Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who is the Loser now?

By Prajwal Kafle

It was in his eyes. He had so much to prove, so much to show, so much eagerness. It hurt me to watch him. It was uncomfortable watching the hunger of someone who felt denied his birth right.  I feared for him. If he didn’t get proper guidance, I could see that this kid was going to burn himself in the hatred of the fire that he had for the people who hurt him. I felt sad for him. I wanted to bend over and give him a hug. From behind the tree that I had been watching him for three days, I looked at him again. But I did not let my sentiments fool me. I could see that underneath the soft exterior and child-like features of this youth rumbled the emerging muscles of a man whose dawn had not arrived. A power bristled within the skin of this boy that the world would not forget too soon.

From my talk three days ago I could feel the scar across his soul where he was wronged. Nothing but restoring himself to his birthright would set things straight. That was a tall order. Many armies had been destroyed in order for Dhruva’s father to secure the empire that he sat upon. No small feat was going to make that empire change hands.

This was something that would be tough enough for a grown man to dream of, what to speak of achieve? And here was a mere child, of age five, wanting to lift a boulder when his hands could barely wrap around a large stone. Many a boy dreams of doing a grown man’s deeds before his time has come. But the determination of a child acting as a man and asking to be respected as one too…well, now there’s something you don’t see everyday.

This is what had gotten my attention. Of course my friends in Naimisharanya ashram wouldn’t bat an eye if they heard that. ‘That’s the problem,’ they would say. ‘Too many things arouse your curiosity, Narada. Take a vacation.’ I only smile at their words. Curiosity, is my nature. I fly around picking up the interesting events of the universe as I admire the Lord’s creation. ‘Someone has to,’ I shrug to them and smile. My friends only shake their heads looking at me affectionately. They know I’ll never change.

Pursuing my latest interest, I had prickled a boy who turned out to be more of a man than I had initially given him credit for. I wanted to see what he was really made of. So I tried to make him dance and sing a bit. And even while I did poke and prod him with my words, a certain peculiar fear went up within me. I smiled to myself uncomfortably.

When a person with nothing seeks the impossible, it is amusing indeed. But when I see that this kid is serious and is ready to do whatever it takes to make his dream a reality, a different emotion grabbed me. It was then that I bowed to his determination.

I slowly walked out of the trees that I had been hiding for the last few days and moved towards Dhruva. His eyes were closed. It was obvious he was in deep meditation.

“Dhruva, perhaps I know a few things about worshipping Vishnu. Why don’t you give me a chance. I may be able to teach you a few things that might come useful to you in your quest…”

Dhruva’s eyes opened slowly. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the sunlight streaming down where I was standing underneath the thick canopy of leaves and branches. His eyes changed in recognition as he seemed to slowly take in what I said.

“Oh, so now you know how to reach Vishnu? What happened?” He slowly said. His eyes looked sullen.

Though I nodded, I had caught the sarcasm in his voice and so stayed silent.

“But just a few days ago you were telling me to go home. You told me that I was a mere kid and had no business being in the jungle. You were making fun of me that my soft palms were like a girl’s. You thought my limbs were meant for the plushness of opulent sofas, not for the harshness of the bark of tree trunks. Those are not words of a friend,” Dhruva said. “And now, you…you want me to listen and take instructions from you? You expect me to believe you?”

My face softened as I attempted a smile of neutrality. I blinked several times while observing the rage in the face of this Chhetri boy.

Slowly I spoke in my softest voice, “I needed to know you were serious Dhruva. And for the last few days I have been watching you from behind the trees over there.” I pointed. Dhruva looked in the direction I was pointing. His eyes were blank.

“Why did you make fun of me then?” Dhruva said.

“Finding Vishnu is not a small thing, Dhruva. Grownups smash their head and destroy their lives searching for him. Look at you. Judging by the jewels and ornaments around your neck and arms, you look like a play boy. You’re decked up in the latest fashion. It is hard to take you seriously as someone eager to find God. You look like someone who is ready to go to a party. I wanted to put a couple of sweets in your hands and tell you to go home. When I saw you the other day it was hard for me to believe that you truly were capable…that you had what it took. Those who take up tasks in anger and angst generally give it up once the burn of the emotion has lost ground. I thought you would whimper away at the roughness of the jungle after a few hours of being out here. I expected you to tuck the pleat of your dhoti between your legs and waddle back to your father’s palace.”

“I do not waddle!” Dhruva’s voice echoed through the forest as he pointed his shaking fore finger at me. Winged creatures from surrounding trees took flight. Dhruva’s eyes looked murderous. “And I will never…never go back to my father’s palace as long as she…my step-mother is there. You hear me? Never.” Dhruva’s five year-old chest heaved up and down as he breathed hot air through his nostrils. His eyes were reddish. “Only Vishnu can help me. I will go back there when Lord Vishnu will help get me what is mine.”

“I realize that now Dhruva. Perhaps it took me a while to understand how you truly felt.” I paused. “We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I’m not that bad of a person. Maybe I can try again. Will you give me another chance?”

Dhruva watched me without a care.

“My name is Narada. Perhaps you have heard of me?”

Color came to Dhruva’s eyes as his voice softened. “The sage….Narada?”

I closed both my eyes and nodded once.

“But you…what are you doing here in this jungle out here in nowhere?” Dhruva asked.

I smiled, “Oh prince, I suppose I could ask you the same thing. But life takes us to places we least expect. And that is what makes life interesting, wouldn’t you say? I myself do not know where I will find myself next. The breeze of the Lord’s will carries me to strange and distant places. Narayana, Narayana.”

Dhruva, unfolded his legs from the base of the peepal tree that he was sitting under. He brushed some fallen leaves that were stuck to his dhoti as he stood up trying to make himself presentable. He walked towards me and crumbled to the ground in prostration.

“I’m sorry if I insulted you, sage Narada,” Dhruva’s tearful voice said. “I only wanted to find Vishnu. Everybody that I asked since I left the palace has made fun of me. I am seen as the deprived prince. In the eyes of the public, I am a loser…” Dhruva’s sobs increased into a throaty cry. A wailing tune emerged from his lungs as he cried into the leaves on the ground in front of my feet.

My vina slung around my shoulder swung to the left as I reached down to pick him up. I wrapped my right hand around the shoulder of the trembling prince and massaged it gently. “It is alright, Oh Prince. You did not offend me. I am not offended that easily. For a trouble maker like me who enjoys teasing and prodding other people with my mischief, getting offended easily would be a bad career move. Don’t you think?”

Dhruva managed to release a reluctant gasp of chuckle between his sobs.

“Wipe away those tears and come with me, Oh Prince. If you are truly serious about your quest then there is much work to be done. There is little time to be absorbed in self-lamentation for those who truly seek the lotus feet of Vishnu.”

Dhruva dragged the back of his hand across his tear creased cheeks. A dark smudge etched on the side of his head.

I stood up and looked around me. My mind went through all the arrangements that needed to be made. Strumming my vina, always helped me to think. I started to hum, “Narayana, Narayana,” as I looked around me.

This was a good spot in the sense that it was far away from any villages. The boy would not be disturbed by any hunter or woman gathering fire wood for the kitchen. That left only the wild animals. Only Lord Vishnu seeing the sincerity in Dhruva’s heart could save him from those.

“Narayana, Narayana,” I sang, as the fingers on the strings of my vina plucked out a familiar tune.

I made an assessment of the list of mantras and slokas that I needed to impart to him. Ultimately all these were just rituals. They were simply mediums and disciplines to exercise the heart. The sages know that the heart, whether physically or emotionally, cannot be exercised directly. To exercise the heart physically, the largest muscles in the body must be exercised, and then when the heart pumps blood, the heart is exercised. Those who teach astanga-yoga are well versed in this science.

Similarily, the spiritual heart also cannot be exercised directly. This is where the mantras and slokas came in. By exercising our lips and wrapping our tongue and our minds around these mantras, we tune our spiritual heart. It is this tune, perfected to the proper pitch that enters into the conch-like ears of Lord Vishnu once it has attained a certain frequency. It is the sound of this music played in different melodies by the expert artisan that  pleases Vishnu. This is the art of bhakti. It was this that I needed to explain to Dhruva. I wondered how long it would take to convey these ideas to this five year old when most adults can barely grasp the subtleties of this science.

I abide by my own ethical standards. In my career so far I have not walked away from someone sincerely looking for Vishnu even if they have been in an animal body. What to speak of someone in a human body? The fact that he was in a child’s body was irrelevant as long as Dhruva was sincere. Lord Vishnu does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race or any other bodily criteria for those to attain him. My friends in Naimisharanya like to joke saying that Lord Vishnu is an equal opportunity spiritual employer of love. Pure devotion was the only requirement. Being a servant of the Lord, I have taken an unofficial vow to help all those I came across in my travels who sincerely sought the lotus feet of Vishnu. I would spend as much time as Dhruva required for him to be prepared for his quest for Vishnu.

I left Dhruva after two weeks. I was surprised as to how much he picked up. I have gone back to the peepal tree in regular intervals since then. I went 2 months after I left him. I went 6 months after I left him and then after a year. What can I say? I was encouraged in my own devotion to Vishnu seeing that boy’s example. He has sat like a rock in the form that I left him meditating. He looks beautiful. I went close to him and cocked my ear near his body. I can hear the rhythmic hum of the mantra, “Om namo bhagavate Vasudevayah” coming from his gullet. ‘Good boy,’ I said to him mentally. I left shaking my head with a smile. I prayed to Vishnu that Dhruva’s wish be granted soon.

In my friend circles I have a reputation. My friend’s accuse me that I cannot help but gossip when I see things that astound me. ‘Narada,’ they tell me, ‘You are like a giddy teenage girl in the sense that no topic of gossip stays in your stomach for too long. You feel the need to whisper around whatever you see around the universe. Do you know how much trouble you create with your incessantly relaying the business of one person to another?’

What can I say but blush at their teasing words? I am guilty. Should I apologize that all the vibrant colors in the universe fascinate me?

‘Call me shamelessly biased,’ I tell them, not to be outdone, “but I like to take my actions positively. I feel I am simply cross-pollinating the universe with transcendental news.’

My friend’s laugh at my words.

I tell them, ‘What is to happen is in the will of the Lord. Don’t kill the messenger.”

“Well it seems you’ve been ‘messengering’ quite well. Neighborhoods are alive discussing Dhruva’s meditation,” one of the sages in Naimasranya said.

I can understand that. Wherever I go, people want the latest update on Dhruva. “Be patient, be patient,” I tell them. But word has gotten around. Everyone is talking. Parents trying to discipline their stubborn daughters are saying, “If you keep acting naughtily like this, you will never attract a husband like Prince Dhruva. You will end up in the house of a drunkard who is going to beat you. Now go clean your room!”

“How much longer do you think it will be before Dhruva attracts Lord Vishnu’s attention, O’ Narada?” they ask me. I can only weigh down my lower lip and shrug. “That is in His will,” I say, pointing to the sky. Who can order Vishnu around by their terms?

But nevertheless I can feel that something is happening. There is a rattle in the universe at the atomic level. I can feel the vibration of the universe change. There is something in the air. And it is distinct. My friend’s in Naimisharanya confirmed what I was feeling also. They said they could feel it too. If this continues, something was definitely going to happen, and soon. And it wasn’t going to be all good for everyone. This is why there is a sense of excitement in the neighborhoods of the demigods and why there is a bit of shakiness and dread in the houses of the demons. Despite what the politicians in the Maharaj’s courts would like the common man to believe, I’ve always said that any type of change of this sort does not affect all of the people the same way. The cleansing of the universe through a change of consciousness by transcendental vibration scares the day-lights out of some.

‘Mark my words,’ I’ve told everyone.

I went to the place where all of this started, to the palace of Maharaja Uttanapada, Dhruva’s father. His step-wife was busy making arrangements at the palace. I just watched, and for a change, said nothing.

To be continued…

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