by Ramesh Mahadevan

Ajay Palvayanteeswaran undergoes a phase transformation after his fifth beer. Last night, he reached out for his sixth bottle, decapitated the cap off with his bare teeth, belched extensively like a coffee machine, sat squarely on the couch and asked me. "Do you know which professor in IIT Kanpur holds the record for putting to sleep the least number of students in a lecture ?" "You mean the maximum number of people ?" I asked naively.

"No, I mean minimum. There are all kinds of records for maximum. Maybe in your days IIT K professors were interesting and kept a whole lecture class awake, but I am talking about my time, several moons after you 'passed out'."

I had no clue. So, Ajay continued. "It was Prof. Panchvedi, the professor of psychology, remember him? On 3 March, 1987, he put just three people to sleep, when he tried to induce a 'hypnotic trance' during a lecture demonstration. Those three guys would anyways sleep. They usually got their 'beta sleep' in that hour."

He continued. "At any rate, later that night, on the terrace of Hall III, me and a bunch of others tried to hypnotize each other and give each other suggestions to get good grades without studying and see if it worked. I was the easiest to hypnotize. 'Boom' I went. Pretty soon, I had already regressed to my high school days, then to being a five year old, then an infant. They even checked my Babinsky Reflex. Then something strange happened. I regressed all the way back to my previous birth, no kidding. Do you know what I was in my previous birth ?"

"Let me see, you could have been a tapeworm in the guts of an alcoholic, or a donkey lusting after the she-donkeys in a nondescrept dhobhi ghat along the Ganges. God, why can't I think of anything really funny when I want to ?"

"You are wrong. My name was, strangely enough, Ajayaha Palvayanteeswaraha. This was way back, circa tenth century A. D. It is really true that history repeats itself. In that birth, my father was one of the most celebrated bards of those days. They used to call him 'Bard Simpson'. Just kidding !"

Ajay kept going.

"Lets see, he gained fame first, when the great Ram Varma Chola fought his great rival and brother Lakshman Varma Chola. The first king ruled a large kingdom of two villages near Velacheri with two hundred subjects and the second king reigned over three hundred people near the Taramani area. The battle was fought on what is presently IIT Madras and lasted seven days. Elephants fought elephants. (Four of them are immortalized in the Gajendra Circle) Horses engaged cavalry. Chariots collided. Countless people got killed. Finally, when Lakshman Varma Chola triumphed, my father quickly sensed that and composed a four thousand verse legend about the historic battle, which even today haunts millions of school children in their text books. Then, when some minor Pallava king was still hanging onto their rule in the south, my dad wrote songs praising him, was made one of the 'Eight Spices' who adorned the king's court. Actually, if you are into etymology of words, you will notice that my last name probably came from the word 'Pallava'."

It was Ajay's seventh beer. He continued.

Life wasn't too bad even in the tenth century India. But I guess, I am always sentenced to serve a lifeterm in the middle class in every birth. I had to work very hard at school and set my eyes on higher education abroad.

My father always said,

Literature, Law, Levitation and Poetry
Pleasant to the senses they may be
It is Temple Construction, Metallurgy and Alchemy
That will get you rice and ghee.

So, I studied engineering. I was good at Bhaskara's mathematics, Aryabhatta's theories. I knew Varahamihira's stuff backwards and forwards. I wrote the entrance exam and 'Test of Sanskrit as a foreign language' and came out a winner. Pretty soon, I got accepted by Nalanda University, the most prestigeous school abroad. I left home for a new country.

Nalanda University had a splendid campus. Buddhist monastries were everywhere on campus. There was a huge statue of Gauthama Buddha at the entrance along with a grotesque statue of King Mahipala, the Chancellor. Right beside them was a gleaming stone. 'Nalanda University, established in 5 th Century AD' it proclaimed and added. 'Billions and billions served'.

It was one of my first few days. I was walking with another new foreign student when a gang of local students, dressed in their flashiest and most stylish dhotis and modern 'choti' styles stopped us. The most scary one told me "O, Fresh as a morning lotus, I beseech thee to go to Takshashila University". I did not know what he was trying to say. And he was getting very angry. "Freshy, go right this moment to Takshashila" he shouted. My foreign friend nudged me and we both climbed the nearest tree. Sort of ragging the freshies.

Later, we got to know them very well. They took us shopping. The stores in the new country were fully stocked. I got myself new sandals and my own 'kamandal' etc. They even had a good sale on 'rudraksh' in the store - buy hundred and get eight free.

Within a few months I managed to get an Assistantship - I had to wash my Guru's clothes and chop vegetables for my Guruni. Pretty soon I could even afford wheels - it was a used chariot, two horse type. So what if the horses had a total of six legs and gave only ten miles to a load of hay, it was still my own vehicle. Getting the driving license was difficult. Manu's rules were still supreme . You had to pass a test and answer questions like, who has the right of way, a Brahmin priest or a kshatriya on a horse etc. What the heck, at least I could go to downtown Pataliputra whenever I wanted to.

Unlike this birth, Machi, I was lucky with women in my past birth. Here I was, meeting her under moon's crescent, with the crickets playing background music.

I said to her:

"Dear, Sweeter than jaggery, in this gentle wind, your hair is swaying ever so sensuously like a thousand snakes"

"O, Krishna-like handsome man ! If they are snakes, you are the snake charmer making them play to your tune"

"More melodious than the lute, is being in your company what karma yoga is all about ?"

"Naughty boy, how do I know ? How will life be without each other ?"

"O, Pomegranate Seed, that will be like singing Sama Raga without the Shuddha Madhyamam".

"Mountain shoulders, stop making me laugh like a wild pig with your hilarious comments. The pearls of my teeth will scatter all over and you will have to go around picking them."

"Sure, Honey Bee's daughter and .."

[Readers, I know you enjoy reading such lewd and erotic pieces. But then, there are other 'decent folks' who read SCI as well. So I am censoring the rest of the dialog]

Obviously, my grades were not good even in my previous birth. Instead of taking engineering courses on Chariot Repairing and 'garbha graha' construction, I took practical courses such as 'Intermediate Kamasutra'. In fact, I got straight As and did my homework and labs 'very religiously'. I became very friendly with the professor and all these cute women who were doing their undergrads in Courtesanship. Then the prof got a fat project contract from the Bundelkhand Corporation of Erotic Sculpting to design a temple in Khajuraho and I decided to dump engineering and go with him. Even my girlfriend was willing to go with me. I was planning to put a quick trip home before that. But the re-entry visas were getting to be a problem. I was considering going to the adjoining kingdom and apply for a permit in Kanauj, where they were doling out the multiple entries without a question. Then, one evening, there was a serious knock on the door of my hut-tel.

It was my father ! And he came all the way from the south ! He was shocked to see me and started singing.

I traveled in chariots hooked to horses
Which were swifter than mighty wind
O son, I arrived here in a mere
Thirty days and thirty nights
On the way, I sang praises of all kings
Who ruled the million kingdoms
They lavished me with gold and silver coins
Alas, I find them badly devalued here
Son, I come here and what do I see
My son getting drunk on cheap 'soma ras'
Spending hours in front of the idiot screen
Watching bharatnatyam and natanki
I was hoping you would be a son
Who knew the Four Duties of a Son
One, be learned in Vedas, Sutras and Sastras
Two, care for me in my old, sunset days
Three, marry a belle who knows the Four Duties of Daughter in laws
And four, not to smoke and drink in front of your own father and indulge in
crazy things like hypnosis and waste your time, instead of studying for the
midterms. Remember, my money doesn't grow on trees."

Machi, what had happened was my father in my present birth suddenly decided to visit me unannounced. Imagine, being shouted at by both my fathers in both the births at the same time ! Psychologists call this phenomenon, a cathartic role playing in one birth stimulating a corresponding memory in another birth, as 'Preincarnative Repressive Regression'."

"And what finally happened ?" I asked.

"You know, dads always win, especially when you are financially dependent on them. Prof. Panchvedi never tried to hypnotize anyone after that. In my previous birth my guru did not recruit me to go to Khajhuraho and I ended up permanently emigrating to the new kingdom, joined a software company and wrote algorithms to compute horoscopes, eclipses and so forth. Pass me another beer, please."