A reluctant moonshine gently lit the contours of his face. He stirred in his sleep. He was in the company of a pleasant dream, expansive like his mother’s love. It had ascended on him and rocked him in its benevolence.
But then, a cloud aimlessly shifting in the night sky haphazardly spilled a handful of light on to his face. He stirred again, the movement dissolving his dream and opening his eyes straight into the night’s still embrace. The moonlight revealed a fading vermillion tilak on his forehead and waging futile wars against the flow of life he had cut wrinkles on his skin. The thin light silhouetted a few trees in the night sky.

All was quiet. Faded in communion. Not a stray bird, not a cricket spoke and his eyes automatically shut their lids in response to the silence. They absorbed the emptiness.

That’s when he heard the air that gently rose and fell with his breath. It went on and on, entering him and leaving him; pouring in and out; no strings attached, for free! Who was it? What was it, and why? He lay there watching it breathe through him.

Dawn saw him rise in peace. The shower cubicle slid gently as he entered it. The first spark of water fell on his face sending a shiver through him. The warm water sprayed down his chest and his head tilted in anticipation of sheer pleasure. Warmth on his shoulders, the nape of his neck, his spine. He shifted on his feet to keep the warmth alive.

The large mirror opposite the shower cubicle watched through misty eyes as he surrendered his flesh to the caress of water. He felt a gentleness ride his body and felt grateful towards the many blurred faces that had begun to emerge and merge in the steam. Images of his friends; friends because they never saw his heaviness, his angry and insecure being. And foes; foes because they never saw his lightness. Rare few faces that didn’t subscribe to both glimmered in the foggy light and left too soon. Still their presence made him feel kindly even towards the resident spider watching him from its wet perch, and they opened higher perches for him too to watch from. Through the water curtain that bathed his eyes he saw the previous night sky and its thin breath quietly but surely weaving in him the day’s stories.

He turned his head towards the left, towards the day and its stories; towards this world and its concerns. And in the frosted glass to his left he saw his teachers. Those who taught him his rituals, those who taught him his mantras, the tinkle of bells, the smell of camphor, the sacred Tulsi leaf, and the red flowers, all encompassed in the mesmeric glow of a tiny wick. And the many manifested forms; human, animal, bird, plant, stone…

He turned his head towards the right, towards the un-manifested world. Those mind boggling symbolic beings; those potential manifestations of the human mind and its vaporous thoughts. The muffled laughter of water filled his ears, rapidly morphing into the laughter in those eyes that could not understand him. Eyes that could not see beyond the thought forms that inhabited him. He didn’t blame them, he himself could easily get lost in that magical weave. But have they never penetrated beyond the flesh and skin? Do they only see the body and its outer shell?

He now looked straight, raising his head towards the waterfall. Hands raised, palms cupped beseechingly, he remembered the nights emptiness; its breath moving in and out, in and out. A moan escaped his lips. Tear and water mingled. He gathered the vast stillness in his leaky palms and bathed his gentle face again and again with it. Grace showered from the vast universe on a tiny being embedded in an impartial and incessant breath. He was blessed by the one with the dark skin, by the one smeared with pale ash. Blessed by the benevolent feminine grace. By the tiger and the lion; the cow and the bull; the elephant, the rat, the monkey, the peacock; the mountains, rivers and wind and sun and moon and endless stars. The splashing waters etched them all on to his wet skin. They seared through his blood, claiming him.

He slowly moved his feet, circling around and catching the water on his bowed head. Nothing remained in him but the pounding of rain that washed away memories. Nothing but the watchful eyes of the misty shroud across the shower cubicle. He knew he was being watched, followed like a mute shadow since he was a child. Its presence seemed ordinary, only natural as a child. But as he grew, as the learning grew, it had reduced to a tug here and there, a flash, a faint call, a murmur. He stepped out of the cubicle.

A smile lit his face as he walked towards the shroud. Towards the king of compassion and his kingdom. Towards the thin veil that embraced both him and his master. Love thy neighbor, his master had said. He had tried and failed. He saw himself sneaking into the church as a child when the sermons and the ceremonies were done with, when he could walk into the kingdom with his head raised and kneel at the altar, not the pew, just a bit closer to the lord. He kept his eyes open so that he may not miss the rare sight of compassion on a human face. He asked for forgiveness and was forgiven. The cherubs and the clouds watched as the colored stained glass poured light from the heavens. What a beautiful world! He couldn’t shut his eyes. He crossed his heart, embedded the savior in him and walked towards the white granite pedestal in which dwelt the holy water. He anointed his forehead with it.

He hesitated for a moment before the shroud. He looked at the ever watchful eyes. At the eye behind the eye. That which accompanied him everywhere and right now, here, behind the shroud, behind the mist, the veil. His hands rose to clear the mist, but hung hesitantly for a moment. His breath held in his heart. This was the moment he had always waited for. When he could touch, feel and know. He cleared the mirror.

He peered and peered in disbelief at the face in the mirror.
– Anuradha Nalapat 2015