In the shravan it rained like mad . The wet days stretched for three days and three nights washing the
dusty foliage of the trees gleaming bright .The birds slept fitfully on the lower branches not daring to
venture into the wet nights .At the dead of the night the hum of the steady rain on the thatched roof
with yellow water streaming through the roof-ends muffled the drip-dry flutter of the birds' wings on
the mango tree. In such rain where would the women go with their soaked grams and jaggery to
distribute them to the women in the neighborhood ? The women would sit before the Goddess's picture
and offer worship all by themselves . They would recite the mantras from the book and offer flowers
and leaves and then put upon themselves and the children turmeric-yellowed rice .And then they would
read aloud the story which narrated how a king and queen of yore benefited from doing this worship in
the form of several favors like restoration of the lost kingdom , the birth of a son etc. . Whoever read
the story or listened to it would attain multitudes of mundane benefits like good health , wealth ,
children , destruction of enemies etc. Widows who listened to the story would never again become
widows in future births
During the God's Chariot Procession the children roamed the streets of Sompeta with a few coins in
their pockets. The hawkers lined the streets on both sides selling several sweets and eatables which
were so delicious that the children would roam the streets drooling over them the whole day .The flies
did not deter them .Lord Jagannath presided over the congregation of thousands looking on with His
beatific smile . Wasn't it He who bought cheer to the crowds who had eagerly waited to pull His chariot
the whole year ?He stood transfixed waiting to build eye-contact with Him , with Him in whose dream
He existed , fearing that the dream would come to an end bringing a delicious end to his existence .
Srinivasarao cared so much for him through the school years. The eldest in a family of seven children
Srinivasarao basked in the sunny glory of his apparent academic success as though the latter was his
own brother .He tailed him everywhere like his alter ego defended him against the insensitivities of the
school system and , most of all , against the school bullies. The earnestness on his face at times
embarrassed him while he ,on the whole , enjoyed the hero-worship showered on him by his friend.
Together they wandered the streets of Sompeta ,hand in hand , and later ,in the streets of Srikakulam
where they had studied together once again in the school.
Srinivasarao married a pretty girl with eyes which laughed for apparently no reason. Her kajal-lined
eyes brimmed with the joy of living and there was no trace of death in them when Jagannath stayed
with them ,one day,in their Srikakulam house. This young girl of eighteen , while giving birth to a
bundle of shrieking life, crossed over to shadowy nonexistence leaving behind fragrant jasmine-
smelling memories in her near and dear ones . Death was considered eminently suitable to her .Her
silvery laughter indicated no imminent poignancy of death but the fish-like eyeballs moved in her
marble eye-whites like shadows of a coconut branch in liquid moonlight .She had come to this earth a
trifle too early and it was clear that she would go away to the other world entirely unannounced .
Sharanyacharya was the indulgent Telugu teacher who had a soft corner for him He had a smooth
glowing face with hair neatly tufted on the head. He wore a white dhoti and upper cloth and a “ triple
one” on his forehead. He always had the most resplendent smile when he taught his class the exquisite
poetry of the classical literature. When he participated in in the elocution contest and made his speech
on Rabindranath Tagore he stood transfixed and clapped uninterrupted as though it was his own son
who brought the laurels .
His two daughters loved him deeply and when they looked into his eyes he felt an excruciating
happiness as though they always belonged to him and had never really separated from him. It was his
fondest wish that they would take him into their arms by turns and comfort him deeply .
Tiruvengadamma , the elder one, looked highly spiritual as though it was her soul and not her physical
being , which was talking to him. The girls in the class brought all sorts of eatables for munching
through the class but never did Tiru eat anything in life .She never needed anything for her physical self
. Her soul came out of the shell of her physical existence often to communicate to him who felt stifled
and at loss to say anything . Her dreams never coalesced with his despite her continuous efforts. Her
father understood that and never tried to bring about a union of their souls. He felt miserable and lonely
.Goddess-like she played on him through the fantastic power of her soul. Her body was like a leafless
flower-creeper with a lone flower at the top . The creeper never shook even once against the most
powerful gust of wind .Her own leaflessness made her soul pristine and glowing.
Her sister , a shadow of her elder sister, laughed through her eyes . There was no soul in her eyes. But
only a spirit untrammeled by wisdom . When she walked it appeared as though she danced , her
graceful body movements reflecting an inner happiness untouched by pain. Strands from the tufts of
her hair played upon her forehead gently like the breeze that played on the waters of the Nagavali river
during summer. He always felt that she meant to bend forward and gently play with his hair to comfort
Kannamma ,his grandmother's sister , who became widowed at a young age, lived till the ripe age of
seventy with her brother. It was her avowed ambition to keep her brother's wife under check all the
time , a job which she accomplished quite well. When the end came she frothed at the mouth reliving
the seventy years of life without a soul of her own. There she lay stretched on the bamboo stretcher
waiting to be taken away to the cremation ground with the eyeballs screwed up to the heavens entirely
dissatisfied with her life and complaining to the gods of the raw deal she had at the hands of the destiny
.Should she die unsung with a few drops of ganga jal put into her quivering mouth by her brother ? Her
face looked grotesque and determined that others , particularly the brothers wife , should die a worse
death , entirely without ceremony and join her at the portals of the other world for her to taunt and
avenge herself to her hearts content .
During monsoon the Nagavali flowed to the brim washing away hundreds of half-burnt funeral fires to
the distant ocean. He stood on the river bridge in Srikakulam and watched the river waters touch the
temple steps . In summer the river dried up leaving a barren river-bed on which funeral fires raged. In
the afternoon he walked through the cinders of the burnt out fires and felt under his feet pieces of
broken bones and charred wood . Sometimes he would come across whole skulls with huge holes of
eyes staring at the blue sky. When the rains came the skulls were filled with water but they continued to
stare at the blue sky till the flood waters came and washed them to the sea at Kalingapatnam.
The afternoons were hot and dusty in Sompeta. Suddenly the skies opened in the evening and gusts of
strong wind and rain followed .It rained the whole night flooding the streets and the shanties where the
poor lived in their improvised shacks. In hot summers the same poor lost all their earthly possessions in
huge infernos of fire which engulfed the entire streets of thatched hutments. There used to be only one
fire engine which used to fill its water tanker only whenever the fire call came . The nights suddenly
blazed in a splurge of orange amid agonized cries of poor women. The summer afternoons were hot
and smelled of melted tar. The road workers made huge fires on the roadside in order to melt tar for
laying on the road. They burned like hell-fires for days on end until the road was completed and the
workers poured loose earth to douse them. Rural men sat on the roadside puffing away at their smelly
bidis and when they smoked their eyes flashed and their faces flushed in a most contented fashion.
Ebony-skinned women worked in hot summer sun , their blouseless backs burned by the blazing sun.
The women internalized the hell-fires of their existence puffing at their cigars with the lighted ends in
the mouth which burned their insides in delicious pain. The fires burned endlessly as though their
funeral fires had begun when they were born from their mother's womb and continued through their life
till their deaths.