From Bajji to Burger

Short Story

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Meenakshi Mami stood at the gate of her house and eagerly looked for the arrival of her husband, Viswanathan. The place she was standing was Mada Veethi in Mylapore, Chennai and the time was around evening at the end of the year 1950. Meena, as she is affectionately called, had prepared her husband’s favourite dish, Bajji and made the decoction ready for coffee. Her face brightened the moment she saw her husband coming towards her house. He was carrying a bag in his hand which, she knew, contained her favourite fruit, grapes. She received her husband warmly, helped him to settle down and offered him the plate containing Bajjis. “Nokku Theriyumo, Meena?” Viswanathan started explaining what happened at his office and they exchanged their little experiences of the day. Meena then turned towards her son and said:

“Venkuttu, Inge Vaa, Naan Onakku Padam Solli Kodukkaren” (“Venkuttu, come here, I will teach the lessons”

As the mother completed her role of a teacher, Viswanathan asked her: “What have you planned for tomorrow”?

“Only few items are available but I can manage”, replied Meena

“No, no need to manage. Come, let us go to market and buy whatever is needed”, said Viswanathan.

They went to the market on the southern side of the sacred tank, bought vegetables and pro visionary and returned after worshiping Karppakambal and Kapaleeswarar. The moment they reached home, Meena got busy at the kitchen and took the role of a house-wife. As the needle of the clock touched 8, they all sat together and enjoyed the delicious dinner, prepared fresh by Meena, (Vethal Kuzhambu, Appalam and Poriyal), discussing many things about their family and other matters. Lying on the lap of his mother and listening to her song, “Kurai Onrum Illai”, the young Venkuttu slowly closed his eye lids and slept. On the eve of New Year, they all proceeded to the Muruga temple at Tiruthani and participated in the Step Festival (Padi Vizha) conducted every New Year day by Thiruppugazh devotees. They returned home with a great sense of happiness and fulfillment. Peace, harmony, serenity and contentment prevailed in their small home.

Since then, many New Years have come and gone. When the sun dawned on January 1st, 2014, Venkataraman, who is no longer called Venkuttu now, got up very late. He hurriedly took his bath and got dressed up. When he came to the hall, he saw a plate waiting for him at the dining table. It was the burger bought from McDonald, the day before. He found that his wife Susheela had already finished her breakfast and was waiting to say ‘good bye’ to him before going to her office. After helping himself with few bites, Venkataraman rushed to his office. When he returned home in the evening, there was none at home. The daughter, Arushi, had gone for tuition. The madam had still not returned from office. He entered the house with the duplicate key, took the bread and butter from the refrigerator and helped himself. On their return, the wife and the daughter helped themselves with some left-overs from the refrigerator. They watched some masala stuff in the TV and went to bed. “Tomorrow, we will go to Hotel Saravana Bhavan”, Venkataraman told his wife. “Let us see. I am not sure whether I will be able to return home in time”, replied the wife. Browsing the internet, the young Arushi felt sleepy, downed her head on the lap-tap and slept. There was no Vethal Kuzhambu, no get-together, no communication, no love and no time.

None of them was even aware that the peace, divinity and tranquility that prevailed at their ancestral home in 1950 were sadly missing now. Almost simultaneously, a Pundit was conducting a discourse at the hall nearby and what he spoke reflected the true picture of the present time. He said: “The root cause for our sorrow is our desire; desire to own, possess and acquire. Our priorities have changed from the life of simplicity to a life of extravagance. We give more importance to material acquisition than to spiritual perfection. The primary aim of life seems to be to earn money and acquire possessions. In olden days, the Tantric (Mantravadhi) used to say “He is possessed of evil spirits”. But the modern couple is possessed of another evil spirit; the ‘possessive spirit’. Today, the man says “I possess this house” and tomorrow, the house would say: “I possess this man” because the man spends most of the time attending to the needs of the house and thinking to whom he would bequeath it. The key to happiness is not to gain something more but to lose what we have in excess. If only we are true devotees of God, we would thank Him for whatever he has already given us and would not crave for anything more. Let us be contended with what we have and let us develop the quality of renunciation (Vairagya). Let us remember that contentment alone ensures peace of mind and happiness. If we develop desire in our mind it would keep on multiplying, lead to lust and greed and ultimately cause us miseries and sorrow. In his works, “Mohamudgara (Hammer against Folly), Adi Sankara said: “ Oh! Fool, give up thy thirst for wealth, banish all desires from mind. Let thy mind be satisfied with what is gained by thy Karma”. Though there were very few listeners, the message Pundit gave was very loud, clear and relevant and should reach the ears of people like Venkataraman.