GUEST COLUMN : In Life and Death

Wednesday, 26 January 2022 | Krishan Kalra | Dehradun

Pundit Bishambar Lal was the official Pujari in the Sanatan Dharm mandir at Sargodha, a small town in West Pakistan.  He was not only the Pujari; he also doubled as the Shastri and read from the scriptures every afternoon.  He wasn’t there because he had bribed any high-powered managing committee or because his father before him had done the same job.  He was there simply because the people of Sargodha loved and admired this humble man, who was their friend, philosopher and guide in many difficult situations.

Punditji – as he was fondly called by everyone in the town – had been the Pujari for five decades.  He took care of the moortees in the sanctum sanctorum, while his wife – the Panditayan – swept and scrubbed the rest of the modest temple.  He was there when the people visited the temple early in the morning; applying tilak on their foreheads and giving out charnamrit and Prasad.  Later, he would make house calls for various poojas, shraddhs, betrothals, marriages, mundans, births, deaths – wherever he was needed.  Afternoons were reserved for discourses from the scriptures – first reading shlokas in Sanskrit and then translating them in simple everyday Punjabi.  Evenings again, people came to do obeisance – especially on Tuesdays – and Punditji would be there to help them.  He was indeed a part of life for everyone in the sleepy little town.  And for all his pains, Punditji got only two simple meals a day and a few sets of rough homewashed kurta-dhoties.  The man just didn’t want anything else for himself.  All collections in the mandir went to charity.

One morning, while doing his surya-namaskar, after the routine daily bath at the canal, Punditji collapsed and died instantaneously.  Other bathers rushed to help but there was no life left in the old man.  The saintly man had departed peacefully without any fuss and without any botheration to anyone; so typical of his life.  Someone ran and got a tonga to carry the body to the mandir and the one-room apartment behind it where the old couple lived.  Another person informed the lady. As the body was kept in the mandir courtyard, Panditayan came and quietly touched her dead husband’s feet. In a low composed voice she told the gathering to wait for her as she also wanted to “accompany her husband” to the cremation ground.  “Give me a few minutes to get ready”, she said and went into her room. People were aghast.  Women did not go with funeral processions those days. Yet, she had asked them to wait, so they didn’t have a choice.  Half an hour passed but there was no sign of the old lady.  All arrangements had been made and they didn’t want to delay the cremation.  They would again try to dissuade her once she came out. One of the ladies went and knocked at the door.  There was no response.  She knocked again, still no response.  She pushed the door gently; it was open.  Inside, the Panditayan sat in Samadhi.  As she touched her shoulder the lifeless figure just rolled onto the floor.  The woman shrieked and more people rushed inside.  Someone felt for the pulse.  There was none.  The lady had indeed succeeded in ‘accompanying her husband’ on his final journey.

(A veteran of the corporate world, the author now does only voluntary work in various spheres)

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