Suddenly Susheela asked me, “Why not we go to Thirukkadaiyur this time?”
“What for?” I questioned.
“Your birthday, that is falling next week. Thirkkadaiyur is not any ordinary place, it is Markandeya Kshetram.”
Getting irritated I said, “You know I don’t believe in such rituals. All spiritual activities have lost their spirits behind them – only rituals are abound. Rituals without involvement of the performer are mere show off. I am not for such fanfare. First of all, who told you birthdays have to be celebrated? It is just yet another day. By the way, what great achievements have we made which need to be publicised? Don’t you see, how our children have betrayed us! One eloped with her boyfriend and another one much worse — settled in Australia and shying away from visiting us. Both are scrupulously selfish and utterly materialistic. And you want me to perform birthday, Ayush homam at Markandeya kshetram seeking Almighty’s blessings on our family. A worthless effort!”.
Susheela, was not annoyed. Neither it was her nature. She said in a very casual manner, “After all they are your children. The same genes, the same nature. What you did in your days, they are doing now… caring for own comforts. Just history repeats….”
“What” I was stunned. She poked the needle just where it hurts most. I could not eschew the acid ball she had thrown. She was referring to our early days of marriage. My action then, was a practical one, but my children’s behaviour now– utterly selfish. For them, own comfort and convenience were the only prime factors in life! A terrible disregard to my profound love and care for them.
I could not help going down the memory lane…Immediately after our marriage I had sought for transfer to a distant place just to have a smooth life. In a joint family, with less resource and more demands, it was impossible for me to run the family the way I wanted to live. Yes, with unmarried sisters and ageing parents, I certainly could not lead a comfortable life. Catering to the needs of all in the family meant sacrifice of personal comforts. So, in the pretext of office transfer, I preferred to stay away – both from people and problems. My policy was very simple — My salary, my family, my needs, my comforts, my life….
Years rolled on. Parents passed away one by one. Sisters got married. The financial stress and physical pains … were taken care of by my elder brothers. Of course, I too contributed – but to an extent only. Occasionally I used to join them, but I preferred to be on my own and at my own terms.
This is what she was referring to now as ‘history repeats’. Same genes, same nature but, she put me and my children on the same scale! Not knowing that she poked me deeply somewhere, she went off to see her maternal uncle living in another locality. She told me if it got delayed there, then she might come next day only.
Left to myself, my thoughts engulfed me. Whenever I get disturbed I sit in the balcony and keep gazing. It was raining. More delightful to watch. But I had to come down to attend the phone call from Susheela. She was not coming tonight. She and her sharp words occupied my thoughts. But one thing, she had never asked, nor insisted on anything.
‘Poor lady! Why not take her to the place she wanted to visit.’ I immediately dismissed the idea, very next day, she would make a sillier request. It would be a never ending wishlist. ‘How rudely she placed me on the same plane as my selfish son and daughter.’ Buried in my world of thoughts, I lost track of time. It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down. Except for a drenched street dog that was lying down miserably near the gate, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rain water had puddled under the lamp post. A breeze ruffled the mango tree in the courtyard and a few twigs fell down and broke. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Did I hear a soft knock at the door? I turned back….
By any chance was Susheela coming? I opened the door. I found a young man standing there and a few yards behind him, a lady with an infant baby crying. The man hesitantly asked for a favour – a few hours of stay, shelter and privacy, mainly for the comfort of the baby. He said the car they drove, broke down and was under repair and with the mechanic. Before it could be ready, the baby was hungry and had to be attended. There was no place in the mechanic shop. So, they came here. The lady came forward and said “Please take us as your son or daughter and oblige us. First my son needs to be attended. Once the car is ready, we will go away.”
Already I was vexed with my son-daughters’ indifference, these total strangers are asking me to take pity, considering them as son-daughter. At the slightest provocation, I was losing my temper. “If I were to consider you as my son or daughter, I would have chucked you out, right now. Don’t talk about them here. You be yourselves… Come in as strangers, okay! I am not crude or cruel enough to take out my anger on you visitors.”
I gave them towel, dry clothes and a cotton saree for the baby. I also gave them hot drinking chocolate. The baby having been nursed, cuddled and bundled in the dry cotton saree, soon fell asleep. We picked up light conversation and exchange of details. Shortly thereafter, the mechanic came. The car was ready. The couple was leaving. Before leaving the lady said, “Uncle, we thank you heavily for your kindness and hospitality towards us, despite total strangers. Kindly excuse us, – we youngsters are impetus, rash and selfish and try to get what we want whereas, you elderly persons are matured, benevolent and tolerant. We need your blessings. Kindly pardon us and if possible, your children also. I am sure they must be wanting to fall at your feet and seek blessings.” The young man gave his card and asked me to visit him anytime. Soon they left.
Their words ‘elderly persons are matured and tolerant’ were still ringing in my ears. ‘Let me make it true, at least for Susheela.’ I decided to take her to the place – Thirukkadaiyur. She was stunned and awe struck. ”What happened to you?”
I just told her “My views and principles no doubt, are important to me, but that does not mean I can impose them on you. Moreover, who is there to take care of your likes and dislikes? Hence, I decided, let me compromise. We will go to the place, visit temple and come back. After few years, when it will be your 60th birthday, we will have it performed the way you want – even if I am not comfortable in doing so, – like how you put up with me.”
Susheela could not believe. She was wondering whether I was possessed by some ghost or spirits. But was happy that we were going to the holy shrine.
At the temple town, her excitement was visibly higher, as though her childhood had returned. While buying pooja materials, her eyes caught attention of a bit notice stuck on the wall. She called me and said ‘the photo on the notice, is so much like you.’
“Don’t be funny. I have never come here. This is the first time I am treading on this land. Could be any local fellow.” Jokingly I added, many times, my own photo does not look like me. She went to the wall for a closer look. When she screamed, first I thought, she got injured or something bit her. I rushed to her rescue. She was not hurt. Her finger pointed towards the notice. Wonder of wonders, it was my photo. Underneath, it was written in bold letters, ‘Seeking Your Blessings, Sir’ and in small letters, details of venue date and time for ‘Charity Lunch for destitutes’.
At the bottom was a name ‘Mohanarangan’. This time it was my turn to be awestruck and speechless. Riot of thoughts rattled my brain, — who could have done this and why. I do not know anyone by this name. I shook Susheela, ‘Let us go and see who they are and what they are upto.’
We almost rushed to the venue. There was a big shamiana and a bigger notice – enlarged one – pinned to it. Without even knowing what it is all about, I was in tears. So was Susheela. I was trembling as though I was shaken by a big jolt. I did not have strength enough to stand. I could hear my heart’s fast beats. Feeling heavy, we went inside. Looking at my condition, Susheela composed herself and made me sit on a vacant chair.
In the hall, plantain leaves were already laid. Beggars and destitutes had assembled, clamour, clutter and clumsy atmosphere prevailed over there. No orderliness. One of the beggars recognised me as the one on the photo, came to me with folded hands and pleaded, “Dharmaprabhu! May You live long! Bless us.” So saying, he fell at my feet. I was taken aback.
Instantly I lifted him. I had never touched a street beggar in my life time. But, not knowing what was going on, I shrugged and refrained simply because I was not the one to receive such honours. But who cared – soon others too followed the first man, as though it was a starter for the meal programme. Meanwhile the message had gone inside and I could hear a very clear loud cry …“Appa…’’ Also, I noticed a small baby girl pointing to me, asking, “Why this beggar is so different?”
My daughter with tear filled eyes, came running to me, held me, then held Susheela in tight embrace, then fell at our feet, choked with emotions stood up speechless, tears still running down the cheeks from the well of her eyes. It took quite some time for us to come to senses. The baby, unaware of the situation, started crying. Sujatha, my daughter, went with the girl and came back with a handsome guy and fell at my feet. They said, “Pardon us first and bless us on this holy day.”
No doubt I was bewildered, dumbfounded and was with mixed feelings. But Susheela was great. In order to avoid unpleasant mixed reaction from my side, she immediately diverted the attention to the beggars. “See with so many hungry guests waiting to be served, let us pay attention to them.”
The ladies went inside and set arrangements for serving. My ‘son in law’ sat next to me. Unable to control myself, I asked, “How could you do this to me? What sin have I committed? Why did you steal my daughter?”
He replied in a very very soft tone. “This you should ask your daughter. I insisted on getting married with parents’ approval. But she refused.”
In disbelief, I continued, “I do not know where I failed. I was very particular that my children were, well behaved and very disciplined. I ensured good manners were imbibed in them. Sometimes it was enforced in strict order. Not one, but both the children have betrayed me. You can understand what a terrible blow it was on me. Instead they could have stabbed me.”
Sujatha leaving things to the caterers, joined us. She spoke, “I am to be blamed, Appa. I never had the courage to approach you and I was not ready to take one percent chance also. I was torn between two strong men of my life. My selfishness took the better of me. I could imagine the consequences but was helpless.”
Susheela standing by our side, uttered, “Your strictness for discipline and orderly behaviour did not allow her to approach you. You were seen as a strict father only, not as a doting one.”
The little girl came and offered a sweet ball, laddu. I took it saying, “I am also a beggar here, starving for love and affection.”
Then I asked why was the charity being organised in my name and on this date. Sujatha said one NRI known to her wanted it to be done here and with his permission she added my photo. On hearing this, I observed there was a special radiance in Susheela’s face and a twinkle in her eyes. I too felt, ‘could it be like this?’
Straight away I asked Sujatha. She confirmed, “Yes Appa. You are right. Shankar had requested us to celebrate your birthday in a befitting manner.” Once again, I was taken aback and was overwhelmed with emotions. What quirk of fate was all these developments leading to! Children whom I thought were betrayers and selfish crooks are ‘Good Samaritans’ in life whereas, I considering myself to be a good disciplinarian, was a tyrant in their views, was difficult to approach and difficult to handle.
By then the lunch was over. The beggars had lined up to come and take leave from me. They had witnessed the emotional drama and then our family reunion. Fully satisfied, all of them, whole heartedly blessed us, wishing peace and prosperity in our family. One of them had a small doubt, now that we are one family, whether the act of charity would continue or not in future. I assured them that it would certainly go on as our heritage and history. The history will repeat… but with a twist.