LIZARD: A Short Fiction by Stephen Gill

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All the characters of Lizard are products of the author’s imagination. Resemblance to any person or place is coincidental.
CHHATTISGARH SERIES: LIZARD is the third short fiction in Stephen Gill’s Chhattisgarh series. The fourth would be NOISE. The common thread that unites these series is the area of Chhattisgarh, the Adivasi (Aboriginals) and protagonist Reghu. Chhattisgarh, a five thousand years old region, is a province of India. Comments are welcome. They will be published with the book.
PLEASE NOTET: The Adivase, the first in the series, has been slightly edited. This edited version is available from the author and also at the site: www.writerslifeline.ca
LIZARD
Reghu’s visits sprang from his deepest desire to draw an honest and compassionate portrait of the Aboriginals, called the Adivasi. To work on this portrait with the singleness of purpose, he did not want to have another disturbing night at the guesthouse of Kaligarh University after his thirty-hour journey from Canada to India. At lunch, he went to the dining hall to discuss his concerns with employees, but was dismayed when a professor told him that every animal is sacred in the Hindu culture. For Reghu, this gesture was explicit to let him know that he would have to learn to coexist with lizards.
The cook told him about a shop where Indian sweets were prepared and sold. In the night, a lizard fell into the pan filled with boiling oil. The employees took it out in the morning, using the same oil to fry jalabees. Nearly all who ate them died. The cook said that the skin of the lizard is poisonous. Another employee told Reghu that if a lizard drops in a dish and if that dish is used, even after taking the lizard out, the eater is likely to die. The poison is in the skin of a lizard, not in the mouth. Reghu heard similar incidents from other sources. All appeared to have agreed that lizards were a nuisance, but no one suggested killing them.
One night, Reghu felt something dropping in his bed. He switched on the light and saw some lizards on the walls. He left his bed, went to his chair and closed his eyes to catch a nap. His bed was comfortable and neat, but he was afraid to lie down. He turned on the fan to scare two lizards that were crawling right above his head. They fled to the right side. Two of them appeared to be determined. He thought of increasing the speed of the air conditioner. It was cold, but more cold was preferable than the sight of lizards. Though there was no thermostat to play with the speed, he managed to sleep for a few hours.
From the next morning Reghu started collecting information to make his room free from these obnoxious creatures. There were delegates for the conference from other provinces. He shared his concerns with whoever came in his contact. He also discussed them with the servant who made and brought tea every morning to his room. He suggested keeping the shell of the eggs. That was easy because he used to have boiled eggs for his breakfast. He scattered them in every corner and wherever he could. He still saw them. He was certain there must be ways to get rid of lizards.
During his discussions it came out that he should use full eggs without the contents. The electrician told him that the contents of the egg were sticky enough to glue the shell to the wall. He suggested pasting a little on the spots where he wanted the shells to be glued. An employee of the kitchen hung a few shells with a thread running through them. In other words, he made a garland with the shells. His room looked funny with these full egg shells hanging in two rows. He was willing to accept this funny appearance for the sake of his rest. Lizards were not scared yet.
Reghu was basking the next afternoon in the sun when a worker came to clean his washroom. Seeing those peculiar arrangements of empty eggs, he asked Reghu the reason. The servant told him that they had fowls in their village. They had eggs around in their house and these lizards also roamed freely on the walls. He advised Reghu to buy a chemical to kill them. Reghu thought a chemical that was strong enough to kill lizards would be strong enough to pollute the air. Moreover, they could die and rot in unseen spots. He did not accept this suggestion.
The same worker told Reghu that lizards eat insects that were close to the tubes and bulbs. That meant he should keep the room dark. It made sense, but it was scary to sleep without the light. He still considered trying it. He concluded that it was not the sight of the egg that scared lizards, it was the smell of its contents. He planned to work on it. He painted parts of the walls where lizards were often seen with both white and yellow contents. He also glued the shells. Even these devices did not work.
Meanwhile, he kept himself busy collecting information about the cure if a lizard bites him. The electrician once told him that one morning he found a dead lizard in his bed. Upon asking how it happened, the electrician said that the lizard must have fallen in his bed from the ceiling and got crushed under his back or died of suffocation. The body of Reghu began to shiver hearing this repulsive episode.
It was a general belief around Kaligarh University that lizards did not bite and if they did the victims could become giddy for a while, but nothing serious would happen. There was no need to be panicky and to approach for medical care. Its bite was not as dangerous as was the bite of snakes.
Not only lizards did bother Reghu, but so did the ants. He did not know where they used to come from. Within minutes, ants started building their colonies. The only way to keep them away was to keep the eatables in the refrigerator. But Reghu’s main focus was lizards. They appeared mostly above the ceiling fan. He was afraid that one could fall right on his bed when he was asleep. He observed that when the fan was on, lizards would not appear on the ceiling, at least not above him. He also observed that they were the creatures of hot weather. He felt it would help if he kept the temperature of the room cold. But the air conditioner did not release much cold air.
Reghu decided to bring the matter to the attention of Rohit, a local jeweller, a Jain by faith. He was clean and educated. Reghu knew that Jains did not kill animals. Rohit must know the way to get rid of them. He advised Reghu to keep meyur pankh in his room. When he brought this to the attention of the kitchen employees, they assured him that they would arrange, but later indicated their helplessness. He asked several more persons about meyur, but none could say what it was. Reghu knew that pankh was a Hindi word for feathers. But what was this bird meyur? They said that this bird had beautiful feathers and lived in jungles. Some said this bird had mythological significance. He was sure it would be a problem to get his feathers if the bird had mythological and religious affiliations. He was also afraid of asking Hindus, thinking they might be offended. He asked if the meyur pankhs were available at any shop, but they did not know. The person knowledgeable about mythology was Dr. Jha and he was perhaps busy in pleasing goddess Kali in her temple by observing fasts. Another person was Dr. Pujari, head of the department of comparative arts. He informed over the phone that meyur was the peacock and pankhs were its feathers.
Reghu knew that peacock was chosen as the national symbol because of its religious involvement with the culture of India. He also knew that peacock was known for pride and mysticism and was commonly recognized by every citizen. Its dances had been incorporated poetically in folklore. Moreover, it was not confused with other birds of the world. Its multi-colored feathers fit within the mosaic character of Indian society. What Reghu did not know was the extent of ignorance among Kaligarians about its name in proper Hindi and English and that it was the bird that symbolized India. However it was easy now for Reghu to explain shopkeepers and others, yet he was unable to get feathers.
During his inquiries he learned that a sword or knife made of silver kept lizards away. He did not care to understand the mystery behind a sword or knife of silver. Instead he was obsessive about finding the solution to keep lizards out of his room. For ants, he became so suspicious that he looked at every plate with his glasses to be sure there were none. He still found one or two. However these were the lizards that had been bothering him.
He was also bothered by the visitors who appeared without prior appointment. He had widely circulated it, but still every morning there was someone to appear. A few mornings, it was a servant from the kitchen with tea. One day, he told the employees that he would walk down to the dining table for his breakfasts. He felt it worth the trouble than be disturbed at odd hours. Still there was either a delegate, student or someone from the faculty at his door. He was determined that if he were appointed as poet in residence, he would indicate to everyone to make an appointment to see him. Among all his irritants, the unrestrained freedom of lizards was a complex issue that needed immediate action.
In the morning he went to downtown to buy fruits and other items. He checked his email in the department of comparative arts where he planned to meet Professor Pujari, but he was on leave to prepare himself to work at Tulsi Das University. He had tea with Dr. Saroj and then headed to the library.
The librarian, Dr. Patel, ordered tea to share with Reghu and then heard his request for peacock feathers. Reghu also asked for copies of the media coverage when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi inaugurated the university officially to know more about Kaligarh. The librarian began to think about how to digup that information. Because the request was unexpected, the librarian could not locate the information. However, Dr. Patel assured Reghu that he would do his best to find that coverage as well as peacock feathers. He took Reghu around to see the library, introducing him to assistant librarians.
The guesthouses of other universities in the same province of Chhattisgarh were located in better areas of the cities, where most facilities were available. The guesthouse of Tulsi Das University, not far from there, used less salt and oil to make the food nourishing. Its suites were incredibly comfortable. Dr. Pujari left Kaligarh University to teach there.
Reghu had informed Dr. Pujari and his subordinate months ahead and many times about his visit. It was not a surprise for Reghu when he learned that Dr. Pujari had informed the authorities on the last day of his departure from Kaligarh University about Reghu’s forthcoming visit. Yet the university was able to accommodate him with minor adjustments. He knew the people in the city and around the university. He knew scholars by name. One was doing her doctorate on his poetry and the other on someone else from Canada. He also knew the remaining three scholars. Then he knew Nirmal who taught at a college and had finished her doctorate. She was intelligent and kind. She published two research papers on Reghu’s works. He felt that Kaligarh was his second home; it was his third visit in two years.
Kaligarh University was situated in a small town that had no proper restaurant and where fresh fruits were not available at stores. Yet he preferred to be here. He used to discuss openly any subject with anyone. Now the subject of his interest was the lizard, though the leading interest for his exploration was Aboriginals, called the Adivasi in India. Reghu was not happy because the university had done nothing to help him with Aboriginals, not even about the rajas of Kaligarh.
Reghu realized that the ideal place to talk to anyone about anything was at its dining hall which had a long table to accommodate ten guests easily. It was a place to meet new faces every day. The employees used to leave dal, one vegetable dish, rotis, glasses, spoons and a jug of water in the centre of the table. The napkins were kept in the drawers and given if someone asked. The guests, mostly from other cities and provinces, passed on the food happily to each other while chatting. Even in hot and sticky weather, they used warm water. Reghu preferred icy cold. The employees used to bring it from the refrigerator where they kept it for him. This fondness of Reghu appeared amusing to servants and guests.
Adjacent to the dining hall was a much larger area for special gatherings. It had three couches and chairs for those who wanted closeness to chat with friends. Close to it was the main steel door to go out which was usually locked at night. Before going out from this steel door, there were stairs that went up to a storey that had three guestrooms in a row. Reghu had one of them. In front of these rooms was a yard enclosed by not more than a four- foot high wall. Behind the wall was a nearly 700 by 500 foot ditch that had the growth of greenery in its depth of around 30 feet from the second floor. Beyond this ditch were the houses of the royalty. To the left was a street. He did not hear shouts by youngsters as was common in big cities.
When Reghu was bored, he used to come down to the dining hall to enjoy tea and conversations with visitors. There was always one or two around. He was not happy to deflect his field from the Adivasi to lizards and peacocks. Reghu felt that the feathers of the peacock must be emitting odours which kept insects and lizards away. He became curious to know the makeup of those odors or chemicals. So far he was not lucky to find a person who could answer his questions. All that he knew was that these feathers excelled in beauty. He had often admired their mathematical majesty.
The next morning, he was bothered with a knock at his door. He did not like it because he had gone to bed late because of the sight of these lizards. It was the librarian, carrying a few feathers of the peacock. Reghu received them with his genuine thanks and placed them at different locations in his room. The feathers, though not fresh, were worth trying, he mused. Meanwhile he kept searching for a small knife or sword of silver. Eggshells were still there. Most of the persons Reghu met believed in the theory of eggs, though they did not work in his case.
After Dr. Patel left, Reghu took his routine exercise and went down stairs for tea. When twenty-four hours had passed since he had feathers, he felt relieved, because there were no ants or lizards. He felt like laughing because no one was able to explain that meyur pankhs were the feathers of the peacock. The word he had heard in his childhood about the peacock was more, pronounced exactly as the word more in English which meant much. Kitchen employees, about five, could not tell this in proper Hindi, in spite of Reghu’s constant probes. He came to know that the bird and its feathers were linked with a particular sect of the Hindus and had religious connotations. Reghu left it to Professor Pujari to unmask the secrecy further surrounding these feathers.
Meanwhile Reghu looked at the feathers for the delight of his eyes. Their appearance was amazing. The stunning and regulated design in the pattern of the feathers made him believe that the peacock was rightly equated with vanity. He had heard some theories that had been woven to unravel the mystery of its beauty and more were to be woven because none of them was satisfactory.
Reghu knew that the peacock was originally from India, where servants fanned rajas with its feathers to give respite from the summer heat that drives into a languid torpor. He also knew that Indian poetry was being inspired by peacocks and the bird stood for deathless love and was symbolized with purity and loyalty. Dr. Pujari had told him that now peacocks were domesticated and people liked to decorate their homes and offices with its feathers. The findings of American and Chinese scientists, who had experimented in analytical laboratories, were quoted but India which had adopted the bird as a symbol and was the home of this bird, did not have a place in these findings. He sensed that feathers deserved to be studied scientifically further and India could do a better job than others had.
Professor Pujari had told him that peacock feathers had a connection with Lord Krishna and this could have been mentioned in the Vedas and other mythologies of India. Shakespeare’s play Macbeth mentioned lizards in the category of evil spirits. Aboriginals in Australia believed that the sky would fall if lizards were killed.
Reghu was usually restless because his central mission, which was to explore the culture of the Adivasi around Chhattisgarh, was receding due to lizards. He found no way to be in touch with the Adivasi. One way to explore their culture was to go through government agencies. But to get in touch with government agencies was another area to be explored. One hurdle was to find their names and then to find their addresses and telephone numbers. One could suggest checking telephone directories and finding a telephone directory in Chhattisgarh was in itself a field of extensive research. One could write a doctoral dissertation in this area. The next step was how to get in touch with those few and unorganized libraries scattered across the province. There may be brochures on the shelves but the availability of authentic research material in English was questionable.
Sitting comfortably in his chair, Reghu looked at the amazingly gorgeous feathers he had displayed to keep the lizards and insects away. He believed that the lizard was a subject that should be studied closely. So were the peacock feathers, especially from the point of its medicinal values. Reghu knew that India had made extensive contributions in the field of astronomy, meditation, yoga and music. Additional contributions could be made from the point of health benefits of the meyur pankh. A question that usually arose in his mind was why these feathers kept lizards and insects away. It could have good or possibly bad effects on humans.
This was the time when the dusk was dawning with a heavy dose of humidity. Reghu opened his refrigerator to see if there was enough water for the night. He headed toward the town to buy two or three bottles. He was close to the museum where icons of male and females were displayed. Throwing his cursory view, he passed by the library where some students were sitting outside on the stairs to catch fresh air. Next to that in the centre was a huge statue. From here there were two gates to go out of the campus.
The right side gate led to the bus station and the left side to the centre of town. Shops were far from the left gate. While he was planning to proceed to the right side, he was enchanted by a melody about Lord Krishna. The singer was repeating the first line again and again. There were different tones and tunes in each repetition. A female was singing about her devotion for Krishna. It was a sensuous presentation in a Hindi dialect.
A teacher came and sat on a small flat wall, informing him that it was a Thumri. Reghu sat down next to the teacher, forgetting water. He had heard the word Thumri before and also had heard singers repeating the same line in different creative ways, though in some cases he had not liked when they distorted their facial expressions while singing. He admired how they could repeat the same line to fifty or even more tunes. Remembrance of tunes, avoiding repetition, was a skilful delight of Thumri. The teacher explained that festivals were arranged by literary organizations, where the sweet strains of vocal recitals bring back the golden age of Thumri. There were also solo performances. Originally performers used to be courtesan who evoked the emotions of joy and love with their melody and movements, artistically expressed in divergent and appropriate grace. The teacher told him that Thumri was a light classical vocal form in which the pangs of longing breathed in the amazement of a single line that is uniquely repeated. Fusing the musical heritage of India with innovation in the fireplace of imagination produced an inexpressible musical art that was like the mathematical pattern of the peacock feathers.
It was getting dark and Reghu came back to the guesthouse. Before going to his room he went to the dining room, where he used to go even if he was not hungry or had no desire for tea. This time he met Dr. Gupta, a retired professor in archaeology. He was at Kaligarh University as an examiner for a doctoral thesis of a scholar. He told Reghu about a tribe of Aboriginals that was disappearing. This tribe, called Korwa, worshipped the feathers of the peacock and used the skin of a lion to sit on. He further said that Lord Krishna decorated his crown with this feather. He continued saying that the famous Hindi poet Kabira used its feathers in his band that he used to wear around his forehead. Even Muslim rulers used it at their shrines.
“I would like to know more about the Korwa tribe, also because of the peacock feathers that is associated with the leading decision of my visit to Chhattisgarh,” Reghu said calmly.
Dr. Gupta looked around before adding, “The Korwa tribe live in the hills and forests area, though a small percentage live outside of Chhattisgarh. Even in Chhattisgarh, they are scattered in non-hilly areas and some have started to settle in small communities. They are dark brown or black. They worship their ancestors and have their own gods though some of their gods are also Hindu gods. They practice witchcraft widely, and drink their homemade liquor from Mahua flowers. Fire is sacred to them. They keep it burning most of the time to keep evil spirits away.
“Let me share that Chhattisgarh custom and values vary as stars vary in brightness. Chhattisgarh is a garden of beauty that includes waterfalls, heritage places, exotic wildlife, thick forests, spectacular hillsides, serpentine rivers, mystical caves, breathtaking temples and the list can go on.
Reghu cut him short, “When you say a garden of beauty, it sounds to me like the Garden of Eden.”
“Why?”
“The Garden of Eden had a particular tree of beauty that grew a particular fruit of beauty in a beautiful surrounding that attracted a particular serpent who appeared in a beautiful form to tempt the beauty of Eve.”
Dr. Gupta was quick to respond, “That tree and that fruit and whatever else you have to add refers to Bhagwan Rajneesh. He had some affiliation with this area. I am sure you know how he took the West by the storm of his unorthodox convictions in the name of the beauty of peace.”
“And how he was accepted only by his roots when he had one leg in the grave. He was not welcomed anywhere else in spite of a fleet of his aura of sophisticated Rolls Royces and incredible glitters of his convictions and practices, ” Reghu answered.
However, Reghu was intensely interested in Korwa tribe, but suppressed his interest brutally knowing there was no way to find material about them, let alone to see anyone from this tribe. Changing the subject, he asked, “Are lizards poisonous?”
“There are theories and theories. Lizards are extremely poisonous in some countries. Some lizards are legless and some have only their hind legs. Most of them are swift and all had a tail. Lately they are being domesticated. Salmonella has been widely reported among those who domesticate them.”
“What is salmonella?” Reghu asked.
“It is food poisoning caused by infection from contaminated water or food. It causes typhoid fever, diarrhea, cramps and vomiting. A person who touches a pet can get its bacteria,” Dr. Gupta replied.
“Any precautions?”
“It is recommended by veterinarians to wash hands and arms thoroughly with soap and water after handling them or their cages. Children, because of their poor immune system, are advised to stay away from touching lizards. Moreover, lizards should not be allowed in the kitchen and close to eatables.
“Lizards are predators of insects. There are around three thousand species and are in a variety of colours and sizes. Some of them are omnivorous and eat only plants. In some countries lizards are eaten. In Hong Kong, lizards are sold in dry form to boost love life. It is also suggested that their use improves the eyesight. These are the claims that have not been proven in laboratories.”
Reghu met two doctoral students in music from Baster, a hub of Nexalites and the Adivasi activists. A district of Chhattisgarh, Baster was known for the charisma of its exceptionally beautiful waterfalls. Their Adivasi had archetypal rituals and he found them friendly on his visit to its university on the invitation of its newly appointed vice chancellor, professor Dr. Dwindra, who had initiated a series of lectures by overseas scholars. Both students sitting around the dining table of Kaligarh University shared a belief of the Adivasi that if a lizard drops on a person’s head, that person would become rich and famous soon. If a lizard drops on the lower part of the leg and begins to crawl upward, that person is likely to die shortly. If a person is saying something and a lizard makes a sound that means what that person said would come true.
Hearing those tales, Reghu came to his room. Weird thoughts began to appear and disappear in his mind when he saw two or three young ones with an adult on a wall, not far from the floor. There could be a message from the other world. He was frightened when he noticed them closer to the floor. He decided to place some feathers there. There was no lizard on the ceiling. Why they shifted close to the floor was an enigma and scary. He also saw one on another chair that he kept close to his bed. When he frightened the lizard, it jumped to another chair from where it disappeared either behind the refrigerator or the full mirror. He was startled when one jumped from his chair where he was going to sit. Lizards looked alert now. They were seen creeping once in a while on the walls, but mostly they were hidden behind the refrigerator and also the writing table. It was a hair-rising experience when one jumped out of the drawer as soon as he opened it to take out the bottle of his vitamin B. complex he had brought from Canada. Unlike before, now they started leaping from one place to another, hiding behind the chair or the refrigerator or the drawers. Their sights were repulsive, though he was made to believe they did not bite.
Reghu began to change the locations of the feathers. Because lizards were close to the floor, he put one or two feathers closer to his bed. He often got up in the night when he felt itchy somewhere which might have been caused by his bed sheet or his shirt moved by the air from the ceiling fan. Even a slight itchy feeling on his leg or in the head was enough to alert him to move his fingers there quickly or jerk his head. At first he began to sleep with both the lights on, but when someone told him that lizards came out of their hiding to eat insects, he kept those lights off, leaving his washroom and adjacent room lights on. Before going to bed, he began to check both the blankets and remove both the pillow cases to be sure none of those creatures were hidden there. He also began to check the shawls that were given to honour him at former conferences.
He thought of the delegate he met at the dining table from Baster. Chair was a symbol of dignity and position. He did not know if that was coincidence,three days after that, he heard a news that one of his books was introduced in the syllabus of a university. He knew that Dr. Pujari was behind this introduction.
Reghu felt that except this irritation from lizards, his room was not bad. It had two tables to keep a desktop on one and a printer on the other, though the printer did not work and was taking up space. The room had a fair size television that was still virgin and a supply power he kept under the table. He had four chairs and one extra table, where he used to place dirty plates, glasses and cups for the servant to collect. The refrigerator was handy, because ants and lizards did not enter there. He used to keep his fruit inside. He also had a full-size mirror, air conditioning system, a good washroom, another room with a large dresser and plenty of electric plugs.
Close to the full size mirror, there was a door that opened to a balcony. He rarely opened it, fearing any bird or insect would enter. There was another room that was close to the refrigerator. It had a large steel dresser. This is where Reghu used to keep his formal dresses. To the left of this room, a door led to the washroom that had a small tank nailed to the wall, five to six feet above the floor, to warm water for a bath. The washroom had a confusing network of taps as there was in any normal family in India; some of them worked and some did not. His room had a small basin with a mirror and two lights, one on each side of the wall. Often there was a problem with one light or the other. Once in a while, he found lizards even in the washroom.
Reghu was proud that in most cases, universities gave him their best accommodations. Not long ago he was at Adhraj College, about one hundred and fifty kilometers from Kaligarh University, for a few nights. This was the college where prince and princesses of the former states studied. Now rich families could send their children here. It was run by former rajas. There were students from neighbouring countries also. Unlike in Kaligarh University, help at Adhraj College was available with the push of the buzzer and also by phone. The appetizing food could be served in the room. The bed sheets were immaculately clean and luxurious. The service was remarkable in the calm atmosphere. The guesthouse was surrounded with trees and flowers and servants were minding their respective work silently. Overall the guesthouse had an appearance of unruffled dignity.
It was obvious that lizards had something to do with a section of the Hindu culture and unless he put up a strong fight he would not be able to get rid of them. While thinking of the repulsive sights of lizards and the shudders they caused, Reghu came out in the yard with a chair. The prevailing tranquility was soothing. A teacher told him that the front and left sides had the houses of the relatives of the royal families, including nephews, nieces and their children. Those who married out of the Kaligarh area also settled here.
To the left, he could see trees bathing in the beams of the moon. There were also some houses painted in green. He could see, not far from there, a sky-touching tower, perhaps for digital signals. It was inside the town, whereas he had seen them out of the town in Canada. It may be because these towers could pose health problems. The dignified tower was standing silently among silent houses. To the left, about seven feet from him, he saw a table with two chairs. The table was solid, yet he was able to bring it closer to his room.
Reghu looked to his left again. He sighted more palm trees. The flat roofs of several houses had digital antennas. Some houses were painted in green, some in yellow and some in white. Somehow he began to like the houses painted in green. Nearly all roofs were without clutter unlike he had seen in the north of India. Once in a while, the sound of silence was broken with a passing scooter.
He looked down, resting his arms on the wall. The ditch was used for dumping leftovers and other garbage. This must be the nursery for lizards that must be thoroughly and regularly disinfected. The employees of the kitchen should not be allowed to use it as a garbage container. It was good to use this ditch as a reservoir of water if there was a flood. Some years back the canals swelled and the first floor of the guesthouse was submerged in water. Some residents were evacuated by helicopters. Such ditches prove useful during floods, but during normal days they must not be used for garbage.
The upper storey, where Reghu stayed, had two more rooms in the same row, which were empty. He walked to the right side, where the main university was located. He could see the library, the museum and close to that the department of the comparative arts. Then he lifted his eyes. The sky was blue and peaceful.
Nights were usually pleasant at the campus. After the midnight he often needed woollen blankets. Servants had given him two. They were largely helpful, but they brushed aside his battle with lizards. Reghu did not feel like going inside. He relaxed closing his eyes, while sitting in a chair and putting his legs up on the table. When he was sleepy, he moved in.
In the morning, Dr. Jha came. An expert in Indian mythology, Dr. Jha was an assistant professor with the department of archaeology and head of the local temple of the university. His ancestors were personal priests of rajas. They started talking about peacock feathers. Dr. Jha said, “Some poets and other artists from Kaligarh University keep feathers of the peacock at the level of eyesight to look at them often, because they have the power to impart peace and to bring wandering thoughts to a focal point.” Reghu knew it was an opportunity to seek age-old wisdom from a priest of rajas and particularly from the one who taught the history of archaeology. He asked, “Anything else about these feathers? I would love to hear? These feathers are the treasure of graces.”
Dr. Jha was quick, “Peacock is also used to win over a beloved. Young boys and girls in love use the ashes of the bones of a peacock for this purpose.”
“That means a lover will have to kill a peacock first which is not permissible in Hindu religion.”
“They use a dead peacock. Its bones are burnt and reduced to ashes. A pint of these ashes are mixed secretly in some drink, such as tea or lemon juice and given to the beloved to melt his or her heart. In olden days, military chiefs used this potion to win over their rulers if the ruler was careless to perform his duties because of his indulgence in pretty women,” he said.
“What is the source of this advice?” Reghu asked.
“It is mentioned in a book called Neeti Shaster.”
“When was this book written?”
“In the fourteenth century. That was the time when Muslims invaded India.”
“ Is it mentioned in the Vedas, which are among the oldest scriptures of the world?” Reghu showed his real interest.
“Yes, it is. In olden days gurus used it as a potion to increase the number of their disciples around them. Now disciples flock to the universities, which have better libraries, campuses and systems for financial assistance,” Dr. Jha said.
“I have found some difference in the way these lizards behave in my room. They used to be on the ceiling and the walls near the ceiling. Now they are close to the floor and also have their young ones which were not there before.
“Another difference is that now the employees in the kitchen complain of their presence. These feathers have chased them away to the kitchen, I believe. You talk mostly in terms of mythologies. What does mythology have to say about lizards?” Reghu asked.
Dr. Jha replied, “Actually animals including snakes, peacocks, eagles and rats are part of Indian mythology. It is believed that gods and goddesses send their messages through some animals, birds and creepers like lizards. If a lizard falls on any part of the body, it is to give a message. If it falls on the head, it signifies mental distress and if it falls on the hair, it signifies promotion and success. It is a good omen if a lizard appears where Puja, I mean the Hindu prayer, is offered. The killing of a lizard causes harm to the killer. Lizards are eaten in some countries, including China. They shoot blood from their eyes when they are terrified.”
“Is there any temple where lizards are worshipped?” Reghu asked.
“One is Brichadeeshwarar Temple in Tanjavur. It has a lizard on its roof. It is in Tamil Nadu. The famous temple is also in Tamil Nadu in Kanchipuram in Varadaraja Perumal. This temple has lizards made with gold and silver on the ceiling of a room. Kanchipuram is a holy city. It is believed to have been built in the fourteenth century. There is an interesting legend about a prince from Ayodhya and his spouse who were changed into lizards because of a curse. They became human when they prayed in this temple. Even now millions of Indians visit this temple. It is believed that lizards are connected with human horoscopes. It seems you do not have lizards in Canada.”
Reghu thought and said, “I never heard of any lizard in Canada. We have the presence of peace there and also we have plenty of food, I can say.”
“This temple in Kanchipuram is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.”
“Who is Lord Vishnu?” Reghu asked a direct question.
“The consort of Vishnu is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Vishnu is the Lord of the universe—the all-prevailing peace that keeps order. He is truth. He is shown with four hands. He uses a kind of eagle as his vehicle that symbolizes fearlessness. His four arms represent his omnipresence and omnipotence. Kalki is the tenth or the final reincarnation of Vishnu who would appear to establish the age of peace and truth. It is like the second coming of Jesus. Kalki will appear on a white horse with a blazing sword,” Dr. Jha said.
“Have you read Revelation, the last book of the Bible? These symbols are common,” Reghu said. What are the sources of Kalki?” Reghu asked.
“It is mentioned in Kalki Purana (2:45) that good people will leave their nation. There will be corruption in police and government,” Dr. Jha said.
“Very symbolic picture of the India of today”, Reghu tried to interrupt.
Dr. Jha continued, “It is written that a portion of that Divine Being who is the beginning and the end will appear to restore peace. He will start a new age of Satya or Truth.”
“I see the image of Jesus when you say a portion of the being who is the beginning and the end. The word that is also used in the Bible for God is Omega and Omega is Om in Sanskrit. The portion of that refers to the Prince of Peace. In any case, let us go back to lizards and peacocks,” Reghu stressed.
“Here are some suggestions, ” Dr. Jha proposed. “Fill all the holes and spray insecticide to exterminate mosquitoes, flies and insects. It is also suggested to use a dry cleaner to suck them, as well as to cut onions into halves or quarters and place them above the light tubes or bulbs for lizards to smell them, though these onions may keep some friends away. Lizards prefer corners to hide in. Do not let any crack or hole go unfixed. Do not leave dirty dishes, garbage and unswept floors. Lizards love warmth. One way to scare them off is to place egg shells near windows and doors. Among eatables, Tabasco Sauce is an effective repellent. In a bottle of water, mix three or four spoons of Tabasco Sauce. Spray this mixture all over the wall. Lizards are seen in the lighted places. Turn off the light when you go out. It also saves energy.
“Peacock feathers did not work in your case, because perhaps they were old. They are effective from three to ten days. Lizards are scared of snakes. Keep toy or the rubber snakes in the corners for a week or so. You will see lizards no more.
“Lizards are beneficial for the environment because they eat mosquitoes, insects, spiders, flies, cockroaches, bugs and pests. They keep ecological balance. Remove all the possible food sources to make your room inhospitable for them. They are also harmless reptiles,” he said.
“Not for insects—not even for me. Their presence has pested my peace. I cannot sleep and function properly because of the lack of proper rest. They give me shivers. They are loathsome to look at,” Reghu replied.
“You should learn to coexist with them. You are a man of peace,” Dr. Jha stressed with a faint smile.
“I am not in favour of killing. At the same time, I am not in favour of coexisting with them because it is like sleeping next to a mad dog. I just cannot bear to see them, because they look ugly and harmful. And what’s worse is...”
“What is worse?” Dr. Jha asked.
“It is worse to sleep with a dog when you do not know if the dog is mad or sane. It is like taking a chance. Have you read that story The Black God Mother?”
“Who wrote this story?”
“Towards the turn of the twentieth cen¬tury, British writer John Galsworthy explains in this short story that fear is the black godmother of many of our problems. A dog, left be-hind by its master, roams alone homeless, hungry and tired. A schoolboy hits him with a stone. This bitter experience makes the dog afraid of every person who comes his way. For his safety he barks and snaps at them. Fearing the dog is rabid, people stone him and ultimately he dies of wounds. Neither the dog nor the persons involved had any evil design. It was fear and suspicion of each other that controlled their actions. In other words, they didn't want to take a chance.”
“Fear is everywhere,” Dr. Jha agreed.
“We can extend this analogy to the political arena, where shepherds are the soulless lizards. They prey on vulnerable segments to feed their ravenous hunger. There is the legitimate fear of self-extinction because of the corruption in the establishment. You said before that according to Kalki Purana corruption in government and police will force good people to leave. These representatives of the elite encourage tensions to divide the nation to make it weak. Good citizens are moving out.
“Their ravenous hunger for money and power boosts unethical trades. Look at the number of women disgraced on the streets. They cannot walk freely even during the day. Rape is a terror and terror is the extreme form of fear. Rapists should be treated like any other terrorist. What India needs is to bring down the status of women as goddesses to the status of humans. It has been hinted that the glorification of a violent masculinity is largely responsible for attacks on women, though I don’t see any masculinity in rapes. Rape is terrorism and terrorism is not heroism, but a mindless attack on humanism. Citizens are silent mainly because of fear.
“Vulnerable minorities are part of the human body. If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. There is no peace in personal life as well as in the life of a nation if any part would suffer. The main source of this suffering is the electoral system that suffers from elitism. Presently, India has more or less the democracy of the elite that promotes fear. The present climate of fear is becoming intensely loathsome because of the political lizards.
“Fear is Adolf Hitler who killed thirty-two million people and two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was fear that led the Chinese Cultural Revolution in which thirty million people were killed and Stalin who was responsible for seventeen million deaths, Khomeini who sent children to die in the war with Iraq and the Hutus in Rwanda. There have been ethnical, racial, religious and national genocides based on fear. The partition of the subcontinent of India in 1947 was the child of fear and fear is also the racial hygiene that is advocated to improve human stock. Nuclear holocaust is the sum of all fears.
“Fear is the unholy marriage between science and religious fanaticism. Fear is the nation that malfunctions due to the hysteria of chaos, where the enemies of freedom malign peace with their half-backed opinions; and it is the suffocation of the vulnerable citizens.” Reghu paused and said, “Sorry for this digression. Let us come back to our central point.”
Dr. Jha argued, “One way to evacuate lizards out of your environment is to evacuate mosquitoes, cockroaches and such insects. They need food for their survival. You know Darwin’s assumption survival of the fittest. That is what life is.”
“Sometimes lizards eat their own young ones,” a listener commented.
“So that they may not eat their own children, we have to provide them with their food,”
Reghu retorted.
“That is the law of nature,” Dr. Jha added.
Reghu contested, “Survival of the fittest includes co-operators. The opposite of cooperation is the way of competition and the way of competition is the way to hell. Cooperation is also the law of nature. Nature is packed with the precepts of cooperation. Great thinkers and reformers have urged cooperation because this is the valley where the salvation from suffering rests. I believe that salvation starts growing its roots from this life and it continues building up in life after death.
“I believe that humans are the intelligent organ of nature. No group can be called human if it denies humanity to others. Brutality is an acceptable aspect of human attitude. But compassion is also an acceptable aspect. Both go parallel. When intelligence overtakes emotions, it is compassion that takes over. Humans are passing through a critical period of globalization that is likely to fall apart if the critical period does not receive support.
“You said that nature is packed with examples of cooperation. Any support?” someone posed this question.
Reghu said, “One example is the cooperation between the bees and the flowers. Both are needed for each other and also for humans. Flowers are the objects of love. The bees pollinate flowers, and pollen is the nutrient that bees receive and bees produce honey. There is a lot more to learn from both flowers and bees.
“Another example is ants. Solomon wrote about ants thousands of years ago, preserved in Proverbs 6: 6--8: Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
Let me repeat that cooperation is the law of nature. A human is born to love and to receive love. Look at the ants. They form colonies with cooperation within short times to perform greater tasks. A person can strengthen muscles of cooperation to build the empires of peace. We were talking about peacocks. They symbolize the love that is deathless.
“Still another example is small birds called Water Dikkops who are good friends of the most feared crocodiles of Africa’s rivers and lakes. These birds make their nests close to the nests of these crocodiles, who kill birds and eat their eggs, but they spare these birds because they guard their nests. In case of dangers, these birds give signals to these crocodiles who rush to save their own and also the nests of their little friends.
“Cooperation is also based on empathy and empathy is sharing the emotions of another person. An act of empathy is an act of selflessness. It is the instinctive self that humans inherit. When several infants are in a room and one of them starts crying, all will start crying. It is because of the empathy that is the kernel of cooperation. Language builds bridges for humans to cooperate on a massive scale.
“The opposite of cooperation is competition and competition leads to violence and violence solves no problem. Competition is taught from the early days at home and reinforced at schools, colleges and universities. Competition leads to stress and stress leads to ailments. Humans spend most of their health making money and later most of their money getting their health back.
“The world is turning in a single unit through a social revolution and this social revolution is happening faster then the time needed for the adjustment of traditions, institutions and attitudes. Human loyalties are still tribal. Ethnocentrism and narrow national pride are still destructively strong. All citizens are human by birth and therefore they belong to the nation of humans first. Hunger and aggression are the symptoms of putting the parts before the whole. The world has to think in terms of the whole, not the parts. This is the way to make neighbours happy and every person who comes in contact is a neighbour. This is what the great guru has said.
“We cannot follow nature blindly because nature has no faculty of thinking, but the supreme creation has the faculty of thinking. Just think of the possible incidents or accidents. It is dangerous to let every reptile roam around without any permit. I would like to draw your attention to Hindustan Times of August 6, 2009, which reported that around twenty-five students became sick when they ate the government-provided lunch in which a dead lizard was found in a school at Abhanpur, not far from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. They suffered from vomiting. The headmaster of that school was suspended and the cook was dismissed.
“There was another incident, again not far from Raipur. It was reported by The Times of India of July 20, 2013. It happened in a primary school in Mou village, Bemetara, where twenty-three students were taken to a hospital because of a dead lizard. One child was in serious condition. A child noticed a part of dead lizard in the dal. He reported it, but the teacher slapped the child, ordering him to finish his launch. Within minutes the students who had finished their lunch began to vomit. This panicked other children. Villagers arrived and so did doctors. There was just chaos in the hospital because of the ill and crying students, worried parents and the ill-equipped hospital to face such a situation on such a large scale.”
There was an awkward silence. Dr. Gupta broke it when he said, “Lizards create eco-balance. They kill insects.”
“Think of most flats in Noida, Delhi and Bombay and elsewhere in India. They are free from these reptiles and the occupants of those flats, I am sure, are healthier, happier and more prosperous.
“Tragedies from lizards have been reported also from other parts of India. Kaligarh has been the first to introduce electricity and also in joining the Republic of India as well as in some other sectors. Let it be the first to be free from the menace of lizards. I have brought this problem to the attention of several responsible authorities of the university as well as nearly all the employees around the kitchen. No one is alert in spite of the specter of an eruptible volcano.”
“Someone whispered, “Lizards eat their children and no volcano erupts.”
Reghu chuckled because the sentence was whispered in a weird way. He looked around. “What sort of messages do these Gabriels of deities transmit in a nation of tolerance?” Reghu asked this question politely and left the dining table.

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; Managing Ed. www.writerslifeline.ca )

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