”Does Fate always has the last laugh ? I doubt, I doubt” I murmured.
Athai, dispersed the auto driver, entered the house, opened the fridge and sipping coke, said “Sorry, to disturb you. Usually you go to sleep very late and that is why I ventured to come at this hour.” She called ‘S.N’ and informed that she was with me and would return on her own.
We are now sitting face to face in the main hall and athai started the conversation with a question:
” Apadi kim karaneeyam, Perias ?” What needs to be done, when faced with danger?
” Smaraneeyam charanaugalamambayam, Athai.” What else,think of the lotus feet of Ambal–Mother Goddess”
With that single line question, she has conveyed the message that she came to discuss an issue of importance.
“The wisest of the wise and the dullest of the dulls, never change.” said, she.
” Thank u for the complement, athai, at least now you have realized that I belong to the former category.”
“No way. you belong to the second category and I have realized that, the day we met first ” We laughed heartily.
This tall, slim, fair woman of eighty is a symbol of grace, intelligence, wit and wisdom, humble and humane , kind and compassion. There is an aroma or greatness around her. She talks only when she should and you can hardly find any weed in her speech. Full of energy and enthusiasm, decency and dignity, she is Seshumama’s elder sister and all our friends call her ‘athai’, though in no way she is related to them. “Has athai been informed?” would be the first question anyone asks in our group, when any function, good or bad is to take place in the house, You can see her in wedding halls, hospitals, maternity clinics, airports or railway stations, extending a helping hand to the needy. She never goes to any house on her own but she is the most wanted person among our group of friends and relatives.
“What is the source of her energy ?” I asked mama once, “won’t she get tired ?”
”Her mind” he replied, “Life’s frictions have created a huge energy source, a soorya mandalam, within her ”
Athai opened the fridge, and with another sip of coke, continued:
“Let us come to the point, Perias. I heard you telling Seshu, while eating last night, that you were planning to go to Palakkad tomorrow. I don’t know by which train you are going perhaps by the morning one to Vijayawada. That is why I came now.
I want u to cancel your Palakkad trip, if there is no urgent purpose. In fact I want u to be with us till Pitchu and family return to USA.”
“The trip is of urgent nature because Noorani sasthapreedi is just two days ahead and I don’t wish to miss the sadyai( Noorani ayyappa festival is well known and everyone enjoys the pooja and especially the feast. I shall return by the next train, if you permit”
” Our house is on fire here and you want to leave us for eating in the sasthapreedhi. Shame on you, Perias! Remember, it was you who lighted the fire and but for your communication, we would have continued to live in peace. And if I allow you to go to Palakkad, after Noorani, you will attend the sasthapreedi in all the 108 villages and then proceed to Trichur and Trivandram also. Sorry, you can’t go. I have no time to prepare chukkuppodi and omakkashayam ( two homemade medicines for stomach upsets)for you when you come back with a blotted belly.
“ Now, Perias, be serious, please.” Athai continued. “During the pooja last night, did you observe the high pitch in which Seshu sang along with you ? That was a deep cry from the bottom of his heart. As you know, he is a very soft spoken man and the suppressed feelings in him erupted last night when we all joined the children in the chorus. It was the helpless cry of a child fallen into a well, seeking help from his mother.
In one way, I am happy that the volcano erupted. In fact,I was praying that he should lie on my lap and cry like a child. If I were his mother, he would have done it . Anyway, Seshu is undergoing a very stressful period in his life. We all should help him to come out of it.” Athai continued,
“You may not perhaps be aware that our father was a Khanapadigal ( a learned scholar in scriptures and follower), who strictly observed the Niyamas and Anushtanas and did not tolerate even a minute deviation from the Vedic path. He was highly respected for his knowledge and the way he conducted the rites and rituals .He had performed Nithyasraddam for his pitrus for one year-”
” Wait, what nonsense are you talking athai? He performed sradhams everyday, for one year! He was a cruel man, I would say. Even to perform sradham once a year is a task especially for the lady of the house, preparing several food items , without sipping even a cup of coffee and starving till the end of the ritual.This pattar made his wife to struggle in the kitchen continuously for one year and you feel proud of him?” I could not contain my anger.
” Cool. when I look back, I too feel that perhaps, it was not necessary to perform shradham, everyday. I really do not know. Perhaps he would have thought that was one way to feed the needy brahmins and pay them some dakshinai(remuneration) every day but he could have done it in a less strainous way. And with regard to your point on mother’s sufferings, women simply followed their husband’s directions and took all such activities as part of their duty.”
” You remember, athai, Jaddu Krishnamurti’s words:
‘The older the culture, greater is the weight of tradition which disciplines you, tells you what you must and must not do; and so you are weighed down, psychologically flattened as if a stream- roller had gone over you. That is what has happened in India. The weight of tradition is so enormous that all initiative has been destroyed. and you have ceased to be an individual; you are merely part of a social machine”
” I agree with him. Seshu blindly followed his father and expected his children also to do so and when that did not happen,he became heart-broken.
Though Pitchumani did sandyavandanam and pooja during his school days, when he started going to college he left those practices”
“He did them just to please his father and not out of love or respect for the scriptures. If he were explained the greatness of our culture, the pleasure you derive in performing the rituals, the meaning of manthras, the music in chanting them, the positive energy created by their vibrations etc., he would have continued them throughout his life. Athai, everyone wants to enjoy and loves to perform only such acts which gives him joy. Our Rishies, looking at the snow covered mountains, crystal clear lakes, clouds and waterfalls, recited the manthras enjoying every word. In north India, every one dances, irrespective of age even at a small family function. Why was bhajans, kavidiyattmas, music, dance, nadaswarams etc included in our temple functions ?
Our Rishis, knew the meanings of what they were reciting. so, excited by the divine experience , they climbed over the mountains and sang aloud,
” Madhuvadaridayathe, madhukshranthy sindhavaha ——-”
The earth, the sky, the oceans, the sun, the cows, the plants everything in the world was pouring out madhu, madhu, madhu. For them,every object was a source of the nectar of happiness and bliss. When their heart was overflowing with the Divine force, they found everything sweet all around.
How many of us are excited , while reciting Adithya hridayam , when the Rishi uses the appellations such as ‘padmaprabodaha, vindyaveedee plavangama etc ?
However smart and efficient you are,you cannot sit near a bud and ‘open’ it .The whole night the bud, standing on it’s marshy birthplace and closing the eyes, pray for the Lord and the moment the suns rays appear on the horizon,it opens up, automatically, effortlessly,spreading its fragrance all around. Only the Divine energy is capable of doing it. Distance, adverse origin or surrounding , nothing matters.
Recall, padmapriye,padmini,padmahasthe,padmalaye,padmadalayadakshi—– The Rishi sees only padmam everywhere when he looks at the Divine Mother,in her name, seat, eyes, hands everywhere.; nothing but the fragrance and divinity of the lotus fills his heart; then he mentions about her closeness with Supreme and seeks her lotus feet.’Thwal pada padmam mayi sannidaswa.”
similarly, the great Bhishma pitamaha, starts Vishnu sahsranamam with ‘Viswam-‘. He has said everything in that one word and when he completes the line with ‘Bhootha,bhavya,bhavat prabhu, his job is over but still he continues only because he wanted to sing God’s 1000 names. His heart overflows with compassion, with the progress of the namas, and in the end, with ashrupoorna-kulekshanam,tears overflowing, he addresses the God as ‘Radangapani! You, whom I addressed as ‘ sathyam, sathyavan, sathyadharma parakrama etc’, lifted the chariot wheel and rushed towards the enemy, when your friend’s life was in danger, forgetting that you had taken a vow not to use weapons in the war. If we had explained our vedas and puranas and manthras and japas in this way, why should our children forsake our culture and be after girls of another custom or country? ”
” Look, Perias, you are boring me too much. I hope that there is no vodka or margarita behind this long lecture. It is nearing eleven; I have to go home and sleep. I came here to make you understand that your message about Pitchu’s wedding with a foreign girl has shaken Seshu. Alamu also is equally shaken, but the mother’s blind affection overlooked all the undesirable acts of her son and more over, she knew that if she expressed her displeasure it would only add to her husband’s woes. Seshu cannot withstand the sight of a drop of tears in the eyes of his wife, so he too pretends as if he is not unhappy about his son’s action.
Under these circumstances, you, as a close family friend should stand by us during these difficult days.
“Seshu’s first worry is what to do if Pitchu’s wife cooks non-veg in our kitchen. Prasadams for Sivapoojai, Bhagavthi sevai and several other poojas and homams are prepared in that kitchen for several years and hopefully, that should continue at least, till Seshu is alive.We cannot allow the sanctity of the house to be destroyed in front of our eyes. you should therefore, do these things, tomorrow morning :
1. Cancel your ticket to Palakkad.
2. Tell Seshu that you would ensure that under no circumstance, you will allow Pitchu’s wife to enter the kitchen and how you are going to do is your headache,and three,
3. This is perhaps more difficult. Pitchu’s wife should be clearly told about our family’s traditional background so that she comes prepared to behave in such a way that there will be no unpleasant feeling for both the groups.”
Athai got up, having accomplished her task.
“Now drop me in our house ”
‘Amazing! What a clarity in thoughts and expressions and what a grace !’ I thought and walked along with her to the car.
” Don’t you think that we would not have landed where we are, if mama had not insisted on jathakapporutham, vadamal and other trivial things,athai ?” I asked while sitting on the driver’s seat..
You call them trivial, but for Seshu, his son’s happiness after marriage depended entirely on those. Nowadays, boys and girls, before consenting for marriage, meet each other, go out together, discuss their likes and dislikes and in foreign countries, I am told, also live together. When we are given the responsibility of selecting a life partner, we go by the time-tested methods, like jathakapporutham, marrying from the same sub group etc so that maximum compatibility is achieved .. I know that these are outdated now; but these are the time-tested methods. Pitchu could have boldly told his father that he was not bothered about jathakam, sub-sect etc and his priority was only the girl’s looks and academics. My brother, no doubt, would have been unhappy but would have finally agreed. Whatever Seshu did was only keeping in mind the best interest of his son but unfortunately that did not work.”
“That did not work because he was very rigid in his approach. He should not have insisted on the sub-sect vadamal and such trash–You know,once you leave the shore of this country, you are known only by your passport.There is no indication of your cast or sub-caste there. Moreover, being brought up under strict discipline, and released to full freedom, Pitchu wanted to enjoy the new life, in full.
There are several other factors such as loneliness, work pressure and consequent stress, opportunity to freely mingle with the opposite sex, severe cold climate and availability of funds–all these would have contributed for his action”
” Perias, there is no meaning in discussing about the past; How to move from here ? Talk about that. You know, I became a widow at the age of 16 after living in my husband’s house hardly for 3 months.” She diverted the topic casually.
“yes. And do you think I would have lived up to 80, if I had not bundled and thrown my past in the kalpathy river,long ago? Memories of past do cloud my heart occasionally and at that time I take refuge in the lotus feet of my ‘Bootha,Bhavya, Bavatprabhu. the Lord of past, present and future.”
” Sorry, athai! I am not aware of this. Really shocking ! God’s ways–”
“God has no roll in this and therefore don’t blame Him.” Athai was categorical in her statement “Stupidity and ignorance killed my husband and several others in our group and is continuing to do so even now, though in lesser numbers.
There was an epidemic in Palakkad and the health authorities stopped every vehicle on the streets and entered every house and gave vaccination. When the health inspector entered our house, my husband escaped through the back-door as someone had told him that the substance injected was a serum from cow’s blood! He died after a month, because of the same epidemic; the maruthani stains on my palm and feet, applied for the wedding, had not fully vanished, when I touched darbhai( a holy grass used for the rituals) for my husband’s final rites.. Unable to bear the shock, his parents died after a month. So, my dear child! your athai has passed through worst periods in life.
“You know how my mother died ? After returning from the school, we children were to remove the school dress and keep in a corner of the front room and then only enter the house. Ankichi, who was 5 year old then, without removing the dress went inside and embraced mother, excited in seeing her after a gap of 4-5 hours. Shocked by this act, mother rushed to the temple tank and dipped herself in the ice-cold water to remove the sin of un-touchability. She was already suffering from sever cold and fever .Her body temperature shot up and she died of pneumonia within a week, leaving behind six of us, the smallest was Kalyani, 2 years old. I brought up all the five children including Seshu.
Superstition killed my mother”. Athai’s eyes were moist.
“All these experiences made me tough and fit to face any calamity. Calamities come in waves, in my life. When it became a routine affair, I started waiting for them and like a wild animal waiting for it’s prey, pounce on them and tear them into pieces, when they appear. I fight to the last and If they overtake me after all my efforts fail and the situation goes completely out of my control, I simply leave the war field and leave everything to Gopal.
‘Sakala karmarppanam Bhavatu Karomi jnan-” I am dedicating all my actions to You. Athai sang.
I completed the second line,
“Samsthamaparadam kshamaswa Jagalpathe!’ Oh, Lord, pardon me for all my faults.
We laughed together and athai continued ” So, I will handle Seshu but I need your help because I don’t know much about the western way of living.”
“Athai, I am now convinced that you can handle any difficult situation; but, if you don’t mind, let me ask you one personal question. Why didn’t you think of remarrying?”
” Widow marriages were not common those days. Moreover, My husband had 3 brothers all younger to him. Having lost the parents and the eldest brother, these kids would have become orphans, had I left them to their fate. So, I took the responsibility of bringing them up as well as my brothers and sisters and subsequently their off springs too. 17 children, in all, have been brought up by me.
Tell me now, Perias, did I make a mistake in not marrying?”
I was spellbound by this lady’s personality, courage and kindness. Unable to speak a word, I stopped the car in front of her house and opened the door for her.
” Sufficient for the day. Go and sleep”. She majestically walked towards her house.
” Hats off to you athai.” I whispered and turned the vehicle.
Before going to bed I have a habit of drinking a cup of hot coffee and hear music.
”Does Fate always has the last laugh ? I doubt, I doubt” I murmured while switching of the coffee machine and music system.
While slowly,inch by inch when getting immersed in the bliss of sleep, I could hear from the distance, like the winter breeze over the Sabhari hills, “Entharo Mahnubhavulu ‘
Let us call it a day, Bhagavan! Good night!