The sacred ash on the forehead is something that I have been forced to adorn, ever since I can remember. It wasn’t always pleasant – for the ones who associated with such things were ‘uncool’ and well, I suppose it was a time when I did not want to be left out of the gang. I am not sure if I had questioned the rationale behind the practice, I must have, for such has been my nature. I certainly do not remember having been provided convincing reasoning, yet, I stuck to the rule. I do not know why – sometimes, I feel we are ordained certain things. This is in spite of my having read The Secret, and also having trusted the so called logic in it.
Much later, I grew up to associate with the Lord of ‘constructive destruction’. Legend says He is perpetually in a state of trance, and that He lives in the cremation grounds; a place where He would hardly be troubled by anybody. For this was where He would enjoy the greatest of all music; that of silence. And why would anybody want to trouble someone who lives in the midst of burning corpses?
And thus, the sacred ash became more than just a habit. I would be proud to wear it – for it reminded me of what I consider to be a great truth – the end. I would wear it in the morning, and night, and every time I had a wash or visited a temple. To me, it was a constant reminder of sorts. Interestingly, when I had learnt the symbolism, I had started to develop a liking, and to an extent, even a certain pride in sporting it. Strangely, to me, the very same thing had become ‘cool’. And thankfully by then, I had stopped worrying being ‘cool’ and accepted anyways.
“That is not a smart idea”, he had said.
I looked back to find him stand at the door of the compartment. He sported a clean shaven look, with the mark of Vishnu very neatly done on his broad forehead. I hadn’t had a good look at him yet, but told him that it wasn’t legal to smoke on the train, and so I had chosen so jump out while the train had halted at a signal, to quickly enjoy a couple of drags.
For some reason, I was reminded of this short story that was a part of my English textbook while I was in school. Even though I could identify with the ‘smug scientific minds’ of the youngsters in the story, I had, even then, felt a deep surge of pity for Gunga Ram. And that, for some reason, made me dislike the author then.
“The train will start moving and it is dangerous. You aren’t even on a platform. Get in, and I’ll allow you to smoke from the doorstep”, he retorted. So surprised I was, that by the time I could grasp what he had said and take a good look at him, he was on his way.
It was breezy, and the moving train added to the effect. I stood there for a while, enjoying the force of the wind on my face. It was hard to know if the thoughts whizzing past the mind where any more ferocious in their speed than the wind that was literally piercing my skin.
When I decided to go back to my seat, I found the ticket checker seated, his feet stretched on the vacant seat opposite his own. There was something peaceful about his countenance, and the mark on his forehead only added grace. I walked past, hesitated, and walked back to him. I did not know what to say. I told him my name, stretched out my hand for a shake, and searched for the customary name badge that they wear on the lapel of their coats. When I did spot his name, I smiled, and looked into his eyes. He reciprocated, with the most beatific smile I have seen in recent times, and simply said, “Thank you”, and I know not for what.
I nodded, and quietly walked back, content with having met Mr. Tiruvengadam in a pleasantly surprising encounter.
PS: my apologies for having disappeared all this while. with work the way it is, my guess is that this may continue to be so for a while. i considered shutting down the blog for not having done justice to it, but shot down the idea when i realized that some of you have indeed been lurking around here, and requesting me to write. my gratitude to such of you – it is indeed gratifying to note that we connect to remote souls in different parts of the world, in different ways, through this medium. i shall endeavour to drop by at your own ‘taverns’ when time permits, and also to keep this space alive…