Friday, January 22, 2016

The Lost Sheep

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. Shankara disappeared the day Ishan was born; it was during Indira Gandhi's Emergency. 

Read on:


A sword will pierce your heart.  Father Joseph wanted to tell Farishta.  But the prophecy he had made about her husband when he was a boy rose before him like a taunting phantom and he suppressed the new prophecy. 

Father Joseph was holding in his hand an essay written by Ishan as part of the assignment given in his pre-university class.

The Quest of Keats’ Knight.  That was the title.  The Knight belonged Keats’  ballad, ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci.’  Was it beauty that the Knight was looking for?  The essayist asked.  Was it truth?  Was it life’s meaning?  Father Joseph found many of the statements in the essay scandalous, coming from the pen of a young boy whom he was intent on bringing up as a good Christian, a faithful Catholic.
Ishan’s essay argued that the meaning of life, which was what the Knight really quested after, was as elusive, as delusive, as the fairy in the poem.  It enchants.  It leads you on a wild goose chase.  It takes you to strange places.  But it delivers nothing.  Because life has no meaning.  Father Joseph choked when he read that.  He would have been less shocked if he heard the interpretation Ishan gave to his friends in the class.  The pacing steed on which the Knight set the beautiful Dame and the sweet moans she made assumed all the luridness that a fertile adolescent imagination could achieve.
The real mercilessness of la Belle Dame lies in her “titillating tantalisation,” argued the essayist.

“Titillating tantalisation!”  Father Joseph was stuck on that phrase for quite a long while.  Interesting, he thought.
All human quest for the meaning of life is sure to end in futility, Ishan’s essay went on.  The Knight is a prototype of all those who set out on the quest. 

Father Joseph called Farishta after he had read her son’s essay many times over.  He wanted to repeat to her the prophecy made by Simeon to Mary, the mother of Jesus.  But he was instantly reminded of the prophecy that he once made to her husband about his potential greatness.  So he did not utter the prophecy loud.  Moreover, it would be sheer blasphemy to make a comparison, however remote, between Jesus and Ishan.  Nevertheless, he made sure that Farishta understood the dangers that stalked the soul of Ishan.

“He is likely to end up as a junkie,” said the priest. The prophet in him was irresistible.  Moreover, he had reasons to make the prophecy.  He had received information that Ishan was seen smoking a cigarette with some of his classmates. 

“From the time Joan was born,” said Farishta, “Ishan started changing.”

Joan was Farishta’s daughter born over a decade after her husband’s disappearance.  Farishta refused to disclose to anyone the paternity of her daughter, the khadduh who would carry the family’s lineage and legacy in her veins.  Joan Kharmawphlang was just another khadduh as far as most people in Farishta’s tribe were concerned.  They knew that the Holy Spirit was not required for a husbandless woman to become pregnant.  The wisdom of the tribe accepted the girl child, especially when it was the only one in the family, as a natural necessity and a divine blessing.  They were happy for Farishta.  Only a few perverted men, mostly dkhars, whispered among themselves that Father Joseph was the biological father of Joan Kharmawphlang.  Farishta did not pay any attention to such rumours.
Those who knew Father Joseph well enough did not believe the rumours either.  They knew that Father Joseph hated the human body so much that he could never bring himself to touch it.  He wouldn’t even touch the little children that mothers brought to him for his blessings.  He would hold his palm an inch above the head of the child as he uttered the prayer of blessing.  The human body was an abomination.  He was above its temptations.  He drank a glass of bitter gourd juice every morning before breakfast.  His explanation was that he was keeping diabetes away.  The precaution was needed  since almost everybody in his family was diabetic.  Most people, however, did not take him  at his word in this matter.  They ascribed his act to spiritual mortification.  He was dissolving all sensual temptations in the bitter juice. 
Ishan was old enough to understand rumours, however.  Partly, at least.  When Farishta’s belly began to bulge with Joan, Ishan had already planted his first kiss on the cheek of one of the girls in his class.  Anamika Thapa, the recipient of Ishan’s pubescent love, gave him one of her congenitally melancholy looks before asking rather indifferently “You like me?” as if she had taken it as a given axiom that nobody could ever like her.
Ishan looked into the gloom that lay like bottomless lakes in her eyes and said, “I do.”  And planted another kiss on the other cheek.

As Farishta’s belly grew larger and larger, Ishan’s love was adding certain indeterminate shades to the melancholy in Anamika’s eyes.  But the young love was not fortunate to grow and blossom.  The arid winds of hatred that buffeted the hillsides of Shillong every now and then appeared as the villain yet again.  A large-scale assault was let loose on the Nepali immigrants in the town by various Khasi tribal organisations.  Anamika Thapa was one of the few thousand Nepali people who were packed like sardines into trucks and transported to Guwahati by the patriotic Khasi young men who led the ethnic cleansing.
The arrival of Joan in the family could not fill the void created by Anamika’s departure in Ishan’s heart.  Rather it seemed to enlarge the void.

When the bouts of violence ended and the town of Shillong crawled back to what the Shillong Times habitually described on all such occasions as “normalcy,” Ishan heard rumours about some of the Nepali people returning to their old homes in the town.  He looked for the face of Anamika wherever he went.  Anamika was one of the many hundreds that never returned.  An Anamika-shaped hole developed in Ishan’s soul.

As Ishan grew older, Father Joseph discovered spiritual aridity in that hole.  It can only be filled with infinite love, the priest said to himself.  Like Saint Augustine, one can go on searching for that love in the infinite crevices on the earth only to discover it in the real infinity.  “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee,” the saint cried in ecstasy when he had discovered his real love, Jesus.  If the saint’s heart had not found its right resting place, he would have been a junkie.
“What shall I do, Father?”  Farishta expressed her helplessness when the priest prophesied Ishan’s possible future in junkiedom.

“We have to bring the lost sheep back to the fold.”  The priest said that more to himself than to Farishta to whom he then turned and said, “I’ll take care of him.  You don’t worry.”



Chapter 1: The Original Sin

Chapter 2: A Gospel

2.2 Dkhar
     2.4 Cry from Calvary

Next:  The Priest and the Prostitute


  1. I remember you mentioned Father Joseph earlier while writing a post on Keats's poem. Waiting to see what happens next.

    1. Father Joseph and all other major characters have been growing in my mind for almost two years, Sunaina. Aren't all major characters parts of the author's psyche? You are a writer yourself and you know.

      And yes, I admire your memory.

  2. I agree with the above reply to Sunaina. All the writers have at least one character in the story, who's a replica of their image. May be not exact, but always have some traits.

    Which one is you? :)

    1. You will understand it soon, I think. :)

      And thanks a lot for being a regular reader of this novel which is not an easy one. Sunaina and you do me a service far greater than what you may imagine.


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