தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'

Chapter 17

Cultural rituals in a Saiva home are elaborate and expensive. Though I had several non-Saiva relations, I did not become involved in the funeral arrangements and therefore do not remember any significant event or incident related to non-Saiva funerals. However, I have pleasant memories of Hindu and non-Hindu weddings for another chapter.

There was no embalming of corpse. The time of death plays an important part in the nature of funeral rites and time of cremation. Infants are not cremated but buried. Pregnant women not given a public and elaborate funeral. People dying of infectious diseases are handled by ‘professionals’ and so on. As economic pursuits took closer family members away from home, their arrival also played an important part in funeral arrangements.

The first to die in my family was my father. I have mentioned earlier that he was operated on for cancer of the bladder. He survived the surgery and spent the rest of his life mostly in Saiva service. His one regret in life was he could not sing well. I believe that anyone can sing if they attempt and practice. They may not have the golden voice of a Bhagavathar, but with practice and devoid of stage fright one can at least enjoy one’s own singing.

I seldom worry about taking tapes with me on long trips, if I traveled alone and they were many. I start with old numbers from Kiddappa, Thiagaraja Bhagavathar, P.U. Chinnappa, T.R. Mahalingam, T. M. Soundararajan and A. M. Raja. I listen to all types of music but not some of the songs or instrumental rendition that pass for music. I like the music to be melodies and soothing not irritating and ear splitting. In my travels I get a chance to remember the old favorites and a chance to ‘meditate,' I use this term rather loosely. Meditation is to direct your mind to one thought as I do not believe one can concentrate on nothing, sort of go blank. If so then one will be unconscious.

So when I drive my concentration is all on driving and fast driving helps to concentrate better. When I needed some form of tranquilizer, a long drive with some singing helps. When my nerves are soothed I start humming involuntarily and then I know everything is all right for that time.

So father and Pandithar Subramaniam of Sitthankerney get together and assume the roll of ‘OtuvAr’ in the temple. Pandithar would sing and father will explain the ‘tEvAram, tiruvAcakam,’ passages from ‘perija purAnham’ other Saiva devotional songs in simple ’tamiz’ as most of these works taking back to over two thousand years are in classical ‘tamiz.’ They are like Johnsonian English.

At the end of the sixth year, true to the surgeon's assurance after the surgery that my father will have no problem for six years, my father contracted the notorious Dengu fever and was admitted to the Hospital. His condition was deteriorating and I was summoned. I visited him in hospital and he stared at me and turned away from me. I knew then that he had made up his mind. The stare posed me the question, Now what? Because I made him agree to see the doctor that ended up in surgery. No one could have done anything for him not even me.

I returned to Colombo and on the third day I received a call that he was sinking. By the time I reached home he was gone. In a way I was glad for him. He had a very useful life. He brought six of us into the world with my mother’s cooperation, and most important I did not want to see him suffer unnecessarily. Seeing me mother hugged me and I asked everybody not to make too much of a fuss as it was a good thing he passed away with the minimum or without suffering in pain.

The body is bathed and dressed and the ‘cyvak kurukkaL,’ not the ‘pirAmanhak kurukkaL’ officiate at the funeral. He does his thing, but mostly singing of devotional songs by professionals most of them were paying their respects to their old teacher and new colleague in the ‘OtuvAr’ business. Students and teachers from Manipay, Pandatteruppu, and Araly Hindu Colleges, joined in the singing. The fathers get to have the eldest son perform all the last rites with the help of the ‘kurukkaL’ and the other children join in the action in an associate capacity. The mother gets the youngest son to perform the last rights. These religious demands embarrass those without male children and are cause for the believe that they cannot go to heaven. This leads to the development of an inferiority complex that limits the threshold for tolerance.

It is a custom that the cortege does not leave the home through the regular entrance. Either a new opening is made in the fence or through the second gate. I waited for a little longer to make sure there were people to look after mother, sister and others for whom father’s last ride was unbearable. My sister came to me and as she approached me she fainted in my arms. I had to pry open her mouth with my finger to free her tongue from being chopped by the closing mouth and left her in the care of a cousin.

My mother came up and held me tight and sobbed. I had to console her and make her understand that life was not going to be the same for her. She was the pride of the clan. There was no social or religious activity among our relations and they are many, without the active participation of mother and my father’s presence. My mother occupied a position of importance as the wife of a teacher and later principal, mother of five boys a big plus for directing operations from the podium in any function, as widows and mothers without children are not allowed to play a prominent part in such functions where a ‘cumangkali’ is required. Now she will not be in demand. Furthermore, a change in the generation for the better has already taken place. Those who had to depend on father and mother could turn to their children now.

So I had to say something that will be useful to her. I told her that the one man in her life is no more but he did leave behind five of him and each one of us was a giant in our own way. I also told her that hitherto she was the queen of the manor. She had to hand over her master key to the house to my sister. I also made it clear to her that she could continue to stay close to my sister and her only daughter, but the moment she found that getting away will be better, she had no problem staying with me or any of her other sons, but never to stay in any place for more than necessary or not to exceed the limits of welcome.

It may sound cruel or out of place to some. I was not sorry that father died, I cry whenever I think of the good things he had done and I miss him. Had he lived I would have accepted a scholarship to do post graduate work at the Asian Institute Bangkok in 1972. I have accepted the Zambian government contract only the week before I got the letter about the scholarship. There was political unrest in that part and I did not want to take the family with me nor did I want to leave them behind. I have already told my children about their going to Zambia, and I did not want to disappoint them and at the same time I did not want them to think that I renege on promises.

That was a dilemma and my father would have persuaded me to go for higher studies and he would have taken the responsibility. Nevertheless whether it would have happened I doubt. I was determined not to put my parents through taking care of our children as they have had enough of that with six of us and they needed their free time and enough time to shower love on the grandchildren without having to go through the ordeal of baby sitting.

At the cemetery, we set fire to the pyre and followed through the rituals and social obligations as customs dictated. One of my uncles who was a student under my father sang this in the cemetery. It is a ‘paddinattAr padyppu.’

We still have to talk about the ‘villu vanhdil’ and the bullock next.


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