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Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Meditating Shadow – II: The Shadow Gets a Body

A sequel to my earlier post: The meditating shadow

One evening I was sitting under the banyan tree in the village square. There was nothing else to do. I didn’t have to eat. I didn’t have to drink. I didn’t have to do anything that a human being normally does. I didn’t feel hungry or thirsty.  I never slept. I was not affected by sunlight or rain, summer or winter, night or day. I didn’t have the fear of getting ill, or injured, or meeting with an accident. In short, my existence was not an existence at all. Sometimes I used to take a walk around the village. I used to see several of my friends engaged in routine activities. They went for a walk, went to market, went to office, drove their cars, and organized functions in the village. I wanted to cry aloud and shout at the top of my voice. But no tears flowed down from my eyes, and no voice came out.

I had made it a point to go to my home every day at least once. I watched my wife toiling hard. I used to help her in the domestic front. Now she was managing it all on her own. She has been doing it since my ‘vanishing’ eight years ago. I had heard her several times telling our relatives and friends that I had no reason to run away from home. We were quite happy. We never had any misunderstanding between us. She wondered if I might have met with an accident. If so, then why are there no records in police stations or hospitals? Was I kidnapped? She found no reason for anybody to kidnap me. She knew I didn’t have any serious problems in the office either. Yet she made enquiries in the office to find out if there was something which she hadn’t known. I did not. My disappearance remained a mystery for the whole village. They stopped searching for me after a few years. My wife, too, had lost all hopes of my return.

It was the annual festival time in the village temple. I watched the hectic preparations. This was an occasion when the villagers celebrated a lot. They got an opportunity to showcase their talents. I used to take active part in all such events in the village. People don’t even remember me now. I don’t blame them. Who has the time to remember somebody who has been missing for more than eight years?

I had lost hope of returning to my earlier life ever. At times I thought of running away to a distant place so that I didn’t have to see the pathetic condition of my wife and daughter. I asked myself, ‘Why did the magician restore my thinking power to me before his leaving?’ By doing it he has only increased my suffering. Or, maybe he didn’t do it deliberately. A few days after he detached me physically from his body, my brain had got back its power almost fully. A brain without a head to hold it! A non-existent head on a non-existent body!

One evening I was sitting under the tree watching the sunset. Three years … and I have not missed out the sunrise or the sunset even for a day.
Suddenly I felt something strange. Am I feverish? Why this nausea?  I thought I was ‘feeling’ the soil on which I sat and lay. I had forgotten how it felt to touch the earth, water, a human being, or anything for that matter. How can I feel? I cannot. I did not. Not in the last eight years. I tried to touch the ground with my hand. It was then that I noticed I can sense the movement of my hand. And, and, Oh, God! Oh, God! What’s it? Am I seeing my hand? And my legs? And my body? I could feel the earth, the soil, the rock, and the grass!

It was the shock of my life. How come I was getting back my body three years after the magician had left? I then remembered that the magician had repeated the ‘shadow’ act a few times on me. The last one was the day he left. That was a longer session. At the end he had told me, “Okay, now you are safe for three years.”

I had asked, “Safe?”

He had said, “Yes, you will remain a shadow for another three years now. I shall return by then. And then, we shall take over the village and will rule forever.”

And now, I am getting back my body. And the magician has not yet returned. That was the happiest moment of my life. My body was slowly, but surely, returning! Is it a dream? Or is it really happening? Was I feeling thirsty? And hungry? And weak? I felt terribly tired, indeed. I had forgotten how it was to be thirsty or hungry or tired. I thought I would at that very moment die of excitement. I felt tears flowing down my cheeks. I was so thrilled that I didn’t know what to do.

I just sat there, then lay tired.

And slept like a log.

It was paining all over my body when I woke up. I thought somebody was kicking me. I saw a huge crowd of children around me. They were calling me mad man, thief, terrorist, and all kinds of names which can be attributed to an utterly horrible-looking stranger. They were hitting me with sticks and throwing stones. That was when I woke up. I wanted to plead with them to be kind to me. That I was one among them. That I was their dear uncle who vanished several years ago.

It was then that Mr Shrivastava came forward and admonished the children. He looked at me and asked, “Who are you?”

I told him, “I am …”

But, hey, what’s it? Where is my voice? Have I forgotten to talk? I tried my best to tell him that I was the same man who they all thought had vanished several years ago. I tried to talk to him again … and again … and again. But, alas, no sound came out of my lips. I was devastated. Tears flowed down my cheeks.

He must have felt sympathy on me. He then removed his shirt and gave me. He said, “Come on, cover yourself.”

It was then that I looked at my body. Oh, Goodness! I was stark naked! How could I not realize this earlier? I also felt my long hair, may be several feet. And beard which had grown past my chest! Movements were very difficult for me. But I managed to cover me with the shirt he so graciously lent me, with great difficulty, though. He took me to the village hospital. It was more of a small nursing home, but that was where we all used to go for all treatments, except surgeries and major illnesses.

The doctor immediately put me on glucose. I was nearly unconscious for most part of the next two days. Maybe from exhaustion. May be from excitement. Whenever I came around, I tried to talk but no voice came out.

After being on glucose and liquid diet for two days I was slightly better. I felt stronger. The news spread throughout the village that a naked and ill man was found under the banyan tree in the village square. A few of the village elders came to see me. I knew all of them. But unfortunately none of them recognized me.

[To continue]

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Meditating Shadow

I was a happy man. With my wife and daughter. In a small house. In a small village. All of us in the village were happy and content. Life was smooth. The village council was hard working, transparent, democratic, and sincere.

Then he came one evening. With long hair, drooping moustache, and a cloth bag on his shoulder. He settled under the banyan tree in the village square.

Curious children slowly approached him. He smiled. He showed them some magical tricks. They were excited and tremendously impressed. They called him magic uncle. We called him the magician. Where was he from? China? Japan? No one knew. He spoke many languages. He was highly educated. He was an enigma to us. He cast his spell over us. I, like a few others, wanted to be with him as long as possible.

In a few weeks we started approaching him for help, for advice, for conflict resolutions. His hold over us was complete and final. We did not do anything without his advice and consent.

In the next election the magician became the president of the village council, or panchayat. He had a special liking for me. I became his spokesperson. I was proud to be his lieutenant.

Soon, however, he started dictating terms to the villagers. Beautification of the village, building of a wall around the village, building roads, building wells, and many other such small and large things. For everything he collected money from us. I actively supported him. I was ready to do anything for the benefit of the village.

Several months passed. No roads. No wells. No boundary wall. Absolutely nothing. I was confused, just as a few others were. One day I asked him politely, “Sir, when do we get our roads and wells?”

He fell silent. He was thoughtful for a few moments. Then he smiled and told me, “Come, I shall show you a special magic.”

I was thrilled. A special magic! Only for me! Out of all the people in the village! Wow!

“Come”, he said.

I went with him. To his home. To a dark room.  In my excitement I did not even remember that he had not answered my question.

“Sit”, he said.

I sat on a chair.

“Close your eyes”.

I did as I was told.

I didn’t know what he did. I could only hear some prayers, sound of moving objects. I could also feel his hands on my head a few times. Slowly I began to feel different. Initially it was a pleasant feeling. Like when you lose consciousness slowly. A kind of heavenly feeling. I thought I was losing weight. A lot of weight. I feared I would be blown away by the gentle breeze of the fan. I felt very weak. Then I was scared. What’s happening?

After some time (I had lost sense of the passing of the time) he said, “Now you can open your eyes.”

I could not believe what I saw. There was no I. Only a black colour. Only the shape of a man. I could see through me. Or rather there was nothing to see. My body had vanished. I was terrified. I was shattered. What has the magician done to me?

I looked at him and asked, “Sir, what have you done to me? What happened to my body?”

He said, “You have become a shadow. MY shadow.”

“Shadow?” I didn’t understand.

“Yes. From now on you have no existence without me. You will do exactly as I command. You will not be able to think or act independently.”

I was shattered. “Oh! God! Why did you do this to me?”

The magician didn’t answer me. He slowly stood up. As if stuck to him, I stood up, too. And followed him.  As he said I had lost my existence. Nobody could see or hear or feel me. For them I had gone missing. But I could see and hear everybody. I helplessly watched the whole village searching for me everywhere and frantically calling up their friends and relatives. I saw my devastated family. My wife. My daughter. Several rumours went round on my disappearance. Nobody suspected the magician. In fact he led the search. He interacted with the police. Sometimes he turned to me and smiled reassuringly. It meant, “You don’t worry, everything will be all right”.

I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t kill myself which I very much wanted to do then. I cursed me for befriending the magician. For trusting him. For confiding in him. For helping him. For letting me, my family, and the whole village down. I silently prayed to God to save the village from the magician’s clutches. But it looked like God was sleeping and didn’t hear me.

The magician began to play his unholy games using me. I was forced to kill for him. I burgled for him. I stole for him. I could not resist. I destroyed the calmness of the village. I made the villagers fight each other. I made people distrust each other. I could only obey what he ordered me to do. I had no power to resist him. I was nothing but his shadow.

Maybe a year went by. Or two. Or was it three? I had lost count of weeks and months. Then one day the renegade shouted that the magician was a cheat. He climbed on a tree and shouted at the top of his voice, “The magician is a cheat. He killed people. He burgled you.”

That was the first voice against the magician. The renegade went on shouting, “Where is the money he collected? Where is the road he promised? Where are the wells he promised? Where is the peace and prosperity he promised?  Where is the development?”

The villagers had a feeling that everything was not well. The renegade’s words strengthened their doubts. Also the magician’s spell had slowly begun to weaken over the years. Consequently my thinking power, too, returned. Gradually more and more people realised that the magician was not a boon, but a bane for the village.

They remembered the peaceful and happy days before the arrival of the magician. They were worried about the present pathetic condition of the village. They wanted a change. A change back to the original village, if not better. They wanted freedom. Freedom from the clutches of the magician. Freedom from exploitation. Freedom from autocracy. Freedom from corruption.

I saw the change coming over the people. I was glad. I hoped they would come forward to kick the magician out of the village. The renegade’s shouting continued day in and day out. The magician wanted to get rid of him. He also feared that his words would influence the innocent villagers. He ordered me to finish him. I was stunned. The renegade’s shouting was the only hope I had to attain my own freedom. I knew it was his tree-top revelations and shouting that awakened the conscious of the people. I had to save him somehow. But I knew I was helpless. I had no option but to obey the magician.

I told him, “Sir, if he is killed now, people will accuse you. They may even turn against you.”

The magician realised that things were going wrong. He also understood that the power of his spell over them was weakening. He was afraid that if the whole village rose against him he would not be able to stand against them. So he devised another way.

The magician then went and told the collector that there is a renegade in the village who is disturbing the peace and tranquility of the village. He, therefore, requested the collector to call a meeting of the village with the single object of expelling the renegade from the village permanently.

The collector, who had a special liking for the magician, called a meeting of the villagers. During the meeting the collector realised that things were not as smooth and as straightforward as he had been given to understand. He found that almost everybody was against the magician and blamed him for the pathetic condition of the village. The single agenda of expelling the renegade could not even be taken up. Instead the villagers wanted the restoration of the panchayat, which system the magician had abolished.

The panchayat, therefore, was restored and new members elected. The magician wanted and hoped to become the president.  Since matters had gone against his own expectations and wishes, that was the only option available to him. But that didn’t happen. He was voted out. 

The magician was very disappointed. He had hoped that people would once again elect him as the leader. He had, however, been humiliated by the whole village. What if they found out that he purchased his house with the money he collected from them? He couldn’t sleep that night.

The next morning he told me, “I am going out for a few days. I shall soon return. I shall take control of the village again. Wait for me.”

I pleaded, “Please restore my body to me before you go. I can go and live with my family. Please, please.”

But he did not. He, however, released me from my bond to his body. So I could stay back in the village while he went away seeking to rejuvenate his magical powers. Nearly five years had passed since he made me his shadow. My wife and daughter have learned to live without me. The villagers believed that I had run away due to some mysterious reasons.


It has been three years since the magician had left the village. I have been meditating under the banyan tree in the village square since then. I am waiting for him. Every moment, every hour, every day, every month. When will he come and restore my body?

Sunday, 13 October 2013

I Cheated Everybody

I was studying in the tenth class in Vandematharam High School, Veliyannoor (now Vandematharam Vocational Higher Secondary School). Tenth was the highest class in school those days (1960s). The present day eleventh and twelfth were attached to college and were called pre-degree course. Plus two was in college, not school. Tenth was supposed to be the most crucial class. During those days if you get a first class (60 per cent marks), you would be a hero not only in the school but even in the whole village. Terms like distinction were mostly unheard of.

By chance I happened to be one of the students who was expected to bring laurels to the school and to the village by obtaining a first class. So, one day Sivaraman Nair Sir, our Maths teacher, called me to the staff room. He asked me about my daily routine, how much time I used for studies, what my study time table was, and so on and so forth. In fact there had been no time table for me as such. My parents left the responsibility of studies completely to me. That was the case in most houses then. Tuitions were unthinkable and extremely uncommon. Tutorials were, however, popular. Tutorials were those ‘colleges’ which admitted those students who failed in tenth class and prepared them for the next examinations. Examinations were conducted twice, in March (the regular ones) and in September (for those who appeared in compartments).

There were no regular PTAs (parents–teachers associations) or meetings then. In fact the only time when any parent visited school, if at all, was to attend the anniversary (annual day function). There was no diary through which teachers used to communicate with parents, and there were no mobile (or even landline) phones. Even to this day e-mail and Internet remains a rarity in village homes. To cut the long description short, there was nearly no communication between the teachers and parents at all. This was the norm in every school and with every home.

It was under these circumstances that Sivaraman Nair Sir called me to the staff room. I told him, by way of routine, that I did pooja (worship) in our family temple, which takes about an hour every morning. I also told him about how I go about my studies, which was actually not much. He asked me to send my father to meet him.

Father went and met him the next day or the day after that. I was also called in during the meeting. Sir told father that I should be left free in the mornings to study and do not send me to perform pooja in the temple. Father said it took only about half an hour.

Sir said, ‘Oh, half an hour in the morning is too much. Mornings are the best time for studies and if possible, please release him from the pooja responsibilities till his examinations are over’.

After all, I was one who was expected to obtain a first class in the tenth public examinations and to bring laurels to the village! Well, this was not possible, because father himself had to perform pooja in another temple about five kilometres away (for a salary) for which he needed to go every morning and evening.

Father told me, ‘Well, I shall do the initial half and then you can go and finish the rest of the pooja’.

I agreed.  And from that day till my examinations were over, this routine was followed. But I did not do justice to my parents, to my teachers, to the school, or to myself. I did not obtain a first class. I actually got one mark less than even a second class. Though nobody got a first class from the whole school that year, a few students got higher marks than mine.

I later analysed the reasons for my poor performance. I realized that it was my over-confidence that ditched me. Since I was given to understand that I was the best student in the class I took everything for granted. Maybe the teachers too did the mistake of pampering me. In fact I cheated everybody, including myself.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

When I Ate Egg Curry

I came to Delhi in 1973 at the age of 19 to manage the New Delhi branch of Dhanwanthari Vaidyasala. The Vaidyasala was an ayurvedic medical hospital with headquarters at Thodupuzha in Kerala. The branch, which actually was an ayurvedic medical shop, was located at Padam Singh Road in Karol Bagh. I was staying with my elder cousins in Greater Kailash. Every day I took private buses ‘under DTC operation’ in route no. 5B – Arya Samaj Road to Greater Kailash. The shop was usually closed at around 7.30 in the evening. I then walk to Arya Samaj Road and board a bus back to Greater Kailash. The journey took more than an hour and I normally reached home around 9 o’clock. By that time cousins would have prepared dinner. If I was late, sometimes they also had supper before I came.  

One day when I came, as it happens sometimes, cousins had already taken their supper. I was hungry and started eating supper after changing. It used to be rice and some curry every day. But that day I felt something strange with the curry.  As soon as I started taking food, I felt something very strange. I didn’t know how to explain the feeling. I knew there was something wrong. Was it the taste? Was it the smell? I didn’t know. There was something terribly unfamiliar and certainly not to my liking. I could not eat even half the normal quantity, though I was hungry. I could not eat the rest and threw it in the waste basket. I asked my cousin what was the curry which made it impossible for me to take it. He did not give a direct response. They also tried to avoid the question. They, however, told me that there was nothing special. But I still remember the mischievous smile on their faces as if they have conquered a country in a war.

Within half an hour of taking the food, I vomited for the first time. Also, I had an upset stomach. After some time I vomited again. I could not sleep the whole night due to the upset stomach which forced me to run to the toilet a number of times during the night. I also vomited a few more times. Seeing my pathetic condition, and because I went on insisting that I should know what had been so special in the curry – because I knew there was something that they hid from me – at last they admitted it was egg curry.

I was shocked and terribly upset. If some friends had done this to me to play a prank, I could have understood. But when my own cousin, who very well knew that I did not take egg or non-vegetarian food, cheated me, I felt very upset and really angry. They had been exploiting my inability to recognise egg curry. But I was not in a condition to even tell them anything. I was down with the upset stomach and vomiting for nearly two days.

Fortunately, after that day they did not try anything similar to that.

After that day, several times I asked myself, “Why did he do this to me?”

I could not find an answer to this day. But I tried to forget it and thought I was able to do it. But it is not easy to forget things that affect one’s mind very deeply.