Saturday, June 10, 2006

T h e T e m p l e

"Behind the holy premises of the temple, runs a gushing torrent. Since the dawn of time, piligrims have held these pure waters with the power of cleansing the ills of mind."

Claire lifts her head out of the booklet.

"Anvesh, You have to believe me. I had the strangest feeling yesterday after drinking these waters."

Anvesh turns his head nonchalently.

Jacques comes up towards them. "There is a possibility. These waters can contain some drifting neurotoxins.", he says.

They look at him with surprise. "How ? "

"Maybe some produce of a plant. Seeds perhaps. From the mountains."

They look up, the sun shines brilliantly over the snow-capped peaks. They are standing at the foot of an enormous mountain.

"Okay. Quit trying to impress me.", Claire smiles.

They laugh together at the silliness of the idea.

Standing witness is an ancient temple, at the banks of the river. Without a priest or a consistent flow of piligrims, it waits in anonymity. Inside the temple is a sculpture of Nataraja Shiva, carved in stone.

"This is very strange. A temple for the Nataraja to be found at the foot of a mountain."

Nataraja is a form of the Shiva, the destructor. Divinity is understood in the Brahmanic religion as the trinity of Brahma - the creator, Vishnu - the preserver and Shiva - the destroyer. Different facets of the one single God.

Nataraja symbolifies Shiva in his cosmic dance with Maaya - or the myth of reality. He is carved at the center of a perfect circle with four arms, each depicting the several phases of creation and destruction of the universe. In this form, he is worshipped by aspiring dancers and musicians, to lend them the gift of creativity - the divine inspiration of replicating, of trying to mimic the cosmic creation.

"You are right. Which dancer would get an audience at the foot of these mountains ? Is this really a temple ? Does it have any other function ?", Jacques questions.

Anvesh is equally lost. He is entertaining his friends from France. A talented artist, he has been finishing his studies at the academy in Paris. Jacques and Claire decide to spend the summer trekking in the Himalayas, and Anvesh has been the host, helping them swim through the barriers of language and bureaucracy.

"This could have been a school, or even a university. Lost in time, it may have become a temple.", he makes a guess.

They peer inside the dark chamber. The statue of the Nataraja stands serene at the center of the wide hall.

"It is beautiful.", Claire remarks.

Jacques looks at the overwhelming symmetry in the statue.

"You are true. But on another note, isn't it futile to capture the Divine on a stone ? ", Jacques wonders.

"Well, man never quits trying.", Anvesh answers.

"What do you mean ? Have you been painting something ?", they ask aloud.

Anvesh looks at the graceful pose of the Nataraja. "I am very scared to admit it. But I making an oil on the canvas. I have some musings, and some dreams."

"Wait, this is going somewhere. You never told us about this", Claire exclaims in alert.

"I wouldn't have told you. I am too afraid to admit - even to myself."

"But maybe you should learn to deal with it", Jacques remarks.

"Deal with what ?"

"Your fear", Jacques responds.

Then they hear something from the dark corner of the chamber.
"Only the fearless have seen the Asrapushpa."

The abruptness of this intrusion is so alarming that the three jump onto their heels. It was a bearded fellow covered in rags, who was resting quietly in the far end of the room.

"Who are you ? ", Anvesh demands.

"That is of no consequence. You should have demanded about what the Asrapushpa is."

"What is it ?"

"A flower of celestial beauty. It grows only on the peaks sorrounding this temple - the flower that only few have seen."

"How does it look ?"

"I cannot say. But it is said to be of the brightest red colour. The colour of blood. That is why it is called Asrapushpa."

"But why would anyone go find it ?"

"You fool", the bearded man glows in anger. "Then why are you here ? The place only the most fearless of sages have come to ?"

The bearded man comes out to light. Looking at him, Claire goes extremely pale. The man is carrying a white object in his hand - the skull of a dead man.

The man is a member of the Aghoris - violent sages who practice an ascetic life in extremely harsh conditions. A sect of the Samana religion, they worship the destructor Shiva in his real abode - the burial place.

"We are extremely sorry. We are not aware. We will return immediately.", Anvesh mutters quickly.

The three are still in a state of shock by when they reached their lodgings. Jacques says "We should return to Shimla. I believe Claire has seen enough that her nerves can take."

"Please wait for me at Shimla. You can get in touch with Mr. Verma of the tourist department. He remembers you."

"Why ? What are you going to do ? "

"Climb some of the peaks around the temple. ", Anvesh replies.

"You are out of your mind ! You are going to look for the blood flower ?" Jacques exclaims in disdain.

"Jacques, I have to confess something to you. I have tasted the waters from the stream."

Jacques looks in silence.

"I want to find out."

Jacques continues to stare in silence.

"I will return in two weeks. Please wait for me."

P o l l e n

One should strive to be a mountain amongst men. Lending beauty and pride to everyone around, but not possessed by even one of them.

Anvesh comes out of his musings and looks up at the sunset. Basked in the evening light, the snow peaks are radiating in gold.

He has been disappointed for two weeks. The peaks have proved to be too steep to climb in most places. He has scarcely found any vegetation on the high slopes, the rock being too hard to support any growth of plants. But next to glaciers, the rock gets eroded into fine gravel - supporting some vegetation, mostly bryophytes.

He did not find any flowering plants. But at the very top of some peaks, he found the surface completely even, resembling a plateau - the region being exposed to direct sunlight throughout the day. He has reason to suspect that he would find some flowering plants in such a place, provided there is enough supply of water.

Anvesh takes a deep breath to gather more oxygen. In front of him stands an extremely steep climb. It is not too difficult to go up. But it would be exceedingly dangerous to return. He has been avoiding such passages for the last two weeks.

"What if I have been thinking this wrong ? "

Then a realization hits upon him. "What if the way to return does not reveal itself until he climbs to the top ? "

He starts climbing.

He tries not to look down into the valley below, but the temptation is hard to resist.

As he gets climbs up, he hears a familiar sound - that of water rushing on the rocks. The sound gets intense as he gets closer. Soon, he finds himself on top of the summit.

He is staring into an enormous red flower. Sorrounded by the whites and the greys of the mountain, the flower dazzles in bright contrast, attracting attention from every direction.

"Is this the blood flower that has eluded every one ? "

He laughs heartily and congratulates himself on the success.

But then the realization dawns on him.

"Maybe the flower does not elude anyone."

The suddenness of this realization sinks hard into him. What if there is no way of getting down ?

"I will not give up."

He plucks the flowers carefully from the stalks and puts them in his backpack. They emenate a powerful scent, something heavenly.

"Why would a plant growing in these heights strive this hard to attract attention ? Why is it so brightly colored ? Why is it so strongly scented ?"

He tries to consult Darwin, thinking from the theory of evolution. He does not find a straightforward answer.

The scent of the flowers is overwhelming. He looks inside the bud of a flower. Tiny strands of pollen rise up in a bright red colour. He puts it back in his sack and starts descending.

"What if I die now ? What purpose would it serve for the flower ?"

He stops for a minute and looks into the flower. At a sudden inexplicable urge, he starts to nibble at the petals. He finds them immensely sweet. Then he eats the entire flower. He finds that his fatigue has strangely disappeared.

Feeling contended, he resumes his journey. He looks up towards the peak. But what he finds there gives him goosebumps.

Because there is no mountain. The valley is looking down at him from the heavens !

Then he looks down, but he does not find the ravine below. Instead he finds the peak turned upside down. He trips down and finds himself going up the peak.

He finds a man. But it is not another man, he is looking at his own person from the past, a couple of hours ago, climbing up the mountain.

Then the realization dawns on him.

"What I am seeing could not be what my eyes are seeing."

"What I am feeling is not what my limbs are feeling."

Soon he finds himself drifting in several images of his past. He finds himself in his hotel room. He sees himself talking with Jacques and Claire.

"Yes. The flower contains a neurotoxin. I should be intoxicated now."

He sees himself as young man making a journey abroad. Then he sees him studying in the academy at Paris, making his friends, getting his heart-breaks. He also finds images from his childhood, him making his first sketches on paper, his first days in school, his grandmother reading to him in his bed.

But there is a question.

"What is my real body doing ? "

He knows the answer.

"It is doing the bidding of the flower."

But what is the bidding ?

Then he understands completely - why the flower has been so attractive, why it has been so strongly scented, and why he has eaten its petals.

The answer presents itself in all its simplicity, "The pollen. It has to escape the flower.".

Finding himself incapable of taking control of his real senses, he resigns himself to observing the intoxicated images of his past that he has been drifting into.

He finds himself capable of summoning any image from his past, but all these images are engulfed in a sea of blackness. He tries peering into the dark, into the beyond, staring intensely to find clues. But he finds himself getting tired.. feeling drowsy...

The clerk in the tourist office raises his hands in dismay. "We have not recorded any accidant in the region, Sir. But you must understand these mountains are vast. "

Jacques sighs in disappointment.

Anvesh has been missing for the last four weeks. For several days, they have been fearing the worst - of finding him dead, body covered in a blood bath under a cliff. But now, they have started to doubt if they will recover his body at all. He has simply disappeeared. Never to be heard of again.


Anvesh wakes up with a jolt. His head is smarting with a bad pain.

"Ahh.. When did I fall asleep ? "

He remembers he is in a journey, and that the bus should be going somewhere. He looks up at his backpack and his suitcase - they are safe in the baggage compartment above.

"Good. I have a seat next to the window."