Before the humans hijacked me, my life was insignificant yet peaceful – just the way I like it. I used to sit on top of a termite nest, covered in creepers. I agree it wasn’t anything like that grand Kailash of Shiva. But I loved my modest reserve forest. Sitting there, I would often compare myself to the other Gods. Even though my divine status was nowhere near them, I still felt lucky. They had to sit all day inside a congested sanctum, in the heat of the oil lamps, choking on the smell of agarbattis and the Pandit’s sweat while I had all the air in the world.
I don’t deny I enjoyed a little attention from time to time. I beamed whenever a passing villager paused in front of me, with his hands folded and eyes closed in reverence. I tried my best to shower blessings on them, even though I didn’t know if I had any such powers to grant their wishes.
Being a demigod, it’s kind of hazy where I stand in the thirty-three crore pantheon of Gods. When the organization is this big, the hierarchy becomes a mess. I am a little disconnected from my organization anyway. It was almost a thousand years ago I attended their last meeting. I stopped going to meetings after I heard a few unsavory remarks about my mother being a ‘mere mortal.’ So, I don’t know the who’s who of Gods now. Earlier it was Rudra, Surya, and some other guys. Later I heard that Vishnu and Shiva had taken over. A few months back, there were a lot of heated discussions about nepotism. It seems like all the retired Gods are pushing their sons forward – Ganesh, Karthikeya, Ayyappan, and so on. I didn’t bother to take part in their discussions. They anyway consider me an outcast, a cross between man and God. I can’t completely blame them, though. Even I am a bit confused about my identity. Sometimes I get all angry and frustrated like humans, and the next moment I become aware of my folly. It’s quite difficult living such a conflicted life.
So, what was I saying? Yeah, I was content in my little reserve forest. How did I reach here? Who brought me here? I have absolutely no idea. All I can say is, from the beginning of the time, I am at this place. Initially, it was a dense forest with a beautiful river flowing through it. One Yuga gave way to the other, and I sat through them, oblivious to the passage of the time. For thousands of years, the forest was pretty much the same, and then the changes started. Too much happened too soon. People started inhabiting the forest, clearing it part by part, selling it piece by piece. Houses sprouted out in the distance. It worried me initially. Then I got accustomed to them. I often watched humans going about their day to day business. I often imagined what kind of life I would be leading if I was a human. Then I would laugh at myself, thinking about the whims of these humans. They run around chasing things that make no sense. Then they die one day, and that’s the end of it. I thought I was better off as a demigod. I was hugely mistaken. My fate was about to change.
It started when they decided to widen the mud trail, almost a hundred feet from my termite nest. One morning, instead of the chirping of the birds, I heard a strange whirring. It pierced my ears, and the vibrations almost shattered my fragile nest. There were at least a dozen humans at work, clearing the forest with an unflinching casual demeanor. I was afraid that they would knock down my termite nest and throw me away in the garbage but, nothing of that sort happened. Some of them came in front of me and gawked at my face. I tried to produce a glorious thunder, just to scare them. But that day, realization struck that my organization had revoked all my divine powers. It’s a lot of paperwork and even bouts of bribery to get them back, so I didn’t bother.
Soon enough, they started asphalting the road. All that smoke and the pungent odor of the tar! Aargh! I had a taste of how the other Gods felt inside those temples. But, in case of the other Gods, they were doing it voluntarily, for the pleasure of having their egos massaged. But, for me, it was forced upon. Having my power to apparate being revoked, I had no option but to sit there and choke on that smell. I should have got that damn paperwork done. After a few days, to my great relief, the road work was over. Humans vacated, and peace returned. I kept wondering what that was all about. But, after a few days, I stopped worrying and went back to being the Nirguna Brahma I had once been. The peace didn’t last long.
One day, I woke up with a start as something hit my face real hard. It felt like a small pebble, thrown from a long distance. I heard a distinct ‘clang’ as it hit me and fell on the ground. I looked down. It was a coin.
Where did it come from? I looked around, up, and down.
Maybe Indra envies me and has thrown a coin at me. I consoled myself. I don’t know what’s wrong with Indra. He envies everyone. The next day, the same thing happened again. This time there were a few more coins. It took me a while to understand what was going on – I am not very bright, you know. I shuddered when I realized what was happening. From the vehicles passing through the road, humans were throwing coins at me! What an atrocity!
As the number of vehicles on the road increased, so did the number of coins. Humans who were on bikes, buses, rickshaws, other wheelers, all threw coins at me. Sometimes they even threw stones wrapped with their currency notes. I started dodging the coins. Whenever I heard a vehicle approaching, I covered my face with both my hands and braced for impact. Dodging soon became the primary task of my daily life. I wished I had more hands like the other Gods to fight off the coin shower. And even then, I didn’t expect my life could become worse. It did.
The heap of coins at my foot started growing. I was afraid that the coins would eventually drown me. It wasn’t impossible, either. People think that they can bribe Gods. Most of the thirty-three crore Gods have found employment in India; you can imagine the demand. People think we help them to pass exams, to get a job, to get married, to have children, and even to get a visa. Sometimes I think about it so hard, and I laugh until my tummy hurts.
Anyway, the coins didn’t drown me. One morning, I woke up, and the coins were gone! I sighed in relief. It was then that I saw it. A steel box stood next to my nest, carrying a notice. I leaned forward and read it.
Throwing coins is prohibited. To avoid Forest-Swamy’s fury, put coins only in the box.
Forest-Swamy! I am not any Forest-Swamy! In fact, it was the first time I had thought of my name. To the best of my knowledge, I neither have a name, nor a gender. I don’t even understand why humans have this obsession to put everything in little compartments. I didn’t like this name – Forest-Swamy, not an ounce of creativity. On the bright side, humans did stop throwing coins at me. It was a relief, but it was just the calm before the storm.
A few days later, as I was about to sleep at night, a few humans came by. They unlocked the donation box and emptied the coins into a plastic bag. They had broad smiles on their faces. So, they were the half-wits who had placed a donation box at my feet.
“Thieves!” I wanted to yell. But seeing the axe and knife in their hands, I shut up. They cleared the creeper and the bushes around me. They made a small clearing around my termite nest. Then they brought a metal chain and put a small barricade around me.
How dare they put me in a cage! I fumed with indignation. However, I was helpless in front of these mighty creatures of malice. Being God is of not much use in front of the humans. My life started to get worse with each day. The next week, they removed me from my termite home. I could only watch with tears when they struck down my nest. For centuries or even more, it was my home. The next day was a nightmare. Early morning, even before the sunrise, a few men clad in saffron arrived.
“Today is the Prana Pratishtha, the day of consecration,” I heard one of them talking enthusiastically on his phone. Consecration meant slavery for the rest of my life. I had heard many terrifying stories of consecration. Remembering them, I shuddered. The ceremony began in earnest. They shoved pungent incense sticks on to my face, and the fire from the aarti almost burned my eyebrows.
“Is it going to be like this every day?” I asked myself. A bitter realization came over me like a dark rain cloud. The humans had hijacked me! In the next few days, they built a tin shed around me, and with time, concrete walls replaced it. During the first few days, I thought those walls would smother me. They blocked the wind and sunlight. I sat there, inside their sanctum, trying to regain my inner peace. They appointed a Pandit to take care of me.
He came every morning with a comical grin plastered on his face. His daily aarti and the incense sticks gave me a constant headache. I cursed my fate and prayed to the supreme being. Even Gods pray, you know. I prayed that I be released from the clutches of these evil humans and their workings. They pretend to be worshiping me, but I knew they were only interested in the bulging donation box.
Soon, they constructed four walls around me.
The traffic on the road in front of me drastically increased. Next to the temple, these humans created a huge car parking. I saw them collecting parking fees as well. Only humans can come up with such wicked schemes! People queued up in front of me from early in the morning. I almost felt pity for those who had lined up in front of me. Poor creatures, they have no clue that they are wasting their time and money. If I had some powers, I would have made them understand that they were being tricked by their greedy fellow humans. After all, I had no powers. I was just a helpless God.
The crowd only increased day by day. In addition to the morning Puja, they started an evening Puja as well. I had to go through long hours of what can only be called torture, every day.
“The Forest-Swamy is so powerful. Just come here. You should experience it first hand,” pulling out their mobile phones, the humans recommended me to their distant relatives. I had no idea what miracle I had performed in their lives. Did I have any secrete powers that I didn’t know about? It’s difficult to understand these humans and their religious theatrics. The queue in front of me only got longer every passing day.
They opened a few shops to sell flowers, coconuts, and that yellow powder. I think they use some strong and evil chemicals in that powder. My body itched whenever they covered me with it.
They cut down the trees around me, widening the temple complex. They built a new building with an office room, a small kitchen, and a bedroom for the Pandit. I sat there, covered in a concoction of yellow and red chemicals, smothering in heat. I pitied their prayers. The constant ringing of the bell caused me a migraine.
When will they leave me alone? I kept wondering, shut behind the golden bars.
Why do humans need so many temples? I kept asking myself.
Months passed by. My modest reserve forest had turned into a sprawling complex. The road in front of me was almost always jam-packed with devotees. I thought I would spend the rest of my life as a slave of these thugs. I had lost all hope. Then one day, I saw a jeep coming towards the temple. It was late in the afternoon, the only time I got some rest. Cursing my bad luck, I readied myself for the smoke and sound. From the jeep alighted a young lady. Contrary to what I was used to, she didn’t fold her hands or close her eyes in devotion.
She just glanced in my direction. “Who gave you permission to encroach the forest land?” I heard her asking the Pandit.
“Who are you, madam?” The Pandit asked.
“I am from the forest department,” she replied.
“I see. What is the problem? As you can see, we are all devotees here. This is a temple,” the priest inquired.
“Please be careful about the way you talk to the DFO*,” a tall man, stated with an edge.
I smiled and watched the tall man putting a notice on the wall of the sanctum. I looked at the young lady again. She had an unusual resolve on her face, an ethereal glow of an enlightened human. I don’t see them very often, but I can easily recognize them.
“Within two weeks, I need the entire structure to be knocked down. Otherwise, I will have to go ahead with the legal proceedings. Do you know what the consequences of encroaching forest land are?” She asked, her voice firm. I saw my Pandit shivering with fear and disbelief. I have never seen him so helpless. I almost felt pity for him.
Freedom came after a month. The entire temple complex was bulldozed, and I was freed from my cell. They gave me shelter in the forest department for a few days, hoping that someone would lay claim on me. My older temple folks didn’t dare to show up. After all, I am a loner, and no one owns me. I sat in the forest office for a few weeks, gracing the lovely humans there. After a few days, they moved me into an archaeology museum. I do miss my old ‘reserve’ forest. But I like it here in the museum and don’t have to deal with people with folded hands, and their ridiculous prayers. I only have to look down graciously at visitors who come in here for knowledge and entertainment. It’s a respectable occupation, the best possible placement for a demigod like me. Next to me, there is an idol of Goddess Durga. I often look at her and remember that young forest officer – the brave lady who freed this poor demigod.
*DFO – District Forest Officer.
A Tbr Creative Writing Workshop piece.
Salini Vineeth is a fiction and freelance writer based in Bangalore. She is an alumnus of BITS – Pilani, Goa. She worked for a decade in the electronics industry before turning to full-time writing. She has four books to her credit. Being an avid traveler, she incorporates elements of history, archeology, and mythology in her stories. She writes on her website, as well as on social media. She is currently doing finishing touches to her debut full-length novel.