Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The 'Sinnical' Clemency

The ‘Sinnical’ Clemency



            
“The physically ailing can go to the doctor…An ailing doctor can go to a fellow doctor when he is incapable of curing his own ailment…This moral cleanser and healer, has nowhere to go, but to his tainted old self…” murmured the priest, clasping hard a photo in his left hand, even as he placed his right hand on the carvings of a confession box. “My disease is prone to turn terminal if shared with another member of the church.”
“Never thought that I would ever set my foot in this place…” came a voice from behind him that startled Priest Dominique, who quickly shoved the photo back into his pocket and looked at the owner of the voice.
“At least not as long as I still breathed.” The burly man, with a thick set of moustache and a stupendous beer belly, eyed the inside of the church. His blood shot eyes seemed to emanate disgust, and his mouth murmured curses, too rotten to be spoken any louder for the sanctity of the place. The puffy sacks below his eyes, the thinning of his greying hair, his shivering hands and blackened lips indicated great turmoil in the recent past.
“I couldn’t have been happier to see you here, Barry,” said the priest clearly surprised. “The Lord’s gates are always open even for those greatly sinned souls…especially when in desperate need of redemption,” said Priest Dominique. The pudgy forty five year old man, with a neatly trimmed grey beard, golden rimmed glasses and a long nose, beamed at the unlikely visitor to his church, seated askance before him. The whiteness of his teeth and the smoothness of his clerical outfit proved a sharp contrast to his child hood friend, who sat before him with a t-shirt, greatly ruffled, and drenched in sweat.
Barry’s gaze, which was all along moving over the beautifully crafted exterior of the confession box, quickly fell on Priest Dominique, when the words ‘sinned souls’ singed his ears… and heart.
            For some unknown reason, Priest Dominique felt an unprecedented chill as his gaze met that of his friend’s. That was strange, for a priest who, during his missionary days, had worked with people with incomprehensible mental illnesses and those having committed the most heinous crimes. Never had he seen such remorse and self loathe in a person’s eyes, as he was seeing then in Barry’s eyes.
            Fortunately for him, Barry didn’t have a will strong enough to let the priest, peer into his tainted soul, for too long a time. Silence ensued, as Barry once again focused on the confession box not too far from them.
            “Beautiful, aren’t they?” said Priest Dominique, attempting to break the awkward silence. “A bunch of white lilies at the top, a passion flower at the center, two daffodils on either side of the passion flower, and a solitary rose, on the bottom of the passion flower. Willard’s youngest son Holly worked on them. Talented kid...Too bad he died of Cholera five years ago. The Lord seems to take back the purest and the most talented of us rather swiftly. It’s as if He realized that He had erred in sending them into this world, well before the world became worthy enough to have them.”
              “And then your ‘Lord’ leaves back trash like me in this giant trash can called earth...” scoffed Barry in his usual incredulous way.
            Priest Dominique wiped his forehead which was perspiring much more than usual. He once again sought the help of the artwork on the confession box to distract Barry’s attention.
            “Do you know what each of those flowers stand for? The rose represents Christ’s sacrificial blood, reminding us that he has already paid for all our sins by sacrificing himself.  The daffodil represents eternal life. The white lily represents Christ’s purity. And finally the passion flower reminds us of Christ’s wounds. Quite apt, aren’t they? To adorn a confession box.”
            “Apt indeed. The confession box is quite apt to represent the fallacy of your religion...and the fallacy of your God!” Barry spat hard at the floor, beside the priest’s feet. “You can commit all sorts of sins, and then walk into that, and come out clean and purified? What is that? A car wash?”
            “Now now, Barry. It is not very decent to-”
            “To what? To question your beliefs and point out the errors in your ways?” asked Barry with a snicker.
            “To spit on a floor that was just an hour ago wiped clean by a sixty year old church worker. Judelyn spent over 3 hours cleaning the church floors. Even God can’t save you from her fury if she saw you ruining her work,” Priest Dominique laughed in an obviously pretentious manner, as he wiped the spit off the floor using a tissue paper that he had just brought out of a shelf from nearby.
            “You have the right to question the ways of all the religions of the world...You might question the existence of a God...Nobody is going to oppose that right of yours...at least not any decent and secure human being will...But I’m not going to lecture you on my point of view nor entertain yours any longer. We’ve done that for well over three decades now...right from our school days, when our paths diverged,” said Priest Dominque mustering what little courage he had, to display his annoyance at Barry’s behavior.   
            “Our paths didn’t diverge that much mate...You believed in an imaginary friend. I didn’t. That’s the only difference. But we lived a very similar life, if you think about it,” said Barry, as if he was recounting his teenage years. “A life of nothingness, boredom and restrictions that prevented us from exercising our right to satisfy our primal needs.” Barry walked closer to the confession box, as he spoke, eyeing the flowers more closely.
            “Huh? What are you on about?” asked Priest Dominique, not sure where the conversation was heading towards.
            “You wore the garb...You took the cross. I didn’t. But I lived a life very similar to yours. I didn’t go out and live to my heart’s desire!” yelled Barry, slamming his hand against confession box. “All because of people like you and your ramblings of morality.”
            “I…I still don’t get it…What are we talking about again?” asked Priest Dominique genuinely perplexed.
            “Alright I drank…I had my occasional puff…but that was about it. I didn’t even touch a single woman before Stacy…” Priest Dominique could hear a quiver in Barry’s tone, even though he could not see the man’s face.
            “And shouldn’t you be proud of your loyalty?” asked Priest Dominique looking more uncomfortable with each passing moment.
            “Don’t!” yelled Barry, before he lowered his head and covered his face with his palm. The throbbing vein at the side of his neck revealed that he was greatly stressed. “Don’t speak about loyalty…not to me…not now…”
            The priest was surprised to see his exact thoughts being reiterated back by his friend. ‘What did he know? Or did he know anything at all?’ Priest Dominique allowed Barry to spend a few more moments as little sobs emerged from his lowered head. “Whatever bothers you, my friend…it can all be corrected…”
“Not this one…Not ever…” Barry’s entire body shook, much to the surprise of the priest, who mistook his sobbing to some emotional outbreak predating an aggressive action.
“Now Barry…We can talk our hearts out to each other…We don’t need to suffer…All can be forgiven…” said Priest Dominique, gently backing away from Barry, not comfortable one bit.
“I am sorry…I’m sorry for what was done…” bellowed Barry, colorless fluid spilling out of his every facial orifice. “I’ve been good all my life…I don’t deserve this…I’ve never betrayed anyone! I don’t deserve this…”
Priest Dominique was horrified more than before, even as his heart felt heavy and his lips quivered seeing his friend in that pitiful and terrifying state. He wanted to speak, but no words came out. Plain air escaped his lips, followed by a gasp, half gulped back in.
Then it all happened in a moment. Barry quickly moved toward the priest, who upon seeing his movement, covered his face as if expecting a thunderous blow. “No Barry…no…let me ex-“ Priest Dominique began to beg, but stopped mid-sentence when he saw Barry falling at his feet, crying like a toddler, his entire body shaking.
“Adultery...I can’t bear it…I just can’t…” sobbed Barry, holding tightly the priest’s legs. Priest Dominique bent down and touched Barry’s shoulders too afraid what his next move would be. His terminal psychological illness seemed to hurt him more now than ever. How desperately he needed a healer.
“What? How?” were the only words that came out of Priest Dominque’s lips, even as he gazed helplessly at the man at his feet. What was he to feel? He didn’t know. But he was feeling a whole lot of emotions. Anger, resentment, guilt, pity, fear, hopelessness, they all bombarded Priest Dominique’s mind.
“I slept with someone…and it wasn’t Stacy…” murmured Barry, his body shaking more than ever, his head still facing the ground.
Priest Dominique was now bombarded with two primary emotions. Surprise and a partial relief…Why? The reason for the former, he knew…the latter, though should have been obvious to him, temporarily appeared unclear. But he was suddenly much more confident, and light.
“Come on, Barry…Get yourself a chair and talk to me” said Priest Dominique as he lifted his friend up from his knees.
The two then moved to the chairs closer to the confession box and began their conversation.
“It happened last night, Mose…Sorry Priest Dominique” corrected Barry. He was suddenly much more polite and submissive than how he appeared when he first entered the church.
“You can call me by my first name, Barry…I’m here first as a friend,” said Priest Mose Dominique patting Barry’s slouching shoulders.
“You know me for years now, Mose…We’ve been in the same school, living in the same neighborhood, played together, travelled together. We’ve seen many similar things, been with many similar people. You know most people that I know. You know how things were during our younger days. How our friends were…How our schoolmates were…”
“Yes, I do…We’ve seen, been, and done many similar things…” replied Mose uneasily.
“Despite us coming from a very conservative catholic society, you know that most youngsters of our time did many things that were not accepted and approved by our society. They did drugs, got drunk, slept with random strangers, gambled and what not. But they all did it in secrecy. None of their more conservative family members knew anything about their activities. And they themselves weren’t guilty about anything.”
“I know…but what’s that got to do with anything?” asked Priest Dominique running low on patience.
“I’m getting there…I too got drunk once in a while…I too smoked…but I felt tremendous guilt about it all. I’m not a believer of God nor a follower of religion. But you know my old man. He was…old school. He had morals…he believed in principles. He was a strict disciplinarian and didn’t approve of things that easily. And I was afraid of him…I longed for his approval in everything. And I was conditioned into doing only things that were accepted by him. And he accepted very few things. I felt guilty for my occasional smoke and my occasional drink…and yet I saw people all around me doing all sorts of things perceived as bad by their more conservative family members and got away with it all. I saw Jennlyn and Matt kissing in the barnyard…I saw Willard and Kimberly hooking up at the school science laboratory. I saw Stuart, John and Teddy often making visits to the strip club and the brothel at Avenue 5.”
“And why does all that have to bother you?” asked Priest Dominique hardly recognizing half the names being mentioned by his friend.
“It bothered me because I too wanted to be like them, but couldn’t because of my mental conditioning and the guilt that came along with it” bellowed Barry in a frustrated tone. “I so wanted to be with all those beautiful women. I really wanted to be free and liberated. I didn’t believe in going to hell. But I could visualize the disapproving gaze from my father. That was colder than the seventh circle of hell...That made me live a life of strict adherence. I didn’t do anything wild or exciting. I felt dissatisfied. I felt envious seeing all of my friends and school mates and neighbors doing stuff that I so longed to do when I grew into an adult and getting away with it all, but I couldn’t. That drove me nuts. I drank more…smoked more…to numb my guilt. To satisfy myself that I am being rebellious enough…at the same time preventing myself from doing the more rebellious thing of sleeping with random women. Does any of this make any sense to you?”
“You mean to say you were ashamed of yourself for not standing up to your father. At the same time, you didn’t want to do anything that he didn’t give his approval for. You were having thoughts that contradicted each other. And you used booze as your excuse to overcome those contradicting thoughts. And that made you feel more bitter. Is my understanding, correct?” asked Priest Dominique reminiscing his own inner turmoil back in his teens.
“It was indeed a very confusing phase of our lives. But you were able to stay afloat during those tumultuous years where our hormones mess with our sanity.”
 Priest Dominique once again grew impatient and restless. What inner demons had troubled him, only he knew. What inner demons troubled him presently, he wished to keep it to himself.
“No man is saint, my friend. I’ve had my share of sins. I still do…” said Priest Dominique in an absent-minded manner.
Barry gazed at his friend for a moment, before continuing on with his own lamentations.
“Whatever…you have done far better than I could ever hope for. As I was saying, I had my desires, but I didn’t have the guts. I suffered seeing others enjoy what I could never enjoy. Then I met Stacy. We fell in love. Our families came together and our wedding happened. For twelve years I remained loyal to her. I won’t lie that I haven’t been interested in other women. I’ve fantasized…but fantasies they had remained…until a few days ago. I hooked up with a woman in Tulio’s bar. We were both drunk. I was emotionally low…severely confused…more than usual. And I did the sin of sleeping with another woman without my wife’s knowledge,” Barry broke down once again.
Priest Dominique could sense genuine regret and shame in his friend’s voice. He wasn’t faking it. Priest Dominique knew that for sure.
“Well Barry…I’m sorry to hea-“
“No! Stop your condescending tone. Don’t look at me like that!” yelled Barry, all of a sudden like a mad man. Priest Dominique moved back a little, genuinely startled. “You don’t know what was going through my mind…You don’t know what’s been happening in my life in the past few months! You don’t know what challenges I and Stacy are facing, as a couple! So, don’t you dare judge me!”
Priest Dominique knew that the reason for Barry’s sudden aggressiveness was his own guilt and accusative inner voice that was probably condemning him incessantly. Priest Dominique even wondered if Barry’s inner voice belonged to that of his father, the one person whose approval he most sought and whose condemnation he most dreaded. But he was not willing to enquire Barry about it. His interest lay more in what Barry had to say about his relationship with his wife Stacy.
“I have no authority to judge or accuse you, Barry…I’m here to heal, not prod your wounds…And what are these challenges…If I may ask?” Priest Dominique contradicted his own words.
“I don’t know…I can’t think straight man!” Barry yelled, before breaking down once again. Priest Dominique gave him a comforting hug and rubbed his back.
“You can talk to me about anything, Barry…Trust me, I’m here to help…” said Priest Dominique in a compassionate tone. “What’s happening between you and Stacy?”
“I…I am not sure, Mose…But I think…I think she is cheating on me, man…”
Priest Dominique removed his hand slowly from over Barry, as a look of terror appeared over his face. “What? I…I can’t…” Priest Dominique seemed to have lost his ability to speak for a moment.
“Inconceivable, isn’t it? Who would have thought that a seemingly conservative girl like her, who spends most of her time in a church, is capable of something like adultery? But I do believe there is more to her. She is hiding much from me,” said Barry with great conviction.
“How…how are you so sure?” asked Priest Dominique, seemingly flabbergasted.
“There are signs…I once saw her hurriedly cutting off the phone, while I was entering the house and she had this appearance of shame and guilt on her face…Like when a kid gets caught red-handed stealing a cookie. When I asked about who was on the phone, she didn’t answer properly. She tried to digress or distract me, asking about my work or my parents. When I insisted upon the phone call, she said she had a headache. Ten minutes later she got dressed and left the house saying she wanted to spend some time in the church before the Lord.”
“Huh-uh…” that was all Priest Dominique could say.
“There was this other instance, where she was writing a letter, very late at night. I saw her from behind a glass pane, in the yard. When I entered the room, she at once dumped the letter into the electronic shredder…When I asked about it, she just said that she tried her hand in poetry after being inspired by a friend, but she was no good at it. She said she had to use the shredder because she was embarrassed about someone seeing her ‘awful poems.’”
“I don’t think these are valid enough reasons to suspect-“
“There is this fragrance, Mose…This fragrance of a man’s perfume that emanates from her. I can’t explain it, but I’m sensitive to such things…And there was of course a bite mark on her lips. She said she had accidently hurt herself while using a fork…but come on, she is no five-year old…And no fork in this world is as sharp…It seems like someone had bit her lips while kissing…”
“You have such a wild imagination, Barry…”
“My neighbor remarked that he often saw Stacy leaving home, as soon as I left for work.”
“Neighbors” snickered Priest Dominique with suppressed anger. “Do people not have even a smidge of decency? Why do they pry into other people’s life? Why do they have to report about a wife to her husband? She could have very well gone to the market or to the church!”
“Of course, church is where she spends a lot of time in, is what I hear from a lot of my friends, who also frequent the church…though not as often as her…Tell me, Mose…Does she really come here often? Do you see her spending most of her time before your Lord?”
 Priest Dominique lifted himself off his chair and walked toward a water dispenser nearby to cool down himself with a glass of water. He wiped his forehead with a kerchief and used a handful of water to again wet his eyes.
“Answer me, Mose…Does she really come here? If she isn’t…Then I think she is heading to another man’s home behind my back…” asked Barry rushing behind him, desperately seeking for an answer.
“No…I mean yes…Yes she does come to the church…” hesitated Priest Dominique. “And even if you think she is not here, it does not mean she is in the arms of another man. She could very well be meeting her friends or spending time shopping. Why do you act like this, Barry? You are much better than this! Do not construe such false imagery of your own wife. I’ve known her for years…through you of course…She does not seem the type to act the way you think. You’ve got to trust her more, Barry…”
Barry eyed Priest Dominique blankly for a couple moments. His nostrils seemed flared. “A familiar fragrance…Oh gosh, what is wrong with me? Now I’m being paranoid and overly suspicious!”
Priest Dominique sighed and put on an angry face. “Yes, you are Barry! You just want to find an excuse to justify your act of adultery by blaming Stacy for adultery.”
“That is absolutely not true. I didn’t make up any of the things I just said. There was the phone call, the shredded letter, the neighbor reporting, so on…” began Barry nervously.
“Listen to yourself? Neighbor reporting? Do you think this is a spy movie Barry? I’m not saying all those didn’t happen, but you equating those to Stacy cheating on you is plain wrong. Even if she was cheating on you, why couldn’t you have been a better man and confronted her. Why couldn’t you have asked her right to her face about who she was seeing, if at all she was…If she had been cheating, you could have gotten a divorce from her and then moved on to find another partner for yourself. But you didn’t do that, did you? You were just seeking an excuse to satisfy your lust. You had wanted to sleep around ever since you were a teenager. Sticking to one woman wasn’t enough. You feared your father’s condemnation. And you probably married that poor girl Stacy to impress your conservative father. Now that years have passed and your father is no longer around to condemn you, your yearnings to sleep around have reemerged. And you were just using your suspicions on Stacy to defend yourself and satisfy your own guilt!”
Barry gazed at Priest Dominique with his mouth wide open. He hadn’t expected the old priest to be so blunt. Priest Dominique realized his mistake just moments after he had spoken.
“You mean to say I was wrong? That my wife Stacy was and is still a loyal wife. Did I just cheat on her? I…I can’t believe this…” Barry knelt down with his hands on his head.
Priest Dominique knew he had to act quick and smart.
“Now listen Barry. I’m not saying everything to convince you that you were wrong. You know deep inside you that what you had done was wrong. But you don’t need to fret over this. We are humans. We tend to make mistakes. Some petty…some life changing…but you can forgive yourself. You have to, if you want to have peace. Accept your mistake, convince yourself that you won’t repeat it, and spend the rest of your life taking care of that good wife of yours without hurting or suspecting her. No man in this world is sinless. None will ever be. Learning from our mistakes is what is important.”
Barry’s gaze was in the distance and Priest Dominique could sense that there were a lot of thoughts whizzing in that drunken head of his. He knew there was a lot of work to be done. Lots of counselling. Priest Dominique gently moved Barry inside the confession box and closed the door of the box behind him. An hour later, both men emerged out. Barry was still teary-eyed, but there was a lot more clarity on his face. Priest Dominique had a compassionate smile, and had his arms around Barry, as they walked out.
“So, should I talk to Stacey about it and apologize?” asked Barry.
“I don’t think she would be able to take it well, Barry. You made the mistake, you accused yourself, and you need to forgive and make peace with yourself. Stacey doesn’t need to suffer for your sins. She would never be able to live a peaceful life having known that her husband cheated on her. Do you want that? You would never find in any corner of the world, a wife so loyal and loving as Stacey. Do you want to lose her?” asked Priest Dominique.
“No! Of-course not…I…You are right…I should not reveal my indiscretion to her. It was after all a one-night stand…that too in a drunken state…I don’t even remember half the things that happened” Barry snickered.
“Better that way” smiled Priest Dominique. “Now remember this thought…Never suspect Stacey ever again. No matter who says what. Your neighbor, your mother or even your siblings. She is incapable of any wrongdoing. She is too innocent and old fashioned. You should trust her whole-heartedly and defend her, even if the whole world accuses her. You got that?”
“Yes…Yes…I will never again suspect her…” said Barry resolutely. “That’s the least I could do after what I’ve done…You were great Mose…I mean Priest Dominique…”
“Just doing the good Lord’s work, my friend. Have a great life…” Priest Dominique led Barry to the exit of the church.
Moments after Barry’s car left the church premises, Priest Dominique returned back to the confession box. He knelt down before it and brought the photo he had from within his pocket. A short middle-aged blonde with curly hair and innocent looking eyes peered at him from the photo.
“Oh, Stacey my dear…You have to be more careful…Good thing I was there to fix it…” Priest Dominique placed the photo before him near the confession box. So much guilt he had carried that morning…He had betrayed the church. He had sinned before his God, right there in that confession box with Stacey. Not once…Not twice…He had been intimate with a woman…A woman married to his childhood friend. For long their relationship had continued. Her church visits providing the perfect cover and the confession box providing the perfect hideout beyond church hours. Barry probably had his father’s condescending voice accusing him for his every trivial sin. Priest Dominique had a million condescending voices beginning right from his own father, to the pope whose speeches he had seen on the television. Now many of those voices silenced. When Barry revealed his suspicions about his wife cheating on him, Priest Dominique had suspected that Barry had found him to be his wife’s partner. But only a few moments of conversation were necessary to make him realize that years of drinking had numbed Barry’s mind. It had made him lose confidence in his own judgement. It didn’t take long for Priest Dominique to break Barry and make him suspect his own perception of the world around him.
By doing so, he had not only removed any traces of suspicion in Barry’s mind about his wife, but had also made him believe that she could never be wrong. If at all he ever suspected her, his own sin of adultery should convince him that he can’t be the one to judge. His one hour of counselling within the confession box ensured that Barry’s father’s voice inside Barry’s head was now replaced by Priest Dominique’s own. He expected Barry to from here on never suspect Stacey and also ensure that he dismissed anyone who came to him citing Stacey’s odd behavior and secret rendezvous with some mysterious stranger.
Learning about Barry’s own adulterous act and having conditioned his mind to the best of his abilities to never suspect his wife, Priest Dominique felt an odd feeling of relief. Yet there remained this nagging feeling deep inside him that continued to accuse him. Priest Dominique knew how to ignore that feeling, even if he was unable to silence it completely. He still had a choice to make. Could he take this little incident that day as a sign from above that he had to change his ways? Has He been given a chance to redeem himself? He could probably stop his amorous affair with Stacey and let the couple live in peace. He could forgive himself for his sins, seek forgiveness before the Lord (for no member of the church can pardon him and let him continue to be a priest) and move on with his life, purified and cleansed…“Like a car-wash indeed” chuckled Priest Dominique to his own self.
Or he could just continue on with his ways with Stacey, with far less guilt, now that Barry wouldn’t be a problem to their relationship. He knew which was the right decision, and which was the more pleasing one. And he continued to be torn between the two. The “right decision” lost the tug of war, no thanks to the voice that emanated from outside.
“Mose, dear…You alone?”
A sly smile appeared on Mose’s lips and he shoved the photo back in his pocket. He got himself up and walked back gently to embrace Stacey.
“I love how you smell, Mose…You still going to keep that perfume of yours a secret from me?” giggled Stacey. Priest Dominique didn’t reply. He just held her close and kissed her on the lips.
“Ouch, be gentler dear…Your last bite hasn’t yet healed” smiled Stacey, touching her lower lip, which had a tiny lesion. Priest Dominique removed her finger from her lip and pulled her closer.
 A long, gentler, sensual kiss between the two erased all feelings of guilt and remorse from Priest Dominique’s mind…at least temporarily.
-       A. Prashanth Narasimhan (SriVishnuDasan).







           

              

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Ravings of a unquiet mind...an unkempt mind...

Sarvam Sree Krishnaarpanam Astu

"Tired, very tired indeed...I can't keep going like this...What's the point of all this anyway...Nothing interests me anymore...no one entices me anymore...Has anyone ever enticed me ever? Bland existence...That is all...routine cycle...meaningless conversations...Fake laughs...Powdered face, to hide the ugliness of the heart...lies to appear nice...niceties to cover disgust...disgusting acts to cure boredom...boredom as a result of this meaningless cycle...Lusts that don't last very long...Passions that drift faster than thoughts...One day I want to be a revolutionary...the next day I am thankful for the status quo...One night I want to bask in fame...the next day I want to disappear into the shadows...One night I want to travel the world...the next morning I hate to step out of the house...One day I'm overflowing with gratitude toward the lord...The next day I question both the reason for my gratitude and the existence of a God...One day I want to be in love...the next day I'm relieved to find I'm still single...Then I see a happy couple and feel envy...Envious that I can't be like them...Then I see a fighting couple and I feel relief...and fear...fear that I might become one of them one day. Time is fleeting...life's not...Oh what a big whiner I am...oh how less I open up...paradoxes paradoxes...Am I a special snowflake? An attention seeker? Oh how I detest even the little attention that I get from that jerk in the corner of the cab...Why have't I gotten a promotion? Why haven't I been published? Why haven't I the body of a Greek God...Why compare with a Greek God? Why not an Indian God? Is there even a God? Oh what a miserable place this world becomes without a God...An imaginary friend He is? Why a He? Why not a She? If its imaginary, might as well imagine God to be a She? Can I feel lust toward this She God? Why should there be lust when there is a being of opposite sex? Why just lust...What's wrong with lust? What's right about lust? What's right and wrong in the world anyway? What's real about the world anyway? Reality...Is everything we perceive around real?"

And then the cycle of thoughts begins again...The rant never ends...The ravings never end...Eternity...Eternity is all we have...And we all have eternity...Eternity of what? An Enternity of ravings...How blessed are we...Cheers!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Think over...Not over think!

Sarvam Sree Krishnaarpanam Astu

Think over… Not over think!

Think Think Think!
You think more than you blink!
Go have a refreshing drink,
Before into the thoughts you sink!

So many thoughts flood your mind,
And on and on they keep on the grind.
So much of the future they want to unwind;
So much of the past they want to rewind.

Go have an intense and numbing work out,
To stop the mind from working itself out.
No need to fight the mind, one bout after bout;
Nor try to analyse what the thoughts are all about.

Gurus say try to keep the mind blank
But all my weapons, keep drawing blank.
And the mind goes on, crikkity clank clank!
Oh I so desperately want to, jump off the plank!

Why is there in my head so much unwanted noise?
Why can’t the mind move with the pace of a tortoise?
All I am losing, is my composure and poise.
No commandments to help, my dear Moise?

My last resort, to pour it all into verse
Before my messy head gets any worse.
My mind I need to heal and nurse.
Instead of emptying the little in my purse.

Anxiety! What an unbearable curse!
Almighty! Why don’t you end it terse?
Before into the depths of madness, I immerse!
To make You help, I can’t any further coerce.

Oh so aloof will You remain?
Till I become totally insane?
Alrighty then! I’ll stop to converse!
Right away! Right now! Will I disperse!

All I have is my miserable writing
To not give up and keep on fighting
Let’s see how long it lasts, this painful biting
Dreadful, miserable, unwanted and affrighting!

Not so soon, I would lose my hope.
No matter what, I will keep on trying to cope.
The walk will continue on, on this tightrope.
Just give up and fall? My answer… Nope!

-A. Prashanth Narasimhan


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Love, Lies & a Leper

Love, Lies & a Leper

For the Creators, Their Creations…

1         

            Under a dark moonless night sky, on a seemingly deserted railway station, two souls inhabited a five hundred metre square with a third one not far away. The orange rays from a flickering lamppost was the only source of light that bathed the stage where a simple, yet significant event was to happen and not an inch more was to be brightened up by the stuttering illuminator.
            The elder of the two souls came limping by with a staff in his hand, wounds all over his body, hunger in his belly, a smile on his face,  pain all over his outside and an inexplicable pleasure on the inside.
“It’s been done…It’s been done” muttered he, his muttering muted by the growls of his empty stomach.
He stood right under the lamppost, raised his head high towards the heavens, closed his eyes and let the pleasantly cold breeze, in a generally hot country, to caress his face and move aside his hair, like a loving, kind mother, comforting him saying he had done well and everything was going to be just fine.
That was all he could expect from this invisible mother and not her bosom to suckle his hunger away. He had to rely on the shoulders of the father who had borne him all his life, for that luxury. He looked down on the ground all around him to spot something, no matter how rotten, how old, how stale, how ripen or how grotesque a food it might be, that could satiate his hunger, but like those mischievous playful siblings covering one’s eyes in good fun, the blackness of the night shrouded his vision and his already poor eyesight refused to accept the aide provided by that one good sibling, the lamppost and it’s rays.
 “It’s been done…the deed thought impossible…the deed whose lack of consummation would have plagued me for all eternity. It’s been done. What more remains to be accomplished by this unaccomplished? It’s been done” he repeated in Tamil, as he sat himself down on the pavement of the railway station and laid his head against the lamppost.
  His mutilated hands continued hovering over the terrain around him, even though his eyes were closed and his body remained leaned against the lamppost, and he knew his hands were working more for his stomach, than for his brain, for his mind was entirely upon the deed he had just done.
“The smile on her face, that twinkle in her eyes…Oh how I wish my eyes had been better blessed to better see the joy on her beautiful face…” he panted and burped while rubbing his belly, and continuing with the scouring around him “-but I’m thankful to the Lord for the brain I’ve been bestowed upon, that had been good enough to retain the sight of her joyous face. Now I have a sight to behold, a moment to relive, a memory to revisit, while I exist in this earthly realm.”
His hands touched something, something moist, something papery, something soft. He leaned forward and brought one of his few remaining fingers, stained with whatever it was, that remained unattended on the ground near him, closer to his nose. Any other day his superior olfactory senses would have revealed to him what he had come upon, but all his tireless work in the past few hours had gifted him with severe blockage. A sudden storm and relentless rain in the past few days had done its bit to make him more vulnerable to severe cold and phlegm formation.
He had to rely on his poor vision, worsened by the darkness of his surroundings rather than his blocked nose for then. So he leaned forward, dragged himself closer to the object and opened his eyes at their widest limits. But everything appeared blurry and shapeless. With his vision and sense of smell failing him, he had to turn to his taste buds to figure out the content. So he choose to touch the anomaly once again with one of his fingers and bring the finger closer to his lips for his tongue to deduce what it was, but even before he could reach the object on the ground, the third soul, who hadn’t been far away, all along, made his appearance within the illuminated stage, just on cue and performed his part of the act, that was taking over the food that would have been for the old man to enjoy. Would he (the old man) have enjoyed on coming to know what it really was and how it got there? That was a question that the third soul didn’t bother to ponder, but chose to give the better answer.
“Sivarasa…You selfish bugger…Where have you been all day?” chuckled the old man as he patted the head of the one-eyed, skinny, black, street mongrel, with one broken hind leg, as it hastily finished off the food on the pavement. “Slow down, my dear one…It’s all for you. Enjoy well, whatever it is. I wouldn’t bother to pluck it from your drool covered snout” chuckled the man for the second time.
He burped again and rubbed his chest with one arm, while he used his other to drag himself back towards the lamppost, a couple feet behind him.
“Feel no guilt, my brother. It’s entirely for you. So eat well and take it real slow. I’ve managed to live without food for several hours now, more than a day to be precise, and I’m sure I can pull off a few more hours. I will get something when the morning train arrives and more visitors lay their feet in our little town. I’m not a pretty sight to welcome them, but I’m sure they will have some pity for this old, useless, wretch. Besides, though my stomach is empty with nothing but air, my heart is filled with more happiness than it can ever hold. I feel full, my dear friend…I feel full enough to survive.”
   The old man settled back against the lamppost, rubbed his chest for a moment, burped a couple more times and closed his eyes for the last time that night. The third soul, the black mongrel, licked the last stains of food on the pavement and lied down right next to the old man’s feet, opening his mouth wide for a yawn and closing his one good eye contently.
The second soul, a silent observer, remained within a booth nearby, watching the little drama under the orange lights, before everything went dark, with the stuttering illuminator turning mute…

2

Do people really pay for their sins? Or do they just get away with everything?
“I believe there will be a time when all wrong doers will be punished for all their misdeeds. The king punishes right away, God punishes the right way” my mother played with an old Tamil adage.
“My belief in that falters when I see these successful politicians” my father chuckled.
“If they are not punished in life, they will be in death” my mother retorted.
“The only punishment I see is when their statues are defiled by the birds,” came my father’s reply.
Do the bad guys really go to hell, where they are tormented for all eternity? Do the good guys really go to heaven, where they are royally taken care of? Maybe it’s all a human lie said in an attempt to keep the easily corruptible mankind, pure. If a reward of a luxurious after life doesn’t change humans for the good, then a miserable, ruthless one must keep them from turning bad.
There is no absolutely pure man or a completely dirty one. All of us are right in the middle and I am not the first person to say this. We become heroes for certain plots and villains for certain others and a mere extra for a million more. Yet we continue to believe that we all are the protagonist, the hero, the good guy. Perhaps that’s a sign of a good playwright, to convince every actor that he is important. But villains are certainly important to any narrative, as without a villain, a hero cannot be born. However that cannot be an excuse for sinning.
The role of each and every one of us is transitory and we do not even realise it. And the irony lies in the fact that this absence of realisation of the transition forces us to believe we could never go wrong. 
“Everybody knows doing wrong things makes them evil. But people don’t realise what they are doing is wrong. Faults are always seen in others and not in the self” My father often says.
 And people have this belief that they can reduce their sins (which more often than not, is stated as things done unconsciously or unknowingly) by doing good deeds in life. Good deeds for many have to do with giving charity, in the form of money, food, water and clothes. And some people feel extremely content for dropping a rupee in a beggar’s plate, giving old, torn clothes and broken toys that their kids no longer cared to go near, to orphanages and left-over food from the previous night’s dinner to the people on the streets. I’ve even seen individuals giving dirty water from the tap to homeless people, while keeping the expensive purified cans for themselves.
“What we give is better than them having nothing…” would be the reply, if you ask one of these ‘big-hearted’ philanthropists. If you had the means to give the best, why give the bad. It is their estimation of these poor souls that they deserved only so much and that too because of their (the giver’s) own ‘kindness.’
After giving away such ‘valuables,’ people look for good things to happen in their life, thinking that they deserve them. And when something bad happens, there is always a God to blame.
“I give so much for so many people and I’ve done nothing bad. Why do all bad things have to happen to me? God is heartless.”
A well heard lamentation from the lips of every human who believed in the existence of a divine being or at least in Karma.
If I were God, I would rather take to heaven, good souls who had done good deeds even if they didn’t believe in my existence. Their good deeds would have been done out of pure kindness, expecting no reward and not done to please the Supreme Being or expecting their life to get better because of their good deeds.
“You don’t need a God, if you are a wise human” said an atheist friend of mine with whom I was arguing the need for a belief in a divine being.
            Well that is a fair argument, but not all humans are wise. Education helps in increasing one’s wisdom, but having an education does not guarantee wisdom or a lack of it does not mean one could not be wise. So for the ones who lack wisdom and self-control, God is necessary, as at least a Boochandi (boogieman).
            How many people in this world would stop doing bad things if they are told someone is looking over them, ready to punish them if they do something wrong? How many people in this world would continue to refrain themselves from doing bad, if they are told that there is no one to police them?
            Human laws are so flawed themselves with different states providing different leniency for different acts in different parts of the world. What can be defined as good or bad, changes according to where you are from, and sometimes who you are.
            So what is morally correct and morally wrong? The sense of morality changes with the law of the land as well. Therefore the belief in the existence of a sagacious supreme being is of paramount importance to those who lack the wisdom of the highest order.
“What we don’t want others to do us, we must not do to others,” said my father and that is the only moral code that could be appropriate for people all over the world, at least in his view and certainly in mine…
-          K. Varadharajan

I tore the paper with the article I had written, a few weeks ago, just before I had left Chennai, as I sat there in the train, now heading towards Chennai. I did not know what the original topic of the article had been, for what purpose I had written and why it had remained in one of my travel bags then. It was just the first draft, with all my random thoughts splurged out, without any cohesion or flow, involving morality, heaven, hell, God, rationalism and it was nowhere near the standards, fit to be published even in the magazine I worked for as an editor. This much I knew, but what had prompted me to write it, I did not remember.
My brain was muddled and anger and grief plagued me. The rattling of the train, the clinking of the chain, hanging above me, the cluttering noise from the slow turning fan near me, the two men gifting derogatory terms to each other over a single available berth, in the next compartment, the wailing baby in my own and the loud women seated opposite me, discussing characters from some low budget soap opera, did not help my cause. I covered my ears with some cotton, that I had carried with me, to block the surrounding noise and closed my eyes, to escape out of the present.
  Ramalingam’s voice was the only sound that now filled my ears and Vaishu’s inconsolable face with her wet eyes, was the only image before me. The sinner, the sins, the innocent victim…Heaven, hell, God…the words from the article and the memories of the past few days mingled together.
            ‘Do people really for their sins? No money, no loved ones near him, disease ridden, weak, starving, on a railway station platform. There is no absolutely pure man or a completely dirty one. The role of each one of us is transitory. From the son of a respectable teacher to a beggar…Hell. Redemption. Heaven’
The words, the audible, the images, the memories that formed in my head made no sense one second and complete sense the other, only to disappear into nothingness. At the end of it all, one question remained.
“Where would he be?”
            I didn’t know if there was a heaven nor was I interested in it. Even if the good didn’t get rewarded, the bad needed to be punished was my view…’was’ when I had written this article. That view of mine had changed, ever since I had come upon an individual, who had spent ninety percent of his life, sinning and the last ten seeking redemption. What he had gotten at the end made me wish even the worst of sinners did not receive what he was bestowed upon.

3

            I am Varadharajan, a native of the city of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, India. I had spent a significant portion of my adult life working as an editor for a Tamil magazine in Chennai and had written a few Tamil novellas that brought me some recognition but not great wealth due to the rapid decline in the number of readers of the native language in the state. Moving to Chennai had been my greatest ambition when I was a little boy in Kanchipuram, just a few dozen kilometres away from the big metro. Chennai was the place where the leaders of land lived, where the great actors and actresses of the Tamil Film Industry worked and where my favourite music composer, Ilayaraja weaved his magic from (even though he was from a small village himself…one more reason for me to move to Chennai, to do what he did).
            When I entered my forties and after I completed twenty years in the ever buzzing city of Chennai, I longed for the quietness of the smaller town. I returned back to Kanchipuram and I found it greatly changed and growing closer and closer to its big brother, Chennai, not only in its great industrial progress, but also in the chaos and hurry burry of an ever growing city. This was no longer the sort of atmosphere I wanted to be in.
            I sought some calmness and peace, but not an ominous silence. I longed for a land that celebrated its culture, but not drowned and still stuck in its primitive past with all its social flaws, as every great culture was plagued with. I wanted to be surrounded by people, but just enough to not suffocate me with their presence. I needed things that were new, but not strange and alien. I yearned for a home, that I was familiar with, but not grown tired of.   
That was when I had discovered the tiny town of Manamedu.  I came to find an interesting fact regarding the town’s name while I was doing research on the place I was intending to visit. ‘Manal Medu’ in Tamil literally meant mud mound, which some said, the entire region once was. But many others stated that the name of the town referred to ‘Mana Medai’, which roughly translated to a wedding altar in Tamil. Manamedu was famous for the temple of Nithya Kalyana Perumal, a deity worshipped by many who sought to find the love of their life, to get married to. While ‘Thiruvidandai’ a more well-known temple, in the northern half of the state, closer to the capital Chennai, was famous for the exact same reason with the exact same deity, this one was an alternative for the people in the south.
There was also a village called Manamedu in Puducherry and this had nothing to do with the place in my story. ‘Mana Medu’ or ‘Mana Medai’ which was the original name which had gotten mispronounced over the years, I did not know. One might be more appropriate geographically and geologically while the other business wise. But the locals might choose the latter as the temple and the significance of it was what brought heaps of people from the rest of the state, to that little town. Without the temple, the locals would have no business. Sometimes visitors outnumbered the locals, as the little town boasted just over two thousand people, whereas visitors poured in several hundreds in a single day. There were of course only two trains that passed through the region, with one arriving at nine in the morning and the other at eight in the evening.
An acquaintance of mine, who had worked with me for a short while for the same magazine that I worked for, had suggested that I should move to his home town of Manamedu, when he had come to know that I sought a break away from the big city for a few weeks. This acquaintance had now settled back in Madurai doing a business of his own, but he had a house of his own in his native land, which he was gracious enough to allow me to stay for a small rent. He was the same person who was to receive me when I arrived in his town and show me the house, but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen, when I reached the Manamedu station at nine in the morning.
This I found as a bad omen when I stepped into a new place, far away from my home, but it had only been an opportunity given to me by fate to come across the man who was to have the most impact in my life. I sat on a bench at the railway station with a couple of my bags containing my belongings, waiting for the arrival of my acquaintance, but I was greeted by the hopeful faces of young as well as some old, men and women arriving at the town with their parents to visit the Nithya Kalyana Perumal temple to pray for a good bride or groom, while many couples were seen arriving, probably to thank the Lord for fulfilling their prayers during their past visits.
So did it really work? Or was it the belief of the people that made it happen was the question that popped into my mind when I first saw them.
“Sometimes when you really hope or yearn for something, it would surely happen to you” a friend of mine had said to me, when he had been trying to explain the power of the human mind.
“Then what about those millions of people who die with unfulfilled wishes?” I had retorted.
“What you are meant to have, you will have” had been his reply, which had nothing to do with his previous statement. But I did not care to question him further on seeing the desperation on his face to save his face.
There were many people (me included) who spoke of things that they understood very little about, as if they were the ones who coined it and this friend of mine was one such being. If you really yearned for something, you started to work towards achieving it and the more drive you had, the more you kept persisting towards having it, despite failures, with you eventually succeeding in gaining it. This was the obvious meaning when someone said ‘if you wanted something, you will get it’, but my friend was good enough in spinning a magical, fantastical, cloak around it and making it seem as if, if I really wanted something and hoped to have it, the universe or God will bring it to me.
 Whatever it was, people, who came to Manamedu, also got what they wanted and that’s what anyone cared about. And I did not intend to speak any rationalism then and ruin it for the people there whose entire livelihood depended on these visitors.
The Manamedu station was by itself so much different to the stations in Chennai, in the sense that there was dense greenery all around and relative calmness in what was supposed to be the most buzzing part of the town, next to the temple itself. There were a few wooden benches across the platform, an old dirty lamppost or two, a long rusty old roof covering not even half of the platform with plenty of holes on them, through which the sun rays beamed down, like a translucent yellow tube connecting to the heavens, a few stalls spread across the platform with a lot of gaps between each and a roofless staircase that extended from the centre of the platform to the outside on both sides of the station. Most of the stations in Chennai were always crowded with thousands of people moving from one end to another, a few hundred moving across the staircase that linked the station to the outside world, a few dozen people always seen ignoring these staircases and walking across the tracks to move out of the station, sometimes through gaps in the railings and broken walls that surrounded the station.
There were always people talking, crying, yelling, clapping, walking, running and making every other possible noise that a human could make and I often had the urge to just yell at the top of my voice asking every single living soul there to shut up for five seconds and realise what they were missing and what they needed...or what I needed. Here I did not have that need.
It wasn’t as if the entire station was deserted. There were still several dozen people walking around on the platform, but most of them had been the ones who had gotten out of the train that I had arrived in and no more train was expected till the night. A couple of porters were seen yelling and arguing amongst themselves, bickering over a large trunk, with its owner standing nearby, with his hands over his head, pleading for the men in red shirts to decide who was to carry his trunk and not fight amongst themselves for the money. That little skirmish ended rather swiftly, with one smaller, yet senior looking porter slapping a bulkier, yet much younger looking porter on his face and carrying away the trunk, with the owner following behind, leaving an apologetic look towards the younger man in red.
 The station did not remain crowded for long and the platform was clear in a matter of minutes. Then there was relative silence, with the rustling of the leaves on the trees lining on either side tracks, clearly audible, a few men, who were working in the station talking quietly with each other and the distant sound of the horn of the train, that I had arrived in, evanescing far into the horizon. I could even see the hills and little mud mounds a few miles away from the station beyond which the train had disappeared to and a solitary broken, rusty goods train compartment was seen standing on the northern end of the station, a bit away from any tracks that were being used, amidst a handful of smaller mounds and a couple of porters were seen smoking, seated nearby it. This sure was the sort of place I was looking for to spend some peaceful time in.
I sat on one of the benches on the platform, wondering where my friend Ganapathy, who was to show me his house, had gone to and if I should make a phone call to his home in Madurai. It was the nineties and cell phone wasn’t as easily available and widely used then as today, so it was not an option for me and I wondered how I could reach him, if he had already left his house. I was entirely at the mercy of my acquaintance, whom I had chosen to see as a friend since he was kind enough to offer to open his doors for me, but ran the risk of being seen as an enemy if he did not arrive any time soon.    
As I sat there worrying how I was to survive in that little town, if Ganapathy did not show up, I noticed an old beggar lying against a lone weighing machine on a corner of the station, with a one-eyed dog lying next to him.
‘Maybe he will grant me some space next to him…not that there aren’t enough spaces in this station anyway.’
Of course I was exaggerating, I did have enough money with me to get myself a large room in a lodge, but that was not the sort of place I wanted to be in. I did not want to live as a guest, but as a local for a few weeks and remain away from the people who would want to make business off of me seeing me as a visitor. Lodges were the last place I wanted to spend my time in. I was very much determined to remain in the station till eight at night to get myself back to Chennai, if Ganapathy did not turn up, rather than staying in a lodge in Manamedu.
‘Wonder how he ended up as a beggar here’ my mind raised a question to probably distract me from my worries concerning my future stay there. ‘Wonder how he became like that’ was my next thought, as soon as I noticed a lot of blots, blemishes and blood oozing from little wounds all over his body. It took me a few more moments to realise that he was a leper and not injured in any other manner.
He was extremely thin, weak, shabby, tired looking, with his collar bones and veins in his neck clearly noticeable. So much of his insides were visible that he could be taken to a medical school and students could be asked to point and name each bone in the body without even ripping apart his flesh…or what little remained of it. His grey hair was a mess with mud, snots perhaps from his own nose and some other pasty substance, which I wasn’t able to identify and did not bother to ponder much about. He had his mouth open and a bit of drool was dripping down the sides. There were hardly any teeth and even the few that remained were not as remotely white as it was supposed to be nor as strong as recommended.
 Apart from these disgusting and disturbing aspects of his appearance, what caught my eye was his nose, which was large, yet flat, with a lot of hair quivering out of his nostrils. He was dark skinned, but the sun or the genetics of our people were not the reason. He had some sort of grease and oil smudged all over his body, something else that was inexplicable.
His eyes were hazy and grey and it was obvious that his vision was not at its best. He did not seem too keen to notice me though, as he kept opening and closing his eyes, laying his head against the yellow coloured weighing machine. The black furred street mongrel lying next to him was not any better looking with little drops of grey fluid seeping out of his injured left eye and his proper right eye staring right at the tracks, seeming like a genius deep in his thoughts, planning to bring to this world, something of great significance that was to change the way the planet functioned.
But I knew that if I was in his position, I would perhaps be thinking how and where I could find my next meal and the same thought was probably circling his mind. One of his hind legs seemed crushed and misshapen, probably as a result of stones pelted at him, by some heart less individuals. I did not know who looked more pitiful, but my chest felt really heavy seeing the two in the state they were.
‘What kind of sin could they have done in the present life or the past to get to the state they were in? Why does God have to be so merciless?’
Though I did speak and write a lot about rationalism, I was not brave enough to survive in this world without the belief in a Supreme Being, who could protect me and lend me an ear and eventually a hand, when my mind and heart were at their weakest and heaviest respectively. And of course, like everyone else, I needed someone to put the blame on when something went wrong and hope for things to eventually be changed for the good in my life, by the same being.
 I did not know why and for how long, but my eyes spent more time hovering over the two than it did on the other objects and people in the surroundings. I knew not what I was expecting to happen, but when something strange did happen, I was surely astounded.
The large weighing machine with a glass box at the top and circular, coloured plates rolling behind different coloured flickering bulbs was a commonality in most stations in India and it was even a surprise that this small station had just one, when three or four can be found in many stations in Chennai. A coin had to be inserted after standing on the black platform, which was part of the machine and the circular plates would go into motion, with the flickering of the bulbs changing its rhythm, all a pre-show for a card to drop out through another slot, which showed the weight of the person on one side and a little fortune on the other.   
More often than not the fortune was gibberish, though not as inaccurate and nonsensical as the weight on the other side. But youngsters and old people alike did spend a minute or two of their waiting time, weighing themselves, only to compare the cards that each of them received with each other and have a few giggle.
This one on the platform at the Manamedu station was untouched, at least since I had arrived at the station and now the way it was being touched around by the beggar made me really uneasy. As he lay there against it, this leper in his sixties perhaps, kept caressing it with his hands, while carefully turning his head to his left and checking if somebody was watching him, with his hazy eyes.
The caressing continued and he moved his hands to the backside of the machine and then turned his gaze towards his right. In this direction, about fifteen yards away from him, was I and I turned my head towards the front, to give the beggar the impression that he was not being watched. Of course I wasn’t planning to remain that way and even the few moments I had spent staring towards the tracks, several feet ahead of me, I was restless, curious and eager to turn back towards the weighing machine which was to my left and see what the leper was intending to do.
I saw him from the corner of my eyes and the leper’s head was now turned towards the back of the weighing machine, away from my direction. Now my eyes were completely on him and he did not notice me even once. His focus was entirely on the machine and his arms moved a bit more rapidly now, over the weighing machine. Then he suddenly tapped on a spot, while placing his ears to the side of the machine and then knocked gently on another spot a little further up. After about ten more seconds of this tapping and caressing, he looked around once again and then punched a little harder at a particular spot.
A series of jingling noises followed and the old man was seen picking up a few objects from the back of the machine and dropping them within his own tattered blue lungi, which he had turned into a small pouch. It was obvious that he was stealing coins from the machine, which had perhaps been used by people in the past few days. But what surprised me more was that he took only a small percentage of the coins and dropped the rest of it back inside the compartment behind, which he had managed to open with his skilful tapping.  
I figured out that it was a move made to not create any suspicion among the authorities. If they found all the money within the machine missing, they might try to protect and monitor the contraption more or simply move it to a different spot, which might not be very easy for the beggar to steal from. If only a tiny fraction of the coins went missing, they might not really notice it. The duck that laid golden eggs… This was a simple act, but the fastidious nature of the man was revealed, even though his appearance did not suggest it.
            Who was this guy? What had he been doing in his life before he became a beggar? This question now troubled me. Was he a thief? Was he a conman? Did he deserve the life that he now had and my pity?
            The last question was the first to get answered, even though I later came to find out that it was the wrong answer.
            While he had been busy, meticulously figuring out a way to get the coins out and while I had been busy trying to make myself appear like I wasn’t watching him, both of us missed the presence of a little boy, maybe six years old, with a couple of his fingers getting suckled by his own mouth and mucus dripping down his nose, standing right behind the weighing machine, the side opposite to where the leper was seated.
            There weren’t any other people near us and the closest person on either side was about thirty yards away. How did the two of us miss this little boy, we did not know. The gaze of the little boy and that of the beggar met. Those little eyes had witnessed a crime happening even though it was a petty one and I wondered if those little lips had the words to get the beggar in trouble.
            The two of them continued staring at each other, while the beggar shut the compartment slowly with his mutilated hands. The mutilation was something I hadn’t noticed the first time around, even though it was clearly visible and my wonder grew even more as to how he got on with the act.
            But before I could cogitate more on his foul accomplishment, one more bizarre act followed. The beggar made a mean face, by squinting his eyes, cringing his face, opening his mouth wide and sticking his tongue out between his disfigured and repulsive gum line.
“What are you looking at, you little prick? Scram!!!” he yelled in Tamil.
The child started crying and ran back to his father who was just seen coming out of the station master’s room.
“Hey baby, what’s wrong? Did you fall down? Did you hurt yourself?” the father lifted his child and started inspecting his body for scratches or wounds. The child did not say anything, but kept crying and pointed his fingers towards the leper, who now had his eyes closed, mouth wide open and his head laid against the weighing machine, as if he had been sleeping for hours.   
“Oh, did you get scared of the old man? Don’t be afraid of him…He is just a poor guy who is ill” the father carried the boy on his shoulder and walked closer to the beggar, but not close enough for him to worry about contracting the disease, from the old man. Then he picked a one rupee coin from his pocket and dropped it into the crushed and misshapen, dirty plate in front of him. The leper slowly lifted his head, wiped his eyes, observed the plate and smiled pitifully with his maimed hands clasped towards the donor.
“See, there is nothing to worry about?” said the man towards the child, who stopped his crying momentarily, though tears were still trickling down his cheeks.
“May you and your family live prosperously for a hundred years” said the beggar, offering his benediction.
The man patted his child on his back and walked, carrying the little boy, towards the staircase to exit the station, while the child’s eyes were still on the beggar. On seeing that the father of the child was no longer looking towards him, the leper changed his expression instantly and brought back his old, menacing face. The child began crying again, pointing his hand towards the beggar and when the father turned towards the beggar, he was once again seen lying against the machine, seemingly asleep.
The wailing of the child lasted longer than the horn of the train that had left the station a few minutes ago and the father tried hard to console and cheer up his kid, as he made his way out of the station platform.
Should I report the crime that I had just witnessed and get the beggar in trouble with the authorities?
‘Hell no…Let fate do what is necessary… The leper will pay for what he has done…God is watching and he will take care of the sinner’ thought I. One more advantage in having a belief in God, leave all responsibilities to Him and walk away as if none of it was your business. I knew I was being a coward, but I also knew that it was necessary for me to not get myself into any trouble that too in a new town. Being a writer and an editor of a magazine (even though a moderately sold magazine), I should have acted more wisely and shown some courage. But I did not have the will to corroborate against the leper.
“This is one dangerous fellow, who shouldn’t be messed around with” I said to myself. “He deserves every bit of what he has received and deserves no pity.”

Looking back at that moment, now, I feel greatly embarrassed about myself. Ashamed of cowering when I should have shown courage and even more ashamed of thinking that the old leper deserved all that he got, without knowing everything about him. How much has he made me regret since then.

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