Alter Idem turns two today :)
For no particular reason, I began by sharing a favourite short story.
While thinking of a post to mark the first b'day, I decided to start a tradition - of sharing short stories on Alter Idem's b'days - preferably, stories that have been with me for ages after I have read them.
Here's Annayya's story....set, I think, in the 1950s-60s.
Annayya, a Brahmin from Mysore, goes to the US for higher studies. He settles down well to the American way of life, food habits,..... Often, Annayya's lady-friends ask him questions about Hinduism and to be better equipped, he begins to read books on Hinduism! Soon, he develops a genuine interest and spends a lot of his free time in the library - reading books on Hinduism.
One day, Annayya chances upon a newly published book by an American, on customs and rituals among Hindus. He flips through the pages - references to verses from ancient texts, photographs, detailed descriptions of the various customs and rituals of several castes,....at first glance, this book is easily the best one on Hindu culture that Annayya has come across & he is totally in awe of the white man's methodical approach to the subject.
While turning pages, Annayya chances upon the cremation rituals for men belonging to the Brahmin community, with step by step pictorial details. At college and away from home, he has never witnessed/ participated in the funeral rites of family members. Since he has only heard about the elaborate procedures, Annayya decides to check out the chapter. Reading through the pre-cremation rites, he takes a look at the picture of the actual cremation. Near the funereal pyre is a man with tonsured head who looks a lot like his cousin.
To verify, Annayya turns to the foreword. Here, the author has thanked Mr.Cousin - for allowing to take photographs of the various Brahminical rituals like naming ceremony, thread ceremony,.... during the author's two year stay in Mysore.
Annayya goes through other pictures and recognises family members/ neighbours in most of them. Admiration for Mr.Author soon changes to irritation towards Mr.Cousin - for allowing the intrusion into family functions.
With horror, Annayya also realises that a male member of the family is no more. Who?? Mr.Cousin's tonsured head could only mean one person......
On impulse, Annayya checks the chapter on 'Widowhood'.
Murderous rage towards Mr.Cousin welling up within him, Annayya is left gaping - at the portrait picture of a 'Hindu widow' - clean shaven head half covered by her sari - his mother ......
I had read this poignant story by Mr.A.K.Ramanujan in an anthology of Kannada short stories - a few monsoons ago. I had thought that it was quite an eerie story. Also, people who went abroad those days must have been so disconnected from their family members in India. I guess, many a time, letters - the only means of communication- would get lost :(