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Nagamanathhu Tamburan

“People cannot go through that temple path,” my friend Krishnakumar expressed his anger. I asked him what exactly happened. “A new person has been appointed as a temple priest.” And that! I exclaimed. Krishnakumar took the newspaper from my living room. On the fourth page he showed news about Nagamana, an ancestral home of a well-known Brahmin landowner, very interesting news for archaeologists. Krishnakumar continued, the news about this house often appears in the newspaper. Whenever such news appears, the newly appointed temple priest will call everyone who passes the temple path and brag about the greatness of his ancestors. People had grown tired of his boasting. Krishnakumar was one of those who got bored with Raman Namboodiri’s endless narration. Having made me understand his account of Raman Namboodiri, Krishnakumar set out for the nearby river on his way home.

After Krishnakumar left the scene, I developed a great desire to meet the newly appointed temple priest. From the beginning, he had been an admirer of Brahmanism. Furthermore, he just wanted to know the veracity of the newspaper’s content by interviewing him personally. Being an introvert, I couldn’t muster up the courage to introduce myself and start a little chat so I could do more research. I was hoping Krishnakumar would help me in this regard, but the boy turned out to be too elusive for this cause.

After this incident, I put Krishnakumar frequently. Although he reported more on the priest’s boasting that made me laugh, he did little to introduce him. As the days went by, my attention turned to the latest political riots that became hot news. One day, I was sitting on the side of the road reading a left-wing newspaper. At that moment, I was struck by a short stranger emerging from a nearby kiosk. He was dressed in a dhoti sans shirt with ash lines on his forehead and a sacred thread around his body. As I watched his movements, he approached me and introduced him: “I am Raman Namboodiri, the new priest of the temple.” I couldn’t hide my joy when I came across what I was looking for. Skillfully concealing sarcasm, I told him, I had heard of it through my friends and newspaper reports. I congratulated him, “now you are the talk of the town.” This impressed him for being in his good books.

My enthusiasm for listening to him developed an affable warmth. In fact, few listened to him due to his boasting of himself. He began to visit my house and we discussed issues related to castes, religion and others. Whenever he visited my house, he asked me for a grass mat which I duly provided. Everything he spoke, he listened with great interest. He said, “Our ancestors had 5000 acres of land. This land was given by Lord Parasuram, one of Vishnu’s avatars.” Due to agrarian reforms, they lost their lands. Poverty caused his father to sell the mana (ancestral home of the Brahmins) to the government. Now they live in a rented house. I sympathized with him when he told his pathetic story. Even the nearby town MLA was his tenant. There was a seething rage in his words against the current democratic structure.

Although we both liked each other, I realized one thing. Most of the people in the community literally hated him, especially the elite class Nairs for their lack of respect for their community. Since I believed his words that it was due to jealousy that the locals hated him, I wanted to clarify that with my childhood friend Krishnakumar. One day I asked Krishnakumar about this. Krishnakumar revealed to me, “Namboodiri is a man of quirks with explicit character flaws.” To my surprise, Krishnakumar told me that the priest was in the habit of eating beef from roadside restaurants. He added that Namboodiri usually goes to the temple without bathing. “Although this caught his attention several times, he showed only callous indifference,” Krishnakumar continued. This is a cardinal sin, I interrupted, “a Namboodiri must be on high moral ground, he must not consume beef, nor must he skip the bathroom.” I asked for proof of this. In those days, there were no cell phones with cameras. Therefore, it was not possible to take a photo of his mischief as evidence. “You have to believe what you hear, without fire the smoke does not rise,” joked Krishnakumar as he walked away from his bike.

As I pondered this matter, I felt on the horns of the dilemma, how to dislike and avoid my friend. In those days he used to frequent my house for small talk. In my presence, he behaved like a gentleman. I consoled myself, “Maybe all these stories were falsely fabricated, or time will prove who is right.”

It had been a month after this. During days together, I began to miss my friend Raman Namboodiri. As usual, Krishnakumar cycled to the river for his evening bath. I called out loud and got his attention. He turned and rode straight towards me. Without my asking, he said, “Raman Namboodiri has been transferred for misconduct.” In wonder, I begged Krishnakumar to reveal more to me. “While offering flowers to women, he put a flower love letter in the hands of a pretty girl who immediately showed the letter to her parents. Before long, the parents brought the matter up to the Dewaswom board.” That is why this transfer, Krishnakumar narrated.

As Krishnakumar hurried towards the river, I warned myself, character flaws spoil the race, the example of Nagamanathu Tamburan is an indicator of this.

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