Thursday, February 11, 2016

Slogans

The novel, Black Hole, continues.

For those who came in late, the story so far:  Kailash Public School in Delhi is donated to Devlok Ashram by Sitaram Rana.  The Ashram was founded by Kailash Baba. Aaron Matthews from London was the most beloved disciple. Amarjeet and Mahendra contributed to the material welfare of the ashram.  Jane Abercrombie, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, is disillusioned with Amarjeet who taught her the Non-Being of Kamasutra and gave her a son, Nitin, in the process. Mahendra discovers that he has a son back there in Kurukshetra and gets a new purpose for his existence. Rachel, Aaron's wife visits him in Delhi having obtained a free journey in the company of the Mountbattens who came to give Independence to India.  Rachel returns to England realising that she has lost Aaron to Indian spirituality.  Mohandas Gandhi's assassination eclipses the murder of Aaron by Amarjeet and Mahendra who have their own ambitions to which Aaron was a perceived hindrance.

Ishan Salman Panicker is an English teacher at Kailash Public School.  When Sitaram Rana, Mahendra's son, hands over the school to the newly founded Kailash Educational and Environmental Trust, Ishan's spirituality is stirred.  He begins to write a gospel.  Ishan's gospel has its roots in Shillong where he was born of hybrid parentage: a Keralite Hindu father and a Khasi Catholic mother, the latter of whom had a Bangladeshi Muslim father.  Shankara Panicker, Ishan's father, was one of the victims of Indira Gandhi's Emergency.  So Father Joseph Kunnel became the boy's guardian. The priest and the boy had little in common.  Eventually Ishan left Shillong along with his wife, Jenny, and got a job at Kailash whose Vice Principal questions how Ishan would make the school a choice of millions. 

Read on:

4.2

Choice of millions,” Uttam Kumar Sharma repeated it with a subdued chuckle.

“Does it amuse you?”  Ishan asked gingerly.

“It’s Mr Tandon’s favourite slogan.”

“So he has other slogans too?”

Uttam looked at Ishan.  Into his eyes.  You are not a fool – that was the meaning of the look.  Ishan thought so, at least.  They were sitting in the House Master’s office on opposite sides of the office table.

“He is a man of slogans,” Uttam said.  “You will learn about his slogans soon.”

“Do words mean more than deeds here?”  As soon as he asked that, Ishan thought he should not have.

The subdued chuckle again.

“Well, Mr Panicker, why did you leave a college lecturer’s job?”

How did this man know that I was a college lecturer? 

“Well,” Ishan cleared his throat.  “Health problems, first of all.”

“Shillong is a hill station, ideal for health.  Your Wordsworth would have loved to live in Shillong.”

Ishan felt alerted.  Kailash is a dangerous place, he thought.   How did this man know so much about him, even about his fondness for the Romantics?  It was then Ishan noticed the book that Mr Sharma had apparently been reading and was placed on the table with the bookmark showing.   Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

“The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood, their colours and their forms were an appetite to Wordsworth, isn’t it?”  Uttam went on.

Ishan thought of Briony Tallis, the protagonist of Atonement.  “A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”  He found himself quoting from Atonement.  “However colourful the mountains may be and however gloomy the woods,” he added.

“So, you are going to help us make Kailash the choice of millions?”

Ishan could easily sense the tone of naughtiness in the question.  “Do we have the place to accommodate even a thousand, let alone millions?”

Mr Sharma laughed.  A very controlled laugh. 

“You must have already learnt that we have only five hostels each with a capacity of hundred beds.”

“I found their names interesting,” said Ishan.  “Agasthya, Bhardwaja, Gautama, Janaka and Vasishta.”

“The great sages of a bygone era.  Our founder is a very religious person.  Mr Sitaram Rana.  He chose the names of the hostels himself.”

“You seem to be interested in English literature.  Sanskrit teachers ...”

“... usually regard English as their enemy, right?  I have a Masters in English too.”

“Wow!  But Sanskrit is your first love?”

“Not entirely.  I’m not comfortable with English literature.  Not with teaching it, at least.”

“Why does the Vice Principal want to make Kailash the choice of millions?”  Ishan found himself hopping from one topic to another.  The Vice Principal was a calculated choice, however.  It was important to understand the person who looked rather ominous.

“Oh, don’t take that very seriously.  I told you already he’s in love with slogans.  Once, a few years back, he took us staff members for an outing.  A movie and dinner.  The dinner was at Haldiram’s.  He saw their signboard: HALDIRAM’S SWEETS & NAMKEEN: Choice of Millions.”

“Are his other slogans borrowed from some sweets and namkeen dealers too?”

Mr Sharma chuckled.  “No.  He borrows from Arthashastra too.  It depends on the need and the occasion.  He’s a great man who has worked abroad too as a teacher.”

“I felt a little uneasy with him.  I thought he viewed me with some suspicion or even dislike.”

“There’s nothing to be alarmed.  He was not in the interview board that selected you and that’s the only reason.  He does not trust other people’s capacity to judge the candidates.”

“Does it mean he does not trust the Principal too?”

Mr Sharma stared momentarily at Ishan and then returned to his normal, cool self.  “Welcome to the choice of millions, Mr Panicker.”

He got up.  The bell had sounded for dinner.
 
“Aren’t you joining us for dinner?”  It was none other than, Mr Abhimanyu Chaturvedi, the Principal, who asked that.  Ishan was going towards the staff quarters where Jenny was waiting for him. 

“My wife is alone at home.”

“Why don’t you bring her along too?  Today’s your first day at Kailash, so give us the pleasure of offering dinner to your family.”

Ishan tried his best to decline the invitation.

“No, no, don’t invent excuses,” said Mr Chaturvedi very amiably.  “Take your time but bring her along.  I’ll wait for you.  Remember the dining hall will close after half an hour.”

Jenny had no choice but change her dress quickly and accompany her husband to the enormous dining hall of his new workplace whose sylvan environs had already sponged up some of her fears and apprehensions. 
  
While Jenny was changing her dress, Ishan looked at the TV which was reporting about the communal riots in Gujarat.  “The situation seems to be totally out of control,” the reporter was saying.  “Houses belonging to a particular community are being set on fire and the fire is spreading rapidly...”

Somewhere in the city of Vadodara, a young woman named Zaheera Sheikh stood on the balcony of her friend’s house and watched in helpless stupefaction all the members of her family along with a couple of their staff being engulfed by fires of hatred.  Best Bakery which also served as their residence was in flames.  It was locked from outside by some people whose slogans would remain beyond Zaheera Sheikh’s  comprehension for years.  The religious fervour of those slogans would go on scorching her in a different way even years after all her beloved people were interred. 



 PREVIOUS PARTS

Chapter 1: The Original Sin


Chapter 2: A Gospel

2.2 Dkhar
     2.4 Cry from Calvary
     2.5 The Lost Sheep
     2.8 The Y Chromosome
     
     Chapter 3: Heart of Darkness
     3.1 Heart of Darkness
     3.4 Longings

Chapter 4: Choice of Millions

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. It's not cleverness really, Abhijitda. It's experience with all its agonies and ecstasies.

      Delete

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