After he retired as a librarian, he pursued full time, his Vedic knowledge and expertise in presiding over various ceremonies that Brahmin households must perform. That was a small income stream but led him to cultivate many people. As he began to approach his 90th year, the temple obsession took hold of him. By then the extended family, having prospered, had almost severed its connections with the village. Was he trying to make a statement about the debt owed to the village?; was it a simple religious zeal?; was it a ruse to raise his large family’s awareness about their antecedents?
Maybe he himself doesn’t know. But he was a man possessed. The Grand Daughter resumed: “We were worried for him but couldn’t stop him. We were astounded by the budget he had in mind. In Chennai he made the rounds personally and marshalled the funds. Twice a week, he would be gone all day to Aaraasur. Each way called for three bus changes and cost four hours. From the bus stop he would walk the last two kilometres, hold parleys with builders and villagers. He would return late in the night. Being an orthodox man of course, he would not have eaten or drunk anything on the way. He was never tired or fell ill though.”
It was 11.0am now and the appointed time had come. There was a new buzz. This was the climaxing event coming up. Priests presiding over the chanting sessions by the fires were hoisting potfuls of ceremonial water to carry up rickety scaffolding reaching the acme of the temple. There sat bronze vessels embedded into the tower. These will be washed, the water cascading down. Villagers stood four deep and thick with every possible type of container to collect a little of the water. One by one the priests went up the precarious rungs of the ladder. And then, unstoppably, the 92 year old man was making his way up. A hush fell as he made his ascent even as sonorous chants rent the air.
The waters washed down and the villagers in frenzy, hailed Rama and Govinda for several seconds. It was one unified voice of Aaraasur in a very cathartic moment.
Shortly thereafter a rather embarrassed Iyengar was forced to sit in a chair as everyone fell at his feet in turn and pressed humble, soiled notes of Rs.5 and 10 for the temple maintenance fund. He gladly accepted them and urged them to take care of the temple and benefit by using the space around it to meet friends. The villagers adoration of the old man was infectious. The visitors from the city, genteel and successful also bent to touch his feet.
When my turn came, I was sheepish that sometimes I take my age or my job at pointReturn as unheard of challenges.