“Boon or curse” Prabhat smiled at the old worn out board that declared the name of the store. The name attracted him to the tiny store hidden behind a curtained door.
He pushed the door, wind-chime’s sweet tinkle announced his entrance to the old woman behind the counter she looked older than the store.
“Mind if I look around?” Prabhat asked.
She smiled sweetly showing off her toothless gums.
It instantly captured Prabhat’s eyes. A stone shaped like an eye. Prabhat was no expert in the field so did not tried guessing its material but it was splendid.
The stone that was used as iris captured the dim light of the store interior and reflected in all colours of rainbow added with a sense of peace and purity. It filled up the heart with deepest joy and happiness.
He wished he could see the statue that had this as one of its eye and could buy that!
“How much is it?” Prabhat asked picking up the stone sitting in a velvet throne.
The woman smiled again, her wrinkled face looked really pretty. “Velly cheep fol you shul.” She grinned mysteriously. “Onlee then dollal.”
Somehow he knew that ten dollars were indeed cheap for that piece. It seemed like she was gifting it to him for a token price. He fished out the money and handed it to her in case she changed her mind and added a few zeroes after that but she did not.
She packed the stone along with the throne and handed it over to him.
He left that small town that very day and returned home.
Prabhat placed the eye on his bedside table. It was working magic on his excited nerves, he lived a high paced life stuffed with “deadlines and projects” but this eye the second he walked close to it filled his mind and heart with total peace.
He needed that so badly! It seemed for him the ten dollar trinket was “boon”.
He always stared at it for long times, not really knowing why, for some reason it attracted him like a magnet and soothed his mind.
That night he fell asleep, watching moon’s light playing on it. He had a dream.
A strange and beautiful dream!
She was sitting on a rock, a young girl, wearing an ethnic dress of turmeric colour. Her body was covered with flower ornaments but the jewels she has expertly hidden with them sparkled from small gaps, indicating that she was a very rich girl. Well, by the attire he could guess she was a princess from medieval ages or earlier.
She was the mistress of those eyes, that is, both of those eyes. One look at her face and he knew that. He was not the only one who was touched by their purity. She saw them gathered all around her wild beasts and birds, some grazing on the river grass some pecking the food she has scattered for them.
He wanted to have a closer look but the shrill howl of the alarm robbed him off that delight. He passed the day aching for another glimpse of that amazing woman.
His wish was granted.
This time she was sitting by the window of a palace. So she indeed was a princess or aristocrat. There were no flower ornaments on her body this time. Her body was covered with precious stones and gold jewelry from the crown to small rings on her toes. She was wearing a flame coloured dress that made her look like a goddess, not human.
A veena was lying on her lap. Her curly open hair reached the floor. It seemed she was drying her hair after bath and playing the veena. A sweet smile hovering on her face told him that she was in love. It was that special smile- a perfect mixture of blushes and joy that shows up when one is thinking about one’s beloved.
A soft rustle made both turn toward the door, a sweet looking girl has entered the room. She sat down beside the princess and smiled.
“Kumari (princess here) you should tell that hapless soul who you are! Allow your parents to arrange your marriage. They are dying to get you married off.”
The girl smiled at the princess.
“I will you wicked girl!” the princess blushed and smiled. Her face lit up with pure joy.
He was blessed with the all seeing eyes of a dreamer. Something made him look at the bush across a small patch of land outside the window. He has never seen a face such evil, filled with lust and obsession. He was staring at the young woman as if he was trying to swallow her with his eyes.
Prabhat could guess he has used colours to dye his hair because his face was too wrinkled to go with jet black hair. The man slowly backed away. He left the princess with her friend and followed the old man. That is invisible powers forced him to desert the beautiful lady and follow the specter.
The man entered a small hut in a burning ghat that meant he was either an attendant there or something sinister, a tantric who practiced black magic.
Prabhat stood by the window and watched him lighting up a small fire in a kunda (here a pit made for lighting fire for puja purpose, that is, to be specific home- an offering made by Hindus through fire to Gods). It appeared to be very frequently used.
The old man had a piece of paper in his hand. He placed it in a plate and started muttering.
He could see the letter from where he was standing, powered by the dreams, it was a love letter written by the innocent princess to a man. Requesting him to meet her in their special spot after dusk, she had something special to tell him.
The hideous man sat there muttering something under his breath. The fume rising from the fire that was burning in front of him started to thicken and swirl.
Soon it took the form of a man-like thing. It was grayish back in colour, had a pair of horns in its head and hooves in place of legs. Its nails were strong and sharp like claws of some predatory beast. Its eyes had no light in them- they were black as coal. Reflecting nothing or absorbing all the light that fell on them, including the light of the burning, raging fire from which it took form.
“What is it you want now human?” it asked in an unearthly voice that froze Prabhat’s very soul but had no impact on the old man. It seemed they met regularly.
“Make me look like her for tonight.” He said. “Your offering is there!” he pointed his finger towards a basket. A small infant was sleeping in it.
The creature shook his head and disappeared with baby, leaving the empty basket behind.
He looked back at the place beside the fire, the princess was sitting there, the only difference was the inner ugliness of the hideous man has replaced the aura of purity that the princess had. If anyone has seen the princess and was looking at this chameleon will think that the princess has gone to dogs or have lost her mind and become a monster all of a sudden. Her limbs were in right place but not her soul.
The man left the cottage Prabhat followed her or him.
Let us address him as the Tantric and in masculine gender for the sake of convenience. So, Prabhat followed the evil man till he reached a small palace outside the city.
A young man was sitting on the steps of a pond bank. The Tantric wrapped a letter in a small stone and threw it near him, staying hidden.
The boy picked up the letter, his face lit up. Prabhat could barely believe his own eyes it was his face! He was that young boy!
The boy rose and left the place he walked through the woods to a small building. The tantric was waiting for him there.
The pure joy in the face of the boy told Prabhat that he loved that princess with all his heart in that past birth. He knelt in front of the goddess of his young love and started to mutter sweet nothings. The hideous old man sat there, gloating and playing coy.
Suddenly he started to change, right in front of the terrified boy, he took his original form. The boy jumped away from him, as far as he could and stood there staring at the man. Trying to understand what has just happened.
“Who are you?” the boy was out of his wit.
“Why, your sweet princess…” the Tantric bellowed out laughter as ugly as his soul.
The boy sat there staring at him then grabbed his sword. “What have you done to her?” He was about to unsheathe it when the Tantric flicked his finger and disarmed him.
“Who she? It’s always been me you dumb lover! There is no she-there was no she ever!” he rolled in laughter and then vanished right in front of the petrified boy.
The boy sat there holding his head with both his hands. Trying to digest what has just happened. He got up after gathering his senses and returned to his palace. Harnessed his chariot and rode away in the darkness.
He, the witness returned to the meeting place, an hour later the princess showed up with her friend. She waited till dawn then returned to her palace.
The Tantric stood in the shadows watching her like a vulture.
Prabhat woke up with a deep pain in his heart. That pain kept his heart heavy for days to come. He somehow had a feeling that the eye belonged to his lover of some past birth. The dream he had was no dream. It was a visit to a life he has lived before.
He started to ache, to know whether that love was blessed or cursed. Days passed by but the dreams did not return.
Then one night she returned. She has lost her aura, lot of it, her face was pale, white hair was showing up, even though he could see that only a little time has passed because her companion looked only a few years older than her former self but his lover has aged drastically in those few years.
Only her eyes were as beautiful as they were before. In fact they looked more beautiful. It seemed all her beauty has left her body and concentrated in her eyes.
A deep pain overwhelmed his heart and turned into rage the second he looked outside. Hidden cleverly behind the bushes was standing the monster, the tantric ogling the princess, who visibly was inching towards death.
He was transported to another room of the palace, against his will, he wanted to stay with her, console her if he could but he was not the puppeteer here.
A couple was sitting on a bed. The man looked a bit like her the woman was almost a replica except those out of the world eyes.
“She is inching towards death!” the king muttered. “If only she had told us about the prince! We would have married her off to him before all this happened. She is dying for him and he won’t hear a word about her. What went so wrong I wonder! Kids!”
“Sire!” someone spoke and they all turned. A woman was standing inside the room. “The tantric that lives in the burning ghat at the bank of Shatadru river wants to see you.”
The king got up, his expression told him that people were afraid of that hideous specter.
The Tantric was sitting on a mat that looked like tiger skin.
The king sat down after showing his respect to him and being allowed to sit.
“I have a proposition for you king, something that you will thank me for! I want to marry your daughter.” The brazen man said calmly. “Some say a Brahmin should not marry a lower caste but I think it is not correct. A woman is known by her husband’s caste after marriage.”
The face of the king first became crimson then blanched.
He remained silent for long time then softly said that he will ask her and won’t marry her off unless she says so.
“You will regret if you don’t!” The tantric got up cheekily and left the room leaving the king smoldering with rage. The furious monarch was unable to show it in his presence, now he exploded. He called that lecherous old man all sorts of names and wished that hell opens up for him.
“Send Somketu.” The king ordered the guard standing at the door.
A handsome man in his mid thirties entered the room and bowed.
The king narrated the story and his jaws tightened. “Kill that monster before he harms her.”
Somketu nodded and left.
The Tantric’s hut:
The Tantric was sleeping on a mat, the fire has dulled to embers, Somketu entered the hut and tiptoed toward the mat. One swift movement his blade struck the blanket covering the tantric and the fire blazed in full glory.
The sword was stuck in the ground, there was nothing under it but a sheet.
A minute prior he has seen along-with Somketu that someone was sleeping there.
That someone was standing behind him.
“So this is his answer?” the tantric snarled. “He will get mine real soon.”
Before Somketu could strike again he disappeared in thin air.
Somketu stood there for a few minutes then gathered himself and walked out of the hut. Prabhat could see that the warrior was terrified.
The ruin in forest:
Now Prabhat was standing outside the building that once was love’s abode, the place where the princess met him night after night. They passed hours in each other’s arms. Where vows of love were exchanged from two pure hearts!
A fire was burning in a makeshift kunda and the hideous old man was sitting facing it, muttering something.
The same creature appeared again.
“They won’t let me have her, so she is your today’s offering demon! Devour her! If I can’t have her, no one shall!”
“As you wish human, you know I should rather call you one of us!” the demon snarled and disappeared.
Prabhat woke up in his bed, his eyes were moist the pillow was damp.
Days passed before he had the final dream.
It was her room, the bed was covered with a clean bed-sheet, her veena was lying on it. A marble statue was placed right beside the window where she sat.
It looked just like her, specially the eyes.
Her friend entered the room she looked barely in her mid twenties, that meant the demon accomplished its task that very night.
She picked up a garland from the basket she was carrying and placed it round the statue’s neck. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears.
She took a full glance at her friend’s statue before walking out of the room.