By Anu Majumdar April 1998 Parallel Journeys, a mystical novel by Anu Majumdar, was released recently to critical acclaim. The story weaves in and out of the Vedic past and the contemporary present, interlinking the lives of the protagonists with those of Vedic sages Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi. Extracts: Maitreyi looked around. The plastic chairs in the lounge were orange and yellow. She went to the end of the room and took the orange seat by the glass windows that looked out over the long, empty tarmac. The runway lights were still on, though the dawn had begun to clear the sky. She had recently read that the entire airport area had once been a forest. She tried to imagine what it could have been like. At once images from another forest swam into her mind’s eye. She was walking between birdsong and a green density of trees. Through them, in the distance, she could see the white mountains. And then, she was standing in a circle of light. Or was it her? No, it was someone else. The profile in the glass window pane was no longer her own. But it seemed to know her. There was a recognition. She sat up in shock, recognizing herself. The walls of the airport blurred away from her eyes. There were no chairs, no people. The forest had taken over. But this was not the forest that she had known a year ago. This forest belonged to another lifetime. Where was Yajnavalkya? Yajnavalkya who? She stared at the reflection in the glass. The woman looked back at her intently. Dark eyes. Centuries deep. She saw the sun come up through them at the far end of the runway. The TV screens in the lounge were all flashing— ‘Passengers bound for Paris please proceed to Gate No 10.’ Reluctantly she picked up her bags.Yajnavalkya walked quickly. Past the flowering palace gardens, past the sentries at the gate, out into the fields. He walked towards the outskirts of the capital city where his hermitage lay by the river side, surrounded by vast acres of pasture and farmlands given to him by the king. For he was the rishi to whom one of the Vedas had been revealed. As he approached the hermitage, he could see Maitreyi from a distance. She was cleaning the small temple that stood by the river. An old temple, it seemed to have been there always. A few months earlier, during the rains, the river had flooded over. It was the first time that this had happened. The water had rushed in savagely, breaking the old stone idol of the goddess and carrying it away in a mad dance of wild water. It shook the entire household to the core. When they gathered around the temple after the water receded, the shrine was empty. Ravaged. Yajnavalkya looked at Maitreyi. The goddess had been her constant guide. But Maitreyi stood quietly, her face turned up-river, as though she was watching the mountains from where the river flowed down past their ricefields. Afterwards she went to her room and returned with a rock. She gave it to him without a word. It was the same one that he had brought back for her from the mountains, many years ago. It was the first sign. The next day he began refashioning a new idol from the rock. As he chipped away the outer crust, the stone revealed itself smooth and firm inside. And copper gold, like Maitreyi’s skin. When the new idol was finally ready, it was installed in the old temple with all the usual offerings and rituals. Maitreyi was nowhere to be found. He was puzzled. That evening as the sun went down, he stood watching the cows return to their enclosures. A slight breeze drew his attention. He turned around. Across the fields, towards the river, he saw Maitreyi in front of the temple. She was alone. She seemed to be offering prayers to the goddess. But she did so moving with wide and sweeping gestures of obeisance and power. The sky echoed her prayer with crimson intensity. He looked on in amazement. It was like watching the goddess celebrate her own birth. A sigh of fulfillment escaped Yajnavalkya‘s lips. The time had come, at last. Movement. What causes a strand of hair to lift, like a ripple in the wind and fall lightly over the forehead? Fringing the eyes. The bounce. That easy verve and grace. Between his hands he held a fine band of steel in a curve, as he studied the photograph on his desk. It was taken a year ago, in the Himalayas, beside a forest in Mukteshwar. His right hand slid lightly over the band of steel and let go. The steel bounced free, rippled with countless million vibrations in one. It produced a sound. It rose and fell into the silence. The band of steel settled quietly in his other hand. He went back to his drawing board. The plans for the new project, the Concorde Dance Center, had been finalized and accepted. He had been given the go-ahead and construction was due to start in about two weeks. But still it nagged. He looked across at the model. It could be a great building, no doubt. It would even do him proud. But it had no movement. Static. It lacked rhythm. It didn’t breathe, didn’t circulate. People were going to dance in this? No… He had to create the spontaneous measures of the spirit here. The swift harmonies of space, shape and circulation. ‘For the great and easy dances of the gods,’ he quoted to himself from the book, grinning now with purpose. So, too bad. He dug his hands into his pockets and went up on his toes. It would have to change. He clamped his heels back on the ground. And the directors of the Concorde Dance Project would have to approve. Decision. He picked up the old drawings and tossed them into the wastepaper basket without a second thought. From the large windows of his studio-cum-office he could see across the rooftops of Paris. It was spring. The single bald tree in the courtyard was rushing up towards the sky with a thousand secret leaves. But now he was looking further away. East, to the mountains. Yajnavalkya had come to tell her about his decision to end his duties as a householder and to depart. He wanted to divide his wealth between her and Katyayani. She looked at him steadily as he spoke. This was to be expected. That one day he would leave and she, his wife, would remain with the household. But her heart had never believed this. And after the temple had been destroyed by the flood, she knew somehow that a part of her life was over. Even as Yajnavalkyafashioned the new idol from the rock she had given him, she felt herself being prepared. There was a sense of readiness for something imminent but unknown. Yajnavalkya stood before her now, expectantly. This was the revered sage before whom even King Janaka bowed low. But then, she had never been an ordinary wife either. She held back a giant tremor in her heart and asked him softly instead. ‘Will this wealth bring me immortality?’‘No, my beloved.’ She looked him in the eye. ‘Then what use is all this to me by which this life is unable to obtain the nectar of immortality? That, my lord, teach me before you go.’ His eyes glowed with pleasure. ‘Dear to me have you always been, Maitreyi, and dear to me is what you ask. Come then, I will explain what you desire to know.’ Yajnavalkya said: ‘Not for the sake of the wife is the wife dear to us but for the sake of the Self, the soul. ‘Not for the sake of the husband is the husband dear to us, but for the sake of the Self, the soul.‘Not for the sake of the whole world and all the things therein is the world dear to us, but for the sake of the Self, the soul…’ As she listened, her mind grew wide and free. When he finished, he touched her head in blessing and left. Then she realized… That the choice would have to be her own. And the decision, hers aloneShe quickened her pace. Yajnavalkya walked ahead with an easy, unhurried gait. His body was still firm and supple, breathing with the life that held it. He stopped and turned around smiling. ‘I knew you would come, Maitreyi.’ Even this, she had not known. She was surprised again by her own incompleteness. ‘But there are many hardships on this path. Will you be able to endure? Do you know your strength, my love? For we will go only part of the way together, up to my old hermitage at the edge of the great mountains, in the forest. From there I must go on alone.’ ‘But why can I not go on with you?’ ‘Because you are not yet ready to enter those spaces. When you are ready, when you will have fulfilled the conditions for the next journey, you will find your way to me, by yourself, even as you did today.’ ‘So be it,’ she said.After she returned from the mountains, the pressure had been relentless. It made her work, work, work. But there was no sense of getting anywhere at all. Yet, she carried on the movements before a blank wall. It was a strange time. The body was inside itself. Inside its entire cosmos. Who would help her? There were no teachers for such things. Weeks went by. Months. Sometimes she got a bit desperate. She passed up opportunities. Fell out of the circuit of professionals. She was getting to be a virtual unknown. Revati was furious with her. She had never felt so alone. One day, at the peak of summer in Delhi, she went into her dance room. Studio, as it is professionally called. She started with the usual warm-ups. Movement repertoires. Footwork sequences. Jumps. Dead-end. She stared out of the window. A little stone lying in the corner of the garden caught her attention. It was one she had found in Mukteshwar! An ardent prayer rose in her heart for Maitreyi of the temple, her forerunner. She felt herself grow quiet. Very quiet, as her breath expanded in waves, in a silent amplitude of knowledge. As in a slow motion dissolve, she saw the stone grow into a mountain and fill her eyes. A hundred gestures came crowding into her body. She tri
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