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Appaachy's atmasanthi

She was there, with us, in the family when I was born, when my siblings were born and also when our children were born; she was there with us through the vicissitudes of life for over 50 years, when our parents and a few others passed away, when we got married and when some of our children got married,and in almost all family functions, when we went on pilgrimage or almost wherever we went.She helped our parents to bring us up and helped us to bring up our children.. Her habits were clean, her hands cleaner with the result that the house always remained unlocked when she was at home and never had we to regret on that count. She quarreled some time with us, collected her cloth bundle and walked away, vowing that she would never step into our house again, only to return before the next meal time for the kids. Father used to shout at her and threaten to throw her out, but in the next five minutes he could be seen pleading for a tobacco bit from her. “She behaves like a mother-in-law” the daughters -in-law of the house used to complain to their husbands but used to rush to her for her advice if their kids sneeze more than once or wet their garment more than twice. All the children in the family loved,respected and treated her as they would treat their mother or grand mother as they all were aware of the role played by her in nourishing and nursing them up with unalloyed affection and undiluted care.. She served our family for several years with the faith and sincerity of a dog and died like a sanyasini leaving only lovable memories behind her.
She was Appaachi.
She had no clue as where exactly she was born and when, or  who her parents were, though her foster mother told her that someone located her near a grove in Kodaimalai in Nilgiri gardens.She grew along with the foster mother’s only son, Yellakki and brought him up as her own brother, after the boy’s mother passed away .Yellakki did no know that their origin was different.
“I would have been then sixteen, seventeen or even twenty, when I came to the city ” She used to say.
She worked as a servant maid here and there and Yellakki worked as a helper, a broker, a supporting actor in cine field and all such things.The absence of parental love combined with poverty and hardship led him to lead a reckless life and he never worried about his sister nor about his own self.
Appaachi grew all alone into a lovely,matured woman and managed to meet both the ends by selling vegetables,milk products and other sundry stuff. She fell in love with a brahmin cook in a hotel in Coimbatore,where she was supplying milk and married him.Doraisamy was most unorthodox in his out look, a dare devil but a loving and caring was a smooth run for them, till a male child was born. Now this son, Ramsamy, was born in Rohini star and someone told the stupid superstitious drunkard Yellakki, that he would meet his end as Kamsa did in the hands of his nephew. Appaachi had to reveal the truth now that Yellakki was not her brother and in fact they had no blood relationship; it was too late. He did not believe her.Till then Yellaki never bothered about his life, its existence or extinction but now he started worrying about his end in the hands of the little devil born to the woman, known to him as his sister. Suddenly he felt that his life was very precious.
Appaachi learned that her brother was trying to kill the baby during the coming new-moon night and frantic with fear, fled to Madras along with her husband, who could find a job easily fit to his skill . Doraisamy had discarded his sacred thread and deviated from the brahminical path long ago, but now that a son was born to him, he suddenly developed interest in his religious practices and performed every ceremony right from the first one, as is in vogue when a boy is born in brahmin family. Not only that, he developed a deep remorse in his failure to do justice to his ancestry and also to his son, by marrying a woman whose origin was unknown.’Neither me nor his mother will make my son proud”,  he worried.
“The only way to atone for my sin is to bring up my son in a strictly braminical discipline”, he said and admitted him in a vedic Patasala in a distant place, Bhuvaneswar, so that the child’s maternal lineage would not be easily exposed..His wife also agreed for that because she too had developed a feeling that she had sinned by marrying a higher caste person and the only way to atone was to allow the child to develop in his father’s path. Moreover, farther from her village, safer for her son. “My ruffian brother would attack my son anytime, if he were around here” she feared.
“Appa told me once” Respectfully reminiscing his father’s affection, Ramsamy happened to mention to me, later.” When I watched your innocent lovely face, at the heart of my heart, I had a guilty complex that I am not able to pass on the same pleasure and privileges I received from my father, to you. I woke up form my bed hearing the temple bells and father’s melodious recital of vedic hymes where as, you start your day, hearing the barking of the street dogs and  the clatters of the clumsy women from the ghettos . Surprisingly, I longed to sit by your side and change the sacred thread every year on the auspicious day, though I tore and tossed my sacred thread long before you were born. And, when I leave this world for good, I wanted you to do the rituals as I did on my father’s demise, though I did not believe in such rituals till yesterday” .
Doraisamy did not live long. He passed away with the satisfaction that his son had become a vedic scholar . “Your son will take good care of you,” he consoled his wife holding her trembling hand, affectionately. “he is learned and therefore pious, unlike me”. After performing the last rites of his father, the son requested his mother to go with him. She refused.”You have blossomed into a lotus, though born in my muddy pond” She argued. “Marry a brahmin girl and lead the life of a good brahmin for which you are trained. Fulfill your father’s dream. I will live in isolation with the satisfaction that I am not standing in your way of progress ”
“With broad chest and long hands, my Ramsamy stood six feet tall with a thick black tuft sitting like a crown on his head and his broad forehead smeared with ‘vibhoothi’ and ‘kukumamam’ at its center. Am I fit to be called his mother?” she used asked us, with over helming proud and satisfaction.
The son also had, in a corner of his heart, the feeling that she would be a misfit to live with him, though he deeply loved his mother.They both agreed to live separately. He left her mother in a village, went back to Orissa and completed his studies . Later he went to Rishikesh and started a school.
Kuppuswamy Iyer, the owner of the hotel where Doraisamy worked, brought Appachi to my house and told my father:” Anantha Iyer, have this good woman in your house to take care of your kids. She will not pilfer, she will not lie and she will give you a tip or two in selecting top class tobacco” . “I like all the three qualities” Appa commented and added in a lighter vein, “especially the last.”‘ That was how Appachi entered our family.
For the first of couple of years Ramsamy used to visit his mother regularly but  in due course, the frequency dwindled and the visit ceased completely.
I sent a couple of letters to Ramsamy, though Appaachi did not ask to do that, but there was no response.
How long can a mother conceal her longing to meet her son. Appaachi started grumbling, when she advanced in age, that Ramsami had forgotten her.
“I have only one desire in life” she started murmuring” I should see him once before I die and my son should lit my pyre; otherwise, my atma will never be at peace”
I went to Rishikesh and met him. He had,by then, become poojya swamyji, Sri.sri.sri. Ramananthji Maharaj, having his own Ashram teaching yoga and meditation.His immaculate white robes reaching his knees and long hairs falling below the shoulder gave him, an aura of divinity.
I explained that his mother was longing to see him and at least once, he should come down to south so that the old woman could close her eyes for ever, with the satisfaction of seeing her son.
“Oh, my younger brother” He hugged me heartily ” what a great soul you are! The Heaven’s choicest blessings are awaiting you, for taking care of my mother so affectionately”.
“The Heavens have to wait, Ramsamy- oh, sorry Guruji, as I am not in a hurry to leave this world” I replied with a tinge of anger in my voice.” Now let us come to business. you are learned and have no need for an advice from me.,Full filling the last wishes of the woman who brought you to this world is more important than your other activities”. He smiled again charismatically .I continued “what purpose does your ‘ gyanopadesas-preaching spirituality, serve-if you neglect your own mother?” .
“I understand your feelings” He tried to hug me again but I moved aside.”Pitha naiva mea, neiva matha nah janmah” He quoted one line from the ‘Nirvanasktakam’ closing his eyes and moving his long fingers over his braids and beard.
‘Your Guru who sang that ‘I am neither this nor that; I have no mother no father–” went down south to lit the pyre of his mother . At least do that when the time comes”
I got up from my seat , fretting and fuming; when he tried to hug me again I avoided and came out of his room, yelling ” had your father trained you as a cook and dumped in a hotel, his wife would not have lost her son. Curse on him.”
I never mentioned to Appachi about the interview.
Appachi’s last days were nearing.She grew weaker and weaker.I received a call from my ancestral house one day,  that she was critical..
I rushed to Palakkad. Before starting from Hyderabad I sent a telegram to Ramsamy and also requested a friend in Rishikesh, to inform the Guruji that he should rush to Palakkad to meet his dying mother.
She managed to utter a few words while I was trying to pour drops of Gangajel into her parched mouth.”Rasa, Will my son come to lit my pyre?”
“He will Appachi, he will. In fact he is on his way” I was ashamed to lie to a dying woman whom I treated like my own mother.
She died after 3 days. I tried again to contact Ramsamy, through phones, telegrams and friends – he could not be contacted.
After waiting for 2 days, I carried the dead body to the burning ghat.
“Hand over that torch to me” I heard a voice from behind while I was about to lit her pyre.”Permit me to have at lest that privilege of a son. I am late “
I turned around and gazed at the tall and graceful figure, standing like ‘Ramar in cinema’ in his mother’s words.’You are not late Ramsamy” I told him while handing over the burning torch. “You are in time. In fact she did not expect any thing more than this, from you.”
Looking at the enormous flame engulfing the mortal remains of Appachi and sitting on the shore of the river whose lucid waters carried the charred bones and ashes of my ancestors and which will shortly carry those of the woman whom I respected as my own mother , I told her son who was by my side,”there are still hidden springs in the cavern of your heart, Ramsami.Your father’s efforts did not go waste.The ‘dhiyoyona prajodhayad’ prayers have really enlightened your mind at the appropriate time and brought you here”.He did not speak a word.. He was gazing at the gigantically growing flames.
The sun was sinking below the western hills in full splendor and the crows were flying to wards their nests and nestling. The air was becoming cooler.
“The fascinatingly smiling face and the fragile body of Appachi is turning into ashes” I whispered, holding the hand of Ramsamy,”this woman, no way related to us, not from our village or caste and with a hazy origin, pervaded the life of three generation of our family so intimately that I find her loss unbearable”.
“True, I can understand your feeling” Ramsamy replied in a very casual manner and added, “but what was her contribution to her own son?”
“That was a stupid question and deserves no answer” I retorted. ” But I don’t like you to carry that question for ever with you. She not only gifted you a life but also preserved it by saving you from the clutches of Yellakki; allowed you to grow and prosper by encouraging your father to take you away from her nasty surroundings, She remained aloof to help you enjoy your glory untarnished and above all, she showed you, your father- even Sathykama did not enjoy that privilege. Unlike him, you need not bend your head in shame, while placing ‘haviss’- the cooked rice soaked in ghee at the sacred fire, reciting the manthra,
“Yam ne matha pralulobha saratyananu vrada thanme retha:pitha
Vringtha mapuranayo papathathamam”

‘You are a Sanskrit scholar and I am sure that you know the meaning of it?” I asked him .
‘Yes, I should” he replied meekly, ” if my mother has deviated from the path of righteousness, let this offering reach my biological father”
I did not wish to remain in his company any longer. I moved away; he was following me with moist eyes.
“Can I come to your house” he asked ” to visit the place my mother spent most of her life?”

“You can” I replied, “but no more stupid questions”
“Yes, no more stupid questions” his voice was shivering and eyes were watery. He hugged me and   this time, I did not try to avoid him.
Appaachy would have liked the way, we walked away from her salvation ground- holding hands together.
May 16, 2008

1 thought on “Appaachy's atmasanthi

  1. Respected Sir,
    Namaskar. I joined this group only 2 days back and today have gone through Appaachy’s atmasanthi. When I finished the last line, something told me that you are a punya aatma and that’s why you are able to write it as if it’s happening in front of us and that too, recent past…superb…for the last rite, son came !!! oh, god..Appaachi got atma santhi, no doubt…

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