Pomegranate Nirvana

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
Author's note: It's been a while since I wrote any meaningful fiction. That happens when we are trying to save stuff for contests and getting published... and that shouldn't be the case, I realise. Anyway, hope you enjoy it. 

 "Is there a problem, sir?" the serene voice asked politely, interrupting his flow of thought. Annoyed, he turned his attention from the confused waiter towards the old man who had just approached his table. His tense shoulders sagged and he raised his arms apologetically.
     "I'm sorry. It has been a long day. I should not have been rude with your staff." The young man said. 
     The foreigner smiled at that. "Close enough. Wales." A burly hand reached out towards the old man. "Sid Mullally." 
     The manager sat down across the table from him and smiled as he grasped his hand.
     "Renjith Cariappa. I run this juice stall." He said with a smile. Sid stared at the dinghy restaurant he was in and grinned. The small room was empty save for the two of them and four pastel-hued plastic tables with matching chairs. Devoid of any table-cloth and showing signs of wear and tear, the state of the tables mirrored the aging walls and roof that enclosed them. The manager gave him an embarrassed grin.
     "It has seen better days. Would you like to order a juice?"
     Sid glanced at the rickety board that leaned against the wall at the entrance to the restaurant. Scrawled in chalk across the board in English and the local language were the specials of the day, ranging from the quintessential lime juice to the exotic sharjah shake. His eyes finally stopped at one name near the bottom.

     "Give me an anar milkshake." Renjith relayed his order to the waiter and watched as the young boy sauntered off lazily into the kitchen. When he turned back, Sid was staring at him with a tired grin on his face.
     "You want to hear something funny? I don't even know what an anar is." He laughed aloud at that and Renjith grinned.
     "It's pomegranates. They are quite tasty around this time of the year actually. But if you did not know what you were asking for, why did you ask for it, Mr Mullally?"
     Sid's gaze remained outside the restaurant as the first drops of the impending storm started to gently caress the pedestrians outside.
     "It has been that kind of week, sir. I came to India seeking that which all the travel guides promised: nirvana. Inner peace. Bliss. Instead, all I have received so far for my journey is more turmoil and disillusionment." 

     Renjith turned around and followed the young man's gaze. The familiar sight of the magnificent temple stared back at him. Even though it was a good kilometre away from where they sat, he still found the towering structure imposing even now after all these years. He glanced down at his watch. The heady din of the evening religious prayers, ringing of the temple bells and beating of drums would begin soon, dwarfing every other sound in its vicinity.
     "You've been to the Godman, then?"

     Sid nodded his head, dejected. "I had heard many good things about him from others who had toured India last summer. They were all enamoured by the aura he projected and recommended I visit him," he said, shaking his head woefully before continuing "I should have known better."
     "What happened?" Renjith asked, though he could already fathom a guess.
     "I was willing to wait my turn in the long queue which had thronged to see his Holiness. But one of his disciples instantly came up to me and said that the Godman desired to see me in particular as he felt there was something special in me."
     "I would have thought that would please you."
     Sid looked up and Renjith could feel the palpable pain in his eyes as he spoke.
     "Am I special enough to push an aging old woman who was in the queue ahead of me and was begging for just a glimpse of the man she considers her God? To manhandle a little girl who blocked the path of the disciple as she tried to help the old woman stand?" 

     When Renjith did not reply, he continued. "No, Mr Cariappa. I am not. I am thirty years old. I am no monster but neither am I a saint. I have done my share of bad things in the past. Even now, I have left the woman I love back at home - pregnant and uncertain of her future - while I seek answers in a foreign land. And you feel I am special?"
     "Perhaps he was trying to ease your burdens and show you a solution?" Renjith said unconvincingly.
     "Oh, the Godman was definitely looking to ease my burdens alright.” Sid countered with scorn. “After his disciple had pocketed a hundred euros for granting me this special audience with the Holiness, the man himself barely listened as I spoke of my insecurities. His queries instead were on my job and my assets. He told me Tamara was not the right girl for me and that I was lucky that I had come to him before it was too late. He told me I was destined for greater things and that he would help me."
     Renjith watched as Mr Mullally grew more animated. He knew what was coming but chose to let him speak.
     "Mr Cariappa, not only does your Godman want me to give up my life in Wales but also come and become a permanent devotee at the temple premises. I should give him a third of my life savings as fees for accepting him as my guru and he promised me that I would attain nirvana as his disciple, just like the thousands of others I saw there. Maybe the others did so but I can't see myself doing that!"

     Sid stopped as the waiter arrived at their table. He deftly swivelled the tray around one hand and lifted the lone glass with a pale pinkish juice in it before gently placing it upon the table in front of Sid. A couple of pomegranate seeds were sprinkled on the top as a garnishing, Sid noted. As he retrieved a straw from the bundle placed on a makeshift stand on the table, Mr Cariappa whispered something to the waiter in the local language. The young boy nodded and scurried back to kitchen. When Mr Cariappa turned back to Sid, there was a warm paternal smile upon his face. 
     "Mr Mullally. Don't get me wrong but what are your assets?"
     Sid expected to find himself offended by this personal query but there was something in that trusting smile that he found truly disarming. He smiled back. 
     "Why? Do you want a third as well?"
     "No. I am just ensuring that you have enough to pay for my milkshake." Mr Cariappa replied with a straight face. Sid's grin grew wider and he bent down over the straw to take a sip of the shake in front of him. The first drops were icy cold and invigorating with just the right amount of sweetness. His eyes closed, he nodded appreciatively as he took another sip, slower this time to allow his tongue to enjoy the richness of the fruit and honey within.
     "This is very good, Mr Cariappa." he said. When he opened his eyes, the waiter was leaving with the tray he had left behind earlier and the manager sat in front of him, plucking the water-laden pulpy edible seeds of a pomegranate. As Sid watched bemused, Renjith held a couple of them between his thumb and forefinger, peering at them intensely as he held them to the light of the dim bulb within the restaurant. 

     "Mr Mullally. You never answered my question."
     "Fine. I'll play along. I don't have much. My parents have an old house and I have a few hundred pounds in stocks and a few thousand euros in the bank. When you deduct the car loan and monthly bills, there is not a lot left at the end really."
     Mr Cariappa turned his gaze from the pomegranate seeds to Sid. He reached forward and opened his palm. In it, there were a few dozen pomegranate seeds. Sid stared at them and then back at the manager. 
     "Pick a seed. Any seed."
     "This is ridiculous," Sid muttered but picked one up, nonetheless. "Now what? Do I eat it and find I have attained instant pomegranate nirvana?"
     "Alas. I'm afraid I'm no Godman. Eating anything I offer would fill your tummy at best but not your soul. No. I want you to look at the seed you chose closely in the light. Humour an old man, Mr Mullally." 

     Sid sighed and stared at his watch. He really did not have anywhere else to go besides the hotel so what did a few more tricks matter anyway. At best, it would be a good anecdote to tell once he reached back home to Tamara. Tamara...
     More to take his mind of her than anything else, Sid did as he was told. He stared at the tiny seed within his fingers, glistening brightly in the glow of the yellow bulb. Tooth-shaped, its dark maroon hues dispersed as they approached the opposite side where it ended in a pale translucent pink. He stared at it for a few moments longer before placing it back in the manager’s hand. The old man smiled and brought his palms together, poking through the lot before asking him once more to pick another seed. After repeating the process the fourth time, Sid finally stopped him when he started to gaze at the seeds within his palm once more. 
     "Okay. So I have got a crash course in the anatomy of pomegranates. What is your point?"
     The old man smiled as he gazed at the glass in front of Sid.

     "Your milkshake is getting warm. It tastes best when it is cold." Sid shook his head, grinned and sipped once more from the straw, the grittiness of the blended seeds tantalizing his palate. He looked back at Renjith.
     "What are your strengths, Mr Mullally?"
     This time the answer was more spontaneous. "My parents, my younger brother Jimmy, my girl Tamara."
     "And yet you find yourself away from them in a foreign land?"
     "Everything just changed all at once and the pressure got to me. With the economy the way it was, I had to take a pay cut just to retain my old job. Moms’ arthritis started acting up again and it hurt to have to watch her struggle to just walk a few steps. Dad is on pension and barely making ends meet and Jimmy's college fees are still to be fully remitted. The loans are still pending and in between all this, Tamara told me that she was pregnant. It..." Sid stopped as he realized how he had intended to end the sentence.
     "...it scared you, didn't it? All your strengths were now dependent on you. I can understand, of course. We all have our own fears, Mr Mullally. Watching our strengths weaken is one of the most understated yet frightening prospects in our lives. But you know what? That is where the true worth of a person is defined."

     Sid stared at him, his lips still wrapped around the thin pink straw in his glass.
     "Coming to my country to meet a living God for finding inner peace may sound magical to a foreigner on a vacation but your case is different. Your inner strengths do not lie between those temple doors... they lie back home in Wales. They are weaker than before and dependent on you. But then, were you not dependent on them too once? The parents who helped you walk, fed you and kissed your bruised knees? A kid brother who you wrestled with but who idolises you even today? A woman who shares not just her body and soul but her heart with you, making you feel wanted?"
Renjith opened his palm again. There was only one seed within it now. "Can you tell me whether this is one of the seeds you saw earlier?" Sid stared at it for a few seconds before nodding his head. 
     "It is the first seed, I think." Sid said, hesitantly.
     "Yes. This is the first seed you picked. Do you know how I know this? Because when you returned it to me, I separated it from the others and kept it safely aside. That is what life comes down to, Mr Mullally."
     "I... I don't understand." 
     Renjith opened his palm revealing all the seeds within them.
     "There will be hundreds of experiences, trials and tribulations along your journey through life. The trick is to always know what truly matters to you and separate them from the others. You could have picked a hundred pomegranates and I would still have found the seed that I wanted to show you now. Why? Because I separated it from the others. You should learn to do the same.”

    “You are afraid that you cannot handle the pressure? Mr Mullally, so is everyone else! We do the best we can for those that matter to us because they are our safety nets and conversely, we are theirs. It is not a one-way street where you can only take solace from them but not return it when they need it most. They have been your strengths because they love you. Now it’s your turn. Bring a smile back on to their faces by being there for them when they are down. You will find inner peace in the smiles you left back at home,Mr Mullally, not in a man who needs your money as proof of your allegiance to his spiritualty."

     Sid stared at his empty glass for awhile as he pondered over what the manager had said. When he looked up, Renjith saw a genuine smile on the face of the young man.
     "I have been selfish. I was worried I could not handle the pressure and I bolted. But my place is there beside them, in their moments of uncertainty. When they are happy, I am happy."

     "Congratulations, Mr Mullally," Renjith said with a slow smile as he stood up slowly and picked up the empty glass. "You have attained pomegranate nirvana."
     As Sid grinned and opened his wallet, Mr Cariappa reached forward and placed his tiny hand upon it. "No charge. I am not a rich man myself so consider this milkshake my humble gift to a soon-to-be father."
     "I... I don't know what to say. Thank you." Sid replied. A few steps from the entrance, he turned around and smiled wistfully at Renjith. 
     "It is amazing. I came all the way to this religious shrine in a foreign country to get enlightenment. In the end, I did get it... just not where I expected to find it."        
     Mr Cariappa’s final words reverberated in Sid’s ears long after he had left the stall and even later that night as he sat in the hotel room and booked his return tickets for home.
     "All our religions preach that God is omnipresent? If you believe that, does it really matter whether you find him in a bearded saint or just a simple pomegranate?" 

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Let me know what you think.

  1. A very insightful post :)
    I now have an inexplicable craving for pomegranate juice!

    1. yes the takeaway message was to drink lots of pomegranate shakes *goes into closet, locks door and bangs head against the wall* :D

  2. This is the ultimate truth which most of us keep shoving under the carpet till life pushes us to the farthest limits.
    This prompts me to figure out and separate my special pomegranate seeds now :)... Not my first time here but this beautifully penned post tempted me to leave a comment!

    1. Thanks Vinodini... and yes, u raise a valid point. Sometimes, we do need to get pushed to our limits before we realise what is fighting for. We take a lot for granted.

  3. Pomegranates make a good story. And it looks refreshing too. Enjoyed your post.

  4. Well pomegranates and everything about them always refreshes me. Like it


  5. Pomegranate flower and fruit both have their special spiritual significance...that's what attracted me to this post, and I must say I am quite happy to read this one. The truth is not to found in a temple or a church but in working through the challenges of life...at least until a new seeking for a newer and deeper truth takes hold of the heart and mind and soul....and then the journey begins again.

    1. True.. there will be more trials along the way of life... but it isnt necessary to hunt for the answers leaving everything behind. Sometimes the answers are right in front of you and you just never realise it.

  6. Wow! That's a fantastic story so beautifully narrated. It's true, life lessons can be found anywhere!!

    1. Thanks Shilpa... wanted to write some story with a significance.. been so long.

  7. I feel like I read it right when I needed to. Good one, Roshan.

  8. Wow!! I'd never heard about wisdom from a pomegranate... Lovely story...

  9. Such a beautifulll story. I was imagining you as Renjith!
    Please keep posting your stories here. I am sure you can write a few thousand :)

    1. There are actually are quite a few still left. I just leave them around .. when I saw this again after all these months, I knew what I wanted to do with it - tweaked it a bit and then decided that its time to go back to where I began from: the blog!

  10. Writing fiction on blog is always an art people miss. I know because I attempt to write myself. Your story will stay with me, it flowed through words expressions emotions everything. I am left thinking what is it that would be my first seed of life..

    1. Yes... I too started out here only on the blog.. but in recent years was so focused on these contests and getting stories published, I neglected the site of origin itself I feel.
      And yes... it is always a good time to take stock of what the seeds are that matter the most to you.

  11. Fiction from you after a long time!! And awesome story. . we should consider other good effects of pomegranate as well. . :-P

    1. it has been a long time coming... and yes, I know your mind will go towards the edible aspects of it only... this fellow na! always asking me for fried rice for 'no reason at all' !!

  12. AnonymousMay 11, 2014

    Doc.. one of your bestest pieces of fiction!!!
    It is you and only you who has the capability of turning a pomegranate into a nirvana-giving food.

    Can't believe you weaved a longggggg moral around pomegranate seeds.. the story was grippping till the very end.

    1. thanks WalkITW, one of the problems I find in writing fiction over a blog is trying to hold people's attention and not give up half though while scrolling down... luckily, that didn't happen this time even in such a small fictional setup.

  13. Insightful with a very important life message within. Awesome story! ♥

  14. Superb! A wonderful story. A lesson for everyone..

  15. AnonymousMay 12, 2014

    Such a thought provoking story. We keep looking for answers though they lie around us, in little things.

    1. True... its a matter of perspective, I feel. Change the way you think and you can find answers to your worries around you itself instead of running across the world...

  16. That left me craving for some 'Pomegranate nirvana' .... Very insightful indeed.... so ... well gtg get my pomegranate nirvana (read pomegranate milkshake :P)

    1. sigh... all those words and the only things these bloggers see is Pomegranate milkshake! I should start a cookery blog.. that time people will find philosophy in my recipes, I think!! :p

    2. I shall eagerly wait for ur cookery blog ;-)

    3. you expect me to wait long enough to take pics of the food before eating it?? My cookery blog would only feature plates of eaten food with the description of what was on the plate!

  17. Interesting story about attaining nirvana, we learn a lot of life's lessons in strange places and circumstances but the key is to be open to them. Your story pulled me in and kept me hooked, lovely.

    1. exactly... the key is to be open to the lesson when you notice them... glad you liked the story.

  18. Good post .
    Thinking what my first seed is ..Not easy task :-)

  19. A well woven piece! When I started reading it, I really wanted to see how you would connect Pomegranate to Nirvana !! You did it well :) :)

  20. don't know how i missed reading it earlier.
    No words, just take a bow sir _/\_

    1. haha... thanks Karanth.. wanted to write something like this for awhile..

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