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Gently falls the bakula, p.1
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       Gently Falls the Bakula, p.1

           Sudha Murty
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Gently Falls the Bakula

  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 the 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)


  Dollar Bahu


  Wise and Otherwise

  The Old Man and His God

  How I Taught My Grandmother to Read

  and Other Stories (Puffin)

  To all those women who allowed family commitments and

  responsibilities to overpower their own aspirations


  This was my first novel in Kannada, written about three decades back. It was extremely well received then.

  I had not seen the corporate world from close and only imagined how it functioned. But now, in real life, I have seen it all. I am aware that industrialization, technological progress and scientific advancement are necessary and bring prosperity to our country, but they have their own shortcomings. They create a whole set of problems, sociological and psychological.

  This novel is set in north Karnataka in the 1980s, so it may appear outdated in some parts. But the story is such that it can happen in any part of the country, even today. There must be innumerable couples who have been through, and are still going through, such dilemmas, be it in a small town or a mega city.

  I have chosen Hubli and Bombay as the setting for the novel. These two places are very dear to my heart, since I grew up in one place and in the other, I have enjoyed working.

  I would like to thank Keerti Ramachandra for editing the manuscript and Penguin for publishing the novel.

  Sudha Murty



  It was a day of great excitement for the students of Model High School, Hubli. The results of the district-level interschool essay competition were to be announced that morning. The competition, open to students of the tenth standard, was a prestigious one not because of the prize money, but because the award had been instituted by a highly respected essayist. The prize-winning essay would be sent to the state-level competition.

  The hall was abuzz with anticipation. The boys were in animated discussion, the girls in whispered speculation. Competitions such as these invariably threw up unexpected winners. Ugly ducklings often turn into beautiful swans when they are tested. So who was it going to be this time? The suspense was palpable.

  When the history teacher Mr Kulkarni walked in, a sudden hush fell upon the room. Sensing the tension in the air, Mr Kulkarni decided to prolong the suspense a little longer.

  He began by saying, ‘I know all of you are waiting impatiently for the results of the essay competition and to know who the winner is. But I am going to ask you to wait a little longer. I will read out the essay first and allow you to guess who the author of it could be. After hearing the essay I am sure you will agree that it is a most mature and heartwarming effort, definitely deserving of the prize.’

  A few ooohs and mild protests of ‘tell us first, Sir,’ were quickly silenced, as Mr Kulkarni began to read:

  ‘All are my children . . .

  I am like their father.

  Like any father wishes for his child,

  Happiness and comfort,

  I wish that for all human beings;

  Eternal joy.

  Wherever I am,

  Whether I am having my dinner or at a party,

  Whether attending to matters of secrecy, or inspecting the cattle pens,

  Whether on a journey or resting in my garden,

  Informers must bring me the news of my subjects.

  Wherever I am I will work relentlessly to benefit my people.

  Sacred of all duties is the path of dharma.

  A man who is not conscious cannot follow dharma.

  Dharma should flourish; not perish

  Let people strive for its growth,

  And not wish its destruction!’

  These are words inscribed on the stone edicts of Devanampiya Piyadassi Ashoka. Ashoka, the son of Bimbisara and grandson of Chandragupta Maurya has earned for himself a special place in the history of the world. There have been many great kings who fought wars and won major battles—like Alexander. There were great saints, full of compassion and who showed kindness to all living creatures, like Christ and Buddha. But the combination of a king and a saint there was none, other than Ashoka.

  Emperor Ashoka was a great human being. After the battle of Kalinga, he saw the terrible suffering inflicted on the people as a result of the war and he was horrified. His heart melted and he decided to be more tolerant and compassionate and dedicated the rest of his life to the practice and preaching of Dharma. He began to look upon his subjects as his children and did everything for their welfare.

  When we study his rock edicts, we understand the nature of this noble king and come to know his valuable thoughts about Dharma.

  Perhaps, Ashoka did not have a change of heart and turn to non-violence merely because of the Kalinga war! That event may have merely acted as a spur for an already gentle and sensitive emperor.

  ‘Ashoka had his edicts etched throughout the kingdom, on pillars, on stones and in caves. It is said his kingdom stretched from Karnataka in the south to Pakistan and the borders of Afghanistan in the north; from the Arabian Sea in the west to what is now Orissa (then Kalinga) in the east. He had them inscribed in Pali, Prakrit, Brahmi and Aremic so that his message would reach the common man. He has described the Kalinga war too in some instances. It is said that in those days when the population was small, one hundred thousand people were killed in the war and the river Daya, on the banks of which the war was fought, had flowed red with blood. A hundred and fifty thousand people were taken away as prisoners. One can imagine the horrors of that war!

  ‘Some of the edicts of the emperor can be found in Maski, Gavi Mata in Raichur district and Siddapura in Chitradurga district. That it was Ashoka who was known as Devanampiya and Piyadassi, the Maski stone edict was the first to reveal.

  ‘The edicts inform us that he was a great warrior, kind to his subjects, a worthy emperor and a deeply religious ruler. Today the kingdom of Ashoka does not exist. But the principles of
the five ideals known as “Panchasheela”, formulated by him, are the greatest treasures he has left to this modern world of conflicts. The systems of administration he set up are commendable! That is why the name of Ashoka, who did not remain merely “dear of gods” but also “dear of people”, is today shining bright not only in the history of India but also in the history of the world. I salute such an emperor.

  ‘India, which boasted of such a kind monarch, is blessed. It is a land as holy as he who ruled it. The ancient Kannada poet Pampa wrote:

  This land is so pious and sacred, that

  If I am not reborn as a human being in this land,

  God, then please make me a singing cuckoo or a humming bee at least!

  ‘I too pray to god that I may be born again and again in such a country.’

  By this time, though the name had not yet been announced, each one in the class knew that it could only be Ms Shrimati Deshpande who could have written such an essay.

  Ms Shrimati Deshpande was a slim, tall girl, with a wheatish complexion and good, clear features. She had unusually long hair that reached below her knees. She always wore a string of bakula flowers in her hair. Shrimati was one of the brightest students in her class.

  So when the teacher finally announced her name as the winner of the competition, her classmates were not surprised. They broke into loud applause. The shy Shrimati was happy but embarrassed. Luckily, the bell rang just then so the teacher quickly handed her the essay before all the students rushed out.

  As Shrimati was gathering her books and getting ready to go home, she overheard the conversation of some boys from her class. They were engrossed in a discussion about the best essay. They were expressing their surprise that Shrikant Deshpande had not got the first prize. Shrikant was Shrimati’s rival in the class. A tall, fair and handsome young man, he was known for his strong determination to be the best. Now that he was beaten in this essay competition, his friends Mallesh Shetty and Ravi Patil were most upset, even more than Shrikant himself. It was a matter of prestige for them, and the thought that Shrimati had defeated him was hard to accept. They were venting their anger on Shrikant. This kind of rivalry was very common in the coed schools of those days.

  ‘Shrikant, you shouldn’t have given her a chance this time,’ fumed Ravi Patil.

  Shrikant smilingly replied, ‘Take it easy, Ravi. History is not a great subject. Can just one good essay make you a topper? Writing an essay is nothing but filling up pages. Real intelligence is scoring in science.’

  ‘Don’t yap too much, Shrikant! All of us are aware that Shrimati is not a dumb girl. Accept your defeat with grace. She is intelligent and hardworking and will definitely score better than you in every subject if you don’t look out,’ retorted Ravi.

  Mallesh was nodding his head in agreement. ‘Come on, Mallya,’ said Shrikant to his dear friend, ‘you also don’t overestimate her. I agree she is good but only in arts subjects like history and languages. Normally women are very fond of history because it is an accumulation of gossip—like some emperor had three wives, the last wife had six sons, etc. This doesn’t require any logic or reasoning, only memorizing facts, which girls are good at.’

  ‘How do you know?’ Ravi questioned Shrikant.

  ‘You know that I am her neighbour, Ravi. I can see her studying from my room. Every day she gets up at dawn, probably to prepare such kind of essays. If I had also prepared like her, I would have written a better one.’ None of his friends were prepared to accept the excuses Shrikant was making for his failure.

  ‘Don’t fool us, Shrikant. Why would you wake up so early? Is it to just watch her studying? We know that you are also as hardworking as her but she is any day brighter than you. My mother was scolding me saying none of us do anything, except roam around, but Shrimati does all the housework and also studies. I think my mother is right.’

  Mallesh was upset with Shrikant because he knew that he couldn’t beat Shrimati and no words of Shrikant could console him.

  As the boys started walking out, Ravi Patil said to Mallesh, ‘Mallya, you are so thick-skinned! Why are you getting so upset when Shrikant is not? He is conceding defeat so easily. Why? Because when a person is in love, he is ready to accept defeat. Have you not noticed why Shrikant always gives away his first position to her? Because she is going to be his better half! See even their names match—Shrimati-Shrikant Deshpande. One day you will understand the finer feelings of love, Mallya, don’t worry.’ So saying Ravi burst out laughing.

  Shrimati turned around, red with embarrassment, and saw Shrikant staring at her. He too looked baffled and felt equally idiotic.

  After a moment or two, he exploded, ‘Shut up you fools! Don’t just speak whatever comes to your mouth. There is nothing like that! It’s all your imagination. I was not responsible for her name. If you have the guts go and ask her.’

  He was sure that they would not ask Shrimati!

  In North Karnataka a married woman’s name consisted of her first name, followed by her husband’s name and then the surname. In the case of an unmarried girl, her father’s name was her middle name.

  Poor Shrimati! Her name, which was the name of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, was also a signifier for a married woman. And her father’s name was Shrikant! Both she and Shrikant had the same surname—Deshpande.

  This unusual combination of names had led to all the jokes and teasing that she had just heard. But neither Shrikant nor Shrimati could do anything to stop it.


  Shrimati quickly walked out of the school with her classmates Vandana Patil and Sharada Emmikeri. She was in no mood to talk. An extremely sensitive person by nature, she had overheard all the comments that the boys had made and she was embarrassed. She and Shrikant had been classmates from the first standard and they had been neighbours for generations. But there was a bitter rivalry between the two families, from the times of their forefathers. They had once owned lands adjoining each other’s and their enmity intruded into their homes even today.

  Shrimati did not like the kind of loose talk the boys had indulged in and she wanted to talk about her discomfiture to someone. Since she had no sisters or brothers, she could only talk to her friends. But that day, even her friends were too excited about her winning the prize, and were in no mood to listen to anything.

  ‘Shrimati, I am so glad that Shrikant was put down today. And with him his friends. That Mallesh Shetty, he talks such rubbish, making fun of us girls all the time. As for Ravi Patil, he thinks no end of himself! All said and done, the fact is our schoolmates have no manners. They don’t know how to behave. You served them right.’

  ‘Shrimati, I read a woman’s brain weighs less than a man’s. Is it true?’ Sharada was a little worried.

  ‘Shari,’ Shrimati said affectionately, ‘you should know that intelligence is independent of weight!’

  ‘I was confused, Shrimati. I am not as bright as you are, see!’ After a pause she continued, ‘But you know that Shrikant’s mother Gangakka and his maternal uncle Sheenappa, they think that he is the brightest star in the sky. Sheenappa keeps coming to our shop and talks nonstop about his nephew. I had taken a vow with god Hanuman of Bhandiwad village that if you beat Shrikant in the final exam, I will distribute special pedas to everyone in school. These Deshpandes are too much. Even though they do not have any lands left, their arrogance has not diminished.’

  Vandana Patil pinched Sharada’s hand to stop her but Sharada was not so bright as to understand that this kind of comment would hurt Shrimati. After all she too was the daughter of a landless Deshpande!

  Bhandiwad is a small village near Hubli and the local deity, Hanuman, is very famous for bestowing great boons upon his devotees. There is a strong belief that if someone requested a favour and fasted on Saturdays, their requests would be fulfilled. In return, they just had to offer some sweets to him to thank him for the boon. Since the pedas of Dharwad were very famous, so much so that people of North Karnataka said that if you ha
dn’t eaten the peda your life was wasted, Sharada had promised to offer them, nothing less.

  The other well-known temple in that region was the Railway Eshwar temple in Hubli, a busier, more populous, commercial town than Dharwad. The small Eshwar temple was adjacent to the railway station, so the presiding deity came to be known as ‘Railway Eshwar’.

  People believed that if one prayed to him offering the bilwapathra with all devotion, their wishes would certainly be granted. However, Eshwar, that is Shiva, expected nothing in return because he is one god who loves his devotees unconditionally.

  Vandana, not to be left behind, told Shrimati enthusiastically, ‘Hey Shrimati, I will also pray to Railway Eshwar. If you come first, I shall perform a special puja for him. He will listen, he is a very powerful god.’

  Shrimati smiled at her friends’ affectionate expressions and said, ‘Shari, Vandana, why are you praying to different gods? Should I get the first rank only to beat Shrikant? One should study well to acquire more knowledge. An examination is not the ultimate measure of one’s intelligence . . . Have any of you ever asked me how I wrote this essay that has more information than the textbook? I had actually referred to different books on Ashoka, Buddhism, etc. For me, Ashoka is really a great person and I respect and admire him. I would rather spend more time learning about him than studying just to get more marks than Shrikant!’

  Her words upset both her friends. They had been praying so hard, and it seemed all a waste! ‘Forget it, Shari, let us not pray for Shrimati. We thought that she is on our side. But it looks like she is on Shrikant’s side. She is Shrimati Shrikant Deshpande after all. Ultimately they are two sides of the same coin. We are the outsiders,’ Vandana muttered, peeved.

  Shrimati was about to say something but she didn’t. Her name was Shrimati Shrikant Deshpande, and that’s what caused her all the problems. Mrs Shrikant Deshpande.

  Who says ‘What’s in a name?’ Here, everything was in the name!

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