Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Aaron Matthews

The following is the next part of the novel, Black Hole.  For those who came in late, here's the synopsis of the previous parts:

Kailash Public School in Delhi is donated to Devlok Ashram by the owner, Sitaram Rana.  Devlok is founded by Kailash Baba whose nondescript quest found its fulfilment in spirituality.  Two of his prominent assistants will be Amarjeet Boprai, his nephew whose inability to master English literature is motivation enough for him to turn against the British government and then find a better opportunity in Devlok, and Mahendra Rana whose discontent in personal life is his spiritual trigger. 

The following part brings to Devlok a devotee from England. 

Aaron Matthews was a pastor of the Church of England in a London suburb.  He viewed himself as an apostle of Jesus filled with the spirit of his Lord who had ordered his disciples to go and proclaim the gospel to all the people.  The more he preached the gospel to his indifferent flock in the suburb, the more he became convinced that his true vocation was to carry the light of the gospels and dispel the darkness that engulfed the Indian subcontinent.  However, before sailing to India he decided to visit C. F. Andrews, the illustrious missionary who had returned recently from India having spent many years in that subcontinent of darkness.

“Aaron, dear!”  The glimmer that characterised Andrews’ eyes was accentuated as he smiled through the long beard that made him look more like a Hindu sage than a Christian priest.  “You want to convert the Indians to Christianity.  But I’ve seen our Christ walking on the shores of the Arabian ocean wearing the robe of a Hindu sage.”  He described his meeting with Sri Narayana Guru, the Jesus in Travancore.  He spoke about Tagore and Ambedkar.  Matthews was already aware of Gandhi.

“It is not the Indians who need our light,” concluded Andrews.  “We stand in need of their light.”

Matthews was scandalised and did not conceal his feeling.

“We have this silly notion of life as a series of sins and God as the all-forgiving father waiting for the prodigal sons to return home begging for forgiveness.  You are going to a country whose scriptures do not differentiate between God and human beings.  Aham Brahmasmi, I am God, they say.”

“But that’s sheer blasphemy?” Matthews exclaimed.

The glimmer in Andrews’ eyes seemed taunting.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Heidegger,” Andrews searched for something in the eyes of the aspiring missionary.

“Martin Heidegger?  Yes.”

“We move within certain ontological presuppositions, he said.  Consequently we lose touch with our grasp of being and its truth becomes muddled.”

Presuppositions.  Truth.  Muddle.  The words took a few somersaults in Matthews’ mind.  For a true Christian, truths are already given, revealed in the Bible.  Where’s the question of any muddle?  Yet this old priest with the heavenly sparkle in his eyes seemed to possess some mysterious knowledge that did not come from the Bible.  It must have come from India.  There’s something about India, he decided.  If I can’t teach India, let India teach me.

“A train journey through India will teach you more than any book ever will,” Andrews had told Matthews.  That was the chief reason why he decided to board a train to Delhi soon after landing at the Bombay Port.  

One of the first creatures that caught Matthews’ attention as soon as he managed to find a seat in the crowded compartment of the Delhi-bound train was a swami with an abominably shabby appearance.  Sitting opposite to Matthews near the window, the swami was smoking a beedi. 

“Do swamis smoke?” asked Matthews when the initial commotion in the cabin settled down.

“No English,” the swami smiled.

A fellow passenger volunteered to be an interpreter.

“Who decides who will do what?” the swami asked.

“A swami is supposed to have overcome the temptations of the world,” probed Matthews.

“Who gives anyone the right to suppose things about others?  What is temptation for one may be a penance for another.”

Gradually Matthews succeeded in extracting the swami’s philosophy of life.  He viewed himself as a wanderer on the earth.  He had no home, no relatives, no possessions.  The planet was his home.  All people were his relatives.  He did not need any possessions except what some people gave him out of generosity.

“But you will be an unproductive burden on the society!”  Matthews could not bring himself to accept the swami’s philosophy.  A man should live by the sweat of his brow.

“Is your British government in India a productive boon for the Indian society?”

Matthews was taken aback.  He pondered.  Hadn’t the British government done infinite service to the Indian society?  Hadn’t it brought light to the subcontinent of darkness?  Is the British light a Heideggerian ontological presupposition?

“What is light for you may be twilight for another person,” he remembered his wife Rachel telling him when he decided to carry the light of the Lord to India.   Rachel’s cynicism had begun to rankle in his heart for quite some time.  So much so that he had longed to be away from her presence for a considerable while.  He didn’t want her cynicism to infect his sacred soul.  “You are fortunate to have a God who is so condescending to dance to the tunes played by your bishops and theologians,” she mocked.  Mocking God had become her latest hobby, if not passion.  “An old fogey of a God who walks round his garden with a stick in hand,” she quoted Monsieur Homais of Madame Bovary, “funny old man, he can ask his friends to chop off the head of their sons, or to lodge themselves in the bellies of whales, or die with a loud lament on being forsaken by himself and come back to life three days later.”  She used characters from fiction to mock God.  As so-and-so said, she would say passing the buck conveniently to Flaubert or Voltaire.
 
“Rachel, you’re blaspheming,” he warned her once.

“My blasphemy will delight God more than your hypocrisy,” she retorted. 

That was when he lost his temper.  He slapped her.

You!  You dare to slap me, you filthy rascal of a pastor!  She didn’t utter those words.  But he could read them in the taunt that followed her scowl as she perked up her other cheek to him and said, “I suppose you expect me to do this before you will fall on your knees before your god who died pathetically on the cross!  You will beg forgiveness of him because your big ego won’t permit you to ask pardon from the person whom you actually hurt.”

She drained his courage to fall on his knees before his all-forgiving God.  How could he live with her anymore?  He was concerned, however, about Liz, their ten year-old daughter.  What kind of spirituality will she absorb from her mother who thought that their religion, the Church of England, was a by-product of Henry VIII’s lust?  Worse, her mother will dedicate the little soul personally to the devil with her half-baked knowledge of her religion.  Paul founded Christianity, not Jesus, she would teach Liz.  She would make Jesus and his Apostles look like meek lambs or downright idiots before the philosophising Paul.  “At least, he let you keep your foreskin,” she had taunted him once while fondling his organ as they made love before his passion had taken a diversion in the direction of Pauline ambitions.

The Pauline ambition played as much role in seeing him aboard an India-bound ship as his wife’s comic irreligion. 

Now here was this swami who strangely reminded him of Rachel.  The pastor felt mysteriously drawn to the swami. 

“Do you preach religion to other people?” Matthews asked the swami.  “I mean, do you teach the people?”  The swami was looking at him tauntingly.

“Who am I to preach or teach anything?  What is there to be preached or taught anyway?”

“The lessons you have learnt in life.  The lessons of your religion.”  Matthews was surprised by the hesitation in his own voice.

“Why should I teach them to others?”

“So that they learn.”

“People learn by themselves.  Who taught Ashoka to kill thousands of people in a war and then repent it?”

“But the war could have been prevented had someone taught Ashoka the lessons of love earlier.”

“The wheel has to turn naturally,” said the swami.  “People seek their own levels.  One rules; another is ruled.  The ruler may become the ruled too.  Wheels.  They keep turning.”

“The wheels need lubrication,” Aaron decided to extend the metaphor.  “Enlightened people like you can offer the lubrication.”

The swami smirked.  “Enlightened!  Am I?”  He chuckled.  “The birds fly in the sky,” he broke into a song which had no apparent rhythm, “and leave no footprints to be followed.”  After a brief pause and a penetrating look into Aaron’s eyes, he continued, “In the place I was born, there’s a folklore about a mad man who was in fact a wise man.  Too much wisdom is likely to be seen as madness by people.  This mad wise man suffered from elephantiasis and one of his legs was as huge as an elephant’s.  A goddess took pity on him and told him, ‘I wish to grant you a boon.  Ask what you wish.’  The wise mad man said, ‘For years I’ve been carrying this elephant on the right leg.  Now shift it to the left leg.’  How many people will understand the wisdom of that choice?”

East is east and west is west.  Kipling was right, Aaron thought. 

“How do you earn your living?” he asked the swami.

“People offer me something or the other.  Food, clothes, and even money.  I don’t need much.”

“A home?”

“Bus stands, rail stations, shop verandas, temple courtyards, they are all my homes.”

“Won’t you give a bad example to other people if you indulge in bad habits like smoking?”

The swami smirked again. Was there an added derision in that smirk?  Aaron was not sure.

“What do you think I am?  A walking moral lesson?”

Aaron looked out through the window.  Landscapes of various shapes and hues fled past.  “The birds fly in the sky...”  The swami was singing to himself as he lit another beedi.  Why do birds fly?  Aaron asked himself.  Do they enjoy the sights on the way?  Does their life have any purpose other than finding a suitable habitat and seeking worms for food?  The birds fly in the sky.  They do not sow or reap.  Nor do they store grains in barns.  Yet the heavenly father looks after them.  Are not human beings of more value than the birds in the sky and the lilies in the field?  Does God not teach us more than he teaches the beasts of the earth?  Has He not made us wiser than the birds in the sky?  No, the swami is all wrong.  Man is the crown of God’s creation and human life has a purpose.  He has to leave behind footprints for others to follow. 

The summer sun that was setting beyond the horizon looked like a ball of crimson fire.  The smoke from the train’s engine gave it an ominous veil.

They were approaching Delhi.  The passengers began to collect their possessions.
 
“Hey!  Where’s my bag?” cried out one man in fright and shock.

The fellow passengers helped him search for the cloth bag that he had kept on the upper berth.  It couldn’t be located anywhere.
 
“So many people came and left at many stations.  Somebody might have taken it by mistake.”  Someone suggested.

“Stolen, perhaps.” Another said.

The owner of the lost bag sat down and asked for some water to drink.  He looked waxen.
 
The swami opened his cloth bundle, took out a few coins and said, “This is all what I have.  Keep it.”  He thrust the coins into the palms of the man before joining the people who were moving out. 


*

Next: Rachel's Orifices

4 comments:

  1. I love how the characters are coming to life :)

    I was lucky to read both the parts in a span of few hours of each other :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm happy you find the novel interesting.

      Delete
  2. The conversation between Rachel and Aaron remind me of the conversation between Draupadi and Bhishma. What makes woman more probing, 'rebellious' in your writing? Truth/s are a muddle of presuppositions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What makes my female more probing and rebellious? This is a question I've asked myself many times. If there are Dalit characters in my work, they would have been rebellious too, I think. Do I see women as a suppressed lot? Or do they represent the suppressed side of my own personality? I'm not sure.

      Except the objective truths of science and maths, truth is quite a personal affair and hence the muddle and presuppositions. Truth is one of the themes of the novel.

      And, thanks, for being here so loyally :)

      Delete

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