The silly act of a moment caused a bout of nervousness – or could it have been inspired by some mysterious power in a mood for fun? – and, the result is I step into my new avatar undreamt of, incredible. Much later I was to realise how very relative the state of credibility itself was, depending on the state of one’s mind at a given time. For example, once, when in a moment of frustration because his telephone lay deaf and dumb for the third consecutive day, my former boss, Sharmaji, thundered that he would kick the earth like .soccer ball beyond space, I had shut my eyes in a reflex action visualising him growing colossal in stature, his features distorted to grotesque dimensions – and the earth under his feet shrinking to a comfortably kickable size. The apparition, for the moment, had appeared quite credible to me. Before long, of course, I had begun wondering if there could be any space beyond space, followed by an embarrassment for my vulnerability to preposterous outbursts.
“Sit down,” said Jayant Thakore, without raising his head while making a manly effort at simultaneously scanning several files and papers spread before him on his large table crowded with more files, stationery and half a dozen bottles of different sizes, probably exhibited before him as samples to serve as containers for his product. He adjusted his glasses and muttered something in the way of a soliloquy, without looking at me, but signalling with his ball-pen moved up and down, said again, “Sit down please, will you?”
I was in a petty predicament. There was no chair on my side, or on any side of his table. Later I was to learn that that a while ago he had ordered their removal because casual visitors, supplicants or his own officials, once seated, had a tendency to take two minutes when one and half would do, to finish their business with him. There was, of course, a dazzling cluster of sofas in a corner of the spacious and elegant room, arranged around a low, circular coffee-coloured table made of some crystal-like stuff. At its centre was a voluptuous ivory nymph in the nude spreading her wings and threatening to take off.
I had tarried outside the gate for three hours. The watchman had demanded to know if I had an appointment with Thakore – or if I had at least a card to give to his boss’s secretary. I had none. Alas, the day seemed to have begun inauspiciously for me. I would have gone away, gulping down a mild, surging sob, but I was terribly tired, having walked three kilometres under a scorching sun, with an invisible nail in one of my sandals stinging me at every second step. And the loss I had suffered in the course of my trip to Thakore’s mansion was shattering, as it had appeared then. I had parked my bicycle, locked, under a shed on the busy pavement beside the main road and had walked a few yards into a narrow lane for a cup of tea. Back on the road, while unlocking the bicycle, I remembered my purse. I had left it on a rickety table in the teashop. I was hopeful of recovering it, for because of its colour that was indistinguishable from that of the table’s surface dirty as a beggar’s rag it was expected to lie unobserved.
I rushed back into the shop and searched for it. It was gone. The shop-owner, his assistant and a couple of customers viewed me with curiosity tinged with a bit of amusement, a combination of emotions on which they had no control.
“Lost something?” One of them asked between a belch and a cough.
“Something valuable? Precious?” asked another.
Their eyes grew very active for a while.
“Take my advice,” said the shop-owner. “Look for it elsewhere. Even if Aladin were to forget his wonderful lamp here or the Queen of England her Kohinoor, it would be safe,” he observed gravely. “My staff are pious,” he added, looking at his solitary employee, a boy in early teens in soiled shorts and a tattered banyan who showed no reaction to the compliment. I called off my search.
My leather purse contained an amount of five rupees and a hole. Coins amounting to one rupee and forty paise had slipped into my pocket. I felt grateful to the hole for its gesture before deserting me for someone else…
I suddenly remembered that I had left my bicycle unlocked. I ran, in the process bumping against a lady, cute as a woodpecker, suddenly hopping out of a hair-dresser’s shop also with the gait of a woodpecker.
“Bastard!” she swore.
Crestfallen, I slowed down.
“Wait a minute.” It was a groundnut vendor emerging from the side-lane. “If she is your Ma and you are a bastard she ought to know the devil that fathered you. Why don’t you demand of her to reveal it?”
The lady turned round menacingly and, I’m afraid, the two were locked in a frenzied exchange.
I did not stop till I reached the pavement. But my bicycle had gone the way of my purse.
“Did you see my bicycle?” I threw my anxious question collectively at a shoe-polish boy, a bearded man who sold magazines, and half a dozen others. Some of them cast their looks at me with the detachment of ascetics and the rest seemed to enjoy my anxiety and despair.
“A bicycle – ancient one – right? Someone, I remember vaguely, pedalled away with it – someone who didn’t look very different from you!” said a hawker of socks and belts…
“Not different from me? O God! But is he not a thief? Can you please tell me in which direction he went?”
“To what avail?” asked the magazine-seller.
“Should I not try to catch the thief?”
“Do you have the hooves of a horse?”
“But, did you see the thief?”
“Why should I?”
“O God! Do you at least remember seeing my bicycle?”
“Don’t I have anything better to see?”
I had half a mind to grab his beard and while trying to uproot it, demand of him “Why then… why then…?”
But why then… what? I wiped my sweat and tried my utmost to calm down. The man possessed the unmistakable wisdom that one without hooves could not catch a thief who pedalled away. I had observed that in many a man their unused wisdom surged out when someone was in trouble and the magazine-seller was no exception. Since my question implied that he was expected him to keep a vigil on my worn out bicycle, his ego was pricked. Was it not foolish of me to hope that one – before whom lay a dozen periodicals, scantily clothed beauties smiling at him from their glossy covers – should care to look more than once at my pitiable vehicle?
And what was it in me, if not my wretched ego, that was so eager to wreak vengeance on his beard? I must go satisfied with the parting lesson my bicycle imparted to me – that I was as miserable a creature of ego as all the apes around me masquerading as human. There was some consolation in that infantile angry thought.
Who knew what was really good and what was really bad for us? My mentor, Natbar Sir, would put this question time and again, to nobody in particular, and follow it up with an anecdote: A prosperous old farmer lost his horse to the forest near his fields. “Unfortunate!” commented his neighbours. But “Who knows!” was the only comment the old farmer himself made. Two days later the missing horse returned with a mate, a wild mare. “How fortunate!” exclaimed the neighbours! “Who knows!” said the old man again to their amazement. While trying to break in the mare, the farmer’s son fell off its back and was injured. “Unfortunate!” said the well-wishers. But “Who knows!” was the father’s comment even then. “Silly!” this time remarked the folks. A week passed. There was a war. The king’s officials rounded up all the village youths for their recruitment to the army. The farmer’s son alone was spared on account of his injury! Only then the villagers began to appreciate the farmer’s wisdom!
Indeed, as I too appreciated later, had I not come on foot after losing my bicycle, thereby feeling extremely tired, I would have left as soon as the watchman dismissed me. At the same time, without the bicycle I would not have dared to walk all the way from Sharmaji’s house – a distance of some ten kilometres – to meet Thakore.
Alas, gone were the days when I could sit beside Sharmaji’s chauffeur and dream of my elevated position when Sharmaji would become the Chief Minister!
Thus spoke some wise man: Chance was the pseudonym of God which He used when He did not wish to put down His signature. Chance came for me in the shape of a lyrical procession of ladies raising their clenched fists like hammering nails in the ether, singing some alliterative slogans. It claimed the watchman’s attention in its entirety. The stenographer who sat in the passage leading to Jayant Thakore’s room also glided out to the gate like a light scrap of iron smoothly drawn by a moving magnet – his eye-balls bulging so prominently that had they sprung out of their sockets and got stuck on some tender part of the procession that would have meant only a minor miracle.
That was the momentous moment in my life – indeed, momentous is the word for it – when I got over my vacillation and stepped into Jayant Thakore’s room, adorned with large reproductions of Ajanta paintings. The meditative face of the Buddha fixed on the wall perpendicularly over Thakore’s head viewing the entrepreneur with half-closed, compassionate eyes, faintly lit the hope in my heart that Thakore would be kind towards me.
But doubts too had begun to bite me like a swarm of mosquitoes. Would Thakore remember me? He had seen me only once when he visited my late lamented boss, Sharmaji. I reposed my faith in the fact that he had taken note of my face, his eyebrows raised to acknowledge my importance, when Sharmaji, in his customary disinterested and abstinent way, handed over to me the thick hand-made paper envelope received from this valued visitor. It contained a stack of crisp currency notes. Thakore even threw a pinch of one of his choicest smiles at me, certainly realising that I was the leader’s confidant.
I was destined to meet several opulent faces visiting Sharmaji. I had a feeling that some of them smiled exactly in proportion to the day’s profits and some even could not help exposing their innate niggardliness in their grins. But Jayant Thakore, a big name in liquor and allied industries, was so different! Each time he smiled, the one he smiled at almost tasted the warmth of a sip of coffee.
Sit down!” he said once again, this time casting a lightning look at me, but I don’t think his mind recorded anything more than a vague live occurrence before him. He had obviously clean forgotten that there was nothing for a visitor to sit on.
“I was not expecting you before noon,” he observed in a drone.
Before I had decided whether or not to tell him that I was not the one expected, he said, “If you don’t mind, will you please disclose to me your financial status? Needless to say, I’ll treat it as extremely confidential. You surely appreciate the need for us to know that much if we are to consider your proposal seriously!”
Well, that was exactly the question I had explored only minutes ago, while strolling on the pavement, and the answer I had formulated for my own private consumption was on the tip of my tongue. Anxious to speak, I forgot that he had no more reason to be interested in my financial status than an elephant had in the stature of a frog.
“Yes?” he goaded me to speak out though absent-mindedly.
“One rupee and forty paise, Sir. Yes, Sir, that is the finance I have in my pocket. And, Sir, my pocket, for your kind information, is my sole treasury. But, Sir, it’s already eleven in the morning. Right? Another ten hours and I’d have become a billionaire or trillionaire, if you please, I mean, if I please!”
I was amazed at the spontaneity in my own declaration.
“Didn’t quite catch you.”
Thakore continued to pore over his papers but no doubt his ears had come under my command. His voice betrayed curiosity as well as a bit of impatience.
“Should I explain?” I cleared my throat. “Well, Sir, it’s like this. In another ten or eleven hours, when it’s time for me to go to bed for the night, I would slip into a very private and exclusive mode of contemplation. For the duration of my sleep it matters little to me whether I owned one rupee and forty paise only or one hundred and forty billion rupees or dollars or pounds, for I was not going to use any part of the amount anyway. Need I say that we need neither hard cash nor cheques nor bills for any transaction in our dreams? Sir, in the process of falling asleep, I imagine that I was the master of all the wealth stacked in a thousand banks from Mumbai to Geneva. Sometimes, for a change, I take it that all the buried gold and diamond mines all over the world were mine.”
Jayant Thakore stared at me.
I breathed deeply and resumed, without ceasing to sound grave: “Sir, I find it not at all a bad idea to remain that fabulously wealthy for about eight hours at a stretch, in a single cycle of day and night. If I live for ninety years, it amounts to thirty years of unbridled and unshakable affluence, practically longer than the high tides in the fortunes of several business empires!”
I even smiled benignly and added, “At no worries over tax returns, liabilities, recessions, inflations, insurances and so on and so forth.”
Jayant Thakore put his pen down and looked up, once again giving me a short signal to sit down. To draw his attention to the non-existence of any chair would amount to pointing out his mistake – something that was least wise for a supplicant to do at his very first meeting with his possible patron. On the other hand, to keep standing would be noncompliance. It was important that I please him – or simply condone the busy liquor-baron’s lapse.
All these ideas and my excitement might have conspired to make me do what I did in a reflex. I pretended to sit down in a chair, as if there was a chair facing him. It was not an easy exercise, but as I had practised Utkatasana for years, I could sustain myself in that strenuous posture.
“A philosopher!” he observed, his eyes twinkling with amusement. But he continued to be oblivious of my predicament.
Startled, I tried to locate the source of that poignant exclamation. The face of the lady who stood on the side-door at my right, looking like a painting of a goddess with the gorgeous screen behind her for its canvas, was not unfamiliar to me. Her photographs appeared in newspapers and bulletins, doling out charity or presiding over a Satsang or cow-welfare meetings or multi-faith prayer assemblies. She was Ranjita Khokar. Though wedded to Thakore, she had retained her maiden surname out of her reverence for her wealthy and philanthropic father.
She almost screamed as she stood transfixed. I realised the great surprise my posture had caused her. By then not only my bent knees but also my arms which remained extended as if they rested on the arms of a chair, were cracking up. I straightened up and smiled apologetically and greeted Ranjita Devi with folded hands.
Her big and beautiful eyes sparkled with awe and wonder. Her cheeks twitched and their rosiness rapidly changed into ripe orange. She took a step or two towards me – excited but shy – while mumbling out a question to herself, “Could one disbelieve one’s own eyes? Didn’t I clearly see him seated in a chair but without a chair? Heavens! How incredible yet true!”
She came closer to me in a few rapid steps and ran her arms around me, obviously to find out if I sat on anything solid which, though invisible, could be palpable. Her wide eyes swiftly rolled over me quite a few times. Soon a triumphant smile celebrating an unerring discovery brightened up her face. In the sparkle of her eyes I read the message: “I know what you are!”
I had nothing to do other than stand and continue to sport a smile, a feat only a degree less exacting than my earlier posture. Suddenly she knelt down and lowered her head on my feet. “O Baba!” she muttered.
I looked at my feet with terrible embarrassment. Once in a while my foster-grandmother’s pet cat rubbed its head on them, but there had been no question of any human head ever glorifying them. They were bare and dusty. Luckily I had left my rotten sandals, filthier than two patches of sewage, outside the carpeted room.
Since my foster-grandmother’s death a month ago, I had refrained from shaving. My small goatee which, along with the shade of my pyjama and kurta happened to be somewhat ochre – and the illusion I had spun about my capability to harness pure vacant space for serving as my couch – must have convinced her that I was not only a holy man, but also a doer of miracles. Needless to say, I stood more helpless than amused.
“O Baba, Baba!” she continued to mumble, addressing me, that is to say, the holy man of her fantasy.
I stood electrified, as if a process of metamorphosis had suddenly begun its work deep within me. My hands trembled, but I spread my palm on her head in the way of doling out my benediction. If there was a father-instinct hibernating deep within me, it had been tickled awake. A deep compassion for Ranjita Devi welled out of my heart and I stood ennobled.
Jayant Thakore stood up, removed his glasses, polished them and put them on again and tried to comprehend the situation. “I’m sorry, I’d forgotten to get a chair for him,” he murmured as he came nearer us and, perhaps to forestall his wife taking him to task on that account, hastened to add, “Well, the young man is a philosopher, I must say!”
But Ranjita Devi was obviously agitated over a far bigger issue for which to take her husband to task than the issue of any missing chair.
“A philosopher? Is that all? As if the good earth suffered from any paucity in the population of philosophers! Well, must you so brazenly try to hide his true identity from me even after I had witnessed his powers myself with my eyes open wider than ever? Why – why – may I ask – do you always try your best to hide such rendezvous from me like a pilfering cat hiding a bit of dry fish? Didn’t you perform some tantrik rites presided over by Bhaloo Baba the other day which I was left to learn from a report in an evening newspaper? What do you say to that?” Ranjita Devi’s voice was tough and tremulous and her arms akimbo. Her words were like pebbles shot from a catapult which, had they not barely missed their target, would have smashed Thakore’s jawbone.
“Look here, Ranju, I’m ready to swear by any deity, any divinity of your choice, minor or major, and declare that I had nothing to do with the Bhaloo Baba business. It was our partner who had invited Bhaloo and I did not even know about it and did not know the Baba until, to my great discomfiture, he wiped my forehead with his beard as a special gesture of his compassion. I was merely a guest at the function – a certain kind of Yajna. If Bhaloo Baba’s rites achieved something – which I doubt very much – it must have been only for our partner.”
“Shut up, you cunning, sly fox!” Ranjita Devi screamed, “You incorrigible, anatomical liar, you wasp, you leech!” It was perhaps a recitation from her daily manual of rituals.
“Ranju, must you be foul-mouthed in his presence?” Jayant Thakore pointed his finger at me. “Is this how you profit from the vibrations given out by a holy man? Should you not tame your tongue a bit?”
Ranjita Devi bit her tongue as her face visibly reflected her repentance. She took hold of my right arm.
“Baba, wouldn’t you allow the dust of your feet to sanctify my apartment upstairs?”
Her appeal was irresistible and her calling me Baba — in an intense loving tone – stirred a paternal tenderness in my heart.
“I will, Mother, I will.” I turned to follow her.
I stopped flabbergasted, though her voice was melodious.
“Let’s go!” she said again.
“All right, Mother!”
“No!” She sounded more resolute. “There are any numbers of people to address me as mother. Pray, call me your daughter.”
“But is he not too young – more or less of your son’s age – to be your father?” cut in Jayant Thakore, feigning only an academic interest in the issue.
“Shut up, I say, shut up I say once again and shut up I say a thousand times.” Ranjita Devi’s eyes betrayed fire tempered by moisture. “How dare you measure a yogi’s age by your rotten arithmetical calendar? Do people of your ilk appreciate a single thing outside those logbooks of profit and loss? If you or your imbecile partners fall at the feet of a holy man, the sole motive is to change his kindness into raw cash, with no greater kind of joy than cashing a lottery cheque! I can see you fellows more transparently than the X-ray.”
“O.K. It is O.K., Ranju!” Jayant Thakore smiled and winked at me.
I followed Ranjita Devi who, while on the move, threw back a thesaurus of synonyms for hypocrisy on her husband. I was amazed, but I took it as one of my early lessons in a primer on the world of the elite.
Walking close behind me as we crossed the door leading to a staircase, Jayant Thakore asked me in a whisper, “What’s your impression?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“How do you find her pronunciation? Immaculate, isn’t it? Educated at the best English-medium convent in her father’s city.”
I was already in the second lesson of my primer, I felt.
Ranjita Devi suddenly stopped and looked back. Thakore had disappeared.
“What’s the name by which people address you, Baba?”
“Padmananda, Swami Padmananda. I know.”
Ranjita Devi confidently resumed her climb.
Thus, midway up a staircase, on that fateful summer noon, I, Padmalochan Pramanik, an ordinary boy from an ordinary village named Govardhanpur, metamorphosed into Swami Padmananda.
Reaching the upper floor – I stood almost paralysed under the impact of several contradictory emotions. Had I arrived on an earthly satellite of paradise? The soft, mauve carpet, the golden-frame huge paintings on the walls, two grandfather clocks standing at two ends of the verandah like two goalkeepers ready to kick you back to your unending torments in time, a little island of roses and creepers projecting from the terrace atop the portico, smart attendants in livery and, to top them all, two grotesque fish in the aquarium at the entrance which seemed to rush at me with their menacing mouths open as if they could swell at will to swallow me, made my thoughts go haywire.
Probably I would have shrieked out my desire to instantly escape into my remote village, my good old Govardhanpur, but my eyes went over to the sky. How familiar, how loving, how reassuring it was! Seen from Jayant Thakore’s palatial house worth millions, it was no different from what it was over my humble village or over the meadows and hamlets around it.
And how insignificant were my fears and trepidations as well as Thakore’s lavishness, pomp and show, before that vast and sublime simplicity!
As a child this orphan was accustomed to gaze at the twilight sky for an hour at a stretch and feel a subtle comfort directly conveyed by it in total silence. As darkness deepened, what fascinated me was the Milky Way that I imagined to be a celestial lake. I dreamed of sailing or swimming across the blue and diving into it.
Coming over to the city I had almost forgotten the sky, its grace and grandeur. Suddenly I realised that it had never forsaken me.
How do I care for the changing situations around me as long as my old good sky continued to be there over my head?
Was the sky trying to send me some signals? Did it ask me to try emulating its calm?
“Come, Baba, sit down and relax on this soft sofa!” said Ranjita Devi. But she intoned, as if reminding herself, “But why should one who could change pure nothingness into a comfy seat, care for a sofa costing a mere lakh!”
No doubt I lay awake. Even then I argued with myself: Couldn’t the fact be otherwise – that I was really asleep, only to wake up and realise that all that I believed to have happened during the last few hours was nothing but an outlandish dream?
In fact I was afraid of both the possibilities and that amounted to a bizarre feeling. If all was but a dream, I would probably be terribly disappointed. But should it all be true, can I cope up with the demands of the unexpected?
There was of course not much of a scope to indulge in the luxury of any debate on the factuality of my experience. I had had an hour’s sound sleep after a sumptuous lunch and had woken up after dreaming of some fireworks and stealing a flitting glimpse of myself as a bridegroom, my ritual dress complete with a floral crown.
The bed in Ranjita Devi’s guest-room was made of some stuff probably as soft as the spider’s web and the carpet on the floor was like a layer of frothy cream freshly churned out of a lake of curd. On the wall facing me was fixed the painting of a lone girl plying her boat towards a lovely sunset. In fact the whole room was a delicate collage and I felt like a cockroach crawling in it.
Whence descended this dubious crown, all of a sudden, on my small and quite dispensable head? Which of the twinkling stars presiding over or moulding my destiny brought this about?
I began making a hurried review of my past, partly for finding possible answers to these questions and partly because roaming in the past meant a temporary reprieve from the misery such questions caused me.
I knew that to be ambitious – playing a clown in the crude circus of the ego – was no doubt degrading. But despite having grown up as a hapless orphan, I was, unfortunately, ambitious in a weak way. I was yet to learn that in some cases meaningful aspirations of the soul too, bursting out into our exterior self steeped in ignorance, could seem as ordinary craving for power or popularity, albeit temporarily, soon to get sublimated into an urge for inner growth.
How pitiable the mind is and how tricky the ego! Even while feeling guilty I enjoyed being pampered as a holy man. And that shallow joy was inextricably mixed with remorse, for I was sure that my illusory novel status would be only short-lived, perhaps its end coming as abruptly as its beginning.
The seed of ambition in me would have dried and died, as they did in a million others, had I not come under the influence of Natbar Sir, the English teacher at the village school. The childless widower was my foster-grandmother’s immediate neighbour and I served him in several ways, drawing water for him from the well or buying his few needs from the grocery. In return he taught me four times more English than warranted by the school syllabus, introduced me to a dozen books on history, lives of celebrities and general knowledge, and also trained me in a few Yogic Asanas. After I passed the higher secondary exams, it was his encouragement that made me wish for a degree appearing as a private candidate. He also got me a part time job of teaching addition, subtraction and multiplication to the local moneylender’s worthy little grandson.
Natbar Sir, for me, was a bit of a god. In fact, as a child I could never imagine him being born all naked and yelling like anybody else. My faith in his being above the ordinary was confirmed when a political party, it was a minor one, approached him to contest the elections for a seat in the State Legislature and he accepted the offer and resigned his job. I saw him emerge as a politician from the modest regional party- convention under the banyan tree on the village square, sporting a benign smile which he did his best to retain undiminished forever – and I observed under what a great strain he did so when the election results started coming out and it became obvious that he would forfeit his deposit.
“The people may not vote for me, but can they stop me from serving them?” The audience at which he threw this moving question had been reduced to two, me and Grandma. “Never!” I asserted and Grandma just clucked, whatever that might mean.
But Natbar Sir, once he had launched himself into the public career, did not mean to retreat. His chance came before long, when a road under construction by the Public Works Department at last began nibbling at the edge of our village. Those who were to lose narrow slices of their lands to the project had been promised compensation and barring a few expected murmurs, the work faced no obstacle.
Then came the red letter day in the history of our village. The contractor’s truck ran over a billy goat, a good-natured creature which fraternized with most of the villagers. Its owner, Chhaku Jena, was as notorious for naivety as the pet he lost.
Soon a crowd collected around this first ever sacrifice our village had to make at the altar of progress. The two multicoloured faces of demons with their dagger-like bloody tongues flashing on the truck’s body to ward off any evil eye introduced an element of the macabre into the atmosphere. But our villagers were yet to learn the sociology of burning the vehicles or taking the drivers hostage or maiming them. They simply blinked or gaped at the scene while Chhaku Jena tried to revive his goat by holding a glass of water to its mouth and caressing its goaty and upon failing to make it drink, splashing it on its face.
Suddenly, even before I could guess his intention, Natbar Sir hopped on to a fallen tree-trunk and, balancing himself on it with remarkable alacrity, cleared his throat repeatedly and clapped his hands to draw the crowd’s attention.
“My fathers and mothers, my uncles and aunties, my brothers and sisters and my nephews and nieces, I beseech you not to stare at this humble servant of yours, but to behold this martyr,” he exhorted, his trembling forefinger – their vibrations tickled my heart – pointed towards the goat. “Yes, my respected ones, my dear ones, behold it with the utmost concentration you can muster, for it shall no more be able to behold or greet you again with those lovely innocent eyes as it used to do while chomping grass and chaff. Yes, let’s not forget that he was a native of our village like you and me, a child of the soil!
“Ladies and gentlemen, what do you see in those eyes? I’ll tell you what. Death! Death from a kick by that monster of a vehicle.”
Natbar Sir paused and pulled and twisted his own ears. “Woe to our ears that they cannot hear the goat’s cry. But, of course, our inner ears – if we are able to open them -can! Can what? Hear its inaudible cry. And what’s the message in that cry? An ominous warning. For you and me, for everybody.
“Today the monster claimed our dear brother Chhaku’s prize goat. I admit, it was only a goat. But will the monster’s hunger be appeased with goats only? Who can assure us that it will not claim our cows and buffaloes, a brother or a sister, or even, say, a brother-in-law or a sister-in-law, and…”
Obviously thrilled at the hitherto unravelled import of his loss, Chhaku Jena hugged the goat and wailed as it would befit a mother. He inspired instant clucks and condolences in the crowd.
That was the moment when I made my debut in public speaking. “We’ll not allow the murder of our beloved goat to go unavenged!” 1 shouted at the spur of the moment. My voice sounded like a war-gong to myself. A number of appreciative eyes were fixed on me. A couple of my pals viewed me with awe and envy.
The crest-fallen truck driver informed the village elders that his boss would be there before long and would compensate for Chhaku’s loss. At their bidding, the crowd began to disperse, one or two of its members turning volunteers and helping Chhaku, although that was not quite necessary, to carry the dead goat to his hut.
Natbar Sir led half a dozen young men, me included, to his residence. We discussed the grave situation arising out of the new road cutting through the village and decided to launch an indefinite struggle against the trucks, tractors and the bulldozers of the world, which were bracketed by Natbar Sir with Chenghiz Khan and his tribe.
Alas, who could have foreseen a calamity far greater than a truck or a tractor or a bulldozer appearing on the scene the very next day! He was Mohan Rakshit, the sole offspring of our region who practised law in the town.
By then our grim decision to obstruct the road-building in whatever way possible had become public and there was a kind of suspense in the air. Chhaku’s goat, in my mind, became a prelude to a revolution. I decided to compose an elegy in its memory if the Muse were gracious to me and the topic.
“I’m here to conduct an independent, impartial, dispassionate, objective, fair, just and unbiased inquiry into the incident,” Rakshit announced to his preliminary audience consisting of the headmaster, the Panchayat chief and the postmaster in front of the post office where I happened to be present in order to collect Natbar Sir’s post, if any. I was impressed by the lawyer’s vocabulary and the way he threw his arms about indicating that he was far vaster than our optical illusion suggested – his rather poor physique packed in a dark coat.
As he walked the village street, he went on greeting and exchanging pleasantries with several villagers in a very affable manner. The number of people around him increased rapidly. Although apparently the village elders were leading him, I felt that he was the Pied Piper and the crowd followed him under a spell. It never occurred to anybody that he could be acting on behalf of the contractor.
“Here, it happened exactly on this spot!” Several excited voices buzzed at the site of the accident. The impromptu rally had arrived at its destination.
Mohan Rakshit heard with patience and a show of meditative attention the details of the post-accident developments. He nodded and alternately removed imaginary dust from his coat.
“Chhaku Babu, will you please step forward?” the lawyer’s voice sounded as affectionate and patronising as a would-be father-in-law’s.
“O Chhaku – Chhaku – Chhaku – where are you?” several voices betrayed eagerness and impatience.
Chhaku emerged from the crowd with unsteady steps and took position at the centre of the ring. That was the first time ever someone addressed him as Babu; that was the first time ever that he became an object on whom a hundred pairs of eyes were fixed. Never before had I seen him dressed more gentlemanly, a carefully folded gamcha resting on his shoulder. He tried his best to look like a noble merchant in a state of grief because his ship had been plundered by pirates. But despite a prompt rehearsal under the tutelage of Natbar Sir, he looked awfully nervous.
Mohan Rakshit surveyed him from top to toe. I could detect a combination of sneer and amusement passing across his face like a distant flash of lightning.
“My heart bleeds, dear Chhaku Babu, at the untimely death of your goat, even though we know that all we creatures who live must die, today or tomorrow.”
“Jatasya hi dhuruva mrityu…” a Brahmin suddenly began reciting the Gita. Rakshit smiled in appreciation, but stopped him with a cordial signal.
Chhaku wiped his eyes.
“From the display of your emotions one must conclude that it was not just special, but very special!”
“It was very special, Babu!” Chhaku brightened up a bit.
Suddenly the lawyer’s voice descended to a bass. “How?” he demanded.
Chhaku gave a start and stood blinking.
“Well, dear Chhaku Babu, we the common people, should learn how yours was a very special goat, shouldn’t we? You owe it to your well-wishers to share with them your private-knowledge of the very special goat – if it could dance like a peacock when clouds gathered in the sky or if it burst into a melody like a koil at the advent of spring!”
Chhaku fidgeted. His eyes were anxiously scouting for Natbar Sir who was not to be seen.
“It seems the very special qualities of your goat are a closely guarded secret as if they were your own and you would like them to remain forever so!”
Chhaku’s neighbour whose wife had had a fight with Chhaku’s wife, began to giggle. Rakshit silenced him with another of his ready gestures.
“Now, be pleased to answer my next question. What was the name of your goat?”
“Well, so many villagers bestow lovely names on their pets, don’t they? For example…”
A villager well-known for frivolity shouted out, “I call my cat Maharani, and the pair of bullocks White and Bright!”
“That’s just fine. Now, Chhaku, please let’s hear the name of your late lamented pet! It ought to be quite imaginative!”
Chhaku hung his head.
“How much you loved it is now obvious. Next, will you please tell us the items with which you fed your very special goat yesterday?”
Chhaku looked nervous.
“Cheese-cake? polau? A plateful of rasogollas? Can you spell out the last menu you offered it?”
It dawned on a few intelligent members of the crowd that it was time for a mild laugh. They acted accordingly.
“Chhaku Babu, I put it to you that, yesterday, in the forenoon – I can be precise about the time if you insist – you treated your very special goat to a special thrashing. Do you want any eye-witness to come forward and tell you this to your face?”
The new Chhaku that was fast emerging during the last twenty four hours was fast getting demolished. He stood dumb. The rapid deterioration of colour of his face saddened me deeply.
“There you are, Sonny!” the lawyer said with a winning chuckle. “To bring up a very special goat, its owner has to be at least a bit special himself. Now to my last question. Where did you bury your goat? I’d like to place a small bouquet on its grave.”
The lawyer looked in all directions with the face of an innocent, if eager, explorer. He also looked at different people entreatingly, as if expecting some of them to show him something like a memorial that had come up lately.
“Well, I’m waiting for an answer, Chhaku Babu!”
There was of course no answer.
“Surely, you didn’t choose your tummy to serve as its last resting place!”
Undisguised laughter was heard from a section of the crowd. Those who laughed knew that that was exactly what Chhaku had done. He and those friends of his who had helped him to carry the goat into his hut had feasted on it at night.
“Why this laughter? Am I to take it that what I observed only in jest was what actually happened? But Chhaku, I must congratulate you and gladly admit that there was nothing but prudence in cooking and eating it! There was no point in throwing, what was your beloved possession, to jackals and vultures!”
The entire crowd looked amused.
“Now, about some payment. Yes, of course, it should be paid – I mean to the truck-driver who functioned as a humble butcher for Chhaku Babu.”
But Rakshit himself now laughed in a kindly fashion, indicating that he did not mean what he said.
More and more people seemed to enjoy the strange and interesting turn the issue was taking and a substantial number of them participated in the laughter. But Rakshit suddenly grew gloomy.
“Adding two and two, I am inclined to believe that the very special goat hardly knew happiness with its now famous master. It wanted to run away. That resulted in its being driven by its own unconscious urge towards the speeding truck, yes, I mean, to commit, in a sense, suicide.”
The silence that prevailed was akin to yet another spell. The majority of villagers still believed in the soundness of the wisdom of the educated. Rakshit’s revelations about the psychology of a goat came like a dose of awkwardly heavy education, but they were trying to gulp it, nevertheless.
The lawyer’s oration suddenly took an unexpected turn. He wove, with the help of choice words, a futuristic picture of the village that was destined to become a reality in the next decade when the road under construction would be completed, enabling the people to export their betel leaves and handicrafts like mats and even the gamchas – he gave a kindly tug to the one lying on Chhaku’s shoulder – to lucrative urban markets from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
Like a magician materialising something out of nothing, with a flourish he unfolded a crisp hundred-rupee note as if from nowhere and waved it for a second and pushed it into Chhaku’s hapless palm.
“Today it goes to our Chhaku Babu; tomorrow hundreds of such currency notes of different dimensions, like moths diving into flames, will fall into your coffers. The body of Chhaku Babu’s goat has gone the way of all healthy, eligible goats – I mean into a few deserving stomachs – but I can clearly hear the message its spirit is bleating out. Can you too hear? You can’t. Doesn’t matter. I’ll translate it for your benefit.”
Rakshit kept his eyes shut for a full minute, automatically commanding even greater attention from the audience.
In a voice that descended to a graver but tender scale, he said, “What – indeed – do I hear? What? A mellifluous, futuristic bleating making significant prophecies. And it conjures up a colourful vision. What does one visualise? Household after household in this our very village patriotically engaged in breeding and butchering multitudes of goats – metres and metres of their flesh hanging for sale in front of elegant kiosks flanking the road under making, streams of cars stopping to buy the meat, notes and coins making their endless way into our village – and your children and grandchildren, singing, dancing, jumping and romping in sheer happiness. Can’t you, along with me, share some glimpses of that heavenly tomorrow?”
Some imaginative member of the spell-bound crowd who could evidently visualise the tomorrow of Rakshit’s prophecy, started to applaud. Practically everybody joined him.
Rakshit managed to smile without giving up his gravity and acknowledged the crowd’s appreciation with knowing nods, and made signs, waving his hands, to say that the impromptu conference was over.
Alas, how different was the message the dead goat had given us only yesterday, around this time, when Natbar Sir was the master of the situation!
I located Natbar Sir, the very image of despair, standing under a banyan tree, aloof from the crowd, and mopping his face again and again, with no company but a solitary raven perched on a branch close to his head, sharpening its beak on the wood, and Lord Shiva’s sacred bull lying quietly beside him eyes closed, and masticating.
Perhaps it was then and there that a fresh inspiration was descending on Natbar Sir. He was chewing a blade of grass and he chewed it more and more vigorously, indicating that ideas were taking shape rapidly. I tarried for a while, occasionally coughing and then hurling a pebble at the sacred bull in the hope of drawing Natbar Sir’s attention to me. But he stood absorbed. I went home.
“My boy, Latbar Master (that is how my foster-grandma called him) is possessed by one of those spooks – a wee one presiding over the aberrations which go with wifelessness; d’you follow me?” observed my far-sighted foster-grandma.
“A spook of wifelessness? Never heard of that!”
“Your ears are yet to ripen enough; you’re yet to hear a billion things, my child! Latbar Master lost his wife too early to have been tempered by her. He needs another, but he doesn’t know that, or if he does, is too shy to confess and no one else’s voice is available to him to articulate this need on his behalf. There is a genre of spooks one of which would possess a fellow living in that sort of despair and make him do weird things.”
She paused and added, “But Latbar Master is a good soul and if the bastard can secure a job for you – he has promised me – I should say he is better than all the other bastards in this mean little village.”
The jackals in the bushes behind our house had just announced the advent of the last quarter of the night, waking me up in the process, when Natbar Sir appeared outside my window. In the dusk he really looked like one possessed by a spook.
“Haven’t you slept enough, my boy? Not a minute more,” he exhorted me. I sat up, rubbing my eyes. “I’ll make a leader out of you as surely as a potter shapes a vessel off his wheel. Now, take a bath quickly, and put on the whitest dhoti you have.”
Still sleepy and unable to sift the new-born politician from my old familiar Natbar Sir the teacher, “Did you use the superlative, Sir?” I asked, coming closer to the window. “But I could have the whitest only if I also had the white and the whiter. But, Sir, I possess only two and both lost their shine long ago.”
Natbar Sir stood pondering for a moment. “I’ll fetch one of mine. A shawl too. But gobble up all you can before sunrise. Well, the sun of your new destiny is about to rise. You’re entering a new phase of your life. You’re going to undertake a fast unto death!”
I stood baffled.
“Is it after my fasting unto death that the new phase and the new sunrise in my life will be possible?”
“No, no, my boy. You’re not to die but only fast unto death – that is to say – till sundown. You can sip water from time to time. I will arrange for a lemon to be squeezed into it.”
As I came out to our verandah, Natbar Sir explained his scheme to me. A banyan tree that stood between two ponds was to be the second victim of the road under construction. Under the tree lay a stone. If sometimes a weary traveller or a lazy villager sat down on it, at other times it was used by a farmer on his way to his fields for whetting his sickle or spade.
Now, Natbar Sir revealed to me that the stone was no ordinary rock, but a female divinity lying incognito. She looked upon the banyan tree as her shrine and she would neither like herself to be dislodged nor approve of the banyan tree being felled.
“How did you know her and her wish, Sir?”
Natbar Sir came out with the strangest statement I had ever heard. Later I was to realise that Natbar Sir’s mind was in a muddle, thanks to the new resident in his being, the spook of politics, if not that of a widowerhood as diagnosed by Grandma.
“I dreamt it,” he said. “In fact, I dreamt your dream. Don’t feel puzzled. At first the goddess tried to infiltrate your sleep, but she found it as hard as a ripe coconut. So I had to dream on your behalf.”
I was very disappointed. A goddess, however minor, should have been able to crack a coconut!
Natbar Sir could probably guess my feeling.
“Maybe, she thought you wouldn’t understand her language…”
“But, Sir, with your blessings, I can understand Sanskrit, more or less…”
“Foolish boy, could I a mere mortal, cross-question a goddess, as you do me? Now, listen to me. She pulled me by the hair and revealed that unknown to anyone, she had dwelt in that stone since times immemorial, a rather shy goddess, but quite frantic now. Yes, shy and small she may be, but formidable enough for insignificant humans like you and I. She warned me that if the villagers removed the stone or allowed the outsiders to mess up it, her curse would make the rain-clouds skip the paddy fields owned by our villagers and the consequences are anybody’s guess.”
Natbar Sir further informed me that the goddess had been pleased to assign to both of us the task of protecting the status quo.
“And, my boy, truth is a complex issue. Should you declare, when warranted, that it was you who dreamt the dream, it will not be untrue. It will be very difficult to explain to the riffraff the mystery of dreaming by proxy. Do you understand?”
I wavered. He coughed and said again, “Keep aside the question of truth and untruth for the time being, if you find the task of comprehending it too tricky. Take it as a strategy for our holy war. Is that all right?”
“All right, Sir. Can I ever presume to understand the problem of truth vis-à-vis untruth better than you?”
Natbar Sir went away satisfied. He met me once again, after an hour, and gave me his whitest dhoti and a cotton shawl.
His eyes looked swelled and somewhat overburdened with sleeplessness and awesome schemes and their unknown outcome. He left immediately to make other necessary preparations.
The sun was yet to rise and the raven, lame in one leg and infamous for cawing itself hoarse at the crack of dawn, had just begun its performance on a branch of the banyan tree when I reached the spot, bathed and dressed for the occasion. Natbar Sir had activated another former student of his, Poltu, who had knit an uneven garland of assorted flowers and leaves. From some of his mutterings in the way of soliloquies I understood that most of the boys, who had sworn revolution the day before, had had a change of heart after hearing Rakshit the lawyer’s harangue.
At the foot of the colossal banyan tree and behind the stone, Poltu spread a dispensable, worn-out mat. Earlier he and Natbar Sir had washed the stone and had smeared it with some vermilion and sandalwood paste. The too familiar stone had suddenly looked redoubtable and even appeared to radiate an aura.
Natbar Sir had been an able director of plays in our school. Now he directed the tableau formation. I sat down cross-legged, hugging the stone. Poltu put the garland around my neck and Natbar Sir saw to it that its pendant, a larger flower, rested on the stone.
The sun rose. In a nearby grove a solitary koil kept hinting at a future teeming with romantic and exciting possibilities.
“Ready?” Natbar Sir asked me in a whisper, for two notable villagers, one with an umbrella tucked under his arm and the other with a polished walking stick, were about to pass by us.
They stopped, their eyebrows raised as high as they would go. Natbar Sir greeted them affably and related to them ‘my dream’, while I sat, my eyes shut and blinking for a few seconds, alternately, as if the high plane of consciousness in which I then dwelt could not but view the affairs of the petite world around as only a puerile phenomenon.
Even though the two gentlemen were heading for a distant village to finalise a wedding and had stepped out of their homes at an auspicious moment prescribed by the almanac, they decided then and there to postpone their mission. One of them perched himself on a hardened ant-hill long deserted by its million inmates and the other hurried back into the village to alert the elders who mattered.
By the time the mellow sun of the spring began caressing me, more than a hundred pairs of eyes too were focussed on me and I could feel their warmth along with that of the sunrays. From time to time I stole glances at them and could clearly read the dilemma writ large on their faces – the pragmatic dream of prosperity stimulated by Mohan Rakshit now confronted by my supernatural dream. They looked at the ancient stone with awe and amazement. Who could have imagined, but for the dream inspired by the desperate goddess in the village good boy, that the stuff they had taken for granted and which had been subjected to random cheeky treatments over the decades, contained a living power right from Satyayug, the Era of Truth? (The deity’s precise age and antiquity had lately been added to ‘my’ dream by Natbar Sir when he narrated it for the umpteenth time.)
Despite an occasional feel of embarrassment when my eyes fell on an old woman viewing me with transparent trust or a former classmate with whom I could not exchange smiles, I found the situation quite scintillating. Only once in his life an average village youth receives any curious attention from so many and that is when, bedecked as a bridegroom, he proceeds to the bride’s house to wed and fetch her. None in our village or in any other village around had ever created a stir as an exclusive herald of a divinity revealing her presence for the first time.
The respectable villagers, some distinguished by glowing embers atop their hukkas they went on smoking, gamchas on their shoulders and some by spectacles, stood in a cluster a little away from the crowd and deliberated on the situation. I had never seen so many people looking so very grave all at once. I could sense that they were unable to come to any unanimous decision.
Nearer me, I heard the old Malli, widowed at seven and leading an impeccably clean life till seventy, telling her audience, “I always knew that our Padma was special. Would you believe? One shot from his catapult – and I saw with these very eyes – five fruit from my sweet-sour mango tree falling down in a row.”
“That is nothing supernatural!” retorted a male voice. I opened one eye to identify the speaker. He was Dhuli Panda. He continued, “The five mangoes must have hung from one bunch. Padma’s pellet could not have wandered from branch to branch, like an arrow from the Pandavas, striking mangoes down one after another!”
“Shut up, you monkey, son of a widow!” shouted the widow Malli. I appreciated Dhuli Panda’s cynicism. He was the only man in an area of seven or eight villages who was occasionally possessed by the officially recognised village deity worshipped in a tiny shrine under another banyan tree, and gurgled out oracles, gyrating all the while in a weird rhythm. He could not but have viewed with apprehension the emergence of a new deity as well as a new spokesman of hers.
Time was passing at a tediously slow pace and nothing seemed to be happening except that I was feeling emptier in my tummy. I decided to rise above that mean feeling and appease my hunger by sniffing and inhaling the fragrance of my garland. Natbar Sir too, I suspect, was growing tired, for every new-comer demanded a detailed report of ‘my’ dream.
From the whispers among people standing behind me I learnt that some of the contractor’s men surveyed the scene from a safe distance, but slipped away.
However, Natbar Sir’s hope that the villagers would spontaneously unite in honour of the new-found deity and thwart the road-construction in a decisive resolution-cum-action did not seem to come anywhere nearer. The old Malli alone said, commenting on the reported retreat by the contractor’s men, “They had away for good, I bet. Can any son of a father under the sun muster the audacity to bulldoze his way right through the dwelling of a goddess once she had revealed herself to the world through as pious a boy as our Padma? Which way can the likes of our good-for-nothing Dhuli Panda help them?”
But her observation was subdued in a commotion. I opened my eyes a bit and saw Janardan Mishra, the gigantic Brahmin, awesome both for his bulk and voice, forging his way towards me, trailed by a few humbler samples of his fraternity.
Mishra stopped before me, his arms akimbo and surveyed me in a merciless manner and bared his blood-red teeth in a noiseless laugh that gave me the creeps.
“So, this is how the matter stands!” He observed, condensing his laughter to a grin.
Instinctively I covered my neck with both my palms, for Mishra was always in demand when someone needed to sacrifice a goat to any of the few non-vegetarian deities of the region. The effortless and decisive manner in which he chopped the beast’s head off convinced the lookers-on that his arms were the instruments of some dreadful unseen and uncanny vigour.
Also, in his smile exposing the uneven rows of his red and dusky teeth, some natural and some artificial, I had a preview of the hundred smiles to bloom in the glorious future prophesied by Mohan Rakshit, when our villagers would survey their crop of bonny goats, the bringers of their prosperity!
“Well done, my good boy, now hands off the sacred stone. You may go home to your foster grandma and enjoy a bellyful of water-soaked rice,” he advised, his big jaws in motion all the while grinding the remains of betel nuts.
“But what – what – why?” demanded Natbar Sir. He was stammering.
“As you all know,” Mishra turned back, straightened up and spoke, distributing his attention among the respectable villagers, but totally ignoring Natbar Sir, “I was at my middle brother-in-law’s in the other village. During a nap after an early lunch, I dreamt of this little being, I mean this deity, clad in a sari as dazzlingly blood-red, who indeed has been residing in our old familiar stone. She dared me to answer if it was not my duty to offer her shelter, now that, on second thought, she had decided to give way to the road under construction for the sake of our welfare. The fact is, she is not exactly a goddess, but a well-meaning spirit which aspires to serve a proper divinity. But, of course, we cannot expect every whipper-snapper to differentiate between a goddess and a godling! By the way, it is not since the Era of Truth, but only from the beginning of this our Kaliyug, the Era of Falsehood, that she had been lying here under a certain curse.”
Mishra threw a contemptuous smile at me, arresting an overflow of his red saliva with a swift flourish of his tongue and added, “Well, gentlemen, a proper Brahmin’s proper son that I am, what else could I do? I had to assure her that she had nothing to worry about and that I would take charge of her!”
While Mishra untied his gamcha from his waist and stood mopping his face, Tima Panda, his buddy, observed in an abnormally loud voice stumbling several times over the statement, “If a mere lad, a non-Brahmin to boot, could receive a message from a supernatural being, what is unusual in a Brahmin of Mishra’s volume and throat that could roar out Vedas like a lion, receiving the being’s revised advice?”
I knew that Tima owed his eloquence to an earlier rehearsal. But, woe to me, the crowd found him quite sensible; clucks and other brief sounds of approval emanated from different spots of the throng.
Mishra lent a hand, symbolically, to Tima Panda and Dhuli Panda who lifted the stone. As a frustrated Natbar Sir tried to intervene, Mishra with his mace-like elbow gave him a foul push. He fell down and the damp earth wrought on his white shirt an ugly imprint of failure.
“Ah, ah, were you by any chance slightly hurt, our good little Master? Hope, you wouldn’t mind it for the deity’s sake, for you are as concerned with her well being as we all are!” said Mishra and I could see how much he relished his own statement even though by then I had taken several backward steps.
Holding the stone tight in his arms, in the very manner in which he often carried the unwilling goats to the sacrificial altar, Mishra cast a look of triumph at his audience, a sinister smile playing on his malicious lips, and declared. “I’ll make the stone the seat of my Saligram.”
His, after all, was the latest dream. There was no chance of myself or Natbar Sir dreaming anything germane before nightfall. By then the stone would have become the sacred seat of Mishra’s mobile symbol of Vishnu. He had taken care to forestall any expectation in the villagers that he would make a separate establishment for the new deity.
The crowd began to disperse, some of them following Mishra. A few even touched the stone with their foreheads in its first ever journey to a regular shelter since a curse had transformed the godling that it really was into that inanimate shape.
Where was Natbar Sir? I stood as helpless and forlorn as the son of Casabianca.
“Hello, boy, you must be hungry as hell! Why not join me in my humble lunch?”
Rarely had I had a sweeter proposal and that too from a totally unexpected source. It was the elegantly dressed contractor who had walked up to me, parking his car at some distance, behind our familiar meditative bull.
“Come, let’s share whatever little I have and be friends.” He threw his arm around me and dragged me towards his car, its door held open by his chauffeur. I feigned reluctance, but kept my resistance a degree less than the force he applied and, as a result, soon had my maiden entry into a car.
“Isn’t it time you were relieved of your decoration? The flowers have faded,” he observed affectionately. I removed my garland in a hurry and hurled it at the bull. The contractor opened his tiffin-carrier and handed out to me loochis and aloodam on a paper plate – and a sandesh too.
I enjoyed every bit of the food. He asked me a few questions and my answers appeared to please him.
“My boy, would you like to come with me to town? I might find you a far better mentor than your goody-goody Natbar!”
I nodded consent and said, “Will you allow me just fifteen minutes? I’ll go home and inform my foster grandma and change Natbar Sir’s clothes for my own.”
He nodded smilingly “That’s right, my friend, always be in your own. Someone else’s clothes, like someone else’s dharma, can be fatal for one!” He patted me on the back.
The rapid sequence of events establishes Padmalochan, now Swami Padmananda, as a god-man. While for Ranjita Devi he is a symbol of Divinity, Jayant Thakore intends to use him for furthering his business interest. For their son Kumar, he is a miracle man and for several others he is either an object of curiosity or a man with powers to fulfil their desires.
While remaining in seclusion under the plea of a vow Padmananda was more and more drawn towards Sushie, Kumar’s highly prudent and dignified wife. Meanwhile Ranjita Devi is hospitalised with a fatal illness.