Reading this fiction by Sreekumar is like peeling one layer of onion after another to reach the core. Totally a-religious, this book traces the pristine origins of one’s selfhood, placing yoga as the logical end of bhoga (union with the Ultimate that comes after one is through with one’s engagement with the world through the senses) before turning out to be a sourcebook of spirituality.
The book follows the pattern of ancient Indian narratives like Kathasaritsagar with techniques like the ‘story within story’. This is the life-story of Babaji and it is being told to the devotees after a chakra pooja by the spirit of Chinmayi, through the medium of Bhavani in a séance-like session that lasts twenty-four hours. Satish Aigal who meets the guru, who graciously offers deliverance to him from his misfortune and in the process, conducts the chakra pooja, is the tantric part of the novel and forms the narrative.
The story of Babaji, with the life-story of Mukta interwoven into it, is the inner kernel while the tantra part is the outer shell of the novel. However, the tantra part is dealt with in such a way that this much-maligned and even demonised spiritual path, which in fact is recognised as the quickest way to God-realisation, is shown in proper light, that is, tantrism is pure, which enables one to attain God directly without the agency of priests or temples.
The novel is thus the story of ordinary people who pass through extraordinary experiences to reach the yogic state. Satish Aigal, the protagonist is an inveterate businessman; the real protagonist of the ‘inner’ story is Sudheeran, who turns into ‘Babaji’ later in life and is also a very successful, self-made businessman; Mukta Devi is the country’s foremost danseuse and singer for the better part of her adult life. They enter spiritual life as and when they find that their active role in the world is over.
Of the three storylines in this novel, the second one, the life-story of Babaji is reminiscent of many lives we have seen around us. One who is born to be perfect reaches that state when the inherent inadequacies are resolved. The 14-year-old motherless Sudheeran, living in the village Karappuram near Alleppey, develops a sudden crush for Savitri, the cute Namboodiri girl, daughter of the local temple-priest. He forces a chaste kiss on her cheek, which a high-caste man Witnesses; the lower-caste Sudheeran flees the village before anyone can get him. Upon reaching Palghat, in the north-east, he gets a saviour, Chirukandan Nambiar, who likes the quiet boy and dreams that he can entrust his motherless daughter, Veshumani, to Sudheeran. After Nambiar’s sudden death, Sudheeran gives her his life to share. She gives him what he did not get in Savitri—reciprocation. Although they have to eke out their living the hard way, they manage to build a business empire, living together as two bodies, one mind. The plain and one-dimensional Veshumani keeps Sudheeran complemented and supplemented, so much so that, at her sudden death, he is nonplussed. His eventual return to Alleppey, setting up a big business and marrying Vedavati, the cultured but possible staid matron, brings about another angle to his dealings with women. She is the one who demands strict fidelity from him, although he had been faithful to his women throughout.
Her blessing that he would finally become a great soul does not mollify him but incites his lust manifold. The remaining few years of his life in the material world are devoted to debauchery of the worst sort; then retributions in the form of rebuttal and total rejection by Vedavati happen; he has to leave everything behind, travel northwards once again and become his spiritual self, largely unwittingly. Thus destiny plays a decisive role, having finished the experiences of a lifetime.
In short, this is a story of man-woman relationship leading to spiritual attainment.
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