“Hari Om Hari Om,” Babaji strolled across the pandal with folded hands greeting everyone his eyes could meet. Each day he walked into the place with the same zeal, and anticipation of a better day. And why not? This was his house, no, in fact, it was his home.
It was a place where he never had to pretend. A place where he was not only accepted but respected with great stature. A place where he would not be judged for his career choices. A place where creative brilliance was applauded. A place where he could worship his god, only in the way he wanted. But, finally, it was where his dominance prevailed and people submitted to it without dissent.
The enthusiasm in his face suddenly vanished. His cheeks swell, and his face turned red. He abruptly cascaded towards the exit. The new recruits stood flabbergasted, “Is he choking on something?” one muttered. “This job too will crash before take-off,” the other slapped his forehead.
The new boys ran behind Babaji, less to help him, more to prove themselves heroic. Babaji held the gate with his left hand, drew his right hand near his face making a scissored sign with his fingers around his mouth. And spewed a blood spring on the road. The next thing you knew, he was back in action.
“So, did you save him from the volcanic eruption of paan residue?” I asked the newbie and couldn’t contain my laughter.
“Beta Reena, seems you are overjoyed today. Good!” he smiled, “Save some energy because you have a great role to play.”
“Great role, is it? Babaji, Hindu mythological stories run down my veins now. What could probably be different? Either I am a damsel in distress, or I am the saviour Goddess. Anything in between doesn’t matter, right?” I mocked.
“Hari Om! Beta damsel in distress sounds so downtrodden. These women are worshipped, They were all incarnations or avatars of the Tridevi – Lakshmi, Saraswati or Parvati. They knew all along what they were doing.”
“And still, they never questioned? They never said a word when they were deprived of their rights?” I scorned.
“Rights? You have become such a Sherni, Durga Maata!” Babaji bowed down to me with folded hands.
“The almighty has a knack to address us. He gave us the various Vedas, epics, Puranas, to teach us a way to lead a life of righteousness. It is all a part of a divine plan.”
“His plan surely capsized, when Sita Ma was questioned a zillion times about her chastity,” I did not want to offend Babaji, he was like a father figure to me. But I couldn’t resist anymore.
“Beta, I understand your angst. But let me explain it to you. Are you living in a free country?”
“Yes. India is a free country, with freedom of expression.”
“So, you can go about talking, walking, and doing whatever you wish without any constraints, right? Then, why do people get arrested for a crime?”
“This argument is so irrelevant.”
“Okay, let me put it this way. Why are there traffic signals on the road? You must have studied this in the school itself.”
“Simple, so that there is no chaos and people don’t haphazardly bombard each other.”
“Exactly my point. Though we are free to do as we wish, still an amount of discipline is mandatory. The traffic signal is one such self-restraint provided by the government. Coming back to our point of crime. For that too, our government has written n-number of rules and regulations in the Indian Penal code. This ensures that we try to lead a conscientious and ethical life.”
“Babaji, you are running and grazing around the bush and not coming to the point,” I was restless.
“Beta, my point is God takes avatars to make us realise what is good, and bad and to bestow us the ability to differentiate between them. He not only destroys the evil but also commits a few mistakes himself to guide us. I personally feel it must have been very hard on him to do such a thing.”
“Is this your answer for the injustice done to Sita Ma in Ramayana?”
“I am not defending Lord Vishnu. I am trying to re-iterate that whatever he does, he does for good.”
I was surely not convinced. He had blind faith in his God. As a youngster, he ran away from his home, in search of better prospects in the acting field. He did odd jobs to sustain himself, but finally worked his way to build a theatre company of his own.
He attributed everything in his life to Lord Vishnu. And maybe that was one of the very reasons why he showcased Lord Vishnu or any other God/demigod only as a person of great value.
His directorial excellence was such, that many people urged him to script a drama with all the masala a Bollywood movie would have. But he would politely ignore and stick to his work. He had directed innumerable mythological plays for nearly three decades.
“So what next Babaji? Am I playing the woman deceived by her loved one, or am I the slayer of demons, or am I the forlorn Shakuntala?”
“No no, the audience is changing. They do not want to watch the same stories repeatedly. I had a few ideas, from the Mahabharata, like the story of Daksha, the serpent lord; the story of Yashaswini; also the story of Arjuna: how and when he was cursed to become a eunuch. But then all these stories need large sets, which I believe is difficult in such a short time.”
“Short time? When do we plan to enact it?”
I stared in disbelief. It would be a herculean task to memorize the dialogues in such a short time. And a new story would surely make the task difficult.
“Don’t worry Reena. We will get started immediately.”
“Hope at least this new story changes your view about the divine. Hari Om,” and he gestured the newbies to come closer and sit beside him.
“Did I miss anything?” Ravi hustled into the pandal blowing a chewing gum.
As much as Babaji admired Ravi’s acting prowess, he despised him as a human being.
“Never on time,” Babaji smirked and later blessed him as Ravi touched Babaji’s feet in respect.
Ravi was the life of our troupe. He was jovial, outgoing yet we all knew that when it came to important matters of life, he would be selfish. He was flamboyant and self-centred. No wonder Babaji, maintained a stoic attitude towards him.
A chance acting opportunity changed into a profession for Ravi. He never worshipped his skills, nor did he forgo from a hundred per cent performance.
We all were pretty convinced that he will leave the drama company for better prospects and huge earnings.
“Please settle down everyone. It’s getting late,” and Babaji started the narration.
“Hari Om. As I was saying, there is a reason for what God always does. Let’s go back to why the demon Ravana kidnapped Sita Ma and Sri Ram had to suffer the pain of separation.”
Ravi and I looked at each other.
“Sita suffered it seems?” I exclaimed.
“Sri Ram is God it seems,” he teased.
I was unaware of the emotional turmoil which was about to come.
“The story begins when Indra (King of demigods) and Brahaspati (sage) walk towards mount Kailash to meet Lord Shiva. They come across a Yogi at the entrance blocking their path. Indra tried to wake him from his meditative state in vain. Enraged, Indra warns the yogi to either move or be hit with his thunderbolt.
Little did he know that the yogi was Lord Shiva himself. Shiva’s fury knew no bounds. As was expected, his third eye opened ajar.
Both Indra and Brahaspathi were aware of the repercussions and fell at Shiva’s feet, begging for forgiveness.
Hari Om, since the Lord is full of mercy, he directed his anger into the ocean.
The vast ocean moulded the anger into a young handsome boy.
When the ocean enquired with Lord Brahma about the boy, he blessed that the boy will be the king of Asuras. Brahma prophesied that the boy will be killed by the one who created him.
Later the boy was named Jalandhara and Lord Varuna raised him. Later Sage Shukra, who was the royal guru of the Asuras, took Jalandhara under his wings.
This was the beginning of the unrest in the heavens,” Babaji paused and gulped a pot full of water.
“Mind your language, Ravi. Oh Lord forgive this ignorant fellow,” Babaji said touching the Hanuman dollar dangling in his neck.
“Sorry, Babaji. But isn’t it the same story on repeat mode? Some demigod will commit a mistake or give a foolish unwanted boon to someone. And finally, one of the Trimurthy’s; mostly Lord Vishnu has to run to their rescue. Why are they even called Gods if they are not perfect?”
“Oh come on Ravi, now you don’t start off. You are not even a religious man. Leave religion, you are an atheist if I am not wrong. So all this is completely out of your reach,” Babaji scorned.
“Don’t get angry darling,” Ravi hugged Babaji, “All I am saying is that, all these stories are made up by man. I believe that there must be some higher power, but I fail to agree with these stories.
Love, hate, greed, selfishness, selflessness, every emotion makes up a man. And we should accept them as it is. I am pretty sure what the next turn of events will be in this story.”
“Oh is it? Mr Know it all. Please say so.”
Ravi stood up dramatically, drew his fist near his mouth as if holding a mike. He cleared his throat and narrated his version of the story.
“So where were we? Yes, Jalandhara was born. The young handsome boy grew up into a rapacious and macho Asura. He was as strong as Varuna, the wind god, as intelligent as his creator, Lord Shiva. Soon, he became the king of Asuras and soon every god, demigod, asura, rakshasa, was frightened of him.
He yearned to rule all three worlds,” Ravi was interrupted by Babaji.
“That was later. But he wanted to return whatever Lord Varuna had lost to the Gods during the Samudhra manthan. And yes, he also wanted to rule the Gods.”
“See, poor Jalandhara. Where was his fault, if he wanted to expand his empire. Emperors did the same for ages, isn’t it? That is what I am trying to prove. There is no God, and all these stories are made up. They are a hindrance to a man’s desire to succeed in life. They make him feel bound by values and pseudo righteousness, which in turn become permanent blocks standing between him and his goals in life. This is the reason why man perpetually feels that it is a sin to be happy. “
Though Ravi seemed to have a point, still I felt he lingered to the other extreme of spirituality: the complete disbelief in it.
I had to halt their discussion somehow, otherwise, a third world war was sure to break out.
“Ravi Guruji please be patient. Babaji, in this whole story where am I? A female character does not seem to exist. Or would I have to dress like a man this time?”
“No beta. You have a very important role. You are Vrunda.”
“Yes, Vrunda. She was the daughter of one of the Asuras but was a very pious woman. She had undergone rigorous penance, for which she was blessed. She was blessed that his husband will be immortal and she will never be a widow.”
When such a piece of news, was in the air, our beloved Jalandhara would have sprung into action,” Ravi smiled.
“Yes, he indeed did. He proposed and married Vrunda.”
My mind was already afloat. So Vrunda is the scapegoat. As in most mythological stories, here too. My heart raced in action to know what happened to her, but my brain held me back. Surely an Asura’s wife will not have an easy way.
Would the Gods destroy an innocent woman first, and then walk up to kill her husband? Would this be accepted? A hundred questions flashed my mind. Babaji shook me back from my reverie.
“As I said she was a virtuous woman but someone had to break the blessing. Someone had to bear the brunt It was none other than Lord Vishnu.
He did the most immoral and evil deed one could do.”
“Who? Lord Vishnu did it?” I was surprised
“Yes, my dear. I am sure, he must have repented for his deeds. Also, it takes a great heart to leave your morals behind and do the undoable.”
I was transfixed as I heard Babaji utter the words. Shockwaves of disbelief and disgust ran through my veins.
Was Lord Vishnu still the sweet naughty Krishna that I admired? Was he the great king and beloved husband whom I prayed? None of the stories I had performed so far, showed this face of the Lord. I felt betrayed. Not that I am an ardent devotee. Nor am I very religious. But a part of me raked for justice. Justice for the poor woman whose modesty was breached.
“So Lord Vishnu wasn’t punished? He is the Lord of Lords. Who will punish the boss?” Ravi chuckled.
“No no, he was. Vrunda cursed him that he will turn into a stone. She cursed him that he will also suffer from the pain of separation from his wife. She cursed him that the whole world will question his wife’s dignity and chastity.
Still, the Lord blessed her. He blessed that she be born as Tulsi (basil leaf). The sacred plant which we pray to. What mercy!” Babaji dramatically flashed his hands upwards, pointing towards the sky.
“That is the reason, my dear children, why Lord Ram had to suffer. Poor Ram, was not only separated from his wife but his kids too. And when finally they met Sita Ma went back to her mother,” Babaji claimed proudly.
“That’s it? Babaji you are still talking about the greatness of your God after he deceived a woman?” I was blinded by emotions.
“See, I told you to look at the greater good.”
“I fail to see the larger picture Babaji. I see only a helpless woman. A woman who married a man and dreamed of a life with him. A woman who was so innocent of the wrongdoings of her husband as well as the Gods. What did you say Babaji? Lord Vishnu entered her room and hugged her?”
“Beta, for God everyone is a child. Think on those lines.”
“What? Someone is disguised like your husband and enters your room? How am I supposed to think that it is okay. Imagine the pain, disbelief and disgust Vrunda would have gone through Why is it always a woman whose life or virtue needs to be sacrificed?” I argued.
“Reena beta, chill. There is no time to waste in these vile discussions, let’s start rehearsals,” Babaji ordered.
I was left in between two extremes, one with extreme devotion, the other who was an atheist and me: who was now sure that innocent lives are puppets to the Lord.
The theatre was set and the play began, Vrunda to Tulsi was the name of the show. With each dialogue rendition, there was thunderous applause from the audience. Finally, the scene arrived. I had to walk up to the door and open it. Greet the Lord disguised as my husband. But my feet froze. My conscience would not let Vrunda suffer at the mistakes committed by others. My soul would not allow another Vrunda to be butchered as a victim.
I heard Babaji shout from a distance, “Open the door, Reena.”
With a heavy heart, I finally opened the door.
Author’s note: A brief about Jalandhara: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jalandhara
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