Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire, A Telugu Short Story by Buchi Babu — 7

Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire-7

The waters floods into her house with a roar…… Is she dreaming !? No. her feet are wet — the flood waters are inside the house. She looks far. Out. Water ,every where, inky, like a dark veil. Like the dark interior of the gaping mouth of an alligator, it locks around her feet. Tins, vessels, pots clanking with each other, jumping about, and floating down again. Water creeping over her ankles. Rats running around on the cot, waters clenching the feet of the cot and creeping up. Doomsday, indeed, has arrived! “Oh, God “. , she cries aloud and jumps towards the door . Falls flat into the water and rises again. She hangs the lantern on her shoulder and goes towards the backyard. Water , there too. “The end, finis.”, she cries aloud. Calls out to her mother, wherever she is. Then calls out to the neighbors, one by one, by name. No reply. Disaster, emergency. Where to go? Where? “Hither”, , “Tither”, , the waters, the riffraff, the flotsam, the jetsam, all seem to be beckoning her, nipping at her knees. No, it’s not chilly. Her legs seem to be aflame. She pushes on against the flow , into the flood. She picks an old blouse hanging on to the pot-sling. She had mended it earlier as it got torn, it is tighter. She squeezes her bosom into it. Then removes the pin from her plaited hair, fastens it again tightly. Unties the ribbon, squeezes it and secures her unravelling plait with it. The waters are touching her waist now. Funny, so much of water. Besides the cot, the statuette of Venkateswara Swami, the piece of sandal wood is floating around. She picks it up, grits it between her teeth and moves towards the backyard. Is she going to die? Doesn’t the Lord, Venkateswara have pity on her, is he going to allow her to die like this? What great sin has she committed ?Dying . Is it so simple ? Just this, swallow a few dribbles of water and then gasp? No, she wouldn’t fade away like that, so simply, – this tall, stout figure – the heart throbbing so fast, so vigorous. She places her hand over her chest. The fingers beating in sync with the heart, the sound reaching her ears. It’s as though her heart has gatecrashed into her throat. She moves into the yard and stares around. Water, water and more water. She draws her saree up to her knees, gathers the slack , takes it behind, through her legs and tucks it at her lower back , making it into a tight brief. The giant tamarind tree, in the backyard is hovering like an apparition. She would be safe , if only she could climb on to it. But how? It is twice in girth to her waist. A few feet above, it has split into a crotch, a spread-eagled crotch…..

contd 8……

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Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire, A Telugu Short Story by Buchi Babu — 6

Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire-6

Alimelu keeps running towards her house. And stops, exhausted, for a moment and then trudges slowly towards home. No one in sight. Her two companions in the effort until a while ago, have left, gone down the other side of the hill, perhaps. She would have loved to fall off over the pebbles, and breath her last, staring at the stars high above. But , then, leaving this body, that she adores so, In the lurch, no way ! Ss is her won’t in dealing with things that she loves, she slaps her shoulder hard with her left hand, begins to trudge again forward. She is home, in about ten minutes.
The sky is getting more and more overcast. The few stars that were twinkling a while ago, too have disappeared. Scared like a fish caught in a dark snare, looking around with fear, she approaches her house. No, I shouldn’t tell mamma about the money, she gets angry. But then why? She has committed no sin. Toiled hard. Got her wages in return. Just what her mother too does for a living. She would pound the paddy for others. Sews clothes for others. Whoever in the village wishes to make a pickle, calls her for help invariably.
Where have all the people disappeared, nobody to be seen around.? The bonfire that the wretches had lighted earlier under the tree is dying out. She hollers out, just to see whether any one would respond. She cries ,”mamma, mamma.” Goes a furlong out in the darkness and calls out for her mother. The river roars back as though to taunt her, as though to give her a sharp slap on the back.
She returns home, breathless, famished, Have to cook rice, quick. Searches for the matchbox. Oh, the tin of powdered prawns. Matches should be besides this. She gets hold of the matchbox, strikes a match and lights the kerosine lamp.It flickers a while and goes off. She strikes another match and lights the lamp again and waves it this way and that. With the little oil that is there in it, it quivers dimly. Hungry, she eats a pinch of prawn powder . Sits on the edge of the rickety string cot. A mouse runs out frightening her. Above the nail on to which the lamp is hung the wall is coated with soot. A lizard struts around, there.
Alimelu closes her eyes. It looks weird to her to be thus there, utterly alone.Just her and the Lord of The Seven Hills for company, none else. To be thus,- compassionate towards herself , with full faith and confidence in herself , is in itself a strange sensation. She takes the shard of broken mirror lying over the trunk, brings the lamp near to her face, and looks at her reflection in the mirror. So adorable. Were she a guy, she would hold fast to the person in the mirror, and smooch her hard. During the last year’s funfair, mom was a dismayed witness to the flock of lechers who followed her around. When we neared the temple after wading through the crowd, lo !, that mischievous guy comes rushing forward at her and hits her hard with his body. She knows him. Sarayya, a hopeless guy. Mom warns her always, not to go near his precincts. Another time, when she was near the cow-shed, acting as if pricked by a thorn and falling forward , he grabbed her by her waist and pinched her hard here, the ruffian ! She looks at her full bosom. Does she look fat, to that fellow, Sivayya. Sivayya, that skinny, shrivelled shrimp. She smirks smugly.

The waters floods into her house with a roar…..

contd 7……

contd..6…

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Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire, A Telugu Short Story by Buchi Babu — 5

Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire-5

She starts pushing, again. The pebbles crunch under her feet , tickling them. The gale gathers momentum. Tendrils of hair detach themselves from her knotted hair and cover her face. She continues to push the car with one hand while sweeping them aside with the other.
“Finished ? Tired already?”, Sivayya .
She is overcome with emotion. Tired? She? Why, she can push it off herself, alone, when it comes to that. With an upsurge of vigour, with every part of her body seeming to gang together and surge ahead with a power bestowed by her passion to fulfil this single task , as though an overpowering trance has taken hold of her, she pushes it on and on. The neat pleats of sarry at her navel are getting unravelled. The free end of her saree draped across as a sash over her bosom and her left shoulder, billows out like a sail , and rises over from her bosom, pushing her backwards. She doesn’t notice all this. She goes on pushing it,– relentless as though her flesh, her blood, and bones did not belong to her, her body did not belong to her, she were just a cog, a machine operating devoid of a freewill, with no conscious goal, not the least of pushing something , somewhere.
“We are there. Not even twenty yards more. Don’t worry .I am coming too, “. Sadasiva Rao, throws off the cigarette, gets down from the car, positions himself behind her and he too begins to push the car. She shirks away a bit forward, so as to avoid his touch and continues her work. He would listen to her gasps, her breathlessness. No I can’t let him.
“Dear God,” , she slips and falls with a thud. He grabs her shoulders and lifts her. She moves away from him. She is ashamed . I have failed, she rues.
“Are you hurt?”,
She resumes pushing the car, as though nothing had happened, as though she did not hear him. He approaches her again. What’s this? He insists on coming nearer. She doesn’t like to admit to herself, that she would in fact welcome his getting nearer to her. She would have liked to laugh at herself at this silly idea, but she has no energy left to laugh, or even cry.
“Take this.”, he proffers money.
She can not make out the denomination of the note.
“Go on. Take it.”
She takes it. What’s wrong in it. It’s wages she has legitimately earned. She didn’t know what to reply. He can not see in the dark even if she smiles. It is dark, overcast still- would have been better if it is not so dark, to enable him to look her smile.
He gave a note each to the other two, who toiled along with her. They too accept it, like herself, what is wrong in it? I’ll give it to mom.
But where is mamma? Have to go home quick. Cook dinner. She turns around and runs off.
“Hey, you.” Sivayya is calling , from behind.

Contd 6……

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Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire, A Telugu Short Story by Buchi Babu — 4

Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire-4

“You there, will you push my car?.”
She nods her head sideways.No way.
“Will you or won’t you. ”
“Why ?”
“It’s stalled.” ..” Will you?”, Sada Siva Rao approaches her — wiping sweat off his brow. The stench of his perfume overwhelms her.
Strange odour.
“Where to ?.”, she asks.
“Yonder, up to our house– don’t you know it ? Up above the hill, just two furlongs away.”
“Beyond me, forget it.”
” Oh, sissy, yet so tall, so stout.”
Two more men pushing the car from behind ” Come, come, lend a hand.”. They hustle her.
“Quick.”, Sada Siva Rao, grabs her hand towards him.
The sweated palm on her hand revolts her. Dirty, muddy. She moves to the back of the car and begins to push it .
Sivayya climbs into the car. “No, not at the back.Move hither,”
He asks her to push it from the flank.
They are within about a hundred yards of the building. It is steeper further.
“Move a little bit this way”, he reaches over , grabs her hand and pulls her forward. His hand touches her shoulder. A strange, impalpable sensation tickles her. Else, she should have slapped him hard on his cheeks.
She pushes the car forward, from beside the front door. It’s muddy beneath her feet. The sharp pebbles grate her feet now and then. She breathes heavily, trying to suppress the gasp, to no avail- the sound suppressed , issues out involuntarily, hoarsely through her throat.
Oh, sissy, yet so tall, so stout. Isn’t it so, that the heckled her?! Am I stout. It rankles her.
Thin waist, tender bosom, smooth shoulders — all this and yet stout? May be this coarse, old saree makes me look fat. Draped in several folds, and tucked in at the navel. Natural, it appears a bit bulging, near the navel. It’s so even for her mamma , for all others too. Guys are ignorant. Any way, better she checks herself up after she goes home, whether stout or not. She breaths heavily. The gale, blowing from over the water, nips her sharply, yet she sweats profusely. She hates sweat. During day , when it’s hot, she would bathe even four times if necessary, in the summer. Sweat, is loathsome. But this sweat, this tired fresh sweat, strangely, it is not odorous. Funny. She stops. Wipes her face and forearms with the free end of her saree.
“Oh, spent already, you, so soon?”, Sada Siva Rao, opens his lips out and guffaws, teeth showing. White teeth. His goggles are horrible. He looks like the devil incarnate.
He stretches his hand towards her. She recoils, steps back a foot.
” Just about a hundred yards more. We have reached almost.”
Alimelu stays put. The other two also stop pushing. They go and sit on a heap of pebbles. She too goes and sits, a little away from them. Resting her chin on her knees. Stars twinkling above. The chirping of crickets appeared to descend from those distant stars. No hustle and bustle of people. Peace, all around. The tiresomeness has abated, Her mind is tranquil. No concern, now, not of anybody, anything. As though she has realised herself. As though she has captured her own identity, her self within her closed fist, looked it over, caressed it and then slapped it hard.
Sivayya blares the horn. The men stand up and start pushing the car again…
“Go ahead, we are there almost.”, goaded Sivayya.
She too stands up.

contd..5…

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Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire, A Telugu Short Story by Buchi Babu — 3

Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire-3

The bullock carts are in a race, their bells ringing out loud, when the wheels got out of the ruts.Nobody stays to answer your queries. Why all this pellmell? Is it only the waters that they are afraid of? She turns around. An unprecedented spectacle. Water has climbed to the level of the bank, it is brimming over. A scene she has never seen before.
“Look here, you, over there. What’s happening.? Where are you going? Why are you frantic?.” , she hollers at some one.
That guy continues to run, “The river has breached? It is going to swamp everything, they say.”
Alamelu held her breath, “swamp everything, indeed!?.”. She smiles. Look at those destitutes, calmly gathering driftwood there with absolutely no apprehension at all. Why are these stupid guys so worried? Where is mom, by the way? It’s already dark. Has some one detained her, apprehending the flood? With Venkateswarlu beside her, why worry? Poor mom, she begs this guy and that, to marry her daughter, but doesn’t deign to ask Venkateswarlu. Why? It’s time, she broaches the matter with him, ain’t it? They say , he was already married once. He seems to have ditched her. Know not why. Would like to have a look at her. Is she a shade more pink, in hue than her ? A treat to look at? If only she could meet her, she would hug her, offer solace and then slap her hard on her cheek. No reason why. Just like that. It’s only that when she likes someone she would like to caress them and then slap them hard. Would he ditch her too, if he gets across some one more likeable? Mom, sure is worried about this. No, I’m not that cheap. Why marry him at all? Say, on the other hand, he declines to marry her. How dare he do that? She would slap him hard ! Say perhaps, he weds her and then ditches her. Wouldn’t I tear him to shreds? Mom doesn’t know her properly. The other day, Superintendnt Surayya Esq., himself sent word, offering to employ her as maid in their house. Mom refused. They say , his son, Sivayya, is a libertine. What if? I would very much have liked to work there as the maid, if only to see what that lecher would dare to do. Seen that fellow, Sivayya, quite a guy. Dresses like a dandy. Hair combed back, a watch on his wrist, goggles, grooms himself nicely. If he dares do something , it would be a delight to slap him hard. But mom doesn’t allow it to happen.

A car blares it’s horn, startling her. Alimelu stares at it. Someone is getting down from the car.Oh,think of the devil. It’s Sivayya , son of the superintendent, beckoning at her ! She is not afraid, no, not even in this gathering dusk. What can he possibly do ?. She approaches him…..

contd….4

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Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire, A Telugu Short Story by Buchi Babu — 2

Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire-2

The river was pretty lean in the morning. It is swollen, –is swelling relentlessly.
Oh, my God. She stands there, hands clasped over her breast, stunned. Water, muddy brown, ever rising , ever shrieking ,waves breaking over waves. Swift, fascinating like the bicycle race, white caps swirling in the wind like wads of cotton. It’s cold. The sun is gone. Gone behind the hill, cowering in a corner, the Lord of the skies, smeared with filth, looking like a ripe palm fruit, cut open.
How to fetch water, how at all, to descend into the river? She fastens the free end of the saree around her waist, and gets ready to step down into the water. Drink this water ? Yuck. Shitty,ochre red. My God. Barbed clumps, broken branches, fallen leaves, logs, all rolling, afloat, God knows from where, Hopefully nothing to worry, not yet, perhaps. Men are around. How many? She counts. Seven in all- like sturdy giants from Africa. Like logs of blackwood,they are getting into the stream, bringing ashore, diverse flotsam, logs, ropes, vines, clump, what not. What else for, but to burn them as firewood. Damn them hardy souls, they seem to have no fear, delving far into the raging torrent. Alamelu stood transfixed , at these sturdy men striving together, in tandem, as though to a regular beat , without a care, in the roaring river. Strong biceps, thighs, well defined muscles. Astonishing the way they work together like one. So beautiful to look at. Forget about their faces. The bodies so fascinating, Are they really just flesh and bones? No, they must be steel rods , bent and shaped while red hot , like they do crowbars. She lifts the brass pot from her head , places it on the ground and looks at her own shoulders. No, they are not so. They are guys, after all. Roughhewn. I am not so. Perhaps I like them for this very reason . Venkanna is not so, I feel. No, I haven’t seen him working hard like this . must see him , sometime in this condition. No, no, – – shouldn’t think of him in this vein. Mom hasn’t returned yet. She turns around . People are running frantically in the distance, like wasps, rather like those bitten by wasps.
She moves a few steps towards the bank. ” Don’t go that way. Aren’t you afraid? Want to lose your life, go home?”, cried out one of the black guys.
“Why not?”
“Are you blind ? Can’t you see? It’s flooding. Run. Bloody fool.”, scolded the black guy.
She is not frightened. Nice to sit there, listening to the roar of the river, the froth flying out magically, and the diverting sight of the strong thighs of these black guys.
They chide her again.
Alimelu begins to walk towards her house, saluting the river. Mother Ganga. Not much of traffic this way, generally.. It’s about three miles away from the town. But this evening , unusually, she finds people, carts, bicycles and cars , lots of them rushing towards the town. She too begins to walk briskly…
contd…..

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Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire, A Telugu Short Story by Buchi Babu .

Here is an attempt by me to translate an old Telugu short story of BuchiBabu into English. Hope you would like it. This was published first , in the 1960s in the Telugu literary magazine Bharati…..

Dry Water to Quench a Wet Fire.

Alimelu came to the bank of the river, to fetch water. The sky is overcast, except in the west, where the sky is clear, as though some one has lifted a veil from it.
The sun dropping down behind the hill, looks like the round leaf of a red lotus. With his fading rays, the sun reminds one of a solitary lamp in the dark interior of a holy shrine.
The rouge of the rays, caressed her face, disappearing into her dark tresses.
Her skin, dark, is hued like a tender rain cloud .She closes her eyes a wee bit to focus her twinkling bright eyes in the gathering twilight. They look like tiny white fish , beneath the jutting out, boldly hemispherical eyelids.Thin, short nose. Well defined thin lips. Oval-rather- than-rounded cheeks. Hair combed with out much diligence, nonchalant. All these looked from the near, tend to make her appear innocent. But when looked at from a distance, her comely figure makes her appear like a seasoned woman. She is tall like a well built statue,- the strong well-rounded shoulders, bosom and behind, refuse to lay hidden contained behind the thick folds of her old white saree, – they strive to announce their presence, with every movement of her.

Alamelu likes the setting sun. Placing the brass pot down, she look with delight at her hands glowing red in the twilight. How great it would be , were she a bit pink. Alas Destiny! Mom is dark. Dad too used to be dark, mom says.
That guy, Yenkadu, keeps on creeping into her thoughts , insistently, – the owner of the cycle shop, Venkateswarlu, to be more formal.He is bolder, more forthright these days, it appears he went to Tirupati with friends and visited Lord Venkateswara. All this braggadocio for that. Just desserts, that he crashed down in the bicycle races and injured his leg. Limping now with a bandaged leg. The good Lord , teaches a lesson to all those who strut about proudly. But, poor guy, Venkateswarlu, nay Venkanna. Basically a fine guy. Presented her a sandal wood figurine of the Lord he brought from his trip. Handsome guy. Jovial. enchanting laugh.. Looks so very more charming when he laughs. Flat, broad chest.–

No, nice girls shouldn’t be thinking crassly. Better divert my thoughts towards mom. Amma , nice lady. She likes me like her own life. She went to the village fair at dawn, with Yenkadu, No. No YenkaDu again coursing in my mind. Why hasn’t she returned yet? She promised to take me to Tirupati, soon after I get married. Marriage , and mine, forget it ? No way.
Poor mom, keeps on asking every Tom, Dick and Harry whether he would marry me,- that too without a rupee as dowry. Preposterous !

Alamelu lifts her head and looks around , shocked. The river had swollen……
…….Continued.
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