The Monk in the Rain

March 10, 2013

Fiction

windswept_Pino_Daeni

Painting by Pino Daeni

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with March, the onset of summers since early days. The weather in that small patch of year is just perfect, neither hot nor cold and rarely wet. The air is fragrant with panicles bursting on mango trees. Gusts of wind sweep the fallen leaves aimlessly amidst rhythmic calls of koels. Fields rustle with yellow green wheat just beyond the towns, mile after mile.

As children, we were fervently flipping back and forth the well worn text books of the year, preparing for the final tests. Cooped up in our studies we were forever stooping over our desks in lamplight, racing against the clock to brush up each chapter one last time. But as soon as the annual trials were over, we disappeared in the grove of trees surrounding our village to play souped-up versions of cricket, hockey and hopscotch.

A mile from our house there was a mango orchard lined with dense, dark trees.  It was guarded by a dwindling family of black-faced langurs apt in conducting swift trials of trespassers. My discovery of their love for glucose biscuits was accidental and one that earned me free rights to the precincts. I had discovered a tall slanting tree with a bough that branched off like a recliner, in the orchard’s depths. It had become my favourite abode and I often sat there for hours, reading spy novels that were banned at home. I would pedal my way in those dreamy years, armed with contraband paperbacks hugging my stomach under the shirt. It was there that I discovered my first shades of grey when Vikrant, the incorrigibly romantic spy, he who was born to court women, rescued his voluptuous Chinese counterpart Mei-Hua from the hidden chambers of a monastery standing in the middle of a forest on a mountain slope. What followed afterwards under the stately pines blushed me to the roots of my hairs.

The ghost of backbreaking work has faithfully followed me in my sordid, lowly adulthood. Being a small cog in a commercial bank has ensured that the month called March is black-holed to oblivion under unearthly goals and mandatory book closings. Recovering from the snafu in April one year, I travelled to my village where my parents still stood guard over the ancestral fields. I was introduced to Radha, a petite, ebony coloured young woman wrapped in a blue sari, intently staring at the floor. Her husband had perished on the roads somewhere when the lorry he was driving rammed into oncoming traffic. Her parents were farmhands who had traditionally worked in our fields, and it was quiet a transformation for the girl with dancing eyes and unruly hair when I had lived there as a boy.

I found an interesting monk with black flowing hair and dressed in saffron, sipping tea in the veranda with my father one evening. My mother clearly disapproved of him and kept grumbling under her breath while he stayed.  I was told he showed up in the evenings for the cup of tea with basil leaves and sometimes borrowed from the stack of religious scriptures that my father had collected over the years. The favour was returned with the odd basket of guavas, berries or mangoes. My interest piqued when I learned he lived in a shanty by the mango orchard, guarding it for the present owners.  The black-faced langurs had reportedly vanished many years ago.  Typical of my mother, all she would let me have was that somehow, Murali Das, as the monk was called, was a persisting thorn in the flesh of Bhura and his family, the farmhands.

Remembering the water-filled expanses across the orchard, I slung my camera across my shoulder and proceeded on foot to the childhood haunt one morning. It was a windy day and the trees were swaying moodily, their leaves rustling hard in a ceaseless chant. The sun shone on and off through the gray-brown flotilla of clouds and I hoped to capture a good crop of images for keepsakes. The orchard lay by a dusty path across the pitch road to the north. Soon, I was standing in the thick of trees and it didn’t take me long to find out my beloved one. It seemed to have withered, poor thing, its canopy merely a shadow of its former self. A steady stream of ants was hurriedly moving across the slanting trunk.

Suddenly, the rumbling above grew deeper and there were intermittent thunderclaps too. The wind had picked up speed and trees were shedding leaves and buds mimicking the showers that would follow.  Before long, fat drops of rain began pattering the canopy and the heavenly smell of moistening earth rose thickly to halt my reveries. I closed my eyes and inhaled the aroma for a long minute before I remembered the camera. Realising I had precious few moments before the expensive gadget would get drenched inside the flimsy pouch I was carrying, I dashed towards a small cabin with corrugated tin roof at the edge of the orchard. Even as I was scrambling towards it, I noticed the tiny door open for a trice before it snapped shut again and I was sure a bearded face had flashed through it.

Cursing myself for not carrying weatherproof gear, I started knocking the door with urgency but it seemed nothing in face of the uproar being caused by the wind and the trees. I wondered if the brief movement of the door I had seen was an illusion and the monk who purportedly lived in there had gone off somewhere. Soon, it was pouring with a force and my clothes were sticking to my back as water streamed down my legs. I tried to remain curled against the door with the camera pressed in between. I managed to stay in that position for the next fifteen minutes or so when the rain subsided as quickly as it had begun. And then the door to the cabin opened.

The ashen-faced monk stared blankly at me before he returned to life. He folded his hands and invited me in. Feeling sour, I almost turned away when I remembered his acquaintance with my father. I stepped in gingerly, stooping to avoid my head hitting the sill. As my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, I noticed a small figure huddled in a corner. Even though her face was half hidden in the veil she had worked out of her sari, I was quick to recognize Radha. ‘Bastard!’ I told myself quietly, pieces of the mystery falling in place. If it could be weighed, the silence was heavier than a hill. Eventually, I found my voice and asked the monk if he could spare a plastic bag for me, I was worried about the expensive DSLR I had recently invested in. He smiled and nodded, pulled out a black trunk from under the charpoy and started rummaging inside.

‘Sahib, you appear drenched. Do have a cup of tea.’ Radha was now directly looking at me. Then before I could answer, she started working up a kerosene stove on a tiny stool. The speed with which she proceeded to whisk up the tea suggested familiarity with the surroundings. The tea turned out much too sweet for my liking and it also had a whiff of kerosene but it left me feeling cheerful. I was also given a sturdy polythene bag and I carefully wrapped the camera in it and proceeded to leave.

The wind had dropped to a zephyr and stray drops of rain still touched my face. As I stood out of the cabin the monk folded his hands once more in a goodbye. Suddenly, I heard a commotion at my back and turned to see a group of four lunging towards us through the trees at great speed. I could make out Bhura and his son who was a spitting image of his father. There were two more rough looking men whom I didn’t know but who were probably wage workers like Bhura. They were all wielding sturdy bamboo sticks except Bhura who held a sickle, and they seemed to be in a foul mood. They were taken aback to find me there, nevertheless.

 ‘Namaste, Sahib-ji!’ Bhura bowed to me.

Namaste, Bhura!’ I said, wondering what was afoot. ‘Is there a problem?’

No one spoke for a few long moments.

‘Sahib, we are looking for Radha. Did you see her by any chance?’ His son blurted out eventually. He was gruff even though he meant to be polite.

‘Radha, your sister, right?’ I said slowly. ‘I think I saw her boarding a bus that went towards the town’.

‘When?’ many voices asked in a chorus.

‘I’d think it was an hour ago,’ I said, feigning to recollect.

Baba, the next bus will leave anytime now!’ The son addressed Bhura.

They seemed to huddle their heads momentarily before they left in a huff towards the pitch road. It was then that I realized that my heart was pounding loudly. As they vanished through the trees, I turned to look at the monk. His hands were already folded. His eyes were welling up fast.

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About umashankar

I am just a watcher then. Sometimes I watch life. Sometimes I watch death. Many times I watch in between...

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112 Comments on “The Monk in the Rain”

  1. asteria22 Says:

    for a while i was lost in my own village,what description and amazing story.

    Reply

  2. reekycoleslaw Says:

    You really do paint awesome pictures with your words. Really wonderful storytelling.
    While we city dwellers revel in the miseries of our so called problems, there are perhaps a million Radhas in the countryside right now, cowering with fear because the society doesn’t want them to find their Muralis.

    Reply

  3. dNambiar Says:

    Another great tale. I didn’t think it was fiction until more than half of the story. You almost got me worried about the DSLR that bumped into the rain. 🙂

    Thank you for that pleasant trip into a rainy day in the Indian countryside. You made my Sunday afternoon. 🙂

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Well, some of it actually happened! I’ve been caught in the elements, photography gear and all, quiet a few times.

      Many thanks for the thumbs up, Divya.

      Reply

  4. Arnab Maity Says:

    Fantastic narration! You had me glued throughout. I almost felt this was a narrative on your roots when the twist in the tale arrived. I don’t know if the monk was right or wrong, but you definitely gave a new life to Radha. Can we have a part two on this?

    Reply

  5. alkagurha Says:

    Incredibly visual. Took me to another world.

    Reply

  6. My Say Says:

    🙂 …ok.. i guess i have started feeling the depth of your creations .. a little more with every passing post . Well,I loved the twist ! the monk … in the rain …wow !! how you portrayed the real monk … i read it all and then i realized ….and the scary March of childhood …thankfully it does not haunt me anymore … I am not a banker 😀 nor an Accounting Expert ! 😀 very very nice …. contrary to a request above, I would say.. the tale was complete … the message was passed on .. a sequel may not be required … you are a pleasure reading sir … always ….as i write these words .. the story just revolving around !! amazing portrayal of the true monk of the moment !!

    Reply

  7. Personal Concerns Says:

    I enjoyed it immensely.It is interesting to note that intimacy, intimidation, intolerance, inebriation ( and I am sure so many more of these ‘in….s’) intertwine and overlap as emotional states, as events and then as narrations. This post is a brilliant example. What is intimidation on the one hand, resurfaces as secrecy and guilt on the other. The ensemble of psychological elements is often tough to present ‘as it is’. Such endearing writing is some exception indeed!

    Cheers!

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      That is an interesting psychological analysis. As a writer I try to project what is happening in the minds of the chatacters.

      Many thanks for your special compliment.

      Reply

  8. Nimsy Says:

    What an amazing tale! We seem to be on the same page (so to speak) today in our writing. Beautiful post!

    Reply

  9. Shaifali Says:

    Mr. Pandey,
    You are an awesome story-teller. I m floored with your vivid imagination, the bright hues u paint and the visuals u provide. Hats off!

    Enjoyed reading ur words…and I promise I will b regular now to read ur works.

    Regards,
    Shaifali

    Reply

  10. Nirvana Says:

    Mr. Pandey *clap! clap!* ….. for a long, long time after I finished reading the story, I walked through those words, again and again, like reviving the taste of something delicious from my childhood. Thank you for a breath of cool winds from my childhood. You will know what I mean if you read this 🙂 …. http://www.lafemmenirvana.blogspot.in/2009/09/growing-up-in-mango-orchard.html

    Reply

  11. Purnendu Singh Says:

    This is so amazing ! I loved the story 🙂

    Reply

  12. The Fool Says:

    As usual, your story had an ethereal feel and at the same time a real touch to it. Good to see you back at fiction.

    Reply

  13. Corinne Rodrigues Says:

    I got down to reading this just now, Uma and I’m still your village……you really transported your readers there. The descriptions – the emotions – the suspense – fantastic!

    Reply

  14. Barun Says:

    Excellent US. Your writing skills have simply left me expecting more from you. Right now I am going through your previous posts. Your style transcends to another level. Happy to have discovered a new U S Pandey. This was hidden from us all along. I still remember your article in the Mint some years back.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      I am glad you discovered my true self, sir! I have always been a lover of words. The marionette you know that is tugged around in a bank is a façade to keep my family going. 😀

      I hope you enjoy my feeble scribblings.

      Reply

  15. JayadevM Says:

    My friend,

    I loved your twisted tale … of a monk who turned out to be a punk! I had sensed something was amiss while reading the portion where you introduced the man.

    Lovely images you have created of the village and the mango grove. It would transport most middle-aged or older folks to their birthplace or ancestral home – the generation that is growing up today will never be able to relate to that feeling/

    I was reminded of a recent visit to my mom’s birthplace. Where there used to be a huge mango tree is now a sunlit void – mom has told us innumerable tales of the games she, her siblings and cousins used to play in its cool shade and the mangoes they plucked from its generous boughs each year. All gone when the tree succumbed to someone’s greed.

    The hero’s protective instinct did not restrict itself to welfare of the camera; it seemed to encompass all of mankind, including the unworthy souls. Enjoyed the last segment of the story a lot for the interplay and contrasts.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Jayadev, the Omega generation adept at squandering wads of currency notes for a few daintily wrapped mangoes cannot even start imagining the joys of trees and orchards. We are a vanishing race just like those trees and the serene countryside. Those fruits, those shades, the innumerable games, swings under the leaves rustling in winds serenaded by cackling of birds have passed into the realms of wistful dreams.

      That was a magnanimous conclusion of your detailed overview. A million thanks for the exhilarating feedback!

      Reply

  16. Damyanti Says:

    The setting reminds me of my grandma’s village, which had a mango orchard of its own. You have a way of making scenes vivid with your words, and I liked the fine-strung tension you created for us at the end.

    Reply

  17. kavita Says:

    Brilliant as always!

    Reply

  18. iancochrane Says:

    A beautiful story US, with your usual magic. The plot weaves wonderfully; pictures ‘tween present & past, culminating in the white lie ending which is just enough.
    Cheers, ic

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Ian, I cannot even begin telling what the approval of a master storyteller himself means to me. My labours seem to have borne fruits after all! Thanks, from the bottom of my heart!

      Reply

  19. nothingprofound Says:

    Uma, I was absolutely enthralled by your descriptions in this story. The first paragraph already set the tone for the colorful tale that followed. I was completely transported by your vivid images to another time, another place, so foreign to my own experience, and yet so painfully poignant and real.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      NP, it is comforting to know the story had the desired effect right from the beginning. That said, the reader’s imagination is equally crucial in the process. Thanks for the high words of praise. Makes me so happy!

      Reply

  20. Jas Says:

    Wonderful narration. and beautifully painted the story with words.

    Reply

  21. kayemofnmy Says:

    Really enjoyed that, Uma. When you went, “Bastard” my sentiments seemed to echo yours. Then, from a lech taking advantage of a young widow you deftly turned it into a consensual love story. Glad your story gave her another chance at happiness. Do write a sequel.

    Reply

  22. Amit Says:

    Your stories have this incredible ability to make the reader forget his surroundings. I am glad that it was a happy ending for the lovers.

    Reply

  23. Helena Fortissima Says:

    What a gorgeous story, Uma. I especially loved the way you described those wondrous, lazy summertime days of youth…I remember them well. You’ve written so often about mango trees that now, I really want to see, smell, and touch one! Your writing really draws a reader in; you capture moments in time with such rich detail.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Helena, those wondrous, lazy summertime days of yore have slipped into realms of dreams that we keep reminiscing about wistfully.

      Going by the horrendous rate at which the serenity and greenery of villages is being crushed, soon even we will be yearning to see those magical trees out here. Mercifully, they would be still around while we live. So, if you are planning to set foot on this patch of earth, we will ensure that you see, smell, touch and even clamber up a mango tree and taste the luscious fruits!

      Thank you for your kind words. I am happy I could draw you in.

      Reply

  24. themoonstone Says:

    Wow ! Is that a true story ? If it was not, it really felt like it. Loved the way you described it. Your description of the village was too good as it really transported me there.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Moonstone, there is often a biographical whiff in most stories one writes and may we leave it at that? 😉 Glad to have transported you -the pleasure is mine!

      Reply

  25. Nomad Says:

    A wonderful story, beautifully written, US. I was transported to the fields and orchards under that early April sky for those few minutes, and reluctantly landed back to my dreary reality. What it made me feel I can only express in my broken Portuguese, because I don’t have the word for saudade in English.
    Tenho saudades de alguma coisa…talvez o passado, talvez a minha casa …

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Nomad, it’s an honour to have teleported you to the fields and orchards under that early April sky. I wish I could slip a Babel fish in my ear to understand what you say. I have approached Sir Google and he murmured of despondence, a pining.

      There are times when that thing we call home passes into illusion.

      Reply

  26. Lazy Pineapple Says:

    You have a way with words. I was mesmerised throughout the narration. The description of the hot summer days is so apt, I actually could feel the taste of raw mangoes in my mouth.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      I am so happy to have captured your attention, LP. True, those who have savoured raw mangoes will never ever forget the sensation. Welcome to my tiny space!

      Reply

  27. Subroto Says:

    Loved it! Such a lovely start, almost like a paean to childhood memories, and then the dynamics of another story to reel the reader in.

    Reply

  28. MUKESH Says:

    The month called March has again arrived for unearthly goals and mandatory book closings. But you story has inspired me not to miss April this year and visit my village to revisit my memories of childhood.

    Reply

  29. C. Suresh Says:

    I’m late on this Uma and, this once, glad to be so. I did not realize till I read the comments that it was fiction – thought it was a real life experience. You paint such a vivid description of life that first the reader is transported to the situation – sights, smells and all – and then ends the reading regretting not having experienced it in real life.

    As an aside, I suppose most readers in their youth have had to hide the books under the shirt 🙂

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Suresh, it is said that once a story is written, it belongs to the readers. You are free to interpret is as fact or fiction. It’s interesting to note you identified with the part about hiding the book under the shirt! 🙂

      Reply

  30. Dark Knight Says:

    Wow, that was quite a vividly painted story, UmaShankar. You had my attention glued on the screen throughout. This could easily be made into a hit movie!

    Reply

  31. milex Says:

    Love for sure.

    Reply

  32. indrani Says:

    Virtual transport through words.
    Great read.

    Reply

  33. gc1963 Says:

    Well a magnificent drama,, undoubtedly, except if you’d allow me to speak my mind, the end. I thought the hero in you would point a finger at the culprit instead I find that odd male bonding …perhaps I am looking for the stereotypical or yet not ready to accept the patriarchal entente…

    A masterpiece,,,a lingual treat…literally!

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      I believe in the maxim that once the story is told, it belongs to the readers. You are welcome to interpret and enjoy it the way you wish.

      Thanks for the words of praise.

      Reply

  34. Peter Galen Massey Says:

    Very nice. I grew up in a very different world … my family is from Updike’s “Rabbit” country, down to the furniture and knick-knacks. We didn’t have Harry Angstrom’s particular problems, however, and thank goodness.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Peter, I can put a world around your visage now, thanks to that revelation. And I am sure you are not ‘just one more piece of the sky of adults’! 🙂

      I am glad you dabbled in the monk’s world and approved.

      Reply

  35. Jyothi Says:

    WOW! This was such a beautiful piece of writing. Such posts make me feel glad that I have started reading blogs again. 🙂

    Reply

  36. Marylin Warner Says:

    Your experience with March is quite different than ours in Colorado. You writing is deliciously real, very visual and rich.
    Lovely post.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Mother Earth is redolent with a million hues. God willing, someday I’ll savour Colorado too. Meanwhile, I try and put forth this patch of land. Thank you, Marylin!

      Reply

  37. Jyoti Mishra Says:

    You pick everything from here and there and braid it all together beautifully. Everyone feel like connecting with the story at some point 🙂
    Awesome read as ever !!

    Reply

  38. antarakundu Says:

    This is the best blog post I’ve come across in quite some time, at least in terms of literary quality. You have great storytelling skills, your choice of words is awesome – and they render to your writing the qualities of an artwork. I’m glad to have discovered this blog, Umashankar :).

    By the way, I’m very much a part of “the Omega generation adept at squandering wads of currency notes for a few daintily wrapped mangoes cannot even start imagining the joys of trees and orchards.” – and your story made me realize the worth of what we’ve missed.

    Reply

  39. gardenerat60 Says:

    You have taken me back to my childhood village and those mango orchards.

    A beautiful story told in simple words, with powerful meaning conveyed effortlessly. Loved it.

    Reply

  40. rajnisinha Says:

    So vivid a writeup (story )Umashankar ji ——felt almost as if I was watching a movie .

    Reply

  41. maliny Says:

    I am late to read such a brilliant post! I love any form of writing that delves into the richness of our country side and yours is one of the few blogs which i read earnestly, word to word. Glad to have not missed this post 🙂

    Reply

  42. Big D Says:

    Elegant as always.

    Reply

  43. nabadip Says:

    awesome storytelling!
    the narration is superb:)

    Reply

  44. sajanrajagopal Says:

    I have nothing to tell you about the narration or the picture you paint through your words because I simply deem myself a fan of your writing. However I do have one piece of criticism which I personally observed. I did not find the picture accompanying this great story to my liking. It simply did not match the picture I envisioned. It might just be me but hey, no harm in telling you I guess! Keep up the flow. Going to read the next part now…

    Reply

  45. chaitanyavs Says:

    Love your description of everything, the village and its people are so vivid! I do wonder how the protagonist decided to put himself in a tight spot in order to save the monk and his girl, so quickly. I feel there should be something that compels him to do so.

    Reply

  46. Sabyasachi Patra Says:

    You reminded me of my village. Your descriptions are awesome. The scenes flash infront of my eyes. Wish I can capture such detailed imagery through my lens. I seriously wonder how the protagonist can cook up a lie that Radha was last seen in the bus stop. If I am confronted with such a situation, and even if I want to save the woman (as I can’t think of any reason to save the fraud monk), I am not sure if I can lie. And if I want to lie, I don’t know whether I would have the presence of mind to think of an alternate answer.

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Sabyasachi, if only I could equal with my pen what you do with your lens, I’d be moving places! I feel great that you could relate with it so.

      As for the protagonist’s piety and presence of mind, maybe it actually happened to someone! 🙂

      Reply

  47. jerseylil Says:

    Quite a tale and beautifully written, Umashankar! I can just picture you as a young boy sitting up in that mango tree reading (I happen to love mangoes, but of course, where I live, no mango trees), and excellent that you later found your beloved tree again visiting as an adult. Incredible about the monk, Radha, and that March day in the rain. The way you described it, I could picture it all so vividly. What you did for them came from the heart! (And I sure hope the others didn’t come back later!)

    Btw, years ago I worked at two different major banks so could relate to being “a small cog in a commercial bank.” I want to add that you choose lovely images to go with your posts!

    Reply

    • umashankar Says:

      Madilyn, you seem to have liked the story and the images it carries well. I am glad I struck a chord with you with that banker thing. 🙂 Many thanks for the kind words.

      Reply

  48. susielindau Says:

    This is such a great story! I was swept up in your narrative.
    Thanks so much for stopping by the Wild Ride!

    Reply

  49. barbtaub Says:

    Susie sent me and I’m so glad she did! (I’ve been travelling for a day without wifi access, so I apologize for late post.) This is a beautifully written story. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    Reply

  50. The Regular Guy NYC Says:

    Dropping by from Susie’s party. This is a terrific story. I enjoyed your writing style.

    Reply

  51. lbeth1950 Says:

    I really like looking at this story from a different angle. Masterful. Descriptive language is very good. All your characters were very sympathetic. Liked that the mother shielded Rhada.

    Reply

  52. derrickjknight Says:

    A lovely, intriguing story, beautifully, descriptively, written.

    Reply

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