The following is Chapter 2 of the novel, Black Hole. For Chapter 1: click here
In the beginning was a black hole. The black hole was with God, and the black hole was God. All things existed in the black hole. Nothing could escape the tenacity with which the black hole held everything within it. The bonds of that tenacity grew strong and stronger until the black hole could not bear the bondage anymore. And it exploded. Boom. Big Bang. And the black hole became flesh.
Ishan Salman Panicker was writing his gospel.
Kailash Public School, where Ishan was an English teacher, had recently begun to strike some spiritual chords within Ishan’s soul which was proudly secular hitherto. When Sitaram Rana transferred the school’s management on a platter to the newborn Devlok Educational and Environmental Trust, DEET, some angels of inspiration began to flutter their diaphanous wings in the core of Ishan’s being.
Ishan had a fall and a consequent fractured foot the day the management of his school changed hands. He was sitting in a study room in one of the hostels where he had the evening prep duty and was reading Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie.
I am your handiwork made flesh. You took beauty and created hideousness, and out of this monstrosity your child will be born... I am the meaning of your deeds. I am the meaning of your so-called love; your destructive, selfish, wanton love. Your love looks just like hatred.... I was honest and you turned me into your lie. This is not me. This is not me. This is you.
Boonyi, Shalimar the clown’s heartthrob, berated Max Ophuls when the latter’s dalliance with her was over.
Beauty and hideousness. Love and hatred. Honesty and lie. Me and not-me. Ishan’s mind was caught in a network of wires dangling from one pole to its opposite. Are they opposites indeed? He was wondering. He was lost in contemplation. So lost that he did not realise that his foot had extended itself under the iron bar that connected the chair to the table. When he got up, having placed Rushdie on the table, in order to pursue his contemplation while taking the mandatory stroll round the room where the students under his care were doing their homework, his foot was held back by Rahu while his body was pushed forward by Ketu. Before the students could realise what was happening, their teacher was lying on the ground. The pain in the foot which had assumed the shape of a swelling revealed a hairline fracture on the X-ray film.
“The new management will take charge next month,” Jennifer informed him the next day when she returned home from school. Jennie was Ishan’s wife and a teacher at Kailash Public School.
Kailash Public School is under the spell of Rahu and Ketu, the shadow planets, thought Ishan. He remembered Boonyi’s father. Rahu and Ketu churn our insides, the Pandit had said. “They hold sway over our emotions and give us pleasure or pain.” When Ishan was reading that part of Shalimar the Clown, he sought the counsel of Uttam Kumar Sharma, the Sanskrit teacher of his school, to understand Rahu and Ketu better.
“Rahu and Ketu are two ways of dealing with one’s life,” explained U. K. Sharma. “Encumbered with problems, you can choose either of the two ways. One way is escape. Escape through addiction. Addiction to intoxicants or drugs. Addiction to work. Addiction to something or the other. That’s Rahu. The other way is to face the problems squarely and endure the pain. And you may be led to enlightenment. Through pain, undoubtedly. That’s Ketu.”
“What’s in store for Kailash: Rahu or Ketu?” Ishan wondered aloud.
“What?” asked Jennie.
“Nothing.” Ishan shifted the position of his plastered foot on the pillow on which it was hoisted.
The day Ishan joined Kailash Public School as an English teacher, a brutal communal riot had broken out in Gujarat. A few days prior to that a train compartment carrying some Hindu pilgrims had been set ablaze at Godhra railway station. The onus of the conflagration was put on Muslims and the riots in Gujarat were a retaliation by the Hindus.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The Chief Minister of the state quoted Newton’s law when hooligans went on a rampage after parading in public places the dead bodies brought from Godhra.
Bal Thackeray, the Messiah of the Hindu pride in Maharashtra, fuelled the flames of the communal violence by declaring that “Muslims are a cancer to this society... Cancer is an incurable disease. Its only cure is operation.” And he exhorted all the Hindus in the country to “take weapons in your hands” and carry out the operation mercilessly.
The International President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Pravin Togadia, declared death sentence for “all Hindutva opponents.” His domestic counterpart, Ashok Singhal, later asserted that the violence in Gujarat was a “successful experiment” which would be repeated nationwide.
The Chief Minister of Gujarat complacently stroked his exquisitely groomed beard as he saw through the conflagration an image of himself as the Samrat of Hindustan riding on a horseback royally to the Durbar in Indraprastha while his soldiers stood on either side of the Raj Path and saluted him.
“Om, shanti, shanti, shanti.” Uttam Kumar Sharma concluded a prayer in the morning assembly on Ishan’s first day at school. Gujarat was burning. Zaheera Sheikh was watching the flames of ashanti consume the live bodies of her parents and siblings as well as a few others who had been trapped in the building which was set ablaze by the surgeons of a political operation. The television carried images of terror. Assaults. Rapes. Cold-blooded murders. The orgy continued for three days.
Shanti mantras hovered silently in the very air of Kailash Public School. Hindus and Muslims lived together on the campus. There were quite a few Buddhists and Jains. A couple or two of Christians too. Religious identity did not seem to matter in Kailash.
Ishan’s secular soul felt relieved among the trees of various genres that fluttered in the breeze which wafted freely on the campus.
Ishan had fled from love. Religious love.
Religion had entered Ishan’s life quite by accident. But then accidents seemed to be the natural ingredients of his life. Right from his birth.
The above is the 1st part of Chapter 2 of Black Hole. The Chapter is titled A Gospel. Like Chapter 1, this too has been divided into parts for the sake of blogging.
Look forward to: Dkhar