-Message from a departed soul, Parveen Babi
“How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?”
In the northern parts of India, winter sets in after the Chhath puja. Chhath falls on the sixth day after Diwali. I was working at KV,Krishnanagar Colliery, close to Raniganj in West Bengal.
KV, Krishnanagar Colliery
It was my school staff Mr. Ganesh from Bihar who knocked my door on a winter morning. As per the previous night’s plan, he had come to take me to the nearby pond for Chhath puja. I walked with him and the Bihari families on that foggy morning towards the pond. I go for evening walks along this road with my colleague Mr. S.K.Mohanty. A student from our school had drowned in this muddy pond years ago, long before I joined the school. I became one among the men and women carrying fruits in baskets on their head. The water was pale brown and the banks couldn’t be seen due to dense fog. Once they laid down the baskets and started the prayer getting into the water and lighting the lamp, the whole place emerged with a sudden glow.
I remember my childhood days in Kerala when we used to worship the Sun on Pathamudayam
in similar way.
The chill increased day by day. On a January night after having washed my warm inner wear and left it for drying in the verandah, I went to bed. I used to live in a quarter on the ground floor of an isolated block in the dilapidated staff colony. Mohanty sir on the first floor was the only other person living in the block. The other two quarters in the block were vacant.
entrance to staff colony
Following the advice of my Principal, Sri. Mihir Lal Kabi, I used to keep the lights on in the kitchen, hall and the verandah in order to ward off reptiles. I had closed all the windows for the chill.
I sprang up hearing a voice singing a song. Yes, the voice was close to my bedroom window. A coarse voice. I looked around in inexplicable fright. The voice was in my bedroom! I stood with bated breath. It faded off. No, it was not in my room. I crept towards the hall. The clock showed 1.45 a.m. And there came the voice again and a repeated tapping on the kitchen window! I stood frozen near the kitchen door. The door close to the kitchen opens to the walled backyard and has a broken wooden door to the colony. The person behind this voice would have entered the backyard through that door, I guessed. The colony children frequent the backyard for guava.
Leaning into the kitchen, I turned off the light, came back to the hall and turned off that light too. I stood near the bedroom, all the doors were closed; and still a kind of fear and insecurity gripped me. I tried to listen to the voice carefully and identified it to be a lady’s. Drops of sweat drenched me and I was shivering. Who is it???
My mind rambled around in frantic search. The gruff voice subsided. I wanted to reach the verandah and turn off the light but before I could reach the door that opens to the verandah, the voice was heard from the front yard. I peeped through the hole in the door to have a glimpse of the face behind the voice that is chasing me and preying on me on a chill and foggy night. A lady with matted hair and scary face!! I ran back in terror. Something held me in my bowels. I felt weak beneath my waist. I couldn’t decipher the language of her song but it sounded like a folk tune. She groaned shaking the grills to the verandah. When I looked again at her, I could see her pulling out my warm inner wear through the grills. My heart beats grew faster. I waited in the hall confused and later followed the voice to my bedroom and saw her trudging along the trail of the colony. I could see her slender figure against the sodium lights. Her ankles were chained together and it must have been really painful for her to drag herself all the way into the colony. I identified her, near the market at times lying on the roadside, or searching for something among the debris, the mad woman! She clung to my warm inner wear and hobbled along.
Even after she was out of sight, I stood near the window lost in thoughts. Why did she come to my quarter alone? Questions knocked one after another on my mind’s door. What knocked repeatedly and intensely was the article I read that morning in The Times of India titled “The Age of Philosophy: a critique of pure reason”.
The writer of that brilliant article was a beautiful lady from Junagadh who later became the darling of many before and behind the camera and quite unexpectedly at some point in her career went incognito only to be discovered three days after her death in her flat in Mumbai, the Bollywood diva, Parveen Babi.
I was deeply disturbed for the past few days after reading her pathetic death, so orphaned in life and death!
When I read the above mentioned article written by her in the Times of India, I had an irresistible urge to talk to her, share thoughts and feelings. Hers was a life that yearned for a reliable space to unburden herself. My days passed in regret for a lost opportunity to listen to that disturbed soul. She argues rightly in her article that “Philosophy is man’s search for aspects of his existence hitherto unknown to him, regarding which his curiosity is naturally aroused, and his answers to this search, holding true universally”
. Did that bereaved soul sense the ripples of another mind’s empathy? Was she sending me a “thanks, got your message”
through this mad lady?
Just as this cold winter confines one within the walls, she lived the winter of her life in a kind of domestic imprisonment away from the unbearably deceitful world around her. My warm cloth may be a metaphor of a loving and faithful presence to that forlorn and insecure soul.
We know that a mind without an anchor is always tempestuous and turbulent and that anchor can be a friend, an ideology etc.
Parveen Babi writes somewhere that “UG is the most perfect human being I have met in my life and in the world.”
I had read that U.G. Krishnamurti’s presence in her life had healed her to a great extent. I too had the blessed chance to have a brief telephone conversation with U.G. when he was at Chandrasekhar Babu’s residence in Bangalore in 2000. I was doing B.Ed. at Ramakrishna Institute of Moral and Spiritual Education (RIMSE) in Mysore where my spiritual comrade, Mr. S.R. Ramesh, informed me about his (U.G.’s) visit to Bangalore.
I had read most of the books by (on) U.G. and I had been inspired profoundly by him. Since U.G. was leaving the next day for abroad, I couldn’t go to Bangalore and meet him. I still cherish that moment over the phone with an enlightened master who by his ‘dynamite’personality could blow up the accumulated baggage of our belief system. Yes, he was a spiritual explosive.
My strange/occult experience on the winter night may sound silly, irrational and illusionistic for some. But one thing I can say, the sincere longings of a soul undoubtedly finds an ear. Years ago, on a train journey from my native town in Kerala to Chennai, I sensed the same excruciating pain, almost to the same measure, experienced by a co-passenger stung suddenly by a wasp. The strangest thing was that she recognized me years after that at a wedding though we hadn’t even shared anything about our personal whereabouts on that journey.
I couldn’t reach any endpoint on my journey through the ways of pure reason
. I hadn’t seen that mad lady before or after that night, not even once inside the colony, when I got my transfer to Kharagpur too. When asked to a Bengali colleague of mine, I learnt that she was a married woman with a daughter. Since her husband had jilted her and married again, she became insane.
How many minds are dying in suffocation unable to open up, like the speaker in the poem “Mirror” by Sylvia Plath? How much is left to be said and known in the nocturnal mysteries of the mind?
–Santhosh Kumar kana
After reading this Mahesh Bhatt invited me for a lunch at Hotel Ashook, Bangalore. We had three long hours of discussion on philosophy, films and spirituality. Looking straight into my eyes, he said with his characteristic emphasis on words, “Santhosh, You must keep writing”.
(Thanks to Mahesh Bhatt)
click here to read the article in Malayalam: