Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
RIVERS: JULY 01, 2001
Translated from Satyam Sankaramanchi's Telugu original "Vadara" by Jayashree Mohanraj, edited by Mini Krishnan.
R. Prasanna Venkatesh/Wilderfile
Satyam Sankaramanchi is a native of Amaravathi, an ancient flourishing town on the banks of the Krishna. He has captured the glory of this town through a series of anecdotal stories surrounding the temple of Amareswara, the varying moods of the Krishna and its influence on the life of the people.
Jayashree Mohanraj teaches at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL). Mini Krishnan is editor, translations, Oxford University Press,Chennai.
At a distance is the cloud-touching arch of the temple entrance. Behind that, the gilded top of the temple, gleaming as the sun's rays greeted it. Around the towering top were many temples, and many more temple tops. The Vaikhuntapuram hill stood on the east, on the south, the dilapidated Buddha pillars, on the west lay Dhanyakatakam, once capital of the Sathavahanas, now a mere mound. On the north girdling the pillars, barren mounds and the people living on them, flows the Krishna, and there you find Amaravati.
The main road once frequented by horses and chariots with the soldiers patrolling it now had only dogs, donkeys and Sambayya's old, disowned ox move about listlessly. The streets along which once heaps of gems and pearls used to be carted, sacks of husk were now pushed laboriously in carts. Who would sweep and clean the wide road? Everyone sweeps his front-yard and throws the garbage into the middle of the street. Dogs curl up on the garbage heaps while roosters and chicks scrape the rubbish with their beaks. At the temple entrance where once trumpets resounded, now the mad Surigadu with rags tied round his feet puffed at his ganjai chillum. Once under the huge banyan tree musical recitals filled the ears, now swear words like "you son of my . . . you've spoilt my chance" are heard as the game of cards goes on vigorously.
Where the Buddhist University once stood, the seat of knowledge for thousands of Indian and foreign students, today there stood mounds of rubbish. Pigs moved about on these barren hillocks. The vaddera urchins chased these pigs.
In the past, once when the pearl anklet slipped off the foot of a girl walking to the river for water, she thought "there's no hurry", and walked on. After leaving the pot of water at home she walked back and found the anklet untouched at the same spot. She fastened it round her ankle again and walked away nonchalantly. Today many girls fetching water from the river don't have pearl anklets. Nonetheless they walk fast. They have a smile on their faces no matter how heavy their hearts.
Krishnaveni had seen those days and is a witness to the present times too. Hiding the past in her womb, quiet she flows in all her fullness. Krishnamma flows, touching the walls of the temples of Amareswara, anointing the feet of the Lord. At a distance, from where he goes off to sleep, comes the sun running towards Amaravati. If you strain your eyes, you can see Krishnamma flowing between two peaks of the hill, bouncing ahead happily like someone eager to meet her kin. She flows on, now like strands of freshly washed tresses, in stream, then again in a single stream like the strands woven into one single plait.
It was not yet daybreak. There was commotion in the yards, commotion in the village. Suddenly the river was in spate. The river was in flood overnight. It had swollen into a deluge. In the twilight before dawn the Krishna still swells and roars. There was hip-high water in the backyards. Panic, noise, stampedes - mud walls give way. Even though the walls of the houses next to the temple were high, everything is washed away overnight into the Krishna.
Three-fourths of the lowlands are in water.
Water rises into the highlands.
The yanadis' huts had vanished. From their sheds cattle were washed away into the river along with the staves they were tied to. Boats were upset on the riverbed. Motor boats had been swept away along with their anchors.
Dawn saw Krishnamma in her destructive mood. She swelled angrily as if to swallow the earth. The other bank was not visible. It was a vast stretch of water - a tide of high waves. Amidst the swirling waters were housetops, visible now and then. Moaning cows with necks outstretched now visible, now not, were being swept away, the current overpowering their horns. Logs and planks were being swept into the waters. On one log a street dog howled as the current swirled the plank, trying to steady itself, digging its paws into the wood, scared to death. Suddenly a human voice screamed - "O God, save me" - a heart rending cry. In a moment the voice became distant, and the human was seen no more. Everyone was helpless. If anyone dared to help another, he would be lost, unable to stand the power of the current. Everyone watched the terrifying scene from the bank. Every heart was filled with fear. Children played in the water with paper boats. They pestered their elders to make boats for them. The school children marked the walls with charcoal to measure the water as it rose. "In the lowlands in the middle of the night Sangayya woke up when the child was wet and cried. By then the walls had given way. Somehow he escaped with his wife and children."
"In the highlands Venkataswami watched helplessly as his sheep were swept away."
"In Salepeta the snake was swept into Subbayya's house and bit him."
"Don't know what happened to the goats that went to graze in the island."
Many more terrible tales were being told. Some women offered vermilion, turmeric and coconuts and prayed to the river goddess to calm down. Children eagerly gathered the coconut pieces. Half the village was in the waters. With whatever they could save, the entire village gathered at the tree at Malakshma in the centre of the village. They made makeshift cradles for the infants on the branches of the tree. Around ten o' clock the floodwater began to recede.
The village heads Venkataswami, Veeraswami and Awadhanulu gathered at the tree. Jointly they planned a course of action. Someone said, "What is there to do? Take care of these people's hunger first." That's it. Some ten young men used spades to make a trench and light a fire. Another group took sacks around to collect rice from houses. They brought cooking vessels from the big house, groceries were brought and they began cooking rice. Venkateswarlu and Sobhanadri, overseeing the cooking said, "Now we must get vegetables." Avadhanulu's wife, Komati Suramma, Telaga Venakamma, and Golla Subbamma chopped vegetables efficiently. By noon dosakaya pappu, pulusu and rice were cooked.
Setti donated leaf-plates and rows of them were arranged in the market place. Shastri finished his sandhyavandanam and sat before a leaf plate. On one side sat Telaga Subbarayudu and on the other Golla Ramulu. Nobody bothered who sat next to whom. Everyone was busy chanting the Lord's name. Food was served. Shastri, after his ritual auposana, stretched out his palm for the ghee to be served. Suddenly the ghee pot was withdrawn. Mala Sanganna, who was serving ghee didn't want to serve Shastri and was rushing away from the place. As Shastri shouted "Ore Sanga" he returned hesitatingly. Shastri said, "Ore Sanga, you feel hungry, So am I. It is the same ghee whether you serve it or someone else does . . . do serve me too . . ." as he stretched out his palm. Sangadu served the ghee happily. Cries of "namah parvathi pathaye" reached the top of the temple.
Are we to believe the floods have washed the hearts clean? No. No, I don't. Like the much-washed body collecting grime by the next morning, hearts fill with dirt again. Recurring floods are not able to cleanse the human heart.
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