(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
Govindappa Nayakkar called Astrologer Enkatrayalu over and whispered something in his ear. The latter escorted the goldsmith out of the assembly and sat him down. He made him drink rice water and buttermilk, wash his face and limbs, and made him rest a little. After consoling the goldsmith and calming him down, Enkatrayalu brought him back.
This was a village tradition. A close relative of the deceased would be taken out of the assembly by a villager and given rice water and buttermilk before being brought back.
The goldsmith folded his hands towards the assembly to pay his respects but he was still unable to talk, tears flowing. They made him sit down. He wiped his face, cleared his throat, and finally began talking.
“Around this time yesterday, I wouldn’t have even dreamed of something like this happening to me. This shouldn’t have happened to me.”
He cleared his throat again.
“This woman… She is my sister’s daughter.
“Goldsmithing is a family trade. My name is Chokkalinga. Next to the Kayattaru river is my village, Mayilodai. We’ve been fighting since this morning. The day didn’t start well. I’ve never hit her. But this morning, I lightly slapped her out of anger.
“Last night, we did not sleep together. I had just returned home after ten days and I was looking forward to being back.
“My paternal aunt lives in Manjakkinaru. My cousin there, who is traditionally eligible to be my wife, had just come of age three months ago. So I made her jewelry and went to visit. My wife did not like it. If she had said so, I would not have even made the jewelry.
“I only did what was part of our traditions. They are our family and we need them too. But… She misunderstood my intentions. She was resentful.”
The goldsmith’s voice suddenly raised.
“I want to proclaim the truth in front of this council. If her spirit is here, let her hear it too. I have never touched or even thought of another woman.
“But… This foolish woman suspected me.
“We’ve been married for five years. She just got pregnant.
“I am an only son. I was hoping for a child. I can no longer dream of one. A lamp will no longer be lit in my house. I’ve loved her since I was a kid and she loved me. She would say that if I ever married anyone else, she would drown herself in a well. She married me and yet her death was in the water… Oh God!
“I made her those pambadams with so much love and they took her life!”
He stared at the ground for a long time. He then shook his head, murmuring that all was lost. He sighed and got up, ready to leave.
“Where are you going?” They asked him.
“Where can I go?” He shook. “Please take the cloth off her face so I can look at her one last time.”
Some villagers took him aside to console him.
The council prepared to discuss what was to be done.
Govindappa Nayakkar took a long look at everyone, his gaze stopping on the murderer.
The crowd waited with bated breath.
Govindappa turned to Parthasarathy and said, “Brother. How should we punish him?” He then turned to everyone. “We have no court so we must be one ourselves.”
Once again, the people tried to get the man to talk. He continued to refuse.
“Don’t think you can escape punishment by not talking!” Govindappa exclaimed. “Open your mouth and speak your mind. Tell us!”
His stubborn silence riled the crowd. The short-tempered younger villagers had to be held back and calmed by the elders.
They began discussing his punishment. First, they thought of severing a leg and an arm from opposing sides of the body. Instead, they decided to impale him on a stake.
Parthasarathy Nayakkar did not answer Govindappa’s question. He believed that only God could pass judgment. As he would be ridiculed if he suggested this, he remained silent. When the decision was made, he got up and left. As usual, he would pick up his tambura and begin strumming it. He would sing “Rama nama” and forget the world.
The guards brought two carpenters and asked them to make a stake, giving the necessary measurements.
There were multiple ways to kill a person with a stake. A person could be killed immediately, or bled out over multiple days. There were also different spots where they could be pierced.
A little far away, in a corner of the village, there was a neem tree with a mound near it. They placed the stake there. Four yards south from the spot, they dug a hole. They then brought the dead woman and placed her on top of the pile of dug up earth. The goldsmith saw her face.
When a pregnant woman died, it was customary to cut her belly to remove the child and bury it next to her. The goldsmith opposed it, asking them to bury her as is.
“If we do that, a burden relieving stone should be placed there.” Someone called out. “A memorial since she was pregnant.”
“You’re doing so much. Do that as well,” the goldsmith said.
“We aren’t against it,” Krishnappa Nayakkar said. “But shouldn’t you return to your village and complete all the mourning rituals first?”
“Village? This mendicant doesn’t have one. I’m not going home,” the goldsmith said. “I’m headed north as an ascetic.”
His proclamation struck their hearts and drew tears. They lowered the body into the hole. The goldsmith threw three handfuls of dirt into it before they began filling it again.
“You gave me food,” he said. “And I give you dirt.”
The shovelfuls of dirt made thumping noises as it hit the body. When the hole was half full, a man jumped in and stomped on it to flatten the dirt. When it was three quarters full, thorn bushes were placed on top before more dirt was added. This was to prevent wild animals like wolves and foxes, from digging the body out and eating it. The pit slowly filled until only a slight mound of wet earth remained.
“Your role is done,” the goldsmith stated. He turned and quickly walked away. He refused Govindappa Nayakkar’s and other villagers’ invitations to stay a while in their homes. He also said no to the pambadams. Instead, he asked them to give the earrings to any poor pregnant woman.
“Where are you going?” Akkayya asked.
The goldsmith said that he would be walking all the way to Kasi.
“We aren’t against your choice,” Krishnappa Nayakkar said sadly. “But you haven’t washed yourself of the grave’s dirt and you haven’t eaten. Do you think it’s right? Leaving our village like this?”
“Please, dear people, do not worry. Nothing will happen to you,” The goldsmith raised his sacred thread to affirm his promise. Then he quickly left.