Jagannath’s Chariot Wheels - Syed Saleem

Syed Saleem's short story in Telugu, translated by T. S. Chandra Mouli
Syed Saleem
I was in third year of my undergraduate class… exams in another three months. We decided to go on a study tour. All those who were united till then, disintegrated into hundred groups on the choice of the place. One suggested Shimla, while the other insisted on a visit to Tajmahal at Agra. If  Jaipur was not  seen it was a useless life ,some one else declared . A girl raised a point of order stating that when there were so many places of interest in our own Andhra , why should one go to other states.The lecturer-in-charge did not know what to do.

Chandra Rao suggested Bhubhaneswar. “A visit to Lingaraja temple, architectural excellence at Konark,darshan of Jagannath at Puri make it an enjoyable tour. I was there three years ago with my paents.” he said.

After much debate visit to Bhubhaneswar was agreed upon.As Chandra Rao had an idea , he was chosen as the leader.

“Miserly fellow. How to manage with him? Would he at least allow us to eat or starve us saying  that by skipping a meal we might save some money.” We all were worried.

When we learnt that he vowed to make the tour quite inexpensive, we were dismayed.

Quite a few excused themselves naming the explicit sculpture on Konark temple.My classmates Jahangir and Iqbal found fault with me.
T. S. Chandra Mouli

“Jagannath temple at Puri. Sun temple at Konark. It is forced on us  only on account of Hindu majority in our class.Why not think of us.We are in a secular country. A trip to Ooty, Kodaikanal or Mysore might as well do. We won’t agree. You too don’t join them.” They advised me.

But, Rani was a member of the team. How can I desist?Finally thirteen boys and three girls comprised the group.Till late hours in the night we were making merry in the train. By the time we reached Bhubhaneswar  it was six o’clock in the morning.

“There are bathrooms in the waiting halls in the station.Finish ablutions. We can go out for breakfast.”

“Men can adjust. How about the ladies? They need a little privacy .Let’s book a room for them.We can vacate when they get ready.”
“Why waste money? Bathrooms in the waiting halls should do,” said Chandar.

“I will bear the rent for the room in a hotel,”I said with irritation.. Rani taking bath in the station was unbearable for me.

“All right. Your father is wealthy. You can spend. We are the poor. Look  Saif, your father is a tailor. My father a farmer. All the sixteen in our group are similarly placed. Adjust without affectation.”Chandar said.

Rani pacified me with a gesture.

First we visited Lingaraja temple and then went to visit Sun temple at Konark.
Exquisite sculptural excellence!
Two girls blushed and halted on seeing a few figures. Only Rani inquisitively scanned each sculpture and every erotic posture. I was a little embarrassed with Rani by my side , as we watched some postures.
Perhaps she understood my mind, as she asked “Do you know why such erotic sculptures were carved on temples?”
I disclosed my ignorance.
“Hindus perceived sringara  as an art from the beginning.Vastyan’s Kamasutra is beyond the  grasp of common folk. Hence, with a view to extend sex education to all people, such erotic sculptures were carved on temples. Thus temples turned into institutions of devotion, emancipation and eroticism.”
“How do you know all this?”

“Read Thaapi Dharma Rao’s book titled ‘ why erotic sculpture on temples?’”
Look, those two ladies are away with a sense of shame, talking shop. How about you?”
“What’s there to be ashamed of? I look for the expertise of the sculptors. Without proper grasp of human anatomy and architectural skill, such lovely shapes cannot be carved. As for sringara … they are like our anatomy only. I feel sex education is necessary for all. One should be able to look at the educational aspect only.”

“I was embarrassed while looking at some figures.”

“The very purpose of these carvings is to make it explicit for all. That it was not a taboo. When we are not on the wrong, why feel bad? We two are studying B.Sc as we didn’t get admission in M.B.B.S. Had we been doctors, perhaps our perceptions might have been different. It is no different, now. It’s a wonderful art form. I enjoy it exceptionally. That’s my view. Hence, there is nothing abnormal for me.”

That very moment I was convinced that one ought to be extremely fortunate to share life with such a strong individual. Other than friendship there was nothing else till then. I felt like disclosing she was my heart throb and I was in love with her. But I was not that bold. Desire was there, hope too. A nagging feeling she might snub. If she did not approve, if she got angry …fear of rejection …even friendship might be jeopardized.

We reached Puri.
As we were about to enter the Jagannath Temple Chandar objected.
“Saif, you should not step in.”
That statement shocked all.
“Why? Why can’t I?’ I inquired
“Entry for Hindus only. Others not allowed.”
“Is there any such stipulation?” Rani asked in rage.
“Yes. Even Indira Gandhi was not allowed once. She was a Hindu. But married a Parsi.Saif is a Muslim by birth. Why the pujaris, even I won’t approve.”
“How can the discriminating one be the God ? I don’t want a God who divides people in the name of caste and creed. I too won’t enter.”
“If Saif and Rani don’t enter, we too won’t,” said the two girl students standing beside Rani.
There was none among the boys as rigid as Chandar.Ultimately he had to yield.
There was not an iota of interest for me to enter the temple and see the idols, except an exceptional desire to be by her side, where ever she went.
Pandas were after us, on our entry. We forged ahead. In the square there was a vast trough. A pujari stood in the middle. A large gathering  drew our attention. People were jostling.
A young pujari. Not more than twenty year old fellow. He was chastising all angrily. Along with Rani the two girls moved ahead.
He was ranting in Oriya and pushing the ladies with a hand on their breasts. As his hand landed on the girl next to Rani, I couldn’t control myself. I pulled out Rani.
“What happened?”Chandar asked.
“That pujari is pushing women laying a hand on their bosom. He may caution orally, not this way.” I objected strongly.
“That’s the reason for my objection.”
 “What do you mean?”
“For the unbeliever every thing is obscene. There might not be any bad intention.”
“How stupid! He is not devout at all. It is wrong to drive devout women laying a hand on their breasts.”
 “Even in Tirupati ladies are driven like that only, if the queue doesn’t move. Do you know?”
“They do .But not by pressing the bosom.”Rani snapped.
The two other girls endorsed.
Amidst all these arguments the rest of them had darshan of Lord Jagannath.
We reached banks of Chandrabhaga. It was getting dark.
A little away from others I and Rani sat.
I looked at her in admiration.
How matured at such young age!
Not only there was a soft corner and love for her. High regard too!
When I asked HER how she acquired such acumen, she credited her father for it.
I tease her as HER dad’s darling child.
“What keeps you busy?” she asked moving closer.
“Thoughts about you.”
“If it’s not me, will I spare? I am a Leo. You know it. Will claw you.”
Clinching the moment I asked, “Do you like me so much?”
Softly sliding ripples … cool breeze…enveloping dusk.
After a moment’s silence Rani said, “Shall I tell you the truth?”
“You are my life.”
“With Chandrabhaga as witness, I affirm my love for you.”
“We are the two wheels of  Jagannath Chariot,” She added.
“Who is Jagnnath , then?”
“Our love.”
Her smile spread like ripples in the river.

[Telugu short story titled ‘Jagannatha Ratha Chakraalu’ translated by Dr T.S.Chandra Mouli from Saleem’s anthology Raani gaari Kathalu]

Author’s biodata: Syed Saleem is a poet and fiction writer in Telugu.He won several awards and honours for his creative work. He was selected for Kendra Sahitya Academi Award for his Telugu novel Kaaluthunna Poolathota. The story chosen here is from Rani Gaari Kathalu, a novel in the form of sequential stories, an experiment that was highly successful. He is a high ranking official in Income Tax department, Government of India.

Translator’s bionote: T. S. Chandra Mouli, an academic, is  poet, translator, critic. He is a Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society, Great Britain and Ireland. He is Vice-Chairman of AESI [Association of English Studies in India], a 61 year old academic association. He completed translation assignments for institutions of higher learning. He published 25books so far, including seven authored works. His translation work of Telugu poetry and fiction is extensively published. He is the Chief Editor of VIRTUOSO, a Refereed Transnational Bi-Annual Journal of Language and Literature in English. He made presentations in International Conferences in universities in China, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and U.K.