“You are tired, try to get some sleep “, he advised.
“Appa, remembering the childhood days, I will sleep hearing your story ” I pleaded . He agreed, reluctantly.
” Yes, After Swamy left, Sharada, mused over the incidence,”what a humble and simple minded man, Swaminathan Iyer is ! So upright to admit that his sister’ studies would have been in jeopardy but for that small cash I gave him ! I will talk to ‘atchan’ ( father ) and try to help him. ”
“I know his father ” Rama pisharodi said, when sharada mentioned about her new colleague. “In fact, it was I who recommended the youngster for a job in your school. Bring him home, sometime ; I haven’t met him.”
Next morning when Swaminathan master met Sharada, he returned two rupees to her. “Only eight rupees was required for the fees “
” Swamy Sir, you are too good to be in this era ” Sharada joked, ” keep that small amount with you “
“I will give to my sisters to buy bangles ” he said, “let that be your gift for them”
Sharada mentioned about this conversation too to her parents. “The junior has acquired the uprightness of his father”
Sharada took Swaminathan home and the elders were happy to meet him. They offered him fruits and clothes along with some cash. He refused to accept the cash. The pisharodies then requested him to recite a few slokams from Sundarakanadam. Swami would do it only after bath which was arranged. Wearing the new veshti provided by the pisharodies, he recited the 36th sargam on anguleeyaka pradanam, Hanuman handing over Sree Rama’s ring carrying His name, to Sri Sitha. Pishorodies were immensely pleased and they gave some cash along with betel leaves and an areca nut as a mark of respect and requested Swami to accept the cash as a dakshina which a brahmin was entitled for, after performing a religious or spiritual task. He accepted and thanked them by saying , “this is enough to buy medicines for my parents for two or three months.”
Then onward, Sharada’s parents used to invite him often and gift some cash and clothes for some homam or pooja.
The friendship continued and the simple mannered, modest, truthful Swaminatha Iyer became Sharad’s favorite Her father helped him to acquire a degree through private studies and also a better job.
When their friendship blossomed as love, trouble started. Sharada teacher’s parents had no objection as they were convinced about Iyer’s honesty. “Moreover, he is a Brahmanan”..
Krishnaiyer, Swaminathan’s father protested and threatened he would commit suicide.
“Appa, remember” his son tried to pacify him,”if we are enjoying a square meal, it is because of her. If your daughters are getting education and am holding a good job and a degree , it is due to her support . Our whole family is indebted to her. And above all she loves me, trusts me I have decided to marry her”
Krishnaiyer thought for a while and declared, ” OK. if you have already taken a decision, go ahead. But live with her separately “
The wedding took place in a temple. They took a house not very far . Swaminathan used to visit his parents often. His sisters and later his mother too made frequent visits to Sharadha’s house but Krishnaiyer never went there, even to see his grand children, Unni and Ammu.
” How did Ammu land at the Ambattu sharam, while I was there ” I asked dad, ” She said Muthy was her Muthy too, which means, Muthy was Sharada’s mom ?”
“Yes, in fact Swaminathan had come to the sharam once or twice during your stay there but you didn’t meet him
Swamy escorted his parents to Kashi, on their request, where they met unexpectedly a close cousin Sundaram, on the bank of the Ganges. He had run away from home when his father refused to allow him to marry the girl he liked, determined to become a sanyasi. The girl he loved also decided to become a mendicant and reached Kasi, where they met each other unexpectedly. Having met in a place far away from home, they wisely decided to eschew their interest in sanyasam and got married. They had a daughter, Baghyam, who was taking care of her father in the absence of her mother who passed away .
Krishanaiyer never expected to meet Sundaram there or anywhere else as they had no contact for the past several years. “What do you do for your livelihood?” Krishnaiyer inquired.
“I predict pilgrims’ future either by astrological calculation or through palm and face reading ” Sundaram replied
”When did you learn them ? ”
“Annapoorna’s anugraham, (blessings of the Godess ) ” Sundaram conceded humbly, ” Sastras are divine and y cannot be acquired by learning”
“True, true” agreed his cousin.
Krishnaiyer casually mentioned about his failing health to his relative who quickly surveyed the old man’s palm and face and lamented, ” I pity you. Despite your strict adherence to the scriptural path , your own path to salvation will remain dark, without a ‘neipantham’ to show you the way.
Suddenly the old man realized that he didn’t have a grand son, to lead his funeral procession, carrying a torch soaked in ghee, from a brahmin woman. That also lead to his another worry about which he never thought so far. His son too will not reach the gate of heaven as he did not have a son from a brahmin woman, to uplift him from the dreaded depth of the hell called ‘puunagam’. He became panicky.
He had not told Sundaram that his son was already married and had two kids. The union with a non-brahmin woman was not something to be proud of. The astrologer cousin, therefore suggested that he accepts Baghyam, his own daughter for Swaminathan as his wife. Swami’s mother tried to say something but her husband pressed her hand to signal that she should not spill the beans. Their son was not there when this conversation took place.
At that time came Baghyam, with some washed cloth for changing for her father after the evening ablution . She was attractive and serene like a Tulasi plant at your house frontage.
“My corwn jewel Baghyalakshmi ” Sundaram proudly introduced his daughter to the guests. ” I am looking for a suitable head to pass on this jewel . Give me your hand, Anna.”
Those were his last words. He didn’t rise from the water. A massive heart attack managed to take his soul to heaven without a theepantham to show the way. The man who was predicting the future of pilgrims for the past several years never knew his future.
Every one was shell-shocked. Baghyam became an orphan in a wink. His final plead, ”give me your hand, Anna” chocked Krishnaiyer’s throat.
“Why did the Destiny bring us here ? ” the dumbstruck old couple wondered,” to meet Sundaram and witness his death ?”
“What next ? ” asked Swami.” Who will do the last rites and how to console this girl, weeping like a child, rolling on her father’s body ?”
The panda friends of Sundaram gathered awaiting the instructions for the disposal of the body, when they learned that he was related to their friend..
” Appa, I will perform the duties of his son ” offered Swami..
“No, you have no right for that when I am alive,” his father clarified, ” I will do the aparakriyas( last rites )
The pandas gave a fitting send off to their comrade. Attempting to wink back the tears, Baghyam, looking at the unabated flames of her father’s pyre, told calmly but confidentially to his relatives, “I have never met you before and I am extremely grateful for your invaluable help and support at this critical juncture. You can go back now, I will mange”
“You will manage, How ? ” enquired Swami. ” No, we will not go without you ” declared his parents.
“I am the daughter of this Gangamatha. I was born on her lap and played as a child on these steps., grew as an adult hearing the the conch and temple bell sounds ” Baghyam replied, “leave me here. I have a teacher’s job . I have leaned music for ten years. I know tailoring . Viswanath Babaji and Annapoorna mathaji will never desert me. There seems to be some master plan behind today’s sad happening. Babaji’s ways are unknown but I am confident of His unfathomable love for me”.
“I am not going to leave this mother-less child who lost her father too, till her inner wound heals to some extent” Swami’s mother, Dharmamabal mami said categorically.
“I too will stay and complete the last rites” Krisnaiyer too made his intention clear.” Swaminatha, you go back and attend your duties and take care of the girls at home”
“Impossible” Swaminathan replied,” I am not an animal to leave high and dry my aged parents and this hapless girl on the burning ghat” The flames from the pyre of Sundaram were still busy, swallowing his left over..
The Dasaswamedh ghat was getting ready for the evening aarti.
Boats carrying pilgrims were happily moving around as if nothing has happened on the bank of the river.There is no other place in the world where death is treated so casually as in Kasi. The dividing line between death and life is so narrow there and I think it is to realize this truth that people throng there.
Narayanswamy stood like a statue alternately looking at the glowing pyre, flowing waters below and the girl standing near like another statue.
The pilgrims continue to sing in the moving boats, folk songs glorifying Ganga Mathaji