CHAPTER - 14
Kalidas lived in an old brick house on the farm. It was a large sturdy building. It seemed to have been built for some purpose other than residential. It had large walls, large windows, large doorways, and large spaces inside. The walls were mossy on in places. And the moldy plaster had come off here and there in heavy lumps. Ruin had set in and decay could not be arrested. Necessary repairs were carried out on the inside from time to time. It looked too antiquated to be easily dated. The former Sinhalese owner of the property bought the land as a wilderness from Government for a nominal market value, and put it to productive purposes after extensive reclamation. It was said that the building was there even when the land was a waste with Government. The tradition had it that it was built by a local Zamindar and used as a country retreat for himself and his men when they came over to the forest that existed there at that time on hunting expeditions. The building served as a capacious receptacle for the animals killed and as a resting place for the numerous entourage of the Zamindar. There seemed to have been feasting and forbidden orgies in the place. It was at least hundred years of age, and had stubbornly held together and survived. It stood like a giant dwarf mangled and disfigured. It was large enough for at least four big families to live in. The family of Kalidas consisted of himself, his wife, and his two grandchildren left in his care by his daughter who lived in Kanpur with her husband who was a factory mechanic. There were four large rooms and a big hall left unused. They were just cleaned up once in a while, but never whitewashed. They said that there dwelt a forest spirit in the building. It was said that like all earth-bound spirits, it was protective when propitiated from time to time and gave hell when offended or neglected. There was a legend that the spirit didn't wa nt the aged sanctity of the building to be tinkered with in the least. Consequently repairs and white- washing had been suspended in the unused areas. Kalidas, though intrepid and a reckless man, was still equally superstitious. He was a traditionalist, and believed in whatever had been handed down from bygone times. But he loved the building and wanted to live nowhere else. He had made his truce with the spirit by necessary observances. He was especially fond of the unused rooms for one particular reason above all.
It was in these spacious old rooms, unused but not abandoned, Jitendra as a little boy played his pranks with his little mates and scribbled his pictures on the walls. He spent a lot of his time here whenever he came with his parents. Each visit lasted not less than a week and sometimes much longer. Jitendra would make these rooms his exclusive domain. It was here he would organize his games with workers' children of his own age. He played with them till he felt tired. His gambols and practical jokes Kalidas still remembered, and he loved to remember. He cherished those remembrances and piously kept them from smudging away with the passage of time. They were still vivid and sharp in his memory. He had watched their great little fights, merry and noisome. Jitendra, the dainty-looking boy of delicate sensibilities, sheeny and luxurious in toilet, never considered himself as anything apart from his playmates. He was never conscious of their commonness or their humble circumstances, their dirty clothes or their vulgar manners. They were all his equals. But his playmates could not altogether forget that he was the son of the proprietor of the farm and of a superior breed. But Jitendra, already possessed of a large streak of nobility in his nature, would more than offset their inferiority by his frankness of manner and exchanging confidences with them. It was as if he had grown with them, and had shared a common meal under the same roof. Jitendra was usually more dashing and adventurous, but when the other boys thrust the leadership on him, he refused and yielded place to one of his mates, and kept himself as just one among the rest. He had absolutely no privileges over his companions, and he was averse to any such idea. They did wrangle and outdid each other, gay and chattering, swaggering and hurling bravados. Kalidas would keep an amused watch, either standing or sittin g at the doorstep. He forgot at times that he was only a spectator, and felt his spirits roused when he found the games interesting, and cried and shouted with the boys. Though he could not partake of the games, he could at least cry forth an excited cheer or shout out ideas. And he kept doing it whenever the tempo of the games rose high. The lovely frolics of this little band of innocent youngsters left a deep impression on him. And that little Jitendra still lived with him along with the grown-up one. He still carried in his arms that darling of yester years. He had never witnessed such an egalitarian fellowship which the boy Jitendra cultivated with his playmates. He couldn't still believe if it was the same fine little kid that had so soon grown up into a man. But it didn't matter. To him he would be both his master and the same old darling of his younger years. And Jitendra, the little kid of yesterday, who loved merriment and fell frequently in to bouts of raving joy, had become a Sanyasin today, a renouncer of the world. None would ever believe that Time concealed thunders of this kind. Time could destroy and nullify a man while keeping him physically alive. Kalidas still held, as he did of old, that angel of a little boy against his bosom. Ages may pass, but for Kalidas Jitendra would always remain the same little boy of eight or nine. That princeling all wrought in gold still laughed and played in the corridors of his fancy.
There were moments when the boy Jitendra was left all alone by himself in these rooms. He would sit on some discarded furniture, some ramshackle chair, table or cot, and keep brooding or reading some book of fables. He loved fairy tales, and what he read from books he would sometimes relate to Kalidas with a measure of excitement and wholesome use of his growing imagination. At moments the tales sounded to Kalidas all funny or frightfully nonsensical, but in either case he would feign an absorbed interest. But the main preoccupation of the boy when he was alone in these rooms was to draw pictures on the walls with charcoal or color crayons. Soon they were so many on the walls that he lost count of them. All the walls had been filled. They were all wayward and crazy diversions of an imaginative boy who lived in a fantastic world of his own. All of them perhaps made a lot of sense to the budding artist, but none of them made any sense to Kalidas. There were pictures of trees, ships, cattle, houses, men, women, peddlers, porters and the like. Some of them were distortions or exaggerations. Sometimes the trees didn't look like trees at all, the cattle looked only half like cattle, men looked like monkeys and some of the women were caricatured into buffaloes, but there were pictures that looked exactly like what they were meant to be. The charcoal and the crayons went up and down as they liked, and made any number of explorative journeys wherever there were spaces on the walls, losing all proportions in the process. Sometimes the unruly crayons seemed to act on their own. Sometimes they seemed to obey the will of the artist. Sometimes he drew with thought, sometimes he let go of them indolently perhaps in an idiotic rambling. Often he looked absorbed in something. And Kalidas loved these pictures. They were as dear to him as the boy himself. That explained how they were still on the walls. He preserved the m as some crazily possessive miserly man would preserve in secret some accidental hoards of gold and diamonds he had luckily come by.
Months were passing. Kalidas offered prayers night and day to the Buddha. But the Buddha didn't favor Kalidas with the least glimpse of success. His belief that the Buddha would change his master from a monk to a married man began cracking. He became desperate. His desperation took edge day by day and soon grew to morbid levels. All his thinking was now polarized on only one question. When was his master going to cast off his saffron cloth? Would he do it at all or would he not? If he would, would it be soon or would it take time? If he would not, then he had no right to live. He had better quit the world. That would mean he should end his own life. He had no life apart from Gopilal's family. His mind was in a seizure. Ill and melancholic. These were some of the questions he addressed to the Buddha.
But Buddha was himself a monk, and how could he expect him to take sides against another monk ?. He might take all the prayers from him but secretly support his master and advise him to carry on with his saffron cloth. But anyway Buddha didn't seem to approve his line of thinking. Buddha was not a worldly man, therefore he was not likely to think on worldly lines as he did. How could he try to set one monk against another. That was the worst tactical blunder one could do. It was he who got this Buddha out from under the earth. But Buddha had better remember certain things. It was he who told his master to build him a temple. It was he who was looking after his well being in the farm. Would Buddha forget all this ?. And sure he would not. He would therefore still wait. And he had besides no alternative too. Therefore prudence dictated that he should keep on moving the Buddha to cast all his weight in his favor and promote his purpose. Buddha perhaps expected more propitiation and more fervent prayers. Or should he learn some new approaches to deal with this adamantine species of a God.
Kalidas had another piece of lunacy working on him. Jitendra often spoke of the Buddha in fondest terms. This meant they were getting together in a growing intimacy. This was not to his liking.
The despair that had seized Kalidas affected his health. He fell ill and recovered. Again he fell ill but managed to recover, but not so soon. He began losing strength and vigor. At moments he felt a congestion in the chest. One day when he was eating his food, he choked and only after a little struggle he could get back his breath. In the meantime his mind kept slipping from control and malfunctioning. Often.
Now Kalidas came by an information. In the local school building of Gambeera village five gypsies, all of them males, had taken up abode for a reported spell of ten days. The school building was empty on account of Xmas vacation. They had obtained permission from the local Panchayat president. They were soothsayers and gave wonderfully correct predictions. They could also help persons solve problems and get objects fulfilled. They were on their way to some Himalayan village where their regular homes were. Part of the year they were nomadic. That had been enjoined on them by their patron-god. They wore clownish costumes, looked very outlandish, they had untended beards that hung in large clumsy wisps, their bizarre manner was somewhat repellent, but their power of divination was simply astonishing. It was a sensation all through the village. Kalidas became reflective. The temptation was too irresistible. He thought he would lose no time in meeting the gypsies. The hand of God was at work. He had no doubt that it was the Buddha that had brought these gypsies over to the village, and it was He that was arranging a conclave between them on the subject. The idea gained dominance and impelled him to go ahead.
Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu, South India, was essentially a feudal district. It was known among other things for its abundantly flourishing rice fields, ubiquitous and most pleasing to the sight, and for its endless stretches of banana plants and coconut trees, all plentifully bearing all through the year. The district was one of the main repositories of fine arts. It was as much a religious district as it was an agricultural one, which promoted devotional literature and had made significant contribution to the promotion of religion and to the production of spiritual classics. The peasant classes and farm workers had a fine build of body and looked very vital and teemed with energy. The people, by and large, were pious and god-fearing. The Brahmin families were steadfast sticklers to Vedic Injunctions. Most of them were fairly well versed in the scriptures and Puranas. The district was noted as well for its endless number of great temples where one could see admirable sculptures. In many homes life was lived in accordance with the rules prescribed in the holy scriptures, and the ritual observances were regularly conducted to appease the gods and to ensure the prosperity of their homes. Dhivya Bharathi was born and bred in this district in a place called Mannargudi. She was a religious minded girl with pronounced spiritual leanings.
The district had been named after its capital city which was called Thanjavur. It was a city that had a feudal air, and was made up of large rural settings, engrossing to the eye and poetically stimulating. It was here that Dhivya Bharathi, known for short simply as Bharathi, learnt higher music with her preceptor Varadachari. She stayed in the family and rendered substantial assistance in running the household and did a good amount of physical work too. This was in lieu of the fees she had to pay for her learning which she could not because she was poor. The city of Thanjavur was not merely not much of a modern city but one could still inhale the musty odor of the monarchical times. There was a famous library in the city founded by an ancient ruler of Thanjavur kingdom, King Serfoji, which consisted mainly of timeless old classics written on palm leaves that had all turned now old, brown and cracked. A great many of them dealt with music and sculpture. But they contained very rare and precious knowledge that related to the Arts which most of the present-day savants didn't know, nor did bother to know. Much of it was not easy of access because it demanded physical strain as well as patient research and above all sustained interest to learn and a wish to advance one's learning for learning's sake. Bharathi spent everyday a few hours at the library. The librarian was good enough to let her go into those darkening bundles and read as much as she liked. He had hardly seen so much avidity for gaining knowledge from those precious treasures even with Pandits of standing. Varadachari was a great Vidwan in music and was well-versed in the compositions of the renowned masters, but he had never bothered to peruse any of these palm leaf classics. Bharathi knew all the musical compositions that were in vogue and she also knew and had learnt much of what was contained in these forgotten and neglected old treasures. The latter were more of scientific value and bordered on the unknowable and the not easily knowable in Music. But Bharathi, by her unremitting effort, had come to know quite a deal.
Varadachari lived in a Brahmin locality in an old-fashioned house that was tiled, high roofed, unpretentious and perfectly utilitarian, and built in a sort of outmoded architecture but nobly modeled. It looked quite an ancient house. It had no story, but was horizontally well-spread with large and lengthy interiors some of them less ventilated and less lighted by the sun and some a little more, but generally it was a comfortable dwelling. Quite a few of the houses in the locality were equally old and ancient. It had an extensive backyard in which stood about twenty coconut trees weightily laden of their unfailing yield. There were also a few rows of the local banana, vegetable patches and flower bushes. There were verandahs on all sides of the house with slanting tiled roofs supported by simple stone columns. The broad frontage of low ceiling had carved wooden pillars two on each side. The masonry work of the whole edifice, though too aged, was too sturdy also, and had rather stood well. The front rooms and a few of the side ones were very well ventilated.
Bharathi sat with her teacher Varadachari for three hours in the morning and for about a hour in the evening and learnt music with devotion. She made herself useful to the house in myriad ways which included cooking, writing and keeping of household accounts, fetching vegetables from the bazaar, watering and weeding of the small garden in the backyard and washing of clothes other than those given to the launderer and whatever other domestic chores Varadachari's wife allotted to her. She also shared most of the duties of the maid servant. Every morning she collected flowers from the garden and strung them into little strips for use in the Puja room, for her master's wife and a little for herself to put on her hair.
The wife of her teacher Vedavalli, a woman in her fifties, possessed of a little bulk, not much, had a splenetic temper, but generally kept it under control, but otherwise a sweet talker. She was not haughty, but always spoke to Bharathi in a very patronizing and condescending way, making embarrassing references to the girl's lonely plight in the world and her too early orphanhood in life. She often paraded her pity for the girl and spoke in a mischievously exaggerated tone of maternal love which was disgusting and irritating to Bharathi. But she could never talk back. But she would grieve over her lot in secret. Invariably once or twice at least a week, Bharathi would have a few tears on her eyes to wipe. The old lady, though healthy enough, often chose to lie on her bed and complain of pain in the joints. She would ask Bharathi to massage her legs and talk to her with all the kindly airs of a divinely appointed protectress, and while Bharathi pressed her legs she would ask her to tell of her life despite the fact that Bharathi had told it to her atleast a dozen times as vividly and pictorially as she could.
Her kindness was worse than cruelty, but still the old woman would not stop pouring her kindness on the girl, measure after measure, and particularly in the sight of neighbors and her friends. She generally passed for a very kind and maternal sort of a woman with lots and lots of conscience. Bharathi was engaged to massage her legs so often and so long that she could not take care of the pains she had developed, as a result of this fatiguing exercise, in her own joints. In addition to being the principal aide to Vedavalli in household administration, she also worked as a sort of personal secretary to Varadachari. She had to attend to his mail, answer letters, go to post office, and take dictation, and had always to be looking into his engagement diary and reminding him. Apart from being a musician, Varadachari held positions in a few important public and civic bodies. He had besides numerous relations and friends who kept writing to him. His daily mail was fairly large. She had sometimes to read out the newspapers to him. At least once in two months, one or two families of his relations would land in the house making the place look suddenly populous. Bharathi then would have extra burden of work to bear. Bharathi never would want Vedavalli to introduce her to the guests. Her introduction would be full of praises for the girl, but the overall impression that the guests would get was that she was the most pathetic creature in the world. And then every guest would try to overreach one another in their sympathy for her. She would be made to look like a piece of rubbish to herself, ridiculous and wretched. She would weep in secret.
That had led the girl at times to certain stinky experiences. The young males among the guests at times tried to watch her alone and admire. Even commonplace errands they would whisper into her face putting theirs right on her own. One or two of them when she was picking flowers in the garden had tried to intercept her and talk things that were in the worst of tastes. They would sometimes try to take a few minor liberties as a preliminary to bigger ones. It was all terribly scaring. She was often on the brink of madness at their revolting behavior. She would sometimes openly stare, shout and yell and utter angry warnings. Anyway it would all be great strain and humiliation. She would complain to Vedavalli who had a diplomatic way of dismissing things. She would tender her sympathy, smile appreciatively at her tolerance and give her a very confidential lecture on the subject of "Adjustability and Coping-Up". In equivocation the old woman was an adept. The overworked girl would often feel feverish and fatigued, but Vedavalli would talk to her in a very cajoling sort of way and put her back on more work. The girl of course was not paying for her food or lodging, but still a small amount was being sent to them by her father Saptharishi whenever he could toward meeting these charges. But whatever it was, she was not a beast but a human being. Neither was she a slave. There was in the world nothing so hateful to Bharathi as the kindness of this detestable, brutal and unfeeling woman. She had never seen one with such atrociously bloated ego.
Though old, Vedavalli was stocky and retained the energies of her earlier years, and gave herself, benevolently as it would appear, the airs of a despot. Bharathi looked forward to the day when she would be quit of her wretched bossism. She was a member of the fashionable female circles too and behaved toward the girl as if to an olden day chattel that had become rusty. But she forgot or wanted to forget that Bharathi was an English- knowing girl and that she could speak English very well, that she knew more of polite manners, that she had an inborn gentility before which the old woman's fake one could never stand, and that she was a girl of uncommon musical accomplishments. She used to pour out all her woes to God in the Puja room where she used to sit for meditation in the small hours of the early morning. She never offended anyone. She knew not how to offend nor would take offense. She always stuck fast to the rules of modesty set out for young girls like her by tradition and custom. She would rather keep back than go forward. She was ever watchful of her virtue, and curtly parried off presumptuous males. The indignities which Vedavalli so slyly heaped on her could never efface the basic dignity that inhered in so large a bulk in the splendid overall personality of the girl.