It was already dawn when PROFESSOR Mahadev continued poring over an obscenely thick file, filled with sheafs and sheafs of yellowing papers. As the pilfering golden light filled up his room, lit up the silver in his hair, and struck his eyes, he squinted in distaste, “Close the windows Chaalisa, I hate light!”
The old man he spoke to, threw the windows open even wider, “Light is what will lead you to what you seek Saahib. You have hardly slept. Please take your drink and take some rest.”
Mahadev pressed Chaalisa’s shoulders and said in a voice laced with desperation, “Time is running out Chaalisa. You know better than to stop me.”
Shifting his weight from his bad to his good leg, Chaalisa looked straight into Mahadev’s eyes and said simply,” I am older than the planet you are living on. Do as I say Saahib. Gulp this down and rest.”
For a minute Mahadev looked mutinous but resigning to the wisdom in the other man’s words, he did just that, “As you say. Your concoction is the elixir. Really calms me. But wake me up in three hours.”
And as the world-famous archeologist slept the sleep of the just, on the dingy old settee, Chaalisa silently cleaned the place Mahadev had come to call home.
Chaalisa looked around, his mouth silently and efficiently chomping on fennel seeds. This man had left behind a thriving business empireand cars and luxury for this stint in this godforsaken hamlet in the hills. It was supposed to have been just a stint wasn’t it but it had transformed into months and then into six years…
That familiar refrain in his head played itself again like it did on most days, “Is it a curse or a boon that man has been and will always be an eternal seeker?”
He shook his heavily oiled locks. His was not to question. He was only the gatekeeper. He would guard the lord’s gateway with his life…when suddenly he heard a voice. His shrunken body tensed and his hunch altogether disappeared. His weathered face was now glowing like the moon and his neck twisting strangely, he chanted in a low voice while his forefinger touched his forehead smeared with the sacred ash of Lord Shiv, “Jai Linga, Jai Linga…”
It was exactly when the center of Chaalisa’s forehead creased and dented and swirled and formed itself into a third eye that Mahadev’s eyes flew open. He felt like he was suddenly in the presence of the fire at the end of time. As the third eye exploded into stars and crescents and ribbons of golden fire, a rooster crowed in the distance. Mahadev rushed to him and with reverence folded his hands.
After what would seem like ages to a mortal, the third eye slowly disappeared into oblivion and Chaalisa hunched back at the other man tiredly, “Saahib, it is time…
Mahadev stood rooted to the ground. His body felt like lead. He had waited, anticipated this moment. He had imagined what it would feel like but nothing had prepared him for this…A golden light seemed to envelope him. He felt both terrified and grateful.
Nodding wordlessly, he went towards his inner chambers. He climbed the rickety old stairs and passed a narrow dark passage that was dimly lit by flames springing from the brilliantly polished Brass lamps that belonged to another space in time. He never failed to wonder and admire the craftsmanship of the people of the past. Man’s forefathers had been astute, practical, wise, and kind. And even as a child, he had been fascinated by history. Of what had been and not in what is. He had looked at the pictures in his history books and he always felt that the things and creatures of the past were trying to say something to him. His fingers traced themselves around the mummies and the loot of the ancient civilizations and he could swear he could feel them, feel what they must have felt, what it felt like to live in that era that was both fascinating and terrible.
He was fifteen when he suddenly lost his parents and his maternal grandmother took him in. He had never seen her before. His parents had always told him that they had no surviving relatives but here she was in flesh and blood. She was a tall woman, her grey hair tied up in a neat bun and a smiling face. Dressed in crisp cotton saree, what made an impression on you were the shining diamonds of her huge nose pins and the unusually large red Bindi in the center of her forehead,” Welcome, my child. This mansion and all these riches are yours. Do not despair. Your parents are in a better place. Their soul has found a better purpose. We will become the best of friends!”
And they had, for Mahadev discovered that his grandmother was a fascinating person and he felt a strange pull towards her as if she were pulling him towards him with an invisible rope that she had wound around his waist. And when he had shyly confided how he felt, she slapped his shoulders appreciatively, “Glad you feel it too. It is the pull of the soul my boy! It is destiny. And when you are twenty-one, I promise you that I will tell you everything worth telling.” She wagged a finger at him when he tried to coerce something out of her, “Why did Amma hide things about you? “
“Because they are non-believers, my boy!” And she had warded off his questions for years. But true to her promise, the day he turned twenty-one, she had applied the sacred ash of Lord Shiv and had taken him on an unforgettable journey.
It had taken three arduous days of walking to reach the Temple. Their food and water supply had almost run out and Mahadev was sure that this crazy woman was taking them on a suicide mission when the Temple suddenly seemed to appear out of nowhere. His grandmother laughed with delight as she saw the look of utter astonishment on his face, “I felt and looked the same when my father brought me here.”
“What is this place Avva? Are we alive? Are you sure we haven’t died and have come to heaven?”
But the lady only gave him a strange look, “Where there is life, there is death, where joy, there is sorrow, where courage, there fear. Life exists in twin opposites. Come, Babu, let’s go in. The worthy seeker is always rewarded.”
And Mahadev had obediently followed her without realizing that he was crossing the threshold, the thin thread of balance between life and death. As they neared the magnificent temple made of greystone, that stood lofty and proud, the wilderness around increased too so much so that after a few paces, they had to pull their feet out of the thick tufts of grass and shrubs. He should have been scared but he prodded on as if he knew this was his destiny. When they reached the door, his grandmother threw it open and suddenly in front of them stood a mammoth statue of Lord Shiv.
Mahadev gasped as suddenly his grandmother’s forehead exploded to form itself into Mahadev’s third eye. As it exploded into stars and crescents and ribbons of golden fire, a rooster crowed in the distance. A deluge hit them, carrying his grandmother far away from him. He screamed in agony, in confusion, “Avva Avva…are you dead? What’s happening?”
He was greeted with only the laughing musical voice of hers, “Where there is death, there is life, my boy…My role in this life is over. Yours is just beginning. Go back. Lead your life normally. One day, the call will come. The secret portal will open. The worthy seeker shall always be rewarded….
And he had miraculously found himself back at his grandmother’s house.
“She had died in an accident.” They had believed.
His extended family had taken care of him with all the wealth she had left for him.
Years rolled by swiftly. He had become a world-famous archaeologist and had almost forgotten his past when the call had come.
On a rainy day, an exotic bird had appeared out of nowhere, perched on his hand, and had looked at him with hypnotizing golden eyes. And Mahadev knew and had followed it to Chaalisa’s abode. No questions asked. No answers required. He knew his job was only to be a worthy seeker. The other world didn’t miss him for he had often gone on expeditions for years. Only this time, this was the expedition of the soul, of life itself…
Every day, he had played archeologist, unearthing the great ruins, squealing in delight at discovering the secrets of the past but he never forgot he was playing a waiting game, waiting for the right time, waiting for the right door to open…
Today was the right time. The exotic bird came again, his golden and silver feathers, in a great rush. Chaalisa closed the door on him, “This gateway closes to open another, O worthy seeker. Jai Linga, Jai Linga…”
Mahadev’s eyes closed…
When he opened his eyes again, he found himself in a strange place. An antithesis to his previous abode, this seemed like he had entered a temple of peace and serenity. He moved around, staring in wonder at the neatly arranged stack of loads of books, books, and more books. He strode around gaping at the soothing pastel colors of the walls interspersed with sheer art and craftsmanship adorning every corner of this paradise. He wondered where he had chanced upon when he stumbled upon the exquisite statue of St Thomas Aquinas. And it suddenly hit him!
He was in the Vatican Library!
He was stumped for his entire world had always revolved only around Lord Shiva. He had expected great truths to be revealed to him probably in some godforsaken ruins or an abandoned temple? What was the connection?
As if in answer, blood gushed through him violently even as his hot skin sported goosebumps. Darkness descended. a splatter of blood appeared and spread to cover the entire wall.The walls folded themselves to reveal the savior of damned souls, Jesus Christ, standing before him, in flesh and blood!
Mahadev rubbed his eyes disbelievingly.
The Lord smiled at him, his eyes swimming with kindness and light.The light spread slowly, enveloping the entire room. A tremor passed through him as a brilliant fire lit up another corner and out emerged, Lord Shiv.
“Jai linga Jai Linga…. Hail the Lord Christ…’
The world ceased to exist. Places, names made no sense anymore. Mahadev felt his body was just a vessel, as light as feather, he was floating, floating….
Amidst soul-stirring carols and chanting of the Rudra, the Lord’s journey of sacrifice and benevolence played medley with the Rudra tandava of Lord Shiva, the world staying afloat, balanced by the message of kindness and unity and the dance of balance, purging the world and souls of their sins….
Mahadev woke up.
He was a newness!
He wondered at the futility of names; of classifying gods as names; of bickering over their identities and ownership….
Today, he had been the crematorium on which danced Lord Shiv his tandava, he had been the mount where the Lord had been crucified
One destroyer; one redeemer…
Mahadev sunk to his knees crying.
Elsewhere a portal closed…
The news headlines blared
“WORLD FAMOUS RECLUSE-ARCHAEOLOGIST IS BACK!
WHAT SECRETS WILL HE SPILL!”
A journalist waylaid and pounced upon him,” Prof Mahadev, you are uncharacteristically silent this time. What is your takeaway?”
Mahadev smiled, his eyes glinting mischievously, “That the worthy seeker is always rewarded!!!”
Place: Vatican Library
Animal: Exotic bird
Thing: Splatter of blood
All 4 prompts used