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Too long have I yearned for happiness.
Once, I believed in what everyone said brought joy – Wealth. Strength. Power.
Then came the day when the three men killed my brother; and dad, instead of killing them, released them on being compensated with a treasure hoard.
Dad deserved to die, I was only the agent of justice.
The gold was now all mine. But people lusted after what I had.
So, I grew till I was the greatest of all. My armour and weapons were the finest. Now men could only covet my riches from afar.
I now had it all – Wealth. Strength. Power.
But where was happiness?
“Strange, the Dragon actually seemed happy when it died. Kind of…peaceful.” Sigurd told Regin, wiping off the blood from his sword, Gram.
“It must have grown bored of life.” Regin laughed.
“Dunno. Anyway, where did it keep this treasure?” Sigurd replied, more brightly.
- The Online Medieval and Classical Library
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It’s because of him, I thought furiously to myself as I blinked away my tears to get a clearer view of the road in front of me. Because of him I’ve been exiled from my home, my parents hate me because of him, because I couldn’t live up to the standards he set for me.
He had ever been the wall that stood in my path, whose shadow loomed over each effort of mine.
Adi, my elder brother. Dr. Aditya Ganguly, the pride of his family, his school, his friends. A well mannered, mild spoken boy with an academic career to be envied. Extremely popular among his friends, for in spite of his achievements he embodied humility and kindness. He was always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need, and never said a hurtful word in his life or acted in a way which could hurt anybody.
Almost never, anyway. In spite of my efforts to maintain the intensity of my anger at him, a smile crept into my face at the thought of a certain winter afternoon.
“Howzzat!” Antyo yelled.
“And what sort of an out is it, may I know, dear sir, that I may document it in the rulebook as a precedent for umpires?” I retorted, a bit irritated.
We were playing cricket in our backyard, with a deuce ball for a change. As I played in the senior school team, this was no big deal for me. But I was apprehensive that Antyo, who was only seven, could get himself hurt. However, Antyo insisted. And when Ananta Ganguly insists, well, let’s just say that the ‘Ganguly Nibas’ would be hard put to stay in one piece after not acceding to his request.
“That was a clear leg-before-wicket! My turn to bat!” Antyo protested.
‘That’ was of course, not a clear leg-before-wicket. But then, who was going to take the risk of explaining that to my baby bro?
My first delivery had more exuberance in it than I intended it to have. Maybe it was just the frustration of an elder brother at being treated unfairly by life.
The next thing I know, Antyo was lying on the ground clutching his forehead in his hands, which were red and wet. I was at his side in a moment, pulling off his hands to see how much damage had been done, then tying my handkerchief tightly to his forehead and carrying him off into the house.
In retrospect, I realize that this was probably the first time that I was not frightened at the sight of blood. Probably I was too afraid for my brother to give way to my fears.
I remember only snatches of what followed. Antyo insisting that I stay in the emergency ward while he was being stitched. Clutching my hand tightly while the doctor put in the stitches. Smiling at me while his head was being bandaged. And later that day, when I tucked him into his bed for the night – “ Dadabhai, you’d make a good doc, you know that?”
“Kolkata na Bankura?” A man yelled into my ears, causing me to come out of my reveries. I hadn’t noticed that I had already reached the bus stand. Man, walking blindly like that could have killed me.
Not that it would bother anybody overmuch. My anger returned with that thought. I was always the problem child. Actually, I wasn’t that bad in studies either. Or at games. But what the heck did anyone care about that? If I did well, well, I was supposed to, with a brother like I had. If I didn’t, oh look, there goes the boy whose brother did this-and-that, and he’s so useless! I don’t want to be like him, I yelled, I am an individual with talents and dreams of my own, I don’t want to be trapped in a great career, I want to be a poet, a songwriter. But hello, was there anybody in there who’d hear me?
Funnily enough, it was Adi who ignited this ambition in me. He was the one who made me listen to Dylan, the Beatles, Floyd, Seeger, GnR, Mohiner Ghoraguli, Suman, to understand Rabindrasangeet, to enjoy both folk songs and Bach-Beethoven-Mozart equally, with their different flavours. Unknown to me, another smile lit my face up as I thought back to the day when he bought his first acoustic guitar.
Well, I had just finished my first sems of my first year at college, and I made baba-mam get an acoustic guitar for me. It was nothing much to tell of, actually, an f-hole Givson Crown. But it was my first guitar.
Imagine my wrath, then, when I didn’t even get to touch it within the first hour of its arrival at my home. Antyo was happily playing with it.
At the end of one hour, though, I’d decided that I had exercised my quota of patience for about a week, and now it was time to conserve what was left of it.
“Give it to me. NOW!!” I shouted.
“Just listen to what I’ve picked up, dadabhai.” Antyo said, unperturbed by my fury.
Then, on my still untuned guitar, he flawlessly played the first part of Für Elise.
At the end of about one minute, when he stopped playing, I could just say – “Wow. Santana junior is coming to town. Satriani watch out.” Santana was his favourite guitarist. Satriani was mine.
For probably the first and last time in his life, my little bro blushed. In pride. I could see that the compliment meant a lot to him. How much, I was to come to know later.
I got off from the bus at Esplanade, and boarded another, which would take me to my destination. The only place in the world, other than ‘Ganguly Nibas’, which I could call home.
And resumed my train of furious thoughts. Heck, he was the root of all my troubles, I thought. As if getting me a real, big acoustic guitar for my ninth birthday – under the pretext that I always had my hands on his – wasn’t enough, he was the one who introduced me to the members of what would be, in the future, my band.
Rohit was clearly impressed by both Antyo’s proficiency at the guitar, and the songs that he wrote. As was his younger sister, Ritika.
“We’ve got ourselves an artist and a technician here, a rare combination. We could really do with someone of your talents. Would you like to join us?” He asked Antyo. Rohit was a friend who I’d first met at our college fest, and the lead vocalist-percussionist-lyricist of the popular metal outfit, ‘Harp of Death’. We’d quickly warmed to each other on getting to know that we both hailed from the same town.
“Yeah, and throw both your talent and your sanity down the drain in the process,” Ritika retorted. “All they can do is shout, and drown the shouts in more noise. Join our group instead, Antyo.” She added with a winning smile.
“You mean that pop group with the weird name – Underlings? He’d be wasted there.”
“ It’s Ainulinde. And we’re alternative rock. It’s a lot better than your group of howlers, actually.”
“Are you asking me to believe that you can actually play the guitar that you’ve decorated your room with?” Rohit snapped back, and ducked just in time to avoid Ritika’s punch.
I got off from the bus where I was supposed to. Quite surprising, given that my brain wasn’t working properly.
I do not know why I chose Ainulinde over the Harp of Death. Perhaps my dislike of too-loud music, or perhaps, as Adi used to tease me, because I liked Ritika. What I know is that it sort of…worked for me, for the lack of a better word. I was really happy for the first time since Adi went away to college. I had more to look forward to in life than my brother’s occasional visits. No longer did I have only one person to open my heart to. Ritika, Joy and Som filled me with a sense of belonging.
His shadow still loomed over my life, however, in more ways than one. He had to be the first one to listen each song I composed, the one whose critique I held most important.
My happiness had to be accompanied by is fair share of problems. My academics took a place of second priority. As a consequence, my results belied expectations quite dismally. And the reprimands from my parents, along with the comparisons with Adi that were already quite regular, became part of almost every waking hour of my life, and even of some of the sleeping. The release I got from books and songs did not seem enough any longer.
Just thinking of those days brought back my anger. I reached into my pocket and found the packet of cigarettes and the lighter that was always there. I took out my cigarette, put it between my lips and lit it. Then I took it out, threw it to the ground, and stamped on it with much more force than was actually necessary to extinguish it. Waste of another three rupees, all because of him.
“Cigarette smoking is injurious to health, especially the variety with canna inside it instead of nicotine.” I announced as I walked into the cloud of smoke that filled his room.
“Oh c’mon bro. Floyd is psychedelic rock. And I don’t give a damn about my physical health anyway. What are you wasting your life studying those huge textbooks for?” Antyo was his usual nonchalant self.
“I prefer to think that Floyd wrote that stuff in spite of the hallucinogens, not because of them.”
“Twenty cigarettes a day each day for twenty years increases the risk of lung cancer in ten percent of cases, remember bro? You shouldn’t have got those stats into my head.” Antyo laughed.
“Firstly, you’re smoking canna, which has the additional benefit of being addictive. Secondly, that is just one study, and allow me to opine, it was a very optimistic one. Thirdly, I am not joking any longer, Antyo. I won’t say anything if you feel this is a stress buster, or it boosts your creativity. However, injuring yourself just to antagonize out parents seems very foolish to me.” I was serious.
There was a sudden change in the atmosphere of the room as Adi stopped smiling, got up from his bed and strode to me, stopping inches from my face. His usually calm eyes now held a frightening intensity, and his voice echoed with long suppressed anger.
“You want to know why, my dear dadabhai? It’s all because of you. Day-in day-out I have to hear your praises. I have had to listen to it all my life. I have tried to be what they want me to be to earn a little appreciation. To no avail. Then I stopped trying to impress them, I didn’t want any appreciation now, I just wanted to be left alone. Hell, but what were my desires to them? ‘You make us feel so ashamed, Antyo, look at your great elder brother, look at what he was and what you’ve become.’ But you know what? I don’t care what anybody thinks of me any longer. I am going to do what I want while you rot in your bloody great career. I am not going to stand being told any longer what to do, what to be. So just get off my back and mind your own business.”
I wasn’t ready for the outburst. I never could have been.
No, I was not hurt. I was broken. This was what I, unwittingly, had turned the person I loved most in the world, into.
“I’m sorry, Antyo.” I whispered, turning away very quickly so he couldn’t see my tears, and left the room in a daze.
Later that day, when I woke up from my siesta, I saw a note on my table, kept under a packet of cigarettes and a lighter.
I picked up the note. In Antyo’s beautiful but careless handwriting, it said – “You are right. I was being foolish. And forget whatever I said earlier. I meant none of it.”
He wasn’t in his room. Mam told me that he had gone over to Ritika’s place and said that he wouldn’t be returning that night, and that he was going to get into so much trouble one of these days.
Later, Mam told me that Antyo was never seen smoking after that day, although a packet of cigarettes could always be found in his room.
The torture only got worse as I entered college. Adi was by now doing his post-grads, so Dad bought a flat in Kolkata where he could stay. He now came home once in a blue moon. Ainulinde, and his infrequent calls were the only silver linings in the dark sky that was my life.
Then came today. Yesterday we had a gig at a local club. It wasn’t much, but still we celebrated late into the night and the early morning.
I returned home in the morning to find Mom and Dad already at breakfast. They didn’t shout at me. Just the snide remarks from Dad – “The great guitarist returns home. Enjoyed your night with those louts you call friends? Do you have to come back for your breakfast at your father’s place still? Aren’t you famous enough yet?” Mom’s whining – “What did we do to get you as our son? Where have we gone wrong in raising you?” And, of course, the inevitable comparisons that stung the most – “Who will say that Adi and you are brothers? Just look at what he is, and what you’ve become.”
I had reached the end of my tether. I calmly finished my breakfast, went into my room, packed a few things into my backpack, put my wallet, cell phone, the cigarette packet and the lighter in my pocket, and slung my guitar over my shoulders. On second thoughts, I kept the cell phone back in its place and walked out of my room.
Now, to get out of our house, you have to go through the drawing room. Mom and Dad were still seated at the breakfast table, which is in our drawing room.
“So, the great rockstar leaves home and becomes a great rockstar, is it?” My father commented. That I’d get out of the house without any more drama had been too much too hope for, I thought.
I struggled furiously to control my emotions, and then, in a voice as calm and stable as I could manage to make it, I began – “No, I’m doing nothing so dramatic. I’m just…”
“He said he was just going away from home for some time to stabilize himself. That he had reached the limit of what he could endure. That as much as he admired you, he had no intentions of being you. That he was going to stay for some time in a place where he’d be appreciated for what he was. That he was still grateful to us and still loved us. And then he left.” Mam’s voice broke down as she sobbed into the receiver at the other end.
“Have you called Ritika?” I asked, though I had a fair idea of what the answer would be.
“I called each of his friends; he’s left his cell phone here. He has gone to none of them. Your Baba has gone to file an FIR at the police station. God only knows what’ll happen now.”
“Don’t worry,” I said in the bravest voice that I could manage, “everything will be alright. He’s my brother, I know him. He might be a little eccentric, but he’s sensible enough to keep himself out of harm’s way. I am doing all I can here.” I replaced the receiver and prayed that I knew my brother as well as I thought I did.
Almost as if in answer to my prayers, the doorbell rang.
The label which said ‘Dr. A. Ganguly, MBBS’ suddenly disappeared from my sight as the door to which it was nailed flew open. I was enveloped in a bear hug and the gruff, big-brotherly voice I was longing to hear said into my ears – “Hey, you could have given me a call, at least. What if I was not home?”
In spite of myself, I felt all my anger, sorrow and trouble melt away as I replied – “I’d have done exactly that if I knew that there was even the slightest chance of you not being home for me. Ever.”
I: The Nightmare I Always Wished For
I had fallen asleep thinking about her. This, in itself, was nothing new. What was new, was that she wasn’t there when I reached Nayvair (the place I go to when everybody thinks I’m REM sleeping).
In fact, I stood in totally unfamiliar surroundings, something which hadn’t happened till date. I tried to wake up, and couldn’t. Also unprecedented.
Trying to control my rising panic, I looked around. I was on a rocky terrain, something like the Grand Canyon, leveled. A vast bed of rock with surprisingly little unevenness, sloping slightly up towards a buttress, seemingly small, in the distance. The sky was overcast with thunder clouds.
I felt inexorably drawn towards the hillock, and in no time, I was there.
It was no hillock. A giant sculpture of a Rishi in padmasana, exquisitely carved out of the red granite and looking very life-like. I wondered how I could have thought it to be small. Its eyes seemed to be looking directly at me.
“Three wishes.” A roaring voice in my mind.
“Who are you?” I shouted aloud, still looking at the eyes, which now seemed to be glinting with malicious intelligence. “And where am I?”
“Yes, it is I. Don’t ask questions. Time is running out. Three wishes.” The thunderous voice again.
“Why me? Why three wishes? And why is she not here?”
“You wish to know?” Had I imagined those huge eyebrows arching?
“Ye…no, leave it. Any three wishes?”
“Any three.” No, the cruel smile certainly wasn’t there on those stone lips a moment ago.
“Very well. I wish that she breaks up with her boyfriend.” Was this really me speaking?
“She chooses me to be her confidante, the shoulder for her to cry on.” Was I this depraved? I could only pray for my soul as my dream self blurted out my darkest desires.
“I’ll keep the third wish for when the first two come true. Is that allowed?”
“That is allowed. Your will be done.” There was a sarcastic note to the booming voice which matched the twisted smile and cold, cruel look on that stone face. I stared at it while the thunderstorm broke down with its fury and I was engulfed by a maelstrom of darkness.
II: A Dream Come True
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I stare too long
I’d probably break down and cry
When I woke up to someone ringing the bell at the door, I had forgotten all about the dream. So, it was with genuine pleasure unadulterated with guilt that I opened the door and welcomed her inside.
“Wow! Today’s sure going to be a great day. First day in decades that the first face I get to see on waking isn’t mine.” I grinned at her.
She gave me a faint smile and then collapsed into a sofa in the living room of our bungalow. “Would you do me a favour?”
Insensitive as I was to other people’s feelings, I knew something was definitely not right.
“Anything for you, dear. Want some cake?” Cake? Ouch. Someone has to brush up on his conversational skills here.
“Nah, thanks, though. Look, this is a pretty big favour I’m asking and I’ll understand…I mean, it’s perfectly okay if you say no.” The way she fidgeted with her kerchief while she talked, screamed that it wasn’t perfectly okay.
“Just say it, will you?” I was a bit concerned.
“Could…could you, please, tell mamma, if she asks you, that I had gone with you to the theatre yesterday night?” She was almost begging. “You know, I had gone with him to the disco, and I don’t want mamma to know that.”
I was shocked, to say the least. Call me conservative, prudish, old-fashioned, call me what you will, from far away if you are clever, but I was never the discothèque-bar-night-long-party type. Neither was she.
She correctly interpreted my look, shifted her eyes to her toes, and said, “Forget I said that. I never should’ve asked you in the first place. You couldn’t carry off a lie to save your life.” She gave a nervous laugh and rose to leave. God, she sounded so beautiful even this close to a breakdown.
I masked my expressions in a blink, jumped to her and sat her down again. “Why don’t you try me out? I can be very persuasive, you know.” I tried to squeeze out some humour from the situation. “I never believed you could be dragged down to the level of discs, even by him, you know.” Mock horror on my face. An unreadable look in hers, as she locks her eyes unto mine.
She’s got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain
As she locks her eyes unto mine, I know that my humour certainly didn’t have the desired effect. She had almost reached breaking point.
I knelt down before her. “Just give me the details I need to know to sound real, what time we went, what we did, what we drank, etcetera.” It sounded so unfunny. “Forget what I asked. I don’t need to know about yesterday.
Effect, once again, the opposite of that intended. She broke down completely, tears washing her angelic face as she dissolved into sobs.
I was shaken. I had never known her lose control over her emotions, even when extremely annoyed. Just a few well-spoken words to convey her anger, then comforting the guilty party (yours faithfully in the case stated) with caring words. That was about it. And get it, I wasn’t even, like, her third best friend, just a bit closer than an acquaintance, maybe; which made this outburst even more frightening to me.
“We…we broke up, A. He told me he’d had enough of me. After all this time…enough of me, exact words he said…”
I looked into her dark blue eyes, seeking to find words to comfort her, instead was met by a maelstrom…
III: Day Dreamer
The rough terrain looked even more rugged now. Forks of lightning touched the majestic landscape in celestial salutes, followed by crashing thunder which melded into a venomous laughter all around me.
“Isn’t that what you wished for?” The voice in my head again. Of the stone-hearted Rishi meditating before me. Rishi, or a demon in his guise?
“The demons are within your head. How I appear to you is just a cognitive reflection of what you are.”
“I never wanted this, really, I didn’t want her to get hurt.” I pleaded.
“Well, you have already thought out the remedy too, isn’t it? You have a third wish. Wish that you become the man of her dreams and she lives happily ever after, with you. Go on. You are a natural performer, playing your part with absolute command.What are you afraid of?”
“We won’t know until you wished for it, will we?”
“I…I don’t know. I need some time. Will I have some time?”
“You have all the time in the world, Dreamer. But she hasn’t. Decide what you want quickly.”
“A little time, please…” The world became a haze in the storm.
IV: The Third Wish
“…And he said that I was the worst mistake he had ever made in his life. Can you believe that, A? After all we went through together? Hell, I had gone to the disc, lying to my parents about it. I’ve never, ever lied to mamma or pops before, A. Never ever. All because I refused to drink. How ever did I deserve this?” She seemed so tired.
I tentatively touched her hands. She was still looking into my eyes, searching for an answer that wasn’t supposed to be there. This was my moment. She was looking at me as the support she needed at that moment. She would take whatever I said very seriously. I could damage the thin string that still held their relationship together.
“You, of all people, didn’t deserve this, dear.” There. I had started the process.
“But maybe you should give him just one more chance. Just one chance, to let him explain away all that happened. We guys you know, are all very headstrong, fighting for all the wrong reasons, hardly knowing what we want, ignoring or destroying what should be most precious to us in a moment of impulsiveness. But we aren’t that bad on the whole, you know.” WHAT?
“He hasn’t even called me yet, after that. I hate him. He doesn’t even care about me, you know. Why should I give him another chance, if he should call?” A tiny bit of hope shined through her feigned vehemence. What would I have not given to have her love me that much?
I stood up, went over to the larger sofa where my guitar lay, picked it up and sat down, and started strumming a chord. Dmajor, in a down-downup-updown pattern, repeated twice. “Maybe he’s too ashamed too call you up. I certainly would have been if I made such an ass of myself. Wait for him to pick up his courage.” I couldn’t believe what I heard. Cadd9, down-downup-updown. Repeat twice. I was actually defending him. “I’d give anything not to be in his place when he calls you next.”
A smile had appeared on her face, the first rays of the sun breaking through a dark sky, the first breeze of spring wind dislodging snow from the dead trees. Gmajor, down-downup-updown, repeat twice. I could see that she was desperately trying to believe my words. Good. As the Rishi had said, I was a natural performer. Now for the master touch. The third wish. Back to Dmajor, down-updown-downup. Repeat twice.
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I’d hide
And pray for the thunder and the rain
To quietly pass me by
I was back to the stormy world of my nightmare. Only it wasn’t so dark anymore.
“Your third wish?”
“Let everything be as it was between them before I made those stupid wishes. Let him call her up and apologize. Let her forgive him.” I said, trying hard to keep my voice stable and neutral.
“Are you sure? Can you bear to let her go away from you after coming this close? Because even if you do, they may not live happily ever after, you know. Human relations are the things that depend least on divine intervention, I’ve found. Your absurd heroics might be to no avail.” The voice defined cynical.
“One, no I am not sure. Two, but I have much more essential work than to ache my knees playing agony aunt to every silly little girl I know. Three, since she never was mine, the question of letting go does not arise. Four, a hero is, by definition, an idiot with no better work to do than to resolve other’s problems. I am just cleaning up the mess that I have made. Call it self-interest. Five, I don’t like the way your voice rumbles inside my head. So just do what I say and be gone from my dreams, haunt my nightmares no longer.” The last part with an elaborate flourish of my hand.
“Fine. It shall be as you wish for.” A belly laughter this time, so infectiously merry that I had to join in. The skies had cleared. The sculpture’s face now held a serene smile, and a contented far away gaze.
“You know, maybe you’re not as bad as you think you are. Just like the rest, you’re certainly not the worst, though you’re not the best.”
I managed to look scandalized. “How dare you? I’m the best human being you’re ever likely to meet, you virtual piece of stone. And don’t misquote Floyd at me, that’s blasphemy. Just do your thing and go. I have a world, or two, to save.”
“Sure.” Booming laughter. “Your will be done.”
She’s got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
“Please. Twinkle twinkle little star? How could you?” I exclaimed, as her cell rang.
She blushed and threw a cushion at me. Then breaking into a broad grin, she whispered excitedly, “It’s him!”
“Of course it’s him. Just go ahead and pick up the phone. This ringtone is hurting my sensitivities.” I feigned indifference and expertly deflected the second cushion. “Oh, and get out of the house before you do so. I’ve had enough of your whining for today.” The third cushion hit me square on the face, followed in quick succession by the last.
She raced out of the house before I could even get up from the sofa. “Don’t forget what you are to tell mamma.” She yelled back at me as she ran away, the sun’s rays defying all known laws of nature to shine on her alone, darkening everything else around.
“I won’t.” I whispered.
1. To Guns N’ Roses aficionados, don’t look at me like that, please. It makes me feel so guilty. I know the verses aren’t in order, but I had to put them where they fit. Very, very sorry.
2. To guitarists, hey, give me some credit, I figured out those chords for myself. I know they are not accurate, but they sound good enough. To me. So scamper off before I set your tails on fire.
“Immortality, really! What a dreary thing to wish for!” I exclaimed.
“Oh? And what exactly would you wish for, were you granted that one wish?” P. asked, startling me.
No, it wasn’t actually the blinding brilliance of the question that startled me. It was just that I hadn’t heard her come into the room.
See, I have this rather exquisitely furnished room all to me at The Palace1.There are two guards stationed at the ends of the long corridor leading out from the room to the Winding Ways2 of The Palace. They announce nearly every visitor so that I get about five and a half minutes to prepare for whatever creature, or object was headed my way. I have a congenital dislike for nasty surprises before breakfast.
P., of course, had to be the exception.
“You know, just in case the beautifully designed brass knockers on my door are too heavy for you, you have been granted the gift of ten fingers with knuckles on them.” I grumbled.
“What’s your point?” P. asked.
“By an unfortunate series of totally unrelated and co-incidental events for which nobody can be held guilty, you know my point.” She had merited this tetchiness.
“Why let the minor problem, that I can read your mind, come in the way of a civilized conversation between us? Okay, I’ll knock before entering your room the next time. Happy now?” P. smiled.
“Yeah. Am positively struggling to stop my reservoir of mirth from brimming over. Isn’t this the seven hundred and thirty-fifth time you’ve promised me that?” I queried.
“Stop being such a baby and tell me what you would wish for.” Persistence, as always, the hallmark of greatness. And of P.
I had been reading the Ramayana, once again, you see. And I had just reached that part where Ravana asks Brahma for the boon of immortality, and is refused. This, somehow, had given me a brilliant idea. Which, like most of my brilliant ideas, was fundamentally flawed.
“Flawed? How?” P. once again invading my privacy. This time it was my mind, though. Far more intimate than my room.
“Stop that!” I burst out angrily.
P.’s smile evaporated rapidly and a film of tears formed over her eyes as she turned away, hurt, to leave my room. Damn. People couldn’t even afford to be angry nowadays if their privacy was encroached upon.
I leapt out of bed, and with another bound blocked her way. “Hey, don’t you dare to leave me crying. Both meanings intended.”
“What meanings?” She stopped.
“Figure them out for yourself. As I was saying, I have discovered, or rather invented, the most wonderful wish one could wish to wish for.”
“What…oh, right. What’s the wish?”
“Who’s the mind reader here?
I watched as P.’s hurt look slowly changed into a frown, then confusion, and then gave way to an expression of utter bewilderment. “Why don’t I know?” She asked, clearly surprised, and a bit frightened too, I could see.
“Don’t worry, it’s a little trick I figured out to protect my thoughts. Just checking if the theory could be put to practical use. Will explain it to you once I fully grasp it.” I said, trying to hide my ecstasy.
“Okay.” She was only slightly reassured. “The flaw?” She had, by now, stopped crying. Who says I’m not a PR egghead?
“Nobody to grant the wish, obviously.”
“Not even the Believer?” The smile had returned to her face.
“Nopes. This is a classic O-mighty-deity-grant-your-puny-devotee-a-boon scenario. The minimum apparatus required is a Santa Claus.”
“The problem with that is?”
“The problem with that is that dear ol’ Santa doesn’t exist.” I explained patiently.
“Says who?” P. arched her eyebrows.
“Says me and millions of other people, who, through the ages, have painstakingly gathered enough evidence not to believe…wait a moment…believe? Is that what you’re saying? I’ve got to make-believe3 a real Santa?” The penny dropped.
“Nah, wasn’t thinking of that. An interesting idea, though.” P. seemed thoughtful. The penny, which had recently dropped, leaped up, retracing its trajectory through my cognitive spaces in the reverse direction, and disappeared. And in a phenomenon which will continue to haunt the nightmares of physicists for the next millennium, the amount of entropy created by the fall of the penny, was restored as its potential energy.
“You mean you haven’t yet met the Saint of Clauses? Great, because today is his feast day, and the entire Hall4 will be at his residence. Come with me. He’ll surely grant the Believer’s one wish.” P. gave a bright smile.
Wow, I thought. If this works out, I’ll have the ultimate weapon that one could wish for.
As P. had unknowingly, but correctly stated, ‘The One Wish’.
The One Wish To Wish Them All.
1I am NOT calling it ‘The Palace’ without a reason. It was ‘The Palace’. You’ve got to hear about it from me one day. Remind me if I get a day off from saving the world.
2Same as above. ‘The Palace’ to be replaced by ‘Winding Ways’.
3For the uninitiated, ‘make-believe’ is a technical term indicating a P2C2E Grade 3 involving the creation of an object, organism, phenomenon, or internal/external effect by believing in it, and is the forte of the Believers. The placebo effect is a classic example.
4The Hall is the administrative organ, the second tier of the three tier system of Nayvair government. The Tower (legislature) and the Dungeon (judiciary) being the first and the third tiers, respectively.
“And that,” said P., “is the spinner.”
“Leg or off?” I asked?
“Never mind. What does the spinner spin?” I asked, suppressing a bout of mad laughter that was trying to force its way out through my throat. I knew it would never do to break into hysterics again. After all, I had volunteered for this part. So why shalt I not do it properly, as the poet…never mind.
“Oh, all sorts. Webs, for a start. The finest in Nayvair. Excellent cotton too, on his loom. Balls, saucers, human heads. Has a knack for spinning yarns, hence our Official for the Subtle Remedy of Subjective Misconstruances and Communication of the Formidable Achievements of the Empire of the Flies. She grinned at my puzzled face, “or our PR person, if you prefer it that way.”
“Okies,” I said, trying to digest what I had learned. I peered at this Official for Subtle Thingummies.
A sinister looking chap, no doubt. I wondered how P.’s subjects believed…
“Him? It?” I asked aloud.
“Him. Though you have to take his word for it .No more than one spinner exists in one age…that is, as long as the spinner lives.
“Right.” The thing…Spinner, had entirely too many appendages for my liking, as he crouched down on the dark corner of his workshop, intent on something. His limbs were moving too fast for me to take a look at them. Though I hardly thought I wanted to probe further into this spinner thing.
“Oh no. He’s got only one hand, and sure knows how to use it. And I’ll kill you if you ask me how I know that, as I know you’re planning to.” P. smiled. It got on my nerves sometimes, the way this girl kept reading my mind.
I grunted, irritated. “So what’s he spinning now? A carpet?”
“Actually, no. Funny you’d ask that, though. I’ve been trying to get him make me a flying carpet for quite a while now. Only he hasn’t got the time. Or at least, he says so.” She frowned at the Spinner.
“Don’t avoid the question.”
“I wasn’t.” She said, annoyed. “What he’s doing now is what he is infamous for.” Here she lowered her voice to a sinister whisper-“He’s spelling!”
“Spelling? He’s spelling what?” I was utterly lost. As usual.
“Oh, by the Dog, you’re a lost case, A!” She exclaimed in an exasperated manner-“Spells, obviously! Spells, as in magic spells, mumbo jumbo, abracadabra, whatever!”
“Oh. Right.” My vocabulary firmly refused to expand-“Right.”
P. scrutinized me. “Say after me – the quick brown dog punched the majestically lazy fox.”
“Why should I?” I was bewildered.
“At least that’s better than ‘Right’! Thought you’d forgotten how to speak.” She smirked.
“Could we please cut the smart talk and just see whatever it…he…the Spinner is doing?” I interjected huffily.
“I would prefer not to disturb the spinner at his craft. One misplaced mark can cause massive disruption of the normal course of society.”
“Yes. Like the time a spell was to be created, a spell of great cunning, to lure the plague rats out from the city Nilehampur. But the spinner was distracted by the raindrops pattering on the ceiling of his workshop, and suddenly, lo and behold, an even greater spell, of great power and beauty stood in front of the master craftsman. The spinner,”She added, correctly interpreting my blank look.
“And what happened then?” I asked, spellbound by the narrative.
“Oh, after completing its task, the spell went to the mayor and demanded payment for its labour. The Mayor and his Council tried to convince him that spells were not paid in mohurs, and could not be paid so. It wasn’t convinced by the argument. Irritated, it led all the children of the city to the Town Hall, entrancing them with its magick to make them tear it apart.”
“Tear it apart? A figure of speech, I hope?”
“No. The Town Hall was made of magicked cardboard. Not spelt, of course, or it couldn’t have been torn by children. The children were amused, anyway. In fact I think every one except the Mayor and his Council was. Something to do with how miserly the city council was, I s’pose.”
“And then nothing. Why must you keep on asking questions? The spell is still stored in the Jeans pool of the wielders and casters.”
“Gene pool, you mean.” I corrected her.
“No, doc. Jeans pool. It takes Spell reinforced double helically woven baskets of pure denim suspended in huge lakes of plasmapheresised protoplasm to store these spells.”
“Of course. I should have known. And who are these Wielders and Casters, may I have the pleasure of knowing?”
“Casters and wielders are, as their name rightly suggests, casters and wielders, respectively.”
“I figured out that much.” I muttered under my breath.
P. gave me a murderous glare. “They are the ones who can use the spells that the Spinner creates, and those which have been preserved by generations of Magi. Wielders can wield these weapons for a wide variety of purposes ranging from weaponry to window cleaners. The Casters put these spells on animate or inanimate objects with various intentions…”
“Which I need not know.” I interrupted.
“Which you need to, and will know in due course of time.” She finished.
“Right.” I said.
“Right.” For once, she agreed with me.
“You know, one of these days, if I do not cut you into little pieces by that time, I will surely start disbelieving all these things.” I professed.
“The technical term is, I believe, ‘unbelieving’. And you’d better not. We don’t want as missing spinner and an incomplete rogue spell on the loose.” P. retorted.
“Right.” I said, yet again, thus eloquently concluding our morning believing session.
“You are a Believer,” she said. It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway.
“No, I am not. I am an atheist.” I said.
“What?” She seemed a little confused. “An atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of God…you know, the Supreme being who created us…”- I continued, noting her confusion.
“How can you not believe in someone who created you?” By now, she was positively bewildered.
“Ah…it’s rather a convoluted line of reasoning and I’d prefer not to bother the head of such a pretty creature as you with it, especially this fine spring morning, ye know, with the songbirds trilling romantic sonnets into the fresh spring air, and the like…” I trailed off, noting with satisfaction the flash of irritation that clouded the ‘pretty creature’s features. She certainly didn’t appreciate being called that, I thought smugly. “But do tell me why you mistook me for a believer.”
“I didn’t make any mistake. You are a believer, and the strongest one in the last three aeons.” She said confidently, gracing the words with an elegant, beautiful and highly patronizing smile.
“Oh yeah? And what, pray, is a believer?” I said, hoping she’d notice the sarcasm in my voice. I don’t take nicely to being patronized by little girls. (Technically, she wasn’t that little, about my age, I’d guess.)
She didn’t notice it. “A Believer is an individual wielding formidable powers, whereby the said individual can determine the existence or inexistence of an animate or inanimate object by focusing his cognate on its being, or non-being.” She finished, smiling pleasantly.
“Whoa! Like if I think you’re not here, you aren’t? And could you answer me in a language I can understand?”
I am never this rude to anyone. Especially if she was as pretty as the girl walking beside me. But this specimen had been bothering me for the last three days. I mean, it’s alright, in fact, simply cool to be eyed by a pretty lass. But this girl had been almost literally shadowing me. And finally she came up to me this morning, when I was returning from the barber’s.
“Excuse me, could I please take a few minutes of your time?” As nice as you could wish.
I knew I was in trouble then, since I’m not the kind of hunk ladies swoon over.
I don’t even look the part of an idiotic knight in shining armour, eagerly looking for more troubles (id est, damsels I distress). I made a brave defence, though-“Er, actually, I mean, like, I’m like in a kinda hurry, have-to-get-home-quick type hurry, so you see, like….” How much lamer can you get?
“I know, can I at least accompany you to Evelyn Lodge, Master A.?”
Well, I thought, she’s damned pretty, and she knows me anyway, so what price?
She, however, shattered my dreams of any r. talk. Spoke much, though, about parallel worlds, demons, mages, and such. I seriously thought about handing her over to the traffic police, more than once. And then she started all this believer stuff, and I knew not what to do, as the poet would have cried.
“But I thought you can communicate in English.” This, a bit confused again, but still smiling.
“Yes, but I communicate in spoken English, not the legal one you are using. Also, please wipe that inane grin off your face. It’s irritating me. Don’t act like you’re a princess or somethingy, when you’re not.”
“But I am a princess,” she said, clearly hurt.
“Yes, and I am dear old Prince Charming cleverly disguised as a particularly handsome specimen of Bufo bufo.” I was exasperated.
“No, you’re not. But you are really funny,” she broke into a tinkling laughter. “And you are a Believer.”
“Now listen here…” I tried to organize my thoughts. It wasn’t helping me that she really looked as beautiful as a fairytale princess.
“I am actually somewhat of a fairy princess I your world, you know.” She said, trying to suppress another bout of laughter. Damn it, could she read my mind as well?
“Of course I can. Now let’s have none of that.” She said in mock sternness, as I struggled to hide my fantasies about her that came out in the shock of this revelation.
“Could you explain why you were able to banish the demons that appeared in front of you last Thursday, if you’re not a Believer?” She arched her eyebrows.
A bolt of pure panic shot through me then. “How…how on earth do you know? It was j…just a hallucination, no more!”
“Or so you think,” she said, smugly.
“No, it cannot be! They don’t exist. You don’t exist!” I screamed in sudden fear, shutting my eyes tightly.
“Wait a moment! What do you think you’re…no…stop, please…listen to me…pleaseeeeee…”
The pleading voice faded away. I opened my eyes, just in time to see her disappearing. It was like watching the transparency of a 3-D image increase, till she became something of a faint multicoloured wisp of smoke before vanishing completely.
“Now, that was interesting,” I muttered, resuming my walk towards home, after making sure that nobody had heard me yelling. For some reason, I felt very tired. Utterly drained sort of feeling, if you know what I mean.
By now, it was pretty dark and quiet. ‘Cept the dusky light of the sky, and the birdies all cackling, of course.