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       Dollar Bahu, p.1

           Sudha Murty
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Dollar Bahu

  Sudha Murty



  About the Author

  By the Same Author






























  Follow Penguin


  About the Author

  Sudha Murty was born in 1950 in Shiggaon in north Karnataka. She did her M.Tech. in Computer Science, and is now chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written nine novels, four technical books, three travelogues, one collection of short stories, three collections of non-fiction pieces and two books for children.

  Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages and have sold over 300,000 copies around the country. She was the recipient of the R.K. Narayan’s Award for Literature and the Padma Shri in 2006.

  By the Same Author

  Other books by Sudha Murty


  The Magic Drum and Other Stories (Puffin)


  Gently Falls the Bakula


  Wise and Otherwise

  The Old Man and His God

  How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories (Puffin)



  It gives me immense pleasure that my book Dollar Bahu is being published by Penguin. The original book, Dollar Sose, written in Kannada, has been translated into Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam and Gujarati, and has also been prescribed as a textbook for undergraduate students in some Karnataka universities.

  This story can happen in any part of India but I have set it in Karnataka, the region most familiar to me. I hope the book will show some families that love and affection can be more important than money.

  Sudha Murty


  With growing impatience, Chandra Shekhar stood on the platform, waiting for the Rani Kittur Chennamma Express. The train left Bangalore in the night, went via Hubli and Dharwad, and terminated at Kolhapur in Maharashtra. The rake had not yet arrived on the platform. He had come to the station too early. His younger brother Girish, who had come to see him off, had gone off with a hurried, ‘I’ll get you some magazines, be back in a couple of minutes’, half an hour ago, and was nowhere to be seen.

  That was Girish, easily distracted, fickle, almost irresponsible. He had probably met some friends and lost track of time. Chandru on his part was a sharp contrast to Girish—punctual, organized, thorough, systematic and ahead of time in everything. Chandru kept glancing at his watch. Finally he saw the train approaching the platform. He relaxed a bit, but something was bothering him. Born and bred in Bangalore, he had hardly even been to nearby Mandya or Mysore, and certainly never to this place, Dharwad. To him it was only a spot on the map of Karnataka.

  Had he been a computer engineer, he would not have had to leave Bangalore. In fact people from all over India came to Bangalore for software jobs. But he was a civil engineer with a very reputed company in Bangalore and now, because of his efficiency at work, he had been specially selected to supervise a project in north Karnataka. He had accepted this transfer rather reluctantly. On his way to take up his duties in an unknown place, among unknown people, he felt like a newly-wed bride leaving her beloved parental home with mixed feelings of joy and apprehension.

  Just as the train pulled in, Girish appeared from nowhere. He picked up the luggage and said, ‘Don’t worry, Chandru, I’ll put the luggage inside. You take your time.’

  Deep in thought, Chandru followed his brother into the compartment.

  ‘Okay, Chandru, goodbye. Telephone us when you reach,’ said Girish, and jumped off. Chandru looked around at his co-passengers cursorily, and then turned his attention to the magazine Girish had bought for him. Soon the train began to move. Chandru looked out of the window at waving hands and people shouting goodbye and final pieces of advice. He had no one to wave out to. Girish was long gone. With a sigh, Chandru stared out of the window. He was travelling by train after a long time, and was not familiar with the sights along the railway track. It was quite interesting to identify the areas the train was passing through. He realized that his co-passengers were busy in their own conversations.

  Chandru did not understand some of the expressions they used because, though the same language, the Kannada spoken in Dharwad has a very different accent and intonation. Perhaps because Dharwad is five hundred kilometres to the north of Bangalore and had been, for ages, part of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. But Chandru understood the gist of their conversation. They were talking about music and the weather. Naturally. Because Dharwad was an important centre of Hindustani classical music.

  Suddenly, an old man sitting next to him asked in a friendly and familiar manner, ‘Where are you going?’


  ‘To whose house? Are you going on duty? Are you travelling alone?’

  Chandru was taken aback by the flurry of questions. Being a rather shy and introverted person, he answered briefly, ‘I will be there for a few months,’ and left it at that.

  When his office had instructed Chandru to leave for Dharwad within a week’s time, Chandru had been extremely upset. He was quite happy where he was, and did not look forward to any disruption in the routine of his life. Seeing his long face and his reluctance to go, Girish had tried to cheer him up. ‘What’s the matter with you, Chandru? It’s only another part of our own state, and you will be away for just a few months. Look at our Kitty. He too was reluctant when he was sent there on deputation for a year, but now he has settled there for life! He has become a typical Dharwad-kar, doesn’t even bother to visit Bangalore during holidays.’ Krishna Murthy was a good friend of Girish’s. He was an officer in a bank and had promised Girish that he would take care of Chandru and make his stay comfortable. ‘Chandru can stay with me as long as he likes,’ he had said, adding, ‘and my mother, a great cook, will be happy too have him. She has also picked up some local dishes, so Chandru can enjoy both varieties of food.’

  In spite of these repeated reassurances, Chandru was determined not to spend more than a couple of days with Kitty. His thoughts were interrupted by the old man. Unfazed by Chandru’s abrupt answer earlier, he said most cordially, ‘Come, join us for dinner.’ As politely as he could, Chandru refused, but that didn’t deter the old man. He kept starting up a conversation on one pretext or another.

  As Chandru stared out of the window, marvelling at the hospitality of the old man, he heard a beautiful voice from the adjoining compartment.

  In the lush green forest, the koel proves to sing

  Shunning in contempt all the powers of the king.

  It was indeed a sweet voice and captivated Chandru completely. Even the other passengers, engaged in having their dinner, were immersed in the magic of the unseen singer’s voice.

  When the song ended, he heard a round of applause. ‘Once more Vinu, please,’ he heard some young voices clamouring for an encore. So, the girl with the golden voice was called Vinu, short for Vanita or Vineeta, he thought. He wanted to get a glimpse of her, but inhibition held him back.
br />   ‘Vinu, we knew that you would bag the first prize in the competition. The judge was nodding his head in appreciation while you were singing.’

  ‘Maybe, but that won’t make me sing another song now. We reach Dharwad early in the morning. If we oversleep then we may land up at Londa. All right, in the college ladies’ room tomorrow I will sing for you. Go to sleep now,’ Vinu scolded her companions gently.

  Chandru concluded that these young college girls had taken part in a music competition in Bangalore and were now on their way back home. The thought that they were getting off at Dharwad cheered Chandru up somewhat.

  ‘Excuse me, this is my berth. Can you please vacate it? I want to sleep.’

  Chandru recognized the voice instantly. Vinu. He turned to look at her. She was fair with bold and beautiful black eyes, a straight, sharp nose, and long, thick hair braided into a plait. She seemed slightly flustered to find someone occupying her seat.

  Chandru stared at her shamelessly. She was wearing a simple cotton Ilkal sari and no jewellery. He had not expected the girl with the golden voice to also be such a beauty.

  ‘Could you please get up? This is my berth.’ She sounded a little impatient.

  This brought him back to reality. ‘No, no, it is my seat. You are making a mistake.’

  He showed her his ticket which said G-28.

  ‘But see, my ticket is also G-28,’ Vinu countered.

  Chandru read the ticket: Vinuta Desai, F, 19, G-28. Obviously both of them had been allotted the same berth.

  From the name on the ticket Chandru learnt that Vinu stood for Vinuta.

  The clerk who was responsible for this confusion was probably sleeping soundly in Bangalore, leaving these two young people to sort it out. Chandru went to the ticket examiner, who dismissed it as an oversight and promised them that he would arrange for another berth at the next station. He requested them to manage till then.

  Quite courteously Chandru told Vinu, ‘You take this berth. I will wait till the next station.’

  ‘Thank you. I am sorry for the trouble,’ Vinu said softly.

  ‘No trouble at all.’

  Vinu settled down in her berth while Chandru went and stood near the door, waiting for the next station. The cold breeze sweeping his face heightened the unexpected pleasure he had experienced when he had encountered the golden-voiced beauty.


  Chandru was quite unprepared when the train pulled into Dharwad station the next morning. He hurriedly jumped out from his compartment, still in his lungi. When he realized that he had not changed, Chandru was most embarrassed. A lungi on a railway platform! For heaven’s sake, what had come over him!

  Dharwad station reminded him of Mysore—small, neat and quiet. Chandru looked about for his charming co-passenger but she was nowhere to be seen. He felt disappointed.

  Suddenly he heard a booming voice. ‘Hey Chandru! Did you come by train or walk? You are the last passenger to get off. Looks like you overslept. Thank god you woke up in time, or else you would have had to see Belgaum, Miraj and Kolhapur.’ It was Girish’s friend, Kitty. Asking all the questions and answering them himself.

  ‘Oh, hello. Just give me five minutes, I will change.’ Chandru went to the waiting room, ignoring Kitty’s questions and his replies.

  Kitty picked up Chandru’s suitcase and the two of them walked out. There were plenty of rickshaws and a few horse-drawn tongas waiting for customers.

  ‘Can we take a horse-cart?’ Chandru asked enthusiastically, like a child.

  ‘Dharwad is a city of seven hills, like Rome, and seven lakes. If we take a tonga, we will have to get down and walk when we have to go uphill. Let’s take a rickshaw today. We will reach home faster.’

  Kitty’s mother welcomed Chandru warmly. ‘How are you, Chandru? How is your mother? How is Girish? How was the journey?’

  ‘Aunty, all are fine. My journey was great,’ replied Chandru, thinking of Vinu with the golden voice and enchanting face.

  ‘You can stay with us as long as you need to, Chandru. No need for any inhibitions.’

  ‘That is very nice of you,’ he said, and then turning to Kitty, added, ‘but please find me a room as quickly as possible. I would not like to impose on you for very long.’

  After breakfast, Kitty took Chandru around town on his bike and showed him the university campus, the famous peda shop and some lush parks.

  It was the month of Shravan, the rainy season. All of Dharwad was celebrating, the city a riot of colour. Against the rich red earth, the trees, shrubs and bushes displayed every shade of green. The air was fragrant with the scent of flowers, bright yellow champak, creamy white rajnigandha, flaming orange marigold, delicate white jasmine and roses in all shades of red and pink. It was quite romantic, the atmosphere. ‘Our Dharwad is like heaven,’ said Kitty.

  Chandru agreed with him, but in his mind he was thinking, Dharwad is a sweet enchanting girl while Bangalore is a ravishing woman. And while he could appreciate innocence, he was definitely more attracted to glamour.

  After a couple of days, Kitty told Chandru, ‘There is a place available for a paying guest. If you are interested, we can go and see it.’

  Chandru went with Kitty to see the place.

  It was located in Malamaddi, one of the seven hills that Kitty had talked about earlier. After they came up a rough and rather steep road, they saw a house. In the middle of a spacious plot, enclosed by a fence, sprawled an old red-tile-roofed bungalow, surrounded by a vast lush garden. Chandru noticed mango, jackfruit and banana trees growing on one side. Closer to the house were beds of multicoloured flowers, and bushes of fragrant jasmine. He was surprised to see a tall parijata tree and the rare bakula with its dainty brown flowers next to it. Several varieties of champak dotted the rest of the garden. It was a charming spot, without a doubt. Chandru had not seen such a pretty house in Bangalore, especially in his locality, where most of the houses were three-storeyed buildings occupying the entire plot. Home gardens in such areas meant little plants grown in small pots.

  Kitty knocked on the door and waited. Chandru couldn’t believe his eyes. The person who opened the door was Vinu!

  Oblivious to Chandru’s open-mouthed look, Kitty asked her, ‘Is this Bheemanna’s house?’

  Vinu was equally surprised. But she quickly gathered her wits about her and replied, ‘Yes. Please come in. I will call my uncle.’

  Chandru looked around the drawing room. The furniture was old and shabby, the walls unpainted. Obviously the family had seen better days.

  Bheemanna, a man with a loud voice and a jolly manner, came out to meet them. Kitty introduced Chandru and explained the purpose of their visit. Enthusiastically, Bheemanna showed them an upstairs room. Chandru had already made up his mind. Whatever the rent, he would agree to it.

  On the way home, Kitty remarked in a slightly impatient voice, ‘You should have seen a couple of more places. The rent is a little steep. You should have at least said you will think it over.’

  Chandru replied with a smile, ‘Pehla pyar, pehla nasha.’ And walked away, leaving Kitty completely puzzled.


  There was nothing special about the sunrise that morning, but when Vinuta stepped out of the house with a broom and a bucket to clean the garden, she felt it was a spectacular sight. The sun was dazzling in the bright blue sky, the air alive with the chirping of birds and the bakula and parijata flowers gave off a heady scent. Together, it was quite an intoxicating feeling, thought Vinu. The radiance of the morning was reflected in her face and echoed in the joy she felt in her heart. Vinuta gathered the bakula flowers that had fallen to the ground and, smelling their gentle fragrance, closed her eyes in a moment of happiness. Chandru watched her from the window upstairs.

  Tring . . . tring . . . The milkman’s cycle bell at the gate brought Vinu out of her reverie, reminding her to collect the milk and hurry up with the day’s chores.

  Bheemanna Desai, Chandru’s large-hearted and friendly landl
ord, had told him on the very first day, ‘Don’t consider yourself as just a paying guest. Look upon this as your own house.’

  Within a few days Chandru had figured out that it was a big joint family, but he had not worked out the relationships between the members. One thing that had struck him in this short time was that the major share of the housework was done by Vinu. Even from his room on the terrace, he could hear someone or the other calling out for her, ‘Vinu, have you plucked the flowers for puja?’, ‘Vinu, where are the ironed clothes?’, ‘Vinu, where is the bigger kadai?’, ‘Vinu, add some salt to the dal’, and so on. Who was she really? A maidservant, an orphan, a poor relation, a housekeeper or . . . ? But then she addressed Bheemanna Desai as uncle and he knew she went to college . . . It was a mystery to Chandru.

  Then, one day, while talking to Bheemanna, he realized the house belonged to Vinuta, who had inherited it from her parents. They had died when she was very young, and Bheemanna, a distant uncle, had moved in here with his family to take care of her. This dilapidated house was the only thing she owned.

  On Saturdays, his weekly holiday, Chandru preferred to stay at home and relax rather than go out in the hot sun along the dusty roads. On one such Saturday, he was woken up from a deep sleep by Vinuta’s dulcet voice, singing as she watered the plants.

  ‘Do you have to keep singing all the time? Do some worthwhile work at least some time. If you sit in the garden the whole day, who will do the housework? The dirty vessels are piling up. I am sick of reminding you about every task. God knows when your madness for music will go away.’ A croaky voice interrupted Vinuta’s song. Abruptly she stopped singing and ran inside.

  Without realizing it, Chandru compared Vinuta with his sister Surabhi. Though she could sing reasonably well, Surabhi had neither the interest nor the dedication for music and though Chandru had often tried to persuade her to take music seriously, she would refuse under some pretext or the other. Whereas, Vinuta had a golden voice and deep dedication, but no opportunity to pursue it! Despite all the scolding and the heavy housework, she would hum happily to herself, and carry on. It upset Chandru much more than it did Vinuta. It was not long before the talkative Bheemanna passed on most of the family’s history and background to Chandru. Seetakka, the elderly lady, was Bheemanna’s mother. Bheemanna himself had four children. Vinuta was his niece. Bheemanna had only a modest income and had to try hard to make both ends meet, but he was a generous man and always a good host to the stream of guests who walked in throughout the day.

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