Sunday, April 3, 2016

Lesson about Rich and poor ...

"Teachers are not always found in school... people around you teach you a little, teachers in school teach a little and life teaches you the rest", all were gathered around Mahadevan Thatha and were eagerly listening to his soft yet heavy voice, while he finished the magic trick with cards for kids. 

His voice had something divine about it. Six footer, always preferring to wear white shirt and white bleached dhoti, no because of the choice of color, but after his retirement, he had means enough for just a pair which adorned him every other day. He walked with a little hunch owing to old age, but remained healthy all the while owing to the distances he used to walk with ease. He never had any great wishes. His smile on the face with the cataract removed eyes and thick glasses, the color of shining oak wood. Dark yet attractive complexion, exactly opposite to his brother the fair Sivaswamy Iyer, Kannan's Thatha. He and his wife Seethalakshmy, who lived in Kottayam, were never blessed with children, but he was blessed with a heart which always loved tiny tots. Kottayam Thathi as Kannan and Pachai called Seethalakshmy Ammal was short in stature, dark in complexion but the dazzle of her age old Diamond studs and nose pin was characteristic with her regular silk 9 yard green silk saree she wore. More attractive was the crimson red kumkum she had on her forehead and the smile she always wore on her lips. Kannan was dearer to Mahadevan Thatha and Kottayam Thathi than a son, though he was Sivaswamy Iyer's grandson. He used to spend as much time he got with children around him. Kannan and Pachai took pride when all their cousins gathered around him to see him makes cards vanish from the lot with tricks of mathematics. The way he taught algebra to the elder ones, played with the younger ones and told them interesting facts about places and temples far and wide.

As he bid farewell to Amma and walked his way towards the boat jetty, Kannan and Pachai were sad and were hoping to spend more time with him. He had his long black umbrella and a small black leather bag which had his other pair of white shirt, a dhoti and some documents and the little cash he would carry.

"Amma ... when will Mahadevan thatha come again" asked Kannan as usual. 
"Very soon if you study well and be a good boy" Amma gave him the usual answer.

His visit would leave a lot to think about and take to the school where everyone would flaunt their newly learnt tricks and techniques in mathematics. He was a parallel university to the children till Appa got a job in Quilon and they moved to Trivandrum. For months Mahadevan Thatha had not visited them. Kannan would inquire from time to time about him and Amma would be busy in kitchen when she would tell him about the mail Thatha had got or Appa had got from Mahadevan Thatha. For months there was no news about him. It was a holiday and Kannan was playing in open balcony in front of the upper portion of the house in the colony, where they stayed. From a distance he saw Thatha walk hastily. The same snuff colored shirt, with sweat making the holy ash grey like mud smeared on his forehead. He was sweating profusely and gasping for air. He sat down on the stairs in exhaustion. Kannan stopped playing when he heard Thatha call Amma

"Lakshmi ..." and Amma came running to her father sitting on the steps.
"Appa ... why are you sitting on the steps... come in" she said
"No... I can't" said Thatha

Amma was not able to understand what had happened or why he was saying so. 

"What happened..." she asked looking at Thatha whose shirt had turned darker with dripping sweat from his body, eyes red with tears and voice dull and grief stricken.
"Mahadevan ... he is gone" said Thatha in a broken voice
"Where ... Mahadevan... who" owing to the shock, Amma could not understand anything.
"My brother ..." and tears started rolling down from Thatha's eyes. 

He could not say anything. Amma's eyes also started pouring the grief out in tears. She went inside and got a glass of water for Thatha. Thatha lifted the glass up in the air and poured the glass of water into his mouth. The sound of water being gulped was heard loud and clear. Kannan could hear Thatha tell Amma with his sobbing voice breaking at times.

"I want to see Mahadevan for a last time... but if I take a train I wouldn't be able to reach on time... I tried but ... Can you lend me some money ... Then I can take Raju's cab and reach as fast as possible." asked the desperate father to her daughter. Thatha sat on the steps with his hand on his wet forehead and Amma went running inside. She rushed back with the money and turned to Kannan.

"Go get changed". Kannan knew that there was something wrong, but could not really understand what was happening. He got ready and went with Amma and Thatha. Got Raju's cab and Venki and Swaminathan, Amma's brothers joined them. They were silent till they reached Mahadevan Thatha's home. The silence was broken only by the sobs and clearing of throats. Kannan remained silent, understanding the gravity of the situation.

Raju's black and yellow Ambassador Taxi stopped at a house on the steep downward roadside enough for a car. They got out and Kannan saw a whole lot of people standing there. They were all either silent or talking in hushed voice to each other. Women were sitting in the small dimly lit room inside and crying with Kottayam Thathi. 

"When was it..." An old man who walked in asked another person standing near the gate
"Early morning... in sleep ... lucky man... did not suffer at all"
" I met him last evening too ..." came another reply from the next person

Eleven year old Kannan did not know who they were but was slowly coming to terms with the fact. They walked in where Mahadevan Thatha's body lay on the floor covered in his favorite white colored cloth. There were two pieces of coconut with wicks burning in them. There was a vadhyar wearing his dhoti in a traditional style talking to Thatha for a while. Kannan was looking around and was feeling stuffed in his chest. He has lost a teacher in his life forever, he will never again teach him math or the tricks or tell him about the important temples and places. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and Kannan turned towards the familiar voice of Thatha

"Go have a bath and wear this dhoti and come ..."

Kannan took those words as the words from the supreme, asked not what, why or anything else. It was evening and the cold water from the well was poured over Kannan's head, who felt the chill to be less intense than the chill inside his heart on the loss. He reached the front of the house where Mahadevan Thatha's body was being lifted by four relatives. The vadhyar came and gave a small piece of green stem of a plantain leaf with cloth dipped in ghee and lit like a torch. 

"Hold this and walk in the front ..."

The entourage of people walking towards the crematorium walked behind him. Kannan climbed the steep slope upwards towards the main road. Every step was difficult but he moved steadily. 

An old lady who was standing by the wall near the road where the body was being taken by was heard talking

"Poor Mahadevan... he has no sons or daughters and his brothers grandson is paving way to heaven with the ghee torch"

Kannan's eyes rolled out the tears which did not know to flow out expressing his grief. Thatha moved Kannan and Venki brought Kannan back from half way from those who went the crematorium. Those words of the old lady was a lesson in the traditions of those who had kids and those who did not. 

"Teachers are not always found in school... people around you teach you a little, teachers in school teach a little and life teaches you the rest" Kannan heard the night skies speak to him in Mahadevan Thatha's voice while they drove back home.

"Having children was not riches for Thatha and not having them had made Mahadevan Thatha poor" Kannan's mind thought. A few nights the thoughts lingered in his mind. A firm mind was being molded by time in Kannan. Mahadevan Thatha would be an inspiration for him with the beautiful memories, whose death taught him one more lesson about what "Rich" or "Poor" meant otherwise for the society. 

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