Telugu: Ayyagari Sitaratnam
Ayyagari Sitaratnam is an academic, short story writer and novelist. She has to her credit, apart from Koorakula Madi, a volume of edited short stories, three novels and three volumes of criticism. She is a Professor in the Department of Telugu, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.
“Ose, Sujata … get up, wretched sleep …” Saying this mother woke her up forcefully. She got up with a lot of difficulty.
“Come for work at least today. I’ll hand over two houses to you …,” said mother.
“Abba! I don’t like to do clean dishes…,” she said irritated.
“To take care of you without your doing anything, I don’t have your grandfather’s bundle of wealth … nor do I have what your husband gave …,” she said angrily.
“Why do you bother about me …”
“Why? It’s a week now … No work at all … you have made a bit of rice, had it and slept … who do you think will raise you … by the way, has your husband left you?”
“He’s hung on to someone else. She’s a sweeper in the bank. She may hold the broom. But wearing a silk saree, carrying a steel tiffin carrier, if she leaves in the morning, she comes back at night …”
“Love, you married him saying love …”
“When he followed me like a gentleman riding on a cycle, I thought it was genuine …,” she said sorrowfully.
Just then a bike stopped in front of the house. When she wondered who it was, it was the sahukar. He financed the contractors.
“Call Apparao …,” he said, without getting off the vehicle.
“He’s sleeping having drunk all night long. He won’t get up even if he is woken up. What’s the matter, babu? I’ll tell him …”
“It seems there’s a small piece of mestri work to be done. It seems it ought to be over today.”
“I’ll tell him. He’ll certainly come … But find work for this Sujata somewhere.”
“Send her to the mutha. Won’t she go to her husband?”
“He’s not taking care of her well …”
“That’s okay, but if she’s ready to take the first bus, I’ll hand her over to the mutha.” Saying this, he left.
Taking the few sarees she had, Sujata left in the morning with a bag. She got on to the bus that was going from Saluru to Visakhapatnam. The sahukar bought the ticket. As she left the village, she felt upset. Her parents’ house and in-laws’ house were in the same village. That was why she was in that village for all of twenty five years. She had not thought in the wildest of dreams that the man she had loved very much and married would desert her. The son born to her survived for three months and died. She was saddened to think that she had nothing else than the stretch marks on her stomach in her life. She realised what it meant for the heart to be weak.
The sahukar brought Sujata and handed her over to the mestri. With his thick moustaches, the dark, intoxicated, red-eyed mestri, Nagaraju seemed to arouse fear. She was afraid even to look at the mestri’s face. The mestri nodded his head and said, “Sinna …”
Sinamma rushed in. She greeted the sahukar. “Here … Sujatamma … has a good heart … look after her well.” Saying this to Sinamma, he told Sujata, “There are twenty women including you. Thirty men. No fear at all,” and left.
Sujata, who had come to the mutha, was getting tired doing work she was unused to. She was scared of the mestri. Only Sinamma would speak to her. Every day she had to get the maschar put. If Sujata forgot sometimes, Sinamma would scold her and would send her again to get the maschar put. Depending on the number of maschars, they would give that many days of coolie. Normally, they would keep the money with the mestri. When they went to their villages, he would calculate and give them the money. He would cut twenty five rupees a day for the mess charges. Each one would take twenty rupees on Sundays. On Sundays, they would go about as they desired. Some would go to the cinemas, others to the bazaars and yet others to the beach. Sujata had not made friends with anyone. Since the time she had lost the little land she had, Sujata had been worried. Then her husband left her. It was like leaving a fish on the bank and expecting it to survive. Sujata who was very adept at working on the fields found the mutha work very difficult.
In the mutha, there were many unmarried girls of sixteen and eighteen. There were also those who had left their children with maternal and paternal grandmothers. There were also six of those who had been deserted by their husbands. She thought with a heavy heart that there was none like her who had left her husband. The commotion and excitement of unmarried girls was entirely different. They would only want to go to cinemas. If that were not possible, they would play antyakshari. They would go to the house at the end of the street and watch TV. If only Sinamma came to know this there would be a big fight. They would do overtime and get more maschars put.
The work would start everyday at eight. It would go on till six. Sinnamma would give them tea and some gruel by eight. Only on Sundays would she get pulihora made in the morning and pulav at night. The entire mess was Sinnnamma’s responsibility. With the help of a male cook, she would cook and serve. When the food was served, she would observe them with thousand eyes. There would not be much of a problem in the women’s row. Serving them was very easy. One of them would get up and serve. The cook would serve all the men. But on Sundays, there would be a lot of problems. If they liked the pulav, they would hide it in their towels or tiffin carriers. If it were to come to Sinnamma’s notice, she would scream like a demon, and would not mind wasting it, but she would not let them carry it away. Sunday night was a very difficult period. The men would drink arrack. Talking whatever they felt like and spitting, the atmosphere would be quite disgusting. Perhaps Sinamma was the right person for that kind of an environment, and at that time Sujata would wonder if Sinamma was indeed a “woman”. She would spew out obscene words. No matter how much Sinamma guarded, there was always something irksome. In the same hall, women would sleep on one side and men on the other side.
One Sunday, some man got drunk, came to the women’s side and fell on a girl. The girl screamed out loud. The girls next to her caught hold of his back and pushed him to a side. They held him tight and gave him a few blows. They pushed him away. Sinamma came. Asking, “What was it?” she knew the problem and took on a ferocious form. “You wretched scoundrel … Go and show this manliness on your wife.” Showering curses on him, with the help of the cook, she tied his hands with a saree to the window in the corner of the hall, and kept abusing him in a loud voice. After some time she came to the women’s section. On seeing her, they became angry, surrounded her and told her, “Tell the mestri. We won’t keep quiet.” She looked at the girls in surprise and said, “You are tough, but what will the mestri do? He will just laugh it off,” but immediately, with an angry face, she said loudly, “I know what to tell the mestri … you don’t have to tell me anything.” Anyone would be terrified of Sinnamma’s loud voice. All the girls were terrified.
Then looking at them, she said harshly, “Why don’t you wear silakattu and sleep? How many times have I to tell you that?” Everyone was very angry.
“Why while sleeping?” asked Sujata abruptly.
“Why?” Sinamma would get angry when questioned. Reddening her eyes, she said harshly, “So that they don’t carry away your gold … Hey, haven’t you had a family life? Why are you asking this?” Saying this, she did not allow Sujata to speak.
Immediately, she said sternly, “Wear silakkattu by taking the cloth between the thighs and tuck it in at the back.”
They were terrified of that very tone. All of them wore the silakattu in a hurry. They thought that their calves were showing disgustingly. The only girl who wore chudidar was feeling a bit proud and thought, “Hammaya, I don’t have to!” She thought she did not have the trouble of silakattu. Everyone tied the silakattu without wanting to, feeling ashamed and upset. When Sinamma turned back, they broke their knuckles with vengeance.
One night, the chudidar girl came and woke Sujata up at 12. “Will you do OT (Over Time)? That Lachi girl came back saying she has stomach pain. Mestri babu has asked me to bring someone along,” she said.
Though it was more than three months since Sujata joined the mutha, she had never done OT. Generally, they would give OT only to those who went about smartly asking for it or to those they liked. They would pay Rs. 20 per hour. They would work for three extra hours. Therefore, everyone would go. Sujata had never asked. No one gave her. She thought why give up on goddess Lakshmi who had come knocking at her door, and went.
There, Sinamma was sitting holding a tea kettle. Sujata wondered if she did not ever feel sleepy. “Sujata, have tea and go. You’ve got to carry tiles. If the tiles break, we can’t control the mestri babu,” she said. She advised Sujata who was having tea, “Have the maschar put,” and added, “Orey, put the maschar for me too ….” All of them burst out laughing. Sinamma would keep asking every day. They would keep asking the mestri. Of late, Sinamma had been putting the maschars herself and keeping count of them. She would ask the mestri every week. He would laugh it off and not give her. There was no free time during the day. In the night, he was not in the right state … in his intoxicated condition, one would only hear Sinamma’s loud voice, but the money would not come by.
By the time Sujata came to the ladder he said, “You have to carry fifteen tiles. If the tiles break, there would be a cut in the money. Go carefully ….” “I can’t carry so many … reduce them anna …” she said. Giving her ten tiles, he said that the mestri would not agree if he came to know this. The chudidar girl climbed quite easily. Sujata was climbing behind her. By the time she climbed to the top of the ladder, the mestri’s hands touched the other girl’s breast. She raised her head thinking it might have been by mistake. Saying “What’s it, come …” and perhaps thinking that nobody would be able to see it he pinched her breast hard and let it go. She was terrified. Anger, disgust … pain … In that confused state, the tiles in her hand slipped out. The top five fell down and splintered. She was terrified.
“That’s okay, come up, I won’t reduce your maschars. I would account them as loss, come on …” the mestri said generously.
“No need,” said the girl in chudidar.
Sujata was watching all this. She felt sorry for her. She thought she wouldn’t come for OT at night. That girl went away saying she felt giddy. Sujata continued to work for two hours, but saying that she was carrying less … they asked her not to come from the following day.
The chudidar girl was crying. “What happened?” asked Sujata.
Sinnamma created a lot of trouble and got her removed from work.
“I believe this girl went after the mestri …”
“Chee, it was that fellow who was harassing her …”
“That everyone knows. Only because we can’t do anything … all the men giggle and refer to her as the mestri’s second keep,” said that girl’s friend.
“What injustice! Is Sinnamma a woman?” said Sujata.
Sinnamma came right then. “Are you having a discussion already?” she asked.
“Is whatever you are doing correct? Just because you have a loud mouth you are blabbering. Look, the mestri’s TV comes on only when one switches it on …. Saying it’s his own TV, that it has to be switched on carefully and that he alone should switch it on, he does not allow others to touch it. Isn’t her body too her own! How can he touch her wherever he wants! He is making her feel absolutely shameful,” Sujata asked angrily.
With those words Sinnamma lowered her voice a little, “Don’t know if this girl flirted or if he played mischief! Better she stays back in her own house.”
To this the chudidar girl responded saying, “If I go home, I have to lick pewter vessels … what’s there? Can’t find any work. If mother goes to wash the dishes, father goes to the toddy shop…” she was crying helplessly. Getting over it in a couple of minutes she said angrily, “When that fellow made the mistake, why are you blaming me? It is he who must be berated …”
“Not having the courage to say anything against the mestri, my life is like this,” Sinnamma muttered. Later she said, “I will keep you in the house of someone I know. They will give you thousand rupees. They will take care of everything. If you want, I will take you.”
“From the frying pan to the fire?”
“Look, there’s only a woman there. The husband went away in search of money. There won’t be any fear there,” said Sinnamma.
Wondering if it would be all right to go with Sinnamma, a few girls went together with the girl in chudidar to see that house.
On Sunday Sujata came alone around four to her room after buying egg noodles. Not noticing Sinnamma who had come to tell her something she dashed against her. The bag in Sinnamma’s hand fell down and the things in it scattered around. Restraining Sujata who was about to pick them up, she said anxiously that she would pick them up herself. In one second it was evident as to why Sinnmma was anxious. It contained half a dozen Nirodhs. Taking them from Sujata’s hands she said, “What to do? Having consumed liquor, I don’t know when he would fall on me. He is someone who visits a number of people. Scared what disease I would contact … I guard myself.” Her face lacked the usual self-confidence.
Sinnamma said, “Your father sent word. Come to my room, sit for a while.”
Sujata stood very frightened but did not follow her. Noticing that, saying, “I know I am crude. I know. I am living wearing this crude façade. If I remove it … I can’t survive here …,” Sinamma let out a deep sigh.
“I too was like the chudidar girl eighteen years ago. Then the mestri was a coolie like me. One Sunday having a headache, I lay down in my room, not stirring out anywhere. Don’t know when and how he came … fell on me like an iron sack … don’t know when he pulled off my clothes, he pressed my hands … in two minutes he ruined my life. Didn’t feel anything other than the stench of arrack … didn’t know what would happen, who to share it with. A fear they would say, “chee” if I told them. If father came to know he would gore me. That’s why – buying pustelu in the fair, wearing them around my neck, I became mestri’s wife, no … his keep. Don’t you all say that? Wearing a crude façade, with a loud mouth, I continue to be with him. His first wife is in the village. My life is just this!” she said with a heavy heart … Wetness in her eyes … “I haven’t told this to anyone till today …” she wiped her eyes.
“Crude life … Stump-like life … Why talk about me … your father asked you to come. I believe your husband filed a case for divorce.”
“Ok, he will divorce me… I won’t go.”
“No, shouldn’t think like that. Go,” she said.
He divorced Sujata. To get the divorce, they said Sujata had eloped. Not just that. They obtained a false certificate that the husband had the big disease. With that disease, he would not be able to work and therefore he would not be able to give alimony. She thought there was no justice and dharma in the world. The father wanted to complain to caste elders and extract money. But Sujata did not agree. “Even when I was just ten I picked up groundnuts and brought in money. From then on, there or here, I have been working. Where is the question of begging him now?” she said.
Father got angry at these words. “Because you won’t listen to anyone your husband has deserted you,” he said using the choicest of abuses. They had a fight. With that, concluding that all relationships had been snapped she set out to go to Sinnamma.
She wanted to be ruthless like Sinnamma. But soon thinking, “Sinnamma ought to be harsh to the mestri. But instead of being harsh where she ought to be harsh, she is showing harshness towards women alone,” she came to tell Sinnamma this.
By the time Sujata came, the chudidar girl was in Sinnamma’s room. “How come …” she asked in surprise. “I believe this one has become a female mestri … seems she wants to take away the girls from here. If the mestri comes to know, he will thrash her bones to a pulp. She seems to know no fear,” said Sinnamma.
There would be no smile on Sinnamma’s face. Except irritation. Would be serious. Even so, Sujata said boldly, “Why should you run the mess in mestri’s place? He does not give maschar money to you. Go to that girl and run the mess. At least you would have helped her. Let us, you and I, run the mess …”
“Why help? I will calculate the maschar account and give you the money …” said the Chudidar girl.
“Would the mestri let you live in this place?”
Sinnamma was getting scared at their thoughts.
“Found work in Hyderabad. Nobody knows about it …” said the chudidar girl.
Sinnamma was unsure. The rest of the girls came quickly, persuaded her, and made her accept. Thinking, “In this life has anyone else has called me with so much love …” Sinnamma took away her façade, cried her heart out, unburdened herself, and while setting out with them … confidently removed the pustelu she had bought in the fair and flung them away.
(Translation of “Mutha Sinnamma,” from Koorakula Madi,Vijayawada: Chinuku Publlications, 2017, 31-38.).
 Mutha Suggests workforce.
 Mark of attendance