CHAPTER - 21

Varadachari had to be particularly careful about Swami Jitendra's comforts. He had taken it on himself to check up from time to time that all went well and nothing was amiss. This often put him to the necessity of talking in close confidence to Bharathi and sometimes taking her aside and talking in a discreet undertone. Vedavalli, his wife, could never stand such things. She was a possessive woman with an excess of ego. She couldn't help coming to conclusions whenever she happened to notice such tete-a-tete. There was one such now between her husband and Bharathi. Vedavalli's eyes became rounded as she saw it. She kept them angrily riveted on the two from a place where she could not be seen. Her eyes roved viciously over the girl and the old man and made an observant study. The suspicious woman breathed fire and brimstone.

Dhivya was in her best clothes. She wore a gold-laced silk saree, a silk blouse and a shining skirt that stopped above her ankle. She was already an outstanding beauty. Now in her choice clothes, she looked an enchantress par excellence.

She was a fair-complexioned girl, well proportioned and, though of medium height, was a trifle on the tall side. She was a most feminine woman, and one could even say that she was feminine twice over. She was a girl that would have easily stood apart in any female company and shone like a star. Her manner exuded utmost modesty. With her well molded features, she looked like one of Nature's princesses. She had just enough flesh and no more. And she looked sumptuous. Her dense masses of hair fell up to her knees. But now she had plaited it, and had rolled it into a bundle that rested hugely on her nape. She had stuck in it a few jasmine and rose blossoms. Her tresses almost seemed to outweigh her body. She was a dreamy, rapturous and thrilsome work of Art. The product of a divine sculptor.

Varadachariís wife had in her younger days been a good looking woman, but she wouldn't have been able to stand comparison with Dhivya even fractionally. She was therefore harboring a sort of psychotic envy of the girl. Sometimes she wouldn't be able contain it and gave vent to it openly. She was particularly envious of her abundant shocks of hair, the dimple on her right cheek, her red lips which made her look like a cherub, and above all the splendidly shapen spherical marvels that stood between her shoulders. She often drew her breath hard at these provocatively large assets of the girl, globes wrought out of pink marble. With such things to flaunt, the girl might get a multimillionaire for a husband. The woman was consumed by envy, her cruelty to the girl sometimes took a very devious form.

This secretly festering jealousy of hers now exhibited itself in a crudely vulgar outburst. She took Dhivya into a room, abused her and beat her. She inquired if she was trying to trap the old man into her wiles. She asked what was it that he now and then spoke into her ear. She called the girl the worst flirt she had ever seen, and a most practiced one. One would think she had all the makings of a harlot in her. Dhivya was shocked, she was shocked so much that she could not even weep. What words to use, and that too when there was a holy man in the premises. She felt like fainting, but she held herself. Cut to the quick, she exploded, and her reply was one that set Vedavalli's mind and senses reeling all over. Such rottenness of speech even a swine of the gutters wouldn't stand. The woman became dumb and couldn't recover her speech for the rest of the day. But she didn't seem to regret. She was thrown off balance every time wrath erupted inside her which she couldn't stifle. Nor did she want to.

But the whole of that night Dhivya wept. She had no sleep. In the room where her bed was, she had put on the wall her picture of the Swamiji, a picture which she always put in her Puja room and which she carried wherever she went. She got up every now and then, and sat on her bed thinking of her state as an orphan, her poverty, and the miserable plight in which her life was cast. She kept lifting her hands in prayer to the picture and wept. She felt her heart almost breaking. Just around midnight when she felt too drowsy and could not resist sleep, she fell on her pillow. She now had a dream. She saw a sun breaking out in her bedroom. There was a splash of blinding light like a sun suddenly rising before her. There were thousands of rays. Next instant they withdrew. She saw the Swamiji in the place where the light was. She had by now sat up but still in sleep. He blessed her and said smilingly, "Fear not. Child, God will be with you wherever you are and give you all protection". Then he chanted the last Sloka in Annapoorna Ashtakam which meant, "MY MOTHER IS PARVATHI DEVI, MY FATHER IS DEVO MAHESWARA, ALL THE DEVOTEES OF LORD SHIVA ARE MY RELATIONS, AND I AM THE NATIVE OF ALL THE THREE WORLDS." He then made a little laugh and set her in repose. He took her head and rested it on the pillow. He then vanished. It was like peace administered by Heaven. It sank into her deeper and deeper. She was the happiest woman for the next three days.

On the fourth day she again had a dream. It was the last quarter of the night. The terrible dream came when she was fast asleep. It was both a dream and a sort of frightful vision. It seemed to strike her dead. She saw the saffron robe of the Swamiji, the robe she so ardently worshipped as his holy armor and the symbol of his world-saving mission, caught in the tumultuous waves of the Ganges and being swept along in the fleeting waters. Bharathi saw herself plunging from mid-air into the waters, and daring through them in a desperate fight, tried to wrest it out. But she was thwarted every time, and at last she prayed to the Mother Ganges to take mercy on her and put back on her hands the sacred garment of the Swamiji. She prayed again and again. Then she put up another fight against the waves. She recovered the garment. Holding it aloft with one hand, she swimmed her way back to the shore where he found the Swamiji in pajamas and shirt sleeves. She now donned him with the robe, and gently laughed even as she was sleeping and yet to recover from her uncontrollable sobs. She suddenly woke up from sleep. She wept loudly and bitterly. She ran to the parlor through the dark. She looked from the window at the room where the Swamiji slept. The door of his room was open. A small red lamp flickered. Quietly she made her way on padded feet and entered his room. The Swamiji was quietly sleeping on bed with his saffron robe on. It was unusual. Usually during nights when he slept he put the robe in a hanger and left it on the clothes-line. She was reassured. Nothing had happened either to the Swamiji or to the robe. Then she walked back into her room and laid her head on the pillow. Sleep refused to come and then it came. As usual she got up at the accustomed hour, attended to her morning toilet and then went with the basket of flowers into t he Swamiji's room. Jitendra greeted her with a smile. She asked her if she had had a good sleep. It was an unusual question which he had never asked before. She was startled, and stood transfixed. Then she felt like a girl coming from her native regions in Heaven and walked forward. She put the basket of flowers in the Puja room. Then she came and knelt before him as usual, and rested her face on his feet, and prayed. Then she got up and took his blessings. But she could never forget the experience of the night. A vivid picture of the dream stuck to her and never left. The saffron robe which she wrested from the torrential waters of the river Ganges stayed on her hands as they were on that frightful night and would never leave her. Her consciousness of it grew ever more and so too her worship of it. She felt proud of it, for she knew it was given to him by his Maker, and she felt proud of her valor though it was only in a dream. The saffron robe throbbed on her hands like a divine entity. And as she saw the Swamiji smiling through it, as she held it before his face in the dream she felt as if she had already attained Moksha, liberation. The dream kept eternally recurring in her mind, and steered the entire course of her life. Enough if she closed her eyes for a moment, there was the saffron robe on her hands, gleaming and heavenly.

Both of them now sat in meditation in the Puja room as they did every day. After the meditation the Puja proper to the deities which included a five-metal image of Lord Krishna which he carried wherever he went, was ritually conducted. Jitendra lighted the camphor on the brass plate and waved it before the deities. He then rose from his seat, and distributed Prasadam to Dhivya which consisted of vermilion powder, sacred ash, sandal paste and flowers. Then as usual she took his blessings. Then they both came out. All of a sudden, Dhivya broke into tears and fell to uncontrollable weeping. Jitendra was puzzled, and didn't know what the matter was. She could not answer him nor did she want to. All she could do was only to weep and weep chokingly as her bosom kept heaving up and down. Suddenly her weeping stopped. And she stood motionless like stone unable to speak and unable even to move her head. She kept staring at him blankly. She felt as if she were under a spell. It was as if she was being 'possessed' by some god or its ghost. She felt as if she understood the very secret of creation. All the wheeling constellations of the high heavens seemed to surround her and worship her. She didn't know if this was just a fantasy of her overtaxed imagination or a real psychic vision. Then she got down from her aerial heights as it were, and became conscious of the world around her. She laughed. No angel would have laughed a more bewitching and more beautiful laughter. It was as if she held in her laugh the whole beatitude of Heaven.

Jitendra came in to the hall. Dhivya followed him. He sat on the sofa, she sat on the mosaic floor. Then Jitendra spoke suavely:

"Bharathi, when you had been to my Ashram at Rishikesh, Mr.Varadachari told me that you had lost your parents when you were ten. Will you please tell me how Mr. Saptharishi came to adopt you? Bharathi, you are at an age when you should marry and experience the joys of life. You should have a loving and protective husband who should supply the place of your departed parents. That is my unceasing prayer to God, of late. I will arrange for your marriage. I will find out a very good husband for you. You will see him and only after you were satisfied I will go ahead. You will get one of the finest and most deserving of men. I will see to that. I will conduct the marriage at my own expense. I will settle you in life. I will provide you with whatever funds you may need to launch into the world and live in the best of comforts. There are boys among my relations who are opulent and own millions. Some of the boys are very good-looking. They would cherish you like a priceless gem. Since the time I heard your music which was first at my Ashram, you have been looming in my eyes as the very Goddess of Art. All lovers of Art must worship at your Shrine. I am one of them, Bharathi, I am always one of them".

As he said this tears cascaded down his eyes. Bharathi began to weep aloud hugging her knees and placing her head on them. Then both stopped and wiped.

"Tell me, Dhivya, all that had happened in your life".

"Swamiji, I have nothing much to tell. If I were to tell everything it will run to volumes. I was born in Mannargudi, a place not far from here. My father's name was Vanchinathan, my mother's Kokila. My father taught dance and music and had made a name. He earned quite a good bit of money. He didn't want to keep idle capital on hand while it could be lent and some income made by way of interest. He lent all his money to his relations. My mother died of ulcer when I was ten. My father had no money for her medical expenses. The relations to whom he had lent money had failed him. My father could not bear the death of my mother. They were such a loving couple. But still he was determined to live for my sake. He said that God wouldn't take him until he saw me married and well off in life. It was his wish that when he died I should be beside him, take his head on my lap, give him my last farewell kiss, and put me in the coffin with a smile of thanks to God. His further command was that I shouldn't weep at the funeral. In fact he said that I should laugh. He would carry that laugh with him and cherish it till eternity. It would ensure him all happiness in the other world."

As she said this she began weeping. She could stop only after about five minutes when she resumed in a faltering tone.

"However within months after my mother's death, my father's health declined. But he held on. He could teach me music and dance as he did ever before. He had brought my learning of both these arts to some kind of perfection. But his health was going steadily down and the decline could not be arrested. One day when I was practicing at home a dance number in Thillana which he had taught me the previous day, I got the news that he had died of a stroke in the local bus stand where he had been to board a bus. He was to go to Trichy to see a relative and get back the money he had lent him.

"Then I became an orphan. There was nobody to care for me. I was actually on the streets. Then my mother's brother who lived at Tiruvarur, with whom my mother had already broken all relations, learnt of my plight and took me in to live with him in his house. He and his wife were very kind to me, and brought me up like their own child. They put me to school. They also put me under a very experienced music teacher to learn more music. I owe all my music mainly to this old Brahmin gentleman, one by name Gopala Ayyar, a lanky man in his fifties with a large tuft of hair on his head. He taught me music with a genuine earnestness with the intention of making of me an accomplished singer, and bringing me into prominence. I still remember him with gratitude. But he had a paralytic attack and died within two years.

"Now happened the most unfortunate thing of my life that has left on me a permanent scar. I have forgotten to tell you, Swamiji, the name of my uncle. It was Ganapathy Ayyar. He had some relations in Hyderabad through his wife Rukmini. They were only distant relations. It was a big family, I mean, in size. It consisted of about twenty members. One day the father of the family, one by name Kodumudi Ayyar and his wife Savithiri Ammal, had come to see my uncle, on their way to Hyderabad from Rameswaram, and stayed in the house for about a week. They said they had no daughter, and therefore they would take me with them and bring me up as one. My uncle and aunt were unwilling, but the visiting relatives made all promises, and then took me away.

"To my horror I found the family a hell. In fact it was much worse. They had taken me there to work as a servant maid and to bear the whole brunt of household drudgery. They beat me, starved me, called me all the dirty names, unknown even to slum-dwellers, and made of me a slave that had to work night and day. They inflicted on me any number of cruelties. I was made to sleep in the verandah where the rain lashed against me. Sometimes on the other side of the verandah, one or two men servants used to sleep. Once I had to kick them left and right when they tried to make mischief with me. I had to run into the house in panic. But the woman and her husband silenced me saying that it was something that commonly happened everywhere in the world. I was shocked and frightened. But I refused thereafter to sleep in the verandah. Only I did not know what it all meant. I began to violently react to all the tortures they subjected me to. And then everyone in the house would beat me one after another. I was even branded with a red-hot iron once by this monster of a woman. It was a family otherwise dirty too. I came to know through a kindhearted woman who lived next door that this woman Savithiri Ammal and her husband were planning to sell me to a high class brothel at Bombay, and make some big money. The amount rumored was "Ten thousand rupees". I shuddered. I couldn't sleep. I was in a perpetual fright. I had nightmares and horrible visions. After about a fortnight the brothel-keepers, a man and a woman, came to take a look at me. They made a close inspection of me. They spoke between themselves things that aroused my strong suspicion. Our neighbors secretly advised me to take flight and seek refuge in some faraway place. They promised to give me all help and they did help me very appreciably. One of the neighbors was a prosperous merchant. He took pity on me and gave five hundre d rupees. Others gave me clothes and some money too, and a packet of food to eat on the way. I secretly managed to escape from this infernal den. It was on a midnight. A few of my neighbors came to the railway station to console me and see me off. One of the women wiped my tears which streamed nonstop, and invoked on me the blessings of God. "

At this point, Bharathi had to frequently wipe her tears off. It took her some time to come to normal. Jitendra urged her to go on. These uninhibited, tear-drenched effusion of this forlorn girl revealed to him one hitherto unseen side of life. But she was still choking. She wept and wept till she could weep no more. Now Jitendra interposed a question.

"Dhivya, you could have written to your uncle and aunt at Tiruvarur to inform them of the hell you were passing through, asking them to come and take you away at once".

"I wrote, Swamiji. I wrote them three or four letters. But I could get no reply. Possibly they had sent replies. These monsters would have received and torn them away. Fortunately one letter arrived when there no one at home except myself. It came into my hands. I tore it open. It was from my uncle. As I read it, my head reeled. I felt like fainting. It was a stab right into my heart. This man and woman had written to my uncle saying that I was a girl of low morals and a fugitive type, and that I had affairs with all and sundry, and that I was on the way to becoming a whore. My uncle's letter was addressed to Savithiri Ammal and her husband. He had said in it that he and he his wife had nothing more to do with me and that they were leaving me to my own devices. They had believed all that this heartless, scheming couple had written to them".

Bharathi was silent. But she was breaking inside with emotion, and trying to fight it off. She perhaps thought it might not be too proper to weep so much in the presence of the Swamiji. But still Jitendra could see she was on the brink of another bout of convulsive weeping.

"Bharathi, we shall stop it now. This is enough and more for one day. We shall resume it later, perhaps after a month or two. It is not right for you to become so emotional. It might wreck your health. It is beyond anyone's bearing. Shall we now stop?".

"Swamiji, there is nothing more to tell. The story winds up with just one more small event. I had taken the train at Hyderabad to go Renugonta where, they said, there was a Buddhist nunnery. I wanted to become a Buddhist nun and become an inmate of this nunnery. As I alighted at Renugonta Railway station, I was feeling too hungry. I sat on a cement bench at the station and opened the food packet. Crowds were passing to and fro. As I was taking a hasty bite, an elderly man came and sat beside me, and studied me. He should have thought that I was perhaps the victim of some cheat or misfortune. All the woes of my life were written on my face. He heard my story. He persuaded me to accompany him. He assured me he would provide me food and shelter and all protection. The man was Saptharishi, my beloved foster-father. He doesn't want me to think of him as my adoptive-father. He wants me to take him as my own father. Therefore I consider him my father, and call him so. I found his wife the kindest-hearted woman on earth. She is my mother. Both of them had formally adopted me as their own daughter after a ritual in the local temple of which he is the priest. This was the most welcome turn in my fate. I earned some money through teaching music to a few children in the village to supplement the meager earnings of my adopted parents.