Under His Wings
by Bar 'Eato Briro Dr. Babu Paul
The first pilgrimage that I can recall was to an island called Parumala. I was seven, may be eight. I went with Ammachy, my maternal grandmother. We crossed from Pannaikkadavu in a small boat, may be a kothumbuvallom. The river was in spate. Or was it the normal thing those days for rivers to be so menacing? After all they were the days prior to environmental degradation and the dams. I was scared. I was not familiar with rivers or boats. I was born in a Perumbavoor suburb that was away from Periyar. Malayattoor or Thannippuzha would have made me familiar with Periyar. But I came from a hamlet east of Perumbavoor. For us the river was miles away and we went to Periyar only after we became big enough to cross the river in bamboo rafts and fish with country made explosives they called thotta. I became familiar with the river when I went to Alwaye College as a fifteen year old fresher. Every hostel in the College had its own bathing ghat. Tagore kadavu, Holland kadavu, Chacko kadavu. Tagore was the great poet. Holland was an old Englishman gratefully remembered. Chacko was KCChacko, the Black Saint of Alwaye, one of the four founders, who shared the gold medal for MA(Philosophy) with Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, later President of India. There was a hostel named after each of these. And each hostel had a kadavu earmarked. And even after we became familiar Periyar frightened when in spate. I remember the flooding Periyar. Water gushed forth. As if suddenly released from some storage. So fast. And carrying logs and uprooted trees, leaves and all, and carcasses. One stayed fifteen feet away from the mighty river. In awe and fear. Was this the same placid river that received us in joyful mood and allowed us to take breast strokes on her torso? Anyway that was to be many years later. For now the seven year old was scared. The only consolation was that he was with his grandmother. And having never seen a grandfather he guessed that grandmothers were just as powerful, and affectionate. And that she would not let her grandchild sink. All the same it was prudent to pray. Discretion is the better part of valor. And so pray he did. To Mar Gregorios. Whose tomb was the destination of these two pilgrims, the grandson and the grandmother. Did the tiny boat tilt a wee bit as the boy made the sign of the cross emphatically to, hopefully, please the God a little more? Scared he still was. And was he not relieved when he set foot on terra firma on the island! At long last, that is.
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