The 1st part of this novel: Black Hole I.1
For those who lack the patience, the synopsis of I.1: Delhi, year 2013 - Steel magnate, Sitaram Rana, donates the 20-acre campus of Kailash Public School to Devlok Ashram Trust.
The following part goes back to 1928, the origins of Devlok.
I The Original Sin
Devlok Ashram was founded by Kailashputar Boprai, a grand uncle of Nityananda Baba.
Kailashputar’s nights were haunted by nondescript phantoms. Seeing him roll and groan in bed night after night, his mother decided that he needed a wife. It is not enough for a man to work the whole day in the fields, or feed, bathe and milk the cows; he needs the embrace of a woman in the night. It is not merely a need. Every man has the solemn duty to sow his seeds in the womb of a woman and bring up offspring.
“No,” protested Kailashputar as vehemently as he did whenever his mother broached the topic of marriage. His soul was in torment, not his body. He did not wish to commit the blunder that Siddhartha Gautama of Kapilavastu had committed. He should not be the cause of another Yashodhara’s grief. Kailashputar’s mother looked up at the sky and lamented, “Oh, gods in the heavens, why did you give me a son like this?” The legend has it that the serene blue sky responded with a deafening thunder.
Whether the sky thundered or not, Kailashputar’s father was as serene as his mother was agitated. “What’s in a man’s destiny cannot be resisted,” he muttered to himself not intending to add fuel to his wife’s fire which had scorched him to timidity within a year of his son's birth.
At about the same time an earthly thunder was rocking the city of Lahore on the outskirts of which Kailashptar’s joint family was living. The Simon Commission was visiting the city and Lala Lajpat Rai, the Lion of Punjab, was leading a silent march protesting against the Commission. The Messianic soul that was caged within the frail and perplexed body of Kailashputar was visited by an epiphany. He changed his farmer’s attire, put on a pair of immaculate white kurta-pyjama, and went to the city. His life was meant to be a part of some cosmic divine plan, he realised.
By the time Kailashputar arrived in the city, James A. Scott, the British superintendent of police, had let loose his police force on the flock of lamb-like silent marchers. The Lion of Punjab refused to roar when lathis fell on him relentlessly under Scott’s exhilarated supervision. A gasp escaped Kailashputar’s shocked soul and his body quivered.
Torn between the conflicting emotions of terror and desire, Kailashputar watched the Lion of Punjab rouse himself from the ground with a strange determination. “The blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffin of British rule in India,” he declared with all the strength that he managed to muster. But the funeral flames that swallowed the roar of the Lion a fortnight later scorched the indeterminate aspiration of the young dreamer in Kailashputar. The phantoms of his nightmares had assumed the shapes of lathis and funeral flames.
“We shall counter the British brute force with non-violence and satyagraha,” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was preaching to India. A futile dream, thought Kailashputar. Even the Lion of Punjab succumbed to the brute force of the Empire. Gandhi failed to supplant James A. Scott in the nightmares of Kailashputar who rolled and groaned in his bed more than ever. A new phantom had also emerged to haunt the nightmares. A pipe-smoking, whisky-drinking phantom that wore a western suit. “The Muslims must have separate electorates,” demanded the phantom. Neither Gandhi’s wily persuasiveness nor the green colour added to the proposed national flag of the emerging independent India succeeded in placating this new phantom.
The phantoms tightened their grip on Kailashputar’s soul as days passed. This cannot be life, he decided one day. Life cannot be brutal lathis or non-violent submissiveness. Nor can life be a strife between Hindus and Muslims. Should not be, at least. Kailashputar’s noble soul urged him to flee from both the British violence and Gandhi’s submissiveness. His soul longed for another life. The meaning of life lies beyond mundane longings and the conflicts engendered by those longings. He had to discover that meaning.
Kailashputar fled from his nightmares. In search of meaning.
“Where will you go, my son?” asked his mother.
“Where my soul finds peace,” he said.
“What is peace?” she wondered.
“The absence of conflicts,” he said.
“You are a fool,” her eyes penetrated into his. “A coward.”
“Was the Buddha a coward?”
Kailashputar fled from his mother’s question. He detested conflicts. His flight took him to the Himalayas. He sought life’s meaning on the various peaks of the formidable mountain range. He sat at the feet of Himalayan Masters and listened avidly to their various gospels. None of the Masters satisfied the seeker’s spiritual thirst. The mountains seemed to echo emptiness. The infinite silence of the mountains became a new phantom in Kailashputar’s nightmares. With a heart heavier than earlier he descended the mountains. He moved on. On and on. Until he found himself in the new British capital, Delhi.
Kailashputar had not intended to visit Delhi. He was just a passer-by. The glitter of Lutyens’ Delhi in the lurid summer sun did not impress his spirit. Even the multi-coloured bougainvilleas that marked the boundaries of each villa failed to enchant him. However, the bat-infested fortresses outside Lutyens’ Delhi beckoned him with a strange charm. Bats were more real than the phantoms that haunted him relentlessly and mercilessly. But the symbols of the Empire in the city far outnumbered the bats in the fortresses. Anything that was vaguely associated with the Empire resuscitated in Kailashputar’s soul the ghost of the Punjab Lion. He fled from the fortresses too. The bats were clinging blindly to some forlorn history. Kailashputar longed to escape all history. The flight took him to the forests of Asola. The forest embraced him. He felt snug in that embrace. Peace filtered down through the leaves of the trees and the thickets. Blue bulls and blackbucks gazed at him with a queer mixture of love and distrust. Birds chirped a symphony that soothed his heart. Hares stared and then scooted. The occasional scream of some distant peacock held a mystical charm. The forest itself became a symphony for Kailashputar, a symphony in which he was just another melody. He put up a hut in the forest and felt a sense of ease in his heart.
Little did Kailashputar imagine that he would soon become a deity in the jungle. The people in the nearby villages who frequented the forest for their daily needs of firewood, wild fruits and roots, herbs and fodder, were inspired variously according to the fecundity of each one’s imagination by the divine apparition in the jungle.
“The greedy jackal was about to pounce on me,” a woman narrated her experience. “Fear had stifled my scream in my throat. Then came the gentle but stern command, ‘Go away,’ and the jackal obeyed meekly.” The owner of the voice was a thin and tall man whose eyes radiated divinity, said the woman.
A village elder, returning home having gathered firewood, sat down near the holy man’s hut as his knee ached terribly. The holy man came, touched his knee, gathered some herbs which he pounded into a paste, and massaged his knee. A few seconds and the pain vanished miraculously. “The touch heals,” said the holy man to the elder. “The touch of the herbs is the touch of divinity itself. Man, plants, the divine, all are connected to each other. Disease is a disconnect. We have to make the connections.”
The man in the jungle with the divine eyes and long beard eventually became many things to the villagers. He counselled them when their relationships were broken apart by domestic problems. He healed them when diseases disconnected them from the cosmos. He brought wayward men back to the right paths like some divine superhero putting an errant planet back in its right orbit.
Kailashputar’s hut could no more contain the people who came to him with their various supplications as well as benefactions. The villagers cleared a large area of the forest and constructed a proper house for the holy man and a hall with thatched roof for him to address the villagers at regular intervals.
“What name shall we give to your ashram, Baba?” asked the elder whose knee pain was cured miraculously by Kailashputar.
“Baba?” The holy man looked at the elder.
“Yes, that’s how the people now refer to you. You are our Godman,” he paused and said, “our God.”
God. Kailashputar savoured the flavour of the sound. Devta. His life had found its fulfilment. His search for meaning had borne fruit. He had achieved the divinity that he hankered after for years. He was a devta. The land on which he lived was the divine milieu. “Devlok,” he said solemnly.
“Devlok, it is,” said the elder exultantly. He was proud to be a part of Devlok.
Devlok became a major centre of gravity even for people beyond the neighbouring villages. For hundreds of people who were looking for meaning in the chaos that had entered their lives one way or the other. In the form Gandhi’s insistence on non-violence when the whole world was driven to mutual killing by Hitler’s credo that there was no success without violence. When Hitler was marching through the whole Europe asserting the supremacy of his race, Gandhi was kicking his own people underground and walking hand in hand with the mlechcha people. A mlechcha named Ambedkar was threatening to elevate the lowest of the low to the highest thrones. The British were enlisting the Indians to fight Hitler’s master race. And Indians were complying in spite of the savage epithets hurled at them by wannabe masters like Winston Churchill. Some Indians chose Devlok instead.