Whispers, Sacred corners and Migrations in the Eye.
The story behind the form- a gateway into the invisible sacred world of a Devarkadu, forcing a shift in perception.
They will come today, artists living close to the sky, in tall buildings, taller than me, from Bangalore. They will look at my girth and will be filled with awe. They will love my branches, its network, and they will capture me in their cameras. They will speak to muniandi, gauramma, lakshamma and hanumanthappa. They will scribble words in their books and they will seem eager. Eager to explore me and my friends. There’s nothing new in us, what’s in me is in them, it’s just that they have forgotten their birth right. Forgotten the glitter of the star dust we both are made of. I will try and narrate here the stirrings in my soul, so that we remember to remember each other.
Birth- A Belief?
It was the month of September when Muniyandi came with Muthulakshmi. Sitting at my feet they rested their tired heads on my roots. Mother earth supports me come what may, feeding me as my roots probe into her depths, and into the Pinaki river a few kilometers from here. I don’t know how she does it or who sustains her. All I know is that somehow the sap rises in me, effortlessly, from there far away, and deep down beneath the earth, near the Pinaki river bank, which of course is hidden from human vision. At the Vidura Ashwatha temple you can see my outer form. Without fail her water flows through me, for perhaps 200 years now. Muthulakshmi looked up at me hungrily, helplessly, the pain melting in her eyes. She kissed me several times on my root and wept silently. I love her and I wish her well. Two months later they came with a beautifully carved Nagakkal and presented it to me. Their eyes shone like the lamps they lit for me. Hundreds have come over full moon nights, sharing their pain and you may ask, do I listen? Well, yes, and No, for who am I to listen, and who am I, to not listen?
Nanappa, where is he today? I miss him if he doesn’t come and sit quietly under my shade. His eyes glazed with age he says he’s 87, does he really know? He knows that I will miss him, very few know what he knows. He sings for me some days when his heart is light, there seated on that granite stone, next to the pillar that supported the children’s Ferris wheel. He remembers their joy as the wheel picked them up and spun them round and round. The freedom, the weightlessness, the children beamed and glowed in the fading lights. On days when the magic in his voice lifts itself and tugs at my soul, I feel the sap rise effortlessly up my trunk and shoots. I rustle my leaves, just for him and he looks up at me in awe.
When Sita brought her child from the nearby village she looked beaten. Three year old frail Ganga lay in her lap. Too thin for her age, her hair grew sparsely on her unusually large head and her feet were thin as my twigs. I didn’t think those legs would ever be able to support her. I don’t know why I forgot that the same earth that supported me for 200 years would also support her, no doubt.
Three weeks later when they came, Sita looked lighter and the child’s anklets softly tinkled around my roots. It was that evening, in awe, that I sprouted a new branch, that one there, facing North West. Odd. It catches the wind straight on.
One day when I heard the temple bells ringing and I woke up, I looked down to see thousands of nagakkals surrounding me. That’s when I realized that they were multiplying endlessly, quite like my own roots that twisted and turned and probed in a network of aspirations and hopes. Hope met hopelessness, belief carved the way and somehow my roots and branches and leaves spread out meeting time and its endless stories.
Each day the air would exhale stories of death, renewal and growth. A smiling Sita, a pregnant Bhagya, the tinkle of a child’s trinkets… The Brahminy kite witnessed all this perched on my topmost branch, and the noisy bunch of bats swooped in and out my branches. Muthu the bull, named fondly after Varalakshmi’s dead husband, scratched its back on my trunk, and all of a sudden as though wiping away all their pain and mine, as though suffering would now come to an end, I sprouted another branch! He refused to go the path the others followed. He went straight for the sun. He moved horizontal to the ground, wooing it like a snake, and I thought and hoped that one day he would look up. No, this son of mine, he had no such need, to see the sun. Perhaps he knew, the sun.
A shift in Perception
When Muniyandi looked at me, he saw right through me. Not just my size, my leaves, my branches. He knew he couldn’t count or trace my leaves or branches just like the veins in his body. He couldn’t understand How? Why? What? So he had to keep quiet. He felt grateful, relieved, and small. So he sat under my shade and slept soundly. Tomorrow would be a long day and he had to take the sheep out to graze. He has been prohibited from collecting my fruits, and I feel incomplete, laden and swollen with fruit and unable to give. He never thought a day would come when lightening would strike me. But it did, splitting me open right at the center. He thought I would die, I thought so too, but it was Muniyandis touch that gave me strength. I decided to live for him. I just had to shed a few old leaves and take a new path… leading into the unknown.
I planted her, he had said, pointing to the 150 year old Ficus, now protected and considered sacred by the government. “Have you seen Gangamma? The goddess that protects the people of Nallur?” Of course, he had said, without batting a lid, no hesitation whatsoever, reminding you of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. – “She looks just like you…she wears her sari short…you don’t believe me do you? “He queried sadness creeping into his voice.
“Really?!” said amused, arched eyebrows. Yes, we do, yes we do believe you!”
They cannot see what dwells in Muniyandi’s eyes. The gentle whispers he is tuned into, now there, now gone in the breeze; the sacred crossroads that urge you to expand your gaze and take new pathways; the deep bonds that he shares with the Ficus- his eyes track the kite who regularly rests on her branches, the new shivering leaf she sprouted a week after Lakshamma the ten year old kicked her roots and expressed her displeasure at tripping on them. In his eyes dwelt Naggu who watched eagerly as he had dug the borer beetle out of its bark. They’re not just memories. Memory is just the tip of the iceberg. Relationships were forged in the dimly lit huts, shared over a meal of thin gruel. A mango; jackfruits perhaps. The tryst with destiny is sealed with a liberal scoop of trust, and that’s it. And in this fertile breeding ground there are no lies. This magical potion offered by the priests, amidst the clanging of bells at dingy road side shrines transforms lies into sacred lives.
Ranna the two year old came to see me and he could see beyond the physical. He could see through the barriers, the constructs. So could my little Naggu, she’s been prancing in and out of these increasingly rare sacred spaces, and I can see her with the nameless dog with a wag. She’s the clay goddess who tastes the offerings of coconut and jaggery. She’s the one who sees and responds to the wag. She shares it with the nameless dog. She doesn’t throw questions of Why? How? Who? to the snake idols, unlike the city folk who stand bewildered and frozen unable to penetrate the physical boundaries, unable to glimpse the ethereal. These granite, deaf, dumb and mute stones are her world. Her source of livelihood. What is there to say?
Time likes to twist me, break me, gnarl me, and so be it. But call me superstitious, ridicule me, put words into my mouth, contort me, strangle me? I will be here long after you have gone. Listen, and in my debris you can hear the bellow of the buffaloes and the sparrows chirp. Listen, and you can hear yourself, your father, his father, his grandfather, all in an endless loop.