The endearing image of my mother that remains etched on my soul is her unwavering dedication to write just two words ‘Sri Rama’ in tiny boxes printed on a page. These were pages of notebooks with God’s colorful pictures on their covers. I had been noticing them since my adolescence. The ‘Ramakoti Books.’ Mom would surface occasionally, lifting her head momentarily from the open book in front with a pen in hand to fulfil mundane obligations of life. Nothing else mattered for her. The forced break was only whenever the familial bonds took precedence over her primary devotion to her Lord, the omnipotent Sri Rama.
With her sustained dedication and effort, I knew some day she would end upforging new records of sorts, though she neither coveted nor aspired for them. For her, it was just a way of life, a routine that gave her peace. However, in the later years, it became an obsession that had to be performed notwithstanding her failing health.
‘Could you please instruct the maid to bring my dinner if and when I complete writing these two pages?’ she asked me, weeks before she died,holding up blank pages.
‘Amma, even if you don’t, she’ll bloody well get your dinner…’ I replied exasperated by her despondency.
‘No… but that’s wrong, isn’t it? It’ll be a sin’ she countered me with her own weird logic. Regardless, she went back to writing, with a feeling of guilt for having wasted minute and half of precious time in a pointless conversation with an un- understanding son. That’s mom for you!
In the late 90’s, she completed the first‘crore’ of ‘Sri Rama,’ something that’s regarded as a massive achievement by individuals in their lifetime. My brother accompanied her to Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Rama, where the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Committee presented her with a ‘Gold Medal’ for her devotion.
Sometime in 2003- 2004, my wife and I did the honors. We took both the parents to Ayodhya on the occasion of completion of her second crore of writing ‘Sri Rama’! Today, I can recall their struggle, having been forced to walk a mile and half through unimaginable filth in dirty, crowded lanes of the ancient town, only to arrive at a heavily fortified tent in tatters, the alleged Ram JanmaBhoomi site. I wondered, if her stupendous effort of years was worth after all for a ‘God’ existing under a worn-out canvas surrounded by nervous Commandoes armed to their teeth. A war could easily begin on one silly false note. We deposited the books in the temple office in the town and returned. I was almost relieved that evening when I safely escorted dad and mom back to the luxury hotel in Lucknow.
The completion of Ramakoti’s third Crore and an additional 50 Lakhs in November 2017 was an occasion by itself at the spectacular Sri Rama Temple in Bhadrachalam. I had put my foot down and vehemently opposed to take them back to Ayodhya. The southern shrine is situated on the banks of pristine Godavari. River waters dramatically circled the temple adding to its scenic glory. Personally, Bhadrachalam was a sharp contrast to the ruins of Ayodhya. And in tune with the stunning locale, mom was at the pinnacle of her life. Her husband was now a famous film star. Her sons were doing well for themselves and were fawning over their parents.The first granddaughter had just been married off in a grand ceremony. Mom was also in the pink of her health. She was happy and proud with a sense of fulfillment and profound gratitude for whatever life had bestowed on her and family.
Sadly, things began to go south rapidly thereafter. Dad was diagnosed with Cancer in 2018. He passed away in December 2019 after battling the illness getting in and out of hospitals. My parents had lived together as man and wife for 58 years. I suppose one is entitled to feel the ‘loss’ after such long association. Her health nose dived from that point onwards. In a matter of two years she became frail and fragile. We had appointed a nurse to look after her needs 24×7. Yet, her passion for writing Ramakoti hadn’t reduced. A week before her death, I noticed she was even unable to hold the pen straight. I’m the one who forcibly took away the pen and closed the book. ‘That’s enough!’ I said. And that was all…
Finally, she went peacefully in sleep on her own terms. Happy, perhaps, to reunite with dad in heaven. A week after immersing her ashes in the Ganges at Varanasi, I remembered she had been writing ‘Ramakoti’ up until her last days of life. I got home and retrieved the books from her shelf. There were 37 completed books in all. Another 37 Lakh to add to the earlier tally of 3.5 Crores. I resolved to deposit the treasure back to its rightful owner, the Lord Himself!
Last week, I travelled to Bhadrachalam. Having performed her last rites as a son,by tradition, I’m not supposed to visit temples nor participate in auspicious rituals for a year. It’s considered inappropriate. My intention was only to reach the ‘Hundi,’ the treasure vault, deposit the books and leave. Evidently a simple task but an emotionally charged moment for me. At the entrance to the shrine, I bought a ‘special entrance ticket’ as any ordinary citizen would. My celebrity dad who would glide us into the sanctum sanctorum of any temple in the state like a VVIP was long gone. But the situation suited me fine.Head down, avoiding eye contact with anyone, I went straight to the ‘Hundi’. One unknown temple employee stopped me.
‘You’re supposed to have darshan of the main deity before depositing the books’ he suggestedpolitely.
‘Okay,’ I mumbled and reluctantly joined a motley group in the queue. Shortly afterwards, when my turn came up before the Lord, I stood quietly and prayed.
‘Sir are these Ramakotibooks?’ a man enquired.
‘Yes, written by my mother…’
‘Then why are you standing there? Please come up here to the VIP section’ he pointed a place closer to the Deity.
‘No… Sorry… I’m not supposed to…’ I tried to explain the fact that I was an unwelcome guest.
‘Alright, give them to me’ he said and literally grabbed them from my hand. He placed the parcel at the Lotus Feet of the deity fleetingly and returned it. She probably deserved that honor! Besides,I could empathize with HIS compulsion… HE would, perhaps, be hard pressed to find such a devotee as mom, I suppose.
I dropped the books in the Hundi and broke down inconsolably. Overwhelming grief shrouded my mind and soul. I had just let go of the last remnants of mom’s memory, fulfilling my duty as her ‘messenger.’I stormed out of the historic 17th Century shrine wondering what else life had in offer for me then on.