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THE ONES WHO SOLD THEMSELVES
Devanoor Mahadeva
       BIRA sat facing the evening crimson, and in his head Kittappa began to appear in a hundred different forms. Kittappa could have brought his dying father a mite of comfort by agreeing to the marriage, but his own pig-headedness was bigger for him than his father. Although he'd flunked his exams because he was busy while at College chasing the girl he was soppy on, his craze for her didn't wear off even after his return to the village. He continued to go off to Mysore once in a week or a fortnight. The Gowda on his part advised him, abused him a sufficient number of times before giving up. His son had come of age, and so the Gowda didn't lately tell him off no matter what Kittappa did. "What could I do?" "Stay quiet at least till I die, you perishing blighter!" I told him. But he wouldn't listen. Everything is screwed up; it's okay even if the house is sold. I should have got this rascal to till our fields instead of sending him off to town. But why blame him when it is in fact I who's made the mistake? ..." The Gowda would swallow the rest of what he wanted to ventilate, and pulling a long and bitter face, would smile the whole thing away.
       They are stinking rich. Kittappa should be living in style, shouldn't he? Instead, he lies stewed in this wine-bibbers' den ever so often. He doesn't leave the place for ten, fifteen days. If I say something, he bears down on me. And I can't really force the issue because he is my master, the one who gives me my daily ragi balls ...
       It'll be one year on the coming Ugadi festival since we came here. Destitute and desolate, we didn't have anything when Lakshmi and I left the village for good. We got on the last bogie of the train and when we reached Mysore, it was night. We slept at the railway station itself, washed up at the tap in the morning, and were sitting with our knees under our ears and our hands on our heads when Lakshmi suggested we go to Nanjangud. "Okay", I said, and we got on the train that was about to chug off. We hadn't bought tickets, and so were in a pickle when the ticket collector asked to see our tickets. It was then that, coming to our rescue like a god, our village headman, the Gowda spoke to the ticket collector. He then turned to us to ask us who we were and where we were headed. "We've left our village in search of work. We are haalu matasthas". The Gowda thought for a while before saying "I need two sturdy persons to work in my grove. There's a homestead there. If you agree ..."
       Turning, Bira looked in the direction of the village. Daylight had already ebbed away. "Kittappa should have been here by now, shouldn't he?" he said wordlessly to himself as he lit a beedi. At a distance was a torchlight which was coming towards him. Bira ran his eyes over the torchlight, letting them follow it where it went, and as it came quite near him, he craned forward to look: It was Pasha from the flour mill who came and stood in front. "The motor coil has gone out of order. Kittappa took it to Mysore for repairs. He won't come today," he rattled off the moment he arrived. "Is it so?" Bira asked. Pasha bobbed his head, the bob saying; "Yes, it is." "I'll take leave," Pasha said, and as he turned to go, Bira invited him: ' "Come on, in, you Muslim! You could eat your meal here before you leave." "No, sir, I can't. There are lots of people waiting at the mill. I'm running the smaller mill now. Kittappa told me to tell you. I'm here to tell you," returned Pasha before he quickly made tracks. Bira coughed once or twice. As the fire at the fag-end of the beedi he'd lit sometime back touched his hand, he let a second beedi catch fire from the glowing one, then strolled into the shanty.
                                       

    

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