A Word in Itself

 

Anamol finally makes it. After six months of relentless search for a suitable job, he gets the position of chief administrative officer at Banepa IT Park—a state owned software production organization. He is not very hopeful about the Park’s future given to its nature of being government owned, and the rampant call of the Maoists to close down or completely demolish and ravage any government run wing just to create instability.
It could happen any moment. It could happen just today when he reached office to start his first job in his life after eighteen years of education financed by his parents who awaited eagerly for their toil to pay back, not so much in material term as much in the form of the happiness of their only son, Anamol, who was anamol—beyond any monetary calculation and price-- for them. Half awake on his bed, he was shrouded in the reveries and excitement of the first job experience in his life when Sumati’s lovingly rolling voice made a way through his ears.
“E hajur, jaane haina bhanya?” – aren’t you going, dear? she asked.
“Where?”
“Didn’t I tell you last night that we would go to Pashupati. I had made a bhakal—a promise—that I would light a hundred and eight oil lamps and would give a dugdhasnan—a milk bath-- to Pashupati the day you got a job. How do think of joining the job without Pashupati darshan—a homage to Pashupati?”
Anamol had forgotten all they had promised. Had it not been Sumati, his whole life would have been a total mess. She had endured every little folly that Anamol had knowing fully well that he simply loved her though he overlooked her ideas.
With fair demeanor, sweet voice, positive thinking and fittingly made for a right person, Sumati is true to her name. But she is at times a little more religious, a little more superstitious, a little bit more docile, slightly moody and volatile and a little susceptible to a little bit of flattery as of her complexion, dress and overall beauty, which Anamol thinks every woman is. Anamol is lucky to have her as his wife.
Running in the fourth year of their married life, Anamol now knows what pleases and irritates her. He hardly does anything that angers her and makes her drop her fat lower lip and lie on the bed making an excuse of some pain in the right humorous bone or a pounding headache which even Brufin would fail to relieve or some burning fever which her body would not evidently justify. She would even take a couple of Citamol tablets to get rid of her feigned fever and ache.
Anamol knows what to do to keep her away from all her ailment. He knows she will not always demand expensive meals at some posh restaurants in the town which he cannot afford, or a theatre show for which she is not made, or an overnight stay in a resort in Nagarkot for which she has no taste. What is enough to please her is a word of appreciation of her look, her dress, her etiquette, her gait or just a mention of any other tiny human property. Knowing fully well that negating her request to go to the temple would result into her physical illness on the very first day of his new career, he accepts with all docility her proposal to go to the temple of Pashupati unaware of what is important for his further career -- the pleasure and displeasure of god and man, or his own devoted, timely and insightful toil.
“Why don’t you get up and take a bath? What are you thinking of? It will be late for your office if you delay any more,” Sumati’s voice rings in his ear from the kitchen.
He does not even ask for a cup of tea because Sumati will not offer him any before the darshan of Pashupati. She believes that one should go to the temple without eating anything. To abstain from food and luxury, she maintains, is a necessary regimen to please god.
It is five thirty in the morning, early enough for Anamol to think of getting up when he was unemployed. Now he is a different man from today. He gets up, dashes to the bathroom to make him ready to follow Sumati.
She has finished doing a number of things getting up much earlier: she has swept and mopped the house, worshipped the gods at home, cooked a special dish for all of them, instructed the maid to feed her son when he gets up. There is an inexplicable agility in her body today. When Anamol is still grappling with his shoes, Sumati roars from the kitchen, “aren’t you ready yet?”
“I am ready. What time are we leaving?”
She immediately comes out of the kitchen and says, “let’s go. I have a number of things to do after we come back from Pashupati. If we are late, we will have to keep in queue for darshan which might take hours.”
Anamol comes down to the portico where he normally keeps his car, starts it and lets Sumati in. The unprecedented agility in her gait and look, the brightness on her face and the authority of her voice make Anamol feel light and happy. Many times her hanging lower lip has made both of them unhappy.
Anamol has a weakness. He utters bitter things about people on their faces. He is a little too egoistic, a little assertive, a little bumpy, a little more over estimating his intelligence and physical look, which Sumati never likes. Anamol seems to have forgotten all this today. He does not utter anything that might hurt Sumati, appreciates whatever she says and concedes whatever she suggests.
“I too feel like searching a job now,” she says. “What will I do at home alone?”
“It is a nice thing to work. It keeps you busy, but Kumud is there and you have to take care of him,” he was talking of their two year old son. “When we send him to school, you can think of.”
Sumati nods.
During their drive to the temple, they talk about their plans and in a short while they arrive to the Bankali parking lot. Their exit from the vehicle is charged by a host of florists, sadhus and babas—Hindu ascetics, beggars and street children finding their home in and around Pashupati, making their living pursuing their weird trades ranging from begging to pick pocketing.
“Here are the flowers please. They are fresh. I will give you a basket to carry them. I also do have fresh cow milk. You must give Shiva a ceremonial bath with milk today,” the florist continues.
“Get the blessings of the serpent God. You have a great luck at stock today. Touch the serpent God with a big bill in your hand,” a baba wrapping round his neck a snake roughly two meters in length and more than ten inches in diameter with black and white patches on its scalp and a vibrating fork running in and out literally chases the devotees with a hope of tapping some banknotes in the name of serpent god and good luck. The reptilian look of this snake belonging to the python family, the alertness of its eyes, the inward and outward flow of its fork led to some young people to a hysteric scream, which the baba seemed to enjoy. Anamol passes to the baba a ten rupee bill, which gives him the impression that he is an easy victim. The baba follows him and the words good luck ring in the ears of Sumati.
“Why don’t you touch the naagaraj—the king of the snakes,” Sumati says, “if the baba wants you to?” She doesn’t want to use any derogatory term to address the snake—the décor of God Shiva’s neck.
Anamol does not take out any banknote, but ventures to touch the snake with his shaking index finger as he does not want to offend Sumati and invite her displeasure.
Anamol had seen snakes swirling through the bushes during summer only to be caught in a nightmare. He could not recall how many nights he literally screamed in a hysterically frightful manner at nights following the days of his encounters with the snakes. He however made an effort to touch the sadhu’s snake only to fall back in terror. Scared and terrified like a wounded animal chased by the hunter behind, he looks at Sumati.
“The naagraj—the snake—is not going to eat you. Touch it and call it Shambhu, meaning the god Shiva,” she thundered. Anamol finally touches the snake and feels as if a cold current has suddenly run through his body. Mixed feelings of sensation and terror evolve in his mind. As they get rid of the sadhu and move away, a stammering voice tumbles into Anamol’s ears.
“Give me some money for food. I am hungry for days. God will help you if you help me.” A woman wearing shabby rags, having a dingy and mottled face and entangled, uncombed hair extended her begging bowl. Anamol turned his eyes aside but the woman ran in front and appealed, “ I don’t have any ointment to use on my wounds. Leprosy is killing me. Show mercy on me and God will show mercy on you and will never inflict you with leprosy.”
The very thought of being inflicted by leprosy shocks him and he quickly makes his way ahead dropping a five rupee note on the woman’s bowl.
Hardly has he moved across the maddening lot, a monkey jumps in front of Sumati screeching harsh and gaping mouth, flickering its eyes as to frighten and demanding sweets and fruits that she has been carrying to feed Shiva who hardly ever requires any food. Anamol and Sumati finally make their way ahead bribing each in whatever way they could.
Among this offending multitude ranging from humble human beings to horrendous beasts are some merciful hands which loot in the dark and distribute foods, fruits and money in coins in the day light to reveal their mercifulness that has long disappeared from their dictionaries. Their mercy too goes to the capable. Weaker men, women and animals remain away from these phony propitious hands. Passing through this jostling crowd of men and beast, entering the shrine and getting the darshan—sight of the image of god in the temple—is really an effort for both of them.
Upon their entry within the premises of the temple, Anamol and Sumati again encounter a multifarious host of things more various than they encountered outside: a gorgeously rambling bull, screeching, yelling and attacking monkeys, twittering and fluttering pigeons on the pagoda of Pashupati, dreaming, drumming and chanting devotees, mantra reciting priests, a bhakta—devotee—donned in monkey god’s attire and tinkling his majuras—jingles, policemen civilizing people, old people devotedly chanting mantras and awaiting for darshan, young boys more interested in the rush in the hope of getting a chance of molesting the young girls’ protuberant breasts and feeling their warmth, young girls shyly peeping for happy hefty young boys and pujaris—priests—eyeing the offerings. The entire world is present there in a miniature. Anamol thinks of this world which he is in touch with. Sumati who is more interested in the darshan is less aware of all this.
“Keep in the queue. I will just stay out, have a parikrama, a ceremonial walk round the shrine-- and the darshan from outside,” Anamol says.
To his surprise, Sumati complies.
Anamol takes a number of rounds around the temple, chants the mantras not knowing why as he has never been a believer, lights the oil lamps and incenses passed to him by his wife and waits for her. Looking at the long queue of the people, he assumes that it is going to take long for Sumati to get through. So he chooses to go around. His sight now falls on the images of gods and goddesses. He closely looks at the phalluses of Shiva, at the temple of the serpent god, at the image of lying Bhisnu, the preserver, barely six feet inside the eastern gate of Pashupati. Attached on the wall beside the eastern gate, there is an image of Saraswoti, the goddess of knowledge. Anamol stands there for a while. In about ten minutes around three hundred people walked through and hardly a couple of them bowed their heads before the image of Saraswoti whereas everyone of them surrendered to Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth. This scene disturbs him; he walks ahead; he peeps into the Bagmati River flowing proudly with a summer swell. The tears of a woman whose husband’s faded body is placed on the ghat—the bank—to be cremated in a short while has added to the swell of the Bagmati in flood.
The cry of the woman is slightly more than Anamol is capable of tolerating and therefore he turns on the other side only to see more faces singing on the sattal—pedestal—with a man playing the harmonium at the center. Some of them are old and emaciated, some haggard and shabby and some still young and chubby too—all singing satyam shivam sundaram – truth is divine and beautiful. Anamol does not know how near or far they are from the knowledge of the divine and beautiful. For a moment he also gets that illusive peace of mind, but is again disturbed the next moment when empty hands anticipating some money—the filth that everyone aspires for—are extended in front of him even within the premises where gods dwell. He wonders when and where these hands will be satiated and full. Failing to get the immediate response, he moves ahead and sees every head bowing down to every stony image frozen on the wall or on the basement around.
Anamol notices eagerness intermingled with hope on every human face and complete indifference on the faces of the frozen images. The paradox of human distrust on the fellow beings with over dependence on abstract, non-reacting lifeless objects appeals and horrifies Anamol at the same time.
With a gusty mind, Anamol stands just in front of the southern gate of the Pashupati and notices that Sumati is far away in terms of time and space to be able to hold her gods tightly enough to learn what truth—the divine-- after all is. With more storm gathered in mind, he peeps around the dreary nature of all worldly apparitions. On his left just opposite the shrine of the Pashupati, he notices a pagoda temple with a narrow wooden door through which an incessant flow of human inventors—men and women inventing their meanings of god in multifarious forms—is coming out. He watches them enter the pagoda shrine with a calm and unperturbed mind and body, and come out with their foreheads slightly constricted and crumpled, their body drenched in perspiration and their faces tensed. Anamol is tempted to explore the cause.
This artifact had never come into his sight ever before during his previous visits. He enters the shrine with some effort and on his entry, a divine life size image—not of a human being—of Kalabhairab, Shiva in the form of God of death, confounds him. He notices the entire human flow circumnavigating the shrine with heads bowed down, demanding for his mercy to live a few more days, never ever peeping into his face. With eyes closed, heads humped and mouths mumbled, everyone appears to be demanding Bhairab’s propitious blessings.
Anamol too cannot help surrendering. Quietly he too circumnavigates the shrine and unlike others, gathers courage to look into Kalabharab’s face, which momentarily shakes Anamol.
Bhairaba wears an astounding posture: his angry, wide and red eyes seemingly emit fire; his damaru reminds the funeral bells; his haggard, determined and extended legs compressing underneath the demon with one foot on head and the other on legs reveal his resolution to annihilate the evil; the demolished demon’s effort to save his life indicates the indeterminacy of evil’s end; the heavy bloody garland of demons’ skulls that Bhairab is wearing indicates the destiny of destructive demonic power; the demons’ blood stains around Bhairab’s mouth explore the extensive expanse that he may step on to wipe out the vice; his openly and sparsely extended stiff and erect phallus hints for creation the need of erotic thirst amid chaos; and Bhairab’s naked dance within the fire flame that surrounds him reveals the necessity of carrying out all life forms in whatever state of condition they are.
Life amid fire and all its mundane mutations. As simple as that yet so complex. Anamol is almost glued to the image. Nothing else is visible to him. Despite the incessant flood of human beings there, no one is in his sight.
“What a threat to kama—desire, krodha—anger, lova—greed, moha—attachment, and mada—arrogance and pride,” Anamol exclaims. “I thought I knew what I am, but I never realized that he stands here to remind the limitations of space and time, the erotic life, the temptations, the inhuman and cruel acts aiming at selfish motives, arrogance and pride, flesh and physique, will and wealth, and our destiny,” Anamol finds himself speaking alone.
He does not remember how long has he been watching Bhairab with his gaping mouth and unblinking eyes. The twitching pinch that Sumati gave makes him aware that she has had the darshan. She then reminds him of leaving the place and he follows her like a baby wherever she led.
Sumati makes an exit from the eastern gate of the Pashupati down to the bank of the Bagmati River next to the cobbled steps on which the dead body of the yelling woman is still laid waiting for the cremation to be performed. Sumati wants Anamol to offer jaladhara – ceremonial water offering—on to the phallus of Shiva.
“Wash your hands and offer water, it will save you from all evils,” she commands more in a dictatorial and authoritative tone.
Anamol steps down the steps on the bank and reaches the river water. As he washes his hands, he realizes, the water of the Bagmati in flood has an equal admixture
of water and sand and the bank of the Bagmati is as meaningful as the statue of Bhairab that he has just come out of. He has a strange feeling to gather that sand in his hands and to bring those hands close to his heart when Sumati interrupts, “what are you doing? Why don’t you offer water?” She waits for Anamol to offer water when she lights the oil lamps near the phallus.
With water on his joined palm, which is half the way filled up with sand, Anamol offers water on Shiva’s phallus and finds five elements—fire, water, air, sky and the sand – coming together.
“ I now know why I am offering water on the phallus.”
No one standing around understands what he understood and how he associated that water offering with a practice of giving life to the dead. For Sumati, Anamol’s reverie was a riddle which she would hardly ever be able to solve in her life.