Bhagawan’s Death

This image has been used for representational purposes only. AP Photo
13 December, 2015

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.

The memory of that threat made Amara smile now. The professor had aimed the book at a man who had brandished a gun at him! But at that time, lying on that rusty cot, he had thrashed about like a bull that had lost its tail. That was to be the decisive day in his first and only love affair. He was to reach the Davangere railway station at three sharp. Kaveri was to get on the Trichy Express with him. There was a house ready for them at Madurai, and they were to be married there. Three months of hard work, thin air now. The professor would have called the police, he hoped. Mallappa could get him out again in a jiffy. But even then, getting to the station at three was impossible! The very thought frenzied him. In the meanwhile, the elderly doctor who lived in the room behind the clinic arrived. He closed his eyes and let his fingers feel the spot where Amara’s leg had broken. Soon Amara’s leg was in a plaster cast. He was advised six weeks’ rest. The doctor asked—so, you are the professor’s new student? I am going to be his student, said the professor. Sir, and when you were bereft of form/ See, I was the vehicle of wisdom/ O Lord of the Meeting Rivers!

Amara smiled again at the memory of the moment in which he’d espied that the ego dissipates when the body lies limp and powerless, like tattered garments. But back then, his hands had itched to strangle the old duffer. Soon, he was carried into an old van by some villagers. They went back to the professor’s house. Two policemen stood on guard at the door. The professor joked and chatted with them as he brought out an old wheel chair. Useful now for the first time after Ambika’s passing—he mused to himself. They carried Amara past the huge pile of books on the floor into what looked like the professor’s room and installed him on an adjustable cot. Amara flayed and twisted like a fighting bull straining at its bridle. That was a small white-washed room. There was door in front of the cot and windows on the sides. Close to the window on the right, there was a small narrow wooden cot. From where he lay, Amara could see the kitchen-door beyond the heap of books and a black-and-white photograph on the wall beside it. The professor came into the room freshly bathed and changed, his abundant white hair neatly combed. Amara noticed the small image of Basavanna hung on a small stand between the door and the smaller book-shelf. The professor lit a small lamp, meditated for a while, and then turned to Amara. Do you know who this is, he asked. Who doesn’t’? Amara was irritated. Great, said the professor, now recite a vacana? Amara’s tongue receded. This is your problem—the professor chuckled—you know Basavanna, but not a vacana. You don’t regret ignorance; neither do you respect those who know. Amara was already going mad. Stop the bloody show, I have to go—he tried to leap up to his feet. The professor laughed—didn’t you see, there are policemen outside? They’d offered protection early. Why do you think I got them to come now? Not a single creature will know that you are here! Kannama—the professor called. A young woman of about thirty in a sari and flowers in her hair came out of the kitchen briskly, carrying a plate with hot Neer Dosais and white chutney. The professor took it from her, seated himself beside Amara, and held out a piece to him. Amara froze. Something began to squirm within; it choked him. Finally, with the fallen pride of the surrendered warrior, he opened his mouth. That food was very tasty. Amara noticed the round mark that had the gun’s muzzle had pressed into the professor’s wrinkled forehead. His ego melted as he accepted his prey’s alms. His eyes reddened and grew wet. The professor smiled. He recited fondly: 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? Any idea who Bijjala was? He asked. Amara did not know. Bijjala was the king, and Basavanna was just a minister, said the professor. Still Basvanna said, “Will I fear this Bijjala?“ The professor helped him wash his mouth. He wiped his face, smoothed back his hair like a mother from a past birth. Looking deep into his agitated eyes, he said—Son, compassion is more powerful than fear. That’s what all religions forget. When you return, you must teach this to those who sent you here.

Amara saw that he comprehended those words only now. But back then, he had seethed with contempt at the old idiot who thought that food and tea were weapons of destruction. He didn’t need a gun, he needed just a small knife—he’d have drilled a hole in the old fellow’s left breast and muttered to him, you dirty old fogey, I am your God of Death. Don’t fuck with me. But before he could find anything to act on the thought, the professor’s friends arrived. Four Hindus, a Christian, and two Muslims. Two of them women. The old man apparently lived with his students who visited their families on weekends once in two weeks and returned on mid-Monday mornings. The professor also travelled on weekends. That’s why early morning on Monday was chosen as the auspicious hour—to finish him off. The house woke up. The young people got the ladder back on its feet, rearranged the books, laughed, chatted, argued. The room was restored and the professor now led a discussion. He read out poetry. In between he came to look out for Amara. At night, all of them including Kannamma, sat down on mats unrolled around his cot and ate supper. The professor fed him, talking all the while of profound-sounding stuff. The cow is a mother to me too, said the ever-smiling Shahid, my mother sent me to school with the money she got from selling the milk of our dappled cow, Leila. Faith is like a cow, said the professor. Its milk can sustain a whole family. But it won’t produce milk for everyone; it will also kick people it does not like. But, mused Kannamma, no one gets killed by the Gomata. The short-haired Anusha laughed and questioned, “Who told you? Even in the US, twenty two people die each year from cow-attacks!” But then aren’t cows as diverse as humans, the professor asked. They are of so many kinds: intelligent ones, untameable ones, clean ones, ones who like to wander about, ones who remember grudges and return the favour later, some who love the master more than their own calves...the laughter and the joking went on till all of them retired for bed. Only the professor remained. This is the first time I’m having company in this room after Ambika died ten years back, he said. You are lying on her cot—look, this is her—he pointed to the picture hung on the wall behind. Was taken when we had to apply for my pension, he sighed, looking at his serious-looking wife’s face. He then bent down and fished something from under the pillow. Amara saw his gun in the professor’s hands. His heart leapt. The professor chortled merrily–don’t hurry so, Son. A broken bone is like a broken love. It takes time to heal, there is no other medicine. Time—give it time. Admit defeat, surrender. After six weeks, you will heal. Then, walk up on your two legs, pull it out by yourself–it will stay here till then. Oh yeah, the day I pick it up ... revenge surged inside Amara. The professor put it back, stretched out on the cot, and switched the light off. After a moment, his voice rose from the darkness: No, Son, after that day, you will not kill. Can there be Action with no Heart in it?/ Can there be Life without Knowledge? /Can there be Faith with no Wisdom? /Can there be Meditation that knows not One’s fellow-beings?/ O Lord of the Meeting Rivers!

The rain poured outside as Amara squirmed uneasily, gnashing his teeth, scratching at his left thigh through a seemingly endless night. He now smiled at the recollection. The professor fell asleep quickly, but how could the bull stricken by the flare of red find rest? He wanted to clamber on to his feet, but knew well that it was wiser to wait till his leg healed. His limbs ached; his heart all the more. Mallappa must have got the news of his confinement here? Sivappa and Arya who escaped on the bike must have told him? Did Kaveri wait at the station? Did she think that he was a cheat? Did her tender heart break? The macho man in him melted. At some point, the tears flowed free. He had never wept after the age of eight, after the charred bodies of his father and uncles, who had been on a pilgrimage to Ayodhaya, were brought back home. The light came on in the room then. The professor got up and came over to sit by his side, looking intently into his eyes. Amara flushed; in a moment, the embarrassment flared into anger. But the depth of the concern in the professor’s aged eyes touched him somewhere. Oh, the man who came to murder now weeps like a petulant child who lost a game? He wiped Amara’s tears. I wish you used words instead of bullets. Did Basavanna sing in vain? Look, O Lord of the Meeting River/ All that stands will perish / The one that moves/ It alone will survive. Son, religions are not bullocks that run ahead pulling the cart; they stand still and try to break its wheels. Do not weep, his age-worn fingers caressed Amara’s forehead. Son, the gun can only kill, but words give rise to life.

Amara smiled again through his tears as that night drifted back into his mind. What a night it was! The word revives, it gives life. That’s why Basavanna called his discoveries vacana—the Utterance. He slept deeply for the first time. It was the professor’s agonised voice full of pain and anger that roused him in the morning. “Drink the blood of some! Spew out riches for others! It’s scary to open the newspapers now, children! Pictures of police beating up people stripped naked! Or images of murdered girls! Look how she lies, who killed her? It’s this I’ve preached against all my life. How can a God who curses its own creation be God? The earth’s the same/ for the low-born hovel, and for Siva’s abode/ The same water, for your bath, and for your prayer/ The same lineage, for he who has known himself/ O Lord of the Meeting Rivers!

Amara recalled that morning with a sigh. Shahid and Kiran had helped him as usual with his morning routine. The channel reporters are here to ask about the anti-dalit atrocity in Davangere, they told him. The professor came in later; he and Meghnad wiped him and fed him breakfast. They had bought him new dhotis and shirts. From that day onwards, they would shift his cot to the professor’s lecture-room. For the first time after he’d left school, Amara sat–no, reclined–in a class. He couldn’t make sense of everything the professor said. But he did spy the light of admiration in the eyes of the students. He heard them raise questions; he listened to the professor’s responses. Suraj, quieter than others, asked him his name. The professor replied–the same as mine–Bhagawan. The hundred books I wrote are my children. This one is my hundred-and-first son! And so now I declare myself Dhritarashtra! All of them laughed. Were Rama and Krishna really born; did they walk the earth, Amara wanted to know. Rama we know from Valmiki’s Ramayana; he is but a man in it. The Rama we know now is the God that men created out of that man. There are some experiences you have to endure all by yourself to know them: hunger, love, lust, death. No one else can share them. Your hunger is yours alone. So also, God. If there is indeed God, Man must know him all by himself. Man creates the Gods he needs. So many such were fashioned and abandoned in the course of time. The ones who survived are those who won the tussle for power. Look, not one of the Gods of today was born of Woman. When Women lost power in time, their Gods waned and withered. He recited, When the moon rises, The sea too swells, Sir/ But when Rahu eclipsed the moon, did the sea thrash and wail?/ When the Muni offered away the sea in prayer, did the moon protest?/ No one has any other, but You/ O Refuge of the World, My Lord of the Meeting Rivers!

When the professor gave him his medicines after supper, he asked–tell me, what is your name? My name? Amara hesitated. No, in my heart, your name is Bhagawan—the professor said. Tell me, O Bhagawan, how many have you freed from their earthly confines? Amara was flustered at the question but he recovered, holding up the three fingers of his left hand. But I haven’t been implicated in a single police case, he added quickly. The professor sighed deeply–does that absolve you? And–how... how could you do it? The professor’s trembling fingers gripped Amara’s hand as words struggled within. Then, barely murmuring, he recited, Sir, you who came as the moving force/ Stirring my very existence/ See how I became your vehicle, your devotee/ See this, O Lord of the Meeting Rivers! Did you press the barrel on the forehead like last time, he asked. He touched his forehead with his index finger. One more moment, and a red star would’ve risen here–he smiled. Red star? Amara was taken aback. Oh, this is the problem with you, the professor pouted–you know how to shoot but you don’t know that when you shoot in contact range, the wound will be star-shaped. Hey boy, the bullet’s force pierces the skin first and then shatters the skull. Because you stood so close, I would have heard the shot only a few moments after it passed through my brain, and that too, just a tiny sound. Amara stared at him, horrified. He smiled again and caressed Amara’s forehead. One more thing—his voice faltered now—Son, has you never known the kind of love that would have held you back?

Amara’s heart turned tender even now when he recalled how his enmity had melted away completely by the third day. He had begun to feel that this was his home since long–that his roots were here. Life fell into a proper rhythm now. Poetry now lit up in him; stories moved him to tears. With Anusha and Farida, the habit of reducing all girls other than Kaveri to breasts and bums began to leave him. He could now laugh at Shahid’s jokes. Stanley’s keen mind filled him with wonder. He learned to diligently follow the Dalit woman Kannamma’s instructions. On the fourth day, the professor asked him, how many books have you read? Amara melted into air. The professor’s face turned red as though he were in pain. His eyes welled. I will punish you for murder and maiming–the Kannada translation of the Valmiki Ramayana, you must indeed read it before you start out for the next killing. This fat book? Amara’s eyes nearly popped out. But the professor went on with reading from it and teaching him. When Amara healed enough to support himself on his legs and walk slowly, he led him to the black-and-white photograph on the wall. Gandhiji’s last photo, he said, the wound was in his chest. Look at his gait. No matter how one fired, the bullet would hit the chest. That night, the professor drew the gun out from under his pillow. Come, he said, take this. Amara felt himself sinking in shame. The professor put it back and told him: you may pick it up any time you want. But not when I am awake. If I see it, I may retell Basavanna’s words to you: Stand beside a burning hearth one may/ But not when the surrounding fence is on fire/ O Lord of the Meeting Rivers! ...

Amara now regretted that he did not have the sense to tell the professor about Kaveri the very first day. Son, are you in love? The professor had asked when he sought permission to go home. The lights had been switched off and they had retired; in the darkness, he hid his bashfulness and hesitantly, haltingly, told the professor about Kaveri. The professor was awestruck when he heard of how Amara had gone to beat up the Dalits who had entered the temple, and how she had dealt with him with a firm, long kiss. Be polluted, she had cursed, thrusting her tongue into his mouth. He decided to kill her. He searched the streets a whole month and found her out. She was teaching a group of children on the veranda of her tiny hut. He stood outside, wary of pollution. She asked aloud from the veranda–who is the Architect of the Indian Constitution? He did not know. She and her students roared with laughter. Angered, he leapt in and grabbed her. She told him then, all right, I’ll say you are a man, but first tell me which the eight fundamental rights of the Indian Citizen are. Any dog can clamber on a woman, if you are smart, wrestle me down with your knowledge! I’ll sleep with you happily. He hit her; she laughed. He tailed her for a few days so that she would be frightened; she kept laughing. In between, sometime, he fell in love with her. He feared that he would lose her. That’s not love, she complained. Then slowly, she began to melt and yield. It grew stronger, and one day, Amara’s brother-in-law beat up her father. Amara’s sister slapped him. Brother-in-law complained to Mallappa. Use and throw that daughter of a bitch, Mallappa advised him. Amara looked ready to break with him. Mallappa now softened towards their union. But it was then that the professor suggested somewhere that the Bhagwad Gita ought to be consigned to the flames. Hearing Amara tell his story, the professor sighed. His heart pounding, Amara said–she must have waited at the railway station that day and returned home. I’m hoping my family doesn’t harm her. What railway station? The professor cut in quick. He stumbled up unmindful of the dark to the other room to search for an old newspaper. Switching on the light, he showed him a front-page photo – this isn’t her? Is it?

His eyes, smarting and dimmed by the sudden burst of light, fell on the newspaper—and stared blindly—the thought of the moment still made Amara tremble. In the image, a girl lay on her stomach, her legs torn apart. A film of blood ran from her waist to her feet covering the ground like a fine sheet of silk. A pool of blood had collected under and around her dark-coloured breasts. Her head had been smashed and her brains, scattered. No, no, I don’t see, Amara said, struggling against his eyes which were now stricken blind. He screamed his pain as he tried to leap up. The professor rubbed his chest. Stanley and Shahid who were sleeping in the other room, burst in. The professor spoke with them. They started out in Kiran’s car. The girl in the picture had indeed been Kaveri. Her house had been burned down; her father, nephews and nieces were charred to death. No case had been charged against anyone. The professor held a press conference. Rapist Seva Sangh! He roared. That night, his house was stoned. Anusha’s forehead bled. Suraj’s scooter was set alight. Shahid received death threats. Amara was shattered. The professor got the doctor to give him a tranquilizer. He sat up all night, caressing Amara’s head on his lap. The whole house stayed awake, keeping watch. Amara opened his searing eyes to see human beings all around. Ten of them, including Sundaranna, Kannamma, and the doctor. He couldn’t make out the number of Hindus among them. He did not bother to find out how many men or women there were, or how many were Muslim. They all wept for him, he could see that. He could not remember who he was, Hindu or Muslim. Everything had turned upside down. I am not Bhagawan, he muttered. Why do you sorrow for me? I want to kill them. The professor held him close with a throbbing heart–You foolish fellow, in the closed world of cattle marked for slaughter, the real punishment is being allowed to live. Have you not heard Basavanna? In a voice that almost slid into a wail, he recited, What is to come tomorrow/Indeed, let it come today/ Who fears? /Those who are born must indeed die/ O Lord of the Meeting Rivers!”

Lingering in the memory of those days, Amara winced as though a bull’s horn had pierced right through his chest. His heart was in pieces; he feared that the void would never be filled. The professor tried to calm him. He took him along on tours, taught him to use a computer. Amara regenerated himself through words and sheer grit. One day, he went to meet his sister. The house where he was born and raised felt alien. I must burn all of it, the fury raged inside him. I must burn it like they burned down her house. Must kill them all, like they killed her. Sivappa and Arya sought him there. They pitied his broken arm and leg; they tried to joke and cheer him up. Something rose up inside choking him as he sat with them. He neither spoke nor smiled. Ah, the devil has possessed him, lamented his sister. The closed world of cattle marked for slaughter nauseated him. It is best that they live until death, he saw. Like a newborn calf finds its mother’s udders, Amara found his way back to the professor’s house. The professor’s student, Dr Sahir, was researching the Valmiki Ramayana at Kuvempu. The professor sent Amara along with Kiran to Sahir. There, he finished reading the Valmiki Ramayana. The yawning gap between Valmiki’s Rama and Mallappa’s Rama made him laugh for a long time. The months hurtled past fast and furious like a bullock-cart-race. He read Vyasa and the Bhagawad Gita. Like the professor he now woke early and read with a vengeance. Basavanna’s vacanas now flitted easily in his memory. Every Friday, he went to the professor. He had given up police protection, and so Amara stayed with him on weekends. The professor read his interpretation of Basavanna’s vacanas and danced for joy, forgetting his age. He hugged and kissed him, weeping and laughing at the same time. Then one day, he summoned Amara home and announced that he was giving away the house and land to a trust that would promote research on Vacanasopana. He was to be one of the trustees. Why such haste? Amara asked, puzzled. A naughty smiled played in the professor’s eyes as he recited: Son, what’s the gain from teaching the parrot to read, if it can’t sense the cat prowling? Amara could feel the thrill even today when he recited that vacana today. The eyes that see all the world/ They cannot see their own squint/ They say that they know all others/ But they know not their own/O Lord of the Meeting Rivers!

His world turned upside down again when Anusha’s family fixed her marriage. Anusha and Shahid wept as they huddled in front of the professor. He married them. The mob surrounded the Registrar’s office; there was a lathi charge. Amara smelt danger and rushed to the professor’s house. Hurrying past the front-yard covered with fallen jasmine blooms, he found the doctor check the professor’s blood pressure. He held out his emaciated arms to him, winked and smiled–see? Are not all religions alike when it comes to the crunch? Love all, command the Upanishads and the Koran. And when a woman and man fall in love? How will the Lord of the Meeting Rivers relent, Sir, if word and deed do not match?’ Amara’s eyes moistened with sorrow and fear. Take care and be free of regret, he chided. And recited a vacana besides: When the hunter brings a rabbit, It is bought with good cash. But for the Master’s body, No one will pay even an arecanut. See, Sir, how much more pitiful than the rabbit/ How wretched, The Human’s being/ O Lord of the Meeting Rivers!

That night, the professor ignored Kannamma’s and his scolding and clambered up on the wooden ladder to find Murder in the Cathedral from his bookshelf. Amara had held the ladder firmly so that he wouldn’t fall; the very thought made him shiver now. He sat with him till dawn broke, massaging his back all the while. He ruminated on the past as the professor joked, guided, instructed, admonished. But in between sometime, he fell asleep. The professor tucked him in bed and went out noiselessly. An ugly crash broke Amara’s sleep. He came out rubbing his eyes to see shattered glass in the room full of books. Gandhi’s last image rocked mildly on the wall as he saw it with blinding clarity now. A crowd watching. A man in shirt and trousers standing in attention. A black-coloured object in his right hand. Gandhi raising his arms as if to embrace. A ringing sound split through his brain when he noticed the newly-etched hole in Gandhi’s upper garment. The reek of gunpowder hurled him further into fear. On the floor by the door that opened from the grille-covered veranda into the room with ceiling-high bookshelves, the professor lay stretched out. Murder in the Cathedral lay beside him, its outer pages in disarray. Amara held the professor’s head in his hands, utterly numb. He wanted to weep, but could not. He hugged the small, frail body to his bosom. It was very warm. The face was radiant with the happiness of having attained a chosen death. The lips were curved as though to say something. Between the milky-white brows, a red star had risen. A trail of thick red blood had seeped down towards the tip of the nose like the tail of a comet.

Now, as he sat waiting for Mallappa to open his eyes on the very cot on which he himself had once lain like a tattered garment, Amara couldn’t help laughing again. The professor had words to re-shape the messenger of destruction. But Amara was not the professor, and so needed a pistol to fell Mallappa who was sorting the latest lorry-load of cattle. They had gone to Mallappa’s meat-exports factory in Stanley’s Innova. Seeing him, Mallappa frowned, raising his right hand to wipe his moustache. The red-and-yellow strands tied on his wrist glared as he asked, You? Where the hell have you been all this while, you son of a cur? The animals suffered in silence from their long transport with legs and horns tied together. They pissed and shat even in their agony; they longed to lie down as their backs ached terribly. When Amara’s bullets pulverized Mallappa’s knees, there was no sound of shattering glass. The bullets rent the flesh and got stuck in the thick mud. He fell yelling with rage like an axed tree. It was the same elderly doctor in the same clinic who removed the bullets and fixed the plaster-cast. He did not ask who, what, why. Still, Amara announced—my new student. He laid Mallappa on the same cot on which the professor had made him lie. You son of a mangy dog, what wrong did I do to you, Mallappa snarled, fighting the drugs that he had been injected with. In reply, Amara recited a favourite vacana of his: The snake-charmer and his half-nosed wife/Carry snakes and set off seeking omens for a son’s wedding/ There came towards them/Another charmer of snakes and his broken-nosed wife/Seeing them they declare, a bad omen! /O Lord of the Meeting Rivers!

Amara watched Mallappa wake up with playful interest. His opening his eyes, casting them about in puzzlement, seeing Amara in this strange place, remembering what had happened ... Mallappa pulled open his eyelids – Amara, what are you going to do to me, he bellowed. Amara pushed the low table with books piled on it towards him–the Valmiki Ramayana, the Bhagawad Gita, Vyasabharatha, Vacanasopana ...

“You have to read all of this. I will ask you questions. You must answer.”

Mallappa now snapped fully awake. Are you crazy, he muttered. Amara rubbed his chin and looked at him tenderly. I don’t know who is more crazy. But I won’t let you go unless and until you finish reading all of this. Sundaranna will bring us the milk in the morning. Kannamma will cook. Shahid, Anusha, Stanley, and Farida will keep coming. They will read, debate, laugh, discuss. We will eat together. In between, you’ll finish reading all of this. Amara went over to the other cot on the opposite side of the room, picked up the pistol, examined it, and put it under the pillow. Mallappa, once you finish reading all those books, you may pick this up, he said.

Mallappa tossed his head in frenzy, eyes bulging.

“Spit it out, who’s behind this?”

Amara could not contain his mirth.

“Who else but Bhagawan?”

“Professor Bhagawan Basavappa? Isn’t he dead?”

Dead? Bhagawan dead? Amara laughed aloud.

Night was falling. In the jasmine trellis outside, new flowers bloomed. In the pond across the road, the wary water-hens stepped carefully, leaving the lotuses unharmed. Mark this, snarled Mallappa, your butcher is on his way. What’s the gain from teaching the parrot to read/ if it can’t sense the cat prowling?’ Amara recited merrily. 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?


This story is purely fictional. Any resemblance to figures living or dead is purely an effect of the horrendous times we are living through. The text refers to the work of the vacanas–or “sayings” of the 12th century Veerasaiva poets of Karnataka who sought to question the dominance of the Vedas and the Itihasa-puranas, and forge a new faith centring on the experiences of ordinary people. Basavanna, who was a minister in the court of the Kalachuri ruler Bijjala, was a major figure in this movement. Basavanna who challenged caste and gender oppression and sought to imagine an equal society beyond them, espoused a spirituality which proclaimed that there was no one or no-thing smaller than his self.

This story was first published as Bhagawante Maranam in Samakalika Malayalam on 27 November 2015.