Today Malaya tarpanam was performed by my brother for my parents. I felt the fragrance of their presence close to me the whole day. I went to Vasanth Vihar, J. Krishnamurthy Foundation and spent an hour there. As I sat at the Study, leafing through a book and intermittently looking at the large tamarind tree from the window, I thought that people who are very close remain connected across realms of life and death. We never really let go people we are fond of.
Our tradition makes us believe that we walk in the shadows of our ancestors. I invoke my parents and my grandparents during prayer time every day, besides remembering them several times through the day. Similarly my son pauses and remembers my parents before he leaves for school everyday. They go to make the pantheon of our personal gods.
A Note On Malaya Paksham
We perform certain karmas to remember and honour our ancestors, as ancestors along with the devas and gods go to fill the landscape of our belief system. We perform two types of kaaryas – the deva kaaryas and the pithru kaaryas. The first is performed through bhakthi by way of homams and yagaas; the second is performed with shraddha , and hence called shrardam or tarpanam. Tarpanam is performed on the ammavasai day of every month, the shraddam is performed annually on the thithi of the deceased (the father or the mother). Tarpanam is performed on another occasion too, during the period of Malaya Paksham.
Malaya Paksham is the fortnight after the paurnami, the period when the moon wanes, in the month of Purattasi. This period is also called the Pithru Paksham because we offer tarpanams for deceased parents and to all the ancestors.
An old man came to my office today. He was agitated and in deep sorrow. As tears streamed down his eyes, he said that his 35 year old daughter died of cancer that morning at the Cancer Institute, Chennai. He had received the news of her death and that her body had been taken to Tirunelvelli, the place she lived with her husband and their seven year old son. The old man wanted to go to Tirunelvelli and he came to our office asking for Rs. 280, the bus charge for one way ticket to Tirunelvelli. He carried a small baggage that had his clothes. He had not eaten since morning, since the time he received the news of his daughter’s death.
The man gave details of how he got our office address, claimed that he knew the Director of the organization where I work and that she had helped him on various occasions. He carried an identity card that indicated that he had worked in the industry run by my Director’s brother.
The man lived with his wife and three daughters in a small house in the city, he had to sell the house to raise money for the marriages of his daughters. Post- retirement and after his wife passed away, with no resources to provide for himself, he moved in to Vishranti, an old age home in Chennai.
None of these can be verified, it seemed inappropriate because the sorrow and the aloneness of the old man was distressing. He refused to drink a glass of water or a cup of tea. I caught a brief glimpse of him as he sat forlorn on the sofa waiting for any help that would come his way. We pooled together five hundred rupees, money that will take him to see his daughter. He thankfully accepted the money, declined again the offer of a cup of tea and a bottle of water to carry for his journey. When my colleague asked him to eat something on the way as the journey to Tirunelvelli would take many hours, he shook his head and shuffled out. As he opened the door and stepped out, he seemed so alone.
Long after the old man left my office thankful for the money we gave him, my mind conjured the life of the man that I knew nothing of, from the details that he gave us and the sense of loss and pain that he left behind. The man is 76 years old; nearly as old as my father was when he passed away. He walked out alone, his shoulders slumped. The image of the man retreating sits wedged in my mind, I will carry it for long along with the image I carry of my father walking into the Check-in lounge of the airport the year my mother passed away, to take a flight to Bombay. He had just locked away his flat, had no home to come back to, nothing in life to look forward to. He walked with trepidation, alone and at total loss, sans the companion with whom he had created a family and a life.
The more I gather details about my family history, the seven siblings of my mother’s grandmother and the seven siblings of my mother’s grand father, I find myself drawn deeper in the mire of relationships, loose ends that need to be routed to some path somewhere that I have to painstakingly unearth not through the easy means of calling up an uncle here, an aunt there. The uncovered branches, the partial details, the contradictory references by two different people to certain details, the facts that had not been put to verification over all the years emerge tantalizingly before me as I hastily write down in my diary the questions that want to scale the gaps and crease out contradictions. It is then that I realize that I have to carry the darkness within me, write about them and accept that at no point in the chronicling will I have clarity over everything because I am dealing with history, history created through memory and partial remembering – partial because there are not people to narrate all the facets of the story, and partial also because we choose to forget certain things.