(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
Akkayya never reused a prank on a person. He had enough up his sleeve to come up with something new each time.
Sundarappa Nayakkar walked, ruminating over last night’s prank. He wanted to get even with Akkayya.
In the evening, after they were done tilling, Sundarappa Nayakkar had to relieve himself. He squatted by a stream and called out to Akkayya, “Mama! Don’t spill the water in the pot.”
He then asked for the water. Akkayya responded with, “Will you pour the water for yourself or do you want me to do it?”
Sundarappa Nayakkar got an idea. If he agreed to Akkayya pouring water for him to wash up, he could ridicule Akkayya in public by saying that the man was low enough to wash another man’s behind. He stepped close to Akkayya and bent over. “Alright. Go ahead.”
Akkayya pour a little bit of the water and Sundarappa Nayakkar began wiping himself. Akkayya then stopped and dumped the remaining water onto the ground before sprinting away. “I’m going to rub this hand on you!” Sundarappa Nayakkar raged and chased after Akkayya.
Akkayya stopped in front of Govindappa Nayakkar and began panting.
Sundarappa Nayakkar arrived soon after with his left hand raised. Upon seeing his brother, he hid his hand behind his back. He pleaded with his eyes at Akkayya to not say a thing.
“What happened? Where are the bulls?” Govindappa Nayakkar asked Akkayya while spreading white lime on a betel leaf. His younger brother disappeared in a second before he could turn and face him.
Akkayya relayed everything in his usual lazy, humorous style. The older brother’s belly shook from mirth. Urkudumban turned his face the other way, trying to hide his laughter.
One day, Govindappa Nayakkar sent Akkayya to his paternal aunt’s house to deliver kammam grass seedlings. The village was a day’s travel from Gopalla Gramam. In those days, people measured distance with the time it took to get somewhere. In their parlance, a place could be an hour or two hour distance.
It was evening when Akkayya arrived at the village.
“Where is Gopalla Venkatamma’s house?” He asked in Telugu.
It’s interesting how in villages, no one is known by the name their parents gave them. Instead, the village gave them a name. It could have some history behind it, be a teasing nickname, a quality they were known for, an illness they had, a family name, a job they had, and so on.
When Gopalla Venkatamma got married and arrived at the village, there were already many Venkatammas. Since she had a fair and rosy complexion, she became known as Tundapandu Venkatamma. Tundapandu, in Telugu, meant the red kovai fruit.
The villagers didn’t know who he meant at first. But eventually they said, “Oh you mean Tundapandu Venkatamma!” and led Akkayya to her house.
She didn’t greet him or even acknowledge.
With the pack of kammam grass seedlings balanced on his head, Akkayya stared at her with his blank, round fish eyes. Venkatamma’s husband happened to be walking by and helped Akkayya put his burden down while enquiring about everyone back home. After answering, Akkayya went back to standing silently.
Tundapandu Venkatamma was proud of her good looks. She had been born into a family with high social standing and had married into a similar one. She had her own special qualities. If someone wanted to speak to her, they had to have fair skin. If they were wearing jewelry, even better. If they were rich, she would talk animatedly. If none of these traits were in a person, she wouldn’t say a thing.
When Akkayya returned home, everyone in the Kottaiyar house asked him about Venkatamma and her family.
“Everyone is fine… But Venkatamma’s plight is hard to bear.” Akkayya started.
“What? What?!” Everyone exclaimed.
“How do I say it?” Akkayya asked. “I’m getting goosebumps!” He cleared his throat and swallowed hard. With a sorrowful expression, he continued, “Venkatamma can hardly see due to the kundam in her eyes. It was scary to see.” He sat down on the floor with his head in his hands.
The women began to weep and curse Venkattamma’s heartless husband for not bothering to inform them.
Mangathayaru Ammal sent for Akkayya and questioned him. “She’s like royalty! How can she bear this?” She cried. “I think of her often. She had such beautiful eyes that I wanted to ward her from the evil eye. And it happened! Oh Ezhumalaiyane!”
The news spread far and wide. Many came to make enquiries.
Mangathayaru Ammal asked Dasappa Nayakkar to go to Venkatamma’s house and bring her back if necessary. She told Govindappa Nayakkar to make the necessary arrangements.
Kundam was a terrible eye disease to look at. It caused blindness and a protruding, fleshy growth up to two inches long that prevented the person from blinking. Children would scream in fear if they saw a person with it. It rarely affected both eyes.
Venkatamma had large, beautiful eyes that looked gorgeous even when they were shut. The eyelashes were long and full like kora grass. The eyes seemed to have been naturally kohl lined, as though people started lining their eyes with kohl to imitate her. They eyebrows were twin crowns topping her eyes. The curved fold of her upper eyelids could hold one’s attention for a full day.
Dasappa Nayakkar and everyone else that had gone returned as fast as they had left. They didn’t bring Venkatamma back with them. They did not stop smiling and any questions were met with laughter.
Akkayya stood before Mangathayaru Ammal with his usual innocent expression. She had a hard time controlling her laugh. “I know you’re not cruel. She deserved. Alright… You can go.”
The women that watched him go looked at him differently, as though they had realized they should be careful around him.
Villagers that knew about Venkatamma’s pride liked what Akkayya had done.