CHAPTER - 19
Kalidas had never felt so much miserable in all his life. The fact he had learnt from the Police Commissioner's office at Benares that the four gypsies in whom he had placed all his faith were no gypsies at all, but the worst of criminals in disguise had shattered him. He had never been cheated anytime before. His mind was now in a maddening whirl. Even while he went about his work, he was in a daze and looked like one with too many gaps in his mind. A man of single-minded resolution, he was now in two minds about even the smallest thing that came up for his decision. That his mind had been affected came frequently into notice to those who closely studied him. His hopes had ended. He was sinking into a darkness from which he thought he could never retrieve himself. He felt like a man thrown over by the gods down a precipice. The way he usually carried himself was no longer there. There was a distinct departure. He had to frequently recover himself in order to look sensible. He stopped in the middle of a talk for no apparent reason. And then after a pause, he would realize he was in the midst of a blather. Then he would trail off with a silly smile into indistinct mutters. Likewise he stopped abruptly, while he walked, like one who was suddenly confused as to the direction in which he was to turn. "Have I lost my way?", He would ask himself. He would then laugh a stupid laugh and then get back home to sit and recollect the place where he wanted to go. He would ask his wife who knew nothing and stare at her in anger. He would keep staring at her and then make a clownish grimace.
He would sit somewhere and talk to himself as his only audience. He would melodramatically ask of the gods if it was right for them to condemn the only son of Gopilal's family, a family that had spent so much of their fortune on charity, to saffron-robe and an ascetic life. Was it right for them, he would cry again and again, in a low under-breath and sometimes very audibly. He had become an expert soliloquist. Was it justice? Did gods ever know what justice was? He would smile out of a prolonged stupefaction, and then slowly get to his feet.
Kalidas was a country-bred man with plenty of active elemental energy and rustic hardihood. He was a man of steel, and assertive character with immense physical prowess that showed itself in his command over the farm workers. He would take any problem on hand, whatever its magnitude, and dispose it of in no time. His ancestors had served as warriors under local chieftains, and had traditionally taken to a life of danger. Undaunted specimens they were, and Kalidas came of that stock. It was the same old blood that coursed through his veins even now. In all his life Kalidas had never known fear. Many testing situations he had handled with aplomb. His courage had borne him through many dreadful vicissitudes in life. He was an excellent husbandman and an excellent farm administrator. Those who meant harm to Gopilal's interests were in perpetual dread of Kalidas. As the topmost overseer of the farm, he was always uncompromising and held on to his duties with an unflinching straightness, never sparing any one and never giving room for the least slackness. Sluggards and truants he never forgave. He discharged them. The workers loved him, respected him, but still they were in constant fear of him. To many he was quite a nightmare. Then why did his courage and self-possession fail him now? What had become of his sturdiness of spirit and impregnable resolution? Why are they cracking and tumbling? Why was he now afraid of himself and of everything? It was as if a mount was reducing itself to a molehill. Why was an oak turning to pith?
The explanation lay in his total emotional dependence on Gopilal's family. He derived most of his moral strength and dignity from the boundless love they bestowed on him. Now he had lost that emotional support. He lived now in an emotional vacuum. The axle of his life had broken. He had made a religion of his loyalty to Gopilal's family. And that religion now consisted in standing guard over the family's only survival Jitendra. From his childhood Jitendra had always been his darling and the apple of his eye. He might now be technically his boss, but still a darling, a prince of the blood royal that he would never cease to worship. That he had abnegated the world and taken to saffron robe had acted as the last blow on his existence. His purpose was to make him give up the saffron robe and install him in a happy wedded life, but that was being thwarted again and again. He had come to think that he was lost, that he had nothing else to live for, and that logically he should end his life and be gone. He felt a vacuity all around and a blank futility inside. He had never known the meaning of a living corpse when people used the expression, but he knew now. He was himself one. He was in the constant seizure of a sepulchral air. But sill he did not want to die leaving Jitendra alone in the world. That made him fear death too. His mind was in a conflict. He hated to live and was afraid to die. In the result he became progressively ill mentally. But the surprising thing was that hope still clung to him clumsily and in a most shredded form. Neither would it go nor would he let it go.
Then there came upon him a morbid fear that overtook his senses and mind. He found himself unequal to combat it. It repeated and disturbed. The farm seemed to recede from him, it receded farther and farther, till he found himself an alien on it. He felt as though he didn't belong in it. He felt himself a trespasser on the very soil which he had loved all his life and which was one of his dear-most objects in the world. That precious soil seemed to cast him out. It seemed to say that he had nothing more to do with it and that it had nothing more to do with him. It was a severance that seemed to cut through his whole being. Was he no longer the director of the farm operations? Was he no longer the steward? He had the feeling of an exile. This aggravated the already anguished condition of his mind. This was one of his self-generated phantoms. It took him a victim night and day. How was he to annihilate this feeling? The only way he could think of was to identify himself more and more consciously and actively with its day to day work, and recover in yet larger a measure his emotional involvement with it. He could then parry off the feeling and secure peace. But that threw him in a series of ridiculous actions that made him a laughing stock. But how came this feeling? This fear?
He carried one day bags of paddy from the godown to the lorry that waited in front of it. Each bag was so large and of such weight that it normally took two loadmen to carry. He had already conveyed two bags to the lorry when there was no one around to see this. When he was lifting on to his back a third one, the loadmen, the driver and the workers, who were by noticed it from a distance and came running to stop him, all in a state of shock. It was not his duty. He was not supposed to do such things. He was the giver of command, the law-maker of the farm, the overseer at the apex, and not a worker. Everyone was aghast. They were amazed and at a loss to understand what had happened to him. He was next to the he proprietor and almost his alter-ego. What had come upon him to voluntarily take to this indignity? They were puzzled and blinked to each other. They begged him to never do it again.
Now there was one more of the latest oddities of his behavior. It was about midnight. He lay awake on bed. Of late, every night was a sleepless night for him. Suddenly he thought of the crops and began to weep like a child.
He imagined that the crops too wept for him. He thought that the grain-stalks in ear raved mad for his company. They seemed to set up a collective lamentation and beckon him to come and put his face among them. He hurried out into the night and landed among the wheat crops, the citrus trees and the bananas. He started watering them and went on watering till the channels breached and the crops inundated. Some of the resident workers, hearing the repetitive gurgle suspected some mischief and happened to sight a lantern in the dark. They ran to the spot, and found the figure of Kalidas dimly clarifying. They were dumbstruck. That was not the hour to water the crops nor was it his duty. That same day earlier in the evening he had rated them for having let too much water into the crops. In fact the crops stood in a glut of stagnant water already which was not good for them, and they would need no more water for another one week. What was this fatal frolic the manager was indulging in, they wondered. Was he out of mind? Kalidas lifted up a grossly distorted face, distended his mouth into a sort of cadaverous smile, dropped the spade, and dragged himself along on blundering feet, like a ghost on a thwarted expedition, and was soon out of sight.
The disturbing sense of the farm separating from him didn't cease and wouldn't cease. It came upon him more alarmingly each time, and drove him into further proofs of his fargone eccentricity.
There was a great jack tree on the farm a little away from the Buddha temple. It was an occasional rendezvous for the monkeys that lived in the adjacent forest. A few of them formed into an aggressively impish group, and frequently made trouble on the farm. One day he saw a big brute of this footloose gang on one of the upper branches of this jack tree plunging its mouth gluttonously into one of the fruits. Kalidas planting himself at the bottom of the tree gave him orders to get down at once. But it refused and made a funny face at him. This drove Kalidas to worst ill temper. He climbed up the tree with a determination to tear the animal to pieces. They both were soon locked up at the top of the tree in a terrific scuffle. They beat each other. Each tried to outmatch the other. The monkey finally pushed him down. This roused up his spleen as never before. Kalidas bawled out another command at him to instantly get down and take his pardon. But the monkey opened its capacious mouth as wide as it could and made a deadly growl, but Kalidas was in no mood for a truce or retreat. He found a rope near the water-tap, a strong and thick one about ten feet long. He got upon the tree again with the rope. He was in murderous rage. He breasted the monkey in another fight, and after both of them had expended their lungs enough, Kalidas succeeded in tying up the animal to an uppermost stem of the tree. He now came down. As he fetched his breath in a triumph, the workers, suddenly noticing this comic spectacle, left the work and collected at the spot. They laughed and shouted. They had never seen the manager climbing up a tree. Kalidas beamed at them with the air of a victor. He then left. In the meantime the imprisoned monkey addressed a succession of desperate calls to his neighboring fraternity all of whom, in a commendable display of esprit de corps, collected around him on the tree, and in a few minutes set him free. But the workers again gloomily wondered what had come over their manager. Where had gone his dignity, his stateliness of manner and his capacity to stand off from whatever was ridiculous and silly. He was now out of a very low vulgar exercise. What meant all this?
Kalidas himself had now begun to wonder at the way he talked and behaved. It was as if he had lucid moments too when he could think and act with balance. What was the reason for his bizarre thoughts and fancies? Was he afraid of death or was it his premonition that death was already upon him with its jaws open waiting for the appointed moment? Either way he seemed to be passing through a psychology of death. As if in confirmation of this foreboding, that very night at a late hour he was driven by a macabre impulse to take a mat with him and sit on the northern verandah of his house, the spot where a blood-curdling horror of some spook was said to reveal itself in the dead of night. As he sat leaning against the wall, an owl hooted from somewhere. It was a dark night of howling winds. The hooting seemed to intensify every moment and split the night into jarring discordances. The cries of the owl seemed to land right in front of him, and chill his bones. Now as he felt drowsy and his eyelids fluttered, the owl seemed to multiply itself into a hundred of its kind and its raucous lamentations, booming all through the farm, made a havoc of the place. His sickly mind was getting sicklier and building up its own fears. He wondered when this scourge of a bird took up its abode in the farm. A more barbarous creature on earth he could never imagine. Sleepily he spelt out a few hysterical damnations on the inauspicious creature. There was the hint of death in the portentous breeze that seemed to swirl about him. Then it roared cavernously. The air touched his blood till it froze. It seemed to search his insides.
Three days later, Kalidas received a letter from his master Jitendra. A party of five foreign newspapermen were to visit the Buddha Shrine on the farm in the course of that week. They would inspect the temple, make an archaeological study of the excavated findings, study the sculpture of the Buddha, take photographs and offer worship. His own quarters were to be thrown open to them where they would stay for a few hours. They were to be respectfully received, treated to refreshments and food. They should be provided with all amenities, and shown all courtesy. Two or three days later, they would send him an enlarged photograph of the Buddha which he was to receive, get it framed in the local bazaar, and hang it on the right wall of his bedroom. Everything went according to the letter. The visiting newsmen were more than satisfied with the hospitality. The photograph of the Buddha was received four days later. Seated on his cot, Kalidas took a long look at the picture. He could not take his eyes off. He was caught in the face of the Buddha as in some golden web. He would rather stay a captive in it for ages than to take his eyes off. He repeated his prayer to the Lord which was to effect, at the earliest possible opportunity, the liberation of his master from the accursed saffron-robe and put him in family life. He wouldn't die and shouldn't until he saw the sacred event come off. An insane impulse caught him. And he saw himself in a vision. He caught the saffron-robe in a feverish rage and tore it to pieces and threw it on a wayside garbage heap. That night he went to the Buddha temple, and sat on the steps till he absorbed into his being all the redeeming grace of the Buddha in the opalescent light of the starry night. The moon had sunk away.
It was about 11 in the morning. A hot sun dazzled the eye. The road was clear of traffic. It was a broad but a rough gravel road of uneven surface. Kalidas was returning from the village after getting the framed photograph which was wrapped and bound in a generous supply of brown paper which he carried in his armpit. He had left the village behind and was walking to the farm which was still about half a mile away. He was scarce of energy, and had not been eating regularly or enough for the past few weeks. He was already a rheumatic and had come to develop unceasing pain in the joints. He had been losing weight. He often became tired and breathed hard. As he now picked his way along the road, fatigued of body and mind, the hot sun dimming his eyes, he was oblivious of everything around him. He was not even conscious of himself. He walked mechanically without seeming to be aware that he was on his legs and lazily marching along a road. He was not exactly a shell of rattling bones where a dull life beat sluggishly, but he was very near to becoming one in a few months. His fine muscular frame that once had a remarkable outline was being ravaged by grief and anxiety all because of his master Jitendra.
Now came from the opposite direction a military truck in which four uniformed personnel were seated in front beside the driver. Kalidas had exactly not taken the middle of the road nor was he well away from it. The driver on sighting this unwary pedestrian pressed the horn in repeated blasts of deafening fury. But the walker couldn't be animated into an awareness of what was happening. The vehicle was already too close for the driver to apply the controls. But still he did. But Kalidas was already right in front of the vehicle. He could not but be hit. And it was a near-fatal hit. He was thrown over a distance of about ten feet. The vehicle came to a stop. The driver and his companions rushed out and stood around the victim. They gave him the necessary first aid. His thigh-bone and hip were broken. They were very badly damaged. In fact they were in a jam. But what was worse he had suffered a serious head-injury. He was immediately taken to the local hospital where the doctors pronounced that his life hung in the balance and that he might die inside of seventy two hours. Information was sent to Jitendra over phone. He arrived. Arrangements were made at once to take him to a well-to-do hospital in Benares. Kalidas survived the stipulated seventy two hours. A week passed. The three doctors who struggled to rescue him from death now assured the Swamiji that they would save him. They spoke with one voice. Kalidas had recovered his speech, but he spoke incoherently and tremulously, and choked in between. Jitendra stayed for another ten days with him. All of Jitendra's relations and well-wishers were there in the hospital. They all knew Kalidas. The farm workers were collecting at the hospital again and again. Kalidas gave more and more signs of getting better. The doctors felt uneasy in the presence of so great a personage as Swami Jitendra. So th ey begged the Swamiji to leave the patient in their hands. He could leave peacefully for his abode. Jitendra assured Kalidas that he would be back again. All these days he was with the patient he was absorbed in prayer. He then left much against his will, his thought deeply troubled. He had to summon all his monkish discipline to get his flurried mind to order. The doctors went up to the end of the corridor, assured him once more that all was going to be well, and respectfully saw him off.
Jitendra left. He could not but believe the doctors. But he saw in his vision all that was bright in his life darkening. He saw large thick clouds descending on the farm like mourning weeds. He was beset with ghastly forebodings. As he boarded his car, he felt in his mind the fall of something great, the fall of a mighty oak. He trembled. Again and again his mind fell out of control. It was broad daylight. But his Ashram looked appareled in dark. The farm seemed to split and quake. He saw in it the blood of Kalidas.