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Sangam: The Jhansi Legacy

Sangam: The Jhansi Legacy

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Sangam: The Jhansi Legacy

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620 pages
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Mar 27, 2014
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9781491862230
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Deskripsi

SANGAM: The Jhansi Legacy, captures the struggles of exiled peoples of the Indian subcontinent in the Caribbean known hitherto as "indentured coolies" but who are revealed in the novel as representative classes of Indians of differing socio-economic backgrounds who had created a strong opposition to British rule of the Indian subcontinent. It is a moving story that captures the struggles of these people in the hostile environment of sugar plantations where injustice, lack of decency, and oppression of the worst kind prevailed. At first, there seemed little that could be done to alleviate the plight of the indentured, that were no better off than that of the earlier slaves whom they had replaced as a result of the abolition of slavery. Until the arrival of the protagonists Mataji and her son, Raju, both scions of the legendary rebellious Queen, the Rani of Jhansi, the blight situation of the indentured seemed hopeless. Indeed, Mataji was one of the Rani's lieutenants during The Indian War of Independence and with her son beside her and their combined commanding presence and ability to win friends as well as get the respect of others, ideas of freedom coalesced to form definite plans to rectify the situation. The first was to take the war that had started in India to the sugar plantocracy in the Caribbean to win back their rights and freedoms. And, by enlisting new-found friends among the French Creoles and sympathetic sugar barons they were quickly able to organize the indentured people into one cohesive community from where they could claim their place in the New World as partners in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-linguistic society, cemented together by the underlying Hindu philosophy known to the world as Vedanta.
Penerbit:
Dirilis:
Mar 27, 2014
ISBN:
9781491862230
Format:
Buku

Tentang penulis

Balkrishna Naipaul was born in Trinidad and educated at London where he read History, Economics and International Relations. From England, he migrated to Canada in 1968 and lived in Saskatchewan where he worked as an educator before leaving to serve as the permanent representative of Development Educators for World Peace at the United Nations. During that time, a period of some twenty years, he consulted with world leaders in most parts of the world. In 1998, he vacated his position at the U.N. and since then he has devoted his entire time to the writing of fiction. In 2005 he was awarded the prestigious title of Saahitya Mani from the Shikshayatan Institute of America for his trilogy and his contributions to world literature. In 2006, he was selected by the World Business Forum to receive their most lucrative award for “his outstanding contributions to literature and successful achievement as a WORLD RENOWNED AUTHOR OF BOOKS”. And in 2010, he was awarded The Shabdakantih Order of Literature from the Shabdakantih Awards Academy that carried hefty cash award, a gold medal, and plaque that read: “for his numerous distinctive works of literature that he has produced for the edification of humanity.” In 2012, he was awarded the title of Saahitya Shiromani by the Shikshayatan Institute of America for his book of poems, Finding the Voice, and in the same year he was selected by NALIS of Trinidad and Tobago for a Lifetime Achievement Award in the nation’s celebration of 50 Years of Literature.

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Sangam - Balkrishna Naipaul

SANGAM:

The Jhansi Legacy

A Novel set in Trinidad, British Guiana, and Surinam

By

Balkrishna Naipaul

Sangam: The Jhansi Legacy

A Novel set in Trinidad, British Guiana and Surinam

Copyright © 2014 by Balkrishna Naipaul. All Rights Reserved

Cover design by Global Publications

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publications:

         Hardcover ISBN 978-0-9878000-0-8

         Softcover ISBN 978-0-9878000-1-5

         e-book ISBN 978-0-9878000-2-2

Naipaul, Balkrishna Maharagh–

A Novel set in Trinidad, British Guiana, and Surinam.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Published by Global Publications, Canada, in conjunction with AuthorHouse, LLC, a Penguin Random House company, U.S.A.

ISBN: 978-1-4918-6224-7 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4918-6222-3 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4918-6223-0 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014902400

To order additional copies of this book, contact: Global Publications. Suite 304, 35 Towering Heights Blvd, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, L2T 3G8

Author House 888.280.7715, customersupport@authorhouse.com

CONTENTS

Prologue to Sangam

PART ONE

Sangam: Confluence

Of Intentionality and History

PART TWO

On The Trail:

Land of Many Waters

PART THREE

Meditations On

A Long Journey

PART FOUR

Custodians to The New Order

PART FIVE

Home On

The Caroni Plains

PART SIX

Trauma in Reform

PART SEVEN

Minds

Flow into Hearts

PART EIGHT

Confluence:

Action follows Belief

PART NINE

Of Bondage and Freedom

PART TEN

The Garden

PART ELEVEN

Winds of Change

PART TWELVE

Promises Lost

In The Confluence of War

PART THIRTEEN

Abyssus Abyssum Invocat Deep Calleth Unto Deep

About the Author

Also by Balkrishna Naipaul

FICTION:

Arc On The Horizon

Legends of The Emperor’s Ring

The Yoga of Love

Suwan and The Circle of Seven

The Other Side of The House

The Mansion

Dancing Moon Under The Peepal Tree

POETRY:

Finding the Voice

SANGAM: The Jhansi Legacy, captures the struggles of exiled peoples of the Indian subcontinent in the Caribbean known hitherto as indentured coolies but who are revealed in the novel as representative classes of Indians of differing socio-economic backgrounds who had created a strong opposition to British rule of the Indian subcontinent. It is a moving story that captures the struggles of these people in the hostile environment of sugar plantations where injustice, lack of decency, and oppression of the worst kind prevailed. At first, there seemed little that could be done to alleviate the plight of the indentured, that were no better off than that of the earlier slaves whom they had replaced as a result of the abolition of slavery. Until the arrival of the protagonists Mataji and her son, Raju, both scions of the legendary rebellious Queen, the Rani of Jhansi, the blight situation of the indentured seemed hopeless. Indeed, Mataji was one of the Rani’s lieutenants during The Indian War of Independence and with her son beside her and their combined commanding presence and ability to win friends as well as get the respect of others, ideas of freedom coalesced to form definite plans to rectify the situation. The first was to take the war that had started in India to the sugar plantocracy in the Caribbean to win back their rights and freedoms. And, by enlisting new-found friends among the French Creoles and sympathetic sugar barons they were quickly able to organize the indentured people into one cohesive community from where they could claim their place in the New World as partners in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-linguistic society, cemented together by the underlying Hindu philosophy known to the world as Vedanta.

In Memory of

Dipti and Deepak

And

For my brother,

Dharma Rathna Krishnadath Maharaj Naipaul

Prologue

Prologue to Sangam

1

He appeared in a mirage: a dappled figure wearing a long, white beard under a broad-rimmed khaki cork hat. The image was perched on a huge dancing white horse with a long bushy tail; the tail almost matching the flow of the mane and the man’s white beard. From time to time the tail would flap from side to side and then up and down as a mechanical whisk as though it had a life of its own but whose purpose was to keep the image on the horse free of flies. The horse meantime seemed to be standing on three legs, alternating in a similar way like the mechanical tail. Except for the extraordinary long tail and flowing white mane, nothing seemed real about the horse. In a peculiar sort of way it seemed that the man mounted on the animal gave it life, especially the manner in which the horse moved in a rippled effect in the mirage as the man called out to invisible human beings that were lost to the wide expanse of sugarcane. One by one these invisible men emerged from the furrowed fields and walked up to the man on the horse who in turn handed them envelopes until the man’s satchel was empty.

This is when I thought something had gone wrong: after all, there were no more envelopes in the man’s satchel and there was no one else with whom to communicate. But, still, he was on his horse doing a sort of dance that widened and lengthened the frame of the image in that shimmering take that makes everything unreal. Unreal to me and deftly unreal to the background sky that remained rippled with bands of clouds that stretched across the background sky as if to mimic the furrowed fields, or as when hay is cut and left to dry on the denuded land. Still he kept calling in that boomerang voice of his, which was strange because as soon as I would hear the first part of the call the sound would turn around and go back to the source. But after some time, a young Brahmin man emerged from the field to answer to the man on the horse.

This image kept playing on my mind night after night as I would emerge from deep sleep. Instead, even though everything appeared so far away in the distance, the clarity of it all indicated that they were more than just imagery; it was a parody of sorts: a Balinese mime set against a broad expanding sky telling a story hinted only by gestures that, in themselves, were vague but penetrating in their suggestive details.

It took me some time to apprehend the thought that the images that had come to me were not far off into the distance but rather on a vast plain that were not more than twenty feet away. This paradox of vastness and nearness colliding with each other played on my mind in extraneous ways; amazingly, there were no anxieties or fears: it was like the outer wall of one of the indentured ajoupas that was made of daub over wattle and covered with thatch. Most likely, it was once the outer wall of the ajoupa that had been enclosed to create another room to the structure in the ongoing expansion to make the wattle shack into a larger home. Often they would start with a square of about twenty feet by twenty feet and then keep on adding to the length and breadth according to the land space available. So, the surface was bumpy, creating shadows when stray light patterns were cast onto the walls. No wonder I had thought that in the background of sky and wilderness, there were clouds, something of the cumulous, while at other times the anvil type that announces thunder, lightning and rain.

No doubt, I had been disappointed to learn that all I was seeing was a rather aged blank wall. But this discovery was followed by a rather unwitting thought: I recalled someone saying to me before I had arrived here that this ajoupa was really the first Hindu temple in the area. And, with this thought I flung out from the divan on which I was resting to look for something significant: the old indentured folks always built their mandirs adjacent to a holy tree. And sure enough, in the middle of the compound of this structure was a sprawling peepal tree and below it was an aged fellow reading from the largest book I had ever seen.

Or, at least, that is what I thought I had seen. But this confusion did not occur directly: upon arriving in the courtyard, which suddenly made me understand whether I was in India or Trinidad, I immediately sought to return to the room of my divan; it was not there.

Lost for a moment in my thoughts, I looked for the wall but that too had vanished; where there should have been a room there existed an extension of the country, which had me fazed. Confusion turning into a panic state especially that my entire whereabouts became transfigured into streams of consciousness that even altered time and space to an aberration.There was nothing modern about the place; nothing to compare with except for the thought of what might have been: of people, places, and things, that had no basis of reality. Yet distinctly real: the house that had been an ajoupa before it became a mandir was now a clapboard house that sat on the slopes of a steep hill directly where a spring-fed stream brought down water that irrigated the neighbouring gardens that extended to the bottom of the sprawling old clapboard house. I should have known this place even though everything looked out of place and strange now from what it used to be, say fifty or sixty years ago.

The young Brahmin that I had seen in the mirage seemed familiar to me, not the way he appeared in this youthful state but much older; even so, this was just an approximation of how I imagined him to be or how he was known to my family during my childhood years. The older version of what I approximated would have been fifty or sixty years later when he was an old man consolidated by wealth and family connections that made him something of a legend. The wealth had little to do with money (in the manner that wealth is measured by modern standards); it had to do with land and strong connections with powerful families who saw him somewhat in the small light of a pivotal leader. He had travelled the small island with a group of able pundits and a thriving group of investors. These pundits were to service the Hindu communities that were far-flung about the length and breadth of the island; there were investors, many of whom had come to the island after the indenture system had come to a halt. They were here to seek out business opportunities that could entice the average Indian into looking at ways in which they could be instrumental in pulling the communities together while helping to shape responses to the community’s needs. In this joint venture, there were no charters or written guidelines; many of the ideas were thrashed out under the great Peepal Tree that had appeared to me in the mirage. But the underlying concern was to find ways to bring the community together as one homogenous whole rather than just existing as separate tributaries that were seeking to find that something, which was still vague. Perhaps to revive in the communities the grand teachings from the Vedas and the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita as the source of these tributaries rather than just be contented in singing out passages from the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita, which had become the staple diet during community readings. In other words, just as the three great rivers—Yamuna, Ganga and Sarasvati—meet in Triveni Sangam, the great confluence at Prayag, so the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Vedas should flow into this great human experiment known as indenture as an awakening from where souls can flow into what the Upanishads call the greater Self.

Still, I could not be certain what I had seen or why this image continued to have such a tight hold on my consciousness: the man that I had known in my childhood, and the person who had been known to my family as Baba was diminutive in size and fair in complexion. In fact he was so fair that he looked like any white person one might have come across in Port of Spain; but this one was red and perhaps a notch or two taller. This should not have been much of a problem since the distortions in the mirage could have easily changed things, either way. But I like to keep things straight, and if this man is to make sense to me then I ought to get the perspectives correct—at least to make sense why this recurring mirage keeps coming to me in more or less the same manner without a narrative.

2

There was a connection between my father’s maternal family and the young Brahmin’s family long before the young Brahmin’s arrival in Trinidad. The young Brahmin’s father whose name was Bhagavati belonged to the same Sampradaya, a spiritual lineage governed by particular historical traditions that go back to ancient times, and whose father’s side of the family was related to my father’s maternal grandmother. Amazing this family connection since neither my father nor the young Brahmin knew anything of each other until long after the young Brahmin’s arrival in Trinidad. Neither were they anywhere close in age: the young Brahmin was at least a dozen years older than my father. Not only that: my father was born in Trinidad; and, whereas both my father’s parents were immigrants to Trinidad, the parents on my father’s paternal side had not come as indentured people: to this day there remains a mystery as to how his father had arrived in Trinidad. All we know is that his mother brought my father’s father at a very young age, and his mother, being a woman of means moved around the island freely, sometimes taking shelter among the better to do indentured settlers who had arrived in Trinidad during the second wave of indenture. This was one of the bitterest times in the modern history of India following the Indian Mutiny of 1857, which some nationalists prefer to call India’s War of Independence. However, she was well provided for: she had something of a small mansion with servants and all the accoutrements needed to maintain the home in the hills overlooking Diego Martin. And, in a peculiar sort of way the skewed image in my mirage seems to have a real connection with either Diego Martin or Petit Valley, even though I can’t just yet put my finger on it. At least, not until I am able to thrash out the connections between, and even among, the families as I have stated here.

We were informed from the older folks belonging to my father’s family that when my great-grandmother on my father’s side arrived in Trinidad she came through the village of Felicity, west of Chaguanas where she remained for a while before establishing her abode in Diego Martin. She was a dignified lady who wore all white and who supported her gait on a Danda, a holy staff that is the equivalent of the Pope’s Ferula. Still, she had no apparent following save for rumours that the woman who was referred to by all as the Pandya Woman or Parayan was connected to the Rani of Jhansi. Even so, this knowledge was kept as a tight secret among the Hindu population on the island, for it was common knowledge among the indentured folks that the woman in question would be a stowaway to say the least, and as contraband stock it would have been kept far from hearing distance of the British authorities. So, to camouflage the Pandya Woman’s presence the alias of Parayan was accorded to her—largely because of her deep absorption in the Divine. However, those outside the Hindu community corrupted the Parray name of Parayan, which was quite a contrast from being head of a dynasty in ancient India to being reduced to a miscreant as a low pariah dog! But it worked so very well in her favour that she lived out her long life in Trinidad without any detection; so much so that sometime after the First World War she boldly returned to India via Calcutta. However but upon arrival, after checking out her identity, she was deported to the Andaman islands where she lived to the glorious age of one hundred and four! We were told in Trinidad that even though confined in Port Blair in the Andamans, she made a name for herself in the penal colony, many of whom were sent here during and after the attempted Indian Mutiny and especially following the struggle for Indian independence that continued to receive freedom fighters right up ‘til 1947.

The Pandya Woman moved slowly and cautiously in everything, she did; she tried hard to remain in the background from where she did most of her work, with trained helpers in front. If there was to be an important Yagna (an elaborate community religious observance involving prayers, meditations and alms-giving that last between five to nine nights) she would seek the assistance of the community leaders, while corralling the rest of the community to offer service in the best of ways they could afford or knew. In a way no one was left out and at the end of the event, everyone felt they had contributed to the effort as the best sevaks or spiritual servants, which were her goal that came from the highest teachings of the Dharma.

It was also attested by the older members of my father’s family that the Pandya Woman had known quite a few of the Indentured folks before their arrival in Trinidad. Indeed, these people were scattered around the island like gems waiting to be mined, and from which they were brought together by the Pandya Woman through yagnas, weddings, upanayanas (Hindu ritual of initiation), and funerals. Some of these folks were prominent agriculturalists in India who were tossed out of their lands by the British long before the Mutiny but who became diehard adherents of the Rani’s mission to stop British expansion in India and eventual eviction from Indian soil. No doubt, these were some of the first to be picked up and sent out of India as Indentured people to places like Fiji, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad. But other than these, there were Indian soldiers that had supported the Rani of Jhansi, as there were shopkeepers, civil servants, engineers, doctors, and a host of support service people that were not needed in India after the Mutiny. Indeed, for the British they were worse than rebels; they became the pariahs of British India and the only place that they could be of use would be on sugar plantations across the globe where a new form of slavery had become fashionable after the House of Commons had declared the end of African slavery.

But the way the Pandya Woman saw it, while the whole deed was repressive, with time the Indentured people on the colonies would build something that might be hailed as one of the loftiest experiments in human endeavour. She saw it as a parallel to the Victorian vision of the New Jerusalem that was being hailed in places like America and other colonial societies. Indeed, it might be a place from where these displaced Hindus and Muslims could teach India about a new form of secularism where religion is best practiced in the heart rather than in the market place. From where the holy texts could be used as guides to the loftier teaching that transcends rituals, even though the ritual experience cannot be denied in any form; from where ritualism could only have meaning as an axle must have grease in order to perform its overall function. Indeed, she always carried the three most important texts that were sacred to Hindus: the Ramayana, the Bhagavatam, and the Bhagavad Gita; and at the finish of her discourses, she would always challenge the best of her students, often-young unmarried women or men who were seeking wives. ‘Try and find out about this, from the Gita, how the readings from the Ramayana or the Bhagavatam compare with the teachingsof the Gita. Try and separate the chaff from the grains and God knows what else you might find.’

Sometimes, a bold answer might come forward, ‘A husband?’

And that is how my paternal grandfather, the son of the Pandya Woman, was married to one of the Bhagavati granddaughters: the child whose mother was the offspring of a Bhagavati who had been married into the Badyal Maharajh family—a large in India that Had connections in north-eastern Uttar Pradesh, Western Bihar and Nepal. They were part of a landed-gentry family that controlled thousands of acres of prime agricultural lands but who were made landless overnight when the family were rounded up and shipped out of India as Indentured labourers in different parts of the globe. No doubt, the Pandya Woman had recognised the Badyal gentleman who had established himself on the island as an important pundit and whom had quite a sizable recruitment of disciples. Moreover, it was from this Badyal Maharajh, a Kanyakubja Brahmin, which the Pandya Woman had heard about the young Brahmin whom I had seen for the first time approaching the mirage.

PART ONE

Sangam:Confluence

Of Intentionality and History

Sangam: Confluence

Of Intentionality and History

1

The Pandya Woman’s closest confidant was a South Indian Brahmin, a member of the priestly caste, who, ironically, was a prominent soldier in the Indian army and presumably one of the originals that were involved in the Mutiny that started in Meerut in 1857. Upon arriving in the colony he quickly made an impression on the planters as a hard worker and one that had a good command of the English language. He could read, write and communicate orally in a commanding way but even more impressive was the ease in which the community complied with his suggestions passed down from the planters; and for this, he was given the job of postmaster. As postmaster, he would have had easy contact with most of the new arrivals, and no doubt this is where the Pandya Woman would have heard about the young Brahmin and from where she would have begun her selection process from the long list of candidates in search of a suitable girl or a girl in search of a suitable boy.

She had heard that the Young Brahmin was addressed by the custom of the family name of Bhagavati, and so upon their first encounter that was how she addressed him. He was a shy man but full of presence: he kept a straight gait in both his walk and in his standing. He didn’t say much but listened intently to every word spoken and he had a way of imbibing what he wanted from the spoken word by the way he would clench on his right jaw; on the other hand if something bothered him he clenched his left jaw and made a face to suggest disapproval. But when he spoke, even softly compared to most (it seemed in those days people spoke loudly largely because they lived far apart and had cultivated the habit of shouting to their neighbours rather than walking across the distance to say what they needed to communicate) he thundered in an enraptured sort of way. For this reason, even though small in stature he was feared.

When the Pandya Woman met the Bhagavati man for the first time there was mutual acceptance: he had no reason to doubt the lady’s connection with the Rani of Jhansi. He had often heard that the Rani was blessed upon her birth by the Goddess Bhagirathi, an earthly goddess of the River Ganges in its earliest form as Bhagirathi that descended from the Divine sphere and arrived near Gaumukh at the foot of the Gangotri glacier in present-day Garhwal. Indeed, some believe that Bhagirathi is the earthly form of Ganga, the living goddess of the River Ganges, while Ganga is the transcendental goddess that resides in the transcendental plane where consciousness is continually spewed out onto elevated souls. From this point of view the real Ganga is never really completely brought down from her heavenly plain to Mother Earth but she continually nourishes earthly Ganga to keep her intact, which is why most Hindus believe that the Ganges cannot ever be contaminated in the manner in which most earthly things are contaminated.

The young Brahmin Bhagavati did not mean to shock when he asked in perfect Sanskrit, perhaps more as a camouflage to ward off unsuspecting ears while keeping the conversation private, ‘There are a few historians who believe that the Rani’s mother was none other than Bhagirathi. Is this true?’

The kind old lady gave the young Brahmin a good look-over before she too spoke in Sanskrit, ‘There is a tangled web about the circumstances of the birth of the young Lakshmibai…’ The lady’s voice became heavy which prompted her to breathe heavily for several minutes before she said, ‘Lakshmibai—later to become the Rani of Jhansi—in the last trimester of pregnancy became a problem for her mother and so the pregnant lady decided to drown herself at the Widows Ghat in Varanasi. But at that very moment the lady went into labour and amazingly Mother Bhagirathi appeared in the river as midwife while saying, This child does not belong to you; this child is the future Maharani of Bharat, the first Empress of Modern India.

He still continued in Sanskrit, ‘You did not say whether the Rani of Jhansi who was known as Lakshmibai before she married the aged King of Jhansi, someone who would have been more like a grandfather to the Lakshmibai, was the daughter of Bhagirathi.’

The lady said in Sanskrit, ‘I believe the person who had witnessed the event at the Ghats in Varanasi, where the Rani’s mother was pulled out of the river and brought onto the ghats where little Lakshmibai was born, talked about an apparition possessing all the marks of the Mother Bhagirathi. Apparently, the man took control of a very bad situation where both mother and child were saved. That man was a very credible witness and one who went on to be an important advisor to the Rani in later years. The river Goddess is the only Bhagirathi I know of, which in some very special ways it makes the birth of the Rani of Jhansi divine.’

The young Bhagavati, who always carried with him a small copper water pot with a small spout to the top of the vessel, poured a few drops on his right hand and then sprinkled the woman in a ritualistic manner accompanied by Sanskrit mantras. Some of the sprinkled water fell on the lady’s face but she remained composed, unfazed so to speak, and even complimented the young man, ‘It would seem that you have a great admiration for the Rani; what is the reason for this?’

‘The Rani, even in her great demise, gave us something to look forward to.’

She left the man where he was sitting and walked over to a very large window overlooking the Diego Martin River that ran through the narrow valley that were populated mostly by former African slaves. The house was on the eastern slopes closer to the Morne Coco Road that cut across the Diego Martin Road that ran in a northsouth fashion. In fact the location of the house was almost on the Petit Valley cutoff going northeast just after Patna Village. This was another important village in the area that were originally been built mostly by Indentured Indians and a few others, who at one time were the largest group in the vicinity, with French connections from the French enclave of Pondicherry in southeast India. While at the window she said in a vacant sort of way, ‘Today we live in a vastly different changing world, where with each day the change is even greater.’

He chanted an appropriate mantra before he commented on it in Sanskrit, ‘It is the nature of our ever-expanding universe; a confluence of sorts, the likes of which there is nothing that you or I can stop. But we can work with it rather than against it.’

Still standing at the bay window while listening to the swift flow of the Diego Martin River making its way into the Gulf of Paria, she repeated the young man’s wording, intentionally: ‘"Work with it rather than against it?"’

‘To work against it is as good as taking on Maya with all its illusory powers that often makes us believe we are invincible but all we have is a blank shot, even though we may feel we are armed with a loaded gun.’

She hurried back to the area of the enclosed porch and sat directly in front of him in one of those rounded wicker basket chairs as she said, ‘So you think it is foolhardy to try and move anything that is in constant motion?’

‘Not unless you can walk or run faster than the moving thing.’

‘You speak like a scientist and yet you’re a religionist.’

‘Sorry, Ma’am, I prefer to call myself a spiritualist.’

‘But you carry with you your kamandal, which is the religious mark of the sadhu, the Indian holy man.’

‘This is to provide me, when in need, with appropriately cleansed water; I drink it when I need to quench my thirst or sprinkle my body with just a few drops to reduce the heat on my body.’

‘But you sprinkled me!’

‘Sorry if I offended you, Ma’am, but there was a dengue mosquito on your cheek poised to do unfathomable mischief.’

‘I understand the reason for the water but why the mantra?’

‘Since I intentionally interrupted the mosquito from striking your face, which was in effect to cause it to strike at itself, I had to ask forgiveness.’

‘What caused the mosquito to strike at itself?’

‘Animals and insects act on the same principle like gods; once they have selected their prey, it is impossible to stop the attack. In a manner of speaking it’s like Sri Rama or Hanuman invoking and making ready to discharge the Brahmastra, and once the weapon is ready to be released it cannot be withheld.’

‘But the mantra you used was rather benign, was it not?’

‘For a human it was but for a lowly insect it was equivalent of me firing a mantra missile.’

‘A mantra missile?’

‘A mantra that knows its purpose and objective. For instance, in a group-setting such as a congregation that is prepared to go into meditation and prayer, I could have used the same mantra without the use of the water.’

‘So the water was not meant to chase away the mosquito?’

‘The water was meant to cause a reaction from you like the twitch which would have come naturally from the mosquito’s sting; but, as the water surprisingly hit your face, the anticipated reaction was achieved and the mosquito turned upon itself.’

‘In a like-manner of how a cobra might behave in a similar situation.’

‘Something like that.’

Something like that?

In most cases the cobra is endowed with a higher consciousness and as such it would have worked out a different strategy like retreating and going after another target.’

‘You seem to know a lot about insects and animals.’

‘Less about insects and animals but more about life.’

‘But you’re such a young man; you could not be more than twenty-five years of age.’

The man’s complexion suddenly grew red as if he had unintentionally given away an important portion of the state-jewel. But just as his complexion had changed from pale white to a passionate red, it quickly returned to its former paleness as he said, ‘Twenty-three years of age, Ma’am.’

‘What school did you attend, Bhagvatiji?’

‘No special school, Ma’am, just Gurukul?’

‘And who was your Guru, Bhagvatiji?’

‘We never knew his name; most of the boys called him Baba but I always addressed him as Gurudev.’

‘Your personal God, yes?’

‘While he was on Earth he was my God; after he left this planet, I regarded him to be part of Jagatguru Sri Krishna.’

The lady got up from the wicker chair and went back to the bay window and again looked in the direction of the sound of the Diego Martin rapids. The young man did not move from his chair but he took cognisance of the raging sound of the water, which made him ask at the side view of the woman, ‘Does the river always carry such a heavy load?’

‘The river is fed by tributaries such as the one that run parallel to the house here and the other at the bottom of the hill over which you gain access to the property; these are minor rivers but they carry a heavy load which eventually swells the Deigo Martin river that causes the roar we now hear. In addition, there are many springs up in the mountain so the flow is always there but lately there has been a heavier flow even though there has not been much rain.’

‘That should bother you.’

‘Why do you say that, Bhagavatiji?’

The appended ji to his name arrested his attention before he considered giving his answer: the first couple of times she offered the honorific suffix it sounded nice but now he was not certain whether he liked the flattery. But before he could give his answer the lady said, ‘You should not be bothered by my calling you Sir. For the kind of work I hear you are doing down there in Usine St. Madeline, you more than deserve to be knighted. But enough of that for now; please do tell me why do you say that the increased flow in the river should concern me?’

‘Well, I look at the location of this house that seems very solid and the cardinal direction of the river it overlooks; from that window your view goes out into a western direction, which from the point of view of vastu teaching that flow of water can only bring difficulties to you.’

‘Because the house faces southwest, which is complicated by the flowing river?’

‘If the house was on the other side of the river facing east it would have been perfect, especially since all the rooms would have been perfectly located. But here everything is in reverse. It can only bring trouble to your spiritual self.’

She immediately returned to the wicker and, before sitting down, said, ‘The location of the house can bring trouble to my spiritual self? This home has been in existence for at least one hundred years.’

‘Proper vastu is the divine home for both divinities and humans. If the location is right and the rooms are located according to vastu principles in which the energies are drawn from the surrounding atmosphere, as well as from the sun and moon then there will be cosmic harmony. This cosmic harmony in turn would affect vital energies that is further emanated from cosmic energy that has a bearing on elemental, thermal, magnetic, and wind energies, which in turn work towards procuring abundance of peace, divine prosperity and joyful living in all that we do. However, if the situation is reversed the indwellers’ lives, inclusive of the divine entities as well as the secular, are turned upside down until everything is turned into chaos.

Stunned by what the young Brahmin had said the woman asked in a voice with a somewhat paradoxical negative shake of the head, ‘Maharaj Bhagavati, do you have any idea how long I have lived in this house?’

‘Time is not of the essence, Ma’am. Besides, you are obviously protected by very strong divinities. But in the end the complex nature of vastu will decide when and where disaster comes.’

‘Disaster! This house was here long before the British arrived in 1797 and the best of the Spaniards and the French and the British have lived through all sorts of times in this house and it is still firmly intact.’

‘The building might remain intact, Ma’am, but upheavals nonetheless; the core of the matter involves the spirit of vastu, the spiritual elements that are combined by the residents of the home and the cosmic energies that either charge or discharge the real life-movements within the home.’

She looked at the young Brahmin for quite some time before she eventually spoke in English, ‘Maharaj ji do you think it was vastu that caused the downfall of Senor Don Diego Martin?’

‘Look at it this way, Ma’am, spiritual matters can never be seen on a straight line; nor can the up and down lifestyle of the Don Diego Martin be encapsulated in a single vignette in isolation of all that went on in this once mighty multiracial society. In this respect we cannot write off the disasters that ran through this area when slavery was abolished in 1833. On the whole, it was a bustling community with opportunities bursting through the seams but there was one vital ingredient missing in the mix.’

Now, her eyes were jammed tight against his as she asked, ‘And what might that be, Maharaj ji?’

He picked up the strain from the old woman’s voice that he interpreted with the notion, ‘What gives you the right to know, especially since you are just a new arrival to this colony?’ But he quickly pushed the insurgency aside and went back to the woman’s question, ‘The old masters taught their subjects well, especially the art of getting and spending and consuming all that came their way. Even among the inhabitants in neighbouring Patna who should have known better from their Hindu teachings, many of whom were brought here by the French from Pondicherry as slaves in the latter half of the seventeen hundreds, ignored that one vital element that goes by the name of spirituality.’

‘Spirituality or religion?’

‘Religion is easy, even though there was nothing of a church here until after the freeing of the slaves. And the people of Patna, who could have been a real influence in shaping lifestyles on the other ethnic groups, which the African outnumbered five to one, became laidback to the point of being lackadaisical in even their approach to how they built their homes.’

‘How they built their homes?’

‘Remember, Ma’am, are we not on the subject of vastu?’

‘I thought we were speaking about vastu principles in my home.’

‘But you asked about the downfall of Diego Martin, no?’

‘Insofar as he was connected to this house.’

‘I understand that but, at the same time, Diego Martin, who might have lived on this spot for a particular period of his life, also occupied all of what is known today as Diego Martin. In this he becomes the murthi, the iconic figure of what all of Diego Martin stands for, which upon close scrutiny the idea should cause to hold one’s breath in awe.’

‘Why awe?’

‘Because what has happened here and what is yet to happen might be a mirror reflection of what is to come for all of Trinidad.’

The lady gracefully got up and picked up a small bell from a center table and ritualistically rang it until a young woman that looked Creole emerged from behind a huge sliding mahogany door that glowed with French polish. Without getting approval from the young Brahmin, the old woman ordered tea and methai, Indian sweets, for the young Brahmin and herself. Even so, with his hands raised to the charmingly beautiful Creole-looking woman he said in French, ‘Non, non, Mademoiselle, s’il vous plaîtne me donnez pas les bonbons, donnez-moi le thé.’

‘Because of the vastu you will not have any of my methai, even though they are sent from India?’

‘From India!’

‘The very best.’

‘In that case how can I refuse?’

‘But you’re eating it because the sweets were not made in my kitchen, yes?’

‘Technically that is so because the energy that cooked the food in a non-vastu built kitchen would not be good. One who dwells in such a house would have to be endowed with an enormous amount of good karmas to withstand this onslaught over a long period of time but even for a visitor like me who lives by vastu principles, there could be a knock-down effect with just one exposure.’

‘How do you explain that, Maharaj ji?’

‘Put it this way: a person who lives a clean life is so much more susceptible to injuries than an ordinary person who is unaware of all the poisons that he takes into his person on a daily basis. Such persons pay for their karmas at the end of the life cycle but the person who is careful gets a knock or a pinch as a reminder of the pitfall; it may appear hard and difficult to take but he wakes up quickly to the realities of his situation. But the person who ignores the signposts set out by scriptural treatises and takes in their daily doses of poisons, while they may appear immune on the outside, they might be essentially sick in the inside. Such individuals or even entire societies live their lives on borrowed time while they unwittingly wait for the catastrophe to happen.’

‘So you think I am sitting on a time bomb?’

‘I think what you’re hearing over that bay-window is tantamount to listening to the ticking away of the time bomb. You may not be consciously aware of it but there is something that cradles your soul that is speaking to you. I have no doubt that the reason you have summoned me here today has something to do with that.’

‘I called you here because I wanted you to meet with my postmaster.’

She hesitated and the young Brahmin seemed to be humming to himself without being conscious of what he was saying: ‘The postmaster?’

After a while the old lady got up from her wicker chair and went over to the young Brahmin and gave him a strong push over his shoulders while saying, ‘Bhagavati Maharaj ji, are you okay?’

‘Indeed,’ he said in English, ‘Postmaster, the Postmaster?’

The old woman went back to her seat and resumed, ‘You were saying that you thought that I brought you here because you felt I intuitively knew that there was something blithely wrong in my affairs.’

‘I remember saying to you something about the sad way that this community has turned out, especially when it had so much in its favour. After all, it was perhaps the most prosperous community in all of Trinidad but because of bad planning it has practically lost everything. When it was settled in the seventeen-nineties with Indian slaves from Pondicherry it quickly grew into a prosperous colony; but then, as wealth came to the colony, too much were taken for granted and with little regard for planning matters went haywire.’

‘Did you learn that since you came to Trinidad?’

‘I came to Trinidad out of choice, which means that I tried to get sufficient knowledge about the colony before I applied to come here.’

‘You applied to come here?’

‘After my upanayanam sanskar I had the opportunity to accompany my guru to Varanasi where I happened to meet an akarti who recruited indentured workers for the British colonies. He provided me with compelling information, which was of value to a young, single man. I then went to the University in Varanasi and met some other recruiters where there were a few tracts on the actual life of indentured people all the way in Diego Martin. There were even photographs of these people and they looked contented. So, I spoke with my guru and he blessed me with this command, Go and minister to these people and don’t even think of coming back; perhaps you might be able to work out your karma there while at the same time doing something honourable and fulfilling for Bharat.

‘Do something honourable and fulfilling for Bharat?’

‘Even people who have been here for the last fifty to sixty years—those who gave up their right to return to India—still identify with India, which is no different from the African identifying with Africa or the English or French or Spaniard identifying with England or France or Spain. After all, the two villages of Congo and Sierra Leone are proud of their connections with Freetown from where they were brought in the eighteen-forties. Not only that: all the Africans who have come here from the French Windward islands at the end of the seventeen hundreds because of the turmoil there, they intentionally came here because they saw, and continue to see, this island as an extension of Africa. Now, like the Indians who came here, many of the Africans did not have a choice, and even those who felt a connection with Africa, after going back and settling in places like Freetown, most of them returned either to the Caribbean or the United States. They, like us, understand what an island like this one could do, not just for those who settle here, for future generations. The way I see it, even though indenture has been a horror to most of us, there is a brighter side to it; we can help ourselves to that brighter side while at the same time helping to import India to the West: we in the Caribbean can do for India what America has done for Britain and Continental Europe.’

‘How, Maharaj ji?’

‘By bringing India’s ancient gift to the world and sharing it with those in our midst.’

‘India’s ancient gift to the world?’

‘The gift of the Shastras from India’s ancient Munis and Rishis, the Seers and Sages of yore who had proclaimed that this gift belonged to the world and to hold it back in such arguments as Kala Pani—the notion that to cross the ocean would result in losing one’s caste—would be like fighting against the very notion of Time.’

‘So, you don’t look at the Indenture System as a product of Evil, do you?’

‘One cannot deny the evilness in the system but at the same time one has to look at it as an opportunity. Every Hindu should see it as the crucible of opportunity, while at the same time brandishing our burns, whether within or without, as the rite of passage in bringing out the Gift of Ancient India to the world that hungers for it.’

‘Brandishing our burns?’

‘The havan kund or sacrificial fire is the Crucible which we come into as we enter the Indenture-ship and the hardship of slavery—by another word—that we are forced to serve for five years. Indeed, by the end of our ordeal of five years of bonded service in narak, the Hindu concept of hell, which is the havan kund or crucible, we are toughened to the point where we begin, for the first time, to understand the meaning of karma. That there is an a-priori and noble cause for this burning but the task at hand is to find out, at all cost, what does this mean within the broader perspective of virtue, which is unravelled within the broader canvas of our shastras or religious and philosophical texts.’

‘And, do you think that there is a willingness in this society, which as you rightly assess as more inclined to be moved in getting and spending, to accept this very esoteric knowledge?’

‘What the ancients have to offer has been accepted by millions of previously lost souls on the Indian Subcontinent and even in parts of China, Indo-China, Korea and even Japan. In fact, the early Christian missionaries used precisely the same tested method to convert similarly lost souls to Christianity in England and Europe and later in places like Africa and Latin America.’

‘Very ambitious, isn’t it Maharaj ji?’

‘Not any more ambitious than what Swami Vivekananda has achieved in America and in Canada, considering how they first treated him at the start of the Parliament of Religion. Anyway there is no question of ambition for such notions are generally backed or prompted by desires, which in itself is, according to Bhagavad Gita, adharmic.’

‘Why, adharmic?’

‘For one thing, the very concept of Dharma is to go with the light within a measure of essential truth.’

‘Essential truth?’

‘For one thing there is an attempt in the Katho Upanishad to clarify the issue by looking at two truths: that of preyas and that of shreyas; preyas deal with goodness or things that emanate from the good, while shreyas deal with beauty and pleasantness. They both have an element of truth to them but, etymologically speaking, goodness is closer to the elements of the Divine, and as such it embodies all that is good.’

‘You jumped from Bhagavad Gita to Upanishad, why?’

‘Because as I had mentioned Swami Vivekananda to you my mind went to a statement he had borrowed from one of Europe’s foremost philosophers, Dr. Schopenhauer, who had said, In the whole world there is no study so beneficial and so elevating as that of the Upanishads.

‘So, you would teach the Upanishads?’

‘I believe all of our shastras should be considered, in the same way that everywhere that Swamiji went he spoke from the core of consciousness driven by the shastras.’

‘So you would have no problems teaching from the Vedas, would you?’

‘I think that as long as there is a willingness to learn there should be the willingness to teach and educate.’

‘Teach and educate? What is the difference, Maharaj ji?’

‘We teach those who submit themselves for learning but we educate those that show a remarkable intentionality to enter that state of consciousness where the need to experience the divine is most apparent.’

‘So, Maharaj ji, you might have problems with the Mahimnah-stotra?’

‘In what particular way, Mataji?’

‘Take this sloka for instance, "As the different rivers, taking their start from different mountains, running straight or crooked, at last come into the ocean, so, O Shiva, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead unto Thee."’

The Maharaj seemed lost in deep thoughts for a while before he recited in Sanskrit the same verse that the old woman had translated:

trayī sānkhyayogapaśupatimatavaiṣṇavamiti prabhinne prasthāne paramidamadapathyamiti ca rucīnāvaicitryā djukuila nānāpatha juānṛṇāmeko gamyas tvamasi payasām arava iva

Then, he said in Hindi, ‘Certainly, we will all end there some time because the ocean, the mahasagar, is likened to the Great Being, which is in every bit of creation. But rather than waiting for souls to come together in that great sangam, the confluence where all meet, we should foster the spirit of compassion or sympathy rather than just toleration. After all, all of the masters of this colony would insist on toleration because that is how business is conducted.’

‘How business is conducted?’

‘In order for business to take place there must be a culture of tolerance, for this is how one demands submission. Now, in a slave culture, this is brought to the forefront and the slave is first whipped into submission and then given his task from where he will tolerate everything that the master demands. This idea is further carried into the business world where the culture is enhanced by politeness; where even to question the underlying ethical consideration might throw the culture into a tailspin and where revolt might be deduced. In this way, even though the society might be perceived as tolerant, such societies are very much the opposite: they

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