Thursday, November 05, 2015

THE BEING AND THE BECOMING-XXI

“I take leave of you, Swamiji,” I said, “Maybe I should go home for a while.”

“It was early in the day. I was feeling a little heavy - parting with a friend and guide, and Balu and Thimmy, too.

Swamiji looked at me and smiled, “And be always at home - for you are always at home, son, wherever you go and wherever you happen to be,” he raised his hand in blessing.

“When would I be able to see you again, Swamiji?” - would I be able at all?” I stood still, hesitating to take the first step out.

“Meetings happen, don’t they: Things that need each other meet. You know you met me and Thimmy long before you walked to this cave, here, and little Balu bumped into you just like that, didn’t he? Moreover,son, once you have come to know a thing it merges and becomes part of your house-hold; you may not notice it as you don't notice the clothes on your back. So, you have really acquired a large family, haven't you? Give your parents my best wishes - in case you mention about me - such nice parents you have,” He turned and walked away towards the village; Balu and Thimmy followed.

I took one step and then two, and a third and found myself on the path towards Hanuman’s temple - the early sunshine smiled on its golden spires.

Half-way from the temple, I heard the patter of running steps behind me and there was Balu, panting beside me, carrying a small bundle.

We walked in silence for a while, he recovering his breath, and I happy for company.

“Nice to see you, Balu,” I said.

“There, you see, that is Hanuman, again,” remarked Balu, pointing to the temple ahead of us.

Balu was not much for talk - though his eyes and ears were ever alert to the thousand mysteries around him. I say, mysteries - but to him they all seemed personal friends of long acquaintance - rocks, birds, trees and beasts and the sunshine and the breeze.

The night we rested at Hanuman’s temple. The priest was so happy to see us, and he gave us a small pack of spiced rice and cakes for our onward journey.

We walked on - open country, a couple of small villages and big town. Balu was at home, country, village or town. We rested for the noon at a little Ganesh temple at the outskirts of our town.

It never occurred to me to ask me to ask Balu why or what for he was coming with me. He was there and that was enough: it seemed so pointless to ask: As well ask why the tree was there or the temple here.

By nightfall we reached home. As we entered the gate, and past the front garden I saw father in his car ready to drive out. An Alsatian dog rushed out from somewhere, barked and bounced at us, and was licking Balu all over with yelps of joy as he knew him all his life.

Father came out of the car, shouting, ‘no beggars,’ - took one look at me - the dust and grime, the naked feet, a dhoti and a raggedy upper cloth over the shoulder. He looked at Balu, “Let go the dog, it will bite you!” The Alsatian was cuddling its big head in Balu’s slender arms. “It's you!” father said - a look of disgust, anger, and there was a tiger with its hackles raised, growling at a cub that has returned with a lot of man smell on it. “ At last you found your way, have you; anyway, come in and who is this vagabond with you; no, wait a minute; let me prepare your mother for this! You are fit to scare the life out of her!” But he stood staring, rooted to the ground. I have not met a tiger face to face. Now I have: It comes to me to become known by me - there is nothing I do - I let kindness show its face - of course, one can’t pat a tiger or talk to it. I just kept looking at him. The tiger stopped growling, and was now moaning piteously, licking its wounds. “Alright, son, just come in - let the boy stand here till I see all about it,” and the tiger stalked back looking over its shoulder to see if something was going to jump at it.

I just stood there and I too joined Balu, playing with the Alsatian.

“This is Kiki the wolf,” he said , “My Kiki!”

“No, it is a dog,” I said, “Kalu, it is called.”

“It is Kiki from the zoo,” and Balu was telling Kalu all about the wolves in the zoo, its brothers.

An old attendant of ours was peeping from behind a tree; our cook from behind another. The place developed eyes: The trees were looking at me.

Father came out the front door and called me to come in and sit down. I walked up the steps and sat down in one of the chairs in the verandah. As Balu came up, father asked him to wait on the steps. And to me “wait, your mother will be here in a minute,” he said.

Mother was there before the minute was out. She rushed past father and stood in front of me staring. Then she pawed and patted me all over, smelt my head and hands, all the while muttering, “what happened - where were you - what has come over you, son - how have you come back,’ and so on. She was looking haggard and pale - dark circles under her eyes, puffy, as if she just got up from sleep. “Come, you must have a bath and change of clothes, son,” she said, -a sleepy tigress ashamed at the muddied coat of her cub and frantically licking it back into shape and glad for the chance to do it.

I sat still and watched.

“Yes, yes, get him to bathe and change, quickly, before the neighbours drop in. But, first, find out, who is this other fellow sitting on the steps - is he going to park himself on us or what?” said father.

Mother for the first time noticed Balu and she, too, wanted to know who he was.

“He is Balu; he brought me to my notice,” I said.

Father looked at me. “Brought you to your notice!” He looked puzzled. “Oh, the reward, I forgot, though I don't see what this fellow will do with it. Anyway give him something and send him off. People will be coming. What fates!”

“No, no” said mother, “Don’t talk like that; our boy has come back to us. I think you said you will give 500 rupees, and we will give it.” She went in and came back with the money and called to Balu.

“You, boy, come, take this money, and be careful - you may lose it - or send your father to collect it.”

Balu stood looking it her, the Alsatian beside him. “Take what?” he asked.

“This money; it is too much for a boy. You better ask your father or mother to come for it,” mother replied.

Father was growling a bit, looking at me. “Why don't you say something. You sit like a statue. Haven’t they cured you properly? Oh, God!” and he rubbed his hands, and began pacing about.

Balu looked at mother and the currency in her hands. “I don’t eat paper. I go now.”

Father stopped pacing and looked at Balu, “What! He does not want the money! Oh, no, may be he wants to hang on her,” he muttered.

“Strange boy,” said mother. “Alright, I will get you something to eat.” Mother’s eyes were less sleepy now. “Oh, Lord,” she said, “I haven't given even a glass of water to my son.” She rushed in and after a while she came out with some rice cakes on a plantain leaf, and two glasses of water. One glass she gave to me.

“Give him the food and let him go and eat somewhere else,” growled father. Fellow tigers will be there and it wouldn’t do to have human company around.

Mother asked the boy to cup his hands, and she poured water for him to drink - tigers and humans don't drink from the same pond. Then she gave him the rice cakes.

Balu looked at me, at father and mother, and turned to go.

“With whom do you stay, boy, and where do you sleep?” asked mother.

“Why, with myself, of course,” said Balu and walked out - the Alsatian following, only to be stopped at the gate.

Balu went, but Balu is with me; he will jump inside me if I want him to stay.

“Another lunatic! growled father. “Never dreamt that things will come to this pass; one and only son!” The tiger was moaning, more and more piteously.

“Come, son, come in. You have a nice hot bath first, and then a good meal. You look starved. Oh, have you look! What have we done, son, to run away like that! But, come.” Mother hustled and bustled.

Father slumped into a chair.

I followed mother - a child, a nice boy having a hot bath, the hot bath having a nice meal. I walked, like Thimmy, softly, on padded feet, so as not to break mother's heart. Now, I met her - the tigress, sniffing and snuffling at the human smell and muddied coat of her cub - ready to protect and attack if cub threatened. I have met her. I let kindness look on.

Mutterings and growlings and snarlings and moanings were rising and falling in the verandah: Occasionally a shout - “Ask him why he has come back! - Why did he run away from the hospital! - that is where he belongs - God, what has come to me!” I saw the tiger biting its tail in mortal agony.

Mother hurried back to the verandah, shouting, “Don't, don’t talk like that. Thank God, he has come back to us. He is tired. Let him rest and then we can ask him.”

I had a hot water bath, and the hot bath was ready to eat. Mother sat watching me eat, occasionally dabbing her eyes.

“Son why don't you speak. You seem to hear and know what we are saying. Speak up, son, your father's heart is broken, and you know he is no longer young. Why don't you say something? When we put it in the papers - what a shame for us, son - all neighbours, and his friends at office asking all sorts of things - but am I happy to see you, son - yes, what was I saying - after we advertised, that hospital people wrote to us saying that you were taken there by the police and you escaped. What agony! But, speak out something; they said that you were mute most of the time.”

“I can speak, mother,” I said.

“Thank God,” she said, “Thank God for that. You don’t need to run away from us. You need not work, son. You are the only one for us; we have enough for us and for you, too. Just stay here and get well. Maybe, you rest a while and we can see your father. He's gone out for some work and will be back. Don't mind his talk, son. His heart is broken, that's what. He loves you. He hardly slept a wink; and I hardly awake with all those sleeping pills. You have nearly killed us. We are alive again.” and she bustled about arranging my shirt, my hair. “How thin you have become and your face, nothing but your eyes.”

My room was being got ready. It was closed all this time. How long? And I sat in the drawing room, the Alsatian at my feet and Balu in its eyes. Mother sat watching me.

Father returned somewhat late in the night.

“Ah, looks human at least,” said father. “Alright, let us eat. I rang up and cancelled the guests - maybe some other day.” There was smell of whisky.

“Has he eaten,” he asked mother, “anyway, come and sit with us even if you don’t speak.”

We sat at table. Father and mother ate and I toyed with a little food that was in front of me.

“Thank God, you have come home, Krishna,” said father, “But tell us all about it. Let us hear you speak. You were being such a good doctor, and now all this - where all have you been - and that hospital - can you remember anything? Who was that little fellow you brought along? How did you meet him?”

“Oh, he showed me the zoo,” I said.

“Good Lord, that must be it - now I understand why our Kalu was licking him. Never lets any stranger touch him. And what were you doing at the zoo. Don't strain your memory,” he said.

“Why, I wanted to know how to look after the animals which are inside and outside,” I said.

“What are you talking about? he asked “Animals in and out?”

“Oh, so many animals inside in me. I see some inside you too,” I said, “I wanted to know how to look after them. And Balu showed me. Now, I know.”

Father looked at mother and mother looked at father.

“Alright, Krishna,” said father, “I see you are not still quite well. Maybe we will see someone about it. Now, don't worry. You go to sleep. Can you sleep or shall I send for the doctor? I myself have a splitting headache.” He got up and asked mother to keep an eye on me.

“Shall I get you an aspirin,” I asked, “I know the shop.”

He looked at me, and grinned from ear to ear, “I'm forgetting you are a doctor. Should I take aspirin, doctor,” he was humouring me.

“Yes,”I said, “otherwise your headache may go splitting things, for instance, hairs.”

Father and mother laughed, and it was good to see them laugh. I felt lighter and happier - I was getting to know them.

We sat a while in the drawing room.

“I don't understand you, Krishna, but the fellows at the the mental hospital, you remember that, said you will have to see them once for a formal discharge certificate. I believe the police want it.”

Mother said, “Oh, no! What disgrace - let us forget about it. You are alright, aren't you, son? No need to go there - and all neighbours will talk about it. Nasty cats they are!”

“Oh, not Thimmy,” I said.

Father and mother look at each other.

“ We are still in the dark, Krishna. Sleep well, and tomorrow we will talk about it.” He went to his room.

Mother took me to my room, “By the way, son, where is that boy’s home, and where would he have gone to in this town - must be new place for him. In that excitement I forgot - he could have slept the night in our garage.” She looked sad. “What did he mean - sleeping with himself - poor thing, does not know what he is talking about. Why didn't you say anything then, son. I am now sorry about him. And Lord,” she sat on the edge of my bed with head in her hands, “I promised Ganesh that I would give 500 rupees to the person who brings you to me, and that I would wash his feet and feed him and thank him, and give him another five hundred. And now what have I done! I will be punished. I have treated him like a dog. I will be punished, as if I haven't had enough exclamation mark Watson! Hot scene! This sender maybe like that... Where can we find him now. Do you know where is this? For long.

“Don't worry, mother,” I said. “he sleeps with himself, didn’t he say. No place is new to him. Tonight he will be sleeping with Ganesh.”

“Which Ganesh,” asked mother.

“Ganesh, whom you promised all that,” I remembered the temple at the outskirts of our town, and Balu would be there by now helping to wash the place.

“You speak riddles, son. That boy, he looked so strange, and our dog playing with him! I was deaf and blind - I know now, it was Ganesh who came and he vanished before I could recognise him, and keep my word. What new troubles await me, I don't know.” She wrung her hands and ran out of the room.

Soon, there was commotion in the next room, father's. Father was shouting, “Oh, go to sleep - take those sleeping pills - take three of them - you are seeing things - always - Ganesh came, Ganesh vanished - God, my fates - you, too, may see that psychiatrist fellow when we go there tomorrow - now, I suppose, we must go - before I too see things - I am already seeing them - sleep now that he is with us, nuts or bolts!”

I slept: I slept with myself.

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