Telugu: Tulasi Chaganti
[It is common for old people to complain of the youngsters at their loss of moral values. Facts speak otherwise. No preacher follows his sermon. Nobody recks his own rede. Double standards in morals… one for others and another for us… is the standard norm. It is the oldies that are corrupt and lead by example with their behaviour. To be fair to children, they are pure at heart, take every advice from parents and teachers on their face value and try to live by it.
This story belongs to the thirties and the forties of last century when the purchase value of rupee was very high. Sadly, it has not lost its relevance. Chaganti Tulasi, an illustrious daughter of an illustrious father, Chaganti Somayajulu, contrasts the hypocritical behaviour of old people in walking the talk with youngsters, in one of the most riveting, dramatic narratives.]
“Hey, you children! Be vigilant! Keep an eye on the main door!”
Preparing to go out, our granny warned us for the third time.
“We will be back in no time. If we are delayed for any reason, don’t wait for us; take your lunch. I set up everything in the dining room. Mark! Buttermilk is in the larger pewter. Don’t throw the doors open. Dogs might sneak in,” warned mother.
“Oho! I understand. You can go ahead,” said my sister, elder to me, exasperated at my mother’s endless cautions.
“Come on. We are getting late,” granny hurried mother gesturing with the coconut in her hands.
“Please proceed,” said mother following her footsteps, taking plantains and incense sticks into her hands.
Granny and mother kept on repeating the cautions till they set foot on the street. They headed towards Shiva’s temple.
That was Sivaratri day.
“We are three here. I don’t understand why they should caution us so many times? That is the problem with these elders,” whined my sister.
“Because we are still brats, they do it out of habit,” replied my brother.
“I admit that you two are brats. But what about me?” She did not hide her resentment for my brother treating her on par with us. Actually, she wanted to follow them to the temple. With no other adult left at home, she was compelled to stay back.
“How about observing Jagaram tonight?” I proposed.
“I have decided to observe it anyway. I don’t care even if you insist me not to. Why should I observe it just sitting along with you? I would better do it on my own, working out Maths problems all through the night,” declared my brother.
“Aha! What a devotion the boy has for studies!” my sister took a dig at him, “if you observe Jagaram by doing sums alone, take it from me, you are sure to doze off within an hour,” she challenged.
“Poor chap! He indeed fell asleep last year, too,” I teased.
“Aha! As if you did not! If I dozed off in the morning, you slept in the evening the following day. That’s all!” he mocked at us back, “one should keep awake till eight o’ clock on the following evening of Sivaratri day for getting supererogation, they say!” he said flashing his eyelids.
He was right. Last year, my sister and I went to bed by five in the evening on the day
“Fool, you are mistaken! It is going to be different this time. I am going to play cards with mother and her company,” my sister slammed him.
“Nothing doing. Make no pretensions! You are not a biggie to join them abandoning us. You must stay with us,” I insisted.
“Let her go if she so desires and play only cards. What virtue shall accrue by playing cards on a Sivaratri day? Nothing!” my brother remarked.[This fellow sometimes speaks very much like my dad, pronouncing the words almost verbatim. Our father was never a big fan of prayers, fasting, worshipping and homage. He would tease my mother and granny, “Wah! Wah! What is the merit of fasting in the day when you make it good at night gulping twice as much in special puddings?”
Smarthas observe strict fasting for the entire day. But we Aradhyas observe fasting only during the daytime, as we do on Mondays during the month of Kartika and take food at night. While observing Jagaram, my mother, grandmother, and another three aunties from our neighborhood, customarily played ‘Ettadam.’ With Dammidi stake. That was the reason behind father’s teasing.]
“Aha! Then, will it accrue by doing sums?” my sister flailed her hands in derision. She has an unflinching faith in God, spirits, and every religious observance.
“Neither he is after virtue, nor am I. Is it something palpable? Or feeds our hunger? By doing sums, he could at least secure better grades,” I retorted.
“You are right, sis. Mark my word. I am going to get first mark in Maths in the final exams this year,” he said shaking his index-finger. He is fond of Maths.
“Why not? Go on doing Maths. Why should I care? I am going to play only cards,” my sister declared defiantly.
“No. No. You should not play cards. You should meditate chanting ‘Om Namah Siyaya.’ You derive lots of virtue.” He made fun of her, derisively stressing the syllables of the word as ‘vir-tue.’
“You fellow! If you speak a word more, I am going to kick you in the butt,” she gave him a stern warning, accompanied with equally stern looks.
We three came out onto the outer courtyard and sat under the warm sun on the verandah. It was about nine in the morning. The sun was slowly warming up these days. The bite in the chilly wind, as the idiom goes, disappears chanting ‘Siva, Siva’ after the Sivaratri.
“Re! Re! Re! Who is that wretch coming straight into the house,” screamed my sister looking at the main door. She was alarmed looking at the figures walking in through the main door.
It was an old widow. The dhoti she donned barely covered her body. She walked in, holding a walking stick in one hand, and resting the other on the shoulders of a young boy. The boy looked almost the same age as our brother.
“She looks like a beggar wretch. Go quick, and bolt the door,” my sister yelled at our brother.
He did not budge. Instead, he was keenly watching the boy walking in with the oldie.
“Stupid fellow, do you think I will keep quiet if you don’t obey me?” she said springing up from her seat. But, before she could get up and reach for the door, the oldie and the boy had already crossed the portico and walked up to the verandah.
“Hold on! Stay where you are! Why are you walking straight into the house?” my sister accosted them with disgust.
“We are also brahmins, my child. We have come to pay our respects to your granny,” replied the oldie softly. Her words echoed as if they were coming out of a well. The boy looked perplexed.
My brother got up suddenly, and asked the boy, “Isn’t your name Rama Rao?”
The boy nodded his head in assent.
“Why do you stand there? Come in. Granny! This way,” my brother directed them in.
My sister’s face grew red with anger. Her mien suggested: ‘This fellow is welcoming wretched people in taking himself for an adult. After all, a brat! He is appropriating undue authority!’
The old woman wore a coarse, gray dhoti. No. One should not call it a dhoti; it was a rugged rag that barely covered her body. The front half of her crown was largely exposed, and the thick crop of matted gray hair looked ugly. Wrinkled and toothless, her cheeks, jaws and eyes were deeply drawn in. Only her nose was conspicuous, jetting out of her face. Throwing the cane aside, and pulling her ragged dhoti down to her feet, she squatted under the sun beside us. The boy sat beside her, clinging to her. His Khaki shirt was worn out and chinks were exposed; and his knicker was under-size. His face looked weary, but his eyes were clear and bright.
“Sis! You know how wonderfully he plays football? In a recent match between our school and his school he performed really well,” said my brother complimenting the boy. The boy’s eyes gleamed at the acknowledgement. His weary face assumed a lively tint.
My sister seemed paying little attention to what my brother was saying. She was upset and feeling nauseated looking at those people.
“Our granny went to the temple,” she said. She was in no mood to entertain them.
“Oh, how foolish of me? Isn’t it Sivaratri today? So, she went to the temple! I don’t have that luxury! I am an accursed soul! My day rolls in knocking at every door. What else can I do? God is not merciful to me,” despaired the old widow. The boy’s face was overcast with gloom once again.
“Aren’t you in second form?” my brother enquired the boy, again.
“Yes,” the boy turned his head towards him.
“My teacher has told me so. That is why I came to know about the boy though he is from a different school,” my brother said.
“Yes, my child. It is only those teachers who are lending their helping hands for his studies. Else, what am I? I might have long given up this flickering life,” grieved the old woman.
My brother and I were listening to her attentively. But our sister was lost in her plans of how to get rid of them.
“Is your mother in the kitchen?” the old woman asked.
“No. Our mother also went to temple with our granny. Only we three of us are at home,” our sister shot back instantly.
“Won’t they be back any soon?” the boy asked anxiously.
“Oh my! How could they? They have just left! Besides, my granny must light a giant wick and our mother must conduct an elaborate pooja to the goddess. There is no chance of their returning home any time soon,” my sister expressed her regrets.
“Ignorant child! How can they return home early when they go to a temple? That too, on a festive day like today. It takes a lot of time to get the darshan of the lord,” said the oldie to the boy.
“Then, grandma…” the boy wanted to ask her something, but his voice trailed off.
Caressing his head affectionately, the oldie said,
“Wait dear boy! Let me breathe easy before we start again.” And turning towards us, she said, “Your grandmother and I are friends. We sit together at the ‘Three Temples’ complex listening to Puranas. Your grandmother is a great scholar. She explains everything to me and clears up my doubts. I came to meet her.”
“Grandma! You can wait here till our granny returns from the temple. Otherwise, you may tell us the purpose of your visit. We will convey it to her,” I said.
My sister looked at me menacingly. She was angry with me and my brother.
“What to speak of my ill fate, child!? Your grandmother knows everything. That’s why I came to meet her. God cursed me to suffer, prolonging my life at this advanced age. This boy is too young. How could he manage himself? Unless I accompany him and beg every soul, how could he survive? I have been his father and mother,” narrated the poor old lady.
“Yes, our teacher was telling the other day. Poor fellow! Rama Rao lost his father and mother!” My brother broke in, shaking his head with sympathy.
“Oh my!” I said.
Despite boiling with anger, my sister surveyed him from top to bottom. Tears swelled up in his eyes. Perhaps, he recalled his father and mother.
“My son took his eternal rest — leaving behind a useless corpse like me to endure. The merciless God took him away ignoring me, who already has one leg in the grave. He did not suffer from any serious illness. This Tuesday he had a fever, and on the second Wednesday he was no more. Enigmatic fever! But until the last minute, the doctor kept telling me that there was nothing serious and reassured me that he would be all right. Fie upon the doctor! That damned fever took him away. Why blame it? I should say, my ill-fate devoured him.” The old woman wailed till she got hiccups. She pulled her rag up to dry her eyes. The coarse fabric, which struggled to veil her head, was pulled further back baring it completely, and giving an awful look.
Rama Rao dried his tears with the ends of his shirt sleeves.
My brother was distraught. I could not restrain my tears as the old woman wept.
My sister stood silent and downcast.
“Oh my! I am so sorry. Forgive the indiscretion of this old widow. I lost my sense of propriety and forgot whom I was speaking to when I was speaking about my deceased son. This boy’s mother died in his infancy and his father died when he was still a child, orphaning him and engulfing me in grief. People around here are so kind. That is why we could pull on somehow. Had his father been alive, he would have been spared of all these troubles. But this boy is not destined. Time is so cruel. Its like selling faggots where we sold flowers once. My son was a clerk in the Collector’s office. What to speak of the respect we commanded those days! Ours was a worry-free life. But when I am destined to lead a wretched life, how could he live longer? Things have come to such a pass today that this boy is not sure where to get his next meal from.”
Rama Rao moved closer to his grandmother thrusting his head between his knees. His unkempt hair fluttered like coir under a fine breeze.
“I am a worthless peel even to think of working somewhere. I lost my vision. I cannot move out without this walking stick. How can I earn a living?? This boy is as hungry as he is intelligent. It is hard to satiate the wolf in his belly. With the occasional support of a rupee or a half from people, we are getting through these testing times,” recounted the old woman her woes.
Poor soul! At this ripe age, she had to take care of her young grandson beside herself! If such tough times befall in the evening of life, how could anybody help?
My brother suddenly stood up and ran into the house. My sister and I were staring curiously in his direction. We heard the ‘dub, dub’ sounds of trunks being pulled and dragged aside. “Hey, you!” my sister hailed at the height of her voice. She guessed what he was up to. But he didn’t care. He came out with a shirt and a knicker in his hands. Rama Rao looked eagerly towards the shirt and knicker, and apprehensively towards my sister.
Watching my brother’s moves and reading his intentions, my sister tried to deter him.
“Hey, you!” she called him out.
“What?” he looked back at her.
“Mother shall not spare you!” she warned.
“It is my shirt and my knicker. How I dispense with them is my will. Why should she beat me up?” my brother shook his head in defiance.
“Rama Rao, take these two,” he said, putting them in his hands.
“Child! Take your mother’s permission before you give them to him,” the old woman insisted.
“You don’t have to worry. My mother won’t say ‘no’ to what he did.” I assured.
My sister looked menacingly towards me. From the very beginning, she wanted to send them back empty-handed. She was angry with us now, for allowing them to sit and doing what we did after listening to everything the old woman had said. My brother and I did not care about her.
“Sis! Didn’t father give granny her pocket money for this month?” my brother asked me.
Every month, my father gives five rupees to my granny. She spends them on buying cotton for making wicks, to donate to the brahmins, and occasionally to pacify us children whenever we threw tantrums.
“Bravo! You remembered it at the right moment. She kept three rupees in her book, the Bhagavata,” I answered.
“Don’t touch her money. Granny will beat you black and blue,” my sister said, rising from her seat.
“No. She will not. Do you know who I am? I am named after our grandfather. That means, granny is my wife. So, there is nothing to worry about,” he said defiantly.
“Boy! You should not say such words,” reprimanded the old woman gently.
“It’s not me, but our granny says that,” replied my brother.
“Listen to me. Don’t touch her money. Even if you are named after grandfather, granny will not spare you,” repeated my sister.
“Didn’t I say she will not reproach me? Even if she reproaches, as you say, it is only me she does. Why should you bother about it?” countered my brother.
“She won’t stop at that. She would reproach me too. You people make mischief, but I have to pocket the insults,” despaired my sister.
“We see to it that you don’t have to. We take the blame. Mother and granny are not going to turn up soon. How long can we keep them waiting?”
I went in. My sister followed me on my heels and started railing at me.
“If that brat has no brains, don’t you think you should show some commonsense? Are you not older than him?”
“Yes. I admit that we have no brains. But whatever we do, we do it at our will and choice.” I took out a rupee from the Bhagavata and put it in the oldie’s hand. My sister screwed up her eyes and was angry as she could do nothing more.
“Thank you, my child! May you and your siblings live long! May you get a good husband…” she blessed me and then said, “But, no. You children should never give money to others without getting the approval of your elders. It is not proper. There is no hurry. You can give it to me later after taking your grandmother’s permission. I know she will not say no to you. But first, please keep this rupee back where you have taken it from,” she said.
“Please accept. It will not be disputed,” I reassured.
“You are too young to understand these things, my girl,” she insisted.
Rama Rao spread the shirt and knicker on the floor and started folding them neatly. He was in a dilemma whether to accept the dress or not. He looked at the old woman enquiringly.
“Don’t worry about the dress. I am giving it,” reassured my brother.
“My boy! There is no hurry. We will be coming again. You can give them after taking your elders’ approval,” she said. Rama Rao picked up her walking stick. The oldie got up on her feet with effort. Rama Rao did not like to part with the clothes. He could not take his eyes off them. The old woman had already crossed the verandah groping for her steps with her walking stick.
“Can’t we sit here a little longer?” Rama Rao entreated his granny.
“Mahalakshmamma’s house is close by. Let us come back after visiting her,” replied the old woman.
“Why not? You should visit Mahalakshmamma, of all people! She will give you a lot of money!” said my sister sarcastically from behind, grinding her teeth. The old woman had one foot on the road already, but Rama Rao reluctantly left the place, looking back repeatedly at the shirt and the knicker.
“Hey, Rama Rao! Come here,” my brother called him back.
“Take this shirt, knicker, and this rupee. We will answer our elders. How many times can you shuttle between the houses!” he said stuffing the clothes and the rupee into his hands. Tucking the shirt and knicker under his armpit, Rama Rao gripped the rupee in his fist tightly and stood still where he was. He was still in a dilemma whether to accept them or not.
“Did I not tell you that you could take them with you? I stand by my word. Take them. But, before that, let me give you a Jella. Taking the rap, clothes, and the rupee from my brother, Rama Rao ran up to join his granny.
About half an hour later, my mother returned sweating and heaving heavily.
“My God! What a crowd, what a throng of people at the temple!” she exclaimed.
She had in her hand – a piece of the coconut offered at the temple, with some flowers, Bael leaves, and a small packet of vermilion stuffed in. Like an infant monkey, my brother snatched away the piece of coconut from her hand.
“Wait! Wait! Let me give everyone a slice apiece,” my mother pleaded.
“I gasped for breath in the sanctum sanctorum, My God! People were just jostling and elbowing one another. The moment we stepped out of the temple, beggars swarmed about us like flies. It was hell of an effort to wriggle out of them. Shh! Lord Siva!” my granny narrated her woes before squatting on the floor. She was puffing for free air.
My brother started breaking the coconut into pieces by banging it onto the floor.
“You can’t eat it all alone. Throw that piece towards me,” asked my sister.
“Do you think I behave like you? You people can take this,” he said, before throwing a larger piece towards her.
“Um! You have grown generous of late,” my sister frowned.
Taking a sliver of coconut as Prasadam, she picked a few flowers from my mother’s hand, gently touched her eyes in a gesture of paying obeisance and tucked them in her plait. With a smidgen of vermilion, she marked her forehead.
“Tuck them in your braid, too,” my mother said offering me a few flowers.
“Your younger daughter and son are carbon copies of your husband. They pounce upon us if we utter the word God! Tuck some flower behind that boy’s ear, too,” suggested our granny.
“I will do it myself, grandma, I will,” my brother said tucking a flower behind his ear.
“Wow! What a change! What is the reason behind such a sudden change today?” exclaimed granny.
“There is a good reason behind that. This useless fellow …” my sister narrated everything to her, from the arrival of the old widow with her grandson and her pathetic story, to our brother offering his shirt and knicker to Rama Rao.
“Oh my! Which pair did you give him?” my mother exclaimed, looking at my brother.
“The pair you got me stitched for my last birthday. It is worn out by overuse and may develop chinks any time,” he replied.
“They wore out and may develop chinks any time? What do you speak? It is such a fine dress! Who asked you to donate it? What has become of you? Can’t you think straight? God! What kind of children are here?!” My mother was exasperated.
“No. It is not a fine dress, as you say! It has become too short. I stopped wearing it for school for a long time. That’s why I gave it. I am prudent enough,” my brother refuted.
“Is that prudence?! You Lilliputian, you pretend to know everything. Dirty fellow! We scarcely left you together at home for few minutes and see what you did?” My granny derided him, and turning towards my sister she said, “hey you! Where is your wisdom? Why did you remain a silent spectator when that fellow was donating things? Are you not older? Don’t you know that much?” She vented her anger against her.
“What do you expect me to do? Did they listen to me? ‘Brother! Let us give the clothes,’ this girl proposed; ‘yes, sis!’ he agreed and complied. They both fought with me when I forbade them,” she protested. “Did they stop at that? They also took out a rupee from your Bhagavata and gave it to her,” she informed.
“Ah! Hah! Hah! You deserve a thorough dressing-down. Why did you touch my money? There must be three rupees and some change. Brats should behave like brats. I set it aside for performing Sahasrabhishekam! Who is that old widow? Did you throw my money at her?” My granny started condemning us, flailing her hands towards me and my brother.
“Why do you dismiss her as an ‘old widow’? She is only your friend and you two sit next to each other listening to Puranam, she said. She even praised you as a great scholar,” I protested.
“We gave her only one rupee. You can check your book. If it were you, you would have given her all the three. You are accusing us because it was us who gave,” my brother objected.
“That is height of stupidity. Who told you that relict was my friend? I just met her at the temple, and she shared her grief with me. I just gave her my ear and sympathized with her condition. That’s all. That does not mean I donate my money to her. If it comes to that, one will give her an anna or two. But would anybody donate rupees and clothes? How many destitutes do we come across in this world! What makes you to get such queer ideas in your mind? Let your father come home. I will see to it that you are flayed to the bones. You have taken away my money. Will your father make it good?” my granny started railing at us loudly and bitterly.
“I can’t put up with these children anymore. You just get out of the house for a moment, everything will be in a mess. With all that, how many times did I caution you before leaving? See, what a mess you made. Let your father come home? I will see you get a thorough thrashing,” ranted my mother.
“That old widow is not to blame. She was fair and honest. She even said plainly that children shouldn’t give anything to strangers without the approval of their elders. She left the money and clothes here saying she would come back. It was only this fellow, who was after that boy boasting, ‘My people won’t say anything,’ and pressed them into his hands,” complained my sister.
“Is it? He gave them despite her advice against it?” my mother’s jaw dropped in disbelief.
“He bragged that as he was named after grandfather and you won’t say anything against him,” my sister said looking at the granny.
“What if he is named after his grandfather? Shouldn’t he inherit his noble traits? If he could live up to his name and reputation, what more do we pray for,” my granny said.
“Every time you denounce me, it amounts to denouncing my grandfather. Remember that!” my brother warned my granny.
“You naughty fellow! Let me give you a nasty bang on your head. Don’t expect your mother to come to your rescue,” said granny trying to catch hold of him. He ran on to the verandah and beyond her reach.
“It’s okay if you have given your clothes. But why did you touch her money? How many times should I tell you not to interfere in her matters and touch her things? You never get wise!” despaired my mother. She walked quickly into grandma’s room and came out with the Bhagavata.
“Please check how much money they actually took from yours,” she asked grandma showing the book to her.
“You can check. We just took a rupee, and nothing more,” I said.
“Let your father come. I will get you flayed,” grandma burst out in anger once more.
“I will also complain to my father that when I gave a rupee to a poor student on Sivaratri day, you called me names,” my brother retorted.
“Shut up you fellow! There must be some reason and context for any donation,” my mother snubbed him. Before she could even complete her sentence, my father walked into the house hurriedly.
“Um. Urgent! Come on, be quick. Serve me lunch immediately. I must go to the office,” he said addressing my mother.
“What is this bloody office that works on a holyday like Sivaratri,” my mother grumbled.
“Son! When you are not at home, it’s beyond anybody’s power to control the mischief of your children. Return my rupee they took away from me and discipline your children whatever way you want to,” granny complained to my father loudly, going up to his room.
“Children! Why did you take her rupee? Give it back to her,” ordered my father coolly.
“Where is the rupee? What to narrate of your boy’s and younger daughter’s accomplishments?” granny was about to narrate what had happened.
“You don’t have to tell, I will tell him everything myself,” my brother interjected, and described the whole episode to my father.
After listening to him patiently, dad asked my mother and granny finally, “Then, do you believe that he has really given his clothes and the rupee?”
“You sound strange! You ask me coolly if he has given them instead of punishing him? Let him donate his clothes. It’s not my concern. But ask him why he took my rupee from the book. On top of it, he says that relict was my friend,” whined granny.
“Excellent pair of clothes. He donated them to that beggar. He is not afraid of us these days,” groused my mother.
“Did I not tell you that they have become too short? How many times have I to repeat it to you?” My brother expressed his discontent.
“Instead of telling them ‘Our elders are not at home, please come later,’ your children have grown ‘generous.’ Is it an anna or two to ignore? They gave them a whole rupee?” Grandma continued her complaining vein.
“What if I gave? Did you not spend more money at the temple?” argued my brother.
Addressing my father, granny said curtly, “Son! Banking on your lenience, your children are getting out of our control. I am not bothered how you discipline them. But make good my rupee.”
“Um! You stashed your money in the Bhagavata; this fellow took away one rupee from it; and that boy was not even his classmate and is studying at a different school!” Father recapped as if he was trying to appraise the whole episode. It was hard to gauge his mood from his tone and tenor.
My sister tried to add fuel to the fire, making a few more complaints against us to get us punished somehow.
“Father! The boy lost his parents. His granny is bringing him up by begging. I know the boy well. Is it a crime to help such people with a rupee, and the clothes that became too short for me? You got them stitched up for my birthday, not this year but the year before. They did not develop chinks right now, but they are short and tight. When they can waste money at the temple in the name of Sivaratri, how could it be a crime if I donate just one rupee?” reasoned my brother.
“Oh! Woe! Woe! ‘Wasting money at the temple?’ What are you bragging? If you don’t have faith and fear in God, you become a beast,” said my mother in a fit of anger.
“Wow! One should commend your son! He is preaching me morals at this age!” granny expressed her disapproval.
I was anxious about what my father would say ultimately.
“Is it fair to give anything without informing elders, children?” My father chided us.
At that very moment, the old woman came back, groping for the floor beating with her walking stick. Rama Rao was not with her now.
“Here comes the old widow. It seems she is not satisfied with what she was given,” commented my sister.
“Be kind once, they will not leave you till you become a pauper,” seconded my mother.
“Oho! Sister! You have returned from the temple? Did you get the darshan of lord Siva? My grandson made a terrible mistake. Your children are not at fault! What do they know, after all? Your children offered a rupee and clothes to my grandson. I said I would come back. But that fellow took them behind me. I can accept any offer from your hands but how can I accept it from innocent children? An error not amended today grows into a crime tomorrow!” said the old woman, carefully putting back the clothes and the rupee on the platform.
“Sister! I don’t have to explain my circumstances to you. You know them very well. Give whatever god inspires you to help me.” She entreated my grandmother.
My grandmother was caught in a predicament. My mother was staring at her. Neither of the two uttered a word.
The old woman was holding something in a pack at one end of her coarse inadequate dhoti. Pointing to it she said, “Your neighbour Mahalakshmamma gave us a measure of rice. God has inspired her to grant us that much. We can manage with it for the next three to four days,” she said expressing her contentment.
“Where is your grandson?” my father asked her.
“I asked him to come in. He is embarrassed to step in for his mistake and is standing outside,” she replied. Rama Rao was peeping through the street, steeling glances.
“Boy! Come in,” my father called him out.
He entered with a lot of diffidence.
“Take this shirt and knicker,” my father put them in the boy’s hand.
“Granny! Take this rupee,” he offered it back to the old woman.
“May your family prosper and your lineage last for generations to come. ‘Choose the worthy before you bestow,’ said our elders. May your benevolence multiply googolplex times!” blessed the old widow before accepting the rupee.
“Poor me! Did you trouble yourself just for this? What a person you are! When it comes to giving, it matters little whether it was me or my children,” said the granny.
“Your children cannot be different from you. A parrot speaks the language of its cage,” said the old woman.
“My son inherited the traits of charity and benevolence from his grandfather,” my mother said.
My brother burst out in laughter.
Grinding her teeth, my granny said to him, “Why do you laugh wildly like a fool? Stop it!”
“Lord Shiva inspired you and your children to see Him in me and my grandson and help us so generously. I cannot forget your help for my life. I must go home and prepare food for this kid. Sister, let me take leave of you,” and turned to leave.
“God bless you!” replied my grandma.
“With your blessing, this boy is not in want of a decent dress for this year. If I could muster another two rupees, I can pay his school fee this month. With the support and benevolence of people like you I am somehow pulling on. Losing my prop, my son, subjected me to this fate. Daughter! Let me take leave of you. Son! Let me take leave of you. I cannot forget your generosity.” Tears swelled up in her eyes as she spoke recalling her deceased son. Finally, “Sister! I take leave,” she said to my grandma, stepping out.
“You made such a fuss about the clothes and money blaming me. Why didn’t you, then, take them back?” my brother accosted our granny and mother.
“We are just short of that,” my mother expressed her resentment suggesting that it was indecent to do that.
“I don’t care whether you and your son donate a rupee or a tenner. I don’t keep quiet if you don’t pay me back my rupee,” declared my granny looking at my father.
“What is this? Only moments before you have said it makes no difference whether you give, or your children,” teased my father.
“That’s it. That’s it,” my brother jumped in delight for my father’s teasing.
“Make no mistake, your children will turn out the way they deserve to be,” said my granny – purporting that we turn out worthless.
“Then, from tomorrow, I will give anything I can lay my hands on,” my sister said defiantly.
“Not all hands come forward to help,” remarked my father.
 An observance of keeping awake through the night on Sivaratri day and until the sunset of the following day.
 followers of Adi Sankaracharya, the proponent of Advaita, who make no distinction between the principal deities Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu.
 Saivaites, who wear Siva Linga as a pendulum / pendant, dangling or resting above the collar bone.
 A kind of bridge game, where instead of teams, individual bidders, with the assistance of blind cards, must win a given number of tricks with the trump of his choice, and win the stake.
 A Pie in the old coinage system. 1 Rupee= 192 Pies.
 ‘Selling faggots where flowers were sold once’ is a metaphor for change of times from plenitude to penury.
 It is a bullying gesture of rapping the victim on the back of the head with fore-, middle and ring-fingers.
 a remnant of offering made to deity.