CHAPTER – 6
A simple child, who looks upon the world as a play around and a source of joy, what could he know of the hard facts of life and of poverty? That was the way I had grown up until the age of ten. At last, an incident opened my eyes and my outlook on life underwent a change.
I found real pleasure in bhajan – recitation and singing in praise of the Lord. All the same, my mind was busy. I wanted to get at the truth behind the doctrines which he expounded. There were certain questions that kept echoing in my heart at all times:
1. What is joy? What is grief? How are these feelings evoked? Where do they finally lead?
2. Who am I? What is life? How does life activate the body? How and why are illness and old age brought about?
3. Who is God? Why did He engage Himself in Creation?
4. What causes poverty? How is one to be rid of it altogether?
I was wholly preoccupied with these questions at that stage. The guru who had come my way taught me hymns and sets of prayers, of one hundred stanzas each. But he could not furnish any answer to even one of my questions. All the same, I was able to obtain some elucidation that had a bearing on them as follows:
1. To remove our imperfections, we should worship God. Then He would reveal Himself of His own accord and clear His nature to us.
2.The choice of the right type of occupation that proves to be profitable would lead to prosperity. Handloom weaving would only perpetuate poverty and never eradicate it.
3. A spiritual guide should be found. Through him, enlightenment could be got regarding life and the intellect should be enhanced.
Such was the decision I arrived at, guided by an inner light of my own. I began to put it into practice.
A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
Of these three problems, the need to be relieved from poverty took priority. For that, I felt that I should take up some other profession besides this blessed handloom weaving. A knowledge of English would be essential for that.
I approached a schoolmaster at Guduvancheri with my mind made up this way, and asked him if he would teach me English. He consented on the condition that I paid him half a rupee a month for the coaching.
There were other people who were similarly tutored by him for a fee.
Who would give me half a rupee a month? The problem for me was to have my lessons and at the same time be of no burden to my Father. I solved that problem as explained below. I was being paid quarter anna (1/64 of a rupee) daily in the morning for the purchase of ‘pancakes’. If I did without breakfast, it would amount to seven and a half annas in thirty days. The balance of half an anna could be obtained from my Father making it eight annas which were half a rupee. The fee would thus be easily managed. I decided on this course and then set to win my parents consent.
It did not prove so easy, for they were afraid I would be spoiled by bad company. On my part, I discontinued my pancake and curd at once.
More than ten days passed. I had with me now a sum of three annas.
In those days a large sized ‘pancake’ could be had for two paises; and it would prove to be an adequate breakfast for a boy of my age. Smaller children could subsist on one of a smaller size, which cost one paise. Curd of the right consistency as much as would fill a coconut shell had a price of one paise. This pancake curd combination was much to my liking.
But far more to my liking was the drive to pick up some English and secure a job. Pancake and curd had to give way to that.
I finished my breakfast of millet meal broth at seven. I had asked my parents to allow me to pursue my studies.
Permission for that was not florthcoming. But I had begun hoarding the required fee even on the first day. The amount had grown to three annas.