“What the hell is he doing here?” Venky’s mind roared and his stupor vanished in an instant. He had risen because his bladder ached; his mind yelled him to pee.
It was dark and quiet inside the ashram. Even though the streets outside were noisy throughout the day, a deathly silence now pervaded. Inside, it was the monks’ snoring that occasionally disturbed Venky but he was now used to it.
He sluggishly walked to the toilet, relieved himself and then trudged back to his bed with drooping eyelids. He saw his watch. It was 1.15 am. He could grab another three hours of rest before the lights in the temple hall- where the monks slept at night- would be switched on. A team of brahmacharis would hurriedly wave their brooms to clean the temple premises before it opens at 5.00 am. This spirited event would force the most sleepy-eyed monks to wake up.
On normal occasions, he would hit the hard wooden floor but tonight, his eyes caught the sight of Kishor outside the gate, seated alone under the street light, next to the almond tree. He was on his mobile phone, absorbed in a conversation and looked intense. Venky’s sleep vanished as thoughts gushed through his head, “This unearthly hour, he’s all alone there on his phone. That’s not him; he’s always early to bed and wakes up by 3.30 and is fresh for the morning program. But he looks disturbed now”. And that disturbed Venky. He considered going down to meet Kishor and ask him if everything was all right. But he decided otherwise and thought he’d take it up the next morning.
It took him a long time of tossing around in his mat, before he got some more sleep.
“Where is Kishor”, Venky asked Shyam during the morning prayers.
Shyam twitched his face to indicate he neither knew nor cared.
Throughout the hour long kirtans– devotional and musical chants, Venky’s eyes searched the hall; he thought of going to Kishor’s room and finding out if he’s all right. “Let me wait” Venky told himself, but he felt uneasy in his spiritual program.
“What could be wrong?”
The japa session began; the monks sat in circles and silently chanted on their tulasi beads, made of holy basil. Venky leaned over to Shyam a few times and asked softly if he knew the whereabouts of Kishor; why wasn’t he here for his chanting. Shyam’s response was the same each time; he raised his shoulder, moved his eyes upwards and shook his head lackadaisically. After half an hour, Venky rose to pace up and down as he chanted. He couldn’t concentrate sitting in the circle.
As he walked in the adjacent hall, he saw through the window, Kishor chanting his rounds, outside on the temple courtyard. A few daily visitors came inside the gate while Kishor walking back and forth listlessly, was staring at the sky. His fingers hurriedly moved the beads and lips gently writhed as if it was a drag and he had nothing to do with the chanting anyways.
Venky reasoned, “I shall wait for the morning class to get over, and after breakfast, the first thing I will do is confront him” Venky was used to seeing a more absorbed Kishor during the morning session. It was not only unusual to see him like this but Venky also knew that aimless spiritual activities are unhealthy and for a monk’s life it’s suicidal.
Venky then realized it had been this way for the past two to three weeks. Kishor would get up during the chanting, walk away or miss some part of the morning program. It seemed innocuous all the time but after last night’s sighting, a certain discomfort and fear seized Venky’s heart.
A little later he again looked at Shyam, and wondered if he should share his thoughts with him. But remembering his disinterested response so far, Venky refrained and looked at the clock “Just another couple hours, and then I will catch him”
Just before breakfast Venky called out to Kishor and instantly he looked the other way. “Is everything all right?” Venky further asked and Kishor’s one word answer, “okay”, meant nothing was okay.
“Today’s class was great, isn’t it?” Venky wanted to break ice and again Kishor just walked by.
“Can I meet you after breakfast or lunch?”
“I am a little busy”, Kishor was abrupt and excused himself. He seemed irritated and Venky thought maybe he wants to be left alone. “Let me catch him in the evening, maybe he’d be a little peaceful then.”
He then walked up to Shyam and asked if he could talk to him something important. Shyam said he was scheduled to repair the mrdinga in the afternoon and would be sitting behind the Vyasasan. “There’s nobody there at that time. We could talk peacefully”, Shyam said.
To be continued…