INKPOT - One Page Mahabharata and A Tale of Cities : Smriti Kumar Sinha

One-Page Mahabharata

THE otherwise sky-high, royal, gorgeous and long-living banyan tree was now a laughing stock. Its challenge was to reach the TV on the stand. Thanks to those who had cut its roots to size

SUNDAY morning. Cleansing his spectacles with a soft cloth, Narendra sat in front of the television in the drawing room.
“Has it started?” His wife, Surabala, asked him from the kitchen.
Surabala was busy preparing breakfast. With the serial about to start, she was in a tearing hurry.
“Hasn’t it started yet?” She repeated.
“No, not yet. I will call you. The background music will let you know,” said Narendra.
At the very moment, a scooter stopped in front of their gate. Narendra peeped through the window.
“Hey, do you hear me? Sunanda and Surendra have arrived!” He rushed to open the door. “What a pleasant surprise! Welcome, welcome. I hardly believed that you would come,” said Narendra.
Surabala, on the other hand, poured two more cups of water in the kettle. In haste, she made a couple of omelettes too.
“Has it started?” Surendra too questioned as he set foot in the verandah.
“About to. We too are waiting,” said Narendra.
While Surendra sat in the drawing room, Sunanda went straight to the kitchen to meet Surabala. After a while, the two women came out with tea and snacks to the drawing room.
“Have you lost your way and landed up here?” Surabala took a dig at Surendra.
Surendra smiled and replied: “Oh no, not like that. We have been planning, you know. It’s to have a glimpse of your newly-built house and, while at it, to enjoy The Mahabharata serial together.”
“It’s nice that you have come,” said Narendra.
“Maybe the birth of Krishna will be screened today.”
“How can that be? In the last episode, just the fourth child was born, while Krishna was the eighth.”
Sunanda, on the other hand, had her eyes on the bonsai banyan tree near the TV. She studied it keenly and said: “Where have you brought this bonsai from?”
“From the horticulture firm at Zoo Road.”
“Beautiful! With its prop roots hanging down, it looks like the old gigantic one near the Mahabhairab temple.”
They all burst into laughter. The otherwise sky-high, royal, gorgeous and long-living banyan tree was now a laughing stock. Its challenge was to reach the TV on the stand. Thanks to those who had cut its roots to size.
The day’s episode of the Mahabharata started. The room wore a mantle of silence. At first, a recap of the last episode was telecast… Daibaki gave birth to her fourth baby in captivity. She was making efforts not to let the guards on duty in the prison know of the newborn. However, a spying guard came to know of the infant and passed the message to King Kangs late at night. The day’s episode started… A beam of light from the dawning sun illuminated a corner of the prison cell. Daibaki, who had to pass a sleepless night, was taken aback by the light. Bewitched by the newborn, Vasudeva, on the other hand, kept looking at the baby in bewilderment. A restless Daibaki was on a desperate lookout for a safe hideout, but to no avail. The guards were about to reach her cell. She was crestfallen when she thought of the fate of her baby when her brother Kangs would…
“Let’s do something. It’s morning. Where to hide the baby?” Daibaki said, and brought Vasudeva back to his senses. He kept looking at her and the newborn. Raising his chained hands up, a helpless Vasudeva kept praying at the beam of sunlight. The oracle went that the eighth son of Daibaki would be their saviour. Oracles always come true, but it’s all the same to parents, whether first or eighth. “Oh God! What an ordeal is this!” Vasudeva rued, and kept gazing at the sky, a piece of which could be seen through the small hole.
“King of Kings, His Highness, King of Mathura, Maharaj Kangs is c-o-m-i-n-g…” an alert sounded by a royal guard. A frenetic Daibaki kept running from one corner to the other to hide the baby. Her chained legs were bleeding profusely. At last she lay on her side and started lactating the baby. She pretended to be oblivious to Kangs, who entered the room and said: “Daibaki, hand over the baby.”
“Baby? What baby? There isn’t any.”
“Don’t hide it. I came with a confirmed tip-off.”
“I’m bowing down to you, spare the life of an innocent infant,” she said. Kangs was bewildered, looking at his most affectionate sister. But he soon came to his senses, and thought: “That can’t be. For my life, the death of Daibaki’s babies is a must. Defending oneself is no sin.” He laughed in her face and took away the infant from her lap, raised it up and smashed it against the wall. Fresh blood kept dripping down the wall…
A commercial break followed. The TV’s volume was low. Pin-drop silence enveloped the drawing room. Only the tic-tac, tic-tac… monotone of the wall-clock continued.
“Detestable!” Sunanda broke the silence indignantly.
“No character in the Mahabharata is as sadistic as that of Kangs,” Surabala remarked.
A commercial advertisement was playing on the screen. Silently the ad showed the preparation of tasty chocolates by the milk collected cooperatively by the women of Gujarat. A success story! The ad, however, failed to accommodate the tale of the calves, deprived of mothers’ milk. 
“A sadist, you know,” taking a piece of the omelette, Narendra continued, “It’s the height of cruelty. For the sake of his own life, so many innocents were slaughtered. Horrible! The director has done the job well, symbolically showing the patches of blood on the wall…a balanced shot.”
“Wait, wait. The omelette is delicious. The taste isn’t like that of firm eggs,” said Sunanda.
“Yeah, we have reared a pair of local fowls. You know, it’s a must for our protein deficiency,” said Surabala.
The commercial break was over. The serial resumed. The fade-in on the screen was the prison of Kangs. Bereaved and wailing Daibaki was slowly losing her senses. A helpless Vasudeva was sprinkling water on her eyes, and kept on massaging her head as a solace. Thus the Mahabharata episode of the day ended there. But a lively discussion on the character, Kangs, continued, till Surendra and Sunanda got up to depart.
“Why have you got up? Let’s have lunch together,” Narendra proposed."
“No, not today. We will, some other day. We have an appointment with the doctor today. Why don’t you hold a feast? We expect such a treat as you have completed your house,” said Surendra.
“It’s great. We will hold one on a holiday,” Narendra said.
“Wait, wait. In the doctor’s chamber too, we will be kept on waiting. Let’s have a look at the newly-built house. We too have a plan to erect one,” said Sunanda.
“It’s our pleasure to show you around.” Narendra and Surabala led the guests to the dining room, the kitchen, bedrooms, the in-house mandir ‒ one by one. The bamboo basket in front of the images of conjugal Radha-Krishna was full of freshly plucked flowers. Half-bloomed or about-to-bloom flowers hanging from their necks reeked off the mundamala with chopped-off baby heads! What was dazzling on the cheeks? Tears? All of them bowed down together.
Chatting about the vastu of the house, they all stepped into the kitchen garden in the backyard. Narendra and Surabala briefed the guests with all the details of the house. Surendra and Sunanda were glued. The blueprint of a dream house seemed to flash in their eyes. Adjacent to the left corner of the boundary walls stood a small poultry shed. Its roof was of abandoned tin cans of mustard oil, embossed with the trade-mark, Tripti ‒ complete satisfaction! The walls were of wire mesh. A pair of snow-white fowls was inside.
Not one or two, but a brigade of four was approaching them. The scared hen in captivity became frenetic. She moved from corner to corner fluffing out her feathers, shedding many of them. She poked the cock and warned it of the impending danger. Finding no way out, the mother hen went round the just laid egg ‒ once, twice, many times, in quick succession. At last, she covered the egg with her bosom and started incubating it. Like every other day, the cock kept gazing up, with its beak pushed out through a grid of the mesh. He kept gazing at the fragment of the sky, looked like a rag of a denim, seen through the juncture of the two moss-covered walls. It gazed and kept waiting, maybe still with the faint hope of an oracle.

A Tale of Cities

YES, it’s a tale of cities, not of one or two. Take Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati…as a case study ‒ it’s the same basic storyline. From Google earth, let’s zoom in on any of the cities, say Guwahati…

It’s a sweltering noon. It’s the hustle and bustle of city life, with honking cars lined up. The road on the left leads one to Fancy Bazar. A billboard stands erect on the right. Rich in carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals ‒ reads the advertisement of a baby food. No substitute for breastfeeding, maxim of the WHO, written in a small font size, almost invisible. Oh no! What a stark contrast! A corpse, on the footpath! Could be of a mother. A baby is sucking its breasts, breathlessly. A bagging bowl is lying near, upside down. The crying baby is standing up. Limping… a baby boy. A mass of tangled and matted hair on its head.

Mercy coins keep falling from the pedestrians chatting over mobile phones and commuters busy surfing Internet ‒ broad band Wi-Fi. A digital divide! What else can they do? The kid starts walking over the coins, making thuds. The metallic sound stops. It looks at the other side ‒ a glimmer of hope. Crossing the main road!

The speeding cars break to a halt, with an awful screeching. Oh God! You’re really omnipresent. The kid has crossed the road. The swamping traffic has resumed free flow. The kid is craning his neck to have a better view of a green hoarding. A rhino is grazing in foliage of wild grasses in the Kaziranga National Park ‒ a tourism department’s ad with a tag on the top ‘Incredible India!’ Incredible indeed!

Limping a few steps further, the kid has stood in front of another hoarding. A few kids of his age are playing with colourful toys. ‘Kids’ Dreamland’, an English medium nursery school. A red missed ball is falling down. The kid on the footpath has forgot his stomachache, and extended his hand to catch it ‒ beyond his reach.

The crying baby is limping ahead, thumping against the roadside wall. Stopped! An eye-catching cartoon on the wall. A boy and a girl are playing see-saw sitting on a long and striped wood pencil! Written atop is ‘Let’s all go to school’… Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan… a government mission. The kid has rushed to catch the pencil ‒ a fake one!

It keeps limping till another poster ‒ gloomy orphan faces, matted hair. Tears dripping down their cheeks. Known faces? It has turned back and stood. On the backdrop, fellow faces and a tag ‒ UNICEF HELP. The kid is slowly extending his untutored hands.“Stop it. I’m here,” a street teen has rushed to the spot in a whirlwind. He has held the hand of the kid. A mobile phone in hand, his is a known face. A beggar-turned service provider through his mobile public call office for phoneless pedestrians. An innovation, thanks to Mahammad Yunus!

The kid bursts in hunger. The teen has taken him to a pilfered water pipe, offered him a palm-full. No, not a substitute. A solace? Relinquenched, the kid is clinging, a passionate hug in return ‒ an age-old bond of eMotion amidst eBusiness, eLearning and eGovernannce hoardings.

Let’s zoom in on, say…

Note: The story is especially dedicated to famous economist Prof. Mahammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate from Bangladesh, who changed the lives of street children and the poor of South-East Asia.

Smriti Kumar Sinha teaches at Tezpur University and has authored three anthologies of short-stories in Bishnupriya Manipuri.

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