Ram Das Baba, as his devotees call him, is the son of a devout Brahmin family. He spends a lifetime seeking spiritual knowledge and his journey is filled with illuminating visions, severe tribulations, and an unwavering faith. His destiny as a highly evolved Sadhu is fulfilled through ordeals of monastic bliss, tantric awakening, madness, and transexuality. But as his life nears its end he meets a young man who belongs to a very different India and a profound relationship develops.
|Publisher:||The Overlook Press|
|Product dimensions:||7.75(w) x 0.72(h) x (d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
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Read an Excerpt
By Sudhir Kakar
THE OVERLOOK PRESS
Copyright © 2001 Sudhir Kakar.
All rights reserved.
Gopal's visions ended when he grew breasts.
He was fifteen. His were not the flabby breasts of an old man but the small, firm and perfectly pronounced ones of a young girl. He had always been a plump child but now the loose flesh on his chest had gathered itself neatly into two distinct little mounds. For a while in the beginning, he kept the upper half of his body covered with a wrap even in the heat of summer. Sometimes, when he was alone in the fields, he would slap his breasts, saying, 'Go in, go in!'
There were other changes in his body. His genitals, too, were thickening, and grew darker than the rest of his skin. His shoulders broadened, but so did his hips, which again had a distinct swell to them. At the time he felt that his ecstatic states had ended because the gods had withdrawn from him since he was no longer a child, that they did not like the ways in which his body was changing.
Ever since he was ten years old, Gopal had been in great demand at religious ceremonies and festivals in the village, where he loved to sing in praise of whichever god or goddess was being celebrated. What so attracted his listeners was not only his sweet voicea lyric sopranoor his ear for melody and rhythm, but the intensity and depth of feeling he put into his songs, especially those in praise of Krishna, his favourite god. It was as if he was in a trance. There were three occasions when sitting in front of the congregation, singing along with the others, he had seen the idol of the god come alive. Involuntarily, he had stood up and stretched his arms toward the deity. While an awed hush fell on the gathering, his body began to sway rhythmically as songs of praise came to his lips from somewhere deep within him, without his having made a conscious choice of a particular song or an effort to remember its words. The ecstatic mood deepened as he sang, and tears of joy streamed down his face from his half-closed eyes. After a while, the rapture was so sublime that his song stopped in mid-sentence. His limbs stiffened, his body became as rigid as a statue and he had to be supported by others lest he fell and hurt himself.
He was almost fourteen when he was graced with the last and most striking vision of his boyhood. It was early in the evening, at the beginning of the monsoon when the storm clouds have not yet covered the heavens in one dark, turgid mass but are still small and playful, jostling each other across an indulgent sky. He was returning home, munching on puffed rice, walking on a narrow mud embankment between the ploughed fields, when looking up he saw a flock of white cranes fly in an arc against an ink-black cloud that was rolling in to blot out the setting sun. The contrast in forms was so beautiful that he was filled with wonder and sank to the ground on his knees. And even as he went down, a tremendous force pulled him off the ground and placed him in the picture he had just seen. The cloud and the cranes curved in to enclose him and fill his entire vision. The clods of ploughed earth in the fields and the scarecrow made of dried millet stalks standing a few yards to his left disappeared. He felt he could almost touch the cloud, push his hand through the sliver of crimson light lining its edges. He could smell the coming rain, feel the cool breeze that was about to blow, and his feet tingled in anticipation of contact with wet earth.
Then the outer edge of his vision began to darken. The cloud and the cranes were swallowed up by the spreading darkness, which deepened for an infinitesimal moment before the sudden emanation of an inner light, as if in a rapidly accelerated dawn, that illuminated his whole field of vision. What he now beheld was Lord Krishna's blue-black chest with a garland of white jasmines thrown across its broad expanse. The invitation to rest his head against the Lord's dark flesh was irresistible, and as his cheek brushed against the dusky skin, ecstasy surged through his limbs in such a powerful current, filling him with a rapture so sublime, that he no longer knew himself to be in the body.
When he came back to the world that eveninghe had not been unconscious but only absent, ecstatically absenthe found himself at home, lying on the familiar straw mat spread on the mud floor of the hut where he lived with his mother. A kerosene lamp burnt in one corner, throwing flickering shadows of his mother and the two squatting men on the wall in front of him. His head nestled in his mother's soft lap. The upper part of her body rocked back and forth as she made short, mewling sounds of distress. The two farmers Who had found him lying in the field, apparently unconscious, and carried him home were vainly trying to reassure her that there was nothing wrong with the boy, that he had only fainted. When she saw him open his eyes, she gathered up his head in her arms and pressed it to her heart. Weeping uncontrollably with relief, she kissed him all over his face.
Amba worried about her son. Deeply religious herself, she welcomed Gopal's enthusiastic participation in her daily worship of the household gods but was torn about letting him go to the rituals of the neighbours. She did not think it was normal for a boy his age to be so religious and frowned when the village women told her that he was a singularly blessed child. 'O Gopal's mother,' they said, 'we are animals unless we sing to the Lord. Surdas says that to come to the feet of the Lord in song is enough to make stones float on the sea, and your son has been graced by God to touch Him through the realm of song. He is destined to be a great saint, like Surdas or Kabir.' Amba did not like this talk about saints.
'Saints leave home,' she had snapped back to one particularly tiresome neighbour. 'They never earn enough to support their families. May my Gopal's enemies become saints!'
The ecstatic trances had troubled her deeply. They were the province of hysterical young women or of God-crazed sadhus high on ganja, not of young boys. She suspected an undiagnosed physical malady behind the trances and his fainting in the fields that evening seemed to confirm her worst fears. She decided to keep him back from school till the Western-style doctor who came to Deogarh once in three weeks all the way from Jaipur, thirty miles away, had given the boy a thorough physical examination. She did not quite trust the village vaid, reputed to be a secret tippler of some of his own medicines which had a high proportion of alcohol in their base. He had found nothing wrong with the boy.
'You are blessed, Gopal's mother,' he had said, his breath reeking of alcohol and medicinal herbs, his yellow teeth spreading out crookedly in what was meant to be a winning smile. 'The boy's trances come from God, not from a disturbance in his bodily humours.'
Amba was impatient with the vaid not only because he was talking of trances and sainthood. It seemed to her that he was being dismissive about the illness because Gopal was a boy, and these men expected boys to be tough and hardy. Did the vaid not know that her Gopal was special? He was not like the other boys.
Gopal was indeed different. With his clear, lustrous skin, long eyelashes and delicate features, Gopal had always looked like a pretty girl, and the other boys had tormented him with coarse remarks and indecent gestures which made his eyes sting with hot tears of shame. Sometimes, when a boy had been especially obscene, a vile-tasting yellowish liquidthe physical expression of disgust in a pure soulrose up in Gopal's throat, making him gag. Then one day, driven beyond the limits of endurance, the normally timid and gentle Gopal had cursed one of his tormentors, 'May a snake bite you as you sleep tonight. May you be dead by the morning. This is a Brahmin's curse, and a Brahmin's curse is a command even the gods dare not disobey.' The boys had fallen silent, their faces troubled. A Brahmin's curse was serious business, even if the Brahmin was a mere boy. The object of Gopal's wrath had tried to hide his unease but the exaggerated swagger he attempted as he turned and walked away betrayed his fear.
Nothing happened to the boy for a few days although he spent a couple of sleepless nights in the beginning. Then a week later, as he was dozing one afternoon under the shade of a mango tree, he was stung by a scorpion and fainted with pain. For the other boys, Gopal's curse had indeed come true and they avoided him after this incident. Wary of his demonstrated Brahmin prowess to successfully curse a tormentor, they stopped taunting him openly about the breasts and the female cast to his body. Instead, they exchanged knowing smiles and smirks whenever they saw him. As soon as he had walked past them and his back was turned; he heard them titter and occasionally imitate the outraged squeals of a girl whose breasts have been fondled by some ruffian. He hated all boys.
Gopal was not unduly put out by his isolation from the other boys. He preferred to be with women anyhow. He liked to accompany his mother when she went to the village well in the morning to fetch water and exchange gossip with other women. He loved to trudge behind her as she swept the floor of the hut. He was happy to cut the vegetables while she cooked and to scrub the cooking pot with water and clay after they had eaten. The morning and evening pujas, when he sang together with his mother, were the highlights of his day.
In the evenings, when the village had settled in for the night, the daytime sounds of birds, cattle and people replaced by the occasional barking of a dog and the distant screech of an owl, Gopal would lie next to his mother on the sleeping mat, still wide awake. He needed to talk, or rather hear the soothing murmur of her 'Hmm-m-ms' and monosyllabic replies that kept the darkness at bay, before he could let go of wakefulness. He wanted to chatter about all that had happened to him during the day, to pour out his love for her in the warmth of his voice and the fluttering touch of his fingers. It was only after he had revealed all the inconsequential secrets of a little boy's heart that he could fall asleep. All through the night, he slept with his body pressing tightly into his mother's back, the feel of her flesh imprinted on his own, its texture like a tattoo under his skin.
As a child Gopal's interactions with other women had something of the ease and comfort he felt with his mother. But over the last couple of years, he had begun to be wary of the village women who wanted him to sing in their pujas. The younger ones would ask him to sing of Radha's longing for Krishna and then whisper to each other and giggle while he sang. They touched him, too. Feathery, light brushes of their fingers on his groin from which he recoiled as if they were lances pressing into his skin. The older women were worse. He still revelled in the glow in their eyes when they sat across him in their kitchens, plying him with food. But he hated it when they pressed him to their breasts in an excess of adoration. He dreaded those moments when, suddenly, he would find a woman's arms flung around his neck and his face pulled violently forward, his nose squashed against soft flesh. He would struggle to turn his face away, to free his nose and mouth in order to breathe fresh air instead of the odour of sweat mixed with the smells of turmeric and fried onions.
'My Gopal,' the woman would cry out, oblivious to his discomfort, smothering him again and again in her billowing flesh as he struggled against drowning in it. The only way to escape was to push the woman away and then, to disguise the affront, shut his eyes and sing. The woman would draw back and listen then, controlling her impulse to embrace him tightly, while through the song Gopal escaped into the realm of the divine which was already his second home.
Excerpted from ECSTASY by Sudhir Kakar. Copyright © 2001 by Sudhir Kakar. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
What People are Saying About This
"One of the great strengths of this novel is its ability to show how mystical experiences intersect with everyday life. . . . With sensitivity and intelligence, Ecstasy offers a poetic view of the place where spirit and flesh meet." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)