Thursday, 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Longlist, Shweta Singh


Divine Intervention

You would think, ‘He’ would have had more success by now. After all Mumbai was an over populated city and someone somewhere should be dying. And all the incessant rain should have contributed to the cause. But no, for some reason ‘He’ - the Great YamRaaj* - had been roaming the ever-bustling metropolis of Mumbai for two hours without any success. On top of this, the unceasing rain was bugging the hell out of him. The caliginous night was wet and clammy. The ominous expanse of the night sky was occasionally lit up by brilliant streaks of lighting and the wind howled and roared. He was miserably wet and cold. Before a jagged streak of light made landfall, it would be attracted to his massive mace and would race down to earth through it giving him and his ride a nasty jolt. It was not funny anymore. He whipped his mobile out and fired a WhatsApp to Indra*, ‘Kindly turn down the intensity of this water and light show. Paundraka* and I have been zapped enough times, a few more zaps and we will develop permanent twitches.’ Even as he typed, he could feel his hair standing on ends and the residual electric charge crackling amongst them. It also resulted in some really comical facial tics, further adding to his wretchedness. 

After putting the phone away, he looked around to take stock of the situation.
‘The first thing I need to do is get off this road that is flooded with dirty filthy water. God these humans are such pigs,’ he thought wrinkling his nose in disgust.  
‘Hah, finally you decide to get out of this water. That too after I have been standing in it for two hours. What if I get leptospirosis.’ accused Paundraka.
YamRaaj looked at him in disbelief and said, ‘You, well it is an animal’s urine that spreads it, so I highly doubt you will get it.’
‘Hey I don’t live here, so I am a foreigner for all practical purposes,’ retorted Paundraka.
YamRaaj ignored his statement but urged him to move forward. 

Finally, they moved to higher ground, the pavement in front of a grocery shop named ‘Brahmand’ and while the pavement was wet atleast it wasn’t being pounded by the rain. Paundraka decided to get off his feet forcing YamRaaj to get of his back. Surprisingly in a very canine move Paundraka turned a couple of circles in his place and then sat down heaving a great sigh of relief his breath fogging in the chilly air. He wished he had a blade of grass to chew on. YamRaaj sat down next to him.
This dark and stormy night instead of helping me achieve my target is making it difficult today. How can I go back to Yamlok empty handed? I have to not only meet my quota for today but also for the month. This is what you get for spending time in KaamDev’s* company. Thus, sat the YamRaaj musing. 

His musing was disturbed when a drunkard plopped himself next to Him. He took a big gulp from the bottle and then offered it to YamRaaj. At this point the drunkard gave YamRaaj his full attention and started laughing; hysterically.
‘You are participating in a fancy-dress competition?’ he slurred.
YamRaaj glared at him.
‘No, not fancy-dress,’ he said shaking his head and still grinning inanely. ‘Ok…., then maybe you are with a natak-company. And they kicked you out…,’ he started cackling again.

Now YanRaaj was beyond pissed. No one spoke to him like that, he was after all the God of Death. He took out his phone again and took a photo of the buffoon and send it to Chandragupta* with a caption ‘Is he ready to die?’ 
‘No,’ came the reply. YamRaaj could almost hear the rustling of the giant register as Chandragupta went through it. ‘Really he needs to upgrade to a MacBook.’ YamRaaj made a mental note to coerce – if required – him into modernization.
‘Well isn’t stupidity a deadly sin?’

‘Not yet.’
‘Well hell, it should be. Moreover, I haven’t collected a single soul till now,’ typed YamRaaj petulantly. ‘If he doesn’t leave now, I will commit my first crime.’
‘You can’t my Lord.’
But then his petulance turned to devilish mirth as he typed, ‘I can’t, but Paundraka can!’
‘Oh no, no my Lord.  The fact that he is your ride makes him an extension of you. He too cannot commit a crime,’ flashed on the screen.
‘Well hell, what am I supposed to do?’ even as he typed this YamRaaj felt panicky. His breath caught in his throat and he broke out into a sweat though nobody would have noticed as he was already drenched. It was midnight. He had till four in the morning to return to Yamlok. If he didn’t meet his target, he would not get his incentive and he really wanted his incentive.
‘You will think of something my Lord, you always do. I have full confidence in you. And now if you don’t mind, I will like to go to sleep. I am just a minion and I don’t get paid enough to work after office hours,’ responded Chandragupta.
‘Well hell,’ YamRaaj muttered his catchphrase as he put the phone away. He looked at Paundraka and realized that the great black beast was gently snoring. He looked around the deserted streets. Even the road-dwellers had disappeared. He hung his head in despair.
Closing his eyes, he looked heavenward and prayed to Mahadev*, ‘O Lord of Lords please help me. For as long as the human race has been, I have been performing my dharma* of collecting the souls. I have always given this job my hundred percent. I have never taken an off or a sick day. Have you ever heard of a day when not even a single person died? I am not like these humans who procrastinate all the time. My work record is better than a six-sigma company. Please help me come up with a plan to meet my quota for the month.’
Opening his eyes, he looked around hopefully for divine intervention. He looked up and down the dimly lit sludge filled road. Finally, the rain was letting up. Though the wind continued to howl. Just as he turned his head to his right to wake up Paundraka a newspaper blew across and plastered itself on his face.
“What the …,” swore YamRaaj, pulling it off his face. He was about to ball it and throw it when the headline caught his eye. Just then another leaf of newspaper flew in and landed on Paundraka’s face this time. He woke with a start. As a retaliatory move towards the offending newspaper he decided to chew it. As he was about to do just that Yamraaj swatted him on the head. He rescued the newspaper right on time from being devoured by the giant beast.
“Why the hell did you hit me?” Paundraka asked angrily as he turned to look at YamRaaj.
“Because you were about to chew the intervention from Mahadev,” said YamRaaj double quoting the word intervention. Saying this he got up and indicated Paundraka do the same.
“A semi-wet newspaper is intervention from Mahadev? You know, wind blows, carries light objects with it, thus they go flying around, it does not amount to Godly intervention” said Paundraka sarcastically moving his head in circles to emphasize his point.
“Don’t be a smartass. I asked for His help and this newspaper blew across. Now I know what to do,” said YamRaaj enthusiastically. He had a grin on his face, determination in his eyes and a plan in his head.
Paundraka looked at an animated YamRaaj and shook his head at what he perceived was YamRaaj’s folly. He thought, ‘The tension of not having met is target for the first time in eons has finally gotten to him.’ Though out loud he said, “Well, lead the way then and pray tell what is your plan?”
After YamRaaj explained the plan, Paundraka’s eyes too gleamed with excitement.  
“Oh! This is so thrilling,” said the giant beast nodding his head up and down eagerly.
There were certain advantages of being a God, like not having to go through the excruciatingly slow and mind-numbing red-tape to find out the information you need. All you had to do was click a picture of the headline, WhatsApp it to Chandragupta, wait for him to work his magic and voila you have your information. Which unfortunately didn’t arrive even after five minutes of staring intently at the phone for a reply. Then YamRaaj remembered that Chandragupta was no ‘Jarvis’ who was available 24/7 to Tony Stark. His Jarvis was sleeping.
He then speed-dialed Chandragupta’s number with the intention of waking him up. But all he got was, ‘The number you are trying to reach is out of coverage area.’ YamRaaj scowled at the phone.
“Even at the best of times these networks are notoriously unreliable. Did you really think it will connect to Chandragupta in heaven?” laughed Paundraka.
“Well hell, I need that information.”
“So, do it the old-fashioned way. It’s not like you had this phone forever,” sighed Paundraka. Since he was beginning to feel hungry, he too looked up and down the street for something to munch on while they waited for the information. He looked around disgustedly and thought, ‘They call me a buffalo, the ignorant one, the one who sits on his own shit without realizing it, but look at these people, they spit and shit all around their dwellings. Maybe they should be called buffaloes2 instead.’  
YamRaaj scrunched up his face starting a process very similar to the old dial up connections. After a while a very grumpy Chandragupta accepted the connection and finally gave the information YamRaaj needed.
“You better be by the phone. I am going to keep sending you pictures of other headlines and I need information related to them quickly. I don’t like scrunching up my face, I am getting all these wrinkles because of it,” admonished YamRaaj.
Once he had put his phone away, he rubbed his hands in glee and both of them looked at each other and broke out into huge grins. Time to be big and bad…
That night a whole lot of people were visited by a pair of celestial beings. HE was black and big, a giant with broad muscular shoulders accentuated by bulging and rippling biceps. His torso was as broad as an ancient red-wood and sporting an eight pack. His was face carved out of black granite, there were two thick helical horns protruding out from his head, upturned and sharp and pointy at the ends. A broad forehead and a big fat nose sat atop a moustache that was coiled and braided like a rope that could be used to hang people. However, his most fearsome feature were his eyes; deep set and glowing red they could strike terror in the hearts of most of the brave and induce heart attacks in the weak and corrupt. He was astride an equally large and frightening buffalo, with similar horns and eyes. They were dressed in gold. In one hand he carried a massive gold mace and in the other a liquid gold lasso. Together they were a terrifying sight.
Their starting point was right here in the city-that-never-sleeps. They visited the houses of various officials of the municipal corporation, the contractors, the engineers and the structural auditors who had declared that the foot over bridge as safe. Each of them dreamt that they were standing under that very bridge and it was falling and they couldn’t move. Their feet were frozen and all this was happening in slow motion. They knew they had sinned and were going to be punished for it. Just as they opened their eyes to escape the horrifying dream they were greeted by an even worse visage. A giant with soul-lust in his eyes astride a fierce looking buffalo standing at the foot of their bed. That was the last thing they ever saw.
The headlines had read - Foot overbridge collapses at Mumbai CST, 6 dead, 33 injured
The second stop was Chappra, Bihar. The people visited were the money mongers who were more interested in filling their coffers with money than the stomachs of the poor, malnourished children. In their nightmare they saw that the anti-life food they had served the children was being stuffed down their throat by a giant whose eyes glowed like red embers. They were incapable of saying no or closing their mouths and even as they struggled against their nightmare and opened their eyes they found the same giant standing at the foot of their bed, brandishing his liquid-gold lasso.
The headlines had read - 11 children die after eating midday meal at Bihar school ...deaths were a result of bad quality food being supplied
Thus, the duo continued working diligently through-out the night. They consulted the newspaper, got the relevant information from Chandragupta and visited numerous places and culprits till it was 4 a.m. whence the day and month came to an end.   
That night perhaps in the entire history of humanity, humanity won. That night perhaps in the entire history of humanity YamRaaj took the souls of only the corrupt and sinful and guilty. A happy YamRaaj and Paundraka returned to Yamlok. Whether he got is incentive or not is a story for another day.


EPILOGUE  
The next day all the major headlines read-
DEATH BY DIVINE INTERVENTION
There is no other way to explain the mysterious deaths of these many people who all seem to have died of heart attack caused due to abject terror as witnessed by the look of complete horror on their frozen dead faces. What they saw that made them react this way is anybody’s guess. However, all these people had been accused of wrong doing and were in the process of being charged or were officially charged or being investigated.


Glossary
YamRaaj – Yam Devta, the God of death.
Indra – God of clouds and water and the king of Indralok.
Paundraka – YamRaaj’s ride (the buffalo)
Yamlok – Abode of YamRaaj
KaamDev – Hindu God of love or desire
Natak-company – Drama company
Chandragupta – YamRaaj’s helper who keeps all the records
Mahadev – Refers to Shiv, the third God of the Holy Triumvirate of the Hindu religion.
Dharma – Duty

No comments:

Post a Comment