It was during a sweltering afternoon that the man came into their village for the first time, carrying a sack with what looked like his clothes inside it. He came looking for a room or a house, but upon learning that they wouldn’t give a home to a man with no family with him or without a family who knew him beforehand, he took to resting under the giant banyan tree near the old temple.
The water from the pond kept him going for a few days after which he began looking into the hands of the passersby to see if they would give him something to eat. The village folk were irritated by his presence and decided to oust him from their midst.
One morning, the sun had barely risen, when a group of villagers came to him and woke him up. The sarpanch, with his cane tapped on the scrawny man’s shoulders till he opened his eyes. Once they were sure he was awake, they asked him his business in the village and why he was bothering everyone in the village with his unwanted presence.
“I have nowhere to go, my village burned down and along with it my family also. I have no family anymore, this is the only place I have heard of, so came here with whatever I had. If my presence disturbs your folk, I will go away.” The man bowed his head and began picking up his things, preparing to leave.
“Did we ask you to go? Wait here and answer our questions” it was the sarpanch again. He looked moved by the man’s sad tale.
“Can you plough the land?”
“Cut trees? Chop firewood?”
“Can you drive a bullock cart? Lift loads?”
“No… no…. no… I cannot” in a subdued voice the man continued to answer negatively to everything he was asked.
“Then what work can you do? How did you earn your living in your village?”
“I write and tell stories.”
As soon as the man answered, there were murmurs in the group gathered there. One of the voices spoke up, “What kind of a man tells stories for a living?”
“That was what God sent me on the earth for. I know nothing else. My health does not allow me to do anything else. I used to perform outside the temple or near the village pond, wherever people gather. If they liked what they heard, they would give me some money.”
“What stories do you tell? Mahabharata? Tales of Krishna? Or Shiva?”
“I write my own stories and perform them.”
The murmurs rose again. The sarpanch lifted his cane into the air and the crowd became silent. They discussed for a while and came up with a solution. “We will listen to your stories, for four days. If we like what you do, we will give you a room to live in and also come to listen to your stories. We will even let you perform during the temple festival.”
Tears of gratitude welled up in the eyes of the storyman. “Can I ask you for a rupee? I need it to buy the ink to write my story. Please treat it as a loan, I will repay as soon as possible.”
There was something in the eyes of that distraught man which made Raghu give him a rupee.
That evening, the elders of the village assembled near the banyan tree to listen to the storyman. The audience sat bewitched and speechless through the entire session and when he finally stopped telling his story, they did not know whether to cry or cheer him. They gave him some coins and left.
Soon, more and more people came to his story sessions. Almost always he told stories that wrung the hearts of the listeners and left them in an emotional state. Meanwhile, an unknown disease was spreading in the village. All those who sat beneath the banyan tree began to develop ugly boils on their skin; everyone except the storyman was afflicted by this strange disease.
In due course, the villagers began to notice that people were dying in the village, in a manner eerily similar to the ways in which the storyman described how his characters met with their fate. Each day fewer people came to listen to his stories.
Angry that the people were stupid enough to think that he was the cause of their destruction, he sat with his bottle of ink and pen. He wrote of all the dreadful things he would do to the children of the village as punishment for what the villagers were doing to him.
As he was writing, all the bad things he described began happening. Children began vomitting blood, they gouged out their own eyes and bit off the noses and ears of their siblings. The parents watched on, helpless and unable to do anything. They were sure this was the work of the devil himself.
The villagers, unable to watch what was happening, went out with torches and stones and sticks in search of the storyman. He was the one responsible for their ill fate, he had purchased his ink from the devil himself, he was the devil himself and many other things were being shouted by the irate people.
They pelted stones and set his house on fire. Revenge gleamed in their eyes as they watched the man writhing in pain, his belongings and his wretched inkpot devoured by the fire.
My friend Leo and I are writing on the same theme for the AtoZ2015. The word for the alphabet I that we've chosen is Ink. Thanks for stopping by and do let me know what you thought about my story before you hop away :)
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