Sunday, November 25, 2007

Death of Siddartha - Chapter 3

My life has been a fable to me. A series of stories. Bedtime stories merging with reality. As I grew up, I learned to differentiate between the real and the unreal.

I was born into the Gauthma gotra of the Shakya clan. My father was the commander in chief of the clan. Ours was the prominent family in Kapilavastu. The ruling of it fell upon my father, King Suddhodana.

I have no recollection of my mother. She died 7 days after my birth. I have learned about my mother from Ma. Mother revealed herself to me as bed time stories.

It was my mother who introduced me to death; the finality to an existence; but it was Ma who kept me away from being engulfed by its concept.

'Did she die because of me, Ma?' I had asked. Lying on the wooden bed, cushioned with cushions filled with yak hair, my head on her lap. I was five.

From where I lay, I could see out the window. The dusk was approaching and the palace guards were already lighting the torch around the compound. Ma's fingers stroked my curly hair.

She leaned forward and kissed my forehead.

'No, Gautama, you were the easiest birth a woman could ask for. You never gave her any trouble. She was a fortunate mother to have you. ' She said.

I smiled. I had no recollections of my mother. I have seen a painting of her in my father's bed chamber.It showed a young woman in flowing clothes, the clouds behind her curling and flowering plants around her. Her face seemed the same as many I have seen in the silk scrolls of the traders who came from beyond the mountains.

'Maya used to dream of your coming.' Ma continued.

She had noticed my silence.

'Really?' I asked.

' Yes Gautama, you were the reason for her life and once you were born, her karma was finished and mine started.'

'Is that why she died ? , because she had completed what she had to do in life? ' I asked.

'Yes, Gautama'

'What is life, Ma?' I asked.

Ma was silent for a while. I waited for her answer. Looking up, I saw her looking out the window and watching the lite torches lining the palace walls.

' Go to sleep now child. You are destined to lead the Shakyas, like your father and become a great leader, perhaps even a king.'

A king.

She was just parroting what has been told to me a hundred times, since my birth. The destiny that was in store for me revealed by Sage Asita to my father. I was being lead through my life like the goat taken for sacrifice. My fate foreseen, written and decided.

I closed my eyes. Waited for that sleep which never came.

I felt Ma gently lift my head from her lap and lay it on the pillow. I felt my body being covered by the thick peshwani blanket. I heard her withdrawal from my room. I heard her sigh and the creak of the bed in my father's chamber as she sat on it.

'Is he sleeping?' I heard my father ask Ma. His voice gentle. I imagined him next to her, his hands on her shoulder.

' Yes'

'I heard his questions.' my father said, ' Iam grateful for your presence here.'

There was silence. Outside I heard the shuffling footsteps of the guards. My eyelids felt heavy.

' Maya has not left him. She still envelopes him'

My fathers words echoed within me as I succumbed to the night

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Death Of Siddhartha - Chapter 2

A light rain fell. Fine mist of droplets. Cooling the night air, soaking the ground. Muffling our progress.

Chandra clung on to me as we raced to my unknown destination.

Surprisingly I was calm. The act once committed had purged away all sense of uneasiness I had earlier felt about it. I had expected to feel a sense of guilt or some amount of remorse for my seemingly heartless act. Yet I felt exhilarated . I felt like a caged bird set free.

I felt alive.

All my life I seem to have lived a life that seemed contrived. A life that was always lived in half measures. A life planned out by my father, lived by me.

I have questioned his intrusions. Not directly, but through Mahaprajapati, my foster mother. She who bestowed upon me her abundant love to repel the shadow of my mothers death.

It was through Ma that I had learned of my birth, the predictions and my father's inner turmoil. The stories had took on an aura of mysticism to keep me, then a little child, interested. Today I knew that theres an expectation that, somehow the birth and life of a privileged one should be different and more wondrous than that of an ordinary child. Today, at 29, Iam aware that my birth was no more or no less wondrous than the birth of a healthy baby anywhere in the world.

I was born to Maya, wife of Suddhodana, king of the Sakhyas. I was born , Ma told me, at the foot the glorious Palpa Mountains, in the Lambani groves. My mother was on her way to her parents place to have the delivery. This was our custom. My mother went into labour in the Lambini groves , much to the panic of her companions. They were forced to perform the delivery there and then. My mother held onto the low lying branch of a tree and pushed me out into the world, standing up. This particular type of delivery is not unusual in the hills, in fact, Ma told me that, it probably aided in the fast and painless delivery.

I must have been a perfectly formed baby. Later on Ma's version of my birth used to alter, depending on her mood, and my enthusiasm. She told me stories, which used to delight my youthful imagination. Stories about how I started walking from the time I was born, how from each step I took , a lotus bloomed.

To Ma, I could do no wrong. I was her ideal of perfection. Later I gathered that there was nothing unusual in her sentiments; to every mother, their child is the biggest miracle.

The cold wind chilled my body through the thin shawl that was wrapped around me. The fine mist of the rain had soaked through my clothes. I hopped that Chandran is warm behind me, protected by my body from the elements.

Kantaka rode on.

A man's life as it stands today is a sum total of all his actions and deeds. These actions and deeds are influenced by his experiences. The experiences in turn are perceived through his senses, which are filtered by his mind .

Today Iam running towards something, rather than away. I seemed to have been prepared by everything and everyone around me, for this day. I found comfort in that thought. My mother's death, my father's protectiveness, Ma's indulgences, the love of my friends, the secrets, my yearning, everything, helped to culminate into today.

Before I shed the known, let me indulge in remembering them one last time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Death Of Siddhartha

I sat by Yashodara's feet.

The moon lit the chamber in its silvery glow. A thin red woven sheet covered Yashodara's sleeping form. She lay facing my son Rahula. Her arms engulfing his tiny body. She stirred in her sleep, let out a sigh and moved closer to her son.

I sat by her feet. Looking, memorizing, helpless.

I reached out and touched Rahula's cheeks. His tiny lips puckered to meet my fingertip, mistaking perhaps in his sleep for his mother's breast. I smiled.

The city of Kapilavattu slept.

I got up and sat for a while on the carved wooden chair by the latticed window. In the dark. I looked out at the palace courtyard. Everything seemed unusually quiet.The celebrations that had been held for my son's birth had run for two days. Now the whole palace lay asleep in a drunken haze.

I felt a weight on my chest. A heaviness. I breathed deep the night air. Trying to calm the restlessness within me.

I turned my gaze again towards my wife and my son.

I got up , wrapped the shawl around me and moved towards the door.

I did not look back.

I pulled out the wooden lock from its clasp and pushed the door open as gently as possible, lest I wake anybody.

I stepped over the sleeping guards and made my way down the stairs.

The courtyard was in darkness. The dim light of the dying lanterns that hung around the palace walls, showed me the way to the stable. I caught sight of the sleeping Chandra. My friend. He lay on the parapet , covered in a thick blanket, near the stable. I shook him awake.

He sat up with alarm. I hushed his questions with my hands. I entered the stable and untethered Kantaka, my black steed. Chandra, helped me saddle him. No questions. I was grateful. I would not have known the answers if he had asked.

We led Kantaka out of the palace compound. Chandra closed the wooden palace gates. I mounted Kantaka and hoisted Chandra behind me.

We rode out into the night.

I, Siddhartha, son of King Shuddodana Gautama , chief of the Shakyas; sneaked out of his home , like a thief, leaving behind his birth rights , his old father , his young wife and his new born son.

I left with no other intention than to get away from everything that would snuff the flickering flame of something I had no name for , than a feeling of intense restlessness, a call that could not be refused , an emotional agony that threatened to consume me.

Kantaka rode like the wind. My mind recalled a childhood memory of a moth that flirted with the temple lamps, attracted my its yellow light, finally burning itself to death.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Epiloque

Ammomma died three years later in her sleep. Along with her breath was gone the one true memory of Madan Tharavad. While the pyre was lite by father in the courtyard near the cowshed, I sat on the bed in her small room where she had lived most of her aged life.

The wooden window panels still streaked with white lime fingerprints, red paan stained the outside ledge of the window where her spit fell short. I reached under the bed and pulled out the copper spittoon. The contents inside swirled. I went outside to the well and from the water in the bucket, rinsed the spittoon. I reached for the ash ,kept in the coconut shell near the well for washing vessels, and scrubbed the spittoon clean using the coconut husk. I was vigorously scrubbing it with the husk, when I felt my mothers touch on my shoulder.

She kneeled next to me and put her hands over mine, stopping me. I leaned against her, burying my face into her sari. I felt her tears drop on my head.

We left the village to take up a place in the city when I joined a collage there. Our house was rented to the new village postmaster. My visits to the village was at best erratic in the beginning, which slowly ceased to naught in the coming years.

I came to know through Bala who visited me once that Madan Tharavad was now under property dispute . After the disappearance of the only legal heir , Maya Anthurjanam, there was a legal haggle over the property. The main players seemed to have been some distant relatives of Bhargavi Amma, Vishnu Naboodri's wife.

After my college, my parents started arranging for my marriage. A part of me wanted to revolt against their wishes, but seeing my father's worsening health, I went along with it. The bridegroom was a shy , young man with a wisp of a moustache who was a doctor in America. I liked his smile.

Invitations for the marriage had been sent to everyone in the village. Many turned up with their well wishes and steel vessels as presents. Aathu was there with a grin as wide as his face. His hair finally tamed. Basheer had got a visa and had gone to Dubai.

I left with my newly acquired husband to the shores of America two months after our marriage.

It was for my fathers funeral that I visited my village again. He had insisted that he be cremated in his property. I was not saddened at his death. He had been bedridden a long time. Death came like a long awaited friend.

I stayed over after the funeral at our house, along with Amma, as the post master's guest for a couple of days. My husband had chosen to stay with the kids back in States. I had taken a months break from my job at the university. I had to make a decision about Amma, the last thread binding me to my past ; to all that was me.

The village had changed in my absence, in subtle ways. Where Madhavan's cashew trees stood, now was covered with lines of rubber trees, each wearing a coconut shell, looking to me for a moment like girls carrying the lamps at the temple deeparadhana. The old mud paths have made way to tarred road with pot holes. I walked towards Madan Tharavad.

A large wall covered the compound, with shredded glass embedded on top to discourage trespassers. Through the wrought iron gate I saw a well maintained garden and a pebbled pathway leading to a concrete mansion. On the gate was welded a Beware of the dog sign with a portrait of an Alsatian Dog painted for good measure. On cue I heard the distant barks of the model.

I walked back to our house.

In the evening , a knock on the door announced a visitor. It was Aathu. A taller, fatter, older Aathu, with the same wide smile. We spoke through the night, sitting in the Varandha, sipping pipping hot black coffee. Aathu kept on puffing at his India King. He spoke of reservation, caste rights, communism , of white khadi shirts and red flags. I listened. I remembered the little boy who clung to my skirt. I smiled.

Just before my return to the States, my mother made her decision to stay back in the village, refusing my offer of coming back with me. She occupied the small room where Ammomma stayed. The room had been whitewashed . The window panels painted a light blue.

I left the next day. I watched my village pass through the window of the Ambassador car which sped towards the airport. The car drove through the road that passed the tharavad. As we sped fast , I caught a glimpse of a figure at the wrought iron gate.

It was a small girl of nine in a white petty coat.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 9

It was a school holiday. I had grabbed Achan's big black umbrella and ran out into the rain after rushing through a breakfast of puttu mixed with ripe padayamkulam banana and sugar.

Amma called out something. It was drowned in the rain.

A chilly wind swept over me, while the rain pitter pattered on my umbrella. I walked faster. My skirt and shirt getting drenched by the rain that was blown in by the wind. At the side of the road, Madhavan's cow grazed, oblivious to the rain. Its dung lay like greenish brown cakes ,on the grass , pitted by the rain.

I climbed through the fence and entered the Madan tharavad.

The ground was soggy due to the rain. I was worried about the snakes, since their usual haunts would have been flooded. I stepped gingerly over the debris. I reached the veranda of the illum. The remains of its roof offered a respite from the downpour. I kept the umbrella open , as I walked into the illum. Mini water falls from the roofs had flooded the insides.

I looked for Maya everywhere in the illum and could not find her. The old store room laid empty and open to the nature. Water was pooling on the floor , her bedding and the pathayam soaked. I wanted to call out to her but knew that I would not get any answers.

I walked towards the temple. She could have taken shelter under the banyan tree.

The monsoon had darkened the sky. A lightening flashed across, illuminating the illum in a blinding white , followed closely by the loud clap of thunder, startling me.

I reached the banyan tree. She was not there.

I looked around frantically. There was no place for her to go to; to hide from this rain. One part of my mind reminded me that she has survived many monsoons before my acquaintance, with out any help.

The ottupurra in the village temple?

No, she would not risk being seen.

The tharavad pond. The enclosure had a roof and the parapet would offer a good place away from the rain.

Yes. She would probably be watching the rain fall in the pond. I made my way to the pond.

Something made me stop as i neared the enclosure.

Some one was calling out her name.


I cautiously walked towards the voice.

There was someone standing outside the ponds entrance.

I stayed hidden in the midst of the estate, the rain concealing my presence, while I watched.

The lone figure stood outside, exposed to the rain, his back to me. Grey matted locks of hair was piled above his head in a large knot. In one arm he held a trident, around the neck of which was tied a black cloth that hung limp wet.

He stood stark naked.

A naga sanyassi.

'Maya' He called again.

From within the enclosure Maya emerged out, hesitatingly to the open wooden door. She stood by the door looking with the same emotionless eyes at the man that stood drenched in the thulavarshum rain.

'Maya' he addressed her, there was calmness in that voice. A confidence. As if this naked old man owned the universe. 'Come'

Maya stepped out into the rain . She stood facing the fearsome figure.

'I have come to you as Brahman' I heard him say.

'Swami' Maya whispered. Her face contorted as if in agony. The rain mercifully washed her tears as it emerged.

The sanyassi, stepped towards Maya and gently removed the thin towel that served as her anga vastram and dropped it to the ground.

Then he reached and undid her mundu, letting it fall.

Maya stood naked before him.

He then put forth his cupped palms and let the rain collect in it. This he poured over Maya Anthurjanam's head. Anointing her.

He placed the open palms on her head and chanted :

Guru Brahmo , guru vishnu, guru devo mahaswara
Guru sakshal parabh brahmo tastmai sree guruve namaha

Maya kneeled and touched the feet of the sanyassi. He helped her to her feet.

I backed off from where I stood and started walking towards the path that lead to the fence. The rain had eased. Drops of rain , trapped in the leaves of the trees dripped down. I looked back.

They were no longer there.

All that remained were the pile of Maya Anthujanam's mundu and thorthu lying in the mud being soaked by the gentle rain.

Glossary :

Guru brahmo... : Guru is the creator Brahma, Guru is the preserver Vishnu, Guru is the destroyer Siva. Guru is directly the supreme spirit — I offer my salutations to this Guru

thorthu : a thin cotton towel.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maya Anthurjanam - Chapter 8

I sat up in the bed and leaned against the head board.

'Ammomma,' I asked, ' Was Vishnu Namboodri a bad man?'

Ammomma was silent for sometime. I thought she had not heard me.

'No kutti,' she answered, still looking at the full moon that shined silver through the silhouette of the coconut trees; ' Vishnu Naboodri was the result of those days. He was loved in this village for many of his qualities. He was a generous man. He was also feared for his temper but he acted much like any other father would have done.'

She lapsed into her silence. The only sound being the chewing of her paan.

' You think Achan will let me marry Athu?' I asked apprehensively

Ammomma turned to me; her lips curved into a smile , she took me in her arms. I snuggled into her vast bosom.

She released me to spit into the copper spitoon which was kept under the bed.

' I promise not to kick Athu in the chest' Ammommma said, laughing, which shook her big pendulous breasts, as she lay down beside me.

I curled closer to her, taking in her spicy smell.

' If the Namboodri was bad, then all of us were bad, kutti' She whispered almost to herself.

I kept silent. Waiting for her to continue. She didn't.

I heard her breathing growing heavy after sometime. I lay awake listening to her soft snores.

' I saw Maya Anthurjanam today' I said softly.

Ammomma snored on. I waited for some kind of response. Anything.


At the near drowsiness in the advent of sleep, I thought I heard Ammomma.

'Poor Maya.'

In the months that followed , my visits to Madan Tharavadu became a routine. I never mentioned those trips to anybody. It was to remain my little secret.

I sighted Maya Anthurjanam more often in these trip. I found out that she seemed to have a routine. She spend most of her time in the vicinity of the thravad temple beneath the large banyan tree. She apparently always ate the food she got from the temple in the remnants of her room.That seemed to be the only meal she took.I always saw the fresh banana leaf on top of the decaying pile of previously used leaves. She also slept in the same room , the same place, on top of the pathayam. She bathed everyday evening at the pond. She wore the same tattered mundu.

If she saw me, she never gave any signs. In the beginning I started attributing it to blindness. I tested my assumption by moving her clothes from the steps and placing it on the parapet while she was taking a bath, one evening,at the pond

I watched the result of my experiment through the gap in the enclosure door. I saw her step naked onto the steps and climb the stairs to reach her cloths. Water dripped from her grey locks of hair. She seemed oblivious to her nakedness.

She could see.

But there was no emotion in that sight. No annoyance. No recognition. Just an acceptance of everything.

That evening I stood by the door while she dressed and walked out , passing me.

She just walked past.

So that's how it remained.

I always kept a distance from Maya Anthurjanam. Since I knew her whereabouts, I always seek ed her out when I visited the tharavad. I found her proximity comforting . I did try to leave things for her , like food and clothes; but always found it remaining in the same place, untouched, the next day. Eventually I stopped trying to befriend her. I just let her be and she never did acknowledge me.

It seemed inevitable that soon I was spending more of my free time in the silent company of Maya Anthurjanam than with my friends. To avoid their suspicious queries, I started spending a token period with them and then excusing myself in the pretext of going back home. The boys didn't seem to mind my absence, even though I did note a wary look in Athu's eyes. I avoided looking at him when I went away.

It was October. Thula varsham had started. The time of torrential rains , fearful thunder and lightening. I was not to know then but my clandestine tryst with Maya Anthurjanam and her cursed tharavad was soon coming to an end.


Kutti : child

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Maya Aanthurjanam - Chapter 7

Over the days I managed to sneak into Madan Tharavadu many times. I went alone. Somehow I felt safe there. Leaving when it started getting dark.

I used to go there during the weekends when the rest of the kids where playing in the fields or swimming in the river. I spend a lot of time just roaming around inside the illum. I explored every bit of Madan Tharavadu. I found a nest of sparrows on the roof beams in one of the inner rooms. I spend time drawing on the inside wall with charcoal pieces that I found inside the house.

It was on my fifth visit to the tharavad that I saw Maya Aantharjanam again.

I had wandered into the enclosure of the tharavad pond. It was a Sunday afternoon. I had come to the tharavadu after my lunch. I had told Amma that I was going fishing with Aathu. To show the honesty of my intention, I had taken along with me the fishing rod, which was a sturdy long guava branch with 3 meter of nylon thread at the end of which was tied a hook. A round pebble was tied about ten inches away from the hook to serve as a sinker and a piece of banana stem was tied about midway which served as the float. I had wound the nylon string around the rod and had pierced the hook into the wood to hold it in place. I had no intention of going with Athu. I had seen the Tharavad pond in one of my sojourns and had decided that I will try my luck there.

The Illum offered me a solitude which I used to find very comforting. Moreover I did not have any friends of my gender. The boys were more fun to be around with than Meenakshi, Lekshimi and Fatima , who also studied in the same class. But off late I had been feeling the need to distance myself from them. I preferred my own company. I found their games like spearing mud crabs revolting. I also hated it when they used to make me be the watch while they did all the fun stuff.

I entered the enclosure that held the pond. The wooden door opened into a fleet of stone stairs that lead down to the pond. On both side of the stairs was a parapet. Above the stairs was the remnants of a terracotta tiled roof. The entire pond was enclosed within the walls, that was made from large clay bricks which was covered in moss.

The pond was green due to the algae, dry leaves partly covered its surface. I sat at the last step and cast my line. Large dragon flies skimped the surface of the pond. It was peacefully quite , broken by the occasional faint splash of some fish that had broken the surface to catch an unsuspecting insect.

I must have dozed off, because suddenly I realized that it was getting late. I had no bite either. I pulled in my line and wrapped it around the rod. I scooped a handful of water after clearing away the leaves and washed my face with it. The water, to my surprise was not smelling bad, instead was cool and refreshing. I wiped my face on my skirt and turned around to walk up the stairs.

That's when I saw her.

She was sitting hunched on the parapet. She sat in the darkness under the shade of the roof overhead.

I froze where I stood.

She did not appear to be looking at me. She stared straight ahead at some unknown sight. Immobile. Like a statue.

I wondered how long she has been there. Was she sitting there when I had come? If she was I would not have noticed. She was so silent.

I slowly started climbing the stairs. My eyes fixed on the impassive figure. She did not move or even acknowledge my presence. I reached the opened wooden door and ran outside. A sound of movement from within the enclosure made me stop. I went back to the door and peered through the opening, keeping my body hidden behind it.

Maya Anthurjanam was standing at the last step. Her back was towards me. She took off the piece of cloth that was draped around her shoulder and placed it on the step beside her. Then she undid the knot of her mundu and folding it , she placed it on top of her other garment. She stood thus naked for sometime, looking straight ahead. She reached behind her head with both her hands and untied her bundled hair, letting a tumble of grey dreadlocks fall back , stopping just short of her buttocks. All her movements were graceful. I watched mesmerised.

Her body looked youthful. If not for her grey hair, she would have been mistaken for someone far younger than her actual years. She walked into the pond, stopping where it reached up to her shoulder. Then with a thrust she swam to the middle of the pond. Cutting through the carpet of dry leaves, she left a trail of green water behind her.

I do not know if she saw me. Perhaps she did see me but she made no sign of it. I watched her swim in that deserted pond, in which the legend said her mother had drowned in. I stood there while the setting sun cast a reddish glow on the pond and its swimmer.

When I reached home that day, I realized that I had left my fishing rod at the entrance of the Madan Tharavadu pond.

That night I lay next to Ammomma. She had just finished preparing her paan and wiped the trace of lime from her finger on the wooden window sill. The sill was covered with the white lime markings. If I sat and counted , I probably would have been able to calculate how many paan Ammomma must have chewed in that room.

She sat next to me and looked out of the open window. I lay awake watching her in the darkness. The moonlight outside lit up the inside of the room in its silvery glaze. I fell asleep watching Ammomma staring out lost in her thoughts.