Ka.Naa.Su’s Novel THOMAS VANDHAAR
Translated into English by latha ramakrishnan
Chatting with each other, both of us reached Ezekial’s mansion. Seeing Valluvan, the head of the muscle-men[usthaads] who was standing at the entrance, came forward and said, “Please do come sir, only half-an-hour ago ‘Saap’ enquired whether you had come”.
“But, I didn’t tell him that I would be coming today. Is he expecting me?” – So saying, Valluvan, along with me, went past the chieftain and his crew, into the house.
Beyond the entrance was a vast huge hall and as its doors were kept wide-opened as befitting its style it looked wide enough for a four-wheeled wagon to be driven in. But, as it happened to be some auspicious day of the Jews there was absolutely none inside. Seemed like business-transactions and visits were temporarily suspended.
“These ‘usthaads’ don’t seem to be from our area”, I remarked.
“They don’t belong to our area. They were slaves from Jews’ land and from its surrounding areas. Ezekial has freed them by buying them from their owners, and thus, securing them freedom he has kept them as his servants”, said Valluvan.
“It is just that he speaks pure Thamizh. That’s why I asked”.
“For th past two or three months he has been learning Thamizh from me”, said Valluvan.
“Oh!”, I exclaimed. ‘Indeed, how many things this Valluvan is doing! When, for me there seems no time even to do one thing fully’- thought I. ‘Each and everyone of us who are all living today should learn from Valluvan the art of leading a useful life’.
Meanwhile, Mariam herself, who had come from one of those rooms inside, saw us and came past the vast hall, graciously, and, greeting us in the proper Thamizh manner by gesturing vanakkam by joining the palms of both the hands and raising it till her nose, saying, “Come come, my father is waiting to speak to you”.
The knowledge that while she was coming not only myself but also several others who were engaged in doing some work in that vast hall observed the beauty and elegance of her walk, made me feel jealous. It would indeed be good if she were to walk for me alone’ – I felt so. Is it possible? So spontaneously did the thought come whether it wouldn’t be possible at all.
“If the good old gentleman is waiting for you Valluvan, you alone go and come after talking to him. I will wait here itself”, said I.
“My father is not waiting for him to speak to him any secret matter. From our place a lengthy letter has come. Must be something connected with religion. When it comes to religious matters my father likes to chat and discuss with Valluvan more than with anybody else. And, of morals and justice, codes of conduct I myself like at least some of Valluvan’s ideals”, - so saying, she continued with a smile. “Remember last week we were talking about food-habits? I have decided to be a strict vegetarian like you, henceforth”.
“My friend is forever a vegetarian only”, observed Valluvan.
As if asking what that has got to do with her, she looked up, at me. “My father and mother are teasing me. My brother says that if I am to eat only the plants, my mischievousness would just vanish, leaving no trace of it”
“How can there be Mariam minus mischievousness?” asked Valluvan.
Mariam laughed heartily, as if agreeing with what he had said. Then, “Is your friend dumb? He has not uttered even a single word!”, said she.
“He is not a warrior of words like me”, said Valluvan.
“Not that. I am afraid that there would be horse-whip somewhere within the reach!” said I.
“One should fear horse-whip also, if one is to come having wrong ideas”, said Miriam bravely, looking straight in his eyes.
“This girl is indeed dangerous. Should be careful’ – thought I. For, a Brahmin lad – calling just a lad is incorrect but still – courage comes only sometimes ad in some matters alone.
While Miriam going in front of us, Valluvan and myself followed her. Going behind Miriam who opened the door at the right side and went inside, we reached a square shaped room which was vast-looking. On the three sides of the room there were swings made of wood, near the walls. Made of real teakwood. There were lotus flowers made of silver, decorating the four sides of the swing. On the fourth side of the room there lay a piece of wooden seating, just like that of the swing. There were none, either on the swings or on the wooden-seating.
“Father was sitting here only. He might have gone inside. I will go and call him. Both of you be seated here”.
“For me it appears that the way she speaks Thamizh adds to the beauty of the language itself”, - I said.
“You are a bachelor. If you speak in this vein Vasuki would start asking why, you know!”, said Valluvan.
“Even Miriam cannot be like ‘anni’[sister-in-law]” – while I was saying so, unexpectedly Vasuki herself came inside. The other lady who came inside conversing with her must be one of the elder sisters Miriam.
“I who have come here to teach Miriam and her elder brother Thamizh was asked by the reverend old man to go and bring you. Leaving the lesson midway I’ve started. Thank God, you yourself have come. Good thing”, said Vasuki.
“What lesson you were teaching?” – Enquired Valluvan.
“What all you know you have taught her also, haven’t you? And, she has the skill to impart to others that which she knows, in an able manner. In this land that which is called knowledge and that which is beyond, that, called Wisdom, are obtained easily and from unexpected sources”, -Opined the lady who had come along with Vasuki Ammaiyaar.
Should speak of her as ‘Ammaiyaar’[gentle elderly lady[ only. She must be at least two or three years elder to Vasuki Anni. In her physique, countenance and stature there appeared the motherly look.
I said: “Still, Valluvan and Anni belong to that caste whose people are discarded and ostracized as unfit to learn and get education” – The moment I uttered those words I felt that there was no need to have said so. But, no use biting the tongue. What has been uttered cannot be undone.
That gentle lady said: “That is also a surprise indeed. Don’t know why in this land of knowledge and wisdom people live in mutual disbelief and disrespect and perpetuating wide differences and disparities amidst themselves and so segregate them from their fellow-beings”. Then, turning towards Vasuki Anni, “Come, let’s go inside”, said she.
But, Vasuki Anni said: “I will come another day. He has also come now. Can’t say when he would return home. Father too won’t be at home. Mother will be there all alone, struggling. I’ll go and come later. After all, I keep coming daily. Don’t I?”, and went off. After the lady also went out. Vaaluvan said: “This lady is the eldest sister of Miriam. Her name is Hepsiba. Widow”.
“Sad”, I said.
“Can’t say sad. As far as I know, her husband used to harass her a lot, taking to all evil ways of life. Moreover, she has two children also. A girl and a boy. In a way we can say that it is good that he took leave”.
“True, nothing can be said for sure in man’s life. That which we call good may not be wholly good. Likewise, that which we regard as bad may not be in fact entirely bad also… In all, both are inseparably – interwoven only”.
“Don’t they – i.e., Jews – have widow-remarriage in them?”
“They say that it is in vogue”, said Valluvan. “But still, may be after the first bitter experience she doesn’t have the courage to go in for the second time or may be, she would have decided against it thinking that there was no need for it after begetting two children”.
As I was watching him intensely, I didn’t notice the person who approached to be of thirty to thirty-five years of age, coming inside. Coming closer, he asked: “Where is father? He was waiting for you only. Have you been here for long?”
“Let him come. We’ll wait. We’re in no hurry. We have come to see your father only” – so saying, Valluvan introduced him to me as ‘His name is Mathew. He is the eldest son of the reverend gentleman. Heir to all his business. In calculation, that too in calculating by heart within a matter of a few seconds he is a great master”. Then, “This is my friend. His name is Vaadhoolan”. – thus, Valluvan introduced me also, to him.
“About him I know that he is our friend and also a man of comforts and a good Brahmin. Miriam has said a lot about him”, said Mathew.
‘Oh, what is this?’ felt
Miriam has said a lot about me, he says… what at all is that she would have
come to know and said of me…’
‘Not a good Brahmin… can say an evil Brahmin… also, that my existence is smooth-going. How can a person having nothing lead a comfortable life? I consider myself fortunate for having Valluvan as my friend. As the thread in proximity with the flowers acquire the fragrance, so also, thanks to his company, I get the opportunity to enter your mansion and all’.
“I know” – said Mathew majestically. Couldn’t guess what he meant by that. “Valluvan is my friend too. And, because of this we can think that there is a bondage between you and me, no? Moreover, in life, one cannot always live solely on assessing our losses and gains. We need something else, to hold on. For my father there are those to hold on to, like religions, customs and old habits and so on. As for me…”
“You have the thirst to learn the customs and habits of the people of this land and to be one among them. And, I know that your father worries on that score. Vaadhoolan is also of the same mould. He has a liking for everything else, except Brahmins. And, his father worries whether he would lose his Brahmin traits”- said Valluvan.
“Earning money also doesn’t suffice. For, there comes no satisfaction out of it, you know”.
“I agree. Not any one thing alone gives satisfaction. Satisfaction comes only when all are there in the required ratio. We need money. If we spend that which we earn in ‘just’ and ‘honest’ ways, that gives us a sense of satisfaction and peace of mind. Here we believe that if we earn our livelihood in righteous and straight-forward manner we will attain salvation[moksha]. But then, to get salvation, satisfaction etc., we need Grace and Mercy. This world is not for those who have no wealth. Likewise, the world above is not for those who are bereft of mercy and grace and the milk of human-kindness” – Thus concluded Valluvan.
“There may be those who are going on in search non-stop of wealth but are unable to acquire it. Same is the case with mercy too. And, sometimes, one, without searching for them, would just have them also”, said Mathew.
He looked a ‘man-of-riddles’ to me.
“The Jains think that going around, searching thus, is the result of what we have done in our previous birth”, said Thiruvalluvan.
“Thiruvalluvan has been born a Jain only. But, he never calls himself a Jain. In anything and everything he keeps searching for a unique-identity and a humaneness that stands above all religions” – said I.