I woke up from the familiar shallow sleep in a manner which now no longer seemed awkward to me and to the grey-green eyed female body lying in the immediate proximity. I was wet to the root of my hair in cold sweat and it was still just a repetitive part of the drill, the ritual that my battered self had been unwillingly following since the dawn of this forbidden darkness that I or rather we all kept falling into every day, every hour, every minute, every second and each and every intangible fraction of relativity in this sterile aeon. There was no longer a distinction between reality and imagination, sweetness of desire and the salt taste of withdrawal, the anguish of the shambling ages and the hysteria of indecipherable abnormality.
I knew there was nothing I could do about it, except just look into those sleepy eyes, which were now looking at me, full of questions and dripping with an ardent desire to become mine and see my soul through my disillusioned and barren vision. They had this weird but familiar shade of pain and inconsolable grief accented by the spiritual strength which to show me the view beyond this mist. Far beyond, towards the fictitious sun. “For Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” It is still visible when I look towards it but its warmth was for so long denied to me that it no longer resembles an actual aura but rather a glorified myth, a myth which perhaps is still true in all but the essence of its divinity. It no longer heralds the arrival of a fresh, dew-flashing dawn but it rather brings it on like an apathetic medieval warden blowing his battle horn in his death-infested dungeon to mark the beginning of yet another torturous day for the ill-fated inmates, decaying in the rot of its darkness and dense gloom.
In her embrace I could dare to see beyond the darkest. Behind the glowing contours of the silhouette of her lean body, I could see a pair of sparrows who had taken shelter at the terrace rail hiding their small selves from the morning rain. I tried to remember the last time I had seen a sparrow. It had been a long time. Wet but delightful, they chirped and waved their wings welcoming the new day. For a while, I was lost in this celebration of life. It seemed to me as if life was claiming back its lost ground. “Life is like a nomadic stream of rain water as it makes its way regardless of its host terrain. It can never be stopped from regeneration and can never be denied evolution.” This play of rare joy and emancipation was such a visual treat that I just kept staring at it.
I pinched her soft shoulder and urged her to turn and share this pleasant panorama with me. I looked at her face and found her staring at me with a tender smile and a delicately inquisitive look trying to adoringly decipher the reason for this sudden appearance of infrequent pleasure on my face. She turned, her eyes still fixed on me, until the morning glow from the window made her face hide behind a pink brilliance. Her eyes glowing like morning dew, she looked at those birds and turned back towards me like an ecstatic kid. She wanted to say something but she didn’t have to. I heard it all. Her eyes whispered everything. She desired that happiness. She longed for that freedom. She wanted to fly. So did I. Then something happened. Something so terrible that it jolted us into a scream. A shock so violent that it made us freeze with despair. So merciless it left us oscillating upon the plasma of grief.
Sometimes optimism, the ability or the weakness to cosy up to these rusty hopes of a divine intervention even when we can see them rotting in senile decay, becomes your worst enemy. But you carry your weathered self on in the utter darkness, limping towards that light that you can see but can never reach. No matter how much we chase it. It remains treacherously far but invitingly close until we are submerged, melting into the bone-hardened primordial soup we were crawling on, to be dug-out in the form of immortal fossils centuries later by the future inhabitants of this noland. Who will then go beyond the well trodden philosophies to predict the events leading to our demise usually rejected and occasionally parodied? No one can to understand or rather believe that they are a slave to the worldly prejudices and starry-eyed imaginations which we actually went through.
Imagine a person who is blind from birth and has never seen anything. Is it possible for us to explain to him what light is? Is any amount of thinking or reasoning on his part ever going to make him understand the sensation of light? Just so, the idea of our misery cannot be explained or understood through material reasoning or any form of human communication. It is like light: those who can sense it cannot explain or argue with those who have never sensed it. It will be recorded in history by various pens, each with partisan eulogies and deliberate exclusions but nevertheless telling the saga of the darkest era of humanity, darker then death itself, darker than anything we humans have ever seen, heard, felt or imagined. A yuga so dark that it will be considered an age of the damned, the age of the souls denied moksha, the wretched souls who were condemned to take human form and populate this forbidden age. To suffer the worst of a new human feeling which I can only say is beyond fear or agony. A rotten hellish disease that just grips you from within and grows, grows and grows with a god-defying pace to bring the ultimate annihilation not just of the self but of belief, of faith, of hope. And of all the feelings and emotions that make me you and all of us human. And you can’t bear it. Your refusal to accept triggers the second phase of this disease. I think I can call it a disease because that little bit of human left in me doesn’t allow me to call it a feeling, because it can’t be felt, can only be suffered. And I am suffering, decaying, collapsing under my own skin.
And this second phase is where the true demise of one’s existence begins. They said Atma is eternal like the divine aeon, a self-aware essence, or consciousness, unique to a particular living being, independent of the substance and which thus survives the death of the body. It just regenerates into a new mortal form after the demise of its previous residence until it attains moksha and dissolves in Brahman, the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the divine ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this universe. But when you see it dying with you… I know you can’t see it dying because its just a physical energy or a minute component of this universe or a mere notion that culture and religions made us believe or whatever we as a breed of god-fearing social animals concluded after our long tenure in this tangible world. But you can feel it. I felt it. And I am feeling it. And I will keep feeling it till I die, or rather until we die.
Holy bible. Holy. This word has lost its significance for all of us but nevertheless Matthew 28:20 says “…I am with you always, to the end of the age”. But is he still with us? And when is this age going to end? I read somewhere, “I fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”. I don’t know who this him in our story is. The Buddha warns, “Those who believe that a permanent self does not exist are just as gravely mistaken as those who believe that one does.” I understood that both views are wrong and don’t capture the actual truth of the matter and that speculating on this would only worse suffering rather than remove it. I believed everything they said. I believed it all. But this belief is now a mash of maggoty emotions and defeated faith in my distended head, and here I am lying cold and tired waiting for the trap door to open, to see myself free falling into the unfathomable depths below.
When you are fighting for survival there is always this evil glimmer of hope that someone somewhere will come and rescue you from misery. Or at least will just hold your hand and make a desperate effort to do so. But when every soul around you is also seeing the periphery of their entire existence fading away in gloom, there is nothing you can wish or pray for, other than to ask the fate bearer to take you to the ultimate, and quickly.
Now when I train my colourless sight on fellow faces in this damned darkness, the expression that I see – or decipher, or maybe expect – should be of that of those fear- charred passengers on a capsized ferry in a ruthless, unforgiving dark sea where every passing moment is a duel between the need to stay alive and the desperate wish to end this ordeal. The heart knows that its fate is about to be tossed to the skeletal figure with his oversized scythe, wearing a midnight black cloak, his face unseen – a mere shadow beneath the hood – but the mind is a dove that works on machines with its eyes closed, trying to delay the inevitable. But it is not that. The expression is not that.
And still just like a typical galactic-fearing human specimen I prayed, to the almighty, god, the rakshak or the sarvshaktimaan, my mind permeated with deliberate negligence in the face of truth, something ill-humorously insane and fanatically surreal, at which reality brandished its maniacally glistening fangs. Hopelessly optimistic, I prayed. I prayed for all of this to be just a terrible illusionary dream, the dream which I gleefully and somehow triumphantly smirked at every morning after hours of galloping on untamed psychedelic trips, the result of those socially forbidden substances which turn human dreams beyond sane reality. I prayed for it to be a mighty nightmare that would now dissolve in my eyes as a forgotten play of misty illusions. Everything would fall back to its colours, under the morning aura, the orange glow in the east, the warmth of a beautiful morning, the divinity of brahm-kaal and the noise of all the particles of nature coming out of the dark cocoon.
I could feel she was trembling. Her pink lips had turned blue with fear. And, like a prowling wolf starving for warm flesh, it came back to her. Her eyes rolled up into her skull and her throat started choking with her own saliva. She turned pale in the blink of an eye. Veins on her pink forehead swelled like vicious violet worms. “Oh god! Please don’t…” I gasped and took her in my arms and pressed her tight against my maniacally beating heart. I scrambled for the small bottle of tablets in the bedside drawer. Once again the fear of losing her cornered me from all sides. I found the bottle and fumbled to open it. Like a ghoul I shoved the blood red tablets in her trembling dry mouth and placed a glass of water against her lips. She suckled in the tablets and her petrified face glistening with sweat looked back at me. And once again I could read her through her grey-green eyes. She was apologising for making me go through this agonising routine day after day. I assured her, kissing those innocent discoloured lips. And I knew I could do it until eternity. I loved her more than anything in this world and I told her so. She replied by wearingly pressing my hand as her temples regained the pink aura. It took an unbearably long ten minutes for her breathing to slowly come back to normal and her heart to limp back to life as she collapsed into a deep sleep. I was numb with helplessness.
The most devastating feeling in this world is to watch the most precious of your earthily possessions slowly fade away from your sight regardless of how much you squint your eyes in despair. She was my sole companion in this perfidious odyssey and even the mere notion of seeing her fragile fingers slip through my hands was enough to shudder me to the core. But at the moment she was there, sleeping like an infant in my arms, still breathing. One look at her tired face painted with the scars of that excruciating ordeal flooded my feeble eyes with tears. They dripped onto her cheeks. I looked upon the thing that triggered her violent psycho-physiological arousal. What was left of the pair of sparrows was sprawled on the terrace floor. The rain droplets were slowly washing away the maroon from the cold pieces of their lifeless tiny bodies. Naive creatures, they were blown away by a single shot of a 12 gauge Brenneke slug fired from the pump-action Remington 870 shotgun. I could see the metallic demon and I could see its slave too.
The metal and its slave were still savouring the view of their accomplishment. Approximately 20 yards from my terrace on the top of his fortified mansion there stood Alamvusha. I won’t use the names we were blessed with on our respective arrivals in this world as we don’t breathe in that normality anymore, it’s not the same sane world. Just like the nature of our spiritual and material subsistence, the legitimacy and tranquility behind the thoughts that spawned our names has corroded too. So I will call him Alamvusha, a rakshasa skilled at fighting with both conventional weapons and the powers of illusion during the epic war of the Mahabharata. The startled morning sky suddenly drew itself into a huddle as mighty hordes of ebony black clouds invaded the morning amber.
He was still there, gawking menacingly at me through the glass windows. Above him through the canopy of nimbi there appeared a clearing. And like a ghastly invulnerable deity there emerged the protagonist of this gatha. He was once the classic manifestation of the great poets and the source of inspiration for countless imaginations. He was still the same. Ashen with borrowed radiance and scarred with dark gashes, he stepped out of his black marquee for that forebodingly spectacular moment of malevolent euphoria. There he was right above Alamvusha’s head like a pompous celestial chieftain granting his heavenly approval to the act. And then in arrogant haste he retreated back to his playground as numerous layers of obedient clouds hurried forward to hide their lord in a slavish embrace, leaving his devoted partisans to bask in his malign reign.
Alamvusha’s form was repeatedly distorted in the water flowing down the window pane until he completely disappeared behind the growing ripples. For a long time I kept looking up there. Too scared to move and too deadened to react. The corpses were long drained by the rain water. That portion of the terrace was sickeningly clean now. “A typical morning”, I whispered to myself as I felt a cold touch on my face and I realised that she was still there in my arms, half-awake, battered, trying to touch my face. I kissed her and took her in a defeated embrace. She responded with as much energy as she could generate through her frail body. She was crushed, but not shattered. And I was proud of her blunt resilience.
Here we were lying cold and undone in each other’s arms in one of the cursed mornings of the darkest age of humankind. I will name her Subhadrā, the great yadav princess, younger sister of Lord Krishna and wife of Arjuna the magnificent. She was known for her strong will and determination, for her beauty like mighty Surya and her fearlessness like Rudra. She was the one who drove the chariot when Arjuna and she eloped from their kingdom for their gandharva vivah. She blessed this earth with the great warrior Abhimanyu and stayed back in this mayalok to guide her grandson Parikshita to rule the kingdom for which his clan had fought the greatest bharata of all time. And I, I am the valorous but condemned warrior of the yadava-vrishni dynasty of Lord Krishna. He fought hard in the great battle but his hellish hatred resulting in his fall from the throne of glory finished him off. He was fated to live through the times he should have departed in, to witness the excruciating demise of his kinfolk through their own errant hands. I am the cursed one. I am Satyaki.
The first chapter of a novel written by Arjun Singh in 2008, a designer based in Bangalore working with a leading denim brand. This is the first time this work has been published. All images also by the author.