Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Indira Gandhi's Romance

The novel, Black Hole, continues.

Story so far:

Chapter 1 - The Original Sin:  Kailash Public School in Delhi is donated by Sitaram Rana to Nityananda Baba of Devlok Ashram.  The ashram was founded by Kailash Baba along with the material assistance of Amarjeet and Mahendra Rana.  An Anglican Pastor, Aaron Matthews, is also an integral part of the ashram.

Chapter 2 - A Gospel: Ishan Salman Panicker is one of the English teachers at Kailash Public School.  His foot is fractured the day the school's management changes.  Lying in bed he begins to write a gospel which has its roots in Shillong. He was born of Farishta Kharmawphlang and Shankara Panicker  in Shillong.

Chapter 2 continues:


No,” Shankara answered her honestly when Farishta questioned him about the name he had proposed for their son yet to be born.  As honestly as he could, that is.  “Ish is the invisible power that governs the universe.  In vastu shastra, Ishanya-disha or north-eastern direction represents prosperity and knowledge.”  What he did not mention was that Ishan was a synonym of Shiva, the powerful Hindu god, the Cosmic Dancer.  To hell with vastu shastra.  He knew that his wife was besotted with anything that had something to do with the northeast. 

“North-eastern direction!” Farishta’s heart skipped a beat.  “Ishan.  Yes, there’s music in the name,” she declared.

There’s dance in the name, my dear.  Shankara said to himself.  Life’s a dance.  Very few people realise that.  For most people life is a marketplace where trade takes place relentlessly.  Merciless bargains.  From basic security to sublime love, anything can be bargained for in that market.  If only people cared to stop the trade for a few moments.  If only they cared to listen to the music of the cosmos.  Would there be conquests and defeats if Alexanders and Baburs could hear the music of the cosmos?  Nietzsche was right: those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  Those who were deaf engaged themselves in trade.  And bargained.  Bargained for lands.  People.  Gods.  Some conquered them.  The others continued to bargain.

Indira Gandhi was a modern day conqueror.  In order to make her conquests in the marketplace of the quotidian, she chose to be deaf to the music of the cosmos.   She declared Emergency in the country.  With one stroke of her pen she brought a whole subcontinent to her feet.  Thus she was a greater conqueror than Alexander the Great or Babur the Marauder.   She didn’t lead her battalions over mountains and across rivers.  She sat in her plush office and signed an order.  Her soldiers and courtiers, ministers and executors, crossed the mountains and rivers for her.  They made the conquests for her.  In the process the Queen’s enemies found themselves in jails.  Some just disappeared.  Without a trace.

Shankara Panicker was one of those who disappeared without a trace. 

He was a journalist with a national newspaper and was posted to cover the northeast.  Unlike most journalists who stayed in the city of Guwahati and wired their reports prepared with the information passed on by their contacts, Shankara travelled to the places to learn the facts before he reported them.  It was one of those travels that brought Farishta into his life.

Indira Gandhi was not really deaf.  She could hear the music of the cosmos if she wished.  But she often chose to be deaf.  When she visited the Khasi Hills during the agitation for a separate state for the tribal people, however, she listened to the music of the cosmos.  Shrewd manipulator though she was, there was a flicker of the romantic in her heart.  Her will to power was an alter ego of her romantic libido.  The clouds that kissed the hills strummed on the  romantic chords stretched tight beneath her suave exterior.  And she said, like the whimsical and omnipotent God of Genesis, “Let there be Meghalaya.”  And Meghalaya was born.
 
Shankara Panicker was in Shillong to report the swearing in of the first government of the new state.   While he was travelling through the city after his day’s work something caught his vigilant eyes.  Reverend Father Joseph Kunnel was standing by the roadside at Don Bosco Square.  He was talking to a young woman.  The woman looked exotic.  She was different from all the women that Shankara Panicker had met anywhere any time.  She possessed the gracefulness of the gazelle that pranced on the hillside and the resilience of the river that meandered through the valley.  Something drew him to her.  It was an irresistible attraction.

The smoke-spitting bus had started to move after dropping the passengers at the stop and taking in others.  “Let me get down, please,” Shankara jumped up from his seat shouting.

“What were you doing all this while?”  The conductor asked and let out a couple of expletives.

“Waiting for the apparition of the apsara,” Shankara muttered to himself as he made his way through the crowd in the bus.

“Hello, Shankara,” Father Joseph greeted with his characteristically suppressed enthusiasm.  He was hardly an inch taller than five feet but looked imposing due to the intensity of his penetrating gaze as well as the erectness of his posture.  He was Shankara’s English teacher at his high school in Kerala.  He had a particular fondness for Shankara though he went out of his way to conceal it. 

“There’s a unique spark in you,” he told Shankara the day he left the school with his mark sheet and the school leaving certificate.  “May you achieve the greatness that’s awaiting you.”  He sounded prophetic.

While Shankara talked to his former teacher, his eyes wandered off again and again to the apsara who had brought him down from the bus.  Father Joseph was quick enough to understand the meaning of those fleeting gazes.  Wasn’t a spark germinating in Farishta’s eyes too?  Father Joseph understood the chemistry that was at work.  This happens, he knew.
 
“This is Farishta Kharmawphlang,” Father Joseph decided to introduce them to each other.  “She’s a teacher at our school here.”
 
Shankara invented a reason to meet Farishta the next afternoon outside her school.  She was happy that a reason had been invented. She would have been happy without that reason too.  Because she had no particular dreams about the new state, none at least that was worthy of being reported in a national newspaper.

Father Joseph was not progressive enough to let a Catholic girl marry a Hindu boy.  But he was not so conservative as to posit religion as a stumbling block between the love of two persons.  And Shankara’s newspaper was more than willing to give him a permanent post in the northeast.
 
“Bring up your children as God-fearing Catholics.”  That was Father Joseph’s final counsel to Farishta before he blessed her wedding.  And Farishta’s smile was a confluence of contrasting colours which did not escape the penetrating gaze of Father Joseph.

It was Father Joseph’s influence that added Salman to Ishan’s name.  When the priest insisted on adding a Christian name, what Farishta actually had in mind was Solomon.  The wisest king in the Bible who saved the life of an infant by ordering it to be cut into two pieces.  That was one of the many stories that Farishta had heard in her catechism classes on Sundays.  The people of her tribe loved to shorten names to its first syllable and thus Solomon became Sol to them.  They did not like the name Ishan because they said it sounded dkhar.  Thus Solomon became Sol for the tribe.

Farishta’s father, Yousaf Husain, had not yet internalised his wife’s tribe’s customs, not at least that of abbreviating names conveniently to their very first syllables.  So Sol became Sol-man for him.  “Soul-man,” he called his grandson lovingly.  When did Soul-man become Salman?  Nobody had any idea.

Shankara Panicker was never there as his son became Ishan Salman Panicker and went on to be groomed as a good Catholic under the tutelage of Father Joseph Kunnel.

Shankara Panicker was accosted by two strangers on the day his son was born.  He had just come out of the general post office having wired a report for his newspaper.  He walked between the strangers until the three of them got into a car that was waiting a few yards away.  Nobody saw him again.  Father Joseph’s investigations reached up to an officer of the Research and Analysis Wing, RAW, who hinted at certain writings of Shankara which had drawn the undesirable attention of the intelligence agency whose loyalty to its founder was notorious enough for Father Joseph to guess the fate that had befallen his former student for whom he had prophesied a grand future.

“I had warned him when he published that story about the Empress whose nose kept growing longer and longer,” Father Joseph was consoling Farishta.  There are certain powers that you can’t question, however detestable they may be.  Father Joseph knew it better than anybody else.  The history of his own Church was enough proof.  The Church went to the extent of burning people alive merely for questioning the wrongs that had eaten into the entrails of the Church like a pernicious cancer.  Father Joseph’s heart was willing to go with Bruno and Savonarola, Joan of Arc and Jerome of Prague, but his reason always towered above his heart and shared the pragmatism of Galileo who knew that his truth didn’t require his martyrdom. 

The nose of Shankara’s Empress kept growing and it stretched itself everywhere.  The citizens found their ways blocked by mysterious and palpable sniffs.  The nose smelt everything.  Even the secrets that people harboured in the depths of their hearts.  It smelt even the semen that was spilt on the wrong sheets.  The son of the Empress, the ambitious Prince, asked his foot soldiers to drive men in hordes to surgical tables in country hospitals and have their semen sucked out leaving their testicles sterile forever.  The nose kept growing. It crossed the country’s borders.  It sucked in Sikkim.  The nose was omnipotent.  It was omniscient.  It was ubiquitous.  It entered the atom and detonated its suppressed anger at the border of the Empire.  The enemies trembled. 

Shankara was a fool not to tremble.  He was too foolish  to allow his bravery to get the better of wisdom.  So he vanished.  Without as much as a dainty quiver.


*

PREVIOUS PARTS

Chapter 1: The Original Sin


Chapter 2: A Gospel


2.2 Dkhar

Next: Cry from Calvary

5 comments:

  1. History fictionalized - I have little knowledge on the facts you are alluding to, need to look into them. Interesting use of the 'nose' here. Unlike Pinnochio's growing nose which grew and brought fear and guilt.

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    1. Indira Gandhi's Emergency was quite a painful period in Indian history. I was a student then. Meghalaya was carved out of Assam prior to that. Indira Gandhi played certain devious games to incorporate Sikkim into the map of the country. She also detonated India's first nuclear bomb, ironically named Smiling Buddha, in Pokhran in 1974.

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  2. I was too young during the Emergency, but I've heard about it from my dad. It must be really harrowing! And, reading this story gave me a general idea of what people must be going through then!

    I do admire Ms Gandhi for being an Iron Lady, but there are certain things she has done, which cast a stigma on humanity.

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    Replies
    1. I too admire Indira for the grit she possessed. She was extremely shrewd too. The Emergency was a terrible blot on her career. Finally she was killed by the devils she created herself.

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    2. That's absolutely right, sir. History is always brutal and dishes out the same recipes we serve others. Remember Taliban? America created that monster against Russia, which turned back on it like a rabid dog.

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