(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
The first person in the southern row was Cold Hearted Senganna. No one called him that to his face. However, there were four or five Senganna’s in the village so an epithet like that was needed.
When land was family owned, joint-families were normal. As joint-families began to break up, the heirs started to divide the properties up. When that happened to Senganna’s family, an old pot used to store lime was left over. Not having the heart to give it away, Senganna broke the pot and gave away half. After that incident, he was known as Cold Hearted Senganna.
Next, towards the west, was Raw Butter Narasayya. Normally, one would think that meant he loved eating butter. But he earned this name due to him rubbing butter on his head after a haircut and following it with a warm bath. He enjoyed this so much that it became a routine. The smell of butter was pervasive around him.
Next to Raw Butter was Shed Bangaru Nayakkar. He wore big, oil-stained ruby ear-studs that suited his giant physique. He made a living by ginning the cotton he received from other families. He had thirty hand-operated blades in his house.
In Gopalla, almost every house had a hand-operated blade and spinning wheel. But it wasn’t possible to gin huge amounts of cotton in a home, which is where Bangaru stepped in.
In those days bulls that pulled plowshares, dairy cows, and pregnant livestock were given generous meals of cotton seeds. Bangaru Nayakkar would be paid with one bale of cotton and he would process three into fluff and seed. Or one could pay him with grain for his services.
Thirty women worked in his shed from morning to evening. They were given two breaks and they were paid in kammam grass grain. This shed was the first factory in that area.
At the end of the cotton harvest, they got busy spinning it. Buffalo cartilage shaped like a bow was used to card the cotton that was then turned into thread. Weavers from neighboring villages would buy the thread. The cotton spinners knew how many skeins went into a certain amount of cloth. Some of them would have the weavers make a veshti or sari with the thread they had spun.
When they left , the weavers carried bags of grain.
Next to Shed Bangaru Nayakkar was Astrologer Enkatrayalu.
Back then, bachelors would shave for the first time on their wedding day. Until then, they maintained a beard. Enkatrayalu never got married. He had long since surpassed marriageable age and so the beard stayed as well. The first man to break this custom was Akkayya. No one else was brave enough.
Next to Enkatrayalu was his brother Chinna Enkatrayalu. He had a beard. He was married and his wife was pregnant. Men also stopped shaving when their wife was pregnant.
There was another beard custom. Rarely, some men stopped at just one wife. Society was insistent that a man marry at least two women. A man with just one wife was often ridiculed and his marital status pointed out. “Are you talking about that guy with only one wife? What kind of man is he?”
A man with only one wife would usually marry again if she died. Others would not and he would start growing his beard again as his heart was still with his late wife.
Enkatrayalu could have gotten married if he wished. However, the astrologer said the planets and stars were not in alignment for him to get married.
Rayalu had some talents that would shine now and then. He could correctly guess a person’s birth-star from the way they were sitting.
During a long journey to a village, he stopped at a hostel to rest. Akkayya was also with him. Many people were sitting on the hostel’s large patio. Rayalu looked at Akkayya and said, “You don’t believe in astrology right? How about I guess each of their signs?”
“Yeah? Alright. Go ahead,” Akkayya responded.
Rayalu described each person, defined the characteristics of someone born under a particular constellation and guessed their sign. Akkayya closely observed each person.
One man had folded his legs under him with his left hand on the floor and his right hand on his hip. Another was sitting on his haunches, his upper back against the wall and his bent knees hugged close to his chest by his hands. His feet were lifted roughly four inches off the ground.
Another had stretched his legs out and his elbows on the ground. His hands were closed into tight fists and pressed closed to his thighs. His back was against the wall. Another man was sitting similarly but his left leg was crossed over the right. His interlaced fingers were on the back of his neck as he leaned onto the wall with a straight back.
The next had his right leg extended and his right hand on the ground. His left leg was bent and he was resting his left hand on its knee.
One was hugging his knees to his chest and gently rocking himself. Each person was sitting in their own distinct way.
Of the eleven men, only five knew their signs. They were surprised by Rayalu’s accurate guesses.