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A serious scientific discussion and a mouse in between!

asn’t he got up from the bed yet, your dull-headed son?’, enquired Dr.P.G..Iyer for the fifth time, since morning but his wife Kunja didn’t care to reply.
The ‘dull-head’ was none other than his eldest son, Dr.P.G.K
a senior geologist, with more than 100 papers in leading
scientific journals, to his credit. It was already 9.00 in the morning and P.G.K, had to leave for his laboratory by 9.30 and hence the old man’s anxiety. Despite having a doctorate and good standing in the scientific community, P.G.K. is a ‘madayan’ for his father who believes that his son’s scientific knowledge is not worth a ‘chakram’, a small coin in the erstwhile Travancore state, in the absence of spiritual pursuits..
Dr.P.G.K, a nocturnal scientist, works in the Labs, till late night. His mother and wife, are therefore sympathetic to his getting up late in the morning though his father, who gets up before sunrise and performs ‘sandya’, pre-dawn prayers expects his son too to do so
Unable to tolerate the ‘pindungal’ -nagging of her husband, Kunjamami, Iyer’s wife, woke her son up hesitantly. Hurriedly P.G.K grabbed a towel form his mother’s hand and while he was rushing for a wash, his father shouted at him,”Nilluda -wait there and answer this question: One day, just one day in your life, will you get up early and perform sandya, before I die?’
“No way, dad. I have become Kakkassery”, the son replied with a naughty smile and walked away.
‘Madaya siromanai!- idiot of the highest degree”, Iyer whispered and retired to his study.
P.G.K, before leaving for his work, used to arrange neatly the latest copies of scientific journals on his father’s reading table, every day, along with the news papers and magazines. He also covertly ensures that his father’s betel nut box, medicine chest and cash box are adequately filled and his clothes are properly pressed and placed at the appropriate place. While doing so, Iyer asked his son,” Kakkassery aruda Krishna?-who is Kakkassery?”
“Tell you in the evening”. The son replied uncarilngly and was about to leave for his Lab.
“Chappittuttu poda, Krishna-eat and go”, his mother pleaded, but he didn’t wait.
Iyer, who was born and brouht up in UK, had not heard about Kakkassery and had no patience to wait till evening to know who he was. He peeped through the window to see whether his son had already left. He had. Iyer’s grandson also was not to be seen around .He paced the floor nervously , opened his betel box and prepared a mix, brooding all the while who that Kakkassery guy was . Mami was standing nearby. Of late, under some pretext or other, she longs to spend more time in her husband’s room, notwithstanding the fact that she does major part of the cooking though they have a known woman for the job. Iyer spends most of his time before the computer or with the books and he converses with her sparingly. But the very feeling that he is available close by, gives her joy. The compatibility in contrast of the Iyer couple is amazing.They hardly speak but mentally are always together. They loved each other passionately but there was no external sign or signal to that effect. Iyer is short in form, dark in complexion and swift and aggressive in talk and action; Mami is simple, slender and graceful and always smiling, slow in walking and soft in talking, always dignified and composed.
On his return from U.K. with a doctorate and job offer, Iyer met Kunja on his father’s instruction and fell for her at the very first sight. When his sister brought to his attention the non-compatibility in the educational standard, Iyer, raising one eye quizzically and in a language familiar to a scientist, commented: “So, what? she is aromatic and luminous”. Kunja also remarked to a friend who made a similar comparison on their physical disparity, “he has one thing which I lack- intelligence. And that should make up for every thing”
Iyer was observing through a corner of his eye that his wife was rolling the pages of a scientific journal, just to be with him in his study. Though he too liked her company especially after retirement, for longer duration, he used to pretend as if he was least interested in spending time with her. With a mock angry tone, he commanded, ” Vai anghe- keep that book there”
Falteringly, she replied that she was seeing pictures-
” Padam parukkaren”
‘Where are pictures in that book, you innocent -athile padam engehe irukkidi asadea?”
Mami splashed her innocent smile. She looked so attractive that Iyer wanted to kiss her. Good that he realised that they were not in their Pittsburgh county home.
Their daughter-in-law just entered..
Suddenly the inquisitiveness about Kakkassery popped up in Iyer’s mind. Though he knew that his wife would never be able to answer his query, he asked her casually,”Kunjamma, intha Kakkssery aarudi-who is this Kakkassery?”
Her hearing capacity, of late, was dwindling and she heard him differently.
‘Kavasserilea aaru- whom are you talking about, in the Kavassery village?”
“Ninte Atchan- your dad”, Iyer replied caustically, patted his wife’s back to reduce the intensity of his remark made unintentionally and moved to the exit gate to see whether some one with better knowledge was passing through.
Next day was Sunday. Mami refused to wake her son up even though Iyer tried his level best to cajole her.
He was pacing before his room and the moment P.G.K came out from the bed, asked him “Konthai, antha kakkassery aruda?”–son, who is that Kakkassery ?
His son ignored him, went to the bathroom and Iyer went back to his study.
On the lunch table, Iyer’s expectant look at his son’s face, was in vain because, P.G.K. was enjoying the sight of his mother, chasing a mouse from the kitchen, holding a broom stick in her hand and making ‘Aa-Oo’ sounds. “Mom, run, run!” Clapping and whistling, he encouraged his mother and turning towards his father, asked,” dad, do you know that we share 90% of the same genetic material with that mouse, after which mom is?”
” Yes, I know” Iyer replied, “and more than 98% with chimpanzee. Man had a common ancestor with chimpanzee about 5.5 million years ago. Nobody yet knows precisely where they are or how they work, but somewhere in the nuclei of our cells are handful of amino acids arranged in a specific order that endows us with the brain power to out think and outdo our closest relatives on the the tree of life”. He quoted a recent science article in the Time magazine and continued,”otherwise, we would have been sitting in the zoo eating banana offered by the visiting children and our brother on the tree, would be doing sandya, like me, sporting a sacred thread, or argue and disobey his father, like you”
Iyer, enjoys lively scientific discussions.
His wife Kunjamami, at times think about God, but her world consists of only her children and husband and her mind gets filled with thoughts of how to make the best food for them and their life comfortable. P.G.K. thinks and talks only about science.
“Do you remember “chundeli chuppani?’, asked Mrs. Iyer, her interest at that moment being restricted to the mouse- chundeli after which she was for the past thirty minutes.
The villagers are expert in giving apt and funny names and our neighbour Chuppani, earned that title for hiding like a mouse, behind rice bags in his kitchen, when his wife scolds – which she does liberally and loudly. While doing so, she shuts the doors, not that she wants to do her act covertly but to ensure that her husband doesn’t escape!
“Women, generally, do their job perfectly”, Chuppani used to declare proudly in support of his wife ” but Komalam is too good a perfectionist”.
“We are discussing about genes and DNA and you want to intrude with your village gossips”, Iyer scolded mami, ”your hearing capacity is not that bad, when it comes to gossips!”
‘That is o.k. dad” P.G.K. supported his mother. “You remember our another neighbour ‘Pathukko Parukkutty’, who was liberal in saying ‘odambai patthukko’ –‘take care’ to anyone and every one without really meaning what she says ?
” Of course, I do” Iyer replied, pushing a liberal dose of betel mix into his mouth. “She had to wait to get that title till her husband’s death; She said ‘odambai pathukkungol innu’, when her husband’s body was being lifted from the house for his last journey.”
Everyone broke into laughter at that joke.
Encouraged by her son’s support mami said-“you will never forget that ‘nonbadai Venkatcham, a short, dark man, circular in shape with a big pit at the center of his abdomen”
“How could I forget him, mom? He ate, at a stretch twenty two nonbadais and was ready for more, if provided.”
Nonbadai is a sweet preparation, generally made once a year, when the women offer that sweet snack to Mother goddess and wear an yellow thread around their neck, praying for the longevity of their husbands.
Mrs.Iyer was about to say another nickname, when Iyer cut her short.’Nee vayai moodikkindu eliayai pidi.(shut your mouth and be after the mouse)”
He turned towards his son,” Krishna, tell me about kakkassery”
‘Why don’t you read Iythihyamala or go to, dad?”
“Can’t you spend one hour in a week, with your family?”, Iyer had no patience to search for the story and he was anxious to spend some time with his son, whom he loves and even respects for his scientific knowledge, though they hardly agree on any subjects discussed.
“Jnan parayam- I shall tell that story”. There comes our friend Vishnu Namboodiri, clad, as usual, in his new unbleached, golden color -bordered double veshti, a similar melmundu and with a bright silver casket in his hand.
Where ever he is, he electrifies the seen with his voluminous laughter and sparkling jokes. Vishnu sat on the floor, opened the casket and taking out the betel leaves one by one, started narrating the story .
“Okkaruda-sit down,” Iyer commanded, when his son tried to escape and P.G.K. obeyed.
Kakkassery Nambudhiri, was a child prodigy, who mastered Veda, Vedantha, Tharkasasthras and defeated all his opponents including the indomitable Uddhanda sastrigal, from across the border, in scholarly debates on scriptures conducted periodically in the King’s court, in a very young age.. In fact, it was for that very purpose the learned Namboodhiries, who were unable to dislodge the indomitable scholar, from the nearby State, prayed and did incantations to beget a child smart enough to restore their pride by defeating the Sastrigal. As a child, he was gifted with acute observation power which helped him to identify one crow from the other and earn his name, Kakkassery, ‘Kakka’ being crow in Malayalam. With the passage of time, the very person who redeemed the lost pride of the community, became a burden to the orthodox society, when Kakkassery started mingling with every one, irrespective of their caste or status. The society deep rooted in orthodoxy could never accept that. “You are the most learned amongst us”, the Namboodiries complained and pleaded to him.’Why do you bring disgrace to us by eating with low caste people and sleeping in their huts. You don’t even perform the daily ritual of Sandhya which is the basic duty of a Brahmin?”
Kakkassery had transcended the stage of performing rites and rituals and looked upon all things and events as ever bearing the stamp of the Supreme Goodness. Having realised his oneness with that Super consciousness, he was enjoying the freedom and bliss of the Eternal.
“The sun doesn’t rise or set in my heart” Kakkassery replied, with his eye lids half- closed.” When the Cosmic Consciousness shines in my heart through out, with no rising or setting, how am I to worship sandya?’
“Hridakase chidaditya:
sadabhati niramaayam,
Udayasthamanow nastha
katham sandyam upasmahey?”
Iyer was moved by the story and it was his turn now to close his eyes and think of the Supreme Power.
“In the morning and evening, when I look at the sun and pray for the stimulation of mind,” he said, “what I am seeing in the sky, is a personification of the supreme Divine power, which opens up the sealed shutters of the seed and bring out the hidden tree from out of it, which enlightens and energizes the entire world. “Haridaswa sasrarchi, sapthasapthir mareechiman”. I visualize that benevolent monarch of the Universe, ascending the universal theater, in his golden chariot driven by innumerable green horses in the sky at dawn and at dusk, after doing good for the whole world quietly returning to his abode, his face glowing with satisfaction and peace. For you Krishna, the Sun is one of the billions of stars made of hydrogen, helium and metals. What a pity! How much you miss in life!”
‘’That is what my science tells me, dad”, P.G.K replied, turning the pages of a book to avoid the direct look of his father.
“My science too tells me the same thing”, Iyer replied, “but my wisdom, my upbringing in a spiritual surrounding, my mind which absorbed the spirit of that atmosphere tells me something more-‘don’t look at the sun as a mass of gases; see the Supreme power behind it, which gives its brightness and power, which elevates the souls and spirits, in it’, Iyer continued,”and how old is your science? a few hundred years, a few thousand years? Has it said everything about the life and universe? Will it ever be able to do that? No. Because science, is only one of the branches of knowledge- and remember knowledge is never complete- it is ever growing”
“Including your spiritual knowledge”, P.G.K cut in, forgetting for a moment that he was talking to his father.
‘Yes, Krishna, including the spiritual knowledge-mine or yours or even Kakksery’s”. There was a tinge of anger in that reply.
” I believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, dad”
” I too did so till yesterday, till I read an article in the journal Nature, challenging the earlier theory that humans evolved one after another like a line of dominoes, from ancient Homo habilis to Homo erectus and eventually the present Homo sapiens.
Darwin’s theory has been questioned; Newton’s theory has been questioned. It should be like that; that is how science progresses”
“After teaching the students about Saturn’s orbit, rotation, low density, rapid rotation, and fluid state etc you want me to wear a blue cloth and worship in the temple–“
‘’Wait, wait” Iyer cut in. “We are discussing about fundamentals and you are talking about practice. And I have already replied to your query, in the beginning of our debate, much before you raised it. I am repeating: when I go to a temple I don’t see a dark granite stone; I see a throbbing heart, which suffers when I fall, a pair of hands which lifts me up from the deep cavern I have fallen into and holds me firm till I have reached the safety path. I see the driving force behind the universe.”
“God is a delusion” P.G.K was outspoken.
‘’Make it real” now Vishnu interposed.”And start seeing God in mud and stone, plants and trees and clouds and wind”.
” Don’t You experience the existence of the unseen blood flowing through every capillaries within your body, every moment you are awake?”, Iyer asked,”don’t You experience the unseen air which fills your lungs and come out every second?
Similarly, you will start experiencing the Divine power which is within every cell of your body, within you and outside as well, if you have faith. And Krishna, as St.Augustine, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, ‘ faith is to believe in what we do not see and the reward of faith is to see what we believe”
“And moreover”, Vishnu intervened , “You will find a good friend , who will hear you patiently when others run away from you; who will give you a helping hand when you slip- and slip, you will definitely, when you walk, sometime or other- and a companion who will accompany you till the end of your road- without any condition or demands”
‘Yes”, Iyer endorsed Vishnu’s statement and continued. “And, when you want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to your life, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift you above the exhausting, relentless toll of life or when you need an assurance that somebody out there cares about you and is listening to you- that you are not just destined to travel down a long highway toward nothingness,” Iyer said, “then you will find a real friend, ready to help you, having no demands or expecting anything from you in return, as Vishnu said”
“Dad, forget your poetry for a moment and talk in our common language, the language of science.”
“Yes, I shall. Let me ask you a few questions, purely on science”.
“The Sun’s energy output is about 386 billion billion megawatts, produced by nuclear fusion reactions. Right?’
‘yes, dad”
“And Each second about 700,000,000 tons of hydrogen are converted to about 695,000,000 tons of helium and 5,000,000 tons of energy in the form of gamma rays. As it travels out toward the surface, the energy is continuously absorbed and re-emitted at lower and lower temperatures so that by the time it reaches the surface, it is primarily visible light.
For the last 20% of the way to the surface, the energy is carried more by convection than by radiation. right? “
“What is the surface temperature of the Sun?”
“10,000 degrees Fahrenheit”
“If the sun gave off only one half of it’s present radiation, what will happen?”
“We would freeze.”
‘And if it gives as more?”
‘So, the earth is positioned in such a way that it is just far away so that the sun’s rays just warms us just enough so that neither we are roasted nor frozen .Right ?” Iyer continued.
“Yes, dad”
“4600 million years”
“And all these 4600 million years, the earth has been rotating non-stop, 24 hours a day and night, right?’
“Of course, it has been “
“And it rotates on its axis, right?”
‘At what speed?”
“1000 miles an hour at the equator”
“If it turns, let us say, at one hundred miles per hour, what happens?”
“Our days and nights will be 10 times as long as now and the hot sun will burn our vegetation during the long day .And in the long night, any surviving sprout might freeze.”
“How far is the moon from the earth?”
“The average earth-moon distance is about 1,75,000 miles”
“If the moon, let us say, were only 50,000 miles away, what will
“Our tides might be so enormous that twice a day all continents would be submerged and even the mountains will be eroded away”.
“What gives us our seasons?”
“The slant of the earth, tilted at an angle of 23 degrees”
“If it were not so tilted?”
“Vapours from the ocean would move north and south, piling up
continents of ice.”
“If the crust of the earth, let us say, had been ten feet thicker ?”
“There will be no oxygen and animal life will die”
“Had the ocean been a few feet deeper?”
“Carbon-di-oxide and oxygen would be absorbed and no vegetable life could exist”
Are you convinced” Iyer asked his son,” that It is apparent from these and a host of other examples that there is not one chance in billions that life on our planet is an accident?”
There was no reply.
“Take your time to reply”, Iyer said.”Tell me one thing now. You call this intelligent designing?”
“Yes, dad”
“I call it “GOD”.Iyer got up from his seat, removing his upper garment from his shoulder and looking at his son’s eyes sharply said,”your name is acceptable to me though.
” Some of history’s greatest scientific minds, including Einstein and Ramanujan, were convinced that there is an intelligent life behind the Universe.
“As Greene said, ‘Science is very good at answering the ‘how’
questions. How did the universe evolve to the form that we see?”, he continued.
‘But it is woefully inadequate in addressing the ‘why’ questions. Why is there a universe at all? The universe is incredibly wondrous, incredibly beautiful, and it fills me with a sense that there is some underlying explanation that we have yet to
fully understand.
“If someone wants to place the word ‘God’ on those collections of words, it’s OK with me.”
P.G.K, got up silently and went to wash his hands.
As if speaking to himself, his father said, “A pebble cast in the
water, may seem insignificant, but it creates ripples.Some ripples become waves, and some becomes tsunamis. I hope, one day, such a situation will arise in your mind.then you will realise that science, which is only a
few hundreds or a few thousands years old, is only,a path in the
discovery of the inner secrets of the nature, a path to know the God”.
Vishnu, watching the debate between the father and son, sang in a melodious voice, a sloka from V.C.Balakrishna panikkar’s poem titled,’Viswaroopam’:
“Paravarm kareri, karakal muzuvanum mukki moodaththentho,
Tharajalangal thammil swayamurasimaringathra veezhathathentho?
Neryaranju nokkeeduka madamiyalum marthyare, ningalennal
Arall kandethu mellttinumupari vilangunna, viswesaroopam.”
Why are the ocean waves not invading and submerging the entire land area?
Why the stars do not collide, collapse and fall?
Men, ponder thoroughly;You will realise the Superpower shining above everything.”
“Eliyai pidchaiya, kunja?—Have you caught the mouse?”
Handing over a towel to clear the sweat from her forhead, Iyer asked his wife affectionately, seeing her returning from the backyard, with a broomstick in her hand.
“Antha saniyan engayo odippochu ennu,—that devil escaped-“
“It is there,mom.” P.G.K. said,” hiding behind the rice bag”
“Like our Chuppani” Iyer commended.
“Whether Dr.Iyer is a good debater like Kakkassery or not”, Vishnu joked while getting up with his silver casket,
“one thing is certain: the mouse in the kitchen is still there, hiding behind the rice bag–like atheism in P.G.K’s heart.”
Aug 22, 2007

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“A cool breeze is coming, creeping near,
I’ve realized it’s that time of year.
The trees turn a beautiful red, yellow, orange, and brown,
As little leaves fall to the ground.
I stare at the orange sky,
Watching the pinkish clouds float by.
I feel the ever-changing fall breeze,
And the pumpkin pies that bring me to my knees.
But, I gaze out my window before I go to bed,
Watching the majestic, fall sunset”
( Author unknown)
Like the poet, I too have enjoyed the ‘majestic, fall sunset’, watching through the window in my son’s house at Baltimore.
The season of autumn, known as ‘fall’ in North America, marks the transition from summer into winter, when deciduous trees shed their leaves. The green leaves of the maple, pine and other trees, slowly turn to yellow,red, purple and similar other colours and it is a pleasure to watch them in rows, on both sides of the roads as well as in gardens, forests, lakes and other places. The roads, wide, clean and bordered with lush green lawns, as  such, are majestic and magnetizing . Added to that, when, during the fall, the trees bearing baskets- full of different colour leaves, parade with angelical  glamour on both sides when you drive through- it is a unique experience. It looks, as if the Nature is honoring the trees  with garlands of different colours, for the joy and happiness they spread all around and as a departing gesture from the bees, birds and butter flies for the shelter, feeds and solace provided. Then, one after the other, the leaves, slowly and steadily fall under the tree when the mother earth embraces them; they again become a part of her.
The tree, having lost all its children, stands barren and bereaved, with no birds chirping around or bees humming ; the benevolent sky hugs and embraces it with snow and sprinkles chilled water into each and every cell of it, making it fit to receive the life-promoting rays of the sun from a far,far heaven. The tree wakes up from the meditation, with a new life, developed in the form of leaves all over it’s body. Then it is celebration again, of a new life of vibration, growth and vitality, the wind and birds and insects sharing the joy.
Visualizing the above seen in my mind’s eye, sitting on the step of my house at Hyderabad, I was fully absorbed of the thought that why we, the human beings are deprived of such a painless casting away of bodies, as the leaves do and why should we die being brutally killed by a bus or a bomb or tortured in the hospital. If one goes by ‘ vasamsi geernani—- –‘, death should be as painless as removing a soiled shirt . But, often it is not so.
Seeing me seated motinless like a statue, my friend, Vishnu Namboodiri, who had just entered the house, with a prasadam packet in his hand, remarked, ‘darubhootho Murari,’ went inside and kept the packet in my pooja room. For me, there is no fixed time for bathing or eating or sleeping and Vishnu knows that. So, as a matter of routine, while returning from the temple, he brings prasadam everyday and leaves the packet in my pooja room.He knows that I enjoy applying  a thin layer of sandal paste, anytime during day or night, after my bath .
Vishnu went inside the kitchen, prepared two cups of hot tea and placing one cup before  me,  said,
“Seeing you  cocooned in deep thoughts, I recall a story about  Murari Kavi”
“The predecessor of Kalidasa  who composed ‘Sreekrishna karnamritham?’ I asked ,” which is said to excel Kalidasa’s works in sheer poetic beauty?”
“Yes. As a boy he always used to get lost in thoughts and when he failed to answer a question in the class, his teacher made a sarcastic remark, “dharubhoodho Murari” meaning Murari has become (as immobile  as)  as a trunk.
The boy immediately, got up from his seat and recited the following sloka, which he had instantaneously composed.:
(Murari is one of the several names of Lord Mahavishnu, the God who is poetically described as relaxing on a serpent bed in the ocean)
‘Aeka bharya prakrithi- rachala, chanchala cha dwideeya,
Puthro- ananga, thribhuvna jayee, chandrasooryowcha nethran,
Bhoghee sayya, bhavanmudahi, vahanam pannagari,
Smaram,smaram swajnakalham, darubhootho Murari”
” His  one wife (Bhoomi), doesn’t move at all, whereas, the other( Lakshmi), is always on the move.;; His son Kama (despite having lost his physical body), conquers the three worlds; sun and moon (with exactly opposite characters ) form His eyes ;Vahanam is Garuda, the celestial bird and his opponent (Serpent) is the bed; house is (the noisy and turbulent) sea. Brooding over his family skirmish, Murari became a trunk.”
Concluding his story, Vishnu asked me “what made you a ‘daru’, when you don’t have any of the problems the Supreme God has ?’
“True. I have none of His problems, fortunately” I replied” but I have seen or heard about several men and women who had become “darus” or even stones, due to various problems. The foremost, among them are Ahalya and Appukuttan, the former, wife of Gowthamamaharshi and the second person my neighbor, who got married recently.
“You equate Ahalya  of the epic Ramayana with your neighbour!” Vishnu exclaimed.
”Ahalya  is always in my mind as other unfortunate epic women- Sita, Kunthi, Gandhari and Droupathy are” I clarified and continued.
” Ahalya would have become a ‘daru’ much before her husband cursed her and converted her lovely body into a hard stone. She simply could not believe that the mighty king of devas could stoop to such a low level and steal the honor of a Rishi’s wife ;It was nothing but ‘chappatharam’ in Pattar’s language.
“Indra could have ordered the lord of fire  to burn her or the wind lord to lift her up physically or
the lord of death,”katham karo’ , convert her into another Ramba or Urvashi and enjoyed her dancing,instead of stealing her honour” said  Nambudiri. ” I am also surprised that he was given a predominant place  above Maha Vishnu, and worshiped.”

‘”There is some gulumal there , Namboori,” I said,” after all, these stories were not written by a single person; there were several authors spread over several centuries. We don’t know which are the original and which the interpolation”
‘Like Balivadam?”
“Yes, like Balivadam.I cannot believe Rama prompted the two monkey brothers to fight each other and killed one of them, hiding behind a tree. He would have said, ‘Seetha or no Seetha but I will never do such a crime’. My belief is confirmed by his subsequent action, when he permitted the disarmed  enemy Ravan to go back home and come better prepared to the battle field next day, instead of killing him on the spot .
“You justify the action of  Ahalya’s husband?”
‘These Rishies, who were not in a position to control their ego and anger, even after performing thapas for several years, are not worth to be called Rishies.. You and I are much better than them . But, if the story of Indra’s committal of the crime is true, then Ahalya would have, on her own, undertaken the penance in the from of a stone, for self purification. Hundred gowthama’s wouldn’t be capable of cursing such a virtuous woman. After all, she tops the list of panchakanyas”  I was silent for sometime brooding over Ahalya’s plight and then added, “If I get an opportunity, I myself would like to become a stone, facing the tortures of the wind and sun and rains, pray for ages and ages and wait for the day when the lotus feet of my Lord will touch my head. What a waiting it was, Vishnu ? Don’t you worship Indra just for giving Ahalya that opportunity? otherwise, she would have just passed away, into the cavern of past, like any other sannyasini”
“Mathi, mathi-enough! Don’t get emotional. Tell me  about your neighbor, Appukuttan?” asked Vishnu.
‘That is a more interesting story”, I said. ” Though he was after a pig tailed, brown eyed beauty, bowing to the wishes of his parents, Appu married Alamu, selected by his parents, at the age of 35. I accompanied him to see the girl along with his parents and two unmarried sisters. Appu’ s mother Pattumami, praised the beauty of Alamu, mentioned that she was distantly related to her and as a kid, had played with her son, who was 12 years elder. She would not, therefore, take a pie as dowry, though would not reject if her father gives a house or a car or whatever he wants to, for her daughter’s comforts and happiness. Alamu was no doubt a beautiful girl, but, she would look more beautiful “if the line separating her dark hairs was shifted slightly towards left from it’s present middle position”, suggested  Appu’s mother.
Appukuttan and Alamu got married and her father gave much more than what Appu’s mother expected as dowry. As suggested by Pattumami, Alamu changed her hair style, from ‘nermakidu’ to konamakidu’, shifting the hair separating border to one side, before entering the wedding stage. She hated her own face with the changed hair -style, when she peered at  the mirror, but overtly applauded her mother-in-law’s suggestion and endured her new look.
For the first few weeks, Pattumami treated her newly arrived daughter-in- law kindly but when she found that her son  was leaning more towards his wife, she was afraid that she might lose him permanently in which case,she feared unnecessarily, that her two daughters would remain unmarried.   Under no circumstances, would she allow him to go out of her control, mami decided and started finding fault with Alamu for all her actions. All her complaints were of minor nature such as coffee was not tasty, the sugar dabba was displaced to the second shelf of the cupboard from the first, the  vegetables were not cut evenly etc. The compassion and concern for each other gave way to conflict and confrontation .
Despite the fact that Alamu was a working girl and returned from the office late sometime, neither mami nor her daughters extended a helping hand to her in house keeping. .On the other hand, she evolved so many methods to impress on her son that his wife was good- for- nothing and the entire household activities were carried out by mami and her daughters. Following the behavior of animals in herd- attacking their prey, they moved cautiously and communicating through eye signals, surrounded Alamu and pounced on her at every opportunity.
Alamu tolerated all the humiliation and ill treatment with the proverbial patience of mother earth but the hell broke out when one day, the Pattumami, despite her best attempts didn’t find any cause to spit venom on her daughter-in-law and therefore commented on her hair style:
“This house became a hell the moment you entered with this hair stylel-‘ Kona makudu vandhu kudumbham kuttichorachu.”  She cursed and abused her.
Amala, with her priestly discipline had so far, worn all insults with dignity and rejected the natural intent to lash out. “‘I have swallowed enough insults and has no space to receive any more” she thought and told the old woman. in a low, measured firm voice:” Look, Amma!  I changed my hair style only on your suggestion and I am not going to change it again to satisfy you. I have however, one solution for this.”
And  without waiting for the response, she walked into the beauty parlor next door, got her hair trimmed and shortened in such a way that there was no more scope to turn the hairs one way or the other.
Hearing the shouts and counter shouts from his house, consequent to the above action,
Appu became a ‘daru”
‘ I looked at Namboodiri, who was delighted to hear my story and  slowly opened his betel box. nodding his head in applauding  Amala’s action.
I am sure that you would have come across several such instances and in future, if you happen to see such ‘darus’ or you, yourself become a daru, remember what Murari, the child poet did. Immediately after ‘daru bhutho murari”, he sang ‘Santhakaram, bhujagasayanam- –“, that famous dyanslokam of Bhishmapitamaha, praising the sleeping posture of the Lord, in peace and tranquility.
Inspite of all his family problems, If  the Lord Vishnu could maintain his “santhakaram” and continue to sleep on the serpent bed, in absolute peace, why not we ?
.” I am definitely, not capable of doing it ,” said Vishnu,” of course, that is why He is Mahavishnu and I am just, Vishnu”
Namboodiri picked up his silver betal-leaf box, moved his head up and down once as if to say that he was happy to be ‘just Vishnu and not Mahavishnu’, put on his upper garment and walked towards the exit.
I could hear his ‘ Balea,Balea’ sound in appreciation of my story, when he started pedaling his bicycle. Or was  it in appreciation of the tranquility and smile-‘santhakaram’- of my neighbour Appukuttan, who was then approaching from the opposite direction?

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My Dad, A Crow

I have spent countless hours, peeping through the window in the spacious libray, in my son’s house in Baltimore, facing the vast meadows boardered by maple and oak trees, looking for my charming childhood- friend- a crow, any crow! I have been dreaming that he would perch on the maple or pine tree across, with a slanted head or moving his neck right and left and glancing me through a corner of his eye. That was how, as a kid lying on my mother’s lap, I had been seeing crows playing, and picking and enjoying the paddy seeds, spread for drying, in front of our Olavakkode house. Neither the crows worried about my mother’s presence nor she, about the loss of paddy stock. It was a mutual understanding, which perfectly worked, to keep me in good moods.
”koottinakthoru kunjundo?”
Where is your nest, crow?
Isn’t there, a small baby inside it, crow?”
This song, heard several decades ago, from my mother’s lips, is still fresh in my mind, though I have forgotten my Shelly and Shakespeare, learned, much later.
There is a high level ‘sit-out’ or deck, at the extension of our dining-hall, in Baltimore, separated by a glass door, where I spend most of my time during summer months, reading or just watching the trees or the vast stretch of lawns, beautifully manicured, spread all around. One day, I was sitting there and enjoying the sunset with my grand daughter, Ananya, a two and half year old lovely power pack. For a moment she became still and pointing her tiny finger towards a pine tree, exclaimed, “thath, what is that?” I turned my head towards that direction and lo, and behold, there was a crow perched on the branch of a pine. I was thrilled at the sight of the guest for whom I was eagerly waiting for. Leaping from my seat, I yelled and invited all inmates to come out and see the wonderful sight.
‘What bird is that?’. The child repeated her question.”That is a crow, the bird on which I have told you many stories ”
She was equally excited and enjoyed my action imitating the bird’s fly and neck movement. Except us, the oldest and youngest in the family, others didn’t seem to understand the importance of the event and they retired . The same was also the case, when the other day, a squirrel climbed a tree, ditching the efforts of a cat which gave it a hot pursuit. Something is wrong somewhere in the behaviour of the youngsters.
‘”Catch it; I want to play with it”, ordered the sweet little one.
I didn’t succeed in my effort to obey her orders and therefore Went on to the next best task- I explained to her, with appropriate body movements, about my expertise in crow-catching and the statistics of the male and female crows, whom I had conquered when I was of her age.
Kids are the best lie-detectors. She was not impressed and started crying. I did what any sensible person would do on such occasions- I shouted at her.
‘Madaya Mahasamudramey!-you, the ocean of idiocy!” I heard someone shouting at me and looked around to locate the source of those words, which were the most familiar ones, I used to hear from my father. He, in fact used to call me “madaya siromani- the crown-jewel of idiots, in the early days but later, when I grew big, perhaps thought that the appellation too mild and changed it to ‘madaya mahasamudram’ or the ocean of idiocy, to fit to my intellectual growth. I stood in stunned silence when the crow said, turning its one eye towards me, “I say don’t scream at the child!”
Now, wait . No doubt, it is the crow who spoke and the voice was my dad’s !
Thanks to my association with Vishnu Namboodiri who had inherited the knowledge of crows’ language, from his ancestor, Kakkassery Battathirippad, I am in a position to communicate with crows and therefore, I asked the crow “Tell me the truth crow! Are you really my Appa?”
‘ Yes, I am; but call me ‘dad’ ” The crow replied, “and remember, birds do not lie”
”I know that birds and animals do not lie”, I agreed and extending my head towards the bird, asked- “could you just for my confirmation, say one or two more pet words, I was used to, during my childhood?”
‘”Muttal! Fool, you are keeping the book upside down!”
“Ha, ha, it is you, my dad! I am convinced and thrilled at your sight. How did you become a crow”
” Due to octoliea”
“What is that?”. I enquired. I have several manias and phobias but not this one .
“I had to tell lies to prosper in business’, dad conceded.. The number of lies, in my life time, exceeded seven per day and therefore I became a crow”
“Oh! I never knew that rule. Thank you for enlightening.” I replied. ” I shall see that I don’t cross the mystic number seven .”
“My worthy son, you’re!’ . He was always proud of me.
” If I exceed number seven, my soul will become dark and obtain a matching body, right dad?”
“I never doubted your I.Q” He nodded his head in full appreciation and added,” Yet I expected a more intelligent question from you!”
‘What is that dad?” I asked, wondering how there could be a more intelligent question than the one, I already raised.
“you didn’t ask, ‘ why the lord Mahavishnu is also dark in complexion?’
“Why dad, due to octroliea?”
“Due to hyper octroliea . I told you that the soul get darkened, if one tells lie regularly.There are multi million such darkened souls and ultimately where do they reach? At the feet of the Lord..Since He is the Soul of souls and his body doesn’t disintegrate, He became Hyper octrolieic.”
‘Great, dad. Your interest in Kathakali and carnatic music still continues?”
“Week ends, I go to Paris to watch dance in nightclubs”
“Glad you are enjoying your life. You deserve it dad, for all the trouble you took to give us good education, which led us and subsequently our children to the present prosperity”
“Thank Nancy for that”
“Who is she dad? I haven’t heard that name before.”
‘She was kalyani teacher who kicked me out of the school in the third class. She too have become a crow.” Dad said, ” I shall bring her here, one day.”
“She too became a crow for crossing the number seven?”
” Yes. One lie I am aware of is, she said that I had pulled her hand, which forced her to discard me from the class”
“The truth was?”
“I tried to pull down her sari.”
“I am not surprised dad, you were capable of pulling down many such things. But what is her contribution to the welfare of our family?””
“If she hadn’t kicked me out of the school, I wouldn’t have gone to business. I would have completed my matriculation and retired as a honest Government clerk and you wouldn’t be sitting doing nothing and talking to a crow, in America.. You would be selling vegetables, across the street of Kalpathy, pushing a cart, in the hot sun or pouring rain ”
“How is our neighbor Chami pattar, dad?”
“That guy who dropped invalid coins in the temple hundi, closing the vision of the deity, by standing in between ?”
“Yes, dad”.
“He has a busy time at Tirupathy, collecting coins thrown by the pilgrims on his towel spread on the road side”
“what would happen if the Tirupathy hundi is open for the offering of only pilgrims of higher class?”
“The Lord will keep both his hands high above his head and go down the hills crying “Govinda,Govinda’.
“And, God has two more hands”
“He will collect his jewels and valuables and catch the next available train to his place.”
“Why do they put such a big namam to the Lord of seven hills, which I feel, stands in the way of enjoying the beauty of His lovely face, his prominent nose and big eyes?”
“It is always easy to remember an unusual or abnormal object or event rather than a common one, we see everyday around us.” Dad clarified. The Lord of the seven hills with his big namam, high crown, conch and wheel kept high above the shoulder level and body decorated with colorful clothes and dazzling jewels, occupies the central seat in the heart of his devotees. Even without all the paraphernalia, his white broad namam in the dark back-ground is an ideal object for concentration.
“So is Ananthapadmanabha’s posture lying on the multi-hooded serpent, with a lotus developed from his naval supporting the Brahma. A marvelous product of the imagination of our ancestors, this statue is highly symbolic.
“Calcutta kali with her protruded tongue, elongated charming eyes and eyelids extending to both sides and a similar central eye, on the forehead looking upward, is another memorable object for meditation.
“So is the Balarama, Krishna and Subadra combination of Puri with their round eyes and Dwaraka Krishna with his decorated turban turning to one side and Panduraanga with his short stature?” I enquired.
“And the image of Mahaganapathy, with a protruding big abdomen and unusually long nose,
sitting over a tiny mouse, according to you, is also so designed, to facilitate meditation?.”
“Yes.Even Guruvayoor krishnan’s dazling ‘kandojwalal Kousthupam’ and Koupeenam and also, Darmasatha’s yogic posture.
Dad continued his innovative finding.
“The Siva Lingam- there cannot a better symbol than Sivalingam to meditate on the Universal Parents,’Jagadapitharaah:’. The combination of lingam looking up and the yoni looking towards the earth, ready to pour amrithavarsha, the incessant flow of nectar of love and life . The moment you open your heart and pour on the lingam all your sorrows, all your needs, all your anxieties in the form of milk or gee or simple water.
All these symbols are meant to engrave the visual objects of your worship deep into your mind so that concentration becomes easy.
I am sure that in management science, you would have come across such tools of memorizing techniques.”
“So, a lot of thought have gone into these designing?” I asked.
“No doubt, our forebears, were not only great thinkers but men of great vision and imagination too.”
“Then what went wrong ?’ I asked
“‘We simply lived in our past, talking about our ancestral glory and doing nothing to carry on the torch handed over to us”
“Our community especially” father continued,” refused to change according to the time. Cocooning around the false notion that they were superior by birth to others and therefore entitled for free service from the society, many of our seniors refused to learn new skills; working under others was considered below their status. Trading or business activities were prohibited for them, they thought. A few had agricultural land but those were tilled by others who, in due course, became the owners legally. Many families survived on the free food provided by temples. Abject poverty and ignorance killed many. While other communities allowed their women to work and support the family, our women were mostly, subjugated within the four walls of the house, resulting in their lower education level and health consciousness”
“But dad, when we grew up” I intervened,” we realised the blunder committed by our elders and grabbed the limited opportunities available and did the best we could and came up in life”
“You did” Father agreed. “But when your children grew up, they mistook our culture and heritage as the root cause of all the problems in the family and threw away the baby along with the tub”.
“I beg to disagree, dad” I replied. “They have kept open all their windows and doors; fresh air which gushes in will wipe of only the foul smell. They would have discarded their sacred thread or any such external symbols, but they cannot exsiccate the cultural essence from their blood”
‘you are right.With all their backwardness in the standard of living, our forebears didn’t indulge in any illegal activities. They didn’t aspire for others properties or ask for any illegitimate favours. They silently suffered their deprivation; they didn’t harm others . I am glad that the present generation preserve the imbibed high principles and in fact outshine us”
The sun was setting. The sky was afire with the tints of gold and red and it was a splendor to behold that event . I forgot for a moment that I was far far away from my Hyderabad house. The sunrise and sunset, the sky and oceans, the moon and stars are same everywhere, whether you are at India or US.
“‘I should take leave of you, son” My dad said, turning his head to a side and looking at my eyes.”Let me fly back into darkness to rest in my nest and – to wake up again at the wee hours of the morning to announce the arrival of dawn”
‘Thank you for your visit dad, do come again” I murmured, wiping off the tear drops from my eyes.
“With whom are you taking Appa ?’ Enquired my daughter in law, Meghana, who just entered the premises along with her daughter.
‘Thath was talking to a crow” The tiny tot, replied pointing her little finger towards the pine tree .
“Don’t talk nonsense, Ananya! ” The mother rebuked.
“Children never talk nonsense, Meghana! And they never lie ” I wanted to tell her. Instead, I just smiled.
Jan 2007