T Janakiraman and I have something in common. He is a great Tamil writer and I am a great lover of Tamilians. Not all Tamilians, but a certain Tamilian. Not all Tamilians of all genders, but one certain lady of Tamilian orgin. Besides, I believe, T Janakiraman, also loved one place I am so deeply connected to - Kumbakonam. And why not? It is her birth place. She shares this with Srinivasa Iyengar Ramanujan, the great Indian mathemacian. In fact she is a mathematician too. Alas! That perhaps is the reason why, one plus one did not make two. I am a poor writer and poet, whose poems are rejected by all publishers. I am a person who is homeless and lives under the covers of bookshops, browsing through pages, absorbed in only the written word. In fact, that is how I met her at the Midlands in Aurobindo Market…..browsing through books.
“ Do you have T Janakiraman’s books?” I had asked the shop owner. “ No” he had said plainly. But by then she had heard the name and came across.” Did you ask for T Janakiraman?” I saw her for the first time. She was slim and had a large forehead and eyes that danced around. I said yes. I am looking for his book called Moga Mul. She looked pleased. “ Oh That! But do you read Tamil?” I said no. “Then how are you going to read it? It is only in Tamil?” “Oh really? Still I am going to buy it nevertheless!”
This began our association. Gayathri taught Mathematics at JNU and I was a lotus-eater, for days junking on books and intellectual discussions, feeding my mind with more words. People called me a junky. I was. Obsessive about books.
We began to meet sometimes. Then we met more often. Ultimately, she became my tutor. No, not mathematics. She read T Janakiraman’s Moga Mul from the Tamil version and explained it to me in English. We would read about a page and then the discussion would last for two hours. This way a year passed, then a half. Moga Mul, in Tamil means, thorn in the delusion – Moga/Moha, we all know to mean, delusion, maya and mul in Tamil means thorn. The book became my reality. My heart created its own delusion. I fell in love with her. I am not sure what her inclinations were, perhaps she knew it, perhaps not, but the dream arising from my heart had begun to overshadow all areas of my life. At last, I had to tell her one day. That was the end of my readings with her. Her doors closed to me. Next day when I arrived at her door at the appointed time, I was told by her landlord that she had moved out. Her cell number had changed and when I enquired at the Department of Mathematics at JNU, I was told she had gone on long leave. I went back to her house several times. I could never meet her again.
Thus, I took the train to Thanjavur last week to visit her home in Kumbakolam, hoping that at least if I never saw her again, at least I will have seen her birth place and her home – from a distance.How can you say you love someone if you do not know their culture, the place they grew up in, the food they eat….and if you know all these, then, whether the person is with you or not,physically, you will always be enmeshed with the other. And vice versa.
In the train I had read up on Kombakolam. It is in Tamil Nadu, and the second bigger town in Thanjavur District. Known for its silks and called the Temple City , Kombakolam is 313 km from Chennai on the south, 90 km from Tiruchy on the east and 40 km from Thanjavur on the North East. I love train journeys. They give you the space to sleep, relax, sleep and read. If you want you can also chat up the people around you. As if you were on London Sqare chatting up with other Indians there, you’ve never met before. As soon as you arrive at your destination, anyway, you’ll say good bye and forget them.
Traveling with me was a Swami from Hare Rama Hare Krishna and with him was his companion. Both were foreigners. There was also, a couple in their seventies. The regal looks of the lady and her docile yet immaculately dressed husband gave me the feeling they were TamBrams.
“ Why is it Swamiji,” said the young foreigner to the Swamiji, “ why is it, that people with homosexual tendencies, tend to fall from one love to the other so rapidly”? The TamBram old man picked up his ears, I put my book down to listen but the Swamiji’s response was thrawted by the lady. She gave one little tug at her husband’s elbow and whispered in his ears in Tamil “ These foriegners, they have nothing in their minds except sex. Even if they go to a temple all they are thinking about is sex. Look at this one, has he no better question on his mind? Come here! She commanded, pulling her husband close to her, “ What and all we have to listen to in this janam!” And although, the Swami had not understood a word of it, he knew something was wrong. He smiled at the lady. She gave him such a sour look, I thought that it tasted like rancid butter milk. The topic was not spoken of again.
From Tanjavur station, I took a bus to Kumbakolam. I was there in an hour. I knew her address. So without wasting much time, I headed to the destination. Once, at the street where her house was I looked for the place I could seat myself and watch the goings on in the house, without anyone suspecting me. I had reasons to be here. These reasons lay in my heart. I had to know more about her and get to her roots without disturbing her or her family.
A public garden opposite her house provided the perfect cover. I sat with my little jhola full of books and one set of clothes for changing.
Kumbakonam ihas a large number of temples within the town and the nearby areas. The festival of Mahamaham is celebrated every twelve years at the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam. The town is also known for its intricately carved Panchaloha idols, exquisite brass wares, silks and betel leaves. Kumbakonam is picturesquely located amidst the two rivers, Cauvery and Arasalar. In the 7th Century it was the Capital of Chola Kings.
Mythology has it that Brahma, the Creator, to continue with his work of Creation wanted to have a Peetam. Lord Shiva asked him to make a pot of "Amirhtam" and sand. The pot had a Peetam in it, with the Vedas around it on four sides. A coconut was kept over the pot and garlands of Poonul (Sacred Thread ) and Tharpai were decorated and Brahma worshipped it.During a flood, the pot floated and moved towards south from Mount Kailash . Lord Shiva in the disguise of a hunter, broke the pot with an arrow and the Amirtham spilled as "Amirtha Theertham" mixing the Amirtham of the Kumbha with sand. Lord Shiva emerged as lingam. The sacred place where he gave darshan as "Kumbeswaran" is now called Kumbakonam.
Presently, I saw a gentleman emerging from the house. He was clean shaven and wore a angavastra with a white vetti tied around the waist. It was obvious from his attire that he was going to the temple. I knew he was her father. He looked like a retired Government Official. Behind him, a lady came wearing a bright yellow silk sari. She closed the gate behind him and then went behind the house. From where I sat I could see she was at her kitchen garden. I had heard from Gayathri that she had green fingers and Environmentalist needed to learn a lesson or two from her on how to recycle waste. She was an expect at maintaining a balance in nature. There was no wastage at all in her house. Whatever, she did not use in one way, she used in another. Thus, here was a lady with an enormous amount of knowledge on waste management, know-how we could use. In fact, all her neighbours were following her example. So you had one street in Kombakolam where there was no garbage at all. Can you imagine that in Delhi or anywhere else in India for that matter?
I saw the colourful walls of the house. It had been built quite sometime ago and yet these walls had a history to tell me – I could see little mathematical equations in my mind’s eye written all over the walls as all children do when they first learn their A,B,C or 1, 2, 3…. Gayathri too must have written on the walls.I saw little Gayathri, wearing two tight oily plaits and a pavadai scribbling numbers on the walls.
The afternoon sun was getting hotter. I had to move to a more shady place. But just then the Guard at the garden came and looked at me suspiciously.
“Aye, enna pandrai, po veliye. Hey what are you doing, go out!”
The gates of the garden were closed for the afternoon. I moved out. Not knowing where to go I decided to visit some of the temples.
Of the many temples in Kumbakonam, the most striking is the Lord Sarangapani Temple, a Vaishnavite temple. This twelve storied, 147 feet high temple was built by the Nayak Kings during 15th century. The Ramaswamy Temple which depicts the paintings of Ramayana is another important Vaishanavite temple in Kumbakonam. The greatness of Ramaswamy Temple is said to be the only temple where Lord Rama, Goddess Sita are in the same platform and Lord Hanuman is playing the veena instead of reading the Ramayana. The entire deity is said to be made from Saligrama monolith. The Temple is filled with intricate carvings in its pillars.
Kubakonam was special to T Janakiram. He loved the River Cauvery. And the town was bound by two rivers The Cauvery, on the north and Arasalar, on the south.The two rivers embraced the town like a loving mother, a caring friend, maybe even a passionate lover.
I thought of Gayatri’s arms around me. No, they were never to be. And all the dreams I had had housed in my head were like sandcastles in the air. They were not sturdy like her house I saw, nor long lasting. And like the book she was translating to me, they were just a delusion. She was the thorn. Our story Moga Mul – a thorn in the delusion. It had burst. I looked around me, I could not find anything. The sandcastles I had built had been washed away by the rivers embracing Kumbokolam.
The half-read story of T Janakiraman Moga Mul, remained unfinished.