The Indian Shirt

Most of us in the west would imagine, perhaps ignorantly, that the Indian man wears a dhoti, or apparel after Nehru, in homespun, or perhaps even just a loin cloth and a shawl. How wrong can we be. The average Indian working man wears a pair of trousers and a short-sleeved shirt. Particularly in the southern parts of the country where the weather is warm even in the winter, the short-sleeved shirt is a constant and is usually of an off-white or white colour. Some employees demand the white shirt and grey or black trousers as a uniform but the Indian tends to wear the short-sleeved sheet by choice. I should also point out that the shirt nowadays is not necessarily just in cotton as man-made fibres have made their impact on textiles on this land famous for its cotton.

By far the most important part of the shirt is the breast pocket. Occasionally there will be two pockets but more often than not there is just the one. The pocket is important as it holds that item essential to all Indian men - and to the economy - the pen. The pen is much more than just a writing implement. It is a statement that says the owner is educated, that he has a role to play and the he is capable of making and confirming decisions. Some pockets will contain two pens, of different colours or different types, adding a note of complexity to the picture that they create. Some, a few, may have more than two pens, which may result in giving out the wrong message entirely.

This pocket also carries important documents, particularly when travelling. Their passport and their boarding pass will stand proud though more for practical reasons than pointing out to fellow travellers that they too are flying.

 

Shravanabelagola

Jainism is an old religion. Not as old as some, but certainly older than Christianity. It started about the same time as Buddhism and in fact they have a lot in common. Dates vary according to which book you read but certainly by the time Chandragupta was ruling his empire (circa 322-298 BCE) Jainism was relatively common across the Indian subcontinent and between the 4th and 10th centuries CE it positively flourished.

The town of Shravanabelagola whose name means ‘Monk of the White Pond’, sits between the two hills of Indragiri and Chandragiri. The large monolith at the top of Indragiri hill is a statue of Lord Bahubali. He is also known as Lord Gomateshwara, which is also the name of the temple within which the feet of the 17.5 metre monolith stands. Actually, the height of the statue appears to vary between 57 feet to 58 feet 8 inches though people seem to be more particular in the Imperial measurements than in the metric method. Anyway, it is very tall. Built in approximately 982 CE, the monolith is said to be the largest statue in the world carved out of one solid piece of granite. Lord Bahabuli stands rooted to the spot, anchored by vines that spiral up his arms . His mouth is closed but his eyes are open as though he is meditating, in a position known as kyotsarga.

To reach the temple and to see the statue in all its glory, you have to climb the hill on footor trust your life to be carried in a pallenquin. One of the guide books says that there are six-hundred-and-forty-one steps to the top. Some quote other figures. It possibly depends upon where you start counting and what do you do about the places where there are no steps just rock? 

…..

“Do we have to go all the way up?”

“I suppose so.”

“But I don’t understand why.”

“Well I don’t really know either. Did you see that man run up the steps? He must be mad.”

“Yes. He must be. I wish I could do that.”

“Come on then. I’ll race you.”

“You’ve got to be joking. I don’t think I’m going to make it to that shelter just up there.”

“Well, let’s just get that far and then we’ll stop for a rest.”

…..

Before I begin the story, I should point out that there are at least as many stories as there are people in India and the number of stories about Lord Bahabuli are many. I know this because I have been told three different versions of the same story by three different people. These differences might just be local folklore interpretations or the necessary amendments that follow an oral tradition. Another difference that can be confusing is that of names. Often the same person is known by different names, like Lord Bahabuli is also known as Lord Gomateshwara. All and this can prove quite disconcerting. In this tale, some the characters have different names, and sometimes their different names are almost the same but the spelling is slightly different.

…..

“The view’s good, isn’t it? The tank’s quite big.”

“We’ve come some way I suppose. Its getting hot now.”

“Would you like some of my water?”

“No thank you. I’ve got a drink here.”

“Yeah, but a can of Pepsi’s not going to do you any good is it?”

“Shuttup. I like Pepsi and don’t drink water. My aunty says that even water in bottles can be infected.”

“But this is a new bottle. Look the seal hasn’t been broken.”

“Doesn’t mean anything. They have ways of making it bad.”

…..

It had been said that to become a great saint you would have to have committed terrible sins beforehand, the worse your misdeeds prior to conversion the greater your status afterwards. This does not give most people the chance to achieve sainthood by steering through life, avoiding the rocks and reefs on which our good deeds and wishes may flounder. This is not a new idea either. In the Jewish, Moslem and Christian traditions you only have to look at the Old Testament prophets to see how some turned from all bad to all good. Shravanabelagola prompts three stories of people who each had their moment of conversion from a life of conquering and battle to a life driven by peace and attainment of nirvana.

Bahubali was a son of a king called Adinatha who was also called Bhagwan Rishabh Dev. Adinatha lived so long ago that it is possible that we shall never know when he was born and when he died. It is also hard to know how many sons he had; some say he had four, others say that he had one hundred. Legend says that he introduced his people to agriculture, pottery and generally improving their lot. Despite his work at educating and improving the lives of his people he wished to give up his kingdom to devote himself to his contemplative life. Having decided to do this he divided his realm amongst his sons. Adinatha left his kingdom, shed his trappings of wealth and became as ascetic and eventually he was recognised as the first of the Jain prophets or tirthankars.

….

“Hang on a minute. I wanna take some more photos. I’ve posted three already but no one’s liked them yet.”

“That’s probably because most of your mates are here on the trip!”

“Oh yeah. Well, a couple more.”

“Okay. Then we should carry on. Not far to the top now.”

“I’m just going to text Shaz. I can see she’s still coming up. I’d have thought she would have given up ages ago.”

…..

Two of his sons were Bharat, the eldest, and Bahubali, the youngest. Bharat thought it was a pity that the kingdom that his father had built up should be split and he embarked upon a campaign to reunite it. The other brothers soon acceded to his wishes and Bharat’s power grew as he added to his empire but Bahubali would not give up his portion of his father’s land. Eventually, the only way to settle this was by battle and the armies of the two brothers met to fight it out. However, wise men on both sides declared that such a battle would result in great bloodshed and that this was unnecessary. They pointed out that if theproblem was between Bharat and Bahubali then perhaps the best thing to do was for the two men to fight it out. They agreed.

…..

“Look. We’ve reached the top of the steps. Where’s the statue then?”

“I think we have to climb a bit more yet. Look. Can you see his head just over that wall?”

“Oh yeah. What’s so important about this statue then? Stupid place to put one isn't it. Why climb all the way up here just to see a statue?”

“I don’t know, but look how far you can see now. The town is like a toy.”

“I suppose it does. My sister would like that. She’d have somewhere to put all her dolls.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister?”

“Yeah. lives with her mum. Well she’s my mum as well, my real mum. Dad’s wife is my step-mum.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that.”

…..

So a duel was organised. However this was no ordinary duel. It was decided that there should be three rounds, each round consisting a different battle. For the first duel, the two men stood knee deep in a river and sprayed each other with water. This was no regular game of splash that children (and some adults) play but rather a game of strategy and how much you could scoop in your hands and throw at your opponent with a view to making him submit by running away or, more likely, by falling into the water. After much splashing, Bahubali got the upper hand. The speed with which he scooped the water and threw it at Bharat made it very difficult for Bharat to see and as he moved out of the way of the stream of water attacking him, he slipped and fell into the river.

…..

“Do you see your sister much?”

“No. About once or twice a year. Mum doesn't have much and if I go and stay it makes things a bit stressed.”

“Where does she live?”

“About 220km from me. In a small village. That’s another reason for not going very often. There’s nothing to do. It’s not like being in Chennai where there is always something to do. At Mum’s village they just sit and talk and that’s only when they’re not cooking or cleaning or doing something in the fields.”

…..

The second duel was a lot drier. It was a game of stare. Standing in the bright, hot midday sun, without any shade, they faced each other and stared. The one who blinked first would lose. Despite complaining that he had something in his eye that made Bharat blink the first time, Bahubali agreed to a best-of-three competition. Bharat won the second round but Bahubali won the third.

…..

“This rock is hot.”

“Yeah. I put my hand on it and I thought it would burn”

“That would be a good thing to take back wouldn’t it. A blister on your hand.”

“It would get out of writing an essay for a few days!”

“Yes. But you would still have to do it. And they would say that you could use the computer.”

“Look at this writing. Is it writing? It looks just like scribble. Organised scribble but still scribble. Do you think its some sort of graffiti?”

“Looks like it. Perhaps these old Jains liked to leave their tags.”

“Come on. Lets go on.”

“Yeah. Alright.”

…..

Now the third duel was a wrestling match. This would be the chance for Bharat to win back some points but also, unlike the other two duels, it was a possibility that he could physically conquer his younger brother. The wrestling began and a large crowd gathered to see what was going on. As the two men locked together it was difficult to see who would come out on top. Eventually Bahubali seemed to be gaining the advantage and at one point managed to lift Bharat above his head. He then walked round the edge of the circle made by the crowd, with his brother held helplessly aloft. At times he strutted proudly, showing off his strength and his domination and encouraging the crowd, asking in mocking tones what he should do with his brother. His own brother….. It was this thought that made him stop much to the annoyance of the crowd, who thought he lost his marbles, and to the great concern of Bharat as he thought that his end had come.

…..

“Do you miss her?”

“Who?”

“Your Mum of course.”

“Well of course. Actually I do, but not as if I want to live her. I love my Dad and my step-mum. She’s been there for over ten years. It’s alright. But. It’s just not a complete family.”

“Yeah. I know what you mean.”

“No you don’t! Your Mum and Dad are still together ain’t they? Your brothers are still at home?”

“Yes. I know all that. But the family thing is important. Right? What I meant was that if you have been part of a complete family, you know, a proper family, once, then when that all changes, you miss it, no matter how good the present family is.”

“Yeah. But that you situation is not like mine.”

“I know that. No ones situation is exactly the same. What I mean is that if people leave a family, a family that you've and like being part of, then it is difficult.”

“What are saying? What do you mean?”

“I mean… Look. I used to have a sister. We were very close in age and very close as brother and sister. She died when she was ten. Ten years I had known her. For ten years we were friends and playmates. Then she went. All that I’m saying is that once we were a complete family and now we are not.”

…..

Standing still, in the middle of this large crowd, still holding his brother, helpless above his head, Bahubali considered what he was doing. Here he was fighting with his brother over what? Land. Why? For fame? For fortune? To make a big name for himself? This all sounded rather stupid. Why did he need fame or fortune or a big name? What would he do with all these things? He would just get fatter, more arrogant and probably crosser and crosser. This did not sound like the sort of things that a king should be. And what if he did become king of all the lands. What then? More lands to conquer? More battles to fight? Where was the peace in all this. Where would his inner peace come from?

Bahubali set his brother down on the ground and walked away. He walked away from the duel, from the crowds, from the country he ruled over and from the argument with his brother. He walked off to a wood where he stood in contemplation and meditation. He meditated on the wrongs he had done and on the wrongs that he had thought. He stood for such a long time that ants built an anthill around him and out of the anthills grew vines that twisted up his legs and his arms. 

…..

“Wow!”

“Look at that. It’s huge!”

“I wonder how they made that?”

“I think I read somewhere that it was carved out of one piece of rock.”

“He must have been important.”

“His eyes are closed. Do you thinks he’s meditating?”

“Could be. He’s obviously been standing around for some time. That tree seems to be growing around him.”

“I bet he could see a long way if he opened his eyes.”

…..

In spite of Bahubali’s years in meditation and penance he did not achieve the ultimate state of nirvana. Unlike the 24 tirthankars, Bahubali still had one thing in his mind that prevented him achieving nirvana and that was the thought that he was standing on ground that now belonged to his brother, Bharat. Even though he had changed his mind about winning the duel, had walked away realising how futile and meaningless such a battle was and how the results would not bring peace, he could still not dispel that one little bit of annoyance, jealousy. 

It is said that eventually his brother came to see him and that he consoled Bahubali saying that being king was not a brilliant role and that there was always something he had to solve or conquer or fight for. But he did also console Bahubali saying that this land on which he stood for many years was not his, was not anyones, it was just land that the present king looked after for the next king. Feeling released from the scourge of jealousy Bahubali achieved nirvana but because he could not get rid of that little bit of enmity he did not become a tirthankar.

…..

“Let’s go and look out over there.”

“Look at how small everywhere is now.”

“Too small small for your sister’s dolls?”

“Yes. But she would love to see all this. Look how far you can see.”

“And look! Down there. Eagles. Flying below us. Wow.”

“You don’t get to see them from above do you? Look at how easy it is for them to fly.”

“Yes. They are just floating. Very little effort.”

“I wish I could fly. It’d be brilliant. Go where you want, when you want.”

“Yeah. Great fun. And crapping on people!”

“That would be fun - for a boy! …That would be spoiling the fun.”

“Yea, you’re right. Look at that one. Now it can look down on us.”

.....

In spite of Bahubali’s years in meditation and penance he did not achieve the ultimate state of nirvana. Unlike the 24 tirthankars, Bahubali still had one thing in his mind that prevented him achieving nirvana and that was the thought that he was standing on ground that now belonged to his brother, Bharat. Even though he had changed his mind about winning the duel, had walked away realising how futile and meaningless such a battle was and how the results would not bring peace, he could still not dispel that one little bit of annoyance, jealousy. 

It is said that eventually his brother came to see him and that he consoled Bahubali saying that being king was not a brilliant role and that there was always something he had to solve or conquer or fight for. But he did also console Bahubali saying that this land on which he stood for many years was not his, was not anyones, it was just land that the present king looked after for the next king. Feeling released from the scourge of jealousy Bahubali achieved nirvana but because he could not get rid of that little bit of enmity he did not become a tirthankar.

…..

“Eagles have very good eyesight, don’t they?”

“Yeah. They spot small animals from up here and dive down to catch them.”

“So they can see a long way then?”

“I should think so. Look at that white couple over there. Why are they taking pictures of those people?”

“I don’t know. Let’s go ask them to take ours.”

“No. Let’s ask them to be in a picture with us!”

“Great idea.”

…..

Chandragupta thought about these things for some time and he realised that this power was an illusion. Yes he could seem to be powerful, he could rule over vast areas of land. He could make people afraid of him. He could even kill people if they did not do as he said, but what was the purpose of doing those things? He could not keep an eye on all the parts of his vast empire. He did not know what all his generals were thinking and doing. And then what would happen when he was no longer alive? Would the empire continue? Would his subjects miss him?

The emperor discussed all these points with the priests and the priests said to him that yes he was powerful and that all the people bowed before him and were afraid but that ultimately his power was limited - limited by time and by the fact that there would be things that he could not control. He could not control the mountains, he could not control the sea; he could not control the time the sun rises and he could not control the time sun sets; and he could not control the weather. They warned him that if he continued to seek power then, as a cat will attack a bird who attacked a worm, so something more powerful would attack him.

…….

“It’s a bit like a Hindu temple.”

“No it’s not!”

“Yes it is. Look at the red and white walls. Some of the statues look a bit like Hindu statues. They might be Hindu ones for all we know.”

“It’s a lot simpler than our temple.”

“Well that’s not difficult. Did you know that there are suppose to be several million Hindu gods!”

“But aren’t they all really avatars of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva?”

“And their wives - and their children…Oh it’s all a bit jumbled.”

“I think it’s best not to think about it all but concentrate on the one god you like. My aunty travels around the country quite a bit for her job. She really only goes to a Shiva temple when at home but she will go to any temple where she is staying. She says it doesn’t matter as long as you go. She says that they are all the same god in the end.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

…….

Sure enough, the rains that were due failed. Not one drop of water fell from the sky. As the rains did not come, the lakes and the rivers quickly dried up in the summer heat and the crops and the beasts and the humans that relied on the water began to suffer. First the crops failed, then the cows milk dried up and then the children and the adults began to starve. Chandragupta looked out across his lands and saw that this catastrophe was everywhere. He knew that in his arrogance he thought he could rule his world. It was all well and good gathering more and more cities and territories and people into his empire but then he should be looking after them and he had not made any contingency for a famine. 

Struck by this terrible discovery that he was not all-powerful, he reached the conclusion that he could not continue as emperor. He could not be responsible for his people, his lands - he had learned that they were not his people nor was the land his.  Chandragupta summoned his priests and told them as much. He told them that he was going to stand down, no longer to be emperor. He hoped that his son Bhimbisara would do a better job. The priests asked him what he was going to do and Chandragupta replied that he was going to leave his palace, his family, his finery and become an ascetic, a travelling Jain monk. He took as his guru Bhagwan Bhadrabahu Swami and together they set off through his kingdom and headed south.

…….

“ But what about these Jains? Do you know anything about them?”

“Not really. They don’t kill things. They don’t eat meat. I think the hardcore ones don’t wear clothes except for a face mask so that they don’t suck in any passing insects.”

“Yeah, that’s right. And they have a little brush to sweep the animals and insects from out of their path.”

“Not a bad idea really but a bit over the top.”

“Just a bit.”

….

They headed for a place in the southern Deccan, a place where there were two hills. He found a cave on the smaller of the two hills and here he lived his ascetic life, eventually fasting to death, which is the Jain’s traditional way. This hill, now known as Chandragiri, even today is a holy site, much visited but not as much its sister, Indragiri.

…..

“Do you think he’s a god?”

“I don’t know. If he isn’t it’s a big statue just for a man.”

“Do the Jains have gods?”

“I don’t know. But I heard that woman over there telling those white people that this is a statue of a prophet. Does that mean its like the Muslims?”

“No. I know that. I had a mate once who was a Muslim and he said that no one was allowed to make a statue or draw a picture of their prophet.”

“Right.”

“You know. Just sitting here its kind of peaceful. It’s quiet.”

“There’s no honking horns.”

“Hey. If you look carefully at his eyes, you can see that they are open. Look!”

“Oh yeah. I can just make it out. So he’s not meditating then.”

“Well, he might be. There are some who meditate with their eyes open.”

“Yeah, but not that wide.”

“Yeah! They can. And they do it for a long time. You stop looking at what your eyes are looking at. You look through it,the thing you were looking at, you look through it instead - or something like that.”

“Sounds a bit difficult to me.”

“Have ever stared at something for a long time that although you are looking at it, you mind is thinking of something else?”

“No.”

“Well try it now. Let’s just sit here and look at the statue. Just choose one part to look at and just keep your eyes pointed at that - but not his lingam!!”

“What. Like this?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see what you are doing. Just sit quietly and watch the one part of the statue that you have chosen to watch. It is better if you don’t choose something that is interesting. Just look at the one point and then let you mind wander but keep your eyes on that one spot.”

…..

The most important of the Mauryan kings was Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka. Ashoka was most powerful and expanded his empire to most of the subcontinent. However, like his grandfather, he had a moment of question. At the end of a great battle, surveying the dead and the injured, thinking about the wives without husbands, the children without fathers, he decided that this slaughter had to stop and that surely people could live together in peace and harmony with understanding and goodwill. Unlike his grandfather, who became a Jain ascetic, Ashoka converted to Buddhism. And he did not give up his throne. Instead he devoted his life to encouraging his people to live peacefully. Although he became a Buddhist he had a temple built on Chandragiri Hill in memory of his grandfather, Chandragupta.

…..

“Hi Shaz. You made it! That’s great. Isn’t it brilliant. The view is massive. We were looking down on some eagles. And the statue is, is brilliant! If you are thirsty there is a man over there with water. Its okay. I’ve drunk some and I haven’t fallen over - yet! Viz is over there. We're going to go the temple together when we get home - he wants us to find out more about meditation. He’s really nice isn’t he.”

 

Taking the Piss

The Government in India are cracking down on men who stand by the roadside to have a piss in full view of all who pass. I have to admit that there have been times when I wished to carry out such an act but common decency and embarrassment have prevented me (though the appearance of a thicket of trees has been known to be a welcome sight). At home there have been occasions when it is clear that a chap is having a pee but other than the rare sightings on the roadside, the main time to catch them at it - if that is what you wanted to do - would be in city centres late at night watching the young men reel from pub to club and back again, stopping at any wall or doorway to relieve themselves.

In India this is much more of an open and overt problem and in December 2014 the Government announced the creation of a special task force (Sharm se Pani) to tackle the problem. Their solution? To hose down the offenders as they are peeing. They see this as doubly good, not only issuing a punishment to the offender but washing down the area as well.

As a method of control, and as an advertised offence, it appears to have as much impact as the declaration to wear seat belts or crash helmets or limit the number of people on a motorcycle to two. Men are still peeing in public with little care as to who sees them.

All this has given rise to an unexplained thought: “Why do men have to pee against something?”. Typically a man searches out a vertical surface, albeita wall, a door, a fence or a tree. Perhaps some learned behaviour connected with the use of urinals and the schoolboy bravado of “How high can you pee?”? But why up something? If you use a hole-in-the-ground style toilet, you aim for the hole. If you use a western-style WC you aim for the water. As children you are taught that this is essential. My grandsons have a bulls-eye game that consists of a target floating on the water that they aim at and I can still remember my very cross Mother throwing a flood cloth at me for yet again ‘not concentrating’ and peeing over the seat and on the floor - though I was about five at the time.

So we are taught to pee down. So why up something? Is this a behaviour we have to do in public - scenting our territory nearer nose height? Is it a demonstration of some primitive masculinity? I don’t know, but when driving out of Mysore one day, a driver had parked his car on the side of the road by a field that was clearly a soccer pitch. The driver walked the several metres across the pitch to one of the goal posts, had pee against an upright, and then walked back to his car to continue his journey. I think that the Sharm se Pani have their work cut out.

 

Traffic - 2

Yesterday’s journey was a lesson in tolerance and suspension of disbelief. The roads are, at their best, as good as anywhere. The mediocre roads are like many of the country lanes at home, and the beaten track is just that. It is the driving that makes the experience exciting, exhilarating and mind-numbingly scary. In Chennai, the baptism of fire was tempered by the enforced slow speeds due to the volume of traffic. People still honked and pushed for position but you could not go far enough, or fast enough, for it to be too difficult to stop. On the ring roads things get a bit scarier as the same rules apply but at a higher speed. these rules should really besingular, captured in the phrase ‘There is only one rule: there are no rules!’.

Driving is a combination of speed, brake control, manoeuvrability, super fast reflexes and horns. Some small motorcycles have a ridiculous small squeak, the sort of sound that you might get from standing on a duck. At the other end of the scale are the lorries and buses. Huge leviathans, seemingly built on sturdy chassis’ to cope with the roads, bear down on you, from the front, towards you, as well as from the rear, and as they approach they let out an equally enormous honk, a sound that could put to shame a large tanker sailing through fog.

The principal behind the use of the horn on Indian roads is different to that used in the UK. Whilst in both countries the starting point is to inform the vehicle in front of you that you are there and possibly about to do a manoeuvre that requires a warning, in the UK it has transformed into a tool of war, an audible extension of anger and frustration suffered by the driver on the free-flowing roads when she or he is forced to slow down, make some unexpected steering movement, or most commonly to complain that someone else has done something that they do not like.

In India, the use of the horn for warning predominates but does lead one to wonder how discriminating the honked can be after an untold number of honkers have loomed up, honked, and passed on. In the city this creates a permanent audio backdrop of scooters overtaking bicycles, motorbike overtaking scooters, tuk-tuks overtaking motorbikes and cars overtaking the lot - except for the lorries and the buses dreadnoughting their way across this sea of wheeled humanity.

 

Don't Lose Your Head

Shiva the god of destruction had one formidable adversary. His wife. Parvati was not a wrathful woman but she did know how to keep her husband in his place. However Shiva, a red-blooded male, always took the course he wanted to, which meant that if he wanted to invade his wife’s privacy then he would, whatever she was doing. Parvati, like a lot of women, liked to soak in the bath, and if you have ever taken a bath you will know that you don't want to be disturbed. You might want time alone to play with your submarine or your rubber duck; you might want to read your book in peace - and if you are a woman, you might want time to do those things that women like to do - but as I am a man, I have no idea what they might be.

Now Shiva is important. He comes home after a hard day dancing his destructive dances, negotiating with Brahma so that good results can come out of the destruction. He wants to tell Parvati what a day he has had. What a hard time he is having with Brahma  

“and Vishnu! Don’t even get me started on Vishnu!!”. 

So, bounding in through the front door, he calls for Parvati and hearing no response knows that she will be lying in her bath, cleaning herself, pampering herself - though he does not realise that this is as much for him as it is for her. In fact I expect that there are times when she wishes he would go and lie in a bath, particularly after all that frantic dancing.

Shiva pushes through the bathroom door and stands in the middle of the room, staring at his beautiful wife, soaking her fine skin in the cleansing water. As well as the constant barging into the bathroom, another thing that annoys Parvati is that once he has arrived his eyes see her beauty and all thoughts of the day drop away, his love for her overpowers everything else - and his jaw drops… silent.

Parvati doesn't mind him looking and in fact she is rather flattered. She loves him as much as he loves her - and of course he is Shiva, with all that comes with the man (or, rather, the god). But night after night he bellows her name and bounces into the bathroom. 

“Just once,” she says, “just once I would like to have a bath in peace but there is no point in putting a lock on the door!” 

This is the god of destruction after all. She thinks about this and then comes up with a plan.

The next day, before she takes her bath, she scraped some of the sandalwood off her skin, and from that she fashioned a boy. She breathed life into this boy and immediately fell in love with him as a mother loves a son. She told him that she was his mother and that his duty was to her. As her son he would protect her, and in particular he would stop anyone entering the bathroom whilst she took her bath.

Later, Shiva came prancing home, pirouetting and polka-ing, pleased as punch as he had pulled a fast one over Brahma. (Actually, he had not. Brahma thought that Shiva ought to learn that there will always be a reaction from one of Shiva’s destructive dances, and so Brahma led Shiva to believe that this time he had beaten Brahma. In fact Brahma would point out tomorrow that Shiva had been tricked and that the normal balance of things had been maintained.) So happy was Shiva though, thinking that he had at long last got the better of Brahma that he called out in a far less demanding manner for Parvati and when there was no reply went off to find her in her bathroom. When he got there he was quite shocked to find a young boy standing outside the door. Shiva’s first thought was that this was some young lad trying to take a peek at his wife in the bath and he began to feel less happy. He stared at the boy who looked straight back at him and said

“You cannot pass.”

“And why can I not pass - boy?”

“Because my mother is having a bath.”

“Your mother?!”

“Yes. My mother.”

“Your mother? Listen boy, do you know who I am?”

“No. But you are not passing this door.”

“I am Shiva. The dancer of destruction. I could have you killed right away!”

“Well, I am Parvati’s son and I will not let anyone pass - Shiva, Brahma or Vishnu - or anyone else. I am bonded to my mother and will stop anyone entering.”

“BUT I AM SHIVA!! YOU MUST LET ME PASS!!!”

“No!”

This presented Shiva with a bit of a problem. Well, actually a couple of problems. He didn't know if he had fathered a child. (Well, these were gods and don’t work to the rules that you and I work to.) He also didn't like being kept away from his wife - but he also didn't know what to do with the boy. If this boy was a man, then that would be easy. A horde of beasts? No problem. But this? This boy? Was he their son? He certainly looked like Parvati - but still he couldn't remember her saying anything about children. Hmm.

“Therefore, he must be a demon. A test sent by Brahma.”

After all, at the back of his mind he wondered why he had won the argument today. He never had before. 

“So that’s it! A test. This is no son of mine!”

Shiva stepped forward. The boy shouted for him to stop. Shiva jumped back and started to hum a tune, a tune with a lyrical, dancing rhythm. He pulled out his sword and started to swing it around - over his head, in circles, in front of him - in easy swishes. Bringing the sword into his dance he knew that the boy was captivated. 

The boy watched the beautiful movements. He heard the infectious tune. He started to move to the music. As Shiva danced, the sword in one hand, he beckoned the boy with the other. The boy was entranced. Hypnotised. Moving with the music he started to dance as well. He danced towards Shiva, reaching out his hand to Shiva’s to join him in the dance. As the dance sped up, the blade glistened in the red evening sun, sending reflections of light around the room. Faster and faster it went until, with one swift movement, the boys hand went limp, his body fell to the floor and Shiva stared into the eyes of the severed head.

Shiva was then aware that a pair of eyes were staring at him. Lowering the head, his eyes met those of Parvati, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, looking with shock and horror at the body on the floor and the head in her husbands hand. Tugging her towel around her even tighter, she stretched her tight lips and hissed at Shiva

“What have you done?”

Parvati’s look was a sharp as an axe and Shiva, for all his greatness and power winced. He knew he had got it wrong - again. He looked at his wife and tried to conjure up a look of inquisitiveness, misunderstanding and mirth, with a hint of remorse for good measure.

“No need for you to look quite so sick Shiva” she hissed at him, “That is - or rather, was - my son that you have just beheaded.”

Shiva was still standing on one foot, in mid dance, the head hanging from his hand by the boys thick curly black hair. Slowly Shiva lowered his leg, thought about dropping the head on the floor, thought better of it and placed it, gently on the ground. Standing up straight again, he smiled sheepishly at Parvati and started

“But..”

But his “but’ got no further. With one short step and one sweeping movement Parvati bent down, picked up the boys head and then turning it to show Shiva she pushed her own face to his and shouted

“But nothing!!! This is my son. You come in here thinking that you can treat the home like you treat everything else. It is not a joke. This boy was mine. Mine to protect me from brutes who rush into my bathroom when all I want is peace and quiet!”

“Who rushes into your bathroom when you are in there? Let me know and I will sort them out.” 

“Who? WHO??? YOU! you great destroyer, you dancing demon. I made my boy so that YOU would not pass into my bathroom when I want PEACE AND QUIET!!!”

“But, but…” said Shiva, backing away very slowly “But, but…”

“Will you stop butting or I will arrange for you to become a goat!. Just look at the damage you have created. What am I going to do now?”

“Well, you could…. make another one?”

Shiva could tell from her look that this was a silly suggestion. He opened his mouth to say something else and then, seeing the two pairs of eyes looking straight at him, decided that it might be better if he said nothing.

“I’ll tell you what YOU can do” said Parvati “You can find a new head for my boy. This one is no good now that you have cut it off, but the body is still in good order. Find me a new head!”

And with that Parvati turned to retreat to her bathroom. At the door she spun round, threw the head at Shiva and was gone. The door slammed and for once Shiva thought it best not to follow her in.

Shiva went and sat down and nesting the severed head in his arms as he thought about what to do. 

“Find a new head? Not that easy” he thought. 

He sat for quite some time, distracted by his thoughts, casually throwing the head up in the air and catching it as if it were a ball. And then he had an idea! He stood up, tossed the head into the air, caught it with his right foot and flipped it over his head into the waste paper bin.

“GOAL!!”

Then realising what he had done, he sidled out of the house to find his men. When he found them he told them to go out into the jungle and they were to bring him the head of the first animal that they came across. Off the men went and the first animal that they found was an elephant. Not the easiest of jobs for ordinary men, but Shiva’s men managed to remove the elephants head and returned to present their trophy. Shiva was very pleased but shooed them away before going to find his wife.

“Oh Parvati…” 

He called in a soft, silly, sing-song voice. He was standing outside the bathroom door. 

“Oh Parvati” 

He repeated a little louder. Still no response. 

“Oh Parvati” 

He called louder still, the softness having gone and the sing-song having turned into more of a bawl.

“OH!….”

He started to shout. But the door flew open and a dripping, towel-clad Parvati pierced him with her eyes.

“Oh. There you are dear. Look what I have got. A lovely new head for your boy.”

She looked at him and then at the elephant head and then back at him. She opened her mouth and was about to say something but this time Shiva got off the mark a bit quicker and placed the head on the body of the boy. He then knelt down, open the mouth of the elephant boy and breathed into him. After two or three breaths, the boy started to twitch and after a few more breaths the boy started to move and after a few more breaths the boy opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Shiva’s big face. The first thing he did was to open his mouth and shriek.

“It’s alright” said Shiva, surprisingly quiet and gentle, “It’s alright. You might be a bit sore for a day or two but you will soon feel as right as rain.”

All this time while Shiva had been seeing to the boy, the dripping Parvati had been standing there watching what what was going on and had been tapping her foot in that way that people tap their feet when they are so cross about something they cannot even open their mouths. However, as the boy returned to life, Parvati relaxed a bit; the foot tapping stopped (though she still dripped) and eventually she knelt down beside Shiva and smiled at the boy. 

“It’s going to be alright”  she said softly to the child, “he may be big and strong - and a little stupid at times - but he won’t harm you,” turning to Shiva, “Will you?”

“Oh no,” said Shiva “In fact as I have helped bring you to life, you are as much my son as you are Parvati’s and I will love you as much as she does.”

And that is how Parvati and Shiva came to have a boy child. Even if he did have an elephant’s head. In fact he was very important, not only to his parents, but he also became a great god in his own right.