This story is by Neha Mediratta and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“No madam, like this.”
Rudra – yoga instructor – has dull-black matted hair, piercing black-pearl eyeballs, wears a t-shirt and pants, and shows the Warrior pose again.
Sheila pulls her toe in, pushes knee out, straightens her arm, spine in line.
“Yoga is worship. Life. Death.”
It is unlike all the yoga classes she has attended.
He does not have a six-pack or ripped biceps yet every time he passes by, Sheila’s spine tingles with an ancient instinct: beware, stay alert.
“Yoga is war. Stand imagining holding a sword in that outstretched arm.”
He settles effortlessly into the pose, like he was born for it.
“For how long?” Mr. Kapoor asks.
“Until class ends.”
Sweat breaks on Sheila’s brow.
“That’s building strength. Just standing. In the posture.”
Class ends after 45 minutes.
The sword’s hilt is stuck in my palm in this life.
I open my fingers as I swing it at my opponent and it remains in place. My body surges with renewed energy – my blade is me. In the closing of this distance between sword and man the fighting gets seamless and the battle may yet be won.
“Aaaah!” The cry rises from the depths of hope.
I strike. I may yet live to see tomorrow.
Lactic acid formation with continuous, repetitive movement swells up my arm. Practiced routines of combat sing in my blood with each hit as my body grows larger with the sheer challenge of six continuous hours of battle. I feel the density of metal against metal, I feel for the points of softness in the flesh, I feel for the base of the skull to hit the blunt bottom of my sword’s hilt.
The sun is still high on the horizon. After twenty-five days of walking to the battlefield, this is the eighth day of fighting on the ground. The earth beneath us is soaked with blood, cluttered with broken chariots, half-dead men, groaning elephants and pleading horses. Warriors shift to the next clear patch – parrying, blocking, pushing, pulling – a mass of tangled metal and flesh: human, elephant, horse, and chariots.
Amid the cries, the conch shells sounding, formations moving upto 20 kilometers a day – I am one with my sword. With Rudra the roarer. With powers that bring death even as they protect life. One with the art of creating and destroying.
“Om om om om”
They chant somewhere.
I spared my cousin an arm-less living for the rest of his life by praying to the Gods before I ran my blade at the nape of his neck – bleeding him out. Killing him instantly. A kill to lay to rest.
“Om om om om”
The chanting is ever present.
Today my younger brother is in the distance, his armour catching the sun. His body too, is swollen in places. But the time to rest is not until the sun sinks announcing dusk and the call to lay down all weapons.
It is one sound now, a long low hum.
My brother and I are shoulder to shoulder.
“Not like this,” I block the attack of the opposing soldier.
“Like this,” from the base of my feet, heaving my pelvis up, I draw mother earth’s energy into my body and let flow into my sword through my arm.
It cleaves the warrior’s chest in two, piercing three layers of metal armour and two layers of cotton vests to keep the armour from chafing the skin. I feel my sword, the extension of my arm, pierce right into the upper right ventricle of the heart, all the way through the lung, through the rib-cage and emerge from the warrior’s back.
“No wonder they call you a demon.” My brother says.
Man, metal, blood, shit – all is one big bang.
The big bang was actually a big boom.
Rock, mud, silt, wind, storm, water, oceans, bits and pieces broken from one solid whole into a fragmented existence.
Rudra – the matted haired, mercurial, destroyer, healer – killer and protector – He roared long and loud, lifting up the lowest energies into the highest tenors. He roared slow and deep, humming into invisibility at the ends of frequencies beyond all hearing. Existing beyond the human realm.
The human realm is tunnelled by Time and Space. Hence, bound by Time and Space, we call what we see uni (one) verse (song). In the warrior pose, my foe impaled on my sword, I am here, in this tunnel, on the battlefield, one with Rudra. In Yoga – in union.
I am checking out books from a library in this life.
“Shooting’s in two months. Best get ready,” the director says. Read up on the osmosis between man and his weapon.”
The librarian wants to know whether Bollywood actors do anything other than dancing on the silver screen or on stage or in parties. Instead, she asks me: “Is this all, Mr. Kapoor?”
I don’t reveal anything.
“Yes, thank you.”
It took me three days to find the English translations of the Rig Veda, because it is a time without internet and knowledge is cloistered behind walls. Hence, I have forgotten my own ancient language. Or the language has abandoned me.
Actors like me flit between real selves and made-up characters. Like ants invading a sack of rice, we carry on our shoulders what we learn from inhabiting other characters and take them back to our real lives. What will embodying a warrior do for me?
This is my first movie with the lead role as a Kshatriya warrior – a clan of men who trained in the art of keeping balance between forces of life and death through warring. In old texts are praises to Gods before allusions to battle.
Who were the people who fought? How did they do the things my ancestors say they did? I want to act out the truth behind legends, behind myths.
Character preparation clashes with meditation practice. I have to stay still – in mind, in body, and watch breath. The silent breath connects me to lives past and future, like a chain. A karmic chain of lifetimes that inhabits me more than I inhabit it.
“Even this? Nobody checks this out.” The librarian sucks me back to now.
I push my spectacles up the bridge of my nose. A slim book comes into focus, “Yoga: A Warrior Monk”
I feel an unbidden ache in my chest, as if someone impaled me straight through the heart on a sword. I sigh. Actors have good imaginations.
“This – yes.”
How can a monk be a warrior? What does war have to do with worship, life and death?
The bells rang at dusk. The day, folding into night.
I offered obeisance to the red sky before yoga class. Rudra smeared it with the blood of all those who met my sword in another life. A reminder of the debts I have yet to pay back, in this, my thousandth lifetime. I offered a coconut, marigolds, light incense and repeated the words in Sanskrit – chanting a mantra whose power transports me across time and connects me across space.
I work on settling my accounts with Rudra while around me, outside the boundary of the temple, vehicles honk, people chatter to and from work, planes run above. It is not wartime, but the cacophony is no less destructive than on a battlefield.
In the evening’s yoga class, I show Warrior 1, Warrior 2 and Warrior 3.
Spindly young men and women, tittering old ladies, the limb-less, the turmoiled – these seekers of truth beyond words follow my lead now.
Some tremble – like Sheila, unsure whether she can take the load. Some stand too straight, unable to bend into the poses, some hold themselves tight and closed, like white-haired ex-actor Mr. Kapoor. But they come to my classes regularly.
Memories of past lives are abandoned to function in this one. Yet when we probe the tunnel of Time & Space, forgetfulness is the most dangerous enemy.
In each class participant, I sense a past connected to my past. A debt to pay, accounts to settle. In this Space-Time tunnel, warfare to balance the going of life and coming of death is what he gifted us – Lord Rudra, God Rudra (shakes head) those words are new-fangled inventions – Lord, God.
Rudra is Rudra – the sun, the wind, medicine and poison, nameless and many-named. Rudra is power before we had the word ‘power’ in dictionaries, before dictionaries, before presses, before words, or symbols. Well before language Rudra was/is Rudra – the roarer – a dancer of sound.
The primal roaring was about this tension in the first place. So full of desire He was, Rudra roared – anger, pain, ambition, aggression, longing, disappointment – into existence. War He birthed, war we came to know.
Playing the scales of existence, He also birthed men like me.
Suddenly human beings, the hunted, scared-of-the-dark, living-in-caves creatures had armour against the chaos of the big bang: Yoga – being one with Him to defy Time and Space.