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Eulogy to a Frank-fart-er
|by Dipankar Dasgupta|
Have you ever come across a frank-FART-er? I always thought that the being was extinct. Indeed, if it did exist today, it would surely have qualified as the eighth wonder of our planet, don't you think? Wait though my son, wait. It seems now that you and I, as well as other specimens of humanity whose footsteps have been guiding us, were utterly wrong in our convictions. Frank-FART-ers exist in profusion, or so at least the menus of a delicatessen or two are advertising in Kolkata. In large letters, capitalized that is. At the very entrance of the shops. You can't miss them.
Come to think of it though, most of us might have been exposed to a somewhat lesser variety of the species, frank-FART-ers minus the boldness of it carried by the first five letters. They exist and perform with gay abandon in night trains as well as crowded buses, as evidenced by the diverse range of noises one's ears are exposed to every now and then. And one can't help wondering. Is there a technology that can decode these audio signals, or at least unravel the mysterious emotions they represent? Pride? Anger? Mockery? Pathos? Humility? Mind boggling you know, a bit like the inscrutable smile on Mona Lisa's face.
Almost none of these musicians, mind you, have ever been accused of frankness. They remain as invisible to the naked eye as the mellifluous sound waves they produce. Yes, oh yes my child. I know you are as alert as a leopard in search of its prey. So you couldn't have missed my hesitation at the very beginning of this paragraph. "Almost" said I. And if you scroll back upwards, you will notice further that I suggested that the animal was extinct. This means, doesn't it, that there was a period in the history of mankind when it may well have existed. Dinosaur style.
But don't you start googling in search of the creature. Neither historians nor archaeologists will offer you help in your quest. When your thirst for knowledge overpowers you, there is only one reference you should consult -- the Mahabharata. That's the ultimate source of history that historians always ignore. Fortunately, I am not a student of history, so I never fail to pay my due respects to this magnificent compendium.
And that is precisely the direction in which I ran the day I saw the advertisement at the delicatessen and burnt all the midnight oil at my disposal till I met with success. I am dying now to share with you my findings. The story of a magnificent frank-FART-er picked directly out of the pages of Krishnadwaipayan Vyas' personal diary.
The f-f in question was the venerable Agastya, of whom I daresay you must have heard. I reckon he was one of the most powerful amongst the Hindu saints who found their place in the epic tale. His abilities manifested in the form of a great many miraculous events, but none as great as the one concerning the demon Illwal and his young brother Bataapi.
Whether this conjecture is correct or not, I can't say. Vyas confirms though that Illwal made a somewhat questionable use of his faculty. And to go straight to the point, it appears that Illwal had once approached a Brahman with a strange request. He asked this B chap to grant him a boon that his son be as mighty as the King of Gods, viz. Lord Indra himself, armed with thunder, fury and the rest of the paraphernalia. The Brahman unfortunately refused. To tell the truth, the poor chap really had no other choice. First, he didn't know Indra personally and could not therefore make someone he didn't know resemble yet another guy he didn't know either. Secondly, even if he tried to cater to Illwal's whim, it is doubtful that Indra himself would be too happy to oblige. I mean, there was always this stray chance that the Lord would be transformed in the process to Illwal's pampered child and be forced to remain in that state till the rest of eternity. That such possibilities are real enough will be revealed to you as you read through this tale.
So, the B refused and this Ill chap in turn was livid with anger. He decided to depopulate the earth of Brahmans. Towards this end, he began to invite all the Brahmans he could locate to his residence and serve them a variety of delicacies. Amongst them was a curry, made apparently out of goat meat. In reality though, he was using his magic to transform Bataapi into a goat. And it was this Bataapi cum goat that he was slaughtering to be cooked into a curry for the consumption of the unsuspecting invitees. No harm in this, since Bat boy could not die even when decimated, thanks to Ill boy's sorcery.
Apparently, the preparation made out of Bataapi's meat was real tasty and the Brahman's lapped it up with relish. However, immediately after the feast was over, Illwal would call out for his brother in a heart rending baritone and as soon as he did so, the hapless Brahman's stomach would explode and a smiling Batapi walk out unharmed from the mess.
There is a question that bothers me though at this point of the story. To the best of my understanding, few Brahmans outside Bengal are meat eaters. If so, do we conclude that Illwal was only after Bengali Brahmans? Unfair man, God's so unfair to the Bongs. Or, does it suggest that Brahmans living in other parts of the country, being more intelligent, got wind of Illwal's machinations and promptly converted to vegetarianism? Whichever, it's worth researching whether the forefathers of today's vegetarian Brahmans were vegetarians during V'deva's times.
Serendipitously enough, it was around this time that Agastya was seen in the vicinity. It was easy enough for him to secure an invitation card for Illwal's party and Illwal merrily went through the ritual. Agastya too ate up the meat to his fill. And then, just when he was about to lie down for a well-deserved siesta, Illwal strung up the Bataapi tune on his harp. In response, much to Illwal's dismay, Bataapi failed to reappear. And what emerged instead was a hurricane of sorts directly from Agastya's posterior, accompanied by great thunder and lightning.
Make no mistake. Agastya admitted with all the frankness at his possession that it was he who had broken wind, thereby earning for himself the well deserved title of an f-f. Illwal was almost blown away by the force of the turbulence, but managed to hold his ground with the last bit of strength left in him. And as he stared open mouthed at Agastya, the latter smiled a beatific smile and came out with his immortal statement in chaste Sanskrit -- "Bataapih jeerna bhava!" Which, translated into simple English runs -- " Bataapi dear, be thou digested!" In other words, following the rules of Physics, Agastya demonstrated the truth of what scientists describe as the Law of Conservation of Energy. He had converted a breathing Bataapi into as unattractive a form of energy as a blighted f**t!! And Prevented Illwal from transforming his kid brother back to the energy mass he started out from. You see now why Lord Indra would have refused to undergo the requested change? If Bataapi could not be restored back to his original self, what guarantee did Indra himself have?
Having proceeded this far, there must clearly be a question or two that are bothering you. First, what is it that they are selling in Kolkata? Fossilized pieces of Agastyas may be? Not unlikely in fact, if the Vyas story was solely concerned with Brahmans in this region of India. I am dead sure that Brahmans from other parts of the country would want to wash their hands off any involvement with Illwal, unless there was a vegetarian version of Illwal's magic. I have to carry out further research before I can throw more light on the matter.
But there is a second question that might trouble you too. Was it pure serendipity that made Agastya appear to perform his miracle? The answer is, as you might suspect, a clear no. Agastya too had his designs. And I being at my garrulous worst today, let me end up with a summary of that incident too.
Agastya had not arrived at Illwal's door with philanthropic propensities at all. As a matter of fact, it was quite the other way around. It was Illwal's philanthropy that he demanded. If Vyasdeva is to be trusted, then during one of his lonesome morning walks through the omnipresent forests of yore, the young Agastya received the shock of his life to discover, not one, but the entire dynasty of his forefathers, apes included I suppose, hanging upside down inside a freshly dug hole, located inches away from this lofty tree under which he had sat down to rest. And mind you, this was no circus show they were performing for their progeny's entertainment. For, without exception, each one had a glum expression written clearly on his face. To tell you frankly, a sight as scary as this would have prompted me to run for my life. But the great Agastya was made of sterner stuff. He approached the hole in question and paid obeisance to each member of the mourning generations and requested them in all humility to explain what had caused them to suspend themselves in mournful gloom in such a supremely demanding athletic posture.
On being questioned, the ancestors could no longer control their emotions and shed an ocean of tears, thereby wiping out all traces of the hole they had occupied. Nevertheless, they managed to keep the conversation going. It's best that we keep in abeyance questions regarding the technicalities surrounding this event, or else you will not get to hear the rest of the tale. Miracles those days were available a dime a dozen.
The progenitors, it appears, whimpered lugubriously much to the discomfort of the progeny that he was doing them much wrong by refusing to procreate and soon there would be no one left to solace them with the satisfying thought that they had done their bit in keeping God's creativity alive and kicking. Agastya accepted his lapses without argument and set out on his way to fill up the lacuna.
Unfortunately though, there was a fly in the ointment. Agastya, despite his renunciation of worldly pleasures, suffered from a Pygmalion like weakness. No woman short of Miss Universe in person would satisfy him. He imagined therefore a wife who would be composed of the most scintillating features collected from all creatures ever created and prayed fervently for her arrival to cleanse him of the crime of non-procreation. Luckily for him, it was precisely around this time that the King of Vidarva was engaged in severe ascetic rituals in the hope of fathering the most flawless child on earth. Agastya's wishes fitted the King's as perfectly as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle and soon enough Lopamudra, Agastya's wife to be, was born. There must have been quite an age difference between the groom and the bride, but Agastya bided his time keeping her under close observation, till Lopa was a nubile young woman. She had, needless to say, all the virtues Agastya had wished for and the marriage was arranged between the two, though Vyas tells us the King was not too happy to give away the apple of his eye to a middle aged forest roaming hermit with no more than a dubious career ahead of him. In other words, it was not exactly clear from Agastya's looks if he would ascend to the status of a Hindu Pope.
But Lopamudra didn't object, afraid perhaps of the consequences of her refusal, and followed her husband to his abode, which needless to say, was a bit of a demotion from her palatial habitat. Worse, Agastya insisted that she shed her princess' attire and preserve her modesty in tattered clothes or deer skin at best. In my opinion, the chap was dying to see his wife in a bikini and used the tall excuse that a sage's wife needed to live a life of sacrifice. Can't be helped. Men dominated the world on the one hand and on the other, Agastya was known to possess superhuman abilities. One wouldn't dare disobey his commands. So, Lopamudra accepted his dictates with little objection and went about bikini clad performing her household chores, cooking, sweeping the courtyard, washing dishes, massaging Agastya's tired forest roaming limbs and, last but not least, keeping her bikini sets in order. And, as expected, seeing her regularly in this state, Agastya went all horny and remembered conveniently that he had promised to keep the clan flourishing.
Now, Lopamudra, whom we have so far perceived as an epitome of female acquiescence, was in reality a feminist at heart. She was, without a doubt, waiting for a chance to deal a brutal blow to her husband's divine affectations. Her deer skinned bikini she claimed now was too holy a garment for her to wear to start the proceedings that Agastya was dying to start. In other words, she refused to be un-bikini-ed. She was a princess and if Agastya had to undress her, he would have to fetch her a princess' garments as well as a matching bed to perform the ritual. Nothing less was acceptable to her. Agastya therefore had only two choices left before him. Either apply force, which was tantamount to raping, or meet her demands. The first alternative wouldn't work of course, since this would not please his ancestors. So, Agastya, much to his regret agreed to meet Lopamudra's demands.
He left her in her bikinis, which needless to say was not a particularly safe thing to do, and went in search of wealth from king to king, Srutava, Vradhnashwa, Trasadasyu and so on. (I don't know how to pronounce these names, so you needn't worry too much either.) But, to his massive disappointment, each of these kings told him that they were following IMF norms and practising strict fiscal discipline. Their incomes exactly equalled there expenditure and they didn't have even an extra paisa to spare to buy Lopamudra her bridal bed and costly saree. They were obviously not telling the truth, being somewhat stingy it would seem. One wonders why Agastya didn't approach his father in law too, but Vyas was once again silent on this issue. I have a feeling that that poor king had left for his heavenly abode soon after he heard about the clothing Agastya forced upon his poor daughter.
Srutava et al, however, were not totally unhelpful. They suggested that Agastya approach Illwal, who, by all accounts, was the richest chap around. I mean, he was the only king who had the means to buy a cot for you know what. I think deep down in their hearts, these balanced budget kings wanted to put Illwal in his place and were hoping to use Agastya for that ultimate purpose. So, as I said, the fact that Agastya landed up in Illwal's palace was no coincidence. And what I did not inform you earlier, Illwal was so scared after Agastya's stormy performance that he gave him all the stuff he needed to keep humanity growing.
What beats my imagination though is why Monsignor Agastya had to perform the diverse set of miracles to fetch a princely bed for Lopamudra. If he could digest Bataapi and convert him into thin air, he should surely have possessed the ability to manufacture a miserable bed out of the same thin air. But then, that's the way Vyas wanted his characters to behave.
Does this story have moral though? I am afraid that it does and it applies to you my son. If you ever come across an apparition bearing the slightest resemblance to your father, hanging upside down, batman-style, in a poorly lit cave in your neighbourhood, you are well advised not to treat it as an optical illusion. Oh yes, I am fully aware that you live in the US. That unlike the renowned profs of Indian mythology, who were congenitally inclined to loiter about aimlessly in wooded hills and dales in search of convenient locations for launching Hubble telescopes in search of truant Gods and Goddesses, you teach in centrally heated, brightly lit classrooms to gum chewing, jeans clad kids with their legs stretched atop the nearest table or chair. Nonetheless, you are well advised to keep your eyes open, especially for cavernous confines, where a forefather or two, living or dead, might be lurking, in the aforementioned gymnastic state. Never neglect these hoary old acrobats, for they are doubtlessly trying to communicate with you, somewhat in the manner of Hamlet's father's spirit, when things were rotting in the state of Denmark.
Tons of love.
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