Fiction: The Kurukshetra Premier League

1

Lord Vinayaka, the elephant-headed god, the destroyer of evil, was reclining comfortably on his sofa on Mount Kailash after a heavy afternoon meal. After all, people insisted on treating him every single day with everything from coconuts to kozhukattais. No wonder, he mused, that Dr. Dhanvantri kept telling him to get more exercise on the treadmill. “But each to their own…no one will recognize me if I develop six pack abs” Vinayaka could not help laughing out loud at the imagined sight. He did ride a mouse for all his bulk, but somehow he could not imagine mice running down his arms as he flexed them!

Veda Vyasa was huffing and puffing as he approached Vinayaka. “O pot-bellied one, I bow to thee,” said Vyasa, starting with the customary greeting. Vinayaka smothered a grin, and patting his belly contentedly with the end of his trunk, bade Vyasa to sit down. “Tsk tsk. Vyasa, you are always out of breath. You need some regular exercise. Now, the treadmill…” he said impishly.

Vyasa did not hear him. “My lord, there is a small cause for concern,” started Vyasa without preamble. “You remember the time you out wrote out the Mahabharata for me?”

How can I forget?” muttered Vinayaka. “Tongue twisting poetry, almost broke my fingers, and my last instalment of pay never really reached me…yes, sire, I do remember it. What about it now?”

“The thing is, those humans have unearthed some recent archeological evidence that actually goes to prove that the war at Kurukshetra never really happened.”

“What? So do you mean to say you made the whole story up?”

“No, no, my lord, back then those were facts.  But now, in the light of the new evidence, something to do with Secularization of  Historical Facts or some such thing we have to write it out again to pull in the new facts. Yesterday’s facts are today’s mythology, you know. Our old version gets support only from the VHP, and a half-hearted nod from the BJP.  But now in the light of the election results, it looks like they need a new secular epic now, to accommodate the fresh, ah, evidence. I really don’t understand modern Indian politics or history. It looks like historical evidence can now be conveniently arranged for, just like votes. The bottomline is that we have to make a revision of the epic. Soon.”

“So?”

“Well, I was wondering if you could be my scribe again. We have a really good rapport. And with my beautiful poetry and distinctive phraseology and deep metaphorical allusions and character delineation, and with your…aah…tusk, we made up a good team the last time around.”

“All right, cut the crap and tell me what you would be paying this time around. I am not a mere copywriter any more, and I use my broken tusk only to decorate my hallway. I use a computer, complete with pirated Microsoft software, and I hope your dictation is as fast as my typing speed. And you would have to correct the typographical errors. I don’t do that anymore.”

 “Sure, sure, whatever, your terms. We have to get this done. We will receive funding from the Department of Religious Endowments and also from the Department of Correction of Historical Inaccuracies. And think of the fame…once we are done writing we can have a proper book release, with an evening tea, complete with those tiny biscuits with topping on them and champagne. All the Page Three glitterati would be there, and you might actually get a picture of yourself in the next morning’s Mites of India surrounded by beautiful ladies. I can almost see the headline … ‘The Elephant God’s Animal Magnetism.’ And the media watchdogs…they’d love the buzz you would create…remember the hype over the time you supposedly drank milk in some temple?  You’ll have all these ‘Breaking News’ updates just to yourself. Think, think of all that,” Vyasa was at the edge of his seat now. He could see that Vinayaka was almost sold.

“Welllllll….” drawled Vinayaka. “I’ll do it. But mind you, I want half the pay upfront and the rest before I give you the final version.”  

“Alright, fine. Like I have any other option. So let’s get this rolling right away, what say?”

“Alright, give me the one-liner. How is this going?”

“Well, the basics are pretty much the same. The Pandavas, the Kauravas, rival gangs, hate each other… anyway, the Pandavas are at Indraprastha when the Kauravas invite them over for a game of poker.”

“Poker?”

 “Yeah, the recent evidence shows that the ancient Indians invented poker.”

“Eh? You’re not kidding? Well, I’m just the scribe. Ok, game of poker. And?”

“Well, Yudhishtira as we know is one preachy face; he cannot play the game, and he cannot say ‘no’ either. So he plays, pledges every damn thing he owns, or thinks he owns, and loses.”

“OK, and they go to the forest next?”

“Yeah, the thirteen year banishment.”

“So what next? The war, right?”

“That’s where there’s a change. Now listen closely. We Indians are supposed to be a peaceful race. Having a war that killed so many innocent people as a part of our mythology supposedly gives us this bad image on the world scale. Well anyway, they have unearthed new evidence now. What actually happened is this.”

Vyasa paused.

“Because of the huge casualties involved in war, Krishna and Bhishma chalked out a plan. They decided to replace war… with a game of cricket. A really short one at that. Only 20 overs. The team that wins the game gets the empire. The team that loses has to retire ignominiously into the forest, loses all right to hold a credit card, claim insurance and appear on reality TV shows. End of all civilized life!”

Vinayaka’s trunk dropped.

“Well?” asked Vyasa, pleased with the effect he had created.

“Well, what? First poker, now cricket? Mahabharata was in the post-Vedic Age. Cricket was invented by the Englishmen in the 12th century AD. And besides, if we release this book, Ashutosh Gowarikar is going to sue us.”

“No, no, no…that’s where you are wrong. Cricket was not invented by the British, it was invented by the Indians in the Vedic period. Later, it was carried to Europe by the nomads along the Silk Route. That’s what the new evidence says. ”

“Isn’t this, well … too much to swallow?”

“That’s where we come in, my lord. We have to convince them with our story,” Vyasa pumped his fist into the air. “Yeah!”

Vinayaka rolled his beady eyes. “Why do I ever let myself get talked into these things?” His large ears twitched.

2

Vinayaka opened his laptop, and started reading a few pages from his newly written manuscript to Vyasa.

Draupadi sat on the window sill, her hair hanging around her shoulders, chin cupped in her hands, staring out of the window. There was a peculiar expression of irritation on her face; the reader might imagine the physiognomy of Impedimenta in the Asterix comics as an approximation.

Yudhishtira, not really unlike Vitastatistix , walked to her, and asked her, “Is that brother of yours here yet?”

“If he were here, we would know, wouldn’t we? What kind of a question is that?” she snapped back irritably.

“Alright, alright, alright, I know you are still angry about what happened…but now that there’s the cricket match coming up, we will clobber them for good.”

“That’s exactly what you said when you were putting your last stake on the table. Fool that you are, you could not see a straight flush when it stares up at you in your face”

“Er…oh, here he is. Hel-lo Drishtadymna!”

Drishtadyumna came in, impeccably dressed in a conservative blue suit with a striped tie, laptop bag in one hand.”

“Hey, brother, howdy. I have the perfect strategy devised to clobber the Kauravas for good.”

“Humph!” said Draupadi, turning away. “Men!”

“Hey, hey, sis, your big brother is a management consultant. Straight out of IIM Ahmedabad!”

He winked, and Yudhishtra rolled his eyes. How many times did he have to be reminded? “Don’t you worry, we will chalk out the most perfect plan to wreck revenge on those evil cousins of yours.”

Yudhishtira said, “Fine, let’s get started. They want a cricket match now?”

“20-20.” said Drishtadyumna with smug satisfaction. “It’s called Kurukshetra Premier League. KPL for short.”

“Us against them, huh?”

“Yes and no. We are supposed to make up a team of eleven comprising players from all our allies, give it a name, find a brand ambassador, arrange for cheerleaders, advertise our team, appear in as many branded ads as possible, appear on TV and be interviewed by that hot newscaster on TenDTV, slander some member of the other team, if possible, slap him before the match, and in general, be as popular as possible. It matters, the ratings.”

“And…play the match?”

“Yeah. That too. Eventually. But what’s more important is the pre-match strategizing. You are lucky to have a management consultant, don’t you? Straight out of…”

“Yeah, yeah, I know that bit. So what is the Kaurava team calling itself?” 

“Well, they are called Hastinapur Headhunters.”

“Hastinapur…Headhunters? That’s… not really a name now, is it?”

“It is, and apparently it is supposed to instill fear into our hearts.”

“Right. I’m trembling in my shoes. So, what are we calling ourselves?”

“Indraprastha Indefagitables”

“Eh??? You out of your mind? What kind of a name is that? Indefagitables? What next? Vegetables? Card tables? No, no, no,  Draupadi dear, I’m not saying anything about playing cards now…that was just an expression…” after an apologetic nod to his wife who was looking daggers at him, he hissed to Drishtadyumna “How did you come up with a name like that?”

“Well, sire, according to KPL protocol the names of the teams must alliterate; it does not help matters that Veda Vyasa who designed the protocol is a poet. We cannot call ourselves Indraprastha Super Kings even if we are real super-duper kings. And, I flicked through the dictionary for a suitable adjective.” Drishtadyumna shrugged his shoulders. “If you would rather have it Indraprastha Incorrigibles or Indraprastha Inebriated, I don’t have a problem.”

“Humph! Technically we don’t own Indraprastha or any bit of land for that matter. We belong to Nowhere.”

“Well, if you want we can call ourselves the Nowhere Nondescripts or the Nowhere Nutcrackers…”

“I’ll crack yours if you give me any more of those dumb names…well, with a name like Drishtadyumna you would want revenge, but don’t wreck it on my team.” Yudhishtira was incensed. This is the last time I am hiring a management consultant, and this is the absolute last time that I am hiring a brother-in-law. “Seeing that we are nearly penniless, who is sponsoring us?”

“Lord Indra. I got all the papers drawn up, all that is required is for the two of you to sign. Just a small issue…” Drishtadyumna paused. “Being Arjuna’s father, he wants Arjuna to captain the team.”

Before Yudhishtra could say a word, Draupadi chimed in with “Finally! Someone sane at the helm!”

Yudhishtra gave her a glare, and said “Well…so long as we get our funding straight. And who is funding the Kauravas? The…ah…Headhunters?”

“They approached Lord Kubera first. But he wanted the team to call themselves the Queenfishers after his…um…distilled foods plant.”

“Queen-fishers?”

“Why not? If one can fish for kings, why not queens? He’s a feminist, you know.”

“So what happened to the deal with Kubera?”

“It’s off. Some issue about the selection of players. You know how bull headed Duryodhana can get.”

“So who’s their ambassador now?”

“Varuna Deva, the god of water and rain. Nobody else was remotely interested.”

“Hmm… whatever. So when’s the match?”

“In a couple of weeks from now. At the Kurukshetra stadium. But we need to get all the publicity shots in before then.”

“Is our team line up decided?”

“Oh yes.” Drishtadyumna booted up his laptop to open a powerpoint presentation. “Arjuna is captaining, opening batsmen are Arjuna and myself. You can have a look for yourself. Bhima’s our principal bowling attack, with Ghatotkacha supporting. Abhimanyu in the middle order. You are the wicket keeper.”

“Let’s hope he keeps at least that well” muttered Draupadi.

“Hang on.” said Yudhishtira, looking at a slide showing eleven people lined up like Ceaser’s army. “What do these slides show? Who are those people?”

“Why, it is yourself and your revered brothers, sire.”

“And why is it that we cannot recognize ourselves?”

“You have been given a virtual makeover. That is how you are going to play. Once you okay this, we are going to get the make-up artistes from the sets of Dasavatharam to get it rolling.”

“What else?” asked Yudhishtira sarcastically.

“Well, I have booked four interviews, and we need to get the hoardings done. Plus the meeting with the cheerleaders. Arjuna’s getting a lot of offers for modelling, but we have to be selective and exclusive, haven’t we?”

“Right. So when do we practice?”

“Practice? Um…my schedule does not really have any provision for it, but I am sure we can fit it in somewhere in between.”

Yudhishtra raised his head to the heavens. “With friends like this, who needs the Kauravas?”

3

Vinayaka paused reading and said, “That’s how far I have got. How’s it?”

“Not bad at all” said Vyasa, effusively. “That modern Indian newspaper reader will love it.”

“So, tell me, what happens next? I’m looking forward to being a sports writer!”

“Oh, that’s bad. You see, the match did not take place.”

“Eh? But why?”

“Called off due to incessant rain. A couple of days before the match, Indra and Varuna got into a spat over a drink. Something about an ad that Arjuna was modeling for; Varuna made a rather unparliamentary comment about it, but Arjuna did model for a fairness cream for men”

“And?”

“There was a huge fight. Indra and Varuna trying to outdo the other. Varuna rained so hard that the Ganga and Krishna and Kaveri flowed together; the entire land was inundated. Indra responded with such fierce thunderbolts that the entire armory…er…playing equipments of both teams were destroyed. Even the bloodthirsty Kauravas were horrified at the extent of damage these two, alone, caused. So, they decided to call the match off.”

“And what about the partitioning of the land?”

“What land? It was completely a water mass. Took centuries to drain. Nobody wanted it any more.”

“So what are the Pandavas doing now?’

“Arjuna is a professional cricketer now, highest bid-for player on the IPL, the modern version of KPL. Bhima is a top notch star at the WWE, only he calls himself Mincemeat Pulpsquisher. Nakula, with his impeccable good looks, made a career for himself in Bollywood. He’s even got his own blog now where he clarifies points about his racy-pacey past. Sahadeva, the intelligent one, went to engineering school and management school, but quit his job to become a writer of alternative mythology. He’s a best-selling author now. Draupadi has a personalized fashion line; she writes 15,000-word posts on her Instagram saree page about how buying her sarees will make you a feminist.

“And Yudhishtra?”

“Well, he’s the one commissioning the writing of this book. He’s the Prime Minister of the country.”

Lines on the back of a peepal leaf

It was under the blue sky, yes, the same blue sky that roofs yourself and myself, the blue sky under which we have spent so many happy hours unmindful of its very existence, it was right under the blue sky that I got your message written on the peepal leaf scroll.

I was in the brown walled courtyard opening up to the sky, and I found your scroll when the wind put it into my arms. What I was doing there, why I was given the scroll, how I knew it was from you, I cannot say. I am describing a dream, you know. Like it is the way with all the dreams and the nightmares, the details are tweezed out with almost a cruel perfection, leaving only a blur at the edges. And the blur is perhaps the only reason that the essence is embossed upon the memory, and haunts the living daylights out of one. Which is why I attempt to capture the essence in the poorly shaped container of words…like trying to trap a gas in a liquid.

The peepal leaves I held in my hand were brown, fading, but almost perfect in its state of preservation. As if they had been curled and born on the bark and died and withered and windswept into your arms, just to bear this message you had to write to me. Stitched on one end, the broad upper curves. Stitched neatly too. You never told me you could stitch? But then there is so much more that you never told me. Not that I ever asked, of course. It was an original idea, I agree, making scrolls out of peepal leaves. You know I like leaves and trees and earth and soil and such abstractions. Was it why you had chosen to write that last message of farewell on leaves and give it to me? So that when the leaves fade, my memory of you would fade too? Or when the leaves wither into the everything-ness (as opposed to nothingness) of the earth as we know it, my memory of you would also move, expand and fill the earth with itself? So that there would be no memories left with me, I would bequeath them to everything and everywhere?

Don’t make me laugh, please, I am trying hard to cry over you. When the Sun torments the Earth, it is best that the Rain comes in to quench the pain. For whatever I may say about the nature of things being such and such, it is the Sun’s nature to burn merrily, and the Earth’s to bear with patience and fortitude, that there is peace in that, I am afraid that we may be taking things too far. Even the sharp reality of the dream only succeeded in making my heart, yes, Heart, heavy, heavier than I have ever known, but I could not weep and grieve, either for you or for me. Your calm denouncement of your Death, the suicide of our ‘I’, my sense of having ‘lost’ you, only gives me a profound sense of Destiny, of heavy rivers swelling and taking their course, bypassing the long roots from the wayside trees dipping into it, drinking from it. Not a thought does the river spare for the bystanders!

But then why does your water sweep the leaves off my arms and take them downstream to show them the salty oceans and the sunsets there? Is it on one of these leaves that you write your message of farewell and send them over, from wherever it is that you are? So that it is a double punch…one message of eternal farewell with the words in the letter, and another in the leaf, my leaf that bears the message, now returned to me? So that I cannot even deceive myself any further with illusions of you having them as a keepsake? 

You know me. You know that I cannot dream of denying you the right to your Life, the right to a lack of it, if only you wish it. You also know that you cannot deny me a right to mine. Whatever interaction we have had, whatever relationship we share, whatever prompted you to write a message of ‘farewell’ to me because you have gone away, forever, is all based on this unspoken fundamental. With such an understanding, what is the meaning of the lines you write to me, on the back of a peepal leaf? What farewell are you referring to? I know that you always fare me well, but must you underscore that in red ink on the back of a peepal leaf and let it flutter across the courtyard, under our blue sky, just because your Life as you know it is lost to you? Are you telling me, trying to tell me, that is, that you are forever lost to me and I to you, just because you are dead? Don’t I still have you, here, with me, now and forever, whether you live or die or hang between heaven and earth?

I do. And now, now, I realize what the farewell was all about. Maybe it was not that you were bidding farewell to me at all. You are just taking leave of that part of you that you have left behind in me. And when I let this peepal leaf flutter back with the wind, telling Him to take it where it wills, I am saying goodbye too, another goodbye, to the part of me that shall forever be yours. We are characterized by the losses we have suffered, only my loss is not you, it is myself. And with that loss, that goodbye, I welcome a new Me in me. The Me with the permanent citizen, You. Welcome, friend.

Necker cube

Once upon a time – don’t ask me why all stories have to have taken place at some definite time in the past – my story is timeless, I think. Still, for the sake of tradition, I say ‘once upon a time’. To resume, once upon a time, there was a woman, not unlike a certain person who refers to someone she knows as a ‘certain person’ while writing her little stories. I cannot tell you what she was like, for I don’t know it myself, and do we ever really know? But I know one small titbit from the history that her life was, and that is what I am going to recount to you.

This woman, one evening, was in conversation with her brothers. In the course of their exchanges, the girl happened to ask her brothers how long they would be around for her. The wise men knew, if not the exact answer, what answer they should not give, what hopes they should not stoke, what facts they could not hide. They spoke the truth, in a matter of fact voice, like they always did.

The woman heard the answer spoken, and asked her next natural question. She wanted to know whether there would be anyone with her till she was.

Her brothers knew the answer, because they had heard men who knew speak about it. They tried telling their sister what they knew, but she refused to believe it, because she saw that the voices of her brothers lacked conviction, and thought if their words were so flimsy that they could not believe it themselves, then why she should do it.

The brothers wanted to prove to the sister the truth of their words, and the sister wanted to know the truth. So they decided to approach a man who was known to know a lot of answers. They would take their question to him, they thought, and see whether he had the answer in his bag-of-answers.

It would be difficult to approach this man, though. He was and exceedingly busy man. His schedule was completely packed for most of the day, and he was constantly meeting people, mostly new ones, every single day. His mind would be filled with the details of all these people, and the bits of information they chose to bring to him, and all that he chose to take in. No, our people were not sure if they would get an appointment. For the appointment of a recluse, is the most difficult appointment to obtain.

Nevertheless, they managed to get five minutes of his time, and the woman put forth her question to him.

“Is there anyone on earth who will be with me forever?”

The great man thought for a moment, and replied, almost instantaneously: “No”

“But I am afraid to go on with so much uncertainty. When there is no definite end to anything, then why should I do what I do? Nothing matters anyway, not me, nor you. And this kind of apathy scares me. Can you please tell me why?”

“It was never meant to be that way. We were born alone and we go alone. It is a law of nature. What is there to fear?”

“The fact that everything seems so important, but nothing really is. Then, why should we do anything? What is the need, what is the desire, what is the will? There is a huge ‘why’ that looms above me. And that ‘why’ seems pointless.”

The great man then said, “It looks like you have not yet learnt to live with detachment. Your fear is but a consequence of that. I’ll give you a proposition. You be my secretary for the next month, live with me, and see what I do. I am sure you will get your answers by the end of the month.”

And so, the brothers left their sister with the man, secretly relieved.

The woman began her internship with her mentor. Her work involved making his schedule for each day, a week in advance, and making sure he stuck to his schedule. Added to this, she had to make sure that he took his meals at regularly spaced times every day, was on time for his insulin shots and was not disturbed when spoke with his wife for fifteen minutes, every morning, the only time of the day he spoke to her. For all this, she was paid in his time; she got an hour to talk to him at the end of every day. However, she hardly made use of this time for actually talking, and let him use his leisure hour as he usually used it.

No, her lessons were from observation. She saw the enormous number of people who spoke to this man every day. She made memorandums of their lives, as they told it to her, to be passed on to him. She got down names and addresses and other ways and means to contact all these people. She saw her mentor engrossed in the affairs of these people, twenty four by seven, learning about everyday horrors, yet eating his food with relish at the end of the day as if he had been born for the sole purpose of finishing that single meal.

She saw him address an old woman he had never set his eyes on before, and his eldest son, with the same warmth, the same equanimity. She saw him impervious to the circumstances of birth and death, of the vagaries of bonds and estrangement.

That night (it was almost three weeks since she had first come there) she addressed him during the one hour he had given to her: “How are you able to be that way? Don’t you feel pride when those people greet you and wish you and adore you? Don’t you feel joy when you speak to your wife and son? Don’t you feel dread when you know that all this is fleeting, and will soon be gone? Don’t you think of what you will do then, how you will sit and think back and feel everything all over again, only it will all be a memory, a have-been? How are you able to create all this, knowing well that it has to definitely go someday?”

The man replied: “Why is it that you have not spoken a word to me, about what you seek me about, all this time, but do so now?”

“I was biding my time. I was observing. There is more sense in silent observation and then talking than in empty talk.”

“Ah! That is exactly what I am doing. I am observing as well, except on a much grander scale.”

The woman said nothing, but looked back, waiting.

“You ask me,” resumed the man. “You ask me about joys and sorrows which are momentary and elusive. But then, is anything not elusive? No, as I told you on the first day you were here. You ask me what sense there is in creating something that is going to go. I ask you, when you know everything, everything, is going to go, what is there to lose?  There is equal chance for everything to go on the rocks, which seems to be their ultimate fate. So why not have it and enjoy it while it lasts?”

He paused.

“To me, everything I see is like an experiment. I have to account for the results, only to myself. So, I observe. I see what happens, I see what does not happen. It’s a poor hobby maybe, but it answers, for me, the questions that you ask.”

“But what about people? Why are they there? Is there any sense in allowing them to be there when you know that they will not be there always? Why this deception?”

The man laughed.

“People? All your people are all you. What you see of your people are what you see, nothing more, nothing less. So, does it not figure that so long as you are around they will be too?”

He continued: “You may wonder at the fact that I spend so little time with my family, that I am continually obsessed with the random lives of random people, including yours. Does this mean I don’t like them, that they mean nothing to me? Of course not. But don’t you realise, it’s all to do with me? Does it matter where they are, what they do and what they think, so long as I have their image with me?”

The woman said, “You care, don’t you?”

“Who said I don’t care? I perhaps care more than anyone else, and that is the reason why I am able to speak this way.”

“So nobody is definitely going to be around for me, for me, till I am here, except myself?”

“Nobody. Or everybody. Depends on how you see it.”

“A perfect Necker cube.” She laughed.

“Exactly.”

*

The woman’s internship was over, and she packed her bags to return, if not with all the answers, at least with the means to find them. Which was good enough.

She thanked her mentor for his help, and set out to leave.

After she had gone, the man sat back down.

He thought about the past month, the silent efficiency of the woman, her keen observatory powers that he had observed, and her persistence in fulfilling the goal with which she had come to him. His schedules had been run smoothly for the past month. He had enjoyed having her around.

And now she was gone.

He gave a short laugh, and returned to his work.