Here is the first look at the forthcoming translation- V.J.James’ brilliant book Dattapaharam: Call of the forest.
The novel is published by Penguin Random House.
Out in February 2023.
Do read. It is a book which cleanses the soul.
Here is the first look at the forthcoming translation- V.J.James’ brilliant book Dattapaharam: Call of the forest.
The novel is published by Penguin Random House.
Out in February 2023.
Do read. It is a book which cleanses the soul.
This is my ‘Thank You Note’ to the magical universe. For manifesting a dream.
പ്രപഞ്ചത്തിന്റെ കണക്കു വയ്ച്ചു നോക്കുമ്പോൾ, തീരെ ചെറിയ അംശം മാത്രമായ ഒരു മനുഷ്യ ജന്മത്തിൽ/ ആയുസ്സിൽ, നാം, മറ്റുള്ളവർ പറയുന്നതിന് അർഹിക്കുന്നതിനേക്കാൾ മഹത്വം നൽകുന്നു. സ്വന്തം ലക്ഷ്യങ്ങളെ നിസ്സാരവത്ക്കരിക്കുന്നു.
എന്തെങ്കിലും ഒരു ഉറച്ച തീരുമാനത്തിൽ ഒരുവൻ/ഒരുവൾ എത്തി എന്നിരിക്കട്ടെ: അത് സ്കൂളിൽ, കോളേജിൽ, ജോലിയിൽ, പ്രണയത്തിൽ, വൈവാഹിക ജീവിതത്തിൽ, കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങളുടെ കാര്യത്തിൽ, എന്തെങ്കിലും ആകട്ടെ, പല പല അഭിപ്രായ പ്രകടനങ്ങൾ സാധാരണ കുടുംബത്തിൽ നിന്നും/സമൂഹത്തിന്റെ വിഭിന്ന യിടങ്ങളിൽ നിന്നും വരും:
‘ആൾക്കാർ എന്ത് പറയും?”
‘ശ്ശ്! അയൽക്കൂട്ടം എന്തൊക്കെ കുറ്റപ്പെടുത്തും!’
‘തല നിവർത്തി നടക്കാൻ കഴിയുമോ?”
‘ മറ്റുള്ളവരുടെ മുഖത്തു എങ്ങനെ നോക്കും?”
‘ എടുത്തു ചാടി അങ്ങനെ പലതും തോന്നും…’
‘എല്ലാവരും ചെയുന്നത് ചെയ്താൽ പോരേ ?’
ഇതിന്റെ ഏറ്റവും രസം, നമ്മൾ എങ്ങനെ ജീവിക്കണം എന്നുള്ളത് തീരുമാനിക്കേണ്ട അധികാരം ഇവരുടെ കൈയിൽ ആണെന്ന് തോന്നും!
വേറിട്ട് നടക്കാൻ തീരുമാനിച്ചാലോ? പിന്നെ ‘shaming’ പരിപാടിയായി .
കൂസാതെ നാം നമ്മുടെ സമയവും, ഊർജ്ജവും നമ്മുടെ ലക്ഷ്യങ്ങളുടെ നേർക്ക് മാത്രം ഫോക്കസ് ചെയ്താലോ?
ദൃഢശക്തിയുള്ള വ്യക്തിയുടെ സാഫല്യം കാലക്രമേണ എല്ലാവരും അംഗീകരിക്കും.ഇനി ചില ആളുകൾ അംഗീകരിച്ചില്ല എന്നിരിക്കട്ടെ…എന്താ, നമ്മുടെ ഉറക്കം നഷ്ട്ടപ്പെടുത്താനോ?
ഇതേ സമൂഹം, ഇതേ ആൾക്കാർ, ഇതേ അയൽവാസികൾ …അവർ അന്നും ഇന്നും ‘Nothing succeeds like success…’ എന്നതിന് പിറകിൽ ഓടുന്നവരാണ്.
ശവമായി തിരിച്ചു വന്ന മകളുടെ ശരീരത്തിന് മുന്നിൽ, ‘അയ്യോ രക്ഷിക്കണേ എന്ന് കരഞ്ഞു പറഞ്ഞ അവളെ തിരിച്ചു നിർബന്ധിച്ചു പറഞ്ഞു വിട്ടു പോയി. എന്റെ കുട്ടിയെ, സ്വന്തം വീട്ടിൽ ഇടം കൊടുക്കാതെ കശാപ്പുകാർക്കു വിട്ടു കൊടുത്തല്ലോ ഞാൻ !’ (ഇതു ഞാൻ കേട്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്, കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്.) എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞു കരഞ്ഞിട്ട് കാര്യമില്ല .
‘എല്ലാവരേയും കൊണ്ട് ‘നല്ല കുട്ടി’ എന്ന് പറയിക്കണം’ എന്നാണ് നിങ്ങളുടെ ചിന്താഗതിയെങ്കിൽ ‘ജീവിതത്തിൽ ഞാൻ കരയാൻ തീരുമാനിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നു’ എന്ന് വ്യക്തം. ലോകത്തിൽ എല്ലാവരും ഒരു പോലെയല്ല. എല്ലാവരും നല്ലവരുമല്ല. നിങ്ങളെ ശരിക്കും സ്നേഹിക്കുന്നവർ നിങ്ങളുടെ കണ്ണുനീർ ആഗ്രഹിക്കുകയില്ല. അവർ നിങ്ങളെ , നിങ്ങളുടെ കണിശമായ തീരുമാനങ്ങളെ ബഹുമാനിക്കുകയും ചെയ്യും.
അത് കൊണ്ട്, ‘പോപ്പുലാരിറ്റി കോണ്ടെസ്റ്റിൽ’ ജയിക്കേണ്ട – സ്വന്തം ആത്മാഭിമാനത്തിന്റെ മുന്നിൽ വിജയിയായി നിന്നാൽ മതി എന്ന് നാം തീരുമാനിക്കണം. പ്രതിരോധിക്കേണ്ടത് പ്രതിരോധിക്കണം. കർമ്മമാണ് വിജയം; കരച്ചിൽ പരാജയമാണ്. നാം ഭയന്ന് ഓടിയാൽ, ഏതു നായയും നമ്മുടെ പുറകിൽ കുര ച്ചു കൊണ്ട് വരും. നാമൊന്നു തിരിഞ്ഞു നിന്നാൽ, കൈയിൽ ഒരു വടിയെടുത്താൽ, അവിടെ നിൽക്കും ഏതു ക്രൂര ജന്തുവും .
മരണത്തിൽ, ആത്മഹത്യയിൽ, തോറ്റോടുന്നതിൽ, ഭയത്തിൽ, നിലവിളിക്കുന്നതിൽ, നിശ്ശബ്ദതയിൽ, രോഗത്തിൽ, ആശയറ്റ മൗഢ്യതയിൽ : ഇവയിലൊന്നും ജീവന്റെ അഥവാ പ്രതീക്ഷയുടെ അംശങ്ങളില്ല. കർമ്മത്തിൽ, ലക്ഷ്യത്തിൽ, ഊർജ്ജ ത്തിൽ, ധൈര്യത്തിൽ, ശബ്ദമുയർത്തുന്നതിൽ, കഠിനാദ്ധ്വാനത്തിൽ, ആത്മാഭിമാനത്തെ ഉയർത്തുന്ന എല്ലാ പ്രവൃത്തികളിലും , ജീവന്റെ, ആത്മ തേജസ്സിന്റെ സ്ഫുരണങ്ങൾ ഉണ്ട്.
മറ്റുള്ളവർ എന്ത് പറയും എന്ന് ചിന്തിക്കണ്ട. സമയം വളരെ കുറവാണ് : എന്തൊക്കെ കാണാൻ, കേൾക്കാൻ, അനുഭവിക്കാൻ കിടക്കുന്നു…വല്ലവരും ജല്പിക്കുന്നത് കേട്ട് ദിശ മാറാൻ എന്നെ കിട്ടില്ല എന്ന് തീരുമാനിക്കണം.
നിങ്ങളുടെ ജീവിതത്തിന്റെ വിധാവ് നിങ്ങൾ തന്നെ.
ആ സത്യം മനസ്സിലാക്കിയാൽ, ആ നിമിഷം നിങ്ങൾ വിജയിച്ചു.
കുറച്ചു കാലം കഴിയട്ടെ, എവിടെയോ തളർന്നിരിക്കുന്ന ഒരാൾ, നിങ്ങളുടെ വ്യക്തിത്വത്തിന്റെ പ്രകാശത്തെ നോക്കി, പ്രതീക്ഷയോടെ എണീറ്റ് അവരുടെ യാത്ര തുടരും.
അപ്പോൾ ശരി, നടക്കാൻ തുടങ്ങാം…മറ്റുള്ളവർ എന്ത് വേണമെങ്കിലും പറയട്ടേ… അവരുടെ സമയം കളയട്ടെ…നമുക്കെന്താ?
‘Angad ka pair’ : This is a popular saying in Hindi heartland. Prince of Kishkindha- young Angad, planting his foot firmly on the durbar ground and challenging Ravan to move it even the tiniest bit; well, that has been the stuff of legends. It has been described with great awe in the Lanka Kanda by Goswami Tulsidasji. I find it very inspiring.
Yesterday, I met a wonderful woman who epitomised Angad’s willpower and has given me new life goals.
She suffered from some sort of stroke and had pain in feet and hands in her late fifties. Then she took up walking and running in that order. Today, she has run many marathons and half-marathons and stood before me as the shining example of what a focussed mind can achieve.
This is a toast to Angad’s foot and so many who live that power everyday of their lives!
Yuddhakanda aka Lanka Kanda is getting designed. Bless the artist and the publisher…They are simply wonderful.
May my Hanumanji lead us on….as always.
The cover-page of Aranya Kanda… a dream come true!
Everything begins as a thought. Then it turns into reality. May the Lord inspire us to the most elevated thoughts which would manifest as the most beautiful realities.
A big thank you to the publishers and my friends.
‘Yad Bhavam, Tad Bhavanti’
As you think, so it manifests…
Ashita’s Ramayana for Children has always been a favourite in my home.
In 84 simple chapters, the brilliant writer has captured the essence of Ramayana for our children. Indeed, this book is meant for all.
Since to narrate the Lord’s story in any form is also a form of worship, I am attempting to do my part.
Kindly forgive my mistakes.
The whole universe is a magical place. What happens to us is decided by our thoughts/words/actions melding with the Universal Mind. How the sequence plays out is the beautiful magic.
Aranya Kanda : The canto of the forest , from Tulsidasji’s Shri Ramcharitmanas has gone into publication. The Lord explores the forests and blesses many a sage in this lovely portion. Mata Sita gets abducted by Ravan and Jatayu is granted salvation by Lord Ram. The poet describes the forests, the trees, animals and birds with much affection in the original Awadhi; and my adventure in understanding and interpreting was truly blessed by His Grace.
Simultaneously, I was translating Dattapaharam- a stunning novel about the forests and its great role in human lives; by V.J.James. The author is one of the most erudite and humble people I have known in my life. Truly has the Ramayana spoken of ‘fruit laden trees bending low’: great souls are utterly simple, so unassuming and kind. They also laugh a lot.
The fact that both the books are going into print together brings me much hope and cheer. They say when coincidences happen in a miraculous manner, when serendipity graces us, the divine plan is meeting our life plan.
May the Lord help us to follow the divine path always. And empower us to do our work with humility.
Few hymns to the magic:
While I was poring over the edits of Aranyakanda and reached the portion of Mareech getting killed by the Lord, I casually clicked on songs in my mobile with nothing particular in my mind.
The song enveloped my senses, enchanting me.
I gazed at the mobile screen.
There He was: My Lord Ram, so beautiful and glorious, with Sita, and she was staring at the golden deer!
Tumhi mere Ram, tumhi Ghanshyam!
How could that happen?
I called my friend in utter delight and she asked me to bow my head lower.
He watches over every speck of dust, does he not?
I was struggling with translating a sentence which spoke of ‘sighting that which lay beyond the visible.’ Indeed, the portion referred to seeing what usually remains unseen by going inwards…a deep, spiritually heavy sentence. Typical of the author’s style, super simple, and oh-so-heavy with meaning!
I tried many a combination and permutation. The zing of satisfaction did not come.
My phone pinged. Another dear friend had forwarded a Sufi song…Tu Jhoom sung by the inimitable Abida Parveen.
Ah, Lord! Just what I needed!
The sentence translated itself in matter of moments.
He watches over every green blade , does he not?
So both the forest journeys, soon to be in book forms, are hereby dedicated to the Lord.
He, who is love
He, who is kindness
He, who is mine
When she went to walk in the small park that evening, Geeta did cast a careful glance around for the young woman in blue. She had been there for the first four days of the week, dot on time, and always, always, sat unmoving on the grey bench near the Gulmohar tree. Since the last three days, the slim, dusky woman, with the brooding look on her face, was missing.
The black Skechers her son had gifted her was comfortable and Geeta enjoyed her daily rounds in the park. Well, at six in the evening, the crowd was not very suffocative; and there was much to observe and learn.
Though Mrs Kripa Bannerjee lambasted them in the ladies’ club meetings, calling them, ‘ a pesky menace’, Geeta found that she was more amused than irritated by the lovey-dovey youngsters at every nook and corner; behaving as if they were the first since Adam and Eve to discover sex. The fact of the matter was that every couple in love, since the time of the devil, had thought so too; and made a fool of themselves in public generally. But if you had taught hormonally driven high schoolers for more than three decades, you sort of shrug away these human peccadilloes.
Geeta’s eyes tended to be attracted by the oddities in the crowd than the obvious. And that was how she had been drawn to the young woman on the bench, who sat staring at the blood red Gulmohar blossoms that lay crushed and splattered around; the hurried steps of many walkers crunching them as they heavily trudged past.
Just the day before, after making her laborious rounds, counting among many occurrences, the brown squirrels, the wispy white petals of the moon flower by the pathway, and the premature guava fruits which had been chewed by sharp teeth of hungry rodents, Geeta had sat down perspiring by the side of the woman.
The young woman seemed to be oblivious of her surroundings. She was staring at the crimson buds and flowers that lay scattered on the earth. Geeta noticed that there was a strained quality about the woman; though young she looked aged beyond her years- as if life had burdened her with a cross which she was struggling to cope with.
The young woman was dressed in a blue kurta and jeans; but the dress looked soiled and sweaty. Her hair was luster-less, and the features seemed pinched by some gnawing misery. Though her son, wise to his mother’s inquisitive nature often warned her against making conversations with strangers, Geeta had tried to initiate one.
But her observations on the evening being nice and cool had been met with a resolute silence and the young woman had raised a pair of penetrating black eyes at her which sent a shiver down Geeta’s spine. There was something calculated about the gaze; as if some caged animal was watching her, expecting an attack any moment.
‘Good evening,’ Geeta had croaked.
The young woman did not respond. She had simply pulled out a mobile from her jeans pocket and started fiddling with it. To add to the eeriness of the situation, it had rung then.
‘Yes, am coming back.’
The voice had been terse, bitter, laden with emotions.
This was no ordinary woman who had come to enjoy an evening in the park.
‘Has she woken up? Fine.’
Even as Geeta watched, the woman had got up and walked away. Long strides, determined, but she had slouched. And Geeta was again reminded about some unknown load weighing her down.
‘Hello Mrs.Menon, how are you?’
It was the eternally cheerful, Retired Lt. Colonel Kapoor, yearning to chat and share the umpteen tidbits of information which he had stored up the whole day. From Putin’s latest military strategies to the imminent retirement of international tennis players, the old military man was bursting at the seams with gossip. Had he been a woman, he would have been the natural choice for the Ladies Club’s most talkative old member. Fortunately for the women, he was a man, and they had no competition from his end.
‘Heard about the goings on in Kothari’s flat?’ The Colonel asked, smiling away.
Geeta smiled noncommittedly. She really did not want to clutter her mind with whatever was cooking up a storm in the Kothari household.
‘Old Mr.Kothari was caught messing with the maid. She has been banished to the forests for fourteen years! Mr.Kothari has not died due to a broken heart as yet,’ The Colonel chortled gleefully. If he were a cat, he would have been licking his whiskers with pleasurable mewing noises now.
‘Unknown depths, people have… eh, Mrs Menon? One does not know with whom one is dealing with, half the time.’
Geeta’s mind raced back to the absent woman. No, one did not know what was going on in people’s minds at all.
‘Ah, yes there was another piece of news. A child went missing. Apparently, some gypsies stole her while she was in the railway station. My nephew knows the father.’
Geeta’s skin prickled in forewarning.
‘Well, the parents are both doctors. Love marriage you see. But the girl child was born with Down’s syndrome. Also, deaf and mute. The mother has been looking after her for four years now. Poor thing, had to stop her career too. Of course, nobody can take care of a child like one’s own mother…Anyway, they went to see off someone and the child was lost.’
‘Do they stay nearby? Do I know them?’
‘Maybe, you have seen the mother around…a slim young woman.’ Mr. Kothari could not have been more helpful.
‘Have they notified the police? How dreadful for the child. Mentally retarded, cannot speak or hear…I am horrified about what can happen to her.’
‘Yes, all alerts have been given. With all these cctv cameras in the railway stations, they will surely find her soon.’
It was three days later that Geeta read a small column in the local newspaper.
‘Child recovered from train. Missing daughter of Dr.Kailash Raghupathy, aged four, was safely found in a train headed to Bombay. The child had gone missing from the railway station when the parents had gone to see off a relative. The Commissioner of Police has announced appreciation letters and cash award for the officers who traced the missing four-year-old within 24 hours. The child has been restored to her grieving parents. She was discovered seated in a compartment by passengers who had informed the railway police who coordinated with their colleagues in the local administration.
It had been six days since the woman visited the park.
A hammering began in Geeta’s head: a dread, slow and terrible started haunting her. Patterns, patterns…everything was in the pattern.
When Geeta was twelve, a little boy had gone missing from her neighbourhood. His mother had been raising hell all over the place when someone brought him back. A trader had been accused of kidnapping him. When the local police gave a good hiding to the man, he had revealed the story. It was the mother herself who had asked him to take away the child. He had bouts of fits and was always sickly. There were five more mouths to feed. Some money had exchanged hands.
‘Hello Colonel, it is me, Mrs.Geeta Menon.’
‘Yes, how are you?’
‘Fine! You see, I read something in the newspaper.’
‘Did they find the missing child? The one who went missing in the train?’
‘Oh, that child…Well, great stroke of luck, I would say. She is back. Her father was in school with the Commissioner of Police. But they say it is very strange…about how she made her way inside a Bombay bound train. Anyway, the parents are relieved.’
‘Er, can I have the number of the family. I hope I don’t sound too pushy.’
‘Of course not! Obviously, you are concerned and want to express your wishes. I shall share it with you. Ragupathy’s number, let me see…’
Dr.Kailash Raghupathy looked distraught and anxious. He stared at the middle-aged woman who had come visiting, out of the blue. It was a busy day in the hospital.
‘Yes, Mrs.Menon…Lt Colonel said that you wanted to speak to me on something important?’
Geeta did not know where to start her conversation.
‘See, doctor. Do not think I am presumptuous or want to create trouble…’
The man sat up straight. The strain and tension of the past few days was showing on his face.
‘I am nobody to advise you but…’Geeta stammered.
‘My dear madam! What are we talking about? I do not understand anything at all.’
‘Has there been mood swings? Does she behave affectionately with the child?’
‘What?’ The man looked outraged.
‘You see, I think your wife needs a break. Is there anyone to take care of your child other than her?’
Lord, it was all going horribly. Geeta knew she sounded paranoid even as she uttered those words.
‘You are wasting my time. See madam, I have much work to do today. And I know you are here to show your sympathy. Frankly, we are fine.’
When a whirlpool was looming ahead with its deadly snare, lying silently in wait for the unsuspecting wayfarer, would it help to shout a warning? Some were destined to be swallowed by its hideous depths, sucked into the waiting pits of watery hell, much like quicksand. Words were futile when there was no trust to begin with.
‘I am a teacher…I mean I spent my whole life teaching. I have seen…excuse me, it sounds weird. But can I meet your wife?’
‘She does not meet anyone. Shilpa prefers to be with our daughter. Rarely does she go out.’
‘And that is where the trouble begins…’ Geeta interjected. ‘She needs to breathe, doctor. I heard that you both studied medicine together. Don’t you understand? There will be tragedy if you do not…’
Dr.Kailash Raghupathy stood up. In an icy cold voice, he said, ‘I think you need to leave now madam. Thank you for being so concerned with people like us, whom you hardly know.’
Cringing inwardly, but feeling a great rage welling up within her, Geeta shambled out of the doctor’s room.
‘Please, please listen to me. Do not leave the child alone with your wife at least the next few days…I mean…’
Geeta had never seen eyes more baleful than his, as he stared at her. Well, there was nothing more to be said.
Lt Colonel Kapoor met her as she walked in the park the next evening.
‘What did you tell the boy? My nephew said that he complained about my lady friend talking some nonsense about his wife? Do you know the woman?’
Geeta was ruminating. Would it help to divulge her doubts to a gossipmonger like Mr.Kapoor?
But what if it could avert a tragedy?
‘ Colonel, you must be familiar with the term postpartum depression?’
‘Yes, yes, where the woman says she hates the face of the baby but adores it too!’
‘ It is not as frivolous as you make it sound…there are different aspects to that state of mind…,’ Geeta snapped.
Then realizing that emotions were not of any help, she regained her poise.
‘ This wife of the doctor…she is a doctor too, right? I think she needs help.’
‘What are you talking about Mrs Menon? Are you keeping well?’ Lt Colonel Kapoor spluttered in confusion.
‘You see, when someone feels trapped, helpless and all life grinds to a halt…then he or she tries to find a reason to blame. It ends up in unspeakable tragedy at times,’ Geeta said softly.
‘ Are you saying that Dr.Raghupathy’s wife is sick? I thought she was feeling blessed that the child was recovered safely! Are you familiar with the woman?’
‘ No, that is the worst part. I have no idea of what is going on…one can only guess and I feel very afraid, Colonel. Somebody should intervene urgently or else…’
‘My dear Mrs Menon, tell you what, you are watching too many K Dramas in OTT platforms! Time to participate in some kitty parties, I say!’ The Colonel guffawed; albeit nervously.
Geeta Menon did her best to find out about what went inside the Raghupathy household. She befriended her maid’s friend who was a part-time help there.
‘ Is your madam keeping good health? I hardly see her walking nowadays,’ Geeta pretended to be a casual acquaintance.
‘Ah, madam is always with the girl. Never lets her out of her sight. She has stopped me from giving her a bath too. Everything, she does herself.’ The girl, whose name was Maya, seemed listless when she spoke.
‘Is there nobody else who stays with them?’
‘Oh, the doctor’s old father is there. The cook comes twice a day. Apart from me, the boy who comes to clean the washrooms and do mopping and sweeping…the driver…that’s about it.’
‘Maya, can you do me a favour?’
‘Keep a watch over the child.’
Maya looked askance at the worried face of the woman. ‘Must be nuts’, she thought to herself. ‘All these oldies’, the teenager mused wryly, ‘they are going loony like that doctor madam. The way she sits silently for hours, watching the poor, wretched child.’
Three days passed. It was around nine at night. Her phone rang.
‘Mrs Menon, something terrible has happened!’ It was Lt.Colonel Kapoor and he sounded extremely agitated.
‘What?’ Something curdled her blood to chilling coldness.
‘ The child’s body was discovered on the ground. She had apparently fallen down from the balcony! The police are with the parents now!’
Geeta sat down, her hand on her heart.
‘Amma, there is a news of an arrest in a nearby flat. The cctv cameras has caught a mother…’
Geeta did not listen to the rest of what her son said.
The blood red Gulmohar flowers flashed in her mind. They lay splattered, broken, pathetic, crimson on the pathway.
(Truth is stranger than fiction. Based on a news item.)
IRIKKAPINDAM : C.V.Sreeraman
Literally translated as ‘ Rites for the dead while person is alive’, this story is such a masterpiece of subtlety , erudition and psychological insight. It was adapted by the brilliant director K.R.Mohanan into a national award winning movie called, ‘Purushartham’ in 1987 starring Adoor Bhasi, Sujata Mehta et al.
As we ascended the steps, Akhilesh Kumar Sinha remarked, ‘Vishnupada temple is the oldest temple in Bharat Varsha. It was here that Prince Siddhartha sought refuge after relinquishing everything…’
‘He walked along this riverside for a long distance. Eventually under the Bodhi tree…’ This was the observation made by someone behind us.
‘Haran, I was searching for you,’ Sinha looked at him.
‘Meet Haran Panda’, he introduced us and then said,’ See, this is my friend who has come from a far off place. He wants to do the rites for the dead. Do whatever is needed. Mind you, do not take a single paisa extra from him.’
Panda agreed to all the conditions.
‘ Try and come home before you leave Gaya’, Sinha spoke. He departed.
‘Please come,’ said Panda who led the way. ‘Do you know Hindi?’
When we reached the threshold of the temple, Panda said, ‘You can leave the footwear here. They will take care of it for some meagre amount.’
‘I am not wearing any.’
Panda looked at my naked feet beneath the saffron coloured pajamas.
We stepped inside. A babel of voices, bodies covered in variegated dresses, laying down their desires, grievances, in their own words…
‘Don’t you want to pray?’
‘After the rites.’
We walked through the temple premises, crossed another gate and reached the ghat.
‘Which is this river? Ganga?’
‘No, but it is a sacred river too. Bhalgu, a tributary of Ganga.’
A dry riverbed. Lifeless, dark-hued. Though it was only eight in the morning, the afternoon sunlight seemed to spill over the center of the dried sandbank.
‘And what is on the opposite side?’
‘ Those are temples too. Nandigram, Ramgaya. Sitakund…Ram and Lakshman conducted their father Raja Dasrath’s rites of death over there. Sita used mud for the rituals…’
We sat on the cement bench by the ghat.
‘And what is this?’
Before the words ceased, few people arrived carrying a corpse on the bier.
Having deposited the bier carefully on the ground, they started collecting wood for cremation.
Though Panda was young, he had dark circles around his eyes. His face and eyes had a yellow pallor too. Anxiety, malady or penury?
‘Babu, forgive me, did you come to Gaya just for this rite?’
‘Just for this.’
‘Babu, how far is your home from here?’
‘Almost two thousand kilometres…’
‘Gadhadharai, Hari, Pundareekaksha,’ Panda muttered to himself, ‘It was here that Prince Siddhartha arrived, searching for wisdom, for enlightenment, seeking answers to a thousand questions within.’
And after a while, he continued:
‘Babu, how many religions were established in this Magadha region…not even a single one took roots. Our religion…’
‘Aye Panda, idhar aavo!’ Someone hailed from a distance.
Panda took off in the blink of an eye.
Like the crows rushing to peck at the ball of rice during the death rites, a flock of Pandas aggregated. It was Haran Panda who reached first. A little boy with a camera around his neck; almost like carrying a flower basket. He was around seven or eight years old. Behind him was a young woman. Very fair. Clear eyes and a broad forehead. She had slightly thinning hair. Ignoring that, the woman was sharp featured and possessed a perfect figure, almost sculpted. She walked with her head held high; and there was something masculine about her gait.
The scarf wrapped around her head was now fluttering loose around her neck. Probably because she must have tied the scarf scout-style tightly earlier, there were reddish marks on her forehead and cheeks. Accompanying her was a very tall young man. He was dressed in trousers, shirt and tie. Only his legs were shorn of footwear. Must have entrusted his shoes to the caretakers outside the temple. His well combed hair, on which hair cream or Vaseline had been applied, gleamed in the sunlight. They approached the ghat. There was a bevy of Pandas and child beggars teeming around them.
‘They are in a hurry. Will finish their business fast and return to you,’ Panda approached me and said apologetically; before going back to the trio.
‘We are coming from Cuttack,’ the woman spoke.
Panda started blabbering something.
‘Don’t destroy the Oriya language. Kindly speak in Hindi.’
Her English was excellent. Probably studied in some Public School. Or perhaps abroad. Now she turned to the young man with her.
‘Mr. Ninan, tell him you are from Kottayam. This Panda will immediately speak a few words in your language!’
Afterwards, she addressed the Panda again.
‘See, we have to reach Calcutta at least by five in the evening. I have a company meeting. We have to conduct the rites of this child’s father. What is the minimum time required?’
‘No way, reduce it further.’
‘Half an hour?’
Panda agreed readily.
‘Ma, is this your son?’
‘He resembles you.’
Resemblance? I was stunned. Dusky complexion. A small face. Narrow forehead, deep set eyes. Why did the Panda say that the child looked like his mother?
‘Hmm…yes,’ the woman replied.
‘Ma, did the child’s father have an avaghat mrityu…unnatural death?’
Her face lost its sheen. Then she blanched. She lifted her eyes towards the man.
‘Why are you asking all that?’ When she spoke, even her lips were pale.
‘The child is very small…that’s why I asked.’ Panda squirmed.
‘ For conducting the rites, how does it matter..avaghat mrityu or not?’ The woman was getting incensed.
‘If it happens to be an avaghat mrityu, we should do the rites on the preta-shila (rock for the spirits) situated in front of the railway station…that is ideal.’ Panda elaborated.
‘Mrs. Panigrahi, what all falls under apaghat mrityu?’ The man asked in English.
The woman gazed at the Panda.
‘What sort of deaths?’
She did not ask ‘Then?’ Neither did Panda add anything more. Brooding over something, she said:
‘Mister Ninan, these folk always end up confusing others.’
After standing with her head bowed for a while, she raised her face and said firmly:
‘Conduct the rites here. Who wants to climb the hill anyway?’
Haran Panda called the child near. The boy removed his camera from around the neck and handed it over to the man.
‘Ninan Uncle, when I finish the rites, click a roll of photos…complete one roll, okay?’ His English was impeccable too. Must be studying in some Public School.
‘What do you eat? Rice or wheat?’
‘So we will do the rites with rice?’
‘Yes,’ it was the woman who answered.
‘Rice takes time to cook…whether we can finish the rituals within the time given…?’
‘Then use wheat!” The woman delivered her order.
Panda spoke to the boy again.
‘Please take a bath and come back.’
‘In this river water. Sacred river. Phalgu.’
At the bottom step, there was water. Sand had been excavated.
‘In this filthy, algae ridden water?’
The woman glared at Haran Panda.
‘Leave it…at least go and sprinkle few drops on your head.’
The child rolled up his jeans and descended the steps.
‘Be careful. Just a few drops. You will catch cold!’ The woman warned the boy loudly.
The child sprinkled two drops on his forehead. Then he skipped across two steps and stopped.
‘What do you say, Ninan Uncle?’
Ninan Uncle applauded. ‘Up, up!’ He encouraged the child. Again the boy skipped two steps at a time. The beggar children emulated him. Ninan Uncle kept on clapping enthusiastically. The woman smilingly watched how the muscles of the man’s arms flexed as he clapped his hands.
Panda kneaded the wheat flour.
The boy sat opposite to him.
‘Wear the ring..show me the finger.’ Panda made the child wear the ring made of darbha: couch grass.
‘Now make balls out of the flour as I instruct you.’
‘Ninan Uncle, one snap please!’
‘Yes, Mister Ninan…Go!’ The woman cheered him too.
He took a photograph. Then he spread the Amrit Bazaar Patrika on the step and sat down. She sat down too, brushing against him. It looked as if they had been living intimately since aeons. Still, whenever he glanced at her, she blushed. With shyness and embarrassment, she was struggling to wean her eyes off him…as if they were yet acquaintances!
‘Terrible heat! Not a leaf’s shadow where we parked the car. Wonder what will happen to the bottles of beer inside…boiling hot, I suppose!’ The man muttered.
‘Mr.Ninan, will we reach Calcutta by six o’ clock at least? The Director Board is at seven…’
‘What if we don’t reach? Both of us are here. Mr.Sohan Pradhan is in the hospital…Without the quorum..?’
‘Quorum? Nonsense! That’s not what I am worried about. When they all get together, what will be their topic of discussion? About us…’
Panda was reciting. The child was giggling and repeating after him.
The woman was looking at the dried up river. She sat wordless for some time. Then she spoke, as if to no one in particular.
‘In this life, there is only one question which I shall not be able to answer. Cuttack Medical College was just thirty miles away. There were two cars in the garage. So why the local dispensary…’ She stopped abruptly.
‘Of late, well, there is gossip that you were not in the house that night.’ The man said.
‘Oh God! What else left to hear now.’
‘Before that, the connection between us…only once.’
‘No, twice.’ The woman argued.
‘No, I am sure, only once.’
‘I can bet…twice!’
‘Then tell me…when was the second time?’
‘I will tell you,’ The woman bit into the strand of couch grass someone had thrown away. They were in their self-created universe, oblivious to the surroundings.
‘Your wife was admitted to the mental hospital on a morning. You said you were shivering…We woke up the steward of the Gymkhana Club. Without even brushing your teeth, you boozed on lots of country liquor…’
‘Ah, now I recollect…On the stage of the Gymkhana Club..in between two curtains..’
‘On the dust ridden floor…you spread my Bhagalpuri sari…’ Her face reddened. Words were not forthcoming. She stopped.
The man retrieved the strand of couch grass from her hands and started tracing a figure on her wrist.
‘Oh girl…the memories are still so raw!’
‘Eight or nine years before.’
‘No,’ he protested, ‘ It has been eight years since I returned from States….and about seven years when I joined your Coal Mines Group.’
After pausing a while, he continued.
‘I came there with such ambitions…Your company made dynamic progress…But personally, I am…’
‘Don’t be silly! After all, tomorrow is ours! Exclusively…’ The woman pulled playfully at his tie.
The child’s voice broke. His voice was unsteady. It stopped intermittently. Now a sudden wail emerged from him.
‘Chitto!’ The startled woman turned to gaze at the child. She got up and went near him.
‘Chitto…’ She asked him something in Oriya.
The boy opened his eyes, A tear drop split into two and glistened from his eye lids. Then it splattered on his cheek. Now there was a stream of tears running over his face.
‘Panda, stop. The child is weeping. Let him stop.’
The boy stared at her with red hued eyes.
‘You go away!’ The child screamed.
The woman stared unblinkingly at her son. As if she was gazing into an unfamiliar face. Or was it like looking at a face she had grown tired of?
The man approached them now.
‘Don’t weep…Ninan Uncle will take your photograph. Smile please!’
‘Panda, what did you tell him? Why is he upset?’ The woman asked Panda very politely, though I thought she would start railing at him.
‘Thakur Ma, I said nothing! Yes, I said this much: your father’s soul has come to these steps and it is hungry and thirsty…that was all.’
Panda seemed subdued.
‘These steps?’ The woman repeated and then moved a bit backwards.
‘Please smile!’ Ninan Uncle stooped low with his camera.
‘You go away!’ The child blazed. He hurled the wheat ball in his fist at the man. He had not expected it and could not dodge it. There was a smear of wheat flour on the man’s face.
The man did not get angry. Instead a dread filled his face. He went back to his original seating place.
‘Continue!’ The boy spoke to the Panda. His voice had an authoritative ring.
‘Pretanam’ (Of the ghost)
‘Mughavasanardham’ (For the purpose of feeding it)
‘Tambulam’ (The betal leaves)
‘Diyate’ (Am offering)
The Panda’s voice was strained. The child’s voice was hoarse, as he repeated the words.
The woman walked towards the man. But when she tried to sit, she seemed to be in shock. Her knees were not bending. Now she moved further towards the fig tree near the temple and stood there watching all the unfolding events.
A body was going up in flames in the shamshan ghat. The people around seemed impatient to return.
‘Andhatanivaranardham’ ( To remove the blindness)
Panda was making the child recite.
‘Deepam’ ( lighted lamp)
‘Aham diyate’ (I am giving)
The woman was looking utterly flustered. A rite of death was happening against her dictum. She looked on helplessly. It was her irikkapindam that was happening.
Panda got up.
The child stood up too.
They made a circumambulation.
Panda climbed down the steps. The child followed. Now they floated the pindam (the symbol of having completed the rites) in Phalgu. The boy burst into tears as if he had lost something forever. Now he collapsed into Panda’s arms. Panda wiped away the boy’s tears with his soiled, sweaty upper cloth.
The woman opened her bag and handed over Panda’s dakshina. Probably the fees was more than he expected. He smiled gratefully. Bowed reverently. Did not argue.
‘Thakur Ma…the dead was Brahmin by birth, wasn’t he? It will be good to have three brahmins reciting the Vishnu Sahasranamah (thousand names of the Lord )at the spot where we conducted the rites.’
‘I don’t have time.’
‘Thakur Ma, you can leave. If you give them some dakshina, I shall ensure that they do the recitation.’
‘Ok, call them.’
Panda clapped his hands once.
Three men came racing. An old man with filaria; a middle-aged man with squint eyes and pock marks; and a youth with sandal wood streaks near his ears.
‘You will have to sit here and recite the Vishnu Sahasranamah thrice. How much will you charge?’ Her question was ruthless.
‘Five rupees to each.’
‘I will give three each.’
She opened her vanity bag. Took out a wad of notes. Now she pulled out a steel hairpin from her hair and wrestled with the wire covering the money. With a nail cutter from her bag, she twisted the wire to a side. Yanking few notes, she counted them again and again. Then she distributed three rupees to each of the brahmins.
‘I am asking you in front of this sacred temple…You promise to recite the Sahasranamah thrice?’
‘We are brahmins. You should keep your word.’
‘Yes. Bhagwan kasam.’ (In the name of the Lord, yes, we promise.)
The child had stopped sobbing. But his face was still troubled. He was hiccupping sporadically. They started walking. The child was ahead. The woman followed. The man was behind her. Soon, they disappeared from the sight; vanishing inside the boundary walls of the Vishnupada temple.
The brahmins spread their upper clothes on the ground.
‘Om Namo bhagawathe vasudevayah…On vishwam vishnurvashtakaro bhutabhavya bhagavth prabhau , bhuta krit, bhuta bhrit bhavo bhutatma bhuta bhavana…’
Lacking melody, with raw, improper enunciation, and swallowing many a word, they continued to recite.
‘Avyaya purusha sakshi…’
The old man yawned. He lit a beedi.
‘Saali, kya sochi? Hum ullaba?’ ( Cuss word, what the heck did she think? That we are idiots?)
The others went on with the prayer. The squint eyed one tossed a bit of tobacco in his mouth. His recitation was rankling; with the tobacco getting mixed with saliva.
‘Brahmanyo brahmakrit brahma brahma…’ He sneezed, coughed and then stopped.
The young man’s eyes were closed in meditation. His voice was just maturing. He had forgotten everything around. In a clear, ringing voice, forgetting the precincts, he recited aloud:
Niyanta niyamo yamah
Satvavan satwika satya
Satya dharma parayana’
That voice did not stop at the steps of Gaya….it extended longer…Till the end of the Kalpa. Incessant, steady, palpable with the thirst of knowledge…
Chidambaram : Story by C.V.Sreeraman
This iconic story was adapted by G.Aravindan , one of the greatest film directors of Malayalam cinema into a multiple award winning movie starring Bharat Gopi, Smita Patil, Sreenivasan et al in the year 1985
As he stepped inside through the front gate of the temple’s entrance, the man recollected the lines of Ayappa Dixitar :
Chidambaramitam pradhamithameva punyasthalam
This is Chidambaram, primarily, a sacred place.
His eyes forayed the surroundings. The sheer size was awe inspiring. There were four gopurams – ornamental towers- kissing the skies. Though similar in appearance, the stone sculptures were unique in themselves. The innumerable corridors and vaults interconnecting the towers seemed like the simulacrum of a fort; more intimidating than the temple.
He walked through the stone-paved pathway outside the inner temple. The sunlight was still not ceding defeat. It had just started abating. The man walked over the green grass thriving along the edges. As prickly thorns pierced the inner soles, he remembered the slippers which he had left behind… Another thought troubled him. Though there were four tower entrances, why had he chosen the southern gopuram? Would his mind have been enslaved with misgivings had he entered through any of the others?
Had the uncertainties started at the entrance of the southern gopuram? No.
In the journey from Kadaloor, this bizarre distraction had begun when he had crossed the village of Manaloor.
When he had seen the signboard of the village on the roadside, inadvertently his mouth had enunciated:
Sarpannan Shengodan Konar
Post Manaloor, Via Chidambaram
In those days, he would write down that address on the inland letters which Akhilandammal would bring.
Deep in thoughts, he walked on. He reached the temple pond. The vast pond lay within the temple boundary walls, with sharp, clean steps descending to the waters. The man sat on the ledge. There were two sanyasis nearby. One picked up the container of ash which had slipped down from the fish shaped kavadi leaning against the wall and refixed it to the contraption. The man cast a careful look at them. How sturdy and healthy they looked. There was a patina of contentment on their mien. What would have instigated them to seek sanyasa?
The man was forced to think about himself then.
‘Well, if you listen to me, you might survive for some years.’
That was not spouted by any scholar of Vedanta but by his doctor.
After many months, when the doctor had seen him again, he had tersely remarked, ‘ You are still going strong with your habits. Any idea about the condition of your liver? Really alarming…’
Then the doctor had elucidated further, ‘ See, I am a heart patient. I also had some vices. Though not as acute as yours, I still managed to control those. I became more and more religious. Whenever temptations came my way, I would read the Bible. You should become religious…read religious texts.’
That day, he had wearily faced the luscious advertisements; and walked to the bookstore he had never entered before. When he eyed the books on the racks, he found that most authors were unfamiliar. When he read books by Roman Rolland and Lokmanya Tilak, the misery only increased. There was nothing he had not known before; but he felt envious about their power of articulation. He went on reading. At that time, he had developed swelling on his feet. He had gone to the doctor again.
‘You need to move away from this atmosphere. Take a trip somewhere…preferably religious places.’
That was how he began his journey.
Now, on watching the radiant good health of the man who was explaining Vedanta to the listener; legs crossed and his matsya-kavadi leaning against the wall, the man started contemplating:
Was physical rigour the beginning of sanyasa?
Was sanyasa the refuge of the anguished?
Or was it an adventure wrought by an overwhelming greed for survival?
The man’s mind refused to be contained by these musings. The ruminations which had pestered him when he entered through the southern tower entrance refused to leave his mind.
The more he tried to forget those, the chakravyuha of thoughts were assaulting him from all sides.
In the lacerated mind, the picture of Durgaprasad’s building at Haddo took shape. It had wooden walls and an iron sheet for roof. Port Blair town tapered away until it ended at Haddo. The hills of Haddo played a hide and seek game with the sea…The days and nights spent staring at the sea…How the sea’s cheeks flushed ripe when the tide rose and how it paled during the ebbing…how the bones of the sea showed up in the craggy rocks on the beach…
Vechhapuri and his wife had come to live in a corner of that building. The wife’s name was Akhilandammal. Her face displayed the droopiness of a sapling which had been transplanted onto strange soil. Except for a lush head of hair, there was nothing alluring about the woman. It was better to refer to her as a grown up girl than as a young woman.
She too, like him, would sit staring at the sea forever. Once she had asked, ‘Why is the sea so dark in colour over here?’ He had replied, ‘That is why we call it the Kalapani in Hindustani.’ Kalapani also meant an exile from the mainland.
It was the loneliness which had brought them close. Depression seemed to be dripping around in that absolute solitude. The woman was alone the whole day. She could often be seen sobbing…caught in the memories of a village which lay somewhere on the opposite shore of the great sea. At other times, she would write letters to her father. He would jot down the address for her.
It did not take much time for them to become intimate, soon trespassing all ethical boundaries. Initially he called her, ‘Akhilandammal.’ Then it became ‘Akhilammal’. When she insisted, it turned into ‘Pappa’, and when her lips moved over his cheek, he could not help whimpering, ‘My Pappa’…
At one time their relationship had come to a point of ending. Vecchapuri got a room in the neighbouring labour camp and he shifted his residence. But on a midnight, out of the blue, the woman had come searching for him. As he stood blanching, she murmured, ‘Vecchapuri has night duty.’ He yearned to ask, ‘But why did you come at this odd hour?’ She had replied to the question which never left his lips. ‘ I felt like seeing you and so I came.’
Soon, whenever Vechhapuri had night duty, she would appear in his room without any forewarning.
But when had he visited the labour barrack for the first time? He could hardly remember. But he would never forget about the last departure from the place. One could gaze at the lights of the government saw mill at Chittam island through the cracks of the wooden walls of the labour barrack. The man used to keep checking the lights intermittently.
That night the lights had shut down suddenly. The man had stepped out. He was waiting for the lights to flare up again. But the sharp stink of sweat and sawdust had filled the surroundings suddenly. He was shellshocked. The shadow in front gathered strength. Vechhapuri. He had started walking briskly and turned to cast a backward glance. Vechhapuri was following him. By the time he scrambled up the weed ridden ridge and entered the main road, the man had started running. Without wasting time to look back, alert to the horse hoofs of death in the sounds closing on him. On seeing the lighted attic of the Malayali hotel at Haddo, he had rushed inside. He was acquainted with the inmates. The men were busy playing cards by candle light.
His fear had not ceased even after sitting next to his friends; and often he peeped to watch the surroundings. Vechhapuri stood there, waiting.
When the dawn broke, and the workers from the powerhouse arrived, the reason behind the sudden load shedding was revealed. There had been a blast at the powerhouse. Engineer Swami and two laborers had been electrocuted. By the time it was morning, another news spread, making the former snippet insignificant. Vecchapuri had hacked his wife to pieces. Then he had run away to the Corbin’s cove. By mid day, another update came. Vechhapuri had hanged himself in the mangrove forests at the shore.
That day the man had felt just one emotion: a pale, icy cold, eternally following terror.
Two days later, when had gone to his senior to get signature on some legal documents for revenue collection, the man had given him a very compassionate look. The boss did not mention that he was privy to all the salacious tales doing the rounds, but his glance had contained everything. Then his senior said:
‘I will transfer you to the most remote area. There is a colonization going on in Atlanta Bay. A group is leaving tomorrow. Join them.’
The benevolent boss, who had always come to his aid in any adverse circumstance, had yet again helped him. The next day when he moved to various places bidding farewell, he suddenly asked the truck driver to stop. He walked to the female ward of the hospital. There was a group of Tamil women silently surrounding a cot. A body wrapped in bandages…it looked like a bale of cotton. Death was flirting lazily. Yama’s lasso refused to loop around that cotton bundle.
After many months, he got to know -even the deepest wound around Pappa’s neck had healed. Two fingers had been totally hacked away. Tamil acquaintances collected some money for her voyage. Pappa had left for her village.
Today, seated on the steps of the temple pond of Chidambaram, he was remembering all of it. Now, he was reminded of furiously moving, evanescent autumn clouds as he reminisced Atlanta Bay’s settlement and Port Blair.
The man stood up. The sanyasis were still enthralled by some story from the puranas.
Few dwarfish stone pillars inscribed with lines in Tamil. He regretted that he could not read the language. He knew how to write his name and also Pappa in Tamil. She had taught him. He reached a dark corridor. A foreigner, with the hair do and markings of a Vaishnavaite, was negotiating with a temple lackey. Money exchanged hands. Was it a bribe for a darshan before due time or an advance for some illicit deal involving idols?
He moved through that corridor and stopped before the gigantic, shut door.
The man imagined Lord Shambhu as Nataraja.
He wondered, when the sanctum sanctorum opens and when the statue of Nataraja becomes resplendent before him, what shall he plead for? To remove his liver disease or to grant him peace of mind? Or to help him attain moksha: salvation?
He felt like laughing. Liver disease.
Now he laughed.
It was a sickness he had intentionally cultivated over the years, by obdurately ignoring his body.
Peace of mind? Again, he laughed.
While expediently flexing his thoughts to suit his desires, his mind had been nowhere in the picture!
Has he ever prayed for the moksha of a person who willingly came to share his sin?
He made haste to move out of the corridor of the Chidambaram Nataraja temple. In the broad daylight, when his eyes fell on his saffron long shirt and loose pajamas, he felt self-condemnation more than mortification.
The man recited:
kamyanam karmanam nyasam
sannyasam kavayo viduh
( Bhagwad Gita part of verse 18.2 …Giving up actions motivated by desire is what the wise understand as sanyasa)
With great difficulty, he kept on murmuring the lines and walked forward. Then he retrieved from the pocket the token meant for the safekeeping of his slippers. Pay ten paisa, give back the token and claim his footwear.
He went searching for the woman who had talked to him with great ease while giving him the token and whose tone and tenor had reminded him of Pappa. She was sitting at the edge of the decrepit old well; her hands folded against her chest. There was a black muffler wrapped around her throat. The man gazed at her intently. Was she hiding his Pappa somewhere inside those grey strands of hair and engorged cheeks full of folds and lines?
As he wore his slippers the man asked: ‘Amma, are you from this place?’
‘No, the village where I was born is slightly far off.’
He asked her name instead of the name of the village.
‘My name?’ The woman became provoked, ‘Hey swami, clad in saffron and seeking moksha, what will you gain by knowing my name? Better go away!’
The man walked away, his feet clad in slippers, without a backward glance.