Mohiniattam


They say God delays but never denies. Narayanswamy had at last discovered the gift of love. Or rather love had discovered him in the form of Mohini. God had come to him as Mohini with the message of love. Strange are the ways of man, stranger those of God. Who can claim to understand the play of God? In his case God’s play had taken the form of Mohini’s play – ‘The Mohiniattam’.

Mohini was the love of his life. He thought about how completely she had transformed his life as he gazed lovingly into her lovely little hazel colored eyes. He had read somewhere that if Cleopatra’s nose had been smaller; the course of history would have changed. He wondered if Cleopatra’s nose was longer than that of Mohini’s as he lovingly took her into his arms and caressed her gently feeling her silky smooth skin. Mohini had definitely changed the course of history of at least one person’s life. How could one as pretty as she be totally besotted by a grumpy old curmudgeon shunned by everyone including his own wife of 20 years?

Srirangam is a fascinating little island town in Trichy district of Tamil Nadu located at the confluence of rivers Kaveri and Kollidam. The town holds the largest temple in India – the Ranganathaswamy temple. The temple occupies an area of 156 acres with a perimeter of 1,116m making it the largest temple in India and one of the largest religious complexes in the world. The temple is enclosed by 7 concentric walls (mathil suvar)with a total length of over six miles. These walls are enclosed by 21 Gopurams (Towers). Each concentric walls hold a section known as Pragaram (Pragarams are the inner columns surrounded by the compound walls (mathil suvar) while the outer column known as Mada veethi). Lot of shops, restaurants and flower and vegetable markets occupy the first two Pragarams. The first two pragarams also have sidestreeets called Veedis that hold residential areas. Chitharai Veedi was one such street lined on either side with ancient houses most of them over 60-70 years old. In one such house lived Narayanaswamy the protagonist of our story.

Narayanswamy had been a clerk at the local Dhanalakshmi bank and had taken voluntary retirement two years back at the age of 52. He was married to Kamala the head of the history department in the famous Seethalakshmi Ramaswamy College for Women in Trichy. Naraynaswamy was one of the most despised person in the area due to his testy temperament. He had picked up a fight with almost everyone in the street at one time or the other and was not on talking terms with any of his neighbors. To the boys of the street, he was a terror. If he were to ever see them playing on the street outside his house he would rush out with his stick. He did not even spare his poor wife, who always used to diligently take care of cooking and all the other household chores all by herself. Not only did he not make the slightest attempt to help her, but he always found some fault or the other with her work. One day the vegetable was not spicy enough, another day there was too much salt in the Sambhar, on a third day the rice was too watery. He used to often season these comments on the quality of her work with barbs about poor state of education in the country wherein people of Kamala’s caliber could become a head of a department in such a reputed college. Kamala silently bore the affronts without a single retort.

Human nature is not something constant and is often shaped by circumstances that one has to pass through in the journey of life. Narayanaswamy was also a victim of his circumstances. In his early 20s, he had been a bright lively young man, St.Joseph College Trichy’s gold medalist of the year in the physics department with dreams of pursuing graduation followed by a doctoral degree. But his ambition was cut short by his family’s financial situation. So he had to appear for bank exams and take up a clerical position at a bank. He could not progress in his banking career as well because promotions involved transfers to other cities/towns outside Trichy district. He had to remain in Srirangam to attend to his ailing parents. By the time his parents passed to the next world, so had his ambitions as well. On the personal front, he had had a short and steamy romance with one Vaishali, the daughter of Mansukh Lal the local jeweler during his college days. But clearly Srirangam in the late 1970s was not the most conducive time and place for this kind of North-South liaisons. The Tamil Iyengar and Sindhi Marwadi communities were too far apart for the twine to meet and the romance was nipped in the bud. Narayanaswamy submitted to parental authority and married Kamala the daughter of his maternal uncle. Love can blossom even in a loveless marriage when the stork brings its bundle of joy. The stork did come but however brought along a defective piece which did not last even a single summer. There were no further visits from the stork and the couple remained childless and their marriage never saw the light of love. As time passed, while Narayanaswamy’s career remained stagnant his wife’s career was on the ascendant with revision of UGSI salary scales and subsequently her elevation to the position of head of department. This added inferiority complex to Narayanaswam’s already overflowing cup of woes and his wounds continued to fester.

There was just one oasis in Narayanaswamy’s endless dessert of sorrows. It was the few minutes of the day when he sat on the open verandah of his house and savored his filter coffee and rusks. It was during one of these coffee breaks that he met Mohini for the first time. It was not love at first sight. He had in fact tried to shoo her away. She had however taken a fancy for him for some reason and was not willing to give up so easily. So she just stood there looking longingly at the rusks in his hand, gently wagging her tail, for she was a dog: a mongrel, one of the many found in streets all over India. Her persistence eventually paid off and Narayanaswamy yielded a little throwing her a piece of rusk. This little gesture threw her into raptures of delight and she began to wag her tail vigorously slowly edging closer to Narayanaswamy. This somehow amused Narayanaswamy and he gave her a few more rusks which further increased her love for him. From that day on she would always be there to welcome him when he came out of his house. As soon as she saw him emerging out, she would run up to him and try to climb on to his knees with her forelegs and lick his hands with her long pink tongue. They say love can melt even a stone and Narayanaswamy was only human. So her unconditional love and devotion began to have its effect on him and true love entered his life for the first time. He began to really look forward to the time he spent with her. As soon as his wife left for work he would come out with milk and rusks for Mohini. He would feed her, stroke her black shiny coat and play with her till his wife came home. It was he who had given her the name ‘Mohini’ as well. The temple had a ritual wherein the lord Ranganatha would be decorated in differed fashions (Alangarams) on different days of the year. The day Narayanaswamy met Mohini was the day of Mohini Alangaram . So Mohini she became.

Narayanaswamy’s relationship with Mohini gradually began to have its effect on his other relationships as well. One day when he came out of his house, Mohini was not there to welcome him. He looked around for her and saw her playing with little Manikandan next door. At first he was a little jealous and called out her name. She immediately came running to him followed by little Mani. Mani realized only too late that he had come into closer proximity of the street children’s bogey man than any other child had dared to. But Narayanaswamy was no longer the same person he had been before meeting Mohini. When a mere animal of 5 senses could show such impartial and unconditional love, how could he a creature of 6 senses do worse? So it came to pass that two most unusual bed fellows were brought together by the common bond of Mohini’s love. One thing lead to another and one evening Kamala coming home early from her college was greeted by the most unusual and unexpected sight of Narayanaswamy enjoying a game of cricket with the street kids. She had never seen him so happy ever in her life. Narayanaswamy’s new turn of life began to spill over to the relations with his wife as well. She remembered that nearly a month had passed since he had made any sarcastic comment to her and that day he had actually complimented her on preparing an excellent meal. Slowly his little friend’s parents also began to see the changes in Narayanaswamy and some of them came forward to mend fences with him. How could anyone hate a man whom their children seemed to love so much? Narayanswamy seemed to be on the way to becoming one of the most popular man in the street.

Related Post: That Last Night

9 comments:

  1. The description of Srirangam is really exulting. Its marvellous how intricately you have spun details about the place in the 2nd paragraph. I have read a lot about Srirangam in the works of religious leaders. Happy to read it again in your words:)

    Have you really visited Srirangam and described its beauty as you have envisaged?

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  2. Actually this is one place where I don't deserve credit. I have stayed in srirangam for 5 years but this description was lifted from wiki. Surprised you like that. i got lot of adverse feedback on that para hampering the flow of the story. So that has been removed in the version of the story I am making for publication.

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  3. Yeah..

    There's much of truth in the maxim 'One Man's food is the other man's poison'.

    I might have liked it provided my uncanny inclination for spirituality:)

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  4. This Narayanaswamy is certainly an inspiration for the thousands of Narayanaswamys in today's world.

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  5. This Narayanaswamy is certainly an inspiration for the thousands of Narayanaswamys in today's world.

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  6. Hi
    I have been a huge fan of this story, I first read it at the IndiMag contest. I always wanted to write to you about Mohiniattam, better late than never I guess.
    I took such a liking to this story that I have copied it on to my hard disk and read it often :)
    I write a few short stories myself and I was so inspired by your story that I wrote my own version of Mohiniattam. A tribute to your Mohiniattam :)
    My best wishes to you and a heartfelt thanks for giving us Mohiniattam.

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  7. Thanks, Harsha. I am interested in reading your version of the story. I had also written a different version of the story making the initial section of the story more interesting as you had suggested on IndiMag. But I lost the version when IndiMag shit down.

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  8. I thought Mohini was the man's daughter, when you said 52!

    It became dog! GS :)

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  9. @Rohan - I wanted to create some confusion there.

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