Dawn had yet to shed her purple robes. Birds twittered encouraging cheers to the vast lightness that bleached the sky in gradual shades making darkness growingly desirable and bright life more welcome. They who embodied both but were each seen as only one side of that duality were taking a walk along the vast lake of Shimitonga.
The lake was beautiful in that the waters reflected the state of the traveller who stopped by to admire its clear waters. What seemed clear from far or hearsay clouded as a common man approached. He who arrived with the intent of cleansing himself of all sins found the water dirty. Parents scolded their children for drinking from this lake leaving children confused as to why their wise seniors forbade them from sipping the cleanest of waters. Those who dipped their hands in the water and let it remain there saw their entire life re-lived on their palms in shimmering waves of memory constructed on the most astute recollection. Those who dived in never came out the same and the fear of that unknown change led many a man to merely dip his toes and rush before he was pulled in although the lake was never known to do that except in the myths. Several well meaning men had built fences around the lake to prevent harm but those fences had mysteriously vanished giving rise to stories of the monstrous lake’s designs of expanding and the inevitable day when all will be consumed in the devious waters of Shimitonga. Some even said that the entire world was Shimitonga and hence people should worship what was visible in the form of the lake. Those who arrived at its shore with an unimpressed mind and those who came to the shore drawn more by a lost path than the fame of the lake found the lake to be beautiful in the thirst it quenched and the peaceful water that reflected all Time. Thus, the beauty of the lake gained several tones.
The lake was also mysterious in the fauna it housed. People said they saw birds fly out the water and back in there. Fishes of the most incandescent scales swam in schools alongside fins that belonged to bodies that seemed to be carved off granite. Lions were seen walking on the surface before they descended below without causing a ripple. But how could tigers and deer breathe under water, they asked? By taking in what they want and not resisting what was around them, the wise replied.
Such were the stories that surrounded this lake whose banks God and Devil had chosen for their morning stroll. The waters reached occasionally to wash their feet while being absorbed in the Devil’s. They had had a wonderful banquet last night and the taste of wine was still on their tongue while their teeth dug themselves deeper hoping for some of that delicious veal.
God was talking about a recent discussion he had had in his chamber. Some of his friends had come over for a drink as was usually the cause for a visit and had stumbled upon thoughts which led to conversations about the notion of freedom. It seems the overcrowded tete-a-tete had tricked them into emptying the bottomless carafe without pausing long enough to savour the wine.
“And it was the wine of orchids in a stew of grapes from Bakhu and the first melt of the Gaumukh. It might just have been water.”
“Quite an interesting discussion it must have been.”
“To what purpose is a discussion that leaves the tongue insensate and the mind forgetful of time?”
“The finest, dear brother.”
God shook his head and in boredom caught an intruding sparrow and hurtled it into the Shimitonga. The Devil whistled to a crocodile which swallowed the sparrow and dived deep. Those who saw this made the devil of the crocodile and the waters viler.
“It leaves one cluttered, dear brother.”
“How could you and your friends ever be confused? Aren’t you the rulers of the world and Time?”
“Once you are done mocking, Devil, let me know your views.”
“On Freedom? There is hardly anything to say there. Those who know, are free. Being free is not being without bondage but deriving life from that freedom. Such a life too is free.”
“Hardly makes any sense and it is rather vain of you to assume that you can summarise what vexed us for a whole long afternoon.”
The Devil saw what was to come and smiled.
“Perhaps you are right. Maybe I haven’t done justice to such a taxing subject. Allow me time to ponder. Not an entire afternoon but…”
They continued walking and an elephant trumpeted a fountain of kingfishers back into the lake. They smiled when the same elephant ran a good distance along the lake before leaping into becoming a dolphin that dived into the lake.
“It is never the same animal, you know.”
“Yes, and it is only to Shimitonga that I allow such choice.”
“You are very kind, dear brother. Who sits there?”
God squinted his eyes at the distant figure and the skies clouded. There he sat on a single rock near the middle of the lake. Arvidor was crouching over the rock and smiling, perhaps at his reflection?
“I think he cannot see his reflection in the waters.”
“Why? Someone as hated as he can only see steel instead of waters?”
“Then the reflection would still form. Jokes apart, he cannot see his reflection because the lake absorbs whatever of him that is available, including his image. What then is left to reflect?”
“Why? What is so beautiful in his visage? He is a corrupt man, dear brother, your foremost disciple.”
“Indeed my foremost disciple and corrupt as any free man can be.”
“He is free!? You are verily muddled in your head, my friend. How can one who is hated by all, shunned by all, feared by all be ever free?”
“Isn’t that required to be free? He who will be loved must act in order to be lovable by the few that surround him by whatever means he can employ. He will be loved, but never free. He who must be a saint, must act saintly and not necessarily Rightly in order to be revered. He will be worshiped, but never free. Arvidor acts not for the other but for Rightness alone. How can any breathing body love him for long?”
“Oh! Devil. You are such a romantic. Forever arguing for something that is pure imagination. Why would anyone care about Rightness in a far cave where food and water is refused? Why would anyone utter the Right when cast out of every fertile village and virgin’s bed? Why would anyone look heavenward,” and God swallowed, “or hellward when no pitcher tilts to whet his desiccated guts and no palm extends to help him from the gutter of his own imagination?”
“So that he can be like Arvidor, fishing the juiciest trouts that he creates for his own appetite!”
“What? Who can create other than me?”
“A man who is truly free.”
“Rubbish! No man can ever live on this earth and create when I disallow him to.”
“But he is not on your earth, my friend. He is in Shimitonga’s world on a rock given to him by Shimitonga. How can you ever revoke what is Shimitonga’s? The power that be Shimitonga’s is beyond your censure or mine, hence it is so hated. Would not every man hate such a power when made visible in all its details? Isn’t our repute clinging heavily to our invisibility and their ignorance? Shimitonga has found a mate in Arvidor and Shimitonga’s power can be usurped only by destroying all this world and Shimitonga and recreating one without Shimitonga but all the same human beings and creatures who shall reward your act with the same ignorance.”
“Stop it! Don’t tempt me. It was your idea to let Shimitonga be.”
“And I do not regret it as you do. Why blame Shimitonga for Arvidor’s worth? Your anger should only be leveled against the man on the rock and not the power that created the rock for him. Burn him, my friend, for he stands singularly against You and all your devotees.”
“Why do you ask me to burn your foremost minion?”
“Because he is not my minion and you cannot burn him while he sits there.”
“Surely he will leave his perch.”
“For a world as ignorant as this? Surely he will, but Shimitonga well spread His waters wherever he goes and you will still be limited in your powers to destroy.”
“Why does Shimitonga regard him so highly?”
“Because he is free by his own accord and not as a means to gain favour – Yours or Mine. Arvidor loves not because he is lonely nor in supplication. He learns not to achieve nor to subjugate. He wields his sword not to rend the air with fear nor to amass followers and armies. He speaks not to beguile nor to spite. He walks not to reach anywhere. He eats not to fill his gut nor because there is a bottomless carafe with the finest liquor of orchids and Bakhu grapes. He is kind not to gain favour – Yours or his. He plows the field not for a bounty nor to scar the earth. He takes not more than what he can give and he gives before he takes. He creates not in order to rule or gain repute from them but because every fibre in his being wishes to create. And then he moves on though nothing changes. He bows his head to the wise men of the seas but with his eyes open. He kisses their palm because that is how one must treat those palms. He rides the horse faster than air because he doesn’t know how fast air can whip through these worlds. He lives in innocence and dies every moment to knowledge. He who is not held by gold chains or be a lavaliere held by the worshipers’ words, he who doesn’t act according to the past or for a future, he who smiles effortlessly and walks without a weight other than his respect for this earth, he who toils not for crowns and crowds but for the task’s worth and correctness, he who loves all with unequal due and flogs all with the most equipoised scourge, he whose conduct is not as if life that is centred on him but life that is centred on Rightness which every nightingale knows in its first tweet, he, Arvidor, is a free man. He is truly alone. He is what every man should look up to. He sits there where no one can harm him.”
God’s nostrils flared to hear Arvidor be spoken of in such exalting words. His knuckles cracked thunderbolts in the sky and the colour of his blood seeped across the never ending canvas. Arvidor looked up and smiled. He rubbed a beautiful white and orange fish from between his palms. He let it into the lake and it swept golden waves in its wake. Shimitonga which had always reflected the skies on its waters, refused to do so now. Shimitonga sparkled a beautiful iridescent blue which the skies were forced to reflect and the gloom melted away.
God smiled and turned around.
“What? Not interested in the walk anymore?”
“Well no. I have to invite my friends over to conclude the discussion of yesterday.”
“And there is a conclusion?”