CHAPTER - 15
Varadachari was a large, wide-bodied man, tall and commanding, with a little tuft on his head. He was always seen munching pan-supari more than a mouthful, and sporting a lot of red on his lips. A bit talkative but he was incapable of adverse comment or censure, never bitter, helpful and kind and gave of his encouragement to the youngsters that showed promise. He was genuinely interested in making Bharathi a top class artist. For he had come to know her talent. The only bad trait with him was that he was too money-conscious, He had shares in business and owned lands, and had a lot of money in the banks, but he was generally stingy, and stifled in him all generous impulses when it came to money. He would boast and shamelessly enlarge himself out of all proportion while talking to or dealing with others. These two traits often eclipsed all the goodness and greatness he undoubtedly possessed in an unusually large measure. If there was an opportunity to make money he certainly never missed it. He would haggle over petty sums. It was like an elephant trying to pick peanuts. He had given Bharathi a lot of such occasions to laugh. They were welcome interludes in her melancholy existence. There was something too of the comic in Varadachari's size, stature and gait, and many of his friends and admirers used to make uproarious jest at his expense when they had nothing else perhaps to kill time. There had been very few people in Bharathi's life from whom she had received so much affection.
But Vedavalli was a dirty thinker. She was too uneasily conscious of Bharathi's exceptional good looks. And she had also not forgotten the somewhat questionable reputation of Varadachari in his younger years when he was said to have been too much of a girl-fancier. That made her perpetually suspicious of him. She was a possessive wife and imperious in manner. She would have been an insufferable shrew if he had been less of a bulldog. His anger often got overbound and that kept her in place. But at least now the aging Varadachari had no such weakness at all. He might be a very calculative man, a shrewd bargainer, a wrangler over petty fractions of money. These were his weaknesses, of course. But any sort of illicit conduct he hated. Women found him an extremely well conducted gentleman. When Bharathi happened to be with Varadachari, Vedavalli always kept one eye on them. This gave Bharathi one more occasion to laugh. If Bharathi's parents had known it they would have asked her to return home at once. Though they were only adopted parents and in awfully penurious circumstances, they cherished Bharathi like a gift from heaven. Vedavalli did the same thing when women came to see him in the house, women connected with music or public work. Her eyes would instantly go on duty vulgarly and intermittently. Varadachari, as a famous musician, had admirers among women as well as men. And some of the women happened to possess good faces, appealing figures and appetising bodyline. A few of them lionized him because he was both a doyen and a prodigy. But Varadachari could not take the blame for it. None could help it. But the red-hot glare which Vedavalli furtively directed alternately between the one side and the other made Bharathi at times see a burlesque in it of the first order. Then she would struggle to hold back the laughter that came in a tumult. And, she despite her efforts to stifle it, it often spluttered out . The for atleast a couple of days the warlike propensities of Vedavalli were on a terrible parade against the poor girl.
A few months before she met swami Jitendra at his Ashram in Rishikesh, Bharathi received news that Saptharishi, her father, was being harassed by the money-lenders, and that financially he was too hard up to pay off his debts. In fact he had absolutely no money. He was in a terrible predicament. When things became too tense, the president of the local Panchayat, Kalingaroyan, intervened and paid the dues and temporarily freed him from the clutches of the creditors. Bharathi became dumb and could not speak for three days. The already cruel fate was now stepping up its torments. She thought she would take up tuition for a few boys and girls and teach them music, make a little money, pay for her board and lodge in the house of Varadachari, and also send some money home. Besides Kalingaroyan, the Panchayat president, had also to be paid the money he had made available at the nick of the moment. She knew he had an ulterior motive in so doing. Saptharishi had practically no earnings except what came by way of offerings from the worshipers at the temple, the money they slipped on the Archana plate. This was supplemented by the meager earnings he made by performing priestly services in private homes. It was not much though on occasions it was handsome enough. Kalingaroyan was positively a bad character whom she had always avoided. She dreaded him and sternly kept him at a distance, He was one of her worst antipathies.
Varadachari's house was on the Tiruvarur road. Opposite the house, on the other side of the road, there was a vacant building, derelict and old if not crumbling, which nobody wanted to take on rent. The owner lived at Trichy. A letter was addressed to him by Varadachari at Bharathi's instance, asking him if he would give it for rent for running a music school. The owner sent his reply by return post permitting Bharathi to take the building free of rent. Bharathi, except when there were guests, was in a position to manage some spare time. On an auspicious day the school started functioning with Varadachari, Vedavalli, and a few others being present on the occasion to offer the girl their good wishes and blessings. It was a Brahmin locality. There were boys and girls who were willing to learn music. Two months had gone by, and there were only two boys and three girls, none of them more than eleven years old, who came to her classes. This was because there were two other music schools in the same area one run by a man and the other by two women. They were aggressive rivals and tried to oust one another from the locality. It was a rabid competition in which Bharathi could hardly survive. But she held on hoping that something would turn up and help her forward. A step or two, that would do for the present.
It was at this time that Varadachari and his wife were planning a trip to Roorkee where one of their sons worked. From their conversation she came to know that when they were in Roorkee they would take the opportunity to go to Rishikesh and meet one Swami Jitendra who had his Ashram there. Varadachari knew him. The Swamiji was a man of miracles. He would heal diseases, solve troubles, grant the fulfillment of wishes and answer prayers even from people living in far distances. The mere sight of him was enough. One's worries would vanish and one's problems would solve themselves. He was a Godman and was said to be an Avatar of Lord Krishna. This was the first time that Bharathi had heard of this Swamiji. Bharathi expressed a wish to go with them. They too wanted help during the long journey. They agreed. The girl hoped for a deliverance from her worries and misfortunes by the grace of the Swamiji. She felt impatient to get his blessings.
It was as they said. When she touched the feet of Swami Jitendra, she felt suddenly her whole being divinized and mysteriously vitalized. It was as if she were galvanized by an electromagnetic charge. Her eyes filled with tears. She had a vision that many layers of darkness and ignorance that shrouded her were peeling off like dissolving clouds and vanished into the distant voids. Her life seemed to open up on all sides. She felt exhilarated and felt an expanding buoyancy all over her being. An ecstasy stole into her depths and shook her. She had never sung Charukesi Raga so surpassingly well as she did on that day to the accompaniment of the Swamiji on the violin. It was an event that she would never have dreamt of and which she would never forget. That was the day of a rare blessing for herself and her music. Thenceforth her music would be orchestrated by angels and a divine quality would break out in it. It would sound like music from the world of the Shining Ones, the Devas. That was the day when her music really started on its course to perfection. Knowledge came to one through books and teaching as well through the grace of God or Godlike men. The Swamiji would supply her with inspiration whenever she prayed for it and illuminate her music. She was now sure that heaven mingled in her Art.
When the singing was over, her eyes had rested on the saffron-robe of the Swamiji. Within a few seconds her eyes seemed to have disappeared into the robe and seemed to see and stare her from there. The robe held her eyes so much like a magnet. She just could not take her eyes off from the robe. She felt entranced. A purity akin to that of some God in Heaven seemed to emanate from the robe and entered into her blood and bone and mingle with her breath. The air she breathed felt like a breeze from Heaven. She was sitting face to face with an immortal. It was on that day she felt how it would be like to be in Heaven. It was a purity that grew and grew into her till she was lost in it. It was a feeling that had its center everywhere in the universe but its circumference nowhere. Was it really a robe or the incarnation of the very stuff of God. ? It looked the most sacred thing on earth, some thing that didn't belong to this world, but had its origin from the shining territory of Gods that lay beyond. How weirdly charming it was, and what a spell it cast! One would never like to get out of the web of that spell. As she looked at it more and more it seemed to encompass the universe and surpass into the imponderable voids. Empires might come and go, they might rise and fall, but not all of them would be worth even a sleeve of this sacred garment. It was evidence enough that God had planted the Swamiji among men on earth in order to achieve a mission. She fell madly and morbidly in love with the robe. It seemed to exist on its own, a thing by itself, a power by itself. It possessed a purpose and had a destiny. It seemed to be a part of the inner effulgence of the Swamiji too. If Swamiji deserved worship who, of course, he undoubtedly did, the saffron-robe deserved ten times more of it. Soon the Swamiji vanished and the saffron- robe alone held her eyes. She now had a strange feeli ng that she was face to face with her own cosmic self. It was an epochal experience. It etched deep into her other self. She found a mighty solace in the presence of the Swamiji, and she couldn't forget that the saffron-robe too gave her a solace of its own. Its caressings inside her soul she could feel. Quite inexplicably she felt a strange loyalty to it.
They arrived Thanjavur a week later.
Bharathi was no longer the same. She, her life and her music were all blest now. The world which had hitherto been hostile and hurtful to her now wore an attraction. It seemed to lovingly look upon her. Obstacles seemed to remove on their own.
The two women teachers of one of the music schools had to leave Thanjavur. One married a husband from Kerala and packed off to go and live with him in the latter's place. The other had to be by the side of her mother who was lying ill in Vellore hospital. The mother was a tubercular woman who had agreed to be in the hospital only if her daughter was there beside her to look after. The male teacher had also to leave because he got a lucrative post in a cycle-manufacturing company in Madras. All the three schools were now closed. In the result, the school run by Bharathi filled to overflowing, She made quite a good bit of money. She was now well out of all her financial worries. Her earnings became considerable. Varadachari felt happy. She started sending money to her parents. Saptharishi was freed of all his debts. Bharathi now paid Vedavalli for her board and lodge too.
She had her own small room where she sat in meditation every morning at sunrise before the picture of the Swamiji with closed eyes. She came across many good things in life and many good people. Life seemed to get bright and free of hardships.
Kalidas had to wait in the school verandah for about fifteen minutes before he could introduce himself to the gypsies and speak of his purpose. They were seated on a ragged mat and smoking cheap cigars. Their eyes were half closed and vacantly roving. They seemed to be soaked in liquor, and struggling to recover. Then they edged to each other, crouched and put their heads together and entered on a subdued converse as if they were hatching up an intrigue. One of them saw Kalidas waiting at the door and, without speaking a word, held him in a long interrogative stare. The other gypsies too saw him now and held him in a longer and harder stare. Kalidas made a close study. The gypsies had a repulsive aspect. But that was how some of the great ones looked. They don't impress at first sight. They had a beastly, knavish look, all of them. That again was how some of the local political bosses too looked. The facial indexes of people were nowadays changing fast. Good men looked like bad and bad men looked like good.
One of them, a muscular stalwart with a shabby turban on his head, huge metal rings on his wrist, made an effort to put on a sagely look, but could not help looking like a marauder. He made a casual and unconcerned gesture at Kalidas and beckoned him to come in and sit. There was something menacing in the face of this goggle-eyed man. He looked at Kalidas obliquely twice over.
"What do you want with us, may we know your errand?", One of his companions asked. He was a man with quite a load of unkempt sickly hair on his head and wearing strings of large beads and Cowrie shells on his neck. He had a snub nose that sat like a large fig-fruit on a sprawling dented face. He looked squalid and wore a shabby blue shirt that hung loose on him. There was in his debauched features a suggestion of deep cunning.
Kalidas wondered for a moment if he was in the right place with right persons. He had half a mind to get away. They looked uninterested. He was damped by their frigid manner and their furtive sizing-up. But his object itched and got the better of him.
"I have come to consult you and get your guidance on a problem". Kalidas said laconically. Usually a verbose character, he now prudently stopped short.
"Yes, proceed", He said with the supercilious air of one sitting on a magisterial throne. Kalidas was silent for quite a while, his watchful eyes going up and down on the gypsy. Then he spoke:
"My master is a handsome young man. He is about twenty nine. He has got immense wealth. Really immense. It was left to him by his parents. They died in an accident. It was not given to them to see him wedded. He has now taken to saffron-robe and become a Sanyasin. It is about five years since he renounced the world. Can you convert him? Can you change him from a monk to a married man and settle him down in family life?"
Before Kalidas could finish one of the gypsies very audibly grunted.
"Your master would not have taken to holy orders unless he was a great lover of purity and spirituality. He must be one of the greatest of souls, and must be one with a rare blessing of God on his head. If he took to Sanyasa at this age, it should only mean that God wanted him to be a Sanyasin. It is some destiny decided by God. If you are not able to get him back to family life, then he must be a very stubborn character as well. Why do you want to disturb a man that is in the special favor of God? Why do you want to break his resolution?". Kalidas answered. There was vehemence in his tone.
"How do you know God wanted him to become a Sanyasin? What makes you think that it is his destiny? Then why should God give him so much wealth and so much of handsomeness. How are you sure that the path of Sanyasa is the most blessed path? If that were so, why did you not all become Sanyasins? Please don't preach or sermonize. I don't believe in all that. Please tell me if you can do something or not."
Kalidas was really astounded by what the gypsy spoke. His purpose he had stated. It was crystal clear. Then what meant all this idle stuff? The gypsy talked like a Yogi himself. Perhaps it was the effect of the booze. His pedagogic bombast irritated.
The gypsy was a bony man that carried a slightly disproportionate head on a scraggy neck. He had unusually thick and long whiskers which seemed to eat up more than half his shriveled face. It sat too ill on his rather fossilized countenance.
Kalidas was surprised at his own even temper. Such perverted reasoning many people had talked to him before.
Kalidas continued: "I don't approve of you, sir, one could have a wife, a home and any number of children, he could own lands and businesses, he could employ all his time in money-making. But still he could practice all the virtues a Sanyasin practiced."
One of the gypsies nodded and laughed. He was followed by another who too did the same. There was a third one who yawned, blinked, and then lighted the stump of a cigar and resumed smoking. It was as if he was fed up with the whole business. But only this one who spoke a crooked kind of logic seemed to be assembling his forces for another delivery. But before he could start on it, another gypsy gave tokens of his wish to enter the fray. He hemmed, coughed and made a few hard grunts, and took a lot of time in clearing his throat. When these noisome preliminaries were over, he started arranging his ideas in his head.
He was a dark man, possessed of a large girth and a lot of heavily undulating, unseemly flesh around his neck, waist and face. He seemed to be the senior-most among them. He had a ghastly mouth which when he opened it showed large brownish teeth, all ill-placed, a few missing, and his gums looking diseased. In the nights, alone, one would have mistaken him for a spook. In a forced magniloquence, he now put forth his own quota of wisdom.
"All that you say, sir, looks to me just chaff. Chaff to me at any rate. What is wrong in young men taking to Sanyasa or practicing abstinence? It is not a crime or a sin. If a thing is good any one could take to it. In your master's case it perhaps dates from previous incarnations. My opinion is young men could become Sanyasins as well as the old".
Then he spoke something coughing and choking. After which he fell silent. He gasped, and then became remote. He had talked enough, and would talk no more. He turned his head away in a studied nonchalance. Then he kept rolling his eyes very thoughtfully and philosophically. He seemed to be a bit of a stagy type. He must have acted in street-corner Dramas. His tone which had been a trifle thunderous seemed to still echo. Kalidas who had already been feeling low lost all hope now. He hemmed and grinned in a resolute bid to recover himself.
Then suddenly he rallied and fought back.
"If all young men take to Sanyasa, what is to become of young girls? Where would they go for husbands? Already we have too many brothels". Kalidas spoke with an unbeatable fervor. He felt indignant.
The turbaned man, with metal rings, presently interposed. He was accommodative. He could see the point in the argument of Kalidas. He appreciated his deep concern for his master. But still he began with a dissent.
"Then, who do you think should take to Sanyasa, only old people? If Yes, at what age? Who can say who is young and who is old?".
Kalidas smiled. This was an idle question that every man puts to everyone else in one's everyday life. . The question looked more like a filler than a poser. However he answered:
"Any man who had become a superfluity, and who was no longer wanted, who had nothing to give of himself to his family, and who found himself spent out and gone dry, he could take to Sanyasa. And in my opinion he ought to. He should repair to a hermitage and put up his back to the world. They are just junk and ought to quit. Not young men who could couple, be productive and raise a home. They make the society move forward."
All the gypsies laughed including the fat monster. They agreed to help him. The whiskered scarecrow was the most vociferous in applauding the sanity Kalidas had exhibited. They now prepared to discuss in confidence the next step. Kalidas had impressed them so much that they took him as one of their number.
All the five put their heads together and talked something in a heavy undertone. Then they withdrew their heads as if to reconsider what they had spoken. A second time they put their heads to gather and there was another muffled exchange of ideas. This happened four or five times. They made a sight. A number of onlookers, mostly lads, began to collect, and stood jesting and guffawing. The gypsy who carried a load of bead-strings on his neck and towering mops of dirty hair made a frightful grimace at them. The crowd instantly dispersed as he spat out on them a throaty abuse. His words were obscene and he gurgled with anger.
The turbaned man now spoke:
"We accede to your request, man, all the four of us are spell-casters and trained demonologists. We have to think up a spell that would suit your particular case. The spell should not fail of its purpose. We have to think up one that would be specially efficacious. Then we must get the permission of our patron-deity to try it on your master. Our deity is a dark male god of about sixty feet tall and about thirty feet wide. He is a god that would explode in temper if his laws were infringed. It is capable of worst visitations on any one who offended it. He must first bless the spell we choose before we try it. It should all be done in secret. Can you find us some lonely spot that is well guarded. No man or woman should know what we do".
Next day Kalidas put all of them in one of the large unused rooms of his residence. The gypsies were more than satisfied with this unexpected shelter. They closed all the doors, lighted incense-sticks, and burnt camphor. They sat in prolonged conference of endless whispers morning and evening. They said they were secretly exchanging ideas with their deity. They asked Kalidas to take note of the fact that their deity was a fastidious diner and preferred pork though he had no objection to chicken and lamb. He would sit with them and eat, only nobody could see it. Kalidas made them a liberal supply of expertly cooked pork everyday. They were delighted with his hospitality. They ate noisily and gratefully the Epicurean spread they were served with.
Everyday at midnight they would make for a small rocky spot behind their abode and make a big fire. They sat around it very solemnly and offered worship to their deity. A week passed. The gypsies spoke to Kalidas with great satisfaction. They said their deity had agreed. They pledged their word to achieve his object. But their deity had laid down a condition. He resided in some deep valley of a faraway green hill. He had no temple. Would Kalidas get a temple built for him? He could directly take up the work himself, or they would do it for him if he supplied the funds. May be it would cost not more than seven thousand rupees. Kalidas had no hesitation. As directed by their deity the gypsies gave Kalidas the sacred assurance that his master would cast off the saffron-cloth within three months and come to settle down with a wife in his Benares home. Kalidas gave the gypsies the entire seven thousand rupees in hundred rupee notes. They gave him their address for getting at them in case there was need.
Kalidas was thankful to them over and again. He expected this friendship to last for ever. They assured him they were always at his disposal. He was one of them. Each embraced him in an excess of hearty affection. Each favored him lovingly with one of his largest grins. Then they took their farewell.
Kalidas saw them off with eyes that batted with emotion.