Srimate ramanujaya nama:
Priya arangan adiyar,
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A few volunteers carrying bags of cut vegetables and big vessels of milk arrived at the gate of the Gurukulam. They recognized me as the morning intruder. I got up and opened the gate for them since their hands were full. They smiled courteously and went in asking if I was comfortable and ate well. I nodded in complete satisfaction and internally thanked them for the day they had made for me. I had a chat with a few of them.
The last class (d.prabandam) was over and the stream of children came down the stairs in steady trickles. One was singing some pasurams in the tone they use at temples. He was methodical in reiterating it from his memory and sung well with no hindrance. A few others joined him for a while and they ran into different directions at the junction of the stairs and the corridor. I went up the stairs to find what kutti payyan was doing since he was not present in the descending lot. He was nowhere to be seen in the first floor. I knocked at the restroom and received no answer. The last room too was empty. So I thought he was somewhere further up. I had not seen the entire gurukulam. So there were areas still unknown to me. So I came to the exit at the first floor. The stairs to the second floor was now visible to me. It would have been visible the entire day but my eyes had failed to send its image to the brain for processing and storage. The 15 watts bulb on the wall threw enough light for me to ascend the stairs.
There was no second floor. The entrance opened to a long rectangular terrace. It was very pleasant. Light emitted by a tube light was visible at its end. I took quick steps and reached the end. It was a room and inside were seated the resident-tutor and kutti payyan. Kutti Payyan was repeating something after the master. I figured it was Sanskrit. The teacher smiled at me though he did not stop the class to attend to my presence. I waited for the class to end. I asked the tutor what he was teaching. The tutor told this boy was very fond of Sanskrit and took extra lessons in addition to what others were taught. I was very happy for this boy with a twinkle in the eyes who showed good appetite for learning.
Having completed the class, he prostrated before the master and came out with me.I addressed him “kutti payya” from behind but nature’s call took precedence over mine and he vanished into the restroom. He was out in a few minutes, eased. He washed his hands and feet and uttered “Achutaya namaha…anantaya nama….etc”, the shloka we often repeat during sandyavandanam. He answered by curious look saying that one needs to chant them after answering nature’s call.
By this time, most of the Gurukulam children marched into the terrace armed with a sleeping mat in one hand and a pillow in the other. A blanket hugged each pillow and seemed inseparable from it. Each boy rolled out his mat, laid the pillow and fell on the mat, later adjusting the pillow to their heads. As per the rule, one grown up boy drew a big mosquito tent on all sides to seek protection from the notorious mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes in Srirangam seem very diligent in drawing blood from everyone, irrespective of age, creed or gender. A much unbiased species I suppose. Newcomers and strangers were no exception too. No bite discounts offered to any. Their sincerity grew substantially as hours rolled on and peaked at nights. The volunteers of the Trust knew this and were proactive enough to shield the children against them with the tent. One mosquito whizzed past my ear making a loud cry and settled on my brow. Kutti payyan saw it and waved his hand across my face to scare it away. It flew away sneering only to come back from hiding in a few minutes. This time it retaliated by attacking my forearm.
Kutti payyan went down to get the essentials for the night and soon arrived with the mats, pillows and the blankets. He crept into the mosquito tent and spread across the mat for us. He came out soon gratified with his effort. He went down again and brought me a sombu full of water. I think it was the sombu he used at dawn to clean the sitting slab. I asked him why he brought it and he told me visitors usually felt thirsty at Srirangam. I realized his analysis was correct and my throat felt parched and yearned for water. I drank from the sombu .But he stopped me midway and asked to keep some for midnight. Appreciating the foresight in the small boy and regretting the lack of it in me, I put it down and covered it with the plate he handed out to me. He had more foresight than I could imagine in his small and cute head.
Both of us crouched on the floor and crept into the tent silently like military men in the Indian borders. All the other children were fast asleep and I could see their furrow-less calm faces in the light of the moon. I had heard that Rama looked beautiful when in sleep. These children too looked so. I gently patted one little boy on his stomach and looked at his long eyelashes that were immobile and relaxing from the day’s long labour. Except for a few elderly children, all others seemed to prefer the terrace. I was instructed by Kutti Payyan to sleep on his right so that I could stay protected by him on the one side and a boy in the depth of his sleep on the other. How would the boy rise from so deep a sleep and protect me in the event of danger was beyond my comprehension but I had to listen to the instructions lest I be chastened by this little fellow.