or Dreams of Fire...
-Because of Chuang Tzu and his sly Butterfly.
“1oo1 diamonds on the crown!
A thousand which counted,
And the One that didn’t count…
But it did, it did… it sadly did…
When on fell from skies,
The tears of that heavenly clown”
The Cowardly Doctor:
The army camp was sheltered deep inside the jungles. A total of one thousand and one soldiers, excluding the doctor, lived inside a tent during all time of the day and night.
One morning, the Doctor woke up with an exaggerated sense of pessimism. Living in a tent deep inside the jungle dissolves all kind of hopes, but that morning, when doctor opened his eyes to the boiling kettle of tea outside the tent, he could feel a nagging sensation of dystopia. As if life as he had known it, was just about to be blown to pieces.
It was precisely at this point, that the kettle of tea in front of him burst out in an explosion of fire, fury and a hissing rocket. They were under a siege!
He jumped up, alerted not by his sense of fighting back, but by his sense of fear. He cut across the swarm of soldiers ready with their arms, and launched himself at the furthest nook of the tent. He closed his eyes and counted for a few seconds. He tried to forget the fear and calm himself down…
‘Maybe, there is a chance. Maybe, you won’t have to die. It’s not necessary for people to die in a battle. The edifice of war is built by people who have survived on the sacrifice of others.’
His mind cleared a little. He still kept his eyes tight shut, and tried to ignore the noises outside. He tried, instead, to fall asleep again. He continued the dream he saw before he woke up.
…that beautiful man, standing outside the gates, with a torch in his hand, and patience in his mind. Waiting for another old man who would come, as he always did, exactly at 12 in the night when the moon is absent from the skies…
And he fell asleep.
The Brave Sorcerer:
He stood in the cold desert night, waiting for the old Baba. The gates of the town of illusion were shut in front of him, and all that he could see across the transparent walls was dead swamp of forests lying barren and useless.
He was a Sorcerer, out to do a dirty dealing in the middle of the night. The nature of his clientele demanded secrecy and darkness only nights could afford to give.
He had been coming to this same place, every new moon night since his childhood. Every new moon night, he would stealthily leave the town and enter the endless desert, with a secret in his heart, and a potion in his hands. A potion whose recipe was known only to the masculine members of his family. A potion which was his only legacy, and his only inheritance.
The secret potion of undying beauty.
This potion was his livelihood. This potion was also the reason he was the most handsome man in his nation.
And this was also the potion he secretly sold to the old Baba in the town of illusions.
Though he was an old and ugly looking man, Baba still needed the potion of undying youth every month. This puzzled the Sorcerer from the first time he met him. How does a man so ugly never change in spite of using the magical potion?
There were only two conclusions. He either sold it for a higher price or he had somebody inside the town who he finally gave the potion to.
Maybe Princess Gia…
Legend had it, that Gia, or Gaea, was the heavenly beauty, and the cornerstone of the Town of Illusions. She was the source of all the power and magic inside the town gates. Stories extolled her beauty, comparing it to Sun’s radiance and a Full Moon’s glow. She carried the lifeblood of the magicians, acting both as their mother and progeny. She was assumed to be as old as the town itself.
All that did not matter to the Sorcerer. What concerned his vain mind was that Princess Gia, or Gaea, might be the only woman as beautiful as him, the only one who could deserve his love and efforts.
Whatever the case, the Sorcerer had decided to somehow enter the town that night.
It was rumored that nobody was allowed to enter the Town of Illusions. This was because, from the time it was created millions of years ago, it had the same number of people inside its town boundaries; 1001: The magical figure… Of fables and Arabian nights! Where another beauty managed to keep the magic of the nights alive by telling stories. This constant population of 1001 people, along with Princess Gia, or Gaea’s lifeblood ensured the magic of the Town of Illusions subsisted and thrived.
His thoughts were interrupted by Baba’s cough. He looked up and saw his brow furrowed questioningly. Baba thrust a bowl in front of him. The sorcerer unhooked the bottle carrying the potion and poured some into the bowl. Baba grunted, removed his purse, dropped a few pieces of gold in his hand, and started to leave.
The boy coughed. Baba turned around and asked, “What more now? Not enough Gold?”
“No. I had a favor to ask.”
“Magicians do not indulge in favors. Be gone now…”
“I wished to enter the town!”
For a few minutes, he stood there. Baba seemed to be too shocked to reply. After a while, he spoke in a voice choked with anger, “What makes you think I would allow you to? Do you think I plan to bring peril to the town and its existence?”
“Fine. I will stop making the potion then. This is the last time you see me. Farewell!”
At this Baba burst out laughing. “Who do you think you are kidding boy? I know your future as well as your past. You depend on my alms for your livelihood. You cannot stop making the potion. See you next month.”
“Well, the worst that can happen is that I will die, isn’t it? Fair enough. Its still one life against 1001.”
Baba looked at him carefully.
“You allow yourself to pretend that your petty potion is what we are dependent to exist? Do not kid yourself human…”
“I know ‘you’ need it. That’s a reason enough for me.”
Baba sighed deeply.
“If I could, and I say ‘If’, how do you think it is possible to do this? The town’s magical spell will break the moment there are people more or less than 1001.”
“Well I am a magician too. I perform illusions at local fair every month.”
Baba huffed in disgust at this. “So?”
“So if you, or one of your servant stays outside for tonight, I may be able to enter the town, and not disturb the numbers too.”
Baba glared at him, and replied in a voice suppressed with anger, “If ever I wished to commit one single act of betrayal, and tear myself apart, limb after limb, I would do as you suggest me to do. Until that time, my answer is no.”
“Fine then. I would leave you to your haughtiness and pride. You may never see me again. Good Bye!”
He turned around and took a step. Before he could take another, he heard a loud thump, felt blood trickling down his forehead, and fell down unconscious.
The Ferocious Beast:
The Doctor liked to dream. In the world of dreams, he could cut off all the ties he had on earth. Cut off all the bondages that held him back from exploration and mindless confusion.
Nobody can understand or appreciate the thin line that divides the world of dreams from that of reality. And nobody can survive in either, if they have lived long enough at one place. Maybe it’s because of the habit. Or maybe the truth of it all is too harsh to bear.
Just as the sorcerer fell unconscious in his dream, the Doctor was woken up.
He looked around. By the silence in the tent, he realized he was alone.
Just outside the tent, another missile went off. The doctor gulped. What if, a bomb dropped in the tent and blew it to smithereens, just like the tea kettle? He decided the best bet was to venture out once and see the situation on his own.
Just when he opened the flap of the tent, a heavy thing fell on him. For a moment, he thought the tent was surrounded by Naxalites, and he was being kidnapped. Then he realized that he was not moving anywhere, and a terrible stench of burning human body was coming from the weight over him.
He opened his eyes. And saw that the thing pinning him down was actually the Captain’s body. With his leg missing.
He rushed to find anesthetics, and tranquilizers. His confused mind shot out a flurry of instructions. Bandage. Painkillers. Morphine. Bed. Amputation.
The captain muttered angrily in his state of semi consciousness. The Doctor asked him to relax and keep quiet for some time. He laid him down, and thought over the problem. The captain was badly hurt. Any further injury and he might lose his leg forever.
“I know what you thinking of Doc… But don’t you dare doing that. I command you. Don’t you dare! I’ll have you court marshaled for treachery to the state.”
The doctor saw his leg again. “You realize you risk losing your leg forever even if you try walking out of this tent right now?”
“Yeah, but I also realize that my fucking men are without their fucking leader to teach those motherfucking enemies a fucking lesson. It’s a matter of honor and pride Doc. You wont understand. You are too cowardly…”
A moment of silence followed this. The captain, realizing he had crossed a line tried to come up with something.
“I am sorry… Did not mean to…..”
“It’s ok” the Doctor cut him out. “I know it.”
“No really. You are not… I did not… I… You… Oh forget it…” the captain trailed off.
The doctor stood there thinking. ‘What does it matter…?’ He wondered. ‘This life… this death… This play of victories and defeats… I stand here, close to getting killed; where I could I have stood somewhere else; somewhere safer… Where I could have lived longer. But what does it matter where I stand? It’s all gonna end some day. And irrespective of the place I stand at, I wont be happy regretting things like this. Fearing things like this.’
“What is the situation outside Captain? Why do you need to go out?”
“Because they are trapped. All of them. 1000 soldiers all minutes away from being mercilessly killed by these Naxals”
“Fine then. I’ll accompany you. Lets go out there and see what we can do”
“You sure you can do that? I mean… I did not… That Coward Remark… I am sorry. You don’t need to risk your life if you don’t want”
“Its not a sacrifice I am making… Lets go. I’ll carry you on my back. Lets get your wound covered, and give you a morphine shot for it”
They moved slowly. The doctor, guided by Captain’s instructions guided him through the jungle to reach the hilltop, where they could see all the soldiers stuck in the clearing. From the thick mass of trees around them, Snipers of the Naxals were gathering and setting themselves up for a mass homicide of the Jawans. As far as the Doctor could see, there was really nothing that they could do. Except sacrifice themselves too.
Just as he was about to express his thoughts aloud, something hard hit him on his head. He felt falling down, but surprisingly, no sound came from the crippled captain. He was about to shout out his name, when his eyes closed. He fell unconscious.
The Spellbinding Beauty:
Baba had left him with his servant at the gates with the specific instructions to not let his defiled body even an inch inside the gate. So effectively, the Sorcerer was still pinned under Baba’s control, without actually being inside the Town.
He heard voices… There was somebody else with them…
“An intruder… Have been asked to keep an eye… No threat… You may carry on…”
“I would like to investigate”
“I am under strict orders… I have been asked… ”
The voice repeated again, this time stressing on each syllable “I Insist.”
“Are you questioning our authority?” The guard leered
“Are you questioning mine?” The figure removed the hood. It was Princess Gia (or Gaea)
The guard fell on his knees. “My apologies Ma’am. I did not realize.”
“Save it… You…” She called out the Sorcerer, “Follow me”
“But Ma’am” The Guard Interjected. “He cannot go in…”
“Well, for now he can. Please stand at the gate, till I can send my friend back to you.”
She took him to her tower, right in the center of the town, miles high in the sky. The tower stood high, like the trunk of a tree. Only the branches of this tree rolled over the ground… spreading through the earth, taking nourishment from the Princess’s lifeblood.
The Sorcerer stood wide eyed at the window, overlooking the Town of Illusions.
“It’s a good view, is it not?” She spoke from behind him.
Startled he turned around. He realized now, that not only had he entered the Town, but also he was in the company of princess herself. The ease with which everything happened washed over him. Euphoria mixed with anxiety filled every particle of him. He looked around, and tried to secretly pinch himself to confirm if this was real or some sort of illusion created by the wily Baba to keep him away.
“Relax… This is not some Illusion. More so, Baba has got nothing to do with this. ”
He stuttered… “How did you… I did not…”
“Say it aloud…? No you did not… Your eyes though are not as silent as you think them to be…”
At this, The Sorcerer lost control. Now he was pretty sure that this must be a dream. It was impossible that The Princess herself will speak to him like that in their first ever meeting.
“You think so much… All these naïve plans that you make… All this conquests that you have in life… I am not a conquest. I am not an object to be achieved… You should relax… Need some wine?”
“No… No… I am… I am fine… T…ttthanks”
She picked up a glass of water, and blew into it… instantly turning it to blood red color. She started moving towards him.
“I know why you are here… I know everything… You past, your future… I know it all… Just surrender to me… It’s all going to be fine…”
Suddenly, something started seeping on him. Like water. Like some liquid was cascading on him from above. Trickling down his head, ensnaring his mind, blinding him, making him speechless… He felt it flow down, over his body… Dripping from his finger-tips… soaking the soles of his feet. He felt covered by this liquid. Captivated by it… Hypnotized; put under a spell. He realized the princess was really close to him now. Her nose seconds away from his… Her eyes pierced inside his… Her breath playing along his… Her lips… Her lips coming nearer and nearer to him… He went immobile, senseless. All he felt was her sensations, as if he no longer existed, as if his body was hers, his actions were hers… As if he were not there at all, but only left to be as she was… He mirrored in her… becoming, for all sense and purposes, a life in her body.
And then her lips touched his.
Next second, he fell down, unconscious.
Butterfly dreaming of the Chuang Tzu or Chuang Tzu dreaming of the Butterfly?
The Doctor opened his eyes. His first sensation was a throbbing pain on his forehead. A moment later he realized something was trickling down his neck. He was dazzled and bleary eyed. His memory failed him. His sensations were weak, barely functional. Voices came to him in mixed bunches. His vision was blurry. All he could tell distinctively was the smell of dirt.
He closed his eyes again.
The Sorcerer opened his eyes. And found himself still in Gia (Or Gaea’s) chamber. The lights were dim. She was standing on the window with her back turned to him. He spoke up.
“What are you doing dear?”
She did not answer. He got up and moved to her. The moment his eyes fell on the picture outside the window, he froze.
She turned around and looked into his eyes. He felt shock so intense that the world went blank around him.
The Doctor opened his eyes again. Right in front of his eyes was a pair of really grimy shoes. He tried to make sense of his surroundings. He looked around to see that he was buried neck deep under earth. All around him, the soldiers of his platoon were kneeling down in bunches, their hands tied to each other. Like a human basket of grapes. He looked up the shoes. The sun hit his eyes and he could not recognize the face. He blinked and shook his head. And again looked up.
It was the captain.
The Sorcerer, stuttered, “Wwhh… What is happening…”
Gia (Or Gaea) looked at him, her eyes full of loathing.
“The question is not what. The question is why it is happening.”
The Sorcerer stumbled back. As they were speaking, a central line of fire was originating from the princess tower, in all four directions, burning down the town of illusion minute by minute. The screams of its residents echoed all around. The sorcerer was horrified. Not only by the scene in front of him, but also by The Princess’s indifference to it.
The Captain spoke up, “How are you feeling Doctor?”
“Not as good as you, traitor!”
“Oh! The cowardly Doc has got some balls now!”
Something else laughed from Captain’s direction at this. The Doctor realized that there was another head to the captain. Then he remembered, that the Captain was crippled. It must be the head of the person holding him up.
“Why Captain!” Asked the Doctor.
- “Because it was needed…” Said both Gia (or Gaea) and the Captain.
The Sorcerer and The Doctor looked perplexed. What was happening? Why was the world collapsing all of a sudden?
Then they both spoke up:
- “This world… This life that we have been living all this while… It’s a deception! A self created lie! It needs to be destroyed!”
The Doctor shouted: These are men Captain! We are living beings! We have families, goals lives of our own! You cant play with it! For whatever self righteous bull crap you feel! Your treachery is coming at a cost of a 1001 lives!
“Treachery you call it?” The captain cried! “You fool! This is not a game I am playing! These men are not going to be murdered! They are the sacrifice, the stepping stone for a new life!”
- “No civilization has moved forward without sacrifice”
The sorcerer stood agape, senseless and numb!
“You used me to destroy your own town! What kind of mother are you! I thought you were the one who ruled them, nurtured them! And now, you are burning up your own house?”
“Don’t talk as if you know how things happen. You are just one of the pieces on the board. You, your cowardice, your silly motives, your lusts… its all just a small speck in the wider picture…”
“Because we were slipping into decadence… Our society was going nowhere… content in its small structure… We had reached the highest pinnacle… And now started the descent into decadence! And when the growth of a mind stops, it results in only one thing: Chaos! When an Ego is allowed to think that it’s all powerful and sufficient, it needs to be cut.”
- “When the heart becomes unforgiving towards life around it, it needs to bleed, and its blood needs to be used for nourishment of a new life”
“You are mad Captain! You feel you are so great you get the power to decide our fate?”
“Do not speak out of ignorance my friend… It is not my hand who is deciding this. You, your lives, our lives is nothing. It’s the Human Mind that puts the valuation on its life, on its objectives, its goals! What are these in the grand scheme of things! We are nothing but stardust! Small specks on a universe much larger and compassionate than us!
- “We all need to die, for better things to be created!”
The Princess kicked The Sorcerer out of the window. He went flying down, all the way from the top of the tower towards earth! His fall was broken by magic, and he landed down like a feather.
And immediately found himself surrounded by 1001 residents of the Town of Illusions!
The captain turned his back and started going away. The Doctor shouted:
“Killing us wont change a thing Captain… These people, their ‘rights’ wont be achieved. This sacrifice wont give you anything! Spare these lives Captain! It’s a big mistake!”
“Then so be it… we don’t consider any step taken in the quest of bringing some equality, some balance in this society a mistake”
“But don’t you see the flaw in your plan! Our deaths also don’t mean anything! Things cant be changed with a revolution! Revolutions only bring death and destruction… Of the revolutionaries and the oppressors!”
“And that’s exactly what we want! Destroying life and society as we know it! And from the flames will rise a new order… Like a phoenix… That’s the only way to bring some order. Otherwise we will be left with just chaos!”
The Captain said this and turned away. He stopped and turned around to the Doctor:
“Don’t feel bad about yourself… Feel bad about the life you are leaving behind… Contrary to what you think, you are one of the bravest men I have met… face it… With a smile… I believe that’s a better way to go…”
Saying this, he went away, leaving him and rest of the soldiers at the gun-point of the Naxals.
They gathered around him, a thousand guns pointed in his direction.
The Sorcerer stood in the middle of a Thousand people as they stared at him questioningly.
The princess’s voice echoed all around them:
“Townspeople… This man standing on our ground is the reason for our end. This coward and his lustful heart is the core of our destruction. He defiled me today, and destroyed my lifeblood. He is the reason why the town is up in flames. He is 1002nd person inside!”
- They looked at the scene in front of them; a thousand and one enemies waiting, holding their breath. Time stopped still. They both waited. It was a matter of seconds. The fire was ready to be lit. All that was needed was a spark, an ignition. Somebody to make a move. Somebody to do something stupid, and the world would collapse on them. Or wilt away into nothingness.
And then they moved.
Bowed their head down, and closed their eyes.