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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.
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The smell of the soil – chapter 07

A road in Moncombu. Buses ply to changanchery on this road

After Swamy’s pooja lasting for an hour, Seshu showed mami how to operate the dish washer, washing machine, coffee percolator and other appliances.
“Despite Ramya’s instruction not to handle these devises, I want to you learn the usage, so that you need not depend on her for minor kitchen activities.” He said to her. ” More over, will you allow her to cook, when she is on her monthly menstrual periods?”
” Siva, Siva-never” she replied, closing her ears with her palms,
  .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                refusing to hear a word more on that topic.
“To stand on your own legs, is the first thing you should learn in this country, because the youngsters are fully engaged during day time and even at night, they might have some pending office work to complete at home” .
 Seshu said, entering the main hall and after all were seated.”  In India, while driving though a city or village , you can stop your car and ask for the route. Here in highways, you have to go by your road map or mechanical guide, as there will be none on the road , to show you the way.  Moreover, you cannot stop the vehicle at seventy miles speed, anywhere and every where you like.  At the most, you can enquire in a gas station, that is our petrol bunk. Without knowing driving, you are a bird with no wings. Men and women in their eighties and nineties  drive their own vehicles, shop in malls, collect their provisions and load in their vehicle. None with a bamboo basket on his head carrying your load will be behind to help you, as we see in our towns. The shopping complex is away from the apartments and as you do in our place, you cannot walk down to buy milk or vegetables, putting a thorthumundu, towel on your shoulder. And no hawkers with push carts in front of your house. you cannot  stop a taxi or auto as we do in our towns, as there are no autos or cabs on the road . In the busy New York city taxis ply and you can hire them on the spot.  public transport is available freely there, and in most of the other cities, office goers have to use only their own cars.”
“Oh, athu periya budhimuttachae- it is really difficult, then”  remarked Swamy.
” Appo sayantharam denam kovilukku poka sathikkathu- I can’t go to temple every evening.” lamented Mami, with a gloomy face.
” I cannot go out even for a walk as the weather is bad ” Swami worried, “does it mean that whole day, we sit inside the house looking at each other’s face”
“Why not? your faces have not lost their charm yet” Seshu chuckled. “I will teach you to operate the computer. you both can learn within a few days. That devise is my constant companion. You can read your newspaper, hear music and send mails. By four,  Swan will be here with his mom. Then it is velai and pooram-festival here.”
“Inke jasthi thaangathu- we may not stay long here,”  remarked mami.
” You will continue to stay because this is your life-center, where your son and his family are . You will be prepared to sacrifice, as I am doing, all your other favorites  and would prefer to stay here . In due course, your longing for the smell of your soil will vanish.”  Seshu remarked, a naughty smile illumining his face.”
The couple delved into deep thoughts and after a while, Swamy asked, ” Seshu, what will you do, in a situation where you physical facilities neither permit you to travel to USA or make unsafe to live alone in our village.?
“Vrudhasramam- home for the aged. I have already decided on that” Seshu was categorical in his statement.
“There, at least some one will lift you up if you slip on the floor or face a stroke, and take you for medical assistance. At your own home , if you fall on the ground,  your wife cannot lift you and if she falls, you cannot lift her.  You may come out and shout for help and someone might come but no vehicle will be available or the hospitals might be ill equipped. Moreover, in the home for the aged, all are aged and therefore, you have many things to share, including your regrets of the past, retardation of the present and the uncertainty of the future.”
“What is there to he uncertain?” asked Swamy and chuckled.
“That is true,” Seshu agreed, ” anyway, it is too early for you to think about that, as you are now OK and Ramu will never allow you to go to Vrudhasramam”.
“You are right mama, I will never admit them in the Home for the aged”, Ramu, who entered, overhearing the conversation, from the kitchen side door, after parking his vehicle, said.  ” I will transport them here somehow every six months, obtain green cards so that they can live here indefinitely and go with us to India occasionally. And if they insist on staying at our native village, I will provide enough support, by hiring people at whatever be the cost. If that too doesn’t work, we will resign our jobs here, work in some cities in India and keep our parents with us.”
His parents were so proud of Ramu and tears swelled in their eyes.
” Ramu,  You are a worthy son and we are all proud of you”  Seshu, shook Ramu’s hand in appreciation and then without losing his composure, added, ” remember, it will be a Herculean task for you to act as you desire, as there is a third party in the game. Your little son, whom you would prefer to be educated here. Anyway, let us not worry about that now.
In my case, I have made up my mind, whatever be the objection from my son that my last resort will be the home for the aged, where I can breathe my last, smelling  the earth, which gave birth to me and my ancestors and my leftover can mix with that soil. I do not want my son or his wife or child make any sacrifice for me.”
“So, the smell of the soil is haunting you too !” Ramu asked smiling, and opened the back  door.” OK, take care, I was passing this way and just walked in to see, how you are doing “
“Chappittuttu poda , Ramu-eat food and go” requested his mom.
” No time now, mom.” In a few seconds, the crunching noise of the garage shutters rolling down, was heard.
At four, when Swan returned along with his mother, rushed to his room and made sure that all his cars were in tact.
“Old people are nice, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean that I can trust them with my cars,” he mused and then, in a flash, he was with them, holding their hands and commanding, ” come on, I will take you to the  restroom.”
Children keep up their words though they do not compromise on their toys.
I had ample time  this morning when I went thru ‘ the smell of the oil chapter7 and8
and the flow of language is like a lullaby. What you have described is verbatim is
the true state of life in U.S.A How do you find time to thatch the flowers into fragrant
strands which do not wilt for a very long time. One story is entirely different from the
other. You do not employ the situations conceptualised in new stories. You are
highly imaginative and thinking.
Where are you now? in Hyderabad? or in U.S.A?
anyway I am one of your ardent fans.keep writing.
with best wishes
pc ramabadran

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The smell of the soil – Chapter 06

The next day being a working day, Ramya got up at six, had her shower, lighted the lamp before the deities, spent a minute or two in silent prayer and was ready in the kitchen to attend the morning chores. Coffee with breakfast was served to the youngsters, who awoke at 6.30, soon after they finished their shower and dressed up for office. Three lunch packets for the office goers, a small packet for the kid and lunch with normal dishes the elders prefer, were also ready, by seven. Then, she herself dressed up for office and woke up the kid, gave him a shower and by eight all the youngsters were ready to leave for work and the kid to be dropped in the pre-schhol, on the way to Ramya’s workplace.
“How swiftly and efficiently this girl works!” wondered the elder couple, though they were sad that the tender -age kid,  had to be woken up so early and sent to school.
“This is the age for him to sleep” commented in a sad tone, his grand pa. “If not now, when will he sleep ?” the same opinion the grand ma expressed in different words.
“These are common here,” consoled their friend, ” life starts early here; you will get used to it in a few days. In fact, it is good that children are practiced to wake up early and persuaded to sleep early”
“Why persuasion ?” chided Swamy, still unhappy that Swan was denied his due morning slumber.” They will automatically slide into sleep, when they are woken up so early in the morning. Did you send your child to school before he was five .?” He asked his friend.
“I didn’t and you too didn’t because they grew in a village in India” replied his friend .”If we were in Delhi or any other metropolitan city, we too would have woken up our kids by 6 or 7 in the mroning and sent to school before 8.0. And Swamy, Swan goes to play there and he enjoys that; he also gets a nap of an hour or two. There is no need for you to worry and keep your face so grim and puffy ?”
“Will they beat the kid ?” inquired the grand ma, the worry now trans-placed to her face.
“Not only the teachers, even the parents cannot slap or ill treat children here” Seshu assured. The two shrunken old faces   glistened.
” So, seniors!”  Ramu greeted the elders while leaving for his work along with Cheenu, and gave some instructions.
” Do not open the main door, come what may. Our contact numbers are neatly pasted on the wall of the fridge and call us, if needed. No need to answer commercial calls  and no need to worry, if you are unable to follow the pronunciation. Don’t venture a  stroll outside.
 Ramya or me will keep calling you once or twice.”
“Why did he say, ‘don’t open the door, come what may?’ Inquired Swamy, ” will someone enter and shoot us with a pistol, as we see in pictures ?”
”That possibility is not there in this area, which is safe .” replied Seshu. “The inside temperature is regulated by a mechanical device, which will get upset if the door is opened. More over, the cold breeze will enter in and make you uncomfortable”
“If some one wants to come in or we wanted to go and say hello to the neighbors?”
“No chance for both” Seshu clarified again with a smile sailing through his face, “none comes without prior notice unlike our place, where people going for a stroll enter, enquire welfare and enjoy a cup of hot coffee from manni’s hands or a pan-chew from your casket. Even, we came yesterday with prior notice. The neighbors are strangers for you and you cannot knock their door and when they show their face, say ‘hello’ or ask, ‘how many children you have’ ? ‘”
“Amma, you have to prepare only rice for neivediam for Appa’s Sivapoojai. I have told you how to use the rice cooker and oven and don’t light the lamp or stove.” Ramya’s instructions followed. “The lamp is already lit and it will last till evening. No need to wash any vessel, leave them in the sink. I will switch on the  dishwasher, in the evening. No need to switch on the washing machine too, just leave the soiled clothes in the basket.”
She, then  asked Swam to hug the seniors and say ‘bye’, which the kid did with elegance and love. Then , on his own, he was about to fall at the feet of his grand parents when they stopped him,  satisfaction surging from their heart that the kid was trained to follow the traditional path of respecting the elders.
“Thatha, you can take any car you want, and play.” Swan gave permission, then paused for a moment and suddenly realized that he was too liberal , came back, turned towards both the grand parents and suggested,”You take one car, the blue one and give thathi, the red one” After taking a few steps towards the exit, he returned again and looking sympathetically at Seshu, suggested, ” thatha, you too take one car, any color you like “
“Thanks ra Kanna” All the three elders attempted to hug the child but he vanished like a lightning .
” I will pick up Swan from his school, on my way back from the office and will be here by four.” Ramya told the elders, while closing the car windows after occupying the driver’s seat. ” your sons will not be back before seven”
” Ithu enna vesham da Seshu ? ” What type of dress is Ramya wearing, ?” mused swamy, alarmed at the dress of his daughter in law, after her left.
“This is how the working women dress up,” Seshu explained, “there is a dress code for every thing here. Wait for summer,you will see how men and women don,  to expose their body and not to cover it. Summer is a festival and they want to enjoy every ray, when the sun is not harsh.”
“Maha mosam” commented mami, “can’t Ramya wear a sari and go to work ?”
“Manni, that is not done; Sari is not a convenient wear to drive the vehicle or move freely up and down the elevators and escalators. More over, that is not an accepted wear in most of the offices. Do you know that the ladies here do not even use hair oil, as the customers and co workers do not like pungent smell ?”
“Pottu illai, poo illai, valai illai” Mami complained that Ramya was not wearing bangles and her head and forehead are barren.
“Mami, pottum poovaum vetchukkindu inke velilae ponal, ellarum avalaithan paruppal -if she goes out with all those usual adorations of women in India, everyone in the street and office will be staring at your daughter in law.Will you like it? ” asked Seshu.
“Vaideeka kudumbham” lamented the couple in unison, ” Viswanatha khanapatikal pon, Swaminatha sastrigal mattuppon!- daughter and daughter in law of Vedic pandits . How shameful!”
“How is your daughter in law ?” Sundaram wanted to know, “does she too don jeans and shirt, or whatever you
call   it ?”‘
“All working women are like that, Sundu” — clarified Seshu, bringing some brightness on the faces of the couple.
The telephone rang and Swamy picked it up. ” Appa,  Ramya here. I just dropped Swan in the class and he wanted  to tell  you that you can play with any number of cars . He also liberally allows you to use other toys too, if you like them. One more instruction from him- ‘vizathunkol -don’t slip on the restroom floor, as Appa was warning you yesterday. I will come and hold your hand as I did  and till then, don’t enter there’.”
The old couple pushed away in a corner, all their adverse remarks on their daughter in law’s attire  and enjoyed the affection, kind treatment and generosity of their grand son, while their eyes swelled. Even a thousand dollar cheque form their son would not have made them so happy.
Words, especially form a sincere heart and a  sweet, silken tongue of a close one , subjugate several sour feelings.
I enjoyed reading Smell of the soil chapter 7; you are highly imaginative. Words
flow like water from a falls-  pure and placid.
with best wishes
r ramabadran
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The smell of the soil – Chapter 05

Sleeping child
Chapter  5
“You throw away all these?” Swamy asked Ramya, surveying the stock of waste Newspaper and cardboard cartons piled up in the trash can.
” Weekly twice, all the trash accumulated in the two big wheeled -boxes are cleared by the Town Sanitation department, and  materials such as paper, tin or plastic waste, collected separately, will go for recycling.” She explained.
“You recover some money?”
“No, dad.” Ramu answered expecting some more questions from his father.” In fact, we pay some amount for clearing the waste which is included in the monthly service bill”
” Trash is generated in tons in this country” commented the old man and added with a smile,” with this much waste, I cam make sufficient money in India, to pay my electricity bill. ”
The door bell rang. Swamy was excited to receive his old friend Sundaram along with his son, Chandru, who helped Ramu to come to USA and secure a job in his office. They came to meet Ramu’s parents and spend a night or two over there. The old pals had a lot to share about their insipid past.
“While pushing the tube-deflated Hero bicycle through the street of our village, did you expect that one day you would fly over the oceans and we will meet here in this country to share our food on a posh dining table in a palatial building owned by your son,?” asked Sumdaram while Swamy raised his head and glanced at his son, when the word,’owned’ was mentioned. Ramu twinkled his eyes and nodded his head to sign, ‘don’t worry dad, one day it will become my own’.
” Sundaram, we are indebted to your son for making this possible” Swamy replied, passing on a ‘thank you’ note to Chandru, by a nod. ” All the agonies undergone by us to bring up our children, vanish like a due drop, at the sight of a sun-ray, when we see them happily settled in life.”
“Good” Sundaram agreed, ” but tell me frankly, are you able to cast completely your past, forgetting all the cuts, bruises and scratches it inflicted on you, and enjoy the new riches rightly due to you, willingly shared by your son?”
“No, Seshu ” admitted his friend,”that exactly is my problem. And I have a reason, very valid one, for that. The injuries inflicted on me by the past is not just skin-deep.  It sliced my inner self with its mighty weapon named ‘poverty’, into slices. That wound will not heal till my last breath”
” I was not from a ‘rajavamsam’ royal family ” clarified Seshu, “but I do not worry much over my past, drenched in poverty because it was not my making. I rejoice that I could come out of the dreaded dragon’s grip, though after a long spell , thanks to my son.”
“My case is not that simple, Seshu,”  Swamy said and his son mildly rebuked, “Appa, poverty is not a sin. Forget the past and enjoy the present”
“True, Ramu” Sundaram agreed, “poverty is not a sin but it can force you to commit sin, as it happened in my case. And therefore, it is not possible for me to forget the past as Seshu could.”
Every one around the dining table looked anxiously at Sundaram, worrying what sin did he commit.
“Appa, enough” Ramya took over the situation as women always do.” Enough of this talk before ‘annam’ rice. You can continue after you finish eating.
The dining hall became silent, but for the movement of vessels.
Later, when they all reassembled in the drawing room, Ramu, anxious to know what was bothering his father asked him to continue from where he had  left.
Swamy was mum for sometime, his mind wandering through the thorny path of the past.” I should have somehow managed to stay in my village till the last days of my father,” he mused, “no, it was impossible. it was impossible” He consoled himself.
“You have told me that thatha wanted to die in his ancestral house but could not, as you shifted the family to Coimbatore. That is all what we know”
“Why did you shift him in his old age?” enquired Seshu.
“Because I had no job when my old school building collapsed and it would have taken an year or more, for the management to construct a new one. My ancestral agricultural land was captured by the Land Reforms Act. I had no bank balance or any other source of revenue to lean upon.  Recommend by a student’s father, a mill owner offered me a gumastha’s job, which I accepted and decided to shift my wife and children, under unavoidable circumstances, to Pollachi. I wanted to leave my parents in the village under the care of a distant relative but my mother insisted that I should take them along with me.
“If something happens to your appa, who is here even to send a telegram to you ?” she asked .
“If something happens to me there, will your son bring my body here and convert it into ashes on the bank of our village pond, where the bodies of my great ancestors were burnt to ashes? ” enquired my father, unable to suppress his anger in leaving the house.
” ‘Appa, I assure you, nothing will happen to you in an year or so after which we will come back to our own place.” I tolld him. What I didn’t tell him was that our ancestral agricultural land had been taken away from us, lest his heart would have stopped pumping blood, at least for a short while, had he known that shocking news”.
“Nee Brahammavoda? Areyou the god to decide when I will die?” asked Appa, his heart still steaming .”
I was certainly not. Within a week after reaching Pollachi, Appa’s health deteriorated and he had to be put in the hospital. The total cash available with me at that time was less than one hundred rupees, after meeting the travel expenses and settling some dues in my native village. Krishnswamy Gowder, my new master had promised free rice and vegetable as a reward for the daily pooja I agreed to perform in his house and therefore, feeding the family was not a very big problem. Accomodation also was free. But cash? How to ask Gowder for an advance within a few days after taking up the job.?”
Swamy stretched his legs as if the pain in his heart was spreading to his feet. Ramu sat on the floor pressing his father’s leg seeing which, little Swan came running towards them and started pressing the other leg as if he wanted to prove that in no way, he was less considerate than than his dad. The old man, overwhelmed by the care and consideration of his progeny, combed slowly Ramu’s hair and collected his grand child, put him on his lap and started pressing the kid’s tiny, rose petal-like feet. He wanted to sing  but it got stuck at his throat. The child’s grandma came to support her husband and sang a lovely cradle song, in a low rhythmic sound and that folk song, like the small waves of the village river, moved up and down which made the kid to slip into the bliss of sleep.
The old man too, agitated over the memory of his father’s death in a most undesired place but slightly smoothened  by the song, fell into sleep.
Ramya collected the kid and took him to her bedroom and Ramu held his father’s hand and lead him to his bed.
The wife supporting her child and the husband supporting his father! How well- knit are our families, whether they are in India or abroad.!
Top class narration.
Heart warming scene sketching.
I had no problem visualising this touching scene in my mind’s eye.
Is it only me who, reading this with an Iyer’s perspective, sees shades of R K Narayan’s Malgudi days in these stories ?
Please keep sending me my personal copy.
The same posting at our Iyer123 group gets closely packed into one long unreadable para unlike this decently spaced email to my personal email address.
Awaiting chapter 7 eagerly.

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The smell of the soil- chapter 04

Chapter  4
What a happy dou !
Chapter 04
“Are there no temples or ponds around here?” Shyamu mami asks.
“No ponds similar to the ones we have in our village, but Temples are there.” Ramu replies, “We will go to the Greater Baltimore Temple this evening”.
“We can show them a swimming pool also,” Ramya adds, “heated pools, I mean”
“Ramya, a top covered, sides covered  water body with almost-  as -was- born men and women floating on the water or moving around , is not what Amma has in mind”  Ramu  remarks and asks with an intended smile,” of course, if she  is interested in seeing, we will take her “
“No harm in seeing once, to know what a swimming pool is.” Swamy shows interest.
“No need,” his wife rejects his suggestion outright and adds with a stern look, “eschew any such erratic ideas from your mind’
“What harm is there?” Ramu enquires, as if he failed to see the catch in his Amma’s admonition.
“Ramu, you don’t know him as much as I do” Mami is not in a position to relent.
“Contain and control “that is all what your mother has been doing with me, all these years”.  Swamy complains, “let your mom be here; I will go back alone to our village.”
“Eschew that aspiration also from your mind,” Mami warns,” I will follow you not like your shadow, but like your kudum[1]i.”
“Oh, mam that is fantastic. Your following dad not like his shadow but like his kudumi, tuft”
” Ramu, that is not following,” Swamy clarifies with a concealed joy, ” that is sitting on my head . Following is less worrisome.”
” Appa, what she wanted us to know is that she dances to your tune, every time you shake your head”  Ramya’s humor rocked the house. Even little Swan bursts in laughter as if he enjoyed the joke.
“Shall I take bath and get ready to go to the temple?” Swamy asks in the evening.
”Dad, this is not your village temple where you walk in, fresh from a dip in the pond behind, with barren torso”
Ramu, recalls his frequent dips in the village pond along with his father, “dad, you remember you used to lift me above your head and plunge into the water?”
“I and your mother remember every small talk, walk, fall and rise of your childhood days.” Glancing at his son and feeling proud of his physical growth, Swamy speaks, emotion embracing his paternal satisfaction, “even while I am left with only an ounce of life in my body, I can recognize your foot steps”
“Thanks Appa.” Ramu decides that he should bring back the old man to the normal ground and asks Ramya to get the parents ready for the temple trip.
“Abnormal.” his father comments, while Ramya was helping him to wear jacket, shoes and other protective wears.
“Not at all, can you visit a Himalayan temple, chest- barren?” Ramu asks, “if you are not comfortable to meet the gods with a shirt on, you can leave it outside, cover your chest and back with a woolen shawl, during worship.”
While helping the elders to remove their jackets and shoes, at the side room, Ramya tells them, “The restroom is to your left, you can wash your hands here in the basin. If you are ready, we will move on to the temple”
“How far is it?”
“Here in the same building” she shows the direction. ”Just a few yards away”
“The toilet in the same building where the sanctum is?” Swamy’s eyebrows raise.
“So what, dad?” Ramu explains,” this is a huge building and toilet is in a corner. Are we not having, in our house, three toilets in the same building?’”‘
“That is true, but in a temple?” his father was not convinced. However big the Temple building is, toilet should be away from it.
“Ah, what a sight!” The elders were awestruck at the beauty of the gorgeous idols adorned with dazzling apparels, jewels and garlands. The wall to wall carpeted, high domed, well ventilated central hall which led to the sanctum, the greenery in the vast land around the building ,the spacious flush green front lawn- all these mesmerizes them .The priests, clad in snow white clothes, spoke politely and distributed apples, banana and dry fruits . There was serenity and peace. But with all that, when they came out, the elders did not have the fulfillment of expectation. They didn’t have the satisfaction; they used to derive in the temples in their villages and outside. Without any paraphernalia, those simple deities, housed in meagerly ventilated, moderately illumined sanctum, instantly vibrated the inner chord of devotion and they could establish a one to one relationship,’ soul to soul ‘ as Swami remarked later. Neither the oily walls and pillars nor the devotional verses flowing from the throat of other devotees diverted the concentration.
“Why was I not able to think of my children and hold my hand close to my chest and pray, ‘God, protect my children’ asks mami.
“Simple, amma” Ramu aires his reason, “you were familiar with the village temple and it will take some time for you to replant your attachment to the new environment”
“What is  it that I have missed ?” Swamy muses, while boarding the car.
” Dad, let me ask you a question,” Ramu turns to his father, while driving, and asks, ” which house do you like better, our ancestral village house or the one here ?”
‘You house is palatial with all modern facilities, ideal for all age group”
“Appa, answer to the point please,” the son insists,” reply this or that”
‘To be frank with you, Appa likes our village house better.”  Mami gives the reply.
‘”Fine, what about you, mom, let me know your preference.”
“I don’t have an opinion of my own.Whatever Appa likes, me too like”
“When it rains, you need an umbrella to go to the toilet ” Ramu argues with mock anger,” because that facility is far away from our village house, in a corner of the back yard. If you forget to close the back door at night,  reptiles will enter inside. Even during daytime, you need a lamp to go inside the store room. There are so many minus points there and still why do you prefer that house?  Because–”
” We love it as we continue to love our body, though it is aged, wrinkled and getting disabled ” Swamy intervenes conclusively, “We love the smell of that soil, in which is mingled our ancestors’ s breath, belongings, memories and our own aspirations, failures, happiness and disasters”
“True, like that, this abode of the gods, despite all its riches does not attract you as much as your village temples, as you are used to them right from your birth and were also patronized  by your ancestors, even before you were born..”
Little Swan, least affected by the talk on present or past, is sleeping in the backseat of the car.
Lucky guy.The future is his.

Hi SivaThis serial is good and revels the generation gap between parents and their children who are settled in more developed parts of the worldJust imagine the gap between the grandchildren and grandparents who are used to stay in some agraharm in Palghat !!!!Some of us who stay in Mumbai and kids stay US or UK ,still have some adjustments to make !!!!
You sure have a style of writing
keep it up
Ramani krishnan

[1]  Tuft. The elderly Brahmins used to sport a tuft  and even some do.
Posted in B04 — The smell of the soil Leave a comment Edit

Hi SivaThis serial is good and revels the generation gap between parents and their children who are settled in more developed parts of the worldJust imagine the gap between the grandchildren and grandparents who are used to stay in some agraharm in Palghat !!!!Some of us who stay in Mumbai and kids stay US or UK ,still have some adjustments to make !!!!You sure have a style of writing
keep it up
Ramani krishnan

[1]  Tuft. The elderly Brahmins used to sport a tuft  and even some do.
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The smell of the soil – chapter 03

The elder couple enjoyed a good sleep, forced by jet lag and facilitated by plenty of warm materials, room heater, thick and soft mattress over a spring bed at comfortably reachable height, night lamp, chukku vellam (medicated warm water ) in thermos  and a toilet close by.
Ramya had thoughtfully hung a picture of the God Guruvayoorappan, on the wall opposite to their bed, after removing a wildlife picture there. They were happy and contended to see the God’s smiling face, the moment they opened their eyes. Swamy sits on meditation, on the bed, for some time while mami was looking for a ‘suprabhatham’ recitation by MS[1], and Ramya, noticing her mother in law’s searching eyes and sharpened ears, switches on the computer and plays the favorite devotional music. Thus started, really well, the first chapter of the maiden morn in America, for the elders, on their maiden trip, outside their country.
The second part is hot filter- coffee and the newspaper.
“Hindu paper kidaikkuma? (The Hindu paper available here?)” -Swamy to his son, as soon as Ramya placed two tumblers of coffee on the table, for the elders.
”Vasallae kolampottaya (have you drawn kolam [2] in the front?” Shyamu,, to her daughter in law.
Ramu explains that only local papers are available.  He places a big bundle, which his father rejects outright, as there were hardly any news, none on India and only advertisements. The Indian TV channels were being arranged and within a day or two, said Ramu.
” Appa, you should learn to handle the computer so that you can read the news online and also hear YouTube music,” he suggests.
“At this age?”,Swamy asks, but covertly wondering,” am I really that old?”
Every time he tells someone, “I am old, I can’t do this” etc, he hears a message from within, that he is not that old. But, he worries about his aging, the moment his wife says, “onkalukku vayassu aayatchu, jagradai-you are getting old, take care.”
Ramya tells mami that it is not possible to draw kolam outside as cold winds are blowing and moreover, the floor is not ideal for any drawing, as it is wet. She had, however, drawn before the deities in the kitchen. “Let me try” says Shyamu and returns within a moment, unable to stand the cold breeze outside.
“Where do I dry my cloth after bath?” enquires mami, “are there strings or ropes at the back?’
“No, ma, you cannot dry them outside” Ramya clarifies, ‘‘the machine will wash and dry too”. Mami’s face shrinks. She doesn’t like the idea of her sari getting mixed with other clothes, rotating in a closed machine and getting dried without the sunshine treatment. She fondly remembers her washing the clothes, applying Sunlight soap and beating it on the granite step of the temple pond, dipping it fully spread, into the clear water and drying in open air. “There is a joy in doing that”, she mutters unintentionally which was overheard by her husband.
“In doing what?” he asks instantly.
”Oh! Your ears?. You were a snake in the precious birth” Mami chides.
“I was, no doubt” he jokes, “that is how I chose you as my partner in this birth”
“Where do I do my sandhyavandhanam[[3] ?” enquies Mama after his bath, “in the front or back or in the deck?”
“In summer, you can do anywhere outside, but not now.” Ramu tells his dad. Now mama’s face shrinks.
The memories of his ablution in the village temple- pond and performing the morning and evening prayers on its bank, surges and he feels sad that for the next six months he will miss that pleasure. The imaginary sight of his white  veshti 5, held high in his hands, fluttering in the breeze, making soft sound as if it was talking to the wind, amuses him and he explains to his grandson, through hand movement how the cloth attempts to escape from his hands and fly in the air but he holds it back. The little one understands nothing though he enjoys the hiss made by his grandpa. ‘Thatha, show that again” he demands and Subbu repeats the show with joy. Swan tries to imitate and unsatisfied with his attempt but determined to prove his caliber, picks up a whistle from his mount of toys and makes repeated whizzing sound. “Thathaa, see whether you can do, as I did? ” asks he, handing over the instrument. Thatha pretends as if he is unfit to do the job. The child grabs the whistle and blows more forcefully and proves his superiority, to tom tom which he rushes to his grand ma. ‘Thatha can’t whistle, thatha can’t whistle,” he boasts clapping his hands.
“Thahta doesn’t know anything,” Grand ma supports him and complains, “he knows only to shout at me.”
“Amma, you mentioned Appa is your everything for you, a few hours before and how do you say now that he is nothing?” Asks Ramya with a naughty smile.
“I know nothing and that is how I became her everything,” clarifies the jovial husband, ” which woman wants a husband, who knows something ?”
“Appa, damaging statement,” Ramu laughs .
Swan realizes that all were blaming thatha for his inability to whiz and being a good friend, it is his duty to help him. He holds thatha’s hand and asks him to follow.Thatha obediently, silently follows the child,who makes his grand pa to sit comfortably and handing over the whistle,  teaches  how to hold it in the mouth and operate. ” Blow once, let me see whether you are doing properly,” the infant Guru orders and alas, the sishya is now able to do the  job perfectly. Now none will scold him .The kid’s face glows with happiness.
Then, thatha explains how, after bath, he enters the temple,” and there stands a big elephant ! “.
”How big thatha?, this big,?’” he enqires, rising his tiny hands and thatha explains, “this big” stretching his hand as much as possible and standing on tip toe.
“Appa, be careful,” warns Ramya,”don’t slip”
Mami is getting down the stairs, for taking bath, which does not escape the eyes of the old man, though the cataract has partially dimmed their brightness.
“Wait, wait. I am coming, ” he yells and tries to reach her, when he notices that Ramya is already there helping his wife.
“Does he keeps a watch on amma’s movements even in his sleep,?” wonders Ramya.
Mami did enjoy the warm water shower though she had some hesitation initially.
“There is no privacy,” she complains, “I don’t like the glass cover on two sides “
“No privacy?”  Swamy laughs, ” true, not as much as in your village tank, fully exposed to the sky and surroundings. I presume that your problem her is, you have a closed chamber with opaque glass sheets and in addition a curtain too ”
” I don’t know ” mami replies, “moreover, I miss the satisfaction of washing my sari with my own hand and  Sun-drying it.”
“These are unwanted imaginations and you should come out of these inhibitions ” Mama remarks and laughs, loudly.
“Why are you laughing?” Mami enquires wondering what was there to amuse him in what she said.
” I too had the same feelings, imaginations or inhibitions, whatever you call it ” he replies and laughes again.
“Appa, that is real fun” adds Ramu couple who overheard their conversation .
“Amma, I have finished my bath; shall I prepare the ‘neivedyam’ for Appa’s worship? ” Ramya asks, “Shall I keep rice in the cooker?”
“No, you open the suitcase in which my clothes are kept” Mami instructs,” there is in it, a small brass vessel with lid. Take it out. I will cook rice in it for neivediyam “
“How did the vessel escape from my notice when I cleared your baggage?” enquires Ramu.
“It was well wrapped in my clothes to prevent damage in transit,” his mother clarifies, “that vessel belonged to your great grandmother.”
“Are you hearing Ramya ?” Ramu. “Yes, I am ” She answers.
“if you have finished your Sandhya, have some snacks and coffee, appa ” Ramya suggests, ” your pooja can be performed after that”
“App will not eat unless he feeds his gods?” Mami says, “but he will have one more tumbler of coffee”
“Because the gods doesn’t drink coffee,” adds Ramu with a wink.
Swamy’s pooja lasts over an hour and his son, reminiscing the days when he too had performed the same, before coming to US, thinks, ” I should not have left it ” but corrects ,”where is the time for me ? “
Again, after a moment, the same thought surges in his mind and with a determination, he takes shower, wears fresh cloth in the conventional panchagattcham style and sits  near his father to recite Rudram along with him.
The women are happy. Ramu too has a unique satisfaction of having retrieved something which was loft for a long time. He recalls his young days, when wearing a small dothi and applying holy ash on his forehead, chest and arms, he used to follow his father to the temple, stand before the sanctum and recite mantras and on reaching home, his father used to explain proudly how their son recited the slokas accurately.” I should not have left the recitation and the routine pooja,” he muses and immediately ask the question to himself, “where is time for all those activities?”
Swan, sitting close by watching the magic of his thatha, pouring water and throwing flowers, wonders why the two elders are shouting at the dolls  and pictures before them. He should show his competence. “I can make more noise” he avers,  picks up his  pipe and plays as loudly as he can. “Swan, please, you can play later,” his mother pleads..
“Don’t stop him, Ramya, ” Swamy instructs, ” let him continue. My Easwaran  loves instruments during worship, especially when played by kids”
” But Appa, you used to scold me when, as a kid, I disturbed you.” Ramu complains.
“Because you are only my son, not grand son” Swamy replies smiling.


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The smell of the soil – Chapter 02

Chapter 02
Distribution of gifts and parting of property documents
The moment Swamy enters the ‘restroom’, he is awestruck seeing a row of bright lamps, above a big mirror flooding the whole room with powerful light, and wonders why so many lamps for a bath cum toilet. Why such large mirrors not one but two, he asks himself. The glistening walls and wall to wall carpeted floor makes him wonder whether so much luxury was really necessary. “Devalokam aattama irukku (it is like heaven)” he coos.  The urge to eliminate the extra fluid surging, he postpones the survey of the interior and looks for a conventional toilet seat, which to his disappointment was not there. He settles for the ‘European’ seat, though he is uncomfortable to clear the bladder in a standing posture. And, alas, there was no provision to collect water from the tap!  Timely, Ramu knocks the door and passes on a plastic jug, through the gap of the partially opened doors. “May you live long my son”, blesses the old man.  Once the bladder pressure was relieved, his brains works better and Swamy notices, to his surprise that the partially carpeted floor has no water outlet. He circulates his eyes and finds a white porcelain bath tub and is relieved that he can stand inside the tub and shower. But how will Shyamu have her bath? She needs a stool to sit on. Will a stool fit inside the bath tub? Even if it does, won’t water spill outside and wet the floor? Moreover, the wall of the tub is more than a foot above the floor level. Will she be able to cross it without slipping? He surveys the commode again. Water has to be collected from the tap and while stretching the body there is every possibility of slipping or water spilling or both. With these problems, now he is convinced that the ‘restroom’ of Ramu is neither a room for rest nor a heaven as he evaluated at the first sight.
“Instant evaluation invariably fails” he consoles himself and quotes a Sanskrit verse to supplement that.
“Ramu, is there another bath room?” Subbu enquires and was relieved to know that two more are there, one in the basement and the other in the floor above. When he explained the problems he anticipated, Ramu suggested to use the one in the basement which has a cabin for shower, only a few inches above the ground level and with a flat base so that a stool can be comfortably placed inside. Ramya will keep a bucket of water with a jug near the commode and if necessary the carpet will be removed and water extracted by mopping and drying. A stool and a bucket will also be kept inside the shower chamber. Only problem is the stairs.
”You don’t worry about that,” Swamy assures his son,” I will hold Amma’s hand when she goes to the basement”
”Enna asambandam peasarael-what nonsense are you taking? “Shyamu chides her husband, from the kitchen,” I call you every time I want to go to toilet? ”
“Why do you quarrel on such trivial issue?” Ramu admonishes his parents.
“Trivial issue?” Swamy is yet to come out of the disturbed mood., “Bowl movement is the most important issue for elders like me and your mother; then comes sleep, then–”  ” food ”  Ramu completes with an indented  smile.
“No. then comes the feeling that we are wanted, we are yet to become disposable”. He affirms with all seriousness he can draw on his face, “the feeling those whom we loved even before they were born, have not deserted us when we are incapacitated. The anticipation that they will, when we are gone, miss us at least once a while and will unintentionally a warm drop will fall on the earth from their turbid eyes. That is the only ’tilodakam[1]‘ we expect and not an elaborate post mortal ritual.
Shyamu mami’s eyes become moist and she tries to wipe with the end of her sari. Swan watching keenly from a corner, comes closer and consoles consciously, convincingly though incoherently, “thathi, aszahathunkol, en car unkalukku tharaen- don’t weep, grand ma; I will give you my toy car”
“Appa, amma, you don’t know how much we love you ” Ramu and Ramya hug the parents again and again and the elated elders, unable to find suitable words to convey their appreciation and joy , thank profusely their family deity in blessing them with such a wonderful son and daughter in law.
“Nanna irunkol, kozhanthaikal–be happy my children,” they manage to utter, controlling their emotion.
“How considerate is[2] Appa” wonders Ramya,” even in the restroom he thinks bout Amma’s comforts. Will Ramu also be like his father, when we become old?”
Swan unaware of all this complication continues playing with his toy cars and trains and believes that those are the real ones.
Belief is a great gift the God has endowed us with.
Comfortably settled on the sofa, Swamy could not resist the temptation to ask, “how much did you pay for this?”  “Not much appa,” Ramu assures and adds, “it is on a loan.”
Ramu takes his parents around the interior of the house when the father asks the cost of the house, “it is really spacious”, he conveys his appreciation too. 
“It is on loan and will become my own after 20 years, Appa”.  The son clarifies as if it is not a big issue.
Swamy who had not availed a pie as loan though there was a provision for that in his service conditions, is amazed and sad to note that everything, his son possesses, is on loan.
There comes Swan not moving like a swan bird but rushing like a whirlwind.
“Cars, sofa, house, everything is on loan, is my grandchild too on loan?” The old man didn’t want to be so rude but his anguish pushes him to be so. The old people of my era and earlier ones hardly knew the knack of polishing their tongue, though they used a rib of coconut leaf for cleaning it in the morning every day. Words, as they emerge from the base of their heart, poured unfiltered, which may be unacceptable to the younger ones, as their unfiltered coffee too was. 
Ramu couple rightly takes his diatribe as a joke and responds with a smile,” no appa, he is our own”
 Shyamu asks her son to open the baggage and takes out laddu, murukku[3] cheedai and other snacks. “Ramu likes kaimurukku and vella cheedai’ she adds,” so I made them with my own hands” 
Ramu and Ramya are amazed at the packs of things coming out of the baggage the elders have brought – Variety of eatables,  dolls and curry powders, appliances for making different dishes like sevai, appam, vdam etc, a  small granite grinder with pestle and many other things. There was a small chendai (Percussion instrument) and a mini nadaswaram for the kid, grabbing which, the little devil created havoc in the house. Then comes a copper vessel containing the salagramam and other idols, with conch, bell, abhisheka patram and other auxiliaries for the daily panchayathana worship, from the cabin luggage.
Mami takes out a packet of clothes places that on a plate along with eleven one rupee coins and asks for akhshatai and kumkumam[4].  Ramu and Ramya prostrate before the elders and collect the gifts along with their blessings. The packet contained a neck tie, two sets of ornaments for neck, ears and wrist, all made of silver and a ready-to-wear panchgatcham and kurtha for the kid.
Ramya and Ramu are immensely pleased with those presents.
“There is little meaning in bringing saris which you seldom wears,” mami explains, “I took the help of the neighbor to choose the jewels. Hope you like them?” she asks..
“These are awesome ma”,  Ramya was still wondering how thoughtful the old lady was in selecting those fashion jewels.
“Swamy hands over another packet to his son.” This contains the documents related to our village house, which I constructed with great difficulty when my income was meager. Under no circumstances you should dispose it off. I know it has no utility value now as you will not be staying in it or even if you let it out, it may not fetch much. But your children and grand children should have something to claim as ancestral property. I didn’t have that, or my father.” 
“But why are you giving the documents to me now?” Ramu enquires.
“Not only the documents”, Swamy replied, handing over another packet, “this contains the key of the bank locker along with a list of the contents, which are your mother’s jewels. Another list is the small savings I have as bank deposits and in shares. Their value is not much but however small it is, that should come to you. All the jewels, pattu saries, silver, gold coins, vessels, whatever Ramya brought from her house,  have been handed over back to her father. I called him one day and asked him to take charge of them. It is not safe to keep those valuable with us.”
“That is fine Appa”,  Ramu intervenes, ” but, why the bank locker key and documents ? Planning to become a sanyasi? “
“I should be prepared to face the inevitable, any moment. And once I am out of the gate, this frail and faithful woman should not stay alone. I have absolute faith in you and Ramya that you will take care of your mother, if I quit first”
“The moment you saw your children, you started blabbering?”, Mami chides her husband again, “do you think I will allow you to go alone ? Haven’t I followed you like a shadow during the past fifty years?, mami asks and ask her husband to go to sleep.
“Yes, where do I wash my feet?  Get me the viboothi (holy ash) dabba. ”  Ramu lead him to the deck though it was cold, as he knew that his father would not be happy to wash his legs in the bathroom, before he reads ‘Adyadmaramayanam[5]‘ prior to sleeping.
Before going to bed Ramu, seeing the light on, enters his parents’ room, ” Appa, you haven’t slept yet?’ he enquires seeing Swamy sitting in deep thought.
“Not yet. Come and sit near me; call Ramya too. I saw her working in the kitchen moments ago”   
” Appa, you have come after a long journey of twenty four hours ” Ramu scans the room and makes sure that the heater, night lamp, pillows, comforts are all in the proper place, “tomorrow we will discuss; sleep now” 
“I admire your trust for a tomorrow for a man of my age ” Swamy was adamant, “let us talk now”
Swan came running asking his dad to put him to sleep. “Don’t make the child to cry; put him to sleep” Swamy insisted.
“So Appa, the moment you saw the kid crying, you are convinced that you have a tomorrow?” The son asks, a sparkle glowing in his eyes. “Poda madaya,” the father dismissed the junior with a proud statement, ” I have never allowed a tear drop to appear e in your eyes, when you were a kid”

[1] Sesame seeds mixed with water offered to the departed souls, as part of a ritualr
[2]  Father.
[3] snacks
[4] Rice mixed with turmeric power and saffron. When youngsters prostrates before elders, akshtai is spread of their head as a mark of the blessings for them and saffron is applied on the forehead of women wishing then happy married life.
[5] Holy book of the Ramayanam story.
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The smell of the soil – Chapter 01

The smell of the soil- Chapter 1
The maiden visit of an elderly couple to America
Here, my friend Swamy has landed at the New York airport along with his wife, Shyamu mami.  Before occupying the wheel chairs, they raise their clubbed palms  above their head to thank their family deity, for safely transporting them to the land where their son and  his family live.
 The wheel chair men help to retrieve the heavy baggage filled with a hundred and odd items from koorkai kizanghu [1]to kolu bommai[2], from the conveyor belt and also in the immigration and customs clearance formalities. The old couple is excited to meet their son Ramu, waiting at the exit along with his wife Ramya and little son Swan. Before they enquire, “kozhanthaikala, nanna irukkela (‘Childre, hope you are fine’ is a poor equivalent) they acclaim their parents with a ‘hi dad, hi mom’ welcome and warm hug. The elders bless them and try to grab Swan, ‘vada en thangam’ (come, my sweet precious child). The little imp screams as if the motive of the intruders was kidnapping.
 Ramu takes charge of the baggage dismisses the wheelchair men with a note of thanks and two 5 dollar notes. Swamy is amazed, as his strong base in Matriculation  math works out the amount just parted by his son-  nearly five hundred rupees more than his monthly electricity bill !  “Why so much?” he enquirers and receives the reply “It is OK, dad”. Ramya drapes her in laws with the warm jackets, she had carried thoughtfully with her.
 Ramu helps his parents to mount the Nissan; they feel the glaze of the exterior,  scan the interior and feel proud in that valuable possession. “What is the cost?,” the father enquires and gets the reply, “don’t worry, dad, it will become mine only after five years when I repay the loan”.
  Ramya serves hot coffee, thoughtfully carried from home and then some snacks, probably idli or dosai. The elders convey their happiness though internally a comparison of the flavor of Sekaripuram  Seshu’s coffee powder takes place. The  little joy- bundle, looks at the new comers again through the corner of his lovely eyes and enjoys their trick of raising the tumbler inches  above their mouth and the liquid dripping from it exactly into the cavity between the nose and chin . He is yet to accept them as friends, though now realizes that they were not the dragons he took them for. Fire comes out of dragon’s mouth; here liquid goes into it!
Though disturbed by the two 5 dollar notes dangling from the depth of his mind, Swamy enjoys  viewing the wide, clean roads, prominent guiding posters and hundreds of four wheelers moving in high speeds, without making a single horn sound,   “Rottilae oru mado manushiano illayae, Ramya ( not a single man or animal on the road )”  wonders Shyamu mami.
  Exposed to the chill of the waning winter, they shiver but do not fail to watch the elegance of the house prefaced by a lavish green lawn. Swamy wanted to enquire the cost of the house but decides to postpone the query when Ramya welcomes her in-laws gracing her house for the first time, with a smiling face and  ‘Appa,amma, vango, okkarungo’ (please come in and be seated) .
 Mami doesn’t sit but enters the kitchen and Swamy too doesn’t sit but asks the location of the toilet. “Appa, restroom is there “Ramu points his finger” Mudaallae moothram peyattum da-let me urinate, first” says the old man. Ramu explains that toilets are called restrooms here and leads his father to the place where he wanted to visit first.
“Bagavathi, thayae, en kozhanthakalai kappathu- Mother Goddess,  protect my children always”,  prays Shyamumami, her eyes shut in meditation and clubbed palms collected towards her chest, as she sees the deities and pictures of the gods, neatly arranged in a corner of the kitchen, along with flowers and other materials for the daily worship. She is proud of her daughter in law, an educated working girl from an affluent family, following the traditional practices and proudly and affectionately combs Ramya’s hair with her fingers, as she is unaware of complimentary phrases such as ‘ I am proud of you’. That single affectionate mild touch however, tells everything she had to say and Ramya thinks of her own mother who was no more. Sometime, we realize the real value of a possession only when we lose it and when we find a near alternative our joy is immeasurable.
”Where is our Cherunatturi’s picture?” Shayamu asks and when shown, does one more prostration, picks up her ‘mangalsutram’ hanging from her neck and takes it to her eyes as a mark of reverence to her husband and seeking the blessing of her family deity to give him a long life.
Ramya looks deep into her mother in law’s eyes when she does that followed by a remark,
“avarakkum ennodu lokam- he (my husband ) is my world- my everything. Those simple words, Ramya knows, haven’t emerged from her lips, but from a much deeper, divine soil.
“God, may I be able to repeat these words about my husband in my old age!” Ramya prays silently.

[1] A plant root used in cooking
[2] Dolls of god, assembled for worship, once a year.