Telugu original: Dasarathi Krishnamacharya
The Flame of the forest (FOF) blossomed so wildly that it looked like the forest was quite aflame. Hills morphed from silent, cold, lifeless woods to noisy, colorful panorama bubbling with life under the spell of spring. Despite the pervading heat all around, the pulchritude of spring did not cease at all. How beautiful these flame-of-the-forest look! When it was abloom, nature looked like it was celebrating the season.
Sarangapani eagerly waited for this season. He was fond of FOF since childhood. His obsession only increased with his age.
Two years back, he went to jail after the season was over. After the quick turn of rainy season and winter, the FOF was in full bloom. He knew it was the season but was woefully sorry that he could not enjoy their beauty.
Warangal Central Jail looks more like a deep narrow well. One could watch only a piece of the sky and nothing else.
“Please shift me to another jail,” Sarangapani appealed to Jail Superintendent.
“What for?” the Superintendent asked.
“I want to watch the flames of the forest as they bloom,” he replied.
Superintendent did not understand what he meant by that. So, he remained in the Warangal Jail.
Spring passed for us in Nizamabad Jail, located at the top of the hill. That year, the FOF bloomed wildly seizing the prison, looking like a temple sitting at the summit of a hill. It was a deep forest. Somewhere at a distance there was Nizam Sagar canal, and abutting the canal there were a few sugarcane fields. Over the shady banks on either side of the canal, groves of red flames of the forest catch your eye along with the intoxicating smell of the Mahua trees.
Despite our troubles and facing the heartless Nizam’s Damocles’ sword, I should admit we passed the Spring relatively easy in the Nizamabad Jail. Whenever I saw these flowers, I always remembered Sarangapani and felt sorry that he missed them.
Sarangapani was at the Warangal jail. The FOF bloomed, subsided, and seasons changed. I wondered how Sarangapani could spend thee long months without looking at his favorite flowers.
He was shifted to our Jail at last, but unfortunately the Rainy season had already commenced. The FOF was so denuded of flowers that they looked like a widowed women deprived of the toiletry turmeric and vermilion. He was still suffering from hematemesis at that time. He occasionally vomited a handful of blood. Poor fellow, afflicted with such an awful disease.
“Why do you laugh?” I asked when I saw him smile.
“FOF is abloom here,” he replied.
“I always remembered you and your passion for these flowers when I saw them all around me. But you came here very late after the season was over.” I pitied him.
He vomited another spell of blood. I was really scared. I was even afraid that he might die.
“After his return from jail, there was no letup in the rains, or his blood vomiting,” wailed Ramanamma, Sarangapani’s wife.
“Then, where did he go?” I asked him.
“Before he was cured of his disease, he left home without informing anybody. We heard rumors that he had joined some “Border Camp.” The police came for him again and beat me up to inform them of his whereabouts. I did not receive a single communication from him. About a month or so before the Police Action, one midnight, he came home with a gun and some rounds on his belt. He was very weak. Leaving after taking his dinner, he took with him the painting of ‘FOF Abloom.’ He never returned since,” Ramanamma wailed her heart out.
He would have been better off if he had remained in the jail with us. There were no clues of his death. Neither his name appeared on the list of martyrs of the Border Camp. It looks like they had also tried to trace him but failed. And they left it at that despairing for him.
I was deeply touched by Ramanamma’s wailing. I had no words to console her. I came home with a heavy heart and narrated the sad story of Sarangapani to my mother.
She hurriedly went in and brought out a painting.
It was the “FOF Abloom.”
“Where did you get this?” I anxiously asked my mother.
This is what she said: When I was still in Nizamabad Jail, one night Sarangapani came to our house. He informed my mother about my welfare, and the challenges he faced at the jail. He left after having his meal but forgot to take the painting with him.
The very next day, Razakars and the Police claimed that they had killed a Congress man and displayed the gun and the few rounds they confiscated from him.
Wasn’t he Sarangapani by any chance?
After the Operation Polo, we erected a memorial for Sarangapani and hoisted the tricolor.
But, whenever I see the flames of forest in full bloom on the outskirts, I feel as if Sarangapani was loitering amongst them. And poor girl! Ramanamma is still searching for him in those wakes.
(Original: Poocina Modugulu, Telugu Swatantra, Weekly dated 23.9.1949)