By Haris Ahmed
There sits a village perched between two hills. Here flows a river so pristine that people would sing eulogies to its name. Around hundred families populate either side of this mighty river which, they say, descends directly from the heavens as a gift for their virtuous deeds in the previous life. On either side, the village borders on an impregnable forest, thus effectively severing all contacts with the world that lay beyond.
In the local mythology, humanity was a group of two complaisant tribes living in harmony in the land of Gods. It was the unrelenting wrath of the Gods on one man’s folly that would banish entire humanity to Earth. Humanity was then doomed to wander on Earth until they could identify the group to which this debauch belonged to.
It’s the seventh day of the week. It is believed that the gods would descend from their heavenly abode to replenish the river in proportion of good deeds of their worshippers. Thus, not a soul would pass by the river, lest it becomes unholy. A while ago, the high priest of the village pronounced a diktat:
“Every dweller of this land is commanded in the name of our mighty lord; they must maintain a distance greater than twelve hands from our mother-river, the sustainer of humanity, on every seventh day of week from the break of the dawn to dusk. Any man found in breach of this Godly decree shall be dealt fittingly.
Praise thy Lord!”
As if it weren’t enough, the high priest chose to inscribe this new tyrannical decree at every lane of the village. To assuage his megalomania, he had one inscribed on a gilded parchment that he’d always carry with himself.
3 months later:
Laborer’s quarter, a dilapidated cabin near the nether end of the village
“You surely won’t die, mother. We’ll do something; the medicine will arrive tomorrow once the weather becomes tenable. Mother, you’ll live.” A stinging pain sweeps his throat. Almost on the verge of breakdown, he somehow gathers strength to withdraw from his mother’s bed.
It’s been ten days since his mother first fell ill. With each passing day her condition has worsened; she’s almost emaciated – a husk of her earlier self.
“I ought to do something quickly; I am not losing my mother now, not this time.” Firm in his resolve, he must act quickly. Leaning by the wooden door, a drop of rain skids down, almost sculpting the outlines of his nose. The shimmering rays of the dying sun send the final light before the ominous dusk. He had rehearsed the plan over and over again in his head, “No one gets to know anything; I’m doing no wrong. God, forgive me!”
Drunk villagers were dancing in debauchery, “The Gods must be equally ebullient in the heavens; don’t know what they have for wine up there; I’ll surely make them taste our wine!” rambled a young man almost passing out.
“This is the time, I’ll strike. And before these wretched could raise alarm, I’m gone.” With his bucket ready, he crawled through the palisade into the twelve hand forbidden distance near the holy river.
“I’ll atone for this sin, God; I’ll go up into the holy mountains and pray to the high Gods surely, I’ll do it.” His heart skipped beats as he put the bucket to draw water from the consecrated river. The words still echoed in his mind:
“Your mother lives only if she drinks the holy water; the water of the seventh day!” the words of the old ascetic.
He slowly pulled the bucket out of the river. As he did so, tears ran down his cheeks, “My mother lives; she won’t die as my father did!” He helped himself on feet, quickly trying to clean off his soiled cloth.
“Tie his hands immediately,” instructed the man in a thick accent to his accomplice. “We’ll take this heathen scum to the high priest; he’ll reward us handsomely,” grinned the man. Surely, the Gods and the high priest were pleased; this was his seventh catch over three months.
5 hours later:
“Slay the infidel! Scythe his head!” The frenzied crowd cheered as the two men dragged him across the muddy lane towards the pedestal of the sacrificial altar.
There were six sacrifices in a span of three months. His people were awe-struck and the Gods pleased. Nothing could actually belie this satisfaction, not even the gravity of his demeanor. He had crafted it meticulously over three decades of his rule. The high-priest was ruling with an iron hand and this new Godly fiat had finally helped him crush voices of dissent. “God willing, his rule shall prosper,” chuckled the high priest.
Two stout men helped him into the palanquin as he left to pronounce a verdict on this sinful act. “Steady the palanquin!” commanded the high priest to his bearers as he looked through the diaphanous screen, “It’s the twelfth day, when this unrelenting rain will cease. Verily, it’s a divine punishment for our sinning ways. This verdict would serve as a reminder to all people of my land; they must expiate for their sinful ways.”
The palanquin finally arrived at the sanctuary; the abode of Gods. It was again an idea of his astute mind to build a sanctuary near the holy river serving two purposes – to appease the Gods and to enamor his people. As he grew old and frail, he realized how important it was for a ruler to maintain an aura of his rule.
“Enough of this, no one utters a word. As the chosen slave of Gods, I stand here to serve justice. This heathen scum chose to defy the heavenly decree of our Lord. Despite warnings and admonishments, it’s the seventh breach of our sacred law. Surely, the Gods must be displeased and that’s why it rains incessantly for the past twelve days – a reminder of God’s wrath on our lecherous people.”
In the midst of his harangue, he broke to catch a breath. A sudden realization dawned on him. He was no longer his younger self. These years had finally begun to corrode him. Still his resolve and faith in his God had always grown and become unwavering.
“In my love for this village and my people, I have always overlooked your misdeeds just as a father always wishes that his children would make amends and never go astray. Verily, my love for you all was misplaced and that’s why the Gods are angry in the heavens. No more shall I tolerate your lechery.” Again as he stopped to steady himself; the crowd stood in utter bewilderment, unable to comprehend what was to come.
Gathering all his strength, the high priest was ready to enunciate the verdict, “Bring the infidel now!” As he said this, the guards brought the man near the raised platform of the altar. The man was sweating profusely. He’d now never get a chance to atone for his sins and his mother would surely die either of her illness or on hearing his disgraceful act. He really wished the God would spare his mother of ignominy that await her and bring her a quick death.
The high priest gestured through his hand at the executioner. A mountain of a man moved towards the altar, his machete shining in the full moon. “Until now I had always ensured that death would be quick and easy for every transgressor. The executioner is commanded to make this a fitting example for every sinner who lurks in the crowd. For the faithful, this is a spectacle they must rejoice. God’s providences are bountiful. Justice is served!” As he concluded this, the high priest moved towards the palanquin. It was already time for his nocturnal prayers.
1 month later:
A vestige of its gay days, the village lies abandoned. The great flooding after twelve days of unrelenting rain last month utterly obliterated the village. As the river receded to its normal course, the mangled bodies of men and beasts lay in harrowing postures everywhere. They became a feast for pariah dogs never accustomed to such a glut of flesh, that too of humans. Those who survived were left to fend for themselves. With little food, contaminated water and diseases everywhere, it was better to die at once than endure this calamity each day.
Packing the remainder of his belongings, he was ready to depart for the highlands with the survivors.
“It’s better that mother passed away quietly. She’d have never survived this onerous journey to the highlands,” he contemplated as he looked across the window, welcoming the first light of sun. Sometimes, as he’d reflect on the happenings of the past month, he’d often fail to understand God’s providence. The sudden flood that inundated the sanctuary as the executioner sharpened his machete one last time before severing his head; the cries of the villagers as they were swept in the mighty waves; and the wretched palanquin carrying the high-priest being blown to bits. Maybe the God had a message in everything. It was his divine retribution on his village fraught with absurd traditions and hypocrisy where people danced in revelry to appease Gods heeding every nonsensical fiat of the high-priest. Yet none would follow the basic tenets of humanity and compassion.
Today as he undertakes this arduous journey to the highlands, the survivors are all brethren, equals to each other. “Justice is finally served!” he sighed looking up towards the azure sky as he and other survivors passed through a narrow track perched across a valley.
Painting: A Bend in the River by Loius Aston Knight
Haris Ahmed is pursuing his B.Tech (Electronics) from the University of Delhi. As a passion, he writes short-stories and articles concerning social issues of India. Haris is a self-proclaimed Dan Brown aficionado. His works have appeared on HuffPost India & Countercurrents.org. He blogs at: The Insight. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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