It was a leisurely journey from Kolkata to Chennai. I have an aversion for reading long novels as most do. Instead I enjoy chatting with co-passengers drawn from different back grounds. Those days there was no menace of biscuit bandits. The gentleman next to me was a portly man, dark complexioned and clad in white. With eyes closed he did not appear to evince any interest in the conversation around him. When he opened his eyes I smiled at him and asked him” Are you traveling beyond Chennai?”
He replied” Yes up to Madurai”
“Do you live In Madurai or Kolkata?” I asked
“No, I came to Kolkata to visit the Dakshineswar temple and Belur Ashram”
“Oh, you must be spiritually inclined. Where is your family and what do you do for living?”
He let off a sigh.” I have none. I do not work. It is a long story and I would prefer to talk about it later. I am tired. Let me go up and rest for some time.”
My curiosity was roused. I was intrigued by his response but waited for him to open up on his own. It was a few hours later when he came down for a cup of coffee he cleared his throat and talked in low tone almost a whisper.
He said” You asked me many questions. Let me tell you in my own way. It will relieve me of my stress somewhat. I belong to Madurai district and born to a very rich landlord. Being the only son he pampered me a lot. He wanted me to look after the lands and rice mills after my graduation. I had an aversion for agriculture and the village atmosphere and longed to be in Chennai permanently amidst the many friends that I had cultivated. I had a weakness for films. The village had no such facility. His repeated pleas to assume responsibility fell on deaf ears. He was getting old and falling sick frequently. My parents got me married to a good looking girl who had studied only up to class 8.They thought this would bind me home and stop my frequent visits to Chennai. No doubt it did initially. After the demise of my father a year later my mother too died in a few months, I was compelled to take charge of the responsibility. Having neither experience nor interest I could not manage the farm operations. It soon started to be a losing proposition and did not last even for five years when a distant relative offered to buy up the lands. I jumped at the offer, collected a tidy amount and reached Chennai. I had enough money to live comfortably without working. I bought a nice house in Mylapore, car etc and happily settled down. Gradually I fell into bad company and developed all vices: races, wine and women. Meanwhile my wife had conceived to our great joy. This was not to last long as she developed complications at the time of delivery and passed away giving birth to a still born baby. I started drinking heavily to drown the sorrows. It was in that unguarded moment that one of my friends sowed the idea of taking a film feeding me with rosy stories of successful producers and the good life they had with leading lady actors. Being a green horn to the film industry I was surrounded by greedy tricksters and ended up making a film that was a total flop. To make a long story short I lost all my property and was saddled with debts. I became an insolvent and virtually thrown out on the road. The ‘friends’ deserted as was expected. I was also a physical wreck afflicted by a dreaded disease and could not work”
He stopped there and said he will continue after dinner. A dismal story, I thought to myself, that we often hear from the cine field and the man went down in my esteem. Dinner over, he continued his narration without any prompting.
“With no home I loitered around not knowing where to go and what to do. I had no skills to work having wasted away my life. I was restless having foolishly frittered away all the wealth. To get some peace I gravitated towards Sri Ramakrishna Mission ashram. I sat there for long hours dazed with tears trickling down. A kindly swamiji in ochre robes patted me gently and said “Do not grieve whatever be the reason. I often see people coming in such state here. Do not give up hope and be manly” I narrated him my tale. He said “It is sad that you have lost both your wife and money. These are the outcomes of prarabda karma. You could not have prevented it. Though young, you look very sick. Would you like to rebuild your life and start afresh?”
“No, Swamiji, I do not have many years to live and would not like to get into that cesspool again. Can I stay and work in the ashram? To be true, being a sick person with a deadly disease I would not like to pollute the ashram”
Swamiji in a consoling voice said” Ashram admits only sanyasins.It is not easy to become sanyasin as the initiation would be done only in deserving cases with the right temperament after a long wait. Many do not turn up again. In your case as you are ill, it is best to spend your remaining years in the vicinity of a temple praying for your salvation. Temples provide food. Hand over whatever money you have to some charitable institution and they may provide room and food.”
“Yes Swamiji, I think this is the best course open to me”
But I would strongly urge you to visit Dakshineswar once and pray to the merciful Ma to give you peace and comfort. I am sure divine mother will listen to your prayers”
“I am now going back to Madurai to collect some money kept with a distant relative. I intend to move down South and live near a famous temple there. This journey to Kolkata has made me very weak and my condition worse. Sorry sir, I have burdened you with my depressing story.”
I had no words to comfort him and said “It is getting late. Go to sleep. We will see in the morning”
I was woken up in the morning by the aroma of coffee. When I was having mine, I remembered the gentleman on the top berth. I thought he was catching up with the lost sleep after unburdening his weight on me. An hour went by and breakfast had started coming. I stood up and patted him. When there was no response, I did again and this time with a little force. There was no movement. A youngman went up and shook him only to find him inert and lifeless. I was wonder struck at Ma’s immense compassion in answering his prayers with such swiftness.