Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Arunagiri Dairies: Subramanian Razzaq

This is a continuation (part 3) of an earlier story thread. The links to the first two parts are here:

The Arunagiri Diaries

The Arunagiri Diaries-The Encounter

*******

"Hello...I'm Srinivasan...", I blurted nervously before being consumed momentarily by a string of doubts, "I'm sorry.....vanakkam".

The man in front of me said a crisp hello before falling silent. I felt a little odd, wondering how I could confirm that this was indeed the man, or was it him at all? An imposing figure by any standards and a stern visage to go with it, he didn't look anything like what I had imagined Maniyaru to be. No beard, no saffron robe, no religious appendages. To my eyes, he looked seventy, and in his sand-coloured kurta pyjamas, perfectly like Atre bhai, the elderly Dabbawallah who brought me the daily box of lunch to my office in Bombay. My thoughts were now focusing on how the ability to initiate a sensible conversation had suddenly deserted me. These silent seconds began to seem like straits in the sea beween the mainland and an island. I was the mainland. And I was the island too. If Rome was not built in a day, could a bridge be built in a second?

"Your camera", he said pointing to the Minolta that had fallen off me near the bushes behind me.

"Oh, yes, thanks", and I walked over to pick it up, before I added, "I'm sorry to disturb you, I didn't see you sitting here as I was running, there was a snake that was after me".

"In the temple?", he asked enquiringly.

"Yes, I saw it behind the gate".

"That is just a dummy", he said quite calmly.

"A dummy? No, it came after me. Really?"

"Don't worry, you are not the first", he said before continuing, "you also are an adventure-seeking tourist, I suppose."

"No, I'm not a tourist. I'm came here to...", I trailed off, eliciting an anticipatory glance from him. And then, I bluntly asked him, "Are you Maniyaru?"

"That's what the people from the temple in Madurai call me. My name is Subramanian Razzaq." I had only suspected that Maniyaru actually was a respectful appellation, but never in my wildest imagination would I have guessed that it was actually a corrupted version of Mani R, or that his last name was Razzaq. I briefly considered asking him about his curious name, that was a hearty mix of an orthodox South-Indian Hindu first name and a typical Muslim last name, but resisted the temptation.

Instead, I just said, "I'm very happy to meet you. I came here looking for you, in fact. I have read about you in the newspapers, and that made decide to come and meet you myself. I'm from Bombay."

"Are you not a journalist yourself?"

"No, no. I work in an a textile company, they make suits and trousers. I came to meet you, as I was excited by what I read about you, intrigued, I would say. I wanted to know more about you. About why you live here, about your beliefs in God and about your life in general".

"Why?"

The simple manner in which he asked why had no suggestion of arrogance or hubris, but only a patient curiosity. His eyes looked straight at my face, even as he was folding his outstretched legs into a cross-legged squatting position.

"I just wanted to know more about you. I felt a need. Maybe, I have an inherent faith in your philosophy and ideas."

"I'm not a philosopher. I don't think I ever intended to profess any ideas or teachings. I only follow my beliefs, just as you follow yours."

"But then, why do you live here, why do you consume poison, and how come it doesn't affect you?"

"It does affect me. I believe it gives strength and longevity. It must be done in the right amounts, though. As to why I live here, that is a story that goes far into the past. I do not deem it appropriate to share much of my history with anyone."

Saying this, he quietly excused himself, and I did not persist. Deflated with this development, I got back to the hotel, and as I talked about this meeting to Raghu, who had recovered from his illness, I could see it from his face that he would so dearly have loved to have met Maniyaru with me today.

Over the next week, Raghu and I climbed up Arunagiri religiously hoping to spot him again, discovering new paths up everyday, and never feeling a tinge of boredom. We did not see Maniyaru, however. In my heart of hearts, I felt that I may have stepped too much into his personal life a little too suddenly and that he must be quite wary of running into me again. So, after a few more unsuccessful ascents and descents lasting four days, we packed our bags to return to Bombay, as both of us had already exceeded our period of leave from work. When we were on the train, I asked Raghu if he wanted to go back to Arunagiri sometime. He said he wanted to, but feared he may not be able to make it. I was sure I would go back. Yes, he had a family to take care of, unlike me. But where his motivation to go back also dipped from the fear of ill-health and not being able to meet Maniyaru, my motivation was redoubled on the basis of my fortunate meeting with him. Besides, there was so much more to explore, as much about Arunagiri as about Maniyaru himself.


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