Divinity in the Dock

Sometime in 2014, the troubles we were having with our landlords escalated a whole lot, and we were suddenly staring a case in the face. We went scrambling around looking for lawyers, trying Twitter, tapping into an almost defunct network in Mumbai, and many other less than stellar options. We did finally find someone, but he was worse than useless.

In all this turmoil, we as a family, and my mother in particular, retained a strong thread of faith in the divine. Many years ago, we had read a book about a swamiji in Karnataka who spoke to Devi Mookambika.

[Any scoffers and trolls and so on can just leave now, because I cannot muster up the energy to get into a discussion. Take what I have to say with a pinch of salt, or move on.]

Swamiji himself had passed on, but his son had taken over his mantle. He happened to be coming to Mumbai shortly, and we went to meet him.

Let me say this: Guruji, that’s Swamiji’s son, is a wonderful, kind, caring, gentle man. He takes the time to provide succour to many people, and several devotees had found answers and solutions to their problems with him.

We were, as a family, quite enamoured of him. He asked for nothing in return for his presence and caring; not money, not gifts, nothing material, not even time. He gave of himself with the expectation of nothing in return.

One fine day, my mother narrated an incident that she thought was miraculous to him. The lady at whose house he stays in, when in Mumbai, asked her to write it up and send it to her. They have compiled devotee experiences into books, and this was meant to go into the latest one.

Now my mother is verbose. So when she wrote the experience, she made it HUGE. Well over 6 pages, if I remember rightly. So she asked me to edit it. And I pared it down, fixed some punctuation and grammar errors, and we sent it off to them.

A week or so later, we get a call from them. Would we be able to come over for a chat? Yes! we said, of course! So we went.

Turns out, they were rather impressed with the episode, and were wondering whether we would consider looking over the other episodes too for consistency and so on. My mother promptly divulged that I had edited her episode, and lickety split, we were both on board.

Now, to be perfectly clear, we were deeply honoured and thrilled to be on board. There is a concept known as seva in Hinduism, which translates to ‘service’. It is generally intended to give off oneself in the service of someone else’s or a greater good.

We spent a year and change working on that book. My mother first rewrote many of the episodes, filling in what she felt were narrative lacunae. Later on, Guruji gave her phone numbers to call, and she interviewed devotees about their miraculous experiences, recorded them, and wrote them entirely.

I edited each episode after she was done. Thrice: Line edit, paragraph edit, and final edit. She reread them to ensure I hadn’t ‘taken all the emotion out of them’ because apparently my style was ‘too cut and dried’ for this type of project. Mea culpa; I cannot disagree.

Then Guruji wanted to hear each episode. Not read, mind you, HEAR. So she read out each one, at multiple reading sessions, going well into the night. He added missing bits of information, and the episode would be marked as “unedited” once again.

After all this was well underway, and the book was taking shape, I said that there needed to be a glossary for the non-English terms used in the book. Not everyone speaks the same Indian language, and thus cannot be expected to understand everything. I also put in an index, and my poetess aunt wrote couplets for each episode.

We handed over the final manuscript in early 2016, I think. After endless revisions, and sleepless nights, coupled with work obligations, tensions with the ex and my family, my father’s deteriorating health, and my mother’s increasing frailty, it had all become a monumental load. We were relieved to be done. Or at least I was.

Then dad passed away, and Guruji was unavailable to us. He sent us a message of condolence, and that was it. After all the love and energy we poured into this project, and the innumerable obstacles we had shouldered in its development, our family warranted a text message of condolence.

Ouch.

We never did try and reach out to them again, because the feeling of betrayal ran deep.

Anyway.

The book, as far as we knew, never saw the light of day. We didn’t expect anything, so occasionally when we remembered, we checked online for it. Then, a friend said that the book was finally published. This year. 2018. Two full years after we were done with it.

It was a jolt. Mum took it calmly, because in her mind, there was disassociation with the whole thing. I didn’t know how to react. I haven’t figured it out in the interim. I would say that my reaction has been somewhat detached overall.

Today though, we saw the book in a store. Most of the extra work we put in: the glossary, index, the couplets have been stripped off. The text of the book appears to be ad verbatim as per our manuscript, except for a few stories tacked on the end.

Finally, mom’s episode, the same one that catapulted us into the situation in the first place, has been removed.

None of these things bother me, for some crazy reason. I was never happy with my work, because I thought it wasn’t crisp enough and didn’t reflect my editing style adequately. But mom. She was a little crushed. The effort she lavished on the book is put aside; she is sad because my work was so summarily incised. We agreed that our names should not be published, so there was some consolation in that they didn’t appear.

Right now, I feel tiredness and faint bewilderment. One day I will figure out what exactly I feel about it. Today is not that day.

[PS: I am not making any of this up.]

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