Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year

A view from a residence whose housewarming I attended yesterday
I loved it.


Yet another year is ending and a new year is beginning. But my job continues as usual. There is no holiday in the name of New Year. I like that. I don’t believe that life has any such endings and beginnings.

The earth goes on revolving round the sun. Cyclic processes go on without any distinct beginnings and endings. Where is the beginning of a circle? Where is its end?

Time has neither a beginning nor an end. Your life has a beginning and an end. But time is independent of your life. Time has no calendar. You made the calendar in order to tame time. But time tames you eventually. Time is the master. You are just a particle in the electrifying, electronic march of time.

New Year resolutions are good in order to assess your place in the glorious march of time. Where do you belong? Where have you gone wrong? How can you make your place safer in that thundering juggernaut of time? Make your resolutions. That’s perhaps the only purpose of the calendar, of New Year.

Wish you a Happy New Year.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Scarecrow at the threshold of New Year

Image courtesy Here


I’m a scarecrow on a landscape
without a trace of crows.
Silence is not really required
to protect me here in this arid wilderness.

What have I got to speak, however?
As another year ends,
As time draws on
having etched yet new lessons
on a soul that is already etched
with too many scars and scares,
what they would call lessons of life,
I have understood the worth of silence.

I have learnt to stand here
patiently
resisting the inner urge
for crows to scare.

The crows have flown away.
I should consider myself a fulfilled scarecrow!
What is the purpose of my existence now?
Maybe, it’s time to put on new motley
As the old calendar is discarded into garbage.

Wish you all a Happy, happy New Year.





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Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas



People like the Buddha, the Christ and the Mahatma were acutely aware of the absurdity of human life and sought to bring more meaning to it. Their perspectives differed significantly from the ordinary man’s. They looked at life in substantially different ways, in other words.

Jesus’ focus was on love and compassion. He was born a Jew and the Jewish people were highly ritualistic and juridical. Jesus questioned that way of life which was plainly more absurd than the life of people who practised other religions which the Jews regarded as gentile and inferior.

Love is the ultimate foundation of Jesus’ teachings. That is diametrically opposed to the Jewish weltanschauung. The Jewish God was a whimsical entity characterised by jealousy, short temper, vindictiveness and a ridiculous share of frivolousness. He created the Paradise apparently only to drive out the human beings from it. He could ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son just to prove the authenticity of the latter’s love. He could send his people marching through a desert for 40 years in search of a Promised Land which in the end turned out to be a far cry from “a land of milk and honey”. As if the travails of the exodus were not enough, Yahweh gave them the Ten Commandments too on the way. Commandments play a vital role in Judaism.

Jesus sought to change that by focusing on love. He encouraged people to break the rules if love required that. When he raised the question, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” he was dismantling one of the fundamental perspectives of Judaism. He replaced rubrics with love.

Jesus could easily forgive the adulteress precisely because of his love for fellow beings as well as his desire for others to practise that love. “Who among you has not committed a sin?” He asked the people who were anxious to follow the rule and stone the woman to death. Sin is a part of human existence, he knew. Every person has frailties and flaws. We need to come to terms with them and be ready to forgive others.

The basic message of Jesus is love and compassion. Eventually the various religions that came up in his name forgot that message. They chose to imprison Jesus in the tabernacle and build palaces and empires in his name.

Well-known Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, has wondered time and again whether Jesus is part of the Catholic Church at all. In his history of the Church, he asks: “But is this Christian church [Catholic church] which is so successful, this greatest and most powerful of Christian churches, right in appealing to Jesus?” Kung goes on to suggest that if Jesus returned to earth today he would have “become involved in dangerous conflicts” with the churches founded in his name.

Jesus was not at all interested in the kind of splendour and glory that the churches display today. He was interested in making man a better creature. He was interested in making the earth a better place. Love and compassion were his ways. Christmas will be meaningful only when that love and compassion find a way to the human heart once again.

Wish you a Merry Christmas, a meaningful Christmas.


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Friday, December 21, 2018

Beyond seas and hills

On Kozhikode beach in early 1990s


The oceans and the mountains have their unique charms. The mystery of the mountains and the infinity of the oceans can hold us spellbound. Sometimes they invite us to meld into them and vanish altogether. The cliffs have often invited me to jump off them and the seas have stirred similar longings.
 
At Malampuzha Dam in late 1980s
There are other places too without seas and mountains but with a lot of charm and grace. They may be the trails through a village whose pristine beauty has not been swallowed by the octopus of development. Even a desert has its own music to entice us with.
 
Maggie melding into a shrine at Mahabalipuram in late 1990s
A year ago I visited Mango Meadows, world’s first agricultural theme park. It is in central Kerala, 30 acres of land tucked into typical Keralite villages. It has an amazing variety of plants which were once used in Kerala’s traditional medicines. Apart from them, there are also other trees and plants which are on the verge of vanishing from the face of the earth because of ‘development’.

I loved the place for its sheer natural beauty with all those plants and trees as well as the lake in which you can go boating. You can also go cycling on the narrow lanes within the park. I loved that too.

Here are some pictures from that visit.

A view of Mango Meadows

Even the art in the park is in tune with the park's theme

There's even a traditional rowboat!

I loved the cycling 

PS: Written for In[di]spire Edition 253: #Travel

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Fireflies in the dark

My front yard at night


The pain of life is aggravated by a flicker of beauty here, a glimmer of love there, and an occasional touch of compassion here and there. If love went invariably unrequited, if filth was all that one could see around, and if insensitivity was the universal rule, we would learn not to expect anything better.

Every flower that blooms in my little garden gives me the impetus to keep fighting the weeds. The weeds are vindictive. They keep smothering the flower plants incessantly. It is far more facile to buy flower pots from the nursery and line them up on my drive walls. But those flowers don’t smile as do the ones that I nurture personally.  

The struggles of the little saplings against the mighty weeds remind me of the terrors that life throws along the way. If there were only terrors and their disgrace, however, heaven and hell would have been redundant notions. Where there is only agony, there can be no concept of bliss. But life loves to poke fun at us with the little trickles of honey offered as we hang from the wizened branch hoping to save ourselves from the snarling tiger beneath.

The sculptor goes on sweating blood at the monstrous mass of granite in order to carve graceful beauty out of it. Is the granite heaven? Or is it hell?

I was standing outside home in the diaphanous shimmer of the distant moon when came flying a dot of light. The firefly alighted on my shoulder. It whispered something in my ear. The darkness is my reality, it said. My light is my existence.


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Sunday, December 16, 2018

Orgasm of Gadgets



Certain gadgets have become as inalienable parts of life as our mates. The mobile phone, for example. It’s there with us wherever we are, even as we stand before our deity with our hearts seeped in prayer. Life without the mobile phone is quite unimaginable. It is my link with the world through the density of the internet and the trivia of the social networks. It comes with all the indispensable accessories like the camera, the calendar, the note pad, alarm clock, reminders, and their concomitant orgasms of various degrees. My mobile phone can provide me with all the music I want and even movies.
 
Smart Watch
I spend most of my daytime with young students who possess a whole lot of gadgets which have become part and parcel of their life. They are usually the Smart Wearable gadgets like wrist bands and watches which have built-in GPS and altimeter, activity rings and health apps. When there is a requirement for a speaker for practising a dance, the students come up with a cordless gadget that can take in your pen drive and play the music spontaneously.

There’s no doubt that the gadgets have made life much easier and more fun. I was not a fan of gadgets really until I began to realise the benefits they offer. There are, for example, the Smart Home gadgets which can obey your orders like your most abiding companions.
 
Smart Security
My awareness about some of these gadgets was sharpened when #GetFitWithFlipkart came up with an awareness campaign along with #SmartHomeRevolution. This campaign has definitely enhanced my awareness about Smart Cameras which are highly affordable and easily installable.

Some of these gadgets are not merely about adding more fun to life or even making life cosier. They can make life safer in a world of insecurities, saner in a world of insanities, and simpler in a world of complexities.



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Friday, December 14, 2018

Story Writing



Half of my stories come from history or mythology and the other half from my imagination. Whatever the origin, each story has something to do with me; each one is an expression of some conflict within my being. “I knew you would come to deliver me from my stony existence,” Ahalya said touching Rama’s feet. That’s how my story Ahalya begins. Ahalya of that story is as much a character from mythology as an expression of my own longing for deliverance. Something similar can be said about each story of mine.

I think for all good writers each story is originally an agony within. It is an agony that seeks deliverance. In the words of Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The inner agony is metamorphosed into characters created by the writer. The characters may be from history, mythology, the writer’s imagination, or just anywhere like the house next to yours. Whatever the origin, the characters you create in your stories have something to do with you: they are manifestations of yourself in some way.

Writing fiction is a kind of self-discovery. It is also a discovery of life. That’s what Anais Nin means when she says that “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in the retrospect”. Every story you write is your attempt to savour life doubly. Or maybe it is an attempt to make life more bearable. The latter is the case when it comes to me. Every story of mine is an attempt on my part to make sense of life that is ostensibly absurd if not excruciating. That is why Ahalya’s deliverance can make Rama, her deliverer, ponder on the “endless human delusions.” Ultimately Ahalya and Rama are all expressions of their creator’s inner conflicts.

PS. Written for In(di)spire Edition 252:



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Failing gracefully



Neither Narendra Modi nor Amit Shah knows how to handle failure, it seems. There is audible rumbling within BJP about the majestic leaders’ refusal to share the blame for the devastating failure of the party in the recent elections. They have held “victory marches” whenever the party won an election in the past four years to take the credit. Why not share the blame now?

Failure is not fatal, but the refusal to accept it gracefully and learn the required lessons is. That is the most fundamental principle about failure. Perhaps the only useful thing about failure is the learning of the inevitable lessons. Those who sulk over it, those who rationalise the failure, or those pass the blame to others don’t learn the necessary lessons and stop far short of being great in any way.

BJP’s failure in the recent elections in five states has been too resounding to be ignored. The whole country has been looking forward to hear from the two great leaders about how they view the failure. What lessons did they learn? How are they going to change themselves?

Learning lessons naturally leads to making changes. The changes may be in policies, implementation, or at least attitudes. In the case of BJP, particularly Modi and Shah, quite a few changes are desirable in all those domains: policies, implementation and attitudes. They have been behaving like invincible autocrats. They imposed their will on the nation ruthlessly. The nation has gained little so far by their policies or attitudes. Why don’t they accept that in humility and tell the nation that they would look into the required changes? As long as they refuse to do that, nothing may change, that is, nothing may improve. Rather there is a possibility of the situation becoming worse because they may usher in worse policies out of vindictiveness or sheer malice born of their quintessential megalomania.

If they accept their limitations as well as the flaws of their policies, they may stand to gain much. Whether the nation will make any substantial gain is a different matter. For that, mere acceptance of flaws and limitations is not enough. An entire paradigm shift will be required.

The party should shift its focus from hatred of certain sections to tolerance of all sections. The catchy slogans they used for grabbing the nation’s fancy (scores of them like Sabka saath sabka vikas, Swachh Bharat, Beti padhao beti bachao, and so on) should be actually materialised. People see through the hollowness of mere words sooner than later.

The people who cast their votes in the recent elections have proved that democracy in India is still vibrant. That people know how to elect their leaders. It will be good if Modi and Shah and many others learn that lesson at least.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

No Regrets

It's been quite a journey together


Some nights are very didactic if not entertaining. Last night was one such series of dreams. I wake up from one dream only to glide into another as seamlessly as a train stopping at a station and then moving on. They are not nightmares. On the contrary, they are quite amusing.

Only two of last night’s dreams remained vividly in my conscious memory in the morning. In one, I was travelling by a bus with Maggie. Since the bus was overcrowded Maggie and I were in two different parts of the bus: the masculine and feminine halves of Kerala’s buses. Just before my stop arrived, which was near Maggie’s house, some passenger asked me a question. My answer started off a discussion which engaged me so much that I missed my stop and the next and the next. It’s only when Maggie’s call arrived on the mobile phone that I realised my mistake. Maggie awaited me at the right bus stop with her usual smile of amusement and sympathy.

The other dream had a totally unfamiliar and rather wild setting. Maggie and I were on a visit to some nondescript tourist place. While Maggie was getting ready in the hotel room I decided to take a look around and I wandered into some kind of wilderness with a polluted stream on its fringes where I lost my way. The place looked like some religious spot where all kinds of yogis and mystics and beggars and a whole lot of people were engaged in various activities most of which had some semblance of religious rituals. One ascetic with ashes all over his body showed me the way out of what appeared to me as a rugged labyrinth. But I lost my way again and by the time I reached back Maggie and I had missed our bus. Once again there was the same amusement and sympathy on Maggie’s face.

The motif of all the dreams last night was the same: loss due to my neglect and Maggie’s resigned understanding. I have often been amused by the fact that my dreams invariably form a series with a recurrent motif.

What was last night trying to tell me? That I am a big loser? I know that I am a loser but I don’t have regrets. I chose my ways and I blundered many times. That’s right. But I lived my life and learnt my truths. No regrets. Only lessons. And decisions. And we keep moving ahead. If one bus is missed, there will come another.



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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Friend



I felt immensely bad when I had to say No to a friend yesterday. He wanted my phone number and I didn’t give it. He became my friend through blogging. I love his blog posts and he hates mine. He is a supporter of BJP and I am an avowed opponent of BJP. He unfriended me from Facebook once and then befriended me again. I know that he is as good as I am. As passionate as I am about a whole lot of things. He loves life. He loves. Just like me. I love too.

Love has no borders. Love knows no caste, no religion, not even gender. It is only those people who want to rule over others that bring restrictions in love.

My love has no borders. So religious people hate me. My cat has no idea of religion, thank god. And he doesn’t need words either.

Words. I hate them. I love them. I love them in writing. I don’t want to talk. I can’t. I hate it when I have to talk to people except my students. That’s why, dear friend, I had to say No to you yesterday. I know you are genuine. I know you are as genuine as I am, at least. I have listened to your flute rendition online. I have watched how you change your hairstyle. I know how much you love life. I love life too. But …

I never talk on phone to anyone. You are welcome to check my call log. There are only incoming calls from advertisers whom I have blocked but your Modi has unblocked. I’m sorry I can’t talk. I hate talking. Let me be. Let me sleep. I’m waiting for the final sleep.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Half-made blogs



In his 1962 book The Middle Passage, V S Naipaul described his native West Indian people as “half-made societies that seemed doomed to remain half-made”. His argument was that the people lacked self-knowledge or the will to reinvent themselves. I don’t know how far West Indies changed after that damning judgment of god-like Naipaul who made similar statements about India too in a later book of his.

Naipaul was a ruthless writer with an ego that would give Narendra Modi’s ego a good run for all his (country’s) money. He had the messianic instincts without the necessary humility. Just like Modi, again. Just the antithesis of the Buddha, Jesus and the Mahatma. But Naipaul had brains of a different calibre in contradistinction to our own egotist par excellence. So he excelled in writing.

Naipaul was a great writer. What is a writer without his ego? Without the conflicts within his soul? Without the struggles with his own inner hells? Naipaul won the Nobel Prize not for nothing.

Why am I bringing his ghost here now? Arvind Passey raised a very interesting question at a Blogger Community which I am endeavouring to answer here. The question is:



We have come a long way from Naipaul to Modi. In Naipaul’s time people converted their inner struggles into art like literature or music or painting. And they were sincere about doing that job. Hence we got good literature, good music, good painting. Now, in Modi’s time people make money out of anything, even their inner struggles. Look at how religions are minting money nowadays, if you don’t believe me. And they are not even spiritual!

Without subtlety, dear Passey saab, let me answer you: don’t expect anything good in today’s India unless money is involved. There is no money in Indispire. There is money in the competitions.

And the bloggers are not even writers!



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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Memory of another Dec 6

Image from India Today


On 6 Dec 1992, a huge battalion of people who called themselves kar sevaks (volunteers) led by Prime Ministerial aspirant L K Advani demolished the Babri Masjid in Ayodya. The professed goal was to strike down the historical symbol of Islamic ascendancy in the country and mark the beginning of a Hindu Rashtra. The real goal might have been to catapult BJP to political power and ensconce Advani in the PM’s chair.

One of the few intellectuals who supported the move was Arun Shourie, an admired journalist in those days. Shourie wrote then that the Ayodhya events demonstrated “that the Hindus have now realized that they are in very large numbers, that their sentiment is shared by those who man the apparatus of the state, and that they can bend the state to their will.” He also expressed his hope that the Masjid demolition was “the starting point of a cultural awareness and understanding that would ultimately result in a complete restructuring of the Indian public life in ways that would be in consonance with Indian civilizational heritage.”

22 years after the demolition, Shourie’s dream as well as that of many others’ apparently found its materialization when Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister. Modi is doing whatever he can, many of which are not quite ethical or moral, to bring about the Hindu Rashtra in the country. Is Shourie happy?

Recently Shourie exhorted the Opposition parties to join together in order to save the country from Narendra Modi. He was addressing the Mumbai debut of Rashtra Manch, a non-political forum whose objective is to “save democracy and constitution.” Many prominent right wing politicians were with him at the time: Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Singh, and so on. They are all disillusioned with Modi.

Disillusionment
6 Dec 1992 is an unforgettable lesson for India like the historical revolutions which taught the world that good changes seldom take place through violent means. Violence usually leads to more violence. What creates a better society is a humanitarian vision, an inclusive vision, a compassionate vision. Mr Modi is the antithesis of all that. Shourie and others have now understood it. I hope more Indians will acquire that wisdom sooner than later.


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My previous posts on Ayodhya:

https://matheikal.blogspot.com/2017/03/ayodhya-politics-2.html

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

An Open Letter to PM Modi

Dear Modi-ji,

I belong to your generation though I’m ten years younger than you. My memories about Nehru and other genuine Indian nationalists were shaped in more or less the same time-period as yours. Yet the memories differ tremendously: your villains like the Pundit and the Mahatma are my heroes. Do let me remind you of certain irrefutable facts.

India was indeed fortunate to have a learned statesman like Nehru as its first Prime Minister. It is he who gave us the Navratna industries like the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Hindustan Machine Tools, Bharat Heavy Electicals, and so on. Who established the steel plants in Bhilai, Rourkela, Durgapur and Bokaro? Who ushered in the technological revolution in India? Can we ever forget the marvellous contributions of the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR) which had labs all over the county? Can you recall the beginnings of the Atomic Energy Commission and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre?  Who started the IITs in Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Madras? And Delhi’s AIIMS where all the politicians still get free treatment while the common man has to wait for days to get a chance to meet a doc? Remember Nehru calling dams the temples of modern India? Yes, Modi-ji, Nehru gave us technology, education, modernity, secularism, broadmindedness and, above all, prosperity – quite a contrast to you.


In your speeches, which are undoubtedly eloquent and mesmerising, you denigrate Nehru again and again. The great man died more than half a century ago, having given his best to the nation. Yet you choose to belittle him day after day. This is quite a perversion, dear Prime Minister. In fact, you are becoming smaller and smaller by doing this. Nothing will happen to Nehru’s stature at least for people like me who know India’s real history.

I’m concerned about the country’s youth, however. You know very well that half of India’s present population are below the age of 25 and two-thirds are below 35. Their memories about the genuine Indian nationalists are not as clear as yours and mine. As time passes memories blur, especially collective memories. You know that and you use that effectively for conjuring up new memories, new histories for the country. It is easy to do that particularly because the youth today are more familiar with the depraved politicians that the country was ill-fated to have in the last few decades. The youth wanted change. You promised that change. You promised the stars. But, alas, you delivered little more than bombastic speeches.


You have spent crores of rupees on publicity and memory-creating statues. What else have you contributed to the nation?

Your Tughlaqian act of demonetisation ruined the country’s economy so much that you had to raise the price of petroleum products every single day. In fact you were plainly lucky that crude oil prices hit an all-time low when you came to power in 2014. Instead of passing on the benefits of that fall to the people of India, you had to burden them more and more, day after day, with burgeoning prices just to pull the nation up from the quagmire you threw it into by demonetisation and other acts such as false propaganda and fatuous publicity.


Much worse than that is what you did to the communal atmosphere in the country. You have divided the nation into two: your Bhakts versus the rest. As a result, the country has already witnessed much violence though your ministers keep fooling the nation by presenting false statistics in the Parliament.

During your tenure as PM, up to June this year, there have been 2920 communal incidents in which 389 people were killed and 8890 injured. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported 2885 communal riots in the first two years of your reign as PM. If you include charges of “promoting enmity on ground of religion, race and place of birth,” the number in 2016 alone was an alarming 61,974. The same NCRB data show that the years under Dr Manmohan Singh’s rule were the most peaceful in independent India’s history!

You gave us a lot of hollow promises, dear Prime Minister. We have forgotten the Rs 15 lakh in each of our accounts; we understand that it was mere “electoral jumla” as your bosom friend and Party President explained recently. What about the 2 crore jobs per year that you promised? Another jumla? According to statistics, you managed to generate 18 lakh jobs so far (in place of 9 crore = 2 crore x 4.5 years). Most of these jobs you generated belong to what the International Labour Organisation classifies as vulnerable employment. It’s easy to create pakoda sellers, dear PM; creating a prosperous nation requires creative vision.

As many people have pointed out, your words and actions reveal the megalomaniac in you. You love yourself and only yourself. You wish to see yourself as a creator of great histories. Even the Patel statue you created is part of that game plan. You want history to remember you as the creator of the world’s tallest statue. Belittling Nehru belongs to the same game. If you can’t raise yourself to the stature of Nehru, belittle him and make him look smaller than you. But history will come haunting you sooner than later. It will teach you how big or small you really are.

Yours sincerely,
A genuine Indian




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Monday, December 3, 2018

Backlog of Karma



Fiction

My car growled on the first gear as it negotiated the steep ascent. It was a narrow road flanked with mammoth rubber trees that had outgrown their natural lifespan. Among those trees stood here and there like aberrations a few cashew trees and an occasional mango tree. Tall grass and weeds covered the entire ground.

Why did Ananthavishnu buy a house in such a place? I wondered. But there was nothing surprising about it on second thoughts. Vishnu, as we called him usually, was always weird. He needed reasons, clear scientific reasons, for everything. When a girl of our class professed her love for him, he asked her, “Tell me at least one reason why you feel this way for me.”

Vishnu and I studied five years together in college: pre-degree and graduation. He went on to study further until he obtained doctorate in astrophysics and landed a job in ISRO. I changed from science to literature and then became a teacher.

Soon after his recent retirement he bought this mountain villa and shifted here. All alone. His wife had left him long ago, just a few years after their marriage. People joked that he must have demanded some chemical equations of her love.

The ascent to Vishnu’s villa reminded me strangely of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. But Vishnu was no Heathcliff; if anything, he was the antithesis of Heathcliff.

“What a place, man, for a retired old chap to live!” I did not conceal my disapproval of his choice.

“Ah, this is my Innisfree, Tom,” he said with his characteristic mysterious smile. “Peace comes dropping slow,” he quoted Yeats, “Dropping from the veils of the morning.”

We chatted for a long time sipping Teacher’s whisky.

“I bought Teacher’s in honour of you,” he teased me.

“Cheers to mediocrity!” I raised my glass to him. When I decided to take up teaching for a career, Vishnu disapproved of it. “Profession of the mediocre.” That’s what he said.

Our conversation crossed the midnight. An owl hooted from somewhere not very far.

“Can I leave the window open?” I asked as he was about to leave from the guest room to which he had accompanied me.

“Of course,” he said breezily. “And watch the glimmer of the midnight and the purple glow of the moon.” Yeats again.

“Good night,” I said.  I was drunk and sleepy.

As I was about to turn off the light, the book that lay on the table caught my attention. Backlog of Karma by Augustine.  Something prompted me to pick it up. As soon as I did, a strange sensation shot through my veins. It was as if the book was trying to tell me something. I flipped through the pages before opening a page at random and read:

Only God is pure. Everything else is tarnished by the touch of matter. Man is the vilest of all God’s creation because in him matter mingles with passions. Man has to burn his vile passions moment after moment in the flame of divine purity.

I remembered one Augustine who was our classmate at college. Is this the same Augustine? He was a profligate, but.

“Why do I feel this strange creepy sensation?” I asked myself. “You’re drunk, man” the yellow glow of the moon told me. I put the book down on the table, drank a glass of water and turned off the light. I lay down looking at the rubber branches nodding lazily in the gentle breeze outside. The breeze put me to sleep in spite of the eeriness left by the book like an unsavoury aftertaste.

During breakfast next morning I enquired about Backlog of Karma.

“Oh, that was left behind by a friend who was with me a few days back,” Vishnu said. “Do you remember Augustine?”

“Is it the same Augustine?” I did not conceal my surprise.

“But he was a scoundrel!”

“Scoundrels make good saints, don’t they?” Vishnu smiled mysteriously. “He’s now a monk. In some weird monastery, a cloister, which does not allow visitors.”

A few months after we completed college Augustine met with an accident, Vishnu told me. Bike. He was in coma for a few days or weeks. When he recovered he was an entirely different man. He said he had visited heaven and hell during his coma. “You know the human mind is a vicious trickster,” Vishnu concluded.

“Can we visit him?” I asked. “After all we are both retired and have time on our hands.”

“We can try. But there’s little chance of success. Are you ready to drive to Yercaud?”

I love driving and with someone like Vishnu near driving is an intoxication. His conversations combine astrophysics and metaphysics into poetry.

We followed Google Map until the car stopped in front of a grey building that looked more like a prison than a monastery. There was not a soul in sight. No other buildings in visible neighbourhood. Orchards lay sprawling all around.  The pears and oranges looked tempting.

We rang the bronze bell that was hung in the portico and waited. After what seemed an eternity, a peephole opened in the door and a face appeared.

“We’d like to meet Father Augustine,” I said.

“Why?”

“We were his classmates at college.”

“Why do you want to meet him?”

“To discuss backlog of karma.” I don’t know what prompted me to say that. I had read the book whose main contention was that human life is an accumulation of evil. And all that evil snowballs into a gargantuan backlog of karma. Only prayer and penance can save man from his backlog of karma.

The eyes stared through the peephole. “Please wait. I’ll ask him if he’d like visitors.”

“Ora pro nobis.” Vishnu read the inscription beneath the image of Mary in a grotto opposite the monastery building. “Ora pro nobis, pray for us. Latin sounds better, isn’t it?” He asked. “Ora pro nobis.” He repeated it many times as if it was a magic spell.

“I’m sorry.” The peephole opened and the eyes stared through it. “Father Augustine does not wish to receive visitors.”

“But we’ve come from very far just to meet him,” I pleaded.

“Ora pro nobis,” Vishnu mumbled.

“I’m sorry.” The peephole closed.

“We should clear our backlog of karma before we try again,” Vishnu said as our car rode through the orchards of Shevaroy Hills.

Our souls are restless until they rest in you. Saint Augustine. I read the inscription near the gate of the monastery as we were exiting it.


PS. I dedicate this story to Sitharaam Jayakumar whose latest comment on one of my blogs spurred my fantasy for fiction. The title came from a WhatsApp message from an old friend who is a Catholic priest.  But Augustine in the story bears absolutely no resemblance to him. The illustrative pic is of a real place somewhere near which the story is set. But Vishnu is pure fiction.


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