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Fun with fiction #3



Karan turned his head around to see the door being opened. There was no light on in the house. The Sun wasn’t up yet, but one end of the sky was a light orange and only the brightest stars were still visible in the sky. This light was enough to illuminate the person standing at the door that was now wide open. Karan could see just a tiny little room behind the man which had another door that was closed. A door very similar to the main door that he had been waiting outside of.

The man at the door seemed to be in his late forties, well-built, and with tufts of curly black hair along the sides of a circular bald patch on top of his head. He was wearing a simple white shirt and trousers, which was what everyone at the Baba’s ashram wore. Karan wasn’t sure if they were required to do so, but they seemed to do it anyway. The man said, “Thank you for coming all the way here, Mr. Karan. It’s nice to meet you.”

It was the same deep voice that he had heard on the phone. He could finally put a face to the voice. “I’m Harish. I’m the chief of staff at the Baba’s ashram and handle all his administrative affairs.” he said, as he shook Karan’s hand.

“Nice to finally see you in person, Mr. Harish.”

“The Baba always wakes up along with the Sun. So, he should be up in a few minutes. Would you like some coffee? We have our own coffee estate here.”

“Yes, please. That would be great.”

As Harish walked in through the door that Karan had noticed earlier to get some coffee, Karan sat down on one of the two chairs that were in the room. They were simple wooden chairs that reminded him of his grandfather’s study where there was a similar chair and a reading table.

“The Baba will see you now, Mr. Karan” said Harish, as he stepped back into the room with a cup of steaming hot coffee. “You may carry your coffee in. I’ve given the Baba his morning cup of coffee as well.”

As Harish stepped back in through the door that he had just come out of, Karan took the cue and followed him. This was a much larger room with multiple doors on each of the four sides. But there was hardly any decoration. It was painted in simple white and the floor was white marble that was sparkling clean. He could easily have mistaken this for an empty house that he was being shown by a broker looking to find it a buyer. But Harish kept walking until he came to one of the doors on the opposite side of the room, where he knocked twice and waited a few seconds before opening the door and walking through. Karan, unsure what to expect, followed him in.

“Sir, this is Mr. Karan,” said Harish, with a slight bow of respect. Karan, unable to decide whether to go over and offer to shake the Baba’s hand or fold his hands in a traditional namaste, ended up just flashing a smile.

The Baba didn’t turn to look at them, and continued nodding his head, as though he was listening intently to a child telling him a story. But where there should have been a smile, Karan found a deep frown that made him feel that the Baba was either worrying about something or had just heard some grave news. “Hello sir,” he managed to blurt out, as the Baba, still not looking their way and still slowly nodding with a worried frown on his face, patted on the seat next to his bed, where he was sitting with his legs stretched, gesturing, it appeared to Karan, an invitation to go sit next to him. Harish took this as a cue and left the room with a slight bow.

Karan slowly ambled up to the seat and sat down on it, with his legs close to each other, knees touching. He didn’t rest his back on the chair, as he gazed at the Baba, waiting for him to say something. He couldn’t help but feel that he was interrupting the holy man, although he had come here on invitation at the appointed hour. If he hadn’t done his research, he would have judged the Baba to be in his mid thirties, even though he was actually twice that age. He had seen pictures of the Baba, of course, where he always wore long white robes that loosely hung over his body. And with long white hair and an equally long white beard and moustache that failed to indicate where one ended and the other began, it was hard to tell the man’s facial features by looking at his photographs available on the Internet, none of which had been taken up close.

But now, as Karan sat next to him, taking in the details of his face and his bare-chested upper body, and the legs under the white dhoti, he found the holy man to be remarkably fit for a seventy year old. There didn’t seem to be stray fat visible anywhere and even though not muscular in a body-builder kind of way, Karan could tell that his muscles were in good shape. His face was completely free of wrinkles and his brown eyes had a sharpness about them that reminded Karan of the eyes of a curious intern at his work place.

After several minutes, the Baba finally seemed to stop nodding and turned his head to face Karan, who immediately lowered his gaze, not wanting to be caught staring. The Baba picked up his cup of coffee that was on the table next to the seat Karan was on, smiled and said “Ah, Mr. Karan, thank you for coming down here to see me. I hope you didn’t have trouble finding the place?”

“No, sir. It was easy enough. Harish was good with the directions.”

“He is a helpful man to have around.” There was a silence that Karan didn’t break while the Baba took a few sips of his coffee.

“You must be wondering why I wanted to see you, Mr. Karan. But before we get to it, I want to tell you a little story to hear your opinion on it. Would you care to indulge me?”

“Of course, sir.” Karan had read about the anecdotes shared by people who had had the opportunity to talk to the holy man, and knew that he liked to ease people into the conversation by telling a little story. It was his own way of breaking the ice.

“Once upon a time, the world was dominated by two clans. These were not clans of people. Of humans. No. Some called them gods. Some called them angels. Some called them devils. Some called them demons. Some called them spirits. It all depended on the historical background of the people there, and their culture and lifestyle. The wise men of the community, the ones who had influence over the people around them, gave them these names. Sometimes, they invented leaders for these clans, they invented life forms for these leaders and their followers, they created stories around them. These stories were passed around among all the people in the community and these stories were used as the basis for guiding them on what they ought to do, what was acceptable, what was not acceptable.”

“This was not always done through stories, though. Many a time, there was violence involved. While some communities believed in guiding their people through the repetition of stories, some communities believed in using violence on offenders, those who deviated from the prescribed way of life, to instill a sense of fear in their people of doing certain things. Quite often, there were multiple factions in the same communities that followed these varying approaches. While you had peaceful monks trying to persuade their people to live by the rules of god and religious scriptures, there were also radicals who coerced people around them to lead life a certain way by instilling fear in them by pointing them to macabre scenarios that they could end up in for not following their word.”

“However, a large portion of the people in any community at the time couldn’t directly verify the existence of these gods or spirits or demons or whatever they were called in their land. All they could verify was the guidelines set down upon them. And sometimes, not even that. It all worked on belief. Belief that they would go to heaven for not sinning, belief that they would receive a good harvest if they donated food to the poor, belief that they would be protected from being robbed or raped or murdered if they followed religious practices set down for their community. You get the idea. The laws and the constitution that we have now is merely an extension of religious laws that preceded them.”

“Meanwhile, the stories, the violence, the definition of gods and spirits weren’t mere fabrications by the wise men of the land. Not completely, at least. In every community, every society, there were always a handful of people who heard the voices. The voices belonged to those from the two clans that I mentioned at the start of my story. Now, who belonged to these clans? Over the ages, those who could hear the voices, and speak to them, have consistently referred to them as almas. The Almas have no form. In that sense, they are invisible. The only way one can feel their presence is when they speak up. The only way they can be identified is through their voices. And the Almas could only be heard by the ones chosen by them to be heard.”

“The two clans of the Almas have been called Mayantu, signifying the force of the forest and Yacu, signifying the force of the river.”

“The Almas belonging to the Mayantu clan acted according to the force of the forest. The forest is where only the fittest survive, where one’s actions are constantly driven by fear, fear of going hungry without food, fear of being caught and eaten by a predator, fear of not finding a mate, fear of being isolated and abandoned by the group one belongs to. These Almas always chose the most influential people in a community or a society who could spread the force of the forest as the way of the land, to speak to. They chose killers, ruthless dictators, robbers, corrupt officials and whoever else would act in ways that made the majority of their population act in accordance with the force of the forest, the Mayantu way.”

“The Almas belonging to the Yacu clan acted according to the force of the river. The river is an agnostic body of water that spreads whatever it gathers along the way, equally to everything it comes across until it finally merges and becomes one with the ocean. The river doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t hoard anything for itself and makes everyone and everything that it comes in contact with richer. It is no coincidence that all of the early human settlements and the major cities were along the riverbanks. The Almas of the Yacu clan always chose the most influential people in a community or a society who could spread the force of the river as the way of the land, to speak to. They chose philosophers, religious leaders, benevolent kings, charitable queens, honest officials and whoever else would act in ways that made the majority of their population act in accordance with the force of the river, the Yacu way.”

The Baba stopped, turning his head away from Karan, chin held slightly up, eyes unfocused, as though listening intently to something he was expecting to hear. Despite the cool breeze through the window early in the morning, Karan had beads of sweat on his forehead, while his shirt was sticking to his back, also damp with his perspiration.

Meanwhile, the Baba seemed to give a slight nod, his eyes still unfocused and his face still taut with an indication of focus, before he relaxed his face back to it’s natural position and turned back to face Karan. He continued with the story as though there had been no pause or interruption.

“Naturally, as you may have noticed, the Mayantu and the Yacu clans have had opposing ideas and guiding principles. As with any two clans with opposing ideologies, they wanted to ensure that their way was followed by the majority of the people. As a result, in any community on any land, no matter who the king or ruler or the leading religion of the day, there has always been representatives of both clans trying to further their way of life. And like we see in politics today, no clan has been able to have a strong foothold for a sustained period of time. There has always been a clash of the ways, with the Mayantu and the Yacu ways both coming to life and gathering their own following.”

Karan could only see the Baba’s lips moving, while his mind failed to register the words being uttered by those lips. His head started reeling, as he continued to stare in the Baba’s direction, his mind racing to make new connections that previously didn’t exist.

Karan had always had vivid dreams. Although, he barely remembered them once he woke up. But a month ago, he had a dream that he clearly remembered even now. It was a simple dream, one that he had had many times before. With one difference.

He was sitting down at the beach. He couldn’t say which beach or what part of the world it was. It was a place he had never even seen pictures of. But it was place that always calmed him. There were long coconut trees behind him that seemed to stretch as far as he could see, while there was the ocean stretching to the horizon in front of him. On either side, he could see sand that met water, curving along until the coconut trees met the ocean at the horizon. The waves were constant, relentless, and had the most pleasant of sounds. There were no birds in the air. No stars in the sky. Nor the moon. The Sun had all but set in the ocean. He could just see the top half of the circular ball of fire that lit up the water around it in bright orange. The sand was clean and even in texture. There were no stray twigs. No seashells. No stones. No pebbles. Just sand. Stretching on in either direction. And he would sit there, resting his weight on his hands, as he placed them in the sand behind him, with his legs stretched out towards the ocean, watching the setting sun.

A month ago, as he was in this dream again, he had heard a voice. A voice that could have come out of the sky. Or from across the ocean. Or from among the coconut trees. He couldn’t say. It was as though someone was talking to him while sitting next to him, behind him, in front of him, everywhere. No matter where he turned, where he moved, the voice was the same. It could have been in his head. He finally decided that that was the most logical explanation. Yes, the voice had to be in his head.

“We are dying, Karan. Please help us. We are dying.” The voice was calm. Not loud. Not high-pitched. Not urgent. Just plain and calm. Like the voice of a yoga instructor, who would speak slowly with pauses between words, in a soothing monotone, not disturbing the equilibrium of the mind as she watches her pupils meditate, as she meditates with them. “Breathe in. Breathe out.” It was the same tone.

Yet, the message itself had urgency in it. “We are dying, Karan. Please help us. We are dying.” A dying person doesn’t speak in a calm tone. A dying requesting for his help wouldn’t speak in a calm tone. But who was dying? There was no one around to be seen. Not in the trees. They were swaying in the wind, as usual. Not in the ocean. The water was unaltered, except for the constant waves. Not in the sky. The disappearing blue with an orange hue was unblemished. Yet, the pleading continued.

Karan had woken up sweating. His night shirt was damp. As was his pillow cover.

His head was still reeling. He could faintly hear what the Baba was saying, who seemed to continue with the story, unperturbed, not noticing that his one man audience had lost his focus, not noticing that his story was falling on deaf ears.

The call from Harish had come soon after that night when he had had that dream, Karan thought. Was there a connection? Did the Baba somehow know about his dream? About the voice he had heard? Was this a story or was the Baba trying to see how Karan reacted to it? But why would he? How could he even know what Karan had dreamt?

Karan’s head was spinning now, as these questions started to push one another trying to get to the top of his head, each tumbling out to make way for the next. Was he just over-reacting? Was it just a coincidence that the Baba was talking about voices? Had he even heard any voices? Weren’t they just dreams?

After that night with the pleas to help the dying, Karan had had the same dream three more times. Each time, it had been a different voice that pleaded. But with the same calm monotone. As though there had been different yoga instructors meditating with the pupils each day. “Breathe in. Breathe out.”

Karan shook his head vigorously, and stretched his eyes, blinking slowly, trying to snap out of the questions that were piling up in his head.

The Baba didn’t seem to be bothered by Karan’s reaction. He paused for just a moment, tilting his head, as though to see if Karan was alright, and confirming that he was, continued. “The Mayantu and Yacu have been fighting for dominance for as long as they have existed. While each has driven the other to the verge of death, neither has been able to completely extinguish the voice of the other. Beaten and dormant for a period of time, the defeated has always managed to come back to take a stronghold. Slowly, but surely.”

“Right.” Karan managed to say and nod, just about keeping his voice normal. The questions he had planned to ask the Baba were all but lost in his head now, as he struggled to put his dreams away and not relate them to the story he had heard. Was it really one of these voices that he had heard? If so, what did it mean? Could he talk back to them? They had repeated the same line despite what he had shouted after hearing the voices. Was there something more to the story?

“You seem distracted, son.” Said the Baba. “Is everything alright? I hope I didn’t bore you with my story.”

“No sir,” managed Karan. “It’s just that I’ve had a long drive and haven’t had any sleep.” He did feel exhausted and sleepy, despite the coffee he had had just a while ago.

“Why don’t you get some sleep? We can continue our conversation once you have had the chance to rest.” He seemed to ring a bell to summon Harish. “Harish, could you please show Mr. Karan to one of the guest rooms where he can get some sleep? He’s had a tiring journey.”

Karan followed Harish out of the room, vaguely managing to smile goodbye to the Baba, as his thoughts continued to race.

As he lie down on the little white bed in one of the guest rooms, he quickly fell asleep.

He was back at the beach, watching the orange sun that had sunk half way into the ocean, with the coconut trees behind him. As he looked up at the sky, he heard it again. “We are dying, Karan. Please help us. We are dying.” It was a different voice, yet again. But, this time he recognised the voice. It was that of a young girl. A girl that had been working as an intern under him for the last couple of months.

It was his boss’s daughter.

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