The municipal park in Neyyarinkara was frequented by young and old alike. A man dressed in saffron robes sat under a banyan tree in a corner of the park. He arranged the pleats of his robe and closed his eyes and began to meditate.
For a few minutes, his mind was blank. Then he began to think.
“What if people think I am mad?”
That was a distinct possibility. People in Neyyarinkara were not much interested in religion or ascetics.
“Damn the communists,” he thought “They are spreading everywhere like a disease. What happened yesterday, may not happen here.”
The previous day he was in Kanyakumari. He was there to attend a yoga training camp. After the camp, he was waiting for the bus to take him back home. There he had tried the same trick he was trying out now in the park. There he sat under a tree in a meditative pose. He had hardly closed his eyes when a foreign tourist had come up to him.
“Namaste Swami,” the man said. For a second the man did not respond. He realized that his flowing beard and saffron robes must have made the tourist think that he was a swami. He did not correct him. The tourist had a lot of questions. Question about life, death and karma. The ‘Swami’ answered all his questions. The tourist was happy. The man was also happy. He saw a lot of scope in becoming a swami. After all, he knew the theory part.
“That man at least showed the courtesy of listening to me. The people in this village are hopeless. This swami business might not work here.” The swami thought.
He had a feeling that he was being watched. He opened his eyes.
He saw a group of children staring at him. They were from the village. Summer vacations had started. Everywhere you looked you could see children running around and playing. The sight of a man with a long beard sitting with his eyes closed under a tree was too much for the children to pass. They crowded around the swami.
“Why are you sleeping under the tree?” said one of the children.
“Why are you sitting and sleeping at the same time?” said another child from the group.
“Go away. Do not disturb me,” said the swami.
“My father says all swamis are cheats,” said a child who thought he was safe as he was standing in the centre of the group.
“He says that, does he? You want to know what I think about your father?”
The children ran away from there laughing.
“My father is a police constable. Wait till I tell him,” the boy said as he ran away.
For a few minutes, the Swami was worried. Then he relaxed. He had not said anything about the boy’s father. So, he had nothing to worry about he thought.
He resumed his posture of meditation.
Five minutes later his concentration was again disturbed when two young men came and sat next to him.
“Have you decided which movie to go to?” said one of the men.
“No. I do not have the money. I can come if you are sponsoring,” said his friend.
“Forget it. I sponsored last week’s movie as well. One of these days my father is going to beat me to death. He has not realized that I steal from his wallet. It has all been small amounts. Five rupees, ten rupees. All small notes!”
Both my friends laughed.
This disturbed the swami’s concentration.
“Can you two not make so much noise? You are disturbing me,” the swami said.
The two friends had not noticed the man sitting next to them. They both turned to face him.
“Pisharody uncle! What are you doing in this fancy dress?” said one of them and both the boys laughed.
Pisharody cringed. He preferred to be addressed as Swami ji now.
“I have become a sanyasi. Show some respect.”
This reply made them laugh all the more.
“When did you become a sanyasi? I must have missed that in the newspapers,” one of the boys asked.
Pisharody had had enough. These boys had no respect for ascetics. He got up and started walking.
“Uncle sing a bhajan or some devotional song. At least chant Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. Otherwise, people would think that you are dressed for a fancy-dress contest.”
With the sound of the boy’s shrill laughter ringing in his ears, an angry Pisharody reached home.
Seetharaman Pisharody was a retired college professor. He had settled down in Neyyarinkara, the village of his ancestors. His last posting was as a professor in the University College in Trivandrum. His subject was philosophy. Early Indian Philosophy and Vedic studies were his specialities in college. He knew the scriptures and could quote and speak for hours on them. Years of repeating the same subject had imprinted all the text into his brain. It had been easy for him to answer the questions of the tourist because that is what he had done all his life as a lecturer – answer the queries of his students. He could speak for hours on religious subjects. At home, though the situation was a bit different. His wife Bhavani and his two children avoided him like plague. Anyone who knew the family closely would agree that Bhavani his wife, Suma, his daughter and Vinith his son did the right thing by avoiding Pisharody.
“Why is there so much dust on the dining table,” said Pisharody as he came into the kitchen.
“I cleaned it this morning. The windows are open, the wind must be blowing in the dust,” said Bhavani his wife, trying to explain.
“You people do not value what I have done for you. All my life I struggled as a teacher earning money. Now you and your children are wasting it.”
Bhavani sighed. It looked like a long day ahead. She was sure someone must have ticked him off on the way home. That would put him in a bad mood. In a bad mood, Pisharody loved to crib. Once Pisharody started cribbing it was difficult to reign him in. The trick was to let him vent. Once all the anger and frustration went out of his system, he would cool down and go to sleep. If you tried to argue with him he would explode. He was in his sixties. During the early days of their marriage, he would get violent. Throw things, beat up Bhavani and the children. Age had stopped the violence. Now he cribbed. Bhavani sighed and continued washing the dirty utensils in the kitchen.
“Pisharody saar! Saar!” someone was shouting.
It was three in the afternoon and Pisharody was asleep. Bhavani went out to check.
Two young boys were standing there. With them, there was a group of tourists with back packs and rucksacks on their back.
“These people wanted to talk about Indian religion and we thought Pisharody saar would be able to guide them. Also, there is no one in this village who can speak in English for more than two minutes!”
“Why did you bring them here?” said Bhavani.
“We met saar at the park today he said he had become a sanyasi. These people wanted to discuss religion so we thought it best to bring them here.”
“Become a sanyasi? When did that happen? Said Bhavani, “Wait here, he is sleeping. I will let him know.”
Pisharody was sleeping when Bhavani had come to call him. He had quickly sized up the situation and dressed accordingly. He put on his saffron robes, threw a string of prayer beads around his neck, adjusted his reading glasses and stepped out. By the time Pisharody came out, the group had arranged itself on the ground outside the house. There were about ten men and women in the group. Most of them just out of their teens. Some of them were smoking. They had colourful beads around their necks and were wearing loose flowing dresses.
The effect was instant. The group of foreigners got up and bowed to him.
“Namaste Swami ji!” the words felt like magic to Pisharody’ s ears.
For the next two hours as Bhavani cooked in the kitchen, Pisharody espoused on the theory of Vedanta. He spoke about Karma and reincarnation. He discoursed on how religion taught us to respect others, not discriminate on the basis of gender, caste, religion or creed. The listeners were spellbound. By the time they left they had taken his photos and got his phone and address details. Seetharaman Pisharody’ s journey towards becoming a Swami had started.
Over the months Pisharody made changes in his house. He added a large hall in front of the house. This was designated as a meditation cum visitor’s room. He added a bathroom to the hall as he spent most of his time there. He added a ceiling fan and put in a carpet on the floor. People who came in were now able to sit with ease. He arranged for drinking water in the hall. He asked Bhavani if she could serve tea to the visitors but she put her foot down.
“Why are you wasting so much money on the hall?” said Bhavani.
“What do you mean by wasting? The people who come here are from distant countries – America, England. You want me to make them sit on the ground?”
“Remember you have a daughter. She is twenty-two years old now. We have to find a good proposal for her. We will need to spend at least five lakhs on her marriage. Gold is so costly these days.”
“What did your father give me when I married you?” said Pisharody.
“You got this house. What more do you want?”
“You call this a house? This old, crumbling piece of dirt?”
“If it is crumbling and old you should have built a new one. You have also been staying in this old, crumbling house all these years.”
“I am not going to waste my money on this house.”
“Yet you do not mind spending lakhs on this hall to seat these drug addicts!”
“It is my money. The money I earned slogging all those years as a lecturer. Plus, now I have my pension money. I do not need to give you an explanation of how I spend my money.”
The door-bell rang. It was a group of three Americans. They wanted to discuss with the swami ji about meditation and peace of mind.
“Meditation is like exercise for the brain cells. Just like lifting weights builds muscles, by meditating you exercise your mind. Let me explain this with a practical demonstration. I do not want this to be a one-way session. I want you to do what I am going to demonstrate. Sit comfortably on the floor….”
Pisharody’ s voice could be heard from the hall.
“Mother, I want to discuss something important with you,” said Suma.
“Not now. I am busy. Once he is done advising the world on peace and harmony he will come barging in and start shouting and yelling if he finds lunch is not ready.”
“Have you noticed that Father has two distinct personalities? One that he displays at home and the other in public.”
“I had a problem the first few years after my marriage, but now I have grown used to it.”
“Mother, I wanted to speak to you about something important.”
“Not now. Here cut these vegetables up. Dice them up properly. You know how your father likes to have them all in small pieces. He does not like big chunks of vegetables in his food,”
The Swami liked it when there was a crowd in the hall. He has put up photos of saints and philosophers on the walls. On one side he built an altar. There he placed photos and icons representing different religions. The message being conveyed was of universal brotherhood. The idea was popular. It attracted the crowds. On days when no one came, he would be grumpy. He would wait and when nobody turned up he would take it out on Bhavani. He noticed that there was a pattern. The numbers swelled and ebbed with the tourist season. It was during the summer months that the tourists poured in. Once the rains set in the numbers would drop. The swami hated the rains.
The summer was at its peak. There was a sizable crowd in the hall and the swami was in his element.
“All humans are equal. No one should discriminate on the basis of religion, caste and creed. What the Hindu called jal, the Muslim called pani while the Christian would call water. They are all the same…”
The audience nodded their head in agreement. The swami had memorized phrases and anecdotes which were guaranteed to put the audience in head-nodding mode. As he was speaking he saw his son Vinith rush into the house. The boy was in his twenties. He was an average student and with his grades, the chances of getting a job were almost next to zero.
Pisharody thought that he was not putting in any effort to find a job instead he was wasting his hard-earned money. For a moment the Swami felt an urge to shout at him, but he controlled his anger. In his swami avatar, he had to be benevolent and understanding. He would deal with that good for nothing boy later.
Vinith, Pisharody’ s son stopped for a moment. He thought he would go and talk to his father. Then he realized the consequence of the action and ran inside and went straight to his mother.
“Mother, where is Suma?” Vinith said.
“How do I know? She must be in her room,” said Bhavani.
Vinith ran towards his sister’s room. A little later he came back.
“No! She is not there. Did she tell you that she was going out anywhere?”
“No. She must have gone to her friend’s house, but she never does that without telling me first.”
“My friends told me that they saw Suma leave on a bus. She was carrying a large bag. There was a boy along with her. Do you remember a tall boy in her friend’s circle? Joseph …something. I do not remember his last name. He was with her on the bus. My friends said Suma has eloped with Joseph.”
Bhavani dropped the vessel she had in her hand. She ran towards her daughter’s room. Suma’s clothes were missing. So was a carry bag. On the table there, they found a note.
Dear Mother, Father,
I tried to talk to both of you but you were busy. I have decided to marry Joseph. He was my classmate and we have known each other since the fifth standard. He was not in favour of us eloping and suggested we discuss with father about getting us married off. I know that would never happen. I am sorry this is the only way out for me.
The Swami finished his lecture and the group that had assembled left. Pisharody was hungry. He was thinking about areas in his talks that he could improve. He noticed the attention of the audience flagging when he discussed certain points. At times he noticed them concentrate with full interest. He tried to discern a pattern here, areas of interest against the age of the listener. It would be better he figured if he stuck to points that people wanted to hear. He was deep in thought as he came into the house. He found Bhavani sitting at the dinner table. There were no plates in sight. Vinith was standing with his back against the wall. Pisharody saw an opportunity to shout at his son.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to burst into the house like a mad dog? The hall is full of visitors. At least try to act like a gentleman when we have company.”
Vinith did not answer.
“Before you start off with him read this,” said Bhavani handing Pisharody the letter.
“What is this?” said Pisharody.
“It is a letter from your daughter,” said Bhavani, with tears in her eyes.
Pisharody read the letter. Then he read it again and then all hell broke loose.
“This is all your fault. You gave her complete freedom. Of all the people in the world, she runs away with a Christian. That too a low-caste Hindu covert! Has she taken any money?”
Pisharody went to his room to check the money in his wallet. There was nothing missing.
“Did she take anything from you? Did you give her any money?” said Pisharody shouting at Bhavani.
“My daughter is missing and all that you are worried about is money. All this money is anyways meant for the children. What if she took some of it?”
“So, she did take my money to elope with some low-caste boy. We are Pisharody’ s – high caste Hindu’s and she runs away with a low-caste Christian convert.”
“Joseph’s father is one of the richest men in this village. They have two sawmills and a small hotel,” said Vinith.
“I knew it. You are also in with her,” said Pisharody and saw Vinith.
“I am not in this. I came to know only an hour back. Someone told me he had seen them get on a bus and leave, ” said Vinith before his father could start with him.
“At least go to the police station and submit a complaint,” said Bhavani.
Pisharody paused and began thinking.
After some time he said, “No we cannot give a complaint.”
“Why not?” said Bhavani.
“I cannot afford to go to the police station at this time. It is the peak of the tourist season. About twenty tourists come here to listen to my discourses any given day. It will look bad for my image if this news spreads.”
“Image. All that you are worried about is your image. Your daughter is missing and you are worried about money and image?”
“Good thing you mentioned about money. From today onwards no one from this family will talk or get in touch with Suma. She will not enter this house again. I will remove her name from the will. For me she is dead. I forbid both of you from ever interacting with her.”
Bhavani looked down and shook her head in disgust.
“At least take the saffron robes and prayer beads off when you talk like this,” she said and went into the kitchen.
Months passed. Pisharody never spoke about his daughter. Bhavani and Vinith would occasionally talk about her but only when they were sure Pisharody was not there.
“There is a parcel for Pisharody saar.”
It was Narayanan the village postman at the gate.
Pisharody was not at home. He was attending a yoga camp.
“Narayanan, how is Kittu your son?” said Bhavani as she signed for the parcel.
“He is fine,” said Narayanan.
“I heard he got some award in a sports competition,” said Bhavani.
Narayanan beamed with pride.
“Tell your wife Kalyani to bring Kittu here. I have not seen the boy in ages.”
As the postman left, Bhavani looked at the parcel. It was addressed to Pisharody. It was sent from Bombay. There was a letter along with the parcel. The letter was addressed to both Bhavani and her husband. Bhavani opened and read it. It was from Suma.
My dear Mother and Father,
I know both of you are still angry with me. I am writing this to tell you I am now living in Bombay. Joseph works as a manager in a big company here. He takes good care of me and I am very happy I chose to marry him. I am sending my father a present. It is a Rolex watch. I remember how much father wanted to buy one but was not able to do so because of the cost. This is our gift for father.
I hope one day you will both pardon me and accept Joseph as your son in law.
Two days later Pisharody returned from the yoga camp.
“There is something that came in while you were away. Promise me that you will not start yelling,” said Bhavani.
“Tell me what it is and then I will decide if I should yell or not.”
“There is a letter from Suma and a parcel. Read it and then decide what is to be done with the parcel.”
Pisharody’ s face became tense. He grabbed the letter from Bhavani’s hands and read the letter.
“You do not have to shout. I have not opened the parcel. We can throw it away if you do not want it.”
Pisharody opened the parcel. The watch was a beautiful gold-coloured piece. One look at it and anyone could make out that it was costly. Bhavani stepped back. She knew Pisharody’ s temper. He could throw things and when he was in that mood it was better to be out of harm’s way. Instead of throwing it away, he saw Pisharody slipping the watch on to his wrist. It was a good fit. He turned his hand this way and that admiring the watch. Without a word, he walked away to his room wearing the new watch. Over the next couple of months, more expensive gifts came in. A parker pen, a pure cashmere shawl. Pisharody had no problems taking these gifts.
“Suma is smarter than me,” said Bhavani to Vinith.
“Your sister understands your father better than me. Look at him. How happy he is wearing all these expensive gifts that she is sending. Every day as he steps out for his lectures he decks up like a movie star. Gold watch on his wrist, cashmere shawl draped around his shoulder. Why do you need a shawl in this hot sultry climate?”
“He carries that pen in his pocket,” said Vinith.
Both mother and son laughed.
“Karma is the sum total of what you do. In this life and in your previous lives the actions that you have performed all adds up to our Karma’s. Hindu philosophy believes in reincarnation, as does Buddhism. That is where we see a difference between Christianity and ….”
Mother and son could hear Pisharody’ s voice from the hall. A group of tourists were listening to him in rapt attention. Some of them were taking notes. While others were recording videos of the talks.
“He does not have any of these qualities he lectures about. Don’t these people deserve to know the truth about him?” said Vinith.
“I realized long ago that you do not have to run around to find God. God is a presence, which is there within each one of us. If these fools do not know that then they deserve such a teacher. The day these people will understand that they will stop coming. That is the day they will realize God.”