Thursday, 7 August 2014


Mangamma, my neighbor, and Uma and Naren's domestic help  was a woman with soul destroying troubles.  She was one of the poorest in Maalapalle with no asset of either a goat or a cow or  some land. Her health was very poor due to a lifetime of undernourishment and overwork. She was married very young to  Nalliah, and as he did no steady work, she had  to shoulder the full responsibility of earning through health and ill health.  His 'career' consisted of organizing cow sales for a commission, and with that as a reason he would wander from place to place and was usually not at home. My other neighbor Jyothi said, “She has had to work for a living since ten years of age. The overwork since that age, the poor food, and ‘gaali’ (a spirit of a dead man who is supposed to have entered her) have destroyed her health.”
She was married  very young to Nalliah  who was a close relative. The wedding expenses are lower in consangunous marriages. Later they came away to her natal village as in Bheemavaram they could not make ends meet. Here she had three brothers who though not very supportive, would still, at times of urgent necessity,  help. Bhagavantiah, the local vaidudu who would treat children's diseases and snake bites and spirit afflictions,  was one brother, and was in as poor circumstances and as poor health as she. The other two, Nadiupayna and Sukanya’s maternal grandfather were slightly better off. But generally if they gave her anything, they immediately took away more than they gave. They would even take away a bundle of firewood which she would have placed outside her hut after having carried it home in an exhausting effort, as there would often not be much more to take. She stayed with  and  looked after her aged parents till their death, as her three brothers  did not.  When they died, the hut came to her. But her husband when he would sometimes get into rages and beat her, would lock her out of her own house !
Gaali ...
 She had a daughter Poorna whom she loved dearly. When Poorna was with her, she and Poorna would go to the two rupee ticket thatched cinema hall in Kothapeta and shed tears over the latest Telugu tear jerker. During Poorna's delivary, Mangamma sat in a corner shedding tears at her labour pains ... but when Poorna kept shouting Amma, she remembered to dry and tears and call out to her, "Say 'Ayyapa Sami', not 'Amma'" 
Poorna had her own saga. She was married to the son of her brother Nadupayna. He was supposed to be involved in questionable activities in Hyderabad. She deserted him and returned to her parents. the husband died subsequently. She later eloped with a widowed man as remarriage of widows is not accepted. He was a drunkard, and she lives now at Tirumala getting badly beaten up by him. But she has a son, and is  somehow happier married even to a drunk, that with her earlier unmarried state. She used to come away to her mother's house sometimes after a beating and being thrown out of her house by a drunk husband. She would stay here till he came to take her back. After Mangamma died, ans as even her hut and the land was taken away towards some pending loan, she has no place to go to, and copes there. Her son, in the circumstances he has grown up in, has also developed bad habits at a young age.
But ... Mangamma’s usual walk was almost a dance, and she would trip down to work. She would enthusiastically sing the transplanting songs with the others and her voice would be clearest. She would advise me on how to tie my saree such that the heels do not show.  She would go for all the Bharatam performances and also walk the gundam  on the last day. This is a rite of walking over live coals.  She would run on nervous energy and after some days of work would fall ill and stop work for some days.

She was diagnosed with T.B., and was on long term allopathic treatment for that. That was a time the husband helped her a little, of which help she was very proud. He managed to organize eggs for her for a few days and did some other such small things.

With all the crosses she had to bear, she was one of the most generous women in Maalapalle. She would continuously asking us for things which other women similarly in need would not have. Maybe due to our having been part of Naren’s family where she was servant, her equations with us were mixed up.   I had tried to employ her for some help in the house in the mornings  when my daughter was an infant but there would always be default. In ten days we called off the deal, as it was only souring neighbourly relationships. But these things apart, she was one of the warmest people there. She would love being able to give something which I would ask of her, like an onion or some green chillies. Whenever she had some fruits at home – a mango, or a custard apple – she would offer it to any child that came home.
When Bhagavanthayya’s wife died, the other two brothers used the earlier fueds as reasons to keep away, and not helping out. Mangamma, despite her earlier war with him, and despite her husband beating her up for helping them despite earlier lack of warmth from them, buried the hatchet, and took charge. She would cook for them there. On Fridays she would mop the house with cowdung and sprinkle the path with cowdung. On festivals she would whitewash their house.
Desptite her poverty her sense of dignity was strong. Uma shouted at her once when she asked for things once too often, and she stopped going there every morning for the glass of milk Uma was giving her  daily. Another time when I shouted at her for something she stopped asking me for anything. As a neighbour, I saw her self respect more than people who had her for a servant would have. 
She finally died a poor and undernourished woman, on the string bed outside her hut, with her daughter next to her. But she had her family and the villagers around – and the death itself was maybe less lonely than that of a rich person’s in a hospital.

(Mangamma's 'gaali' ... Spirits enter people’s bodies. This possession is also called ‘gaali’, or wind, can cause ill-health or other problems. A tornado is also gaali, and can cause a person to get possessed. ‘Erra koodu’, rice mixed with water made red with turmeric and lime, is sprinkled on it. When a male spirit possesses a female, or when a female spirit possesses a male, exorcising becomes very hard.

 Mangamma had gone to the Chintala vanka stream in the forest on a Friday after a head bath along with her brother Nadupaiyna. A cattle merchant had been killed in the same forest by robbers. The robbers  were said to have gone away after squeezing a hundred and one lemons behind them to keep the spirit away. Mangamma saw the corpse of the murdered man and poked its head with a stick. At that time the the spirit of the dead man entered her. A loin cloth or dhoti was hanging on a bush and Nadupaiyna took it back with him. Back in the village Mangamma started getting ‘gaali attacks’ frequently. When the ‘gaali’ came on her, she would run to Nadupayina’s house demanding  the loin cloth. Nadupayina threw it  away. Sometimes when the ‘gaali’ came on, her brother Bhagavanthayya, also the local exorcist and doctor, would hit her with neem sticks in an attempt to drive away the spirit. Goats and sheep had also been  sacrificed in an attempt to placate the spirit and persuade it to leave her. But it refused to go, and would say that it would take her with itself when it finally went. When the attacks came on Mangamma would speak in a gruff male voice as it would be the spirit speaking through her. Mangamma believed as completely as the others in her ‘gaali’ or spirit.)

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