01 January 1970

Little Srinu Thinks Big

Weekend Reads

Little Srinu Thinks Big

Originally in Telugu, a short story that features a little boy and his mother arguing the ins and outs of philosophy


"O Amma! Why don’t you respond? How many times should I call you?” Srinu ran towards his mother, who was busy in the kitchen. Srinu’s mother, Tiruvengalamma, was sitting in front of a vegetable cutter, chopping okra, singing ‘Ikshvaku kula tilaka’—a well-known song written by the poet-saint Bhadrachala Ramadasu—in a low voice. Srinu’s screams startled her.

“What happened, son? Why are you shouting for me so loudly?” she enquired.

“You did not respond when I called for you in a normal voice. So, I had to raise my voice,” replied Srinu, visibly offended.

“Is that all? I got worried imagining something bad had happened. Why did you call me, anyway? What do you want?” she asked.

“Amma, it is not a major issue, but I am really hungry!”

“Is that why you ran screaming so loudly? Couldn’t you have just walked into the kitchen and asked me to give you something to eat?” Tiruvengalamma was amused.

“No, it was impossible to not scream. You don’t know how hungry I am. My stomach is in pain due to hunger. It is already growling.”

“Oh, why don’t you wait for a few more minutes, my child? I will fry these pieces of okra and you can have them with rice and some lentil soup,” she said, grabbing Srinu closer to her and caressing his hair.

“No, I don’t want to eat rice.” Srinu did not like his mother’s suggestion.

“What is wrong with you, Srinu? Didn’t you just say you were terribly hungry? Why don’t you eat some rice, then?”

“Yes, I am, of course, very hungry, amma! Okay, how about you let me do something I am about to suggest, and I will eat rice and lentil soup afterwards. Okay?”

“What? Do you want to pluck some of the guava fruits from the tree? They are all still very young and too raw to eat. Your father would be angry if you plucked them away now.”

“No, it is not that.”

“What is it, then? Do you want to get some fresh butter from your pinni (maternal aunt)?”

“I don’t want any butter-nutter.”

“Srinu, what is it that you want? Ask for it clearly. Do you want to eat the rice or not?” Tiruvengalamma asked as she continued to fry the okra.

“I will eat rice, but can you let me play the mridangam (percussion instrument) for some time before that?” sensing his mother’s anger, Srinu hugged her from behind, and asked beseechingly.

“Aha, so that is what you want to do. You are just using hunger as a ploy to make me give you the mridangam. Do you think your father will spare you if you damage it?”

Srinu’s sorrowful look made his mother change her mind.

“Okay, I will give it to you for just five minutes. Handle it with utmost care. If your father notices anything amiss when he sits for practice, you may get a beating from him,” said Tiruvengalamma, letting Srinu take hold of the musical instrument while looking at him lovingly.

Srinu took the mridangam that was hanging from a wooden peg on the wall, put it in front of him, and started with the songs he had heard his father perform. He had a good musical sense and his fingers beat to the rhythm smoothly. He was happy.


Srinu’s father, Keshava Dasu, worked as a teacher at a local school in their hometown. He came from a family of traditional street performers. Until a few decades ago, it had been their profession. So, naturally, Keshava was fond of stage plays and performed in them. They were poor and had no family money except for one acre of agricultural land. In order to feed his family which consisted of his wife, children, ageing parents, and a widowed older sister, he needed additional sources of income. So, he participated in plays and dramas around their village, either as an actor or as a mridangam artist.

At home, there were six people to feed at each meal. The going got tough sometimes. But Srinu loved to snack and preferred such foods over rice. He dreamt of a day when his mother would cook all sorts of delicacies for him.

“First, you said it is all about our past deeds. Then, you said luck. Now, you talk about the goddess of wealth. life?I don’t understand at all!”

The village headman’s grandson Pandu Babu was Srinu’s classmate at school. Every day, he would describe what he ate for breakfast, what fruits he ate for snacks etc. Srinu’s mouth watered each time he heard these descriptions. He longed to go to school with new clothes and shiny shoes, like the others. “Why don’t we have such a large house like the village headman?” he often wondered. A big compound wall surrounded the headman’s house. It looked majestic with those tall gates.

Pandu Babu liked Srinu and invited him home sometimes. All his needs at home were taken care of by an army of servants. They bathed him, dressed him, and combed his hair. They even fed him and addressed him showing utmost respect. They feared his anger. He had a room full of toys of all kinds, all for himself. There were airplanes, helicopters, motor cars, even toys that walked and talked.


One day, Srinu went along with his mother to see their farmland. They had to walk past the village headman’s mansion to reach the fields. As they reached that house, Srinu paused, and asked, seriously, “Amma, can you answer a question?”

“What is it, Srinu? What has been bothering you?” his mother asked, smiling.

“Look at this headman. He has a large mansion, and a lot of farmland. Everyone, including the children of the house, has their own team of servants. Pandu Babu tells me that they have several kinds of food items and snacks at each meal. But no one from that house goes out to work like my father or others in our village. How do they have so much wealth?”

“You have big thoughts, that explains why you have such a big head. People like them perhaps performed a lot of good deeds in their past life. So, they were born into an upper caste, rich family in this life.”

“Oh, is that so? I heard you tell Seshamma pinni the other day that my father’s ancestors were all great devotees of Lord Rama, went on long pilgrimages, served society, and were good to others. Why aren’t we rich people now, then?”

“We need some good fortune to favour us, son. The goddess of wealth does not knock on all doors.”

“What are you talking about, amma? First, you said it is all about our past deeds. Then, you said luck. Now, you talk about the goddess of wealth. I don’t understand at all!”

“You are still very young. You will understand better as you grow older.”

“Alright. Amma, I heard that the headman is a moneylender too, and that he takes away the lands and homes of those who take loans from him but cannot repay them. I was also told he is very intolerant and punishes his workers heavily even for a small mistake. Don’t you say that sinners would be born as a lowly dog or a fox in their next birth? Will the headman meet that fate in the next life, after he faces death in this life?”

“Oh, God! Don’t say such things aloud. If someone among the headman’s men hears us, we would be buried alive right here. Let us go to the farm quickly, it is getting late!” said Tiruven­galamma, dragging Srinu towards their farm land in a hurry.


Every day, Srinu’s mother cleaned their front yard, sprinkled some cow dung water over it, and drew a muggu, a traditional decorative motif on the ground drawn with rice flour. Afterwards, she sang ‘Gummadedegopi devi,’ a traditional folk song, as she worked on a butter churn with her churning stick. Srinu woke up to this song every day. After this task, his mother prayed for some time, singing songs from a traditional text called Adhyatma Ramayana, and Srinu joined her. After the prayer, he prostrated in front of the deity along with his mother, his ventral body flat on the ground. This was their daily routine.

Whenever she had some free time, Tiruvengalamma tried to teach Srinu some elements of the Vedanta tradition they followed. She told him that God created all the eighteen lakh living species on Earth, and that one would attain freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth if one led a good life without lying and without harming others. Srinu liked to hear what his mother taught him but he was not fond of the idea of all these pious people continuing to live in heaven after death eternally, without hunger, thirst, or sleep.


It was the day of Bhogi. Tiruvengalamma was making arisa, a sweetmeat made of rice flour and jaggery. Kotamma attha (paternal aunt) and Sitamma pinni joined to help her in making them. They took each arisa from the frying pan, squeezed it in between two wooden sticks to remove the excess oil and spread them out on white straw mats on the floor. Tiruvengalamma was responsible for spreading the flour balls on a banana leaf before dropping them into the hot oil. She also took care of peeling them off the straw mat and piling them up in containers.

Srinu, who was playing outside, could smell the fragrance of the cooked sweetmeat and his mouth watered. He waited for his mother’s call. When he couldn’t wait any longer, he went inside to enquire, “Amma, did you call me?” All three women were amused seeing Srinu’s eagerness to eat. After a while, unable to restrain any longer, Srinu shouted,

Amma, can you please give me one? I just want to taste it!”

 His mother put a finger over her mouth and said, “No, we should not do that before offering it to God first!”

“Okay, offer it to him first, then!”

“I cannot do it right away. Let me finish making them all. We would then offer them to God and you shall eat as many as you want, afterwards.”

“God won’t eat so much. What you already have is enough as an offering.”

Srinu liked to hear what his mother taught him but he was not fond of the idea of all these pious people continuing to live in heaven after death eternally.

“We shouldn’t do such things! God will be angry, and our tongues will come off from our mouths.”

“You are bluffing. God doesn’t eat at all. Tell me one thing — every day we offer our food to God first before we eat. What happens because of that?”

“What are you talking about? God blesses us and protects us.”

“Yes, and when we die, he will take us and keep us by his side forever.”

“Yes. Those who pray to him with devotion and do good deeds in their life not only reach heaven, but will unite with God forever.”

“What does that mean, amma? What is uniting with God? How does that happen?”

“God’s soul is like a bright, ever glowing divine light. All these blessed souls who reach heaven will become a part of that light and escape the cycle of birth and death.”

Srinu thought deeply for some time, slanting his neck, and finally asked, “What is the benefit of becoming another ray of light in that divine light?”

“It is not a small benefit. We don’t have to be reborn so many times, and experience all this misery, illness and suffering when that happens.”

Amma, I don’t want to be a speck of light forever. I want to be born and reborn. How can I not eat foods like junnu­—the milk pudding you make with the milk from the cow soon after it gave birth, those fresh rice flakes and unripe sorghum grains, and those freshly roasted peanuts anymore?? I cannot imagine not ever eating mangoes! If I can’t see those colourful lotuses in our village pond every day, if I can’t see the oriole birds hanging on our trees, is that a life?”

“Oh, silly child, devotees pray all their life to escape life itself and unite with the ultimate being.”

“Yes, all I am saying is I don’t want that. I want to be able to see movies like Malleswari and Maya Bazaar again and again. I should be able to roam around in a bus, train, or a motorcycle. I would travel all over India when I grow up, and perhaps visit countries like America and England, at least in my next life. What would I get by just becoming a speck of light in a bigger light, without all these?”

“Srinu, it is hard to win any argument with you. You speak like an old man who has seen everything in life,” Tiruvengalamma commented, although she was visibly pleased with her son’s intelligence.

“Who do you think I am? Doesn’t my father say that I am his father reborn as his son? So, I am, indeed, an old man who has seen it all.”

“Okay, stop this discussion, now. Don’t touch the ones already arranged in the plates. Take these two ariselu fresh off the pan. Now, leave the room and go play,” Tiruvengalamma told her son, giving him two of the sweetmeats wrapped in a banana leaf.

Srinu’s face shone like a thousand-watt bulb. His eyes glowed with immense happiness. He rushed with the banana leaf packet to sit on a nearby haystack. Before taking the first bite, he looked up and prayed, “Oh God, my father looks at me lovingly each time I try to eat before everyone like this. You are the father of us all. I hope you aren’t too offended that I am eating my snack without offering it to you first!”. The very next moment, he was busy munching his snack.

(Srinu Gaadi Tatva Mimamsa was originally written in the Telugu by Namburi Paripurna)

V B Sowmya translates in Telugu and English. Her translations of Telugu short stories have appeared in Indian and international web magazines.