Short story

‘The vow’ by S. Diwakar: A Kannada short story in translation

Print edition : August 13, 2021

S. Diwakar, the author of this short story (originally published in Kannada as “Harake” in 2000), has published a wide range of short stories, essays, translations, and literary criticism in Kannada, and has also worked as a reporter and editor.

Susheela Punitha, the translator of this short story, has also translated the works of Kannada writers such as Vaidehi, Na Dsouza, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Lakshman and Aravind Malagatti.

The story “The vow” features in “Hundreds of Streets to the Palace of Lights: Short Stories by S. Diwakar” translated from Kannada by Susheela Punitha, OUP, 2015.

Diwakar’s writing functions simultaneously on two planes—fiction and metafiction, while conjuring unusual experiences in a compressed and pictorial style.

It was not without reason that Thammannappa had undertaken such a rigorous vow. His wife, Mahalakshmi, had died prematurely; their only son, Krishna, was not yet nine. She had endured a stomach ache for about five years. No herbal medication had helped. As for the doctors who were posted to the Government hospital in Bhuvanagiri, if they were there one day, they were missing the next. One of them who did stay on for six weeks had come on a home-visit when she was bedridden.

“She needs surgery. Take her immediately to the General Hospital in Bangalore,” he said, washing his hands off the case.

Thammannappa felt a darkness smothering him. Pulling himself together somehow, he left his son with his elder brother, Devappa, helped his wife into a bullock cart and took her to the railway station. But what can even God do if Fate is not on one’s side? Barely half an hour after the train had left the station, Mahalakshmi groaned aloud and closed her eyes forever.

Thammannappa nurtured his son with great fervour; the child was too young to lose his mother. The memory of Mahalakshmi was still green. He trembled at the haunting vision of her untimely death. Not a day passed when he did not weep for her at least four or five times. The people of Bhuvanagiri felt sorry for him; they comforted him as well as they could. Yet his grief increased instead of abating. One night as he lay tossing in bed trying to get some sleep, he saw his son’s face glowing in the flickering light of the wick-lamp.

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“If only the doctor had seen her in time, perhaps I could’ve saved her,” he thought and began to cry.

“Amma!” moaned Krishna at that very moment, calling out to his mother in his sleep as he turned over. Suddenly Thammannappa felt a flash of lightning in his head. He decided to make his son a doctor. He got up immediately and stood before the picture of Lord Thirupathi Thimmappa in a niche of the hall.

“Thimmappa, nammappa! I vow to stand on one leg from tomorrow. Please look on my son with grace and make him a doctor some day, appa,” he prayed with his eyes closed.

And from the very next day he committed himself to fulfilling his solemn promise to God. Whatever he did, whether he sat, stood, cooked, washed clothes, carried bundles of corn to the weekly farmers’ market, even when he climbed trees, he kept his right leg folded, his heel touching his backside. It was not easy in the beginning. He used a staff for some ten or twelve days to keep his balance. And then he discarded it and stood putting his weight on his left leg as if that was the only leg God had given him. Whenever he had to walk, he hopped about, frog-like.

Is anything impossible for a man with a goal? For the next fifteen to sixteen years, Thammannappa slogged like an ox tethered to an oil-press and cajoled his son to study. After high school in Bhuvanagiri, Krishna went to Bangalore to attend college. He lived in a hostel, studied well and took his exams. Soon he became Dr. Krishnamurthi. Thammannappa’s joy knew no bounds. He met the legislator of the area and did all he could to get his son a post of a doctor at the government hospital at Bhuvanagiri. After a few days, he dragged Krishna to Thirupathi to break his vow. However much his son tried to dissuade him, he climbed the hill on one leg, hopping and stumbling. They had to stand in a mile-long queue and inch forward; it was well into the night by the time they had Lord Thirupathi Thimmappa’s darshan. Thammannappa was rapturous on being in God’s presence; his life had been worthwhile.

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“Appa, you’ve fulfilled your promise to God. Put your right foot down and walk normally at least now,” Krishna had to remind him.

Outside the temple walls, Thammannappa held on to his son’s shoulders, rested his weight on his left leg and tried his best to straighten his folded right leg.

But it would not budge; not beyond two or three inches.

Krishna helped his father towards a tree and asked him to hug it tight. He sat on his haunches behind his father and pulled with all his might at the upturned sole of the right foot. He held his breath and gave it a brisk tug. He was a strapping young man after all. As he worked on it, his father’s leg loosened bit by bit until it was almost straight. Thammannappa was about to stand on both feet when the right leg wrenched itself from Krishna’s vice-like grip and recoiled like a taut spring with such force that Thammannappa moaned with pain.

And so it was that Thammanappa continued to walk on one leg on his return to Bhuvanagiri after fulfilling his vow to Thirupathi Thimmappa. His son was upset. His father had made the vow to see him through medical college, true. But to think he continued to be one-legged even after his son was a doctor! It was now a question of dignity and indignity. Krishna was aware that his father was becoming the butt of jokes in Bhuvanagiri.

“Appa, let’s leave for Bangalore tomorrow morning. Your leg needs surgery to be straightened,” he said one day, as if he had suddenly decided on a course of action. Thammannappa did not like the idea one bit. He had got used to using just one leg for so long that he did not need the help of the folded leg. It could even become a hindrance. But would his son listen?

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Krishna somehow talked his father into going to Bangalore. He took him to a surgeon who had some experience with such cases. He examined Thammannappa and suggested it was best to amputate the useless leg up to the knee. Krishna thought about it. It was embarrassing to have his father hopping around though he had both legs. Perhaps he would look better getting about with a wooden leg.

“Yes,” said Krishna. The doctor prepared for surgery.

Thammannappa wailed, ululating.

After the wound in the knee healed, Krishna got his father fitted with a wooden leg. But Thammannappa did not learn to walk with it even after several weeks. He sat in a corner, moping. Early one morning before dawn, Krishna awoke to some unusual noises in the front yard. He looked out, astonished. Thammannappa had unstrapped the wooden leg and was hopping on his good leg as if he were playing hop-scotch, kicking the wooden leg wherever he could, as far as he could.

It is more than thirty years since Thammannappa’s leg was amputated. He has grown old but he has not stopped lamenting, “I lost my leg…I lost my leg…”

Story selected by Mini Krishnan

Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press

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