Across the Bridge - Chapter 7
Continued from “Horse with a Tiny Rider”
Shambhu and Champa now had two bullocks but the plough, which Champa’s father had given them, was too heavy. So he had a lighter one made by his carpenter and brought to Kesari Nagar. Slowly, the boy learned to do some ploughing, more to learn than to accomplish something. His uncle, Champa’s father and his father’s former peasants did most of the ploughing. As for the older brother, the uncle and his father-in-law would reprimand him verbally, “You are a grown man, have a wife and a little brother. Be responsible, it is your duty to look after them now, you are the head of this family.” The boy would just look at them confounded, about the same way as the Belt-Man looked at the Landlord’s men when he was not yet a Belt-Man. While the Belt-Man knew what he was doing, an act, the boy’s reaction was somewhat genuine. He could not be blamed as he was still quite young. Oh yes, Akbar the Great did become an emperor at thirteen after the death of his father but he had an empire and Bairam Khan to raise him until he grew up to be a man. This boy’s empire had been taken away from him and his uncle was no Bairam Khan; neither was his father-in-law.
The situation of Shambhu and Champa was still not as bad as that of the family in Mother India. In their case, the mother pulled the plough while her two sons tried to hold its handle. When the sons grew up, they started pulling the plough and the mother held the handle.
Humans appear to be quite resilient and master reconcilers. Whatever the situation, they manage to become quite at ease with it even if tortured by the suffering it may cause; they appear to be able to reconcile even the dogma and reason. Shambhu and Champa would sit and cry every now and then but then they would get on with their lives, in fact life, as their lives had become much too intertwined to be called ‘lives.’ Also, necessity is about the greatest teacher there can be. They became quite good at managing things. Champa would manage to do all the house work and help Shambhu in the fields. Shambhu started to show significant stamina at farm work, he had to as the rate at which he could work was no match for a regular peasant. While all the others would quit for the noon hour siesta between ten and eleven, they stayed until twelve in that sweltering heat, temperatures reaching up to forty-five degrees Celsius, even higher at times. Shambhu developed ability to work long hours in that heat. By the time he was ready to quit for the siesta, he would be drowning in sweat. Then he would roll over in the tilled soil and walk covered in mud towards the village. Champa did not have that luxury. Sweating or not, she had to work wrapped in her sari. Shambhu would frequently persuade her to take rest in shade under a mango tree. Champa would tell her husband every now and then, “You should help your little brother. In fact, you should be doing more work and he should be helping you.” The husband would go join Shambhu, work for a while, get “tired” quite quickly and would disappear likely to play with seashells.
Finally, the first crop came. Yield was not much but it wasn’t bad either. His uncle and Champa’s father harvested and divided the crop, boys’ share and the Landlord’s. After explaining to Shambhu and Champa, they both rushed to their villages as they had to look after their crops also. The landlords always came with their men and police, police to keep the peasants in line. In fact, it was more to intimidate them than to arrest as there never was any resistance, even to extreme injustice. After a while, the entourage was seen coming towards Shambhu’s field.
Landlord Bhupal Singh dismounted his horse and walked to Shambhu. It was rather unusual as the landlords rarely dismounted their horses, their men did all the crop collection. Shambhu looked at the horse, then turned his eyes to the Landlord. Weight of the horse was crushing his heart but he did not want the Landlord to notice it. As the Landlord came closer, Shambhu pointed to his share of the crop, “There is your share Chowdhari Sahib.”
“Don’t worry about the tax Pundit ji,” Bhupal Singh said with a somber expression and tone, “You are my Spiritual Master and you are starting a new life. I can understand your difficulties. I’ll let you keep the whole of this year’s crop.”
Shambhu was quite dismayed, “Something is odd,” he thought. He had heard the verse: If a wicked person gives up its wicked ways, be careful, for, as is said, if moon is seen without spots, the world would end. His bewilderment did not last long as the Landlord added, “Oh, one thing, you remember that firangi, the district magistrate, he has taken a liking to your Bhabhi. If you cooperate, all your difficulties will be gone forever. You might even become a landlord someday.”
Shambhu clutched the sickle in his fist that was already in his hand, his eyes red with rage and he spoke, “Eh Chowdhari, that pile is yours. Take it or it will rot here.”
Bhupal had not imagined that such transformation in a little boy was even possible but then his name was Shambhu Das, servant of Shambhu, Lord Shiva, Shankar Bhole Nath, Lord of the simple people, known to be easy to please, would give anything anyone asked until he transformed himself in Rudra form to destroy the world. The Landlord was taken aback at the sight of this Rudra form of Shambhu and to see the fire of Lord Shiva’s third eye in little boy’s eyes. It is said that the gods wanted Lord Shiva to get married, which he was not interested in. So the gods persuaded Kama Dev, the sex god, to arouse Lord Shiva. Kama Dev hid himself in a mango tree with a bow of sugarcane and arrow of lotus stem with flower tip and shot at the heart of Lord Shiva. Metaphor is difficult to miss. In any case, as Lord Shiva’s heart was hit with the lotus flower, he looked for the culprit. He opened his third eye, nothing could escape the third eye of Lord Shiva. As Kama Dev was spotted, fire emanated from the eye and burned Kama Dev. It is said that with his body gone, Kama Dev became even more powerful as now it could strike hearts un-noticed.
The Landlord mounted his horse and ordered his entourage to move with silent gesture. The crop was left there. He told the peasants in the nearby fields that he had decided to exempt the boys from tax this year as a favor to them but that the boy was naïve and acting proud. He skipped the part involving Champa of course. Bhupal asked the peasants to persuade Shambhu to keep the entire crop but the peasants could not persuade Shambhu to keep Landlord’s share. They took the crop themselves and decided to slowly transfer it to Shambhu over a period of time as they were helping him with grain and things out of their loyalty to his father and sympathy towards him. “This pig Bhupal gave all the good land to the other pigs,” referring to the beneficiary peasants, “The pious one always mixed good land with not so good to be fair to all of the renting peasants,” they remarked while collecting the crop.
Shambhu and Champa carried their share of the crop home, one load at a time. They would put some in a cotton sheet, tie it and carry on their heads as everyone else. Couple of peasants, who were finished well before them, helped them. When everyone retired for siesta, Shambhu and Champa headed to the field to clean up. As they reached the field, they sat down under the mango tree, hugged each other and cried, sobbed. There was no one around to see, so they could let it loose. After crying, they felt lighter or less heavy of heart.
“How are we going to live Devar ji?” Champa asked.
“We’ll live Bhabhi ji, and live with dignity;” came the answer.
Champa paused for a moment and commented, “I believe it. After seeing your Rudra form, I am convinced that you did have sakshatkara with Lord Shiva. His spirit is in you; He has blessed you. As He Himself, we’ll have nothing of material value but we’ll have the power of Lord Shiva in us.”
The tax from the extra seventy-five bighas of land was a sudden windfall for Bhupal Singh, a significant addition to his three hundred, hundred-fifty under his own cultivation and hundred-fifty rented out, now more than two hundred rented out. He could manage to acquire a young mare of good breed and produce a baby Marvari ‘before the Marvari gets too old’ and he did. After that, he managed to keep the seed of the original Marvari continued even though it was getting diluted with each generation. It was a descendant of the horse of Shambhu’s father, which Mahipal, the son of Bhupal Singh, was riding until a few days back.
“You have had a streak of bed lucks brother,” Dharmu patwari continued, “not just what these pigs Mahipal and his father did to you but your noble deeds too like taking those two delinquent orphans under your wings, good for nothing, just shit producing machines if you can keep throwing the raw material, food, into their mouths. But Parasu’s coming as your eldest appears to be working out fine.”
Time has a way of slithering more swiftly than a cobra. Champa was eighteen years old before she knew it. Women in the village had started commenting and gossiping about her as she was too late in getting pregnant. By sixteen almost all boys were well versed in the ways of farming there although not yet capable of farming by themselves but could, as parts of their extended families. Shambhu became as adept by thirteen as others were at fifteen, even more; by sixteen he surpassed the best. They became regular peasants and hard work of early years started to pay off as those years had toughened them up and now they could accomplish quite a bit more than others. Even the older boy, twenty years old now, shaped up a little and started helping but he would quit about the time as all the other peasants did while Shambhu and Champa kept their earlier routine of working till the noon hour. This was their summer routine; in other seasons, the routine changed but the fact remained that they worked longer hours. All that work was producing more than normal for not so good land but comparable to the better land of the other peasants.
One day, while tilling their sugarcane field and chatting, all the other peasants gone, Champa said, “You have it better Devar ji, you can roll over in the soil, I can’t. I have always had a desire to jump in a river and swim like a fish. Oh how I long to play in water.”
Shambhu looked around and saw no one around, “Everyone is gone to the village. You can roll in soil today, no one will know, sugarcanes are tall enough to hide you, I’ll watch outside. And you can jump in the canal too.”
“But I can’t swim.”
“Water is not very deep and I’ll be with you. We can splatter water on each other and take a dip.”
Champa paused for a moment; then said, “I’ll do it.”
She went inside the field while the boy stood outside under the mango tree keeping a watch. She had started wearing a maxi skirt, blouse and a chunari on her head occasionally, which was allowed after a daughter-in-law had spent some years in the village. She took her skirt and blouse off, placed them and her chunari aside and rolled in the soil. By the time she was finished, she was all covered in mud as Shambhu used to be. Then she wrapped her chunari around her body covering from her shoulders down to the knees, tied it around her neck and thighs as the other girls she had seen doing whom she envied. Before she came out, she asked, “Is anybody around?”
“Not a soul, not even a crow or a sparrow do I see, must have taken shelter in the shade in trees.”
Shambhu had wrapped his loin cloth in the form of a swimming trunk.
They jumped in the canal together holding hands and splattered water on each other. After a while, they were almost shivering even in that heat, which was common as the water coming from the Ganges Canal was still quite cold. Boys of the village were very fond of jumping in the canal during what was the siesta time for the adults. As they would feel cold, they would go roll in hot sand on the bank or if there was no sand, just lie in grass on the bank to warm up. When hot, they would go jump in the canal again. The cycle would continue until after the siesta time or until someone’s father, uncle, mother, or the like, came with a cane to get him home. If anyone was spotted with a cane, all the boys would run in different directions and reach the village before the cane-person did. Only a few girls had the luxury of jumping in the canal, that too before reaching puberty, except for odd occasions and away from the boys. Custom in some villages near a river some kilometers away was different. There, girls jumped in the river as the boys did and even competed with them in swimming although they covered themselves well. However, even for that, only the daughters of the villages were allowed but not the daughter-in-laws.
When they were cold, it was natural for Shambhu and Champa to come out of the water. When in the knee-deep water, Champa turned to Shambhu and thanked him, “It was nice of you Shambhu Devar, to let me satisfy my long standing urge.” Shambhu said nothing, just looked at her. Wet chunari had snuggled up to her shapely contours. Chunari, while dry is opaque but when wet, it is translucent. Shambhu stared at her breasts. Their lips moved towards each other’s. Just before they could touch, Shambhu’s cold forehead sweated suddenly and he jerked himself back. Rather embarrassed, he lowered his eyes. It turned out to be even more dangerous.
They changed into their regular clothes and walked to the village. Women usually quit working before the men did and had the meals prepared for them by the time they returned for their lunch and the siesta time. In their case, Champa would quit sometime earlier than Shambhu and sometime she stayed later to return with Shambhu. When she returned home earlier, she would prepare lunch for the three. When she returned later, the older brother was out of luck, he would have to snack up on something, if he could find any. There was not much in the house, whatever there was, was difficult for him to find. On the days they came together, both would whip up the lunch together. They would then eat, take a little nap before starting in the afternoon about the same time as the other peasants. That was obviously the day to return together. Nothing seemed out of normal but something had changed profoundly.
Conversations started getting more personal. Shambhu was already sixteen and no one had seriously offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to him. Twenty-five bighas of land was not so little even if not of very good quality; more than that, it was the fact that the whole family constituted of three children, with no “mature” adult, not male nor female.
“Things are not progressing smoothly Devar ji,” one day Champa remarked while working with Shambhu in the field.
“We are managing. After the rent, we manage to pull through the year,” Shambhu responded, “except when Lord Indra, the rain god, is angry with the World. During such years, there is not enough water in the canal for the crops, but we still get through.”
“That’s fine but there are other things in life,” Champa continued, “you are sixteen years old and there is no prospect of you having a family.”
“I have a family, the best there can be. Aren’t we happy? How many around here can say that!” Shambhu said forcefully.
“In that respect we are blessed. But you need your happiness, your personal happiness. One must live all stages of life. There are urges, needs and desires. Any time missed comes back to haunt like a ghost, the dead haunts the living; the dead period of life haunts the later life.”
Shambhu looked at Champa. She kept removing the weeds with her eyes on the weeds on ground, away from Shambhu.
“All the boys in your age group are married. There doesn’t seem to be a prospect in sight for you.”
“I don’t want to get married. I want to dedicate my life to this family.” He said as he started tilling the soil again.
“Concerning the marriage, you may have no choice, constraint is external. In the matter of dedication to this family, also you have no choice, constraint is internal.”
“Yes,” Shambhu stretched the sound, a mix of pain and pleasure emanated from the tone, “The constraint is internal.”
Silence followed for some time. Then Champa started again. “It is not just your life that is going away, it is mine too.”
“But you are married.”
“Yes,” Champa repeated Shambhu’s tone.
“Devar ji, your brother is a nice man. I care deeply for him as you do but have you ever seen a connect between us? It is routine, a chore. I did not know it till now until I experienced a natural connect,” Champa said after a pause.
Shambhu looked at Champa. He had struggled with his carnal urges for some years. After the incident of jumping in the canal together, his struggle had increased. She was his elder sister-in-law. Even the thought of anything other than reverence for her was immoral. Rama Lila, re-enacting the life of Lord Rama, the seventh re-incarnation of God, Lord Vishnu, was played every year in the villages. Shambhu would go over the following event repeatedly in his mind: It was after Lord Rama was exiled to live in the forest for fourteen years together with his wife Sita and his younger half-brother Laxman. One day Ravana kidnapped Sita by luring the two brothers away from their dwelling with the help of a decoy. The two brothers went searching for Sita. Sita for her part was dropping her ornaments as clues for those who would come looking for her. Sugriva showed them a necklace, which Rama recognized that it belonged to Sita. To confirm, He showed it to Laxman, “Brother, do you recognize the necklace, if it belongs to Sita?”
“How would I know? I always looked at her feet, never above,” answered Laxman.
“Champa is like my mother according to our scriptures as Sita was to Laxman. Even a carnal thought towards her is punishable with the worst kind of next life.” His chain of thought would continue, “But, it is she who is more assertive. Does that not change something?” he would reason.
He would recall the story of a disciple. The daughter of his master, his guru, expressed her desire for him.
“But since a guru is equivalent to father, you being his daughter are my sister!” the disciple argued.
“Every boy and girl are brother and sister until they are lovers,” came the reply.
He recalled the story of Arjun and Urvashi from Mahabharata. It is said that Arjun’s mother Kunti had gotten her three sons and two for her cowife from the gods; Arjun was from Indra and thus, he was a son of god Indra. Urvashi was a heavenly dancer, the supreme one in the court of Indra, in heaven and on earth, and an exquisite beauty. She was also Indra’s consort and thus, equivalent to Arjun’s mother. Urvashi expressed her desire for Arjun to him.
“But you are equivalent to my mother,” Arjun said.
Urvashi, insulted by the rejection, cursed him to become a eunuch forever, which was later reduced to one year, during the year of his choosing, a suspended sentence. Would Shambhu be cursed to pay in some way in one of his coming lives for not honoring her desire?
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Drown if you sink, burn if you float.
Shambhu would argue, “And the guilt is hers too, equally abominable, and Urvashi’s, and of the guru’s daughter.”
Shambhu kept looking at Champa. Expression of fear was on his face. Fear was not external, it was internal, a moral dilemma, a Dharma Sankata, as was for Hamlet, as was for Brothers Karamazov.
Should Hamlet kill the murderer to avenge the murder of his father or serve the murderer for he was now the king and his stepfather, which he had become by murdering the father, the king, and by seizing his mother, the queen, together with their kingdom?
Which brother Karamazov killed their father or all of them did? Which one was free of guilt or none was? Dmitri was convicted for having the motive, Ivan had wished his father dead, Alyosha did not do enough to prevent it and Smerdyakov admitted to striking the killing blow.
To be or not to be?
Not to be. Get away from it all, “No action, no moral dilemma,” Arjun says to Lord Krishna.
“No, not so, inaction is not the cessation of action. Indulgence in thought of an act is more binding than the act itself. Those who indulge in thought are guilty even without indulging in the act. Action, Karma, must be performed, Nishkama Karma, casting off all attachments, involvement of ego. Perform the righteous action, Dharma. This is what liberates one from the binding force of the action. Those who indulge in the act casting of attachments are the ones who are free of guilt,” says Krishna.
Action is forever, life is forever, inaction itself is action. Action must have an outcome, every outcome is caused by an action, cause and effect. Inaction causes an effect, so it is action. Each outcome is a cause for some action. An incessant chain with no beginning, no end; each link with two components: Cause and Effect.
Action and inaction, karma and akarma, to be and not to be in tangle, life and death in embrace, forever; life is forever, death is forever, no beginning, no end, they are together forever. Death accosts life at birth, they walk together through life, dance together, embrace each other many times, all the time.
Shambhu was illiterate, used his thumb impression in lieu of his signatures. He never heard of Shakespeare and Hamlet, of Dostoevsky and Brothers Karamazov. He had heard the stories from Mahabharata and their meaning and passed them onto Bhuvan the way he had received them from his grandfather and other sources. Doesn’t matter whether he had or hadn’t, would have made no difference. He was living them all.
He kept looking at Champa.
Maharshi Vyasa stated towards the end of his epic Mahabharata that his point in writing it was to indicate the ways to discriminate between subtle situations and to determine ways to resolve Dharma Sankata, dilemma. Mahabharata is filled with moral dilemmas. They are resolved by violating one or more of the moral principles to uphold some, but they would be “resolved” either way, action or inaction, but a proper way is the righteous way. Which ones to sacrifice, which ones to uphold? What is right, what is wrong? Nothing. There is no wrong, no right. Mind makes it so. There are no absolutes. What is righteous, what is not?
“Is mind free to assign value to an action?”
“Yes, but only a balanced mind, free from attachments, with equable reasoning. A perturbed mind cannot assign anything to anything?” This is what his grandfather had told him was the essential teaching of Krishna.
But Shambhu was a simple peasant struggling to eke out a meager living. Would he have time, inclination and ability to comprehend the ways of seers to achieve a balanced state of mind? He had heard the story of a housewife not in much different situation than his. She had managed to achieve this state of mind. He had heard the story of a butcher who had accomplished the task by trying to balance his mind all the time as the bar of balance he used to weigh the meat with. He never managed to comprehend those either.
There was a way that was prescribed for the simpletons like him: The way of devotion. The way had come to him naturally always.
“What is my Dharma, righteous action, my duty? Show me the way my Lord Shiva, Bhole Nath,” he prayed. The image of Shiva Lingam floated in front of his eyes, Lingam and Yoni.
They continued to look into each other’s eyes, Shambhu and Champa. Expression of fear was gone from the face of Shambhu. There was serenity instead, on both of the faces. Their lips touched, inadvertently, naturally; serpentine tongues tangled, frolicked. Tears flowed from their eyes. Eternity came to a standstill. All constraints were gone. There was a glow on their faces when walking home from the fields that day. They were chatting, even they did not know what, meaningless nothings but sweet. Oh, how sweet!
A few days later, Shambhu talked to his brother, “Brother, I have something on my mind, I should confess.”
“Feel no guilt brother, it is perfectly fine, right thing to do.”
Shambhu was taken aback, “You already know!”
“Yes, your Bhabhi talked to me.”
“But this is not right, doing wrong by my own brother whom I love dearly.”
“It is right. Have you not heard of Draupadi and brothers five, the Pandavas?”
Yet another story from Mahabharata: Pandavas, the five brothers, were in hiding together with their mother Kunti. Arjun had won Draupadi in her svayamvara by satisfying her condition to shoot an arrow through the eye of a fish placed on a rotating wheel with a hole in it, which would align with the eye once every rotation. It was also required that the archer aimed by looking at the reflection of the whole set up in the oil in a pot. The brothers brought Draupadi to their ashrama in the forest and approached their mother Kunti leaving Draupadi outside.
“Ma, we have brought something home,” Arjun informed Kunti.
“That’s nice children, share equally among yourselves,” came the reply.
“Ma, you don’t understand, it is not something that can be divided and shared,” and they revealed Draupadi.
“I have spoken my word,” came a firm reply.
The five brothers shared Draupadi as her co-husbands.
“Pandavas and Draupadi lived a righteous life,” the older brother said.
Continued to “Broken Cup”