A short story (my first english short story !)
You mean they are totally letterless?’ Hariprasad frowned.
‘True. Totally letterless charts.’ Sudhir is brimming with a secretive smile. The sunlight slices through the windowpane splashing all over the shiny top of the wooden table.
Hari gets up, lits a cigarette. ‘Then reserve two berths in Hampi Express for tomorrow night.’
The journey has just begun.
I know we are going nowhere. Hari is stupid. He cannot find that Ayurvedic Pundit. We are biking through the muddy roads of Hampi. Ruined temples. Rocks. We reach Ganagitti Temple. He is sitting on the right side entrance. It is evening, the moment where three periods meet. Sandhyakala.
We both walked down to him.
He is around forty-five. Grayed pant and a dull looking shirt. A small kerosene stove. A steel cup.
There are two small mud pyramids beside him.
‘So, we are meeting after five months’ he says feebly. Telugu accent. Hari sits on the side where the trunk raised elephant is broken. I sit opposite to him. Hari introduces me to him.
He is Ramesh. Postgraduate from Osmania University in 1983. ‘My english is at least 18 years old’ he says with a grin.
Hari looks at me. I look at the transistor behind Ramesh.
‘I listen to the Theerthankaras. They live here. If you are sharp enough, you can see them. They are all here around.’
This is untrue, I mutter myself in my heart. How can that be possible? But Hari is accepting. I can see his nod in his eyes.
‘We are going on an important job. Please tell us whether we succeed.’
‘What is the time now?’
He pauses. I can’t see his eyes. They are so sharp.
Oh! I remember my teacher in fourth standard. I remember my days in Nagara, the place where Hyder Ali ruled. I had roamed inside his Bidanur Fort. I remember the smell of the green.
‘You are going to meet a teacher. Your work will be forty percent done. But be careful. Don’t enter into any contract with him.’
Bluffing. But Hari believed him. Two years ago he had taken another of my friend to him. "Ramesh had looked deep into his eyes and had said : ‘you are a womaniser.’ "
Hari had told me. It was true. But how can this be true too?
Hari winks at me. and I talk to him on Indus Valley civilisation. I tell him that I had published a book on the topic. Prof. Natwar Jha had deciphered the Indus scripts. It is Sanskrit. Not Tamil or Kannada. It is proved beyond doubt.
‘I am worried about the pictures, Sir’ Ramesh tells me. But why?
‘At the University I was doing my doctoral research on Indus Scripts. Suddenly the pictures on the seals began talking to me. I was getting curious messages. Sometimes they were dancing in a hazy morning. I explained this to my guide. I was shunted out. Branded as a mentally deranged person. Do I look like so even after 18 long years?’
Ramesh is not repenting. He is looking at the two birds on the fence opposite to the entrance.
He says he cannot offer us tea. He says he drinks a hot syrup of some leaves which keeps him active and hungerless. Nevertheless, he says, he takes a plate of Poori-Sagu in Kamalapur canteen. He says he charges one hundred fifty rupees for palmistry consultancy. He says he keeps the pyramid for conveying special messages to the angels and gods.
Hari has decided to sleep there on the side platform of the temple beside Ramesh. He has told me that it is a rare opportunity to spend night with Ramesh and listen to his experiences. He knows a lot more about Hampi. Hampi is not a ruined city. It is beaming with live gods and sages.
It is getting darker. We cannot see each other. We are black silhouettes, the background being slightly better.
There is bicycle rider. And a bullock cart. Their bell. And the eerie noise of humming insects.
‘You can sleep here, Hari. But one small caution: there are Nagins here. I am here for the past four
years and they are not much bothered. Anyhow, you are both new to this.’
Hari, how are you? I ask him silently. I shake with a stream of shivering across my body. It is not so cold out there.
We pack up. Ramesh thanks us for giving him a company.
Our journey is taking shape, perhaps.
Roaming in Hospet is not that joyful experience. It is a city with mixed up architecture. New hotels have come up along the roads with decades old houses.
Hari stops near a house. It is Narayanarao, a postgraduate. Lecturer in a local college.
True. Ramesh is right. He is a teacher.
‘I have written this piece as a dissertation’ he gives me a set of white sheets. I could see the title of the thesis as something like ‘The scientific importance of Siribhuvalaya.’
I know this. Alchemy is part of this book.But there is no known successful incident. Nobody has done it. This lecturer has done this just for formality. We leave him.
The tea was strong.
Sage Vidyaranya is said to have known the alchemy. He made gold and it was the foundation for the Vijayanagara Kingdom. We know gold and other precious metals were sold in streets with regular measurement jars.
Pandurangaiah looks like a wrestler. He has big mustaches. He has a clinic just behind his home.
Nobody disturbs him when he is there treating patients. When we went there, he was talking to some muslim women.
It is secular. Muslims. It is modern. Women. It is culturally rich. Ayurvedic medicine.
Pandurangaih offers us two folding chairs. We watch him treating the child. He is cursing them for not following the diet. These typical Indians.
‘I was so near to making gold out of Mercury’ he said, ‘Yet so far.’
‘But you were following the formulae given there in Siribhuvalaya’ I tell him.
‘Right. But when there was exact colour, I did not get the solid. When it was solid just like gold, it was not golden in colour.’
Pandurangaiah has tried Siribhuvalaya to the fullest extent. He is the informer. He is the sole lead towards unlocking this secret. He is the harbinger of knowledge in Siribhuvalaya. I just think. I have no time.
I have to hurry. I cannot keep this curiosity for longer. I need the truth.
‘I even did a mistake which in turn produced a well-lit bottle’ he said.
He had been doing this Alchemy experiment in his upstairs rooms at Pavagada. That was in fifties. His room looked like a laboratory. When there was a marriage function, he had to cleanup the mess.
Accidentally he mixed two chemicals in a bottle. After a week, when he opened the room, the bottle was glowing brightly. The farm workers even took the bottle to the farm during dark hours.
Pandurangaiah could not comprehend what happened inside the bottle. He tells us how he did other experiments. He tells us how he desperately went to Ranebennur and tried to locate the place where Nagarjuna did his alchemy experiment.
‘Now, see here.’ Pandurangaih opens his mouth.
There are no mandibles. All are gone.
‘My family members forcibly took out these teeth. So that I do not chant the mantras properly and clearly.’
Oh! I cry silently. I am nowhere near to the truth.
Our journey is unending.
Magadi is just a suburban area in Bangalore. A village with cybercafe and a chai stall side by side. I drove my car on the dusty road. Shankarappa is waiting at his home. Hari is just impatient. We leave our cha
als outside the main door.
‘See these charts. Ramappa created these after studying Siribhuvalaya for 10 years.’ Shankarappa has preserved these charts for thirty years. He is dedicated. He does not know anything about Siribhuvalaya. Nor his family members; his brothers. But he has kept all the records of Ramappa’s research in plastic sheets. Hari’s eyes are wide open. All those at home are looking at us. We are sitting on a mat.
There is a ledger sized book. The big book! We were waiting for this moment.
86 chapters. But we were told by Prasad that there are 53 chapters, deciphered by his father, Madhava Shastry.
Ramappa has written in lucid Kannada. The lines are as deciphered by him. And the lines have extended to the opposing pages. Same as in Madhavashastry’s book.
Then, who is the real researcher? Both families have got a copy of copyright letters.
Oh, this is going nowhere. I am looking into the album. Ramappa with the bullock, with which he won national award. Ramappa with his family. Ramappa with Kempegowda, the man behind Bangalore. Ramappa, the wrestler.
Hey! there is Ramappa, dead. Adorned with garlands. Ramappa looks like a burnt body. He is not even smiling as in earlier pics.
‘Ramappa always advised his friends and fans not to find or follow alchemy Sutras in Siribhuvalaya. But one day he began to experiment. He bought Mercury. He bought Sulphur. For five weeks, he stayed in his farm.
He never bothered about the time. He forgot the days and nights. And food. There was just Siribhuvalaya, the notebook and the furnace. And those chemicals, the names we didn’t know. One day he suffocated himself in the smoke of the burning mercury. We took him to the hospital. He died there the same night.’
It is already evening. there is powercut. We look into the dim flower yard outside. It may rain today. We have to return. Ramappa cannot reveal us the truth.
We began our journey on a simple hope of getting the facts. Our goal was simple.
It seems our journey is strewn along the path of uncertainty.
Sudhir’s uncle is a Ayurvedic doctor. He is in Udupi. He runs a laboratory. A skin specialist. Sudhir talks to him on politics, religion, extrasensory perception, and the mystical powers of some individuals. Uncle’s friend is experimenting on deeper yoga practices. He can visualise what is now happening in a remote place, says uncle.
‘Sudhir, I was just interested in Siribhuvalaya, since I took alchemy as my dissertation. I know something is secretly embedded in it. But couldn’t find these twenty seven years. But one of my colleague has found Pushpa Ayurveda, the medical treatise with fallen flowers. It is a system which follows the Jain philosophy of non-violence.’
He may be true. He may even be failing to know the full meaning. Yet he is sincere, it seems.
We spend three days with him, discussing not just the book, the philosophy of life and death. He mesmerises us with his researches. He refers to the Solidified Mercury near Gadag. He narrates the story of that Phakir, who knew much more about the metallurgy.
Delhi looks bleached in summer. There are people who just try to beat the heat. We are here, in a cozy room of the Director of National Archives. It is a british architecture. There is a fireplace, now laden with a rackful of books. The director is a aged person. ‘So, you are here to look into the originals of Siribhuvalaya, right?’ His eyes are on the letter of request we took by the Secretary of Ministry of Human
Resources. Influence makes these people to talk with some respect.
He directs his deputy to guide us to the floor where the manuscripts are kept.
It is a huge place. There are people looking into some documents. One clerck is waiting for us. He takes the order from this deputy. He is a Kannadiga. He can speak Kannada well.
‘Here are the manuscripts.’ He waves his hands on those huge books, mostly turned deep yellow, reminding us of the time.
Yes! These are the manuscripts of Siribhuvalaya. Four volumes. Demy-sized sheets. All handwritten. Some pages are typed. There is a quote by the then President of India. Dr. S.Radhakrishnan. He says this is the eighth wonder of the present world. But why Siribhuvalaya has been forgotten?
I know Madhava Shastry died in New Delhi. Some rich Jain merchants tried to know more about alchemy in the book. Madhava Shastry died in mysterious circumstances. His body was lying just cold and hard there.
Is our journey coming to an end?
It is okay. I can bear all the sadness and the bitter memories. I can bury the enmity.The hatredness. The greed. I can tread the path of a realistic life. The days and nights filled with routine incidents. The food, the work and the sleep. But it still haunts.
The book is on the roof shelf. It is there, safe in a plastic bag. I have spent a large amount in getting a copy of the book, all 470 sheets. It weighs 7 Kilos. Who can read them for me?
Everybody seems to have read the book in their own terms. Almost everybody tried to decipher the formulae. And make gold. But everybody failed. What has happened to those who actually found these Sutras? Have they died the similar way?
It is Bansuri. Hindustani music. His master has taught him on how to hold a Bansuri. The most natural instrument man has ever discovered. So natural that even the input is just your deep breath. It is just your fingers to play on it. It is made up of just the wood. The bamboo piece makes him feel good. He is not so pucca in bringing out the right Swara. His electronic Shruti Box is not so tuned as the one with his master.
It is early in the morning. He sits on the terrace of his rented house. It is a suburban area and no problem as such with Bansuri’s noise. Sometimes it looks as though not a noise, but a note. It is enough, he thinks. Better than those days with Siribhuvalaya.
This flute is so weightless. So light.
What made me to wander in those days? Why I went to such people? To do research on the most secret book? So what? What have you found? Nothing. Just the faces of the dead. Or living dead. This book makes people to go mad. And insane.
This book is a sea of knowledge, but no one has been successful in swimming across it.
This book itself is a virtual world. There is no need of a computer. No internet. Nothing. This piece from the past is making all sorts of fun and terror.
I remember now. It was in Udupi. At the bus-stand, uncle looked perspirated. His eyes were looking beyond the physical things. We took tea at the corner shop.
‘Siribhuvalaya is not about the real alchemy. It is actually about the metamorphosis of a human being into a diamond like being, strong, shining and brilliant.
One could be unable to cut into his emotions. One can’t look into his inner thoughts. He is the embodiment of all the qualities of a real diamond. And the heart like a real gold. It is nothing other than this. Believe me….’
The bus conductor whistled. We were thrown into another route and another journey.
64 characters make one alphabet in Kannada. It may even be 26 in English. But it takes only eight consonants to create a good musical stream. A stream full with joy, emotion, passion and eternal.
It is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Teri Main Ishq Ne Nachaya
Wai Kadi Thaya Thaya Wai.
In the midst of the Quawali, he is presenting Rag Desh. Oh! what a compassionate rendering… I feel like floating over a endless pond on a wide leaf.
Aadmi Aadmi Se Milta Hi
Dil Magar Kam Kisi Se Milta Hi
It is a Pakistani Gazal. Abeeda Parveen has sung it. I weep.
Hu Mai Sitam Uske