Author’s note: This story reflects my anguish over the division of society on caste basis by the political leaders in India for their personal gains.
Ramanna did not know his origin. It never occurred to him that a day will come when he would need to know it desperately. He vaguely remembers his early childhood days. His mother was tall, slim and fair working in the house of the Dharmakarta of the temple in the small town of Srirampuram.
They say his mother was a poor young girl from a nearby village when she was taken in to temple service by the Dharmakarta who was a widower but liked to be in the company of a young woman. Resultantly, when two years later a child was about to be born to the young woman, the Dharmakarta married her to one of the temple workers. There were gossips all around but no one dare speak against Dharmakarta. And no one spoke against Dharmakarta when few months later, the servant suddenly disappeared from the temple.
Young Ramanna grew oblivious of his origin and of the history surrounding him. At the age of seven, his duty was to rear the two cows of the temple and their calves. The cows had their names and so had the calves. Nandi, the black calf was Ramanna’s favourite. Ramanna was a happy lad in their company.
To get up in the morning, drink a glass of porridge which some times his mother gave him stealthily; clean the cow shed; take bath in the pond; eat whatever was available out of the leftover from the kitchen and then to take out the cows and the calves for grazing until late in the afternoon was a set routine which Ramanna enjoyed since the time his memory could take him back.
For Ramanna, there were no demands on life and every thing was in order. Sometimes, he used to mock at the children who were burdened with the load of books and trudged towards the school but in his heart he wished his mother could also send him to the school.
Days passed. Ramanna and his mother were still in the service of the Dharmakarta. One evening, he was told by one of the temple servants that his mother had died suddenly. Ramanna didn’t know the cause; in fact no one knew the exact cause. A story however went around that she was forced to abort a child. Ramanna was only eight then.
Ramanna missed his mother and often wept for her. There was no one to care for him. He missed her more when he felt hungry. He remembered how she always produced something for him to munch whenever he coaxed her. After her death, things had become very difficult. Though he never neglected his work, he used to get abuses from everyone in the house.
On many occasions he was not even called for the meals along with other servants. Ramanna felt very dejected and he would talk of his grief and cry over the hump of his pet calf Nandi who was now a fully grown bull.
Ramanna eventually decided to quit the temple service. He knew the thought was fraught with severe punishment. He had to keep it a closely guarded secret. He shared the secret only with Nandi with tears running down his cheeks and left his village one night walking in an unknown direction.
In Ramanna walked for three nights, hiding during the day time behind haystacks and bushes. On the fourth day break, Ramanna reached Vishakhapatnam. Luckily for him he was spotted by a mason who took him in his employment on half the salary. Young Ramanna soon became adept in the skill of brick-laying, white washing and painting.
Over the years, Ramanna grew in to a tall, well built young man, fair like his mother. He was over twenty now. All these years there was not a single day when he didn’t remember Srirampuram, his mother and his favourite bull Nandi.
Times were changing around Ramanna. People talked of rights and privileges based on caste basis. Ramanna could never understand anything of the matter. He worked earnestly during the day time and in the evening spent most of his time in the small temple near his work place.
“Isn’t it fair that everyone gets equal opportunity to work and earn his livelihood? Why should there be any social or economic discrimination on the basis of origin of birth, he would often argue within himself.”
The urge to see his birth place drove him one day to Srirampuram. The township had changed; it was acutely congested with concrete structures all over. The cowherd that he had reared with passion had died. There were no friends left in the neighbourhood. All boys that he could remember were out to some town or the other in search of jobs. Ramanna was unaware of the twelve year’s exile he had served on himself. He was sorry to have come to Srirampuram. He decided to return the next day.
In the evening, he went to the temple to attend the evening prayers. As he was entering the temple he came across the Dharmakarta talking to the temple servants. Ramanna could notice Dharmakarta’s faded impact. He had grown old and lost much of his acerbic tongue that Ramanna remembered. Ramanna then saw him coming towards him.
"Namaskaram Aiyya!” Ramanna said with folded hands.
"Ah! You are Ramanna, right?”
How come you remembered this place after so many years?”
Ramanna kept quiet.
Dharmakarta then sitting on the upper railing of the parapet wall asked Ramanna, "I believe you are planning to go back".
"Yes sir. There is nothing in this village for me", said Ramanna in a choking voice.
"Why do you think so? It is your lust for money that has given birth to such feeling. Don't you have any duty towards your birth place? Don't you remember your mother serving the temple all her life? Didn't I look after her? And what is this I hear? Is it true that you are working as a mason?"
Ramanna still kept quiet.
“Who is there after me to look after the temple? I may have been severe but didn’t I trust you like my own child?” The old man continued. He was now trembling with rage. Age was not in his favour. His wife had died early; his daughter was married off and his son had settled in the USA. The Dharmakarta was indeed an isolated old man.
Ramanna couldn’t make out the purport of the outburst. He felt sorry for the old man and he thought he had a duty towards the old man and towards the temple. The words of Dharmakarta were therefore catalytic in his returning to his old world. Yes; he thought he could do some service to the temple which was withering from all sides. He thought to repair the temple with his own hands and paint it fresh. And then there was old Dharmakarta to look after.
Ramanna stayed back. He was happy once again in his new life in the old world.
Ramanna married and had a daughter and a son. He married off his daughter when she was eleven and put his son in the town school.
When Dharmakarta died, his son could not come for the cremation. “Perform all the rites on my behalf since you were no less than his son. Since my family has decided to settle down here, I will transfer all land and property to you name whenever I come to Srirampuram,” he told Ramanna over the long distance call.
Ramanna tilled the temple land for his survival and used the temple offerings strictly for its upkeep.
Things but took an unexpected ugly turn for Ramanna. Dharmakarta’s daughter staked a claim over the property and filed a suit in the court blaming Ramanna to have usurped her father’s property. Ramanna could not bear the allegation made against him and quit the service of the Dharmakarta family and the temple. What a reward after his mother and for that matter he himself had served the Dharmakarta family and the temple for so many years? But there was no animus in his heart against anyone. He used his skills to make a small house for his family and started practicing as multipurpose artisan.
Ramanna was no longer young now though he was strong and healthy despite his fifty years. He still worked hard and he served the temple with same enthusiasm and dedication.
Ramanna’s son Saraswathi Chandran was very bright. Ramanna had named his son after his mother whose name was Saraswathi. Young Sara was doing very well and Ramanna was proud of his son and he was proud when people called him for his services and praised his craftsmanship.
Sara didn't belie the hopes of his father. He secured high marks in the examination and wanted to join an engineering college. Ramanna was diffident because of his weak financial position. He would have been much happier if his son had taken a job to help him in his old age.
Sara was a determined lad. He consulted his teachers who advised him to get a backward class birth certificate, which would qualify him for a scholarship to take him through.
"Try it out. Everyone knows that your father is a mason."
Sara was pragmatic, unlike his father. He made an application duly attested by dozen of his neighbours and submitted it to the Town Munsif Office. He was sure of getting the required certificate.
Day after day, young Sara went to the Munsif’s Office but there were no signs of his getting the desired certificate. He met every functionary in that office pleading them to help him out. He reminded them of the work his father had done in their houses on several occasions and promised them of the future help as well.
There appeared a ray of hope when an official from Munsif’s office told him that the certificate will be given to him after verification by the Munsif himself. Sara was delighted for everyone in knew the fact. Sara was the son of Ramanna, the mason.
"Yes, Yes. You are the son of Ramanna, the son of a mason. But what is the origin of Ramanna?" the Munsif asked Sara.
How could Sara reply to such a question?
It was therefore for Ramanna to establish his origin. Whose son was he? He knew his mother's name only and that he lived in the house of the Dharmakarta. Whose son was he? He could say nothing?
"We know your mother was in the employment of Dharmakarta and no one knows the whereabouts of your father. How is it that you were till recently tilling Dharmakarta’s land? Why did Dharmakarta ask you to stay back in Srirampuram after you had settled in Vishakhapatnam?
Ramanna had no answers to these questions.
The Munsif continued, “You picked up the skills of a mason which is not enough proof that you belong to the caste of masons. On the contrary there is enough evidence to link you to the Dharmakarta family. I am afraid, under such circumstances your son cannot be given the backward class birth certificate," announced the Munsif.
Young Sara was crestfallen. No one has seen him after Munsif’s fateful verdict.
Old Ramanna is remorseful but hopes his son will return one day to Srirampuram as a successful man based on his own merit sans the divisive birth certificate.