CHAPTER - 2
The woman in the photograph was Jitendra's mother. The man was Jitendra's father. But they were no more. They died in tragic circumstances. It happened when they were considering brides for Jitendra. Jitendra had grown up into one of the handsomest of men, and he was such a splendid make of a male that many lovely girls set their eyes passionately on him and longed to own him. The offers from affluent families were plenty and a choice was difficult. Quite a good many of these girls were first-rate beauties, brought up in strict religious discipline by their orthodox Brahmin parents. They already shone out as paragons of virtue to every one's knowledge. Some of them lived in Benares and others in different parts of the state which was U.P. Jitendra's parents had promised and projected visits to all these families to make a study. Jitendra had just finished his post-graduate course. It was then the catastrophe occurred. Both his parents died in the accident that their train met with when they were returning from one of these visits. Jitendra could never recover from the shock. It had a traumatic effect on his entire thinking and his attitude to life. He resolved never to marry. The world had broken and gone out of joint for him. It had no more any relevance for him. His life had lost its pivot. A wedded life without his parents had practically no sense. There was nothing more for him to think over. Directly he took to Sanyasa. He turned down all opposition. He was now firmly established in it. He was known and venerated in all religious circles in the country and in many places abroad. He led a very pure life. He had not the least speck of sin on his conscience. He would stay a Sanyasin all his life and die a Sanyasin. He would rather die than give up his saffron robe. It was unbelievable that in so short a span one could become so grea t a celebrity. Many believed he had miraculous Yogic powers. Yet many more believed that he was an incarnation of Lord Krishna.
There was another photograph, a full-size one. Jitendra's father and mother sat each on a heavily padded high chair. On the floor at their feet sat one of their most loyal and trusted farm servants by name Kalidas, a brawny simpleton in his early forties. His eyes blinked like those of a frightened animal. His outlandish rustic origin was writ all over his figure. He wore frayed, discolored farm clothes which were rather too loose for him. It was likely that the odor and dust of the farm on which he worked could never be washed off his person. He would seem to carry the farm with him wherever he went. His unkempt hair fell in heavy mops about his head, sticky with grime. He was the closest to the family and stood high in their confidence. It was an emotional bond and he had become welded into the family. His lot was cast with it, and he had no life apart. He had not much of education. He was just a literate. He wrote an awfully crabbed hand which only those accustomed to it could make out. It was a habit with him to tie a towel around his head like ploughmen do. He had on his stubbly face a little mustache that counted for something but still not much. It had little more than a nominal existence. This was how he looked twenty five years ago. The last two decades and his incessant toil on the farm had since wrought a lot of change in his looks. In the photograph he held the same four-year old child on his lap securely locked between his arms. The child was again Jitendra. Their faces met in a smiling frolic. They seemed to revel in each other's company. Kalidas would not have held his own son in a more rapturous embrace. Kalidas was one of Jitendra's chief playmates.
Jitendra put back the photographs into the portfolio from where he took them. There were many more in it.
Next day, Mohinder, the painter from the Artist's colony met Jitendra. He was the one who wanted to paint Jillu, the shepherdess.
"Shall I paint her, Swamiji ?. I think I can bring out whatever is best in her. I shall see she looks much enhanced on the canvas. She would be more lovable than lusted after", He said.
"I have already told you Mr.Mohinder that I have practically no objection provided you keep in mind what I had already said. But I doubt very much if she would agree. I have since come to know more of her. I have also collected information about her from the village through our staff. She appears to be a woman of very high virtue. She might be poor, but she has, it would seem, principles. As far as possible she avoids males whom she doesn't know. She is very careful of her morals. You may try. Tell her your purpose. She may not understand. Explain to her. It is very likely she would laugh at you and your Art. Everyone in the village loves her and praises her. She is said to be generally circumspect about all males. They say no male could ever stare at her. She would then be instantly in a temper. But when you paint her the only thing you may have to do every now and then is to stare at her. She might find it revolting. She might think you a bad sort. She might even mistake you for a rake. Quite possibly she might slap you on the face or call you dirty names and walk out. But what I think is she wouldn't in the first instance agree at all. For it might very seriously compromise her reputation in the village. She might even take offense at the very mention of your idea.
"These are some of the possibilities, Mr.Mohinder, I think it my duty to warn you. As a female she deserves to be looked upon with sympathy and even respect. And as a female in the most indigent circumstances, she deserves them all the more. The villagers can't understand a painter's profession. They know nothing about Art. It might set people talking. For a woman in a village particularly her reputation is her life. We shouldn't play with it. We might be landing the girl in a fatal predicament. Should we make her take all this?"
Jitendra felt he had spoken enough.
"Do you mean to say then, Swamiji, that a painter should not paint a woman?"
"How could I say that, Mohinder, You are thoroughly mistaken. You could paint a woman. But in certain cases you have to take utmost precaution. There are professional models. That is different. There are women who know about painting. There are women in the highest walks of life, women in irreproachable circumstances, sometimes they themselves offer to pose. If we make a request they willingly oblige. They even engage painters to paint them and they sometimes pay fantastic sums. All these things are different. But the case of a woman like this shepherdess is altogether different. If she gets just an inch out of her usual orbit, things at once get sensitive, risky and even explosive. Should we place this girl in such a terrible position?"
The artist Mohinder stood a while considering. What the Swamiji spoke certainly made sense, but still he clung to the idea. He felt there was enough plenitude in the girlís body for a maximum expression of his art.
"Let me try Swamiji", He said. "I will apprise you of what happens". Jitendra simply nodded. He wanted to speak no more. Mohinder was a professional. He was free to try out what he thought would best serve his talent.
Though Jitendra could play very well on the violin, he kept it to himself. He had a natural dislike to go on it for an audience except of course in very special circumstances.
From somewhere the gladsome notes of Jitendra's violin came floating in the breeze. The time was about ten in the morning. He could not be seen. Only the sweet rhythms bore through the air. He was hidden off in one of his habitual haunts inside the woods.
On the north there was a forested portion of the Ashram property in which stood clustering trees of many indigenous species, squat vegetation of no particular description and thick bushes of wild flowers, scattered but still quite a pageantry of endless colors, luminous against the sun, providing studies for a painter gifted enough to tackle such a variegated panorama. Butter-cups, mountain-lilies, camelia, passion-flower, costus, poppies, rock-roses, willow-herbs and honey-suckle could be seen in promiscuous growth, either reigning in isolation or densely teaming together, quite common flowers but still in that particular setting they were a spectacle, and to a lover of Nature with a sense of the sublime it was a scene exalting and productive of endless inspiration. In spring the place burst with a sort of crazy efflorescence. At other times too its beauteous mantle hardly wore off. Even in the sunniest of months, it had a residual vigor that was not inconsiderable. There was enough to gratify the eye and to enthuse all of a painter's fastidious tastes. And this was a month of showers.
This rolling tract of little vales and troughs harbored a particularly fairy spot, a spot of heavily timbered, wildly accentuated, beauty in which stood, closely adjacent to each other, three massive trees, each one a giant. One was a mahogany, another was a cedar and the third one a redwood, all grown to a height of more than fifty feet, their rich floral crowns hanging low and their leaf-laden sturdy branches spreading wide. It was a particularly shaded spot, somber and rueful, but smiling all the same like an angels' tryst. Jitendra had watched these trees in all the seasons. He had watched them in sunshine and rain, in stormy winds, in the silvern moonlight, and sometimes in the dark of the night when the few stars in the sky were being obliterated by the hosts of invading clouds. The trees stood like the monarchs of the place. He had a deep love for them, a love that had almost become organic. A rock spread beneath them. Jitendra usually sat on it and occupied himself with his violin. Presently he was playing the Raga Ataana. The music, subdued and liquid, spilt around the place. Sometimes it rose a few volumes. The sun showed high on the east. The weather was less humid. The music blended into the woods and was wafted over the distances by a powdery breeze. In a large hay roofed wooden cabin, rotting and long since fallen into neglect, that stood close by, a pair of unobtrusive rabbits with a small brood ran their menage and, indulging in every possible sport in the close vicinity of the three stalwart trees, sometimes stopped in their pranks to listen to the monk's music. When Jitendra did not play on the violin in his bedroom, he did it on this balmy locale. Their attention was sometimes very close and rapt. All the big and small members of this rabbit household were particularly socializing specimens and they gave him of their friendship in unsparing measures. Sometimes he would lift one of them, press it against his face and give a kiss. On occasions when it rained hard there were any number of guest rabbits and the place would then look like a teeming republic of these little beats. Their gestures were sometimes wonderfully expressive. He fancied they had a very good ear for music. From his saffron-robe perhaps they had decided that he was absolutely harmless and that there was nothing in him to suggest that he was of a carnivorous race. Sometimes they would sit staring at his face as if there was something in it they could see nowhere else. Between the monk and the rabbits an intuitive relationship had come to stay as if they felt like fellow-denizens of the same spiritual domain. This thought had frequently occurred to him. Whenever he was in the company of the rabbits, each one of them looking like a glossy lump of beauteous innocence with the breath of God fluttering in them, he would remember the Slokas no. 29, 30, And 31 of the sixth chapter in Bhagavad Gita entitled Dhyana Yoga. In Sloka 29, Lord Krishna had said that "He who sees his own self in all the creations of the universe and all creations in his own self, he alone is a great Yogi and is never lost in duality. In Sloka 30. He says that "Whoever sees me in every object of the universe and every object in Me, such a devotee never loses sight of Me nor I of him". And in Sloka 31, Lord Krishna expands the same truth when he says
"He who worships Me in all beings in a spirit of oneness with all of them, such a Yogi lives in Me wherever he is and whatever the mode of his life". This was the basic philosophy of Jitendra's religion as well as his Art. And he never deviated from it. That all beings, both animate and inanimate, were cosmically related and had their being in God, and that Man had a cosmic soul as well became the principal concept on which he lived his life and made his paintings. Whatever subject one painted on the canvas one should paint more of the soul than of the body. And in the process the work became a revelation of his own self. Whatever object one chose to paint there was a spiritual element in it. It was that which had to be brought out and made to prevail. There was thus religion in Art by which is meant the cultivation of the soul, the individual and the cosmic. Non-duality was the essence of the Hindu Advaita. The composition of rhythms in Man became the composition of rhythms in Art. He stuck to this argument stubbornly whether any one agreed or not. Ultimately all Art was the celebration of Man, the Cosmos and the God in a unitary relationship. Of this was born a felicity that had no bounds. He saw his God abstracted in Art, a transmuted version of the ultimate God-stuff spoken of as Brahman in the Hindu Vedanta.
When Jitendra was playing on his violin, he felt there was someone coming and sitting in front of him. He thought it might be one of the rabbits. But when he lifted his face, he saw that it was Jillu, the shepherdess, that had quietly stolen in. She was sitting on a heavy litter of dry leaves on the ground. She sat comfortably on her haunches, hugging her folded knees and lost in enjoying the music of the Swamiji, her eyes closed apparently in rapture. When he stopped and took a look at her, she opened her eyes and made a large but a timid grin. Her clothes were torn and slovenly, her hair unkempt and dusty and her dark body had sheen enough but still unwashed perhaps for weeks. She wore on her neck a string of some red beads and Cowrie shells, and glass bangles on her wrist. She had the innocent charm of a country girl and the casual defiance of an ill-looking brute. She laughed between her knees a mischievous laugh that made her look like a half-wit. From the beginning he had noticed in her a little trace of imbecility in her manner. But by and large the effect was wholesome and agreeable and held her up in his eyes. Mohinder, of course, could paint her. He was a talented painter. He could bring out on the canvas a classic specimen of an elementally powerful rustic character. She would be a sort of discovery for a poetically inspired artist. After all a painter was nothing if not a poet at bottom. But would she agree to be painted?
"Why did you come here?", Jitendra asked.
"I wanted to hear your music, Swamiji", She said. She averted her face and made another laugh. He was amused at her stupid manner. "How did you know?".
"The sounds trickled down into the village. Your music always does. What is that wooden thing with strings on it? What do you call it, Swamiji?"
"It is called Violin".
She blundered through the word `Violin', spelt wrong, fumbled through, and came out correctly at last. Jitendra laughed.
"Do you like music?". He put the question jocularly.
"I do, Swamiji. I have heard your music often. I have heard it in these woods. I have heard it as it fringed into the village. Nobody could hear it, for it gets mingled with the sounds of the village, but I could identify it and hear it apart.". She said this with a sort of proud, humble and self- satisfied air. Jitendra kept his right forefinger tapping on his chin for a few seconds. Then he asked:
"Where are your sheep?".
"They are grazing yonder, Swamiji. I have left the dog there to keep watch ".
"Is the child all right ?".
"It is being kept alive. The woman is somewhat better today. She will take a week to get on her legs. In another one hour I will get back to do the cooking and feed the child".
"The woman's husband could do it.
"No, Swamiji, there are things which only a woman could do. Often he drinks hard and does nothing. He simply stretches out and snores."
"You said there was no money in the house".
"Yes, Swamiji. There is absolutely no money, nothing, but he drinks at others' expense. He fights and gets a share of the stuff his associates drink."
Then after a moment, "Have I disturbed you, Swamiji, do you want me to go?". She asked in a sullen drawl. Suddenly she had felt she was edging too much into his privacy. This gave her a slight stab of guilt.
"No. Jillu, not at all. You may stay if you like".
At the mention of her name, she felt as on the other day a steep rise of ecstasy inside her. She got her head between her knees and laughed again. She had fine teeth, oval face, and a thick shapely neck as of a beautiful beast.
"I will like to stay on and on, and for hours at a stretch and hear your music, Swamiji. It is so sweet. I can't stand the joy of those lovely sounds. It comes into me like a flood. I could almost die. I feel drunk".
How could she talk so well, the monk wondered. Then, in a prankish vein, he asked:
"Do you drink, Jillu?"
"No, Swamiji, I hate it. I hate the very smell of it. It is a horror".
"But then how did you say you felt drunk at my music?".
"That is just a way of talking, Swamiji, . Anybody could say that. It wouldn't mean drinking that horrible, doomed stuff".
Jitendra mused. If the girl could love music so much and get smitten with the concordance of sweet sounds, then there was Art in her bones and Music in her blood. She was a lover of rhythms. She could be lifted out of her surroundings, put elsewhere, and taught music. Her voice had a rude sort of metallic finesse. Her voice could be cultured and properly polished. She could be urbanized and launched on a prosperous career in the field of Art. But then the whole thing struck him as extravagant, silly, impracticable. Theoretically, of course, the idea was all right. But in practical terms, it would be unworkable. There would be obstacles. But yet a far too heightened image of the girl he could not dismiss from his fancy.
"Can you sing, Jillu?"
"Yes, Swamiji, I can"
"Then, sing, let me hear".
She fell into a fit of rippling laughter. It had a singsong quality. There was in it the peculiarly remote music of the forests. The monkís intuitive sensibility caught it.
"If I did, you won't permit me to see you again. You will banish me for life." She laughed again.
They both laughed.
He was now lost for a moment in many a scattered thought. He then bade her go. She left.
"What an innocent girl, as innocent as the rocks, trees and the earth", He muttered.
Jitendra had abundant regard for his former Painting instructor Vashatkar. Vashatkar knew it. He was now in Malaysia. He made some earnings out of his profession. His paintings sold. But he lived a fast and extravagant life. Jitendra knew him as a notorious spendthrift. He also knew that he was a man without character or principles, a sponge and a Parasite, and a ruthless exploiter of his own goodness and generosity. These were serious infirmities and particularly hateful to a monk like Jitendra who expected artists to live in the strict moral discipline since otherwise, as he believed, the various Muses of Art and Learning would disown him and cast him out of their favor. Vashatkar had a coarse and vulgar taste for female flesh and had often made himself despicable with people of polite society. But neither he nor anyone could stop him from this downtrend that was already well on its course. He exhausted his earnings as soon as they came in to his hands and then went on a borrowing spree. That was what was happening with him in Malaysia too. He had arrived at a stage when no one would lend him. And, of course, Jitendra was always there for him to count on. He knew he would never fail him.
Jitendra received from him at least two letters a month in which he invariably pleaded some financial crisis, and pestered for money. Jitendra, as a promoter of Art and a willing supporter of needy artists, used to send him whatever money he asked for so that his genius as a painter should not get bogged down and wither away. Besides he was his Guru. He could never disoblige.
Two days ago he had received a letter from him. As usual he had set up a lamentation of his plight and requested for money. But his request had such a strong note of insistence that it almost sounded like a command. But that drew from Jitendra, not anger or annoyance, but a laugh. He hoped he would some day reform himself. An Artist who was a creator of rhythms would not like to be witnessing for long jarring discordances in his own life. Only Jitendra didn't know when it was to be.
It was about four years ago that Vashatkar left India for Malaysia hoping to stay for a few years there in search of better fortune as a painter. He would set up as a painter and an art-dealer. He would also open a shop where he would sell his own pictures and those he bought from other painters. He also hoped to get commission work from wealthy quarters and fashionable circles. He counted on the help of his elder brother who was employed there in a rubber plantation on a high Salary and who was said to have a lot of influence and standing among people of rank and quality. He had an assured prospect of getting along famously there. But Jitendra could not easily make out from his letters if he was better off or worse off than when he was in Benares. In his frequent letters for money he had been discreetly maintaining that he had in his hands more than half the art-market in Malaysia. But if he was really faring so enviably in his profession, then why should he be in such dire need of money so often? Jitendra respected his Guruís talent. But he loathed his character.
Vashatkar's wife had died when he was about forty. He had no children. When he was alive he was something of a domesticated pet for his wife, and held himself within bounds apparently though many said he had been having affairs which his wife never knew. But even if she had known she would have overlooked, for she was to him both a wife and mother. It was after her death he directly went to the devil. He needed more and more money for his too unrestrained bohemian life, and that naturally threw him more and more in to his work in order to make more wherewithal. He had to be painting night and day and that brought out more and more of his rare talent to light, and consequently it secured for him more standing in the field which he could have consolidated.
But it was at this moment that he felt if he went to Malaysia he could make heaps and heaps of money. Many local artists here had made him believe that in Malaysia artists earned more than business magnates. Perhaps they thought that it was the only way to drive him out of the field. He was a man with abnormal bodily appetites. He had also been told that in Malaysia there were very beautiful Chinese women who would like to be painted and that all the money of Malaysia was in their hands and they threw it in large handfuls to the artists, and there was no limit to their generosity. He was a morbidly ambitious megalomaniac. He believed that he was fated to be eventually acknowledged as the only towering genius in the profession dwarfing everyone else. But the present letter was a pointer to what was happening to him in Malaysia. This time he had asked for a sum of rupees ten thousand. He wanted it to be sent in American dollars through a Bank Draft.
He had said that his house rent was in heavy arrears. He had been defaulting for more than twelve months. The house-owner had served a legal notice on him to quit within a fortnight. One of his models, a young woman, who had been helping him often, had taken him into her house as a paying guest. But that was only for a stipulated period. She was a very beautiful woman, a call girl till recently, a hot favorite of the fabulously rich, and now an absolutely reformed character, trying to forget her past and live an irreproachable life. She would let him stay in a commodious portion of her great residence. It would be free of rent. Such a generous woman she was.
But she had also laid it down as a condition that he would take her as a partner in his painting business which, of course, she would do her best to promote. She would also continue to be his model. Vashatkar hoped to cultivate her till he could eventually marry her. But she had refused to pay up his rent arrears and deliver him from the clutches of Law. The house owner was threatening to prosecute him and put him in prison. Vashatkar had not forgotten to add that, but for a few occasional setbacks like this, he was earning four times the money he had been earning in India. The letter gave Jitendra a head-ache. He was speaking things which no decent man would ever speak to another. But he was speaking all this rubbish to a monk. He would, of course, send the money. He sent it the very next day.