Sunday, June 7, 2020

Raghu,a boy of a different mettle

Raghuram, Raghu in short, was a class mate of mine in seventh standard in my younger days. I have forgotten most of the other boys but I still remember distinctly his face for the prominent beak shaped nose. He was slightly built and had a constant puckered smile on his soft face. He never talked unless spoken to and rarely mingled with others. He did not participate in sports. He was happy to be left alone to his devices. He wore his caste mark prominently on his face. He was not distinguished in his studies. Except in Sanskrit, history and moral sciences, he had no interest in other subjects. He just scraped through, I think.
I remember one incident when the class teacher asked us to write in one page of what we wished to be when we grew old. Some of us wrote about our wish to be engineers, while some wanted to be teachers and some others business men or lawyers and such like callings. When the boys were discussing excitedly among themselves, Raghu stood aside alone without showing any interest.
We did not know that Raghu was different from us till the afternoon. We came to know when the teacher called him softly by his side and asked him to tell the class on what he wished to be. He kept quiet feeling embarrassed. The teacher goaded him telling that there was nothing to feel shy about and that he was proud to be his teacher.
Thus prompted, the boy said, “I wish to be a monk and recede to forest to meditate on my God and do Tapasya till I have His darshan.” There was a disbelief and stunned silence even as the boys saw the teacher wiping his tears from his eyes.
The teacher wondered at the serendipitous discovery and felt that this deep devotion and serene detachment from worldly ways of the boy’s age were not common possessions. Least of all are they to be found in a teen aged school boy. Later after the class was over, the teacher patted Raghu gently on his shoulder and told him “Will you take me along with you to meet your parents this evening. I wish to pay my obeisance to the fortunate couple.”
Raghu immediately implored “Sir, please do not mention about this essay of mine to them. They are already unhappy with me about my poor marks and my ways.”
“Why are you not studying well? You score well in Sanskrit and a few other subjects but seem to neglect important subjects. What is it that you do to displease your parents? Should you not listen to them?” he gently asked.
Raghu said, “Excuse me if I am in the wrong. I am a great devotee of Sri Ramachandra and Sri Anjaneya swami. I have their idols and do puja both mornings and evenings. I do not know why but I wish to do nothing else except thinking of my Lord. My father is against all these as he considers them a waste of time to the detriment of my studies and  future. He wants me to stop all this and go out to play with other boys. He beats me if he sees me sitting before my darling idols. So I have hidden them in the terrace and do the puja unknown to him. My mom knows but she does not dissuade me.”
The teacher kept silent and later learnt from his parents that what all he had stated was true. Both the parents were dejected and had given up hopes of ‘reforming’ the boy. He did not mingle with his siblings except a little with mom and spent all the waking hours before the idols and deriving pleasure in dressing them and singing bhajans praising their glories.
The teacher knew that the great Acharya Sankara himself pleaded with his mother at the age of seven to allow him to renounce the world. Coming to our own time, a twelve-year-old Ramana felt a spiritual tug in his heart strings that set him forth on his spiritual journey. In the instant case too, the teacher perceived an uncommon boy who had a rare spiritual hunger and deep devotion to Lord Ram and who gave all his unwavering attention and time praying to Him in the hope of having His darisan. The teacher kept quiet as he knew that it was best not to interfere with the boy’s ‘spiritual progress’ only to safeguard his parental wishes.
Years had gone by. I lost touch with Raghu after I came out of the school but the essay incident in the school remained etched in my mind. It was some decades later I accidentally met his younger brother who was also then studying in the same school.
I learnt that Raghu did his graduation in Sanskrit and did not marry. He became a Sanskrit pundit in a school. He had not changed a bit except that his devotion grew intense. He did not become a sanyasin or wore ochre robes. After his parents died, he stayed alone and had his food brought from a nearby temple on payment. He spent all his leisure hours in a religious Mutt, assisting them in their activities and tending to the sick and needy persons. No one knew what puja he did and when. He lived a life of recluse and did not participate in family functions. He gave away his share of the property to charitable institutions. The last the brother heard about Raghu was that he lived in a temple town spending his remaining days in the temple. He preferred solitude and discouraged any contact with him. He had obviously discovered his real identity, knew his true nature and felt the presence of Supreme spirit in everything and everywhere.
I chose to visit the same temple soon hoping to see him. Yes, I could see him sitting in a corner near Anjaneya shrine and went near him with folded hands. He had grown a beard, looked emaciated but the puckered smile was intact. I could see his penetrating eyes that seemed at once far away and distant as he saw me. When I introduced myself, there was no display of emotion or flicker of eyes but total silence with no hint of recognition. I wondered whether he was in a state of trance, Samadhi. I was convinced that he is no ordinary soul. He has turned an evolved person who belonged to this world and yet not part of it. Life for him was a voyage that he had to undertake to liquidate his past karmic debts. Involuntarily I fell at his feet before leaving with my eyes moist and throat choked with emotions. That was the last I saw him.
Fully conscious that such divine grace does not come by to all, I could only proudly tell my children and grandchildren that I had the privilege of studying together with a karma yogi who had realised himself.
The winds of grace are always blowing; it is for us to raise our sails.”

Thursday, June 4, 2020


(A story written 11 years back have not been read by many current readers).
Venkat was in class seven. He was taking regular tuition from his Sanskrit teacher as his father wanted him to become proficient in that language. He went to his master’s house in the evenings to learn. His teacher was dark complexioned, frail and small built man in his early forties. His teeth were not aligned properly and he had a dangling tuft in the unkempt hair that was not tied properly. His face always bristled with unshaven hair. He was on the whole an unattractive person. But he was a great scholar of gentle disposition and soft in words. One rarely saw him smile. He had a soft corner for Venkat as he was studious and excelled soon in Sanskrit.
The teacher’s wife slightly taller than him, very fair and was exceptionally beautiful. Slightly plump with a twinkle in her eyes, she was always well dressed and appeared graceful in her deportment. She must have been younger by more than ten years to the teacher. She too liked Venkat very much, called him Venky affectionately and gave him often some delicacies to eat while running her hand over his head.
Venkat found that his teacher was always morose and lost in thought when he was with him teaching Sanskrit in the evenings. The lady would be watching TV serials or reading some film magazines or novels. He had not seen them talking much with each other. There was always a constricted atmosphere in the house. But when the teacher was not around, Venkat could see her happily laughing and playing with him or with the small babies from the adjoining houses. Venkat felt that the couple did not get along well as they had no children of their own.
The teacher had a strange habit of forgetting to bring something or the other to the school. He would send Venkat almost daily to his house during the day at no fixed hours asking him to bring a book, a pen or lunch box. When he returned he used to pat him and ask him whether he saw anyone in the house. Venkat would reply that he saw none as auntie always gave the article through the window. It appeared to the boy that the teacher was not satisfied with his reply. Months flew by but the routine remained unchanged.
One afternoon when Venkat went to the house, he did not knock the door as he usually did but peeped in through the window that was not fully closed. To his great shock, he saw an uncle reclined on the lap of auntie and both of them laughing about something. Venkat quietly withdrew and knocked the door and asked for the book the teacher had forgotten. As usual she did not open the door but gave him the book through the window before closing it fully.
Venkat was confused whether to tell the teacher or not. To his young mind it struck for the first time that auntie was not good. He started disliking her but did not tell the teacher what he saw. He felt sad for some unknown reason for his teacher. Nevertheless, he chose to peep through the window thereafter whenever there was a vent before knocking the door. He found the same uncle frequently in the house hugging the auntie or caressing her till one day the auntie found out the peeping Tom.
She pushed the man aside and came running to Venkat highly excited asking him how long he was there. Venkat pretended that he had just come and gave no indication of what he saw. She did not appear convinced of what he told her. She said she was afraid thinking that a stranger was peeping when she was alone in the house. She asked him to wait and brought a box full of chocolates. She told him after giving the box that she liked him very much and that he should not peep in future. On his way to the school Venkat threw the box in disgust into the garbage bin.
It was a week after this incident one day when he came to the school in the morning, he found all the teachers standing outside in groups talking in hushed tones with many boys milling around. Sensing something amiss he went near them only to learn that his beloved Sanskrit master had committed suicide in the early hours of the day.
The teachers were all discussing what could be the reason for him to take this extreme step of hanging at this young age. He had no worries financial or otherwise and seemed happily married to a charming wife. What more one could want? True he had no children but these days so many people adopt children. None were wiser for the reason the gentle teacher chose to inflict upon himself this ultimate and irreversible punishment.
Tears trickled from Venkat’s eyes. But he was determined to remain quiet to keep his revered teacher’s fair name and dignity unsullied by lowly gossip.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The shrew

Parvatha Vilas, a palatial building on a six ground plot, large and imposing was rightly named after the lady of the house, Parvatham. You might have not known her but you must have certainly seen Khubsoorat with Dina Pathak and Rekha playing admirably well the  important roles in it. The lady of the house in the film was a no-nonsense, nose upturned type with no trace of smile in her face. Her writ ran large in the house and her wishes were commands strictly obeyed by all members of her family. The character in our story is no different but even slightly worse than that
Tall and heavily built, with a stentorian voice and hawk like eyes, Parvatham never took a No for an answer. She brooked no dissent and went into rage at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction to her diktats. Hers was a large and affluent joint family of five daughters and three sons. Three daughters were married and two of them live separately close by. One married daughter continued to live with her family at her parent’s place. The three sons who were all married continued to live in the house with their wives and children.
Subramania iyer, a capable lawyer with lucrative practice, while at home was a timid man with shifty eyes and of small build. He had stopped practicing since two years. Most thought he was henpecked but he believed in the dictum discretion is better than valour. He knew all his renowned communication skills and knowledge were of little avail against the harsh-tempered termagant. That she was disagreeable and evoked more fear than respect among her children, husband and servants is a fact none disputed. The evening dinner when all assembled as a rule was more a silent ritual of filling the stomachs than the bonhomie of family members eating together, exchanging good natured banters and laughing around the dining table.
Parvatham always decided what should be the daily menu giving scant regard for individual preferences, what dress to be bought for whom and what dress to be worn on what occasions, what courses the children should take in their colleges, what time the TV can be on and what serials can be seen by whom. The younger daughters and the grandchildren never liked her autocratic ways and detested her habit of checking their mobiles unseen or refusing permission for granddaughters to go out with boyfriends and insisting they are back home for dinner. She was in short a terror in the house running it at her will and whims. She was no doubt a well-intentioned lady though and being the only daughter in her house, pampered and spoilt, she grew to be a shrew. One gets somewhat the scenario of the house, if one can remember Mrs. Trunchbull of the movie Matilda.
Of late, she suffered from memory loss and would repeat the same instructions again and again. She would rebuke the servants for not carrying out her orders that had already been complied with. But she would strongly deny that she suffered even a trace of amnesia and none argued with her for fear of her foul mouth. The doctor suspected signs of onset of dementia though she managed her chores on her own. Nevertheless, her forgetfulness caused concern and fear to all.
 It was on one such day when family members had gone to a function at relative’s place. When they returned in the evening, Parvatham was not to be seen. The servants had no clue when and how she went out of the house. Even the security at the gate had callously missed her slipping out unseen. Everyone scurried hither and thither searching for her in all rooms and neighbourhood. She was not to be found. They phoned and went out searching for her amongst friends and relatives but could gather no useful information.
The next day they lodged a police complaint for missing person. Two or three days had elapsed with no news about her whereabouts. But there was a total metamorphosis in the atmosphere at the house. One could hear shouts, peals of laughter, happy guffaws and joyful screams with many running about without fear of reprimand. The old man was before the TV watching WWF wrestling matches nonstop alternating in between to cricket and tennis. One could hear the buzz of mobiles nonstop. The dining table got totally a different fare with several items to suit individual tastes. TVs were installed in many rooms. They took the plates and watched TV sitting on sofas that was earlier strictly forbidden. They got up late, took bath whenever it pleased them. There was a total laissez-faire or anarchy depending on the way you look at it. There was a sense of freedom all around though they inwardly missed the old lady and pangs of sadness were felt.
At the suggestion of the old man, an advertisement with her photo was inserted in the popular dailies both English and Tamil.. Within two days, they received a call from a senior home.
“Sir, I am the Secretary calling from ABC senior home. Three days back some people who found her loitering aimlessly in the vicinity brought her here in the night. She seemed a decent looking rich lady from the jewelry worn. She could not answer our questions properly or realize her predicament. Luckily we saw the advertisement today. We wish you to take her away immediately. She is threatening all and ordering about the other inmates as if she owned this place. We understand that she is not alright. However, we are not running the place free. We collect 15000pm from each. We cannot keep her free here. Please come and take her immediately.”
The son who attended the call said to others who crowded around him, “Mom is safe at a senior home. She is suffering from amnesia but it seems her old imperious ways have not left her. They want her to be taken away immediately as it is a paid home for senior citizens at Rs15000 pm.”
There was some silence. One of the sons nudged by his wife spoke, “Mom is not well. We had problem even when she was in full possession of faculties. Now with signs of dementia, I shudder. Why not allow her to continue there? We can pay whatever money they want including the salary of an exclusive maid for her. We can visit her by turn regularly.”
The eldest daughter-in-law said, “We all like her though she acted as a Mother Superior of a strict convent. Let her stay there for some time for her own benefit and we can take a call later.”
When the son who took the call found there was no objection from others, he spoke to the secretary to tell him,” We will give you a ring shortly. Please wait”
“We cannot wait. We can keep her with us in our assisted living block on a fee of Rs. 20000 pm covering the expense of a maid also. Three months’ fee must be paid in advance along with a small deposit. If this is not acceptable, we shall send her by ambulance after lunch. Please convey the decision in five minutes,” said the Secretary.
There was another round of hushed confabulations and everyone looked at the old man after explaining that house now bore the atmosphere of a home instead of a hostel earlier and they be allowed to enjoy the freedom and peace for some more time.
Like the Oracle, the old man finally gave his ruling. “Let it not be mistaken that we have no affection or concern for Parvatham. She loved us so much that she was willing to bear the cross of being disliked by all. But it is a fact that she tread on the corns of everyone here. The house is now wearing a joyful atmosphere after years of stuffed feeling. She is also not physically and mentally well and needs some rest which I am sure this house cannot offer. Although the secretary’s words that he would send her here in ambulance smacks of black mail, we will not succumb to such threats. We would on our own accord allow her to stay in the Senior home for six months initially. We can take a call at the end of the period. Each one of you should promise to visit her frequently. Tell the Secretary accordingly and give a cheque for six months’ fee.”
There was great rejoicing accompanied by dancing to which the old man said “This is not becoming of us. We really miss her.”