(Note to readers ... mainly Ian, who is the only one who reads this blog >> i just finished writing this in office. didn't even re-read it after writing, forget editing. Expect a leaner/fatter and better written version, if my mood permits.)
Keep your hands busy, said my father every time I used to lean against the tree to catch my breath. Keep your hands busy you idiot, keep your hands busy, don’t let your head decide for you. Keep your hands busy, he would coax me to get working.
And so I would again start chiselling the chunk of rock, along the lines my father, a master sculptor, had already outlined. But I would still dream with eyes wide open. When the hammer used to fall so gently yet firm on the chisel, I used to dream of the cities and the grand mansions.
I was not good in sculpting, yet I wanted to be the greatest sculptor in this world. I wanted to be honoured by my king. I wanted to be the subject for which kings wage wars against each other. I was a dreamer, I had ambitions. But I didn’t want to waste my life working so hard like my father.
My father was strange. He never used to argue with his customers, mostly petty officials of the king commissioning works for the next temple. He was the master sculptor, honoured by high ranking officials of the kingdom. He smiled when someone praised him, he kept his head low when someone rebuked. Yet, I have a suspicion he was acting, for he again used to be absorbed in his work, outlining the rock by which we should chisel. I was his son, but one of his worst workers. He loved me and perhaps that’s why he hated me the most in this world.
I had dreams and he perhaps thought dreams are the working of a lazy mind. Although, he never told me so.
He kept his hands busy and always wanted to see ours hands busy too. Conversations were allowed, even laughter was not a crime as long as our hands were moving things around.
I never could understand why this strange insistence.
As time passed, I picked up some tricks of the trade from my father. He was an old man now, he was not able to train his hammer and chisel in a way that resembled a raga. His hands used to move like an elaborate ritual, the cling clang had a rhythm. If you have lived long enough with him, you would have known what kind of shape would come out of the rock in his hand. With his hammer and chisel, he used to breathe life in those black stones.
I was nowhere close to him. And I knew his skill will die with him. Like all sons, I used to maintain a respectable distance with my father. The distance grew when the King himself called him to his capital and pronounced him the greatest sculptor of our country and beyond. Accolades and rewards started showering on my father, but it did not increase his wealth. Our house became a refuge for all the hungry people in the world. The kitchen fire never got extinguished. His rewards were enough to buy seven villages and become the head of all that we saw, but we remained a poor sculptor family. My father kept nagging us with ‘keep your hands busy’ stupidity.
He never explained why. But as he started aging, he slowed down and started relegating works on us. He was there at the workshop, yet he was very distant. My distance with my father grew even further. He would now do nothing. Just kept quiet like Lord Buddha and smiled at anything and nothing. He smiled if a leaf fell, he smiled if a flower bloomed. He smiled when a child fell on the ground, he smiled when the toddler dusted off and toddled off.
The responsibility of my parents and sisters fell on me. My father won’t work anymore. I had no other way but to keep my hands busy.
But when the moon rose above the thick banyan tree and the sky shone in divine light of Indra, my dreams kept haunting me. I was a young man, brimming with ambitions, yet I was chained to this dreary life. My father didn’t save anything for future. As he smiled looking at the full moon like a lunatic does, my heart was filled with contempt for this cruel man. He was nothing but an idiot to me. An idiot who was blessed by accidental talent.
Now I was the head of the family. I had nothing but contempt for my father and he was nothing but a liability for me. I had no respect left and hence, I did not waste any opportunity to rebuke him.
I rebuked him for not saving anything, I rebuked him for telling us repeatedly, like a stupid, to keep the hands busy, without telling us what to do with the outcome. I rebuked him for not knowing the ways of the world. And I made sure I conveyed to him how I hated him for wasting my youth. He just smiled. I didn’t know what to do with him when he used to smile like an innocent baby.
But I couldn’t take the death of my youth anymore. Dark clouds gathered in my heart on days. I wanted to go to the city and become a big man. I wanted to be rich, I wanted to be an achiever. I started weeping in private.
One day when the full moon mirrored on the great village pond, I couldn’t hold my tears. As I was weeping, I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. My father was looking at me with all the calmness in the world in his face. Before I could say something he told me to go and live my life, fulfil my dream. I was free of my responsibilities. He would take care of the family, he said.
As I was leaving my house, all alone, for the first time in my life and my face was all flushed up with excitement, my father repeated what he used to tell us when he was in charge of his world.
“Keep your hands busy … whenever you have nothing to do, make your hands busy immediately.”
He need not have said that. For I knew this was what he would have told me. He was a predictable man.
I went to the city of my dreams. It was filled with mansions. Horses carried noble men on paved roadways. The lanes were busy with people from all countries carrying on their myriad businesses. The city had a peculiar smell, which felt like heavenly to me. The cacophony sounded like raga meghamallar. I was excited to be here. I was to build my future here, I was to be someone here. I was to be famous.
To my surprise, I was easily the best sculptor out there. My work soon found wealthy patrons. I soon became famous for making busts of beautiful women. As days progressed, I became bolder and started making the busts topless. Soon I was making sculpture of copulating couple. My work was on great demand among filthy rich people who commissioned me to make their sculptures love-locked with the famous city courtesans. Soon I myself became a night creature, hungry to satiate my desires of flesh. I did not have to care about my wealthy patrons. I was rich enough not to work for months. I was in such heavy demand for my busts that I had to be rude with all. Rudeness soon became my second nature as arrogance enveloped me. I was finally, famous and successful!
However, I could sense my art doesn’t have something that should have been there. I couldn’t look at what I created. They seemed so ugly, particularly when people gloated about that. Their words sounded vulgar to me. But the money was plenty and I had nothing to protest.
All this while my hatred for my father grew. If he wanted he could have been much more than I was. Yet, I wondered why he stayed away. I was convinced my father was an idiot.
One day I saw a goddess walking down to my workshop. She was the most beautiful woman the world has ever seen. She came straight for me and asked me to make a bust of hers. She was the courtesan Bhanumati. Nobody else, other than the King himself could claim her as his own.
I was in love.
And I soon realised she was in love with me too. In one of our meetings, she let her saree slip from her bosom. I never could imagine God was so creative.
Bhanumati and I met every day and we slept side by side. As I put my lips on those luscious figs of her lips, a shiver ran through my body. I was under the spell of goddess Bhanumati and I didn’t want the spell to break.
But she was the property of the king. That despicable creature, who despite being old and all wrinkled, had several hundreds of women like Bhanumati kept as objects. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to give him a dog’s death.
My whole being became violent. Luckily, I became part of a court intrigue and had the chance to kill the king. I couldn’t see Bhanumati’s sad face. She loved me and I loved her and there’s nothing in the world I could be stopped from doing to free her from her fate.
I couldn’t sculpt anymore. The art had left me. Not that it bothered me. I had enough money by now. I had no business with such menial jobs anymore.
But Bhanumati praised about me to the king. The king wanted his portrait done and be made immortal. Bhanumati told him, only I could make him immortal.
My real mandate was to do the exact opposite.
I was to drive my chisel deep into the king’s old heart. I was to smash his head with my hammer. I was to make a paste of him with the rock kept for carving him out.
I couldn’t. He was the same King who proclaimed my father the greatest sculptor in the world. The King was old and frail, but he was the same king who blessed me for being the son of the great man, my father.
As I stood cold in fear and disgust, I fell to the ground and apologised to the king. At first the king didn’t understand, but when he did, he shook his head slowly and walked away heavily.
Bhanumati promptly jumped between us and stabbed me … like a loyal servant to the king.
I couldn’t protest. I was still in love with her.
I survived. Bhanumati and her clan didn’t, they were exposed all by themselves.
I was pardoned. Disgraced, and discarded, I was a pauper.
I wanted to kill myself, but before that, I wanted to see my parents, my sisters, my friends. I wanted to go back to my home. I wanted to see the moon shine above the forest, to see it reflect on our pond. That was my deathwish.
I reached home a broken man.
And from a distance I heard the familiar music that I used to enjoy so much as a young. I could tell from the rhythm that my old man was carving something. My old man, my father, my guru was calling me.
I ran as fast as I could. Panting I reached near my village and saw the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.
My father was sculpting out a temple from a small hill in our village. The same king who I planned to kill had ordered this work soon after I left for the city. Many years now, I was not aware of this. My father, and his team of hundreds of sculptors were carving out a Shiva temple out chunks of rock. The deities, outside decorations of Gods and Goddesses and mythical animals are all hidden in this hill, waiting to be carved out.
In the early morning light, my smiling father was shining like Lord Buddha. I fell flat on his feet and begged his forgiveness. He smiled again. I wept and pleaded him to tell me what went wrong.
“You didn’t keep your hands busy enough ….”
I finally understood.
I am sixty years old now, same as when my father had left me for a monk’s life in the jungles, giving me responsibility to progress the carving of this temple. I have so far completed as much as he had done.
And I am pleased with my work. And I know I am now as accomplished a sculptor as my father ever was. It just came one day on its own. I woke up and started carving. As I carved, I tuned in to the music of this existence.
My music soothed me. Pleased with my music, Gods and Goddesses started appearing from the rock on their own. I kept my hands busy. I kept on striking and playing the music my father always tried to teach me when I was younger and vain.
The whole world praises me now. It doesn’t matter anymore. I can’t take money more than what is needed to just keep me alive. Rest I give it away to people who need it. The flames on my kitchen never extinguish. Everyday hundreds of poor and my disciples helping me in this temple work eat at my home.
The temple cannot be completed in my lifetime, but me, and my future generations in charge of carving out this temple must keep their hands busy.