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  • Akhila Sriram

Gautham Series 2 - FAITH

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

I turned the grey Hyundai Creta to the left, from the main highway to a narrow mud road as my father guided me. I am Gautham and you know me. My father, Mr. Chandran, and I were travelling from Madurai to our native village near Tirunelveli. Dad was in the construction and real estate business in Madurai. He was a great man, with the right amount of friendliness, kindness and strictness. He had chased me to work in another firm to gain experience. Now, all of a sudden, he wanted me back as my mother’s sickness had worsened.

A few days back, she was hospitalized for erratic blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes. A drama had unfolded and I had hastened from Bangalore to remain by her side. She had allowed herself to decline to the bed and refused to even walk. She has lost the will and no amount of encouragement from us improved her BP or blood sugar.

I tried to put her on a strict diet and exercise regime. Well, if she can put her sound mind to recover, she will. But all she did was gossip in family WhatsApp groups, watch cringy soaps on television and let her health deteriorate. Now, after consulting an astrologer and a few of our relatives, she wanted me to visit our guardian deity temple, take over my father’s business and get married; so that she can die peacefully. Seriously! Was she on such close terms with the God of Death! My life was in a terrible mess.

My father cut through my thoughts. “There! Gautham, that’s the temple.”

With uneasiness, I drove the car to the side of the temple and parked it under a tree.

Dad exhaled slowly. “It has been five years since we came here. If I had come earlier, probably Manju wouldn’t have fallen sick and you would have got married. We would never have had so many problems in our family.”

“Pa… You pray to this deity every morning. Don’t tell me you have neglected your duty. What the astrologer said was baseless.”

“No. We failed to offer our yearly puja*. What he says is true!”

“If Mom puts some effort into taking care of her health, she would be far better. And, you know, I didn’t want to get married. I have told you a million times that I want to do something more in life. Anyway, what I want to state here is God is not a mean-minded person who says— offer your puja and I will help you. He is not like our relatives—a return visit for a visit.”

“It’s not like that. Some things don’t have explanations and answers. Let us do puja and pray with faith. And all marriages don’t end up like Tej’s. And you see only one side. They are happy as far as they are concerned. Do whatever you want to do, but after you get married. Who is going to stop you? Why don’t you try to have an open mind?”

He slid out of the car and, with faltering steps, reached the temple entrance. A feeling of despair settled inside me as I felt crushed and pressurized from all sides. Silencing my rebellious mind against all its wayward thoughts, I hopped out of the car and my eyes fell on my father and an old lady exchanging pleasantries. The way he talked about my mother and his anxious tone had me worried, too. I rubbed my forehead and took a few steps forward.

The old lady consoled him and said, “Leave it. Chandru, you have come to him…”

She directed a look at the guardian deity, also called Karuppusamy*, perched on a gigantic horseback. He towered above the endless lush green fields amidst the lofty coconut trees. Range after range of mountains spread behind him. His imperial moustache, large red eyes and enormous machete made him look majestic and also intimidating. I lost myself to the calmness of the temple and its surroundings.

My father’s sigh drew my attention and my heart went out to him. He was my bestie, my brother and my partner in crime, of course, next to that jerk Tej.

I rushed towards him, “Pa…”

The lady turned towards me. “Is this your son? Don’t worry, Chandru. Get him married and everything will fall into place. Having a daughter-in-law will make Manju better in no time.”

I swayed on my feet. Wow! What a solution! If only the doctors hear of this treatment! Then how to get untangled from the mess if that marriage fails?

The worst part was my father was nodding his head and guffawing as if it solved all his problems.

Seriously! Do I have to marry for myself or to give a companion for my mother? If she wanted a companion, a puppy would be better. In fact, I don’t mind a puppy, it’s a better option than marriage. But this Chandran hated puppies, kittens, birds and all forms of animal life.

Hearing my father’s guffaw, a petite man emerged from the priest’s house situated to the side of the temple and waved at my dad with enthusiasm. Chandran left the lady abruptly and rushed to the man, enveloping him in his arms. I reached them with a slow steady gait as I observed the great business tycoon of Madurai fussing and cajoling a local temple priest. My father introduced the said man to me as Bhaskar, his childhood friend, who beamed at me and welcomed us into his tiny abode.

I swept my gaze around the house. It had a tiled roof, a small hall, a kitchen and two bedrooms spread on either side of the central courtyard. A beautiful garden consisting of exquisite jasmine, red and pink hibiscus surrounded the house, adding a certain rustic charm to it. The interiors were old-fashioned, but its sparkling cleanliness and neatness impressed me. Two women emerged from the backyard. One of them looked close to her fifties and had calm, soft features. The other was in her twenties and had flawless skin, pink lips untouched by lipstick, thick unplucked brows and enormous eyes. She had her mother’s serene elegance, yet there was a glint of mischief in her eyes. When she regarded me, the spark was replaced by unsophisticated innocence. Her fresh, natural look piqued my interest and I let my gaze linger on her until a thought struck me like a lightning. I looked away as panic seized me. Was this a trap? I just wanted to dive and hide under the carpet, except there was no carpet and no escape.

Seething with suppressed anger, I glared at Chandran, who had conveniently forgotten my existence and was yapping away with his best friend.

A simple lunch followed and the family touched and charmed me with their modesty. The afternoon drew into evening and the friends remained inseparable. I have never seen this side of my father. He was always a leader, a commanding person, letting no one other than his wife and son near him. Now he was reduced to a child, laughing and beaming at the small things Bhaskar was saying and showing.

Bhaskar led us to the sprawling fields around the temple. He had acres of land to his name and his unpretentious and open-minded attitude towards life impressed and humbled me. A constant thought kept pounding in my head. How simple life would be if we can live like Bhaskar. No desires, no expectations and hence no disappointments and only contentedness. There won’t be any confusion or indecisiveness regarding anything. What is the point in chasing money and happiness? The more you chase, the more they elude you. Will remaining calm and living a modest life like Bhaskar satisfy me?

The restlessness in me increased as I glimpsed Bhaskar’s daughter. I neared my father when Bhasker left us to arrange for the puja. “Pa? Is this some kind of matchmaking?”

Startled, he peered at me, trying to comprehend my words. Then his face lit up.

Oh, God! He was clueless. Now I have sowed the idea in him and dug my own grave!

After several seconds, he spoke. “It never struck me. But, if you…”

“No, thank you,” I replied hastily.

He smiled and patted my back. “Get ready! Empty your unruly mind of all thought and surrender to God!”

A few local boys ran along, thus disturbing the quiet place. My mind reached its height of disquiet. Twilight made way to darkness and several lamps and torches were lit around the statue. The puja began, but my wavering mind never let me concentrate on anything. Question after question came running forth in my mind, but all remained unanswered. The deafening sound of the temple bells jolted me to the present. Unaware, I took a few steps forward. I stood there in the darkness, struck dumb by the aura of the light and the majesty of Lord Karuppu.

All thoughts vanished. I felt something pressing my head and goosebumps erupted all over my skin. My eyes glistened. No prayer, plea or request came to my mind. Only one thought constantly repeated itself. “GUARD ME… STAND BY ME…”

None of my problems were solved or my questions answered. But in the presence of this huge, mighty Lord, a sense of immense peace and contentment filled me as I stared and surrendered myself to him.

*puja- ceremonial worship, ranging from brief daily rites in the home to elaborate temple rituals.

*Lord Karuppusamy- Karuppusamy is regarded as the God of Justice. He is essentially a village deity, who is very popular in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as the God of Protection.

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