Muthuswamy Namboodiri's background:
I woke up with a start. I was sweating all over. The same old recurring dream of a yakshi(spirit) chasing me. It was around 4:30 in the morning. I glanced at my watch to confirm the same. It showed 10. Damn. I banged it twice and wound it again. This antique piece had been gifted to me by my late grandfather. The dial had cracks which made it impossible to check the hands of the watch. But I had mastered the art of using this antique. Poor thing was desperately shouting for retirement but I had turned a deaf ear towards it. How could I afford a new watch when I could hardly make ends meet here in Delhi? I would send most of my earnings back home, which left me with pretty little to indulge myself. I headed towards my old tape recorder set I had brought along with me from Krishnapuram. This was my most prized possession. It had been with me right from my school days. Days when we were well off and could afford such luxuries. We were one of the first families in Krishnapuram to own one. I would proudly turn it on and play it in maximum volume. It still manages to give a decent output. I inserted the tape and turned it on. Music filled my one room setting in Mayur Sarai. My mind relaxed in the soothing music.
"Kausalyasuprajarama purva sandhya pravartate, uttistha narasardula kartavyam daivam ahnikam…Nava Suprabhatam…….."
(O! Rama! Kausalya's auspicious child! Twilight is approaching in the East. O! best of men (Purushottama)! Wake up, the divine daily rituals have to be performed.)
"Muthuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!! Muthu you fool…..are you bloody deaf to play this on full volume at such unearthly hour. Everyday I have to go through this ordeal. Enough is enough. Ufffff….What the hell Muthu anna?? God Swamy…you are impossible….Grrrrrrrr", growled Ibrahim. Ibrahim shares the room with me. Shouting at me in the morning has become a habit for him. Poor Ibrahim. Three sisters to marry off back home in Mangalapurram keeps him on toes. Toils day in and day out at the motor workshop here. Khan Saab was gracious enough to train him and accommodate him in his workshop. Good man. It was because of him that I could land a job at the Udupi restaurant opposite the School of Management in Qutab Institutional Area. I had given up all hopes of getting a job and was preparing myself to leave Delhi when Ibrahim asked me to meet Khan Saab. And here I am today. Cleaning tables and picking up leftovers at the Udupi Restaurant.
"Muthuuuuuuuuuuuu….Come out….Will you take an eternity to bath? It's already 5:30 you fool. I have to deliver the car at Tripathi's house at 7 am. Will you come out or should I barge in?", Ibrahim shouted. You had to be very punctual with all the stuff which requires water here at Mayur Sarai. The municipality water comes only from 4:30 to 6:30 in the morning and then in the evening. Evening timings don't matter to us because at that time we are slogging it out at our respective workplaces. The music was still playing. Though Ibrahim would shout and curse me for playing Suprabhatam every day, he never ever switched it off. He knew that this was one thing that transported me back to my home at Krishnapuram and respected it. Ibrahim was good at heart. After my bath, I would head straight to the Shiv temple nearby on an empty stomach and sit there for an hour chanting hymns and offering prayers. I followed this like a ritual everyday. This was one thing that had been ingrained in me at a young age. I would apologize to god for lying to my parents and keeping them in dark about my occupation here. I would again plead almighty not to send me or my family to hell for deviating from a Brahmins path and picking up leftovers and cleaning tables at a restaurant. I would confide in God all my fears and feel light at heart. I would then head back home. Selecting a shirt to work was not a tough job for me because I was never spoilt for choices. I had only two pairs which made the decision easier. I would continue putting one till the other one would dry up. Three shirts was a luxury to me. Ash smeared on my forehead, I would head to the Udupi restaurant. The place which is the reason my family sees a new sunrise everyday. The place which is synonymous to a temple for me.
Ramakrishna Iyer, the owner of the hotel, or Iyer Saar as I prefer calling him keeps telling me that I bring in an authentic south Indian feel to his setup. My day starts off with cleaning all tables and dusting the seats. I then dust the restaurant and clean the kitchen. I bathe once again at the restaurant after this and then proceed to make the traditional rangoli with rice powder outside our restaurant. By 8 am students start trickling in. You start off cleaning tables and then graduate to taking orders within 2-3 years. That's when there is scope of some extra earnings as you land up some tips. And you land up plum tips from guys trying to impress gals on their dates. The School of management students do like hanging out here in between lectures. I have learnt distinguishing guys keen on impressing the opposite sex from the other lot. I hope this will help me when I do get promoted to taking orders. Iyer Saar is a good man. He has never slapped or hit me. He only goes to the extent of scolding me in front of customers if I get late in cleaning the tables. Earlier the abuses used to hurt, but it is fine because the customer perceives that he is treated important here. Good for the business. I used to leave my plates for the maids to attend to back in my Illam. I used to treat them very bad. Maybe God wanted me to learn. Maybe God wanted me to be considerate.
The first day I cleaned the tables, I could feel a tear trickling down my cheeks. This was my karma. But I am proud that I work. I don't laze around and am take care of my family. Any work, done with dedication is like offering your prayers to God. I don't care if my ancestors sitting up in heaven despise me for falling down to this state. I don't care if I will ever be considered an outcaste. I don't care if shuddhi is more important to them than seeing your family starve before your very own eyes. I am also doing Shanti(prayers/rituals) work that my ancestors used to do. The setting is different. The way of offering prayers is different. My ancestors used to offer prayers with flowers and milk to Gods. I do so with my work. Yes…I am a Brahmin. I will always be a Brahmin. And God will accept me with both hands when I will knock heavens doors someday. Wont he??