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An inspiration

Today I would like to share a story of an acquaintance of mine. She and I do not converse much but her presence, her will power, her serenity and her belief inspire me immensely.

Lets call her I Mataji. I mataji has been diagnosed with a form of lymph cancer. I don’t know the exact name because I never asked her. As such I am a cowardly person, I am afraid to ask anyone of their sickness for the fear that how they would react. If by chance he/she starts crying then I am sure to cry along with him/her.

So I mataji was diagnosed with cancer, so what did she do? She smiled and asked, ‘what is to be done Doctor?’

There are few doctors here who can handle such cases and also the cost of healthcare is exorbitant, so she shifted to Mumbai to the Bhaktivedanta Hospital. Her husband says that though he was nervous, she was calm and in fact detached and consoled him that ‘what has to happen, happens, will your nervousness or me being panicky help in anyway?’

During her stay in the hospital she expressed her desire to be initiated. For those of you who do not know about the initiated devotee, let  me tell you, it’s not easy. 16 rounds of chanting, following the 4 regulative principles, eating only Krisna prasadam are just some basics. But because of her eagerness she was obliged.

Her cancer was spreading, treatment was being carried, her stamina was the lowest but what did she do? SHe asked her husband to return as he was wasting his leaves, their son was missing school. And she carried on her fight with resilience with faith.

And there was a positive change. She was asked for some rounds of radiation which she  said she will do in Bahrain and returned with her mother and sister. During the Damodar yatra she was hospitalized. Reason being that her food pipe had shrunk because of the radiation, she was not able to take solids and because she had to take medicines, she developed ulcers. During that time only the visa of her mother and sister was expiring and they wanted to witness one Damodar yatra and so a yatra was arranged at their home.

Mataji took permission from the hospital authorities for some hours came   home for the yatra and then returned. You may say why all this strain but for me its the strength of her belief.

many a days pass by when I feel sorry for myself but then I look at Mataji, she has become frail now, with a scarf on her head and a 4oo watt smile on her face and all doubts leave me. Some things happen because they have to happen and they have to be met with a smile in the face and faith in the heart.

Whenever we meet, she will come and hold my hands in gratitude. My husband being in the medical field had used his contacts to get her an initial out of turn radiation appointment and got her some discounts. It was nothing much just some phone calls here and there. But the gratitude she shows humbles me.She returned back to her job, she visits classes regularly and her mere presence fills us all with inspiration.

Dear I mataji my humble obeisance.

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A Pioneer

He sat on the plane, looked around, fiddled with the seat belt, finally understood how to buckle it, sat back and relaxed, For Narayan was on his first plane journey to Russia and in 1961 it was a BIG thing.

Fatherless when just 3, life had been a struggle for survival. While his mother and elder brothers struggled to keep the home fires burning and to get the girls wedded; Being small, Narayan could not help them in any way in their endeavours, but he did what he could. He studied.

He had a burning need for knowledge, knowledge for everything and he knew that it was education which would pave a way for him and so he religiously attended school. But who would pay for his school fees, books etc.? He did. He distributed newspapers, he sold peanuts in the cinema theatres and he saw each movie as he distributed peanuts.

In those tough times, there were many who could not pay for cinema tickets, for them he would sing and tell the dialogues and those would pay a wee bit extra for his peanuts. Thus he had finished his schooling.

He wanted to have coffee before he left for school but did his mother have money to buy some coffee powder. no. So for years his mother had fooled him by crushing some coriander seeds, some jeera and boiled it in water and given him. He had thought that to be coffee till the time he reached college and had the real one and realised that it was not really that great.

Oh yes he loved good food and as a child he used to grumble about food, not realising how difficult was it to them to even have rice gruel. Till the day he had seen his mother asking for some curry from her sister-in-law. That was it; he put his foot down, no more ‘begging’ for food from anybody for his sake; he could survive on rice gruel, thank you.

His mother was priceless in his eye and he did not like her to bow down before anybody. Theree were many who insulted her or ridiculed her, she would not pay any heed to them but he would. Those people would face his wrath either through his tongue or hs hands, later on.

And so it had been like that till he matriculated. Being bright he got seats in both engineering and diploma but engineering was a bit expensive for them. His brother lifted his hands, how was he to pay after all he was married by then and to look after everybody and then to pay his fees too was not possible. So he opted for DIploma, he could afford to fend for himself in a diploma but he got the seat in Calicut. How to pay for a lodging now was the question. But then his sister stepped in, she was staying there with her husband. He could stay with them, her husband had insisted, she said.

And that’s how he had done his diploma, living with his sister, working here, there. The tenants living next door were from Mangalore, Konkani chaps as he himself, they had become good friends especially Gokul. Life had been good then.

But then again he had been at crossroads when he passed his Diploma, what to do next was the question. Gokul said that he knew someone in Canara engineering, Mangalore, the pay mas paltry and sometimes there was none but so what at least he would get experience. Narayan agreed.

Canara engineering was not great but it provided the experience that he so very needed. It was while he was in his sixth month there that he saw the ad for Bhilai Steel Plant. He remembered the words of Jawaharlal (Nehru), our dams our Steel plants are the modern temples of India, he sent in his candidature and was accepted.

His mother was apprehensive, how would he manage in an unheard of place. He assured her; he had survived so far, he would in this endeavour too.

And so he had travelled from Payyanur to Madras, from there to Nagpur and proceeded to Bhilai sitting in the wooden seats of Indian Railways.

Bhilai was a barren land then. Only the steel plant was running (not in full capacity) , houses were still being built, transport was only in the form of bicycles or cycle rickshaws, And so some of them grouped together and lived and went to the nearby mess for food..

And so a new beginning was made.

IN his annual vacation when he had been to Mangalore he had come to know that Gokul and his brother were searching for a groom for their sister but though she was pretty and very talented they just did not have the means to marry her off. He spoke to his mother, his mother had smiled, and said yes. He could marry her once she finished her matric and whats more they would take all the jewellery needed, it would be a simple wedding. She was still studying , so he would just have to wait.

The steel plant was on its way to working full steam and they needed trained personnel, so they began sending employees to Russia to train them. In this batch He had been selected.

He sat back in his seat and relaxed. Yes life till now had been good.

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It is my fathers birthday tomorrow and this is the way he started his adult life. Conquering odds he paved a new life for us. From a small village boy to an unknown place and from there to Moscow.

Many may quip saying that so what, there are so many who do today, but those times were different.

I hope and pray that the years that come, he will spend his life in good health and cheers.

For more of this story, you may read the prequel- Padmavathi

Padmavathi

It was past midnight in the early 1940s but Padmavathi could not sleep. Earlier in the day her husband’s last rites had been performed. Suicide, it was said.

But she knew it was not suicide. Such a devout, loving, caring person would not run away from his duties like that. She was sure he was poisoned and that too by his own brother-in-law.

Such a difference of personalities; her husband was an epitome of goodness. Their house was like a shelter to the needy. The ancestral house now was home to about 30-35 people who had come to their refuge either because of unemployment, sickness and so on. And there was this person who was ready to kill for what–just an ancestral home.

But now how was she ro run the sprawling house and raise her six children the youngest just 3 months old?

And so the thoughts ran in her mind and it was quite late that she fell asleep. She woke up late; by the time she came to the kitchen she saw the coffee brewing. No doubt her eldest Sugandhi who had started on the breakfast, but what is this such a small amount of coffee for so many people,’Sugandhi, why so little, this will be enough for just 3?’

Sugandhi came and stood at the doorway with her head bowed.

‘What happened?’, asked her mother.

‘Your refugees have all run away now that their benefactor is gone,’ she replied with a bitterness in her voice.

Padmavathi’s head reeled. Fair weather friends she thought.

Then again she thought how am I to raise my children. Sugandhi and Vimala were already 12-13 and were of marriageable age. How will I get them married. How am I to educate my four sons?

The wheels of time moved forward. Most of the relatives shied away. Except one of her brothers who agreed to take care of Vimala and Padmavathi was relieved. She was a bold boisterous type and would quarrel with anyone who dared to be disrespectful of her mother. Atleast there she would get to eat properly.

Her sister-in-law and her husband lodged a complaint saying that her husband had taken a lot of money from them and so now the house belonged to them. The case was in court.

She worked as a helper in many homes and managed to run her house. There were many who suggested that she think about herself and send her kids to orphanage, many suggested some other things also which she did not want to brood upon and then their was this Father who suggested that they convert and their whole responsibility was theirs. But she said no. She believed in her faith. Ups and downs were a part of life but if he could, could he waive off the fees. The school fees were paltry but for them it was difficult to manage.

Ultimately her eldest son, though very bright had to abandon school to fend for the family. The second too after a couple of years had to do likewise. But it was her third who was a problem to her. He liked to have good food and with their meagre earnings how was that possible. Very often Sugandhi and she would sleep on an empty stomach, a wet cloth tied around their stomach to give an illusion to the brain that the stomach was full.

Eventually Sugandhi and Vimala were married off to widowers twice their age. But both her sons-in-law were jewels. They kept their wives as queens in their meagre earnings. Sugandhi would come home with scented soaps, clothes and footwear for the kids. Vimala, her stars had always been good, her husband was a shop assistant who ultimately owned a jewellery shop and lived comfortably.

Her eldest son though had to drop out of school; was a voracious reader and educated himself. Politics, history, spiritualism, you name it and he was adept in all.

The second too paved his own way and had his own business.

The third, the one with the very active taste buds had a thirst for knowledge and was not ready to quit school. And so he distributed newspapers, sold peanuts in cinema theatres and paid for his own education and eventually became a diploma engineer.

The fourth was the black sheep of the family but the others saw to it that he became independent.

The court case was lost and the house was gone but Vimala who by then was wealthy, bought it and gifted it to her mother.

Till date Padmavathi and her children are revered in the town of Payyanur in Kerala. Hers is the story of unfailing courage and the belief she had in herself, her faith and her children.

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Padmavathi’s story is not uncommon, there must be a million story like hers who kept their head high and struggled through the odds of life to look after their family. She did not take part in the freedom struggle, she did not go and prove that her husband was murdered, she just looked at the fact that her kids should be raised with good principles.

This story was narrated to me by my father on a bleak morning when I had completely lost faith on myself and life. He had told me how a single mother had struggled to raise her kids without loosing on her morals.

Padmavathi was my grandmother and the son with the active taste buds; my father. His emergence from a small place to a steel plant is another inspiring story which we will reserve for another day. 🙂