Thursday, February 28, 2013

The God-Man

                                                        The God-Man

His grandfather taught him mythology. His father passed onto him the knowledge of priesthood. Once he took over his father, he decided he would remain celibate. Not that he could completely abstain from the frivolities of worldly life with a pure mind; but he overpowered the urge to indulge- and that probably earned him his respect over the years.

Ramana's earliest memories of childhood were of his grandfather offering alms to a beggar. He had told Ramana "Always do it with your right hand"-why was that.. Ramana could never understand. Yet grandfather's words were orders.He was yet to come across someone who disobeyed them.

Priesthood of the Rama temple two buildings further was with their family for generations now.Initially, the household had flourished. Later on,the family managed to keep its head above water.Nobody was interested in getting themselves or their kin educated in school.Gradually, the income wilted and the debts grew.Now respect was all that was left.And the respect kept people from asking the family to repay their debts.

When Ramana's father took over, the only source of income was the Hundi, a fund box in front of the idol.Devotees would put in a coin or two and if luck permitted, a couple of notes would be there at the end of the day.It was sufficient to eke out a living. But once Ramana's father married and Ramana and his brother were born, things became tough. At the age of seven, Ramana's brother was detected with epilepsy- something that was rumoured to run in their blood. Ramana,ten years at that time, saw his parents run from pillar to post trying to arrange funds for his brother's treatment. And somewhere, this influenced his decision to remain celibate.

Soon after Ramana's thread ceremony, his father entrusted him with the priesthood of the temple and left the world for good. His mother coughed her way to death one winter night.His brother's whereabouts were unknown-having been sent to a city along with a distant relative. Ramana conveniently had only himself to take care of.

He managed the funds he got effectively. He diligently set aside a portion of it for the temple itself-something none of his ancestors did(To be fair to them, they had a family).With the remaining, he maintained himself and also saved a little bit for that occasional indulgence of his.

He couldn't resist the temptation of betting on cricket. Initially it was the charm of watching his friends winning and losing money.The highest was twenty rupees anyways.But it meant a lot to Ramana. Twenty was a lump sum for him- a whole afternoon of earnings.He gradually started testing his luck and intuition. One rupee first;two later on and five, once he felt he had the knack.First it was the test matches. Then the colour dressed one-day games.These days he used to bet when one street played against the next one in his area.
Cricket was a passion in these streets as well. Ramana won and lost money and involved himself in betting.
Yet the respect,somehow, remained intact.

It was a gloomy day on which Ramana's fortunes turned for ever. He was performing the afternoon Arati before lunch when an elderly couple turned up at the temple.
"My son is lost- it's been 7 years now. It's his birthday today. Please perform the Puja in his name..."the lady sobbed.She offered him a lotus flower bought at the entrance.He placed it on the right of the idol and with the intention of pacifying the lady said "Rama, let the old lady and her son be united soon!." He later took the lotus and gave it back to the lady.

He forgot the incident and went about his normal work. It was two weeks later that the lady came back with a man just out of his teens.The father,mother and son prostrated in front of Ramana, praised his tongue and "connect" with the Gods. They put a five hundred rupee note in the Hundi and thanked him profusely.
Ramana later heard that they had given hundred rupees to the lotus seller outside the temple as well.

Things were a blur for Ramana from then on. First people started trickling in. Then they it was a line. Later it was a swarm. Within 5 years it was no less than a crowd at the Rama temple. People came in with this wish or that in mind. And invariably returned some weeks later, with their wish fulfilled in some way or the other.
True, there were people whose wishes weren't granted, but they were a minority in front of the ocean who returned. The unexpected gainer from all this was the lotus seller- as it was rumoured that only lotuses from his shop had the special connect with Rama.

Ramana was now the God-Man.He grew a beard. Held an air of sanctity around him.Started keeping away from people he used to hang around with.What mattered to him most was the that tag of a God-Man.He some times wondered at the way his fortunes had changed in a single incident. He thanked his stars and also felt his family was due for some good luck after generations of a near-wretched life. He sometimes even contemplated marriage and other indulgences he had kept away for so long. Yet, he also had nightmares where he lost everything and was on the streets again-worse than what his ancestors had ever been.That kept him away from getting wayward. He even stopped betting in cricket.

It was a full moon night. Ramana was with his friends after a long time.There was a certain distance he maintained these days though. His replies would be a word;at most a sentence. His friends were the ones who actually benefited more. The lotus seller obviously. The shopkeeper right opposite the temple who sold baskets, coconuts and camphor. His business too had flourished since the temple and Ramana had gained popularity. There were a couple of other people too, who had stuck with Ramana through thick and thin.
To be seen with Ramana was all they wanted. It gave them a sense of belonging to the high society.

Midway through the conversation, one of Ramana's friends took out a couple of bottles of local arrack.
Ramana never touched it. But being the friends they were, he never spoke a word. The lotus seller drank occasionally and the shopkeeper always. Ramana would stay there till his companions' talk started losing sense and leave the place.

That night it was strange though. One of Ramana's friends started talking along a slightly offensive line.
"How is it  that you people thank you for God granting them their wish?Nonsense..." he said.
Ramana was slightly offended. But chose not to respond.
"And how is that God grants wishes? I've asked him a hundred things before...has he granted fifty? at least twenty? Some small thing after years of prayer!" an other friend said."That happened. God didn't grant it" he added. This angered Ramana.
"If God didn't exist and grant those wishes, people wouldn't have swarmed the place!" he retorted."Anyway, I'm leaving. No use talking to you people now." He got up. But his friend pulled him down.
"Prove it. Prove God grants your wish. Has he granted one wish of yours??" he asked.
Ramana was silent. He couldn't remember if he had asked something for himself earnestly. "Ask that God that the temple crumbles tonight. Will it happen?No.Because he does not exist! You, this Lotus guy and the rest are taking advantage of the people's weakness!" he continued blabbering.

Ramana couldn't take it anymore."If I pray and the temple crumbles, will you take responsibility?" he asked fiercely.The others laughed. He sensed that the lotus seller and the shopkeeper had joined in to.He saw a half-full bottle of arrack next to the lotus seller. Without a second thought, gulped it one go and left the place, even as the others roared with senseless laughter.

He rushed to the temple,drunk. He was swaying when he picked that lotus stuck in the crevice of a pillar. He  placed the lotus on the right of the idol and prayed "If it's true you exist..if it's true you grant everyone's wishes...let this temple crumble tonight! Let my prayer come true!". In a drunken rage he struck the temple bell thrice and fell down, overpowered by the liquor.

A couple of miles east, a storm brewed. In no time, it was over Ramana's town. The force of the wind and rain were something that generations had not seen. A thunderbolt damaged the local school. The river overflowed and the whole town waited with bated breath for the storm to pass.....

Morning dawned. The cowherd was the first to see it. The Rama temple had crumbled. It lay in ruins.No one could have said a temple existed there the previous night. Among the ruins lay Ramana, in a drunken stupor, unaware of the happenings of last night.People dragged him out respectfully. And that was the last ounce of respect they showed him. The moment they noticed he was reeking of arrack, they dropped him on the road and summoned his friends.

Ramana's friends cowed under the pressure and narrated the last evening's proceedings. The enraged devotees banished Ramana from the town without a second thought. According to them, he had destroyed the temple and banishing from the town was the least punishment that could be given. They ought to have hanged him. But the townspeople felt they didn't have the right to take a life. Banishing him was the way out.

It had been a week since Ramana had been banished. The ruins of the temple had been cleared. The idol had been destroyed completely. People found a toe at one end, the head somewhere else and the chest at an  other end. A little boy kept the chest at home as a souvenir.

Months later, the boy was in for a surprise.He felt a portion of the chest he had kept was transforming into a head. Some days later, out of nowhere, a hand and a leg appeared. In a year, Rama had emerged out the stone! The whole town felt blessed. The boy and his father now assumed importance.
Overnight, a temple was constructed next to their home. The boy's thread ceremony was completed in a hurry and he was named the priest of the temple.The priesthood would remain with this family from now on.

The boy's father stowed the chisel away. It had been a painstaking effort for an year.

The crowds returned. The lotus seller and shop keeper now resumed their business again, albeit in a different location. It was a rebirth for them. The God had returned. And so had the God-Man.....
                                                                                       -28th February, 2013

                                                                             -Pure fiction. Hope you enjoyed it!