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The day was coming to an end, and so was his life; or at least he thought so. Never was he so sure about anything in his life as he was now, about running away, about escaping. But little did he know that escaping was not so easy. The only thing he knew for sure was that he was escaping. From what? From whom? He had wondered. He had got the answer after contemplating for sometime: from the nasty world he was living in. And it was then he had chosen the spot – to escape.
Chitradurga, a district headquarters in Karnataka, is the land of brave men and women. The stone fort of Chitradurga is the beacon of bravery and strength, an impregnable fort which comprises of 19 gateways, 4 secret entrances, 38 posterior entrances, a Palace, great granaries, and oil pits. It is the land which saw the reign of its last ruler, Veera Madakari Nayaka, and the guts of Obavva – the wife of a guard of the watchtower – who fought the soldiers of Hyder Ali singlehandedly with a wooden club, meant for pounding paddy grains.
Now, he was climbing the rock to reach Tuppada Kola (pond of ghee), probably the highest peak in the fort, from where one can see the entire city and its structure. It’s the spot from where Ramachari (played by Dr. Vishnuvardhan) and his lover committed suicide in the 1972 hit Kannada movie, Naagarahaavu, which became a cult classic. And now, he had chosen the same spot to end his life, thereby escaping from the ugliness of this world.
He was on top of the hill. He looked everywhere, and after having made sure that no one was around, he took a step forward. The difference between life and death was just one step away, and he knew it. A jet of hot wind hit his face as he closed his eyes. His whole life flashed before him. He took a deep breath as if it was his last. It was time.
“Got a light, my boy?” said a voice.
He was stunned. He had made sure that no one was around. He opened his eyes and swiveled round. It was a handsome middle aged man in blue jeans, white t-shirt and brown boots.
“Do you have a match box or a lighter or something?” asked the man again, with a cigarette between his smoke stained lips.
The boy felt disgusted and angry. “I don’t smoke,” he said, evincing his anger.
“Oh, good, good. Come, take a seat. Let’s talk,” said the man.
The boy didn’t try to hide anything.
“Look, if you have come here to stop me from doing what I was about to do, let me assure you, you can’t. I’ve made up my mind.”
“I know that, Santosh. I won’t stop you. But before jumping off this cliff, could you tell me why you want to end your life?”
“What?! How do you know my name? Who are you?” Santosh was dumbfounded.
“Well, that’s not important now. What’s important is why you want to end your life. So tell me in detail. I am very curious to know. I’d not have been surprised if it was somebody else, but you? Why would a boy like you want to….Well, what is it that drove you to this? Take a seat and tell me what,” the man said and started playing with his cigarette.
Santosh didn’t know what to do. Anyhow I’m just one step away from the edge of the cliff, and I can jump anytime I want, he thought. Out of curiosity, he decided to talk. He found a small stone and sat himself down. And when he looked up he saw that the man was already smoking.
“Where did you get the light from?” Santosh asked, crinkling his eyes.
“Never mind that. You start your story now.”
“There is no specific reason, no specific story. It’s just that I don’t want to live in this pathetic world.”
“Pathetic world? How dare you call this world pathetic?” screamed the man.
Santosh was taken aback.
“Hey, cool it, all right. First of all I don’t know why I’m even talking to you, and moreover, you are yelling at me?” He got up.
“All right, I’m sorry. Now sit down, will you?”
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the whoosh of the wind and the barks of the dogs.
“Would you like to smoke?” asked the man. “Anyhow you are going to die. Why don’t you try it?”
Santosh thought for a few seconds. I have nothing to lose. “Ok,” he said.
The man took out a pack of cigarettes from his jeans pocket, and offered it to him. Santosh took one stick out of it. The man lit it with his cigarette, and kept the pack back in his pocket. Santosh took a puff, and started coughing miserably.
“This is awful,” said he, coughing, and threw it away.
“Not as awful as ending one’s life. Anyways, continue.”
Santosh stared at the man inquisitively for a full minute. He said at last. “It’s a bloody nasty world I’m living in. I don’t like the things that are happening here. I don’t want to be a part of this system. It’s ugly, it’s rotten.”
“Tell me what’s rotten.
Santosh spoke at length. “Everything. There is corruption everywhere, no place is safe anymore, terrorism, dirty politicians, no one does his work properly, and no one has humanity left in him anymore. My best friend died in Pune blasts recently, and I’m still not able to get over that loss. Forget about the big world. Three months ago I participated in a debate competition in our University fest. One of the colleges in Bangalore hosted it. Though I had done my best, I was not expecting a prize. But the boy who got the first prize belonged to the host college, and he had done a terrible job at it. I later found out that 95% of the students that got first place belonged to the host college. Show me one place in this goddamn world where there is no corruption. Now wait a second. I don’t want to hear any godforsaken advices from you, all right? I am convinced that there is no good left in this world anymore. Anyhow some terrorist will plant a bomb in my city someday, and I’m going to die. So it’s better to take my own life before some bastard kills me for absolutely no reasons. You know, I don’t have any personal problems. It’s just that I refuse to be a part of this system.”
Santosh was finished and turned away from his new acquaintance.
The silence between them was interminable. The man in jeans and t-shirt had already smoked two cigarettes. He broke the silence after several minutes.
“Interesting. Very interesting. So you are not happy in my world, and don’t want to be a part of it? That’s what you are escaping from?”
“Your world? Are you kidding me? Well, um… never mind. You might stop me today, but I will definitely do what I want to do, on the morrow.”
“First of all, I’m not going to stop you. Secondly, yes, it is my world.”
Santosh sniggered. “So what is it you do?”
“I create things, my boy. I’m the creator.”
“Oh, really? You are a creator? What is it you create?” Santosh mocked.
The man didn’t seem to take any offense, and answered.
“You’ve got it wrong. I’m not A creator. I’m THE creator. I’m Lord Brahma, son. And I created this world. My world.”
For a moment Santosh forgot all about jumping off the cliff, and started laughing. The man who called himself Lord Brahma remained nonchalant, and lit another cigarette.
“Lord Brahma in jeans and t-shirt and boots? Ha! I should probably call you ‘Smoking Brahma’,” Santosh ridiculed.
“What’s my dress code and habits got to do with my designation, son? Did you expect me to have four heads like you see on your idiot box? That’s total crap. The so-called messengers of gods tell you that I have four heads and sit on Lotus, and you believe it? Have they seen me? For real?" The man took a heavy drag of cigarette and exhaled. "Have a good look at me. This is I. The real Lord Brahma, the creator."
“Oh, logic, huh? All right. I’m Santosh, you are Lord Brahma, and you created me. Is that right?”
“What if I were, say, Anthony? Who are you then?”
“Simple. I’m Jesus Christ.”
“Dude, you are one helluva artist.”
“Of course I am. Anyways, you don’t believe me? All right. Have a proper look at me, especially my face.”
And Santosh did. What he saw was unbelievable. There was silence all over. The wind had stopped blowing, the dogs had stopped barking, the sun had set, the dusk had come, the darkness was on its way, and Lord Brahma had become Jesus Christ.
There was a beard on his face, and the hair had grown to shoulder length. The body was much slimmer now.
Santosh was awestruck. He just sat there, staring.
“Now don't ask me what if your name were Abdul. I would just disappear, that's all."
Santosh still kept mum.
"You still don’t believe me? All right, come here,” said the creator, and dragged Santosh to the edge of the cliff.
“You want to jump from here, don’t you? Let me see how you do it,” said he and before Santosh could blink an eye, the void was filled with bare land. There was no empty space below anymore. The surface on which he was standing had just stretched for another few kilometers.
“So now you believe me?” asked Lord Brahma. He was back in his true form. No more beard and shoulder length hair.
Santosh took a few steps away and slumped on a stone. A few minutes passed in silence. And then he stood up. He was seething with rage.
“If you are what you say you are, then why is your world filled with filth?”
“Son, this is a crazy world I’ve created. The rules have changed. For example, I created cigarettes. I love to smoke, but one should never become addicted. You take it in excess, and it becomes bad. I only created good things. And then I had a competition. That’s the rule of the game. When I created cigarettes, he created cocaine. It’s the same ever since. Whenever I created something good, he created the exact opposite. But I can’t run away, I can’t escape. I have to face the challenge. You think you are the only one who is having problems with this world? I created this world, son, and I am having problems with my own creation.”
“He? Who is it?” Santosh asked incredulously.
But before Lord Brahma could answer, the two of them heard a voice.
“He’s talking about me, dude.”
Santosh swiveled round as Brahma cringed.
A handsome man was standing with his arms akimbo. He was completely dressed in black; black shirt, black robe, black trousers, and black boots.
He certainly looked more attractive than Lord Brahma.
“Hey Brahms, how are you?” he asked.
Lord Brahma made a disgusting face, and said, “Whatever.”
“Who are you?” asked Santosh.
“I’m Lord Keechaka,” said he, taking out a small plastic pouch containing cocaine, from his pocket, and took a fix.
“What the hell is happening here?” Santosh was losing his mind.
“Everything that has happened in the past, everything that is happening now, and everything that is going to happen, is real,” said Lord Brahma.
“What do you mean?”
“Let me explain,” Lord Keechaka began tersely enough, “Look, dude, it’s simple. When he created heaven, I created hell. I think you’ve already got the picture. It’s business. Nothing personal. And Brahms knows it very well. You must be wondering why Lord Brahms here doesn’t simply finish me off, and on the contrary, Osama Bin Laden must be wondering why I don’t finish Brahms off. Even though we are capable of finishing each other off, we simple won’t do it. Bottom line: we both need each other. This world is incomplete without me. What say, Brahms?”
Santosh felt sick to his stomach. He didn’t have any other choice except to believe in what was happening. He couldn’t afford to ask Lord Keechaka to prove himself like Lord Brahma did. He turned to his creator.
“What the hell is he talking about?" He was fulminating, "Why in heaven’s name does this world need him? Why can’t there be only good? Why is it that there is only evil in this world?”
Lord Brahma breathed heavily. “Do you really think there is only evil in this world?”
“Of course,” said Santosh, with utmost conviction.
Lord Keechaka laughed his guts out.
“Dude, trust me. You really don’t know what would have happened if there was only evil. It’s because of Lord Brahms here that there is some amount of good left in this world. Then again, if I were not there, people would have seen the end of the world a long time back.”
Before Santosh could say anything, Lord Brahma said, “He’s right, son. Well, I know it’s difficult for you to believe. So let me show you. Let me make a deal with him.” Having said that, he went to Lord Keechaka and had a small talk.
He came back a minute later and said to Santosh, “All right. Here’s the thing. For the next one month, I’ll stop working, and Lord Keechaka will be in full swing. Then you’ll know the real meaning of ‘evil’. One month later, we three are going to meet here. Same place, same time. Then, from the next day onwards, Lord Keechaka will take his leave, and there will only be good in this world. If you still like that perfect world, I shall fight him, right here in front of you and chop his head off. Deal?”
“Chop my head off, Brahms? You are funny,” Keechaka snorted.
Santosh thought for a while and said, “All right.”
He had finally postponed his death.
“All right, then. Let’s do this,” the two creators said in chorus and vanished.
Santosh woke up to a few screams. There was chaos everywhere. It seemed like people just loved violence. The newspaper was torn to pieces. He picked it up and read the headlines: Petrol price hike fuels food inflation to all time high.
He was thunderstruck when he read the full story.
He suddenly remembered. Oh, my god!
It was just the beginning, he knew.
And then there were riots everywhere. People killed people without compunction. It seemed like they just needed a reason to thrash somebody. It was a new world altogether - a new beleaguered world.
Pulses, vegetables, fruits and milk were sold in black market. Milk was sold at Rs. 250/- a litre, petrol was priced at Rs. 1053/- a litre. Pulses, fruits and vegetables had become the luxury of rich people. Ironically, everyone had become rich. And the rich purchased their essential requirements in black market. Nothing was available easily. Weapon manufacturers made huge profits all over the world. In fact everyone made a huge profit.
In a world ruled by thugs, whoever has the gun is the commander. But what if everyone had a gun? This was the situation. It was all about timing. You take your weapon and use it on a man at a time when he is not carrying his weapon, and everything that he has is yours. This became the only rule of survival.
People were no more divided into rich and poor. Now, the two kinds of people were the ones with weapons, and the ones without weapons. There was no use of police; there was no use of law and courts to judge anyone.
Nobody worked anymore, and nobody needed degrees anymore. All one needed was weapons and the skill to use them. Everything was easily available, because of which the economy came down. Inflation rate dropped to the bottom. People were bored, and hence they started riots again, for absolutely no reasons.
The government of India didn’t have anything to do. After contemplating for sometime, it decided to tackle Pakistan. A war broke out between the two nations. Pakistan got the support of China, and India got the support of Russia. US of A was angered by this, and thus began the third world war. Every country that possessed nuclear weapons didn't hesitate to flaunt them.
The world came to an end in ten days. Santosh now fully understood the meaning of ‘evil’. One month was up. The time had come to meet the people responsible for this.
Tourists were already returning when Santosh entered the fort. He climbed up to the spot where he had met the creators a month ago. It was almost six in the evening. He was tired, physically, psychologically.
Ten minutes later, Lord Brahma and Lord Keechaka arrived.
“So how are you, my boy?” asked Brahma.
“You know how I am, don’t you?”
“So how was my work? Do you now realize what I am capable of doing if I am not challenged?”
Santosh didn’t answer.
“Trust me, Kiddo,” Keechaka was saying, “It will be much worse if I ceased to exist.”
“How is it possible?” Santosh was rather nonplussed.
“You’ll see soon.”
“Are you ready for the next session, son?” asked Brahma.
“As promised, I’ll go on a vacation. The world is all yours to experiment. See you both in three months,” said Keechaka and vanished.
“Three months? Why three months this time?” asked Santosh a minute later.
“It’s simple. It takes time to implement good things. See you in three months,” said Brahma and he too vanished.
The day started off well for Santosh. The newspaper boy had delivered the newspaper on time. He was insanely glad when he read the newspaper, and at the same time, a bit surprised too.
The naxalites had given up their fight and surrendered to the police. It was big news, and almost half the newspaper had covered this story. No more Operation Green Hunt, no more slaying of police officers; peace had prevailed once again.
A few politicians withdrew all the black money from their secret bank accounts and gave it to the government. More of such cases followed, and in a few days, all the politicians had come out clean. Each and everyone in the country paid their taxes honestly. There was no corruption anywhere. Santosh was happy. The world can never be better than this, he thought. He was wrong.
Nobody killed anyone, nobody robbed anyone, the banks were safe, the people were safe; corruption, bribery, extortion, murder, and robbery were the words that existed only in dictionaries. Nobody hated anyone, everyone loved each other, nobody did a wrong thing, and humanity reigned supreme. It was a perfect world. But perfection too has a price to pay.
Soon the negative effects of this perfect world started showing.
The police didn’t have any work to do, as nobody did a wrong thing anymore. The income tax officers didn’t have any work to do. Soon many were sent home, and some left by themselves. The Indian Army didn’t want anymore men, as there was no need to guard the frontiers. Many were sent back. The Air force and Navy became useless. The government didn’t have to pay them anymore. Hence everyone lost his job. There was no need of soldiers. Their services were no longer required. There was no need of defense forces. This was the case in every country.
All the weapon manufacturers experienced heavy losses. Nobody needed weapons anymore, as nobody fought with anyone anymore. All the weapon manufacturing companies across the world were shut down. Mikhail Kalashnikov, the man who designed AK-47, committed suicide. All the people who were in weapon manufacturing business became jobless.
Everything was freely available. The government had a lot of money. No one needed to work hard anymore. Everyone was paid thrice as much as he used to get for the same job. Some even got paid for nothing. There was no competition. Everyone was satisfied. People that were once mettlesome, became vapid and lazy. The only people that suffered were the hard workers, but ultimately they too became like the rest of them.
This was worse. There was chaos. But there was order in chaos.
Santosh was distraught. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined such a thing. How even good things could go wrong, he wondered. He had to find out. He was relieved when three months were up.
Lord Keechaka was laughing hysterically. Lord Brahma was standing with his arms folded. Santosh was waiting for his creator to speak.
“Didn’t I tell you?” Keechaka said, laughing.
“Anyways, now that you’ve seen the two sides of the coin, what do you think?” asked Brahma.
“I don’t know. I’m confused,” said Santosh.
Lord Brahma elucidated. “Let me explain. It’s the balance that takes the world forward. The world you were living in, before you met me, is the real world. It’s the truth. And you can’t escape from it. There is only way to survive. Fight.
“Don’t try to change the system. You can’t. I’ll tell you one more ugly truth. You can’t change the system unless you own the system. And who owns the system? You know it. You reach there, and even then, you can only change a small part of it. But the roots remain intact. You simply can't extirpate them.
“My world is still beautiful, my boy. There is no need to run away, no need to escape from yourself, from this world. It’s like Boxing. Play all the fifteen rounds. No problem even if you lose, but just don’t get knocked down. Stay in the ring, and finish the fight. Don’t run away.
"Tell me one thing, Santosh. Do you believe in me?"
"You mean, do I believe in God?"
"Don't know why, but I still think you are just a figment of my imagination," said Santosh, matter-of-factly.
"Exactly. Everything starts in your head. If not for you, there are many Santoshs in this world who would want to escape. Do you really think anything is going to change if you run away? Doesn't matter if you don't believe in me. But believe in yourself. I'll tell you once more. You can try, but you can't escape, from this world, from yourself, from the truth. That's how this game is designed. And the rules of this game are strange and abstruse. Now that you are dragged into this game, DEAL with it, in your own style. Happy. That's what your name means, isn't it? Live up to it."
Santosh stood there, marveling at what he had just heard and experienced. He kept looking at Brahma.
"I'm getting late. Off I go," said Lord Brahma, smiled, and vanished.
Lord Keechaka started laughing sardonically. "Brahms is real crazy, eh? Anyways, I'm getting late too. Hope to see you soon." And then he too was gone.
Santosh stood there alone, on the solid rock of the fort, as silence sang in the air. He looked upward, as a small gust of cool breeze caressed his face, and saw the canopy of fiery stars sprayed against the gray sky. It was nearly seven in the evening, and a blanket of darkness had surrounded him completely. But it didn't matter to him anymore, for he had now found the light.