Tuesday, October 29, 2013


It was raining again.And why  not. It was monsoon after all. Let it rain. The land would breathe again when the Asuragod Mahabali returned. He belonged to the people, a simple King rendered a beggar, yes, devoid of land, people, tithes, tributary. The boy looked  up. It was a roof after all. The thatch was made of crumbling palm leaves. Sometimes he saw a spider or bees, or even a bevy of tiny sunbirds resting or playing in the eaves. They had their own life, their own language. He blinked. The spider was swinging down. Sometimes it would draw its length of thread upwards and disappear. He rubbed his eyes. It was time to wake up. The sun was glinting through the rain. The raindrops had begun to form, incandescent in the dim light of the room, as they shimmered at the edges of the slim logs that made up the roof. The roof was not leaking, the drops formed and evaporated on the dusty ledge below it. That was where they kept the large vessels his father had inherited from his mother. No one climbed up there, but the lizards and the cat, and those minstrels from the sky: sunbirds, moths, butterflies, dragonflies, fireflies, and that spider swinging on its self made trapeze.
          The rain had stopped. The sky was red, and the sun was rising up, steadily. He said his morning prayers, looking at the lotus filled river, and the hill they called Malayatoor. He sang his morning song.
Many salutations to you O peacock, Salutations to you and the weapons of
Salutations to you o goat, also salutations to you
Oh Rooster, My salutation to you O Sindhu
My salutations to your divine abode on the shore.
My salutations to you O Skanda
Again and Again my salutations to you.

He worshipped equally, he sought no combat. He believed that his own birth was a blessing to ancient parents. He had no concern with the span of his life, his short life would match the remainder of theirs.  They had chosen him, and now no one could change his future. How could it be chosen? It was a shimmering river, with no beginning and no end. It was like the celestial stars, each resembling the raindrops strung like a sequence of diamonds.  The Nestorean merchants sometimes paused on roads outside his house, on their way to the mountain of Thomas. And some of them were gold and diamond merchants paying for pepper and cloves with their carefully carried goods, stitched cautiously into cloth bags. He had seen them in the market places, and occasionally one of them would expose his hoard, the diamonds in sizes too small to have any value, to other merchants, except to a man buying for his wife. The women never came out to look, but sometimes the children did, choosing for their mother a new nose ring or a pair of earrings.
Every morning he blew the conch, and having bathed in the river looked for his mother. She was busy, but he would always go from house to house looking for her. The sound of the conch remained in his mind, a hollow shout, a long dim memory of the wind as it blew through the caves. His father had died long ago, he had very  little memory of him. Words were his anointment: a long life but unbestowed with virtue, dim, unknown, forgotten at his very birth; or a short one, full of virtue. And his devout parents left it to God, not choosing to know his fate. The God with the rice dumpling, the elephant faced one, became his protector, the one who obstructed his Father and was slain and then reborn with all the might of his mother’s desire, and his father’s imagination, and ofcourse, gifted with a heroism and memory. And so the silent one, the boy, the one without spouse, became his very own Isa, the chosen. And so too, the brother Skanda, with the peacock who travelled all over the universe, chose him. To be chosen, or to choose, what was the difference? He sang praises to all. A boy like Dakshinamurty, he used the thumb and forefinger to show the integrity of the world, and the peace within himself.

         The paddy swayed in the breeze, the green shining in the early morning sun. He was hungry. The long night of peaceful sleep was now replaced by the tumult of his hunger. He had nothing to calm it, no shloka  would still his appetite. Their garden grew nothing, the red earth was too stony, not even coconuts grew, and as for yams and tapioca, the rats ate them before they became ready for eating. Hibiscus, red, large, bell like, grew profusely. They filled his eyes, the colour deep, and the stamen golden with pollen.

       The rain started to fall, and he ran back to his house. It had become oddly dark, the clouds raging in the sky, the thunder now repetitive. He was alone in the world. His heart became still. The fig tree were huge, and the roots like snakes billowed in the earth. They were gnarled, independent and many pronged. He passed them saying his prayers, the red earth laughed at him,  and in the gravel that washed away so easily he saw the poetry of his forbears, forever wandering in search of food, offering words as their only currency. The trunks of the trees stood out like sleeping elephants, still, somnolent and huge.

       Elephants, these were the stuff of his dreams. They assembled and trumpeted, chased away demons, carried kings and soldiers and slaves. They were the one reason that he slept so well. His mother would begin her day with prayers to Ganesha. She would beg him too, to protect her son. Sometimes he could not tell the difference between Ganesha and himself. He would when small, lie in her lap, pretending he had the longest nose in the world, the largest ears. He would trumpet and dream and fall asleep.

The very nature of truth is manifold and lives in our mind as the unfolding lotus. His parents, the poor pious people who found that he had given his life to poetry. The words that came from his mouth were fully formed. He lived as if he were indeed one with God. That God, Isa, Brahman, Gauri, the Sons Ganesha and Skanda,Vishnu with his peacocks and great and discerning love - each spoke of the essential way of the world.

The snake that coiled on his head, the keeper of the diamond they all sought for its brilliance, was the one who enthralled him most. He was at first  pleased with the appearance of the snake. He thought he would accept the snake as an ornament. He was afraid, though. It wanted nothing, but to protect him. Yet, as Isa’s son, he would have to keep it calm, asking only that it should not uncoil and breathe venom. The fear of death was his onlycompanion, the beautiful landscape of death and dreams. He had no reason to establish that it was an illusion. The snake uncoiled, unfurled its hood, merged with the spine. It made him feel that he was only part of the natural world, that he was essence of rainbow, and the emptiness of sky. He was the keeper of wisdom, of memory, of touch, of the sorrow that makes people wise. Why give his parents a choice of the fate he had before him? His death was preordained by many things, most of all his need to learn.
He lay down on his bed, hunger making him recite all the mantras he knew, some he made up, most he had learned by rote when very young. He was, ofcourse, expected to recite them. His mother was not harsh, merely expectant and yearning. He was her only son, the one they had prayed for, the one who had been born when the skies were broken.

The snake, more gorgeous then even, appeared as Seshadri. He bowed to it. The snake had six hoods, and so to each he spoke a verse. Let them be united. They were each resplendent, each marked by the peculiar black and ivory typical of  their tribe. Up on the hill, at Malyatoor, the Christians kept a safe distance from snake worship, in fact they killed them on sight. By the cry of Pambu, they sought no differentiation between those which were marked and those which were not, those which were poisonous and those which merely ate the mice which plagued the tapioca patches, and the fish which swam in the rice fields. The Christians were polite, powerful, civil, exchanging nods with Kings and Brahmans, dressed similarly with top knot, the diamond and the sabre. The sword was their right as was the use of the sandalwood paste, the elephant, the fan, the sandals on their feet, the keeping of slaves and the right to trade and  grow things. He himself found their ideas interesting: Isa with the uncombed hair and the flowing  robes, the three godheads united and made one (no rivalry there) and the moment when truth and love became one. They said that Isa had travelled to Sindhu. The Sindhu so beautiful, it had the coldness of wisdom, detached from the mountains, spilling uncontrolled, ready to merge with other rivers, high up in the sky.  He could imagine the snow mountain, the home of the river, passing over their heads, encircling with its many lines the mountains like the passion of snakes.

In the corner of the room he saw the fat white snake with the black blotches, watching him. He was startled by its beauty, its fat concupiscence, by its mottled nature. It stared steadfastly back at him, its small black eyes intelligent and inquiring. The snake too was waiting for its breakfast just as he was. It would not eat him, of that he was certain. If at all he stood in its path, creating an obstacle to its movement, he would indeed be killed. Adi swallowed a little, both phlegm as well as his own hopelessness. By calling him Adi the first, was he expected to be the only child? Ofcourse, his mother was a widow. Sometimes she looked at him the way the snake was gazing at him now: curiosity and a banality of enquiry about his well being. She hid the roots of her agony. The snake too, seemed to be asking “What shall I do with this boy?”
He shuddered, thinking of the blue green waters of the Sindhu which he had never seen, but informed of so frequently by the Nestorean travellers who had no fear of rivers or seas, crossing them at will, with their precious cargo of pepper, cloves, ginger, silks, cotton, diamonds, gold, wool and incense.
O lord I am poor, wretched, defeated, helpless, miserable, tired, depressed and doomed. O Sambhu, why is it that though you are the common inner spirit residing in all the creatures (thus residing in me also) you are indifferent to my sorrows? Oh Lord, please save me.
In the still hollow of his bed he lay down thinking of nothing in particular. The snake was coiled too, and the spider was still. He wandered, thinking of the oath of early death to which he had been sworn at so young an age. His father’s body lay before his eyes, hard cold, and he too became breathless, astounded by the enormity of it all. Could such a thing be, a loving father turned into somethinsg so inanimate, like the large fish he saw in the fishermen’s shops? He shuddered, wept alittle, saw how his own body was stretched out in half sleep, sighed with pleasure and dozed off. When he woke he saw that the black and white snake had gone away, perhaps she was hidden in the house itself, and his mother would find her, while she was sweeping.

  His mother fed him every day at the same time. He would hear her come into the house, and he would jump up and hug her. She was, after his father’s death usually lost in thought.  She would crumble into a heap, knocking her head. She never forgot to cook his meals, and was tender to him. Her age was such that she forgot things and had to walk long miles to retrieve them. Sometimes she scolded him for nothing, and sometimes she hugged him without reason, as he did too. The love they had was the only fire that burned in their house, the kitchen hearth was often cold with dead ash since they ate the previous night’s food, and often, nothing at all. In the morning, however she always cooked, rice thick with pulses from lentil grown in their garden, with a pickle of hot green pepper crushed with coconut, tamarind, and curry leaves. Sometimes his tongue burnt from it, but there was the cooling sour buttermilk. He was so busy in his recitation that the day went by fast enough. His tongue became thick but his mind was clear, thoughts speeding along faster than the words could catch them. He would stop, lie down, sleep deeply. Dreams chased him like flagrant butterflies, each one more beautiful than the last. Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Brahma and Sarasvati visited him and gave him their gifts and blessings. He felt that though his mother old, and Shivguru dead, he carried with him the ultimate grace: the gift of cosmos. Nothing disturned him, he bore no anger or grudge, he was now in a continual state of bliss. Ofcourse there were times when he, or rather his body, remembered. His father was always present, with his love for words, for hot rice, for bananas, for hisbiscus flowers, their poverty never a cause for discomfort.

How simply they had taken each day. Living in the shadow of his own death as if it were a blessing. It was because a son was needed to carry out the mortuary rites, that he had been sheathed in the womb. That first sheath which had enclosed him in the primal waters was indeed his first blessing. When he was born, they had scrubbed him, soaking him in oils and water, till he appeared as golden as the sun. The skin that spoke of his mother’s Pandav roots made others speak of Shiva, but he knew that it was because of the long journeys his ancestors had made. His father was old but had the strength of a bull, and his silences were sufficient to them all. His father was always in awe of the Devi, and spent his life in the calm aspect of meditation, that indeed was his calling. The language of the Gods spilled out of him whenever he came out of the room where he maintained quiet. They only had that one room, the large room, and in that his father made a small corner for himself. Everyone loved his father. He had the peacefulnesss of the anointed, and never, never, unlike his mother, flagellated himself. When he spoke, it was always with a quiet assurance, but usually he kept calm. When his father died, Adi thought he would leave the house and go looking for him. If he had become one with Siva, then he only had to go to Mount Kailash, and there he would find his father.
He had told his mother, after she cremated his father’s body, since he was too young to hold the fire, “Let me go!’

“God knows where you can go. It was for this moment that we had asked for your birth. Old though we were, we thought that you would propitiate the Gods after our death. But it was your death that was, instead. assured to us.”
“So I know the reason for my father’s death. It was from the fear of mine.”
“Then stay behind. Do not go till I am gone. Who knows when that will be.”
“Let me go now. I know where my father sits.”
“His ashes flow in the river at Vercala.”
“I will be there for  you when you are in agony and in your last breath”
“How can I ? What will people say?”
“They will say that a sanyasi has been born.”
“Even your milk teeth have not fallen.”
“Your teeth have not fallen and I am still here. Why give birth to me, if you don’t understand who I am.”
“Siva Siva Siva”
“That is true, and so I am free to go.”
“Stay for a few years here, wandering in the nearby fields, helping me with the feastdays. Now I need you more than ever.”
“Even if I am here, it is only my body. The rest of me is in the snow hills. You cannot travel, so I must go.”

She wept again. He thought to himself that if the Gods have decided, then why would she not permit him to go forwards into the time that was allocated to him. And so the three years had gone by waiting for food, for clothes, for blessings.

Sankara was waiting for the son to rise high, for then his mother would come and cook the first meal of the day. Her hair washed in the river was still black, her face uncreased. She carried the weight of her years well, tall, strong, proud: tiny white stones gleaming in her ears, the fragrance of jasmines surrounding her body, covered in old silk. His mother carried herself as if she walked on air, and he would always think of her as the princess, high born and worldly. Shivguru had called her Aryamba, and had frequently prostrated before her. So what if she was a washerwoman and cook in other people’s houses? For Shankara and his father, she would always be the Devi.

He sat up on his pallet, and started his recitation. Was his voice clear? Was his diction perfect? Would he be understood? He often dreamed of the day, when he would travel far North. Whenever death appeared, Yama: friendly, courteous, inviting, he would be ready to go, putting up no obstacle. After all, to die was to return as seed. The great deluder Shiva made everyone start again, and that too without memory.

The rain had stopped. The sun shone through their neighbour’s cocoanut grove. His body trembled with the shock of morning hunger. The sun streaked through his body and split him in two, cleanly, like an axe through the spine. He trembled a little, and sang to Shiva, his thin reedy boy’s voice wavering. The sunlight was rainbow like, and suddenly, as he sang of Shiva’s jewels enclosing his arms snake like, their eyes emerald, the spasm left him, and the spine became whole again. He spat clear white fluid in his   mother’s spittoon.  One could never hurry her. She had work, and only when it was done, would she return home.

He got up lazily and sitting outside in the damp steaming earth, he started to draw with his forefinger on the wet sand, and then with sudden urgency, he wrote the jewel snake verse, Bhujangapriyakalp, His father had taught him the power of metre, and how words could sound like elephants marching, the very beat echoing the stamping of the heart. Having written them, he sat still. The rain fell and the words were washed into the red earth, the water pounding much like the beating of his ravaged heart. He was now aware that Shiva and he were one.
Fear of death, what cause was there? Darkness, night, loss: these were his legacy, but surely not his future? Himadri appeared often to him, and when his mother lit the lamp at night, and with it the smell of incense, the fragrance of the night from many houses brought him comfort. But now, it was morning, the sun harsh in the newly washed sky. He could hear children playing, and looked for them, but none could be seen, only their voices along with the sudden twitter of birds and the gurgling of the river made him shut his ears. Why were the noises so loud? He watched the progress of the horsefly as it swirled around the room. It was menacing, looking for a wall to build its dwelling, neighbor perhaps to moth and lizard and spider and frog. Let there be no anger among us, he prayed to Shiva. And weeping a little, he said,
Ganesa, Isa, save us from hunger and anger.
His mother had come. Her hair was tied tight, the tendrils escaping. Her beautiful face was creased with oil and sweat. She had been fed in the house she worked in and  had brought for him curds and rice  in a small earthen pot. Mustard seeds floating at the top with green curry leaves, the food looked delicious. He washed his hands and face and sat down, eating quickly, greedily, no food wasted, nothing sloshed.
“What did you do in the morning?”
“Why, nothing?”
“Nothing, and how can a boy do nothing?”
“I breathed in and I breathed out, reciting Shivaya and Om.”
“Did you bathe first?”
“I was afraid of the crocodile.”
“Yes, afraid. I took a dip and came out.”
“All the children are bathed, but you.”
“They went with their mothers to the pond.”
“You should have gone too.”
“I am too small to go alone. I was waiting for you.”
“Then come here, now that you are fed, Krishna.”
“Your love is sufficient for the world, not just for your son.”
“When you speak like that, I am afraid. Tell me what is in your mind.”
“I was thinking when you were gone that I have so many songs I
could sing them in towns, moving from place to place.”
“Let’s see if you can still fit in my lap.”
“No, mother, I am big, big enough to die.”
“Like me, you will live your span of life.”
“What is a span?” He showed her his palm.
“What is a moment?”
“What is a flutter of an eyelash?”

The argument ended, she fed the cow, and cleaned the house, finding a snake skin near her son’s pallet, a little frightened and awed. They lived from day to day, not knowing how they would manage tomorrow. Shivguru’s  death had brought sorrow and unease, his quiescent personality and his his adoration of her had been the greatest boon. Now the promise of a short creative life, seemed to be the reason that her son wanted to travel, travel endlessly describing to her how travellers went from Kaladi to Indraprastha via Magadh, and yes, sharply moving to the opposite direction to Dwarka, through Kasi and then upto Badri.
If you are told you will die, then how do you manage your days? Adi laughed. He watched centipedes crawling on leaves, and becoming white blanketed pupae, and then flying away with damp wings to follow their fate. He waited to see where ants carried their food, counted them as they increased in number and marched like soldiers to their garrison. There were the fireflies at nigh, echoing the mystery of the meteors. His mother was staring at him, her washed hair now tumbling below her coccyx, her eyes a little protuberant. He hoped she would not have a visitation. When that happened, her perpetually sad eyes would flow over, and the ash covered brow would crease, her feet would stamp the ground, and with cries of Ammae, she would flail and fall. He always stood at a distance, and then when she had stopped beating the earth, with her perspiring body, he would feed her water and the pounded areca nut, which she chewed slowly, her heart, calming down. When she had spat, and washed her moth, she would lie down and sleep the whole afternoon. The sun would  dazzle her, so he covered her with a cloth, and if it rained, he ran and sat at the window, hoping that Isa would have mercy on them and not flood them out.
The food lay heavy in his stomach. It was dangerous to sleep. He would snore, his breath would catch in his throat, he would dream, and  in dreaming die. His mother was sitting in the corner of the room, his father’s place, and she was staring at him. No delirium this time, he could see she was merely revisiting the prophecy of his birth. When he asked her how he was born, she always said,
“From  a seed, a melon seed.”
“Why am I not a melon, then?”
“Siva knows.”

His father’s naked body against his mother’s. He could remember that. In Vercala, the old couple had gone to the temple, and seeing their lust for one another, and the yearning for completeness in mortuary rituals, Shiva had granted them their wish. Why had they thought that in their old age they could look after a boy? Because they were married to each other, and by some inherent practice married to the sacred worlds of Agnilingam. Their mutual  lust was something all Kaladi knew of. Only death now separated them. Shiguru had given her the boy to remind her that once they had lived together and longed for a boy who would be Shiva himself. Should one wish for children? Everyone did. Why were his parents different wanting Shvaroopa? Let it be so, that was his fate. The snake was uncoiling in his spine, moving upward, warming his back. His mother was still staring at him.
“Why are you staring at me, boy!”
“Your eyes are like Bhadrakali.”
“She will look after you when I am gone.”
“And where are you going?”
“To be with your father. I will die before you. No mother should see her son die. Then you will cremate my body and throw my ashes in the Ganga.”
“But I, I will be dead or a Sanyasi.”
She had fallen into a trance,  and her eyes were half closed. He was reminded of the Buddhists who were now everywhere.  With their polished coconut shells they went from street to street, and received alms, both food and money, sometimes jewels. They had monasteries in every corner, and on their way to Jwambadvipa, they left behind large congregations. His mother too, sometimes, gave biksha to monks, but then  she also left cocoanuts and money at Malayatoor, at the Christine shrine, constantly praying for her son’s longevity. Why accept a boon, and not it’s tax? He found it very odd indeed.
He yawned and stretched, his belly full. He noticed that his mother was twitching involuntarily and that a bee was circling her head. He wondered if she had the disease that caused people to rot and die, either of hunger or surfeit. Oh mother, you who carried me, made your body my home for nine months, how will you live without me. He looked at his birthmarks carefully, the blue seals of his God given body: there was the conch and the trident, best of all, the moon. When he was born, they had been amazed. Yet his parents did not doubt that he was theirs, drawing comfort in his glances and his tranquility. They watched him grow, placing him carefully between their conjoined eternally satiated bodies. His mother’s body concave with longing, his father with the protuberant belly and the hairy legs: they locked him in their hot embrace. The thousand petal lotus unfolded, their joy compounded by the tiny child. The woman with  her fair skin, her sharp black eyes and the long hair that she oiled, and combed, even before her face was washed, and kohl underlined her eyes rather rampantly, swearing concupiscence and daring. He had inherited the courage from her, and that was what she most abhorred begging him to stay in her lap. His  father had taught him the verses of appeasement, so that Skanda and Ganesha, those rival brothers became his guardians. Hibiscus were the only things that grew in their  garden, and Shakti puja their greatest worth. So be it. The golden lady Sarasvani would bequeath her words to him. He could see her; rotund, black haired, almond eyed, gorgeous, smelling of sandalwood, her music following him along with the yellow flowers of Brahma’s invention. Sarasvani, who was as exquisite as his mother who had no cause to weep, for even the many years she had spent with Shivguru was a banquet, heavy laden with awesome gifts. His father could make a verse out of air, roll his tongue over the most coagulated of words, unglutinate them with the ease of a maestro. His eyes were large and bright, and his smooth language, the most perfect of spoken and unspoken tongues. He never had to shout, just with a twist of his eyebrows he could make people understand that he was not happy. And when he was angry,  the sparks were like errant ghosts, blue lights that moved about in the air.
He was dead now, their very own household God, Shivguru who made life, gave him birth. Shivguru, his mother’s companion and lover, dead at fifty years, and age thought by all to be ancient indeed, for Kaladi did not boast of circumstances of health and longevity. The river was often straggling and dull, the fishermen’s webs often caked with mud. They themselves had nothing to eat, poor brahmans, for the rice came from other people’s houses. When there was a wedding feast they sat in rows eating till they belched, but Aryaramba and Shivguru ate only that one meal of rice and oily tamarind paste pounded with a scattering of cocoanut and sesame seeds. No festive foods came their way, and once he saw Aryaramba drawing an imageof the emaciated Buddha. Yes, she met the monks as she went from house to house cooking and cleaning. Maybe she had been asked to join a Sangha. He was quite sure someone would have approached his beautiful mother with just such an invitation. The thought pursued him. He would shave his head and give up sandalwood. He approached Ganesha with a jaggery ball of rice, the elephant god, blessed with memory, who shut one eye quite often to the deeds of humans, welcomed him. His mind was now glowing with the memory of the early morning sun, when he had skirted the edges of the water and the paddy fields,  hoping for a glimpse of his mother. At the thought of  the reddish hue of early morning, he ran to the garden and plucked the hibiscus so dear to the Lord. He offered them to his mother, who opened one eye strangely at him.
“What is it?”
“An offering.”
“Abhishekham  Aa,” she said a little gutturally, spit leaking from the side of her mouth.

He was frightened.
“Let me go, mother. Let me renounce the world.”
“Big words from a little fellow like you. And what is there in it for me?”
“I shall be here to light your funeral pyre.”
“That is benediction indeed. A pyre lit by a renouncer son. Being poor is bad, but a boon that gives no peace, that is calamity indeed.”
“Your love for me lights my days, short though my life maybe. May I reach manhood.”
“I shall be your partner in meditation, do not go far.”
“While you say your prayers, I will meditate so should I die I will be born again in a house where meditation is most desired.”
“Oh Arjuna, the sun is high, and the water will be alone, flowing without others present, if you die no one will know.”
“Before it rains again, mother, I will return.”
“The rice is heavy in your belly. Tomorrow I will take you with me so that you do not wake hungry.”
“My work begins early too. I was born when five stars were present in the sky, early in the morning, when the flowers were many and the light was bright.”
His mother was wide awake.
“Yes, Vashista bore you. So they say. Everyone was pleased when you were born, even though to a washerwoman. As I beat the clothes upon the rock, and the crocodiles head bobbing among the reeds, you moved shattering my body.”
“ The old  crocodile. He still waits there for me.”
“No, your time has not come.”
“Saw him in the morning.”
“Where? Was the snake not enough for you?”
“How did you know a snake was here?”
“I saw its skin. And the crocodile? Where? Where???”
“It was laughing at me when I went to bathe in the river.”
“So you did bathe then.”
“ I wanted to tell you, but since I saw Muthachen (old father) I thought you might be afraid.”
“”How did he look?”
“He had laughing eyes.
“And his tongue?”
“It was pink, and the waterbirds were clearing it teeth.”
“Well, then?”
“I ran out of the water. I forgot my cloth. When I returned the sun was high up, and I thought I would finish my bath, when you returned.”
“There is no oil, and the sandal past is finished.”
“I will use mud.”
“Your father crushed leaves of hibiscus, you do the same.”
His mother was sighing again, so he quickly ran out, singing Prakashjjpartaratnaprasoon.

I praise Ganesa the son of Isa, whose brilliant hue resembles the red hibiscus, the tender shoots of plants, the coral and the early morning sun, who has a large belly and a single curved tusk.”
He was always besieging Ganesa, and when his fear grew larger than himself, he spoke to Isa. His mouth was always moving, his curling hair streaked with sweat as he ran to the river, the food inside his stomach rolling a little. His mother had forbidden him to bathe after lunch, but after a hard morning’s work she was too sleepy. He looked up, and saw the clouds were gathering again. There was just enough time to dip in the water, which would now be pleasantly warm. The banana leaves were shining after being washed by rain, and the large ants, both  red and black were marching up in columns to feed on the dripping nectar of their white bloom, encased in the mauve cones. Butterflies thronged the grove, and he forgot about the crocodile. There were days when he was a prisoner of the house, unable to move, his body hurt, and his head throbbed. And there were days like this, when he could run, and observe things, feel the shape of the stones, and rough edges of gravel under his feet. Time seemed like an ocean, vast as the sky, pushing him forwards to his death, and to the early reclamation by the Gods. He was not asking any questions, but even the flutter an eyelash, seemed like eternity.

Small though he was, he could run faster than other children his age. There was Leela, waiting for him. She was taller than him, but always looked to him as if he was smarter. She was older too, but then, when it came to friendship, there were no rules separating them until  she came to the age of menstruation. Then, they would  have to behave as if they were strangers. They had been born in the same year, she before the rains, and he when Karkaddam had set in the same year, endless ravaging rain. It seemed odd that when they grew up, as indeed they did, slowly  and steadily in each other’s company, she should have stretched her bones faster than him. Of course, her father was a trader, and there were three meals a day. She always brought him some food, even persuaded him to eat fish, which he refused. He composed some verses to Ambika, looking at her, thinking that her slim dark beauty, her long hair always oiled and combed, her ear rings hanging in their strands of gold upto her shoulders, her flat chest bare, her waist covered in a white soft linen with  gold edges that came upto her ankles. Everything about her was perfect.

They played together most days in the cocoanut groves, never curious about each other. She always had a clutch of conches, which her father had given to play with. He traded  in them travelling as far as Dwarka and Jagannath Puri to get them. If a few were damaged, for then the priests and housewives would not accept them, he would gift them to his daughter. The two children, Leela and Sankara, blew into them, decorated their garden with flowers and shells, slept in the afternoons with pillows made of dried grass, the shells carefully guarded from each other, and their friends, for they were possessive, very possessive over each one, giving them names and identities. Ofcourse at the end the day, Leela, stone faced as if they were strangers, collected them all in a cotton bag, which she had stitched from an old towel, and she ran home.
The shells were from different seas and while the seas themselves were hidden from vies, cowries and conches were extremely important to local people, who never travelled by the seas, leaving it to fishers and traders. There was after all only the open sky which was not accessible to humans. The Gods traversed them, but for  ordinary humans there were the long roads, through forests and deserts. Pilgrims took them, protected by kings. They went over many different kingdoms, but in each case,  there were ware houses and inns, secured by the king’s soldiers.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Potato Farmer in Sabu Village, Ladakh tells Morup and me about the Flood Year.

  Upto 1974, the weather was severe. It was minus 30 and minus 34. From 1990, there were no more cold winters, it became minus twenty and minus twenty two or minus twenty five for only two or three days. The usual average was minus 19 or minus 20. Earlier there was lots of snowfall. There was one or one and half feet snow in the fields. This would remain until the end of March, after which it would melt. Now, snow fall is five inches, and the next day it melts. Rain falls now. There is normal rainfall, summer time for one or two hours, during July and August, occasionally heavy.

Mild winter, Spring is severe for the last five or six years. February and March get very cold. Spring has become cold and dry. There is snowfall in the hills,  in winter, it freezes.

This was what Morup and I were told by a potato farmer in Sabu village. In the flood year, till 23rd of June, snow didnt melt. Then suddenly it was hot.
And the water melted rapidly. He has a  water tank below ground, which is run with a motor. On the 23rd of June, in the flood year, it was empty. The tank lies 9 feet below ground.

After 23rd of June, the underground water,  9 feet below, suddenly became full, there was excess water. With the help of the motor the water was pumped out.
On 5th August, a thunderbolt never seen, lightening was so bright that a needle dropped on the floor could be found.
The flood came from the Manali road side. At two minutes to midnight- strong wind Khdddddddd loud noise, water falling through the chimney. the farmer came into the garden to collect a container, and was knee deep in water. Behind the house, the resort he was building for tourists was swallowed up in a river of water. The two Nepalis looking after the resort were lost.
In 1969, there was a cloudburst in Nimu, and in 1974 in Piang village.
The Government did not recompense for commercial losses, but they removed the silt, and gave one lakh rupees for repairs to the domestic portion of his home.

Ofcourse, this is climate change, according to the farmer. There is very little ice now. In 1940s and 1950s, the glacier was covered totally. The reasons for the melt down are large green house gas effects, population growth and increasing number of vehicles in Ladakh because of the perennial army presence, tourists, and the increased consumerism among Ladakhis themselves.
The Nallas no longer have clean water, since the local community as well as migrant laborers are careless and pollute the waters. With the flood, Nallas were destroyed, but the Government repaired them. For drinking purposes, the Government has dug hand pumps.
Former president Abdul Kalam had adopted Sabu, but they recieved little or no assistance from that head. Ladakh Autonomous Council in synchrony with the J and K government and the Centre acted very quickly.
March April May are the sowing seasons, and given the shortage of water, there is control of water during this time by the Chorspon method. Four people are chosen, each is sent out to each house, and told on the day the water will come to their field.  It is a very tightly regulated system, where the commons (in this case water) is controlled by representatives.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I left Delhi with an odd sense of calm. What would I find at 1750 feet that I did not know in the plains? When we left Jammu and Kashmir, we travelled through the Zojilla pass, and the mountains were immensely frightening. Sedimentary alright, speaking geological time, when the shales and loose stones and boulders were covered by water, they stood out against my fear, as brittle as the past, and lost horses in ravines, and bodies floating in ether, as they tried to leave the moraine of the past. It was freezing, last nights rain had dissolved the tar. Ofcourse, the road cleared, and so did the mist, and the tarmac became solid, a bright ribbon of road. The valour of soldiers and roadworkers from Jharkhand, and Tamil Nadu and Bihar, made our swift passage over the mountains possible. I was trying to in a patch work way to imagine the journey of Adi Sankara from Kalladi. It is a journey that I imagine in my mind, and with the help of theological treatise and commentaries, I try to understand why a Malayali would have walked so far. But the Himalayas have always been our legacy, and no Malayali wishes to give it up. We passed the ancient routes, and saw the road to the pilgrim sites with the pilgrims already heading to Amarnath, inspite of the dangers. Religious tourism is very palpable by that one thing called faith, it has no boundaries.
Our first stop, after a long day's journey through what seemed unnerving silence and endless mountains was at Anantpur. We had reached Kashmir. I was visiting it after 40 years, my last visit being in 1974, when I was seventeen. Kashmir seemed dusty, the road building, the incessant search to make things faster, faster faster, makes everything incredibly dusty. The new tunnel route through the mountains from Jammu to Srinagar will cut  travel time to four hours. Anantnag followed, with its fields and orchards, and then we came to Srinagar. It was 6 pm, the light was still there for us to  see this lovely town. The people went about shrouded in their grief, so palpable, it stuck a knife into the heart. It was curfew, a sizable number of people were about though, to pick up their provisions. A handful of shops were open. There were police and army men at every corner. Everyone ignored everyone out of habit. That sullenness, that grief, I shall never forget it. The road to the University was blocked, but we took another one, and went through: my first glimpse of Srinagar campus. Its unutterably beautiful, white buildings, hollyhocks and roses standing tall, the mountains ranging behind. We collected one of our team members, an Englishman, a computer professional who had wanted to know why we were two hours late? We ourselves could not remember...yes, cafe hopping in the mountains, we had stopped for breakfast, tea and rajma, lunch, evening meal...what else can you do with an entourage of young men doing their Phds and a handful of young women?  The participants mainly consisted of doctoral candidates and Assistant Professors who were geographers, sociologists, physicists, glaceologists, political scientists, ecologists, photographers. We had started at 7 am from Jammu University, since the early morning call had been heeded by all at 5 am, all the luggage packed, but since two people were found still sleeping in their beds, everything had to be untied and begun again. So we were late, yes, that's the reason we were late to pick up our soft ware engineer!
We drove into the free falling night towards Sonarmarg. Shepherds, men women and children were hurrying their sheep to Jammu in the night, taking their ancient routes. During the day, it was too traffic ridden.  We spent the night comfortably, in a hotel, where the sheets were clean, and the instant soup I ordered on arrival came courteously hours before dinner, out of a packet. I was so relieved to have it. Then I fell fast asleep, and at five am, we were on the road again. We travelled endlessly through the same landscape, and then finally we were in Leh. It was night, and the streets were like Aladdin's cave. Winter was on its way, and the tourists had mostly gone home. The town is a dusty citadel on a landscape which draws the traveller, welcomes him or her. Its an ambience many have written about. Leh, over  the next ten days unravelled its mysteries to us: the Kashmiri and Tibetan merchants, the Ladakhi men and women who sold their garden produce, the wonderful sense of the hills beyond, continuing in an ancient trail of dust and ambition, the glaciers fast melting, the pattern of rain which was slowly becoming to manifest itself as the South West Monsoon over the last couple of years, the memory of the 2010 landslide which the inhabitants had learnt to live with and ofcourse the hospitality of the local people. The taxi drivers tell us that Television news channels with their constant drumming into us that The Chinese are Coming have put their tourist figures very low for the last two years. "With the majority of the Indian Army stationed here, why would anyone think the Chinese are Coming?" But in Pangong Lake, the rumour is that the Chinese submarine constantly circumlocutions the rim, and the smoke can be seen from the surface.
 Leh has its calm, its silence,  bright hot sunlight, cool breezes, and yes, the noxious smell of petrol ruins the air, because neither the army vehicles nor the taxis control their emissions.