In the Abode of God

All that I had striven to build through the years lay shattered around me.

My pride would not let me bend and pick up the bits and pieces. Pride-what a meaningless word!

My sandcastle, which I myself fashioned and set out in beautiful hues -my sandcastle— where I sat on a straw mat spread in the middle. My sandcastle, where I could call myself, in pride and glory, the empress of a starry kingdom. Wasn’t it because I couldn’t bring myself round to see it in ruins that I refused to bend down and look at it? What if among the pieces that I might see there were fragments stained with blood from my heart?

What was the power that brought me here? I had begun to feel that it would be a relief to give myself over to the darkness that beckoned, hadn’t I? What is this power?

Does this mean that the instincts and intuitions acquired in myriad births down the ages had remained essentially unchanged in the unconscious mind? Primeval instincts.

Does this mean that this feeling – which my forebears had considered a part of their lives which lay beyond the pale of reason – had mingled with my blood and lain unnoticed under the pall of material knowledge?

Like a hurt child who runs to his mother to hug her and cry his pain out, – am I a child who seeks the succour of a power considered omnipotent?

God is the procrastinator’s last refuge! I remember having said that to someone a long time ago. Did I flee to this place because I am a coward who doesn’t have the guts to sort the pieces, pick those that are intact and build anew on a stronger base?

She stood bewildered in front of the door of that famous temple’s gopuram.

Do the sad eyes of those who love me follow me here? It is a sea of strange faces that is behind me.

Are they all heart-sore, like I am? Seekers of material wealth!

Wouldn’t there be a few who came to seek the truth?

The god stood smiling, adding to the dazzle of the lamps inside the sanctum-sanctorum.

She stood with folded palms, trying to give herself up to that smile. What did I expect?

There is only disinterestedness here. The disinterested god of the land of Upanishads.

You stupid woman, your heart and your pain – what is special about them?

Men in their thousands bring their sorrows to me. You are like the rest of them. Aren’t you?

I am graven on stone. Stone that smiles! Are you just that Lord, nothing more? In that case –

‘Move! Hmm. Offer your prayers and move! Please don’t hog the way. Come on, move!’

A man wearing a yellow sash over his dhoti stood holding on to the mandapam and the steps to the sanctum.

It was he who spoke.

She moved away from the door.

Holding on to the door frame, he was repeating the same words like a machine every five minutes.

A young man with a homely face and a stocky figure, he had a sore throat from raising his voice every now and then to exhort the people to move on.

‘Either move this way or that. It’s difficult if you stay put right here in front of the sanctum.’

It was a grandmother with two kids in tow. ‘If people hog the way-‘

It was only then that she realized that the old woman meant her.

A pretty young woman too moved on to the sanctum through the space cleared by the old woman.

The sanctum was closed.

People crowded on to the two sides of the door. It was auspicious to be caught in the shower of holy water sprinkled on to the devotees as soon as the door to the sanctum was opened.

My body.

The music started suddenly. From somewhere close by. She moved a little away.

A song rose amidst the beat of the edakka. A sweet voice. Clear too. Jayadeva’s songs.

The rush was growing.

‘Haririti haririti japati sakamam’ The disinterested god.

‘Hare!’ The cry rose in unison.

From where she stood, she folded her palms together. Oh Lord! Are you still smiling?

‘Move, please move a little off, please. Don’t touch me! For pity’s sake, don’t pollute me please!’

Nampoothiri women in damp clothes and palm-leaf umbrellas.

Virtuous mothers, I have no desire to touch you. Neither do I have a desire to annoy you, you unfortunate mothers, still compelled to confine your lives behind these old palm-leaf umbrellas.

She pressed herself against the wall to make room for them.

When they had moved to the sanctum one after the other, leaving enough room, she moved out of the inner courtyard.

What a rush!

You foolish woman — who seeks refuge in a man-made god to escape from men — how can you go round the sanctum without brushing against someone?

Oh Lord! Are you smiling?

‘Give me a ticket. A ticket please!’

A plump little boy stood there, holding out his hand. ‘I don’t have one with me, child.’

He went away, muttering something under his breath.

He joined a bunch of boys dressed in everything from a kachamundu to a mere loin-cloth. When he reached them, a guffaw went up from them.

She joined the crowd on their way to the outer courtyard. Do the song and music reach here too? She turned to look.

Behind the nagaswaram and maddalam walked a man and a woman wearing garlands.

‘Must be out of the top drawer. They’ve got music and all.’ An old woman who was walking beside her spoke to her friend.

‘How much do you have to pay for this?’ ‘Twenty-five?’

‘Hey, no! For that you’d get an elephant too.’A third one put in. Lord! Have they turned you into an industry?

She moved behind a banyan tree.

A middle-aged woman came along. Her forehead bore holy ash and sandal paste marks.

‘Please give me the ticket. Let me get some rice to eat. God will bless you. I didn’t have a bite of supper yesterday.’

‘I don’t have a ticket.’

‘You haven’t got a ticket for the vellanedyam in the morning?’ ‘No.’

‘What about payasam?’ ‘I don’t have that either.’

‘Oh!’ She pulled a long face and left.

God, do you encourage the tribe of beggars— ‘Have they put on the silk, dear?’

An old woman who was lying curled up on a mundu near the wall hastily scrambled to her feet and came up to her.

‘Put the silk on?’

‘Did they take out the nedyam in procession?’ ‘I don’t know.’

The old woman shook out the mundu and moved hurriedly away. She moved to the sanctum.

Three or four men wearing yellow sashes over their mundus stood guard at the door.

Inside the temple, the Brahmins were partaking of food along with the Lord.

Men, women and children milled around like termites near the door. They were all in a hurry to occupy the front.

The door opened. It could hardly admit three people abreast. What a rush!

‘Ouch! My leg—‘ ‘What cheek! How dare you push me back when I try to go in?’ ‘Don’t push.’

God! Do you smile when you see the antics of these human beings, your children? Did you look on with the same smile when fratricide was committed on the battle-field of Kurukshetra?

Is your heart really made of stone? The stone that smiles!

She went round the sanctum once. The poor were being fed sacred rice outside the gopuram.

The haves extend their charity towards the have-nots.

Giving out rice to the needy is auspicious. That too on the temple premises. The old and the infirm.

They say Gautama once saw the sick and the dead.

They doled out what was there. There wasn’t enough to go by.

Pushing and pulling and fighting. Oh, God!

Somehow, everything died down.

Only a handful of people remained: a young woman who gave her blind mate the rice that she’d fought tooth and nail to procure, along with a crushed chilly that she’d got out of the folds of her dress and she now sated her hunger happily watching him eat greedily. And the small boy trying to console his little sister who was weeping since the rice that he could get for her wasn’t enough to satisfy her hunger.

‘Come back, as a shower of mercy.’ Shower of mercy, Oh God!

For which, should there not be rain clouds that stole your hue and turned you dark? Will it be possible for fleecy clouds that dazzle your eyes in the blazing sun?

She walked on, past the last pillar. She reached the intersection.

Whither now? God, are you sending me away empty-handed?

You had granted everything to that poor Brahmin who once came to see you with a handful of aval and who returned, lost in you, oh, Eternally beautiful one, without seeking whatever he had come to seek.

Oh Lord! When I reach where I have to, will I too gain what I never sought of you? Without ever realizing it, shall I have been cured of this pain that’s become part of me? Oh God! Will this dust that lies thick over the barren land of my soul be swept away and fresh green sprouts emerge?

For that, you are not my beloved coeval. And you did not grab what I had brought you.

To love you — To believe in you — Oh God!

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