This story which was to eventually be the title of a collection was not published anywhere. The volume winning the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2006 proved to be an important contribution to the genre of Adbhut. The author’s subtitling the volume ‘Magical Realism Kathalu’ stung some to debunk the writer. The conclusion of the story would be the beginning of cerebration in the perceptive, careful, reader. The piece is a reflection of the intellectuality compounded with metaphysical insights and dream logic, all drawn from the beliefs and tenets of Sanatana Dharma. For readers familiar and conversant with our puranas and classical writing this intellectuality is not beyond enthusiastic appreciation. The author himself wrote about the genre in general terms in his explicatory introduction.
Mr Raju’s stories stem from anubhuti leading to giving a local habitation and a name to a state of mind. First there is an incident, then a justified cerebration and finally the flash of a wondrous realization. This is not momentary – it ushers one into the state of peace that passeth understanding. The protagonists are ‘human’ to the core right from the beginning to the very end, given to cerebration, familiar and very conscious of the basic Indic ethos, always in quest of peace, the supreme goal of living. The abstractions and the execution of Mr. Raju’s stories, in many cases are not easy to absorb and internalize. A very celebrated poet wrote an essay entitled ‘The story-writer who twisted the long wooden pounding pestle round his head.”
Full five years after the publication of the volume, the announcement of the Award led to several critiques on the writer and his work. One came out with a bang; “Academies sometimes surprise doing some good things as well.”
On the other Bank of Being
Telugu original: Munipalle Raju
English rendering: V.V.B. Rama Rao
Dusk, Twilight of Ogres
A corner near Anjaneya Temple
From the day he had left home, strange rhythmic lines in figurative language were being heard. Sages in the tureeya fourth state (other three being Wakeful, Sleep and Dream states), it was believed, would be listening to the hum of OM endlessly. But the surprising thing was that he, with no metaphysical awareness, should be hearing that divine sweet hum. Who could tell him that in fact they were the echoes of something innate in him! It never occurred to him that those were drizzles and flows of tunes and songs.
Even then he had been feeling hungry. Without leaning on the wall, sitting cross- legged on the pyol, he began inhalation and exhalation with retention of breath in between for long spells. This technique he had not learnt from any guru. Identifying and merging in the supreme would not be possible without training from a guru. The attainment of the state of samadhi was not becoming possible since the long and bushy moustache stood rebuking him.
“What, ascetic! If it should rain, the crumbling mud wall would just collapse on your head. On the outskirts of the village, there is a spacious choultry for the likes of you. Did you find this pyol of ours alone! What an appearance! Kids would get a fright!
Get out ..out!”
He thought that asking the stranger to get out was the right of the bushy moustaches in the village. Wordlessly he stood up. He did not glance at his dust-covered pyjama, nor did he arrange the saffron coloured vest he wore which changed hue every day. He did not touch his beard flowing down to his shoulders. Slinging the bag on his shoulder, he looked up at the sky. The light of the sinking sun appeared to mouth a word of consolation. Perhaps by then the curtains of fever must have disappeared: his feet did not falter. Hadn’t he been brushing away these arrow hits of humiliation? Did his movement ahead stop flames of insult? Was there any wonder in his get up making him appear as an emperor of thieves – or a frightful being? He was no enemy to anyone. Why, then, did the bushy moustache call him bairagi – for it did not seem unlovable.
All these days he had no name at all. He was an ordinary wayfarer with no address or history of his own behind. Though the thoroughfares were crowded with those negligent streets the place appeared as a desert. On the rods without a call he had been eddying in circles unknown, tired, plucking out thorns in his feet. When he had left home, he had never taken himself to be a mendicant, ascetic, one hardworking with great restraint of senses, a bikshu, a follower of truth and a recluse, or a paramahamsa. But now he had an identity: a bairagi, non-attached – it had been recognition enough. This was a moment when a stone in the slush by the roadside, a stone without a shape – with a secret naada, with a line from the Veda, emerging from long anguish as a sculpture in a temple. A long exhalation came out: not from earthly regions but from the valleys of light in the world above. …Oh, Ascetic! Oh Recluse, O Renunciate! …. For some reason he turned back to take a look at the bushy moustache with gratitude but the man behind him was quite another. He broke out in a rustic tone: “Didn’t Potuluri Veerabrahmam foretell that in this aeon of Kali pseudo sanyasis and rascal bachelors would sprout as anthills! Who is a thief, who an ascetic? There’s no way to tell! In the place Kottapeta the corpse on the pyre would be burnt! It is a big bother with these bairagis. He went on narrating his tribulation to the baldheaded one coming along. But he did not stop.
On the outskirts of the village there was a big tank. On the bank there was a well with a pulley. Behind that a huge banyan tree. Right behind that in the hazy light there appeared a semicircular plaque “Chedella Hanumaandlu Sreshti’s foster mother Nagaratnamma’s Choultry.” He found withered lotuses in thick clusters in the tank. Garlands of clouds till then not visible had been enveloping the dusk sky. Above there were one or two stars. It all appeared as an inward looking world of peace. He felt like entering a land of deep, directed contemplation, yoga.
The mutt of bairagis
Life is an obstinacy.
The huge banyan tree spreading all around the eight directions appeared like a great power guarding the entrance of a strange secret world in darkness. He avoided the roots, which were unable to enter the Mother Earth’s innards. With the weight of gratitude, looking downward, listening with wonder the chorus of prayers of birds in the melodious fifth note, beyond usual words, on the very first step of the charity house, as one who lost his memory, he took in the scene before him. None asked him any question. Right behind him two mendicants were entering crying out “Jai, Niranjan!”
In that space with so much breadth and width a hundred could rest without huddling. He searched a nook for himself, lowered the bag on the floor and squatted down. Bonfires of small twigs gathered under the tree were giving light like torches.
The glow was making one feel like being in a state of great wisdom, which has no value for time or turbulence. That was supra-worldly condition of placelessness and solitude.
He went to the tank, got down into the water. The water was not potable. Suddenly he felt hunger re-emerging with the force of boiling lava in a seething volcano. The wondrous land around had been greeting him from all sides – not asking him to stay way but beckoning him vocally. Till a moment ago he was a bairagi. Now a mendicant sadhu from the North had been addressing him as Maharaj”.
“Please come along, Maharaj! Would you lie to have a roti?” The old sadhu from the Himalayas, who uttered these affectionate fatherly words, had gathered twigs and under three stones, lit a fire and was baking rotis.
On the verandah a sadhu from Karnataka was playing Shivatatwas on his ektara.The Himlayan sadhu fed the traveller rotis with thin dal without either salt or mirch. He ate them and had a swig of water from his kamandalu. He wondered as to how to thank the old sadhu. Amidst the barrenness of civilized life it may be a practice but in this world family it would be an act of meanness. He could not bring himself to utter that word as he sat amidst those inter-space fellow travellers – not like a man who had lost his way but as an adventurous enthusiast in a state of merging the three times into a unity, which has no anguish, no despair and no deviance of feeling. Only his eyes communicated gratitude. But within himself some other words were audible. In this assemblage of avadhootas, yogis, monists, kamandalu carriers, G-string wearers, half-naked ones with the radiance of the lines of sacred ash on their foreheads and upward caste lines marked on their faces, did he deserve a seat? … Perhaps the winds of history never would touch them. Perhaps no movements or revolutions could block their path. Perhaps these jnaanis, enlightened knowing ones would not tread slush pools of agonies and pain.
Making his bag his pillow he lay down with eyes half closed. A wick in a castor oil lamp glowed in silence making the place peaceful, like a resort of all surpassing peace, santhi. What was the name of this world, which had driven away the agonies of aeons and the fatigue of life? Is this divine peace that has enveloped him in natural graveness just momentary? No fear; no fame; there was only one thing. In the terminology of silence it was a sound in the language of yoga.
A middle-aged sant had been explaining to his disciple in Sanskrit: “the thumb is the Absolute, all including soul. The pointing finger is the individual self of the Being.
The combination of the two is the unending, everlasting awareness. The primordial preceptor Dakshinamurty taught this very truth symbolically to the assemblage of sages and seers before Him. When the ultimate goal of life was thus made clear on which quest had these sadhus from north and south had been going? Which worldly ties had been holding their souls in bondage? Were these stops only for their wonder or their rest? Was it for this realization all these fasts and austerities like going without water, so many sung and unsung prayers? Was this journey only a long wait or, was this a way of life?
“Who are you?” “Who am I?” His body was swaying. Eyes were shutting close. Having heard these questions, he sat up leaning against the wall. About four feet away was another stranger – not in the group of ascetics. He wore a soiled pair of trousers and a slime covered coat. Stink of alcohol.
“Babu! Could you give me a beedi? Don’t brush me away. I’ve been a renowned actor!”
The traveller shifted to another place. The sadhu next to him did not seem to have taken his meal.
Fasting for the body: freedom from for care for manas, silence for word.
Like twin poets two gosais were intoning a tatwa;
“What if you are a yogi, what if you are a bairagi, what if you area king who couldn’t see rajayoga?”
Then the chorus followed suit:
“What if one has rudrakshas or protective beads: for those who could not go up the six lotuses and find Brahma?”
Deep yogic mysteries were opening up in layers after layers.. Sleep eluded him. The middle-aged sant went further explaining Kundalini shakti in prose.
“The serpent lies coiled in Moolaadhaara. It bathes the 72,000 blood vessels in nectar It touches the brain matter in the skull. “
Long forgotten ambrosia like lines and lines familiar for long were being heard in a folk style. He wondered if the entire fund of knowledge all over the nation had travelled to that spot.
“Brother! Listen. Garimireddy of Banaganapalli and Ma Atchamma had dropped the fourteen Kalajnaanas of Potuluri Veerabrahmam in the large storage basket of grain. That is where the tamarind tree protects them. At signs of deluge the tree changes colour and turns blood red. That is the sign of the approaching deluge.”
A sadhu of Kabir Panth had been singing the dohas haltingly.
Niraakaar hamaara baap! Saabakaar hamaara maa!
There was a discussion in progress between him and a bairagi of Eknath Shirdi Sai follower. “Gurukrupaanjana payo bhayee.” Guru is all. Go ahead always searching for his feet. Metaphysical, philosophical seeds had been coming rolling down in the place of confluence of the boulders and the caves of the Himalayas and the middle country and from the innermost caves of his lone heart, making tinkling sounds of little bells. He had a fit of cough. For the last one week it had been pestering him. O Auspicious star filled Night! My salutations with joined palms to you. Do not go away searching for dawn.
Have mercy on me. Stay here. Remain here like this!
The threshold of the Enchanting magic City
The fortunate time of a blessed great dream
Perhaps no deity had listened to his prayer. The night felt like the lap of the deity of peace that passes understanding elapsed. Day was breaking. His sleep helped him cross the borders of the kingdom of extensive manas. Rubbing his eyes, he looked around. There was no sight of the sadhu group.
He went to the tank for his ablutions and noticed many sadhus taking a dip and offered salutations to them. When he took a dip it seemed that the fever he had suffered disappeared. ‘Hara Hara Mahadev! Shambo Shankar! Gurudatta Maharaj! Jai Niranjan!’
With these calls the lotuses in the tank vibrated. Perhaps there were no feelings of desirelessness, consciousness of the unawareness, a state of intentionlessness in this atmosphere. In the sky above from end to end there was an undefinable movement of air, some wondrous song like the first notes of the Veda and a great wait. An atmosphere of flurry, excitement seemed to be blowing in the air. The group of sadhus headed towards the East without taking a look back at the choultry. Whereto was this run? Whatever was there in that direction?
“Come. Come, Young Maharaj! Invited a half -clad sadhu, who had been filling his pipe with hashish. He had been enjoying the leaf with half closed eyes.
The Sadhu from the South making coffee without milk was inviting him with a smile to have a cup: “Va! Appa! Tambi. Kaafi Saapidu!” With a few sips the bouts of cough disappeared.
On the edge of the stairs of the choultry, lay a woman half-naked, suckling her little one. He took out a sheet of cloth from his bag and covered the mother and rhe baby with it. He did not cast a glance at the three rupee coins that slipped out when he was pulling out the sheet, though the Tamil sadhu had been calling attention to his money. Those were the last of his valuable cash. The ektara sadhu was looking at the caste marks on his forehead in a piece of broken looking glass. The parrot fortuneteller was teaching new tricks to his bird. With peas ingested he felt a little heavy. Would he able to join the group in a run? Would the journey go ahead? Habitation under a tree. Eating alms off the palm. With innumerable questions the air seemed to be a pregnant woman. Who are you, the nameless traveller? One taken a fright? A heart-broken lover? A Bhadra, a blessed one? Your dream is your guru. Your grief is your guru. Go, go, reach them.
Space – a laboratory of divine endeavour
Earth – only a playground of the soulless
On the way the group of sadhus went on singing the glory of Siva and around them villagers flocked by the hundred. All were looking at the sky perhaps waiting for a sign or message. There was only matter the villagers had been discussing using strong language. They were the same terms in which the day before, in the evening, the arrogant one reviled that all sadhus were cheats and thieves. Though the fire had been burning for four days there was no sign of the corpse burning. Though they had been pouring out potfuls of water the pyre was not getting extinguished. Whoever was that yogi? What was his extraordinary power?
Meanwhile the rays of the rising sun a flock of innumerable birds came up blocking the rays of the sun. Garuda, leading them, showed the way. A shadow without fringes was enveloping the entire earth. The shadow appeared like a miracle , as at the time of an eclipse. Having taken a round, Garuda turned East. The villagers began clapping. The sadhus started singing in a loud voice God’s praise stepping forward to the East. A koss away smoke had been rising. By that time, people had already crowded around the burning pyre. The traveller stood fixed without any awareness in front of the scene.
The yogi on the pyre appeared like one very tall, hands reaching his knees with a flowing white beard comparable to the whiteness of Mount Kailash. There was an enchanting smile on his face. On the body saffron robe. Though shut very stable eyes. Who was this one with divine bliss on his face? From a mere earthen body how could this bliss filled being take shape?
Villagers were breaking coconuts before the pyre. The sadhu who readout slokas in Sanskrit began reciting Varunasooktham propitiating and invoking the rain deity. The other pandits followed suit: “Oh! Varuna! You are the one who makes the word green with crops. You are the one who blesses the rivers with your boon of water. Accept our prayers, O Donor of Life!” This song was not of a century. These voices had been pristine.
The traveller had been listening to them becoming one with the sound. Perhaps a period of twenty-four minutes elapsed. With a slight drizzle, cool winds for awhile and later rain drops like a shower of flowers, the funeral pyre was extinguished.
Right at that moment people consecrated the land and began putting up a memorial. Huge lumps of clay moistened with water went flying. In a few moments with no implements or equipment a memorial emerged. The traveller contributed his mite working with the villagers forgetting his body clamouring for rest. “The bodies of the great yogis would not be consumed by fire. For them spiritual peace comes only in a watery grave or in Mother Nature’s lap,” Pandits were explaining.
Over the memorial the villagers put up a bamboo trellis and covered it with palmyra leaves. For the visitors and pilgrims they put up temporary sheds for lodging. The entire night was spent in singing bhajans, which reverberated all over. A piece of lifeless land till the night before, the place was transformed into a land of bliss where with joy and laughter people celebrated a festival of bliss. The voice of the pristine life with the touch of breeze woke up to produce divine melody of the universal flute. Was it for this that he had taken birth? Was it for this the great journey? Fatigue. Fever. A fit of cough. Phlegm.
While day was breaking, in huge vehicles businessmen from Rajasthan arrived on the scene and put up tents. On the land that was slushy wet they spread dry straw. They gave clothes to all the sadhus and distributed sweets. On the traveller lying weakly on the ground some one spread a sheet. By then he had already been clothed in a warm saffron robe. Sleep, grieflessness and unworldly bass vocal notes were being heard. There was no knowing where the Time line stopped – a volley of bad words.
From some corner emerged the ragged coat, who had earlier made his appearance from the unknown. “Brother! Trust me! Don’t ever be entangled in this world, which is an enchanting gambling den. Look at me,” the man was trying to wake him up. He must have been handsome once. With smoking the narcotic his eyes had been shining like lamps. Though a little faltering his voice was grave. His pockets were full of certificates of merit. He went on reading out a sentence or two from some of them. Receipts of pawnbrokers for the medals of gold pledged, sewn up on a length of cloth, was his prized possession. “Brother! Listen to me. I played in Shakespeare plays: To be or not to be is the question – Friends, Romans, Countrymen!” That great singer Chidroopa in the Play Sarangadhara wouldn’t leave me for a moment…Seeing me in the role of Vipranarayana, the zamindar’s sister-in-law put a hundred tola ornaments on my neck. Wake up, brother, I the bag under your head there might be a couple of rupees … A single puff would be enough.”
In the severity of fever, delirious talk. The incoherent talk of the intoxicants dried up in his blood vessels. In half an hour the fever subsided. There was no bag under his head. The last of his valuables, his camera, was there. Did his bond with earthly things snap? In the afternoon too someone came to him and gave him things to eat. A little strength came. There was no fever. Around the memorial, people were planting seedlings. When he came out of the tent, some Buddhist bikshus gathered around the memorial. Perhaps, because of the bells, he did not hear the debate.
Which King’s spy are you?
Which fragment of dawn are you?
Were the Marwari traders carrying him away in the ambulance?”
“Where? To the hospital.”
“No, no discussion.”
“Sh! Sh! Silence, Maharaj!”
He could hear no more. Was he given an injection? By evening a doctor came. He was examining him.
“Who are you? Aren’t you Raghu?”
The doctor removed the glasses and asked him again.
“Who? ME? No!”
“Look at me, Raghu…I’m Satchidanand!”
“Sat .. Chit … Be happy. Shine… Don’t grieve.” He said deliriously.
“Look, Raghu, Our Lavanya is here in this hospital…. Special Ward …Doctor… We’d send you there”
“Please don’t send me anywhere.”
“Ward Boy! Special Ward … Patient… Stretcher! Stretcher! … Tring! Tring…Lavanya! Our Raghu is found. He’s here. We’re sending him to your ward…Lavanya!”
One has to go up the lift to reach the Special Ward.
The Ward Boys were saying: “The bearded man is very light.”
Doctor Lavanya came and lifted the sheet. Underneath there was no patient, no Raghu.
1997 (First Published in Indian Literature)
This story was first published by the author in the volume Asthitwanadi Aavali Teeraana, 2002.
On the Other Bank of Being: The English Translation of this title story was first published by Sahitya Akademi In their Indian Literature.
The volume won Sahitya Akademi Award in 2006.
Raju M.B. (b.1925) has published, among other things, four volumes of short stories. This story is from the volume he published in 2002 with the title of the story as the title of the volume. This won the Sahitya Akademi Award for 2006.