The Ones Who Sold Themselvess- Devanura  Mahadeva

ಮಾರಿಕೊಂಡವರು ಗೆ ಚಿತ್ರದ ಫಲಿತಾಂಶ

 

[Short story “The Ones Who Sold Themselvess” [ಮಾರಿಕೊಂಡವರು] Written by Devanura Mahadeva

Translated by P.P.Giridhara

Published by Sahitya Akademi

Source: Indian Literature, Vol. 38, No.4 (168) Kannada Short Story Today (July-A 1995), pp 64-70

ಕಥೆಯನ್ನು ಹುಡುಕಿ ಕಳಿಸಿಕೊಟ್ಟ ಸಂಶೋಧನಾ ವಿದ್ಯಾರ್ಥಿ ವಿ.ಎಲ್.ನರಸಿಂಹಮೂರ್ತಿಯವರಿಗೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಬನವಾಸಿ ತಂಡದ ಕೃತಜ್ಞತೆಗಳು.]

 

 

BIRA sat facing the evening crimson, and in his head Kittappa began to appear in a hundred different forms. Kittappa could have brought his dying father a mite of comfort by agreeing to the marriage, but his own pig-headedness was bigger for him than his father. Although he’d flunked his exams because he was busy while at College chasing the girl he was soppy on, his craze for her didn’t wear off even after his return to the village. He continued to go off to Mysore once in a week or a fortnight. The Gowda on his part advised him, abused him a sufficient number of times before giving up. His son had come of age, and so the Gowda didn’t lately tell him off no matter what Kittappa did. “What could I do?” “Stay quiet at least till I die, you perishing blighter! I told him. But he wouldn’t listen. Everything is screwed up; it’s okay even if the house is sold. I should have got this rascal to till our fields instead of sending him off to town. But why to blame him when it is in face I who’s made the mistake?…” The Gowda would swallow the rest of what he wanted to ventilate, and pulling a long and bitter face, would smile the whole thing away.

They are stinking rich. Kittappa should be living in style, shouldn’t he? Instead, he lies stewed in this wine-bibbers’ den ever so often. He doesn’t leave the place for ten, fifteen. If I say something, he bears down on me. And I can’t really force the issue because he is my master, the one who gives me my daily ragi balls…

It’ll be one year on the coming Ugadi festival since we came here. Destitute and desolate, we didn’t have anything when Lakshmi and I left the village for good. We got on the last bogie of the train and when we reached Mysore, it was night. We slept at the railway station itself, washed up at the tap in the morning, and were sitting with our knees under our ears and our hands on our heads when Lakshmi suggested we go to Nanjangud. “Okay”, I said, and we got on the train that was about to chug off. We hadn’t bought tickets, and so were in a pickle when the ticket collector asked to see our tickets. It was then that, coming to our rescue like a god, our village headman, the Gowda spoke to the ticket collector. He then turned to us to ask us who we were and where we were headed. “We’ve left our village in search of work. We are hallu matasthas” The Gowda thought for a while before saying “I need two sturdy persons to work in my grove. There’s homestead there. If you agree…”

Turning, Bira looked in the direction of the village. Daylight had already ebbed away. “Kitappa should have been here by now, shouldn’t he?” he said wordlessly to himself as he lit a beedi. At a distane was a torchlight letting them follow it where it went, and as it came quite near him, he craned forward to look: It was Pasha from the flour mill who came and stood in front. “The motor coil has gone out of order. Kittappa took it to Mysore for repairs. He won’t come today,” he rattled off the moment he arrived. “Is it so?” Bira asked. Pasha said, and as he turned to go, Bira invited him: “Come  in, you muslim! You could eat your meal here before you leave.” “No, sir, I can’t. There are lots of people waiting at the mill. I’m running the smaller mill now. Kittappa told me  to tell you. I’m here to tell you,” returned Pasha before he quickly made tracks. Bira coughed once or twice. As the fire at the fag-end of the beedi he’d lit sometime back touched his hand, he let a second beedi catch fire from the glowing one, then strolled into the shanty.

Lakshmi thought to herself: It’s frightfully cold these days. When it is so cold indoors, how would it feel outdoors? Bira is forever sitting on that stone as if it is his father’s property. When I went out, I shammed a cough. Yet the fellow didn’t turn to look!

She put some salt into the saru that was boiling noisily on the fire. The piquant smell of the saru spread all at once round the hut. There was the sound of the hut-door opening. She craned forward and looked. She saw Bira amble into the hut, but Kittappa was not to be seen. “Kittappa will not come to-day, it seems, woman!” Bira piped up. “He’s gone to Mysore. Pasha had come to convey this.” Then he walked towards the arrack-bottles in the room. Although Lakshmi felt apprehensive about the possibility of her husband drinking up every drop and kicking up a stink, she felt comforted by the thought that she was after all used to whichever way he behaved. The thought brought on a smile as well.

Over there, in the outer hall of the hovel Bira sat down before an eating plate before he undid the corks of two distilled-liquor bottles and put them aside. Lakshmi who came there with ragi balls felt the surge of laughter in her throat. “Don’t be greedy and drink much, damn it!” she scolded. Bira hee-hawed before he purred, “Today I’ve thought of drinking and eating my fill, and then peeling you!” Although he didn’t quite mean what he said when he said it. Once drunk he did go on to do what he said he would. Lakshmi felt her body tingle with cold. She padded into the kitchen, and, stoking the ash-covered cinders, started to warm her hands. She could hear Bira slurp down the coarse country liquor at one go. “Bring me some more, woman!” he demanded. “Oops! He eats as if possessed by a devil” Lakshmi exclaimed, her eyes popping out in amazement. She brought him a bowlful of meat from the kitchen. Bones lay all around Bira. He’d emptied one and a half bottle of arrack. Lakshmi all but said “Good God!… what is this, fellow? you eat like the devil” But since Bira had loads of arrack abroad, she didn’t let the words trip out of her mouth as she tipped the bowl of meat into his plate. The place around Bira was stinking. Lakshmi’s head spun, and she felt like throwing up. She stuffed her mouth with her saree-end ran into the kitchen and sat down there. ‘Bira has changed lately’ Lakshmi thought inwardly, falling into a meditation. ‘He tanks up and then smokes an endless number of beedies. The healthy lustre which used to glow on his face has drained away, and he’s gone lean. No matter how much you advise him, he pays no heed.’ Lakshmi mentioned to him once the death of a wealthy heavyweight of Mallipura because of a heart attack brought on by excessive drinking. “Who lives forever, tell me” he’d thrown back then after a brief silence, and, as the said what he did, gave an enigmatic smile. “The world won’t come to an end if you don’t drink” Lakshmi tossed back. Bira gave her a long look before gulping, “I would!”

After a while Lakshmi leaned her head and looked. Bira lay asleep, stretching his legs along the floor. Not even a drop of grog had remained in the bottles. In the eating plates were two pieces of meat. “Thoo… this is his lot, “She griped before she gathered into the plate the bones that lay about. Bira opened his eyes, which had been half-open. They looked like live coals. He made some inarticulate noises before asking, “Who is it? Who is the gutsy fellow who has come near me?” Anger burning in her, Lakshmi grated back, “Lie down now without a word.” “Oh, my luchumi!… come dear, come! I thought it was someone else!” Bira cooed before he tried unsuccessfully to crawl up to her. Then he lay down, closed his eyes and started drawling “Lachumi! Lachumi!” Lakshmi laid out a mat in a corner of the room and lay down with her face turned to the wall. She pulled up the blanket over her to cover even her face before she put out the lamp.

As darkness descended on the room, Bira asked ever so slowly, “Who is it? Which burn took away my sun?” Mirthful laughter welled up in Lakshmi which she couldn’t keep from bubbling over. She laughed loud and long. “You’re laughing? Laugh!” Bira piped. “You must be out of your mind.” Lakshmi giggled at this too. “I won’t leave you no matter where you go…”, Bira hollered. The loud voice made Lakshmi feel as if her head was going to crack. “Don’t talk. Don’t plague me,” Lakshmi chided him. Bira kept mum for a while. “I know now who it is,” Bira smiled in recognition. “My Lachumil My lovely Lachumi.” Lakshmi still kept wordless. But she beamed a child-like laugh. This lashed Bira into a fury. “You won’t come even if I call you, girl?” he bristled. “Lie quietly.” Lakshmi’s voice was gruff. Check! “What? You’ve come to this, girl?” Bira bellowed. Lakshmi grumbled something. “Won’t you talk to me?… Why would you talk to me? You’ll talk only to Kittappa. Kittappa is your lover, isn’t he?” It was as if the heavens had fallen on Lakshmi. Her limbs quivered. She summoned enough courage to ask, “What’re you saying?” and then perked up her ears. “What am I saying? You think the world wouldn’t know what a cat is doing if she laps up milk with eyes closed? Ha! Ha! Ha!… I’ll sort you out… let the day dawn. I’ll skin both of you alive. You  thought I was a blinking idiot!… Nothing is lost yet. Wan’t day break after all whon’t he come after all? He sure will come to see his lover…” He hee-hawed, coughed continuously for a while, and hawking, spat right there. Then, as he said ‘Ussappa’ as an expression of fatigue, swallowed. “It’s ready, the hatchet!… I’ve kept it on the rafter.” He breathed darkly, his tone serious and earnest. She sat leaning her hand against the floor. He guffawed and, coughed before saying ‘Ussappa’ again. Then he hawked over again before spitting our phlegm. A brief silence followed. Lakshmi was still sitting. Her head was in a whirl, and her legs quaked. Her heart beat uncomfortably against her ribcage. After a while a deep snore sounded in the hut.

So stunned was Lakshmi that she looked as if smitten by an evil spirit. ‘One couldn’t dismiss Bira’s barrage of words as the babblings of a drunkard’ she said getting into an inner conversation with herself. ‘How could he say what he did without smelling a rat? Bira has come to know everything. God!… What would he do?’ It was quite some time since the hostel bell marking meal-time had gone. It was perhaps midnight now. The hut rang with the sound of snoring. The smell of liquor made one recoil in disgust. Bira rolled about. He coughed continuously for a considerable while. Then the snore again. Lakshmi felt sleepy. She yawned. She pressed her head into her knees and closed her eyes.

It was on the day after we entered the grove that Kittappa came into the grove, Lakshmi recalled. Bira introduced me to Kittappa with these words: “He is the son of our master.” Kittappa gave me a long hard look. Bira coughed. I turned to face the wall and kept looking at the ground, then broke out in a sweat. Unable even to stand, I strode in saying I had to sweep the homestead. Although Kittappa stood outside the hut, I felt as though his eyes bored into me even after I’d disappeared into the hut…

Grinning Bira brought home a few hooch bottles one day. The meat he’d brought was a little more than usual, too. Bira said Kittappa would visit them. I didn’t say a word. I cooked a meal. Kittappa arrived minutes after night fell. He’d really spruced himself up. “Have you by any chance come to see a bride-prospect, Kittappa sir?” Bira asked grinning from ear to ear. Kittappa smiled in answer. This man might have smiled as he came out of his mother’s womb.

The two some drank and ate. Bira knocked back more than Kitappa did. Then, as he lost control over his eyeballs, he left his eyes almost half-open, and stretching out his legs, fell over. Kittappa didn’t leave although hours passed. I went into the kitchen. Kittappa coughed before he sat for a while on the rope-bedstead that was there even before we came to work for him and then lay down on it. With my heart in mouth I laid out a rug on the bare mudfloor, lay down and covered myself with a blanket before putting out the lamp. The room was submerged instantly in darkness. I closed my eyes, but sleep did not come to me. Unnamed memories of our village which we’d put behind us poured back into me…

I was dimly awake. The sound of Bira’s snoring was distinctly audible. So were Kittappa’s intermittent coughs. There was also this rustling noise made when he rolled over to sleep on his other side. Red light glimmered whenever Bira drew on his beedi. Then the snore again. Pitch-black darkness hid everything. I shut my eyes tightly. Yet there were no signs of sleep seizing me. I could neither cough for fear of waking the sleepers nor swallow because that would have stood out in the dead stillness of the night. Bira was of course deep asleep. Kittappa however was still wide awake it seemed. He was smoking and coughing. Putti who’d come sometime back to weed the plantation had blabbed to me everything of Kittappa’s life. ‘What if they come to know? Thoo…’ Lakshmi remembered exclaiming to herself…

“Lakshmi”, somebody called. The caller jerked her with his hand, and Lakshmi started as she woke up suddenly. She didn’t know when she feel asleep in the midst of all that anxiety and tumult. Her heart began to beat so violently that the sound could rip off the hut itself. The intruder ran his palm ever so slowly over her body. Lakshmi started to breath in irregular jagged bursts. The interloper put one hand over her thigh and, holding her chin with the other, shook it. ‘Silence is no longer discreet,’ thought Lakshmi before she spluttered as if startled: “Who is it?” “It’s I, Kittappa”, the man replied. Bira’s snores sent shivers down Lakshmi’s spine. Kittappa’s hand was busy feeling her on her thigh. Bewildered, she uttered rapidly. “Bira is sleeping. “What should Kittappa’s reply to this be but “Oh! he’s lying like a log of wood there drunk.”

Light broke over the hut, Bira woke up, and as he yawned and stretched, he felt lighter. There was nevertheless a little of the hang over of last night’s booze. Vigorously rubbing one palm against the other he took a look at them before calling, “Lachumi”. There was no answer. ‘It is several hours since the sun has been up. Has such deep sleep gotten hold of her?” He asked himself in surprise, rolled over onto his right side, moved the blanked a bit and looked in the direction of the room. Lakshmi was sleeping curled up with the blanket pulled up to cover even her face. Bira’s eyes held on the stripped blanket that Lakshmi had covered herself with. Last Monday Kittappa had gifted him that blanket saying, “Take Bira we have winter approaching. “When going to bed that night Lakshmi held it fast, smiling up her sleeve as she said, “I need this.” Bira stretched out his hands and pulled her to him then as he told her “Okay. You take it, but give yourself to me. You’re warmer than that blanket!” She giggled…

She must be feeling warm now.

Kittappa’s blanket over Lakshmi and Kittappa’s roof over their heads. What happens to me doesn’t matter. But Lachumi? When a boy in shorts teased Lachumi in the Patel’s house, and when heard about it. Bira had held him by the scruff of his neck before thundering. “You may be a moneyed man. But that is in your house. Don’t show it before me!” Then the Patel intervened and calmed down Bira saying, “This is a lad from the other village, he did it unknowingly. “When they were back home, Lachumi had leaned on his chest.

Bira moved his left hand on his belly, and moving it up, placed it on his chest. A stab of pain darted inside his chest. Lakshmi’s words came back to him: “You don’t listen no matter how many times I ask you not to drink. A heavy weight of Mallipura died of a heart attack due to heavy drinking. It seems drinking eats into your intestines.” Musing Bira thought supposing what came over the top dog of Mallipura happens to me as well, what would be Lachumi’s lot?… Bira felt out of sorts. He felt like smoking. Moving the pillow over he looked. There were no beedies to be had. It was misty outside. It was beastly cold, and there were no beedies to boot. He had to endure the chilly and beediless state till it shone.

“Yours is still the age of growing,” remarked somebody sarcastically. “Cop it! He’s still sleeping like a tiny tot. Are’nt you ashamed?” Is it Kittappa who’s come so early? Bira wondered. With the blanket over him, Bira got up and looked in the direction of the kitchen. Lachumi was still asleep. He felt like waking her up but decided against it. He raised his folded hands to his chest in salutation to the framed picture of Goddess Chamundi that hung on the wall on the right. The shanty faced east. As he undid the bamboo frame doubling for a door, sun’s rays slanted into it. Bira looked out. It was Kittappa who was standing outside.

Lakshmi woke up, and even though was composed, the dimness that goes with the sleepy state hadn’t completely disappeared. Last night’s memory stung her, and in a reflex her eyes sought the rafter. The hatchet still lay there.  Lakshmi felt butterflies in her stomach. She then popped her head round the kitchen doorway and looked. Bira was already up. He was talking to somebody outside. She walked soundlessly upto the hut-door and looked through an opening in the door. What she saw took her by surprise. Kittappa stood there.

For some reason Kittappa smiled.

Bira smiled too.