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  • Tuesday, 29 October 2013

    The Ghost that Bolted

    I had recently fulfilled a long standing wish. I had a house of my own. The plot was far away from the city - that is how I could afford it. My wife of ten years, like me, came from a small village and was not perturbed by the distance and the fact that by seven in the evening the whole place was deserted. So, we went ahead building and performed the grihapravesa and moved in.

    Soon after the grihapravesa, my wife went to her parents' place for the Dasara holidays. Our daughter, who was six, would love the experience of living in a village and my wife could be of help to her mother for a week or two. I had no particular place to go to and I decided to stay.  I was writing a book and decided to write as much as possible.

    One night, I went to the toilet and tried to pull the door shut. I could not since the outer bolt on the door was jutting out and obstructing. I just pushed it back and bolted the door from inside. When the same thing happened the next time, I was curious. I distinctly remembered pulling the bolt back completely. Or so I thought.

    When this happened for the third time, I was a little concerned. The next time I used the toilet, I was careful to pull the bolt back and go in and nothing happened.

    Because of the book, I was often preoccupied with what to say and how to say it. The next time this phenomenon happened I was in such a preoccupied state. I absently pulled the outer bolt back and went in, bolted the door from inside. Suddenly the thought occurred - is this house haunted? I shivered.

    I was surprised with my thought and the shiver. I calmed down a bit with difficulty and wondered how this could happen. Unbidden, the thought occurred to me, "what if it gets bolted when I am inside?” Without thinking I unbolted the door from inside and when it opened, I was relieved. I relaxed and sighed.

    And the power failed.

    It was eerie. It was pitch-dark. There was hardly any sound. I just did not like the thought of being alone in this small room. I could not see a thing but felt that the walls were closing in.

    I froze and in a short while I felt better. Some part of me was still rational and trying to understand and explain what was happening – as if to someone else. It is late October. The sun has already started setting early and it is getting dark before seven. The air is getting dry. I love this time of the year - I love the mist that falls and the smell of dew on grass in the morning is delicious. But it also has the effect that the evenings appear longer. People are home earlier and you can't see a soul around the place. Even birds return to their nests earlier and their cries die down earlier. All this makes it very quiet - not even the croaking of the frogs from the monsoon season. The air is so still and feels thin and dry. The still air causes the air in low lying areas get colder. I remembered such places I had enjoyed before – the road next to AIISH and that next to Kukkarahalli kere in Mysore.  I had always looked forward to October and observed these and had noticed that there is a little tension inside you. Was there a primordial reason for this tension?

    Still, I loved this season.

    While these thoughts were running in my mind, my tension (was it fear?) diminished. I felt foolish. I was what people would brand a rationalist. No, I am more naturalistic and unspiritual and am an atheist. By naturalistic I mean I believed that there are rational explanations based on physical laws for phenomenon though sometimes you and I cannot think of one. There is no reason to invoke spirits and so on to explain anything that appears inexplicable at first. Still, here I was being worried about ghosts!

    I soon came out, lit a candle and as soon as the flame steadied, the power was back. I felt more foolish because light is always so reassuring. I suddenly remembered my high school Samskrita teacher, Somayajigalu, who had once remarked in class, "There are no ghosts in cities, because there are lights. Ghosts can be there where there is darkness". As a school boy, it had felt reassuring. Later I had realised how true it was - in a different way than he had intended. In the dark, your mind can play all kinds of tricks to scare you into seeing ghosts where there are none, literally.

    In any case this phenomenon with the continued off and on. One day it really bothered me and I started thinking of all the things I had observed consciously or unconsciously.

    It appeared to me that this happened whenever I was distracted and or in a hurry to use the toilet. Whenever I was conscious of this and was observant it did not. I mentally replayed how I go in and shut the door and so on. Then it struck me.

    It was just the good old inertia at work. See, this is not a bolt of the usual type. It is just a smooth rod sliding in two smooth holes and hardly experiences friction and hence moves easily. It moved when I swung the door, especially when in a hurry, and the bolt continued to move out when the door stopped moving and did not let me close the door fully.

    The house was exorcised. The ghost that bolted had bolted.

    Tuesday, 6 November 2012


    He rolled into my life as a grey furry ball. Eyes hardly open. Rapid breathing and an occasional whimper, almost inaudible, were the indication that he was alive. I was not in favour of pets. A dog, especially, did not feel too good in a house where orthodox Brahmin old women lived. The fact that I was an electrical contractor had something to do with this decision to have a pet.
    The not so large area around the house was often filled with large bobbins of copper wire, insulators and other necessities of my profession. There was a vice to grip conduits while they were cut.  There were boxes too, painted only with primer, to be later painted with enamel paint. These were targets for petty thieves who managed to sneak in and steal in spite of a locked gate and high compound wall, the top surface embedded with shards of glass and bushes planted close to the wall. A ferocious dog would be just fine, Kittu, my eldest son who was assisting me in my business, insisted. Of course he loved to have a dog and this was his argument to convince me to get one for him.

    As luck would have it a family friend, Monnappa, had a few Alsatians. When there was a new litter he offered me one recited the same reason – to protect the stuff lying in the compound. I somehow had the feeling that Kittu had a hand in this. I was concerned about feeding the dog. Since Monnappa was a Kodava and Kodavas eat meat regularly, it was not too much trouble for him to feed the dogs with meat and bones regularly. He was also well to do and could afford to. Neither was the case with me.

    He even offered to feed the dog meat once a week, if someone took it to his house. Seeing all forces ranged against me and a recent loss seriously upsetting my commitment to a client, I agreed to have the dog. That is how Caesar came into my life. Before we knew what was happening he had grown into a fine dog. This is interesting! I had never referred to a dog as ‘he’ before! I had seen many dog lovers, including Monnappa, talk of their dogs in human terms and chided them for it. And here I am, “he” indeed!

    It was quite an effort to train Caesar not to enter the house beyond the verandah to make sure that the house did not become unclean. This concept, called maDi, is an elaborate set of rules un-understandable to all except regulation practitioners who are born in a family that practiced it.
    I had somehow gotten into the habit of being around when Caesar was fed in the evenings. Sometimes when I was not home at that time, Caesar would be reluctant to eat. He had to be coaxed to eat by young children. Sometimes he only ate when his hunger overcame him. This was touching since I never petted him much. Once in a while, just before having my bath, I may pat him on the head. Once I realized that he ate only when I was around, I tried my best to be home by that time without letting anyone noticing this change in me.

    Once, when Caesar was about a year old, I had a sever bout flu and had to stay in bed for a few days. When he did not see me in the morning, he became restless and kept looking at the door to my room which opened into the verandah. That was just a figure of speech as that door was never opened because there was another door that opened into the hall. Everyone was surprised as to how he knew that my room was beyond that door. Finally it was opened and he sneaked in and refused to leave. He slept under my cot, hardly ate and he eat a bit when I asked him to. He was his usual self only after I was out of bed and was normal again. That is when I realized how much Caesar was attached to me.

    Soon after my bout of flu, the festival of Deepavali was upon us. I never liked the noisy part of this festival. Of course, the good food, ritual bath after soaking up oil liberally smeared all over the body and the rows of oil lamps adorning the house on the festive night and for many subsequent nights made the other part bearable – just about. Deepavali was heralded by some youngsters bursting crackers well ahead of the festival. This seemed to disturb Caesar and he again came to the door of my room and looked beseechingly at me. I let him in and he looked a little better. The day before the actual day when most crackers are burst there many crackers were going off. Caesar became more and more desperate. Early on Deepavali day when I went out and opened the gate Caesar slipped out of the gate and ran as if running for dear life. I shouted at him to come back and he just ignored me. He had never done this before.

    I was very concerned. When he was not back after an hour, I sent some of my electricians on cycles and Kittu on his motorbike to look for him. Of course, he was not found. That was one of the worst Deepavalis of my already long life. A Deepavali worse than this was when my granddaughter’s dress had caught fire and she had badly injured.

    There was a pall of gloom again on this occasion too. Everyone repeatedly went out to see if he was back. No such luck. We were all worried and imagined all kinds of horrible fate befalling him. We were slowly recovering from the loss when one early morning I dreamt that I heard him bark feebly! I woke up and was telling myself that it was just a dream when my wife confirmed that she heard it too. I rushed out and was overjoyed to see him at the gate and I opened the gate and hugged him -another first. He stood there looking very guilty and apologetic. He looked up into my eyes and wagged his tail as if apologizing. By that time the whole household was up and was at the gate. The younger children were unrestrained in their joy and hugged him and petted him ignoring his dirty coat.

    Soon Caesar was bathed till his coat had regained some of the former lustre. Food was hurriedly cooked and brought to him. He waited for me to come to him and once I had asked him to eat, gruffly, to avoid the others knowing of the knot in my throat, he ate his food hungrily.

    No one knew where he was in the intervening few days and what he had eaten, if anything at all. It took him more than a fortnight to regain his former weight. He then continued to grow till he reached his full size. Every Deepavali thereafter, soon after the early crackers started going off, he would disappear from the city and returned only after Deepavali was over. He somehow managed not to run away on utthAna dwAdasi when some people burst crackers saved from the original Deepavali supplies for the purpose.

    From then on, my dislike for the almost uncultured custom of bursting crackers was complete. I had to spend the next ten or so Deepavalis with the worry about his welfare shadowing the festivities.

    Saturday, 17 December 2011

    A Friend in Need

    I was sitting in my small rented room, reading a recently released Kannada novel. I had been postponing going out for my Sunday morning breakfast. Either the hunger had overcome my laziness or I had reached a particularly less interesting part of the novel, I finally decided to go and have my breakfast. Not too much of a choice of restaurants in a place like Shimoga but I chose Gopi "Hotel".

    When I entered the restaurant, the man at the cash counter got up and welcomed me. He was the owner’s nephew and a student in the college where I taught - Sahyadri College. I did not teach his class since he was a science student and I only taught Kannada major students. I found an unoccupied table and was about to walk towards it when I found my senior friend Hegde at a table, talking to someone standing in front of him. That someone appeared to be leaving. I waited and as the man left Hegde waved me to the seat in front of him. I went to Hegde's table and found that he was having his coffee after his breakfast. 

    Hegde was starting a new weekly magazine in Kannada. In the preceding months, he had talked to me about various details about it and now the date of launch was impending. He talked to me excitedly about the various subjects the magazine would cover. As I eat my idlis that Gopi Hotel was famous for, a worried look came over his face. "Everything is now arranged except the weekly horoscope". 

    I was surprised. Hegde was an old time socialist and at least a sceptic if not a non-believer. I asked him why he wanted a horoscope column in his progressive magazine. He said thoughtfully and a little embarrassed that he had been told recently that a horoscope column would make the magazine more acceptable to readers. Some had even told him that without it the magazine would not sell at all in the long run. He had never had to deal with this subject before and did not even know whom to approach. I was not much help in this matter myself. But I had a sudden inspiration. I said. "I may be able to help you in that matter". With a mixture of surprise and hope he asked me how I could.

    I told him that I had recently met an astrologer at a wedding in Bangalore and that I thought he may be ready to do this. Hegde was much relieved and I told him to take his mind off the matter for a week - for me to contact the man and see what happens. Those were the days before telephones had become ubiquitous, let alone cell phones, and I had asked for a week so that I could write a letter to the astrologer and also get an reply. 

    A week passed and I met Hegde again and very happily announced that the astrologer had agreed to provide the weekly predictions. Hegde was overjoyed but worried again. “How much do I have to pay him?”, he asked. I had not thought about that at all! I was inspired again. I told him that I had described the aims of the magazine and all that to the astrologer and he had agreed to provide the weekly predictions for free since he was already doing such a job for a local magazine in Bangalore. If and when Hegde's magazine did well, he could start paying him. Now he was more thankful than ever and it was agreed that I would provide him the weekly the weekly horoscope.

    In course of time, the magazine was launched and I fulfilled my part of the arrangement diligently. Every week, I would leave a sheet of paper containing the predictions with the man at the till at Gopi Hotel and Hegde would collect it when he visited it for a coffee or a snack. The magazine started doing well and Hegde was busier than ever and our meetings were less frequent and shorter. Just some greetings and a quick exchange of news and we would part. After a few months of this, when I met Hegde the same quick exchange took place and as he was about to leave. He seemed to recall something and came back. He put an arm around my shoulders and said, "I am sorry, I had started taking the great help you have given me with the horoscope for granted. I have now started receiving letters from readers asking for the name address of the astrologer. They find the astrologer very good and would want to consult him in person. I did not even ask you who this gentleman is. At least now, I want to make amends. Please let me have his address, I will write to him and also ask him what his fees are and where I should send the money order.”

    I was shocked but not surprised! Now this was a real fix I was in. I started fidgeting and Hegde asked me, "Why are you so uncomfortable about it?" I decided to make a clean breast of things and tell him the whole story. Initially he looked chagrined. His expression soon turned to wonder and then he guffawed heartily. I was relieved, sheepish and felt clever all at the same time.

    What I had done was this. I had created a mythical astrologer and I had taken over his role. I had collected predictions from various magazines and every week, I had rearranged the same set of sentences under the different rashis or sun signs. Once in a while, when I had time or felt in the mood for it, I had even rearranged them just make each rashi’s prediction sound poetic, if I may use the word. In other words I had looked for pleasing sounds in a group of sentences. When I was in the mood for a prank, a prank inside a prank, I had put together contradicting predictions under the same rashi! That was real insurance - at least one of them would come true!

    In the next issue of the magazine, there was an apology below the astrology column. The editor apologised to the reader that the astrologer was a very busy man and also a shy one and that he did this out of interest in the subject and not as a profession. He does not want to give personal consultations. 

    Sunday, 28 March 2010

    The Great Designer

    Once upon a time there was an itinerant merchant. He bought his wares in the city, packed them in a cloth bundle and carried it on his head from village to village. He made a meagre living.

    One day, as he walked in the hot sun he was sad about and angry with his fate. The next village was quite some distance away. He decided to eat his lunch and rest a while and proceed. He was confident that he would reach the next village before sundown. He found a suitable large banyan tree and made himself comfrtable under it. Took out his packed lunch of rotis and chatni from his bag and had his lunch. He washed his hands in the pond nearby and quenched his thirst. Using his bundle as back rest, he lay down. He looked up at the tree and saw the figs of the banyan tree.

    Being angry with his fate, he was angry with god too and wanted to take a pot shot at him. He thought. "Ah, great designer, this god. He makes such a huge tree and gives it such small fruits. He makes those huge ash gourds grow on a weak vine that spreads all over the ground!"

    Just at that time, a fig fell straight on his forehead from a great height. It hurt, really bad. He then thought, "God is great! He is such a wonderful designer. If he had given ash gourd sized fruits to this tree, I would be dead!"

    On the same day, in another part of India, another merchant decided to rest under a tall coconut tree.

    His story never got out.

    Saturday, 3 October 2009


    Click here to read this in .pdf

    It was a cold morning. Shankara woke up, felt the cold and shivered. It was the third day of incessant rains. He had read in the papers that there was a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal and it was causing these unseasonal rains. Thinking about it, he forgot about the difficult task of having a ritual bath before he started the Puja. He had to start early, go to the temple, do all the cleaning, decorations and preparations for the Puja and carry out the Puja at the auspicious time. Before that, he had to have a bath. That was going to be tough today.

    He covered himself with a shawl, checked his hand bag to see if he had all that he would need. Even though he could pack the bag without thinking about it, being careful by nature, he checked. He opened the umbrella and started off. The rain was falling straight down and that was a blessing. The umbrella would protect his head and also the clothes he wore. He had worn his dhoti high at his knees and even the border of the dhoti would not get wet today.

    He reached the temple, opened the big lock in the door with the huge key that was in the bag and went in. Before he had the ritual bath with the water drawn from the well, he remembered that he had to clean the yoni that led from the garbha gudi sanctorum to the praakaara of the temple. He had cleaned it once long ago. He remembered it because it was such a rare event. He kept the bag near the well. Took off his shawl and the khadi shirt that he had worn underneath, folded them neatly and kept them in a corner, where the rain would not wet them.
    He stooped to the yoni and started cleaning in it. As he peered into it he realised that there was an obstruction in the passage from the garbhagudi to the outside, through the thick wall. He leaned closer and froze. The hair on the nape of his neck stood straight. He had goose flesh. He shivered, but, not because of the cold and the drizzle on his bare back. When he took his face near the tip of the yoni, his ears were filled with vedaghosha - chanting of the ancient hymns. This could not be true!

    Shankara was studying in second year BA, when his father, the previous priest at the temple, passed away suddenly. He had to give up his studies and start earning. He had been good at Mathematics and deeply interested in Physics. He had done well enough until then to study further after BA. He had had vague dreams about it and then teaching Physics. Even do research. Going abroad was not an option, tradition forbade it. He knew that he was no Ramanujam and that no goddess would appear in his mother's dream and generously ask her to permit him to cross the seas. He had idly wondered if going to France by land and crossing over to England would be alright. The English Channel was not really a sea, was it? The Namboodiris must be crossing the sea, in the form of back waters, several times a day?

    Even though he was a devout man, having been brought up in a priest’s home, he was wary of believing in miracles. Some of his friends in college had been rationalists and had influenced a little. Now here was something that shook him. How can vedaghosha emanate from the yoni from which nothing more than holy water normally issued. He looked around. There was nobody else in the temple. He moved away from the yoni. Silence.

    He walked hurriedly to the garbhagudi, opened the small lock there with the key that was tied to his yajnopaveetha. Peaceful silence of the early morning reigned inside. Now, that is strange. He came out again and took his ear near the yoni and there it was again. Just a little away, nothing. So he was not going mad after all. But then, what was he supposed to do? He decided not talk about it to anyone, for the pre sent. He knew that if the news spilled out, there will be all kinds of problems. This peaceful small temple would become a tamasha. He will talk to someone later and decide what to do.

    He suddenly realised that his routine had gone completely awry. He had gone into the temple and come back to the yoni so many times that he had lost track of time. Now he hurried and had a quick bath. He wore the dhoti he had washed and spread out for drying the previous evening in the small corridor that ran around the temple. He did the cleaning and other preparations in a hurry and at what he hoped was the right time, started the puja.

    What he had missed was that a stranger had come in to the temple soon after its door was opened in the morning. He had some time to spend before he could get the first bus out of town in the morning. As he was walking to the bus stand he had seen Shankara open the door and had come in to watch the puja before the bus. He had watched the strange behaviour of Shankara that morning. As Shankara started his puja, curiosity finally overcame his lethargy and he quietly walked to the yoni and craned his neck near it. Then it hit him. He could clearly hear the chanting of the veda. He quietly slipped out of the temple and told about the miracle to the tea shop owner who was just then spilling his first glass of tea and water on the street in front of the shop, a tradition followed by millions of tea shop owners all over India.

    Then there was no stopping the news of the miracle. By the time Shankara finished his puja and had hung the bronze utensil from its chain on top of the Linga so that water from the utensil would fall in drops on the Linga for an hour, the temple had acquired a milling crowd. While still doing the puja Shankara was aware of the steadily increasing commotion outside. He wondered how the news had got out and was never to find out. He was pained because his beloved temple had now become a tamasha.

    However, relief was at hand. By eight in the morning the sounds of chanting stopped. The people who came after eight were disappointed and wondered if the story was really true. Shankara was relieved. He had wondered if he could even go home for lunch. Now he could, locking up the temple for a few hours as usual. However, throughout the day people streamed in and went straight to the yoni and listened hard. No more veda.

    When he came to the temple, early next morning, there were already a few curious people waiting with flowers and puja paraphernalia. He sighed, a sigh of resignation, and opened the door. There it was, the veda, again when one listened with the ear in the right place. It again stopped at about eight.

    That afternoon, after his lunch, Shankara wrote a long letter to his college classmate, Srinivasan, who was now a lecturer of Physics in a college in Bangalore. He described the whole story and sought his friend's help to solve the mystery. He did not miss the irony of asking an Iyengar to come into a temple of Shiva. It is said that an Iyengar is forbidden from entering a temple of Shiva, even to seek refuge from a mad, rampaging elephant! Of course, it did not matter to a self avowed atheist like Srinivasan. While Shankara waited for Srinivasan's reply the tamasha at the temple increased by the day. Shankara was getting desperate. He did not know how lucky he was. The television was just a story yet and the scoop hungry media crews were decades away!

    One day, as Shankara approached the temple early in the morning, he saw Srinivasan and a few others sitting on the jagali of the temple. An old car parked nearby told him the story. His friend had travelled the fifty odd miles from Bangalore in answer to his call, so early in the morning! He was overjoyed. He almost ran to him. As they spoke, he unlocked the door to the temple. He tried to shoo away the gathering crowd. Srinivasan introduced his friends to him. It was an assorted group. Two academics, an accountant, a lawyer and an engineer. They had common interests - science, rational thought and music!

    Without shooing away the crowds, they also jostled for place at the yoni and listened to confirm that the sound indeed sounded like the chanting of the vedas and not some indistinct sound that one can hear with a conch. It sounded distinctly like the chanting of the veda. With the distinct rise and fall of the notes. It consisted chiefly of three notes. Niii sa ri sa niii saaa riii niii sa ri sa saaa .. and so on.

    Without hurrying, they inspected the temple and its surroundings. They found that the garbhagudi itself had a small door and two very small windows. All were open. One member of the group went and listened at the yoni and another closed and opened the door and the shutters of the window while the others relayed it to the listener. Yes, it made a difference to the sound volume and the distinctness of the sounds. Unfortunately the door had grill work that would not let the garbhagudi be isolated completely.

    Tradition forbade the closing of the door of the garbhagudi until the temple was closed for the afternoon. Shankara had been distressed but consoled himself that the rituals for the day had not started and it was alright. When his friend’s team was investigating, he had to start the rituals for the day. When they wanted to close the main door, he had to ask them not to.

    The accountant decided to listen to the chant for some length to see if he could discern any pattern or some tell-tale sign. He did, and the chanting suddenly stopped. It was only seven in the morning. He was perplexed since the chanting was supposed to go on until about 8. He continued to listen anyway. Nothing for about a minute. Then it started again. It stopped again. After about fifteen seconds it resumed, hesitantly. Hesitantly? He did not understand what could be hesitant about that? It stopped again. A shart time later it started again.

    His mind involuntarily took him back to his childhood. His extremely traditional father had decided that he learn some Samskrita. If not resisting and kicking, he had gone sullenly. He, along with a motley crowd of boys and young men, was taught to recite from the Amarakosha. When the group recited well, it continued. When there were errors or a sleepy boy just moved his lips without producing any sounds, the keen eyed and eared old master would stop the group, chide the recalcitrant one and the chant would start again. I see! This is a veda paathashaala of some sort. He left his position at the yoni and hurried to Srinivasan and told him of his hunch and the basis for it. He recounted the experiences of his childhood. Srinivasan was convinced that this could be at the centre of the explanation for this strange phenomenon. He wanted to ask Shankara if there was a vedic school nearby or a scholar who taught the vedas. But Shankara was in the midst of his puja and Srinivasan decided to at watch it.

    The group from Bangalore sat with him, expectantly, in front of the garbhagudi and listened to Shankara's sonorous voiced chant of the mantras and watched the proceedings. The crowd outside continued to jostle to listen to the chant at the yoni. Shankara himself was curious but continued the rituals uninterrupted. He hoped that he had not committed any errors, distracted by the curiosity. Perhaps not, years of doing these things get into you and become a part of you. Is it called muscle memory or some such thing - he wondered.

    When the puja was done and the group had dutifully taken the mangalaarati and teertha - no one prostrated - Shankara came and sat cross legged in front of the group. He did not have to ask. He looked like a question mark! Srinivasan told him that they were near a solution and asked Shankara if there was a vedic or Samskrita school nearby. Before answering, Shankara saw a friend of his son come in to the temple. He asked the boy to go to his house and tell his wife that there would be six people for lunch. The protests of the group was ignored and the boy left.

    Then Shankara told them that there were no such things nearby. The others were now perplexed. However... However what? A kilometre or so away lived a scholar and he taught Samskrita to interested students, Shankara told them. One kilometre away?

    By then, it was already eight and the crowd started dispersing. They decided to go and check the lead. Where exactly did this scholar live? He lived in a small house on the second floor of a house at the end of the temple street, which lay straight ahead of the temple door. The Bangalore group was apprehensive now. How could anything a kilometre away do this? They decided to check it any way. They walked along the temple street which was getting busy.

    When they reached the house and went up the stairs, they found a house with the door open. It opened into a large room and an impressive looking old man was in it, reading a thick book. He looked up, his face impassive. It looked as if he was used to strangers walking into his house. He was. He waved them to sit on the old threadbare carpet on the floor. Srinivasan saw that the man was sitting just below a window for light. As one stood in front of the man one could see the temple tower through the window.

    Srinivasan and the others sat down and told the man why they were there. Strangely, the old man had not heard the story. It was not so strange because he was a reclusive scholar who valued his time. He made short shrift of the silly and the shallow and over time only the serious visited him. So no one had told him about the "miracle" at the temple.

    He had not spoken a word. But it looked as if he wanted all the details and Srinivasan told him the story from as it was told to him by Shankara in his letter. He also told the old scholar about what investigations the team had carried out. When he had heard the story fully, he closed his eyes for a while and looked as if in deep thought. A sardonic smile played on his lips under the bushy white moustache and it looked as if the mystery was not a mystery at all to him.

    He now spoke in a deep, steady and calm voice, "I teach veda to two groups of six students each, every morning, from six to eight. They sit in a semi-circle in front of me and chant. The first batch is more advanced. I mostly listen to them chant and the second one needs constant corrections.” He nodded at the accountant and continued, “That is why you heard the breaks.” Without looking up he said, “If you look out of the window you will see the temple. there are some more two storied buildings along the way to the temple. These belong to businessmen and have shops on the ground floor and living quarters above. When the students chant the sound can bounce off those houses and reach the temple. I know that the chant is barely audible right below this window, on the street. I have had visitors looking for my house and going around without hearing the chants. Sound often behaves strangely. When the sound reaches the temple, it is perhaps diffused in the garbhagudi and is not audible at all. However, somehow, it circulates inside come out of the yoni. If you want me to stop this miracle nonsense, I can sit at a different window or against the opposite wall or close the shutters of the window. That might put all this to rest. Poor Shankara must be upset. There are more real wonders in this world than these mere freakish accidents and sadly, all that people are interested in are miracles. Ha!"

    Notes: The essentials of this incident occurred perhaps 60 years ago, in Bangalore, India. I have constructed the story around it but, moved it to another place. My father, J R Lakshmana Rao was one of the people who helped solve the mystery, but is not in the story. Instead, I imagined his dear friend Prof. K Srinivasan as the 'leader' of the group.
    Linga, shown in the first picture is the quintessential Phallic symbol and literally means the phallus. It is seated in what is called a Yoni. I have used the same term for what interconnects the outside of the garbhagudi to the inside for the liquid abhisheka to come out. I think it is correct. If there is a different term for it, please let me know.

    Friday, 9 May 2008

    Be German, Buy German

    Wolfgang decided, finally, to buy a VCR.

    (For you modern dudes: VCR is (was?) Video Cassette Recorder, an amazing device from a bygone era that played video)

    He was firm on this one. He would buy a German VCR. Someone with such a typical German name had to be a proud German. Added to this was the recent blitzkreig campaign with the slogan: "Be German, Buy German". So, German it shall be. With world-renown companies such as Blaupunkt and Grundig, one should easily get a good buy.

    He went to the biggest electronic gadget store in town. The salesman was eager to show him the various models. Sony, JVC, Panasonic . .

    No! says Wolfgang. I want a German brand. Show me something by Blaupunkt.

    Finally he got something that he liked, including the price. Blaupunkt it was. Bill was made, cash handed over and the proud owner carried his VCR home. Being familiar with electrical gadgets, by working for a famous German company, he set out to install the VCR without much problems.

    Soon he had only one wire to plug in. He turned the table lamp towards the back of the device and lo and behold!

    Made in Japan
    For Blaupunkt

    * * * * *
    This is a story from the eighties. If it were to be from the recent past it would have perhaps been Made in China.

    Tuesday, 12 February 2008

    Paint the City . .

    Story of A

    He sat with his head in his hands. He had hardly slept the previous. night As he looked around his office he felt that it was suffocating. The air conditioner did not help much. His palms still sweated.

    He had built his small business with great perseverance. He had studied the chemistry of paints, to make a success of his business. He sometimes sardonically thought that if he had studied with the same intensity when in college, he would have been a topper. But the business needed him to know all that he could. He had managed the finances cleverly too.

    Just when he thought that all that was behind him and he was on safe grounds at last, this had hit him. A client had placed an order for some special paints. They were for unusual colours. When he had manufactured them and readied them for despatch, the client had cancelled the order. Of course, the order was not on paper. Like many other things in the construction industry, this was also on trust. Especially this particular client had always been reliable.

    Now he was stuck with a load of paint that nobody else seemed to want. He had tried selling them at half the price. There were no takers. He was at his wits end.

    Story of B

    How things had changed in the last decade! He had finished the Bachelor of Architecture course at the top of his class. He had an independent streak in him and from day one had planned to design houses for people. Within fifteen years he had become a well known architect. He had a large office and an impressive list of clients. Just to keep his creative juices flowing, he had taken all kinds of assignments. He was enjoying his work.

    But now he was facing an irksome phenomenon. He would take on an assignment and make the preliminary designs and the client wanted to show it to a Vaastu expert. He would then come back with restrictions on where what could be. His whole concept for the house would be destroyed.

    Oh, he hated these pseudo experts.

    Story of A

    He finally decided that he should seek some advice from someone. He had once been told that the gates to his factory were in the wrong place. The Vaastu was not correct. He racked his brains about who had told him that. Then he remembered who it was. He contacted him and he in turn directed him to The Guru, the Vaastu expert.

    He went to him to consult him.

    Story of B

    He decided that he himself should acquire some knowledge of this thing called Vaastu and Feng Shui or whatever. He was told that The Guru was the best, whatever that meant, anyway.

    Story of A and B

    A and B met at The Guru’s house. They had to make a few visits before they could meet The Guru himself. This provided them an opportunity to know each other. After all, they were from the same “industry”. Their conversation gave rise to a plan.

    Story of B

    Now, whenever a client came to him, he would ask him if he wanted his house designed according to Vaastu - “Vaastu compliant”, according to the jargon of the industry. Whatever the answer of the client, he designed the house as he wanted, developing the concept of the house with great care as he had always done.

    If the client came back with objections, he would make minor alterations, if at all, and tell them that there was a Feng Shui solution to the problem. The client, already softened by the detailed description of the concept of the house would be eager to consider this solution. If he still had doubts, he would be sent to The Guru and he would confirm that it was indeed a solution.

    Story of A

    In a few years, the whole stock of the unusually coloured paints was cleared. At a price that was double that of the normal, ordinary paints. He even had further orders and all the work he had put in to make the paints in the first place was not a waste after all.

    Story of C and D

    C: There seems to be a new phenomenon at work. Have you seen that many new houses have some wall or the other painted with some weird colour?

    D: Yaa, I know. I am told that it is a well known principle of Feng Shui that if you paint one of the walls with an eye catching colour, it can nullify the effects of bad Vaastu.

    Both the cynics continued their walk after shaking their heads uncomprehendingly.

    If only they knew that the real story was weirder than anything even their cynical minds could conjure up ......

    Wednesday, 16 January 2008

    Anaatha aka Orphan

    Prahladachar woke up at first light. He was the first one to be up in his small village, everyday. He was up even before the earliest farm hand in the village. Unlike the farmers and farm hands, he had chores to finish before he left home for the day. He had to be early.

    He got up, went to the back yard. Drew two large kodas of water from the well. He finished his morning ablutions muttering the mantras in an undertone as he had done thousands of times in his life. Then he drew two more kodas of water and had his bath. All these actions were done according to either the scriptures or tradition or what his father had taught him. He would not perhaps know where one ended and the other began. It was one continuum. Practice had made it a routine without a variation if not perfect.

    On the rare occasion that he did think about his daily routine, he was satisfied. He might not be as learned as some other priests, but no one could question his sincerity. No one, in fact, did.

    He was a well known figure in the neighbouring villages too. Most of them had occasion to see him doing the daily pooja at the Hanuman temple. He had acted as the intermediary between ‘his’ god and the people of the village. He had done this for years and he was a content man.

    As he finished his daily chores and started walking towards the temple, hardly did he realise that this was a momentous day, at least in his life. It looked like any other day, felt like any other day, if he thought about it at all.

    The temple was a good three miles from his home. He had to walk a path through brush jungle, cultivated fields, a cart track and finally what went by the name of a pucca road.

    He turned the last corner that brought him ‘face to face’ with his temple, so familiar, so comforting . .

    He stood there transfixed. Shocked. Disbelieving. The small door of the small temple stood ajar. The chain was hanging loose from one of the doors. Had he forgotten to lock the temple up the previous day? No. He remembered having done it, like any other day of his life.

    As he got over the shock and dismay, he hurried towards the temple. He could see that the strong Aligarh lock was lying right at the threshold, shattered. Some miscreants had burgled the mighty god’s very temple. He peered into the temple to see, what had been stolen. Well, everything was! Including the small white piece of cloth. What was left was worthless – a jar of kunkum, a tin of camphor, matches, agarbattis…

    Then anger, nay, rage replaced the dismay and confusion. The thought that here was the almighty god, on whom he had relied all these years for protection, was unable to defend and save even his own langoti (loin cloth)! He decided, at that very instant, even without being aware of it, that was the last day he was doing pooja at that temple. And so it was. He stomped away from the place for good.

    The villagers saw him withdraw into himself. A lost look on his face, he went about his days as a man betrayed. He continued to follow the daily rituals, at home, as before, but never entered his once favourite temple again. He even avoided that road.

    He lived on the small piece of dry land and what it grudgingly yielded, and earnings from teaching Samskrita and Kannada to some interested students, for the rest of his life.

    Note: This is a story from real life, from about a century ago. The name of the priest and details are imaginary.

    The Sensation

    Narayana was a queer one. He did not have much formal education but was well educated by voracious reading. He had done odd jobs – issuing tickets in a touring drama company, for instance. He loved mathematics. He was a skeptic. He was a Gandhian. He was a Marxist. He was curious about everything scientific.

    That was a really small thumbnail portrait of a very interesting man.

    He had finally settled down as a farmer, got married and had raised a family, three sons and three daughters. One of the daughters had died while still young, years ago.

    He was on one of his infrequent visits to the big city – Bangalore. He did not like the hustle and bustle of the city. Things that made the trip tolerable were the opportunity to meet some intellectuals and buy or borrow interesting books.

    On this trip, he found a book he had heard a lot about and was very eager to read - Eddington’s “Nature of the Physical World”. He bought it right away and returned eagerly to his cousin’s house, where he was staying during this visit. He could not wait to start reading it.

    As he came in, the family was getting ready for lunch and he had lunch too. He avoided the long post lunch conversation and moved to a tiny room. He spread a mat on the floor, moved around a trunk and a pillow and settled down to reading the book. It was fascinating. He was at it for a few hours and was feeling a little tired when he heard a familiar voice outside. Another cousin, Rajanna, had come to see him. Not too reluctantly, he gave up the book and started chatting with him – the price of rice, the weather, prospects for a good harvest the next season, the trials and triumphs of each others’ family members, suitable boy for another cousin’s daughter . . . .

    Rajanna had recently found a new astrologer, Pandit, who was making waves. Pandit had a growing reputation and had a huge following, already. The talk turned to this new phenomenon even though Rajanna knew Narayana’s skcepticism. He was sometimes irritated by it and sometimes he liked to irritate Narayana by talking about astrology. Today he was in the latter mood. He extolled the virtues of the new sensation and how he could read the past, present and the future. He watched Narayana grow distant, with great anticipation. He was sure of the coming arguments.

    To his great astonishment, Narayana said that he wanted to show a particular horoscope to this Pandit and ask his opinion about it. Rajanna looked for a catch in the whole thing. Narayana looked his usual self, but a little eager perhaps. It so happened that Rajanna was meeting Pandit that very evening as he had become quite friendly with him.

    Narayana went in, opened his ‘trunk’, opened a cloth cover and fished out a sheet of paper, folded it and put it in his pocket. Off they went walking to a well-appointed house in Gandhi Bazaar. They were ushered in and they chatted a while with Pandit. After sometime, Narayana gingerly took out the horoscope and gave it to Pandit.

    Pandit took a quick look at it, then a serious one and continued to chat with the two cousins. Finally he took out his books, sheets of paper for calculations, a few cowrie shells … all the paraphernalia of the profession.

    Finally he gave his considered opinion. Narayana was assured that the boy had a very bright future. He would do this and that and the other. But, in his middle teens, he would have some health problems and that he had to be a little careful, and a few other things. All the while, Rajanna was looking eagerly at the Pandit and Narayana. His face was impassive. But Rajanna did discern a slight sign of what he thought was a sense of happiness in Narayana’s face. With a look of relief and gratitude, Narayana took the horoscope back, folded it again and pocketed it.

    They two cousins brought the visit to an end and left the place after paying the customary fees.

    On the way back, Rajanna hesitantly asked Narayana, whose horoscope it was.

    Narayana replied, “It was Kamala’s horoscope. My dead daughter’s horoscope.”

    Note: This is a story from real life, from about fifty years ago. The name of the astrologer and the daughter are imaginary. The details of the rendering are my own.

    Wednesday, 12 December 2007


    The examinations are over - a few days ago. Was it three days or four days? After the exams, one day merged into another. I have already lost count.

    Relief. I studied hard. Dad felt otherwise is another matter. All I know is that the effort was hard on me. I could have done better in the exams. Doubts about things I knew well, (OK, I had thought I knew well) did me in. The relief is not because the results will satisfy dad. Nothing satisfies him anyway. The relief is because the long dreaded thing is over.

    The fourth or the fifth day after the exams, I am in a cyber café. I want to check mail. Not that I expect much. All my friends were busy with their exams too and wouldn’t have written. It is kind of dull.

    I get into the booth. Log in. More spam than mails. Tell me something new. I have just enough money for an hour at the café. I don’t want to sit here for an hour. In a day or two there would be more mails. I will sit for more time then. Let me see if I can get more money by then. Mom will give me if I am nice enough. (Dad will blow a fuse if he heard me now. Calling Amma mom really gets “his goat” as he calls it. He will also blow a fuse if he knows that I got some more money to sit at the café. And calling him dad ….)

    Ten rupees for 15 minutes, That’s enough for today, to purge the inbox of spam. I open the chat window just to see if anyone is ‘alive’. What madness, thirty rupees for an hour, but ten for 15 minutes. No one seems to be online. What a bore. Let me close it too and go. Pinnnnnng….. there is a message. What? My god! It is her! (Or is it ‘It is she’? Who cares, except dad and ‘PTS’ – the English teacher) Now I know why I was feeling off colour. That ‘fight’ with her when I had gone to the school to get the hall ticket, (Next year, it will be “when I had been to the college to get the hall ticket”. Not the fight I hope ..) We had not talked again! I thought she will never talk to me again. I had been rude. But she was the one who started it all by acting funny. Someone told her something about me. And she started asking me all those questions. What do I do? Close the window and go and save the money for later?

    OK, I will just say hello.




    God! One hour over. I have to go now or the snobbish girl at the counterl . . . .She will take the thirty rupees and I can pay the rest later. Anyway, I don’t like the superior look she gave me last time I ran out of money. I am leaving. Bye, I am off, Hurried good byes. I wonder where she is. Instead of this stupid sweaty café, we could have had ice creams somewhere. “Where are you?” Cyber café. Big deal. Aaaaaaas if. As if she has internet connection at home. She told me she does not have. Why should I ask which café? As if I would run after her if she told me.

    I wonder which café she is in. What if she is in this one? Dad would say that I could start writing scripts for Kannada movies. If he at least said Hindi movies……. I have to go now. Bye

    I come out of the booth, Which pocket did I put the money into? Freeze! Dive right back into the booth. There she is at the counter, paying the bill. Fool! Why did I not ask her first thing where she was?