Saturday, April 25, 2015

V - Varanasi -1979

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

V – Varanasi  - 1979

The majestic  Ganges flew past the temples and Ghats that lined the sacred town of Haridwar and Benares. The sacred Ganges is supposed to have the power to absorb all the sins of the land. Flower garlands,  lamps , bones and ashes dissolved into the mighty  Ganges  everyday as  people  from faraway places travelled and came by to dissolve  the ashes of the dead and to ensure a safe passage into heaven.

It was Susee and Subbu’s first visit to the north of India.  They came by to pay a visit to Kittu in Delhi and were hosted by him  at the Rashtrapati Bhavan  where he held office and were his guests touring the famed rose garden, being served by the staff in pure silver ware. From Delhi, both the families went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal  and then to Haridwar, Rishikesh and Varanasi.   

It was in Varanasi, that Subbu had a task to complete.  He was carrying the Ashes.

They needed to hire a local priest to perform the last rites. There were many at the ghat vying for the potential customer.
The priest spoke Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Marathi, before concluding that his customer for the day was a Tamil Brahmin.  He was a street-smart  Panda who came from a priestly clan in Orissa, but had picked up most of the Indian languages during the course of his priestly occupation over the years in Varanasi. His specialization was to perform the last rites for the dead on the banks of the Ganges. 

Everyday hundreds of people came from all over the country with the ashes of their loved ones, to ensure that the deceased  soul had a peaceful passage into heaven.    The Panda would broker for Subbu, a safe passage for the loved one into heaven via the Ganges.

As the urn containing the ashes was being prepared to be washed down into the sacred Ganges, Subbu and Susee were choked with tears.  The priest asked for the name, family gothra and relation to the deceased in that order. It was needed to be chanted along with the Sanskrit Mantra as a part of the rituals. 

Sivachami , Anna, Elder Brother,  said Subbu almost choking in his own tears.
Gothra ( Name of the family tree) asked the Priest.

mmm... Padayachi said Subbu with a slight hesitation and nodded his head inorder to affirm that he was indeed saying the right thing.

 The Brahmin Priest could not believe what he was hearing. On affirmation that Subbu was indeed saying the right thing, he squinted and then frowned.  The priest  had never before performed the last rites for  an untouchable.  That too, a Padayachi.  In the social structure that he was accustomed to, the  Padayachi  were the people  that did menial jobs in the farm  lands and cattle sheds .

Over the 60’s and 70’s they were steadily gaining political power especially in south India.   But this was the first time he had encountered a Brahmin, wearing his sacred thread doing the last rites for an Untouchable whom he related to as an elder brother.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After the incident at Srirangam  in 1967 it was a steady decline for Susee and Subbu in what they had taken for granted as their homeland, their culture and their way of life. Soon after Natesa Iyer's passing in 1969, the land was divided among all the brothers.  Subbu continued to oversee all the farm work but he knew that sooner or later his brothers would ask for their share of land to be sold off.

After his daughter was married in 1971 and his son had settled in a job with a bank in Madras, Subbu and Susee knew that their time in  Agaramangudi would sooner or later come to an end. In any case there were very few families left in the Agraharam.  

The labour unrest and social uprising against the Brahmins, particularly the absentee landlords was increasing every year. By the mid 1980’s, Subbu had sold all his agricultural lands including the ancestral house, Sri Lakshmi Nivas before he migrated to the city for good.  

But the cattle shed and the mud hut with the thatched roof  where Sivachami was born and lived all his life, along with the Mango orchard near the pond, he gifted it away to Sivachami’s  only daughter, Thenmozhi.    

It was a promise he had made to his dying  father.

To be continued ... W - Whitefield - 2009 

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