The great epochs of our lives come when we gain the courage to rechristen our evil as what is best in us.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
It was a chilly December morning and the fog had taken the entire north India in its fold.The days were short and the nights got stretched to well after the time when it would have been bright and sunny otherwise.Lucknow was still a small town and folks ushered into the warm inviting quilts early in the evenings.Most watched television while cracking peanuts from a pack made up of old newspaper while watching their favorite TV soap or just chatted away with family members.The mornings too were laid back and the laziness of not coming out of a cozy bed was a luxury that had a charm of its own.
Everyone however was not that Lucky.Som had a job at a 5 start hotel and to make the early morning shift he had to be up and about by 5:00 in the morning.While the neighborhood enjoyed a deep slumber he was kicking his Mobike to make the 15 km journey.He had got used to it in the last 3 years since he changed his job but this time the winter was harsher than ever and the fog in the morning was making things worse.There had been times when he had lost his way and had gone astray landing into the ditch on either side of the highway.
As usual Som woke up by the ring of his alarm clock and started going through the grind – shave,brushing,bath ….but as he was prepairing his tea he felt there was something strange about the morning.It was as if an errie feeling had gripped him.Something was pulling him to go out while his heart sank and clutched his feet.He shrugged the thought away and continued to stare at the water boiling on the gas stove.He came out and got his bike on to the road to kickstart it.To his surprise it won’t start even after trying five or six times.Was it too cold today? Couldn’t be.May be there is something with the spark plug he thought.Well let me try once more he decided and then I will take my hands out of the gloves and touch the Icy cold metal.This time he kicked with an extra effort and the familiar sound of the Yamaha engine comforted him.He was on the road.
The fog was dense and even the light from the neon lamps was not able to completely light up the way.Rather the neons looked like evenly interspersed blobs in the sky.To break the monotony of a slow ride and an uninhabited landscape Som imagined them to be UFO’s , each inviting him to an intergaxial odyssey. He had been on the road for the last twenty minutes when he hit the patch he hated to traverse.He had desperately wanted to avoid it every day but since he was mostly getting late there was no other option.As he took a sharp right turn on the bank of river Gomti he promised to look straight so as to avoid looking at the Funeral pyres which inadvertanatly caught his attention and made him think about the fleeting nature of life – the disease, the death and the decay.It was not a pleasant thought to begin the day for anyone and he was no different.
The headlight of his motorcycle tried hard to pierce through the darkness and the fog but all it could afford was a visibility of less that 5-6 feet.Som wanted to raise the accelerator so he could get past the shamshan(funeral ground) quickly but he was afraid he would bump into a passer by or another vehicle travelling on the wrong side having lost its way.Suddenly he saw a figure which was just an outline but there was something unusual about it.As he got closer he was able to make out that it was a Sadhu- one of the many mystics who roam the Indian roads indifferent to the material world lost in thier quest for the eternal and the ever elusive.But what was he doing here and at this time ?? Was he even real ?? Just as these thoughts gushed his mind the Sadhu started to wave his hand in a signal to stop the moving vehicle.There was no one around and in the background of the lighted funeral pyres the figure which would have otherwise looked quite normal had transformed itself into something magical and larger than life.
Som wanted to avoid this rendezvous and tried to move his bike away but by now it was too late.He would have to either stop or run over the man in front of him only if he did not get past him as he had seen in ghost movies.He put the brakes on and stopped.He noticed that the Sadhu had nothing on except a thin White Dhoti and a big rudraksh Mala which hung around his torso like a garland.He had a bunch of matted locks on his head and his forehead was covered with ash which was perhaps from the Shamshan.
Staring at him with his red ganja smoked eyes the Sadhu asked :
kaam par ( To Work)
yahee to samasyaa hai tumhaari.aaj aur abhee se aage dikhta nahin hai.Wo jo jal rahe hain wahan wo bhi yahee kehte the aur dekho khaan pahunch gaye.
(That’s the problem with you guys.You can’t see beyond today.Look at those burning themselves there, even they used to parrot the same)
Som did not know what to say.He had thought the same everyday as he passed by but had never had the courage to confront himself.
Bum Bum bhole ! Chalo hamein aage tak chod do.Phir dekhenge ..
(Salutations to lord Shiva! OK drop me to my destination and we’ll see..)
As if in a trance Som nodded and raised his accelerator once he could feel that the back seat had been occupied.The smell of burnt ash and Ganja(Cannabis) filled his senses as he drove on the bank of the river.He was not afraid anymore and just assumed that this would be one of the most interesting rides of his life.
Baba aapko jaada nahin lagta ?(Don’t you feel cold) asked Som turning his face backwards a bit to make himself audible.
Jaada to tumhe bhee nahin lagta par tumne maan liya hai ki lagega so lagta hai.( even you don’t feel it but since you believe that you should,you do)
Yahaan kaise ? (How come you are here)
Pooja karne aaye the baba bholenath ke paas.( I came to pray to Lord Shiva the simple and innocent one)
yahaan mandir bhee hai.( do they have a temple here?)
hai na.aadmi ko jeene aur marne dono ke liye ishwar ki awyashaktaa hai.
( Oh Yes they do ! Man needs God for while he is alive and when he is dead too)He laughed almost with a child like innocence.
Aap kaun hai.( So who are you exactly)
Ye sawaal to tumhe apne aap se bhee poochnaa chahiye.( Even you should ask this question to yourself.)
Mera matlab aap pujari to nahin lagte ( I mean you do not look like a priest)
Mai ek aghori hoon ( I am a Aghori)
Som’s jaw dropped and he felt that he would loose the grip and fall.His blood rushed to his heart as it started beating faster in response to the freshly pumped adrenaline in his veins.He had once heard about the Aghoris on a trip to Varanasi.It was said that they practised the occult by living with the dead.They lived on the shamshan and away from the city and practically hunted freshly burnt bodies for parts that could be used in thier rituals to please and tame evil spirits.They practised the left path of hath yoga and tantra to reach the union with the supreme shakti or Goddess of Power called Shamshan Tara.They were seekers of the path of darkness…
Even discussing about an Aghori was considered a taboo but here he was, sharing a motorcycle ride with one.
To kya karte ho hotel main?( so what do you do in the hotel ?)the voice from behind broke the silence and chain of thoughts.
Kuch khaas nahin.Main computer chalaataa hoon.( Nothing much.I work with the computers)
Sofware or hardware ?
What ? Exclaimed Som before he started to think that how did the man on his back seat know that he worked for a Hotel.
I said you look after software or hardware.Don’t you know the difference?The voice quality had changed as it does when you listen to a prerecorded message on a machine.It was deep and mechanical.
Som remembered reading that Aghoris could transform materials at will and perhaps the sound waves had translated themselves in thin air at the behest of the Yogi.
haan jaanata hoon na .( Yes I do know it) Was all he could manage.
They rode for a while in silence.Som was not sure if there was a need to talk.His companion probably knew more about him than he did himself.
Achcha batao ki Jeewan aur mratyu mein kya farq hai ?( Ok then tell me whats the difference between life and Death)
Som thought it wise to keep silent.
Awastha kaa. Jo jad hai usme chetna aaye to Jeewan aur jo chetan hai wo jad ho gaya to mratyu.Aur ye to chakra hai chalta hee rehta hai.Agar tumhe pata ho ki agle janam mein tum kya banoge aur phir uske agle janam mein kya to phir mratyu se kya waise hee bhayabheet hoge jaise aaj hote ho.
( These are just two states.Where there is life you are alive and when the it gets taken away you are dead.And this cycle keeps repeating itself from the time unknown.If you know what’s going to happen to you in the next life and the life after that would you be afraid of death as you are now)
Shayad nahin par aap aisa kyun keh rahe hain.( I don’t think so.But why are you asking ?)
Bas aise hi.Jo hona hai wo to hoga.tum wyarth hi uske liye apne aap ko jimmewaar maante ho.Varun kaun hai ?
( Just like that.Whatever has to happen , it does happen and you keep telling yourself that you are responsible.Who is Varun ?)
“To aap sab kuch hin nahin sabko bhi jaante hain”( Oh you not only know everything but everyone too) Som mocked . He was filled with courage the source of which could not be explained.
Jaante to tum bhee ho par pehchante nahin ho.Baba Bholenath ki Jai !
( even you know it but you are not able to recognize it. Salutations to the Innocent one ! )
Varun kaun hai isse kya fark padta hai.Haan isse farq zaroor padta hai ki uska baap kaun hai aur wo kis company mein kaun sa kaam karta hai.
What difference does it make Som narrated in a wry and listless tone.
They kept riding for a while and then Som felt a tap on his shoulder.
Mujhe yahin taka janaa hai abhee.Ye prasad le lo.Baba Bhairavnath Kalyan karenge tumhara.
( As of now I have to go till here only.Take this Prasad. The Lord Bhairavnath will give you blessings)
Som took the clove suspiciously in his hand and gestured to put it in his pocket.
Daro Mat gruhan karo.Prasad hai Baba ka.( don’t be afraid.Eat it.It is the holy prasad of the lord)
Som put the clove in his mouth and suddenly the expression on the face of Aghori changed.He looked as if in deep anger and started reciting a mantra in some strange language.When he finished he looked at Som with his bloodshot eyes and shouted.Som could only hear the last two words –
Phat Swaha !!!
The Aghori turned away and stared walking without looking back.
The day went by but Som could not focus his mind.He had wanted to share the events of today morning but he chose not to for some strange reason.He did not even call his brother at home with whom he always shared everything that happened in his life.
The next morning when he came to office everyone was talking in a hush hush.He moved slowly towards his work station.He never liked to gossip and always stuck to his work and today was no different.
Som opened his computer but his attention was diverted towards the corner of the office where Gauri used to sit.Everyone had gathered around her and the girls were trying to console Gauri as she sobbed incessantly.
He was wondering what to do when his colleague Akash stopped by his workstation.With a grim expression on his face Aaksh whispered
“Gauri’s fiancee Varun met with an accident today morning.Looks like a hit and run case.The police are saying they have not been able to get a clue as to what happened.Sad isn’t it ??”
Som nodded in agreement not sure if his reaction was of excitement or concern.
He muttered ” Bum Bum Bhole” and headed towards Gauri’s desk.Someone’s phone started ringing:
Keep shining ,keep smiling
know that you can always count on me.
For sure , that’s what friends are for.
In good times ,in bad times
I’ll be on your side for ever more….That’s what fiends are for.