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Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Two orphaned siblings who mostly relive their happy memories from their sad past are bound to serve an unkind foreign Lord to repay their debt. When their lives seem hopeless, they revisit a well-wisher through whom they change their life course.

“Brownlings” by Harsha Modukuri & R. S. Chintalapati is a tale of three individuals willing to pay their lives as a price in the pursuit of liberating themselves.

Cover Photo by Pankaj Tottada

Every Sunday evening, as soon as Raghav returned from his Lord’s bungalow to his hut, he and his little sister went for a walk. She was three years younger to him and was named Lakshmi. From their hut, they crossed the paddy fields, where Raghav worked occasionally, after which they walked past their Lord’s guest house.

A mile away from this guest house, resided river Champavathi and the closer the siblings got, they noticed that the roads ended first and this was followed by the absence of thatched roofs. They always felt they have entered their mother’s abode which was the dominion of nature.

The siblings always reached the bank before the moon woke up and turned the blazing sky into a black blanket as they loved to witness the change while the river sang.

The river was Goddess Champavathi herself and was worshipped by their mother before fever took her and the goddess’s materialistic form was their father’s livelihood until he was shot by Lord Andrew.

It was a foolish rebellion against his Lord that killed the father and it was his debt that killed his children’s future. As a repayment, Raghav was taken as a slave by the Lord himself.

The siblings were small and thin for their clothes since they had to wear whatever they got at the bungalow. The rest of their expenses were met by the little amount Raghav earned. Once a year, he tried to fulfil a few of his sister’s little wishes like buying her a pair of bangles.

They both had black eyes and brown skin, and whenever Raghav worked in the paddy fields, he was usually covered in the mud until his hips and Lord Andrew barked, “You brown dogs got a fitting job, didn’t you?”

Raghav and Lakshmi never spoke during their walks to the banks because they always saved words for the night. They rested along the banks of the sliding river, played with the water and Raghav often tried his best to catch some fish.

Lakshmi built sandcastles every week, but not one of them survived until next week. When it got dark, Raghav ignited their lantern and Lakshmi always remarked downhearted, “This place reminds me of Amma and Appa... At least, she should have stayed with us after they left.”

“She was given no choice Lakshmi. Believe me, she will return; she adores us.” Raghav affirmed every time before they tread the same path one beside the other in silence while holding hands. On their journey, they re-lived their warm memories of their peaceful past.

The next week, Raghav had to mostly work in the paddy fields. The sun burnt him but, fortunately, he got lucky for two days, when Lord Andrew demanded him to wipe the floors of his bungalow.

Lord Andrew Silverman was the Special Collector sent from Delhi to Visakhapatnam agency to curb the eschewing militancy. It’s been around four months, the last militant was shot dead, so Lord Andrew tortured every Indian rebel he set his eyes on.

Lord Andrew often passed comments of loathing and disgust every time he saw an Indian and Raghav hated listening to the curses every day. However, he knew, if he angered his Lord, he wouldn’t just lose his work but might lose his life too.

One day, while walking out of his room, Lord Andrew saw Raghav cleaning the chandelier. Commanding him to get down, Lord Andrew asked, “My lover is concerned about your future. Tell me, brown worm, what would you want to be if you were given a chance?”

“I... I would like to farm in my land, my Lord,” fumbled Raghav curtsying.

Leaning towards the weakling, Andrew whispered, “I always reward my hounds for their undying loyalty. Prove me you’re one amongst these swine and I’ll help you get some land.”

Finishing his sentence, Lord Andrew left while Raghav couldn’t help, but think of his mother who was snatched away from him. He knew Lord Andrew well enough to not believe a word of what was just said and he also knew he had to be contented with his life.

The next Sunday, during their walk, Raghav and Lakshmi were surprised to see their sandcastle standing tall on the banks of the river. As the river hummed, both of them saw the one they adored and ran towards her.

Embracing them, Ragini laughed. A moment later, Raghav could observe that her saree didn’t cover her shoulders and the skin below her neck. He couldn’t help but think about where she was coming from. Meanwhile, Lakshmi exclaimed, “I knew it was you. I couldn’t believe that the cows didn’t stamp my castle nor the wind ruffled it.”

Soon the three of them lay on the bank of Champavathi, admiring the sky filled with millions of stars while the river hummed and tickled their feet. Ragini was tall, freckled and her eyebrows were perfectly aligned. She was a typical girl from Tanda.

Turning towards her, Raghav asked, “Will you have to leave the village again?”

To which Ragini nodded in disagreement before stating, “Our Lord apparently cannot travel often now to his fort in which I was held. He has important issues to be resolved.”

Ragini’s explanation was followed by Lakshmi enthusiastically shouting, “Then henceforth, we’ll stay in one home!”

As much as Raghav liked the idea, he knew, he could not agree to it. While Raghav looked at the two curved black snakes on her wrist, Ragini replied, “Not yet little one but… one day, we will. When the village doesn’t outlaw me any longer...”

Raghav interrupted, “She has to work after sunset, Lakshmi. She will anyway meet us every Sunday.”

With a smile on her face, Ragini opened the red cloth bag she tied across her waist and gave them two laddus each. As they took them, Ragini mentioned, “Take good care of each other and I will meet you next Sunday.”

As Lakshmi began to eat, Raghav wrapped his sweets in his shirt while Ragini left.

The next few weeks, Ragini visited them and every time she did, she brought laddus and one time, she even brought copper bangles for Lakshmi. For her, they were the only relations she had after Raghav burnt his father’s dead body. As much as she wanted to live with them, her profession made the villagers deny permission and Lord Andrew made the situation even worse.

Every time they met, the three of them rested side by side while their feet touched the river and they gazed at the stars. They talked about everything they knew, built sandcastles and relished each other’s company so much so that every moment was blissful.

That weekend before they left, Ragini instructed Lakshmi to start walking before she informed, “No matter what happens to me. I want you to take this and live in peace.”

Finishing her sentence, Ragini untied her red pouch before placing it into Raghav’s hand. Before Raghav could say a word, she continued, “Mistress is visiting. I’m unsure about my future considering what I’ve heard about her.”

Raghav knew what she meant and without saying a word, he took the pouch and started walking towards his sister. Looking at them for a moment, Ragini left too.

As told, the Lord’s lady visited. She was called Meghan and never spoke to anyone except Andrew. Every sigh of hers was cold, and whenever she crossed Raghav, she tried her best to express disgust by twitching her lips, scowling and calling him names in the presence of Andrew.

That Sunday, Raghav, and Lakshmi waited for Ragini, but she never came. So, they returned home disappointed after building their sandcastles. That night, Raghav couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t help but recall Ragini’s last words.

The next week too, she did not show up. This week, however, Raghav returned to the river banks after leaving his sister behind in the hut and he found no one near their spot except for a dog.

For a couple of weeks, this continued. Lakshmi was convinced that Ragini had again left the village and she stopped joining her brother for a weekly evening walk. Nevertheless, Raghav continued to travel and two times every week just to make sure he doesn’t miss the opportunity to meet her.

Five weeks later, when Raghav reached the banks late night, he saw a group of people standing in silence while Meghan was kicking Ragini as she moaned in pain.

“You shameless wench! How dare you confound my husband!” Meghan shrieked.

“Your pain finally pleasures me after my hound’s repeated failures in searching you for five weeks now!”

Raghav could also see Lord Andrew standing beside his mistress helpless and not interfering. He knew trying to help now would cost him his life.

“You slept with a brown whore?” she turned to Andrew, “What kind of a man are you? Has she got anything better than me?”