While we were traveling in Rajasthan we learned that a friend of ours died. It was on Tamil Deepavali (another name for Divali) day, 3 November, 2013. The man was Nataraj, or, respectfully, Nataraji, one of the old men being cared for in the old folks home run by the Quality of Life Trust (“QLT”).
We have known Nataraji for about six years, as long as we have been in India, through the Trust. He speaks only Tamil and I, only English. I only know enough Tamil to ask him, nalama? (This is “How are you?” or “Good? OK?” in Tamil.) He would smile at me. So what we shared was a simple smiling at one another from our hearts. Nataraj was, until recently, the most active of the elders living at the QLT home. He would come to Satya’s Café not only to eat but also to greet the village neighbors and Westerners who congregated there.
The photo above was Nataraj about four years ago. He was one of the first to be taken care of by the Trust. Before they met him, one night, Dakshinamoorthi (“DM”) and his wife Lakshmi came upon another man as he lay naked, sick, and disoriented along the road. They took him in, fed and clothed him, and nursed him back to health. DM and Lakshmi were touched by his plight, and saw that there were several other elders in the village who were similarly lacking in any support. Nataraj was one of these people. Even though they (DM and his wife) had very little for themselves, they were called upon to figure out how to help these old people. So with some basic donations, they continued to give Nataraj and several others three meals a day, a place they could go for companionship, and medical care if needed. That care was a big step for Nataraj and the others.
Five years ago, Ramesh and Carol interviewed all the elders being cared for by QLT to learn a little about their lives. Here is what we wrote from what Nataraj told us:
Nataraji was born close to Tiru in the village of Madalampodi. He is 75 years old.
He had no brothers or sisters. His father supported the family as an ironsmith. He fondly remembers going to school and playing. He tells of being quite a
good player of Kobadi. One day he was playing on the school grounds and fell down, breaking his hand. Sadly, he wasn’t able to play after that.
At age 25, Nataraji was married. He had two sons and two daughters. He supported his family as an ironsmith, like his father. He has six grandchildren now. Unfortunately, none of his family is able to help him now, because they are all very poor. He is grateful that QLT is able to help.
Talking about how things have changed, Nataraji says that “many things happened around me. Before, there were nothing but ‘leaf houses.’ Now, new buildings appear, and people are very busy, too.” His happiest times were when he was young and playing. Now, he is happy being in silence, sitting in front of the temple.
Here are a few photos I have a Nataraji:
Trying out new beds for the old age home, 9 Sept, 2012.
Taking light from a camphor flame at the opening of the current Old Age Home, 14 Sept, 2012.
Just sitting and smiling, 14 Sept, 2012.
Standing for a photo, 10 Dec. 2012.
That is the last photo that I have of him. My last memory was on a recent morning, a bit before we left for Rajasthan. He gave me a nice smile, then I left.
Before he died, he complained of chills, and had a fever. It looked like he was getting better. Then on Deepavali day, they asked him to get out of bed and sit outside so they could clean before the celebration. So he went out to sit with Arunachala. When they finished cleaning, they went outside and he was gone. A quick death, sitting with Arunachala, is not so bad, I think, as a way to die.
Here, when a person dies, he is cremated and his ashes disposed of. The Trust had had one of their seniors die before, and they had no money for the appropriate rites, so they just buried the body. A cremation would cost more than they had to spend. This time, having known Nataraji for many years, they felt that they must do more. They rented and put up a pandal (special roof) and got a drummer. Many people from the village, and Nataraji’s family, gathered to mourn and to prepare the body. A car was hired and decorated to take his body to the cremation grounds. A procession to the cremation grounds, with more than 35 people walking, villagers and family – thus, a big procession was made. They were throwing flowers along the way. Nataraji’s remains were placed on the pyre, the correct rituals were done and words said, then the flames were lit and the body was consumed.
This all cost the QLT Trust Rs 37,000. I would like to see if maybe we could help with the expense. The Quality of Life Trust does not have extra money; they barely get by each month on what has been donated.
Let’s remember Nataraj today. He was a good man, I know. I am glad that the Quality of Life Trust could help him in his last few years. I know that he appreciated it. The Trust operates every day with very little fanfare, but they have assumed responsibility for the end-of-life care for Nataraji and the other village elders. For Nataraji there is no headstone, no obituary, and all that remains are the memories of friends and family. We can remember him too, through this post.
I ask again if you would like to help. You can help pay for his cremation. You could also help support the work the Trust is doing to care for old people in the village who are no longer cared for by their family. Or anyone. To help, you can donate through me, with my Paypal account, email@example.com, or you can email me at that address for other options.
Tags: visiting tiruvannamalai