‘I don’t think he should go ‘ said my grandmother .
‘He is too small and he should not while his father is alive’, concurred Chachu patti my granny’s best friend in the village. ‘And you know it is against the norms for children to visit a funeral house.’
I said nothing. I sat on the footsteps of Mitham, a part of the long stretching traditional house. I preferred to conceal what I was thinking and kept my face straight. My Vedic guru and friend lay dead a few houses away across the street. I cribbed going to his house on any other day to learn Ruthram & Chamakam– hymns in praise of Lord Ruthra. Every day I had to sacrifice my evening play and was unhappy with my father for forcing me to take lessons in Vedic chants. He was my third teacher. But today I wanted to visit him to pay my last respect. I didn’t have classes for a week since he fell sick and was very happy to play kiti pul, a local game, in evenings after returning from school.
I was determined to visit the funeral house. Some had tried to fuss over me but had been discouraged by my silence and aloofness. The more understanding of them, my mother, kept her distance. My father who was supposed to reject the idea said no word. Guru was my late grandfather’s friend who struggled hard to make ends meet after his son moved to city. I think my father felt some closeness with him and wanted to give him a monthly pocket money in some form hence he forced me to be his only disciple in the village. He was happy to teach me and eagerly waited every evening for me. He was always seen alone on the sit out or in the temple and I enjoyed the chit chat we had after the lessons. Every evening without fail, he sat on the sit out outside his house with eyes glued on bus stand to confirm if I had returned from school. I never knew if he had any grandchildren. None visited him during summer. At times fondly he would recall the mischief he and my grandfather did during their young days as well as how mischievous my father was. It was exciting to hear the stories about my grandfather and father but I never shared it with any one at home.
As I walked with my mother to the funeral house with a curiosity and respect to see my guru’s dead body, I heard scattered words of condolences passed back and forth ‘ such a strategy!... Has his son arrived…… None realized how serious it was….’ The house was full of people. I felt that everyone who mattered in the village was present. For first time I saw his son, daughter in law and grand children. Every one stared at me and murmured as I went to a funeral house breaking the orthodox convention of the village.
His mannerisms were funny and all boys made fun of him while he came to the river for a bath. He was dark and bulky with heavy breathing like an elephant. He carried plenty of nick names but he was never annoyed when made fun with any of those. A humorous man with jokes and stories to tell was lying dead in the hall. I didn’t feel sad on the death of other two teachers. He was not just a master but a friend to me. Together we used to chant Rudram and chammakam in the temple during pooja time and at times we had bath together in river on holidays. It was he who taught me the basics of swimming. Many commented on our friendship, a friendship between an old man of 70’s and a young boy of 7 years. I stood silent beside his wife without knowing how to mourn for her loss as well as mine. She pulled me to her lap and tried to console me ‘You should not cry, your guru is with God and will be your guardian angel’. I felt she reassured herself by telling this.
Some of the able-bodied men lifted the body over the open sarcophagus and carried it to the grave yard for the final rituals. As I walked out with my mother, I heard a few women screaming violently and that scared me. It was neither a cry nor a shouting. It was violent and scaring. I didn’t know where the burial ground was located in the village and wanted to go to which my father did not agree. It was one prohibited place for children to visit. I stared from the corner of street as the small procession passing through the street silently and quickly carrying my friend and guru’s body. I was curious to know what they did in the burial ground. I knew the dead will be burnt to ashes but wanted to see how they did it. I was almost ready to sneak my way to the burial ground but was frightened by the horror stories I had heard about the grave yard.
I waited until everyone had gone, and then left to join my mother at the river for a bath. While walking back home half dried and half wet, I stared at the funeral house which remained in grave silence. I felt sadness creeping within me. I didn’t find my guru sitting in sit out calling me this time. I knew his wife will also leave the village to live with her son far away in city and may never return. It dawned on me that I wouldn’t have any more lessons from him and there would be no one to tell me the stories about my grandfather and father.
I came back home sad and sick. As I walked to the back yard to wash my legs, Chachu patti was still there telling my grandmother ‘Your grandson is unlucky. Whoever teaches him rudram attains the feet of god’. On realizing I was behind her she turned compassionate and told ‘ you are brave, don’t worry we will find you a new teacher’
‘I don’t want to learn rudram from any one any more ‘I said fiercely and ran with tears rolling down my cheeks that I had been withholding till then.