My memorable Rameswaram trip




We drove from Madurai to Rameswaram in the morning of March 23, 2017 and returned the same evening, through the Pampan bridge. That one day experience will ever remain with me, especially the pitrukarmas on the sea bed.

‘Iyer Mani onkalai gavanitchuparu- will take care of you,’ said the influential businessman at Rameswaram, introduced by my friend Taliparambha Ganesh.

Iyer Máni is Mani Vadhyar. When I met him and also when I left him, he appeared to be a confused man, but once on his job, he was the man for the job!

Soon after I reached his house, I explained what I would like to do and wanted to know his demand. He didn’t commit. When I insisted, he said, ‘onnum vendAm, enakku ellAm irukku- I need nothing, I have enough’ . He lifted and rotated his hand and showed the house, as a proof of his prosperity. Later I knew it was not his house, but his brother’s who is no more!

‘Not this man for my job,’ I thought but he won’t leave me as he had clear instructions from Taliparambha Ganesh’s friend ‘to take care of me- avar periyavaru. avarai gavanitchukkunko’

‘Follow me’. He asked us and declared, ‘Onkaluuku onnum theriyAthu- you know nothing ( about the proceeding and practices here)’

He kick -started his two wheeler and we drove behind him. No other way!

And it was a sight to watch, the Vadhyar, wearing a helmet, his uthareeyam flying in air, driving in top speed, with no other vehicle in sight in the long road to Dhanushkodi.

Dhanushkodi is 20. Km away from Rameswaram, devastated by the 1964 cyclone which decimated all structures and took away the life of nearly ten thousand people. With absolute impartiality, Nature had converted to debris a church, a temple, railway station , fishermen’s huts and every other standing structure on her path. It is difficult to believe, going by what you see now, that there existed once a small township with men, women and children, busily engaged in their activities, enjoying the sea breeze and viewing the amazing sunrise and sunset. In fact, there is nothing to see there now, but the very sight itself with scattered remains of structures and the mighty sea behind, is worth visiting.

Vadhyar stopped his vehicle at a point beyond which a new road has been recently constructed to reach the end point of the land, but that is yet to be officially inaugurated. A big bamboo barricade managed by a few police men stops the entry. One has to hire a jeep or a mini truck and drive through the beach, virtually through the sand, prepared to push the vehicle and even to get stranded if the vehicle doesn’t move through the watery, sandy path. That was how people interested in seeing the end of the land, were going earlier and are going even now, unless they are VIPs whom the police salute and allow entry!

We were watching, seated in our car, Mani Vadhyar arguing with the cops, calling someone and handing over the phone to the cops. Ten minutes waiting.

Alas, goes up the bamboo barricade, the cops didn’t salute us but allowed our vehicle to pass through. That was exactly what we wanted and not their salutes.



Chapter two.

Elaborate rituals to satisfy the souls of the dead are performed by many but my desire and capacity was to have a simple tilatharpanan , offering sesame water on the sacred sea bed. It is not possible for me now to go to Allahabad, Kashi, Gaya etc and come back to Rameswaram again for a second round of rituals after completing the prescribed rituals on the bank of the Ganges. I had earlier, under better health and circumstances, performed shradhams in the Ganges several times and once, along with my wife at Gaya, Brahmakapalam etc earlier and now my desire was Just to remember with respect the predecessors and pray for the reunion of their souls with the Ultimate. My father believed in that, though he had no opportunity to go to Rameswaram. I am not sure whether my children will be going.

Mani Vadhyar spread the materials he had brought with him, on the sand and asked me to take bath in the sea.
‘If you can’t do it, sprinkle water on your head and come’, he said. Even my sisters were hesitant about my fitness for a sea bath but once I was in the waters, I forgot my age and disability and dipped my head and body several times and returned completely fresh in body and mind and performed the rituals, seated under the scorching sun , with no head cover, unlike the Vadhyar of half my age. He had brought with him sufficient cooked rice for offering pindams and asked me again and again to recollect the names and gothrams of several relatives and I could therefore offer food with unalloyed sincerity to several souls, including my three brothers in law, my father in law and mother in law whom I wanted to visit during her last days but could not, my elder brother who died when he was just one year old, my beloved sister Raji who died young, her son Rajesh who died much younger and I performed his last rites at Chicago last year, my two siblings who died a few minutes or days after entering this world, my own uncle and aunt and many more. It was not an elaborate shradham but the mental Peace and satisfaction it gave me will last ever. Vadhyar again and again asked for the names of the second wives of elders and I said ‘no’ , as to my knowledge they were as honest as I’m , though Iyer Mani didn’t appear to believe me!
‘Aarukkavathu erukkaname- some would have certainly had a second wife’, he doubted . I’m not surprised. In my family, women used to outlive their husbands. The only exception was my wife.

We went inside the great temple without the help of Vadhyar but had no problem. My brother in law Patchu helped me to pass from one theertham to the next, treading through the wet floor, without slipping and falling. We had wonderful darsanam too.
In total, my Rameswaram trip was a ‘janmasAbhalyam’. I’m unlikely to make another trip, but no worries.

While coming out of the temple after worship, preceded by the rites on the sea bed and bath from the water poured on head from the 22 sacred wells, my sister’s remarked with absolute happiness and satisfaction : ‘Anna, you did it!’.

I pointed my hand to the sanctum and bowed and said, ‘He did it’

Yes, he did it. Last year, this time, when I was struggling with the side effects of radiation and harmon treatments, I never expected that I would be able to come back to India and undergo the strain of such a long pilgrimage, but He made it.

I’m remade now, yes, I’m

Ammalu is always right

‘Ammalu, why stand there? Come and sit on this bench’

‘SP Sir, I’m not Ammalu madam. I’m your new tenant Valsala’

‘Where is Ammalu?’

‘She has gone out sir’

‘It is ok. You can sit on this bench’

‘That is not a bench. You are sitting in a chair’

‘So, what? You can also sit’

‘Thank you Sir. Let me ask Ammalu madam’

‘You said she has gone out’

‘Now she is back sir’

‘Oh, my God! Stand wherever you are Valsala’



Ammalu is always right

‘Ammalu, you are going to be my wife for the next twenty one births’

‘No SP. I’m not available’

‘You are not available? What other big engagement you have? And Ammalu, how could you change your wedding day decision after living together for sixty years?!

‘No, I changed my decision the very next day’

‘In one day, you changed your decision?’

‘One day was more than enough to know you’


SP, every time you go out, I receive some complaints or other about you. Enough. Sit in a corner reading old copies of Anandavikatan, like other men of your age’

‘Ammalu, I’m not like other old men. Hot blood flows through my veins and capillaries. My friends, in hundreds, will be waiting to hear from me the latest political developments. I can’t sit idle. To please you, however, for a few hours, I will stay at home. Give me some active work so that I don’t doze off like you’

‘Ok, can you make roties?!

‘Not men’s job’

‘Can you clean the kitchen shelves?’

‘Women’s job, . Give me a work to suit my gender and vigor, Vitality and mentality, artistic skill and articulating ability’

‘Catch the mouse hiding somewhere in our pantry’


In the busy morning hours for the housewife when she has to cook, wake up the school -going children, gets them up ready before the school bus or auto screams at the gate, attend to the needs of babies, oldies, servant maid and office -going husband, the husband has to cooperate. I was a very adjustive and adjustable hubby and I’m happy about that. .

‘Where is my bath towel, Ammalu?’

‘In the bath room’

‘Nothing stays in its place in this house,’ I complain

”Everything is in its place except your mind!’, she retorts.

‘My behind us behind you, Ammalu’, I cajole her.

‘Ideal time for romance!’, she complains.
When you should romance, either you sleep or in your friend’s house’

Real fun is in the evening, soon after I return from office.

‘Ammalu, you forgot to pack thayirmolagaj’, fried chilies.

‘Avakkai pickle was there in your tiffin dabba’

‘Nothing can replace thayirmolagai, like nobody can replace you!’

‘No, SP, You are the cool curd and me the hot chili 🌶’

Ammalu, why stand there? Come and sit on this bench’

‘SP Sir, I’m not Ammalu madam. I’m your new tenant Valsala’

‘Where is Ammalu?’

‘She has gone out sir’

‘It is ok. You can sit on this bench’

‘That is not a bench. You are sitting in a chair’

‘So, what? You can also sit’

‘Thank you Sir. Let me ask Ammalu madam’

‘You said she has gone out’

‘Now she is back sir’

‘Oh, my God! Stand wherever you are, Valsala’
Ammalu, one who knows what to say, when to say and how to say, is a genius. Do you know?’

‘Yes, I know and you’re a genius!’

‘Who told you? You don’t have enough stuff in your head to know by yourself ‘

‘Amma told me?’

‘Really? When, yesterday?’

‘No, the day you came with your parents to meet me with the alliance proposal ‘

‘How did she find out in our very first meet?’

‘The moment she placed dishes of sweets and snacks on the table, you enquired, ‘Thayir vadai illaya- no dahivada ?’
Amma says that was the thing to say, the time to say and the way to say!’

‘Then why did my dad admonish me, ‘madaya, fool, this is not the time to ask, the thing to ask and the way to ask?’

‘He was not, perhaps a genius like you’



Ammalu is always right

‘Ask any woman in this village about my honesty, Ammalu. They all will say that I’m the most honest husband’

‘I should say that, not they!’

‘Don’t get angry ; I was only generalizing’

‘Generalize anything, not my right for my husband’

‘For fun, Ammalu’

‘Husband – wife relationship is not fun; there can be fun only between them. They should not be fun for others’

‘Ammalu, you are my wife. Right?’

‘Any doubt?’

‘No doubt at all. Then why are you objecting if I introduce you to my visitors as Mrs. SP?’

‘Don’t I have a name of my own? Shall I introduce you to my visitors as Mr. Ammalu?’

‘Ammalu, that is mot the practice’


‘In the West’

‘Are we in the west?’

‘Ok, I can’t argue with you. I will introduce you as ‘my old woman’

‘Who is your new woman?’

‘Please, please save me. I will introduce you as Ammalu’

Ammalu, touching at the appropriate point, is important. See this smart phone in my hand. Unless I touch in the exact points in its key board, my thought won’t be converted into words.
Similarly, for the violin strings to convert touches into music, the points in its body are very important.

Not touching anywhere, as you like’

‘Why do you tell me all these, SP? I’m not going to touch you anywhere!’

‘If I touch you?’

‘What can I covert your touches to, however precise your touches are, at this age, old man?’


Ammalu is always right

‘SP, why did you go to my mom’s house and trouble her?’

‘I went and troubled her? I went their to pay my respect on Gurupoornima day. That is all’

‘That is not all. What did you do then?’

‘I kept a one rupee coin at her feet and sought her blessings. That is all’

‘That is not all. Tell me what happened afterwards?’

‘The benevolent lady bent down, blessed me, picked up the one rupee coin and said, placing it in my hand:

‘ inchimittai vAnkikko’- buy ginger toffee on your way back home’

Ammalu, do you really love me ?’

‘Not sure. But when you don’t eat in time, I feel the hunger.
When you get hurt, I feel the pain.
And when you ask such stupid questions I feel sympathy for you’


‘Ammalu, today is Gurupoornima. Let us go and take your mother’s blessings’

‘SP, I never knew that she was your teacher. What did she teach you?’

‘One of the several conditions she laid down when I met her to seek your hands, was that I should grind 3 kilos of parboiled rice and one kilo of udagdal, in the stone wet grinder which was as big in size as your mom, in exactly 30 minutes.

‘No way, Amma’, I told her.

She was pleased when I addressed her as ‘Amma’

She took my hand to the pestle and made me rotate it and passed on a gem of advice from her mouth.
‘Whatever my daughter says, you should move your head as effortlessly as the pestle moves’

‘Will you?’ she asked then, majestically raising her head.

‘Yes, mom’, I said humbly bowing my head.

‘Ammalu is yours!’ She proclaimed .

‘And that is our guru-sishya bandaham.’


Don’t you think Ammalu, that we should be a bit romantic in our life?’

‘What is that?’

Oh, you are an old Murphy radio. How to explain to you about iPhone and iPad ?’

‘If you explain properly, I will try to understand. As proverbial professor, you know the skill of explaining even inexplainable things’

‘I’m glad that you have understood my greatness.
Romance means Ammalu, I look at you and you look at me–‘

‘We don’t do that?

‘That is just ordinary looks. I’m talking about a type of Jim,Jim look!’

‘You can’t explain what is romance and you say, Jim,Jim, gum, gum. I will go to one of your friends and get my doubt clarified. I will look at him, he will look at me- up to that I understood’


‘Enough, enough, Ammalu. That is more than enough. That exactly is romance, Ammalu, we have plenty of that.. enough o enough!’

Ammalu is always right

‘Ammalu, amazing is the artistic talents of this girl, our Ammini’

‘Wait a minute please. She is not our Ammini, may be yours. She is not a girl but a kiizhavi, older than me. And the only art she excels is steeling teaspoons in sister -in -law’s house.
Ok, now tell me about her artistic adulations’

‘Bending her back and knees and pressing her hands on her knees, raising her head and looking ar my face, she said;
‘SP, your face is shining like freshly ground sambar powder
spread on a stainless steel plate!’

‘Art at its advanced stage! ! Kitchen sAhityam! And you admire arthritic bend of back as artistic bend of mind!’

‘You are jealous of her, as she never praises you’

‘Least bothered. You admire me, that will do’

‘Really? When madam?’

‘This morning. Pleading for one more masala dosa you said my back is like a fresh dosa from the pan, folded neatly and my face is like the aalu sabji packed inside it’

‘Ammini jokes?’

‘No, Ammalu rocks!’

Ammalu, I won’t make one step inside the house unless you ask your mother to vacate my house. Did you hear, ‘my house’, I said. This is my house and if you have any doubt see the name board’

‘SP, my mom came with kaipokkoda for you. Shall I ask her to vacate your house?’

‘My house? What nonsense are you talking Ammalu? This is your house. Your mom has every right to come and stay in her daughter’s house’

‘Name board, SP?’

‘What’s in a name, what’s in a board?’