Read #1 book on Hinduism and enhance your understanding of ancient Indian history.
Read #1 book on Hinduism and enhance your understanding of ancient Indian history.

Sheehan Shukla

Drama Fantasy Tragedy


Sheehan Shukla

Drama Fantasy Tragedy

The Monster & The Eklavyas - 1

The Monster & The Eklavyas - 1

10 mins 11.8K 10 mins 11.8K

Part 1

Chapter 1: The Trio


Year 1999

Khandwa, M.P.

The summer in Khandwa was like any other summer on the Indian flatlands. Barring the coastal regions. Hot, dry, and dusty. An accomplice in crime, the month of May had acquiesced to the sun’s wish to torrefy the land with its blinding might. The factor that kept the parched land going was the promise, concealed behind the unbearable torment, of reinvigorating showers in the nearing season.

In an idyllic residential colony, at one end of the city, an iron gate opened with a clang followed by a piercing groan. The same set of sounds recurred while closing it, only in reverse. The din filling up the deserted afternoon’s quiet. The heat has rendered the hinges dry and the patience of the middle-aged man to run low. Hence, the protesting groans and the loud clangs.

Turning away, the man proceeded to trudge the final distance to his home.

“Uncle, can we have some water?” a timid voice asked from behind.

A few steps into the porch, Varan turned to face the gate again, annoyance creeping into his eyes. Back from college, he was keen to go into the welcoming cool interiors of his house; away from the unbearable heat.

Three unkempt children, a girl and two boys, were standing on the other side. They were peeping through its diagonal iron slats. He considered to shoo them away but the scorching afternoon forced him to reconsider. Giving in to the almost pleading look in their eyes, Varan relented. Grunting a terse okay, he went into the house. 

A couple of minutes later, he came out holding a stainless steel jug filled with cool water from an earthen pitcher and a glass. The children took a step back as he opened the gate. The groan from the parched hinges was mellow this time. Perhaps showing mercy to the young ones. He handed the glass to the boy in front.

The girl was the last to drink.

By this time, he’d had a good look at the kids. The boys seem to be of the same age, around ten years, give or take a year or two between them. The girl was younger, maybe seven or eight. All three had an ample amount of dirt on them; a common sight among the children of farmers, labourers, construction workers, and alike. The clothes were grimy with the accumulated dirt; their hair, bleached almost brown from too much sun and too less oil, were going in all directions. The skin on the exposed parts of their bodies—their faces, hands, and legs—was dry and coarse for lack of moisture.

 Varan glanced towards the abandoned park where he had seen them scavenging. A small stack of dry wood was lying right beside the park gate. A koel was calling, incessantly, perched on a young mango tree.

Why don’t you come to my garden, ever? The mangoes are the sweetest here.

As if reading his thoughts, the koel skipped down to a low branch hanging outside the park’s perimeter wall and faced him. The crimson eyes on its constantly cocking its head seemed to be studying the four of them. It soon lost interest, hopped back to its perch and resumed with her calls.

Sighing, Varan looked away, turning his attention on the park instead.

* * *

Situated to one side of the colony lane, right across his house, the park was a square piece of land some 10000 sq. ft in size with a brick and iron fence marking the borders. As had been the fate of many of its predecessors and successors in other colonies, this one also had succumbed to the category of one-of-those-city-projects that started with much fanfare but as the initial fervour died fell victim to the classical indifference—of administration, and the residents alike. It’s the same insouciance that has forced several such ambitious initiatives taken by governments, for the welfare of its people, to die an unfulfilled life. 

Hurtling along the same path, the park is now just an enclosed piece of land with trees and wild shrubs growing unchecked and claiming their ownership to the spot. Even so, a rectangular patch of land spanning both sides of the only open entrance stayed clear of the wild vegetation—barring intermittent patches of bunch grass clusters—owing to the regular visits of children from the nearby colonies.

* * *

Unlike its park, the colony, Malya-Vanika, was relatively well-kept. Other than the litter of dry leaves, seasonal flowers and twigs that keep falling throughout the year, the surroundings stay clean of any other debris thanks to once-in-the-morning visits of the sweeper. The drains were all covered with red sandstone slabs; the lamp posts had working tube lights on them. The well-maintained tarmac lane, at right angles to the main road, runs deep into the colony with houses on both sides. An inky river bisecting its two shores. A line of trees on either side extend their leafy awning over the path and the house fronts, keeping the dwellings cool during summers.

The houses, some twenty-five of them, were all double-storeyed structure built on equal plot sizes of 2400 sq ft of land. Varan’s was the biggest combining three of them. The colonizer was an old friend. After the plans for the colony were approved, he offered the very first plot to Varan at a discounted price.

Varan’s thoughts traveled back.

His father had advised him to buy three such plots. “Build your house on one piece of land, and develop a garden on the other two. Both Malini and you love gardening so it won’t be a burden. Believe me son, that garden will be one of the most precious gifts you can give to your children.” Seeing him hesitant, he further added. “Think of your own childhood here in the village. You had plenty of open space to play and explore. In the city, your children will be deprived of such exposure to nature; the open space will soon become a luxury not everyone could afford. The land is cheaper now; it won’t be so five or ten years down the line. The least you can do is to offer them a decent open space to grow up into,” he’d said.

“Don’t bother about the money, beta,” his mother echoed his father’s thoughts. “Our farms have always been kind to us. You know that. As it is, our needs are few, but you have just started your life. What we have here is for you only.”

Thus with his savings and a bank loan, Varan bought three plots in the colony, at the far corner of it. He did not take money from his parents. They have already done enough; now it’s his turn to do his bit.

Though they didn’t say but it was a proud moment for them.

* * *

The quietude was broken as the same timid voice spoke again.

“Thank you, Uncle.” The girl was extending the empty glass back to him. Head tilted up to meet his gaze, she had a smile on her dust-streaked face.

Not offering any in return, he took the glass and turned to go into the house.

“Uncle, can you give us a rupee?” another voice spoke, this time of a boy.

Varan turned swiftly on his heels. “Why? Why do you need a rupee?” he asked with a rising anger. Beggars!

The girl shifted uneasily on her feet, her nervous eyes fluctuating between the two of them.

“We will buy some candy,” another one informed. 

“Yes, Toffee . . .” the first one agreed.

“You are not getting any money from me. Go Away!”

The three scampered back towards the park.

“And Don’t Come Asking Again.” He slammed the gate, fuming. Bloody Beggars!

For quite a while after that, the sounds of their playing and laughing kept drifting inside the house, towards him.

His thoughts strayed again.

* * *

Amidst stereotypical names like Shagun Nagar, Deendayal Vihar, Subhash Colony, Malya-Vanika exudes the aura of being posh and regal. The father of his colonizer friend was a poet at heart. The name was his suggestion. “Malya-Vanika, a garland of tree cluster!” he’d announced. Which it once was.

At the time when Malya-Vanika came into existence, the place was thick with woods. The city had just begun to feel the pinch of the space crunch. Over the years, the tree clusters decreased, significantly, when new settlements came up nearby. Even so, all was not lost yet. Beyond the weathered barbed wire fence on now rotting wooden pillars, put up years ago to keep stray animals away, there still remained vast stretches of open lands with sporadic tree clusters, on the other side of Varan’s house.

The residents were a mix of government employees, businessmen, and shop owners. Once every month, on a Sunday morning, the men would meet in a nearby restaurant for a society meeting. The women will meet the same evening for a social get-together, either at the same venue or at someone’s home.

Varan had stopped attending the meetings after the tragic accident that destroyed his life. He was yet to regret the decision.

Just like the park, the meetings too have become an excuse to sit around a table in the restaurant’s banquet hall for an hour or so, form subgroups and discuss everything under the sun except the very thing for which they had gathered. The issue of the park maintenance has still not progressed an inch from the time he used to attend those meetings.

Five years back, Varan, after consulting a couple of neighbours, had hired a gardener on his expenses to take care of the park. A couple of weeks later, other residents gathered on the porch of his house and demanded an explanation from him. They accused him of trying to seize the park land for himself. Upset by their false allegations and callous behaviour, Varan vowed to leave the park to its fate. The gardener, Sipahilal, by then, had cleared away the dense wild shrubbery and was about to prepare beds for flowering plants. The very next day Varan asked him to stop all work in the park and look after his garden, instead. To date, once every fortnight, Sipahilal, comes to tend the garden.

The curse of the park had befallen the society meets which, in turn, is preventing the park itself from getting a makeover. He thought with distaste.

* * *

Professor Varan Shivarav was a Hindi language teacher in a government college in Khandwa, a small tranquil city in the state of Madhya Pradesh. In his fifty-fourth year, the man was still in a good shape. The constant walk to the college, some four kilometers from his home, and back was a major contributing factor complemented by his morning routine of basic body-weight exercises. The high forehead marked with deep worry lines and penetrating brown eyes gave him an aura of a learned man. The thick mane of hair combed back from the forehead, graying in streaks, only added to it.

In the field of academics, he commanded a great respect. Apart from being the living encyclopedia on Hindi language and its literature, he is also regarded as a veteran of Sanskrit. However, within the colony, among its residents, he was someone else.

Someone he was not ten years back.


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