Wanderers in Eternity – Chapter 4


Table of Contents: Preface | Life Cycle | Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09





The August heat covered everything like a stifling thick cotton cloth. The briny breeze that blew in from the sea also held a roughness. The evening sunlight had a golden hue.

Hugging little baby, Janaki moved from under the temple gateway know as the gopurama and walked away from the crowd towards the shady mango trees by the high wall.

This was the Nalloor season. There was a festive air around the Kandaswami Kovil. Though there were crowds there was no chaos. Janaki felt as if everyone behaved serenely, their hearts filled with piety.

There were several devotees sitting under the shade of the mango trees. As if not to disturb the chanting at the puja in the Kovil, everyone was quiet. If anyone spoke a word to another it was done hush hush. Nearing the shade, Janaki’s eye caught the sight of a Shiva devotee. The yellow color of his robe and his holy thread had some how seeped into his long white beard. He must have bathed in saffron water. He looked away with a haughtiness that said he was a high caste Brahmin. As if not to disturb him, Janaki turned the other way and walked across the burning sand to another shade. If her father were alive would he look like that Shiva devotee, she wondered. Every time she saw a man past his middle age she thought about her father. Thirteen years had elapsed since her father’s sudden death. Janaki let out a sigh. Involuntarily she muttered “Appa”.

She blew her breath for the baby in her bosom to feel its coolness. The child slept on without a stir. “My Vasantharaja,” she thought. “My own son.” From the love towards the baby, her breasts were filling with milk. It was a little while ago that Shivankaram left the kovil grounds with a friend he had met after a long time. They were nowhere to be seen. Janaki who stood under the temple gate came here to the shade hoping to feed the baby as well. She turned away from the crowd covering her head with the sash of her white sari. When she pulled out a tanned breast out of her jacket and neared it to the baby’s lips she remembered her mother. Her own mother must have fed her milk the same way.

She remembered her younger brother who ran away to Velvetithurai without listening to such a good mother. Many times, Janaki heard mother saying that sixteen year old brother Ranganadan became so stubborn because of the loss of their father at such a young age. “If Appa was alive the boy wouldn’t have run amuck like that, ” Mother’s words echoed in Janaki’s mind. Then how come that she did not run amuck? Ranganadan was coddled too much. Little boy without a father, poor little boy without a father, everyone looked at him with such pity. Wasn’t she also a little girl without a father? But she toughened her heart for the sake of poor mother. She knew all the hardships that mother went through. The journey that mother took with the two kids after father died, Janaki could remember only very faintly. It was a long tiring journey.

Afterwards they lived with relatives. Out of these, Uncle Mahes who was a distant relative of mother’s was the closest to them. Mahes Karuppulle, whom Janaki called Karuppu Maman was married at the time. He had a small store in puttur. It was in a small back room of this store that Janaki came of age. It was a cadjan hut. For sixteen days Janaki was imprisoned inside this small space. Then bathed by the washer woman wannan Maami and other female relatives, she walked out to the world. This she remembered very well. Didn’t Uncle Mahes behave just like her own father then? When she was about ten or eleven years old, she went on a pilgrimage with Uncle Mahes and the family which she remembers to this day. This was because of a special reason.

It was three months prior to this pilgrimage that Uncle Mahes’s wife, Auntie Ragawathie died after a long illness. Janaki felt that she and her mother and younger brother came more under the thumb of Uncle Mahes after Auntie’s death. Poor widowed became an unlawful wife of Uncle Mahes. He never got married to mother.

Janaki thought that even in widowhood men and women received two different types of treatment from the world. When Auntie Ragawathie died everyone who consoled Uncle Mahes said how lucky his wife was to die before him. Many said who she died before her husband would be reborn in a good place. But Janaki’s own mother who was widowed by the death of her husband was considered an unlucky woman. Auntie Ragawathie was cremated while wearing the gold necklace which she wore on her wedding day. But mother could not wear her gold necklace after father’s death. After his death, she did not wear any jewelry or fancy clothes. She wore only a white sari. But Janaki understood that mother succumbed to the wishes of Uncle Mahes thinking of the welfare and the future of her two kids.

She herself did everything giving in to Uncle Mahes. On the coming of age ceremony, Janaki ate the pittu mixed in with sesami oil and raw eggs silently without complaints, accepting the fate of herself as a woman. She married Shivankaram Appadurai, who was a relative of Uncle Mahes by accepting more of this same fate.

She often lamented that her fate would have been different only if her father were alive. If he lived she would have done further studies and become a teacher. She could vaguely remember how she went to school holding on to her father’s hand. She still remembered well how one fateful day she waited so long for father to come and pick her up and then when he did not show up how she ran all the way home alone. Wasn’t it that day that her life changed completely? That was the day that all the castles of her dreams fell apart.

She still remembered how she walked on to the road that night while holding on to mother’s hand after gathering a few odds and ends that did not get destroyed by the fire which burned their house down. Younger brother Ranganadan could not remember any of this. Poor fatherless boy…….. poor fatherless boy.

While breast feeding the baby, she prayed no misfortune such as that should ever befall her little one. When Vasantharaja suckled with his baby lips, Janaki felt that warmth on her breast.

Just like her brother left her mother would Vasantharaja leave her one day and go somewhere? Now Janaki knew that Ranganadan went off to Velvetithurai after a big argument with mother because he was in love with a Catholic girl there.

Within mother was still a brewing anger. This was obvious to Janaki from everything she said. Why did a Shiva worshipping Hindu boy from their family fall in love with a Catholic girl? Not only that. Janaki’s family belonged to the Vellala (Farmer) caste. Ranganadan’s girl’s family were fisher folk. Sprats, sear fish, anchovies, sardines. That is what they caught. Mother said in the same way they catch fish in their nets, they caught Ranganadan in their net. “He fell in that pit,” mother said.

“They are black marketers who smuggle illegal stuff from India,” Uncle Mahes commented. “How else can they live so grandly? People in Velvetithurai are like that.”

Ranganadan met his love, Arunakshi for the first time when he went to the Alvar kovil in Vallipuram.

Thangamani, the mother went there specially to worship god Vishnu. The kovil in Vallipuram offered a special place to Vishnub Krishnavathar. It was from mother that Janaki learned puja to the god within the temple and say her prayers. It is not that Janaki did not notice little brother moving away from these services which he attended so piously as a young boy.

Janaki could also remember the many times that her younger brother received beatings from Uncle Mahes for his stubborn behavior. Uncle Mahes showered Janaki with gifts and love while all he could show towards Ranganadan was hatred. This was evident even on their pilgrimage to Kataragama. It was on this trip that Uncle Mahes slapped Ranganadan for the first time. It was also on this trip that Janaki was loved in an unusual way by Uncle Mahes. This was the reason why she specially remembered the Kataragama journey. How his fingers came serching for her in the middle of the night while everybody was sleeping on the floor of the guest house Janaki still remembered with a shudder. But in that god’s country she did not utter a word, but accepted all of it for her mother’s sake. Uncle Mahes threatened her by saying that if she uttered a single word about this he would throw out her mother along with the two kids. That was why Janaki kept it all a secret. But to gods she told her sorrows. But so far, gods had not punished Uncle Mahes.

After returning from Kataragama, every time they were alone together in the house, Uncle Mahes took her in his arms. But he was never vicious enough to go beyond the restrictions. She sat on Uncle Mahes’s lap and let him do whatever he wanted to do please himself. At these times she just thought about her dead father. With him, she floated to a far away world. In that world there were no problems or sorrows. After Uncle Mahes reached a certain climax of satisfaction, he let her down from his lap and gave her palm jaggery or some candy. Janaki got used to these sweet offerings. But Ranganadan never received such gifts. Many times she kept some of the sweet hidden for her little brother.

But Ranganadan was not one to be satisfied with sweets and candy. All he wanted was Arunakshi whom he met on the way back from the Vallipuram Kovil. On their return journey they went to Valevetithurai to see a friend of Uncle Mahes. There near a store Ranganadan’s eye caught the sight of Arunakshi. Love could not be hidden. In Arunakshi’s snare of a stare Ranganadan’s heart got tangled.

After this, Ranganadan became a completely different person. He started arguing and fighting with mother from this point on. In the end he ran away from home after getting a good thrashing from Uncle Mahes. By then Janaki had married Shivankaram as Uncle Mahes willed. Shivankarm was an acceptable decent young man. He was timid and worked in his parent’s fields in Neveli. They grew vegetables, tobacco and onions. There were also a few mango trees in the yard. Shivankaram had a green thumb. When Janaki heard everyone’s comments that everything he planted grew effortlessly, she felt proud of her husband. At times she felt that Shivankaram loved the earth more than her. From dawn till dusk he toiled in the fields. In the evenings he would draw the water from the Anadi well to fertilize the soil. With his father, Amirthalingam he would take the harvest to Yalpanam. Most nights over exhausted he would fall asleep in the heat. Once in a while in the night he would wake up as if from a dream and awaken her to satisfy his urges. Everything was like a brief dream. Very soon Shivankaram would fall asleep again. Awake in the dark, Janaki would often stare at the palm thatched roof and think about a thousand things. Mother, father, brother, Uncle Mahes….. Uncle Mahes does not take her on to his lap anymore. All that had also become a dream of the past. Mother, father…. father…. it was Uncle Mahes who told her about how father died. Mother never talked about that. “Singhala people killed your father, Janaki,” Uncle Mahes revealed to her one day while she was sitting on his lap. “They poured petrol on him and burned him alive… You don’t remember all that. They are wicked people.” Janaki started to cry. Amidst all this she remembered a beggar woman. Didn’t that old beggar woman help her and her mother? But when Janaki could not stop her tears, Uncle Mahes comforted her by saying, “My girl, my golden girl.” “Golden girl….” Didn’t Shivankaram also call her that way when they first got married? But all that was temporary. “Jakanaki.”

Hearing Shivankaram’ voice, startled, Janaki lifted her head. All this time she had been in a reverie while looking at the face of her baby who was suckling at her breast in comfort. ” Let us go to the Kovil.” Hugging the baby, Janaki stood up. In Shivasankaram’s hand was a basket with five kinds of fruits. In his other hand was a bag containing milk, josh sticks, camphor cubes and a bottle of oil. His forehead was smeared with ash. He carried everything needed to satisfy the five elements of nature- earth, water, fire, air and ether, at the puja. He was dressed only in a white sarong. The sun had turned westward. The sounds of the conch shells, bells and drums coming from the temple, had all taken a high pitch. The baby woke up and started to cry. And to this added the cawing of the crows. Everything seemed chaotic. But it was a chaos with some sort of discipline. Further away from the entrance, the devotees who were flocking in front of the alter placed their offerings there. Some were pouring milk over the Shiva lingam- the black stone phallus that represented God Shiva. The inner sanctum showed another jet black stone phallus that symbolized the god. Around it gathered flowers and scented smoke skeins. More and more milk and honey were poured upon it. The sound of the many devotees mingled with all the other sounds. Amidst this some children were crying. In the yard, the dogs were wagging their tails. The monkeys that came down from the trees and landed on the high wall were enchanted by the smells of the offerings. Shivankaram who walked through the crowd neared the Shiva lingam within the inner sanctum and poured the milk from a bottle upon it. Janaki could see this action vaguely. Mostly she saw Shivnkarm’s dark naked back. When he worked in the fields it was this back covered with sweat that she stared at. A certain devotional emotion was born within her. This was a feeling of piety towards Shivankaram as well as towards the god. The scent of the flowers and smoke enhanced this emotion.

The child who was enchanted by all the din was now quietly staring. The sandalwood powder marking on his forehead appeared like a third eye to Janaki. The third eye of Shiva——- wouldn’t the whole world burn up into ashes if he stared with it? Her son did not have such a power. All power was with Shiva. To destroy everything and then rebuild everything form the ashes was Shiva’s duty.

The chanting of “Shiva, Shiva,” and “Om, Namo, Haro, Hara” all mingled in with the rhythm of the drums and the bells. “Shiva— Shiva—-Shiva—“.

Feeling her head reeling, Janaki moved away from the crowd and walked out to the temple grounds. Though it was not so crowded like the interior, quite a few people were milling about the courtyard. The sandy ground was slowly cooling off. The sand trod by thousands of feet was covered by footsteps. Everything was a chaos.

Hugging her baby, Janaki sat by the gate until Shivankaram came out of the temple. She remembered a story her mother told her when she was still a little girl. The way the city of Yalpanam got it’s name mother would tell like a very fascinating tale.

“Now, a long time ago there lived a musician in India. He was very good at playing the Yala violin. He would go hither and thither playing his Yala. When he played his Yala he could also tell the future. He was psychic. Days went by and he lost the respect of his wife and she did not care for him any more. She would scold him and torture him. She was a wicked woman. Unable to deal with this woman he left India and came to Sri Lanka. The king came to know about this Yala player. About his talents and his ability to tell the future. The king invited him and asked him many many questions. The man answered every question correctly. The king was so impressed he gave this whole north territory to the Yala player as a gift. Now this area is called Yal puram and Yalpanam.”

“Janaki, come on…” She heard Shivankaram’s voice amidst all the other sounds. He talked about seeing the pageant in the night. She could still remember how she watched the Nalloor pageant when she was a small girl, holding on to uncle Mahes’s hand. That night she stared at the cart of Shiva pulled by all the devotees with such an awe. That awe was not there anymore. Now she looked at the god’s statue and the garlands and the filigree and design with nonchalance. Amidst all that her only happiness was her baby, Vasantharaja. She could still remember the dream she once had while she was pregnant with him. In that dream she saw a pool of blood. In the middle of that pool of blood a lotus blossomed. Bees danced among the pollen of that flower. She saw the bees drunk with the nectar fall into the bloody water and drown. The significance was a riddle to her. She did not tell about this to anyone.

She had a great craving to eat fried food while she was pregnant. She had heard about all sorts of craving that pregnant women had. Janaki wanted to eat dried fish. Shivnkaram was a vegetarian. But because of Janaki’s desire, he brought home dried fish. Shivankaram’s mother Seethamma cooked the dried fish. After the baby was born that craving faded away from Janaki. But even now the smell of frying dried fish would make her very hungry.

They had their dinner in a store outside the temple. More than the rice and curry, Janaki enjoyed the fried wadey (chili donut). She took her meal only after her husband had eaten. Everywhere there were crowds.

The many sounds created an atmosphere of a festival. In the sky the August full moon was rising. The breeze from seaward was slowly cooling everything.

After dinner they walked along the Kannathiti road. On both sides of the road were jewelry stores. Each one of them beckoned the travelers with shining treasures. Janaki’s eyes were constantly drawn to the glittering gold ornaments. The women who touched and caressed and admired these jewelry also had an extraordinary shine on their faces.

All that Shivankaram did was ask the price of a bangle or a necklace. All Janaki did was touch and admire them. She protested after they had come out of a store with words such as “Oh, no no, save all that money for our son,” when Shivnkaram had exclaimed how expensive everything was.

After resting for awhile while sitting on the sidewalk they stepped back on to the road. The crowds were waiting to get a glimpse of the cart carrying the statue of the god. Vasantharaja was asleep. Holding on to Shivankaram’s arm, Janaki dragged herself through the crowds. They had to wait for a long time before the pageant finally arrived. The sweets, the balloons, whistles, flutes, toys, sherbet drink in the hands of the vendors were all part of a performance before the appearance of the god’s cart.

When finaly the pageant appeared, Janaki stared with wide open eyes. If only mother and younger brother were with her, she thought. Ever since brother went to Velvetithurai, mother had not been well. This could be due to her sorrow of missing him. How tragically her family from her childhood had all dispersed…. she thought. Now she had a new family. Janaki, Shivankaram and Vasantharaja….

The pageant that surrounded the heavenly cart, slowly went forward amidst the lights and the din. The statue of the god, the garlands, drums, bells, dances and song…….. everything was a floating dream. The only reality was the little baby, Vasantharaja who was sleeping in her bosom. My own son… she fed him with her milk once more.

When they reached Neveli the following day it was evening. A little bit of oil that Janaki had taken from the temple was with her in a bottle. The previous year when she went on a pilgrimage to the Kandasami Kovil in Maviddapura, she brought home some oil from there in the same way. She felt that the oil had miraculous powers.

A long time ago, the Chola princess Marutha Piruvikavali’s equine face had become beautiful after bathing from the fountain at Keeramalai for several days. Supposedly it was that princess who had built the Kandasami shrine in Maviddapura close to the fountain. Janaki brought home oil from the kovil as well as the water from the fountain for a very special reason. Not that she also had an equine face. On one side of her little baby Vasantharaja’s torso was a large black birth mark.

As soon as the baby was born, it was this ugly birth mark that she had noticed. She cried on seeing this.

But she also noticed that the mark faded a little bit with the water from the fountain at Keeramalai and the oil from the Kovil. While in Keeramalai she washed the baby’s birth mark with the fountain. Later she rubbed some oil from the Kovil on the mark. In a few days the birth mark on Vasantharaja’s tiny body faded somewhat and reduced in size.

“Look, Shivankaram——” Janaki showed this miracle to her husband as well. “The baby’s birth mark has diminished from the water from Keeramalai and the oil from the Kovil”.

“So, we cannot go to Keeramalai every day. And we can’t keep going to the Maviddapuram Kovil either.” Shivankaram said.

“Let’s go next year.”

“Next year we are going to the Kovil in Nalloor. We will go to Maviddapuram the following years.”

“We will see.”

” I will bring some oil from Nalloor as well.”

This was the promise that Janaki had kept. As soon as she returned home she bathed the baby and rubbed some oil on his body. She felt that Vasantharaja’s birth mark had definitely reduced in size.

“Look, Shivankaram,” she called her husband. “What do you think? Don’t you think that the baby’s birth mark had gotten smaller ?”

“M….. I don’t know,” Shivankaram who was sipping tea replied nonchalantly.

“As he gets bigger and older that mark will appear small anyway.”

“That will be good then.”

“Right now that mark looks just like a spot of blood.”

” A spot of blood?”

” Yes, Janaki, a spot of blood. It looks just like a patch of blood left on his chest after someone had shot him.”

After saying this, Shivankaram walked outside with the cup of tea in his hand to look at his tobacco crop.

Tears rose in Janaki’s eyes. Till darkness fell she cried because of the love she had for her son Vasntharaja.


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Table of Contents: Preface | Life Cycle | Chapter 01 | Chapter 02 | Chapter 03 | Chapter 04 | Chapter 05 | Chapter 06 | Chapter 07 | Chapter 08 | Chapter 09