Otherwise too the picture was now a problem. Neither could he own the picture and put it on display in his Ashram, nor could he keep it in secret, the picture of a beautiful naked woman, without detriment to his status and reputation as a Sanyasin. His whole image would be lost, and it was sure to affect the growth and the expansion of the Ashram. It might even make the Ashram to disintegrate by and by and disappear, a horrid prospect. Besides it would perpetually work on his feelings, and cause serious emotional damage. It might eventually ruin even his morals and celibacy. Neither could Bharathi own it and flaunt it before her parents, friends and relations. It would be the end of her from every point of view. It would be the end of him too if he kept it. But still Bharathi was a precious jewel and the picture another jewel, and the like of them he was not going to see even after several incarnations. She had somehow blended into his being, into his life and soul. She fluttered in his blood and had become the marrow of his bones, Her feminine fragrance had come to permeate him like the strange blessing of some mighty goddess, and would never leave him. Let the skies fall, let the earth split, but that fragrance would keep. It had coupled with his soul and had gone all the way down into his fate. It was the fragrance of a cosmic femininity that flared up all inside him.

But what to do with the picture? That was now the question. He consulted Bharathi. She was unwilling to part with the picture. It was her other self, perhaps that was her only real self. A self that throbbed larger and had more pulsations. More eloquently revelatory of the meaning she possessed. It was her own self created by one of the holiest of men above whom she valued none or nothing in the world. The picture could be with her or with the Swamiji. But she could, however, not shut her eyes to the enormous risks that such a course was fraught with. If they were not going to keep the picture with them, then why on earth they brought it into being at all? It was an impossible dilemma. But they were left with no option. A little more thinking, and the picture would not have been painted. But gods had put their destiny in it. Through it they had forged them into one and thrown them into a common fire. The picture was their work. And they were now both roasting in the fire of sex.

Jitendra said he would send it on to some museum in Europe. He remembered that once a German Art dealer had said that since he possessed talent, he could paint a Nude and send it on to him, He would put it in an exhibition, later sell it and secure a fancy price for it which he could use for his Ashram. There was a great demand in Europe for the Nudes of Indian beauties. All this now came to his mind. But how could he tell it to Bharathi? But he hated to make money out of it. It was an unthinkable thought, and too far beneath him. The picture of a mightily endowed goddess could never be trifled with that way. It was the property of the world if they could not keep it with them. It was a heritage to all humanity, a gift to posterity. He said he would send it to the famous museum in Holland known as Rijksmuseum. It was in Amsterdam. The chief of the museum he knew well. He would put neither his name nor hers on the picture. Or he would put pseudonyms. The name of the artist would be Aditya and the name of the Nude Preethi. Bharathi was lost in thought for a while. She didn't care about names. She was only conscious of the incalculable loss. She was speechless. She agreed and left. No word had any meaning. She had come to love the picture so much, and through it the divine artist who made it. He had performed the Godlike function of creation. He had created out of a mortal Bharathi an infinitely magnified immortal one.

That night he had a horrible dream, and he was jolted instantly out of sleep. In the dream he saw Lord Yama, the God Of Death, black, blood- curdling and of proportions that seemed to fill half the world, seated on his ponderous buffalo. He was right in his front holding him in a prolonged stare in which was summed up all the wrath of heaven. He seemed to soften when he recited the Mrithyunjaya Mantra, the Mantra of Lord Shiva in his aspect as the Destroyer of Death. It was another Amirtha Mantra before which Yama was said to tremble and withdraw, and so too whatever gods there were of destruction. Yama stretched his arm and pointed to him something, and then vanished. It was the Rijksmuseum that was burning and being reduced to ashes in a conflagration. The picture too was burning along with it and breaking to cinders. Jitendra couldn't sleep after that.

Next morning Bharathi brought him his breakfast. He ate thoughtfully, pausing now and then as he ate. Bharathi looked like something half- extinct. She didn't speak. Jitendra could eat only half the breakfast. He said he didn't feel like eating. He would rather prefer to starve. He had a proposal in his mind. He didn't know how she would react if he told her. But he was afraid. She might possibly break down and take long to retrieve herself.

"Bharathi, I don't know why I am being invaded by repeated fears. I think the curse of the gods had already come upon me. I am fairly sure the divine wrath is descending. I am afraid, me and my mission might soon be in debris. I want to make a confession to you, Bharathi. At the moment you are the only dearmost object to me in the world. And you will be ever so as long as there is breath in this body. I will now make that confession. That would, to a great extent, ease the burden on my soul". Now he gasped, waited, and his eyes became great and stood on her. But he could not but begin. And then tremblingly he did begin.

"When I painted the Nude of you, Bharathi, my jewel, I was not pure. I had turned a sinner. I was sexually excited, rather I was too full of it. I had a sudden longing for you. A dirty longing. It ate into me, consumed me and reduced me to madness. I knew it was a sin. But still despite me, it persisted and ruled. I wept inside, but still I could not but desire. If I had not fainted, you would have become a prey to my erotic fire. And God had spared both of us. And so this picture was painted by a sinner, Bharathi. It was born in sin. My vital being as well as my soul had already succumbed to sin" .

Bharathi wept, sobbed, choked and wept bitterly. She almost wanted to embrace him, hold him fast against her breasts and put her head on his shoulder. But then she did not want to stain the purity and sacredness of the saffron-robe with her body that was already soaked in sin.

Now she spoke:

"I too would make a confession, Swamiji. When I stood posing for you naked, I kept all the time imagining both of us locked up in ecstatic sex. Despite me, my infatuation with the abounding maleness of your body took me captive, and left me in an erotic upheaval. And so I too was a sinner, Swamiji".

She gasped amid tears that welled up in her eyes and ran down her face.

Jitendra was shocked. All the processes of life in him seemed to stop. He never expected this. It was a tragic revelation that literally shattered him. He gasped as his unwinking eyes stared into the void, and then became moist. Then he spoke in a stammer. The whole universe was God's Shrine. And there were two sinners standing in it. They had no right to. They were committing a sacrilege, and ruining its sanctity. Should they live, redeem themselves and hope to be pardoned or die and be lost in hell which they deserved. !

"And so, Bharathi, this picture was made conjointly by two sinners, and was born in sin as I told you. Whoever kept it, be it an individual or an institution, is sure to suffer an illfate. It might bring on them death, disaster, ruin and misfortune. I know it because I was made to see it last night in a dream which was in fact more than a dream. It was psychically unfolded to me by the invisible powers. I suggest therefore that we take out the picture, and let us both set fire to it, for both of us are partners in the making of it."

Bharathi was stunned, and stood aghast. She stood as if she was sinking and almost dying. The sin was between them. How was the picture responsible for it. ? The picture was made, not because they were sexually driven, but because they had decided in their mind already to perform it as a sacred rite, as a holy act. Sex came after, not before. The picture would have come whether there was, or was not, sex in their mind when they made it. It was therefore not right to say that the picture was born in sin or out of sin. They were in sin when it was made. That in no way affected the worth or sacredness of the picture. It had absolutely no relevance. It was not the picture that caused them sex. It did not commit any sin. Bharathi found it almost impossible to agree with him. But Jitendra said :

"Whatever it is, Bharathi, I do not want this picture to survive. It might not have taken part in the sin. But when it was made, we were sinners in the sight of God. An auspicious thing becomes thoroughly inauspicious when sin is present while doing it. Anyway I know the gods hate this picture."

"But I love it. Swamiji. I love it with all my heart. The picture is Me. It is myself. It is born out of your Art. Therefore whether you love it or not, it belongs to you, to your muse. Your breath is built into it. Your pulsations. Therefore it is your own self too, the self of the artist that gets buried in his work.

"Bharathi, let us not waste time in futile arguments. God had already spoken his command to me. The picture has to be destroyed"

Bharathi was silent. Already her eyes had become red with weeping. She could not now articulate a single word. At last she said:

"Yes, Swamiji, I have nothing to say. You are my Guru. Your will is my law. Let your wish be done".

Next day they took out the bundle from the almirah and opened it. The picture was taken out and placed on a small heap of firewood. Then they both set fire to it. In about five minutes the picture was reduced to ashes. Then they both sat in meditation and said a prayer before the cremated object. She had murdered herself and had cremated herself. They were both now sitting before a funeral pyre, and saying their prayers. Then they both got up and left the place. She went to her bedroom, and he went to his, both to weep on their pillows.

In the days following, they both felt they were in mourning weeds. They had killed a life, committed a slaughter. Bharathi felt this was a far worse sin than the sin they had been regretting.

That night Jitendra didn’t sleep. Neither could he. Nor did he want to. He felt like gone to shreds. He gazed through the window. He tried to commune with the odd clusters of stars. But they would have nothing to do with him. They seemed to turn their faces away. A wind swept past and the trees rustled. He felt in him the harmony of the rustle for a moment and imagined himself befriending the winds and the trees. But they soon stopped as if in a bottomless hatred of his company. The temple which adjoined his abode seemed to remove itself a hundred miles away. Mentally he tried to hold the ropes and ring the bells. But they wouldn’t ring. The Muses seemed to stare at him from across the walls in fiery indignation. He had estranged them. They had disowned him. He had destroyed one of the most magnificent likenesses of God that had incarnated itself as a female on the canvas. He was now a fallen man. He could no longer worship at their shrine. He had forfeited all his rights as an artist. All the five elements, the very air he breathed, seemed to hold him at bay. He had broken faith with himself and his art. He slowly got out of his bed, and strode quietly along to the room where he had destroyed the picture through fire. He collected carefully the ashes with trembling hands. He made a parcel of them in a paper. He considered them sacred in the extreme. He took it, returned and kept it under his pillow. Night after night he woke up, as he felt the darkness gathering around him, and smeared it profusely on his forehead and chest after a deep prayer. He felt a retrieval of himself, a resurrection. In destroying the picture he had destroyed himself as an artist.


Gora Reddy got wind of something that disturbed him as well as put him on the alert. He came to know through certain sources that some of Kalingaroyan's parasites had planted something false in his mind. Kalingaroyan had always a few gossips about him. They used every art of pandering to his vanity. They functioned as a sort of his intelligence apparatus. They collected news from every nook and corner and dished it up to him. When there was no news, they concocted some, and spiced it up as best as they could, and fed him with it. It was always to their advantage whether the news flattered him or put up his spleen. In either case they could extract from him some money or favor. News was news, and there was always something in it on which his mind could chew. This news mongering clique now sat up and thought of something that would help them make quite a bit of money. They knew that to Kalingaroyan there was nothing more appetizing than the girl Bharathi. He had his mind always yoked to her. She drove him mad and made him fret all the time. He could think of nothing but her though she thought of anything but him. They made up a very ingenious story in which they linked the girl and the Sanyasin.

They told Kalingaroyan that the Sanyasin had been finalizing many plans in order to promote and bring into prominence Saptharishi family. He owned tons and tons of money. He proposed to use a bit of this money to rocket up Saptharishi into the skies. The Sanyasin had vowed to make Gora Reddy the president of the Panchayat. Saptharishi would be the vice-president. Saptharishi would also be made in addition the president of the local cooperative society. He would hand over for a time his position as the priest of the temple to one of his relations. He was to eventually become the president of the Panchayat replacing Gora Reddy. The Sanyasin had also vowed to see that the entire village ultimately gravitated into the hands of this scarecrow of a priest. The purpose of it all was to see that he, Kalingaroyan, was made a nonentity and reduced to a laughing stock. The Sanyasin had another plan too. He would start a great Art-Center in Ashtaksharam town, investing lakhs of rupees, and make it a premier institution in the whole of Telugu country. Bharathi would be made the chief of the center, and also the president of the trust he proposed to form to boost up the institution.

The one vital drawback in the make-up of Kalingaroyan was an excess of ego that had grown to the proportion of a disease. He was the too pampered and spoilt son of a respected landlord who was no more. In a village that consisted mostly of the needy and the illiterate Kalingaroyan, who owned extensive lands that were very fertile and productive, strode like a feudal magnate and had become something of a dictator. He was a man in his thirties, hefty, tall dandified and overbearing. He was a libertine, and had his own procurers. He was also headstrong, and nursed implacable vengeance against persons he did not like. He sported a large bristly mustache which he cherished with care and devotion. The indignant Kalingaroyan now decided to try out his strength with this 'shortsighted, half-witted Sanyasin'. He would make him flee from the village in about a week. He would ask his men to force open his lodgings in the dead of night, and beat him up till he was half dead, and extract a promise from him that he would quit the village in less than twenty four hours. He wanted first to see that an anonymous warning was sent to him by post so that the contemplated violence, if possible, could be spared him. If he didn't respond then the bludgeons would speak.

Saptharishi and Bharathi listened to this in silence within closed doors in their temple residence. Gora Reddy related the news with an air of anxious concern. He offered to post his own men to keep watch over the Guest House. And he insisted on it. He said he had verified the truth of the news. Kalingaroyan was really bent on a bloody violence. That was his usual resource to get over obstacles. Bharathi was really much exercised and was seized with a little panic in the first instance. But quite strangely to her surprise she recovered her poise in no time, and told herself that nothing was going to happen, and that she would beat back Kalingaroyan on her own and foil his purpose. She would make him look ridiculous, and she would do it single-handed with practically no help from any source, She would save the Swamiji with all the strength at her command and, if necessary, would even sacrifice her life. She swelled with a challenging energy. She would see that it was Kalingaroyan and not the Swamiji that would flee from the village. He would not return till the discourses were over, and till the Swamiji had taken leave of the people. She thanked Gora Reddy. She thought that any precipitate action would provide him a handle and help him forestall her plans. She therefore requested Gora Reddy to keep off till she received the anonymous letter and seen the contents.

Next day she waited at the front verandah of the Guest house with eyes briskly roving to catch sight of the postman. She did not want the letter to get into the hands of the Swamiji. She smiled at the postman when he entered the gate and collected from him all the Swamiji's mail. She told him that the Swamiji was in prayer and he could not be disturbed. Even otherwise, the postman knew that she was his private secretary and that she had the right to receive all his mail. It was a heavy mail, but the expected letter was there. She secreted it inside her clothes. The rest she placed on the Swamiji's table and left. She went into her own room, sat on the bed, and read through it. There was no mistake, it was the same warning letter, Gora Reddy was right. She could rely on him. But if he was involved in the plan she was making, it was sure to create a sensation in the village, and the image of the Swamiji as well as her own and even that of Gora Reddy might be seriously compromised. The village might even split. A feud might arise openly between Kalingaroyan and Gora Reddy. It might end in trouble to the villagers. The discourses might get suspended or stopped. In the meantime Swamiji might get to know of it. And he might begin to worry, mostly for her sake. He was already broken in spirit, and his health was not too good. Saptharishi could make no suggestion. He felt sick of this scoundrel Kalingaroyan. He sat frigid and motionless.