Many years ago, when the earth was still very young and her every toss and turn frightened mortals, propelling them to create a pantheon of omnipresent gods, there was a great learned yogi-alchemist named Agastya. He was convinced that there was a mysterious pattern, which governed the earth, and knowing these patterns would free humans of their enslavement to the Devas, the race of fair-skinned ones, who claimed to possess secret powers to the mystery of nature.
He believed that no man knew any more than the other man to make him any superior. He often argued that humans were enslaved not because of any innate inferiority but simply because they were too lazy to find out for themselves. They didn’t, he thought, put their heart into solving the questions that puzzled them and therefore settled for myths and stories. He was determined to find the way nature truly worked, and spent hours studying the movement of birds, the swiftness of their flight against gravity and tried to create a flying contraption that could emulate this motion.
Naturally, Agastya wasn’t an easy Brahmin to be around. He asked questions difficult to answer, challenged the long-standing traditions and argued that our scriptures perpetuated fear and bigotry. His ways gradually drove him to the fringes of Brahmin community and they dismissed his existence not with vehement censure but simply with sardonic smiles. He was often found toiling in his lab, playing with strange evanescent chemicals. Strange stories abounded around the solitary alchemist. They said he stole and operated on dead carcasses, some claimed to have heard him speak to them. People had slowly forgotten all about him,until much later when he successfully designed the first flying machine. He was already an old man when he launched his first flight.
The Devas, who were always quick to recruit scientists to advance their Goddom, recognized and made Agastya one of their own. It was a strange twist of fate that Agastya, who started his scientific endeavors to debunk the myth of superior race, was granted a place among them as the reward of his discovery. Some of his young disciples, who called themselves Anarchists, accused Agastya of compromising their ideology for the luxury and comfort of the pantheon. They went ahead to accuse Agastya of all kinds of debaucheries, but to be quite honest we don’t know much about that. These are hearsays, the unauthenticated voices of history, which always threaten to malign a great man like Agastya.Any serious scholar will stick to the official pages of history in which Agastya appears as a glorious scientist, who devoted his entire life to the pursuit of truth. So single-minded was Agastya in his pursuit that he would have never married if not for the strange encounter with his dead ancestors one day.
It was a beautiful morning. The cool breeze rolled down the mountains in gentle waves, unfurling the petals of fragrant tuberose and plumeria. The sky was clear. Agastya had just finished his morning ablutions and was wrapping loincloth around his waist. His lithe body glistened under the tender morning sun. After finishing his prayers, Agastya set out towards his abode. There was a kind of playfulness in nature. A bunch of sparrows glided with elegant ease through the crisp air, singing along a chorus of a happy tune. The raspberry shrubs were laden with ripe fruits that gave off a sweet, tangy flavor to the air. Agastya plucked a few berries and ate them. They melted gently, leaving the exquisite flavor of spring in his mouth. Riveted, he walked along the trail humming a hymn, an ode to spring, that he had composed a few days ago. As he reached near the huge banyan tree, which stood on the bank of a small creek, which winded around his ashram, he caught a strange sight – a bunch of elderly people hung upside down by a not so tall bush, the silver tuft of their hair swaying to the whims of the wind.
“Who are you?” asked Agastya with no small wonder. “And why are you hanging upside down on this puny bush?”
“We are your ancestors,” they replied in unison. “We are hanging by in this bush because unless you marry and give birth to a son, we cannot transcend the earthly realm and ascend to the otherworld.”
“That is rather strange,” replied the yogi. “Do we not ascend to heaven because of our own merit?”
“No, it is not enough,” said one his ancestors. “Good deeds are desirable but not enough. Unless your lineage is expanding on earth, you cannot enter heaven, so is written in our scriptures.”
“Alas! I am already an old man now. I am not sure anyone would be willing to marry me, much less beget a child for me.” Agastya tried to reason his way out, but his ancestors assured that the yogis have always been desired by the most beautiful of the women and he would find no trouble finding the bride given his accomplishment.
They might have been right about other yogis but not about Agastya. It turned out that Agastya had accomplished so much as a man that it was difficult to find a woman who could be of his match. For months, Agastya wandered far and wide looking for a bride. There was no shortage of young and beautiful maiden, well-adorned, well-spoken, adept in household work and art of love. However, when it came to Agastya, he found them far too meek and submissive to arouse his passion.
After roaming for months together, Agastya decided what he sought in a woman was nothing less than perfect, so the only way to find such a bride was to mould one. So, he carefully assembled the most beautiful parts of all animals, the most sublime essence of all flowers, the sensitivity of water, the infinite wisdom of the ether, the gentleness of wind and brilliance of fire and created a girl child – Lopamudra.
Lopamudra was, by definition, the essence of everything sublime – from beauty to wisdom to aesthetics. Agastya looked at his brainchild in awe and decided to leave her in care of King of Vidarbha until Lopamudra would come of age. The king was utterly pleased to welcome Lopamudra, as he had been desirous of progeny at the moment. Princess Lopamudra grew up not just to be exceedingly beautiful but equally astute. Her spontaneous wit and relentless curiosity often put the royal scholars in trouble. But her father, the king, revelled in his young and prodigal daughter. When Lopamudra came of marriageable age, the king started looking for suitors. The princes came from far and away in the hope of winning the beautiful bride, but Lopamudra rejected them all for she found them inferior to her.
When Agastya heard of it, he set out to the kingdom of Vidarbha for Lopamudra. He was received amicably by the king, however, when he heard the sage’s proposal, he was heartbroken. He had brought up Lopamudra with great care and in luxury. Imagining her as the wife of an ascetic, and an ascetic who was old enough to be her father, his heart sank. He told Agastya that he would consult with the queen and give his decision the next day. That night the king summoned queen to his quarter and discussed the issue. Agastya was renowned for his esoteric powers. Rejecting his proposal might be provoking his wrath, which would be inauspicious for the kingdom.
Meanwhile, the princess Lopamudra was told by her maids that an old sage had arrived with the marriage proposal for her. That evening the Princess sat before her dressing table for a long time, taking off her ornaments one by one until she shed them all. She took off her silk drapes and wore a modest cotton wrap. Her large kohled eyes shone like pristine lakes on her moon-like face. She kept staring at the image on the mirror searchingly. The sun rolled down the skies, and the moon soared noiselessly through the mango orchard. The harshness of daylight had given away to the quivering, mercurial light that made all inanimate objects stir back to life. The silk drapes on the window danced to the tunes of wind in graceful swings. The slender eucalyptus tree outside her window quivered in some silvery feverishness. The princess felt a strange restlessness assail her being, too. The owl hooted twice. Lopamudra listened carefully to the sound of footfall in the corridor; there were none. She wrapped a shawl around her head and walked into the garden. The black, inky waters of the darkness filled the garden, making the pathways, so well trodden in the daytime, suddenly unknown and mysterious. She walked cautiously, trying not to disturb the calm of the night or to stir wrathful monsters from her womb. She walked as light as the shy parijata buds that landed weightlessly on the garden-floor, leaving behind their heady fragrance on the wind. When Lopamudra opened the gates of the lodge where Agastya had chosen to stay, it was the dense fragrance of parijata blossoms that first hit him. Inhaling the sweet, intoxicating air, Agastya turned around to find the princess, who was lighter than the wind. She almost appeared to be floating on air, just like the parijata fragrance. Agastya examined his unannounced guest with some strain in the dim light of kerosene lamp. She appeared as ferocious as she was calm. Her face had the solemn gravity of the moon, but something of fire blazed from within her skin. Agastya couldn’t say she was beautiful — she was far more than that. He couldn’t phrase how he felt about the princess. Her being was not just an invitation but a challenge.
“You cannot be anyone else but Lopamudra,” said Agastya. The princess thought she could detect a hint of relief in his tone but relief from what she did not know.
“Why couldn’t it be anyone else?” she questioned as she locked the wooden lattice door behind her. Agastya thought it was uncharacteristically bold of her to shut the door.
“Because there has been no woman in this world, who can captivate me. Except one, who goes by the name of Lopamudra. Considering how I, the great sage Agastya, feel utterly helpless in front of you at the moment, I know that you are Lopamudra.”
The princess smiled, thought over the statement for a while and said, “You really are proud of yourself, aren’t you?”
“Well, I could be,” he replied laughing and gesturing her to sit on a wooden chair, next to his bed. “But many would agree that my pride isn’t entirely unfounded.”
The princess, instead, sat on his bed. As she sat cross-legged on the bed, facing the sage directly, she took off her shawl. Yet again, Agastya was at a loss for words. Lopamudra was unlike anything he had seen or imagined. Indeed, in one way, she seemed to mirror himself, in a younger body of a woman. But there was also something decidedly boyish about her. She reminded him of something of himself, but he could not say just what. She sat with no feminine self-consciousness or with any calculated poise to intrigue. She simply sat there with authority, with a strange asexual, transcendental charm about her.
“Of course,” she said, “I was very thrilled when I first read of your alchemic formulas and theories on aviation. But what had really impressed me was how you thought marriage was a futile institution and were determined to pursue your scientific discoveries without submitting to these social formalities. And now suddenly, you are looking for a bride. Agastya, I am curious — what made you change your mind?”
Lopamudra spoke with great passion and conviction. She made him feel that she spoke each word with great earnestness and expected nothing less in return.
“You seem to know a great deal about me already, my dear princess,” the sage replied. “You might as well know that I have agreed to marry only to free the souls of my ancestors from their earthly bondage.”
“We both know that it is only an excuse. Such baseless and superstitious fabrications cannot fool a man of your mind. Tell me Agastya why did you decide to marry?” Lopamudra insisted.
“I do not think they are baseless, princess. It has been written in the Scripture.”
Princess replied rather irritatedly, “You certainly don’t think that everything that is written in the Scripture is true. Not you of all people, Agastya!”
“They have been handed down the generations for a certain reason. Only truth stands against the test of time, Lopamudra,” Agastya replied.
“Don’t be so naïve, Agastya,” the princess quipped. “The scriptures are nothing but documented histories. And we know well enough that history reflects the bias of its authors. So, history is bound to be partial and therefore didactic and oppressive. Anyone who lives as dictated by history is unwilling to use his power of reason, which is not something I expected from you.”
“But what fault do you find with the scripture, give me an example and I will explain it to you, princess,” replied the sage. The moon was now right across the window, throwing the shadow of the tall parijata tree on Lopamudra’s body. Its coolness did nothing to sooth the young princess, consumed by the heat of a passionate discussion. The cool breeze could only sweep past her lithe body, releasing the fragrance sweeter than that of the flower.
“What do you make of the story of Samudra Manthan, the Great Churning of the Ocean, where the Devas claimed everything precious that came out of the churning as theirs, depriving Danavas of their rightful share, for instance?”
“Well, you are probably taking about Amreet, the elixir of life,” Agastya said and paused for a while. A firefly had come and settled on Lopamudra’s hair. He looked at this tiny creature, which pulsated with so much life. Agastya tried to remember the days when he used to question the validity of the rules of Devas like Lopamudra, but it seemed so distant that it might as well have been in a previous life. He reminisced about this phase of his life with some amusement. He thought when we are young we must find some fault with the world that we shall set out to change but on growing old we realize the world had always been perfect.
“Yes!” Lopamudra demanded, nudging him out of his reverie.
“Lord Vishnu did so to prevent the world from destruction,” said Agatsya. “Imagine if the Danavas had attained the power of immortality, they would have destroyed everything.”
“See?” the princess said solemnly. “How could you just make assumptions? When you look into the pages of histories, the Devas have been involved in all sorts of atrocities from stealing the wives of others to deluding the yogis and yet none questions what have the Devas done with their immortality. If you read the ancient scripture, there is no evidence as to why the Devas might be more righteous than the Danavas. It only mentions that Devas were relatively fair complexioned and more proportionately built, whereas Danavas were dark skinned and more heavily built. There is no moral ground to suspect they might be any eviler than the Devas. That is pure racism and nothing else. Imagine, if the Danavas had somehow managed to get exclusive claim over the elixir and write the scriptures, what would be the prices you would be paying to free your ancestors?”
Agastya laughed and replied, “It’s a charming debate, but if you really want to know Lopamudra, we always speak in symbols and lore. The Good and the Evil are two extremes poles on which the rope of life extends. In reality, there is no isolated good or evil.”
“No, but I still find the assumption of the superiority of the Devas questionable. And I find it equally questionable that you are ready to marry against your principle because these scriptures written by the Devas tell you to do so to free your ancestors.” Lopamudra persisted stubbornly. A gust of wind rolled freshly into the room. The firefly flew away from her hair.
“Well, the scriptures are valid not because I can furnish logic to prove it but because they are so by nature” Agastya said.
“Now you are talking like Hitler,” Lopamudra replied quickly. “You repeat a lie for thousand times and it becomes truth”
Agastya looked at her in disbelief. He didn’t know Lopamudra was also adept in time-traveling. “That is an inappropriate comparison. But more importantly, time-traveling is unadvisable to ordinary people, and you shouldn’t be citing examples from the time that hasn’t happened yet.”
“On the contrary, Agastya, I think everyone should do time-traveling at least once in their lifetime.” The princess replied with ease but it was evident that she immediately realized the foolishness of her thoughtless disclosure. Further, she had practised the time-traveling meditation from one of the treatises of Agastya himself. No one knew of her lofty flights across time, except the owl, who lived in a tree outside her window. Lopamudra was twelve years old when she first traveled across time successfully.
“Why would you want to travel across time, Lopamudra?” Agastya asked her after looking out the window for a rather long time. The silence was thick, punctuated only by the distant hoot of an owl.
“I don’t know, Agastya. In the beginning, it was just pure curiosity. I used to be so bored at the palace, as you can imagine. And I started reading books, all sorts of books. I read one of your books on time traveling, and since then I have wanted nothing more than to meet you. So initially, I just time traveled in the future to see if I would ever meet you. I was surprised by how I was fated to marry you. So, I was further intrigued, and I started traveling backwards to know who you were. There were things that I liked and there were things, I couldn’t quite cope with. The present was bland and mundane. It didn’t offer much meaning to my queries. So, I started traveling across time frequently. I came across many interesting people like Jaratkaru, who reminds me of you. I met women like Damyanti and Shakuntala, so devoted to their husbands. But as I started travelling forward, I also met women like Simone De Beauvoir, Joan Moreau and Anais Nin. Looking at all these different kinds of women, so admirable and inspirational in so many different ways, I started to realize no ideal of truth, beauty or justice was fixed; every ideal was in continuous flux. That way Hegel is going to be quite right. This infinite vastness of possibilities both intrigued me and comforted me. I realized without exploring the dimensions of time, we make the mistake of considering our opinions or privileges as right and God-given, not realizing our ideals of truth or justice or beauty are simply manufactured to suit the status-quo of the given time.”
They both kept quiet. Lopamudra was playing with her shawl, braiding the threads listlessly. Agastya was filled with the most tender feelings for Lopamudra. One could not even call it love as such.He could only approximate it to the feeling that King Jadabharat had for the young fawn, for whose love the king relinquished his merits to enter heaven and chose the earthly bondage and suffering. She was playing with the fire and he was worried if Lopamudra was sufficiently armed not to be crushed by so much knowledge. He did not even know what to say to her. He wanted to embrace her but that would be inappropriate.
He sighed and asked Lopamudra, “So, coming back to our point, why do you think I might have decided to marry you?”
“I don’t know, Agastya,” Lopamudra said. “If it was just the matter of a son to free your ancestors as the scriptures say, you, who created me from your mind, could have easily created a son. But that wouldn’t do. You have desired for a woman, Agastya. Not for your ancestors, but for yourself. Freud would have been quicker to decipher your unconscious motive. I can only say that you are rationalizing yourself; perhaps because you consider yourself too sagely to admit to yourself that like everyone else, you crave for human flesh.”
“If it was just a matter of a human body, why it couldn’t be anyone else? Why did I have to create you?” Agastya asked. His cheeks had grown redder under the silver of his beard. He was afraid if Lopamudra could see through them.
“Don’t be foolish, Agastya. You did not create me any more than God created Eve out of Adam’s bone. It is logically incongruent because if God indeed created Eve out of Adam’s rib, there would only be the male chromosomes, and therefore God might have created Evan but not Eve. I am well aware that I am your illegitimate child. You forget that I often do time-traveling.”
Agastya heart drummed a loud tick and it went quiet. Despite the cool breeze, he broke out into a sweat. When his heart resumed pounding, a rush of blood surged and he felt momentarily blinded. Agastya closed his eyes, his face was disfigured by the painful convulsions. “I don’t remember that Lopamudra,” he said finally, his voice thin and shivering.
“It is hardly surprising,” the princess replied. “We often shove the unpleasant memories into our unconscious mind, don’t we? We never know who we are.” She looked at Agastya with prying eyes but he remained impenetrable like a blind marble statue. The princess continued, “We continuously create our image of who we think we are by selecting a few flattering memories and discarding the rest. But I don’t blame you. It is the same with me. Trapped in millions of memories, I struggle to understand who I am but I only manage to catch a few fleeting phantoms and mistake those apparitions to be me. It’s a tiresome business.” Lopamudra sighed and closed her eyes. Her face had grown tired and old somehow. When she noticed that Agastya still didn’t elicit any visible reaction she continued with her soliloquy. “For example, knowing it all too well that I am your illegitimate child, I still find myself attracted to you. In all certainty, I shall agree to marry you. Of course, this truth won’t go into history. The scriptures will say that the great sage Agastya created a beautiful brainchild to release his ancestors from earthly bondage. I have read those future scriptures too. History is not what it says, but often, what it tries to hide, and all scriptures are nothing but histories. I don’t fool myself that you are marrying me to free your ancestors and nor should you.”
The wind shook the parijata flowers and they went twirling in the air. Agastya opened his eyes and saw that a few of them woven themselves into Lopamudra’s hair. Agastya stared blankly at those flowers for a long time. White wasn’t just white, he remembered from the Book of Alchemy; it was a rainbow, trapped cleverly.
Lopamudra’s flesh shone like a lump of soft, kneaded dough under the pale moon. Agastya felt terrified of her. He abruptly shut his both eyes with his palms and began to weep.
“Don’t weep,” Lopamudra said. “Tomorrow morning I shall announce my desire to marry you to my father, the king. And don’t weep over the stories. All stories are lies, including mine. To speak is to lie. What is told is always partial. I love you Agastya, not because we are holy or special or sacred. We are none. We are beings trapped in a human body, craving things that are not always holy. You, despite your wisdom, crave for a woman’s body just like anyone else. And I, knowing all too well that you are my father, desire for you. We are this. We are what defies our conscience. We are what baffles us. We are what we condemn. And we are together not because we are going to do holy things together but because we are going to allow ourselves what it is to be a human. Your ancestors are not suspended because you don’t have a son but because you have misunderstood your own desires. Fame or knowledge doesn’t liberate, Agastya, we are only liberated when we embrace tenderly that which is the darkest and the ugliest in us. I embrace you, I embrace you like thousand fragrant lotus blossoms, I embrace you like the levitating light of heaven, I embrace you like you were my own newborn. Don’t be afraid Agastya, the moon shall not wait for us forever.”
Agastya only remembered that white flower with the delicate orange stalk in her hair. He couldn’t remember when the princess left or when the morning arrived. When he regained himself, the bright orange sun was floating above the white, muslin-like clouds, which reminded him of the parijata flowers again.