The Mother

Telugu: Yerramsetti Sai


[We think we know … something about many things, and many things about something. But as it turns out most of the time, we possess only perceptions about things than knowledge.]


A letter from a reputed weekly was waiting for me when I reached my office. In fact, it was an invitation asking me to judge the entries for a painting contest for school children they announced earlier.

To be honest, that was a pleasant surprise. I never expected to receive such an invitation because I was not a virtuoso in painting by any stretch of imagination. If anything, it was only of late that my illustrations got any attention and magazines were providing opportunities to draw illustrations to the short stories they publish. That’s all.

I immediately sent my consent thanking them for such honor.

About a month later, they sought my presence at Hyderabad for the evaluation of the entries and enclosed a demand draft towards travel expenses.

I reached Hyderabad by the next morning and checked into the hotel they arranged. Two more judges… for evaluating entries for short story and novel … were also put up in the same hotel and Mr. Varahala Rao, the Asst. Editor introduced us to one another.

We had our lunch together.

Varahala Rao brought two voluminous files to my room.

“There are about twenty-five entries in the first file which we shortlisted after initial scrutiny. The rest of the entries are in the second file. You can also go through and select any of them if you so choose,” he proposed.

I was of the firm conviction that editors have a better grasp of readers’ likes and dislikes. So, I did not touch the second file and confined myself to the entries shortlisted.

It was quite clear that they were all drawn by children. And as for the details provided, they were all under eight years.

One girl drew a tiger. But it resembled more a domestic cat.

A boy drew an abnormally large hairy head under the title ‘Ogre.’

There was another entry under the caption ‘Circus’ with a man doing a tight ropewalk.

I went through the entries thrice, made my own evaluation, selected three entries, ranked them for the prizes and signed.

By that time, evening fell.

I spent some time with the other judges and had my dinner.

​With the handing over ​of the list to Mr. Varahala Rao the following morning, my job would be done.

It was eleven o’clock in the night, but I could not get to sleep.

I got up and put on the light.

I saw the two files lying on the table.

Suddenly it struck me that I could pass time going through the entries from the first file​, till I felt sleepy.

I started going through them one by one. They were indeed badly drawn.

I patiently browsed through them till it struck one.

I put out the light and went to bed.

And in the surrounding darkness, one drawing from the rejected entries suddenly flashed before my eyes. In a way it was so conspicuous: There was no drawing at all. Instead, the entire space provided for the drawing was dabbed with Indian ink. And it was given ​a​ name too. I tried to recollect it but failed.

I got up and searched for the drawing. I could find it at last. It was titled “The Mother.”

The drawing and the caption amused me.

I looked for the name of the child who drew it.

It was Lalima… Lalima (8 years), c/o Kamalakaram, 9-328, Balaram Pet, Machilipatnam.

Granting that the child was innocent, how could the father decide to send such an entry to a competition?

Perhaps, he did not want to disappoint his child … I reasoned.

I tried to sleep.

But it eluded me for long.


Eight years.

Why did she just dab the area with ink?

She could have drawn some figure… that of an animal… or a scenery… or anything for that matter than just painting the space… empty, dark, and opaque.

The more I tried to forget and force myself to sleep, the more that dark patch of painting arena and her name appeared before my eyes.

Sometime around the wee hours, after a prolonged struggle, I drifted into sleep.

Later, they announced the results, and I was invited to present the awards to the winners at a special function organized.

Strangely, Neelima and her drawing, including her address surfaced from the subconscious.

It even irritated me to remember such an insignificant entry. Why does the brain keep such rubbish in its memory?


Days passed, and they slowly receded from my memory. But whenever I saw any children’s drawings, they broke through to the foreground.


I went on official duty to Machilipatnam once. While checking in, the calendar behind the receptionist, rather the drawing therein, caught my attention. It was of a mother holding her child high and kissing it.

And as suddenly… I remembered… Lalima, 8 years, c/o Kamalakaram, 9-328, Balaram Pet, Machilipatnam.

What an irony for a person notorious for my short memory, like me. But how an inconsequential painting and an inconspicuous name and address got imprinted in my memory surprised me. It was even perplexing.

I returned to my hotel after the day’s work, and again my attention was drawn to the picture in the calendar.

As if I was under a spell, the name and the address also popped up.

What if I visited that address and asked the girl her intention behind the drawing?

It looked odd and ridiculous to go to the address.

It was getting dark, and I was unable to resolve my dilemma.

The painting and the address had ​​made my life miserable.​

Finally, I made up my mind to go.

Immediately, I went up to my room, got refreshed, slipped into casuals, and hit the road.

I called out for a rickshaw and asked the rickshaw-puller to take me to Balaram Pet.

We were at Balaram Pet within fifteen minutes. But how to locate the house?

After making repeated enquiries about the address, the rickshaw puller turned the rickshaw into a narrow lane, flanked by drains on either side. It was an array of old, tiled houses in dilapidated condition. The heavy overgrowth broke through the compound walls onto the street and made the already narrow road narrower. At the fag end of the lane, the rickshaw was stopped in front of an old house. It​ ​​lay in ruins.

9-328 was written in chalk on the front door.

There was no response initially when I called out the name of Kamalakaram.

When I knocked on the door ​ for a second time, someone responded.

A man, looking more like a walking skeleton, opened the door.

To his soliciting eyes, I briefed about the painting competition for school children, Lalima’s submission, and my acting as the adjudicator for that etc., etc. I also informed ​him of my intention to see the girl.

“Lalima is my daughter, for sure. But I don’t remember that she had ever submitted any entry to the competition in the recent past,” he said. It was clear that my brief was news to him.

He invited me in​ and offered me a chair.

It was a small room… with just a table and two chairs. An old model radio was lying on the table. A calendar was hanging on the wall.

“Maybe that her school had submitted the entries of its students. Certification by school was one of the conditions to ensure the bona fides of the student,” I said.

“Tell me about the drawing that prompted you take this trouble,” Kamalakaram asked.

“In fact, it was not a drawing. The whole space was smeared with ink and titled ‘the mother.’  I was curious to know her perception in drawing like that,” I replied.

“Is it?” he expressed his surprise.

“Father, I sliced the vegetables as you advised…” said a young girl walking into the room. Her skirt was dirty. Her hair was dishevelled for want of oil… and a short, lean plait appeared behind. There were marks of soot on her hands and her cheeks.

I recognized that it must be Lalima.

“Pay your respects to uncle,” he goaded her.

“Namaste,” she said perfunctorily.

“Didn’t your schoolteacher asked you to draw pictures and sent them to a competition recently?” I asked her.

She nodded her head in assent.

“Didn’t you paint your picture dark with ink?


“Didn’t you title it as ‘the mother?’”

She again nodded her head.

“Why did you name it as ‘mother’ when there wasn’t anybody there?” I asked.

She lost herself in thought for a while but did not reply.

“Baby, tell me, why did you do it?”

A few minutes passed in silence.

Kamalakaram got up from his chair. I found a strange glow in his eyes.

“I just felt like drawing it like that,” she said hesitantly.

“Good. Go, and get him a glass of water,” Kamalakaram sent her in.

“Lalima’s mother died while giving her birth,” he said.

Suddenly, a flood of umpteen flashlights fell on that ink smeared.

It dawned on me why she painted the picture the way she did, and why she called it ‘the mother.’

Lalima entered with a glass of water in her hands.

Taking the glass from her hands and setting it aside, I took her into my arms.

With tears whelming in my eyes, I kissed her hands.

“Oh no, you will be smeared with soot,” Kamalakaram said anxiously.

“Never mind. It washes off the soot of my heart,” I replied with a grin.

The smile dissolved in my tears.

Struggling to restrain my emotions, I removed the ring on my finger and pressed it on to hers.

At that moment, I realized the satisfaction which I failed to realize when I presented the awards to the winners.

I hastily bade goodbye to Lalima and walked out of the house.

Any further delay, I was sure, ​I would ​be wailing my heart out embracing Lalima.​

Ignoring the pleadings of Kamalakaram behind, I hurried forward.

Afterall, what do I know anything about a ‘mother’?


[First Published: Andhra Patrika Weekly (11-17 April 1986) Ugadi Special Issue]


Murthy Nauduri

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  • The story beautifully narrates a life near the bank of river krishna, full of love, hardship, and memories. The waves of the river reflect life’s ups and downs. Jangamaiah’s remark about the cactus needing no water is quietly powerful. Overall, it’s a touching tale of resilience and connections in the face of challenges

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