Wall calendars were a fashion in rural Kerala during my childhood. All the houses I saw had a few calendars hung on the front wall bearing pictures of some deity or landscape or something else. Eventually matinee idols replaced gods and landscape before calendars vanished from the walls totally.
My home had at least a dozen calendars hung on the front wall all of which carried Christian images. One of them was of two little children, a boy and a girl, walking with an effeminate person hovering over them from behind, his mantle serving as a sort of shield for the children. My mother explained that the person was the guardian angel. Wherever we went the guardian angel would be there to protect us from all evils. I used to think that angels were all women (they looked so in the pictures) until I grew up enough to understand that Christianity did not espouse female angels.
I had many guardian angels in my actual life. They were all female in my childhood. I studied up to class 5 in the primary school run by the local parish and the teachers were mostly Catholic nuns. The convent of the Carmelite nuns was the building nearest to our house. The nuns, thus, were our next-door neighbours. My parents being devout Catholics, it became easy game for the nuns to play the role of guardian angels to us, the children.
“Do you notice anything special about that picture?” My mother once asked me pointing at a picture of Our Lady. I looked at the picture for a while and said, “She is sad.” She looked extremely sad, in fact. As I recall it now, it was a pale green painting of Mary, mother of Jesus. It was there in the largest room of the house which we used also as a prayer room in the evenings.
“Look at her eyes,” said my mother ignoring my observation.
“Now you go there and look at her eyes,” my mother said pointing to a corner of the room.
“What do you notice?”
I had no idea of what mother was trying to teach me.
“Wherever you stand, you’ll find her eyes fixed on you.”
That sounded like a miracle to me. I tried it out from a lot many spots in the room and mother was right. I walked in the room keeping my eyes fixed on the picture and Mary’s eyes followed me wherever I went.
It took me quite many days or weeks to think of trying out the same experiment with other such pictures in the room. Then I realised that not only Mary, but a whole pantheon of saints (who looked as sad as Mary) was also staring at me wherever I went. It was not a pleasant realisation. There was a whole row of saints on that wall.
It took me years to learn that any photograph would produce a similar effect if the person in the photo had been looking at the camera when the picture was taken. Any artist can make a painting of just anyone whose eyes will follow you wherever you go.
But my childhood remained in the fear of being watched all the time by an infinite number of eyes in the sky in addition to the eyes of my guardian angels in nuns’ mantles.
That was only a childhood fear, however. I overcame that fear as soon as I was sent to St Sebastian’s. Years later, the saints and guardian angels performed a vanishing trick from my mind just as the calendars had disappeared from the walls of Kerala’s rural homes or as easily as Father Veranani had performed a vanishing trick during the strike in his school.
I had never imagined that the guardian angels would make reappearance in my life.
But they did.
One of the biggest blunders in my life was to join a college as a lecturer at a time in my life when I was not mature enough for that sort of a job, my age notwithstanding. [I say “one of the biggest” because other ‘biggest’ blunders followed without much delay.] There was another Father Veranani in that college, the Vice Principal who went on to become the Principal. Let me call him the Reverend.
The Reverend became my guardian angel. And his eyes still follow me, wherever I go, whatever I do. Miracle?
I know the artist who is painting that miraculous painting.
That’s why I suffer the gaze of Father Veranani.