Beyond the Shores of Home

Prologue

Narayanan rolled off his silent wife and lay on his mat breathing heavily with his eyes closed, listening to the sounds of a still, starless and a somewhat sultry night. Lying with his arm carelessly thrown over his eyes, he did his best to block the image of his wife shedding silent tears in the dark. It was the same every night, for ten years now. Their lovemaking was focused on achieving one goal, a child, and not just any child; it had to be a male child. His wife under him always looked like she was in passionate prayer even at the height of his ardor. Once, he had in fact opened his eyes to catch her muttering prayers under her breath. Making love to his wife more often than not felt like a sacrificial offering to the deities. Each time Devi, his wife, got pregnant, and to date there had been seven times, there was much hope mingled with foreboding and fear. And each time she had miscarried, there was despair and despondency from his wife, and vitriol and disdain from his mother and her sister who lived with them. Narayanan could do nothing more than stand helplessly sandwiched between the women, his manhood challenged. “She cannot have any children Narayana! You should marry again,” his mother kept saying while her sister, who had been widowed at the age of five and had lived with them since then, nodded conspiratorially. “She is of no use to you,” his mother persisted ignoring his silence while Devi looked on, her eyes darting from his mother to him, distressed and desperate. Narayanan would look at his wife reassuringly as he was not going to marry anyone else, even if it meant dying without anyone to light his funeral pyre, which was the main reason to have a son. “Even if we have a daughter she won’t count. Who is going to light my pyre?” he thought to himself, smiling wryly in the dark.


When dawn broke, Devi woke Narayanan excitedly. “Last night I had a dream of our family deity Pandurangga. He wants us to go to Guruvayur in Kerala. He said that we would have a child there.” Accustomed to her gullibility and keenness to see hope even in near invisible possibilities, Narayanan studied his wife calmly, his blank expression masking the fact that he was completely at a loss about what to say. This was not the first time she had had a dream of a deity. Many times in the past she had claimed to have had visions and dreams of deities bidding her to complete some ritual or other, sometimes impossibly difficult or arduous, sometimes even physically painful, just so that she could have a male child. She had spent many a day in endless circumambulations of various temples or sacred trees or fasting, each time convinced that her prayers would be answered.


As he now listened to his wife, animatedly relating her dream, her shining eyes dancing with zealous conviction, a slow and certain belief in what she was saying steadily grew within him, almost subconsciously. He listened to every word, and as she spoke he became more and more convinced that he had to do what she wanted. Her words seemed to have a strange spiritual allure that drew him into inexplicable faith despite his usual inclination to be rational. Her dream continued to haunt him long after she had finished relating it to him and by the end of that day, he decided that they would move to Kerala from Tanjavur. “Perhaps the change of place would be good for Devi,” he said to himself.


Initially, it was difficult for him to leave his parents behind in Tanjavur because they refused to accompany him, but he promised them that he would return to Tanjavur when Devi’s dream was fulfilled. His mother had scornfully dismissed his earnest reassurances by saying, “An infertile woman will not be able to bear a child even if you take her to the moon. When you come back empty-handed don’t bring her back here. You have to marry the girl that I will choose for you.” Narayanan had ignored his mother’s rants and had simply told her that he would somehow send word about their new whereabouts. He loved his mother but he had grown to love his childlike wife more.


Narayanan and his wife took almost a month to reach Guruvayur from Tanjavur because they had walked all the way. As soon as they entered the temple town, a strange sense of familiarity gently settled on them, firmly creating within them profound courage and strong hope for the future. They did not understand the language and did not know where to go but they seemed to be guided by some divine hand, which led them to the temple grounds. And here, Narayanan managed to get a job as a temple assistant. He found a small house close to the temple and established his life with Devi in this new town. The town appeared to be ready and waiting for them as everything fell into place easily, enabling them to begin their new life in a strange place without even the slightest hitch. Devi soon became pregnant, and for the first time in ten years, their child was born alive and well; a male child that they named Venkatesh. Both Devi and Narayanan did not doubt for a moment that their coming to Guruvayur was the will of the divine, and their child, a gift of God. Devi and Narayanan made Guruvayur their home, as did many of their descendants, and so they never returned to Tanjavur after the birth of their son. Their son Venkatesh, and then his sons produced many more sons to firmly establish the lineage of Devi and Narayanan in their adopted town.


Many stayed forever while some spread their wings and traveled to lands that the original couple from Tanjavur would never ever hear of in their lifetime. Some moved so far away from the clan that both Devi and Narayanan would have found it impossible to recognize them as their descendants because they would have absolutely nothing in common with them except for some very vague facial features. Ironically, if Narayanan had somehow lived through the lives of his entire clan, he would have learned just how wrong he had been about daughters. It took a daughter at every point to make a change, to bridge a chasm, and to complete a circle that had been broken for generations.

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