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The Breadwinner

 | June 2, 2013

The writer in this serialised mini-novel presents a showcase of the quality of life led by a poor Indian family living in Kuala Lumpur at the turn of the millennium.


Episode 12
Chapter 4

The hearse was already inside the graveyard area. The coffin bearing Ravi’s remains had been placed beside a freshly dug grave next to the grave of Ravi’s grandfather, `Panjang Perumal’. The grave of Perumal’s wife Rakayee, and that of other relatives were all situated closeby. Perumal’s grave was covered by a concrete ledger and marked by a headstone bearing a faded black and white embedded photograph of an old man with close cropped white hair and longish face. His deep sunk eyes were shaded by wrinkle lines and he had a prominent nose and thin wrinkled lips.

As a child, Ravi had followed his parents to this tomb on the eve of Deepavali. To make offerings of fruits, flowers, his grandfather’s favourite mutton curry rice and an opened bottle of toddy. He remembered the heavy fragrance of the white smoke from sweet and spicy sambrani and incense sticks. Also etched in his memory was the image of family members taking turns to circle the incense-filled sambrani holder in a clockwise direction above the tomb as part of the prayers.

The terra-cotta holder was filled with glowing ambers of wood charcoal pieces, on which ground sambrani, a particular type of fragrant tree resin was sprinkled. The sambrani powder crackled and melted on contact with the ambers, issuing thick white fragrant smoke. As he grew older, however, Ravi always conveniently went missing whenever his family made the Deepavali eve trip to the graveyard to pay respects to the deceased grandparents and other relatives.

Ravi’s apparition remembers now how Kaniappan had always referred to Ravi as `Yehn Kutti Appa’ (my little father) when he was little because he bore a striking resemblance to Perumal.  As the focus of the subtle being became drawn towards the photograph on the tomb, it sensed the presence of another ethereal being getting closer beside it.

It had first become aware of the presence of ethereal beings in its present realm, shortly after its release from Ravi’s dead body. The beings had appeared familiar and most benevolent, the likeness of a welcoming party but it had shunned them and turned its focus back to the world of the living, in abject denial of the fact that it had left the human world.

The presence grew stronger and stronger, causing Ravi’s subtle being to reluctantly shift its attention away from the mortal realm, towards the ethereal. The vague image of Ravi’s grandfather, who had passed away when Ravi was three, suddenly appeared before it. The glowing being looked like a youth of about Ravi’s age. A long right hand extended from the entity’s translucent body reaching out to Ravi’s subtle being. Ravi’s apparition shrank away, awed by the glowing, softly smiling entity; in a sort of humility at the grossness of its own existence, being confined within a tiny orb of energy.

Despite moving away it could not distance itself from the being of Ravi’s grandfather whose hand now made contact with it. For the first time since its release from Ravi’s body, it felt the sensation of touch again.

The sensation that resulted from the touch coursed through its entire being, giving it a glow much like the connection of a light bulb to an electricity source. But it was not only light energy that sparked within. A stream of thoughts, experiences and revelations filled the subtle mind of Ravi’s being, illuminating it with greater clarity of thought and perception.

Jolted by the ethereal contact and high intensity infusion of data, the apparition recoiled within its being in a sort of shock. A momentary meditation to re-evaluate the incident followed.

Now peeking out of its coiled-up state within the energy orb, Ravi’s subtle being was amazed to see the being of Ravi’s grandfather, in the likeness of its just discarded matter-bound body; manifested before it as a divine, glowing apparition.

The mutual recognition of the two beings resulted in an exchange of pleasantries although Ravi’s yet unrefined self could only acknowledge the communique expressed by his elder, Perumal’s self, and not respond just yet. The joy of the ancestor’s self in welcoming it to the ethereal realm was apparent. The joy of a grandfather; the joy of a guide, who was going to take Ravi’s being through the various progressions it would  have to undergo, towards perfecting its self.

A sense of calm settled upon the being of Ravi. The feeling of homecoming; of having connected with his ancestor and well-wisher. In this enhanced level of consciousness, it surveyed the scene of the burial of its discarded body. It discovered that the initial rites had been done, and the coffin was being lowered into the grave. This caused Ravi’s subtle being to recoil again into its orb, confused awhile. – to be continued

SR Chandran is a long serving journalist in Malaysia. This work of fiction is loosely based on media reports of Indian youths from poor families becoming embroiled in criminal activities. All the events and characters portrayed in this mini-novel are fictional and any parallel with real life events or persons is purely coincidental.


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