Chapter _ 7
A Novel in Thamizh by KA.NAA.SUBRAMANIAN
Translated into English by Latha Ramakrishnan
Though they talk of things like rules and regulations, norms and codes the lives of Brahmins are not all that similar. If one has the will he can be a personification of Vedas and move around into all the nooks and corners of justice and righteousness. If not, with half – knowledge, going about murmuring that which is laid down in Vedas, as suits his convenience, laying great emphasis to the rhyme and rhythm of chanting them and to the learning of Vedas by heart, without knowing their meaning, and without caring to learn their meaning, the concepts and ideas that they propagate, their end, principle, course anything, one can just while away the time.
As far as I know, no matter how it had all been in the ancient time, today, of the twenty-two Brahmins in this Brahmin street, only one or at the most two, have some knowledge of the meaning and course of Vedas, and the significance and ideals of the Brahmin concept of Life and the way they are to live it. I say this with certainty. The rest, though they call themselves Brahmins, boast of it sometimes, all that they do is just nod their head when required, say ‘sprinkle the ‘atchadhai’ (sacred – rice) on my head’ and save and invest the money thus acquired.
Boasting is hereditary. ‘Why don’t these no – gooders like my father realize that they by their deeds cause damage to this pride and to their creed?’ – So I ask myself. One can take pride in being a Brahmin. But when? Only when one acts having a full knowledge of what he is doing. Seeing those who like my father indulge in wrong– doings and evil-acts and consider hiding their misdeeds as the sole aim of life, I regret having been born a Brahmin. If one wants to feel proud of himself, he should engage himself in doing things which are worthy of such pride. Should do deeds which are praiseworthy.
“Those who achieve great things are great-men. Small ones are those who cannot achieve so.” – says Valluvan. It is indeed profoundly true
‘It is not because of the rules and regulations, nor because they have chalked out narrow paths to journey through life that I am dissatisfied with Brahmanism. But, all that I am ashamed of is the way they indulge in all sort of evil-pursuits and cleverly hide them, and also boast around claiming that it is only because of them that justice and virtue flourish on earth. As long as Brahminism doesn’t keep vigil on those who are to live as model human beings but who indulge in shameful activities, what is the use of Brahmin-cult? The fact that I am a Brahmin, instead of making me feel proud, fills me with a deep sense of shame’.
Valluvan counters me often:- “If you feel that your father conducts himself so meanly which makes you suffer a sense of shame of why don’t you live an ideal life, admired and looked up to, even by the Brahmins?” – So he sternly advises me.
It is not that I haven’t tried. I have tried with all my heart to get myself involved wholly in the learning by heart and chanting process of Vedas and in knowing the rituals and ceremonies laid out in Vedas, its mantras and the various paths advocated in them. But, though I have learnt as much as there is to learn, using my brains, enlightenment evaded me. Why is it said that things are to be done in such and such a manner alone? What if it is done in a different way? Why do they say that we have to accept, without questioning, that which is said in Vedas? Why so? Is it wrong to question? But, how can on understand things clearly and fully, without questioning?’
Valluvan says: “In all religions they have set a boundary line beyond which it is unwise to ask any question. The boundary line that Brahmanism has, sort of, covers most of its area. In Jainism, it appears to me that I am a Jain by birth, why, even the religion of Buddha, Ezekial’s Jewish religion too, when approaching to certain sections of Enlightenment, say that beyond a particular point one shouldn’t ask questions.”
“Can there be parts and sections, quarter, half and so on, in Enlightenment too? – I asked.
For a minute even Valluvan was wholly taken aback and was unable to answer. Then, he straightened himself and answered: “True, Wisdom and Enlightenment are indeed something that happens in its totality. It seems that during Buddha’s time a wise–man who lived somewhere in some foreign land said, ‘I consider that realization whereby I know nothing, as complete’. Likewise, in the eastern countries, a sage who lived more or less in the same period had said. ‘Any Enlightenment or knowledge which is of no use in man’s daily life is unfit to be called so’ - so I have heard from the learned men of those lands”.
“This is not an answer to my query” – I said.
“That, whether it is correct to hold that one can question only up to certain point and beyond that it is wrong to do so.”
“Even if we are to consider it incorrect and unfair, man’s brain and knowledge and the realization and Enlightenment that result out of it cannot be complete. In fact, it is because of this alone that there are so many religions, ways of living, philosophies on this Earth. To our knowledge itself there exist some twenty various, different religions. And also, many more schools of thoughts, concepts of life would be there in different lands, and at different times. Apart from those that were and are, in the days to come in this never–ending passage of time, how many more conflicts and chaos, Faiths and religions, rituals, acceptances would result out of hopes and ceremonies – who can foretell? Thinking on these lines instills in me fear and apprehension” – said Valluvan.
“For me they all seem to be great matters – above my head. I don’t have the strength to contemplate on the destiny of Humanity and its brain and do something about it – to reform it or sympathize with it or shed tears over. But, when I wander through the streets of this Mylai city – true, nowhere I feel like resting, at peace – my father’s shameful deeds steadily follow me. Barking like the way the street dogs do, on seeing a stranger – they seem to ask me. ‘Oh, you are a Brahmin? Really?’ Whatever I do would go a waste…..so I feel. Whatever is done – getting educated, going ahead towards the goal and principle, or being only half–attached, developing a kind of ‘detached–attachment’ – they would be of absolutely no use, so it appears…”
Valluvan has an answer for this too. “It is you who has to decide that which is called your destiny, your path, your path, your fate (karma). Why should you think of, having as a scape–goat, your father’s foul deeds, that you suffer because of them and that whatever you do would go waste?” – So he asked one day.
To answer him, then and there, I didn’t have any. Pondering over the query for a whole day. I indeed took my time and answered him only after two days: “The reason for my thinking on these lines is the fact that I am a Brahmin by birth. They think that the essence of Brahmanism comes to one by reason of birth. They believe so. The cause of my birth is my father. Hence, it is but natural that his deeds and ways and mentality do affect me. If they do not influence me fully, how can I be a Brahmin?”
Valluvan too accepted it as indeed true. “But, you are not the son of your father alone. Aren’t you the son of your mother also? Though she has no academic scholarship and the knowledge of Vedas or worldly wisdom, there is in her the inherent good character and the principle of journeying through the righteous path alone, that which she has willingly taken upon herself to follow and uphold – isn’t it so? And, for her sake and because of her, you can strive to live the life of a righteous Brahmin.”
For that, I had no answer. What Valluvan said was indeed true only. But, from time immemorial this society has been treating women as non-entity, something not to be taken note of... not to be taken into account… may be, that is why, what Valluvan pointed out had not struck me earlier as something significant. The belief that man alone is important, only he should be so,’ has been in vogue generation after generation and we have been acting in accordance with that belief…
“Is there any society, any religion where man has given equal status to woman?” – asked I.
“There is isn’t any to point at proudly. Societies are born due to social and economic factors. Hence, right from the start the practice of considering he who made money for the family, as the head of the family and an important person of the household, has come to stay.There is nothing wrong in that notion. We cannot say that women have no significant and special place in our social – setup. To some extent, they are thought of in noble terms and held in high esteem only,” – said Valluvan.
“But, psychologically, mind – set, in our attitude?”
“Between man and women what differences can one find out and preach? Further, it won’t be wrong at all to claim that women play more important a role than that of man, in the work of creation.? Her duty does not end with bearing the child in her womb for ten long months and giving it birth. After delivering the baby also, at least for six or seven years, the children look up to the mother only for everything. When such being the case, why should we think that the mother’s role in a family is less significant? For your mother’s sake, to give her peace and fulfillment, you should mend the course of your life..”
It was only after the lengthy discussion with Valluvan that I began to grow attached to life. Prior to that, umpteen numbers of times I had contemplated on committing suicide – ending my life voluntarily by jumping into a river or a lake. Such thoughts had long since left me. To survive, living the life of a Brahmin (chanting mantras and conducting rituals) and so surviving is still something that I cannot come to terms with. I have no intention of living a life of hypocrisy – adhering to an ideal, thought–process and a way of life in which I do not have whole–hearted belief and faith, and thinking along the lines of the rest who pretend to believe in it whole–heartedly, and so be silent and thus live on cheating the world – even if my father insist and force, I have decided not to go to ‘Prohitham.’ This does not mean that all my learning and knowledge of the Vedas are considered a waste by me. The other Brahmins consider it as a viable means for minting money. But, though I have learnt it. I think that it is a futile knowledge which has no help for me and also has no meaning for today’s life….
I myself didn’t know how long I stayed so, swinging the ‘oonjal’ slightly. So lost in thoughts I was that I had forgotten even that which I had told Valluvan - ‘I will come and tell you how mother is’. Probably mother was sleeping, for she too didn’t disturb my chain of thoughts. The afternoon had gone past and the shadows had started moving toward the east.
Mother, as if she had gone through a nightmare, woke up with a sudden jerk, and, raising herself up, she sat. There was no trace of fatigue; nor any signs of the fact that she had fainted a little while ago. “That girl has indeed given some good medicine. I will get up, and, after taking bath, will do the cooking” – said mother.
In mother’s heart there would surely be the hurt and pain for the way her husband is going after other women, like a dog in heat. That is human nature. Still, cooking food thrice a day for that very husband, and preparing meals to the taste of her son born of that man, the husband, and deriving satisfaction out of it, continue to be the way of woman’s life – things that would make one happy, and they as a whole are considered to be the virtue of womanhood…
I’m not hungry. Don’t prepare anything for my sake.” – said I.
“Oh, no. How can there be no hunger at this age? If your father comes he would shout at me saying that just because I am not feeling well he cannot forgo his lunch. There is still much time for the sun to retire for the day. I will finish taking bath in a minute and then I will prepare food in no time”– said she and got up hurriedly.
“If you can - prepare. If not, the sky won’t come down. If father goes without food for just one day, the world won’t turn upside down.”
Saying, “When there is a lady at home it should not be the case,” mother, as if thinking something else said, “If you marry a girl and bring her home to be of help to me, I will be ok”.
“For my daily–bread itself, I rely on my father. When such being the situation, I will be a fool to bring another girl too to eat out of his hand, leaving her half – hungry all the time.”
“Come on, do we really go without food? Not yet reached that stage! Moreover, the girl with a good horoscope could bring you luck. If she who comes happens to be “Lakshmi.” (The Goddess of wealth)...”
“Only her elder sister[goddess of misfortune] will come,” – said I.
“Don’t you speak such words. They sound ill” said mother.
“Oh, mother – uttering the word ‘Fire’ won’t burn your mouth.”
“True.But still, as your friend Valluvan holds, only good words should come from us,” - mother pointed out.
“When there comes fulfillment in one’s life, automatically good words alone would come out of him or her.”
“But, then don’t you feel that each and everyone of us should struggle to seek and attain fulfillment in our lives. Without any initiative, if we just sit and wait for something good to befall us, how can that be?”
“Tell me mother, are you really satisfied with life?” – Slowly I asked her, with all my love.
Taken aback, she stared at me for a split – second. I could see in her eyes the reflection of the whole lot of love and affection that I had for her and it gave me a deep sense of satisfaction. For some ten seconds she stood there, holding on to the chains of the swing as if steadying herself, and then, straightening herself, she looked up, at me and said in a clear tone, “Vaadhoo, what is there for me to regret? Both, in the house in which I was born and in that to which I had come as a bride, nothing is lacking. A good–looking husband, two daughters–they are living happily with their husbands, and a worthy son, one who has deep love for his mother! What do I lack?” – asked she.
“If you are really happy and without regrets, that is happiness for me too.” – said I.
“I know why you are speaking so apprehensively, Vaadhoo... Those are all small and trivial regrets. There is nothing that great, which could drown one completely. Remember the song my father-in-law used to sing?. Vajra Oosi...”
I too remembered. That was a song speaking of man’s profound good fortune in being born without any handicap – not being blind, deaf, or lame, and staying without being afflicted with any ailment, and thanking god for that with infinite gratitude.
“They too have a similar song in their language– so Miriam was telling before you came–” said mother. “She sang melodiously and explained its meaning also. I’m not able to sing it. But its meaning ,the way she had interpreted it has found a place in my heart. ‘Oh, my Lord, with what profound Grace, Mercy, and Justice you treat me! As far as possible I will conduct myself wisely and humbly. I live with my heart hailing your noble advent.(Pslam 1010) – some king of their land sang, it seems.”
I was indeed surprised by the familiar manner in which mother spoke of Miriam. “Have you already met Miriam earlier mother? Where and when? For, you never step out of house?” – I asked.
“Some four or five days back – it can be even a week – she came one evening, in search of me. Amidst many things, she spoke a lot about you and Valluvan too!” Mother involuntarily let out a deep sigh. “Good girl.”
“True. Good girl only. And also, a brave and courageous girl. Once she lashed out her horse-whip at someone who tried to misbehave with her!,” – said I.
“Indeed, many are in need horse-whip. Sad that they don’t get it!” – observed mother.
I felt proud of my mother.