“No, son, you don’t do it like that! Voodoo is never used for doing good, you understand? It goes against the very principle of the sacred magic art which has been practiced by our people for generations. You great grandfather practised it, your great-great grandfather practiced it and no matter how many ‘great’ that you prefix, you could be sure that that grandfather practised voodoo. And really efficient they were too, ones who could take hold of a doll and make a man wish he were never born. Just like my father, and at the risk of sounding like bragging- like my own self! For haven’t you heard how everyone in the village praise your father when he helps them in their fight against the neighboring village!” The man’s face, and his eyes lit up with a smile.
“Yes, father,” said the boy though there wasn’t much enthusiasm either in his voice or in his face- as though he didn’t mind if his father were well respected or not.
Caring not about the boy’s bland answering, the man said, “Now, put aside the bad- I mean, good Iyabdoki magic and concentrate on hurting the doll. Now, why don’t you just give the doll a prick right here by the thigh and let’s see how it will work, eh?”
Taking a deep sigh, the boy said, “Okay father.” And taking one of the long pins from among a lot of rusted pins on the table, he plunged it deep into the voodoo doll’s right thigh. It went so deep that the pin came out the other side of the thigh.
But even then, his father didn’t feel even the tiniest of sting. He had clipped on the doll a piece from an old shirt of his(the same shirt which the housemaid used to clean the floor these days). If the boy were doing the magic properly, he would have gotten hurt.
Not wanting to disappoint his son, he still howled in pain as though he was in a terrible anguish.
Even while howling, he said, “My son, Takarasta, you have hurt me a great deal! Even as a young apprentice you are capable of such extreme magic! So I urge you to keep practicing the dark arts of voodoo and I dare say the sky would be the limit for you!”
If the words were meant as encouragement – and indeed they were, Takaratsta’s response made his father baffled, so much so that he abruptly stopped his howling and looked at his boy with surprise.
With tears in his eyes, Takarasta said, “I hurt father!”
Over the years, Takarasta’s father came to the conclusion that “The darn boy has not even a single drop of evil blood in his body!”
If his wife were alive, he would have said this to her every time after he made love to her, just as once upon a time he used to tell her after an intense love-making session(and theirs were always intense) how they now had a “wonderful son who would carry on my legacy!” However, his wife passed away many years ago, in fact just two years after the birth of Takarasta- their second child and the only son. The woman died vomiting blood- a whole lot of blood. He could tell that she was killed by voodoo magic- the enemy village also had their shamans.
But just because his wife passed away and it was not the custom of his village for a man to marry another woman unless he were without children didn’t mean that the man didn’t give his dick enough exercise after the untimely demise of his dearly beloved.
There were women plentiful in the village many of whom loved their culture precisely because of its liberal rules that allowed them to have sex with any man of their fancy- as long as the man was unmarried. Though Takarasta’s father was not too young anymore, as the Village Shaman he enjoyed an appeal which was reserved for film stars in the Big City. After all, he was the one whom the girls’ fathers and brothers went for help in their time of distress in the battles against the neighbouring village- in a war that never ended even though it did stop once in a while- like when there were festivals that were celebrated by both the villages.
The fight was, of course, over the ownership of land. A territorial fight much like what you would find almost anywhere in the world. Only, in this place forgotten by civilization, aside from conventional weapons like spears, knives and guns(whenever they could get them), they also used magic. Voodoo to be more precise. And Takarasta’s father was The Man when it came to it.
So, yes, you bet he got his fair share of girls, girls who sometimes would come up to his door and ask him if he would like some company, just like that.
But though they stretched their legs for him, he couldn’t open his heart to them. He couldn’t tell them that his son- the one who must carry on his voodoo legacy and take over as the head shaman after his death was only ever interested in Ikaroya-good voodoo magic which instead of hurting people, healed them. More than that the particular branch of Ikaroya that his son was interested in was Iyabdoki-which involves the practice of using dolls to do good. For instance, instead of pricking the doll with knives and pins, you apply salve and if the corresponding part on the human body were wounded, it would heal like with magic.
Well, it was magic.
But Iyabdoki was the most hated of all Ikaroya practices among voodoo puritans- and everyone in the village was a puritan, including Takarasta’s father.
No, he couldn’t tell any of the girls- or anyone else in the village for that matter that the only type of voodoo that his son ever practiced was Iyabdoki. “I tried my level best to turn him into the dark eternal current so that he would leave behind all this good magic shit and finally be a man! But no, he wouldn’t listen. Or rather, he couldn’t. I could see in his eyes- he just doesn’t have it in him to hurt people, and hurting people to save other people is the main function of the shaman- this I tell the boy so many times that my tongue has become like leather! But still he wouldn’t listen! And now that I am getting older and weaker, I don’t think that I have the patience for it anymore! Oh, God, what am I to do!”
There were countless gods in the religion practiced by the people of Takarasta’s village, ranging from the absurd(eg: the god of scratching- she enables you to scratch an itch, even if it’s on the exact center of your back) to the profound(the god of multiple dreams-he ensures that of all the dreams in his repository, you get only the best possible under the circumstances, so that your future-which is dependent on the dreams you have, will be the best possible). Takarasta’s father was pretty sure that he has prayed to almost all the gods in their religion- at least twice, asking them to correct his boy’s mind so that he would see the true light of black voodoo magic but it seemed that none of the gods were interested in doing anything dramatic like that.
Being the chief shaman Takarasta’s father was always under the threat of an opposing shaman applying voodoo on him, notwithstanding the multitude of magic spells with which he has protected himself. Whether it was the benefit of the protective spells or not, the man died peacefully in bed one night of old age. The girl who has come to be his company for the night found him dead in the wee hours of the morning when she woke up to take a piss.
She would later tell her friends that the man died a happy man after making “such beautiful love.” Which was true.
The only regret that the old man had before his death was that his son would never become a good shaman.
A secret he has kept from everyone.
Everyone except for one, that is- his daughter, Shounshoun.
Of course, he didn’t have to point out to her that her brother was dabbling-more than dabbling- in Iyabdoki. She could see it for herself. And being the intelligent girl that she was, she understood what it meant.
But she never took all this voodoo shit seriously. In fact, she took the life in the entire village as nothing but a joke- which was why she left for the Big City an year before her father’s death. There, she lived with her software engineer boyfriend- as she said to Takarasta, her boyfriend was not just another techie but one who was the mastermind behind some of the most significant apps that were made in recent times- like the food delivery one with which you could mix and match the different items in a menu and make it into a single meal.
Takarasta was not impressed. He, like most people in the village thought little of science. Why would people waste so much time with it when there was something way better than that- magic? Sure, with magic-even voodoo you cannot expect to have the same result every time. In other words, it’s not as reliable as science. But when it did work, boy was it magic or what?
Takarasta’s father would have liked his son to have his daughter’s go-getter attitude. (According to tradition, it’s only the sons who could become a shaman.) Not that Shounshoun would have been interested even if the position were open- she always thought that the ability to chat with someone a few continents away with a rectangular object in your palm was a better sort of magic than the kind with which you inflicted pain on someone in the next village via the medium of a doll.(And what were grown-up people doing with dolls, anyway? Why didn’t they grow up!)
But Shounshoun had the attitude to up and leave for the Big City, going even against her father’s wishes. The way her father saw it, it meant that she didn’t have any qualms about hurting people- even if it were her own father. And he would have liked if Takarasta too had that inclination to hurt- but not his father, of course.
He was hurt enough by what his daughter did.
Takarasta’s father didn’t let on about his son’s little secret to anyone because he didn’t want to be looked down upon.
‘Hey, old man, how come a sissy son like that was born to you- a lion among shamans?’ was not a question that he wished to hear from anyone. And what with young people these days being unruly, not high on respecting the elders of the society but high on something or the other all the same all the time, there was a very good chance that he would have had to hear such a question-maybe during one of the long evening walks he took(which was also occasions for scouting for girls in the village- anyone come of age recently?).
But a secret could remain a secret only so long.
Once Takaratsa became the village shaman, the villagers began to come to him, just like they used to come to his father in their times of peril- and what with the battle that was always on, there were perils frequently for the villagers. Most of them came with a piece of cloth which they said belonged to their enemies. At times, he would get something more dramatic- like the skin off the back of the neck or in one instance, a piece of an ear.
A shaman could try and eliminate an enemy by concentrating hard on an image of the enemy-based on a description, and the more details that he has of the enemy-like name and address(eg: ‘the green house on the edge of the bamboo forest’) the more powerful the magic would be. But having physical artefacts that belonged to the enemy-like a piece of cloth or an ear magnifies the effect of the voodoo magic manifold- just like a good speaker system could amplify even the input from something as simple as a smart phone.
The villagers had never had the occasion to see Takarasta’s work during the time of his father- the old man always said, “He would have a long life to serve you, I am sure. But as of now, let him concentrate on his intense study-taking advantage of the fact that I am here to help you all. And when his time comes , he would be better-way better than I could ever hope to be!”
But the villagers never doubted in his ability. Why should they? After all his father was one of the best shamans the village has ever produced- some of his deeds were even more amazing than the legends of the old shamans- like the time he made the vulture tattoo on the back of an enemy’s neck rise up and peck him to death. In addition to such a strong lineage, Takarasta also had the advantage of studying books which even his father didn’t have access to- it’s said that his father got some of these books as gifts from another shaman who visited their village, who was mighty impressed by his skills.
Instead of learning the new tricks himself, he gave them to his son so that “you could be better than me!” At least, that’s what the shaman told the villagers.
Little did the villagers know that the only book that Takarasta learned with any level of diligence was the one about Iyabdoki- the thick volume he found one day as a young boy at the forbidden part of his father’s library- it happened before the time he learned the meaning of the word ‘forbidden.’
The villagers were somewhat curious when notwithstanding the artefacts which belonged to their enemy that they gave to the new shaman, when they went back to the battle ground, they still found the very same enemy not just alive but apparently well enough to come rushing at them with the intent to kill.
However, it was when he saved the life of the Frail Old Woman that the villagers realized that their new shaman was not going to be much good for them in their fight against the enemies.
In fact, they were downright appalled by the incident.
Though he was not able to follow in his father’s footsteps when it came to doing black voodoo, one thing in which Takarasta did emulate his father was with the evening walks. And like his father, one of the reasons for the walk was to check out the girls.
Which was why when his eyes fell on the distant figure of a girl he decided to take a deroute and climb up the small hillock so that he could catch a better look at the her. Only, as he neared her, he realist that she was just a little girl- not more than 11 or 12 years or age and too emaciated and malnourished to be beautiful.
Since he was not into pedophilia Takarasta looked around for other prospective female bodies. However, the doors to all the handful of huts in the small hillock remained shut, except for the one in front of which stood the little girl, looking lost and forlorn. In fact, there were tears streaming down her face.
The goodness in Takarasta’s heart which his father so despised now kicked into action.
“What’s the matter, little girl?” said Takarasta, crouching down beside her.
“My grandmother..she lies so still, so feverish..she doesn’t say anything when I speak to her.”
It turned out that the little girl, who lost both of her parents at a very young age- both to voodoo magic by their enemies(enemies from this village itself or the next one, he couldn’t confirm) lived with her grandmother in this little hut. If the old woman also were to breather her last, the girl would be completely alone.
Her plight moved Takarashta to tears.
“Let’s go and see your grandmother,” he said and led the girl into the low thatched hut.
Just one look at the Frail Old Woman was all it took for Takarasta to realize that she didn’t have much longer to live. However, he also saw that he could prolong her life by a few months by curing whatever ailed her now.
“This can be fixed,” assuring the girl so, the shaman immediately got into action. In two days’ time the Frail Old Woman was up and running as though with the cure she also lost a few years of her age.
And when her grand-daughter came to inform him about how well she was recovered, Takarasta felt a warm glow within his heart. For the first time he felt as though his life has a purpose- so far, the closest he has come to such a felling was when he happened to fuck some young woman whom his father hasn’t made love to yet- quite a rarity, that was.
But the sense of fulfilment that he felt after healing the Frail Old Woman went deeper than the satisfaction of sex- way deeper. For this was not physical but spiritual- a plane everyone heard about but rarely felt.
But the people of the village were not impressed. In fact, they felt downright angry.
For no one was supposed to interfere with the will of god- that dictum was clearly put forward in their Most Holy Sacred Religious Text. If it was god’s will that the woman should live, she should have survived without the aid of medicine or shamanic intervention. Hell, the villagers didn’t even treat their wounded soldiers going by the same principle. Then why would the shaman heal the Frail Old Woman who had lived a long life already?
More than that, why would a shaman do something like that? A shaman’s job is to destroy the enemy, not revive dying old women!
Takarista was questioned by the village elders. The elders felt offended by the manner in which he calmly acknowledged what he did. In fact, there was a smile on his face as he looked at them all, a smile which one of the elders would later term as ‘thoroughly anti-god!’
“How is it that interfering to hasten someone’s death is in accordance with god’s will whereas saving someone’s life goes against the same?”
All the elders shook their head hearing the shaman’s question, lamenting the young man’s inexperience about matters godly. One of them even wondered aloud how Takarsta’s father- such a wise and knowledgeable man could have not enlightened his own son about such things!
Another elder-a tall man with a beard which flowed all the way down to his crotch(some of the young people in the village called him ‘tickle-beard-crotch’ behind his back) came forward and took Takarasta aside. Speaking to him in a gentle voice, he said, “Son, god wants his soldiers to be the best they could be because he wants us to win. Which is why it is okay for a shaman to do voodoo to kill an enemy but not okay to save someone.”
“If you want our soldiers to be the best, then why don’t you treat them when they are wounded?”
Though Tickle-beard-crotch had taken the young man aside, what they said to each other was still audible to the rest of the elder group- there were always 8 members in the group, 8 being the holy number in their religion(8 ceremonies to ensure you reached heaven, 8 different prayers that you must utter for the dying, 8 wives for the one god and so on…). A collective gasp escaped from all the eight mouths followed by a shake of eight heads.
“He is hopeless!” one of them muttered. The rest of the elders made variations on that theme.
They made the unanimous decision that the New Shaman was not fit to be their New Shaman- the first time that such a decision was made in the elder group’s history. There were a number of lesser shamans in the village- the elders counseled the villagers to approach them from now on in their times of peril.
As for Takarasta, he felt heartbroken. The thing was he had the romantic notion that his purpose in life is deeply entwined with the lives of the people of his village. And now that they had rejected him so blatantly, he couldn’t see no purpose to his life. And for a young man there could be nothing more distressing than a lack of purpose- other than not being able to get laid, that is.
And now that he has done the whole village wrong by doing some good, no girl in the village expressed an interest in sharing the bed with him.
“Double fuck!” Takarasta muttered, lying in his bed in the dark, not bothering to turn on the oil lamp. The two bottles of arrack that he consumed didn’t feel enough. He would have liked to go to the brewers and buy one more but he felt too low, and was unsure if he could face the brewer’s mocking smile again.
At the sound of feet stirring outside, he looked to the open door, hoping it was some girl come to give him solace, and a piece of her ass. Women, he had noted usually were more sensitive to matters like heartbreak.
It was indeed a woman who walked in the door, beautiful at that, only it was his sister Shounshoun.
Takarasta was both surprised, and delighted to see her. He sat up in the bed looking at her face which was illuminated by the pale light of the moon.
“Why are you sitting in the dark?” she said and with the aid of a lighter, lit the oil lamp on the table.
And when the room was filled with light she saw how untidy everything looked, including her brother.
“Why, whatever happened to you?”
Instead of replying Takarasta asked a question of his own: “I didn’t know that you were going to come today. Otherwise, I would have made arrangements for a good dinner.”
Rising her cell phone, she said, “If you could get one of these, I could have let you know!” The frequent turf wars in the region has necessitated aid workers who came to the region from all around the world. The aid workers, like the perennial battles in the region became permanent fixtures. Global business houses saw a potential market in them and so put up a couple of mobile towers in the area so that they could communicate with the outer world.
People in Takarasta’s village too could have benefited from this, if they got over their aversion to science and technology and got a mobile.
Shounshoun has told her brother multiple times that she would get him a smartphone from the Big City- a latest model that would even enable him to download pdfs of all the scanned shamanic texts available online. “So that you can keep updated, you know!”
Though Takarasta found the idea of keeping updated about his profession great- and he had heard from a friend how using a phone he could look at naked young women in the Big City, a peek that even magic didn’t allow him, he still couldn’t bring himself to succumb to the powers of science. As a shaman who dealt directly with powers magical he couldn’t even think of such a thing.
“Now that father is no more, I knew you would be sitting her all alone, feeling generally depressed, possibly consuming alcohol- which I see is the case now,” said Shounshoun. “So I just felt like coming down and seeing how you were doing. I would have arrived in the morning, only the infrastructure in this darn village sucks so bad that you should give an error margin of 365 days while making a travel plan!”
Putting her duffel bag on the bed, she sat beside Takarasta.
Even though he was elder to her by three years, he has always been the baby of the family.
A sensitive soul who harbored such wildly romantic notions as doing good in the world, he often encountered instances in which the real world stood crassly in opposition to his views-which always put him in a dark mood. In such situations it was Shounshoun’s job to give him solace, by cradling his head in her arms, by saying that things were going to be alright.
“So, what happened to you?” she said again.
And this time, Takarasta told her everything-beginning from how he couldn’t bring himself to do black voodoo even though the villagers brought him pieces of clothes and ears, to healing the Frail Old Woman, to the Elder Group’s decision that he was unfit to be the chief shaman of the village.
By the time he was done talking there were tears in his eyes.
“Damn these villagers and their arcane principles!” exclaimed his city-living sister. “What’s wrong with saving someone’s life?”
“Exactly!” exclaimed Takarasta.
Looking at her brother’s face, Shounshoun said, “Why don’t you come to the city, brother. I am sure that your skills will be much appreciated there.”
At this, Takarsta’s face fell again. It wasn’t the first time that she made such a proposal.
“You know what my answer is,” Takarasta said softly.
The next morning, Takarasta woke up to the smell of great mutton stew and hard bread. Shounshoun came out of the kitchen carrying his breakfast in a tray.
“What is this?” Takarasta said, sounding surprised. It wasn’t the custom in the village to have breakfast in bed.
“This is how we do it in the city!” said Shounshoun sitting beside him on the bed and breaking bed with him.
During breakfast she related to him all the great things in the city- the Sol Santes and the cinemas and the football matches(Mark, her boyfriend is a football nut and takes her to the matches). She also repeated her proposal from last night- about Takarasta moving in with them.
“You can stay with us until you are able to stand on your own feet. I’m sure that Mark wouldn’t mind. In fact, he was the one who asked me to ask you this time. The man must be all alone out there, he said. So, what do you say?”
But Takarasta’s response was the same.
Feeling disheartened by her brother turning down her proposal (for the nth time), Shounshoun decided that she wanted to be on her own for a little while. So, despite the overwhelming heat of the day, she went out for a walk.
The fact that the villagers opposed vehemently any sort of scientific progress to meant that nothing much happened in the village in terms of progress. And one of the few good things about this was that plenty of land still existed in the village- and nature is a presence that can be rarely replicated in a living room setting- though people in the cities try their darnest to do just that.
Shounshoun now found some solace walking among the giant trees that led from her father’s house down to the Shalava river- considered as the lifeline of the village, and also the waterbody which separated the village from their enemies.
She had almost reached the riverbank when the assailants fell upon her.
By late evening, Takarasta began considered going to the brewer and buying another bottle of arrack. He had seen the forlorn expression on Shounshoun’s face in the morning as she stepped out for a walk- an expression which from experience he knew meant that she was going to remain not talking to him for a long time.
But he had never expected her to stay angry, and stay out this late.
And what made things worse was that he didn’t have any valid thing to say in defense of his decision not to leave the village. After all, the villagers had rejected him. So, he was not going to fulfill his purpose- the purpose of healing, out here. But still, but still, these were his people and this was the land where his forefathers had practiced magic. How was he supposed to cut that connection!
Such thoughts began to flood his mind when Takarasta thinking again about the merits of alcohol-a magic in its own right. Sure, the brewer would probably snicker at him again but on final analysis, Taka(as his father used to call him) decided that arrack’s benefits of curbing your thoughts, in this instance outweighed the prospective expression on the brewer’s face.
But he didn’t get to see the brewer’s expression for it turned out that the brewer was one of the victims of the ‘mass abductions’ which took place that day.
Such a thing has never happened in the village before. And for that reason, it was much talked about.
At first, the stories about the abduction were disparate and largely non-cohesive. Some said that some unholy beast has come down from the sky and took away all the people while others vehemently argued that all the missing people were sucked down by the very earth since the earth found it too heavy to bear all the people on its surface.
If that were the case, Takarasta wasn’t sure why the earth would bother devouring his sister- she was as thin as a reed and weighed no more than a few bamboo poles clustered together. Surely, the earth could have found fatter people to reduce its weight burden? Like some of the old men in the elders group, maybe?
But soon it became evident that it wasn’t the earth or supernatural beings from the sky which took away the people. The body of one of the villagers- a lowly farmer- was possessed by a voodoo shaman from the other village. And through the farmer’s mouth, the shaman delivered a message on behalf of his people:
“We have abducted a hundred of your people! Okay, not exactly hundred but ninety six. And the reason is simple- we know that you have got a tent-ful of modern weapons which you obtained from the supposed ‘aid groups’ stationed in the outskirts of our villages. Whatever unholy deals that your elders got into with these aid-workers(the word was spoken in the most spiteful tone) we have no idea. But we do know that you intend to use these weapons against us…” After a brief hesitation the farmer/shaman said, “So, do you want us to spell it out? Then here it is: hand over the weapons to us and you get your people back. We need an answer by dawn, or else we start killing your people. You can use this farmer as a medium to communicate. Whatever he hears and see, so do we.”
This news, of course was alarming to the villagers. And as they began to discuss among themselves about how to tackle the problem, the elders got together and had a separate discussion themselves.
For a village with a population of under 1000, losing 96 was a big deal, not to mention the emotional pain such a thing would cause the loved ones of the abducted.
“But it is a fact that if we use the weapons, we could possibly end the war with them once and for all,” said one of the elders.
“Yes, but what about those who were abducted?” said a worried looking Tickle-beard-crotch whose only son was also one of those who were taken.
Taking a deep sigh the first elder said, “Well, I don’t think that they could have pulled this off without the help of one or more of our own. And you know very well how much hardship has went into procuring all these weapons. Had we got a good black shaman among us, we may not have needed the weapons but as it is, I think the weapons make even more sense. And to just hand over the weapons to our enemies would be killing ourselves- all of us! No, I say we go ahead and annihilate our enemies, and to placate our people, we should harshly punish the traitors among us, starting with that damn small-time farmer through whom they speak to us!”
“But there is no proof that he is a traitor!” said another of the elders. “In fact, I heard that his own little boy is among the hostages!”
“Bah! That’s just a decoy method of his, I am sure!” said the first elder, throwing an arm up in the air.
“But what about my son?” wailed Tickle-beard-crotch. Though the rest of his group empathized with him they came to the decision that they should go ahead and just annihilate their enemies, notwithstanding the cost of civilian lives that it would incur.
The decision was made 7 against one. And democracy won.
When dawn came and no reply was made to their enemies by the elders, the villagers- especially those whose loved ones had been taken hostage began to panic. Panic turned to protests as they congregated in front of the elders’ court and cried for justice.
But unbeknownst to them the elders had all made their way out of the back door in the middle of the night and were presently with the soldiers overseeing the weapons that were being arranged to be fired at their neighbors.
And even as the protestors shouted at the top of their lungs to “Bring our people back, bring us justice!” and “Do not leave them behind, together we move on!” the weapons were fired.
The enemy, hoping that killing off the hostages one by one would stop them from being fired at began to do precisely that. And they started sending over piles of dead bodies on a raft across the river, communicating the message through their medium- the farmer.
To cut a long story short, in the aftermath of the killings, the viillagers couldn’t find the dead bodies of all the hostages. But among the ones that were found was Shounshoun’s.
In fact, Takarasta was the one who found the bod. A clean horizontal slit across her throat on which was congealed blood-it looked like a second mouth on her and it grinned at him.
The irony was not lost on him- that he moved to the city only after his sister’s death, when Shounshoun had repeatedly asked him to make that move while she was alive.
In fact, there were nights when lying in bed in the small one room apartment which Shounshoun’s boyfriend Mark had arranged for him, he would have tears flowing down his cheeks, thinking how she could still have been alive if only he had heeded her advice and left the village earlier. Then, she wouldn’t have had reason to be in the village on that fateful day.
What finally decided for him to make the move was the jubilation with which the villagers received the news of the destruction of the neighboring village- as though the death of the 96 were not that big a deal. Worst of all was seeing among the jubilant even some of those whose loved ones counted among the 96.
Had the villagers not danced to the drum beats to celebrate the death of their neighbours, Takarasta might have considered staying back. Had there not been the ones who lost someone they loved among the dancers, he would have considered staying back(“Their deaths have now been justified!” some of them cried, though there were of course many who couldn’t or probably wouldn’t recover from the death of a dear one). Had the villagers not brought the defeated to their own village and humiliated them in public- by stripping them and flogging them, he might have considered staying back.
But they did all those things and more. And on the day that Takarasta left- a bright though sunless day on which all the leaves of the trees looked to him to be red in colour, the villagers were readying a small group of mercenaries to go and capture the rest of their enemies who were in hiding. It was found that some of the leaders of the enemies were still alive and at large. But rounding up the handful of them wouldn’t be a task for the villagers. “And we would have yet another feast and a night of dancing when they are brought in. We will perhaps have their shaman kill off their own leaders as a form of entertainment for us!” Takarasta heard one of the elders say before he left.
Well, whatever, he thought. I am out.
Mark, Sounshoun’s boyfriend has been most helpful with arranging a place for Takarasta to stay and also a small adjoining two room shop from which he could run his ‘Shaman’s healing palace’(though the place- cramped with dolls of different shapes and sizes- all handmade in the village and brought to the Big City by Takarasta for treating people with various ailments, not to mention the other paraphernalia required for running a business establishment- tables and chairs and ledgers and shelves and a small lavatory which the visitors might use if their visit turned out to be long-meant that the place had as much resemblance to a palace as a mice to an elephant.)
“But, don’t worry, I am sure that your business will flourish. Everyone in the city is sick in one way or the other and the number of honest doctors and shaman down here is very close to zero. Your service would be more than welcome to the people of the Big City and sooner rather than later, you would find yourself running a bigger establishment- much bigger!” These words of encouragement were spoken by the twinkly eyed, 6 feet tall handsome gentlemen who was Mark- a man who went to great lengths to enable the establishment in question, right from scouting for the office location to procuring the necessary documents for Takarasta to be able to start his Shamanic business.
“You can pay me back once you have made money!”he said.
Takarasta would have liked to find anything less than gentlemanly in Mark’s behavior- so that he could justify the grudge he once had for this man who was part of the reason why his sister left for the Big City. But so far, he has not been able to find anything of the sort in how the city-born and bred man interacted with him. Though he put a brave face and was inherently cheerful, the death of his girlfriend-whom he was going to marry in another two months had left its mark on his face (one main reasons Shoushoun went to see her brother on what turned out to be her final visit to the village was to relate the news of their engagement to him directly-something she was unable to do before her death). Whenever he smiled- which he did a lot, the smile quite didn’t reach his eyes, and the dark circles and the deep frowns and the lackluster pupils were all things that didn’t go well with the good-natured human that he was.
But those signs were there all the same, like ghosts that for some reason has taken residence in a pure soul.
Takarasta would have liked to help him. But he didn’t know of any magic- voodoo or otherwise, that may help with heartbreak.
Contrary to Mark’s prediction, Takarasta’s business didn’t prosper as they hoped.
For one thing, people in the City had generally lost faith in shamanic healing what with a number of spurious players ruining the reputation. Another factor was that Takarasta-with his gentle demeanors and his mundane dressing(he wore a simple plain coloured robe unlike the frilled and largely ornamental affairs of his counterparts) didn’t give them the impressive appearance of a ‘Shaman’ shaman.
An most people who did approach him did so for the sake of buying pre-prepared smell potions that would make other people think good things about them or fall in love with them- an enhanced function for a perfume, if you will.
Not only did such sales failed to cover enough money for the rent for his office and apartment, Takarasta couldn’t find contentment in his heart which beat for the sole purpose of finding fulfillment-which was to heal people.
Mark came forward again with help- in the way of printing brochures that detailed Takarata’s series- ‘Shamaic healing- arthritis, muscle pain, accident injuries, gastrointestinal problems and more- First Consultation free!’ and doing some minimal promotion online- being a software professional who has been in the industry for long years, he used his contacts to pull it off. However, none of these efforts worked as the number of people who visited ‘Shamanic Healing Palace’ went down rather than up.
By the third year since starting the shop, Takarasta was contemplating applying for the position of the salesman which the soft toys shop opposite was advertising. Though Mark was still the gentleman that he was, asking him to “be patient, things will soon begin to look up” he didn’t like being a leech- for that’s how he felt like now that he had to rely on Mark even to pay the rent every month.
He was sure that selling bid panda dolls won’t be the fulfillment that he looked for in life but it would certainly be a leg up from the way he lived now.
But then, destiny interfered to prevent him from making such a drastic career change.
Being a shaman Takarasta was a big believer in destiny- what with his culture and his profession both teaching him how one must roll with destiny if one is to achieve anything significant in life.
But when the rich lady’s poodle was hit by a car in front of his shop, Takarasta didn’t realize it was destiny at play. He only saw it as a small tragedy. The neighbourhood where Mark had found him the office space was upscale(“Rich people have a greater propensity for new age medicine” he had said) and Takarasta would often see in the evenings the rich(and mostly middle-aged) women of the neighbourhood walking their dogs some of which looked more stylish than their owners.
Like this poodle which was miles ahead in terms of looks compared to the woman with a face so soaked in make-up you couldn’t tell where the mascara ended and the eyes began.
At least, the dog looked great before it was hit by the car and its entrails spilled out of its body.
“Aaaargggghhhh!” the woman scream sounded almost as ugly as how she looked. But Takarasta didn’t notice that. His mind was entirely on the poor little poodle, which lied on the road in an ever widening circle of blood, its body spasming in death throes.
Coming out from behind his table where he sat with a glazed look of boredom in his eyes, he ran to the dog, scooped it up and before the lady knew what was happening, carried it into the Shamanic Healing Palace.
The lady, dazed and confused, came after him. She looked unsure whether she should be complaining about this man’s strange behavior- was he a black magician who wanted to use her dear Lovely, for that was the poodle’s name, for some evil purpose? Or was he going to help her using his shamanic skills? She had noticed this shamanic shop on her myriad walks with Lovely-however, she didn’t believe in shamans, not since that time when she went in for a ‘Shamanic manicure therapy’ in Paris which promised ‘wellbeing from finger-tips to the heart’ and came out with her fingernails all purplish- a state of affairs that persisted for nine months before it faded!
So you can imagine her amazement when she saw how Takarasta laid Lovely on a small table in the inner chamber of his office and shouted to her, “Go get a stuffed toy of a dog from the shop opposite! Hurry!”
Blinking, not sure if this man was completely deranged to be making such a request, she said, “Must it be that of a poodle!”
Thinking just for a split second, he said, “If you can get it. Otherwise any dog would do.”
The woman – though in her early fifties was someone who kept herself trim and healthy what with an hour at the treadmill every day and squash with her husband on the weekends- her husband always lets her win but she didn’t know that.
All that training came to use now as she trotted fast to the shop next door and back like Superwoman. She didn’t even bother collecting the balance for the money she paid. This made the toy shop owner- who was of the opinion that high society ladies were the shallowest of all human specimen rethink his stance.
“Here!” she handed the doll to Takarasta. Taking a look at her poodle, she saw that the dog was no more stirring.
“Is she dead?” she said. Before Takarasta could say anything, she began crying- a sound which was like a cross between a cocunut husk being grated on a rock and barb wire being cut with chainsaw. Seeing no point in trying to placate the woman, Takarasta got to action- ripping open the dolls’ body with a knife ha had kept ready, praying over the doll using mildly spoken chants and incense.
After some two minutes of this- time in which the woman’s crying transformed into quieter sobs, Takarasta began to knit the doll so that its white stuffing could be pressed back into its body.
The woman, meanwhile got into a small loop of a problem- her crying has made her mascara get into her eyes which made her cry all the more which made even more mascara to melt and get into her eyes. Since she was pre-occupied with handling this issue- taking one leaf after the other from the wad of tissues from Takarasta’s table, she didn’t notice the miracle happening before her eyes.
It was only when Lovely stood up on the table and yelped did she look up. For a few seconds, she remained still- she did expect the Shaman to do something but never did she hope that her dear little Lovely would be as good as new- no blood, no hanging entrails, looking smug and happy as she ever did! And the transformation happened in less than five minutes!
Her first reaction was of mild horror, apprehending the tall and broad chested shaman with new eyes. Perhaps, she thought, his rustic aura was not just the result of cleverly applied makeup-as she has thought before.
The horror turned to gratitude when Lovely jumped on to her and she took hold of the fluffy mass of joy that was the poodle. And when the liitle gal started yelping and licking her cheeks, it was all she could do to keep herself from crying again- this time out of sheer happiness, and wonderment.
“How can I ever thank you for this?” she said to the shaman. There was genuine gratitude in her voice- something that Takarasta would appreciate even more if only he knew how rare such a tone was coming from her.
Takarasta shrugged as though this was the kind of thing that he did every day. “You can just pay me my fee, madam!” he said with a smile.
Lovely’s owner didn’t just pay him his fee. She spread the word in her social circle that a great veterinarian shaman has arrived in town, possibly the best ever.
“Veterinarian shaman? I didn’t even know that shamans specialized like that?” said a high browed, long faced young woman at a party when she heard about this.
“Oh, even I didn’t know that,”said Lovely’s master. “But you should see him, Sheila, he is amazing! I mean, you should probably take Tiger to him. I remember you talking about his loose motion problems. I am sure that he could cure it in a jiffy!”
“Oh, the loose motion is all sorted out!” Sheila said, blowing smoke from her cigarette casually. “But does he give pedicure? He must, right? being a vet and all?”
And so it was that Takarasta began to earn a reputation as a vet-shaman with considerable powers. The fact that Lovely’s owner was no ordinary society lady but the wife of someone who once ran for the position of the Big City Mayor(and lost on a very small margin) meant that Takarasta began getting high profile individuals coming to his office in high profile cars carrying high profile cats, dogs, turtles, frogs, spiders and once-even a baby cheetah.
The novelty associated with the idea of a ‘vet-shaman’ was also a huge draw. And once the customers saw that his powers were indeed as good as the grapevine said(and the grapevine is rarely factual about such matters), even more people began to turn up at the ‘Shamanic Healing Palace’- some even from neighboring cities.
They paid him money of their choice for performing such miracles as fixing a broken bone with just a touch on a doll or making dysentery disappear in Mark the Third- the dog with the aristocratic face, by rubbing crushed chilly flakes on a doll’s abdomen- “Don’t ask how he does it! He is such a magician!” was how it was later described at a late night party.
Takarasta always insisted that they pay him his fee- as mentioned in the brochure and not the money that his customers thought were right for his service. Not because they paid him less- not by a long shot. They paid him ten and twenty times more than what was rightfully his, and it was not infrequent for them to send some ‘trifle gift’ to him like the latest iPhone, a boxful of rare chocolates that someone procured during a Venezuelan trip and on one occasion- a Mercedes Benz.
Even though he kept insisting that they shouldn’t overpay him or give him such extravagant gifts(though he was cool about beautiful young women ready to lie with him), they didn’t listen to him- a prerogative of the aristocrats which they performed with vehemence. Foreign dignitaries, when they visited the Big Citiy were brought to the Sahamanic Healing Palace- now in its new location looking more or less like a palace- or at least a chamber in a palace. When they saw the astounding powers with which the shaman healed the amazed, they were amazed.
It didn’t take long for Takarasta to become a global shamanic star.
Throughout all this, even though he was glad for the customers, there was one thing that he kept trying to impress upon them: ‘I can heal humans too! In fact, it’s to heal the suffering mass of humanity that is my calling!’
But, just as they declined to listen to his plea to not overpay him or send him exorbitant gifts, the aristocracy failed to listen to this as well.
Or when they did listen, they didn’t take it too seriously.
“Oh, poor Taka, you are getting so many animals to look after, when will you ever get the time to look after another species!” some would say. And that was true too. Until he became a ‘vet-shaman’ he didn’t know that there were so many wealthy individuals in the world, and so many wealthy pets.
“Oh, nonsense, Taka! Why should you diversify now that you are having such a terrific vertical growth. There is no need to think about horizontal growth now that the ascension on the Y-axis gives you both liquidity and great long-term prospects! That would be allocating your resources at too many places!” Such advice would be meted out to him by successful businessmen whom he counted as clients. He could never claim that he understood every word of what they said, but he did get the gist of it- You are making a whole load of money as it is. So, why not just chill!
But what about my fulfillment in life? I don’t want to heal humans to make extra cash, but because it’s my destiny!
Even though he had come to the verge of saying this to his patrons and sponsors multiple times, Takarasta was now business-savvy enough to know that saying what’s on your mind wasn’t always the most prudent thing to do.
And being a celebrity and a brand ambassador to multiple brands- among others, Pedigree(“As good as magic!” was the tagline for the commercials featuring Takarasta) meant that he was obliged to a whole lot of people now. Contracts were drawn, deadlines were always in the horizon and stock prices were intricately linked to how well he promoted himself as a vet-shaman.
In other words, though he didn’t have fulfillment, he now had multiple coffers full of money. And the world-wide attention and travelling in business classes and fucking Brazilain super-models and dining with film stars were things that Takarasta couldn’t say he didn’t enjoy.
Moreover, Lovely’s owner- the mayor’s wife(for the man did become the mayor the second time he ran for the office) was gracious enough to offer him the hand of her daughter.
“If you take care of my daughter at least half as well as you took care of Lovely that day, we would be more than happy!” she said, eyeing the mayor who stood beaming beside her.
Takarasta accepted the proposal. Mark and his family were the closest thing that Takarasta had to a family(Mark married a pediatrician and the couple had two kids. They were now settled in France). So, Mark became his best man at the wedding which was conducted in the traditional Christian manner.
“I am really glad for you, Taka!” said Mark after the wedding. “I told you you would flourish. Look at this wedding- in a grand hall that has been around for centuries, attended by some of the biggest players in different field including film, sports, medicine, science and politics! Hell, you even have Kanye West singing on stage! How cooler could things get, huh! Oh, wait, things do get cooler- for the girl you are married to is the one and only Kelly Adams- a singer and an actress of global reputation!”
Mark’s enthusiasm was infectious. And whatever he said was true.
What made matters even better in the coming years for Takarasta was that his wife- contrary to the general perception about women in the entertainment business sleeping with actors at the drop of a hat was a loyal wife who cherished the life with her husband. And when the first of the couple’s three kids were born, she took a sabbatical for an year to stay home with the child- a feat that she repeated with the birth of the subsequent children.
All in all, Takarasta spent the large part of his adult life reasonably satisfied, at least as satisfied as one could hope to be living in this big bad world. In his old age, he was especially proud of his children’s accomplishments- the eldest followed in her mother’s footsteps and became an actress herself- an Oscar winning one at that, the second one was a successful film producer in Hollywood while the youngest, the darling of the family was one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons.
But when his dear wife passed away at the age of 56-which was a young age in an era when average life expectancy in the Big City was 85, more if you were wealthy- and the shaman’s wife, the platinum selling artist and a big-ticket actress was definitely wealthy. However, death has a way of turning a blind eye to statistics and did his job one night when the air was cold and the sky was dark.
Takarasta had disturbing dreams that night and when he woke up, he found his wife lying dead beside him. She has had a cardiac arrest two times before but notwithstanding her doctor’s orders, she kept performing saying, “I can’t possibly live without doing it!” Takarsta, who knew singing and dancing was her passion couldn’t do much in the way of stopping her.
‘At least, she should find fulfillment!’ he thought whenever she went on a live tour.
After his wife’s death, Takarsta began to feel the emptiness within his heart only too well- a void which he knew could only be filled with the acts for which he was born- that is, to heal humans in distress. Now that he was old and ailing himself(he occasionally got a sharp pain in his left elbow- a remnant of a household accident that he had a while back) he no more got brand deals as he used to. In fact, at the age of 72 he couldn’t claim to be the brand ambassador to even one product or company.
Not that he was complaining. On the contrary, he found the scenario conducive to make his exit from the entertainment world- for even though a shaman, by virtue of being an international celebrity, Takarasta had become an entertainer. At least, that’s what he felt like.
When he told his sponsors that he planned to go back to his village where he wished to live the last years of his life, they all made the obligatory polite remarks about “losing such a wonderful persona to the obscurity of the village” and “Are you sure you don’t want a rethink on that?” But the shaman could see that they didn’t mean anything that they said as clearly as he could see that the bottles of water on the conference table in front of them were not the kind that’s drunk by common folk.
Takarasta himself made some polite answers like, “Oh, I am too old for the Big city now!” Old though he may be, he didn’t feel himself unsuited for curing pets in the Big City. In fact, he knew that there was spirit enough left in him to cure for at least a few more years to come(A shaman’s healing powers is only as strong as his spirit). But that wasn’t a fact that he wanted to let his sponsors know. For he intended to spend the last years of his life doing what he was born to do, curing the people, curing his people back in the village… have a shot at finding fulfillment in life.
On his last night in the Big City, lying in his plush bed, Takaratsa kept sighing, over and over again, wondering why destiny would prevent someone for so long from fulfilling his purpose? He also wondered if it was entirely destiny’s mistake or was he also a factor? But then, how could he have just walked away from all of it when he was so tied up with the machinery of celebrity?
‘Whenever you hit a wall in your thinking, you halt, take a deep breath and clear your mind, and instead of willfully thinking, let the answers that you seek come to you.’
That was an advice which Taka’s father gave him when he was a child which he always remembered but rarely followed. Including now.
Saying “Bah! I am too old to be wondering about such things as destiny!” he had a chilled beer before falling asleep.
The village has changed much, he thought. Not because of progress-something for which he was deeply thankful- after spending an entire life in the Big City, he thought he has had enough of progress. The reason why Takarasta felt that the village had changed drastically was obvious- it was because almost the entire village was in ruins.
The huts were left to decay and animal carcasses- bare bones really were to be found all over. Where once stood wheat and corn farms, now there were miles and miles of dry ground. The forest that bordered one side of the village was the only thing that had obviously seen a positive growth in the years since Takarasta left the village- evident from the fact that the jungle had remarked the border, claiming more land for itself, also evidenced from the fact that even from a distance Takaratsa could see that the number of trees out there has gone up profusely- something that made him smile: It was such a pleasure to see wild growth after the meticulous artificiality of the City.
But he did find the absence of people alarming. So far, he has seen a few dogs, a couple of pigs, a goat that looked so emaciated that it looked as though the creature would merge into thin air any moment. But no people.
Takarasta had to walk for another half an hour before he met the first human being- an elderly woman, her skin looked parched like the erstwhile farms and her face was filled with sores. (“I could cure those!” was the first jubilant thought that came to his mind when his eyes fell on her.) She had a forlorn look, her eyes appearing to be blank as though they were staring into a hopeless vacuum.
The woman neither appeared happy nor sad at the appearance of the old man. And it took her a while to get into the conversation that he initiated, as though the art of making polite talk was something that she has long forgotten.
She was sitting on the bare ground- so, all through the conversation she kept taking sand in her hand which she let drift through the gaps between her fingers. It was the child-like gesture which tipped Takarasta to the possibility that she was someone he knew from when he used to live in the village.
Upon inquiry, his suspicion was confirmed. The woman was none other than the little girl whose Frail Old Grandma Takarasta cured all those years ago- the girl had grown old but she hasn’t forgotten the shaman’s kind act.
When he told her who he was, her entire face lit up like a lantern the wick of which suddenly burned.
“Oh, I am so glad to see you!” she said, “I can’t remember the last time the village got a visitor.”
“What happened here?” said Takarasta, spreading his arms with a painful expression.
The girl- Takarasta could only see her as a girl and not a woman, told him everything:
Once Takarsta had left, the village remained jubilant for a few months-happy at the defeat of their enemies.
However, not all of their enemies were dead. There survived, in that other village a handful of men and women- some of them filled with wisdom. “Wiser than our own elders, I would say” said the girl/woman with a smirk.
“They saw that our village was divided. There were among us those who lost someone they loved when they were abducted..I remember you lost your sister that way..Anyway, many among those who lost someone were not pleased with the elders and their jubilation at the defeat of the enemy. Understanding this, the enemies used their shaman wisely. “
At the mention of the word ‘shaman’ Takarasta’s ears flicked up- in his time he had seen and heard enough of shamanic tricks. But he wasn’t vain enough to think that the infinitude of shamanic possibilities couldn’t throw up a surprise or two.
But when the girl/woman told him about it, he smiled since what the enemies used was a variation of his own trick.
“They began using voodoo for doing good,” she said.” Understanding that many of our people were wounded in their minds due to the actions of the elders, they began healing them, putting the suffering ones’ minds at ease. And this gave them the necessary leverage to turn many among us to join them- not just those who were cured but also the sympathizers. It’s not that they crossed the river and went and joined the enemy ranks- nothing as dramatic as that. But staying here, they turned against the elders. The rift was thus widened- between those who were with the elders and those against .”
“And infighting ensued, which destroyed our village for the enemy,” Takarasta completed for her.
The girl/woman nodded. “Almost everyone left,” she said. “There are only a very few of us here in the village now.”
“But enough to warrant the use of a shaman who can heal, I hope,” said Takarasta.
“Oh, yes, I am sure of it!” said the girl/ woman. Since the first time since they started talking, she was smiling.
Takarasta was pretty sure that like most of the huts in the village that he had seen, his father’s house too would be in tatters. But he was surprised when he saw that the hut was turned into a public lavatory before it went to ruins.
A little bit of inquiry and he came to learn that a few months after he left, one of the Aid Groups stationed outside the village tried their hand at ‘reforming’ the village- among other things that they set up on were a weekly camp when they would teach the villagers the English language- ‘the language of the future’ as they put it and a public lavatory to ‘improve the hygiene conditions and thwart unwanted diseases.’
The hut that Takarats’a father- one of the wealthiest persons in the village built was one of the more robust, not to mention spacious structures in the village. And since Takarasta- the last of whom stayed in the hut had left for good, the village elders had no qualms in giving it over for the purpose of building a public lavatory.
“’It’s a fitting place to have a lavatory for everyone to shit! Where that no-good shaman of ours used to live!’ that’s what our elders told the aid group! Har, har, har!” cackled the old man who related the incident to Takarasta, with evident relish and no consideration for the shaman’s feelings.
Rumours- possibly true-were abound that it was with the aid group’s help that the elders procured all those weapons which they used against the enemy all those years ago. In return, the aid group- actually a group funded by the US for plundering the natural resources in the area-were to be given entry into the village, so that slowly yet steadily they could become a permanent fixture in the village and start their true job of finding profit.
Whether the rumour was true or not, the aid group couldn’t take their activities beyond the initial stages: infighting had consumed the village by then. And a war which broke out in the neighbouring regions meant that they had to retreat out of the country itself, leaving the ruined village to the natives- or rather those who remained.
Takarasta wasn’t too miffed by the fact that his childhood home had the indignity of being turned to a public lavatory- a public loo that was now in ruins at that. ‘When the entire village is in ruins,’ the thought, ‘what matters that my home is no more?’
But he was miffed by the fact that he had to construct a make-shift habitat using bamboo poles and tree branches all by himself. He was not just too old but the Big City life had made him too complacent to having things done for him that even though he started constructing the habitat(a cross between a hut and a tent) at around 10 in the morning, he could finish it only by three in the afternoon. Lunch(consisting of some fruit that he could pluck from the nearby trees) and a short nap intervened.
The location he chose for the structure was on the shores of the Shalava river- some way down from where stood the public lavatory/ his father’s hut. The place was idyllic-with trees and birds and more trees and more birds. The only problem was that due to the proximity to the water body, the villagers came to the shores to take a dump.
They were decent enough to not do this too close to the shaman’s new house. But Takarasta would sometimes see human excreta being carried by the river water, floating past his hut/tent on its way, like everything else that the rivers carry, into the ocean.
It was on the third or fourth sighting of such passage of the excreta that Takarsta had the idea to try out something that he has learned from one of his books- throughout his career as a vet-shaman he remained an avid learner of various human healing practices.
This particular trick was advanced, for it didn’t involve a doll but the rejects of the human body- it was magic by which one could influence a body’s functions through the medium of shit. So the next time shit floated past him, Takarsta took a handful of dust and threw at it, uttering a healing chant.
The people he has seen so far were all sick for one reason or the other- their bodies and minds harassed by malnutrition and a multitude of diseases. He would see how he could heal them and the others. As for this trick involving the excreta, he would begin to see results in the next few days- if there were going to be results.
The bottom-line was that he had a lot of work to do in the village, for his people. Indeed, he had seen animals- goats and sheep and bullocks and more which could use his help. Yes, he had plenty to do here.
Looking at the brownish-red turd that floated past him on the river that shimmered under the setting sun, Takarasta smiled.