If Given a Chance….

                                  Origin (Telugu): Vattikota Alwaru Swamy

                                 Translated from Telugu by:   Elanaaga



untitled[Vattikota Alwar Swamy is undoubtedly a great storyteller. His mastery over short story is indeed commendable. He is not only a visionary, but also a robust optimist.

His narrative depicts economy of space and characterization. Thus it stands out unique. As a vibrant writer, his creative canvas is full of social realism. The present story, “If Given a Chance”, embodies multiple shades of meaning and a wide spectrum of symbols and images. More particularly, the story has very crucial issues of human concern: 1.The inbuilt injustice in our societal values 2.There is a need for radical revision of criminology, penal code and jail administration 3. Subjugation of woman in a male-dominated society or gender bias 4. Man woman relation in the institution of family 5. War and human wastage

Alwar Swamy tries to redefine independence. It has larger ramifications. In fact, it is not only the national independence but also the individual freedom.

The story is set in a typical Indian home or household. The husband Shastri and his wife Saroja, in their casual conversation, not only unravel their inner motives, but also touch upon the whole gamut of national issues. Against the backdrop of war, how human life undergoes the twists and turns of socio-economic issues. AlwarSwamy considers war as a great global disaster. In his scheme of things, the role of woman takes the front seat. Alwar Swamy foresees a bright and brilliant future for woman. Saroja not only opens window for fresh air and also further breastfeeds her daughter, she gives a tremendous feedback of ideas. She also gives a daring discourse on emerging new woman. She says woman needs to realise her full potential. In fact, woman is also imprisoned in the family of four walls. She can equally prove her mettle on the fighting front.

In the later years, Alwar Swany’s forecast turns out to be true. How present day’s woman is dominating socio-political arena? And further how she most efficiently and effectively is managing the state administration and other transactions? Emancipation and empowerment of woman becomes a deep undercurrent of the story.

Pathan is an Afghan Muslim. The story is too deep for tears. In the yesteryears, the jail administration was so bad that jails proved to be real torture chambers. Since Alwar Swamy himself had undergone the travails of jail life for no fault of his, Pathan was put behind the bars and further condemned to undergo rigorous imprisonment. Finally, he met with a tragic death. Thus, he was alienated from his own family and native roots. Here, Alwar Swamy selected a Muslim to reveal his religious respect and tolerance.

The present story transcends beyond the four walls of house and intersects with contemporary history of larger issues. Pandit Nehru’s cryptic statement turns out to be a great piece of literary work. If given a chance, either man or woman excels and expands into cosmic heights.

Doctor Elanaga is a brilliant translator. He could bring out the body and the soul of the original. His informal style, apt and appropriate phrase, makes the work immensely readable. Doctor Elanaga himself is a poet and writer. This enabled him to translate those turbulent times and history into chaste English.

Alwar Swamy, as a great patriot and writer, envisaged a new independent India where woman should emerge as a powerful force to be more articulate and assertive. Finally, no one gives a chance – it is to be fought and created.]


                                                                – Professor P. Lakshminarayana.


 * *


“Have you read this, dear?”

“Yes, I must have read. But what is it?”

“Pundit Nehru’s speech”

“On what occasion?”

“In Children’s Promotion Association, in Delhi”

“Oh, that one? Yes dear. He explained very nicely. What did you think about Nehru? He is an expert in grasping the ins and outs of issues. Okay. But what is his perspective? Read”

“Listen here. In fact, 85 percent of people serving the sentences in our country’s prisons, are not criminal minded. Even the remaining 15 percent are not criminals by nature. Circumstances rendered them so. An ordinary prisoner serving a jail sentence for the past ten years, is more virtuous than many who are outside prisons”

(Laughs) “Oh, that one?”

Kaum ke gum me dinner khathe hain hukkam ke sath

               Ranj leader ko bahuth hai magar aram ke sath(1)

Saroo! You are becoming more and more invincible day by day. When I read that speech, I see the picture of one person in my mind”

“Is his life so poignant?”

“Poignant? Heart will be blasted”

“In that case, tell. I will listen”

“Shall I tell? It’s the tale of a youth who lost his life quite unjustly. It happened ten years ago”

“Please stop for a while. Before you tell the story completely, I impose a condition”

“What is it?”

“It won’t be good if you shed tears in between and keep on worrying for the next one or two days”

“Saroo! In a way, you are fortunate”

“What a good fortune indeed! Do you mean to say that even my inability to understand you, my living as an ignoramus by not knowing your agonies and staying away from everything is fortune?”

“Yes. For inept fellows who cannot solve their problems, there only lies peace in not understanding the problems. They can pass time as ignoramuses inside a room”

“A wife, who, without understanding her husband’s views and difficulties and not becoming a partner, cannot be joyful as you surmise. It becomes inevitable for us to get influenced by your difficulties and views wittingly or unwittingly. That way we compulsorily become partners in your lives that are filled with restiveness and disquiet. Okay. Let it be. You are very capable my dear. If you want to escape from discussing the actual issue by digressing, you may now proceed to tell about that youth in detail”

“Shall I tell?”

“Yes, of course. But please wait a little. I’ll breast feed our baby Sudha”


*         *         *


“Saroo! Not all people can discern the rot and ins and outs of the society. It is possible only to those who understand the society fully”

“See, you are digressing again. Put that paper down there and come straight to the actual point”

“I will tell. But you should hold a bridle in your hand and keep pulling it like this at intervals!”

“Once ordered by you, there won’t be any going back of course. I will certainly make use of the power vested in me to the extent of hundred percent”

“Like a monkey getting jaggary. Is it?”

“In fact, you males have suppressed us. Otherwise, we are more efficient than you in all aspects. If you want to disprove my point, give power to us and see. We will show our mettle”

“The Sarojamma who can pull the bridle when I deviate from path, is herself sidetracking, you see”

“Yes indeed. When I said about power to women, you felt that it is sidetracking. Males are males anyhow”

“They are selfish fellows. Aren’t they?”

“No, no. They are not selfish. They are personifications of deities who, by telling sweet words, create hurdles at every step in the name of social restrictions, traditions etc., and when it becomes difficult to withstand, nurse suspicions in their hearts”

“Oho, Sarojamma is getting accustomed to the attitude of lecture it seems”

“However much a woman I may be, am I not the wife of Sri Sri Sri Sri Sri……………..Sastry?”

“That’s alright but where has your bridle gone?”

(Laughs) “How nice is this? Both of us have left the actual issue and resorted to argument. Start at least now”

“Perhaps I have already told about it to you Saroo”

“I don’t remember. Would you wear out if you tell it again?”

(Sets right his tone) “Then listen. Would you bring some water to drink?”

“Would just some drinking water suffice?”

“It seems your eyes are going into sleep mode”

“My eyes? Or yours?”

“Okay. Leave it but give me water to drink. We will think about everything else later”

“Is there a later part also? Take and drink this water”

“Saroo! It’s very sultry dear. Please open that window and switch the light off”

“Oho. It seems Sastry sir’s eyes want to fall asleep”

“Yes. It’s chilly too. Bring that rug”

“What happened to the thing you wanted to tell?”

“I remember that I have already told it to you. It’s that same thing. Hasn’t the Pathan(2) fellow gone mad? In the jail”

“Oh, that thing? So what? Shouldn’t you tell once more?”

“If you are not feeling sleepy, it’s right then. It’s your habit to keep on pestering me till you get sleep. Listen”

“Good heavens. That means sir’s chariot has now started”

“What shall I do? The devotees pulling the chariot are like that. Saroo! If you really want to listen, then I’m starting now”

Sree Ganesaya namaha(3). Okay, start”

“He is a Pathan belonging to a border state”

“If Sastry sir excuses me, I have a plea. When you said border state, I was reminded of Frontier Gandhi(4). It’s pity that nowadays we hear nothing about him”

“Saroo! Your attitude is reminding me that of a gurivinda(5) seed. You, who argue that I often digress, are not allowing me to proceed”

“There are judges who revoked hangings when asked to pardon. There are others who exempt convicts from paying the penalty. But you are behaving like a fascist. This is not good. Please realise that this is the era of democracy. Besides, I am a woman devoid of physical strength. While I am trying to imbibe knowledge from you who is a treasure house of wisdom to get enlightened, to become prudent, to rove as a valiant lady on this great Indian land full of valour and to puff up with pride, why this disgust for you?”

“Sarojamma garu(6)! Stop. Stop your flow of poetry”

“It is the men who stop everything. Women are always progressive. They always march ahead”

“There’s no use in marching without companions. Take at least me with you”

“Okay. The Pathan fellow hailed from a border state. What next?”

“After that…after that….Unable to earn anything for his livelihood, he joined the military”

“Inability to earn means dying without food. Isn’t it? And joining military implies getting ready to die. That means being afraid of one death, he readied himself for another death”

“No Saroo! Not all people who join military die. Not all students who study, pass. And not every patient who takes medicine gets cured. It depends on their fate”

“I opine that one more thing must be added to that”

“What’s it?”

“Not all employees who do their duty necessarily get salaries”

“Oh, you almost killed me with your sentence. Do you mean that they should live just on wind and water?”

“In fact what you are giving me for my drudgery is only that much. Is it not so?”

“The family life and love bond between wife and husband are well above destiny and the life itself. There is an indescribable affection in it. It has no price. Nor can it be explained in words”

“Is it so? Sometimes you remark that this whole world is a single family and all the peoples are its members. As per your tenets of virtue, you who belong to this vast family and me who is a member of your family are carrying out actions without any desire for returns. Then why shouldn’t you work without taking that 1500 Rupee salary?”

“Oho, somehow you want to do away with my job! Saroo! I am not doing the job for the sake of salary. I’m taking salary because I am doing the job”

“But that Pathan has joined the job for salary, O.K. What happened after that?”

“Poor fellow, he was shifted to a very distant place from his native area just after joining his job”

“Like how you had gone to London…Is it?”

“Saroo! It’s not fair to apply everything only to me”

“May peace prevail. Please don’t get angry Sastry garu. Poor woman, that Pathan’s wife…how much mental agony she must have been subjected to? Did he have any children?

“His family comprised an old mother, a ten month old son and a wife. He was the only person for them to fall back upon”


“Some scuffle took place in the military camp. He too had participated in it I believe. Perhaps it’s a very serious scuffle. That Pathan was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment”

“Twelve years! When you spent just two years in jail, I underwent an enormous amount of mental turmoil. Would you say that serving twelve years of sentence in prison is an ordinary thing?”

“No Saroo! It’s not an ordinary thing. It’s unbearable. Just after two months of imprisonment, his heart broke. He didn’t know the state of his family. Nor his family members knew what was happening to him. He suffered a heart break here while they suffered with no money for livelihood there. Whenever there was a chance, he averred that he had not done anything wrong and   beseeched the prison officials to shift him at least to other jail in his native state. Those were the days of war. Who would listen to his plea in the situation of a great war when everyone is preoccupied with life and death? Many months have passed without any outcome. Even his sentence was confirmed in the appeal. (With choked voice) In the end, he went out of his mind”

“Have you started it again? Think that I am dead if you do that. How foolish I am? Why did I ask you to relate the tale at all? Please don’t bring tears to your eyes”

(With choked voice) “Saroo! His figure is still lingering in my mind. He holds a rosary in his hand and doesn’t talk to anybody. Nor does he eat anything or change his dress. If at all he speaks anytime, it’s only a single sentence: “I have not committed any wrong, send me to my home.” In the end, he was considered a mad fellow. There was no end to the beatings and abuses that he received. Not eating food in prison is equal to breaking the rule. The jail employees’ duty is not complete until something is pushed into convict’s mouth….I can’t tell anymore Saroo”

“What must have happened in the end?”

(With choked voice) “He died as an insane fellow. That news alone was conveyed to his family members. But one thing is sure. Had he been given a chance, he would have outshined. Only due to the circumstances, he became like that. Saroo, there is so much meaning in those words of Pandit Nehru. That’s why I felt pained so much. You have brought tears to your eyes too. Yes, every living being that has a heart does the same thing”



– – –



1.Kaum ke gum me: During the times of national disasters, officials are eating

dinners in condolence meetings. Leaders have a great sorrow,

but they are well contented. (Lines from Akbar Alahabadi’s


2.Pathan: The Pashtun man, known Afghan in Persian and Pathan in Hindi – Urdu.

3.Sri Ganeshaya Namaha: A Sanskrit sloka praying Lord Ganesa to remove any

obstacles before starting any major work by Hindus.                                

4.Frontier Gandhi: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He was a political and spiritual

leader known for his nonviolent opposition to the British rule

in Indian subcontinent.

5.Gurivinda:            A seed which is partly white and partly black. People who don’t

recognise their own deficiencies are usually referred to it.

6.Garu:                     A suffix word used to denote reverence to elderly or great




(This is one of the stories from the book ‘Inside the Prison’ which is a translation to Vattikota Alwaru Swamy’s short story book ‘Jailu Lopala’. The book was published by Telangana Bhasha Samskrithika Mandali and it will be released on 25-10-2014 at 10.00 A.M. at Telugu University auditorium, Public Gardens , Nampally, Hyderabad as a part of Vattikota Alwaru Swamy’s birth centenary celebrations)