The door creaked slightly as I entered the cottage, the moonlight bathing my sleeping mother in its silver brilliance. I carefully closed the door and sneaked into my bed, repressing the hunger from my missed dinner. I stared at the ceiling as I pondered over my future path.
The thing about being the only son of a widow is that you aren’t very welcome. Your mother’s pursuers are put off by you and your mother feels that you are an extra mouth to feed. If it weren’t for the lingering fame of my father, a returnee from the Chola Imperial academy, we would have starved.
It was my father’s books which got me started on my magical pursuits. Well, until my mother found out and burnt the lot. That was one hell of a night. What with all the hysteria, accusations of ingratitude and the beatings.
I was her investment. A ticket to a comfortable life in her senility. We couldn’t have me become outstanding and leave now, could we?
Well, filial piety was fine with me. She had raised me for all these years after all. And it helped that my memory was really good so the book-burning didn’t hurt the essentials. But I needed to convince her somehow that my leaving meant greater paybacks in the future. It was a five-year course at Taxila and if I was going to study magic, I was going to do it at the largest academy in the known world.
I sighed, as I got comfortable and closed my eyes. There was going to be screaming, a lot of screaming.
“Where were you last night?”
“On the hillock near the bazaar.”
“Doin’ what exactly?”
“I was resting a bit after returning the sheep to their pens. I fell asleep.”
“Hah. Not even a hint of hesitation. You lie as simply as breathing. Your father be turning over in his grave for having such a disobedient son such as ye’.”
“Well, good. I was meditating.”
“And till when are ye’ goin’ to continue with that nonsense? Your father didn’t have the tiniest morsel of magic in ‘im. He was a wizard with all the letters and numbers, sure, but the meditation was just an excuse to avoid them chores.”
“Its been two years since I burnt them books, boy. Stop ye’ daydreams and study the real things. I’ve talked to the Chief. They’ll let you start teaching the kids in a couple o’ years and if you can get the Vedas down by heart, ye’ be in charge of the rituals too.”
“Stop. Just stop. If its about magic I don’t want another word out of ye’. Now hurry up and eat your breakfast. There’s a fortune-teller that’s come to the village and I want to have ye’ palm read.”
I shut up and had my meal. Yeah, I had known it would be hard to bring up as she clamps down hard on anything that might have me leaving for any extended period of time. She has this morbid fear that I’ll never come back. Well, it seems that the shouting match will have to be postponed till the afternoon.
We got dressed in our best clothes and went to the village square. It was a large clearing in the middle of the village used for gatherings and announcements. A colossal banyan tree overspread the entire area, prop roots supporting its canopy like pillars. The early morning sun shone through the leaves dappling the ground with motley shadows. There beneath the tree trunk, sitting on a colourful jute mat, the fortune-teller was selling his services.
There was a considerable crowd milling about waiting for their turn.
As we waited I took in as many details as I could, shoring up my reserves for tonight’s meditation. The interplay of light and shadow, the cool morning breeze, the babble of voices and the colourfully attired villagers seemed to merge into an organic whole. The rhythm of the world beat upon the boundary of my mindscape like a stick upon a drum. The percussion affected my idling galaxy and set it into motion. For the second time in my life, I achieved ‘Harmony of Nature and Man’.
As I affect the world, so does the world affect me.
In my state of Harmony I felt new stars blossom in radiant splendour one after another and my galaxy expanded. I realized that I didn’t need to meditate any longer. My current state of mind was much more efficient.
Meditation involved summing up the experiences of the day and integrating them into your psyche with the help of some conceptual aid. It could be pebbles, leaves, raindrops or in my case stars. Any countable infinity could be your choice of concept.
Harmony on the other hand was a state of mind where everything you experience is automatically integrated into your mindscape. It’s like the difference between hearing a story second hand and watching it unfold personally. A lot of details are lost in the process of recounting.
Thus, a full day spent in Harmony was equal to nearly a month of meditation.
The problem was Harmony was quite difficult to maintain and took nearly all of my concentration. So, I stood there woodenly until I was smacked out of the state by my mother.
“Don’t be gawking, boy, it’s our turn next.”
I rubbed my smarting shoulder as I waited for the baker’s wife to finish asking her inane questions as I wondered how I should proceed from now on. The books I had read only detailed how to form one’s mindscape, begin mediation and reach Harmony. They also referred to something known as the Breath of the World in passing. Even in my state of Harmony I had felt no such thing so I concluded that it might be some kind of advanced concept.
So, for now I was all on my own. The only thing I could think of was to extend my time in Harmony with nature and try to multitask by keeping my awareness from immersing in that state. The logical conclusion would be to be in a permanent state of Harmony.
Well, that and getting to Taxila as soon as possible. Fumbling around with something that affected your mind was extremely foolhardy and I would like to spare myself the fate of becoming a drooling vegetable.
I was yanked out of my musings by another smack as I found myself in front of the fortune-teller.
“This boy’s all I got left in the world. Mister, give ‘im a good look over please.”
The fortune-teller’s eyes lit up as my mother passed over quite a heavy cloth parcel. There went our savings for the month. We are going to be eating plain rice for a long time now.
Out of all of my mother’s flaws the one I detest the most is her superstition. Its kept me hungry often enough.
The fortune-teller’s beady eyes looked me over, searching for signs of greatness I’m sure. His eyes gleamed as they settled on my protruding canines.
“Such fate. Such destiny. Such a magnificent life standard. I can feel that this boy is destined for greatness. He has a Kingly fate. Madam, I would highly recommend that you send him outside to study. His talent is being buried here in this small village. Just look at his teeth. He has the makings of a ruler and I can feel the twinkle of the stars in his eyes. He surely possesses the organ of wisdom. Any academy would be happy to accept him.”
Stop. Please. Could you be any falser? What do teeth have with Kingship? Although the mention of stars gave me some pause. Could he see my mindscape? Was he a mage too?
I felt my mother’s hand tighten on my arm. Oh. Shit.
“In fact, a month from now if you are to visit any city, you can sit for the Imperial academy examinations for the Chola Kingdom. If you do well enough, you may even be recommended to study in Taxila.”
I always had the goal of studying in Taxila but I never had any explicit idea of how to reach there crossing several Kingdoms. Now, in front of me was placed the perfect opportunity. In my excitement I turned to look at my mother.
When I saw her darkened face, I realized my mistake.
This was going to be bad.
She dragged me into our cottage and threw me down on the floor. I scrambled up as she stomped towards the corner which served as the kitchen.
She returned with the stone pestle in her hand and pushed me down face first on the ground. Pinning my arms behind my back with her knee, she pinched my jaw painfully with her hand. Wrenching my head sideways so that I could look into her slightly crazed eyes.
“Getting’ conceited aren’t ye’. Imperial academy. Taxila. This little ol’ village too small for ye’ swollen head? King?! I didn’t raise you to be any king. I spent the best years of my life looking after you after that irresponsible man left me all alone in the world. Now no man will even think of touching me and you say you’ll be gallivanting across the world abandoning me here?! Looks like I’ll have to knock some sense into that thick skull of yours and those damn teeth out of your mouth!”
The sound of the pestle smashing against my teeth reverberated through my skull as my consciousness fluttered from the searing hot pain. In the distance I heard a primal scream. It took me a while to recognize it as my own.
Subconsciously, I had somehow run away from my body into the state of Harmony. The pain echoed across a great distance with my galaxy. Each impact renovating thousands of dark purple stars.
I watched in a detached manner as mother broke both of my protruding canines and stomped away leaving me there with blood leaking from my mouth.
Blood tastes like iron. Greyish red stars bloomed.
I am Chanakya. I will be twelve years old this summer. I am a mage.
And today, I renounce the mortal coil.