The Soliloquy of a Soul
By Karthik C
All, everything that I understand,
I understand only because I love.
There is something special about petrichor. For me, it was a gentle foreshadowing of pleasant things to come. The rhythmic battering of unseasonal rains against the carriage window formed myriad apophenic shapes on the glass, largely pareidolic in nature. The train trudged along its fixed serpentine track across the valley of mountains.
A kid, surprisingly bored by the breathtaking panorama outside became more indulgent, much to her parent’s irritation, in running with the stuffed monkey which was held closed to her chest. The uninhibited love showed by the angel didn’t fail to ooze life into the inanimate object as they danced together in pure compassion. The highly addictive charm and effervescent smile of a child was always an elixir to me as I sat and relished the beauty of nature both inside and outside my railway cabin. The innocence and naivety that they projected was a retrospective reminder of days gone by. A bitter/sweet nostalgia of what has been and what could have been.
I remember my childhood days in the picturesque village of Kigga in southwestern Karnataka right in the heart of the mighty Western Ghats. Being born into an orthodox, ultra-conservative Brahmin family was not easy. I was named Dhruv; the brightest star albeit most of my life was engulfed in perpetual eclipse. Being a priest’s son, I was forced to get up at the break of dawn on winter mornings and take a shower from the icy cold water. I had to run to the village well shivering and get five buckets of water to the temple without spilling while climbing the steep stone steps bare foot. I had to bathe the main idol at the sanctum sanctorum in the temple of Nagareshwara, the Lord of the City. God Shiva in his traditional lingam form.
I didn’t consider myself to be effeminate, but the rotund waist, the chubby cheeks, a more than pronounced symptom of gynecomastia and a single elongated tuft of hair tied in a knot on a tonsured head and the delicate, wet, transparent dothi never failed to embarrass me and make me a target for irreparable ridicule. It was a scene taken directly from Satyam Shivam Sundaram sans Zeenat’s sensuousness and confidence among other things. She had Shashi Kapoor ogling at her and I had my ravenous peers ragging me.
I was always high from the smoke of the various havans performed and the ever present khus-khus kheer. I hated every bit of my routine milquetoast lifestyle. You had to get up on your right side, eat, write, drink and start any other work with your right hand and you have to consciously enter any threshold with your right leg, be it a temple or a toilet which was highly unnatural and utterly difficult for someone who was a born south paw, which in itself was considered equivalent to breaking all the commandments.
The working of my family was a running manual for a wannabe OCD patient. The final brandishing was the sacred thread hung across my shoulder which confirmed my life long membership to the elite white cross society. It was an engineering marvel; a scratching device for my back though it was the reason for the itch in the first place and a secure key chain for my rusty Atlas cycle. It made its presence felt as it never failed to slide out of my half sleeves at the most inopportune moments especially in front of the physical trainer who had a personal vendetta against all Brahmins and I was the scapegoat who had to endure his caste biased racial slurs for parading my creed.
I was a studious first bencher always first to class and the last to leave. I took tuitions in the evening to many tiny tots. A bookworm, seen always with a bag overflowing with dusty old books, after all bag was the signature of a student. An inviting site for last benchers to harass as they posed with their one book twirling on their forefinger.
The only quantum of solace that I could find was in the temple. Everyone was one as devotees; be it rich or poor, healthy or ill, young or old, man or woman. Though everyone was selfish in their prayers, they were a collective proof of humility, an acceptance that there is a greater power, a mighty force which aligned us all. I saw God in those pure eyes with their soul completely surrendered and I served him by serving them. By doing so I also earned an iota of respect and reverence. This was my catharsis. Then everything changed.
It was my favorite time of the year. A celebration of the most purest and unparalleled relation of a mother and her son. The festival of Gowri and Ganesha. They say we usually imbibe the characters of our favorite God. I unfortunately had taken the shape of my favorite one. I loved every bit of Ganesha, his intelligence, his round belly, his broken tusk and not to forget his elongated trunk and his vehicle of choice, a mouse. The festival spirit had engulfed the whole city. We had strived hard and collected funds from every nook and corner of our small locality to organize the puja, a tradition still followed from the pre-independence days started by Balgangadhar Tilak, to unite the nation against the rule of the British.
The seven foot idol was in place at the corner of the road under the huge awning covering the entire lane. The rest of the road was to be covered by stage made up of small, square wooden tables on which a renowned orchestra troop was supposed to perform the next day.
I was helping Girisha in arranging the stage. He used to live at the end of my street and I used to call him anna, my elder brother. He used to give me wrist bands and bald tennis balls. I always looked up to him. He asked me to get down under the stage and tie the legs of the square tables so that they wouldn’t give way when they were stood upon. I obliged and started tying them together. I was bent on my knees, squeezing myself in the confined space and that’s when I felt him behind me. Girisha was holding me. He started to touch and squeeze me. Before I could react he was on me, kissing and licking. He was like a man possessed, groping and probing me as his nails and teeth bore into my tender skin. The shock had numbed my senses. I was in a catatonic state, panic commanding me into submission. I was frozen in hell right at the doorstep of heaven. That’s when I saw him. My guardian angel, my savior.
Through the slit on the stage two twinkling eyes peered at me. There was something inherently positive that beamed from the endless, non-judgmental stare. Instead of calling for help I hid my face in complete shame, shutting my eyes as exhaustion seeped in. The next moment, the weight was off of me. When I opened my eyes I saw a distorted silhouette fast retreating. A long slender arm stretched towards me. I was a bit circumspect and then reached out and held on to it gingerly. It was like a long lost last piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle finally falling into place. The touch invigorated me and filled me with vigor. I tightened my grip and taking the cue the figure above pulled me up from the depth of darkness.
The red face with the twinkling eyes took me to his home and nursed the bite marks on my neck. I had come to the conclusion of ending it all once and for all. I would run away from here and would steal the large spool of plaited jute rope from our store room and tie a huge boulder with that rope to my feet and drown myself in the well.
But there was something about that face, something about the touch, something about this boy. The sharp nose above the enormous protruding lips and the large eyes gave him a smart but pallid appearance. He was unconventionally attractive and unintentionally warm towards me. His voice was soothing and his stare reassuring. The idea of me drowning drowned into the abyss of my brain and I felt drawn to this complete stranger who had saved me from the clutches of evil. He was the first person who had shown some care and interest towards me. My heart skipped a beat when he offered his hand and asked me to be his friend. I readily accepted masking the joy, for the fear of freaking him out, with great difficulty. His heart was synonymous with his name. It was indeed enormous, it was Vishal. This day had gone from becoming a bitter repressed memory to an unforgettable and memorable one. A whole new chapter had started in my non-existent life instead of ending abruptly. I was in the verge of losing my soul but instead had gained another. Vishal, my friend.
The next few years were the most joyous of my life. Vishal was the talk of the town. He was new to Kigga, recently shifted from Bangalore because of his dad’s transfer. He was a city boy from a well to do family. He had all the latest gadgets and gizmos. From fancy cycle and digital watch to white sneakers and denim vests. Vishal being the center of attraction was obvious and I being his chosen friend was obviously not. My identity had changed completely. I metamorphosed from being the village dork to becoming the trusted sycophantic side kick of the charming teenage maverick.
I felt proud to be his only best and close friend. It was difficult to keep it that way. Vishal was sweet; he attracted a lot of ants. He had to be mine. Only mine, always. There were many threats but none so grave than Dhyaan, our mutual college classmate. Vishal and Dhyaan were good in cricket, I was not. Vishal and Dhyaan were tall and fit, I was not. Vishal and Dhyaan were in NCC, I was not. He was nice to me, but I knew it was all an act to get close to my Vishal. I hated Dhyaan. I had to keep Vishal a safe distance away from Dhyaan. First, it was the small things. I had placed Vishal’s cap in Dhyaan’s backpack. I then enlightened Vishal on this little discrepancy by pointing a not so insinuating finger at Dhyaan and making sure that there was no confrontation between the two. I wanted the animosity to grow and also for the obvious reason of me not getting caught. The pattern continued. Vishal’s bottle opener cum key chain, his sunglasses and other myriad knick knacks magically disappeared and then reappeared under the possession of Dhyaan. The coup de grace was when Vishal found his priced watch, a gift from his sweet grand ma lying inconspicuously in between Dhyaan’s books. Dhyaan being poor didn’t serve his case. Vishal didn’t even acknowledge his existence from then on, let alone hear his side of the tale. Dhyaan was out of the picture. Peace prevailed.
I had not even uttered a single lie till then but had resorted to stealing to save my friendship and dare I say, my love. Yes, love. The feeling was more than liking, more than caring, more than friendship. It was love, the strongest of all human bonds. Yadbhavam tadbhavathi. What we feel is what we become. It was an inexpressible feeling of unhindered, saturated bliss and fulfillment. A perfect match. He was sagacious and loquacious and I was laconic and taciturn. He was brave and beautiful and I was brainy and bland. He was yin to my yang. We were destined to be together. Made for each other. I was not proud of what I did but the end justified the means. Besides, Dhyaan had to go. He was bad news. He was too, for the lack of a better word, possessive.
We had just completed our studies. Vishal barely completing and I in flying colors. That’s when disaster struck. Without any sign or symptom Vishal’s father passed away. It was a sudden and devastating blow. He was a good and caring man, always present to cater the needs of his only son. Vishal’s mother had died giving birth to him but such was his father’s love towards him that he never felt the loss. The sight of an orphaned child is poignant and all the more so when it was my Vishal. Even after many months, he was still coming to terms to fill the void that his sweet father had left with anything but grief. I made sure that he never felt alone.
I remember the day when he was sobbing next to his father’s grave with a bottle of beer in hand. There was heavy downpour all through the week. River Nalini was dangerously close to flooding. I had gone in search of him across the river, away from the village mainland only to find him sitting next to the grave. There were many other assorted beverage bottles. I knew he was in a completely inebriated state, a vulnerable man looking to drown his sorrow in alcohol. I scolded him and pulled him towards the bridge to get back home. He reluctantly followed hugging the bottles close to his chest. The temperature was unbelievably cold and both of us were drenched in icy cold shower and that’s when the river bank broke and Nalini flowed uncontrollably, devouring everything in her path. The muddy bridge was no match to the mighty river. Suddenly it was dark all around. We both scampered in the moonless night and reached the abandoned shed at the end of the grave on small incline filled with shrubbery.
We both drank the remaining bottles to keep ourselves warm from the monstrous climate. My first tryst with alcohol. The acrid taste of alcohol was like acid down my throat but the warmth was soothing. It numbed my senses as we slept on the cold floor coiled against each other. And then instinctively, I kissed him. I don’t know whether it was the alcohol or the compressed passion finding a release, but the kissing continued and it was mutual. A chill ran through my spine as he hugged me and pulled me closer. At that moment I knew that it was the omnipotent love which was guiding us through. Love, the purveyor of heaven on earth. And I was in heaven that night. We writhed, twisted and turned and finally collapsed on to each other with me sleeping peacefully. Yes, he was in love too!
We never spoke about that glorious night again until the day Vishal announced that he was leaving to Bangalore to start a chit fund business with his uncle. My whole world started to collapse. He just mentioned the night as a passing joke, that he was straighter than a scale and that night was just a weird survival technique. I didn’t push the matter any further as I had the other pressing topic of my love going away from me, though his words bit into my very soul. I was straight too. I was very certain of it. I never felt the least bit of attraction towards other boys. Never had the inclination to observe others too. I was attracted to him, only him. The idiot didn’t get it. As I saw him in the bus going away from me, I felt a part of me disappear. I had made up my mind. I was going to ditch the ‘family business’ and go to Bangalore soon. Go to Vishal, because heaven knows he needed me. Only one thing stopped me from doing it. My mother.
I had walked home keeping one dejected step after another. Everything had seemed surreal. I had willed myself not to lose hope. This was just a small hurdle. We will soon be together again. With that thought I quickened my pace and walked with a new found purpose. I entered my house to what seemed a pretty usual scene. My mother was back from the hospital for the hundredth time. No doctor could diagnose what was wrong with her let alone treat her. All the usual suspects were present; my uncle, his enormously fat wife with her scaring make up and their blushing daughter, Lata. My mother had booked Lata to be my bride the day she had born and Lata, being the imbecile that she is had believed every bit of it. She was an unbearable nuisance.
But there was something different that day. The setting was serious and the tone hostile. Even Lata seemed to follow the decorum. Then my mother explained her recent visit to the doctor and told me that she had very less chance of recovering from God knows what and therefore very little time to live. All she wanted was to see her only son getting married to her brother’s daughter. Her last wish as she put it. The news in itself was earth shattering. That’s when I saw my mother as everyone else saw. She was frail and weak. Gone were the charming and radiant face which filled me up with warmth and the sharp, sparkling eyes were dry and almost vacant.
I obliged, not because I was being emotionally blackmailed, not because of the fear of losing my one true strength; but because I was confused. Vishal had left me. He had so blatantly abandoned me without even acknowledging or validating our love. May be it wasn’t love after all. I thought I was stooping to blasphemy as it was sacrilegious to even think like that but I conceded and within a week I was married at the temple. I didn’t even inform Vishal, I knew not why.
Marriage was just a formality. I never even touched Lata. She was incredibly nice to me. May be she did like me. Then unexpectedly, just like everything else in my life, I received a call from Vishal. Tears rushed to my eyes without any reason the moment I heard his voice. It was trouble. The chit fund business that he was involved had gone sour. He was deep in loan and the investors were volatile. Vishal was stuck between a rock and a hard place. His uncle had ditched him and his partner had eloped with huge chunks of someone else’s hard earned money. He was depressed, desperate and alone. He needed me. I knew I had to act. I couldn’t let my love die. Not after all that we had been through. Only large sums of money could save my friend and by extension my love too.
The street was deserted. At that time of the night even the holiest temple looked scary. I knew that the temple housed hoards of cash and precious jewels. I just had to break into the vault of the temple. I had to keep the flame of my life burning. My eyes were ever vigil, my ears ultra-tuned. Being the chief priest’s son I had climbed those very steps countless times but tonight it was different. The warm inviting steps were cold and piercing. Something was telling me that I was not thinking straight. I willed myself to continue with the deed at hand. Desperate times called for desperate measures. And wasn’t love the ultimate gift of God to mankind? With trembling hands I had made sure that the crowbar rested near my armpit remained concealed. With equally trembling legs I had staggered across the steep steps of the temple. Anything for my love. Anything for him.
I was about to break the rusty lock of the door to the chamber housing the vault when I heard the muffled scream of Lata. Then everything else happened so fast that it was all a blur. I went home and explained everything to everyone. With tears rolling from her eyes Lata said that she regretted the marriage, a mistake as she had not made any attempt to understand who I really was. She told that she would divorce me and asked me to go to Vishal, sort his problems and get out of the country as it was taboo. She advised me to call Vishal and tell him that I loved him. He needed and deserved to know. My mom pleaded and begged me to forget Vishal. My dad slapped me and said after much futile discussion that tonight was the day his son died and asked me with folded hands to never show my face again in the village.
I had made up my mind and had to take a stand. I called Vishal and told him everything and that I was coming to meet him tomorrow. All he said was okay. That was all I needed. I packed my things in silence and collected what little money I had. Lata thrust some of her gold jewels into my hand and quickly disappeared sobbing. I promised myself to repay every bit of it and left my home. My father didn’t come out of his room; I could hear Lata crying in the kitchen and my mom near the door albeit crying didn’t stop me.
I had taken the first available train to Bangalore and there I was in the rusty old train diverting myself in sweet kids and sour retrospect. I came back to reality as the train finally reached the destination. I had never been this anxious. With butterflies in my heart I traveled to Vishal’s house in an auto and reached it after what seemed like an eternity.
There were many people near his house and I had to make my way inside where I saw my love. For the last time. There he was lying on the floor with his broken neck. His throat had turned green and eyes were half protruding. The whole world was mute to me. A long sheet hung vertically from the now bent ceiling fan. I didn’t feel sorrow. I didn’t feel grief. I was just tired. Tired of losing. I couldn’t save the man who had saved me. I had failed to instill hope in the man who had instilled faith in me. I sat beside him and caressed his cold cheek as tears started to roll down. I took one last look at the beautiful lifeless body whose soul I now own. He was then taken away, forever. I didn’t protest. He deserved his peace. There was something written on the wall below his parents photo. There was numerous interpretations running around, most saying that the message was for all the people he had cheated. But I knew it was for me and I would certainly honor it. He had sacrificed himself so that no other lives were ruined. I would not let my love go in vain. I started back to the station to my village as the words filled my vision- ‘I love you but I am sorry. This is for you. Please forgive’.