At 45 years, Banumathy is grandmother of seven grandchildren. A native of Madurai is one of a kind. She is not just a flower seller; she is a spirit healer, who until a few years back would suddenly flare up in religious processions and become possessed with the Devi (goddess). She would help people possessed with evil spirits get rid of the demonic vibrations within them. Married at 18, life has been unkind to her. Her love marriage came to an ugly end. Her husband left her, with three little children, for another woman. She says that she has had many strange experiences, when she communicated with Gods. Life has not been easy for her. Shail profiles the life and times of this flower seller on the pavements of Chennai, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
“If your heart is a volcano, how shall you expect flowers to bloom?” ~ Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer
45-year- old Banumathy, grandmother of seven grandchildren, has been sitting on a slab of stone, at the same bus stop, for the past ten years, selling flowers to passersby. At a glance, she looks like any ordinary woman. Do not be fooled. This native of Madurai is one of a kind. She is not just a flower seller; she is a spirit healer, who until a few years back would suddenly flare up in religious processions and become possessed with the Devi (goddess). She would help people possessed with evil spirits get rid of the demonic vibrations within them.
So, when I saw her first with a big red dot on her forehead, her hands filled with colourful glass bangles, fingers with rings and her neck laced with innumerable beaded chains, I was fascinated. Surely, she didn’t look the kind to adorn all this jewellery just to look good! How long has it been since you have taken up this profession, I ask of her.
“For 20 years. I began selling flowers after I got married.”
And, what does your husband do?
“He is an auto driver.”
Before I could ask her any other question she said, “Amma, I got married at the age of 18, and my life was over at 22.”
In reply to my questioning look she says, “It was a love marriage. But, the day he told me that he did not want me it was over. I discovered that he was having an affair with another woman. He left me and my three little kids for another woman. So, at 22 years of age, I was on the street with no husband and three little children to take care of.”
What did you do then?
“What was there to be done, Amma? I started selling keerai (spinach) in the mornings on the platform and flowers in the afternoon and evenings.”
But, your children? Who would take care of them?
“Who was there, Amma? Nobody. And I could not trust anyone too. I would take them wherever I went. It was only much later when I began sitting here to sell flowers that I moved in to my mother-in- law’s place. I lived with her for ten years but when my children became older I moved to a separate dwelling.”
So, have your children studied, I asked of her half expecting that she would say ‘yes’.
“No, Amma. My children never studied. They just ran around and played. And since I had to earn a living so that we could get something to eat, I was unable to ensure that they had a proper education.”
What are your children doing now?
“My daughters are married all with the money that I and my children earned. Nothing was borrowed. My son is working as a mechanic. I am trying to arrange a taxi driver work for him.”
Wasn’t life without a husband difficult for you at that young age?
“Yes. Very difficult. In fact, I even attempted suicide once. Then, after I survived the attempt, I realised that if something happened to me then, my children will suffer. So, I permanently gave up the idea and decided to beg, slog, do anything to just see that my children are taken care of and do not have to ask anyone for anything.”
Didn’t your relatives help?
“Help? Instead, attempts were made on my life many times by my husband’s relatives. Once, I was found bleeding from a head injury, caused by a big stone, at midnight. I didn’t even have money for the doctors. It was during that difficult phase of being alone, hungry, lonely and helpless that I started visiting temples a lot. I prayed to Amman (Devi) that I was surrendering the lives of my children and myself to her fully. She had to take care of me. I also discovered that by Her grace I was able to help people possessed with spirits.”
Didn’t you think of getting married again?
“There was this retired Malayali army man who wanted to marry me via registered marriage. But, he wanted to put my three children in the hostel. I told him that I could not agree to that. So, that proposal fell through.”
Was there nobody else?
“Many proposals came. But…” and she hesitated.
“You may not believe me Amma, but over a period of time I realised that I was being protected by one of the Yezh Muneeshwar (Seven Munnis) called Jadai Munni.”
Yes, tell me.
“I discovered that every time something like a marriage proposal came up, I would blank out and later people would tell me that the Jadai Munni residing within you said that you should be left alone.”
And, you have no memory of those times?
“None at all.”
Do you feel his presence now?
“No. Around 15 years back, I had a vision. I was lying on the bed and the Jadai Munni came and sat next to me. He was dressed in a white veishtee (dhoti). Suddenly, a snake came from nowhere and entered inside me. And the Jadai Munni disappeared. After that day, I never felt his presence. But, till he was there in my life, there was no dearth of material prosperity.”
Is it good or bad?
“I do not know. But, this much I know that due to certain reasons I am unable to feel his presence. I shall continue with my work. I know that nobody can do anything to me and my children. They will only face the dust if they try. I know that I have the Lord’s grace. That is how I am surviving.”
You spoke about Amman (Devi), about a Munni. So, do you not pray to any other form of God?
“Yes, I do. I pray to Lord Shiva. He is the Master of my life. Sometime, when I went to Parvathamalai (Thiruvannamalai District, Tamilnadu) I got a realization or a message if you can say that I should worship Lord Shiva from now on. Until then, I had never visited any Shivan temple. From then on, I constantly have been praying to Lord Shiva and chanting His name.”
When did you last see your husband?
“Some days back. I see him often. I fight with him sometimes. But that is it.”
Did he not want to come back?
So, he is happily living with that woman?
“He is with another woman now. See, it is not that I did not try to get back. But, when I discovered that he was having relationships with women of questionable character, who were in the trade, I left.”
So, no more desires?
“I did have desires earlier. But, over a period of time, spiritual thoughts have taken over. Today, my only desire is that my children remain safe and happy.”
If you had to say something to society, what would you say?
“We are born humans, let us stay humane. Even if we cannot help we must at least not harm others. Potti (competition) must be there, not poraamai (jealousy). Don’t think you are big. There is someone much bigger than all of us, our Creator.”
Photos by author.
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