CHAPTER – 16
I had persevered in my attempts to improve my lot, basing my efforts on uprightness of conduct, diligence, and a great regard for enlightened men. Yet I failed to achieve an adequate sense of fulfilment. By the time I had solved one problem, another loomed large. The whole lot of human being is like that. Man or Woman, an intellectual or a dunce, rich or poor, strong or weak, young or old, learned or illiterate, householder or ascetic, whoever it may be – to be born is to get entangled in problems. The first reason for this seems to be the background, the society one lives in. This community-pattern is a factor so powerful that the individual caught in it cannot escape. Man suffers in proportion to the sense of responsibility that crushes him down by its weight.
How could I, for one, prove exempt from such a law? I wished to jump the hurdles, to achieve advancement and find peace and happiness in life. The community background kept pulling me down, whenever I tried to climb. Yet I never lost hope.
The determination was there, firm, deep down in my mind, that I shall make good in spite of the odds. Success is certain if we keep up the struggle without swerving from the path of righteousness. Everything has its proper time. That is the law. Without being impatient for immediate results, we should forge ahead till we attain our goal. Perseverance, industry and calm reflection – these are the guideposts along the route.
Financially, my progress was steady now. But the realisation of the nature of God and the purpose of life still eluded me.
The concentration of the mind led me towards the light. My master Dr. S. Krishna Rao, had taught me the principle behind the five Elements. I was able to comprehend this truth more and more clearly as the days passed. I woke up one night. It would have been about three. I was plunged in thought. I seemed to have grasped the truth at last.
There are six states of being, combining primordial Divinity along with the five Elements that compose the Universe. What else could be there when you pass beyond these Elements, except just pure space. That immense expanse should have been spoken of as God. The Hymn of Saint Thayumanavar* seems to corroborate this conviction. He speaks of a radiance that is not merely here or there but everywhere, yes, everywhere even beyond limits where normal human imagination could not project itself!
Yet, which one of these six states of being does life belong to?
Life is not static. It is dynamic. So Life should be Akash, the ultimate fifth among the five elements. This was the answer that dawned on me. With this conception as a base in my innermost consciousness, I started my experiments in philosophy. A wonder of wonders. The whole world, in my eyes, now looked gradually transformed, different from what it had ever been before.
From morning to night, I used to ponder (whatever was the occupation I was engaged in at the time) over the nature of God, of human life and how these are related to each other. Each scene, each act, each human being I witnessed, seemed to convey a sermon on the great ultimate reality. The mind was full, elated, and at peace.
But at the same time, I was aware that my understanding was at variance with most of the teachings in mythology and in the rituals and ceremonies. I should therefore discover the reality behind these apparent contradictions.
For some years, I was happily engrossed in the contemplation of the five elements and the Absolute Truth behind them. This in no way interfered with my day to day work. I kept myself busy from four in the morning till ten in the night.
I was now 32. At this stage, I had to face a problem that touched the very core of my being. Although married for years now, we had no children. Someone had hurt my wife’s feelings by telling her that she was barren. They had also made a suggestion to her that the only way out was for her husband to take a second wife. When she unburdened her grief to me, I tried to comfort her, “Do not worry about what people say. You know our motto in life – not to hurt or injure others and to aid and assist others to the best of our abilities. If we don’t have children, nature is to be blamed, not we. If people use that as a stick to beat us, we must turn a deaf ear to their talk.”
I spoke to her on these lines often. But, I could not heal the wound. She lost her peace of mind. I could do nothing to restore the peace of mind. She began to speak to me about this, day after day, to the exclusion of every other topic. She insisted on me marrying again. I tried to console her in every possible way. But she continued to be restless. It looked as if our relatives and our community deliberately planned to disorganise our lives.
We felt like sparrows whose nest had been pulled apart. The greater my progress in the pursuit of the ultimate truth, the more intense became the complications in which my life got entangled. My wife never ceased dinning into my ears that I should marry again. This pressure mounted from day to day, I put off taking a decision as long as I could.
One day, a Tamil magazine carried in its columns a short story. My wife read it. She then placed it in my hands and asked me to go through it. I was moved to tears when I read it.
This, in brief, is the story:
A man and his wife, devoted to each other, were leading a happy life. They had no children. Relatives and friends accuse the woman of being barren. In great pain, she entreats her husband to marry again so that she could have some relief from this continuous criticism. The man refuses, saying he cannot bring himself up to sharing his life with another woman. “Won’t you marry again, if I happen to die?” she demands of him.
“Why torture yourself with all such idle fancies? You should learn to live in perfect peace of mind,” he says and goes out. When he returns home that night, his wife is missing. They search for her everywhere. Next morning her dead body is found, washed ashore, on the banks of the river. The author’s aim in writing this story is to portray the workings of a woman’s mind.
Here’s a woman provoked beyond endurance by the slights and innuendos hurled at her by a heartless society. Her husband’s refusal to remarry adds fuel to that fire. Life under such conditions is not worth living, she decides.
The writer of the story has succeeded in holding up before the world the heartlessness and cruelty of the society that nags a childless woman.
“Have you finished reading?” my wife asked. She seemed to be gloating over her victory. Her eyes said as much. I breathed a heavy sigh. She entered the kitchen abruptly. “Rajam,” I called. We were then living at our Guduvanchery house, the one we had purchased.
She came out at once as if she had been waiting just waiting for this summons her face beaming in triumph. I seized both her hands in mine. The tears welled up and flowed in profusion. “I realize, my dear, how you feel,” I said. “I shall not make further excuses. I had never wanted to look at another woman in my life. But things have come to this pass. I thought I shall not have to face an occasion like this. But it is here, before me. My fate has outwitted me. I find myself trapped. I agree with your proposal for a second marriage. You attend to the needful!” My voice faltered as I spoke. She too couldn’t contain her grief. She wept.
“I assure you,” she said, “if you take another woman as your wife, I shall see to it that we three got on in perfect harmony. There won’t be a single clash between her and me at any time.”
Something untoward happened within the next few days.
It was evening. My office was over. I was cycling on Mount Road. The owner of a dairy owed me some money and I was on my way to collect it. A bullock cart, a four-wheeler, was coming from the opposite direction. The handlebar of my bike wobbled. I applied the braked but it didn’t work. The downward slope from the bridge did it. I dashed with my bike straight against the cart. There was an outcry from the people who noticed the accident. A crunch. It was the cart’s wheel going over my poor bike. The momentum I had gained added to the violence of the collision. The blow I got was from the yoke in front. I fell right in front of the cart.
My bike had blocked the cartwheel, impeding its movement. The cart stood still. I lay on the ground, just four inches from it.
All this in a split second. I passed out. Passersby lifted me up and laid me on the portico of a shop near there. They brought me water to drink. It took ten minutes for me to come back to consciousness.
From the talk of the people around, I realized the full extent of the danger I had passed through. No part of my body remained unhurt, although all appeared to be minor injuries. I couldn’t lift my left hand. I ran my right hand over it. Then I discovered I had broken my left collar bone. I tried, with my right hand, to hold together the two bits that had come apart. I recognized in the crowd around me, a boy who had been working for me while I was in the milk business. I asked him to follow me, got into a rickshaw and went directly to the General Hospital. I reported the accident to the doctor in charge of the Casualty Ward. He asked me to be seated and left. An hour had passed but no treatment was given. My pain was increasing. I got into a rickshaw again and went to a bonesetter at Chintadripet. He at once bandaged the fractured bone, applied liniments to all the injuries and sent me to Egmore Station, along with my servant boy.
I asked her to draw nearer and explained to her that, except for a single fractured bone, nothing else was serious and that I would be all right in a week. There were about twenty-five people around me that fight. None of them had a wink of sleep. From villages all around, relatives kept pouring in to see me. Our housekeeping bill mounted alarmingly.
The fracture showed no signs of mending at the end of that week. So I went to an expert bonesetter at Puthoor and got it bandaged by him. In a week it was mended. The wounds also healed completely.
The marriage proposal was shelved for an year. After that came World War II and evacuation. They decided to move my Office to Coimbatore. I took leave for six months. The lungi business was proving highly profitable. My brother in law and my sister left Madras and came over to live with us. All of them had to be provided for and also provided with work. So I started dealing in textiles. That yielded about ten rupees a day.
What next? I should report for duty at Coimbatore. I should also arrange for my second marriage.