Saturday, 11 August 2012


Tiruvazhundur Sivakozhundu 

Translated from Kalki’s Tamil original in Ananda Vikatan (1939) by

 Gowri Ramnarayan 

 (Continued from blogpost dated 10 August 2012)

 ‘All this both amused and saddened me. No, swami! I gave them no advice. I have learnt from experience that in the affairs of young people, all advice is absolutely useless. That is why I had held my tongue even when that actress was ensnaring Sivakozhundu. People have to face disappointments and mature by their own experience. They have to live through their own joys and sorrows to become wise. Any interference only worsens matters.

‘Some three months passed. I received a letter asking me to bring Sivakozhundu to the Kandaswami temple festival in Madras. I did recall that the dreadful woman was in the city. But how could we turn down the engagement? We went. Swami, Sivakozhundu simply excelled himself at that festival! By some intuition, Tambi must have realized that these were to be his last public concerts. Perhaps that was why it turned out to be so outstanding a performance. In one of the concerts, Tambi’s Bhairavi made the listeners weep.

‘His style had changed in some ways. Earlier, his zest had been reserved for ragams like Kalyani, Sankarabharanam, Hamsadhwani, Nattai and Kedaram. They made me play the tavil with great enthusiasm. But more recently, Tambi had taken to playing ragams like Kambhoji, Kedaragowlai, Huseni, Mukhari, and Khamas. As I played with him, I would find my eyes filling with tears. I would get gooseflesh. I would cease to think about playing the tavil. My hands tapped on out of long habit, but my mind would be completely lost in Tambi’s music. At times I simply raised my folded hands to cry out, “Hara hara Mahadeva!” Some people giggled at this. Fools! What did they know of the taste of music?

‘The three days of concerts were over. On the morning of the fourth day I asked Tambi, “Shall we leave today!”

‘“Wait, Mama! Our concert at Chidambaram is only on Wednesday. Let’s drive down by car.”

‘Driving was Sivakozhundu’s latest craze. Having learnt to drive, he had been saying that the next time he went to Madras, he was going to buy a car.

‘After a whole day’s search he did return with a second-hand car purchased for two thousand rupees. Sparingly used, it was in very good condition.

‘Thank God, the pursuit of the car had made him forget Manoranjitam, or so I happily imagined. But my joy was short-lived. Sivakozhundu went to see the play that night, half-heartedly inviting me to accompany him. “Not me, I am tired,” I replied. I spent the whole night in misery.

‘The next day Tambi got up very late. Hardly was he up before he began to get ready with a palpable excitement. Dressed nattily, he told me, “Mama! I am going out. Don’t wait for me to join you for lunch. I may be late.”

‘I said, “Tambi, what is this! We must be in Chidambaram at daybreak tomorrow. And you are going out without making any arrangements for the journey!”

‘“We will definitely start tonight, Mama!’ he said. “If we leave by car at 10 p.m., we will be in Chidambaram early in the morning. If you want a good night’s sleep, you take the night train.”

‘I expected him back only in the evening, and was surprised that he returned within the hour. He did not answer my queries but went straight up to bed and lay there. I heard his sobs.

‘The chokra boy had accompanied him. So I asked him what had happened. He gave me all the details. When they went to Manoranjitam’s bungalow in San Thome, there were already six cars outside her home. Tambi sent word that Sivakozhundu Pillai had come from Kumbakonam to see her. The watchman returned to say that since “Amma” was busy and wouldn’t be able to see him, he should come later. Tambi’s face shrank in shame. He returned to our quarters at once.

‘Swami! I was not surprised. I had heard that the people of Madras had spread the red carpet out for that woman. Eminent advocates, high court judges and I.C.S. officers went to her home and waited for an audience! This kind of celebrity can turn the head of even virtuous persons. What do you expect from a wretched woman? Why will she waste time on a poor nagaswaram player?

‘I was angry with Sivakozhundu as well. A man with his depth of musical talent going in search of a worthless chit! He certainly deserved this humiliation. Only then will he learn his lesson. Well, let him weep!

‘Feeling as I did, I didn’t try to console him. I went out because I had some people to see.

‘I returned around five o’clock and enquired about Tambi. I learnt that Tambi had come out of his room at four o’clock, asked for me, and then left in his car. At first I thought of taking the train and leaving him to find his way. Then I felt that he should not be abandoned in that condition. I grew extremely uneasy. If by some chance, Tambi did not return, what about the concert at Chidambaram? I told myself that his irresponsible behaviour was no excuse for any silliness on my part. So I waited for him.

‘The car returned only at 7 p.m.

‘“So you are back, Mama!” When Sivakozhundu entered the room merrily, I was happy to think that he was himself again. But that happiness was short-lived. At once I knew the reason for his high spirits. I was shattered.

‘“Slut! This mishap is all due to you!” I cursed the actress. I also cursed myself for having left Tambi alone that evening. It was now too late to think of my going by train. I had to make sure that Tambi came with me.’

At this juncture I couldn’t quite make out what Kandappa Pillai said. I felt that he had left our something. ‘I don’t understand, Ayya! What change did you note in Sivakozhundu?’ I asked him.

‘Don’t you understand, swami! I feel bad to spell it out. The boy was heavily drunk. That’s all. The oath at the Hanuman temple was broken. Once again I asked the chokra boy for details. He told me that they had gone once again to the actress’ house and received the same reply. As they stood outside the gate they saw her come out, get into a car and drive away, without a backward glance at Tambi. After that Tambi drove all over the place for a while and finally ended up somewhere near the Central Station. The hellborn have opened liquor shops everywhere. Tambi had got thoroughly drunk.

‘When I heard this account, though I was angry with the man, I also felt sorry for him. How deep must have been the hurt that made him disregard a vow taken in a temple! How amazing is the power of the passion for a woman! But I consoled myself with the thought, never mind, if I managed to take him home safely this once, I wouldn’t have to worry any more. He is free of his craze for the actress now. It is up to Vanaja now to take care of him.

‘It was 10 p.m. by the time we finished dinner and got ready to leave. The car dealer had sent a chauffeur. Sivakozhundu was seated in front beside the driver. We were all at the back. I was afraid that Tambi would want to drive himself. I didn’t speak to him about it because it might put the idea into his head. So I kept my mouth shut.

‘The sky was overcast. But when we set out on our journey, it didn’t look as if it would rain. It began to drizzle when we passed Chengalpattu. I looked at the sky. It was totally black. I feared that it might rain heavily.

‘I must have dozed off with that thought. I don’t know how ‘long I slept. I was startled awake by a tremendous clap of thunder.

‘In all my life, I had never seen such a storm. The thunder began to explode in one comer of the sky, tore through the clouds as it travelled to another. Nor did it travel fast. It made the spheres in space tremble in terror as it moved at its measured pace. Simultaneously, the light of a thousand suns blazed in a single flash of lightning. It paused in the sky for half a minute to light up the whole world. My dazzled eyes shut themselves. But before they did I saw something that hit me with horror in the pit of my stomach. Swami, Sivakozhundu was in the driver’s seat!

‘Ayyo! Lightning flashed within me warning me of disaster. And disaster struck.

‘How can I describe what happened in that single instant! There was a horrendous blast. I had never heard such a sound in this life of mine, nor will I hear it again. How do you think it feels when the whole sky crashes over your head! That’s what I felt had happened. For an instant I became deaf. The next instant brought a massive shock, as if I was flung from the earth into the underworld.

‘As long as I live, I will never forget what I saw when I came to. A huge green banyan tree before me was in flames. Picture the sight! In the colossal blackness of the earth and sky, a green tree and a motorcar were going up in flames! It was drizzling then. The drops of water falling on the fire and vanishing in the flames, as if the God of Fire was sticking his tongue out again and again to taste the little raindrops, and rising higher and higher towards the clouds as his great thirst could hardly be assuaged by them. For a while I lay where I was, witnessing this terrible sight. Fortunately, I remembered that my tavil was in the car. That revived me. I raced towards the car. It had been smashed against the tree. Luckily only the engine was burning. The fire had not yet reached the boot. Moving the tavil and nagaswaram to safety, I turned to examine the condition of the occupants of the car. The driver had just got up and was coming towards the car. His head was hurt, blood flowing from it. I cursed him soundly for what he had done and looked for Tambi. Seeing him flat on the ground a little ahead, I rushed towards him. He lay inert, like a log. Ayyo! Was the boy dead? I put my hand on his chest. No heart beat. I held his wrist. No pulse. I put my hand on his nostrils. The breath came faintly. I too felt my life return.

‘Hearing loud voices I looked around and saw that seven or eight men were approaching us with lanterns. Later I learnt that there was a railway station close by. See the ways of God! Even when he sends us punishment, he shows some mercy. What would have been our fate if this had occurred in a deserted place?’

‘Pillaival! What actually happened? Why did the tree catch fire? Why did the car go up in flames?’ I asked.

‘Don’t you see? When does a green tree bum? Only when it is struck by lightning.’

‘Ayyo! That oath at the Hanuman temple ...

‘Yes! Sivakozhundu’s words at the temple came true. The shock of lightning striking so close to him must have made Tambi lose his grip on the steering wheel. The car hit the tree. But listen! Miraculously, no one died. All of us escaped with slight bruises. But Tambi ... Tambi ... When I think of that, I have to believe that it was divine retribution.

‘I couldn’t get rid of my fear that he was dead because he continued to lie like a log. I would look at his face to reassure myself that it had some life in it. It was then that I saw something shining in the corner of his eyes. I looked more carefully. My God!

‘That was when I felt a spear-thrust tearing my heart apart. In the corner of those closed eyes were drops of blood. Under the electric light they glowed like rubies!

‘Four days later, my suspicion was confirmed. I had taken him to the hospital run by the famous doctor who belonged to our Congress party. The doctor did not say anything for the first three days. On the fourth day, he called me and declared simply, “The man is in a state of mental shock. He will recover from ‘this soon. But his eyes are lost forever.” I didn’t ask why. I knew the reason, didn’t I? Tambi’s words at the Hanuman temple had come absolutely true. His oath, that lightning should blind him if he touched liquor again, had been fulfilled.

Copyright 2012 Gowri Ramnarayan.

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