CHAPTER - 11
About twenty miles from the city of Benares there was a village by name Gambeera in which was situated one of Gopilalís very valuable properties, a 110-acre farm, very fertile and abundantly productive. It was a river bed land that had the advantage of heavy alluvial deposits during the rainy season when the river was in spate. It was a jewel of a property, and Gopilalís ancestors had named it "Maragatha", the Emerald. Later it had simply came to be known as the Gambeera Farm.
Of all his properties this was the one the control and administration of which Jitendra kept in his own hands for various reasons. Since his boyhood this was the only property with which he was most familiar, which he most loved and with which his memory was most associated. Kalidas was in charge of this property as its manager and steward for the past four decades and he still continued on this farm in the same capacity.
Next to his parents, Jitendra loved only Kalidas. He had grown in his arms as much as he had grown on the arms of his parents. If it had not been for the fact that Kalidas was there to supply partially at least the vacuum left by the death of his parents, Jitendra perhaps would have tumbled and perished for want of emotional support and emotional nourishment. Like a flower denied of water and sunshine. For Jitendra was an emotional character and a youngster of very tender sensibilities. After the death of his parents, neither Kalidas wanted to be out of the sight of Jitendra nor Jitendra wanted to be out of his sight. In a factual sense Kalidas might not be the parent of Jitendra but he was a parent all the same and was emotionally attached to him as such. They could never keep off from each other. That was why the Gambeera Farm meant so much to Jitendra.
Whenever Jitendra visited the farm, he would inspect the crops, talk to the workers, hear their woes, discuss with them problems. He would share their joys and try to relieve their sorrow. He would check the accounts, review the working of the farm with Kalidas, sit with him and his wife talking things for long hours, learn of his family welfare and his personal affairs. In the presence of Jitendra Kalidas would feel exuberant and think himself in the company of his own darling son. He would become twice a man.
Kalidas had become large of body and his features looked like molded in iron. He was never in two minds about anything and would plunge straight into action. With nothing for him to think about in the world but Gopilal's family and Jitendra, his mind had become one-pointed and moved steadily on a single track. That had made him a man of hard will and unshakable resolve. He was like a great mass of beastly strength, of intractable hardihood, quite an abundance of a man, an overmastering power on the farm, surging and sharp in vigor, like some warrior poised in readiness for action. That was the man Kalidas. Jitendra always thought of him as a large and mighty granite boulder of a man. But above all the one thing that stood aloft in Jitendra's mind whenever he thought of Kalidas was the figure 'Colossus' in one of the paintings of Fransisco Goya. It was a blood-curdling ĎColossusí which Goya had drawn in a sharp savage outline. But Kalidas outsized it though otherwise he was almost the same. Jitendra often thought of painting Kalidas and keeping the picture with him as a loving remembrance all his life. But the seriousness got lost amid the pressing activities of his Ashram. However he had now firmly decided he would take it up after the painting of Sheegampur village was over. Much of it of course he would have to draw from memory, for Kalidas after the death of his master Gopilal and his wife, had been reducing somewhat and looking sickly at moments. He was, however, a Colossus all the same, a living Colossus that had a solid presence in his own life. To the farm workers too he was a visible symbol of all that was strong, mighty and invincible. A Sentinel of the farm in both an actual and legendary sense. When he stood with his master Jitendra on the farm in the sight of the farm workers, there was not a man or woman who did not warm up to and rejoice in the sight. Jitendra's coming to the farm was every time an event. Everyone would get in him a fresh access of vigor and strength. It was as if they were in the presence of a galvanic force.
During his present visit there was one thing that very much disturbed Jitendra. Kalidas, despite his vivacity and animation, seemed being eaten up with some inner worry. His face at times was cast in gloom though he tried to hide it with a plethora of fake smiles and laugh. But Jitendra was shrewd enough to see through it. Kalidas could not but be conscious of his master studying his face. Neither Jitendra would ask nor Kalidas would tell. But the workers knew. But neither Jitendra would ask them nor would they tell the master. But the matter came off automatically on its own.
The son of Kalidas, who was a worker on the farm with his family, had stolen about five bags of paddy from the godown soon after the harvest and had sold them away in secret. When Kalidas came to know of this, he asked his son and his family to vacate the farm at once and seek work elsewhere. Any amount of begging and pleading on the part of the son would not avail. Nobody could break faith with Kalidas except at great peril. When Jitendra asked Kalidas where his son and family had gone, he said that he had blotted out that canker from the property. Then he had to state everything. But Jitendra said that he was pardoning his son and that he could be reinstated with a warning. They should give him a chance to mend himself.
Jitendra's great grandfather when he bought the land from a prosperous Sinhalese owner, he built his own living quarters on it. Though his regular residence was in Benares, he used to come here often and stay on the land at times for weeks. Such was his devotion to farming. They were traditionally agriculturists. Only later they entered business and industry, but agriculture they did not give up. It was in their blood. They loved land-owning and cultivation. It was said that he did not put up any new quarters, but extensively renovated the old existing one, and introduced a few modern amenities. In the old building when the property was with the former owner, one of his kinsmen had stayed with his family. This kinsman was entrusted with the management of the land which was then a timber plantation. His name was said to be Siddheswar. He was a pious Buddhist and spent a lot of time counting the beads and praying ardently. It was said that he knew a great many secret Buddhist incantations and kept all night chanting them. His mind seemed to have been all the time centered in the Buddha. It was also said that he could speak to Lord Buddha and Communicate with his spirit. There were many people who believed that he had brought one of Buddha's astral selves, through his prayers, to inhabit the property. He was an old-fashioned man, hardly distinguishable from his workers, suburban in speech and manner, a reticent character, but he had managed the plantation with remarkable efficiency.
He had brought all his labor, about one hundred and twenty strong, all Buddhists, from Sri Lanka. It was also said that there was on this land a small Buddha temple built by him. There was regular worship. But there was at present no trace of it anywhere. One now tended to think it was all apocryphal. But among the forty resident workers' families on the land there were now seven families who were Buddhist. They had long since become one with the soil and for how many generations they knew not. The survival of these Buddhist families seemed to confirm that the previous owner and his manager were Buddhists and the labor force was mostly Buddhist if not all.
But Jitendra had often had psychic experience of the Buddha's astral self on the land. Whenever he was here his mental horizon seemed to expand, his spirituality became deeper, he felt unusual peace and he got ideas as if by sudden inspiration. He felt or fancied that the grace of the Buddha was on him. He had experienced many divinely drunk moments. His whole being had dilated in harmony with something that was luminously pervasive all around him.
It was also said that though Kalidas was a Hindu, he had a lot of Buddhist blood in his veins. For, one of his Hindu ancestors who was a worker on the land had married a Buddhist woman, and gave rise to a mixed progeny. Kalidas didn't know anything about it. But the legend had come to stay.
Whenever Jitendra happened to stay the night in the ancestral quarters on the land, he automatically fell into thoughts on the Buddha. He could not also explain why he loved to read and recite the "Dhamma Pada", one of the foremost religious classics of Buddhism. He used to feel also an impelling urge to read Edwin Arnold's "Light of Asia". Usually those nights were the ones when he felt that his body had not been with him, but had either disappeared or had gone away somewhere, and that he was just a spirit centered in the Infinity of God which looked as well to be his own infinity. The quarters had become a place mystically charged with the power and the astral presence of the Buddha. Whether it was a reality or his own fancy he could not say. But he could never get away from it. The reality and unreality blended and became a spiritual amalgam.
This time his stay on the farm had lasted for about ten days. Now he was back in the Ashram.
Perhaps there was no place on earth so thoroughly and dedicatedly musical as Thiruvaiyaru in Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu, South India. It was a small town situate on the bank of the immense river Cauvery, a river historically famous and celebrated throughout in ancient Tamil literature and supposed to be the main source of its culture. Tamil culture and its civilization had grown and flourished all along its banks in its entire course through the Tamil country from time immemorial. Thiruvaiyaru was not altogether urban. It was attractively rustic, yet in many places there had lately come on it urban intrusions. But the many old time-honored temples in and around it, temples noted for their marvelous stone architecture and sculptures, gave it an archaic look. And the odor of the lost centuries had not yet been obliterated, nor would they ever be. It was surrounded by extensive rice fields and rich coconut groves and green meadows. The river Cauvery, which was several hundred feet wide, its placid looking waters in heavy slow motion at times, and then during the rains, tumultuously rolling forward, was an unforgettable, splendid sight to the eye. The beauty of its waters had been immortalized in the hoary literature of the Sangam Age.
It was doubtful if it would ever outgrow altogether its rural characteristics which were the prime source of its pastoral beauty. If it did, most of its beauty would be lost. There were many old-fashioned houses side by side with modern ones which were few. In every home there was music either vocal or instrumental, little or more, but there it was. One could hear it as one passed. There was no place to rival it in the fostering of this great Art on the classical lines. The place gave the illusion of fermenting with music all the time. The place perhaps was about four or five hundred years old, but the music it fostered dated from unchronicled ages that were now lost in mist.
Thiruvaiyaru was the place where the immortal Thiagaraja, the famous composer, lived and died about two hundred years ago. The place had achieved an added stature on this account. The loveliness of the place was made lovelier still by the luxuriance of the music of Thiagaraja that was originally centered within its bounds. There is also a Thiagaraja temple here where regular worship is offered. Boys and girls who start learning music do their inaugural lessons in the premises of the temple in the sight of the great savant and pray for his blessings. The music of Thiagaraja had since become famous throughout India, particularly the south.
There is one Thiagaraja Araadhana Festival Committee which conducts every year a large-scale music festival. The chairman of the Committee was one Varadachari, a well known vocalist of exceptional talent. He was a Telugu man but had lived in Tamil Nadu for decades, and spoke Tamil as fluently as he spoke Telugu. He was a man in early sixties. He was a large man and wore a faded coat when he gave performances. This was for sentimental reasons. The coat had once been worn by his great grandfather who had made a lot of noise in the musical world, and had left a name. It was he who initiated him in music when he was just five years old. On that account the coat had become a precious heirloom, and was believed to flood him with inspiration when he sat for his concert.
When Jitendra's father was alive he had much to do with the Committee. After his death Jitendra, though he had become a Sanyasin, was persuaded to take his father's place in the Committee, but he refused. He had hardy any time. Jitendra's ancestors were all Telugu. Andhra Pradesh was their native territory. They had lived in it for generations. They shifted to Benares when one of the ancestors wanted to spend his last days in the holy city and offer daily worship to the great Shiv-linga in the Viswanath temple. And then when it was time for him to die, to die in the river Ganges. It was believed that the death of a pious man in the Ganges gave him Moksha, Liberation, and straight took him to the highest of heavens, Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva. Jitendra could talk very chaste a Telugu very fluently. They used to talk both Hindi and Telugu in their Benares home. All the compositions of Thiagaraja were in Telugu. Jitendra was at home with most of them.
Jitendra was much respected in the Committee. He gave it a lot of financial support. He had sold one of his ancestral properties in the Andhra Pradesh, a palatial house, and had settled the entire proceeds on the Committee for the propagation of Thiagaraja music. Varadachari was a very good and intimate friend of Jitendra. He used to meet him frequently at his Ashram. Jitendra would sometimes entrust to him some work connected with the Ashram which had to be attended to in the South. Varadachari loved to do such work for the Swamiji. Jitendra, as a Sanyasin, had called on Varadachari at his house twice.
It was well past midnight. Jitendra could not get sleep. A bliss he felt recurring in his inmost depths. Some joy broke out in his heart. He didn't know what it meant. Sometimes this kind of joy used to break out in him. He would not know what it was, where it came from, what it meant, whether it came from heaven or whether it was made inside him by his own secretly intoxicated self. It broke out again and again. It was like his own cosmic self breaking out in him, shining and searching his depths, and splitting him into ravishing splendors. It was a psychic experience. It was a Yogic transcendence. He came out on to the open grounds. There was brilliant moonlight. The moon that was large and substantial had thrown its silver mantle over the Ashram and all the mountain cliffs. There was a lot of moon on the turbulent Ganges too, rising and falling with the waters. It resembled in a way the tumultuous ecstasy he felt in his own self. But one thing he could see and of which he was sure. He was not himself. He had become something else. Either some mysterious power had altered him. Or one of his own selves, hidden away or held in some far off region by some god or monster, had been suddenly released. It was perhaps replacing his normal self and indulging in a spree of its own. He felt 'possessed' by the God of Ecstasy.
As he was pacing the grounds, he suddenly saw somebody standing apart. It was not somebody but something in the shape of a man or woman. It was just sketchy and he could see nothing more than an outline. It was not an animal. It could have been a god or mortal, a fairy or a Deva. It sparkled with light but showed no face or features, It was just a chunk of light with a sharp outline. It made no sound. But he felt psychically that it was a very beautiful figure and had perhaps taken its charm on its way from some seraphic region. But this he could only feel through some mute indistinct prompting from somewhere, either from in or out. The figure came close, stood beside his elbow, but he could not touch it. Then it receded and stood at a distance. It seemed to watch him and say something. He did not know how he got that feeling, but he seemed to love it. He loved it so passionately and so intensely that he wondered if the shadowy figure, made up mostly of light, crystallized out of his own self and was a part of himself or something remotely hidden in eternity. The figure then vanished. It had completely dissolved away. Then again it suddenly stood behind him, rather it seemed so. When he turned it had gone. Then he saw it fixedly looking at him from the Artist's colony. In less than a moment it had again gone. He could not see where it was. Now he felt he wanted the figure at once and hug it to his bosom and fondle it with his kisses. But it was not there. Then suddenly he caught sight of it on the crest of a rising wave in the Ganges amid foaming waters. He could not escape the feeling that they knew each other for aeons, for Yugas, and that they had been playing hide and seek through the infinity of Time and Space. On the Ganges waters, the figure now showed itself as a splash of blinding light crazily swinging. Soon it became a star, a star from the crown of some God, solid and s umptuous; twinkling and killingly brilliant, king-size. Then it was gone. He turned his head at the sky in search of it. The crystalline Venus had already come on the firmament and shone with a dazzling brilliance. He had never seen Venus so blinding and so bright. The apparition had come to him perhaps to fulfill an appointment made a thousand years ago. It was no longer there. It had merged into the voids of the east.
Next day was Sri Rama Navami Day, a festival day for the Hindus. It was the day auspicious for Lord Rama, one of the greatest Gods of Hinduism, the crown prince of Ayodhya, and the hero of the Ramayana, the holy epic of the Hindus. It was a clear morning. Jitendra, emerging from the Ashram after his morning Puja, into the open grounds, caught sight of the sun, just rising on the east, all red and heavily bulging, a phenomenon so captivating that he stood entranced for a long moment. The red of the sun dominated the entire landscape. The eastern sky gone all rubicund, looked like the spongy receptacle of a great jewel. Even the river Ganges had been dyed in red. Its emerald waters looked like having caught fire. Which they reflected back on the heavy-grown, wide bottomed, perpendicularly rising trees on its banks. He took in repeated eyefuls of this exhilarating scene. The whole Ashram site and all the places adjacent to it including the Ganges looked like enchanted territory. He could paint the scene later if he could store up in his mind all this beauty and the sensations it brought in its wake. After all what was said of poetry could be said of painting too. If poetry was emotions recollected in tranquility, painting too was exactly so. Painting was something in which the painter embodied an emotion or sometimes a whole host of emotions that fell into a rhythm, a spiritual reflection of the painter and the scene he had painted. This was a scene he would ever remember and would never forget and the scene had a special right to be kept in one's mind because it occurred on Sri Rama Navami day. Rama was a god of enchantment, he enchanted all the three worlds.
Jitendra set his eyes on the favorite rock on this side of the Ganges on which he used to sit occasionally and meditate. It was a far-spread mighty rock flat enough and quite a leviathan of its kind. Even during nights Jitendra could see it through the window. He felt like seeing it at times in the dead of night. It would then look like a representative rock embodying all the might of the Himalayas. Jitendra had always felt a psychic rapport with it. In the nights it would just be half-visible but more mysterious, as it nestled against the ghostly, supernatural dark of the place. It then was like a picture terrible, formidable, insuperable, defiant of the elements, absolutely invincible. It seemed to possess the soul of a Sanyasin, a world-renouncer and a negator. It seemed to teach him the resolution a Sanyasin should possess. All the strength of Heaven and Earth would then be his.
The sun had risen higher. The rock reflected light. He went and sat on it. The sun poured on him and it felt good. The piercing rays were a benediction from the solar god. Lord Rama belonged to the solar race. And the Sun had been traditionally the patron-god of all the royal ancestors and their descendants. Jitendra chanted in deep devotion the Mantras of Rama for about half hour. Then he started chanting the famous Mantra of the Sun-god known as Aditya Hridayam, the Mantra which the sage Agasthiya taught Rama to achieve victory in his battle against Ravana, the ten-headed Demon-king, and destroy him once and for all. The Mantra occurred in Valmiki Ramayana. It was supposed to be one of the most powerful Mantras in the Hindu lore.
At about ten Jitendra with the disciples conducted special Pujas for Lord Rama in the temple. He carried with him some of the Prasadam, went to his Ashram, and sat on a vast deer-skin spread over blankets that filled the hall. He kept the Prasadam with him in a small packet beside him. He started writing an article for his paper. But his mind stood still. The world stood still. His thought was soaked in the effulgent apparition that had visited him the night before. He yearned for it. He loved to possess it. It was like possessing the Final Bliss. He felt mad.