Be yourself--not your idea of what you think somebody else's idea of yourself should be.
- Henry David Thoreau
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In the daily mundane life of a common man sometimes a miraculous incident arrive like an earthquake and perturb their whole existence. I experienced something similar on my Roopkund Trek last year. Software engineer by profession, trekking is the only passion which still fuels my otherwise humdrum life.
Last year I along with some of my friends decided to venture the Roopkund trek. Deep virgin forests, gurgling brooks, breathe taking camp sites, miles of undulating meadows, snow and ice on the distant mountain peaks stunned us as we treaded our way higher up. On the fifth day of our trek we reached the famous mysterious lake. The snow has melted and the bottom of the shallow lake was clearly visible. Hundreds of skeleton were scattered there. I had read about them in internet and was looking forward to visit this place. But the “Mystery Lake” baffled me in a curious way. A whole new world unfolded itself in front of me. I was feeling dizzy and nauseous. Everyone thought I was tired from the five days trek. But it was an inexplicable feeling which engulfed me. The present was slowly permeating through the thin hazy air and vanishing like a smoke and a mystic world swept me across.
I was having a dream from 700 years ago. The place of my dream was the palace of Kanauj. Mornings in palace of Kanauj always started with puja and bhajan in the devalaya. Everyone in the palace maintained strict discipline. Everyone except me. I, the younger son of the late King of Kanauj, Prince RoopKumar. My elder brother, the present King of Kanauj was held in high regards by all. He was brave and kind. The subjects were happy and content. The kingdom was prospering. The neighborhood was peaceful. The only person who was not in peace was me. Prince Roop. According to me the kings should never be so friendly with their subjects. And what is the purpose of a being Kshatriya if I am not conquering other kingdoms. My dream was to uproot the Delhi sultanate rule and be the emperor of India. But my pious brother never fancied such thoughts and this increased my grudge further. However I always saw a silver lining through the dark cloud. Lately my brother was not keeping well. And the King being childless, I was the only heir to the throne. Unlike the kings and nobles of those days my brother was not polygamous. He loved his Queen Devika and never took another wife. There were only two things he loved more than his wife. One was his kingdom and the other was, me.
Yes it is correct. I, who hate my brother with all his heart have always received unconditional love from him. Whenever anyone suggested him to take another wife, to have a child he would say “Why do I need anyone else? I have Roop with me. My brother, my son, my friend. He is everything I would have ever wanted”, and dismissed their ideas, “Do not worry about me. We should now search for a suitable princess for Roop. He is a big boy now”.
He was a content man. But I was not. I never wanted to play the second fiddle. I always believed I was more capable as a king than my brother could ever be and destiny will be in my favor someday.
Today is Janmasthami. Every year this auspicious day is celebrated with grandeur in the palace. Kings and noblemen from other kingdoms also visit to witness the exotic celebration. The entire palace is lit up and covered with garlands. The Queen herself oversees all the arrangements. But today something happened. The Queen was appraising the palace decorations when suddenly she was taken sick. Raj Vaidya Ashish Prasad was summoned urgently. Suddenly a somberness embraced the vibrant palace. I was waiting with the King to hear the verdict of the veteran doctor when a servant came and announced that the Queen’s health has improved now but the doctor wants a word with the king. He is waiting in the Queen’s chamber. The King left hurriedly in anxiety. It was barely fifteen minutes when the King again came back running. His excitement was evident in his eyes. He started crying as he hugged me and said, “God is great, brother. He has given me the most beautiful gift possible. Devika is pregnant. We had lost all hopes but…” The last words were hardly audible to me. My entire world was collapsing in front of me. All my dreams are shattered. I wanted to scream. My kingdom, my throne all seemed to slip away. But like a true prince I hold my composure.
“This indeed is a great day brother. Lord Krishna himself is coming to visit us it seems. Let’s distribute sweets and clothes in the entire kingdom to celebrate this auspicious occasion”.
“Yes, yes brother”, and the visibly amazed King left for further arrangements.
The following days were intolerable. I immersed myself in alcohol and women. It was one such wasteful nights I was introduced to Kalki. In this context let me tell you in brief about my father. My father was a complete different kind of ruler. He treated his subjects like his properties. Alcohol, gambling and women were his passion. Kalki’s mother was one of the many women he had abducted in his lifetime for his pleasure and circumstances has led Kalki to be one of the most popular courtesan of the present time.
“Why are you in so much pain prince? Tell me. I know magic. I can help you.” She said
“Help! No one can help me now”
“The throne will be not be passed to the King's child you have my words, prince. Only if you follow my instruction”.
“How? How do know?”
“I know everything.” The soft sound of her anklets reverberated her words as she walked towards the window and closed it.
“The walls of this palace have ears prince. Come to the bank of the river behind the cemetery tomorrow. You will have your solution but every solution has its payment. Are you ready to pay”?
“I will pay you whatever you want”, I agreed like a desperate person
“Then come to me tomorrow at the stroke of midnight,” and she vanished behind the veils.
Next day my eagerness knew no bound. Like a small child I was excited the whole day. Soon the pain of waiting was unbearable. But time flowed at its own pace and at the stroke of midnight I was waiting along the river for Kalki.
The night was dark and silent. After a while my eagerness was slowly being overpowered by an unknown fear. With trembling heart I called out – Kalki.
Suddenly like a magic Kalki was in front of me. Today she was in complete different attire. Dressed in black with hair flowing through her knees Kalki looked even more dangerous than the night’s darkness. Laughing hysterically- she said “So you want to dethrone your brother? What will you give in return?
“What do you want?”
“Can you give me your blood and sword, Prince?” Kalki almost whispered the words and advanced a crucible in front of my chest
“Anything for the throne”, I declared. With those words I took out my sword and made a deep cut in my chest. Blood filled her bowl, Kalki said- “This will do. Wait here”.
I waited with the wounded bloody chest and watched. Kalki made a fire in a distance and poured the blood in it. The fire remained quiet for some time and then something dazzled out of the fire. Kalki kept offering some prayers going all around the fire.
My intuition was telling me something was terribly wrong but my ego and ambition kept me going. After a while Kalki came and gave some ashes in my hand.
“Put that in your cut, o future king, all pain will go”.
I obeyed her without words.
“Now give me your sword and leave”
“Will this work?” I asked feebly
“My spell never fails. The king’s fate is now sealed. Justice will be served”, she assured and smiled coldly. There was something in her smile which was frightening.
As I turned to go back, her last words were, “Visit the Goddess if you get a chance”. I could not understand the meaning but did not speak further.
The night turned even darker.
After a sleepless night the next morning welcomed us with a terrible tremor.
I was walking down the garden when all of a sudden it seemed the ground had dropped away from where it had been a second ago, and then everything around us started shaking and swaying as if intoxicated. Kanauj was shivering. In those long moments the world ceased to abide by the law of gravity. People scrambled in mass hysteria like a colony of ants. In their shout I could hear Kalki’s laugh. I knew somehow I am responsible for this fateful day. The earthquake continued for days to come. King's golden kingdom was turning into a rubble. Everyone was worried.
Then the high priest recommended, “Every twelfth year the queen visits the goddess temple in the mountain to seek blessing for the kingdom. This year the ritual was not performed. This has caused the wrath of the goddess and the realm is paying the price”.
“But how can the Queen visit the mountains. It will be dangerous for her and the heir”, everyone protested.
But the high priest was adamant.
Then I did something which was beyond my wildest imagination. I volunteered in front of the whole court “Brother, let’s take the Queen to the temple. I take the responsibility of her safety. Our countrymen are counting on us and we cannot move away from our responsibility.”
Till date, after centuries I cannot explain what made me utter such words. For days to come I always pondered over those words but never found an explanation. May be it was destiny’s call.
We decided to start our week long journey after few days. Occasional tremor was experienced. The whole kingdom was petrified. Losses and damages were mounting up. Death toll was rising. With faith of the citizens pinned on us and devotion in mind we all started the journey. Along with the King, Queen and I were a team of professional doctors, the priests and hundreds of guards and servants who accompanied us. The queen travelled in a customized palanquin with all the possible aids available in it.
Initially everything was fine and we travelled safely. But on the sixth day the troop faced a terrible storm. Unable to move further we camped near a lake. The rain and the storm continued and we were stuck in middle of the road for days. Stock of our ration was also reducing. However our King always put a brave face forward and consoled us that this is a small hindrance and very soon we will be back home completing our pilgrimage successfully.
It was midnight on our eighth day of journey. I was sleeping in my own tent. In my dream I could hear someone saying “The king's fate is sealed. Justice will be served.” And I woke up all perplexed and worried. Even in the cold climate of mountains I was sweating profusely. Suddenly I heard some commotions outside my tent. On coming out I could figure out something was amiss. Everyone was moving busily from tent to tent. I called my guard and asked, “Why is everyone in such a mess in the middle of the night?”
“The queen is giving birth, my lord. So the aids are summoned”
I rushed to the King's tent. There he was standing with the little prince in his arms. Tears of happiness were rolling down his cheek. His eyes were sparkling. I took the baby into my arm and it was a love at first sight. I have never known such happiness in my life. He clutched my finger with his tiny hand and my heart melted. We were busking in the warmth of the new guest just then destiny intervened.
The sky rumbled. The earth trembled. And a terrible hailstorm started. I knew Kalki's spell was working. It was now clear what she wanted. Revenge. I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. I wanted to undo everything I did. But alas it was too late. No one could save us from the outrage of Mother Nature. The atrocious hailstorm eradicated us all. The world around us grew darker and darker every moment consummating the innocent lives. Before closing my eyes forever the last face I remembered was that of the little angel still clutching my hand.
Now today after centuries I, the erstwhile prince Roop sat by the same lake weeping and cursing myself for all the misdeeds, missing my dear brother and thinking about a life I could have got. And also laughing secretly at the irony played by fate. Today the unknown lake of 700 years ago was called ‘Roop-Kund’.