Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Tirumal Rao's Premonition

Purasu Balakrishnan(Short Story Translated by the Author from the original Tamil)

(Short Story)

(Translated by the Author from the original Tamil)


Dr. Sundaram, a physician from Madras, who had come to Bangalore for a respite, and his friend Hari Rao, a lawyer from Maharashtra, were sitting in the columned hall of the temple of Hanuman on the outskirts of Basavangudi. It was the last Saturday of the month of Shravan (August). Dr. Sundaram, spectacled and light of build, was seated on the floor, although in trousers, and was dangling his shoeless feet over the edge of the raised floor. His companion, the lawyer, heavier and somewhat rotund, was squatting on the floor, his feet tucked beneath his thighs. He was clad colourfully in gold-bordered dhoti and wore diamond ear-rings. His eyes were congested and red.

The hall where they were sitting adjoined Hanuman’s temple on its left and was situated in front of the main shrine. Notwithstanding the images of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana which were the temple was known as Hanuman’s. Entering through the temple tower, one walked on a narrow path, about fifty feet long, cool and shady with trees, alive with monkeys in their branches. The path led to the main hall of the temple, behind which was visible the towering figure of Hanuman, a twenty-feet of sinew in granite, clothed in brass. A Titan in size and strength, Hanuman was sculptured sideways, his face and body turned away from the hall with its throng of people, his hands uplifted in salutation. In front of his turned face, through a small window in the side-wall of his temple, level with his eyes, across an intervening hall, were seen the images of Rama , Sita and Lakshmana, and these were quite small, about three feet in height.

“Today is an auspicious day for abhishekam,*” said Hari Rao. “Saturdays are sacred to Hanuman, particularly the last Saturday of Shravan.

Sundaram nodded assent. Hari Rao had abruptly cut short his words, and his congested eyes twitched.

“Sacred!” he repeated deprecatingly. “Tirumal Rao is gone. He was a gem of a man. We prayed that he should get well, took upon ourselves to do an abhishekam for his recovery, and he died. All unexpectedly. What is the use of talking? What if we perform an abhishekam? And what if we don’t?”

“Anyway you are performing it,” said Sundaram, and added by way of comfort, “You have faith, and that is a great thing.”

“Faith!” repeated Hari Rao. “It is ignorance....It is now ten o’clock,” he continued, looking at his wrist watch. “It will take half an hour more for the abhishekam, and then the sanctum will open. We shall be home before it gets hot.”

Meanwhile the people in the hall had started singing devotional songs. “The voice is rather grating,” observed Hari Rao.

“How came your devotion to Hanuman?” asked Dr Sundaram.

“I’m not a devotee really,” replied Hari Rao. “Tirumal Rao was. He and I were much together since our early days. He was four years older than me, and he was my ideal. His devotion naturally affected me. Eventually my mind took a different turn. However, I can’t say I lost my faith entirely. The influence of the cradle extends to the pyre, they say. Tirumal Rao was not just a brother, he was like a father to me, he was everything to me. He educated me, he arranged my marriage, and I owe my success to him. He did everything for me, and then he died. He did not spare himself for others, and God did not spare him.”

Checking the break in his voice, Hari Rao continued, “Yes, he was a rare man. He was a pure soul–like Hanuman. Like Hanuman, he remained single. Hanuman was his chosen deity. This temple reminds me of him. That is why I come here often. I feel his presence here.”

Hari Rao fell silent. The song in the main hall ceased, and in its place, another rose, sung in a voice, thin like old age, Suddenly Hari Rao exclaimed, “Sundaram, look there! Look through the window beyond the flag-mast!”

“I see Hanuman’s face.”

“Yes, that’s it! His face is turned towards this side, away from the entrance to his shrine, away from the throng of devotees who show their adoration of him. He is indifferent to them all. He is lost in an adoration of his own–in his adoration of Rama. What a massive body he has, what muscles of iron, what lustre of bronze! But on his monkey-face what humility! Is it not moving, even pathetic?”

Listening to Hari Rao, Dr. Sundaram got up and walked to the flag-mast. Peering through the small window high up in the side-wall of Hanuman’s temple, he stood gazing for a while on Hanuman’s face which was visible through it. Then he came and sat down by Hari Rao and said, “Yes, what you say is true. And for all that you say to the contrary, you talk like a devotee.”

“I’m not a devotee,” said Hari Rao. “I am a lawyer. Just as I can speak for my client on any side of a case, I speak for Hanuman, but my spirit is untouched. What I was trying to say was that Tirumal Rao was kin to this Hanuman. His gaze was turned away from the wordly crowd to a secret vision of his own, and we did not know what that vision was. He was well-dowered, tall, comely and companionable. He was popular with people. He had a good job, house and lands. But his mind was turned away from these. Why? This question vexes me. He did so much for me, and he died young. He got me married though I was younger than he, and he remained single. Mother pleaded with him to get married, but he did not listen to her. I was a briefless lawyer while he started earning early and rose to a good position in the bank. Talking to him, one would not think that he was frustrated or lacking in the will to live. Why then did he deny himself?”

“It seems to me, “ Dr. Sundaram, “that for some reason, Tirumal Rao had made up his mind, once and for all, to remain single. That is why he was drawn early in life to Hanuman, the white soul untained by desire.”

“Yes,” said Hari Rao. “He was unlike others who remain single for the freedom it gives them.” He kept away from women. He was genuinely sorry for disappointing his mother in not getting married. He had told me this himself, and yet he would not heed her word. Why? And she was destined to see his death, and not his marriage.”

“Is it possible,” Hari Rao continued, containing his emotion, “that Tirumal Rao knew he would die untimely? It seems to me that he did.”

“How do you say that?” asked Dr Sundaram.

“How else to make any sense out of this?” returned Hari Rao. “Here was a man, hale and hearty, with all worldly advantages, he persists in remaining single, and he dies prematurely. And what did he die of?–Nothing!”

“Will you put forward these reasons in a court?” asked Dr Sundaram.

“No,” replied Hari Rao. “What passes in a court is logic and sophistry. What I say is beyond logic, sophistry and reason. It is the wisdom of the soul.”

“In that case it may be true,” assented Dr Sundaram tactfully.

At that moment, as if the temple-bell was struck, the air was filled with a burst of song that made the place vibrant with devotion.

Kaluguna padaneeraja seva ganthavaha tanaya,”in the Poorna lalita raga rose in the air.

“That’s my wife singing,” said Hari Rao. “The song is Tyagaraja’s, and it expresses the saint’s devotion to Hanuman.”

“You are a nest of devotees,” said Dr Sundaram.

“Listen, Sundaram,” exclaimed Hari Rao. “Just when I was thinking of my brother, my wife sings this song–this song which he loved so well! May be, he is also listening to it. They say that wherever the story of Rama is told, whenever the name of Rama is uttered, then and there comes Hanuman to listen to the story and to drink in the name. I can well believe it. I have no doubt my brother is here now.”

The friends fell into silence, yielding to the song of Tyagaraja. When it ceased, Dr Sundaram asked, “What happened to Tirumal Rao?”

“Nothing much,” replied Hari Rao. “It was only a sore on the knee. It started as a small pimple, but it turned to be a killer. It increased slowly, without healing, in spite of treatment. It was dressed regularly. He was given injections–calcium, colloidal silver and what not. But it went on, slowly increasing in size for six months, and he started getting weaker. We became anxious. Mother undertook to do this abhishekam for his recovery. One usually does a simple archanai, ** but she always puts it high, and always used to put into it a prayer for his marriage.”

The slight smile that quivered on Hari Rao’s lips did not relax his features.

“Finally Dr Vasudeva Rao who was treating him gave him injections of penicillin. With the new treatment, the ulcer began to heal, and we began to heave a sigh of relief. Then suddenly, out of a clear sky, when we thought that it had cleared, the bolt fell.”

Dr Sundaram, who had been listening with an expression of sympathy, filled the pause with a courteous “H-m.” Then with a perceptible sharpening of his features, he asked, “You said the doctor gave him injections of penicillin?”


“Tell me everything.”

“There is not much to tell. That night I was exhausted and went to bed early. He had gone out in the evening, telling us not to wait for him for supper since he would be late. It was past ten when he returned. He helped himself to his supper. Before retiring, he stopped at my room and said, “Hari, I don’t feel all right, I have pain in the chest.’ ‘Is it much?’ I asked him. He said, ‘No, I suppose I shall be all right in the morning.’ Soon I dropped off to sleep. Quite unusually, I awoke early in the morning, at three. Going to the yard, I had to go pas his room. The light was on, and I found him sitting on his bed. ‘How are you?’ I asked him. ‘Something is wrong with me,’ he said, ‘I have pain in the chest.’ His face was normal, just as usual. ‘Shall I get you something?’ I asked him. He said, ‘No.’ Then I went to bed. Next morning when I awoke, he was still in bed. I thought he was asleep. He never awoke.”

Dong!” the temple bell clanged, struck by somebody.

Hari Rao continued, “It troubles me now: why was I so thoughtless? Why did I not stop at his room and enquire properly? Why did I not ask him whether I might bring a doctor?” Like a sinking man who clutches at a straw, Hari Rao went on, “But look here, Sundaram, here is something to thank God for! How did it happen that I got up early that day–I who usually don’t get up early? Is it an occult bond of minds that roused me when he had trouble? Thank God, I had at least one sight of him that morning and spoke a few words to him!”

Hari Rao’s eyelids twitched over his congested eyes. “Yes,” he repeated, “It is a mystic bond of souls, I have no doubt about that.” After some rumination he said, as though re-assuring himself, “Yes, Tirumal Rao was a seer. It was not just premonition. It was precognition, fore-knowledge beyond reason, a spiritual intimation. He knew he would die young.”

Dr. Sundaram seemed to be half-lost in thoughts of his own, As though to draw him out, Hari Rao pursued, “What do you think could have been the matter with Tirumal Rao? He had only a sore in the leg. It did not appear serious. Suddenly he developed pain in the chest and died when it was healing and we thought he was recovering.”

“I can only guess on the premises of reason,” replied Dr. Sundaram.

“Go ahead,” said Hari Rao.

“I see dimly, as through a glass, what Tirumal Rao may have died of, and why he may have remained unmarried.”

Hari Rao stared incredulously. “You do? Come out with it. I knew you never were a believer,” he said.

“Yes, Tirumal Rao was an exceptional man,” replied Dr. Sundaram, “A most exceptional man. However, it seems possible that years before his death he might have gone the way of the flesh and contracted syphilis. With the twist of an exceptional sensitiveness, he might have reacted to this by an over-compensation to asceticism and taken to the path of brahmacharya”.***

“That’s not convincing,” said Hari Rao with conviction. “It seems too clever and at the same time too naive. If a man contracts a disease, surely there must be a remedy for it. Could he not think of the remedy? He was no fool. Could he not think of other ways of expiation? For having contracted a disease, does a man rush straight away to the impossible narrow path of celibacy, renouncing marriage, instead of getting himself cured of the disease?”

“What you say will be true of the common man,” replied Dr Sundaram. But you know, Tirumal Rao was a rare man. There was a touch of spirituality in his reaction to his lapse–or rather, his reaction was completely spiritual. I fancy his lapse was on only one occasion. And he got syphilis on that occasion. And in a sort of mass reaction to his lapse and its outcome, he, with an innate spirituality, took the vow of abstinence as an act of propitiation. That he could be treated and be cured of the disease was of no moment to him. It was an irrelevant consideration to him. What mattered to him was propitiation for the lapse. So he remained unmarried and thus became a great soul.”

Hari Rao listened totally absorbed, and remained thoughtful for a while. Then he said with a quiet deliberateness, “You think that disease can be the only cause for a man remaining single?”

“A very good question. In the case of Tirumal Rao, I think it may well have been the cause. A clue in support of this is the manner of his death.”

Hari Rao’s countenance became taut. Dr. Sundaram went on: “Tirumal Rao was young when he died. He was too young to have the usual arterial disease which carries off people with a heart attack. At his age one would favour syphilis as the cause of heart attack. Five or six or more years after it has been acquired, syphilis attacks the aorta, the main artery which springs from the heart. The chronic ulcer that he developed in his leg may also have been due to this disease. For this ulcer the doctor gave him injections of penicillin. Whether the ulcer was syphilitic or not, it may have responded to penicillin. It exceptionally happens that the quick clearing of the syphilitic lesions in the aorta, when penicillin is given, may cause a weakening of its wall. This is because, with the rapid clearing, the body is not given enough time to strengthen the wall. The weakening of the aortic wall manifests itself as chest pain, and the unfortunate fatal complication of its rupture results in sudden death.”

Like one hypnotized, Hari Rao kept his eyes revetted on Dr. Sundaram, as he listened to the diagnostic discourse. Then slowly he said, “Will your arguments stand in a court of law, as you were pleased to express yourself earlier?”

“No,” replied Dr. Sundaram readily. “They will not. These are only the inferences of a physician who has not seen the patient. These have to be proved by proper laboratory tests. An autopsy would have been in order. Now my diagnosis will remain only a wild clinical guess.”

A silence ensued.

“There is still one thing to consider,” said Hari Rao at last.


“Granted your deductions are correct. They still don’t disprove that Tirumal Rao may have had the faculty of precognition, that he had the fore-knowledge of his early death. You don’t expect him to know that syphilis attacks the aorta, that penicillin given for cure may sometimes weaken it, that doctors may be a murderous lot.”

“That is very true,” replied Dr Sundaram. “I do regard Tirumal Rao as a highly spiritual man. Truly he was a great soul.”

As if pealing its approbation, the chime of the bell from the sanctum sanctorum rose on the air.

“Come, let us go to the sanctum,” said Hari Rao.

Casting a last look at the side-window of Hanuman’s temple, through which was visible the face of Hanuman, Dr Sundaram followed Hari Rao to the main temple.

* Anointing the image.
** Worship with offering of fruit and flower and leaf.
*** Celibacy.

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