Poetry and Fiction - The secret life
by Makarand Paranjape
pondering over the secret significance of his life.
It is not as if he has not known
how it would all end.
Everything has been shown him beforehand:
"You'll lose her and she'll go so far away
that you may never see her again.
One day, you'll wake up, bereft, in a cold, empty bed.
Then, for years, your eyes will pine to catch just a glimpse of her face..."
Such was the Guru's blessing.
And he had seen it all
much before it happened
And yet, he couldn't resist the force of the boon,
and was swept along.
He saw a caravan of camels, slowly
trudging across the golden sands of the desert,
carrying a princess' dowry. His bride
was starting her long journey towards him,
from distant lands where the laws and customs
are different. He could not even see her face
beneath her veil but he could recognize those eyes anywhere.
How carefully had her family prepared
for this day, storing up and saving,
through feast and famine. And he also saw
as if in a swift replay, all the hours she
herself sat up by an oil-lamp, painstakingly
working on her trousseau. All that delicate
embroidery, the napkins, table cloths, and bed sheets,
all those colorful vases which she herself had painted,
and in her spare time, the dolls she'd made
out of rags, and the jewelry from bits of glass,
not knowing, all along, whom she would bestow herself
and all this treasure upon.
Only, she prayed to her Pir:
"Marry me off to a good man, that's all I ask."
And their wedding, how suddenly it happened,
the nikah namah drawn up overnight,
after he suddenly recognized who she was,
the swiftest conclusion of the terms of the contract,
the clandestine ceremony, with only two witnesses,
and then fleeing from feuding clans under cover Of darkness.
His bride, how she offered herself to him
in such sacred secrecy, the petalled perfection
of white limbs which no man before had touched or seen
and yet, how little he knew her. Still she
shielded her face from his direct gaze,
pleading: "Not now, not now", many times,
hiding those eyes which even the moon
hadn't espied, "trust me and wait for the right time".
And after the joining of passion and prayer,
she had washed herself, sat down before
her shrine, and shut her eyes. Her lips moved;
he could hear her clearly: she was actually talking
to God, in such low, intimate tones, as if she's
known him for ages. Afterwards, she lifted her
Pir's picture to her forehead and then
uncovering her face, said: "Now look."
In her eyes, he saw figures, events, and happenings
from another age and time. He saw ancient, bearded
women, with strange eyes, turning their beads in some
faraway sanctuary. He saw men in flowing robes and turbans.
Ethereal music in the watches of the night,
chanting and clapping, incense and rose petals.
There the days were cool and the nights warm,
and the doors remained open day and night
for everyone, the beaten, the bruised, the defeated,
the outcast, the abandoned, even to dogs, cats, and cattle,
not to speak of birds and insects. The water in the baoli
was clear and sweet: here the very trees seemed to laugh
and dance in joy and every single leaf was free.
He was brought into a huge hall of audience and presented
before a figure of light seated on the throne. When
he fell at his feet, other luminous beings picked him up
and led him on.
"He's one of our own," they pronounced.
The Master looked at him kindly and placed
his hand upon his head. "Treat our child well; she's a precious jewel."
He didn't want to leave that enchanted world but his bride
smiled: "That's enough. Now our marriage is consummated."
He suddenly realized that the look is more intimate than
touch and must be saved for last.
And yet, now she's gone just as he had been told.
Distraught, he wants to retaliate,
make her pay for what she did to him
but he cannot harm or hate her,
the Guru has taken away his power to hurt:
"Once on the path, all you can do is to bless people,
you are not allowed to curse anyone."
Helpless in his grief, he wants to ask,
What kind of blessing is this?
His hot tears soak the cool marble.
As if in reply, in the haze ahead,
he sees a man in his likeness on horseback,
dressed in the costly robes of a prince,
as if on an inspection tour of one of his villages.
The whole village is cowering about him,
to pay homage and make petitions.
There at the back, stands a poor woman,
with a half-naked child on her hip.
When his eyes meet hers, his heart stops:
what, what is she doing there?
His bride, his princess, why is she in rags?
Whose child is she carrying?
It is as if the Guru is speaking to him:
"Now do you understand how men like you
become the lords of the earth?
A woman who loves you has been praying
for your success, rubbing her nose
before countless altars, fasting, keeping vigils,
sacrificing herself entirely so that
you may attain your heart's desire.
And look how wretchedly she herself lives,
accepting a life of privation in exchange
of your fulfilling your lust for power.
Don't question why I sent her away;
a woman like that ensures your good fortune
even when she's separated from you."
A chastened man, he rises from the shrine.
He makes a prayer for his beloved,
"Naam nigehbaan, Janum," he whispers,
her tearstained face in the void of his heart,
"be happy wherever you are, my blessings
are always upon your head and the heads
of your children."
Cleansed, he emerges
from the hospice, collects his shoes,
distributes coins and notes among the beggars
lining the street. A large car drives up;
he takes the handkerchief off his head, steps in,
and disappears into the traffic of the city.
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