CHAPTER - 18
The ten-acre plot bought from David Samuel had been taken possession of. Jitendra had already on hand a program for the expansion of the Ashram. The land was a plateau topographically well laid out. Lynda Wallace had offered to put at his disposal, a very experienced civil engineer who was one of her relations. He could put up buildings on the site best suited to the purposes Jitendra had in view. She had now brought that engineer over. He inspected the various potential spots with his assistants and toured the surrounding terrain. He was joined by Jitendra and Lynda Wallace. The proposed constructions were to be for purposes both religious and temporal. The engineer said that he would put up six or seven nice buildings, well designed and substantially useful, and would also see that they enhanced the look of the place quite distinctly. The lovely contours of the locale would lend themselves admirably to his plans. He was now getting ideas that would bring out the grandeur of the place in accordance with the best artistic tastes of the Swamiji. He would make his architecture blend appealingly with those magnificent black rocks and the skyscraping forest trees. His plans would also bring the Ashram into a far better focus. Jitendra felt happy because the engineer had an eye for natural beauty and seemed to possess some sophisticated tastes. He had the rudiments of an artist in him which plainly showed.
"But there is one eyesore", The engineer said.
"What is it?", Jitendra asked.
"Those hovels which might number about sixty, seventy or even hundred, haphazardly thrown together and looking like garbage heaps, will have to be removed. It looks like a small hamlet, but it could be shifted elsewhere, and put somewhere beyond eyeshot. A letter from the Swamiji will surely receive attention from the authorities. They would arrange everything. They will take away the people and deposit them in some convenient spot. They will build dwellings for them. These habitations look like a curse that stain the whole place. It is a damned horror.".
Swami Jitendra was shocked. All his good opinion of the engineer was instantly gone. The Engineer was continually talkative. He looked like a man with no feeling at all. Lynda Wallace did not think it so easy to shift the village. The people must have already got rooted to the place. She made a dubious nod, but she was in broad agreement with his suggestion. But she had no wish to enter on any comment which might start off a debate, She did not know if Jitendra would agree to the idea. But she had read from his face already that he was adversely reacting.
"These habitations pass for a village, Mr.Engineer. Its name is Sheegampur. Extirpation of the village as you suggest would be impossible. How could we? We can't go about altering the world to our convenience. Apart from that, I see the village from a different point of view. You are an engineer, and the place looks to you ugly. I am an artist and the place looks to me beautiful. There is a far more beautiful village secretly and invisibly embedded in it. It is that invisible village which I see. If these hutments are eliminated then the other village too, the village divinely wrought and opening up festively to my inner eye, would be gone. It is a place dear to me, not because I love the inhabitants which indeed I do, but because I see in the hutments and the places that surround it and in all that jars or pleases infinite potential for my Art. You know that poverty and squalor and the illclad inconsequential folks, the unwashed men and women have a special fascination for an artist, particularly so if he has in him a bit of humanity and fellow-feeling. It is possible for an artist to make a heaven of hell. But of course he could do it only in his imagination but it is imagination that is the Artist's domain and his privileged estate. Your ugliness to me is a beauty, but it may not always be so, but in this case it is. The decades behind this village may be short. But I see in it a whole immortality enshrined. You may compress it to the size of just a minute or extend it to aeons. An artist speaks from the height of a truthful feeling which only another artist could understand. The artist has an occult eye. That changes for him the shape and dimensions and character of things. The artist has a tint of heaven in his vision. His imagination is gilded with the blessings of the Muses. Without that he just can't live. His vision fastens on objects and distills for him the nec tar of heaven. I don't know if you know that I am a painter"
Jitendra talked putting his ideas this way and that. He spoke in a peevish outburst. He spoke like one in a sudden access of divine madness. There was more of combustion and less of light in what he spoke.
"I know, Swamiji", The Engineer said.
" I have told him, Jitendra. I have even shown him some pictures you have painted which I keep on the walls of my drawing room and the library" Linda Wallace added.
"I have seen them. , Swamiji, I liked them. I have an interest in Art, but that is just a little more than the interest of a layman. Not more".
"Mr.Engineer, may I know your name?" , he demanded. His tone, though bland, was not altogether free from some asperity.
The amused Lynda laughed an oblique laugh which she did into her kerchief. What little overflowed she stifled with a lot of hems and coughs.
"I am happy, Mr.Goya. You have a nice name. There was a world-famous painter by name Goya. His full name was Francisco Jose de Goya. Please don't think I am talking a little too much. We have to be together on a lot of things in the matter of construction work. And we may have to interact. I just want to kindle in you some interest in Painting. I will also learn from you something about Engineering. One of the famous paintings of this great master is called "Colossus", A picture I have always liked very much. Even the weakest of men who looks at the picture continuously for ten minutes and contemplates on the effect would derive abundant strength. It is a painting in which I have seen a lot of occult power and mystic energy. I am painting this village, Mr.Goya. Please come with me, both of you. You can take a look at it".
Jitendra had progressed with the work, and was now more the half way through. He hoped to finish it in about a month. He had expended on it terrific quantities of mental energy and had passed through a lot of physical strain. A spacious interior of the Ashram was his studio. The picture was still on the easel. They stood before it. Their studious eyes roved on the picture over and again. Lynda and the engineer could comprehend nothing. There were all sorts of lines, vertical, horizontal, lateral and transverse. They passed this way and that. Something like a row of skeletonic structures showed. Possibly that was the village. Then the brush had wandered, as it looked, eccentrically everywhere. And there were crazy patterns of color assembling and dispersing, and any amount of light and shade. Mysterious bottoms and deceptive surfaces. They all mingled together and produced a certain effect on them, not disagreeable. Jitendra had broken the harmony in many places on the picture, and in the debris of those broken harmonies there were strange rhythms born, and productive of a host of new conceptual harmonies. The picture was more a concept than anything else. But both Lynda and the engineer saw finally in the totality of the work a remote and distant sort of beauty, but it was all blurred to their understanding, and though they wanted to appreciate, they could not. They wanted to be true and honest to themselves.
"Is this the village, Jitendra?"
"No, Auntie, it is not the village. It is the soul of the village which I see as an artist. The artist often appropriates to himself a function on his own. He often tries to convert a prosaic thing into a poetic treasure. I have animated in a great degree this apparently sleepy village. What you see as a sordid fact with your layman's eye I see differently in my fantasy where it is transformed into a spiritual factor of the surrounding universe. I grasp it in my subconscious, in my other self, in my overself, and would make it, if I could, into a pearl that shines in the magnetic web of my own cosmos.
"I have studied the paintings of certain great masters. A good work of Art provokes endless contemplation, years may pass but the contemplation continues, unfolding truth after truth, each truth with a relevance to his inner being. It never ceases. An artist sees infinite depths in a scene. He sees infinity in a dewdrop.".
Jitendra stopped. He had not wanted to talk so much, but still he did, for it was an upsurge which he could not stem.
Lynda and the Engineer were reduced to silence. In their mind too there was silence, wordless silence, a depth which they could not grasp or even think what it was. It existed that was all. It was like a nameless feeling, a presence in a non-presence, which one could never define, but which one could recognize and experience. But it was an experience, too dim and too blurred, and too elusive.
Lynda spoke. She always called Jitendra only by name. She never called him Swamiji.
"Jitendra, can you give me some lessons in painting?"
"Oh, by all means, Auntie. I will come and stay in Delhi once every month for a week. You will be able to learn the elements. And then you can secure a teacher in Delhi".
All three took coffee. The engineer had left after getting an appointment with the Swamiji to meet him on another date, and go ahead with further consultations.
Lynda had stayed behind. Whenever she came to the Ashram, she took her own time to leave. She spent pretty long hours touring all about the place and delighting in the multifaceted Himalayan scenery which came right down to the Ashram and extended beyond, canopied by the blue depths of the sky which the vertically fleeting giant trees almost touched. She wanted to particularly enjoy the sky laden with rainy clouds that descended on all sides weightily and bursting any moment, and Lynda had on many occasions been caught in such sudden showers, and loved to feel them on her person, and she would walk back to the Ashram in deliberate slackness, laughing and hallooing. She would see birds sitting on rocks on sunny days in the evenings. She would see them on tops of trees, whole bevies of them, flying in a beautiful cohesive mass into the blue air and then taking a steep downward flight toward the earth. There were birds that walked about in a pompous and affected gait, birds mating and sporting, birds preening and calling. She would see little harmless beasts that would steal behind the bushes or hurry to their hideouts on seeing her. There were virgin tracts untrodden where Nature luxuriated and held a smile for the onlooker. They abounded in so many varieties of flowers that her eyes could never take in all of them and on which they would ever love to rest.
She loved to meditate in the Dhyana Mandap. She would sometimes be for a whole half hour in meditation. She would go to the cowshed and stroke the cows, and sometimes she would pick up a quantity of fodder and feed them with affection. She would humorously converse with the inmates. She would go into the kitchen and sip some coffee. If coffee was good, she would drink two cups.
Lynda Wallace was a lady in full sense of the term. There was an air of nobility about her. She was not plump, neither was she too spare or slight. She bobbed her golden hair and parted it in the middle. She was in her late forties, but age could never wither her nor wilt her charms. A woman of French origin, she had domiciled in India more than fifteen years ago with her husband and children. But generally she talked less, but was affable to everyone. In familiar circles she was loved for her gentle inoffensive humorous talk. She had a strong humorous vein in her but it never expended itself on chaff but only on solid sense. She was not a chattering type, but in congenial company she put in a good quantity of lively cultivated talk. She hated frivolity and hated badinage when it went beyond a mark. She wore costly clothes and she could afford them She loved sartorial elegance. She was, by all standards, a dignified matron. Though she loved to be expensively toiletted, the fabrics she wore were neither flashy nor showy but revealed an aristocratic taste. She was a highbrow interested in Greek and Roman literature, and loved solitude and contemplation. She would rather stay withdrawn than to mingle in company given to excessive jollity. She was erect of bearing and held herself with a certain self-esteeming pride. Her daintiness and prudery came off when she was thrown in company she was not used to. The passage of years had, of course, stolen some of her verdure but not the sharpness of her features. One easily felt in her presence the overflowing goodness of an honest and benevolent soul. Her smile was expressive, winsome and infectious, her eyes large and kindly and always lit up, her face benign and sweetly receptive. She bore an exceeding maternal love to Jitendra.
She and her husband had been his father's business partners. Jitendra's father Gopilal had helped them make huge profits in business. The three were like close relations bound by ties of blood. She knew Jitendra even from his early teens. She used to cuddle him and feed him with cakes and sweets. The death of Jitendra's parents had left a void in their life. No one perhaps had wept so much as she did when Jitendra took to saffron robe. She wept for weeks. She still looked upon him as her own child, and called him sweetly by his name, splitting it in to three syllables, Jit-en-dra. Even the prefix, Mr., she usually dropped. Jitendra meant to her all that was loveliest under the sun. He called her by the most loving appellation of "Auntie".
Lynda Wallace left for Delhi that night.
Some of the disciples and the staff in the Ashram didn't generally like the inhabitants of the village Sheegampur. The village was a hotbed of many clandestine activities. The police called it a sink of every sort of crime. The village was too badly deficient in private morals. Illicit relationships were rife. Many men and women lived a most stinking nocturnal life. All this was told to Jitendra. But he didn't believe. But when he could not help believing, he said it was all due to starvation. He would not rest till the village became prosperous. Then their morals would automatically improve, and they would live a life above reproach.
But it would seem that the villagers, each one of them, felt emotionally tied up with Jitendra. Every inhabitant was indebted to him for the boundless generosity he or she had received at his hands. He had rescued many of them from the verge of death due to starvation. Most of them would never have seen that kind of charity in all their life. Though very young, he was acknowledged by one and all of them that he was their patriarch, their sole benefactor, the watchful sentinel of every home and hearth, their mentor and moral preceptor. It was like more than a kinship of blood. He gave them money in fistfuls and unlimited food from the Ashram kitchen whenever any of them had to go without food. He became an arbiter and patched up things when factional animosities tore the village or families into two. And he always kept the village and families united though at times when he was away on long tours for months the miscreants in the village sparked off trouble and feuds arose. He did his best to foster among them a collective will and a collective consciousness. It was as if he had adopted the village, and had come to own it. The village had become almost a part of his personal real estate. He just poured his love on each one of them. All of the villagers basked in his infinite humaneness. Some of Jitendra's disciples wholly disapproved of what their Guru did for these irresponsible and immoral villagers. They called it sheer madness, waste of charity.
The spinning mill to which most of the adult population of the village went for work which was about two miles away was a new one just about two years old. It had an uneven career from the beginning, and they could not mobilize the funds they needed. They were running the mill on insufficient resources. Somehow they carried on. Then things became so difficult for them that they could not help incurring losses. One day the management announced retrenchment of about hundred and twenty workers Which included almost all the men and women of Sheegampur. The village now faced a terrible hardship and was on the brink of starvation. All the villagers came to the Ashram and crowded about the premises, and hung about the Swamiji. They wanted food as well as work. It was like chicks surrounding and pestering a mother-bird. Naturally he was moved, but was in a dilemma. But there was one thing he could do. He could start reclamation and construction work on the ten-acre plot, and give work to all the villagers. He could also get ready for cultivation some of the unused land of the twenty five acres on which the Ashram stood. Soon there was work for all. The engineer was urgently summoned and asked to start the works at once. The villagers were given more than the wages they received at the mill besides a very sumptuous free lunch. In about a month foundation work for four buildings was over. And the brick works above ground was fast coming up when the mill called back all the retrenched workers. Jitendra felt very happy and sent back the whole lot. He asked them to return to their mill-work at once. But there was another retrenchment coming in about a month or so. Jitendra then asked the engineer to suspend all the work so that when the villagers were again thrown out of employment they could all be again taken in. But there was no retrenchment though six months had pass ed. But still Jitendra didn't want the works to be resumed. Only the Sheegampur people should work on the land and none else. He anticipated another retrenchment any time and any number of retrenchments. He knew that the mill had a precarious existence. Any time the Sheegampur people might be thrown out of employment. There was no certainty that the mill would ever make a profit at all.