It was during 1940s Rangaswamy iyengar lived in Chennai very close to a famous Vaishnavaite temple It is not that he was religious or spiritually inclined but chose to live with members of his own community. He was quite a rich man and owned several houses and chawls in the vicinity. Though a graduate, he did not take up any job but looked after the vast lands he owned in an adjacent village.
Though he had a large family of eight children, his kitchen served food daily for about thirty people. A distant relative from his village who had none to look after lived with him for decades and took care of the kitchen. Besides children there were elderly cousins not well off living in the house. He also gave shelter to his wife’s young relative who had lost her husband early in life. She had two children. A couple of his wife’s brothers used to come with entire family and stay for months at a stretch...
Every night around 8pm two or three poor boys would come to take their dinner. The boys would be different each day. They took turns. They were served the same food that others took even when some of the family members had not finished their dinner. This was known as vaara saappadu (weekly food).The members of the family knew these boys only by their faces. It seemed that the old man even paid for their school fees and gave them dresses during festive occasions. He never talked about the charity that he did unobtrusively.
Iyengar was a gullible man and not worldly wise. He was trusting by nature and was easily moved when he saw someone suffering. His clever ‘friends’ and relatives took advantage of his innocent nature and credulity by making him stand as surety for the loans they took but never intended to repay. More often than not, he would be compelled to liquidate such loans. Neither he learnt any lesson nor did his sons take up the issue strongly with him out of a sense of respect.
He never realized that some of the relatives were parasites living upon his income and salting away their own earnings. He married off his daughters in pomp and style. He lost many of his houses and lands for the loans others took and the expense of maintaining so many. He lost his wife too early. His sons were in ordinary jobs and were not well off. They were all living as a joint family in the large house.
Cheema aka Srinivasan the eldest of his sons was even struggling to run a decent household with his own large family. His brothers too could not be said to do well. . It was then one kindly well wisher and friend advised iyengar to partition whatever property was left amongst his sons keeping nothing for himself and allow them to live separately by demarcating portions of the house. That way no one would come to him to stand surety.Iyengar readily agreed and did the needful. He lived with Cheema.
In the course of a decade the old man had passed away. His son a bright graduate boy was looking for a job. Those days there was no IT or industrial boom. Jobs were difficult to come by. Cheema’s other children were studying in different classes. It was a life of want and struggle.
One evening a chauffeur driven ambassador car halted before the house and a young man in his early thirties in full suit stepped out. He wavered a little before entering the house. He asked Srinivasan who was reclining in an easy chair ’Years back one Rangaswamy Iyengar used to live here. Is this his house?”
Cheema replied “Yes, this is his house and he passed away a few years back. I am his eldest son Srinivasan.Sorry; I am unable to place you.”
Srinivasan could see a tear trickling down from the misty eyes of the young man and his wiping it. When he looked at him with surprise the visitor bent down and touched the feet of Srinvasan and said softly “Uncle, you may not remember me. I am Varadan who grew up eating my dinner in your house for years. Your dad paid my fees, bought me dresses and on one occasion even bought for my sister a mangalya sutra in gold for her wedding. I am what I am today because of his generosity and compassion. I am in US and came here for a conference. I made it a point to visit my benefactor’s home though I knew he may not be alive physically. This is a temple for me. I can never forget the large hearted soul. For what I am today with his blessings, I owe in no small measure to your dad.”
He then enquired about others in the family. He came to know with much sadness how the great joint family broke up owing to adverse financial circumstances. When he learnt about Srinivasan’s indigent circumstances with even the small tenement under bank loan, he asked for his son to meet him at his hotel the next day.
He gave his son a good job in his company and also redeemed the house from the pledge with the bank He instituted some liberal scholarships for poor children in the locality school where he had studied in memory of Rangaswamy iyengar.Before taking leave he requested Srinivasan ”Uncle, please treat me as your own son. Whatever assistance you need in future, you can ask me freely. No amount would ever be a recompense for the large hearted kindness of your father and my benefactor.”
Good men and bad men differ radically. Bad men never appreciate kindness shown them, but wise men appreciate and are grateful. Wise men try to express their appreciation and gratitude by some return of kindness, not only to their benefactor, but to everyone else. - Buddha