Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013, First Prize Deesha Kriplani

Jinxed Light

Grahanam. The black night. The night when strange shadows seemed to play hide and seek and the slightest sounds seemed haunting. It was a night when winds whispered and sights darkened. The world seemed unfathomable, heartless and eerie.

As a starless night descended upon Aghoripur, Samnu ran across the barren land of the forests. A stray thorn caught his heel and he flinched in pain, but didn’t stop running. He had to reach the ghat before they caught him.

He didn’t know who these attackers following him were. Was it the gang of dacoits who had robbed the nearby village? Or was it the aghoris looking for a sacrifice? Or was it the pack of wolves that were rumored to be at outskirts of the village? All he could hear was the gigantic footfalls of his pursuers eating away at the distance stealthily fast, crushing dry tree leaves and branches in the way.
It was a part of the forest no one frequented out of fear of predators. He shouldn't have wandered so far away in search of wood, he thought. That too on the dreadful night of Grahanam. It was the night when the entire village of Aghoripur fasted and chanted mantras to ward off bad karma. It was also rumoured that aghoris, the tribe which lent the village its name, made human and animal sacrifices and later performed strange rituals on the dead corpses. It was also believed that, they preferred human sacrifices on such "special" nights. He didn't have time to waste on such fearful thoughts either, especially when he guessed he had lost his way too. His heart was thudding frantically in his chest as he ran to save his life and he was covered in sweat. His throat was parched and he longed for a drink of water but knew he had to wait till next morning when he could break the fast. As the footfalls neared, he smelled fear. His fear. Mingled with the faint fragrance of the wild flowers and shrubs of the forest, they only added to his urgency. He turned out the small lit branch he was carrying in the dirt and was about to change the course of his way; when he saw a sliver of silver light.

It came from a rock less than fifteen feet away. Following a strange instinct he rushed towards it.  In the darkness, all he could gauge was a blurred silhouette. On peering closer, he could see the faint carvings of a masculine figure carved in stone with one hand raised heavenwards and a huge tunnel of a striking silver light emanating from what seemed to be the centre of his chest. Before he could look at the figure's face, he heard the sound of his pursuers nearing and hid behind the huge rock.
He sat there, breathing softly, unmoving and closed his eyes. He concentrated on the sound of the assailants nearing his hide-out. On second thoughts, he realized, he shouldn't have hidden here. It was too obvious a refuge. The lit rock was like a shining beacon in the dark and whoever saw it was bound to seek it out. He concentrated on the other faint sound he could hear. It was the sound of lake waters softly lapping against the shore. He was near the ghat!

Samnu's survival instinct took over his fear. It would take him perhaps ten more minutes in the dark to get to the lake side and then he could swim away to wherever the waters led. Before he could act on this instinct, he heard voices.

It was the aghoris!!! He knew little of their dialect but he understood that they meant to find him and kill him as a sacrifice for their gory customs. He closed his eyes and silently prayed just as the murmur of their voices was getting closer. The faint rustling of clothes in the soft breeze and sounds of their stealthy footsteps were too acute. Going by their voices, there were three of them and they seemed to be on the other side of the rock. Samnu started shivering, his limbs went cold and he knew he would surely die of this panic, if not, at the hands of these blood thirsty cannibals. He still continued to pray just as his attackers peered at the strangely lit statue before them.
And in the next moment, an unexpected thing happened.

The aghoris swore, one of them started howling and they all ran away to the other side of the forest. In their haste one of them dropped something heavy on the ground. Samnu's eyes opened at the commotion and he heard the distinct clank of metal against the ground. But he was still afraid to investigate.

Samnu was shocked to his core. And along with this nervous feeling, a strange sort of calm washed over him. He closed his eyes once again and tried to relax. The close encounter and escape from a near-death experience had tired him, mind and body. His nerves were tense, and senses distraught. He would remain a few more minutes in this hideaway, he thought, lest the aghoris changed their mind.  The forest breeze cooled down his warming skin and the silence cloaked him in a comforting blanket. He felt safe here, as if a divine power was watching over him. This was his last waking thought before he fell into a dreamless, peaceful slumber.
It was dawn when Samnu woke up. Waking to chirping of birds was both a source of pleasure and irritation he realized and he tried to block out the sounds of the mynahs tweeting incessantly and the chirping sparrows and croaking crows battling in loud cacklers in this earthy cacophony.
The view from the ground was beautiful, he thought. The sky was the palest of yellow-pinks and the birds were just preparing to greet the sunrise. If only life were so simple he mused. To wake up in comfortable nests, find food in nature's abundant source, come back in the evening, mate and rest in the warm cocoon and of course - fly away to faraway destinations without any care of boundaries. 

Lucky birds!
Soon, his mother would shout out and he would have to leave his cozy space to carry out all the daily chores his dead father once did. At the young age of sixteen, his life did seem a little tough as work outnumbered play. Reality hurt... Soon, he would get on his routine to milk cows in the shed, go to the field to see to the wheat crops, go by the ghat to...

The Ghat!
He woke up with a start and sat up on the ground. He was still in the forest! Last night's incidents came flooding back to him - the futile search for wood, the chase of the aghoris, the glowing statue.He slightly wavered in fear as he thought what could have been, how in a matter of minutes his fate seemed to have changed. He turned around to look at the statue.
And was left awestruck!

Carved in stone was what resembled the figure of a rakshasa - the kind mythology and legends often spoke of. The face was defined by a broad nose with its nostrils flared, fierce eyes that seemed to pierce through the soul and a mouth set with thick lips set in a grimace, with teeth bared in anger. Its shoulders were broad, with a carved muscled arm held upwards holding a mighty sword and the other clenched in a fist. His built was sturdy, robust to say the least and he appeared ready to pounce on anyone who came before him.  But Samnu was mesmerized by the light that emanated from its broad chest.

Last night, the radiance it exuded seemed to compete with the silver spell of the moon, and he observed that even the sunlight couldn't hide its sheer power. Samnu was humbled. He couldn't look the idol in the eye and simply bowed down and mumbled a sincere thanksgiving prayer and praised its strength, its glory.

He would return to the village and inform the headman about this. Just as he was about to leave he saw the shining blade of a three foot long double-edged sword on the ground. He immediately recognized it as the aghori's weapon. They must have dropped it in haste last night, but what made them run away?

Fear! Fear of the imposing idol in front of him, was the only explanation he could think of. If this was the truth, then this idol was really great and would protect the villagers from the slaughter that they were suffering from all these years.

Without wasting any more time, he took one last bow in front of the 'holy' statue and left to find his way through the forest.
He had wandered away a little too far last night, he realized and it took him almost fifteen minutes to reach the ghat and he had memorized the path that led to the luminescent stone god. He found his little wooden boat and set off to share this news with the entire village.

Synchronicity is the belief that when two events which are unrelated occur in a meaningful coincidence and cannot be explained rationally have a higher purpose, as if a hand of God is guiding it and it was meant to be. Many times a person’s destiny is entwined with lives of many others. His fate then not only alters the course of his life but also changes the path of the people, the society and sometimes even the fortune of the whole nation where he comes from. There are other forces of the universe at work then, intriguing energies merging together to pay off some dues. And that's when strange, mysterious events occur and remain enigmatic as it’s difficult to decipher them. Such unknown, unexplained events were about to unfold in Aghoripur...

Aghoripur was living in fear since years. Natural calamities, climate changes, fear of the wild, threat of the aghoris, and the terror of the unseen constantly plagued the lives of the people.  And the villagers had already decided to shift their homes to another town and start afresh, once the new moon dawned. When the news of the idol’s power reached the village folk; a sense of elation along with a tinge of fear was palpable among the people.

It wasn't a mere coincidence. The idol was discovered just before the new moon’s rise. The village headman sat brooding under the peepul tree wondering what to do while the rest of the villagers sat surrounding him, whispering their haphazard thoughts to each other, waiting for a sensible counsel. Suddenly, they heard someone cry softly and very bitterly. It was Vaani Amma - the village oracle. She had predicted the village’s boons and banes several times.

Three years ago, when the village was in danger of dying of draught, she had predicted it would rain on its barren lands and everything would bloom in vitality. In seven days, Aghoripur saw a good rainfall for the entire monsoons. The farms were lush, the rivers full of crystal clear water and the earth moist and nourished to be seeded. That year's harvest had been enough for the farmers to comfortably get by the year without any constraints.

Villagers who sought her advice even for the smallest woes were left shocked at her unexpected outburst. A fragile woman who lived like a hermit, she was a sweet soul who kept to herself but was the first one to help to those who needed aid. It was the first time they saw her crying so hopelessly and looking so forlorn. “What is it amma? What's wrong?”The village headman asked her.
Without saying another word she walked slowly towards the villagers and suddenly knelt on the ground with a loud thud! Her body was trembling; her eyes rolled back in a way that made her look ghost-like. She started rolling her head in circular motions, her hair flying in all directions - everyone knew she was possessed.
In a deep hoarse voice she said,
“Soon you will all see,
 What is meant to be.
 There will be no mercy,
 All the demon wants is fulfillment of a legacy.
 Yes he is no God, but a demon.
The one who only knows revenge, knows how to win.
A perfect cycle of the black moon,
Will bring you your doom.
No one will survive except one...
The person who is the chosen one....” 
With this prophecy, she fell to her side and just fainted.
The villagers were shocked at what had just happened and for a very short moment, a dreadful silence enveloped them and in the next, there was uproar. Everyone started talking rapidly, some feared, while some were amused while most were left bewildered by this strange and scary prophecy. The headman silenced them all with a clanking of his stick and asked the womenfolk to take Vaani Amma to her hut and nurse her back to health.

A brave man who had led the village through its turbulent times, the headman was also a very wise leader. To the others he spoke, “I am as shocked as you are and do not want to make any decision in haste. First, I must see the idol myself and then decide what we must do.”

Samnu who was the only person familiar with the way led him and a large group of the curious and brave to the site. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was at its peak. And the idol looked magnanimous with its glowing chest. The villagers were in awe and the headman quite taken aback. They all saw the sword the bloodthirsty aghoris had left behind and knew it was no small feat.

It was a long time before the headman finally spoke, “This idol is surely a powerful one. It reminds me of something I must have perhaps read in fables but my memory just eludes me of its history. Nor in my studies of the Holy Scriptures, have I read of a rakshasa scaring away the evil. This is indeed miraculous and even eerie. Vaani Ammas prophecy is ringing through my ears and I know how her psychic gift has saved the village the past years. “The villagers nodded in unison at his rationality. He further added, “We will wait. For three days and nights beginning today. Let us wait for destiny to unfold. If at the end of this time, goodness prevails, this idol is indeed a blessing and we will worship it, exalt it!  If not, the idol will be seen as a curse and we will destroy it before we abandon the village to never return”. The villagers agreed and soon they left without a second look or thought. Had they turned around, they would have seen an malicious smile spreading through the stone rakshasa’s face and his rock eyes turn a blood red bringing him to life for only a fragile, fleeting second.
For the next three days there was a subtle tension in Aghoripur. The smallest event was analyzed for hidden mysteries and the smallest details deciphered for deeper meaning. By the time nights set in, the villagers were exhausted and even the night-watchers too tired to stay awake. Everyone slept peacefully without a care in the world and no one saw him as he walked around the village every night.

Yes. He had started looking like Him. Not just his physicality but also his persona exuded the same aura of trapped power like The Demon. No he was not merely the Demon, but the Demon God.  As his disciple, he walked every night towards each home, every animal shed and every tree - softly chanting ancient mantras that were long forgotten by the human race. Words of wrath and destruction to put everyone under a spell of Maya - make them believe only what Demon God wanted them to see. He spread his hands, gestured with his palms, built a shield around everyone and everything and forced each living being to radiate the dark energies that their Kingdom should have.

Once his task was done, he crossed the river on a magical boat that moved on incantations and spells. He would enter the forest and kneel by the Demon God. He looked Him in the eyes, waited for that red twinkle to appear. Once his God blinked, gave him a blessed smile, he would sleep by his feet, waiting...

Soon, he was only a matter of time...Soon from stone he would turn to flesh; some sacrifices had to be made. He was ready. He would ensure his master’s resurrection. After all, it was his destiny.

Real prophecies reveal our futures and sometimes also act as warnings. To believe in psychic readings is a matter of choice, but when these revelations come from someone genuinely gifted, they must not be ignored. But what if the words of these gifted ones are paid no heed? That’s when evil things which are already written, happen. And the course of events turns from the good to the neutral to the bad. 

Vaani Amma had recovered only slightly from the setback after that morning in the village. Dark dreams flooded her mind and she prayed the people would listen to her. She remembered teachings of her gurus, ‘it's only man who possesses the power to change his destiny’ they had said. But changing the course of one’s destiny requires willpower and free will.  ‘Did they have it in them to fight?’ she wondered and cried silently, helpless of the catastrophe looming before them.

At the end of three days, the headman toured Aghoripur with the families and what he saw changed his mind. The trees were ripe with fruit, streams full and the animals looked healthier. The soil in the farms had turned fertile overnight, because despite it being an off-season, the plants were growing. It was indeed a miracle.  The children were already relishing the fresh fruits and womenfolk already off to cook large meals for their families.

A meeting was held at the centre of the village and the headman announced, “The village has flourished in the last three days. The idol in the forest has come as a blessing. We will build a temple around it, tonight we will thank his generosity and from now on he will be our village deity - we will name him ‘Roshrajmaya’ - the God of Light, the King of our land.”A loud cheer among the people followed this speech. Soon the tales of the idol’s powers spread like wildfire. People from near and far-away villages came to offer their prayers. Some gave gold coins, some silver ornaments while some vowed to clean and take care of the environs night and day.

A temple of the finest craftsmanship was built around this holy deity. Paintings of apsaras adorned its walls and ceilings were lit with the most delicate chandeliers given by travelling tradesmen who had come to worship Roshrajmaya, and only the purest of diamonds, precious gems and gold ornaments were used to dress his figurine. The temple shone with the radiance of the gifts and the dazzling decor and still it was the glowing light that rose from the core of Roshrajmaya’s heart that was magnetic enough to imprison and capture each devotee’s attention. With each passing day, the devotion and faith of the people grew and so did their beloved God’s being.

Every dawn and every dusk, the pujas of loyal devotion, smells of fire, flowers and incense made Roshrajamaya stronger. To the villager’s ignorance – the idol’s stone body was slowly turning to flesh with just a translucent facade concealing His real self. His mind was getting sharper again and His heart beating a little stronger with every passing second. By night, His loyal disciple continued to strengthen the evil veil, the thickening shield while he induced the village into a deep, deep slumber. Soon...The disciple mused; soon he will fulfil his destiny and gain His masters reward, His love...
In the midst of such growing affections and loyalty, only one person continued to forsake Roshrajmaya’s Godlike image - Vaani amma. She went to every family and pleaded them to believe her dreams. She cleansed the aura of every home and every corner of the village with positive mantras- but to no avail, she was too weak to do this alone. Her rituals were seen as crazy and after a week when her erratic behaviour didn't stop, the village folk threw stones at her and declared her mad. The headman was forced to ask her to leave. But before she did, bruised, bleeding and blue, she made another revelation-
“He feeds you food that's full of poison.
I remind you he’s no god, but a demon.
He will kill you all in the end,
Its blood he wants to get back his strength.
Banish the village before the black moon night,
Leave him alone with his jinxed light”
With this she fell into another fit. She wailed, wept and finally after being stoned again, left without looking back. The villagers didn’t brood on what had been said, convinced that she had lost her mind. They continued to pray to Roshrajmaya and sing his praises. Preparations for the puja on the full moon night were in full swing, and they worked happily with the belief that miracles were in store for them.

But sometimes darker forces are stronger as they feed on naiveté and ignorance. On the full moon night, the pujan was a veritable feast. There were dances, songs of joy and delicacies prepared to distribute among the attendees. This pure energy further fed the spirit of the demon god and he radiated light that was almost blinding. The villagers’ happiness knew no bounds, their savior had come. Late after the ceremony ended, they all went back to their homes to rest while the loyal disciple stealthily finished his daily task.

But this time when he came back to his master’s side, he sensed them.
It had been a fortnight since they had lost their prey. This time they would make that sacrifice, it was a good night to please the god. While the others got the holy bonfire ready, the three aghoris moved swiftly through the forest towards the ghat to go to the village. They avoided the site of the idol lest they ignited its wrath, but then they saw him.
A diminutive form of the idol, he stood before them with a sword unsheathed, ready to fight. His aura of latent violence complexed the aghoris. They knelt before him, asking how they could help.
“Obey me,
To stay alive.
My master
Is a Demon God in Disguise,
Don't deny his will, wants or desires
He can see through souls, spot sinners and liars
Become his devotee, join his tribe
He will bless you with power & pride
Just pledge him your loyalty, blood and might,
To be blessed by his heart, his soul's light”

Knowing no other way, the aghoris cut their wrists and gave him their blood. They promised to honour and serve The Master; He was now their guiding light, their Demon God. As darker forces joined hands, the pure, untainted energy of the forests and the people grew weaker. Ignorance is bliss, but it's also suffocation, blindness and a handicap. And so, made of this destruction and dread was written the ill fate of Aghoripur.

 It is said, death is the greatest mystery. The most intriguing story. While many have speculated the other side, no one knows what happens after we breathe our last and die. But most people agree death comes when it is its time. But sometimes, when purposes are un-fulfilled, there's lack of divine justice and the innocent are killed. Then long after a life has ended, his ghost lingers searching for respite.

And the time for death to come to Aghoripur wasn't far away. The disciple was no longer alone; he had a tribe to aid him in his purpose. Every night, he and the aghoris called out to the departed ones. The ghosts of the dead had started rising from their graves and were taken to the Demon God. Inside him, in his stone body, one by one they found their final haven. It was a revelation for them, a fulfilment of purpose, and a strange kind of completion.

The disciple saw his Master gaining strength; the light was turning grey now - a steely grey of dust, ash, smoke, haze, mist and starkness. A few more nights to the black night, the disciple thought, He would return, The King would return. And He would get his dues...

The village of Aghoripur was happier than ever. The food, the climate, the peculiar energy of the environment had transformed the lives of the people. Roshrajmaya was their prayer come to life, they thought. Tonight they hoped, the jinx of the village, the jinx of Grahanam would be broken forever. The aghoris had not made a single appearance and the village was in a joyful, safe cocoon. With these positive vibes and intentions, they all prepared for a special puja for Roshrajmaya that evening.
And that's when they saw her. Vaani Amma came limping towards them, tears flowing from her blackened eyes. They saw her tattered clothing, heard her whispering, “Cannot go back...have a purpose to fulfil...death written with you.”

The villagers were shocked and some even gathered to kick her out. That’s when the headman stopped them. “Amma stays. She is part of our village, she will attend this ceremony.”
With this, they let her sit alone in a corner, and proceeded with their rituals. Samnu, who turned seventeen, was asked to perform the arati. After all, it was him who had discovered this holy shrine. Fires were lit with flair, songs were sung with full gaiety and drums beat with gusto. With every passing beat, Vaani Amma shivered and soon they knew what was coming. In a voice that was loud and shook with urgency she made a final prophecy and shared an unknown tale,
“The time has come, the time is now,
The moment to fulfill his ancient vow
He is back to rule, back to reign
To seek revenge for his pain
He lived here once, The Demon God
On this village which was once a cremation ground
He ruled ghosts and cannibal tribes,
Before being cursed by a Saint for a thousand lives.
He never died, but was imprisoned in stone
With his soul to be freed on the night of a black moon,
He is not alone, and has a disciple, son and heir
Who will take him to glory, with his might and dare.
Steer clear of the Demon God; he can curse with his hypnotic sight
He is sin, evil, his essence made of a fatal jinxed light.”

Before Vaani amma could utter another word, a knife stabbed her in the heart. It was the aghoris. The villagers screamed, chaos unleashed and before they could escape, a loud and aggressive wail stopped them in their tracks.

Samnu stood before them. His eyes were a fiery red, hands muscled enough to beat down a hundred men. His chest was heaving, his nostrils flared and his hand raised like his master’s to kill whatever came in his way. He was the son, the heir of the demon. Samnu was the chosen one.
The aghoris surrounded the villagers and soon they chanted the words of wrath, of violence, of hate and of the devil. There was a battle, there was a pitiful end. Each and every person of Aghoripur died. Defenceless and naive, they gave their life. Samnu and the aghoris lit a fire around their corpses and danced to the victory of wickedness. They sang praises to death and revelled in the agonies of the bereaved. And slowly, their souls began to rise. Children, women, men and the aged - one by one, all their spirits were suspended in the smoke of the fire, between earth and sky.

And then Samnu spoke in a voice that rang with authority and vile
“You are all ghosts who will never rest
 Better vow to serve the Demon God, the mightiest, the greatest
 He can get you salvation & peace from agony and strife
 Your reward is you will be entwined with his life
You will become a part of his mind, a beat of his heart, an essence of his entity
Within Him you will continue to be a part of the universe till eternity
Free yourself from the cycle of the dark night
Just let go and become one with his Light”

With this, the ghosts of the dead villagers slowly went towards the idol of the Demon God. Each ghost merged with their Master, in a heinous mating and with every act, his light grew stronger till it turned a repulsive red. Later, the blood of the corpses was collected by the bare hands of the aghoris to bathe their Demon God. 
And at last…HE was resurrected.
He walked with a slight limp after having lived like a stone for a thousand lives. Saw the world through his crimson eyes and breathed the smells of fears, misfortunes and gore. Made of ghosts, innocent blood and satanic chants, He was hideous yet happy. He blessed his aghori tribe, ordered them to gather their friends and feast on the dead bodies. He hugged Samnu, his devoted disciple, his obedient son.
As a legacy, He cut his chest, and shared half his heart with his heir. Now they shared a pulse, a life, and a love of the black moon night; along with the power and the curse of the jinxed light.

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