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  • Wednesday, 16 January 2008

    Anaatha aka Orphan

    Prahladachar woke up at first light. He was the first one to be up in his small village, everyday. He was up even before the earliest farm hand in the village. Unlike the farmers and farm hands, he had chores to finish before he left home for the day. He had to be early.

    He got up, went to the back yard. Drew two large kodas of water from the well. He finished his morning ablutions muttering the mantras in an undertone as he had done thousands of times in his life. Then he drew two more kodas of water and had his bath. All these actions were done according to either the scriptures or tradition or what his father had taught him. He would not perhaps know where one ended and the other began. It was one continuum. Practice had made it a routine without a variation if not perfect.

    On the rare occasion that he did think about his daily routine, he was satisfied. He might not be as learned as some other priests, but no one could question his sincerity. No one, in fact, did.

    He was a well known figure in the neighbouring villages too. Most of them had occasion to see him doing the daily pooja at the Hanuman temple. He had acted as the intermediary between ‘his’ god and the people of the village. He had done this for years and he was a content man.

    As he finished his daily chores and started walking towards the temple, hardly did he realise that this was a momentous day, at least in his life. It looked like any other day, felt like any other day, if he thought about it at all.

    The temple was a good three miles from his home. He had to walk a path through brush jungle, cultivated fields, a cart track and finally what went by the name of a pucca road.

    He turned the last corner that brought him ‘face to face’ with his temple, so familiar, so comforting . .

    He stood there transfixed. Shocked. Disbelieving. The small door of the small temple stood ajar. The chain was hanging loose from one of the doors. Had he forgotten to lock the temple up the previous day? No. He remembered having done it, like any other day of his life.

    As he got over the shock and dismay, he hurried towards the temple. He could see that the strong Aligarh lock was lying right at the threshold, shattered. Some miscreants had burgled the mighty god’s very temple. He peered into the temple to see, what had been stolen. Well, everything was! Including the small white piece of cloth. What was left was worthless – a jar of kunkum, a tin of camphor, matches, agarbattis…

    Then anger, nay, rage replaced the dismay and confusion. The thought that here was the almighty god, on whom he had relied all these years for protection, was unable to defend and save even his own langoti (loin cloth)! He decided, at that very instant, even without being aware of it, that was the last day he was doing pooja at that temple. And so it was. He stomped away from the place for good.

    The villagers saw him withdraw into himself. A lost look on his face, he went about his days as a man betrayed. He continued to follow the daily rituals, at home, as before, but never entered his once favourite temple again. He even avoided that road.

    He lived on the small piece of dry land and what it grudgingly yielded, and earnings from teaching Samskrita and Kannada to some interested students, for the rest of his life.

    Note: This is a story from real life, from about a century ago. The name of the priest and details are imaginary.

    The Sensation

    Narayana was a queer one. He did not have much formal education but was well educated by voracious reading. He had done odd jobs – issuing tickets in a touring drama company, for instance. He loved mathematics. He was a skeptic. He was a Gandhian. He was a Marxist. He was curious about everything scientific.

    That was a really small thumbnail portrait of a very interesting man.

    He had finally settled down as a farmer, got married and had raised a family, three sons and three daughters. One of the daughters had died while still young, years ago.

    He was on one of his infrequent visits to the big city – Bangalore. He did not like the hustle and bustle of the city. Things that made the trip tolerable were the opportunity to meet some intellectuals and buy or borrow interesting books.

    On this trip, he found a book he had heard a lot about and was very eager to read - Eddington’s “Nature of the Physical World”. He bought it right away and returned eagerly to his cousin’s house, where he was staying during this visit. He could not wait to start reading it.

    As he came in, the family was getting ready for lunch and he had lunch too. He avoided the long post lunch conversation and moved to a tiny room. He spread a mat on the floor, moved around a trunk and a pillow and settled down to reading the book. It was fascinating. He was at it for a few hours and was feeling a little tired when he heard a familiar voice outside. Another cousin, Rajanna, had come to see him. Not too reluctantly, he gave up the book and started chatting with him – the price of rice, the weather, prospects for a good harvest the next season, the trials and triumphs of each others’ family members, suitable boy for another cousin’s daughter . . . .

    Rajanna had recently found a new astrologer, Pandit, who was making waves. Pandit had a growing reputation and had a huge following, already. The talk turned to this new phenomenon even though Rajanna knew Narayana’s skcepticism. He was sometimes irritated by it and sometimes he liked to irritate Narayana by talking about astrology. Today he was in the latter mood. He extolled the virtues of the new sensation and how he could read the past, present and the future. He watched Narayana grow distant, with great anticipation. He was sure of the coming arguments.

    To his great astonishment, Narayana said that he wanted to show a particular horoscope to this Pandit and ask his opinion about it. Rajanna looked for a catch in the whole thing. Narayana looked his usual self, but a little eager perhaps. It so happened that Rajanna was meeting Pandit that very evening as he had become quite friendly with him.

    Narayana went in, opened his ‘trunk’, opened a cloth cover and fished out a sheet of paper, folded it and put it in his pocket. Off they went walking to a well-appointed house in Gandhi Bazaar. They were ushered in and they chatted a while with Pandit. After sometime, Narayana gingerly took out the horoscope and gave it to Pandit.

    Pandit took a quick look at it, then a serious one and continued to chat with the two cousins. Finally he took out his books, sheets of paper for calculations, a few cowrie shells … all the paraphernalia of the profession.

    Finally he gave his considered opinion. Narayana was assured that the boy had a very bright future. He would do this and that and the other. But, in his middle teens, he would have some health problems and that he had to be a little careful, and a few other things. All the while, Rajanna was looking eagerly at the Pandit and Narayana. His face was impassive. But Rajanna did discern a slight sign of what he thought was a sense of happiness in Narayana’s face. With a look of relief and gratitude, Narayana took the horoscope back, folded it again and pocketed it.

    They two cousins brought the visit to an end and left the place after paying the customary fees.

    On the way back, Rajanna hesitantly asked Narayana, whose horoscope it was.

    Narayana replied, “It was Kamala’s horoscope. My dead daughter’s horoscope.”

    Note: This is a story from real life, from about fifty years ago. The name of the astrologer and the daughter are imaginary. The details of the rendering are my own.