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Asajyothi

(The Lamp of Hope)

GRK Murty

The wick, burning in the pramida1 with a steady flame, has quite
a long snuff. The glow dimmed. As she nears the lamp to trim
the snuff, she is gripped by fear. The snuff on the wick was like
Sitammavaru2 sitting on the funeral pile. True, if the snuff is

Published in Bharati, June 1949.
1
Pramida—An earthen saucer like structure containing oil in which a wick is lighted up to serve as a lamp.
2
Sitammavaru—Wife of Lord Rama. In the Ramayana, when Sri Rama proclaims his resolution, “Which man
descended from a great family can take back with confidence… a wife who has gone and lived for about a year in
another man’s house?” leaving no room for Sita’s remonstrance, Sita turns to Lakshmana and says, “Build me a pyre,
I pray you. Suspected and cast away by my husband, I cannot, I will not, live any longer. Fire, consuming fire, is the
only remedy for this woe!” and once the chitaa (pyre) is made ready, she walks into it. Modern day writers often
use this scene—Sitammavaru sitting on a funeral pile as an incarnation of the spirit of sorrow—to convey
metaphorically all the sorrow in the world in one word.

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trimmed, the lamp will glow better. But in that attempt, the
light itself may go off. Greed is a sure way to sorrow! She could
not trim it. Who is she to trim the snuff? Snuff is the need of the
lamp. That would be taken care of by the lamp itself. If it were
felt good to be off from the lamp, the snuff would itself drop.
Why to acquire that sin too as though there were not enough in
store?

She looks for a used matchstick. With it, she pushes up the
wick. Like a tender amaranth’s shoot, the wick leans to one
side. As though angered by it, the lamp makes chitput chitput
sound. For a second, it appears as almost extinguished. Her
heart stops for once. With great anxiety she rushes to her kid.
He is of the second month. He is suffering from a heart ailment.
His eyelids remained closed for long. Not moving his hands. Not
even folding the leg that was stretched earlier.

Light has not extinguished. Nor has the kid in the bed moved.
Her eyes are flooded with tears. Life is haunting her like a
serpent.

Her husband is dead. He died when she conceived this boy. She
then felt like committing suicide. But she could not ignore the
fetus floating in her womb. Whenever she was overtaken by the
thought of suicide, the fetus in her womb struggled as though
gasping for breath. She felt pity for it. It is for this child that she
has given up the attempt to commit suicide. It is for him that
she has lived.

“Amma”3—calls the daughter, sitting opposite to her on the


cot. She fears. Fails to respond.

3
Amma—Mother.

2
“Amma.” She is hardly six years old. But will not give off her
pursuit half way. Her voice could at last surface out: “What
amma?”

“Chittibabu4 is suffering from ailment, yes?” enquires daughter.


“Yes, my child,” she sits holding her breath fearing what else
she would ask.

“It would cure amma, don’t worry,” says the daughter.

She felt vivified. “Will it get cured amma?”

“Certainly will get cured.”


Saying “ma-amme”5, she pulls the daughter into her lap. She
hugs her tightly. Overawed by joy, her body shuddered with
horripilation. At once, her breasts swell up with milk. Her eyes
fill with tears. Blouse wets. Tears overflow.

She anxiously asks her daughter, “Would it surely cure amma?”


“Oh! Sure!”

“Ma-amme?” Overjoyed, she closes her eyes. Boundaries blur.


Limits melt. Eyelids swamp in tears. Whole world becomes a
storehouse of water. In it there appears a banyan leaf. And on
it, lies a small child. As she opens her eyes, the child on the bed
appears like Sheshatalpasai6 to her.

4
Chittibabu—Pet way of addressing a young kid in the family.
5
Ma-amme—A way of calling a girl child, with overtone of affection.
6
Sheshatalpasai—Lord Krishna lying on the banayan-leaf in a pond.

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A cool breeze blows. To protect the boy from it she covers him
with a cloth. Drop by drop she pours the medicine. And the
child smacks it.

“Have you noticed amma, chittibabu’s acts? As though unaware


of it, drank the medicine in one swig,” says the daughter.

She smiles at it. Fondly, runs her hand over her hair setting it
right.

The wall clock strikes indicating the hour.

It was purchased when she first came to her in-laws’ house.


Years have passed by since then. So many changes! Yet, the
clock is running in the same way—six in the morning to six in
the evening, again six in the evening to six in the morning, it is
circling in the same way with no change. Being used to it, we
keep thinking, but after all what is the relation between change
in the life and time? By usage, we assume that time is spent, but
does this ‘spent’ apply to time? Whatever is there, it is there.
Indeed, there is nothing like time at all.

Her husband was fond of that clock. Had immense faith too, in
it. He moved all through his life by that clock. So long as he
lived, the clock too moved as though it is functioning for his
sake. Now, it is acting as though it is moving for itself. What a
deceit? Why at all to live by cheating others so much? Whenever
it strikes hours, it sounds as though it is saying, “I am moving
for my own sake”; “I am moving for my own sake”. It reminds
her of her husband. He was an innocent man. He used to
believe everyone, for he used to work for all. What use in
cribbing at it today?

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“What are you thinking?” enquires her daughter.
He used to think that all others are working for him. Nor did he
know that there is so much deceit.
“Nothing amma,” said she. But her daughter does not appear to
have believed her.
“Amma, sleep for a while.”
“Oh! Don’t worry about my sleep, my child!”
“You didn’t sleep even yesterday.”
“It’s alright amma.”
“When we fall sick, you tend us. If you fall sick, who would tend
you amma?”

About to say, ‘God’, but hesitates fearing that her daughter


may say, “Wouldn’t that god who tends you, care for me too?”
Instead, she says, “You go and sleep my child.” This answer,
however, doesn’t satisfy her. She says, “I shall look after
chittibabu, you lie down amma.”

“No way, you go and sleep.”

“Amma, I am not sleepy,” says her daughter and sits quiet for a
while. It’s not clear what she thought of in the meanwhile, she
starts talking again.

“Look amma, chittibabu is struck with such a serious ailment.


Yet, we could put up with it. Had father been around, what an
amount of anxious-driven commotion he would have
exhibited.”

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She didn’t speak, except to heave a sigh. What her daughter
said was true. If children are laid up with fever, he could not
remain as himself. He would become terribly worried. He made
her too restless. Indeed, makes the whole house anxious.

Every minute, with a sad face, he would ask pitifully: “Will it


cure?” I used to pity him. Why, even felt like caressing him.
“Sure, it will cure.”
Yet, he would again ask, “Are you sure it would certainly cure?”
She was afraid that if she says anything hesitantly, something
untoward would happen to him. So she would always say
feelingly, “certainly it would cure.”
Then he would ask, “Tell me the truth.”

He expects me to say the truth.

He would not leave me till I say to the effect, “True, it will


certainly cure. Check if I am wrong by tomorrow morning. Ask
me, if it is not cured.”

In between these two children, she gave birth to a boy but he


died soon. And that disturbed him terribly for long. She had no
faith in hospitals—not that they don’t know midwifery, but
certainly, they don’t know how to raise children. They don’t
allow mothers feed caster oil to their newborn. Even when cool
breeze is blowing, they keep all the doors and windows open
fully. That’s why she didn’t want to go to hospital. But he had
immense faith in hospitals. So is his belief in doctors, too. It is
just to please him she got admitted in the hospital. That delivery
proved to be difficult.

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Later, she felt that it was good she got admitted in the hospital.
Yet, on the sixth day the child died. His sorrow was inestimable.
Watching him standing alone in the hospital compound under
the big tree pathetically, had wrenched her stomach violently.
She had to comfort him and get him home all by herself.

He lamented, “Hadn’t we not gone to the hospital, the boy


would have survived.” She tried her best to impress upon him
that it was good she had been to the hospital. Yet, she could
not heal his wound.

“All these bad things happen only to us, why?”

“Not that we alone suffer; because these are our hardships we


come to know of them,” replied she. Her behavior had
bewildered him. He might have thought of her as made up of
sterner stuff. After all, how was he to know her sorrow—pangs
of sorrow that she had undergone silently within herself.

* * * * *

The lamp is glowing. Snuff too is growing. The lamp is


extinguishing itself spreading light around. The snuff is growing,
diminishing the glow. Lamp does know the nature of snuff. Yet,
it does not stop creating snuff; it doesn’t matter even if it
means death to itself, for it feels happy quivering, growing and
glowing even for a while rather than living long with no growth.
For that to happen, it willingly burns itself. Allows snuff to form
and grow. Invites threat to itself even. It even lets its life
become momentary.

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She says lamp is the kumkum bottu7. She feels oil in the pramida
is not in the reach of the wick. Gets up, and like pouring water in
the beds around plants, she pours oil in the pramida. Then she
calmly goes to the child and sits near him. She senses a change
in his condition. He moves. Not only moves, but also closes and
opens his fist. She sees it. “Look! Amma, look, what babu is
doing,” says daughter happily.
“He is playing, amma.”

Mother sits fondly caressing the hand of the child. The child
holds her index-finger in his fist. Does not leave it. Neither does
she want her finger freed. Sits quietly.

Suddenly, the child opens his eyes. How smartly he stares! He


sees her as if he had identified her as his mother. Stares at her
as if looking for her since ages and only today his desire to see
her is fulfilled. Mother also opens her eyes. He looks at her as if
he longed to see her. The minute he sees her, his eyes twinkle
like clear crystals—laugh within themselves.

“Era na tandri?8 What? What makes you so merry?” asks the


mother.
“Ammara” reminds his sister. He gracefully shakes his body. In
that shaking, he releases his mother’s finger. He rubs his fist
along his face.

His sister tries to make him laugh by saying, “chi, chi, chi, chi.”

He does laugh. But that laugh has no sound. He hasn’t laughed


openly. Rather, has laughed within himself. His laugh is like that
of the dissipation of dark clouds that cover the sky without
7
Kumkum bottu—The vermillion dot that Indian women put on their forehead.
8
Era na tandri—Fond way of addressing a child, mostly by a mother.

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thunder. His virtual laugh makes his whole body laugh. His
planks blow upwards. Like a stiff bamboo blade, he pops up
saying “uu”.
“Quiet, my child, quiet; sleep,” entreats his mother.
“See amma, you haven’t believed me,” says daughter.
“What talli9?”
“Babu is now alright.”
Her body shudders at once. The hitherto shapeless fear that ran
across her whole-body has now acquired a shape.
“Will it cure talli?” asks mother with a quivering voice.
“Oh!” says daughter.
“Will it certainly cure?”
“Certainly it will cure.”

She is about to ask, “Truly!” It almost comes over her lips. She
remembers her husband. He used to ask her in the same
manner. Suddenly, she feels shy. Her whole body transforms
into a rasavahini —a free flow of passion.

She sees her husband. She becomes a new bride.


“How are you?” asks her husband.
“Don’t you know?”
“Yes, I know.”
“Life has been crippled … become a dependent … for
everything.”

9
Talli—Mother, a fond way of addressing a daughter by mother.

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“Don’t think like that.”
“Relying on what, should I stop thinking that way?”
“Have you forgotten what I said?”
“What?”
“You should not think about life in terms of hardship,
happiness, death, and living. After all, in this world, it is no great
deal for a man to suffer hardships, becoming happy, to be born,
and to die. To live without bondage is what the ultimate
triumph over the life.”
“Yes!”
“What ‘yes’?”
“I remember.”

“Remembering is not enough. You are the ‘rememberer’. That


is the ‘remembrance.’ As long as this differentiation remains
with you, it is tricky. You have to become ‘remembrance’ and
‘remembrance’ must become you.”
“I am the ‘remembrance’. ‘Remembrance’ I am.”
He disappears. Rasavahini becomes the body. Wick has busted
at once, but has not extinguished. Snuff has grown but has not
broken. She looks at it. Could not, however, stay focused on it.
That is a lamp. It has a wick. Wick in turn has snuff. This is a cot.
Over it are the cloths. Within them is the child. He has an
ailment. Right in front of her is her daughter. Before the
daughter is herself. She cannot see them all as independent
entities. Whatever that becomes of the aggregation of these
entities, appears as jeevitam—existence—for her. She feels that
there is some such thing.

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Daughter is dozing.
“My child,” mother awakens her.
Daughter opens her eyelids with difficulty.
“Sleep amma, you can’t stay awake.”
Rubbing her eyes, daughter says, “I can.”
“Listen to me, not good for your health.”
“How about you, then?”
“I am elder.”
“Am I too not elder? Look, how elder I am to babu,” she gets up
and stands on the cot.
“That’s not what elderliness means, my child.”

“What is it, then?”


“When you really become elder, you would come to know.”
Daughter changes the topic: “How quietly babu is sleeping!”
“He has inherited his father’s trait.”
“How about me?”
“Amma’s.”
Daughter felt like sleeping.
Mother senses it. Even my daughter is more like her father, she
feels.
Daughter lies down, covering herself with a blanket. Suddenly,
as though something struck in between, she says: “Everything
has turned out as I have said. I have said chittibabu will get

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cured, and it has happened. I shall bathe him tomorrow by
laying him on my legs. Will you make sunnivundalu10 for me?”
So speaking, she falls asleep. That is the way of children.
She adjusts the blanket on the kid.
She examines the boy by laying her hand on him. Fondly rubs
his cheeks. She starts reminiscing. Her father…her mother…
her brothers. It is after her brothers’ marriage but before her
marriage that her father died. Immediately after father’s death,
brothers have separated. Their lives have become different.
They started treating her and her mother as outsiders. Her
mother lived pitching her hopes on her. She wanted to marry
her off to a good man and retire aside. She gets married. Then
her mother longed to see her give birth to a child. She would
often say that she had no other desire. She gave birth to a
female-child. Her mother then looked forward to a male-
grandchild. She then wanted to see her granddaughter’s
marriage. Except that, she would say, there is no other desire
for her. But had she lived till then, she would have certainly
aspired to see her great grandchild. There is no end for aasa—
aspiration. Aasa—hope—is the very foundation of the life.
Living means hoping for. The lamp of hope keeps on glowing
forever and in every circumstance. Her husband always kept
saying, “Questioning the purpose of living is a meaningless
question; living itself is a bliss.”

Snuff drops. Lamp brightens. It brightens like the brightness of


the red lily in the pond. Suddenly it dawns.

* * *

10
Sunnivundalu—A sweetmeat.

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