Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CHAPTER-21 PILGRIMAGE TO SABARI HILLS

CHAPTER 21
PILGRIMAGE TO SABARI HILLS
                                                                        1988-1989
Durga Puja used to be celebrated at Kudremukh every year. The images of Durga, Ganesha and Karthikeya used to be installed in a beautifully decorated pandal and a priest used to do the worship and perform the Arati.   A souvenir used to be brought out on the occasion of Durga Puja.  The organisers wanted me to contribute articles on the significance of Durga Puja to be included in the souvenir.    I wrote on sagunopasana  and the worship of God as the Mother, Tapasya  of Parvati to attain Siva as beautifully brought out by poet Kalidasa in Kumarasambhavam and the different aspects, both terrible and beautiful,  in which the Divine Mother had manifested herself and is worshipped.
In May 1988 I wrote the Second Year papers for the B. Sc (Maths) Exam at Bangalore.   The papers were Sanskrit Paper II, English Paper II, Analytical Solid Geometry, Trigonometry and Vector Analysis and Allied Subject II – Costing and Banking.  I passed the examination with 260 marks out of 400
While I was writing the above exam my wife had been to Karaikudi, along with my second daughter,  for the marriage of her cousin’ s daughter. I was alone at Kudremukh, so I had to lock the house and take the bunch of keys with me.  When I alighted from the bus at Bangalore  I was shocked to find that I had lost the bunch of keys for the house.  The bus had already left and some one gave an address where the bus could be found.  I hired an auto and asked him to follow the route taken by the bus.  But the bus was not there.  We were told that the driver would go to a  particular petrol pump to fill petrol.  I asked the auto driver to leave me at the petrol bunk and  go wherever he wanted to go.  I was waiting at the petrol outlet for more than an hour when the auto driver came from some where and handed me the key bunch.  He had gone back to the bus station where he saw the bus by which I had come being washed by a female employee.  He asked her whether she had found a bunch of keys. She handed him the key bunch after asking a few questions.  He rushed back to the petrol bunk  where he had left me and handed me the keys.  I gave him the money for the running around in his auto and also rupees twenty as tips.  I also thanked him profusely.  Without being told he had gone in search of the key,  found it and restored it to me.  Without his timely help I would have had to break open the doors to enter my house at Kudremukh. 
Before I came to Kudremukh I had undergone surgery for my leg fractured in an accident.  The ends of the bone had been joined  using imported special stainless steel plates and screws. There was a minute hole where injury had taken place and body fluids oozed through the hole.  This was happening because flesh had not grown where there was the steel screw underneath.  The only remedy was to remove the plates and screws since the ends of the bone had fused together.  The CMO of the plant hospital who was an orthopaedic surgeon and he performed the surgery.  I was in the hospital for three days and then discharged.  I had to get the wound dressed for a week before it finally healed.  The tiny hole was fully healed   after the plates and screws were removed.  There was no oozing of body fluids afterwards.  
By now my second son had  become a full-fledged chartered accountant and he had set up his own practice.  He had a few clients whose books he helped maintain.  His name was also on the panel of auditors for Bank Audit of Public Sector Banks.  He had a small office in Vasant Nagar. He had rented a single-room house with kitchen and toilet which he shared with one of his friends.  He used to cook for both and tried his culinary skills in making a variety of snacks and curries.  A girl from a neighbouring house was working for him.  She was a science graduate.   He liked her and  she liked him.   The girl’s father had died a few years back.  Her elder sister had married her mother’s brother.  She had two children.  All of them were in one family.  Both our families agreed and we had a simple engagement ceremony to which only the closest of relatives and friends were invited.  The marriage was celebrated in October 1988 at Bangalore.  My younger brother’s  family from Cuddapah attended the marriage. At Kudremukh we had arranged a party at the Club for the invitees from Kurdremukh colony.  My son and daughter-in-law  returned to Bangalore after spending a week at Kudremukh.
My youngest brother had been suffering from a bad cough which was not responding to any treatment.  He  could not attend the marriage of my son  because of his health problem.  Finally his son took him to JIPMER at Pondicherry.  The diagnosis was lung cancer.  His son,  who had just turned twenty one, did not want to shock his parents and sister by breaking this terrible news to them. He got the doctor to write that the patient’s lungs had become filled with fluid which had to be removed regularly.  Only this was shown to them.  My brother was perhaps hoping that by proper treatment he could regain his health.  When the father’s condition deteriorated the son contacted me at Kudremukh through the hotline of the company between Bangalore and Kudremukh.  He had also informed my younger brother at Cuddapah.  For both of us it was a shock.  My youngest brother did not smoke or use tobacco in any other form.   How could he get lung cancer?   He seemed to be worried about the future of his children.  I assured him that both of them were intelligent, would complete their education and do well in their lives.  He seemed to be satisfied with my reply.  I returned to Kudremukh and my younger brother returned to Cuddapah.  After a few days, in December 1988,  I got an emergency call from my brother’s son.   When I reached  Madras my brother’s  condition was pathetic.  The cancer had rapidly spread and reached his brain.  He did not recognise any one. Soon after he quietly breathed his last.  His son had known what was coming and had prepared himself to face the reality but his wife and daughter were beside themselves with grief.   The son lit the funeral pyre and the ashes were immersed in the sea. The after-death rites were spread over 12 days followed by an auspicious ceremony on the 13th.    My wife, who had been to Delhi to leave my first daughter there, was to join us on the 10th day rites wherein the women of the family had to be present.  I had been to the Madras Central station to receive my wife.  There was an announcement saying that the train was expected to arrive one hour late. After two more announcements of further delay the train arrived full four hours late.   My wife was just in time for the 10th day rites. Many of my brother’s office staff came over to offer condolences.  Such was my brother’s  soft nature, empathy and unblemished character that, in his death, they seemed to experience a personal loss.
In March 1989 I availed of leave travel concession from the company for self and family.  Our itinerary was Mangalore – Bombay – Delhi – Lucknow – Calcutta – Bangalore – Mangalore.  We were to stay 2 or 3 days at each place  except at Lucknow where my daughter’s family was living. We  had done advance booking of air tickets accordingly.   In Bombay we stayed at my father-in-law’s brother’s house.  We had to proceed to Delhi from Santacruz airport.  We came to the suburban station to catch the train to Santacruz . The train was jam-packed and it was difficult to get in with the briefcase I was carrying.  My father-in-law’s brother took the briefcase from me so that I could get in and then take the brief case from him.  I got in but before he could hand me the briefcase the train started moving and  I could not take the briefcase from him.  All air tickets and other documents were in the briefcase.  Luckily the ait tickets to Delhi were in my pocket.  So we reached Delhi where my wife’s cousin had come to the airport to receive us. I telephoned my father-in-law’s brother to send me the documents by courier.  He sent them to my wife’s cousin;s office address in Delhi.  The cousin was working in the Training Division of the Indian Overseas Bank to which the package had been addressed.  The Bank was on the ground floor whereas my wife’s cousin was in the training division on the first floor.  The courier chap found the bank in the ground floor closed.  He did not enquire at the first floor.  Next day morning we had to leave for Lucknow.  We made frantic telephone calls to Bombay and  found out the name of the courier and their telephone number.   Finally the packet was delivered late in the evening that day.  We heaved a sigh of relief.   Next morning we took the flight to Lucknow as planned and stayed there for about two weeks.  Then we took the flight to Calcutta where my first son’s family was staying at lodgings provided by TISCO at Alipore.  Indian Tube Company,  which my son had joined right after engineering college,  had been absorbed by TISCO and had become a division of Tata Steel. After spending a few days with my son we returned to Kudremukh by flight up to Mangalore and then by road to Kudremukh.
In April 1989 one of my Assistant Controllers of Finance proposed that we  perform a Maharudram in Kudremukh colony for peace and prosperity of the inhabitants.  I drafted an appeal explaining the significance of sri Rudram  and the benefits of chanting this mantra and performing homa chanting this mantra. A committee was formed for celebrating the function and each one was allotted specific tasks. We requested  His Holiness the Sankaracharya of Sringeri to grace the occasion  by his presence.  My wife and I did the  sankalpa on behalf of the Kudremukh community.  I also accompanied the pundits  chanting  sri rudram which I had learnt from  my maternal grandfather after my upanayanam.  The Acharya graced the occasion with his presence.     The function was successfully concluded. The ACA referred to above had put his heart and soul in organising this function. But as if his life’s mission had already been accomplished and he was no longer required here, he was taken away by the Lord.  A day after the function his scooter crashed into an oncoming,   speeding jeep or lorry . He was admitted in the Plant hospital with head injury and was in a sort of coma. He breathed his last in a couple of days.
After the Maharudram my wife boarded the Karnataka Express to Delhi  where my first daughter was to undergo surgery  for fibroids in the uterus. I was at Kudremukh.  That evening while I was watching TV there was a news item announcing that the sleeper coaches of a train  had fallen off a bridge into the river at a place near Lalitpur.  In the news the train number was mentioned but I could not connect it to the Karnataka Express. The accident had occurred at around 1 PM.  Within minutes of this news my wife’s cousin telephoned me saying that this was the train in which my wife was travelling.  Hearing the news my second son who was at Bangalore had rushed to the Bangalore City railway station where they were announcing the names of those who had died or injured.  My wife’s name did not crop up in the announcements.  We were completely in the dark about what had happened to her.  Our imagination was running riot visualising the worst scenarios.  I requested my MD to allow me to proceed to Bangalore by a company vehicle driven by a company driver.  He readily agreed and at dead of night I left Kudremukh and reached Bangalore in the early hours of the morning.
My wife’s cousin had been making enquiries through an MP who was his friend.  There was no positive information from there  also.  My office got me an air ticket  to Delhi on priority because I was the husband of one of the passengers travelling in a sleeper coach of the train which had met with an accident.  I was received at the airport by one of the brothers of my son-in-law.  He said that my wife had reached that morning safe and sound.  At New Delhi railway station my wife’s brother-in-law was waiting for her.  There was an announcement saying that the Karnataka Express was indefinitely delayed.  This announcement was repeated several times until late in the evening they announced that the train had met with a major accident and any one who wanted to meet the accident victims could travel free to the site of the accident.  But it was no use going to the accident site unless one had definite information about the whereabouts of a particular person.  My son-in-law’s brother was worried about my wife’s condition imagining the worst of scenarios. Finally he was relieved when he saw my wife alighting from one of the coaches of the relief train from Jhansi which chugged into the New Delhi railway station in the morning.
It was a major accident.  The sleeper coaches had  slipped from the bridge and fallen into the river bed.  There was no water in the river.  The cries of the wounded and the trapped were heart-rending.  Since it was day time,  people from Lalitpur had rushed to the spot as soon as they heard of the accident. They extricated people who were trapped,  carried wounded to the hospital, gave water to the thirsty, helped people to collect their luggage and put them on buses,  jeeps or  other vehicles.  The coach in which my wife was travelling had fallen into the river but it stood vertically on a rock and no one had been injured though they were toppled.  My wife had come out with the help of the villagers who put her on a  rikshaw to Jhansi.  From Jhansi she had come with some co-passengers to New Delhi by the relief train.  I couldn’t  believe when I saw my wife in flesh and blood without an injury on her person.  This was nothing short of a miracle.  This was another instance of the protective hands of the Lord.
It was time for me to think of retirement as I was completing my fifty-eighth year on August 31, 1989.  But there was a voluntary retirement scheme which would give me the salary for the unexpired portion of my service if I opted for voluntary retirement.  I requested to be relieved from  15th of May 1989 under the Voluntary Retirement scheme and this was accepted.   The period from 7th January 1986 to 15th May 1989 had been one of the happiest and satisfying periods in my service life. I was given an affectionate send-off by the officers and staff.  There ended the story of my service which started with the Posts and Telegraphs, a Central Government Department  and ended with Kudremukh Iron Ore Company, a Central Government Public Sector Enterprise.
After retirement I rented a house with a small hall,  two small bed rooms,  a kitchen and toilet for Rs. 1000 a month and shifted residence to Bangalore.   In July 1989 I  joined a software company where an ex-employee of KIOCL was working after resigning his job at Kudremukh. He was a B E in  Computer Science from Suratkal Engineering college in Karnataka. He had developed software for Jaiprakash Associates  for which I wrote user manuals.  After about  three months,  I joined as part- time faculty at Davar’s College and taught the students Business Organisation and Accounting.  
Towards the end of 1989, I undertook a pilgrimage to the Sabari Hills.  This was to fulfil a vow of my wife who had vowed to send me on this pilgrimage when I had fully recovered  after my accident.  I joined a group of devotees led by one Guruswamy .  The pilgrims to the Sabari Hills had to observe strict discipline for forty days before the actual journey to the the abode of Dharma Sasta   popularly known as Ayyappa.   Every morning and evening one had to bathe, wear black clothes,  put on stripes of  vibhuti on the forehead , the chest and the hands  repeat the names of Lord Ayyappa and say ‘Saranam Ayyappa’  meaning ‘O Lord! I surrender myself  to you’ with each name.  One had to observe strict brahmacharya  meaning not indulging in the pleasures of the senses and greet every other pilgrim with ‘Saranam Ayyappa’. The devotee should eat only satwic food,  should not drink or smoke or indulge in rajasic or tamasic activities. 
This was my maiden journey to the Sabari Hills. I was carrying the irumudi, the bag containing the offerings to the Lord  of Sabari Hills.      Our group travelled by bus up to Erumeli.  From here the trek started.  A short distance from Erumeli it is level ground.  Then the ascent of Azhutha hill starts. Then the descent from Azhutha followed by the ascent of Karimala,  another tough hill to climb.  By the time we reached this point it was afternoon and slight drizzle had started.  Ascending the Karimala was a painfully slow process because of the steep slopes.  We continued chanting the names of Ayyappa.  By the time we reached the top it was quite dark. It was descent now and the slope was slippery because of the rain.  With each step we were sliding down the slippery slope without any control on our descent.   There were some experienced volunteers who helped in our descent holding us by our arms. Two of us from the group had lost touch with the other members.  It was night now and the rain continued unabated.  Finally we reached a tent where we could rest our tired limbs.  The two of us continued the trek in the morning.  Our group was waiting for us on the banks of the Pampa river.  We bathed and had breakfast there and started climbing the Neelimala.   From the top of Neelimala there is level ground up to Sabaripeedam where Sabari is supposed to have did tapas waiting for Sri Rama.   Then we approached the eighteen steps leading to the Sannidhanam  with the utmost reverence.  Standing on the 18th step we were right in front of the portal of the great temple of Sabarimala – straight ahead was the image of the Lord, Dharma Sasta or Ayyappa resplendent in all his glory.  We forgot all the trials and tribulations we passed through in our journey, thrilled by the darshan of the Lord.  We make our offerings and pray for the good of all,  ‘survey janaah sukhino bhavantu’ .  We returned from the Sabari Hills, spiritually recharged, to face the problems of day to day living. I was reminded of a couplet in Sanskrit about the grace of the Lord:
                   Mookam karoti vaachaalam pangum langhayate girim 
                   Yat kripaa tamaham vande parmaananda maadhavam
         
                   मूकं करोति वाचालं पङ्गुं लंघयते गिरिम्।
                    यत्कृपा तमहं वन्दे परमानन्दमाधवम् ॥


‘I bow to Madhava who is the very embodiment of bliss and whose grace   makes the dumb speak eloquently and the lame climb mountains. ‘ Truly had I climbed the hills having, by His grace, recovered from the accident which fractured my left leg. 
******

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