Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ranganna's bequest

-by KParthasarathi Saturday, April 26, 2008
Ranganna’s body was laid in the hall with his head on the Southern side. Though past eighty, his face looked as he was in slumber. One could see a trace of a faint smile. There was no specific ailment except weakness and the end must have come in his sleep painlessly. The purohit was finalising the arrangement for the funeral rites.Ranganna’s wife had passed away five years ago. His three sons (one had predeceased him) and four daughters were all sitting in different places in the hall with grim faces. Their maternal uncle almost the same age of Ranganna was watching the proceedings. A few relatives and many friends of the dead man arrived one by one or in groups and receded to some corner after offering their condolences. He must have been an affable and jolly person from the number of friends seen. No one seemed to cry inconsolably but was definitely distraught. He was staying alone in his last days in this old house. Some local caterer, possibly a friend of his, was supplying him the food. Though the house was in need of good repair, the land on which the house was situated was worth several lakhs.
While the body was being washed and covered with a shroud, the purohit saw a key tied to Ranganna’s sacred thread. He asked the eldest son to remove it. It was then the maternal uncle stood up and in a commanding tone asked the purohit to leave the key with him. There was utter silence amongst the sons and daughters. The eldest son said the key was for the small cupboard of his father and may contain valuable documents. When the key was given to the uncle, he told “I know and it will be safe with me. Let us get on with the work on hand. We can look into this key matter after the thirteenth day.” He was anxious that there should be no hitch amongst them till the final rites are over. He was aware his nephews and nieces were keen to know about what their father had decided about the house. After the chanting of mantras when the mortal remains was carried outside the house for its onward journey there were hysterical cries from the women folks. It was slightly dark in the evening adding to the gloominess of the atmosphere.
The next day there was the murmur of voices from the sons and a few daughters that the cupboard be opened to see what their father had decided about the house. He had no other property. There were two tenants who were paying some rent that took care of his need. When in service, he had given all the sons and daughters good education. The sons were well employed. The girls were married off well. All of them lived in comfort. Although there was no lack of affection, Ranganna decided to live alone when the sons soon after their mother’s death discussed among themselves how long in a year each one should keep their dad with them. The eldest son felt that father had a soft corner for him as he supported the family with his income in the initial years till he got married. The youngest, a daughter, said that since father had already spent most of the money on the marriages of her elder sisters, he could not provide her with as much gold and silver as he had given to her sisters. She was sure that she would be getting special mention in his bequest. The uncle in his loud and stentorian voice remonstrated “Enough of this prattle. It is not even two days since he died. I do not want anyone to discuss this till the afternoon of thirteenth day.”
On the afternoon of the thirteenth day after the ceremonies were over on an auspicious note, the uncle took out the key from his pocket. He said “I know you are all restless. You must forgive me. I was anxious that under no circumstances the final rites should suffer.” He opened the cupboard and found besides clothes and assorted small things, a leather bag. He found in it the title documents of the house in original and an envelope addressed “To my sons and daughters”
With their permission he opened the envelope and read the contents aloud. “Dear children, I have given you all good education and got you all married well. That was itself a big achievement for a person like me born in penury and had only a middle level job. Being scrupulously honest I could not amass riches. I have only this small house. In my younger days I studied on the liberal help of kind hearted men. They left a lasting impression on me. If this house is sold, each one of you will get only a paltry amount. I decided therefore to bequeath it to the RK mission to use it as students’ home for the school going poor children and have registered a will accordingly. I hope you would whole heartedly approve of this and make me happy as you have always done, Appa”

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