Friday, November 28, 2014

A wrong move

 Ramu Sastrigal was well known in the circle of purohits(priests).Being well versed in the practice of his profession and being proficient in Vedas, he had a large clientele of well to do people and was much sought after. His house was full of aspiring assistants and trainees. He was a kind hearted and noble person helping many indigent boys find their feet. He was a strong disciplinarian and expected high standards of probity and commitment to the job. His disciples were afraid of him and spoke to him with their hands folded and covering their mouths.
He took a liking for one poor boy who hailed from his village and the son of his friend who died suddenly. Taking pity on the boy, he took him under his shelter and trained him to become a purohit.The boy, Sundaram, too was sharp and learnt quickly the mantras by rote getting up very early in the mornings. Ramu Sastrigal invariably took him along wherever he went to conduct functions like marriages or other rituals.
Sastrigal had a beautiful daughter Lakshmi studying in class 12.She was a studious student, well behaved and obedient to parents. She took a liking for the handsome and well-built Sundaram with his curly hair. Sundaram too loved her and always cast furtive glances at her whenever Sastrigal was not around. The house being full of people did not provide him an opportunity to talk to her and reveal his fascination and love for her.
 It so happened one day as he was returning from an errand on his cycle, he saw her at the bus stand waiting for the bus. He stopped by her side and said ” Waiting for the bus, is it? I am not able to see you alone to exchange a few words. We are always surrounded by people. Do you know that I like you very much?”
She did not answer him but kept scratching the ground with her toe nail. She looked at him slightly a couple of times with a trace of smile on her lips. When she saw the bus approaching she said “Oh Oh, the bus is coming. I will take leave of you.”
He replied “Come early daily. I will manage to meet you as often as possible. I love you very much.” She threw a smile at him and boarded the bus.
These secret meetings for a few minutes at the bus stand went on for a long time though they did not graduate to even clasping of hands or touching her. When she was in the final year, Sastrigal started looking for suitable alliances. It was then after much hesitation and trepidation, Sundaram summoned his courage when he and Sastrigal were alone to seek the hand of his daughter.
He spoke hesitantly”Mama, forgive me if I am wrong. But I love Lakshmi very much. I think she also likes me. I would request you to give her in marriage to me. I will prove myself worthy of being your son-in-law” he said.
 Sastrigal exploded in anger”How dare you make such a demand? How long has this affair been going on? From this instant you make your own arrangements to stay elsewhere. Although I would like to dismiss you, I will still allow you  for the sake of your father to assist me but you are not welcome in this house anymore.”
It was a month later when Sastrigal finished a betrothal function at a rich man’s house, there was a commotion that a big silver bowl that contained sugar was missing. It was a function where only close relatives and friends were present. The rich man’s brother-in-law a police officer ordered a search. To the great shock of everyone, the bowl was found in Sastrigal’s bag.
The police officer caught the upper garment of Sastrigal and shook him asking” how come with your pious image you stoop to such low act?”
 The rich man shouted at his brother in law “Take off your dirty hands. How dare you touch him? It was me who put the bowl in his bag as a surprise gift for him. He has been my guru for three decades.”
 He fell at Satrigal’s feet and sought his forgiveness for this unfortunate incident.Sastrigal who stood bewildered trembling with shame for a while, put his angavastram on his mouth and sobbed. He emptied his bag in everybody’s presence and left without uttering a word and without listening to the pleas of rich man.
He did not eat his food that day and did not sleep. He was dazed wondering how the bowl came to his bag. He did not believe what the rich man had said. His wife and daughter were pleading and begging him to have at least a glass of buttermilk.
 It was then Sundaram entered and fell headlong at his feet and clasping his feet cried”Mama, forgive this wretch. In anger at your refusal to give Lakshmi in marriage to me whom I love ardently, I did this treacherous act. I had already confessed to the crowd in the hall of my misdeed and got severely beaten. Until you forgive me, I will not get up.”
It was then Lakshmi in a rage unseen ever before screamed at Sundaram “I hate you from the bottom of my heart. I detest standing on the same ground where you are. You have no sense of gratitude to your benefactor and no devotion to your father like teacher. You are a scum of the earth. Get lost before I kill you.”

Sundaram knew that he had totally  forfeited her trust and love and left quietly never looking back.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving -a memory of the heart

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Who wins your admiration?

Chelladurai has been ailing from an acute heart ailment and was not expected to live long. Past 75 he has been staying in this poor home for the last ten years. He was discarded by his children. Although life was not comfortable in the home with its Spartan meals and dormitory type of accommodation, Chelladurai was grateful for the shelter and food the home provided with no other alternative available for him. He had no place to visit nor had any visitors.
Some kindly people used to visit the home on festive occasions to distribute sweets and dresses for the inmates. Some used to give small amount to each to them. One regular visitor who was thoughtful and considerate brought with him betel leaves and areca nuts, snuff, tobacco,candies for a few who had a weakness for such stuff.
 Chelladurai had bought recently for the first time in his life a lottery ticket for Rs10 on the persuasion of another friendly inmate and kept it in his diary. He never indulged in speculative activity but bought it only to please his friend. He never thought about it though his friend would often come up with various suggestions how the winnings could be utilized in case his ticket won the prize. This was an enjoyable past time in the evenings.
Ramu was a young orphan working in the home for a paltry salary. Chelladurai had taken a liking for him as he was gentle in his words and kind by disposition unlike the others who were generally rude and irritable most of the time and went about ordering the poor inmates. Ramu also liked Chelladurai and used to spend his leisure hours chatting with him and seeking his advice and guidance on his personal problems. Chelladurai had a great trust in Ramu.
It so happened that Chelladurai’s friend who goaded him to buy the lottery ticket passed away suddenly. In the grief Chelladurai had forgotten about the lottery ticket for two months. One afternoon when Ramu and Chelladurai were talking, the latter saw the ticket protruding from his diary. He asked Ramu to keep the ticket with him and check the results
 Ramu jokingly asked Chelladurai what would be his share if his ticket won. Chelladurai instantly without hesitating said “The share would be fifty-fifty”
Surprised Ramu said”Sir, I was only joking. I don’t need any money. I have one request however. If you win huge amount, can you please expand this home, provide more facilities, give better food and clothes to the inmates and increase our salaries.”
Chelladurai replied “Don’t build castles in the air. We are destined to this lot in this birth. If per chance we get a few thousands, we can buy new mats and pillows and if there is money left bed sheets for all. They are dirty and in tatters.” Ramu was touched by his generous thought and concern for others.
That night Chelladurai unexpectedly suffered a massive heart attack and died even before he could be taken to an hospital. The entire home was enveloped in sorrow at the passing away of the kindly soul. Ramu could not control his tears at the demise of Chelladurai whom he regarded as a father figure. The vacant mat in the hall brought him sad memories. He did not care to check the lottery results for fifteen days.
On the sixteenth day Ramu was in for the biggest surprise in his life when he saw from the lottery results that Chelladurai’s ticket had won one crore rupees. He made doubly sure about the correctness of the number without telling anyone and went straight to the manager of the bank that the home dealt with and narrated truthfully the happenings.
The good natured manager asked him “Since you possess the ticket, you are the rightful owner of the entire winnings. I will get the money and have it credited initially in your name by opening an account. Tell me how you wish to deal with it. In the first instance please sign at the back of the ticket your name and write the address.”
Ramu replied “Chelladurai had expressed  his desire  that if he won some small amount, it should be utilized   to improve the living conditions of the inmates and provide basic facilities in the home without the inmates having to sleep on the floor on torn mats in cramped manner. I would request you to spend the entire fortune in expanding the home into a large building with several halls   to accommodate more poor people with facilities like big kitchen and dining hall, many bathrooms and toilets, common hall with TV. Please also ensure that the inmates get good food, clothing, and their basic needs. That alone would please the departed soul. I do not want even one rupee for myself as the ticket was purchased by him with his money.”
The bank manager stood up and embraced Ramu telling “Frankly I do not know who is more praiseworthy-the humane Chelladurai or the honest you. I think I will set apart 90% of the net proceeds after tax for building, modernizing the home with extra facilities and a corpus with you as trustee. I will put 10% for you in your name. That alone according to me would meet the ends of justice. If you wish I can make it 80 and 20 percent also.”
Ramu reluctantly agreed for 10% and left the details to be worked out by the bank manager who made a written record with proper signatures.

It is hard to answer as to which character among the three including the bank manager in this story wins our admiration most.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The magic of the kite

Dinesh and his wife Savitri along with their 6 year old son had come to South India on vacation. They had been planning this visit for a long time. Chennai was their last point. They had never seen a beach in their life. They had reserved one day in Chennai only for this purpose. When they went early in the evening, they were taken in by the bewitching beauty of Marina beach. The warmth of the long stretch of sands, the view of the vast expanse of sea with its roaring waves in the azure back ground and the accompanying cool breeze transported them to heavenly joy. Both had wanted to stand in the water and enjoy the waves lashing at their feet.
They had never envisaged the great problem that arose from their son Varun. Ever since he came to the beach, he was cross and irritable. He did not want to walk on the sand. He complained of pain in the leg. He cried that that they should not go near the water. He was throwing up all sorts of tantrums. Not all the cajoling and appeasing with candies, ice cream, and pony ride would make him budge. He stood adamant refusing to move and wailing at the top of the voice. He was afraid of the water. The couple were at their wit’s end not knowing what to do. They did not want to miss enjoying the beach after having come this far but were averse to make the boy cry further.
It was then one young boy of Varun’s age who was returning back home with his dad came towards Varun. He handed over the thread of the kite he was flying to Varun.He was elated and got immersed in keeping the kite afloat in the sky. He stopped crying and was able to stabilize the kite with the help of his daddy. All his petulance had vanished and he was walking with his parents towards the water. There was no resistance as he was busy keeping the kite in position. Dinesh and Savitri took turns to stand in the water with the waves breaking on their legs, and drenching their clothes. It was an exhilarating and new experience. The sun was still shining but they had to leave to catch the flight to Delhi.
When they started walking back towards the waiting car on the road, they saw a young boy again of Varun’s age crying and refusing out of fear to move towards the sea. He squatted on the sand, and wailed hysterically with his parents looking helplessly. Varun was amused with his parents smiling remembering the antics of their son a couple of hours before.

They were surprised when Varun walked towards the crying boy and handed over the thread of the kite that was still floating up in the sky. The same metamorphosis from fear to joy came about in the boy’s face too with Varun walking proudly with his parents towards the car.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The last wish

“Would you remember me always?” Ramanna asked his eight year old grandson Navin for the third time as they went round the small pond in the evening.
Navin who was ahead in his small cycle stopped and asked in an irritable tone “Why do you keep asking the same question every time we come out? I have said I will always remember you, thatha (grandpa)
“Just asking. You will remember the walks, the stories I tell you daily before you go to sleep and my wish that you study well to join Harvard. There is one other thing I have told you many times. I hope you remember.”
“Yes, thatha, I certainly will not forget all these even when I grow old like you. I know your other wish. I will tell my mom at the appropriate moment. Please do not ask me again these questions. If you do, I will refuse to accompany you.”
After they had walked a few yards, Navin stopped his cycle and waited for his grandpa to join him. He asked “Are you afraid of dying? Will it be dark over there? How will you walk without a torch? I wish you don’t die at all. My friend Mac’s grandfather is ninety five and is still very strong. He tells he can shoot a coyote even now. You have many years to go before you pop off.”
Ramanna smiled at the boy’s credulity and said “Yes, I will be alive till you join Harvard.”
“Thatha, no it is not possible. You will die long before. Let us go home. I am hungry and have some homework to do.”
Ramanna laughed hysterically and asked him when he expected he would die. Navin forgetting about Mac’s grand-dad said, “May be next year. Will you give me your laptop now itself? Sarala will otherwise keep it for herself”
The old man assured the boy “No, I can’t give you now. But I will tell your mom that it should be given to you. I will have something else for Sarala. But I don’t think I will last till next year. I am already past eighty and waiting for His call.”
Navin was awe struck “Does God have your cell number to call you. You never told me you speak to Him often. Can you tell Him to get me an iPhone I have been wanting for long?”
Ramanna could not walk even this short distance and was panting for breath. He sat on the farmer’s porch in front of his daughter’s house holding his hand on the chest even as he was sweating profusely.
”Thatha, what happened to you? Why are you sweating? Wait, let me call mom. I will get you water.”
Even as he ran shouting “Mom, thatha is not well. I think he will die. Please come at once”, his mom came running from the kitchen. They rushed him to the emergency in the hospital nearby. Navin’s dad had also joined them waiting patiently in the hall as doctors were endeavouring their best to revive Ramanna.
The nurses with grim faces were hurrying past to and from the emergency room. Navin started crying and said, “Mom, I don’t want thatha to die so soon. Mac’s grand-dad is ninety five and is still fine shooting coyotes.”
His mom signaled silence placing her fingers on her lips. Navin could not control his fear and started crying. Sarala put her arm around him and said “Don’t worry, thatha will be fine.”
The attending doctor walked slowly out of the emergency towards them. He told Navin’s parents “We did our best but could not save him… It was a massive cardiac arrest. His heart was already weak and he had undergone a bypass surgery. I am very sorry. Is there anything else you wish us to do?”
It was at this moment that Navin jumped up and said “Mom, thatha has been telling me to tell you that he wished to donate his eyes.It appears that every time he was broaching the subject, you got upset and asked him to keep quiet. He reminded me today also about his last wish. Can you not ask these doctors to remove his eyes?”
She remembered how she smothered her dad from expressing his wish when he started taking about his end. She requested the doctor to remove the eyes. She signed some papers with tears flowing from her eyes even as Navin was seen wiping her tears and telling her “I am happy that I carried out his last wish. He must have got the call from God on his cell phone today. That is the reason he told me again today.”

A few days later, Navin’s mom called him and said thatha had expressed his wish that his laptop be given to him and his iPhone to Sarala. Navin went to thatha’s room alone and standing before his photograph said “Thatha, I promise that I will always remember you. I will put your picture in the screensaver in your laptop given me by mom. Thank you so much. I love you. I will study well and join Harvard. Your other wish has been carried out. Even if it is dark over there, you will not know as your eyes have been removed.”