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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
“You must go to Kasi with Peeki.” He advised. “That is the only
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
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
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
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
Peeki entered the water and they all made their way until the
water reached their torsos.
“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.