The old astrologer looked out through his window at the vast fields that stretched before his eyes. All the land that one could see in the distance belonged to him and he had gained wealth and riches through his hard work. As a young man belonging to the upper caste he had been appointed long ago as the official court astrologer of a feudal Zamindar in the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu. As Zamin astrologer, he had been responsible for fixing and conducting all auspicious events and rituals in the Zamin family. He was considered very lucky by three successive generations of Zamindars. All the dates that he had fixed and the auspicious events conducted therein proved to be highly successful and the benevolent Zamindars had lavished valuable gifts of land and gold on the astrologer.
The Zamindari system of feudal lords belonging to upper caste and nobles was created by the British to honour the local chieftains who were loyal to them. The Zamindars also served as conduits in the British system of collection of taxes and were in return provided a percentage of the tax collected by them. When the British left the country after granting independence to the Indians, it proved to be a blessing in disguise for the learned astrologer. The abolishment of the Zamindari system meant that the astrologer need no more cater only to the needs of the Zamin family but also to other rich, powerful and influential men in the neighboring districts who had heard of the astrologer’s powers and sought his advice. The astrologer prospered and was always adorned in silk and gold.
The astrologer was a learned man and knew not only astrology and the movement of planets but was also a master in all the dark arts. One day with nothing better to do the astrologer turned to his own horoscope and found that as per the stars and the planets his days were numbered and that he would die at the end of the next six months. The astrologer could hardly believe his eyes for he was only approaching seventy years and still was fit enough to keep up with the demands of his two loving wives. He rechecked his horoscope and found to his dismay that he had made no mistake and was sure to die two days after the sixth full moon from that day.
The astrologer was totally befuddled. It could not be happening to him. He who had fixed the life term of so many of his clients was ultimately being shown the door himself. The only problem was that he was not as yet prepared to leave. He still had a lot of worldly duties to fulfill. He still had two daughters whom he had to get married and settled in life. His only Son; the only begotten of his first wife had been trained as an astrologer ever since his birth for it was unsaid but inherently understood that the Son would one day take over his father’s profession. However, the Son had not shown the slightest inclination towards excelling in the profession as had his father, grandfather and other forefathers before him. He therefore wished to settle his Son respectably before departing this world.
The learned astrologer had some how wanted to ensure that his Son was moulded into a great astrologer under his tutelage. But he needed time for all this. He needed to live and live for a minimum of five years more before he could peacefully breathe his last. The astrologer therefore pondered his options. He repeatedly cross checked his horoscope to see if there had been scope for even the minutest of errors but as always his calculations were perfect and it was obvious he was going to die. It was then that the astrologer decided to resort to his black arts to find a solution to his problem.
He therefore fasted for three days and nights. When his body and his mind were completely purified by his fast, the astrologer took out the golden box that he always kept in the Pooja (prayer) room. The golden box contained one of the astrologer’s most precious aids. Inside the box was a vial which contained a dark inky black substance much like the dark kohl which is applied by young Indian girls under their eyes to enhance their beauty. The black substance was made of exotic substances and collecting the ingredients and preparing the substance had been a tough job but the astrologer was a master at that too. The black substance was usually used by the astrologer to find out missing valuables and stuff like that which his clients wanted to know about; but today he was using it for himself. He was going to use it to find an answer to his life’s own question?
The astrologer gently applied the black substance on to a dark green betel leaf so that the leaf appeared to have a black circle in its middle. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his question. “Where or how can I change my fate?” he asked in prayer and opened his eyes to look at the black circle on the betel leaf. It remained blank. The astrologer then cleared his mind of the previous questions and now concentrated on “who can help me?” the black circle now glowed and flickered. Suddenly there appeared a human face in the black circle and a disembodied voice said, “This is the only person on this planet who has gained knowledge of postponing death”.
It was soon an easy task for the astrologer to find out more details with subsequent questions aimed at the black circle on the betel leaf. Questions such as, “What is his name?”, “Where does he reside?” were instantly answered by the black circle on the betel leaf. It was then that the astrologer decided to seek out this man who was revealed to him by the black dye on the betel leaf.
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The attender was in a hurry to clean the toilets. He used his broom on the phenyl disinfectant and cleaned as fast as he could. It was his normal routine and he usually completed his routine as soon as his shift began for only then would he have free time to pray. The attender was more worried about his having delayed commencement of his prayers rather than the delay in cleansing of the toilets. Once his daily cleaning and sweeping chores were done the attender who appeared to be nearly sixty years old would find himself a comfortable corner where he could sit and pray undisturbed until the end of his shift, when he would once again clean and sweep and head for home. This had been the routine of the attender for almost forty years now.
The attender served in a British textile mill in one of the towns of Tamil Nadu and his efficiency had been noted by his British bosses. His bosses had wanted him to take on more responsibility and grow within the organization but the attender preferred to remain an attender with minimal responsibilities for only then could he devote himself to his life’s breath, his prayer. The British considered him weird and left him to himself to pray or do as he pleased. As long as there were no complaints about the toilets they simply let him be.
The attender was a simple man who led a contented life with the meagre salary his job provided him. He was due to retire soon but he was not bothered as he was a man of many talents. The attender was a simple as well as a holy man. He had been a practitioner of the oldest form of Yoga since he was fifteen years of age and had been initiated into the practice by a wandering mendicant who frequented the temple where he used to play as a small boy. Since then the attender had only one passion in life and that was Yoga and Meditation.
The attender lived in a shack not far off from the factory in one of the worst kinds of ghettoes in the world. Every other day witnessed a murder or a fight and the entire slum was filled with squalor as never seen before. The filth and squalor would repel even the strong hearted and prevent them from entering the slum. This was exactly the reason why the attender had chosen to live there; for indeed, he did not want any disturbance from the world outside the slum.
The attender lived in his single room shack along with his wife and six children, five of whom were girls. There was a perennial stench around the slum but the attender and his family had grown immune to the stench of dirt, grime and squalor. Everyday after his return from work the attender would continue to indulge in his Yogic practice in a corner of the one room shack and spend the entire night in Tapas and prayer. The next day the attender would head back to the factory to clean the toilets and resume his prayer there.
The attender had indeed become a formidable Yogi and had mastered the art of Raja Yoga that provided him immense powers. However, the Yogi had realised at a young age that money was an illusory thing and that chasing money was only like chasing a mirage. The more you had it, the more you wanted it. The Yogi or rather the attender had therefore decided to stay clear of greed and desire for money and was content to satisfy his basic needs with the limited money that he earned from the factory. Mastering Yoga had enabled Thangam for that was indeed the attender’s name to gain knowledge of other related fields and the knowledge of the human body was one such branch that Thangam had gained immense knowledge off.
Thangam could set right broken bones, dislocated and displaced joints, nerve related disorders and all other forms of chronic physical ailments, the people of the slum would come to Thangam and get their physical problems fixed. He would not expect any money for any of his services and would be pleased to accept whatever was given if given at all. But this was indeed the tip of the ice berg for indeed Thangam had reached the highest stage of Yoga and had gained the Ashta Maha Siddhis that the ancient Yogic and Vedic literature spoke about. Indeed, Thangam had given new meaning to the ‘Gayathri’ mantra by making his ‘Kaya’ or physical body a ‘Thiri’ or wick and using that wick to light the ‘Jyoti’ or flame of life, Jeeva.
However, inspite of all the powers that Thangam possessed, he remained content to be invisible from the attention of people and pursue his way of life as he knew best. Thangam believed in camouflaging himself and not revealing his true self to even his own children. His wife the noble lady that she was only remained content to serve him.
It was in search of this gentleman that the rich Zamin Astrologer came.
The astrologer arrived with his entourage to the slum where the Yogi he had seen in the betel leaf image lived, exactly a month after he had seen his image in the betel leaf. His wife, son and daughter had been unable to take the stench that hit them on their arrival at the slum and had retreated to a comfortable hotel in the town while the astrologer and two of his faithful servants went into the slum in the afternoon, enquiring for a gentleman named Thangam.
They reached the shack in which Thangam and his family lived. The entire neighbourhood stared at them as the astrologer gently knocked on the door. They seemed incongruous with their silken clothes and fine jewellery. It was Thavamani the gentle wife of the Yogi cum attender who answered the door. She stared blankly at them and wondered who they were. The astrologer very politely asked the lady if the Yogi Thangam was available at home. Thavamani replied negatively and stated that he would be back only at six thirty in the evening.
Not knowing what to do and not having anything better to do the astrologer and his two servants sat outside the door of the Yogi’s shack on the narrow lane that was constantly flowing with people. As they waited, the people passing by kept staring at them and wondered what they could want with Thangam. While they waited the Yogi’s wife served them water and offered them some watery tea, which they politely declined. It must be noted at this point that the astrologer and his two servants belonged to the upper caste and would not dare eat or drink any food served by a lower caste person even it was the very Amruth, or nectar of life itself. The very fact that these three gentlemen were waiting outside the shack of a lower caste person in the midst of an entire colony of lower caste people, spoke volumes of their patience and the importance of their mission.
The incident we were reading about did not happen in Modern India where the caste lines are blurred and are only being propped up constantly by greedy politicians. The incident being narrated here was something which happened almost fifty years ago in a new and young, independent India which had still not over come its caste hangover. The lower caste people of the slum were as much scandalized as the upper caste gentlemen by their presence in the slum.
Dusk had set in and the brief twilight of a South Asian sunset had arrived. The astrologer mused about what was written in books of philosophy about the importance of the twilight period. It was said that the twilight was the crack between two worlds and it was possible to go from one world to another during twilight. Twilight is normally a period of great power and an enlightened soul could trap this power and use it to his advantage. As the astrologer kept musing about the properties of twilight, he felt a shadow go by him. He woke up with a start out of his reverie to see the Yogi cum attender just about to enter his shack.
Thangam stopped as he reached the small doorstep of his shack. He looked at the three strange men sitting near his door. A person who looked like he was the leader of the other two got up and greeted him with folded hands. The traditional 'Vanakkam" as it is called in Tamil Nadu and also called "Namaste" or "Salaam" in other parts of India His silk shawl know as angavastharam, which normally hung from his shoulder, was hurriedly tied around his waist as he wished Thangam. Thangam looked bemused at this upper caste gentleman who was acting subservient to him.
The quizzical expression on his face made the astrologer realise that introductions were in order and therefore proceeded to introduce him-self in grandiose terms while Thangam looked on. He knew at one glance, what the astrologer wanted from him, but it was not possible for him to grant boons to all and sundry for a longer life than what was destined for them. Thangam then used the same grandiose terms the astrologer had used to describe himself and asked him what such a grand astrologer like himself was doing at the doorstep of a simple man; a toilet cleaner like himself. The astrologer then explained about how he had come to know about the Yogi Thangam and how he had come to him seeking an extension of life so that he may fulfill his worldly duties.
Thangam appeared calm but told him that he had been misled into believing that it was possible for Thangam to grant an extension of life. Thangam explained to the astrologer that he was not God and was a very simple man who only believed in fulfilling his worldly duties. The astrologer would not accept Thangam’s explanation and told him that his black dye never lied and that if it had pointed out Thangam to him it meant that Thangam had the power to save him. Thangam repeatedly refused to accept the astrologers argument and told the astrologer categorically that he did not possess the power to save him.
After a while the astrologer informed Thangam that he had no other option but to sit outside Thangam’s doorstep until Thangam obliged him. Thus began a siege of Thangam by the astrologer that would have put any military siege to shame. It was like a modern day case of stalking. The astrologer remained a constant shadow and began following Thangam wherever he went causing untold embarrassment to Thangam.
He would follow Thangam at a discreet distance all the way to his factory and sit outside the factory gates until Thangam finished for the day and returned to his shack, whereupon the astrologer would take position outside Thangam’s doorstep. The astrologer had sent back his two servants to his wife and children and asked them to go back to their hometown. He told them that if by the grace of God and Thangam he were to live he would return home or else not to search for him and consider him dead.
The Yogi went about his usual business and the astrologer would follow his every movement. During Sundays when the Yogi had a holiday he would spend his time with his children and also attend to the odd cases that came to him for treatment of sprains, muscular pulls, ligament tears, broken, splintered and fractured bones. Every kind of physical ailment and pain conceivable would be treated by the Yogi while talking consolingly to the injured.
The astrologer observed the Yogi’s every moment. He realised that Thangam was indeed a skilled practitioner of Yoga for he seemed to be aware of and could treat the invisible ‘Varma’ nerves of the patient. For only a person who had mastered his breathing could view and treat by ‘Varma’. The astrologer used to sit and observe life in the slum as it flowed past him. He would witness the street games played by Thangam’s children. His attempts to befriend then proved in vain for they seemed indeed more stubborn than their father. They simply would not accept any sweet meats or other gifts from the astrologer. Thangam’s wife too was as reserved as his children but she would during the course of her daily work offer the astrologer food and other assistance which he would politely refuse.
The astrologer lived on an assortment of fruits and food available in the market outside the slum. He insisted on paying for his food and he would sprinkle water on any food three times before eating it. The astrologer also used the river that flowed nearby for his ablutions and daily bath. The river bed was dry but enterprising folk had set up motor pumps and sucked out water which they let into huge tubs and allowed people to bathe out of it for a fee of ten paisa per head of course.
The astrologer was a simple man and his needs were few but he was also a worried man as time was running out and he still hadn’t been able to make the Yogi feel pity on him. At times, the Yogi would come out of his shack in the middle of the night for some fresh air in the middle of his deep prayer and would find the astrologer sitting wide awake. They would converse briefly and after offering the astrologer water, which the gentleman would politely refuse, Thangam would go back into his shack and back into his Yogic position of prayer.
Time flew as it always does and the astrologer soon found himself in the sixth month of his prediction. The month he was expected to die. The only person he ever spoke to in the entire slum was the Yogi’s wife, Thavamani who would be curious to know about his family and other personal information. The astrologer would share his life with her and tell her how lucky she was to have Thangam as a husband. Finally the sixth full moon arrived. The astrologer shivered in his dhoti for he knew he had only two more days to go.
That day as it was customary Thavamani looked out of the shack at the old astrologer and asked him if he would like some rice gruel for that was all that the family lived on day in and day out. As was customary the astrologer politely refused her offer. The lady looked at him deeply and mentioned that food is only to keep the body alive and it knows no difference of caste or creed. “It is you who differentiate between food as you have between humans”, she said. Food served by a low caste will also taste as sweet as food served by a high caste would. Similarly, the soul of a low caste would also be the same as the soul of the high caste. The astrologer remained pensive and lost in his thoughts.
The day passed by uneventfully. The next day was a hartal and all the shops remained closed. Thangam too enjoyed a holiday and remained at home. The astrologer had been caught unawares and he had no food to eat. As usual the Yogis wife asked the astrologer if he needed anything to eat, as was the regular reply he declined her offer. By evenfall the astrologer was crazy with hunger. It was twilight once again and Thavamani who happened to return from the community tap with a pot of water paused to look at him and asked him if he would like to eat some rice gruel. She concluded by saying that it was the last time she would ever ask him again. Knowing fully well that he would be dead by the next day morning, the astrologer relented and asked her to bring him some rice gruel. Thavamani was happy to hear him ask for food and willingly went and fetched him a small clay pot of rice gruel, which the astrologer drank greedily. The gruel tasted sweet to his parched and hungry throat. “The best rice gruel I have had in my entire life”, he told her.
That night around ten the entire slum had gradually become silent. The poor astrologer sat miserable wondering if he would see the break of dawn the next day. Meanwhile, Thangam sat lost in prayer as midnight approached. At around 11:30 pm Thangam suddenly got up from his Yogic position and came out to the doorstep. He looked at the astrologer shivering with cold as well as the fear of death. You better come in tonight, he told the astrologer. The astrologer was surprised to hear Thangam invite him into his house but was also apprehensive of entering the abode of a low caste person since he had never done so ever. Well there has to be a first time sometime, the astrologer thought to himself as he entered the darkened shack.
Thangam pointed out a bit of available space to the astrologer and asked him to stretch out there while he went back to his corner and commenced praying. That night the astrologer heard a lot of noise outside on the lane. A furious trampling of feet, the clinking sound of armour could all be heard as he lay in fear while Thangam continued to pray unperturbed. The next morning as usual Thangam was up by about four o’clock. The astrologer lay lost to the world in a foetal position as if he were trying to go back into the womb of his mother, long departed.
At about seven in the morning the astrologer woke with a start. He looked about his unfamiliar location and saw Thangam standing by his side, smiling at him. The astrologer pinched himself to see if he were dreaming. It did not appear so and soon he realised that he was still alive. May be, he would die by the end of the day he considered. But he was sure that he should have been dead by daybreak today. Thangam continued to smile broadly as the astrologer asked him about the noise he had heard outside in the lane at midnight. Thangam slowly nodded his head; yes death was at our doorstep last night to take you away but could not do so as you were sleeping inside. The astrologer was puzzled and did not understand what Thangam was talking about. Thangam admonished him to remain silent and complete his morning ablutions.
On doing so, the astrologer returned to Thangam’s shack and Thangam called him in to share his gruel. While they both partook of the gruel, the astrologer kept probing Thangam who remained calm until he had finished his bowl of gruel. Yes it was destined that I should save you from death, but I was hesitant to do so until I was sure that you could treat all humans equally and last evening when you drank the gruel that my wife gave you, I knew you were finally able to accept that all were equal. It was only then that I decided to help you and when you walked into my shack last night I realised that your upper caste arrogance had vanished and you were prepared to live a new lease of life. On hearing this, the upper caste astrologer fell prostrate at the feet of the lower caste Yogi and thanked him profusely.
Thangam told him that he was now free to go back to his home town but the astrologer did not feel like doing so. He wanted to stay on and discuss philosophy with Thangam, which Thangam was only too happy to, since he hardly had any learned person with whom he could discuss and debate truth. The astrologer stayed on for another week and at the end of the same he was initiated into Yogic practice by Thangam whom the astrologer accepted as his Guru. The astrologer before leaving was adamant that he should give Thangam a huge sum of money for saving his life. However Thangam was equally adamant in refusing the money. The astrologer then insisted that he should give him at least some Guru dakshina or offering but Thangam would not have any talk of it.
Therefore, the astrologer on his return home ensured that every year after harvest a huge sack of the choicest grain of rice should be delivered at Thangam’s doorstep. On his return home the astrologer was pleasantly surprised to find that his Son had finally donned the mantle of the head of the family and was successfully continuing his fathers astrology practice. The astrologer was a changed man on his return and was not interested in making money anymore. He now knew that there was something more powerful than astrology, which could negate or turn around even the best of astrological predictions.
He found his heart being drawn more and more to the Yoga that Thangam his Guru had taught him. He did not use derogatory remarks about lower caste people anymore and in fact soon became friendly with all the lower caste folk whom he had to interact with during the normal course of the day. A couple of years later the astrologer solemnised the marriage of his youngest daughter in great splendor and luxury. He personally went to meet Thangam and invited him to the marriage. Thangam for his part gladly went to the marriage where he was treated as a guest of honour much to the ire of the upper caste brethren of the astrologer.
The astrologer lived for twenty more years from the time he met the Yogi named Thangam. In fact the Yogi decided to leave this planet a year before the astrologer finally departed. It was on the night of 25th December 1988 that the great Yogi breathed his last in the physical form of Thangam. A telegram had also been sent to inform the astrologer about Thangams departure but the astrologer was too feeble to make the journey to participate in the last rites. The astrologer breathed his last exactly six months and two days thereafter.
[This is based on a true incident that was personally narrated to me by no one else but the great Yogi himself.]