The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative moods with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

Sunday, December 03, 2023



The booking clerk called from the inside, ‘Next, please’, and Dannaya thrust his hand in the narrow opening of the wire-mesh window. He submitted his form, requesting three tickets.

The booking clerk, who was in a rationing mood, yelled, ‘What? Three tickets! No way. I’m giving you only two. Is that clear to you?’

‘But that’s less than my requirement. I need three tickets in all—one for me and the other two for my wife and daughter. It’s genuine, and I’m not doing any resale. So, you’ve got to do something, please,’ pleaded Dannaya, desperate to catch the forthcoming voyage. He knew there would be no sailing schedule from Port Blair to Vizag before one month. He would not like to stay put at Port Blair for another month for the next sailing, having wasted his leave for a whole week waiting for tickets.

‘Then speak with the supervisor over there,’ the counter clerk motioned him into the back office.

Dannaya met the supervisor, but his response was no different. By then, he had left his position in the queue, and it was hopeless to start from the tail end again. So, he was frantic, indignant, disheartened, and ready for a scuffle.

Then suddenly, he remembered his status. A mere ordinary islander as he was, he might choose to shout from the rooftop, but nobody would listen to his grief story. However, he knew the mantra of the helpless: To deserve God’s help, one must act helpless. Now, the supervisor was no less than his God. Dannaya bent himself, joined his palms in deference, and became submissive.


‘Bada babu, please help me. I’m always with you, and you can freely order me. Be kind and allow me to serve you. I’ll never ever forget your help in my lifetime, please.’ Dannaya’s posture brought him to a level where he was in the whispering proximity of his benefactor.


‘Five…now…tickets in the evening…and get lost,’ the helpful supervisor was cryptic but not equivocal.

Dannaya understood what his benefactor meant by ‘five’. It was a five-hundred rupee premium per ticket. So, he went outside the room, confidently rolled the requisition form with the amount inside, and came near the table. Then, he placed the roll in front of the supervisor and went out without fuss. Before leaving him, he did not forget to bow to him in token of his thanksgiving in advance.

With tickets in his hand, Dannaya felt contented. Finally, his approach worked, while those of others did not. Like the others, he had waited at the ticket counter days before it opened and slept on the veranda of the booking office. He had braved the threat of the constable on beat and the reprimand of the counter clerk. Additionally, he did something many did not and timed it well.

But enough is enough—Dannaya did not want things to happen this way all the time. He wanted peace by escaping the hated land of scarcity, debasement, and hypocrisy. Therefore, he would return home on retirement a year later without lingering here a day more. His village, Akkupalli, in Srikakulam, is fabulous, with a vast expanse of paddy fields and cashew groves. It has the softness of autumn clouds and the coolness of dewdrops. What a happy childhood he spent there! He would wander aimlessly, chase the dragonflies, and play all sorts of games until nightfall! How happy he was with so many friends with such a lot of adventurous ideas! Often, he wondered why people go to such great lengths praising a place like Port Blair, a sleepy place, an expensive place, a place where tomorrow could be so uncertain! At heart, he always missed things good in life by staying away from Akkupalli—the revelry of Samralu, its enchanting grace of Koyi dance, the mouth-watering non-vegetarian dishes made from sacrificial mutton before the village goddess Nukalu Ammabaru and Manketi Ammabaru….

It would be Dannaya’s penultimate sailing from Port Blair. During his thirty-two years of stay on the island, he might have sailed to Vizag at least a score of times. Yet, the ensuing voyage carried a very special meaning for him. It would mark a new beginning in his life, kind of. Starting with the reconstruction of his ancestral house, he would have to accomplish many daunting tasks. The marriage of his only daughter, Devki, was the most urgent of all. He had somehow persuaded her to accept a boy of his choice from their society.

Dannaya might not be the most caring husband on the earth, yet he loved his wife, Rajulamma, from the bottom of his heart. These days, he was so dependent on her—so much that he would soon repent and fall in with her whenever they fought. He knew he was self-opinionated, mulish, and a little uncouth, which would irk a lady. Even then, he was desperate to exert his pre-eminence as a husband, with a salary earning and a secure career. He started his career merely as a helper, but now he was a clerk in the Marine Department. He was less educated than his wife, so what? He needed to keep his wife continually reminded of her due status so she had no time to browbeat!

The day of the voyage arrived. Rajulamma and Devki slogged for hours to pile and pack the belongings. They were going to settle at Akkupalli, after all, permanently. Practically, the entire household was to move now; it was an accumulation of thirty-odd years. Dannaya purchased two metal trunks to accommodate the objects, and both the ladies set about cramming everything into them. They knew leaving anything behind would bring inconvenience to them in their new location; they hated to ask Dannaya to make unnecessary purchases. As per the plan, only Dannaya would return to Port Blair and spend the last year of his service, somehow staying alone. He would not need anything more than a roll of bedding and a few kitchenware items. Devki decided to dispose of her books, old issues of magazines, and all the shells and conches she was in the habit of accumulating. Now that she had already completed her graduation and had no further plan of continuing her studies, she considered those books useless. Obviously, they were ragpickers’ gain.

So, after long hours of preparations, the three of them were ready to move by ten o’clock. The ship was to sail in the evening, but the embarkation was to start at ten. They had to skip breakfast in a hurry and reached the wharf by eleven.

Embarking the ship with a large pile of luggage had its own hassles, and they were prepared for the eventualities. Some more money, a few inconvenient compromises, and much patience were all that was needed to send them to their bunks. And finally, they were in their bunks, hungry and exhausted. Having undergone the severity of the morning activities and with no breakfast breaking down in their stomach, they were the famished little souls drooling at the prospect of food, the real hot and sour south Indian food. No sooner did they reach their bunk than Rajulamma opened the bag containing the idli and vada packets, and they started munching them. The food in their tummy pushed them into a soporific spell. So, they spread their sheets on the bunk and lay down there. A restful sleep was soon to overtake them. Dannaya snored sonorously.

It was only at four in the afternoon that Rajulamma opened her eyes to find her husband and daughter sound asleep. She mulled over the long list of tasks that lay ahead without getting up from her bed. The most prominent among them was repairing their old, dilapidated house or maybe its complete reconstruction. Really, it would squeeze every single rupee out of their savings!

Equally urgent was Devki’s marriage. It was not all that easy, for Rajulamma did not want to take the easy course of selecting the groom from her close relations. Unlike many in their community, she had no preference for that. Her brother’s son Subbayya was in his marriageable age. Yet she was not for it, for the simple reason that he was not even a matriculate. In contrast, Devki had passed her graduation in commerce with a fabulous score. Rajulamma did not want to continue the tradition of educational mismatch between the couple into yet another generation! There was still a chance, but Subbayya’s father had long since categorically rejected her suggestion that her son-in-law would live with them as though it was the world’s most preposterous proposition! In a sanctimonious tone, her brother had then wondered how Rajulamma could forget that the groom’s staying at the bride’s place after marriage was unacceptable to an Agnikul Kshatri. She had kept quiet, for Subbayya was her brother’s son, and as a father, her brother should have the final say involving the marriage of his son. Since then, she had changed her mind: she would not be marrying off her daughter in her close relations come what may.

While Rajulamma was busy hemming together the jumbled patches of her worries, Dannaya climbed down the upper berth and sat beside her. He sat silently, half resting on the partition panel between the bunks.


Emandi, you didn’t tell me whom you’ve finally picked out, at least his name and…’ uttered Rajulamma breaking the silence. She addressed “Emandi”—implying, “Please lend me your ear”, as being the wife, she was not supposed to address her husband by name.


‘Name? Whose name should I have to pick out? And what for?’ quipped Dannaya, making light of his wife’s query.


‘Don’t make a fool of me any longer. It’s about the groom of Devki. You’re yet to disclose that to me, aren’t you?’ reminded Rajulamma.


Dannaya responded in his characteristic listlessness, ‘Wait and see what God gracious has in store for my sweet daughter’.


Rajulamma did not insist further.

Devki woke up. Forgetting that she had kept her watch in the purse, she glanced at her wrist to know the time.  


‘What is the time, nanna?’ Devki addressed her query to her father.


‘It’s half past five, Devi. And it’s already dark. How about going to the deck?’ invited Dannaya while adjusting his rubber flip-flop.


Devki was in no mood to accompany her father. She had overheard the conversation between her parents. That had made her apprehensive. Was it her father’s plan to marry her to Subbayya, the boy she hated so intensely? Year after year, she had observed his tardy physical and mental progress. A hideously obese, snaggle-toothed, squint-eyed fellow, he could not have appealed to a girl of positive self-image. She was allergic to his gestures, which were ever so uncouth. Only during her last visit to her maternal uncle’s place did she witness Subbayya gesticulating very indecently. Once, taking advantage of the loneliness of the room, he came charging towards her. And within a fraction of a second, he grabbed her breasts like an idiot would take hold of an unwilling cat! It was so sudden and so frenzied that her two tiny muscles appeared to dismember. He was also quick to escape from the scene. Devki did not raise any issues out of it, for she even did not get to see him for the rest of her sojourn at that place. But then she had made up her mind to resist any proposal of her marriage with him, whatever might be the pressure. She was already in love with a boy on the island, yet approved of the idea of moving out of Port Blair only on her father’s assurance that he would arrange a groom at the mainland outside his relations. She had consoled herself to forsake her love for the sake of a secure future and her father’s happiness.

The ship blared out her whistle and started to move. It was well beyond teatime. Rajulamma asked Devki if she could do her a favour and get her a cup of tea from the nearby vendor. Devki, who was herself struggling to overcome her drowsiness, was more than willing. Picking up the thermos, she quickly headed for the tea trolley.

No sooner did Devki leave to fetch tea than Dannaya came back to his bunk. He had by now made up his mind to disclose his plan.


‘Well, Rajul, you’re asking me about the groom. Weren’t you?’ said Dannaya.


‘Yes, tell me if you may,’ responded Rajulamma without insisting, for her thirty years of association with Dannaya had convinced her that the old man was better at volunteering information than obliging with it.


‘Who else can he be? He’s Subbayya, your brother’s son,’ blurted out Dannaya stolidly.


Rajulamma was too nonplussed to utter a word in response. She wondered how her husband could go to such an extent! Had he not got scant regard for the feelings of his daughter? It would have been much better had Rajulamma herself not agreed with her husband to return to the mainland. Heavens would not have fallen had Devki gotten married to that Bengali boy of her choice. She could have managed to pick up the Bengali way from her husband. Now, when she would understand her father’s design…. If only she could ask the ship’s crew to take her back to Port Blair!

Finding his wife lugubrious, Dannaya began pleading in favour of his choice.


‘Why? Aren’t you happy? Can you give at least one convincing reason why Subbayya is so bad? Do you recall you married a high school dropout in me thirty years ago? Didn’t I keep you happy?  Didn’t I do well in my service life? After all, I started my service as a casual helper, and now I’m going to retire with a clerical service of ten years. What more could I’ve done to win your respect?’


Rajulamma was at a loss for words to tell her husband that things had changed over the years. The old man was unwittingly ditching her daughter, and Rajulamma was reduced to simply looking on. She was not sure if any more protests would right the wrong. The last thing she would like to witness was a fight between the father and the daughter—nothing would be more undesirable than that!

For the entire duration of the voyage thereafter, Rajulamma did not speak to her husband. That was the way she had given vent to her protests whatsoever she ever had in her life. By experience, she knew her husband was too mulish an individual to be tackled by persuasion. Nevertheless, there were occasions when he had finally adjusted his plans in line with the judgment of Rajulamma, but that had come by and by. She had ever resigned to accepting things as they happened, without expecting them to look up any earlier than her husband allowed them to.

Devki only guessed about the prevailing tension between her parents. However, she did not dare broach the topic. As usual, she became the object of common address during the journey. When her amma had anything to talk to her nanna, she conveyed it, addressing Devki. Her nanna also followed suit. The journey was pleasant for Devki, except she was comically made to stand between her parents as if she were a living relay repeater!

The cold relationship between the old couple was to continue until they had not completed their amphibious journey. When Dannaya touched his birthplace, he got mellowed. Presently, his cherished village of greenery and peace came into his grandstand view from the high seat of the trundling rickshaw. Everything he saw was the same as he had left them behind, yet there were definite signs of newness in them. The trees had worn new foliage, the good old mongrels had grown their coats anew, the village road appeared to have undergone special cleanings, and even the village pond had water far more limpid than it was when he left it last. Dannaya did not ponder the phenomenon, for his village had always been like that. It never grew old, even though he did.


‘Give me the key. What’s this old man for if he’s not for helping his adorable wife?’ Dannaya came forward, finding his wife struggling to open the stubbornly jammed lock. Rajulamma handed over the key to Dannaya while reserving her right to choose her time to talk again.


Leaving the ladies to tackle the dust and dirt, cockroaches, and mice, Dannaya went to the village shop to buy rations and knick-knacks. Happy to meet his old customer, the shopkeeper wished to know everything about Dannaya in just one meeting. He was not a busybody in the exact sense of the term. It was his business. His shop had an invisible bulletin board, updated by word of mouth every now and then for the benefit of his customers. So, he posed his question a bit obliquely.


‘Aren’t you getting late for the occasion? Subbayya’s wedding is in the evening, and you’re here for shopping dal and rice,’ he looked at the face of Dannaya intently.


‘Subbayya’s wedding? Which Subbayya?’ enquired an intrigued Dannaya.


‘Subbayya, your wife’s brother’s son…he’s getting married this evening. He was here just a minute before and rushed out as he saw you coming. I thought maybe….’ The shopkeeper did not mention more, but it appeared his bulletin board contained more information to draw from. Although Dannaya had a few points to verify, he did not encourage the shopkeeper. However, he had no doubt about the authenticity of information either, for he had never heard the shopkeeper indulge in cooking up matters concerning reputable persons.


Dannaya got a kind of shock, and he headed for his house to get over this. He thought Rajulamma would help him—maybe she would rush to her brother’s place at Bhatupuram to enquire and get back. The next moment, he thought about its impossibility. How could she reach there uninvited? Should he be sending his wife to get insulted? No way!

Coming back, Dannaya found a clean house, tidy to a fault. His wife and daughter looked contented, having done a good job. It was a great relief to them to find none of their belongings missing or messed up during their absence. Even those toothpicks were intact on the shelf! Dannaya did not want to sadden them blurting out the information he just received from the shopkeeper. Even Subbayya was out of the list, and getting a bridegroom for Devki was not going to happen so soon. It was bad news, a development full of implications. Now, her marriage would have to wait a year until Dannaya got retirement and found the time to search for a groom. The daughter getting older and waiting for her marriage was not a happy thing to happen in a family. He sat down on the veranda and took deep breaths. They were not his breaths of exhaustion but sighs of frustration.

Rajulamma was quick to realise that her husband was not at his best. Normally, he should have come back mirthful, meeting his old friends and regaining his insight into the village affairs. She was quick to guess the reason; she had just heard about Subbayya’s wedding from the children who came there for toffees from Devki. Now, she did not reckon it desirable any longer to continue with her self-imposed embargo. 


She asked, ‘Emandi, do you know Subbayya is getting married today?’


‘Yes, Rajul. I’m shocked to know that. It’s just unbelievable. How is it that they forgot to inform us?’ wondered Dannaya.


Devki was in the best of humour now. After all, her father’s report confirmed whatever encouraging stuff the children had conveyed just an hour ago. She could not bring herself to stifle her reaction.


‘Don’t fuss, nanna, it’s rather the right thing to happen. We should feel relieved now. Rank opportunists they are, we’d better know that,’ Devki remarked, giving an impression as if she had long waited for her turn to pass a judgment on the issue. 


Dannaya felt the pinch of Devki’s remarks. But then again, he considered her a child, miles away from the worldly maturity. How would she understand his worry? As a sonless father, he was destined to die a dog’s death. How could she understand that?


‘Leave everything to Manketi Ammabaru, she’ll sort out everything,’ consoled Rajulamma, breaking the silence.


‘Yes, she’ll sort it out,’ repeated Dannaya, exhaling a deep sigh.


A spell of ominous silence prevailed. Dannaya sat still and stared blankly at the bagful of ration in front of him. Rajulamma felt quite unhappy finding her husband dispirited.

At the very moment, somebody called Dannaya by name. Dannaya moved his head. Oh, it was Kurma Rao, the Naidu of the village! Dannaya rose to his feet and advanced a few steps towards the door to welcome the visitor. While accepting the seat offered to him, the fellow enquired about his well-being. His tone was eager and empathetic


‘I heard you’re finally not giving your daughter in marriage with Subbayya, are you?’ the Naidu waited for the response from Dannaya. The latter did not utter anything.


‘If you really consider, I have a proposal in mind for Devki,’ continued Naidu in a very soft voice. ‘In fact, the father of the groom has been repeatedly asking me for the last three months. I was only waiting for your arrival before telling him anything.’


‘Yes, I’m for finishing Devki’s marriage as soon as possible. But then, where is the proposal from?’ inquired Dannaya. His tone was animated.


‘You know the Rayyas of Srikakulam? The groom is from that family,’ the Naidu replied. He was now encouraged sensing Dannaya’s interest in the proposal.


Dannaya could not remember a thing about the family called Rayya of Srikakulam. He looked at Kurma Rao attentively to gather further details.


‘The boy has done an MA and got a clerk’s job in Andaman Harbour Works.  In fact, the Rayya gentleman I’m talking about—the father of the boy—was working in Andaman, too. I think you may be familiar with him. He fell ill quite often during the last part of his service. So, he took an invalid pension and pursued with the authorities for the appointment of his third son in the same department. I’m told they have some scheme for rehabilitation. Otherwise, nothing is too difficult for a go-getter like him. Only a couple of months ago, his application was considered. His son is now all set to join his job at Port Blair. The Rayya gentleman is in a hurry to perform the marriage before his son starts for Port Blair,’ the Naidu paused, rather intentionally, breaking the flow of the talk and waited to field questions. A shrewd hand in village politics, he was careful, and at no point, he appeared to be in a hurry.


Seated inside the kitchen was Rajulamma, the concerned parent of the daughter in distress. She was rubbernecking and listening in on the conversation with bated breath. The more she heard, the more excited she became. So thrilled was she that she nearly forgot to make a cup of tea to offer the guest. Now, she went ahead as if she was going to celebrate the occasion her modest way. No kidding, the Naidu was their guest-in-need.  She went near the guest with the teacup on a tray and kept it in front of him. Joining her hands, she saluted him, and returned to the kitchen.


‘Could you give me some more hints, like his name–I’ll try to remember,’ requested Dannaya.


‘You mean the name of the groom’s father? Fine. He’s a fellow by the name of Shri R. Krishna Rao,’ replied the Naidu. He also gave further useful information; ‘Rayyas are Agnikul Kshatri by caste like you people are.’


Dannaya could not remember if he had ever met the fellow at Port Blair. But he did not try any harder. On the other hand, a possibility bothered him now. He presumed that the gentleman might demand a hefty dowry for all the eligibility of his son. In his caste, demanding dowry was only a recent phenomenon. Earlier, for grooms, one used to go no further than his or her sister’s sons. Sometimes, even a sister used to choose her own younger brother as the match for her marriageable daughter, and in the process, become both a mother-in-law by marriage and a sister by blood. But these days, the trends were changing; everybody around was aware of the grave medical implications associated with marriages in the near relations. But this had brought dowry into marriage in a big way, and it was likely to stay. Dannaya thought he had better take a hint from the Naidu.


‘Rao garu, do you know by any chance if Krishna Rao garu would demand dowry?’ asked Dannaya.


‘Oh yes, I forgot to tell you. They’d rather. Are you ready for that?’ the Naidu posed a counter-question.


‘Dowry? Um, yes, I’ll consider if it’s within my reach. But how much?’ Dannaya enquired.


‘They might ask you something like a lakh of rupees,’ informed Naidu.


‘A lakh? I don’t reckon I can arrange that much so soon,’ said Dannaya.


‘Why not? It’s something that can’t be avoided. You can even mortgage or sell your homestead land for that much money. In case you’ve not accumulated enough savings by now, a daughter can’t wait till you do so. I’m saying this, Dannaya, because I have gone through that ordeal.’ The Naidu was perceptibly overbearing, but he was Dannaya’s only well-wisher at that moment of need. Yes, he was free to choose his counselling style.


Dannaya was perplexed. The homestead stood between him and his landlessness. He had already made up his mind to come back to Akkupalli and settle there. Everybody knew that. Then what all the fuss was about?

As Dannaya’s face betrayed unmistakable signs of reluctance, the condescending Naidu reworded his exhortation.


‘Look, you don’t have a son. You’ve got only a daughter to give in marriage to a suitable groom, right? What happens if, in the process, the land goes out of your hands? Once the marriage is solemnised, you can simply return to Port Blair with your daughter and son-in-law and stay with them. Forget about your brother-in-law. Those opportunist thugs, you know, won’t be of any use to you. No way. On the other hand, if you consider my advice, dispose of the property at Akkupalli and solemnise your daughter’s marriage at the first available opportunity. After all, your daughter’s happiness should be uppermost in your mind, Dannaya,’ the Naidu said in a most compelling voice.


As she overheard the talk, Rajulamma grew anxious to supplement the effort of the Naidu. It was difficult to convince her husband. Oh God, if only he perceived the need!


‘Who is going to purchase my land at this short notice? How much would it fetch?’ asked Dannaya, indicating that he would not mind reconsidering his stand provided a good man gave a good price for his good plot of land.


‘It’ll fetch you a cool two lakh rupees, if not more. As to the purchaser, yes, I know a few. Now that you’re willing, I’ll let you know their names. But before that, let me send somebody to Palasa to ring Krishna Rao and invite them.’ Saying this, the Naidu rose to his feet and started moving.


As the guest departed, the whole family slipped into introspection. Faced with the need to take a U-turn, Dannaya was struggling for a really telling rationale. He was now offered an alternative distinctly defined: return to Port Blair with daughter and son-in-law for the sake of a secure old age. And this was an easy way to satisfy everybody in his family! Rajulamma, in her turn, was feeling cautiously happy, for the course of events that was unfolding had all the smoothness a homely lady would welcome. At the same time, she was not sure if her husband would finally allow it to happen the way it should. He needed time to see the reason and leave his impractical stance aside. And it was time that they were short of.

Devki was happy with the prospect of returning to Port Blair, where she had left her friends. Though she tried to be at one with the orthodox, she was never comfortable in a pure Telugu environment. She could not even learn how to speak her mother tongue in a flawless manner, maintaining its nuances. The series of retroflex consonants made her sound grotesque when she rushed through them. Since she was educated in Hindi medium up to her matriculation and in English thereafter, she could not even learn how to write Telugu. Once, on the insistence of her amma, she had started that. But she could not progress to any length in the grand parade of copious Telugu alphabets. Port Blair was not a place that demanded all these—it was a friendly place, and the idea of returning there assured Devki that, for all her linguistic deficiency, she would not be made an object of ridicule for a lifetime.

On being contacted by the Naidu, Shri R. Krishna Rao agreed to pay a visit to Dannaya’s place. True to his words, he arrived there the very next day exuding plenty of cordiality and eagerness. He was given a welcome befitting to his importance as the groom’s father. Kurma Rao, the Naidu was also there to speak on behalf of Dannaya. When their discussion was veering around general topics from weather to rising prices, Devki came there to serve tea. Obviously, she appeared there to allow the visiting party to have a good look at the would-be-bride and interact. She was asked to sit on a stool placed there.

Shri Krishna Rao inquired a few general things from Devki, to which she responded quite confidently. The gentlemen were soft and affable, and their style of questioning was anything but hostile. Wherever Devki had no answer, she had her blushing smile to speak for her. The visitors were found impressed. Ten minutes later, they let Devki go, and a little later, they themselves rose to their feet. Before leaving, Shri Krishna Rao himself inquired as to when Dannaya would return the visit. Now, it was for Dannaya to read a positive indication from this. He responded to it, promising that he would visit their place two days later. Then, the visitors dispersed. Dannaya followed them a few hundred yards to formally see them off at the end of the village road.

Exactly as planned, Dannaya, accompanied by Kurma Rao, went to Srikakulam two days later. It was, by nature, a fact-finding mission from his side. A welcome warm enough to make all formalities irrelevant awaited him. The would-be groom was among the first to pay his respect. The boy was tall and handsome with a healthy, rosewood-coloured skin and a voice that spoke of his mild temperament. He introduced himself as one R. Adinarayana and offered him to be addressed as Adi, in short. Dannaya was happy to mark everything positive in the context.

In a matter of half an hour, he begged permission to depart. Continuing his gesture of geniality, Krishna Rao requested him to take some tea, and Dannaya agreed. While the session was on, the Naidu requested Krishna Rao to come to Akkupalli for the final negotiation. The latter promised to pay a visit four days later. From his asides, it appeared as if he had already decided on a date in consultation with the village astrologer. This fact once again demonstrated the interest of the groom’s side in the proposal.

Whatever reservation Dannaya had on the issue dissipated after his visit to Srikakulam. He was really impressed with the speed at which the events were shaping. A marriage negotiation should be a tedious process, but everything seemed so uncomplicated in this case! Reaching home, he turned garrulous. He even declared that he had finally abandoned his plan of settling in Akkupalli.

Four long days crawled past the doorstep of Dannaya like those indifferent snails of damp September. Finally, Shri R. Krishna Rao, the father of the groom, accompanied by three other gentlemen, returned the visit. The Naidu of the Village also arrived there to participate in the discussion. With a brief prologue, he brought the topic up deftly.

When it was time to spell out his demands, the father of the groom made it clear that he did not need any gifts in kind for his son. Soon after the marriage, the couple would be moving to Port Blair. So the newlyweds should be spared the hassle of shipping all those pieces of heavy furniture and consumer durables. In lieu of them, he would be happy if Dannaya granted cash worth one lakh rupees and made things convenient for the couple. As though to emphasise the reciprocal nature of the transaction, Krishna Rao hastened to volunteer that Devki’s would-be mother-in-law was going to present her with gold ornaments weighing ten tolas (110 grams roughly) as she had done to her other daughters-in-law. Thanks to all his prior briefings, Dannaya was already aware of this. He just agreed with a knowing smile.

Presently, the pundit set about doing his business. He flipped through the omnibus, his big book of the almanac, to consult the planetary positions. According to him, the best moment was to arrive at midnight on the first Sunday in the coming fortnight. That would constellate so well that all the inimical planets would come under the spell of friendly and powerful ones. It was acceptable to both sides. The wedding venue was decided too: the wedding would be solemnised at the groom’s place, Srikakulam, and Dannaya would reach there with the bride and the entourage on Saturday morning.

In the nick of time, Kurma Rao, the Naidu, chose to announce something alarming. That nobody was willing to buy the property so soon was his report. As he announced this, he was cool and expressionless, but its effect on Dannaya was crippling. He could see only darkness everywhere for a moment, and quick flashes of shudder ran through his spine. After all, the marriage depended on the sale proceeds of the land! Ammabaru! He was about to slump to his knees.

But in a trice, the Naidu hastened to offer that he himself would be purchasing the land if Dannaya agreed. Everybody except Dannaya missed the element of drama in the entire enactment. The Naidu was so clever!

On the face of it, the offer of Kurma Rao was nothing unusual; it was as if a genuine transaction between two free individuals was on the offing. It would also mean that the Naidu came forward to buy the property for two lakh rupees, which was heading for a distress sale. But in due course, Dannaya smelt a rat. Kurma Rao was now impatient about when Dannaya would be available for registering the sale deed. He was growing more overbearing, anxious, and abrasive with every passing moment. And it was as obvious as that!

Nevertheless, Dannaya assured. He declared that he would register the deed once he got his amount. He should get his advance in one go, if not the full value. Kurma Rao was too serious to let the scope slip out of his hand. After all, had he not waited for the opportunity since his childhood? Was it not the chance of a lifetime? The Naidu knew he was going to accomplish something spectacular—even his glorious father, for all his feudal prowess, had failed to do so during his lifetime! Under a twitch of excitement, he agreed to pay the advance instalment. The very next day, he handed over an amount of one lakh rupees to Dannaya and got his signature on the agreement.

The days of hectic activities passed like minutes. In getting ready for the occasion, Dannaya was leaving nothing to chance; he was diligently taking care of details. Finally came Saturday, the day they were so prepared for. They were to start for the groom’s place. Dannaya, Rajulamma, and a few of their near relatives and neighbours were to accompany Devki. They hired a trekker, a hooded general-purpose motor vehicle, and set out on their journey to Srikakulam. Kurma Rao, the Naidu, was a prominent member of the entourage. He accompanied them with a handy polythene bag stuffed full of cash and papers. While others were busy with animated chatting during the travel, Kurma Rao sat alone, holding his breath.

On arrival in Srikakulam, Kurma Rao keenly pestered Dannaya to proceed to the land Registrar’s office. He would not postpone his work until the following day since he knew no transaction would be registered on a Sunday. In a matter of half an hour, and even before the rest members of the group were suitably lodged, Dannaya was virtually whisked away. By the time they reached the Registrar’s office, everything was ready. In less than fifteen minutes, Kurma Rao obtained the signatures of Dannaya on the sale deed. His hand was yanked by the peon in the Registrar’s office, guided to the inkpad and then to the reverse pages of the deed to impress his fingerprints. Thereafter, quite mechanically, Kurma Rao thrust two bundles of five hundred rupees currency notes into Dannaya’s hand towards the balance due. They no sooner did complete the formality than the triumphant Naidu sought Dannaya’s permission to leave for Akkupalli.


‘Why? Aren’t you coming to attend the wedding tomorrow? Won’t you bless Devki?’ asked a surprised Dannaya.


‘I’d have loved to. But then…the thing is…I’ve something more important to finish now. I’ve to get a surveyor to measure the plot for me; I don’t even know what I’ve purchased. Please spare me and go ahead,’ revealed Kurma Rao.


            To his utter dismay, Dannaya realised the intensity of the selfishness that drove the man. In the garb of a well-wisher, the Naidu was just a trickster. He knew dispossessing an owner like Dannaya of his land was impossible by the ordinary method of lending on a mortgage of the property and then acquiring it on the plea of the default on the instalments. Now the Naidu had all the success and Dannaya the loss. It was irreparable, like the loss of his only kidney after donating the other for a consideration!

The well-wishing Naidu, before leaving, assured Dannaya: ‘Don’t worry, Dannaya; you are like my younger brother. I’m not going to evict you SO SOON. You can stay for SOME DAYS in your house before starting for Port Blair. I swear by God, I have no immediate plan of demolishing the house.’

Dannaya came back alone, dismayed, and lugubrious. A currency bundle bulged in his pocket. He went straight to the place where his wife and daughter were staying. All in his immediate entourage waited for the sacred function with pleasant anticipation—it was to start only fourteen hours hence.

The next day, everybody marked profound seriousness on Dannaya’s face. A daughter’s wedding is an occasion to shed tears—sublime joy comes coupled with sorrows of inevitable separation. No wonder many thought it to be an emotional spur on Dannaya’s part. Only Rajulamma could sense it right. Even so, she did not venture to console her husband too openly.

The wedding was over. It was time all dispersed. Rajulamma got ready, too. But Dannaya requested her to stay back at Srikakulam with her daughter as he had planned to go back to Port Blair right from there. Quite painstakingly, he explained to Rajulamma that he was left with little desire to return to Akkupalli, where he would have to live as a homeless soul. Soon, he would be a hopeless squatter in the eyes of the new landlord.

Rajulamma was understandably reluctant to stay at her son-in-law’s place; the newlyweds were entitled to their privacy. She was about to speak her mind when Shri R. Krishna Rao entered. He had overheard Dannaya and was quick to understand the hitch. As such, he offered Rajulamma to stay back at his place for the next couple of weeks and then start for Port Blair with her son-in-law and daughter. Quite absent-mindedly, Rajulamma nodded her head in agreement.

Dannaya rushed to Amdalvalsa to catch the first available train for Calcutta and then the first available sailing to Port Blair. Akkupalli, with its dense cashew groves, its Samralu and Manketi Ammabaru was left behind.



PORT BLAIR/ 26-07-1997, MONDAY

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Saturday, May 13, 2023

Ek Saal Baad एक साल बाद


Kadambini's review of my short story collection titled "Ek Saal Baad" is brief yet heartening. You can find the link to it below. The Unadorned: Thank U Kadambini ( The review praises the eponymous story, "Ek Saal Baad". I am considering sharing this review on my blog. Additionally, I invite you to read the story and share your thoughts with me.


एक साल बाद

               शीष को आख़िरकार शादी पारंपरिक तरीक़े से ही करनी पड़ी। वह चाहता था, एक अच्छी-सी लड़की के साथ इशक लड़ाए, घूमे-फिरे, उसके इंतज़ार में पल गुज़ारे, लंबी-लंबी आहें भरे, जज़बात भरे प्रेम-पत्र लिखे, उसके माँ-बाप को शादी के लिए मनाए, फिर शादी करे। पर ये सब कैसे होता जब उसमें ज़रा भी हिम्मत नहीं थी। किसी लड़की को पटाना कोई बच्चों का खेल तो है नहीं। हर सुंदर लड़की चाहती है कि उसका चाहने वाला कुछ ऐसा पहने, कुछ ऐसा कहे, कुछ ऐसा कर गुज़रे कि उसकी तबियत मचल जाए। तब लड़की अपने चाहने वाले को अपने प्यार का ख़ज़ाना सौंपती है। आशीष वह सब जानता था, पर वह किसी को ख़ु न कर सका। करता भी कैसे? न उसको गाने-बजाने का शौक़ था, न खेल-कूद में महारत। न वह किसी अमीर घराने का लड़का था, न ही फैन परस्त।

               यार-दोस्त बेचारे को बढ़ा-चढ़ा कर तरक़ीब बताते, लेकिन उनमें से कोई भी काम न आई। उल्टे, वह एक बार घोर मुसीबत में आ गया। तब वह मरते-मरते बचा। घटना कुछ इस प्रकार की थी---आशीष को फ़ोन मिला कि उसकी एक सहपाठिनी उसके साथ फ़िल्म देखने जाना चाहती है। "अच्छी बात, आख़िर कोई लड़की मेरे मन की बात समझने के लिए तैयार तो हुई!'' फ़ोन पर आवाज़ लड़की की थी, सो क की कोई गुंजाइ न थी। बात तय हुई कि आशीष उसके घर तक जाएगा और उसे मोटर साइकिल पर बिठाकर फ़िल्म दिखाने ले जाएगा। फिर, शीष ने दोस्त से मोटर साइकिल माँग ली और उस सहपाठिनी के यहाँ पहुँच  गया। वहाँ पहुँच कर गेट के सामने हार्न बजाया। एक बार, दूसरी बार, फिर कई बार। अंत में वह गेट खोलकर अंदर आया। गेट खुलते ही उसका कुत्ता आशीष की तरफ़ दौड़ पड़ा। वह लगातार भौंकता रहा। अरे बाप! कितना भयंकर था वह। लगता था, हार्न सुनकर वह सचमुच चिढ़ गया हो। आशीष को तुरंत नौ दो ग्यारह होना पड़ा। पता नहीं उस दिन कौन उसे इस क़दर बुद्धू बनाने पर तुला हुआ था!

               ऐसा नहीं कि हर एक मामले में वह नाकाम ही था। पढ़ने-लिखने में साधारण रहने के बावजूद उसको एक दिन किसी बैंक से साक्षात्कार के लिए बुलावा आ गया। आशीष ने देखा कि उससे और तेज लड़के लिखित इम्तहान में फैल हो गए हैं। पहले वह इस पर विश्वास नहीं कर पाया। सोचा, फिर कोई उसके साथ घटिया रारत तो नहीं कर रहा है? लेकिन चिट्ठी को बार-बार पढ़ने पर उसे सब कुछ सही लगा। साक्षात्कार देने के बाद जब नतीजा निकलने की बारी आई तो उसे नौकरी नहीं बल्कि खेद-पत्र नसीब हुआ। दु:ख तो ज़रूर हुआ, पर आशीष को मालूम था कि कैसे अपनी औक़ात में अविलंब लौटना होता है। फिर दो महीनों के बाद उसे किसी दूसरे बैंक से नियुक्ति पत्र मिला। इस बार आशीष बिल्कुल हैरान था, आख़िर यह पत्र आया कैसे? उस बैंक की चयन परीक्षा में वह बैठा तक नहीं! फिर आहिस्ता-आहिस्ता बात साफ़ होती गई। वह सरासर सच निकली। यह बैंक एकाएक विस्तार-प्रक्रिया में जुटा था और उसके पास पूरी चयन-प्रक्रिया के लिए समय नहीं था। फिर उसने और बैंकों को पत्र लिखा कि अगर वहाँ हाल में कोई चयन-प्रक्रिया पूरी हुई हो और असफल उम्मीदवारों को खेद-पत्र दिए गए हों, तो उन लोगों का नाम-पता सूचित करें। बस, इस प्रकार आशीष का खेद-पत्र दो महीने के अंदर नियुक्ति-पत्र में तब्दील हो गया। कहते हैं न, खुदा मेहरबान तो कमज़ोर पहलवान!

               फिर शादी करने की बात आई। माता-पिता, जात-कुटुंब, सब लग गए दुल्हन ढूँढ़ने में। एक बैंक अधिकारी को अच्छी यानी हुनरमंद लड़की चाहिए, दान-दहेज़ के साथ, रिश्ता संपन्न परिवार में होना चाहिए, ख़ानदान भी महूर, कुंडली भी तदनुरूप---बस, लड़की साक्षात् लक्ष्मी हो; किसी फ़िल्मी नायिका से मिलती-जुलती। जब इतने सारे लोग एक ही काम में लगे हों तो नतीजा आशाजनक होना ही चाहिए।

               और नतीजा ठीक वैसा ही हुआ जैसा सब लोग चाहते थे।

               लड़की का नाम था मानसी। वह देखने में गोरी थी। सुडौल चेहरा, लंबे-लंबे बाल, ऊँचा क़द, और रूपरंग का क्या कहना। वह तो अँधेरे में भी दमकता था। एम.ए. तक पढ़ी-लिखी। गाना-बजाना भी जानती थी। सुरीले कंठ से वह साधारण बात में भी मधुरता भर देती थी। आशीष बेहद प्रसन्न था। उसने सोचा कि मानसी को अपनी पुरानी सहपाठिनियों को एक बार दिखा दे, ख़ासकर स्निग्धा रानी को। "अरे बाप, कितनी घमंडी थी वह! अब वह आकर मेरी पत्नी मानसी को एक बार देख तो ले! उसका सारा घमंड एक ही पल में काँच-सा चकनाचूर हो जाएगा!''

               शादी का पहला सप्ताह, पहला महीना, पहला साल जैसे गुज़रना चाहिए, शीष दंपति के लिए ठीक वैसे ही गुज़रा। मानसी आहिस्ता-आहिस्ता अपनी क़ाबिलीयत, अपने हुनर के नमूने प्रस्तुत करने लगी। उसे शाकाहारी, मांसाहारी दोनों क़िस्म के व्यंजन बनाना ख़ूब आता था। केक, पेस्ट्री बनाने में तो वह किसी जानकार हलवाई को भी पछाड़ देती। घर की सजावट में उसने किसी प्रकार की कोर कसर न छोड़ी। कोई भी महिला पत्रिका की संपादिका मानसी से लेख पाकर अपने को धन्य महसूस करती। ख़ास बात यह थी कि ये सब करने के लिए उसे बजट से बाहर जाना नहीं पड़ता था। असल में मानसी बिल्कुल ख़र्चीली न थी। माहौल को मनोरंजक बनाने के लिए या आशीष के अनुरोध पर वह कभी-कभी गाना गा लेती थी। उसका सकारात्मक रुख़ बातचीत से भी पता चल जाता था। "चलो, ऐसे करते है'', "कोई बात नहीं, इसे फ़ुर्सत में कर लेंगे'', "दो-चार गुलदाउदी लगा लेते हैं और इस साल नुमाइ में भाग लेंगे'', "टहलने के लिए सुबह के बदले शाम का वक्त कैसा रहेगा?''---इस प्रकार अपनी सूझबूझ, कल्पनाशीलता के सहारे मानसी वक्त को और अधिक दिलचस्प बनाने लगी थी।

               साल भर आशीष दंपति गुफ़्तगू करते रहे। कभी घर के मसले तो कभी बाहर की ख़बरें, कभी फ़िल्म संबंधी तो कभी क्रिकेट से जुड़ी, कभी कुछ करने की योजनाएँ तो कभी समाप्त हुए कार्यों पर चर्चा। पर जो बात आशीष अक्सर करता, वे थे उसके तजुर्बे पर आधारित क़िस्से। उसे विश्वास था कि ऐसा करने पर बातचीत ख़ूब जमेगी। वह बातों को कभी बढ़ा-चढ़ा कर नहीं करता था बल्कि वे सब स्वतः स्फूर्त होती थीं। पुरानी बातों को अक्सर दोहराने की आवश्यकता होती है और आशीष को यह भली-भाँति ज्ञात था। अतः, वह अपनी सारी बातों को सच पर ही आधारित रखता था ताकि जाने-अनजाने अगर किसी बात को दोहरा भी दिया तो उसमें अंतर्विरोध प्रकट न हो। मानसी को अपने पति की स्पष्टवादिता, सच्चाई के प्रति उसकी अटूट श्रद्धा अत्यंत पसंद आई। उसे वे सब क़िस्से मज़ेदार लगते थे जिनमें उसके तमाम दोस्त हमदर्दी जताने के बहाने उसे नसीहत दिया करते थे यानी उसे बुद्धू बनाते से चलते थे। आशीष सुनाता था और मानसी हँसती थी। हँस-हँस कर लोट-पोट हो जाती थी।

               बातों का असर मानसी पर पड़ने लगा था। वह मन ही मन खुद से सवाल करती, "मैंने आशीष से शादी कर उस पर कोई मेहरबानी तो नहीं की? परंतु मेहरबानी कोई भी लड़की कर सकती थी, यानी जिसके साथ बेचारा शादी करता, वह उसकी झोली में प्यार की भीख डाल देती।'' एक पल बाद फिर सोचती, "नहीं, यह नहीं हो सकता; हर कोई मुझ जैसी नसीब वाली नहीं हो सकती है कि उसे आशीष जैसा नादान पुरुष मिलता?'' अब मानसी का दिल करुणा से भर गया। उसे लगा कि आशीष का दिल निहायत ही नाज़ुक है और उसे हर कोई ठुकरा सकता है। उसे निरंतर जज़्बाती सुरक्षा मिलनी चाहिए। इसे मुहैया कराना किसी साधारण औरत के बस की बात नहीं, वह सिर्फ़ मानसी ही कर सकती है!

               शादी की सालगिरह एक सप्ताह बाद आने वाली थी और उस मौक़े पर आशीष दंपति कुछ ख़ास करना चाहते थे। अब वे जिस हर में थे, वहाँ मानसी दो साल पहले पढ़ती थी। उसे मालूम था, किस होटल में एक अच्छी-सी पार्टी का इंतज़ाम किया जा सकता है और किस तरह मेहमान अधिक ख़ु होंगे। तदनुसार वे तैयारी में लग गए। दिल की आकृति में एक चाकलेट केक बनेगी और वह आकर्षक तरीक़े से सजेगी। और डिनर के लिए क्या-क्या चुनना है, मानसी से बेहतर कौन जानता? शादी से पहले यार-दोस्त अपने-अपने जन्म-दिन पर मानसी से ही सलाह लिया करते थे। ख़ैर, सजावट के लिए ट्यूलीप, ऑर्किड जैसे महँगे फूलों की आवश्यकता थी। पार्टी में मेहमानों के लिए कीमती राब और मृदु पेय दोनों का इंतज़ाम करना था। गाना-बजाना भी होना चाहिए। सो, मानसी ने इस दर्मियान अपने पसंदीदा चार-पाँच गानों का रियाज़ कर लिया। मेहमानों की फ़रमाइ तो टाली नहीं जा सकती, बेहतर होगा कि पहले से ही तैयार रहा जाए।

               शीष मन ही मन ख़ु था कि इस पार्टी में वह अपने तमाम दोस्तों को बुलाएगा और वे लोग अपनी-अपनी बीवियों के साथ उसके यहाँ तरीफ़ लाएँगे। फिर सबको पता चलेगा कि आख़िर में किसका पलड़ा भारी है? वो दिन भी याद करेंगे, जब आशीष को वे लोग प्यार के नाम पर बुद्धू बनाते थे, उसे कैसे-कैसे उपनाम दिया करते थे। अब वह मानसी के प्यार की कशती में अपनी सारी असफलताओं का दरिया लाँघने जा रहा है। अब वे लोग किनारे बैठकर टुकुर-टुकुर ताकते रहेंगे।

               शीष ने अपने आप एक सूची तैयार कर ली कि वह किस-किस को बुलाएगा। वे सब सिर्फ़ उस हर के ही नहीं होंगे, कई लोग दूर से भी आएँगे। आशीष को विश्वास था, वे लोग ज़रूर आएँगे। अब तक उन्हें पता चल गया होगा कि कल का बुद्धू आशीष आज हर के सबसे सुंदर औरत का पति है। जो लोग जलते होंगे, उन्हें उन लोगों का कौतूहल खींच लाएगा।

               शीष मानसी के पास गया। "लो, देखो, मैंने तक़रीबन सारे दोस्तों की लिस्ट बना डाली। अब तुम अपने दोस्तों के नाम जोड़ दो। आज से कार्ड बाँटना शुरू कर देंगे।''

               "मैं तो किसी दोस्त को बुलाने की नहीं सोच रही हूँ,'' मानसी बोली।

               "पर क्यों?'' शीष ने पूछा।

               "कोई ख़ास वजह नहीं। बस, ऐसे ही,'' मानसी ने उत्तर दिया।

               शीष अपनी बीवी के निर्णय पर और प्रश्न करना नहीं चाहता था। उसको तो अपने दोस्तों को जलाने के अलावा और कोई मक़सद दिखाई नहीं पड़ता था।

               पार्टी बेहद सफल रही। निमंत्रित मेहमानों ने छक कर खाया, पिया, गाने गाए और मानसी की सुंदरता, संगीत प्रतिभा, सजावट की तारीफ़ करते गए। आशीष सुनकर ख़ु हुआ पर थोड़ा-सा चिंतित भी। "यह कैसी बात है कि तमाम दोस्त सिर्फ़ मानसी की ही तारीफ़ करते हैं? अगर सारे के सारे दोस्त मानसी की तारीफ़ करने लगे, तो क्या उन लोगों की औरतों में से किसी को भी ख़्याल नहीं आया कि तारीफ़ का एक और हक़दार भी वहाँ मौजूद है?''

               ख़ैर, ये सब दिमाग़ में रखने वाली बात नहीं थी। साल भर प्रतीक्षा के बाद पार्टी आख़िर में हुई और बख़ूबी निपट गई। यह आशीष के लिए कम बड़ी बात नहीं थी।

               पर उसे एक बात भुलाए नहीं भूलती थी, "इतने बड़े हर में जहाँ मानसी का बचपन गुज़रा था, क्या पार्टी में बुलाने के लिए उसका कोई दोस्त न था?''




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