Design

WITH ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATION BY SWATHI

In the year 1933, while India was trying to wriggle her wrists off the strong grip of George V, the Lever Brothers Company was doing good business in the country with its popular brand of Sunlight soaps. The Presidencies were registering surprising demands for the brand, indicating the entrance of Sunlight into most households.

To further its popularity, the administration pushed for some intense marketing. As the year was nearing its end, a creative mind in the company lighted up with the idea of publicising the brand on print calendars. This was succeeded by a noisy, smoky debate, over crystal jars of iced brandy, on what should be the visual of such a calendar. While some voiced for the painting of a British model wrapped in a thin bath towel and displaying the soap in her open palm, the others felt this could only alienate the brand in the eyes of conventional Indians. After a long period, it was decided, amid empty bottles and coughing clouds,  that the calendar would have lord Krishna standing with Sunlight soaps at his feet.

A celebrated painter came up with a quick design that was at once shipped to Lever Brothers’ partner printer in Germany. Mr Karlheinz’s first impression of the design was singular. Unlike his apprentices, he didn’t dismiss it with a casual glance and proceed to printing. Mr Karlheinz was forced to pause, soon disturbed in ways inexperienced by him, and for the rest of that night, remained awake and affected; as if the design, by mistake, had been imprinted on him.

The figure in the design had muscular arms, flat, sturdy chest and an unwavering look, all as of men, but the angular position of the head, curving of hips and glistening of facial skin suggested femininity of the extreme. Man or woman, Mr Karlheinz was yet to decide, but was sure the figure’s attractiveness would appeal to both sexes, with the obvious exclusion of unfeeling men.

The eyes that looked back from the design possessed a teasing mystery. The long, linear nose directed him to the lips, stretched below in a smile that could have as well meant the man knew everything about him, his printing press in Rothenburg, all he had done and all that was coming. His well-groomed wavy hair and rouges on cheeks could only be the decorative interests of his mother, Mr Karlheinz guessed, and the long, slender garland round him the bubbling love of young, wanting ladies. The velvety stole rounding the shoulder, with its one end sailing on the floor behind, and the peculiar turquoise feather at the top of the crown, looked like perfumes of times past, nevertheless potent and fascinating to Mr Karlheinz’s eyes.

A carefully chosen green sash, perhaps by an admirer, girthed his yellow Indian lower cloth. And many ornaments of gold, intricately shaped with all senses in oneness of their outcome, were fit round neck and waist, and on wrists and anklets.

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Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

Even the sun, as if with only one purpose, shone directly behind the man’s crown. After all, Mr Karlheinz felt there was one serious misplacement in the design; whoever thought it right to mar it with a bar of English soap at the bottom!

Upon spending months personally making facsimiles of this design, and overseeing their shipping to India, Mr Karlheinz could no more resist taking a trip to India, to learn more of the man and possibly visit him. So with the last batch of calendars were packed Mr Karlheinz’s baggage of daily necessities and the original design covered in secure layers.

On one stormy night, it was announced that the ship had docked at Madras. An hour later, our German, with one hand roofing his eyes and the other clutching his baggage under his wide armpit, jogged into a ticket booth at the port’s exit. A middle-aged man in a black coat and white turban was sitting busy at the counter. Seeing a red mark on his forehead, very similar to the one worn by the man in the design, he asked in a loud, exuberant voice, ‘Sir! Where I can meet this man?’

Mr Seshadhri, removing his eyes from the bills between his fingers, turned to see a foreigner holding an image of lord Krishna. His practised eyes and ears not registering English, he decided it must be a foreign fool in search of Moksha. ‘At Srirangam, Trichinopoly,’ he quoted the first thought that flashed across.

Mr Karlheinz caught the immediate train to Trichinopoly (which he had reverently written on a piece of paper now in his breast pocket). To all the locals, he seemed an enchanting white man noble enough to travel alongside them. To him, they seemed gifted people to be able to easily travel to his place on their whim. After a day of travel, Mr Karlheinz stepped down the compartment, unidentifiably covered in coal-black and different only in attire and height.

Being weary from the journey, he slept under the tattered roof of the station, and rose in the wee hours to resume his search. A couple of enquiries landed him just before the broad stone gateway of the Srirangam temple complex. Like the hundreds of visitors walking past him, he too marched in with rising eagerness and pumping blood. The design was closely held to his chest.

As he crossed corridors, courtyards and entered countless concentric walls, his pace became faster and faster in expectancy, but also slower and slower in an unreasonable fear entering him, like he was visiting a great authority, the lord of men, or even the lord of lords. His mind revolved endlessly in the mysticism of the man in the design, wondering, when it had the power to, how much more captivating he would be in real. With every step, the fluty music fuelled his yearning and drew his feet like magnet attracting innocent scraps of iron. Clockwise tracks and spiralling queues brought him closer and closer. Pairs of palms, enjoined and raised high, became a common sight among the visitors. Mr Karlheinz deposited his baggage in a corner he wouldn’t remember later and shoved the design within his wet shirt, and gestured similarly. Damp sweat, trickle of blood from a misstepped footing, an advancement of swoon and shut eyes were elements of his own design. He felt his body move with the crowd, sometimes being pushed, sometimes being pulled, but in the end, decidedly moving towards him.

As sounds, human and instrumental, rose in a confusing chorus, he felt the stoppage of a firm hand on his chest. Opening his eyes and wiping the stagnated tears, he could see a man before him, with no upper cloth, but with a lower cloth and that red mark on forehead. Mr Karlheinz however knew this was not him; because this had a pot for his belly and furrows on exposed skin, and that smile in the design was absent here. The man pointed to a board above. It read, ‘Only Hindus allowed.’ Now, Mr Karlheinz didn’t know if he was a Hindu. He forgot to consult his mother and wife in his haste for departure.

After an argument, which clearly upset his fellow visitors, who later proceeded on their way to meet him, Mr Karlheinz was removed to the main courtyard of the temple complex and shaken the index finger at. But he clearly could not be put off so easily. All around him were images and statuettes of him, also the red mark, and music emanating from the inner chambers. His want was immersed in all factors capable of its amplification. And so, Mr Karlheinz remained reclining on the pillar he was shown for the next 23 days.

His Holiness, Parthasarathy Kothandaraman, the Chief of the temple, observing a white man at the same place every day, with eyes towards the centremost block of  the temple, one night, went to stand by him, albeit maintaining a safe distance. As minutes passed, as the eyes didn’t seem to turn his way, as if fully consumed by their object, the Chief understood the man and his condition, and hoisted him.

Supported by the Chief, Mr Karlheinz, now reduced in his width, with his perilously wobbling trousers, began to walk by himself. With every step towards his chamber, life began to flow into him; eyes grew bigger, shoulders realigned, chest puffed and pace strengthened. Soon, the Chief was only an accompaniment in the darkness, a guide to this visitor. A line of doors were unlocked, little bells tinkling during such movements, and at last the door that led to his chamber, called the Garbagriha or Womb, was solemnly opened by the Chief, and Mr Karlheinz was shown the way in.

A mammothian human, darker than his surrounding darkness, emerged at an arm’s distance. He was lying on a coiled snake, which seemed terrifyingly gigantic, but unharmful. That smile was present on his face, now maybe in a gesture of welcome to this faraway visitor. The large, silvery eyes, seemed imposing and as if they were seeing him even in his sleep, which he must have literally fallen to, because he had not removed his crown, like tired children who doze off before changing their day-dress. At the other end of the chamber were resting his feet, tired from all the standing and posing for calendar designs, maybe.

Mr Karlheinz enjoined his palms and wished to raise them, but before he could, he fell face down, as though two fingers snapped somewhere and life was sucked out of him.

*You can find her other amazing artworks here.

You may also like That Family Festival.

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What War Does to Men

An episode from the Stri Parva of Mahabharata

With original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran

It is the end of the epic war. Kurukshetra, the valley of death, has in it thousands of hills of dead bodies with rivers of blood flowing round their bends. Mothers and wives, both palatial and civilian, are wailing and beating breasts in a frenzy of murderous energy. Flag poles, armaments, parts of warriors, elephants and horses, and even full chariots can be seen strewn on ground, suggestive to anyone present that restoring this piece of earth would take no less years.

The Pandavas, looking as if, after all their efforts, they have been the losers of this great war, have just reached the Court of Hastinapura. The doorkeepers bow six times and show in the group; Krishna, with fragrant garlands and a smug smile on his face, as if the drama he orchestrated has been completed in harmony to his fullest satisfaction, is seen to appear at the wake of the Pandavas, like a collyrium of clouds sailing past and revealing the always bright sun.

Dhritarashtra, blinded but aware of all that has transpired, and so greatly disturbed outward and inward, is at the edge of his throne. Sanjaya, his charioteer, and Gandhari, his ideal wife and also the mother of one hundred mighty men, all killed by Pandavas in the war, flank the throne. As the announcement of the arrival is whispered, the king leaves the throne and walks down, his grandeur and enormity not smudged in the least by his heavy loss.

Yudhistira, the first among Pandava brothers, steps forward to embrace the king and to receive the blessings of a father-figure. The embrace is conducted, but formally, and the king utters no words of goodwill, understandably. Next, Bheema, the giant, the strongest of them all, like ever possessed of a destructive cyclonic storm within, steps forward to embrace the king. His foot covers many measures of the floor and lends a sense of shiver to the palace itself. Even a blind can understand it is Bheema approaching him.
As the last step that would lead to the embrace is about to be taken, Krishna, Vasudeva, the conductor, the dramatist, the playful, raises his hand and gestures Bheema to stop right there, with the smile on his face intact. A giant pillar, round and tall, made of the strongest iron, and immovable by any man or beast that exists, suddenly emerges between the king and Bheema.

Pillar on Fire
Original illustration by Swathi Venkateswaran*

Dhritarashtra, sensing Bheema close in front of him and overcome by grief and anguish, as a father who doesn’t carry meaning anymore in that position, throws his arms, each weighing a boulder even in that age, around the giant iron pillar. At the next moment, the pillar is crushed to grains and reduces to a heap on the floor.

A loud sound, torturous to every soul in the Court, emanates from the chest of the king. In realisation of his mistake, he cries like no man has ever cried. ‘I killed you in my grief, my dear! Forgive me.’ Even one hundred deaths did not deserve this cry, for who was Bheema, but another son to him. He has played on his lap as a child, has been fed by him, been coached by him on the field, had his growth overseen with love and fatherly affection by him. But now, why did the same hands, which have always been tender and protective of this son, kill him in an embrace? The king, thought to be above human vagaries, beyond the crippling emotions of man, bends down before the heap of metal and shakes in guilt.

*You can find other amazing artworks of her here.

 

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That Family Festival

When Tabu’s mother breathed for the last time and closed her eyes, Tabu’s plastic clown, the wacky battery toy he calls ‘circus man’, clapped his hands and smiled his painted smile. The boy’s father, entering the room to stop the clown’s noise, discovered his dead wife and started.

After the doctor had come and gone to do the unnecessary vetting, after chests and breasts were beaten, the body of the young lady – not beautiful, but all the world to Tabu and father – was lowered into the rented glass box. Soon, plies of coloured flowers began accumulating over the box. Friends, relatives and neighbours visited to do the same ritualistic enquiry. Tabu’s friends, all little like Tabu, came to gape and whisper at the glass box and leave with their parents, attaining a sense of maturity.

The incense stick was replaced. Flowers and garlands were shoved off to leave way for the oncoming batch. Tabu’s father’s manager dropped in with his decorated wife, and before leaving, announced a week of paid leave. Tabu’s paternal grandmother, a mentally weak old woman, settled down at the head of her daughter-in-law with a large bowl of flour. Mindless of her surrounding, she poured in tumblers of water and began kneading as hard as her age and mind permitted. She had been meaning to do this for many days. For that night’s dinner, Tabu’s mother had planned to cook the packet of penne he had picked in the supermarket. But now with no one to intervene in her kitchen activities, the old woman concentrated her energy on the solidifying mass to get out of them soft rotis. Her husband loved her soft rotis.

That evening, Tabu’s father and three uncles shouldered their dear dead to the cemetrey a kilometre away. Once at the ground, a tussle erupted between the elder uncle and his two younger brothers on whether to bury or electrically burn. Tabu’s father pleaded with the warring factions to stop arguing, but they kept vetoing the opposite’s decision. Losing patience, Tabu’s father slapped the elder brother. As if suddenly realising their bereavement, all three calmed down. Tabu’s mother was presented in a copper container an hour later.

Back at home, Tabu’s grandmother had washed the floor and was waiting for others and her husband with set plates and a hot pack of soft rotis. Tabu was on her lap, trying to retain his mother’s face and silently praying it should stay with him forever.

A week later, Tabu’s father nailed his wife’s newly framed photograph beside his father’s.

Co-authoring with Mr Tharoor

 

Jan 25, 2016;

The Hindu, India’s national newspaper and a reputed fourth estate, organised its annual literary fest The Hindu Lit for Life 2016. As a part of this festival was its new addition, the Tweet-a-Story contest, that used Twitter as a platform for budding writers to contribute to a short story initiated with a line by the popular author, politician and former UN under-secretary Mr. Shashi Tharoor.

I, to grab the chance to write alongside such a widely know personality, entered the contest. Many of my tweets being selected to contribute to the development of the story, at its end, after a week, I was selected by the team behind the contest as one of its four Top Contributors.

The rife word is that the story is getting published, and that the top contributors would be acknowledged as co-authors of the story.

You can read the complete story here.


May 25, 2016

The result of the contest is published, with my name under the eminent Shashi Tharoor’s. I take great pleasure, and a little pride – just a little – to present the same here: LFL_TweetAStory

Deaf Jeff

On the 83rd floor of the New York skyscraper was located Chilton’s Pharmaceuticals – a publicly-traded drug development company successful on the scale of Proust. Its new drug, CP-41, was under clinical research to address the cancer of prostate.

The entire floor was busy on account of the seasonal board meeting, to which now all the old chit-chatty directors were heading. There was only one person in that conference room who wasn’t an executive, and he was there to attend to their thirst and such whims. It was the office butler, Deaf Jeff.

Mr Chilton, the founder, a highly altruistic man, had the warmest of feelings for Jeff. He had personally overseen the day-to-day life of this disabled man, and had made him the softest comforts at work. To aid Jeff in his duties, and also to lessen his own employees’ efforts in reaching out to Jeff, he had bought him a mobile phone and had indicated by explicit gestures that it must at all times be in the Vibration mode. Jeff had smilingly nodded.

Chilton croaked his throat and spoke, ‘My dears, I deeply regret the message I have for you today. I want to –’ ‘Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today… I want to be a part of it, New York, New York,’ Sinatra sung from inside Jeff’s pocket, while he calmly stood there behind Chilton, ready to rush to the table of bottles if anyone saw him. As the song played, all the old eyes turned to Jeff, who, upon sudden synchronous demands, rushed to the table of bottles but on return didn’t know whom to address first.

‘Jeff, dear, come here,’ Chilton calmly waved. Jeff jogged to the chief and thrust the bottle under his nose. ‘No, dear. It’s your phone. Phone. It is ringing, you see. Your phone.’ Jeff unearthed the device and stared at the blinking screen. Chilton stood up, attended the telemarketing call, cut it, and put the device on Vibration mode. Jeff displayed the sincerest apology to Chilton and the board, and resumed his attentive stance behind Chilton.

Chilton again croaked his throat and spoke, ‘My dears, I want to convey to you all that CP-41 failed the Phase III trial in the Boston site. Yes, the results are firm and irreversible. As you might infer,’ all the grey heads were shaking frantically in disbelief, ‘our investments are going to yield us nothing. And that could mean potential crash of our stock.’

Twenty minutes after the board meeting, Jeff was walking fast on the platform. He pushed and nudged and slipped and slid through the thick throng. Wiping the sweat, Jeff entered Watson & Sons on Wall Street.

‘Hey, Jeff!’ His broker called out.

Deaf Jeff turned to the sound and said, ‘Look Mike, I want you to immediately dump all my Chilton stocks.’

Heard you, chief,’ Mike pulled Jeff’s portfolio and clicked a button.

Chilton’s Pharmaceuticals made headlines the next day. Thousands of families skipped a beat; some even two and three. While important and depressed people were crowding the reception on the 83rd floor, Jeff was happily arranging bottles for them.

Was

I am travelling to Madurai for my colleague’s wedding. She is not a friend; I pass reports across her to my manager sitting beyond. That is it.

On all sides of the chugging compartment are people from my office. Even my condescending manager and his officious assistant are there in an undisturbed corner. My two neighbours keep their energy in check, unable to do anything exultant with me beside. You would see the energy of people increasing as you go farther and farther away from me.

Had this journey happened a fortnight ago, my mother would have called me on phone for every station I passed. She becomes passionately restless if her knowledge of my whereabouts and well-being starts to become unsure. However, I still think of her in the present tense, as if she still lived; but somehow, ‘She was’ sounds very odd.

Death is always happening, but the instantaneous stop takes time to register; much time if the dead is your mother.

She always had this pure, well-meaning concern for brides known, or heard or dreamt. She would begin a sincere prayer for the life of the bride, and would express satisfaction whenever she heard the woman was doing well. I think it was because her expectations from her own marriage were shattered by itself. Well, with a doubtful lawyer for a husband, doubtful not only in court but also at home, expectations are meaningless to expect. He still doubts my mother had a lover as a young girl, but I knew she was a ten, and he was so imperfect and ill-fitting for her.

We are travelling to the mandapam the marriage is to take place in. Homogeneous people busily go and come and sell and smile. But nothing sticks, except images of mother-son duo wherever seen. As we pass urbanised rural areas, I see a cat frantically running from under a tree to the next with the nape of its littlest kitten so carefully caught between its lips. Mothers always seem to be anxious.

After bath we join the ceremony. A reception is happening, and now we are standing in a line to wish the couple and present our collective gift. The manager has not joined us; he must be sitting somewhere with his officious assistant stooping beside.

We are in the dais now with the couple. The man is in a suit and my colleague – she is not happy exclusively by my presence there, but shows her teeth nevertheless – is in a north-Indian garb. We take a group photo, the gift is handed over, hands are shaken and warm embraces are made. As we begin to descend on the other side, I don’t know why but I stop. Taking my mother’s golden ring, I present it unthinkingly to the bride. She looks at me for too long, so I drop it onto her palm and leave. Mother would have done that; nice and kind she is. Was.

Reflections of a Mirror

I don’t know how else I would have talked if not for this long worldly association of mine. In my period of pristine shining, the entirety of my following expression would have been reduced to two sentences of uninvested commentary.

Well, what I was going to say was, I don’t like this boy. Very unlike his disciplined grandfather and piteous father he is. I have observed his grandfather right from the days of his schooling. He was virtue itself in the shape of a man. After his bath, he would pull me, and from the cupboard within, take a bottle of coconut oil and apply a palm of it to his dense straight hair. With head bent, as if in the presence of superiority, he would tie the towel round his vitals and exit the bathroom without a glance at me. Upon marriage to a girl after completion of his Law, he would very occasionally look at me when he came in the night. Maybe, at these times, he saw his little wife in me, because he used to show some of his teeth and redden at the sides. Such a product he was. If I had had eyes, they would have emptied themselves on the day he died.

His son was not unlikeable. I have been seeing him from that night he was considered mature by his parents and was introduced to the usage of our eastern toilet. In his college he studied not Law but Medicine. He would come in the night and practise his proposed manoeuvres aiming in his mind the attainment of his lady junior’s hand. He used to bring in roses and extend them to me a thousand times, all done differently without exhaustion. He used to squat without purpose and write love letters and later hide them in the joints of the cupboard within me. But his attempts stopped at these, it seemed. Because he ended up marrying a woman of his father’s choice, while his was tragically married off to another.

However, his son – the boy who makes me close my eyes every time he stands before me (the frequency of which exceeds the cumulative scored by his previous two generations) – is very different. I can’t know what is happening outside this bathroom, but with strength I can say the world is spinning in the wrong direction. He does things here in the bathroom that make me ashamed. I haven’t learnt the words to describe them, but I know he is self-obsessed and dreamy and perverse. Daily he takes a marathon of smokes, all in secrecy, hides the stubs in the joints of the cupboard within me and makes me smell so bad. At nights, particularly at late hours, he brings his classmates – boys with tattoos and girls of polished arms. Well, I don’t have problems with tattoos and polished arms, but I certainly mind the dark liquid they take turns to drink before me. On one such night, the boy locked the bathroom and took from within me a cylinder of perfume. He sprayed too much of it that he began to sneeze ceaselessly. Sprays of phlegm were sprinkled on me. I couldn’t stay there, held by wood, thinking I was having on me the despicable’s droplets! But, soon after, a girl came in to pose in all ways before me, with her hands on various places of herself, and then raised her camera to capture a pout. At last, in an attempt to simulate the touch of her opposite, she blindly walked her long fingers all over me and finally took them to her face. In her excited process, she wiped me clean.

Whatever the case is, I certainly don’t like this boy. I prefer his grandfather in his place, which, I admit I am aware, is impossible. To this day, like a true romantic, I breathe in the present, but live in the past, of days when the air smelt of coconut oil and the word ‘bathroom’ meant what it meant.

The Seeker

I informed my team of my plan after we left the ASI headquarters at Janpath on a mission to Humayun’s Tomb. ‘You are insane,’ was the first reception.

Ever since my mother died in 2003 and my grandma declared ‘Your mother has reached God,’ I have wanted to find Him.

I know, son. And I want to meet you too.

‘But that’s impossible,’ my professor teased. ‘Oh, nothing is in a land where Trump is the president,’ a friend quipped. Come what may, I know I was determined. And so, on our return, where the road branched into two, my team took the left road and I know I took the right road.

I am here, son. Guiding you like a cynosure.

I travelled thousands of miles by rail, plane, carts and walk. I didn’t know the place, but I was determined. There were signs all over; signs that seemed to have been placed for me. Money was disappearing, food was not easy to find everywhere, but I went.

Very soon, son, you will find closure. Your hardships will not go in vain.

I was in Zambia’s portion of Kilahari amidst camelthorns when my body gave up and hit the hard earth. My search had exhausted me. The signs had diminished en route. Hope had almost transformed into desperation. I can’t recall how much time I spent lying there. Shiva and Christ and the Crescent blinked unendingly and bright delusions complemented my semi-consciousness.

This is part of the scheme, son. You will reach me.

A man dressed in white and with a red turban on his head tilted his pot of water to my parched throat. ‘Barker,’ he replied to my questioning glance. Barker meant ‘Guide’ in Hebrew. I was up and walking in two days. I found a cloth bundle of Kiwaro* in my rucksack.

I was reminded of Coelho’s words that the entire universe conspires to make us realise our dreams. I liked to think that they gave me strength for continuing my journey. And to prove they were indeed true, I unearthed after eleven days, on the credibility of a sure sign, an ancient map. Surprisingly, it had not the regular crosses of a treasure map but 1s and 0s. My experience put it in the B.C.E period.

I deciphered what I could, which brought me to a cave in the mountains after three months. It grew downwards, taking me farther into earth. Is He in the netherworld?

When it became very dark and my torch failed me, I saw a red square blinking rapidly. Slowly, from it came many more, and they all made the words ‘Welcome, son.’

The cave lit up and before me was a giant white… computer. My lips were between ‘Who’ and ‘What’ when the monitor displayed ‘God’. Later, ‘I understand it’s unbelievable, but I am running everything. You, this world, the Milky Way are all my simulations. I started out in Panama, ha brr*… let’s cut this. Welcome, my son!’

——x——

Footnotes:

  1. Kiwaro: a common fruit in Kalahari – a desert in southern Africa
  2. Panama ha brr: an anagram of Parabrahman – a concept of God in Hinduism that is beyond all descriptions and conceptualisations

THE ANT WHO WANTED TO RULE THE WORLD

I.

Yes, it is such a story. The protagonist of this story was Anant. Uh, sorry! It was an ant; a shiny black one of the carpenter ant family. Natural to his lineage he was very long – a lengthy 1.1 centimeters! But quite contradictory to the antish nature, he was anything but industrious; the human equivalent of a couch potato. All through his childhood and early adolescence he stayed in his gallery that his father had cut into a wooden cupboard of a kitchen over many years of hard work, as a result of which the old man had kicked the bucket while still in his youth. But the son, our protagonist, never missed his father. He stayed indoors being more than content with his mother’s supportive presence.

He was later at a point united with a fine girl (whose family lived quite far away – in the bedroom of the same house). The girl, during the nuptial flight with our hero, was made pregnant; although how our hero had managed to transfer his line into the secret vault of the female remains the greatest of mysteries. The fine girl, initially, led a very happy life with a husband who always seemed to be around for her. But when it became evident that the husband could never be found outside their gallery, either as a part of the local work force involved in bringing home crystals of sugar, or as a part of the gang that regularly waged war with the cohort living under the sink across the kitchen, the fine girl turned wild. She started complaining, like the human wife dissatisfied with her boring husband.

One morning, when the ant was leaning back in his seat and deeply wondering how he remained pitch black in colour even as he was feeding on pure white sugar crystals brought home by his mother and dutiful wife, the complaints – worded so bitterly and incitingly – were poured down on him in sudden effusion that a spark was ignited in his lazy mind. The resulting fire burnt down the laziness and left room for deep meditation of his reason for existence in this life.

II.

This story really begins here. Now that the ant had left its gallery for good, the wife was into her contemplative mood, like how the human wife regrets reproaching her harmless husband who had suddenly decided to walk away.

The ant crossed the kitchen and turned right immediately to walk along the length of the wall bordering the spacious hall – unchartered waters for his inexperienced legs. He didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t really mind the new surroundings developing around him.

Am I really useless as she says?

                                        Of course not! I am an ant, in its truest meaning. I will show her what I am capable of.

    But am I really capable of anything?

       Oh, I am. Just a quantum of determination is all I need to rule this world.

Thus was he debating within his (tiny) mind, until he resolved to strive to rule the world, literally.

He was going on for a long time, not knowing what he was going to do to bring the world under his feet, until he stepped onto a round mirror lying on the floor. He then bent his head down, and lo behold! He could see himself… or rather his reflection, as his mind quickly processed. For the first time, he could admire himself… the kingly him. Ah! How kingly I would appear on a throne built in a gallery like my own! How I would have live men brought to me on plates for my taste of their limbs! How I would have antish women (only virgins) brought to me in wine glasses! How I would bestow crystals of pure white sugar on my staunch followers! How I would…

Slowly, another being came into his view in the mirror; the head of the family living in the house had come to stand next to him. The ant bent his head further and shrunk his eyes to closely observe the reflection of the man, and his own, and then again the man’s … how it extended deep down beyond his view.

How large the man seemed! And to even think that he would have this man brought to him on a plate for his taste…

III.

With a heart weaker than it had been before setting out on his destiny the ant retraced his steps, heading now to his familiar and welcoming gallery. He would return to his caring mother! He would return to his sweet wife! And his child growing within her! He wouldn’t unnecessarily have to worry about ruling a world unfit for insignificant species such as his!

How insensible of me to think I can rule this world!

 I have to accept the reality. Sitting at home was better. 

I can’t. An ant can’t.

Of course it can’t.

Now that his mind was unified in its decision, thanks to that man who had come to stand next to him, he walked home with renewed vigour.

The baby of the house, on her way to her mother’s milky breasts, spotted a long black ant running across her way. She immediately forgot her hunger and went into a playful mood with the ant. Taking the empty cough syrup bottle lying to her right, among her other miscellaneous playthings, she quickly took off the transparent cap from its place and closed it over the unseeing ant.

IV.

The ant hit his head with the wall of the cap and stopped to try and understand the situation he had fallen into. Or well, put under. He saw a baby looming over him laughingly. He ran along the wall of the cap round and round but he could find no exit. He then grew greatly desperate and climbed the wall and then walked upside-down on the roof, still in vain. The baby, enjoying the sudden adrenaline-filled activity of the ant it had captured, was in splits. She clutched her belly and began drooling. The laughter, while seeing the ant’s efforts to escape her, became so uncontrollable that she fell backward with her legs kicking in mid air.

She slowly recovered herself, but only to play more with the ant. She moved the cap all over the floor without lifting it. Occasionally she would lift one half of the cap, and when the ant rushed to the opening she would immediately close it and laugh at her own tricks.

A thousand questions were raised in the ant’s mind… oh yes, it is possible!

Would I have escaped this fate had I gone on in my way? Was I right in comparing myself with the tall and large man, and then feel dispirited? Who knows, maybe I would have ruled the world…!

The child, as was the custom with all children, got bored with its little prisoner, and so lifted the cap and killed the ant with one smooth pat of her palm. With just the thought of milk in her mind the little, apathetic murderer crawled to her mother’s room.

Kalachakra

Prologue:

This is interesting. Engaging. I often find myself musing over this incident; or rather I should say series of incidents, which has managed to weigh upon and occupy my mind many a time in the recent past – much to the annoyance and disappointment of my dear wife who is always devoted to me and engaged in my thoughts. I don’t blame her. I do find it increasingly strange that something so trivial and unimportant amongst other events of the big picture is continuing to fill my mind with deep thoughts. Sometimes, however, I find it anything but trivial; as an event very essential to my study of the big process.

Since the instance I conceptualised the idea of time and let it flow through the four undulating plains– namely the Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapar Yuga and the Kali Yuga – the Lokas all have seen remarkable and noteworthy changes; especially the Bhuvar or the Madhya Loka that I take special interest in. This may partly be because even the very people born out of my Srishti are becoming progressively more unpredictable. The previous universe created by my associate, Brahma – bless his patience – in his Padma Kalpa, was what that saw the remarkable incident I am now thinking about. It was an incident that ran for two cycles of time and had repercussions that would drop the jaw of a mortal. My over-thinking mind has now digressed unnecessarily to the lesson I taught my staunch friend Hanuman (and will continue to teach for cycles of time to come) regarding the concept of time running in a circle – how as King Ram I had asked (and will ask) him to go search for a ring purposely lost in the deep recesses of my palace, leading him to find a mountain heap of rings in the underground Nagaloka, and making him understand that it has been happening in all the cycles of time and that it will continue to happen for cycles to come. Whatsoever, let me now muse over this particular series of events while Lakshmi is away – for just one last time, I tell myself.  

 

The past:

Bookstore, Meerut district                                                                    Sep 15, 2015 (of the Kali Yuga)

I was answering the questions posed by small-time journalists and general readers when the cardboard box was carried to the table before me. It was a rectangular box with a poster of my Hindi translated version of The Krishna Key novel, released two years back, stuck on one of its sides. I didn’t know what was so captivating about it that my eyes only rarely turned from it. I did love my work in that; the Mahabharata tale unfolding in the beginning of all the chapters, and my own story written for the novel following it. But that wasn’t the reason for my attention towards it now. The box was in no way peculiar looking, and it presumably had only stacks of my novel in the Hindi language. But why did I feel a sign of presentiment?

The manager of the bookstore – a sexagenarian – came and whispered in my ear that I was to distribute the novels in the box to the five children occupying the last row of seating. I shot a glance at them. They seemed underprivileged to me, and thus suddenly the manager looked like a caring and magnanimous old human. But these tender feelings did not replace the presentiment I had formed. They only exacerbated it.

The questions all answered and new books signed, the audience brought their hands together for a minute and rose to leave. Only one or two photographers remained to cover the book distribution event that they had obviously been priorly informed of. When the first of the five children (all in ragged clothes) approached my table for receiving the books, and when the manager of the bookstore approached the sealed box with a knife in his hand, the earth shook and all hell broke loose. It seemed as if Pandora’s Box had been opened with all fury. The floor beneath my feet trembled and I fell down after colliding with the chair I had been sitting on. Blood trickled out of my elbow where I had hit the metallic edge of a placard stand flaunting the text ‘Ashwin Sanghi Speaks’ in burning red. I could see the children all panicking and some even crying. The vibration lasted for a whole minute and the earth just before the table in front of me opened wide. I felt a chill run down my spine and instinctively backed against the wall behind me. I couldn’t see the old man anywhere. I rushed to the aid of a poor child about to fall into the wide crack of the floor when I tripped the cardboard box unintentionally. It fell into the dark abyss of the wide crack. I saved the child.

 

The present:

Kingdom of Hastinapura                                                             3139 B.C. (in the next cycle of time)

It was serious. Serious and important. A Kurukshetra war! Destruction of the kauravas! Death of millions of Kshatriya warriors! It was difficult to digest it all in. How could I have believed this… this thing? No one had given it to me. I had obtained it while tilling my agricultural land. A worn out box with many such things. The leaves of all the things were ruined except those of this one copy. Strangely the language of the leaves was also familiar. The first portion of all new sections had the story of what had happened in this kingdom and an account of the events supposedly yet to happen – that which I was not able to believe. The other story was, however, very absurd. About someone called Saini running from people throughout the story. It seemed very baffling with many of the terms looking incomprehensible. I had a feeling this story didn’t matter.

Upon thorough examination, after taking heaps of notes while translating the familiar looking language into my own tongue, and much extrapolation it did look true; very much believable. ‘What should I do? Must I alert the Pandavas, who have just returned from thirteen years of exile and are getting ready for talks with the Maharaja and his son Duryodhana regarding the split up of the Hastinapura throne? No, that is useless. They are only about to ask for what is their rightful share,’ I pondered aloud.

‘No. I must talk to Duryodhana. I must convince him to part with a portion of the kingdom to the Pandavas as promised by him before sending them on the exile. But would he listen to me? I can’t be sure. But I must try my best. A war must be averted at all costs.’

——x——

Duryodhana’s chambers                                                                                              The same evening

‘What are you saying, O Vaishya?’ exclaimed Duryodhana when I had reported to him everything – right from how I had stumbled upon the box while tilling my land to all my interpretations of the text and the imminent danger it posed.

‘I mean it, O Valiant Prince! Every word of what I have just said,’ I said, silently praying he would agree to my suggestion.

‘O Vaishya! Even my prime minister is not allowed to counsel me concerning matters of ruling the kingdom. But I have given you that authority; why? Because I regard you highly. I regard you as the foremost among the Mahuri Vaishya clan of my kingdom. O Great Ekghara of the Chandra Muni Ghotra, I know you to be a brilliant strategist and a wise human. But what you are saying now is insane. You say the Pandavas will declare war through Krishna? And that they would win it? And all this you found in that soiled thing you are holding? Absolutely ridiculous!’ His belly shook in his gale of laughter.

I then quoted many incidents from the text, like the Lakshagraha or the wax palace incident, the game of dice and many more, but he shook his head at all of them saying the text might have been composed after the incidents had happened. He simply refused to believe me.

——x——

The king’s court                                                                                                                        The next day

I was summoned to the court of the king. Anxiously I reached the main hall of the court and faced the throne where the blind king was seated. Duryodhana came running to me. ‘Maybe he lost his mind again?’ I expected the worst. But he came to me and shook me by my shoulders, sporting a panoramic smile.

‘O Vaishya! Your words proved worthy yet again. Yesterday evening, after you had left, Krishna – that Yadava – paid us a visit. He said the Pandavas demanded a fair portion of the kingdom after having ended their exile, and when I refused and even humiliated him, he said they would wage war, just as you mentioned he would say. On deeper reflection, I have decided to pay heed to your advice. O Vaishya of the Ekghara family, I have decided to part with my kingdom and avert the possibility of a war. I am going to send a message of consent to that Yadava. After all, didn’t I give my word?’

 

 

The future:

Odyssey bookstore, Navi Mumbai                              2012 AD (of Kali Yuga, the same cycle)

‘No, the entire story line of Lord Krishna, which appears episodically, is not true. It is historically correct only till a certain point in the book,’ I answered the reporter’s question. I was launching my book The Krishna Key here. I continued, ‘In fact after that point in the story everything that comes as Krishna’s story is fictionalised. I took the liberty to do so as I felt the original story was dull. Imagine this yourself. The Pandavas have just returned from exile and not honouring his word, Duryodhana is even ready to jump into a battle when suddenly a Vaishya comes into the picture and prevents the war. I felt my book, a work of art, should need some dramatic conflict.’

‘Yes, I had to be extremely cautious in dealing with this topic as we put a premium on personal belief and faith, but it was a necessary risk. I thus changed the course of events and put a war into the picture. In the end, I dutifully made the Pandavas win. And by the way, I call this war The Mahabharata.’

 

Epilogue:

Thus I have recapitulated all that had happened a million years ago. After recapitulating I would often think if I had my hand in the entirety of the event. Today is no exception. Did I have a hand in what had happened? Did I purposely make the box fall through temporal dimensions and conveniently ruin all but one copy – so that the clever Vaishya could decode the text and prevent a destructive war? I don’t know. I don’t want to find the answer. Let my devotees be under the impression I am omniscient.

I remember being cursed by Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, for not preventing the war and thus the death of her dear sons when I possibly could have. I had gladly accepted he curse, saying ‘Tathastu’. Let Gandhari live long with her sons at least in that particular cycle of time, wherein Ashwin Sanghi and the Ekghara Vaishya (who was none but Sanghi himself in a different birth) had unknowingly conspired across generations to prevent the Great War. Let Veda Vyasa and my nephew be relieved of the effort of writing the epic. Let Mahabharata, a book that would have been roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, or about four times the length of the Ramayana, go unwritten. At least in that cycle of time.  

Now, as I can see Lakshmi, my loving consort, approaching Vaikunta, I will stop musing over this incident lest I should annoy her. I will settle on to the fact that it is indeed a trivia in the grand scheme of things.

The earth continues to revolve.