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The story of a friendly maid from a nearby town, who does strange things. It is an old Telugu tale which used to be narrated by my grandmother. Now I have translated this story in English.

The story of a friendly maid from a nearby town, who does strange things. It is an old Telugu tale which used to be narrated by my grandmother. Now I have translated this story in English.

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  • 1. Peeki The Pingala Raju household was very excited that morning. Mrs Sumalatha Raju was trundling between the kitchen to the main door brandishing her rice ladle. One the one side she was stirring the rice pot to ensure that the Raju family had good fluffy rice to eat with their sambar and pappadum. On the other side of the kitchen, crossing the hall and the little welcome room was the main door. Mrs Raju was trying to be part of the tiny welcome committee comprising of Kamala Raju, her twelve year old daughter and Master Simha Raju, her sprightly four year old son. Peeki was expected to arrive any moment now. Her train from Kakinada must have just reached the Vishakapatnam station and Appayya, the Pingala’s faithful gardener was to pick her up. They would then board the many cycle rickshaws that dotted the pleasant town of Vizag. Of course Appayya would definitely bargain with the rickshaw walah over a good price to bring them to Maharanipeta, where the Pingala family lived. The Pingala family home was typical of many other old houses in Vizag. It had a tiled roof, and was surrounded on either side by coconut trees that swayed pleasantly in the wind. The verandah was a large one, with a black stone flooring. The main hall had a long wooden swing which was well used by the Pingala children. The creaking sounds of the iron ropes that held the swing up could be heard all through the day as the children studied, played and slept on the long swing. The modest kitchen had many shelves and even a ‘pickle room’ where rows and rows of pickle jars lined the shelves. The kitchen had no counter for Mrs Raju preferred to squat on a low stool and do all her cooking. Her plump legs often gave way when she stood for long hours, and that was not
  • 2. going to be convenient when she wanted to cook large meals for the family and guests who often turned up at the door. While one side of the kitchen had the pickle room which sent out wafts of tangy aroma, the other side had a tiny room with a bedding, a small chest of drawers and a small table. Mrs Raju planned to offer this room to Peeki, who was to turn up any moment now. Mrs Raju was shaking her head disapprovingly. Appayya must be wasting precious moments bargaining over a few paise, when he should be arriving with Peeki in tow within minutes of her train reaching the station. “Amma, where is Peeki”. Simha was getting impatient. The morning sun was threatening to send out its hottest rays. Kamala was already wiping beads of sweat off her brow with her clean white handkerchief. Finally, the cycle rickshaw arrived with Appayya and a rather large lady. An iron trunk was precariously placed at the back of the rickshaw. It creaked rhythmically with every move of the rickshaw. Peeki held a brass jug of water in her hands and she seemed to be taking in the scenery with a lot of interest. Finally the rickshaw grinded to a halt. Appayah alighted and brought down Peeki’s trunk. He paid up the rickshaw puller, but not before continuing the argument over how overpriced the rickshaw pullers got these days. Peeki took some time to get off the rickshaw. She was a tall woman, and the sari that she wore hardly covered her ankles. Her hair was tied in a knot and her eyes had an intense look. Her long nose was her most noticeable feature while her lips were drawn to show that she spoke only when spoken to.
  • 3. Her hands were decked in many glass bangles, adding color to the faded red sari that she was wearing. She wore no anklets, and this seemed strange since all the women of her age and stature would not be seen without pretty accessories like anklets and toe rings. Appayya introduced her to the children who smiled at her. Peeki attempted to smile back but her eyes were on the mistress of the household, Mrs Raju. “Welcome Peeki. Appayya, bring Peeki’s trunk into the room next to the kitchen. Peeki was ushered into the house with this modest display of enthusiasm on part of the Raju family. From then on, Peeki did whatever she was told with great diligence. In the morning, Peeki would draw many buckets of water out of the well and pour them into a large container. The she would take the last bucket of water and add a dollop of cowdung freshly laid by the cows in the shed. After mixing it well into the water, Peeki would use her hands to skillfully throw water on the front porch, ensuring that the whole area was covered with the disinfectant cowdung mix. After that, she brought a cup of Rangoli powder from the back yard where she stored it in a tiny cupboard. Within minutes, she drew an intricate motif in the middle of the front porch. Peeki would bathe and enter the kitchen to help Mrs Raju with the daily cooking. For idlis, Peeki would soak mounds of dhal and rice in big brass utensils overnight. The next morning, she would sit on a low stool in front of a very large grinding stone and start grinding the dhal and rice mix with great fervor. Within minutes, Peeki would finish grinding idli batter, much to Mrs Raju’s intense happiness.
  • 4. Peeki did many heavy weight jobs which surprised and thrilled the Pingala household. You only had to mention the need for a large trunk laden with brass utensils, to be brought down from the attic. In a jiffy, Peeki would have the trunk in front of her, on the floor and look at you for further instructions. If a door got jammed so hard that the neighborhood wrestler yelped in dismay upon trying to pry it open, Peeki would quietly tug at a bold and the door would burst open. Peeki never ceased to amaze the household and the neighbors, who looked at the Pingalas with envy. A strong, silent, hardworking maid was the coveted possession of any household. Much though the neighbors tried to wrangle some information about Peeki’s whereabouts, the Pingala household was tightlipped about her origin. Some felt that she was a widow who ran away from her oppressive in-laws to eke out a decent living for herself. Others felt that Peeki ran away from an orphanage where she was ill-treated. Yet others wondered if she went to a wrestling school and developed such strong muscles. Whatever be the stories floating around, Peeki seemed to be quite unaware of the buzz and continued to silently serve the Pingala household from dawn to dusk. In fact, when the household grew quiet towards night, after a wholesome meal, someone had to put out the lanterns. Naturally it had to be Peeki. Mr Raju was so happy that Peeki was even looking after the cows in the cowshed. He watched Peeki pile hay in front of each cow and clean up the shed every day. It did not seem to matter to Mr Raju that he did not enter the shed for days. Then one day, he decided to see how his prize cows were doing. Upon entering the shed, he noticed that the number of cows had
  • 5. dwindled in number. Perhaps Appayya took some of them to graze, he thought, shrugging his shoulders. Crossing the aisle where the cows stood, his eyes caught sight of the storage bin, which was open. He decided to cover it and walked upto the corner to find a suitable cover. It was then that his eyes caught sight of a pile of big bones in a heap. He took a few steps backward in a moment of shock. He was certain that an animal was attacking his cows and decided to let Appayya know about it. Something had to be done. Perhaps a better fencing and a stronger door would do the trick. He beckoned Appayya at the earliest opportunity and instructed him to build a brick fence all around the house. Money was of no matter for such things, and the Rajus made a decent living from their vast farm. He also bought a lock for the shed from the nearby grocer’s. Since Peeki always cleaned the shed once more in the evening, she would be the last one to lock up the shed. So Mr Raju called Peeki that evening and handed her the lock and key, telling her to lock it every night without fail. Peeki nodded and walked away with the lock and key. For a few days, there were no more bones seen in the corner. The old ones had been cleaned out, by then. But one week later, the strange animal seemed to have an intriguing way of working through the strong lock. More bones, more pain for the Raju household. Fewer cattle. They just had to think of another innovative way of keeping the ‘animal’ at bay. However, they did not have much time to do this.
  • 6. Only a few days later ,Mr and Mrs Raju had to prepare to go to a nearby village where they were invited to attend a family wedding. It was an invitation they simply could not refuse. As rickshaw pullers would not travel between towns, the journey would mean a bus ride or a ride on their own bullock cart in the hot blazing sun. The children would have found it quite uncomfortable. Mrs Raju decided to stay back with the children. Early next morning Mr Raju bade the children farewell before climbing onto the cart with his small hand luggage. He did not plan to stay for more than two days, and intended to return the day after. It was also because Mrs Raju was slightly unwell due to the unusually hot weather. While Mrs Raju rested, Peeki cooked the meals diligently and in between stirring soups and frying the vegetables on the coal stove, she managed to clean the house and wash the dishes. By now, all her chores had become quite familiar and she worked like a clockwork machine. The children were sent to school with faithful Appayya, who also brought them home in the afternoon. It was evening by the time Peeki had fed the family and ate a meal herself in the corner of the kitchen. When she finally cleaned the kitchen, prepared the beds and was about to retire to her own room, Simha tugged at her sari pallav. “Peeki, Amma is also not well. Please sleep in our room!” Peeki had no choice but to comply with his plea, so she brought her own bedding and spread it on the corner of the room.
  • 7. It had been a long day and Peeki was clearly quite tired. So the minute she lay her head on her pillow, she fell asleep. Sometime later, Peeki was roused from her sleep by Simha who was shaking her. Drowsy Peeki looked at Simha with half-open eyes. “Peeki, please snuff out the lantern. We cannot reach it! Amma is fast asleep.” Somewhere in the deeper recesses of Peeki’s brain, she could register the words ‘lantern, and snuff out.” Her normal response would have been to get up, walk across the room to the other side where the lantern was placed, and snuff it out with her fingers. But Peeki was not in her form, at this hour. So, in her sleep-laden state, she stretched out her tongue. The children watched in horror as Peeki’s tongue stretched way out to the other end of the room and quickly snuffed out the lantern! The children could not contain their fascination mixed with terror for long. As soon as dawn broke, they woke up Mrs Raju. When Peeki was out of earshot, they turned to their mother “Amma, Peeki is very different from us. She can snuff out a lantern with her long tongue! She has a very long tongue”. Mrs Raju was shocked by their revelation. She realized that Peeki was no ordinary mortal. In fact, Peeki was probably a kind demon! Perhaps she was eating the cattle too in the wee hours of the night!
  • 8. She told the children to act normal and to keep the secret to themselves. When Mr Raju returns the next day, she was sure to discuss Peeki with him. Mr Raju did return the next day, with boxes of sweets and fruit given by the marriage party. But no one in the Pingala household was in a mood to partake of any sweets that day. They silently watched Peeki unpack the luggage and stow away the sweets in clean boxes. They could not help but admire her neat handiwork, even as they were terror-struck at her inhuman strength. At the earliest opportunity, Mrs Raju took Pingala Raju to a quiet corner in the backyard and explained the entire incident that occurred in the night. Pingala Raju was a calm man, reticent and thoughtful, but even he was perturbed by what he heard. The Rajus decided to take the problem to the priest at the nearby temple. He was sure to know what to do. So towards evening, the bade Peeki to prepare the meal and made their way to the temple. The priest sat down with them and listened to their outpouring. “You must go to Kasi with Peeki.” He advised. “That is the only way.” The Rajus never questioned the wisdom of the priest and decided to follow his advise. So on returning home, they informed Peeki that she must pack her clothes and accompany them to Kasi. It was a long journey and meant that they had to travel by train and by foot. Peeki
  • 9. thought a bit and said: “Master, we might need to cook on our way, so shall I carry the grinding stone as well?” So on the next day, the Pingalas left their children with a nearby relative and walked with Peeki to the railway station. Peeki carried her trunk and the grinding stone on her head, while Appayya carried the other bags in both his hands. They made it on time to the railway station. The train chugged along and several stations later, the family got off and caught another train. Finally, they were nearing Kasi. The Rajus moved along ahead while Appayya followed with their belongings. Peeki walked a few steps behind with the stone and her trunk. Finally the travelers caught sight of the beautiful Ganges river. “Is this not a beautiful river Peeki?” he asked. “Yes sir”, Peeki replied, looking at the vast, serene stretch of water. Appayya put down the luggage and bade Peeki to do the same. Slowly, Mr Raju suggested that they take a dip in the holy river. He entered the river and was followed by Mrs Raju. Appayya followed quite enthusiastically. Peeki hesitated a bit before tentatively placing her foot in the river. “Come Peeki, the river will not harm you.” Mr Raju gently advised her. Peeki entered the water and they all made their way until the water reached their torsos.
  • 10. “Come now, we must dip fully into the water” Mr Raju said. So they all bent their heads until they were totally in the water. A deep breath later, their heads bobbed up again. “Now another dip”, Mr Raju said. Once again they all ducked under the water and stayed that way for a few moments before their heads bobbed up and they gasped for air. Mr Raju let them recover before slowly saying: “Once more, for the last time.” He closed his eyes in prayer and dipped into the Holy river. Mrs Raju followed with folded hands, all the while muttering a few mantras. Appayya slapped his cheeks in remorse to all his sins and wholeheartedly ducked into the water. Peeki looked around at the sky, the land filled with temples and the air replete with temple bells chiming. Slowly, she let her head sink into the serene water. Peeki never surfaced. The Rajus returned with Appayya to their home and continued to lead a normal life. They had contacted someone from another world, so their life would never be the same. And often enough, they would remember how helpful Peeki had been while she stayed with them.