(A short story by Sidharth Vardhan
November 29, 2016)
Rama treasured these moments of solitude. Away from people for whom he was a god, he could be himself – a human being. ‘The war has ended’ he told himself but the thought refused to cheer him up. What, with all the lives lost? And in his goodness of heart, he was feeling sorry for Lankans too. After all, how were these Lankan soldiers any different from anyone who feels duty bound to save his house from invaders?
“None” a voice roared.
Rama was startled, he was lucky that no one was watching. Gods can afford to grieve, the way he did when he came to know about the rape of Sita but not startled. It is below their dignity.
He looked around, feeling a shiver run through his spine as he recognized … was it? No, it can’t be .. but it was … how it could be? A ghost? don’t be silly. ghosts exist only in the imagination of knave. But how else …he had killed Ravana … with his own hands …. then how … how could it be?
But there was nothing to be seen. Rama assumed that he had just imagined it. He had given clear orders to be left alone. And nobody, but the birds chirping in their nest on trees were there.
Rama smiled – the smile of a suffering, dying patient who upon seeing a close friend becomes happy, because though his/her pain might not have been reduced, it has becomes more endurable after the refreshing feast offered to his eyes in form of friend’s sight. Birds, how he loved the birds, the symbol of innocence – they don’t need gods, they do not form armies and go to war.
And beauties! how one thing of beauty was always reminiscent of other beautiful things, for him. these ‘other’ beautiful things were all replaced by that one beautiful Sita – and forests with all the objects of beauty it offers in flowers, birds, deer, and calves was in its every inch a reminder to him of his loss, how was not he to lose to grief after her kidnapping? It was the only time in all these years of forest life that he felt a craving for his home, the palace – not because he wanted armies to fight Ravana or because he wanted a life of comfort but because there he could shut himself in a room and weep.
…. but now, now he will have her with him after all this – and, here he felt that old frustration again, the frustration he felt at the very foolishness of it all. All this bloodshed and as if it was not enough, even now, now that his love, his life was within his reach, even now …
“HA! HA! HA!” broke the loud laughter which raised Rama’s heartbeat, he wasn’t a coward but this – this he didn’t know how to fight. Once again Rama looked around for the source of the voice, this time arrow raised on his bow, once again failing to find anywhere, like Kasturi Mirg, what was inside him.
This time he was sure he had heard something and so raised his voice, asking, half questioning himself “Who is there?”
“You know me, kid. I’m the great Ravana. The one you killed.”
“You can’t be there, I killed you myself,” Rama answered still bewildered.
“I’m dead, no doubt about that, that traitor Vibhishana made sure of that, but why should it mean that I can’t be here?”
Rama no longer replied. It was an illusion, he told himself.
“You killed me.” the voice continued, “but if you can be a god, existing here, to present ideas than I too am a creation of the same poet, and I too am here, not a person, but an idea that transcends all bodily existence and is as immortal as the poem itself.”
Rama was now realizing by looking at the way the birds had remain undisturbed by the roaring laughter he had heard, that the voices were merely in his head. An illusion perhaps – but for this illusion, he had no reply. For the first time in his life, Rama was sweating. Should he call someone? Maybe the voice won’t be there when he wasn’t alone.
“But what do you want from me?” Rama asked but not aloud rather in his own mind to see if there would be a reply.
There was. “I? I am wanting for nothing. I got more than I could have asked for. I’m not here because I wanted to, though I did, rather I’m here because YOU want me here. And from now on, I’ll be here, always reading your thoughts. Now I know the Rama, the lord, the god, now I know you. Now I know you more than your mother, your wife, more than yourself. Oh! what delights are to know the fears and anxieties of gods!”
By this time Rama was delirium, feeling the blood rush to his head while doing a mad search around for the source of the voice, despite knowing well the futility of effort – if only he could ask for help, but he couldn’t that old solitude of gods stopped him. Gods can’t be seen going mad, or asking for help, it was humiliation enough to have to take the help of monkeys for once. Yet, if only he could have his friend Hanuman …
“… But one thing about you I always knew and I see I was right about it … You see I know your kind. My own brother, that hypocrite traitor Vibhishana is your kind too. The kind that must abide by the rules. The kind that is doomed forever to be unhappy. I knew that you belonged to the kind the first time I heard about you from Sarupnakha. When she told me how you rejected her advances, I knew killing you will be an act of highest kindness, I must make you suffer some other way.”
The above ‘thought’ ran through Rama as he now sat down, tired from his meaningless search and clueless as what he should next. He wasn’t even thinking of a response.
“Yes. In the end, it was you who killed me. I lost the war but you were a loser too. For now, I know the secret of Gods. You Rama, should I tell you your future? Because the veils that hide the future from living is transparent for me now. No? What is this fear? Rama afraid? Rama, whose name is supposed to invoke fearlessness and courage among the week! Stand up to your labors, Rama, what will the people say? Isn’t that what your morality is based on? What will people say? Rama, the great god, belied the promise of his own father? No, you must do the right thing and leave for ascetic life even if it meant leaving empire in hands of your father. Be honest, Rama, why won’t you answer? Didn’t you secretly struggle with your own hatred for your father? … that lustful father. I don’t judge you for hating him, you were in your right in hating him. What I judge you for is that you listened to him.”
The reference to his ‘lustful’ father had raised Rama’s ears. The monster was right, he did have access to Rama’s deepest secrets. He was once again listening.
“And I see that you are forever doomed to be unhappy. You have found your love back only to lose it again. Your own children will fail to recognize you. And, believe me, Rama, the scorn of one’s beloved burns far more than any fire ever can.”
The mention of and stress on word ‘fire’ was what finally made Rama make an attempt to speak again as he realized that so Ravana knew about that “But … but I must .. I mean I must … I’m soon to accept the throne of one of most … as such I can’t possibly …”
“HA! HA! HA! what is it I am seeing? A god trying to justify himself to a demon. And what terrible eloquence! How will you justify to history what you can’t justify to your own head? And those lies won’t work with me. It is your own sight through which I see the future. And you still have to learn a lot. Mark my words, Rama, gold will never replace the flesh.”
Wha gold! what flesh! Half Ravan’s words made no sense to him.
“Not Yet” the voice announced.
When he had left his house for ascetic life, Rama hadn’t yet understood as he did now that the worst of struggles are against one’s own emotions and thoughts. He knew that if occasion demanded he won’t be able to leave a comfortable place again with such ease. He could deal ascetic life, which with the beauty of forests was as good as the palace but he couldn’t stand the doubts that kept raising themselves in his head without having diversions that only palace or a child could offer. It was difficult to stick to the path of morality in the boredom of forests. And now this voice was giving him new infernos.
“Now that you are going to ask Sita for Agni Pariksha, how long do you think her soft skin will last in the fire? I was afraid that even petals of flowers of Ashokvatika were too hard for that skin. And you … you are some brave king … And how long do you think the white cloth of her beauty will survive that scorn of yours? But, alas. yours is not the only scorn she must bear. You whole empire is full of people like you. Oh! won’t she rather prefer that Earth should engulf her whole?”
This was exactly the thing Rama had wanted to come to terms with in this solitude. Sita’s fire test. It was, he believed, the right thing to do. He knew he had to but … how could, something so right, feel so wrong? Alas, he had no choice.
“Don’t you? You are right. Good and principled people like you never have a choice. You never chose, do you? You let people chose it for you. You, Rama, you are a mere puppet in hands of those Brahmins, those self-appointed custodians of your society, the ones who create those pretend-principles of morality. And that is where your loss is such a big one, Rama. I may have died, but, you! Ah! you make me laugh, you never lived.”
“But that is the right thing to do …” Rama argued with himself as much as with the voice.
“Are you sure? Isn’t it still the teachings of those navel-gazing brahmins speaking through you? Where is the real Rama in you? When did he die? How hollow you are! And talking about the right and wrong, tell me, Rama, for what crime must Sita suffer the fire test?
“but …. but … but..”
“I’m no more than your own thoughts Rama. I’m your antagonist, you can’t do without me – I’m the reverse image in mirrror or water that you must look at to know yourself. I’m the voice, the temptation, that you must suppress to be Rama, the man of principles. You know it very well. What you call good and evil, they are all made of same material. Though your lousy Brahmins will categorize us according to how we treat them, yet we are all same. You too have been visited by same temptations which ruled me all my life. But, I, at least. was free from chains of principles and rules. You, on the other hand, let yourself stay chained. Tell me about that day at Janakpuri when you first saw Sita in Janakpuri’s palace garden. Weren’t you tempted to talk to her, to break all chains of society and plead for her love? You are the shy type, I see, but you definitely are not the one who talks about winning women – the way Janak offered her as a trophy of a contest. You wanted to go down to your knees and beg her love. But you couldn’t. You chose to stay chained. And you would have let her be conquered by someone else or leave her house without making any effort if your loudmouth brother hadn’t spoken when Janak mourned for lack of warriors.”
A sort of intellectual curiosity ruled Rama’s mind as he listened to Ravan’s long monolog – whether he agreed with him or not, Ravana, or whoever or whatever it was, was at least defining his doubts so clearly – doubts he had failed for so king to define. “But they are necessary to society. Or should I go your way, tormenting innocent saints?”
“Who are you fooling, Rama? Aren’t you visited by the temptation to throw him out of your kingdom? Haven’t you found yourself wondering to yourself how come the rules of the society are set by those who pretend not to be a part of it? I might have kidnapped Sita, but when it comes to respecting women I and my people are better than you people are.”
“This you can’t have me believe. You only kidnapped and raped her”
“The Indra you worshiped raped a woman by deception. I didn’t, I only kidnapped her and let her live in Ashok Vatika since she kept on refusing to consent to marry me. Your brother, on the other hand, physically assaulted and injured my lone sister. Tell me O Rama, are women only respected by your people only as long as they are passive, and to be punished as soon as they start making advances on their initiative? And remember, how your monkeys tried to assault Mandodari? Where was your moral code at that time?”
“That doesn’t make what YOU did right? You should have faced me like a true warrior>”
“Why? Why should I kill someone if I don’t have to? If it is deception you are accusing me of, remember Bali. I don’t pretend to do the right thing, but at least I’ m not righteous. I try to avoid violence. Have you ever noticed that it was only your side who did the physical injury to the women – first by assaulting Sarupnakha, then Mandodari and now it will be your beloved Sita’s turn, and all these women? Your beloved Sita was safer at Ashok Vatika than she will be when you next pass your judgment. I had tried to avoid violence just as anyone would do. I spared your life too when I chose to kidnap Sita rather than kill all three of you. And I kidnapped Sita only because I had to take revenge.”
“Revenge? Is that the way of a wise man?”
“Your Brahmins are quick to curse people for trivial reasons. And you, yourself, brought a war which killed countless soldiers on either side to settle your personal differences, So, don’t talk about revenge. Anyway, I’m sure your brahmins will find a way to hide the good in me and the wrong in you through their make-believe stories of boons and curses. But will it ease your ridiculous conscience?”
“Brahmins are with me because I have followed the right path.”
“Brahmins are with you because it is because of self-righteous fools like you, with so much conscience that no wise man can call it healthy, and so lacking in insight to understand that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are keywords with which they manipulate you, that they are able to dictate the terms of society. How do you define ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? Do you have a definition from outside those lousy books they have written? The Shudras suffer to date in your reign Rama. Your own brahmins call them untouchables. And you yourself feel sorry for them. And yet, a day will come when you will kill an innocent boy just because he was making efforts to gain knowledge and your brahmins couldn’t stand him learning what they think to be their own property.”
“You are saying those things because you hate brahmins, even though you are yourself half–brahmin. You hate them because your mother was of low birth and brahmins scorned you…”
“You don’t believe it, kid, do you? Birth is but an accident, how can it be high or low? But yes, I do hate brahmins for I believe in equality. I saw the wrong in old ways and tried to change them just as you, yourself, have been tempted to. At least. I didn’t become a submissive participant which is all YOU have become in the end.”
Rama had no arguments left. He sat there shattered and broken for a few moments. Ravana’s voice too had become silent. but Rama knew that he had to live the rest of the life in fear of this voice.
The silence was finally broken by sounds of footsteps. It was Lakshman, who had come to take him, to tell him that the stage was set to put Sita through fire. Lakshman’s voice seemed broken. Rama looked at grieved face, and starting questioning his intentions for following him all these years, Was Lakshman’s so pure a devotion or he too was letting himself be pulled around by the chains of so-called morality just as Rama was (Rama had to acknowledge to himself that Ravana was right about himself, maybe that is why Ravana’s voice had become silent)? Or, would Lakshman show same devotion if he knew the temptations his godly brother had been visited by?
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy it, you can rate it on its Goodreads page. You may find more of my fiction here, particularly my book, you can download it for free, and some of my reviews here, though most of my reviews are only on my Goodreads profile.
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan