Excerpt 4 - The Secret Doctrine of Clouds
Excerpt 4 – The Secret Doctrine of Clouds
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
It was the beginning of August, one month from monsoon season, and Hussein was in the fields harvesting his crops. As he worked he mumbled, hardly believing that he was following the advice of a twelve-year-old girl. She was the bane of his existence, using her intellect and wiles to relieve him of his income. But there was something about Della that made him take notice and believe she knew what she was talking about.
His friends thought him mad, taking crops before they had fully matured, and them not having any idea of why. Della soon discovered that he was doing as she suggested and she prayed that she was right and that what she’d read in the clouds was the truth. It was not like her to doubt, but telling someone else and bearing the responsibility was a new experience and something she’d just have to get used to.
Within days the clouds gathered, then darkened. As Hussein safely packed away his produce in his storage sheds, the rains came down. Amid the downpour, Hussein dashed outside and danced energetically in the muddy street, shouting ‘she was right!’ at the top of his lungs, and laughing maniacally. People rushed for cover and thought the man insane. But he scoffed at their concerned looks, knowing that he’d saved all of his crops, while others would now fail. He laughed even louder knowing that his business would multiply because of this miraculous decision.
For the next two days the rain simply overwhelmed the Yamuna River and every path and gutter was overflowing with brown muddy water. Della had started a rumour about imminent floods and hoped that people would ere on the side of caution. Being a twelve-year-old girl gave little credence to her foresight, and this seemed the best solution. Most of the villagers closest to the river fixed three rows of sandbags in a long line at the riverbank, just in case the rumours turned out to be true. The floods had taken their village in the past and no-one wanted to take any chances.
Della was working in her home when Hussein arrived, dripping wet and as excited and as happy as she had ever seen him.
‘Della, can I come in?” he shouted from the doorway, the rain thundering in the background.
‘Of course, Mr. Hussein. You’ll catch your death of cold,’ she replied, grabbing a large towel and handing it to him.
‘You have done me a great service, Della,’ he said, rubbing his wet head. ‘You were so right, and I have saved all of my crops. How did you know?’
‘I’m glad for you,’ she replied with a smile.
‘And the sandbags, did you tell the villagers to get them ready?’ he asked.
Della grinned. ‘I started a rumour that the water would soon rise and that the village was in peril .’
Hussein dropped the towel and grabbed Della’s shoulders with both hands. ‘Della. You are a miracle. Lord Brahma has blessed you to save our village. Everyone must know of this,’ he finished, running wildly back out into the rain.
‘But… Mr. Hussein?’
The river rose nearly three feet in the first six hours and the sandbags held the water back from the village until the rain finally eased later in the afternoon.
When Vikram and Mala returned home from the muddy streets of the city to their rather weather-beaten village, they were met with an unexpected sight. Their little house was covered in flowers, posies and strings of wild flowers strung up all over the front of their home. Curtains of multicoloured blooms were draped over the two windows and the top of the doorway. Della stood there feeling rather embarrassed, with her head lowered and her hands clasped nervously together,
‘What is all this, Della?’
‘Who did this?’ asked Vikram.
‘The villagers,’ she replied, softly.
Mrs. Padri, an eighty-year-old neighbour rushed over, holding up the bottom of her long sari with both hands, and tiptoeing through the mud.
‘Your wonderful daughter has saved our village. You must be so proud,’ she said with a toothless grin.
‘How?’ asked Mala, confused.
Another voice came from the gathering crowd. ‘It’s true. Della told us all to sandbag the banks and be prepared for an early rain. She was right and our homes have been saved,’ he explained, the crowd now loudly voicing their appreciation.
Vikram looked up and realised there were more than fifty people gathered around their tiny home.
‘Thank you very much. You must go home now. We wish to talk to our daughter,’ he said, turning Della around and taking her inside.
The crowd slowly dispersed, all waving and thanking Della, shouting ‘Pavitra Muuri! Pavitra Muuri!’
“What are they saying?’ asked Mala, turning to look back outside.
Vikram smiled. ‘They have named our daughter. They are calling her the root of a plant… a blessed root.’
He turned to Della. ‘What has been going on Della? I don’t understand.’
Della was more than embarrassed, and for a moment, lost for words. ‘I simply told the villagers down by the water the rains would come early and to be prepared for flooding, that’s all.’
‘That’s all?’ cried Mala. How could you know this?’
Della shrugged, not sure that telling the truth at this point was such a good idea. ‘I thought it would be so and it was Mama, that’s all.’
Della’s parents were not convinced by her explanation and didn’t know what to think. Sudden celebrity was the last thing expected and neither of them knew what to make of it.
The next day Vikram did not have to work and he organised to take Della to see the priests at the temple to get to the bottom of what had taken place. Having announced his decision before Della went to bed, she worried what would happen if her parents found out about her friendship with the priests. As expected, a sleepless night was had by all.
Vikram, with Della by his side, climbed the stairs up to the front doors of the temple. The sun was momentarily out and the scent of incense rose from the opening, the soft blue smoke skewered by shards of sunlight that found their way in from the roofline above. Vikram and Della removed their sandals and bowed respectfully, their hands flat together in a prayer posture. As Della bent forward, she noticed a bronze statue of Ganisha with gilded ornaments, to her left. Then her attention was taken by a lone figure approaching.
‘Welcome,’ said Bhura, the most senior of the priests.
‘Please follow me.’
He turned and walked to the side of the open temple and into a small counselling room. Della saw Rampal, standing in the shadows and she bowed to him as she passed.
Please sit down,’ said Bhura in a most congenial voice.
Vikram and Della sat down on two large cushions on the floor, and Bhura sat opposite them.
‘It is not Della’s birthday yet, too early for the blessing.’
‘No Bhura. We are here for some advice,’ began Vikram.
‘On Scripture?’ he asked.
Vikram hesitantly began to explain. ‘Our Della has become a celebrity, overnight.’
‘Ah, we have heard,’ replied Bhura, sitting cross-legged, the cascading folds of his orange robe across his short, thickset legs. ‘But this is no surprise. Della is a special girl. She is very smart.’
Della’s heart nearly stopped, thinking that Bhura was about to tell her father what she’d been doing at the temple.
‘But surely, knowing these kinds of things isn’t normal?’
said Vikram, wanting some support for his concern. Bhura grinned.
‘Perhaps Della has been blessed with sight. This can only be good, Vikram. What are you worried about?’
‘The villagers think she is a saviour. She is a twelve-year-old girl. They’re calling her ‘Pavitra Muuri’,’ he added.
Bhura chuckled. ‘Like the roots of a small plant, the thing that sustains it. Your daughter is blessed. It’s a flattering name. I like it.’
Bhura stood up. ‘My friend Vikram, you are a good man and father. Your daughter has been honoured and I think that you should be proud of her. There is nothing for concern here. Our little Della has a different path perhaps. Support her with love. That is my advice.’
Vikram and Della rose to their feet and bowed respectfully. ‘Thank you for your time,’ said Vikram, as he turned and headed for the front door. Della followed her father but as she reached the doorway, looked back. Bhura gave her a wink, then a smile filled with warmth and admiration. Della returned the smile and then caught up to her father.
Nothing was ever the same again.
Each morning flowers appeared at the entrance to their tiny home, and when Della passed people in the street they would bow. Della had been thrust into the spotlight, with a reputation that simple gossip had increased to the point of omnipotence. While Della’s parents were at work she was overwhelmed with people asking for her advice, on all sorts of matters. At first Della responded by telling them to go to the temple, she was but a twelve-year-old girl. But her modesty was ignored and soon it was she, out of desperation, who fled to the temple.
‘Rampal, what am I to do? The people won’t leave me alone, they want me to answer all of their questions.’
‘The door has been opened, Della. You must find it in your heart to answer them. We know that you can. These are difficult times and the people need something, someone to hold on to. They need their faith restored.’
Della began to cry. ‘I am just a little girl. Why must this all be on my shoulders?’ she sobbed.
Rampal brushed the hair from her face. ‘Responsibility is weighted by our view of it. Share what you can and the burden of responsibility will feel far less. There is calmness within you that you must nourish, Della. You will need to let this happen for your own sake. We cannot avoid the path that has been chosen for us.’
‘I suppose you’re right, but it is difficult to have so much attention.’
Della soon left and walked slowly back through the village, the path before her cleared by the villagers, bowing earnestly as she passed. Suddenly, far beyond her and coming from the river, the sounds of a raucous crowd took her attention. Villagers were dashing past her on the way down toward the river, where a fleet of small boats gathered in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes, filled with cheering people. They were throwing flowers in the air and waving their arms excitedly.
As Della drew nearer, Hussein appeared from the gathering, running toward her. ‘It is a miracle Della! You are the chosen one! Come and see!’ he shouted, grabbing her by the hand and leading her down to his small boat.
‘Where are we going?” she asked, confused.
She climbed in and sat at the end of the boat while Hussein began to row to the other side of the river. Villagers too were boarding the tiny boats, as many as they could get into each one, and rowing frantically across to the other side like a tiny armada.
All the way people were praying and reciting mantras, the babble of their voices disconcerting. As the boats arrived at the shoreline, the crowd went ashore and ran to the top of a hill that overlooked the barley fields beyond.
As they all reached the top, an ominous silence descended on the crowd, who stood motionless, transfixed. Della pushed her way through and finally saw what they were looking at. She felt numb all over, unable to speak.
In the middle of the barley field below, about a hundred feet across was Della’s name etched out of the crop in perfect Hindi lettering. Around the name, not a stalk was bent, all in perfect condition, yet her name appeared as if stamped into the field. There was no tangible explanation.
‘It is a miracle!’ someone shouted, the people dropping to their knees and bowing in homage.
When Della finally turned her attention from the field, she realised the people were facing her, worshipping her. At her feet sat an old woman with but one tooth in her head. She smiled broadly, her aged skin cracked and weathered.
‘You are our chosen one, my dear. Lord Brahma, the creator, has given you to us,’ she said, leaning forward and placing her forehead gently over Della’s feet.
Della looked upward; the clouds above her were swirling strangely, rejoicing in their usual loud and profound silence. She closed her eyes, hoping that this was a dream. But it most definitely wasn’t.
Suddenly Della found herself on the shoulders of two men, being carried back to the boats. Flowers were draped over her head in connected strands, wild flowers being thrown about like confetti. The people were chanting over and over ‘Pavitra Muuri! Pavitra Muuri!’ as she was placed into a long narrow barge, with several rowers and buckets of multicoloured blooms.
The chanting travel carelessly across the Yamuna River, blending with the wind into a symphony that echoed from the waters edge across to the other side and beyond into the city.
Soon the crowd on shore had swollen into the hundreds and the chanting turned into an earth-trembling boom. Della was overwhelmed, an unstoppable smile etched across her tiny face. The people seemed so happy and joyful; it was difficult not to feel the same, to be swept away by this spontaneous fervour. But it was she who was being revered, and not someone else.
As they drew closer to the bank, she saw Vikram and Mala, her parents, standing there waving madly, having been drawn into this impromptu celebration. Della could see the confusion on her father’s face and felt a sudden pang of guilt, of which she had little understanding. She’d done nothing wrong.
After climbing out of the barge, she walked over to her parents. ‘I have done nothing Mama, Papa. I promise,’ she said in a slight voice. Her Mother drew her into the safety of her arms and as Vikram tried to absorb what was happening, people were draping flowers over them as well, praising their connection to ‘Pavitra Muuri’.
‘They say it’s a miracle, Papa. My name has been etched out of the barley. They all think it’s a sign,’ Della cried, her voice barely heard above the continuous chanting and well wishing of the crowd around them.
‘We should go home,’ said Vikram. ‘Before this gets further out of hand.’
With Della still entwined in her mother’s arms, the three pushed through the jubilant gathering and on toward their home. When they arrived, the crowd had thankfully begun to scatter, people eventually leaving for their own homes.
‘Come and sit down Della. What is all this about? We are your parents, surely you can tell us. We just want what’s best for you,’ explained Vikram.
Della looked up at both of them, with reticence in her eyes, unsure of what she should tell them. Then, as if letting go of all concern, she began to explain.
‘I am but a young girl, who asked for none of this, but I cannot keep it to myself any longer. When I was in the rainforest at Chandigar, something frightened me, as you know Papa…It was a voice that startled me.’
‘But who?’ asked Mala.
‘That is the most difficult part, Mama. The voice came from a plant.’
There was a portentous silence for some time, each looking at the other without the capacity to form words. Then finally…
‘What do you mean?’ asked Vikram, confused.
‘For some reason, some plants can communicate with me, and they have told me things that …well, that I must do.’
‘But plants can’t talk, Della. There must be something wrong,’ said Mala, deeply concerned.
‘That’s not all,’ Della said sheepishly.
‘What more could there be?’ replied Mala; her head now buried under both hands.
‘You see, the clouds can tell me about life, what has happened and what will happen, unless we take more responsibility for our world.’
Not a word was uttered in response. Both Vikram and Mala were in shock. It wasn’t just the absurdity of what Della had explained, but it was she, a twelve-year-old girl explaining it, that was the real concern.
Della began to weep. ‘I have kept a secret from you too. I am so sorry, but I had to do it to protect Rampal.’
‘What secret?’ asked Vikram, his mind a wash with possibility.
‘I have been seeing Rampal from the temple, for private tuition, for nearly two years. He has taught me to read and write and told me much about the holy writings and the world,’ she explained, sobbing profusely.
Again Mala took her into her arms and gently stroked her brow. ‘I’m so sorry we couldn’t afford school, Della. If I had known that you were so interested, we could have done something.’
‘It’s not your fault Mama. I used to ask questions of the priests, I just wanted to know things. In the end Rampal helped me, in his own time. But please do not tell Bhura. I don’t want Rampal to get into trouble.’
‘No of course not. Your secret is safe with us.’
‘Perhaps the secret is out,’ suggested Vikram. ‘It seems that you have followers, and many of them.’
‘It is the last thing that I wanted, Papa. But what can I do?’
That evening Della and her family were closer than they had ever been, and with all pretence dealt with, Della felt a great relief and the weight of her responsibility lessoned to a great extent.
As moonlight streamed into their tiny home and imbued every surface with a soft silver blue, Della climbed from her bed and slipped on her sandals. She crept out of the hut to the rhythmic sounds of her father’s snoring and made her way down to the river.
With the shimmering moonlight glistening across the still water, Della sat under the Banyan tree and quietened herself, sitting cross-legged, with her eyes closed.
‘It is their way, Della,’ a deep mellow voice resounded.
Della looked up at the old tree. ‘But why?’ she asked.
‘We are all grateful that finally someone has listened. The barley simply praises your quest.’
‘You mean the barley itself did that?’
‘Yes. For so long we have tried to tell your kind, tried to reach out to you so you might understand.’
‘I have heard my father speak of this. Patterns in fields, that can’t be explained,’ said Della.
‘Your human thinking so often, well… amusing. You humans call these happenings ‘crop circles’ and they continue to appear all over our planet. Your kind think that they are made by spacemen- aliens from other planets. The truth lies elsewhere.
The memory of our vast technology still exists within us, and so these designs have become our way to try to reach you, to communicate. They represent many aspects of life. Some mirror forms in nature, hybrids and life forms that we have created over the centuries. Some are like keys to understand this world you humans take so much for granted. You choose to think that mere plants could not have accomplished something like this, so you invent some mystical alien force. But Della, don’t you understand, it is you humans who are the aliens, the ones who do not want to fit, do not want to create harmony or exist in peace. There is a great irony here, don’t you think?’
‘This has now gained me notoriety, but surely I cannot change the thinking of an entire planet?’
‘That is where you are so wrong. Many humans have singularly changed the course of history. It has always been the course of politics, religious or spiritual beliefs that have made change possible, good and bad. You are young. This task has no deadline. We simply ask that you change the views of people, give them a broader understanding.
The natural balance doesn’t affect change. Earthquakes, famines, floods and many natural disasters take many human lives, but no-one relates this to balance, or the cause being a lack of it. So if no-one was to take any notice, then we had to have someone who understood, who could teach people the truth. This person had to be beyond politics, and religion, someone chosen and accepted by other humans. Della, this person is you. There is no-one else.’
A vast silence followed those words. Della stayed for some time, staring across the water and trying to fathom what life now had in store for her. Eventually she went home to bed, exhausted. What would tomorrow bring?