Ash fruits

An impressionistic review of the article “Night of the Growing Dead: A Cult of Virabhadra in Coastal Andhra,” by David M. Kline, in Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism, edited by Alf Hiltebeitel and published by State University of New York Press in Albany, 1989.

A cobra moves into the termite mound, which has grown tall & full of turrets, like a Disneyland of dirt. The villagers build a shrine around it as a home for orphaned spirits, who inhabit large, gray, egg-shaped fruits that the potters fashion out of tree semen & the ash from burnt cow dung. Those who could not be burned are jealous of ashes.

And the ash fruits grow, year after year. They swell with offerings – the rounded towers of rice – having no way to take a shit. Every dead thing resembles a fruit, the sum of long-ripening actions. But these ones, with all chance of future action cut off, ripen only in their rage.

They are the pills too bitter to swallow, the gray implacable grief that drives every cycle of violence. The deaths of innocents violate the law of the universe, so the world must burn. The spine of Sati crumbles in the funeral pyre & God smears her ashes all over His skin, as sealed off now as a stone in these avatars of ash.

One night a year when they travel in procession to the river to be dipped & blessed, they can seize anyone by the throat – an onlooker, or their own former mother – & make him or her throw up the indigestible pits of their words. Which, however disjointed, always add up to a single, non-negotiable demand: more life.

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