Thursday, May 29, 2014

Magnanimity is above circumstances

Posting an old story written seven years back to keep the blog ticking.
We live in a small town, rather an oversized village, about thirty kilometers away from a big city. It is an old house slightly narrow but very long with a porch at the entrance and a large vacant ground at the backyard. It was built during my husband’s grandfather’s time. We chose to live in this place as my husband had large areas of land under cultivation in the adjacent villages. A lawyer by profession my husband is not practicing much these days except to help old clients. The children who live in the city visited us during weekends off and on.
One summer evening when I was watching the TV I heard someone calling ’Amma’. When I went to see who it was I found an old man of about seventy, frail and small built and not looking well off. He had a smiling face belying his indigent circumstances as revealed by his tattered shirt and much worn out footwear. In a soft and pleasant voice he said “Sorry to bother you. I came to this place to return some amount I had taken as a loan. The person to whom I returned the money came home only at 9pm.The last bus to my place had left already and the first one leaves early in the morning at 6am.Would you kindly allow me to sleep on the raised platform (thinnai in Tamil) in the porch for the night. I do not know anyone else here. My relations with that person I met here were a bit strained and there was no question of my asking him.”
As my husband had not returned from the city, I hesitated for a moment. My six year old granddaughter who had come to stay with me for the week end said” Grand ma, please allow this thatha (grandfather) to sleep in the porch. Where else can he sleep in the night? He looks tired and hungry.” This clinched the matter.
I gave him a mat, a pillow and a sheet to cover as mosquitoes are a menace here. Declining to have food, he accepted a glass of buttermilk when I insisted. I could hear him talking to my granddaughter and her peals of laughter now and then. I could discern a jovial personality within this frail man depressed possibly by financial worries.
When I came out to take my granddaughter inside, he told me that he had a married son with children who are living in the North. The daughter in law was also employed in the government. It transpired that the old man’s wife fell from a bus some years ago and is unable to walk. She had a walker but still needed help to take her to bathroom. Luckily one lady in the adjacent flat is very friendly and helpful whenever he had to go outside.
 After this accident the son and his wife became distant and aloof. He was sending money earlier whenever asked. But the old man has since stopped asking. He was getting some pension that was just adequate. He had no complaints to make and was thankful to god for keeping him physically fit and healthy to take care of his wife and manage his affairs without imposing on others
A thought crossed my mind. Financially not sound, advanced in age, a crippled wife, denied the affection of his only son in their twilight years, he still counted his blessings instead of crying about his disappointments. He was grateful to god for the doughnut he had instead of cursing the holes in it. I wished him good night and went inside with my granddaughter Shruti.
When I got up in the morning and went out to the porch with a cup of hot coffee, I found he had gone. The mat and the sheet were neatly folded and kept over the pillow. When I lifted them to carry inside, I found a small paper folded and on opening a fifty rupee note fell down. He had scribbled in pencil “To dear Shruti, with love, Thatha”
I could not stop the tears from my eyes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The mendicant and the harmonium

Lakshmi always rushed to the door from the kitchen with a tumblerful of rice when she heard the soulful music from the harmonium coming from a distance. She liked to watch him play the instrument effortlessly accompanied by his soft rendering in his sweet voice of Thyagaraja keerthans or bhajans.The man in his late fifties came invariably around 8.30  ,one or two minutes this way or that, in the mornings.
Clad in dhoti passing through the legs without any shirt to cover his bare chest, he had a turban like head gear in yellow cloth with a long portion falling behind his back. A glistening brass vessel spherical in shape hung on his shoulder. He seemed to forget the surroundings when he sang with his eyes half closed pouring out his soul in praise Sri Rama.
It appeared to Lakshmi when he played on the harmonium gently passing his fingers over the keys, he was plucking at the heart strings of the very god in whose praise he was ecstatically singing. Even the hardened soul not given to aesthetics cannot miss the richness of his voice and the devotion in his dulcet music. He did not linger beyond a minute or two for the lady of the house to offer the bhiksha (alms).An unchavrutti (one who lived on alms) brahmin he lived on the offerings and would return when the vessel turned full. He never collected more than the day’s requirement.

Lakshmi was taught classical Carnatic music as a young girl. Her dad had bought a harmonium years back to keep the rhythm. She had learnt music for eight years and could sing well but relish good music better. With children grown up and the household chores taking her time, she left singing totally. Her two sons had no aptitude for Carnatic music.
The mendicant knew by long experience that this lady would not fail to offer the rice. She would rush to the door even when he was a few houses away and once he reached her door she would walk slowly to savour for longer time the matchless patterns of music that he created from the harmonium. Though a poor man in rags, she had a great respect for the man whose music and musical imagination she felt would have received wide acclaim had he been exposed to the connoisseurs and the Sabah secretaries. Most probably he had scorn for such publicity to what was purely a musical expression of his devotion to his god. He was like a flower ’born to blush unseen and waste its fragrance in the deserted air’ though he never thought on those lines. She occasionally made small talk with him if he had failed to turn up the previous day. His songs lingered in her ears on some days long after he left.
He was not seen for three days continuously. She was a bit worried whether he had fallen sick but knew not where and whom to enquire. When she mentioned his absence to her husband, he mocked at her and said “Why do you worry about that poor man? He is just a dignified beggar singing the names of the god to invoke the sympathy of the housewives?’ She became angry and did not pursue the conversation with him. She silently prayed to god for the well being of the singing mendicant.
As if in answer to her prayer, she heard the next day the song from outside her door without the accompaniment of harmonium. She hastened with the rice to see him standing without the harmonium hanging from his shoulder. He looked weak with his cheeks sunken. She asked him “You were not seen for three days. What happened? Were you not well? Where is the harmonium?”
He hesitated for a while and slowly replied “There was a minor accident. As ill luck would have it, a cyclist dashed against me and I fell down. I escaped with minor scratches. The harmonium which fell a little away was run over by a speeding tempo and broken to smithereens. It is bad time for me. My lord Sri Rama is testing me. This instrument helped in attracting the griha lakshmis like you. I am now compelled to sing louder the names of the lord.”
She requested him to wait for a few minutes and rushed inside to the puja room where she had kept her harmonium. It was kept covered in cover made of red velvet cloth. She stood for a minute with her eyes closed before the god as if seeking His permission to take away the harmonium. She hurried back to the front door and offered the harmonium without a word to him. When he raised his eyes from the instrument to hers, she could see the surprise and the warmth.
 She slowly removed the cover and asked him “Please accept this offering. I am in fact selfish and wish to hear your divine music from this harmonium that once belonged to me .It was lying idle in the puja room and would now be put to better use for which it was intended. Do not hesitate. I am like your daughter.”

 He wiped the tears of joy and gratitude from his eyes and smiled at her. She requested “Can you please sing the piece “Nithi sala sukhama, Ramudu sannithi seva sukhama” for me once?” He kept silent with his eyes closed for a few moments and then sang the timeless piece softly spreading the mysterious joy and tranquility that only the devout can invest in their music. After the song was over, he took a small quantity of rice from his vessel and sprinkled on her head blessing her “Dheerga sumangali bhava”