My father often used to call me Gundelakka’s gigolo. I felt very bad when he did this, and when others followed suit in my village. I cried a lot, and at times, even firmly registered my protest.
By now, you must be curious to know who this Gundelakka, my alleged harlot, is.
I must tell you about her, but remember, this is my childhood story.
I went to our farm lands carrying the food that my sister Rani had packed for our parents. I and my sister Rani attended half-day school in the morning. After that, my sister's duty was to cook and pack the food, and mine, to take it to the night guards at the farm and my parents. The farm land that I am talking about is about three furlongs away from my street. Elders in our community volunteered to guard the land, staying there at night, especially just before the harvest, fearing theft of fodder and produce by men from the Boya community. Our land was on the way to the farms of the Boyas and remote too. Anyone could get away with whatever they wanted if the farm was left unguarded. And Boyas are notorious bastards! It doesn’t matter if you are a rich landlord or a poor farmer, Boyas simply take away everything that they see.
On one such evening, I headed to our farm carrying food. As I crossed Ramulamma temple, entered the oddevallu pass and was nearing saviti senu, an idea flashed in my mind. I took the pinjari senu route, thinking that it was a shortcut. I managed to pass through sekanna's senu. Then only did I realise that I had lost track and missed the bogappa senu route. I had to go on as I was unaware of the route I was passing through that evening. I crossed maddikera hillock and reached Nancharla station. It was twilight by the time I managed to get to our farm and I was tired. My parents were busy clearing jowar stalks in the farm. They both jumped at me as if they were waiting for me for ages.
"You stupid boy! How did you turn up this way?" mother yelled.
"I lost track and fumbled on my way, mother," I explained.
"You could have come straight, why did you fumble? Don’t you know the route?" father asked.
"My thought of taking a shortcut from saviti senu landed me in trouble, father," I explained.
"It is as simple as crossing bogappa's farm; why did you take that route at all?" father continued quizzing.
"Father, I told you I lost my way," I reiterated.
"Now I understand you, it is not about losing your way, it is your age, which is the root cause of all these diversions and shortcuts. Anyhow, did you manage to meet your harlot Gundelakka?" father probed, adding satire to his queries.
I could not take this heckling from my father. In an instant, I fell down, yelled like hell and sobbed.
"Get up idiot, Enough of your dramatics; do not take not your father's comments seriously," cribbed my mother and ordered me to take the utensils and go home before it was too late.
I had thought otherwise. I had expected mother to give some dried grains as remuneration for my spectacular performance so that I could buy enough puffed masala rice.
"Aha! my street-smart boy, do not think that we are unaware of your matters. We know your love escapades well. The secret affair between you and Gundelakka is no longer news. We know about your daily visits to your lady love. Before we knew this, we were both clueless, we did not understand why our boy looked agitated and absent-minded. We now know that Gundelakka kicked you with her left leg when you knocked at her door at a wrong hour," said my father, breaking into laughter, this irritating me to the core.
Since the day my dad coined my nickname – the gigolo of Gundelakka. It spread like wildfire in no time and everybody in my village began calling me that. I wept a lot when people on the roads cut jokes and passed nasty comments on me, and later learned to keep quiet.
When somebody asked me whether I was the paramour of Gundelakka, I would sport an emotionless face and say "Yes" in helplessness.
"What was today's special dish on her menu," one prankster on the roadside asks me.
"She cooked a variety of special dishes including kheer, sweet pancakes, stuffed brinjal curry with mirchi soaked in butter milk," I replied, extempore without hesitation.
Another enthusiast asked me "Where did you sleep with her?"
I had an immediate answer for each of such queries.
I also used to improvise a nice cock-and-bull story every time.
But who is this Gundelakka?
Till I was thirty, I didn’t know the answer myself.
One fine day, thinking that it was high time that I know who Gundelakka was, I finally asked my mother.
"She is the one and only fashionable and most sexiest woman Nemakallu village ever saw," mother said. "She was picture-perfect, a stunning black beauty. Words could not describe her grace. Masculine in built, her nose as straight as a lily stalk. She could finish her work, I am told, before ten men put together, finished theirs. And during functions like marriages and other community gatherings ,she was notorious for drinking a bucketfull of kheer at one go. She never spared any man who tried to cross paths with her. She would catch his hair and beat him up. And when it comes to loyalty, the entire community put her on par with Sita. All these features made her a legend in the village. When she was in her thirties, her husband passed away. Against all odds, she not only raised her children but also laboured to get fifty acres of land. Now she is no more. She is remembered as a great icon. This is all I know about her through the age old tales that passed through generations in this village's memory," my mother's narration halted.
I cribbed, "Enough is enough, don't make me fool again. So, Gundelakka is no more, but I am still her gigolo. Is this what you are trying to tell me?" I was both agitated and laughing at the same time when I questioned my mother.
"I feel that everybody here is cheating on me," I screamed.
" Enough is enough."
You must be wondering, why on the one hand I told you that I had met Gundelakka and on the other, that she is no more.
It is true that when I was on my way back home from the place where oxen are slaughtered, I met Gundelakka.
It is also a fact that Gundelakka died long ago. The Gundelakka I have spoken of through my mom's memory and my village's legend is not the one I met.
The Gundelakka who is long dead belongs to the Pinjara community, and the Gundelakka I know is from my community, the Madigas.
I will tell you something about Madiga Gundelakka for your clarification.
The Madiga Gundelakka I know is neither Gundelakka nor an aged woman. She is a ten year old girl . Her real name is Mallakka. Her grand father Siddhiramappa is a highly renowned person in our cluster of villages. He is the busiest man in the entire Aloor taluk. What I tell you now happened during Siddhiramappa's youthful days.
Young Siddhiramappa roamed around the cluster of villages to find a suitable girl for wife. It seems that seven pairs of chappals wore away during the search. No one came forward to give his daughter in marriage to Siddhiramappa. The reason was that enquiries about Siddhiramappa's roots revealed that he was the son of a basavi. As his paternal parentage was unknown, nobody came forward to give him their daughter in marriage. Adding to his woes, his mother died when he was just a child, and he had faced hardships all his young life.
At last, a match was fixed from a village that lay to the west of our cluster. The village head then raised an objection, saying it was not possible for a girl to marry a Madiga man who had no working relationship with the village community. Later, the elders themselves came out with a solution. For a year, Siddiramappa should serve the kapu community in the village; till such time the elders would request the girl to wait for him. This twist in the tale was the begining of bad days for Siddhiramappa. He worked day and night in the pedda Reddy's community as a wage labourer, and in the process gained their confidence. He became expert in making chappals. The chappals he made were the most sought after in the village. People said that the footwear that Siddiramappa made were as neat and unblemished as a plain mirror. Soon Siddiramappa became the brand designer, not just in footwear making, but in other leather works too. In a year's time, he had become famous among the 33 Reddy families that he served. On coming to know about his extraordinary workmanship, people in and around 7 villages came forward with dozens of marriage proposals.
Mallakka is the daughter of Siddiramappa's son Narayana. Mallakka spoke well. Her concern for the family was unparalleled. She was a multi-faceted personality and a great taskmaster; From dawn to dusk she meticulously did all the domestic chores and in the evening, carried food to the fields. Considering her tenacity, people in the village often said that Mallakkka should not have been born in the Madiga community. If she was born in the dora's community, she would have ruled a kingdom. By now you must be knowing that the Madiga Gundelakka I met is this Mallakka. And my so-called harlot Gundelakka, whom I have never seen, died long ago.
Do I need to tell you that my father was a joker?
One day Mallakka was passing our street. "She looks just like Gundelakka,” my dad comented.
That was the end of it. From that day onwards, Madiga Mallakka became Gundelakka. Mind you, even today, I am called Gundelakka's paramour. This is how it became one of my nicknames. This is the story behind my nickname.
I have lots of other nicknames. I am ready to tell you about all of them, are you ready to listen ?
(Telugu: Nagapparaju sundara raju madiga)
(The Oxford Univeristy Press is soon publishing an antnhology of dalit stories of AP. This piece is part of it)