Episode 2/Chapter 14: What, If Our Dreams Come True!
I was brought back to the present world, when suddenly several people were seen rushing into the inner hall of the temple, gesturing and shouting. All along, as I was listening to the story of Lakshmana Iyer, I was completely numb with shock and sorrow.
“Paiya, you heard enough. Now, if we don’t quickly get into the queue, we may go starving for the day. Come on, run now and reserve a place for me too. I will join you there,” said the ‘sadhu,’ whom I now knew as Ambalam.
I followed the crowd mechanically, to collect my food from the temple kitchen. I was still in a state of shock. They served ‘kootanchoru’ (rice mixed with some vegetable curries and gravy) in a plantain leaf. The food was quite hot and tasty. The quantity was sumptuous, more than what I got to eat on most days. Those days, a number of temples provided annadhan to poor people. That answered how I myself survived several days of travel. I always made sure that I was around some of those temples that provided food in the afternoon.
Ambalam ate with me silently. He gnawed his food slowly as though every lump was one full meal and he seemed to be enjoying every minute of his eating. Once finished, he told me that it was time for him to take a short nap and asked me whether I would leave before he got up. I wasn’t very keen to go away and I wanted to hear more from him. Our close association had thus begun.
In the next several months, I did a lot of commuting from Ambasamudram to nearby villages. I had an urge to meet those survivors of the flood and hear from them personally.
I had no difficulty in getting in touch with Rathnam, the erstwhile jamindar and his wife Meena through Pazhani who continued to be the village chief. Rathnam seemed to believe that he had no will to live, but for his innocent wife, who continued to wear a blank look the whole time we were talking to each other. Tears rolled down his eyes, as he narrated his love for his wife and how their life had now become barren and miserable. But, he didn’t utter a word complaining about his wife.
Easwaran, the temple priest, was in shambles when I met him. He had been spending all his time in the temple, constantly staring at Mother, and questioning Her why he alone survived. But even while he was talking sullenly, he beckoned me to do something about these floods, as though I had the power to stop them.
Lakshmana Iyer was very balanced when he narrated how he lost several of his children in the flash floods and how he longed to do something about it. But his responsibility and burden in the Gurukulam had increased with the addition of more children and he was struggling for finances. His priority was to ensure that those children got at least one good meal every day. He hoped that someone had born somewhere to take up the issue of preventing such flash floods in future.
Jhia was the most difficult to get in touch with, as she seemed to be shifting places aimlessly and my meeting her didn’t happen for long.