Amara heard Basavanna’s vacana for the very first time on the day he set out to kill the professor.
That was a Monday. The skies were overcast. Dawn stood weeping, drenched in tar. “The Divine Milkman, Krishna who milked the Upanishads with the young calf, Arjuna to draw out the Nectar of Immortality, the Gita ... Insulting it? Finish the old bugger who insulted the Gita, and in Bhagawan’s name, I’ll get you married,” Mallappa had sworn on Bhagawan—on God. Amara had set out on the strength of that oath. The plan was that it would all be over before daybreak. But the bike broke down at Melebennur. Let’s do it another day, Sivanna had pleaded. Mallappa wouldn’t budge. Arya had located the professor’s house well in advance, but they still lost their way. The twit admitted his mistake only after they had ridden ten whole kilometres after the right turn from the foot of the banyan-tree-seat. They went back and turned left. The rain now fell hard. Amara was soaked. It made him remember Kaveri. Arya lost his way again. Sivappa rained the foulest curses on his ancestors of seven generations past, his voice low, rasping, furious. In the end when they were returning they saw light in a home that stood opposite a large and tranquil pond, behind a large tangle of jasmine vines that rained flowers down on the path ahead. A plaque with a name hung on the pillar by the wall. It was half- past- five. The professor sat in the reclining chair on the veranda surrounded by a grille. He was reading. He got up and opened the door, saying, “Ah Sundaranna, you of course don’t sleep—why not spare those innocent Go-matas?” Amara had a good look at him only then. His red-bordered dhoti and vest of hand-spun cloth; the small locket of slate, the ishtalinga of the Lingayat, on his neck. Grey hair that overran his head and beard revealed more than ighty years of existence. The upright posture, but, admitted only thirty. A bushy grey moustache and thick glasses sat on his face. His brow creased seeing Amara, but the professor straightened his glasses and welcomed him in fondly. Amara didn’t ask, but the professor let him know—the milkman and newspaper boy are going to be here soon; it’s almost time the doctor on his morning walk appeared on the road. The old fucker’s bumbling, thought Amara. But it was the opposite. The professor stepped into the room in which the book shelves by the walls reached the ceiling. He now faced Amara squarely, holding on to the three-legged book-shelf ladder, chest open, eyeing him with a playful smile: Will the elephant fear the staff, Sir/ Unadorned with the lion’s claw? /Will I fear this Bijjala,/Or one other than you,/ O Ocean of Mercy, O Lord of the Meeting Rivers?
Amara’s body tingled even now when he remembered that moment. The old bugger’s cheek! Pulling himself together, Amara pressed the mouth of the pistol between the professor’s milky-white brows. His fingers gripped the trigger. But it was as though the professor hadn’t even seen the gun. Son, all religions are cows that drink nothing but blood—he said. They drink only the blood of lower caste people, the poor, the powerless. Marry a Dalit, and it will drink her blood. Marry a Brahmin, and it will drink your blood. Yesterday Basavanna, today, me. Today me, tomorrow you, O Lord of the Meeting Rivers! Amara staggered, almost feeling a kick on his face. Did the old man know, he now worried. Worry swelled into a fury. “When you take aim, be like Arjuna at Draupadi’s swayamvara, who saw nothing but the pupil of the bird in the cage set in the middle of the turning wheel,” Mallappa’s words—but they slipped his mind. Not easing his grip on the gun, Amara lunged at the professor’s throat with his left hand. The professor’s frail body shook and fell on the ladder, which then toppled over and hit one of the book shelves behind heavily. Books rained down like arrows from the old and burdened shelf. Amara opened his eyes in a government clinic with a broken right leg and arm, and a swelling above his left eyebrow. He saw an old man in a long shirt beside his bed reading a book. Fear gripped Amara; he tried to struggle on to his feet. Don’t move—ordered the professor, aiming the book at him. I should give you one with this! There is no weapon as deadly as the book.