Uday Prakash – Broken women, Nehru-ji and Astaachal

New translation of Uday Prakash’s story खंडित  स्त्रियों, नेहरूजी और अस्ताचल.  Udayji writes about this story as his first, ‘written in memory of 27 May 1964’.  It will take too long to type out the story in Hindi but there is a version online here.

 

खंडित  स्त्रियों, नेहरूजी और अस्ताचल[1] – उदय प्रकाश

Broken women, Nehru-ji and Astaachal

If monsoon had started then for half of Ashadha [the fourth month of the Hindu year, 15 June-16 July] our village was cut off from all the world.  No letters came, and no guests.  This was because on one side of the village was a river and on the remaining three sides were forest streams, mountains, hills and jungle.

The road to the market and town went from right where the biggest river was.  There were no tar and metal roads until a bridge was built across that river.  If sometimes the villagers had a need to go to the market or town they hollowed out the trunk of a tree, dried it and made a canoe from it.

That river, well, it was filled with so many mysteries, and the wild mountain streams were no less so.  Those streams, filled from rocky caverns, springs in the forest, and the moisture of vegetation and trees, ran through deep darkness.

And their waters spoke differently from their depths.  People had the habit of hearing the voices of the water in the different seasons and the different periods of day and night, they could speak a little of the mysteries of these streams that ran through the mountains like wild boar.

In the village on 27 May, 1964, in the middle of Class Nine English, news came from the radio (powered by batteries printed with a jumping cat) of Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s death.  That day a load of us kids sat on a tractor and went to see another rocky stream.  The tractor ran on ‘PowerIn’ fuel.  Research on diesel happened after.  Now you can’t get ‘PowerIn’ anywhere.  This would never happen now.

The stream that we had gone to look at had many very old statues jutting out around it.  The type of stone that the statues were carved from, forget our village, you couldn’t get it in the whole district, so the guess was that this stone must have come from some far country.  In those times, when these statues were hewn, there were no trains, or trucks.  If these stones were taken by oxcarts, then the oxen, of any stock, would have been finished when even four or five stones had reached here.

Those men too, who put the stones on their ox-carts to bring them here, how old they must have grown arriving here again and again.  It was for this reason that without the help of any history, even the straight, simple and unlettered folk of our village knew that these stones must have been floated in on the streams torrents from somewhere far upstream.  Hundreds and thousands of miles away[2].  From this, the idea came that this smallish stream, at one point in time, must have once been a very large river.

A thing that no-one knew was from what ancient water sources and from inside which area’s unknown mountains, the stream came.  Maybe the world’s historians and geographers have this information, but in our village no-one knew.

Like other wild mountain streams, the waters of that stream were intense.  As the water began to become lively it seemed that the river would lift us from land and carry us inside its tunnel.  In the months of Ashadha-Saavan [July-August], looking for their lost cow or ox in the night, people often got drowned carried off by the stream like this and then their corpse would never be found.  Otherwise their body must have been trapped in a rocky gorge in the forest and later perished there, leaving a carcass overtaken by weeds and stagnant water or eaten by hawks and crows.

On 27 May, 1964 we had gone to look at this stream.  Any guest who came to our house was sure to be taken there once.  The statues that were jutting out around the stream were of many kinds.  A statue of eight-armed Durga, a statue of deathly Bhairav and Yakshini, statues of lions and elephants raising pillars carved from huge rocks on their head and shoulders.  Statues of tiny women with infinitely beautiful bodies were carried on the head and shoulders of some giant unknown god or man.

There were so many gods and animals in those rocks, and there were many times more women.  These women were troubled or delighted, or it wasn’t clear exactly what they were.  All of the women were of stone and all their faces looked alike.  They were all equal in this too, aside from some jewellery, they were not wearing anything.  The jewellery on their bodies was pretty skimpy too.

These women with their naked bodies could either be seen in prayer positions or sitting in the lap of some god.  The stone women were carved praising gods, serving them or bearing their great weight.  But they were very beautiful.  Especially their breasts and thighs.  The sad thing was that the statues had often cracked.  In fact maybe all the statues were cracked.  Some had broken arms, some had no heads, on some everything below the waist was missing.

People believed that earlier there had been some fort in this place.  Some king had lived there.  Some people said that at an unknown time the Padavas[3] had come here in secret.  Whatever had happened, the remains of the fort’s walls were present even now.

Often the women and goddesses made of stone said to some man from the village in the night “Go to the river bank underneath the fruit trees and dig in the ground.  You’ll find the king’s buried treasure there.”

People went with crowbars, pickaxes and spades and dug the ground from where the statues began cropping up.  Taking injuries from the ploughing of crowbars and spades the statues became cracked.  In their greed for the treasure people from the village and the surrounding areas broke the hands, feet, heads and waists of all the beautiful women, yakshinis[4] and goddesses.  It was done to the limbs of every beautiful woman.  Now if they are ever alive, their torsos will be incomplete.

Statues like this were scattered around our village in every direction.  At harvest time the ploughs in the fields would uncover and bang into them.  If someone was to dig a well or lay the foundations for a house, they would come out there too.  It was said by a certain priest who knew a lot of astrology that he had dug under big trees and got a pot full of soil which had gold jewellery in it.  But that priest went mad that day and no-one knew where he put his pot of earth.  The priest had now become old and dark.  He went on digging around in piles of fallen coal on the edge of the rail tracks.  He must have put his pot in some train.  He himself had fallen to selling bananas and washing himself at the tap.  The train must have got away.

OO

In May of 1964 my age must have been around 11 or 12.  At that time I was in love with a girl around my age who had come to our village from Raebareli.  This girl didn’t know how to ride a cycle, or to swim, or to climb trees, and was very afraid of cattle, dogs, jackals and darkness.  See, she was from the city.  She couldn’t run that fast either and the soles of her feet were very weak.  Without sandals her feet got badly cut by all the stones.

May is a summer month.  It’s Vaishaakh-Jeth [April-May, May-June].  When all the people of the house slept after having eaten lunch, we both cycled into the fields.

To get up on the cycle we’d take it up a slope, I’d give the bike a push and then we would both run together.  I always knew that we were certain to fall.  I wanted this and it happened too.  Leaving me and staggering with the cycle, she became afraid that her balance was failing and forgot the brakes in trying to get free from the cycle.  She was a smart girl, and sitting on the speeding bike she tried to become independent of it.

I never let her fall.  I always kept thinking about this only.  Before falling properly I lifted her and a little time later she was standing on the ground.  Then we both laughed.  I laughed at her fear and her try for independence and she laughed at something else, even today I don’t know what.

At that age it was not possible to say this, but at this age I can very reliably say that in reality I loved that girl.  She loved me too, I knew from seeing her body scorched in May afternoons’ hot winds[5] and heat.  If she didn’t love me she would certainly have said sometime ‘The wind is burning like a fire, let’s quit this cycle game now.’  Or ‘What madness is this?  To leave the house and ride some cycle in the afternoon.’

I saw that her body had started to slowly burn in the May sunIn a little more time the hot winds would make her face aubergine. Or maybe the colour of copper.  Her sandal bindings would break so many times, and be fastened with a pin, hidden in I don’t know which corner of her frock.  I knew too how hot the cycle’s iron frame must have become in such warm afternoons.        

But maybe, in finding happiness in my pleasure, riding the cycle in the burning May, that girl was happy.

In her innocence, she was doing austerities for my inner god and in the future her body would be burning to lift that great burden.

It was like this that love was proved for us both at twelve years of age.

But this Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru thing was happening.

We two were at the side of the stream, and together that girl and I were looking at the broken statues of yakshini’s and ladies.  I wanted to show the girl some parts of the yakshini’s beautiful bodies, my belief was that the girl would keep those parts for herself in future.  She would herself become a yakshini or devi one day.

I wanted to pray that this girl would not become stone and that she wouldn’t be broken by the spade or crowbar of some man in search of treasure.

At this time our one servant came on a cycle and, looking in my direction, said: ‘Nehruji has died.’

I knew he had said this sentence just for me.  Father must have sent him to call for me. But he surely understood what he said.  There was a connection between me and Nehruji, not just this servant, all the people in my house knew this.  I made pictures of Nehruji.  I cut out his profile from the boxes of Sunlight Soap, it was always kept on my table. Nehruji’s lower lip which stuck out a little and, right next to the nostrils of his long nose, the two lines of his lips in both directions.  I could draw his profile on my slate by candlelight in less than half a minute.

I didn’t believe the servant’s words.  How could this have happened.  This was impossible.  I was seized by the need to return home.  That girl was holding my shoulders.  I couldn’t believe this news to be true without asking Father.

OO

When we returned home evening had set in.  The shadows of the trees had disappeared into darkness.  Lanterns had been lit.  Father was listening to the radio.  Five or six other people were sat with him.  Everyone was absolutely quiet.  Pannalal the jeweller from Allahabad was among the people present there.  One of his feet was crooked.  His hair was messed up and he had an eager-to-please face like Dev Anand.  He had made jewellery and ornaments in the old royal household.  He had not married.  He would tell anyone how Prabhudutt Brahmachari and Karpatriji had lost to Nehruji in the elections.

He used to say that when Nehruji got angry he would pick up a cotton cushion and hit it.  He said that Nehruji would probably burst an artery in his brain and die after being tricked by someone[6].

I saw that Pannalal was crying.  Then, in the dim light of the lantern, I saw father.  He had been listening to the radio and looking in my direction for I don’t know how long.  He was dabbing at his eyes.  He was a man of Gandhji and Sarvodaya[7], in spite of being from a royal house.  The radio was saying that the Russian leader Khrushchev had picked up Nehruji’s picture and was crying.  In those days Devkinandan Pandey used to read the news.  People said that while reading the news even he started crying.  This wasn’t at all unnatural.

If I had been today’s age I would have said that there was nothing unprofessional about this.

Actually, I want to say that in the dim light of the lanterns or in the darkness or after taking up some picture, it would never be wrong to cry.  This is like a point of principle.

I now feel that behind my connection with Nehruji perhaps there must have been something of the rivers’ mysteries.  When his will was printed in the newspapers I saw that in this he had written a whole paragraph about the Ganges river.  Now everyone knows about that paragraph, in which, at night, in the light of the moon, flowing alone, the Ganges whispers its mystery and magic.

Everyone also knows that Nehruji had said that one part of his ashes should be scattered in the Ganges.  If Nehruji had not been Prime Minister and had been born somewhere near our village then I could definitely have talked with him a bit about the rocky jungle streams and our village river.

After this, that girl went back to Raebareli.  After that day I stopped teaching her to cycle.  She also never once said anything about this to me.

Yes, one time, when we both were on the veranda lying together on the cot like before, she asked ‘have you made more pictures?’  I had shown her the pictures I used to make in those days.  In one picture Nehruji was walking toward the setting sun with his hands behind his back.  She said, you should make this picture on the wall.

I had made a picture like this on the wall from coal, yellow mud and grains.  Now, two years ago, I had read in Tariq Ali’s book that Nehruji in childhood used to fly in his dreams.

Twenty six years have passed now, and I was never able to meet that girl.  Not twenty six, maybe twenty eight years have passed.

But not meeting some girl for twenty eight years, what difference does it make in the end?

I came to find out for sure that the girl had done an MA in History.  She always got things quickly.  Then she had fallen in love.  After this she got sick.  I also found out that she started smoking, and had become very thin.

Another thing I found out was that she had many times asked people about me.  She had collected all information about me.

I want to show her again the picture of Nehruji that I had made on the wall for her.  After this I will also tell her how quickly I make pictures of Buddha.

I also keep thinking that we will both sit on the cycle together and go to look at the yakshinis by that river.

This too is a rule that after learning to ride a cycle it is practically impossible to forget.  This is the worst part of the theory.

Maybe I was talking of the broken statues, Nehruji and Astaachal.

 

…और अंत में प्रार्थना
उदय प्रकाश
२००६
वाणी प्रकाशन
नयी दिल्ली
[1] Astaachal is the name of a legendary mountain in the West which the sun sets behind (cf paragraph eight).  Used as a verb Ast is to set or decline http://dsalsrv02.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.0:1:2344.platts.

[2] lit. kos – 4-8,000 hands / 2 miles

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandava

[4] http://www.shivashakti.com/yaksh.htm

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loo_(wind)

[6] ‘Nehru’s health began declining steadily after 1962, and he spent months recuperating in Kashmir through 1963. Some historians attribute this dramatic decline to his surprise and chagrin over the Sino-Indian War, which he perceived as a betrayal of trust.’  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jawaharlal_Nehru#Death

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarvodaya

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