A Short Play
by P. RAJA
D-88 Poincare St,
(Cow-dust hour. A village street. Two middle-aged men walk fast as if they were moving away from an impending disaster. They were clad in white dhoti, their torso bare, their heads turbaned. A Man coming in their opposite direction, clad in dhoti and sleeveless shirt and headgear looks askance at them and emboldens to stop them.)
Man 3: (in a hurried tone) You seem to be running for your life. What is chasing you? Yama’s buffalo? One-horned rhino? A woman of easy virtue? Hei! Speak…
Where are you bound?
Man 1: (laughing) Ha! Ha! You are a funny fellow! Ha! Ha! Ha! I can’t but laugh at your curious words. To tell you the truth, we are rushing to Achala Hermitage.
Man 3: (raising his eyebrows a little) Achala Hermitage! Never heard of it before. Where on earth is it?
Man 1: (in a luring voice) Would you like to go with us? It is a few hundred yards away.
Man 3: (hesitatingly) I don’t mind going with you. But what will I gain by going there? Do they give food there?
Man 2: (in a spurt of anger) Food! Food! Food! What foodies we have in our village?
Always after food and food.
(Man 1 and Man 2 resume walking, this time faster than before.)
Man 3: (running after them) Hei! Hei! I will go with you. But you have not yet answered my question.
Man 1: (in an affectionate tone) Come along, friend! Your going there won’t go waste. Achaladeva will provide you enough food for thought.
Man 3: Food for thought? Whoever wants it? Will there be food for my stomach?
Man 2: (gives a short snicker and giggles) Food for the stomach is not the only thing in life. You should grow. Achaladeva will do that for you.
Man 3: Who is Achala?
Man 1: Achala! The word simply means immovable. It also denotes dikpala meaning guardian deity. Achaladeva is also Bodhisattva who later becomes a Buddha.
Man 3: Buddha! One day he will become a Buddha, eh? Let him! Let him! I would like to become his bhikhu.
Man 2: A bhikhu is a mendicant. He is a monk, to put it in simple language. He is restricted to eight essential possessions: Three robes, a begging bowl, a cloth belt, a needle and thread, a straight edged razor and a water strainer.
Man 3: A water strainer? The bhikhus drink from muddled pools or what?
Man 1: No! No! No! Why should they? The strainer is for rescuing the insects that may have fallen into drinking or cooking water.
Man 3: What noble souls are these bhikhus?
(All the three men enter a huge land fenced with trees and shrubs. The land is punctuated by a few huts. But for the occasional cawing and chirping and buzzing, the place is dominated by an unusual silence.)
Man 3: (breaking the silence) An abode of peace… Lucky is the man who finds shelter here.
Man 2: (in a hushed voice) shhh… shhh… This is no place to talk but only to listen.
(The voice of Achaladeva is heard from a distance, though nothing is clear. All the three move towards the direction of the voice. They walk faster than before to reach a mound studded with bushy trees. Achaladeva’s voice becomes very distinct, and he is seen seated on the mound while a twenty or so people, both men and women sit facing him.)
Achaladeva: Monkey… It is a monkey… our mind is a monkey. I’d like to call it a drunken mad monkey. And the most dangerous part of our anatomy is the mind. Meditation, Yoga and all those exercises meant for the purpose would rarely bring our mind under control.
Where exactly is this so-called ‘mind’ in our body? Shall I put it differently for you to understand better? Where do we think from? Think… (pauses for a few seconds)
The head! The heart! The stomach! Think… (pauses again for a few seconds)
We think from different places under different circumstances in the process of life. We do so perhaps to escape from the monotony of life. And so the mind does not operate from one station.
To punish or curse someone we use our head. We use our heart to forgive someone. And we go to work to get our coolie… He… ho! We think from our stomach, don’t we? That is the mind… Capable of shifting places. Then what to call this mind if not a drunken mad monkey?
Now would you like to search for the mind in the body? Try! Try to search for it. Use any means… Use all means. It would prove as futile as searching for the soul in the body. But we should never lose hope. This tireless quest has to continue forever.
(Achaladeva brings his palms together and murmurs his prayers. His attentive listeners follow suit. They then stand up, greet one another, call others brother and sister and dispense. Achaladeva sits in the very same position with his eyes closed. When he opens his eyes, he finds Man 3 standing, with his body bent like a bow and his arms folded against his chest.)
Achaladeva: What Can I give you? What have I to give you?
Man 3: Certain clarifications in your sermon.
Achaladeva: Oh! Have you listened to my sermon?
Man 3: Yes… but only the last few minutes when you spoke of the mind as a drunken mad monkey.
Achaladeva: Yes… Yes! Now shoot your doubts at me one after the other.
Man 3: I agree with you that the mind is a drunken mad monkey. But how to chain it and keep it in one place?
Achaladeva: That is a long process. You have to unleash yourself of all the worldly responsibilities. If you can succeed in this attempt, then you are fit enough to control your mind.
Man 3: That I have already done. I got rid of them.
Achaladeva: What do you understand by responsibilities?
Man 3: I was stupid enough to marry a woman. And more stupid to bring forth a son. My mind is no more with them and I am free from all encumbrances. Will you please accept me as your disciple and allow me to live in your hermitage as a seeker of the Divine?
Achaladeva: What is your name?
Man 3: People call me Dharma.
Achaladeva: Dharma! You can live in my hermitage. What did you do to your wife and son?
Dharma: I have run away from them.
Achaladeva: You mean you have deserted them?
Dharma: I got rid of them.
Achaladeva: Why did you do so?
Dharma: I never knew that they would grow into such big burdens weighing heavily on me. One worry followed another and yet another. I wanted peace… I wanted the peace I have lost. Then I probed into my consciousness to unravel myself the cause of all my worries. Once I found it out, I decided to get rid of them.
Achaladeva: What guided you to my hermitage?
Dharma: I can’t say… Perhaps Father Time and Mother Fortune.
Achaladeva: Stay in my hermitage as long as you want… Till you are fit enough to start one on your own.
(A month or so later. The very same hermitage. Achaladeva is gathering the fallen fruits. An assistant is seen helping him. At a distance the barking of a dog is heard.)
Achaladeva: Many things seemed to have happened during my spiritual tour for a month?
Assistant: I do not know what you are talking about, Master.
Achaladeva: A cur seems to have strayed into the hermitage.
Assistant: Oh! The dog! He has became an incumbent of the hermitage.
Achaladeva: Whose dog is he?
Assistant: Dharma’s dog.
Achaladeva: Dharma’s dog! He told me he had renounced everything.
Assistant: (laughs) Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! All that he said he had renounced, he has brought back on himself.
Achaladeva: (startled) You mean his wife and son too.
(The Assistant nods his head in approval… Dharma appears from nowhere and kowtows before Achaladeva. The Master responds with a big and broad smile.)
Dharma: You must pardon me, my master! I have done certain things in your absence, which need your approval.
Achaladeva: You are the master of your own self. Do whatever your conscious says ‘yes’
Dharma: That is what I have done, Master. But I feel it my duty to inform you of that.
Achaladeva: (nods his head, signalling Dharma to go ahead)
Dharma: I will have to start it with my dog story. (The barkings of a dog is heard) That is my dog Deva.
Two weeks ago when it was not yet dawn and I was still in bed, I was forced to get up by a dog. He was licking all over my face. At first I thought it was a dream. But I sat up to see my dog Deva, yelping and barking at me. I hugged him tight and tears rolled out of my eyes.
What an affectionate creature is this dog! The noblest creation of God! He has traced my scent and tracked me.
Assistant: If you choose your dog with care, your life will be enriched for years by a friend who will give much love and satisfaction and cause little annoyance.
Dharma: That very same evening Deva left me only to come back to me with my only son, a six-year-old.
The boy began to howl and cry the moment he saw me. I wanted to cajole him and so I picked him up and sat him on my arm. He began to beat my chest. I understood that he has lost weight because of my absence.
Assistant: That’s real love… And then?
Dharma: Deva went back… Two days later he returned with the boy’s mother.
Achaladeva: And what did she say?
Dharma: She came rushing towards the boy and cuddled him up, showering kisses on both his cheeks. She yelled at me that I have abandoned the family life for a spiritual life, which can be led even when one is leading a family life. Finally, she refused to go out of the hermitage for she could not live without her son.
Assistant: That’s a true mother.
Achaladeva: And the boy refused to go out of the hermitage for he could not live without his father. Right?
Dharma: Yes! You are right.
Achaladeva: Dog loves his master. He traced his master’s scent and tracked him.
The boy was curious to know the whereabouts of his father. The faithful dog helped him. Both father and son got united.
And then the mother came searching for the son. Mother and son got united. That is to say, the entire family got united by a dog.
Dharma: Well said, Achaladeva. I think I rightly named him Deva, meaning god. It is god who brought my entire family together.
Achaladeva: Kill Deva!
Dharma: (Surprised and shocked) What?
Achaladeva: I said kill Deva.
Dharma: Is it the same Achala who uses a strainer for rescuing the insects that may have fallen into the drinking water, speaking to me thus?
Is it the very same Achala who on the very first sight permitted me to stay in his hermitage?
Is it the same Achala, love incarnate, who through his satsangs preaches peace to humanity?
Achaladeva: Don’t you understand that I am the very same Achala who even now wishes to bring peace to your heart?
This is a testing time for you. Kill Deva, by which I mean your attachments to this world. Or go back to your family life with your wife, son and dog.
Dharma: (relieved) Pardon me, Achaladeva for misunderstanding your words of advice.
Achaladeva: Your Deva is the hound of desire that will trace your scent and track you. There can never be any escape from it, till you determine to kill it.
Our way of ascetic life is not for men like you, who are attached to their families.
Never forget: An aimless life is a useless life.
(Cow-dust hour. Dharma is seen sitting on the lowest branch of a neem tree, as if he were riding a horse. His eyes are riveted to the sky. He begins swinging his legs.)
Dharma: Achaladeva was right when he said, “An aimless life is a useless life.”
Is life really worth living without a goal? The creator created every life on Earth to serve a purpose of its own. But what am I doing?
(A fine breeze that would very easily lull any insomniac into sleep, hugs Dharma before it ruffles the leaves of the neem tree. Amidst the noise made by the leaves, Dharma hears a voice calling him by his name.)
Dharma: Oh! Who is this whispering my name?
Tree: It’s me, Dharma! The neem tree on the branch of which you are riding far away… far from the madding crowd.
Dharma: What have you to tell me?
Tree: Nothing much. You have asked yourself an excellent question: What am I doing?
Dharma: Yes! Do you have an answer for me?
Tree: Nothing much. The world expects very much from every individual to contribute to its growth… It is up to you to find out the purpose of your sojourn on planet Earth.
Dharma: It is only a sojourn, eh?
Tree: Of course… Everything changes… All things on Earth have to undergo this sea change. You are not what you were till you met Achaladeva. You were not what you are till Deva traced your scent and tracked you. You will not be what you are by the time I finish talking to you.
Baby, child, boy, adolescent, youth, grown-up, oldie… Alphabet, syllable, words, sentence, paragraph, page… girl, wife, mother, grandma, … good wife, better mother, best cook… seed, seedling, plant, tree, bud, flower, fruit… Oh! What a sea change we undergo during our sojourn on Earth!
Dharma: Do anything you have to do to save me?
Tree: (laughs) Save you? Ha… Ha… Ha… If the axe man comes with his tool nobody can save me. I would think… I have trained my mind to think… that my end has come and the purpose of my sojourn is over.
Dharma: You are trying to make me a fatalist, resigning myself to the inevitable.
Tree: I am happy that I am driving sense into your head.
Dharma: I know you have done your job all these years. I am sure you will continue to do your job till your end comes.
Tree: Think of me… Just think of me in the language of silence.
As soon as I am a grown-up, I fully bloom. Then I stud myself with fruit. It is an invitation for birds. Many build their nests and bring forth their own families. Many carry my fruit in their stomach to a far off distance and plant them there.
My barks, my flowers, my fruits, my nuts, my leaves, my twigs… mine, mine all that is mine I give away when many lives come seeking for them.
All these I do, knowing full well that one day I will fall a prey to the axe man.
Achaladeva is one such tree… a human tree. What you seek, you get. But you should by all means know what you are seeking for.
Dharma: I don’t know… I don’t know… What am I seeking for?
Tree: You know and you do not know. This is the poser that every life on Earth faces. We are caught between God and Devil.
Achaladeva and your Deva.
Achaladeva is like a tree, always branching out, helping others in all possible ways. What is this life worth unless we help and serve others?
Your Deva is a devil, always self-centred, cunning and planning to fulfil his own wishes. Achaladeva is a deep sea. No one would dare to jump into it. Yet a determined soul will do it, only to emerge as a new, helpful, friendly and peace loving soul.
Choose Achaladeva… you choose your transformation. Stick to your Deva… He will make you another Devil of a man self-centred, always in need and cursed.
Dharma: Don’t you think that I will be shunning my responsibilities if I decide to go in the path of Achaladeva? Who will care for my wife, son and dog?
Tree: (laughs) Ha! Ha… Ha… Ha! You are caught between the devil and the deep sea. That is the human condition today.
It is high time that you find for yourself the purpose of your sojourn. You should never regret the decision you take.
(A strong wind disturbs the peace of the tree. Dharma’s legs swinging all these minutes, stop.)
(Achaladeva is seen sitting on the mound. A crowd of hundred or so men and women sit facing him.)
Achaladeva: Let us do what best we can do for others. Let us do our duty. Those who do their duty do not do it for themselves. It is done only for the others.
The Divine gives you strength so that you can strengthen the weak. The Divine gives you food so that you can feed the needy. (Pauses) Think of any duty that you do purely for the sake of yourself. If you find one, then it is no duty at all. You will realize that all duties are done for others.
Some restrict themselves to their family members. Some go into the wider and broader world to do their duty.
A year or so ago, I had a disciple by name Dharma. He got enlightenment in this hermitage. Buddha got it under a Bodhi tree. Dharma got it directly from the tree itself. Wisdom is wisdom wherever you get it and whosoever passes it on to you. Tree or animal or bird or men—it makes no difference. Under the tree, in the tree, on the tree, from the tree—these prepositions have not much meaning. Now look at the lemon tree over there. (He points at a tree nearby the mound he was sitting on.) Don’t let your eyes miss the little mound under the tree.
One day Dharma disappeared from my hermitage. To my great shock I found that he had clubbed his dog to death. I was surprised to see Dharma’s wife and son wailing over… Surprised because they were not wailing over the disappearance of Dharma but over the death of their dog.
Mother and son left this hermitage once and for all.
I arranged for the burial of the dog under that lemon tree.
I have not heard of Dharma again. But I am sure the whole world will hear of him soon.
D-88 Poincare St,
Raja,P. (1952) Bilingual poet, fiction writer, essayist,folklorist, journalist, critic and translator; heads the department of English, Tagore Arts College, Pondicherry; has 28 books in English and 10 books in Tamil. Add: D-88, Poincare Street, Olandai-Keerapalayam, Pondicherry-605 004. Cell: 9443617124, E-mail: email@example.com; website: www.professorraja.com