(Normally this is the time for the advent of Durga Puja/Navratri but they are on astrological considerations being celebrated a month hence.Nevertheless I thought a story featuring Kali Ma would be apt now.)
It was a leisurely journey by AC two-tier rom Kolkata (then Calcutta) to Chennai. I have an aversion for reading long novels during train journey as most do. Instead I enjoy conversing with co-passengers drawn from different back grounds. Those days there was no menace of biscuit bandits. The gentleman next to me was a portly man, dark complexioned, clad in white khadar and ash mark on his forehead with kumkum between the brows. He was sporting a rudhraksha mala around his neck. With his eyes closed, he did not appear to evince any interest in the conversation around him.
When he opened his eyes, I smiled at him and asked him,” Are you traveling beyond Chennai?”
” Yes, up to Madurai,” he replied
“Do you reside in Madurai or Kolkata?” I asked wishing to prolong the conversation.
“I belong to Madurai. I came to Kolkata to visit the Kali temple at Dakshineswar and Ramakrishna Ashram at Belur”
“Oh, you must be spiritually inclined. What do you do for living? I hope your family is there.”
He let off a sigh.” I have none. I do not work. It is a long story and I would prefer to talk about it later. I am very tired and would like to rest for some time, “ he said and went up to the upper berth
My curiosity was roused. I was intrigued by his response but waited for him to open up on his own. It was a few hours later when he came down for a cup of coffee, he cleared his throat and talked in low tone that was almost a whisper.
He said with a rueful smile,” You asked me many questions. Let me tell you in my own way. Though it is very personal and unsavoury, I do not mind sharing with you as It will relieve me of my stress somewhat. I belong to Madurai district and born to a very rich landlord. Being the only son, he pampered me a lot. He wanted me to look after the extensive land and the rice mills after my graduation.
I had an aversion for agriculture and the village atmosphere with mud roads, the smell of cow dung and stacks of gunny bags with paddy. I longed to be in Chennai permanently amid the many friends that I had cultivated in college. I had a weakness for watching Tamil films. The village had no theatre facility. There was no television then. My dad’s repeated pleas to assume responsibility to look after the lands and mills fell on deaf ears. He was getting old and falling sick frequently. My parents pressured me to get married to a good looking girl who had studied only up to class 10. They thought this would bind me with home and stop my frequent visits to Chennai. No doubt it did initially.
After the demise of my father a year later, my mother too died in a few months. I was compelled to take charge of the responsibility. Having neither experience nor interest, I could not manage the farm operations. I did not listen to the advice of elderly well-wishers of our family or the loyal employees. It soon started to be a losing proposition and became worse in five years when a distant relative offered to buy up the lands and the house. I jumped at the offer, collected a tidy amount and reached Chennai.”
“Did you not consult your wife or her parents before this momentous decision? “I asked
“My wife was averse to my decision but knew I was adamant by nature and never paid heed to her words. I was never close to my in-laws. I had enough money to live comfortably without working. I bought a nice house in Mylapore, furnished it well, acquired a new car and happily settled down.
Initially it was all hunky dory but gradually I fell into bad company and developed all vices: races, wine and women. Meanwhile my wife had conceived to our great joy. This was not to last long as she developed complications at the time of delivery and passed away giving birth to a still born baby. I started drinking heavily to drown the sorrows. It was in that unguarded moment that one of my friends sowed the idea of taking a film feeding me with rosy stories of successful producers and the good life they had with lady actors.
Being a green horn in the film industry I was surrounded by greedy tricksters with money flowing like water for setting up an office, staff, food and drinks, story discussions at expensive hotel and identifying actresses and actors with tidy advances. It all ended up in making a film that was a total flop and did not last a week. To make a long story short, I lost all my wealth and was saddled with debts. I became an insolvent and virtually thrown out on the road. The ‘friends’ deserted me as was expected. I was also a physical wreck afflicted by a dreaded disease and could not work.”
He stopped there and said that he was tired and that he would continue after dinner. A dismal story, I thought to myself, that we often hear from the cine field and the man went down low in my esteem. Dinner over, he resumed his narration without any prompting.
“With no home I loitered around not knowing where to go and what to do. I had no skills to work having wasted away my life. I was restless having foolishly frittered away all the wealth. To get some peace, I gravitated towards Sri Ramakrishna Mission ashram. I sat there daily for long hours dazed with tears trickling down.
One day a kindly swamiji in ochre robes patted me gently and said “Do not grieve whatever be the reason. I often see people coming in such state here. Do not give up hope and try to be manly.”
I narrated him my tale. “It is sad that you have lost both your wife and money. You have also realized with much remorse the wrong way you had led your life thus far. These are the outcomes of prarabda karma. You could not have prevented it. Though relatively young, you look very sick. Would you like to rebuild your life and start afresh?” he asked.
“No, Swamiji, I do not have many years to live and would not like to get into that cesspool again. Can I stay and work in the ashram? To be frank, being a sick person with a deadly disease, I would not like to pollute the ashram”
Swamiji in a consoling voice said” Ashram admits only sanyasins. It is not easy to become sanyasin as the initiation would be done only in deserving cases with the right temperament after a long wait. Many do not turn up again. In your case as you are ill, it is best to spend your remaining years in the vicinity of a temple praying for your salvation. Temples provide food. Hand over whatever money you have to some charitable institution and they may provide room and food.”
“Yes Swamiji, I think this is the best course open to me”
“Do not grieve much. Confessing one’s faults sincerely is a sign of repentance and transformation. I would strongly urge you to visit Dakshineswar before going to your place and pray with devotion to the merciful Ma to give you peace and comfort. I am sure Divine Mother will listen to your prayers and do what is best for you,” the swamiji advised
“I am now going back to Madurai to collect some money kept with a distant relative. I intend to settle down near a famous temple in a nearby district. This journey to Kolkata has made me very weak and my condition worse. Sorry sir, I have burdened you with my depressing story.”
“What did you pray to Kali Ma?” I asked.
“Sorry, I forgot to tell you. It was an undefinable and mesmerizing experience that I had never felt before when I had Her darshan. My mind went totally blank with no thought of me or my needs. I was completely lost in Her divinity and compassion till I was nudged by the crowd of devotees to move. I turned my face towards Her to have one last look and prayed Her to give me peace,” he replied with his eyes becoming moist.
I had no words to comfort him and said “It is getting late. Go to sleep. We will see in the morning”
I was woken up in the morning by the aroma of coffee. When I was having mine, I remembered the gentleman on the top berth. I thought he was catching up with the lost sleep after unburdening his weight on me. An hour went by and breakfast had started coming. I stood up and patted him. When there was no response, I did again and this time with a nudge. There was no movement. A young man went up and shook him only to find him inert and lifeless. I was wonder struck at Ma’s infinite compassion in answering his prayers with such swiftness.