Sunday, July 12, 2015
Love, Lies & a Leper
For the Creators, Their Creations…
Under a dark moonless night sky, on a seemingly deserted railway station, two souls inhabited a five hundred metre square with a third one not far away. The orange rays from a flickering lamppost was the only source of light that bathed the stage where a simple, yet significant event was to happen and not an inch more was to be brightened up by the stuttering illuminator.
The elder of the two souls came limping by with a staff in his hand, wounds all over his body, hunger in his belly, a smile on his face, pain all over his outside and an inexplicable pleasure on the inside.
“It’s been done…It’s been done” muttered he, his muttering muted by the growls of his empty stomach.
He stood right under the lamppost, raised his head high towards the heavens, closed his eyes and let the pleasantly cold breeze, in a generally hot country, to caress his face and move aside his hair, like a loving, kind mother, comforting him saying he had done well and everything was going to be just fine.
That was all he could expect from this invisible mother and not her bosom to suckle his hunger away. He had to rely on the shoulders of the father who had borne him all his life, for that luxury. He looked down on the ground all around him to spot something, no matter how rotten, how old, how stale, how ripen or how grotesque a food it might be, that could satiate his hunger, but like those mischievous playful siblings covering one’s eyes in good fun, the blackness of the night shrouded his vision and his already poor eyesight refused to accept the aide provided by that one good sibling, the lamppost and it’s rays.
“It’s been done…the deed thought impossible…the deed whose lack of consummation would have plagued me for all eternity. It’s been done. What more remains to be accomplished by this unaccomplished? It’s been done” he repeated in Tamil, as he sat himself down on the pavement of the railway station and laid his head against the lamppost.
His mutilated hands continued hovering over the terrain around him, even though his eyes were closed and his body remained leaned against the lamppost, and he knew his hands were working more for his stomach, than for his brain, for his mind was entirely upon the deed he had just done.
“The smile on her face, that twinkle in her eyes…Oh how I wish my eyes had been better blessed to better see the joy on her beautiful face…” he panted and burped while rubbing his belly, and continuing with the scouring around him “-but I’m thankful to the Lord for the brain I’ve been bestowed upon, that had been good enough to retain the sight of her joyous face. Now I have a sight to behold, a moment to relive, a memory to revisit, while I exist in this earthly realm.”
His hands touched something, something moist, something papery, something soft. He leaned forward and brought one of his few remaining fingers, stained with whatever it was, that remained unattended on the ground near him, closer to his nose. Any other day his superior olfactory senses would have revealed to him what he had come upon, but all his tireless work in the past few hours had gifted him with severe blockage. A sudden storm and relentless rain in the past few days had done its bit to make him more vulnerable to severe cold and phlegm formation.
He had to rely on his poor vision, worsened by the darkness of his surroundings rather than his blocked nose for then. So he leaned forward, dragged himself closer to the object and opened his eyes at their widest limits. But everything appeared blurry and shapeless. With his vision and sense of smell failing him, he had to turn to his taste buds to figure out the content. So he choose to touch the anomaly once again with one of his fingers and bring the finger closer to his lips for his tongue to deduce what it was, but even before he could reach the object on the ground, the third soul, who hadn’t been far away, all along, made his appearance within the illuminated stage, just on cue and performed his part of the act, that was taking over the food that would have been for the old man to enjoy. Would he (the old man) have enjoyed on coming to know what it really was and how it got there? That was a question that the third soul didn’t bother to ponder, but chose to give the better answer.
“Sivarasa…You selfish bugger…Where have you been all day?” chuckled the old man as he patted the head of the one-eyed, skinny, black, street mongrel, with one broken hind leg, as it hastily finished off the food on the pavement. “Slow down, my dear one…It’s all for you. Enjoy well, whatever it is. I wouldn’t bother to pluck it from your drool covered snout” chuckled the man for the second time.
He burped again and rubbed his chest with one arm, while he used his other to drag himself back towards the lamppost, a couple feet behind him.
“Feel no guilt, my brother. It’s entirely for you. So eat well and take it real slow. I’ve managed to live without food for several hours now, more than a day to be precise, and I’m sure I can pull off a few more hours. I will get something when the morning train arrives and more visitors lay their feet in our little town. I’m not a pretty sight to welcome them, but I’m sure they will have some pity for this old, useless, wretch. Besides, though my stomach is empty with nothing but air, my heart is filled with more happiness than it can ever hold. I feel full, my dear friend…I feel full enough to survive.”
The old man settled back against the lamppost, rubbed his chest for a moment, burped a couple more times and closed his eyes for the last time that night. The third soul, the black mongrel, licked the last stains of food on the pavement and lied down right next to the old man’s feet, opening his mouth wide for a yawn and closing his one good eye contently.
The second soul, a silent observer, remained within a booth nearby, watching the little drama under the orange lights, before everything went dark, with the stuttering illuminator turning mute…
Do people really pay for their sins? Or do they just get away with everything?
“I believe there will be a time when all wrong doers will be punished for all their misdeeds. The king punishes right away, God punishes the right way” my mother played with an old Tamil adage.
“My belief in that falters when I see these successful politicians” my father chuckled.
“If they are not punished in life, they will be in death” my mother retorted.
“The only punishment I see is when their statues are defiled by the birds,” came my father’s reply.
Do the bad guys really go to hell, where they are tormented for all eternity? Do the good guys really go to heaven, where they are royally taken care of? Maybe it’s all a human lie said in an attempt to keep the easily corruptible mankind, pure. If a reward of a luxurious after life doesn’t change humans for the good, then a miserable, ruthless one must keep them from turning bad.
There is no absolutely pure man or a completely dirty one. All of us are right in the middle and I am not the first person to say this. We become heroes for certain plots and villains for certain others and a mere extra for a million more. Yet we continue to believe that we all are the protagonist, the hero, the good guy. Perhaps that’s a sign of a good playwright, to convince every actor that he is important. But villains are certainly important to any narrative, as without a villain, a hero cannot be born. However that cannot be an excuse for sinning.
The role of each and every one of us is transitory and we do not even realise it. And the irony lies in the fact that this absence of realisation of the transition forces us to believe we could never go wrong.
“Everybody knows doing wrong things makes them evil. But people don’t realise what they are doing is wrong. Faults are always seen in others and not in the self” My father often says.
And people have this belief that they can reduce their sins (which more often than not, is stated as things done unconsciously or unknowingly) by doing good deeds in life. Good deeds for many have to do with giving charity, in the form of money, food, water and clothes. And some people feel extremely content for dropping a rupee in a beggar’s plate, giving old, torn clothes and broken toys that their kids no longer cared to go near, to orphanages and left-over food from the previous night’s dinner to the people on the streets. I’ve even seen individuals giving dirty water from the tap to homeless people, while keeping the expensive purified cans for themselves.
“What we give is better than them having nothing…” would be the reply, if you ask one of these ‘big-hearted’ philanthropists. If you had the means to give the best, why give the bad. It is their estimation of these poor souls that they deserved only so much and that too because of their (the giver’s) own ‘kindness.’
After giving away such ‘valuables,’ people look for good things to happen in their life, thinking that they deserve them. And when something bad happens, there is always a God to blame.
“I give so much for so many people and I’ve done nothing bad. Why do all bad things have to happen to me? God is heartless.”
A well heard lamentation from the lips of every human who believed in the existence of a divine being or at least in Karma.
If I were God, I would rather take to heaven, good souls who had done good deeds even if they didn’t believe in my existence. Their good deeds would have been done out of pure kindness, expecting no reward and not done to please the Supreme Being or expecting their life to get better because of their good deeds.
“You don’t need a God, if you are a wise human” said an atheist friend of mine with whom I was arguing the need for a belief in a divine being.
Well that is a fair argument, but not all humans are wise. Education helps in increasing one’s wisdom, but having an education does not guarantee wisdom or a lack of it does not mean one could not be wise. So for the ones who lack wisdom and self-control, God is necessary, as at least a Boochandi (boogieman).
How many people in this world would stop doing bad things if they are told someone is looking over them, ready to punish them if they do something wrong? How many people in this world would continue to refrain themselves from doing bad, if they are told that there is no one to police them?
Human laws are so flawed themselves with different states providing different leniency for different acts in different parts of the world. What can be defined as good or bad, changes according to where you are from, and sometimes who you are.
So what is morally correct and morally wrong? The sense of morality changes with the law of the land as well. Therefore the belief in the existence of a sagacious supreme being is of paramount importance to those who lack the wisdom of the highest order.
“What we don’t want others to do us, we must not do to others,” said my father and that is the only moral code that could be appropriate for people all over the world, at least in his view and certainly in mine…
- K. Varadharajan
I tore the paper with the article I had written, a few weeks ago, just before I had left Chennai, as I sat there in the train, now heading towards Chennai. I did not know what the original topic of the article had been, for what purpose I had written and why it had remained in one of my travel bags then. It was just the first draft, with all my random thoughts splurged out, without any cohesion or flow, involving morality, heaven, hell, God, rationalism and it was nowhere near the standards, fit to be published even in the magazine I worked for as an editor. This much I knew, but what had prompted me to write it, I did not remember.
My brain was muddled and anger and grief plagued me. The rattling of the train, the clinking of the chain, hanging above me, the cluttering noise from the slow turning fan near me, the two men gifting derogatory terms to each other over a single available berth, in the next compartment, the wailing baby in my own and the loud women seated opposite me, discussing characters from some low budget soap opera, did not help my cause. I covered my ears with some cotton, that I had carried with me, to block the surrounding noise and closed my eyes, to escape out of the present.
Ramalingam’s voice was the only sound that now filled my ears and Vaishu’s inconsolable face with her wet eyes, was the only image before me. The sinner, the sins, the innocent victim…Heaven, hell, God…the words from the article and the memories of the past few days mingled together.
‘Do people really for their sins? No money, no loved ones near him, disease ridden, weak, starving, on a railway station platform. There is no absolutely pure man or a completely dirty one. The role of each one of us is transitory. From the son of a respectable teacher to a beggar…Hell. Redemption. Heaven’
The words, the audible, the images, the memories that formed in my head made no sense one second and complete sense the other, only to disappear into nothingness. At the end of it all, one question remained.
“Where would he be?”
I didn’t know if there was a heaven nor was I interested in it. Even if the good didn’t get rewarded, the bad needed to be punished was my view…’was’ when I had written this article. That view of mine had changed, ever since I had come upon an individual, who had spent ninety percent of his life, sinning and the last ten seeking redemption. What he had gotten at the end made me wish even the worst of sinners did not receive what he was bestowed upon.
I am Varadharajan, a native of the city of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, India. I had spent a significant portion of my adult life working as an editor for a Tamil magazine in Chennai and had written a few Tamil novellas that brought me some recognition but not great wealth due to the rapid decline in the number of readers of the native language in the state. Moving to Chennai had been my greatest ambition when I was a little boy in Kanchipuram, just a few dozen kilometres away from the big metro. Chennai was the place where the leaders of land lived, where the great actors and actresses of the Tamil Film Industry worked and where my favourite music composer, Ilayaraja weaved his magic from (even though he was from a small village himself…one more reason for me to move to Chennai, to do what he did).
When I entered my forties and after I completed twenty years in the ever buzzing city of Chennai, I longed for the quietness of the smaller town. I returned back to Kanchipuram and I found it greatly changed and growing closer and closer to its big brother, Chennai, not only in its great industrial progress, but also in the chaos and hurry burry of an ever growing city. This was no longer the sort of atmosphere I wanted to be in.
I sought some calmness and peace, but not an ominous silence. I longed for a land that celebrated its culture, but not drowned and still stuck in its primitive past with all its social flaws, as every great culture was plagued with. I wanted to be surrounded by people, but just enough to not suffocate me with their presence. I needed things that were new, but not strange and alien. I yearned for a home, that I was familiar with, but not grown tired of.
That was when I had discovered the tiny town of Manamedu. I came to find an interesting fact regarding the town’s name while I was doing research on the place I was intending to visit. ‘Manal Medu’ in Tamil literally meant mud mound, which some said, the entire region once was. But many others stated that the name of the town referred to ‘Mana Medai’, which roughly translated to a wedding altar in Tamil. Manamedu was famous for the temple of Nithya Kalyana Perumal, a deity worshipped by many who sought to find the love of their life, to get married to. While ‘Thiruvidandai’ a more well-known temple, in the northern half of the state, closer to the capital Chennai, was famous for the exact same reason with the exact same deity, this one was an alternative for the people in the south.
There was also a village called Manamedu in Puducherry and this had nothing to do with the place in my story. ‘Mana Medu’ or ‘Mana Medai’ which was the original name which had gotten mispronounced over the years, I did not know. One might be more appropriate geographically and geologically while the other business wise. But the locals might choose the latter as the temple and the significance of it was what brought heaps of people from the rest of the state, to that little town. Without the temple, the locals would have no business. Sometimes visitors outnumbered the locals, as the little town boasted just over two thousand people, whereas visitors poured in several hundreds in a single day. There were of course only two trains that passed through the region, with one arriving at nine in the morning and the other at eight in the evening.
An acquaintance of mine, who had worked with me for a short while for the same magazine that I worked for, had suggested that I should move to his home town of Manamedu, when he had come to know that I sought a break away from the big city for a few weeks. This acquaintance had now settled back in Madurai doing a business of his own, but he had a house of his own in his native land, which he was gracious enough to allow me to stay for a small rent. He was the same person who was to receive me when I arrived in his town and show me the house, but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen, when I reached the Manamedu station at nine in the morning.
This I found as a bad omen when I stepped into a new place, far away from my home, but it had only been an opportunity given to me by fate to come across the man who was to have the most impact in my life. I sat on a bench at the railway station with a couple of my bags containing my belongings, waiting for the arrival of my acquaintance, but I was greeted by the hopeful faces of young as well as some old, men and women arriving at the town with their parents to visit the Nithya Kalyana Perumal temple to pray for a good bride or groom, while many couples were seen arriving, probably to thank the Lord for fulfilling their prayers during their past visits.
So did it really work? Or was it the belief of the people that made it happen was the question that popped into my mind when I first saw them.
“Sometimes when you really hope or yearn for something, it would surely happen to you” a friend of mine had said to me, when he had been trying to explain the power of the human mind.
“Then what about those millions of people who die with unfulfilled wishes?” I had retorted.
“What you are meant to have, you will have” had been his reply, which had nothing to do with his previous statement. But I did not care to question him further on seeing the desperation on his face to save his face.
There were many people (me included) who spoke of things that they understood very little about, as if they were the ones who coined it and this friend of mine was one such being. If you really yearned for something, you started to work towards achieving it and the more drive you had, the more you kept persisting towards having it, despite failures, with you eventually succeeding in gaining it. This was the obvious meaning when someone said ‘if you wanted something, you will get it’, but my friend was good enough in spinning a magical, fantastical, cloak around it and making it seem as if, if I really wanted something and hoped to have it, the universe or God will bring it to me.
Whatever it was, people, who came to Manamedu, also got what they wanted and that’s what anyone cared about. And I did not intend to speak any rationalism then and ruin it for the people there whose entire livelihood depended on these visitors.
The Manamedu station was by itself so much different to the stations in Chennai, in the sense that there was dense greenery all around and relative calmness in what was supposed to be the most buzzing part of the town, next to the temple itself. There were a few wooden benches across the platform, an old dirty lamppost or two, a long rusty old roof covering not even half of the platform with plenty of holes on them, through which the sun rays beamed down, like a translucent yellow tube connecting to the heavens, a few stalls spread across the platform with a lot of gaps between each and a roofless staircase that extended from the centre of the platform to the outside on both sides of the station. Most of the stations in Chennai were always crowded with thousands of people moving from one end to another, a few hundred moving across the staircase that linked the station to the outside world, a few dozen people always seen ignoring these staircases and walking across the tracks to move out of the station, sometimes through gaps in the railings and broken walls that surrounded the station.
There were always people talking, crying, yelling, clapping, walking, running and making every other possible noise that a human could make and I often had the urge to just yell at the top of my voice asking every single living soul there to shut up for five seconds and realise what they were missing and what they needed...or what I needed. Here I did not have that need.
It wasn’t as if the entire station was deserted. There were still several dozen people walking around on the platform, but most of them had been the ones who had gotten out of the train that I had arrived in and no more train was expected till the night. A couple of porters were seen yelling and arguing amongst themselves, bickering over a large trunk, with its owner standing nearby, with his hands over his head, pleading for the men in red shirts to decide who was to carry his trunk and not fight amongst themselves for the money. That little skirmish ended rather swiftly, with one smaller, yet senior looking porter slapping a bulkier, yet much younger looking porter on his face and carrying away the trunk, with the owner following behind, leaving an apologetic look towards the younger man in red.
The station did not remain crowded for long and the platform was clear in a matter of minutes. Then there was relative silence, with the rustling of the leaves on the trees lining on either side tracks, clearly audible, a few men, who were working in the station talking quietly with each other and the distant sound of the horn of the train, that I had arrived in, evanescing far into the horizon. I could even see the hills and little mud mounds a few miles away from the station beyond which the train had disappeared to and a solitary broken, rusty goods train compartment was seen standing on the northern end of the station, a bit away from any tracks that were being used, amidst a handful of smaller mounds and a couple of porters were seen smoking, seated nearby it. This sure was the sort of place I was looking for to spend some peaceful time in.
I sat on one of the benches on the platform, wondering where my friend Ganapathy, who was to show me his house, had gone to and if I should make a phone call to his home in Madurai. It was the nineties and cell phone wasn’t as easily available and widely used then as today, so it was not an option for me and I wondered how I could reach him, if he had already left his house. I was entirely at the mercy of my acquaintance, whom I had chosen to see as a friend since he was kind enough to offer to open his doors for me, but ran the risk of being seen as an enemy if he did not arrive any time soon.
As I sat there worrying how I was to survive in that little town, if Ganapathy did not show up, I noticed an old beggar lying against a lone weighing machine on a corner of the station, with a one-eyed dog lying next to him.
‘Maybe he will grant me some space next to him…not that there aren’t enough spaces in this station anyway.’
Of course I was exaggerating, I did have enough money with me to get myself a large room in a lodge, but that was not the sort of place I wanted to be in. I did not want to live as a guest, but as a local for a few weeks and remain away from the people who would want to make business off of me seeing me as a visitor. Lodges were the last place I wanted to spend my time in. I was very much determined to remain in the station till eight at night to get myself back to Chennai, if Ganapathy did not turn up, rather than staying in a lodge in Manamedu.
‘Wonder how he ended up as a beggar here’ my mind raised a question to probably distract me from my worries concerning my future stay there. ‘Wonder how he became like that’ was my next thought, as soon as I noticed a lot of blots, blemishes and blood oozing from little wounds all over his body. It took me a few more moments to realise that he was a leper and not injured in any other manner.
He was extremely thin, weak, shabby, tired looking, with his collar bones and veins in his neck clearly noticeable. So much of his insides were visible that he could be taken to a medical school and students could be asked to point and name each bone in the body without even ripping apart his flesh…or what little remained of it. His grey hair was a mess with mud, snots perhaps from his own nose and some other pasty substance, which I wasn’t able to identify and did not bother to ponder much about. He had his mouth open and a bit of drool was dripping down the sides. There were hardly any teeth and even the few that remained were not as remotely white as it was supposed to be nor as strong as recommended.
Apart from these disgusting and disturbing aspects of his appearance, what caught my eye was his nose, which was large, yet flat, with a lot of hair quivering out of his nostrils. He was dark skinned, but the sun or the genetics of our people were not the reason. He had some sort of grease and oil smudged all over his body, something else that was inexplicable.
His eyes were hazy and grey and it was obvious that his vision was not at its best. He did not seem too keen to notice me though, as he kept opening and closing his eyes, laying his head against the yellow coloured weighing machine. The black furred street mongrel lying next to him was not any better looking with little drops of grey fluid seeping out of his injured left eye and his proper right eye staring right at the tracks, seeming like a genius deep in his thoughts, planning to bring to this world, something of great significance that was to change the way the planet functioned.
But I knew that if I was in his position, I would perhaps be thinking how and where I could find my next meal and the same thought was probably circling his mind. One of his hind legs seemed crushed and misshapen, probably as a result of stones pelted at him, by some heart less individuals. I did not know who looked more pitiful, but my chest felt really heavy seeing the two in the state they were.
‘What kind of sin could they have done in the present life or the past to get to the state they were in? Why does God have to be so merciless?’
Though I did speak and write a lot about rationalism, I was not brave enough to survive in this world without the belief in a Supreme Being, who could protect me and lend me an ear and eventually a hand, when my mind and heart were at their weakest and heaviest respectively. And of course, like everyone else, I needed someone to put the blame on when something went wrong and hope for things to eventually be changed for the good in my life, by the same being.
I did not know why and for how long, but my eyes spent more time hovering over the two than it did on the other objects and people in the surroundings. I knew not what I was expecting to happen, but when something strange did happen, I was surely astounded.
The large weighing machine with a glass box at the top and circular, coloured plates rolling behind different coloured flickering bulbs was a commonality in most stations in India and it was even a surprise that this small station had just one, when three or four can be found in many stations in Chennai. A coin had to be inserted after standing on the black platform, which was part of the machine and the circular plates would go into motion, with the flickering of the bulbs changing its rhythm, all a pre-show for a card to drop out through another slot, which showed the weight of the person on one side and a little fortune on the other.
More often than not the fortune was gibberish, though not as inaccurate and nonsensical as the weight on the other side. But youngsters and old people alike did spend a minute or two of their waiting time, weighing themselves, only to compare the cards that each of them received with each other and have a few giggle.
This one on the platform at the Manamedu station was untouched, at least since I had arrived at the station and now the way it was being touched around by the beggar made me really uneasy. As he lay there against it, this leper in his sixties perhaps, kept caressing it with his hands, while carefully turning his head to his left and checking if somebody was watching him, with his hazy eyes.
The caressing continued and he moved his hands to the backside of the machine and then turned his gaze towards his right. In this direction, about fifteen yards away from him, was I and I turned my head towards the front, to give the beggar the impression that he was not being watched. Of course I wasn’t planning to remain that way and even the few moments I had spent staring towards the tracks, several feet ahead of me, I was restless, curious and eager to turn back towards the weighing machine which was to my left and see what the leper was intending to do.
I saw him from the corner of my eyes and the leper’s head was now turned towards the back of the weighing machine, away from my direction. Now my eyes were completely on him and he did not notice me even once. His focus was entirely on the machine and his arms moved a bit more rapidly now, over the weighing machine. Then he suddenly tapped on a spot, while placing his ears to the side of the machine and then knocked gently on another spot a little further up. After about ten more seconds of this tapping and caressing, he looked around once again and then punched a little harder at a particular spot.
A series of jingling noises followed and the old man was seen picking up a few objects from the back of the machine and dropping them within his own tattered blue lungi, which he had turned into a small pouch. It was obvious that he was stealing coins from the machine, which had perhaps been used by people in the past few days. But what surprised me more was that he took only a small percentage of the coins and dropped the rest of it back inside the compartment behind, which he had managed to open with his skilful tapping.
I figured out that it was a move made to not create any suspicion among the authorities. If they found all the money within the machine missing, they might try to protect and monitor the contraption more or simply move it to a different spot, which might not be very easy for the beggar to steal from. If only a tiny fraction of the coins went missing, they might not really notice it. The duck that laid golden eggs… This was a simple act, but the fastidious nature of the man was revealed, even though his appearance did not suggest it.
Who was this guy? What had he been doing in his life before he became a beggar? This question now troubled me. Was he a thief? Was he a conman? Did he deserve the life that he now had and my pity?
The last question was the first to get answered, even though I later came to find out that it was the wrong answer.
While he had been busy, meticulously figuring out a way to get the coins out and while I had been busy trying to make myself appear like I wasn’t watching him, both of us missed the presence of a little boy, maybe six years old, with a couple of his fingers getting suckled by his own mouth and mucus dripping down his nose, standing right behind the weighing machine, the side opposite to where the leper was seated.
There weren’t any other people near us and the closest person on either side was about thirty yards away. How did the two of us miss this little boy, we did not know. The gaze of the little boy and that of the beggar met. Those little eyes had witnessed a crime happening even though it was a petty one and I wondered if those little lips had the words to get the beggar in trouble.
The two of them continued staring at each other, while the beggar shut the compartment slowly with his mutilated hands. The mutilation was something I hadn’t noticed the first time around, even though it was clearly visible and my wonder grew even more as to how he got on with the act.
But before I could cogitate more on his foul accomplishment, one more bizarre act followed. The beggar made a mean face, by squinting his eyes, cringing his face, opening his mouth wide and sticking his tongue out between his disfigured and repulsive gum line.
“What are you looking at, you little prick? Scram!!!” he yelled in Tamil.
The child started crying and ran back to his father who was just seen coming out of the station master’s room.
“Hey baby, what’s wrong? Did you fall down? Did you hurt yourself?” the father lifted his child and started inspecting his body for scratches or wounds. The child did not say anything, but kept crying and pointed his fingers towards the leper, who now had his eyes closed, mouth wide open and his head laid against the weighing machine, as if he had been sleeping for hours.
“Oh, did you get scared of the old man? Don’t be afraid of him…He is just a poor guy who is ill” the father carried the boy on his shoulder and walked closer to the beggar, but not close enough for him to worry about contracting the disease, from the old man. Then he picked a one rupee coin from his pocket and dropped it into the crushed and misshapen, dirty plate in front of him. The leper slowly lifted his head, wiped his eyes, observed the plate and smiled pitifully with his maimed hands clasped towards the donor.
“See, there is nothing to worry about?” said the man towards the child, who stopped his crying momentarily, though tears were still trickling down his cheeks.
“May you and your family live prosperously for a hundred years” said the beggar, offering his benediction.
The man patted his child on his back and walked, carrying the little boy, towards the staircase to exit the station, while the child’s eyes were still on the beggar. On seeing that the father of the child was no longer looking towards him, the leper changed his expression instantly and brought back his old, menacing face. The child began crying again, pointing his hand towards the beggar and when the father turned towards the beggar, he was once again seen lying against the machine, seemingly asleep.
The wailing of the child lasted longer than the horn of the train that had left the station a few minutes ago and the father tried hard to console and cheer up his kid, as he made his way out of the station platform.
Should I report the crime that I had just witnessed and get the beggar in trouble with the authorities?
‘Hell no…Let fate do what is necessary… The leper will pay for what he has done…God is watching and he will take care of the sinner’ thought I. One more advantage in having a belief in God, leave all responsibilities to Him and walk away as if none of it was your business. I knew I was being a coward, but I also knew that it was necessary for me to not get myself into any trouble that too in a new town. Being a writer and an editor of a magazine (even though a moderately sold magazine), I should have acted more wisely and shown some courage. But I did not have the will to corroborate against the leper.
“This is one dangerous fellow, who shouldn’t be messed around with” I said to myself. “He deserves every bit of what he has received and deserves no pity.”
Looking back at that moment, now, I feel greatly embarrassed about myself. Ashamed of cowering when I should have shown courage and even more ashamed of thinking that the old leper deserved all that he got, without knowing everything about him. How much has he made me regret since then.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Seven Days to Apocalypse:
“In God’s name shall he preach, In God’s name shall he warn, In God’s name shall he lead...lead you, a son of God, to your downfall” said the shrill voice, of a ninety year old hag, the one they called, the Oracle of Blemfl.
His Highness, Montaine Flumberg, to whom the Oracle’s words were addressed to, sat opposite her, his legs placed on a tree stump fashioned into a stool, his gaze fixed on the seemingly mad woman in front of him, hovering her hands over the large bowl of fire, the flames of which were said to show her the future. His mind put forth a million questions, but his lips remained shut as if the mind refused to let it function knowing very well they needed to hear a little more of what the Oracle had to say.
The mind of his companion, Prime Minister Elis Frankton, though was already coming forth with a million reasons to say why they were wasting their time in the cave of an obviously mad woman who could hardly see the people in front of her and was often seen mistakenly refer to the plump Frankton as Sire, Highness and majesty and directing her predictions towards him.
The constant cawing of the one eyed raven, imprisoned inside a clunky cage that rattled as the easterly winds intruded the mostly humid, cave high atop the southern end of the volcanic Galapharus range, didn’t do much to change the cranky mood of the visitors at the Oracle’s den.
The whole place reeked of blood, death, decay and plain dust, if it had any stench of its own. Montaine’s gaze momentarily shifted away from the yapping hag and on towards her cawing companion, at whose claws lay a dead rat, its entrails dropping out of the bird’s cage. The majesty, whose forces had been responsible for the death and impalement of hundreds of thousands of men over the past two decades, but whose royal sword hadn’t ever tasted blood, cringed at the sight of the vermin’s corpse.
The prime minister’s eyes grazed over the large dusty shelf behind the Oracle’s throne, inside which were arranged books of great density, dense both in physical size, as well as the knowledge they possessed, but whose gifts were being ignored by the old woman and whose original purpose was misunderstood and was therefore being misused. The old hag used the paper from the books as fodder for the fire which seemed to tell her the future, instead of the more reliable facts or the more imaginative fiction that the books originally contained. The bookish Frankton’s rage knew no bounds when he saw the old lady carelessly rip off a page from his favourite book, The Gratifying Entanglement, by Sir Willy Woodshaft, the pages of which had helped the prime minister save his marriage but unfortunately had also lead him to father some bastards.
“Sire, do you not think it is time for us to shift our focus on other important issues that requires our attention at the earliest?” asked Elis, tired of the Oracle’s gimmicks with her bowl of fire and her vain attempts to appear mysterious and supernatural.
“Heed my warning, young King! The single greatest threat to your crown is fast approaching your castle even as we speak and his words shall lead you astray…” repeated the Oracle, lifting a cat’s skull from a table nearby and caressing its sharp canine teeth, while eyeing the two men in front of her, with her own head tilted.
King Montaine shifted his gaze from the hag to his trusted lackey, who was shaking his head and puffing out air, restlessly, incredulous of every word being uttered by the Oracle, disgusted by the lady’s silly affectations.
“My Lord’s downfall you say? By a single man you say? I can assure you, m’lady, there is no one in the entire world who is strong enough, clever enough, insane enough to even attempt to harm the greatest ruler of Calmenforde,” said the rotund minister with red cheeks, thick, well maintained silvery beard, hazy grey eyes with puffy under bags, bushy eyebrows and wrinkly forehead. “Lord Flumberg is the heir to God’s kingdom and he is to be defeated by a mere follower?” snickered the sixty five year old man.
“He is no true follower of Him and he certainly has no need of fearing you to be His son, as he doesn’t believe in His existence in the first place” said the Oracle, in a very calm, slow manner, this time staring sternly at Montaine.
“The Oracle seems to have lost her mind, Sire” whispered Frankton to his King. “It’d be wise to end this absurdity and return back to our business.”
“So how shall I identify him? This deceiver you speak of” asked Montaine calmly, taking a sip from his wine glass, ignoring his lapdog’s comment. His brilliant blue eyes shimmered from the radiance of the fire in front of him and his short, well maintained black hair moved serenely as an occasional draft moved through the cave. He was a handsome man with fair skin, lean pointy nose, a thin goatee, wiry frame and with a menacing gaze. A quick glance at the man could make one think that he was made more for the bed than for the battlefield and he had almost always been battling with his courtesans while his men had been dying for him in the warzone.
But little did he care for the well-being of other men and little did their deaths mean to him, for he believed it was their privilege to lay their heads for him, as he slowly worked towards fulfilling his destiny and claimed what was rightfully his, the tag of being the ultimate ruler of every land discovered by mankind. His efforts were still at its infancy though as he found some annoying resistance even from the neighbouring land of Rimvaugn whose resources and capabilities he had already dented in a massive unexpected invasion not so long ago, but whose forces were rumoured to be regrouping for payback. Invading foreign lands was a costly affair and the modest coffers of Calmenforde, at one point threatened to disappear into nothingness, which forced Montaine to sign a treaty with the Rimvaugnians. The spread of the fatal Scarlet Fever also did its bit to slow his progress.
Montaine’s lust for power though hadn’t yet satiated and he prayed to the Gods, from whom he believed he had descended, that he be given all that was necessary to claim his birth right. Prayers alone seemed insufficient to please the Gods and Montaine believed the building of shrines to honour the divine, would help him achieve his life’s mission in a swifter pace. He never for once feared or doubted that he would die without ruling all of the discovered lands, and it was all just a matter of time, in his assumption. He however did not want to attain what he wanted right towards the end of his life, but well in his youth, so that he could relish every honour and glory coming his way and ensure that every single human in every corner of the world can take in his physical beauty, youth and vigour and know that they were being ruled by a worthy one.
And so he wanted to build a shrine to honour the Gods, the ideal location of which, he wanted to know based on the positions of stars to yield him maximum favour and he and his prime minister had arrived at the ageing Oracle’s cave for the said purpose, only for the old hag to threaten them with a strange prophecy.
“Sire, I urge you not to meditate on the old lady’s words” stressed Elis, not bothered about being heard by the person he was insulting, feeling a bit annoyed seeing his Lord encourage the Oracle with further questioning.
“Since my grand-father’s reign, the royal family has been in constant consultation with the Oracle and plenty of important decisions have been made at her behest-“
“I am sure even your grand-father and father hadn’t consulted soothsayers, prophets and Oracles, as much” murmured Elis, “and none of them had been as devoted to this particular Oracle, as you, my Lord.”
“And none before me have wanted control of lands far beyond the Calmenforde’s walls, as I. Greater ambitions require greater guidance. And the Oracle hasn’t ever been wrong, has she?” asked Montaine, staring emotionless towards the old lady, who suddenly seemed oblivious to their presence and was seen meddling with the raven’s cage, poking the one eyed bird, in its good eye with a tiny twig, sending the scavenger into a frenzy.
“Need I say more?” asked Elis Frankton, pointing towards the strange behaviour of the Oracle. “Age catches up, my Lord.”
“You shall do nothing to find this deceiver. He will find you soon on his own accord” said the Oracle, interrupting the conversation between the king and the minister. “And you shall have nothing to do, to save your position as the king of Calmenforde. Your reign shall end and it shall be at his hands” repeated the old lady, with no concern about offending the King.
“Oh yes, and how shall he do it? Does he travel atop a mythical dragon that can burn our troops to cinder or does he carry the weapons of the Gods that can summon storms and rivers of fire, to level Calmenforde to dust?” asked Elis, with a grunt, rolling his eyes.
“Words…there are no weapons that can bring about as much ruin as words. And he has complete mastery over it” said the Oracle, slowly turning her head away from the cage with a serious look. “Do not trust anyone who claim to know the future” the old lady burst into a hysterical laughter, that reverberated to all corners of the dark cave that was illuminated by nothing but the bowl of fire at its centre.
“Case proven” said the prime minister, sighing and gathering himself to leave.
Montaine remained seated, as he watched the ninety year old hag laughing like a mad woman, pricking her hand with a tiny blade that she possessed and poking her bleeding finger into the bird’s cage, allowing the one eyed raven to feed on her wound.
He’s had enough as well. He convinced himself to trust the words of a sycophant over the soothsayer. Montaine picked himself up calmly, took a gold coin from his pocket to drop into a bowl nearby as a fee for the Oracle’s service, stopped midway, pondered for a couple seconds and walked out of the cave, throwing the coin into the hands of one of his soldiers waiting outside.
“Make sure the cave is closed down.”
“Yes Sire…what of the Oracle? Shall I lead her to the prison or chase her beyond our walls?” asked the soldier hesitantly.
“You heard everything from the outside?” smiled Montaine, “Good, then you must know her service is no longer required.”
“Yes, my liege…so is it imprisonment or exile?” asked the soldier again.
“Leave her in the cave.”
“But you wanted me to close the cave” asked the soldier perplexed.
“That’s what the coin is for” said Elis Frankton and the King patted the soldier, giving him a sly smile, as he climbed down the rocks fashioned into stairs leading down to the ground where a beautifully decorated carriage awaited him, with a modest brougham behind it for the prime minister. A group of eight soldiers on horseback surrounded the two wagons and the wagon drivers opened the two wagons for the respective passengers.
Montaine Flumberg halted for a second as he was about to enter his chariot and looked back at the cave. He saw the soldier to whom he had given a coin summoning a couple of his comrades and with their help, working towards moving a large boulder nearby, closer to the entrance of the cave, to shut it down. The Oracle though seemed not to care about her fate and her own haunting laughter, along with the cawing of the tortured raven continued emanating from within the cave.
Montaine closed his eyes, took in a deep breath and tried to forget all that he had heard in the past few minutes, only to fail miserably.“Something about her words churns my guts.”