Working hands

Mangala woke up with an alarm when a suitcase fell down suddenly with a thud. She peeped out of the window. The golden rays of the morning sun started pushing the dense dark veil of the night gently. Mangala’s heart glittered to see the familiar landscape. She knew that she is reaching her destination. She was literally restless to meet her grandparents.

Mangala jumped off the steps of the bus with the bag on her shoulder. The bus moved away after two more passengers alighted. The village beckoned her lovingly from a distance.

“Whom are you visiting my child,” somebody questioned her warmly.
“My grandfather Narasimham garu”
“Oh, you are his granddaughter! He is eagerly waiting for you for the past four days, even in sleep.”

Her eyes brightened and she started walking with a brisk pace only to meet Narasimham half way through.
“Amma, Manga…… Manga…” Narasimham walked towards her, calling her name with affection filled voice.
“Look, your grand daughter has arrived. Oh, she is like a pretty peacock! “An onlooker commented.
Narasimham felt proud to see his grown up grandchild, who has bloomed as a flower branch.

He and Manga started walking away chatting. They call her Manga. In fact, it was the name given to her at birth by them. It was Narasimham’s mother’s name. But, their daughter–in– law, Shantha didn’t like it a wee bit and changed it to Mangala. Even today, Shantha calls her Mangala only. To her father, Manga was his “Chitti Thalli”, little darling. Manga told herself – What’s there in a name and responded to their calls.

“Amma, Manga, go and sit in that Rickshaw” Narasimham told Manga.
“No, Thatha lets walk,” Manga hugged her grandfather like a child.
“Let’s go by Rickshaw darling. Your granny is waiting for you eagerly.”

Manga climbed it without further argument. As the vehicle rolled on slowly, many peeped into the Rickshaw. They could infer that it was Narasimham’s granddaughter and smiled at them generously.

“Didn’t we have a horse drawn cart in our village?” asked Manga.

“That was long back. The horse too died during that deadly storm and the cart…..”
Manga’s thoughts raced back in to past when she heard this.”Yes, thatha, here, the very same place. The monstrous storm swallowed my affectionate father.” She embraced her grandfather and wailed loudly.

Sambaiah couldn’t peddle on. Even he lost his wife Savitri. He opened his paga, head cloth, to hide his sobs and the flowing tears. Narasimham broke down and all the three took some time to compose themselves. Time moved, so the vehicle…..

Adilakshmamma completed all her domestic chores in a hurry and was waiting in a hurry to welcome her granddaughter. When she opened the door the light gushed in and Manga stood there like a lamp.
“Manga, my dearest, come, at last…” She welcomed Manga with open arms filled with excitement.

“Granny” Manga threw her bag and rushed towards her. Eighteen year old young lady felt like a secure toddler in her affectionate embrace. Tears welled in their eyes as they looked at each other as long last friends.
Meanwhile Sambaiah brought her luggage in side.

“Won’t you offer coffee to her?”, reminded Narasimham.
“Yes, it’s ready. Manga, won’t you freshen up?”
Manga opened her bag, took her brush and paste and went out into the back yard. The entire yard had blooming bushes with jasmines, red hibiscus, button roses and Nandivardhanams swaying affectionately in the cool breeze. Manga splashed cool water on face, after brushing up. She felt really cool and fresh. But she noticed a big change in the surroundings and wanted to ask her Thatha.
“Come and have these hot idlis,” Adilakshmamma laid a small wooden plank for Manga.
“Where are they from?”
“Your Thatha went and bought them from Pitchaiah’s hotel”
“Oh, is Pitchaiah’s bunk still there!”

“Now that bunk has grown into a big hotel. He is very sincere and hard working. But his two grown up sons are good for nothing vagabonds”
“Here Manga, have junnu , this fresh cheese. I cooked it yesterday. I know you have like it very much”. Adilakshmamma reached to a container which she had kept on a utti, a hanging rack of ropes.

Manga salivated on hearing the word junnu “From where did you get it?” she asked.

“Day before yesterday our cow Lakshmi gave birth to a little calf. She made it timely and she knew that you would be coming”. All three of them had a hearty laugh at this joke.
“Thatha, I forgot to ask. How come our tiled house has changed into a cement structure? What’s the magic” asked Manga.
“It’s no magic; you know we lost our home in that gory storm. After a few days, Government sanctioned a small compensation and Banks too came forward with loan schemes. Many availed that and rebuilt decent houses”.

“Oh, that’s the reason for so many new houses! Can I go up stairs and see the terrace?” Manga felt excited like a child.
“Why not?, Have this junnu first” said Adilakshmamma.
Manga relished every bit of that fresh cheese cooked with jaggery.

Adilakshmamma resisted commenting that her son too used to love junnu.
“Manga, why don’t you relax for a while? You can exchange small talk later” said Narasimham.

When Adilakshmamma offered coffee, Manga took out half a dozen porcelain cups from her bag and announced it as the gift from her mother. She looked at them admiringly and poured coffee for all of them.

When Manga retired to the next room to relax on the cot her late father’s photograph smiled at her from the frame. A fresh flower garland adorned that picture. Manga went back in to past. The monster storm which engulfed her father gushed into her mind, four day incessant pouring rain marooned most of the houses in the low lying area. The wild wind carried away many roof tops and up rooted huge trees. The wild whistling sounds as sirens of the death knell for many in that hamlet. The river Gautami was all over the village.
Narasimham missed his heart beat when he heard the alarm in the dead of the night. Adilakshmamma tried to carry a few important items in a small trunk. Most of the inmates of the village took shelter, and managed to survive.
After three days the water receded and the rain too paused with a relief. People started walking back, stepping and faltering over dead bodies. The rotten stench of dead animals and human bodies made the place unbearable. Narasimhams lost their son Prasad and a grandchild. The villagers were heartbroken and didn’t know why they should live. The rehabilitation programme by the government and voluntary organizations came like a cool breeze.
Shantha, Manga’s mother decided to leave the place. She told her – in – laws politely but firmly that she decided to migrate to her mother’s place Nidadavolu as she couldn’t bear losing her husband in the storm. She sympathized with her in – laws who felt lonely and miserable after their son’s death. But Shantha felt strongly that she should not take any more chances where Nature’s calamity is an annual affair. She took up a job in a local hospital and never looked back.

Narasimham and Adilakshmamma pleaded Santha many times to send at least their grand children. At last, she allowed Manga to visit them, hence she was there. Manga wiped her tears and turned to the other side of the wet pillow and fell asleep.

“Amma, Manga, wake up! You’ve slept enough. It’s time for lunch” Adilakshmamma gave her a gentle shake. ” Have a bath. I’ve kept the water ready.” All three of them sat together and enjoyed a hearty meal in the company of each other.
Narasimham took Manga for a stroll through the village. It has changed beyond her imagination. The newly constructed houses and the latest variety of coconut trees had already yielded good result. The school building was a new land mark for the village.

“Manga, did you see this? Now It is up to fifth class. But there is only one Master for the entire school. We should thank him. Nobody prefers to work in rural areas. All want to fly away to greener pastures like U.S.A“
When Narasimham spoke to Manga, he had a wish within that his

granddaughter should be a teacher there in that school.
By the time they went around a few streets and returned home, a handful of neighbors had gathered to see Manga. She sat down and exchanged and enjoyed a chat. They openly admired Manga. When they had dinner that night, Manga told them that she should leave the next day. Adilakshmamma discouraged her. She said that they would accompany her so that they can see Santha and Manga’s brother Krishna. Manga liked the proposal. She slept on the same bed of her grandmother, holding on to her affectionately and went into a deep sleep.

The day was quite bright by the time Manga woke up, the next day. She had a bath and enjoyed hot pesarattu from the hotel.

“Narasimham garu” somebody walked in calling out.
“Come, master, come in, be seated” Narasimham invited him affectionately and introduced him to Manga.
“He is Srinivas, Our school teacher.”
Manga greeted him with folded hands.

Srinivas appreciated her polite behavior; Narasimham sat on the cot and started speaking about Srinivas. “He is the only son of our Munsab. He has completed his post graduation in Hyderabad but decided to teach in our village school.”

Srinivas intervened. “Yes, I teach in this school to help my village. I also teach Adults in the evening. It’s not only the alphabet. I guide them and teach them to get loans from the banks and save money in post office. I have a conviction that our country has a great future, if we youth work for it. Madam, why don’t you come and teach our children? at least for a few days when you stay here.”

Impressed by his sincerity Manga nodded her head in agreement. When Srinivas was ready to leave to go to school, she too accompanied him. She enjoyed the day among the little innocent children and also the company of Srinivas. When the school bell rang in the evening, Manga felt the day was really short.

Before going home, Manga and Srinivas strolled through the fields and discussed various issues of common interest. Manga experienced a new joy in the company of Srinivas. The evening sun, cool breeze, birds flying in groups in the sky made a good back drop to her new emotions. Srinivas too felt attracted towards young Manga, instantly. They kept walking and reached Narasimham’s house. Srinivas took leave from her, politely refusing her invitation to go in.

That night Manga went into a kind of introspection. “Why should I alone get scared of natural calamities? I must go back and convince mummy to come and live here amongst our own people. How sincere and affectionate they are! Srinivas, such a wise young man. . .”

The next day, Manga went to school in right earnest. She involved happily with the little kids, played with them, consoled them when they cried, taught them a few things and had a good time. Srinivas wished secretly that she should be his companion for ever. He enjoyed her company and shared his ideals intimately.

Manga came and gave a hug to her grandmother. Adilakshmamma could not infer why Manga was happy and excited. The women folk in the neighborhood watched her, when she started watering the plants on the road side.

“Panchayat has planted all these trees for our welfare. You don’t expect them to employ labor to water them. We should take care for our welfare. Then only the country will prosper,” she spoke excited.
Narasimham garu just entered the house to wash his hands completely covered with mud. Manga reached out to him and held his hands”. I’m very proud of these working hands, Thathayya, I decided to stay back and get my mother and brother too here. I will help you in your everyday chores and work in the school too”.

The old couple looked at their hands held affectionately by their granddaughter Manga.

- Vasa Prabhavathi 

Translation:swatee Sripada


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