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

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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