Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Birds Shall Die

The birds started flapping their wings as soon as his arrow hit the tree top. Prabha took another arrow out of his holder, put it in his bow, stretched it and as soon as he was about to shoot the distant object that he had targeted, a clutter of people started gathering around. He heard murmurs and voices of people praising him from behind. His skill was witnessed by people who had been watching him for quite some time. This was the first time he had planned to shoot in the midst of the valley. He had been practicing archery for a very long time. You know when they say “practice makes a man perfect” they say it right. Perhaps he had inherited the skill from his great grandfather (or at least that’s what people in the village say). The man was known for his skill not just in his vicinity but throughout his village.

Villagers entitled him as the best archer of Gyaspur. They hadn’t seen someone as adroit as him for the past so many decades or heard stories of such a talent after his great grandfather. Even his dark skin complimented his skill. His huge built, his stern voice, the way he carried himself and even his style of fixating his targets and then shooting them was identical to his grandfather. Villagers reckoned that he would someday bring well deserved but long awaited fame to the village by showcasing his talent. They said that he would one day compliment his name Prabha, which means ‘light’ in Hindi.

Prabha was a very simple and modest man and belonged to the Shudra caste of the Hindu caste system. He worked with his father as a grave digger and dedicated most of his spare moments to furnishing his art of archery.

Every time Prabha would target something, he would first point his arrow in the right direction, lower himself a little, swirl his right foot shutting his right eye at the same time and then letting the arrow go hitting the target perfectly. He was as good as one could be. Whether shooting something at an elevated position, a depression point, or in a projectile motion; his art of shooting spoke for itself. He was always afraid of fame though. His locations were thus far from where people would gather around usually. He would go out of the main town area at nights, on week days, and at times when village businesses had to be at peak. He would sometimes choose the corner of the forest, the end of the river, in between the bushy areas or amongst the mountainous regions to practice his shooting skills. But now Prabha, an untouchable, was the talk of the town.

The stories of his art started spreading like a wildfire. People were talking about his skill across the borders. Visitors from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka craved to visit Gyaspur, to see him targeting and shooting, to witness the art first hand. Reporters started writing stories on him in regional newspapers.

It was late 1800s. The news of the archer broke out to the Nepalese King in the neighboring country. Within a few weeks he had heard of the archer multiple times. Hence he demanded his minister to send the archer a proposal to visit Nepal. “He will prove to be an asset for our country”, said the king. “He will train our army with his tactics. I want this man! If he proves himself, he shall be the Chief Commander of the Nepalese army”. The King became very eager when he discovered how people were visiting Gyaspur to meet him. He wanted Nepal to attract more tourists now, to establish an archery school, and to gain other economic benefits. His ministers drafted a letter, more of a formal invitation for Prabha to come to Nepal.

The Royal invitation was sent in a majestic manner with a messenger from the King, a troop of soldiers and a cart full of expensive gifts and jewels to invite him over. The fleet of carriages was packed with red and golden cloths giving the fleet a regal touch. The troop was sent. Orders were sent countrywide to start preparations for a mega event to welcome the archer and turn it into a grand festival.

The invitation reached Prabha in the most upright way. Villagers from the neighborhood stopped to look at the Royal entry of the carriages. The fleet travelled all along the way to the down town of the village. The messenger stepped out to ask about Prabha. An old man suggested him to visit sights outside the suburbs of the village devoid of public to find him. The carriages moved to the outskirts of the village alongside the river, spotted the archer there and came to a halt that very moment. The messenger stepped out, announced his origin and declared his purpose of coming. “I have brought forth to you a message from the King of Nepal to come to our homeland. The King wishes to see you and your talent and would be highly pleased to grant you with a royal treatment at the Palace of Kathmandu. On a further note, I would like to notify you on behalf of his majesty that he would like to give you an opportunity to display your talent to the public. He would be gleeful to award you with tons of presents and anything that you like from the royal palace. We are here to take you along with us Sir. You have time to ponder over the King’s proposal for the next 24 hours. Our crew shall be back tomorrow to take your answer”.

Prabha had made up his mind as soon as the fleet left. Within moments he found himself packing up his stuff, all ready for the departure. After all, the Shudras would never get the deserved chunk of respect and recognition in their home town. He had always abhorred the caste system, and felt like a disrespected flea bag. This was perhaps the pinnacle of his life. He was desperately waiting for the next morning to arrive. Every moment seemed like a lifetime in itself. Finally the next morning arrived and after a couple of hours he heard the Nepalese fleet approaching in the direction of his house. Without the delay of a single second, he blurted out that he accepted the King’s proposal and would accompany the fleet to Nepal to demonstrate his skills to the King and his ministers. Minutes later the carriage left the village and disappeared in the distance.

After days of traveling the fleet reached the entrance of the royal palace being welcomed through trumpets and hundreds of security personnel. People had gathered around the palace to welcome the archer too. A lot of them had come from distant places to see the talent he exhibited. All preparations had been made already to let him demonstrate his talent. The humongous crowd made Prabha very nervous. He was taken to a very comfortable lounge as soon as he arrived at the palace. He rested for a bit while people around were anxiously waiting for the show to begin. They had waited and prepared for this day weeks in advance.

Noises from the crowd were making Prabha very uncomfortable. As he stepped outside the palace, he heard people cheering and screaming for him. He could even see some people from his own village. He was brought in front of the king in the middle of the gathering. It was massive, so huge that he could see people and more people within miles of his sight. The host started briefing him on the rules of the game. All he had to do was to shoot three flying birds on the count of ten.

“Three flying birds? What? How could I? Never in my life have I ever even thought of hurting a living being, or plucking a leaf out of a tree for that matter” thought the flabbergasted archer. Also fame and public display of talent is what he had always loathed. He never wanted that. As the hammer struck the metal plate, and the counting began he could hear people roaring from the crowd. His nervousness grew. He could feel his heart pounding. As the counting reached the number 8, he could feel a lump in his throat. He tried to swallow it. “Nine” shouted the crowd. He lowered himself, swirled his right foot, closed both his eyes this time and suddenly felt trapped inside a jinxed state of feelings. Faced with a dilemma, he thought of how he could overcome it. “Ten” screamed the crowd and he placed his arrow in the bow and let it go. The crowd froze for a moment turning their necks from left to right and slightly upwards, the arrow almost touching the bird and flying past it the next moment. Noises of disappointment arose from the crowd. A lot of gossips ran through his ears of people thinking that perhaps his first hit went in the wrong direction. Another bird was let free to fly and made its way through the crowd, the counting began and seconds later the second arrow was seen flying past the bird too.
Orders were sent to the commentator to put a pause to the game. Prabha was taken inside a tent and the king’s messenger was sent to him to have a little conversation. “The King is utterly disappointed. You shall not be contracted the promised position. All your royalties granted shall be confiscated. You shall be sent back to your home with a lot of disgrace. This is your last chance to perform”, said the messenger and left. Prabha was brought back outside.

The countdown began again and moments later the crowd saw the last arrow missing its target too. The King was furious. The commentator announced the termination of the show and ordered people to leave. Prabha was held by his arm and dragged back to the palace from within the crowd.

“Is this how you define the best archer?” murmured a group of people.

“My 8 year old can shoot better than that one”, he overheard a man exclaiming.

Prabha was brought in front of the King who demanded a valid explanation of him. He explained how he could never shoot a living thing and how he would have brought disgrace to his caste, had he taken lives of three living beings. The King immediately asked him to leave the palace as he had turned a festive event into a gossip tale for the King forever. Prabha was sent back to his home town. On his way back, he thought of how he would be received by his people. “They would probably throw satirical remarks over my cowardice and emotional nature”, he thought. He wished he had never gotten himself into this. Throughout the journey, this was the only thought he had on his mind. He recalled the best journey of his life from Ghyaspur to Nepal a few hours ago. But he did not regret anything that happened. The only thing that bothered him was the hope and prosperity that people of Ghyaspur were expecting him to bring.

As soon as he arrived back his village, he couldn’t believe what he saw. People awaited his arrival with floral necklaces in their hands. They showered him with flowers and hugs and held him high up with pride. He had brought pride to his village by making the right choice. He was their hero and they admired him more than he would have ever expected.