Ka.Naa.Su’s Novel THOMAS VANDHAAR
Translated into English by latha ramakrishnan
My name is Vadhoolan.
Many a time have I wondered as to why I was named Vadhoolan and called so. There are also those who address me as Vadhoolaa, Vaadhoo and ‘Thambi’ and so on.
I do not like this name in any form. There was one called Vadhoola Maharishi. That I have come in that lineage is one reason. Whether any such person called Vadhoola Maharishi really existed – that itself is not known. As far as I know, nowhere in Vedas, Upanishads or in any proven and accepted origins [rishimoolangal] we come across any such name. But, father says that as I have come in this lineage he has given me this name. My father is not at all sensible, I think.
By now you would have guessed that I am born a Brahmin. That those who make much ado about Gothram, lineage and all are mostly Brahmins, is a known fact to all.
Many a seer and others have asked the question whether ‘Brahminicality’ comes by mere birth itself. Those great sages, born of Upanishads, the Jain Munipangas called Men of Religion and Theerthangaas, Gauthama Buddha have all asked this question and given various answers.
I asked father. There came no answer from him to this query. Anger alone erupted. I can’t regard him as a Brahmin. When this being the case, how can I regard myself as one..?
“Hei you, why are you thus roaming around with all and sundry, leaving off the learning and chanting of Vedas? How are you going to earn a good name in this world and live?”, - so asks my father in response.
When he says that I wander in the company of all and sundry, I know who he has in mind.
In the vicinity I have only one dear friend. It is said that he is born of some ‘low-caste’. Like my name is given to me after my ‘gothram’ he is also given his name after his caste and creed. Except him, I have no other close companion. Being and chatting with him, as if observing as to how many varieties of human forms and faces are there in people, going around the market-place, bazaar-road, places inhabited by human species has become almost a full-time job for the past two or three years. I derive a sense of satisfaction out of this.
How come such a friendship and bondage has come into being, is indeed a surprise even to my own self. He, this Valluvan, is five or six years elder to me. As for me, I am a complete stranger when it comes to Learning. Somehow I would recite by heart those manthras and slokas taught by father, rhythmically. Don’t know their meanings. But, somehow, all the manthras and slokas are known to Valluvan. Not only that, he knows their meanings too. When I told this to my father, do you know what he said? “Scoundrel, sinner he is, learning manthras and Sanskrit slokas. Is he telling their meanings too? He is bound to go astray. And you, who have joined hands with him will also follow suit”, said he.
I have no wish to become ‘something’ in father’s interpretation of those terms. Not worrying about this, I am roaming around, with Valluvan.
When we two go along the streets, if someone happens to see us they take only him to be a Brahmin and me as a no-Brahmin. I have no regrets at this. In fact, with his knowledge, humility, mental-strength and good habits, I too consider and regard Valluvan as a true Brahmin! Valluvan never uses the term ‘Brahmin’. He would say ‘Andhanan’. Only he who, not by birth but through his conduct, is a noble soul, is Andhanan – says my good friend.
That my grandfather never deviated from the path of Virtue and Morality, they say. I do not know that. But, my father is an amoral person in all aspects. Particularly, in his lust for another man’s woman, he has no equal at all. Indeed there is some magic in him which lures wives of other men.
Some men who didn’t fear this power of his – the husbands of some of the women lured by him – had given him sound thrashing too, to weaken his alluring effect. My father’s mother – even while being in her death-bed, called me and, before her life-breath stopped, said: “don’t go astray like your father, Vaadhoolaa….this is my only prayer…”
What for people are born? Why do they die?
I asked my father.
“Who can say ‘why’ and ‘what’? we should never ask why. Fate. God has destined so” – replied father.
The next day I asked Valluvan the same question. “Man starts moving towards Death right from the moment he is born. We refer to Utility[Use] and Time, as Time. We should live our Life, not feeling sad whenever Death confronts us. The use of your Birth need not be known to others. There is no necessity that it should be known to you”.
In a way this was also an unsatisfactory answer only. For the query ‘why’ there was no answer. But, it seemed to give, to some extent, the meaning of both Birth and Death.
“My father says it is fate” – said I.
“True, there is that thing called Fate too. It is fate that decides the quality and course of Life, quality of Death and that which goes beyod Death”, said Valluvan.
I always think that my friend Valluvan lives in a world which is built extensively of words, where nothing else is real. If he begins to converse, sweet beautiful words come out of him. All those words are familiar too. Apart from Sanskrit slokas and manthraas, the language of Thamizh too comes to Valluvan in a spontaneous and beautiful manner. Where did he learn? When? I asked him directly.
Easily, without getting angry, he answered. “Thamizh comes to me by constantly listening and hearing my mother speak. I learnt Sanskrit from Aaladhi Naayanaar. From the ‘jewish’ merchant Ezekial who has come to stay in Mylapore I am learning about the language Hebrew and the people’s habits and behaviour. I am now going to Ezekial’s house only. If you want you can also come”.
To Ezekial’s house? Will they allow Valluvan to enter into the brand new mansion? I had stood facing it, gazing at it with awe and wonder. A huge, brand new bungalow. During day time its entrance would always be crowded with people going in and coming out of the mansion.
At the gates, there are always some four or five ‘vasthaadhs’[men of gigantic built] standing, guarding the palatial building. Goods and articles from very many a land, costing too high, are forever brought to the bungalow and taken out of it. At least one half of those boats which come sailing in the Sea for fifteen to thirty ‘Naazhigai’ a day and stand in a row providing a pleasing sight are said to belong to Ezekiel. I have heard them say that some two or three ships which would stand there with the anchor laid and start sailing with their sail spread that push them forward with the help of the wind also belonged to him.
There has spread a rumour in our locality that, for all these affluence he is comparatively a new-comer to this land and to the filed of business and that when he came here he had but only a little money with him and that, with the help of kith and kin and fellow Hebrews in various countries he bought and sold things, earning profits and thus, within a year he had become a millionaire. When he came he had come alone only. But now he has a family. He has got two sons and three daughters. I know that the girls with their large eyes and sharp nose look very beautiful, and, the two sons, tall and with looks and activities that are peculiar to the Hebrews are slowly turning into big-shots in our place. One son’s – the eldest _ name is David. Don’t know the name of the second son. Likewise, I know the name of one of the daughters. The youngest called Miriam is very brave. Without any reservation or hesitation as to what to speak to whom she would easily pick up a conversation with almost anyone. In this area, women driving a vehicle is a very common sight. Tying two horses, as is the existing fashion of our place, in the cart when she was going alone one day, to bring someone from somewhere, the local thug called Maadan, thinking that a sixteen year old girl, being alone was a good chance not to be missed, blocked the way and had said something, it seems. Whether Miriam could understand his Thamizh or not – she could interpret the motive behind his action. She brought him down with the help of the horse-ship and beat him black and blue, leaving him bleeding all over. There was none in our place who didn’t praise her for her courage. This incident had earned Ezekial more name and fame than all his wealth could ever hope to offer him. The title like tag that he is Miriam’s father has enhanced his pride and glory.
Significantly, wherever and on whatever occasion Vaadhoolan, i.e., me, happens to see the girl called Miriam, his heart-beats would gain momentum. There arises in me a different kind of momentum of the heartbeats when I see Valluvan’s wife Vasuki. Vasuki cannot be compared with Miriam and called beautiful. But then, she is endowed with the skill of creating and preserving peace in her countenance, eyes, words and her surroundings. It seemed to me that in the same way, but as against that, there is that a magic in Mirium to turn the atmosphere charged.
I don’t know whether such feelings are there in me alone. If asked, Valluvan would answer, but, somehow I felt shy of asking.
That there never could arise any occasion which would in some way bring together Miriam and myself, is known to me in all certainty. I am a very poor Brahmin boy. Not even having the academic qualification and knowledge required for one to claim himself a Brahmin. Miriam is from an alien land. A girl with different habits and unorthodox practices, i.e., in our view. Further, one who belongs to a rich household. Enough if she just moves her little finger – there would be thousand young men following her footsteps.
Yet, I cannot help thinking that she did notice me on one or two occasions. And, it seems that it is something that gives me satisfaction.
The other day – recently only – what did Valluvan say?
‘Does love have bolt that shuts one out? Can it be true? Is my quickening heart beats, Love?” I myself cannot say for sure.
Now my friend asks me to go with him to the mansion where Miriam is. Will it bring about a new beginning? Will it indeed happen?”, - Desire urges me.
But, I am afraid too. It so happens that doing something and so being misunderstood and so forced to face humiliation – how to face such a situation? True, Brahmins are to some extent brave people only, having the heart to carry out a job without fearing anything. To that extent I am also a Brahmin. Further, Valluvan is also there… Can cope with the situation…
“May I also come with you?”, I asked Valluvan.
“Who said that you shouldn’t ? if someone says so I will tackle it. If you want to come, come. Disbelieving the stranger is deep-rooted in us. But, Ezekial is no stranger. For, some people, especially for some individuals there is the quality which makes them one with any place and the native of any land and atmosphere. Such persons look familiar amidst any people and in one and all surroundings. In Hebrews – they call themselves Jews – this endearing quality is a little more striking. And, in Ezekial it is especially significant”, said Valluvan.
“Have you talked to that chap?” – asked I.
“With that chap? No, it is wrong. He is very much an elderly person in age. Very much experienced. So, I can think of him only as ‘that gentleman’. Not only with him; but also with his wife, daughters, sons and the servants I haven’t spoken… in this place it is this family that I consider most affectionate and they are real friends and well-wishers.”
“I can’t help feeling somewhat embarrassed”, said I.
“lLast Sunday when I was in their house, Ezekial’s third daughter addressed me as your friend and even enquired after you?”
“Is it? She enquired? Really? So, they have that much freedom for women?”, asked I, greatly surprised.
“The way you have learnt what her name is, she has learnt yours. But, don’t do anything foolishly. She is a highly liberated girl, having a mind and vitality of her own. The way she questions me regarding v arious things are proof enough to show how deep she has though of and has a knowledge of very many things. Sometime I would struggle to answer her queries”, - said Valluvan.
“Is she very much educated?”
“Not Education as such. Some have the capacity to think and contemplate. For the educated, the ‘well’ within springs further and further. But, it happens only some times. for many, Education turns out to be the ‘stagnant-point’ of thinking. Also, there are several uneducated men who can think… once upon a time I myself gad been ignorant of alphabets, remember?” _ said Valluvan.
“But, you have learnt many a thing through listening to others”, I exclaimed. “ I will not accept that you were ever an illiterate even if you did not know reading and writing. I too am an illiterate only. But, I do not possess your…”
“ _ the fact that you have lack of confidence in your own self can become the foundation of your progress… you know.. it can act as a stepping stone to your success. Learning depends on things like Where, in Which place one gets it, What one gets out of Whom etc. we should keep contemplating on all that which we see and hear”.