“I say, can you relax in the easy-chair for a while as I do my quota of walk around the house and simultaneously brush up Narayaneeyam for the online class?” asked Aunty. Yours obediently Madam, I said to her. To myself I said: is se badhiya kya ho sakta hai.

A year back Aunty taught Narayaneeyam to the first batch of 20 students (45 to 85 years). They successfully ‘graduated’ and are ‘well settled’ in life. They attribute any subsequent good thing happening in their house to the Narayaneeyam course. One ‘student’ brought home a bouquet and sweets the other day to announce that her daughter-in-law was now in the family way after seven years of marriage. Another said her daughter, in her mid-30s, was all set into enter wedlock.  Yet another was overjoyed that her property dispute had been decided in her favour. Yes, Aunty is no less jubilant than a school teacher who feels proud about her students:  one is a CEO, one business magnate, yet another teaching in Harvard.

This second batch, 35 to 70 years, will complete the session next week. The slokas in these last chapters are the most significant ones. (For the uninitiated, Narayaneeyam, written in 1035 slokas, is the condensed version of Srimad Bhagavata Puranam which contains 16000 to 18000 slokas.) The legend has it that when Narayana Bhattathiri, the author of Narayaneeyam, recited these lines, he had the darshan of Lord Guruvayoorappan (Lord Krishna) who freed him from his crippling afflictions.

When the country is Covid-free, Aunty plans to take the two groups on a luxury-bus tour to Guruvayoor temple as a culmination and thereafter show them places of interest in God’s own country. Some male members, the likes of me, will accompany the group just in case any gangsters or dacoits waylay them en route. “This old man?” You must be murmuring. Just naam ke vaste. Okay?

And her long-term plan? To get a similar reasonable command over Srimad Bhagavata Puranam as well. A tall order. Maybe. But Aunty belongs to the Nothing is Impossible group.

I hear Aunty’s chant-volume increasing. Yes, she is now reciting the final slokas, Agre Pasyami Tejo…,“ the very slokas when Bhattathiri got Lord’s darshan. This happened in the 17th century.

In the 20th century, I remember as a child that Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, a leading Carnatic vocalist, lost his vocal cord, his sole source of subsistence. He observed a 41-day vrat in the Guruvayoor temple and regained his full voice.  Like Amitabh Bachchan, he became more popular in his second innings. Chembai’s sister lived in my village. Her husband was a Sanskrit scholar and he taught us Upanishads – Rudram, Chamakam, Pursha Suktam….

A hullabaloo from Gate 5 in my apartment complex diverts my attention. I look through the window. It is the mango seller on his bi-weekly visit, and the attendant me-first, now-or-never rush among residents. During the mango season, not a single day passed in Delhi without our trying Dasseri, Langda, Chaussa, or Alphonso. And over here, we have their counterparts – Mallika, Malgova, Badami, Banganapalli, Himam Pasand…Oh, there I see my friend Radhakrishnan ji waiting in the queue.

Yes, Radhakrishnan ji (RK), a retired senior manager in a bank, is well-versed in slokas and mantras. Recently our apartment’s Vedic group persuaded him to critically evaluate our Rudram, Chamakam chants, at least once a week. Till he appeared in the scene we seniors were chanting with gay abandon, riding high and over-estimating our own performances. Come RK, and he showed us our place, in terms of intonation, diction, swara, laya, notes – a long way to go, simply put.

“I say, are you on a pre-lunch nap, power nap, trial nap or, some other nap you care to give a name?” Aunty asked as she gently removed the precariously balanced glasses from my face.  “Come on, let me make hot coffee for you,” she said.

“So, what were you thinking of all the while; something up for an article,” she asked as we sipped coffee. “No, not exactly,” I replied. “But now that you ask me, it gives me an idea. Why not I share the thought-process with my readers for what it is worth, with a rider for the discerning eyes that only a few extraneous sentences have been added?”

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Sundaram Venkatesh

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