Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Last Moments ...

After years of service in the Harijan Welfare department Sivaswami Iyer, a respected government official, devout father and Thatha as Kannan called him, retired from official duty. His life and family could only move on, only if he had a job to pursue as his sons were yet to secure a job and one was still in school and his daughter, Lakshmi got married just four years back. His life revolved around his home, temple and his work. 

A six foot tall, strong man with silver white hair colored black with the trutone stick, always wearing his preferred snuff brown colored shirt and dhoti, with the holy ash smeared on his forehead, his charisma is something which can never be described with mere words. He stood tall undaunted even when he had to work as an account in an electronics shop at the ripe age of 61. The man who loved Sheaffers and Waterman pens, but could never afford it. His earning barely could make both ends meet, but the smile never left his face, the hope which his prayers gave him made him strive with a smile. His happiness knew no bounds with the birth of Lakshmi's daughter, Pachai, the first daughter in the next generation. His treasure was enriched by the birth of Kannan after three years. Every time they came home for vacations, Sivaswami would stretch himself to the limits to give them the best he could.

Kannan always remembered the stories, the way he prayed morning and night, the trips they use to go together, the temple visits, the journey to the beach in the double decker, his workplace, his humility. He was a living text book to Kannan in all ways. 

"Muththucharam, thangakudam", he meant every letter in those words as he considered Akka and Kennan the treasures of his life, the pearl necklace and the golden pot.

Every night was story time for Kannan and Akka by the side of the cane easy chair in the verandah of the twin house. By late evening, tired from work Thatha would come home with special treats for his treasures. Sweets, pakoras, mangoes or whatever he could get with the little money he spared for the special time of the year in his wooden safe box. He looked forward to that time of the year when they would be home.

When his four sons, and Kannan's family would be having dinner, Thatha would finish his wash and be sitting in front of the pictures of Gods in a white dhoti, with a silver lamp glowing in its divine brightness. He was fair and the color of the holy white ash could barely be seen different in his forehead or chest. He would be chanting the Lalithasahahranam with a pinch of holy ash held tight between his fingers of the right hand. Having finished his prayers he would go to the kitchen and find hardly anything to have for dinner. He would have a glass of buttermilk and consider it dinner with the happiness of having fed everyone in the house. He would then walk across the road to get his regular betel nuts, leaves and relish the pan to its fullest. For Kannan and Akka that was an interesting sight to watch when he would chew green leaves and make his tongue turn red.

After the pan, was the time for the favorite stories of Saharamallan the thief, Ekabudhdhi the frog, The Lion who married the girl, and many many stories. His stories were accompanied by the smell of the flowers in the courtyard, the smell of betel leaves and fruits specially bought for his dear ones. Stories would end with both of them yelling 

"Thatha ... one more story ... one more story ..." and the tell a tale would continue till late.

Kannan's last memories of Thatha was when he had arrived at the Railway station while Appa, Amma, Kannan and Akka were on their way to Bombay for a vacation. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the Railway station, Kannan saw Thatha in his regular brown shirt and dhoti with a Watermelon in his hand. The ten year old Kannan's eyes sparkled. Thatha gave Amma the watermelon and said

"Lakshmi ... kids will love this. It is very sweet. Take care of them"

They reached Bombay after three days. They booked for all the trips and sightseeing and returned to the room in BARC Quarters in Trombay. The next morning was fun filled for Kannan and Akka. They went on clicking pictures and getting excited about the new place and the sights.


The same morning back home Thatha was not feeling well. He called Venki and Padmanabhan his two sons and wished to go to see a doctor as he was feeling uncomfortable.

"Should be Gas trouble" said Padhu and by then Venki went to the taxi stand to get the taxi.

Three of them got ready and Thatha opened his wooden safe box and took some cash and put it in his pocket. He pinned his black pen in the shirt and wore his bakelite shell frame glasses on. They were about to reach the hospital and Thatha smiled at Padhu. Put his hand into his shirt pocket and handed the money to  him. 

"You will need the money"

He kept his hand on the shoulder of Venki and smiled. 


It was afternoon and Appa had upset his stomach owing to the change in food or water. They decided to rush back to the room. Kannan and Appa went first. Kannan as usual opened the door. There were two chits on the floor when the door opened. Kannan picked the chits when Appa was rushing in. He read out slowly as much as he could gather

"URGENT MESSAGE. To Mr. Gopal. Father-in-law expired"

Kannan understood nothing, but seeing Appa's eyes turn red and him standing still, gave him the gravity of the situation. He would hear no more stories from his beloved grandfather. He would see him no more. Kannan still remembers his Thatha as the man who would hold his hands tight at the beach when getting to feel the waves on his legs. The man with a red tongue telling him all the dear stories. The man who got him the sweetest of possible ways in the best way he could. Life moves on, but we tend to stop at certain junctures. By the time they reached Thatha had been cremated, leaving a void, never to have seen his still motionless body. His stories and chant are the treasures for Kannan and Akka to this date.

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