Across The Waters With No Boat Or Bridge – A Children’s Story Of Tenali Raman’s Wit And Wisdom

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The pehalwan from the north was an instant hit. People dropped their jaws watching his amazing acts of physical prowess – he would have a couple of heavy-built locals stand on his out-stretched arm, pull a tree clean off the ground with bare hands or bend iron bars.

It was only a matter of time before he drew the attention of Krishna Deva Raya’s court where he was invited for a display of his strengths before the royalty, senior officials of the court and special invitees. A part of the beautiful palace garden was set up for the show. As a standard courtesy extended to all artistes, on arrival important dignitaries ere personally introduced by Raya to the pehalwan with a few words on who they were. When it was Tenali Raman’s turn Raya went overboard waxing eloquently about his wit. Not given to sharing the stage with anyone else, the pehalwan looked at Raman’s unremarkable presence in a traditional attire, his body language making no secret of where he stood on brawn vis-a-vis brain.  Raya noticed it right away and made light of it cautioning  the pehalwan not to get on the wrong side of Raman.

Introductions concluded, Raya went back to his seat and the pehalwan to his position for commencement of the show. In his opening act he came out cradling a baby, a little large-sized, in his arms; his audience amused at this light-hearted start – a L or XL bear mad with buzzing wasps held in an embrace would have been a more satisfying sight! Soon he was handling the baby like it was a soft-toy, tossing it from here to there, standing it up on his little finger in a ‘Krishna’s Govardhana’ pose, tossing it up overhead and catching it quite nonchalantly. It was in fact a toy for all to see setting everyone at ease – there was no danger to any life. Just when people began to wonder where it was going a wooden table was brought in; and a few of his people joining from the sidelines climbed atop and jumped up and down like they were standing on hot bricks, no one knew why. Were they trying hard to crash the table and failing? The pehalwan holding the baby effortlessly in one hand walked up casually gesturing them to get off. Once the table was clear, he dusted the top with his towel and showing great care and concern laid the baby on its back on the table, seemingly ending the frivolous miming act that no one really understood or even cared.

And perhaps readying himself for his second act, the pehalwan stood a little to the front of the table, taking time to wipe copious sweat streaming off his body. For the first time a few of the onlookers were intrigued – all that sweat in playing with a toy?

Suddenly there was sound like something was crumbling. Next moment they all saw the table crashing down and the baby landing with a thud bringing in a rush the people  who had earlier stomped on the table. They struggled to lift the baby out of the pile of splintered wood. They could not. They devised a rope around its waist and tried to pull with more men joining in to help. The baby wouldn’t budge. All this while the pehalwan stood unperturbed, his face slowly breaking into a hint of a smile.  Finally he stepped forward and shoving aside his men grabbed the baby by its crown and held it aloft on his palm for all to see like it was no more than a soft-toy.

When the penny dropped – this was no ordinary baby to defy the utmost exertions of many and neither was the pehalwan’s feat – he earned a generous round of applause.
And so followed many acts of sheer physical strength that left his audience awe-struck. Like carrying a human pyramid on his shoulders, holding back Raya’s chariot pulled by his prized horses…More than once Raya was seen to be enjoying himself visibly conveying his appreciation. And, so were his guests.

A great show-man he was, the pehalwan played out his acts knowing well how to ratchet up the tempo to a crescendo in a cycle only to be followed by another cycle more challenging, and another, keeping his audience right through on the edge of their seats.
In a final act, he lifted a massive cannon ball of iron and heaved it straight off the palace gardens (of course, landing safely).

As the ovation died down, it was time for Raya to honor the performer suitably and reward the pehalwan with gifts.

Just then, Tenali Raman got up from his seat.

‘Your honor, I’ve a small request to make of our esteemed guest. I’m sure it would be easily accomplished compared to the awesome display we saw today.’

The pehalwan confusedly looked at Raya.

Raya gave his nod.

‘Thank you, my lord, for your kind indulgence,’ Raman bowed.

‘It’s like this. Here it is, no cannon ball, only a small piece of cloth. I would like to see it thrown across this stream only a few feet wide. That’s all,’ Raman offered it to the pehalwan with insincere deference.

It was an artificial stream arranged to flow through the garden, fed from the fountains.

Too full of himself with the adulation showered on him, the pehalwan, seemingly exasperated  at the ridiculousness of the exercise, snatched the piece of cloth without a thought from Raman’s hand, made a mock show of bending down under its weight and then, crushing it in his hand, threw it across the stream with all his might as it were. He felt it was quite beneath him to even turn around to check on the outcome. Alas, for him, the piece of cloth, as it would, sailed through the air no further than a couple of feet  before being blown adrift by the mild breeze and dropping down in a crazy swirl into the stream.

Raman was at hand giving the stunned pehalwan another piece of cloth. Again, the result was no different. It was then the pehalwan realized the impossibility of the situation and his own folly in making the attempts.

When a third piece was offered, he shoved it back into Raman’s hands with a gesture that said: ‘All right, Smarty, I got suckered in.  It’s now your turn; try getting out of it, eh?’

Raman was clumsy dropping  the piece of cloth to the ground. He then picked it up, rolled it into a ball, muttered some mantra’s and sent it across the stream. And lo, there it sailed all the way like a cannon ball landing on the far side almost going out of sight.

How did he do it? When and from whom did he learn mantra’s? Raya was dazed as everyone was. The pehalwan fared the worst looking like someone punched him hard in his gut knocking him out of breath.

But first things first. A large-hearted and wise Raya did not allow Raman’s side-show to take the shine off the pehalwan’s hitherto awesome display of muscle power, bestowing on him the honors, words of praise and gifts rightly due to him. A mortified pehalwan made his peace with Raman – no use crossing swords with a guy who pulls potent mantra’s from his scabbard.

It was then Raman leaked out the secret of his mantra’s – there was no mantra’s, no secret. The ball of cloth that he threw across the stream had a pebble inside making the flight perfectly possible. He had picked it up along with the cloth that he had dropped on purpose.

Why did Raman let the cat out of the bag?

If it were not debunked at the earlies, he feared, people including Raya would want him on occasions to invoke those and other mantra’s for causes right or wrong. He would be held up to ridicule for failures, much worse, his loyalty questioned, despite his protestations of innocence and ignorance.

At this the pehalwan could not help laughing over his own imbecility and Raman’s wit. Preparing to leave the town, he gifted his emblematic silver bracelet to Raman and invited him to his home-land to learn from him some real mantra’s.

End 

Source: www, animationxpress.com

When Vidakandan Meets Kodakandan…A Story For Children

Kodakandan was known for not giving away while Vidakandan, his perfect foil, for not giving up.

A number of tales hang around the two just as with Akbar and Birbal, Tenali Raman and Krishnadeva Raya….

This one is about one of their earliest encounters before they teamed up in activities that never did their mothers proud:

The annual fair attracted large number of visitors as always, mainly farmers, from neighboring villages.

The business was brisk for the traders in stalls peddling their wares – clothes, toys, utensils, appliances, groceries…And there were other attractions too – fancy photo-shoots, games and rides and eateries.

Like dog attracts fleas, so these fairs pulled both the Kandan’s prospecting for easy meal.

This time, Kodakandan set himself up like a vaidya (medical practitioner) offering rare herbs and medicines to cure a variety of ailments from common cold to terminal cancer.  He put up a sign outside that said: “Baba from the Himalaya’s: Get your treatment for Rs 50, and if not cured, get back Rs 100!” The lure was risk-free for him  simply because he usually prescribed a treatment that would run for several months to show while the fare wound up within ten days; whence he would ostensibly ‘return’ to his habitat in the Himalaya’s to continue with his research and meditation.

On the second day of the fair, by a quirk of fate, Vidakandan found himself standing in front of Kodakandan’s table and tent, reading the sign. This was god-sent it seemed after an unusually prolonged dry spell of no ‘fish’.

He went in seizing the chance with two hands: ‘Anna, I’ve lost all taste in my mouth. Can you please help me?’

‘Not after you’ve come to me, Thambi (little brother). Kutta, please bring medicine from the green bottle and put three drops in his mouth.’

‘Aaagh!! — This is kerosene!’

‘Congratulations!  I told you – you’ve got your taste back. That will be fifty rupees.’

An annoyed Vidakandan went back the next day after a sleepless night figuring to recover his money.

‘I’ve lost my memory, Anna. I can’t remember much.’

‘Kutta, please bring medicine from the blue bottle and put three drops in the patient’s mouth.’

‘Oh, no, you don’t, that’s kerosene!’

‘Congratulations! You’ve got your memory back! That will be fifty rupees.’

Vidakandan left angrily and came back after a couple of days, more determined than ever to settle scores with Kodakandan.

‘Anna, your medicines are a miracle. My eyesight has become weak – I can hardly see anything! I’m sure I can get it back with your help.’

‘As long as you have a fifty on you, Thambi, there isn’t much this Anna cannot handle. Kutta, bring medicine from the red bottle and put three drops in his eyes.’

‘I still can’t see anything, Anna, Please do something.’

‘Just hold. Kutta, bring medicine from the yellow bottle and put three drops into his eyes.’

‘Anna, it’s no better…’

This went on for two more rounds apparently doing little to improve Vidakandan’s eye sight.

A crest fallen Kodakandan finally admitted: ‘Well, I don’t seem to have the right medicine for your eyes presently. As promised, here are your hundred rupees.’

‘But this is only a fiver…’

‘I knew the medicine was right. Only you were getting a little impatient. Congratulations! You can see now.  That will be fifty rupees.’

Vidakandan knew he was licked. He would rather wait for his day.

End

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Inspired by Jerry Lambert

A Cure For Baldness (A Children’s Story)

Raja bald

One day as he stood before the mirror, the Raja of Rangapuram was dismayed to find hair on his head thinning rather rapidly. At this pace he would go completely bald in a matter of a few months. Would his subjects then look at his stately presence with the same awe? This was serious.

He immediately called the Royal Vaidhya (the medicine man) for consultation. The Vaidya ingenuously advised the Raja there was no real cure for recovering the lost ground. The Raja would not take no for an answer. He instructed the Vaidhya to assemble all the medicine men of standing in the kingdom and find a solution. Else the Vaidhya would spend time with them in jail.

So very discreetly the message went out to all parts of Rangapuram calling seasoned medicine men to report at the Vaidhya’s house.

And when they did assemble, the Vaidhya explained the predicament.

Within minutes they all agreed with the Vaidhya’s assessment. But the mulish Raja would not be convinced. The threat of being jailed preyed on their mind. They even took breaks to see if any fresh ideas emerged on possible line of treatment.

No help.

Now their main worry was how to escape incarceration much less find a cure the Raja’s ‘affliction’. They scratched their heads to no avail.

At this time, a young man stood up. Who let him in? He seemed too raw to be amidst them. And not just that – he even claimed quite preposterously he had a solution.

He drew a round derisive laughter and a cynical ‘Is that so?’

Not ready to be put down, he continued: ’I’m quite serious. I can bail us all out of trouble.’

A resigned voice perfunctorily inquired: ’Mind telling us how?’

‘I’m sorry it can’t be any other way. I can share my cure only with the Raja himself in person.’

Not even a ripple. Despair induced weariness all around.

‘Believe me, it’ll work. Take me to the Raja and see for yourself. You’ll thank me for it.’

More silence.

Finally the Vaidhya spoke: ‘I say, let’s do like he says. What have got to lose? It can’t get any worse.’

‘Oh, it can. When the Raja figures out we got a rookie to treat him, there’ll be heads to pay.’

The medicine men did not warm up the Vaidhya’s suggestion.

Finally it was decided the Vaidhya would by himself take the young man to the Raja on the following day and others would stay back at the Vaidhya’s house and await their fate that presently appeared far from sanguine.

The Vaidhya sought and obtained a private audience with the Raja and introduced the young man with whatever little enthusiasm he could muster.

One look at the young man and the Raja was not pleased. Only the Vaidhya’s fervent plea for his continued indulgence saved the young man from being thrown out right away.

The cold reception did nothing to disconcert the young man.

On cue he spoke up: ‘My Lord, I’m certain I’ve a solution to your agony.’

It elicited a low-key disinterested grunt. A bee buzzing a rose in the garden hogged the Raja’s attention.

‘Sir, I’ve this potion made of rare herbs’ extracts. This must be applied every morning on the head an hour before bath. This imposition, agreeably inconvenient, would not be for more than four weeks. For some even ten days were good enough. Why, my own grandfather would vouch for it if he was here. He used it on his mirror-shine dome for only two weeks and…’

‘And what…’ the Raja leaned forward, mildly piqued. The bee was out of sight.

‘Sir, unfortunately, he died fracturing his skull…he tripped on the lush locks of hair that cascaded down from his crown like Ganges from Lord Shiva’s’.

The young man then turned to the Vaidhya: ‘Sir, you may want to recall the royal barber and ask him to be ready with his blades and scissors.’

His bravado finally found its mark.

What was he prattling? It was all unbelievable, almost like magic, the Raja thought. And he also claimed there was even someone to vouch for all of it, never mind the beneficiary wasn’t presently availableWell, the young man looked innocent and so incapable of lying. There must be something in itThe boy dare not pull a scam on the Raja for he would certainly know what the consequences would be, if he didNo harm in giving it a try.

The Raja not entirely without apprehension took the proffered potion, issued a stern warning against charlatanry and dismissed the audience of two with an agenda to review the situation after two weeks.

As he was being shown out, the young man turned to the Raja: ‘I’m sorry I missed telling you this, Sir. A condition for the potion to be effective. Trivial, so trivial I find it embarrassing to even mention it. But I must. You would find the results gratifying only if you do not do not think of a monkey when applying it on your head. Really, a cinch for you, Sir. Calls for far less effort than shooing away a fly that dares to sit on the royal nose.’

Somber mood prevailing, his flippancy was roundly ignored.

Next morning, the Raja took out the potion like some jewel from a secret cache. As he began applying on his head, he remembered the young man’s injunction. And with it a monkey entered his mind. This wasn’t going to work, he was warned. He decided to break off distracting himself for a while with the affairs of his kingdom. When he returned after an hour to his potion, the monkey too returned. He didn’t know if it was the same one, they’ll looked so much alike.

Try as he might, the monkey was equally stubborn. And when it did go away for a moment, its place was taken by one of its brethren.

What was to be a child’s play now turned into a monkey sport, certainly not the entertaining kind.

So much so it was threatening to become an obsession with the Raja even at other times, adversely and often hilariously affecting his public and personal image and life, the monkey becoming the sole tenant of his mind. Within a few days, the officials at the royal court were quite worried the Raja may soon become unhinged. Should they call in exorcists? The risk was word may get around.

The Royal Vaidhya was one who could think through clearly yet. He summoned the young man and angrily asked him if he had cast a spell on their Raja. If the monkey was not taken out at the earliest, he would personally arrange for the young man to be hanged in public, nay, in private.

‘And leave the monkey with the Raja forever? Don’t be foolish. Take me to the Raja,’ the young man wasn’t perturbed. His demeanor hinted the proceedings were not entirely unexpected.

He saw the Raja, a barely recognizable shadow of his old stately self, desperately in need of help.

‘Dear Sir, there’s nothing wrong with you at all, I assure you. I’ll get you all right in a moment. All you’ve to do is to throw away the potion and say, standing in front of the mirror, ‘I don’t need you at all now or ever. I’m good and happy as is.’ ‘

So the monkey was drawn out finally and laid to rest.

Everyone in the know sighed in relief the medicine men included.

The Vaidhya arranged a job for the young man in the palace just in case

End  

 

 

Source: Adapted from tamil-kutti-kathaikal.blogspot.in, thanks to N Udayakumar.

PS: Some new words are thrown in for children’s vocabulary enrichment.

 

Tenali Raman And The Vidooshak (A Story For Children)

tenali-rama-dailymotion-com

Once hearing about Tenali Raman’s wit and wisdom, a neighboring king requested Krishna Deva Raya to send Raman to his royal court for some days. Raya could not refuse.

Raman was received warmly on his arrival and given a seat of honor with a generous introduction at the court by his host. Predictably it aroused envy in the hearts of the native officers. They bided their time for the right opportunity to pull Raman down from his high pedestal. At the same time they had to be cautious not to offend their king as Raman was a guest of the state.

Their wait was not long. An evening of entertainment was arranged at the court to greet the arrival of Spring. The officers planned to use the court vidooshak (jester) for their purpose. It suited them well for a vidooshak’s acts were never considered seriously and there was no risk of earning the king’s ire

That day the program was well underway with a rich fare of songs, dances, skits, acrobatics, mimicry and magic show. When it was his turn, a roar of expectation from the audience greeted the vidooshak for the last act of the evening. He quickly launched himself with practiced virtuosity of a seasoned artiste.  The contemporary events provided him with ample scope for topical humor interspersed with fun moments around stereotypes at home, at the shop, on the street and even at the court. No doubt the crowd was immensely enjoying it as was the king, seen more than once laughing aloud. Raman too was appreciative of the jester’s antics.

In the final moments of his act, without warning, the vidooshak invited or rather pulled a surprised Raman to the center stage.

A sweeping look at the king, the audience and finally resting on Raman, ‘Dear Sir, you don’t mind helping me with this small act?’

A rhetoric that needed no reply.

‘Sir, I seek your indulgence for the next few minutes. Kindly do the opposite of what I’m doing. Won’t you, please?’

‘Here I stand, please sit.’

A dazed Raman obliged.

‘I open my eyes, kindly close yours.’

Followed by ‘I laugh, would you cry for us, Sir.’

By now Raman recovered his wit; deciding to play along, he gave out a feisty howl that caused the vidooshak to miss his steps.

‘Thank you, Sir,’ the vidooshak said in a mock bow, not betraying his surprise at Raman’s ready and rather animated participation. ‘Now you’ve warmed up, Sir, let’s move to more interesting stuff.’

The vidooshak brought in two picture stands and placed them in full view. The first one had a portrait of a man who had a remarkable resemblance to the king. The other portrait showed a  man looking generally annoyed at life.

‘Sir, these men are real, present here in their portraits.’

He spoke about the first portrait: ‘This man as one may guess is of noble birth and immense wealth, a man in god’s own mold…,’ waxing eloquently on his virtues particularly on his generosity towards the less fortunate.

And pointing to the second, pillorying him at length: ‘Well, a man without anyone to call his own, still amassing wealth through usurious lending, he is everything what the other man is not. It’s said there isn’t a crow, a pigeon or a field mouse in this land that has till date taken a grain off him…’

When he was done, on cue, two rose-garlands were brought. With elaborate ceremony, he took one and garlanded the first portrait.

‘Sir, it’s your turn,’ in mock deference.

Did he have a choice? Do or don’t, either way he was damned, it seemed.

Without hesitation, Raman picked up the second garland and arranged it neatly over the second portrait. And, stood there casting a mischievous glance all around.

A gleeful vidooshak saw Raman fair and square in his trap: ‘Honestly, Sir, we’re shocked – I’m sure our majesty too joins me when I say this. Perhaps you saw some merit in him that remained completely indiscernible to one and all in this august assembly. Could you kindly enlighten us on the same?’

‘Oh, that’s simple,’ Raman paused for effect.

All necks craned forward in hushed silence to catch his words.

‘Well, this man of noble birth of course had shared his wealth with others – a very laudable gesture.’ Raman sneaked a glance at the king nodding in approval.

‘But look at the other guy. He denied himself his own wealth living a miserly life unlike the man of noble birth who did enjoy his besides being generous; and the miserable fellow is destined to leave everything he has for others after his time with none to bequeath to;.again, quite unlike the man you garlanded with offspring’s to enjoy their inheritance thereafter.’

A few moments of silence for the words to sink in followed by a long burst of applause from the audience lead by the king himself, thrilled to see the legendary Raman best his poor adversary.

End

Source: Inspired by a story from bhagavatam-katha.com and image from dailymotion.com

An Unequal Contest In A Forest (For Children)

animals

Shasha was a young rabbit, grey in color, adopted by other animals when she was a baby.

She was frisky, friendly and intelligent too, liked by everyone but two – the two that made fun of her. One was Mahisha, the bull, strong in body with long horns and a bit boorish. You too would be if all you ha was a tail to whack off the pesky flies buzzing around his unreachable back. And Durchara, the sad and sleepy looking crocodile that animals were wary of. Of course he was neither sad nor sleepy. While meanie Mahisha would say: ‘How I love to play ball with you – you’ll make a nice furry one to kick around,’  Durchara would come up with: ‘One of these days I would like to take you around to interesting places you must never miss – most of all, inside my tummy.’ One had to be careful with him especially when he was not in good humor or he was hungry.

Impetuous young Shasha was not one to take things lying down – whenever she saw, she would tease them, of course, from a safe distance. Finally she would always dart off into the bushes saying with mock solemnity: ‘Just wait for the day you’re going to see how strong Shasha is!’ She was quite blithe about it with no idea what she would do and how she would make it happen.

The old Ulooka, the wise owl, and Kaaga, the crow, took up on themselves to be Shasha’s guardians keeping a close watch over her day and night. They knew about the pests that Mahisha and Durchara were and were thinking about fixing these two for good. At last they knew how. They were sure Gaja, the elephant would oblige them with what they needed.

On their next meeting, Shasha invited Mahisha for a trial of strength: ‘If you wish to see Shasha in true colors, come here to this place near the mango tree this Sunday morning.’

So an intrigued Mahisha presented himself at the appointed place and time

He saw before him a thick rope, retrieved by Gaja from an abandoned lumber-shed, lying on the ground running from where he stood to somewhere out of sight beyond the thick growth of bushes.

‘Mahisha, you hold this end of the rope in your mouth and I’ll be tugging at the other end out there. Let’s see who is stronger. Are you game?’

‘You kidding? One jerk – I’ll have you where I want…at my feet. Try something different. I want it to be fair.’

He relented finally when Shasha assured him of her seriousness.

Kaaga as the referee started the count-down at the top of his voice as Shasha wished Mahisha luck and dashed off to her position beyond the bushes.

On zero, the rope went taut grabbed at both ends.

Mahisha, going about it like a walk down the garden, even before he could register it in his head, saw his body dragged several feet forward.  What was happening? This wasn’t going the way it should. Was Shasha being aided by some spirit getting into her body? In any case he quickly recovered from the initial surprise and stood his ground. With a grunt that made all the animals in the forest stop in their tracks for a moment, Mahisha, now all ready for this strange trial of strength – he would figure it out later, slowly regained his position and was even gaining on Shasha.

Well, it wasn’t for too long before the tide turned again and Mahisha began yielding ground. He was all sweat and snort.

This push-pull went on for a while until the rope, frayed by constant rubbing against thorny bushes, snapped. An exhausted Mahisha, frothing at the mouth, was shot backwards like a shooting star in the skies to be finally stopped by a tree trunk. He lay helplessly spreadeagled, holding fast in his mouth one end of a long piece of rope.

Shasha was declared as the winner.

Strangely Durchara also conceded defeat at the same time in an identical contest with Shasha unknown to Mahisha. He was found in a helplessly grotesque pose on a sand bank by the riverside, holding fast in his mouth one end of a long piece of rope.

From that day Mahisha and Durchara looked at Shasha with new found respect.

Till this date they could not could put the two pieces of rope together to guess what had happened on either side of the bush on that day.  Could you?

End

Source: Adapted from tamilsirukathaigal.com

Mulla Nasrudin And The Seven Wise Men

Seven philosophers, logicians and doctors of law of repute were drawn up at the Royal Court to examine Mulla Nasrudin. This was a serious case, because he had admitted going from village to village saying: “The so-called wise men are ignorant, irresolute, and confused.” He was charged with undermining the social order in the State.

“You may speak first,” said the Sultan.

“May I have some paper and pens brought?”

Mulla folded the sheet of paper, made pieces of it and wrote something on each.

“Kindly have these distributed to these wise men who have happily assembled here for the purpose of indicting me. Let them write the.answer to the question appearing on their paper.”

This was done and the papers were handed back to the Sultan who read them out:

The first said:”It’s a food.”

The second:”It is flour and water.”

The third:”A gift of God.”

The fourth:”Baked dough.”

The fifth:”Affordable to all.”

The sixth:”A nutritious substance.”

The seventh: “It means sustenance.”

There was a moment of silence before Nasrudin addressed the Sultan and the court:

“Isn’t it strange they cannot agree about something they eat each day, yet are unanimous that I am a heretic? Would you entrust matters of assessment and judgment to people like these? When they agree on the question asked of them –  ‘What is bread?’ – it may be possible for them to decide other things.”

Once again Nasrudin walked out a free man.

End

 

 

 

 

Adapted from: Idries Shah at spiritual-short-stories.com

Life: A River Of Many Currents

Ever since we landed in the same suburb, I have met B off and on in the vegetable market place outside the railway station.

A week ago, out of the blue, a cryptic mail from his daughter M carried the news of her mother’s unfortunate demise.   When I had met B last, he did tell me his wife was unwell and M left her job months ago to take care of her mother. And I had then questioned the need and wisdom of M leaving her job that she had finally snagged after a lot of bench time, not thinking much of the poor lady’s sickness. The family, living on B’s pension, sorely needed the money the young lady was bringing in, I thought.

M did not reply to email-request for house address to call on them.

A bit of a background about B at this point:

B was a topper in the class, well mannered, darling of teachers, easily a good looker, a singer with a mellifluent voice, liked by all…

But life is a bitch. I’ve no idea till date when, where and how things went awry for him. We had gone on separate ways after the college.

I do know he retired as a staff in a nationalized bank not very far from where he started out eons ago. An anticlimax I had never imagined for an eagle of the blue skies that he was. He dabbled in dramatics, didn’t go far.  When I met him years later – I moved into the same suburb where he lived – he was a very different man. Unkempt beard over sunken cheeks, hard of hearing, he sported strings of beads (rudraaksha) around his neck and many rakshai’s (lucky charms) tied on his wrist. He spoke of visions and favorable portents in his life with a religious fervor. On another track, he sounded excited about his ‘research’ on neem juice, experiments, results – he thought it to be a panacea for many ills. He expected Tata’s and the Ambani’s to line up anytime soon outside his residence for rights to his work.  On the whole, he didn’t seem to be the garden variety we had matured into.

He was shunned by many as an incurable and a delusional bore. I did not, I’m glad, by thought or action. When we met I usually heard him out,  managing now and then to get a word in on his parental duty to set and support his girl firmly on a course of education-employment-marriage just the way it is for other kids of her age; and gently easing myself off only if I had to.

Today I decided to visit the nearby bank – B had once told me he went there regularly to collect his monthly pension – hoping to get his address from them citing the unusual circumstances.  I knew this was not impossible as our systems and staff continue, despite the scorn heaped on them, to be sensitive to genuine problems. When I went in, unstopped by absent security, I saw a man appearing to be a senior staff, generally moving about and a few ladies lazing before their terminals – the bank had closed its operations for the day.   I went up to tell him the purpose of my visit: To know whereabouts of B. Showing no surprise at a stranger popping up suddenly before him after working hours , without further ado, he asked me to follow him to the end of a short hallway. And there I find who else!

After the initial surprise and happiness at this coincidence, I expressed my condolences over his loss and my anguish at not being around to stand by him.

What followed from B:

‘Her time had come, what could we do? It all started with a minor accident four months ago. She even recovered very well. But then…’

‘Don’t worry about me, take care of yourself. Don’t you forget your health issues…’

‘I’m quite ok financially. I get my pension which would get revised up very soon…M’s earnings till date are safely set aside for her marriage. In two to three years I’ll get her married off…My brother would help if needed. He is doing well…’

‘I came here to check on my loan application for a small amount. They told me it’s approved…’

‘M and I took her to the hospital at night by a three-wheeler. An ambulance, I was told, would cost Rs 9000…’

‘Don’t feel bad. I wasn’t alone. Lots of relatives and neighbors turned up for the funeral. On purpose I told my daughter to inform you only after it was all over. Given your health…’

‘Don’t trouble yourself coming home. These days both of us (B and M) are out almost all day. M’s running around to complete insurance formalities…’

‘Her people came in very late…’

 

What left me in dismay:

‘No priest would come to conduct the rites at the funeral. They wanted a full contract all the way for the following ten days of rituals at nothing less than Rs 80,000. Finally I cremated her without a priest, without the rites…’

‘My brother paid for the ambulance…’

‘It’s ok, I can feel her atma (soul) is with me all the time…In fact she told me at the end not to spend unduly over the ceremonies…My daughter and I gave away food to some poor…’

 

If you perceive contradictions in his observations above, it’s the truth trying to peek through despite his naïve attempt to paper over or reconcile certain unpleasant realities in his own mind.

In the fifteen minutes or so we were together, he was moved to tears for a moment just once as we hugged, as much bemoaning his loss, as over an old mates’s solicitiousness

When I left him, he. was not a broken man. He lives in peace and reconciliation in his own world very real in parts. I thought it is too cruel to ‘help’ him out of it. Nor I consider myself equal to the task.

Try as I might I’m unable to put down a vague sense of unfairness of it all continuing to nag me out of my peace.

But I know I’ll move on.

End