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The reason for my telling this story is the story itself. I love stories. Placing the cot out in the open under the sky, lying next to my ammamma and watching the moon. I would fall asleep listening to the stories told.

On rainy nights, listening to my ammamma's voice above the dripping of the rain, I would cover myself warmly with blankets, and if they weren't enough, I would nuzzle into my ammamma's tummy and listen to her stories. Lost in her tales, winter nights would pass quickly. Summer nights never seemed long enough. After I learnt how to read and write, when I could read the Telugu primer by myself, I wrote my first story. I don't remember it now. Later my nanna affectionately brought me a Chandamama. After reading Chandamamas for two years, I wrote a story when I was nine and sent it to the magazine. It wasn't published. Nobody knew about this. I never told anybody-not my nanna, not my ammamma. Not even my friend, Radharani. I waited eagerly for its publication for nearly six or seven months. Then I forgot all about it. Now, three years later when I feel like writing a story once again, I remember that Chandamama story. What a difference there is between that story and the one I want to write now!

How wonderful that story was! How good the people in it! How well they looked after the princess with the beautiful white wings who came down to them! They gave her all that she wanted. They listened to the wonders of the world she came from. How they loved the soft white wings of that little girl, the bright innocent eyes of that bird-child, her soft feet and her tiny palm! They made a soft bed for her. They decked her with garlands of parijata flowers. They cooked sweet payasams for her. In spite of all this, she yearned for her mother and father. She said she wanted to go back to her world. So, with heavy hearts, they let her go back to her world. Spreading her wings and flapping them gently, the bird-child soared into the sky.

After writing that beautiful story, what shame and pain there is in writing this story. That story was a dream. This is my own story. I, who had such a beautiful dream in my ninth year . . .how changed I am after three years . . .what a nightmare my life has become! I want to tell everybody the meaning of what I am today. By telling this story I want to show that the real me is not what people think I am, but the child who could write the Chandamama story. That's my desire. A desire that has been tormenting me for the last year so I have stayed alive just to write this story. I can die after I write this story.

If I had found the right word, if only I had known the word I would have finished the story last year and died. Confused, searching for a way to tell my story, I stumbled unwittingly up on a word. The song from the movie Lavakusa was on the radio. Bhagymakka and I were lying down chatting, when there was an announcement on the radio: "You will now listen to a song from the movie, Lavakusa . . ." I hadn't listened to music for two years. Songs are sweet to listen to. There is always something good in them. Worried that I was not beautiful or pure or worthy enough to listen to them, I had stopped listening to songs for the past two years. I moved far away from them. When I was about to leave the room Bhagyamakka stopped me. I loved the songs from Lavakusa. I had seen the film four or five times. I even used to sing some of these songs. I have forgotten them now.

"We will narrate the story of Srirama. Listen to the story of the great and chaste Sita . . ." the words of the song were on the radio.

Bhagyyamakka was telling me about the movie and the song. Rama killed Ravana. "Raghupati saw his wife come to him and asked her to prove her chastity . . ." Bhagyamakka, her eyes filling with tears, abused Rama: "A brainless idiot. Suspicion on a woman who is an ayonija! Why this test for the wife of Rama, the embodiment of dharma?"

I asked: "What does ayonija mean?"

"I know what it means. Sita was not born like other human beings. That's why she's called an ayonija. She was born at the edge of the plough."

"How's everyone born?"

Bhagyamakka laughed uncontrollably. Saying, "Like this." Putting her hand on my stomach she moved it down to the passage through which children are born.

"Chee," I said disbelievingly.

"Why do you say, chee? Children are born that way. I saw this when Kamala was delivering her child. That's called a yoni. Sita was not born from there. That's why she is an ayonija. We are all yonijas. Sita is an ayonija."`

Yoni, Yonija, Ayonija . . . Something was happening to me. A sudden pain shot through my head. Sita's an ayonija. I don't know anything about being born like that. But I can now write what I have been wanting to all these days. How wonderful it would have been to be born an "ayoni"! How I love this word "ayoni"! Are you angry? Are you disgusted? But you don't know anything about my anger and my disgust. If you did, you would wish that my desire be fulfilled. You are all good mothers, aren't you?

Now I will tell you my story. That day, the last of the good days, I remember it so well . . .I have forgotten many other days but I have forced myself to remember that day . . . I keep bringing it back to mind again and again, lest I forget. . . . It was the 4th of January . . . The exams had ended and they had declared Sankranti holidays. The whole Sankranti month, I used to get up very early in the morning. I loved to draw muggulu. I drew really big ones. I'd sprinkle tumeric, kumkum and petals of banti flowers on them. I only heard my ammamma talk about gobbemmalu but I had never used them. I couldn't find any cow dung. That day I drew a snake muggu. A snake couple, long, broad, twisted and entwined around each other. After I finished the muggu, I suddenly grew afraid. Feared that the snakes would come alive and twine themselves around me. I panicked and ran into the house. Almost as if the snakes had scented my fear, they came that evening and caught hold of me.

What kind of snakes were these? Black, with huge hooded heads spitting venom. They came in a car, I was walking beside the car. As it was winter, it was dark by six. I was walking home, happy my exams were over, vexed to have lost the game of carrom at Radharani's house, and scared that amma would scold me for coming late. The car was black, gleaming. Seeing my reflection in the car's mirror I was about to cross the street when two snakes swung around me and dragged me into the car. They spewed venom on me. I thought I was dead.

How good it would have been to die! But I didn't. I realized those snakes had brought me here. It was hell. I learnt the meaning of hunger, fear and darkness then. Until now I had only known the joy of eating taste-filled food when I was hungry, the comfort of my amma's arms or my ammamma's soft belly when I was scared. Nightfall brought the certainty of lights being lit and a sky brightened by the moon and stars. How can I tell you about my fear at not getting food when I was hungry, being tossed into a dark room crying for food? To get over my hunger, to get rid of it, I had to do what they asked me to. A huge bull-like man fell on top of me and tore my yoni apart.

I became unconscious. The blood kept streaming out. But I got some food. Only, I didn't know whether I was swallowing food or blood.

The same thing three days a week. I found my yoni disgusting. In my childhood, my amma and ammamma would hide it so carefully. Even I had not seen it except during my bath. I knew nothing about it. Nobody told me about it. My amma and ammamma told me in many ways that I should not touch it and not allow anybody else to see or touch it either. I only knew it as "shame, shame." But I used to like it anyway. Especially when I saw the boys naked, I would feel relieved that I was a girl and did not have that dreadful tail hanging between my legs like that. It was if I had escaped some disaster. I used to pity boys. I used to feel sorry that the poor things had to put up with that sickening tail dangling between their legs all their lives. Beyond that I knew nothing about these organs. Nor did I know their names. Once Radharani said she knew their names and would tell me, but for some reason she didn't.

After coming here, I have stopped pitying men. Knowing that they can turn that tail into a poisoned knife and the horn of a rhino, I am terrified of men.

I was ten, then. Men would come three days a week. It seems they suffered from some disease and if they pierced me the disease would be cured. The moment they entered the room, I would cry and be filled with fear. But I was not expected to cry. They would throw me into a dark room and starve me. If I thought to escape by closing my eyes, the man would not let me do so. He would tell me to look and I would keep looking. Then I was not a little girl. Not a human. Not even a living creature. Just a yoni. That's all. The only thing. A small hole. All those who came there wanted only that hole. They buried their diseases there and left. I . . . who was I? What was I? Was I the hand that mixed the food? Was I the mouth that ate? Was I the stomach that was filled? Was I only the yoni that fed me?

Everybody saw me only as a yoni. I felt pure hatred towards it. I am not just that. I am something apart from it, please talk to me, treat me like a human being, like a small child. Who's there to listen to me?

Where are the amma, ammamma and nanna? To everyone I am just yoni.

When I see men approaching, my mouth is filled with bitter fear. When I hear angry male voices or their raucous laughter, I feel my ears bursting. I shrink into myself. I try to curl into the place from where my fear springs. And still they see me. I can't find a place to escape from them.

When I was a child, I hid behind a coal-sack in the backyard, while playing hide and seek one day. Nobody could find me. I kept waiting for someone to find me but no one came. Finally, I got scared and came out. Then I was afraid of being alone, but how I wish I could now find a space where no one can reach me!

There are many women here. It's said that they spend their nights in pleasure.

Bhagyamakka says, "There's no pleasure, no nothing—only hardship for food."

Bhagyamakka knows my pain.

"When you grow older you'll get used to it, it won't be painful," she says.

The years go by. I keep growing. And as I grow, my single desire grows. If only I didn't have this one organ! Bhagyamakka laughs when I says this to her. "If that's not there, there would be no world," she says. Does the world then exist only with pain? Does the world exist only with violence?

"This pain is only for people like us, isn't it? Aren't a lot of people happy? Children who grow up with their parents don't have this pain, do they?" says Bhagyamakka.

I don't know. Don't they have it? I wonder whether they too would be allowed to live without some pain or the other. But what have I to do with other fortunate ones? I don't want this. They brought me here only because of this. They made me into a repulsive, dirty pit, a diseased mound. They filled my body with all kinds of diseases. I fear for the little children I sometimes see outside.

Will any of them become like me? How many such hells are there? How many children like me are thinking of dying? How many more will become like me? How does one stop this?

As for myself I want to become an ayoni. If you think my desire is perverse and bad, stop this violence. Destroy all those snakes that take away little girls because of their yonis. Stop this trade. Impotent in the face of this evil you turn your disgust instead towards me. You find my story revolting.

But, you know, my story for Chandamama did not say whether the winged child who came from the world of birds had a yoni or not. The question whether that child was an ayonija or an ayoni did not even arise. That child was so beautiful! How wondrous the world grew when that child came here.

In a world like that perhaps I won't have this desire.

If I were to write that story now, would I say that men wound barbed wires around her wings? Would I write that they threw chilli powder into her innocent eyes? Would I write that they crushed the muddabanti flower-like nose of the bird-child? Would I write that rivers of hot tears flowed from the child's eyes. Would I write that, in the end, the child turning into a mass of pain and tears, could not fly but sank lifeless into the dust and mire?

I don't know what I would write.

Now I can only tell this story, however ugly. That beautiful one is lost to me forever.

Now that I have written this story, I can die. I waited for six or seven months to see if my story would be published in the Chandamama.

I know this story won't be published anywhere now. I needn't wait. I can die.

Translated from the Telugu by the author.


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