ravan was chasing me. he had ten heads and ten faces and ten sets of teeth bared as he sprinted effortlessly, bow and arrow in hand. his skin was swarthy, his eyes bulged, his hair blew wildly in the wind.
i could feel my breath getting shorter and shorter, till there was practically no breath left. my feet were tired. my head was hurting. how would i ever come out of this alive?
then i remembered something. i stopped running. this was no doubt an extremely stupid thing to do, but my mind was fuzzy with all the running, it was making really bad choices… and i didn’t have the strength to resist any more. i turned around and waited for him to catch up with me.
he came loping up the long straight endless road and suddenly he was a mere few feet away from me. i drew in my breath, waiting to be demolished. but if i got a chance, i decided i would ask him… that is, if i got a chance.
i realised nothing was happening. no arrow had pierced my heart. no mace had smashed my head. i was breathing.
i looked up and there he stood, the ten-headed one. looking a little fazed. frowning at me quite fiercely.
i decided i wouldn’t get another chance, so might as well…
“i believe they call you ten-headed not because you have ten heads but because you’re so wise?” i asked trying to sound nonchalant, my voice shaking, my knees turning to water. one eye moved surreptitiously to check where he had kept his weapons.
“huh!” ravan growled, “where did you hear that!”
“no… just… you know i was surfing the net…” i mumbled desperately.
“what!! the net?” he looked nonplussed. then he threw his bow and arrow on the pot hole filled road and raved, “the betrayal! the maligning of all those who seek knowledge! do you have any idea how hard i had to work to acquire the knowledge i did! how assiduously i toiled! how devoutly i worshiped! yes, worship… without it nothing is possible. nothing! years went by, ages went by… and i never slacked off… kept at it… learning, becoming knowledgeable… getting this reputation of ten heads, which then someone came along and twisted out of context!” he stopped for a moment, scratched a ear on his, let me see, third head from the right; it was the right ear.
i was praying hard. though i tried to seem unaffected by the proximity to not one of the nicest men in the history of the universe, my stomach muscles were contorting in the weirdest fashion. maybe i was hungry.
“and you! you just have to… have to…?” he snarled, hot breath streaming out of his nostrils, all twenty of them. he glared at me.
“er… surf the net?” i muttered.
“yes… that… whatever!” he looked miffed. then he turned his heads away in a huff.
so ravan didn’t know the net. i gasped. the powerful king of lanka, who had mastered so much, who had been granted this boon that no one but an avatar of vishnu could slay him, who had shapeshifted and purloined the wife of ram, who had driven kuber out of lanka and become awfully rich, and who of his own admission had gone to great lengths to gain erudition, he did not know the net.
“do you have a computer?” i asked tentatively.
“i have a chariot,” came the laconic reply.
“so you don’t have a computer,” i was beginning to feel almost in control of the moment.
“technology will destroy mythology,” ravan said with a sigh.
“huh?” i squinted up at the demon king.
“everything so easy to reach, before you know it, it’s yours. it makes things less somehow. makes experience minuscule… to reach mythology, you need difficulty, you need delusion, you need destruction… then denouement! you need time. you must plunge. surf? do you know how hard i had to work to abduct sita?” ravan sat down on a bench at the bus stop beside which we’d been standing.
i relaxed a little, just a little.
“i could have sent my minions to get the work done, you know i really didn’t have to go there myself. but this was my task, i had to do it, no one else. and i planned meticulously, i cased panchavati for days, i watched who goes where, who does what, no taking it easy and delegating. they never noticed me, because i was the monarch butterfly on some days, sometimes i was the flower sita had picked for her puja basket, one day i was the squirrel sitting quietly by lakshman. no one saw me. you know, when you think of ravan raja of lanka you imagine you’ll see a certain thing… i know… that’s why you see my ten heads, even though they perhaps aren’t there…” ravan took a deep breath and scratched his left cheek on face number four from the left.
“you were a butterfly?” i was intrigued.
“if my uncle mareech can be a golden deer, i can surely be a squirrel or a bee or a butterfly…” ravan looked irritated as though this much one should have understood without having to be told. then he added under his breath, “… or even a computer.” was there a sly smile on his faces as he said that?
“so i did all this hard work. then i set sita up in a nice garden and gave her that precious thing… time! time to make up her mind. if what people believe is true, that i just wanted to steal another man’s wife, then why would i give her so much time to think, ponder, accept me…” ravan seemed pensive.
“mandodari loved me… as i am. sita hated me. but i cheated on mandodari and gave sita time. tell me, which algorithm could have worked that out!” ravan patted the seat next to his, i went and sat down quietly.
“there are three worlds out there, maybe more. i want to visit them all, know them all. mandodari says everything is maya. her father was mayasura, the builder of the mayasabha, the palace of illusions… as your computer must have told you, but do you have any idea what it must be like to be the child of someone whose name evokes illusion? and yet, her love was real, more real than everything, anywhere,” ravan shook all his ten heads in exasperation.
i looked at him sideways to gauge his current mood. and found a beautiful woman sitting next to me.
“mandodari?” i squeaked.
she smiled. then she laughed and laughed quite loudly, her laughter echoing and growing in volume, reflecting off the buildings, trees, electric poles, and sign boards all around us, growing bigger and more booming. menacing. i must have stood up ready to bolt, save myself.
“no art should be used wastefully,” said ravan.
i swiveled around at the sound of the voice. yes, it was ravan, sitting there where he had been a few moments ago.
“relax, i just wanted you to understand something. you see what you think you see, you did see a beautiful woman just now, didn’t you? yet, it was me all along,” ravan grinned. i have to say that was the most scary thing i’d ever seen. my stomach did a couple of somersaults.
“why were you chasing me?” i blurted out.
“you?!” ravan looked shocked, “i wasn’t chasing you! i was rushing to the next ramlila ground where they are pretty close to the end of the story. they must kill me, i have to be there for that!”
“huh?” i exclaimed, feeling foolish. there i was feeling important, thinking the evil incarnate, the ultimate villain, the grotesque asura, the king of lanka, big bad ravan was hellbent on getting me.
“but i did stop when you stopped running,” ravan mused.
“why?” i was flabbergasted.
“i don’t know… maybe because it was so new. no one has ever done that before,” ravan started patting his hair down. on all ten heads.
“i have to go now, the crowds must be getting restless,” he stood up.
i felt i had to acknowledge his not killing of me somehow. i remembered the spare laptop sitting below my desk, atop the safe.
“would you like a computer?” i murmured.
ravan stopped checking his quiver and pondered for a while. i could have sworn his twenty eyes glinted catching and throwing back light from the sun rays. a lightning made of diamonds.
“mmm… no!” ravan shook his heads vigorously, “there are many things i have done which i may not be proud of… but a death blow to mythology? no! i won’t be responsible for that! if krishna comes by, have a chat with him… you never know with that one!”
“okay okay, i won’t keep you,” i sighed with relief, “but before you go, just tell me one thing. is it true that the ten heads refer to how much you know and actually you have just one head, like any one of us?”
“any one of us? well if you’re ellandrian, you’d have three heads, if you’re from shamaz you’d have none, and if you’re from hottogol, you’d have only a voice as a head… so, really depends, doesn’t it, which “us” is asking that question?” ravan chuckled, his one single bosom heaving.
“but since you ask, and have done so twice, let me think about it and give you an answer… next year? or maybe the year after. i’ll be back you know,” he said, winking at me. ten eyes in unison closed and opened.
ravan ran toward ajmeri gate, disappearing down the long endless road, his bow and arrow in hand, his ten heads bobbing up and down. did ravan just wink at me?
shubho bijoya, happy dussehra. may good always triumph and mythology never lose its hold on our imagination.
more on the festive season