He might have sold it to someone else to make a fast buck,” father expressed his doubts.

“Why not? He is such a fellow. There is such a demand for sugar that people pay one and a half rupees for a Viss without complaining. My mind blows when I recollect that it could be sold like hot cakes in a few hours. This month is bad for me. I am incurring loss after loss. Didn’t you hear, those labor SOBs are on strike?” he said.

“We didn’t. From when?”

“Three days since. On the first day four people turned up for work. Striking workers caught and beat two of them. From the second day onwards​, not a single jerk turned up for work. I am losing at fifteen hundred per day. It is such an opportune moment. But what can I do? Those asses complain that their daily allowance is not adequate. One should beat them black and blue. If only they did not resort to picketing in front of the mill, I would have brought workers in the hundreds. For the last two days, paddy has been lying in heaps of in the courtyard. They refused to attend it. They were confident that they could extract another fifty rupees, since I couldn’t risk losing fifteen hundred each day. I don’t mind losing, but I will not pay them even half a pie,” said Setu mamayya.

“Why didn’t you call the police, vacated them from the mill premises and brought in new workers?” asked father.

“What to speak of them. Always the worst set befall my lot. When I asked for police help, they did not turn. On the contrary, they started asking me, ‘Are they creating nuisance in your premises? Are they causing any damage to your assets?” etc. etc.”

“You said they beat two of the workers?”

“Did they beat them in the mill premises? They beat them over the embankment of the canal. Even the people who suffered the injuries are not coming forward to lodge a complaint. Whatever you say, one thing is true: ​all this labor junk is alike. Of what use is two or three people turning up for work for me?”

“As an alternative, you should perhaps have wet…. the police officer…” said father mincing words.

“No use. He is out and out wicked. If only he had been that compliant, I will not have to face these hardships!” said Setu mamayya despairingly.

Heaving a big sigh, mother said, “When bad times befall, things happen this way. Come on​, get up for dinner,” and turning towards father she said, “you too.”


[1]  A Maund is roughly equal to twenty-five pounds or 11.3398 Kgs.

[2] One-eighth of a Maund, roughly equal to 1.4 Kgs.


Murthy Nauduri

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