What have you decided?“ asked Ravi, looking into her face.

“Didn’t I tell you that there is no change in my decision!“ Sobha said looking at the stream flowing at her feet.

“Won’t you change your mind?” he pleaded.

“No” she said firmly without taking her eyes off the flowing stream.

He looked at her with hurt for a few moments. She sat leaning to the left, with her left hand placed on a small rock and her gun propped up against a rock on the right side. The gun was right between them.

 “She is not even looking at me“ he thought.

 When he got there, she was already sitting there looking at the stream. Though he sat beside her, she didn’t even look at him. After waiting for four or five minutes, he broke the ice. 

“How can you say that? You know very well that I cannot live without you. “he said.

She turned towards him, looked into his eyes, as if assessing his sincerity. “Then, stay with the movement.” she said.

After saying that she thought she should not have said that, knowing that his decision to leave the movement was firm.

“After what had transpired for no fault of mine, how can I stay in the movement? The party didn’t understand me. I thought at least you would understand me.”

“Leaving the party is not the solution. You should stay and fight” Sobha said as a last resort.

“I have been doing that for the last one year. Now I cannot anymore. I am tired.” he said.

“You have taken your decision and I have taken mine. Now there is no point in discussing.”

“Won’t you think about the child?”

“There is nothing new to think about the child now. I thought about her seven years ago.”

“What makes you so adamant, Vara?” he asked.

“Don’t call me by that name!” She placed her hand inadvertently on the gun.

“What if I call you by that name now? There was a time when you were particular about me calling you Vara!” He placed his hand on hers, but she immediately snatched it away from him. He felt as if he were slapped. Her face was grim as she stared at the stream of water.

There was a time when she longed for his touch and his presence. Her entire world was filled with him. But now she could not bear either.


Varalakshmi was the only child to her parents. Govind was her maternal uncle. People viewed them from their childhood as a future couple. Govind joined in Intermediate in a college in the town after graduating from high school, while Varalakshmi had to give up her studies after seventh standard as her parents could not afford it. Even the seventh standard was exceptional for girls at that time and place.

 Govind returned to the village without completing his Intermediate. The Movement, which was at its peak, literally pulled him back into the village. He participated actively in all the struggles in the village. Varalakshmi’s parents were not happy with his activities.

“We expected that you would study well and get a good job, so that you could look after Varalakshmi well. Why are you roaming around like this?”  Varalakshmi’s mother asked.

“Is it necessary to do a job for a living? Is cultivating our two acres of land not enough? “her father said.

There was no response from Govind to either of them.

Vexed with his attitude, they searched for a groom for their daughter and fixed her marriage to one Narayana, a laborer in the neighboring village who was an orphan.

Varalakshmi liked Govind, so she was reluctant to marry Narayana. But her parents almost compelled her, saying that he would stay with them and work in their field along with them so that all of them could live together. Varalakshmi had to give in. The son-in-law Narayana lived with them. As Govind was fully involved in activism, he had no time to bother about the happenings at home.  Things did not go as Varalakshmi’s parents hoped for. Narayana turned out to be an alcoholic and the habit grew more after the marriage. He didn’t help his in-laws, and, moreover he demanded money from them. If they refused, he swore at them and hit Varalakshmi.

One day when Govind came home Narayana was beating Varalakshmi. Varalakshmi was wailing and her parents were trying to stop Narayana from beating her. Govind could not bear that. He pulled Varalakshmi away from Narayana’s clutches, dragged Narayana to the front yard and beat him badly. If not for the neighbors’ intervention Narayana would have died.

“Get out from here, otherwise, I will kill you,” shouted Govind.

 No one supported Narayana, nor did anyone ask Govind to forgive him. Govind was so furious that none of them dared say anything to him. Narayana had no option but to leave and he left to save his life.  The neighbors pacified Govind, made him sit on a cot inside the house and left. The four of them left in the house were silent. Nobody cried, nobody consoled anyone and nobody cursed. All of them sat as if shell shocked.

“It is natural to have issues between a husband and wife. They fight with each other and reconcile later. But what did you do? You hit him and threw him out. How will he come here again?” said Varalakshmi’s mother after a while.

The abating anger rose up in Govind again,” You want him to come here again? I will kill him if he dares come here.” he said.
“ Don’t say that. After all he is her husband.” Varalakshmi’s mother said.

“Is that fellow a husband? Anyway, you must be blamed for her fate.”

“What happened had happened according to her karma. Now we should not act in haste” Varalakshmi’s father said.

“There is nothing like karma. He had been abusing her for a long time. Enough is enough. I won’t allow him to enter the village.”

“Then what happens to her life?” Varalakshmi’s mother asked seriously.

“Nothing happens. I will marry her.” Govind said emotionally.

Varalakshmi swiftly looked at his face.

“Tell me the truth Varaalu, don’t you like me? Did you like him when you married him? “Govind said in a demanding tone looking into her eyes.

Varalakshmi said nothing and looked down.

“Why do you bend your head? You did this exactly when that fellow had tied the knot. You will never come to your senses” said Govind disgustedly and went out.

When he came home after one week Varalakshmi was alone, lying on a cot. Narayana never came back. On hearing Govind entering the house she sat up. Govind sat beside her.

“I shouted at you that day unnecessarily, for no fault of yours. I know very well that marriages in our society take place whether the girl likes the groom or not. Your marriage also happened like that.” He said in a gentle voice. Varalakshmi sat with bowed head.

“That day I was very emotional when I said I would marry you and I am still bound to my word. But, that will happen only if you are willing. On the other hand, if you want to live with Narayana, I will go to him and tell him to behave better and bring him here” said Govind after a while.

“No mama I don’t want to live with him” pat came Varalakshmi’s reply.

“Then, would you like to marry me?’

Varalakshmi did not raise her head.

“Tell me Varaalu.!”

“How can I mama? I am already a married woman.”
“ So what? Your heart is filled with love for me. Good relationship between a husband and wife depends on mutual love, isn’t it?” saying thus he put his hand on her shoulder.

She held his hand firmly as if in agreement. She felt that she should never leave his hand. Soon they were married, with the consent of her parents. Her parents hoped that Govind would give up his activism and stay home after the marriage. But that didn’t happen. Moreover, the days he stayed at home became less and less.

Varalakshmi’s mother advised her to stop him from going out using her wifely enchantments. But Varalakshmi did not pay any heed to her mother. Instead, she encouraged him. She believed that whatever he was doing was good and she must cooperate with him. In the little time he was at home, he treated her with love. She listened to his gentle voice with immense interest. He shared the domestic chores, despite her objection. He called her “Vara”affectionately. She asked him to call her “Vara “again and again. She would laugh heartily when he called her by that name.

There was no comparison between the life with Narayana, who stayed home abusing her, and the life with Govind.

 Sometimes Govind brought home a friend, and three or four of them occasionally. She provided them with hot water to bathe, gave them food and made sure they ate well . They called her “Akka” and she called them “Anna”.

One person whom they called Peddanna addressed Varalakshmi as “Eamma.

While she was making food, all of them would have discussions. When she completed cooking, they would come and eat. ” We are giving you a lot of trouble akka” they would say. “Not at all “, she would reply. After dinner they would continue their discussions while she went to her room to sleep. As Varalakshmi’s mother was against these visits, she didn’t help her daughter with cooking or attending to the guests.

Govind would come and lie down on her side at the break of dawn.” “Have they left?” Varalakshmi would ask.

“Yes. They have gone. We are giving you much trouble Vara” he would say words to that effect.

“No trouble at all. You had been talking throughout the night. Better sleep now. “she would say.

   One day Varalakshmi was struggling with the damp firewood, which was not burning, by blowing air through a hallow bamboo tube. Govind, who just came, said “Give me the tube, I will blow the air” and took it from her.
Oh! You came just now. Sit down for a while. Why bother about this.” said she.

He started talking while blowing the air. She knew that there was no use asking him to take rest. So, she left the tube with him and began chopping vegetables. He started talking about a new world, and she listened with awe, asking about matters she did not understand. Meanwhile the rice on the stove began to boil with a gentle hissing sound.

“You move mama, I will pour out the starch from the rice” said Varalakshmi. Rice done, she placed a vessel on the stove for making the curry and asked Govind as to why “our people” were not visiting these days. Varalakshmi started calling his friends “our people”.

  “They are not coming to this side these days.” he said.

“It has been a long time since I have seen Peddanna” said Varalakshmi. She has a special regard for Peddanna.

“You know, our people appreciate you very much, “said, Govind.

“Me? But, why?” Varalakshmi was all surprised.

“Because, you treat them well. You offer them food with love.”

“Is offering food that great?” she was shy and happy while saying this.

“Why not? Sometimes small gestures also help the revolution in a big way.”

“You mean, I am also helping the revolution?”

“Yes. In a great way”

Her eyes shone. He looked fondly at her shining eyes.

 One day Varalakshmi’s father came home tensed and angry.

“We have been telling you to make him stay at home and show some concern about the family and work, but you turned a deaf ear” he accused Varalakshmi.

“What are you saying nayana? You are talking as if he had never stepped into the field. He supervised the transplantation and reaping the harvest. Didn’t he?”

“He is becoming more adamant because you are backing him. Do you know what people are talking about Govind? The police are looking for him and if they catch him, it would be like going into Yama’s hands.”

“Who said so nayana?” Varalakshmi asked in trepidation.

“All the people in our village”

Varalakshmi felt her energy draining away and sat down on the door-way.  Her mother sat beside her and said in a cajoling tone,” I had been warning about this for a long time. What he is doing doesn’t help us in getting either money or food. Your father and I can work in the field now because we are fit. When we become older, we can’t help you anymore. Now you are pregnant. When the child is born you will have more responsibilities with more expenses. You must look after yourselves. Convince him somehow or the other. He will listen to you. Will he come home tonight?” asked her mother.

Varalakshmi nodded.
“ If he comes, talk to him tonight only.”

Varalakshmi nodded again.

They waited for him until nine at night, after that her parents ate and went to sleep. Varalakshmi continued to wait without eating. She began to think. Why would the police take away mama?  Mama said that “our people” lived in hiding. Police would catch them if they came into public. Mama was not in hiding. He was working in public. Why would they arrest him? She came out ofher thoughts when Govind came home at ten thirty.

He was surprised to see his wife sitting on the door-way and asked “Why are you sitting in the cold? You should sleep by now.”

“She didn’t even eat. She is waiting for you” said Varalakshmi’s mother who had woken up just then.
“ Is it? I thought of coming early but could not. I ate at the nearby village.” Saying so, he led Varalakshmi into the kitchen and helped her with a plate of rice and curry.
“ No mama I don’t feel like eating “

“You must eat. I will feed you.” He put a morsel in her mouth. Her eyes welled up. She knew all about alcoholic husbands beating their wives but never about husbands putting morsels lovingly in their wives’ mouths. She ate her full, even forgetting to offer him.

He made the bed for her to sleep. Just then her mother called her on the pretext of asking for water. While taking water from her daughter, she whispered in her ear about weaning him away from his activities and keeping him home. When Varalakshmi came to lie down beside him, he had already covered himself with a blanket and was yawning. She felt sorry for him and placed her hand on his forehead saying, “Go to sleep mama, you must be exhausted with visits to a number of places”. She decided to talk to him the next day.“ You go to sleep too. You should not be awake this long” he said. They had slept for just a couple of hours when there was a loud knocking on the door.  Her mother opened the door and was aghast when she saw the police before her.

“Where is Govind?” they asked and began searching for him. They didn’t need much time to search for him in the two-room house. On hearing the din, Govind who was sleeping in the kitchen got out of his bed. The next moment the police took him away, beating him black and blue. It took him a few moments to register what was happening. By that time, he had been beaten brutally. Varalakshmi woke up and saw the police dragging her husband away. She ran after them shouting at them not to beat her mama. Her parents also pleaded with the police not to harm Govind.

The sub inspector ordered the policemen to lock the family members inside the house and took Govind away beating him relentlessly.

On hearing the shrieks of the family, the neighbours opened the door. The night passed with the family members crying, some of the neighbours consoling them and some neighbours commenting on the whole affair.

At last, the Sun rose. Meanwhile someone carried the news that the police caught some more people and took all of them to the panchayat office and were beating them. All of them ran to the panchayat office. The people being beaten were crying and the people outside were pleading with the police to let them go. Police were not allowing those people out and these people in. In between there were armed guards. The atmosphere was heart wrenching. The police beat them the whole day. In the afternoon they demanded chicken curry and money from the families of the detainees. They ate and drank to their fullest. After torturing Govind and the others, they left them like living corpses warning them if they found them with “Annalu” one more time, they will shoot them. Some members of their families had to pawn their jewelry to get them released.

Govind was almost unconscious when he was taken home. They sponged him with hot water and shown him to a doctor. He suffered from a high fever and moaned all through the night. The three of them sat around his bed giving him tablets and hot milk. His fever had abated on the second day. When he opened his eyes, he saw Varalakshmi leaning on his cot, weeping. He placed his hand on Varalakshmi’s head and consoled her. It took a week for him to recover, and the family hoped that he would stay home from then on. But Govind’s visits home became scarce.

“ How can you roam around like this mama?” asked Varalakshmi once.

“Do you think I am wrong Vara?” he asked.

“No mama I don’t say you are wrong. But…” she could not say more.

 Some days passed and Varalakshmi gave birth to a girl child.

Govind was caught by the Police two more times. They had also filed a case against him. After two months in jail, he came home on bail. One night after settling the baby in the cradle to sleep, Varalakshmi found Govind sitting on the bed, thinking deeply. He came home that day after a long time.

“What are you thinking mama?” she asked.

“Sit down Vara.” said he. There was a different tone in his voice. He sat uneasily for some time. Then, preparing himself to speak, he said,” I am speaking with the hope that you will understand me.” His voice was heavy.

“What is the matter mama?” she asked, agitated.

“You know how the police had taken me three times. Don’t know what they would do to me next time. That is why I won’t come home hereafter.”

“You won’t come home?” she said in a choking voice. She couldn’t speak more.

“The party has decided that I should join the squad. I will be in the squad hereafter.”

“Joining the squad means you are leaving me and the child! You want to desert us?” She began weeping.

“I have no intention of deserting you Vara. If I am in public, the police will hound me. But I cannot also leave the party. I know I am doing injustice to you. I didn’t know what it would be like to work with the party when I married you. Had I known it then I wouldn’t have married you.”

She hugged him tight and said. “Don’t say that mama. There is no injustice on your part. I am very happy after our marriage.”

She wanted to tell him more but couldn’t find words. After a few moments she said, “So, you won’t meet us anymore! How can you forget me mama!”

“How can I forget you Vara! You are always in my mind. I will meet you secretly” he said, rubbing her back.

“Can we meet like this?”

“Why not?”

“In how many days?”

“Whenever you ask me” he said smiling.

“How do I tell my parents about this?”

“Take some time. If you tell them now, they may yell at you.”

“Are you angry with me?” he asked.


“Take good care of the child. You must give her the love of both mother and father” he said in a choked voice.

Varalakshmi wept again.

He tried to control his sorrow and said “Please don’t cry Vara. Unless you send me off like a brave woman, I cannot work there peacefully.”

Four to five hours passed in sharing their sorrow and consoling each other.

At three in the night, he said “I will leave now Vara!”

“Why do you want to go at this time of night, you can go after an hour.” she said.

“No.no. I can contact the squad if I go now. “Saying so he caressed the child and kissed her, then looked at his wife’s face one last time and strode off. He thought he might cry if he had stayed there one more minute. He was wiping his tears for about ten minutes on his way.

Varalakshmi began to sob soon after he had left.

 “Did he abandon me?” She questioned herself. But she could not think that way. She cursed the police. Why did the police manhandle him? Beat him so harshly? What was his fault? Who did he betray? He would not have left me if not for fear of police, she thought.

She revealed the news of Govind joining the squad to her parents after four or five days. Her mother started a tirade of reproaches at Govind.” Please stop amma. Mama is not at fault. It is my destiny, that is all “Varalakshmi shouted at her mother.

“You had been backing him all the while and caused this calamity” her mother said angrily to Varalakshmi.

“It is I who is suffering. Please keep your calm,” said she.

It had been two years since Govind joined the squad taking the name of Ravi. In those two years Varalakshmi met him secretly two to three times, taking care not to be found by anyone. The Police questioned her a couple of times about his whereabouts, but she feigned ignorance.

One time when she went to meet him, she met Peddanna and was very happy. While she was reading the newspaper Peddanna sat beside her and asked her, “Are you educated dear?”

Varalakshmi nodded.
“ Do you read at home?”

“Now and then.”

After some pleasantries he asked her,” isn’t it difficult for both of you to live apart?”

“Yes. It is.” Varalakshmi smiled shyly.

“You may face pressure from the police in future.” he said.

“Yes, anna! They have been questioning me “

“If both of you live at one place it would be easy for you.”

“You are right. But how is it possible?”

“There is a way” he said playfully.

“What is that way?”

“If you also join the squad, you both can live together.”
“Me!? “Awestruck, she couldn’t speak one more word.

“Yes, you! The party has been observing you. You have sincerity and admiration for the party.  People like you should be in the squad.”
“ But I am confused anna.”

“Think about it seriously. Take the whole night. I am proposing this on behalf of the party. Think at leisure. We can discuss your doubts and suspicions tomorrow.” Saying so, Peddanna left.

That night Ravi asked about her response to Peddanna.

“What shall I say?” she asked him.
“ Why do you ask me? Think about it yourself.”

“What can I do for the squad?”

“You can do anything.”

“I cannot talk about politics like you people.”

“You can learn.”

“But it is not easy for women.”
“Now most of the women in the party are competing with men.”

“Then, what about our little one?’

“Your mother will take care of her. There are women, who left their children at home and joined the squad.”


“Do I ever lie to you? Peddanna’s wife is also working with the party. She left their son at home. Take your time before you come to a decision. There is no hurry.”

Ravi yawned, went to sleep, and started snoring but Varalakshmi couldn’t sleep. She was awake throughout the night.

The next day Peddanna gave her all the details. When she expressed her doubts, he cleared them patiently. He gave her one month time to think it over. Varalakshmi stayed there for two more days and went home. She was thinking from various angles about the proposal.

“Can I leave the child with my parents? What happens to the child if both of us leave her?” she thought once.

“I can live with mama if I join the party. Maybe it is better than living with anxiety about him day and night” she thought another time.

It had been seven years since she left her two and half year-old daughter with her parents and took to the forest as Sobha.

In the beginning she used to follow Ravi and looked after his needs too. The other members of the squad advised her to let him attend to his needs himself.

“What is wrong with attending to him? What do they know about our relationship and what a meaningful life he had given me? They stick their nose in everything” thought Varalakshmi. She didn’t criticize him on anything. When the commander asked her whether there were any complaints about him, she would say “How can there be any complaints on him?” She couldn’t tolerate it if anyone criticized him. She was very angry at them.

In the course of time, she developed her individuality and became an area committee member of the squad and Ravi became a member of the district committee. Due to the differences among the committee members, he could not fit in anymore and decided to leave the party to join the mainstream. He was firm in his decision and hoped that his wife would follow him.

After his decision to leave the party, the party members discussed at length with Sobha. At first, she could not accept his decision and wept. She then thought about it deeply and as the party hoped for, she decided to stay with the party and not follow her husband.


Both had discussed it two times already and this was the third time.

“Won’t you think a little about me?” asked Ravi.

“You only told me that thinking about the society is better than thinking about individuals.”

“I told you that then, and I am telling you this now, why don’t you listen to me?” He said impatiently.

“Then you were our leader. But now…” she didn’t complete.

“But I am your husband then and now. Did you like me as your husband or as your leader?”

“I thought I liked you as a husband, but I realized that it was not true. I wouldn’t have liked you if you were an average husband. You know very well how I had left that average husband just like a straw. If not for the consciousness the party had given you, you would not have been that good husband that I liked. The party has made you a good person. I began to like the party more from then on.”

Their arguments went on until dusk.

“Your parents are becoming old. It is difficult for them to take care of our child. You should think about the future of our daughter.”

“If we think about our child and all the children in the society, we must stay in the party and work for them.”

“How do you do good to society by making your child an orphan? You, who are supposed to live with me for life, are disloyal to me and the child too” He was furious.

“Am I disloyal? What did you say when Peddanna was killed by the police, and I was weeping? You said we should carry on his legacy, make his dreams come true as his heirs. I want to continue in the party so as not to be disloyal to his martyrdom.” Sobha said with a thin, sarcastic smile.
“Don’t talk back to me”

“Why shouldn’t I? Your words might have come from your lips. But I took them to heart. I can never forget them”.

He thought there was no use in being angry with her, and said placatingly,” please Vara, listen to me.”

“I told you not to call me by that name. That Vara who was your own is no longer in existence.  This Sobha belongs to everyone. Now there is no use in arguing anymore. It is my sentry time, and I must leave.” she said.

  Placing the gun on her shoulder, she walked swiftly under the moonlight across the stream, taking care to avoid the little rocks in her way.


Akka –  Telugu word for elder sister

Anna  – Telugu word for elder brother

Vara & Varaalu – Pet names for Varalakshmi

Mama – maternal uncle

Peddanna – elder brother called with respect and also a leader.

Annalu – people of Maoist party are addressed as Annalu in Telugu meaning brothers.

Nayana – father.

Amma  – mother

Eamma  – an endearment used for a daughter.

(Translation of “Pravaham”. [Initially published in Arunatara May-June 2000 under the pen name Nirmala] From the collection of “Viyyukka”) – Translated by P. Sathyavathi

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