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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hanumantha Days

My grandfather passed away on the night of the 11th of August. He was survived by two sons, two daughters and eight grandchildren. He was 75.

He was born into a financially healthy, traditional, south Indian, brahmin family in a village near Arani. His childhood was marked by extraordinary insistence on Hindu rituals and shastras that he lacked any understanding of the society and the way it worked. In his teens, when his father left the family for good with a seer, he was abysmal in managing the abundant arable land and scores of cows. In a few years most of his wealth was gone, thanks to the shrewd villagers, and he started wondering what he was destined to do with his life. It is that thought which led him towards astrology, palmistry, numerology, and other occult sciences. Later he strengthened his knowledge on the Vedas, Upanishads and other sacred Hindu texts. He earned his living by actively practicing horoscope analysis and purohitam. True to his name, he was a very active persona - he had visitors even a week before his death and he had commitments for the coming weeks.

He made the whole village his home. When his wife passed away in 1980 and the rest of the family decided to move to Madras for reasons of progress, he insisted on staying in his home (but for the last two years of his life). He led an ascetic life since then, living alone in the village, in his village, where his popularity as an astrologer grew to greater heights that people even from top political circles came to get his opinion. Needless to say, he was the first one to be consulted in any good or bad event in all the surrounding villages. Later he groomed a few purohits and delegated his responsibilities citing his schedule. When we all requested him to come join us in Madras and explained him the amount of money involved, he simply refused to budge. Talking of money, since he grew up in a village and most of his customers are villagers, he never demanded money for his services. He would humbly accept whatever was given to him.

Because of his hard-core values, in his initial days, he didn't allow the cleaning lady into the kitchen or the helpers into the house. But with time, his values eroded/upgraded and the cleaning lady had a free hand when it came to the pooja room and the kitchen, and his helpers sat next to him and ate the food he cooked. When we informed about his death to the village head, the news quickly spread, and about 25 of them took a bus at 1:00 a.m and after a few transits, made it to our home by 5:00 a.m. When his children showed tremendous courage and checked their tears, these people were beyond themselves and did cry hard.

I was his first and favourite grandchild. In the bigger tree of our family, everyone knew that he had a soft corner for me. I've had numerous discussions, dialogues and arguments with him over our rituals, cultural heritage and the advent of modern values and we never came to a conclusion. In the last two years, when we finally managed to pull him out of his home, I simply refrained from opposing his ideas. Whatever he said I'd agree on his face, even if I were dead against the thought. There were times when he would wait for my return to home to accompany him to the local health clinic for regular check-ups, refusing help from other family members.

He was an excellent cook. His rasam is worth a patent. He would simply walk to the backyard, pluck a few leaves and add it to the boiling ingredients and that would give a supreme flavour to his rasam. He was an excellent story-teller too!! He had the knack of elaborating one line jokes into stories with an excellent narrative. (His horoscope interpretation techniques were so thorough that I would sometimes joke that he told a good story to his visitor). He had a marvelous command over Tamil literature. He went to school only for a few years, but he read most of the literature out of interest and whenever someone gave a wrong interpretation for a line in Thiruvasagam or Silappadhigaram on the TV, he'd laugh and tell us the right meaning. But his most striking aspect was his simplicity. Not just his outlook, but his requirements and his home and his ideas and the way he carried himself around. Simplicity has never added so much to one's charisma.

-- Originally written on the 13 August, 2005 for LJ, in memory of my grandfather.

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