THE GARLAND

It was hotter than one would have expected during this month. The Tamil month of “Puratasi” roughly coinciding with the months of September- October of the English calendar was usually much cooler as the monsoon showers of July-August brought down the temperature in the interiors of Tamil Nadu. The cool breeze from the Kaveri , filled with water after the month of “Adi” also helped in keeping the temperatures down.  But today the Sun god ruled..! He shone down with all his brilliance heating up the granite stones  that paved the floors of the Srirangam temple. People standing in queue in the outer praharams hopped on their feet trying to keep them cool as they longed for it to move so that they would reach the covered section quickly. But it was not so easy. After all, it was “Puratasi Sanikazhamai”- the holy Saturday of the month. They prayed to Lord Ranganatha not to test their patience.

Rafiq watched the crowd closely. A bright young officer of the Indian Police Service, Thiruchirapalli was his first posting. He had earned kudos from his superiors ever since the time he had taken charge as the Superintendent of Police in the district. He had regulated traffic, stopped petty crimes and controlled harassment of women in public places. His easy accessibility to the public and his regular interface with them made him a popular figure in the town.

“Are all arrangements in place?” he asked a constable in Tamil. “Yes saar” said the fellow as he saluted. People were often surprised at the ten odd months it had taken this man from North India to learn Tamil well enough to converse with them! He smiled whenever they congratulated him on his linguistic abilities.. The point was ,this language was not  something that he was new to. He had been familiar with it for at least five years!

Rafiq moved around the temple courtyard reviewing  the arrangements for  crowd management – ropes cordoning off sections and metal barricades at certain points to hold off parts of the crowd. The crowd was still surging behind these barricades trying to push their way through. He sighed! Whether it was Hazrat Salim Chishti’s Dargah at Ajmer that his mother visited every year or the Srirangam temple here, the crowd mentality seemed to be the same. People in crowds always pushed each other trying to get ahead. Religion obviously had nothing to do with it. He wondered if in the long run all this  effort was worth it ! Though never a very religious person, he had given up on God and religion almost two years ago! Especially after…

He brought himself back to reality. There was a child of about six or seven crying loudly in a corner. She had obviously got lost in the crowd. He went up to her and knelt down. Taking her chin gently in his hands he asked her in Tamil “ What is your name? Why are you crying ?”. “ I am Andaal. I want my mother” she said rubbing her eyes.

He felt as if a jolt had passed through his body! Andaal…! There was only one other person in this world he knew by that name. A girl with lotus eyes and lovely long hair. A girl with honey colored skin. A girl who retorted fiercely whenever anyone at the Delhi University made fun of what they considered to be a “Madrasi” name. The girl who had stolen his heart! The girl who had promised under the starry night to throw religion aside and be his wife. The girl whose spirit had been squashed down by her orthodox  parents when they had found out about their plans.

“ My daughter to marry a Muslim? You must be crazy! You should be thankful that I am allowing you to step into my house” her father had said when he had gone  to their house to formally ask for her hand in marriage.

It was ironical that a man whose presence in an Orthodox Brahmin household had been questioned because of his religion was today inside a place most revered by  this community, providing security in his capacity as a government officer. He felt proud of his country and his uniform that had made it possible. “Even the priests inside the sanctum sanctorum can do nothing about it!” he thought with a smirk as he lifted little Andaal up in his arms carrying her towards the police booth near the entrance to the next prahaaram.

“Wait here. We will find your parents” he said as he deposited her there. He looked around for his team. They needed to make an announcement on the public address system. “Where are these fellows? Why did they leave the booth unmanned” he thought with irritation as he took out his walkie talkie and started paging  them. He began to walk ahead slowly as he barked orders to the constables to stop wielding their lathis at pilgrims and be available at a point where someone might need their assistance.

It was even before he had finished the conversation that he saw him- a very suspicious looking fellow with a cell phone in his hand. He was standing near the unmanned police booth and was trying to quietly slip a backpack behind the counter. Rafiq needed no further explanation to tell him what it meant. He sprinted towards the booth shouting “Andaal.. move!”  The child started screaming loudly. People began to run amuck, breaking down the ropes and pushing aside the barricades.

Rafiq just about made it to the booth when the bomb went off. He had managed to scoop up the child in his arms and throw her far away from where he predicted the impact zone might be. The last sounds he should have heard were of people screaming. But strangely all that he heard was an animated voice in his head speaking “Andaal was from Srivilliputhur in Southern Tamil Nadu. She was in love with the Lord inside the temple and wove garlands for him everyday”!

“Where is my garland” he muttered as the breath left his body.

There were many garlands at the funeral of Rafiq Ahmed IPS who had so heroically given his life in preventing a major terrorist attack on the temple. Unfortunately, the garland he had  longed for remained out of reach- even in death!

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. KP
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 17:00:52

    It brought tears.I thought you would have brought the Andal whom he had loved back in the scene but there is no better way to end the story
    than what you have done.That was a very nice story

    Reply

  2. Leela
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 18:13:18

    Completely agree with KP. Come back with more stories Meera. You took a long break.

    Reply

  3. Meera
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 21:57:25

    Thanks KP and Leela

    Reply

  4. ashas-s
    Nov 12, 2013 @ 23:59:07

    Set in my home-town and the temple I love.. You have woven pictures, social issues and romance into one moving story.. My admiration for your works reached a new high!

    Reply

    • Meera
      Nov 13, 2013 @ 13:08:13

      Asha, Srirangam is my mother’s home town. I have many happy memories of holidays spent there- particularly around the temple where my grand father used to go every evening to meet his bunch of friends!

      Reply

  5. Ram Sharaph
    Nov 13, 2013 @ 19:31:48

    Very nicely written…

    Reply

  6. mahesh
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 16:42:33

    Really well-written – a tragic end!

    Reply

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