” Once you have come out of the initial shock of seeing the dead bodies burning one after the other, in the open, Kashi is not that frightening during day times,” said a pilgrim who observed Swamy standing like a statue, “we become philosophical, musing on the non lasting nature of life and other related matters. Nights are terrifying, though. The fire and smoke emanating from the shore, the soul- slicing drum beats and the ‘ Hara, hara, Mahadev’ or ‘ Baba Viswanathji ke jai ‘ sounds, and even the vibration from the flow of the river below, induces horror in your mind .” Swamy hardly heard.
Anyway, none slept in Baghyam’s house that night. Like a tiny bird whose wings were clipped, she lay on the floor in a corner while the guests sat curling their hands around legs as if everything was lost for them. All the sounds suddenly stopped and there was absolute silence all around. Night became as silent as Death. That was most piercing. Sound, any sound would have been better, they thought.
Suddenly, Baghyam cried, ” appa, appa, bayama iruuku (I am afraid ) and came running towards mami, hugged her and mami too held her closed to her chest, patting her back as she would have consoled her own daughter. “Did you see any bad dreams, my child ? ” She inquired . There was no response. Baghyam had slid into sleep, as she was enjoying the peace and safety provided her own mother’s lap.
Suddenly there was a gush of cold wind, followed by a shrill voice of a mendicant’s prayer, which flew in the cold air through the ghats, slicing its silence.
“Namsthesthu Gange, thwadanga prasangad,
Bujangasthuranaga kuranga plavanga,
Anangari ranga sasanga Ashivango,
Bhujangadhi pangi kruthango bhavanthi”
Salutations to that Ganga,
Whose simple touch makes,
Snakes,horses,deer and monkeys,
Even if they are in a huge herd,
Take the form of Shiva in the Shiva’s heaven,
And that of Vishnu in His heaven.
( Mahakavi Kalidasa )
Krishnaiyer had completed the rites as dictated by sastrigal and asked his wife to pack up..
” Come with us , my child ” mami pleaded, “we will take care of you as your father did. I have two daughters; you are the third and the eldest “
Bhagyam cried as if her own parents were leaving her in a forest as a prey for the hunt of carnivorous animals. All her bold talk of ‘ I can manage alone’ had vanished in thin air and she wanted to go with them . Dharmambal mami’s motherly warm hugs in the first night and subsequently every nights, had almost brought her mother back from the grip of death or she thought so.
Patting the back of a cow which was passing through, Baghyam mused: ” They are good people, no doubt ; but I never knew them till a fortnight before. How to go with them leaving my house and friends,. known since long ? I know Ganga mathaji from the day one I was born. Every dust here, every pinch of ash , charcoal, firewood, every panda, all are part of me. Even every dead body which turn into ashes before my eyes has become a part of me. My mother died when I was hardly ten and now, before my eyes my father just disappeared into the waters of this river, like a darba blade thrown after tharpanam. How will I leave all these and go to an unknown land along with these unknown people ? How will I leave these narrow lines, crowded with men and cows covered with dust and dung, where I used to run like a little calf chased by the Divine Bull, Nandikeswara.
” Should I stay and fight or should I go with them ?”
Then, the words of her proud parents, alerted her :
‘ Stand like a stone pillar when a storm strikes ‘ were Amma’s last words.
‘ Sorrows, like pilgrims are seasonal ‘ Appa mentioned just ten days ago, ‘ but Gangamaji is not ; she is perennial, she will feed me'”
The solitary girl, suppressed her grief and spurting desire to go with the guest, with great difficulty and saw them off.
” Life has to go on ; that is what the perennial mother tells me” said Baghyam, looking at the holy river, flowing non stop through millennia, while the guests were leaving .
While going in riksha to the railway station, Krishnaiyer turned towards the Ganges. ” Why did Sundaram wait for us to leave this world or why did Ganges wait for us to absorb him back into her eternity, till we landed here and met him ? There is a master plan behind this.”
“People come here to get rid of their wordily attachments where as we have acquired a hapless girls as our own” Dharmambal mami wondered, “a fortnight ago, I hadn’t heard about her but today I am unable to forget her even for a moment. Instead of loosening and letting off the bundles one by one from my head , I am carrying back a mountain from here. Visalakshy, what is this game ? “
“You are right Amma,” her son agreed. “I too have developed an unexplained attachment with that girl”
While travelling , Krishnaiyer, casually, asked his son, “why don’t you marry her ? Amma loves her .We all like her. She is good looking; good mannered ”
“Bur Appa, I am married .” Swamy frowned, ” I have a loving wife, two children “
“Marriage with a non-brahimin woman is not a marriage at all” His father too was equally assertive,” it is only a samabandam “
“Then what about my children, are they not your grand children ?”
“They cannot hold neipantham “
” Damn with your neipantham and its imaginary vision to lead you to heaven” Swamy’s voice was raising ,” Appa, let me make it very clear to you . I cannot leave Sharada and my children. I can bring Bhagyam, get her a job, find a husband for her and do anything else you ask me . But, I cannot be her husband . I am already one for a worthy lady “
Then on, his father never mentioned about the neipandahan or wedding. But in their mind, the memory of that Kashi girl was hanging like a granite stone. Swami too could not forget her.
Baghyam found her lonely life miserable. The Ganges, friends, helpful panda families -with all that, the absence of that single soul, her father was intolerable for her. She wanted to run away from there, fall flat on mami’s lap and weep incessantly.
Two weeks after she returned from Varnasi, mami slipped in the bath room and broke a few ribs.
A surgery was unavoidable, though not very ideal at her age. It would be another six months before she gets up and walks on her own. Sharada was prepared, in fact she was happy, to avail long leave and stay with her mother-in-law and fully take charge of the household duties, though her daughter in law status was never accepted there. “Do you think appa will allow you inside ?” queried Swamy when she asked his permission. A nurse could be appointed but she would not be allowed to enter the kitchen . Eating hospital food was unavoidable but eating the food prepared at home by a non brahmin was unacceptable under any circumstances.. Krishanaiyer and his son were equally ignorant of even preparing a good kanchi or coffee . The daughters should not forego their education and keep awake during day and night . Mami, therefore instructed her son, to ask Baghyam to come to help the family.
“Vendam (no) we will manage somehow” said Swaminathan. ” Yes, we will, ” said his father.
” I know how you will manage, ” mami protested, “you will starve and make me too starve ”
” Amma, Baghyam will slowly get adjusted to the reality there and try to live with it,” Swamy again argued, “let us not disturb her now. There are other ways to solve the problem.”
” Bring her here if you want me to recover soon,” mami was firm, “otherwise, I will die without seeing her face”
“Is it your final decision, Amma ? I can arrange for a brahmin woman who will cook and also take care of you” Swamy pleaded again, before posting the letter to Baghyam. ” Yes, it is my final decision ” affirmed his mother, ” I want to see her face once again before I die “
Swaminathan posted the letter, reluctantly.