/November 15, 2013
Fog embraces the Indian capital Delhi each winter night. Post sunset – moisture, smog and pollution settle down near the ground like a thick blanket .This is due to the inversion of temperature as the ground stays warmer than the cold sky above. Once again at daybreak the temperature gets warmer and all signs of fog are erased and the sky is once again bright blue. The dark thoughts of the night replaced with a buzz of activity of work and play and movement.
Yesterday the family got together in the evening and we lit a small fire in the garden. The monsoon had departed weeks ago and the temperature in north India had dropped drastically by nightfall. The fire was lit to bring a feeling of cheer and warmth to the family. The family gathered together, guests and friends dropped in, it was the festival of Diwali the season of lights. Tiny oil lamps were lit and placed all around the garden. Delicious traditional sweets and dry fruits – almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts and raisins in silver bowls were passed around.
There was chatter and talk and now and then the flow of conversation halted. Every one stared into the fire. Little golden specks shot straight up and then exhausted, drained of all sustenance died a natural death. An odd spray of golden specks flared up into the sky and got extinguished in seconds. A crackle and a hiss and then silence ! The play of flames continued occasionally replenished by more fuel. The fire gave life to our little garden in suburban Delhi. Fire released the pent up energy of wood and charcoal consuming the matter that had been preserved for years.
We avoid eye contact, knowing that it would only bring forth a spray of words, bringing to the surface irritation that had developed with over familiarity over the years ! Our children were around, happy to see the family together, enveloped in the evening fog. They too sensed that a spark lit between us would surface above the flames – but they knew that it would die a quick death. They had seen it so often, and had got used to it. They didn’t not want to give it energy and made jokes and teased each other to lighten up the atmosphere.
Feelings and old resentments compressed each day pounded by commitment to the family had created dead wood within me. Layers and layers of little thoughts and actions that I had chosen to ignore or not give energy to had created fossil wood in my soul. There were times when I longed to light the fire and let the dead wood blaze. Let yesterday go quickly and extinguish itself . Let my hurt feelings that had become charcoal in my soul crackle and evaporate as smoke.
I stared into the fire in front of me watching the sparks dance and die and realized that if I let my tirade out all too soon I too would extinguish myself. In seconds I too would end up in ash and smoke with no substance left. The spark of my soul existed nourished on my experiences. I knew the sun would soon appear and lighten up the morning sky. I would soon be busy with the bustle of activity and the dark foggy thoughts I had would fade away with the demons of the night !
Starry, Starry Night ….. Paint your palette blue and grey……
I look up into the sky and watch millions of stars twinkling in the dark black sky of the universe. It is a perfectly clear night with no clouds and the moon is just emerging. I feel I am in a planetarium, but – no! I remind myself I am out in the open and this is the real thing ! The feeling of timelessness and space that I get as I watch the myriads of stars out there in the universe only make me feel insignificant and small.
I am told that there are 500 thousand million stars in our Milky way! Zeros scare me ! I am terrible with calculations. I can never remember how many zeros there are in a million or a billion and then how do I figure how many zeros there are in 500 thousand million stars which just comprise our milky way and I am told there are thousands of similar galaxies as is our Milky way! Indians feel that the rest of the world is always indebted to India – after all ancient Indian scholars from the 5th–2nd century BC gave the world the ZERO but what we do without a calculator ?
Ancient Indian scriptures describe ‘Indra’ as being the God of the Universe He is the king of the gods and ruler of the heavens ( mainly in this case the Indian heavens). If the Universe is personified as a God – Indra then other elements such as the planets, fire, water, sun, thunder and rain also need to be personified. Each of them are under the command of Indra who commands them in war against the demons. Mythology gives us the consequence of these great wars – the eternal and universal war of good against evil! So we in India revere the planets and elements in the universe and give them names and worship them. Our myths are about how they interact , fight and love each other. The interplay of these mighty cosmos giants change the course of us earthlings. They fight and there is destruction, famine, drought or floods on Mother Earth, they love and share their bounty with us and there is plenty !
I remember many years ago, maybe it was in the late seventies, I am not sure of the exact year but we were informed by the Indian Meteorological Institutes in India that we would witness a total solar eclipse for a few minutes. We were told the day and time this would happen and were also informed of certain regions in the country where the viewing of the total eclipse would be maximum. As seen from the Earth, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun. This can happen only at new moon, when the Sun and the Moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth in an alignment referred to as ‘syzygy’. The disk of the Sun would be fully obscured by the Moon in full day light. Which meant that for a few minutes there would be almost complete darkness in the middle of the day!
Translated into Indian mythology it would be equivalent to the conquest of the mighty Sun God by the smaller and less powerful moon god even for a few moments ! Though the eclipse was a natural phenomenon, the effect of it could be easily attributed to supernatural causes or regarded as a bad omen or even the start of destruction of Mother earth! For anyone who had not been forewarned of its effect a total solar eclipse could be frightening.
I travelled with a group of college friends about 150 miles from my home to see the Total eclipse. People like us who travelled to remote locations to observe or witness predicted central solar eclipses were known as eclipse chasers or umbraphiles .We were told not to look directly at the photosphere of the Sun (the bright disk of the Sun itself), even for just a few seconds, as this could cause permanent damage to the retina of the eye. This was because of the intense visible and invisible radiation that the photosphere emitted. This damage can result in impairment of vision, up to and including blindness. The retina has no sensitivity to pain, and the effects of retinal damage may not appear for hours, so there is no warning that injury is occurring. We went armed to our expedition with special sunglasses to be used when we gazed up.
Look out on a summer’s day…..With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
We were a little late to reach the suggested spot before the appointed time. We were just about 30 miles away and suddenly even before we looked at our watches we could feel the changes happening outside. From the road we noticed a small lake and a small grass thatched hut. We got out of the car and rushed inside the hut. My friends wanted to record the phases of total eclipse. It was about 3 pm in the afternoon and suddenly the sky became dark. A strong breeze gushed around us and we could see the dead leaves and dust swirl around us. Suddenly there was pin drop silence you could not hear a single bird. It was like an unseen force had unplugged Mother Earth we saw darkness cast on us we saw the shadow spread on the lake. The little animals did not understand what was happening – for them it had become night in the middle of the day ! The birds flew into the large trees to find shelter and wind and dust, the dogs stopped barking. We waited in silence for those few minutes which seemed an eternity. There was a doubt created in our minds, – should we appeal to the Sun God and ask him to vanquish the Moon God that had blocked the sun’s bounty from reaching us? Should we pray to the Moon God to spare mother earth and move away. Was the brightness of our souls being blackened by darkness from within?
Suddenly the darkness lifted and you could see the shadow recede from the lake. Light infused the atmosphere, we were happy to see the happy face of the sun. What joy – the earth was once again plugged in once again . The crows started screeching the hens, sparrows and little birds were chirping loudly! The dogs were barking and the village chatter started once again! The mid day darkness had receded,
They would not listen, they’re not listening still……Perhaps they never will…
( stanza from Vincent by Don Mclean)
/October 20, 2013
Belgundi village 1910 , a young boy Ganpat would race his classmates during the noon recess to the top of the nearby hill. He would try and reach the Jamun* tree before anyone else. The fastest and brightest boy in his class. Panting he would mark his territory by peeing on the side of the gnarled Jamun tree. Squinting his eyes from the midday sun, he stared into the horizon. Plush green paddy fields, a meandering river, clusters of mango trees, hillocks in the distance and the little village where he was born .“One day I will own this hill and I will build a glass house from where I can see the view from every direction!”
Belgundi village 1936, a young man Ganpat returns home from Berlin. He has been in Germany for several years and his employer – the newspaper Berliner Tageblatt sends him to India to report on Gandhi’s non cooperation movement against the British. He discards his leather shoes, his necktie and blazer and once again runs up the hill, to the same Jamun tree, to perform the same ritual. But in his hands are the title deeds of the hill that he has purchased! Still panting he gazes into the horizon, a cigarette resisting gravity in his lips, his jet black hair combed, his hands on his hips. He leans on the tree and thinks of how quickly the years have passed and shuts his eyes. For that instant he is at home !
Belgundi village 1945, Ganpat has been recently released from the local prison where the British had detained him as a political prisoner for the duration of World War 2 because of his long stay in Germany. He is now an activist in India’s Quit India movement against the British Raj. He is with his fiancee and they are soon to be married and they stand under the Jamun tree, he points to the horizon and shares with her his dream of the glass house he will build for her. This will soon be their home !
Belgundi village 1975, Ganpat’s memorial stone is laid under the Jamun tree as he had expressed a few days after he breathed his last. A huge crowd from the village come to pay homage to the man who set up industry locally and gave them a means of livelihood. They gaze into the glass walls of the mansion in awe – ‘Ganpat was one of us’, they think, but in their hearts they know he was different from them – he had lived his dream and had finally come home! They gather under the Jamun tree, that stood there through every monsoon and every season. With arms outstretched The Jamun tree had waited patiently for this day – to embrace his favourite Ganpat back home .
/September 20, 2013
Hindu’s believe in reincarnation. We are told, that the soul of the deceased are re-incarnated in another life. Maybe once, maybe several times, until it completes its karma, until its pays back its cosmic debt to the universe. Within a calendar year, we are told that the family of the deceased have to perform rituals to remember the soul and nudge the soul to ‘move on’.
Shital, my lovely daughter in law passed away last year. A vibrant, beautiful young woman of 33, had danced into our lives eight years earlier and had captured my sons heart. Almond eyes, jet black hair and an engaging smile , she was always a free soul and loved sufi whirling and yoga. Maybe it was her karma to have two sons quickly within a year of each other and she was a busy, content, happy person. Shortly after a ‘mystic’ yoga retreat that she had attended in one of the jungle resorts of South India she fell ill. She was hospitalized, and within 5 days of high fever she unexpectedly breathed her last. We were told, it may have been a rare mosquito bite that had caused the high fever and septicemia. We will never know.
Shitals parents told us to assemble at the Banganga tank in Mumbai not very far away from Malabar Hill, a posh locality of Mumbai. We drove there through the traffic and crowded streets of Mumbai. My two darling grandsons of six and four were in my car. They had been told that we were going for ‘Mamas puja’ and they were well behaved clutching on to their spider man and Benton toys. Occasional questions asked were “How does Mama know that we are doing prayers for her?” and then from the younger one “ Can she see us Granny?” and the older one again “ Will she come back to us soon?”
Suddenly we took a right, off the main road close to the entrance gate. We were amazed at the sight in front of us ! A beautiful large tank of green, still water with just a slight ripple that passed through with the breeze. Concrete steps all around and temples around its perimeter. At short distances from each other, groups were huddled around waiting for the Hindu priest to perform rituals on their behalf. We were suddenly transposed out of our lives in Mumbai city to this historical haven. We had been told of this beautiful water body in the heart of the city but had never been there before and were amazed and surprised to see this little oasis in the midst of the desert of one of the most populated cities in the world!
We performed our rituals and the children fed the crows, the ducks, the geese and even the fish in the water tank. We had a busy morning and with the satisfaction that we had completed the rituals as we were told to do, we returned to our busy lives!
/May 22, 2008
Marine Drive in South Mumbai on the Arabian Sea. Ever since I can remember, evening walks there have served me as relaxation, exercise and recreation, and sometimes I find it hard to imagine that Mumbai, India’s Manhattan, was once a beautiful tropical archipelago of seven islands. Until the sun sets on Marine Drive. Then you can watch the magnificent sky change color from an array of oranges and purples to the dull steel blue of night. ‘Queens necklace’ transforms itself instantly, as thousands of lights flood the night sky in Marine Drive’s circular bay.
No wonder we call it the Pride of Mumbai.
Rotate 180 degrees, and turn your back to the Arabian sea – the ferocity of the city overwhelms you. The traffic, the people and the noise. First time visitors to Mumbai often ask “How can you call your city beautiful?”. Diehard Mumbai lovers shrug their shoulders. “The sounds, the smells, the sea , the colours , the festivals and the friendliness of the Mumbai people – we love it all !.” Foreigners are not aware of a secret guarded ferociously by Indians . The secret being that Indians are still evolving in the Darwinian sense – survival of the fittest. They have developed a special survival tool – it is known as “selective sight”. We only see what we want to! But there is not much to selectively discard in Marine Drive as it is quite a beautiful oasis in the crowded city!
Marine Drive ends in a plush area known as Nariman Point an explosion of high rise buildings, five star hotels and offices – the heart of business in Mumbai. Reclaimed extensively from the sea, Nariman Point is named after Mr. Khurshid Nariman a Muncipal Corporator, who in the 40’s reclaimed the entire area and filled in the shallows by using debris from various parts of the city. Eventually he was sacked for using reinforced concrete cement and imported steel obtained from the “black” market at exorbitant prices due to outbreak of World War 2. Today real estate prices in this area are said to be the highest in the world and what Mr Nariman spent was a pittance compared to todays value. He will never know this…it is said he committed suicide !
Most people who live in South Mumbai drive through Marine Drive at least once a day but only a privileged few actually experience Marine Drive at 7.30 am in the morning. The cobble stoned promenade between the road and the Arabian see is transformed into a ‘Walking path’ and nearby residents pursue their morning recreations with regularity and seriousness. Numerous residents walk in their regular groups, others walk with their friends and spouses or their pets. Nodding, waving and acknowledging each other is common. Drenched by the morning sun, all have a fixed glaze and look forward to the prospect of going home to their morning tea. Armed with their ipods the young run or jog, children often cycle or skate and dogs sniff each other. Sweepers gather ‘yesterdays evening’ garbage into wheelbarrows, pigeons alight on the parapet at will cooing their good mornings.
Of the hundreds of people and various groups one passes on Marine Drive one notices a prominent group comprising of retired stock brokers. God fearing and religious they greet each other by saying ‘Jai Sri Krishna’ . Many of them are from Gujarat, a state in India that has produced India’s best traders and businessmen. All wear traditional long shirts and traditional muslin ‘Dhotis’ , ankle socks and the latest Nike shoes. They walk and then sit down on the cement ledge and share home cooked savouries in steel tiffin carriers. Appearances can be deceptive and you would not believe that the networth of each person runs into millions of rupees in stocks and shares. A simple discussion or a heated argument on Marine Drive on a gusty morning at 7.30 am can change the stock market index for the day!
Bold Headline ” Man steals to finance Carnal Desire”
First para in the newspaper ” Gochan Bahadur Tapa’s dream of making it big in Mumbai came crashing down when he was arrested for allegedly stealing Rs 19,000 ( about $500) from a restaurant in a Mumbai suburb ”
I thought that the day that I walked into ” Uncle Chinese Restaurant” was the best day of my life. I soon realized it was my worst! I had come from Nepal in search of work. I had been roaming the streets of Mumbai for the last two weeks and had barely eaten a proper meal since I left home.
” Go to Mumbai… you will make your fortunes there ” everyone told me . Without thinking I woke up one day packed a few clothes and left for Mumbai. I didnt realise that it would be such a heartless city ! Smelly and dirty..
One day I walked past the Uncle Chinese Restaurant and saw a fat middle aged man sitting at the cash counter .
” You looking for a job?” he growled at me ” Want to be a waiter ?”
I nodded , the sweet sour smell of soya and frying wantons invading my mind like a narcotic. Realising that I would get food as much as I wanted I hastily agreed. The proprietor was good to me and soon I knew all the items in the menu from top to bottom and then bottom to top within 45 seconds. No one asked for menu cards anymore , they just called for me to take their orders. I was known as the friendly waiter and everyone tipped me generously. I was happy.
The problem started one day when I was strolling in the streets one day . I suddenly heard someone call my name and when I turned I saw a Nepali girl wearing a short skirt high heels and a slinky top. Not wanting to show interest I ignored her
” Gochan come here…”
” Gochan its me , Meena don’t you recognize me ?”
I turned . It was Meena . We were related , but all the Nepalis in the village were related with each other anyway . Meena had been clever , she was the first amongst us to learn to read and write. We had grown up together and then she disappeared from the village. I went up to her and then we embraced. We laughed and she took me to a park where we sat and discussed our lives. When I asked her what she did she burst out into tears. Then only did I notice the glares of passersby. Their raw naked desire evident in their half opened mouths and their gestures answered my question. I noticed the red lipstick, the cheap perfume and her eye shadow . Meena had become a prostitute! I was furious .
” Gochu don’t be angry what could I do . I had no job and no where to stay .”
I looked at her and deep within her eyes I saw the same sweet innocent girl I grew up with . We spoke and she promised that she would stop doing her trade and look for something decent to do. Suddenly whilst we were talking she started vomiting. She rushed behind the tree and wretched . Meena was pregnant!
” I want to have an abortion Gochu help me please .”
I promised her I would meet her again and would help her. I had loyalty to the people of my village and more so to a friend I grew up with . We started meeting and people started talking that I was frequenting a brothel and had got ‘hooked by a hooker’. They made fun of me and joked about me ..what did they know ?
” Gochu loan me money , I have found a doctor who will help me” she pleaded.
I promised Meena I would meet her the next day in her house with money .That morning I went to work and swept and swabbed the restaurant floor . I looked at the cash box .. It was open. I saw the money . A pulse started beating in my head, my breath was quick and short . Without thinking I took the money and ran to Meena’s house. I didn’t tell her where I got it from. I think she knew. She put the money in her purse and went to get me some food to eat. She didn’t come back. I waited all day. I was a thief, but it was so easy.
Suddenly I could hear the steps outside the staircase. It sounded like a battalion. I hid under the bed, nervous. “God help me..God save me” I whispered hoarsely . The door came crashing open and the head constable started searching the room and turning everything upside down! They found me and took me to the police station. I was put behind bars. Meena was missing.
The next day I read my name in the papers it said ” Man steals to finance Carnal Desire”. What did they know !
The newspaper : DNA , Mumbai dated 20.5.2008
/May 1, 2008
The following is a mythological story based on a conversation between two Indian Gods, greatly venerated by the Hindu’s, who met each other in their celestial abode. They were both taking a sabbatical from their normal duties. Whilst they were strolling around the cold and lofty heavens they both took occasional glances down below on what was happening to the world below. Earlier the Gods had a much smaller area to look into which was limited to the area of the Asian subcontinent. However of late the population of Indians had spread alarmingly, and Indians had migrated to all parts of the world, from the Antarctic to the Tundra and from the Sahara deserts to Siberia.
It was said that – in the planet below every fifth person in the world was an Indian. So this spurt in the population of the Hindus resulted in an extra workload, and a larger area which had to be managed carefully by the celestial masters. The Gods in turn had to hear the prayers and dispensate blessings and boons , over a larger surface , wherever the Hindus were – whether it was the United States of America, South America or even China.
The two Gods were Shiva, the ruling God of the Himalayas , known as the ascetic God of destruction and the other being Krishna , the God of Brindavan , the God associated with the love of nature and dancing with the cowgirls and playing pranks. The following is a dialogue recorded to prepare the other Gods on the current scenario on Planet earth :-
Shiva: Hello Krishna , I haven’t seen you for a long time how have you been
Krishna : I have been busy trying to clear the rivers of the horrible plastic bags. Indians have a particularly nasty habit of throwing everything outside their houses. They have so little civic sense. Its only when they live in foreign countries that they conform to some extent to the civic rules prevailing in those cities.
Shiva: Yes I have heard that this is a very acute problem. Thankfully the Ganges when she starts from my base in the Himalayas is crystal pure and clean. My big problem is that Global warming has caused the temperatures all over the world to rise and because of this, the glaciers around me have started melting. All the wonderful shrines in the Himalayas are now in grave jeopardy!
Shiva continues : Have you heard the latest Bhajans ( prayer songs) that are being sung to us today? They are based on disco themes and tunes. I don’t know where the piety and silence in religion has gone to. Right from the entrance to the temples when the devotees ring the bells , there is so much noise everywhere .
Krishna: Yes I know you are so right , devotees now have stopped reciting mantras and saying their prayers, they just play the tape recorders and CD players now. Frankly I don’t mind to much as long as people remember me, I don’t really mind whether they pray to me with their own voices or they do it electronically. I keep hearing a phrase I have never heard before called a “MP3.
Shiva : You must have gone deaf by now Krishna from hearing the velocity that the Indians play their devotional music. Sometimes I cannot make out the difference between the devotional songs and the disco music. It sounds all the same to me !
They gave me a hard slap on my bottom, and I cried! I am told that I cried louder than any other baby that was born in the ward. My cries were not of pain or discomfort they were out of indignation. They must have surely known that I was one of the ‘omega babies’! How rude the doctors were. I had hardly taken my first breath and gasped in the bright sunlight when I was unceremoniously slapped. How dare they! But my anger soon subsided when my eyes were dazzled by the brilliant sunlight!
How glorious it was to see light, bright beautiful light of many colors. I could see all the dust particles transformed and illuminated into dancing gold dust in the beam of light that flowed through the window. I could see the nurses as they moved up and down to look after the other babies. Dressed in their strange uniforms they were told to take special care of us ! We were not like other babies, we were known as the ‘omega twins’ . My sister and I. We were a genetic experiment – it was to be top secret. I know because I heard all the instructions and other chatter whilst I was in my Mothers womb. She was no normal Mother either. I adored her and all I really wanted was to be held by her and smiled at . Being a respected professor of biochemistry who was working on techniques to chemically stimulate prenatal babies, she had decided to experiment on her own babies that she was carrying in her womb. My twin sister and I were the Omega plus babies which means that we were intellectually superior !
We had been fed on special medicine so that our brain cells would develop more than normal babies. It is said that for all babies learning is survival ! So babies can learn anything you teach them – we were the guinea pigs ! My Mother was considered a visionary at heart and a biochemist by profession and had tried this experiment only with the help of her team of scientists from the University. These substances that were fed to me, made me aware of a lot of things whilst I was still in her womb. I could hear and understand her talk to her colleagues on how she was going to experiment with her own babies and that she would stimulate us to attain our full intellectual capacity before we learned to walk.
I don’t think my sister was as bright as I was. I have a suspicion that I was the main recipient of the medication and hormones and other unknown substances that were administered to us jointly. I don’t know if this was deliberate or accidental. She was a lazy baby and was always sleeping. May be I got an overdose of medicine and she got nothing. But I heard children speak once and the general consensus was that girl babies were quite stupid anyway.
My Mother would play special subliminal music all day long as this was part of the treatment and everything we were to learn was put on the music. My omega twin slept through everything. I wonder why everyone especially my super mom loved her so much and laughed when she would give one of her dimpled smiles!
Things were organized well for us. Should I call it a time of peace? Our food was regulated , our baths and lessons and especially the times we had to listen those horrible tapes. As we grew into toddlers my sister would play with toys – those inane ones with the faces of animals cartoons painted on them. You could press a button and the music would start. I was given numbers to remember and told difficult data and I would respond correctly. Initially I got all the attention . Then things started changing …..
I started wondering why everyone loved my omega sister more than me. Then one day I had a look at my face in the mirror. I compared myself with my sister, I recognized the same bright brown eyes and curly hair that she had. But I realized that I didn’t have the same smile as she had. Nor her innocent dumb expression that appealed to everyone . In place of that I had a pained expression of someone who knows things way beyond his age. Even my parents loved her and cuddled her more than they did to me. Was the price or burden of early knowledge that no one would love me?
That’s when the realization dawned on me and I realized that I had to become a baby once again. I refused to look at the flash cards with complicated equations and large words that were presented to me. I would close my eyes and then I learnt an invaluable tool that I had seen my sister use since she was born . It was called the ‘magic’ of crying. It was only with the combined techniques of sulking and crying alternatively that I learned to become a baby once again. I loved gurgling and trying to put my toes into my mouth and play with my inane toys with silly animal faces and push buttons that started colourful lights . It was only by doing these silly things that I became a baby once again ! I became the silly baby loved by everyone……
“She is coming , she is coming….. she will kill me”.
“I can see the goddess Kali , with her black hair streaming from her face” .
“Look, look she is riding her tiger , her lips red with the blood of the demons. I can see her lance wanting to pierce into my heart… help me help me”
The old man ran hysterically behind each pillar on the outskirts of the ancient temple muttering to himself. The cold black stone under his feet,the fragrant yet familiar smell of burning joss sticks and the warmth of the glow of candle lit lamps calmed him a little , These were the sensations and smells he was accustomed to. He had lived in the vicinity of the temple all his life . Yet now each moment was sheer torture . He had no where to go . A thief trapped in the prison of his own guilt.
Once he had been the head priest, a post he cherished with great pride . His father had been the head priest before him. His grandmother would tell everyone that her favourite grandson was special, that he would lead a charmed life, he was blessed as he grew up in the ‘lap of the Goddess’ .
Prison for seven years had been a nightmare for him, but release was worse. He had been released a few months ago and he had to now face the entire village for having done a deed which no mortal soul could forgive, leave alone his beloved deity the goddess Kali – no penance was hard enough. ” I will have to be reborn a thousand times , before this sin is wiped out,” he would cry to his wife each night beating his chest .
No one else would speak to him. The villagers would shake their fists at him and glare at him . They had once respected and had held him in high regard. They entrusted him with all their ceremonies . He would perform the birth ceremonies when their children were born and he would perform the last rites before the bodies of their dear departed were carried on the funeral pyre. He had performed their matrimonial ceremonies and prayed for success in their businesses and lives.
At one time people would turn a deaf ear when they heard whispers that he was not always straight in all his dealings. Especially with respect to purchase of essentials for the temple services. This had been tolerated by the villagers who felt that though he may be a petty thief, he would do nothing to harm the temple, or the village. He had been a pleasant man, caring and kind. However over the last few months every thing changed ! He turned capricious and became ambitious for his growing sons. His sole desire in life was to send his children to University in the big city. ” My Amar will be a chartered accountant ” he would say and
“My second son Avinash will become a lawyer.”
The boys were bright and they had trained to chant the Sanskrit prayers by rote and had learnt how to perform all the ceremonies .The earnings of the Head priest from all these ceremonies was not enough and it had been apparent to him that prayer alone would not be enough to fulfill his dreams. He had to somehow augment his income.
One day he came across two business men ,examining the deity closely. Usually, the deity was covered by ceremonial clothes when the temple was open to the public. These two strangers seemed to have spent the whole day inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. They had bribed the junior priests. Thereafter instructions for ’special handling’ had been transmitted down the hierarchy. After the ceremony the clothes adorning the beautiful statue of the goddess were being changed and the two men had photographed the priceless necklace embedded with precious jewels worn around her neck.
It was late in the night that the two men approached the head priest at his home. They took him aside and spoke to him in a low hushed tone. They promised him huge amounts of money and steadily and slowly into the wee hours of the morning wore down his resistance and guilt. They promised him sums of money he had hitherto never had access to. Finally they were successful. That very night they actually walked away with the priceless necklace. The head priest locked away the large leather bag bulging with wads of soiled currency notes in his cupboard.
Now it was time for repentance for just these few moments of weakness.
“Kali mata is my Mother. A son has robbed his Mother …..” he would cry banging his head on the stone pillars at the periphery of the temple.
On his release he had to face a far bigger trial, a trial where there was no mercy – the trial and the judgement of his own family, the boys who had once looked upto him now would not look into his eyes…… what example or tradition had he left behind them … the legacy of the ’stolen necklace’ ? He had cried and begged for mercy from the other junior priests. He had no where else to go, they had allowed him to come back to the temple though he was forbidden from going inside near the deity. After the heinous crime had been performed, a large lock had been put near the entrance of the sanctum sanctorum, or the garbhagriha the womb of the temple as it was known . The statue of the goddess was no longer accessible to all; a grilled iron door separated her from the rest of the temple which was opened only under police protection.
The dishonored priest had returned the money to the temple and another beautiful necklace had replaced the stolen one. During the evening ceremonies, the jewels reflected the lights from a thousand lamps and shimmered bright colors – a psychedelic feast. Villagers who went to offer their prayers would look at their beautiful Goddess in captivity and shake their heads in despair. They would ask each other….. “what sin had their goddess committed that ‘She’ their beloved deity was to be eternally behind bars on account of the greedy priest?”
“This is Subhash Chandra Bose, who is still alive speaking to you over the Azad Hind Radio…” the date was March 1942 ,the middle of World War 2. Bose was in Berlin where he launched his ‘Azad Hind’( free India ) Radio broadcast over Radio Berlin. It was a particularly strange phrase to have used in a public radio address.
” who is still alive….”
One seldom addresses a congregation by saying
“This is so and so…. Who is still alive” .
What a strange affirmation to make….. you could hardly say
“This is so and so who is still not alive !!” .
But Bose had a point to make and the remark was aimed at various British propaganda agencies who had issued reports about his death . Bose reacted to these rumors in a vindictive way especially as it proved to him that he had actually outwitted the British again.
Subhash Chandra Bose believed in a very simple premise that “an enemy’s enemy is a friend”. So inorder to remove the stranglehold that the British had over India he tried to convince the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler to help him to fight against them. Coming to Berlin had not been easy . He had to escape house arrest in Calcutta by the British – escaping unnoticed stealthily. It had been a formidable journey and that too in incognito. He had traveled on foot , by truck or by bus via Kabul (Afghanistan) and finally reached Berlin. His spirit exhausted but not defeated .
With the help of a few Indian supporters Subhash Chandra Bose was able to establish base in Berlin. His attempts to convince Hitlers officers to give him support against their common enemy were successful ! People were amazed with his ability to negotiate with the Third Reich. The manner in which he dealt with the Germans was amazing and he was able to achieve diplomatic status for his free India movement – ‘ The Azad Hind’ movement .
“Ever since I left India last year, British propaganda agencies have from time to time given contradictory reports about my whereabouts… The latest report about my death is perhaps an instance of wishful thinking. I can imagine that the British Government would, at this critical hour in India’s history, like to see me dead since they are now trying their level best to win India over to their side for the purpose of their imperialistic war”. Subhash continued in his articulate manner. He spoke fine English like an educated well bred and well educated Bengali gentleman with a slight Bengali accent in which the v’s became b’s .
Finally his broadcast from the German radio sent shocked the British. It also had its desired effect on hundreds of Indians who were further highly motivated and encouraged that Subhash Chandra Bose was working on a master plan to free their motherland. Indians logged onto the radio program from all over the world. To be addressed by your own countryman from Germany was indeed heartening !
Bose knew that every broadcast he made would be transmitted to the British powers . The British were his enemy. Every statement he made was targeted against them. Bose was not always supportive of Gandhiji’s passive resistance movement . But when Gandhi gave a call for Britishers to “Quit India” in August 1942 and coined the logo “Do or Die” for Indians he had a lot of support. Subhash Bose gave his full support to this call through his Radio Broadcast from Germany.
Once Bose was asked whether he was not scared of being caught by the Gestapo and being but into prison? Bose retorted that ” Had I been scared of going to prison, I would have stayed back in India . The British officers are brutal and cruel to Indian freedom fighters torturing them and giving them inhuman punishments. ”
People in India today have forgotten that the ‘ Azad Hind’ also known as Indian Infantry Regiment 950 with 3500 men in 4 battalions took an oath of loyalty to Hitler, Bose and “free India” in September 1942. The Legion was paraded on 6th November 1943 at a ceremony at the Hotel Kaiserhof in Berlin announcing the creation the Indian National Government.
Eventually Bose had to leave Berlin to seek the support of the Japanese.