Thursday, December 12, 2019

Grandma's last wish

I read this story of mine by chance today and liked it very much.Most of you would have read this earlier and had a smile at the end.I have posted again for my new blogger friends and I am sure you would enjoy reading this again as I did.

My dad worked as a teacher in Town high school Kumbakonam. He had let his lands in the nearby village for tilling to the farmers who gave him a portion of the proceeds. We lived in a house in a street that ran parallel to one side of the school. That was my school too and my memory is still vivid of my scaling the short wall opposite my house instead of walking to the gate.
My maternal uncle’s house was next to ours. He lived with my grandmother, his wife and a daughter three years younger to me. I do not remember what my mama(uncle) did for living except that he went early to the big bazaar street daily to work in a shop and came home late doing some additional work in some other place. He had no landed property to fall back. They led a frugal life but never looked to us for any support. My dad sent them a few sacks of rice after harvest, but I suspect my mom ordered extra provisions each month and gave them to my aunt when mama was not there. She did not give the entire provisions at one time but in installments lest she refused in embarrassment. My dad knew it, I believe, though no word was spoken about it.
My mother went daily to see her mom in the afternoon while mama came occasionally to our place. Even on Sundays, he would be doing some errands for extra income.Bhooma, my mama’s daughter, who studied two classes lower to mine was a school topper and well known in the school for distinguishing herself in varied activities like sports, essay writing, debate and music competitions. I used to be jealous of her when she repeatedly appeared on the stage to receive cups and medals from the President of the school while I rarely went up the stage. She was popular among her friends and tended to dominate the group with her loud laughter and banter.
I was an introvert seeking comfort in the company of story books and mostly my patti (grandmother). She was very fond of me and relished telling me about various temples, lives of alwars and their hymns.
I still remember the day when Bhooma in my presence told my grandma, “Patti, you are making Sarangan an useless guy telling him, as if he is a child of five years, mythological stories and slokams. He can as well read them in Chanda Mama. He is not doing very well in studies. He is also shy, walking always  with his head bent and rarely talks to me in the school, let alone my friends.”
“Keep quiet, you silly girl. He is not loud mouthed like you but is quite intelligent. He can recite easily from memory entire Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam without faltering and knows many hymns of alwars. Be respectful to him as he is older to you by three years. He is a good boy and is naturally unwilling to talk to unknown girls..“Bhooma left in a huff jabbing her shoulder on her jaw in contempt.
”Ignore that brat, Saranga.I will tell her father to reprimand her. It is not good for a girl to be so egoistic and proud” consoled my patti as if I was hurt by her remark.
“It is Okay, patti.She told the truth only as I am shy by nature and also not a topper like her. She means good” I replied
“May be. When she gets married, she must learn to be respectful. Anyway I leave it in the hands of Lord Oppiliappan” I could surmise even at my young age patti’s secret desire that I should marry her and relieve mama of much expense towards marriage.(In our parts marrying maternal uncle’s daughter was very much in vogue)
I have never spoken to patti about Bhooma or what I thought of her. Though tall with lustrous hair falling up to hip, she had a bulbous nose with a shrill voice. Dominating and outspoken by nature, she did not endear herself to me though I held her in good esteem for her attainments in many fields. We often argued on petty matters and she ascribed this to my jealousy of her.
Years flew by and I had finished engineering and was working in a leading IT company at Pune.Bhooma had finished her graduation on scholarships and topped the university. She was selected in the campus by a reputed bank and was waiting for the offer letter. I had not visited home for nearly three years. Meanwhile there was a family function which my mom insisted that I should attend mainly for seeing my patti who was keeping indifferent health. She had grown old, very weak and was falling sick often. It seemed she expressed a keen desire to see me at the earliest.
The day I reached my home, my mom took me aside to the kitchen after the initial pleasantries, and told me”Saranga,I wish to share with you the piquant situation I am in before you meet your patti.She is not keeping well and doctor says that she may not live for long. She has been insisting that I promise her to have Bhooma married to you. I told her that this is a matter concerning you and that I cannot assure her anything without discussing with you. It is not that I have anything against Bhooma but feel both of you should warm up to the suggestion. Now that you are here, she may ask me again or even talk to you directly. I mentioned to your dad and he said this is something to be decided by you. What is in your mind?”
“Amma, frankly I have not thought about marriage at all and I am certain that Bhooma is not someone whom I would like to marry. Do not make any promise to patti. You can tell her the truth in plain words. If mama wants financial support for Bhooma’s marriage, I can pitch in some amount along with appa.I will certainly not marry her” I said
“I understand but remember patti is my mother and I cannot be as blunt as you are. Again you have not seen Bhooma recently in the last two years. She has changed a lot into a beautiful maiden and has turned very soft in speech. She has been selected for a nice job. You may even change your mind, if you see her. I am not trying to influence you. Anyway be prepared for patti’s query on this. I would not accompany you when you go to meet her” she replied.
When I went next morning to meet patti, the front door was ajar and she was alone. Mama as usual, had gone out and mami to a nearby temple.Bhooma was not to be seen. Patti sat up with difficulty and hugged me with affection and said” Saranga, I am extremely happy to see you and was really worried whether I would be alive to see you again. I have only one desire to be fulfilled before I shed this coil. I spoke to your mom but she is dodgy. I rely only on Lord Oppiliappan to open His eyes and your willingness to carry out my last wish.”
I grabbed the short pause as she was catching her breath and told her”Patti, I know your wish and I am sorry to tell you that I cannot fulfill it. If it is Bhooma’s marriage with me, let us not talk about it. If mama needs financial help, I can offer it to him. Sorry for being blunt. Please do not mistake me. I love you very much”
Her eyes became red with anger and she shouted “Who needs your financial help? Your mama is not a beggar to take it from you. Bhooma would earn enough for her marriage. I had lot of affection for and hope in you but never knew you were disrespectful to elders. I would not like to see your face again till my last breath. Please go away immediately from here.”
As I lingered and said “Patti, please listen. You cannot impose”, she cut me short with a scream  “Get lost now” and fell down on her side with her face turned away from me.
It was then I saw a shadow fall upon me and I found Bhooma entering the room from the hall. I could see her eyes moist.”Please leave her alone, Saranga.She is really sick and tension is the last thing she can have” she said softly. I knew she must have heard our conversation.
I could not believe my eyes how beautiful she had transformed in the last two or three years even as I stood transfixed before her.
”Saranga, please go away immediately. We cannot afford another hospital trip” she pleaded.
It was barely 30 minutes after I reached my home, we heard the front door being knocked repeatedly and loudly. It was Bhooma crying aloud that patti had breathed her last and her mom is yet to return from temple and that someone should send word to her dad. With utter disbelief and shock, we rushed to her house. Patti’s face looked as if she was under some pain and I knew who had caused it.
“Patti, please open your eyes for one last time. I wish to say that I would carry out your wish wholeheartedly. My disinclination to marry Bhooma stemmed from my inferiority complex as she always excelled me and my fear she may want a better person. I am sorry I displeased you at the fag end of your life. Please, will you open your eyes once? “I pleaded
Meanwhile a doctor was fetched by someone and after examination, he said “She had only fainted, may be due to weakness. Who said she had breathed her last? I have given her an injection. She should be okay soon. Please give her some warm beverage. There is nothing to worry”
From the corner of my eyes, I could trace a mischievous grin on Bhooma’s face and a much relieved amma. The tightness in Patti’s face seemed to have vanished. I could not resist the wicked thought whether Bhooma, patti and amma had in unison enacted this drama.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A fateful encounter

Gopanna realizing that he was being taken to some unknown place asked the hazy and darkish figure that dragged him, “Who are you? Why do you drag me across weird places that I have never seen?”
“I am not supposed to talk with the souls I carry with me. I am a messenger of Yama (God of death). We have to do our duty and travel far. Please keep quiet.”
“Did you say souls? I am not dead and am no soul. I think there is a mistake. I am hale and hearty with no complaints whatsoever even a common cold. How would I die so early in my life?”
“I agree but you met with an accident and fell from the cable car you were travelling alone to the top of the hill. Since your time was up, I had to engineer a mishap to bring your life to an end.”
“I am 45 years old and my wife and two small kids would be waiting for my return. I am sure you must have committed a mistake. You have messed up my life,” cried Gopanna.
“Did you say you are 45 years old? What is your name by the way? Just wait, let me check,” the figure said and looking at its palm added, “I came to your building correctly and when I did not find you, I came rushing to where you were. Is there anyone by your name who is 65 years old in your building?”
Jumping with joy with a shred of hope, Gopanna replied, “Yes, there is Bopanna who lives in the adjacent flat. He is 65 years and has been ailing for long with some respiratory problem.”
“My god, I had made a serious blunder for the first time. Why do you people have similar sounding names? I am sorry for your predicament but you will find yourself alive now at the bottom of mountain where the cable car crashed. Find your way back to your home. I hope you are not seriously hurt,” said the figure before it hastily vanished possibly to claim Bopanna’s life.
Meanwhile Gopanna’s house was in great gloom. The crash of cable car at the top of hill was flashed in the media and hotly discussed. There was some small consolation that the causality was limited to only one passenger. Nevertheless, the rescue team plunged into operation despite the heavy rains during the intervening period hampering its efforts. The cable car had fallen into a deep gorge lined with big and small trees. Visibility was poor. While the broken car could be traced, the passenger’s body remained untraceable. The search was given up after intense search for couple of days.
Articles appeared about the technical flaws in the cable car operations and the suppliers’ failure to address them. There was a clamour that they be hauled up in the court. The state government under pressure with an ensuing by election in a fortnight in the constituency, announced a compensation of Rs.50 lakhs and issued a written offer of a job for the victim’s wife. The cable car company offered Rs.25 lakhs as compensation that was increased to Rs. 35 lakhs after hue and cry. The party in opposition, not to lose the opportunity, pressurized the government to give rent free accommodation till her retirement to victim’s wife.
Gopanna held a small position in the state government and was leading a hand to mouth existence in a rented flat. Though the loss to the family was irreparable, the generous gesture by the government and the company somewhat lessened the severity of the blow. All these happened in lightning speed within ten days before the date of the poll. Gopanna’s wife meanwhile had joined in the new job and moved into her new accommodation close by.
When Gopanna woke up to the roaring noise of a river, he saw around thick bushes and trees and realized that he was at the bottom of a hill as in a steep-walled canyon. Luckily it was morning and as he tried to get up, he found one of his legs broken and hanging loosely from ankle. There was a deep gash on his face below his eye up to jawbone. There were bruises all over the body. The saving grace was he was not hit on the head and was mentally alert. He looked around for help and there was not a soul visible. He cried in pain and prayed to god for long time before he dozed off to sleep.
He did not know how long he slept till he heard a soft voice, “Dear son, get up. This is not a place to sleep as wild animals would be on prowl. Let me help you to get up,” He saw a dark, tall but muscular figure in loin cloth  with long beard and matted hair.
“Do not be afraid of me. I roam in these areas. I have some powers and I will carry you up to the verge of the city where you will find people to help you. Just close your eyes till I ask you to open,” he said as he smiled betraying an unevenly aligned yellow teeth.
The next moment, he was asked to open the eyes to find himself lying on the road opposite a government hospital and the bearded man missing mysteriously. Let us skip the details of what happened after some good Samaritans admitted him in the hospital till he came out of it after two months with a crutch on hand to support the one amputated leg, with hideous and twisted face after several stiches from the eye to jaw and three fingers missing on his left hand. He had seen in the toilet the facial deformities that his beard and mustache could hardly conceal and so covered his face with a towel
When he limped to his old home, he found new occupants. They thought him to be a vagabond but he managed without revealing his true identity to find out that the previous resident was dead in a recent accident and that the bereaved family had moved to a free government flat in the Housing Board complex nearby and that his wife had secured a government job along with heavy compensation.
Gladdened at the fortuitous turn of events after the tragic accident, he reached his wife’s new place. Being a Sunday, she was there. Though he felt there was a look of sadness in her face, she betrayed no evidence of recognizing him, when she asked, “Whom do you want?”
“Is this not Gopanna’s house? Don’t you know who I am?’” he asked with a smile that accentuated the ugliness of his grotesque face. She recoiled with a sense of the dreadful figure before her and said, “I don’t know you. Please go away,” before banging the door shut.
He stood baffled and called his wife’s name twice and the door remained shut. He was in two minds whether to force his way inside by baring all the happenings or withdraw quietly. He thought what if she had not really recognized him? Would she not welcome him with extended hands if she really knew of his return despite the injuries?
It was then he heard a phone ring inside the house. He nudged towards the window of the front room unseen. He heard her voice clearly as she spoke to her elder brother, “Anna, I think it is him who had come a while ago. He looks scary and repulsive in appearance. I could not recognize him initially but when I saw the dark round mole on his forehead, I realized who it is. I immediately shut the door.”
Gopanna could not hear what was spoken by her brother but could surmise from her response about what was spoken. He was aware that her brother has a shady and criminal past
“That is why I pretended not to know him. What you warned struck me too. I am aware the government would take away the job, the house and even a major portion of compensation.”
“I agree he cannot get a job and will only be a burden. I am also averse to live with such a warped man though I am willing to pay him monthly some amount for his upkeep if only he would keep quiet. Please advise me what I should do?” she asked
“Ok. I will stay put and hope he goes away caring for his children. If any development occurs, I will let you know,” she concluded the phone call.
After half hour she peeped through window to know that he left and let a sigh of relief. For two months there was total silence and she never heard or saw Gopanna again till one day the boy in the adjacent house gave her a sealed cover addressed to her by name informing her that someone came and asked him to deliver.
She hurriedly opened to see,
Dear Gowri,
You will be shocked to see this letter from me after my unwelcome visit. I thought of leaving you alone and fend for myself somewhere. I am not getting any job and people drive me away when they see my repugnant figure. I had nearly put in 20 years of service and will be entitled to pension if I prove my identity. But that would affect you adversely as you know the government would withdraw from you  all facilities and even compensation. More than worrying about you, I do not want my children to live in poverty.
I have two proposals to make. One is you pay me 25% of the compensation received by you and the second one is to allow me to stay with you and the children for three days in a month. This will assure you of my total silence. You may hand over the reply in a sealed cover to the boy in the adjacent house in a week.
Lovingly Gopanna
Gowri rang up her brother knowing that she had a blackmailer on hand and this may not be the only or last request. He would milk her when he ran out of money till the last rupee. The neighbours would also start suspecting who he was frequently visiting her. She wished to know what she should do. He replied he would talk to her in person.
When the subject came up during his visit the same evening, her brother cryptically replied, “Do wait for some time to see what he is up to. Meanwhile I will find ways to stop him from troubling you anymore. Leave this to me. Do not tell anyone about his visit or about the letter. Burn it and wash it down in drain.”
 Gowri was still worried but strangely there was a total silence for more than a month with no more communications or visit from Gopanna. 
When she mentioned this during her brother’s next visit, he told her smugly with a wry smile,” Be in total peace. I have ensured that he does not trouble you anymore. Do not talk about this matter anymore and especially on phone with me”
Gowri stood there with a lump in her throat and tried to fight back her tears.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A thoughtful gift

Melisa has been working her mind to death like a dog with the bone for the last few days to determine the apt gift for her mom Maggie on her ensuing 65th birth day that happened to be a Thanks giving day. She knew that her mom  never liked anything gaudy or rich. Neither a sari nor a jewel seemed appropriate this year. Her dad had passed away only ten months back and her mom would desire no celebration what so ever.
Her parents were very loving and caring to each other in their married life that spanned forty years. Each one of them gave in to make the other happy. Melisa had never witnessed even a single instance of their being angry with each other while tiffs seemed a matter of daily occurrence in her own life. Her mom had still not got over the shock and was living in her past memories refusing to move on with life.
 Melisa’s husband could be of no help with his crazy idea of taking her mom out to a picturesque spot on the occasion. He presumably thought that it would be a change from the surroundings. But then he had not understood his mother-in-law well. Her mom had emphatically told her that she would not like any celebration and that the day would pass off like any other day. She wanted her to respect her wishes.
As she was thinking about her parents while in bed still undecided what to buy for her, she dozed off to sleep only to have a wonderful dream. Her dad had come to her house alone from the evening walk and asked her to fetch him good tea with namkeens. It was unusual of him to come alone as her mom always accompanied him. He was in a happy frame of mind making jokes and laughing loudly.
 It was then her mom’s birth day celebrations came up. He said he wished to make it a big but a private affair starting with an appointment the previous day at a local beauty salon for a facial and massage. He would then take her to get for her a new outfit of clothes, shoes and a matching hand bag. On her birth day, he would pamper her with a breakfast in her bed with a bouquet of sixty five roses. In the evening they would have a quiet dinner at a nice hotel along with Melisa and her family.
She praised him for his thoughtful plans and asked, “What should be my present for mom?”
He said,” I have already thought about it. I think I have a beautiful picture of her along with me. It should be in my table drawer.Get a good frame to fix it. That would be the ideal gift she would like.”
The idea seemed very good and even as she was thanking him the dream ended abruptly. But she was happy that her dad had solved her problem so well.
Next day she visited her mom’s place that remained vacant and locked. She rummaged the old photo albums in her dad’s table and found the latest picture of her parents that her dad had mentioned. She quietly had it enlarged to the size of the beautiful golden frame she bought.
On the Thanks giving day, she took the frame neatly covered in a sober gift wrapper to her mom's room. When Melisa handed over the same, her mom was upset and said angrily “I told you clearly that I will have no gifts or celebration and yet you bring this packet. Don’t you respect the sentiments of your mom?”
Melisa said ”Ma, this is no ordinary  gift. I am respecting the wishes of my dad to get this for you. He came in my dream a couple of days back and suggested that I do his bidding. Open it and see for yourself. Do remember today is Thanks giving day and dad had so lovingly thought of this.”
When Maggie opened the packet to see the picture in a wonderful and large frame with her sitting by the side of her  husband standing  with his arm around her, she was thrilled beyond words. She turned to see Melisa looking intently at her with some trepidation as to how she would react to the framed picture and realized instantly Melisa’s loving care and affection for her and how she made a big difference to her life. Realizing how lucky she was,Maggie wiping the tears thanked the Lord for His blessings even as she pulled Melisa towards her and hugged her tightly smothering her with kisses.

“When we focus on our gratitude, the tide of disappointment goes out and the tide of love rushes in.”

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The epiphany.

I stopped the car when I saw the flower shop. I was on my way to meet my sweet heart whom I have been dating for nearly a year. She was turning 27 this day. I ordered a bunch of 27 large red roses to be made into a fine bouquet. 
As I was waiting, I saw a young boy around ten years bargaining with the shop assistant. I heard him telling “I have only 10 rupees. Can you make a small bouquet of roses for that amount? “
The assistant told him, “Sorry, the minimum we make is for Rs.50/. I can manage a small one for Rs.25. What you have is not adequate”
The boy pleaded “Today is my mom’s birthday. I assure I can pay the balance in two months. Won’t you please help me?”
The assistant said a bit harshly “No credit. We are busy in the morning with customers. Please go away without disturbing.” With tears trickling, the boy turned to move away.
I called the boy,” Hey, come here I will get for you a bouquet for your mom. I am glad you are a loving son and remember the occasion to surprise her. She should be happy to see the bouquet. Please wait.”
Meanwhile the assistant gave me my bunch of 27 roses beautifully arranged and a small bouquet of roses for the boy that I had ordered.
I asked the boy to get into the car telling him that I would drop him if his home was not far away. The boy got down after a short distance before a small house. He said “Thank you, Sir. My mother is actually no more. She passed away last year. I used to get her from the adjacent gardens a few red roses on her birthday. She loved roses very much and would feel very happy. This year I thought I will get her a bouquet. Thanks to you, I can place it before her photo.”
My eyes became moist as my thoughts went to my mother in a senior home. She was past 70 with dimmed vision and reduced hearing. She used a walker to move about. We are a family of six sons and three daughters. Yet none of us found it convenient to keep her at our homes after my father passed away. The daughters- in-law were all working and no one wanted an old lady with them. Till then my parents lived separately. My mother is a fine lady, soft spoken and talked very little. My dad was not a rich man. He left behind his house which we sold and out of the proceeds paid the deposit to the senior home and the monthly subscription. She did not depend on us financially.
This arrangement suited us all fine though my mom’s willingness was never ascertained. We went to meet her initially once a month with wives. Gradually the wives stopped accompanying my brothers. The daughters were all in outstations I am the youngest and not yet married. The visits by everyone became gradually few and far between. Ever since I started dating, I could not also find time. It is almost six months since I met her.
The boy’s touching remembrance of his mom on her birthday opened my eyes. I rushed back to the flower shop and got a large bouquet of roses and other flowers. Along with my fiancee I bought some dresses and fruits for my mom and went to meet her. She was greatly surprised and was immensely happy when I introduced my fiancee.
 She had her face brought very close to her to see her and said” She is very charming and cute. You are mighty lucky. May you tie the knot soon and live happily.”
On our way back, my fiancee remarked “God willing, we shall keep her with us once we get married. We can employ a helper to attend to her needs.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A celebration of sharing

(This story belonged to the years when the awareness of the harmful effects of fireworks on the Eco system was not fully known)
It was Diwali that day. The air was thick with smoke but full of fun and revelry and the atmosphere echoed with the laughter of children. The houses were all decorated in multi-coloured serial lights. The endless rows of diyas with dancing flames added magic to the ambiance. The children were seen running hither and thither bursting crackers and lighting sparklers. The smell of elachi, kesar and other spices wafted from the kitchens that were preparing scrumptious sweets and namkeens. One could see well-dressed men and women hurrying in cars to make the last minute purchases of dry fruits, gift boxes, sweets and clothes.
Siddharth and Ankita were sitting morose in the verandah watching the brightly-lit houses across the road. Siddharth put his arm around Ankita and gently patted her comfortingly without uttering one word. Both knew what was passing through each other’s mind.
Exactly a year before, the scene was entirely different. Their boy of eight years, Aniruddh, was busy a week before Diwali making endless list of crackers he wished to buy and in deciding how much of the money should go for the light and how much for the sound varieties. He liked long Lars that would bring to a stop the entire neighbourhood with its noise and dazzle. He also had a fancy for the multi-coloured fountains and flower pots while his dad had a weakness for rockets. His mother had an aversion for the loud detonations of the country made atom bombs. The boy and dad went with a predetermined budget only to be exceeded by several times. They came home with large packets that seemed almost impossible to finish single handedly even in a couple of days.
It was dark already. The loud explosions and brightness from the rockets and flower pots in the neighbourhood indicated the commencement of celebration. Aniruddh, despite his love for the fireworks, was a timid boy and afraid to light up the noisy stuff. He dragged his parents from the living room to help him in bursting the crackers. The boy let his dad do the lighting of crackers while he closed his ears with both palms and jumped with joy when he heard the muffled sounds.
 There was a slum close by and about half a dozen urchins, half-clad, in unkempt hair, stood outside the gate and watched the display with awe. For the poor and the deprived, Diwali day was like any other day of toil and hunger. The children watched with covetous eyes the vast spread of crackers of assorted varieties kept in a corner. When one of the crackers did not go off, one boy from across the gate rushed inside to pick it up and examine. Siddharth shouted at the boy “You fool, don’t go near, it may burst”
It was then Aniruddh said, “I have a request, Dad. They are all very poor and do not have the money to buy even a shirt. They are as young as I am. Can I call them also to join in the fun? We have so much crackers to burst.”
His mom said “No, give them some crackers and send them away. You don’t have to rub shoulders with them.”
 Aniruddh was adamant “Ma, I want them to enjoy as much as I do when dad lights up the crackers. They are also young like me and not accustomed to crackers. They will be in the lawn only for two hours. I will be happier to see them having fun along with me. Please do not say no.”
Siddharth intervened to say, “Ankita, let them also enjoy. Had I known Ranariddh’s mind earlier, I would have brought some clothes too for these urchins.”
Aniruddh was very happy and called the children to come in. For the next two hours it was a riot of laughter and gaiety amidst the glittering light and colour. The entire lot was finished except for a few stray items which Aniruddh gave away to the boys. When they started to leave happily, Ankita called them in and said “Don’t go away. Come inside and wash your hands. I will give you some sweets and snacks to eat.”
A year had since passed but the beaming and happy face of Aniruddh on the Diwali day was still fresh in their memory. A few months after Diwali, the boy died after a short ailment despite all the care and treatment.
When Ankita saw the urchins gathered at the gate again and seemed disappointed to see the dark house bereft of noise, brightness and particularly the pleasant boy. She could not suppress her tears. When Siddharth saw Ankita crying, he said “Get ready, let us go and get lots of crackers and sweets for Aniruddh’s friends. I will ask them to come after an hour for an encore of celebrations like last year. That would make Aniruddh happy.” She readily agreed and asked him to buy some shorts and T- shirts too for the boys.
When they returned back with the bundles the boys were eagerly waiting. Siddharth called them inside and gave them the new dresses to wear. Then under his supervision, the little urchins enjoyed to their hearts’ content the lighting of the crackers watched by Ankita with mixed feelings of joy and grief.
 One little girl in that group innocently asked “Uncle, where is the boy who played with us last time? We enjoyed this more last year when he was around. Has he gone out of station?”
Ankita could not suppress her tears and covering her face with her sari she cried aloud. Siddharth told the girl “Aniruddh is no more. We did this as we felt he would be happy if he could see you all in smiles today.”
As the entire lot of urchins stood speechless as if frozen, the little girl said “We are very sad. Had we known this earlier, we would not have made all this merriment.”
Ankita pulled the little girl to her side and said “Don’t feel sad. Aniruddh will be feeling happy wherever he is. All of you come each year on this day for making him and us happy.”

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Seshu's travail

(A translation of a Tamil story of mine சேச்சுவின் கவலை)

” Both the saris that I have are torn at several places and are beyond mending. I am shy of going out,” lamented Alamelu in a voice that was almost inaudible.

“I am fully aware of your plight, Alamelu but I am presently  in a quandary. I have in hand only 300 rupees and the annual festival of the presiding deity is approaching within a week. The sari of goddess is in tatters like yours and however much I try to conceal, they are still visible. When devotees observe the torn condition though without commenting, I cringe in shame. I have pleaded with some devotees who seem well to do to help but to no avail,” bewailed Seshu, the priest at the local Kodandapani temple.
“My god, I did not know. Do not worry about me. I can manage for a month more. It does not matter much as I hardly go out. Why don’t you ask the trustee to do the needful explaining the sad situation and the ensuing annual festival? After all he has a responsibility too,” said Alamelu.
“Do you have to tell me? I had already done that many times and he gets upset whenever I linger before him. According to him, there is practically no income for the temple from the lands and that he is already spending his money for the daily pujas and rituals. He has told me many times that I have to request the regular devotees to contribute for the expenses and charged me that I am not doing my duty properly. I am really at my wit’s end how I can get a new sari for the goddess before the festival,” he bemoaned wiping his eyes with his upper cloth.
After some silence, Alamelu said,” I have a suggestion. You should not object to that. I have this pair of gold bangle though it has become very thin over the years. Please dispose it off with the pawn broker in the bazaar and buy a good sari and blouse piece and good dhotis for the god with the money and use the rest for expenses. It matters little to me whether I have gold bangle or not. I will buy glass bangles for me.”
Shocked at the suggestion, Seshu was quick to respond saying, “No, no, I have never bought you even a gram of gold after our marriage and I cannot agree to take away the only semblance of an ornament on you. Let the god and goddess find a way to buy their needs. They are aware of our extreme poverty and cannot thrust this responsibility on me.”
“Such a wise man as you are, how do you think the bangles belong to us? Everything we own is given by Him and we are only returning Him in the hour of need. I think He is deliberately testing you to the extreme. Listen to me, sell these bangles to Seth and after getting the money buy the needed things. There are hardly three or four days,” Alamelu said with a finality.
“Welcome, Sami. It is very unusual for you to visit my shop. I am blessed. What can I do for you,”? the pawnbroker greeted Seshu warmly.
“I need some money urgently. Here is a pair of bangles that I wish to sell. Kindly give me whatever it is worth.”
Seth examined the bangles carefully and said,” Sami, please do not take me amiss. There is more copper in it than gold. It will not fetch you much money.”
When he saw Seshu’s face fall, he asked with concern, “What for you do you need the money urgently, Sami? Is anyone sick at home? Tell me how much you need? I will pay you.”
“Not like that. By god’s grace we are well. In four days the annual festival of the temple is to take place. I am ashamed to confide that the sari of goddess is torn all over and it is not possible anymore to conceal them from the eyes of devotees. It has to be replaced immediately. That is why the urgency,” explained Seshu.
“Why do you have to sell the jewel of your wife? Why is trustee not coming forward to help?”
“The trustee tells that he is already spending his money for daily puja and rituals and that I should ask the devotees to help. It is not forthcoming. If the god and goddess who shower their blessings on all of us suffer and wear torn vastrams, I feel anguished. It was at my wife’s suggestion that I wished to sell the bangles and make use of the money. It is unfortunate that is also not feasible,” said Seshu
“When is the festival starting?”
“It falls on coming Friday. We have just four days.”
“Please do not worry. God will find some way to help you celebrate the festival in a fitting manner. Today is Monday. If no one comes forward to contribute by Wednesday evening, please come to me. Take these bangles with you,” Seth said in a comforting tone.
It was 8.30 Wednesday evening and the temple usually closed at 9 pm. Seshu was crest fallen as there had been no positive sign of help reaching. There was no word from trustee too. As Seshu was in Janakavalli thayar’s sanctum praying with tears in his eyes, he heard some commotion at the gate of temple. The regular flower seller along with his wife were seen entering with heavy cane baskets on their heads. Seshu rushed out to see the baskets placed outside the sanctum.
“What are these? Who gave them?” he asked them.
“We don’t know. Someone came in a car and requested us to take the baskets inside the temple and give it to the priest. He saw us placing the baskets here from outside and left,” one of them said.
When he removed the coloured clothes that covered the baskets, he found four bundles on one of the baskets and in the other big packets containing raisins, sugar candy(kalkandu), almonds, cashew nuts, packets of kumkum and turmeric, incense sticks, a tin each of ghee and gingelly oil besides a few other things.
When he turned his eyes on the other basket that contained bundles, he found the names Kodandapani and Janakavalli thayar written on them. One of them contained two pairs of dhotis with big zari border in red and green and the other with a pair of Kanchipuram silk saris, one in maroon and another in dark green with large zari borders in gold with two matching blouse pieces.
When he opened the other two bundles specified for ‘priest couple’, he found inside one, a pair of dhotis and upper clothes and in the other a pair of cotton saris of high quality with matching blouse pieces.
There was five thousand rupees in the bundle for god and a two thousand rupee note for the priest. There was a slip of paper with the note, “Let Friday festival be my humble offering every year. I will be there by 5 am on Friday with flower garlands, flowers, basil garlands, fruits of different kinds and sandal paste. Let us make it a great celebration…a devotee.”
A thought ran across Seshu’s mind whether it could be from Seth but the large size of bounty made him confused.
Seshu jumped with joy at the pleasant turn of events and turned to look at the Goddess only to sense a fleeting grin in Her face. He prostrated before Her gratefully for the miracle and got ready to attend happily to the huge load of work before him.
On Friday the temple wore a festive look with festoons of mango leaves and plantain trees at the entrance. Sharp at 5 am, a car stopped at the entrance of the temple and Seth along with his family members alighted followed by his servants with several baskets. Seshu welcomed them with a broad smile and folded hands.
“Sami, are you happy now that the God had answered your prayers? This function will be henceforth mine every year. You must however remind me a week before,” said the Seth. “I have also brought a big brass Hundi to be kept in the hall for devotees to contribute. Suddenly the temple bell started tolling loudly signifying the start of celebration.
It is a tiny bit of news that Seth visited Seshu’s house on the following day and handed him a small packet saying, “Kindly accept this small token of affection and   both of you bless me and my family.”
After blessing them, Seshu opened the packet to see a pair of shining bangles in gold. Flabbergasted he opened his mouth to protest when Seth implored, “Kindly accept this token of gratitude for turning my attention from the material world of making money towards god. Ever since Friday I am suffused with joy and peace of mind that I have never experienced.” 
Alamelu beaming with happiness cast a furtive glance at the glittering bangles. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The second chance

It was getting dark and the sky was overcast. The crowd had thinned out in the park and the children playing on the slides and swings had also gone back to their homes. The park was almost empty. When he felt a drop of water fall on his face, Sadasivam too decided to leave. As he was walking back slowly on the long bridge over the river to reach his area, he saw a young boy a little away standing at the edge of the bridge holding its railings on hand. The boy stood motionless with his eyes fixed on the vast space of water moving slowly beneath. Sadasivam felt it odd for a young boy of about 15 to be standing alone gazing at the water below at this hour. He knew the river was deep there. He suspected the boy’s intentions may not be good and hurried his pace towards him.
When he went close to the boy, he looked at him vacantly possibly waiting for him to pass leaving him alone again. But Sadasivam had no mind to do that.
“Why are you standing here alone when it is dark and about to rain?” he asked the boy.
The boy did not respond but turned his face towards the river.
“Haven’t you heard me? Why are you here? Go back home before it rains. Is your home nearby?”
“Leave me alone, Sir, I beg of you,” he mumbled. It was then Sadasivam noticed his swollen eyes and surmised he must have been crying. It did not take long for him to figure out that the boy must have failed in the annual examination and afraid to go home.
I will not pry much into your affairs but have no intention to leave you here alone. You can come to my home which is very close by, eat something and share your problem. We can discuss and find ways to resolve it. I will help you. I am living alone with my wife and servant in a big house. You can stay for the night if you wish to and decide what should be done next. If you still want to go to the bridge, I cannot prevent you but I may alert the police. But right now you are coming with me,” Sadasivam said with finality.
The boy then started crying inconsolably. Sadasivam put his hands on his shoulder and led him home without talking much.
“I have brought a young guest home. I found him standing on the bridge alone. He will stay here tonight with us as we have some important matter to discuss after dinner when you can also be present. Can you give him some fruit juice before he freshens himself up?” Sadasivam said explaining to his wife about the  boy’s presence.
“What is your name?” she asked when she handed over the chilled orange juice.
With his head hung low, the boy mumbled,” Vedagiri”.”
When she heard the name, she was startled and kept silent for a moment. With a twinge of sadness and  much affection, she said, “I like the name and it is my favourite,” even as she started wiping her eyes with her sari.
Meanwhile Sadasivam handed him a towel and asked him to have a quick wash and come to dining table
As they sat down comfortably after dinner on the sofa with Vedagiri by the side of aunty, Sadasivam prodded him to tell his story truthfully without any fear. As the boy was perspiring, aunty switched on the AC.
“Tell me first about your parents, siblings if any, where you live and then proceed with your account of today’s happenings,” said Sadasivam in casual tone.
“We are a poor family. My father Sundaresan works as a cook for marriages and such like occasions. The income is not enough. He will be away for four or five days in a week and come for one or two days only to go back. My mother manages with limited income. I have a sister two years younger to me and studying in class 7 in the government school. I have also a brother who is just 8 years and in class two. We are living in a small portion adjacent to perumal kovil (temple),” and paused awaiting their reaction.
“Good, tell me now what all happened since morning and why you were standing near the bridge. I can tolerate anything but a lie. Speak truthfully I warn you,” Sadasivam said in an admonishing tone.
Aunty intervened to tell her husband, “Please do not threaten the child. He looks scared already,” and turning to the boy said affectionately,” Vedagiri, do not be afraid but tell uncle in your own way what all had happened.”
“Okay aunty. The results were out today and I failed for the second time in class 8.I got fair marks in all subjects except mathematics. Previous year too I failed in the same subject. Last year the teacher suggested that I take tuition from him but how can we afford it? The school will not keep boys who have failed twice in same class. I am terribly ashamed and feel bad to face my parents. My father would be shattered by the news as he pinned all his hopes on me. I did not know what to do. I came to the river with a crazy idea but got afraid of the deep water. I did not know what to do as my mind was blank. It was then luckily uncle came and took me away from the spot.,” he stopped as he broke down into sobs.
“Do you have any interest in extracurricular activities like sports, music or anything else,” Sadasivam asked.
“I have not participated in sports as I wished to return home quickly to help my mother. I fetch water daily in the evenings from public tap. I like Carnatic music but have not learnt.” he said.
“There is nothing serious to worry about. With good tuition for a year, you can top the class. We have no child and we are alone. If aunt agrees, you can stay with us permanently. I will engage best teachers to coach you. I will take care of your entire education till you reach post graduate level but on one condition,” he stopped looking at the face of the boy.
Vedagiri looked at him anxiously unable to guess the condition uncle was talking about. He turned to see aunty simply smiling.
Sadasivam laughed and told, “Vedagiri, do not be afraid. I will talk to your parents first and then let you know. Tell me now whether you are comfortable with us and like the surroundings here. If you give me any contact number, I will convey the message to your parents that you are safe with us and that you would return tomorrow.”
“I like the place very much, uncle. It is so spacious and bright and I have never tasted the kind of food served by aunty. The house is very big and posh looking like a palace to me as I am accustomed to live only in a dark single room tenement with broken floor and dim light,” Vedagiri said with a smile.
Aunty drew him close and hugged him to say,” The way you speak is exactly like our Vedagiri,” putting the boy again into confusion.
Uncle cleared it saying, “We had a son of your age by same name but he is no more. Come with me and I will show your room,” and took him away hurriedly.
The next day when Sadasivam went to drop the boy, his father was also luckily there. After the initial pleasantries, Sadasivam told him about how he met the boy and how he persuaded him to come to his home and how much of instant liking his wife and himself took for the boy.
Vedagiri unexpectedly interrupted to say,” Appa, uncle had a son of my age with the same name but he is no more.”
“It is true I had a son of his age. It was all my fault. The boy was not doing well in his class and failed once. Busy as I was in making my company prosper I neglected to pay attention to his progress in studies. I should have discussed with his teachers and engaged a tutor but I was all the time touring across the country and outside in my race for wealth.My wife was also fully busy in taking care of office administration.Both of us were naive in not realizing the gravity of the situation till it was too late.The boy was also not fully open about what was happening at school.
Being a highly sensitive boy, he could not bear the indifference of his class mates and taunts of the teacher and suffered in silence till one day he committed suicide putting us into immense grief. I lost all interest in business but running the company for the welfare of the employees. My wife unable to bear the grief became dazed and silent.
Luckily your son Vedagiri appeared for us and I could see a streak of smile and joy in her face. We wish to make amends for our mistake by making your son reach top of the class and succeed in life. I will talk to a friend of mine who is the correspondent of a well known private school and get him admitted provisionally in class 9 without loss of a year.
I am sure the boy’s presence would bring some life and joy to my home and our lonely existence. Pray do not think I am selfish. If you are agreeable you can be in charge of the canteen of my company and only supervise its efficient running. No hard work and all in air conditioned atmosphere. The salary would be good. You can move into our outhouse that served earlier as a guest house. That way Vedagiri would not be missed by you. I will also meet all the expenses of the education of your other children. I will get them admitted in the same school. I will employ a music teacher to coach Vedagiri and his sister. God has given me abundant wealth. I would implore you kindly to agree.”
Both Sundaresan and his wife fell at his feet and expressed their gratitude, “Our life has been one of utter penury thus far and we have not been able to feed and clothe the children properly. We regard you as god come in human form in answer to our prayers. We will make no claim on Vedagiri as we are interested only in his wellbeing. You have saved him from the jaws of death and you are rightfully his father. While I am beholden to you for what you intend to do for Vedagiri, we will be in eternal debt of gratitude for what you do to me and my family. We both fully agree to abide by your wishes. Anytime you find our presence inconvenient. we will move to some other place.”
“That would not be necessary. All of you come with me now to convey the good news to my anxious wife. Besides Vedagiri, your wife also would give company to my wife. Tell me when I can arrange movers and packers for shifting into the outhouse soonest?” concluded Sadasivam.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Bhagavathi's blessing

Nandini was in a happy frame of mind as the plane taxied to tarmac at Mangalore airport. She would be meeting her only sister Bhargavi, elder to her by six years, after a gap of five years. Bhargavi has been pleading with her all these years to take a break and spend a month with her. The exigencies of work, her frequent tours abroad and her husband’s schedule somehow stood in the way of her visit to this coastal town till this day. Luckily she could do now as her husband was away on tour to China for a week and she was relatively free having just completed her project.
She had not decided about the visit till Bhargavi rang up two days back and mentioned,” Nandini, I know you are busy and cannot take a break. But I insist that you come down for your own sake. The Bhagavathi temple here is celebrating its famed quinquennial function this week and young women are thronging to seek the blessings of goddess. There is no question of your disregarding my request as you are wont to since childhood days.”
“Akka (elder sister), I know why you are particular about my visiting the temple. I have lost all hopes of bearing a child and all the medical opinions support such a pessimism. Please understand that I am really not keen about a visit to the temple. I will nevertheless come for a couple of days just to meet you and your two daughters.” Nandini said.
“Yay, inform me your flight details, I will be at the airport. We can decide the rest when you are here,” Bhargavi said in jubilation.
Nandini saw from a distance her sister standing tall and beautiful as ever belying her 38 years in age but a little worn out in these intervening years. She rushed to her dragging the suitcase and hugged her tightly.
“Nandini, believe me, there has been no change at all in you. You look the same charming and graceful young thing that I saw five years back. I am so happy you could at last make it,” said Bhargavi holding her hands warmly.
“Akka, you have also not changed much except for a few strands of grey hair. What is the secret of your youth?” Nandini asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
As Nandini lay in her bed that night after a sumptuous Palakkad dinner with her sister and nieces by her side, she felt as if she was in her ancestral home with her mother who passed away when she had just joined college. It was Bhargavi who was married by then who took care of her till she finished her post graduation and found a good job at Delhi. The two sisters talked into the late hours of the night after sending the nieces to their room.
“Nandini, I am not pressurizing you but having come this far especially at this opportune and auspicious time, why miss offering prayers to the Goddess. You know amma was a devout devotee of Bhagavathi and regularly visited the temple,” said Bhargavi.
“Do you really believe, akka, that visiting a temple during this time helps in conceiving a child even where doctors have ruled it out? I think it is as ridiculous as circambulating peepal tree for getting a child,” said Nandini in a taunting tone.
“I cannot answer your question to your satisfaction except saying that there is a strong belief long held by our past generations and in such matters only implicit faith helps. You need not come as a supplicant but as a devotee of the Goddess whom amma revered much.
Let us have fun afterwards in the beach as the temple is close to sea shore. The scenic beauty of the location, the incessant waves, the blue sea, the azure sky and the boats of fishermen setting into the sea is a delight to watch. Get up early. We will all go in the morning. Sleep well as you must be tired,” Bhargavi said and bade her goodnight.
The next morning was spent in the crowded temple, offering prayers and going around the sanctum thrice. While Bhargavi prayed for Nandini, it is not known what she sought for. The rest of the time about an hour were spent on a long walk in the beach and watching the waves striking the shore.
On the way back home, Nandini asked her sister, “Have you heard of cases where women without children for long years having conceived after visiting the temple? Be truthful.”
“Frankly, I do not know. It is all hear say but still people throng here. Your case should tell me whether it really works or not.”
“That means you used this ploy to drag me here, is it?” asked Nandini in an accusatory tone.
“Take it in whatever way you like. Is it wrong for an elder sister wanting to have her younger one with her and shower her affection?  Do you really know how much I miss you? Who else is there for me except you after our parents passed away,” Bhargavi said wiping her moist eyes.
Struck by remorse by her own rude remark, Nandini pleaded,” Akka, please forgive me. I was a fool to talk like that. I really enjoy my visit here. I would do anything you ask for unquestioningly,” even as she bent to touch her sister’s feet.
Once back in Delhi, Nandini plunged into her work. In about two months she had to go to Seattle for three months on a project.
It was a rainy Sunday at Seattle when Bhargavi invited her on FaceTime. “Nandini, I am in a mess and I feel highly embarrassed to talk about it. You know I have completed 38 years and my younger daughter is nearing six. I have not had the monthly thing for the last two months. I actually went to pray for you but I wonder whether Bhagavathi misheard me,” she said hiding her pain behind a smile and added,” I wished to abort but your brother in law dissuades me from it. I am very shy to go out these days and remain confined at home.”
“Wow, I concede Bhagavathi is indeed powerful though her blessings are misplaced! Why do you care about others? Let us hope it is a boy for a change. When it is time for delivery, I will come to be of assistance, I assure you,” Nandini spoke to her encouragingly.
Six months later, when Bhargavi was blessed with a baby girl, her husband offered the baby to Nandini who was there telling,” We had already decided accordingly. We felt since Goddess Bhagavathi could not help you directly due to you some medical issues, She perhaps used this ploy to give you a baby. Kindly accept this baby girl as yours. We are sure your home would be filled with laughter and fun and you will have someone to aspire for and shower your affection.
Nandini gladly took the baby in her arms to give her smooches even as her heart was filled with gratitude to Goddess and no less to Bhargavi. Her joy knew no bounds as the baby snuggled close to her and smiled. Bhargavi looked on with tears of joy in her eyes.