Death knew its defeat. He knew he could be won over by selflessness. Selflessness didn’t want to be a warrior. It chose to be armor. The war of righteousness was won and the death was defeated.
I listened to the monk teaching the state of mind, the Mahabharata. The death was Bhishma; the selflessness was Shigandi. He taught that the characters in the epic were our own selves in different situations. Yudhishtira was our better part and Dhuryodhana replicated the worst - Both were with in us.
When Islam and Bible taught how to live methodically, Hinduism taught the same a bit graphically. The closest comparison would be Macintosh graphics in comparison with the MS DOS or Linux. Or like relating to films more than books.
I go to Sabarimala every year. I believe that in a year of 365 days, one needs to know all possible sort of intoxication. For me, Devotion was one. Clad in the black and the tulasimala, I sat down at the gathering, barefooted. I was ready both spiritually and mentally for the pilgrimage.
This is the Lord Ayyappa Ashram, situated far and away from the noise of the City. Here’s where I come every year to get ready for the pilgrimage. A thatched roof and wooden bars bought the natural ingredient of peace in the hundreds who were ready to seek salvation.
Our mindset is like Thrayambagam – The Bow of Lord Shiva – Unbreakable. The strings of the bow never meet. Lord Rama will be born. He is Knowledge. He will break the Thrayambagam and tie the strings. Then there will be flood, rain and storm. The sun and the moon would rise together. The bow is your mindset. And when the bow is broken, you will be subject to change. The flood, rain and storm will bring the renaissance in you. And there will be a new self, who is more educated and with a new mindset - another Thrayambagam.
It was the darker stage of the twilight and I could hear the chariots of moon roll. The monk was at his best today. I could hear the silent plea of insecurity – The mantra of Swamiye Sarnamayyappa. This was the month of Vrishchikam. I tried to close my eyes. My mind left me to wander out of the ashram - To the past 20 days I have been living like a monk, to the 20 days that lay ahead and then to the past behind.
The monk who is preaching is called the Guru Swami. And the hundreds who gathered in front of him were all Swami. All of us are called the first name and then they would add Swami to it. Like all belonged to one family – the family of God with the same second name – Swami. And they called me Parasurama Swami or Paru Swami.
All of us were listening to Guru. He talked about Thrayambagam and its relativity to mind. He talked about the war of righteousness. When he concluded, the chanting of the mantra grew and it filled the hundreds of seeking minds.
When I got out of the ashram, it was close to 9pm. The Banyan tree was direct opposite to the Ashram, across the road. Old men gathered around it and younger men who passed by nodded to them in respect. There came a bus, which halted there and then went off like a frustrated monster that is not happy with its daily chores. Few women, who was late from work was hurrying home. There was hardly any streetlight and a Swami offered them a torch.
I went near the Banyan tree. I was waiting for Manu. He was on his way back from office and had agreed to pick me up. I could still hear the Bhajan. It came with the breeze and caressed me. This was one ambience I would want to come back every time.
The bike halted abruptly. Manu was on it. I could hardly recognize him with the helmet on.
“So what’s up, Paru?”
“Good. Where are we going now?”
“We will have some food man. I am kind-a famished.”
I got in the backseat and the bike shot ahead. Manu is more of an intellectual when it comes to spirituality. He has an answer for everything. Sometimes when he speaks, I felt like he is named after ManuSmriti.
When the bike was speeding up, the wind fought the speed and hit us strongly. But the wind did not know that Manu was wearing a helmet and I loved the wind.
We halted in front of the Chai shop. Raja gave us a broad smile. This was one person who was interesting in every way. He wore red lipstick and maroon nail polish. And he asked us which color suited him best. He always ended the conversation by pinching on Manu’s Cheek. May be that’s why he showed us all his make-up. He just wanted to pinch Manu. When he walked away, I would look at Manu. Manu would give me a wicked laugh.
“He might be a gay”
“I don’t mind.”
And then he would laugh out vigorously and all other customers in the teashop would look us be-wildered.
“Tell me this Paru… why do you go to Sabarimala every year?”
“I love that place, the ambience, the intoxication which is devotion, the communal harmony, the…”
“Wait. I got my answer. So you said Communal Harmony?”
“Yes. You know that we bow to Vaavaru Swami. He is supposed to be the playmate of the lord and he is a Muslim. We have constructed a mosque for him. And we let the Islam have the control over it. Is it not great?”
“Hmm. It is. As far as we believe what you said.”
“What does that mean?”
So that’s it. Manu has something in store for me today. Raja came with the Snacks we ordered.
Manu leaned on the chair. Took a cigarette packet out of his pocket and offered me one. I smiled and ignored. He smiled broader and lit one. The smoke went up in the air.
“Do you believe that Lord Ayyappa lived in this earth? Or are you convinced that it’s just another story?”
“I prefer to believe that he lived.”
“Hmm… Cool. So he lived. Where? India?”
“Yeah. Kerala, to be precise. The Pandalam Dynasty. It has references in History. He was born as a prince there. So it ought to be true.”
“Good. You are close. So you believe in History. And you trust logics and facts.”
I was not feeling easy with this conversation. But I had to continue.
“Yes. I do.”
“That’s great. India was a land of Dravidians. And then Aryans migrated here. We were happy with our spaces. But often fought out of greed. But we all worshiped the Trinity. It was always Vishnu, Shiva and sometimes the not-so-lucky Brahma or rarely natural forces which led to the Trinity again. What I meant to say is… We were all Hindus.”
I was listening patiently. The smoke was filling the air. It might be the first time I am being a passive smoker. I was hyperactive otherwise.
“So. When was the first Foreign Invasion?”
“Even I don’t.”
Thank god. He does not know something.
“But there’s something I know. That’s about the first Muslim invasion.”
I did not reply.
“It was Genghis Khan. He was a Mongolian. Not sure if he is a Muslim. But his name sounds like Shahrukh Khan. So I thought he might be.”
He laughed again. I did not.
“Then there was Tughlaqs and Mughals. Do you, by any chance, believe that Vaavaru Swami was a descendant of these barbarians?”
I gasped for breath. What’s he reaching at?
“Which means Ayyappa lived when Mughals were ruling India. Or later when Tippu Sultan was converting Kerala.”
“I don’t know.” My sound faded away. I finished the tea in one gulp. I wanted to get away.
“You can always argue that Muslims were there before Mughals. But that does not prove anything to ones consciousness. Or does it?”
He smiled now. Leaning front, face close to mine, he blew the last puff straight to my face.
“So. What say sir?”
I got up from my seat and walked out. Half of my mind wanted to run away. And half did not know what to do. I stopped. Looked back at Manu. He was still smiling at me. I went back as I wanted to punch him on his face. But I sat down again.
“I don’t care.” That was vague. And I did care.
“I don’t care about all this. And I can’t take too much history. These are all beliefs and I would like to get away with it.”
“Its your wish man. Nobody is bound to believe anything. But certain facts need to be told.”
I closed my eyes. I can’t take facts. I always hated them.
“In Upanishads, it says of the existence of Vaapuran. He is supposed to be one of the demons in the mob that Lord Shiva controlled. Lord Shiva was obviously concerned about his son at Pandalam. He then sends Vaapuran to accompany Ayyappa. This dude is our object of suspect. He is no Muslim. And you don’t really have to construct a mosque for him. Because he does not care.”
He laughed again. He took his helmet and keys and got up to leave.
“Relax. Go ahead with your pilgrimage. We will talk after that.”
He washed his hands and left.
I sat there alone. Did he just come to pick up and leave me here at this Chai shop? Or he just wanted to prove a point? I closed my eyes.
The eyelids shut heavily as if it would never open again. I could feel the wind and the sea. The sea was rising. Rising like never I have seen. Then there was flood. The wind grew stronger. Soil was swept away and the pale flesh of earth was visible. It grew red as seconds ticked away. Then there was mud all over it. I looked up. I saw the moon and the sun side by side. The clouds could not stand them and ran away. There was a loud crack. And the trees fell down. The earth split and swallowed everything. The sound got worse. Suddenly, I got hit and fell down.
When I opened my eyes, there was a crowd looking at me. A nail polished hand was rubbing my cheeks and eyes. And there was water spilt on my face.
“What happened Sir?”
I pushed Raja away. Then I saw genuine concern in the people around. I smiled at them and said I was ok. After paying for the tea & snacks, I got out. I saw tea stains on my shirt.
The Thrayambagam is broken. And the strings are tied. I smiled.