There was only one stick left in the matchbox. The hands were unsteady; so were the fingers. Yet, with the utmost care that could be summoned, it was lighted by the limping fingers. The flicker, shielded from sea breeze by cupped palms, was lifted up and up until it made contact with the tip of the pipe clenched to the mouth. The tip of the pipe and a portion of the beard caught fire, but only momentarily. That of the beard extinguished completely, but the tiny ember embedded in the pipe’s bowl still glowed. A curl of smoke rose from the bowl, joined by the smoke oozing from between the lips, and nostrils above. It contained 'ganja', a lethal drug, and he knew it to be so.
As the lethal smoke filled his lungs, he felt as if he was floating in the air like balloon. The thin air above the clouds made it hard to breathe. As he gasped for breath, he began coughing. Yet, everything felt so blissful; his once disobedient limbs obeyed all his commands instantly now. The musky fragrance filled his mouth, his nostrils, his entire being.
He enjoyed every moment of it. His limp limbs, drooping shoulders and hanging head, every part of his being lay crumpled on the sand. In his mind’s eye, his body soared on the currents created by the rising smoke. He blinked repeatedly, trying to adjust to the colours. Blue, indigo, green - all of the VIBGYOR’s - and probably more. What are those colours? He could not name them. He also couldn’t name himself.
He was Allan. He still is, lying on the beach along the sea.
Still lying on the beach, he noticed that tents had been erected, accompanied by a dais, lots of flashing halogen lights and heaps of flowers. How long have I been here, he wondered? The mixed scent of flowers and artificial perfumes overwhelmed the area and the rhythmic hymn was reverberating through the loudspeakers. The hymns, related to a particular cult were just a prelude, getting the congregation ready for the Swamijee’s discourse.
"Brothers and sisters, the world, the civilization revolves around the quest for the truth and its different facets. It has been a long and arduous journey...” A lot of heads were moving as one in affirmation to his revelations. Lots of hands went up simultaneously - to show reverence. And the show was going on...
"When you attain this level called 'Salvation Sleep', you get emancipated. You, my dears, hitch yourself to a blissful height where you forget somebody dear to you. You rise above the misplaced ego you harbour by achieving something worldly. And even the false conjugal pleasure."
'Salvation Sleep', was what Allan was indulging in. He was above the worldly pleasures and grief. He still was when Swamijee’s discourse was over, late in the night. So also, in the early morning when Swamijee was out on his walk.
Swamijee had got up early that day, very early. 'Nature's call'...nobody can rise above it. Not even him. What level of attainment does one need to accomplish to be free from responding to Nature's calls? Swamijee ruminated.
The sky was blue, devoid of the "VIBGYOR", and its shades. The sun was blazing. The wet sand was irritating, sticking on his hands, legs, face and even the beard in that humid, damp atmosphere. Everything was stinking at this bloody beach.
But it was not so in the now distant past. Then everything was serene, yet vibrant. The blue sky with the jolly moon, the green sea, the sparkling sands and he, along with his parents, were very perfect. Even the vendors selling groundnut, or the chowmein stalls, were in complete harmony. He, who had created all these, must have an expert pair of hands, a true perfectionist.
But it didn’t remain so flawless, so impeccable for long. How come a perfect creation does not remain so for long? Time was the culprit, the way it withered everything to dust. Loud altercations, crackling sounds of breaking glasses and china plates, thumping of doors had become daily affairs, he being a mute spectator to all these. At times, he felt the roof could have fallen down.
He was shifted to boarding school. There also, the initial bonhomie frittered away in no time to be replaced by squabbles with his mates and soon the little wrangles turned into ugly brawls. With passage of time he adopted for the simple reason that he had nowhere to go. His parents had separated and moved ahead, deserting him.
The cotton tents, their walls whipping around by the prevailing offshore breeze, revealed the dais meant for Swamijee and the seating arrangements for the devotees. Allan started walking by the side of the sea. There must be a point where the sea and the sand merge with the sky.
Swamijee was having his lunch, a vegetarian but sumptuous one with abundance of butter and milk. Of late he had been worried. There had been open competition on the verge of bickering for the position of his rightful successor. His trustee had amassed a fortune, with branches all over. Swamijee knew he had to act fast; otherwise, things could move beyond his control. Already, there were murmurs among the rank and file for a voting pattern to elect the successor. So, he was worried. He was not worried when he was expelled from the college...not when he was stealing...not even when he had to hide in the jungle to evade the police. He was very happy when the villagers came to seek his blessing with the impression that he was a holy man. More so, when he was able to hold their attention with his kind, soothing words... Delivering religious discourses enthralling the audience.... preaching his theories of 'Salvation sleep'. Since then he had never been worried, always confident of his ability, of his inherent power to create the magic web. But now, he was worried. All his aura and power he had built so assiduously had been the bone of contention among his disciples. He finished the lunch. It was already time for his afternoon siesta.
Swamijee was watching intently at the setting sun, his mind elsewhere deliberating about his successor. Suddenly, he couldn't see the sun although it hadn't set completely. On the contrary, what he saw was dazzling lights and the next moment nothing, only darkness. He blanked out falling into the water.
Allan was by his side when he opened his eyes.
"What happened to me?"
"You were unconscious."
"Ah...who are you?"
"Allan. Have this and you will be okay," he urged, extending the pipe. Swamijee accepted it, though reluctantly. There was nobody on the beach at this time. His mind wavered onto his old memories.
"You will rise to a plank, where you will be immune to all the pains and sufferings of the life man. It is the perfect panacea for every conceivable ill...."
There was a reversal of roles now. Swamijee was the listener...
"Family life, wealth, maddening race for success...all take you nowhere..." Words were gushing out of Allan’s mouth with the accompaniment of smokes, stopping intermittently for a fresh inhale.
"It is the ultimate truth...Through this you sleep yet you don't sleep. You only enjoy...bask in the blissful feeling ...it surpasses every other feeling humanly possible...an orgasm having no parallel..."
'Yes, Swamijee pondered. It is almost like his theory of 'Salvation Sleep', but it might be far more effective, far easier to achieve...no need to be exposed to hours of autosuggestions.
He had found his prescription for his recent worry. To be good one had to be bad...to preach something one has to experience it in some form or the other. Only it has to be refined in an attractive way.
At dawn, Swamijee returned to his ashram, along with Allan. The concerned disciples were assured of his well being by his soothing words. In the evening, after his regular discourse, he made an announcement. His successor has been found. It was Allan, and he would be groomed for it during the next couple of years.
Sanjaya Kumar Mishra
About the Writer
Although Sanjaya Mishra works as a geologist, writing has been his passion. His work can be found in desilit.org, dispatchlit.org, runesmag.com, BTW Magazine, and At Home and Abroad: Prize-Winning Stories" by Joyous Publishing.