Scars: Vasundhara Ratakonda
This short story was originally published
in Telugu (a regional language in India) by the author
Vasundhara Ratakonda. It was first published in BHARATHI,
a prestigious literary monthly and later anthologized
in a collection NEEDALU (Shadows) and later in VASUNDHARA
DEVI KATHALU (2004). Several of Ratakonda’s stories
have been translated into other Indian languages and
anthologized. She is now engaged in translating her
stories and her short novel from Telugu to English and
“Scars” is her own translation.
Vasundhara Ratakonda has been the recipient
of several awards including the A.P.State Sahitya Academy
Award for short- stories, Gangadharam Award for short-story
collection, and the Pratibha puraskar (Best woman Writer
in Telugu, 1992). Some of her selected list of English
translations are –
* Women Writing in India Today-II (Feminist Press-NY):
* Thulika (Web Quarterly, July2004): STEPPING TO A FARAWAY
ANOTHER DAY HAS BROKEN. I am awake
but do not feel like stepping out of my bed, as usual.
Everyday I wake up early, boil milk for my son and daughter,
make coffee for the two of us and get ready by seven
a.m., to face my daily grind. Every time, the thought
flits by: Does it matter if I am late? What’ll happen
if I get sick? They’ll manage, won’t they?
The thought of sickness makes me take a look at my fingers.
I find the same difference between the fingers of the
left hand and those of the right. No worsening in the
past few days…
Or is there?
I am not so certain.
The left fingers are slender and they taper. The right
fingers are thick at the joints and are blotchy. Whenever
I notice them, the suspicion crosses my mind: maybe
these are leprous changes .That stinking disease also
starts with thickening of finger joints, I have heard.
I am scared of leprosy. I positively hate it. This town
of Chittoor is teeming with those blighted hordes. I
shudder when I think of it. This fellow has no fingers.
That fellow has no nose. The other one’s arms are blotchy.
Chi, chi, the whole leprous population of the country
seems to have congregated here to beg. They are sure
to infect the whole town. It would be a good riddance
if they were all bundled up and burnt off!
I cannot say this out loud or the world is sure to scream
‘pity them…sympathize with them…what about your compassion?’
I have no compassion.
Will they burn me too, because of that?
Ah, these miserable fingers…these right hand fingers…so
thick. Sometimes I am convinced that cooking is at the
root of this entire problem. Mustard and green chilies
splutter in hot oil and lunge straight on to my hands.
Somehow my hand is right where the steam spouts out.
I strain the boiling rice, and the scalding hot kanji
makes a beeline onto my hand like iron filings marching
to the magnet. When milk boils over, the rag to hold
the hot dish is nowhere to be found. Scared of burning
my hand, I hug the hot dish, the overflowing milk, and
the stovetop, all three of them, in my anxiety.
Now I do it differently. I stand before the milk boiling-over,
and think calmly, “Go, milk, go the way you wish to
go and be damned, I don’t care!” If I find cold water
handy, I sprinkle. If not, I just do nothing. The milk
will boil over and flood the flame and good riddance!
I hate cooking. My mother never taught me how. A sophisticated
lady, she was too enlightened and over-educated. Trivial
skills like cooking had never bothered her, but she
soaked up all the necessary rules needed for a high-class
But it was mother’s destiny to marry a luckless man.
My dad worked for the government as a deputy collector
for a long time and was never promoted. I am sure she
yearned to shine as a collector’s wife. Ha, ha, ha,
her enlightenment had no power over destiny! My dad
didn’t take a lot of bribes but the few that he did
take were detected and earned him a black mark. What
could my wise mom do except be deeply hurt, as Julius
Caesar was when he saw Brutus stab him! I personally
think it is a good thing to be stabbed now and then,
because your wisdom and Vedanta, they say, grow by these
When she brought the two of us – Suryam and I -- into
this world, she had it all planned out very smartly,
she told me. She explained facts about life at the proper
age very scientifically as though life was a bundle
of facts and dealings of dried up intellect. I am sure
she explained to Suryam too at his proper age - why
he is a boy and why I am not. That effeminate fellow
… the frigid stiff…he would not have thought of these
things until SHE explained! He is a good boy. Always
at the books like a good boy. No wonder he is the pet
child of mom and dad.
Is it a merit to know only what the authorized text-books
teach? Is all the rest of it just plain wrong? Were
we born out of her head? What hypocrisy! What a barren
life! I feel nausea rise up when I hear her lecture.
Her world moves according to plan, just as for our India
- progressing by five-year-plans! She turned out smarter
than the motherland. She wanted a child five years after
her marriage and she had me. Five years later, she wanted
a boy and had Suryam. Then she said, ‘enough is enough’,
She told me to do likewise. She knew well enough that
I would never, ever, take her advice. She was only discharging
her duty. I can tell by her tone, by the way she tells.
In truth, I married the way I did, just to foil her
plans…or rather, my marrying the way I did foiled her
plans. ..I myself don’t know why I chose this particular
husband. Did I do it right? He and I don’t mesh.
As soon as I turned fifteen, and she was trying to figure
out whether I should be wearing frocks like a little
child, or skirt and blouse like a ten-year-old, I wrote
love letters to the student next door and swore I would
not marry anybody else. With the whole neighborhood
plugged in, she had no choice but to give in. She did
all she possibly could to convince me to change my mind,
though. She said she would arrange a doctor or engineer
as a bridegroom. Then I would be ‘blessed with hoards
of riches and servants’. But if I persist with this
boy who keeps failing his bachelors exams, I’d be in
for a poor life, she predicted.
Enquiries revealed that the boy’s family was not well-to-do.
Mother was very upset on knowing this and was I tickled
pink! Her worry was not for me, it was for her status.
I knew that well.
She could not understand why I turned out like I did
after all her careful planning. Being enlightened, she
knew psychology - Freud’s complexes, Adler’s complex
and many others - and looked to them to explain my every
action as I grew up. She worried that if I were to wake
up in the middle of the night and see my parents in
‘the sinful act’ in my half-sleep, my life might be
plagued by some Freudian complex. She was flustered
when I asked about little Suryam’s measly weenie. Later,
of course, she explained it scientifically. No ill-informed,
out-dated bumbling here.
Finally she concluded that mine was a case of Adler’s
‘Dethronement complex.’ I heard her tell my father that
it might have been wiser if they had Suryam five years
late. My dad agreed with her. What else can he do but
agree after failing to become A District Collector?
Maybe Suryam will become a district collector. That
determined fellow is being groomed.
My dad finagled a clerk’s post in the collector’s office
for my consort. These past six years my mate has been
working as a clerk. I had my son and daughter in the
first two years after marriage. I gave up after that.
Children are big trouble. Mother, I want milk…poopie,
mom, poopie…peep, mommy, peep...two tyrants are trouble
enough. With a husband who is a CLERK in the collector’s
office, I can’t afford ayahs, or cooks…
As I laze here thinking, HE would have opened the front
door; the servant woman would have brought in milk from
the kiosk and washed the dirty dishes.
Doubts crowd my mind: my right hand has scalds? Leprous
spots? I am not certain. I am not sure of the Almighty
Some days they strike me as leprous. On those days the
milk boils over. My hands get scalded. The children
annoy me and get beaten up and cry and scream…I cry
too, because they hug and cling to me when they cry.
And it feels so noble when I do it.
Some days they appear as just scalds. Those days I feel
elated. If I have free cash, I make some snack for the
children. I even express sympathy for my husband’s difficulties
at the office. Not that it matters to him! Whether I
scold or sympathize, a smile is his only response. A
born clerk, that’s what he is!
Today the spots are looking leprous. Yesterday I got
a letter from father. They have now moved to Tirupati
to be with Suryam, who joined some M.Sc. program there.
They are worried the wimp might not be comfortable in
the University hostel! Now that they are very near to
Chittoor, they suggest I might spend a week with them,
as Deepavali, the festival of lights and crackers, is
They extend these obligatory invitations for every festival.
I dislike train and bus journeys. I have not visited
them in these six years since my marriage. Even for
my deliveries, I did not accept their help. The first
time, mother came and stayed at my home for ten days.
The second time my husband’s friends helped for a week.
The rest of the story is work, work, work…I am worn
To tell the truth, HE does half the work –like feeding
the baby, cleaning their slobber and their shit, changing
nappies. Why wouldn’t he? Is he a collector or what?
“Mom, wake up!...I want my milk!” Bobby starts his
Here I am sick with the big blight, and the stupid boy
wants his milk!
“You wait until I give you, GO NOW!” I shout.
He sprints off toward the open front door, and straight
out into the street.
What good are these silly brats? They are just nuisances
and nothing more. Half my sickness starts with them,
the raucous little tyrants. The boy wants my full attention.
The girl wants my full attention. Cooking needs my full
attention. My husband being just a clerk, he doesn’t
need attention, and it’s a blessing. Even then, how
can I supply three full attentions? That is the ailment
Now if they were to disappear completely and not exist
– kidnapped or perished – the racket will not be there,
the house will be calm and quiet, and I can go on sleeping
What was that deafening crash? I am shocked! My body
is trembling. Was that a thunder bolt? Without clouds
and lightning? What a big blast!
Ah, the baby has woken up. Now her howling will start.
Why couldn’t she sleep longer?
Ugh, I am still trembling.
“What was that sound?” I ask.
“I’ll go take a look. Somebody seems to have set off
a cracker,” says my husband.
“Amma, Amma…some urchins put gunpowder in a tin and
it blew up …right in front of our house…four kids are
dead, they are saying…” the servant maid, Lakshmi, comes
in hurriedly and explains.
“Oh! My heart, it is pounding so hard…Was it really
near our front door? It gave me a shock.”
“Radha, where is our Bobby?”
“ Ayyo, Ayyo, he went outside!...Quick, go, look for
my precious baby! .…Lakshmi, run out and see…Ah, my
son! My darling child! Whatever has happened to my golden
“Radha, I’m going out to check on it. Don’t panic,”
my husband says worriedly.
As he hurries to the door, Bobby runs in, scared and
“Mom …they died…pieces, pieces…” he sputters brokenly,
pointing to the door.
I get out of my bed in frenzy, crying out, “You gave
me such a fright, you giddy, feckless brat …Now I am
going to kill you…”
My husband rushes in and holds me.
“Radha, stop it…Don’t you see the boy is in terror…”
he says roughly.
I slump on his shoulder and break down crying.
He strokes my back. “Sit quietly for a while…you are
shaken…You’ll be okay,” he says.
“No…no…I’m…I think…my fingers are blotched...I think
it’s…it maybe leprosy…”
“We’ll go and check with the doctor…don’t cry now…why
panic for no reason?” he says lightly. He is not frightened.
I feel disgusted and think, ‘the man doesn’t know enough
even to move away from me in fear! A spiritless, born
clerk he is.’