“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.
“Why me?” -A story from my blog
There are many occasions, when we ask the question ‘Why me’? , when we receive an undeserved blow unexpectedly, when a calamity happens in the family or the doctor diagnoses a deadly disease in our body etc, etc. That is understandable, though what is not understandable is why we didn’t ask that question when we are the recipient of an unexpected favor, or fortune like a luxurious smile or lovely look from a damsel, whom we loved and who loved someone else!
Forget about that. This is not the time to joke.
I am now going to tell you about a friend who made the God to ask that question!!
He was Varahamurthy born and brought up in an ultra orthodox highly disciplined Telugu Brahmin family. He messed up everything in his life. He hacked his family name, destroyed his family property, earned nothing of his own except bad name, eschewed every relative including his wife and children and estranged every friend, except me . In that respect, I’m lucky. I have plenty of friends whom no body wants. ‘Good for nothing’ they are for others, but good for me!
“PuthrasikhAmani!”, my father used to ask biting his strong teeth galvanized by Guntur tobacco juice, during my college days,” from where did you find such absolutely unserviceable attappetties ( cardboard boxes)?”
Varahamurthy fell sick ; One kind soul picked him from his apartment, dumped in a hospital and sent word for me. His condition was hopeless. His body was like a cyclone hit cycle stand . He could not move his limbs but his speech was coherent.
“Why me, why me in this helpless condition?”
My friend asked looking deep into me eyes and then screamed,”Nenu othalaeya, I won’t spare him”
“Whom ?” I enquired, “who is that poor guy awaiting to be killed by you?”
“God, our kuladeivam Narasimha swamy for destroying me and dumping on a hospital bed like a banana peel .” His sagging eyelids tried to raise.
“But, Varham, come on. You and you alone are responsible for your downfall and why blame your family deity. Not once did you remember Him. You never went near Him and He too never worried about you”
“No Sivudu, nenu othalaeyanu, I won’t spare him.”
He tried to get up but could not. Then looked at the distance and shouted, “Osthunaru, osthunaru, He is coming, He is coming !”
I knew that his end was nearing. Mildly massaging his head affectionately, I advised , ” Rani, manchithi, kaalumukku, dandam pettu- good, let Him come; fall at His feet . Your family deity has come to save you.”
“Dandam pettanu, champesthanu- I won’t worship Him, I will kill him ” He was adamant.
“OK, punch Him, punch Him with all your strength” I encouraged him, like an enthusiastic fan from the viewer’s stand, “let you somehow have that Divine sparsanam, in your last moment”. He enjoyed my action, through his eye’s corner. I did everything to boost his strength, except whistling, so that the punch remains memorable in God’s mind fir long.
He drew full breadth from the well of his abdomen and tried to lift his right hand to punch the God who perhaps was visible for him.
His right hand which did not move an inch till then suddenly raised up, his fingers folded to form fist and he threw a forceful punch in the air. His hand then dropped with the same speed it moved up.
“Katham, katham. Devuda katham !” He yelled.
I could see his eyes shining like torch lights focused at a distance, his lips overflowing with seamless smile and his head moving to sides as if he was enjoying the fall of the huge form of the Lion-man combination of the God, unable to stand Varaham’s punch, right in front if him.
All motions then, stopped.
Varham would not have remembered his kuladeivam till his last moments but Narasimhamoorthy did appear before him to receive his punch and embrace him for ever.
Wah! What a forceful narration, Shiva! The hairs on my hands stand erect!
Swamy S from Melbourne
This is a lighter version :
One day I took vaadhyar on my LML vespa as that was the only vehicle I had then and showed him the city.I stopped near the ‘monda market’ to buy some fruits.
‘”Oru aavarthy Vishnusahasranamam on pinnalae okkanthu mudichootten- I have completed reciting Vishnusahsranamam once, sitting at your back”, he commended and picked up a brass tumbler from his shoulder bag , noticing a pull cart with a bundle of sugar cane sticks and a crushing machine on the road side. He asked me to buy juice for him..
“Vaadhyar, for you ? ” I asked him, unbelieving that he would have the drink from a street vendor.
” Am I note adding sugar to my coffee and vellam for the paayasam ? Have those not passed through several hands and machines?. Here it is one man, one machine and the juice directly falls into my tumbler. And I am thirsty”
What a practical traditionalist.
“Pinnae, chela vasthukkalukku asudham illai” The jovial vaidheekan smiled and whispered in my year.You know what he said?
I don’t want to mention to you and receive your blows..
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‘ 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 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 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. 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‘ 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”
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 to kolu bommai, 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.
One of the blunders committed by me in recent years was that I showed Ammalu a recent post where it was stated that if a crow strikes or defecates on your head or shoulder, it is an indication of your pitrus’ anger. I do not know why the very next day, a crow found my head, of all the places, an ideal spot to empty its bowl. It was not, after all, a big issue to be revealed to my wife, but I told Ammalu about it, as all good husbands do. ”Come on, let us go to Palakkad and consult an astrologer” she ordered. She knows my view on such beliefs but still insisted that I should obtain the expert opinion as the issue relates to pitrus, the departed souls of our ancestors.
” I will accompany you,” she said. Meaning- ” I don’t trust you; you may come back without meeting him and bluff”
“Was it a black crow?” asked Sri. Ramanunni jyolsiar, the astrologer, spreading a hand-full of the kavudi , dice on a mat. “Hyderabadil ella kakkakalum karuppa, jyolsyare- all crows are black in Hyderabad,” I replied.
He was not pleased with my reply.”You have not watched them carefully” The astrologer admonished me in a mild tone and looked outside and for his fortune, found a bird perched on a tree.
“Did you see that crow? It has a white patch around its neck. It is a brahmana pitru” I too projected my neck wondering what a ‘brahmana pitru’ was doing there.
‘’ The white patch is the viboothi mark of the previous janma “The learned man clarified. ‘Pathela, do you at least now realize why I want you to apply viboodhi on your forehead?” Ammalu asked me with a winner’s smile.” I do, I do,” I confessed, ” so that I can carry the white mark when I become a crow”
“Hmm, did the crow simply strike on your head or did it do malavisarjanam?” The astrologer.
” I am sure that it was not a strike, as there was a dirty paste on my finger when I touched my hair”
“Did the excreta fall on your shoulder or on any other part of the body?”
”It did fall on my shoulder ,” I confessed.
‘It is bad” His face became pale now.
”Right or left”
‘It is very, very bad” He nodded his head to reveal that things were going wrong.
“The last question. Are you absolutely certain that no other part of your body touched the ‘malam, the bowl-waste?”
Now Ammalu’s face became pale. She looked at me sympathetically and perhaps wanted me to tell a lie as I am good in that. She knew that all our future and happiness depend on my reply to that one query.
But you know that I speak only truth. “My finger came into contact with the ‘malam”
“Which finger, right or left? The astrologer looked deep into my eyes and it was certain that was the last chance for our survival.
‘Paavi brahmana, oru poyyai chollappadatha-can’t you utter one lie and save the situation” Ammalu’s eyes pleaded.
That was the end of it. The astrologer got up.
He did not, however, pack off his dice. ‘Pitrukkal bayankaramai kopichiriikkunnu- the pitrus are extremely angry with you”
”Entha santhi jyolsyare ” It was a plead not a request from Ammalu.”Is there any solution?”
The astrologer took his seat again, re-spread the dice, and closed his eyes, in deep meditation. I knew that he was seeking the blessings of his gurus and the planets in the sky so that the correct solution evolves in his mind.
” Oru Ganapathi Homam in the morning, thilahomam at noon and Bagavathy seva in the evening” The learned man has at last found a solution, thanks to the blessings of his gurus and the planets in the sky.
‘Enthakum-how much will it cost?” asked Ammalu.
”You have come all the way from Hyderabad and therefore I should be considerate. ‘Oru pathayiram uruppikayil othukkam ‘ I will arrange for ten thousand Rupees”
I looked at Ammalu’s face. The astrologer’s demand was too big an amount to offset the ill effect of a bit of waste fallen accidentally on the body, she seems to be realizing.
I was enjoying the fun. ”You deserve it Ammalu” ( I didn’t tell her that )
Instantly the astrologer’s son yelled from the court yard, ‘Atcha, kakka ente thalayil kaashtichu – a crow defecated on my head”
The leaned father shouted back. ‘Kakka kashtichal kazhukada, kazhuthea -wash it off, you fool”
” Jyolsyare, athu brhamana kakkayo, atho ?” I was anxious to know.
‘Kakka kakka thanne-crow is a crow and all crows are black, whether in Hyderabad or Palakkad. ”
Ammalu’s face beamed. So simple. If a crow dirty your head, wipe it off and forget. And all crows are black, whether in Hyderabad or Palakkad.
“Jyolsarukku ampathonnu roopai dakshinai kudunkol-give fifty one Rupees as dakshina to the astrologer” Ammalu commanded, picked hp her things and moved to the exit gate.
“Our pitus will never let us down” She said, smile and confidence brightening her face.
“You said it, Ammalu “I endorsed her comment. “Don’t you think it is childish to imagine that our grand father or grand mother, in the form of a crow, will strike our head or shoulder or dumb their waste on us? They are on their way to the Godhood and will such unholy ideas ever enter their mind? If they too act in a vengeful way, what is the difference between them and us ? And every crow which flies in the air is not our pitru”
Sharing what we have with other living and non-living beings is a great concept of our culture and that is why every morning after bath, you pour a little water, for the Tulasi plant and place a handful of cooked rice on a clean surface, accessible to birds. Unlike other birds, crows are friendly, available freely in our premises and when you place a ball of rice, reverently remembering your pitrus , on the day of shradham, if you see the image of your pitrus in the crows, who rush and grab the offer, it is understandable. But that does not mean that you should consider every crow flying in the sky or one of them which strikes your head or scratches your face is your pitru. Mouse is the mount of Vigneswara baghavan and deserves our veneration. But will you allow a mice colony to come up in your kitchen ?
”Amma calls you for a tea” The astrologer’s son came running behind us. We went back and accepted the hot tea served along with banana and avil, puffed rice, by the astrologer’s wife and while taking leave of that affectionate family, Ammalu gifted the child some cash for buying books.
”Pitrukkalude anugraham paripoornam- your pitrus have blessed you” The astrologer blessed us raising his hands.
“How true!” Ammalu exclaimed.
“How true!” I too agreed.
”Look at that crow?” Ammalu, on reaching home, called for my attention towards a bird on the gate, cawing its heart out”
It announces the arrival of some guests today. Every crow is a friend, whether it is a pitru or not”
” Yes,” I agreed, “except that one which finds your head or shoulder an ideal spot for emptying its bowel”
Namaskaram and thanks for the wonderfulful skit. Hope you are aware of our magazine Brahmintoday which is published from Chennai for the past 90 months. If not pl visit brahmintoday.org to know more
I would like to publish this article in one of the forth coming issue as it is or got it translated in Tamil of course with your kind permission and due acknowledgement
Very nice article! Good satire on the crow, your favourite topic, our misplaced superstitions and dubious behaviour of astrologers! . With your permission, I take the liberty of forwarding it to my other friends.
Sent from my iPad
” Teach him to hit back.”
This was what I told a net friend, who followed my earlier suggestion to teach his child some simple hymns and asked how he should proceed further. He was taken aback; I could hear his gasping for words.
” Sir, are you the correct person whom I wanted to talk to? He continued as if by my mistake, he had entered a Hyderabad biriyani hotel, wearing an exposed sacred thread across his shoulders. ” Earlier you exhorted the importance of guiding children through the path of devotion and hitting or kicking was not a part of it.”
” Exactlly,” I conceded.” Retaliation was not a part of it but I want your son to be taught that art too. Let him learn a few more short hymns with meaning and then you can go to the next level. Simultaneously, you should teach him to be fearless and that includes hitting back , if necessary”
Another net friend was more outspoken, when he wondered, ” the other day you spoke like a saint and today..”. I intervened and completed, ” and today, I am talking like a Satan, right ?”
“Thank you sir, my wife wants me. ” He wanted to escape from me, but I tried to detain him.” Young man, please ask her to pick up the parallel phone.”
” Sorry Sir, she never speaks on parallel connection,” said the dutiful husband and put down the phone. Now, let me explain to you why I wanted the fathers to inculcate a small dosage of courage into the veins of their children. I consider that as important as the knowledge on their culture, customs and class room study.
All of you know that I am not a saint and a few know that I am not a Satan even. It is not an issue which affects you. It doesn’t even affect my own people because they are aware that I can neither do the good of a saint nor the harm of a devil. The issue here is not that at all. My emphasis on emboldening the kids is due to my experience that at the individual and community level Brahmins are not as bold as others. I wish I am proved wrong. All the other communities are united in their assessment that brahmins are spineless.
That blot has to be removed. In the olden days the Brahmins were revered as ‘Boodevas’ or gods on the earth, as they were unselfish and dedicated their life in prayers and for the welfare of the society.Today, they work for their own uplift. The devotional path I suggested earlier was to ensure a smooth sail and what I am advocating now is also for the same purpose. We are not even hissing now, when biting has become unavoidable to save our self, our pride, our family, our stand in the society. Building your body to make it fit to resist diseases and hit back the one who hits you, is equally important as studying Vedas or sastras or singing hymns . I say this from my experience. If you disagree with me, you can put down the phone. Your wife might want you.
Though born in the citadel of Kerala Iyers, Kalpathy, I was raised in a non-brahmin environ, ours being the only brahmin family there. My father chose that place as business prospects were good there. Timber sales was prospering, as merchants from the neighboring Tamil speaking state, thronged . Our shop was near the Railway station and the floating publtic was a prominent source of business. Muslims formed a good percentage of the population, mostly doing menial jobs, railway porters, coolies and also as some shopkeepers, street vendors etc. The timber brokers were mostly Muslims and right from my childhood, I had closely observed their skill in negotiating with the buyers and sellers and reach at a price acceptable to both. Once the transaction is struck, then starts the negotiation with the Railways or truck managers for transporting the wood to the respective destination. The mostly illiterate or semi literate Muslims exhibited unbelievable skill in negotiations and getting the work done. So were the moothans, pillais, Chettiars and others in the Palakkad angadi or wholesale market, which I used to visit often along with my father. They had no pen power, Most of them didn’t know even to sign their names, but their mind was sharp and their body was strong. The early experience with big and small merchants helped me much later, when I took up an entirely new profession, after my retirement in a senior position in the Government service. That was selling clothes ! As the area manager of Bombay Dyeing company, I could negotiate with MDs and VPs of corporate houses for their requirement of uniform clothes for their workers and also with small retail outlets with equal ease. Five years I worked in that capacity and obtained a number of saris for my wife at concessional rate. Chasing in hot sun, settus and mudalies is no hardship at all, if you can make your wife smile with a new Bombay Dyeing sari every other day !
The Muslim kids were just ‘thrown’ to the market, soon after they completed their elementary schooling or preliminary training in the madarsas, religious schools. Mostly they had to feed themselves and even feed their parents and siblings soon they enter the teen age.The kids used to catch fish, bring vegetables from the Palakkad angadi and sell in retail, carrying them on their head in a basket initially, then in a bicycle or engage in other petty business like buying firewood from big shops and selling to tea shops and hoteliers. When boys from other communities complete the SSLC or enter the college , the Muslim kids would have started their own shops, though in a small scale. As they were forced to stand on their own legs, right from their first- alphabetical age, they had to struggle for existence and that helped them immensely to face the life courageously. They had to fight for their very survival. That made them, men. There is a saying in Malayalam, “Maappila kutty, mony kutty- Mulim boys are smart.”
On the other hand, in the agraharam across the river, even in very poor families, children were somehow sent for studies and most of them did well and were able to complete the matriculation. They were given a lot of affection and the over protection, in some cases, made them meek. They were obedient to their parents, a commendable quality no doubt, but excess obedience curtailed, at least in some cases, their ability to think objectively and analyze problems impartially. The excess doses of god-fearing the ‘Ummachi kannaikuthum’ threat, and ‘don’t touch this, don’t touch that’ advises, all made with good intention on the part of the parents, contributed for the lack of intrepidity in the kids.They lacked the spirit of adventure.
No doubt the children grew as ‘ideal’ sons and admirable students but their presence was scanty in play grounds or literary debates or college elections. By virtue of their abilities they should have been in the forefront in all the above fields, but they were mostly at the back seat, except in the classrooms. Those who had to stop their studies at the matriculation level, either joined as clerks, teachers or worked as gumasthas under the shopkeepers. Some got trained in shorthand and typewriting and caught the next available train to Bombay and prospered. Among them, how many took efforts to start their own business or work independently, I do not know. Those who were forced to stay back and work under moothans and chetttiar or Muslim settus too had ample opportunity to start something of their own independently, initially in a small level which could have been expanded and enlarged in due course.Very few attempted that . However, many of our boys who joined as servers in hotels, opened their own shops with the support of their kind brahmin employers. General tendency was to stay safe under the patronage of the employer, instead of venturing out in the sun and toil. Avoid adventures and risk taking, was their general stand.
“Sukama kulikkanam, chappadanam, thoonkanam. – nice bath, sumptuous food and sound sleep “- Simple and contented life That was their aim.”What else is required in life,?” you may ask. Nothing more then. Not now.
A farmer knows how to protect his crops by scaring the crows or killing the rats and pigs. Our children should know that.
How to train them in scaring the crows and killing the pests ?These are some simple methods I find useful, from my personal experience. You are welcome to hear these suggestions or keep down your phone. Your wife might need you.
1.Likes,dislikes, jealousy,affection, compassion, desires and all such characteristics accompany babies when they enter this world. Love them as innocent babies but treat them as grown ups. They watch your movements, hear your words and learn them when they grow and try to imitate you at a certain age and worship you for a short while and dislike you when you do something not to their liking. Never neglect your kids.”avan kozhanthai thanae, avanukku enna theriium- he is a kid after all, what does he know?” attitude of yours is not acceptable to him. Many of your words and behavior will be remembered by him till his last day. I am awestruck sometime at the questions my grand kids ask . We never dared to ask such questions when we were of their age and even many years latter. From the very early days, the kids absorb what we say or what they see, and retain them in their memory and question us when they come across a contrast or contradiction. So, behave in the presence of your child.
2. When your kid toddles and falls, don’t rush to help him to get up. Let him raise on his own, doesn’t matter even if it ends in more slipping and continuous wailing. When you teach you kid swimming, you can only show the technique. You cannot swim for him. He has to swim. The first step for that is regaining the balance on his own while toddling.
3. In the initial stage, the parents first and then the siblings influence the child, most. All in the family are the role models for the kid. A child grown in an abusive atmosphere is unlikely to become a calm and compassionate adult. Never scream at anyone in the house, even at your wife, an innocent woman obeying your every word. If she is a type who retorts, naturally you will not shout at her but you will shout at the kid. Avoid that. He will retort when he grows up and you sag.
4. Never beat your kid. You are at the wrong end of the stick if you use a stick to discipline your child. ‘Kozhanthaikalai aditchu valarthanum’- is an outdated method. We raised four kids without hitting even once, without even screaming at them. My father raised six of us by disciplining us just by rolling his eye balls and staring us for a few seconds. I like the type of punishment the parents award here, in USA. That is called ‘sit out’ . The kid is made to sit in a corner for 10 or 20 minutes, not allowing to mover or talk. For a honey bee- like vibrant kid, it is a big punishment. I don’t mind sitting in a corner for hours together. That is why I am not given that punishment by my children.
” Appa, will you stop singing for five minutes ?,” they request. They are intelligent; I raised them without the help of a stick .
5.Allow the kid to play outside if you are satisfied that the area is safe. Let him earn the friendship of the Nature and see for himself the beauty of the sky, trees, birds and animals. The Nature is a big, benevolent guru. Let him play with other kids. If he comes home complaining that his friend hit him, ask him to return the hit next time. Don’t show excess concern at anytime, if he returns home, get hurt, even if he fractures a limb.Take him to a doctor and get the problem attended to. The kid should play, fight with other kids, fall, get hurt, get drenched in rain, get roasted in the sun, get used to all type of weather. Make him weather proof. that is not done by encasing him in your sari folds or enriching him with unlimited pampering. If you want him to grow into a healthy adult, efficient and responsible, helpful to himself and the family and useful to the society, allow him to face the waggeries of the weather, the waves of the ocean of life.
6 Allow the child to talk and ask questions . Never say, ‘vayai moodu’ or shut up. many questions children ask are difficult to answer. Try to answer as many questions as possible and as many times as required, patiently and intelligently. That will increase his inquisitiveness. The ‘Shut up’ order will dampen the spirit of questioning. Don’t be a land roller on his inquisitiveness . A grand daughter of my extended family, Anika (3 +) was repeatedly chatting seated on the back seat of the car and her mother, Aashu, who was driving the car was going on encouraging her. I didn’t question my niece, a medical specialist, why she was doing that stupid thing, which might divert her attention and also tire the kid, thought I wanted to, as I was trained to think before questioning. That waiting paid me. The kid was telling stories, fabricated from her own imagination and the learned mother was encouraging her.”You know mom, the huge Vancouver mountains developed their own wings and suddenly raised up, up and up and dashed the clouds, tushum, tushum and it rained filling the Vancouver lakes and, and, our house front, ah, I swam, I swam and Avuukth jumped into the water and flashed——” her story went on .
7. Some kids might be hyper active like Ishaan, my sister’s grandson. He is in midway between 3 & 4, aggressive but extremely affectionate. For a week end, my nephews and nieces had come to my eldest son’s house here, in Baltimore, as they do often. My daughter in law was making dosai and she served the first round to the mail members as is the usual practice. Little Ishaan, watching from a corner, was fuming in anger and dashed into the kitchen, pulled the dress of Meghana and in a voice mixed with anger and helplessness, yelled, ‘Amma needs dosai’. His mother’s eyes swelled with tears and mind with motherly pride. “Here is my son who will stand by me, when I grow old,” Mahima would have thought. Mothers who hear me will understand the sentiments better. Why only mothers, I hear you asking. Because, mothers are mothers and fathers are fathers. The grand pas, like me, become mothers, as we recall the enjoyment and excitement we had as fathers, although long back, when we see the grands kids talk wisely or play naughty. We were all happy though surprised at Ishaan’s action in seeking justice for his mom, who was ‘starving’ while his father and his brothers were served the snack, one after the other. He could never watch and tolerate the ‘injustice’ done to his mom. You know how his parents are diverting that kid’s surplus energy? Apart from his usual per-school course, he is coached in soccer, swimming, Tennis and piano. Kids are power stations and that vital force has to be diverted to creativity. Thrashing them in anger is throttling their creativity.
8..Never create an impression in the mind of the kid that the God is a school teacher with a stick or a police man with a gun.Teach him to love God. Show him the sky, sun, moon, clouds and stars, if he question where the God is . Then he may ask why you are worshiping the idols in the temples and pictures in your pooja room. Tell him that they too are gods. If he grows with the knowledge that God is every where, he will love Him and NOT Fear Him.. One of the reasons for our men becoming my feather-minded, is the fear of God induced in them, in their childhood. They should not depend on God for every answer they write in the exam papers . I have seen Brahmin boys touching the feet of Ganesh or Saraswathy in the pictures on the writing pad they bring to the exam halls and reverently lifting that hand towards their head or eyes, before answering each question. This is not an exaggeration. Their parents should have instructed them to believe in their own strength. They could crack a coconut after they pass the exam, before the Ganpathy idol in the temple close to them.
Allow them to grow as a powerful personality , having faith in their own strength, fighting their own battle. And fighting means kicking back if he is kicked and hitting back if he is hit. Train your kid for that. God will help him.
Now, you may happily put down the phone. your wife wants you to prepare coffee. Don’t hit her, as she has not hit you. And nothing wrong in obeying the affectionate demands of your better half. All brave men do that. You have become brave after reading this article.
April 8, 2012
Mama, pramadama ezutheerukkael.
I am never tired of enjoying the beauty of the statues carved on the pillars of the Ananthapadmanabha Swamy temple in the town which goes by His name. Every time I spend a few minutes before them I learn something new. Last week, I stood silently for a long time, before the great statue of Garuda, the divine mount of Mahavishnu, at the main entrance, facing the sanctum, with the statue of the same height, of Hanuman, the monkey king, to my left. These two magnificent representations of the non-human forms are installed there perhaps to remind the devotees, the two steps they have to cross before reaching the abode of the Purushothama, the Ultimate. Fly in the sky or jump from tree to tree but when you reach the abode of the Lord who mediates, reclined on a grand serpent, maintain absolute silence.
A stage comes in every one’s life, however fast and high he jumps or flies, when he has to cool down and go into silence.
I am looking at the statue of Garuda again. The Great bird is having an ‘odyanam’ a unique ornament around his hip – guess what it is? A serpent!
” The nagas or serpents have a special place in the Hindu tradition and they are worshiped in India and even is some countries outside, probably because, they are close to several gods. If Mahavishu is Nagasayana, Lord Shiva is naagabharana and Mahaganapahty, Subrahmania and Devi are serpent-jeweled .The snakes primarily represents rebirth, death and mortality and its periodical skin-shedding represent re-birth. It is said that snakes, by their appearance, symbolize the umbilical cord connecting the Mother Earth. Even the ‘Shakthi’ the prime energy, so say the learned, is dormant in the form of a kundalini serpent inside our body and when awakened it expands into a great force capable of performing fantastic feat. In Kerala, every temple has a mini shrine for Nagadevathas and in fact every house there had a shrine at their backyard where daily worship was performed. In some places, there are exclusive temples for the Nagaraja. The Ananthapadamnabha in Thiruvanthapuram reclines on the great Anantha, the serpent king ”
As per the legends, Lord Subramania after killing the asura Soorapadman converted his body into two portions and made them an integral part of Him, one as peacock, his mount and and the other as cock decorating his flag. Every devotee longs for a new dawn in his life. The cock proclaims that. Every devotee aspires for a lovely, peaceful, colorful life. The peacock assures that.
I am looking again at the serpent-jeweled waist of Garuda.
Is not this an admirable Idea – Punish the powerful enemy for his devilish acts and later valuing his valor, grace him by adorning him on the body ?
Similarly can I get rid of my ego and similar other undesirable qualities and then with a fresh mind live ever as an ornament or mount or flag-decoration of the Ultimate? The problem is that I do not want to annihilate my unwanted qualities which give some imaginary pleasure. The result is they accumulate, compress the mind and obstruct the entry of good qualities. They block the passage of fresh air. They choke. But that may not be forever. Often, a torrent of divine mercy gushes in high speed and cleanses the accumulated trash.
As a child, I used to watch with awe a tall figure, poonal hanging from his hairy chest, walking across the streets of Kalpathy, raising his right hand and shouting mostly nonsense, often abusing the national leaders. He was Kallukudiyan Krishna Iyer, a vagabond, often in a boozed state, had no family (that was what we all thought) or any other worldly possession . He used to survive on the neivedyam provided by Pattali, the temple priest and some petty amount parted by the kind village folks or the train passengers who move through the village.
On my side of the Kalpathy River, there was a Karukappilai Nadar a close friend of Krishna Iyer. Nadar’s given name was Kamaraju. His habit of stealthy collection of Karukappilai during night hours from the trees in the neighborhood and trying to sell the product to the owner of the same trees, earned him the title of karukappilai. The bosom friends became arch enemies on some silly issues and were not talking to each other for years together.
Krishna Iyer fell sick and some good soul admitted him in the hospital. Karukappilai, knowing that his old friend’s end was nearing, went to meet and console him, forgetting the enmity.
“Iyyare nee pozhakka maatte- You will not survive, I am sure” Karukappilai commented in a language familiar to his old friend.” On kadasi viruppam enna sollu-tell me, what is your last wish “People of my previous generation, especially those with little education were blunt in their talk, they said what they meant and there was no scope for misunderstanding. Words came forth without undergoing any brushing or polishing.
”Karuku, I have nothing to lose in death, nor the death has anything to gain by accepting me” Iyer, murmured holding his friend’s hand. “ I want you to fulfill my last wish. I have a son born to a Malayalee woman, growing up in the Pudiyangham tharai-village. ‘Tharkathu’ is the house name. I deserted him when he was hardly six months old and I am sure that his mother too would not have mentioned to him about me. I want him alone to do my last rites on the bank of the Kalpathy river.” Krishna Iyer, picked up a bundle of currency notes and an old photograph of his, in full suit and turban, taken several decades ago and handing them over to his friend he continued in broken voice and swollen eyes, ” tell his mother that I never touched another woman. My only bad habit is that I drink a lot and once I drink uncontrollably I think only her and my kid whom I left for ever and went to North for earning my bread. And tell my son that if he places a rice ball on the river bed, throw some water mingled with thil seeds over that and clap his hands shouting ‘ka,ka,ka, I will rush flying from where ever I will be then, like this, like this–” Iyer tried to move his semi-paralyzed long hands to exhibit how he will flap his wings and fly to pick up the rice fall. When he mimicked the crow, eagerly and expeditiously arriving from the distant sky to accept the rice ball offered by his son, Krishna Iyer’s face brightened, and eyes became moist, hairs and ear lobes stood erect and head tried to move as if he was visualizing a great event.
Then that flame slowly and surely went off.
Karuku sat in a corner of the hospital ward and wept inconsolably keeping his head pushed between his legs. Then suddenly he got up, picked up a handful of holy ash from a cloth bag from his shirt pocket, dipped it in the water available in a basin and applied that double filtered, scented viboothy from Pazhani all over Iyer’s body, on his forehead, chest,belly, hands, legs everywhere, shouting ‘Muruga, Muruga, Muruga ‘. Then he rushed out without looking at the body smeared all over with holy ash, shouting “’po Iyerea, po. Murugan onnai ethukkindan”-The Lord Subrahmania has accepted you. With no more familiar foul smell of country liquor emanating, Iyer’s body lay on the hospital bed spreading fragrance of Pazhani viboothy.
I do not know whether krishna Iyer’s son offered him rice ball or not but while returning from the school, I used to look for that familiar figure , in the form of a crow , amidst scores of birds who used to gather on the rocks of the river bank.
Now, after all these years, while standing before the Nagabarana-Garuda, I earnestly hope that Krishna Iyer’s memory would have become a garland in the minds of his wife and son whom he rejected but did not forget even under the influence of liquor. .
@ Recall my previous article on the nude damsel on a pillar facing the side entrance of the sanctum, ‘sex is devine Sivaswamy’
Love and regards,
28 June, 2011
Mama, I read the serpent jewel story.
‘Iyery nee pozhaikkamattai’ the open and innocent remark of Karukappilai and the Krishna Iyer’s confession at the last moment were brilliant. We really don’t know how many Krishna Iyer’s are born and yet to born in this world. I really felt sorry for the Iyer. Hm… Why we feel sorry about some people who were had a tragic life experiences? I strongly believe in Karma….
29 June 2011
Dear Sri Sivasubramanian Maamaa:
Your interpretation of the presence of two statues of Sri Aanchaneya Swamy and Sri Garudaazhwaar before approaching the Maha Swamy reclined on Aadisesha was very insightful. These are such special moments in our lives when we are shown Deva Rahasyaams in a flash. You may recall here that sometime back I had written on similar lines mentioning Sri Mahavishnu as the Divine Mother (and Mahadeva The Father) whenever I see pictures of Sri Mahavishnu with Sri Brahma seated at the tip of his umblical chord. Well.
Your write-up about Sri Krishna Iyer was very touching indeed as much as his friendship with Sri Naadaar.
With best regards,
Parasurama vaadyar was a power- house of Vedic knowledge. As a teacher, astrologer and Ayurveda practitioner, he was held in esteem by the society. His tall frame, broad chest, long hands with lines of sacred ash drawn at the appropriate places and majestic look and walk, did tell that he was someone in the village . Some say that the smart smile on his face reflected his satirical denunciation of ignorant and irritating Brahmins and their superstitious beliefs which have no Vedic sanctions. But everyone appreciated his outspokenness, unquestionable knowledge in traditional and religious rituals and practices. The moment he arrived in the scene of a ceremony, those assembled stopped waste talks, sat erect, ready to hear his metallic voice, reciting mantras in their pristine rhythm which reverberated the entire area. There was a unique charm in his very presence, his recitation and his dignified behavior. He occupied the center scene till the end, when people dispersed with smile and satisfaction.
Vaadyar manni, his wife, an epitome of selflessness and virtues, was the pride of vaadyar and his family, nay, the entire village. The unlettered lady’s assets of unbelievable common sense and practical thinking combined with her unflinching eagerness to help the needy, made her most admirable and the entire village wept for her, when she died within a few hours, after a fall from the slippery steps of the village pond. She was hardly thirty then. Vaadyar was shattered like a lightning -struck banana tree and shivered at the sight of the doom ahead, whose gates were opened before him, unexpected. He had never entered the kitchen before and was now compelled to take care of his aged mother and two kids. He spent several evenings under the banyan tree near the village pond where his wife fell and cracked her head, wondering how Fate inflicted such a severe blow on him, silently and surprisingly as if he had accumulated a mountain of sin to deserve that punishment.
‘Sin, what sin have I committed? Did I harm anyone, did I cheat anyone, and did I steal anyone’s property,’ he went on asking questions to himself knowing well that he would never receive any answers. Then, the thought of past karmas entered his mind and he was firm in his conviction that he would have never committed so many sins even in his past births too. ‘No, definitely not,’ he told himself, ‘had I committed such unpardonable crimes in my earlier births, I would not have born as a Brahmanan. Or is the rebirth story itself a humbug?’ The bricks of belief were slowly getting loosened and he consoled himself, ‘certainly no. I have learned Vedas right from my childhood and such unholy thoughts should never enter my mind’
‘Maya! Damn it. Right in front of me is the pond with its slippery steps which became the grave yard for my wife. There is no Maya in this. I had a wonderful life with my wife and I am familiar with every inch of her external body and every beat of her internal vibrations. There was no Maya in that. It is a hard fact’
Vaadyar picked up a handful of betel leaves from the casket added other ingredients, chewed and spitted the waste forcefully, as if that was meant to deface the cause of his miseries, standing before him.
Ammu, Vaadyar’s elder daughter, hardly eight or nine, soaked in sorrow like the slippery granite stones of the pond, but soft and silent like her mother, came there, approached her father, held his hand and took him home.
‘Like her mother’s, Ammu’s hands are also long, lovely and sturdy,’ he said and wept. There was no change in the child’s face but, she quietly lifted the end of the upper cloth of her father and handed it over to him to wipe the tears. She was too short to reach his face.
‘Ammu is strong -willed too, like her mother, though soft outwardly’, Vaadyar mused.
Several months went on.
One night, seeing her son gazing at the roof, without touching the food placed before him, Vaadyar’s mother asked, ‘Parasu, are you going to spend your remaining life thinking about Lakshmi? Please eat something’. Moving slowly towards her son, the mother pleaded and added to console him, ‘ithellam mayai aakkumta konthai-these are nothing but illusion, my child’
‘Maya , mannanghatti,’ Vaadyar yelled, ‘Ethamma, mayai, I spent 15 years with her, is that Mayai ? She gifted me two children; is that Mayai?’
He was getting choked with emotion. ‘Amma, vellam,’ He wanted water.
‘ Laksmiyai kooppudu-call Lakshmi, his mother asked him in a slow and cracked voice! I am not in a position to get up. My legs are paining’
‘Aval varammaattalea-she won’t come,’ the son replied, helplessly looking at the shrunken face of his mother.
‘AthuthAn mayayida, madaya! That exactly is the illusion,’ The mother replied, hugging him closely to her chest and patting her son’s head and back affectionately.
‘For several years, she was everything for you, though you had not seen or heard about her before. She was verily your world; she was your pranan- life breath, and now, my son, she does not respond to your call even when you ask for water!
‘Engeta onnodu Lakshmi ? Aval engeta ponal- Where is your Lakshmi ? Where has she gone to? Ithuthan mayai-, ithuthanda mayai- This is illusion, this is illusion’
The old woman could no more control her tears. It flew like the waters of a perennial river, emerging from the cavern of a hard rock. Unable to sit further, she moved to her bed.
Sleep evaded vaadyar.
As usual, he was lying on a pai or dry grass mat on the thinnai , the front platform of the house. It was a full moon night and the sky and the hills, forests and streets were immersed in the divinely extravaganza. ‘Enna!’ it was Lakshmi’s voice; she was calling him. None else would call him so dearly, so sweetly. ‘It was she, it was she alone. No doubt about it. But she was dead, I burned that fragile body with these hands, I collected her ashes and dipped it into the flowing waters. How could she come here? No, she cannot. But, I see her moving ahead, turning head backwards, on and off, asking me to follow. No doubt it is she and I can recognize her sari, her body movement. I can even recognize her shadow.’
Vadyaar got up from the bed and walked towards the banyan tree on the bank of the village pond. A farmer was going around his fully-grown paddy fields to make sure that none was hiding behind the plants to steal the crops. A couple of young boys were returning after the late movie show. Some night birds were chirping and flapping their wings. “No, she is not there. It was nothing but a delirium ‘ He cursed himself and asked, ‘ how can a dead person come back? What a fool I am!”
Vadyar returned home woke up his mother and told her what happened. ‘Satyam amma, she called me and led me to the tank , but when I reached there, she had gone’
‘Ithellam mayai aakkumda Parasu, Poyi paduthukkoda konthai- these are nothing but illusion, go and sleep, my dear.’ The mother consoled, came near his mat, placed his head over her lap, massaged slowly his face and hands and back and sung a cradle song, slowly in a shivering voice, in a low pitch to put her son to sleep.
Tears flowing through his cheeks, Vaadyar, in a choking voice said, ‘Ithu mayayi alla amma -this is not illusion.’
‘Ithum mayayi thanda- this too is nothing but illusion:’ the mother replied, ‘nee patichavan, Vedajnani; nan onakku chollanaoda Parasu ? You are a scholar, you know everything .There is nothing that I can teach you.’ Vaadyar felt that he was a small boy lying on the lap of his mother, enjoying her inundated love and care. He forgot for a moment Lakshmi, her sari, her call, the village pond, the banyan tree, the cemetery, the land behind that-everything. The merciful sleep hugged him in no time.
He slept for hours and hours and woke up. His mother didn’t.
Vaadyar was speechless. He didn’t weep till his younger daughter entered and asked the grandmother to get up. Then, entered the elder one. The smart girl, intelligent like her mother, looked alternately at her grandma’s body and father’s gloomy face. His face was swollen like a summer cloud getting ready for a heavy down pour. She didn’t cry. Seeing her not crying the father cried and cried.
‘ Ithum mayayi thane, amma – this too is illusion, isn’t it mother?’ He hoped that it was also an illusion though he knew well that it was not.
After the funeral rites were over, he spent more time meditating near the village tank. The cremation ground where the bodies of two of his most loved ones were turned to ash could be seen from there and often he lost in thoughts about the soul and body relationship.
‘What was it that I loved and what was it that I lost? I loved my wife’s body, no doubt, but I did not love that alone. I came out of my mother’s body but mere body cannot generate another life.
When Lakshmi’s and Amma’s heart stopped beating and when their pranavayu, breaths, left the bodies, they were dead. No. you are wrong. It was not just the cease of air circulation or blood circulation that made them dead. You did not love that blood or air but something much more than that. What was it then, which made them dead, apart from the body and breaths? Is that the one called soul? So, there are three components in the play of life: body, pranavayu and soul. Or is the Jeevan and the soul same? The breath stopped, the body is burnt. So, we have to account only for the third component of life ie ‘the soul”.
Vaadyar, who was musing like a lay man till then, suddenly, at his remembering the word ‘soul’ emerged from the hibernation and his thoughts flapped its wings and roared high in the sky of Upanishads and other spiritual , philosophical areas. . He got up, went to the waters and performed the sandhyavandahanam.
‘What a wonderful concept this daily ritual is! Every day we do this looking at the rising and waning sun and also when the sun is at its top position. Thus, every day we watch the movement of the Sun’s udayam, unnathi and asthamanam . If the omnipotent source, the cause of generation, maintenance and destruction in the world has to undergo such rise, halt at the top for a while and then fall, what are we, the ordinary human being! Are we not assigned this ritual to keep us in alert always about the three factors involved in our life too?
And what do we do actually while worshiping sandhya? Collect palms-full of water from the vast resource, recite a few mantras, and pour it back into it. Is it not to tell us that our soul comes from the Ultimate and goes back to it and during the short interim period it is with us, we should keep it serene and sacred? ‘I took this sacred, moving liquid from you, it was mine for a short while; here I am giving it back-it is yours, it has been always yours and in fact it is YOU- I return with all humbleness You, back to You-Is this not tharpanam- Is not our life itself a tharpanam ?’
‘That is true, that is true, Vaadhyar,’ his mind muttered.
While returning home, again his thoughts went back to its lay-man status and wondered: ‘Why did this happen to me when I was least prepared and when the presence of my wife and later my mother was required for my children. If the calamities are planned and executed by someone, who is he and why should he interfere with my life? If that ‘he’ is God, why did He do it to me?” He asked and got back the reply. ‘Parasu , such things happen in the world, people die and for many, death comes without warning and, death leaves a trail of agony behind, some time, unmanageable. You are not the first one selected for this treatment and you are not going to be the last one.’
‘That is true, that is true, Vaadhyar,’ his mind muttered.
Vaadyar took up a temporary job of performing daily poojas in a Devi temple in the outskirt of the village, managed by a Nair family. It was a convenient assignment , two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, leaving him sufficient time to look after the children. The head of the Nair family, valia amman, who held vaadhyar in esteem, extended every help and even provided one family member, Madhavi amma not only to assist the Vaadhyar by providing pooja materials, washing the vessels, cleaning the premises etc. and also to take care of the kids by bringing them home if necessary.
Vaadhyar was attracted by the simplicity and gentle manners of Madhaavi amma and also by her looks. Wearing a daily-washed snow white sari and sandal paste on her fore-head, just a pair of golden bangles on her fair, long, sturdy hands, she used to spend minutes before the deity, closing eyes and the opened palms held together close to her chest.
‘Madhi, Madhavi amma, ini nale aakam,’. enough for the day, keep some prayers for tomorrow too.’ Vaadyar used to joke.
‘Para , Swamy, madhiyavunniall,’ she used to reply, devotion surging in her words. “I am not satisfied seeing the divine face of the Mother.’
One day Vaadhyar called for a meeting of the elders, below the flag-post of the Temple and announced:
‘Ellarukkum Namaskram-salutation to you all. The purpose of my request for your assembly here is to convey my decision to live with a Nair woman, as her husband. I hear your murmur of discomfort but you should realize that my children need a woman’s care. I am only forty and I need a woman’s company and such a woman is not there in our caste except widows. Widows are not allowed the privilege of re-marriage in our society. I am not the first in our village to choose a non-brahmin woman for partnership and if you threaten that I will be excommunicate for the crime, almost half the number of houses in this village has to remain empty. I have heard, I have seen who all have sneaked into the Malayalee houses, holding a chhootu in their hand, under the cover of night. If you have not done that, your father or his father had done it. I do not believe in doing anything clandestinely. Now, the next point is allowing Madhavi to stay in my house. She will not enter my house. We do allow Nair women in our houses for services but I do not want her to enter my house as a servant maid. The next point. You may say that you will not allow me to do pooja in our temple or call me to your homes for upadyayam-to perform religious rituals. I have no complaints. My ayurvedam, astrology and poojas in ‘kavus’ run by non-Brahmin trusts will take care of my daily needs.
And when you come to those ‘kavus’, I hope that you will not hesitate to accept prasadam from my hand.
The last point-. My ancestral house in this village, after I leave this world, will become the property of the temple. I hope before I die both my children will be married off and if not, it will be Madhavi’s look out.
But I want to die in my house, where my ancestors and wife breathed their last-that is my only wish but that again is not in my hand.’
No one raised an objection. The temple bell rang for harati. Everyone went inside for the evening worship. When Vaadyar was left alone, a woman came from the side entrance and fell at his feet. Parsurama vaadhyar was to spend the next long thirty years with her . And those thirty years flew off like thirty months days thanks to Madhavi’s affection, care and ability to run a house smoothly. Both the daughters were married off and settled well in life. Vaadyar spent his time reading and teaching scriptures.
His health started deteriorating. He thought the end was fast approaching. “You are left with only a few hours”, he heard some one telling “get ready vaadyar”
He was not sad. ‘Get ready Madhavi,’ he prompted his wife to accompany him to the ancestral house in the village, spread some dabha grass on the floor and lied over that.
Madhavi, with swollen eyes, open the small copper vessel containing the water from the Gnnges, on his request and poured a few drops into his mouth. A few drops of tears too, got mixed with the water poured from the pot.
‘Sing, ‘Kanikanum neram’ Madhavi.’, he requested her, then closed the eyes and went into deep meditation, his mind floating in the mellifluous devotional song of Madhavi..
Suddenly, the copper pot fell on his chest splashing the left- over water followed by Madhavi . She passed away within a few minutes lying on her husband’s chest and warmly hugged by him, her long hair wet by the Gangajel, her right hand touching vaadyar’s sacred thread, the left one touching the darba grass below. The woman, who spent maximum years with him, other than his mother, had left him now.
‘You seem to be in deep contemplation;’ I remarked while passing through, seeing him sitting alone on the porch of his house, When I went to our village during the last vacation. Raising the spectacle, he looked at and recognized me and invited to go closer to him.
‘All the three women in my life have left me unannounced,’ said Vaadyar, closing the book he was reading.
‘I came to die in my ancestral house .But Madhavi, who had not stepped into this house even once during the past forty years and who came along with me just to see me off, breathed her last,’ he continued, showing the floor where his wife died, ‘she breathed her last, on this floor, where my ancestors died and in addition, she chose my chest as a stepping stool to go up’
Words were refusing to come out of his throat. He paused, pushed the chellppetti, pan-leaf-mix casket towards me and continued in a slow, shattered voice,
‘I came to catch the train; she boarded it leaving me alone in the platform!’
Slowly collecting the ingredients from the brass casket and applying the white calcium oxide paste on the back of the betel leaves and gently extending his neck towards me, he added, ‘Ultimately, I have realized that I am now free of all my illusions’
I couldn’t catch his message, but just smiled and accepted the pan leaf package from his trembling hand.