She was jolted awake by the shrill whistle of the train to realize that she had reached her destination. She got off the train with her baggage and started to move towards the exit. The guard who was half asleep checked her ticket and let her go out to the town. Out of the station in less than a minute, she took a deep breath as she saw the long muddy path ahead of her to reach Sharma’s house. She picked up all her baggage which included her quilt, pillows, sheets, clothes, kerosene and groceries to last a month. She also had to carry her son, Ashwatha sometimes when the road was risky for him to walk upon. You could all wonder why she carried the 8 year old son when he could walk perfectly well until you learn that he was totally blind.
The air around in the town was tensed as there were rumors that the Chinese troops had started moving towards the south from the ships docked in the Bay of Bengal while our army was busy fighting the war at the border. As she walked along, she could hear noises of a crowd shouting patriotic slogans as support to the army and marching along, seemingly waking up the sleepy town of Srirangapatna.
None of this bothered Savithri as she had her own battle to fight. Soon after she got married at the age of 9, she was quick to learn cooking and other domestic chores to keep the household running. Her husband who was 20 years older than her was more popular as a Vedic teacher than the temple priest in and around their town, Bangalore. He was a much respected man because he was a direct disciple of the highest Guru of the the Holy Shankara Math*.
Soon after Savithri was not more than 13 when she had her first child which was quite a disappointment to the entire family because it was a girl and Savithri had to go through a series of mocking from the folks in her household who somehow found her responsible. Even Savithri was convinced that something was wrong with her prayers and rituals that did not appease the Gods so well as to bless her with a son. So she became more stern with her rituals which included total fasting almost 3 days a week combined with 108 salutations to the Sun God and circumambulating the sacred Bodhi-Tree for 108 times.
Yet the Gods were not pleased enough and in the next 9 years, her family had to face 6 more disappointments. 3 disappointments because the infants died during the childbirth and the rest 3 survived but were girls.
Savithri was now a 22 year old woman with 4 daughters and the neighborhood pitied on her almost as a cursed woman.
Her joy knew no bounds when she delivered a baby boy two years later. The whole family rejoiced and her heart fluttered with contentment and joy when her husband threw a smile at her which was so rare an occurrence. It was a time of dual celebrations in the family because two weeks later, her eldest daughter Sharada was getting married.
Eight years passed by and with great difficulty they had got all her daughters married off now and all of Savithri’s attention was towards raising her 8 year old son. She knew that she was going to get more busy in a few months to come, Sharada was expecting her second child, while Parvathi and Susheela, her 2nd and 3rd daughters were both expecting their first ones.
It was a known social norm that pregnant women came to her parents’ house in her 5th month of pregnancy and stayed till after 6 months of the child birth and it was responsibility of the parents to nurse her during her stay . She had already readied the baby room and she knew this room is going to be occupied for the next few years continuously by one or the other daughter.
Savithri was also worried about the expenses and was more careful with her choices of dishes she chose to prepare these days as the number of mouths to be fed grew but not the income.
Yet Savithramma was not totally bogged down and she thought that these difficulties would not last long as a few years from now, a daughter-in-law would arrive who would not only be an helping hand but also would bring some money along which would elevate their financial status.
But her happiness did not last long. All her dreams were shattered when her son caught typhoid that year and as an aftereffect lost his eyesight . Innumerable visits to the hospitals yielded no betterment and all the medicos reached a consensus that it was permanent nerve damage and the loss of eyesight is medically irreversible.
Her husband lived in a world of his own and the only conversation he had with her in the day was when he asked the menu of the meal which was considered to be a behavior very normal for any men of the society of that time. His daily routine comprised of taking care of the ritual in the temple during the mornings and as the noon set in, on getting busy with his friends at his house adjoining the temple with scholastic discussions mostly around the knowledge of rituals of the Brahmin community. He never allowed anyone to leave his house without a meal at any point of the day and Savithri had to bear the brunt of this hospitality. Thus she rarely got time to come out of the kitchen till everyone in her household decided to call it a night
Amidst his set of friends, there was a special visitor one day, a learned priest from another town who mentioned about a vrath . Vrath is a religious practice with a set of strict norms and customs in Hindu households. This month long vrath included norms of daily prayers, temple activities and strict adherence to one-meal a day diet for 30 days. The priest went on to say that this is the way out for all her problems and on the 31st day of their vrath, he confidently swore that she could be rest assured about her son and prepare to send him to school with the normal kids of her neighborhood.
The other most significant rule of this vrath was that it had to be done at the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord itself and it would yield the best results when it is done in the holy river town of Srirangapatna which had brought Savithramma on this train journey now. The priest at her also gave her a reference of another young priest, Sharma who could not only provide shelter for a month but also help her to follow the customs of the vrath.
She started her preparations for her journey almost a month back with exchange of letters to confirm her arrival and the stay.
As she trotted carefully along the mucky path to Sharma’s residence, she recollected the words of the priest which filled her with hope and made her enthusiastic about the whole trip and she finally reached the doorstep of Sharma.
Sharma was a pious young Brahmin boy all of 17 years who was orphaned at a young age and worked as a priest at a local temple for the living. He also added to his earnings by helping pilgrims in terms of food and shelter.
He was excited to receive Savithri as he would not need to bother about cooking his meals for a month. He had mentioned in one of his letters that she needs to bring grocery to last for a month and for the reason she would be occupying his kitchen, she needs to keep him in mind while cooking.S avithri was also a little elated in a corner of her heart because this trip also served as an escapade from her mundane life.
She spent the entire one month with a strict religious practice of waking up early in dawn, bathing in the cold waters of the River, cooking a sweet everyday to serve the lord, offering 108 salutations to the sun God, prayers in temple for rest of morning followed by cooking a simple meal to be devoured in the late noon. A coffee in the late evening served as second meal of the day for her. She cooked a light dinner for her son and Sharma. The day ended by resting on the stone bench as the vrath dictated against usage of mattress. Her routine did not change even a bit on any day for the entire month.
As me and my wife returned from a holiday in Goa, it was a pleasant surprise to see my grand mom open the door for us. Soon after we freshened ourselves and settled in the living, my granny who is quite an enthusiastic lady was inquisitive about our trip. As I started about my visits to the beaches and Casino, my wife who found me braggy, cut me off to ask Granny,” Which was your best holiday?”
My granny said that she had quite a few holidays but it would be interesting for us to listen about her Mother’s only and longest Holiday. Thus my granny Susheela took us 70 years back and began the story of her Mother, Savithramma!!!
My wife was moist eyed when my granny stopped her narration after an hour. She asked “Did Ashwatha get his eyesight back? And how exactly did you find this as an holiday?”
As an answer, my Granny continued her narration. When Savithramma returned home after 31 days at Srirangapatna, she meekly asked her husband amidst her sobs” The words of your friend from another town never came true. I performed the vrath with strict adherence to the customs and yet Ashwatha is still blind”
Her husband acknowledged her words with a deep sigh and as an effort to soothe her wife, he said”Atleast you had a nice month long train holiday which you always dreamed of. Whatever happens is for the good.” and walked away.
Savithramma was again somehow convinced because such a learned Vedic scholar couldn’t be wrong and she went to talk about her holiday in Srirangapatna with her neighbors.