CHAPTER - 30

They were now both in the midst of their painting lessons.

"Swamiji, you didn't ask me anything about the albums you gave me for study, Why?"

"Yes, Bharathi, I forgot, did you go through them, how did you like them?"

"Yes, Swamiji, I liked them very much"

"The Nudes?"

"I liked all of them. I liked them most"

Jitendra stared at her in surprise. He smiled.

"Don't smile, Swamiji, I am quite at home with them. Extremely. Each of them concealed innumerable spiritual wonders. I studied them, and I am now much wiser, and more appreciative".

"Bharathi, let us now discuss some colors. Can you tell me the names of a few important colors?"

With a laugh, she ejected out the names in a ready splutter: Buff, Salmonic Pink, Chrome lemon, Raw Sienna, Vermilion Red, Prussian Blue......."

"All right, Bharathi, you seem to be really advancing."

"Swamiji, you said the other day that all great painters paint some Nudes at sometime or other in their life. And that many had achieved fame through their Nudes. Have you ever painted any Nude in your?"

Jitendra had never felt so embarrassed. He had never thought such a question would ever arise from her. But how could he blame her? He had already given her long lectures about the spiritual relationship of the Nudes to the Painting Art.

She continued:

"If you have made any, will you kindly show them to me, Swamiji? I will study them. It will be part of the lessons you teach".

"No, Bharathi, I have not painted any. I am a Sanyasin. I am not supposed to paint Nudes".

Bharathi stared at him in sheer confusion and wonder. "Why, Swamiji, you said that it had nothing to do with sex. That it was a Godly act. That it was a Yogic exercise. That it brought into focus one aspect of the infinite power of the Almighty. You said that it was sacred, that it was purely esthetic, academic and impersonal. And that behind the Nakedness there was the transparent presence of Brahman, the ultimate Godstuff. That a painting embodied the inner poetry and the spiritual forces of the painter. You said all this, didnít you, Swamiji"

"Yes, I said."

"Then, why don't you paint one, Swamiji?"

"I will think of it later, Bharathi, I have still a long way to go in Painting"

"That is no excuse, Swamiji, I am sure you could paint one of the best and most telling Nudes of the world and illustrate in it whatever spiritual essence you possess. I am sure you could become famous all over the world"

Jitendra laughed an embarrassed laugh.

"All right, who would pose for me, Bharathi?"

Bharathi didn't hesitate a moment.

"Why, Swamiji, I will pose".

Jitendra was shocked. The shock lasted moment after moment. It was the worst shock one could imagine. It hit him like thunder.

"We will put it off to three years later. I will paint you, but not till then."

"No, Swamiji, I may become unpaintable after three years".

Jitendra laughed. "Bharathi, you will stay paintable till your ninety ninth year"

Bharathi laughed. "Why are you afraid, Swamiji. You will forgive me, it leads to a suspicion that you are still spiritually weak, and not developed enough. You said you were practicing the Yoga of Non-Duality and Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Then how could you see a distinction between a "Woman Clothed" And a "Woman Unclothed". Both should be the same to you. One develops only through constant exercise, trial, practice and self-control. Apart from that any strong-minded Sanyasin would easily find himself above sex and sin. You are not trustful of yourself, Swamiji. Forgive me. That forfeits you of your right to teach religion to the world".

Bharathi laughed again, and prayed for his forgiveness. Kindly don't take it for impudence or rudeness, Swamiji. Suddenly she broke into tears. "Swamiji, I again ask your forgiveness. I don't want you to paint me. I take back all that I said."

Jitendra's mind had been till now in a horrid mess. It now cleared.

"Bharathi, I will paint you. It will be one of the best Nudes one could think of. A Nude like which no human eyes would ever have beheld "

"Thank you, Swamiji, I am so happy."

Never before in all his life Jitendra had been in such a frightful predicament. God was perhaps testing him. It was as well he passed through the test.

During the next few days, Jitendra's mind set to work on ideas. But more than the ideas, it was the guilt that dominated his mind. He could not forget that he had arrived at a paradoxical position in his life. Though he was a painter, he had stood all his life against the painting of the Nudes. It was the Sanyasin in him that took precedence over the painter. Now he was going to do the very thing he had forbidden himself till that moment. This was one more guilt that added to the already existing one which was making a false promise to Kalidas. He felt like he had lost his mind. What it was that took him to the brink of this precipice he did not know. He was compelled to believe that it was God that led the way. He chanted the name of God, and found his asylum in it.

As his mind resumed its working on the project, it was Mona Lisa, the most famous painting of the world, the one made by Leonardo Da Vinci, the Italian painter, that came to his mind. Mona Lisa, of course, was not a Nude. She was in clothes. But Leonardo had brought all the subtle nakedness of her body on her face, the whole lot of it. And one could see all the beaming abundance of it that had etched itself into the consciousness of the world. Mona Lisa, in final analysis, was a spiritual product. She would have gone a hundred times naked in the mind of Leonardo before he could imprint on the face the elements that made an epic of it and a phenomenon. It was essentially a study in nakedness. In the face and figure of this all too simple woman, who was at one time a domestic servant and slave, all of Europe stood naked. The entire world of Renaissance Art stood naked in it. The mystic of the womanhood through all the cycles of creation came naked on it. All this despite the fact that she was not a beauty. She had some good looks which one would have passed over as those of the lower classes. Even Leornado would have done the same before she sat before him for the canvas. It was then that he discovered the wonders that were centered in her body. In the world-conquering nakedness of her face, there was all the nakedness of her body.

Leonardo lighted up a whole world through the face of this woman, and in the process he lighted up his own genius. If Bharathi had been in her place, Leonardo would have lighted up a hundred universes, and achieved ten times more fame. Mona Lisa, in Jitendra's opinion, was just flat before the eminence of Bharathi.

Jitendra called to his mind what Walter Pater, the great Art-critic, had said of Mona Lisa. He could remember the very words. Mona Lisa was just not a figure, but a power. In it figured a whole destiny. It was a beauty wrought from within upon the flesh. Cell by cell there was the deposit of strange thoughts, fantastic reveries, and exquisite passions. It was a head upon which the ends of the world had assembled. It was the sum of the world's thought that had etched and molded itself there. It had the power to refine and make expressive the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the Middle ages with its spiritual ambition and imaginative power, the return of the pagan world, the sins of Borgias. She was older than the rocks amid which she sat. Like the Vampire she had been dead many times and had learnt the secrets the grave.

Next day. Jitendra wanted to go for walk in the evening. He wanted to go alone so that he could think up some new ideas and techniques on how best to bring Bharathi's bare body on the canvas. He wondered if he would be able to do full justice to her figure. Anyone would find in her a formidable temptress without her ever knowing it. She was one of the most wondrous beauties one could think of. A woman with an irresistible witchery in her features. He must be alone and think for days. Everyday he should be perfecting some new idea. He should achieve a maturity of style in his mind before he could bring it on the canvas, Even then, how could he make her sorcery throb through the colors. There was no Upanyasa that day since the weather was bad and a rain likely. Yes, he should take the walk alone, and while he walked he must keep thinking of her face and features critically and analytically, and contemplate on the crucial contours that made her look like a dreamy apparition. She was all these and more.

In fact, not merely he should take walks alone hereafter for a few days. Even when he was in the lodgings, he should shut himself off so that he could study some of the famous Nudes and the exhaustive notes the eminent art-critics had written about them. She must be shown on the canvas like a phantom coming out of a dream. She was a highly spiritual-minded girl, and extraordinary care would have to be taken to see that the picture did not border on the voluptuous and should contain not even the remotest suggestion of sex. She should be brought out as a spectral goddess that was both remote and near, that was both worshipful and lovable that was both real and mythical, an amalgam of the mortal and the immortal. While doing such a beauty, there was the likelihood of some carnality creeping in. That called for utmost wariness. She was already a picture drawn by the Almighty God. And how could he make a copy of her. In fact such a venture was even religiously forbidden.

So, for a few days he would go for walk alone. He should go without Bharathi Knowing it. And so, that day he sneaked out when she could be sighted nowhere around. He walked at a swift pace. Next day he would tell her that he should be left alone for a week to work mentally on the project. To study books, works, critical write-ups and marshal up ideas. He walked like one in a daze. His steps took him automatically to the tree. He was there for about a hour, thinking all the time, and straining out ideas. Then he took his way back. The sky became dark. There were stray drops of rain coming big and quick. He made haste. As he was nearing the road, darkness had set in. There was someone standing at the spot where he had to take the turn for the road. It was Bharathi waiting for him with an umbrella. He felt vanquished and turned to stone.

"What, Swamiji, there is going to be a heavy rain. It has already started. Fortunately I thought and brought an umbrella. Why didn't you tell me, I felt anxious. I made a guess and ran up here. It is not safe for you, Swamiji, to come and go alone in these parts."

It was a heavy drizzle which soon gathered strength. There was a great peal of thunder. A lightning split the skies. Now the expected rain descended. In about five minutes the rain became heavier, windy and furious, and began lashing. The umbrella was all right for one, but it could never hold two. Jitendra refused to take the umbrella. He left it to her. But she refused to take it. She insisted that he should take it and make no objection. She would walk in the rain, and she had been used to drenching in far heavier downpours many times in her life. It was nothing for her. But he was not in too good a health. He might catch fever. But Jitendra could by no means agree to leave the girl in the rain and himself use the umbrella. He wanted her to be sensible. There was no end to their arguments. Then they agreed to share the umbrella. She snatched the umbrella from him and held it over his head and they walked. But she saw to it that most of the umbrella was kept over Jitendra's head. Then he snatched the umbrella from her and put most of it over her head, and himself getting wet and dripping. But it was Bharathi who was soaking, and streaming with water.

However they managed to share, each trying to get out of it as much as possible to the benefit of the other. The rain was pelting hard and pouring. They pushed each other into the umbrella in order to save as much of the other as possible. They were on the road moving at a snail's pace, floundering and stumbling, each helplessly reaching out for the other when one or both of them tripped. All the places were slippery, and getting awfully risky. Often each had to hold the other from slipping into puddles some of which were rather deep. And then one had to drag the other when one or the other stepped on treacherous ground. They felt miserable and very badly embarrassed, but still they had enough occasion for sidesplitting laughter. There was still more than half the distance to go. It was Bharathi who maneuvered to be often out of the umbrella. At moments, Jitendra, unable to bear the sight of her receiving so much of the rain on herself and which lashed against her eyes with a devilish fury, begged her to come inside and he put all the umbrella right over her head. But she in her turn did the same to him. Bharathi, too overcome by the too inclement rain, had become tired and had to drag herself along. When they were too badly stuck up, and felt they could not move a step farther, they fortunately sighted a wayside tea shop.

It was a brick and mud structure with a thatched roof. There was a partition wall that stopped half way through the width. The portion on the right side was used for the living of the family and the portion on the left was the regular tea shop. There were three benches and two stools for the customers. There was none except the tea shop man who was pretty old and whose vision seemed to be all defective. His rickety spectacles, possibly decades old, seemed to be of no help to him. But he was an extremely polite and kind man. He welcomed them into the shop, and offered them each a cup of tea. They sat on the stools and forced the tea in sip by sip. On a rectangular wooden platform, a stove was hissing. His wife had gone to Nellore to see an ailing relative. He took pity on the two visitors and advised them not to venture into the rain. He took the stove and put it down, and made a good fire in it. He asked both of them to sit around the fire, and warm themselves. He said he had to go urgently to the village Marthandam to fetch milk. It was a road on which lorries plied night and day and the lorrymen would shout at him and start a row if he couldn't give them their tea. They were his customers for years. He had his bicycle. Would they give him their umbrella? He would return in just half hour. They were ready to do their turn to him, and said, Yes. He took the umbrella, mounted on his rusty vehicle, and was off.

The two were left alone. Bharathi was wet through and through, and was cascading. They were silent and then spoke lightly whatever idle stuff came to their mind. And again they were silent. Bharathi was shivering. They were reflective and talkative by turns. Jitendra could not but gaze at Bharathi. The leaping flames set in marvelous relief the tantalizing contours of her figure against the darkness. Jitendra studied them and took mental notes. Her wet clothes lay plastered against her chest and limbs. He took repeated eyefuls of her and made carefully studied sketches in his mind. There was actually a very vivid easel that stood in his imagination. She wore a skirt that stuck half a foot above her ankle, a nice blue skirt of finest silk. He studied her face and figure, and wondered what Gauguin would have thought of them. His eyes then centered on her ankles and feet, for they were like those of the Italian painter Palma Vecchio's "Reclining Venus". Bharathi's red jacket through which burst in a sort of polarized fashion all her feminine magnificence was of the thinnest material.

Bharathi now went in to the other side of the partition wall. It was impossible for her to stand the shivering any longer. Most of the water was in her half-Saree. It caused her maximum inconvenience and maximum shivering. She removed it and hung it on a clothes-line that was fortunately there. Now her shivering lessened. But she preferred to stay beside the clothesline, and didn't want to return to the fire. Her whole body showed through the clothes, and she felt almost naked. She laughed to herself. She could, of course, stand naked before the easel, and she was going to do it by and by. But that was for Art's sake. Otherwise she was one of the shiest girls possible and had far more sense of shame than any girl of her age. Besides it wouldn't be proper to go about showing her body at all times. It was the most improper thing to do, most improper and might bring on her the censure of the gods. Even the artist permitted to paint a woman's body is privileged only for a certain duration. But Jitendra felt she could come back and sit before the fire, for her clothes should get dry at least by half. But Bharathi loved the safety of the darkness. But Jitendra begged her and called out to her and sit before the fire. He knew she was still awfully shivering. Then she came and sat. Her half-Saree had been left on the clothes-line. She crossed her hands and held them fast against her chest lest nothing of it be seen. Her crotch showed at times, but she pressed her thighs against it and took care not to let it come on view. She had long legs, long arms, a perfectly oval face, dense mass of jet black hair that had now been unbundled and let to fall down her back. She had slender neck. Her broad heavy posterior had a sensuous quality. Hers was an anatomy that would have made Rubens go in to hysterics. For that would have afforded him scope enough to put all his masterful talents on display. He studied and studied till he could get a whole mass of ideas for the projected canvas. She wore no undergarments, and only she could tell why. Or perhaps she wore but they were gauzy fabrics perhaps. Jitendra studied her analytically and synthetically as a practiced and talented painter would. For the space of a moment she looked more a myth and a legend than a woman in flesh and blood. For a moment he felt that it was the Aphrodite of the Roman mythology that had crystallized out of these rustic voids.

Bharathi was fidgeting with herself and growing uneasy. She thought of something and went behind the partition wall again. It struck her that the tea shop man's wife should have left at least one or two sarees. She could wear one of them and tell the old man that she would be returning it the next morning. In the meantime she would leave her own clothes here. She was correct. There was a washed saree in a dirty trunk that had no lock. She undressed and stood naked in the act of wearing it. "Please, Swamiji, don't come this side, I am wearing a Saree", She warned him. But there was a large old mirror that hung on the wall. The mirror caught her entire naked body and reflected it all to his artist's gaze. He treasured up the entire nakedness for scholarly study and analysis during the night. He felt sure that he could paint a Nude that would excel all the classical Nudes that were in the various museums of the world.

All the same it was not a figure seen in daylight. Her noble frame was lighted in darkness by the leaping flames. Therefore it was a figure seen through darkness shattered by fire. There was actually a battle between the fire and the all pervasive darkness amid the ghostly outline of the tea shop when a roaring rain was bringing the skies down to earth. It was therefore in a frightful setting that the intoxicating apparition showed itself. She seemed to be clothed in fire with a black mantle that clung loosely and waywardly about her. For a moment all reality was gone, and she looked just spectral, loaded all over with a sorcery that made her look for a moment remote and forbidding as well as crazily appealing. The glassily transparent figure looked at moments blotched away as it was cracked by the darting flames and the intervening shadows. She looked like an aerial being standing in some mysterious corridor that lay between earth and heaven. Jitendra had seen enough. But he would have been happier to have seen more.

Bharathi came back and sat before the fire. All of a sudden she made an astounding discovery. The Swamiji had an abounding maleness and charm that she had not noticed before. He was too young a man, and abundantly vital and youthful. There was not much difference of age between them. They could very well have been intimate and lusty comrades. Suddenly all of her vital womanhood rose in her as if she had had an attack of his luscious maleness. Her libido held her in its cruel dominance for a moment. She felt a passionate urge to mate with him, and roll in his arms. He was a male with all the maleness of all the gods in him. She watched him. He sat before her like some Greek God she had studied in her school text books. She felt his maleness in her blood. And in between her arms and legs.

And then suddenly the whole thing passed off like a dream. It was as if she felt nothing and had thought nothing. There was nothing left of the sudden flush of those fiery sensations. She felt as normal as ever. All had gone off like magic. He was the same old Swamiji, her Guru, as worthy of reverence and worship as ever, and she his disciple as stainless, as sinless and as pure a crystal as ever.

The teashopman had returned. They took leave of him. The saree would be returned the next morning. She had left her clothes there on the clothes- line. There was moonlight now. The rains had stopped. Soon they were in the lodgings.