Godly Shadows

By Kalyani Bindu

Jesus had always wanted to finish reading the Bible. Hebrew was not such a jovial language. He was intently drinking his phantom tea served in a minuscule Chinese ceramic cup, relentlessly fidgeting inside the air-starved interiors of his crucified wooden form in the cathedral. The mildly reeking concoction of wax blotches, crisp wine and fumes of burning incense wafting from the altar hovered around his head like some strange dance of scale-ridden fishes. He drank the phantom tea down to the last dregs and placed the cup on the wooden table in front. On it, dog-eared, perspiring from the stuffy heat and heavily thumbed at the yellowing edges of its coarse leaves, lay an ancient copy of the Bible. Jesus stretched his long legs, shook off a growing, biting cramp and sank further into the crumbly cushion of his half-a-throne-like chair.  He was too preoccupied to take another dig at the Bible. Far away, at the entrance of the cathedral, melted candles were being stowed away into a steel trolley and agarbhathi ashes were being swept into its under belly. The sky was afternoon-white.  A drunkard, delirious from his sumptuous morning swig, sat on the glazed marble steps mumbling a slogan, “Uyarattangane, uyaratte!”[1] (Let it rise, and rise!), while trying to catch a fly circling around his grizzly hair.  A bald worker lazily tied colorful stringed posters around crooked coconut trees that spotted the church ground. Outside the church gate, vagrant cows dived into green debris, picked printed papers and drove intruding flies away from their twitching ochre ears with occasional nudges of their sagging necks. Half- crossing their legs and fixing the passing car or mini truck with a brooding gaze, they ventured further into mosaic bogs of litter. The beggar singers at the cathedral gates were singing old Hindi songs.


The singers persistently rattled their puckered steel vessels and sang in their incorrigible rasping voices. These songs- notes that rose again and fell- were, by now, quite familiar to Jesus. He remembered the difficulty with which Rama[2] had managed to stutter in Hindi[3]. He had broken down into a fit of mispronounced Hindi misgivings. Jesus had laughed and irreverently broken into a loud rendition of a sweet, sweet song, “Om jay Jagadeesh hare, Swami jay Jagadeesh hare[4]. Rama had grinned and sang, “O come O ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come O ye, come O to Bethlehem”, mockingly letting out lungful of shrieking notes out of his rounded mouth. They were sitting under a huge banyan tree. The thick, sinuous network of airborne roots anchored into the reddish brown earth. Its leaves were too sleepy to catch the passing breeze; in fact, they were just awake enough to toss in their midnight green jackets and doze off turning their backs to the glare of lit lamps. Lamps broke out into an avalanche of light from the walls of the temple, a few feet away from the tree. Rama had stopped singing to stretch himself out on the concrete pedestal that tightly circled quarter the height of the majestic tree. He rested his head on his sinewy hand and turned his back towards the avalanche of light, making his sharp profile shimmer in its godly shine against night’s jet black. Jesus couldn’t help remarking on such picture-perfect elegance. Rama dismissed it saying, “You look equally horrible on your cross”.


Gods could only creep out at night, when shadows become invisible, for they could only creep out as shadows. They never dared to venture at daytime; if they did, they did so when sacred places throbbed with shadows of their devotees. As long wall-kissing shadows with craned necks and stretchy legs, they glided, unnoticed, past a hundred foolish eyes closed in prayer. They would walk around as disowned shadows, like shadows that impersonate leaves and stretch their limbs unto freckled ceilings of rooms, at night.


Jesus and Rama never took such chances. They took off on dark, dark nights and roamed around like vagrant cows. They roamed around talking and laughing till estranged loopy sentences piled between them. Then, they would call it a day and leave.


Back at home, they would think about their secular conversations- ones that affectionately cradled the other. They (those conversations) didn’t seem to matter , or amount to anything when they were around each other, yet, seemed excessively burdensome when back in their elevator-high and elevator-deep human world. Thoughts were such contextual creatures, always looking for half-filled cardboard boxes. Contexts were infinitely important in the human world. Jesus and Rama have been living in the human world for so long that they too, like any other human being, had come to think of a ‘right frame of mind’. The divinity that emanated from them was too alienated, far too removed to be held true- such was the abundance of the human world around. So they kept asking themselves for things that fell into contexts.            


So, they thought about thoughts that were properly placed within the religious context. They did so because thoughts were subservient private beings, while talks were thought-ridden bugles. 


They met like concerned friends, yet feared to give away into the quagmire of routinely friendship. They treasured each meeting like a dream that was to be recollected and narrated as a story. Meanwhile, they ran around like white mice in their respective cardboard households. Ages and ages went by; they realised that routine was nothing, but a desperate longing for coincidence. They started meeting as nameless shadows on sun-lit sand, on scorching grass, on pallid walls strewn with sun-pricked samurai ants.    


They met likewise for a year or two. They got into cyclical talks, tailing one another like snakes biting their own tails. Like migratory birds flying in and out of seasons, they returned and re-returned to the same thought streets. They grew to like each other.


The last of one such eventful meetings was at Jesus’ resident cathedral presiding over a buzzing ancient marketplace in Kerala, guiding tourists and natives alike through the stretch of its surrounding alleys and lanes like a luminous white pole star. Jesus was too restless to drink the phantom tea.


Tropical winter, meeker and less insistent than its temperate counterpart, had gracefully set in. The sun let in a veil of light through whisked clouds. It was the Christmas season. The street was throbbing with activity- the cathedral hoisting its Christmas tree, securing it like a large fish dragged out of water with ropes tied onto the tipping edges of its pointed tip, men acrobatically harpooning the tree onto the ground, the giant star at the zenith of its green end twitching its five arms like a starfish, people creating the Bethlehem on tarpaulin sheets,  the impatient priest, his meeting with  shoals of families, the young pink and white, red-lipped choir group, the rickshaw puller with someone’s ten sacks of rice, the biker and his jasmine-adorned wife strutting along and stopping to buy hot appams[5], the frequenting gang of ruffians, occasional appearances of a ruddy gulf returnee, the shy school girl and the shy school boy hugging walls as they drift like whiffs of sly air, the umbrella, bag, shoes shop that starts at one edge of the street and ends on another, and the working ladies settling household chores amongst themselves as they whizz past customers. There was so much of humanity around. 


Amidst the bustle of the crowd thronging to see the hoisted Christmas tree and the rattle of the beggar singers’ vessels, they quietly crept out as demigod shadows. Like bleak souls of unhappy omens eloping to the happy canopy of the morning sun, they glided to the nearest bus stop and quietly sat next to each other on the rusted bench- geometrical shadows flat over its jaded iron wilderness, tipping down into an origami crease as they bent and touched the concrete floor. The bus arrived as if it rode the undulating wind. The shadows tailed one another while climbing onto the bus and guarded one another as the bus irreverently sped off. They sat and clouded the empty seats. They got down at a movie theatre. After a striped glide over walls laden with posters that threw pecking glances and gurgled like black-and-white spotted pigeons, they entered the cinema hall. Surveillance cameras adorned the mosaic walls of the cinema hall. They sat at the left end of the last row. The textured wall punctured their shadow heads into a bedlam of elegant gutters. 


As the first treble of music bounced off the screen, unto their holy ears, phantom snakes slithered beneath their skins; tingling spouts of yellowish black pools littered the corners of their dewy eyes. The first flood of forms rose hazily from the screen, the shimmer welling into a glare as it travelled across the theatre. Cinema caved in. The two Neanderthals fell into a lonely land where their wall-kissing shadows slept.



[1] An Indian regional language called ‘Malayalam’

[2] Rama is the protagonist of the Indian epic poem, ‘Ramayana’

[3] Hindi is one of the official languages in India, along with English

[4] An Indian devotional song

[5] Pancakes commonly eaten in several parts of India, particularly Kerala and Tamil Nadu