At your own peril…

Vikram wandered the corridors of the fort unattended. He was already bored of the constant droning of their guide and had decided to move on from the group. He already regretted coming to this small obsecure fort. All he had constantly heard was a long list of local kings who had uneventfully succeeded each other. No battles, no glory, no conquests. Especially no lascivious accounts of lecherous rulers who abducted princesses or subjugated maids in the palace. Ofcourse he would never voice his fascination for such tales loudly, but the gloomy corridors and dimly lit passages of this fort were giving wings to his most inner desires.

He imagined how in a different era he would have chased Nikita in these corridors, and forced her to do his bidding. She was to blame ofcourse. He had only tried to kiss her, as was his right as her boyfriend. Weren’t couples who were committed to each other supposed to indulge in frolicking. She had slapped him in midst of the party in front of everyone. She was apparently disgusted, that he did not take her consent and assumed she was ok with it. ‘Consent’ was such an abused word these days he scowled. Had she not already given her consent, when they agreed to be a couple three weeks ago. The slap still stung, and more than the slap was the humiliation. He would have to teach her a lesson.
‘STOP’ echoed a voice behind him, “Go no further”. Vikram engrossed in his musings, had not being paying attention. His wanderings had brought him to another one of these dimly lit corridors, except this one had reddish hues to it, as if lot of blood had spiller into the soft lighting. His morbid imagination was already at play.
The voice was closer this time. “You are stepping on hallowed ground. Go no further. Men are not allowed beyond this point”. Vikram turned. The voice was of a sprightly old woman of his grandmother’s age. His interest was mildly piqued. He asked haughtily “Why aren’t men allowed further? What part of the fort am I in”.
The woman squinted at him. “This corridor leads to the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Devi” she put it simply. “Males cannot proceed beyond this point”. Vikram was irritated. “You are repeating yourself budhia. I asked why?”.
“This was not always so. The temple was open to all till 300 years ago. But it was defiled in the 500 years ago in the 17th century. The crown prince, fell in love with a local courtesan. He wooed her, but she did not feel the same for him. She explained that she did not desire him. The prince could not stomach this rejection and he chased her through the fort even as she pleaded him to let her be. The courtesan finally, took refuge in this temple assuming that the sanctity of the place would shame the prince into not following through with his plan of forcing himself on her. But to no avail. The prince raped her in the Sanctum itself right below the altar of the goddess Durga, ignoring the pleas and sobs of the courtesan. Having satisfied his lust, he hung her by the temple bell, as an example to other women who refused his advances.
It is said that the Murti of the Devi shed tears of blood that night, and it does so every night since then. The prince died the next day in tremendous agony. The story goes that he had gone hunting tigers in the forest. When he did not return, his companions abandoned the hunt and began a search for him. He was found sprawled on the forest floor, his gut torn apart by a tiger, eyes gouged and the tounge bitten off by a crow. Since then all men who entered the temple, died the next day under mysterious circumstances. So it has been our family’s obligation to warn wandering males if and when they reach this part of the fort”
“Old wives tales don’t scare me budhia. If it were so dangerous, the management would have blocked this place up. A simple minded old woman would not be there to warn people”
The woman gave a toothy grin,” to believe or not what I said is up to you. Enter at your own peril”. Vikram brushed her aside and entered the corridor. The silence seemed to deepen as he went further. He could see an arch in the distance. It was pitch black ad if it seemed to drink up all the surrounding light.
He entered the arch, and into the Sanctum proper. He could see it was round in shape and in the centre was the altar. It was sufficiently eerie to even make him look around his shoulders for a while. It was when he paid attention to the Devi’s Murti, that his attention was truly arrested. Hadn’t the hag said that the Murti was of goddess Durga. On closer inspection, he realised it was, but in a very twisted way. The color of the skin had turned pitch black. The eyes were red and there were definitely carved markings of tears on the cheeks.
The red saree seemed as if bathed in colour of blood. Even the tiger’s mouth was shown chewing on red meat, with blood dripping down its chin. The trishul was not pointed upwards as was the customary position, but pointed straight at the visitors once they entered the statue’s presence. It was blood red in colour. Interestingly the place of Mahisasur at her feet was empty. The Devi was neither Kali nor the benign Gowri, nor was she the warrior Durga. She was something that Vikarm had never seen.
He was truly intrigued by the story and now the quite different statue of the goddess. An interesting day, finally he thought. A splendid story and a gruesome ending. Ofcourse it was embellished, but quite a tale. Maybe he would bring Nikita, here in some pretext and they would have a nice roleplay of the prince and the courtesan. Ofcourse he had no intention of forcing himself on her, but a slight dose of fear would do good and make her toe the line.
He returned through the passage. The woman was no where to be found. He did not give it a second thought. He rapidly descended the fort and reached the town. He began to search for an auto, to take him to the station. As he waited for one to approach, he leaned on the lighting pole for support.
“Zap” the electricity hissed, even as Vikram’s back arched and a soundless scream escaped his mouth. The locals rushed to push him away from the pole, but the damage was already done. Vikram suffered an untold amount of agony. His eyes had burst due to the electric discharge and he had bitten his tongue in half in the aftermath of the pain. His skin off his extrmeties was already peeling off. The locals rushed him to the hospital, where doctors managed to save his life. But it would be a life which would be worse than death.
Far away in the sanctum of the Devi, the bells tolled, the tears of blood again flowed, but these were of happines not of sorrow of old. A daughter had been saved today. A thin smile carved itself on the Devi’s otherwise frozen face. She had learnt to adapt to the newer times, slowly but surely. The old woman outside the sanctum heard the tolling of the bells and her voice cackled ” may the Devi’s will be done. Tathastu” even as she remembered the prince who had brutally raped and murdered her ancestor from an era gone by.

Who’s the beggar?

Day 1:
She unpacked the wrapped packet and checked the contents inside. Two Indian breads, a bowl worth of lentil soup, a preparation of cottage cheese in tomato gravy and papadam. She settled on the hard floor of the cobbled streets, contemplating which portion to devour first. Even as her stomach groaned, she was immediately aware of a pair of eyes eyeing the food with acute interest. She was annoyed, that a hard earned meal would have to be fought over. She picked up a rough stone and threw it in the direction of those eyes. The stone hit its mark, and the being scampered away.

Day 2:
Today was flattened rice breads, sour soup and indian pickle. She had just lifted the first morsel to her lips, when those damned eyes showed up around the corner. This time she was prepared and hurled the stone even as the eyes made their silent approach. The result satisfied her as the being again backed off. But in her hurry she had toppled her meal. This night the stomach sang it’s woeful tune for a long time.

Day 3:
She felt as if the 33 million gods were conspiring against her peace of mind. Not only was today’s meal a meagre one of plain rice and bland lentil soup, those eyes had crept much closer. She could smell the sour odour of sweat and hear the incessant panting.
Out of exasperation, she placed a portion of her food on ground for partaking. The being hobbled forward, eyeing her suspiciously even as it gobbled up the food in a hurry.

Day 25:
The two most unlikely beings on this earth had formed a weird routine. She would set aside some of her meal, the being would finish it in a flash and slink away a short distance eyeing her as she would finish her own food.
She wondered silently what had made her to share the precious food. Somewhere she had accepted that the way she got her food through all the hard labour of the day, the being too was going through hardships of its own. She reasoned to herself that in her own small way she was alleviating it’s sorrows.

Day 45:
Winters in Delhi were cruel, and staying warm was a bigger priority. The food was obviously crucial, but so was getting a blanket. Even as she was wondering where she could spend the night without dying of cold, the being slowly came up to her with a tattered blanket.
She wondered where it had stolen it from, but more than that she believed she saw gratitude and loyalty in those staring eyes. Maybe her incessant shivering yesterday night had given it a cue as to what ailed her. She marvelled at the intelligence of the being. She gave a tiny smile and tossed a piece of bread to it, which was dinner for the night and sat down on the side walk.

Day 55:
Today was exceptionally cold. The blanket was hardly any protection. Even as she thought so, she felt the being’s body settle down next to her. She hugged it tightly even as both of them shared the body heat to survive on the dark, cold wintry night.

Day 66:
She was very happy today. She had laboriously managed to gather a large meal for both of them. It was a feast. The nights too were becoming more bearable as they both shared the blankets under a shamiana of a million stars.
She was experiencing a sense of calmness after a long long time, not since her own children had thrown her out into the streets 5 years ago. The pleasure of having something to share with someone and feel wanted.
She turned into her usual street. Happily she began to cross the lane towards the corner that she had begun to call home. A Landrover rammed into her and tossed her away like a ragged doll. The hotel food that she had scavenged was scattered all around her, mixing with her blood and viscera. The land rover sped away.

Day 80:
The being paced up and down the corner. The human had never failed to appear at night since the day it had approached it. Now it had been 14 days since she had left him. It could not fathom why. Humans were different it said to itself. It had stolen a new quilt for her knowing that her teeth still chattered on some very cold nights.
Maybe it should tell her that he was waiting for her, and that she should hurry. It arched it’s back and howled into the night, so that she could hear him loud and clear. It settled silently next to her spot awaiting her return. Dogs across streets heard it’s fervent plea, and too howled into the night as if to pass on its message to the lost companion.
However amidst the cacophony of human noise, only the shining stars in the night heard it.

Obituary:
On the night of 31st December, 2018 an old woman was overrun by a black landrover. The deceased was identified as Lakshmi Devi the widow of late Mr. Harkishandas Khattar, the gold baron. Disputes over the patriarch’s will had left Lakshmi Devi destitute. The sons allege that their mother had left the home of her own will. Her whereabouts for last couple of years were not known. The sons have begun funeral preparations, & have vowed to build in her name a shelter for abandoned people & animals. The case continues.

Will he , won’t he!

Aniruddh continued musing even as he stepped out of the restaurant onto one of the cobbled by lanes of Jaipur. He was besotted with her. He felt that he had finally found someone who actually understood him, at a time when he had given up all hope.

She had a rich laugh that still rang in his ears. He still remembered how she loved his latest podcast on the forts of Rajasthan. For someone who did not understand Indian history much, she had surprisingly remembered key details of the podcast. She was eagerly waiting for the next one, wherein he was going to expound on the secrets of the Jantar Mantar. She had in the passing asked him not to give up on his passion. After all you had food bloggers, fashion bloggers and then there was this niche stream of history aficionados who were trying to make it to the mainstream of blogging for Indian history. He was one of them.

He trailed along, slowly reflecting on his own twisted past. His had been a failed life of a brilliant engineer who had accomplished all expected professional milestones with distinction. He had worked tirelessly for nearly 6 years in some of the most prestigious firms, in pursuit of money (as money for him equated to happiness) then. Money had helped him afford fast cars and luxury stays in fancy resorts. His wardrobe then was bursting at seams with Rohit Bal rubbing shoulders with Armani. There was an entire wall with an enviable collection of perfumes, right from the exotic fragrances of middle east to the classy Issey Miyake and Perry Ellis. After all he believed that women liked men who lived the high flying life. At least that’s what Dan Bilzerian had taught him.

But still he had been unlucky in love. Women were attracted to him, but later he realized that it was not him but his pseudo rich alter ego to which they were attracted to. He was unable to have meaningful conversations with them, and always the relationships would fizzle out even before he could feel his heart flutter.

He realized that he did not love himself, so how would any woman come to love him. They were far more intelligent then men ever could be, as far as matters of heart were concerned. So two years ago he sold all that he had, and dived into his passion which was history, and so began his journey as a history blogger.

He began crossing the busy main street while still reminiscing over the last two months. They had been magical. He had finally found Anna in his life. She liked him for who he was. He really felt that this time the relationship was for keeps. It would be a very special woman who would actually compliment someone who called history blogging as a caree——

WHAM…the bus hit him at his pelvis throwing him some 20 yards away and he crashed into a brick wall, shattering his spine and cracking his skull. His gut had spilled out on to the road even as he lost complete consciousness. His last thoughts had been of him and Anna…

The sirens blared, as Aniruddh was taken to the nearest hospital that could treat trauma cases. Doctors wheeled him in and checked his vital stats. He was declared brought dead.

Annirudh himself hovered inches above his body, in his metaphysical state. He was mildly piqued by the entire sequence of things. Death had always fascinated him, especially what would happen to a person after death. But to actually go through the process, and to realize that he still retained a sense of his past memories, in a way disappointed him. Death was not the final frontier after all.

The doctors came in again. They could feel a very faint pulse, and began to revive him in earnest. He had half the mind to ask them to stop. What was he to do with a broken body in a world where anything less than an Adonis body was body shamed and a specially-able person was still treated with pity.

The pain solwly returned to his consciousness, as the doctor’s labor bore fruit. He struggled hard. There was no point to this exercise. He did not wish to live the life of an invalid, especially when he had finally found true happiness, just before it was so cruelly taken away from him.

But the pain would not go away, and Aniruddh could not keep his eyes closed any longer. He took a long gasp and opened his eyes. A dream. No a nightmare. He could not decide which. It was 6 in the morning and his entire bed was in a disarray, as if he had really lived each and every moment of his dream.

His mobile pinged. His manager was asking him to send an update on yesterday’s site visits before he resumed office.

He ignored it. In the drafts, he saw the email wherein he had half typed his resignation. He only needed to click on send and that would be it. In the back of his mind he wondered if he was a bigger invalid than the broken Aniruddh of his dreams.

His thumb hovered on the send button, even as the sun rays streamed through the windows of his penthouse.

Free Fall

He stood on the ledge looking down. He had taken months to come to this decision. All his actions off late had led to this particular moment.

He took a deep breath. While he had made up his mind a long time ago, there was always a huge difference between imagining yourself doing something and actually doing it — especially if it meant hurling yourself off into a 300 foot gorge.

The clouds swirled around him. He had lied at home that he was off with his friends to a luxury resort. They would never have anyways understood his motives he thought.

He gave a wry smile even as the thought crossed his mind. Delaying the inevitable he told himself. He looked down once more into the gorge and steeled himself for the deed. He took a few steps back. Nay, he was not developing cold feet. He did not want his nerves and the interfering mind to stop him from doing what was must. So he took a running start and flung himself off into the chasm.

Free fall. He screamed even as random pieces of his life raced in front of his glazed eyes. Those late nights on the Marine drive musing about nothingness even as he tried to make sense of his life. The graduation party that his parents had thrown for him even as he had wondered why had he graduated as an engineer. Her beautiful face, even as she had bid a tearful goodbye saying that it could never have worked out between them. The kind old lady who had given him lift even as his car had broken down on Nashik Mumbai highway. His proud brother who would admonish him in private, but always back him in public.

Rohan wondered how long this was to continue. He felt as if he were falling for hours, and these random thoughts seemed to never end. But he was wrong.

The elastic cord first stretched and then recoiled, even as it broke his free fall. Even as his feet touched solid ground, he had already concluded that bungee jumping was not as exciting as he had imagined. Maybe he would have to go higher and try next time sky diving to give him an adrenaline rush. Normal pursuits of life had long since lost their charm for him…