BEFORE THE DAWN OF A RAINBOW by Maduranthakam Narendra

“The blessings of Goddess Lakshmi are lingering in your face,” Swami said in soft voice.

Rajaratnam raised his head with a start and looked around.

There was a person standing in the street in front of the threshold of the house. With a turban, which was as big as a basket on the top of his lean frame, his appearance reminded one of a long broomstick. He put on four or five varieties of shirts, one over the other, and wore a shabby overcoat on top of them. The doti he tucked in the cloth tied round his waist was stretched only up to his knees. Some more old clothes, a few shirts and towels, adorned his shoulders as if the clothes he wore were not enough for him. His beard, which resembled the thorny bush, covered his lips completely. Over his bushy eyebrows, there was a big saffron mark dazzling like frozen blood. His turban was studded with charmed lockets and bronze amulets. His earrings, which seemed like the dead bodies of two big bugs, were awkwardly gaudy.

“Goddess Lakshmi has perched on your face. You have focussed your mind on a big deed. Hereafter nothing hinders your will,” said the budabukkala[1] man fluttering his hand-drum briskly.

Rajaratnam frowned at him and then glanced toward the bend of the street. Not even an inkling of the arrival of Govindaiah. Annoyed, and shrinking his face even more, he turned towards the buddabukkala man and shouted, “Move out, move out. There is nobody in the house to fetch alms for you.”

“The mission you are preoccupied with will be definitely accomplished,” said the buddabukkala man.

 

Rajaratnam shuddered again anxiously and stared impatiently toward the street corner. The road entering the village with a hairpin bend, getting moulded itself into a street while passing through the village and finally disappearing into a high ridge, appeared as if it was engulfing two infinities. The street blazed by the afternoon sun was like a stretch of desert. Between the two rows of the houses, with their doors gaping like a rat-cage, lined up on both sides of the street, there was not even the trace of at least a single human being. As the sun reached exactly the middle of the sky, the budabukkala man could not have the companionship of even his shadow.

Rajaratnam shivered with annoyance as he felt that the whole world sans himself in the house and the budabukkala man on the other side of the threshold of the house became uninhibited.

“The place where you stand now is extremely favourable to you”, said the budabukkala man continuing his effort to transform the silence of Rajaratnam into something that favours him. “The fortune line in you right palm is like a centipede. God Vinayaka is sitting cross-legged on your tongue. God Adiseshu unfurled his hood over your head to protect you. There are signs of wheels in the sole of your feet. You will not walk where you have already walked and you will not go where you have already gone.”

Rajaratnam turned his eyes once again to the street corner. Govindaiah was nowhere to be found. Rajaratnam was disappointed. He looked daggers at the budabukkala man and thundered, “Alright, alright! No budabukkala man ever came to me soliciting alms. You are as strong as a bull. You do not want to put your limbs to work, and so you have resorted to begging for alms. Go away, leave my place and get out”.

“That’s because I took a vow in the name of the mother Goddess to go around to the nearby villages and predict the future for those who are worthy of it. Why should I come to you when so many others in my village are waiting for me? Why should I predict the future of only you? It is all due to the mercy of the mother Goddess on you. Even the God of the Seven Hills nods his head in approval when this man, Peddanamala Tirudas, predicts one’s future. Even Siddeswara of Thalakona was startled in astonishment when I opened my mouth to forecast his future.”

Rajaratnam eyes were hovering on the curve of the road. There was not even a man or an animal on the street. “What happened to this Govindaiah? Is he going to come on time or not? That mango garden is as big as a forest. Turns out a terrific yield! One can earn no less than two lakhs, if one procures it for lease for two years. The competitors are eagerly waiting for the opportunity to grab it like a wicked fox hiding in the bushes”, he felt. Some people assured him that only Govindaiah could help him in winning the stake. However, a few others argued, “Why should you go to him for such a trivial favour? If you want, why don’t you get something great and remarkable from him? There is nothing that he cannot do.”

He was informed of Govindaiah greatness long ago. As a matter of principle, he was against asking anybody for anything, he did not even see Govindaiah’s face. But then, it became inevitable for him to seek his help and even send some money in advance as a part of the fee for his mediation. Some people were annoyed and cried, “How dare you send commission to him! That is grossly disrespectful.” But he knew that no matter how big a pumpkin is a tiny penknife is enough to cut it up. The mediator told him that Govindaiah has accepted the commission and promised him that he would arrive in time to help him. However, after sometime Rajaratnam began to suspect the mediator. He wondered if the mediator had double-crossed him, and maybe, Govindaiah had refused to accept the commission.

Rajaratnam began to wonder what kind of a man Govindaiah was? Will he or will he not come in time to him? Rajaratnam had undertaken many lucrative trades besides the mango business. Thus, for him, any time in a year has been a peak period in which he had to attend to many prior engagements. But this waiting for Govindaiah on that day forced him to stay at home. Govindaiah might show up any minute.

Rajaratnam was pacing up and down in the hallway restlessly since morning very much like a cat on the hot tin roof.

“You are eagerly waiting for something to happen from the past. Your wish will definitely be fulfilled. Nothing can come in the way of the blessing of the mother Goddess”, said Das looking directly into his eyes.

Suddenly, Rajaratnam got inspiration from hearing those words. Govindaiah might be coming soon, he felt. “Probably, he got delayed because of some unavoidable job. But he will surely keep his engagement with me. That’s all,” he thought.

“You will accomplish your goal definitely. But, we need to propitiate the God”, said Das in an attempt to ensnare Rajaratnam firmly in his plan.

“Everyone will have a wish for something or the other at one time or other. Is there a need for a God to come down to the earth to tell that? You can’t dupe me with your words. Don’t waste your time and energy to delude me. You can’t squeeze out a copper from me”, said Rajaratnam vainly trying to hide his curiosity in Das’s predictions.

Das removed the gunny bag from his shoulders and put down on the small pavement adjoining the house. Then he folded the umbrella and threw it besides the gunny bag. He sat cross-legged on the street in the hot sun in front of that house. “Don’t you dare to disregard the words of the mother Goddess”, he continued casually in a jarring tone, “She is known for not only compassion but also ferocity. I will predict everything clearly now. Listen carefully and with utmost devotion. You are leading a life of very hard work. You can count on nothing but your sweat. Your father and mother did not bequeath anything on you. Your in-laws come only to swindle you out of your barn. Those who were born from the same womb as you are jealous of you. Brothers-in-law would never wish for your betterment. But you have nothing to worry! All that you touch will turn into gold. Things you finger become silver. What ever you drink becomes nectar.”

Rajaratnam heard him for sometime and then screamed, “You can tell the same thing to my neighbour also. It suits him also pretty well.”

Das kept quiet for a while. Then he said, “You are doubting the mother Goddess. Hear me out carefully. I will explain everything. You can punish me in whatever way you want if I utter a lie. If you can prove that my prediction is not right, I am willing to break this drum and flee away without a qualm. But if I can convince you with my soothsaying, you must offer the mother Goddess whatever she demands. If you don’t oblige Goddess Lakshmi, you will infuriate her. Then she won’t ever turn her face towards you.”

 

While struggling to reflect the confidence of his words in the expression of his face, Rajaratnam retorted, “I will not be cowed down by your howl. I trust only my limbs which turn out hard work.”

“There is always a need for the grace of the God to reap a good harvest”, Das frowned at him and continued. “Hear me out one more time, and I will pronounce the words of the Goddess Mother further. You have given up voluntarily the income you had earned legitimately and begun gambling, staking the hard-earned money. And you were not satisfied with it. You planted one coin and two plants sprung up. One of them was dried out. The other one had given plenty of fruit. You had devoured them and buried the seeds in another field. There, two more trees sprung up. One of them died prematurely. The other one has spread branches abundantly. Two branches had developed roots also. One of those branches bore a big fruit. A big parrot had eaten that fruit and thrown the seed far away. There grew up a big tree. On the branches of that tree, Mother Goddess has perched. But you still believed in human beings only. And thus you scorned her.”

Rajaratnam was perturbed once again. The stretch of the street was glittering like a mirror reflecting the sun. “Did Govindaiah give him the slip? Did he join his hands with his competitors? Could he keep up his promise or ditch him?” ruminated Rajaratnam.

“Why did he disappear? If he doesn’t show up, I will force him to repay my commission”, said Rajaratnam unconsciously uttering aloud his thoughts. After speaking involuntarily and unwittingly, he felt perplexed like a thief caught red-handed.

Das continued his prediction enthusiastically as he felt elated with the few hints he got from Rajaratnam’s words quite accidentally. “You are an absolute terror to your wife. You are exceedingly irritable to your children. He who uses your money, challenges you to a duel. You are pulling the cart called family alone without any help. The yoke of responsibilities was permanently settled down on your neck. You don’t know to which shore you will be driven”.

“Do you know on which shore you will end up?” asked Rajaratnam sarcastically.

“Mother Goddess has tremendous mercy on me. I have enormous confidence on her”, said Das with a mischievous smile.

Rajaratnam glared at him and asked, “Are you married? How many children you have?”

“You claim everything in this world. But what exactly belongs to you? Oh, Mind! Your wife and children won’t come with you after your death to the nether world”, Das sang a thathwam as a reply to Rajaratnam’s question.

“No children and no wife. Then why do you need so many clothes? Why do you overburden yourself with those patched rags? Why are you so ambitious?” rebuked Rajaratnam.

“These are the clothes given by the devotees to the mother Goddess”, replied Das. “I must not refuse them, must not infuriate the mother Goddess”.

“Your clothes bag is like a giant pan full of cooked rice. That is more than enough for even ten people. It rots by the night. Why should you carry so much of food with you? Why do you still crave for alms, after amassing so much of food and clothes? Why do you crush yourself with such a weight?” roared Rajaratnam.

“Blunder, sir, a sheer blunder ….” rejoined Das while clapping his own cheeks with his palms, denoting the offence committed by Rajaratnam.

“Why do you crave for something more even after earning so much? Your ambition knows no bounds. What are you going to do after earning more and more?” he questioned Rajaratnam.

“Why are you bothered by my income?” said Rajaratnam bluntly.

“What do you do with your earning?” reiterated Das.

“I will stash it away safely”, said Rajaratnam.

“Keeping safe for what purpose?” questioned Das once again.

Rajaratnam did not know how to respond.

“Give it to charities. Thus, you can earn God’s blessings. That’s the only thing that accompanies you to the other world”, said Das.

“I don’t care for alms and donations. Are you leaving now or not? Do you want me to bring a baton to beat you up?” screamed Rajaratnam.

“It is not right on your part to dismiss me without giving the dakshana after receiving the prediction. If you refuse to give me the dakshina, Mother Goddess will be terribly angry. If she raised her voice, you will be burnt to death. Per her orders, I should not move from this place without obtaining either a handful food or a piece of cloth from you”, Das said firmly.

“That is why I am averse to people like you! You are used to exploit the people who feel pity for you. You try to grab money in the name of Gods and devils. But your tantrums will not work on me. It is justifiable to help the physically disabled people. But your body has sufficient flesh to feed ten villages if it is cut into pieces. Why should I sympathise with you? If you don’t leave now, I will lash you with this baton”, Rajaratnam shouted clutching a huge baton.

“Mother Goddess will curse me if I leave you without getting dakshana. It will turn out to be a disaster for both of us. I am quite helpless since I have taken a vow in her name. If I am predestined to be beaten by you, how can I escape that? Unless you give me something I can’t leave your house”, declared Das.

Rajaratnam got disheartened for a while and turned his looks towards the street corner. Govindaiah was not coming. “Will he come or not? I fell into the snare of this budabukkala man only because of him. Let him come; and, I will certainly teach him a lesson”, Rajaratnam thought, trying his best to turn his anger for Govindaiah towards Das. He roared, “Who can call your babbling a prediction? They can be tailored to fit any Tom, Dick or Harry. How dare you demand a dakshana for that. Get out”.

Das sat stupefied for sometime. Grunting like a horse, he cleared his throat, and said, “No other person ever accused me of my prediction like this since my birth. Okay, all right! Let me predict once again. Listen carefully”.

Rajaratnam flung the baton at Das and shouted, “No need of your bloody prediction…. Get out now.”

“I won’t and can’t move a wee bit without collecting dakshana from you. I am prepared to commit suicide at this place instead”, replied Das.

“You cannot extract even a copper from me in the name of dakshana. No one can squeeze out money from me without turning out some work or other for me. One can get only wages from me but not alms”, said Rajaratnam firmly.

“I have to earn at least two or three rupees from you. It doesn’t matter whether you call it wages or dakshana. Give me some work. I am prepared to work also and earn the dakshana“, answered Das after thinking for a while.

Rajaratnam was perturbed once again as he heard a reply he did not expect to hear from the budabukkala man. He looked all around and found a big tamarind log by the side of the pavement. He brought an axe from the house and threw it toward Das. “Cut that log into pieces. I will give you ten rupees”, he said.

“I am prepared to work on the condition that you would hear what I have to say afterwards with utmost devotion. As a true devotee of the Mother Goddess, I will prove to you that she would never go wrong”.

“Be quick then! If Govindaiah arrives in the meantime, I may have to leave the house and accompany him to attend an urgent assignment”, said Rajaratnam.

Das removed his turban and placed it on the platform along with the other clothes on his shoulders. Then he walked towards the wooden log with the axe in his hands.

Rajaratnam drew a chair near the threshold of the house and sat on it peeking at the street corner.

Das began to axe the wood and within a few minutes, he was drenched with sweat. Rajaratnam could not resist smiling when he observed that Das was panting heavily. He turned his head casually towards the other side and was startled. The image in the mirror before him on the wall at a distance also was startled the same way. Rajaratnam frowned at the image disapprovingly.

The hair on the head of the image in the mirror was as shabby as the pulped, Fan-palm fruit. The face of it, which resembled a disfigured copper vessel, had a beard, grown for a week, which reminded one of an untrimmed thorny bush. The eyes below those two bushy eyebrows were like big pits. The shirt he wore was torn in many places.

 

For a long time, he could not identify the image as himself. Then he remembered that he did not peep into a mirror for a long period. “Where is the time to linger before a mirror”, thought Rajaratnam. Meanwhile his looks meandered towards the photograph hung on the wall besides the mirror. The man in the photograph was dazzling with curly hair, a well-trimmed moustache and a beaming smile. Then he remembered that he was an employee earning only two hundred rupees per month at the time when the photograph was taken. Then he used to go to the office almost like a cinema hero in well- starched and pressed clothes, and wearing well-polished shoes. Then he was only a tenant in a very small house. But it was well decorated and beautifully maintained unlike the house which be owned afterwards. The cycle kept in the veranda of that rented house always glittered like a brand new one. He used to clean it with an oily napkin for an hour at least each morning. “Then I was like an empty pot. When there are only a few things in the house, they can be easily cleaned and kept properly?”, he thought. He felt that it is not a blunder to neglect the insignificant and unnecessary things. He remembered the muddy jeep in the garage of the present house. “That jeep had to travel on the muddy roads to reach various hamlets on business. How can it be clean?” felt Rajaratnam. “I am its boss. It can’t boss over me. It knows that it has a room in this house as long as it serves the purpose”, Rajaratnam thought and smiled.

“Swami! Give me a glass of water. I am getting thirsty”.

Rajaratnam looked at Das whose body was in profuse sweat. He brought him a jug full of water. After drinking it noisily, Das looked into the house through the threshold and asked, “It seems your wife is out of town, Swami?”

“Why should this beggar poke his nose into the affairs of the others?” felt Rajaratnam irritably.

Das sighed bitterly and said, “It is a pity that you have to live alone in this big bungalow”.

 

Rajaratnam became extremely furious. He shrieked, “My wife left for the town to look after my daughter who is pregnant now. She will return in a day or two. My son who has a separate business enterprise in the town is also living there. I don’t have sufficient time to go there and gossip. I stayed back because I have to attend to a number of urgent engagements. As I am not in any precarious condition, there is no room for any body to feel pity for me. First, attend to the work you are asked to complete soon. I am eager to tell you good bye and good riddance”.

The axe in the hands of Das began to pierce into the tamarind block once again.   Rajaratnam glanced at the turn of the street, sighed despairingly once again and mused, “I don’t know whether Govindaiah is alive or dead”. He was even more disturbed and frustrated as he began to feel that he had been waiting for him since the time immemorial. “Where is the need to get neck deep into this business? It was better when you were a mere employee. In spite of my repeated warnings, you resigned from the job and ventured unwittingly into this trade. Do you have leisure now even for a minute? Have you ever had any time to place your feet together on the ground for sometime and take rest? Have you ever spent your time happily with your wife and children?” complained his wife many times. Is it possible to earn this much of wealth without this enterprise? What about the jewels he had brought for her? What is the source of all this property?” he thought. He remembered how she turned pale when he asked her the same questions. He smiled faintly. Then he looked at the chopped pieces of the tamarind block. His lips stretched further producing a chuckle. “Bring those pieces here and arrange them properly near the threshold”, Rajaratnam ordered Das.

By the time Das completed the work assigned to him, the sun proceeded his voyage further west. A small shadow of the pavement gloated over the earth by the side of the threshold.

Das sat in the shadow and asked, “Swami, would you give me some more water?”

 

By the time Rajaratnam brought the water from the kitchen, Das was eating food out of his gunny bag. Lounging in his chair, Rajaratnam looked at him with astonishment. He was devouring the food one fistful after the other. After swallowing a part of the heap of the food, he washed his hands with water and drank away the remaining waters from the jug. Then he closed the bag, put it aside and then reclined against the wall of the house. After five minutes, he took out betel leaves, betel nuts and a pinch of calcium from his pocket and began to chew them. Then turned his half-closed eyes drowsily towards Rajaratnam, smiled pleasantly and said, “I have been suffering from loss of appetite since a few weeks. But it seems the intestines in my stomach got stimulated a bit when I was thoroughly exhausted by the manual work. Then I felt hungry and ate something at least. I think I haven’t eaten so much since a long time”.

Rajaratnam giggled loudly and said, “If you indulge in sloth, your body won’t obey your words. The machine called man works well only when it is forced to hard work. Other wise it gets rusted”.

“Then listen to me now”, said Das opening his mouth reddened with the chewing the betel which resembled the opened beak of a crow. Rajaratnam looked at the bend of the street once more and then turned toward Das.

“Tell me, proclaim mother Goddess … Kamakshi of Kanchi …. Proclaim Venkateswara of Tirupati”, Das began his songs.” Listen to me carefully … Your father is a kindhearted man. You mother is Ganges. Your house is a treasure…”. His song started out in a low tone and gradually turned up into humming and after sometime imperceptibly broke off.

Rajaratnam began to focus his attention on the song of Das in order to extricate a suggestion about the arrival of Govindaiah from it. Suddenly a smile perched on the lips of Das. An altogether new tune emerged out of his lips as if something was overflowing from his heart. Rajaratnam observed with astonishment at the indescribable happiness that overwhelmed Das just for a mere fistful of food and a foot long shadow. Das began to sing involuntarily:

Cutting the beams of timber on the Southern Hills

Cutting the rafters of wood on the Eastern Hills

Plucking grass on the Western Hills

Arrived the queen of moon to their mills.

On the way they came by, there was a roscoppole tree

A little sprout sprung in the shade of that roscoppole tree

From that little spring a white lotus sprouted free

Over that white lotus hovered a flamboyant honeybee.

 

Das’s song began to spread copiously all around like the cool breeze wafting up from the hills after the rains. Having been spellbound by the melody of the tune, Rajaratnam forgot to think about the meaning of the words of the song soon. Surprisingly, he remembered how his mother used to feed him morsels of food with her hand in his childhood. He felt that the strong fragrance of the jasmines bedecked in the braids of his wife during time they were newlyweds, wafted over him once again after a long gap. He also remembered the old wristwatch he used to wear very much like a precious jewel when he was a small employee a few decades back.. He remembered how his children used to on him and played with him long back.

Like the brook that sprouted at the foot of the hill, then crawled over the boulders, meandered through the bushes and trees in the forest, and began to spread on the planes, the song of Das took Rajaratnam to many of his nostalgic memories. Like the cataract that jumps from the peak of a mountain into a valley, it swung him into a mellifluous melody and vanished abruptly and mysteriously leaving him in an abyss.

Rajaratnam quivered with a twitch.

It took sometime for him to recover from the trance. Then he gazed all around, amazed.

He got very much perplexed as there was a tremendous transformation in the atmosphere by that time. A dark cloud completely overwhelmed the sun, which was fretting and fuming some time back. Huge droplets of rain began to shower on the earth. There was big rainbow in the sky far above the bend of the street. Rajaratnam beamed at the person striding underneath the rainbow at the bend of the street.

Immediately, he realized that Das has gone.

Having remembered, after a considerable time, that Das left him without procuring dakshina from him, Rajaratnam was extremely surprised. He was astonished completely as he remembered that he did not think of Govindaiah for quite some time.

[End]

Published on thulika.net, January 2006.

 

[1] Budabukkala vaadu. A tribal man. Like sodi women, budabukkala men go around door to door bringing blessings from gods and predicting future in exchange for a small fee or other consideration.

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