- Books, Literature, and Writing»
- Books & Novels
Excerpt 3 - The Secret Doctrine of Clouds
Excerpt 3 – The Secret Doctrine of Clouds
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Della stood motionless, her mouth gaping, hardly believing that she was right, this tiny little vine was communicating with her.
She walked over to the window and picked up the smiley-faced tin, peering down at it, as if she would somehow find a little face beaming back at her. Suddenly feeling embarrassed with such an idea she quickly put the plant down, trying desperately to single out one defining emotion. But she was awash with emotions, unable to focus on any feeling other than being overwhelmed with this seemingly impossible revelation.
Della walked backwards, her eyes still fixed on the vine, until she reached her bed on which she collapsed, in an attempt to calm down and to try to grasp the truth. Taking three deep breaths, she verbalised what was happening.
‘Ok, the plant wasn’t turned around- the smiley face was at the front. It can’t be just a coincidence- it picked the paper up. This is really happening,’ she mumbled.
Della, suddenly realising that her parents had gone to work and left her to sleep in, rose to her feet. She had to get outside, create some diversion, some balance. She walked down to the river, her head lowered, unable to even recognise the hum and movement of her beloved village.
She sat quietly by the holy Yamuna River, next to her favourite tree, peering pensively into the water as it lapped peacefully against the shoreline. The tranquility was soothing and she slowly felt her slender body begin to relax under the water’s spell. As she considered the possibilities and ramifications, she noticed the reflection of the passing clouds above.
Della rolled onto her back and looked up to the clouds as they formed then dissipated over and over before her eyes. She felt they were alive too, in some way trying to show her something. Their forms were miraculous, manifesting into shapes, then receding into a blank surface before reforming into something else. Suddenly Della began to understand. Each shape was something that she related to and as several of these objects appeared, then disappeared, the order and meaning of each began to make sense.
A tear welled in Della’s eye, yet another emotion taking her. An overpowering feeling of belonging saturated her body as her mind fused with these clouds, and with each form and meaning, it empowered her to understand even more.
Tears were now streaming down her face as she read the world through the clouds, explaining what had been and what would be. She sobbed, desperately trying to keep her eyes clear enough to read, and not wanting to miss anything.
She felt beauty, love, pain and anguish, the sorrow born of man’s ineptitude and the suffering endured because of it. Like the history of the world, this open book passed before this child’s young eyes. All that had been accomplished, created, torn down and destroyed. She read of the sacrifice for love, selfless acts of simple people, unknown people with saint-like acts that remained unrecorded in earthly reality.
With each revelation came a deeper understanding, an innate knowing of humanity, its foibles, its potential, its taste for self-destruction. The emotion that poured from these realisations simply flooded her, her every cell and molecule. Della’s body felt like a huge unfillable vessel, drenched with immeasurable information, still pouring into her at tremendous speed.
At first it felt like she would explode, unable to take the ferocity of this outpouring. But no matter how much or fast this information came, she was able to process it, without any effort.
For another hour, Della stayed by the river, absorbing everything that she could. When she grew too tired the clouds mysteriously dissipated above her and she was left staring at a clear blue sky; no clouds, and no evidence of what had just occurred.
Sitting up on one elbow she looked across the river, the water shimmering with life. She smiled, her fear somehow overpowered by the immensity of the experience.
‘The truth is often the hardest to swallow,’ a calm and mellow voice resounded.
Della did not look around, and instinctively knew it was not a person speaking to her. This time with more confidence, she turned to look at the Banyan tree, its old gnarled branches reaching out over the water, as if yearning for the essence of this beautiful river.
‘Is it me that you wish to talk to?’ she asked tentatively.
‘You are here, Della.’
‘Why me?’ she asked, not even beginning to understand.
‘We have not done this for such a long-time, you know. But we see what humans are doing and we can’t just turn away? This is our world too. Poor Della; you are young and have all ready been given so much. You must be tired.’
‘For now…go, my child. You must rest. There will be time enough for us to be together, for you to understand. Go now.’
Della, as if finishing an everyday conversation with a friend, simply rose to her feet and went home to work. Her mind was numb and her body weary, and there was little else to do but continue what was required at home.
That day passed without any further thought about what had happened. Della felt dazed, in shock and for her own peace of mind, felt it necessary to recover from the experience first, before making any further demands on herself.
She lay in bed, staring out of the window of their home, moonlight pouring in like a river of soft blue mist. The vine now had two shoots draped down the side of the can and onto the windowsill. It coiled around and unfurled its translucent green tendrils, inhaling what moisture there was in the dry night air.
First there was the revelation that she could hear and talk to plants, trees or at least some of them. Then, as if that wasn’t enough for her to accept, she could read the clouds above, as if they were recorded somehow, and then replayed to her, to be understood. ‘But why?’ she thought, overwhelmed by the possibility let alone the reality.
Della was not even thirteen years old, living in virtual poverty with strong and hardworking parents who wanted nothing more than for her to marry into a higher class and secure a future.
She knew that on her next birthday, suitors and their families would come to negotiate her future, something that remained distasteful to her. But this was tradition and the will of her family, who simply wanted a better life for their only daughter.
Della rolled over, the weight of these problems such a burden for a young and inexperienced girl. How could she ever explain any of what had happened, to her parents?
It took a long-time for Della to find sleep, her body still trembling with energy from her experience. Since the first voices in the rainforest, her life had changed and nothing felt the same. An all-encompassing feeling of knowing had pervaded her thinking and what took place every second of her day, felt expected, each moment somehow fitting into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. At first it was eerie, then after a while comforting, making her feel secure. Exhausted and overwhelmed, she had no real idea of what the future could hold.
After her morning chores she’d once again be asked to help Mrs. Patwe, and for the first time arrived just before Mrs. Patwe got Devi into his bath.
‘Della!’ squealed Devi, as she entered, always glad to see her.
‘Thank you Della, I was just about to get him in. Could you hold his arm and make sure he doesn’t slip?’
‘Of course, Mrs. Patwe.’
‘Della come to play with Devi?’ he asked with a huge grin.
‘After we wash you.’
‘The river. Want the water,’ he said excitedly.
‘You be a good boy and I’ll take you after your bath.’
‘Devi be good, very good!’
Manoeuvring him into the large metal tub wasn’t easy, but with cooperation, Devi’s rotund form slid down into the tub, the soapy water rising almost to the top. Mrs. Patwe scrubbed Devi’s front and face, while Della washed his arms and hands with a cloth. He looked At Della admiringly as she washed him, a half grin etched across his face. His brown eyes glistened in the half-light of the main living area; his knee tucked up under his chin.
‘My, you are being a good boy today, Devi,’ said his mother, thankful for the lack of struggle.
‘My girl, I don’t know what I’d do without you,’ said Mrs. Patwe. ‘You’re the only one who can calm him down, the only one he listens to.’
Della smiled. ‘We like each other, Mrs. Patwe. We have an understanding, Devi and I. Sometimes words are not necessary, and I know what he wants.’
Mrs. Patwe shook her head. ‘You are not like any other twelve-year-old I know, Della. Your parents must be so proud.’
‘You’d have to ask them that,’ she replied, a little embarrassed.
After Devi was dried and dressed, Della took him down to the river as promised, and they sat as always under the Banyan tree. Devi looked out over the water and took a deep breath. A smile beamed from him like the sun as he took in the spectacle of this beautiful river. Small barges carrying colourful traders and goods went by with many people in small boats going about their daily business. The sky was a deep azure and the earth below a rich red brown.
Della could feel Devi’s enjoyment, and she realised that he too was in touch with life, far more than most people. Yet he was the taunted one, the one called names and judged to be useless. How wrong they were.
‘Harmony is what we have chosen, Della.’
Della turned to the Banyan tree, not having expected conversation with Devi being there.
‘Is that what I have been experiencing?’
‘Yes. You are not used to it, yet. But you will be.’
‘Why have I been chosen?” asked Della.
The tree answered. ‘You have not been chosen, you simply are.’
Della thought hard about the reply. Then before she could question it, Devi interrupted. ‘Am I chosen too?’ he asked, his expression serious.
A frown flooded Della’s expression. ‘What did you say?’
‘If the tree can choose, can I?’ he asked.
Della took Devi’s meaty hands in hers and moved closer to him. ‘You can hear this voice?’
‘Yes… Is it Buddha?’ he asked.
Della grinned. ‘No Devi, it is this beautiful tree. With wisdom far beyond our own,’ she explained, excitedly.
‘But can I be chosen? I do like this tree. The air is nice. Devi likes the tree.’
‘You can be chosen if you wish,’ said the Banyan.
Devi clapped his hands wildly, erupting into a mad giggle. Della was inspired. She had often felt that Devi was special in some unexplainable way that no-one else recognised. He seemed so calm and accepting, but she could never put her finger on anything.
‘What will you have us do?’ she asked the tree.
‘We want you to know why we are what we are, and how you must change, before it is too late.’
‘Tell a story. Devi likes stories.’
The grand old Banyan began to explain. ‘From the beginning of time we have covered this earth and determined who and what would live by our side. Without us there would be no life for you, no air to breathe. Early, plants and trees began to communicate to transfer meaning and purpose as we developed habitats for insects and animals. But it wasn’t until man became aware that everything went wrong. Man did not understand harmony and the needs of life. He became restless and greed dominated his purpose. Plants and animals became acquisition and need, nothing related to harmony and sharing the essence of energy, of life.
Soon we stepped back from cognisance, from communication, trying not to become lost in this cycle of destruction. We moved forward from the humans, to become life in harmony. We decided that thought was too primitive an idea and it did nothing for our ecology and evolution. We exist in the silence of balance, accepting of the ways of life, death and transformation. But we can be silent no longer. Man has gone too far, put the planet into imbalance, and that now teeters on the edge of destruction for all life. The planet is out of balance and is slowly dying, with it we shall perish.’
Della was speechless. The enormity of what had been said, simply too much for a young girl to accept. But it was she who was meant to accept it and from what was being said, do something about it.
The old tree continued… ‘Della, realise that human’s live because we have allowed it, and because of the balance in which we have thrived, until now. It is not our nature, nor our will, but if it were, your race could disappear in a single generation. If it were our will the insects and plant life that you so judge as being inferior, could lay waste to your concrete and glass world.
Imagine if all the creatures of earth turned against you, as you have turned against the natural balance of this planet. Humans kill for sport, use animals for slavery, for torture, and destroy habitats, millions of trees and plants for your selfish needs and self-justified progress. This you call technology, advancement. But what is it truly?
All this I express to you through human logic and viewpoint so you will understand. We could not wantonly destroy anything, but we could. You humans are the only creatures on this earth that can justify these horrendous acts against nature and balance. We accept your need for nourishment; materials for shelter and the development of your societies, but you have far exceeded your needs, exceeded even your own greed. There must be change or the balance will fall to a disastrous conclusion. The signs are there already.’
Tears were running down Della’s cheeks, the weight of humanity on such young narrow shoulders. Devi placed his huge hand on hers, not knowing why, except that he wanted her to feel better. She wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to remain focused, but the guilt that was tearing at her was devastating.
‘Della, you are chosen because you can hear me, you see and understand.’
‘I don’t,’ said Devi, not able to follow the conversation at all.
‘But I am a child,’ Della sobbed. ‘What can I possible do?’
There was a long pause before the old tree responded.
‘You are who you are, there is no choice. I am here as you are here. This is our destiny. I am old, and the memory of what has been has somehow remained alive within me. I am chosen because I can be with you like this, and you are chosen because you can understand. That is our lot.’
Della slowly pulled herself together. ‘I feel so tired,’ she said, gently rubbing her forehead.
‘It is difficult, I know,’ said the Banyan. ‘Go and rest. Each day come to me and we shall discuss our plan, together.’
After a long moment of rest and attempted acceptance, she smiled a half-hearted smile, rose to her feet and with Devi, slowly headed back toward his home.
‘The tree talks a lot,’ said Devi, confused.
‘The tree is our friend, Devi. But you must not tell, OK?
Devi looked down pensively. ‘OK! Devi doesn’t talk to trees any more. What did the tree say?” he asked.
‘Don’t you worry about that. Let’s just get you home,’ she replied, with a grin.
That day defined Della’s life in the most marked way. At the ripe old age of almost thirteen, this young girl who was born into poverty was given the most inconceivable check on reality. This reality which she, by circumstance, had the responsibility to change, for the sake of all humanity, was mind-bending.
At first it hardly registered in her consciousness, still reeling from the fact that plants could communicate with her, and that she could read clouds that furnished such intimate knowledge about humanity, past and future. Had she accepted all of it to begin with, her head would have imploded under the pressure. But being the special person that she was, Della instinctively paced herself and gave herself space between each epiphany, presented to her like some cosmic string of pearls, each separate one life shattering in its impact.
Then, if that wasn’t enough, suitor’s families began to approach Della’s parents, ready to discuss possible future marriage. Della’s reticence was hardly understood. Being a simple ‘Sudra’ girl with no education meant that a good match would secure a better financial future, something that her parents of course wanted. Even as poor as Della’s family was, her parents had put aside clothing, jewellery and money for her eventual dowry, to ensure a good marital match.
Della’s mind was elsewhere, with far greater problems to consider. She would not be eighteen for another five years and the thought of marriage, seemed ludicrous.
‘Della, could you please pass me the cheval?’ asked Mala.
‘Yes Mama,’ she replied, pushing the bag of rice along the floor toward her. Mala measured some rice and poured it into the pot of boiling water on the hot plate, securing the lid on the pot.
‘Did you meet Papa before you were married?’ Della asked.
‘Heavens no. You father and I met for the first time at our wedding ceremony. And he was so handsome. I was very pleased.’
‘But you did not love him. How could you?’ asked Della.
Mala giggled. ‘There is much more to marriage than that, Della. The right match can mean a very happy life, security and yes, after time there is love. With respect and time love grows, like your little vine on the windowsill. With care it can grow strong and vibrant. This is our tradition and our belief, and it will ensure your future too.’
Della had nothing left to say on the subject. Her parents would never change and anyway, it seemed far away from the present.
After her parents had left for work the next morning, Della went to the markets to talk to Hussein. When she arrived, he had just finished setting up his stall and turned to see her approaching.
‘Oh, here’s trouble,’ he said with a grin.
‘Good morning Mr. Hussein, I trust you are well?’
‘I am my little friend. And what have you come to swindle me out of today?’
‘Oh no Mr. Hussein, just talk.’
Hussein leaned over the produce on his table, his arms straight and stretched out holding the edge of the trellis.
‘I’m all ears, Della Gee,’ he said, his thick grey eyebrows raised up in anticipation.
‘Where do you grow your produce?’ she asked, matter of factly.
‘Where?’ he repeated, unsure as to her intention.
‘Yes, where is your plot?’
Hussein frowned. ‘On the other side of the river. Why?’
‘Well, Mr. Hussein, I must tell you that the monsoon season will come early this year. If you are to harvest the crops before the rains hit, you should do it one month early.’
Hussein just looked at her, then looked around, half expecting someone else to be behind this. ‘How would you know such a thing, Della? Look above you, not a single cloud,’ he said, pointing up to a perfectly clear azure sky.
Della smiled. ‘I cannot convince you Mr. Hussein, but if you wish to save your crops, you will have to harvest a month early. That is all,’ she finished, with a polite smile, before turning around and walking away.
Hussein straightened up and scratched his balding head.
‘That girl is going to drive me mad,’ he muttered, watching her diminutive figure disappear in the distance.
Della went back home feeling ambivalent about having shared information that had come to her in such an unexplainable way. She saw it as clear as water in the clouds and soon those scattered white streaks would turn to dark brooding monsters, unleashing damage to the ill-prepared. She was just trying to help, and that was all she could do.
Two days later Della returned to the Banyan tree with Devi. She managed to settle herself down and slowly began to accept what was happening. But still she had no way of understanding how she, a young child, could possibly make any difference in the world.
‘I can see now what we have done to our planet, not respected all life and the balance that exists here, but I cannot understand how I can put right this problem,’ Della explained.
The Banyan tree answered. ‘What you don’t see is that each person who then sees this plight can change it simply by being aware of it and changing their own values and actions. An ant cannot make a nest alone. It cannot feed alone or survive in its own environment. But together anything is possible. Do you see that a journey begins with a single step.’
Della smiled. ‘Yes, I see that. So how do we begin?’
‘Yes, how?’ asked Devi, excitedly.
‘You begin by using what you see to help your village, to pass the message on to the people. They will never know the truth, but they must learn to respect life. Remember, the natural events have been in response to man’s ignorance of the past. Nature is simply trying to preserve balance. The more balance that can be upheld with understanding, the lessor will be the impact of natural disaster and impending trouble.
Della, we have been watching your plight for some time. The war has brought much unrest to India: fathers taken from their families, so many deaths, famine and disease have weakened the people, and the Raj has gone too far in silencing the voice equality. The ‘Vaiskhi’ festival at Jallianwala Bagh is an example of what can happen when power is out of balance. Your coMr.ades were quietly making their voices heard and still, over 370 people died that day and over 1200 were injured. It was a massacre, people against people, and for what? Your country lives amid a revolution and the British cannot continue to rule with such disrespect for life. But you have your peacemakers, your saviours. The politician who organised that protest, Mohandas Gandhi, will lead your people to a better world, and will lead for peace and balance.’
‘Why are you telling me this? Do you wish me to be in politics?’ asked Della.
‘Eventually you will find yourself there, out of no choice of your own.’
‘What you see in the clouds and what you discover will lead you on this quest, Della. Trust in your heart.’
Della sat there for some time trying to absorb the task and deal with the enormity of this challenge.
After each discussion with the old Banyan, Devi would ask many questions, trying to understand on his level, what was going on. Della, with infinite patience, tried to explain what she could and he grew excited about every exchange. He may not have understood the details of what was going on, but it seemed to him a real adventure and he loved it.
His mundane life, limited by what his parents saw in him, led to great discontent. Devi knew he wasn’t smart, but he had feelings and Della treated him with respect, something that his mother had long forgotten and his father had never done. This strange adventure for him was not strange but wonderful and he loved being a part of Della’s life.
‘Della, what do you see?’ he asked, in all seriousness.
‘What do you mean, Devi?’
‘What do you see that people don’t, that I don’t.’
‘I suppose I see what has taken place and sometimes what an outcome will be. The clouds show me.’
‘Huh. Can the clouds show me things too?’ he asked.
‘Look up, up at that big fluffy one. Can you see it?’
‘What does it look like, to you Devi?’
Devi squinted, trying hard to see something. ‘It’s very fluffy,’ he said, with great concentration.
‘Yes, but what does its shape remind you of?’ she asked.
‘Mm. I know- a bear. It looks like a big bear!’ he shouted enthusiastically.
‘Yes, it’s a big old bear, just like you,’ she added, giving him a squeeze around his huge girth. Devi looked down and smiled, gently placing his massive arms around her. ‘I’m a cloud,’ he whispered.
‘I love you, Della.’