4. SHADOWS ON THE ROAD

Chempazhanti was a children’s paradise. Plenty of open space to run about. Trees waiting to be climbed. Jungles abounding in stories of spirits and demons. In fact it had everything romantic fancy could wish for. There could be no dull moment for any child. But one boy used to be missing from their midst-Nanu. As we saw in the last chapter his performance was lonely spots. Not that he disliked company. He loved to play games with his companions  But he never spent much time with them. He would share hearty laugh or two and quietly depart. Later his friends would see him sitting quietly under the shade of a tree or on its branch.

He spent many an hour in his house immersed in his studies. Schooling under a tutor was over. He did not think his education complete. He memorized a few short epics and studied them with the help of commentaries. He read some books on medicine; Krishnan Vaidyar, his uncle, had a good collection of books on Ayurvedic medicine including some rare works. His library reportedly contained some books on Vedanta. Nanu took pains to master some of them. He used to approach his uncle to clear his doubts. The uncle, though of serious temperament, used to be gentle towards his nephew. Nanu’s family being an old one, he had many relatives in and around Trivandruam and he used to visit their houses quite often. Whenever he visited these places he made it a point to visit the local temples. He was very strict about bathing twice a day. After the bath he would smear his brow with holy ashes on sandel paste and spend some time in meditation. This earned him the name ‘Nanubhaktan’ (Nanu the pious). His friends and relatives always used to make fun of him on this score. But Nanu would be the first to laugh at their jokes about himself.

Moving from one place to another became a habit with him. Even in his own house he found it impossible to stay on continuously for more than a fortnight. He must move on. Those were the days when one had to cover distances on foot. But Nanu was never weary of walking.

Attempts were not wanting to get him married when he was just on the threshold of youth. It was usual in those days for youths to marry at the age of twenty. But Nanu was not for it. And his uncle, Krishnan Vaidyar, did not press him either. It has been recorded that Nanu had an attack of small pox at this time. It began with a severe headache when he was at his prayer in the temple one morning. Nanu knew that he was in for an attack of small pox. He decided not to worry his people. The temple was a deserted one and no one visited it off season So he decided to stay in the temple till he got over his disease. His people thought nothing of his absence from home. They thought he had gone  on one of his usual visits to his relatives. He spent the days reciting verses from rare Sanskrit work containing devotional poems. It took him eighteen days to recover from his illness. On one or two occasions he went at night to a neighbouring house to get food. Did  he experiment on himself some treatment he had studied? Was the cure the outcome of his own will and confidence? Or was it the blessings of the Goddess? On the nineteenth day he bathed and returned home. Krishnan Vaidyar noticed the dark spots on his nephew’s face. He was shocked to learn that Nanu spent eighteen days alone in the temple. “Who treated you? “ he asked. “The Goddess”, was the confident reply. The spontaneity of Nanu’s woeds and the ardent faith they implied made him desist from further queries. He was appalled. Fear gave way to growing astonishment. Nanu was no ordinary boy. There was in him something abnormal, hence his growth may not be of the common kind. What course would it take? He could get no clear picture. No longer could he be kept idle. He had to be sent for higher learning. 

Krishnan Vaidyar was a busy man and his decision to send Nanu for higher studies had to undergo a period of hibernation. One day he received a letter from a friend, a great scholar. The letter was in Sanskrit verse. Vaidyar could not get the correct import of the epistle. He asked Nanu to have a try at it. Nanu had no difficulty in explaining the verses in clear terms. The uncle’s reaction was instant. “Nanu, get ready to leave for Pudupalli”, he told his nephew the very next morning. “We are going to the house of  Raman Pillai Asan. He is a great scholar. You can study under him. You can stay at Varanapalli”.

Thus in 1876, Nanu set out from his house in quest of higher learning. His father Madan Asan and uncle Krishnan Vaidyar stood at the threshold of the house. He got their blessings and took leave of everyone. Taking leave of people posed no problem for him at any time. He could simply walk away. The house one was born in- the environment one had become one with- parting with them would touch any heart. The ladies said that he was simply hiding his emotions. Some of the men thought that he had no attachment towards anything. The truth is that none could understand this strange boy and his real character.

When Nanu was about to start on his journey, Vaidyar offered him some money. But Nanu declined it saying he had no use for it. Later, when somebody asked him about his refusal to take money, he replied : “ I felt that he should not part with both.” “Both?” “Yes, me and the money”.