Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My grandmother

Dawn light was peeping through the clouds as Narayani ammal slowly walked up the steps of the Temple pond. This has been her ritual for ever and she tells me she forgets the number of years she had done this. She always woke up very early in the morning and left though the back door to the temple pond. The temple was the house of Lord Shiva who occupied a place of prime importance. There was a small area designated to the deities of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Devi. It was a fairly large temple not too small and not too big. The statue of Nandi stood before the “Nadai” or footpath of the Lord Shiva and then the Kodi Kambam. Just after this would be steps leading to the pond . Again the pond was a nice size and there was a segregation for women and men’s sides. The inner walls of the pond was painted with white and red stripes as were the temple walls. Other than leading to the pond there were 2 more doors. One door led out to the East Mada street and the other to the West Mada street. These were 2 lanes built adjoining the temple with houses on one side of the street only. The temple was surrounded by streets lines with houses on 3 sides and by the pond on the 4th side. 
My grandmother’s house was the last house on the East mada street adjoining the pond. There was a narrow strip of land separating her house from the pond. This narrow strip of land circled the pond except for the area directly in front of the temple. The temple’s main door actually opened into the pond itself.
Most women and men who lived in that little village took bath in the pond before entering the temple first thing in the morning. So did my grandmother. She would wash her soiled clothes first before taking bath and then would leave the washed clothes in a corner near the steps and wash her hands and feet again to enter the temple. She wore a light brown colored nine yard saree draped around her head which was shaven. The small growth of hair that peeped from beneath the draped saree was completely white. She was slender and tall almost 5 feet and 7 inches and had a fast gait.
She would return home after all the abhisekhams were over at the temple and Lord Shiva was made ready for the day. From her I learnt about Ekadasi and Dwadasi and ofcourse Pradosham. She would know all these days byheart even without glancing at the calendar. She observed strict fasts during these days. And many other days too which I don’t remember now . 
She always had her meals on time. She only had one main meal a day in the morning and then light tiffin in the evenings with a tea at around 3p.m. On fasting nights sometimes she For us children the fascination was always the pond. I had never before seen that expanse of water contained in four walls living in a city and never having laid eyes on a swimming pool back then. I was totally mesmerized at the regal stature of the temple, Lord Shiva and the Pond. Atleast once a day we used to walk in that small patch of land surrounding the pond. One of our favorite play things to do was to throw stones at an angle and see how many times it skimmed the surface. 
For me it would go just 3 or 4 times but I still remember my father could do it for 12 or more. So our time would be spent searching for the flat stones and throwing them in. Also most mango trees would lean across the compound walls of many houses and another favorite activity was to throw stones and get mangoes. 
My grandmother could never understand why we would go and scrimmage for mangoes when there was plenty in the backyard. Occasionally she would have someone come and get us some tender coconuts from the tall coconut trees. 
Many days my grandmother consented to take me with her to the pond for having a bath. That was the excitement of the day. Also my father decided to teach us to swim. He made us a swimming tool aid with the use of coconuts and the husk of the coconut tree. It would float and help us to learn. I could never get the hang of it so would stay more by the steps while father used to swim. 
Coming back to my patti’s routine , she would wash the front of the house and put kolam long before day break. My patti would pick up her clothes that she had washed and put it up to dry on a string placed high above the walkway leading to the bathrooms. The string was too high and she used to put the clothes up there to dry with the help of a stick. She said the clothes had to be so high up so as not to touch anyone else’s head. 
She would then do her routine visit to the temple as described in my earlier story and be back home in time to have her first coffee. Now this coffee was not very tasty even back then. She used to call it Chukku Kappi. Same way made chukku tea as well.
She would then start her cooking routine on a small aduppu ( cooking stove). This was a platform made of bricks maybe approx 2 x 3 feet or so. A small open space would be there to place the firewood and she would get the fire started and then get her ingredients ready to cook. She even made Rasam using her Eeya chumbu and never once did she burn anything or melt anything. Everything was done in a slow and steady pace. She would then have lunch ready and would call all of us to eat. 
We were all served on plantain leaves plucked fresh just before eating.
Afternoons she would go and cut ripe mangoes or take some from the mango basket she would have got as a gift.
Just after making tea she would get some tiffin ready for the evening which she would have around 5 or so. Then she would wash and clean the kitchen and would wash herself in preparation for going to the temple. 
Almost always at exactly six she would be there at the temple. The temple bells would start ringing almost clamouring loudly probably reminding everyone that its time to be at the temple.
The evening puja’s where a sight to behold. The whole temple would be lit by lamps and candles and every one of them would be burning brightly. The light and the bells and the incense sticks would make the place more divine if that were possible. All eyes would be on Lord Shiva as Rudram was chanted loudly . After all the evening rituals and finally the Lord was set ready to go to sleep, my grandmother would begin her walk back tohome. 
Many times this walk would be delayed by small conversations with neighbors. Most neighbors would want to know about us visiting kids and so she would stand talking. 
She would sit for sometime on the Thinnai and talk to some passers by and then would come in, wash her feet and enter the house. Very rarely she would eat a banana or have little kanji but that was very rare. Mostly her mouth would be whispering prayers as she got her cot ready for the night.
She had a cot which was woven by cotton threads. Most days she would just get the cot out of the side room and place it along the walkway leading to the hall and just lie on it. She went to sleep almost as soon as she would lie down and got up early the next morning to continue her routine every day of the week and every day of the year.
 kanji at night time. Meal was always served to her on a plantain leaf. She never touched any other container while eating. She observed strict religious beliefs but never ever imposed them on others. 

All the houses on the Mada streets had Thinnai (similar the the Balcony) which is really an extension of a seat one from end to other giving way between for a path to the door. One either end of Thinnai was the reclining cemented surface which was cool to the touch. Most of the house floor was covered in red color. As soon as you entered the house you could see an open area like an open tub where water would be kept. Patti would always wash her legs there before entering the main house.  

Paati and the swing

My summers were spent with Patti in her village home for many many years. Till she could not stay alone and had to move with us in the big city away from her beloved village home and Shiva temple.
Most summers at Paati's home, we always had company from all our relatives especially a particular cousins of ours. Since they had a boy and girl similar in age group like my brother and I , it was their arrival we looked forward to. Our days began by going to the pond to bathe and then finish little work like plucking flowers or mangoes or coconuts etc.
We sat down to play cards after our lunch and our session would go on till it was time to goto the temple with Patti. Many afternoons were also spent playing hide and seek with a few children from the neighborhood and us cousins. Since it was a fairly large house it was so exciting to play this game and many a time one of the kids would be lost for hours. There was a room called the paran where a kid once went to hide and slept through all our frantic searches and name callings.
When Patti moved in with us, the only thing I remember her bringing from her old house was the Oonjal. This we put in the hall and it was definetly her most favorite place to sit. Most afternoons she would sit in the swing in a slightly reclining position. I have never seen her sleep in the afternoons. 
When we had visitors everyone would want to sit on the oonjal. Almost all our visitors would do namaskarams to patti before leaving. She would always bless them with the words “Ayush man bhava” and if it were married women “Theerga Sumangali Bhava”.
In the late afternoons she would get ready to go to the temples. Almost every day evening there would be a Kathakalakshepam.
It is a Sanskrit term which etymologically means spending time listening to stories (Katha - Story, Kala - Time, Kshepa - Literally to know). The underlying spirit of this art is 'Bakthi' or 'devotion to God' and the moral message is the triumph of good over evil.
If there was no school then I would be seen with my patti heading to the temples. Of the many people I would have seen one person stands out in mind. Kirupananda Variyar. He had such an engaging way of saying the story that it captured even a young girl. There were so many more such great artists whose name I do not remember now. They were all unique and each said the story in a very entertaining manner. 
Not having t.v and other such distractions probably was a blessing in disguise. For nothing would I ever trade those days and evenings that I got to spend with my paati.

God belongs to me

Subramani woke up before dawn and got ready to go to work. He made himself a cup of coffee as his wife Shanthi was still asleep. During the early days of marriage she got up with him and made him his cup of coffee. After the birth of their only child Amala, who is now 6 years of age, slowly Shanthi had changed. She was no longer eager to serve Subramani. She found more pleasure going shopping or watching movies at home with her mother. Subramani never said a word about it. He quickly finished SandhyaVandhanam and got ready to leave. 
At exactly 5 a.m. , Subramani opened the gates of the Sri Vinayaka Temple and parked his scooter on the side of the temple beneath an asbestos shed. He then walked to the side door, opened the door and then started opening the front collapsible gates and other gates around the temple. He was then getting everything ready for the early morning Pooja when his assistant priest Shanumuganathan walked in. 
Shanmuganathan was still a bachelor. He was as conscientious as Subramani in all his work. Together they got everything ready and by 5.30 a.m. Subramani had started his work. He had already cleaned the space around his beloved Ganesha diety the previous night so morning usually started with its own rituals.
Subramani never understood how time flew. Before he knew it was around 9.30 a.m. and both he and his assistant went to the back room to take a break. Shanthi had brought and left them their morning breakfast which was usually 2 idli and little chutney and one thermos flask of decoction coffee.
That over they resumed their work and could not get a moment of space to breathe till noon. There was the usual crowds and today being a Good Muhurtam day there were more people wanting to do archana and pray. Then the mid day pooja started and he was done for the day around 2 in the afternoon. He had his lunch alone in the backroom as his assistant had left to go have lunch. Subramani had set up a small electric rice cooker in the back room and there was also a small fridge there. He always kept rice when he had his morning break. And Shanthi always brought him sambhar and one vegetable when she came in the morning.
After having his lunch he sat down in the easy chair beneath the fan. There were so many trees around the temple that he never felt the heat. In fact during the winter months he sometimes had to wear a sweater. He read the newspaper which Shanthi had brought for him.
He left the back room around 3 p.m to get the temple ready for the evening visitors. There were also some men from the committee who wanted to discuss some upcoming events and his afternoon just went by very fast. Soon he was in the middle of his evening pooja and around 9 he started getting ready to leave. His assistant took over the cleaning and other arrangements and also closing up of the temple.
By the time Subramani reached home it was around 9.20 p.m. He gave his daughter Amala a hug and went straight to the bathroom to take a bath. After the bath, he went straight to their pooja room.
It was a small room less than 100 square feet and he had insisted to have that part of the plan when he purchased his small flat. He finished his Sandhya Vandhanam and then he started his pooja for the little deities he had with him and his daughter Amala brought him the naivedyam her mother had prepared.
Immersed in his prayers, Subramani lost track of time. Until he heard Shanthi yelling from the Hall.
“Is’nt it enough that you spend all day at the temple? Why can’t you come and watch t.v. with us like normal people do? “ and the rant went on in that tone.
Subramani felt like a spear had pierced his heart. He knew very well that Shanthi had been aware of his work routine and had agreed to marry him inspite of all that. These rants had started just after a few months of marriage. Unable to take the taunts much longer, Subramani had approached the committee board and had requested them for an assistant which they had immediately approved. Still there was so much work to do. Now he thought maybe he would request for one more assistant, even part time.
He was again brought back to reality by Shanthi’s continous yelling and she then purposely dropped a big kudam used for filling water. Together all the noise she made seemed to prick Subramani all over with thorns.
He asked silently of his beloved God ,” Why can you not let me pray to you in peace?”. Without his knowledge a small drop of tear escaped his eyelids and splashed on the floor. It however did not escape the attention of Amala.
“Appa are you crying?” she asked. Unable to tell a lie, he opened his eyes and took Amala and seated him on her lap.
“I am sorry my dear. Even if I pray and do pooja all day at the temple, it is still only my work. I can never feel complete without doing pooja here to our Gods.”
Shanthi overheard all this and fell silent for sometime. Subramani used that breathing space and quickly started to finish his dinner that Shanthi had setup for him on the floor on a plantain leaf.
Amala watched her father taking the water set beside the leaf and how he took some water in his hand and went around the leaf before starting to eat.
He looked up at Shanthi who was standing nearby to serve him food. “Today was very busy… that’s why I got late” he said in a mild tone. “Hmmmm” said Shanthi.
“I will try and see if I can get some part time help to cope with the Music season rush “ he added. There was more “Hmmmmmmmmmm” from Shanthi.
After getting up from dinner and washing his hands and mouth, Subramani spent time talking with Amala and asking about what went on at School. He then got her ready for bed and told her a nice story from the Panchatantra book she had got as a gift. Soon Amala was fast asleep. Before long everyone had retired to bed and all was quiet.
Subramani got up early the next morning and got set to repeat his routine. While driving to work, he observed there was fewer traffic than usual. Once he got to work, he got very busy and even did not notice that Shanmuganathan had not come in on time. Also there were extremely few people coming into the temple that morning. Just a few trickled in. And those were people whom he knew lived nearby.
When he got time to take a break Subramani went to the back room where he had left his cell phone to call Shanmuganathan. Taking his cell phone he saw there were 2 messages for him and he dialed in to hear his messages.
Shanmuganathan had a left message that surprised and shocked Subramani greatly. He had said that in the early morning hours one of the premier politicians had passed away and at the time of making that call around 6 a.m., he said that a huge bandh was brewing and so was afraid to travel. Subramani’s second message was from his wife Shanthi. She had said pretty much the same message, and had also added that she could not bring in Subramani’s breakfast and also had requested Subramani to be careful on his way. The message ended with Shanthi saying sorry for the harsh words she had used the previous evening.
As Subramani kept the phone down, he was reminded of the previous evening. In particular what came to his mind was his silent prayer to his beloved God for some time to pray in peace. It seemed to Subramani that the universe had conspired to make his request come true.
The temple premises was so quiet this morning. Being surrounded with trees the atmosphere was more like a nandavanam. With very few people around for almost the first time Subramani became aware of the stillness around him. He could hear the birds chirping and the sway of the trees in the morning breeze.
Subramani forgot to even have any fruit to eat which was what he would have had for breakfast. He walked in long strides back to the main diety his Lord Ganesha. He fell at the Lord’s feet in gratitude. He wondered how magnanimous his God was to have granted his very small request. 
With tears pouring down his face and streaking his cheeks, he started praying to God. He chanted his usual slokas and having finished his maha araathi he then sat down in meditation. His face had cleared up and looked as if peace had washed over him. 
Finally after so many years he had got the Lord to himself without the devotee crowd jostling each other and most of them loudly gossiping about what someone else was wearing and about the latest street and movie actress gossips. Subramani knew this was his chosen profession but had never imagined he would have to deal with so many types of characters, people, in his daily course of work.
Apart from all this some celebrity or someone known to a celebrity would turn up and he would have to stop his usual routine and take care of this person. How much Subramani hated to take time away from his God to attend to some fat politician.
Today he was all at peace. Never before had he known so much peace. He loved that he had the God all to himself. His eyes sparkled and his voice had a higher lilt to it. He felt his whole body energized and it could be heard in his voice continuing to chant slokas and in his face which emanted the true reason for his choice of profession.

Back together again

Mythili always got up before dawn. That’s the way it has always been. Even when she was small child she got up when her mother did and carried a pot just like her mother and went to the River bed to bathe, fetch water and wash clothes. Dawn would be breaking when the ladies walked back and she entered the kitchen along with her mother too.
All those years had helped her in her married life with Srinivasan. He was a very quiet person, mostly kept to himself and to a few friends. He had immense respect for his wife and even though he never asked her before making a decision he always never made one that his wife would disapprove.
After retiring, Mythili noticed her husband keeping more to himself and to his routine of reading newspapers, going to the temple, prayers at home and hours in the backyard with his plants and vegetables. In fact Mythili started cooking only after he brought in vegetables each morning. In a way she wanted him to decide what they would eat that day.
So Mythili was quite glad when her son asked them to come and stay with them for a few days. He had sent an email and Mythili was the only one who checked the emails and used the computer to also blog on to a famous womens’ website!. She was planning to tell her husband about this when she served him his morning coffee.
Mythili soon got the hot and steaming decoction coffee ready and carried it in a tumbler and davara to the thinnai where Srinivasan was sitting on the reclining chair. The newspaper had just come in and he was opening it up. It was his most favorite thing to do, to sit in the Thinnai in the easy chair and open the newspaper and wait for the steaming cup of coffee from his Mythili. They actually paid a little extra for the newspaper to be delivered that early so he could read and then go to the garden to get the vegetables after which his bath and then prayers and then temple visit would take most of the morning. 
After a short break following lunch, he would meet some friends to play bridge in the afternoon and then play tennis in the local club in the evening. Coming back home, he would take bath and spend some time in prayers and then he and his wife would have dinner and retire to the Thinnai to talk over the days events. Most of the talking was done by Mythili and Srinivasan would nod his head and mutter hmmm and hanh’s were appropriate.
Mythili brought the steaming cup of coffee and handed it to Srinivasan and sat beside him. Srinivasan set aside the paper and took the coffee from her hand and started to pour some into the davara. It was hot and steaming and Mythili had to carry it there with the folds of her sari pallu holding the tumbler. “Why don’t you also join me?” he asked probably for the umpteenth time. Mythili said she will have it soon enough in the kitchen and started her talk about their son Ramu.
“Ramu has sent an email asking both of us to come and stay with them for a few days.” Srinivasan looked at her and said nothing. They had two children Ramu and Shanthi , both of them married and well settled with children. Srinivasan and Mythili did not go and stay as much with their children until it was really necessary. That was Srinivasan’s preference and Mythili went along with it. But somehow recently she had this longing to go and see her grandchildren hence this talk.
Srinivasan listened to her talk about visiting their grandchildren and children and asked her when she wanted for them to leave and shortly thereafter made arrangements for their trip with no trace of the reluctance he felt showing on his face.
Mythili was very excited. She started making murukku and made mysorepak and ribbon pakoda for their trip. They were going to go to Shanti’s place first and then to Ramu’s place. Just for 6 days with 3 days in each place. Did not seem like much, but both Mythili and Srinivasan did not want to leave their home for long and had to make arrangements for a house sitter to take care of everything.
Reaching Shanthi’s house went smoothly. Since both Shanthi and her husband Ramesh worked, Shanthi had made arrangements for the servant maid to be present when they came and had cooked their lunch too. As soon as they had lunch, both of them felt little at unease not knowing what else to do. Srinivasan sat down in the balcony and started reading the newspaper and Mythili started folding clothes and cleaning the kitchen and checked out the fridge which was overflowing with grocery bags and assorted stuff.
The children came around 3 in the afternoon by which time Mythili had made a good snack ready for them. Just hearing their loud yells of “Thatha and Patti” took the grandparents to heaven and back. The evening went very fast and before they knew it Shanthi was home. 
Mythili had dinner ready so Shanthi could take a break and the family relaxed together at their dining table. No mention was made of the absent Ramesh, Shanthi’s better half. He got home closer to 9p.m when the children were getting ready to go to bed. Mythili expected him to spend some time with the kids and talk to Shanthi but he headed straight to the computer and continued some work and started talking on skpe to an agent in China and scrolled through his black berry at the same time.
Mythili helped Shanthi get the children to bed, clean up the kitchen and joined Srinivasan in the Hall who was waiting for Ramesh to join them. Shanthi gave Ramesh an excuse saying it had been very hectic at work so Ramesh was very very busy. 
Shanthi was very happy to eat the mysore pak and murukku and ribbon pakado her mother had lovingly made for them. The children only liked the ribbon pakoda and Ramesh had no time for any of the snacks. 
The three days they stayed there had the same pattern. Mornings busy with everyone getting ready to school and work. Mythili helped take care of everything which was a big break for Shanthi. Ramesh woke up to his cell phone ringing and then it seemed to be stuck to his ears maybe even in his shower. Shanthi said it was an emergency in the U.S offices and so Ramesh was busy. Srinivasan kept himself busy reading the paper and went out for long walks. He also managed to visit some of his old friends and passed his time that way.
Soon it was time to leave for Ramu’s house. The children kept begging them to stay for a few more days even forever but Shanthi explained to the children that their grandparents had to visit Ramu uncle before going back.
Ramu picked them up from Shanthi’s house and they entered his much bigger bungalow in time for dinner. Ramu’s children were very well mannered and behaved very formally too. They came up to their grandparents and gave them a formal hug as did their daughter inlaw Sukanya. They all had dinner seated in their dining room which housed an expensive dining table. In fact the whole house seemed to reflect a collector’s dream with all kinds of artefacts from around the world. Ramu’s wife Sukanya had cooked a big feast or rather had catered a big feast just for them. Mythili remembered just in time to thank Sukanya for the grand dinner after which she gave them a tour of the house showing all the expensive items she had purchased from all over the world. She worked as an interior designer and had done everything in exquisite taste.
Mythili gave them the Mysorepak and Murukku and Ribbon pakoda. Only Ramesh relished them. Sukanya excused herself saying she was on a diet. Looking at her very slim body anyone would have doubted that statement but Mythili took it in with a smile.
The rest of their days went smoothly too. Ramesh left in the morning with the children who attended a expensive private school. Sukanya spent some time giving instructions to the servants and cook. She also took extra care of her in-laws repeatedly asking if they wanted anything.
As Mythili had nothing to do all day, she and Srinivasan took the time to go to all the nearby temples for which Sukanya arranged a car. They also visited some relatives too. Soon it was time to pack up and go. 
Back home, Mythili woke up early as usual. She made 2 steaming tumblers of decoction coffee and took both tumblers to the Thinnai were Srinivasan was sitting with the unopened newspaper. He looked more shocked than surprised at Mythili’s bringing 2 coffee tumblers. She sat down on the other easy chair after giving one tumber and davara of coffee to her husband. Srinivasan now kept the paper down and sat back with a smile. “So atlast you join me in drinking coffee here” he said with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Mythili felt herself blush at her husband’s light teasing.
For both of them the trip had been an eye opener. They loved their children and families and they knew they were loved back too. But everyone was busy living their lives. They obviously did not have time for the two aged parents. Both Mythili and Srinivasan found nothing wrong with that. That is the way it should be they felt. They knew what it was to bring up children and they also knew how difficult these days were and how much harder some needed to work.
Now after coming back Mythili cherished her time with her husband more. And so did he. Now mornings were spent drinking coffee in quiet and pleasant companionship. Srinivasan knew that the newspaper and its news could wait while he relished his wife’s company.
Together they went to the garden to check on all the plants and decided which vegetable was ready to be plucked. When they came in Mythili, after taking her bath , started getting the pooja room ready. By then her husband joined her and together they did pooja.
After which Mythili went into the kitchen to start cooking and Srinivasan joined her there and helped her with cleanup and other handy things.
They had a leisurely lunch. After cleaning up , Mythili sat at the computer to blog on her ladies website and to check emails and to send emails to her kids and load the photos she had taken on her trip. Srinivasan pulled another easy chair beside the computer table and opened his newspaper. Mythili had the same look and smile he had when she had joined him for coffee. Some afternoons both went and played bridge with friends. Evenings were spent going for long walks or meeting friends. Some evenings they played shuttlecock at the club. After dinner they relaxed in the Thinnai , easy chairs placed near to one another as they felt grateful for all these moments of memories they could share and cherish.

Help from Above

I was sitting on the floor of my parents’ pooja room opening the draws of the cupboard to clean it out. It was 16 days 7 hours and 20 minutes since my mother passed away. I know because I keep counting every hour on the hour. Mainly because it came as a total surprise and an absolute shock. My mother had been in good health and so not for a moment had I ever even entertained this thought.
The same cannot be said of my appa, who was now taking a nap. Two years back when I brought my daughters to visit my parents, my mother and appa had come to the airport much against my instructions not to do so. My children were overjoyed to see their grandparents and had run to hug them as we exited the airport.
It did not miss my notice that my appa did not hug my children as much as my mother did. Infact he remained aloof even through the ride back home. Being so late at night, all of us were tired and so went to sleep. I thought I will bring this subject up in the morning.
The kids were still sleeping when I got up and went to the kitchen where my mother was making hot coffee and engaged in a discussion with my appa. It appeared they had some disagreement. They stopped talking when I appeared. I sat at the dining table where my appa was sitting and waited for my mother to join me with the coffee mugs.
“So what were you both discussing “? I asked mother. My dad intervened “I will tell you what Viji. I don’t understand why your mother lets strange girls sleep over at our house.” “which strange girls? : I asked totally baffled. “Oh the girls who came with you yesterday “. He said casually,getting up to go to the bathroom.
That I was struck by lightning could have been an understatement. My eyes opened wide with shock , my heart beat faster, and I opened and closed my mouth gaping at my mom. She held my hand in hers and said with a very calm voice “He has Alzheimer’s”. My heart beat became normal and my mouth closed shut but my eyes literally opened up and drenched my mother’s hand. She did not join me in my tears.
Later she told me how she first found out and how it had been progressing and why she had asked me to come with the children so he could see them maybe for the last time. She also said she was trying to break the news gently but felt sad I had heard it the hard way. Either way my heart had numbed , a chillness had crept in permanently and settled in much to my discomfort and displeasure.
Our holidays came to an end and we had to go back. That my heart broke when I said goodbye to my appa was an understatement. Through out the holidays we had managed to spend every waking moment with my appa and never left him alone. I had tried to remind him of my daughters and though he did not remember he had settled into a quiet acceptance.
We also managed to forget my mother in all the focus I made on my appa. My amma being her usual quiet self went about everything in a very matteroffact way. She had to be on her toes every single minute my appa was awake. He was becoming like a small child again. If my amma was’nt around to open the door to their housemaid, my appa would refuse to open claiming she had come to rob them. The maid Lakshmi had been with us since I was growing up and treated him as her appa too. But for her support I would have felt even more terrible about leaving my parents alone.
They also refused to relocate with me their only child. I understood as my amma atleast needed the comfort of the familiar surroundings to cope with her world being turned upside down by my appa.
When I returned home after my holidays, I was on the phone every day trying to make up for not being near them. It totally was eating me up and I turned to be very irritable and with more mood swings that my husband decided to intervene. He managed to convince me that he could take care of the girls and I had to agree. They were grown up and going to college too. So he booked me a round trip ticket to my parents place and insisted I stay there as long as I wanted to. I was fortunate to have a supportive husband who understood that I also had a responsibility to my parents and really wanted to spend time with them one when one of them clearly had a foot in the grave.
I was only wrong about which one!. Shortly after I arrived, it happened one morning. My amma who always slept lightly was always the one to wake up first. So that morning I woke up to a lot of yelling and fighting going on between my appa and Lakshmi. I got up and went to see what the commotion was all about. 
My appa claimed that Lakshmi was there to rob him and advised me to get rid of her quickly. Lakshmi by now used to my appas ways was trying to head inside the house to start cleaning. All of a sudden I asked “Where is amma?” to which my appa started another tirade. “I have been trying to wake her up because I am so hungry. She always wants to sleep”, so saying he went and sat down in the easy chair.
Since it was apparent to me that this was very unusual of my amma, I rushed to their bedroom with Lakshmi beside me. As soon as we saw her we knew she had left us and was with us no more. Lakshmi started to call the doctor and our other relatives while I went and sat beside my amma and raised her head from the pillow and kept it on my lap.
I don’t even remember how everything else went through. That my husband was there and took total incharge was a blessing. Appa meanwhile continued to be unaware of all of this or maybe just unaware of his partners and beloved wife’s death and the impact that was going to have on his life.
When my husband and children left, he assured me again that he would take care of everything back home and emphasized the need of my presence with my appa. Not that I would argue with that. Appa was now more of a child than before and tagged me every minute.
Now after 16 days 7 hours and 24 minutes, I sat at the pooja room trying to clean all the papers and clear up the clutter.
The future had never ever seemed so bleak to me. I knew I could not take my appa back with me and to leave him behind…. I could only pray to God and to my amma to help me. I realized as I prayed I had no one but God to turn to. So I stopped all my cleaning and gave up on trying to sort through the papers and started praying.
It was then that I heard the calling bell ring. I got up and went to the front door. Lakshmi was standing there with another lady of middle age and slender built. Unlike Lakshmi who had a round face and little on the plump side this lady had a straight face and lean build. She was wearing a cotton saree which looked as if starched and pressed neatly.
I opened the door and let them in. Lakshmi looking at my swollen face said she will make tea for all of us and we went inside to sit in the Hall.
I sat beside the new lady silently observing her while Lakshmi brought us our tea and sat beside us. “This is Subbamma, Viji.” She started by way of introduction. “I have known her for a long time but Subbamma had moved to the city to help her daughters and now she is back to stay in town. I told her about your plight and she has agreed to help. “ and Lakshmi paused here.
I was gulping my tea so as not to have to talk and my eyes were busy observing Subbamma who had nodded her head to everything lakshmi had said. Subbamma appeared to be the most calm person I had met and had a somewhat similar appearance to my mother. “Why don’t you both talk to each other while I go check on your father “ said Lakshmi getting up.
We continued to sit quietly for some time. “I can talk to you tomorrow after I talk to my husband tonight “, I said. I really did not want to talk about this and face the prospect of handing my father over to some stranger. But I also had to think clearly and be more practical of my situation. I knew I could not stay here forever and this arrangement might just work. Subbamma said it was fine by her and I melted in the gentleness of her look and her choice of words.
My husband helped me see the reality of the situation and I locked my heart inside the big almirah before I started to make decisions where my appa was concerned.
The arrangement was for Subbamma to live at my parents home and thereby keep an eye on my father at all times. Lakshmi would come everyday to do household chores and help Subbamma if need be.
The rates were all fixed for Subbamma’s service and her meals and other holidays were also discussed. Since Subbamma had no one close in her family living in the same town, this arrangement suited her as much as it did for me.
I left to my home shortly thereafter and like a coward I left when my father was sleeping. These days he tended to sleep more and had taken to Subbamma like a fish to water. Maybe it was her kind look or gentle manners or maybe she did look somewhat like my amma.. but whatever the reason it worked.
I called many times a day and slowly my calls dwindled to once a day once I was reassured everything was okay. My husband and I took turns in visiting appa and never realized he would rush to join my amma as quickly as he did. 
Still I knew I owed more than a lot to Subbamma. Where my prayers answered or does God really take care of his own.? Did my mother knew what was going on and sent help? I could never answer my questions but I knew better than to give up on my prayers and to be grateful every day for the help that came from Above.

Second Place

I knew something was wrong as I was parking my car in front of Selvam’s house. I ran up the steps to see Sivakami lying down by the entrance door , her head on the Vasalpadi. I was shocked and felt a chillness creeping within me and clutching at my heart. I knelt beside her and lifted her head to feel her pulse and felt none. All I could feel was the rapid thumping of my heart and my heart go numb with sadness.
I slowly got up, clutched the chair in the Thinnai and sat down. I opened my cell phone and started making calls. Once I had called the most important people who I needed starting with my family doctor, I got up again and went and sat beside Sivakami and lifted her head and laid it on my lap.
I could then only lean back on the threshold of the door, grief overwhelming me in its strides to crush my heart.
I closed my eyes and thought of my friend Selvam, Sivakami’s late husband.
Selvam and I had started nursery school together. In the small town where we lived, we soon became thick friends and remained so till the day he left me.
Selvam got married before me and I welcomed his wife Sivakami as my sister and called her Mannee. She in turn called me Anna and would not even buy a saree without my approval.
After I married , we were fortunate to continue our friendship to involve both families and the coming of children as well. Once when we had gone on a picnic , the topic had turned towards the bereavement of a family member and the plight of the widow and children left behind.
I still remember Sivakami’s eyes and the manner in which she spoke her thoughts that day. “I will go first “ she said , “And I have no doubt about it”. 
Selvam could not resist asking “And how do you know for sure?”.
“look Anna your friend is teasing me”, she complained pulling me into their conversation. I had to always side with my adopted sister and so I said “Selvam, let her win wont you?”. By this time the children had heard the conversation getting louder and were curious to know what transpired.
Not wanting the children to know the topic of discussion, I informed the children “ We were talking about who would win first place if we had a running race “. So every time we four adults wanted to revisit the conversation , Sivakami would say “I will win first place’. For some reason it was very important for her to win first place. It was totally contradictory to her nature.
She was dependent on everything on Selvam. Maybe that’s why she wanted to first to avoid the plight of being a widow.
God had other plans. Selvam passed away on my shoulder. I had visited them one evening and Selvam asked Sivakami to get me some coffee. As soon as she went inside, Selvam turned to me and clutched his heart and said “I am feeling a lot uneasy here” and started to perspire and leaned heavily on my shoulder. It happened so quickly that I still cannot believe it. By the time Sivakami came back with coffee , everything was over. The coffee tumbler and Davara fell from her hands and she fell at my feet in shock. 
The one and only reason she got over her shock and started to live was because of her two girls. She was determined to get them married into good families. Not even sugar was bought by Sivakami without informing me first.
Her daughters married well but both had lots of problems in their marriages. The eldest one could not conceive and so had problems but Sivakami stayed very strong. With her strong mental and physical support , her daughter conceived through artificial means and then resumed a happy married life. Her second daughter had lots of problems from her inlaws. Sivakami did not give up. She worked tirelessly and got her daughter and son-in-law move out of the country to resume a happier married life.
Many times when Sivakami visited my home, she would share with my wife and I, how grateful she was for our support. She also told us that if she had gone first as planned Selvam could never had coped with his daughter’s problems. My wife and I totally agreed with her. It was very true. Selvam was a hot tempered person but very soft at heart. He was not mentally strong as Sivakami and I was amazed at my sister’s perseverance and tenacity to finish what she and her beloved husband started.
I knew in my heart that my sister made it to second place but I was glad she did not make it to first place.

Where the mind is without fear

Anjali got up early as she always did. She could only complete all her work if she got up that early. She had to help her mother around her small, very small flat. And above all she wanted to go to the bathroom before there was the long line. Her flat was part of many in a big building. The owner had sublet all the rooms as flats for dwelling as tenants. The twenty such flats shared 4 bathrooms and toilets. 2 of each designated for ladies only. Still there was a long line and as a growing girl Anjali hated having to use the common bathroom facility.
Anjali’s father had left her mother when she had still not entered the world. By now even she had reconciled herself to the fact that her father would never return. Anjali and her mother had lived with her grandmother till she too had passed away leaving the two of them orphans.
Anjali’s mother had always worked as a maid in houses as had her grandmother too. As long as Anjali had lived with her grandmother she had been sheltered from the real world and had been able to go to the local school without much to worry about. Anjali’s mother was adamant that she go to school and then on to college so that she would atleast have a better life than her mother and grandmother. For this reason Anjali’s mother worked more than she could so as to save money for Anjali’s studies. Since her grandmother had died , there had been too many changes to her life.
For one thing they had to move and the only housing they could afford was this kind of apartment. Now Anjali even hated to wake up dreading the bathroom sharing. As if that was not enough , she hated the loud jeers that the boys sent up on her way to school. 
Anjali did not want to go to school anymore. 
She hated having to getup so early and finishing with the bathrooms earlier than having to. She absolutely hated walking to school especially when sometimes there was a tear in her clothing and the boys teased her more and she felt humiliated at her birth.
She did not want to tell her mother about it because she knew it would first sadden her mother and also her mother worked so hard she could go to school. It would truly break her mother’s heart if she complained about these trivial things.
Still Anjali could not get it out of her mind. She thought to herself that she would be better off working like a servant maid along side her mother. Once her mind clutched on this idea there seemed no way back. Her brain started to compute how much she would make each month and even she could tell that they would be more comfortable once two incomes came in instead of one.
That evening when her mother came home and they both finished eating their meager food, Anjali talked to her mother about her thoughts that morning and her reasoning behind quitting school. After she finished talking there was total silence for a long time.
Anjali kept looking at her mother who seemed to have frozen in time. Anjali knew she had made a big mistake in thinking along those lines of quitting school.
After what seemed an eternity , but a few minutes, her mother spoke in a quiet and firm voice. “Anjali , when I was pregnant with you , your father left us for a younger and better looking girl. Everyone wanted me to have an abortion. And throughout my pregnancy everyone wanted me to give you up for adoption. Tell what had I done wrong to deserve that criticism and loathing from others. I was not the one who abandoned marriage nor did I give up on my commitment and responsibility. But somehow I became everyone’s target. I decided to carry my pregnancy full term and refused to give my baby up for adoption. I vowed to myself that I would bring up my child the best way I can and make her live a better life than mine” and she paused.
Anjali looked at her mother throw eyes overflowing with tears and heart overwhelmed by love. Now for the first time she could see the determination in the eyes, the set of the mouth and firmness surrounding the jawline.
Anjali opened her mouth to say sorry but no words came out. Her heart had chilled at the realization of what another human being had gone through, her own flesh and blood. Beside that her problems appeared puny. Her mother reached out and took Anjali’s hands in hers.
“My dear, who said life was going to be easy. Its not. You don’t have to look far for an example. However what is needed is a resolve to withstand everything life throws your way. I regret I did not have the facility to study. So I am working this way, at least it’s a honest living. You need to resolve to study and go further in life because of your education. That is all I can give you. The rest is upto you.
When I was growing up my mother used to sing Subramania Bharathi’s songs and poems. She taught me the meaning of all the songs. He was my idol and guru in my mind. I vowed I would live my life the way he dreamed his “Pudumai Penn “ ( loosely translated means new age girl or modern girl) to be.
My life has taken many setbacks and so I am in this spot today. Still all is not lost for me as I have you the most precious and blessing that has happened to me ever.”
Saying this her mother got up and went to the almirah and fetched a book. It was the poems of Subramania Bharathi. That evening was spent for Anjali listening to the voice of her mother repeated the verses of “Achamillai Achamillai Achamenbadhu Illaiye” ( translated it means There is no fear ..)
And also the Poem about the Resolute mind….
Resolute mind I seek
Refined words I seek
Considerate thoughts I seek
Coveted things to be mine I seek
Dreams that turn real I seek
And turn real soon I seek
Wealth and happiness I seek
Fame in this world I seek
Clarity of vision I seek
Determination in work I seek
Women's liberation I seek
Protection of the creator I seek…..
Anjali just sat and heard all these lines and felt a wave of confidence and strength washing through her. Now she had no doubts about anything. Her path seemed to be very clear. She hugged her mother and felt the love of her mother giving additional support.
Thinking along these lines Anjali went to school the next day. She did not mind that she had to share a bathroom. She did not mind she had to get up early. She walked to school with her head held high. On the way when anyone troubled her, she repeated the lines from the Bharathiyar Song Achamillai Achamillai (fear not , fear not). 
As soon as she entered the school compound she felt totally at peace. All her worries vanished. She loved to learn and loved to be with the other children. It being a government school she knew there were many poor kids like her there. But she was probably the only one who had a passion for learning and wanted to strive and do her best.
That day in school her teacher assigned her class a project work. Each student was assigned a literary author on whom research was to be done. Anjali was assigned Subramania Bharati. She loved him and his poems so she felt she was in heaven at being handed this project. She planned to do her writing that evening and finish the project earlier than needed.
The more Anjali read about Bharati , the more she realized what a great soul he had been and her troubles seemed pittance compared to his.
Bharati had lost his mother at the age of 5 and his father at the age of 16. He had taken part in the freedom fight and had even be exiled. These facts brought tears to Anjali’s eyes and she knew how better she should learn to face her life and its set of problems including the bathroom. Now that she thought of it she felt fortunate she had atleast one with four walls which provided the essential cover for the growing up girl.
As she grew up she was fortunate to read about a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore on 
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free…. “ 
She felt lucky to have read these poems by these great poets and thereby be inspired by them.
That was apparently a huge turning point in her life. Anjali then went with government scholarship to complete her medical degree and later when she got married she was gifted A collectors edition of Subramania Bharathi’s works by her mother. Seeing her Anjali standing as a very well educated bride , her mother realized her dreams that day. 
And Anjali was grateful to God for interceding in the form of the poets words to give her courage and hope and make her live her life to her full potential and helped her realize her dreams in a magnificient scale.

A Birthday Gift

Raju woke up with a start. His bedroom door was open and he could clearly hear though not understand what his parents where fighting about. This was very normal for him. Most evenings were spent with his mother inevitably picking up an argument with his dad as soon as his father got home. And there it would start. The constant bickering.
Raju remembered the days this was not so. His mother stayed at home till he finished his kindergarten school and only started to work when he started first standard. Now he was in his third standard. Both his parents worked in IT firms which involved long work hours.
After school, Raju usually was picked by his grandmother and he stayed with his grandparents till one of his parents came and picked him up. Mostly his mother.
Raju loved his grand parents whom he called with affection Thathu and Pattoo.
Thinking of them he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
The days went by very fast and his birthday came quite soon. It was Raju’s favorite day. He loved to get new clothes and every year his parents bought him the latest toy or gadget or game. This year he had already asked for the Nintendo Wii and for 2 games to play with it. He knew for sure he will get it.
Next year he was planning to ask for a cell phone. He had seen a 5th standard boy use it and so he thought it would be cool to use it in the 4th standard. Also for his birthday his other set of grandparents, his father’s parents, would visit him. He was fond of them too and though they did not bring any fancy gift he looked forward to spending time with them. He always called them Thatha and Patti.
They arrived 2 weeks earlier than his birthday. Ever since they arrived they always picked him up from school and he spent the evening playing with them.
His patti cooked all his favorite foods.His thatha played with him and took him to the park. And more amazing for Raju was that his parents never quarreled or fought with each other. In fact they had modeled the perfect couple in front of Raju’s Thatha and Patti.
Lost in thought Raju was silent through out the evening. He did not understand why his parents did not argue in front of company or fight in front of his grand parents. Everything else they did the same. They both came home late and both left early. 
They both were very busy. His mother even after coming home, now that Patti was there, she took of to her bedroom and was on the phone making arrangements for his birthday. His father came home late and then continued to work on his computer. All seemed the same except that they did not fight and argue anymore.
Raju’s birthday party was a grand success. This year his parents had kept it in a local hall and invited around 60 guests. The next day, being a Sunday, Raju opened all the gifts with his Thatha and Patti and his other grandparents Thathu and patoo. Together both sets of grandparents had got him his Nintendo Wii. Raju’s mother had explained to him that she had not bought him any gift yet and waiting to see what Raju got before buying him any gift. 
That evening they all got ready to have dinner together. Raju’s thatha and patti were leaving early Monday morning and wanted to have dinner together as a family especially with his other grandparents too.
Over dinner , the topic was ofcourse Raju’s birthday party and how well his mother had organized everything. Before long Raju’s mother asked him,”What would you like us to get for you as a gift dear”?. To which Raju remained silent. Then he was prodded some more by his father ,”Come on Raju would you like some games?”. Raju looked up at his parents and said , “I would really like only one thing more than any in this world. It is for both of you to stop fighting.” So saying he got up from his seat and crying he rushed to his room.
His mother was about to follow him, when her father-in-law asked her to be remain seated. “It is true, you know. You both work very hard and are very stressed too. 
I too have noticed how irritable you both can get. You both have only one child. Don’t you want that child to be happy?, and he paused.
Raju’s mother’s father continued. “I totally agree. You both need to get your priorities straightened or else you might lose what’s more precious to you.”
Both sets of grandparents came to Raju’s room and spent time with him till it his thathu and patoo had to leave. Early next morning his thatha and patti left also.Surprisingly his parents had taken leave that day and spent the whole day with him.
It was very obvious to Raju they had taken things to heart and had decided to work harder to make their home more peaceful. Both his parents cut back on their working hours and Raju knew in his heart he could never have asked for a better birthday gift.

The Glass Doll

Rani always got up early. She felt she could get an early start to her day that way. She had just turned 12 and she worked in the neighborhood nearby. There was a factory which made glass dolls. Rani’s aunt had joined her there when she moved in with her aunt after she lost her parents to a tragic car accident. Her aunt provided her shelter and that was it. Sometimes she got some leftovers to eat , many nights she went to bed on an empty stomach. This was the reality in her aunt’s house and Rani had accepted it as is.
Rani worked 12 hours at the doll factory for minimum wages. She saved most of the money and used a little to buy clothes or on the rare occasion to buy food.
Rani had risen to be a supervisor of all the young children. There were children working there ranging from 8 to 18 years of age. By her hard work she enjoyed the trust of her boss, Kamla Madam, who had made her the supervisor. Kamla madam was short in stature and very round in shape. She had deep set eyes which looked at you with no humor or feeling in them. Her whole body shaked when she walked and she was a terror to all the children. It was known that she resorted to violent means to get her way but Rani had seen no proof of that. Rani admired Kamla madam for her strict manner and her no nonsense attitude in getting the job done.
Without her realizing it, Rani was imitating Kamla madam and had started to torment the young kids into becoming more productive. Being more productive meant more profits which in turn would make Kamla madam happy and Rani felt that was most important to her. She felt that one day Kamla madam would take care of her and she would never have to work in these filthy conditions anymore.
One evening when Rani was walking back home from work she was crossing the bazaar area and she let mind wander to all the toys she would love to possess. Her eyes happened to see a girl around the same age as she but looking much better than Rani did. That girl was also very well dressed and Rani coming closer realized the girl was throwing a tantrum to buy one of the glass dolls that the company Rani worked for made.
The driver was telling that he needed to consult the girls mother before making the purchase but the girl would not listen to reason. Soon she got mad and flung the doll onto the ground and went into the car. The driver seemed to be used to this girl’s behaviour and he was going to pay the damage amount to the owner. As he was doing so, Rani saw that her Kamla madam was nearing the car and she deduced correctly that the violent girl must be madam’s daughter. Rani observed Kamla madam listen to the driver’s narration of what happened and she decided to go and greet her madam and also get to meet her daughter. As soon as Kamla madam saw Rani, she got into the car and ordered the driver to start the car and move away. She also loudly commented that she did not want to be near the smelly poor people. Meanwhile the owner was begging for money to cover the cost of the broken doll but Kamla madam , her daughter and the driver just got into the car and drove away. As the car moved past her , Rani saw madam hugging her daughter and smiling as if to reward a bad behaviour.
Rani was shocked. The Kamla madam she knew would be livid with fury if anyone broke one of the pieces at work.
It dawned on Rani that all her madam cared about was money and she never really cared for another human at the work floor. Rani was just a means to an end for her madam. The more dolls the kids made the more money for her madam and she had manipulated Rani into thinking she was special.
The next morning saw a different Rani. She now knew she would have to rely on her own self. She eased up on the kids and slowly figured out some helpful people in the management to curb the long hours put in by the children and also found a way to increase the meager amount got by the children.
Years flew by. Rani had managed to work evening hours towards a school degree and now she was a graduate too. She dedicated her life towards helping young children and the poor and downtrodden.
Maybe not all of us can become like Rani and dedicate our lives to a noble and worthy cause. Surely we can find a way in the midst of our lives to find time for the those in need?

Before God, I am a whore no more

I had been banished by my hometown people. I used to work as a maid in houses. One evening, while returning from work it was darker than I realized. I was cornered in a back alley and raped. I knew the guy. From a house where I worked in. His wife was a beautiful lady. He was very rich with too many connections. He ran after the act was done thereby giving me a clue not to bother with any kind of help and I told no one of what happened because I was ashamed.
Unfortunately God had other plans. I became pregnant. When my parents became aware of this, they just threw me out of the home. They did not ask me how. They assumed I had become a slut. Not once was I given a chance to explain. Nor did I feel like explaining. 
When I approached the father of my child, he did not hesitate to title me “A Whore’ and recommended an abortion. When he figured I was not going to go ahead with the abortion, he donated me some land on the out skirts of the town, near the river. The condition was I would not reveal him out. I took it. Not for myself but for my unborn child.
It was raining the day my parents threw me out. At that point I did not care to divulge who had gotten me into that state. It did not matter anymore.
I only had the clothes that I wore on myself that day. I headed out of town. I saw a lady and a son walking on the other side of the street.
After a glance at me, some kind of recognition dawned on that woman. She immediately got hold of her son and started walking faster. The boy objected and she shouted “That’s a Whore.. I don’t want you to see her.. A whore A whore” and almost seemed to get into a run to get away from me.
For more than a moment I stood at the same spot, blinded by grief. I felt a pain I had never before felt. I was gripped with these emotions and felt the world treat me so unfair.
I knew I had lost the desire to live. I started to run towards the river and the out skirts of the town.
I could see the river now. It was swirling and the rain water had added a lot of undercurrents. I could not wait to get into it and disappear. As I ran blinded by rain and grief, I tripped and fell.
I got up now totally sullied in mud and water. I picked up the stone that had tripped me wanting to throw it into the river. But the stone was much heavier than I thought.
I looked down at my hands and saw I held a statue of a Pillayar. (God Ganesha ) It was a beautifully carved piece. I just held it in my hands not realizing the weight of the idol.
The idol was completely black but speckled in grey dots throughout. It was truly beautiful. While I held it in my hands and wept, a strength crept through me. I knew I should never have thought of taking one life let alone that of two. 
I felt I had been given help from above to finish walking my life. I went to the river and washed myself and the idol and brought the idol back to the high ground. Looking around I saw an arasa maram (tree) and placed the idol facing east.
It was then I stopped to see where I was. I observed an old building nearby and there was a light shining in the front. I knocked on the front door. The door opened and an old lady stepped out. One look at me and she held me by the hand and took me in. That small gesture of kindness and gentleness brought a torrent of tears to my eyes.
She held me while I sobbed and then brought me dry clothes to wear. She made me some tea and then readied a cot for me to sleep in. I was too exhausted to talk and just wanted to lie down. I must have slept as soon as my head touched the pillow that the next thing I knew was morning. It must have been really late in the morning.
The old lady was washing some pots and pans. I got up and went to where she was. That morning we discovered each other. Her name was Lakshmi. She owned that small building and she made a living by cooking meals for the road side customers. I told her mine. She just listened and told me I could stay with her as long as I wanted. I did.
Lakshmi amma became my mother and my son her grandchild. Lakshmi amma took me to the hospital in an other town for delivery. She became more than a mother to me. I started to take over Lakshmi’s work so she found more time to spend with my son. 
The only thing that tied me to the past was that piece of paper which showed I owned some land near the river and my Pillayar. We all visited the Pillayar everyday. I had even made a small makeshift tent to shield my Pillayar from the weather. I visited the alamaram (tree) and the Pillayar more than once a day as time permitted.
On one of these visits I spotted him. He was leaning curiously over my Pillayar. I stood behind a tree not far from him and observed him. He must have felt my observation as he turned to look at me. I hid behind the tree.
He sat beside the Pillayar and waited for me to step out from behind the tree. I gathered up some courage and peeped out once more. This time I could see his face clearly. His face had the gentleness that shone even at that distance. But his eyes held me. I could see in them the kindness that great souls have.
I walked over and we started to talk. He told he was the new teacher in town. He had a place to stay in town and he had been walking by the river when he saw this Vinayaka idol and the makeshift temple. I started to tell him my story but could not finish as my sobs overtook me.
He waited for me to finish crying and then he spoke. His voice so gentle he asked “Why are you still living in the past?” . I was stunned by that question. And then I was angry that he judged me. So I said “No I am not living in the past. Now I have Lakshmi and my son in my life.”
His voice continued with the same kind tenderness, “You are still living in the past. Why did you cry?” . Slowly he explained the reason and importance of living in the NOW. He explained with the same patience and gentleness that this is the moment. This is all we have. Once you let the past go and start living in the NOW you will be free of the hurt and do not have to carry the past on your shoulders anymore. When I told him I still could not enter the town as people still called me the whore, he told me just be yourself and do not react to that situation. By being in that moment you will feel the Presence. And to experience the Presence is the purpose of taking this birth.
I sat and listened and knew I had found my Guru and teacher. 
He wanted to teach my son to become educated and so he came every day to the Pillayar and they both sat and my son took lessons from him.
I felt more gratitude and knew that I owed it to all to my Pillayar as I had always prayed to him to educate my child. Countless are the days that I cried to God to take care of my child, for him not to suffer because of me. It had been my habit to rush to my Pillayar and cry when I came across problems. Sometimes I would just think of my Pillayar to feel a relief in my mind. And now he had brought us our teacher. 
Once I understood the need and reason to live in the NOW, things were much smoother for me. I had positive energy to focus on my son and with the help and love and support from Lakshmi amma and the Teacher, my son emerged into a bright young man, very well educated.
My health deteriorated due to the advent of cancer. I refused treatment. I knew my time was up. But now I could go with a peace of mind. The land I owned near the river now fetched an attractive sum. With its sales I divided the money in 3 equal parts. One for Laskhmi amma and one for my teacher and one for my son. Lakshmi ammal and my teacher gave their share back to my son. 
I requested him to donate some money for abused women. He fulfilled my wish by creating a shelter to provide refuge for abused and battered women. Together he and Teacher ran the shelter. 
Lakshmi amma decided to move into the shelter to live there permanently and dedicated her life to help more young women. I went to see my Pillayar one last time. The new town development had built a temple for my very own idol. 
I could only gaze at my God quietly, thankful and grateful, for having always been there for me. Standing before God, I realized my purpose of life and I could see the turning point was that God had shown I was at par with other creations of his. Before God, I know now, I am a whore no more.


I heard my father calling my name “Godai”. I loved to hear my father call my name. His voice was so tender and full of love and affection. I loved nothing more than to hear him sing praises before his beloved Lord Vadabhadra Sayi.
Everyone admired Vishnuchittar and his intense devotion of Lord Vadabhadra Sayi. I could stand for many hours listening to my father sing in front of his favorite deity. My father had explained the circumstances how he had adopted me and I could hear the story over and over again. My father’s voice calling my name again brought me out of my reverie. He was bidding me good-bye as was leaving for the temple.
I did not follow him to the temple though my heart desired it so. I had many chores that needed to be done at home. I handed over the garland I had made for my Lord Vadabhadra Sayi and resumed my chores.
Each morning it was my privilege to make the garland for my Lord. I would spend the whole day trying to decide which flowers to use and how to make the garland. Many times a day I would have to be at the garden watering plants or cleaning the yard. My mind would then wander in free abandon in search of all the pretty flowers that would suit my Lord.
Today I had made a garland of blue periwinkles. The blue clustered flowers with white jasmines strewn in between were so breathtaking and so beautiful. I could not resist wearing it on my shoulders. I knew I dare not tell my father that I had worn them on myself.
After I had got lunch cooked for my father, I went into the garden to decide on the flowers for the garland for the next day. I spotted some deep pink Oleander and I thought that and the jasmines would make a beautiful combination.
When my father came back for lunch, he was all praises for my blue periwinkle garland. He said the Lord Vadabhadra Sayi literally glowed beneath the garland. It brought out his majestic beauty and my father was overawed by the Lord Vadabhadra Sayi’s incredible stature. He then said I should make the garlands hereafter and I simply nodded.
The next day I chose the best flowers from the Oleander tree and the jasmine tree and 
wove it into a very beautiful and enticing garland. Full of curiosity I tried it on myself. I felt I was ready as a bride to meet the groom. My love for Lord Vadabhadra Sayi shined through my self and adhered itself onto the garland. Even I could see the garland glow with love.
I heard my father calling “Godai” and I knew it was time for me to remove my garland and reluctantly I handed it over to him. As he was appreciating the beauty of it, his sharp eyes fell on a strand of hair. My hair that had got caught by the garland when I was trying it on.
Immediately the kind and loving father I knew disappeared and a strange and menacing look came over my fathers’ features. I was so shocked I stood rooted to the spot. My father was initially overcome by wrath that I would do such a sacrilege act upon God. He then became overcome by grief that he had to scold his beloved daughter. Not knowing what to do, he left the garland in my hand and headed over to the temple to talk to his only friend in this world, his beloved Lord Vadabhadra Sayi. On his way out he took the ordinary marigold garland he had made that morning. His walk reflected his sadness and his agony over the crime I had committed.
For a long time I just stood at the same spot still holding the precious garland I had made for my Lord. My heart was crushed and even tears failed me. I felt like a huge wave had smashed me to the floor and I was numb after the shock. Never had I seen my father other than the loving person he had always been. The fact that I had caused him so much anguish suffocated my breath. It still did not occur to me that I had done anything sacrilege as I always knew I am the bride of Lord Vadabhadra Sayi. My only regret was causing my beloved father so much grief.
I went inside our tiny hut and sat in front of our own deity. I still held my garland in my hand. With tears blinding my eyes I begged my Lord Vadabhadra Sayi to explain it all to my father. Meanwhile I knew my father was performing his duties while his mind begged forgiveness.
That night my father had a strange dream. He told me early next morning, even before day break about his dream. In his dream he saw Lord Vadabhadra Sayi who asked Vishnuchittar why he had not brought to the temple the garland that Godai had worn on herself. The Lord explained that he wanted to wear the garland that Godai had once worn on her ownself. The Lord also explained that he missed the scent of Godai on the flowers and he preferred to have the garland worn by Godai.
My father was beside himself in love and happiness. He was relieved that the Lord had accepted the garland and he even preferred it. He was proud of his daughter. Above all he was overjoyed that his intense devotion was only matched in equal by his daughter.
From that day I was called “Andal”. Now I could devote my time and heart again to the Lord Vadabhadra Sayi and immerse myself in making of garlands for my beloved Lord.