While reading a biography- a new book- life of Michelangelo or Kemal Pasha; invariably I will ask on some grand pages, “Did he know?”
“Did he know what?”
“Did he know how would it end, how would he himself die?”
“No one could possibly know that. Don’t be silly!” I will chide myself.
But as soon as the conversation is over- me naive being silenced by me reasonable- there will be a self-assurance of a fortune teller and an anxiety of a disciple, in me, while looking at the prospect of a great man.
Here from the
A stubborn monk came to the village of Bahiruli. But how stubborn he was was not apparent till Sudama, the weaver, went one day to offer him a dish of fruits and milk. Sudama- otherwise a hard headed man- under his wife’s counsel took it upon himself to buy the fruits from the Wednesday’s market. It costed him the price of four cotton plaids (which was equal to the price of six kilograms of rice, or, twenty-five bundles of hay- depending on what a man lacked at the moment: food, clothes, or a shade). But the wife was adamant and Sudama preferred to abide by the woman than acting like a Yaksha to his ever-depleting coins.
As per the prescribed decorum (while in front of a pious man)- with folded hands and a trembling voice- Sudama begged, “Let me be at your feet Baba- let me water your feet- my life would then be complete. I would be content, then. Only. See! See. See, how blessed is the village where you have appeared. And blessed is your diminished son who is no one but me. And my wife too … I can tell now, Baba … who is not even here … my wife … she is blessed too … already … at home. My ancestors … who are not even living …” He paused for a moment to assess the impact of his outburst; and then, pressed on with the same vehemence: “Where do you come from, Baba? The Himalayas, I presume. Don’t try to fool me, baba. I am only your diminished son- but I too can see. That is how your skin is glowing like copper. How your eyes observe Gods everyday. But, how sweaty must you be feeling now, Baba, he-he, in this horrid weather of the plain. Here, here, let me fan you with my plaid.” at the same time assuming a certain adventure and strain to be a part and parcel of the monk’s life.
The monk- in response- hurried out from the behind of a snake gourd bush- where he was resting- presumably- noisily, trampling the fallen long red fruits and a part of the shrub on his wake- with red eyes- as if he got out of a deep sleep just then, unwittingly, wafting the smell of a burnt charcoal or something like that, and spat on the ground in front of Sudama in a wild fury. Sudama, who was well versed on the subject of eccentricities that were displayed by the superior men was nonetheless stunned. The behaviour- didn’t resemble either that of the Devas or the Danavas, or the ferocious Rishis or raging Munis or even the Asuras- not even the most vindictive ones- as they were portrayed at the nightly village plays or were recited at noon by the Pola Giri’s widow from the Shastras on the Ekadashi days.
Thereafter he didn’t have the heart to tell the monk that he had a few more favours from him to ask. Like, say: His wife, Pramoda, whom he loved dearly and irrefutably didn’t love him as much in return. Whatever money he had inherited from his father had been dwindling and he didn’t know how much more miserly he should be in his affairs. His eldest son failed in the school examination- which was not such a trouble as the boy would be promoted as per the school norm. But Sudama found in him the first thin streak of rebellion against paternity which was worrisome.
The strange event of the morning turned even stranger when Sudama reported the encounter back to his wife and she began to laugh. “He is a stubborn monk. A stubborn monk. An egoist and stubborn.” she said. “That’s why I made you visit him thinking, ‘How worse can he be with you? You are no less stubborn yourself.’ Oh, but, he triumphed. He triumphed. But, you forget him, now, you hear? Forget him. Let him be. Let him live alone and be dry as he is.” she said, without a sign of remorse or shyness which bothered Sudama.
Then in a strange act of intimacy Pramoda brought her mouth near to her husband’s left ear and whispered, “Hear. Let me tell you one secret. The Pola Giri’s widow wants to bear a child. See, nothing big. Only a child. So she went to that hokum-god and asked. She said, ‘Prabhu, I keep fasts. I go to pilgrimages. I read sacred books for days. But, still, where is my peace? Those books are not my relatives, those are not my friends. They keep me alone. They keep me awake at nights and still do nothing to help. Have pity on me, Baba. Give me a son, avatar. He would be my joy, my own, and my walking stick when I am old. I will leave this village and I will go to the town and I will not ever come back. But this life is unbearable for me.’ She said that to him. Hear? Willingly. She said that to him. Do you know what the Baba said?”
Sudama, astound, whispered, “What?”
“The Baba said, ‘I would rather live with the rats.’”
“What? Rats? Rats? What does he mean by rats?”
“Who knows.” Pramoda replied.
Without comprehending Sudama experienced an indecipherable wildness, within himself.
Exasperated he imagined how it would feel to lay with the Pola Giri’s widow in her hut, on an old soft straw mat, at night, and, how it would feel to father a child with her, and God willing, a daughter. He felt sad that an opportunity so grand like this would only be offered to someone who seemed to have a higher stature than himself though that person might be such a careless man.
Sudama itched to complain, “He is a monk, that’s why he could afford all these nonsense. If he were a weaver like me this foolish behaviour would have made him an utter failure and an incomplete man.”
Fearing repercussion he kept quiet.
Jumping through the hoops of an emerald jungle,
a fawn; old lassos of shiftiness of being: tilting, swinging- from the branches-
the clicks of its follies, hitting against the pebbles of sorrows,
clacking like hoofs.
To each on his own.
I’d rather be a shepherd dog.
Restless but, stubborn like hell.
Guttling the innards of the mournful demons who came cloaked in a hoof dust
dusk- shrieking- I could tell-
Wailers!- they were my own.
Finger nails are the filthy urchins from the street
under her skin-
grow up without kindness
to squander with the tidy woman that she sees-
in the mirror, in calmness,
or in jolt.
While the potatoes are food,
being mashed in a saucepan on a cranky
tamarind wood table that’s got its temper
from my grandfather
is nothing but getting married to my grandmother
who through the
measured veil of shyness has already measured
her man- but to stir him further, pouring
into the pan
a ladle more salt.
There is no mustard oil at home, no affection either.
But that does not stop her
from mixing his anger
with her petulant nails- mother promise-
she will scratch him dead, blind him or worse
until he halts.
It took fourteen years for the great man
to understand he didn’t love her.
He didn’t love her. He didn’t want her.
He didn’t like her touch. Her pitiful
face aged early and made him cringe
when he was lonely with her: naked lonely.
Oh, she was lonely before- fourteen
years. In the woods of forsaken love,
in the hut of ascetic dreams, besieged by
an immortal king who’d shadowed her
door but withheld lust. She hadn’t known then
in her heart what else to do but wait.
The king was dead. Tonight’s light. Against
the pomp of the capital lamps the great man glowed-
her man- the heart of the heart- the winner king-
face clean, disappointed in what he had won.
This war, oh, this strangeness of life- struggle-
struggle. For this? Let’s be alone soon, Sita.