KALIGARH: A Short Fiction by Stephen Gill

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Reghu had been repeatedly warned not to go out of the campus of the Kaligarh University, because the joy of Holi also turns into a dramatic shudder of repulsion. During the celebrations, the gates of the university are sealed, and the women hostel is monitored. Reghu had been advised by Shiv and others to stock up his needs as life came to a stop for two days, resurrecting slowly from the third day. It was suggested that he read the newspaper the next day of the Holi. He would be shocked to read about violence and killing, because some people use tar coal or any black substance, instead of colors, to paint the faces of others.
Sipping tea under the noisy fan in the dining hall of the guesthouse, two days before the Holi, Dr. Bimal Jha said,
“Dr. Reghu, Indian festivals, such as Holi, Dushera and Diwali, are rooted in mythologies. Holi is a symbol of victory of good over evil. It also refers to Radha’s intense longing for the ultimate unification with Krishna. Because of her transcendental devotion, Radha left her spouse to live with her lover and his wife. Holi takes an ugly turn when some individuals use bhang, a powerful intoxicant linked with Lord Shiva.”
“What is bhang?” Reghu was curious.
“Its growing prevalence stems from the mythological traditions of god Shiva and now Holi. It is used by sadhus to boost their meditation, to attain spiritual ecstasy. Bhang is derived from the plant of hemp. People make drinks out of bhang or smoke it or mix it with snacks.
Looking towards the ceiling fan Dr. Jha continued, “Kaligarh University is principled on the mythological bond of intimacy, personal concerns and devotion between the guru and students. A guru in Indian tradition has mastered a field and therefore is able to lead the seeker in the inward journey to enter the Promised Land. Without a guru, it is like fumbling around for a lead.
“The seeker needs someone who knows the path. A guru is between God and the seeker. The light and the presence of the guru are baptized in the waters of selflessness. There may be instructors around, but a guru instructs without greed or limits. In Indian tradition, a guru is not lost in the woodland of cryptic theologies.
“One established example from Indian mythology is Dronacharya, who was the guru of the Pandavas. When an ordinary devotee like Eklaviya, son of the chief of the untouchable hunting tribe, called Shudra, approached Dronacharya to be his guru, Dronacharya refused to accept him. Eklaviya made a statue of his guru and took instruction from this image. When Eklaviya was successful in archery, Dronacharya asked him for Dakshna, an offering for the guru. Dronacharya demanded his right thumb. Eklyviyye did not hesitate, even for a second, to severe it and to offer it to his guru. This tradition of spiritual relationship and mentoring based on commitment and obedience is in the culture of our students,” Dr. Bimal Jha concluded thumping the dining table. “You are a diaspora in Canada. You should not forget the mythological thoughts of your mother.”
After a pause of a minute, Reghu spoke, “Eklyviyye should not have done that. Moreover, his guru Dronacharya should not have made that demand on the one he had refused to accept as his disciple. He demanded that sacrifice to remove the competitor for his disciple Arjuna, the son of a mighty ruler, to make Arjuna the greatest archer of that time. There was corruption in the educational system in those days, and this corruption has not ceased even.
“As far as my mother is concerned, my adopted mother has given me security, whereas my birthing mother did nothing to stop me from leaving her and has done nothing now to accept me back. Think of my visits and my stay at Kaligarh University. I have not forgotten her.”
The black mole on his right cheek appeared blacker when Dr. Bimal Jha said, “You are always welcome to Kaligarh University. The doors of its guesthouse are always open for you, as the Vice Chancellor has publicly announced it. Indian hospitality is the continuation of its mythological past. ”
“I am self-exiled because of the life-threatening situations in the home of the mother who birthed me. I have received threats from compatriots even in Canada. My visits to India were once in ten years and I used to live mostly with my niece. To live with a relative for about two months is not that easy.
“Therefore I accept the hospitality of the Vice Chancellor with my whole heart. I share this news happily with my friends because the offer is from the university of a former princely state and its Vice Chancellor is a celebrated artist who has blood ties with royal family.
“I know that the ancestors of the Vice Chancellor donated their palace and some adjacent land and rooms, to establish a university to promote the arts. Also, I know that the royal family of Kaligarh symbolizes the arts that create peace in a peaceful way. Their contributions, particularly in the field of education and arts, are creditable. I also know that the Vice Chancellor has added new departments and has extended the building that is being extended even more. It is the oldest university of the province and its library is among the three top ones here. I also know that the aspirations of the Vice Chancellor are the aspirations of a daughter of the Vice Chancellor’s ancestors who was interested in music and classical dances and died in her teens.”
Now Reghu asked, “Please tell me something about Kaligarh. It has a mixed population of tribal and non-tribal. I love to hear Chhattisgarhi when I go to the marketplace where people come to buy and sell once a week. The dialect sounds melodic and modest with a warm sonority, sounding like the language of love. I find the town relatively calm and that is what I crave.”
Dr. Jha replied, “Kaligarh is in the province of Chhattisgarh, and Chhattisgarh has colorful mythological background, as is its mythological hospitality. Kaligarh is inhabited mostly by aboriginal, called Adivasi, who usually worship their own deities. Kaligarh state was the first to produce its own electricity and first to announce its decision to join the Republic of India. Perhaps you already know that Raja Fateh Bahadur is an executive member of Kaligarh University. He holds this post for life. He holds also other respectable posts with major charitable organizations.
“The university has two campuses. As you have seen, the Vice Chancellor lives at one campus and has her office in the other. Both are within walking distance of each other. The main quality of her is that she does not know how to say no.”
Reghu said, “I have observed that officials in India depend on others for every work. It is something different from Canada. Once, on a Saturday, I saw the Member of Parliament from my constituency in Canada, holding a pair of shoes under his arms, heading to a cobbler’s shop. Professors in India consider it below their dignity to do the work themselves and also they leave the work to the last moment. This attitude hurt me seriously when I asked the head of the Comparative Arts Department to arrange a printer and a computer with internet connection in my room for the duration of the time for which I was invited.
“It was decided that the department would apply to the University Grant Commission for my appointment as a writer-in- residence and that I would use most of this time for preparing a historical record of Kaligarh. There has been no progress in this direction.
“I stayed at the guesthouse for more than a month on my first visit, for two months on my second visit and again for more then a month on my third visit. Before leaving Canada, I always reminded the Department of Comparative Arts to arrange a computer, internet connection and a printer in my room, because these are the staples of my intellectual and spiritual hunger. To make my expectations clearer and stronger, I used to involve the head of the department, his assistant professor and also the personal assistant of the Vice Chancellor in my separate letters. They would say it was nothing for the university to provide these things to a writer of international reputation and assured me they would be arranged before my arrival. But the computer and printer would be moved to my room days after my arrival and only when I insisted. In some cases it was done a week before my departure date and some of the work was not done at all. No one ever tried to comprehend that writing was my food and that I needed a computer and the internet to survive. Where was the hospitality in this case? Writing is my breakfast and also supper. I used to awake hungry and go to my bed hungry.
“I was assured the last time that the guesthouse had been equipped with WiFi and I would need to bring only my laptop from Canada. But there was no WiFi. I was also given a room that had no refrigerator. This happened in the torturous summer months. The department was unable to help me so. I asked the servant who had requested me to bring a sweater for him from Canada. He brought a refrigerator from the other room. See how tips grow stronger muscles than your mythological hospitality does.
“The printer that the university gave me never worked. A university technician said that it needed new toner. When I asked the department, I was told that I would have to work without a printer or internet connection. What kind of hospitality is this: to make a guest go hungry because of the internal politics and bureaucracy. ”
After the pause of a minute Reghu resumed, “You are proud of Indian hospitality. I do not see any hospitality when friends drop by the door without prior information. It indicates that they are little concerned about the time, privacy or the comfort of the host. I do not find hospitality when people say that they are coming to see me, but never come. I pasted a paper written in bold and large letters at my door, advising to make appointments to honor time because time is Lakshmi. Visitors, mostly from the university, still kept coming without phoning. What sort of hospitality is this?” Lakshmi is the goddess of prosperity. I wanted to make visitors aware for their own good.
“I do not find hospitality when the unemployed have to pay bribes to get a job to feed their children. I hear that positions at some universities are not filled though there are deserving candidates. It is because these universities openly ask for kickbacks from candidates. Those kickbacks represent a year’s salary in most cases. Universities in India have money. The problem is that the money goes into the pocket of someone else, not into the pocket of the right person.
“We are talking about hospitality and hospitality is a respectable expression in every religion. In Islam, Allah commands his followers to be kind to their guests. Abraham who is a prophet of the Jews, Christians, Muslims and Bahai is an example because he never ate without a guest.”
Dr. Jha showed surprise. “You have not said anything about Christianity.”
“In Christianity, hospitality is a sacred way to welcome strangers and change them into guests. The Old Testament is filled with the examples of hospitality extended to strangers. In Christianity, no one is a stranger, all are neighbors. The book of Leviticus 19:34, advises to treat all strangers as the native and love them as one does oneself. It commands to invite people to entertain them, because this is the way to plant a seed to be nourished by Divinity.
“Christianity advocates that hospitality comes from the soul and is a symptom of joy. One should feel good in serving others which is the Indian thought to serve others without condition. Jesus is the epitome of hospitality. He fed multitudes that followed him and helped the needy by healing the sick and blind. He verified that hospitality is the action of love. Hospitality is not the picture of the perfect food. It is about caring to do the best for others.”
Reghu tried to conclude, “In any case, we will talk some other day also. Look outside through the window behind you. The blackness is creeping over the silent campus and the stars are staring from their endless vista of narrow clefts. And electricity is pranking on us as usual, as our imagination does with the hoary old myths. ”
One site that Reghu liked in Kaligarh was its park. It was clean, well looked after and its paths were popularly traversed by walkers. To one side, there was a lawn with swings for children. There were icons of classical virgins around a water fountain. Reghu did not see icons of any Hindu god there. Though he liked the park, it was annoying that its gates were closed early and that it did not have a corner to enjoy a cup of tea alone or with friends. Such a corner could have provided extra income to take care of the park in a better way. Once in a while he used to see a vendor who sold spicy snacks outside the park. He had seen him washing glasses and plates in the same bucket of water as he sold snacks at the road side in dim light. The place had no shortage of dust around. This park was the place where Reghu was enthusiastic to meet Dr. Jha this time.
“We were talking about the mythological hospitality in India in our last meeting. We can carry on…”
Dr. Jha started, “In ancient Greece, hospitality was considered a divine right to protect the host from possible harms. It has spiritual connotation also in India. A guest is supposed to be treated as a god. One example is the offering of a glass of water as soon as a guest enters the house. It is said that when a guest comes without giving information, he become a symbol of god. If the guest is spiritual and scholar, he should be served with sweets and politeness, because he gives pleasure as god does.
” Another example of an ideal host is Shabiri who met Rama when he was in exile. Shabiri personally tasted every fruit before offering to Rama, her guest, to be sure they were sweet. “
“Dr. Jha, can you please give more examples from mythology.” Reghu requested. “Rich Indian mythology covers every aspect of life,” he added.
“You are right. Indian mythology includes every aspect of life. Sage Vyas who fathered a child with Ambika is one example. It is also said that the practice of offering wife to a guest was not unknown in ancient India. A suitable example is Sudarshana who asked his wife Oghavati to please his guests in every way. While her husband is away, a mendicant arrives who asks for the favor of sex. She obliges while her husband waits outside.
“The mendicant was Dharma, the god of Duty. He blessed the couple for honoring the social law. Another suitable example is King Rentideo who gave all his food to his guests who appeared one after the other at his door.
“In Indian mythology if a guest arrives without first giving information, it is called Atithi that means the guest is god.
However, in matters of food, hospitality is not that expensive for most vegetarian families. It is just adding one more cup of water in Dal. I am just joking,” Reghu was apologetic.
Looking around, Reghu resumed. “For most guests hospitality is just to provide food and shelter in the night. For me writing is my food. If I care for anything after my writing it is my rest. Writers used to need pen and papers. Now they need a computer with internet connection and a printer. I am happy if I get also a noiseless place to sleep. I do not think of other inconveniences if I get them both. Obviously a person does not live by food alone.”
“You are the exception Dr. Reghu. You should have made your requirements known to the university ahead of time.”
“I did-- months before in my three visits. I used to let them know through my emails and over the phone. What else could I do to make them understand my indispensable necessities? The problem is that the universities do not meet writers regularly. They do not know that writing is a profession and that the necessities of writers are different from the necessities of others. Creative artists receive their food from their mother and the pen is their mother. They want pen and paper and a peaceful atmosphere to think and write. Universities read and teach their books but do not host writers. They may invite a writer for
a day or two to speak at their conferences, but not for months as a writer-in- residence. Therefore they do not know how to deal with them. Most writers are aware of this ignorance. In India, they keep in touch with publishers and these publishers know how to deal with universities. Publishers exploit universities and writers both.” Reghu was earnest when he said, “Just think of the idea of a writer or poet- in- residence. I am hammering for years at different universities, asking them to create these positions for their own good. They have all the facilities and listen attentively to facilitate such positions, but when it comes to practice, they lack courage. They want someone else to do their work.”
Shiv, who had a different view about Indian hospitality, was a commonly recognized face among students and teachers because of his errands. He helped the department with these errands in return for a stipend for his doctoral studies. He tried to please everyone with his smooth talks and smiles and he was a good source of information for every one. Everyone loved to meet him, though they did not accept every word he said and they disapproved of his practice of appearing at the door without notice.
In his early thirties, a bald scholar from the north of India, Shiv was at Kaligarh University to improve his language skills before he could be registered for his dissertation. He shared with Reghu one afternoon, “That is how things are done in India. Just to offer a cup of tea to a guest, people in India have to think several times. It is awful here.”
Reghu wanted to interrupt, but Shiv continued, “It is awful. A university of the size of Kaligarh cannot provide the basic needs of an internationally respected poet. It is awful. Sir, just your presence brings credit to the university. Your interaction with professors and students is a matter of honor for us. It is just awful. You spend your time and money. Your work in Canada suffers. India, a legendary land of gurus and knowledge seekers, cannot make use of your presence. The university has several computers and printers around. To arrange a chip for a month or so for your computer to connect with the internet is not a big deal. It is awful. We have no respect for guests. We say one thing and do another. That is why India is not going anywhere. It is awful. Most university teachers are the frogs of the well.”
“Can you elaborate Shiv?” Reghu was showing his extraordinary interest.
“It is awful. No one cares for students or the future of the nation. The main object of teachers is to please their vice chancellor and the main object of the vice chancellor is to please the governor who makes these appointments and the main object of the governor is to please the government and the main object of the government is to use these institutions of learning as vote banks. It is all politics for short gains. Universities are being used to get votes. It is awful. ”
“I agree with you Shiv. Votebank politics has been preventing the development of India. It is the dirty device that does not benefit the nation, because it hampers the growth of the healthy cells of democracy. Votebank politics is divisive and is the result of some imaginary or real gains from politics. It is an evil element of democracy. It advises citizens to vote on the basis of narrow thinking—a way to destroy the beauty of liberty.
“The country needs good governance to stop pessimism among the youth. India is still remembered as a nation of snake charmers, though it has everything to become a leader as a mouse charmer in the world of computers,” Reghu said.
Reghu was often invited by colleges and universities for two to four days. They took care of his domestic expenses. Yet, he needed a central place where he could leave his unwanted luggage and come back for his writing between his visits. Kaligarh University became handy in that way. He was thankful to the Vice Chancellor, but a lack of organizing abilities and the petty politics of the staff created a stifling atmosphere.
Those days foreigners were being abducted. In addition to his security, there were health risks. He doubted if there was any qualified physician in town. The university needed a twenty-four hour centre to guide persons like Reghu over the phone. The university had students from other parts of India and some from neighboring countries. Emergencies of any kind could arise at anytime. There could be a fire or a burglary or a health issue or abduction. Every moment counts in such situations. Reghu expected at least the kitchen workers to be aware of the procedures to handle emergencies. In Canada and the United States there was one number to dial for any emergency and that number was 911. Reghu did not know if such a system was in place in Kaligarh.
He often felt the necessity for good railway and bus connections. He had the telephone numbers of the Vice Chancellor, of his assistant Mr. Sohan, and of Dr. Saroj. Out of them, Dr. Saroj sometimes picked up the phone, but he was not always available. Mr. Sohan used to pick up the phone after seven to ten attempts. Unlike in Canada, there was no recording system to leave a message over the phone. There was no way to contact the police or fire department or hospital. Even the workers in the kitchen did not carry phones. If he needed tea, he had to climb down to the kitchen from his second floor. There was no buzzer. What he would do in case of an emergency was a genuine concern for Reghu. In his next meeting, Reghu brought these concerns to the attention of Dr. Jha, because Dr. Jha was a senior faculty member and also from the class of the priests of the state. The university used his services for teaching and for journalistic activities.
Hearing Reghu’s story, Dr. Jha replied, “This area is largely safe because of the houses of royalty on two sides and at the back of the university.”
Reghu said, “The head of police dined at the guesthouse for a week. He always came with an armed bodyguard. He used to advise me not to go out of the downtown and preferably to remain within the campus. Those were the days when an Italian was kidnapped on the border of Jharkhand. Police blamed Nexalite groups for a lack of insecurity and pointed out that any of the kitchen workers could belong to them. While the employees were listening, he told me they have laid their network everywhere.”
Dr. Jha tried to mitigate Reghu’s fear, saying, “The guesthouse is free from danger, because on both sides there are deep ravines. There is only one door and in the night it is locked and there is a man who sleeps there. And outside there is a watchman who moves around in the night with a solid stick. ”
Reghu replied, “There are days when the guesthouse is almost empty. There are no phone connections or reliable phone numbers. The phone numbers of the police station and responsible persons should be posted in every room and in the dining hall. Those ravines are used for dumping leftovers. Except for its front part, the whole university is littered with garbage along its outer walls. It may cost just peanuts to hire someone to pick up that litter once or twice a month. It would give the building a better look and be hygienic.
“My breakfasts consist of fruits and fruits are not served here. Another factor that bothers me is the way the bread is wrapped with newspapers. I have told the kitchen employees that the ink of newspapers is toxic; they should use paper towels or something like this. Servants at the guesthouse accepted my suggestions. However, they do not seem to accept my suggestion to use less salt and oil for cooking. Whenever I am in a mood to eat non- vegetarian, I pay them to buy the chicken or fish to cook for me.
“The town has only muddy eating places. To sit close to the burning oven in the months of summer, while perspiring, is not fun. The way they wash plates and glasses is disgusting. Some shops refuse to sell tea without milk and sugar because they make tea in bulk. Most of their snacks are deep- fried. To go out for dining with a female is unthinkable in this town.”
Reghu looked into the eyes of Dr. Jha which became wider when he uttered the word female. Ignoring them, he said, “The most annoying part is to convert dollars into Indian currency. There are a few branches of the main banks but they do not accept dollars. The crowds in banks pose a challenge in a country where standing in a line is considered below one’s dignity. Every counter is a challenge in itself. I found a way to deal with this situation. I look around for any clerk who is not busy talking with anyone. I would get into the office area and inform that person that I am from Canada and would like to exchange dollars for rupees. In most cases they would direct me to someone else. Still there is no way to get exchange.
“I have opened an account with the ICICI Bank that has branches all over India and also in Canada. To be on the safer side, I carry Canadian dollars as well as American. I also carry traveler’s cheques in both the currencies. Nothing is of any help in Kaligarh. Banks do not cash the cheques of other banks before holding them for ten to fifteen days and there is no branch of the ICICI. I need cash to buy certain items, including dry and fresh fruits, shaving cream, soap, shaving blades, bottled water and eating outside for a change. In Canada, we never bother to keep cash because the plastic money works everywhere.
“Once in a while, I long for the warmth of the lap of my mother. Whenever I come to India I am energetic. A stay of a few weeks is so tiring that when I go back to Canada it takes almost a month to wear this tiredness off. I am thankful to the Vice Chancellor for providing a place to sleep and eat. A few months ago, I enjoyed the madura of the serenity of Kaligarh University that began to stimulate my imagination, producing the soothing stillness that creeps into the psyche of poets and painters. I found its campus an oasis of fine arts to be loved, explored, and admired. The ideal setting of the university could kindle a creative vigor to motivate artists,” Reghu concluded and then he left.
Within days, Reghu received a call from Mr. Sohan that the Vice Chancellor had invited him to tea. Next day, Mr. Sohan again phoned Reghu a couple of hours before the scheduled meeting to confirm and later sent a car to take Reghu to the Vice Chancellor’s residence. After climbing the stairs, Reghu entered a hall where musical instruments were displayed. The Vice Chancellor was instructing two young students. Reghu came to know that they were from Sri Lanka and had been receiving instructions from her for the last four years. Both were in their B.A final. In about five minutes, when the session was over, they touched the feet of the Vice Chancellor and later of Reghu.
At tea, the Vice Chancellor explained that she never had any aspirations and never had to struggle for anything, because opportunities came her way and she accepted them. Reghu observed a fascinating spark in her eyes and a glow in her cheeks when she uttered these words and they made her look more beautiful. She also said that she did not know how to control her high temper, if things did not go her way. He wanted to say something, but was able to control himself. Instead, he encouraged her to continue patronizing these saplings as long as she was in that situation.
Reghu knew that the Vice Chancellor was the youngest vice chancellor in India. From his conversation with her, it was clear that she had stamina as well as the dedication to serve the community of artists and was sober, spiritual and emotional. He felt she must have gotten her job because of her education, her research and her royal blood. These elements awoke the giant of curiosity in Reghu.
Reghu was invited again to a gathering at Kaligarh University that was for the teachers of creative arts from the province of Chhattisgarh. It was to be held in the Audience Hall, where he had seen lifelike paintings of the previous rajas of Kaligarh. At the
gathering he urged the delegates to keep working as patrons of the arts, adding that William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and great masters in other fine arts had patrons, who provided encouragement and usually financial assistance, because artists are engaged in a profession that is not profitable from the standpoint of money. “In early days”, he said, “rajas and aristocrats patronized artists. In Indian history, King Harsha Vardhan was a writer and patronized writers. In Greece, patronage was exercised by the Tyrants of Corinth. Poets, including Pindar, were patronized by royal courts. Towards the end of the fifth century B.C. Archelaus, the king of Macedon, invited Euripides to his court. In the Hellenistic Age, the kings of Egypt became great supporters of all arts. Rome patronized Greek artists, including Virgil, and Horace. Much of the religious art in historical churches in the form of paintings and sculpture was supported by religious groups or individuals.
“In democratic states, the role of patrons has been transferred to government agencies. Unfortunately, it has become political to find patrons. Some organizations, individuals and universities have assumed this responsibility. Their roles as patrons are obvious in the private sector in the West, particularly in the United States. Individuals, universities, colleges and businesses are more active as patrons than their governments are. Instead of aristocrats, churches, temples and kings, there are charitable organizations which work as patrons.
“The role of patrons or supporters has been now assumed also by governments, which in democratic nations, have arts councils to help poets and other artists. But governments cannot be everywhere and art is life and beauty. The patrons who support artists in any form support life itself. No matter how one examines it, life is imperfect and as long as life remains imperfect, art will remain a necessity. Life is filled with stress and art is an effective way to combat stress. Life and art go together.” Reghu also mentioned about poets or writers- in- residence and how these positions can be useful to produce artists and poets.
Reghu’s talk, though deeply admired, did not stir the waters of the poetic lake of Kaligarh University. The university remained allergic to writers and poets, but friendly to singers, musicians and dancers. It was this subject that Shiv touched on lightly when he met Reghu again, “Do you know that the university is accepting your suggestion, with changes and without even giving credit to you? It is awful.”
Reghu was surprised. He asked, “What do you mean?”
“Instead of the position of poet- in-residence, the university is going to call it “Artist in Residence.”
“I don’t mind if I don’t get this credit. The personal assistant of the Vice Chancellor has also got some ideas from me regarding rearrangement of the university library. He approached me as one who was doing his doctorate in library science. He collected pertinent information from me to present as his own,” Reghu added.
Shiv said, “We are past masters in the areas of lies and copying. However, Kaligarh University has proved a stepping stone to your promotion in India. Its first international conference, where you were invited to speak, helped you immensely. ”
Reghu disagreed. “It is not true. It was the conference in Haridwar a couple of years before this where English teachers from different universities came as delegates. I was invited on the recommendation of a book publisher from Delhi and the general secretary of that organization. I met a professor there from Meerut who proposed my name as a keynote speaker for a local university conference. There I met Dr. Saroj who invited me to come to Kaligarh University. And Dr. Pujari of Kaligarh University arranged a few talks for me at other institutions. And now I am invited to some universities in the southern part of India. Every bit helps. They all paid honorariums, except Kaligarh University.”
“Sir, you are criticized for criticizing your mother,” Shiv added.
“It is again not true. To present truth is not criticism. I visit my mother regularly, in spite of the inconveniences I face. Think of the lies and inhospitalities. Respect for a guest is in every culture. In Indian culture it has spiritual connotation, as Dr. Jha says. He believes that India is blessed with legendary hospitality.”
“It is awful. He belongs to a dynasty of the priests who are known for their loyalty to their rajas. After amalgamation of the states, they are nowhere. Dr. Jha was helped to get a doctorate from this university. He is also asked to write news items about the university for the media. He feels frustrated because he heads a temple that is benefited by the royal family no more. Such priests live in the past. Once I heard servants of the kitchen talking to you about two bills. What is that story?” Shiv asked.
“I again think of what Dr. Jha says about the mythological stand that symbolizes a guest with god. These servants complain that their head, a professor, buys cheap stuff for the kitchen and keeps two receipts. One receipt is the real and another receipt is fake for the management. He pockets money this way. Our tenures are temporary and we can be dismissed any time within minutes, if we talk about it. This fear keeps silencing us. ”
There were seven days left for Reghu to go back to Canada. Dr. Pujari had accepted an offer from another university. Dr. Saroj was everywhere. Post graduates were not around either. The kitchen workers were there as usual to cook and serve the food. The Vice Chancellor was mostly out of town for her meetings and her personal assistant was not in the habit of picking up calls. Reghu began to think of emergencies. The words of Dr. Jha that Indian mythology is blessed with legendary hospitality were still ringing in his ears.”
While in that mood, Reghu picked up his cell and phoned Mr. Sohan, the Vice Chancellor’s the personal assistant. Luckily Mr. Sohan came on the line.
“I am Reghu. Next week, on Wednesday, I am leaving for Canada. I need a ride to go to the airport. Please book a flight to Bombay to catch my connection for Montreal.”
“I will phone you back in ten minutes.”
Exactly, ten minutes later, the phone rang. Mr. Sohan told Reghu about the price of the air-ticket and the ride to the airport.
“But I have a problem,” Reghu said.
“What is that?”
“I will pay by a cheque. I have an account with the ICICI Bank, but this bank does not have a branch in Kaligarh. I have also dollars if someone would accept them.”
“I will phone you back tomorrow if the ticket agent will accept your cheque.”
“I have something else to add.”
“What is that?”
“The university always buys my return ticket to Bombay and arranges my ride to the airport. I am a guest of the university and I expect the university to arrange my one way domestic flight as it did before. The amount is not much. I wanted to speak with the Vice Chancellor but she seems to be busy. Could you please ask her?” Reghu requested.
“I will phone you back tomorrow to let you know about your cheque and also if the university will take care of your flight as it did in the past.”
“Thanks.” Reghu said.
Mr. Sohan did not phone the next day. Only six days were left for Reghu’s departure and he needed Indian currency badly. He thought of trying the State Bank of India again to exchange his dollars. He went to the bank in the afternoon. Before he could enter, he met someone at the door.
“Is there anything that I can do, Dr. Reghu? I am Dr. Ghosh from the department of vocal music,” the man said handing Reghu his business card.
“I need rupees for the taxi to go to the airport and also to buy my air ticket to go to Bombay to board my flight for Montreal. I need rupees if the airline charges extra for the extra luggage due to my books. I have several copies of my lately published book to take to Canada.”
“How many dollars do you want to exchange?”
“Just three hundred.”
“I was in England a few weeks ago to attend a conference. I may go to the States next year. I will use these dollars there. I will find the exchange rates and see you with rupees at your guesthouse, tomorrow definitely. ” Dr. Ghosh was serious.
After that, he introduced Reghu to a ticket agent. The exchange between Reghu and Gosh was reciprocal because he wanted dollars and Reghu wanted rupees. There was no question of hospitality, but still Reghu was thankful because he had no means to get Indian currency.
Noting down the cost of the ticket and a taxi, Reghu came back to his room, assuring the ticket agent that he would let him know in a few days.
Reghu expected a call every day from Dr. Ghosh and with every day his worries intensified, because he did not have local currency. When only two days were left for his flight, he phoned. Dr. Ghosh told him that he had wanted those dollars, but he thought later that he did not need them immediately. Therefore he had dropped the idea of exchanging dollars.
Reghu wanted to tell him that he should have at least had the courtesy to let him know about his change of mind. But he chose to remain quiet.
The Vice Chancellor’s personal assistant was also quiet, in spite of Reghu’s phoning him every morning, every evening and every after noon. Reghu wanted to be sure, he could pay with his personal cheque. Mr. Sohan had assured him that he would phone him back the next day if his agent would accept the cheque but there was no phone call from Mr. Sohan. Even the next day and also the day after that, there was no phone from Mr. Sohan. Two days were left. Reghu was worried that if Mr. Sohan’s agent did not accept the cheque he would be in a real mess.
Reghu compared the prices that Sohan had quoted for the flight and the taxi with the prices that the agent had quoted. He discovered that Sohan’s quotes were much higher. Was it a deliberate attempt to cheat or had it happened because of something else?
Reghu was shocked and baffled. He remembered the words of Dr. Jha about the mythological Indian hospitality.
Towards the evening Sohan’s phone call came. He said that the Vice Chancellor told him that the university had not received that years grant from the government as yet and also that the professor from the department of comparative arts, Dr. Saroj, was out of town. For the ride to the airport, the university had only two vehicles and both were occupied the day Reghu needed them.
Reghu said, “I have made a booking through an agent who would accept my personal cheque for the flight and also for the taxi. Moreover, the prices of both are more reasonable than the ones you have quoted.”
Sohan was calm in his reply. “That means I will have to pay a penalty from my own pocket for canceling the ticket.”
“It is not my fault. You did not say if my personal cheque would be accepted. Not only that, your prices were much higher. You said that you would let me know the next day. For four days I kept phoning you in the morning, again in the afternoon and again in the evenings on weekdays as well as on weekends.” That was the end of their conversation.
Dr. Pujari once told Reghu that the Vice Chancellor Professor Manjari was groomed by a guru who became a Christian. He was from Nagpur where he was buried when he died. He had been a professor at Kaligarh University, where she was his student. Dr. Pujari said that she went every year to Nagpur on the anniversary of her guru’s death. She fasted on that day. She had the copy of the Bible that her guru used to read. Now she reads, but she was a Hindu. She followed Christ at heart.
Reghu wanted to say goodbye to the Vice Chancellor, but she was not in her office or at home. He phoned Dr. Jha. “I want to know more about your Kali Temple. I may write something about it.”
“Sure, you can.”
“What does Kali mean and what is the story of the temple?”
“It was my great grand father who was a devotee of goddess Kali. He had her darshan which means that she appeared physically before him. Kali is the most reverend goddess in Indian mythology.”
“Where did she appear?”
“At the same spot where the temple stands. On the advice of my great- grand father, who was the personal priest of the raja, the name of the town was changed to Kaligarh, meaning the fort of the goddess Kali. ”
“What does Kali stand for?”
“Kali stands for dark. In mythologies, she is associated with time, death and eternal energy and is shown in ferocious forms. She is worshipped as Durga or Danteshwari. She is mysterious even for her devotees. From the day she appeared, a festival began to be held every year to honor her. Most princely states had their own one or two deities and held
carnivals in their honor. Offerings to deities were used to take care of the priestly class.” Dr. Jha said.
“Dr. Jha you associate every festival and tradition of India with its mythological past. Is there anything in India that stands by itself? What is mythology in your opinion?
“Mythology plays its part in most of the actions in India. India has a rich mythological past.”
“My question is – what is mythology?” Reghu asked again politely.
“You are a writer and have written on this subject. What is your opinion? ”
Reghu said, “I believe mythology is from the word myth, and myths refer to the stories about supernatural events that in India are usually associated with religion. In a wider sense, myths are of a symbolical nature and represent a cosmic process. Mythology is the study of myths.
“I also believe that wise men invented myths to teach a truth, but later they were taken literally. Myths have been constantly used to enrich literature. Milton, Shelley, Keats, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, WB Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and among the recent Indo/Canadian Stephen Gill have used myths for the enrichment of their works.”
“Do you have mythologies in Canada?” Dr. Jha asked.
“Canada is not as rich as India is in mythology. Canadian history starts usually with the French who came as explorers in the sixteenth century and stayed to settle, though Aboriginals had already been in Canada for centuries.” After a short pause, Reghu resumed, “Are you the head of this Kali temple?”
“Yes.”
“Kaligarh does not have enough guesthouses for visitors. Delegates cannot be accommodated whenever there is a conference here. They are accommodated in the city that is about fifty kilometers from here. There are mythological traditions relating to temples and guesthouses. ”
“Which are those?”
“Temples normally have rooms and eating facilities for out of town pilgrims. These facilities are called dharmsalas, where they pay a nominal charge for their stay and food. Kali Temple can have rooms in two or three stories for the delegates of the conferences who want to be close to the goddess Kali and she can be honored in one hall, where worshippers can visit at specified times,” Reghu suggested.
Receiving no response from Dr. Jha, Reghu asked, “Will goddess Kali be mad if she is housed in one decent spacious room?”
“I don’t know.”
“Both goddess Kali and dharmsalas are associated with mythologies.” Reghu said.
“I know this.” Dr. Jha replied.
“This temple was for the royal family to worship in.”
“Yes.”
“And now the temple remains almost empty.”
“Yes.”
“It is because the royal family has stopped worshipping here.”
“Yes. “
“Who worships in this temple now?”
“Impoverished.”
“Where do the royal families go?”
“I don’t know”, Dr. Bimal Jha said in an irritated tone.
“Where is the Vice Chancellor today?”
“She has gone to Nagpur. Please don’t ask me why. ”

About the author:
Multiple award winning Stephen Gill has authored more than twenty books, including novels, literary criticism, and collections of poems. He is the subject of doctoral dissertations, and research papers. Nine books have been released by scholars and more are to be released on his works. (Websites: www.stephengill.ca; www.stephengillcriticism.info )

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