Amalraj, my erstwhile colleague and a good friend now, is probably reason for this effort. Well, not exactly Amalraj, but his father. He is one of the people who has inspired me. When I read this story after many years, Amalraj’s father immediately sprang to my mind.
Amalraj’s father was a fruit seller. When Amalraj moved to a city after getting a nice job, his father came to stay with him. In a few months, he started selling candies and trinkets to the school children. He just made a contraption of a table and during school breaks, he would set up his shop in front of the school. He became quite popular with the children.
Years later, Amalraj moved to Pune on a promotion. He was well settled in his job, drove a fancy car and his parents moved in with him. Again, in a couple of months, his father found another business idea. The important thing to remember here is, his father did not understand a word of Hindi or Marathi – the languages spoken in Pune.
Back to the business idea, he started making Vadas and spicy chutney, got himself an old bicycle and supplied them to nearby tea stalls. In a short span, he had developed a client base and the regulars thronged to the tea shop in the afternoon, looking for Vada with spicy chutney and a hot cup of tea.
When I heard this story from Amalraj, I told him this is really inspiring.
The following story or the translation is dedicated to Amalraj’s father. Read on…
வழித்துணை – இந்திரா பார்த்தசாரதி
Saraba Sastrigal started looking outside the window holding the sill. The dawn was waking up in a hazy ash colour. Where his sight ended, the road divided into two. Two cars, one black and the other white crossed each other. Boys were distributing morning newspapers, the milk bottles were making noise as they scraped. Old men with sticks in hand, were walking to stop the aging process and young men were jogging around the ground. As he looked through the glass, he felt he was watching a movie.
Such a harsh voice. Saraba Sastrigal turned around. His only son Hariharan was calling him with such anger.
He looked as if he had just woken up. He was still wearing his nightgown and holding a toothbrush in his hand.
‘Dad, what’s this?
He understood immediately what he meant by ‘this.’ The previous night, Hariharan’s wife Prema was murmuring in her husband’ ears for a long time. She must not have left anything out. Since she did not have a mother in law, she could only take every thing out on her father in law.
‘What’s this dad? I am asking you and you are not responding?’
‘What are you asking me to do?’ Saraba Sastrigal started laughing mildly.
‘You are laughing. I told you so many times and you still don’t get it into your…’ he hesitated to finish the sentence.
Why would he not hesitate? His mother died while she was still in labour. He brought him up playing both mother and father’s roles with love, affection and care. His son could not forget it. He must have wanted to ask, ‘have you lost your head?’ His heart must have forgotten ‘gratitude.’ But his tongue still had it and it refused to spill those words.
‘Ask me. Ask me. Have you lost your head? That’s what you wanted to ask. Go ahead.’
‘Have you been to Natarajan’s house?’ He came to the subject directly.
Hariharan’s wife was sitting in the adjacent room. The casual posture of her sitting, indicated clearly she was listening with rapt attention.
‘Yes. I went to Natarajan’s house in Lodi colony. So what?’
‘What do you mean by so what? Do you who is Natarajan?’
Saraba Sastrigal saw Prema was looking at him, though her head was lowered as she was inserting a hair clip.
How could his son even think of asking the question? Has the world forgotten the meaning of gratitude? Had Natarajan’s grandfather, Nataraja Sastry, not helped him, this Hariharan would not have become an IAS officer and made tons of money. He could not have got a wife, who spent hours, sitting in front of a dressing table applying makeup.
His son was asking who is Natarajan. His family has been the ‘family prohit’ for Natarajan’s family for generations. In this generation, his son is an IAS officer and Natarajan is just a typist in his son’s office. Natarajan’s father was a spendthrift and lost all the family wealth. He came to see his son in Delhi and died there unexpectedly. When he heard the news of the death, Saraba Sastrigal rushed to see him, though Natarajan asked him not to come. But he had to go and perform the final rites. How could he not?
‘Tell me dad. You know who is Natarajan?’ His son was not ready to let go of the subject.
‘Daddy!’ His grandson Suresh came running and hugged Hariharan’s legs.
Prema admonished the child, “NO Suresh!” Yes she was teaching her child a good habit. Not to intrude when two elders were talking. But what could be a great habit than not forgetting gratitude? Had he failed to teach his son this important lesson?
‘Natarajan – who? Nataraja Deetchidar’s grandson. I hope you won’t ask who is Natraja Deetchidar?’
‘I did not mean to say you should not have gone there. But who asked you to..’ again his son hesitated to complete the sentence. What is there to feel ashamed about this?
‘Complete the sentence. Why are you hesitating? Has my job become something to be ashamed of or to feel bad about?’
‘Who said it is a lowly job. But a father should also look at the position of his son in the society?’ said Prema as she walked into the hall. The perfume she was wearing filled the living room.
‘Every profession is a good one. You have all had modern education. And you are still talking like this.’
‘It is not about whether the profession is a great one or menial one. But it is a mistake you performed final rites for Natarajan’s father. What will people say?’
‘He may be a ‘typist’ in your eyes. But your husband can’t think like that and he should not.’
‘That’s why I got him a job here. ‘A good for nothing man kicked the bucket.’ why should you go to their place to perform the rites?’
Saraba Sastrigal said, ‘don’t talk like this.’
‘I don’t have time to argue with you. It is a grave mistake that you went and performed final rites at Natarajan’s place. I don’t have time to get into research whether progitham is a good or bad profession.’
His son walked out from the room, his anger did not subside. Saraba Sastrigal thought that his son did not have time to think whether his father’s profession was something to talk about or not, whether it was a good or bad profession. But how can he not think good about his profession. His legs started shaking. Saraba Sastrigal sat on the sofa.
Suresh, his grandson came and sat next to him. He had a book in his hand and chocolate in his mouth. He was concentrating deeply as he thumbed the pages of the book.
Hariharan looked exactly like Suresh when he was ten years old of course he was not as tall and was not this fair. But his action and pose was the same. He (his son) must have dreamt, a million times, sitting cross legged on a sofa eating chocolates and reading books when he was young. He was giving the childhood he missed, to his son.
About ten days back Hariharan was entertaining some guests at home over a dinner. He had just returned form USA. He was telling the guests, ‘In America, a man can lug timber or sacks. He can was dishes or sell newspapers. There is nothing high or low about a profession there. I understood true meaning of democracy only when I went to the States.’
For his son, who learnt the meaning of democracy in USA, talking about his father’s profession was a shameful affair. What could be the reason behind this? Is it because he did not believe in rituals? His father whose profession is performing rituals is not something he thought good about? A misleading forward thinking. Or is it just plain cowardice? May be the modern education had made him a coward.
A man can lug sacks, wash dishes, sell newspapers. But not perform Vedic rituals. He suddenly felt like the world was getting dark.
He started pacing the room as the thought about this returned, and sat on the sofa. His son was sitting opposite to him reading a newspaper. Is this the son whom he brought up with all the love and affection?
Hariharan folded the newspaper and kept it on the table. He looked at his father through the corner of this eyes. He might have thought he had spoken harshly. Saraba Sastrigal closed his eyes.
Hariharan got ready and left for his office. His wife Prema went out to catch up with gossip. No one was at home except Saraba Sastrigal and the cook. He was getting bored. He left home for a long walk.
As usual, Ajmal Khan road was crowded. All the buses, cars and scooters. Why was everyone in such a hurry?
Suddenly, he felt that he was caught in a mad crowd which was running all over the city without knowing the destination. He should not have come to Delhi. But how could he refuse his only son who kept asking him to come and stay with him. He had provided him all the luxury one could think of.
Few days before, Hariharan was telling some friends about a dog in a dictatorship country. It had all the comforts but only one complaint. It could not bark as it pleased.
What could he do with all the comforts and luxury if he could not save his self prestige. Hariharan shouted as if he was possessed. ‘Wrong Wrong Wrong.’ Why did he shout like that? Is it because his wife kept reminding him, ‘You are an officer and Natarajan is just a typist.’ Or did his son feel that he was made to look like a fool in front of his wife and he had to endure this shame. Or is it just because he had forgotten his beginnings and the lack of gratitude had made him angry with himself.
Saraba Sastrigal turned. Raghava Sastrigal got down from his scooter.
‘How come?’ Ragava Sastrigal pushed his scooter to the edge of the road as he asked the question.
Times have changed. Once upon a time, Sastrigal walked to all the houses for hours. Then they got on to bicycles. Now scooter. Who is saying the world is not progressing.
‘I heard you went to Natarajan’s house yesterday. Someone told me in South India Club.’
Raghava Sastrigal let out a smile.
‘Why are you smiling?’
‘Son is making mountains of money. Why should you do this. We are there for these lowly jobs.’
Saraba Sastrigal’s face reddened. Because of people like Raghava Sastrigal who thought bad about their own profession, the profession had lost respect. If he has such a low opinion on the profession why should he practice it? Whether the ritual is performed on a marriage function or at a death ceremony, does the respect come from where you perform the ritual? Let them go and perform ritual on a scooter or let them take an aeroplane. Nothing wrong in making your life more comfortable. But how can you call this a lowly profession and practice it. Why should he byheart Vedas and repeat them like a parrot. A gramophone record can do that job. Why should one study Vedas for years?
‘Why are you not saying anything? Have I said somethign wrong?’
Saraba Sastrigal did not want to get into an argument with him. He was getting angrier by the minute. His mind was getting filled up with the thought of going back to his native.
‘Natarajan is well known to me. You should have known Nataraja Dikshidar, his grandfather.
‘Yes of course. If there was a function at their house, the whole district would talk about it.’
‘That was then. Nataraja Dikshidar died long time ago. His family had lost everything. Natarajan, his grandson has come thousand of miles away from his place to make a living. You are going all over the city on a scooter but you could not find time to go Natarajan’s place. How does it matter whether his family was known all over the district?’
Saraba Sastrigal was becoming breathless. He should not have become so emotional.
‘Why are you getting angry? I heard the news only last evening.’
‘Why should I get angry at you? The world has come to this stage. Only things which are visible to the eyes have value like jewelry, car and a bungalow. Gratitude, love and affection, they are not visible to the eyes, hence have no value.’
‘So long, let me take leave.’ Raghava Sastrigal started his scooter.
Saraba Sastrigal resumed his walk. He wanted to control his emotions when he resumed his walk. But, it just became worse.
As he was so preoccupied in his thought, he did not listen to the horn beep from a car behind him. It screeched a halt and Saraba Sastrigal jumped on the pavement. As he was about to go down, someone held him tight.
‘Saami (sir) You?’
Saraba Sastrigal looked at the person who held him. It was Rathinavelu.
‘Velu how come you are in Delhi?’
‘I am here since last three months.’
‘Who is here for you?’
‘My son got transferred to Delhi from Chennai. He is here since the past one year.’
Rathinavelu was considered be a good luck person. For any tonsure job for small babies, only Rathinavelu would be called. He did not have his own saloon. But with his income he progressed well. As long as Saraba Sastrigal was in his native, he would not go to anyone else for a haircut. A very good character and with great attitude. At last he has also ended up in Delhi.
‘Sir how are you?’
‘Hmmm.’ Saraba Sastrigal did not answer but just let out a sigh.
‘Why sir? You are not enthusiastic.’
‘Just surviving. So what could I say?’
‘I heard your son is in a very high position.’
‘Let him be. But I am only a prohit no?’
‘Sir you are so well educated. How can you talk like this?’
‘What is wrong in me saying this?’
‘Sir every profession is great. You are holding darbai (a dry grass used in rituals), I am holding a knife and someone is holding a pen. So what of it?’
Saraba Sastrigal looked at him with surprise. The confidence in his tone made him happy and satisfied.
‘Are you happy? How is your son?’
‘Don’t ask. Just because he has learnt four words in English, he is throwing an attitude. ‘Dad don’t do this. Dad don’t do that.’ Few days back some visitors came to the house. He is lying to them saying I was a doctor, practicing medicine in the village. Sir you tell me. My profession is a highly respectable profession for me. Should anyone be measured by their profession?’
Saraba Sastrigal became speechless. Velu would not have studied Bhagavat Geeta. But the philosophy espoused in the great book is immersed in his experience.
‘Tell me sir. I am correct no? Yesterday evening I told him, ‘look here. You and I can’t live together. You be a Governor of Delhi. But I am going back to our native place.’
‘So you are leaving?’
‘Yes sir. No point in talking about sons and daughters. At least in our native I can salvage my prestige.’
‘Very true. Have you bought the ticket?’
‘No sir. I am going to buy tomorrow.’
‘Will you do something for me?’
‘But a ticket for me also. I will give money once we reach our place. I will get an escort also when I come with you.’
Now Velu became speechless.
Indira Parthasarathy (commonly known as Ee. Paa.) is the pen name of R. Parthasarathy, a noted Tamil writer and playwright. He was born on July 7 1930. He has published 16 novels, 10 plays, anthologies of short stories, and essays. He is best known for his plays, “Aurangzeb”, “Nandan Kathai” and “Ramanujar”.
He has been awarded the Saraswati Samman (1999), and is the only Tamil writer to receive both the Sahitya Akademi Award (1999) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2004). He received Padma Shri in the year 2010, given by Government of India.