Gospel of Betrayal

Two out of thirty is not necessarily a mean thing. The reference here is to a silver coin, in fact, two of them, out of a total of thirty which Judas took to betray Jesus. These two silver pieces, fateful and fake, were actually made in what may be called Monson Mavunkal Mint. The fake master passed into oblivion when new episodes of villainy and nonsense stormed into media focus.

But the Monsons of our world never ever become irrelevant or jobless. They need to service the craze for old things, that is, new things made old. The market for antiques or, do we say antics?, is as old and enormous as both of them. Monsoon may be crestfallen, not because he is being tried for fraud but because he is not part of a project to find antique copies of the great gospel. In a Sotheby’s auction in New York, the oldest Hebrew Bible, complete with its 24 books, has yielded 38.1 million dollars.

It is believed to be the most valuable manuscript sold at an auction. Bill Gates of Microsoft had earlier bought Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific notebook for a few million dollars less. The Hebrew Bible yielded less than the American constitution, 43 million dollars being the price of the first edition printed copy of the US horoscope.

The oldest Hebrew Bible, dating back 1100 years, is now the proud possession of ANU Museum, Tel Aviv. Alfred Moses, a lawyer diplomat, who acquired it for the museum says: "The Hebrew Bible is the most influential in history and constitutes the bedrock of Western civilization.” Moses would not have known such a quantity as Monson Mavunkal or the other way round.

For some time now, we have no idea where Monson Mavunkal is now or what his creative ventures are. Moses, Alfred, may be thrilled to hear that his ancient namesake’s great staff is now available to us, courtesy Monsoon. Not only is he ingenious enough to make new things look ancient or archaic but carry conviction to the high and mighty, politicians and policemen naturally among them. No admiration for that flash of criminal creativity is undue.

Monson knows what sells. Moses’ staff, Judas’s silver pieces, all appropriately designed for the aesthetic appreciation and admiration in awe and joy, are a tribute to the possibilities of fake art. As it happens, holy relics are acquired far more by Christians and Muslims than Hindus. More medieval or modern things like Tippu Sultan’s throne are not easily disposed of, though the story of the sword of the Mysore Tiger has led to a frenzied para-historical discussion on a tele-serial with an eponymous title. The loss of or damage to holy relics can cause consternation. Such a disappearance in the sixties was a harrowing event in Srinagar, as Surendra Nath who was J&K IGP told me as we were going over the annals of relics and antiques. 

In Monson’s repertoire, one artifact that may propitiate Hindu crowds is a hand-written copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Whose hand is it? The unkempt and ageing sage could not have used a stylus and palm leaf to inscribe the Song Celestial. Was Monson’s Gita written down by a naughty elephant god or a bunch of people who mounted or worshipped him? I have some unsolicited suggestions for addition to his creative laboratory.

Arjuna’s bow, Gandivam. Krishna’s discus, Sudarsanam. Gandhari’s blindfold. Draupadi’s garment, as stripped by an evil Kaurava. Bhishma’s arrow bed, though Iravati Karve questions his bravery and sense of fairness in her short but sharp account of the war in Yuganta. On a secular note, we can welcome the recreation of Jesus-related documents and articles, like a part of the cross on which his life ended. Monson may not appreciate the importance of some living flora and fauna that existed when the Son of God was walking the earth. I remember a winsome and eloquent guide educating us on the history and botany of the giant sequoia trees in the Yosemite National Park. Some of those trees, surviving the onslaught of time through centuries, could have stood as guardian angels even before Jesus’s mission in West Asia.

It is all about duping and tricking. It calls for some kind of genius. Like the one on making friends and influencing people, there can be a handbook for those who play fraud on unsuspecting or greedy people. Monson may not claim monopoly in this burgeoning field. How crooked religious trade can be effectively pursued in today’s setting is the engaging subject of Irving Wallace’s novel, The Word. Steve Randall, a media relations advisor, hired to organize publicity for a new Bible attributed to Jesus’s younger brother, James, starts questioning the veracity of various claims and inferences towards the end of the controversial. Following up stories of Jesus roaming around hermitages in India and anecdotes of the curiously titled The Aquarian Gospel, Monson’s peers in the profession can introduce some attractive relics in the booming market.

It is all about duping and tricking. No antique was being thrust on me, nor subjecting me to any antic, when one Kumara Das descended before me one afternoon, seeking permission to use my address for him to get a money order from his brother. He was a soccer player, left-in, attached to a famous Mumbai team. His gear had been stolen and simply wanted to have some money sent by his kin in Kerala. A man with a gift of the gab, Das was taking me for a risky ride, as I soon discovered. Money came and he collected in good time, being so nice as to tip the postman liberally. The tragic comedy was that there was a mix up in names. The sender of the money order and the receiver intercepted me, pointing out that the money had been dispatched to my address. I did not have patience to look at his receipt or argue with him or assert my innocence. I had been duped; I had been tricked. That happens in every field, every time. As Magha says, the field is so vast, time endless.

My friend and writer, Sreekrishna Das, was not a little pleased. Perhaps he thought I deserved it all for my gullibility. He made a short story out of it and earned Rs25 as remuneration. It was double pressure: my discomfiture, his delight.


More by :  K Govindan Kutty

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