Sakthi Vikatan 09 May, 2017


Author: A. K. Perumal. Images: Ramanan


It was summer. Fearing perspiration in the heat of the sun, the leaves remained still on the trees. There was still time for the sun to reach its zenith. There was no sign of movement of air in the open expanse.

He was bone-tired.  He was out in the sun. On the first day at noon, he remembered to have eaten Indian millet porridge from a small vessel.

Physical fatigue, thirst and hunger parched him. He moved to the side of the road and sat under a Margosa tree. He looked at himself once over. The beggar guise was very much telling and appropriate for him.  He had an out of body experience about himself: the tightly fastened saffron cloth around his waist, a saffron shawl hanging languidly over one shoulder, the sharp triads of ash stripes splashed on his forehead, upper arms, chest, and abdomen. 

There was a melee of people and carts on the road. Two bullock carts moved lazily on the road with men in the fore and aft carrying spears and staff, looking like a wedding party. One attendant carrying a staff ran towards the man resting under the Neem tree, saying, “Who are you resting under the tree?” He saw him in the shade, famished and languished.


“Some mendicant Swamy.” So, saying, the man at the wedding party rejoined his detail. The procession moved along slowly. People still put their belief in saffron.  Saivism and Vaishnavism are the two great divisions… A thousand arguments and fights. No one knows what sectarian the tree-shade seeker is. Who knows what he is, a sectarian recluse, a Sannyasi, or a mendicant.  People still had respect for them. The hunger forced him to stand up and he began walking.

After a while, the outskirts of the town were visible, past the open space. Hope returned to his soul. He arrived at the entrance to a hut at the segregated part of the town. There were two donkeys tied to a post. The standing donkey stared at him. He avoided its eyes. At the entrance to the hut, there was a pile of dirty clothes.
His distinctly beggarly voice rose, “Ayy
ā.”  Ayya = Master, sir, boss.

A fifty-year-old man emerged from inside the house, and on seeing him took the towel and tied it around his waist.

The mendicant: “Ayyā… I have been on foot from far away. I am very hungry.  Please give me something to eat. I still have strength in my body. I am ready to do any job you bid me to do.”

The man: “Swamy… Are you to eat here… Me offering you job…? I don’t want an adversity to befall me. The townspeople will beat me to death.  Silently, go into the town.  Someone there will help you.” Imploring him to leave, he raised his hands as if to offer him a homage with opposed palms.  

Not having anything more to say, he walked towards the town.  Far away, he saw the Vaḷḷiyūr fort. He thought it would be nice to get food there. He tried to forget his hunger. He psyched up himself to be free of hunger. His mind always thought of hunger. Why is there an onset of hunger?

Why did God make beings hungry? Because of hunger, man would do a job. If hunger subsides, does man defeat hunger? No, he has other longings: gold, wealth.  He assembles people around him and desires to dominate them. Humanity has never had a sense of satisfaction. Multiple unfulfilled desires like hunger drive him.
He shook his head. He must drown the borborygmic (the growls) by feeding the hungry stomach. He walked fast, found a broken piece of pot and picked it up thinking it may be of use. He took leaves and cleaned the inside. He held it close to his body and entered the fort of Kulasekhara Pandiyan with no questions asked at the gate. It appeared his beggarly guise gave him the entry privilege into the fort.  No one cared to notice him.

Hunger has destroyed his self-respect and hesitant behavior. He stood before the front of the first house he saw.  There were one rooster and four chickens pecking at the husked millet spread on the floor for drying.  The entrance had two raised platforms in the fore and a wooden door with embedded bells, which fed him the hope (he may get food).
“Mother… Empress…severe hunger, Amma…”

The woman popping her head at the door did not look like the mistress of the house. Her countenance was severe and forbidding. She poured with irritation from her vessel a glob of sour porridge. Though of excessive hunger, the sour and spoiled gruel caused nausea.

The women added, “You came here complaining of hunger. I gave you the gruel. You contorted your face. Scoot. If you stand any further, I will smash your head with the pestle.” The mendicant walked certain distance and dumped the gruel in the garbage can by the roadside.  Next house. Chased out of there. Two more houses. No empathy.  Did humanity lose its values?  Was his appearance forbidding or unlikeable? No… The whole city (village): Are they all like this? Would hunger go unappeased? His body shivered. He leaned over the platform at the fore of another house, he sounded a plea, “Mother…Mother…Feel hungry…”

The woman appeared at the doorstep. She was lean and mean and looked at him from crown to toes. “What… Are you hungry?  You have grown like a corpulent bull. Why do you go begging?  Why don’t you work with your healthy hands and feet, earn a living and stop begging. Don’t you have any shame?  Go!” She leaving his presence banged the door shut behind her.

No use depending on the citizens!  He walked out of the town. The town abandoned him. A forest ahead of him was welcoming him. Will the forest sustain his life? He had a little hope. He saw a medicinal creeper (முசுமுசுக்கை = Mukia maderaspatana. Bristly bryony, creeper, Mukiascabrella.) Nearby, he saw a wild onion plant. He took the wild onion wrapped them in the plant leaf and ate them. He ate the same again and appeared to have appeased his hunger and muster some energy. Nearby, he saw a mountain stream appearing like a mirror. He scooped two handfuls of water and drank a few times. He sat by the bank.

He told himself firmly that he will not go begging again.

Fate made his vow become a reality. He collected taxes with a staff in hand. How did that turn of events take place?