smiling woman at the field


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

(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)

The man with a streak of thiruman – a holy, gray powder – on his forehead was Damn Box Ramayya.

After he got back from work, Ramayya would bathe and always apply the thiruman to his forehead. He kept the thiruman in a special box and would not eat until he had applied the thiruman to his forehead.

Ramayya was a gourmand. While his wife rubbed his back during his bath, he would ask, “What have you cooked today, Chinnakutti?”

If the meal was something he liked, he would pat himself dry and cheerfully say, “Bring me the thiruman box.”

If the meal was not, he would yell, “Bring me that damn box!”

Next was Kai Adi (Castrator) Kondayya. Akkayya called him Kai Kadi (Ball Biter) Kondayya.

Kondayya was always welcomed warmly in the goat-pen. It could even be said he got a royal welcome. They would bring him young male goats to him for castration. He would fold a piece of cloth in two, place it on the testicle, and bite it off. Both testicles would be removed in the same way within the blink of an eye. It was hard to watch but it was much less painful for the animal. Before this method began, the testicles would be crushed to a pulp between two sticks while the animal howled in agony, rending the hearts of anyone listening. Kai Adi Kondayya lessened the pain of everyone involved.

“No one would want to fight you.” Akkayya would say. “Just looking at you is scary.”

The next man, quiet and drowsy, was Ragupathi Nayakkar. He had the largest top-knot of all the Nayakkar present. Even women were envious of his hair.

Ragupathi was an incredibly hard worker. He would be up with the rooster’s call and work until lamps had to be lit. As soon as he was done, sleep would take hold of him. Sleep and Ragupathi were so connected that he was like the legendary sleeping giant Kumbhakarna.

Not many knew of his personal issues. He had been married for six years and, like most of the men in Gopalla Gramam, he had two wives. They were his older sister’s two daughters. They had yet to have a child.

Though the villagers knew that he didn’t have a child, they didn’t know why. Ragupathi Nayakkar called the reason for it an embarrassment.

When he married them, neither of them had started puberty. This only happened a year later, one after the other.

It was evening by the time he got home. He would leave the cattle in the shed then go to get their food. Then he would go to where harvested crops had been placed to be used for fodder. He would take handfuls of the long grains and break them to tie them in on themselves. Then he would tie everything together into a bundle. He’d call out to passers-by to help put the bundle on his head and would return home.

After giving the cattle their fodder, he would get ready for his bath. With the help of one of his wives, he would carry a huge vat of warm water out to the yard.

As his back was rubbed, he would reach out to his wife. The sounds of giggling and bangles clashing would ensue while the woman tried to complete her task while keeping away from his clutches. When she eventually finished, she would walk away while wiping her face with the end of her sari, ridding her laughter with that motion.

Ragupathi would sit down for dinner like an innocent boy and quietly eat.

After a warm bath, a big meal, and the toils of a long day, Ragupathi felt the call of sleep. He would lean against the bed. The women would come much later after: serving food to their servants, cowherds and shepherds, siblings, the laundry washers, the farmhands and so on; having their own meals; heating up milk and setting it aside to turn into curd; feeding the cattle a second time; checking all the locks and doors; and finally coming to bed. By then, Ragupathi Nayakkar would be snoring. 

The sisters would chew betel, dim the lamp, and talk to each other in whispers. Eventually, they would yawn a few times and they too would fall asleep.

The first person to wake up in the morning was their mother-in-law, who rose at the rooster’s first call. She would light the lamp, feed the cattle, and sit down to pound betel leaf in her pestle and mortar.

With the second call, everyone else would wake up. When the sisters woke up to sprinkle a mixture of cow dung and water onto the yard, Ragupathi would awaken. He’d try to grab hold of one of them and they would shake his hand off saying, “No! Let go. It’s morning now.”

While cursing his sleep, he would tie his veshti and start cleaning the cattle sheds.

Everyday proceeded like this without change. 

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