Part III: The Memory Vault
The idea of a conscious rock – a rock with an atma, or soul – became a way for me to think about Gokarna’s past and future. It was a kind of memory vault, which emerged every sixty years to assess a disorienting present, and a way of taking a long view of the village and, by extension, India’s progress though time. The Atmalinga was last unearthed when Dr Shastri was a boy, in the late seventies or early eighties. Isolated by its lack of infrastructure, Gokarna was parochial and poor. Sixty years before that, in the 1920s, India was a British colony, experiencing the first stirrings of an independence movement that would mark it as a place apart, a place where a great soul – a Mahatma – was a better leader than a great general. The Atmalinga was unearthed during or just after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, and several times while Gokarna, like most of India, was ruled by Muslim sultans and the great Mughals in Delhi. The period both enriched Indian culture and destroyed a great deal. The Atmalinga played witness to the worst of the destruction. It was dug up within a few years of 1565, when a Muslim army reduced the sophisticated capital of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire to ruins, destroying a political entity with borders that encompassed Gokarna. And so the backwards progression went on, until history was conflated by myth. The Atmalinga was never dug up by the same people and has never emerged into a completely familiar world. Viewed like this, in a series of snapshots taken every sixty years, India looked a dynamic but unpredictable place.