In February 2000, we were invited to a Vedic function in Jamshedpur aka Tatanagar. A group of around 140 devotees were assembled to participate in a grand yagya. Half this number comprised of scholars who were rigorously trained in a South India Veda pathshala. The other half, to which I belonged, were people with just about knowledge as was necessary to participate in this yagya. From scientific officers to businessmen to a single school going student(me, a lad all of 12), our motley batch was excited and of course, privileged, to be a part of this event.

Every morning at 6.30 a.m., the function would start and would last till 1.30 a.m. We used to get an afternoon break and the evening session of Vedic jugalbandi would be done by the pandits from 5.30 p.m till 7 p.m. I was awed by the way they chanted and more importantly, the confidence with which they carried themselves.

Being the youngest in such a gathering has its benefits and sometimes, drawbacks. Though everyone showered me with kindless and love, I was also viewed the most by everyone as I was the only cub in a pack of lions. I had a problem in that my vocal tone, for some reason, never matched others. Try as I may, I was never able to get the hang of it and my teacher, who also happened to be my uncle, made no bones about it. He could not digest such weaknesses and I continued in the group more by virtue of being his relative than anything else.

And so, on the final day, my uncle decided I would give a solo presentation. I could not say no but, needless to say, was quite terrified at the mere prospect of chanting in such an august gathering. As told earlier, the evening sessions by the pandits were so surcharged with power and class that I developed cold feet.

“What if you make a mistake?”

“What if it does not come out well?”

“What if you forget some part and lose your way?”

These were some of the voices inside my head and any soul could, by a mere glance at me, know that I would anytime lose my nerve.

That evening, I was given the mic and there was an immediate hush in the hall where one could hear a pin drop.

I started in a frenzy, for I was at my wits’ end lest anything went south. I gained confidence every passing moment and eased into the occasion when suddenly my worst fears materialized. I forgot the next word and that was it. Panic writ large on my face, I hope some God would make me remember the next word and I could continue, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Continue“, said my teacher to me with an acerbic touch to his voice. Some compassionate members from the group assisted me by saying the missing word and I somehow completed it. I knew I would be given a sound drubbing by my uncle for I had failed him. But the session was over and I was relieved through and through. I put my head down for what had been a strictly average rendition.

Suddenly, the people clapped and that lifted my spirits momentarily. I realized they cheered me on for the fact that a young boy ought not to be discouraged for his faults, but that he shouldn’t be left alone. It was an act of compassion and all my misgivings flew off my mind.

But my uncle said nothing and no matter the raucous atmosphere around me, I longed to hear something from the one person whose words meant a lot more to me than the entire congregation combined. I got back only silence. 

While we were making our way back to the lodgings, to my great surprise, one Vedic pandit came cried out my name and came rushing towards me. He was one of those whose renditions were always classic and I had heard he was one of the best in India.

With nothing but love in his eyes, he hugged me for a whole minute and blessed me saying, “Your life will be glorious, young brother. You did well. Have no fear from next time. With God as the witness, practice more and just be at peace.”

I cannot tell you how those words have stood by me ever since. They soothed my aching mind, washed me over with relief. All negativity flying away, I managed a sweet smile. That one random act of kindness charged me for a lifetime.

Yes, one should aim for the highest, but seldom does one achieve it in the beginning. In fact, most start out ordinarily and stumble all through. The task of elders should be to support children and not to discourage them or burden them with unnecessary garbage. Especially in India, parents and elders have this nasty habit of expecting a lot from a kid and thrusting enormous weight on the young ones. Many want their own desires fulfilled through their children. Failure is often met with disdain and considered a slight to one’s stature.

I have nothing against my uncle today but only respect and reverence for everything he taught me. But if he had spoken kindly or given a pat that day, they would have had the same effect. God was kind he sensed my discomfiture and sent someone to tend to me.

I learnt a lot from this experience but I will focus on the one thing that enabled me to continue and practice harder – a random act of kindness. We never know what our words mean to anyone but through kindness and an encouraging word here or there, we might make someone feel worthy. Sometimes, all one needs is that. 

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Abhishek Iyer

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