CHAPTER - 23
There was a whole bundle of correspondence waiting at the Ashram when Jitendra arrived. There were invitations from various places like Trivandrum, Bangalore, Bombay, Ahamedabad, Patna, Mirzapur, Jaipur and other places for delivering public lectures and Upanyasas. In most of these places Jitendra had established his mutts which were known as "Dharma Pravarthana Kendras" Which meant centers for the propagation of Dharma.
In a general sense, Dharma meant moral and spiritual laws enunciated by Rishis and divinely appointed seers for the conduct of social and individual life. Epics like the Ramayana, Mahabharatha and scriptures like Bhagavadham, Pancha Dasi, Viveka Choodamani, Bhagavad Gita and other great holy books of Hindu lore and the eighteen Puranas were the storehouses of these Dharmic principles. In each of these centers there were about ten or twelve Sanyasins doing active work under the control and guidance of swami Jitendra. These centers were generally known to the public as "Jitendra Mutts". There were also invitations in the mail from countries like England, Spain. France, Germany and U.S.A. They were from religious bodies and intellectual centers both Indian and foreign. These invitations from abroad had been arranged by his friends in the American Association from Calcutta, his friends in foreign embassies functioning in Delhi, the Dept. of International Cultural Relations in Government of India, and persons like Lynda Wallace and her group. Tentatively Jitendra decided he would go to these foreign countries on a six-month tour after his Marthandam program. In the meantime there were many cultural and religious bodies in India with influential contacts abroad who were pressing him to undertake tours in Europe, China and Japan. He did not want to postpone these tours for long. He started consulting atlases and Tourist Information Books and Travel rules. In the next fifteen days, arrangements for the foreign trips were already well under way. Day after day there was progress. He already owned a passport. Itinerary had been almost finalized. Concerned foreign bodies also had been notified. The Travel Agencies had been asked to keep the tickets ready. He had even half a mind to cancel Marthandam program. Then on second thoughts he decided to stick to it. It was mainly to oblige Dhivya who, apart from a collective request from the village elders, had begged him in private to allot at least two weeks, if not three, for the village.
There were a few tiny collections of habitations a little far away from the village Sheegampur. These tiny settlements passed for villages and each had a name. One was called Dharanikkottah. And there was another by name Aswinipuram. They were all at war with each other and all of them together at war with Sheegampur which was no bigger than any one of them. They were jealous of the village Sheegampur because it was petted and pandered by Swami Jitendra who gave the village liberal help of all sorts, and money too whenever they were in need.
The coolies from these two villages Dharanikkottah and Aswinipuram, starving for want of work, met the Swamiji two or three times and offered to work on the newly acquired land. They would do both agricultural and building work. They were not able to find work in any other place. They said their families were starving, and life was becoming unbearably hard. They begged him to relieve them of the acute hardships they were passing through. They wanted him to take mercy and save them from hunger. Jitendra was moved. He felt pity for them. He wanted to give them work and help them earn their bread. But there was already a strong likelihood of the inhabitants of the village Sheegampur being thrown out of employment by the mill owners. They have already dropped unmistakable hints. It was almost coming in a week. Jitendra therefore could not oblige these coolies who came from the other two villages.
This put on edge the jealousy of a few other villages too, and all of them turned hostile to the Ashram and began to nurse a sort of inveterate anger against swami Jitendra. The hostility actually turned into a sort of wave.
Then the skies exploded with thunder and broke into torrents of rain for a whole week. On one rainy morning, Jitendra was shocked to find that the entire village of Sheegampur had vanished without leaving the least trace. There was nothing but weed, gravel and stone, and indistinguishable debris of fallen hutments. The Vinayaka temple had survived but was overlaid with trees and mud, and had become unrecognizable. The inhabitants had all fled. And taken shelter in other villages. Then rains had stopped, Jitendra wanted to rebuild the village at his own cost. He even thought of giving the villagers free board and lodge till the construction of houses for them was completed. He wanted to give them all possible monetary and other help, and they would not be put to any expenses. And he would see that there was not the least hardship to them. He collected information about the whereabouts of the inhabitants.
But none of them came and met him even though more than a week had elapsed since the rains had stopped. He sent his men to find them out and fetch them. He promised he would put up tiled masonry cabins for all of them, strong and secure, that would be proof against worst wind and weather. It would all be his own money. He wouldn't mind even if it cost him several thousands of rupees. They could come and work on the land if the mill threw them out. But word came that all of them had refused to come back. Not even one was willing. They were scattered in several different villages. They were in stark misery and passing through desperations, and whole families starving or living on scraps of food that they could beg. They treated the men the Swamiji had sent with scant respect, and they talked of the Swamiji slightingly and even mockingly. They scoffed at his offer and said they were no fools to be always at his beck and call. Then Jitendra gave up the effort. He had never felt so much pain at heart in all his life.
Now that the rains had stopped and the sun had come, he wanted to get ahead with the land reclamation and construction work by engaging labor from other places. But he could not secure labor. Even the coolies from the two villages, Dharanikkottah and Aswinipuram, who had earlier begged him to be provided with work now bluntly refused. So too the workers from other villages. A certain antipathy against the Ashram and the Swamiji had grown and hardened solely because of his excess of patronage and help to the villagers of Sheegampur to the exclusion of other villages. A Sanyasin should have no partiality, and his benevolence should be made available to all. Poor people were the same all over irrespective of where they lived and whatever the name of the village, and whether they be far or near. Why should a Sanyasin have such a pronounced bias for one single village. Besides it was a village where immorality, theft, drink and feuds and several other vices were rife. They had all escaped from being brought to book by the police only because of the Swamiji. There were several arguments of this kind.
Then a sinister, locally manufactured gossip was let loose in all these villages in order to spite the Swamiji. But there were superstitious persons too who fell to it and many bloated versions of the gossip filled the air. They said that three witches had been murdered about fifty years ago in the same site where Sheegampur village had stood. There was then some other village in its place. In fact after the said murders several villages had come on the site and gone. No village could ever last or survive on the spot. The spirits of the murdered witches had vowed that they would never allow any habitation to come up in the place and they would not spare it even if it came up. If any family or village wanted to stick stubbornly to the place they would destroy them and visit them with death, disaster, ruin and misfortune of all kinds. There would be scourge and plague upon them. This would include not only the village, but also the entire vicinity for miles around. They would make a hell of every place that had anything to do with the spot where their blood was spilt. Their curses would extend to every supporter and patron of the village. The Ashram site, the Swamiji, all the inmates, the Ashram activities and all its assets and buildings fell within the targeted area of the witches. Their wrath would never subside, and it would never fail of its mark. Jitendra who, after a long time had something to heartily laugh at, tried to persuade the former inhabitants of the Sheegampur village through people known to them and to him that it was all a hoax and that they could return. But instead of putting trust in their erstwhile benefactor who tended them like his own children, they now laughed back at him, and spoke a lot of vulgar chaff and silly things. This ungratefulness was something too much for Jitendra to bear. He was seized with a feverish depression of spirits. He felt sick, and looked like one more than half defunct.
The next thing Jitendra planned to do was to apply to Government for assigning the village-site to the Ashram which, on the Ashram taking it over, he would use for setting up a cattle farm and a dairy unit. Steps were initiated at once. The plan became an accomplished fact within the next one month. Lynda Wallace took the whole responsibility on herself and saw the whole thing through. The Collector, the Head of the District and its chief Administrator, who was known to both Jitendra and Lynda Wallace, fully cooperated and completed the process in an unusually short time.
One day when Jitendra walked into the room where he had set on the easel the painting he had made of the village Sheegampur, he felt as if his heart would stop. He would have tottered and fallen to the ground, but his moral courage sustained him and kept him standing. The picture had been damaged, almost all of it, by the rain. It was no longer a painting but a horrid mess. It was an unsightly heap of debris. It was as if his very Art of Painting had been gutted down and spat at. He laughed the laugh of a corpse. It had been coming out so well that he had thought of putting it in an international exhibition. He had wanted to immortalize the village through his Art like El Greco's Toledo. He was now virtually in mourning.
Only four days ago Jitendra had returned from Benares after seeing Kalidas who was satisfactorily improving. Now the chief doctor of the hospital rang him up to say that the condition of Kalidas had taken a turn for the worse. He had already been a consumptive, and nobody had known it. There were tubercular symptoms also lately showing. He seemed to have a serious emotional problem, some yearning or deep-laid wish which seemed to burden his mind and cause havoc in his brain. His condition was critical. He had been expressing a wish to urgently see his master. Jitendra felt a shiver inside him. He arrived in Benares in about five hours.
Kalidas was actually dying. He stared at Jitendra out of large unwinking eyes. He had very little of speech left. He had been having for two days repeated hallucinations in which he saw Jitendra's parents standing by his bedside and taking most assiduous care of him. They were waiting for his soul to separate from his body so that they could hug it in their arms and carry it away to their heavenly abode. He held Jitendra by the arm and, amid struggles in his throat and his eyes all wet, spoke imploringly.
"Will you make me a promise, master?".
"I will, Kalidas. I will".
I am going to the place where your parents live. There I will continue my services to them. I will wait on them as I had done all these forty or fifty years and do their bidding".
Kalidas then drew his breath hard for about a couple of minutes. He could not get his words out. He could not speak all that he wanted to speak.
"My dear master, neither my soul nor the souls of your parents would ever know peace until you cast off this saffron cloth and settle down to family life with some girl you choose. Will you put your hand on mine, and make a promise. This is my last wish and my deathbed prayer to you. Will you refuse it, dear master. You had been a darling to me all my life. Will you heed me and help me die in peace?"
Jitendra wept, and he wiped his tears away. He then made a silent prayer to God.
"God, have the goodness to hear me. I will be a Sanyasin all my life. I will never cast off this sacred garment. For it is not given to all. It comes to one by the special grace of Heaven. You are the Giver. It comes to one after several births of penance, prayer, selfless sacrifice and Punya. It is given to one after one had become spiritually ripe enough to stay in your proximity. I therefore again repeat to you, the Supreme One, that I will live a Sanyasin and die a Sanyasin. But still I make the promise to my dear Kalidas. It is just to comfort a soul in torment and to give it peaceful deliverance from its mortal shackles. My Kalidas is dear to me, but my saffron robe is still dearer. For the duration of this just one moment, I am forced to be false to my own self, false to you and false to my dearest Kalidas. Forgive me my Lord, I am not going to keep up my promise. But still I make it. May the soul of my dear Kalidas ever rest in peace".
Then he put his hand on that of Kalidas and spelt out solemnly the following three words:
"Kalidas, I promise".
"Master, say it again".
"Yes, Kalidas, I promise".
"Will you say it a third time, master? '
"Kalidas, trust me, I promise. Die in peace. May Heaven bless your soul".
Kalidas closed his eyes and breathed his last.
Jitendra wept and told himself that an era for him had ended. He was buried in the farm at the very place he had specified earlier.
Jitendra was inconsolable. Nothing on earth would ever console him. There was not a single moment when he was not conscious of the vacuum that gaped around him. He would never know peace, never. It had left him for ever.
It was late afternoon. There was sun, but it was soon obscured by heavy clouds. It was a time of intermittent showers. There was a cold breeze. Jitendra had been feeling low. He felt that something within him had crashed, fallen and lost for ever. He had now begun to mistrust his own judgment. He felt that Truth was failing around him. Some of the great things he had valued seemed to be dimming away. His mind got distracted often, and he found it hard to keep himself composed. Formerly he used to see his own self, his own likeness, in the things he loved. Now he saw a series of unlikenesses that irritated him. He was often at pains to discover his own self and see what exactly it really was. He tried to see things in an enlarged perspective, but it kept falling and narrowing. He had become perhaps much less than what he was. He became an enigma to himself and did not know whither he was moving. He was perhaps in wreckage, only he did not know it. Was there some evil power at work to disengage his mind from God ?. He did not know why he was having these strange kind of thoughts. Was he falling or rising? Perhaps it was the heaviness of the guilt, the guilt in his having made a false promise to Kalidas. He was false to his own self and to Kalidas in the sight of God. It was the disturbing sense of having become morally stunted, the sense of a devastating fall from his own self that was causing him an emotional crisis, a crisis of conscience. It was that which made him suspect himself and everything that fell in his eye. It was his own marred self that was being reflected in every object. God was testing him out, and he was found wanting. In his own eyes he had become woefully shrunk. Every thought that came into his mind was a painful thought. He seemed to stand alone in the world with no one for company except God. A promise from a Sanyasin was not like any other. It mig ht acquire life and fulfill itself. It might come to possess a fatality and breath.
There stood opposite him on the river bank a giant tree that rose perpendicularly into the sky, a steep and straight phenomenon, a symbol of truth and uprightness. It was an outsized component to the beauty of the place and its eerie charm. Heavy clouds seemed to collect on it as if they loved it and longed for its company. There was now a thickening of the clouds. They had begun to look in his eyes like mourning weeds hanging low from the top of this kingly specimen of a tree. A terror seemed to deposit everywhere. The tree stood in triumph and enhanced its magical appeal. It looked blurred and sketchy through the darkening sky. It soon became a jumble of lines erratically drawn. Now Jitendra sighted two white-breasted eagles perched on a branch of the tree. They were dripping wet, perhaps they had taken a holy bath in the Ganges. Water seemed to linger heavily on their eyes. Soon the two birds dominated his eyes, and the magnificent tree had dwindled out of his consciousness. The birds seemed to do nothing except to hold him all the time in a fixed stare, a stare that looked madly affectionate, but still mournful and melancholy. Suddenly he felt something prod the inside of him. Inside him there was a sudden emotional rousing that seemed to encompass all his self. A suggestion articulated. Would it be that the two birds were the ghosts of his departed parents? His eyes glistened and instantly became wet. He left the place as the birds left the tree. He kept ruefully awake all the night. Off and on he had brief spells of sleep, otherwise he kept awake the whole night. In the overwhelmingly soporific moments, he frequently saw the tribunal of the gods before him. Again he felt something crack inside him and disintegrating. He needed comfort and solace, Otherwise he might go mad. It must be equivalent to a solace from Heaven. And there was no one to give it to him on earth excep t Dhivya. He would surely redeem himself and become a full man again if he was in the company of that Angel of angels. She was a mortal woman, but possessed the soul of Heaven. The purest of beings.
The day he had fixed for Marthandam program would be soon be upon him. He would take the flight to Hyderabad. And from there he would travel by car to Marthandam. Telegraphic messages were sent. When he landed at Hyderabad, Dhivya, among others, was the first to receive him.