Our village of Anadhikritapuram in the south of Kerala, had a number of crazy inhabitants, interestingly most of them turned out to be our relatives. Ours was a large joint family, which once, owned most of the land around the village. Over the years with individual families decided to separate, the property got partitioned. My family’s share was one of the bigger houses that my grandfather had built, and it was to this house that we moved in, after father retired from the army.
Adjoining our house was a hall, which was used for marriages and social gatherings. Like
most establishments in the village, this hall was owned by a distant relative. It had one huge hall and a room on the first floor. The hall could seat around a thousand people. Marriage halls were a recent addition to life in Kerala, earlier marriages used to be held in temples. Soon people realized the fact, that no matter how much you spent on a marriage, there would always be people who would leave dissatisfied and grumbling. People also realized that, temples were not equipped for handling the noise and chaos of an Indian wedding. This is where the community halls stepped in. All that was required was to set up four walls, provide basic amenities, and business poured in.
I was in college those days and one of my cousins was getting married. As the marriage hall was next door, I was asked to go and book it. It was late in the evening and finding the gates open and the hall empty, I decided to climb to the room on the first floor. The staircase and the passage leading to the room were poorly lit and I stumbled against a chair which was blocking the way.
“Who is that?” a gruff voice from the dark asked.
An old man in his late seventies with a pot belly and a white beard covering it, emerged from the room. Dressed only in a dhoti, a white sheet like cloth, which most south Indian men wear around their waist, his bulging red eyes glared at me. Slightly scared, I quickly introduced myself, slipping my grandfather’s name – a name guaranteed to elicit respect in our village. I mentioned about the cousin who was getting married.
“Why is he getting married? It is a waste of time and money,” the old man grumbled, more to himself that to me.
He turned back and started walking towards the room. I followed him at a safe distance. There he pointed at a register which was used to keep track of the bookings. The booking process was simple; you just wrote your name against a date in the register gave the advance amount and ran out. Later at home, family members pounced on me with questions about the old man. It turned out that he was a relative of ours, my grandmother’s uncle.
Early in the century, when the property had got partitioned he had got some of the most fertile fields and estates. Arrogant and rude, he was feared by the villager’s, especially those that worked in our fields, as he was famous for his violent temper. He had married twice. His first wife had died within a year of their marriage. Within a month of her death, he remarried. This time, it was the daughter of a very rich man and through her, he had three children. Then one fine morning, he walked out on his wife and children; the reason was that he claimed she was not good-looking! It was a bit strange, considering that she had borne him three children. A more practical reason for her sudden fall from grace was that he had run through her money, and had no further use for her. My grandfather sent out a monthly allowance to the lady and that financed the education of the children. It was difficult not to hate the old man, once you came to know his story. He spent his money in giving lavish parties to his friends, and soon enough had spent all that he had.
Now in his old age he had nowhere to go, nobody wanted him. His one-time friends all abandoned him, now that he had no money to throw around. His children, all grown up now, refused to have anything to do with him. Though they lived just a kilometer from the hall, neither they nor their mother ever visited him. He lived alone in the room. His had his meals three times a day at a small hotel which was nearby.
A couple of months later, one day when he did not turn up at breakfast, the hotel sent over his food thorough one of the delivery boy’s. The boy found him sitting on the chair, looking at the sky through lifeless eyes. His family members refused to turn up for the funeral. Finally one of my uncles had to perform his last rites. Here was a man who was once the richest man in his village. He had a family and enough money to afford almost anything, and yet through his own actions he lost everything. He spent the last couple of years of his life as a loner, reduced to a life of poverty.
Most religions believe in a concept of heaven and hell, only they give it different names, and believe you need to die to be able to get there. I believe, both of these places are right here and where exactly we want to spend more time is entirely dependent on us and on our actions.