I had decided to take a short stroll, my usual escape when the homefront appeared less welcoming.
The good(?) God (?) man was sitting there in repose. So what if he is there? If I choose to walk past, it doesn’t mean that I am looking to greet him. Let him not assume such importance, maybe I huffed my aggrievement, for he called out.
‘Good sir, you don’t have to greet me each time you go by. Let my presence not become your burden.’
I nodded quickly and walked on. But, the monologue grew louder, ‘This dog, sir, this dog needs help.’
‘A dog? Help?’
I turned to ask, ‘Is it a stray or your pet?’ The grey quivering mass seemed febrile.
‘It’s a dog,’ he seemed vexed by my natural line of questioning. ‘Unless you believe that human ownership somehow validates it.’
‘No, but if it’s a stray its immunity will be far better.’
‘It seems immunity failed this one. By the way, you know that dogs carry tales to Yama, right?’ he was grinning.
‘Meaning?’ I had missed a joke, maybe.
‘Lord Yama, the god of death, listens to the stories of all life from dogs who tell their account of kindnesses and unkindnesses. That is why one should never harm a dog.’
‘Okay,’ I retorted, ‘I’ll kick cats out of my way the next time. I’ll let dogs be :)’
‘All, but all animals rush to the King of Dogs and tell their tales. The King of Dogs in turn carries the tale to…
‘Keep an eye out for dogs that look at you sideways, they are the messengers, usually. They are everywhere, all over. And if it’s got a coloured patch of eye, all the more reason to believe, hmmm, carrier.’
‘The Lord of Death! Likely tales, phah! I believe in Shiva!’ I looked to my right, none of the shops had opened. I though to buy a little milk for the Shiva temple…
It must have been a stone that rolled out from under my feet but when I looked around the pavement was quite clear… that is, when I looked around from my position on the ground. I’d had a mighty fall.
She continued to huff in a manner suggestive of rage. At times, and I have seen this of my mother too, the woman’s back will speak. Though the saree is loosely draped across its spread and the folds on that back may be all that faces one, yet, it speaks.
It tells you that the person wishes to say something but hides it tightly in their soul. It hunches over the kitchen shelf as appended limbs move bottles and spoons like so many dismembered parts trying to be free of a tense master (the back, not I) yet all the while communicating displeasure. Displeasure at my existence, my presence, my absence, me!
But what about the money, I wondered. Just the day before as I studied the ever-changing request of a difficult party, I had placed a 1000-re note under the Ganesha paperweight. I must have gone out of the room for about half an hour. When I returned, the note was gone. The paperweight was all that remained.
‘Arre, Sheila, I kept the money for my delivery fellow, yaar. He needs it for paying off the charges. Don’t take it away just like that!’
I felt rather than heard her wrath; she hadn’t spoken.
Then from that cotton soft silence, her voice filtered through, sharp and shrill, ‘What?’
It struck me then, ‘Where’s Kushal? When should we expect him home?’
‘He came back about half an hour ago, he’s sleeping right now.’
‘Oo-h, you mean he spent the night out and returned to his room to sleep… Did he come to this table along the way?’ my mind was whirling. Small children thieve. They see things and pick them up as their own. I know that. I understand that pretty things attract them. All they need is a firm word followed by a strict slap and they learn.
A 20-year old, however…
IF I say something she intervenes, when I stay away she blames me. He takes advantage of all this and comes home reeking of alcohol and cigarettes.
She was wiping her hands on the dishcloth, shoulders hunched. When she turned on me, I saw that she had been crying. ‘First you suspect me, then you suspect your son. Just what did you think we could do with your measly 1000 Rs? Build a house?!!? Run away?? I can’t even buy a month’s stock of food with that amount, if I may educate you.’
I had to educate her in return, ‘A bottle or two, dear… that’s what comes with a 1000. Maybe more, depending on the standard…’
‘Do you understand only suspicion? Have you no trust in your son? The poor boy was at home, this morning he went to college and returned only now. He needs someone to be with him. Then he will become okay, what were you when I married you? You became okay when I came into your life.’
‘What was I? A 24-year old who had been in the business for 6 years, if I had been like your son, your father would have caught me by the ear and thrown me out, you did not make me okay. I was already okay, I knew my responsibility before I married,’ I retorted.
‘Oh so now you are doubting my ability as a mother!’ Tears were spilling out of her eyes, I was furthering the trouble. To say the truth, yes, I doubted her ability as a mother. My father had no doubt that at 18 I would stop studying and start working. My mother had no doubt, I’d had no doubt. My friends were envious that I had a ready place to join whereas they struggled to get government jobs. But that had been a different time, we were a respected family. Our family had name, I was a smart boy, a good catch.
The same cannot be said of her son!
The atmosphere was leaden, I felt paralysed, unable to speak. I wondered why, there, her back was facing me throwing open reprimands in my direction
Over the next few days, I was busy with a number of things. Rent was held up, the accountant was sick, two of my staff took off for the village – unimaginable! The little free time I conjured was spent reconciling the lies my son spewed against what I believed to be the truth and trying to make my wife see that she was being made a fool of.
The trouble with women, when they see the husband busy at work they fret that the husband is not spending time worrying. If the husband speaks in worried tones, they wish the man were busy.
But I am not a man of worry, that is a privilege of the idle!
‘I’m so worried, I’m so worried,’ you can flutter about while something boils over, ‘oh GOD! The milk! Uff, what a mess.’
I cannot flutter, I have calls to make, payments to check about, services to provide. If I don’t work who will bring home the money? Your son? Useless!! When I was 20 years old…
‘Your father was in business, he pulled you into it. You never enjoyed your college life, always working. Why aren’t you involving your son in the business?’
I argued, ‘When I tried to do that you said I was spoiling his youth with stupid accounts and forms.’
‘Oh yes, that was when he began college, but when he started failing was it not your duty to take him under your wing? Did you hear what that fellow said about my son? Are you sure HE is not bad company! How dare he? Some yogi baba maharaj, what does he call himself? Mahapurush, bah!’
Ah, the mighty fall from grace. Even the moniker someone had planted on the man was his curse. But to be fair, he had not introduced himself, ‘hello, myself Mahapurush.’ But… what had he said his name was?
You know how it is, the man leads, the woman follows. The children are born, they should follow.
Our son was 22, quite useless, his mind was never in studies only play, play, play all the time. Now he was grown up and well… he had got into wrong company. It was all because of his mother, all maternal affection, not good if you want a boy to grow to responsibility.
She was standing in front of the ‘mahapurush’ hands folded, saree pallu covering her bowed head.
He was looking at her quizzically, as though wondering what this charming beauty was doing with a dark man like me. Well, at least I am tall. ‘Tell me beta, what is it? People are coming to me with so many problems, so many worries, I am feeling that everyone thinks the world moves around them.’
‘Well, maybe you prefer that the world travel around you,’ the retort stayed on my tongue as my wife gushed, ‘You are my only support, nobody else can help me.’
I was stung! I, her husband, am the only support she can seek. But I remained quiet.
The great man looked at me, a knowing smile on his face, ‘Child, only the creeper (he used the word Lata) needs support to grow, you are not a plant. God has designed you to provide your own support. What is your trouble?’
My wife stood upright, possibly embarrassed by his dismissal. Her pallu slid off her head.
‘My son, my son is in wrong company,’ she stammered.
‘Are you sure your son is not wrong company?’
‘My son!’ Now it was her turn to be stung. ‘My son is a very good boy! He doesn’t have any bad habits, swamiji. I am thinking that we should get him married. Once he has a family, he will become responsible.’
Mahapurush didn’t have an opinion, he gave a lazy nod. Before my wife could get carried away by her own brilliant idea, I butted in, ‘He needs to find work or join my business. He failed twice in college and he drinks a little too much. Start a family!’
My wife turned to me in a fury, her wonderful son doesn’t drink, you see, he is made to, by his bad friends. ‘He needs a calm loving woman,’ she opined.
But the great man said something here, ‘Have you seen animals, child? When their young are small, they teach them to find food. That is the primary and most important learning. Then they will leave their young alone, fight and find a mate or don’t. In fact, even the search for a mate depends on physical strength and the skill to bring food. Of all life I have watched, it is only the human that will seek a mate before it can find its own food.’
Though I didn’t like the animal comparison, this man seemed to be agreeing with me. Hmmm, not such a bad type maybe.
I left the Society Office in a huff and walked home. As I reached my house, I fumbled in my pockets for the key. Where was the damn key? It must have fallen when that grinning ‘Mahapurush’ disturbed me. Is there no peace to be had? In a matter of hours he had become famous.
Enraged, I rang the doorbell.
The door opened, Pushpa the maid-servant stood there. She smiled shyly as she let me in and waited stupidly.
‘Obviously, once you have opened the door you can go back to your work,’ I was about to reprimand her.
‘Bhabhiji naha rahi hain…’
Why start a conversation? Obviously, bhabhiji (my wife) is bathing otherwise she would have opened the door. The complexities of having a maid servant. She must convert me into a brother so I can keep my distance and not misunderstand her presence in my house, you know? I don’t like all this. Maid in the house! Women should be able to do all the household chores alone. Here I was standing at the door with a maid servant who seemed intent on telling me my wife’s habits.
I might have spoken sharply, ‘I forgot my key, I hope you don’t mind that you had to open the door for me.’
‘Bhabhiji had told me that you forgot your keys. Actually, I wanted your advice. You being so well-versed in pooja and all those things.’
Now I don’t pride myself as an authority on prayers and all things religious, but, I do know a thing or two. This maid servant was turning out to be quite smart, finding the right person to ask.
‘Saab, you told me to do ling pooja. What do I have to do?’
‘It is very simple, I told her. Just carry about half a glass of milk to the temple and pour slowly on the lingam. Do that everyday and see. It is good for you, your family why, even the whole world will have peace.’
‘Haan saab, lekin saab…’
‘What lekin, there should be no buts in prayers.’
‘I buy a quarter of a litre of milk for my daughter and little from that I take for my tea. If stop drinking tea I can spare a spoonful, is that enough?
‘Aha, tricky one,’ I realised, she wants us to give milk from our house for her pooja, hm. So, I replied in all honesty, ‘see, there should be enough milk to pour on the lingam, it should cover the whole form. And there should be milk for your daughter.’
She looked at me as though I had asked her to jump out of the window. I knew the next question was coming, ‘Saab, can you give…’
But she didn’t say a word, just averted her eyes and went to the kitchen. I was relieved.
The day went by without event. I made a few calls from my home office, I held a few meetings. It was 6 o’clock, time for the evening lamp lighting. My wife would soon go to the temple. The doorbell rang, it was Pushpa.
She ‘namaste’d’ me with a big smile. I thought she had some work with my wife, so I called out, ‘Sheila!’
Nahin, saab, I wanted to tell you something. When I was leaving your house, I was very worried. So worried. How to keep Shiva happy without reducing milk for my baby? I can go without tea, but I get so tired that I really want, just that one cup in the morning time. Other times, Bhabhiji will give me.’
This woman was getting tiresome, I was getting late. I made a suitable show of impatience but she continued.
‘So, I went and asked that baba, sahab, he is very nice. You know, the one you saw this morning? He called out to me, ‘Oh child, what is bothering you?’
I told him my trouble. He said, ‘Shiva will never take the milk meant for a child, either human or animal. Shiva will never take away the just dues of anyone, be it human or animal. You have your tea, you give your daughter the milk. Just carry Shiva in your heart and trust in him! Go to the temple and pray if you have time. When your child is small, you may not have time, God understands. ‘
Then he gave me a 5-Re coin as blessing.
Tears shone in her eyes, she swallowed hard but could not check the flow. Sheila had appeared in the course of the monologue, silently behind me. I looked at her, she smiled at me thinly, sometimes one cannot tell what is going on in the mind of a woman.
‘Good,’ she said to Pushpa, very good. ‘But, I would say, make time and go to the temple. I know you don’t have time. Make the time.’
‘Achha bhabhi, achha saab,’ she nodded her head as she smiled sweetly and turned to go.
My wife hurried forward to close the door as she said, ‘I have to go and meet this great man, everyone has been talking about him. We are blessed by his presence. Will you come?’
I do not like all this, shouting in the middle of the road. Three people standing around this bearded man who claimed to be friends with gods. Our building watchman was standing in front of him in an aspect of great respect. Our housemaid was sitting on a plastic chair and one more person, I usually know all people in our area. I did not know him. He looked harmless but you never know, nowadays.
Doesn’t the watchman have a responsibility? Can he leave his post and come to talk to a man who has chosen to live under a tree? A man who is responsible for the utter safety of the lives of citizens of the building society.
I do not want to be intolerant but I cannot tolerate, I tell you, I cannot tolerate laxity on duty. ‘Hey,’ I demanded, ‘what are you doing here? Go back!’
The watchman looked at me with his small Nepali eyes and a mild smile, ‘I am off duty saab, shift change.
Pushpa was looking at me with her stupid smile, ‘Saab I am coming now. Just another 5 minutes. It is so nice to spend time with a great man such as this.’
The third man said nothing, just looking at me. Maybe he was stupid or dumb, who knows. I would have walked away when…
‘Saheb, show some respect, hmmm? He is not a big rich man like you but he is a ‘mahapurush‘. Thoda, a little respect.’
To that mild threat, I turned my back. Time to complain to the building society office. Better nip this nonsense in the bud right now. I went to the ground floor of our building A 001, the space for an office. It was a full-fledged flat, mind you.The far end of the room had two large windows. In front of the windows, like two icons surrounded by golden sunlight, sat an elderly man and a thin boy with a perpetually worried face, the secretary and his assistant. In place of the usual offerings in front of the deities were two clanking steel tables with desktop computers on them. The computers were surrounded by papers and files.
It was here that I stood, looking out for the secretary. That skinny boy looked up at me and looked away in a hurry. Where is the secretary? I wanted to know.
Instead of opening his mouth, the stupid boy gestured to the ground. What, he’s dead or what, I was about to say, haha, why would anyone be on the ground? The secretary’s head popped up, ‘Sir,’ he scrambled to standing, ‘huhuh, looking for that statement… uff.’ He mopped his head as if he had been doing some major work, stupid fellow, loses papers. ‘Sir, we had sent you a statement of…’
I cut him short, ‘First, we do what I came for.’
oh, oh right, yes, sir, how I can help?
‘That fellow, who has adopted that tree, we need to evict him, how can he just come and start doing yoga in front of our building?’
The secretary’s eyes widened, ‘Sir, sir, please, that is not our land. And he’s, he’s a mahapurush.‘
‘Do you see the great man walking past?’ a voice mocked out to me. ‘Visits a temple, I asked you to do a simple task and you didn’t. You didn’t give the coin to the woman, did you?’
I had met this baba once before, here he was reprimanding me as I walked by. What had I brought upon myself? Was I going to face a verbal onslaught every time I walked by?
You gave it to the man, what use was that?
I turned irately, ‘There were three women sitting outside the temple, so rather than ask each one, I gave it to the man. Let it be, he will have some tea.’
As I spoke it dawned on me, how did this man know? Had he followed me to the temple? Had one of the women called him up on a secret mobile phone? How did he know? Just how?
Incredulous, I looked at him, ‘Who was he?’
He was grinning, ‘Hmm, wondering how I know what you did? I knew you would not ask, I knew you would do the easiest thing, give the coin to a man. I know you well, sir. I know everyone well, all minds are one, you know?’
With that, he turned his back on me and took a long gurgling gulp of water.