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Chandra Latha

Young and brilliant writer Chandra Latha broke into the Telugu literary scene with the publication of Regadi Vittulu in 1997 when she won the Telugu Association of North America award in a competition for novels depicting lives of farmers. The novel depicts sweeping changes that affect a farmer’s life from green revolution to import of spurious cotton seeds. Her other novels Vardhani dealing with the psychology of a spoilt child brought up in a joint family and Drshyadrshyam (2003, won Telugu University award in 2007) focusing on environmental issues also won awards. Her short fiction Nenu Nanna Navutha (1996), Idam Sariram (2003) and Vivarnam (2007) deal with issues ranging from concerns of women, children, little known tribes of Andhra as well as cultural effects of globalization, medical advances and software boom on individual lives. She deals with issues that generally escape attention, has penetrating insight into the psychology of the neglected and one also finds a search for newer forms in her long and short fiction. Her fiction shows not only her power of keen observation but a propensity to do research into the topic she takes up. She has as many academic distinctions as literary awards to her credit having won gold medals for her BA from B R Ambedkar Open University (BRAOU) and MA in English Literature from Kakatiya University. Currently she is working for her Ph.D. on Narratological Study of Select Fiction.

“Kanthi! Stop the car now!” Visali yelled shrilly.

“Visali! How many times did I tell you not to startle me by shouting so! Are we driving in our place to stop the car wherever we like? We are on the roads of Minneapolis. A small mistake, they’ll give us a ticket!” Kanthi said seriously, pressing her hands on the steering wheel and fixing her eyes on the road ahead. 

“Why do you keep saying, ‘they’ll give a ticket’ which sounds like kicking the bucket” Visali shrugged her shoulders. “Kanthi! Stop the car once please—Look! What you find there!” Visali was importuning with her anxiously. As if a wonderful scene was disappearing from her sight. 

“Sorry! My Dear Sister! It is beautiful wherever you look in this land. If I stop the car at all the places you get excited about, we’ll be in trouble!” without even slowing down, Kanthi said firmly. “We’ll reach home within ten minutes! Sit quietly for a while, my dear!” 

“Arre Arre? It is going! Gone!” Visali cried out disappointed like a child. 

“Visali sit still please! You are even taking off the seat belt, getting excited like a child. What’s it now?” Kanthi chided her without even asking her what interested her so much! Visali stirred in her seat restlessly. As if she did not care for Kanthi’s words, until she lost sight of it, she kept looking backwards.

What if Kanthi does not stop the car? Can’t she come here by herself? She knit her eyebrows slightly. Marking the landmarks in her mind, she kept watching the road.

Like the geometrical diagrams children draw, the roads were neat and the buildings stood on either side of them. The houses looked like toys in a well-arranged theme scene in an Indian home at Dassera. Written directions at every step!

It looked so beautiful! Really beautiful, Visali admired the scene and told herself. If she wants, she can visit the place alone later. By walk, she might take about fifteen minutes. 

The thought gave Visali boundless energy. A smile appeared on her face. She sat comfortably.

How long has she been searching for that flower! She let out a sigh.

The plant was in full blossom with a flower for each leaf on the thorny iron fence.

How beautiful it is!

That’s a light pink rose. Ordinary rose! Country rose!

Now one could see flowers in hundred different colours. In her childhood rose meant three colours. White, red and pink. 

Was there a front yard in our town without these three colour roses? It was only in our house that there was no pink rose. White rose was in white colour. Red meant deep pink, magenta or the colour of ruby which was called red. 

However many hues there might have been, a rose flower actually meant the one in light pink. 

Its hue, softness of its petals and its wafting fragrance! 

One drop of rain was enough to activate the children. All the kids in our place would hustle around to plant seeds, would get down cartons from lofts in our homes and pullout seeds that are safely kept tightly wrapped in paper. 

Crossandra, marigold, jasmine, henna, coxcomb—not just one variety. They would wager bets with each other and plant a variety of seeds. 

At sprinkling of water, crossandra seeds would plop out.

We children would cackle in laughter

Marigold seeds would stick to dry petals. As soon as they were put into prepared soil, they would come out in thick clusters. Once didn’t we plant spinach seeds taking them for coxcomb seeds! How amusing it was.

For chrysanthemum seedlings, cannas saplings, jasmine plantings—we would search all over the street. The hustle bustle children created had the spirit of a festival.

How we competed against each other to plant new saplings!

Once in Sabita’s house, she let a green pea creeper grow thickly. That year theirs was the best front yard. Pink coloured blossoms in clusters creeping all over the wire mesh arranged over the main gate and hanging from it. Oh! How exquisite it was! 

Once, Sudha’s Dad got blue chrysanthemums from the city. It was a wonder for all of us. Once those plants were put in the soil, it was news like the eighth wonder when its leaves shot up, grew, and buds came up. In the classroom whispers about that plant between the lessons. 

When it flowered first, how vain Sudha turned up! She moved around without ever lowering her lifted chin! 

Actually Sudha came to class lost in the joy after sighting that flower. That was a social class. The geography lesson had begun. And as it is our social teacher was a little weird.

Even if four or five of us sat hurdled on a single bench, he insisted that we should not stir and listen to every word he uttered intently. 

The banks of Amazon, civilization of Congo people, the lives in the desert of Kalahari, of course, all strange things and wonders! 

Of course, they were interesting. But he expected us to sit frozen with bated breath and pay attention to his lesson. 

Evergreen forests, the thick jungles, flowers in deserts, tundra lands, and green plains—they were all wonderful! How can we not be curious?

That too when we heard of trees with sharp needle like leaves, the trees that would devour beasts and men by curling their roots around and cannibals— Aren’t children really scared of those things? 

But he would rattle on absorbed in his own concerns.

Somehow opening of schools and the time of flowering season would always coincide. Perhaps that’s what rainy season schooling means in Telugu.

We would shove packets of a variety of seeds in school bags and take them along. While going to school and returning from school we would visit each other’s houses to have a glimpse of the new varieties of plants. Exchange of new plants with friends and cutting off friendship with those who are not generous.

Poor Sudha, my friend! That day the slip she sent secretly fell into the hands of our social sir! With much gusto, she carried the news of a freshly blossomed flower in their yard and with as much remorse, she had to stand on the bench. What else could she do! 

If it happened now, we would have told him, “Take hold for a while, Sir! More than the wonders of your Congo stories and mysteries of Indus valley, greater wonder lies in the slip sent by Sudha. For the first time, a blue chrysanthemum flowered in our town.”

Even in those days we wanted to speak out but dared not.

Whenever our social teacher turned towards the board, we would aim fiery arrows of our glances at him as if to turn his back into a sieve.

Didn’t he know what we were upto? Even then, he was unconcerned and would ask us calmly and steadily about either Suez Canal or the river Mississippi or the Sahara desert.

After that what followed was the routine. One by one we would stand on the bench.

Sudha’s tears would disappear. She would break into smiles! Like button chrysanthemums.

As if to give her company, we would all be standing on the bench!

Immediately after the bell rang, we would all be leaving for Sudha’s home.

It was true!

A chrysanthemum in blue!

Wonderful really!

How proudly Sudha held her head!

Such a marvelous flower! As if a sapphire was thrown into a stack of tender leaves.

As if children had drawn a flower and filled it up with blue colour.

Did we ever see it or hear of it?

If Sudha was showing off, she has a reason to do so.

Her father, moreover, promised her to get many more varieties of chrysanthemums! She kept rattling off.

Leaving Sudha to her excitement, she made way for her house. The school bag turned really heavy. While dragging herself tardily and crossing the threshold of a house in the corner, some fragrance reached her nose. Certainly of a flower. She looked around. From where else? It was from the scientist’s house! 

We children were really scared of that scientist. Actually, he never said anything to any one. He was of medium height! Ruddy face! Thick glasses! People used to say that scientists were usually forgetful.

Moreover, he was not at all communicative. None of the neighbours ever tried to talk to him.

No signs of women residing in his house either. Otherwise the neighbouring women would have created some occasion or celebration to interact with the woman of the house. Though he had been living long in the street, he was known to the young and the old as only a weird man.

In spite of all that, that sweet smell dragged her to his gate. Without her volition, she tried to open the gate which was bolted from inside. Loosening her feet from the chappal, she tried to place them in the iron trellis. Holding the railing on the gate, she tried to peep into the compound. 

A rose shrub! A huge one it was! It really grew into a big bush. Amidst green clusters of leaves, light pink roses in blossoms. As if somebody arranged them by hand.

Such fragrance from that bush.

Around that rose bush, it was swept well, daubed with water mixed with cow dung and floral designs were made of flour.

A clicking of a bolt inside the house.

Struck with fear, she thought she would break into tears. She couldn’t bounce away at once because her feet were struck in the trellis of the gate.

When she almost succeeded in disentangling her feet, and got down, the scientist opened the door of the house and stuck out his head. Oh goodness!

In the agitation, leaping and falling flat on the face, rushing home while sobbing with the lacerated knees and elbows! In front of Visali’s eyes, little Visali’s figure rose. Visali smiled to herself. 

Observing from the corner of her eyes, Kanthi asked suddenly, “Visali! You seemed to be laughing by yourself?” 

“Nothing much!” Visali smiled again. “I was reminded of some childhood things!” 

“Yes, Visali! Even in childhood we used to fight with each other in the same way, didn’t we?” Kanthi too was assaulted by memories.

“Right! If we didn’t quarrel among ourselves for half a day, Mother and Father used to get anxious as if something was wrong with us. They wondered whether we were ill!” Visali smiled happily along with Kanthi. 

“We are home!” Kanthi announced, excited.

While they parked the car and were shifting the luggage in, Kanthi’s cell phone rang. 

It carried some news which turned Kanthi’s face pallid. She slouched suddenly on the suitcase just placed on the ground. 

Visali looked at her surprised.

Kanthi was responding to the cell phone just in monosyllables.

“O.K. I’ll get back to you. Thanks for the call!

” Kanthi kept on sitting after finishing talk on the cell. As if she was shocked she hid her face in her palms placed amidst her knees.

Waiting for her to convey the news, Visali stood still in front of Kanthi.

No response.

Slowly turning back Visali began unloading the rest of the luggage from the car.

Closing the car door silently, she came up to Kanthi and stood there.

Kanthi’s shoulders were moving up and down as if she was sobbing to herself.

Though she wasn’t actually crying, Kanthi’s emotions were in a similar state. Her face was drawn and she was sniffing.

“Kanthi …” Visali squatted in front of Kanthi. “What happened?” and placed her hand on Kanthi’s shoulder.

“I am sorry Visali! When you visited me for the first time, I just happen to …” Kanthi expressed regret, collecting herself.

“It is all right! Is there any need for such formalities between us? Tell me what happened actually?” 

“Bindu—”

“You mean our Himabindu…” Visali suddenly said. 

‘When somebody is talking, you should not interrupt’—is the American rule number one her sister taught her as soon as she got off the flight. Even in sorrow, when she looked at her sharply, Visali felt like laughing. “If I laugh by mistake, there will be a fight. She can contradict anyone but not her little sister. What a spirit?” Visali let out a sigh and “Sorry! Kanthi!” 

“It’s O.K.!” Kanthi sniffed again. In the same mood, she pushed her hair up. 

“She is Bindu Madhavi! She was so supportive and encouraging since I stepped into this country,” Kanthi fell into silence.

Visali ventured to chip in, “What’s it now Kanthi! Tell me!” noticing her sister’s silence and empty glances. 

“Nothing much. I have to go to the office urgently! I am concerned about you. As soon as you landed, I am leaving you alone and going out. I might come home late,” Kanthi resumed after a while. “Sorry Visali! On the day you came…”

“Don’t be funny! When you have some urgent work there…” patting her back Visali told Kanthi, “You start now!”

By the time Visali got all the baggage one by one into the house Kanthi instructed her on how to make coffee and gave as many instructions on safety measures and other do’s and don’ts. In between, she also recited the American code of manners. 

“I am leaving now. I’ll lock the front door. I switched on the security alarm. Even if there are footsteps on the driveway, the police will come to know. No need to be scared. Even then, be careful! This is my phone number. Here I noted down. Bye the bye, you remember 911, don’t you!” 

“Kanthi! You better start now! Don’t you worry about me,” Visali said smiling. 

“Bye—Take care—see you—Sorry,” Kanthi went away.

Suddenly a thick silence surrounded Visali.

She felt heaviness in her head. Shaking her head, Visali looked around.

The house is neatly furnished and looked spick and span. At the centre her baggage stood discordant with its surroundings. If only Mother has a sight of this, how happy she would feel! Won’t Mother feel really proud if she learns that Kanthi, who never removed the plate she had eaten from the table and who never knew how to set her school bag properly, turned out to be so efficient? 

When she was rolling the wheeled suitcase and bags into the room allotted to her, she suddenly remembered. 

“How bad! The tulip bouquet I bought for Kanthi is left in my baggage. How forgetful of me!” Visali muttered to herself. It might have fallen in the side of the bag! In the last minute there was rush. There was no problem in the customs check. But while doing the agriculture check, they thoroughly examined my baggage.

She had brought tulip tubes from Amsterdam. In whatever mood the officer was, he put aside the package. At his back was hanging the board consisting of ‘Not Allowed’ list. Moreover there is no mention of tubes in that list. Since the packing was done in Amsterdam, she expected no trouble.

The officer’s face turned ruddy not like a yam but like a beetroot. She didn’t know whether it was anger or something else. 

She didn’t feel like taking it easy since she spent a lot of money on it and then it would be impossible to plant those tubes! Visali let out a sigh of disappointment. Killing by my own hand! 

Suddenly the warnings Kanthi gave on the phone before leaving began to ring in Visali’s mind like an alarm. Forcefully bringing a smile to her lips, she handed her suitcases onto the trolley and came out of the security check. What could she do? Sister’s orders not to pick up arguments with anyone. Not to open her mouth until they stamp with a thump on her passport and to come out with her head down without looking here and there once the stamping is done. 

Without missing a small detail, she followed her sister’s instructions. 

At least they allowed this plastic tulip bouquet filled with chocolates, Visali sighed in relief. Placing the bouquet on the table, she thought that the flowers looked like real ones, half-open and beautiful.

And then she transferred her mother’s love personified in Aavakai1 and Ariselu2 from the suitcase to the kitchen cabinet.

She returned to her room. At the sight of the bed, sleep overpowered her as if someone spelt a charm. 

She lay on her face on the soft bed.

When she woke up suddenly, there was no sign of Kanthi yet. Silence all around! Her baggage lay scattered. 

Open suitcases, unzipped bags and clothes and things spilling out! 

Visali tried to clear things quickly. 

Moving upto the window, she opened the blinds. Light flooded the house in an instant. If she opens windows, breeze too will rush in. But Kanthi told her strictly not to make such attempts at all.

For a while Visali moved around the house like a spun top.

Kanthi’s husband was not at home. He was out of town. If he were there, she could have killed time chatting with him. 

Kanthi’s photos are seen in a variety of frames, on the walls, in the cupboards and on the tables.

How lustrous Kanthi’s graduation photos placed on the TV looked!

Now the world has turned into a village! But when Kanthi set out innumerable fears! Born in a village, brought up in Palamur, she had traveled upto here with sheer grit. She did achieve what she had wanted! Touching the photo with tips of her fingers once, Visali replaced it on the T.V.

She found her head heavy. After such a long journey, even if she wanted to rest, it was impossible. She felt her breath choking and struggling.

Walls, all around her walls.

Windows were, of course, there but the glasses were fixed.

Though the doors were there, the locks were fixed.

Visali walked through the house again and again. 

A bay window in the kitchen.

It was open. 

Visali shook the latch to check and it opened easily.

Beyond the window a small lawn! A bed of flowers around it!

Cool breeze. She felt she found her breath. Walking around on the grass, she began feeling the flowering plants. Evening sunlight seemed to give them strange lines. 

Suddenly it flashed in Visali’s mind.

The flower that sprang there!

Light pink rose!

A smile came up to her lips. 

If I could have a look at it before Kanthi comes! The thought gave Visali boundless energy. 

It is not yet dark. There is still light around. I must walk on now. That way, she will snatch some sleep in the night. Otherwise she has to keep a vigil that night.

Visali again got into the house through the bay window in the kitchen. She wrote that she was going for a walk on a stick-on and pasted it on the door of the fridge as Kanthi told her. 

Putting on the jerkin, she began walking on the ground. 

Cautiously avoiding the front door and security cameras, softly treading she came into the street.

It was like an adventure of children! 

Visali was amused. Like the Prince in the folklore Keelu Gurram who went in the right direction when he had been specifically warned to take any direction but that, she began walking ignoring Kanthi’s list of don’ts on the bikers’ path. 

As soon as she remembered the flower from home she was flooded by memories. 

For the first time, she had seen the foreigners because of a rose. It was at the time when she went to the scientist’s house taking along Kanthi to see the roses.

To concede the truth, Kanthi is tougher than herself.

When the scientist looked up on hearing the creak of the gate, she froze in fear whereas Kanthi wished him “Namasthe!” 

He too looked relaxed that evening. He beckoned them both to come closer.

In front of him a foreign couple. How beautiful she looked with dark wheat coloured hair neatly cut up to her ears! Eyes in the colour of a grass snake. With a frock above her knees. How strange she looked! 

Involuntarily, we looked at ourselves. 

Their short skirts soiled and dusty because they had played. The plaits tightly done, folded and tied with ribbons. She spontaneously tried to pull her skirt down. Falling from the gate the previous day she had grazed her knees. If they see her knees, they might laugh at her. While they were asking something in English, Kanthi was giving smart replies quickly. As if something struck in her tongue, her tongue froze. Dumbstruck, looking frightened, she focused her eyes on the rose bush. 

Watched from close quarters, the rose looked even more beautiful.

The scientist complimented Kanthi on her smartness. He turned to the guests and said something. And then he asked them softly.

What do you do after school closes?”

“Nothing much! We roam around and play the thief and the police and then playing with pebbles, cycling and flying kites,” Kanthi was reciting things happily. 

Somehow I felt left out seeing everyone’s appreciation for Kanthi. As her hesitation abated, she too began speaking slowly. “We grow new plants.”

“Is it?” the white lady was so surprised that her hair shook in the wind.

“Yes!” I said boldly.

“What plants? From where do you get them? How do you plant them?”

“We wander in the gardens, and search over hillocks. We go to each house and get new plants wherever we find them. We get bundles of seeds, grafts, seedlings and plants from our village too and plant them.” Finding the smiles on their faces, I got encouraged. Kanthi too chipped in. 

“We also have a blue chrysanthemum flower.” 

As if that was our last chance both of us asked at the same time, “We came to your house to request you for a rose twig.” 

They all broke into laughter. 

“You can have it!” the scientist promised us. “Can you help us?” 

“We will!” both of us promised help in chorus. What else could we say in the joy of getting rose twigs? 

“This uncle and aunty like varieties of new plants like you. Can you get the seeds, grafts, tubes and seedlings you collect and give them?” Actually for them anything from neem, curry leaf to angular gourd are new. Aloevera, custard apple or navaratnalu anything you find! 

“In our Palamuru there is no dearth of seeds or plants? We’ll get them all these!” Kanthi’s face brightened with triumph. 

Due to this windfall, rose twigs got into their hands. 

From sweet marjoram to touch-me-not to any type of wild trees and jasmine, Indian jasmine, cannas, henna—not just one whatever plant or seed they sighted, we would take it to the scientist’s house and give it to him. 

We searched all over the mounds, hillocks and foothills.

We wandered across the fields, banks and woods.

The white man and the lady would praise us to the skies and the scientist too appreciated us in the same manner. They would give us Marie biscuits or pieces of cake and at times pieces of apple. 

How afraid she was that Mother would scold them about eating snacks in others’ houses. When she was hesitant, Kanthi ate off her share of eats too. 

Again a smile appeared on Visali’s face. While on the memory lane, she did not note the time. She reached that threshold in no time. Just around that corner in front of a house she had seen the rose bush earlier. She continued to walk.

How well she and Kanthi had looked after the rose grafts brought from the scientist’s house! Filling the soil in empty cartons, then planted the twigs in a slant. Removing the leaves they placed a ball of cow dung at the top end of the twig. Mother told them that new leaves would sprout fast if they did it. 

They would collect used tea leaves, egg shells and fish bones competing with each other. In whichever house in the street they got the smell of omelets, they would run there. One day Mother caught them collecting eggshells from garbage and thrashed them thoroughly.

That was really lucky. If only Mother had known that to get fish scales they had scrubbed fish with ash and cleaned them in someone’s house, she would have killed them. Those wee secrets kept between Kanthi and her. 

First Kanthi’s plant sprouted shoots of leaves. But what let out buds for the first time was her plant. The bud blossomed first on Kanthi’s plant.

“Funny your competition is!” Sudha and others were astonished.

Finally in the pell-mell of showing the flowers, Kanthi’s friends together with my friends scattered all the petals. Only the stalks remained.

They had a good laugh at themselves later. 

Smiling to herself, Visali reached the rose bush.

“Oh! This looks exactly like the rose bush in the scientist’s house. Flowers in clusters. As if somebody has arranged them in the stacks of leaves by hand, exquisitely.

Separating her from the plant, layers of iron fencing.

Visali laughed out.

Right! That day was the last day that Kanthi and she saw the rose. One day by the time they had come from school, both their plants had turned into food for goats. Without any discrimination along with chrysanthemum, Marigold and sweet Marjoram.

How she and Kanthi wept!

How many hardships they went through for the sake of those plants! How many mounds, hillocks, thorny bushes, boulders, and creeks they foraged through to collect all those plants for the scientists’ guests.

“If we go now and ask, will he give the rose twigs again? Will they take root again? Will they flower again?” How many doubts in the little minds!

Kanthi and she hid themselves behind a wall and cried without the knowledge of the Mother. If the scientist asked what they did with the twigs they had taken earlier? Another bout of sorrow and they were quite depressed. 

Finally they gathered courage and decided to go to the scientist’s house again and ask for plants.

Stepping slowly, practicing the words they were going to utter, they went up to their gate and stood there. Neither of them dared and urging each other to open they pushed each other and fell on the gate at which it opened widely. In front of them the dried up rose bush!

They were both stunned, their mouths turned dry. They looked at each others’ faces repeatedly. 

“The scientist Saab is not in town. Do you have any work with him?” the cook of the house asked them.

Without turning their eyes from the rose bush, they nodded their heads to indicate the negative. 

The cook also turned his head in the same direction and said casually, “Before the master comes home, he wanted me to dig out the plant from roots. I must cut it now.” He again said, “They got some peculiar medicine and put it. The plant dried up all together. That white people were the ones who brought it. They said it would flower abundantly but it killed the mother root itself. Ptch!”

They could only make out half of what the cook was saying. Even then they both nodded their heads and turned towards home.

That was the last time. Now again the same rose bush. Right in front of her eyes in full blossom. Exactly at the obverse side of the globe, her village. As if it disappeared from there and appeared here, exactly the same form. 

Visali let out a sigh. 

She will reach it if she stretches her hand out a few inches. 

How long did she search for it? In how many places? Yet she could not spot the plant anywhere. How many colours of roses, how many varieties in the nurseries—but this country rose—after such a long time again—she could sight it. Oh! Marvelous! 

Visali moved forward slowly. She tried to set aside the iron fencing. As soon as her hand fell on the iron fencing, she stopped short. 

“Visali!” Kanthi’s wild yell from the back. 

Visali turned back smiling. It was like looking at her own face in a strange manner. As if excited peeping over the gate of scientist’s house in childhood and stricken with fear when the door clicked open.

“What are you doing there Visali? Look there—look at the board.”

Visali looked up.

“Trespassers will be prosecuted.”

It means those who enter without permission shall be punished.

“Is that all?”

“Don’t you want to reach home safely? Why do you annoy me so much?

How many things did I tell you before leaving? As if they have fallen on deaf ears, you roam around like a little child! If somebody had given a call to the police…?” Kanthi was rattling on. 

Visali felt like laughing. History seemed to be repeating. Little sister in Mother’s role! Exactly like Mother placing her hands on the waist and flinging up her head. And her own face-like that of Sudha who stood on the bench. 

“Here I am on the brink of losing my breath, you feel like laughing?” tremors in Kanthi’s voice. 

As soon as she looked at Kanthi’s face attentively, her bewitchment of the rose left her. “Ptch! Kanthi went out in a hurry. She might have been in some trouble. How did she get lost in her own feelings?” 

“Kanthi! What happened?” She said loudly.

Kanthi tightened her lips and hung her head. 

She quickly moved up to Kanthi.

“She is on bench!” Kanthi said in a tone that’s without any emotion. 

It is Visali who was surprised this time. When she was thinking of Sudha standing on the bench how did Kanthi learn about it? She asked for an explanation.

“Kanthi! How do you know it?’ 

“Everybody knew. She also knew. Since she came to know, she began despairing. How anxious about work she had been as if she herself was the company. She identified herself with the company actually. Though many employees came and went, she stuck to the company and looked after its interests protectively like the lids do the eye ball. Now she herself is not to be seen. Ptch!” Kanthi voice turned hoarse.

“Company … protection … eye ball,” when Visali heard these words, things began falling into place. Kanthi’s reference is not to Sudha. As soon as she got the phone, she hurried away. Whatever had happened there? Visali slowly came and stood in front of Kanthi. She asked her the same.

“Bindu seemed to have come to the office as usual. She talked to everybody warmly. She handed over work to her colleagues. After that in her own seat—bytaking sleeping pills …” Kanthi began sobbing. By the time I reached, everything was over.” 

Visali was stunned. She did not expect to hear such shocking news. Collecting herself with difficulty she asked, “But why?” 

“Since she is going to be ousted from the job”

 “What wrong did she do?” 

“Nothing. She had always been the best employee. It is a long time since she had joined the company. Thinking it is not in the best interest of the company, the board took such a decision. Fool. Silly fool! Is there anyone so sentimental these days? For her experience, she would have got the best opportunities. Unnecessarily…” Kanthi’s eyes were swollen and her words were coming out garbled. 

“Is there any chance to develop a relationship or an occasion to identify oneself with the company? No. Work means work. That’s all! Damn it!” 

Kanthi flung her tightened fists into air impatiently. 

Visali watched fiery and furious Kanthi dazed. 

“They call it by right name—body shopping. Along with the body, pledging the mind and heart we had created these magnificent facades. Taking loan as they expect and repaying them like machines, we brokered our freedom and dignity. Thinking in the way they ask us to and walking in the way they ask us to, we have been living. It’s searching for diamonds under the hoods of cobras.” 

“Ptch! Fear each minute… fear! What kind of life is this? Like the wending machine which lets out a chocolate each time a quarter is put!” 

Kanthi squatted on the bike path. 

Unmindful of all social restraints, she was crying. 

All the sorrow in her heart began flowing out through her tears as if she waited to speak out all these days. Like a river in flood.

Visali did not know how to console Kanthi. Since childhood her sister had been a support to Visali. Her spirit and soul. When such a sister broke down uncontrollably, she stood frozen, her mind blank. 

Recovering, she began involuntarily walking towards the rose bush. 

One by one the incidents began coming up in her memory.

Somehow she was reminded of the guests of the scientist and his cook’s curses.

“They said flowers will come abundantly but the mother root itself died. Ptch!

”A small question pricked Visali like a thorn. Actually, whose permission did they take to enter our gardens? With whose cooperation did the plants and trees in our premises crossed the borders? Why did they offer the wealth of living plants on hillocks, mounds and plains to them? When they are preserving their species carefully, how have we become helpless? With our own hands, we are handing over the gene wealth which is the backbone of the nation? Knowing fully well … again and again! 

For some reason, the officer who threw aside the tulip tubes at the airport rose in her mind’s eye. Visali pursed her lips. She glanced across the iron wire fencing.

Behind the rose bush, there … there dutura, there a neem and there curry leaf tree. 

Cold ran through Visali’s back. 

How many varieties? How many species? 

In which soil were they engendered? In which water did they get wet? Which breeze did they breath? 

From where did the roots of trees that grew here come from? 

In which land did the mother root of these widespread branches take root? 

Opening her eyes, Visali stared. 

In one eye tears, in the other fire!

Every plant that the social teacher had tried to teach us in childhood seems to reappear here in full blossom. Flowered luxuriously.

The Amazon, Congo, Nile, Kalahari, Mediterranean, East Asia, Panama, Mexico, whatever it may be? Uprooted there and reinstalled here! 

Visali looked up.

Over the rose shrub, iron fencing, towards the biker’s path.

Kanthi dispirited totally.

Her little sister.

Apple of the eye of the whole family! Will she one day turn into a dust particle in somebody’s eye and be cruelly crushed? In this commercial culture, consumerist world will they trash her like a used thing?

Then, and then will she turn spiritless like desiccated—sugarcanes from which juice is extracted? Will she slump to the ground with not a nerve alive in her body? 

The sweet rose of their front yard—her little sister!

Before she flowered fully?

Visali’s throat choked.

Without a second thought—with single-minded concentration—she began undoing the iron wire fencing.

With bare hands.

Her hands smelled of rusted iron.

So what?

She could not stop herself.

Whenever Kanthi joined her, she stood beside Visali and began removing the fence. 

Exactly like her elder sister.

Silently. 

Reference # 69J-2010-01-09-10


* Akkada Poosina Puvvu — a Telugu story, first published in Vipula monthly March 2007 and later in the book titled Vivarnam by Chandra Latha (2007), Prabhava, Nellore, pp. 69-96. Translated into English by C L L Jayaprada, Associate Professor of English, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India. E-mail: jaya_cll@yahoo.com

1. Aavakai—mango pickle with mustard, popular in Andhra Pradesh.

2. Ariselu—sweets made of rice floor and jaggery, fried in ghee.


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