Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Bringer of Death

                                                   The Bringer of Death

People summoned Shivlingu when the doctors failed to predict what could happen. They called him 
"The Bringer of Death". His prediction was more of a verdict than even the doctor's opinion. If Shivlingu said "The patient will live", the patient would recover from any sickness and survive any disease.  

Shivlingu was a carpenter. A man of simplicity. When he was young, he travelled a lot with a Saint whom he called his Guru. The Guru was a man of science and knowledge while his followers believed he was a person with supernatural abilities. He could detect quite a few of the diseases - from the common flu to the more dangerous small pox and would treat the victims. Based on the patient's response to treatment, the Guru would predict if the patient would live or die in due course of time. While Shivlingu did not pick up the Science behind his Guru's methods of treatment, he definitely grapsed his prowess of prediction.

His abilities were well-known in the surrounding villages and towns. People and sometimes even local doctors just admitted to his superior and supposedly supernatural abilities. When Shivlingu walked a street with his notebook, the whole street held its breath. It meant Shivlingu was on duty. People prayed it was not someone on their street who had summoned him. 

Shivlingu would enter the house of the patient; ask for a glass of water. He then meditated for five whole minutes before setting his eyes on the patient. These five minutes were those of excruciating anxiety for the patient's family and the patient himself, if he was conscious. Most patients lost their nerve when they came to know Shivlingu was being summoned. Shivlingu would smile at the patient and check his pulse and the temperature of his body. Like any seasoned doctor, he would ask for the various symptoms. But somehow, he never inquired about medicines or treatment. After listening to them, he would summon one of  the family members outside and make his pronouncement.

People always made an observation. If Shivlingu opened his notebook and made some notes before talking to the family member, the patient would always die. If Shivlingu didn't open his notebook, the patient would live. Shivlingu knew people had made this observation, but he never talked about it. Nor changed his habit.  Sometimes, it was just enough that Shivlingu opened his notebook and made notes, for the entire household to burst out in grief. Nobody knew what was in the notebook though...and people never dared asking him.  

Manjanna was a good friend of Shivlingu. At seventy years, he had already suffered a heart-attack twice. The doctors couldn't predict how long he had before the next one and if he would survive that. They had given instructions to just summon them, if there was a need.
"I have more confidence in your abilities Shivlingu, than those doctors'" Manjanna said. Shivlingu got worried.
"I hope I'd never have to see the day when I'm called to predict your death...." he said, in a sombre mood.
" We have to be practical. You never know. I need your help" Manjanna said, in a matter-of-fact tone.
"My son Vishnu has completed one year of his degree in America. He is coming here next month. If something happens to me while he's must never predict my death. Can you promise me that?"
"I can never do that. But why do you ask of such a thing? He is your son....he has a right to know!"
"He'll never go back...if he comes to know I'm dying. He loves his family too much....but that degree was his dream, his ambition. I don't want him to discontinue it for my sake or his mother's and siblings' sake."
Shivlingu was in a state of conflict. He could never make such a promise. But Manjanna had his reasons. He remained silent.


Vishnu came back home for a month long holiday. His family was happier than ever and three weeks passed without incident. Shivlingu prayed the other week would pass without anything happening. But somehow, Manjanna must have seen it coming. Four days before Vishnu left, Manjanna collapsed while taking bath. He regained consciousness a couple of hours later. The family in the meanwhile, had already summoned Shivlingu.

Shivlingu had a bad feeling, even as he was informed that he had been summoned. He wished he could escape, citing he was not well. But he had never done it in his life. He made his way to Manjanna's house.

The family was huddled in front of Manjanna's bed. Manjanna was conscious, but weak. Shivlingu asked for a glass of water. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead, even as he drank the water. He tried to meditate, but could not concentrate. He kept his eyes shut pretending to meditate, as was his custom. He prayed for the whole of five minutes, hoping he would have to make a pronouncement saying Manjanna would live. 

He then proceeded to do the inevitable..examine Manjanna. One look at his eyes, Shivlingu knew Manjanna was not going to live. His face fell. He examined his pulse, hoping there was something positive about it. But it was weak. His eyes did not have the lustre..or the strength to indicate Manjanna had much time. Shivlingu knew his time was up. And probably Manjanna knew it too. When Shivlingu got up to leave, he made eye-contact with Manjanna. Those eyes had just one message for him.

Shivlingu waited for Vishnu to come out of the house with a heavy heart. Vishnu knew the drill too. He waited for Shivlingu to speak or open his diary. Shivlingu had never been in such a situation before. Nobody had asked him to give a wrong pronouncement before. He had never imagined being in such a position. And he never wanted to be in one. Yet, there he was now. When he looked at Vishnu, he felt he could see those dreams in Vishnu's eyes..those dreams Manjanna had talked about so proudly. But then, if he made a wrong pronouncement,he would be doing a disservice to those who trusted him, to his Guru from whom he had learnt everything. Shivlingu had to arrive at a decision. He did.

He opened his notebook and scribbled a couple of lines. Vishnu was terrified. Shivlingu then forced a smile and said "Don't worry Vishnu. Manjanna is going to be fine. He'll get better every day. You better complete your degree. He dreams of you do...". Vishnu was confused. But then the pronouncement, he believed, was more important than his habit of  scribbling in the notebook. He went back inside the house, happy. Shivlingu returned home and prayed the whole night, hoping against hope, that Manjanna would survive and his pronouncement would actually come true. 

Manjanna survived. Infact, got better. Vishnu came to Shivlingu the next day and offered sweets. When Shivlingu visited Manjanna the next day, he was surprised to see him sitting on his bed. He was definitely better. But Shivlingu's instincts said his time was up. He just hoped Manjanna knew what was coming.

Vishnu left for America three days later. "Shivlingu, I'm going back peacefully. Your pronouncement is verdict. I'm sure Appa will get better. " were his parting words.

Manjanna died that night. His last wish apparently was that his death must not be communicated to his son at any cost. He had to find out only once he came back with his degree. 

The village was shocked. Nobody had yet heard of Shivlingu's pronouncements failing. Even as Manjanna's family soaked in grief, people rushed to Shivlingu's home. 

Shivlingu was found hanging from the ceiling. His notebook lay open in front of his Guru's picture.

"Manjanna will die. But I don't want to kill his dreams too.....
Forgive me."
                                                                                                    -19th March 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015

.....and he went on Acting!

                                 .....and he went on Acting!

They said he acted best when he was drunk. That Sankrappa executed the most difficult roles flawlessly when he was a bottle or two down. Most people refuted the theory vehemently till the time they saw him on stage. And went back corrected. Whether it was Krishna from the Mahabharatha or Hanumantha from the Ramayana, there was no one better on stage when Sankrappa started acting.

I had last seen Sankrappa act when I went to our village 15 years ago. It was a phenomenon. I tried to remember his acting whenever I performed on stage. So it was quite a surprise when I saw him on our road. He was being followed by a hoard of street kids, who were mocking and throwing stones at him. I went and stood in front of him with the intention of talking to him. But then, he never realised I was speaking to him. He went on delivering dialogue after dialogue in the same elegance and grace I had seen him 15 years ago. It took me a while to realise he was mad. And some more time to shoo away those kids around him. But I was too taken aback to stop him.I watched him, swinging his arms wildly as he delivered his lines...and disappeared around the bend.
A week later, I was on my way to Koppa, my ancestral village, trying to talk to his kin. I found his home. I was surprised to see his photograph with a floral garland around it - meaning he was dead. 
"Is Sankrappa dead?" I asked his wife.
" We don't know...but he hasn't come back for three years. Must have died in an accident or a drunken brawl. We atleast got some money from the government citing he is dead" she replied. I figured she didn't care enough.

I went to meet Veeranna, the owner of the drama company Sankrappa acted in. His office was not the glamorous one it used to be. The plaster was coming off the walls. The roof did not seem as strong. He was not someone who would neglect his office, a place he worshipped. I wanted to find out the reason.

"Nobody watches plays anymore....." Veeranna started off. "Those used to be the days..when the entire village used to watch us perform for a whole night. Hundreds from neighbouring villages used to turn up to see Veeranna Company perform. But once these films started being screened, our fortunes took a dip. Attendance to shows dropped. The best actors went to Bangalore for opportunities in films and more money. The rest of them who were not talented, could not pull crowds. Revenues came down. Now we perform during festivals. Otherwise, we work in the fields as labourers."

I listened with intent. Veeranna's head was bent in disappointment. It saddened me to see a talented artist, well respected, in the position he was in. I wondered if I must ask about Sankrappa at all, but decided to give a go.

"What happened to Sankrappa?" I asked tentatively. 
"It is anybody's guess..."Veeranna said " He was the most talented. Yet he did not leave the Company for films. He never wanted any of that...the money or the lifestyle. He felt it was too fake. But how can one good actor sustain a Company
We were performing the Mahabharatha in the next village. Day after day attendance dropped. In one of those shows, there were hardly 20 people. I don't know what triggered it. But Sankrappa started acting Hanumantha when he was Krishna. We could not control him. His acting was spellbinding that day, even when he was doing the wrong act. Then he played the Mohini for ten minutes. We stopped acting and watched him perform, without a care - because we had never seen anything like it yet. Then he played Narasimha.....after killing Hiranyaksha...he laughed and laughed for what seemed like eternity...and ran out of the stage.
We could not find Sankrappa again. The news of our best actor disappearing spread across the region. And our revenues fell further. His wife came one day and told us he was dead. We accepted it."


I returned to Bangalore. I was restless. I wanted to find out where Sankrappa was. May be there was something I could do for him. Somehow, every night it was his act that appeared in front of my eyes before I slept. I prayed I'd come across him...just once more.

Such an opportunity arose a couple of months later. I spotted him surrounded by street kids again in a busy street of Bangalore. I could shoo the kids off but it took a lot of effort to rein Sankrappa in. I don't know what made me do it. But somehow I felt I had to do it. He was nothing to me. I had just seen him act once. And heard a lot of stories about him. But somewhere I felt an obligation to save him...or make an effort atleast. 

It was a whole hour before the van stopped in front of us. The wardens from the Hospital of Neurosciences had a tough time in making him get into the van. The last I saw of him was him smiling like Lord Krishna. It remained etched in my memory for quite some time to come.


It took 3 years before Sankrappa was discharged. Ofcourse he was never completely normal again. He knew who he was. He remembered he was from Koppa and that he was an actor.I subtly told him what had happened at his home and after that he didn't want to go back home. One could understand him. But I could view the whole episode from his wife's point of view too. I didn't force him.  

It was three weeks before Sankrappa disappeared from my home. I somehow had sensed this. 


Sankrappa is now a street actor. It seems weird, yes. He starts acting on the streets. People gather around him in circles. At the end of a role, they throw a rupee or two on his shirt, spread out wide in front of him. When I watched him last, he had formed a skit of his own...where Hanumantha, Krishna, Mohini and Narasimha all meet. The script seemed perfectly connected. The work of a genius. Yet when I went to talk to him...the tinge of madness was still there. He did not seem to recognise me.

He was an excellent actor....may be in real life too...

                                                                                                  - 15th March 2015