The next morning, I was awakened by the sound of loud voices. I rushed out into the living room. The mason’s nephew was standing with his head lowered, with a crestfallen expression on his face. His uncle and boss, the mason, was standing in front of him and was showering him with some choice expletives in his native language.
I hurriedly intervened and asked what the hapless worker might have done. The mason rolled his eyes in exasperation. ‘I’m gone for only 8 hours, and this idiot botches up the whole job!!’ He gestured towards a particular tile in the middle of the wall.
Waving his hands in the air agitatedly, he continued, ‘Sahib, this tile was to be put on that wall, aside its counterpart, and not this one! There they would both bask in the rays of the morning Sun and reflect its beauty!! It does not belong to this wall! He has ruined everything!!!’
Tulsiram then glared at his nephew again as if he had stabbed him in the back.
I now understood what he meant. The tile in question was the smaller component of a two-tile design. When placed alongside its larger counterpart on the large east-facing wall (the ‘show-case’ wall as termed by my interior decorator), it completed the design and created a phenomenal effect. It was guaranteed by my interior decorator to attract and hold any visitor’s attention for a considerable length of time.
But the tiles had been specially ordered by the interior decorator and there were no duplicates of the same. So technically speaking, Tulsiram’s nephew had somewhat messed it up.
‘Perhaps we could try to remove the tile from its place. After all, he has affixed them only last evening…’ I suggested.
Tulsiram shook his head vehemently. ‘No sahib, it is not possible now. It is only in the first couple of hours, that it possible to move the tile. Once the bonding mixture sets and hardens, the tile will not budge. The bonding mixture that is put on the tile is after all, my own special concoction…’
Tulsiram is an emotional man, and as with many of his breed, he suddenly became poetic. ‘My bonding mixture is unlike any other, sahib. It combines the best of the cement, the purest water and the most faultless sand, in the perfect combination. You may not believe me sahib, but it is a treat for the tile, they actually love it. If your tiles could speak, they would tell you so. The tiles take to them like fish to water. For my mixture adheres the tile to the wall with an inseparable kind of bond, like a woman, to her lover; like Heer-Ranjha, or your Ingrazi (English) Julita to her Romano!’
I suppressed a smile and wondered what Shakespeare would have to say to that.
I tried to reason with him, ‘Perhaps we could just leave it where it is. It does not look too bad that way.’
Tulsiram smiled sadly and continued in the same poetic vein, ‘Sahib, your words are like balm to my pain, but of course, both you and I know better. In its existing position, the tile appears lost, unattractive and incomplete. Its full beauty can only be realized in its true position, besides the other, on that east-facing wall. On that wall, this tile, while only a part by itself, becomes the complete whole!’
With a defeated voice and the expression of Napolean who had just realized that he had failed to conquer the world, Tulsiram sighed, ‘But alas, sahib…now this beautiful tile is condemned to stay on this dull, dark wall forever...’
And with that, Tulsiram left the room, leaving me standing with my gaze transfixed on the misplaced tile on the wall.
I stood there for a long time, in the same position. Not because I was as deeply affected as Tulsiram by the tile-fixing error.
But because the relevance of Tulsiram’s words had just hit me. His words had an uncanny, disturbing bearing in my life. And in many of those around me. The wisdom in his words was deep and profound…
I looked at my misplaced centre-piece tile, firmly sitting on the dull wall and I realized that I was so like my tile. Just like it, I had been enamoured by the smooth, beautifully mixed ingredients of materialistic happiness created by the shrewd Maya Devi-Tulsiram. I had taken to it like in Tulsiram’s words, a fish to water. I had enjoyed the overwhelming satisfaction it gave me, regardless of its dangers. And the craving for that very material happiness had affixed me to the dull and dark wall of perpetual sorrow, this material world.
Just like my tile, I felt lost and incomplete in the material world. Because actually, my real destination lay elsewhere. I belonged on that glorious, beautifully illuminated, blissful wall that revelled in the light of true Knowledge, Existence and Bliss. Alongside my eternal Friend and Wellwisher- Krishna.
Just like the tile and its bonding mixture, perhaps in the beginning, when the bonds of material attachment had not set and hardened, I could have realized my mistake, taken heed and perhaps gotten free of them. But now no longer.
A depressing thought hit me. Would I too, in Tulsiram’s words, be condemned to remain on that wall of material existence forever?
I walked out of the room, feeling shattered.
I had to leave town for a couple of days on some work, but Tulsiram’s words remained with me like a thorn in my side. Was there no hope for me?
On Sunday morning, I returned home and opened the door to find Tulsiram looking like he had won the national lottery. I looked at him questioningly and in response, he gestured towards my left. I turned and my jaw dropped to the floor.
On the east-facing show-case wall, the large beautiful centre-piece tile sat, magnificent as ever. And alongside it, sat the previously misplaced tile, beaming down on me, equally magnificent in appearance. And the combination of both was, as my interior decorator had promised, was positively stunning. I stood in front of the wall for a while, mesmerized by its beauty.
Then I remembered what had happened and turned to Tulsiram, puzzlement written on my face. He nodded and replied, ‘We could do it, Sahib! At first I thought it was impossible, but all it needed was the right person and the right tools. I remembered that one of my colleagues was an expert in this matter. I brought him over. With a special powered cutting tool, he was able to cut the tile out of the wall in a very precise manner, without damaging it. He also had some special chemicals with him which could remove the bonding mixture stuck to it. And so we were able to affix the tile in its correct, designated place.’
I was quiet for a while, mulling over what he had said. Then I suddenly smiled and stared at Tulsiram, causing him some concern.
Of course there was a way.
I thanked Tulsiram for his efforts and retired to my bedroom. I pulled out my mobile phone and called up Chaitanya Das, a gentleman and a friend, and most importantly, a dedicated Vaishnava Devotee who had always guided me in the time of need. I also decided to get into a regular schedule for chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
All it needed was the right person and the right tools.