Thursday, June 29, 2006

Osmania Biscuit XIII--- Raakshas Mama

It is said that the much feared Shani doesnt come near people who take up Ayyappa deeksha, and wearing black clothes (black shirt, black lungi, black etc) was a sign for him to recognise those that he cant touch!
Ever since that incident before Deepaavali, Raakshas Mama has come to fear Lingam. And this, in fact had a very negative effect on Lingam who has, of late, become one of the most timid fellows! Even when some prankster (whistle-blower to be more precise) wrote "Rekha loves Jaffer" on our compund wall (Jaffer being the son of our cleaning maid, and Rekha, the daughter of one of our neighbours, apparently our distant relatives), he was very tight-lipped about it, while my parents made a huge ruckus about it in the colony.

Raakshas Mama is the name my father gave to a gentleman belonging to the huge family that occupies the whole of the front view from our home. He was the eldest son-in-law of the patriarch, known as "Head-Master"(now no more, MHSRIP). Apparently, he had one of the biggest sizes of the (decaying) teeth my father ever saw (with huge cavities), and his voice seemed like the braying of a confused male donkey mistakenly caught up in menstrual problems. Hence the name! And then the fact that whenever he used to meet my father over a cigarette at Yadagiri's shop (Lingam doesnt sell them!), he always used to greet my father with a "Namaskaar, bolaa!" in Marathi (in Telugu-- namaskaaram, cheppandi!) which he picked up from somewhere, having worked in the railways, and my father, being the courteous one, had to cook up some story all the time... but it was seriously getting on him... even if he met him every single evening, the same sentence...
"Namaskaar, bolaa!"
"Arey! what else does he expect me to tell.. I have told him everything from the shaving cream and the hair dye I use to the inside information on how to find out genuine mysore sandal soaps!" And he started avoiding him.
My father later found out from another frequenter at Yadagiri shop (he is not among us as well, MHSRIP) that it was just Raakshas Mama's way saying "Hi" and he didnt expect any information in return!! A huge sigh of relief!!
Ahem! So.. anyway, Raakshas Mama is an ardent devotee of Ayyappa, and never fails to take up the deeksha. It was also the Deepaavali season. So, one fine evening, our Lingam here got very curious about a new type of cracker called "air force". It was very small... like a tiny round box. He was told that it shoots up straight into the sky, like a rocket! It seemed absolutely impossible to him.. how can such a small device shoot up into the sky! Well, he took one out, and lit it on the side of the road.

Misfortune, it seems, has her own ways of manifesting herself where there is absolutely no need of her. Walking just beside was our own beloved Raakshas Mama, and the air force betrayed its supposed wont-- instead of shooting up, it went straight into Raakshas Mama's black Ayyappa lungi.
I have never heard such a loud howl... I came out running, and there I saw Lingam trying to get something out of Rakshas Mama's lungi... I didnt want to know what at that time... it seemed very iffy! I still cant forget the sight.
All said and done, Raakshas Mama developed a thorough mixture of hatred and fear towards both "air force" and Lingam. And Lingam... well, he was crushed beyond imagination. He didnt show his face throughout the Deepaavali season. And to add salt to his wounds, the rest of the "air force" devices didnt do anything strange... just went straight up, which made some theorise that Lingam had a "hand" in air-force goin up Raakshas Mama's lungi.
Raakshas Mama is (also) no longer amidst us. He passed away just a couple of months ago. He was found dead one afternoon in his apartment by one of his nephews. Heart Failure.

Farewell Raakshas Mama!
MYSRIP (May Your Soul rest In Peace).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Of Judas and Satan

Ever since Gospel of Judas has come to light, a section of the christian orthodoxy is shaken up and is finding it hard to wake up to it. It may be a problem with organised religions. What is written in the book is believed to be absolutely true and any small piece of actuality unearthed that undermines the writing becomes a threat. Nevertheless, it has brought forth a motif, similar to one I was contemplating to write in the Indian context-- that of duty, of dharma and kartavya, and of sacrifice.

In this gospel, Judas is the closest disciple of all the other disciples to the Christ. He even chides others for not knowing the designs of the Messiah. And the other disciples are jealous of Judas. In the end, Jesus himself spells out to Judas on what is to be done to save the world and warns him that this will actually incur the wrath of all the followers. Yet, Judas passes the test, truly comprehends the orders of his master, and delivers Him to the Romans, in spite of his damnation at the hands of the other followers. He is branded as a traitor, though he is not actually one... he is just acting at the behest of his Lord and Master whom He loves and understands. Hmm!

There is a more beautiful concept, more fundamental to the christian myth, not history that I had come across earlier. That of the psyche of Satan himself. About two years ago, I watched the wonderful DVD "The Power of the Myth" by Joseph Campbell, the brilliant mythologist, and he explained the behaviour of Satan in a wonderful way. I am not sure of the sources, but according to one as cited by him, Satan is not exactly the "embodiment of evil", who seeks to destroy everything that is good in the world, a la Morgoth of the Tolkien's Middle Earth. Satan, like Morgoth was the greatest of the angels of God, but when God created Man and declared that Man shall be the most beloved of all of His creations, the character of Satan takes a very curious twist. In his childishly jealous love towards his Lord, he felt that Man has to be ensnared into evil so that Man falls from the grace of God and he could have God's love again, and so Satan is Man's enemy, not the arch-enemy of God directly. A beautiful, though dangerous, thought.

Now, there are two ways to look at it--

1) Christ loved Judas and others were jealous of Judas, and relegated him to a lower status. Similarly, God loved Man and Satan was jealous of Man, and made sure that Man did not stay for long in the Garden of Eden. So here, Satan is symbolised by the other disciples and the Adam/Eve by Judas.

2) There is one more way to look at it ... Judas might actually be an avatar of Satan, in a different way--vilified by the world which has absolutely no idea about the grand design of the God for the universe, Satan might just be doing his duty. And what is this duty? Just as Judas sought to end something good, Satan tried to currupt the hearts of people. The result of ending something good is what is called as 'The Change'. The 'Good', is always associated with a fantastic idea of utopia, where things dont change, stuck in an all pervading constancy. Change on the other hand is the fundamental nature of the dynamic universe and that which brought forth life from non-life. No wonder that constancy doesnt exist in the universe. While the Garden of Eden might be a superlative idea of perfection, denying change is denying that very thing that created the universe, for creation itself is a change. Many things that God thought for the Earth, had to come about in some way, and Satan may be the instrument that causes change that God wanted. As Merovingian puts it, everything in the universe happens due to causality. The interplay of Satan and God, could be viewed as cause and effect. What is reassuring, and probably makes us feel safe in this theory, is that though the cause is the mysterious Satan, the effect is always the benevolent God.

The gospel of Judas has been found of late. It may be that a gospel of Satan will also be found sometime in future, and it may be then that mankind will truly understand the wisdom of Satan. This is exactly why I love the ending of the movie "Bedazzled" where God and Devil are playing chess. I guess Satan has the white pieces.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ramblings of a sentimental fool

The sight of the tops of fluffy milky white clouds brilliantly illuminated by the soft light of white full moon in the midnight sky easily superseded that wonderful view of Fujiyama (Mt. Fuji) more than three years ago. Flight, an experience always associated with freedom, progress, happiness, and wonder, an expression of beauty and faith interwoven destined to find perfection, a triumph of nature's own ability to prove that She Is the divinity...
Ironically, to most Homo sapiens now-a-days, flight has come to symbolise exactly the opposite experience-- flight is something that is best when it ends at the earliest-- It is dangerous, confined, and troublesome. I wondered how many of those who travelled with me knew the importance and the rarity of the sight outside. Yet, if they knew it, what else can they do than savouring it with utmost delight? Can they take it along with them, save etch it in their memories? And I, who claim to know all of this already, have done what to keep this treasure from going away? And can I actually do anything in this matter?
It was Vata-SAvithri Purnima-- the day when SAvithri defied the God of Death to bring back her husband's life. Yet, there was the heavy feeling that what I lost cannot be brought back. I wanted to be melancholic, in reverence and memory of that guiding thought that was with me all the while when I was in alien land. A vision kept coming back to me in that flight. That evening, as I came out of the bathroom and stepped into the newly constructed (and posh) extended portion of my home, I turned back and saw little footprints coming out of the bathroom... Ah! those must be from the time when I just came out of the bathroom to declare that I belong to the clan of MitrAyu for the very first time. A little way ahead, the prints got bigger. I smiled... that must be from the time when I packed my school bag with books and clothes and said a tearful goodbye to my brother, determined and proud, to leave home forever because of a minor altercation with my parents-- all for my parents' total entertainment. And afterwards, they got still bigger. That was the time I came out from the bathroom not knowing if its was the last time I would ever come out of that room-- I was leaving the home for a long time for the first time in my life. Finally, they vanished into the marble flooring of the new portion.

I always loved that ShAhbAd flooring in my house. Still do. There were times when I wished for smoother, more modern tiles, but ultimately, this flooring was that one thing that made the home what it was, and is. Those little imperfections, those magnificent colours, and those irregular shapes of trees, aeroplanes, stones atop each stone imparted unrivalled uniqueness. Each stone I stood upon produced a different sensation. Each one had his/her voices, memories, emotions. Each one remembered and revelled in a particular moment of my life. I still remember how I used to never go in a straight line while passing through the hall, but used to mimic the movements of the knight on a chessboard. How I was, and still am, fascinated by the enchanting movements of the knight.

Even when I was abroad, the one thing that warmed the cold chambers of my heart was my home-- the walls, the floor, the scent of the old silk clothes that are taken out only during the MAhAlakshmi festival, the chants of my father, the songs of my mother, and so on. I always wanted to succeed my father one day and take up my responsibilities of offering the main puja to the Saligrams on that ShAhbAd flooring, always wanted to roam about the backyard looking after the plants and trees, always wanted to, one more time, stand under the umbrella of a plantain leaf and offer Arghya to the Sun on a rainy morn. It was that one idea that kept me alive, going about mundanities without minding. It was my Zion.

And now, under the garb of "utkarsh" (progress), all those little blossoms have been rolled over by the heavy machinery of the cold logic and obstinately objective rationalism.

The backyard is gone.
So have the plants.
The flooring is about to go this week.

Irony! At one point of time, I was not sure of myself coming back to see all these. Now, I am not sure if these will ever see me again. Nay, I am sure they wont. Hiding my tears, I asked my parents to keep one stone and sell the rest... one that I found as the quintessential representative of that whole bunch.

Where is this flight of progress taking me to? Which reality of life am I going to unearth at that height?

Friday, June 09, 2006


Today, without thinking, Ashvin started running. Just about two hours ago, he was asleep with a serene countenance, clutching his grandmother. When she had got up early in the morning, slowly had he turned to the other side, resting his leg on the bump on the edge of the bed. A pillow was kept under the bedding to prevent him from falling off the bed while asleep.

Today, he realised how much he loved his people. He always knew his father as the wittiest and the calmest person on the earth, but his mother was always wonderfully special to him. Every single spare moment of his mornings was spent relishing the divinity in his mother. Yet, he never thought about it—he was just preoccupied looking at her in the mornings. Sometimes, when she sits down for puja in the morning, he instinctively goes to her and starts to braid her long thick hair. He loves her hair—by the time she is done with her puja, he is done braiding her hair with his tender hands. And ever single time she dresses up in his favorite violet, starched cotton sari and puts a small string of kanakambaram[1] flowers laced with maruvam[2] twigs amidst her braided hair, the vision has something new to offer.

Today, he didn’t care that he was still in his shorts, that his vest was torn, or that he forgot his footwear. He kept running. He still remembered how his mother kissed him goodbye before she left for her work. Yet, something was not right. Something that was supposed to be done was not done.

Today, he ran faster than ever before to catch up with his mother before she goes out of reach. He did not know if what he was doing was necessary at all, yet, he would not abandon his mission. When Varun, his younger brother got up, he could not find his mother home. A heavy gloom of separation descended over him —mother had left him without wishing him goodbye. He was still asleep when she left. She had a long way to go. Yet, Varun does not know all these intricacies of life. Tears welled up in his eyes. For his age, he was a charming character. He behaved with such maturity and patience that the elders were often baffled. He always checked if everyone had the pudding before asking for a second serving, never complained about his debilitating asthma problem, and still was ever cheerful. Yet, his fiery anger and disarming grief were difficult to assuage once aroused.

Today, though, it was not his brother’s anger that concerned Ashvin. It was melancholy that moved him. He could never stare at a tear in an eye without offering an answering tear of his own. But he simply could not stand tears in his brother’s eyes. Once, Varun had come home from school crying. He learnt that his teacher had hit him in school. An instant spasm of pain surged throughout his body, and made it quiver for a moment. He clenched his fists in helplessness.

Today, the moment he learnt what happened, Ashvin knew what to do. He darted out of his home, and on to the road. He always fancied himself one of the fastest runners among his peers. Stones and thorns pricked his soles, yet he went on. He saw his mother walking ahead. He ran faster and caught up with her. Surprised, she first checked her watch. She has a habit of forgetting her watch while leaving for work. No, the watch was on her hand. It is something else. He told her about Varun. She smiled. She put her hand under his chin, and asked him to pass on her characteristic “tata” to her younger son.

Today, as he was returning home, Ashvin had a sensation of triumph and a fragrance of satisfaction about him. As he entered the street where his home lay, he saw his brother waiting for him, sitting on the steps with his face cupped in his palms. As soon as Varun saw him, he rushed towards his elder brother.

Today, Ashvin is a kid of eight and Varun, a kid of six. Yet their mother was proud that in this world where street-smart children are looked at with awe, at least her children have the godly gift of innocence, but she wondered how long this halo would remain around them.

1Kanakambaram—Firecracker flower (Crossandra infundibuliformis)
2Maruvam—The Sweet Majoram (Majorana hortensis)