There can never be a plant without a seed and germination. Sometimes, a seed may germinate without any effort of ours. We cannot stall the spread of the seed. Seeds of thought are like that. Something seen, heard or read somewhere sticks and gets implanted as a seed in the mind, grows, takes a shape and emerges as an idea. But for this there wouldn’t be never so many books and ever so many ideas. Is it true that any idea is being expressed for the first time. There may be something that caused it to sprout or spread. It may be possible to find out the origin of any idea by patient churning. Litterateurs and political thinkers are good at this churning. Great ideas sting one into thought and make the thinking person ponder and ponder further.
“You halve every step of yours and you’d never reach the other end of the room!”
I was breaking my head on a sum that Sir gave in the class and I was in no mood to think.
Our Maths Sir is a god. I should have begun the story with this but then, my mind … the sum occupied it vexingly. I was desolate: there was no getting the answer.
How illogical is my mind! One has to think with the head and fretting only renders the thought blunt. Even for this wisdom to dawn, we should have our good fortune, or, as some would say, god’s grace.
“Well, Ramavatar! Did you hear what I said?”
Sir has an insightful eye. Not just to notice my fretting face, but to read the thoughts in my head also.
“Yes, Sir.” I slowly rose to stand up.
“Can you explain what I said?”
“Shall I repeat my statement for you?
“My mind …” I mumbled.
“I know. You are not able to solve the problem and you are fretting, getting cross with yourself. Impatience is impeding the thought process. I could have helped you with your sum. Listen again. If you halve every step to go forward, you can never reach the other side of the room. Now explain.”
“A moment: I will.” The sum disappeared from my head. “We assume the distance between the two walls is twenty feet. If our first step take us two feet forward, the next, if we halve it, only one foot and if we go on halving, half , a quarter and so on. If this were to continue we cannot reach the other wall.”
“I’m happy you could figure it out. Not all can understand all things. I don’t know whether it is a boon or a curse.
These were Sir’s words -- I was in the Intermediate class -- I couldn’t understand then. I’m not sure I understand it now.
The next moment he helped me with the sum and saying something set us all laughing. I arrived at the right answer.
I passed in first division and they announced that I stood first in the district. Help came from many sources and I went up to the Engineering College. In what they called a Campus Interview I got a job and went out of my State. Wherever I went I carried my memories of my teacher who had been a great benefactor. Every Christmas he would get a greeting card from me which he invariably acknowledged with his blessing. I have nearly twenty such replies with me as a memento.
Suddenly I got transferred to Andhra and I was happy that I would get an opportunity to see him. But as one goes up the ladder time is hard to get for even very important things. Once I got an opportunity and went to the college where he used to teach. I knew he would be retired by then but I should get his address. A fellow student in our class worked in the Mathematics Department. I sat with him for a little while.
“How did he take his retirement?”
“Oh! He is always contented and he felt happy that he had his innings. For someone who’s proud, retirement would be a deflating experience but for him it’s natural. He gracefully accepted it as he did his age.”
“It’s is your good fortune to work with him.” I said while leaving, being happy that he got such a chance. He gave me David Sir’s address.
Even in those days I had great faith in that Sir’s wisdom and gracefulness. People around all agreed that he had a heart of gold.
I never asked him for anything. But he knew my need the moment he cast a glance at me. There were so many who came to my help. I’m grateful to all those. The one who made me what I am, I believe is he.
At a particular point of time I tried to commit suicide. The occasion stands etched in my mind.
It was a Saturday. At two we had Sir’s class. After he had been half an hour in the class I entered sweating. He was at his teaching and his standing instruction was to get into the class no matter how late.
After a while his voice suddenly came to a stop. All students turned back. I was sobbing from the last bench with my head on the desk.
In a few minutes I found myself in the staff room. The teacher was comforting me. He promised to pay my college fees and he took me with him to his house.
His goodness smothered me: I couldn’t bear it. I had been eating only once a day. Whoever would feed me every day? Eating apart, how to find the money for the college fee? I stayed the night in their house. At about midnight, I tried to sneak out. The well at the end of the street, I thought, would do for me. After I opened the door and walked out a few yards, a hand pulled me from behind.
After a moment he began softly: “The moment has passed and now you will get over that forever.”
I looked sheepishly at him and he went on: “Suicide is for the despairing and despair is only for those who are godless. We were told in our religion and you were told in yours that suicide is a heinous, irredeemable sin. Just have patience, trust in God, your own one, and I am sure you’ll go up for higher studies. You needn’t feel that you are taking money from me. Money is not ours. It is given to us by God’s will.”
Perhaps it was His blessing: I got over the crisis and, what is more, began to prosper. Tribulations came and went, but never again did I yield to despair.
I went round the country, made money and got a family of my own. I have been yearning to see Sir with all my heart. Again, perhaps, his blessing or was it His?
By the time I traced his address and reached his village, it turned out to that I had been a month late.
“Oh! God! He passed away last month,” the great man’s wife, whom I always revered as my own mother told me in anguish.
It was stunning: she had been ill all the time and God took him away first. His ways are mysterious, I told myself.
I sat in a rattan chair she showed me to after placing the bag I brought at her feet. The walls were soot covered and cobweb ridden. There appeared to be light coming only from the photograph on the wall, the Sir’s. There was a bamboo screen on the verandah giving it some kind of privacy. The smile I worshipped, the smile that I adored taught me the impeccable joy in this our illogical world. Opposite his photograph on the other wall was an old print of Jesus on the cross. Was Sir always attempting to reach the other end of the room knowing full well that halving the length of every stride he would never accomplish it? His voice kept ringing in my head whenever I reminisced.
The old lady was looking at me waiting for me to make a beginning.
“Mother, I never could imagine my seeing you like this. Sir saved me from damnation and I don’t know how I can ever repay the debt I owe him. Where are my brothers and sisters?”
“Our eldest son gave up his training to marry and then disappeared altogether. We heard he had gone abroad. The second one has been absconding too. He was the apple of our eye. He left home five years ago. Ever since that day Sir used to be lost in his own thought. “
“The elder one’s hubby hit the bottle and the poor girl died: he told us her sari caught fire in the kitchen.
The younger one is trained for the vocation of nursing and is working in a hospital about ten miles away. We stay here since the city is expensive.”
“Did the younger son come on his father’s demise?’
“No, he hadn’t. We don’t know his whereabouts but Sir was always assuring me that he would be fine wherever he was. He had faith in Jesus.”
“How did the end come? Was he in great pain?’
“No pain, thank God! He must have gone in his sleep. One morning I woke and found him asleep. After a while I tried to wake him up but he was gone. He was always tight lipped about his own suffering. He used to go out in the nights. My questions only made him cross. I gave up asking. He never shared his pain with any body.”
Not knowing what to say or do anything further, after a little while, I took her leave and walked out into the hot sun.
I was waiting for a bus to Vijayawada. A few yards away there was a police jeep with its bonnet up. The driver and the officer were looking down into the engine. There was nothing much to look at. Only the jeep appeared to be yawning for boredom. I must have been just looking around when suddenly I heard some one calling out my name “Hello, Ramavataram!”
I turned my head and noticed that it was the police officer calling me. I moved a few steps towards the jeep and he met me coming enthusiastically towards me. It took me some time to recognize my class fellow Jnananandam, for he was in uniform.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t recognize you from that distance.”
“You must have come to see Sir – Poor David Sir.”
“It appears it was a sudden death,” I said.
“Suicide,” he told me coolly.
“What!! Sir committing suicide! Incredible! Mr Jnananandam, Sir was a devout Christian. We believe it’s a heinous sin and so do you. A highly educated man, a teacher, an intellectual and a believer in His power and His glory… It is a mystery!”
“There is no mystery at all. We know everything. I couldn’t help him in any way though. My duty has been such. All I can do is tell you the truth for you loved him and still adore him.”
I stopped in my tracks and he went on. “Sir’s son is an anarchist and an extremist rolled into one. He was involved in many an offence. Law cannot be blind to villainy. He was a killer. Many he killed were bandicoots of the worst order but then, a murder is a murder. Sir alone knew the whereabouts of his son. His son’s men surrounded Sir’s house to keep an eye on his safety. We found it out all later. Sir was an excellent human being but for his complicity with this killer. I went to see Sir and warned him. But he denied all knowledge of his son’s whereabouts. I couldn’t do anything. We were given orders to catch him dead or alive. I knew we’d find him and found him. I went to Sir again and even then he denied knowing anything about him…I heard about Sir’s death after his son had been arrested. The doctor told me it was a suicide but we did not like to make things difficult for the lady.”
“What did Sir say to you when you went to him?”
“He gave a long lecture and I felt like a student and I couldn’t cut him short. After all the man had a charm some kind of magnetism. Though I cannot repeat all that he said, I can give you the gist. ‘Our economic system, our society and our political situation, are all these of the sufferer’s making? The common man is the sufferer. Like our creed at birth, our ancestors are not of our choice. Is it the merit of our past births or the sins that should make us like this? We are influenced by the faith around us. We as Christians don’t believe in rebirth, theoretically. But I do, because of my forefathers, who never heard of Christianity. Hindu belief has some influence on me. I personally believe in rebirth and the evolution of the soul. There must be some relation between what we are and what we’d be in the birth to come. The past too must have a bearing on the present. The conditions of life in the times we live in make our thought processes blunt. For ration, for milk, for forms, for services, for almost everything we spend most of our time in queues and waste large chunks of precious life. Politicians and the rich exploit the poor and the helpless. The right to vote has not made much difference to those below the poverty line. We have high sounding names to gloss over the realities. If our very thought is deadened and made ineffectual, life is not worth living. Platitudes are mouthed day in and day out and thought is infected with pomposity, deceit and cunning. We appear to be moving ahead but all the time, our stride is being halved by circumstances….”
“Just a moment, Mr Jnananandam! David Sir spoke about this once in his class…’
“Maybe. There is one thing that is impossible to understand. Had he disowned his son, nothing could have touched him. For a son’s offence, a father cannot be punished.”
“It had been his goal and ideal to step forward without cutting his stride into halves. He wanted to be an idealist: not a mere Christian. His despair has nothing to do with his religion or any religion,” I said.
“That appears to be true. Poor Sir! He wanted to show his commitment to ideal by maintaining tight-lipped silence, bearing all pain. Why did he yield to despair and lose his soul? That is a mystery.”
I was about to tell him about my bid to take my life but then thought better of it. However I thought I should tell him something else and said: “My dear friend! You are a police officer. Discovering, dissecting and identifying motives is your domain. I can only tell you what I know. What one requires any day is not just forgiveness but understanding. At that point our Sir was a devout Christian too. He knew the equation and the result. He goes to heaven and not to the other place. He lived up to his convictions and stuck to what he believed.”
A jeep came and drew up before us and Jnananandam didn’t appear to be interested to listen to me any more.
“Well then, can I give you a lift?” he offered.
“No, thanks all the same,” I said quickly.
“That’s the problem, none ever trusts us at all: neither the educated nor the lay. It is our lot.” He said getting into the vehicle.