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OLD MAN WITH A FLOWING BEARD

Have you seen god' No, I have not. Nor do I believe that anyone at any time, past or present, has seen him. As for me, even if I come face to face with him, I would not recognize him. Were he to give me his visiting card and say, “I am god”, I would say in utter disbelief, “Tell me another”.

However there have been, and are today, people who claim to have seen him and give graphic descriptions of him. I am not talking of people who give airy-fairy answers like, “God is everywhere; you only have to have eyes to see him”, or as is more common now, “God is within you.” No X-ray of the human body shows the presence of anything resembling god. “God is truth; god is love,” say many others, as did bapu Gandhi. I do not know what truth and love look like — one is a principle of social behaviour, the other an emotion.

In our country most people believe in gods taking human form. There is, of course, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (creator, preserver and destroyer), but that is more of a concept of divinity than visible people. To many Rama was, and is, god. To others it is Krishna. Many believe Satya Sai Baba is god incarnate; others believe Osho was bhagwan. All were and are mortals, some have gone, others are on their way out. Yet everyone insists that god is immortal. I am baffled.

For whatever their worth, some people have given vivid descriptions of what god looks like. He is invariably portrayed as a patriarch with flowing snow-white beard, in his sixties or seventies. Did he age over the years or was he always an old man' Perhaps by depicting him as old the artist meant to convey wisdom and experience.

Some of the Old Testament prophets claimed to have seen god. Ezekiel describes him thus: “Above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it...and it had brightness round about. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”

Daniel added his own description: “The Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.” The poet-painter, William Blake, painted god as the venerable father of humanity.

Our sacred scriptures do not venture to depict god. Even Krishna’s self-portrait in the Gita, extolling his omniscience and omnipotence, does not describe his physical features. The one thing that all descriptions of divinity have in common is light, at its most dazzling.

There is also a charming description of god in Bhai Bula’s Janamsakhi (life story) of Guru Nanak, which scholars have spurned as spurious and written much after the guru. It describes god as a long-bearded old man draped in white clothes, sitting on an ornate charpoy, and surrounded by fat buffaloes bursting with milk — a peasant’s concept of a rich Punjabi zamindar.

Has any reader seen god in person' Will he care to enlighten me'

When it rains in the hills

There was a time when you could predict the arrival and departure of the monsoon with reasonable accuracy. First you heard the megha papeeha (monsoon bird) which flies ahead of the rain clouds. A few hours later the monsoon hit the Malabar and Konkan coast and proceeded on its triumphal march across the sub-continent like an army carrying black banners, hurling lightning to clear its way, and followed by the roll of drums, and rain.

The searing heat of summer gave way to a rain-sodden breeze. It was more pleasant to stay in the plains than in the mountains. I plan my summers to conform to nature’s calendar. I stay in Delhi in July and August, go up to Kas-auli in early September when the mou-ntains are well-washed and green, and the hillsides flecked with wild flowers.

So I left Delhi on September 1. Even before the Shatabdi Express had passed Sonepat (25 miles down the route), it began to rain and continued to pour all the way to Chandigarh. The Sidhus, Poonam and Karanjit, were to drive us (my daughter Mala was with me) to Kasauli to spend the afternoon and evening with us. The downpour washed out their plans. Poonam had brought food and drink meant for four. My daughter and I ate it for four days.

We were not the only people to be fooled by the weather. There was heavy uphill traffic on the Chandigarh-Shimla road, right into the heart of Kasauli. So instead of sitting out in the garden under the shade of the Toon, and gazing into the blue heavens, I spent the first few days indoors by the fireside, wrapped up in a shawl, wishing I was back in Delhi.

Locked up indoor all day and all night can be boring beyond endurance. I want company, not necessarily human company because humans are demanding and talk too much. I found exactly what I was looking for. From one end of the garden I often saw a young couple, a jamadar and his strapping wife, sitting on a charpoy with a black goat and a fluffy black-and-white dog of no pedigree. They made a perfect picture of contentment. The dog, actually a bitch, often went through my garden.

My attempts to get her to sit by me were ignored. The one evening when the rains stopped and I was back in my garden, I saw a tiny pup, black-and-white, fluffy and of no pedigree, stumbling along and shivering in the cold. I picked it up and cuddled it in my shawl. It looked up with its shiny black eyes to ask who I was. I rubbed its ears gently. It licked my hand to say thank you, made sweet moaning sounds, stopped shivering and fell asleep. There are few experiences more gratifying than to have a child fall asleep in one’s arms.

Then its mother came along and I put it down on the ground. She scolded her pup for allowing strangers to take liberties with it and led it back home to the black goat and the young master and mistress. It didn’t take me much to persuade them to give me the puppy as soon as it was weaned. He spends an hour every evening in my lap nibbling at my cardigan buttons, pawing my hands and nipping my fingers with its pin-sharp teeth. I look forward to its evening visits. He is a good listener and never talks back. It is a boy and I gave it the name, Billoo. When I go back to Delhi he will stay with the housekeeper. When I return to Kasauli next spring, he will be full grown and the protector of my little villa.

My constant companions, ever since I started coming to Kasauli, are a family of spiders. They live apart in three bathrooms. I have no phobia about spiders. So I never disturb them. But I am curious to know why they stay in dark, smelly bathrooms and what they live on. They do not spin webs to catch files or other insects; in any case there aren’t any. They hardly ever move from their chosen spots on the wall; and when they do, they only scamper along to some place where they cannot be seen. However, one evening I spotted one along the seat of my WC. I didn’t want to chance being bitten on my bum: some spiders are known to be venomous. I brushed it aside with a newspaper before I lowered my bare bottom on the seat.

My curiosity was aroused. Back in my study, I consulted my book on insects. Lo and behold, it said spiders are not insects at all but only insect-like. Insects have three parts — head, thorax and abdomen; spiders have only two — four pairs of legs and no antennae. “Okay,” I said to them, “You are no miserable insects, but belong to the species arachnida, but what on earth do you live on' Where and how do you breed' Do you have predators that live on you'” One day I hope to solve the mystery of the webless spider and the vagaries of the monsoon. I must also find out why Kasauli has no fire-flies (jugnu) but lots of glow-worms.

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