Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Swaroop's gaffe (755)


Swaroop had joined a new company in a senior position just a fortnight before the new year. As was the usual custom, all executives were requested to attend the New Year’s Eve party with spouses without fail. He asked his wife Kusum to accompany him for the party at  Hotel Ariya.She pleaded  her inability saying, “How can I come when I am also to attend a similar party at my new office? They were particular that no one should abstain.”

Swaroop felt it would look odd and not befitting his position if he were to go alone singly but she was adamant. When he reached the foyer of the hotel and stood hesitantly, he found a strikingly attractive woman looking at him intently. When he stared back at her without turning his head, she too kept her gaze fixed on him. A fleeting thought occurred whether she could be a fun-loving and daring type. When he smiled at her nodding his head imperceptibly, she came quickly by his side and said, “Have we met before here? I am Shyama.”

"I am not sure but you look quite familiar. I am Swaroop and I am here to attend a New Year Eve party supposedly with my spouse. I am in a quandary as she is not in a position to attend. Are you by any chance alone here?" he asked.

When she nodded her head, Swaroop continued,"  Lucky, we found each other. Just wondering if  you are free for the next three or four  hours? Please do not take me amiss,” he said.

“Hahaha! You want me to impersonate your wife, do you? Yes, I do not mind helping you  but would charge you by the hour, what say,” she said laughing somewhat boisterously.

“No price is too high for you, Shyama. Please accompany me and behave perfectly like my wife. Do not take me wrong and read much into this temporary deal, I warn you in advance,” he said with a  twinkle.

The party started by 9pm with drinks followed by dance and dinner. Swaroop let everyone assume Shyama  was his wife. She was so adept in dancing and engaging in conversation that she soon became the cynosure of all present. She in turn enjoyed  all the attention on her  while Swaroop turned into an  object of envy . By 11 pm everyone moved to the main hall standing in small groups. Many of the participants gravitated to where Shyama and Swaroop were standing.

He could not resist comparing Kusum with Shyama and felt though the latter was sprightly and good in dance, she cannot hold a candle to Kusum who was extremely intelligent, sophisticated and loving. He was feeling a sense of guilt at this crazy arrangement he got into  for the party. It was then  he heard behind him a gentle voice calling his name. He turned pale in great shock with panic on his face on seeing Kusum darting towards him.

“ I hope you are now happy that  I am here. Luckily I could wrench myself away from that boring crowd in my office to be with you,” she said in good cheer even as she snuggled close to him in great warmth. 

When others in confusion looked askance at her, Kusum threw a bombshell ,”Sorry for interrupting unannounced. I am Kusum, Swaroop’s wife. Sorry for being late as I was held up late in my office.”

Some wag blurted looking at Shyama, “Arrey, what is this tomfoolery? We were all along given the impression that this vivacious lady is Swaroop’s wife.”

Everyone turned their gaze towards Shyama to her great discomfiture. With her face red in anger and embarrassment, she exploded at Swaroop, “You liar, you told me that your wife would not come. I am done with you. Give me my fee of Rs.3000 as agreed upon and never ever contact me again.” Turning to Kusum, she said, “You are lucky. He was tiring me all through the party talking about you, your graceful demeanour, your intelligence and the deep love you have for him. Fie on him, I detest him.”

There were loud guffaws from colleagues at his gaffe and heartbroken sobbing from Kusum. Swaroop's indiscretion cost him not only the loss of face among colleagues but he had  also forfeited the trust among his bosses who were present and left a lingering doubt on his fidelity in the mind of Kusum despite the mollifying words from Shyama.

“Every short-cut has a price usually greater than the reward”


Friday, December 23, 2022

Not all the changes are welcome (1336))


Subban had no family and no job either. He never knew where his next meal would come from. He was  by nature a timid man, kind and helpful, straighforward and disliked fights.However,he had a weakness for toddy and would stand on the road inviting the hesitant passers-by to the thatched shed  partially hidden by trees where the toddy aka kallu was sold along with roasted nuts,pickles and steamed chana seasoned with some spices. The owner of the shop who knew his usefulness gave him daily  free  toddy and the left-over side dishes. Whenever there was a heavy crowd, the owner would take his help to hand over the toddy bottles on the basis of tokens in different colours. Over a period of time he had a free run of the place in the absence of the owner but he never misused it.

As he was standing on the road one hot  day with a bottle of the brew and munching roasted nuts, a bare-chested man with unkempt hair, beard and mustache came near him. He said he was thirsty and extremely hungry. Subban took pity on him and readily gave him  the bottle with toddy and roasted nuts.When he gulped the entire thing in one go, Subban gave him another bottle with some briyani.

With his hunger gone and the mood elated with the intoxicating drink inside him ,the mendicant asked Subban to sit by his side under the tree and said,” I am very pleased with you for your kindness and ready help. I wish to repay the debt of gratitude. I have no money but have some special powers that I can bestow on you. Would you be interested?”

“What would that be ?” Subban asked.

“You must have heard of the transmigration of souls into another body. You can choose the  person into whom you wish to enter. He in turn would enter your body. You can choose to be a rich and powerful man, a holy hermit, a famous sportsman, a renowned warrior or whomever you wish to. I am in a hurry. Tell me now immediately for me to make the change. I will come here exactly after a month if you need my help,” he said.

Subban’s only aim was to get out of his poverty. He could think of no other person than a rich and powerful politician from his area. He had a wife, palatial bungalow, cars and many servants. Without any loss of time, he named the man.The  bearded mystic uttered some mumbo jumbo and presto the change was effected with the mystic disappearing simultaneously

Subban waited for a few minutes for the transmigration to take place but found himself still under the tree. He was eagerly looking forward to the palatial bungalow, the scrumptious food, car and other comforts. Nothing was forthcoming. Instead when a passer-by asked him where the toddy shop was, Subban hit him in anger  and snapped  “How dare you ask me for a toddy shop, you scoundrel? Do you know who I am? ‘continuing with foul expletives.

The owner, who was watching from a distance, was taken aback at the strange behaviour and wondered whether he was overdrunk. He came near Subban and put his hand on him in a friendly manner when the latter pushed his hand away and  blurted in anger, “Take your dirty toddy smelling hand off me.Do you know who I am? I can have this shop closed within 24 hours, you cheapster, unless you pay me 50,000 rupees in hard cash by nightfall.”

Taken aback at his insolent behaviour and demand for money, the owner without losing his cool took his hand away and asked him gently, ”Subba,what has got over you? This is strange for I have never seen you in anger. Take some rest in the corner of the shed. You will be fine soon.”

This infuriated Subban further  and he shouted, “How dare you address me by name? You have the temerity to ask me to take rest on the bench in this foul smelling and mosquito infested  shanty. You will pay for it soon, I warn you.”

The owner became furious and  hit Subban hard, forbade him from entering the shop again and with the help of two regular customers threw him out on the road where he lay unconscious.


At the politician’s house, a few businessmen who were waiting patiently for an audience with the leader were taken by surprise when the leader himself, an agnostic, wearing an ash mark and Kumkum prominently on his forehead, entered the waiting hall with folded hands. “What brings you people  here? Did I make you wait for long? Were you served with refreshments? You could have met me in my office. Tell me what I can do for you,” he said.

The surprised businessmen, noticing the  sea change in his usually boorish behaviour, sheepishly smiled and proffering a suitcase said, “Sir, here is the amount agreed upon. I hope you will kindly accept it and arrange for clearance of the file.”

“What file and what is to be cleared? What agreement and why the money to me? All  government  transactions should be made only at the treasury,” the leader expressed surprise.

Confused they looked at him when one of the businessmen summoned the courage to say, ”He he he, this is the usual speed money you demand for clearing our files and we always offer. We beg of you to accept it and help us.”

“I am not aware of such irregular things. Please go away before making  me lose my calm,” the leader said and went inside abruptly.

“What has befallen him? Has he lost his senses?” they murmured among themselves and left the scene in disbelief.

His wife came to him to ask him,” It  is nearing one  and the lunch is ready.”

On seeing the dining table with  a large spread of multi varied items of food ,delicacies and dessert, he asked. “Is there any party today and for what occasion? Where are the guests?”

“Nothing of the sort. It is the usual daily fare for the two of us. What is wrong with you asking funny questions? I have been noticing since last night that you are behaving oddly, ” she asked.

“Are you not aware of the lot of poor who do not get even one meal properly and yet you are wasting so much? I insist you prepare only the required quantity and avoid such criminal waste,” he admonished her gently. She jabbed her jaw to her shoulders in sheer contempt for her husband and thought to herself whether  he had really lost his mind since  yesterday.

Early next morning, when the leader was seen along with one assistant walking in the bustee of poor people checking for himself their living conditions and enquiring about the availability of water, the drainage facilities, removal of garbage and cleanliness, the people were wonderstruck in disbelief  at the change in him  especially when there was no election in the next few years. Word spread quickly  about the strange transformation in the leader who opted for a smaller car and simple living and his growing popularity.


Exactly after a month the mystic was at the toddy shop as promised  when he saw Subban turned into a local bully threatening passers-by, picking fights for no reason and robbing people by force or stealth.

The mystic realized instantly the  mistake he had made in effecting the transmigration of souls  between two living individuals and in the process,  he had only transferred the problems of one and undesirable traits of the other from one person to another without increasing the wellbeing of the society. He decided not to interfere anymore with God’s plans and promptly restored the status quo ante (as existed previously).

Subban was now back happily occupied in the toddy shop helping his master as before and the wily political leader returned to his arrogant ways and collecting his illegal mamools.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The miracle of a discharged vow (1308)


Appa(Daddy), I have arranged for puja tomorrow evening at the local Ganesh temple. You must accompany me without fail,“ said Lalita.

“Any special occasion?” asked Mahalingam.

“Nothing special. You have been complaining for the past two months that you are unable to sleep well at night, I had prayed to Lord Ganesh that  I would do a special puja and  that He should  bless you with uninterrupted good sleep.” said Lalita.

“Silly girl, why do you disturb Ganesha for all your petty problems? Anyway, I will come with you,” he assured her smilingly.

The temple was not big in size but famed for the Lord‘s proclivity to grant boons  readily if prayed for with sincerity and devotion. The temple was situated in the main bazaar on the top of a  narrow staircase between two buildings and strangely did not lead to the two buildings or the  terrace. The idol was situated at the small  landing at the top of stairs. An old  priest came daily  in the mornings and evenings and did his job devoutly and sincerely to clean the space, decorate the idol with flowers, light the lamp, burn incense and do a small puja.

Except on the evenings and on important festival days, there would not be many devotees. However, there was a rope tied in the middle of the staircase from top to bottom separating the space for ascending and descending. Since it was narrow, only two persons on each side  could ascend and descend. People who visit the bazaar especially those who shop in the adjacent buildings generally climb the staircase to offer their prayers.

The next afternoon Lalita  steamed the soaked chana dhal and made a delicacy known as sundal. When it was nearing 5pm she asked her son, “Gopi, grandpa and myself are going to Ganesh temple at the bazaar. Since I will be  carrying sundal prasad on one hand and puja materials on the other, will you accompany us to hold grandpa’s hands? You know the staircase is often slippery and it has been drizzling since morning. He is also not stable while walking.”

“Amma. Sorry I cannot accompany you. I have urgent work elsewhere. Please manage yourself,” he replied  bluntly without any feeling and sped away on his cycle.

“Do not worry,Lalita.I will climb carefully holding the railing,”  said Mahalingam to assuage her fear.

The temple was near to their house. When they reached the space between the two buildings, Lalita said, ”Appa, hold this bag with you. It has a vessel containing sundal  prasad. I will buy coconut, flowers, plantain fruits and betel leaves and will be here within 10 minutes. Do not climb alone till I come. It may be slippery.”

“ Do not worry. The drizzle stopped long back. The staircase is dry and I do not see anyone climbing. I will carefully climb and remain seated at the sanctum,” Mahalingam assured her.

“Be very careful,appa,” Lalita warned again.

As he slowly climbed, midway the priest who was coming down hailed him, “Swami,namaskaram. Lalita was telling me about your lack of sleep. I am sure you will sleep better after the puja in the coming days? I will be here within five minutes. Please be seated there.”

As he climbed two more steps, he heard more than a dozen boys chatting and laughing loudly at the landing waiting for the priest to come. He could surmise the reason for their presence there in such a large number as the annual results were expected the next day.

Suddenly there was a slight tremor with buildings shaking and lasting hardly  for a few seconds. The boys started scurrying downwards in no order on both sides of the rope and in their urgent  rush pushed down the old man and ran over him in their anxiety to be out of the structure. The stampede lasted for no more than a brief moment.

Lalita who had just arrived shrieked “Appa” and started climbing followed by the coconut vendor and other passers-by. He was found lying upside down and when the coconut vendor lifted him, his face fell on the side. When the vendor put out his tongue to signify the old man was no more , Lalita’s loud shriek ‘Appa’ rent the air across the road.

It was then someone pointed out a framed picture of Ganesh on the side wall where Mahalingam lay and the sundal had fallen in a heap from the vessel below the Ganesha picture. The priest who had just then arrived at the spot sized up the situation and told, “Lalita, I can understand your shock. But look at the grace God has bestowed on him. He fell just at the bottom of Lord’s framed picture on the side wall and the prasad meant for the lord fell before Him signifying the fulfillment of your vow. Look at the irony. Your dad  was suffering from sleeplessness and now the Lord has bestowed on him eternal sleep at His feet. God’s ways are inscrutable. Do not grieve. What more blessing can one ask for?”

It was then a young man in the crowd, not satisfied with the hasty pronouncement, examined the old man again and felt his nostrils to announce the old man was still alive and needed to be rushed to hospital. Two fractures on right hand and many abrasions on  right leg were found but the old man, possibly due to a clot, was not able to recognize or do anything on his own. Immediate surgery to remove the clot  was ruled out by the hospital  due to other circumstances.

Muthu  was hired as a help to take care of him 24x7 to give him bath, fixing and removing diapers, feeding him and taking him for a small walk daily. Luckily, he was gentle and kind towards Mahalingam. Finance was no problem as he was drawing a fat pension and well off. Life was humdrum and Lalita was full of remorse that she had left him unattended at the temple on the fateful day  for a while. Her son Gopi too regretted that it was his refusal to accompany his grandpa that brought about this sad outcome.

 In a fit of penitence, he said one day,” I feel I am responsible. I will accompany grandpa this time. Let us do the undischarged promise of  puja again. I strongly feel it would be beneficial.” Lalita readily agreed and carried out the  promise the next day itself without taking her father hoping Lord Ganesh would listen to her prayers.

Nothing happened and there was a pall of gloom in the house seeing the  man in such a passive condition. It was a fortnight later, when there was none save Lalita and her dad, she fell asleep on the sofa watching the TV. It was then she felt someone touching her shoulder to wake her up and heard a soft voice, “Lalita, I am hungry, can you give me a cup of coffee?

Startled at the unexpected development, she jumped in joy and hugged her father saying , ”Appa,I am so happy that the Lord has listened to my prayers. Please sit down, I will get you coffee in a jiffy. Would you like  a few cookies too?”

As they sat before TV sipping coffee and munching biscuits, the bell rang. As Muthu entered and saw Mahalingam sipping coffee normally, he gave a surprising look at Lalita.

“Yes. A miracle has happened.Appa is normal and talked to me, I am so relieved now,  “she said.

“ Who is he? Why do you say appa is normal now as if I was crazy earlier? Strange, as I am always normal,” Mahalingam said to the amused laugh from both. Lalita decided to tell him later gradually what had happened in the intervening days.



Thursday, December 15, 2022

Ramanna's ruse

Ramanna, though a frail and small built man  nearing  80, was physically  fit with his mental faculties reasonably sharp. Drawing a fat pension and living in his own  three bed-roomed  apartment, he had no financial constraints. His wife Savitri though younger by seven years could not walk with ease afflicted by arthritis and easily became exhausted. She had a full-time maid to assist her in the kitchen and the other chores. Nevertheless, she was a grumbling and self-pitying type but not without some justification. The couple had three sons and daughters with two sons and a daughter living separately  in the same city and the others were in Delhi and Mumbai

Ramanna since his younger days when he was working was a demanding type and used to ordering others even for small jobs. This habit continued  even now with him frequently calling, “Savitri, can you get me my glasses in the bathroom “ or “Where the heck is my mobile that I was just holding in my  hand? Or “Should I tell you daily to draw the blind down when the sun is up?” Savitri suspected that the  tendency to draw  her by his side away from the TV and the serials she would be watching, emanated more from his aversion to sit alone and desire to indulge in small talks with her.

Today, when he shouted from the hall, “Savitri, how many times should I ask for warm water? Can’t you hear I am coughing continuously?”, the old woman got angry and shouted back, “I am not your errand boy. Ask the maid Sumathi whatever you wish. Neither I wish to meet your petty demands nor I am willing to sit by your side for inane gossiping.” There was complete silence  for some time that made Savitri worried and  to ask Sumathi to check whether the old man was okay. When Sumathi went with warm water, she found him sleeping on the recliner.

It was seven in the morning the next Sunday and by this time he would have made much noise and walked to the kitchen  many times to see if the coffee was ready. Strangely there was no sign of his being awake and everything was silent. Worried, she dragged her feet and went to his room to find him seated on the recliner and staring vacantly at one corner of the room. He neither showed any  sign of his being aware of her presence in the room nor answered her question whether he was fine.

She went before him, turned his face at her  angrily and started shouting, “What is all this drama? If you are not well, tell me what the problem is? Have  you become dumb or what? I am not young anymore  to put up with your idiosyncrasies.”

He continued to gawk at her in a stupid manner giving her a scare. ”Sumathi,Sumathi,ring up my sons telling that uncle is behaving strangely as if he has gone crazy and ask them to rush here, Savitri instructed her maid and bewailed loudly,” What a cruel fate has befallen me after living  for years with this haughty man and now become  a madcap? How can I look after him? What more suffering is in store for me?”

The eldest son who had come just then asked him loudly, “Appa(dad),what is all this funny behaviour scaring mom early in the morning? If you do not answer and explain your quirky behaviour, what can we do? ”Ramanna continued to look at his son without any reaction and turned his face to look intently  at a corner of the roof.

“Have you become deaf or what?” he asked, throwing a steel tumbler in his hand on the ground. The old man turned his face  towards the tumbler but did not react.

The other son came near father and stroking his back gently asked him, ”Appa, are you having any problem? If you tell us what bothers you, we can go to doctor if necessary and do the needful to make you comfortable. Your cooperation is needed, appa. We are very concerned. Please tell me.”

When the old man continued to remain silent, Savitri started crying and telling, “How can I manage alone with this demented man? Where will I go without being a burden on others.?”
The two daughters in law turned their faces away from Savitri’s direction. The sons in embarrassment hung their heads.

Meanwhile the family doctor who had come checked Ramanna carefully and found nothing wrong physically. He prescribed a tranquilizer and suggested a visit to a psychiatrist  if things did not improve in two days.

Malini, one  of the daughters who was present, asked her brothers what they  intended to do as amma(mom) cannot manage appa alone.”

The eldest son said, “Malini, you are aware that I am in a two bed-roomed flat and have a college going son and a young school going daughter. Where is the space for appa and amma who are accustomed to comfort?’

The other son spoke angrily, ”Malini, your mischievous nature has not changed even a wee bit. You know my in-laws are permanently with me.Our  brother in Mumbai is living in a rat hole going under the name of a flat. Even for such delicate situations, if daughters are not forthcoming to help, what can I say?”

Malini kept silent for a while and when she saw her mom looking at her said meekly,” It is not in our hands. We must consult our husbands. In the meanwhile, let us watch the situation for a week and let our parents continue here.Sumathi is such a great help.”

The eldest son replied, “It is a sensible solution to wait for a fortnight. I do not know if appa has written a will when sound in mind,” and turning to his brother told him, “You know appa’s lawyer friend Manickavasagam. Ask him about it and  if  has not written any seek his advice.”

The old man  seemed to be listening to their conversation but did not  turn his gaze from the roof.

Raju, a grandson of Ramanna and  six years old, asked his mother Malini permission to stay for two days with grandparents which she could not refuse.

Two days later around noon  when grandma was sleeping in the adjacent room, Raju asked his grandpa, ”Thatha(grandpa),won’t you speak to me? I am staying here because I love you. You need not talk to others.”
He pulled the boy affectionately, gave him smooches and  brushing his face on the boy’s head asked, “What do you want me to speak to you, let me know.”

“Thatha, you are  speaking very well. My elder aunt was telling the other aunt that you have become mad and should be put in a mental hospital,”

Keeping his fingers on his mouth thatha said,” Shhhh,do not speak loudly. Now only I realise the real nature of the people around me. Do not tell others that I spoke to you.”

“Raju, I hear someone speaking to you. Who is that? “asked grandma

“No one, grandma. I was only talking to grandpa. He is not answering but keeps staring at the roof,” he replied with a naughty wink at his grandpa.

“My destiny,” he heard grandma lamenting and hitting her forehead with her hand.

It seemed to Raju that grandpa was enjoying his wink and reply with a wry smile.




Monday, December 12, 2022

A bitter realisation


It is not Morena or Bind or some such dacoit infested places of bygone days  but some small town in a nearby state that was known  for  regular gang wars and political killings and often plain dacoity going under the garb of  the other two crimes. 

The  town folks got scent somehow of an approaching trouble  by word of mouth that the ruthless thugs plan to loot the town very soon. The residents  living in all parts of the town  kept a close vigil to  see if any strangers on motor bikes  were seen loitering amidst their midst and trying to gather information.

Nandu, a farmer from a nearby village, had come to this town in search of his wayward elder brother who it was rumoured had fallen into bad company of dacoits. His old and sick mother has always been pleading with Nandu to trace his elder brother and bring him home. She hoped that her elder son would mend his ways once he saw his wife and children struggling in  poverty not realizing that it was actually the poverty at home that drove him initially into their fold.

Nandu knew it was difficult to get out of such violent gangs once you get in and become wise to their hideouts, their ways and the identity of the members. Even a faint attempt to escape brought an instant and   fatal reprisal.   Nevertheless, Nandu had no mind to ignore her request when  he came to know that  the gang may loot the town in a couple of days and had stationed himself in a friend’s place.

It was in the morning on the fateful day that four roaring motor bikes entered the town from  Western direction followed by two or three each from the other three directions and were seen  being driven here and there within the small town shooting aimlessly in the air  and at anyone who crossed their path spreading great fear and panic.

The residents locked their doors securely and those especially women and girls who chanced to be outside their homes scampered to hide safely in their  homes or wherever  they could. Farmers from fields  and workers from places of work hurriedly tried to reach their homes.

Nandu  who was outside in the local bazaar hid himself in an open garage  near him but could not close the doors fully in the hurry. There was a small gap. It  was  however  dark inside with an unpleasant  smell of stale grain in gunny bags, hay and cattle dung. Gun shots were heard intermittently from outside and the bikes  were roaring past.

It was then he heard a motorbike stop outside the garage and someone trying to kick start it repeatedly in vain. There was then total silence that was harrowing.  To add to the disquiet the timorous Nandu got the shock of his life when he heard someone breathing  from close quarters and stifling a sneeze. He was afraid to be alone in the dark garage possibly with a dacoit.

As he inched his way towards the door.  he heard someone  inhaling snuff softly. He was now sure about the presence of another man in the garage. Soon he heard  the  soft  clapping of one palm by the other usually made  by ghutka users. He remembered  that his elder brother was  addicted to ghutka  like himself and also snuff. The frequent soft clap from him after crushing the stuff  with his thumb assured Nandu it must be his brother.

Emboldened he softly queried, “ Is it Motu of Siyagarh?”

There was no reply but the soft clap of palms continued.

“ I am Nandu, your brother,”  and he added,” If it is Motu give me a sign of recognition.”

There was a loud laughter and Nandu taking it as a positive sign happily moved closer to the place from where the laughter came.

It was then the door was pushed open by someone and in came the bright sunlight.

Nandu froze in fright when he saw a glistening  metal from the masked man inside  pouring bullets at the figure at the entrance. Nandu was now not certain after witnessing the ruthless killing,  whether the masked man was really his brother as he had assumed.

Overcome by fear and to assuage the angry man, Nandu unconsciously proffered his ghutka tin towards him. There was then a  ‘Gabbar Singh‘ hilarious laughter followed by a confident step towards him.

“ Nandu, ma aur thum kaise ho? Dar gaye kya?” (Nandu, how are ma and you? Got afraid or what?”) he asked as he removed the cloth covering his face only to reveal a face with a deep scar on his jaw, twisted lips, yellow teeth and an evil smirk.

Nandu with mixed feelings of  gladness at having traced at last his elder brother and a strong  distaste at his wanton cruelty on an unknown man, bent low to touch his feet as was customary. There was a bitter pain at the realisation that Motu was beyond redemption.




Wednesday, December 7, 2022

How good are we in judging people?


Vimala visited Sri Parthasarathi swami temple at Triplicane regularly on Saturday evenings unless there was a pressing engagement elsewhere. When her husband Ananth teased her one evening with a mischievous smile,“I know why you visit the temple with such regularity though you haven’t confided in me.”

She blushed for a moment and said, “There is no specific reason for these visits as you imagine. Unlike you and your family, ours have always been devout and religious and this practice of mine that commenced from my father’s days continue even after his death. Maybe you have some hidden wish to be fulfilled through my prayers.”

In her early thirties with a post graduate from Delhi school of economics, she worked as an Assistant professor in a college very near the beach at Triplicane. Her husband Ananth held a senior position in a reputed finance company. They lived happily in their posh apartment in St Mary’s road though they were not blessed with a child for more than seven years.

One evening as Ananth was leaving for office, he said, “Vimala, tomorrow evening you are to accompany me for a memorial lecture on the ‘Current Indian economy and the required reform priorities’ by a well-known CEO followed by cocktails and dinner at Hotel Three Trees. The invitees have been requested to attend with spouses. This is an important event I cannot afford to miss. Be ready by 4pm. I will come and pick you.”

When Vimala and Ananth entered the glittering and classy auditorium, it was almost full and the event was just about to begin. Just as they took their seats, someone started the usual welcome speech and thanked the main speaker for her gracious presence and introduced her as Ms. Amby Ranger, CEO of the India and South East region of a well-known worldwide American bank. After a brief profile of her education in Chicago and later her doctorate in Harvard and her significant professional achievements, he requested her to give her valuable thoughts on the burning topic of the day.

When the lady came to the rostrum amidst a warm ovation, Vimala noticed that the lady was in a formal blue coat and pants and a light blue shirt, with her hair let down unbundled and her face had a light make up along with maroon lipstick and mascara. She looked very attractive with her glistening pearl necklace in white around her neck. The lady confidently looked around at the audience showing recognition of some of the faces on the front row with a slight nod or smile and commenced her speech. Endowed with a voice that was clear, her diction flawless with a faint drawl of her Harvard days and with arguments persuasive, she kept the audience riveted to her speech. She concluded her speech in 45 minutes with a surprising quote from Thirukkural. After the long applause, there were a few questions from the audience that were fielded by her with aplomb and apt answers.

Vimala was seated at a distance from the dais and could get only a hazy picture of the speaker. It was only at the cocktails when the chief guest moved around among the audience with a half-filled glass in her hand, Vimala could get a glimpse her conversing animatedly with many important people crowding around her. Her warm hugs with some of the ladies, ready handshakes with many men and the hoo-hah that accompanied looked affected for Vimala.

 As she deftly moved from them to others, Vimala felt she caught her eyes. After a few minutes with another crowd, she saw the lady making a dash towards her and exclaiming,” Hello, have we met before? There is something familiar in you. Are you working? Have you come with your hubby? Maybe I know him. Do introduce him to me,” she spoke with much enthusiasm.

“I am Vimala and teaching economics at Presidency college. My husband Ananth is working in a senior position in a well-known finance company,” she replied  and hailed Ananth who was standing nearby. After shaking hands with Ananth, she laughed heartily and said, “You are a pretty lucky guy to have such a charming wife. I have taken a great liking for her We must get to know better. Maybe one of these days, we shall catch up,” and hurried away towards another group of people waiting eagerly nearby.

As they were returning home, Vimala asked Ananth, “What do you make of that Amby something?”

“Why, she is a very pleasant and vivacious lady, highly knowledgeable and taking the bank to great heights. Don’t you agree?” he replied.

“No, a very artificial and pretentious woman, I have developed an instant dislike for her. You are one of the hundreds to have attended the meeting. What is there with us  to catch up and meet again? I think she must be nearing 60.” Vimala spewed her distaste. Ananth did not react but drove home silently.

During one of the subsequent temple visits, Vimala noticed a good-looking lady of about 55 standing by her side in the main sanctum and praying with eyes closed. She looked fetching in her blue silk sari with a large bindi on her forehead, sparkling diamond ear stud and a string of jasmine on the head over the neat bundle. She had a bowl with flowers, betel leaves, coconut and other things in her hand. As the priest came near them after the arthi with the plate carrying the burning camphor, the lady dropped a hundred rupee note. She gave the bowl in his hands and requested for an archanai(puja) in God’s name.

When Vimala turned to look at her as they were coming out of the sanctum, the lady gently smiled and asked, “Aren’t you Vimala teaching economics in a college?”

Vimala blinked at the somewhat familiar figure unable to place her, when that lady exclaimed, “My god, you have forgotten me so soon. We met only the other day at the function in Three trees hotel.”

‘I am so sorry. You were so different there. I never expected you in a temple in our traditional sari with bindi, flowers on the head and a bowl in hand. But your name there was also outlandish. Pray, do not take me amiss,” she said

“I understand your confusion. The setting there was so different. Call me Ambuja. When I was in Harvard, the classmates called me Amby and my boyfriend then and husband now was known as Ranger, shortened form for Rangarajan,” she laughed and continued, “I do not drink after I returned to India and  took a degree in Vaishnavism but hold the glass without sipping on formal meetings. You must visit my house at Neelankarai. Have this card and ring me before you visit as I work both from Mumbai and Chennai.”

“It is awesome that with all this crowded official life, you took time to delve into Vaishnavism. How come you visit this temple each week all the way from Neelankarai? Any special attraction to the Presiding deity?” Vimala asked with a giggle.

 “Good question. My maternal grandfather lived years back in the Car street and as a young girl used to visit the temple with my grandma. That could be one of the reasons I am drawn here besides the fact that I find great peace after I pray standing before the lord,” Ambuja said, reminiscing her younger days. I am to rush back. More to talk when we meet next time,” she replied as she hurried away.

When Vimala was standing wondering whether to visit lord Narasimha shrine, the priest who knew her well came out of the shrine asked,” Vimala, what are you thinking about?”

“Nothing mama, Good you came out. Do you know the lady who was standing by my side? She impressed me with her devoutness and interest in Vaishnavism despite holding a very top position earning huge salary,” asked Vimala

“I don’t know much about her but she seems to be sincere and well-to-do as she is very  liberal,” he said.

That night when Vimala and her husband Ananth were watching the TV, she narrated about her meeting Ambuja  at the temple and how she was impressed with her deportment, elegance and gentle way of her talking. I feel terribly bad at my initial dislike for her that was hasty and misplaced. I wish to cultivate her and learn about Vaishnavism.”

 After some silence Vimala spoke again, “How faulty we are at judging people by mere looks. Appearance does not tell us the truth. A donkey with holy books tied around its neck is still a donkey. A learned and wise man in rags and squatting in dirt is still wise man. The external robes often mislead the true character of the person inside. The mere presence at the temple does not make one pious nor a dagger in hand a murderer. There is always more than what meets the eye.”






Saturday, December 3, 2022

A lesson learnt


Sivaguru is a leading member of the bar and commanded huge practice. A much sought-after lawyer, his office at his sprawling home was always crowded with litigants. Known for his legal acumen, brilliance in exposition of cases and a track of successful outcomes even his colleagues in the bar hesitated to take up cases when he was representing the other side.

The success in his career and the wealth it brought did not affect him. He chose his cases on the basis of their merit and challenge they offered and not on the remuneration they brought. He was such a kind hearted and a compassionate person that quite often the members of the bar would wonder when he argued with fervour cases of litigants who seemed very poor. All these qualities of head and heart earned him the high esteem of the judges.

Natesan, his son in his early twenties worked as an apprentice in his office after finishing his graduation in law. There were several other juniors too under the senior lawyer. Saturdays were usually very busy with many clients coming after prior appointment. The senior generally avoided professional work on Sundays keeping the day for family. It was Natesan who checked the register of appointments and allowed the clients access to the lawyer generally in the order of appointments.

It was one Saturday there were half a dozen or more cars in the compound and the hall had already a few clients with registered appointments waiting for their turn. There was also an old person in late seventies with ash marks on his forehead and unshaved brittle hair on his face seated in a corner of the visitors’ lounge. He was in crumpled khadi dhoti that was worn in traditional manner passing through the legs, an unpressed half-sleeves khadi kurta with a yellow cloth bag in his hands. He looked a rustic from a village in appearance.

“Have you registered for an appointment already? What is your good name?” asked Natesaan.

“No, I am no client but know Sivaguru personally very well. I would not take more than a few minutes. Just inform him that Paramasivam is wanting to meet him for a short time,” he said.

Natesan was not impressed assuming the old man to be one of the many who came to seek alms or donations for some temple or charitable causes. He chose not to inform the senior lawyer about this man but sent one after the other the waiting clients. A bearer from inside the house brought a tray with cups of coffee for the visitors. Natesan saw the old man gently decline.

“Could you mention to Sivaguru about my waiting here to meet him? I have to return to my village for an urgent work,” asked the old man after waiting for long time.

“Don’t you see so many clients with important cases are waiting after fixing appointment? You have no appointment and will have to wait for your turn,” Natesan replied somewhat curtly.

It was then Sivaguru the senior lawyer chanced to come out to the hall along with important looking client to see him off. When he heard Natesan talking brusquely to someone, he turned to see what was happening. As soon as he saw Paramasivam, he left the client abruptly and came rushing to Paramasivam with the palms together on his chest  and his head and body bent in reverence.

“Ayya, (respectful form of addressing) how long have you been waiting? Should you not have walked inside directly? You could have at least sent word through Natesan."

“You are a busy man with many clients waiting for you. I did not want to intrude and was prepared to wait for my turn. I am very happy to see you having successful practice. I came to the town on some pressing work and thought of spending a few minutes before returning,” Paramasivam replied without mentioning about the long wait for nearly two hours.

Sivaguru held his hand to take him inside the house and turned to the waiting clients to tell, “I have a venerable family friend  visiting me after long years and wish to spend time with him. Kindly come back at 4pm and I will meet you all today itself. Please bear with me.”

When the two were seated in the large living room, Sivaguru along with his wife and children prostrated before him seeking his blessings. He requested the old man to have his lunch with him.  After lunch, they were closeted alone for two hours discussing about the village, the bygone days and about the urgency of the renovation of the lake and the local Shiva temple.

At 3.30pm when the old man took leave, the senior lawyer instructed his driver to drop him at his village about 50 miles away. Along with Natesan he walked up to the car to see him off. The old man before entering the car, pulled Natesan towards him, gently patted him with a smile and made a passing remark, “Learn to be like your father. You will be as successful as he is.”

During dinner with family that night, Sivaguru turned to Natesan in and remarked, "Do not be carried away by appearances or external appurtenances like apparel, jewels or car. Great people are humble and rarely flaunt. He owns three fourths of my village and lands in other places too. A god fearing and kind-hearted man as he is, I would have been struggling in life but for his compassion and munificence.” After a pause he wiped his eyes and continued,” My father, a small farmer with limited ancestral land living in the same street as his, died young suddenly. It was this gentleman who took care of our family tilling our lands, educating me till I equipped myself to be a lawyer and ensuring that we lived financially in comfort. He gifted me with a motorbike when I started attending college. I am today what I am solely because of my revered benefactor.”

With remorse for his rude behaviour, Natesan confessed to his father, “Sorry appa, I acted rather foolishly thinking he was a supplicant come to seek alms and made him wait unfairly and unduly for a long time. I even ignored his request to inform you about his desire to meet you for a few minutes. He could have protested or revealed who he was but chose to be silent.”

Sivaguru patted his back and said “Appearances are deceptive. The truly great are silent and do not react as we do. The respect you give to them should be the respect you would wish for if you were similarly placed. Fairness in dealings and compassion to all especially to the disadvantaged are the two virtues you must adhere to always in your life.”

A chastened Natesan fell flat before him and clutching his legs pleaded, "Forgive me, appa.I have leant a valuable lesson today and I promise to follow your advice,"

"Good, though I would be at peace only after a slight punishment for your rude behaviour today. I would ask one of the other apprentices to look after from Monday  the register of appointments and letting in the clients to my room,"Sivaguru said softly but firmly.

“Treat everyone with politeness and kindness, not because they are nice, but because you are.”