Chellamma was arguing with Bharathi when I entered their house.
Chellamma said to me, "Yadugiri, he's supposed to be a brahmin and he isn't one bit bothered about getting his daughter married! Isn't it shame enough? On top of it, he goes all over town and broadcasts all that happens in our house! Even if he doesn't bother, shouldn't he at least care about what other people will think? How can I face them? What will my parents say? (I have not heard Chellamma mention her mother before and I wondered if she was living--Arasi).
Bharathi: Yadugiri! You came at the right time! Why should Chellamma scream like this? Has the world come to an end?
I'm not a brahmin at all. I don't wear the holy thread. I don't do sandhyA vandanam, no SrArdham. I'm a SUdrA. The man of the house is SUdrA--how can his woman be a brAhmin? What I am, she is too! What's the big deal?
Chellamma: You may not care to observe traditions, but why shouldn't I?
Bharathi: Come, Chellamma! Do you perform aupAsanam and agni hOtram every day? How many orphans do you feed? Do you observe japam and tapam? Do the dEvatAs come directly and partake of your offerings? Tradition is just an empty word which is still with us. True traditions left us a hundred years ago! We have the left-over shell. In twenty years, that too may disappear.
Chellamma: All that you are supposed to perform, you make it seem as if I'm the one who has to do them! On top of it, you tease me as well!
Bharathi: Ah! Now that you have brought the question up, listen to what I have to say, without interrupting. You may not be as angry with me then.
In the times of the vEdAs, they were eating fruits and roots. Women did not have much work to do. They swept and mopped their parNa sAlAs and brought water from the river. Since the celestials were supposed to come in person to accept the offerings, women who had their periods were kept away from the sanctified parNa SAlA where the rituals took place. Even then, the women would take their baths, wash their linen and kept themselves clean--unlike the way in which I see you women now, not bathing for three days but sweating in your dirty clothes!
Only the infants they nursed stayed with them and they relaxed. They were not fit for religious rites at that time, or to be with their husbands. So, it was a sensible custom in those days. Even then, if there were philosophical discussions with women, they let them participate with a screen between them.
As centuries passed, women started doing hard work at home--from the pounding of the rice to the cooking of it. They had to do it because they wouldn't let women from other castes come into the house. It wasn't a good thing to make the woman of the house work so hard during those three days. So, they were kept away from the house and from all the heavy work.
Later, when they settled in the cities, there were no facilities for them to bathe during those menstrual days. There was not enough room for the women to move about. To isolate them, they put them in a little cell-like room and made them suffocate and stay there, even without a wash!
In a joint family, men had no problem about getting fed, If not, they did the cooking themselves. They did not go to a an eatery. Nowadays, the SudrAs cook and the brahmins eat there.
There aren't that many joint families anymore in the cities. When the woman of the house is not in a position to cook, the food prepared in restaurants by kitchen maids is fine by them, but at home, the same maid is not allowed to come into the kitchen!
The food in those eateries are not at all sanitary like the home-cooked food. Yet, they don't mind. What they don't see is fine by them!
Brahmin girls tend to mature sooner these days. It wasn't so before. Even if they got married at eight, they did not mature until sixteen or so. They don't seem to bother about marriageable age when it comes to boys. Why does this rule apply only to girls? It should be the same for both boys and girls. The boys have to finish their studies and then get a job. They are twenty or twenty five by then. Only eighteen or twenty year old women will be right for them, not a child!
We live in the British RAjyam. We do servile work. After hard work, we return home with dinner on mind--not on japam or tapam. Whatever is done, is just for show. I don't like hypocrisy.
Yes, I did mention our Thangam entering womanhood to others.What's wrong about it? I'm going to find a good man for her. Why do you worry?
I don't want Thangamma to feel imprisoned during these three days! She can rest and if you don't want her to, she needn't come into the kitchen or to the pUjA nook.
It's a good thing for her to shower in running water every day. We have the tap water now, which is like the falls! Let her bathe on all three days. It's stupid to make her stay in a cell!. Give her warm water to bathe in if you want--separately in a pail if you wish, Chellamma. She should be happy, be clean and wear fresh clothes.The only things she can't do is lift heavy things or walk too far. That's all.
All the things you seem to observe are like taking the skin of a snake (which it has shed) for the snake! These so-called traditions have become larger than life, but they make no sense at all.
Chellamma: You got shaved yesterday, on an inappropriate day! How many more transgressions!
Bharathi: Silly! The barber used to handle corpses. He does not deal with them now. So, there were those specified days for his coming to our houses to give us a shave. Now, it's just the upper class brahmin boys who do what the barbers did, in the medical schools! Those who work, can't observe vizhuppu (that this is not acceptable; this is untouchable). It' s only the ones who are idle who indulge in the habit of observing all this nonsense!
The kOmuTTis, mudalis and nAiDus have changed their ways to suit the times. When it comes to marriage, it's only the brahmins who follow the customs of the dark ages!
We will get to be more civilized when things change with the brahmin community too.
Chellamma: Is bathing in the pond not good for you? Or, is that also a superstition? (Yadugiri's mother sticks to this custom even after the calamity of the worst storm! Anything new was taboo, and running water from a tap surely was!-Arasi).
Bharathi: It's good to bathe in clean ponds. It will cool you down, more so on such days. The old custom of immersing yourself in the water for specified number of times, makes a lot of sense. We find that in the cities, there are no clean ponds. Instead of getting sick by bathing in filthy ones, it's better to shower with the running tap water. White people fill water in wide baths and soak in them. That's a good thing too. Luckily, we have plenty of clean ponds in Puduvai. You may bathe in them to your heart's content.
By the way Yadugiri, how's your little baby brother Valimai maindan?
Yadugiri: He's fine, but why do you call him that?
Bharathi: Chellamma told me that when he was born, it was stormy and windy. So, I call him 'the mighty wind's son'! (You find this expression valimai maindan in one of his verses-Arasi)
Yadugiri: With your blessings, may he be as mighty as HanumAn! Let him live a hundred years!
Bharathi: Yadugiri, don't think of your lost child and cry all the time. Plead with Sakti. At dawn, meditate upon her. She will bless you. You are young. Don't groan and moan like an old woman. What's the use of your reading the gItA? Your prayer to Sakti shows that you are brave in asking her to give back what has slipped out of your hands. Only worthless people groan and moan. You may ask me, 'how do you know my grief?' and you have a right to ask me that. Yet, it's not a good thing to cry over it. Be strong!
Chellamma: What do men know? What would you know about how the mother who gave birth to the child feels? Will gItA and vEdAntA come to her aid? However much you may beg of Sakti, will the child come back to Yadugiri? Will her sorrow disappear?
Bharathi: We should strive to do what we are supposed to do, and have the grace to accept what God deals out to us.We should do all that is humanly possible. Beyond that, we should not kill ourselves with grief. When trouble comes, we cry, and we should.Yet, we shouldn't cry all the time and be a tragic figure. The saying goes: Console yourself in sorrow by looking at those whose suffering is greater than yours. And with wealth, look at those who have less than what you have, and take heart. Some face sorrow when they are young, others in their old age. Yadugiri, you are going to see only better things from now on. Don't pine for what is not there. Look forward to all good things which are going to be yours, and meditate upon Sakti.
He then said, "Let me sing to you the poem which came to me on the day pApA Thangamma entered womanhood!
He gave me a copy of the song:
* inda deivam emakkanukUlam
ini kavalaikkiDamillai (inda daivam)
1: mandirangaLai SOdanai SeidAl
vaiyagattai ALvadu daivam
anda deivam gatiyenRiruppIr--
AkkamuNDenRanaittumuraikkum (inda deivam)
2: marattin vEril adaRkuNavuNDu
tarattilotta darumangaL uNDu
3: ulagamE uDalAi adaRkuLLE
uyiradAgi viLangiDum deivam
ilagum vAnoLi pOl aRivAgi
engaNum parandiDum deivam
4: Seigai yAvum deivattin Seigai
Sindai yAvum deivattin Sindai
uygai koNDadan nAmattaik kURin
uNarvu koNDavar dEvargaLAvAr
5: nOyillai vaRumai illai
tAyum tandaiyum tOzhanumAgi
tagudiyum payanum tarum deivam
6: achchamillai mayanguvadillai
anbum inbamum mEnmaiyum uNDu
michcham illai pazhanduyar kuppai
veTRiyuNDu viraivinil uNDu
inda deivam namakkanukUlam
ini manak kavalaikkiDamillai
*This poem has not appeared in any of Bharathi's anthologies so far (the publisher)
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