Soapnut Leaves is a story written by the famous Telegu writer Chaganti Somayajulu, also known as ChaasO. It has been published in the book Classic Telegu Short Stories, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1991 and has been translated from Telegu to English by Chaganti Sankar. The story has also been selected as the part of Delhi University syllabus and is published in the syllabus book Fluency In English.

Soapnut Leaves Summary:

The story “Soapnut Leaves” highlights the class differentiation present in small villages that how low-class people are suppressed by the upper-class people and how the next generation learns the habit of discrimination from their previous generation. In the story, there are two little girls of age eight, Paaramma who is the daughter of Appala Nadu, a well-respected farmer and Gaviri, the daughter of Chinnademudu, who is just a village labourer. As Paaramma is the daughter of a respectable farmer, she has been given several privileges whereas Gaviri as being the daughter of the labourer, isn’t even allowed to eat freely.

Paaramma’s and Gaviri’s Characteristics

Soapnut Leaves Summary: Knowing that Paaramma’s father is a well-respected person, Paaramma becomes boastful girl and discriminates between rich and poor people. Just to make Gaviri jealous, Paaramma boasts of having good food whereas Gaviri didn’t gets anything to eat but to get even tells Paaramma that her family had prawns. Paaramma catches her lie easily and again boasts that Gaviri’s family is so poor that they didn’t even lit fire to cook anything. The whole village knew of Chinnademudu’s poverty due to which Gaviri always fell in such uncertainties.

The dressing sense of both Gaviri and Paaramma is very different. Where Paaramma wears a long skirt, cotton towel for upper body, and silver bracelets and nose-pieces, Gaviri wears a cloutpiece and has to carry a broom and basket. Gaviri is just eight years old but has the responsibility of her whole family on her shoulders. She collects half the water supply of her family daily and collects firewood twigs.

Although Gaviri didn’t have much to boast about but the things in which she was good at were also underestimated by the people due to her father’s poverty. For example, Gaviri is more intelligent than Paaramma and correctly recites the words sung by school children, but Paaramma is the one who has been asked to come to school by the teacher. Also when both Paaramma and Gaviri tucks the same oleander flowers in their hair, Gaviri is the one who had to face embarrassment after having a large bun of hair. Paaramma simply calls her hair coconut fibre and teases her of having no oil in them whereas Paaramma had plenty.

Impartial Rules

Soapnut Leaves Summary: The rules of the village were impartial towards the poor people whereas the crimes of rich people were always neglected. When Paaramma and Gaviri reach the greengram fields, Paaramma plucks out the greengram pods and starts munching them with ease whereas Gaviri is prohibited to do that otherwise she would have been considered as a criminal and harshly punished. The big people of the village always ignored the crimes of riches and were friendly towards them. The Prime Landlord Kaambhukta, was a more respected person than Paaramma’ father and could share his pickles, curry and anything with him but his attitude towards lower people was different.

Seeing Paaramma munching greengram pods, Gaviri feels hungry as she didn’t have anything to eat in the morning and the previous night. Her hunger silences when she reaches the Soapnut fields and sees the path covered with soapnut leaves. Soapnut leaves were thick and good for lighting the Chula, therefore she was happy. She filled her basket with Soapnut leaves and with Paaramma, left for the Prime landlord Kaambhukta’s field.

Once entering the Kaambhukta’s field, Paaramma and Gaviri sees huge Tamarind trees with sickle-like tamarind fruits hanging to them. Paaramma flings a stone at the tree and recieves three tamarind fruits. She eats one and tucks the rest into her skirt but do not gives any to Gaviri even after her pleading. After being encouraged by Paaramma to throw a stone at the tree, hungry Gaviri flings it even after knowing the consequences. No tamarind fruits fell this time, but a dry tamarind branch comes down and overjoys Gaviri. She could have used it as the firewood, so she breaks it into pieces and puts in her basket whereas Paaramma leaves for the greengram fields.

Gaviri’s Encounter with Kaambhukta

Soapnut Leaves Summary: As Gaviri collects the tamarind branch, a voice comes from behind and Prime Landlord Kaambhukta enters the field. Gaviri, afraid on seeing him, bows down and shows him the branch and soapnut leaves she had collected in her basket. She tells him that they are for the firewood but Kaambhukta raises his leg and kicks the basket.

Gaviri rushes to collect the dropped leaves and pieces of tamarind branch but Kaambhukta, who didn’t know the value of those leaves for the Chinnademudu family, gets irritated and starts abusing Gaviri. Gaviri pleads that she will ner return into her fields again but Kaambhukta gets a clue and finds cow dung hidden under a bush. (Cow dung is considered as a dirty thing in cities but is considered as a very important fuel in villages.)

Seeing the cow dung, Kaambhukta things that Gaviri has stolen it. She tells him that she didn’t do anything but still Kaambhukta hits a blow on her back with his handstick. Gaviri cries with pain but Kaambhukta again delivers her a hit. Confused Gaviri could not understand that when she has told her innocence to him, why was he still hitting her. She tries to explain him again and shows him her hands and basket which had no cow dung traces. Kaambhukta didn’t complies to this and continues to hit her.

Agitated Gaviri starts abusing Kaambhukta who has never been questioned before because of his status Prime Landlord. He removes his wooden sandal and flings it hard on Gaviri’s shinbone. Gaviri falls down hard and starts crying. Satisfied with his final blow, Kaambhukta leaves whereas, after some silence, Gaviri stands up and starts collecting the soapnut leaves. Though his parents had to provide the food to eat; she had to provide the fuel to cook it. This time, Gaviri leaves Kaambhukta’s tamarind branch twigs and again abuses him. She tries to go home as it was getting late, the school children were memorizing multiplication tables, and their voices could be heard in the fields. Unfortunately, Gaviri’s shinbone hurts very bad and she looks down to see a red split welt on it.

Gaviri starts sobbing and the story ends with the voices of school children, reciting multiplication tables, being heard in unison.

Soapnut Leaves Summary: Question and Answers

Q: Why were the Soapnut leaves so important to Gaviri and of no value to Kaambhukta?

A: The story “Soapnut Leaves” written by Chaaso shows two little girls of different classes moving in the fields. The poorer one is Gaviri whose duty is to daily collect fuel and water for her family. The Soapnut leaves found by Gaviri are very important to her because she collects them to use as fuel to lit the family’s chula. Although the food had to be collected by her parents, she was the one who had to provide the fuel as her duty. On the other hand, Kaambhukta is the Prime Landlord in the village, who is rich and can get anything easily in shares due to the biased rules of the village. That’s why the soapnut leaves collected by Gaviri were of no value for him.

Q: Why did Kaambhukta think that Gaviri is the one who is the thief even when Gaviri proves him that she is not?

A: In the story “Soapnut Leaves” written by Chaaso, Gaviri is a little girl of eight who enters into the field of Prime Landlord Kaambhukta but gets suspected of stealing cow dung. She tries to prove her innocence and shows him her hands and basket which had no traces of cow dung but still Kaambhukta didn’t believes her and took her as a thief. This happened maybe because of the mindset of the people in their village which was based negatively towards the poor. What maybe considered right for the rich people was wrong for the poor and Gaviri’s father Chinnademudu was one of them. Therefore, Kaambhukta thinks that Gaviri is the one who stole the cow dung because she is Chinnademudu’s daughter and is poor.

Q: Why does Paaramma disappears as soon as Kaambhukta appears? What does this shows about her character?

A: In Chaaso’s story “Soapnut Leaves,” Gaviri and Paaramma are two girls who enter the Prime Landlord Kaambhukta’s fields and tries to break the Tamarind fruits. Paaramma is richer than Gaviri and enjoys several privileges but still she runs away when Kaambhukta appears in the field. Her father was Appala Nadu who was a respected person but Kaambhukta was the Prime Landlord and was more respected, that’s why Paaramma felt it better to run away as she was the one who has actually stolen three tamarind fruits after Gaviri’s warning.

This shows that although Gaviri is more intelligent than Paaramma, Paaramma is more clever than her and knows when to run away. This maybe due to the fact that she is richer than her and is exposed to a wider world. Paaramma is a boastful person and misuses the privileges given to her due to the fact that her father is a respected person.

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