Eeda in colloquial Malayalam, used widely in Kannur district in northern Kerala, means “here”. It is the title of a recent Malayalam movie. I enjoyed the film so much that I saw it a second time. This was mainly to understand the political nuances director B. Ajit Kumar sought to highlight, though subtly, in Eeda.
Kannur hit the headlines in the national media when political killings and counter-killings became the order of the day. It’s a district where the Marxists have so much influence that it is considered their citadel. Over the years, the Sangh Parivar has grown so much in the district that it could pay the Marxists back in their own coin.
Caught in the political crossfire are innocent people, like the lovers in the film, the girl belonging to a Marxist family and the boy who has close relatives in the RSS.
While more martyrs mean more strength for the political parties concerned, they leave many families without their bread-winners — sons, husbands, sons-in-law and fathers. This human tragedy is often forgotten, once the initial shock of killings is over.
Fortunately, there is now, relatively speaking, more peace in Kannur than, say, in Alappuzha district where an RSS worker was brutally killed recently. How was this brought about? There were two secret meetings held between the Marxist leaders and the top brass of the RSS, first, at Kannur and, later, at Thiruvananthapuram, the state Capital. The person who brought about this seemingly impossible feat styles himself as Sri M.
What was striking about the meetings was that the level of violence in the district began to abate soon after they were held. It underlined the fact that the political killings did not happen in a vacuum; they were instigated by the powers that be.
In short, the political leaders are primarily to blame for the killings because it is they who secretly support violence. No one, perhaps, knew this better than this gentleman, who has the shortest single-letter name in the country. I first thought that M stood for Mohammed, the name of the Prophet that most Muslim men have as part of their name. I will come to that in an instant.
Ordinarily, Sri M should have been given credit for this success. Far from that, senior leaders of the Marxist Party denied at that time that there was ever such a meeting, although Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan avers that he had even mentioned it in the Assembly. What brought to light the meetings is a book titled The RSS and the Making of the Deep Nation, written by a Delhi-based Malayali journalist Dinesh Narayanan. It mentions the names of all the CPM and RSS leaders who attended the meeting.
Nobody should have any problem if a middleman brought the two sides on a common platform and slowed the pace of retributive killing in Kannur. What surprised the nation was a decision taken by the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Cabinet at its last meeting before the elections were announced. It decided to allot four acres of prime land to the Satsang Foundation headed by Sri M.
That raised the question — Was the allotment a quid pro quo for the services rendered by the Godman? There were supplementary questions as well. Was he asked by Modi to allot land to him, given his connections with the Prime Minister? What right does he have to get land from the government?
The details of the allotment disclosed by the government on March 4 will certainly douse the flames of the allegations. The Foundation was allotted land with many specific conditions. It has to pay an annual fee of Rs 34 lakh, a figure arrived at on the basis of the minimum price for the land fixed by the government.
The lease period is 10 years, not 999 years as in the case of the Mullaperiyar dam. They cannot cut the trees and they cannot use the land, except for the purpose specified — set up and run a Yoga centre. There will be a revision of the allotment every three years!
Given the way all governments work, these conditions are as good as an albatross. Even so, the question is why should a government that claims to be Communist provide land to a Yogi, who is a person who lives without the coffins that people build around themselves. Can there be a better coffin than the four acres of land?
Now, let us know who Sri M is. There is no better place to know him than his own autobiography titled Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiography (Magenta Press, Pages 329, Rs 500) that I had the occasion to review in 2011.
To wit, when Galileo said the world was round, many thought he was mad and was punished for sacrilege. Anybody who does anything against convention or says something that does not conform to the received wisdom usually becomes a suspect and is often branded. Worse, he often does not even get a hearing.
But for Sri M’s Foreword to the book which encourages readers to ignore those portions which they may find difficult to believe and plod on, I would have dismissed it as the autobiography of a nut. But as I continued reading, I got so engrossed that I had difficulty in putting it down even once.
Sri M is an unusual person. He traces his ancestry to the Pathans who had come to Kerala as mercenaries and joined the forces of the then Maharaja of Travancore, the powerful Marthanda Varma. Now I know how he defeated the Kayamkulam Raja and made it part of God’s own Country, Travancore!
Born in a Muslim family in Thiruvananthapuram in 1948, he grew up in the eclectic traditions of the city where a temple, a church and a mosque stand in a line as if proclaiming that God is one. Unbelievable as it may sound, he got initiated into the intricacies of the “Gayatri Mantra” when he stole two books from his father’s drawer. When a journalist, who was a Hindu, had to be cremated at Chandigarh, I recited this mantra, as no one present knew any Hindu mantra while a distant relative lit the funeral pyre.
Sri M’s maternal grandmother who doted on him forbade him from eating from any Hindu house but he had no difficulty in swallowing the ashes a holy man had given him, for as a Muslim he could not smear it on his body. He is unfair to his grandmother whose belief systems he virtually ridicules. As a child, I and my siblings were also prohibited from eating from neighbouring houses. We were, in fact, taught not to accept even toffees from strangers.
This was not because my mother feared that food from Hindu or Muslim households underwent religious rituals. Of course, she did not forbade us from eating at our neighbours’ house on occasions like birthday and thatching of roof.
He does not do justice to his mother either when he writes, “my mother would pack my tiffin-box as tightly as possible with things like brain masala, liver fry, kidney fry, fish fry, omelette and so on to make sure that I had enough protein to make me strong and brainy”.
He has no right to make such a comment, especially to conclude: “I observed with wonder that their simple menu was invariably curd-rice, vegetable and pickle or sometimes idli and chutney or sambhar, all pure vegetarian. Simple vegetarian food day in and day out, and when the results of the annual exams or mid-term tests were declared, they scored top marks in mathematics and science, while I and another friend of mine Siddique, barely managed to scrape through”.
The Jews are considered the most brainy in the world. Hundreds of them have won the Nobel for mathematics, science etc. And they are not vegetarians. Making comments about the food habits of people is not Yogi-like. If Sri M was born in China, he would have eaten all that moved on earth. The book was written with a purpose, to show himself in a different light. For his information, there are Brahmins who eat meat while there are Muslims and Christians who are vegetarian. These are matters of personal choice.
He claims that the Sufi traditions, rather than the Wahabi traditions, which the family followed, helped him in his search for what he calls the truth. While still at school, he often sought the company of the unconventional, the vagabond and the perpetually peripatetic to “understand holy madness”.
One of his encounters with a holy man, whom most people thought was mad, was indeed enlightening. It opened my own eyes to a different interpretation of Ezhuthachan’s “Ramayanam”.
The sadhu did not have much philosophical thoughts to share with the young Sri M. All he told him was to pronounce “Raa-maayanam”. Then he said, “Raa means night, darkness, irrtu. The darkness must go. Then you will see Rama”. What a profound thought from a man who was an “illiterate ex-tea maker”!
Sri M considers himself a tool in the hands of his Guru, who seeks him out at a tender age. An average person may dismiss his claims of his Guru appearing before him and speaking in tongues which, otherwise, he could not follow as the result of hallucination. Once the reader suspends his disbelief and blindly follows the author as he wanders all over the sacred places in the Himalayas, he will realise that it has not been an exercise in futility.
Babaji that he finally meets is over a hundred years old but has the body of a young man, less than two scores. He is the quintessential rishi, who can advise the young seeker of truth not to bother about taking a bath in the cold waters of the Ganga before the morning meditation and, in the process, catch pneumonia.
While Sri M expects the reader to believe his words about the Guru who appears to him, first in Kerala, then at Hotel Taj in Mumbai and in the upper reaches of the Himalaya, he identifies wrongly Metropolitan Joseph Marthoma who passed away a few months ago as a Catholic bishop. A picture shows him sitting next to the former head of the Marthoma Church!
In the Hindu tradition, knowledge is always gained through an intermediary called the Guru. “Yatha Guru thatha Shishya” goes a saying. Sri M was lucky to get a guru who belongs to the class called “Raja Yogis”. Of course, allowance has to be made for the author’s belief that he was born to be his disciple. However, he does not have such a high opinion about the mutt set up in the Himalayas by Aadi Shankara which he describes as a centre of just rituals.
However, his Babaji has clear, concise answers to all his spiritual and transcendent questions that put even the reader at ease. In the course of his journey, Sri M ultimately meets his “Sri Guru Babaji”, about whom he quotes Swami Vivekananda, “A particle of dust from his blessed feet could have created a thousand Vivekanandas”.
On the way of salvation, he meets several interesting persons from the late Marxist leader A.K. Gopalan to Jiddu Krishnamurthy to Narendra Modi to an assortment of holy men of all faiths, from whom he learns and moves on. He is married and has two children.
It is prophetic that he will use the name “Sri M”, which will remind him of his Babaji Maheshwarnath, who comes across as the “great master, wise, powerful and loving”. The book is, in fact, a tribute to him. For anybody who has interest in mysticism, Sufism and Vedanta, Sri M’s autobiography is, indeed, a treasure-trove.
On a second reading of the book, I remembered what a friend wrote on her Facebook page recently: “If you want to know how good the condition of a Muslim in India is: Adopt a Muslim name for a day, wear a skull cap and look for a decent accommodation on rent or try to buy a flat in a good locality”. I wish Sri M had commanded the same respect and acceptability if his M stood for Mohammed as it stands for Maheshwarnath!