(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
A brawny man was driving the ox-cart. He came down to the pond using the same road that Mangamma had been on.
The driver’s name was Krishnappa Nayakar. He deftly wielded the reins to guide the cart into the pond.
While the oxen eagerly drank from the pond, Krishnappa held the reins by his chest and stared down the man that was already there. The man looked around, occasionally meeting Krishnappa Nayakar’s gaze.
Krishnappa Nayakar’s cloth wrap was tied by a simple belt. His chest was broad and the hair that grew on it pointed up instead of down. One look at his nose, you would think it belonged to a hot-tempered man. Below his mustache, his lips were stained red with betel. His hands were calloused from years of hard work. His arms and back rippled with large muscles. His legs and large feet dangled from the seat of the cart.
He lowered the cart into the water to cool down the iron strips of the wheel as they had expanded in the heat and threatened to come off.
Since the oxen had finished drinking, he decided to turn the cart so he could splash the wheels effectively. But the wheels had become stuck in the mud. Krishnappa got down to push the cart by its wheel spokes but was unable to. He looked over to the man that was standing waist-deep in the water and called out for help. As if he hadn’t heard, the man didn’t move.
The man didn’t know how to leave. Whenever he tried to move his leg, the body biting down on his toe moved with it.
Krishnappa Nayaker managed to move the cart using all his strength, then looked back at the man who was still staring at him without moving.
He began splashing the iron strips, bending and unbending at the waist, while glancing over at the man now and then.
Finally, the man spoke of his own accord. “I can’t stand the heat. That’s why I’m in the water.”
Krishnappa Nayaker understood this as the man’s attempt to explain himself, but he continued to ignore him and do his task. Each splash of water that hit the wheels was a troughful. The strong sloshing sounded as though a supernatural being was at work and not a man.
Krishnappa Nayaker’s silence and brute strength churned the man’s stomach.
A dark, thin and short man arrived on the scene. He had a cloth on his head. A sacred white thread contrasted sharply with his skin.
“Did you see a woman passing by?” He asked the other two.
Krishnappa Nayaker finished splashing the cart and looked at the new man questioningly.
The man repeated the question, cleared his throat, and then continued pitifully, “She was angry and left the house alone. She was wearing earrings. She was pregnant and wearing a red sari.”
The man in the pond had the demeanor of a guilty man.
“Did you see her?” He asked. “I was told she was walking on this road just a little while ago.”
Krishnappa Nayakar came from the north. This man came from the south. How could the woman have disappeared in between? Krishnappa immediately doubted the man that was standing waist deep in the water.
The man stood with his mouth shut.
Krishnappa Nayakar looked at the man with the sacred thread and asked him what his trade was.
“I’m a goldsmith.”
“Well, goldsmith, calm down. Help me with this cart so we can put it in the shade. Then we can look for her.”
Krishnappa Nayakar got into his iron seat and took control of the oxen. The goldsmith tied the cloth around his head, took hold of a spoke, and pushed. It moved a little bit and got caught in the mud again.
“Come and help me!” The goldsmith called out to the man standing in the water. “What are you holding in your hand and just standing there?”
The man didn’t move.
Krishnappa Nayakar got down and put his hands on his hips. His eyes narrowed and he called out rudely, “Hey! Get over here!”
Krishnappa Nayakar tugged an iron rod out of the back of his cart. The goldsmith was struck with fear by the terrifying anger of this man.
This is how Nayakars were. If anyone else got mad, they would’ve pulled out a bamboo pole. But he brought out an iron rod. His older brother, Govindappa Nayakar, would pull out a rice stamper when he got mad. With how massive he was, the rice stamper would look like a small, metal-capped stick in his hands. Their father, Naranappa Nayakar, preferred to fight with a yoke. Their grandfather, Venkatappa Nayakar, would use a plow. He was known for his quick temper.
“Are you going to come here?” He asked. “Or should I come over?”
The man didn’t move, provoking Krishnappa Nayakar into attacking. He stepped to the side to avoid the downward strike. The iron rod hit the water explosively and its bamboo handle snapped in two.
Krishnappa Nayakar got a new iron rod and returned shouting, “Motherfucker, I won’t let you go. Did you think you got away? Not a chance.”
The man limped to the bank and out of the pond, tripping to the ground. He sat with a bent leg, using his hands for support. The other leg was still in the water. He clasped his hands together above his head, surrendering to Krishnappa Nayakar.
Krishnappa Nayakar and the goldsmith could see that something was under the water beneath the man’s outstretched leg. The goldsmith spotted a shining earring on the ground near the man.
He immediately knew whose it was. The earring had been made by him.
So he could now recognize the body under the water. Krishnappa Nayakar embedded the iron rod into the ground for support, then leaned in to drag out the body.
The murderous thief tried to free his toe but the woman’s teeth had sunk deep into it. Krishnappa Nayakar took a knife out and began cutting the toe off.
The thief began screaming in pain. Krishnappa Nayakar slammed his elbow into the thief’s chest, driving the air from his lungs and stopping the screams. Then, after cutting off the toe, Krishnappa Nayaker tied the thief to the wheel spokes using a thick rope. Blood flowed continuously from the fresh stump.
The woman laid there with torn earlobes, wide eyes, and a mouth spread in a smile with a toe held in her teeth like sugarcane.
The goldsmith stood frozen. Krishnappa Nayakker sat him down then picked up the blood and sand encrusted knife. As he quickly headed towards the village, his soul shivered from the grief-stricken wails of the goldsmith.
“I never thought you’d die like this! Why am I still alive?! Why am I still alive?”
He slapped his face and fell on her body, writhing on her like a worm.
“You’d say that it’s a sin to even kill an ant, my sweetheart. Who could have the heart to kill you? Oh God…”
His cries resounded with the heaviness and anguish of a wailing masculine voice.