August 29

August 29

by Gandharva Raja

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462064281
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 12/01/2011
Pages: 184
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.56(d)

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AUGUST 29

How Kabir H. Jain Became a Deity
By Gandharva raja

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Gandharva raja
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4620-6427-4


Chapter One

NIMBUS

He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not. [Vedic Hymn]

It was several years after Osama bin Laden was killed. There was a perception among many that Osama's message had died with him. There were whispers that a holy man had arisen and that he was to deliver a new and different message. In anticipation of this message, a large crowd gathered around New Delhi's Jama Masjid. Men and women came in droves in response to distributed leaflets and news blogs on social media that he was to deliver his message tonight.

The masjid facade was ablaze with a million megawatts of light, and the surrounding city looked dim and dark in contrast. People overflowed from the mosque onto the grounds below. Women were allowed to pass and gather in the square till the quadrangle was filled with people and not one more could be squeezed in. We had gone in early and found a place on the rampart that surrounded the square. Considering the intensity of its anticipation, the crowd was unusually quiet and disciplined. Policemen guided the people with little coercion to form rows around the mosque. The crowd, mesmerized by the expectation of a great happening, waited patiently, from time to time looking at the sky above for a sign or an omen.

Orange and blue flames leapt upward from the large fire that burnt in the center of the quadrangle. People continued to gather in enlarging circles around the mosque as darkness snail-paced over the landscape and the sun leaned to the west and was lost in the belly of the night.

Ramadan ended this day with the appearance of the new moon—a silver talisman against the dark sky. The Prophet received the Koran from heaven during the holy month of Ramadan. Many in the crowd had come to these grounds the night before—Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Power. Tonight was different. The crowd around Jama Masjid was larger. The air was heavy. Many thousand zealous eyes searched the sky with fervent anticipation.

A wisp of gray cloud hung from the crescent moon like a rope. The sun had set an hour ago. To the northeast, lights outlined the brick walls of the fort against the opaque night. From where we sat on the rampart, we saw a cone of light rise from the ground near the fort. At first indistinct, the distant roar of the helicopter strengthened as it approached the gathered crowd. The precisely timed lights on the fuselage blinked threateningly. The cone of light from the underbelly of the craft drew a wider, brighter circle as it approached the mosque, stepping over houses and shrubs. The crowd had turned to look in the direction of the approaching helicopter. It was now less than half a mile away.

Yuri, standing next to me, yelled into my ears, "Jain is in that helicopter, Gora! He has to be! He said, 'Look for me in the sky.' This is what he meant." A million eyes fixed on its path, the helicopter came within a few hundred yards of the mosque. I instinctively glanced back toward the inner sanctum of the masjid. I spotted the man in the black kaftan with the blue and white scarf around his head. He held a weapon in his hand, or so it seemed from this distance. He was in the far corner of the mosque quadrangle fifty to sixty feet from us. The figure was indistinct, but I was certain who it was. I pointed him out to Yuri. In the light of the flames, he flickered on and off like the changing pattern within a kaleidoscope. It was he—the man in my pocket Nikon: Syed Musa, the Egyptian ...

* * *

It was days after the happenings on that last day of Ramadan, the night of August 29, that I found the following script neatly folded and placed in the middle of a diary. The diary itself had no writings in it. It was blank except for the words inscribed on the first page in Professor Jain's own hand: "Kabir H. Jain." Hiding the diary from view was a copy of The Passages, which Jain kept on his bedside table. Yuri, Farooq, Milli, and I have read the writing on that folded sheet of paper a million times since.

The sun will set in a few hours. I will not see it rise again. For the cause that helps the planet, and all that share the earth's bounty, the sacrifice I make will enrich my life and that of those who follow me.

God is merciful; God is compassionate—he who kills his child is cast from his compassion. I am one of God's trillion children. I share the bounty of His planet with his many children. The highest of men—the ideal being—is molded in the cast of God. He will be ill at ease on this earth.

I am the better fit for this world on which the sun shines and the clouds cast many shadows. Will I be dutiful in the eyes of God? He who does his duty perfectly is the perfect man. Have I been the perfect man?

The perfect man does what is good for this world where light and shadow play foolish games with one another. Ego is the eyelid's wink teasing wisdom. Too, ego is the foot pedal of action. The perfect man is wisdom in action—all hurdles disappear before him.

Chapter Two

A DAY TO REMEMBER, A DAY TO FORGET

Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts. [Moses]

It was a day to remember, a day to forget; a day when life struggled to breathe through death's chokehold and survived; a day when death was diminished in the knowledge that it was he who was transient, and life that is eternal. It was a day to mourn, a day to rejoice. It was the night when the sky shone brighter than day, and succeeding days brighter than thirty million years ago when God created earth and flooded it with light. It was as if a searchlight on Mount Everest had spread light through the shadows of the universe so women, men, and children could walk into the gloomiest nook and cavern and not be afraid.

Seven years have passed since that night of August 29. As I sat on the chair by the window of our flat in the Daria Ganj section of New Delhi looking out at the mosque hazily outlined in the distance, Milli stood behind me, her hand resting gently on my shoulder. Milli and I chose this flat to live in after we got married four years ago. Each day we relived that night. The view of the mosque from our living room window kept alive the recollection of that day, distinct as the creases on my palms. Neither time nor distance had erased a word, a sound, a prayer, or a moan.

Seven years had not aged Milli. She looked beautiful in her white sari, its red border the exact same color as the vermillion dot on her forehead. On this August anniversary, she wore white.

It was after five in the afternoon. An hour later, Yuri knocked on the door of our flat. He wore a red bandana around his forehead. Bending conspicuously as he came through the door, he said, "Lift the doorframe two inches, Gora. I am afraid I am going to hit my head against it one day."

Then he kissed Milli on the cheek. "There is no woman in Russia as pretty as you."

He placed his hands around my neck and pretended to choke me as he did each year on the anniversary day.

I reminded him, "We are now lecturers at the university, not the students we were seven years ago."

"Humbug," he said before he sat on the sofa chair in front of the television, his long legs stretched as far as they could reach. He turned on the TV and seconds later turned it off.

"Even Russia has better shows."

Yuri went to Russia once a year. He is fond of his mother. His father died before he came to Delhi eleven years ago. As he left for the airport each year to board the plane to Moscow, Yuri threatened that he might not return to India. But he came back. He taught anthropology at the university. Students packed his classes. The girls doted on him; to them he was a rock star.

"You look slim, Gora. Jogging is doing you good. Aha! You are growing your hair longer—makes you look like a poet. Was that Milli's suggestion? Shouldn't he have a beard too, Milli? I have never met a clean-shaven poet except Gora. A moustache would make his long nose look shorter."

"I don't have a long nose. I have long legs," I protested.

Milli smiled. "He is not just a poet. A lecturer in English lit has to look the part. The beard is out."

An hour later, at dusk, Farooq pounded on the door. He was always late and always in a hurry. "I can't keep up," he said. On another day he would have yelled, "Give me a cup of tea, Milli! I am dying of hunger." He would yank open the fridge, take out all that he liked, heap it on a plate, and spoon-feed himself before he took time out to say, "I hope you did not mind, Milli."

If Yuri poked fun at his ravenous appetite, he would reply, "Arrey baba [Okay, mister], I am emulating a Russian."

On this day of remembrance, he came in as the lamps in the sky were being turned on. He apologized for being late. He spoke little that evening. He shook my hand, then Yuri's.

He turned to Milli and said, "Namaste, bahan [Greeting, sister]. How are you?"

He was so polite that I smiled. Yuri threw a mock punch at him. Farooq sat quietly at the edge of the sofa, his lean frame bent over his brown arms, his fingers interlocked. In spite of his food craze, he has remained slender. He works out at the gym.

Farooq pulled out a white hankie from his hip pocket and dabbed the corners of his eyes. Milli walked over and sat beside him.

"It has been seven years," he said. "I can't get over it. It happened yesterday."

I thought of Farooq as a rainbow; his emotions had as many colors as his finely embroidered shirts. He wore a thin moustache. He was handsome. Unlike me, Farooq was always impeccably dressed. Tonight his open vest was light blue and had brass buttons. Predictably, I wore a pair of khaki trousers and a black cotton shirt. I did not look like a poet.

That evening, Sohaila came in behind Farooq. She sat beside him. Her delicate fingers rested in the comfort of Farooq's lap. She was his shadow. She was three inches shorter than Farooq, her complexion a shade darker than his. She nodded at each of us. She smiled, and her bright, white teeth lit up the room. She did not cover her head with a blue scarf that night. Her black hair flowed over the wheatish glow of her skin.

Before we asked, she announced, "I am ready for the evening."

As the sun began to set, we took our position on four square mats on the floor, our backs to a brass oil lamp placed in the center of the room. Sohaila stood by the window and observed our ritual. Yuri, Milli, Farooq, and I prayed silently for a few minutes, each remembering that twenty-ninth day in August—each in our own individual way—meditating on our unique emotions and memories of that night.

Milli had orchestrated the details of the ritual that we followed elaborately each year on this anniversary. Though Sohaila had kept her Muslim faith, she never missed being at our ritual. Too, she arranged and moderated the convention that followed our rituals. She had done so each year, willingly and graciously.

After the silent prayers, I rang the tiny bell that sat next to the oil lamp—four times. On the fourth ring, we turned to face the steady blue and orange flame of the lamp, and each other. Together we recited Diderot's prayer and then the prayer given to us by Jain. After the reading, we reached out, held hands, and meditated.

When the ritual ended, Milli placed the lamp on a pedestal near the window. The flame flickered in the gentle, warm breeze that beckoned the window and threw shadows on the walls—intricate, intriguing, and playful. Minutes later, darkness crept in through the window and made the lamp ever brighter.

After our private rituals were over, we headed down to the Assembly Hall, also located in the Daria Ganj section of the city and not far from the masjid. The hall, a one-story rectangular structure with pillars at the corners, had a rounded dome roof. Inside, the meeting hall occupied most of the built space with a wide podium up front and pew-style seating arranged as in a church. There were four small prayer rooms, one at each corner. A medium-sized bell hung from the ceiling of each prayer room such that there was a bell hanging, one each from the north, south, east, and west side of the building. The walls were white. On the wall behind the bell, Jain's prayer was inscribed in each prayer room. The mosaic floor was bare. A lamp burned on a pedestal near the inscribed wall in each prayer room. Nothing else was permitted in the prayer rooms where the men and women came to pray in silence.

People of various faiths and from all walks of life—professors, housewives, students, doctors, taxi drivers, seamstresses, gardeners, coolies, lawyers, preachers, and nurses—contributed to erect this hall where a meeting was held each year on the twenty-ninth of August. It was completed three years ago. A simple bronze plaque with Jain's likeness, embedded in the front exterior wall to the right of the front door, was inscribed with the date of the happening. To the left of the door, a large bronze bell was mounted on an eight-sided pedestal.

Sohaila had left copies of Jain's prayer inside. As people poured in, they collected a sheet and took their places in the pew. After Sohaila introduced the evening's events, various people, including a professor from JNU and a mullah from the mosque, gave speeches. Sohaila had begun, "He gave his life to liberate women like me."

"Why just women? He liberated us all," echoed the clergy.

Another said, "He saved the world from another war."

"Did Muhammad really appear before him?" someone asked.

When the night ended, people hugged each other as they walked out of the Assembly Hall door. I embraced Farooq, Sohaila, and Yuri. I saw a teardrop on Milli's cheek. Yuri had his hands deep in his pockets. Farooq held Sohaila's hands.

Those who had been at the masjid seven years earlier recalled the events of that night: the crowds around the mosque, the burning fire in the quadrangle, and the revelation.

We heard one say with conviction, "Indeed he was an avatar, a deity."

Another said, "He is a prophet."

Chapter Three

THE HEIST

Do not store for yourselves treasures on earth ... For where your treasure is your heart is also. [Jesus: Sermon on the Mount]

The year Milli turned sixteen, her maternal grandfather who lived in Baltimore in the Fell's Point section of town, suffered a stroke that left him with severe weakness in his right arm and leg. His speech impaired, only Pamela's mother understood his blurred phrases. Milli's mother Pamela, a nurse at Johns Hopkins, had married Milli's father while he was training as a heart surgeon at the same hospital. The week after he completed his training, Milli's father boarded a plane to Delhi with his Caucasian wife where the couple settled in his ancestral home. Milli's parents had been to America several times in the eighteen years since they left Baltimore. After Milli was two, "Let's hop on a plane," Pamela would urge the surgeon. He would happily oblige. To him, traveling to Baltimore was a pilgrimage. The idol-worshipper would once again lay his eyes on the revered past. "To Osler," he would announce, lifting his glass high.

A month after her father had suffered the stroke, Milli's mother boarded the flight to Baltimore alone. She carried more baggage than usual. She stayed with her parents and lent her mother a helping hand. She was a nurse once again and cared for her father as she would a patient assigned to her care. She turned him in bed, sat him on a bedside rocker, elevated his feet on a pillow, and began to teach him how to speak again. "Papa, soon you will be up and walking with a cane."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from AUGUST 29 by Gandharva raja Copyright © 2011 by Gandharva raja. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments....................ix
Introduction....................xi
One: Nimbus....................1
Two: A Day to Remember, A Day to Forget....................4
Three: The Heist....................10
Four: Farooq Shahjehan....................15
Five: Yuri....................18
Six: Insecurity of Poetry....................23
Seven: Kabir H. Jain....................27
Eight: The Liar....................31
Nine: The Origin ... Greatness Is Its Own Guide....................35
Ten: Snakes and Ladders....................40
Eleven: 1.618 ... The Divine Ratio....................45
Twelve: Before Tiger Hill....................50
Thirteen: Walk Like a King, Talk Like a Poet....................55
Fourteen: Transfiguration....................58
Fifteen: Hungry Mountains....................61
Sixteen: Enlightenment....................68
Seventeen: Pose Like Dali....................73
Eighteen: O! The Fool!....................77
Nineteen: Yuri and His Woman....................82
Twenty: Vaudeville and Vodka in a Centrifuge....................84
Twenty-One: Clairvoyance....................89
Twenty-Two: Sohaila....................92
Twenty-Three: The Vision....................94
Twenty-Four: Diderot's Prayer....................100
Twenty-Five: Before the Cock Crows....................106
Twenty-Six: The Passages....................108
Twenty-Seven: Rebirth....................113
Twenty-Eight: Elsewhere....................116
Twenty-Nine: Nephilim—Giant from the Sky....................121
Thirty: The Digital Image....................126
Thirty-One: Ijtihad in a Cauldron....................130
Thirty-Two: Soliloquy on Ghazu....................133
Thirty-Three: Chapter 4, Verse 34....................136
Thirty-Four: Sin....................139
Thirty-Five: The Oracle and the Fugue....................141
Thirty-Six: The Fight over a Riddle....................147
Thirty-Seven: Falling in Silence....................151
Thirty-Eight: Breaking Bread....................153
Thirty-Nine: Hijrah....................157
Forty: The Night of August 29....................160
Epilogue....................168

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August 29: How Kabir H. Jain Became a Deity 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful story with wonderful characters. Message I received was to become aware of the desire to live peacefully among diverse cultural and spiritual paths in our societies. An excellent novel.