A DISTANT REALITY
A number of friends observed that my last post ‘A Distant Dream’ was nostalgic and reminded them of their own childhood and the dreams that they had grown up with or the books that they had read. So I decided that I shall once again undertake an exploration through the lanes of nostalgia. There are two distinct emotions that come into play here – to relive those moments which have left an indelible imprint on my psyche and a travel down in search of my roots.
I have never seen my grandfather for all practical purposes. He passed away when I was only six months old. But I have heard a lot about him from my mother, elder brother and sister and others. What I did learn and realize was that he was an extraordinary and spiritually elevated person. It was in this context that I talked about my native village Gopalasamudram. Ever since I have nurtured a wish to write about him, but I also realised it can never be authentic for I have only heard and never really knew him. So I got down to writing what you may at best describe as fictional biography. I have a long way to go for I have just started but thought that I should share at least a bit of what I have begun. I do not know whether I will be able to go forward and complete it, but the journey is giving me immense joy. I find it extremely hard to reconstruct the socio-cultural milieu that was prevalent then. One of the reasons is that this can best be captured only by writing in one’s own native language.
How can I recapture the raw smell of the soil, the whiff of paddy from the fields, the fragrance of jasmine from among the tresses of women (so typical of Tamil Nadu) or watch the lazy and languid march of the cattle on their way back to their sheds as the sun sets with the cowherd walking along with his arms over the stick on his shoulders, the aging Brahmin standing on the banks of the river completing his evening prayers or listen to the bells ringing and the haunting drum beats emanating from the Shiva temple! It is very difficult. They reside there frozen back in time and in the corners of your mind. How do I bring them out through words?
Sankara slowly got up from his bed, the time was four thirty in the morning. He made his way to the puja room, opened the door and then prostrated himself before the pictures and idols of the various Gods that were enshrined there. He then washed his face and mouth went to the quadrangular, a common feature of the houses in the village, picked up his towel and a dhoti which were hung up on the clothes line to dry the previous day and moved towards the entrance. Meenakshi was also awake and was moving about in the kitchen, preparing for the coming day. Sankara called out to her and she went to close the door as soon as he left. This was a normal day and this was how it began. All these years the routine had never been broken.
It was still dark as Sankara made his way to the river to have his bath and be there to receive the first rays of dawn and say his morning prayers as an obeisance to the Sun God. As he passed the Siva temple, he bowed his head in reverence and continued. The silence that engulfed him was briefly interrupted by the rustle of the leaves as a gentle wind blew across the trees. For a man of lesser stature, the ghostly shadows and the silence would have been intimidating, but Sankara found his communion with God in that stillness.
He walked across the narrow bridge over the vaykaal(canal) and climbed the mound which separated it from the main river. He descended and went towards the mandapam ( a pillared outdoor hall) on its banks. The Thambiraparani flowed silently, and as the dawn slowly broke one could see the silver waters waiting for its first bathers. Sankara was alone when he stepped in. As he bathed he dipped his head thrice into the river and stood up facing the east as the sun slowly rose and the first rays danced across the waters. His hands folded he said a small prayer. He dried himself in the mandapam and sat down to do the sandhya vandanam. He loved this peace that surrounded him and as he did his pranayam he could feel himself breathing in the atmosphere of sanctity that prevailed, the gentle caressing sound of the Thambiraparani as it wound its way across the rocks on its bed. He picked up his clothes that he had spread out for drying in the mandapam and started his way back home. On the way he waved a greeting to a few of his friends who were proceeding towards the river. Sankara was a man of few words and his friends knew that and did not stop to talk to him but waved their hands to acknowledge.
Meenakshi had bathed by the time her husband came back from the river and set about arranging for his puja. She knew that he would not touch or have anything to eat or drink till he had completed his morning worship. Having been married for more than fifty years now, she was used to his routine.
Gopalasamudram was a quaint little village though a panchayat in the district of Tirunelveli, in those days unspoilt by the intrusions of city life. The agraharam where Sankara lived was one long street, where everyone knew everyone else. The street was bound by the Siva temple at the eastern end and a Vishnu temple at the western end. The entry in to the agraharam was right in the centre literally splitting it in to the west side and the east side. Behind the agraharam on the northern side flowed the Thambirabarani river. One had to cross a small bridge over a canal which was called as the vaykaal of the main river before climbing over a mound to reach the river bank. The river was ever flowing and the water was crystal clear, one could see the bed of the river and the fishes. The river derived its name from the fact that it was said to contain copper. Though there have been various interpretations for its name, there was a sanctity attributed to it as it was believed to be as old as the puranas and epics. In fact it was said that it is mentioned in the Mahabharata as an asylum where the Gods had undergone penances for attaining salvation. It wound its way from its origin in the Pothigai hills in the Western Ghats and flowed to merge with the ocean in the
Gulf of Mannar.’
I could not avoid repeating the last paragraph from the last post for the sake of keeping the continuity.
But I have expressed my desire to some friends that the richness of the native literature should be spread beyond the boundaries of its origin. Though the lyrical quality cannot be captured it will help in understanding the richness of thought and culture. Authentic translations should be available and I am sure there are enough scholars to do that now. It will be a great contribution in creating awareness among the non native population and as a legacy to posterity. The great writers and thinkers of the twentieth century though they wrote in their native language, their works were available to a large audience and spread beyond the boundaries of the country of origin because of the translations.