Telugu: Veda Prabhas
They had left.
As it started raining with droplets heavy as scattering pearls of a broken chaplet, they walked out briskly. They did not heed my entreaties to stay back. I had even warned them of the weather forecast of impending heavy rain. “At least have the food that had been prepared,” I prayed, but no. They just ignored all my appeals.
“Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to us…” they said briefly, indicating the purpose of their visit was over and walked out as briskly into the rain as though they were running over an active volcano.
I could not say anything. And, of course, it was of no use either. They were born and had grown up on these hills. And they were as nonchalant as these mountains.
Sinking into the easy chair, I started looking in the direction they had walked out. To the limits of my view, they sky was overcast with dark clouds. Nature seemed to hide under a heavy nighty blanket. There was a remarkable change in the weather… very much like mine own anguished heart.
It was not like this an hour ago. With clouds washed with red by the setting sun, the sky was delectable to watch. There was an abrupt change within an hour.
The rain intensified. There was howling in the wind. The flowery foliage in the foreyard appeared to be dancing to the tunes and vagaries of the wind and rain coming in violent gusts of corrugated currents.
Feeling the bite of cold, I enveloped myself with a shawl. The shawl was smooth. That was presented to me recently, honoring me. As I pulled it over my shoulders, I was reminded of my poetic lines from “Jumping into the Fire” which brought me great fame and renown all over Andhra Pradesh.
“The chariot of the Sun was on the move
The Victory procession was on the march
Like an overwhelming wave
People of all classes are surging forward.”
Oh! How time flies!!! They were written some sixty or seventy years ago. The book is still popular and going through repeated editions. And people across the country still quote lines from the book at some corner or the other to this day.
I am at the evening of my life.
Along with the changes in my body, of late, there came a parallel change in my mind, in my perspectives and thinking. My right eye went blind for over two years. After suffering a mild paralytic stroke, I stopped going out and was largely confined to my home. Whether she got tired of endlessly waiting for me, or she did not have the strength to walk with me to the end of my life, Sita left this world five years ago when I was underground in the forests of Maharashtra. My only son Kranti, thirty-five years old and a postgraduate with distinction, left his milch-cow like bank job and walked into the path of live coals … the path I inspired the youth to take… four years back.
I heard nothing about him since. They had informed me a while ago for the first time.
With my vision getting blurred, I removed my spectacles, and holding it with my lame lefthand, I wiped them clean with the shawl using my right.
Tears swelled in my eyes. There could be some dampness left deep under the layers of a dried-up pond! I made no attempt to dry my eyes.
Be it poetry or tears, they must come out only in streams— to lighten your heart.
“Bapu! There are about twenty-five hamlets in our village! We follow whatever he says! We have utmost faith in him…”
I could gauge the kind of adoration in his eyes, as Oola Dora uttered these words. And for the first time, I was seized with fear.
Dark clouds sealed every inch of space to surround the place in darkness. Like camera flashes in a meeting, sparks of lightning accentuated the darkness. It started raining heavily.
Yes, there was a price of Thousand rupees for my head in those early days.
Whether it was the result of our leaders’ efforts coming to fruition, or because of the sympathy of my fan-base, I did not have to stay underground for long.
I got up to put on the light in the verandah. Narayana did not turn up yet. Silence was spinning its web in the vacant rooms.
Glowing brilliantly under the verandah light like beads of pearls, the drops of rain jumped over the ground.
Steering around the pillar by my chair, a long winding column of ants walking intrepidly into the house.
The rain changed its direction with the wind.
A gust of air rashly shoved the rain onto the verandah and my feet got wet.
Poor ants! Whisked by the wind, they scurried helter-skelter in all directions.
I did not get up from my chair. I did not feel like getting up. The train of unsettling thoughts in my mind rendered me weak and drowned me in further thoughts.
There’s nothing left now.
I reached such a stage in my life where swiftness of action and strength had become captives to my age and my consciousness would become part of history.
‘People… awakening… welfare state… societal reconstruction… hunger… slogans… thoughts raging like tongues of fire… sleepless nights… enduring heartaches… cursing silent looks of Sita… and Kranti’s frightened looks whenever he chanced to hug and lifted him up… and the occasional overwhelming compliments from people and fans when his poems whammed like ink-bombs occasionally… emotional outbursts of sympathizers… repeated underground sojourns… and the alluring and eluding sparkling hopes!’
Not anymore! There won’t be anything from now on. All my illusions melted, belated though.
The brilliant selvage of the garments of life… glories of effervescent youthful exuberances… breezes of lasting pristine happiness… had all passed by me like hands on the clock without giving a feel of what they were.
Darkness reigned outside.
Anguish whelmed within. Utopian socialism – built brick by brick for over sixty years- collapsed and razed to the ground like a castle of glass.
Experiences of a lifetime came to nothing and rendered waste!
The dream, of its lasting for an era, dissolved and cleared like mist in no time.
That revolution was a mere slogan, and no shoots come to life over a blood-bathed soil had become an inviolable truth for me. Experience is wiser than imagination.
My experience taught me that.
After these long years of experience, and when the destination was lost in the narrow dark trails and became unattainable, through the chaotic strains of thought, slowly a form evolved.
That all isms are but distortions of truth and were outcomes of conjuring miracles of human mind had become clear to me.
It’s only the dark cumulonimbus cloud that always satiates the hunger with its trunk-like streams of rain but not the rubicund cloud high over the sky that delights our hearts.
But it was too late.
Pity! After having lost everything that could be lost, after smashing the glass bowl of life’s nectar with my own hands, and much long thereafter, the everlasting truth, the light that lasts forever… dawned upon me: Compassion is superior to Anger! Peace is more valuable than War!
Suddenly, Sita’s face flashed in my memory. The looks on her face when I was leaving her after Kranthi was born. A look of helplessness in her long, wide eyes filled with tears, in her bright, turmeric-dabbed face.
Another night… jumping over the backyard wall, when I knocked at the door, she apprehensively opening the door ajar. Reassured, she embraced me with all tears. When I asked her to serve me some food, she cried her heart out cursing her inability. When she questioned why we should suffer the misfortunes and I answered her in my own way, incomprehensible to her, she looked bemused and reconciled …
She was confronting me now… unsettling my mind.
“Tomorrow …. After midnight… we shall accompany Kranthi Babu here… He wants to see you…”
Oolaka Dora cautiously whispered to me. “He loves you. ‘Dora! My father is one in a million,’ he often speaks to us in praise of you. Bapu! He is no less than you. If you are the king, he is a prince. A gem of a child. He is our master. We can never repay our debt to him. If naïve people like me get any wiser, its only because of him. We have understood what’s going around in this world. We totally understand how the rich are playing with our lives. And we also understand fully how to respond. So come what may, We have decided to move forward. No stepping back. We don’t care about our lives. At least our children shall see better days,” he said.
Coming close he whispered into my ear, “Tomorrow night… exactly when the midnight train was expected to arrive… we are going to blast the railway bridge over “Chintala Vagu.” Your boy shall lead the charge. He asked us to inform you that he would visit you after that. That’s why we have come here. We take leave. Our respects to you.”
Oolaka Dora, as strong as an iron pilar, left immediately with his associate without waiting for a minute afterwords. He did not heed to my request and did not care about the threatening rain.
Fear seized me like a tsunami. It was not for my son that I feared, but the way they were about to tread which clearly looked meaningless to me.
I could not sleep that night. And it rained all through the night. I could see the occasional flashes of lightning filtering through the windowpanes.
Silence filled the room. Yes. It was silence everywhere. It was only silence that was whirling like a cyclonic storm over the oceanic mind to overcast it with sinister clouds.
Kranthi… Kranthi… my darling boy. I could never father him. I remained a question mark all through his childhood. Learning alphabets of revolution in the lap of emotion and following the footsteps of righteous anger, I remained more concerned about my life’s goals than paid attention to his needs.
My poor child! Very tall and lanky boy who appropriated all features of his mother, was blindly following the path of smouldering fire walking away from me… far, far away from me… sacrificing all pleasures of life. He is as ignorant as I was at that age.
How many people have sacrificed their lives! How many flames were put out abruptly!! How much blood flowed into streams!!! Heart melts when one spares a moment to think about that.
Exploitation and deceit are always condemnable. No doubt about it. So is the exploitation by a few of the whole. But I strongly believe that this is not the right way.
The remedy should not be more severe than the wound. One shouldn’t sacrifice a piglet for a chick. One shouldn’t lift a mountain to break a twig. One could offer his life as an oblation in a ritual for a gain. Loss of life is a certainty, but no one would ever know if the desired thing was obtained or not.
I was feeling heaviness in my head. My eyes were burning. And after an interminably long time, the day broke. I got up from my bed with a heavy heart.
House maid was attending to her daily chores. The day was blissfully asleep behind the curtains of clouds. The touch of chilly morning air as I walked out of my cozy room into the open indicated that I was running a fever.
Police doctor’s warning echoed in my ears: ‘Remember. You got this release because you are frail. Keep all your agonizing thoughts away and try to be at peace. Take it from me that the next stroke will be your last…!”
I am free of all worries. My mind was like food cooked in the microwave of thoughts. A new idea suddenly flashed in my mind.
I eased into the chair. Chandramma brought a cup of hot coffee.
“Why didn’t you take your dinner, Bapu?” she asked.
“I did not feel like taking dinner,” I replied.
She serves me with filial devotion. Narayana was her husband. She drew near, feeling my hand with hers she exclaimed, “Bapu! You are running fever!”
“Don’t worry Chandramma! I will be okay. By the way, what is the menu for the lunch?” I asked, changing the subject. Otherwise, she would run to her husband, and he would call for a doctor. I did not like that. I must organize my thoughts first. And I need some time for that.
“As usual, Bapu! Wheat rice, cooked potato, broth, and curd. Why did you ask me, Bapu?” I could see the surprise in her looks.
“Chandramma! Prepare Chakkera Pongali  today. Today is my boy’s birthday.”
I felt my heart in my gullet and my voice choked. Another memory…
“That was Parvati Puram Conspiracy case. My hands and legs were chained, and we were all standing in the small court’s premises in the hot sun. What an emotion it was! How vehemently we raised the slogans!! The surrounding hills reverberated with our voice.
“They were all dead now. Satyam was killed. Kailasam disappeared into his dream-world burnt alive. Not one but several bright jewels were abruptly turned to dust. Some others disintegrated. I was sent back to jail. Perhaps, I spent more life in jail than outside.
“That day, nine-year-old Kranthi came to jail holding his mother’s hand. He was in new clothes. He was as brilliant as a small candle.
“’Today is his birthday,’ she said to me. ‘Pay obeisance to your father touching his feet,’ Sita directed him. As he bowed to touch my feet, I embraced him passionately. In his bright, ample eyes I saw a thin film of tears for the first time.
“’I brought Chakkera Pongali. He likes it. Please take it,’ she said scooping out a spoonful from the tiffin box and putting it in my mouth. She was having long sight by that time already and spectacles adorned her nose and ears. Her teacher’s job might have given her the poise necessary to face all odds. In the red vermilion mark over her forehead I saw the metaphor for revolution.
“’My uncle Ramam has said that you might get the release if you sign some warranty,’ she said with lot of hesitance.
“I don’t know what animal spirit entered my body. I shouted, ‘shut up,’ at the height of my voice. The prison walls echoed. Frightened, Kranthi hid behind his mother.
That revolution would overwhelm like an unbridled waterfall was my deep conviction then. It did, falling from great heights. But unfortunately, it dissipated disintegrating into bye lanes. Poor spirits. Its force and speed swept away many young, intelligent, innocent lives… the greenhorn boys and young sisters where death could not erase the traces of childhood still hanging on to their faces. They braved the bullets with a smile. They walked briskly offering their blood to unveil a colorful welfare state.
They never witnessed the rising of full moons, or experienced fragrant embraces, or intoxicating tactile sense of gentle Malayan breezes in their lives. All that they had experienced was uncompromisingly fierce suns, directionless violent vortices of blood-boiling cataracts, and the ever-bubbling bottomless think-tanks. It was only these that drove them and are still driving them.
Youth has grossly misunderstood life, then and now. Behind their overhanging hairs and loose-hanging apparel, there flow of life echoes a false note.
I made the same mistake. Treaded the same path. Believed things blindly. Insulated myself from love, compassion, affection, and attention. Lived afar… alone … and self-exiled sitting over the throne of frenzied fury. Sitting over the inaccessible mountain peaks enveloped by deep prickly woods, I tried for a lifetime to ignite sparks with empty hands. And half-developed minds surrounded me.
Gee God! What a blunder it was!! I was utterly ignorant!!!
Like the red crescent moons of revolution, as they lie in deep sleep with bodies sieved with sprayed bullets, and with some unknown satisfaction of having achieved the ultimate in their lives, I went on writing teary tributes acclaiming them as martyrs. I never realized that the reading of my mind was blatantly wrong. I cursed and reviled the responsible but never recognized my contribution to the tragedies.
I deeply regret and resent it. I clearly realized that my path of bloodshed was wrong, my theory of responding with the gun is bound to rust. I was able to slowly comprehend that the ultimate answer to the hunger cries should never be the bullet and there must certainly be a better alternative.
I should not let this continue anymore. And if I could contribute whatever little in this direction, I must do it immediately. Water dripping from my chin had indicated that tears were streaming down from my eyes unawares.
What was the reason behind this transformation? Was it to protect my son Kranthi? No. Not at all. Just as my unwavering goal was my lone concern all through my life till now, even in the changing mindset, my revised goal was my concern and not the blood relation.
I attended to all important papers in the morning. I took the decisions as my conscience dictated. I roamed around every nook of my house. I censured why she did not sweep the steps leading to the next floor. I stood over the balcony and surveyed all around. With rain relenting briefly, though, while the sky was still overcast with dark clouds, a small parcel of the sky was clear, and the sun was filtering through slightly. The wet coconut leaves were glistening brightly under that.
I came down and asked Narayana to sweep the foreyard clear of leaves and twigs. Both Narayana and Chandramma looked happy watching me active.
I overheard Narayana telling Chandramma, “The medicines worked well on Bapu.”
I was happy. The antidote I discovered for my troubled state worked well on me. I was feeling light-hearted. My mind was at peace.
I walked up to the street-end park and spent some time there.
Till nine o’clock in the evening, I attended to some other work I prioritized. Firstly, I wrote to all my publishers to stop publishing my books and withdrawing the publication rights. I asked them to make the necessary arrangements and consult my lawyer. I also wrote to my lawyer explaining my present views and enclosed the authorizing letter giving him the power of attorney. Then one by one I burnt all my works: Jumping into the Fire, Lyre of Conscience, Vivacious Earth, Trail of Blood… without leaving a single work.
The time drew near. There was not much time left. I got up and walked out of the room. Narayana was asleep on the verandah. What would be his feeling when he learns that he owns this house from tomorrow! I walked out without making much noise. Old bag was hanging by my shoulder. I caressed it with the same old passion. I felt energized anew. There were my statements addressed to the government officials. I called out a rickshaw and asked him to take me to the railway station.
I looked into the watch at the station. It was ten minutes past eleven. When I checked at the enquiry, I was informed that my train was late by half an hour. Enough. I had more than enough time for my work left. I posted all the letters in the postbox.
I walked up to the telephone booth outside. There was nobody there. I dialed a familiar number, talked for two minutes, and hung up. I could imagine the kind of commotion it would create.
I came to the end of the platform and proceeded towards the Chintala Vagu bridge. It’s more than one mile from there. I was walking in measured steps.
It was dark all around. And the clouds seized the sky. Like a gentle rain of flowers, it started drizzling.
My mind was clear.
I was walking on the rail track. Walking over the ballast was painful. I stopped for a while and resumed my walk.
I could hear the siren blaring and the flash of headlights of vehicles. So, they were approaching.
On either side of the track were cultivating fields. The palmyra trees on the banks stood tall and were like long black shadows. The whole canopy was looking blurred. In fact, I could see nothing else but my goal.
I heard the train whistling at a distance.
Time had approached. It might be hardly three hundred yards to the bridge. I could see the white pillars in the light of the train.
Though I could not see anybody, I could hear the clumping sound of boots around me.
I could also sense someone running. Some shadows disappeared briskly. Things were going as I desired. None of them should get caught.
I reached the bridge finally.
The train again whistled from a distance. This time it was a long whistle.
I knew the train had stopped and wouldn’t move for some time to come. This’s what I desired.
With my shirt and pajamas flying like flags to the wind, I took a few steps forward.
I inadvertently hit a sharp stone. It was very painful. Blood oozed out of my big toe. To press it hard, I bent down.
I knew several dozen eyes would be watching me.
“Charge!” I heard the order.
Without making a sound, the police dog pounced upon me. It was more like a tiger.
I fell on my back. My head hit the ground hard. I could hear the boots from the far end of the bridge.
I tried to get up but the dog sitting on me did not allow it.
Summoning all energy at my disposal, I pushed the dog, got up, and started running back.
Somebody hailed. I did not stop. The dog came in my way. Poor creature! It was thinking that I was trying to run away. How could it guess that I was bidding time for all other people to escape?
I tried to evade and run forward.
The pulling me back… my falling flatly down…. And a bullet piercing through my chest… all happened in a flash. I could feel the burning sensation. I felt no more pain.
The last lines of my poem “The Confession,” which would be along with my statement in all newspapers, dancing on my lips was the last sensation I had:
“Revolution is an empty letter!
Revolution is a scroll on water!!”
The sky bent down to take into her lap.
( Original: “Erra Megham” … The First Prize winning story published in Andhra Prabha Diwali Issue dated 30.10.1994) Courtesy: Katha Nilayam.
 Father. A common way of addressing the old men in villages.
 A sweet pudding made of rice, green gram, ghee, milk, and sugar garnished with cardamom powder and cashew or raisin.