I was returning from Madurai by train, a couple of days ago. At Thiruthangal station, an adolescent boy, his hands crippled somewhat, came begging window after window, with very little success. When he knew that I was about to take out my wallet to offer him some money, he made a request to give him ten rupees so that he could eat something for the day.....................
Here you go with:"What If Our Dreams Come True! An Uncommon Meeting with Lord Siva" - Chapter 35
As I stepped out of the District Collector’s office, I remembered Ambalam, the mendicant at Papanasam who shared with me the gory stories about the flash floods in the river Tamirabarani. My accidental meeting him eventually led to my long stay at Papanasam for seven years and we ended up, eventually, building water dams, to prevent flash floods in those hilly Podhigai regions.
As I walked along the raised banks of the river Tamirabarani at Kokkirakulam where the District Collector’s office was housed in Tirunelveli, I passed by the offices and courts of the District and sessions judges. A cool wind was blowing crisscrossing the river, carrying with it a pleasant aroma from the court canteens that prepared very delicious halwa and vadai. From the elevations, I looked at the serene river below, flowing down quietly. I had heard that the river Tamirabarani never dried up in its history. At the far end behind me, I could see the silhouette of the railway bridge and a train passing over. Thanks to the British, India today had railways, bridges and canals. On the other bank of the river, several pigs were scavenging for food, even while dhobis were busy washing clothes beating them on small rocks. Buffaloes and bullocks were getting a cool bath in the river alongside the people. I walked along the more-than-half-a-century-old Sulochana Mudaliar bridge across Tamirabarani. I remembered someone telling me that several decades back, the philanthropist Sulochana Mudaliar built this bridge, entirely out of his personal wealth, to help villagers cross the river. The bridge was made of stones, brick and mortar and had stood firm over the years. Later, when the government wanted to lay a new wider bridge across the river, they couldn’t break any of the then existing structures. So they had to change their plan and the design and be satisfied with just widening the already existing bridge, by erecting additional pillars to support them. I reached the central bus stand at Tirunelveli Junction and took a bus to Papanasam where I went straight to my Lord’s temple.
Outside the temple, I searched for Ambalam, but he wasn’t there. I enquired anxiously, with the other fellow mendicants sitting outside the temple. They didn’t seem to know.
I saw Mallika, the flower vendor, beckoning me from the far end. “How are you, thambi? It is a long time since we saw you here. Who are you looking for?” I had remembered this girl and she was much younger when I stayed in Papanasam. She had lost much of her earlier youthful exuberance now. She looked tired. I was concerned.
“What Mallika Akka? What happened to you? You look very tired? Are you not well?”
“What do I tell you? It is all due to the demon I married a couple of years ago. It is a long story. Forget it. Tell me who are you looking for?”
I asked her about Ambalam. “Do you remember?”
“How do I not remember him? He was one real saint here, among all these fake sadhus. He read my palm and cautioned me about my marriage. I don’t know what powers he had. He seemed to know what was coming to me. But I did not heed to his advice. Now I suffer. Why? What about him?”
“I want to meet him. Where is he now?”
“Oh, you are looking for Ambalam annan! He is in a miserable condition. He had a paralytic stroke and now in bed. The hospital gave up on him mercilessly. I took him to my sister’s place where he is now being taken care of. Very pitiable! My demon at home doesn’t allow me to keep Ambalam with me. I go once in a while to see him. ‘Ayya’, you must see Ambalam. He still remembers you a lot. He would be very happy to see you. He is getting old and I don’t know how long he will survive.”
I didn’t wait for a moment and dashed to her sister’s place.
Ambalam had become a skeleton now. He was lying down on a jute cot, his eyes half closed. When I went near him, he opened his eyes as though he was expecting me. He greeted me with a half-smile. He tried to raise his hand and body, but he was very weak and couldn’t.
“What happened to you, Ambalam? Why didn’t you send word to me?”
His reply was indistinct and it took some time for me to decode. “You were busy with much more important jobs, I knew. You were born for that. Why should I want to disturb your great mission? I would have been an additional burden to you…….Forget it. Tell me, ‘How are you?’ I heard stories about you from Brahmadesam. Tell me what happened there. Was what I heard true? Tell me. Please tell me in your own words.” He breathed heavily and struggled.
Not wanting to disappoint him, I told him what happened at Brahmadesam, avoiding any elaborate description. I also sincerely apologized to him for not having remembered him earlier.
“Never mind! I am happy to see you now again today.” He gasped for breath. I found a jar of water nearby and gave him some water in a tumbler. Radhika, Mallika’s sister watched everything from a distance and brought me some black tea.
“Now that I see you again, I am sure I am going to recover from this stroke. Lord Siva has sent you here for a purpose. Tell me, what can I do for you?”
Somehow, niceties had lost meaning for me and I put the question straight to him. “Would you mind telling me about your past?” I had so far never asked him about his past.
And then he told his story.