Monday, March 16, 2015

On That Fateful Day - Part 4

Grandma came into his room and closed the door to keep away all intrusions and prying eyes if any.

“Now, listen to me Yuva. What I'm going to tell you is an absolute secret. I'm telling you only because I feel I'm obliged to tell you.”

Yuva sat upright, completely focused on his grandma. He touched his Adam's apple and said, “I swear, I won't tell it to anyone.”

“Long, long ago.”


“Really, it's not a joke; it was a long time ago, during the time of my great great grandfather.”

“Why are whirling your index finger, grandma?”

“Don't interrupt me Yuva. It's a flashback, that’s why I'm whirling my fingers. That's the way it's done,” and she continued, “It was my great great grandfather. He obviously belonged to the much esteemed Iyer family. But he was someone who was loved by everyone. He was always kind and amicable. Most of his friends were meat-eaters. He was called a radical for being so chummy with the meat-eaters.”

“Meat-eaters? You mean ——

“Of course, I mean the Non-Brahmins.”

“Big deal, huh? Even all my friends are Non-Brahmins.”

“That's different now. We are talking about the times of my great great grandfather, show some respect. And if you interrupt me again, I won’t tell you anything.”

“Ok, I won't,” said Yuva and put his finger on his lips, signifying he won't talk anymore.

“My great great Grandfa——, I'm so tired of saying so many greats, hereafter I'll just refer to him by his name, Manikantan Iyer” she said and looking at sky she closed her eyes and said, “Sorry, no offense grandpa.”

The idea of great great grandfather felt funny and incomprehensible to Yuva, for he thought his grandpa and grandma are the oldest people of all, and here she was talking about her great great grandfather, which means he would be his great great great great grandfather. “Uffff! Too many greats!” He thought.

“Grandpa Manikantan was always waging bets. He loved bets and winning them though he lost good deal of them. It didn’t bother him, for he was born into an affluent family. One day his friends claimed, they were more religious than him. That was an outrageous remark to him. Obviously they can't be more religious than the learned and scholarly Manikantan Grandpa. They then made a bet, that they can prove that they are more religious. And the wager was a family heirloom. After accepting the bet Grandpa Manikantan knew he had no other way but to win it, for if he loses the family heirloom his father would certainly kill him, for honor is more important than a son.”

Yuva wanted to say, “The hell with honor being more important than son,” but before he could open his mouth grandma fiercely swayed her head gesturing to him not to interrupt.

“Manikantan Grandpa's friends said that they always abstain from eating non-vegetarian food on auspicious days, renouncing those foods on Festivals, Tuesdays, and Saturdays. They asked grandpa what he was abstaining from on those auspicious days. Grandpa suddenly found himself neck-deep in an embarrassing conundrum, for his family, like all Brahmin families are already complete vegetarians, and what is left for them to abstain from on those days? But the ramifications of losing the bet would be disastrous. So he lied that he abstained from eating Onion and garlic on those auspicious days.”

“That's it?” Asked Yuva, with big eyes and a wide mouth, implausibility written all over it.

“Not so soon, little one. Everyone knew onions and garlic are at the border of Rajasic food, the food which stimulates passion, but in those times they weren't looked down upon much, and everyone enjoyed onion and garlic, almost with everything. So his friends contested his statement. Then in front of assembled people he pulled off a stunt, brought a very ancient looking palm leaf book and pretended to read from it, that onion and garlic actually belong to the border of the Rajasic and the Tamasic food, the food which breeds ignorance. Not many people were learned in those days and they also never expected a learned one to lie, so they believed him. The other learned ones are also agreed, since otherwise it seems like they were ignorant of ancient texts, since Manikantan grandpa obviously had read from a very ancient book, and they added they themselves abstain from onion and garlic on any auspicious day.

“The news creped from one household to another, like a forest fire in the summer, and before you know everyone vouched that they don’t go near onion and garlic on auspicious days, and thus it became a custom. 

"So you see in a way, it’s my family, which was responsible for your punishment today.”

“Whoa! That's a heck of a story, who told you this,” asked Yuva

“I once got his dairy in an old trunk in the ancestral house. It was in that.”

“He just wrote it there, for everyone to read? How careless of him.”

“Of course not. It was not in plain Tamil. He coded it, into seemingly gibberish, cleverly using Tamil and Sanskrit, I'll tell you some other day what he did.”

“Grandma, what’s that heirloom?”

“Hmmm... I've searched all over our ancestral house, but could never find it. I don't know what it is. I can only imagine how valuable it would be. It still remains a mystery to me.”

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