CHAPTER - 24
Marthandam village was an antiquated one. The vestiges of the last century still stuck fast. There was still the odor of medieval times. There were about thousand houses grouped castewise but the Brahmin dwellings predominated. That part of the village where the Brahmins lived was called Agraharam. People were generally orthodox. Religious practices and traditions were rigorously adhered to and took precedence over everything else. It was a village of drought-hit woods and one met with withering jungles in every direction. It was also a village of time- honored legends. Everybody knew some episodes from a Purana or epic. Virtue and morality were accorded the highest place. Among the wilted vegetation ran a broad river. During the rainy season one could see some water stagnating or sluggishly moving. The previous two weeks had seen some rains which had greatly moderated the scotching heat of the months. It was a village where summer seemed to stay longer, the people never used to see much of spring, the winter when it came possessed a barren aspect, and inflicted on the village a devilish gloom. And autumn wouldn't take an easy or quick farewell. It would seem to linger stubbornly for more than half the year By and large the village had a derelict look. Now the people were in an agreeable mood because of the rains. The news that Swami Jitendra would arrive that week affected them with joyous expectation. They eagerly looked forward to his lectures. Jitendra had a special liking to such uncorrupt places and unsophisticated people. In about ten days he had become one with them. The people found in him a true saint. They became so enamored of his discourses the like of which they had never heard before. He came to be considered a colossus in his line.
Once in a while there used to be religious discourses in the village. They were always arranged under the auspices of the local Pattabhiram Temple which was not inside the village but outside at about a mile. The lectures were held in Hanuman Mandap which was inside the village, but close to the northern periphery on a large vacant site. It was a large colonnaded stone structure built by an ancient Zamindar who lived about twenty miles away, but who held a titular right over a number of villages of which this was one. There were extensive open grounds in front of the Mandap where the entire population of the village could sit and hear.
The Pattabhiram temple stood on a vast acreage bounded as it was by decaying brick walls that had partly blackened with age. There were tiny masonry structures built into the boundary walls that were meant to be shrines for the satellite deities. The temple was a huge one with magnificent corridors, mammoth doors, great sculpted columns rising to unusual heights, giant bells and massive towers, all timeworn and washed out. Within about fifty feet next to the temple stood the Zamindar's Guest House which was a residential structure, a villa, measuring about five thousand square feet of living area, with three large halls and seven spacious rooms with about forty casement windows. It had no storey. It was less old than the temple, but still it could not be less than eighty years of age. The olden time architecture held an imposing solemnity. It had been opulently built and was one of the few purple patches of the village. It was meant for the Zamindar's sojourn whenever he happened to be present in the village for important festivals. He was entitled to the primary ceremonial honors on the commencement of each festival. The Zamindar was no more and his family had shifted to a faraway place near Ongole. They had relinquished their right over the Guest House, and it was now the rightful property of the temple. It was occasionally used by some visiting dignitary, but otherwise it was generally vacant.
It was the duty of the chief priest Saptharishi to maintain it at the temple cost and keep it in his custody in a habitable condition. Saptharishi also had a residence attached to the temple, a sort of outhouse, which stood behind the Guest House within just a few yards. The temple, the Guest House and Saptharishi’s residence together formed a single unit, All the three were connected by vaulted passages that had tiled floors to walk on. The passages had zinc-sheet roofs against sunshine and rain. Saptharishi’s regular residence was in the village. That was where he lived permanently. On special occasions when some V. I. P. happened to stay in the Guest House and on important festival days and on Fridays when there used to be crowds at the temple the whole day up to late hours in the night, he would live in this temporary home with his family as long as it was necessary. At other times, he would come to the temple by bus every morning around eight and return by bus in the evenings.
The Guest House had been freshly done up for Swami Jitendra's stay. Jitendra found the place quite nice and comfortably secluded. Saptharishi had now shifted his family to his temple residence where he would stay throughout till Swamiji's departure. He would wait on him, do his errands, cook his special foods and watch his comforts. Dhivya too stayed here with her parents. As in Thiruvaiyaru, she was here too Jitendra's prime caretaker and his personal secretary. As she had already told him, she had come away to Marthandam for good. She had enough of that hell of a woman, Varadachari's wife.
The inaugural day of the Upanyasa was celebrated like a festival. The images of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita in the Pattabhiram Temple were decorated with Champaka, rose and jasmine garlands and gold-laced shawls. Worship was offered with trays of broken coconuts, ripe plantains and sweets, lighted incense sticks, scented sandal paste, sacred ash, vermilion and the like. So too, Anjaneya, the chief attendant, the aide and messenger and advisor of Lord Rama, who stood in his own sanctum, opposite these three principal deities, facing them, was offered worship. The sanctum of Anjaneya was within about hundred feet of the sanctum of the three presiding deities in the same vestibule and under the same stone ceiling. Before the worship took place, the Swamiji was taken in procession around the temple inside the compound led by a caparisoned elephant with pipe music and drum-beatings respectively known as Nadhaswaram and Thavil. Swami Jitendra was profusely garlanded when the procession started. The procession consisted of a good many village elders and prominent men, trustees and devotees and others.
After this the Swamiji was taken in a car to the village where the front portion of the Hanuman Mandap was spread with clean shining blankets on a wooden platform and made into a convenient dais. There were the conventional trappings of a Hindu religious function which highlighted the sanctity of the occasion. That the occasion was deemed a most sacred and important one was visible from the arrangements. Before the Upanyasa commenced, the volume of the holy epic Ramayana, the episodes from which were going to be the subject-matter of the Upanyasa, was offered a Puja and treated with religious honors as prescribed by tradition. The discourse started everyday at 8 P. M. and closed at 11. The people would finish their dinner at 7-30 and assemble in great strength on the illuminated grounds well before 8. The enraptured audience never made a movement and sat in perfect silence. The Upanyasa was in Telugu in which the Swamiji was very facile and fluent. At the appropriate places, for the sake of effect, there were brief intervals filled with music which was sung by Bharathi. They were Kirthanas from Thiagaraja that dealt with episodes in Ramayana. Bharathi was a well-loved and highly respected girl in the village. The Kirthanas were such as best suited the sequence of the discourse. The music was accompanied by Harmonium. These musical interludes added to the elevated quality of the discourse, and further enlivened it.
A few of the leading local gentry sat on the dais at a respectable distance from his holiness. His saffron robe with its reflective sheen in the glare of the gas lights had a profound effect on Bharathi. It shone like a flame. It cast a particularly strong spell on her now which could perhaps be ascribed to the special sanctity of the occasion when the whole place was suffused with a bliss and the entire audience was God-conscious. She saw in the Swamiji a god of the higher orders sitting amid a heap of fires, and delivering immortal truths which sounded like oracles thundering from the star-studded canopy of the skies. She set her eyes often on this sacred garment and drank in the spiritual savor in which it abounded. She felt an access of spiritual energy brimming and breaking within her. She had read of the concentrated will of a Guru on his disciple at chosen moments. The glance of a Guru at his disciple could act like a spell and enhance his or her understanding. So too his will could act as a spell. It could change one's thinking and shape the events of one's life. She mentally offered a prayer to the Swamiji to make use of this effect on the people of the village, and change their life into a happy and prosperous one. The people seemed to be already experiencing this effect. They felt 'possessed' by the Swamiji, and no one had ever gone so deep into their consciousness. Bharathi believed he could bring prosperity to the village by the sheer employment of his will and the use of his miraculous power.
Among the men that sat on the dais, there was the village Munsiff Sankara Ayyar. Then there was the president of the Asthika Samaj which meant the Association of the Devout, Ramabrahmam. Next came the local money-lender, an usurer, and though he didn't deserve a place on the dais, everybody thought it prudent to give him one, for every one wanted to be in his favor. His name was Subba Reddy. Then there was one Venkataraman who had picked up some law from his frequent association with advocates as one of their touts, and who dispensed legal advice ungrudgingly to anyone who sought it. He was just a literate and nothing more, but he was a good and well meaning man. He also acted as a broker between families interested in alliances. He was a self-appointed mediator too when disputes arose and quarrels broke out. He always insisted on being accorded due prominence, and tried to forcibly elbow his way in when it was denied. He was a good man, but humility was foreign to his nature. Uninvited he would voluntarily take the first place on occasions like this. Then there was the postmaster Kalahasthi who embarrassed everyone with his awfully ungrammatical and pompous English. He was held in some esteem on account of this dreadful asset. Once when he confronted an inspecting official of the postal department with his English, and poured it out on him in a bubblesome cataract, the official seemed to have advised him to desist from such a heartless butchery of a noble language. But that could hardly deter the postmaster from talking the language with which he had fallen head over heels in love decades ago. He had achieved many things in life through an effective use of this abracadabra. But he was a man deeply attached to persons he intimately knew. He was a good friend in need. He believed in Truth and Goodness.
There was another man on the dais who was specially noticeable. He was a dark man with a wild-looking mustache which either stood frightfully twisted on either side of his face or lay in a promiscuous mass about it. He stood five feet eleven inches bare-feet, and was possessed of a proportionate bulk. He was built like a wrestler, and had well wrought muscles. He was in his middle thirties and had been productive of an abundant progeny. He had seven children. He looked capable of savage violence. But his conduct belied his looks. He was perhaps the kindest of men, good-natured and very helpful. He was one of the richest men in the village, and owned the biggest provision store. He took a leading part in organizing functions like this, and bore a good part of the expenses and the brunt of the burden. He fed very lavishly a large number of people several times a year on the birthdays of his family members and on the death anniversary days of his parents. On important festival days also he did the same. His name was Gora Reddy.
He was a good friend of the Saptharishi family and times without number he had done them a good turn. He was almost a brother to Bharathi. He had often extended protection to her whenever the local Panchayat president one Kalingaroyan tried to make trouble for her. Kalingaroyan was a young man around thirty, an ill-bred man, a dandy and a shameless philanderer, whose chief target was Bharathi and whom he had vowed to take by all means. Bharathi hated him and spurned him, but he wouldn't relent in his advances. He dreamt that his quarry must someday be on his hand because her family was in perpetual want. According to him, anyone trapped in poverty, sooner or later, would be forced to surrender. He never knew what a brave woman Bharathi was and what reserves of fight she possessed, how chaste and how mindful of her virtue. She would rather give up her life than pass into the hands of this gallivanting brute. He possessed wealth, and this when added to his position, gave him an advantage in the village. It had made him a petty tyrant. He had a lot of reckless men at his disposal whom he could deploy on any one at will. The one man who gave him gooseflesh was Gora Reddy. They were going to be rivals in the next election. Gora Reddy was sure to floor him.
Kalingaroyan was not on the dais though invited pressingly. He withdrew from the auspicious event on his own. Things like this never interested him. And there was another reason too. He viewed with hate, if not with active hostility, the influence the Sanyasin had on Bharathi. He was irritated at their close association. He knew that it was mainly at her instance the Sanyasin agreed to visit the village from more than a thousand miles away. Their sitting next to each other on the stage was something he could not stand. He was eaten up with envy. A spite raged in him against this saffron-robed intruder. That the Sanyasin himself was a youth and was quite handsome and not far apart in age from the girl made him fidgety, and seemed to almost unhinge his mind. He must do something to make this Sanyasin take flight. His conspiratorial talent got into stride.
The discourse was to last a fortnight. It was just a week now since it commenced. The rains came again. They came every day and at any time of the day. Even the bluest sky broke into showers after sundown. On such days the grounds became all mud and slushy and unfit for people to sit. On such days the discourse was canceled. It took about two to three days for the grounds to dry. Since the rains were unusual and heavy at times it seemed that the discourse might take even one month yet to finish. Jitendra was not in a hurry. He had come to seek refuge from his sorrows and distresses. He had come here in search of a haven of peace which he found in the person of Dhivya. There was peace here and an atmosphere of deep religious faith. The people loved him. And love was the best healer.
Bharathi had become quite a ministering angel. And she was an angel in every sense. Apart from personal devotion, she thought it a part of her religious duty to be always beside him and serve his convenience. They conversed for long hours. They laughed a good deal. Dhivya was a girl of genial temper and sharp wit. She sang and he played on the violin. This they did three or four times a day, sometime even at night. He was a good chess player when he was in college. He never played this game since he took to Ashram life. It did not become a Sanyasin to play games. Now he thought he would play for a while since he needed an outlet for his strained mental condition. He sent someone to buy him a chess board from some neighboring town. It came. He taught the game to Bharathi and they played several rounds. Jitendra, however, could not concentrate enough. His mind often strayed. It was Bharathi who was generally by the winner. They both took walks along the riverside in the mornings. They would go into the jungle vegetation, for there was so much to see there. The roads were prosaic and the jungles had something to offer to the eye. Besides, they would have enough solitude to talk on serious subjects. Sometimes they deviated far from the road and got lost into rocky wildernesses and forgot the route by which they came. Then it meant an adventure to discover the missing tracks and get back on the road. They set out quite early in the morning before daybreak and returned by about eight. After which he bathed and then both sat for their meditation and Puja. Then he would stand up. She would kneel and put her head on his feet and chant the Guru Mantra for a minute or two, get up and take his blessings. In Guru Mantra, Guru was worshipped as God the first and foremost. Other gods came only next. And Guru would teach the de votee how to reach God the ultimate, the Brahman. Bharathi, as she served him food, would stand by to watch how he relished it. His tranquility of mind would last for about three or four days. Then old remembrances would crowd up in his mind, and his peace would be gone not to return for another three or four days. He would then suffer torments from which he would pray to God to extricate him. Bharathi would sense that he was deeply troubled in mind. But she would not like to probe or poke in. He had of course already told her what it was that ate into his mind, and that he had come to her for a spell of peace and rest.
But Bharathi felt that there must be still a great deal which perhaps he might have thought prudent not to reveal. She did not know how much he kept back. Anyway she thought it her duty to make him happy and cheerful. She would therefore be a friend and a playmate besides being a disciple. She would be his nurse as well.
At times he caught light fever. Sometimes he was down with heaviness in head. But he would never like to show that there was anything wrong with his health. He would fake being all right and force a smile which Bharathi would easily detect as just counterfeit. She used to see him at some late hours in the night through the window from her own room. He would keep uneasily tossing on bed, sometimes he would let out loud muttering as if in a delirium. On days when she saw him as he was just up from bed, she would study his face. It would look like straining to recover from some nightmare. But she was always able to bring him back to normal. Sometimes she would marvel at the result of her ministrations. There were times when for five or six days at a stretch, he would look his whole self, fully restored and ripping with energy. But then a depression would set in and he would go below normal and become melancholy. But the lectures went on at the village, and there had never been any flagging whatever in his manner or power of exposition or the impact he made. His pains had been so tragic and her capacity to help him through was so amazing that he told himself one day: "But for this wonderful girl I would by now have been a dead man". Nothing was truer. She did her best to make him revel in her company. But in a corner of her mind an anxiety about his health persisted.
But perhaps he had not known how often she had secretly wept and how often she had sat up in bed at nights, torn with anxiety and praying to God. How often she had trembled at disturbing dreams! What pains she had taken to fight off the forebodings that had assailed her and driven her to anguished moanings and screams. Suddenly, and quite surprisingly, she found him tremendously waxing up in energy, strength, vigor and happiness. He was evidently getting over his griefs and entering on a new phase. She was grateful to God. And she made a thanksgiving prayer and an offering of her only gold bangle to Lord Rama of the Pattabhiram Temple. She never knew that the medicine that cured him was the most feminine femininity of her presence that filled him and his surroundings like a fragrance. It had a spiritual quality and acted like a panacea. Everyday they parted at eight in the night and the doors were bolted. But she kept watch through her window. Every night she put a sleeping pill in the cup of milk she placed beside his bed before she retired. Sometimes he thought she was the special handiwork of a benevolent God, to whose care He had entrusted him.
When music and chess were over which filled quite a good part of the day, Jitendra gave lessons in Vedas and Bhagavad Gita for about one hour. The lessons opened her eyes to the futility of mortal existence. They spoke to her of the cosmic soul that was inherent in every being. Of the need for liberation from the bondages the senses forged on the soul of men and how Yogic culture would help one to conquer oneself and achieve merger with one's Maker. He taught her the Four Maha Vakkiyas in the Upanishads which read, 1. "Pure Consciousness with no mortal taint was Brahman". 2."I am Brahman". 3. "Thou Art That". 4. "This Atma is Brahman". Then he taught her what it was that the Vedanta literature meant by Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the mystic principle of Non-Duality. Advaita as it was called. And then he would ask her to recite important Slokas from Bhagavad Gita and explain the meaning. The wonder was she was able to grasp and play back in a mighty flow all that had got into her mind with more cogency and from an elevated understanding. These lessons continued every day. Sometimes she would insist on sitting longer and ask him to teach more.
As her Guru he had to open her inner vision. But he would do it by and by. But should he do it at all? That would make her renounce the world altogether. That he did not like. He wanted her to live through all the joys of life with maximum zest and abandon. A body like hers should not be allowed to waste away without experiencing every fulfillment that was permitted by Dharma. Before she aspired for Heavenly Bliss she must experience and exhaust the Bliss that was lodged in her body which was its terrestrial counterpart. One should not aspire for Liberation until one is ripe for it. One might be a Vedantin, but that would not secure him Liberation. The soul must go on achieving perfection after perfection till it is finally and automatically eased into the Brahman. But these were thoughts that he kept to himself and spoke not a syllable of it to her who was already soaking in fantastic thoughts about God and Heaven. He sometimes wondered if he should teach her religion at all. If she went on at this rate, even if she entered family life, she would be unfit for it. She had already an insane idea that he was an Avatar of Lord Krishna. Whenever he taught her Gita, she imagined the war-chariot of Arjuna in Kurukshetra battle and in the place of Krishna she put Jitendra. When he recited some Sloka from the Gita, she thought it was Lord Krishna Himself that was delivering it to her from his cosmic mind. He had laughed over it any number of times, but he could never remove from her this idiotic fantasy. She was passing through a sort of divine madness inside her, and no amount of argument or persuasion would avail. At moments it even gave rise in him to some sort of a vague fear. But she was all the same a talker, laugher, arguer, wit-cracker, joker and even a wee-bit of a logic- chopper.