Friday, August 31, 2012

Iravan Katha -II

Read Part one here

Ninth Night Of The Great Battle Of Kuru-kshetra (contd..)

Ignoring Arjuna’s trembling, Iravan continued, “I am Iravan, Son of the Naga princess Ulupi of southern frontiers of Himalayas and Son of the madhyama Pandava Arjuna!” An interesting choice of phrasing as though the boy knew who came first for him any day.

Arjuna stood bewildered, his eyes piercing into Iravan’s. The great warrior was for a moment perplexed, not knowing whether to contest the paternity claim or to simply accept the boy. He knew, Iravan was the sacrifice and Arjuna will not do anything to jeopardize the sacrifice. His brothers depended on him, his army counted on him. In a split second, Arjuna knew what he had to do. He hugged Iravan, burying the boy’s head into his chest and hesitantly murmured,”Son”

Iravan hugged him back with fervor, with a yearning repressed for long. Washing away the sorrow of having deprived of a parent from birth, Iravan cried,” Father O Father!”

The camp stood silent with respect as the father-son duo hugged and erased years of bereavement.

“Father, who will mourn for me when I die? Who will weep and wail in the sorrow of my death? I will be buried and will have no right to funeral offerings as I have no wife.” Iravan stated.

Iravan wanted a wife. By Lord Ram, how can one arrange for a bride in the middle of night? This is a war camp and not a village fair! More than that who will want to marry a man who has chosen to die? The girl would be choosing to be Iravan’s widow than being Iravan’s bride!

“I would not give my daughter!”

“One should be crazy to push a girl to widowhood!”

“The war has gone to their heads. That is what it is. How else can one justify this madness?”

The fathers bristled, brothers raged. Iravan will not marry one of their daughters or one of their sisters. No, there is no bride for Iravan in our homes.

As Arjuna sat hunched in despair, Krishna shimmered in to his tent. Krishna put his arms around Arjuna and said,” Sakhave, why this long face? Is it Iravan’s wish to marry that bothers his father?”

Arjuna remained silent, forcefully ignoring the jibe. Pulling Arjuna closer Krishna smiled,” Well, Sakhave, do not worry. As long as Partha has this Sarathi with him, how can his chariot of life go to dogs? Iravan will have a bride tonight.”

Arjuna looked at his bosom friend slightly irritated,” Krishna! It is not the time for the game of words you so enjoy. Which girl would want to marry Iravan?”

Smiling congenially, Krishna answered, “Mohini”

Arjuna straightened,” Mohini? Vishnu avatar Mohini? Mohini who caused the death of the demon Bhasmasura? “

“Take a breath, Sakhave. Yes, the very same Mohini.” Krishna replied as he walked out of the tent to transform into Mohini,the temptress.One of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu.

So there it was. An unusual wedding. Iravan and Mohini. Mohini and Iravan. A man destined to die and woman who is only a manifestation, a Maya.

Iravan was bathed in sandal and turmeric, adorned with jewels and new clothes. He looked very resplendent as a groom. His looming death seemed to accentuate his youth. The marriage was a simple ceremony. The young couple were carted off to a make shift bridal chamber decked with wild flowers at the far corner of the Pandava camp.
Iravan was shocked to see his wife. He had never laid his eyes on a woman so beautiful that he was sure that she would give the celestial nymphs a tough competition. Her large kohl lined black eyes, her red full lips curved into a coy smile, her luscious black hair, her dusky skin that smelt of champaka tree in bloom, her wide hips, and taut body like an archer’s bow. No, he had not seen any woman like this.

Iravan was wrought in despair. No, not for the destiny he chose for himself. Filled with sorrow for his young wife, Iravan asked, “Why O beautiful maiden? Why did you marry me? I will die at sunrise tomorrow and you will be a widow!”

Mohini replied in calm soothing words,” Veera, why worry about tomorrow when this night is ours? One cannot live in the fear of death. Death happens to everyone. Let us cherish what we have today and forget about what we might not have tomorrow!” 

With these words, Mohini and Iravan spent their nuptial night as man and wife.

Tenth Day Of The Great Battle Of Kuru-kshetra

At the dawn of the tenth day, Iravan was beheaded. The young warrior had walked to his death smiling. When the news reached Iran’s tent, a wail rose from its interior. A wail so loud, so desperate, so heart wrenching, it moistened the eyes of the entire camp. Mohini wiped away her sindoor, slashed her wrists whilst breaking her gold speckled red bangles. She threw away her jewels. Flowers that adorned her hair licked mud. Her red bridal silk gave way to white of widowhood. Mohini cried, shrieked, wept, and wailed for Iravan. Her eyes were bloodshot and voice hoarse from hours of grief. Her wails could still be heard as the conch shells heralded another day of war. No widow had ever cried for her dead husband as Mohini had for Iravan.

The sacrifice paid off. Bhishma fell at the hands of Shikhandi. Ha! The Kauravas did not have the great Pitamah to lead. Victory seems nearby.

In the evening, a relaxed Arjuna said,” He was a good warrior, that boy Iravan. Such a shame we had to sacrifice him.” Clapping Krishna on his back Arjuna added,”Claimed to be my son! Bah! Did us a lot of good! Ha! My son it seems…!” Remorse or guilt were not Arjuna's adornment that night.

Krishna did not utter a word.

Was it because Krishna was upset about Arjuna not mourning for his dead son Iravan? Was it because Krishna knew in two days Arjuna would mourn for his son Abhimanyu? Krishna alone knows.

Krishna walked alone that evening. The embers of Iravan’s funeral pyre were still glowing. Iravan died for his father, for the glory of his family, for the victory of dharma.

Krishna stood head bowed in reverence,” I mourn for thee, O Great Veera, I mourn for thee!”

Author’s Note: I have always been intrigued by Iravan and his selfless act even when his father does not recognize him. There are various versions of Iravan’s story and they are available on wiki. However, this version, Iravan Katha, belongs to me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Iravan Katha - I

Eighth Night Of The Great Battle Of Kuru-kshetra

The warrior stood, his long black hair flying around him, his body glowing in the golden light of dusk, his eyes placid with contentment. He looked down at the weapons that he had sharpened until they shone. The night was warm with a hint of breeze. He could overhear strands of conversation around him.

“Give it a day or two and Hastinapuri is ours”

“If you ask me, just one day, tomorrow, and Yuvraj Bhima  would mash the enemies’ heads like turnips”

There was laughing, merrymaking, and revelry for the imminent victory. There was hope and happiness about returning to one’s family.The war would soon be over, and things would be just fine. Talk of optimism in a war camp.

“Iravan!” a voice called out in the dark. The young warrior stepped forward and walked away from the congregation attracting attention to him.

Courtesy: Artist Namboothiri ,
Who is this handsome young boy? Whose son is he?”

“He is Iravan, son of the Naga princess Ulupi.”

“I meant who is his father?”

“He says he knows his mother who nurtured him in her womb for nine months, gave birth to him, bathed, and fed him. His mother taught him to swim like a fish and to run like a rabbit. She taught him how string a bow and to shoot an arrow. She did everything a father would do for his son and much more than that. He never mentions his father.”

“Looks like the father deserted the poor mother and the unborn child. I am sure of one thing ;he father is not a commoner. His father was definitely a noble.”

“True, Iravan has the eyes of a wise ruler, the body of a king and the gait of a monarch! And how he fights. Just like a kshatriya.Just like a Veera!”

Iravan’s friends unable to hide their pride added,” Do you know he has on his body all the 32 marks that are considered sacred?”

Murmurs of appreciation filled the air until the wizened old physician from Panchal croaked, “I know two other men with the 32 sacred marks in this camp.” He paused enjoying the pin drop silence his statement had elicited.

“The great Krishna of Dwaraka and the might warrior Arjuna of the Pandavas!”

Ninth Night Of The Great Battle Of Kuru-kshetra

Last night’s revelry is all but gone. It was Kauravas day on the field. Pitamah Bhishma turned out to be an astute general. He understood the dynamics of a war and the strategy for winning one. As long as Bhishma stood in his chariot, he was a formidable general and victory for Pandavas would be long cry.

Courtesy: Artist Namboothiri ,
The five brothers, Drupad, Dhrishtidyumna and other leading warriors sat around in Yudhishitira‘s tent and discussed the strategies for the next day. Whichever way they plotted they knew Pitamah was going to beat them at their own game. Vexed they turned to Krishna.

In his mellifluous voice, Krishna suggested, “Pray to Kali, the goddess of war. Pray for victory. Get her blessings with a sacrifice. A human sacrifice!”

One cannot sacrifice any human being to Goddess Kali. The person should be ideal. He should be a man with 32 sacred marks making him a worthy of the sacrifice.

Yudhishitira cried in horror,” No! We cannot sacrifice Arjuna or Krishna! It will be a disaster!”

The wise Sahadeva interjected,” Brother, We will lose this war otherwise. We do not have a choice but to sacrifice.”

Arguments were made back and forth. Words flew sharper than arrows. Between much shouting Arjuna volunteered to be sacrificed. This lead to another bout of hues and cries. The whole tent was reverberating with tension. Krishna alone remained calm and smiled at the obsession of humans with material world.

And then like a bolt of thunder in the middle of a calm night somebody dropped a message,” A warrior from Naga territory claims he was born with the 32 marks. He has volunteered for the sacrifice”

“Bring him in!” shouted a partially relieved Drupad. His son-in-law was safe.

Iravan glided in to the tent, his shoulders square and head held high, emerald eyes shining bright in the light of the oil lamps. He bowed to the elders in respect. A fleeting image passed through Arjuna’s mind. A picture obscured by the passage of time. The boy reminded him of someone. He had seen those placid eyes somewhere. Unable to recollect Arjuna brushed the thought away.

Arjuna got up from his seat and strode up to the young warrior. This young man had volunteered to die for him ;Arjuna the great. Iravan deserved his attention.

Standing face to face with Iravan, Arjuna placed his brawny arms on the firm square shoulders of Iravan and asked,
“Tell me O Veera, who are you?

Iravan lifted his face filled with pride and happiness and said;” I am your son, Iravan!”

(To be continued..)

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Twist Of Fate

The Old Man sat, prodding the timber into the fire, with a smile playing on his dry discolored lips. He was old and looked ancient with his tattered blanket and dirty turban. His wrinkled ebony colored skin glistened against the fire. He stroked his grey beard and looked at the children sitting around him in a rough semi-circle. Their eyes filled with excitement and fear. The excitement of being in a deserted cottage with an old man for company .The fear of the dark jungle around them and the creatures that lurked in them – ones that can be seen and more than that the ones that cannot be seen.

Courtesy:Google Images
The “children” as the old man thought were a group of youngsters who worked in the same office. They had planned a road trip to Coorg. The lovely little town of India nestled in the lap of hills where leaves glowed like emerald and Kaveri flowed with vigor. The coffee from Coorg kept the soldiers of the Empire awake during the cold of the First World War. A picturesque little town of orchards, coffee, nature and bliss.

Unfortunately, late into the afternoon, their jeep broke down in the middle of nowhere. They had walked through the jungle paths to the deserted cottage as the last light of the day gave way to dusk. Now they sat ,satiated by strong Coorg coffee and the reassurance of a warm bed for the night, hanging onto the words pouring out of the Old Man about this land and it’s legends.

The girl with lanky brown hair and lovely black eyes 
hiding behind the ugly black frame of a spectacle had asked the Old Man about his story. He smiled and said,” I was born here; behind this cottage in a one room lime-washed servant quarters. I grew up elsewhere. In many cities with many guardians. By the time I was seventeen I could speak eight languages and became a con man. Money from bluffing people and pick –pocketing was just enough to make ends meet. I was destined for bigger crimes. I had the face and body of a hero.” The Old Man paused for the children to finish sniggling,” I am old now. Nevertheless, those days I was a real Dharmendra. With my face and my glib tongue rolling in the multitude of languages I made the perfect assassin. I killed people.For money”
He smiled at the unanimous gasp that surged from the semi-circle around him and waited for the knowledge to sink in. He watched them, as they looked at each other, wary and puzzled.

“I killed for money. A name, a location, and a price. That was all that mattered to me. Along the way, the price became of no consequence. It was the killing. The fear in the eyes of my victim as death loomed in front of them and the sheer smell of blood. I worshipped death.” He stopped to prod the embers in to the fire.

“More Coffee anyone?” the Old Man asked lifting the kettle.” No” they shook their head;eager to listen to the rest of the story.
“Anyways, pride goes before the fall.Fortantely for the police, they caught me after the assassination of a local politician. There was no mercy and I did not ask for any. The court judged that I should be hanged to death.”

“And?” the children asked in unison.

“And? They carried out the sentence on 21st July 1984!” He simply stated.

There was a moment of silence followed by a scream so shrilly from one of the girls that the Old Man thought he would become deaf. He raised his head to see the children running away like a flock of birds and only the lanky brown haired girl remaining, her black eyes piercing into him.

The Old Man continued as if nothing happened” That morning just when the noose tightened around my neck, the entire podium along with me, rope and the executioner fell to ground. Loose planks somewhere I believe. You see Indian law does not allow one person to be hanged twice. Twist of fate!” The Old Man smiled at her.

She let out a breath of relief and collapsed to the ground. She laughed thinking about her scaredy-cat friends. She removed her spectacles, cleaned them, and perched them precariously on her nose,” May I have some more coffee”

Heavy pregnant silence met her. The Old Man, the kettle, and the bon fire were all gone. She was alone in front of the deserted cottage with only the unnatural disturbing silence of the night.


What the Old Man forgot to mention was that on 21st July 1984 when the podium collapsed the prisoner had died of a broken neck just as he would’ve if he had been hung. The executioner escaped with minor scrapes. What a cruel twist of fate!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Man In Technicolor

It was a mild winter evening. The temperature still in two digits with winds of no particular speed to talk about. Yet the night sky was dark. I sat in the porch of my new home. My rudimentary attempts at astronomy met with a resolute black silence from up above. An involuntary chill passed through as I remembered that home viewing last month. I zipped my jacket and hugged myself to stop the shivering that coursed through my body.

It all happened suddenly. The relocation and the hunt for a new home, we were at our wits end. Sometimes the hall was too small or the balcony too big. Others the rooms were dull or the kitchen too cluttered. I kept telling myself that there are no perfect houses. Still there was something in me that stopped me from compromising on my whims about a beautiful home. I had spent more than decade in cramped hostel rooms, shared accommodations, and dingy 1BHK’s. I did not find a need to reconcile myself to a deficit house. I wanted it all. Oh Dear! After all the living conditions I have been in, don’t you dare call me greedy!

The house hunting is the most effective way of knowing a city. There we were at the northern most part of the city at 11 am and at the south east by 12:15pm.We juggled between buses, trains and walking. In those days, I said heartfelt thanks to people who made Google maps and to the ones who made it available on the hand phones. The saga seemed non-ending. I knew the better half was reaching his breaking point. That was when we went to see this beautiful house. From the photos, it was breathtakingly fresh and bright. Kitchen had ample space. The balcony extended over the bedrooms that were in no means of moderate dimensions. As a cherry on the pie, there was a study facing a massive Victorian window .It came with glass topped table and chair. I could almost imagine myself sitting there and writing blogs.

I skipped hopped my way to the viewing. We were waiting for the house agent to let us when he came walking towards us. Caucasian male, 5’ 7 , striking blue eyes, graying hair, plump, well in to his retirement and in total of a pleasant demeanor. He smiled us and asked,” House viewing?” We nodded our heads in unison. He had a small conversation with my husband as I hung about in the background. On hearing about the rent he said,”Bahoot mehhangha hain!” with a typical white-man accent.

“Wow, you speak good Hindi for a non-Indian!” I exclaimed unable to hide my joy. He smiled,”Was in India in the 80’s.Bombay it was and then Nagpur for a while. Used to work there.Tamatar kitne ka hain? Aur yeah pyaaj? I still remember there were no color TV’s. Had a black and white one. Oh those were the days!” he recollected, “Good luck to you guys on home hunting! See you soon!” He smiled affectionately.
Copyright , Kristin Jack
We liked the house and were eager to do the necessary formalities. We were talking to the agent and walking out of the house when we saw a weathered flyer on the side of the lift. It piqued my curiosity. It ran as follows.
“Man Missing. Since Feb 27th 1999 5pm.” 
Along with the writing was a grainy black and white picture. And we had just seen the man in the picture in color, Technicolor !!!

P: S: Our apartment’s cleaner Allan is the inspiration. He had been in India of the 80’s and is quite chatty about those times.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coffee,Cookies And A Book

I have found the perfect pad. I am almost settled. There is the rush to fill the fridge with vegetables and cupboards with fresh spices. There is a passion for fresh smelling linen. I did find couple of Indian stores for my masala and dal. I will not call a city mine until I can make fresh Avial* and puttu-kadala. I am yet to get my hands on shredded coconut. My malayali-genes and their stubborn predilection to coconut based curries - the saga continues!

There is a missing internet connection and I hope to have that fixed by this week.

In a week or two, I will be back searching for a job here so that I can do guilt-free shopping.

There are cartons yet to be opened and stuff that beckon my attention. But I surrender to the charms of hot cuppa coffee, yummy cookies and as always a good book.

P: S: In Search of Sita : A lovely book I have read and re-read so many times.
P: P: S: These thumb drive internet connections drive me nuts. I am sorry I did not reply to the comment. It was rude.

*Avial: What? You don't now what Avial is? Hang your head down in shame! Now! Do some reading here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

From Down Under

I have been missing.But then I should have told you people that I would be going “Missing-In-Action” for some time.

The husband got a new job with better salary along with a displacement from country and continent. The discussion was over in 5 minutes .We tabulated his new salary against mine. His new career prospects against the prospects in my current job. I promptly quit my job and flew down to India for a vacation. I spent my days eating, sleeping, and doing things of no consequence to anybody. Gained 3 to 4 kilos to my body mass after which I banished the weighing scale from the household. The bloody thing now lies abandoned in under the bathroom sink of our old Singapore home!

I did apply to a business school in between and were royally rejected. The dejected me did not take to alcohol but spent a considerable time in the bathtub contemplating my past and future. I was in a timeless space of my own and was completely ignorant of the gushing shower. The husband promptly imagining the worst was banging on the bathroom door,” Darling, you are getting me worried here! Are you alright?” Sucked out from my world I managed to placate him from my floating position. I was very distraught but half an hour later, I mentally slapped myself for being such a child. Resilience of spirit, isn’t that what makes us Indians. Ah! The wounded tigress will be back in the B-school arena hoping for admissions once the wound-o-rejection is healed

In between all this, I moved to Perth, West Australia. My most precious possessions; books, Prestige and Hawkins pressure cookers, hindalium wok and Futura cookware, necessarily in that order, are enroute. I am in the midst of home hunting. The kitchens are the size of a hen-pen down here. Here they work only from 9-5.Superb.Wait, it included shopping malls as well! Sigh! The bonus of the city is the presence of my schoolmates and their little boy .I crash in to their place for a decent Indian meal and non-stop entertainment; courtesy their 18 month old son.

I miss Singapore badly. I had friends there who would wake up at 2am in the morning to attend my panic calls. I knew where to shop and they had a wonderful public transport system. And yes, buses and trains did arrive/depart on time. Worst I knew where I could get a decent drink and most of the happy hour deals. I guess in time I learn to love this city as well.

So this is Blue Lotus reporting from Down Under…