Ganapathiraju Atchyutarama Raju(5.3.1924 – 10th June 2004) was a versicolored genius born in Kolimeru Village of East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. A Graduate in Arts from the Andhra University(1945) and Law from the Madras University (1948), he practised law at Visakhapatnam. He was a dramatist, classical poet, short story writer, translator, actor, director, novelist and above all an orator of consummate ease. He was the Founder of Visakha Nataka Kala Mandali, Nominated Member, AP Sangeeth Natak Academy (1957-61), Member, AP Legislative Council (1968-74) and President, Lalita Kala Parishat. He was also the advisory board for Telugu, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi (1988-92). He was on the Senate of Andhra University (1964 – 72) and Sri Venkateswara University (1969-72). He was conferred “Kalaprapoorna” by the Andhra University in 1993. He had to his credit Vinayakudi Pelli (1951) and Brahma Mudi (1952) (plays), Maharajashree (1952), a playlet, and Ananda Hela (1982) and Amaram (1997) (Poetry)
With the thin wispy clouds spreading across the town and taking different shapes, like Kamadhenu, Kalpatharu, and Iravat, the sky was looking like the proverbial ‘Milky Ocean’. It looks as if the abundance of good was heaped over there.
It is said that the color of ‘virtue’ is white, and that of ‘evil’ is black. If it were true, why should my mommy call Aunty who looks an incarnation of virtue, an ‘evil woman’ every day? Why did innocent Aunty ceaselessly weep her heart out these two days and went away? She did not say a word against me although she knew that I was squarely responsible for Munny’s death! How gracious and magnanimous was Aunty compared to my mom!
These were the overwhelming feelings raging in the mind of a boy, Murali, lying on a tape-cot in the backyard of a middleclass house at the centre of a town, watching the sky.
Amidst colorful Rangoli (chalky designs) in front of the sacred basil on the cemented courtyard, ‘Karteeka Deepalu (Oil Lamps of Karteeka)’, a cluster of lights of cotton wicks soaked in ghee put on banana bark were blinking like the stars on the sky, and the zari flowers on Munny’s petticoat. These very lights which twinkled like the beautiful smiles of Munny till the other day, were flickering like the dark, murky lamps of the slum dwellings. Yes. They were looking exactly like that to his eyes. Aunty, who rented in the two south-end rooms of their house, vacated them and left for her place this evening.
Aunty had left!
Six months ago when schools reopened after Summer vacation, Munny and Aunty came here. When they were alighting from the rickshaw, he was reminded of the cow and the capering baby calf at his grandfather’s place.
Aunty was arranging their belongings in the two rented rooms. And Munny, moving briskly between the rooms helping her mother, was like a piece of butter-white baby-cloud playing with the moon. Wishing to help them, he loitered around their rooms. When he volunteered saying, “May I help you, Aunty?”, his mother overheard him and shouted at him, “Hey, Murali! Come here once!”. When he went in, “You don’t have to extend a helping hand to everyone living in the town. Go! Take out your books and read!” she said knitting her forehead.
“But mommy! We haven’t bought the new class books yet!”
“Don’t argue. Take out whatever books you have and start reading!” she reproved him.
Aunty looked more beautiful and dignified than mommy.
He was lying down on his bed, adjacent to the bedroom of his father. He couldn’t sleep for a long that night. He lost in thoughts about Aunty and Munny.
He suddenly overheard his mom…
“You let out the rooms to all and sundry paying no heed to me. See that woman. Does she look like a widow? Do you know she bought two seers of jasmines today?”
“In what way we are concerned with what she buys? Why do you poke your nose? Is it laid down in any scripture that widows should not buy flowers?” asked his father.
“Somebody visited her this evening calling her ‘Rajani! Rajani!’. He looks like a riff-raff fellow!”
“Shut up! Don’t talk rubbish without knowing what is what,” snubbed his father putting out the light.
So Aunty’s husband was not alive! Shouldn’t a widow buy flowers?
Next morning, while was brushing his teeth, he observed Aunty throwing a withered garland of Jasmines to a corner in her room. Munny was sitting on a tripod near the cement saucer round the well and taking bath. She had her back towards him and taking water from the bucket near her. She just had her petticoat and nothing else on. He could see her back which looked like a white polished marble slate. She looked round like a ball in that wet petticoat.
Somebody came out from the adjacent room. “Rajani! I have to go back as early as possible after taking Munny to school.” Murali looked at him. He wondered why his mom had commented about him like that. He did not look like a rowdy or a riffraff fellow. He did not have big side locks, dense tapering moustache, ruddy eyes, or a beedi in his mouth!
Munny dried herself with a green towel. Wrapping the towel round her waist, she let drop the wet petticoat, wrung water out and dried it on the line and then looked at him. He felt as if some current had passed through him. Shy-stricken, Munny ran in like a scared baby doe. How beautiful she looked then!
Munny was admitted to a convent school.
From the time he saw her bathing, there was some change in him, and he became more enthusiastic about studies. He started reading his class lessons loud sitting in the backyard; started singing film songs aloud; and moved around Aunty on some pretext or other. He got his new dress stitched in the latest fashion and walked elegantly wearing it. He was feeling happy and proud that Munny was taking notice of all these changes.
That was a Friday in the month of Sravana. It is said that women who observe some religious vows will be blessed. Mom got the house dusted, cleaned, washed and decorated the floor with Rangolis. She took oil bath, wore new clothes, and was busy with preparing special dishes, and inviting ladies of the neighborhood to our house and what not.
Munny and he were returning from convent that evening. It was getting dark and the traffic was thin. As they were turning round the street corner, someone stopped his bicycle, pulled Munny’s gold chain off her neck and started peddling away. He ran after him shouting ‘thief, thief’. That fellow kicked him on his face with all his strength and sped off. People heard his alarm and caught the thief. Munny got her chain back. Then she looked at him widening her already-wide eyes with admiration. She dabbed off the blood on his mouth with her handkerchief, and dried the tears rolling down his cheeks. Someone from the neighborhood escorted them home.
When the incident was narrated at home, Aunty hugged him dearly. He forgot all the pain in her warm embrace.
“Can’t you send your girl to school without all such decorations ? Thanks to you, my boy would have lost his life today,” mommy almost shouted at Aunty.
“I am sorry. Today being Friday of Sravana, I sent the girl to school with the gold chain. I am anyway deprived of such small pleasures,” said Aunty taken aback at mommy’s onslaught. She pulled him away from Aunty’s embrace and dragged him home. Munny shrank to a corner, scared.
Mommy boasted before everybody in the street that her son was saved from death in the hands of that thief, because of her ‘virtue.’
Mommy never invited Aunty for any of her religious observances, though she invited everybody else. That hurt him very much.
Once he asked Aunty, “Why don’t you attend any religious observances in our house?”
“I am not that fortunate, my child!” she said turning her face away.
When he was alone with mommy he asked her: “Why don’t you invite Aunty to your functions, while you invite everybody else?”
“Shut up! Why do you stick your long nose in all matters?” she chided him.
He went to Aunty’s room in anger and with determination. He said to her, “Aunty! From now on, you observe all religious vows. Munny and I will get you whatever you need from the market.”
“No, no! Leave it! I was qualified for those things only when Munny’s father was alive. I am not fortunate enough now,” Aunty said with a tinge of pain.
“You mean, you should not perform those things now?”
“Yes,” she said wiping her tears.
Munny receded silently to a corner.
An inexplicable sadness and anguish filled him.
That was Janmashtami, birthday of lord Krishna. Noticing his mother was busy in her activities, he silently slipped into Aunty’s portion without his mom noticing him. On the wall, there was a photo of a gentleman in full suit. He was sitting in a chair with his legs crossed, and wore a pleasant smile. A garland of jasmines was hanging to it. Aunty removed that withered garland and replaced it with a fresh one.
There was another photo next to it. There were many women bathing in a pond. None of the women had clothes on. Some of them were waist deep in water. One lady covered her bosom with her hands. Another covered her chest with one hand and looking away. Two other women lifted their heads high in the air and making salutations. On one of the branches sat Krishna, smiling mischievously. And on another, a heap of saris of different hues was slung.
Looking at the picture, Murali smiled. But noticing that Munny observed him looking at the picture, he felt shy to look at her.
That day, Munny and Aunty worshipped garlanding that gentleman’s photo, the picture of Krishna and bathing ladies, another photo of Krishna standing by a white cow, and one more where Krishna was dancing on the hoods of a giant serpent.
He understood now. Aunty could worship singly, by herself, but could not invite to her house ladies with their husbands alive. He could not understand the reason why.
That day when Aunty and Munny were going to the movie Krishna Leelalu, he wanted to be along. “Take the permission of your mom,” advised Aunty. He lied that he took her permission and went with them.
Aunty and Munny were enjoying the naughty pranks of little Krishna. Then followed the obscene bathing episode, the picture of which he had seen in Aunty’s room that morning. The bathing ‘Gopikas’ (dairy maids, so to speak) were begging for their saris back from Krishna, who had stolen them and was sitting perched a branch. Krishna said to them smiling mischievously, “I will return your saris if you give up your lust for bodies”. Then the maids put their hands up above their heads and prayed. Krishna returned them their saris. Of course, there were many episodes in the movie.
While returning home he asked Aunty, “Krishna advised gopikas to give up their lust for body. Aunty, what does ‘lust for body’ mean? What is the relation between this and returning the saris to gopikas?”
“Lust signifies desire for the body. If one prayed God giving up all desires, God will bestow his blessings. With his blessings human beings go to heaven after death where there will be no worries and troubles. Everyone will be happy, jolly, and cheerful there.” As Aunty was explaining, the rain which started as a fine drizzle suddenly intensified into a downpour. All of them reached home fully drenched.
As soon as they were home, mommy started lashing at them all collectively. Daddy left the scene, embarrassed.
“Don’t you have a sense of proportion and time? Don’t you ever go out with every hoi polloi to cinemas?” mommy slapped him. Munny trembled with fear.
“Forgive us. It was a mythological movie, Krishna Leelalu (playfulness). So I thought… ” Aunty was trying to explain when mommy cut her short, and stuffing her words with all her spite she said, “We have been watching all your ‘Leelas’. We are only short of Krishna’s ‘Leelas’. Who will come to our rescue if something untoward happens to my child?” and many more.
Aunty turned pale. Without speaking another word, she withdrew to her room with Munny who was already in tears.
Changing into dry clothes Murali went straight to bed. He dreamt of Krishna high on the tree branch, the nude Gopikas in the pond, advancing tongue-lashing demons, pathetic faces of Aunty and Munny…and much more.
Next morning he went to Aunty’s room. Aunty paid her obeisance to the person in suit in the photo. She removed the withered garland from the photo.
“Are you cross with mom’s behaviour last night, Aunty?” he asked.
Aunty simply laughed away the question and kept silent. How nice Aunty was!
“Who is he in that photo, Aunty?”
“Do you buy jasmines only to worship him, then?”
“Yes. It was his birthday yesterday. That is the only worship I am not deprived of,” she said drying her tears. Munny seemed angry, depressed and withdrawn.
Over a period of time, Aunty told him that Munny’s father was a senior officer, and she used to perform her vows and prayers on a large scale when he was alive.
Then, even to earn God’s blessings Aunty could not perform her vows and prayers! That was why neither his mom nor other ladies with their husbands alive won’t invite Aunty for any function or festival. Why couldn’t he and Munny perform vows for her benefit on her behalf? Then Munny would be well educated and become a doctor. That would be the fruition of all Aunty’s efforts. He decided to perform all religious observations with Munny in Aunty’s house only.
There is one God who removes all obstacles in the way of any good work. He is Lord Ganesha, the darling child of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. If he is worshipped no failures happen in one’s way. On Ganesh Chaturdhi, with the money given by Aunty, he and Munny went to market, bought all paraphernalia required to celebrate Lord Ganesha’s birthday in a befitting way. He turned a deaf ear to his mommy’s reprimands, and he read out the text of worship himself as Aunty and Munny performed the pooja.
Days of dark rain-threatening clouds seizing the sky had receded. Schools closed for Dasehra. Wherever Dasehra pandals were erected and programs were held, he visited them with Munny. They enjoyed the pooja holidays thoroughly.
Then came Diwali. Munni’s uncle who had accompanied her on her first day to the convent school visited them again and bought many crackers for Munny. He also gave all his crackers to her. That night, brighter than the brightest crackers, Munny sizzled like … a filigree of finest silver work, a ball of gold, and a rain of moonlight. She was the cynosure of Aunty’s eyes, and the glow of her laughter.
Strangely, in spite of all the festivals and the contingent joy and bonhomie, there always remained some inexpressible void in Aunty’s house. Whereas, in spite of constant querulousness between mommy and daddy, there was some wholesomeness in his house. Was it really due to mommy’s ‘accumulated virtue’? Why should not Aunty get the same ‘virtue’? He wondered how his mommy would react after Munny got a good education, became a famous doctor, married a wealthy boy, and visited her?
He heard some people were going on a picnic to a hillock at the end of the city by buses, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and even on foot. He asked Aunty why all people went there? She replied, “This is Karthika, the favorite month of Lord Shiva. God showers his blessings on those who take food under an Amla tree.”
One Sunday, daddy’s office staff planned a picnic to that place with all family members. They sent a jeep for daddy. He was ready to accompany his daddy. Mommy refused. As he was thinking it would be nice if Munny also accompanied him, she came out ready in Punjabi dress. She wore a blue chunni. Daddy invited her. He did not heed mommy’s murmurs. The jeep sped off and reached the foot of the hill soon. The bungalow there was full. There were people under every Amla tree. There were people of all age groups. Some people were engaged in cooking, some were playing cards, some were gossiping, and some others were singing, laughing, making fun and frolicking. It was a colorful parade of dresses and flowers.
All the colleagues of daddy gathered under a tree. He and Munny had breakfast and washed their hands in a stream flowing nearby. The water was cold and sweet, like Aunty’s sweet smile. The stream was flowing down from atop the hillock. There was a footway along the stream and there was a steady flow of people both ways. He asked one old gentleman, with tattered clothes and unkempt beard coming down, where he was coming from.
“There is a pond atop of the hillock. As per the legend, it was made by Lord Sri Rama for his consort Sita to bathe in. People go there to get Lord’s blessings.”
Munny and he started their way up along the footpath by the stream. They played with the greenery around, plucked the unknown flowers, rested under the shades. Sun was at the meridian by the time they reached the pond. There were pearls of sweat on Munny’s face. People had already left the pond for lunch. Only he and Munny were left at the pond.
He imagined Munny to be gopika in the pond and himself Lord Krishna. He was overwhelmed with joy at that thought. He told Munny about it and Munny got into the pond all smiles.
“Give up the lust for your body, I shall shower blessings on you!” he said playing Krishna.
The bashful smile on the face of Munny and her chunni were suddenly drowned in the pond. Munny with her hands hung up high disappeared gradually.
It was all over by the time people gathered and pulled her out, now limp and lifeless.
With the Kamadhenu-, the Kalpataru– and the Iravat-like cirrus clouds standing witness, under the cold and sweet waters of the pond up the hillock, all the ‘good’ and ‘virtue’ Aunty had earned over years were dissolved once and for all!
The cluster of ‘Karteeka Deepalu’ in the backyard of his house where Murali was lying were all blinking… and were about to go out!
(Telugu Original: Munnii, Swati Monthly, January 1974 )