They were an ordinary pair of two black stones.
Lifeless. Solitary. Forlorn. Buffeted by strong winds sweeping down the hills. Two tall stones only: sprouting forcefully from the ground like an upraised twin closed fists of solid granite. Propped up precariously by an unseen power, under the spreading old banyan tree, in the open, exposed to the elements. Hardly different from other odd stones of black found in plenty in the desolate area beyond the border of the rows of white neat bungalows arranged a-symmetrically on a rising mound on the property of the mills. They seemed to be hurriedly abandoned stones; left behind by somebody in a tearing hurry, on the left-hand corner of our Raj-era bungalow with a medium-size compound wall. Standing vertically, as two thick ram-rod columns, in the swaying grass, under the tree. Looking forever, across the green vegetable patches, in the direction of the tiled cottage with a covered veranda. We called them the double sentinels. The two had deep sockets in them, gazing steadily at the world, out of the gouged spaces. One of their eyes once, I am pretty sure, blinked at me! I was stunned! I looked hard again. I saw only the deep sockets. And, then, slowly but surely… a pair of wide eyes, drawn indelibly on the stones, staring at me. The eyes made by some crude hands. Two large fish eyes each, inscribed on the rough surface by persistent labour. The pupils large in the round eyes, as if swimming in them. Permanently etched, unaffected by the elements. You have to look hard to see them but they were there. When I looked again, I saw the round eyes smile at me, on that lonely hot May Sunday afternoon. The place was deserted. I had this creepy feeling. Of the presence of somebody there, whom I could not see but felt strongly around me. A similar sensation can be experienced easily, standing in the ruins of some forgotten old tombs, dotting the countryside and suddenly feeling the eyes of the long- dead guy on your sweating back! It has happened to me often, in those rubbles from the past. So that day, scared suddenly, I ran away from the shady spot, into the welcoming sanctuary of my dark home. I told Pa. “Stones do not have eyes. They are lifeless. They cannot blink. It is all rubbish,” he said. “I am sure, it blinked,” I insisted. Pa smiled, “Your fertile imagination, kid. And stop listening to those funny tales of granny or Moti. Go, play outside and do not disturb me!”
I got confused. Stones do not blink. Pa claims so. But it did. I am very sure. I went straight to granny’s dark room. She was snoring on her large iron bed. A large table stood near her croaking. It was filled with different-sized medicine bottles. She got up after hearing my footfalls. “Come on in, my poor child. Come here to your granny,” she said kindly to me. Her voice was like that only—always soothing and gentle. She was never cross with me. Unlike Ma or Pa. I told her the incident. She smiled. “Do the stones have eyes?” I asked.
“Yes, Dolly. The stones breathe. They have eyes. Those two stones are very special. They are not stones but a breathing and benevolent old God. They keep an eye on us, protecting us from harm.” She told me in the manner of my class teacher Ms. Mukherjee, always confident and serene, knowing things we never knew. I was thunder-struck. God in the dead stones? “But pa says they are stones and stones do not have eyes, grandma,” I protested, a nine-year kid, many years ago, on that May afternoon, in that huge officer’s bungalow.
“Oh! Ramu does not know many things. He is my son but very different. He has no time for me or you. Always work, work and work. Always after money and nothing else,” said the white-haired granny to me. I still could feel the pain in her voice. The pain of being left behind by your own! But god in those stones! That was really surprising for my mind.
I felt very confused. Who is right? Pa? Granny? Me?
For pa, they were just stones. For granny, they were not. For me, surely these two were alive. It was a deepening mystery now.
Two black stones for others. But an old God for the granny.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I am. I talk to Him daily.”
“What!” I was hit by a punch in my stomach. “You talk to God?”
“Yes. I do. Daily.”
Gaping, I thought, it is too much now!
“Can I talk to God?”
“Yes, you can. He is kind to us. More for the children.”
“How can I talk to Him?”
“Close your eyes. Draw deep breath. Then, begin talking. Tell Him your woes. I always do that.”
“Does God listen to you?”
“He does. Go and find out. Listen carefully. You will hear Him soon.”
I was fully intrigued now.
I decided to find out for myself.
The stones were craggy, rugged, heavy and black. They were found placed haphazardly under the spreading banyan tree many years ago, in the back of the rambling bungalow. Resting against the gnarled tree trunk of the moving banyan where ghosts lived according to Moti, our ageing servant. Evenings, I was terrified of the knotted tree with the drooping locks and stout branches. The tree stood in a corner of the big bungalow. The forest started at the back of the bungalow, behind the outer compound wall of the mills. The long summer afternoons, a hot wind danced in the forest, shrieking mad. Then, it would come down to the bungalow, stark mad, dancing and whistling, driving the leaves away, knocking the tiles on the roofs. Creating a huge ruckus on the way. The wind is like the mad woman vagrant I found near the colony’s main gates.
The stones weathered all this. And more in the years long past. They stood erect. Two huge stone tablets under the whispering ancient tree. Immovable. Fixed in that desolate spot.
There the old granny found God in those two derelict black stone tablets daubed with crimson by somebody long ago. I went there and looked again, my heart beating fast.
The round eyes were resting. Two round eyes and large pupils. The fish eyes! I peered closely. The round eyes moved suddenly and blinked. I stood transfixed. The wind howled in the forest like a wailing baby. There was nobody around except the rustling of the leaves and the singing grass in the hot sun. The tree was my shield from the attacking fierce sun. I peered again. The still eyes moved again and blinked at me! The stones, granny was saying, were alive. She was right! There was a god residing in these two stones. Happy by this strange discovery, I rushed back. The granny’s room was in the extreme corner. She was now lying awake, breathing hard.
“Yes, my precious,” she said kindly to me.
“I saw the God move His eyes and blink at me from one of those stones!”
She smiled her toothless smile, her lines deepening on her small forehead. “I told you so. Only two kinds of persons can see the stone god.”
“Who are they?”
“The old women like me and the young simple girls like you.”
I felt very lucky and privileged. I could see what others could not.
“Who lives inside that stone tablet under the banyan tree?”
“The great God Shiva. In the other tablet of stone is Nandi, his carrier. The bull-carrier is also His manifestation only.”
I was taken aback. The mighty Shiva in the stone and I could see the God.
“But how can the God slip into such a small stone?”
“The Shiva is very kind God. He can reveal himself in any form you worship. He can live anywhere. In icy caves or small stones. He is everywhere.”
“Even in the dead stones?”
“He is everywhere. Everything is His creation only. You search the sacred in humble objects and you can feel and find the divine in them also.”
“How can we make objects sacred?”
Granny—the well-read retired science high-school teacher—paused, moving her rosary in her gnarled stick-like hands, then said, “Emotions. Your doll is precious to you, is it not?”
I nodded. “In the same way, these stones are precious to me. They are sacred to me. I saw the crimson on them, put up by some tribals, years ago. Smearing the stones with the crimson is an act of sacredness. It means for the Hindus, it is a holy object, not to be trifled with or defiled by any crazy person.”
“Ordinary objects can be turned into holy ones thus?”
“Yes. Crimson can do that.”
“And, if somebody tries to fool around or, defile these holy objects?”
“Disaster follows soon. “
It did very soon in our own family. This is how it happened.
Excited by the discovery, I would go daily to the site to talk to the God. Often, granny would come with me. She would wash the stones carefully, daub them with crimson, burn incense sticks before them and then sit cross-legged, chanting hymns in Sanskrit, eyes closed in complete reverence, engrossed in worship, completely away from the world, into a different higher realm. I was always intrigued by her far-away look during these intense moments. She would mumble something in this trance-like situation. “What did you say to God?” I would ask. The white-haired granny, thinning and stiff, would smile very serenely and say, “Shiva is my father. I share everything with Him. I petition Him for everything. All my wishes get fulfilled by such a caring father.” Wishes! I also did the same. Closing my eyes, I said earnestly, “Oh, Lord, my father, I want to become a boy. Please make me a B-O-Y, please Shiva. You know my Pa always wanted a boy. Even my Ma. They are not happy with me. Pa hardly talks. Ma is always cross. She yells at me. Often, beats me for trifles. Only granny loves me. So, please turn me into a boy. Then, my parents will start loving me again.” I would sit cross-legged, eyes closed and talk to the stone-God in a sincere tone. The morning breeze would play with my curly hair and caress my thin oval face. In the deathly stillness on the bungalow—Ma was busy with her chores; Pa was in the office—I could hear my own voice loudly and clearly against the rustling, whispering leaves of the banyan tree. Daily I would pray to Shiva for a dramatic transformation that would delight my unhappy parents and make me the BOY. Whenever I would open my eyes, I would see the crude fish-eyes looking at me and find them blinking at me in an instant. One morning, I found granny crying silently. “Please, end my sufferings now. Nobody wants me to be here. Nobody. I have no other place to go. I feel very insulted. Please, end my sufferings by making me dead.” I cried, too. I got scared. Granny, my beloved granny, as dead. Who will then talk to me? I will become lonely again. Both of us grew closer, without realizing it. And then, one morning, the stones were not there!
It was the saddest day for both of us!
The most precious stones of our lives were missing. We cried bitterly. “The one who has done this will face the wrath of the great Shiva, the destroyer!” Pronounced granny, mad with grief. I, too, was broken in spirit and body. I lost my appetite. The corner looked plundered and empty. It was sacrilege. Somebody, granny said, had dared remove the deity and violated the moral code of conduct. Now, that somebody has to pay heavily for this transgression. I stopped looking at that favourite corner of mine—it looked empty and meaningless to me.
Three days later, quite inexplicably, Ma fell down and fractured her hand and Pa fell ill. He had come back from office in the evening, tossed a few drinks and then gone to sleep. In the night, he developed high fever and chills. The fever continued, despite the medicines. Ma called us and said, “Pray for him.” We did. The fever will not go. Both granny and I got worried. Granny prayed earnestly to the Shiva. I also did that. Then, he was rushed to the City Hospital. We both followed him there. Granny kept praying, hardly sleeping. Pa started muttering in his sleep, on the hospital bed, fever running very high. The doctors said: 48 hours only. Ma cried a lot, so did the old frail granny, sobbing and wailing. Death was inching forward. Pa was in delirium now. Fever did not go down. The docs were all worried. Life hung by a thread only. Our destiny could alter suddenly by this tragedy. The two women were praying and praying to all the Gods. Granny hardly ate anything during those days. I also prayed to Shiva.
And then I saw the dream.
The great Shiva, trident and snakes and matted hair and damrus in hands, striding towards me and saying, “Get those stones back there, otherwise the defiler gets death.” His eyes were flashing in anger. The snakes were all uncoiled now. They were hissing. The great Shiva was in his Rudra form, dancing angrily. The earth trembled. Thunder struck. I woke up, shuddering in fear.
I told my granny. She understood. Then, both of us went back to the bungalow. We searched and searched and then finally, unable to locate two stones, picked up two other similar black stones, much lighter and smaller, found in plenty in that area. We cleaned and washed them. Granny placed these ordinary stones under the whispering banyan tree and again daubed them with the standard crimson colour, turning them into two sacred objects. We burnt the sticks, scattered flowers, poured milk and prayed with eyes closed.
“Please God, save my Pa. He is very dear to me. He is my Pa. I love him very much,” I said, tears running down my cheeks. I had seen Rupali, my chum, crying often, after she had lost her father in an accident a few months ago. She was forced to drop out of school and sell vegetables on the streets. Crying, I dropped to sleep, in the lap of my frail granny, before the newly-anointed stone God.
The healing was quick.
Pa was finally discharged from the hospital after a month. Ma’s fractured hand got healed up also. The life slowly returned to normal. I continued to find solace in the stone God. Granny would talk daily to Shiva under the banyan tree.
Today, after twenty-one years, as a 30-year-old police officer, I stand before those two stones under the banyan tree, in the big bungalow. There is no forest left now. It has all been cut down by the timber mafia. The mills have closed down. The bungalow is abandoned. The nearby bungalows are also closed. There is no body living here anymore except the security guards. The mills’ property is on sale. I was posted as the Deputy Commissioner of Police, the first woman police officer in the state so far, in the town near Ranchi, where I had spent my childhood. I decided to visit the property… and my childhood. The bungalow looks forlorn. Only cob-webs and dust are there where we once lived. The stones are still there. And surprisingly, daubed with fresh crimson. On every Wednesday, people come to apply crimson to the stones. “A whole cult is there now, madam,” informs the chief security officer, a retired colonel, “Every day, women come to pray and on Wednesdays, full crowd comes to pray here. People say all their wishes are granted by these stones.”
I secretly smile. The stone-God had granted my desire. I had become more than a man in a force known for its male ethos. “She is the only man here,” my superiors say by way of introduction. My Pa also revised his opinion about me. I thank my granny for all this. She told me to turn two stones into sacred things by applying crimson and worshipping them faithfully.
They are no longer mere stones but two sacred objects for an entire town. “Humans need sacred objects in their lives. If you do not have them, you are doomed. You must have two holy stones to guide you,” my granny had told me once.
I had found them years ago. The town was finding them now. I understood the message to-day, delivered by granny many years ago. I bowed before them again and stood up.
The fish-eyes were smiling at me again!
Sunil Sharma is an academic administrator, author, critic-poet and freelance journalist from suburban Mumbai, India. He has published 21 books of prose, poetry and criticism so far, some solo and some in collaboration. He edits the monthly, bilingual Setu: http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html More details of the publication: http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/ Image: At the Black Rocks, Paul Gauguin, 1889