Dharma’s Dog ( a short play)

A Short Play
by P. RAJA
DHARMA’S DOG

Dr.P.Raja,
D-88 Poincare St,
Olandai-Keerapalayam,
Pondicherry-605 004;
cell:9443617124
e-mail: rajbusybee@gmail.com

SCENE 1
(Cow-dust hour. A village street. Two middle-aged men walk fast as if they were moving away from an impending disaster. They were clad in white dhoti, their torso bare, their heads turbaned. A Man coming in their opposite direction, clad in dhoti and sleeveless shirt and headgear looks askance at them and emboldens to stop them.)
Man 3: (in a hurried tone) You seem to be running for your life. What is chasing you? Yama’s buffalo? One-horned rhino? A woman of easy virtue? Hei! Speak…
Where are you bound?
Man 1: (laughing) Ha! Ha! You are a funny fellow! Ha! Ha! Ha! I can’t but laugh at your curious words. To tell you the truth, we are rushing to Achala Hermitage.
Man 3: (raising his eyebrows a little) Achala Hermitage! Never heard of it before. Where on earth is it?
Man 1: (in a luring voice) Would you like to go with us? It is a few hundred yards away.
Man 3: (hesitatingly) I don’t mind going with you. But what will I gain by going there? Do they give food there?
Man 2: (in a spurt of anger) Food! Food! Food! What foodies we have in our village?
Always after food and food.
(Man 1 and Man 2 resume walking, this time faster than before.)
Man 3: (running after them) Hei! Hei! I will go with you. But you have not yet answered my question.
Man 1: (in an affectionate tone) Come along, friend! Your going there won’t go waste. Achaladeva will provide you enough food for thought.
Man 3: Food for thought? Whoever wants it? Will there be food for my stomach?
Man 2: (gives a short snicker and giggles) Food for the stomach is not the only thing in life. You should grow. Achaladeva will do that for you.
Man 3: Who is Achala?
Man 1: Achala! The word simply means immovable. It also denotes dikpala meaning guardian deity. Achaladeva is also Bodhisattva who later becomes a Buddha.
Man 3: Buddha! One day he will become a Buddha, eh? Let him! Let him! I would like to become his bhikhu.
Man 2: A bhikhu is a mendicant. He is a monk, to put it in simple language. He is restricted to eight essential possessions: Three robes, a begging bowl, a cloth belt, a needle and thread, a straight edged razor and a water strainer.
Man 3: A water strainer? The bhikhus drink from muddled pools or what?
Man 1: No! No! No! Why should they? The strainer is for rescuing the insects that may have fallen into drinking or cooking water.
Man 3: What noble souls are these bhikhus?
(All the three men enter a huge land fenced with trees and shrubs. The land is punctuated by a few huts. But for the occasional cawing and chirping and buzzing, the place is dominated by an unusual silence.)
Man 3: (breaking the silence) An abode of peace… Lucky is the man who finds shelter here.
Man 2: (in a hushed voice) shhh… shhh… This is no place to talk but only to listen.
(The voice of Achaladeva is heard from a distance, though nothing is clear. All the three move towards the direction of the voice. They walk faster than before to reach a mound studded with bushy trees. Achaladeva’s voice becomes very distinct, and he is seen seated on the mound while a twenty or so people, both men and women sit facing him.)
Achaladeva: Monkey… It is a monkey… our mind is a monkey. I’d like to call it a drunken mad monkey. And the most dangerous part of our anatomy is the mind. Meditation, Yoga and all those exercises meant for the purpose would rarely bring our mind under control.
Where exactly is this so-called ‘mind’ in our body? Shall I put it differently for you to understand better? Where do we think from? Think… (pauses for a few seconds)
The head! The heart! The stomach! Think… (pauses again for a few seconds)
We think from different places under different circumstances in the process of life. We do so perhaps to escape from the monotony of life. And so the mind does not operate from one station.
To punish or curse someone we use our head. We use our heart to forgive someone. And we go to work to get our coolie… He… ho! We think from our stomach, don’t we? That is the mind… Capable of shifting places. Then what to call this mind if not a drunken mad monkey?
Now would you like to search for the mind in the body? Try! Try to search for it. Use any means… Use all means. It would prove as futile as searching for the soul in the body. But we should never lose hope. This tireless quest has to continue forever.
(Achaladeva brings his palms together and murmurs his prayers. His attentive listeners follow suit. They then stand up, greet one another, call others brother and sister and dispense. Achaladeva sits in the very same position with his eyes closed. When he opens his eyes, he finds Man 3 standing, with his body bent like a bow and his arms folded against his chest.)
Achaladeva: What Can I give you? What have I to give you?
Man 3: Certain clarifications in your sermon.
Achaladeva: Oh! Have you listened to my sermon?
Man 3: Yes… but only the last few minutes when you spoke of the mind as a drunken mad monkey.
Achaladeva: Yes… Yes! Now shoot your doubts at me one after the other.
Man 3: I agree with you that the mind is a drunken mad monkey. But how to chain it and keep it in one place?
Achaladeva: That is a long process. You have to unleash yourself of all the worldly responsibilities. If you can succeed in this attempt, then you are fit enough to control your mind.
Man 3: That I have already done. I got rid of them.
Achaladeva: What do you understand by responsibilities?
Man 3: I was stupid enough to marry a woman. And more stupid to bring forth a son. My mind is no more with them and I am free from all encumbrances. Will you please accept me as your disciple and allow me to live in your hermitage as a seeker of the Divine?
Achaladeva: What is your name?
Man 3: People call me Dharma.
Achaladeva: Dharma! You can live in my hermitage. What did you do to your wife and son?
Dharma: I have run away from them.
Achaladeva: You mean you have deserted them?
Dharma: I got rid of them.
Achaladeva: Why did you do so?
Dharma: I never knew that they would grow into such big burdens weighing heavily on me. One worry followed another and yet another. I wanted peace… I wanted the peace I have lost. Then I probed into my consciousness to unravel myself the cause of all my worries. Once I found it out, I decided to get rid of them.
Achaladeva: What guided you to my hermitage?
Dharma: I can’t say… Perhaps Father Time and Mother Fortune.
Achaladeva: Stay in my hermitage as long as you want… Till you are fit enough to start one on your own.
–curtain–

SCENE 2
(A month or so later. The very same hermitage. Achaladeva is gathering the fallen fruits. An assistant is seen helping him. At a distance the barking of a dog is heard.)
Achaladeva: Many things seemed to have happened during my spiritual tour for a month?
Assistant: I do not know what you are talking about, Master.
Achaladeva: A cur seems to have strayed into the hermitage.
Assistant: Oh! The dog! He has became an incumbent of the hermitage.
Achaladeva: Whose dog is he?
Assistant: Dharma’s dog.
Achaladeva: Dharma’s dog! He told me he had renounced everything.
Assistant: (laughs) Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! All that he said he had renounced, he has brought back on himself.
Achaladeva: (startled) You mean his wife and son too.
(The Assistant nods his head in approval… Dharma appears from nowhere and kowtows before Achaladeva. The Master responds with a big and broad smile.)
Dharma: You must pardon me, my master! I have done certain things in your absence, which need your approval.
Achaladeva: You are the master of your own self. Do whatever your conscious says ‘yes’
Dharma: That is what I have done, Master. But I feel it my duty to inform you of that.
Achaladeva: (nods his head, signalling Dharma to go ahead)
Dharma: I will have to start it with my dog story. (The barkings of a dog is heard) That is my dog Deva.
Two weeks ago when it was not yet dawn and I was still in bed, I was forced to get up by a dog. He was licking all over my face. At first I thought it was a dream. But I sat up to see my dog Deva, yelping and barking at me. I hugged him tight and tears rolled out of my eyes.
What an affectionate creature is this dog! The noblest creation of God! He has traced my scent and tracked me.
Assistant: If you choose your dog with care, your life will be enriched for years by a friend who will give much love and satisfaction and cause little annoyance.
Dharma: That very same evening Deva left me only to come back to me with my only son, a six-year-old.
The boy began to howl and cry the moment he saw me. I wanted to cajole him and so I picked him up and sat him on my arm. He began to beat my chest. I understood that he has lost weight because of my absence.
Assistant: That’s real love… And then?
Dharma: Deva went back… Two days later he returned with the boy’s mother.
Achaladeva: And what did she say?
Dharma: She came rushing towards the boy and cuddled him up, showering kisses on both his cheeks. She yelled at me that I have abandoned the family life for a spiritual life, which can be led even when one is leading a family life. Finally, she refused to go out of the hermitage for she could not live without her son.
Assistant: That’s a true mother.
Achaladeva: And the boy refused to go out of the hermitage for he could not live without his father. Right?
Dharma: Yes! You are right.
Achaladeva: Dog loves his master. He traced his master’s scent and tracked him.
The boy was curious to know the whereabouts of his father. The faithful dog helped him. Both father and son got united.
And then the mother came searching for the son. Mother and son got united. That is to say, the entire family got united by a dog.
Dharma: Well said, Achaladeva. I think I rightly named him Deva, meaning god. It is god who brought my entire family together.
Achaladeva: Kill Deva!
Dharma: (Surprised and shocked) What?
Achaladeva: I said kill Deva.
Dharma: Is it the same Achala who uses a strainer for rescuing the insects that may have fallen into the drinking water, speaking to me thus?
Is it the very same Achala who on the very first sight permitted me to stay in his hermitage?
Is it the same Achala, love incarnate, who through his satsangs preaches peace to humanity?
Achaladeva: Don’t you understand that I am the very same Achala who even now wishes to bring peace to your heart?
This is a testing time for you. Kill Deva, by which I mean your attachments to this world. Or go back to your family life with your wife, son and dog.
Dharma: (relieved) Pardon me, Achaladeva for misunderstanding your words of advice.
Achaladeva: Your Deva is the hound of desire that will trace your scent and track you. There can never be any escape from it, till you determine to kill it.
Our way of ascetic life is not for men like you, who are attached to their families.
Never forget: An aimless life is a useless life.
–curtain–

SCENE 3
(Cow-dust hour. Dharma is seen sitting on the lowest branch of a neem tree, as if he were riding a horse. His eyes are riveted to the sky. He begins swinging his legs.)
Dharma: Achaladeva was right when he said, “An aimless life is a useless life.”
Is life really worth living without a goal? The creator created every life on Earth to serve a purpose of its own. But what am I doing?
(A fine breeze that would very easily lull any insomniac into sleep, hugs Dharma before it ruffles the leaves of the neem tree. Amidst the noise made by the leaves, Dharma hears a voice calling him by his name.)
Dharma: Oh! Who is this whispering my name?
Tree: It’s me, Dharma! The neem tree on the branch of which you are riding far away… far from the madding crowd.
Dharma: What have you to tell me?
Tree: Nothing much. You have asked yourself an excellent question: What am I doing?
Dharma: Yes! Do you have an answer for me?
Tree: Nothing much. The world expects very much from every individual to contribute to its growth… It is up to you to find out the purpose of your sojourn on planet Earth.
Dharma: It is only a sojourn, eh?
Tree: Of course… Everything changes… All things on Earth have to undergo this sea change. You are not what you were till you met Achaladeva. You were not what you are till Deva traced your scent and tracked you. You will not be what you are by the time I finish talking to you.
Baby, child, boy, adolescent, youth, grown-up, oldie… Alphabet, syllable, words, sentence, paragraph, page… girl, wife, mother, grandma, … good wife, better mother, best cook… seed, seedling, plant, tree, bud, flower, fruit… Oh! What a sea change we undergo during our sojourn on Earth!
Dharma: Do anything you have to do to save me?
Tree: (laughs) Save you? Ha… Ha… Ha… If the axe man comes with his tool nobody can save me. I would think… I have trained my mind to think… that my end has come and the purpose of my sojourn is over.
Dharma: You are trying to make me a fatalist, resigning myself to the inevitable.
Tree: I am happy that I am driving sense into your head.
Dharma: I know you have done your job all these years. I am sure you will continue to do your job till your end comes.
Tree: Think of me… Just think of me in the language of silence.
As soon as I am a grown-up, I fully bloom. Then I stud myself with fruit. It is an invitation for birds. Many build their nests and bring forth their own families. Many carry my fruit in their stomach to a far off distance and plant them there.
My barks, my flowers, my fruits, my nuts, my leaves, my twigs… mine, mine all that is mine I give away when many lives come seeking for them.
All these I do, knowing full well that one day I will fall a prey to the axe man.
Achaladeva is one such tree… a human tree. What you seek, you get. But you should by all means know what you are seeking for.
Dharma: I don’t know… I don’t know… What am I seeking for?
Tree: You know and you do not know. This is the poser that every life on Earth faces. We are caught between God and Devil.
Achaladeva and your Deva.
Achaladeva is like a tree, always branching out, helping others in all possible ways. What is this life worth unless we help and serve others?
Your Deva is a devil, always self-centred, cunning and planning to fulfil his own wishes. Achaladeva is a deep sea. No one would dare to jump into it. Yet a determined soul will do it, only to emerge as a new, helpful, friendly and peace loving soul.
Choose Achaladeva… you choose your transformation. Stick to your Deva… He will make you another Devil of a man self-centred, always in need and cursed.
Dharma: Don’t you think that I will be shunning my responsibilities if I decide to go in the path of Achaladeva? Who will care for my wife, son and dog?
Tree: (laughs) Ha! Ha… Ha… Ha! You are caught between the devil and the deep sea. That is the human condition today.
It is high time that you find for yourself the purpose of your sojourn. You should never regret the decision you take.
(A strong wind disturbs the peace of the tree. Dharma’s legs swinging all these minutes, stop.)
–Curtain–

SCENE 4
(Achaladeva is seen sitting on the mound. A crowd of hundred or so men and women sit facing him.)
Achaladeva: Let us do what best we can do for others. Let us do our duty. Those who do their duty do not do it for themselves. It is done only for the others.
The Divine gives you strength so that you can strengthen the weak. The Divine gives you food so that you can feed the needy. (Pauses) Think of any duty that you do purely for the sake of yourself. If you find one, then it is no duty at all. You will realize that all duties are done for others.
Some restrict themselves to their family members. Some go into the wider and broader world to do their duty.
A year or so ago, I had a disciple by name Dharma. He got enlightenment in this hermitage. Buddha got it under a Bodhi tree. Dharma got it directly from the tree itself. Wisdom is wisdom wherever you get it and whosoever passes it on to you. Tree or animal or bird or men—it makes no difference. Under the tree, in the tree, on the tree, from the tree—these prepositions have not much meaning. Now look at the lemon tree over there. (He points at a tree nearby the mound he was sitting on.) Don’t let your eyes miss the little mound under the tree.
One day Dharma disappeared from my hermitage. To my great shock I found that he had clubbed his dog to death. I was surprised to see Dharma’s wife and son wailing over… Surprised because they were not wailing over the disappearance of Dharma but over the death of their dog.
Mother and son left this hermitage once and for all.
I arranged for the burial of the dog under that lemon tree.
I have not heard of Dharma again. But I am sure the whole world will hear of him soon.
The End

Dr.P.Raja,
D-88 Poincare St,
Olandai-Keerapalayam,
Pondicherry-605 004;
cell: 9443617124
e-mail: rajbusybee@gmail.com

Raja,P. (1952) Bilingual poet, fiction writer, essayist,folklorist, journalist, critic and translator; heads the department of English, Tagore Arts College, Pondicherry; has 28 books in English and 10 books in Tamil. Add: D-88, Poincare Street, Olandai-Keerapalayam, Pondicherry-605 004. Cell: 9443617124, E-mail: rajbusybee@gmail.com; website: www.professorraja.com

Joy of Reading

JOY OF READING
How many of us read today? The little time we have is spent with the electronic media. We may think of reading when we have more time. But what we fail to understand is that we are missing one of the greatest pleasures of life if we have not learnt the art of reading for enjoyment.
Are the works written originally for public entertainment in any way the private property of English professors? Or are they exclusive to any other group of self-constituted guardians of the Muse? Not at all… The bulk of what generally passes as ‘literature’ belongs to the people for whose pleasure it was surely created. No doubt, we are living in an age of commercialized ambition and regimented thinking. Yet we can feel proud to be a dilettante, at least where books are concerned.
The true friends of literature are those who manufacture story books and books of poems with the noble intention of giving pleasure to others, and also are those who buy and read such books with the view of giving pleasure to themselves.
Numerous are the uses of reading in this practical age. One may read to gain mastery of a trade or to fritter away one’s spare time. Another may read to forget his worries. Yet another to experience vicarious chills and thrills. There are also many others who read to acquire the so called culture. But reading for enjoyment is of a different activity – it is the pleasurable exercise of the human psyche.
Men and women who have a passion for reading will sooner or later come unexpectedly upon some books that have been written surely for him. Who is to say what the volume may be? It may be Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ or Stefan Zweig’s ‘Letter from an Unknown woman’ or Sri Aurobindo’s ‘Life Divine’ or Gibran’s ‘Tears and Laughter’. Whatever it is, whenever or wherever it is found, one thing is certain. : its discovery will be heralded by the conscientious reader as an occasion for great rejoicing. The intrinsic value of literature is realized only at that time.
Good books not only reflect and reveal but also interpret human character, beliefs and behaviour. With the aid of good books, we may see not only into the remote past of our ancestors but also into the remote regions of the world today. Reading helps us in increasing our understanding of humanity and thus assuring peaceful if not endearing relationships in society.
P. RAJA

GHOSTS

FIRST CHAPTER OF A WEIRD NOVEL IN PROGRESS

By P.RAJA

GHOST STORY

The first ever ghost story I had the thrill of listening to was narrated by my mother. Like many mothers, my mother too was a storyteller… a very good one at that. It is not that that she could not lull me into sleep with her melodious voice that still continues to haunt me even after I have crossed five decades of my sojourn on Earth; but she could keep her listener spell-bound with her gimmicks and also by her special sound effects.

She mimicked the voice of the ferocious wind and the rubbing together of the wings of the cicada. She knew when to be silent. And her silence was as dark as the night itself.

“Years ago when I was a little girl, I saw a ghost. That was the first ghost I ever saw in my life. But it was not the last ghost,” began my mother.

“What is a ghost?” I asked as ignorant as ever.

“Listen! Stop asking questions. At the end of the story you will know what a ghost is. Now listen,” she said with a smile.

“In those days of no electricity, hurricane lamps and earthen oil lamps served the purpose of driving away darkness. People who stirred out of their houses in the dark for one reason or the other, invariably carried a hurricane lamp in their hands. They also carried a stick which had a few tiny jingling bells tied to the sides of the stick, so that when they walked they tapped the ground and the jingling noise of the bells drove creepy crawlies away. If the stick saved them from poisonous insects, the hurricane lamps saved them from falling into ditches which were plenty on the path. And both the weapons joined hands to dispel ghosts.

“Once I had a stomach disorder, may be because I overate on that day for my mother was an excellent cook. I woke up with a start and felt the urge to ease myself. I didn’t dare to wake up anyone in the house for they were all fast asleep.

“I had to cross the backyard of my house, open the bamboo fence gate and then move into the nearby wood, the only place for all the people in the village to deposit night soil. Without making the least noise I tip-toed my way out with a hurricane lamp.

“The place was so dark that one could not see one’s own palm. I had to lift my lamp to dangle it close to my face so as to know my way. The wind was chill and as I entered the wood I could hear the music of bamboo plants. The fully grown plants were perhaps hugging and kissing each other and in their wild ecstasy making eerie sounds. Such a weird sound the wind carried on its wings was enough to put any newcomer take to his heels even in broad daylight. But we were accustomed to all such sounds even, in the dead of night. Our way of living demanded it.

“My mother being a highly-respected country physician, very good at treating bites, especially dog and snake, took her children along into the wood in search of herbs. This she did only after midnight for she strongly believed that the herbs rejuvenated only after that hour and were able to regain their power lost during sunshine. And we were only lamp bearers to her and she always encouraged her children to turn a deaf ear to all such intimidating sounds for they would only cripple our audacity. Creech… Creech… reech… those were the cicadas. Jal… Jal… Jal… Anybody could easily mistake the sound for tinkling anklets of a woman dancing or running. But we knew that they were sounds made by beetles keen on attracting attention. While such horrendous sounds would easily make many of my playmates dirty their underwear, we were really amazed at the courage we had. Thanks to my mother who instilled courage and hope into us.

And on that night when I went out to ease myself, the cicadas joined hands with the beetles. Since I knew the musicians of the weird orchestra, no iota of fear gripped my heart.

I sat on my haunches and then, woo… woo… it was the wailing sound of the siren from the nearby cotton mill. I began to wonder what time was it. Was it 3.30 a.m or 5.00 a.m? I could think of only those two timings at that odd hour. And I saw someone sitting on his haunches at a stone’s throw.

My lamp helplessly watched me screw up my eyes as I tried to decipher who was there. To my great surprise, the man I was trying to have a better look, stood up. He was quite tall with only a dhoti on. But for the dhoti, as white as a streak of lightning, he was naked. He had a piece of cloth tied to his head to resemble a turban. God knows whether it was his own loincloth, as men used to wear it like that at the early hours when they moved out of their houses to ease themselves.

The man who stood up began to move towards me. For every forward step he took he grew a foot or so in height.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was happening as if in a dream with a pinch of magic. Fear gripped me and the next moment I stood up, ready to run for my life. Who can be more dangerous than men to women at such odd hours especially at the loneliness of the wood?

When the tall figure that has grown taller than the tallest palmyra tree in the wood, developed swift feet and was just a disasterous distance away, my feet developed wings.

I ran faster than my fastest feet could carry me, though I was not sure whether I could make my escape from the long-footed and long handed apparition. Yet I didn’t lose hope.

My vigilant ears could make out the thud – thud noise of footsteps at my back close at my heels. For the first time I understood that I was capable of running without my feet touching the ground.

As I ran I screamed, yelled, wailed and cried. I had almost crossed the wood when I stumped against a root that stood protruding from above the ground and I fell. Before I could raise myself up I turned back my head to see if I had made my escape. The tallest of the tall ghosts was closing in on me.

My heart thumping louder I stood up and took to my heels again without even examining whether I was wounded or bleeding from the bruises.

I saw something stretching from behind over my right shoulder. From the corner of my right eye I saw a long hand trying to overtake me, perhaps to grab me.

I breathed heavily like a terribly tired dog. I did run, of course. In a few seconds, I reached the fence, pushed the wicket gate open and ran into the backyard of my house.

As I entered the backyard, the Sun too rose dispelling darkness. Huffing and puffing, I slumped onto a cane chair inside my house.

My mother who had just finished drawing her usual mammoth kolam in the front yard of the house, made her appearance with a broom in one hand and an empty pitcher in the other.

Seeing my plight she dropped the pitcher and the broom to the floor and cried: “Eh… eh…eh! What happened?”

With a wave of my hand I motioned her to wait for a few seconds. She gave me an inquisitive look. I was still gasping for breath. It took quite a long time for me to breath normal and I saw my mother helplessly watch my plight.

I rehearsed to her from a to z, with bulging eyes and with a frightened face.

On hearing my story with rapt attention my mother laughed like a shower of granites falling on a hot tin roof.

“Oh! That’s only a shit eating ghost. Nothing to fear. It chased you to pull the shit out of you. And you, out of sheer fear, indirectly refused to give the needy ghost what it wanted” she again broke into a guffaw, while I fell to the floor with a thud.

I was told later that I swooned. And no amount of water splashed on my face and later poured on my head ever brought me back to my senses till the temple poojari came home, with a bunch of neem leaves and a pouch full of ash.

The poojari took a fistful of ash, recited mantras and then blew it on to my face. I must have looked like a white apparition. The bunch of neem leaves in his hand in the first round served as a fan on my face but in the second round metamorphosed itself into a whip. Every blow fell in my face like pinpricks with a sharp slashing sound. It gave me excruciating pain. The leaves that tore away from the bunch fell pell-mell, reminding me of a battlefield full of mutilated bodies of soldiers.

I stood up and made preparations to run away from the scene. But the poojari was all alert and he caught me by my long hair and forced me sit. I began to scream in pain.

“Huh!… Is it that much painful? Then leave this girl and go away this very moment. You don’t know how cruel I could be towards spirits like you? Now tell me where are you from? And who are you?” howled the poojari.

“Believe me… I am no spirit. I am a live girl… I am Saguntala… And I am from this house. Don’t torture me, please”, I pleaded with the poojari.

The merciless poojari raised his voice a few decibels and said: “You are a first rate liar. You better keep away from this little girl or else I know how to pull you out of her body and throw you back into your den. Go away before I do it for you.” He then roared at the pitch of his voice “Quick! Quick… be quick… else you can’t even get into your world again. I will nail you to a tree. You will be doomed for ever.”

I was in a fix. I was not sure what the poojari would do to me.

A few months before this incident took place. I saw him brand a girl of my age with a red hot iron, all with the purpose of exorcising the evil spirit that was reportedly haunting her. She fell down with a thud and swooned. The poojari took a camphor, ignited it and placed it in the palm of his right hand. He then drew three circles in the air all the time reciting mantras and finally tossed the burning camphor into his wide opened mouth – He leaned back and smiled. Slowly his smile turned into laughter till it became an uproarious one at that. “Ha… Ha… Ha… Ha…”

When everyone was looking askance at the poojari he howled in a thunderous voice: “I have won you… I have won you. You ‘ll be in my den forever as my slave.”

Having witnessed such a scene before, a ruse flashed across my mind. I cried in a loud tone: “Oh, no! oh, no! Don’t brand me again with that red hot iron. I can’t bear it anymore. You are the cruelest of exorcists I have ever seen in my life. Leave me to myself. I am going… I am gone.”

I fell down and swooned. The poojari didn’t know that I was pretending; neither did any one in the crowd enjoying the scene.

“I know… I know who you are. You must be the same spirit that I drove out a few weeks ago.” He then finished his preliminaries of lighting camphor, reciting mantras and then gobbling it up. After his customary uproarious laughter, he said in his guttural voice: “I have won you… I have won you again. But this time I’ll show no mercy to you. No mercy for the adamant spirit.” So saying, he held me by my hair and pulled out as many as he could ‘in one go’.

I stomached the pain, woke up with a start and innocently and ignorantly looked for my mother. She came rushing towards me and took me into her ever loving affectionate hands, and showered kisses on my forehead and cheeks.

“She is quite normal now. You can take her home,” said the poojari and blew a handful of ash onto my head and face.

“That was how I made my great escape from the cruel hands of the poojari. In fact, poojaris are crueler than the haunting spirits,” said my mother and heaved a sigh.

I was not ready to leave her at that. I became more curious than ever and asked: “What would the poojari do with the strand of hair he had pulled out of my head?”

“Oh, that! That he would take to the nearby palmyra tree with no companions. He would have the strand of hair nailed into the tree. By doing such a thing he made us believe that he had saved us from an impending disaster. For all such acts of exorcism, he charged a cockerel and a big fat hen. Above all we had to pay him 4 annas.

Years later when I rehearsed my mother’s experience with a ghost and a poojari to my uncle Samarapuri, he came out with his weird experience with a ghost.

Samarapuri was dark complexioned, short statured but well built. He was not visible in the dark unless the moon, particularly chose him to shower her cool rays. He himself would easily pass for an apparition in the midst of people who see him for the first time. Most often he was seen with his clean white dhoti kilted up and he hated to put on any shirt. He had a white towel which went round his hip when he was at work in the paddy field. The very same towel covered his torso when he moved around the village on business errands. And the same towel became his headgear when he sat on branches of trees eating their fruits, already tasted and abandoned by squirrels.

He spent the nights on the big broad pyal of my grandma’s palatial house. Adjacent to the house ran a lane that led to the wood, the very same wood my mother had bitter experiences with the shit-eating ghost.

Samarapuri was asleep when he heard someone call him by his name. The voice sounded as though it came from the other world and he cared a hair for it. The voice sounded again and this time it was louder than before. When he realized that the call was from his father, he woke up with a start.

He sat up. He saw his father standing on the muddy road. He squeezed his eyelids and looked at his father again.
“Hei! Come on…Light up that lantern by your side and bring it along,” said his father.

“Where are we going, pa?” It was the innocent Samrapuri.

“I feel uneasy in the stomach. I need to go to the woods to ease myself. Give me company. Bring with you the burning lantern,” said his father.

Samarapuri looked around. The parading Moon was quite bright, trying its best to show everything in its proper shape and colour as the sun would during his duty hours. “The moon is so bright… Why do you need me at this hour?” asked the impertinent Samarapuri.

His father didn’t answer.

“Who can be a better companion then the Moon? Pa! On many occasions like this when I asked for your company, you gave me the lantern and advised me not to be afraid of the dark and face the world as a man should… And now you need my company eh! Ha! Ha! Ha! What a funny world? Ha! Ha! Ha!” Samarapuri laughed. His father too as if he wanted to digest his son’s dig laughed uproariously.

“Hei! Come on…This is no time for joke…Bring the lantern along,” he said and moved away quite fast.

Samarapuri simply obeyed. He took the lantern and raised the wick a little up so that there could be more light and began walking behind his father nurturing no grudge.

Poor Samarapuri couldn’t cope with his father’ speed as his steps were quite long and fast. In fact, he was fleeing. Samarapuri was almost running after his father with the lantern dangling from his left hand.

“Why is he moving so fast?” Samarapuri asked himself. “He must be really sick,” he answered his own question. Seconds later, he thought why that old man was not stopping to ease himself. His father was not of that type to shy away from human presence or hide behind trees to answer nature calls. He never even bothered about the presence of women, when his bladder declared emergency. Why should such a man go farther and farther into the wood and that too at dead of night? Was he afraid of the moon playing hide and seek amidst the fluffy cotton bale like clouds?

The cicadas all of a sudden began to chirp and a stray owl on wings let out two blood-curdling hoots. The frogs began to crock and sent jitters down my spine. “I was scared of croaking frogs because those ignoramuses do not in the least know that they were inviting trouble. Their croaking is simply a dining bell for snakes. And when snakes rush for their food, they do not spare the human trespassers,” sermonized Samarapuri.

Oh! Is that the reason why Samarapuri’s father was moving with such long and fast steps?

Samarapuri had the shock of his life, when he saw his father cross a well without any effort.

A well in the wood! Surprising indeed! No one knew when the well was dug and for what reason! During rainy days, rain water found its way into the well and filled the huge well. Since, it had a ground level mouth, many stepped into it unaware of its existence. They never came back alive to tell any story about it. But people concocted several stories about the well with the spirits and the goblins that were haunting it.

Samarapuri was shocked to his coccyx bone because no human being would ever be able to cross that huge mouthed well without falling into it. Stunned he stood, this time gazing at his father’s amazing activity. But his father was going ahead, without even turning his head once to see if his son was following him or not.

How did his father cross that wide mouthed huge well with little or no effort when no one else escaped from its mouth?

The very thought was enough to make him freeze. And he froze.

As Samarapuri finished narrating his story, I was still in a fix for I was not sure what he saw and what was it that made him freeze.

I gave him an inquiring look. Samarapuri read my curiosity filled eyes. He wound up the tale by saying: I froze because I realized that my father died long ago when I was still in my teens.

It was time for me to freeze.

& & & & & & &

The Choice

A short play

P. RAJA

THE CHOICE

 

Characters

King Deva

Queen Madhana

Brahma, King’s Friend

Queen Mother

Town crier

Passer-by.

SCENE ONE

(The Palace. King Deva is seen relaxing in a rocking chair and engrossed in a book he was holding close to his chest. His lips are mumbling out undecipherable words for a time, and then closing the book with still his thumb as a book mark, laughs hysterically awhile and then opens the book to continue reading. This time he reads with only his eyes for a time and then laughs again silently.)

Deva:               What a poet! What a book of love poems! When wine goes in, wisdom comes out,                          they say. But when loves goes in, it is poetry that comes out. Exquisitely                                        chiselled  poems. Every poem in this book reveals the poet’s admiration for his                                   sweet heart’s beauty. Just one read…And the  poem gets glued to one’s mind. Let                          me repeat what I have read and enjoyed just  now.

 (He shuts closed the book and then looks at his queen getting dressed in the anti-                            chamber. He recites from his memory).

“Do not come so close to me, O beauty!

If you want me to lend you my ears.

At close quarters,

my inquisitive eyes,

as if propelled by a sensor

Start roving, around you.’

Your ivory teeth vie with

the splendour and radiance of your skin.

Your wavy, shiny black hair

Puts black velvet to shame.

 

Your doe eyes and quivering brows

Teach me lessons in love.

 

Your beaming face with that cute little nose

Casts a spell and muffles my words.

Don’t you know now, my doe, my dove,

Why I go dumb and deaf

When you want me to speak to you

Or listen to your whispering voice?”

 

(The queen listening to her husband reciting the poem, comes closer to him, hugs him tight, showers kisses all over his face and seals his lips with hers. Seconds later…)

Madhana:        I never knew you have so much love for me. I am really blessed to have a poet for             my husband.

Deva:              (aside) Huh! She mistook me as the author of the poem. So let it be…till she picks up the book to read. (to his queen) oh! At your very sight, my dear lady, my doe,   my dove, even the dumb will play with words and weave them into a beautiful         poem, for you are the poem in flesh and blood.

Madhana:        (blushing) How come, my dear, you never uttered a poetic line in all these days      of my marriage with you… say nearly a month we were in my parental home.           But now all for a sudden you spurt into poetry.

Deva:               That’s because I did not read this book before.

Madhana:        Book! What book?

Deva:               Hm…ah..book? Yes, book…Ah…you are the book.

Madhana:        (blushing) As if you have read every leaf in me.

Deva:               I read you every night and not many nights have gone by since we became             husband and wife. Still several leaves remain unturned.

Madhana:        For the first time your words are tinged with poetry. Where did you learn them?

Deva:               (Aside) All from Kaaladevan. (to the queen) All from every move of your limb.      You are beauty incarnate.

(Madhana hugs him. The light begins to fade as they become one body with two heads vying with each other to merge.)

(Curtain)

 

SCENE TWO

(Palace orchard. Brahma is seen sitting on a stone bench, all the time dreaming and smiling to himself. He has a blade of grass in his hand, and is seen chewing and spitting. Deva enters the orchard. Brahma rushes towards him and they embrace each other.)

Brahma:           It was too long a wait, my dear, dear friend. Thank you for sending word to me of            your coming back with your wife, the queen. Without you, everyday passed like a         decade.

Deva:               Days were long but nights were short for me. There was not enough time for most             of the time passed in ogling at her. It’s a pity that the sun rushes very fast to gulp         down darkness and fertilize Mother Earth.

Brahma:           Oh! My friend! Your words put me in my place. You are married and you will       not find time for me.

Deva:               Did I ever say so? Don’t let your imagination run riot. You will be my friend         forever.

Brahma:           Nothing is forever. All relationships are of ephemeral value only. What is a             flower to a plant or a plant to a flower, when it withers away? What is a tree to its         roots or roots to the tree, when the tree is felled?

Deva:               (laughs) Philosophising, eh? No philosophy is worth any cup of wine. Come           down to earth.

Brahma:           A newly married man has no time for friends.

Deva:               True! All my waking hours are spent in looking at the stunning beauty I married.

Brahma:           (mischievously smiles and nods his head in different directions as an expression       of joy).

Deva:               You should see her to find out the truth of the matter.

Brahma:           I saw her.

Deva:               (Surprised & shocked) Saw her? When?

Brahma:       On the day of your marriage…Since I was with you most of the time, your wife         knows me very well.

Deva:               (laughs whole-heartedly) The way you saw her is different from the way I want     you to see her.

Brahma:           (looks askance at him) Not quite clear.

Deva:               I want you to see her as I see her every night…naked. Then you will tell me what a            lucky man I am!

Brahma:           No kidding, Deva.

Deva:               No, no, no! Believe me. You have to see her once to believe what I say of her.

Brahma:           I believe all that you say. But don’t be stupid to tell me to see you wife naked.

Deva:               Listen! Let me speak…Decide later after listening to every syllable I utter.

Brahma:           But don’t tell me anything that you alone are blessed to see.

Deva:               Shut up! Tune your mind to my words. And where shall I begin? How shall I         begin? Will words walk hand in hand with the sight I see every night?

Brahma:           (aside) Let words fail his thoughts. I will be saved of guilt…the guilt of listening    to a jingle brained husband talk of the charms of aesthetically appealing woman.

Deva:               Ah, yea! Let me begin from the bottom. Now Listen, Deva. (puffs out his chest      and clears his throat) Earthquakes are stilled in her buttocks round. The in             between hidden palace of pleasure makes my heart go athump. In addition, feather             soft lower lips ask for a thousand kisses, before it sanctions a thousand blisses.

Her navel is like a round goblet and fresh wine too tastes age old when drunk        from it—the tiny well of spring.

Her well-developed breasts, plump and high, for the entire world I do defile the    like felicity.

Her thighs and belly, shiny and soft like peacock feathers! O, where can one see    such meat! And having seen and not eaten it, would anger even god.

Plenty! Plenty! It’s god’s plenty.

Brahma:           (aside) What a carnivore I have for a friend! (to Deva) Surely it would anger even a stone.

Deva:               To believe, you have to see her.

Brahma:           Hei! Stop that nonsense. Being blessed with such a wife is untold joy. Enjoy all     that you are blessed with, in the privacy of your bed chamber.

Deva:               That’s where I want you to hide yourself and see her undress before she slips into my bedcover.

Brahma:           (expressing shock) What for, Deva?

Deva:               What’s life worth unless I have someone to envy me?

Brahma:           There can be no envy or jealousy between friends like us.

Deva:               Well! Well! If you do not have such things on mind, then meet me in my palace     tonight when the clock strikes ten.

Brahma:           (showing signs of anger) What if I refuse to obey you, my friend?

Deva:               You can’t afford to disobey a king, you being my menial!

Brahma:           You will banish me or what? Better be away from a king who is sick in mind.

Deva:               (laughs like a mad cap) Disobedience to the king! Your head will not be yours.      (exits)

Brahma:           Tiny Deva shared his smiles with tiny Brahma. Boy Deva allotted a certain             percentage of his goodies to boy Brahma. Adolescent Deva made adolescent             Brahma a party to his beer drinking and kissing the manna oozing lips of servant        maids, all in the secrecy of the royal garden. Wedding, I thought, would make                           Deva gain his adulthood self absorbed, egocentric and self-disciplined. But Deva has not changed. And now he wants me to share…Huh! To think of it gives me the    jitters. I do not know what future holds for me!

(Curtain)

 

SCENE THREE

(A chamber in the palace. The queen Mother is seated in a swing. A maid in waiting helps her to swing. Two other maids simply wait and watch. Enter queen Madhana. The queen Mother motions the servant to stop the movement of the swing. As the swing comes to a halt, the queen Mother with a sway of her hand signals Madhana to get on to the swing. Both sit quite close to each other, rubbing shoulders and the swing resumes its momentum.)

Mother:           How goes the world with you, young lady?

Madhana:        So so…

Mother:           Why do you say so? Aren’t you happy with my son? Isn’t he good?

Madhana:        Too good to be a king and husband.

Mother:           The marriage got consummated or not?

Madhana:        Well, Well! Queen Mother: Everything went on smoothly as expected. But…

Mother:           Tell me…oh! I understand. (She signals to all the three maids to quit the chamber.   They more out, but the swing continues to swing at the same speed)

Madhana:        Not a minute passes without Deva speaking of his friend Brahma. He seems to be all in all for him.

Mother:           That’s true. My husband, the king as you know, died an untimely death. When he             was brought back home from battlefield mortally wounded, he divulged to me a           secret, before he breathed his last…

Madhana:        (looks at the Queen Mother with wide opened eyes) Is Brahma the king’s son?

Mother:           (with her mouth agape) Clever girl…Yes! Brahma is of his loins, the result of his    spilling seeds into the womb of a court danceuse. Brahma’s mother died of      childbirth and the baby was left to the care of the chef in the royal kitchen.

Madhana:        Did the king tell you to bring Brahma to the palace and nurture him as you own     child?

Mother:           No! He only said he had a confession to make. My husband loved me with all his heart. He always opened his heart for me to see. And when he told me of Brahma,    he said ‘This is for your information’.

Madhana:        When the king died, you had only one kid. And so, you made Brahma, Deva’s      playmate. Brahma and Deva, played together, ate together, learnt from the same          teacher and right from their tiny dot days they were together. Am I right?

Mother:           Clever girl! You read the minds of people very well!

Madhana:        Nothing of that sort. My husband, the king, has only one thing in mind. And in     every sentence he speaks, one can hear the name of Brahma four times. (The    swing   gradually slows down its motion.)

Mother:           Take pity on Deva’s nerves. You will have to use all your charms to keep Deva to yourself. And it may take quite some time for Deva to forget Brahma in your           presence.

Madhana:        But Mother! Brahma seems to have used all his charms to make Deva forget all      about me. (The momentum of the swing becomes dead slow).

Mother:           That’s because Deva listens to Brahma in matters pertaining to the state. Brahma   is an excellent advisor and no wonder that Deva administers the state and its         people so beautifully well. Deva’s brain is Brahma. (The swing comes to a halt. Both of them get down from the swing.)

Madhana:        Take care, mother!

Mother:           Take care of my son. (She watches Madhana leave the chamber). Poor girl!             Without Brahma, Deva doesn’t exist. When will she understand this fact? And          when will she understand Deva? For my part, I should advise my son, not to indulge in this sort of talk about Brahma to Madhana. Perhaps she feels insecure.

(Curtain)

 

SCENE FOUR

(Night. Deva’s bed chamber. Deva is seen walking up and down the chamber, impatiently. Now and then he turns to the main door of the chamber. His face is filled with anxiety. Seconds later, he feels the touch of a cold hand on his shoulder.)

Deva:               Huh! (turning) who is this? Oh, You! My Brahma…How did you enter?

Brahma:           Through a window over there. How can I enter through the main door? I have to   be very cautious you know, not to be caught by your wife.

Deva:               (giggling) So you have come to see the charms of my wife, eh?

Brahma:           To save my head.

Deva:               (Aside) That was only a ruse to bring you here…Fine then! (The sound of footsteps              is heard. In a whispering tone to Brahma) Hurry! Hurry and hide yourself under           my cot. From   there watch the charms of my wife when she disrobes for bed.   Then when she gets on to bed, you slip away. Go home and dream. You will                         give me tomorrow a graphic description of all that you have seen in my wife. I       would love to hear from your mouth, the charms I enjoy every day.

Brahma:           (slaps his forehead incessantly as a mark of shame and helplessness) I will be         behind             that statue of Rathi and Manmatha in a tight embrace. It is also closer to            the window, through which I can make my escape. (He hides).

(Enter Queen Madhana)

Deva:               Welcome my one and only love. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me…My hot lips crave for   the touch of yours. Give me flaming kisses three sweeter than sweet honey and I          will give you four hot as embers.

Madhana:        You have waited so long, Deva. Can’t you wait for a few more minutes until I       am ready for bed?

(She removes her dress one after the other, all the time looking mischievously at      her husband.)

Brahma:           ( Aside) What poet could trap her enviable beauty in words, when his pen   too       would like to gaze at her and forget the art of curving the letters! Her great       beauty fills me with wonder. Her adorable and covetous frame fills me with      wonder. And my poor soul thus entranced tells my vigilant eyes to go and take a   close look at her. Oh, what eyes stop with merely looking at a naked    woman? Don’t they inspire the onlooker to sprint to hold the naked in his arms?    Though her exquisite beauty stops my breath, I see a glimpse of death. It’s time to                         jump out of the window, my legs reluctant though.                                                   (He comes out of his hiding place and as he sprints towards the window,         Madhana sees him but keeps her cool. She watches him jump out of the window           and disappear.)

Deva:               (aside) Good friend! He did as he was told. Now is the time to feast upon my        lady. (to Madhana) Make haste, my beloved! Like a stormy wind that punishes the banyan tree, Love shakes my heart.

Madhana:        Not tonight, my king. What flood can drown me, when the fire in me starts            consuming me? My mind is not at rest.

Deva:               Won’t you say what you mean?

Madhana:        A virtuous wife’s most terrible pain, my Lord! It may take time for it to subside.

Deva:               Oh, Have I to moan and toss about the bed?

Madhana:        (smiles mockingly) I will be in bed by your side. But I will neither come      anywhere near you nor take you in.

Deva:               Till…

Madhana:        Till a worthier passion calls me.

(Curtain)

 

SCENE FIVE

(Next day morning. The royal library in the palace. Queen Madhana is seen browsing the books. She pulls out a big fat volume from one of the many shelves, dusts it clean and immerses her eyes into the book. Enter Brahma.)

Brahma:           I am here, your Majesty, to answer your summons.

Madhana:        (aside) What a fellow! Shows the least sign of suspicion that I knew what had       occurred on the previous night. (to Brahma) Thank you for coming at the right         hour to the right place.

Brahma:           What Can I do for you, your Majesty?

Madhana:        (looking into his eyes) There are two courses open to you. Choose between them.

Brahma:           Yes! Your Majesty! Tell this slave of yours what to do.

Madhana:        (Aside) Time is not yet ripe…you’ll soon be my slave. (to Brahma) Kill the king …

Brahma:           (shocked) Kill the king? As good as killing myself. He doesn’t exist without me.

Madhana:        One soul in two bodies? Preposterous. I know you can exist without him. So kill    the king, seize the throne, with me as your wife.

Brahma:           Or?

Madhana:        You will die on the spot.

Brahma:           What for?

Madhana:        So that you will not see what you have no right to see.

Brahma:           (bending down his head in shame) Oh! I didn’t escape your vigilant eyes when I    made my escape from the king. I plead before you…I am not guilty.

Madhana:        I know it is your blind obedience to the king. Now is the time for you to    choose…the reward or the punishment. One of you must die…either my immodest        husband, the shameless author of this wicked plot or you, who have outraged         propriety by seeing me naked.

Brahma:           (astonished to speak at first, then mustering up courage) Please… Please…I beg of   you. Do not force me to make so difficult a choice.

Madhana:        Your blind obedience to the king has forced me to do so.

Brahma:           It was not blind obedience. Deva too gave me a choice…To see you naked or lose my head. I didn’t want to lose.

Madhana:        Good choice…Make the choice again.

Brahma:           (Aside) My God! I am caught between two killers. What a predicament!

Madhana:        Choose now and think of  plot later.

Brahma:           I choose to banish myself from this kingdom and you will never see me again.

Madhana:        (laughs) Ha!… Ha!… Ha!…That is not there in my choice.  You were loyal to the    king…Good! But you have molested my modesty with your eyes. This very    thought would gnaw me and give me a slow death. I do not want to live in the             minds of two men.

Brahma:           I will forget it as a bad dream.

Madhana:        My bathing maids told me that I am a paragon of beauty…everything in its proper place. They said they found it difficult to erase my naked image from their   memory. Now you tell me you will forget it as a bad dreams That is a lie. Bad         dreams haunt the mind for a very long time than the good ones that go away after                         waking.

Brahma:           (Aside) That’s true! Sleep refused to hug me last night for my mind was holding    you in a tight embrace.

Madhana:        One of you must die….choose.

Brahma:           Well, then! I choose to die.

Madhana:        Unexpected! So be it. How would you like to die?

Brahma:           (holding her hand) I would like to die of old age.

Madhana:        (laughing) I would serve you as wife till you body feels that it is quite old for a     woman’s warmth…And then I will serve you as friend till you breathe your last.

Brahma:           I am blessed.

(They hug each other and as the curtain goes down, the smooching sound is heard for a long time.)

(Curtain)

SCENE SIX

(Queen Mother’s chamber. Two exquisitely carved rocking chairs await the arrival of the occupants. Queen Mother and King Deva enter from the same direction and occupy their chairs. The chairs begin to rock.)

Deva:               What is this emergency call for mother?

Mother:           To speak to you the mind of women.

Deva:               I had enough of it from Brahma. Brahma knows the A-Z of women.

Mother:           Brahma! Brahma! Brahma! You’re obsessed with Brahma. You have used the        name ‘Brahma’ twice in just two sentences.

Deva:               (smiling) But Mother, You have used that name five times in just two sentences.    Now tell me who is more obsessed?

Mother:           (bursting into appeal of laughter) Same old mischievous Deva! When are you         going to change yourself? You should not be the same. You got married, you           know!

Deva:               Yes, Mother! I got married. I love my wife. I adore her beauty. I will carry to my grave all the pleasures she allows me as my wife. But I respect my friendship with          Brahma. Who came first into my life? Brahma or Madhana?

Mother:           Don’t prattle, my son! We are destined to pass through several phases in our          lives. Brahma was there in your last phase and that was before your marriage.   Now the present phase of your life has to move on with Madhana. It is time you          sideline Brahma.

Deva:               You mean, keep Brahma at a distance?

Mother:           Good! Keep Brahma at a distance, the moment you enter your bed chamber. Let   him not be a party to all that you are blessed to enjoy in the privacy of your      chamber. Do not even speak of Brahma to your wife.

Deva:               (Aside) How come this old lady know about what went on in my bed chamber,     yester night! Who could have told her? Madhana! Not possible. She could not             have noticed Brahma’s presence when she disrobed. I am not stupid enough to   open my mouth in this matter. Then…certainly it is Brahma. (to Queen Mother)                         What did Brahma tell you?

Mother:           My son! My son! Try to understand. No woman would like her husband to speak oft and again about his friend and waste her time. Continue to keep Brahma as    your advisor in matters pertaining to our kingdom. But once you enter your     chamber, keep your thoughts of Brahma on your shoe stand.

Deva:               Yes, Mother! Now that you have told me what to keep where, I will simply           follow your advice. (aside) I will punish Brahma for his betrayal. He will have to           watch me with my wife, when we are involved in the battle of the flesh. I will        force him watch. Let that pig know what it is to betray me. (to the Queen Mother )           Is that all, my mother?

Mother:           What? I have not yet started.

Deva:               Good Heavens! Then start it now, Mother!

Mother:           Let no husband take his wife as his bond slave. She should be looked upon as his good companion and his better helpmate…She should be treated as an equal   partner in all the joys and sorrows of her husband. Above all, remember that she             has every right to choose her own path as free as her husband.

Deva:               All these Brahma had told me long ago.

Mother:           Women love themselves and so they want to be loved. No woman chooses a man because she loves him but because it pleases her to be loved by him. Of all the             things in the world, every woman loves love and they rarely love men.

Deva:               All these Brahma had told me long ago.

Mother:           A beautiful woman is a treasure. She has to be guarded. Love is the key. Love is    the lock. Love is the gate. I tell you, Love your wife and only her.

Deva:               All these Brahma had told me long ago.

Mother:           (in a spurt of anger) What is it that Brahma didn’t tell you?

Deva:               Men are women’s playthings, woman is the Devils. (The curtain comes down as     the Queen Mother looks daggers at Deva as he makes his exit.)

(Curtain)

SCENE SEVEN

(The Royal library. Just before the sunset. Madhana is pouring over a book. Brahma enters. She continues to read as if she were not aware of his coming. He goes and stands behind her. He then bends over her neck to kiss.)

Madhana:        (turns her head back and startles Brahma) Kissing a woman from the back is as     cowardly as killing a man from his back. And what brought you here?

Brahma:           (moving a couple of steps ahead, he stands facing Madhana. Madhana closes her   book and stands up. Now that they are face to face with each other, they kiss passionately.) Your hot breath on my cheek tells me that you are craving to have    me inside you.

Madhana:        (blushing) Craving for the day when you would send your feeler to see the world inside me.

Brahma:           You speak in symbols. A women’s body is the most perfect of god’s handiwork.

Madhana:        No wonder that in describing beautiful women like me, poets should use the          choicest symbols.

Brahma:           How do you know that I am a poet?

Madhana:        I have read your book of poems that Deva was reading and mugging up. He          wanted to impress me with your poems. But I knew that he had no love for      beauty. The hour I completed reading your book of poems, I identified the poet.   You are kaaladevan, aren’t you?

Brahma:           (Surprised) Yes! I am. But how did…

Madhana:        (interrupting) No questions, please. I have no answers for any of them.       Remember, You Men! A woman can never go wrong in her guesses.

Brahma:           You frighten me.

Madhana:        This is only the beginning.

Brahma:           How would you like to proceed?

Madhana:        That is not my headache. I’ll be yours the moment you make Deva the Devil’s.

Brahma:           What do you want me to do?

Madhana:        Kill Deva. Use any means. See that he is dead. Convince the Queen mother that    Deva’s death was an accident.

Brahma:           Do not teach me the craft of cunning. I have authored a whole book on death. I     know how to kill people without offending their family members. And I have seen    death in all its possible shapes and shades.

Madhana:        You frighten me, now!

Brahma:           This is only the beginning.

Madhana:        How do you plan to kill Deva?

Brahma:           That’s not you headache. Wait and watch…

Madhana:        When you kill Deva, do let him feel the pain of death. He loved my body and not             me. He loved my flesh bound to putrefy and stink one day. He prided in showing it to you, as if I were a trophy won in a chariot race.

Brahma:           But I will be snatching the trophy in a short span of time.

Madhana:        Let it not be more than a few hours. Make it short and quick.

(Curtain)

SCENE EIGHT

(The Market place is found humming with activities. A Town crier enters, beats his tom-tom and announces)

Town crier:      The king is dead; long live the king.   (He allows a few seconds to pause) The king             is dead. Long live the king. (A Passer-by listens sharpening his ears. He goes           near the town Crier.)

Passer-by:        What did you say?

Town crier:      What did I say? I am only told to say so: “The king is dead, long time the king”.

Passer-by:        Now answer me. How dare you wish the king to live long, once the king is dead?

Town crier:      I told you, Sir! I am told to say so. I am only a coolie and I make my living as a     town crier. Allow me to do my job.

Passer-by:        Who forbids you? Don’t blame me for stopping you. You answer me. How did     the king die?

Town crier:      How do I know, Sir! I am paid to say so.

Passer-by:        You know and you do not know. You know the reason but you will not divulge it             in public.

Town crier:      Very sorry. Sir! I am not told the reason for his death. I am only told to announce his death.

Passer-by:        I know the cause of his death.

Town crier:      Then why do you ask me and waste my time, Sir?

Passer-by:        When you die, there will be only one version of the cause. It is true in my case       too. But when a king or a queen dies, there is bound to be a plethora of versions. I    wanted to know your version.

Town crier:      Tell me yours first.

Passer-by:        Yes! Why not? The king died of hatred for his beautiful wife.

Town crier:      Ah, What a reason! So be it. All that I know is that the king died in his sleep.         Now leave me to my work. (Exits)

Passer-by:        Poor king! Let his soul rest in peace. The world is given to understand that the       king didn’t wake up from his deep slumber. But I know…I know…I know. For           fear of me, Brahma will pedestal me to a higher position. For fear of    Brahma, I will carry the secret to my grave.

(Curtain)

 

SCENE NINE

(An open ground that can pass for a graveyard. A crowd of commoners, courtiers, royal personages and their representatives stand in a semicircle around the body of Deva ready to be lowered down into the grave. At the centre of the crowd are seen Queen Mother, the widowed Queen Madhana and Brahma. They all face the audience.)

Brahma:           Friends, friends and friends! You attention please. We have here to consign our     King Deva to flames. We shall always love him and mourn for him. His death is   unexpected as             all premature deaths are. He was a good friend to everyone. He           loved fun, frolic and humour and always sported a smiling face. He smiled              and smiled but was never a villain. See his face at close quarters. He is still             smiling. This is because he is in the Heaven now. Let his soul rest in peace.

Madhana:        Friends and well-wishers of my dead husband! Mourners continue to throng to      this funeral. This only shows the love they have for the dead king. A place     without love is hell on Earth. My husband loved me and I loved him. He loved             Brahma too, his friend and advisor. And so we together had to share the king’s                         love. We were successful in doing so. Today one side of the triangle has fallen       off, leaving the other two dangle in mid-air. But life has to go on till Death reaches its unruly hand for us.

Mother:           My son is dead. (Weep. Brahma and Madhana try to console her by caressing her shoulders. She then wipes her tears.) The king is dead. When a woman is dead, people give one thousand reasons and a reason. But when a man dies, only one      reason is given. His time is over and so he is gone. So let it be. My son is gone.       Our king is gone to the country, no discoverer is able to trace. So let it be.

My aged bones and nerves tell me that I should not take up the responsibility of    ruling this vast kingdom. And so, it is time for me to nominate the ruler.

Time is also ripe enough to divulge a guarded secret. This Brahma, a bosom            friend of my son, is also his half brother. My husband, the senior dead king,    confessed it to me on his death bed. Queens do not experience shocks in matters   pertaining to the infidelity of kings. So let it be.

I pity my daughter-in-law for being widowed in less than a quarter of a year after marriage. But what are we if not chained puppets in the hands of Fate? It has    happened. So let it be.

My daughter-in-law talked of a triangular love, one side of which has fallen off. I wonder why I am left out. Where do I stand then? Where will I go at this ripe old       age? And so for my own safety, I would say, we were a square. It is true that a             side has lost its balance and so could not hold on. It fell off. So let it be.

Now the square has given way to a triangle. I am the base and I will not let the      other two side to lose their balance. You understand what I am talking about?

Yes! I have always treated Brahma on a par with Deva. He is my son too though   they are not uterine brothers. On many occasions Brahma has proved himself     Deva’s equal. Truly, he is blue-blooded. I wish him to be crowned king.

My daughter-in-law will continue to be my daughter-in-law by marrying my only   living son.

Now let the body of my dear departed son be consigned to flames.

(The bier is set to fire and the tongues of fire start consuming the body of Deva.       The crowd in a chorus shouts.)

Crowd:            The king is dead, Long live the king.                                                                                     Long live the new king.                                                                                                  Long live the present queen.                                                                                                               Long live the Queen Mother.

The End

Dr.P.Raja

D-88, Poincare Street,

Olandai Keerapalaym

Pondicherry-605 004

Cell: (0)9443617124

THE PLEASURE OF SHOPPING

THE PLEASURE OF SHOPPING

Ever since I saw, the advertisement that read ‘shop like a man’ my mind was not at rest. At first, the wordings tickled my funny bones.

What is it to shop like a man? If the word ‘man’ is replaced with its female counterpart, then it really makes sense. For in my house women did most of the shopping. When I was very young, I found myself assisting my mother by carrying for her bag loads of items she purchased in the weekends. Then when I grew up and got married, my wife took up the responsibility.  My father very rarely did the shopping and during my regime as head of the family, I strictly adhered to the policy of my father – “Man for making money and women for spending them.” In my neighbourhood too men sacrificed the pleasure of shopping to women. And so, the slogan ‘shop like a man’ began to play poser to me.

On second thoughts, I found a venue opening up before my mind’s eye. How can one find the truth of the matter, unless one plunges headlong into it? Hence, I decided to go for shopping to find out for myself how to shop like a man. Deepavali came as a good excuse for doing the shopping.

On a Saturday morning  I wore a costly white dhoti and a minister white shirt half-sleeves, slipped my legs into a pair of leather chappals, put on my reebok dark glasses and said, “see you, dear” to my wife.

“Hmm..Hmm…m…Inaugurating a literary association? Or delivering a talk in a book release function?” my wife asked.

“For shopping,” I said and started my car. She looked at me as if I were from another world for she could not believe her ears. Her only suspicion was why her husband should put on the best meant for attending functions when he wanted to go for shopping. She did not know that I wanted to shop like a man. And this is the only sort of dress that modern women have spared to men. God knows when they would snatch this too away and call it the latest in the market for women.

Driving a car in the town is a real adventure. “If you successfully drive in Pondicherry, you can drive anywhere in the world”, people say.  Even if you succeed, finding a place to park your car is like finding the mythological unicorn.

I was lucky enough to find a place in Nehru Street just opposite to a mall in which I make use of the ATM services of my bank. A push of the button and I was rich. The moment I found my shirt pocket bulging with currency notes, all of Rs. 1000 denomination, my gait had completely changed. I moved out of the ATM centre, puffing out my chest. May be, this is yet another aspect of ‘Shopping like a man’.

My next questions were what am I to shop and what shop to choose. Festivals remind us of new clothes. I decided to buy clothes for the entire family, comprising five grown-ups and two kids. That means I should shop in three places—Men’s Wear, Women’s Apparel and kids dress. It is not that I do not know that all these items are available in just one shop especially in Pondicherry, where tycoons from various parts of India are spreading their tentacles to do business. However, I felt that no man, worthy the name, would ever enter a small shop and so I searched for the biggest. In Nehru Street, almost every shop selling clothes is as big as a palace and so I chose one to do the shopping. I found a milling crowd inside and so stepped back. I tried with a second, third and fourth, and found that every shop was crowded.

I had no other option but to elbow my way in. That too befits a man, I said to myself, as I somehow managed to gain entry into the kids wear section.

I know, as a man, the children have to be satisfied first. Further, they will be happy with whatever dress material we choose and will not disappoint us with questions of a sad order.

Wow! What a wide variety! How to choose from an ocean, as the sellers call their shops? I never had experienced such a tough time in my life. Yet with great difficulty, I managed to select the best for my grand children.

Winged Time flew fast. When the goods were billed, I was so tired and exhausted. I felt a pinching in my stomach. I looked at my watch. It showed 2.30 p.m.

My God! Have I skipped my lunch? I am accustomed to taking my lunch exactly at 12.30 p.m. on all working days.

My fingers began to shiver as usual for they spoke on behalf of my empty stomach.

To navigate my way in the crowded city to reach my home some 7 kms away would take me another hour. Why should not I eat out?

I entered a nearby restaurant that boasted of multi-cuisines. I eagerly entered. I was honoured with a token. My token showed the number 77. “Token number 70 is having his lunch, Sir. You will have to wait for five to seven minutes”, someone said. I agreed.

How many seven minutes passed I did not know. Someone woke me up and said, “You can go in and have your lunch, Sir.” I realized that hunger has subsided and sleep had hugged me.

When I came out of the restaurant, after eating for the sake of eating, I said to myself— Oh! This shopping is for women. They are really patience incarnate.

P. RAJA

THE FUN LOVER

Short Story                                                                                                             

THE FUN LOVER

P. RAJA

(D-88, Poincare Street, Olandai-Keerapalayam, Puducherry-605 004. Cell:09443617124, e-mail: rajbusybee@gmail.com)

On a sultry afternoon, when all my family members left for a nearby temple to participate in the fun and fanfare of the festivities there, I was left alone in my house with my toddler grandson.

Like me, my grandson has taken a liking neither for the temple nor for the stone gods installed there. Neither his mother nor his grandmother, to whom he was very much attached, could ever cajole him into visiting places of worship.

For a long time, my son too strictly followed my ideals and shunned from going to temples. God knows what really happened…a dramatic change took place after his marriage. He stopped loitering around and began visiting places of worship with his wife.

I am like my father and no amount of advice from my pious better half had ever helped me in changing my views about temples and stone gods. Only the Lord in the firmament knows when my grandson would abandon his grandpa’s ideals and stick to his grandma’s.

Before I start this story, I must introduce the hero to you. He is the very same fellow, left under my care in the loneliness of the house. I registered his name as Ramana when he was born in a private hospital though very rarely others call him by that name. He has several names to his credit, all of them coined by the witnesses of his mischief. And he himself, perhaps confused with the different names he was called by, would give different names at different times when he was asked: “What is your name, child?”

Ramana’s favourites are cell phones. Almost everyone in my family has one or two cell phones to call his or her own. The child is quite familiar with all the brand names of our cell phones and so he would answer “My name is Nokia,” other times he would say, “I am Samsung,” sometimes he would club two brand names and coin one on his own, and say, “My name is LG Motorola” or Blackberry Lava,” thereby putting everyone to peals of laughter.

Ramana knows not only the several brand names of cells but also the ways of handling them. At times, he would send empty messages to friends who will call back to know what that empty message was meant for. He would press buttons of his choice and call people. And when he hears a response from the other aside, he would either howl into the machine and put the one at the receiving end to fright or sing the nursery rhymes he had learnt by heart and give a concert to the listener and carry him to dizzy heights. Sometimes he would simply keep mum and drive the listener to the verge of madness. After a while, he would put it into the refrigerator and run away to play.

Those who accidentally see the cell in that unwanted place would rush to its rescue, smiling at the mischief of the child. “Thank god, the freezer is too high for him to reach,” they would mumble and hand it over to its owner.

The double-door refrigerator served as a ‘safe’ for Ramana, and he kept only the valuables there. Sometimes we came across his playthings like tiny cars, spinning tops, half-chewed chocolates, etc. We rarely disturbed them for we were happy to know that the child was learning the value of things.

Once when I was in a hurry to go out to keep an appointment with a writer, someone handed over my house tax bill and said that the tax should be paid within fifteen days from the date mentioned. I handed it over to my wife, standing at the gate to see me off and said, “Keep it safe.”

Ramana seated on my wife’s hip – that was the seat he highly preferred for where could he find such a cozy seat – perhaps understood the value of the demand from the government.

A week or so later, when I asked for the bill, my wife became panicky for she forgot its whereabouts. A bickering ensued and a little later, Ramana prattled “Hai! Hai!” perhaps with the intention of putting an end to our quarrel and dragged his grandma to the refrigerator. He then opened the bottom door and told her to pull out the vegetable container at the bottom tray.

We were all smiles when we saw the house tax bill resting there. But poor thing! It got completely soaked. With great care, we took it out and dried it up in the sun. Thank god, we got the bill but the details of the amount to be paid were smudged and hard to decipher.

How I was looked down upon and jeered at by the cashier in the Municipality would make another interesting story. But I would better stop here and go ahead with the story I want to tell you.

Stretching myself and relaxing in the sofa, I was watching my favourite Animal Planet channel. Ramana was resting his head in the crook of my arm, his wee body close to my chest and his one leg on my tummy; he was meddling with my Blackberry, a present from my second son settled in Canada.

After a while, Ramana fed up with the digital game he was playing, gave the machine to me and said that he wanted to listen to music and songs. I switched on the FM radio and handed it over to him in order to keep him cool and away from his monkey business.

A half-hour would have passed. I was engrossed in the life and style of Amazon women they were showing on the channel. Ramana was deep asleep. I released the Blackberry from his sleeping hands and switched off the radio.

I do not know when I dozed off. Is sleep contagious? I was startled out of sleep, when my landline screamed.

I rushed to know who the caller was.

The moment I said ‘hello’ into the receiver, I heard my wife banging me from the other end.

“How many times did I call you over your cell? Where the hell have you disappeared? Is Ramana alright? Is he troubling you? I don’t think that we will be able to reach home before dark. The temple is overcrowded and we have not yet seen the Lord. To wriggle our way out through this milling crowd would be far from easy. Feed the child if he complains of hunger. All that you have to do is to boil the milk kept on the oven. Don’t forget to add a little sugar. Give him biscuits if he asks. Biscuits are in the tin kept in the kitchen cupboard. If you have to go out, take Ramana along with you. Don’t forget to handover the door key to that talkative old lady in the opposite house. Don’t forget to take your cell phone with you, when you go out.”

I heaved a sigh of relief, when she disconnected her cell phone.

My eyes began to search for my Blackberry. I couldn’t find it anywhere. And the sleeping child was also missing.

“Where the hell has this child gone along with my cell phone?” I asked myself and called out his name.

There was absolutely no response. I entered one room after another. He was not to be seen anywhere. Neither was my Blackberry.

I began to bellow out his name Ramana…Ramana…Ramana…There was no response.

I was sure that the fellow had not moved out of the house for the main door remained bolted. I rushed to the backyard of the house, entered the loo and then the bathroom. He was not found anywhere there.

Something in me said that he was involved in a bigger mischief, for he was a shrewd organizer of such things. The only place I had not yet searched for him was my study.

Yes! Ramana was there. I found him preoccupied with a big fat book. “Hei! What are you doing here?” I asked.

He smiled and said, “I am busy. Don’t disturb.” He simply aped what I used to tell him when he entered my study.

As I went nearer to him, I found that he had already pulled out a few pages of a dictionary and had torn them to shreds.

Wild with rage, I pulled out the dictionary from him, only to find out that all the pages under ‘A’ had gone and that he had started tearing the pages under ‘B’.

There was no use in howling at the child. For if he began to howl back, nothing on earth could stop him.

“You shouldn’t have done this,” I said to him showing the shreds that covered the floor, all the time maintaining my unusual calm.

Ramana continued with the work and said, “Don’t disturb. I am busy.”

I had no other option, but to okay his work. I had lost several books from my library to rats, squirrels and moths. So why not a few to a lovable biped?

“When will you be free, Sir?” I asked in all humility, with my arms across my chest and my body bent forward.

“Why?” Ramana asked, without even taking away his eyes from the book he was butchering.

I said, “Sir! I need my cell phone. Where have you kept it? Give it back to me and I will leave you to your serious work.”

“Oh! Your Blackberry? It’s safe thatha,” said he.

The word ‘safe’ reminded me of Ramana’s safest world – the refrigerator. From my study, I shuffled my way to the kitchen. I opened the big door and then the small one above…ransacked the whole machine. But there was no trace of my poor Blackberry.

I made my hunt for my Blackberry in all the favourite haunts of Ramana in the house. It was nowhere to be found.

My creative brain hit upon an idea. Why should not I try to wake up my slumbering Blackberry through my landline? Immediately I dialled my cell number. For a few seconds, there was only a beep…beep…beep response…And then a mellifluous voice said, “The cell phone number you are trying to reach is currently switched off.”

My God! Now the job of finding my cell phone has become all the more difficult. And the only one rescuer I could think of was Ramana.

I rushed back to my study. Ramana was busily engaged in shredding every page of the dictionary. My writing desk and the floor were cluttered with the broken parts of many of my pens that adorned the desk. Many of them do not write and that is another story; all the handiwork of Ramana.

“Ramana, dear! Where is my cell phone?” I cooed.

“Ramana gave an innocent look and then continued with his work. Perhaps he thought why this old man wanted to get the answer again, when he had already given it.

“Ramana, my little darling! Where did you put my cell phone? Blackberry! Blackberry?”

“Blackberry is safe thatha.” He said without even shifting his eyes from the mutilated dictionary.”

“Yes, my child! I know Blackberry is safe. But where did you keep it? It is not there in the refrigerator. And I can’t find it anywhere. Will you please help? I have to give a call to someone very urgently.”

“Who is it, thatha?” Ramana asked.

“You do not know him. Please help,” I held his chin and coaxed him.

Ramana shook his head as if he wanted to say he would not budge from the place, since I was going to give a call to someone he was not familiar with.

“Come on, Ramana! Please, please,” I said and showered his face with kisses.

Ramana smiled and said, “I will show you where it is, provided you help me in tearing this book.”

“Sure! Sure! I will give you another fat book to tear. But now help me out in getting my Blackberry,” I pleaded.

Ramana again shook his head and said, “Only after finishing my work.”

I had no other way but to help him in tearing the dictionary. It took another half-hour to tear page after page and then shred it.

The work was over. That was what I thought. But Ramana gave me the hard cover of the dictionary and motioned me to tear it. I put all my strength to action and with great difficulty managed to tear the hardboard into several bits.

Ramana clapped his hands in appreciation of my muscle power put to proper use. He let out a guffaw. I knew its meaning: “Rats too would not have done such a clean job of it.”

He then held my hand and dragged me to the kitchen.

“It’s not there in the refrigerator!” I said.

“Yes! It’s not there…I know where it is… It’s safe,” so saying he dragged me further and stood near the kitchen sink. “Here,” he said.

“Where?” I asked with all curiosity.

“Here… inside this,” he said pointing at a big bucket of dirty water.

My heart began to beat faster than ever.

“Is my Blackberry in this bucket of swill?” I asked.

“Yes, thatha! The Blackberry stopped singing songs to me. And so I punished it by throwing into this bucket.”

I titled the bucket to its left and emptied it. The little fellow, with his arms akimbo, was looking at the flowing dirty water.

“Ah! There it is,” he cried, “Ah! There it is…I told you, you know, it is safe,” Ramana said in glee.

Yes! My blackberry was safe, drenched to its sim. Without losing a second, I pulled my Blackberry out, shook off the dirty water….

“Why did you do this?” I howled at Ramana. The animal in me came up.

“It stopped singing me songs. It became useless,” he said, his eyes brimming with fear.

I remember to have told him that all useless things should go into the bucket. I never knew that he would follow every syllable of my advice.

The animal in me looked daggers at the child.

“Thatha,” Ramana called, expressing genuine fear. “Will you give me the second big fat book?” he asked.

“What for?” I asked gritting my teeth.

“To tear,” said the child laughing at the ugliness of my face.

The animal in me disappeared and the god came up.

Feb. 09, 2013.

NIGHT MARE

Short story

by P.Raja

NIGHT MARE

Bartruhari banged his head against a nearby stone pillar as a mark of helplessness.

On second thoughts he asked himself, “Why should I punish myself?”

Seconds later, he mumbled, “These lecherous rats… Huh! They deserve corporal punishment for their lusty act…”

Something in him said, “Who knows? You may be at fault. Who ever knows who is at fault unless one is prepared to probe into the matter?”

He stood still like a statue, in the dark, watching two silhouettes making a beast of two backs. He was sure of the woman’s voice. That was his wife’s… the right royal queen’s. And the man’s voice. He was not sure. That was a certainly a man in the royal stable.

The stable keeper! The stable keeper’s assistant! The stable watch! The stable cleaner! The stable feeder! He was not quite sure. But certainly a man from the royal stable.

“Oh! My mare! My mare! What a wonderful body you have my lovely mare!” Bartruhari heard the man tell the queen, who was naked to the skin.

“My king! My king! I am all yours. Allow your sturdy hands to move over every bit of my territory, which is all yours,” Bartruhari heard his queen tell the stableman who was also naked but for his headgear.

Bartruhari’s nerves burned as an upshot of his royal blood running very hot. His hand quickly reached for the hilt of his sharp sword. It was the very same sword that had feasted on the blood and flesh of his enemies who obstructed his path of progress. How many heads of warriors it had rolled off their bodies in all these years!

As he was about to draw the sword, something in him said, “Who ever knows who is at fault unless one is prepared to probe into the matter?” He withdrew his hand as if he had touched live coal. He folded his hands against his chest, as if his hands were tied with an invisible rope. He kept his eyes and ears open.

“What if the king sees us now, while, we make love?” said the stableman in a hushed voice as the tip of his tongue began to slide down to her earlobe.

“Ha! Great! Don’t ever make any mention of the king paralyzed in his loins,” the queen snorted and slapping him familiarly upon his rump, she giggled.

The stableman winced before he began to make his attempts to draw the first of the several breathless cries from her throat.

“Paralysed in the loins!” King Bartruhari expressed his doubt by a gesture of surprise. “I have lost count of beauties in my harem… Must be in thousands. My enemies too envy me and call me a connoisseur of fair sex. But this queen of mine…Who ever knows who is at fault unless one is prepared to probe into the matter?”

The queen slightly turned her voluptuous body to offer the stableman a full view of those twin ornaments. They were full, rotund, meaty bubbling with youth. They looked like good grenadiers at attention.

They caught Bartruhari’s eyes too. “Spiked helmets – spikes standing up like pointed thimbles,” the king said in glee as if he were seeing them for the first time. He heaved a sigh.

“Wah! Wah! What are these? Horse horns! Horse horns! A rarity indeed.” The stableman whispered. “They make me dizzy,” so saying he rested his dizzy head on the soft buxom pillows.

After a moment, he lowered himself to such a position as to be able to plant a solid kiss upon those juicy jugs and mammoth melons which were so receptive that the queen could not suppress a cry of pleasure at the emotion his tongue provoked as he began an assiduous probing.

As the stableman’s eager and brisk hands began to move over the queen’s limbs and breasts with natured grace and instinctive fervour Bartruhari shut his eyes tightly.

Realization dawned upon him. Thanks to his enquiring mind. In spite of the innumerable beauties in his harem that was under his service for all the twenty-four hours, he was the most inexperienced lover.

A couple of hot tears trickled out of his closed eyes, and soon disappeared into his well-trimmed beard.

“The vast number of minutes that you take every morning to trim your beard…Ho! Ho! Ho! Had you spent half of those minutes with the queen every night in her bed… Ha! Ha! Ha!…”

The voice he heard was shaky as if disguised. It came quite nearby. He allowed his eyes to roam but in the dark his eyes were powerless. Hence he wanted his ears to be attentive, that he might recognize the voice.

There was a long silence after those words.

As if to break the frightening silence, there was laughter in the air, a lax, spangled, spiralling laughter. “Is the queen more beautiful than those charming beauties brought home as booty from many conquered lands?”

The voice he heard was quite youthful and vigorous, as if disguised. It too came from quite a nearby quarter. Bartruhari felt a shrinking of his whole body. He felt it would be futile to search for the black cat in a pitch dark alley. He was sure that he was confronting with himself. He had no other go but to stand still and listen to the arguments and counter-arguments of his soul. He smiled so swiftly that he was not even certain it had been a smile.

“Aren’t inner chaos secret volcanoes in search of a fissure through which to explode?” Bartruhari reopened his eyes to find his queen lean over the stableman and joyously impaling herself on the man’s sensual mast.

“Wah! Wah! Nothing like a ride on a man of one’s choice. A hundred or so husbands cannot equal a stallion like you,” the queen said in delight.

“I know all the trickeries in this war of love,” the stableman’s voice was higher and thinner.

“Trickeries in this war of love… Ha! Ha..Ha! How many of these you are familiar with?” The king heard the shaky voice again.

Bartruhari turned his head slightly and allowed his chin to rest on his left shoulder. But quickly his chin switched over to his right when the youthful voice came from that direction: “Women are very much offended if you are not always ready and in the mood to play the romantic lover.”

“You were in the queen’s bed only when you were not in a mood to go to your harem… In the queen’s bed you were a door mat…funny, fowl-smelling, dormant like an exhausted warrior. Exhausted warriors have no place by the side of woman longing for the war of love,” That was the shaky voice.

“The queen gets lost in the endless deserts of insomnia almost every night. Pity her. Your presence made no difference to her. Blessed is the man who quenches her thirst. Adore him.” That was the youthful voice.

Bartruhari was startled by the appearance of a young man at his left who exactly resembled himself. It took no time for him to realize that he had been confronted with himself.

“Tired, my lady?” The stableman’s voice distracted Bartruhari and brought him to the world of reality.

The queen, her eyes still closed, cooed: “I felt a warm joy permeate my entire body. It never before happened in my life. You have awakened the woman in me. I can’t understand why I have not met you before.”

She kissed the stableman with gratitude. She caressed his arm, kissing the nook between the elbows, the shoulders. “The beauty of your arm is exactly like that of your body. If I didn’t know your body I would want it, just from seeing the shape of your arm.” She fondly looked at his arm as if everything she had experienced were but ordeals and this the shelter, the place of happiness.

King Bartruhari envied the man who had charmed his queen. He saw both of them drying their bodies with each other’s clothes.

“Moon baths do not make people sweat. Yet these two are profusely sweating. That is the sign of good love making.” Bartruhari heard the shaky voice once again.

“If you ever want to be with a man who will readily make love to you, come to me. My service to you, my mare, will be kept as a secret…a secret that will become ashes with me,” the stableman said.

The queen, who had experienced the avalanches of the body’s tremors, hugged the stableman tight and planted on him kisses wherever her lips could reach. Finally she arched her body and reached for the thing that penetrated the deepest of her body and planted a long and hearty kiss.

“Think of the night the queen has done that to you, you master of men, women and children. To extract such act from a woman, all that you need is passion and patience. But you have never found these in your place, be it the palace or the harem,” said the shaky voice.

Bartruhari could see the life size image so far standing behind his shrunk inner self walk into him. He then turned to his right. The life size image of the youthful Bartruhari smiled indulgently and before he walked into him said: “Women are what they are. You have to believe them. They are chaste to their chosen man. They can’t help being faithful to themselves…to their feelings.”

King Bartruhari’s mind began to wander between two worlds: one—the world of his queen’s feelings; two—the world of internal truth.

His mind began to oscillate like a pendulum, gathering momentum at each swing…faster…faster…and faster.

And as if the pendulum stopped all on a sudden, his mind began to be at peace with himself. Perhaps Truth, the funniest joke in the world, dawned upon him.

He turned back and found no life size image of himself standing anywhere near.

“Truth should be silent”, King Bartruhari said to himself, and began walking back to the palace. It was not mad rush, but unperturbed calmness brought him wisdom.

Fathered by pain and mothered by love, wisdom taught him the art of seeing all other’s faults and feel his own.

Bartruhari turned wise in time. By dawn he donned a saffron robe. In the place of his crown,  a saffron headgear. His body has disowned all pieces of silver and gold that were hanging on to him till yester night.

He had no sword or sabre for a sanyasi needs neither of them.

Bartruhari began to trot out of the palace.

“Who is it in the palace at this hour?” The voice was quite familiar to Bartruhari.

He stopped and turned back. The queen’s sari was soiled and turds of pressed horse shit showed up here and there. She stank of stable.

The queen smiled and said: “I know…I know this will happen one day. I never knew this would happen so soon.”

Bartruhari spoke no word. He maintained a yogic silence.

“I am happy,” the queen said and continued, “I am happy that I am instrumental in making an emperor a sanyasi,”

“It’s not you,” retorted Bartruhari. “The credit goes to the stableman”.

The queen stared at him full and round. She turned to walk back to her empty bed.

“Wait a minute,” Bartruhari said. “When do you intend to make the stableman another sanyasi?”

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P. Raja

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Olandai-Keerapalayam,

Pondicherry-605 004

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