Trees growing in a pond

GOPALLA GRAMAM – CHAPTER 20

(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)

(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)

As expected, the rain arrived early that year.

They made plows by carving wood and pulled the plows themselves. They sowed the seeds of grain. Then they used sticks with v-shaped ends to drag thorny bushes and cover the planted seeds. They had no animals or proper plowshares to do all this.

Hope sprouted with the seeds.

They worked hard and so Mother Earth blessed them.

The seedlings themselves were dark green and as wide as sugarcane leaves.

Pearl millet overwhelmed the ground. Foxtail millet ripened to an unbelievable amount. Sesame grew an arms length above a man’s head. The cotton field was so abundant a person could become lost in it. Each plant was like a temple chariot, fully decorated with flower buds and petals.

They had a good crop that year and shared it among each family. Then each family claimed a portion of land that they would be able to care for and began cultivating it.

In the summer, they journeyed to other villages to start a line of communication. Then, they bartered their crops for cattle and proper plowshares.

They got in touch with other Telugu people, strengthening the bonds through marriage. They encouraged the craftsmen – namely the ones they did not have – to settle down in their village.

Initially, language was a problem but it eased as the days went on. Women and children learned especially fast.

They began to build houses. As the village grew, rainwater became insufficient for their needs. They began to dig wells. They made the existing pond wider for the animals to drink from and planted trees to strengthen the pond’s banks. Those trees are still present.

The village council had decreed that each family had to plant a tree in their name. And so, trees were planted around the pond and in other spots around the village.

Back then, the family that was the largest and had the strongest members were considered the best. This was because they were able to maintain the most land and cattle. Families like that would grow wealthy. The Kottaiyar family was one of them.

***

Govindappa Nayakkar was surrounded by betel-chewing people. In those days, only married people chewed betel. The younger, unmarried lot watched the proceedings from a distance. The betel-chewers talked in a drowsy manner with their lower lips jutting out to dam the flood of saliva that came with chewing betel. Many of the younger villagers looked forward to the day they could join them.

Chinayya Nayakkar stood and washed his mouth of betel. His lips and teeth were blood red and the haze of tobacco was upon him. Sweat beaded the tip of his nose and neck. A beatific expression on his face. He would probe his teeth and collect the betel nut bits on his tongue. Then he’d spit the bits out with blowing noise. What he spat out would never hit someone, no matter the crowd. Even the tiniest gap was enough. Unlike others, he would not pick at his teeth with a stick to free chewed up pieces.

His ears would tingle whenever he spat out the betel. He would seek out a fallen feather and begin to pluck and clean it as his ears called for him to hurry. He’d swallow his spit, bring his veshti up and under his armpits, and then put the feather tip in his ear. His eyes would shut in relaxation immediately. After the feather was far enough in, he would twirl it between two fingers. The pleasure it gave was indescribable.

The sight of his drooping jaw, drowsy eyes, and shaking head was a delight for anyone watching. Now and then he’d suck in air through his teeth like he had eaten a chili. He would even begin to drool out the side of his mouth.

When he became aware of himself, due to the spit, he would come to his senses and wipe his mouth with a smile. Not from embarrassment, but from accepting that it was normal.

While he was in this bliss, Govindappa Nayakkar would ask, “How is it?”

“Very relaxing. Orgasmic.” Would be the response.

Govindappa Nayakkar would laugh silently. Neither grew bored of this small, repeated exchange.

Chinayya Nayakkar had many chickens. Wherever one looked, an ear-cleaning feather was stuck into an easily reached spot. In the eating area of the kitchen, in the inner courtyard where they’d chew betel after a meal, the outer veranda where they’d talk, the storeroom, hallways, bedrooms, everywhere. The feathers were of different colors so they would be easily seen.

As he talked to someone, he would mindlessly reach an arm out and his hand would find a feather.

His in-laws teasingly called him Chicken Hair Chinayya Nayakkar. As time went on, that became his name. If someone asked for Chinayya Nayakkar, they would be asked ‘Which one?’ so this nickname was useful.

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