Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Journey

Mantralayam. The name might sound new to many. It is a small town on the banks of river Tungabhadra in the Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh. Of religious significance, thanks to the Mutt of saint Raghavendra, the town is a popular pilgrimage centre. Raghavendra swami is a Madhwa saint whose Brindavanam (the place he rested) is on the banks of river Tungabhadra around whom the mutt and Mantralayam have been constructed.

Born into a Karnataka based telugu family and living in Hyderabad just implied a trip to Mantralayam is an annual affair. A 5-6 hour drive in our Maruti car and later on the Opel, it was a weekend plan and a fun filled one too. While Dad drove, Mom kept reciting stories of Raghavendra swami and my sis and I tried to catch a wink in between them.

When in Mantralayam, lunch was available only at the Mutt. It is a practice that is followed even today. The Annadanam (Distribution of food) at the Mutt is a daily custom and every afternoon thousands of devotees are fed within the Mutt premises. One such meal is a must for every devotee, with the lunch being referred to as Maha Prasadam, or God’s blessing in the form of food. It was for us too.

There are a lot of sevakas in the mutt whose job is to serve food to people who are seated in a long row with a Banana leaf in front of them. In Mantralayam, the tumblers for water are to be brought by the devotees themselves into which one of the sevakas pour water.

As a kid, I had this small steel tumbler with a straw like tube attached that I loved to sip from. It always accompanied me to Mantralayam as well. And there I see this person - a bald, dark, bellied guy with a big left foot and a small right foot limping around with a pot of water, refilling the emptied glasses of the devotees as they are busy savoring their delicious lunch. He walked up to me, found my tumbler empty and poured water into it. Amused at the look of my peculiar (for me special) tumbler, he smiled. And that was it! I started crying. Yes, I trembled with fear while my Mom cajoled me into finishing my lunch. Later whenever my grandma recited stories from the Mahabharata, Kamsa, the deadly demon and Lord Krishna’s maternal uncle reminded me of him, rather that was what I pictured him to be. The next year and the next and every year after that, I was still accompanied with the same tumbler along with the fear of this Kamsa.

I was 14 and a teen now. No more piped tumblers, so whatever Amma brought along was good enough. Thank God, I used to think, I don’t need to keep refilling my tumbler and having to look at this guy. Yes, now it was hatred. I hated him. I hated the very look of this guy. I always ate with my head bowed to the leaf and whenever I felt a pot coming that way, I bowed harder. I had read in my science textbook that this was a disease called Elephantiasis. So what, I still hated him, he just looked ugly and irritating!

I was 22 and had just got married and shifted to Kuwait with my husband. I read in the internet edition of an Indian daily about a flooded Tungabhadra that killed many at Mantralayam, with the Mutt itself flooded until the Brindavanam (Sanctum sanctorum). A chill ran down my spine. The Mutt I was worried about, but the thought of this creature, how was he? Was he still there? I felt this sense of remorse and a great urge to know how he was. I wanted to keep these thoughts away and called home. My mom kept describing and discussing the floods while a wave of guilt brushed past me. I wondered if I could share it with my mom, but what could I say? I just kept mum and prayed to God to keep him fine. Was this sympathy, or was this the guilt of having intentionally (or may be in my innocence) hated a poor soul who had nothing to do with what he suffered. I did not know and even now, I don’t know.

A few weeks later, when the situation seemed normal, my family made their customary trip to Mantralayam. I was in Kuwait but all anxious and restless waiting for Amma’s phone. Amma called after her darshan and maha prasadam and in her usual joyous tone described the excellent darshan and delicious food they enjoyed, with a missing me heaviness in her voice. I was listening but trembling under a dilemma: Should I ask her? Should I not? What will she think? May be he was ok? Or What if he was…. No the thought itself was unbearable and I finally blurted, “Amma who served water at the mutt?” Amma was confused and bewildered at this question. She said, “What?” and I repeated. She recollected and said, “The same old guy who keeps limping around. Do you remember him? The same guy and you know...,” she continued about the new curries and chutneys she tasted. I felt a boulder off my shoulder, a lighter heart and a smile of relief on my face. Did I remember him? Well Amma, he haunted me as a kid and today I really felt guilty and sym (pathetic) about that.

After we hung up, I was left in a whirlwind of thoughts and I realized that beauty is not eternal. It’s a clich├ęd statement, but is so true. I felt inspired by this man, who for 20 years has been limping around with a pot of water, serving thousands of people, earning his food, bed and shelter. He also earned punya or blessings from the devotees who left stomach filled. Was it easy for him? No, may be not, with so many in this so called society who always thought of him like I did, sneered, ignored and may be even insulted him. It needs a lot of toughness and faith in oneself to face a world that deems itself to be perfect. A courage that only a few of us have. It is important to live and let live, only then the world will be a perfect place.

When I read about the Expedia competition on Indiblogger, the first person on my mind was him. He doesn’t know my name and I don’t know his but he was there on every journey of mine to Mantralayam and my journey of evolution - a journey called life.


Neeraj Kumar said...

A heart touching post.You successfully tried to exhibit the complexities that we as human beings have in our thoughts while experiencing the life.

Best of luck!!!!!

Pratnee said...

Thank you Neeraj:)

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