Dharma’s Dog ( a short play)

A Short Play
by P. RAJA
DHARMA’S DOG

Dr.P.Raja,
D-88 Poincare St,
Olandai-Keerapalayam,
Pondicherry-605 004;
cell:9443617124
e-mail: rajbusybee@gmail.com

SCENE 1
(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.
–curtain–

SCENE 2
(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.
–curtain–

SCENE 3
(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.)
–Curtain–

SCENE 4
(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.
The End

Dr.P.Raja,
D-88 Poincare St,
Olandai-Keerapalayam,
Pondicherry-605 004;
cell: 9443617124
e-mail: rajbusybee@gmail.com

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: rajbusybee@gmail.com; website: www.professorraja.com

Joy of Reading

JOY OF READING
How many of us read today? The little time we have is spent with the electronic media. We may think of reading when we have more time. But what we fail to understand is that we are missing one of the greatest pleasures of life if we have not learnt the art of reading for enjoyment.
Are the works written originally for public entertainment in any way the private property of English professors? Or are they exclusive to any other group of self-constituted guardians of the Muse? Not at all… The bulk of what generally passes as ‘literature’ belongs to the people for whose pleasure it was surely created. No doubt, we are living in an age of commercialized ambition and regimented thinking. Yet we can feel proud to be a dilettante, at least where books are concerned.
The true friends of literature are those who manufacture story books and books of poems with the noble intention of giving pleasure to others, and also are those who buy and read such books with the view of giving pleasure to themselves.
Numerous are the uses of reading in this practical age. One may read to gain mastery of a trade or to fritter away one’s spare time. Another may read to forget his worries. Yet another to experience vicarious chills and thrills. There are also many others who read to acquire the so called culture. But reading for enjoyment is of a different activity – it is the pleasurable exercise of the human psyche.
Men and women who have a passion for reading will sooner or later come unexpectedly upon some books that have been written surely for him. Who is to say what the volume may be? It may be Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ or Stefan Zweig’s ‘Letter from an Unknown woman’ or Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Life Divine’ or Gibran’s ‘Tears and Laughter’. Whatever it is, whenever or wherever it is found, one thing is certain. : its discovery will be heralded by the conscientious reader as an occasion for great rejoicing. The intrinsic value of literature is realized only at that time.
Good books not only reflect and reveal but also interpret human character, beliefs and behaviour. With the aid of good books, we may see not only into the remote past of our ancestors but also into the remote regions of the world today. Reading helps us in increasing our understanding of humanity and thus assuring peaceful if not endearing relationships in society.
P. RAJA

GHOSTS

FIRST CHAPTER OF A WEIRD NOVEL IN PROGRESS

By P.RAJA

GHOST STORY

The first ever ghost story I had the thrill of listening to was narrated by my mother. Like many mothers, my mother too was a storyteller… a very good one at that. It is not that that she could not lull me into sleep with her melodious voice that still continues to haunt me even after I have crossed five decades of my sojourn on Earth; but she could keep her listener spell-bound with her gimmicks and also by her special sound effects.

She mimicked the voice of the ferocious wind and the rubbing together of the wings of the cicada. She knew when to be silent. And her silence was as dark as the night itself.

“Years ago when I was a little girl, I saw a ghost. That was the first ghost I ever saw in my life. But it was not the last ghost,” began my mother.

“What is a ghost?” I asked as ignorant as ever.

“Listen! Stop asking questions. At the end of the story you will know what a ghost is. Now listen,” she said with a smile.

“In those days of no electricity, hurricane lamps and earthen oil lamps served the purpose of driving away darkness. People who stirred out of their houses in the dark for one reason or the other, invariably carried a hurricane lamp in their hands. They also carried a stick which had a few tiny jingling bells tied to the sides of the stick, so that when they walked they tapped the ground and the jingling noise of the bells drove creepy crawlies away. If the stick saved them from poisonous insects, the hurricane lamps saved them from falling into ditches which were plenty on the path. And both the weapons joined hands to dispel ghosts.

“Once I had a stomach disorder, may be because I overate on that day for my mother was an excellent cook. I woke up with a start and felt the urge to ease myself. I didn’t dare to wake up anyone in the house for they were all fast asleep.

“I had to cross the backyard of my house, open the bamboo fence gate and then move into the nearby wood, the only place for all the people in the village to deposit night soil. Without making the least noise I tip-toed my way out with a hurricane lamp.

“The place was so dark that one could not see one’s own palm. I had to lift my lamp to dangle it close to my face so as to know my way. The wind was chill and as I entered the wood I could hear the music of bamboo plants. The fully grown plants were perhaps hugging and kissing each other and in their wild ecstasy making eerie sounds. Such a weird sound the wind carried on its wings was enough to put any newcomer take to his heels even in broad daylight. But we were accustomed to all such sounds even, in the dead of night. Our way of living demanded it.

“My mother being a highly-respected country physician, very good at treating bites, especially dog and snake, took her children along into the wood in search of herbs. This she did only after midnight for she strongly believed that the herbs rejuvenated only after that hour and were able to regain their power lost during sunshine. And we were only lamp bearers to her and she always encouraged her children to turn a deaf ear to all such intimidating sounds for they would only cripple our audacity. Creech… Creech… reech… those were the cicadas. Jal… Jal… Jal… Anybody could easily mistake the sound for tinkling anklets of a woman dancing or running. But we knew that they were sounds made by beetles keen on attracting attention. While such horrendous sounds would easily make many of my playmates dirty their underwear, we were really amazed at the courage we had. Thanks to my mother who instilled courage and hope into us.

And on that night when I went out to ease myself, the cicadas joined hands with the beetles. Since I knew the musicians of the weird orchestra, no iota of fear gripped my heart.

I sat on my haunches and then, woo… woo… it was the wailing sound of the siren from the nearby cotton mill. I began to wonder what time was it. Was it 3.30 a.m or 5.00 a.m? I could think of only those two timings at that odd hour. And I saw someone sitting on his haunches at a stone’s throw.

My lamp helplessly watched me screw up my eyes as I tried to decipher who was there. To my great surprise, the man I was trying to have a better look, stood up. He was quite tall with only a dhoti on. But for the dhoti, as white as a streak of lightning, he was naked. He had a piece of cloth tied to his head to resemble a turban. God knows whether it was his own loincloth, as men used to wear it like that at the early hours when they moved out of their houses to ease themselves.

The man who stood up began to move towards me. For every forward step he took he grew a foot or so in height.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was happening as if in a dream with a pinch of magic. Fear gripped me and the next moment I stood up, ready to run for my life. Who can be more dangerous than men to women at such odd hours especially at the loneliness of the wood?

When the tall figure that has grown taller than the tallest palmyra tree in the wood, developed swift feet and was just a disasterous distance away, my feet developed wings.

I ran faster than my fastest feet could carry me, though I was not sure whether I could make my escape from the long-footed and long handed apparition. Yet I didn’t lose hope.

My vigilant ears could make out the thud – thud noise of footsteps at my back close at my heels. For the first time I understood that I was capable of running without my feet touching the ground.

As I ran I screamed, yelled, wailed and cried. I had almost crossed the wood when I stumped against a root that stood protruding from above the ground and I fell. Before I could raise myself up I turned back my head to see if I had made my escape. The tallest of the tall ghosts was closing in on me.

My heart thumping louder I stood up and took to my heels again without even examining whether I was wounded or bleeding from the bruises.

I saw something stretching from behind over my right shoulder. From the corner of my right eye I saw a long hand trying to overtake me, perhaps to grab me.

I breathed heavily like a terribly tired dog. I did run, of course. In a few seconds, I reached the fence, pushed the wicket gate open and ran into the backyard of my house.

As I entered the backyard, the Sun too rose dispelling darkness. Huffing and puffing, I slumped onto a cane chair inside my house.

My mother who had just finished drawing her usual mammoth kolam in the front yard of the house, made her appearance with a broom in one hand and an empty pitcher in the other.

Seeing my plight she dropped the pitcher and the broom to the floor and cried: “Eh… eh…eh! What happened?”

With a wave of my hand I motioned her to wait for a few seconds. She gave me an inquisitive look. I was still gasping for breath. It took quite a long time for me to breath normal and I saw my mother helplessly watch my plight.

I rehearsed to her from a to z, with bulging eyes and with a frightened face.

On hearing my story with rapt attention my mother laughed like a shower of granites falling on a hot tin roof.

“Oh! That’s only a shit eating ghost. Nothing to fear. It chased you to pull the shit out of you. And you, out of sheer fear, indirectly refused to give the needy ghost what it wanted” she again broke into a guffaw, while I fell to the floor with a thud.

I was told later that I swooned. And no amount of water splashed on my face and later poured on my head ever brought me back to my senses till the temple poojari came home, with a bunch of neem leaves and a pouch full of ash.

The poojari took a fistful of ash, recited mantras and then blew it on to my face. I must have looked like a white apparition. The bunch of neem leaves in his hand in the first round served as a fan on my face but in the second round metamorphosed itself into a whip. Every blow fell in my face like pinpricks with a sharp slashing sound. It gave me excruciating pain. The leaves that tore away from the bunch fell pell-mell, reminding me of a battlefield full of mutilated bodies of soldiers.

I stood up and made preparations to run away from the scene. But the poojari was all alert and he caught me by my long hair and forced me sit. I began to scream in pain.

“Huh!… Is it that much painful? Then leave this girl and go away this very moment. You don’t know how cruel I could be towards spirits like you? Now tell me where are you from? And who are you?” howled the poojari.

“Believe me… I am no spirit. I am a live girl… I am Saguntala… And I am from this house. Don’t torture me, please”, I pleaded with the poojari.

The merciless poojari raised his voice a few decibels and said: “You are a first rate liar. You better keep away from this little girl or else I know how to pull you out of her body and throw you back into your den. Go away before I do it for you.” He then roared at the pitch of his voice “Quick! Quick… be quick… else you can’t even get into your world again. I will nail you to a tree. You will be doomed for ever.”

I was in a fix. I was not sure what the poojari would do to me.

A few months before this incident took place. I saw him brand a girl of my age with a red hot iron, all with the purpose of exorcising the evil spirit that was reportedly haunting her. She fell down with a thud and swooned. The poojari took a camphor, ignited it and placed it in the palm of his right hand. He then drew three circles in the air all the time reciting mantras and finally tossed the burning camphor into his wide opened mouth – He leaned back and smiled. Slowly his smile turned into laughter till it became an uproarious one at that. “Ha… Ha… Ha… Ha…”

When everyone was looking askance at the poojari he howled in a thunderous voice: “I have won you… I have won you. You ‘ll be in my den forever as my slave.”

Having witnessed such a scene before, a ruse flashed across my mind. I cried in a loud tone: “Oh, no! oh, no! Don’t brand me again with that red hot iron. I can’t bear it anymore. You are the cruelest of exorcists I have ever seen in my life. Leave me to myself. I am going… I am gone.”

I fell down and swooned. The poojari didn’t know that I was pretending; neither did any one in the crowd enjoying the scene.

“I know… I know who you are. You must be the same spirit that I drove out a few weeks ago.” He then finished his preliminaries of lighting camphor, reciting mantras and then gobbling it up. After his customary uproarious laughter, he said in his guttural voice: “I have won you… I have won you again. But this time I’ll show no mercy to you. No mercy for the adamant spirit.” So saying, he held me by my hair and pulled out as many as he could ‘in one go’.

I stomached the pain, woke up with a start and innocently and ignorantly looked for my mother. She came rushing towards me and took me into her ever loving affectionate hands, and showered kisses on my forehead and cheeks.

“She is quite normal now. You can take her home,” said the poojari and blew a handful of ash onto my head and face.

“That was how I made my great escape from the cruel hands of the poojari. In fact, poojaris are crueler than the haunting spirits,” said my mother and heaved a sigh.

I was not ready to leave her at that. I became more curious than ever and asked: “What would the poojari do with the strand of hair he had pulled out of my head?”

“Oh, that! That he would take to the nearby palmyra tree with no companions. He would have the strand of hair nailed into the tree. By doing such a thing he made us believe that he had saved us from an impending disaster. For all such acts of exorcism, he charged a cockerel and a big fat hen. Above all we had to pay him 4 annas.

Years later when I rehearsed my mother’s experience with a ghost and a poojari to my uncle Samarapuri, he came out with his weird experience with a ghost.

Samarapuri was dark complexioned, short statured but well built. He was not visible in the dark unless the moon, particularly chose him to shower her cool rays. He himself would easily pass for an apparition in the midst of people who see him for the first time. Most often he was seen with his clean white dhoti kilted up and he hated to put on any shirt. He had a white towel which went round his hip when he was at work in the paddy field. The very same towel covered his torso when he moved around the village on business errands. And the same towel became his headgear when he sat on branches of trees eating their fruits, already tasted and abandoned by squirrels.

He spent the nights on the big broad pyal of my grandma’s palatial house. Adjacent to the house ran a lane that led to the wood, the very same wood my mother had bitter experiences with the shit-eating ghost.

Samarapuri was asleep when he heard someone call him by his name. The voice sounded as though it came from the other world and he cared a hair for it. The voice sounded again and this time it was louder than before. When he realized that the call was from his father, he woke up with a start.

He sat up. He saw his father standing on the muddy road. He squeezed his eyelids and looked at his father again.
“Hei! Come on…Light up that lantern by your side and bring it along,” said his father.

“Where are we going, pa?” It was the innocent Samrapuri.

“I feel uneasy in the stomach. I need to go to the woods to ease myself. Give me company. Bring with you the burning lantern,” said his father.

Samarapuri looked around. The parading Moon was quite bright, trying its best to show everything in its proper shape and colour as the sun would during his duty hours. “The moon is so bright… Why do you need me at this hour?” asked the impertinent Samarapuri.

His father didn’t answer.

“Who can be a better companion then the Moon? Pa! On many occasions like this when I asked for your company, you gave me the lantern and advised me not to be afraid of the dark and face the world as a man should… And now you need my company eh! Ha! Ha! Ha! What a funny world? Ha! Ha! Ha!” Samarapuri laughed. His father too as if he wanted to digest his son’s dig laughed uproariously.

“Hei! Come on…This is no time for joke…Bring the lantern along,” he said and moved away quite fast.

Samarapuri simply obeyed. He took the lantern and raised the wick a little up so that there could be more light and began walking behind his father nurturing no grudge.

Poor Samarapuri couldn’t cope with his father’ speed as his steps were quite long and fast. In fact, he was fleeing. Samarapuri was almost running after his father with the lantern dangling from his left hand.

“Why is he moving so fast?” Samarapuri asked himself. “He must be really sick,” he answered his own question. Seconds later, he thought why that old man was not stopping to ease himself. His father was not of that type to shy away from human presence or hide behind trees to answer nature calls. He never even bothered about the presence of women, when his bladder declared emergency. Why should such a man go farther and farther into the wood and that too at dead of night? Was he afraid of the moon playing hide and seek amidst the fluffy cotton bale like clouds?

The cicadas all of a sudden began to chirp and a stray owl on wings let out two blood-curdling hoots. The frogs began to crock and sent jitters down my spine. “I was scared of croaking frogs because those ignoramuses do not in the least know that they were inviting trouble. Their croaking is simply a dining bell for snakes. And when snakes rush for their food, they do not spare the human trespassers,” sermonized Samarapuri.

Oh! Is that the reason why Samarapuri’s father was moving with such long and fast steps?

Samarapuri had the shock of his life, when he saw his father cross a well without any effort.

A well in the wood! Surprising indeed! No one knew when the well was dug and for what reason! During rainy days, rain water found its way into the well and filled the huge well. Since, it had a ground level mouth, many stepped into it unaware of its existence. They never came back alive to tell any story about it. But people concocted several stories about the well with the spirits and the goblins that were haunting it.

Samarapuri was shocked to his coccyx bone because no human being would ever be able to cross that huge mouthed well without falling into it. Stunned he stood, this time gazing at his father’s amazing activity. But his father was going ahead, without even turning his head once to see if his son was following him or not.

How did his father cross that wide mouthed huge well with little or no effort when no one else escaped from its mouth?

The very thought was enough to make him freeze. And he froze.

As Samarapuri finished narrating his story, I was still in a fix for I was not sure what he saw and what was it that made him freeze.

I gave him an inquiring look. Samarapuri read my curiosity filled eyes. He wound up the tale by saying: I froze because I realized that my father died long ago when I was still in my teens.

It was time for me to freeze.

& & & & & & &