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Dr. Basavaraj Naikar was born
on August, 1, 1949 at Naragund, Dist. Dharwad, Karnataka. He did his M. A.(English)
from Karnataka University, Ph. D. from Gulbarga University and D. Litt. from
California University. Presently he is working as Professor of English and
Chairman of the Department of English, Karnataka University, Dharwad-580 003. He has so far written 8 books (five
in English and 3 in Kannada language), besides
editing eight books and translating nine books
Basavanti (a short story by) Dr. Basavaraj Naikar
was a young girl admired by every youngman of the village Nagarahalli secretly
or publicly. It was because of her bewitching beauty that her husband Kalmesh
had married her, though, of course, he was very poor and owned only two acres of
land at Hunasikatti. But after the euphoria of early days of marriage had
disappeared, it became simply impossible for her to rub along with her husband.
She did not like the way he treated her. He would return home late in the night
and that too fully drunk and beat her heavily or made love to her without any
affection and fall into sleep snoring loudly. Even when she was right under the
weight of his nakedness, she longed for the affectionate caresses of her early
lover in the native village. That is the reason why one night she disappeared
from her husband’s home. Kalmesh was shocked a bit when he found that his wife
had absconded somewhere without any intimation to him. He wanted to give the
last trial to his luck and therefore, made a journey to Nagarahalli. He ordered
his wife, “Return home with me immediately. Otherwise you need not step into my
house ever in future.” She replied blankly, “I’ll not live with you. Our
relation has come to an end,” and walked briskly into the kitchen. Her mother
requested her son-in-law to have his lunch. But Kalmesh, insulted by his wife’s
indifference said, “Food is not necessary for me,” and journeyed back to his
village Hunasikatti. He forgot all about Basavanti when he married another girl
from a neighboring village Jawoor.
Basavanti heaved a sigh of relief when she finally snapped her relationship with the beast of a husband. Her old lover, who had robbed her virginity in the jowar field before her marriage, had assured her that he would maintain her with all the care and affection. The house that she lived in was made of black mud and timber and had only two small rooms including the kitchen. Her father had died long back and now she had been living with her old mother and a sister of barely ten years. Though the entire village gossipped about her extra-marital affair, neither she nor her mother cared for it, simply because of dire poverty. “Would the wagging tongues ever feed us?” Thus did Basavanti try to console her mother who was sore about the ill reputation that was spreading around in the village. The young slip of a girl Mahadevi was blissfully ignorant about these problems and spent most of her time in playing with the neighbours’ children.
Chinnappagouda was a tall and hefty man with a wife from a rich family and had two children. He had been a playboy ever since he had attained puberty. He had twenty-five acres of land, four bullocks and two cows. Two bonded laborers worked in his house around the clock. He lacked nothing in his life. A gallant by nature, he would be always on the look out for a pretty belle of the village for his entertainment. He heaved a sigh of relief when Basavanti acted according to his secret advice and returned to Nagarahalli after leaving her husband for good. “Though people may call you may concubine, you don’t care for that at all. Secretly we’ll be like married couple. I’ll treat you not only equal to my wife, but even as better than her,” he had whispered into her ears when he was still inside her in the dark room. He always felt a paradisal pleasure in her passionate company. So did she in his company and felt a new security.
Chinnappagouda never cared for the wagging tongues in the village. Everyday he went to Basavanti’s house in the afternoon. As soon as he went in there and sat chatting with her, her mother would excuse herself and go to the Monastery and sit there watching the villagers or reciting the Sivamantra. Little Mahadevi would go out and play chakka or rope-dancing or mock-cooking with tiny utensils with her friends. Basavanti would enjoy staring at her lover’s well-trimmed mustaches, silken turban, pleated dhoti and above all his wide chest and strong hips. Likewise, Chinnappagouda would sit gazing at her chiselled features, round face, black tresses, succulent breasts and inebriating bottoms. She would tell him all the stories and hearsay that she had heard or could remember and make him laugh. Similarly, he would narrate to her all the adventures of his younger days and keep her in good humour. “When I was a young boy of about sixteen,” he said to her one day, “I had observed the purity mania of some widows. They never used to allow me to go near them or touch them. So one day I hit upon a mischievous plan. I took a bamboo of about six feet and burned its inside thereby making a good cylinder of it and carried it to the touring talkies to see a Kannada movie called Bhakta Prahlada. In the electric light I could make out where the widows had sat and I managed to squeeze my way through the gents and sat just behind the widows. The film was very good and people were responding to it with cheers and wails, as the occasion demanded. When an hour or so had gone by, I became alert about my mischievous plan. I adjusted the bamboo and placed it just behind those puritanical widows and made water in it very silently. I watched around me and was happy that nobody noticed me. When the film was about to come to an end, I got up and walked out of the talkies hurriedly leaving the bamboo there itself. I went to a nearby tree and stood behind it watching the fun. The gents came out first and walked slowly. Then a group of women came out cursing, “who’s the widow’s husband who has polluted us.? Our saris are all soaked in urine. May his corpse be lifted. May he be roasted in hell eternally.” They squeezed their urine soaked saris, stretched them to the wind and said to themselves, “Let’s go home and have hot-water bath. Let’s not come to this talkies ever again.” I was laughing in a muffled voice behind the tree.” Though Basavanti was listening to his narration with rapt attention, she could not hold back her laughter. She doubled up with many tiers of laughter. “What if you had been detected and beaten up by people?” asked she. “How could they detect it?” said he with a giggle. Then Basavanti would serve him with sweet-balls, puffed rice and tea. After chatting thus for an hour or two, Chinnappagouda would caress her, explore her sensuous nooks and curves until he had his fulfillment for the day. Then he would go back to his wife. Basavanti’s mother would return home only after making sure that the daughter's’ paramour had left the place.
The love affair between Basavanti and Chinnappagouda graduated into a very intimate and almost illegal marriage. Basavanti’s mother turned a deaf ear to all the gossip that was going on in the village. For, she had no other go except depend upon her daughter for two square meals per day, if nothing else. She had accepted the ignominy as part of her destiny. But the only thing that gave her some satisfaction was that her daughter was happy because of Chinnappagouda’s economic support for her. She knew that Basavanti had now been able to own a golden necklace, bangles, ear-rings and bracelets because of Chinnappagouda’s generosity. Basavanti grew richer and happier over a period of five years. She not only lived unmindful of the gossip of the village, but grew positively arrogant. Respectable women of the village began to hesitate having any friendship with her because of her illicit relationship with Chinnappagouda.
Basavanti’s small house stood near the Maruti temple in the village. Her house had no regular bathroom. She, therefore, had erected four thatched walls of cotton-stalks beside her house and called it a bathroom. She, her mother and her younger sister used to take bath there in the morning. As there was no drainage system in the village, the stinking water began to flow out of her thatched bathroom and flowed across the road. The villagers who used to go to the temple in the morning to offer their prayers had to jump over the stinking water or sometimes slip down on the ground. With their bedraggled dhotis, they would walk back to their houses, cursing Basavanti all the while, “this shameless woman has no respect for Lord Maruti or for the people of this village. She has no sense to stop the flow of her bath water across the way to the holy temple. God will, one day, teach her a good lesson.” The children in the lanes would simply laugh at the comic sight of the slush-smeared devotees. Although everybody cursed Basavanti, nobody had either the courage or willingness to approach her directly and ask her to control her bath water. They relied only upon Lord Maruti to redress the wrong done to the village by her.
Basavanti never attended any funeral in the village. She used to make occasional trips to Navalgund for marketing. She would go to Bangarasetty’s shop where she had mortgazed a number of golden ornaments for some cash she needed for the urgencies of her life. It was in the same shop that she used to buy gold for the Goudasani Gangamma who had great trust in her honesty. Basavanti had a little problem of health. She used to suffer from frequent headaches. She would, therefore, request her lover for pills. Chinnappagouda would bring some pills from Hubli or Dharwad and offer them to her in his passionate privacy. Basavanti, thus, lived gloriously by the village standards. The womenfolk who went to the tank for fetching water would comment upon her, “Basavanti’s eyes have gone to the top of her head now. She cannot see people in the village now even if they walk before her.” But Basavanti was past caring for such comments. Half a dozen years went by like this in the enjoyment of their glorious love affair.
One day Basavanti’s eyes grew dim all of a sudden. She just could not see anything around her. She had to grope in the dark as it were for her movements. Sometimes she would dash against a wall or trip over the threshold and fall on the floor thereby receiving minor injuries. She just could not understand what had come upon her. She began to pray to Lord Maruti in the nearby temple. For everything, she had to depend upon either her sister or mother. When Chinnappagouda came on his nocturnal visit, he was shocked out of his wits to know what had befallen his beloved. He assured her, “Don’t you worry, darling. It might be a temporary problem. It may not last long.” But Basavanti was not convinced or satisfied by his answer. That night he made love to her without any emotional attachment. Nor did she respond to him as she used to in the past. However, in the early morning he dressed up and wanted to go home. But before that he gave her a few ten rupee notes and asked her to go over to Hubli and have her eyes checked up by a doctor. Then he walked slowly towards his home.
That morning Basavanti had her bath and breakfast of sweet-balls and parched rice. She walked to Sisvinhalli Railway Station along with her mother and a servant of Chinnappagouda. After waiting for an hour, they boarded the train and reached Hubli. From there they went to the Government Hospital by an auto riksaw. The servant made enquiry at the counter. At last they went to the E.N.T. department and waited there for another half an hour. When Basavanti’s turn came, she entered the doctor’s chamber with her mother’s help. The doctor lit the torch and examined her eyes by stretching her eyelid wide. Then he made her stand before a scanning machine and scrutinized the graph, which appeared in bright green colour. Basavanti requested the doctor, “Father, please give back my eyesight by conducting operation if necessary.” She joined her palms and saluted him. The doctor sat in his chair brooding for a few seconds. Then he said, “Your problem is not so easy as to be solved by me. You’ll have to go to Bangalore for treatment. If you are willing to spend some money, I shall give a letter to a doctor at Bangalore.” Basavanti was simply shocked out her wits by the doctor’s words. For a moment she did not know what to say. The doctor was still waiting for her answer. At last she said, “All right, doctor, I’ll go wherever you direct me to. All that I want is the return of my eyesight.” Then the doctor took up his letter-head and wrote down a personal letter to his friend at Banglaore, kept it in a cover and handed it over to Basavanti. He said to her, “See, amma, this doctor is a very close friend of mine. He works in the Kempegouda Hospital at Bangalore. You hand this over to him. He will help you to get the necessary treatment.” Basavanti gave the letter to her old mother, joined her palms in respect to the doctor and walked out of his chamber slowly, with the help of her younger sister. All of them had their lunch in the Renuka Hotel near the Rani Chennamma Circle. Then they returned to their village in a dust covered rattling bus.
It was nearing midnight when Chinnappagouda made his visit to Basavanti’s house. As usual her mother and younger sister had gone to the Monastery yard to sleep. Chinnappagouda was eager to know the result of her visit to the doctor. He clasped her palms and asked, “What did the doctor say, dear? Has he given any medicine?” Even in the dim kerosene lamp, he was staring at her face askance. Basavanti nodded her head to the left and then to the right and said in a plaintive voice, “No.” “But why? What did he say at least?” he asked her concernedly. “He said he can not cure me here. He has asked me to go to Bangalore. He has given me a letter and asked me to hand it over to a doctor at the Kempegouda Hospital.” Chinnappagouda understood the gravity of the situation. For a few moments both of them remained silent. Somewhere a dog barked in the village. Chinnappagouda’s heart began to beat fast. It took him quite a few minutes to calm down. “A trip to Bangalore means a lot of money. Besides I am a poor illiterate woman. I cannot go there alone, or even with my mother. I can do that only if you accompany me,” said Basavanti in a weak voice. But Chinnappagouda said rather apologetically, “Dear, please try to know my difficulty also. I cannot stir out of the village because I have to attend to the farms. This is the sowing season. I must see that all the farms are sown at the right time.” “Then how can I go there without a knowledgeable person?’ asked Basavanti worriedly. “Don’t you worry, darling. I shall give you enough money and send a loyal servant of mine, Siddappa. He is an intelligent youngman who will take you to Bangalore and bring you back safely,” assured Chinnappagouda. “Then do as you please. What else can I do?” exclaimed Basavanti leaning against his broad chest. He, then, put off the oil-lamp and began to trace the rich deposits of her sensuous wealth.
Three days went by in waiting . Basavanti waited patiently for the money. Chinnappagouda rushed to the A.P.M.C. Office at Hubli to get his money that was long due to him for the cotton bales that he had supplied there. The fourth day, he returned to Nagarahalli. In the evening, he visited Basavanti as usual after dinner. He handed over the cash to her, “Take this money, dear. This will be enough for your trip to Bangalore and your treatment there. You don’t worry. I am willing to squander money for your health.” Basavanti took the wad of notes from him and kept it under the bed. She then caressed his cheeks with both her palms. Chinnappagouda drew her gently to his side and planted a few kisses upon her cheeks.
The next morning Basavanti went to Hubli along with her mother and servant Siddappa. Then they went to the Railway Station and boarded the Kittur Express at 9:00 P.M. They settled themselves confortably on their wooden seats. The train started with a screech and moved slowly. They dozed on their seats and therefore spread their mattresses on the berths and slept. The train gathered speed gradually of which they were not aware. However,after a lapse of nearly four hours, they were awakened by the sound of hawkers and the din of people in the Station at Davanagere. Siddappa ordered for three cups of coffee. All the three of them drank the coffee slowly. The train started once again. Basavanti’s mother and Siddappa sat watching the profile of hills, tall coconut treees and thickets of small trees in the pale moonlight. But Basavanti could not see anything. Instead, she sat listening to Siddappa’s description of the landscape and tried her best to visaulise those things. Another five hours elapsed . At last the train jerked into a stop at the Bangalore Station. Dawn was breaking slowly in the eastern sky. They walked up to the busy Majestic Circle and searched for a modest lodge. Finally they found a Janata Lodge and rested in a double room for a couple of hours.
After completing the morning ablutions in the Lodge, they had their breakfast of dosa and tea and rushed to the Kempegouda Hospital in an auto riksaw. Then all the three of them walked to the Enquiry Counter. Siddappa asked about Doctor Somasekhar. The lady clad in white uniform gave him some directions. Then Siddappa led Basavanti and her mother to the chamber. He first saluted the doctor with joined palms and asked humbly, “Are you Doctor Somasekhar Saheb?” The doctor looked up at him through his glasses and said, “Yes, yes. What can I do for you?” Mean while he kept his stethescope on the table. “Saheb, we have come all the way from Hubli. Dr. Patil has sent this letter to you,” said Siddappa humbly and handed over the letter to him. Dr. Somasekhar took up the letter and glanced through it carefully. He, then, said, “I shall make all the arrangements for scanning. Please wait for half an hour. By the way who is the patient?” Siddappa pointed to Basavanti.
After an hour of waiting, Basavanti was led by Dr. Somasekhar into the scanning room. She was asked to lie down on the hard wooden board covered with rexene sheet. Four receivers were stuck on her forehead, temples and top of head. They were all connected by wires to the scanning machine. Dr. Somasekhar and other colleagues of his were all watching the graphs on the computer screen. After the scanning was over, Basavanti was asked to get up and go out. Siddappa led her slowly out of the scanning room. Dr. Somesekhar said, “The results of the scanning will be ready by the evening. You may go back to your lodge and rest in the meanwhile. You please come tomorrow morning about 11:00 o’clock.” All the three of them went back to their lodge by an autoriksaw.
The next morning, they went to the Hospital and waited in the lounge. Dr. Somasekhar called them into his room. Basavanti was very eager to know what the doctor had to say. The doctor said, “See amma, you have to be operated on. Are you ready for that?” “I am ready, Saheb. That is why I have come all the way from my village,” said Basavanti. “No, amma, don’t be under the impression that your eyes are going to be operated on. Your case is very complicated,” said the doctor. “Kindly tell me doctor saheb, what exactly is the problem with me?” requested Basavanti imploringly. Then the doctor said further, “See amma, you have lost your eyesight because of the formation of pus in side your skull. For that we’ll have to open a fraction of the skull. You’ll have to sign a bond. We’ll not be responsible for any unforeseen event. The whole thing is a bit risky. You think twice before committing to any thing.” Basavanti understood the gravity of the problem. Her mother and Siddappa also grew very serious. All the three went out of the chamber to a nearby corner and discussed the pros and cons of the operation. Siddappa said, “I feel, there is no guarantee of success in this operation. What shall we do now?” Basavanti’s mother said with a lachrymose face, “No appa, I do not allow my daughter to die in this hospital right before my eyes. Let her live as long as she can in our village, though she may not regain her eyesight.” “I also feel the same way,” said Siddappa. Then Basavanti’s mother asked Siddappa. “Appa, please go and tell the doctor that we would proceed to our village and consult our elders.” Siddappa went to the doctor’s chamber and returned after five minutes. Then they went back to their lodge, collected their bags and rushed to the Bus-Stand threading their way through the maddening crowd of Bangalore. Then they boarded the government bus bound for Hubli.
They reached Nagarahalli in the early morning. They were utterly tired because of their walk for three miles from Sisvinahalli. They took rest for a couple of hours. Then Siddappa walked to the tank with a pitcher. Chinnappagouda was sitting on the bank of the tank with his incarnadined mouth. He was surprised at the sight of Siddappa who had returned from Bangloare so soon. “Le Sidda, why did you return from Bangalore so quickly? What happened there?” Siddappa walked near Chinnappagouda, kept the pitcher on the earth and said in a pathetic tone, “Goudre, amma is very unlucky. Terrible misfortune has befallen her.” Chinnappagouda knit his brows and asked him in an irritated manner, “Whatever has happened to her, tell me clearly, fellow.” He waited patiently for the answer. Siddappa cleared his throat and narrated the whole story. Chinnappagouda’s face grew pale gradually. Both of them remained speechless for a few minutes. Then Siddappa stepped down into the water and filled his pitcher and walked home. Chinnappagouda walked towards his jowar field where a number of daily wagers had gone ahead for weeding the grass. But Chinnappagouda was feeling restless and depressed by the news that he had heard from Siddappa. Time seemed to hang so heavily upon him. He didn’t even relish his lunch in the afternoon. As soon as dusk fell on the earth, he rushed to Basavanti’s house and enquired about her Bangalore trip. Basavanti told him that her mother would narrate everything to him. Accordingly Basavanti’s mother narrated all the details of the case and the doctor’s opinion. Basavanti was shedding tears silently. Chinnappagouda heaved a long sigh and said in a consolatory tone, “All right then. Let everything be as per God’s wish.” After dinner Basavanti’s mother went to the Monastery along with her youngest daughter for sleeping there. Chinnappagouda hugged Basavanti and consoled her. He did not feel like indulging in his usual amours with her that night at least.
A month elapsed. Chinnappagouda started visiting her only twice a week instead of every night. Basavanti developed some doubt about her lover’s bonafides though she could not articulate it to anybody. She noticed that she had grey hairs on her head and wrinkles on her skin. Some three months elapsed like this. Then Chinnappagouda started visiting her only once a fortnight. Basavanti began to feel more and more lonely and insecure. One day she asked him the cause. He replied, “What shall I do, dear? I have so much of work to attend to on the farms. I hardly get any time these days.” Another three months elapsed when Chinnappagouda stopped his visits altogether. Basavanti waited and waited for him. But alas, he never came. Basavanti, therefore, fell to deep thinking about her fate, which had led her through the unexpected ups and downs of life. She had nobody to fall back upon except her helpless mother and immature sister. Neither brothers, nor maternal uncles nor any distant male relatives could come to her rescue at the moments of emergency in her life as they had not approved of her behaviour. She grew more and more inward and developed a sort of cynicism about life.
One day Basavanti was crying in a muffled voice. Her mother understood it and asked her, “Had you lived with your husband, would he have neglected you like this?” Unable to control her feeling, she also burst into tears. Thus both of them cried until they were exhausted. Basavanti had hardened herself inwardly. The mother questioned her daughter, “What shall we do for our daily bread, my daughter? Shall I go for work in the Goudasani’s fields?” Basavanti was angered a bit and interrogated, “Should I send an old woman like you for work? No, that shall never be.” The mother tried to console her, “There is no other way, my daughter.” Basavanti took a deep breath and said firmly, “Let him not come if he doesn’t want to. I can live by myself as long as I can. I shall pledge my gold and live alone without him.” The mother appreciated her daughter’s courage inwardly.
The next day, Basavanti went to Navalgund with her mother and pledged her golden necklace and bangles and collected some money from the saraf. She did not have to sign any paper because of the mutual faith they had for several years. After returning from Navalgund, Basavanti decided to live on only one meal per day as a punishment for her illegal existence with her lover. She did not listen even to her mother’s advice. Within three months she lost nearly half of her weight and began to look like a frightening skeleton. The mother was deeply worried about her daughter’s declining health and cried before the neighbours who sympathized with her. But there was nobody to help them out. A few neighbours came to Basavanti’s house and consoled her. But Basavanti did not show any diffidence. She told them, “I have accepted whatever has happened in my life and shall do so in future also.” “Have your brothers come to see you, Basavanti?” asked one of the neighbours. Basavanti replied, “My brothers have severed their relation with me long back i.e. as soon as I left my husband. I don’t think they would ever care to see me now.” The neighbours heaved a deep sigh of sympathy and walked away to their homes. A week passed like this. Basavanti was waning day by day.
One day Basavanti refused to take her single meal also. The mother tried to force her gently to have at least one meal per day, but Basavanti said firmly in her weak voice, “I want to die as early as possible. I don’t want to be a liability to any one.” The mother sobbed in muffled voice and remained helpless. As hours went by, Basavanti grew weaker and weaker. After three days of total starvation, she breathed her last. The mother and sister fell on Basavanti’s cooling body and screamed and wailed piteously. The neighbours who heard the mourning cries rushed to their house and joined the chorus of wailing and crying. “God, why did you not take me away first by sparing my daughter? Is there any mother unluckier than I?” wailed the mother. Then a few men came and bathed the dead body of Basavanti and sat it in a lotus posture against the wall and decorated it with vibhuti marks, flowers, and garlands and lit the joss sticks. Chinnappagouda who heard the news of his ex-beloved’s death could not control his tears. He rushed to the spot and offered his last homage to her. He called his loyal servant Siddappa and gave him sufficient money to arrange the funeral rites properly. The members of the bhajan chorus sang about the ephemerality of life as described by the Sarif of Sisunal. Before the evening they took the dead body on a well-decked hearse and buried it according to the Lingayat rites and returned home silently.
After three days when the sepulchral gravity had thinned to a marked extent, three village women were walking towards the tank for water. They were carrying the empty pitchers on their heads. When they went past the late Basavanti’s thatched house, they began to interpret her life in different ways. Kallavva said, “See friend, Basavanti went blind because she had let her bath water across the temple road.” “No,” said Mallavva, “that cannot be the reason. I feel that she suffered because she had abandoned her husband.” “No, no, no,” said Nilavva; “She had to die like that on account of the curse of Chinnappagouda’s wife.” “None of these might be the real cause of her suffering. It must be only because of her past karma,” said Lingavva.
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