Chapter _ 9
A Novel in Thamizh by KA.NAA.SUBRAMANIAN
Translated into English by Latha Ramakrishnan
Whatever the case may be, it should be said that the Brahmins are indeed fortunate, at least to some extent, for, they are considered important by the society. Whatever one should say, only rarely does rain or thunder and lightning cause damage to their houses; unsettle those people. Their houses built by ‘Kaarai’, sand and stone stand unshakable, posing challenge to cyclone and the onslaught of wind and down–pour. In this area the
Street is the one and the only place along the
sea–shore that has not suffered much damage. In several other streets also–where
people who are more affluent than the Brahmins live – damages have been severe.
When it comes to the fishermen huts, and, in the slums where those, who are
considered the ‘low-caste born’ dwelt, the damages for the sheep and the
cattle, cows, pigs, hens and, among the human being, for men and women, have always
been intense and extensive.
That the thunders and lightening are cause by Lord Indhira and that when lightning plays deliriously across the sky and when the thunder roars frighteningly, if we are to chant the name of Indhira’s son Arjuna neither thunder nor lightning would harm us, so as not to be attacked by devils and evil forces, if they, without fail, chant mantras daily, holding their sacred – thread and its knot in the order 108 – 64 – 32 and so on, that would act as their shield and protect them from harm – so they say and believe. These appear to be foolish, superstitious beliefs only. Is this really my weakness? Whether superstitious beliefs or not, they do seem to be of some use and solace, aren’t they?
That night, cyclonic winds raged and lifted the sea waves as high as the coconut–tree. It looked like the sea–water would enter the streets any moment. All those who lived around the temple – there was no great distance between the sea–shore and the temple – were frightened to the core, and with the hope that Lord Kapali would save them they spent most of the later half of that night, there. In that area, many of the cows and calves did not suffer much damage. For, as soon as the symptoms for the oncoming storm surfaced, cows were taken to the eastern part (Keezhandai Saarugam) of the temple and were tied to the Mandap there.
Those who worked in the temple and earned their livelihood in the name of God – the temple employees most of whom belong to that category considered ‘inferior–Brahmins’ – even among them there does exist these differences indeed – found asylum in the temple.
The houses of Mylapore merchants – with the exception of some, were soundly built with stone and concrete (Kaarai). In those streets where they lived there were not many trees. Generally all the thirty, forty houses were built with their walls touching one another. Either as Mandap or fashioned as a flat plate-like shape mostly all the houses had one or two upper floors. And, the doors and windows of the houses too _ as it was an affluent area _ were strong. These houses suffered no damage at all.The only possibility was that those small little things and clothes lying outside could have been lost, carried away by the wind. But, for the merchants that is not a great loss.
Apart from that, in the Brahmin street there were some fifty coconut trees standing tall and mighty in a row. Of them some ten or twenty came crashing down at a shocking speed. The plantain–trees at the backyard suffered heavy damage. One or two neem trees – in the Brahmin street they always grow neem trees on purpose – for, the wind produced by the trees is good for health – had fallen down. The tiles of many of the roof–tops had gone with the wind. It seemed like almost all houses needed a new roof. Leaving that, even in those timeworn houses, only dampness that remained as a sign of the storm and heavy downpour, and no damage as such. Even those coconut–trees that had fallen – had not fallen on any rooftops. That itself was a wonder indeed. But then, I have heard that the coconuts too possess three eyes – like Lord Siva. And, don’t they say that it would never fall on anybody’s head!
All of them – the Brahmins, merchants, and the temple–staff and the affluent ones are the bigwigs of the local society. But, it is also not wholly correct to claim that the storm has left them unscathed. Many of those merchants owned small ships and boats. They were – those standing in the Port – not to be seen and their whereabouts not known. Some of them could have been drowned. Some would have been taken away by the force of the wind mid-sea. They should be found and brought back. They said that the twelve boats and three ships of Ezekiel had disappeared without leaving a trace behind. The fate of those boats and ships which were voyaging in mid-sea and had been caught in the wind, and of the men in them, would be known only after several days.
Should say that all these put together formed only one fourth of the total population of our place. The rest, the remaining three–fourth were those living in huts, having nothing much by way of possessions and belongings. They lived on the outskirts of our village with several of them living in the region adjacent to the beach, building huts there. There were very many who, unable to protect and save, had lost their kith and kin and also their cattle comprising cows, and sheep, pigs, hens, dogs, and the like.
There were also some who died, with the walls, unable to bear the weight of the heavy down–pour, falling on their heads. Many died, caught under the heavy trees that swayed and fell down. In the huts along the seashore, when the sea–waves leapt dangerously and on their return entered the hutments – there were many elderly ones, men women and children who were carried off by the current, to some unknown land. In the slums where the people who worked in the fields, lived, not even a single hutment could withstand the onslaught of the cyclone. Next to that, the huts of those who worked as carpenters and building constructors, were also either wiped off by the rain or torn to shreds by the wind.
When the storm began its attack in full splendour, it was well over mid-night. Though signals for the oncoming storm appeared in the early hours of the night – a windless, sweaty and suffocating atmosphere, dark clouds in the sky - though it was a full-moon day the sky was cloudy with no trace of the moonlight – people were only intent on whiling away the hours, lying down safely in their houses – and none had a thought of those who would suffer and none felt like going out and do something to alleviate their distress.
When the storm started raging and screamed from under the roof, the thought of Valluvan came to me. Though he lived in the slum only, his house was a strong, storeyed, mandap–like building made of hard stones (Karungal) and bricks and with cement applied on them. That would not have succumbed to any kind of storm. Still, the area in which he dwelt was exposed and wide–opened for wind and sea–water. All the houses in its surroundings are huts only. When those who lived in the huts would be suffering, leaving their cattle, house and belongings, Valluvan or his father Baghavan would not stay idle. ‘They would bring home those who would be suffering, and would be struggling hard to save their cattle, pigs, and hens and console the children’ – thought I.
I asked my own self whether it was fair on my part to be lying down safely at home, with a bed–sheet covering myself from head to foot comfortably, while the storm was raging outside. When I got up, and sitting on the bed, started thinking as to what I could do and whether I could go out to help those in distress, hearing the noise caused by a coconut–tree falling all over the street, my father and mother too woke up. ‘Hereafter, even if I say that I am going out they will not allow me. But then, in this storm what can anyone do even if he has access to go out?’
It looked like, in my thirty years of life on Earth neither in Mayavaram nor in Mylapore had I ever seen such a storm.
“In my sixty–five years of age I have never seen such a severe storm. It goes to show that the world is going from bad to worse, day by day. The time of “Total Annihilation” is fast approaching. Such natural calamities arise because justice and virtue are becoming rarer and rarer and their opposite multiply” –
said father as if he knew something solid. Why ‘as if..?” indeed he does know! For, isn’t he aware of all the wrongs that he keeps doing?
Neither mother nor myself answered him. He himself continued : “Those in the slum–dwellings and in fishermen colony they alone would suffer the most. God! How many cattle, houses and human – beings would be devovoured by this storm!” – said he.
That father too could entertain such thoughts proved indeed a surprise to me. Thinking that it was the right moment I said, “I feel like going out and seeing whether we can help some of the distressed”.
“What possible help can we render? Let the storm subside and you can go out and help in the morning. If you or your father venture out, the very thought of what would befall you would worry me to death,” his mother pleaded in fear and despair.
“Can’t we accommodate in our home those who have lost their houses?” – asked I.
“How can that be possible, I say? However great the danger or calamity will be, will they allow fishermen and other community people to enter our area – the Agraharam? Won’t the rest of the Brahmins blame us for it?” exclaimed father.
If the rest of the Brahmins too give shelter to at least ten or twenty in their houses we can easily weather the storm – can’t we? “ – I argued.
“That is out of question” said father. “You are Valluvan’s friend… that’s why, caring a damn about our caste and religion, it seems you visit even Ezekial’s house, What is there that draws you like a magnet? Last week Ramachandra Sasthrigal went to the extent of asking me suspiciously whether you eat something in that household. I answered him firmly that you wouldn’t do such a thing” – he went on, as if teaching me a lesson.
Outside, it looked like the wind had slightly calmed down and it had started raining. “In such times where people are in need of help, Valluvan won’t be sleeping inside the four walls of his house, like us. Even the merchant Ezekial would be busy giving shelter to those who have lost their house and belongings, keeping the doors of his mansion wide–opened,”– I observed. That both of them are of that nature is of course a well – known fact.
“Even the merchant Ezekial or your Valluvan can do nothing by way of help, by venturing out. Within taking two steps he himself would land in trouble and need help” – said father.
It sounded true only. “Why does Nature play havoc in such a manner, causing sorrow to the people?” – I asked.
It was mother who answered first: “This is Nature’s Game. God’s whims and fancies”.
“Why can’t the whims of God aim at doing good to Humanity?” Asked I.
“How can anyone say for sure that out of this storm nothing good would come to nobody, nowhere?” countered mother.
True, the good fortune that was to come to me the next day was not known to me then. Somehow my mother had sensed it instinctively.
“In our ‘dharma sasthras’ it is said that the sea-water stands one feet (Muzham) above the surface of the Earth and that it is the bounty and the good–deeds of man that prevents the sea–water from flooding the Earth and destroy all” – said father.
“It doesn’t look like that the fairness and bounty of man reign so supreme today to save the Earth from being devoured by the sea-water,” I pointed out. Then, a bit boldly, I said sarcastically and deliberately – let father start a quarrel, I won’t mind – “Those who are known to us, all of them have in some way or other upheld the unfair and the immoral only.”
Outside, once again the wind was swirling round and round deliriously. In the uproar of the storm the noise of the downpour went unheard. ‘Or else, has the rain stopped?’ The noise of another tree falling down reached my ears. That didn’t sound like that of the coconut tree. Must be the neem tree. It might be of Mangalampatti’s household.
Only yesterday did she refer to it with pride, telling me that it was seventy years old and still going strong.
“Though the foul deeds of individuals stand out and appear as very many, still, by and large, there are more righteous men among the human species on Earth.” opined father.
Pausing for a while, he continued: “Can’t say that generally this is inclusive of Brahmin concept of morality and righteousness. Valluvan’ s father, though considered low by accident of birth, is still a noble man by way of righteousness and integrity. It is no surprise if Valluvan is also like him. But the jew Ezekial who, having come from some alien land earns money without deviating from fair means is also a righteous person only. Because of being born a Brahmin I am not able to move with them on an equal footing. If I am to be so, my livelihood itself will be gone. As you are not earning your livelihood as an orthodox Brahmin, performing rites and rituals, you are able to move freely with Valluvan and Ezekial. Sometimes I fear that your activities should endanger my means of livelihood. So, I try to reprimand you. But, truly speaking, the fact that you are friendly with them gives me great satisfaction.”
Listening to him it was indeed a surprise to hear him speak so. ‘Not bad…beyond the narrow straight-line drawn by the Brahmins father is able to think even on these lines, I wondered. ‘Seems like I can feel a little proud of even my father...’
“The Brahmins are kept under narrow boundary lines. That very same fences would – if not today, then on some other time, definitely prove to be their undoing” – observed my father.
By then I was wide awake. ‘I should myself tell this to Valluvan, and should listen to what he has to say about this.’
Father continued:“The way Ezekial conducts himself, as the very personification of righteousness and integrity, is no surprise to me. It is the fact that even his sons and daughters have taken after him in this regard – being righteous is what surprises me greatly” said he.
“Ezekial will be allowing inside his house all those who have suffered due to the storm and his daughters Lizzath and Miriam will be either giving treatment to the wounded or consoling those who have lost their near and dears ones – so it seems to me.”
“Both Lizzath and Miriam are good girls. I had apprehensions about them and their behaviors as they are from a different land. But, indeed how good they are! – said mother, half asleep.
The cyclonic winds went on dancing devilishly, with a fury unleashed. Joining the wind’s uproar, the roar of the sea–waves was producing a frightening music. Good if one could get sleep. But sleep proved elusive. Shouldn’t blurt out something about Miriam under the influence of feeling sleepy.
Father too didn’t sleep. He was plunged deep in some thought. Mother said: “That Miriam said a thing which surprised me. One day, in their house, Valluvan was arguing with her father against preparing and eating non-vegetarian food in their household, condemning the habit of killing animals, birds, deer and the like, to further our growth, and hence, from then onwards she had stopped relishing meat, it seems. Now, she is a pure vegetarian only!” – said she! Having a separate kitchen for her, she eats only rice and vegetables, you know! When she said that, I felt greatly surprised” – said mother, yawning sleepily.
I didn’t say anything. Father too didn’t reply, Mother alone continued : “If only that girl were a Brahmin..”
“Why? Will you marry her to your son?” – asked father sarcastically. “They are rich people; business–folk. Even tomorrow they might leave this place itself. Deekshidhar is willing to marry his daughter to Vaadhoolan.”
“Who, the gambling Deekshidhar?” asked I.
“What if he plays cards and gambles? His daughter won’t do that.”
“Which daughter? He has got five daughters. Only the eldest daughter is married,” enquired mother.
“Mangalam is the name he mentioned. I think it is the second daughter,” – said father.
“Oh no, she is just a dud; good for nothing girl, don’t you know!” – exclaimed mother. ”She would always say something stupid when the elders would be busy discussing some important matter. The third one at least is, to some extent, an intelligent girl. Abayam is her name.”
“It is good to marry a stupid and foolish girl only. For, that would stay dumb whatever the husband does, being ignorant,” – said I.
Mother laughed. She was afraid that, as it was a straight hit, my father would become angry.
But, by then father was fast asleep.
Storm went on raging with a vengeance, using all its might.
Added to all that wind and rain, when thunder and lightning too started, only then, when it was only two hours for dawn – did I wake up. I myself didn’t know when I plunged into sleep.
Mother was still sleeping. When I woke up and looked around father was not to be found in the place where he was lying down. Seemed like, he had gone out. For a moment the thought that whether he had gone to enquire after the safety of one of his numerous darlings, crossed my mind. But then, the goodwill resulted out of his words uttered in the night, prevailed and I consoled myself thinking that he would have gone only to help someone in distress.
When I hurriedly approached the doors that were not closed, mother too woke up. “The storm has gone, but there is thunder and lightning still. If you are going outside, please go carefully. Go with someone. Don’t go alone, – were the words of caution uttered by her, first and foremost.
“First, I am going in search of Valluvan. Only then, the rest” – so replying when I came out. I looked up and down at the havocs caused by the storm in the Agraharam. Some houses there looked damaged. The opposite house – but they had made a roof, one with thatch for the time–being – stood there with its roof–top gone and the wall on the eastern side lay there, the storm having uprooted it, and the inhabitants of the house, though crowded in a corner of the hall, looked as though they were standing outside, on the streets. ‘They at least could have been given shelter in my house while the storm was raging’ – so I felt.
Before I could say anything, mother, who had followed me and saw the pitiable condition of the house said. “Ask them to come here for shelter, Vaadhoo. Here, there is enough space, “ – so saying to me, she, without wasting time, went down the street and brought home the lady of the opposite house along with her two daughters and a child, speaking something to them.
There was not even much to save and rescue out of their household. When Seetharama Iyer and myself brought home what little they had, and after placing them in the hall of my house safely, when I was about to leave, saying, “I’ll also come. God knows what all they suffer. He who fails to render help in such times of need is not at all human,” Seetharama Iyer also accompanied me.
For me, his company seemed a hindrance. For, he wouldn’t come to the place where I was going. ‘Further, he would prevent me also from going there’ thought I.
But, midway, when someone who proved a good match for him came along, enquiring,‘Hello Sharma? How is your place? Heavy loss?” he just went off, leaving me to myself. That of course suited me too.
The storm had indeed caused severe damage to our area. That which they call ‘The Dance of Destiny’ (Oozhikoothu), Oorthuva Thandava ‘Is it this? But then, this is Nature’s Game only – Not God’s.
‘When the result of this itself is such, what would be that of the ‘Dance of Destiny!’.