CHAPTER - 32
Next night he could not help clutching at the same dream, and he started from where he left the previous night. He stood waiting at the door. He knocked and knocked, but she didn't come out. Then there was a thunder and lightning that broke the door open. There was a furious clanging of innumerable bells all around the room. She came weeping. She was streaming with milk all over her clothes. It oozed from her breasts, and drenched all her clothes. She was actually bathing in milk.
He was confused and stood in a puzzle.
"What is all this, Bharathi?"
"See well into my face, Jitendra, see who I am."
"I still don't know, Bharathi"
"Which woman would ooze with milk unless she is a mother" She then pointed to her head. There was a diamond-studded crown on it. He immediately realized it was Mother Anna Poorna, the Goddess. Whose temple in Benares he used to frequently go to. And she was his family Goddess for generations.
"Even the other day at the tea-shop, as I sat before you near the fire, I was actually streaming with milk, but you saw it as water. When I fought against you in the dream and beat you, I only beat the sex in you, and tried to chase it out of you. A Sanyasin should treat all women as his mother. Even a female child of ten is your mother. My son, at least from now on, be on your guard. Be on your guard atleast till the power of Lord Shiva incorporates in you. Keep chanting Panchakchana mantra again and again."
Jitendra woke up with a start and sat on his bed. He sat in meditation on the Goddess Anna Poorna. But he could not stop weeping till it was dawn.
His sense of guilt, of sin and of shame, all had combined to manufacture this upbraiding dream into which had gone a few scraps of his own active consciousness as a sinning monk on the verge of losing himself once and for all. Obviously he was in a frantic effort to regather himself and become whole. It was his conscience in revolt that was embodied in the fabric of the dream. In essence, the dream was a remake of his own inner self.
Bharathi brought him his breakfast at eight in the morning. As usual, she had brought him a full bowl of milk too. He finished the breakfast. And as he took up the bowl and drank the milk, it tumbled and poured all over his clothes. His saffron-robe had all become wet. She took him into the dressing room for a change of clothes. He removed his saffron-robe as she helped. His shirt also had become equally wet. He removed the shirt. And he now stood in nothing but his pajamas. The dazzling glow of his golden body and the vital maleness that throbbed in his chest and arms and his face drove her mad. And she felt a sudden upsurge of all the femaleness in her surging up. She stood for a moment as if galvanized from head to foot in the magnetic allure of his youthful figure. She could not stand that weird handsomeness that seemed to break her resolution apart. She came out leaving him to put on his clothes. All the electric sensations that had rocked her a moment ago had gone. Nothing of it remained. She was as chaste as ever. Her virtue was not in the least touched. Her Guru was her Guru again.
Bharathi told him that the next day was her birthday. He was pleased. Then he told her;
"Bharathi, I want to speak to you in your father's presence. Rather I want to speak to both of you. Please bring your father"
She went and brought her father, Saptharishi. Then he spoke to Bharathi.
"Bharathi, It is the duty of a Guru to initiate his disciple in some important Mantra. It is called as you and your father should know "Manthropadesa". I want to initiate you in Matha Anna Poorneswari Mantra. It will be a ceremonial thing. We shall have it in the temple. It should be done in absolute secrecy. All the doors of the temple should remain closed. I shall give your father a list of things to be purchased for the ceremony. There should be none except your father and mother. Matha Anna Poorneswari is the mother that gives food not only to the hungers of the body but to all hungers, mental, spiritual, emotional and the vital, all hungers of all the creations including the hungers of the gods. You should keep chanting that Mantra three or four times a day with absolute and single-minded devotion. It must be deep Bhakthi that should reach down to the deepest depths of your being. You will then begin to realize its effects as days go by. It will give you all prosperity. A day will come when you will be able to feed thousands with food which would taste like Amirtha. She is also called Amirtha Varshini, Amirtha Gadeswari, the Goddess that would bless her devotee with infinite bliss. It is that milk which is Amirtha. It is that milk which sustains the gods and all creations. She is the Goddess from whom Lord Shiva himself begged his food with his begging bowl, the begging bowl being the skull of Brahma, the creator. As you keep chanting the Mantra, you will soon become yourself Matha Anna Poorneswari. You will become yourself the Goddess, and you could bless people with luck, wealth and all prosperity. Whatever you touch will turn gold. You will conquer Yama, the lord of death. And you will even be able to bring back the dead to life. God bless you, Bharathi."
He wished her a loving husband and a happy home. He presented her with gold ornaments and costly clothes which she could use for her wedding. It was quite in line with his family tradition. Like his parents he was a promoter of all auspicious causes, the most auspicious being a wedding.
Next day the initiation of Bharathi in the Mantra was conducted and completed in the temple. She wore new clothes which the Swamiji presented her, all shining thick silk garments very costly and all gold laced. She looked in that dress like none else than the Mother Anna Poorneswari Herself. She fed with her own hand hundred poor people with food that was no less than a banquet. This expensive feeding was done in the temple. The expenses were met by the Swamiji. She was wearing the gold jewel belt he had presented her. Suddenly a vision seemed to flash in his mind that almost blinded him. She looked none other than Goddess Anna Poorna. And what was more she was a bride bejeweled all over and decked in gold-wrought bridal costume. No doubt, she would soon have a husband.
Jitendra was expecting for more than a week a letter from one of his relations to whom he had entrusted the work of constructing a suitable sepulcher on the spot where the mortal remains of Kalidas had been buried in the farm. The relation was Mahendra Kumar, one who was very close to Jitendra and who was looking after some of his properties. He was also in charge of marketing all his agricultural produce. The sepulcher should be a fair-sized structure and should look like a monument. It should have a vaulted cell inside so that atleast three persons could go in, pay homage and light a lamp. It should have a two-door entrance. The expected letter now arrived. Mahendra Kumar had written that the cemetery work was over, and expected further instructions. Jitendra wrote him back asking him to get a marble slab made within about a week with the following inscription. The slab was to be built into the front wall of the cemetery. The inscription consisted of the words Kalidas spoke to him last when he had been to the farm:
"The grapes are too ripe, master, too very ripe. The bunches are thick and heavy and they hang low. The juice spills all over. The crop is bursting with an excess of life. We must harvest at once, Master, there is no time to rest. Market is in a boom, demand is rising, a prize-crop sure we are going to have. It promises to be the best in the years, Master."
These were the words that would form the epitaph.
Jitendra had been seeing and sensing the disembodied presence of Kalidas and those of his parents very often after he had come to Marthandam. They seemed to stand around him when Bharathi served him his food, and hear what they talked. They even seemed to follow him and Bharathi when they went for a walk. Without looking back, he would sense their coming from a safe distance. When Bharathi and he were the other day stuck up at the tea- shop, all the three, he could feel distinctly, had taken up positions around at a discreet distance. Jitendra had a well trained psychic vision. He also had the power of clairvoyance. They were sometimes coming clear and then dimming away. But he didn't bother much thinking that it was all his own delusion. Now he had begun to think that they were really tenanting around.
Within three days, a message from Mahendra Kumar came on the phone that the slab had been fixed on the cemetery.
That night Jitendra had a dream in which Bharathi fed him with grapes from a loaded basket. She thrust into his mouth whole bunches of them amid roars of ringing laughter. This was for him a season of dreams. Inside him, he was passing through strange intensities. The grapes might carry a spirtual import. It might mean the ecstatic drunkenness of his spirit in its tumultuous union with the larger truths of life.
The day appointed for commencing on the Nude arrived.
The whole of the previous night Bharathi had a very disturbed sleep. She slept, then woke up, sat on her bed, prayed, and then put her head uneasily on the pillow. It was at 10-43 A. M. the next day they were to enter the room in which the work was to start. The dark of the night was becoming gray in stages, and the twilight entered through the window. Suddenly she was seized with fear, and a slight trepidation overtook her. She had never stripped like she was going to do ever in her life. She had always thought that it was most inauspicious for a woman to strip herself fully naked even when she was alone. At times, of course, while bathing or dressing she could not help becoming naked. But then she would not see her nakedness. She would not allow even a bird sitting on a tree or a window to watch her. She would chase it away. And she would cover the nakedness with clothing in less than a few seconds. Today she was on to do something which she would normally have shuddered even to think of. The more she thought of it, the more she was gripped with fear. As far as she could remember her breath had never before come so quick and so hard. She could have listened to the Swamiji. He was most unwilling to paint her in the Nude. Only she compelled him. It was one of the most foolish and fatal impulses that destroyed a woman and all that constituted her femaleness. After all, for a woman, though her virtue originated and dwelt in her soul, it was in the body that its manifestation was centered. The kind of stripping that awaited her and which was going to be an actual fact in another few hours would surely put an end to her as a woman, and produce in its place a female beast. She was trembling within her clothes and clutching at herself, her arms, her breasts, her face, her thighs, her triangle, her womanhood, and in fact all of her body, mind and soul as if in a few hours they were all going to be t hrown away to the four winds and demolished. She was in a terrible predicament. Her whole life, so vigilantly guarded every moment, was going to break apart and thrown on the scrap heap. She thought of the meaning of life, of virtue, of moral purity which, for a woman, had so much to do with her body, and then wondered, were they all mere dust? Her whole being took on a sepulchral aspect and she felt the corruptions of the grave on her soul. She was committing a sin in the sight of God. The worst sin from which even demons would flinch.
The whole thing was disgusting. She almost gave up the idea when suddenly rushed into her imaginative presence all the famous Nudes that she had seen in the various albums she had perused. The words of the Swamiji stood out, the words that painting the Nude was a Yogic act and that there was neither sex, nor sin, nor sensuality, nor moral surrender. In fact her Nudity, Nirvana, would be akin to and symbolic of the ultimate Nirvana of the soul that gave one the Brahmic status, Moksha, by which was meant Liberation of the soul, Liberation, Liberation. She wept, she moaned and shook. She was sure that the Nudes in the painting albums of the great masters did have no religious concept of painting, nor would they have ever thought that the God in them was being realized when they stripped for the canvas. There was and would have been no sex, of course. They would have posed for a fee or to satisfy their vanity or to know the difference there was in their naked likeness from seeing it in a mirror. Or they would have wanted to see their anatomy enhanced in power and seductive quality. The Nudes tried to prop up her sagging spirits, but she rejected all of them. She hated them. She was prepared to assume that they were not immoral in the sense the world usually attached to it. But in a higher and more refined sense they were all worthless rubbish, mere junk. No women at all but a pack of crazy beasts that had dumped away their souls and morals in the dustbins of their homes.
But she made an exception in the case of one particular Nude that carried the name "Venus Anadyomene". She was a very young girl, perhaps of her own age, looking like a lily that had just blossomed, her virtue and innocence, extraordinarily sensitive and alive, looking all real and sterling, dominating the entire picture and standing like a symbol of immortal virtue, of an untainted Heaven, of the purity of the elements. It was a Nude which the Swamiji had very much praised, and which he said he had copied. He was opposed to painting the Nude himself as a Sanyasin, but he relaxed in his rigidity only after having studied this particular Nude and found it a marvel on the spiritual plane. It was by the French painter Jean Dominique Ingress. She had become her closest friend since the Swamiji had introduced her to him, and had asked her to make a copy of the famous Nude. In the course of copying it, she had come to identify herself with it. But all of it now stood obliterated. She was a Hindu woman. And that was what now took hold of her whole thinking. She would not agree to strip herself naked before a man who was not her husband. But then she persuaded herself that she was going to stand naked only before her own Guru. It was said in all the Hindu scriptures that the mere sight of one's Guru would absolve one of all the sins and burn them all away in no time. Besides, even if she was going to expose her body, her chastity would stay intact. She decided she would keep chanting the most sacred Anna Poorneswari Mantra all through the exercise, every moment of it, praying to the Goddess to pardon her and protect her.
She went into the Guest House at 8-30 to serve breakfast to her Guru. As she was bent on his breakfast and eating it, he heard sobbing, and he looked up. Bharathi was weeping. "What, Bharathi, what is wrong?", He asked in a voice that had a deep note of anxiety. "Nothing, Swamiji, Nothing", She said in an even, carefully controlled voice. She was becoming suspicious of the canvas. Was it going to be her Heaven or her hell? Was it an active agent in the demolition of her womanhood or just a passive item of harmless stationery? Was it just one of the articles of an art-outfit or a vehicle of some ill-fate? She had not yet gone into the studio, but she was beginning to have premonitions. The canvas seemed to possess a frightfully glaring vision, the eyes of a demon she could not see but which she suspected lay abstracted all over the canvas. Soon she dismissed all these notions from her mind. After all, she was the prime- mover in the entire scheme. Fear built its own phantoms. She dismissed the phantoms, but fear she could not. She took back the breakfast things without a word, in silence and gloom. And she left. The easel and the canvas pursued her. They were going to be the slaughter-house of all her sacred femininity.
At 10-30, they both entered the studio, about ten minutes in advance. Before entering, they had closed all the doors and secured them. All the windows too had been shut except two that were high above in the wall and were absolutely safe. It was a room with a very high ceiling. There was a fan in it. Jitendra switched on the fan when he found Bharathi sweating and trembling. The weather was cool and there was no sun, but still she sweated. The lights had already been put on. They shone so brilliantly that they supplied the place of the sun. Jitendra watched the face of Bharathi a long while. "Shall we give it up, Bharathi?", He asked. "Even now I don't think I am too willing".
"No, Swamiji, we are already in and why should we have second thoughts and retract. I am being led by Fate. Good or bad, I will accept it ". She already felt a wholesale damnation of her personality.
Jitendra had already been feeling half reluctant. The whole of the preceding night, he had suffered terrible apprehensions. He had prayed to God at least a dozen times. He had begged Him to stay beside him as he went on with his work and help him with His Light and Guidance. He fortified himself with chanting Lord Shiva's Panchakshara Mantra in which too he had initiation even before he became a Sanyasin, a Mantra which was terribly efficacious and would never let one down. The more he chanted it, the more of Shiva-power wove into his being. He became Shiva himself.
"Bharathi", He called. She did not answer. She looked like lost in deep self-absorption. The usually buoyant and cheerful girl, a lass that laughed incessantly and bubbled with high spirits in his presence, now looked at him as if he were a stranger, as if she had never seen him before. Then she suddenly bestirred herself and spoke in a voice unnaturally lifted. "Yes, Swamiji, did you call?"
"Yes, Bharathi, I called. Shall we begin?"
"Yes, Swamiji, we shall begin"
Then as usual, and as an auspicious act before beginning on any new venture, she fell at his feet, put her face on them, kept gasping again and again, chanted the Guru Mantra which said that Guru was the God and the only God, and then got up, wiped her tears. She took his blessings.
"Bharathi, you could now go into the other room, undress yourself, make yourself stark naked, and then cover yourself with the large voluminous towel that you will find on the chair inside. I will first sketch your face. I will go stage by stage, and there would be no need for you to show all your body at once. Expose only that part of your body which I would ask you to expose, and I will sketch it. Then we will take up the next. Total nakedness will come only in the last. You will be the first and the last Nude I will be painting. As I do the painting, I won't forget that I am painting the form of a goddess and not that of a mortal woman. While the work is on, keep chanting without respite the Anna Poorneswari Mantra I have taught you. Ask for her blessings, pray to her that the picture should turn out a masterpiece. It would be a triumph to Her, to me, as well as to you. But forget not to keep yourself armed with the Mantra. It is a most sacred proceeding, and we both need the protection of God. She went inside. He too told himself that he would be chanting inside like unceasing music the Mantra of Lord Shiva, and had already started on it. Bharathi had not come out yet. It was already more than fifteen minutes. He took a peep inside. She was sitting on the chair, the towel rolled all over her body, lost in deep thought, leaning on the arm of the chair. Then she got up and came out. Jitendra asked her to take her position a little away from him close to the wall. And she did. She felt herself engulfed in and out in a tide of nervous unease, if not in fear and mortal shame when she thought that beneath the towel she was all naked.