Song of Surrender

Monday, 13 August 2012

SRUTI FICTION

Tiruvazhundur Sivakozhundu 

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

 Gowri Ramnarayan 

IV

(Continued from blogpost dated 11 August 2012)

‘Tambi lay in the hospital for three months. Slowly his mind cleared. He recognized me within ten days. His eyes were still bandaged. I couldn’t bring myself to inform him that he had lost his eyesight. I told the doctor to tell him about it in my absence. When he knew that he had lost his vision forever, Tambi seemed to lose his wits once again. And yet, in the midst of all these tribulations he did not forget the actress! Often he would smile to himself, and repeat her name. I didn’t feet like bringing Vanaja to see him.

‘Vanaja, however, was impatient to see him. I put her off by saying that the doctor had forbidden all visitors. Finally, unable to withstand her pestering, I took her to the hospital. We had both decided not to inform Tambi of her visit. Accordingly, she came into the sick room and stood in silence.

‘It happened as I feared. As he talked to himself Sivakozhundu called out to Manoranjitam by name and babbled endearments to her. I glanced at Vanaja with great anxiety. Ayya! Haven’t the elders said that it is impossible for men to understand the hearts of women? I realized then how true that was. I thought that Vanaja would be disgusted when she saw how Sivakozhundu was still enamoured of Manoranjitam, and lose all her love for him. But what happened was exactly the opposite. Vanaja’s feelings did not waver one bit. If anything, her affections seemed to grow deeper.

‘She demanded to be taken to the hospital every day, but without my disclosing her identity to Tambi. She insisted on sending food to him daily, and brought it herself on some days. I didn’t like any of this. True, I had wanted to give Vanaja in marriage to Sivakozhundu earlier. But was it possible now? Would her mother agree? Would this daft boy ever agree to it? After all that had happened, he had still not got over his infatuation for Manoranjitam! So what was the use in encouraging Vanaja’s feelings?

‘Even as I ruminated, I was disconcerted by something she wanted to do. “Mama! You must agree to my proposal,” was the beginning of a long speech which ended with, “I am going to change my name to Manoranjitam. You must give me your consent.”

‘At first I couldn’t make out head or tail of her request. I understood however when Vanaja said that she was going to take advantage of Tambi’s blindness and turn herself into Manoranjitam. She told me that she could talk, sing and behave like Manoranjitam, and forthwith proceeded to mimic her perfectly. Her voice and speech were carbon copies of what I had seen on the stage.

‘I was not at all in favour of cheating Tambi in this manner. I also feared that it might result in something unpleasant. But I could not withstand Vanaja’s obstinacy and tears. “Mama! I have nothing in the world but him. Since he doesn’t like Vanaja, I will transform myself into Manoranjitam. You must agree to this. Otherwise I will kill myself and you will be responsible for a woman’s death.”

‘After many days of vacillation, I finally agreed to this deception. I couldn’t bear to see the girl’s misery. Also there was still hope that if the plot succeeded, Sivakozhundu might return to his former self At the same time, I was preyed upon by fear and anxiety, First, the plot had to succeed. But how would Tambi react when the truth came out? I finally decided that there was a God in heaven, and let things take their course.

‘The next day I took Vanaja to Tambi’s house. As I wondered how to bring up the topic, by chance Vanaja’s bangles happened to tinkle, catching Tambi by surprise.

‘‘‘Who’s that, Mama?” he asked.

‘With some relief, I answered, “Tambi, Manoranjitam has come to see you from Madras.”

‘“What! Manoranjitam?” Tambi exclaimed and sat up in bed. For a minute, I was scared.

‘But Vanaja came forward at once, and placing her hands on his shoulders she made him lie down again, saying, “Yes it is me. You must rest now.”

‘Ayyo! Tambi’s look of that moment still haunts me. He stared and stared with his sightless eyes. Don’t people realize the value of things only when they lose them? Tambi must have realized the value of sight most dearly at that moment. I was pained to see the boundless anguish on his face for those eyes now irrevocably lost. I also felt ashamed for attempting to deceive him. But what was the use of feeling sorry after being persuaded by the girl to comply?

‘I told him the story Vanaja and I had concocted earlier. As if I had learnt it by rote, I said that since he had been calling out to Manoranjitam again and again when he lay unconscious in the hospital, I had written to the woman believing that he would get well only if she came to see him. That had brought her here.

‘Vanaja reiterated that she had come running when she saw the letter and that she would return only after he got well.

‘After some more talk of this kind I said, “Arnma! Sing something for Tambi.” We had planned this too in advance.

‘One of the roles played by Manoranjitam was that of Nandan. As Nandan, she would sing the arutpa “Padamudiyaadini tuyaram” as a ragamalika. Vanaja now sang the same song in the same manner. I was astounded by her exact imitation of the actress’s voice, and style of singing, and her precise reproduction of her embellishments of the melody. Tambi listened in a state of bliss. The tears flowed from his eyes.

‘We were both extremely happy that our plot had succeeded so well. Vanaja started to visit Tambi, often spending the whole day with him. Tambi had no close relatives. There was no one in the house except for the cook and the chokra boy. I had prepared them for this plan.

‘After a while, I began to accept concert engagements. On my return after one such trip, Sivakozhundu announced joyfully, “Mama! Manoranjitam and I are going to get married. She has decided to give up acting on the stage.”

‘I became distraught. What a trial! I had agreed to the deception only for the sake of Tambi getting well. How could I agree to this wedding! Can the truth be hidden forever from him? What would happen when he came to know it?

‘All these objections had no impact on Vanaja. “It is I who will bear the consequences. Why are you worried?” she argued. Somehow she extracted my consent with her sobs and tears. She made her mother consent as well.


‘One month later, we performed their wedding at the Tirunageswarar temple.’ With these words, Kandappa Pillai fell silent, as if sunk in deep thought.

‘What comes next?’ I asked him.

‘Well, my nephew and niece are very happy. They have two lovely little boys now.’

I was not satisfied. I felt he had left something unsaid.

‘Where are they now?’ I asked.

‘Have you heard of Mundirisolai, swami? It is on the seashore between Karaikkal and Muttupettai. The Mariamman temple in Mundirisolai is very famous. It is a beautiful village. Cashew trees and casuarinas grow all around it as far as the eye can see. On the east, beyond the groves, there is a wilderness of reeds. Beyond that, a sea full of waves. Roaring waves and soughing casuarina are perpetual sounds there.

‘Mundirisolai is my native village. I have a small house and some land there. Sivakozhundu had visited this village twice or thrice in the days of his glory. He often used to say he loved the place, and that, if ever he retired from his concert career, he would like to live there.

‘A few days after the wedding, Tambi said that he wanted my house in Mundirisolai as he wished to go and live there. I tried to dissuade him. “What does loss of sight matter? That should not make you stop performing. In the past, didn’t Sarabha Sastri play the flute though he was blind? Don’t worry that you won’t be asked to play at concerts. You will have a surfeit of them.”

‘All that was in vain. He insisted stubbornly, “We will see about all that later. I want to stay in the village for a few years. I don’t even want to touch the nagaswaram for a while.” That is how he left with Vanaja for Mundirisolai. They are there now.’

That was how Kandappa Pillai brought his story to an end for the second time. And yet I was not satisfied. I believed his account of Sivakozhundu’s unexpected loss of eyesight because I had witnessed similar unlikely events in my own life. But I simply could not find it credible that Vanaja had transformed herself into Manoranjitam convincingly enough to deceive Sivakozhundu. Was it possible to practice such deceit even on a blind man? Perhaps such deception could succeed before marriage, but was it possible to continue it afterwards?

‘So Sivakozhundu never found out that he had been tricked?’ I asked.

‘Swami! How many nights of sleeplessness do you think I endured because of just this thought? Will Tambi discover the truth? Will he fall into a rage? What will he do? I was never free from these fears. This fear and my love for the couple drew me often to Mundirisolai. I made it a point to visit them at least once in four months. But I was happy to see them leading a very happy life together.

‘Once, on such a visit, I saw Tambi’s instrument in the main room. I also saw a sruti box beside it. “Does Tambi play the nagaswaram now?” I asked. “Sometimes he plays at night. I accompany him on the drone,” Vanaja told me.

‘Fortunately I had my tavil with me. That night I insisted that he play the nagaswaram and I accompanied him on the tavil. What an experience that was! Swami, it was not music of this earth, but of the spheres. At times you choked, at times you wanted to laugh. Suddenly you were lifted somewhere high into the skies, and then plunged as if from the top of a mountain to the world below. Sometimes you felt you were swinging gently, and then you felt impelled to get up and dance in a frenzy. There were moments when I stopped playing the tavil and burst into cries of wonder.

‘When I realized that Tambi had started playing again, I began to go more frequently to Mundirisolai. As time passed, my fears diminished. I thought that he would never discover the truth after all this time.

‘Some three or four years after they had settled in Mundirisolai, on one of my visits, I absent-mindedly called my niece by her real name. I was panic-stricken.

‘“Vanaja? Who’s that, Mama!” Sivakozhundu asked.

‘“There’s no Vanaja here, I called out my niece’s name absent-mindedly. “

‘“Never mind, Mama! My wife is also your niece. If you like the sound of Vanaja, by all means call her by that name,” said he.

‘I thanked God for the respite.

‘That night Sivakozhundu played the nagaswaram as he usually did. When he played Sahana, I was so overwhelmed that I cried out the Lord’s name in ecstasy. When he finished I broke down. “Tambi! It is God who is blind. How could He gift you such genius and snatch your eyes away!”

‘That was when Sivakozhundu said with a smile, “Mama! Truly God did not snatch my eyes from me. In fact, he gave my eyes back to me. Didn’t I prefer another woman to Vanaja? Who could have been more blind?”

‘I was completely taken off my guard. “Tambi! What are you saying?” I said.

‘“Mama! You tried to trick me because I was blind. But it was I who deceived you. I knew her to be Vanaja on the very first day she came to the hospital,” he said.

‘Just then Vanaja joined us. From the smile on her face, I realized that she had colluded with him in this matter.

‘“Vanaja! Were you with him in this plot? Did you know that Tambi knew the truth even before you got married?”

‘“No, Mama! I knew it only the day after the wedding. But he made me promise that I wouldn’t tell you. It was his punishment for your trying to trick him.”

‘“So you two are together in this! I am the odd man out. What have I left to stay for? I’m leaving,” said I.

‘In reality, I was delighted. But I pretended to sulk. With great difficulty they reconciled me to the situation!

‘Once I got over my “anger”, I said, “Never mind, Tambi! But you said you recognized Vanaja from day one. How?”

‘Sivakozhundu’s answer stunned me utterly.

‘“If God takes one sense away, he sharpens another. Yes, Mama! I lost my eyes, but my ears grew very keen. As soon as I heard her bangles, I knew it was Vanaja. Besides, I knew for certain that Manoranjitam would never come. When I was breaking my oath at the Central Station, I heard her drunken laughter in the next room. I was disgusted. Would such a woman come to see me? Certainly not. The real surprise was that you tried to trick me with such a big lie. I guessed the reason for it. You mistook for passion the disgust which made me babble on and on about Manoranjitam. Any doubts I had vanished when Vanaja sang ‘Padamudiyadini tuyaram’.

‘“Mama! You call yourself a connoisseur? How could you not discern the difference between the tone of the actress and that of your niece? True, the ragam, voice and melodic embellishments were just the same. But there was no soul in Manoranjitam’s singing. It was all crooning from the throat. But your niece sang from the depths of her heart. And you couldn’t tell the difference!”

‘Well, that is how my nephew and niece made a fool of me. But I was not unhappy. I felt a burden slip away from my heart. I wanted the young people to be happy. What have I to worry about? This is the age for cultivating detachment. I have experienced the joys and sorrows of life. I have even felt the celestial bliss of Tambi’s music. I am ready to leave when the Lord calls me…’

The train came to a halt at Vizhupuram Station. Kandappa Pillai’s chokra boy got down from another compartment and came to take his unrolled bed and trunk. Patting the tavil once, Kandappa Pillai picked it up himself and got down. ‘Goodbye, Ayya! I will see you when I come into the city,’ he said and went his way.

I couldn’t sleep for the rest of that night. I pondered over the amazing events narrated by Ivampettai Kandappan. Were they true? Or figments of Kandappa Pillai’s imagination? I must enquire more into the matter when I see him next and find out the truth.

Well, whether truth or fiction, in one way the story made me feel content. For, unlike my own stories, which end in grief, hadn’t he concluded his with the auspicious ‘They lived happily ever after’?

(Concluded)

Copyright 2012 Gowri Ramnarayan
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