Friday, October 23, 2015


Long before dawn, the priest was back.  Balu took upon himself to sweep the courtyard. With a light heart, but somewhat lamely, I swept the steps to the temple and the space in front. There seemed to be no need for anyone to tell what was to be done; There was some work, Balu saw to that, and I followed.

After this, we washed and 
watched the priest decorate Hanuman. We watched the dawn creeping into the courtyard. On the temple tops and walls came alive a host of monkeys; golden fuzzy faces tinged with the red of the morning sun, eyes blinking, tails waving. Then, there were the crows, sparrows and a few parrots, crowing, twittering and squawking.

Already the early worshippers were arriving - small groups of men, women and children, with small and big baskets and platters laden with fruits, coconuts, flowers and incense sticks. Temple bells ringing ding-donged; incense smoke rose in swirls. Some bold monkeys vaulted down and swaggered about, walking on their hind legs - old hands that knew when to wait for someone to offer a banana, and when to snatch one from some close-fisted-devotee or other. Children shrieked with delight.

Near where Balu and I stood watching, there was a young man in western clothes, but with shoes off, talking to another young man in local wear. Both had just emerged from the inner temple - both had vermilion marks on their faces; vermilion powder from Hanuman. They were waiting to put on their shoes which they had discarded before getting in. It was then that a monkey snatched away a banana from the gentleman's hand and scampered atop the temple without so much as a thank you.

"You see, this is what I have been telling you." The westy man was talking, "Barbarous! That's what it is; I know there is God; I also know that as soon as I thought of Hanuman my fellowship for study in America has come through. But, do you think they would allow monkeys if the temple was in America. See, what nuisance they are. Superstitious nonsense, to allow monkeys. Have you read what the experts say about it: One monkey takes one banana, maybe two even. Here you can see at least fifty monkeys; fifty monkeys eat up at least fifty bananas. Right? This is one village. In 100, 000 villages there must be 5,000, 000 monkeys, and 5,000,000 bananas go at a snatch - wait, don't interrupt - now, each monkey, on average eats four times a day; that makes it 20,000,000 bananas per day - are you listening? Now imagine; the monkeys producing babies; they have no family planning; and the next year it would not be less than 725 million bananas. Now tell me where do we get the bananas; we have to go begging to America; yet we resent their advice! Not only bananas, but also rice, wheat, chillies and so on. All bunkum, this non-violence business; kill them off, I say. Otherwise we can never progress; look at the Americans; they can even tell us about painless methods of killing; they are not barbarians like us. Hanuman is alright, but unless we follow these developed peoples there will be no bananas for your sons let alone grandchildren!"

The other man was frantically counting on fingers and doing some arithmetic. "Do monkeys eat chillies," he asked. "Good god! If what you say is true, then this must have been going on for thousands of years; it is a wonder that some bananas are still left with us!"  

A small boy was selling pictures and small statuettes of Hanuman. The westy gentleman bought two. "You see," he said, "Americans like Indian culture, especially, these monkey gods and son on; most of them do anthropology, you know. Shall I tell you about it, and how important it is?" 

"Come, come," hurried the other man, "we must be going, if you wish to keep your appointment with the studio; to have your picture taken and send to the papers... this specimen is going to the States for higher studies, that's the stuff!"

And they rushed out while the boy who was looking after the shoes yelled for money.

"What was the man saying, that one who did not pay the shoe-boy?" asked Balu. I noticed Balu was holding his nose tightly. 

"A million monkeys eat 4 million bananas; he is very much worried," I said. 

"Gosh, so many monkeys and so many bananas! But, why he looked as if he was going to cry!" wondered Balu.

"If monkeys go on eating at that rate, then his grandson may have no bananas to eat - also Americans do not like it, he says. They want to make sure that everybody's grandson has a banana, grandsons all over the world; and that cannot be unless we kill off the monkeys or even eat them up,"I said. 

"Kill monkeys!" Balu stood stock-still, "Hanuman will knock them out, as he did Ravan, the demon. You wait and see what will happen to people who want to kill monkeys. But who are these Mericans and what do they want to do?" 

"Oh, Balu, I don't know. I haven't met any, but from what that man says, they do anthropology. I think it is all about grandsons not having any bananas and getting rid of monkeys, also taking this young man's picture for showing around; 'specimen' the other man said. But, Balu, don't worry, they won't do anything to these monkeys, here," I said.

"Not about the monkeys," Balu said. "It is about him. He has some horrible disease, for a terrible smell is coming from him. Swamiji said that if a man is full of wicked thoughts , he smells like a pisachi from the graveyards, even if he puts on scents; and a good man smells like a rose even if he is in dirty clothes." 

I'm glad Balu said this, though I did not know who Swamiji was; now I knew why Balu held his nose; and I saw a hideous hyena crunching the bones of a dead body inside that man, while a child inside it was crying and holding out its hands in fear. 

"But, Balu, I asked, "how can a pisachi come near Hanuman; you told me that demons are scared of Hanuman?" 

"You have to ask Swamiji, I think some pisachis may be wanting to become better. We may go to Swamiji today. He lives just over there." replied Balu.

An hour or so by mid-day the temple quietened down. We helped clean up the place. The priest gave us spiced rice and dough nuts. For a while, Balu play hide and seek with a few village boys who hovered around. They too were munching some dough nuts which the priest gave them. The monkeys huddled into the shady nooks and corners of the temple tower and snoozed.

After the final devotions of the night, we took leave of the priest. Balu and I went three times around the sanctum. Balu prostrated himself in front of Hanuman muttering some sacred words. He got up, bowed to Hanuman with folded hands and stepped out.  

When he heard that we were going to Swamiji, the priest gave us a bunch of bananas and a package of sweet cakes. "Give Swamiji my salutations," he told us.

The moon rode high and clear in the heavens. We took a footpath down the hill away from the village side. At the foot of the hill lay a small lake of water shimmering in silvery ripples. On the other side of the lake there seemed to be a dense copse of trees, and a few lamps twinkled amongst them shooting silver and gold arrows across the lake. The air was cool. Balu hopped and skipped down the path. Once I turned back to look at Hanuman who is everywhere and in everything. 

Half-way down the hill, Balu shouted back to me, "There is Swamiji, there! there!" 

In the clear moonlight - with each bush and boulder standing in clear relief, and shadows as clear-cut - I looked in the direction pointed by Balu. I could not clearly make out; but there was a figure seated on a rock platform set against a large rock, surface painted. 

Soon we were there. There seemed to be a cave in the rock behind the figure. The person was sitting with legs crossed and eyes half closed. He did not appear to notice us; Balu has been walking softly on his toes as we approached. From the mouth of the cave appeared two small pools of phosphorescent blue and I could just make out the outline of a cat. As we stood still, it stretched itself, stalked out of the cave and stood rubbing itself against my leg.

Swamiji opened his eyes, looked at me and said "So, you have come!"

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