Translated by Rajaram Brammarajan
My acquaintance expected that I would be arrested that night. The attraction he had towards me — it is only my surmise— might be stretching the imagination thus, I thought. What is the necessity for a non-violent insect that wanders along the seashore be arrested? “It is not like that”, he said again. Three days have passed after this incident (four if late night is included).
All right. On the other hand, it appeared to me that the dark days when anything could happen were originating. Like its first attack, torturing, painful days passed. Mental tortures apart, restless wandering, hunger and body crouching sleep: these I couldn’t withstand. My soles were swollen. The swelling subsided in the morning and turned like bundle in the evening. The mental visions that appeared all of sudden either without my intuition or without my assent were also staggering me. Two or three images changed, and then in the same way… some times, the outlines of kolams stamped out and disfigured, only the dots and the remnant imperfections teemed in my mind. Visions of wild animals arriving in herds in the night vandalizing the crops of the peasants who raised them spending days and nights, and leaving the scene calmly during dawn appears intermittently. There was this tenuous sensation in me that anything could happen any time. But I was not aware of the simple fact that the evolving disarray might solidify on me.
I had decided that after midnight I should start walking and before the sun grew hotter, reach the next village. “That is exactly the wrong move” said my acquaintance emphatically. “There is no proof or evidence that you had said about your journey to any one”, said he. “It would sound as if you escaped from the arrest”, he continued. His logic didn’t strike deep in my mind. However there was one pointer in his words that could not be ignored. The world of the officers were strange. Their world was filled with proofs, traces, and witnesses. Some times while the compulsions of measuring the psyche’s aberrations through logic makes defeat resemble relief and consolation. Even penalization would appear a kind of peace. I gave up my journey. I felt that the very news that I might be arrested had restricted my wanderings.
I would have laughed if someone had told me two days ago that a situation like this would precipitate. I had arrived here after relinquishing everything. I had wandered in unknown places bewailing to death to accept me. I couldn’t just put up with my teeming thoughts I did not know how to avoid their hovering and pickering me. Only sleep was giving me an interval-rest-liberation. However, I could not realize that rest sans any needling had escaped me in my sleep. This dawned on me only after it had passed off. In point of fact, I had great desire to breathe in the relaxation at least for a few moments. However I prayed and practised austerities, it may not materialize for me at all. So thoughts ran. The sadhu I met by chance in the sanctum of Malabar temple explained to me stretching both his hands towards the sky: “ The veshti can be dipped in saffron dye in a moment. To dip the mind? Parameswara!” When I had believed that I shall be immersing my mind in saffron this incident occurred like a surprise ambush.
As usual, by evening, I was sitting on the mound of sand. That part of sea lay a bit away from the town. Previously it was peaceful without the crowd’s chatter. Lately this spot had become famous as a vantage point for viewing the sunset and had started attracting crowds. Now here too was a messy crowd. Unusually the sky was free of clouds. You can’t rely on it. At the last minute a shred of a cloud would arise and hide the sun as if obeying a spell. At times the hiding cloud’s action will be innocent and cute like the action of little children hiding their dear play things. The sun shone through the obstruction also looked magnificent. The sun didn’t set in the same manner twice: I formed this as a sentence in my mind and felt pleased.
The sun set. The next instant the crowd fizzled and started thinning. The scattering crowd acted as if it was a sin to view at the sky without the sun and as though the crowd had pressing duty that couldn’t be postponed for an instant. On the mound that faced the sea, the movement of the crowd looked very funny. People appeared to have been packed tightly together on a colossal stage and tied by a string and the governing string was being pulled.
The survival for the amount of the light that lingers after the sunset is brief. Moment after moment the darkness would penetrate and blacken. Then the sea would look a little sad: the sea would be subjected to an inexpressible grief. Sharing mentally in that sorrow was my liking.
As if from the sea’s depth giant clubs beat the blobs, the waves will struggle to free themselves. Upper surface shakes and vibrates. The waves that cling to the wind reach towards the shore. The cavalry of the serpent warriors approach us jumping. From the sides and from places we didn’t expect, and at unspecified moments, the other vessels of weapons joining the long line making it more magnificent will reach the front. When we ruminate how the idiotic moist sand will retaliate, the army reduced to shambles on the shore will withdraw. Nothing is more beautiful than this, their rise and their momentary life. I had calculated and failed how the rising waves in a particular height with such commotion will touch and make the shore moist at this particular spot. Failing again and again like this had given me pleasure.
Then I heard a snapping voice from above the sand mound. Only if somebody had strained his lower abdomen and shouted he could emit such a sound amid din of waves. The words did not register properly in my ears. The newly married couple who had been standing on the wet sand and drenching their feet in the surf like me, hurriedly turned and climbed up. Again the voice was heard. The woman untangling her hand from her husband’s waved at me, saying “you”. I turned back. On the sand mound four or five khaki-clad policemen shouted: “Climb up the shore! Climb up the shore!” They waved their hands with inordinate jerk and signalled to me. When I saw them, I felt like laughing within me. They looked like clowns peeping from a dance stage or from the school kids’ drama, where the kids themselves mimicked like soldiers, or the life-given police mud dolls giving a slip and standing there with just an hour of prescribed life. Thoughts like that swarmed in me. “Why do you laugh? Climb up the shore” shouted one constable. While I am on the shore how am I to reach the shore? I stood there blinking excessively in a willful manner. Suddenly my mind was immersed in sadness. Thirty or thirty-five years ago my mother had brought me here for the first time. The fear and sudden seizures of bewilderment and the way I cried struck my memory. I also recollected incidents after that, to this day, on several occasions when sea had toppled me off the guard, drenching me all over and how I had chucked the sticky sand grains from my hand and thighs. From that day to this, the sea with whom I had formed an intimate relationship and not even the moment allowing myself the simple pleasure of offering my soles to it…. On my barren back I felt the tip of a stick and turned back. I saw a khaki-clad policeman with a lathi in his hand. Why did you nudge me? Before I could ask, “Are you hard of hearing?” asked the policeman.
“No”, I replied. This forthright answer made his blood boil in his head. It showed in his face. The other policemen also closed in on me. Standing there without being afraid became very embarrassing to all of them, and they stared at me with anger. The imagining that in a couple of minutes they would turn into mud dolls spread traces of smile on my face.
The policeman who stood before me raised his head, folded both his hands like a megaphone and shouted towards the sand dune: “He refuses to come up”. The officers started descending the sandy slope towards me. In their hurried floundering they had been inscribing their boot prints. I could not remember how many there were. Just the imagistic feeling of more than four persons. Their chief, a slight fat man had an unsteady gait. His cap looked different. Waving his hands and his baton extravagantly he had been moving his body strenuously. Slumping in the chair, restless when the fan stopped, crossing and striking off with a red pen on documents, shouting on the phone he had been managing his office and presently he had ventured out for special reason. So I thought. A few yards away he shouted at me: “What?…. What?…. What?….” For every “What?” The policemen became stiff while staring at me. After getting my answer what the officer would pronounce would be carried out by them in an instant. This was obvious from their stiffness.
“Nothing” I said.
“Then why is it that you refuse to come to shore?”
“I just had a desire to stand for a while”.
“Push him” yelled the officer. The policemen immediately zoomed in on me, lifted me like a bundle up the shore and dropped me on the earth with a thud.
I stood up patting the sand from my hands, right cheek, and ears and started walking towards the sand dune. I casually strode without any sense of shame. Then looking at the sky, and in feigned wonderment, turned to the policemen I said: “What a beautiful moon?” One officer rushed at me and punched me on my back. “Kill him”, yelled another officer in English.
Beyond the sand mound where the coastline joined the tar road, the place looked quite contrary to what it was a little while ago. The place looked like the drama’s new act, the backdrop, setup, characters had changed in a tumultuous manner. Policemen with lathis could be seen in many places. Cars, jeeps, and the higher officer’s vans with silk screens were parked around the place. Approximately one jeep arrived in an interval of two minutes whipping up the dust. Before the vehicles could stop officers jumped from the back door and as soon as their feet touched the land, started saluting stiffly. They all looked like mechanical toys controlled by someone else. An officer in his forties, very tall, accepted the salutations of the policemen with pomp. This place was where the tar road joined the portico of an ancient hotel. The chief officer was seen with other functionaries. In some kind of order, policemen captured their positions. I couldn’t guess the trait of their mental arithmetic. Only because their mental maps mutually complemented each other that they didn’t collide with the others and the orderliness was possible. All of them seemed to be getting ready for the arrival of a high level officer. All their eyes were pointed towards the sand mound with an air of expectation. The silence that ensued and their stiffness combined to a stagnant moment where even a tiny movement or a small noise would be out of tune. The crunching of sands under the boots also had stopped. After this it would be impossible for any one either to clear his throat or adjust his feet unsteadily placed. Those who had such needs should have completed them before a couple of minutes. Or they should put up with the unease for a while.
Now a group of persons moved forward from the sand mound. First the heads surfaced and then their full features could be seen. A few of them, with a synchronization that didn’t confine to a form, as though they had cast off their bodily weight on the air, shoved up without the least effort. It was easy to tell that the man in the middle could be the high level officer. Like a film hero he looked very attractive. He wore spectacles that gave the impression of a learned person. He had very dense hair. His garments were very fine, and of a pure white kind. The feeling that he got promoted straight to the higher cadre showed in his face. The policemen who had been waiting for this small gathering to approach, stiffened further, clicked their boots and saluted. It looked as though their strung nerves could snap off any moment. Even when the sounds of salutation subsided it seemed to reverberate. Because of this and the sounds of the boots I felt I heard thousands of birds flapping their wings suddenly above the sky. In reality, there were neither trees nor birds.
Then the officer who drove me out from my point at the sea, went closer to the high level officer and mumbled something, pointing his fingers towards me. When the high level officer waved a signal to come towards him I went near him.
“The person who just left is the top ranking officer. A genius”, said the high level officer.
“Pleased”, I said. I felt ashamed for pronouncing a nonsensical word.
From his innuendo I realized that the officers below him due to their lack of tact, had worsened the relationship between me and them and if approached in conducive manner I could unite the knots. “A week ago the sea had swallowed a woman. When the Chief had come something untoward should not happen. That is why”.
I remained silent. “You are sorry for your action. Aren’t you? I don’t like fussing things” I didn’t reply. “It is not shameful to ask forgiveness from us. It is the magnanimous act of bowing your head before the law”.
I stood like a stone pillar.
“You are not a simple person as I guessed.” His voice and expression on his face had changed.
A policeman moving forward two or three feet, stiffened up and saluted then clicked his boots and became still more stiff. His face showed that he had frozen, and it would be impossible to the stirring of life in him.
The officer raised his face in a questioning gesture. “Yesterday evening he spoke to me disobediently. When I reprimanded him for having swum to the Rock of Death , he ridiculed me”.
“Is it true?”
“Yes. Laughable words, if you have sense of humour”.
“Do you mean to say that we don’t have sense of humour?”
“I am unable to generalize. However, you— I mean — your people in your department are afraid of laughing. Don’t you have the freedom to laugh? Do you still believe that laughter and discipline cannot coexist?”
“Why did you go to the Rock of Death?”
“I was bathing in the Rock of Death. On the other side the Rock of Death resembles a valley. A friend had told me. There the wavelets and swirls…. the beauty of the foam breaking and dribbling from the rocks, the prismatic splendour they create in the crevices of the rocks are ineffable. A marvel. Some inexplicable sadness engulfs the mind and a clear sky would unfold in the heart, making us feel what we worry about are all the meanest of things. Mind feels extremely light. You will feel like bending down to kiss the little plants growing from the rock’s crevices”.
“Were you aware that it was a prohibited place?”
“No I wasn’t.”
“After you were stopped?”
“I thought it was some vain restriction. Does the law prevent one from swimming in the sea?”
The high level officer continued to stare into my face and that moment was weighing heavy on everybody’s heart.
“Get off from here!” Yelled the high level officer in English. I moved away from the spot.
Events started happening from that very early morning in such a manner as to confirm the suspicion of my acquaintance. Once a while someone came to me to enquire about the happenings. They asked, “Why for?” and “What for?” I couldn’t answer them in the way they could comprehend. Everything seemed to be like black magic. I had a suspicion whether they were all my hallucinations.
The afternoon heat was subsiding. Lying on the mandap of the Rock of Death I was observing the sea. The sea seemed asleep or awake lazily dangling its legs. As though so far hiding beyond the steps, a policeman sprang up and tapped his lathi on the steps.
He informed that the high level officer wanted to meet me. Floating in the air, like a prophet, his dress fluttering in the wind, his form moved with brightness filled my mind. I felt happy that I was going to meet him again. I asked myself the reasons for my reaction. It was sure that things were brewing up to ruin my peace of mind.
When his eyes were drawn towards me his face lit up like a triggered lamp. The radiant whiteness from his teeth seemed to spread all over his face. The butler who was standing at the rear entrance saw the officer, disappeared and came back with a cup of tea which he placed it before me.
The officer glanced at me and said: “Take your tea”. “ Why have you stopped talking?. It was extremely absorbing”. The officer continued his dialogue with a sanyasin seated in front of him.
Getting the full-hearted appreciation from the officer the sanyasin had forgotten where he paused. His head was closely shaven. He should have had his tonsure a day before. He was youngish. He had shining chubby cheeks that made him look like a doll. He was very fair and handsome. The way his left pupa moved for the word gave him the dulness and inability to grasp what was being said to him.
“You were narrating how the swamiji had reached this spot..”, the officer gave the cue.
“Yes. Yes” Nodding his head forcefully, the sanyasin started again enthusiastically. “I don’t remember the year. What would have been his age at that time? May be 25 or 26. Young age. All over India, just on foot. Stretching himself wherever it was possible… Eating whatever came into his hands.. Begging alms… Wandering. From one town to another. Sheer wandering…?
“What a moving thing?” Exclaimed the officer. “How many days he stayed there, where and with whom and how—nothing is clear. Three days of meditation on the rock. No. Two days. Nothing to eat or drink. How did he reach the rock? One group says he used the boat. The other argued that he swam the sea.”
“No, No. He swam and reached the rock.. He did really swim..” Said the officer thumping his fist on the table and in a louder tone: “I have read it. I remember it perfectly well”, thundered the officer.
Hearing about the officer’s reading the sanyasin became very surprised and exclaimed: “Oh! Have you read? Have you read?”. The swamiji should have swum the sea said the sanyasin. He continued: “What a courage! What adventure!”
The weighing silence made the atmosphere of the room heavy. The officer cleared his throat and turned his face towards my side.
“You look like an educated person. Why all the confrontation with the officers?”
“I didn’t confront” I replied.
Pointing his fingers towards me, the officer told the sanyasin: “This man swum to the Rock of Death. When our men intervened he had retorted with his words”.
“He went to the Rock of Death swimming?” the sanyasin mouthed it like a pronouncement and laughed. The officer also laughed. Suddenly, in an unexpected moment the sanyasin’s face turned like the officer’s—irritable and red.
“That is wrong. Not at all the right thing”, the sanyasin spoke in English. He seemed to be adding unnecessary strength to his voice. Slightly lowering his voice and with an admonishing tone he said: “You should have cooperated in m maintaining the law and order. That was expected of you”.
“I don’t have faith!”
“In your law and.. in your order….”
“All right. Then tell me what is your faith? Everybody can act as he or she wishes…”
“Please don’t ask me anything. I am a bundle of confusion… Nothing is clear and lucid to me. The two of you, on different levels seem to know what is wrong what is right. You are too clear cut. Your clarity is very obscene. How can you talk without the slight oscillation, with clarity and without feeling abashed?”
“You seem to be talking too much”, said the officer. “You seem to be talking with an ego that you are the all-knowing person”.
“No, I am not egotistic. I am just a hole. Emptiness. I have nothing to contain in me. Through me everything is pouring out. Allow me to wander. Do not bother me. Please… Please…..Please”. I had started shouting at the top of my voice.
“His mind is sick’, said the sanyasin. “He should be sent for psychiatric check up”.
“No, No”, I shouted again. “Wandering is the only activity that gives me pleasure. Don’t make that impossible for me”.
“ I am arresting you”, pronounced the officer. His thumb pressed the bell on the table.
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Acknowledgement: Republished with thanks to: Muse India / Namaste.in