Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Lakshmi was only twelve when she was married. She was tall for her age and with big eyes and thick long dark hair, was very good looking and held promise to be a beautiful woman when she grew up.
In the early twentieth century inIndia girls were married off before they attained puberty. Following this tradition Lakshmi’s father Ramanatha Iyer also started looking for a good alliance for his daughter when she turned twelve. Through a mutual friend he came to know that an advocate in Madras Mr. Narayana Iyer had an eligible boy. The alliance was fixed by the elders. The boy and the girl did not see each other before the marriage.
Narayana Iyer was an aristocratic gentleman and he magnanimously did not ask for dowry from the girl’s parents. Narayana Iyer’s wife however was not so large hearted. She said firmly that the wedding should be done on a grand scale in keeping with their status and demanded that lot of jewellery and silver articles be given as gifts. She said to Lakshmi’s mother, “As we have a status in society. After all it is for your daughter only”
Lakshmi’s wedding was celebrated with great pomp. Ramanatha Iyer did not spare any expenses. It took place in Mayavaram, a small town in South India. The bridegroom’s people had come from Madras, a big city also in South India. The bride’s father was a big landowner in Mayavaram and he was very happy that his daughter was getting a well-educated husband from a good family. So he had made elaborate arrangements to look after the bridegroom’s people well during the wedding. He had arranged a big house for them to stay and had deputed two men and two women to attend to their comforts during their stay.
On the eve of the wedding the bridegroom was taken in a procession from the house where they were staying to the bride’s house. A big car, a convertible, a rarity in those times had been arranged for this event. Music by a popular band group and nadaswaram [A wind pipe type instrument. Nadaswaram is a must during weddings even today] by a famous musician added to the gaiety and grandeur of the occasion. The bridegroom sat in the open decorated car and a few small children were allowed to sit with him. Relatives and guests, all in their finery and carrying various gifts in big decorated plates followed the procession.
For the seer, or the gifts given along with the bride everything was given in pairs called “irattai seer” or double gift. Silver lamps, plates, vessels and many other articles were displayed in pairs. Beautiful miniature silver articles like a train, a car, a horse drawn chariot, a motorcycle, tiny cooking vessels were also given as the bride was a still a child. For the bride heavy gold jewellery like kasumalai [ a long gold chain threaded with gold coins] ottiyaanam [a heavy golden girdle], addikai [a ruby necklace], vangi [an ornament worn on the arm]and many others were specially made.
The celebrations went on for four days.
Food was prepared by a famous caterer. There were music concerts and a magic show and many other entertainments on all the days to keep the guests happy.
Following a tradition, before the actual wedding ceremony on the wedding day, the bridegroom dressed as an ascetic went on a kasiyatra i.e going to Kasi [today’s Benares] presumably to undertake a life of renunciation. He would walk a few paces from the house carrying a book of Bhagavad Gita and a walking stick when the girl’s father would walk to him and entreat him to accept his daughter as his wife and lead a life of grihastha or a householder. The priest chanted mantras all the time which the girl’s father repeated. All the mantras were in Sanskrit. The boy would accept the offer and turn back and walk towards the house.
Now the bride came out of the house surrounded by her relatives. She was wearing a dark green silk sari too long for her frail body and a lot of ornaments and flower garlands. She had to look downward as became a shy bride. Then the couple were made to stand face to face. Now was the ceremony of exchanging garlands. For this ceremony the maternal uncles of both the bride and bridegroom were masters of ceremonies. The bridegroom’s uncle took out a garland from the many worn by the boy and gave it to him to put it around Lakshmi’s neck. But Lakshmi’s uncle lifting her on his shoulder retreated a few steps to prevent the boy from putting the garland. The boy’s uncle, not to be outdone lifted Ganesan on his shoulders and urged him to put the garland around Lakshmi’s neck. They literally ran back and forth causing the crowd to break out in cheers. Now there was literally a competition between the boy’s uncle and the girl’s uncle. Amidst a lot of cheers, teasing and shouting this ceremony was concluded. Then the priest told the boy to take the girl’s hand in a firm grip. They were led to a decorated swing and many more ceremonies like giving the couple milk and banana, hurling coloured rice balls around their heads, were done. Here the women sang songs in shrill voices apt to the occasion. Then the actual wedding ceremony started. A fire was lit and priest chanted mantras loudly.
Lakshmi had to wear a nine yards sari for the mangalya dharanam or the tying of the thali or mangalyam. This was a thick yellow thread threaded with gold square pieces on which were inscribed the sun and the moon. The bride sat on her father’s lap as was the tradition and the bridegroom with some help from his sister tied the thali around the neck of the bride and all the guests showered the couple with flower petals. Then the couple had to perform religious ceremonies pouring ghee into the fire according to the chanting of mantras by priests. Then the groom took his bride round the fire seven times. Each time as they went round the fire, the bride’s foot was placed by the husband on a flat grinding stone called ammi and then taken off and then the boy escorted his wife to their place in front of the fire. Chanting of mantras by Brahmin priests went on throughout the rituals.
In the afternoons there was nalangu on all the days a playful non- religious function full of fun. Here also women sang loudly.
In those days people led a more leisurely life. During weddings relatives and friends would come and stay for many days and enjoy the festivities.
After the wedding Lakshmi continued at her father’s house till she attained puberty as was the tradition in those times. Even then Lakshmi’s father delayed sending her to her husband’s house as she was still too young. Then when she was 15 years old, on an auspicious day she was taken to her husband’s home by her parents. There, a room was decorated for the first night of the young couple. Strings of fragrant jasmine flowers were hung all around the cots where soft blue velvet mattresses and pillows were laid. Incense sticks were lit. Plates of fruit and sweets, along with a silver jug of sweet milk with crushed almonds were kept on a table for the young couple in case they felt hungry.
After a short religious ceremony the very young couple were escorted to the bedroom with lot of fun, cracking of jokes and laughter. Lakshmi was feeling terrified. She who had lived a sheltered life with her parents was to be left alone with a grown up man! At the same time she was also eager to be with her husband. Ganesan understanding her fear was very tender and gentle towards her that she gradually lost her fear completely and felt a deep happiness. Thus began Lakshmi’s married life.
As Lakshmi was very young she was allowed to wear the six yards sari for some time. Later she would wear the traditional nine yards sari.
Lakshmi’s husband was the eldest son. There were two sisters and two brothers. He had lost his father recently a few months after his marriage. There was also an uncle Krishna Iyer who had retired, drawing some pension, living with them. This uncle had one son. Though the family owned lot of property, after the father’s demise, monthly income had dwindled. Ganesan was just coming up in his law profession. During Ganesan’s father’s time the household was run on a grand scale. There were lot of servants like a head cook and an assistant, a gardener and his son attending to the watering of the plants and his wife doing the cleaning work in the house. There was also a washerwoman who would come daily to wash the clothes.
Apart from this a man would come on Saturdays to give oil massage and bath to the men of the house. But now, even though they were not as well off as before, Ganesan’s mother Gomathi ran the household in the same scale as before. She lived on false prestige. Food would be prepared on a large scale and half of it would go waste. As all the members of the household, being orthodox Brahmins, were vegetarians, teetotallers and non-smokers, one would expect expenses would be low and money would be saved but in reality it just went up in smoke because of irresponsible management.
Things were not as good as Lakshmi’s father had thought. He soon realised that underneath the grand exterior of that house there was not much substance. True, there was a lot of property owned by the brothers but there were also huge debts.
Their house was a big sprawling one, rooms having been added haphazardly. A new person coming to the house would find it difficult to find his way. Distant relatives would often come and stay for days together. There was no responsible head of the family to direct and control.
Lakshmi’s mother-in-law Gomathi would sit in the central hall and would keep an eye on everything but had no real concern for proper management of the household . She was a formidable looking lady and everyone was afraid of her.
The elder of Ganesan’s two sisters Visalakshi had become a widow when she was only 13 years old. Visalakshi was a breathtakingly beautiful woman with smooth skin and thick black hair. She was 20 years old when Lakshmi entered their household. She was a passionate woman who in the secrets of her heart longed for the love of a man. She was intensely jealous of Lakshmi because Lakshmi enjoyed a life with her husband. Lakshmi as a sumangali [woman with a living husband] could wear new saris and jewellery, keep flowers in her hair, keep kumkum in her forehead whereas she herself had to observe strict penances so that at least in her next birth she would be more fortunate. She tried to be pious and detached but within her burned a passionate nature which she concealed even from herself.
Lakshmi pitied her sister-in-law and would not dress herself in finery and if given a string of jasmine flowers to keep in her hair she would cut a very small part and insert in her hair.
Lakshmi’s husband Ganesan was an upcoming young lawyer. At court he was brilliant and aggressive but at home he was an obedient son to his mother. As an eldest son he felt it was his duty to look after his mother and sister.
The younger one, Savithri was married into a rich household. Her wedding took place four years after Ganesan’s wedding. For giving her seer [gifts] Ganesan’s mother took away many of Lakshmi’s jewellery and silver vessels and other things without any qualm and gave to her own daughter.
Gomathi ruled the house like dictator. She had lost her husband soon after her son’s marriage. She believed that Lakshmi brought ill-luck to her house and harboured an intense dislike towards her. Lakshmi could not do anything right. Lakshmi had her self-respect and would not try to please them when they did not treat her well, unlike the other daughter-in-law Kaveri who was a sychophant and would try to please them whenever she visited them. Lakshmi would do hard work in the house but Kaveri was the favourite to her in-laws. She lived in another town but whenever she came she was treated with special indulgence.
Whenever her mother-in -law aided by her daughters taunted Lakshmi , always in the absence of Ganesan, she would not say anything in reply. She would bear the insults quietly. Sometimes she would tell her husband about the happenings during the day. Ganesan would listen sympathetically but would not remonstrate with his mother. Ganesan was kind enough towards his wife but he dared not oppose his mother in any way. He would start his work in the mornings in his office room and go to court at 10 AM. He would come home in the evening and go to his club for playing billiards with the result Lakshmi was left at the mercy of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law throughout the day.
Five years passed in this manner. Lakshmi became the mother of a boy and a girl.
Of late whenever Lakshmi went to her parental home, she would tell them how she was ill-treated by her mother-in-law and her daughters and would weep inconsolably. She would say, “Let me be here only. I don’t want to go there. I cannot bear their spiteful words”. But her father always said, “Wherever is Rama, that is Ayodhya for Seetha. Your place is with your husband. Things will get better. Wait patiently” And he would send her back.
But as time passed Lakshmi’s father noticed that Lakshmi was becoming more and more lustreless and pale. She had lost weight. He became worried about her health.
One day after Lakshmi had gone back to her husband’s home after a brief visit, her father said to his wife, “Did you notice how our Lakshmi looks? I did not see her smile even once this time. She has been telling us about her plight all these months and we are not doing anything to help her”
“I have been worried so long. I have tried telling you many times. But you did not pay heed till now! And now she is with her third child” said Lakshmi’s mother accusingly
“Really? Is it so? She is so weak!”
“She does not eat properly there, you know. Her mother-in-law often comments about her eating habits. It seems, she said once, - Lakshmi told me this - her mother-in-law, said that she was surprised that people could be so lean when they eat so much. You know our Lakshmi was nursing her baby then and she felt hungry all the time. Lakshmi has her pride. Also often she is made to eat with the cook”
“So cruel of her! I think I must do something”, said Lakshmi’s father, “I will write to Ganesan’s uncle”
He wrote a long letter to Ganesan’s uncle Krishna Iyer explaining about Lakshmi’s position in their house, her suffering and his worries about her. This uncle always had a soft corner for Lakshmi. He understood her plight and had sympathy for her. So he showed the letter to Ganesan and said, “Ganesa, I am asking Ramanatha Iyer to come and we will talk and decide something.”
Ramanatha Iyer duly came with his son. Ganesan’s uncle was a very good man and wanted to do something for Lakshmi and Ganesan. He knew the debts were mounting. It would be good for Lakshmi if Ganesan could take her away from this stranglehold.
Ramanatha Iyer, his son, Krishna Iyer and Ganesan were closeted in Ganesan’s office room. The women were trying their best to eavesdrop but as the most of the conversation was in low tones they could not understand a word. Lakshmi herself was standing some distance away behind a door.
Ganesan’s uncle and Lakshmi’s father were the main talkers. Lakshmi’s brother Ramasamy and Ganesan were standing near them respectfully.
After much discussion it was decided that
Ganesan was to have the small house which was being used occasionally as a guest house and forty acres of nanjai land [fertile lands where paddy is grown]. They were to start living in the small house from the auspicious month of thai – January.
“I shall also arrange to give them some cash so that they can start their household comfortably” said Ganesan’s uncle.
Satisfied Lakshmi’s father went to do his daily rituals.
When she came to know about the arrangement, Ganesan’s mother called her son urgently, alone, and said, “Ganesa, don’t agree to what they say. Your share would be much more. They are cheating you. And what is this talk about thanikkudiththanam ?[going separate]. I will never agree to that“
Ganesan who had great respect for his uncle said, “Uncle says…..”
“No. No. “, interrupted Gomathi , I tell you, your share will be much more. Don’t agree. Moreover our family should not be split.”
“Amma, wherever I am, I will not ……”
“No, Ganesa, I don’t like this new proposal. What is wrong now? Why should they try to split us?”
Though Ganesan was convinced that the proposal was good he did not dare to go against the wishes of his mother.
Ganesan reluctantly obeyed his mother as always and refused to agree to the proposal.
Lakshmi’s father went back, a sad and sorely disappointed man. The uncle felt disappointed and humiliated. After his brother’s death his position in the house was not very pleasant though he gave most of his income for the household expenses. His sister-in-law seemed to have no respect for him eventhough all the property was jointly owned by him and his younger brother when he was alive. He did not worry about himself and his son but he wanted to do the right thing for Ganesan for whom he had great affection.
That night Lakshmi did not sleep. She was in deep thought.
She then asked her husband in a low voice, “Just what is wrong with what your uncle proposed? You know about my life here.”
“I cannot leave my mother. She says the family should not be split”
“Who talked about leaving her? We will be right here in this town. You can visit her daily if you want. I want to bring up my children where they can get good food and milk. Where they can grow up freely and without fear. You don’t know what all happens here. All are afraid of your mother. Even you are afraid.”
For the first time Lakshmi opened her heart fully to her husband.
“You are exaggerating things.” Ganesan said.
“I am not. They, amma and Visalakshi akka [akka means elder sister in Tamil] hate me. They resent my presence. Whatever I do is wrong. Do you know every day I eat with Mangalam mami [the cook]. Not that I mind it. Actually I prefer that. But the point I want to make is that they do not like me. On some days when Savithri visits, our child goes without milk in the mornings”
“Why should they deny milk to our child? We buy plenty of milk.”
“Savithri’s child has to have milk. By the time our child wakes up all the milk is used up to make coffee and the rest to make curd. Your mother says, “oh! I forgot. Today you give her coffee.” To her own grand-daughter, just to spite me!”
“I agree mother is a little unfair to us. She is partial to my brother and sisters. Has always been. But we have to adjust. There should not be misunderstanding in the family”
“You just don’t understand. She blames me for your father’s death. That is why whatever I do or do not do is a crime in her eyes.”
Ganesan said, “Did she say that?”
“She often hints about it. They pass contemptuous and snide remarks about my parents and my house in Mayavaram. Moreover all my silver articles are being given to her daughters. You know that. Your own diamond kadukkans [ear rings] were gifted to Savithri’s husband”
Ganesan kept silent. He knew that many of his wife’s things were given as gift to Savithri for her wedding. He had to agree because he could not afford to buy gifts to be given during the wedding.
“I will not mind that if they are kind towards me. If I remain here I will die. I cannot bear their snide and sarcastic remarks anymore. They know how to hurt me. They are always watching my every movement. Even at night like thieves we close our door stealthily after they all sleep. We have no freedom!
“Lakshmi, you know that is because of Visali. She cannot have that kind of life ever,” said Ganesan with a great sense of sorrow.
“But anyway she will know about us when I become pregnant.”
“That is why I did not want to marry. Actually you know, I tried to persuade my parents to get her married again to some man in North India where she could lead a family life away from the prying eyes of the society. But Lakshmi herself refused. I think she was afraid to go away from the familiar surroundings. And they made me marry.”
“Do you regret it?”, Lakshmi asked with a smile.
“No.”said Ganesan taking her hand, “I love my life with you and children. But I can’t help feeling sorry for her.”
“I think you feel guilty.”
Ganesan was silent.
Lakshmi said after a minute,
“Please do not think I do not feel for her. I do! But it is hard for me to live in this atmosphere of hate. If you have even a little consideration for me you will agree to the proposal. It is good for our children also.” Her voice rose a little, “please agree. Let us go.”
Ganesan kept silent. He knew that whatever she said were all true. He was aware his wife was not treated well. But he did not know the extent of mental torture to which his wife was subjected every day. He just could not believe they could be so cruel. It was when he had gone to court they started their attack.
“I am going to fast till you agree to the proposal.”
“Don’t be silly, Lakshmi, sleep now. I have a case tomorrow” so saying Ganesan fell asleep. Lakshmi lay awake thinking and planning.
The next day early morning Lakshmi talked to the cook Mangalam mami alone taking her into confidence. “Mami, I am going to fast till they agree. You have to look after Sachu and Mani.”
“Of course I will take care of your children. But Lakshmi, in your condition…”
“Do not worry. Nothing will happen.”
She started her hunger strike that day. During those times India was ringing with Mahatma Gandhi’s fasts. Lakshmi had followed Mahatma’s fasts eagerly as her father was a follower of the Mahatma. She knew that sathyagraha was a war for a just cause and the Mahatma had made it clear that ahimsa or not hurting anyone should be a part of this war. To be a true sathyagrahi one must not have any ill feelings towards those against whom the war is being fought.
All were stunned by her decision. That quiet girl doing such a thing was unimaginable. How did she get that idea?
“How long can she be without food? She is only trying to scare us. See if she does not eat by this evening” Gomathi said derisively. But evening came and went. Lakshmi with quiet determination continued her fast.
“She is in her third month. She should not be without food” This was Mangalam mami, the cook.
Visalakshi said, “How can she be without food? She must be eating on the sly.” But even she knew in her heart Lakshmi was honest and sincere and would not cheat.
On the 2nd day Ganesan was getting ready to leave for court. Gomathi called him and said, “The leaf is spread. [In those days people ate from banana leaves.] Come and eat.”
“No, amma, I am not hungry.” So saying he left for the -court.
Ganesan was worried about Lakshmi. He had begged her to take something. He had even shouted at her for being obstinate. But Lakshmi had only smiled and shaken her head. She was lying down on a mat inside their room.
Lakshmi’s fast had entered the third day. Occasionally she took a sip of water. Her son was crying near her.
Gomathi said to her daughter, “if something happens to her people will blame me only.” She along with Visalakshi went to her. Seeing her mother-in-law Lakshmi sat up and smiled. “Amma, have you eaten?”
Gomathi said, “ Let us not talk about me. You must eat. Come, eat something. Do you know Ganesan did eat take lunch today? Enough is enough. Come and eat. You should not starve. It is not good for the baby.”
Lakshmi shook her head and smiled, lay down again and closed her eyes. “Come, Amma, she won’t listen to us. Let us go.” said Visalakshi. They left with aggrieved looks in their faces. “We have done what we can.”
There was an atmosphere of tension and anxiety in the house. Savithri had come and also Ganesan’s younger brothers who lived in nearby towns. They were all with their mother.
Lakshmi was becoming weaker and she lay on a mat with closed eyes.
Fear gripped Gomathi. What if she dies leaving her children motherless? What will people say? She decided to consult her astrologer Mr. Panikkar. She had great faith in him. For every problem in the house she would consult him. As usual she sent the bullock-cart for him.
Panikkar came and Gomathi showed him Lakshmi’s horoscope. She wanted to know about Lakshmi’s future. She, of course did not tell him that Lakshmi was fasting. Panikkar was puzzled. He was a shrewd man and he had guessed that the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law was not the best of ones. This was the first time Gomathi was consulting him about Lakshmi. Why? What was the reason?
He looked at the horoscope and he drew some criss - cross lines on the floor and arranged some cowrie shells in them. He shuffled them and rearranged them several times. Gomathi and her stooges were looking at him anxiously. If he says Lakshmi’s lifeline was short, what then? What will happen? What will people say?
And then panikkar looked up and said, “this [indicating the horoscope], Lakshmi is ill? Why are you consulting me?”
Gomathi did not know what to say.
“It does not matter.” Panikkar said, this is an auspicious horoscope. Lakshmi would bring wealth and peace to this house. She has planet Sukra [Venus] looking at her benignly. She has sukra dasa. No harm will come to her. Do not worry about her”. Panikkar took his fees and went away.
Gomathi who disliked her daughter-in-law because she brought ill luck to the family now started to think, “Yes, come to think of it she has brought some good luck already. Is not Savithri happily married? Aiyo! If something happens to her!
Meanwhile Ganesan was terribly worried about his wife’s health. His concern for her overcame the fear he always had of his mother. “Come what may, I will convince amma to agree to uncle’s proposal. I only hope it is not too late.”
He was surprised when his mother did not vehemently oppose him. He of course was not aware that there was already some change in her thanks to the smart astrologer Mr. Panikkar.
Ganesan then went to his uncle and said, “Uncle, Lakshmi’s health is deteriorating. I am worried.”
His uncle said, “Yes, I have been concerned about her health also. Perhaps we must call our family doctor.”
“No,uncle. I know what should be done. I have decided to agree to your proposal.”
“Oh! That is good. What about your mother?”
“I have convinced her. Actually she agreed immediately.”
Uncle smiled and said, “Good. I knew you could not bear her suffering. Her sathyagraham has become successful even on the third day! Go and tell her immediately. Make her eat something. It is usual to give orange juice.”
The news spread that Lakshmi was about to end her fast.
All the members of the family gathered in that room where Lakshmi was lying in a weak condition.
“Lakshmi, it is alright. I have spoken to uncle. I have agreed to the proposal. So now give up your fast.”
Lakshmi lay with closed eyes.
“ I have written to you father also. He will be coming tomorrow. We will plan everything. I have convinced amma also”
Lakshmi opened her eyes.
Ganesan sat near her and took her hand and said tenderly “here, drink this juice”
Mangalam mami had prepared the orange juice.
Lakshmi had become very weak. She said something in a very low voice. Ganesan bent down to hear what she was saying.
Ganesan then turned to his mother, “Amma, she wants you to give her the juice.”
Gomathi hesitated but took the orange juice from the cook lady and went near Lakshmi. Lakshmi tried to rise but was too weak. Gomathi sat near her, put her arms around her and fed her the juice. Lakshmi with a contented smile lay in her lap and sipped the orange juice and thus won her war.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Rajalakshmi was two years junior to me when I was studying in college. She was so different from other students and somewhat funny to look at, that everyone stared at her with either curiosity or they looked down at her because she was so pattikkaadu or so rustic .
She would come to college wearing a cotton full skirt, a half sari and an ill-stitched blouse. Her cheeks her hands and feet would be yellow from the turmeric paste she applied when she took her bath. She was always barefooted and wore the same clothes every day. It was obvious that she was from a poor family. I later came to know that her father was a poor poojai vaaththiar , a priest.
In our midst there was a mischievous girl Anita who would make fun of others especially the weak and meek ones. She would taunt Rajalakshmi whenever she got an opportunity. It gave her malicious pleasure. She had a few admirers who would laugh with her whenever she made fun of Rajalakshmi.
“You wear the same skirt every day? Do you never take bath?” Anita would ask her.
Tears would gather in Raji’s eyes.
She would explain in a sob-filled voice,
“How can I be without taking bath? I take bath twice daily. In the morning, before coming to college I take bath as the place where we learn is like a temple. My father says so” she would add with some defiance. “And in the evening when I go home I have to take bath again. My mother would not allow me inside otherwise. You see, girls come to classes even when they have… you know….”she would stammer with embarrassment, “I change my clothes in the evening and wash these clothes. They will be dry in the morning. I wear them again in the morning. You see I have only two sets of clothes”
The girl who made fun of her would smile in a superior way and her friends would laugh. These girls would pick her out every day and mock her to make her cry. I used to feel sorry for her. My regret to this day is I did not speak in defence of poor Rajalakshmi. Perhaps in my heart I was a little afraid of the arrogant Anita.
After I graduated from college and I lost touch with Rajalakshmi.
After about 2 years one day she came to our house with her husband. She had been newly married. She had great regard for me and my parents. She seemed happy and contented as always.
After this I lost touch with her again for a long time. I was fully immersed in my own married life, what with two active children and a quick tempered husband. It was only after about seven years I heard about her again. It was another college mate of mine, Vanaja, whom I met in a mall by chance who gave me some startling news about Rajalakshmi. Vanaja lived in Bangaluru and was able to give details about Raji who also lived in Bangaluru.
This is what she said.
“You know, Raji was childless even after 4 years of married life. Her mother–in–law who was a greedy and ruthless woman wanted to marry her son off to another girl who would bring lot of dowry citing that Raji did not conceive even after many years.
“Really? How can she do that?”
“She was a very cruel woman in whose hands Raji suffered very much. As always Raji would not complain. She gave her consent to her husband’s second marriage, not only that, she herself was in the front looking after the arrangements”
“You know her. She is very philosophical. She thought it was her duty ”
“Poor thing. Everyone would take advantage of her humble nature.”
“Yes. Especially her husband, his wife and her mother-in-law. And do you know what happened afterwards?”
“The second wife duly became pregnant and Raji herself took care of her during and after pregnancy and she took care of the baby also. She worked as a cook, maid and as a nurse also. She became thin and haggard but never a word of complaint was heard from her lips. The husband and wife took full advantage of her goodness. They made her work like a slave.”
“I feel so sorry for her”
“I once met her during that time. I remonstrated with her. I told her, “you should not be so slavish. You are educated. Why can’t you get a job? Then you need not depend on them.”
“What did she say to that?”
“She simply smiled and said she wanted to do pathisewa, service to her husband as a good pathivratha should.”
“Yes, you know, a woman who is devoted to her husband. You must have read about pathivrathas from our mythological stories.”
“Yes, I know”
“From her words it was clear that she wanted to be a pathivratha.”
“So foolish of her!”
“But the strange fact is she seemed to be so content with her lot.”
“Do you know what happened after that?”
“Yes, I am coming to that. The second wife, you know, she conceived again and died giving birth to her second child.”
“Then Raji had to take care of the household and the two boys. Then the husband became depressed and sick. The last I heard of her is she is taking care of him and the children”
Shortly afterwards Vanaja took leave of me and I was left wondering about the strange turn of events in Raji’s life.
A few years after that I happened to be in Bangaluru, and I rang up my friend Vanaja .
After we exchanged pleasantries, Vanaja suddenly said, “Come to my place, I want to take you to a shop”
I was curious. Though I plied her with questions she would not say a word more.
Our cab stopped in front of a small shop. It was a small shop selling materials of worship. I could not guess why she brought me to this shop. I was not very religious or anything.
We entered the shop.
A woman came forward on seeing us. She broke into a big smile when she saw me.
“Oh, Akka! How nice to see you?”
“Oh, Raji! Is it you? This is a surprise.” I turned to Vanaja and said “thank you. Vanaja, but you could have told me.”
Vanaja looked smug.
Rajalakshmi was pressing us to have coffee and snacks.
“Let it be. First tell me, how are you?”
“You know, my husband passed away two years back and my children are all settled. I have done what I could for them. Now I have started this business. I always had a longing to start a shop of puja materials where people going to temples or any place of worship , like, you know, going on a pilgrimage - whatever be their religion - can get their necessities at one place and at reasonable price. I am happy doing this. God has always been kind to me.”
She looked radiant with a kind of inner contentment.
“Do you cater to people from other faiths too? I asked this because I had seen around me things like chains with crosses, rosaries, head scarves and things like that apart from brass lamps, sandal sticks, kumkum, vibuthi etc. .
“Yes. Of course. I have found that faith i.e, devotion is the same whatever be its form on the outside.”
I wondered, can there be a being, who can never see any imperfection in others?
I hugged her with real affection.
“Oh, Raji, you are really great!”
“No, no. Don’t say that. I am always the same Raji you have known, the asadu.”
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Recently I had an attack of vertigo. If I looked up or look down I would feel dizzy. If I turned from one side to another at night suddenly I would feel as if I were plunging down a ravine or the world was rapidly rotating around me! After a few days of such episodes, I became wary of turning sides at night. I would turn very slowly inch by inch. Even then often dizziness would catch me unawares. Apart from dizziness I had also a deep feeling of fatigue that could not be explained by any obvious reason such as physical or mental exertion or illness.
I was advised to visit an E.N.T specialist. The ENT doc examined me and pronounced that the problem was some imbalance in my inner ear. He prescribed me some tablets called Vertin.
Meanwhile my daughter in San Francisco had told me over the phone that searching on the internet for vertigo-related information, she came across a simple and yet effective manoeuver recommended by the American Association of Otolaryngology (ENT). This do-it-yourself manoeuver called a half-somersault manoeuver would effectively treat the dizziness, referred to in clinical terms as Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). And indeed, this method is the standard procedure followed by ENT doctors in the USA to treat this condition rather than any drugs such as antihistamines that may have other side effects. Therefore, she advised me to try that manoeuvre before taking any drugs. She sent me the relevant article by email. The problem was indeed in the inner ear, where calcium deposits that occur with the normal ageing process sometimes accumulate in the vestibular organs responsible for maintaining normal balance. This manoeuver moves the deposits out of that space thereby restoring normal balance. The effectiveness of this process was reported to be as high as 95%.
I tried telling my ENT doctor about this “manoeuvre” which my daughter had emailed to me. He smiled in a superior kind of way and said he could himself tell me many more such exercises and “searching the “net” would only make you dizzier.” He laughed at his own joke.
But I decided to try the manoeuvre. With some help from my grand daughter who was staying with me then I did the manoeuvre. Nothing happened and I was as dizzy as ever. I tried twice with no result.
When I reported the disappointing news to my daughter she asked me on which side I had performed the manoeuvre. I told her I had followed the instructions in the article. The instructions in it were for a person who suffered from dizziness on the right side. She told me that I had to first find out from which side my dizziness originated. I found that while lying in bed if I turned from left to right I felt the dizziness. Then you have to do it on the left side, she told me.
I did the manoeuvre on the left side and a miracle happened. The vertigo not only completely disappeared but the fatigue too was not there any more.
Dear readers if you are suffering from vertigo do visit this link and get cured without drugs!
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Valli nagged her husband ceaselessly. She would scream and cry at him. She would shout in a loud voice for anybody to hear, “you are good for nothing! What did your mother and father have? Nothing! You have nothing! My father brought me up like a pet green parrot and gave me into your useless family!”
“Have you bought me even a grain of gold? A sari? Always you say no money, Always no money! My father….”
She would begin early in the morning and all the neighbours would mutter “she has started”. Everyone pitied her husband Murugan who was a meek sort of fellow. Murugan would try try to pacify her but that would only make her voice louder.
One of her neighbours once commented “I am telling you, Valli, see if it does not happen one day. He will leave you for good or commit suicide”
Actually one day Murugan left for work in the morning and didi not come back. He did not come home for two days.
Then the news came that a crushed body of a man wearing a blue shirt was found lying in the railway track. The news spread. Everyone agreed that it must be Murugan because Murugan always had a blue shirt on as it was the only shirt he had.
Valli was devastated. She slapped herself on her forehead and breast and cried,
“Oh! God, I pray it is not him! If you give him back to me I promise I will never say a word to him!”
But soon the body was brought and was laid in Valli’s house.
Valli fell on his body crying “Oh, Rasa! [king] Have you gone? Why did you do it? What will I do now! When I said don’t come back I did not mean it!” She wailed loudly beating her breast.
Suddenly there was a hush and then everyone shouted “there is Murugan”. Valli raised her tear stained eyes. Indeed it was Murugan walking towards them looking sheepish.
She ran to him shouting passionately, “Oh, God heard me! You are not dead! Oh, my Rasa!”.
Next morning Valli’s shrill voice was heard “you wanted to scare me? Where did you go? Where did go secretly? Tell me!......”
The neighbours all muttered “There she goes again.”
Friday, February 8, 2013
This is a tasty, spicy South Indian dish with steamed dumplings in a delicious gravy. It is easy to prepare.
For the gravy:
Sour curd 2 cups
Green chillies 2
Jeera (cumin) seeds 1 teaspoon
Coconut flakes 1 tablespoon
Turdal (yellow lentils) 1 teaspoon
Mustard seeds ¼ teaspoon
Fenugreek seeds ¼ teaspoon
For the dumplings:
Tur dal [lentil] soak I cup in water for 1 hour.
Red chilli 1
Rice powder ½ teaspoon
Mustard seeds ¼ teaspoon
Asafoetida ¼ teaspoon.
Oil 3 teaspoons
A handful of curry leaves chopped finely
Salt to taste
To make the dumplings:
Grind the soaked lentils, red chilly, salt and curry leaves to a rough paste. Add the rice powder and mix well.
In a pan heat a little oil and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds splutter add the asafoetida. Add the lentil paste and the curry leaves. Stir well for a few seconds and remove from the heat.
Make small balls with the mixture, about the size of small lemons. Steam these balls in a pressure/rice cooker or in a bamboo steamer over a pan of boiling water for a few minutes.
To make the gravy:
Soak 1 teaspoon of tur dal and ½ teaspoon of jeera in water for 30 minutes. Make the curd smooth by stirring or whisking vigorously.
Grind the coconut flakes, green chillies, soaked dal and jeera.
Add this paste to the curd, add salt and turmeric powder and mix well.
Heat the mixture in a vessel to a boiling point stirring often. Add the remaining curry leaves. Remove from heat, Heat a little oil, add the mustard seeds and when it splutters add the fenugreek seeds. When the fenugreek seeds turn red add to the gravy and mix well. Now add the dumplings to the gravy and cover with a lid. The dumplings will soak up the gravy.
Serve with cooked rice with some South Indian style cooked vegetables and/or papad.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Vasantha - One of my many my domestic helpers! Even though she was very poor she was always cheerful, joyous. She was very talkative and would relate the story of her life with a lot embellishments. She would tell her story with such a soulful air that I would be reminded of a heroine in a TV serial.
“You know, when he married my mother my father was already living with a woman from whom he had children. He stayed for only one night with my mother after the wedding and that resulted in her becoming pregnant and she gave birth to a girl –Me!” Vasantha would say dramatically. “My mother died in giving birth to the baby due to lack of medical care.”
“Why did he marry your mother if he did not like her?” I would ask.
“His mother forced him. She thought probably he would leave the other woman”
It seems Vasantha was brought up by her grandmother who did not take too much care of her. She just allowed her to grow as she would. Vasantha went to school, studied up to 8th standard [she was quite proud of her skills in reading] and then gave up her studies . With lot of energy and zest she soon ran wild. Her grandmother was unable to control her. All these things she told me with an admirable candour.
She was tall, had thick black hair and a set of pearly white teeth. Men ogled at her and she was conscious of the glances of men on her young and beautiful body.
She ran away with a man 20 years older than her [she told me] when she was only 16 years old. Pazhani was an uneducated, rustic man. He was dark, short and strong. He lived in another town and would come to her town frequently. He gave her small gifts which Vasantha thought were wonderful and she started to meet him often. And one day Pazhani forced her to go away with him to his house. She was bored with her life with her grandmother and willingly went with him. They went to his town and started to live as man and wife though Pazhzni did not marry her formally. They soon had two children. Pazhani would embark on some useless ventures which would end in loss, like the sweet shop he started with a bank loan. He would entertain his friends in his shop, offer them snacks free of charge. He had no head for business. All his ventures ended in failure. He was not a bad fellow but he could not keep his wife in comfort. Vasantha and children often went hungry. She had no other option but to go to work. She started to work in a factory producing small plastic products. The pay was meagre but at least they had enough to eat. There she met Akthar. Soon Akthar fell for her and she also liked him for he was young and good looking. She decided to leave Pazhani. After Akthar, Pazhani appeared crude and uncultured to her.
“Like a brute he would fall upon me.” She would say with an air of a much wronged woman.
She planned her flight with Akthar meticulously. She went to a boys’ convent school and and met the Mother Superior of the school and told her a sob story, that her husband had died and as she had to work for a living she could not look after her children. She pleaded with the principal to admit her children in their hostel. The kind hearted mother promised to take the children under her care.
One fine day she left home without telling her husband, left the children in the convent school and started her life with Akthar in another remote part of the town. Later she took her children from the hostel and she lived with Akthar and her children in small hut they built among many huts in a poor locality.
Akthar was a good natured fellow and he was kind towards her children. Everything was fine for about two years. She even changed her name to Meher and observed bakrid and ramzan. She was a versatile actress.
It was during that time she began to work in my house. Then problem came in the form of Akthar’s mother. Vasantha had undergone sterilisation after her second child. Now Akthar’s mother wanted Akthar to have children of his own. She threatened to have Akthar married to another woman if a child was not born to Vasantha from Akthar. Vasantha who had a happy life with Akthar became desperate. I think she loved Akthar. She went to consult a lady doctor to find out whether it was possible to reverse the process of sterilisation. As she had already two children the doctor sternly refused to do anything as it would be too risky.
“You have two nice boys. Why do you want more?” the doctor admonished her.
Soon Akthar’s mother found him a bride from her own community. Akthar went to live with his new bride. He came to see Vasantha a few times. But his visits ceased once his new wife gave birth to a girl.
At first Vasanhtha cried her heart out but later she became loss philosophical saying like a true heroine that henceforth she would devote her entire life to her children.
As she was young and alone it is not surprising men wanted to approach her. She felt that she needed the support of a man to ward off other men.
At that time a man who had been eyeing her amorously all the while slid smoothly into the place vacated by Akthar. He was a temple pujari. Vasantha had been friends with this pujari’s family for some time now. This pujari had a wife and two children. Now the pujari started visiting her when she was alone, in the guise of a helper. Sometimes he would visit her with his wife to show to the world that everything was above board. Vasantha did not refuse his advances as she thought it would be good to have the help of a man.
This was a clandestine affair though everyone who knew her guessed it except his own wife who trusted him and was totally ignorant of it.
This went on for a few years. The boys grew up. Then the elder one who was twenty years old fell in love with a girl from a good respectable family and as the girl also loved him the wedding was arranged . The boy had a good job in a factory and soon a child was born to them and Vasantha became a grandmother at the age forty two. They moved to a flat. She slowly cut off her connection with the pujari.
Now Vasantha plays the role of a respectable lady. Her slim form has filled out and she has quite a few grey hairs on her head. Her pearly teeth are now pan stained. People often come to her for her advice. She listens to their problems with concern and gives them good advice.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
With Diwali or Deepavali (as it is called in South India) approaching, festivities are already in the air. As people around me are getting ready for this grand celebration, I am reminded of past Deepavalis in my life.
Deepavali has always been a joyous occasion for me. I eagerly looked forward to it as a young girl. I was one of eight children, and even though my father earned quite a bit from his practice as a lawyer, we were not rich. It was a great effort to make both ends meet and my father never made the effort. He spent quite freely when he had cash in hand. He never put anything aside for a rainy day. My childhood was, therefore, spent in an atmosphere of the financial strain that my parents were always suffering from. But Deepavali was one occasion when money was spent liberally. Deepavali meant new clothes, sweets, and crackers. My father would buy special issues of all Tamil magazines. We would fight with each other to be the first one to open our favourite magazine and look at all the colour pictures. My mother would wake us all up at 3 o'clock in the morning on the day of Deepavali. We would have our traditional oil bath, and then decked in our new clothes, we had to pay obeisance to God and to all our elders and then we were free to have a go at the firecrackers. How we enjoyed!
After my marriage, I tried to make Deepavali an equally joyous occasion for my kids.
But my most memorable Deepavali was the one I had after all my children had left home, and my husband and I were alone in the house. Actually, we did not feel any enthusiasm for the festival. We missed our children and I did not have the will to take the effort to make any sweets or buy new clothes.
Two days prior to the Deepavali day, we had a surprise gift from the company in which my husband was a director. It was a huge box of firecrackers. It was tightly packed with crackers, flowerpots, rockets, sparklers and many other items, which would have made any child jump with joy. Oh! What an irony! My youngest daughter who had left home and had gone abroad for higher studies loved firecrackers. But we never could buy anything like this for her.
We sat there just staring at the colourful box stuffed with firecrackers.
Then my husband remarked, “All these must have cost a lot of money.”
I then asked, “What shall we do?”
After a little while I suggested, “Let us distribute it to some poor children.”
My husband readily agreed.
The next morning, we saw a poor boy playing in the street as we were coming back home from our daily walk. We told him about the crackers and asked him to come to our house with some of his friends. After a little while, Mahesh (that is the name of the boy we had met) arrived with about ten boys and two girls. Seeing their ragged old clothes and unkempt hair, my heart went out to them. “What an unfair world!” I thought. They all wore expressions of eager expectation.
My husband brought out the box. He took out the firecrackers one by one and started to arrange them on a table. All the boys converged round the table. They were impatient. When my husband started handing it out to them, they all pushed forward and were shouting and jostling so much that my husband began to lose his cool. I was worried that he might ask them to leave.
At that moment, Mahesh took control of the situation. He firmly told the other boys to behave well and form a queue. They obeyed him and stood in a line.
“Sir, if anyone creates problems, don't give him anything,” he advised my husband. He took the role of a supervisor and thereafter everything went off smoothly. Everyone got a fair share. Lastly, Mahesh took his own share. He seemed such a natural leader. I sometimes wonder where he is today. Wherever he is, I am sure, he is a leader in some way, and I think, a good and fair one.
Even today I remember the happy expression on the faces of those children, especially the monkey-faced Mahesh. It was really a memorable Deepavali for me.