Where are you Angel?
Where are you Angel?
This story takes place in Kerala, a state in South India.
The small town of Shoranur, town of Trichur and the cities of Cochin, Trivandrum and the tourist town of Cape Comorin lay almost in a straight line, from north to south. The distance between Shoranur and Trichur is about thirty kilometres and the distance between Trichur and Cochin approximately sixty kilometres.
My house is at Shoranur. I am a journalist, working for a Malayalam daily. My wife, Angel, lives at Trichur with her father. She works in a college, run by Hindu monks, in Cochin. She travels all the way from Trichur to Cochin daily by train and comes to our housein Saturday morning and returns in Sunday evening. My son Jo who studies Kathakali music in Kerala Kalamandalam is living with me. In addition to his study of Kathakali music, Jo is a participant in a music reality show and he is now practicing music. That’s all as preface.
It was a good morning. I am still in bed. My birthday this year was yesterday. Angel had come and returned in the evening.
The telephone rang. As I continued to stay in the bed, he attended the phone and said: “Dad, it’s for you.”
“Who is it?”
“It’s Alex, your father-in-law.”
I attended the phone.
“The kingdom of God is within you and around you”. He recited his slogan and continued: “I am telling you an important matter. Don’t let anyone other than you know it. The matter is Angel is gone last night.”
“I don’t know. She left home in secret. Without saying a word”.
“How old is she, exactly?”
“You don’t know! She is now thirty five.”
“I will come there right now.”
My father-in-law is a widower. If my wife is gone, he will be alone in the house.
After taking a bath and dressing hurriedly, I left for wife house.
The crisis was real, all too serious.
“Could she have run off with a man?”
“What man could have run of with her?”
“Most people get it out of their systems by the time they‘re seventeen, but not Angel. She has to wait and run away from home when she is thirty five! She did it because she’s always done that she’s wanted to do!”
“That’s not true,” I objected.
“You wouldn’t say it to her face,”
“She must have had a good reason.”
“She must have had some reason. What it is I don’t know, but she must have had it. What’s more, she must have some kind of a plan. Angel always planned out what she did.”
On and on we talked.
“Just what are her reasons? I‘d like to know what you think her plans can be.”
“I do not know her plan but I can think of various reasons. Perhaps she wanted a change. Why not? Why should she want to stay here, here in this place as far as that goes?”
The discussion continued till evening but reached nowhere.
I bid farewell at five o’ clock: “I will be back tomorrow morning.”
“The kingdom of God is within you and around you”.
We again met next day morning, slightly composed. We discovered it this way. Alex was an early riser, and got up at about six o’clock. Mary, the cook, came to the house only at about 9 A.M. So he had to get his own breakfast. The necessaries were left out for him by Angel on the table in the kitchen and in the refrigerator, as her final downstairs act the night before, because she will go in early morning to get the train.
Yesterday morning he came downstairs at about six twenty and found nothing ready. Nothing whatsoever. Yet when he had gone to bed the night before, Angel who was reading a book in the hall, had called her usual good night to him: “Mention me in your prayers.”
“The kingdom of God is within you”. He replied, as usual.
There was no hint that things were not normal.
His distress was of course, majestic. He ate his breakfast discontented. If only Angel would descend! He would overwhelm her with the magnitude of his grievance.
Angel usually got up at six, but seven came that morning, and he began to walk in his room and still there was no sound from her
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about Angel. She forgot her job and my breakfast this morning. She is oversleeping.”
He climbed the stairs and listened, his ear to the door panel, really disturbed now. He knocked again, and again, and then went in and found Angel’s bed unused. A piece of paper was pinned to the bed sheet. It was a note. Angel’s only message to him.
“Dear Dad! So you …know now!
He found that her tooth-brush was gone, also her combs, and the bottle of wine kept in the bedside cabinet, of which she took a sip just before she turned out her light. A medium sized suitcase which she could carry herself, was also gone
“It’s all some silly project of Angel. She will be back by noon.”
It was then when he called me yesterday.
Mary, the servant, arrived at the same time I did. After listening while Alex told us what he knew, she went upstairs to look for herself. She made her own discovery.
“Her woollen coat is also gone from the cupboard. That sounds like next winter.”
“Or a very cool destination.”
“What do you think it’s all about?”
Mary a big woman, with grey hair, studied us. Since grandmother’s death she had involved a trying but effective way of maintaining herself in that uneasy household. She now guessed that we would be gaining upon the absent of Angel.
“I think she’s gone off because she’s too full of life to stand it any longer in this old house. I doubt if she ever come back. And, then, I won’t stay either. Not alone here with you.”
“I’d like that in writing.” Alex retorted.
Suddenly Mary’s face screwed up and she hurried off towards the kitchen. I followed her.
“What’s the matter Mary? You do know something we don’t know, do you?”
“Oh! My boy. It’s terrible. What we will do without her, he out there and me.”
“And me, may be even more”.
By what means had Angel departed? When I returned to the front end of the house, I asked Alex if he knew. He hadn’t got around to thinking about that yet. Angel had parked her scooter in the car porch. It was missing. Wherever she had gone, she had gone by her scooter, or as usual, parking it in the railway station.
Mary told us toward the end of dinner that Angel had said two days ago that there would be four at table that night. So she knew already. She didn’t decide suddenly to go off in the middle of the night.
“I‘ve spent my life doing what Angel plans for me to do. I’m sick and tired of it.”
“It is possible that Angel will never, never, plan anything for you to do again!”
We separated after dinner, having wasted that day in dithering, the way people do when in shock. We had decided nothing, planned nothing.
“Maybe she’ll come back home tonight or be here tomorrow morning, just as usual – and make my breakfast, I have that feeling. If she doesn’t, it’s going to get lonely here.”
“Let us hope”.
“The kingdom of God is within you”.
When I telephoned my son to say I would be away for the night and to tell him why, he had supposed, after the expression of surprise due to situation, that in that case he just stay over late at the studio for the reality show, but he came immediately, as he wanted to know his mother’s details.
I told him everything I knew about Angel’s disappearance, and answered questions: Were we sure Angel had run away? Were we sure no simple explanation? Didn’t anyone have any idea why she’d done it? And so on.
“But we have got to find her.”
“May be she’s not lost!”
“Save the irony for later, after she is back. Have you tried to figure out where she’s gone?”
“Not yet. We have not got around yet.”
I allowed the day to pass, for Alex hoped still that Angel would, after a two days’ straying, reconsider and return.
She did not.
On the morning when I got to the old house, which was thirty kilometres away from mine, down in the town, I said to Alex:
“Angel has really gone and obviously we’ve got to find her. Find her and make her return if we can”.
“I am open to suggestions.”
“For a minute I thought you had some appropriate action to propose. Where could she have gone? Where could she be?”
“Somewhere in Cochin?”
“I expect you are right. Have you any idea where she might have gone away to? Relatives or friends, that’s one possibility. Does any destination strikes you?”
“I think we will have to talk to people she’s been seeing recently to find out what’s been on her mind.”
“I see no alternative but who and what are they?”
We divided up the work of getting in touch with Angel’s friends and acquaintances. Alex would take those the majority who could be handled by telephone, while I got her work place and other connections.
Putting the worst thing first – by so much the worst that if I had postponed it I would never have gone there. I set off for the place at Cochin where Angel is working. It is a college, run by a Mutt of Hindu monks.
I identified myself to the information desk and said I’d like to speak to the Principal. The principal, simple greying hair, candid light eyes, a frankly summer dress, no jewellery. I sat down, when invited, in a chair beside her table.
“Madam, I am, as the information desk just informed you, the husband of Angel.” I said.
“Angel? Which Angel?”
“Angel from Trichur. Working here as a lecturer.”
She thought for a few minutes and said:
“Oh! Now I remember. That English teacher. A very beautiful young woman.”
“Then, you did not know?”
I looked at her in surprise.
“She was working here, but not now. She left us one year ago.”
“Left! One year ago!”
“Don’t be embarrassed. Actually she did not leave us. She just changed her job.”
“I cannot understand.”
“She was promoted and posted as the Personal Assistant of our Shri Swamiji.”
“Then why can’t she tell me?”
“I don’t know, but I guess. She might have thought that you will not allow her to take up the new job.”
“That’s a point. I might have not liked it. He is a womaniser.”
“Don’t say so! He is Godlike!”
“Not Godlike but a god-man. I am a journalist and I know many things that you do not know. Is the swami now available in the Ashram?”
“No. He has gone to the USA”.
“And Angel accompanied him.”
“I don’t know. Can be.”
I thought for a while before returning to home. Can I get somebody who can help me in the matter? I went to the Cochin branch of our newspaper and enquired to get some contact with the Ashram. They supplied the address of one Mr. Menon. I started to meet that person.
Mr. Menon was an old man, about seventy years old. He welcomed me with a smile. I described the case and asked him whether he knew anything about Angel.
“Oh! It was your wife? I thought her as a Hindu. Anyway, I know her. She is the right hand of the swamiji.”
“What about the swami?”
“What do you want to know?”
“His attitude towards women?”
“You said you are a journalist”.
“Yes. But this is my personal matter. I am not going to report our conversation to the paper.”
“I believe you. I have access to the swamiji and
know something which I will not disclose now. You can make your own enquiries and find out yourself.”
I tried my level best but he was adamant. I approached the matter from a different angle:
“When will swami return?”
“He has gone to inaugurate a new branch there and will be returning as soon as possible”
“Angel followed the swami?”
“I think so.”
“What’s her relation with the swami?”
“You are really a journalist! I told you that I am not willing to speak about that matter. You will have to find out yourself.”
The old man was not ready to open his heart because I belonged to another religion and further I am a journalist. I returned, saying thanks to him.
Even though he did not say anything explicitly, I could read in between the lines. He did not refute my implied allegation.
Thinking about getting another contact, I again approached our branch, but the reporter had gone out and the office staff did not know anything about the swami.
I contacted the reporter through mobile phone and informed him the position and asked whether he could suggest some other name.
“James!” he replied: “I can suggest some more names. But I think it is better if you can collect the information yourself. You do one thing. Go direct to the ashram and pretending as a well-wisher, visit some places there and give some donation to them. And by approaching this way, you will get a chance to take them in hand.”
It was a good idea. So saying thanks to him I went to the Ashram.
The Ashram at Cochin.
It was a vast compound and there were many buildings, small and big, and the compound was full of trees, plants and flowers.
The first building was the reception and adjacent to it stood a book-stall. I went to the book-shop. There were a lot of books there and all of them were Hindu philosophical books. I asked a man there about the books written by the swami. He laughed and said that the swami had not so far written any book. I had to swallow my next question.
Then I went to the reception. A smart boy of twenty five years was at the desk. He wore white dress and had a small knot of long hair on the back of his head.
I asked: “Are you a swami?”
“I am not a sanyasin but a Brahmachari, a student sanyasin. What I can do for you?”
“I want to know more about our swami and the ashram.”
“You will get books from the book shop about the ashram and the swamis here. It is better to read them than depending on my words.”
I said ‘thank you’ to him and presented a one hundred rupee note as a donation. He accepted the money and issued a receipt.
There were two big halls in the middle of the compound. One was a temple and the other appeared to be a place for meetings, ceremonies etc.
The huge bell in front of the ashram struck twelve times. It was time for food and all the people rushed to another building, in a corner of the compound which appeared to be a canteen.
On the way I met the receptionist. He said: “You cannot leave without eating our food. The accommodation and food here is free for three days. Why can’t you accept our invitation”.
He led me to the canteen and arranged for my food, and left. The food consisting of brown rise and four curry dishes was simple and tasty. I enjoyed the food, as vegetarian food was rare to me.
While returning from the Ashram after dinner I went to the receptionist to say ‘thank you’. He handed over a key and told me: “Make it convenient to stay here for two-three days!"
I thought for a while and found that the stay in the Ashram may help me to get some contact whom I may use to study more about the swami and his secret life, if any, I agreed.
I decided to act as a Hindu, and in the register I wrote my name as Vishnu, to avoid the dislike of the orthodox inmates.
I parked my car in a corner of the parking-ground and started in search of my room.
It was a huge quadrangular building with twenty five small rooms on all the four sides and there was a round building in the middle of the quadrangular building. It was for the swamis to meditate. The square building was for the swamis, brahmacharis and the visitors like me.
At four, the bell rang for times.
I walked forward. As already said, there were two buildings in the middle of the compound; one was a temple with some idols of Hindu gods and the other a hall for arranging meetings and ceremonies. An old man, white and white, was speaking and some fifty people were listening. All were wearing white dress and sitting on the floor. One of the audience caught my hand and asked me to sit and hear the speech.
The old man began to talk. It was not speech, but a simple talk to the audience. Obeying the instinct of a journalist, I took out my pocket diary and noted down his words in ‘short hand’….
One day a bishop and his followers were travelling on a boat. On the way they happened to see a small island and anchored there for a short break. There they saw three old men who appeared to be hermits. To the enquiries of the bishop, as to their belief and prayers, they replied that they don’t know any philosophy. They have got only one prayer. ‘You are three and we are three. Please bless us.’
The bishop taught them a good prayer for meditation: “The kingdom of God is within us and around us.”
“They don’t know any philosophy! Their prayer is ‘we are three, you are three!” The bishop and his men returned laughing at the three men.
When they have passed some distance the travellers saw the three men approaching the boat walking on the waves. They said: ‘Bishop, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us. Please repeat it once more.’
“This is an adaptation of a story written by Lev Tolstoy. You may try to find out the meaning of the story yourself.”
The story was followed by a serious speech…
What is Truth? How are you going to find out? Are you going to accept somebody else’s information? Or are you going to try to discover for yourself what it is? It is easy to ask questions, but to experience the Truth requires a great deal of inquiry and search…
At about five thirty, the inmates again gathered in the same hall. Within a few minutes, a bhajan (singing of religious hymns in praise of Hindu gods) started. The system was : one singer recited some lines and the chorus followed him loudly. The songs were in Sanskrit and hence I could not understand them except names of some gods. Still I enjoyed the singing.
After the bhajan, all inmates assembled in the temple. There was deeparadhana (worship with lamps) before all deities, at six fifteen. After that a pinch of ashes was served to all to mark on the forehead.
The evening food was served at about seven. It consisted of brown rice and two kinds of curries. I liked that food also.
The night was peaceful. I entered the speech to my ‘lap-top’ and I slept well.
At five o clock in the morning, the bell rang five times and with it the ashram roused to action. After bathing in the tank inside the ashram, all inmates assembled in the temple. There was deeparadhana. After that sandal paste was served to all to mark on the forehead. Some persons sat in a corner, merged in meditation.
The food for the morning (tiffin) was served at eight. It consisted of Idlis and sambar curry followed by tea or milk.
After the tiffin, I went to the bookstall and walked around, examining the bookshelves, trying to purchase some books. I spent about one hour there and returned after purchasing a book on the Ashram. As I did not know the name of the swami, I could not select a book on him.
I went to the reception and spent some time there, talking with the receptionist, whenever he is free.
“I have spent more than twenty four hours here but I could not find your swami.”
“Which swami? We have got many swamis here. The Guru swami who is the brain of the ashram, manager swami who manages the ashram, PRO swami who deals with the public, external affairs swami who manages our branches in foreign countries, canteen swami who manages the canteen etc.. All of them are staying in the square building and their rooms are their offices. Now tell me, which swami you want to meet.”
“Which swami has a lady personal assistant?”
“Nobody here has a personal assistant. No lady staff at all.”
“Now I will tell you the truth. My wife was working as a P.A. to the head of this institution. Last week she left me, without saying a word. Somebody in the town told me that she left for the USA with the swami in this ashram.”
“No swami from here has gone to USA.”
I took out a photo of Angel from my pocket and showing it to him asked: “Have you seen this woman? It is my wife.”
He looked at the photo for some time and thought for a while,
“No sir, I have not seen her.”
“Can you give me a clue as to who might have gone to the USA recently”.
“I have already told you. Nobody has gone to USA. It is the external affairs swami who will go to the foreign countries, but he is here. I have a doubt, not sure, a swami from Trivandrum had gone to USA. He is an American. The ashram is an autonomous body. He often visited this place, as he is a follower of our Guru swami. You can try there.”
Returning my key, I started to Trivandrrum. It was some two hundred kilometres away and the driving was very tedious. I halted at Alleppey and Quilon for tea and short breaks and reached at Trivandum at about eight. I hired a room in a lodge and stayed for the night and went to the ashram in the morning.
The pattern of the reception and the bookstall was the same. The temple and the adjacent meeting hall were small when compared to the ashram at Cochin. The compound was also small. I went to the reception. A young lady was there at the desk. It seemed that this ashram has got no allergy to woman and colours. The girl was talking to some body in phone. I waited. It took more than ten minutes. It looked like a chat with her lover.
She stopped her talking and looked at me.
“What I can do for you.”
“Whether your swami has returned from the USA?”
“No. He has not.”
“When he will come?”
“It may take a few more days”.
I took out the photo and showed it to her and asked whether she has seen the woman?
“No. I have not”.
The case is becoming more and more complicated. I thought for a while and decided to stay there for some time.
There was a notice in the notice-board that the ‘Guru Swami’ of Cochin ashram will deliver a speech on Indian philosophy at 10 AM. I decided to hear it, so that I may spend more time there without inviting the attention of the residents.
Saying thanks to her, I returned to my room in the lodge. After having food and some rest, I again visited the ashram at nine forty five. Many people, about one hundred, had gathered in the meeting-hall.
The old man whom I had seen at Cochin ashram was the speaker. He was standing on the stage and talking. The audience were sitting on chairs and listening.
Following my instinct as a journalist, I took out the ‘short-hand’ book and began to note down the important points of the speech.
The old man began to speak.
When the talk on Shad darshanas was over, I returned to my room and entered this speech to my laptop.
In the evening I went to see the Shankumugham beach. The vast stretch of white sand and the serene atmosphere, away from the crowd in the city, provide all the ingredients for relaxation and for spending an ideal evening sunset.
The speech on Vedanta darshanas was over by one hour and thirty minutes. I returned to my room and after food I went to see the Kovalam beach, an international tourist center. It was 13 km away from Trivandrum. In the night I entered the speech to my lap-top.
The speech by Guruswami on Vedanta darshana was over by one hour.
I entered the speech to my laptop and in the evening I went to see Kanyakumari.
Kanyakumari also known as Cape Comorin, is a town in Kanyakumari District in the state of Tamil Nadu in India, ninety kilometres south of Trivandrrum. It is the southern tip of Indian subcontinent. The southernmost town in mainland India.
The talk on Jainism and Buddhism took two hours. I returned to my room and entered my notes in the lap top. In the evening I again returned to the ashram. A bhajan was going on in the hall with a mesmeric effect…
I was sleeping or in unconscious state. When I woke up I found myself in a hospital bed. And a nurse was giving me an injection.
“Where am I?” I asked the nurse.
“You are in a hospital”, the nurse replied.
“The Mission hospital.”
I closed my eyes and pretended like sleeping.
Then Guru Swami and Alex entered the room
“The kingdom of God is within you, James! Are you OK?”
I thought for a while and replied: “OK.”
“Is your wife is also OK?” The swami asked.
“No.” Alex said: “He is not married.”
“Not married! Then, who is Angel?”
“Angel is, oh no, was, my daughter”
“Yes ‘was’. She left us some ten years ago, in a road accident.”
“James alias Vishnu told me that he has got a wife and a son.”
“James and Angel were class-mates and they had developed a healthy friendship. But before we could arrange their marriage, she is gone and he is broken.”
“What are you thinking about my experience?”
I asked Alex: “Was it a dream?”
“Just another hallucination or a dream!”
“Then, how did this swami, who is a creation of my mind, appear here in person? How could my ‘lap- top’ contain so much philosophy?”
There is no response.
There is nobody here.
It is my home and my room.
I am alone.
All, all, alone.