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.