Understanding the threat posed by predatory ideologies is a must if Hinduism is to survive in the future.
Continued from Part 2
Soon Azhagu stopped coming home having sensed she was unwelcome – well paaTi had made that abundantly clear by showing her the door of the pooja room and drawing an imaginary line on the ground, wagging her finger and her head in a silent NO entry – and they would meet out at Flower Power or Chai Gulli or just by the beach …wherever… depending on their mood and budget. Srishti thought a lot about what her grandmother had said and done, and did not agree for the most part….was she not taught that treating a guest with the highest honour was her culture? “That is a TV advertisement by the government for tourism” retorted her grandmother sharply. “By atithi what the shaastras mean is someone who is in need of food and shelter and comes by unexpectedly while on a yatra or in pursuit of a guru..someone who is dhaarmika…not ..not this girl who enters private spaces without permission and then gets upset when I order her out…”.
Srishti tried hard not to remember that day, but everything appeared before her in a flash: Azhagu had visited them for a ‘night out’ for the first time (which also turned out to be the last alas!) and had gotten up late after the sleepover. Still in her shorts, she had jumped out of the bed and without brushing her teeth or bathing or even combing her hair had gone downstairs to make coffee for herself. On seeing paaTi sitting in the pooja room she had gone in and patted her back to ask her where the coffee and sugar were kept. This had obviously enraged paaTi. “How will that girl learn anything, her mother and father have divorced and left her on the road! Who will teach her right from wrong, when everything is simply “chumma casualaa” for her?” Well if paaTi wanted she could definitely be a Youtuber and roast youngsters easily with her on-point mimicry!
How many times had Srishti explained to Azhagu that everyone at her home followed these rules which were not some regulations to keep the outsiders out, we are most brahminical with ourselves ya, she had joked to her unimpressed friend – bathe before you leave your bedroom, do pooja before eating, eat with the right hand only, don’t touch your lips on the tumbler, and DON’T touch or talk to anyone who is in the kitchen cooking, in maDi….Azhagu of course never paid any attention and look what it had come to. This then was the precarious situation and Srishti was caught between her simple love for Azhagu, her need for youthful friendships and her grandmother who pronounced this girl to be unfit for her granddaughter’s attentions.
Srishti did not see the connection between divorce of parents for example with petty mindedness….nor did she care for all the talk of propriety or social etiquette that both anna and paaTi harped on often. Ask yourself only one question always, would you do what she did? If yes she is your friend, if not she is not. That sounded like a one-liner from her own book of self-quotes but it was paaTi grilling her after the said incident. She had it from both sides now, tomorrow Azhagu would rant to her about the terrible strictures of the brahmin households, while today it was paaTi’s turn! soorya bhagavaanae….
“She knows that we don’t drink straight from tumblers in our house, yet she does it on purpose…she has no manners that one…who will teach her…parents are too selfish to stay together and raise her properly….it is all me me me …kali kaalam…”
But today Srishti had finally pieced the puzzle together, and no she was not influenced by her ‘fascist paaTi’ nor by her ‘patriarchal anna’ as Azhagu had labelled them contemptuously. She had been at the receiving end of Azhagu’s negativity and insensitivity for way too long, this could not be ignored any longer. If being in her presence was not bringing satisfaction to Srishti, where instead of being at ease as one is with a friend, instead of being understood without having to explain constantly, without having to justify herself, her choice of clothes, her attitudes, her reactions, her caste, her class, her paaTi, her anna, her relations, then this girl had to go. Azhagu, farewell my dear…and it is not because you are dark or because your parents are divorced, it is because you are selfish. Srishti agreed with her paaTi’s assessment of Azhagu only on this count…and this one was enough for her to break all connection with the one she had met accidentally. Yet despite wanting to and having decided to, Srishti still held on, unable to physically cut asunder the tenuous threads of her hard to define relationship with Azhagu. Murugan anna was also a chance meeting, wasn’t he? Yet, it was his large-heartedness that had made her whole family adopt him as one of their own.
Anna did not think of himself as a know-it-all, he was always learning and always correcting himself. He was not afraid to ask for help, he was vulnerable enough to make mistakes but always admitted to them. He was a noble, generous man who worked towards the betterment of his own self, his family, and the whole community by being a dhaarmika person. The very nemesis of Azhagu! Right after he had returned from a Silambam demonstration and performance in Imphal, Manipur which had been organized by the Sports Ministry for which he was the sole person selected from Tamil Nadu, Murugan anna came by excitedly to their house to drop off gifts. A bottle of bamboo shoot pickle (how exotic!), two beautiful handwoven shawls (she could use them as wall decor maybe), a Kauna yoga mat (how thoughtful!) and two stone mugs for coffee for paaTi-paetti chat. He talked non-stop of Loktak lake, of the Women’s only market, of the INA museum….she has never seen him so visibly happy in all these years. He described Imphal in such glowing terms that Srishti now wanted to travel there and see all those wonders for herself. Maybe she could go there to learn to dance the raas….travel sounded very appealing especially when anna talked of how green and cool it was.
This had been anna’s first trip out of Chennai and he was all smiles on his return, his face beaming with confidence. He wasn’t just another auto driver anymore, he was someone to reckon with, people knew him now, his videos were on Youtube, his stories on Insta, unknown people were appreciating his Silambam technique on Facebook, leaving heartfelt comments. Despite this sudden burst of well-deserved fame he had come back a much humbler man – “I grew up thinking that all things Tamizh are the best akka,… they are…but then all things Manipuri are also great, they too have martial arts…dance…food…beauty….” he paused, recollecting his memories and collecting his words with care. “My friends asked me to send photos of my hometown akka...I want them to like Chennai…can you take some nice pictures of the beach and Whatsapp me? I want them to come here next year…I will take them around…..they will like it here..no?” He sounded shy and excited at the same time, while he was getting ready to be an ambassador of his culture, of his city, and Srishti could find no better person than him to do this job, she herself was humbled by his simple request to be his content creator.
Srishti, glad to be finally of some help to anna, thought hard of the best way to showcase Chennai to a North-Easterner. She had herself never stayed for more than a month in Chennai during her yearly visits, but now with her Masters done, she had continued her holidays with no fixed future agenda at hand, even months after the December season was done, “Anna let us go tomorrow, I have a great idea, early morning polaam ok….” Panguni Peruvizha celebrations were going on in Mylapore and this would give them ample opportunity to capture something cultural and colourful! Srishti was all agog and delighted at the thought of sharing this civilizational tidbit from her hometown with someone from far away Manipur.
Azhagu tagged along as was expected, wearing something totally inappropriate as usual and later started cribbing that men were staring at her. Why is it that we expect people, especially traditional people to be all welcoming and all accepting? If you wear a burqa in a bar all the supposed liberal people will also stare no? And the place was of course teeming with millions of devotees. What a sight it was! Chariots and chants, drums and drama, the sweet smell of various flowers of all hues, the cries of babies being passed from one set of hands to another, policemen trying in vain to manage the neverending crowds, brass bands and whistles, street vendors and prasaadam counters, the roadside trash and balloons flying high..the sacred tank was surrounded by bhaktas waiting their turn impatiently patient. One by one the royal palanquins followed, people’s cell phones worked overtime, the smoke from holy incense created an atmosphere of mystery and otherworldliness. Srishti held on tightly to Azhagu and they both were kept on a tight leash by anna, “no no, not here, don’t stop now, you’ll get crushed ..walk a bit more to the front…yes..there..stop…we can stand here and take photos….” phew! What an adventure it was but totally worth it. Srishti had never seen anything as colourful and beautiful in all her life! Forget Manipuris, she was mesmerized herself!
Anyway once all the sixty-three Nayanmars were viewed with reverence, anna said he would go into the kovil for a quick darshan, would they mind? Of course not! Take your time anna said Srishti. “Oh my girl..you are not going in for the hallowed darshanam, I am surprised…you have become all atheist in my company is it…your granny is going to hate on me more now…”..instead of sensing the trap that it was, instead of identifying the mockery in the statement, Srishti replied gullibly, “Can’t go today ya ..”. Well that was that. That started off a tirade from Azhagu on the exclusion, patriarchy, control, the toxic masculinity inherent in Hinduism and how it was the brahmins who were at the root of all this. Many of the words she had used made no sense to Srishti at all, she simply stared at her so-called friend in disbelief. It was only seconds ago that we witnessed beauty of such high order, such sublime aesthetics, how can you stoop down to such bickering in a blink of an eye? Does this ethereal atmosphere have no positive effect on your hate-filled heart? Why?
On her part, Srishti just felt yucky and not in the best of health to want to go into a sacred space and take in that energy when it was her time of the month and she was warned against it by her paaTi too…she instinctively recoiled against the idea…it could have been the way she was brought up….it could have been the hygiene angle….it could have been her own low energy on such days…whatever it was she saw no reason to agitate against such a stipulation, thankful to simply get off from her routine for a few days. In a land of temples and festivities galore you don’t go one day or three, you can go in the rest of the twenty-five days in a month no…..you don’t go to a Sabarimala, you can go to a million other Ayyappa shrines no….how did it matter to the likes of Azhagu who in fact detested temples and refused to enter them because she had read that somewhere someone had prevented a Dalit from temple entry and wanted to punish temples by refusing to grace them with her presence!
It was getting out of hand. She was welcome to her ideology Azhagu was. But she made being in her company very difficult. Constantly railing against the world, especially her own country, constantly complaining about Hindus, especially her own traditions and festivals, made Srishti really upset. Critiquing is one thing and criticism is another. Such negative energy was playing havoc on her happy system, and then she saw what anna and paaTi had seen long ago, Azhagu was indeed harmful to her health!
On Panguni Uthiram evening Srishti found herself walking alone on the sands of Elliots beach pondering about Soorya….sauraashtaarNa mantraatmanae sauvarNa svaroopaatmanae…..He gave her solace and peace while everything around her was collapsing. Azhagu was giving her the cold treatment especially after Srishti finally found enough courage to refuse to join the gang in pub-hopping. I have actually said ‘no’! Aloud! That had been so very hard. Being of a happy adventurous comportment, her default response had always been positive. But the more she talked to anna and manni, the more she realized how alcohol harmed the youth. In the name of lifestyle, lives were being lost to addiction, deteriorating health and to degenerate value systems. Sharp brains were turning to an amorphous mush for the sake of being ‘cool’. None of the gang members was working on learning, improving, growing internally, did Srishti really need to hang out with them?
Just as she was giving her the negative vibes – stay away, back off – so was Azhaghu. Each of them felt this intuitively and allowed the chasm to expand involuntarily. Nothing transpired on their social media either. It was a cold war that was heating up. No one had called anyone names, no one had been violent…yet the silence between them was searing. Slowly they felt the gap widening, the void unbridgeable. Heart full of pain at having to lose a friendship that had been so serendipitously provided by God, she found herself navigating the narrow lanes towards Murugan anna’s house.
In all these years she had never once been to his place, he had not invited her either but theirs was no longer a formal relationship that needed invitations, plus today she needed to be with him more than ever…she wanted to ask him a favour. The lighting and razzle-dazzle of the Velankanni church surprised her.. .the prosperity…the richness…the hint and smell of new money spoke of other unpleasant facts ..facts mentioned by Murugan anna over auto rides to here and there. “St. Thomas Mount was actually the real Kapaleeshwarar Temple…oh you did not know? Now you know…” He was right about the monies pouring in for sure…just the other day she had been wondering why the Ashtalakshmi Temple right on the beach right next to the church and probably more ancient too should be so dilapidated and not have enough money or funds to renovate nor employ pujaris for all the various devatas ….some of the shrines were locked and when she had asked around about this dire situation she was told that they had no finances for upkeep. The contrast between the upkeep of both these institutions separated by a single lane was extremely telling.
Srishti noticed that her presence evoked strange looks in these parts, what was it? She was dressed like a local wasn’t she…is it because I am not familiar-looking…are my clothes too rich..what am I doing wrong…why am I not blending in…? She heard whispers. She thought she heard someone mention her taata….her paaTi. Before she gave more thought to this mysterious gossipping, she saw manni, bent down over her evening koLam sari tucked high on her waist right outside her house humming something exquisitely haunting, Srishti got closer gingerly unobtrusively only to hear an excellent rendition of Thillai Vaazh Andhanar. Her heartbeat grew fast and there was an adrenaline rush. She was awestruck. What a deep strong voice, what a soulful rendition!…….vellumaa mihavalla meypporuLukku aDiyaen veeripozhil soozh kunDraiyaar viRanmiNDarkku aDiyaen allimaen mullaiyandaar amarneedikku aDiyaen aarooran aarooril ammaanukku aaLae……
Manni looked up momentarily to wipe her brow and spotted her just in time. Good thing too as Srishti was almost nervous and on the verge of a retreat, unsure if she had done the right thing by coming here. “Srishti! neeyaa….vaamma…uLLe vaa..”, she said this hurriedly putting a harsh break to her melodious singing and dragged her inside. The insides were neat and very very clean. The main attraction of the tiny low roofed hall were the various photos of Murugan on its bright blue walls. The god, not her anna. All decorated with fresh flower garlands with kumkumam and vipooti generously smeared on his forehead. The god’s not anna’s. Anna in his trademark bush shirt was sitting deep in dhyaanam eyes closed in front of their pooja altar, which was right next to an old TV. The twins were on the floor too, heads bent, studiously doing their homework in silence. They looked up briefly to flash a welcoming smile before going back to their sums.
Unlike other houses that she had passed by, their T.V. was off. On the TV was a small plastic flower vase with a tattered Indian Flag stuck into it. This sight brought tears to her eyes. Her throat caught her choke just in time before the dam burst and embarrassed her hosts.
All these days Srishti had been smarting at the constant anti-national sentiment of the Chennai youth that was Azhagu’s circle. “Borders are man-made, we are all one,” they said, but in the same tone they continued without self-reflection, “Oh! tamizhnaaDa will be much better off without the cow-belt to drag us down, we should separate…”. Nationalism was out of fashion, the idea of breaking India seemed more appealing, a hot topic at all the stand-ups that she was forced to attend. They mocked and derided everything that Srishti stood for, the values that were instilled into her since before birth. The only collective identity they spoke of with any pride was that of being Tamizh, every other institution had been reduced to the rubble of the singular, the individual. Unfortunately, this sole collective consciousness was artificially propped up on the bedrock of politics, cinema, and sexuality, nothing else. The truth is that most of the youth have been force-fed on a diet of Tamizh supremacy which they call out vociferously when they see it in anyone but themselves! She searched for her notebook in her jhola to jot this down but couldn’t find her pen. Well, I’ll not forget that sentence in a hurry she thought with a wry smile.
Food was cooking in the kitchen although it was not yet seven in the evening, and she could smell the delicious aromas wafting teasing her nostrils. “Eat and go, I will call paaTi”, said manni affectionately reminding her of her mother. Before Srishti could protest the call was made. Strange that paaTi did not mind her eating at their place when she was so insistent on this that and the other when it came to Azhagu! In all these years she was not granted permission to spend even one night at Azhagu’s alone, it was always Azhagu who would visit or even spent that one night at Srishti’s.
Looking at this household Srishti understood why, she comprehended a lot more about her grandmother’s psychology. paaTi had always maintained that Murugan was much more of ‘our kind’ than Azhagu was. “It is what you do ..how you behave..what you aspire towards that matters ultimately kanna…..not who you are born to…look at that pisaachi...not one single strand of her hair is ever in place…and look at Valli, lakshaNamaana….” True, manni was always beautifully turned out, goddess-like, long braid, flowers in place, simple ornaments on bright coloured starched voil saris, kohl-lined eyes full of open sincerity and a winning smile, Srishti was definitely in awe of her. She could see how manni complimented and completed anna, how she made him a man to reckon with. She was now a witness to yet another good and stable marriage apart from her own parents’. She liked what she saw. Manni went into the kitchen to get their dinner, continuing to hum the famous thevaaram that Srishti’s unexpected arrival had interrupted...
…tillaivaazh andaNartham aDiyaarkkum aDiyaen
tiruneela kaNDattu kuyavanaarkku aDiyaen
Illaiyae ennaada iyatpahaikkum aDiyaen
ILaiyaantan kuDimaaRan aDiyaarkkum aDiyaen…
Murugan opened his eyes and stood up to do a whole body saaShTaanga namaskaaram to his beloved Murugaa without even noticing her, seated on the one sole chair in the room behind him. Right above the beautiful faded photo of a youthful Kartikeya, Srishti spotted a Guru’s image in orange. This was Swami Omakrananda from Theni whom everyone in her family was talking about these days, paaTi of course being the one who constantly shared his talks in the family WA group. Fiery with a sound grounding in the scriptures, this great teacher of shaastra was the head of a beautiful aashrama, where the devi pooja was a must-see said her relatives who were hooked onto his discourses. The one or two videos that she had watched of his with Vedic chanting and of spiritual discourses did indeed show him in good light, the chantings were superb as were the elaborate poojas not to speak of his great clarity in explaining the intricacies of the Upanishads. Anna toeing the line of her grandmother had started to listen in earnest too and had become his student, and praised his classes often, “..don’t watch all those cultureless paDams ‘kaa, they are useless ..they teach you nothing meaningful…you must hear today’s lecture! semma paesinaar akka… .” Her paaTi and he would watch these Tamizh talks daily and discuss them during their weekly meetings… no wonder her parents and paaTi felt that Murugan was one of them. He did nothing that could be denounced, on the contrary, he was always respectful, maintained his maryaada, and went out of his way to be the son of the house.
The girls closed their notebooks, manni came out of the kitchen without being called, anna closed his eyes once again and all of them stood and recited the Kanda Sasti Kavasam. The next 20 minutes was the most enthralling of any December season for Srishti! No tickets, no fanfare, no podium, no silk and diamonds, no chikku pudding either, just plain and simple bhakti and the sincere bhaktas. The four were lost in their sincere devotion and took Srishti along on a celestial ride. It was a glorious experience! This here was real art. For free. Once done, just as they had wordlessly joined in chorus, everyone went back to their original positions, the girls finishing up their homework, manni putting final seasoning touches to the food humming aarooril ammanakku anbaraa vaarae…aarooril ammanakku anbaraa vaarae…, while anna showed Srishti the way to the bathroom to wash her hands and feet.
Coming out of the restroom and drying her hands with a fresh talcum powder smelling towel that anna had provided, pondering deeply she sat down on the floor for the evening meal. Handing over the towel back to anna, who stood by her like Hanuman to Sita, she thanked him in her heart for being there for her. The twins put away their books, one of them brought a wet cloth to mop the uneven stone floor, another put down four banana leaves wiping them clean with water, manni brought out a few aluminium vessels one by one and laid them in the middle, the small steel tumblers came next. The steam from the hot rice and rasam made Srishti hungry for this type of sincere love and affection that she was being showered with, she was hardly able to hold back her tears. Standing by the kitchen door manni shyly asked her if she wanted any ooraga. “Why are you not sitting with us?” Srishti almost blurted out before biting her tongue. There was hardly any place for the four of them to sit as it is, despite the one steel chair which was now folded and propped up against the wall. Sensing her unasked question, manni answered cheerfully, “Are you ready to eat, I will serve, please eat well, I didn’t know you were coming or I would have made something more…something you like….”. Srishti felt ashamed and angry. Just to feel better she had brought herself here, not thinking for a minute if she was inconveniencing her hosts! How unthoughtful of her to have come empty-handed too. And as if maani could read her mind she commented, “We are so happy you came without any notice maa. It is like devi herself came to us as on vellikizhamai!” While the food was served and appaDums were being crunched, Srishti made a request, “Can you please teach me that thevaaram you were singing…you sing so beautifully…”. Humility seemed to run in the family, “Aiyyo! No no maa..you all have learnt music no…..I just sing whatever I hear in the kovil ..in fact, I was thinking of putting girls for paaTa class…but I don’t know how much they will charge…”. Without a second thought, Srishti made a hard to refuse offer, “OK, sari..I have decided, I will teach Aadilakshmi and Aadishakti and you will teach me!” Murugan anna gave her a grateful look and the girls bent their heads further down with giggles and happy smiles, manni simply shook her head silently in a yes and radiated joy from ear to ear.
Succumbing to the emotion of this fulfilling moment she blurted out spontaneously, “Anna……..manni mentioned that you are planning to visit Ramachandran anna’s family in Kumbakonam soon ..I was thinking…uh…..…..you know…….Suriyanar kovil …” Anna beamed all knowingly…manni dropped the water jug and ran out of the kitchen to hug her…the girls looked up from their leaves and unable to control their excitement anymore, shouted a yes-yes-yes in unison! “So you want to come with us…instead of enjoying jollyaa with your Azhagu in Valparai?...idiku daan aedirpaartom!”
Not wanting to burst their bubble yet not wanting to lie, Srishti tried to speak in a manner taught by her paaTi, who would have been proud had she witnessed this encounter, be honest but be sweet-tongued, honesty does not give you a right to hurt anyone, yet don’t lie to please anyone. “Of course travelling with you is what I want to do…I hardly spend time with you all as a family….but I have been having this strong urge to….visit and have darshan of Suryan at his kovil near Kumbakonam…and ..”, before she got a chance to explain further or got entangled in her own confusion manni rescued her, “We can go wherever you want maa..as long as you are no longer wasting time in her company”! That was strange. Even manni seemed to dislike Azaghu!
“There are only two kinds of people – those who are for dharma, and those against. Your friend, unfortunately …we did not want to tell you but we have seen her many times with a boy here at church..she is getting all those rebel ideas from here…they teach you to question everything Hindu maa, treat everything we do as bad and superstitious…as if they are all modern and rational…following a foreign culture makes you foreign not smarter” Valli manni snorted sarcastically. “We were so afraid we would lose you to her, we have been keeping a close watch you know…even the girls..” so saying she looked at them approvingly…and the twins gave Srishti a shy smile each right on cue. “Your paaTi is very clever, she had the whole neighbourhood watching out for you…these are very dangerous times maa...girls are kidnapped or shot for not converting….you don’t read or watch the news much…..maybe for the best…but your paaTi was so worried…she keeps track of news daily……girls are being forced in different ways to change matam….you must be vigilant at all times maa..” Before she could go on and on with her fears anna stopped her and said, “Di, podum…saapaaTenge…serve dinner, she is here for the first time…you can talk all you want on the way to Kumbakonam, sariyaa…”
But then Valli filled in the details bit by bit while they walked her back home. “We have seen Azhagu so many times at the various prayer meetings that happen here with those boys…. you went to Pondicherry with them remember? Of course! how could she forget. We could not say anything to your parents, forget paaTi, they would be so worried. We did not know how to approach you ..how to talk to you about this topic….You would say how does it matter if she is a Christian. It matters maa because she hides all this from you. If she has converted she should be open about it isn’t it? She just spouts whatever that Ezra Sargunam or Mohun Lazarus or whoever feeds her in their prayer gatherings. All they do when they congregate is to abuse our gods, our ways.” Valli stopped and took a deep breath, happy to finally let go of it all from her chest.
“We have debated so many times whether to tell you all this or not….you are such a happy girl..singing and dancing…but amma this is the age illa….what if they sweet-talked you into converting…think of what it will do to your whole family….” Valli paused again, shivering at the very thought, while anna took over. “They would constantly pester Valli while she was alone at home, the ladies. They would come home one by one slowly, insidiously, gather information about us ….then they started offering food, slowly loans, instalments, promises of a school seat or an appointment with a famous doctor..” He could not continue further out of anger so Valli started her tirade, “Can you believe it, one day they brought beef to the house saying it was a delicious recipe I should try! What did they think? I will sell my matam for a few bags of rice?”
Gone was the soft-spoken feminine Valli manni, what Srishti was witnessing was Durga in action. Anna and manni were playing a relay race it seemed like, he took over now, “They say your religion is so strict, you cannot do this or do that, you cannot touch this or that, in fact there is nothing called Hindu they say” he hesitated and then continued, “They keep repeating that brahmins are not our people, that they are the cause of all evil in society akka”. …they walked in silence, in unison now, as though a march past without a leader, stopping right in front of her grandmother’s house. “..Swamiji said follow elders in your family, how they behave, what rituals they do, how they conduct themselves…in this city our spiritual elder is paaTi, we are very fortunate to have found her…thanks to you..you have changed our lives ‘kaa…”, with this emotional talk Murugan anna opened the gates and lead Srishti safely back to her base. Closing the gate behind her he left her with a parting shot.
“They don’t want to do anything useful ‘kaa, simply chill, drink, break all rules …no marriage nothing…just have fun..and when they find someone like you…slowly influence and convert.” Anna finally met her eyes boldly, now that he had confessed his fears and confusion regarding her friendship with Azhagu, he was back to his normal self. “They get paid huge amounts for converting a brahmin girl,” he said this without faltering, meeting her eyes and Srishti gasped. “Why do you think she hates Isha so much…does she ever talk of Karunya? They own the adjacent land there…and they are a Christian Evangelist group with many many more acres of land in their pocket…700 acres I think….fooling and converting the poor public…they hate anyone who poses a challenge to their devious schemes ‘kaa…”
Srishti suddenly remembered the controversy about the HMT watch advertisement which she had not really understood then, it was a beautifully made ad and was all about Tamil Nadu’s temples and culture, the makers were forced to withdraw it because some Tamizhs had found it offensive! It was all making sense slowly……she opened the front door with her key and walked in, grateful to the gods, grateful to her family, grateful to have a community to watch over her well-being. She ran up straight to her bedroom, not caring for paaTi’s sleep and googled: everything anna had been telling her was true. She sunk lower and lower into her hard bed defeated as she dug deeper and deeper. Srishti felt punctured ….her happiness bubble had become a flattened mass of dejection. How was she to go on?
For the first time in her life Srishti was unable to sleep soundly, nor was she fully alert and awake. She stared blankly at the ceiling above, the fan still and jobless in the ‘cooler’ months responded to her desperate gaze with a boring bland look. The curtains were drawn so Soorya was unable to check-in and help her out of her misery as dawn broke outside. After what she has read online she wondered if she could ever return to Chennai, ever….how was paaTi surviving? Surrounded by such hate, surrounded by the very people who had caused her such grief and misery….. such filth directed against her and her kind? Is this what they were whispering about when she had walked past them yesterday? Did they really cut off her taataa’s poonal! Insulting him by pulling at his brahmin tuft right here in the middle of the street! Is that why no one talked about how he had died? Did he die of a broken heart, unable to bear the insults to him and his beloved Raama or was he lynched? Who was this foreigner Bishop Caldwell who created such long-lasting fissures between people of the same nation and the same genes that those very people now hate one another? Srishti had shivers the whole night and sapped of all energy was unable to gather any interest in facing the coming day.
From downstairs she heard her paaTi get up, was it morning already? Was she online for so long! She closed her Mac and took a deep breath. She had to rethink her whole life, her friends, her understanding of the world, tchaa! she had been so naive….she saw her innocence walk away from her with a sad smile, I lasted longer in you than most…it seemed to say….but you have to grow up someday Srishti, I cannot be with you always. You cannot always sing and dance on the streets oblivious of everything. You cannot think of life as one long song to Soorya…
The milkman, the newspaperman, the flower lady, the maid, all came by. One by one in succession they called out to her grandmother and opened the gate to drop off their wares. The gardener followed and brought with him his young son to get paaTi’s blessings. After they had all come and gone and Srishti was not yet downstairs as was her usual habit, her grandmother knew something had gone wrong, perhaps anna might have phoned her about yesterday’s discussion, who knows. Just as she was about to sink deeper into despondency she heard her paaTi’s voice singing aloud while making tiffin. Really? Her paaTi sang? Had her genes skipped a generation then ..coz amma never sang…how wonderful that paaTi sang..why had no one told her that she sang! Why has she never sung before…..how come she never comes to any kutcheris…or sabhas..as though she has taken a vow never to sing again…I wonder why, thought Srishti.
Before she could explore that frightening thought that something terrible might have happened to her paaTi too just as it did with her grandfather and that that had made her grandmother give up all music for good, Srishti marvelled at the voice which sang thus: soorya moortae namostutae….sunnnndara chaayaaaadhipatae….all in perfect shruti and with proper gamakams, better than even Kalpana akka’s! Something stirred in Srishti, she could sense energy entering into her every pore with each svara; she could not stop herself from joining her grandmother in an extempore jam session from the second floor-breaking all rules of not even saying sa without bathing first, while paaTi on the ground floor toiling away in the kitchen kept on with the whole kriti goading her on musically, to not to give up so easily. At the top of their voices they sang in abandon inviting Soorya; praising him, describing him, and thus they created a harmony that had been missing for months, in this house by the sea, where the sun rose every morning to the smells of filter coffee and the strains of M.S’s Venkatesha Suprabhatam and SPB’s Shiva Stuti. And right on cue, she found him peeping through the slight slit in her dark curtains calling her out, prodding her to get up, embracing her with his warmth and letting her know that he was there for her. Here comes the sun!
Srishti felt a sense of accomplishment that she had never felt before, not even when she had watched a super superlative performance. Ha! I have been paying through my nose for such an experience every season, and right here I have one of the best singers of our times steeped in Carnatic sangeetam, and right up the street, I have anna’s family with their devotion soaked Tamizh music. I must change my name to Kasturi, keeping such divine fragrance in my abdomen I have been searching for it all over! So thinking, Srishti smiled with contentment and jumped out of her bed, drew the curtains apart welcoming in her best friend. Yes, she was more than ready to bow down to Sooriyanar, Usha, Pratyusha. In all the Youtube videos she had researched online he looked so radiant. She was all the more eager to sing in their sannidhi, she had no doubt that her voice would obey her in every which way now! I can’t wait to see what Kulothunga Chozha built a thousand years ago, the perfect chozha bronze. Before she entered the bathroom, true to her nature she shouted at the top of her voice in Sowrashtram; ‘paaaaaaTi pasikiradu….’!
After licking off the delicious upma and chutney from her fingers, Srishti sat scribbling by the window looking out at the golden speckled waters lashing out against the unresponsive banks. Soorya, you never take a holiday, do you? Nor shall I, keep me healthy, I give my word to keep my ears and eyes open, no more naivete, promise! Others must be warned…. She closed her diary with a gentle appreciation for all that she had and pulled out her backpack from behind the neatly stacked bed sheets and pillow covers in the cupboard to pack for her upcoming trip to Kumbakonam humming …bhaarateesha hari haraatmanae bhukti mukti vitaraNaatmanae…soorya moortaae..namostutae….
Om bhaaskaraaya vidmahae
tanno suryaha prachodayaat
Om, Let me meditate on the Sun God;
Oh, maker of the day, give me higher intellect,
Let my mind be illuminated by the Sun God!