Like the kumbh Fair, this novel promises to open the doors of its readers’ thinking, coaxing them to tarry for a few moments and re-examine their priorities in life.
‘It is good to live a life of an instinct, you have nothing to fear, no failures, no successes, just a gut and the beatings of the tiny heart. Let it see the world, it said in its beat, like the haloed Damru of Shiva; come out and enjoy the Maya of so called God; now this was one mystery I couldn’t fathom; wait, there was one more; destiny. To these I added a third; Faith, not in these two, but in my Self… the Atma.’ Aditi’s take on LIFE..LOVE..KUMBH…
On 13th of January 2010, a day before the first of the Eleven great baths of the Maha Kumbh at Haridwar, the largest human congregation in the Universe; Agastaya, Annant and Aditi, journey along in their lives; crossing each other’s path; reminiscing of the past gone by and being wary of the future .
But as the day nears its end, destiny would throw them in a situation from which there would be no running away.
Will they face up to the challenges of living, loving, longing, leaving, learning and come out unscathed from the play of destiny and the cycle of Karma?
What of their identity; their Philosophies and the quest for Yogic excellence?
At 5.30 am on13th of January 2010, two men: Annant Bharadwaj and Agastaya Vashisth, go their separate businesses, in the holy town of Haridwar on the banks of the river Ganga; the next day is the first of the Eleven great baths of the Kumbh Fair spread across four months in which millions of devotees are expected to take a dip of the holy river.
Annant Bharadwaj is an upcoming writer who lives in the Nanku Havelli. He is joined by his cousin Sameer Bhargava, a medical intern, who brings in Jorden, a Jew from London who researches on the Raj relics. They go through their morning rituals on the roof of the dilapidated building on the foothills of Shivalik range, discussing literature, philosophy and the death of Nina who was Annant’s disciple and for whom he grieves. .
The three men have their tea and enter the bazaars; they are eager to take the morning dip in the holy river, but search for an isolated beach where they can bath in nude. They come across a sea of humanity, a procession of the naked Naga sadhus and the police barricade; after much of a struggle they succeed in reaching a quiet bank, hidden from the crowd. They bath naked, assured of their privacy; but two washerwomen eye them.
Annant leaves the river bank and his two companions in his grieving and reaches the Birla College, where he teaches Philosophy on an ad hoc basis. It is his last lecture today, as the college management is discontinuing the subject from the next term. He lets the student discuss themes on philosophy pertaining to relevancy and irreverence. But Nina’s memories continue to haunt him. Minnie, one of his students, is attracted to his rebellious ways and consoles him as he feigns his sorrow for her sympathy. They end up having a fight and Minnie leaves him. At the end of the class he meets the principal, JDB, his father’s friend, who advises him to take up a job at the newspaper, owned by Chadhuary brothers- ‘Beware Haridwar’. Annant laughs it off and asks for his payment. He loiters around with money in his pocket and sits on the embankment of the ganga canal, reflecting his days in his school; St. George’s College; the Christian value system, his quest for excellence in yoga, secular beliefs and the emerging capitalist system in the country, his brush with religious fanaticism when he was a teenager and a mosque was broken down, his quest to create and his struggle to take up writing as his vocation, contrary to what his father Dr. Bhardwaj, the veterinarian, has planned for him. He remembers his relationship with his cousin Shamistta; a girl Ricky and his infatuation for his aunt’s breasts.
After the bath Sameer and Jorden go to Annapurna café for breakfast. They are discussing Annant’s knowledge and his chances of becoming a writer of repute. Himnash, Minnie and Moniriil- Annant’s students join them and Jorden treats them to a wholesome breakfast. Mr. Tweny, a Brit and Shamistta’s husband is seen having breakfast with her and succumbing to her control.
Meanwhile, Agastaya Vashist, a clerk in the district administration office, wakes up and goes for a walk. His wife Aditi is up and early and is preparing to receive Agastaya’s Uncle and Aunt, who are coming for the Kumbh bath. She complains about the lack of space in their small apartment which they share with Mr. and Mrs. Vashist; Agastaya’s parents. But she is excited about going to Mumbai the next day after the Kumbh bath to hold talks with an art promoter Mr.Tulli for her upcoming art exhibition in the financial capital of the country. It happens to be Agastaya’s birthday and Keerii wishes her father. Aditi pesters him on his inability to provide them with better standard of living but also seeks his support for her pursuit of art. Agastaya baths with cold water and sits for his meditation. He plans the day and vows to improve his economic condition. Aditi packs a few chapattis for him for breakfast as he bid her goodbye. She hands him a wish list, of things he has to get from the market, and requests him to attend the Satsang of Ekaba; probably his last- she says.
Agastaya attends a meeting of the Kumbh Authority on the smooth conduct of the Fair. Between his office hours Agastaya takes time out to buy a book on Ayuerveda from a book shop at Rishikesh a town twenty kilometers away from Haridwar. Pankaj Bhuria; an Indian Police Services’ trainee, accompanies him and discusses applied yoga. They meet Annant at the shop and Agastaya invites him for lunch saying that Aditi has packed a few Chapattis too many and they would suffice for them both.
Agastaya finds Nina’s parents waiting for him when he reaches his office. They have come to get their daughter’s aisle, paints and the blue brush, which their daughter had left at his house, as she was a student of Aditi who gives painting lessons.
Local M.L.A. Mr. Ram Singh Saini accosts them and asks the District Magistrate Mr. T. Namgyal to take steps for an early solution to the case. Mr Namgayal promises an interim relief to Nina’s parents and deputes Pankaj Bhuria to conduct a detailed enquiry on the events which led to her mysterious death. Annant is called to give his testimony and misses his luncheon appointment with Agastaya.
Meanwhile Sameer and Jorden are relieving themselves out in the open. Sameer lays down the benefits of outdoor ablutions. They discuss things in general, sitting near a stream. Both decide to lunch with Annant. They meet Annant at the college campus and come to know about the police enquiry from the college peon, Ramcharan. The news agitates them and they decide to get stoned and fight the administration. Annant pays up rupees five-hundred for Ganja to Ramcharan.
The three get stoned and lay under the sun. It rains for a short while and wakes them up to their hunger. The three eat in a street corner and ogle at big bosoms of the Lady who serves them Pooreis. They leave for the Ghats to carry forward their passion for wet women. Jorden reflects on the Sadhivi, Meera whom he had met in the Kumbh town and who he thinks is her mother of the previous birth. The town is ready for the Kumbh and they become a part of the religious gaiety.
Annant longs for Minniee and leaves his companion to search for her. He is carrying “A history of western Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell; which he had bought from The Ganga book emporium, at Luxman Juhla in Tapovan, Rishikesh, as a present for her. He had decided to get intimate with her tonight, somewhere in the forests, he thinks.
Meanwhile at Ekaba’s Muth; the Siddehwari Akahra; Kashi is preparing for her first sermon on the Baghvad Katha and the story of Ganga. She is at loggerheads with her Guru; Ekaba, as to whether religion should be organized or not and its politicization for narrow personal gains, ignoring its spiritual nature.
It is the lunch hour and Agastaya goes to the Sharmaji’s Poorie shop and buys vegetable and eats his lunch alone. He is thinking of his wife Adidti and her leaving him for her ambition. He plans to set up a yoga school and reflects on Annant’s life. He laments his middleclass existence and worries about the impending capitalism in the country which will increase the aspirations of people like him. But he favors the corporatization as it would increase efficiency and competition thus improving the overall productivity of the country. His wife has already succumbed to the charms of the market by planning to sell her art at Mumbai. She is leaving tomorrow after the bath, and he would be alone to look after Keerii. He is apprehensive about accompanying her. He decides to support her quest and vows to improve her art through yoga.
The river town is crowded now and the festivities have begun for the commemorative bath, the next day.
Annant is stoned and searches for Minniee. He fails to find her but wanders on the Ghats. He remembers the love story of his grandfather and concludes that he loves Minnie. The search tires him and in his frustration he is about to throw the book when Minnie catches up with him. She is happy to get the book which she desired to read. But Annant plans to take her to the nearby forest. She agrees after much cajoling. In the darkness she agrees to his pleadings and offers herself to him in return for all that he has done for her. He, however, savors her nakedness from a distance and presents her a white Jasmine bead which he ties on her hairs. He kisses her. Both return to the Ghats for the Prayers. Agastaya accosts them and asks them to join him. Malashri, the daughter of T. Namgayal is already discussing yoga with him. Sameer and Jorden join them later. They celebrate Agastaya’s birthday.
Agastaya informs Annant of Aditi’s leaving Haridwar to pursue a career in arts, for which she is not yet fully up there. Both go to Agastaya’s apartment and cook dinner. Annant comes across a painting by Nina and longs for her company. Both reflect on the time when the two had crossed each others’ paths in the last twenty-seven years.
Aditi sits in the pandal of the Siddeshwari Akhara and listens to the satsang. She reflects on her life and the role of Annant and Agastaya in it. She deliberates the formers’ rebellious ways with the all acceptance philosophy of the latter. She thinks of her childhood and her years as Meera a Sadhvi sermonizing on the teachings of Krishna and her journey in the Himalayas and her chance encounter with Agastaya. She is saved by Ekaba after she meets with an accident and discovers that she is carrying Kerrie in her womb. Kerrie is born and she found herself tied up in her motherly duties. Her quest for arts and philosophy takes a back seat and adds to her frustration. Annant comes to the village called Gau-char where Ekaba has a small ashram and is charmed by her. She develops a bonding with him. Annant had known Agastaya’s chance meeting with a girl in the Himalayas; the girl is Aditi and he unites the two.
She had married Agastaya and now she is feeling stifled under the pressure of adjustments, familial responsibilities and poverty. She thinks of Ekaba’s offer to join his Akhara and her elevation as the head of the Siddeshwari Akhara, ignoring Kashi’s, Ekaba’s devout follower’s legitimate claim. She knows that Ekaba is dying but wishes that he holds on till she organizes her career in arts. She is excited about leaving Haridwar after the bath to follow her dreams and thanks Agastaya from her heart for the support he had given her. It could be her last shot to name, fame, power and creativity, she thinks.
She thinks of the night when, in the throes of her passions she had offered herself to Agastaya. Was it love? She questions thus. What of her duty towards her daughter Kerrie? Ekaba was her life giver and she owed him his last wish. She is torn between her ambition and what the destiny has ordained for her. Ekaba dies on completing his last sermon leaving Aditi to decide for her and chose her path in life.