Excerpt 5 - The Secret Doctrine of Clouds
Excerpt 5 – The Secret Doctrine of Clouds
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Della awoke to the sounds of a heated discussion, and as her eyes cleared she realised that a priest was standing at their front door, arguing with Vikram, her father.
‘She must come,’ the priest pleaded. ‘His eminence is expecting her.’
Della sat up in bed. ‘Who wants me?’ she asked.
‘You have been sent for by the chief priest of the city temple, ‘ explained Vikram.
‘It’s all right, I’ll go,’ she replied, rising stiffly to her feet.
‘Then I’m going too,’ said Vikram, still put out.
‘You go to work Mala. Tell them I’ll be late.’
Mala nodded and Della went with her father and the young priest, heading for the city centre.
The temple was massive, adorned with many carvings and images of the Hindu trinity- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Much gold, intricate latticework and finely decorated ceramics glistened in a haze of incense smoke, with a sombre silence purveying the serenity of this holy temple.
They walked to a side chamber where a robed priest sat cross-legged on a large square plinth, adorned with intricately carved edges with mother-of-pearl inlays and gilding.
‘Please sit down,’ he said in a calm yet direct voice.
‘I am Sri Chand, chief priest of this temple. I have heard much about you, ‘Pavitra Muuri’. Please, come and sit by my side.’
Della looked to her father, embarrassed and slightly unsure, but then sat nervously by the priest.
He was an old man in his eighties, thin and gaunt-faced, his sinewy arms like strands of skin all tied together, reached out for Della’s hand, his bony fingers like long gnarled twigs.
‘Ah, yes,’ he said. ‘I see it.’
He turned to Vikram. ‘Your daughter is a special child, Sir. Her path is unusual: I have never seen this before. It is not up to us, the path that is chosen, but it is up to us how we respond to it, to accept or reject. I have a sense that Della is ready to accept her fate,’ he said with a smile.
‘It is all but impossible to reject that which we cannot control,’ replied Vikram.
The priest smiled, understanding his fatherly concern. ‘You are right of course, fate has a way of sweeping us away. Again, it is Della who shall decide her way within this path. So what do you say, my dear?’
Della looked at her father and then back at the priest. ‘There are things that I must do, I know that now. But what people believe and what they do is not something that I can control.’
‘Della, you can have a great influence on people. They believe in you, that is true, and how that came about is of no consequence, but there is a burden of responsibility here. Are you ready for that?’ he asked.
Della looked up at his kind face and smiled. ‘I must be.’
‘Then we will help you in any way that we can. Lord Vishnu is by your side, and I praise God that you are here for your people. Oh, I also hear that a local priest has been helping you.’
Della felt a sudden cold rush flood her body. ‘It was my fault…’
‘No Della, Rampal is to be praised for his insight. We have rules and traditions, but sometimes there is good reason to follow your heart.’
‘Oh thank you. I would never want Rampal to get into trouble; he has been so kind to me.’
‘It has been a real pleasure to meet you both. I’m sure we will meet again,’ finished Sri Chand.
‘Thank you for your encouragement,’ said Vikram, rising to his feet and bowing politely.
Della leaned forward and kissed the priest’s feet. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered. Della stood up and followed her father out into the central area of the temple. With a proud father by her side, Della walked slowly outside into the sunlight.
Four years drifted by and Della’s reputation grew as she helped her people, told the village of impending troubles and helped individuals on many matters. From moral problems, customs and even religion, she helped her people and gained unprecedented knowledge with the continued support and teachings of Rampal.
Della had grown into a beautiful young woman, and had it not been for her unusual and respected notoriety, she would have been flooded with proposals of marriage. But her childhood was not in any way normal, and the path of deciding her future, expected dowries and even caste considerations, had been thrown aside. Della had become almost a deity within her village and her reputation had extended to many city inhabitants.
However, the day following her sixteenth birthday, after a massively supported blessing at the local temple, families began to approach Vikram, seeking meetings to discuss Della’s future and possible marriage to their respective sons. Even more pressure now fell on this young woman’s shoulders.
‘But Della, you must consider your future,’ pleaded Vikram.
‘Papa, my work takes such a toll on me. Having to consider a husband now is not what I need.’
‘Della, your father and I just want you to be happy,’ explained Mala. ‘Don’t you want children, have a partner to share your life?’
‘Yes, of course I do. But an arranged marriage now is not what I want. I can’t say any more about it,’ she said, fleeing into the streets, the pressure intolerable.
Again Della sat under the old Banyan tree and peered up into an intricate montage of branches above. ‘You are such a comfort to me,’ she said.
‘And you are the voice of a billion souls,’ whispered the tree.
‘With you we are one, Della. What you have achieved is astonishing and each step you take on this earth is blessed from beneath you. Each living being bows in reverence because of what you are doing, what you understand. But there is still much to do.’
Della turned, hearing a twig break behind her. She was met with a beautiful round face beaming with glistening white teeth.
‘Devi, I’m so glad you are here,’ she said. ‘Sit down; talk to me.’
‘I’ve missed you,’ said Devi. ‘You work too much.’
Della giggled. ‘Far too much. How are your parents?’
Devi lowered his rotund body to the ground with a thud, and sat cross-legged opposite her, still with remnants of that infectious grin.
‘I think they’d be happier if I were gone,’ he replied, the smile slowly fading from his face.
‘Don’t be silly. They love you, Devi.’
‘I should leave them, find somewhere else to live.’
‘But you’d have to work, earn money.’
Devi lowered his head thoughtfully. ‘Who would give me a job?’
‘Don’t talk like this, Devi. You know I love you,’ she said.
‘I know. My father wanted me to work with him, but I can’t count, write, or do anything. I am nothing to him.’
Della moved closer and put her slender arm around his massive shoulders. ‘I’ll always be here for you. You know that,’ she said, as Devi leaned his head down on to her shoulder.
‘Our old friend here still loves you,’ she whispered.
Devi grinned and looked up into the huge explosion of leaf-laden branches. ‘You still care, old tree?’
‘You are my friend,’ said the old Banyan.
Devi giggled that familiar, naive giggle.
‘See, that makes you feel better,’ said Della, running her fingers through his thick black hair.
Over the next two weeks Della sat through two family gatherings in discussions of possible marriage. The first was Indra’s family, a meeting that she cared never to remember. Her refusal was met with an accepted silence from her parents. The second was a family that held large plots of farming land and that showed real promise as a suitable family for Della’s future. The Sen family was well respected and their son Yadav was well educated and held a business position in the city. Being of Thakurs caste this possible match was unexpected and not the norm, but Della’s position and reputation meant much more than her father’s dowry or anything else for that matter.
Vikram and Mala were impressed with the parents and felt that this match was more than worthwhile for Della’s future.
Della sat on her bed looking down pensively, feeling torn between what felt right for her parents and what she wanted. Marriage was important for a young woman, to have a secured future with promise of a better life. But for Della, life was more about internal peace and less about the physical world. Four years of service to her people had developed in her a real need for spiritual balance, and although arranged marriage was her tradition, the reality felt far from right for her.
Mala walked over and sat down next to her daughter. Taking Della’s hand in hers, she looked into her dark eyes and sighed. ‘You must deal with this, Della. The Sens are good people and Yadav is a fine young man with a promising future.’
‘I know Mama. I’m sure he is…but I have my work and…’
‘Della, your father and I won’t be around forever. You are our only child and we have no other family in Delhi, not even close. What if something were to happen to us?’
Della looked at her mother and smiled warmly. ‘Can I think about it, please?’
‘Of course you can. I’ll leave you alone,’ said Mala, patting her consolingly on the hand and heading off to wash some clothing by the river.
Della fell back on to her bed and looked out of the window. The little vine was now a fully grown plant that she’d already transplanted twice. Its long creeping branches and tendrils had attached themselves to the walls around the window and draped over the sill, and with its glossy vibrant green leaves, praised life by its very existence.
As her eyes concentrated on the sky above, Della noticed clouds forming, and she got up and went straight to the window. She focused on these ghost-like masses as they formed, then blurred, then formed again. As her whole being gave itself over to the clouds, she began to read and understand. Tears welled in her soulful eyes.
‘No…’ she muttered. ‘No.’
Tears streamed down her cheeks and she blinked to try to clear them, to keep reading. When the message was complete, Della was sobbing uncontrollably and rushed out into the street. As she ran, villagers bowed as always, but she saw none of them and when she reached the temples rear door, she turned and leaned back on to it, panting from exertion.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, she turned and hesitantly knocked. Moments later, Rampal opened the door and was all but bowled over by Della, who thrust herself on to him in a desperate embrace.
‘My goodness, what’s wrong?’ he asked, closing the door behind her. Della was sobbing, and unable to speak.
‘Come and we will sit, and you can tell me all about it. We will fix it, together,’ he said, encouragingly.
After some time, Della calmed herself and Rampal brushed the tears away from beneath her eyes.
‘It can’t be that bad,’ he said.
Della sniffled and wiped her face. ‘I’m sorry. The truth is never easy,’ she began.
‘Ah,’ said Rampal. ‘Do you want to tell me?’
‘I cannot. The burden is mine alone,’ she replied. ‘It is just…well…I give so much to people, help them however I can. You know how I’ve devoted myself to it. Sometimes, I want someone to help me, someone who knows better than I, sees more than I.’
Rampal smiled warmly. ‘It is often the most honoured wish that remains the furthest from our hands. This is the burden of sight, seeing what you alone can see and understand. Being able to see what will be for someone else is one thing, but seeing it for you or someone close, is another.’ Rampal paused.
‘You’ve seen something, something that you don’t want to happen?’
Della nodded- her face flushed and glistening.
‘Then this is for you to know and to deal with best you can. These insights are not just given to you for change, as much as you may want them to. Sometimes karma and indeed life will follow, and all you can do is to be prepared.’
Della looked up and tried to smile, but it fell way short and instead, her utter despair prevailed. She leaned forward and Rampal embraced her. ‘You’ll get through this. I have always had faith in you.’
A week later, as Della was returning from the markets, a silent gathering accosted her. This sea of knowing, smiling faces were not only unexpected, but also strangely unnerving. Not a word was spoken. First they were bowing with hands pressed together in prayer, as they had always done. But as she passed they followed, until, when she’d reached home, there were more than one hundred people gathered around her family home.
‘Why are you here?’ she asked. This sea of happy faces kept beaming at her but no-one said anything, until the crowd parted and Mr. Patwe appeared.
‘What is this about?’ she asked, feeling decidedly uncomfortable.
Suddenly four villagers carrying a long plank of wood decorated with flowers and streamers appeared.
‘Please Della, we have something to show you,’ said Mr. Patwe, gesturing for her to sit on the plank.
‘Go on Della, ascend your thrown!’ someone shouted, with the crowd giggling and cheering.
Della sat down on the plank and was immediately lifted, supported by the shoulders of four villagers. The procession then slowly moved along the street to a destination unknown to Della. The crowd were cheering enthusiastically, throwing flower petals and voicing their approval.
After what seemed like forever, the procession stopped in front of an old clay brick building with two columns, glass windows and a huge double door at its front. It looked a little like her local temple, but smaller. The building was closer to the city on the edge of the village. Mr. Patwe climbed the three steps up to the verandah of the building and raised both hands to silence the crowd.
‘Today is a day of thanks, to a young woman who has made her village proud. Please Della, join me?’
Della was lowered from her makeshift carriage and she stepped up and stood next to Mr. Patwe facing the crowd, not knowing what to expect.
Mt Patwe turned and faced her. ‘Della, you have meant so much to our village, and I know you have sacrificed so much for all of us. You have warned us, counselled us and cared for us when we needed it, and you have done this with no consideration for yourself. Now it is our turn to repay your kindness. Della, this home is now yours. The village has furnished it and it all now belongs to you, so you will never have to worry about these concerns. Your future is secure here with us, and we want you to find happiness here with your people.’
Della was shocked, and overwhelmed with emotion. ‘I don’t know what to say,’ she said shakily, bowing in a gesture of thanks, over and over. The crowd cheered and clapped enthusiastically as Mr. Patwe took Della inside her new home.
The house had four rooms all with glass windows and cushions on the tiled floor. Each room had a wooden door and the kitchen had a flue and pots and pans and clay vessels- everything that a home needed. There were even brass plates that were lovingly patterned by artisans and tin lanterns hung from the walls. In the central living area there was a carving of Vishnu ‘the maintainer’, and at its base a name was chiselled out in fine Sanskrit lettering- ‘Pavitra Muuri’. At the sight of it, Della burst into tears and buried her head into Mr. Patwe’s chest.
He smiled and gently patted her back. ‘You are our daughter too, Della. Bless you, my girl.’
Della eventually went outside and thanked the villagers for such an honour and then returned inside to speak with Mr. Patwe. He was not what she expected, having not ever had much to do with him. His business interests took up all of his time and poor Devi rarely saw him. Now, this man, whom she hardly knew, had somehow urged this huge act of generosity and she hardly knew why.
‘You know how much you have meant to Mrs. Patwe? She has found Devi difficult, but he listens to you.’
Mr. Patwe suddenly looked guilty. He was a slender but muscular man, slightly grey-haired and wore round metal-rimmed glasses. He had a pleasant face but wore a typical business scowl, the pressure of money and responsibility continually on his shoulders
‘I admit, I could have been a better father,’ he said. ‘But business and… well, not really business. You see Della, I always wanted a son, someone who one day would take over my business, keep it within the family. Of course when Devi was born, I was thrilled and so proud to have a son, and could imagine the company logo ‘Patwe & Son’. But when Devi should have been walking and he didn’t, we found out that he was brain damaged at birth. It was a difficult labour, and Mrs. Patwe never got over it. She still tires easily. And of course Devi, as he grew older, became such a handful. I am guilty for not helping more,’ he finished, with sadness in his voice.
‘But why are you telling me this?’ she asked, dumbfounded.
An hour later, Della returned home to greet her parents after work and to tell them what had happened. They were, as you would expect, ecstatic at such a show of faith and respect by their entire village. They were the proudest parents in the world, until Della told them about her decision.
After their evening meal, Della sat opposite her parents and began to explain.
‘Mama, Papa, I know this will be hard to understand, but I ask only that you listen to what I have to say and know that I have made my decision, and it is final.’
Vikram and Mala looked fleetingly at each other and then looked back to Della and hesitantly nodded in agreement.
‘I’m sure the Sen family are a good descent family and that Yadav will make a perfect husband, but it is not what I want. Please understand, but I want to marry Devi Patwe.’
There was a stunned silence.