An Ordinary Life 3 - Rajaraman Iyer
The first job Rajaraman Iyer ever had was at fifty-five. Until then, his wife had managed to hold things together, her 'appalam'-'vadaam' providing for his 'thayir sadam' and betel nut.
Truth to tell, her death din't even bother him for the first few days when neighbours and relatives provided food and water.
It was later, when Saravanan of the Kumbakonam Vethalai Stall refused to give him any anymore betel leaf or nut on credit that Rajaraman Iyer found himself forced to find a vocation that would pay for his limited needs, and most certainly for the betelnut. It was Saravanan too who gave him the idea, "Iyere, why can't you teach music?"
"Indeed!," Rajaraman Iyer thought to himself, "Why din't I think of this before?!"
* * *
After all, music was about the only skill he ever possessed. It is said he could identify a raaga even before he could speak. In fact, the very first word he uttered was "Kambodhi" his mother would proudly say to all those who came to see the baby. The visitors told her that her son would be a big musician one day and earn riches. She believed them until she got weary of believing them.
It was soon apparent that these visitors were not in the least clairvoyant. Talent was wasted in a dilettante; for Rajaram, music was an art, merely for his amusement. So he remained a mediocre conoisseur, visiting sabhas, reviewing concerts with others similarly employed sitting on an easy chair in his one-room house, ordering his wife to supply coffee and tiffin at regular intervals. She, however, took it in her stride, for unlike her mother-in-law, she never did think her husband would amount to much. She continued making appalams to support the family, which was anyway just the two of them.
* * *
His first pupil was Shreya, a twelve year old who had been learning music since she was five. Not that the girl had any talent for music, just a lot of enthusiasm. Her previous teacher thought it was sufficient. Clearly, Rajaraman Iyer did not think so. Sometimes he would lose his temper with her, especially when his sharp musical ear could not hear her palm slap the thigh in the right thaalam. Once in a fit of temper, he picked up his old umbrella and slammed it on her thigh. The child, initially shocked into silence by his act, soon recovered sufficiently to burst into tears. Her mother came running, followed by the grandmother and grandfather. At the end of the altercation with the family, it was Rajaraman Iyer's turn to be in tears.
The next day he sent word through the little boy at the Vethalai Stall that the lessons could not continue as he was incapacitated, having been gored by a mad bull.
* * *
As he sat waiting for his next student, news reached him that his father's aunt, a ripe old woman of 90 had passed away in Kumbakonam, leaving him half a ground of farmland, property she had inherited from her husband. After her death, it passed on to her only surviving relative, Rajaraman. He performed her last rites and sold the land for a handsome sum to the village bigman, Ratnam Chettiar.
His worries were all over as Rajaraman discovered that he would not have to work anymore. He would put the cash in a bank and live on the interest.
The kambodhi sprang onto his lips once again as he walked briskly down the temple lane, a cheque from Chettiar sitting tight in the red cloth bag stowed under his arm. In his euphorism, Rajaraman Iyer did not really see the temple bull charge at him. His ears, full of Kambodhi, did not even register the frantic shouts of bystanders to move away.
* * *
Later, at his funeral, they said he must have been happy to die with a song on his lips.
It is macabre me again. Shyam, I think I've the gallows in my mind. And Ammani, I hope this doesn't make you think I'm elitist or condescending! :)