Jagannath meaning Lord of the Universe. Crown Prince Jagannath! Ah, the ironies of life! What a joke! What a cruel joke was destiny playing out, mused the young man, his words a scream that ricocheted off the palates of his mouth, then died_agony filled gasps releasing into the outer world ala a newborn's labored arrival.
The outer world for the 'Crown Prince' was a six by six square foot hell hole; a pitch dark all stone dungeon located fifty feet under the ground, a hellish pit sans light, sans sound, sans contact with the outer world.
And to believe that barely a week ago his was a beautiful happy world! A world the handsome young man had called his own, the world he had been born in, the world he had known and grown to love . . . the world of his people, his loved ones. A world that comprised his dear father and Devika. . . his Devika.
Devika. . .the sound of her name as it caressed his lips brought forth a lava of bitter sweet pain. Her face, as it danced in front of his sunken eyes was a balm to his bruised and battered soul. Her sweet remembrance a stab wound that sunk deep into the ventricles of his lovelorn heart, threatening to tear asunder, to brutally, ruthlessly rip apart, extricate his very physical presence from the face of Planet Earth.
What was that? Did he hear footsteps. The sound of approaching human feet? The 24 year old dragged his bedraggled self towards the iron bars, thrusting his face between the bars, his eyes scanning the long narrow passageway that led to the outer world. The sounds, a metronomic rat-tat-tat, were now more distinct. Someone was approaching. Coming his way. Who could it be? Who would come to meet him at this ungodly hour?
Adhiraj Singh, the King of Surat, his dear father, was no more. Killed nee thrown into an open fire pit, the blazing flames further stoked by the last moment desperate flailing arms of the benevolent ruler, his heart wrenching final cries a tragic memory that flared before poor Prince Jagannath's eyes, attacking at the very vestiges of his sanity.
"So, how are you my dear nephew, Prince Jagannath? Looking at you I can see you have taken to your new palace life."
Those acerbic sarcasm laden words! That voice.
Prince Jagannath squinted his eyes in the dark as a light flashed around his eyes.
He picked himself up, stood erect, and then looked straight into the eyes of Agastya, the man who now called himself, had anointed himself as the new undisputed, omnipotent, King of Suratgarh.
Cold black pupils stared back at him_ unflinching, shameless. . .eyes that mirrored the blackness of the human heart that resided within.
The more young Jagannath stared on at the grotesque human specimen that had come visiting him at this deathly hour, the more he was consumed by hate. . . an all consuming, mind numbing, soul searing hatred for this abominable wolf in sheep's clothing.
Utterly unfazed, shameless to the core, the visitor stared on_a mocking, derision filled stupefying grin on his swarthy whiskey scarred pock marked swine of a face.
The sarcastic intonation continued.
"Look at you, my Prince. Look at your body. Hands and legs, virulent and rippling masses of muscle until a few weeks ago, now morphed into mere sticks and bones. It is no irony, no quirky twist of fate that had led to you as well as your father's downfall. It is all due to me. Yes, I and I alone am the reason that you have lost everything."
Prince Jagannath, as he heard this drunken megalomaniac's diatribe, vowed in his mind that one day, come what may, he would crawl out of this hell hole. Then, with his bare hands squeeze every single breath out of this monster's hate spewing chest.
As if reading his thoughts, the usurper quipped, "Revenge. So, you want to take revenge on me? You want to kill me with your bare hands? Yeah. . .is that so, Prince?"
The words were a spat.
From behind cell bars, Jagannath's hands strained behind his back. He had difficulty keeping them at bay. He wanted to reach out and extend himself, grip his tormentor's neck and with one single stroke, decapitate him_his headless body falling onto the stony prison slabs, his blood, a dirty rivulet purging all its impurities through the stony floors into the bowels of the ocean.
Better sense prevailed. Time, he knew wasn't on his side. Jagannath checked himself at the nth moment. He stepped back and looked at the silhouette of the man who stood a mere feet away from him, hubris dripping off every pore of his five foot puny frame.
How things change. It took a mere fortnight for his ideal world to turn topsy turvy. A loving father, a ruler much loved by his subjects, and he_ the sole heir and next in line to ascend the throne, be anointed the king of one of the most prosperous lands in all of the Indo-Aryan peninsular belt. What that meant: a life of wealth and riches, a palace of his own, chests full of sparkling stones, gold, diamonds, sapphires, the best of wine, all the wealth and pleasures that any human could ask for. And to top it all, the real cherry on top of the cake. . .the blessed love of Devika!
Ah. . .the very thought of her sent white frothy waves of spasmodic delight rush through his veins. Devika. What a name! What beauty! What woman! Her fair face, those lips, a sweet curl that had the power to alleviate the pain of the most troubled man that ever walked the earth!
Her soothing vision danced like a star spangled firefly in front of Jagannath's weary eyes.
His eyes moistened, his resolve began to give way as he found himself being cruelly hurled back onto the harsh wind swept shores of stark reality.
A voice sprang from within, and rammed into his ears..
'Look at you, you’re a lost soul. You've lost everything. Lost your father, your kingdom, lost even the love of your life. You are no longer Prince Jagannath. At least, not technically. The man who stands before you, this impetuous arrogant person with his devilish stare, this man who now wears your father's ruby encrusted royal robes is the new ruler, the King of Suratgarh, the richest thousand mile territory south of the Vindhya mountain ranges. Face it, Jagannath.
Accept this changed reality. The past 93 days locked up in an underground dungeon without food or water have irreversibly changed you for the worse. You are no longer the man you were a few days ago. You've become an entirely new person, another person. You are a crumbling edifice, a man sans any weight, any muscle or fibre, a mere rag tag figure wrapped in an apology of a body. Gone is your handsomeness, gone your machismo, gone your virility. Gone too is that rippling mass of muscle, that ramrod straight envious physique that you possessed. And gone is your 56 inch alpha male hairy chest. And gone also, gone for ever is your most precious possession, the love of your love, your very own Devika.'
DEVIKAAA. . . the words were a scream. . .an ear splitting, horrifying scream that tore through the hollow of the night, bounced off the rocky walls of the underground prison, echoing all around the high roofs of the hexagonal walls before dying a slow, agonizing death.
‘No, nothing should happen to my Devika. Nothing. I shall never allow anything to happen to her. Promise me...promise me that you will not harm her. . .promise me."
"Promise me what, ye Prince of No Kingdom"?
The poison dipped words of his enemy jolted him out of his beguiled self.
Jagannath looked on, his mind a blur, a maze of psychedelic images.
His prey trapped, Agastya licked his lips_ a sly jackal waiting to pounce and tear asunder the prey he had successfully trapped after a dogged chase.
The words stumbled out of Jagannath’s lips. "Tell me what do you want in return for my life".
Agastya smiled, a cracking open of his lascivious lips, just enough to reveal yellowing teeth, all crooked like the crook he was.
What he said next, hung in the nightly air for god knows how long as Jagannath pondered over its mind numbing ramifications.
"Ok, here's the deal. Before the first rays of the morrow spring from behind the hills, you will leave this land and vow to relinquish your claim on Suratgarh. If you agree to this, then I shall spare your life. However, were you to reject this most generous offer, then I promise I shall kill you before dawn and have your body fed to the dogs... I mean your erstwhile Palace dogs Boxer and Oscar, now most obedient servants of me, their new owner.
Momentarily stunned, Jagannath gripped the iron bars. His knuckles turned white as body and mind wrested with the myriad permutations and combinations of the diabolical deal offered to him.
What should he do? What should he consider? As Agastya looked on, tiny slate grey eyes boring down on his enemy, Jagannath turned away from the cell entrance and retreated into the far corner. There, with his back to the wall, Jagannath mulled over his likely course of action.
For the next few minutes, but one that seemed to stretch to eternity, Jagannath went on self analysis mode.
'Consider who you are, what you've been reduced to,' Jagannath reminded himself. 'Beggars can't be choosers. A life in penury, a life to live nee exist, however ignominious it may be. Or, a life that would end in under four hours, a life and head that refuses to bow down to anyone, least of all in front of the man who had snatched all that was yours. The choice is yours.'
The thought of an honourable death, however short lived his stint on Planet Earth would be, filled his chest with rightful pride. A young man who refused to kowtow, to bow down, to seek pardon from the man who had so cruelly, so very immorally, unethically, and criminally usurped the throne that clearly was not his. Generations to come would revere him, he would become an inspiration, a role model, his act emblematic of all that still remains good and pure and incorruptible in a world that worships crass curse commercialism, that believes in only one religion: The religion of Wealth with a capital W.
‘Would you prefer to die, and thereby live on forever in the hearts of all your beloved subjects, forever serving as a beacon of hope for the world's have nots, all those disadvantaged people who've never known the power of the collective, never been guided by able hands, good souls like Moses who rightfully promised and delivered the believers to the Kingdom of Heaven.’
As the seconds ticked by, Jagannath kept on the internal monologue, his mind exploring the alternative he was faced with.
'Or. . . would you turn weak, be willing to be labelled an infidel who when faced with certain death, chose to turn his back on the very people who had once so lovingly, respectfully ordained him Crown Prince Jagannath?" Would you compromise? Accept the offer of his enemy, and beat a hasty retreat, turn his back away, never to return to this great land he was born in, the land of his ancestors, the land where his beloved lived. . .’
As the words ‘beloved’ rolled off hos tongue,
Clearly, his mind a turnstile of conflicting emotions that pulled him in opposite directions, Jagannath found himself caught between the devil and deep sea.
As the clock’s hands ticked by, Prince Jagannath had his moment of epiphany.
A voice, velvety and sweet as honey, mellifluous to the core, ringed into his ears.
'My love. . .my most precious. . .I know that you are suffering. But I also know that you are the bravest person in the kingdom. My one and only live. . .the one for whom my heart longs for, the one who resides in my heart, the one who loves me and whom I love. . .our heavenly love. I implore you to take the offer and leave the land. No, it is not a sign of weakness. It is a tactical retreat. I shall follow you to where ever you go. Be with you through all your travels and travails. Together, we shall live far away from this kingdom. Until one day, the day when you shall come back and take back your kingdom. There would be men and women, all loyal to our beloved departed king and you who are ready to fight alongside you and reclaim the Kingdom of Suratgarh and anoint you their king. But right now, I plead with you to accept this devious offer, and leave Suratgarh. It is the sensible thing to do under the circumstances. So, I implore you to make the best of the situation, accept the things that cannot be changed, and take those all important two steps back_ not out of fear, but out of sense, to bide time, to recollect, and then launch a counter attack. An assault that would stun the enemy with its stealth of timing and help take back whatever is rightfully, legally yours. So, my love, go ahead, tell that abominable man that you accept his offer. I shall sneak out and meet you outside the city gates. Your love, Devika.'
Prince Jagannath opened his eyes; all around him was nothing but darkness. He could not see anything. But he knew what he had seen. It was a vision, a fairy had come and breathed life into him. A most beautiful fairy. A fairy that carried the face of his beloved, his heartbeat, the one he lived, loved and longed for with an intensity he had never known he possessed until the day he set sights on her.
His mind floated back in time. He recalled the day. It was a year ago. He had joined his father, King Adhiraj on a hunting expedition. By lunch they had spotted and shot dead three deer and a couple of black bucks. But what they had come for still eluded them: the ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger. They had seen one, a golden tressed majestic big cat. But by the time King Adhiraj had aimed his rifle towards it, the animal had beaten a hasty retreat and slipped into the wilderness.
It was then that the royal sentry had suggested that they take rest at his humble abode, a small hut just outside the jungle before resuming their hunting mission. 'Your Highness, this humble servant would consider himself the most honored soul in this world if your lordship would step foot and bless my humble abode.'
The benign man he was, King Adhiraj did not for once hesitate. And an hour later, when he ducked his head and entered his royal guard's hut, he was accompanied by his son and heir Prince Jagannath. And that's when Jagannath set his eyes on the most beautiful girl he had seen in his 22 year old life.
She had walked in, head slightly bowed, and placed two steel glasses of sweetened milk on the small wooden table around which the two were seated. Her eyes locked with Jagannath's. It was the moment the two, Jagannath, the son of the king of the land, the other, the daughter of the palace guard, the man responsible for the physical security of the King of Suratgarh, fell in love with one another_ madly, crazily, passionately_the kind that visited the world once every hundred years.
“So, have you made up your mind? What is your decision? I need to know now.”
Jagannath turned back, and replied, 'Ok, I accept your offer. I shall leave the kingdom before dawn.’
His eyes were steady but already planning revenge when he uttered these words to his father's killer, former palace guard now turned the new ruler of Suratgarh, King Agastya.
Also, the evil father of the love of his life_Devika.