‘But Amma I don’t want to go’, said Kavya.
‘Kavya for once don’t be selfish and think about Annamma(father’s mother). She is so excited about this trip. You know your Annu(father) is not getting leave. I have to stay here to look after him, you know his diabetes needs monitoring. Just go with Annamma, after all the trip is only for seven days’, said Amma.
‘Seven days …it will be hell with all old people Amma’, said Kavya.
Amma glared at her, ‘You have enough leave , just inform your office and start packing’.
Kavya let out a sigh. Things recently were not going the way she wanted. Her boyfriend of 2 years had ditched her, the last assignment she was given at office was not that successful and now this. ‘Is this my age to go on a pilgrimage’, she muttered to no one in particular.
Three days later she was getting ready. Annamma came and said, ‘How I want to be at least 30 years younger’
‘Why?’, Kavya asked.
‘At least I could have worn a jeans and gone without a care’, was her reply.
‘You can still wear one, your figure can still make others envy’, said Kavya with a twinkle in her eyes’
‘Shee, shee, don’t try to butter me up’, said Annamma.
But it was true. At the age of 74, Annamma tended the vegetable patch, washed her clothes, went for walking and did as much community service as she could.
They were briefed in the waiting lounge of Nirmala Travels office at PVS Circle and while the brief was going on she looked around to see if there was anyone of her own age. There was a boy of maybe fifteen years or so and Kavya’s disappointment resurfaced.
Their first stop was Palakkad and then at Palani. The greenery she saw around was mesmerizing. The green was enchanting and the moo of the cows was soothing. When she saw the steps to the Palani temple. she wondered how the oldies would climb. “will they able to… especially the women with their heavy sarees”, she thought.
‘Afraid to climb’, she heard a voice, she turned to look at the boy whom she thought was 15.
‘I am Pradeep’, he said.
‘I am Kavya and no I am not afraid to climb, and that to climb steps; not at all, I am used to hiking, mountaineering etc, you see’.
They started ascending. And then she saw all the old people including her grandmother climb with such agility that she was ashamed of her speed. Was it their faith or the fact that they lived active lives.. who knew but the fact was that she had reached only mid way while the rest had already reached.
Looking at the rush, she said she would stand outside. ‘Come Kavya, maybe you will never get to see this again’, said Annamma.
‘And the architecture is good, if you are not interested in worship, you can always look around’, said one of the uncles. And very soon all joined and cajoled her to step inside the shrine.
Soon the group was a big happy family.
Eeshwar uncle would crack jokes all the while, Katy aunty (Katyayani) was the mother hen who looked after everyone’s needs and so on. Pradeep was the errands boy and she was everyone’s pet.
The tour proceeded to Srirangam and then to Trichy and Tanjavur. The piety of the others was inspirational. ‘What do they pray about? And in such a crowd too’, she muttered to herself.
‘That is because my dear, you are not listening to the coordinator giving the history behind each temple’ said Raghu Uncle.
Kavya was ashamed. It was true she was so bothered about her own troubles that she had not been listening much to whatever was going around.
In Rameshwaram she listened with attention and was lost in the description it was so surreal.
She now understood how important listening was. The queue was long but then Annamma started singing Bhaja Govindam and everyone joined in. She understood that ‘kirtan’ (singing)too could connect you to the superior being in a way that nothing else could.
As they emerge out of the temple she felt a calm which she had not felt since the time she had turned into a teenager
At the gates of the temple, Surendra Uncle knelt down and thanked the God for all his blessings and also that He had seen to it that his long cherished dream of visiting Rameshwaram had been fulfilled.
AT that time Kavya understood the importance of ‘vandanam‘, the importance of thanking. Had she ever thanked the Lord for her blessings. Leave God she didn’t even remember ever thanking her parents for anything.
They proceeded to Madurai. The atmosphere in the bus had changed. The initial joking and chatting had been overtaken by various stories of the deities which they had seen or about to see. As she saw the contented looks of the others she understood that ‘smaranam‘ -remembering can be vitalizing too.
The Meenakshi temple enamored her. She touched everything again and again and she was filled with awe.
After the temple visit one of the member said that he knew one small temple nearby in which they could offer their personal puja. The coordinator and the driver were coaxed and they proceeded.
As she saw everyone getting involved in the worship, right from picking the flowers, to making the garland, to getting all the ingredients to worship. and as they washed the feet of the Lord (pada sevanam)she understood that there is a lot of happiness in doing things together and that arcanam or diety worship could cleanse ones’ heart too.
Standing in the waters of Kanyakumari she felt at peace. Was the water soothing or was it Swami Vivekananda’s special mercy, who knew. She saw Pradeep serving his grandfather, she saw Katy and Annamma talking in whispers and smiled. Both servitorship and friendship could give so much joy.
As she stood in front of Padmanabh Swamy at Trivandram, for the first time she bowed down and let her ego fly away. At that moment she surrendered (atma Nivedanam) to the Supreme and allowed him to take charge of her life.
When they returned to Mangalore, the partings were painful. The seven-day journey had made them all a family.
But Kavya was happy. She was finally at peace with herself and was ready to take on the world again.
Prahlad told that there are nine processes of devotional service (bhakti)-sravanam (listening), kirtanam (singing), vishnu smaranam (remembering), pada sevanam (serving the lotus feet of the Lord) , Arcanam (deity worship), Vandanam(prayers), Dasyam (servitorship), Sakhyam(friendship) and Atma Nivedanam(surrender). I have incorporated these nine processes into this post. Hope you liked reading it.