Soon after lunch today, my wife declared that she was leaving me. Not for good, but for an unspecified period of time. We were still sitting in a restaurant in Puri and she passed on her purse to me asking me to take good care of its contents till she was back. Amongst other things, I knew that she kept her mobile phone inside the purse.
“Why won’t you carry your cell phone with you?” asked I in alarm. “I can’t get in touch with you if you are late. “
“They don’t allow mobile phones there,” she replied and got up to leave.
“Hey look,” said I “who’s ‘they’ darling and where’s ‘there’?”
“I am going to the Jagannath Temple. They have their rules. Amongst other things no leather goods are allowed inside and no mobile phones either. Anyway I am getting late. This is the best time to visit. Because it’s Jagannath’s lunch time and there are few people around. If I can make it on time, I might manage to get a ‘darshan’.
“I can come with you too. Why are you leaving me with a woman’s purse? People will get ideas to see me carrying a purse you know”
“Well, just go back to the hotel room and wait there she said. The room is less than five minutes from here. You can bear the embarrassment for a short time at least. For my sake, do it. This is your once in a lifetime chance to do something for my sake. Try and recall the last occasion you did anything just for me.”
“Look,” said I, “I am even willing to accompany you to the temple. You are doing me wrong.”
“Oh no, they won’t let you inside the temple. You will have to wait outside on the street with my purse much longer that way.”
“Why won’t they allow me into the temple?”
“They are very strict. Non-Hindus are forbidden entry.”
“Since when did I turn non-Hindu?” I asked severely concerned.
“How do I know? Probably since the day you were born. Anyone who cares to study you will know. And then there will be trouble. Look, I am getting late. I want to be present there at the opportune moment.”
“But please don’t leave me in a sea of mystery. Have I been excommunicated? But why?”
“Hindus cannot be excommunicated. You need to convert. But how can you covert from Hinduism if you are not a Hindu in the first place. Stop bothering me. Ask yourself what you have ever done that would qualify you as a Hindu.”
“Oh come on, I married you with the holy fire as witness.”
“Ha!” she exclaimed.
“I put the vermillion mark on the parting of your beautiful hair.”
“Ha!” she repeated with passion. “You are not just a non-Hindu. You are a non-anything. If you are anything at all, you are a lizard in a bathroom.”
“Bathroom!” I exclaimed. By now she had hailed an auto. As she was boarding it, I asked her, “Why don’t they let you carry the cell phone inside? Are they worried that you would call up Jagannath-ji when he was enjoying his post lunch siesta?”
“See, see, see …! Did you hear what you said? You call yourself a Hindu. Ha!”
This last ‘ha’ was pretty lethal, but before I could recover from its attack, the auto had disappeared. So I mournfully retraced my steps to the hotel room and turned on the laptop to check my mail. May be I managed to join company with Shri Jagannath, for I woke up with a start when someone knocked on the door from outside.
I opened the door and there she was. Triumph radiated from all over her person. Full of excitement she told me how she had managed to enter the sanctum sanctorum and watch Shri Jagannath standing only a few feet away. “The Pandas were most helpful. They said I was super lucky. Normally there is a huge crowd, but I got the opportunity to stand there all alone and watch him in his infinite glory.”
“You sure you didn’t call him up and make an appointment this morning,” I asked.
“Ha!” she said again, producing in me the distinct impression that she was slowly forgetting spoken language. ‘Ha’ appeared to be the single entity with which her vocabulary was bursting at the seams.
It was late afternoon and I felt like taking a stroll on the beach. “I am going out for a walk, OK?” I told her.
“Yes do so. You’ll soon forget how to walk if you sit in front of the computer much longer.” She was forgetting to talk and I to walk. I guess we were even.
With her reassuring message about my walking abilities, she bid me farewell. I went out and stood deeply engrossed in thought staring at a camel on the sea shore. The camel too reciprocated. It’s owner watched me suspiciously though until I asked him if he would mind if I took a picture of the camel.
“No problem,” said he. “Just climb up the ladder and sit on its back. I will take a picture with you sitting on the camel.”
“Oh no,” I replied in alarm. “The camel alone will do.”
The man looked bored. “Oh, go ahead.” I began clicking from different angles and was quite engrossed in the work when I realized that a general atmosphere of panic had developed in the meantime. People appeared to be running helter-skelter for their dear lives and I alone was blissfully occupied in taking photographs of a camel that did not belong to the beach in the first place.
I looked up and tried to digest the event in progress. No it was not a tsunami, but something pretty close. Right behind me two bulls had arrived from nowhere it seemed and started to bully one another. Locked horns and all. I stood petrified. No cow was visible in the horizon, so I had no idea what they were fighting over. What would happen next appeared to be a stochastic event, probably captured by what statisticians call a white noise.
As I anticipated, one of the bulls won the match and the loser lost not only the fight but its temper also. It looked around and saw me standing on the empty sea beach. And took to chasing me.
Now I don’t know if any of you have been chased by a frustrated bull on a sea beach. You need to be well-trained to run at all at the age of ninety eight. And you need to be immensely skilled to be able to run through wet sand pursued by a mighty bull. And recall that I had, according to my wife, almost forgotten to walk!
Well, when situations demand, even non-walkers turn into sprinters. So I survived with a few minor bruises. As I was running for dear life, I remembered that it was Yama who was supposed to ride a bull. And since only a few hours ago my wife had told me that I was hopelessly unreligious, I conjured up a vision that had been aptly captured by a talented economist friend of mine, now teaching in New Zealand. He drew this picture for a love story written jointly by us in Bengali rhyme. I am re-using the picture to help you imagine my state this evening.
Drawing by Amal Sanyal
I reached my hotel panting. My wife was surprised to find me in a somewhat roughened up condition.
“What happened? Did someone beat you up?”
“No. A female Yama chased me sitting on a bull. ”
“No, no rubbish at all. I saw Yama riding a bull just a few minutes ago. The way you saw Jagannath. From close quarters you know. Only Yama assumed a female shape. I wondered if it was you ...”
“Ha!” she ha–ed back in disdain.