Stories from far and near

Rama’s anquish

Rama was looking at the direction of Ayodhya. Seated on a rock, near a stream, his eyes were moist. It was only a couple of days, after Bharat had announced that his father had passed away. Half-dozen scenes raced through his mind, scenes that featured the King of Ayodhya; as victor, ruler, avenger, warrior, husband, lover, father. A sparrow landed next to him distracting his thought stream. The sparrow looked at him, while making sharp head turns. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me,” Rama told himself.

He had spent many days by himself and Sita mindful of his need to be alone, allowed him to grieve. Sita was saddened by the look on Rama’s face, when he reached their dwelling. Rama’s body was bathed in perspiration from the long walk from the brook, as well as the heat of the late afternoon. He had been there for some hours. At the sight of Rama’s sweat-wreathed face, Lakshman began to untie his ang-vastra, but Sita waved him away. She gently used the corner of her saree to wipe the sweat off Rama’s chest and shoulders. When she had finished, she gave him water. He drank mechanically, but spilled some on his chest. After that he sat silently for a long time. His eyes were gazing at some distant horizon within the landscape of his memory, some place she could neither visit nor visualise. Sita waited patiently until she could take Rama’s silence no more.

“It’s time to move on Rama,” she said “it is several weeks now.”

Rama pulled himself from his deep thought, and looked at her with distant eyes.

He nodded in agreement, and moved slowly to sit near the steps next to the door. He seemed to grow more remote.

“I still remember how Bharat mentioned of my father’s last words.” “Rama I am sorry”. Sita was equally shaken when she had heard those words. She had hated her father-in-law for forcing them to the forest, over a promise he had given to his lover.

“My father had suffered from the pain of attachment, memory, and guilt”, he sighed and buried his face in his hands. “I have always been pained at leaving my mother for Kaikeyi ma, but he had always been a great father and a mentor. Sometimes it seems to me, that the only end of men is a sad and tragic end. Guilt, regret, resentment, pain…are these the only rewards that lie ahead of us?”

Sita had never seen Rama speak like this before. The words shocked and frightened her. “Of course not,” she said with more vehemence than she intended. “Well it is very sad and disturbing, what happened to your father. Are you not forgetting what he has got us into? For no fault of us? I strongly believe that life is a celebration and death is part of the journey. It is men who want a tomb-stone with their achievements written on it after death. We are happy, sad, afraid, elated and one day we die. Please don’t generalize Rama.”

“Yes, yes,” Rama said. “You are right, of course. I know these as well as you do. It just seems, so cruel. Must the Gods make us suffer even after we repent? Is there no forgiveness, no heed paid to good intentions?”

“You know there is Rama. You have yourself said it many times. Why do you speak so morosely today? Why do you lose hope all of a sudden?” she was concerned.

He looked up to her, “my faith is not shaken, Sita. I miss him and the times that I have been around him. His affection, care and love for me and everyone whom he cared. I only speak these thoughts aloud to help me understand the way of things. Sometimes the minds of Gods are difficult to fathom. I am only a man. Forgive me if I falter from time to time or show a moment of weakness.”

She caressed his arm. “There is nothing to forgive my love. I can truly empathise with your grief. Whatever has happened to us, he might have been careless, but he would have never desired even in his wildest dreams. You are now going through an emotional upheaval Rama, but please share it with me. You will definitely feel better. I never doubt that you will find your way to your rightful place, Rama.”

He smiled and kissed her hand. “With you beside me, even in my darkest hour, your presence lights up my world.”

That evening, they sat quietly, comfortable in one another’s silence. The sounds of the jungle began to vary with the passing of every day.

“Rama?”

“Yes, my love?”

“I wish to have children.”

“We will definitely have them.”

“I wish to have them as soon as possible.”

“Very well, my jaan.”

“But not here, not in the jungle. I want our children to be born in Ayodhya, in the comfort they deserve.”

“It shall be as you say.”

“They shall be princes. Or princesses. I do not mind either. Do you?”

“They are our children and I will love them dearly.”

“And someday, we shall tell them of years in the forest.”

“We should.”

“And whatever happens, we shall never let them suffer the same fate. Our children will never be exiled like us, live like hermits, searching for food, battling demons and wearing torn cloths.”

Rama was silent.

“Promise me, Rama.”

“Promise me that our children will never be exiled as we were.”

He looked at her surprised, “do you think I would let that ever happen?”

She averted his eyes. “No. But even your father never dreamt of sending his much loved son to the forest. Yet he did so of a promise that he had made to Kaikeyi.”

He smiled. “Do I have to be worried about what promises that I should be making later after this? I hear that the princess of Nagas is a beauty and the King wants me to marry her.” He laughed with a roar.

“If you ever dare to even contemplate such a thing, I would put her eyes out and you will have to do with a blind second wife.” She ignored his laughter. “I want you to promise me that you will never do anything that will subject our children to our fate.”

He controlled his laughter with some difficulty. “So be it.”

“Say it!”

“I promise.”

“What do you promise?”

“That I will not banish my own children to the forest or would subject them to any hardship or suffering. Or you happy now?”

“No matter what?”

“No matter what.”

She kissed him on his cheek and sighed in relief. He wrapped her around him, while both of them looked at the dark bluish sky, eagerly waiting for the dawn.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

Draupadi

All of twenty and four years into marriage, Draupadi has had three husbands and two children already. Arjun had skipped the order and Nakhula, had to take his place. Arjun had forced himself into exile in the forest, and has had three dalliances, two marriages, that included, Subhadra, sister of Krishna. Arjun, was her husband now, based on an agreement between the brothers as advised by Sage Narada.

“If he never loved me, why did he have to win me in the swayamwar? He has always kept me at a distance. I still can’t forget that night, when he unilaterally banished himself into the forest, because he accidently entered the bedroom when I was with Yud, Maybe he never loved me. It was a clever ploy to run away from me. Am I that horrible? Now he is pretending to be concentrating in a game of archery with Bheem, and avoiding me. Bheem is nowhere close to his prowess”, Draupadi ruminated.

“How I so wish he smiles and catch my eye? I am struggling hard to avoid Bheem’s stares. He is a darling, but very rustic and crude”, she continued, depressingly.

Draupadi lay back, resting on a tree, gently caressing a long lock of her hair, and watched Arjun and Bheem bowed to each other.

“Are the babies’ things packed for the travel?” reminded Kunti.

“Yes Amma, I have taken care,” she replied. She did not relax the laziness of her posture or stop looking at the men.

“Anyways I got to get things sorted out, back in the kitchen. The maid always forgets to grind shikakai with hibiscus, for Arjun’s oil bath tomorrow. Well, I only have a hold on the maids. No one listens to me anymore.” Kunti sulked, as she walked back into her private quarters.

She had been noticing a sudden change in Kunti, from a mother who held her sons on a tight leash, to a graying old lady, loathing with self-pity. Her hair had whitened quite a lot and the change had been very sudden. She also noticed a change in herself, her attitude towards Kunti and other elders, or for that matter her multiple husbands. She started respecting herself, but that did not mean she stopped respecting others. She was increasingly getting tired of pleasing every one and seemed to get things done better in this state of increased self-confidence. And indeed, what did it matter if these people thought any less of her.

“What are you thinking?” she quickly turned her head to check who was talking to her.

“Sorry to have scared you, didn’t mean to interrupt your solitude”, Sahadev took a rough patch and sat a feet next to her.

“No you did not. I was just thinking if Amma was suddenly looking older. I have been having that feeling for some time now. Have you noticed it?” she wondered.

Sahadev smiled in return and paused, “time flies isn’t it? Hasn’t it been four years since you came?”

“Yeah, in the fourth year”, she paused and thought of Arjun. “Next year I would be staying with you.”

Sahadev smirked at the thought.

Draupadi was irritated at his body language, “what, don’t tell me you don’t like me?” visibly angry.

“No, no I was not being rude,” Sahadev was quick. He was aware that Draupadi was prone to short temper. “I was only wondering how this rotation arrangement has been for you?”

“Finally, someone did ask my opinion. Congratulations Sahadev!” she clapped her hands in a manner of being contempt.

“Well, jokes apart, I have started enjoying and making the most of it,” she laughed out loud looking at the horrific expression on Sahadev’s face. “Now don’t look shocked, otherwise I would have to pretend that I was shocked too, and it doesn’t suit me. Well, life has thrown a challenge. I could either embrace it or be frustrated. Being depressed and mopping over what did not happen, doesn’t suit me.”

Sahadeva paused as if he was trying to say something very difficult. Draupadi turned towards the fighting men who were now working up a fine sweat trying to displace each other.

“Bravo, my Lord, bravo! You are the best warrior to fight using the gada (maze)”, she was addressing Arjun, and that left Bheem amused and Arjun confused.

“Draupadi”, started Sahadev, “I distinctly remember the day when you stepped into the hut at Ekachakra with Krishna after the swayamwar, before Amma unmindful of what had happened, asked us to share among us equally, as if you were some kind of eatable. You were brimming with happiness, pride, spunk and youthful spirit. Much had changed after, which we believed, you concurred and was happy. But for all your talk of enjoyment, I can sense that you are unhappy. I know that you are angry with Krishna for getting Arjun married to Subhadra. And now you are talking like this. This kind of cynicism doesn’t suit you”.

Draupadi took a deep breath and paused. She was looking at the grass with her eyebrows raised. “What would you want me to do Sahadev? But let me warn you, that I am increasingly getting tired of people who advise me.” She looked at him, “didn’t mean to be rude. The friend, whom I most trust, Krishna, knowing me so well, has done this to me. As if I don’t exist anymore. You brothers will make your choices, even including who would sleep with me for the year, and I have to obey, as if I had nothing to do with the act,” she paused.

“Krishna was the one person I thought who would look out for my happiness, but that is not true. It looks like the only person who has to be responsible for my happiness, is myself – not you, Krishna, Yud, Bheem, my brother or Arjun,” tears rolled down as she tried to compose herself. “I am neither cynical nor bitter. I am just trying to be realistic”.

“But I want you to be happy Draupadi” said Sahadev.

“Sahadev, you expect me to be happy! What have you or your brothers done, to understand, what I really wanted? How do you expect me to be happy?” she was agitated. “My marriage with you all, was just for convenience. All my father cares is defeating Drona, his arch-rival. Now that he has not one, but five sons-in-law to do his bidding. I hear that he is a happy, happy man. His daughter, of course, is the pawn traded in the process. To preserve unity between all of you, I had to marry not one man, but five.”

“I have two children now. While all of you have other wives and colourfull affairs, I try being happy with what I have.”

Sahadev remained silent.

Draupadhi looked at the men silently.

“Look at the way Bheem threw Arjun on the ground”, she roared in laughter.

Draupadi relaxed again and smiled, “so tell me something?” she paused.

“Go on Panchali”, insisted Sahadev.

“Have you ever thought of me, when I was with your brothers?” she smiled coyly.

“No,” Sahadev was firm, “I don’t think I am sufficiently in love with you, yet.”

“Well let me see what we can do about that next year,” Draupadi giggled.

Before Sahadeva could respond, Bheem let out a huge roar as Arjuna again, fell to the ground panting.

“Are you hurt honey?” Draupadi rushed to Arjun’s rescue with towels and water, while Sahadev smiled, seemingly aware of the events that were about to unfold.


This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

The Prince’s Bride

“It’s time, my love,” Aabha was lazily lying on a rounded white satin bed. Inder, was the perfect lover a woman could ask for. It has been couple of months, since they had found each other. Living, up in the clouds was new to her. A fairy tale, like the story that her poor father had narrated, when she was a child. Inder was a large hearted person with a hard loud core. She laid there on the soft shifting bed, stroking his hair, imagining how her life would have played out, if she had stayed, down under.

It was May, and the Sun played havoc on the lives of people, who depended on rains. Raju was a poor farmer, who lived with his beautiful daughter. Her mother died giving birth to her. She was his only refuge in his otherwise lonely and morbid life. He grew Bajra (Millet) in his small farm, passed down from his father. Rain gods have been miserly, for several years. Raju would endure any hardship, to ensure a comfortable life, for his daughter. She was his pride and grew up to be the desire, of every eligible bachelor in the village. “I will give my daughter only to a prince!”, and dismissed every potential suitor. The women folk of the village were worried, that his daughter would die alone unmarried, due to the Ostrich-like attitude of Raju.

Inder opened his eyes and smiled at Aabha. “What’s the rush sweetheart?” he whispered in a base voice, but was so loud, that her brow furrowed in concentration. “The south westerners would be fast approaching any time and would you not like to make the maximum exploits?” she smiled at him wickedly. “You have become more mischievous, and had never imagined you to be such a tiger. I still can visualize the day when the cold northerners of the storm clan were raiding your lands and you stood there unmoved, looking directly into me. I knew you were special, but still imagined you to be docile.” Before he could complete, she jumped at him, “don’t you dare think of controlling me? You cannot live ever without me.” Inder pulled her closer and kissed passionately on her lips, that shut her up. She smiled coyly, looking away from him.

Raju believed in miracles, for that was his only resort now. He spoke to a local prohit (priest) to organize a special ritual to invoke the blessings of the Big God, with hopes that a prince would marry his daughter. His daughter would laugh at him, whenever he mentioned about his plans. But she loved him immensely and would never dismiss his beliefs. The day of the ritual came; the prohit started a large fire and chanted mantras from ancient texts. Raju spent a large sum from his savings for the ritual, much against the wishes of his daughter. The prohit froze, all of a sudden, motionless. Raju was worried, if that was a bad sign. Prohit had a premonition. He warned Raju that destiny was a mixed bag and that he should take happiness along with the pains that followed.

Inder, noticed that the south westerners were arriving faster than usual. The sun had torched the earth for several weeks now, that they were carrying a large measure of the colourless liquid riches, for the nourishment of life below. It was time to keep their promise. Aabha was waiting for this moment for several weeks. The world around them was getting darker. The smooth, cool, white mass made of very small drops of precious liquid, also called water, was becoming grey and dark at a rapid pace. They heard people shouting from below, “Monsoons have come, rains on the way, all praise to the Gods”. People, animals small and big, sang and rejoiced. Inder eagerly waited for the right moment.

The village elders, warned Raju of a storm fast approaching. “Could it be this day?” The prohit had warned him the other day. The prohit had narrated, “it would be the day when the winds would wreck havoc in your fields, don’t lose heart.” Raju waited with bated breath. His daughter felt that something mysterious was about to happen. She was not afraid. The clouds had darkened the sky and shut the sun completely. The villagers were worried. His daughter was suddenly drawn to the middle of his farm, and the clouds were closing in. She could see a dark tall outline approaching her. She was a spirited lady and was holding ground in spite of the winds. A streak of white light descended on her in wiggly lightening streaks. She fainted in fear. The tall dark outline was approaching faster and more definite.

Raju ran towards her fallen daughter, and Inder, pierced through the winds making a thunderous roar. She woke up as Aabha and streaked through the sky with a bolt of light and Inder roared again in thunder. Raju was ecstatic. He was not afraid of losing his Queen of lightening to the Lord of Thunder.

Inder found his Aabha again, to chase, to dance, and to love.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

Wrath of Ahalya

“I have come here to see Ram.” Senapathi was shocked at the audacity of this young lady. Before he could react, “It is important and urgent, and I would like to meet him in private.” She was definitely not a threat, but no one has ever dared to call the King of Ayodhya by his name. Senapathi was of a wise age, but was not known to be impulsive or short tempered.

She was a beautiful lady and he was specially struck by her glowing skin. “What is your name lady, and where are you from?” asked senapathi.

“My name is Ahalya, daughter of Bramma and I am from the hermitage of Sage Gautama,” she was firm, to the point of being rude. This was no ordinary woman. Women have composed songs, in praise of her virtues. He sent word to Rama, about her arrival.

Rama came up to the door to welcome Ahalya. He was not a stickler to the customs of Kings, when it came to people he loved. “Welcome Ahalyaji. It is an honour to have you among us,” Rama welcomed her with a beaming smile. Ahalya touched his feet as pranams, but smiled at him customarily. She had the greatest regard for him, for he resurrected her from the curse of Sage Gautama. She looked deeply disturbed today.

After they sat down, Ahalya began, “Lord Rama, I am very troubled about what you have done to ma Sita. I learn that you have banished Sita devi to the forest? Why did you do that Lord?” Her eyes were red of crying continuously.

Rama, already missing his Sita, was deeply pained at being reminded of the tragic loss. “It was a very unfortunate loss, and a painful decision for me to make. But I had to do it, for the sake of dharma.”

“I am very disappointed at your decision, my majesty. I could not eat or sleep on hearing the news, and I plead that you to reconsider your decision”. She held her ground.

“Ahalya, I am able to relate to your pain. I am extremely pained as Rama the husband and lover of Sita, but I am now the King of the Suryavansha dynasty. I had to take that decision for protecting the laws of Manu and for being the role-model that a king should be. I am no ordinary husband of a woman,” Rama had the slow baritone voice, which would convince even the hardest critic.

“Lord, what about your dharma as a husband? What about your commitment to her? You have vowed before Agni, that you will take care of her, at all times, in happiness and sadness. You will have complete faith in her and would consult her in every action of yours. Have you forgotten?”

“Ways of men always surprised me. Why are you men so selfish when it comes to women? Your work, pride, dharma and everything else, takes precedence before us? Did you ask her side of the story, before you banished her to the forest?”

“Exactly the same way, Sage Gautama made me a stone. This news brought back all the tragic memories of the terrible day, when Indra preyed on me. Why was I reduced to a stone for no fault of mine? How easy is it, for you men, to pass judgments on us?” she was livid. Her fair skin had become dark bluish-grey.

Rama remained silent, but actively listened to her.

“I will tell you something that Maharishi Viswamitra did not mention, the day you resurrected me,” she continued. “I was entrusted to Sage Gautama by my creator Bramma. He sincerely and wholeheartedly fulfilled his wishes. He was both my father and guru. He was a mother too, for I learnt to distinguish between affection and love. But he should have stopped it there. He didn’t. He married me. Even if Bramma gave me as his bride, why did he take the offer? Did both Bramma and the Sage ask me, just like the way you never consulted Sita devi, but judged against her, not once, but twice?”

“Someone who was like his child became his wife. Did I have a say in this matter? Never!” she paused briefly.

“Why do you men, lose all your senses, when it comes to women? You men don’t care a hay for your wives. The butcher made the eater happy. The eater made the butcher happy. But where did the lamb disappear? The poor lamb has lost its identity. From lovely lamb to meat, from mutton to food, from delectable dish to feaces and from foul-smelling feaces to earth again”, she was furious.

“So what right does he have to curse me, when he did, what he did to me?”

“If banishing Sita devi, was about upholding dharma, how is it that your father had ten thousands wives? What happened to the laws of Manu then?”

Rama showed displeasure, when she referred to his father, but allowed to vent her anger.

“Without sounding ungrateful, I was so happy, locked inside the stone, for I had no man lusting me, no man judging me, no man banishing me, and no man to rescue me”.

“Rama, you have lost your wife, Sita devi. She is beyond the petty morals of mortals. Like me, I am sure she does not consider living in the forest any hard, but she would have been shattered, when you broke her heart, and her trust in you”.

“You might be the mightiest of kings, and world might praise you as the upholder of dharma and virtue, but you have lost the respect of a woman, who loved you, and you alone”, she got up.

“Rama let me tell you something, I have not shared with anyone. When kama Indra was making love to me in the guise of my husband, for a moment, I realized that it was no Sage Gautama. But I was so consumed in the pleasure that I gave in. Yes I was guilty to that extent”, she paused, “but Rama, your Sita, did not even raise her head to see the mighty handsome Ravana. How can you give her up so easily?”

“Rama, I came here to plead for mercy and request that you reverse your decision, but in hindsight, destiny was right. You could have not got a better punishment than this, for abandoning your wife. You will always be lonely Rama, and the guilt will eat you till the seas part”, she left the room without waiting for his response.

Rama stayed in his throne, while his disturbed eyes searched for his Sita.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

Lonely man

“Who will marry you, Kuttyappa?” these were the last words that his mother said to him, before her last breath.

“No lady will marry me. I don’t have a personality. I am fat, poor. I will die alone”, Kuttyappan cried. He was on his bullock cart, carrying firewood and returning home. It was two in the morning. It was January and the visibility was very poor, even on a full moon day. His only friends were the oxen. He cried his heart out with the animals and he believed that they listened, without judging him. Parvathy and her parents, who lived, near his house, threw him out, because he asked her hand in marriage. “Am I that bad looking, that even a girl, whom, no man wants in the village, doesn’t like me?” he wept.

The dirt track curved through a forest with thick vegetation, on both the sides. The bells tied to the necks of the cattle, gave tune and rhythm to his sob song. They were brisk and seemed to tap dance to the song. Kuttyappan was a simpleton. He worked all day and saved his hard earned moneys for his marriage and future. “I am not going to cry anymore. I will marry the most beautiful girl. God, never gives-up on good people”, he consoled himself.

Suddenly, he saw a beautiful woman by the side of the road, crying. He stopped the cart, went over to her, and asked what the matter was. The woman kept on weeping, without giving a reply. After he persisted, she finally told him that she has been going somewhere and had lost her way. When it became dark, she did not know what to do.

“Why don’t you come with me to my house?” he felt sorry for her. She hesitated, but she was left with a Hobson’s choice. She decided to get on to the cart and go to his house. She remained silent all through the ride. Kuttyappan, who was generally chatty, felt it was appropriate to stay quiet.

When they reached home, it was dawn already, and the red bright ball was rising to the rooster’s tune.

“Can I take a bath? I feel very sweaty”, she wondered and found her way to the bath area near the well, before he could respond. Kuttyappan decided to stay inside the house to provide her some privacy. He was tired, ‘cause of the journey, but was very confused at the happenings. She entered the house with only a towel wrapped around. She smiled at him, paused and quickly went inside. “Wow, she is so beautiful”, he said to himself. “There are some saris, which were worn by my mother in the top shelf. You can use them”, and smiled.

“My name is Madhavi”, she took charge of the kitchen and was busy preparing puttu for breakfast. “You are a gentleman and thank you so much for helping me. Please, could I stay here today?” he nodded without saying a word, but was also worried, about how his neighbours might react.

The breakfast was very delicious and soon he left for the market in the neighbouring town, to buy some tools. The incidents of the previous night, left him with more questions, but he was very excited at the sudden change of fortunes.

It was evening when he reached the house, and could hear some voices from inside the house. Madhavi was chatting with some neighbours. They were laughing at her jokes. They seemed comfortable with her. He walked slowly inside, and the ladies got up, bid goodbyes, as if they knew her all their lives. The old mischievous lady winked at him, and the others had a sheepish smile, as they left the house. “Your neighbours are very friendly. I took the liberty of introducing myself. Hope it is okey with you?” she looked at him with her eyebrows raised, like a V. He just smiled and proceeded inside.

Kuttyappan freshened up and found the towel and new clothes ready. Dinner was ready and she was waiting to serve. He had been alone for sometime after the death of his mother and was pleasantly surprised and worried at the same time. “I do not want to go back to my home. I am alone and do not have anyone for me”, she starting crying. “I really like you. Will you marry me? I will take care of all your needs”.

Kuttyappan was very startled at what he had heard. For the first time in his life, a woman, a beautiful one has told him that she likes him, leave alone marrying him. He liked her too. Actually, he was smitten the moment he laid his eyes on her. He was ecstatic, but showed a little restraint. “Yes”, he ducked his head in embarrassment, “I love you too”. Both their eyes met and smiled together.

Kuttyappan and Madhavi got married within a month, and they were the most popular couple in the village. He held his head high when he walked with her, and the women folk were fraught with jealousy. After a couple of years, they had a child.

One night as Kuttyappan was eating his dinner, he decided that it needed more salt. He asked Madhavi to get some. The salt container was kept high on a shelf, and as he watched her reach for it, he was horrified to see her fingers grow longer and longer. He trembled with fear. Once she grasped the salt pot, her fingers returned to normal. Madhavi turned around and saw her husband shivering with fright. “You are a yakshi (ghost), aren’t you? he was terrified. Though she was worried that he had finally discovered her true self, she smiled at him.

“Yes I am a yakshi, but I am surprised, that it took so many years for you to discover,” she was candid. “Perhaps your love for me has reduced and now you have started to look at only my blemishes”.

“Why did you not tell me this, the first day we met?” he was angry and afraid at the same time.

“Form and source did not matter to you then, and you did not ask me where I was from. You were smitten by me. You longed for my body, every available moment. Love blindfolded your eyes”, she was composed. “I loved you too, with all my heart and body, but worried, that you might discover my true self some day and would banish me”.

“Do you know something? Today is the first day, you had asked for salt in your food. I had never put salt ever in the past so many years. Maybe you have become bored of me now. Maybe you have started looking for newer pastures.”

“I love you darling. Please don’t be afraid of me. Please don’t send me away”, she was on her knees now.

“You have lived a lie all these years, wretched yakshi. You deserve no mercy. I do not want to live in fear of death or that you might endanger the life of my child”, he was furious now.

“Have you forgotten all the innumerous days that I have taken care, every minute of your day and night? Why are you so selfish? If I have not harmed you in all these years, why is my form suddenly worrisome? I love you darling. Please don’t send me out,” she cried profusely.

Kuttyappan in a fit of rage and anger held her hair, dragged her outside the house and bolted the door from behind. It was midnight now.

He secured his child next to him in the bed, and put off the lamps.

“Please don’t leave me alone. I am afraid of darkness. I am afraid of the night”. He heard her cry all night. His anger would not subside, but he slept after sometime.

“Madhavi!” he woke up suddenly. It was dawn. He was sweating profusely. His child next to him was missing. “Oh my god, what have I done. Madhavi!” he opened the door with a bang.

There was no Madhavi. He wept and repeatedly banged his forehead against the door. He was lonely again.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

Love story

“Maaji, you should be careful, while walking on the street”, Tilottama lifted a visually challenged old lady and made her sit on the pavement. “Please, move away, let her get some air. Didi, can you hold her head, while I make some cure for her dehydration”, she requested a middle aged woman, and was quick on her feet. She ran into a house nearby, found some little saunth (dry ginger), gently crushed it in a large glass of butter milk, gave a beaming happy smile to the hosts and ran back to the old lady. “Maaji, have this. It would give you strength. Don’t go out in the hot sun,” she gently ordered and the granny nodded in agreement.

Tilottama, true to her name, was a very beautiful girl. She was very popular in her village, not just for her beauty, but also for her good deeds. All of eighteen, she was the daughter of a proud, wealthy landlord. Tilottama’s mother had passed away, giving birth to her. He was a self-made man and had brought her up single-handedly. He was extremely protective and possessive of her. Tilottama, though irritated at his constant interference in her choices, was very attached to him. She always consulted him in all her decisions. His only worry at the moment was about finding a suitor for her.

Besides taking care of all the house-hold work, she also taught small children in a nearby patashala (school). “Hope the monsoons come soon, I am wilting away in the heat”, she sulked and prepared to walk to the river for washing clothes and taking bath. The Shala tree next to the river was in full bloom and looked more majestic and happier than usual. Tilottama, washed her clothes and took bath. She liked lazy, long baths and loved to sing. The branches of the tree swayed as she sang. “Am I imagining? The tree is swaying very unusually”, and continued her song. She held the flower from the tree, in her hands, and sang, while twisting and turning her head.

All of a sudden, she was pushed violently into the water. She lost her balance and took a while to regain ground. Before she could understand who pushed her, a wild pig was near the place that she was sitting and a well-built man was dodging the wild one. “Did he push me into the river? Was he trying to save me? Who is he? What nerve?” she thought to herself. The pig was suddenly distracted by a loud fire cracker from a nearby temple, and ran opposite direction.

“Did you push me?” she was angry. Samaran was smiling at her. That infuriated her more and she came charging towards him. In the bargain, she stumbled and was about to fall. He was just in time to catch her. Her garment tore and she was embarrassed.

“I am sorry to have startled you, but there was no time. The wild pig would have attacked you.” His calmness comforted her. She could not take her eyes of him. “I really enjoyed your song”, he said it with a cheeky smile.

Samaran was indeed very handsome. His broad shoulders, suited his tall frame. He was wearing a dhothi, as worn by Brahmins, but he was not wearing the traditional thread.

“Who are you? What is your name?” quickly changing her smitten face.

“My name is Samaran, and I live nearby”, he said it with an air of confidence, with his hands folded. “There is a hut nearby. You could change your dress there, if you please”.

Tilottama could not way walk to her home with a torn garment. She was very confused about the whole incident and asked, “Again, what just happen here?”

Samaran laughed out loud and silently explained to her what had happened. Everything had moved like a lightening. She accepted his request and changed into a spare garment that she had washed previously. The hut was less than few yards from the tree. She was still consumed by the suddenness of everything. She walked back home, completely smitten by him.

That night, after serving dinner to her dad, she retired early. She could not sleep. The incidents of the evening went through like a dream. “Oh my god! I did not thank him for the help.” she felt bad. She had to find him and thank him for the help. Well, that would provide her a chance to meet him again. She smiled, covering her face.

The next morning, she hurriedly finished the household work. Her father was quick to notice the nervousness and anxiety in her actions, but did not ask her. “Papa, I am going out with friends to buy materials for the school. I will be later for lunch. The maid would serve you lunch”, she lied. Before her father could reply, she was at her feet.

Tilottama, went to the same spot near the river and surveyed the area, but could not find him. She suddenly remembered that young men normally assembled and chatted near the market area. He was not there either. She was disappointed. “Maybe I should ask Partho chacha. He knows everything”. Partho was an elderly person who had lived long enough to know every person in the village. He also ran a shop in the market area.

“Chacha, do you know of any young person named Samaran?” she asked him with a straight face, hiding her excitement. Partho was a wise man. “I have not heard of any Samaran dear, but I hear butterflies flapping their wings” and he laughed out loud. She smiled in embarrassment but was disappointed. After several rounds of asking, she was frustrated and returned home. “Maybe he had gone out of the village, for some urgent matters”, she consoled herself.

That evening after having dinner with her father, she retired to her room. It was a full moon day and the moon had lit up the village. To her astonishment, Samaran was at her window. He was smiling and signed at her to come out. Tilottama was ecstatic, but still had to show restraint.

“I came to return the garment that you had left in the hut”, he spoke while standing erect with a firm posture, bright and beaming with a smile. “Thank you Samaran. I am sorry, I did not even thank you for the timely help”, she was apologetic. She invited him to his room and quickly checked if her father was awake. Both of them sat on her bed, and after initial awkwardness, they discussed, laughed, smiled, and listened to each other. Both of them were smitten of each other. It was early morning, and Samaran stood up to leave. She wished, if he would stay longer. He kissed on her forehead and bid goodbye.

Her father had heard voices, the night earlier, but was too tired to venture out and investigate. Tilottama was on seventh heaven all day. After sending her father for work, she quickly ran to the Shala tree to find him. She noticed that the tree swayed unnaturally. She was disappointed at not being able to see him.

Exactly after dinner, Samaran was near her window, bright and handsome. She was so excited at meeting him again, that she hugged him tight, while tears rolled down her cheeks. Samaran wiped the tears and comforted her. After sharing many special nothings, they made love. She was ecstatic.

Tilottama decided that she would tie a belt around his waist, so that she could spot him, next day. Her father had definitely heard voices from her daughter bedroom, and was waiting at the window to see, who was visiting her daughter. Samaran kissed her and bid good bye. Her father was very worried, but was very pained to ask her dear daughter.

During breakfast, he noticed a pink hue in Tilottama’s cheeks. She looked happy. He wished that she would share, what was happening in her life. She was too embarrassed and felt that it was too early to discuss. She had more urgent matters to finish that day. She had to meet him in the day. She rushed to the same spot and was aghast to discover that the belt was tied to the trunk. She was confused. And she began to worry, if she was making any mistake.

She was confident that he would come again that night. Samaran did arrive. “How is it that I don’t see you during the day? And why is it, that no one knows you in the village?” Tilotama confronted him. Samaran calmly replied, “I live near the river that you visit every day. I blossom and give comfort to all travelers, but petty minded people forget me soon”. She was confused, but did not pursue further. The next morning before he parted, she put an indigo-dyed shawl around his shoulders.

Her father was determined to pursue him and investigate the truth. Samaran walked with poise with a swift pace. He went past the market and the landlord pursued him relentlessly. When he reached the river, he suddenly vanished. To the landlord’s surprise, he found the shawl hanging in the branches of the tree. He was now confident that the man who was visiting his daughter was a spirit and not a human being. He was very sad that if her daughter discovered this, she would be shattered. He panicked. He decided to ask the advice of Partho.

After hearing the story Partho replied, “we should cut the tree and free the spirit, otherwise it would come and disturb Tilottama again”.

“I can’t make her live in a fool’s paradise. She would be heart-broken, if she knew that the man she loved was actually a ghost”, he was very sad.

Partho and the landlord called the villagers together and asked their help in cutting down the tree. The men cut and cut, but the tree would not fall.

In the mean while, Tilottama was alerted about the tree felling through her friend. She still had not known that Samaran was a ghost, holding up in the Shala tree. She panicked and decided to witness what was happening. She quickly ran towards the river. She hid herself inside the hut, near the river.

The men led by her father kept cutting the tree, but to their surprise the tree wouldn’t fall.

Tilottama, was watching the action through a hole. Suddenly, she felt something was not right. Her heart was beginning to feel heavy and started panting. The tree was starting to sway unusually again. She felt as if it was reaching out to her. Her father and the men gave the final blow and a chip from the tree flew directly towards the hut. The flying wooden chip entered the hole and struck her in the eye. It moved with such speed that it damaged her brain and Tilottama fell instantly.

At the same moment she fell on the floor; the tree also fell with a huge crash.

Tilottama and Samaran were truly meant to be together. Love did conquer.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

Heaven

“I have no desires in my life. Wish Mahadeva grants Moksha and shows me the way to heaven” said an old sanyasi to the middle aged lady, who was giving away the leftovers of the day. “Don’t you have some lime pickle to spare? Afternoon food becomes a little sour, a pickle does help in such situations”, grinned the old man with his entire teeth exposed. She does not answer but stares at him, and walks back inside her home.

He was a tall man in a slim frame. In his mid sixties, he was a nomad, wandering village after village, searching for food and paying occasional visits to the local Shiva temples. He was a staunch shaivite with utmost contempt for the worshippers of the sleeping god.

He truly believed that if he gave up every desire, he would truly reach heaven. Every time he stole a beedi from the local fruit seller, he would remind himself that all true Shiva bhaktas smoked, and it was admissible for people who had given up all desires. He gave up his dhothi, after visiting Benares and wears only a komanam (loincloth) now. Saves him the time to wash and dry.

It was a hot evening and the sanyasi bumbled across, wandering the streets, offering free advice to whoever gave him food or some copper coins. He was tired, sweaty and dusty. The summer has been very hard last couple of weeks. He took bath, only couple of days in a week, mostly because the process helped him cool off the heat. He found himself closer to the dirt track that led to a small tributary of a river. He remembered to have come to this village for the float festival, a couple of years back. The cool breeze from the water body and coconut trees reminded him of his younger days. He always wanted to be famous, but never worked hard at anything.

Sanyasi did not know how to swim. He found a spot closer to the peepal tree that had its roots inside the river. This gave him room to put his feet inside water. The water was cool and soothing. It was a full moon day and the moon’s reflection on the river glittered like a silver plate. “My father used to eat on a silver plate” he sighed, “I do not know if he is still alive”. He sat there quietly, with reminiscences of his childhood.

It was getting really dark and he decided to get in to the water. The water was colder than before. The current was slightly stronger. Without attracting much attention, he scrubbed himself with some coconut coir that he had picked up on the way. He quickly scanned the neighbourhood, if he could see any women.

“It’s been a couple of days that I took bath, leave alone washing my only possession”, he spoke to himself. He went further inside, till the water reached his chest, scanned the surrounding one more time and carefully removed and rinsed it. His eyes still surveyed, if any child or lady quickly came his way.

“Help help!” the old man screamed, a green water snake swam through the tide in long twisting curves. In all the commotion, he lost his balance and fell back in to the river. He struggled to find ground and caught the root of the Peepal tree to stabilise himself. He huffed and puffed spitting water that he had drunk. When he gained control he quickly realized that his komanam was no more in his hands.

He was very disturbed that he had lost his only possession. “Now how do I get out of this river? What if some women saw me like this? The villagers would tie-me up and stone me to death for being indecent?” worried the sanyasi. He thought if he stayed for a little while, a passerby might help with some cloth, to cover himself.

It was more than an hour and he could not spot even a dog. Mustering up courage, he decided to walk along the bank using the cover of darkness. The old man decided that if he found a way to spend the night, he would request the first man he meets and save himself from more embarrassment. He decided to take a walk along the dirt track and slowly to the middle of the village. The villagers had retired already, with only a lonely dog barking in fear.

“Wish I had been born a dog, least I would not have to worry about a silly komanam”, he sighed.

He had walked towards the end of habitation and he could hear the sounds of horses and the smells of dung. He decided to peep in. It was a stable with two horses, and it was quite spacious. Sanyasi was happy that he found a place to crash for the night.

He found a heap of grass to lie down. Just as he was ready to close his eyes, he heard a faint snore. “Do horses snore?” he wondered. There was a young man maybe nineteen or twenty sleeping, unmindful of his dhothi lying a foot away from him. He could hear more sounds. This time there was some rhythm and jingle. The sound bells grew louder.

“Is it a woman? Oh Mahadeva! What do I do now?” sanyasi was petrified at the predicament.

He quickly hid behind the wall just the size to cover up to his waist. But he ducked in, so that he wouldn’t be visible.

“Are you sleeping, lazy bum?” the lady came dangerously close to the young man, who was sleeping with no clothes. The lady was very beautiful and had a glow, only found among women from the princely class. She had brought some sweets made in ghee. The smell of cardamom, saffron and ghee traveled close to the old man, who became more curious as to what was transpiring.

“Hey, wake up! Wake up you lazy fool! I had escaped the guards to see you and spend some time”, the lady was disappointed now. After a bit of prodding and nudging, the young man woke up.

“Would you like to get moksha and go to heaven sweetheart?” asked the beautiful lady.

“Moksha and heaven?” old man was very curious now. “I have been waiting all my life”.

Sanyasi lifted his head to peep at what was happening. Maybe they had a secret key to heaven.

“Are you able to see heaven?” She asked him again. “Yes I can see,” replied the young man.

The old man was very angry. “I had given up all desires, just for the going to heaven, but these young people seem to see heaven?” Sanyasi was disappointed and had to know more.

“Did you enjoy heaven?” now she asked with a coy smile.

“Wow, what an experience!” replied the man.

Sanyasi couldn’t stand it anymore. He got up and found that they were dressed like him. He wondered, “If they could find heaven, why is it that I could not find it?”

“Hey there, where is heaven? How did you find it?” he asked the couple loudly.

“You will not be able to find it old man!” he said it with a laugh and the lady joined him.

Sanyasi was astounded.

Poor old man, he has still not understood desires, leave alone renouncing them.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

Sitayana

“What’s so wrong about loving someone passionately? Would noble men and Rama himself, judge me differently, if I was fair, beautiful like Sita and not a rakshasi?” Surpanaka cried profusely. The rakshasi who coveted Rama and attempted to kill Sita once, and had been savagely repulsed by Rama and brutally mutilated by Lakshman, and who was instrumental in waging the war against them, to seek her revenge.

It was all over. Ravana was dead and Rama lived happily with Sita in Ayodhya. Surpanaka was a woman depressed with the pain of unrequited love.

“If I can’t have Rama, then Sita shall not have him too. War and violence is not an option anymore, but deceit?” For death alone would stop Surpanaka.

Surpanaka shape-shifted as a cat, and was peeping into Rama’s private chambers, from the branches of a tall Arjuna tree. Her cat eyes penetrated even the pitch darkness of the night. She could not find him. She remembered Rama’s handsome muscular features. At this nostalgic moment, Sita walked into the chambers combing her lustrous long hair. “Sita is an epitome of beauty, no doubt, but she can never match me, in the pleasures that a woman can give a man”. Surpanaka was teething in anger and greed. She wanted to confront Sita and warn that her happy days are counted, but resisted venturing into Sita’s quarters.

Next day, a hermit wished to meet Sita. Surpanaka had disguised herself as the hermit. Ayodhyans always revered hermits and gurus. Sita was surprised, why a hermit wanted to meet. After the customary welcomes and prayers, Sita inquired the reason for his visit.

“Devi, could you paint the picture of Ravana?” Sita did not feel comfortable at the request. “I have never set my eyes on the demon ever. All I have seen is his feet”, said Sita. “Then can you paint his feet” insisted the hermit. It was considered discourteous to ask why. Sita paints Ravana’s big toe and gives it to the hermit. The hermit leaves after thanking her.

Surpanaka was happy at the success of her mission. She completes the rest of the painting herself; strong ankles, thighs, waist, broad chest, shoulders, hands and the head. It was the painting of a handsome tall dark muscular warrior that Ravana was. She takes the completed picture to Bramma and pleads that he gives life to the picture, so that she could see her dead brother alive again. Bramma was pained at her request. Ravana was an earnest Shiva bhakta when he was alive and makes him come alive in the picture.

It was noon and Sita was having a pleasant conversation with Urmila and other sisters. Surpanaka appeared before her out of nowhere. Sita shuddered at the sight of Surpanaka in her room. It reminded her, of the cruel times from the past.

“I am not here to harm you, but wanted to remind you of a life, that could have been, if you had chosen Ravana over Rama”, said Surpanaka.

Sita was surprisingly very calm and did not raise any alarm. To the contrary she felt deep sympathy for her. Sita closed her eyes to pray Mata Devi. Sita wished that peace fall upon Surpanaka, so that she forgets her pain and anger. When she opened her eyes, Surpanaka had vanished, but there was a picture floating in the air. It was the same picture of Ravana that Bramma had brought to life.

Sita was very unsettled with the sudden turn of events. Ravana’s picture starts pulling Sita. She gets very perturbed. Urmila and all the maids, try to get the picture off Sita. They decide to start a fire and destroy the picture. Urmila throws the picture into the fire. The paper and the painting stay intact. “Let us throw this wretched thing into the old well”, exclaimed one sister. The picture flew back immediately, only to get stuck with Sita. Sita was desperate. She chants ‘Rama’ japa and surprisingly, that subdues the picture. Everyone has a breath of relief.

All of a sudden, Rama walks into the chambers. Everyone decide, to not make much of what happened and retire to their rooms. “Sithe!” Rama always addressed her that way, when he longed and missed her. Rama had just returned from an official visit to Videha. Rama and Sita had become closer after the war. They missed each other’s presence, a lot more than before. Love liberated Sita from her worries and depression that she had suffered in Lanka. However Rama became more possessive and protective. Sita liked this side of Rama too. “I am going to leave you one day”, she would tease him. Rama would seal her lips and assured her that he would never allow that to happen. After great persuasion, he confessed to her, that he thought of committing suicide that day, when he stood powerless, when Ravana took her away.

Today was an extraordinary day. Things had suddenly unfolded and Sita did not have the time to inform the elders. She quickly hides the subdued picture under the bed. Rama affectionately approaches Sita and embraces her. He unties her blouse and tries to make love. Sita remains distracted and does not reciprocate. Rama does not understand but leads her to the bed. When both of them sit on the bed, the picture below the mattress kicks Rama out of the bed. Rama is on the ground and is very unsettled. Sita couldn’t get a grasp of what happened. Rama is angered and he wonders why Sita had kicked him out of the bed. He regains his composure and decides to approach Sita and his eyes land on the picture of Ravana lying on the bed.

“Sita, what do you have to say for this? So the dhobis, did speak the truth? You did have an affair with Ravana and you have chosen to keep this picture in his memory. Women are twisted and unreliable”, Rama was delirious.

She had not seen Rama consumed with anger, like that, ever before. She froze hearing his accusations.

Hearing the screaming, Urmila, Kausalya and other women rushed to her chambers. Urmila pleaded to Rama about what had happened. Rama was possessed by anger and he was unwilling to listen to their reasoning and justifications.

“Sita will be banished to the forest for this action”, Rama makes this statement and leaves for the Royal court.

Sita was still unwilling to explain or speak her mind. She had completely withdrawn. Sita was still coming to terms with what was happening to her. Her Rama doubted her again, when she was pregnant. “How could he doubt me?” this thought was continuously ringing in her mind.

Urmila, Mandavi and Srtakirti, all the wives of Rama’s brothers go to the court to defend Sita’s case. “You think that Sita is in love with Ravana. All of us are in love with him, so send us all to the forest. He was a rakshasha, no doubt, but he never laid his finger on Sita, when he had all the powers to do so. He was evil, but he never questioned the integrity of his loved ones. By questioning Sita, you have shown the impurity of your heart to the world. Be warned, that generations to come will remember and discredit you for this action. Just because we are women, did you think you could pass any rules against us, without any objection?” Urmila was furious.

Rama remained silent and while he was coming to realize the gravity of his decision, Sita relinquishes all her clothes, jewellery and was on her way to the forest.

He had lost her.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

No strings attached

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“You are really stupid and have no culture”, Rani Kunjamma was furious. Raja Kodachayan was wringing his hands with a very troubled face. He knew his wife had a bad temper, but today, she had hit the roof. Raja’s ancestors once controlled over 1000 villages and administered under the Tanjore Nayaks. The rule had crumbled after Raja Kodachayan took over. After 50 years of rule, rather misrule, he controlled less than 18 villages. He was short, stout and with a big paunch. He had absolutely no interest in governance or even the vices of kings. He loved to eat, sleep and play kabbadi with the stable boys. It was Rani Kunjamma who was holding the fort, last couple of years.

Earlier, Rani had invited some pundits, poets and musicians to be state guests for the Tamil New Year celebrations. She believed that their chants, music and poetry would change the kingdom’s misfortunes. However our Raja had other plans. He along with little boys tied chameleons to their kudumi (tuft of hair) while they were sleeping. The learned men were so frightened and angry after the incident that they vowed, never to return to their land.

Raja, his eccentricities aside, still loved and respected his wife immensely; but, he had to find a way to win her trust and make her believe that he was cultured and artsy. He summoned his minister for counsel. “Let us call a famous musician to perform at the sabha, and you would enjoy his music, comment wisely and award him gifts. Rani would then realize that you’ve become cultured”, he ended it with a wicked smile. “I do not know anything about music?” Raja intervened.

“I have a plan. I will find a learned music critic, who would sit behind your throne. A string would be attached to your ‘kudumi’. He would pull the string every time the singer needs to be appreciated. And that’s your cue”. Raja knew that this was a devious plan, but he was used to being puppet.

On the day of the concert, the sabha hall was decorated with flowers, lamps and designer curtains, specially organized by the minister from faraway lands. Rani has always been a champion of the arts, so she hid her differences and agreed to attend. She had also invited her friends from other kingdoms. “I am hoping, you and your king are not playing some funny tricks?” Minister shook his head sideways, while his eyes slowly wandered behind the throne.

The singer was a very famous person and had a large fan following. He brought with him a large entourage of musicians. The minister had to pay a hefty sum to make him agree. The critic was brought from Mysore so that no one would recognize him. He was a short and lean middle-aged man, just the right size to hide behind the throne. The critic gave Raja a list of expressions that he could use, when he pulled the string. The minister made sure all the arrangements were in order. Rani Kunjamma and her friends were seated in a way that they would not be able spot the critic.

After the opening remarks and salutations, Raja raised his hand to signal, that the concert may begin. The singer had a quick chat with his musicians to check the order of songs. Sooner the tampura player began, Raja exclaimed, “Besh besh”. The critic had tightened the string and Raja mistook that as his cue. The singer was confused at the sudden and unexpected appreciation.

“Ninnu kori…”, singer was off to a flying start. There was pin-drop silence in the ‘sabha’. At the right moment the critic pulled the string and Raja was quick with his response, “ada ada”, while swaying his right hand. Everyone in the audience was surprised and delighted at the sudden change in Raja’s demeanor.

Rani Kunjamma, was a little circumspect initially, however felt happy that her husband had changed for the best.

The singer was at his best, and the minister was increasingly becoming confident that his mission would be successful.

After the initial ‘kritis’, the singer started his main piece, ‘Sri Kamalamba’ in Sahana Raaga with gusto. The critic pulled the string, at right intervals and Raja was acting to the script, with the right expressions, hand swaying and head shakes.

The singer was very excited at the response from the Raja that he decided to indulge a bit during the ‘Alaap’. He waited for Raja’s “besh besh” and “ada ada” during various points, but surprisingly Raja remained still and quiet. He grew worried, if he had done anything inauspicious that would have upset the Raja.

In the mean time, the critic was still tightening and pulling the string at the best parts and was also surprised at the lack of response. The minister who seated himself at a strategic location so that he could monitor the critic and Raja was now confident that something had gone wrong.

Raja Kodachayan though looked confident and composed all while, was now shivering. He was getting impatient and worried if the mission would succeed. He was determined to win her acceptance.

Suddenly a honey bee entered the sabha hall and went buzzing around the ears of the council of ministers, the princesses and then came on to the Raja. Raja quickly caught the bee in his right hand. He has always been good at catching insects, lizards and chameleons. A skill, he had learnt from the stable boys. Unmindful of the concert and the sudden excitement of having caught the bee, he stood up to show his capture to the audience. At this moment both the minister and the critic realized that the string had been cut.

The singer still continued singing with a confused expression on his face.

Raja regained his stance and realized that the string had been cut-off. He was afraid that Rani would think of him as culture-less because he had not appreciated the singer for over half hour now. “Vidvan stop stop.” Everyone including the singer was shaken up, as to what has come about.

“Minister why don’t you tie the string again, so that the man behind can continue pulling and I can appreciate?”

While the minister was embarrassed, and Rani was teething with anger, our beloved Raja Kodachayyan was merry looking at the bee through his fingers.

Some people just don’t grow up.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Stories from far and near

A story can change your life!

spotlight

Along the banks of the Tungabadra river, lived Abuddhi and his wife Saraswathi. Abuddhi who worked as a farm labourer, was a simpleton with no ambition or enthusiasm. He loved eating and sleeping. Saraswathi, was educated, cultured and a teacher in the local school. She was quite the opposite in many ways.

Saraswathi tried hard to teach him culture, etiquette, and seriousness in life, but all her efforts bore no results.

During Ramanavami in the month of March, a famous pundit was visiting their village to perform the recital of the great epic Ramayana every night. He was a learned man and a master story teller. People would listen to his recital, which included storytelling, singing and dancing, with rapt attention all night. Last Ramanavami, he was sick and could not make it. People of the village grew sad and worried if some curse would come upon them. The village had been brimming with festivities this time, that the Pundit was performing at their village and thanked Lord Rama for breaking the jinx.

Saraswathi truly believed that her husband would benefit from attending the performance, and become useful. She nudged, cajoled, nagged, and forced him to go and listen. He grumbled as usual but decided to humour her. So he went for the recital scheduled in the evening and sat at the back. It was an all night performance but he could not stay awake. He slept through the recital. Early in the morning, when a canto had completed, the pundit ended the closing verses for the day and sweets were distributed to all devotees. Abuddhi, unmindful of all the proceedings, was still snoring. A volunteer stuffed Abuddhi’s open mouth with sweets. He woke up soon after and went home. His wife welcomed him with much delight. She was eager to know how the recital went and how he had felt. Abuddhi said, “it was very sweet”. Saraswathi was very happy to hear.

It took lot more effort to persuade him to go back to the recital the second evening. After much grumbling, he finally went. The pundit was exceptional that evening and even pilgrims from other villages were deeply moved and totally involved. A lot more people meant, he could not find room to lie down and had to sit up all night. A granny, who had brought her grandson, placed the kid on Abuddhi’s shoulder, because she could not find room. That did not deter him and he slept with his mouth wide open like the earlier evening. When the story of the night had come to an end, everyone got up and so did Abuddhi. The boy on his shoulders had left earlier but Abuddhi felt aches and pains, from the weight he had borne all night. When he reached home, his wife was eager to know how it was and he said, “it got heavier and heavier by morning”. She said, “that’s how the story is but pay attention to all details.” She was happy that her husband was finally beginning to feel the emotions and sentiments of the great epic.

On the third evening he felt more sleepy, located a corner quickly and continued sleeping with louder snores. Early in the morning after everyone had left, a dog came that way and pissed into his mouth. The sudden jet of luke warm water woke him up and he ambled home. When Saraswathi inquired about the earlier night’s performance he drew a confused expression and said, “terrible and very salty” wiping his mouth. Saraswathi, now confident that something was not right confronted him. He relented and admitted to have slept all nights. It made her very disappointed and sad.

Saraswathi decided to take matters into her hands. She went along  that evening and made him sit at the front row and warned him sternly. The story teller was at his best that evening. His recital made people cry when Sita was abducted by Ravana. Very soon Abuddhi got enraptured in the characters, events and emotions. He listened with rapture to the narration much to the delight of his wife. The story teller went on to recite how Hanuman had taken the big leap from the mountain towards Lanka, carrying Rama’s signet ring to Sita. “When Hanuman was leaping across the ocean, the ring slipped from his hand and fell into the ocean. Hanuman did not know what to do. He was worried, frustrated and stayed motionless, wringing his hands.” Abuddhi who was listening to the story with rapt attention was so moved by Hanuman’s predicament that he jumped and yelled, “Hanuman, I will get it for you.” Then he jumped dived into the ocean found the ring in the ocean floor, brought it back and gave it to Hanuman.

Everyone including Saraswathi were astonished. They thought he had become a special person by the blessings of Rama and Hanuman. Abuddhi became Buddhiman. Ever since, he was respected in the village as a wise man and behaved like one.

This story is part of the series titled, “Stories from far and near” that includes adaptations from Indian folktales, classical poetry and mythology. Copyright © 2012 Sriram V. Ayer. This story may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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