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Mamu’s prayer


This Assam girl is close to my heart,
Very close.
She, in fact, is a part of my family
Indistinguishable part.

Lustrous was her life
Till a tornado in Chicago
Torn it to pieces.

With one stoke, a massive stroke,
The Fate destroyed her present and future
Leaving her a residue of a massive rupture.

Still fresh in my mind,
The roar of the whirlwind
Flashing like devil’s swords
To tell you, I’ve no words!

The Fate turned a brute?
To shake lives deep to its roots?
It danced like a drunkard
Or a destroyer’s vanguard .

Her picture was colorful
Never black and white
I know the colors wont return
But atleast the black should go
But will it?

I’m glad, after an Year
I can see, when I’m near
A white streak for which I waited
I’m excited!

Luminous is her character
The disaster couldn’t diminish
It’s luster
Bad luck met with bad time
When it troubled a good dame.

Time should show a gesture
And give her a future
The blood stain should go for ever
And she should suffer never.

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The doves will be back


Went to Ayyappa temple
To pay my salutes humble.
God was inside, aloof
A pair of doves on the roof
Enjoying the sunlight,
Ready for a flight,
Chirping, playing
Moving together,

None dares to climb the roof
Of the home where god dwells
But did these little birds
A lovely pair
Stroll over God’s head!

Real fun there, behold!
What matters if I’m old?
Bracing is their moves
The happy pair doves
Together they walk, one halts
The other too halts,
One moves backward,
The other too.
What a symphony on the roof
Am I old, show the proof !

Flies up one, the other
doesn’t move a feather,
Waits, then goes up
And they come back together!

The temple bell rings
Devotees come running
I too, and shout
‘Swamy saranam
Ayyappa saranam’

Fly away the birds
Unable to stand my words?
It is bad,
I feel sad!

Why did I yell?
God can’t hear well?
Isn’t He so near?
Tip toe I retire.

Relax; God is there,
The roof is there
I will go, so what?
The doves will be back
The doves will be back!

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My maiden US visit. Chapter 12

My maiden US visit last chapter. Kangaroo Kamakshi.
Boarding time for the US flight was announced and BIG BEN hugged us like a big bear, clearing her moist eyes and flashing a forced smile .
” Have an enjoyable trip,” she wished us, “and soon after you are free from jet log, I will meet you there . My next meeting is at Boston”
She was about to leave when I heard a woman’s coarse voice penetrating from behind “Periasssssssooo”.
“Another devil to make you cranky,” Parau muttered seeing the approaching
woman, limping but trying to hasten her speed, “who is she ?”
“Kangaroo Kamakshi ” I replied, waving to the lady as a sign of acknowledging her call.
” I am also coming in this flight, drag my bag too,” she pushed her cabin baggage towards me and bolted. “A last minute petty purchase ”
” Should I hold the bird ?” I shouted. She screamed from the distance , ” no. just here in the duty- free shop “.
“What name is this,” Parasu enquired .
“She is BangAru Kamakshi , a familiar name in our state,” I explained,
“you know bangAram is gold. That was her parents and teachers and her
husband too during the days and nights of their romance. Then she became kangaroo.
“How?” Enquired Parasu.
“Be ready for a story,” Ammalu commented.
“This is not my story but what her husband, Maj. ( retired) Doraswamy Iyengar, told me.
Her right leg is shorter by half an inch which was not an inborn defect but acquired after wedding. While overhearing her husband’s telephone talks, she used to press her right toe, hiding behind the kitchen door, firmly on the floor and raise the corresponding heel so that she could stretch her head forward and follow the talk without missing a word. When it became a regular practice, due to the constant pressure on the right leg, it shrunk a bit in size and her leg movement resemble that of the Australian animal.
I do not usually believe what husbands say about their sweet -hearts and therefore would prefer to go by her son’s version.
‘My mother spoiled me by over -indulgence and overt display of affection . Immediately after the school bell, she used to pick me up from the school, wrap me with her sari and rush home . Her hurried action was to protect me from mingling with girls. She had serious doubts about the integrity of my father after he told her once that he had a number of girl friends right from his school days. As she protected me as earnestly as a kangaroo does, some mischievous guy in the defense colony named her KK, the first K for kangaroo. That abbreviation became so popular that we all call her with that pet name’
Her daughter in law’s version was different.
‘We used to go for movies frequently during the early days of our marriage and mother in law preferred to sit at our back seat, press the right toe firmly on the floor, raise her head, sharpen her ears to hear our conversation. If our chats were not up to her expectation, she used to swift the toes, press her left one on the floor and overhear. This exercise could be the reason for her imbalance of legs though my husband doesn’t accept my version. ‘Why should she overhear?,? he asks, ‘ I tell her everything that transpired between us, in our privacy’
KK ( let us also call her by that name for convenience ) occupied the seat vacated by BB and turned back to enquire about Parasu.
” Haven’t I met you in the Pollachi market with a board hanging from the tree under which you were sitting? Even the letters written in the board, I remember, ‘ Parasu, pakshisastram expert ?” A straight question that was.
“No way,” Parasu replied with equal firmness,” I had never sat under a tree anywhere as I am allergic to tree- shade ”
“Poi. You lie like the major, my husband. When I told him that I saw him walking hand in hand with a girl in the Marina beach, he replied, ‘how could that be, don’t you know that I am allergic to sea breeze ?’. KK told Parasu and turned towards me,
‘You know, he was a sailor for 25 years'”
“Kon hae bayya o Guruji, Who is that guruji, ?” asked Parasu, ” I would like to fall at his feet instantly”.
“Her husband Maj. Doraisamy Iyengar ” I clarified and introduced Parasu to her.
“Akkal, this is my cousin Parasu ”
” Ask your cousin whether he remembers my face ?”
” I don’t look at the face of any woman other than my wife’s,”
Parasu clarified,” I look only at their palm”
“Ivan aaruda, Periyasoo, Lakshmananaa? Is he Lakshman?,” KK joked and turned towards him,”yes, you looked at my palm only and collected one hundred Rupees for one lie ”
“Then, madam, for a hundred Rupees, you expect me tell hundred lies,?” Parasu had a point there.
I wanted to divert the topic. ” Akka, how is that you are alone. Why didn’t Major accompany you ?”
” He is busy playing golf and dancing with his girl friends ”
Major is a jolly good fellow. Fun-loving, joyous and jovial..but he is not an irresponsible husband.
” I am sure that you had some petty quarrel.” I tried to reason out.
” He is never quarrelsome. Let him scold me, slap me, I don’t mind. He has right for that as my husband. The problem is he talks sweetly to me ”
” And to other women too, equally sweetly?”
“Exactly,” KK lamented holding Ammalu’s hand “I am married for forty years and have four children . He is a handsome six footer, fair complexioned with well -tuned muscles and also well mannered. And what am I ? An uneducated and unsocial ugly woman of asymmetrical body components! Where is match in our union?”
“There is, my dear Akka,” I explained. Otherwise your astrologer father wouldn’t have proposed and executed your wedding. When the stars in the sky are agreeable who are we, here on the lowly land, to look for physical or mental matching ?” I continued. “Moreover, it is your inferiority complex that makes your life miserable and not your husband’s attitude. I know P.K. He is a gentleman. He might occasionally glance at other women; it is not a sin”
“They all do that” Ammalu, as a good wife, supported my statement.
“You are the mother of his offspring” ignoring Ammlu’s sarcastic look, I continued. “You looked after him for forty long years and continue to do so. I am sure that he has a happy life with you”
“I am not that sure” Her small eyes were moist.”He has a number of girl friends”
“Come on. You don’t talk about your husband’s girl friends when he is seventy plus. you welcome them ” I chided her .
“Anyway, on what basis do you disparage him?”
“I overhear his tele talks!”
“See, it confirms your friend’s explanation for his wife’s deformity,” Parasu whispered.
“O.K. Let us talk something more pleasant” I wanted to change the topic, again.
“I hear that you are going to become a grandma soon. Congrats. I am sure that you are going to assist your daughter-in-law during her confinement”
“No. Venki wants Amrita to wear sari and that too in ‘madisaru’ style; The purpose of my present visit is to help her”
‘”What! You are going all the way to US to teach your daughter- in- law, the intricacies of wearing a nine yard- long sari, in the conventional Brahminical style?”
“You are right”
“And Amrita agreed for that?”
“Yes. When Venki told her that I was wearing ‘madisaru’ while carrying him and he would like to see her in that dress, now that she is carrying his child”.
“What a desire for an Americanized young man!” I murmured.
There is no purpose in prolonging the discussion. I picked up a sheet of paper and pencil from my yellow bag and engaged myself in a more sensible activity-drawing sketches of the women crew in the aircraft.
” My husband also does this,” commented ‘Akka’ viewing the sketches, through the corner of her eye.
“All sensible old men do it,” I replied, looking at Parasu. He was also doing the same thing but started scribbling ‘Sreerama Jayam’, when he discovered that I had noticed his shameful act.
“Engaveettu elikalellam Ongaveettukku pogado?’
Kuppeekalaa—-” Sang Ammalu.
I was surprised and pleased to hear Ammalu singing in a low voice, a couple of lines from my song. First time, she was appreciating my song, by imitating it.
“Ammlu, what happened?” I enquired, earnest to know the reason for the sudden change in her attitude towards the song.
“I am afraid that I didn’t close the rice dabba properly,” she moaned, ” and I noticed a rat or two in the kitchen”
” Let there be hundred rats in our kitchen and let them eat all the rice.
My happiness was limitless . “How nice of you to have sung my song!”
“I am proud of you” she said flashing a smile. “You don’t have girl friends!”
“I am also proud of you , Ammalu” I replied with equal earnestness, “you don’t overhear my tele. talks and spoil your shape!”
Arrived on the American soil. Newark airport.
Venky and Amrit also were there along with my children at the airport to receive us . They took us to a garden where we shared the food they had brought with them, when Major appeared before us neatly dressed as usual with his bewitching smile.
” I came by the previous flight just to surprise my wife after making sure that she travels in the seat next to you” He said glancing at his woman affectionately.
“But how did you know my seat details?” I enquired.
“I gave, Appa,” My son revealed. ” KK was refusing to come to US ; so we planned a project to bring her here ”
“So you dragged here for teaching Amrita how to wear sari ?” I asked Venki.
” Uncle that was again a ploy to bring mom here. Amrita somehow wanted Amma here and it was Appa who first suggested this. Amma is prepared to do anything to make Amrita happy ”
”How lucky you are KK, to have such an affectionate husband and a caring son ?”
“And loving mattupon too.” Ammalu added and gave a bit of advice to Major, “take KK too to the sea shore and hold her hand while strolling ”
” I am allergic to sea breeze, Ammlu ” He said and we all laughed.
That was how I landed on the shore of America for the first time. Who expected then that this country would become my second home!

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Mothers' day musing conluding chapter

Far, far away in my memory line, I see the face of a dark, tall elderly woman hiding a ripe banana fruit, nenthrampazam, away from my sight, to be given to my younger brother. She was my maternal grand father’s  mother, partial to my brother as he was not eating rice then, though he liked varieties made of rice. Patti was worried that non-eating rice would hamper the growth of the boy and hence she wanted to give the only fruit available with her to the rice-deprived great grand son and not to the elder one, who cherished any thing under the sun, then and continue to do so even now.

That venerable lady, Pappaammai, had to take the responsibility of bringing up the four children of her only son, Subramania Iyer, as his wife, my mother’s mother passed away, when my mother, the youngest of the four, was hardly two years old. You know how my grand mother died?  The women folk attributed her death to a bad omen, a relative visiting for the first time on a Tuesday, which was not an auspicious day for such visits. That was sheer nonsense.    According to me, it was superstition that killed her. Those days, soon after returning from the school, the kids had to keep aside their dress in a separate corner in thinnai,  the open platform in the front,  for use it the next day. One of her kids, seeing her mother at the entrance of the house, unable to contain her excitement after being away from her for hours, came running and hugged her, making her asudham or impure. She rushed towards the pool in front of the house, had a dip, in the cold water, to regain her purity. That cold water dip in the peak winter, worsened her already exciting viral fever that terminated in  pneumonia.
 She was only thirty two, then.  My grand father, who would have been around 35/36 didn’t remarry.
The purpose of keeping the school dress was not to allow the dirt, mud and other impurities collected from the school trip, inside the house . A practice introduced with good intention, like many other good practices,  in due course, became a religious dictum, the purpose was forgotten and pragmatism given a go by.
The ancestral house in Kavassery where my maternal grand mother died and the pond in which she had her last dip, bring back memories of past, whenever I visit that village. Pappaammai would have struggled a lot to bring up four kids, three of them girls, between 2 and 8/9, with the limited income of her son. Thatha was a Sanskrit scholar, had in-depth knowledge in Vedams.  And above  all a good human being, always smiling, always ready to help others. But those attributes did not fetch him enough money to run his family. He worked as a part time  post master, school teacher, book seller and many other things. But he didn’t borrow a pie. In fact he had a type of luxurious life, with the gifts of fruits, vegetables and clothes received from the rich parents of his sishyas, students, and other friends. The Nair families used to receive him with great respect and prostrate before  him, placing clothes and some cash at his feet.
  During the Kalpathy car festival, he was a guide for the festival committee and navigator for the pallaku, palanquin of Viswanathaswamy . It was a sight to see him navigating the divine cart, sitting majestically, his big kudumai vibrating in the night wind flowing from the close-by river, his kadukkan shining in the gas-lights held high by the carriers on their heads,  the white lines of viboothy brightening his black chest and long hands, his sonorous  ‘ha,ha’ voice enthusing every one. He was a lover of music and sitting on the driver’s seat of the palanquin he  enjoyed the nadaswaram symphony in the front, as obvious from his head-shake in appreciation. he became a close friend of Kombi atchan ( I am not sure about the name of the Raja but he was an ‘achan’, local king undoubtedly) and that gave him a position in the Viswanatha swamy temple management , for which Achan was the traditional head. I was born in the side portion of Achan’s house allotted to thatha.  Atchan used to call him affectionately as ‘Chuppae’. When the Atchan was seriously ill, he pleaded his friend, ‘Chuppai, than innu evadyaum pokanta. thante mukhathil ente Viswanthaswamy undu. Easwarnae kandu jnan marikkattae. Don’t go anywhere today. I see  the Viswanathaswamy in your face. Let me see the God and die” 
Thatha didn’t stay long in Kalpathy after Atchan passed away. 
‘This topic is on mothers, why do you bring your thatha’ , you may ask. The reason is this. After his mother passed away, the responsibility of raising not only his four children but a son of his elder brother too fell on thatha’s shoulders.  He was father and mother for five kids.’Matru,pitru, acharya devas’ all in one.
I know some women who raise the children of their kin, as their own. I have also some friends here in America, who have adopted children from different countries  and raise them as developed from their own womb. To nourish a life is a great yagnam. To do so, under difficult circumstances is a mahayagnam.
I conclude this series, paying compliments to all such ‘mothers’ .
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Mothers' day musing part 3

Mothers’s day musing.  part  3
The good old man, who succumbed to the call of his palate, ignoring  the request of his caretaker paced the length and breadth of the big backyard of our house, unable to bear the weight of his repentance  and lamented, ” I was condemned as worthless and discarded by my  family and it was Manni who provided me a shelter and feed for years. What an ungrateful animal am I ?  I didn’t fulfill a simple wish of my caretaker.”
“It is OK, Kunjappa, you and me didn’t expect that your Manni would leave us so soon”. My farther tried to console him”
” True. But Manni knew about her impending end”, he replied. “Do you know that on the eve of her death, she had cautioned  your wife to ensure that  the servants do not  exploit my helplessness and innocence . How could I ever repay my debt to such a sacred source of compassion? She is no more ; I am orphaned, I am orphaned”
He sat below the mango tree extending his legs and holding his head with his palm.
” kunjappa, get up and have some fresh coconut water “.  Appa encouraged him to come out of his remorse.  ” I need your help now in conducting the last rites of my mother lasting nearly two weeks . You are the eldest member of the family now and if not you , who else  will guide me?”
After he was served with two fresh tender coconuts from the tree, my mother gave a small cloth bundle to Kunchappa. “Your manni wanted this to be handed over to you ”,  said she.
Cleansing his soiled and moist hands, Kunjappa took the cloth bundle from my mother’s hand and when he saw that it contained a few unsoiled currency notes, he wept again, beating  his chest . ‘Manni, manni, why did you leave me and go?”
 Appa used to keep a small cash box near his mother’s head and deposit some money in it now and then. The old woman wanted to give a parting gift to the hapless relative and had thoughtfully, handed it over to my mother after Kunjappa had left for feasting in the nearby village.
”Amma, why don’t you hand over to him when he returns?”, my mother had asked patti.
” I wanted to give him some money for his personal use since long, but have been forgetting.” replied Patti, ” you keep it with you now and hand over to him whenever he returns.”
That was a turning point in Kunchappa’s life .”Anantha, I am with you now on” , he told my father, holding his hand, “and that is the only way for me to make  up for the injustice I did to manni. Count on me for any help, now on.”
He meant what he said. Then on, he became a right hand to my father , in his business activities.  Kunjappa , with his central protrusion and a snow white poonal across his shoulder, could be seen in  the kitchen, in the cow shed, near cash box, among the servers, everywhere in the hotel. Earlier, he used to enter the hotel only for food.
Appa used to pay him some cash every month for his help in his business. Kunjappa  bought some jewels for him and wearing the neck- chain and rings, he was majestically sitting in the cash collection counter one day, when an elderly woman, well dressed , entered the hotel . She was none other than his wife.  He was excited, confused and became speechless.
She leaped across the cash counter and catching hold of her husband’s hand went to my father and shouted, ”Anantha, why are you treating my  husband like a caged parrot? “
Her  verbal attack stunned everyone there.
“What nonsense are you talking?”, admonished the old man.
”Vayai moodikkindu irunkol-shut your mouth”, she retorted. ‘This shrewd relative is exploiting your venerability and extracting work from you”
Appa didn’t answer instantly.  After serving the woman some snacks and coffee, he  replied, in a firm but polite tone. ” Chithy, you threw him on the street and I  gave him protection. I have been paying him for his services an amount more than I would have paid to an outsider. Right now you are free to take your husband back home. I don’t want to keep him for one day more.”
Kunjappa  initially, refused to go with her. ”Anantha, she has some unfair motives to pull me away from here. Don’t succumb to her pressure”, he pleaded, “allow me to continue to be here”.
‘Kunjappa, she is your wife and has every right to take you back home,” Appa advised,  ” go with her now. You can come back whenever you want to. The manager’s seat  will be always vacant for you.”
Then he called Kunjappa aside and whispered in his ears, ” if she goes and spread the canard that I was treating you like a slave and refused to relieve you, don’t you think that would be a scar on our family’s reputation ?”
At last, he agreed to go with his wife. My parents prostrated before the elderly couple and gifted some new clothes and money. Kunjappa didn’t accept the cash. “You have given me plenty of money. What I need now is the ‘kaidthudatcha kasu’ with my Manni’s blessings. Appa gave him a mutilated coin. ( While setting fire to the body of the elders, a few coins are kept in  their palm and the burnt coins are reclaimed along with the ashes, collected the next day. Those are preserved as the parting gift of the departed souls).
The old man walked  reluctantly behind his wife.
“Kunjappa, come back soon”, exhorted my parents, while he was boarding our horse-cart.
“Sami, vegam varoo; jnangal kathirikkum- come back soon, we will wait for you”, the hotel servants pleaded .
Kunjappa slowly turned his head towards the crowd and replied calmly, an usual smile painting his face, ” I will. I will be back soon to die in Manni’s bed room, in the same cot where she breathed her last.” He came back running to hug my parents , when his swollen eyes dripped a few drops on my father’s shoulder. Before leaving, finally he whispered into my father’s ear,” you should lit fire to my body”.
 After a couple of months a messenger came to inform his death.  Appa went immediately and performed his last rites, as he had no children and he was a daayadi, blood-relative for my father.
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Mothers' day musing part 2

Mothers’ day musing- part  2
The person presently occupying the honorable chair of my mother, is older to me by only 6/7 years and therefore, is more like an elder sister rather than a mother.  She is none other than , hold your breath, my own and only mother- in- law, whom we all in the family affectionately address as TVM, short form for the city she lives in.  Since my marrying her daughter, she has been with us for every good or bad occasion, births, weddings, deaths, illness, summer and winter in the families, my own and extended. She speaks, as her daughter used to, only when she should and never pokes her nose into affairs which doesn’t affect her directly or indirectly, a rare MIL-virtue. She is respected by all my relatives for her calm , gentle, unassuming and  non -interfering nature. I visit her often while in India and talk frequently over phone.  A gist of our tele-talk, before my recent USA trip:
‘ Bye, TVM, leaving for Baltimore this night”
“Glad that you are coming. The Sreekanteswaram temple festival is to begin tomorrow”
” Take an auto to go for the Padmanabhswamy temple festival. Don’t go by walk”
” Yes, first you come here. Tapioca pappad, I can always get”
The audibility acumen of the SIL and MIL being in such a peak, where is scope for our fighting?
There was another great mother- in- law in our family. My mother’s. It was she  who snatched my mother from the jaws of death, when a smallpox epidemic invaded our villages and consumed almost everyone around. The knowledgeable elders of the village who had seen such catastrophe earlier, examined my mother’s condition and advised my patti to shift her to the thinnai, front open hall, where such hopeless cases are placed before their last journey. It seems in some places, the hopeless victims used to be shifted to the woods far away from the village and left their to rot and die. This is only a hearsay .
 My grand mother flatly refused to obey the village elders . ”My Cherunatturi Bagavthy will not snatch her from me”, she said. In fact she was the only person who did not lose hope. Sitting by the side of the  patient, fanning her body with a bunch of neem leaves and cleansing her throat with her finger wrapped with a clean cloth and moistening it with drips of liquid slowly and carefully dropped, the great mother- in- law was able to stop the advance of the Death at the gate. The Unconquerable refused to surrender totally to a meek woman, head and body covered with a single piece of white cloth. The Death snatched  her first and precious grand child, my elder brother, who was just an year old baby and also my mother’s one eye. That unalloyed affection towards the daughter in law continued till her last breath and my mother too never forgot her life-savior. In fact, right from the day one, my Patti had developed immeasurable love for her DIL, as my mother was mother-less and in her early teens , when she entered our ancestral house.
Patti, my paternal grad mother was an epitome of womanhood. I was 6/7, when she passed away but my memory about that slim, fair, small woman walking on her fours, is vivid in my mind. Her presence was felt everywhere, in my father’s shop close by, in the kitchen, near the well where the servants use to gather and chit chat, in the hall where the vegetable vendors from the nearby Coimbatore, used to dump their farm produces in bulk required for the hotel, though she was confined to her bed in a separate . Appa, after pulling down the shop shutter, every night, used to come to his mother, make the bed, though it would have been already made by mother, sit near her and give a detailed account of the happenings of the day in his business establishment. It was a long  list containing not only the income and expenditure statement of the day but the names of the regular customers visited, their family problems and all such petty details. There was no need for that but that was  my father’s way of telling his mother that she was needed and her suggestions and advice were respected. I recall this, when my eldest son Ananth, comes to my study and spend some time, every night, , before he goes to sleep, discussing about the happenings of the day in his office and outside..
Patti knew when her end was nearing. ‘Don’t go to angadi, for shopping today. Keep enough coins and one or two new white clothes ready. Send a word to Soori Vaadyar to be available on short notice” – These were some of the last minute instructions, very practical indeed, left to her only son. As a fully ripe leaf falling from the tree branch, she passed away on her son’s lap, absorbing the few drops of the water from the Ganges stored in a copper vessel and poured reverently, carefully by her son, reciting the sacred mantras..
The house, hotel, nearby shops, the Mariamman temple, all were sunk in gloom. The Railway staff, timber merchants, the nearby shop owners and their workers, the imam from the nearby mosque, the vegetable venders, the potter, wood cutter, pappadam-maker, all were there in our house to mourn her death. Only one man, bulky with a huge belly seen 24×7 in the house was missing in the crowd. He was a relative who had no family of his own and therefore living in our house, enjoying the free food and other courtesies due to an elder relative.  He had gone to enjoy a feast in the Kalpathy village , on the other bank of the river, despite patty’s advice to stay back.
” Everyday you enjoy feast-like meal in the hotel” Patti pleaded, ”be here so that if things go wrong with me, you will be of some help to Ananthan( my dad) “
”Nothing will happen to you Manni” he assured her, “I will be back in a couple of hours.”
Appa sent servants to look for the relative, soon after the death occurred . He had already left Kalpathy for another village to enjoy feast the next day.
He returned the next evening.  By that time, even the ashes of the caring woman, who used to keep a watch on my mother, from her bed, to ensure that he was served quality food, had been collected. He could see only the ash-pot hanging from a tree at our back yard.
He rolled on the barren ground and cried like a child. But it was too late.
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Mothers'day musing- part 1

No need to allot an exclusive day to remember my mother. My life is her ‘bikshai’, gift, and if I forget her I am not worth to be called a human.
There are two other women, whom I revere on par with my mother thought I didn’t grow in their womb or did I extract milk from their bodies, for survival. One was my Periammai, mother’s eldest sister, who stayed with us just to help my mother  in raising us , almost forgetting her own family.  Two instances surge from the distant past when I think of that great woman. One was her only visit to Hyderabad when I was in ‘Panchavadi’, our bachelor quarters , when she looked after my co-habitats too as her own children. They and and our  neighbors loved her so much that there was a big gathering at the Secunderabad Railway station when she returned to her son’s place.  Every eye was moist with the pang of separation of a short black woman, her body and chest covered with a single saffron cloth, but heart jam-packed with love and consideration for everyone, whom they had known  only for the past two months and there was no chance of meeting her again. She did not speak their language. But still she left an indelible impression in their mind. The second memory is about her coming to the Madras Railway station carrying a big mud  pot full of boiled and cooled  ‘chukku vellam’ for my onward journey with family in the peak summer to Hyderabad, as we could not break our journey at Madras.
The next woman, whom me and my siblings and our children consider as our own mother is a Malayalee woman, of unknown family, of unknown caste  but who was with our family for more than five decades.  Paaru Amma was picked by up my father from the  Valyar forests, where she was collecting firewood. Appa, initially employed her  to look after our cattle shed, and her unalloyed service, integrity and affection lifted her as a kitchen assistant and aaya for the children. Always seen with a snow-white single cloth wrapped below her waist and equally bright but shorter cloth above that , she was always pleasing.Speaking only Malyalam., she could take the children to school, do shopping and interact with my friends and servants who knew only English or Telugu.  I took her for my wedding to TVM and  then from their to Hyderabad, where she  was an anchor for my family and those of my siblings  She was the
 de facto mother in law for my wife, as my mother stayed mostly in Kerala. No wonder on my shashitiabdhapoorthy, sixtieth birthday , my wife took the lead in touching her feet along with me to take her blessings, as my  mother could not be present.
Paru Amma  could not attend the wedding of my sons that took place last year. But I took my last son and his wife to her house in Pallavur. She was sick. TThe ever bright dark hairs on her head had turned grey. Her sharp eyes had lost their sheen . Face  had shrunk and lips had become dry. But her memory was good. ‘Appu anna’ she said looking at me, trying to smile . ‘Srikanth’, she said looking at my son who introduced his wife. Paru Amma was happy. She could meet the latest bride to our family. She enquired about the welfare of every one in the family. She hugged us all lifting her skinny hand, perhaps her last hug for us.  I looked at those hands and remembered her chasing our children, with a food-plate in her hand, coxing and cajoling them to eat.
If  my stories outlive me, Paru Amma  too will,  as the leading character of my’ Appachi  story.
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The smell of the soil – chapter 10

“Appa, I fail to understand why you should be so remorseful,?” asked Ramya, unable to find better words to solace the wounded soul. “You had no other go than doing what you did. The circumstances were so tiring, inescapable.”‘”Your acts were least selfish, solely to satisfy the minimum needs of a dying father.”  Consoled Chami.”If I were in your situation, I too would have acted the same way,” reacted Seshu.The remaining two, Ramu and his mother, sat silently, unable to find a single word to console the deeply depressed man, they themselves struggling to come out of the weight of the load compressing their souls.Ramya prepared some hot coffee quickly which everyone enjoyed as a stress-reliever.Swamy continued:Next time, before coming to the hospital, I went to meet Gowder, having decided after a prolonged mental war, to seek a hand loan. I explained to him that father was in a bad state and an advance of fifty rupees would be extremely helpful. He handed over the amount and when I hurried to assure that it would be returned soon in installments, he was kind enough to respond, ‘Periaya samiyai nalla pathukkunko. panathai nan pathukkaraen- you take care of your father- I will take care of the monetary part.””Swamy vanthirukkan-Swamy has come.”  Mother, sitting near him, informed Appa.”Asthiyai odara vellathlaem podanam- my ashes should be immersed in flowing water too. ” His voice was low but not very incoherent.
The next  instruction was, “kaathilaenthu kadukkanai eduthu ennodu kaariyathukku eduthukkunkol- remove my kadukkans, ear tops and use the money for my last rites ”
We never wanted to do that. Gowder’s assurance was a ‘chumai thaanghi’ a weight supporter.
Two days continued liked that. I spent most of the time sitting with him reciting ‘Vishnusahsranamam’. His facial reaction, sometime, told me that he was hearing the mantras. I was not sure. But his lip movement had stopped. I realized that slowly that light was waning. Amma poured a few drops of Gangajalam to wet his tongue and also asked me to do the same. I did that and also whispered the panchakshara mantram into his right ear. I could virtually see that soul leaving the body, or I thought so, when his breathing slowed down and stopped.
‘Appa poyatchu, vizinthu namskaram pannu.”  Said  Amma, after she  prostrated at his feet. I did so and while getting up, touching  his feet, I remembered, how every time I prostrated before him, he used to bless me, lift me up, holding my shoulders and hug me close to his broad chest.
Krishnaswamy Gouder was waiting near Appa’s bed. He too prostrated and gave me some cash. ” Ayyarae, Pitchandi will be with you and send him to me whenever you want any help. ” He said pacifying me, ” I have to leave now for Coimbatore on some urgent work and shall see you on return.”
The total cash I had including Gouder’s latest contribution was seventy rupees which was just sufficient to meet that day’s expenses. I did not want to sell Appa’ s  kadukkans as I want to keep them as a parting gift for the family, from him.
“What about chithappas, your siblings?” enquired Ramyu, ” they didn’t come to see thatha”.
“They could not come. One was in the hospital with a broken rib and the other immobilized at home with some viral attack,” Sundram clarified, ” they had sent some money but it reached only after a week.”
Pitcahandi was the only one to accompany me to the cremation ground other than the vaadyar and his people who carried the dead body.
I recalled several instances when, hundreds of pandits used to follow Appa to the Yagasalas .The memory of several villagers crowding our house- frontage during the festival time to seek his suggestion and advice also filled my heart. Had his death occurred in our village, his last journey would never have been so lonely.
After paying vaadyar his dakshinai for that day, the balance amount I gave to Pitchandi for buying fuel for incinerating the pyre. While the tongues of the fire were growing
towards the sky, I imagined that Appa’s soul was transcending beyond the borders of this world. How often he used to grow the sacred fires for homams !The fire waves were slowly receding. Alas, there was no enough fuel ! And I didn’t have a pie with me !
While I was looking at the sky, not knowing what do to do, Pitchandi, pulled out a handful of varatties, cow dung cakes, from the heap piled before the caretaker’s hut, which was in the same premises but a few yards away.  When he, stealthily pulled the second lot, the caretaker came rushing, shouted, “thiruttu rascal_ you wretched thief,”  and was about to slap him. Instantly the caretaker’s wife came out of the hut, and yelled at her husband, ” eriyaratu pappanda, pavi. It is  a Brahmin’s body which is on the pyre.”  pushing her husband aside, she threw enough firewood to feed the fire to complete the job and turning towards him, said in a pathetic voice, ” En vayathilae oru pootchi, pottu valarallae, you could not give me an off-spring, who knows that this Brahmin’s blessing will not fulfill our desire ?”The next day when I went to collect the ashes, I gave Kuppamma, the caretaker’s wife some ten rupees, which I had borrowed from a friend but she refused to accept.
The Brahmin’s blessing did fulfill her desire. An year later, when we were sitting on the front veranda , after  completing the first anniversary rituals , Kakkamma came to our house, with a sweet, tiny baby in her arms.
‘Ithu Ayya kudutha arulinka- this is the blessings of your father and you should give him a good name.” Kumbhidaromungo” the baby’s father who appeared from a corner where he was standing as a mark of respect, came forward and  kept a bunch of tender coconut seeds, probably from the tree behind his hut, before us, and pulled back reverently.Without any hesitation, I called the baby,’Dharmaseelan’ and rewarded that happy couple with some cash, clothes and food.
” How did you manage funds for the remaining rites spreading over more than ten days ?” enquired, Ramu,” you asked for help from your boss?”
“No, I sold Amma’s mangalsootram,” Swamy replied with no regret in his voice, ” anyway, its purpose was over.”Little Swan rushed weeping, from his bed  towards his grand pa and demanded, ” thatha, tell me too, a nice story””Sure, my jewel.”  Swamy made him to lie on his lap and told a story of a happy family where there was plenty of food to eat, wardrobe full of clothes to wear and piles of firewood and cow dung cakes in the cowshed to feed the fire.
The heart feels heavy after reading this.
Great Story.
I can smell the soil.
Hi Shiva

As always every thing has to end !!!
we will miss your story till you pen another
But the ending of this one was was very emotional
Did these things happen to your near and dear ones or is it imaginary
take care
Ramani krishnan
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The smell of the soil – chapter 09

” No doubt, one would like his parents to be with him, for ever,” Seshu said to Swamy ,” but your Appa lived long, lived like a yogi  and was it not time for him to call it a day, drop down his mundane frame and leave for paralokam, the other world, ?” he asked.
“You are right,” I agreed, but I didn’t want him to die at that time for the simple and shameful reason that I didn’t have a pie even for his cremation, leave away the thirteen days-long rituals, following that.  Gowder  would have given some advance, but how to ask when I hardly worked for him only for a few days . And it was also against the principle Appa had taught me .”
Evey one felt extremely sad.  Ramu and Ramya were shocked to hear that revelation. Ramu knew before, that his father was financially broke but had never realized the situation was so lamentable.
” What a pitiable condition, Appa!” Ramya mourned. ”hmm, then what else did patty say ?” She asked. Ramu and Cheenu looked at each other sharing their mental disturbance . Seshu lodged his right forefinger on his nose to share others concern.
Fear, fertilized by intuitions and imaginations, was growing like a huge palm tree in Amma’s  mind and she was so alarmed as if she was seeing the fast approaching death, like a monstrous predator, right before her.
” ‘Swamy, I am telling you honestly,” my  mother, with a heavy heart and swollen eyes, told me. ” something deep in my heart tells me, that Appa is going to leave us soon, to reach paramapadam (salvation) which he has been talking about,  more frequently these days. When I closed my eyes for a moment, sitting in a corner, a woman with disheveled hair and devoid of kumkum- dot on her forehead, appeared  at  the front gate and asked for alms. I went with a handful  of rice and a small coin, she didn’t accept them but pointed her finger at my mangalsutram and asked for that. I do not remember now whether it was a dream or my illusion but she was not there when I opened my eyes. Your Appa is an astrologer. Ask him the position of  planets in his horoscope” She thought for a moment and continued, ‘don’t do that. He may suspect that we doubt about his longevity.’
‘Amma, rub off all these apprehensions which are nothing but the product of your weak mind and superstitious beliefs”  I advised her but suddenly paused for a moment, as that ‘something deep in mind’ laughed at me and ridiculed,” Swaminatha, you are not speaking truth, again. Didn’t you shiver with fear, when your father told that he saw your grandfather standing at the entrance of the hospital ward ?’
Amma wanted to see father . When we went near his bed, his eyes were closed and lips were moving as he was silently doing some ‘japam’, Vishnusahasranamamam, perhaps .
“Appa, mother has come to see you’ I told him. He gave out a hand signal asking her to take a seat . His lips continued to move. After a while, his eyes opened up when he  whispered at her ears, ” I could not keep up the promise I gave to the Agnibagavan, the god of fire, at the time of our wedding  that I would treat you like a  queen in my house. You were no better than a maid servant . In the next birth if I get a chance, I will repay my debt. Help me by praying for that.’
“‘Amma couldn’t say a word in reply. She wiped off  his tears with her sari tip, took his right hand towards her head, gazed at him reverently, got up, sat on the floor near his feet, held them close to her chest , slowly placed her head at his feet and sat motionless, closing her eyes, like a statue.
” ‘Swaminatha, konjam elaneer konduva- get me some tender coconut water, I feel thirsty’ Appa muttered, lifting his right palm and directing his thumb towards his partially opened mouth.
I put my hand in my pocket, there was not a pie in it . Before coming to the hospital, whatever I had in the wallet was handed over to Pichandy, Gowder’s servant,  for buying the school uniform, books, bags etc for the children. I wanted to go to Gowder’s house on the way to hospital and ask for a loan but didn’t do so as Amma was with me. I blinked for a moment looked around and noticed that there was a tender coconut seed  near the adjacent bed . Amma was still at Appa’s feet placing her head on them. I did not waver for a minute. Picked up that coconut, cut it open, transferred the water into a glass and slowly poured into Appa’s mouth, drop by drop, to the last one. His face  glew with satisfaction.”Namma aathu thenkaiyodu neer ethra madurama irukku. Devamritham than !- the water of the coconut from our backyard tree is so sweet, like divine nectar’ ‘nee nannaa iru, Swaminatha. you will never suffer in life’- Appa blessed me.
Then, he explained in a low voice, supplemented by his hand movement, how his father brought the coconut seed from their own farm  and planted it at their back yard on an auspicious day, when a garuda bird flew over their head. “Look, look, there is garudan flying below the Pazhani hill, which I can see from here, ” he chased me, ” go and see outside, worship the divine bird .”
I went out  to satisfy him; there was no bird in the sky but came and told him a lie again, ‘ yes, appa. Garudan is flying across the Pazhani hills.’
Then I went out again, blew on my head with palms and wept, ‘Appa, lies after lies, appa lies after lies.’
The son of the old man adjacent to Appa’s bed called me, from inside and asked, “Sami, did you give the coconut water to my father ?”
‘Amam appa. yes, I did. He asked for that and I gave him”
‘Romba nantri, romba nantri” he expressed his gratitude folding his hands at his chest, with unexplainable satisfaction and reverence and said, ‘ my father has passed away just new. How lucky he was to drink water from the hands of a sacred brahmanan!’
I shrunk under the weight of unbearable shame. The son believed my lie. But the soul that just departed would never pardon me.
“Lie, after lie, Appa; lie after lie appa ” I wept inconsolably that night.

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The smell of the soil – chapter 08

Soon after the boys returned from their work, Chami asked his father to get ready to return home, after food.
“Let Seshu stay for two more days,” Swamy requested.
” Yes, Charm, “Ramu seconded his dad and told his friend, ” You proceed now. I will drop your dad this week end “
“No problem,”  Chami consented, “bring your parents too .”
At the dinner table, Chami raised the issue of the hospitalization of Ramu’s grand pa. “Mama, tell us what happened, before
I leave”   He requested Swami.
” Why are you anxious to know about the horror, I went through.” Swamy said, nodding his head  to say, ‘no’ .”Let it die with me. “
“Appa, how long are you going to carry that albatross on your neck” Ramu asked and pleaded, “share with  us. you will have some relief.”
“And Appa,  we should know our family history.” Ramya too requested.
After food, Swamy continued the story of his plight soon after coming to Pollachi.
” ‘Speak, truth; speak always truth; speak truth under any circumstances.’  This was Appa’s first dictum to his children, much before teaching us the alphabets. The second one was, ‘ never accept anything from an outsider, given free;  and never aspire for others property, under any circumstances.  And the third was, ‘ walk holding your head high and straight and bend it only before your elders, gurus or any respectable living being  and God. “
Appa, had followed his own rules, till his end, but I deceived him. “
He paused for a moment and clearing the sweat on his forehead with his upper cloth, continued.
“On the day he was admitted in the hospital, the first question my father asked me was, ‘paisa irukkoda ?’ -Have you enough money for the treatment ? “
“Yes, Appa” I replied without blinking. That was my first lie to him, as the amount I had, was meager.. Probably that noble soul knew my financial condition and that was why he didn’t last even a week. That night, we hardly slept as he was continuously talked despite  his irregular breathing and irritating body pain.  ‘ I was no doubt a pauper, often afflicted by the biting poverty but my unflinching faith in God and repeated recitation of hymns , was a great rejuvenatory aid. It was like wearing a spotless veshti, after bath and applying viboothi on the body and remaining serene throughout the day…”I am clean, physically and mentally- I always use to feel and that feeling stood like an indomitable watchman at the the main gate of my mind.
‘It was not easy to lead the life, I lead. There were several  diversions ready to overtake my principles and several attractions to subjugate my determination to follow the virtuous path. My unscrupulous adherence to religious and spiritual principles  harmed unpardonably and irrevocably the interests of my wife and children. Had I chosen to work even as a gumastha, as you are forced to,  now, your mother would have had more than a couple of saris, which were her only assets apart from her mangalsoothram and metties. She would have perhaps hoped for the  minimum comforts a wife, mother and housewife was entitled for but I failed to provide even that. She would have perhaps, cursed me. Who knows the mind of women ? What is the purpose of being a wife when her husband could not provide a square meal a day and a new cloth once a year?
‘You and your brothers did well in studies and you would have received merit scholarships too, had I sent you to college. Had there been an institution for higher studies close to our village, I would have certainly allowed you to go, but to send you to Palakkad was an impossible task then, as I had no means of meeting your hostel expenses.
‘Come close to me,’ he directed and continued,’ Rasu vaadyar told that our land has gone and that was the main reason for you to leave the village and come here to work. I have no complaints. While leaving our ancestral house I knew that I would never be able to go back and live there. That was why I collected a handful of mud from there, placed on my head reverently and another handful I have brought with me which is placed in our pooja room in a small earthen pot. Throw that mud on my body, before you light it up, so that it will carry the smell to my next birth.’
‘Appa,asambandham pesathunkol- don’t talk non sense; you are hail and hearty and I will take you home in a couple of days’  I protested, but he continued.
” Your wish will not be fulfilled . Death is awaiting at the threshold of this building to carry me away from you. Appa came in my dream two nights before and asked, ‘Konthai Vishnusahasranamami japitchukko-you can start reciting Vishnu sahasranaamam. His tall frame, thick tuft, forehead, broad chest and hands with white horizontal triple straight and bright lines, is still visible to me now.
“Appa turned to the front door of his ward as if he was looking at some one standing there and continued, ‘ thank god, he is still there; he will not go without me. Swamy you go and fall at the feet of your grand father. He is a great soul’
‘And do not forget to spread my ashes on the cremation ground near our village pond  where  the leftover of  our ancestors are mingled, irrecoverably,after dropping a spoonful in our pond.You need not go to Kashi or Triveni.  Go, say abhivadhayae to thataha” .
I placed my hands on his forehead and called the nurse to check the body temperature . It had suddenly shot up.
The nurse called the duty doctor and an injection was given.” Let him sleep. If you wish, you can go home , refresh and come back.” the doctor advised.
While walking towards home, I remembered that I too had a dream a couple of nights before. A brahmanan of Appa’s description stood before me and instructed,’ Swamy poonal edam pottukko’  -change your sacred thread to the other shoulder”.
For the first time since Appa was admitted in the hospital the fear that we might lose him gripped my soul . Added to that was Amma’s fearsome words that there were bad omen when father was taken to the hospital. ” One of the pictures from the wall of the pooja room slipped from the nail and fell on the floor. Its glass frame shattered .Moreover, my left eye has been fluttering for no reason. Ennodu thali balam poyatchuda Swamy-I am going to lose my mangalsootram'”
The  cyclonic storm  has started.