THE TRAVELLER Part One

cabin

His number one rule was to always be prepared. He knew all too well that a guest could drop in at even the smallest of hours and demand to be attended to. Some of them fancied a grand entrance, where  they’d throw the door wide open , march straight to the kitchen table, and call for him. Others resorted to a timid knock, and only after ample ushering, would slowly follow him to the kitchen table.

The kitchen table was small and rectangular; with lightly cushioned chairs. The yellow light shone directly on the yellow wood , giving off a warm golden glow which the guests were inevitably drawn to. They would sit facing him, and he would listen. Every guest had a story; a character ; a purpose. The kitchen table was cosy and inviting, but for many, it was where he dismissed them.

The dismissed visitors would always leave with grace; even the most boisterous ones would gently slip out.  Some of them were certain he would come to regret dismissing them, and sometimes they were right. There were times he would curse himself for turning them away, but visitors kept pouring in, and his guest house was always full.

There was no way of knowing how long the guests would stay for. Some stayed for years, others; for just a few hours. There were a few he believed were permanent, but he knew that there was no way to know for sure. He was used to the visitors leaving in the night, without any notice whatsoever.

As a young and impressionable boy, he was easily awed. Each guest seemed so wonderful; he’d want to host them all forever.  But he could never make out who was going to stick around. As the years passed , experience caught up with him and he grew slightly better at discerning who would be an ideal guest. Unless of course he was deceived.

Robert made his entrance a few years ago, when the host prided himself on his judgement. Robert was smartly dressed and clever, but it was his charismatic confidence that was the most appealing. Seated at the kitchen table he had looked the host directly in the eye and said “I have so much to show you.” And thus began the Era of Robert.

He got along with all the other guests. He always had the most exciting stories, and with each passing day, the host spent more and more time with him. Time seemed to stop in Robert’s company , and soon he was no longer keeping track of how long he’d been staying.  Then one day the host felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around to face a stranger who had once been his dear friend.

It was Jean, the pianist who was a permanent resident. His ambivalence was showing through his mixed expressions.
“Where have you been? Haven’t seen much of you lately.” Jean was struggling to keep his tone steady.  The host wasn’t sure why Jean seemed flustered, but he knew he must try to placate him.
“Jean! It’s so n-”
“Nice to see me?”  Jean spat churlishly. “Is it now?” His voice was almost taunting.

And that’s when the host realised why Jean was no longer a close friend. He couldn’t remember the last time they had spent time together. The host had been so fond of Jean , and would revel in his musical company. Jean’s fingers were magic; they would dance on the piano, composing tunes so captivating the entire house would fall silent.  The puzzled host wondered how he hadn’t paid Jean any attention in such a long time.

“Jean, will you play me a song?” The host asked suddenly.

Jean’s harsh expression melted into a puerile enthusiasm. He could never refuse music. But this time, something wasn’t right. To the untrained ear, his piece was as mellifluous as always, but to the host and Jean, the nuances were deafening.
Jean was livid. “Don’t you see!” He yelled. “Don’t you see what Robert is doing to us!”
“Robert?” The host was taken aback.

“Yes, your precious Robert. Do you know what the other permanents are doing? Have you noticed at all that no visitors come anymore? Your spend all your time with Robert! You’re neglecting everyone else!” He replied angrily.

The host soaked it in , and considered that perhaps there was some truth to Jean’s words. What had everyone else been doing? And Jean was right, there hadn’t been any new guests in a while. But how could Robert have anything to do with any of this?
The host had seen a fair share of bad guests. They were supercilious, pretentious, sloppy, or sometimes even all three! Then there were those who harboured all sorts of vices, and those who burnt a hole straight through his wallet. But Robert didn’t fit any of those categories.

“I thought you liked Robert.” The host finally said.
“I did until he told you I wasn’t important enough.” Jean said poignantly. The host opened his mouth but Jean cut him off.
“What exactly does he want?”
“He’s into many things ; politics mostly. We spend time following it, and he’s thinking about running maybe, and I’m going to help him.”
“You can’t be serious!” Jean exclaimed incredulously. “Do you know anything about politics?”
“I didn’t but I’m learning!” The host said defiantly.
“And you’re gonna help him run? What, for president? Just think! Is this realistic?….”
But the host wasn’t listening any more. Jean’s mocking tone had struck a nerve, but the host forced himself to think. Robert hadn’t mentioned anything about running, but seeing the increasing trend in his ambition, it wouldn’t be long before he would pitch the idea. Robert did have unconscionable expectations, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing was it? But then he remembered the price of it all. Jean’s music had taken a hit, and host knew it was because he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. The visitors survived on the host’s attention, and a lack of it would drive them away. And now he was slowly destroying them all.

And so the following day the host took Robert aside and told him that he could no longer devote all his time to him. He also told him how he didn’t like spending too much time on his far fetched ideas.

“But Robert I hope you don’t misunderstand. I enjoy your presence, and I learn so much from you. But there are others too.”

“Do they really need you?” So Jean had been right. Robert had been subtly hinting that he was more important than the rest.

“Yes. They need me as much as you do.  Nothing will change really. We’ll still talk, just not as much.”

Robert was shaking his head. “No, no. I need more of your time, not less! It can’t be that way. Come on man, where is all this coming from?”

For the first time, the host saw Robert in a different light. He was attention seeking and obdurate. He would’t even consider meeting him halfway.

“No I.. I  can’t do that. I’m sorry Robert. ”

And by the next morning, Robert had left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE RECOGNITION

beach

I awoke, shivering, to the taste of wet sand in my mouth and a heavy smell of salt in the air. The dim moonlight made it difficult to make out the features of the girl peering down at me.

“ Are you alright?” She asked, extending her hand to help me up. She too was drenched and had sand on her clothes. I nodded slowly.

“I think…I think we were somehow washed ashore.” She said with uncertainty. We looked around. The beach was empty except for a large, gothic castle in the distance.

“ Should we…?” I began, but she was already walking towards it. I tried to recall how I could have landed up here, only to realize I couldn’t even remember who I was. I felt panic build up in me as I caught up with the girl.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

“I don’t know.” She whispered back.

And at that moment, a bond was forged. Nothing was more comforting that the fact that some strange girl who also had no idea what was going on was stuck with me in the middle of nowhere.

We made our way in silence to the castle, which looked like it had been yanked straight out of a horror movie.

She faltered at the entrance. “What now?” She looked at me.

While I was busy wondering whether the Beach of Isolation would be worse than the Castle of Doom or not, the girl marched straight into the door.

I stared after her in disbelief. How could anyone be so impulsive?

I had long since decided that I wasn’t going to be alone here so I had no choice but to follow her.

The first thing she said when we were in the castle was “We shouldn’t have come in here.” Look at her already regretting her decisions, I thought to myself. But when the door slammed shut with a chilling sound that no onomatopoeia that I know can describe , I didn’t blame her one bit.

The torches on the wall were bright enough for me to see all the blood drain from her face. Both of us were terrified. We spent the next hour or so searching for any other exit but we seemed to be sealed in.

“This castle is  a labyrinth! And these cold, stone walls trap the essence of all those who tread here!” Great. This girl was a sucker for melodrama.

I sat down on the floor and sighed, resigning myself to my bleak future. She sat beside me and and sighed too. “I’m sorry” She sounded sincere. I shrugged.

She tried to strike a conversation with me. Initially I wasn’t too enthusiastic but she seemed persistent, so I relented. It surprised me how upbeat she was given the very, very unfavourable circumstances. She found almost everything I said funny and laughed a lot. We didn’t really have much to talk about given that both our memories had been  compromised, but she still managed to find things to ramble on about. She was definitely the talkative sort.

The reason we weren’t constantly looking over our shoulders was because we were under the impression that the castle was empty. So when he heard loud footsteps advancing, we immediately froze up.

What we saw next rendered us both speechless. It was as if royalty had been personified. The man who stood before us was clad in such rich regal robes and he seemed to radiate power. It was a beautiful sight, but also a frightful one. We rose to our feet in unison as if we were marionettes on a string. I glanced at her expecting her to do all the talking , but she clammed up.

“WHO ARE YOU??” The king thundered. All the confidence which the girl had before seemed to evaporate on the spot.

“I um..we..uh..” I stuttered.

“Did you search the entire place?” He asked harshly.

“N-no sir” The girl said. Her mouth was twitching and she averted her eyes. She was a terrible liar. The king’s expression was now menacing.

“I mean yes , yes sir, sorry.” She quickly redeemed herself.

“Well clearly , you haven’t. Follow me” The king instructed. She followed him like a puppy and I followed suit. He lead us to what was perhaps the darkest, dingiest room ever created. The room had only one article- a mirror. I didn’t understand, and my patience was really being tested.

“Sir” I addressed the king . “We’re lost. And we’d really like a way out.”

“Not all those who wander are lost.” He replied with a twinkle in his eyes. “Go, on look into the mirror.”

We did. It wasn’t our reflection.

I figured that this was sort of like the Mirror of Erised , but it was much more. It flashed scenes from our childhood, our fondest memories; thing I imagine I would have reminisced about. And once all of that was done, it was time for the big showdown. A vague image of our past was forming in our minds , but the the final piece of the puzzle was still missing. Who we were. Moments after it was revealed to us, I looked at the girl beside me. We both seized the opportunity to introduce ourselves. We held our hands out to each other.

“I’m Taruni.” We said together.

*****************************************

Please allow me to explain. I started writing this with the intention of having the narrator meet Taruni (me) , but then I realized that the narrator is pretty much me too. Then I thought , what better ending is there than introducing myself as a schizophrenic?

But jokes (behold my attempt at a joke, ladies and gentlemen) aside , Taruni 1 (the other girl) and Taruni 2( the narrator) are both parts of Taruni (me).

Taruni 1 likes socializing, is very talkative, can’t lie to save her life, is impulsive,trusting, finds everything funny (including her own “jokes”) and is cheerful.

Taruni 2 is slightly skeptical, cynical, impatient at times, and doesn’t quite mind being alone.

It’s not that these are two separate personalities within me or something, they are just embodiments of my various qualities.

And the point of the beach the castle and the king? There is no point. On a deep, philosophical level, I’d like to think it’s a metaphor for life. No one knows what it’s point is, and no know will ever know. Things happen for reasons we cannot rationalize, and suddenly we may find ourselves in someplace unfamiliar. That doesn’t make anything less thrilling though. Everything is an adventure and who knows what’s in store for you; you may even find yourself along the way.

What’s that? You’re surprised at that strange explanation? Well, you shouldn’t be. After all, you were told I love being dramatic.

 

THE BATTLE

kalingawar

 

The streets roared with festivity on the day of Ashoka’s coronation,
There was nothing in this world that could dampen their jubilation.
He had proved his valiance countless times,his gallantry was unquestionable,
He had mastered the arts of science and trade; his intelligence; exceptional.

Once the initial elation had slowly fallen apart ,
A lust to conquer seethed in  Ashoka’s young heart.
A vision of the future, he, everyday, would foresee
“Ashoka the Great!  The Dynasty’s crowning glory!”

Driven by ambition, defeating many a  lord and squire,
He brought  honour to the Mauryas, expanding his empire.
An insatiable thirst for power is what he seemed to live for,
For with each and every triumph, he was ravenous for more.

Less than a decade since he mounted the throne,
There was but a town he could call his own.
They were begging to be vanquished , that foolish state,
For the arrogant ruler of Kalinga  refused to abdicate.

A battle more arduous than anything he could envision,
A battle  his experienced mind feared he mayn’t win.
Kalinga was showing a resistance he had never seen before,
So his brutal retaliation  screamed with heightened vigour.

A ruthless rampage; the whole state was razed,
Battlefield reeking of death, but Ashoka was unfazed,
Ploughing on , mercilessly, sparing not a soul,
Stopping at nothing till he accomplished his goal.

The fierce bloodbath was finally over, the battle finally won,
Ruler of every State; Ashoka’s reign  now truly begun.
Bursting with pride, he set out to do his victory rounds,
But what greeted him instead was unsettling; unsound.

Bodies of brave soldiers, on the battlefield; strewn,
With bloodstains and gore, the ground was imbrued.
It was lurid, it was gruesome, it was unbearable to see;
“Was this massacre really carried out by me?”

The River Daya was now sickly shades of sanguine,
Stained with the blood of those who were slain,
But all in due time , the rain will restore its blue grace,
It was the scars of the people nature would never efface.

His pride turned to remorse, and his joy to sorrow,
Would he ever gain redemption in the days to follow?
The afflictions he had caused; he vowed to expiate,
His appetite for war, he vowed to abate.

This epiphany bestowed him with a newfound wisdom,
A mighty emperor, he was; triumphant on the field.
An unmatched victor, but  a loser all the same,
Winning every battle; lost himself along the way.

 

A LETTER FROM THE FUTURE

letter

Dear Present,

I’m just one big mystery to you aren’t I?  To you, I’m just a stranger; one that induces a great deal of apprehension and excitement.  I know how much you worry for me.  I know that you make every decision keeping me in mind, and I know about the sleepless nights spent speculating  whether I’ll be alright or not.

But I have a surprise for you. I have many, in fact. And I’ll hurl them at you at times you least expect them. So this is me wishing you good luck because not all of my surprises will be good ones.

If I revealed myself to you now, you’d be disappointed. For mainly two reasons. You’re not entirely sure what you want me to be. Every day you conjure up a different fantasy for me and some days you don’t even want to think about me. And the second reason? You expect way too much out of me. How could I possibly be all those things you dream about, without your help?

Which brings me to my humble request. Please stop leaving all your work for me. I’m a lot more like you than you think ; if you don’t “feel like doing it” , chances are, I won’t either. The best you’ll get is a thank-you note for the looming sense of dissatisfaction you have conveniently  passed on to me.

But don’t mistake my sarcasm for ungratefulness. I know how hard you work to ensure that I’m secure and happy. I know the hours you put in so that I could have all the fun you might have missed out on. But please, don’t fool yourself. You and I both know that it doesn’t work that way. No matter how many all-nighters you pull, I’ll always have my share of slogging; my share of stunts to pull. The sooner you accept that, the less disappointed you’ll be.

I appreciate how confused this might leave you. So many contradictions , and still no idea what I am.  There’s no boundary between you and me. Just as time flows, you flow into me.

I have a lot to thank you for. You made me what I am. You are the sculptor and I am the clay; the shape I take lies solely in your hands. And more than anything, I’m grateful that you taught me how to sculpt. For just how you made me , I have to shape my own future.

I’ll be seeing you,

Regards,

Future

THE MASQUERADE BALL

masquerade

A sumptuous hall, so tastefully adorned,
Breathtaking splendour; opulence galore.
Alluring, enchanting, it will always enthrall,
Welcome to the Masquerade Ball!

Men so poised, with remarkable charm,
Resplendent women with elegance; grace,
Strangers waltzing in strangers arms,
Whilst all along, concealing their face.

“The most wonderful thing”, so the public deems,
Everywhere you look, it’s the word on the street
It’s the furore, it’s the rage, it’s everyone’s dream,
The Masquerade Ball is the place to be!

Everyone must arrive alone,
Who the guests are, nobody knows.
But this night is one you think you’ll appreciate,
For along with that mask, comes a clean slate.

Enjoy the banter, and exchange the pleasantries,
Exploit the bliss of this short time.
You haven’t any baggage; any ugly history,
This facelessness is to you; sublime.

It may take a while for realization to dawn,
You’ll stop and wonder how you’d got it all wrong
From an excited invitee boastful and proud,
You’re now a faceless person in a faceless crowd.

No one knows who you are, no one knows what you do,
Your presence or absence was never in their view.
Everyone gets their turn, it’ll be yours too,
The Masquerade Ball is coming to you!

The doors sealed shut, there’s no escape,
You’re trapped inside until dawn breaks.
You bide your time  painfully awaiting  your release,
This was all a big farce, it was far from your dream.

Freedom is the water that ends your drought,
You celebrate while leaving, you can now stand out.
You now have your face, you’re no longer subdued,
You see the Masquerade Ball was never meant for you.

THE GOODBYE

goodbye

I really wish I were one of those people who  could fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. I’d even settle for lying in bed for an hour before sleep descends on me. Night time was now a time where I lie in the darkness, alone with my thoughts, extremely tired, but unable to sleep. It was a routine now, and I had no choice but to come to terms with it.

I usually reflect on the same things every night. How I’m leaving soon, and going off to a new place. My stomach drops each time, both in fear and excitement. I couldn’t wait to leave, but I also never want to leave. My thoughts eventually drift to my closest friend, and this is when I try to shut my mind off and desperately summon sleep.

We grew close during high school. We were in the same school since we were ten, but only later did we actually get around to calling the other a good friend. It was around that time when she moved to my neighbourhood, and that’s actually when we got talking.

It was a gradual process, but we eventually became inseparable. Our friendship began as just a weekly date where we would go cycling together and make small talk. We never really interacted much at school, but that didn’t stop us from hanging out more and more at home. We would study together, swim together, gossip together, watch chick flicks and binge watch T.V shows together, go shopping together, and have sleepovers. Somewhere along the way the small talk turned into secrets we swore never to tell. Somewhere along the way we found a best friend in one another.

And now it was time to say goodbye.

Thinking about it made me feel uneasy. Sure, we had promised to keep in touch, and tell each other every last detail of our lives, but we both knew that it would never be the same. Halfway across the world, both of us living the fast paced life, I wondered if a couple of years down the line we would still make time to talk to someone who isn’t actively involved in our life.

The next few days were a blur of hurried last minute packing, errands, and hot tempers. On the eve of the day I was to leave, I met my friend. I didn’t know what to expect. It was probably the last time I’d see her for a few years at least, so I braced myself for a tearful farewell.

But there were no tears.

It was just like any other time we met. The streets were empty, but our voices and laughter broke the silence. It occurred to me that I would never roam these roads again, much less with her. I bit my tongue in anticipation of a wave of emotion to follow, but I felt nothing. An eerie emptiness had nested inside of me.

We continued talking about the usual stuff; my leaving was the elephant in the room which both of us chose not to address. I remember thinking before that friends aren’t irreplaceable, and that you only miss people so long as you don’t find a reasonable substitute for them.

When it was time to go we awkwardly stared at each other. Both of us were speechless. Years of companionship, all coming down to this. One final adieu. We hugged a bit and reinforced that we must keep in touch. I felt like there was so much to say but didn’t know where to start. Does absence make the heart grow fonder or does distance dissolve relationships? It was our turn to find out.

We had to go our separate ways. Both in life and in that moment. She smiled at me once more and turned around to walk to her house. I followed suit, but I turned around again to catch one last glimpse of her.  As I watched her slip away from my life, memories with her came flooding into my mind, almost as a reminder of just how close we really were. Even if we drifted apart and elaborate phone calls dwindled to occasional monosyllabic texts, it wouldn’t take these years away from me. I would always feel nostalgic when thinking about our friendship, and the thought of her would always make me smile. I wondered if she thought she may be able to find a substitute for me. Because I knew I never would.

THE FINAL COLLAPSE

“Stay with me, my love, don’t leave me alone,
The darkness of your absence shall have me forlorn,
Listen to your wife, just do as I say,
I promise you’ll thank me another day.

I had a dream where hell was earth,
And that you set out today, never to return.
Remember, a woman’s intuition carries great worth,
So my anguish and concern mustn’t be spurned. “

**********************

He noticed his target was doubtful and unsure.
“Your wife’s being a fool, you needn’t hark her.
Tell her harm shan’t befall you with me by your side,
And that showing up today is a matter of pride.”

Hence no heed was paid to the distraught wife’s warnings,
As he lead his target to what would be his downfall.
No more need to contemplate his decision every morning
Today was the day he would exercise his call.

The wife was right, this moment marked the beginning of the end,
No one would suspect the victim’s dearest friend.
Honourable and trustworthy, one of the noblest in Rome,
Praetor Marcus Brutus, lo and behold!

It was for the greater good, he convinced himself.
To prevent a tyranny, he had agreed to help.
But he knew that meant leaving Calpurnia bereft,
He was to plunge a knife though Julius Caesar’s chest.

**********************

 

 

caesar

The assassination of Julius Caesar is one of the most notable events in history. This act of treachery laid a foundation for several literary works and has been referenced many times in pop-culture. Perhaps the most significant of them all is Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” where Caesar utters his famous dying words “Et tu Brute? Then fall Caesar.”

Although that bit has no historical evidence, it gives us an idea of the relationship the two shared. Plutarch, a renowned biographer of that era reports that Caesar simply pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.

I’ve always wondered if Brutus was right in plotting against Caesar. On one hand, Caesar’s increasing  power seemed to worry some senators, and proclaiming himself  “dictator perpetuo” (dictator in perpetuity) didn’t seem to help matters. But on the other hand, backstabbing his close friend (literally and figuratively) made him a traitor. And the fact that Caesar’s military prowess and leadership were highly commendable can’t be ignored.

Caesar had pardoned Brutus in the past. In 49 BCE , Brutus sided with Pompey in the civil war against Caesar. During the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar ordered his officers to let Brutus be if he resisted against capture, but to take Brutus if he gave up voluntarily. He forgave Brutus and appointed him as the governor of Gaul. Four years later, he made him an urban praetor.

The Roman Republic despised kings, and was a staunch supporter of the Senate system. According to the conspirators, Caesar would soon turn the Republic into a tyranny. Gaius Cassius Longinus, Brutus’s friend and brother-in-law was one of the main men who hatched the plan. It is said that he got Brutus on board so that he would give some sort of sanctity to the conspiracy. Brutus was held in high regard, and was a man of great honour. Surely any proceeding with Brutus in it would be for a noble cause?

I’d like to take a look into Brutus’s thoughts. Was there any demur or compunction  when he agreed to help kill Caesar? Did he believe he was acting for the greater good? Was he selflessly trying to protect the Republic, or was some sort of personal vendetta involved? Caesar is said to have had an affair with Brutus’s mother, maybe that was a factor?

The intention of the assassination was to prevent Rome from falling into the hands of a dictator or a tyrant. The sad irony is that Caesar’s death put an end to the Roman Republic and after a civil war , his grandnephew and adopted heir Octavian became the first emperor of Rome, thus commencing the Roman Empire.

In his dying moments, Caesar’s mind must have been racing. Caught completely off-guard with more than sixty men ready to stab him, and among them was Brutus. His friend whose judgement he often trusted even more than his own, a friend he saved and forgave in the past, and a friend who was ready to betray him. In those last moments, on seeing Brutus, did Caesar pull his toga over his head , accepting his fate, thinking it was probably what he deserved? Among all this, I imagine Caesar regretting not having paid attention to Calpurnia’s disturbing nightmares, or the warnings he got from doctors and others.

One major contribution that Caesar made that continues to affect us now is the reform of the calendar. The Julian calendar which he introduced was regulated by the movement of the sun and incorporated the concept of a leap day. The Gregorian calendar we follow today is similar to this one.

Caesar was very popular with the lower classes, and his death enraged them. He was known to be a good leader and a good politician. He was benevolent at times, but was also a dictator. If Octavian had not established the Roman Empire, would Caesar have instead?

The complexity of the situation makes it difficult to put everything in black and white. Instead the shades of grey tell us that right and wrong is often unclear. Another conclusion we draw from this episode is that the future is always uncertain. Caesar would have never foreseen Brutus’s betrayal, and the conspirators would not have imagined that Caesar’s demise would result in the crumbling of the Republic.