2500 B.C.E. In the forests of the Indus Valley
Calling out for her, I ran to our favourite spot. The magnificent Pipal welcoming me under its branches. I looked all around the tree, but Aranya wasn’t there.
“Quit playing games. I’m exhausted.” I said while looking at the beam of sunlight shining through the leaves. It was like a pathway to heaven. I stood in that path, raised my head upwards and closed my eyes. I could feel an energy coursing through the entire being of my white body and emanating from the tip of my single spiral horn.
And that’s when I saw her. Smiling. But, when I opened my eyes, she wasn’t there. No! No…
“Cooper… Sshhh… It’s alright, calm down, sshhh…” Baali, my best monkey friend, had climbed on my back and was patting my thick mane. That’s when I realized that I was dreaming about her again.
I galloped around the tall grass, whinnying, shaking my head and body trying to throw off Baali, intimidating him with my ferocity. But he did not budge.
Stopping for a breath, I shouted, “Why? Why did you all not let me go to her that day? I could have saved her!”
“No, you couldn’t have. You would have been killed too.” He climbed down and went on his way, signalling the end of our conversation. I had lost count of how many times we had had this conversation since that fateful day when I lost Aranya.
I walked to the Pipal and sat under its shade. My friends, whom I considered my only family, had made a pact to not let me venture near the Saraswati River alone, as it was a favourite hunting ground of those humans.
I remembered how I had come to this place. We were about a dozen of us walking and running through various lands. I was too small to remember why we left our homes, but later learnt that there wasn’t any food left for us. The grass had disappeared, trees were covered in snow and the earth shook, taking many of us in her belly.
When we reached this forest, only three of us remained. That’s when I met Baali. He told us that we were new in this jungle, and we were on the wrong side of it. There were many ferocious beasts that would feast on us. We needed to move closer towards the river.
“We are unicorns, you stupid monkey. Can’t you see how huge we are? And look at this horn,” I boasted, shaking my head. “We can kill any beast with it.” The others agreed with me.
“Huh… you are not huge at all. Wait till you meet the rhinoceros and the elephant.” Baali insisted that we leave with him. I wished that we had, for my companions were killed in brawls with the striped beasts, whereas I managed to escape.
It was then, on the other side of the forest, that I met Aranya. She was like me, but more beautiful and without my temper. I was instantly attracted to her. I also befriended Rhino and Gajj. Gajj was unlike any beast I had ever laid my eyes on; he was the leader of the elephants.
After making me promise that I wouldn’t venture in the deep woods, Baali left me with Aranya and my new friends.
Aranya used to sit with me under the Pipal and she would regale me with stories about her folks. How bad tempered they were and how each of them was killed in brawls. That was why she controlled her temper. She wished to live long.
“What does your name mean?” She had asked me once. I had nuzzled her neck with my mouth saying I didn’t know.
“Cooper, it’s tickling me.” She used to say. And I would enjoy doing that.
“I know the meaning of your name.” I used to reply. She would whinny and run around the tree saying everyone knew that.
I considered her my mate and I loved spending time with her. She had tamed me.
She used to also tell me about our qualities, which I never knew before. How we unicorns were special, magical even. How our horn had healing powers. How our blood was so pure that could treat the sick and how the humans were always looking to capture us. How our bodies would disappear into thin air when we breathed our last. I found the last part hard to believe, because I did not wait to watch my companions die.
“Baali had once told me, that these humans don’t believe we exist. Some do, and would use all their means to capture us and prove otherwise. He had heard them talking. So we need to be careful.” She had said.
One morning, she was strolling by the river and I was sitting near our Pipal, when I heard her whinny. It was not her usual happy voice. I ran towards the stream and my heart skipped a beat at the sight before me. A spear was thrust in her belly, she was writhing in pain. I was about to make my presence known to those evil humans, when Gajj and Rhino along with their families appeared and stopped me. Aranya managed to escape in the commotion that ensued and galloped towards me. Her gallop reduced to a slow walk and she was breathing heavily, by the time we reached our spot.
She lay down and looked at me, her green eyes piercing into my soul. I couldn’t do anything for her. What use were my healing powers if I couldn’t save the love of my life? A single tear trickled from my eyes as I watched her disappear into thin air.
Now, a few days later, as I sat wallowing in my grief, Baali and his clan jumped from the trees around. They were our only source of information from all other parts of the forests. They also knew what the humans were up to.
“I have some bad news.” Baali started. “These Harappans have gone crazy. They are fighting in their towns. They want to build more houses and spread over a greater land. They have started cutting more and more trees and now our favourite Pipal is under threat.”
“What? But they worship the Pipal, so how can they cut it?” I could feel my eyes throbbing, a sign that my anger would take over soon. I did not want to break my promise to Aranya. The promise of never losing my temper again. But now, our sacred place, our safe haven was under threat.
“Cooper. Listen to me.” Baali had climbed on my back again. He was stroking my horn. I gave a nod of my head, and sensing that I had controlled myself, he jumped in front of me.
“They are not going to cut it, but build their homes very close to it. It is pretty near the river bank too. You may never be able to go there.” He whispered the last part.
“No, no. Please Baali. Do something. Don’t let them come close to our tree. They killed her already, don’t let them take her memories away from me.” My eyes were wet and my voice had turned hoarse. I stamped my hooves before sinking down on the dry earth and closed my eyes.
“Calm down, Cooper. We’ll try to do something.” With those words, I sensed him leaving.
The chattering stopped and the forest was unusually silent. Rhino was dozing. The birds had stopped chirping too. I couldn’t even spot any insects around me. There was no wind, the trees were as still as if they were dead.
I thought that these were omens. Something bad was about to happen.
I don’t remember dozing off, it would have been only a few minutes, for I was rudely awakened by the entire forest screeching. What was so quiet a few moments ago, was now a cacophony. Other animals were running helter-skelter. The birds were struggling to fly. A warm breeze had started blowing.
Baali appeared before us with tears in his eyes. “Th… the forest is on fire. We need to move towards the river and cross to the other side.”
He gestured everyone to move.
“Do not be foolish Baali.” I blasted. “Saraswati is a raging river, you think we can swim and cross the other side? We will all drown.”
“What other choice do we have?” He was bawling now.
I realized that something was amiss. I took him out of earshot, “What is it, my dear friend? Do not lie to me.”
Baali managed to compose himself. “I… I wanted to protect the Pipal for you. So… so… I lit a fire, like I had seen the humans do, a few trees away from the Pipal, so that they wouldn’t get close to it. But, it didn’t work, and the fire grew larger. Out of nowhere, a strong breeze started, and the fire began to spread. I saw the Harappans getting vessels of water to douse the fire, but it wasn’t helping. I’m so sorry, Cooper. My mistake cost you to lose your last memory of Aranya.” He was now hugging my face and sobbing.
I shook him off me. It took me a few minutes to process what he said. Death was certain. Either by the fire or the river.
“We will figure out something.” I tried to be brave and started moving in the opposite direction, towards the Pipal.
“Where do you think are you going?” Baali asked.
“I want to have a last look at our spot, of whatever remains of it and say a final goodbye to Aranya. I’ll meet you all at the river. Do not cross until I come back.”
He did not look convinced, but with a final hug, he left. I galloped towards our spot, meeting Gajj on the way. He asked me the same thing, and I gave the same reply.
On reaching our spot, I saw that our Pipal was still burning, the flames were wild, throwing off branches, twigs and leaves in all directions. I should have felt scorched, but did not feel a thing.
All I could see was Aranya. Her beautiful face and her eyes. I could hear her voice. I could hear her telling me about how pure our blood was, how healing our horn was. She was telling me how much she loved me but how much she hated my temper. I could hear her on and on.
And then, it struck.
I knew why I felt a pull towards this burning tree, when everyone else were running in the opposite direction. I could save my friends, my only family, from certain death.
I had tears in my eyes, for I now knew, that even if I couldn’t save my Aranya, I could still save this Aranya, this bountiful forest.
Without another thought, I jumped into the fire. My body absorbed all the flames, turning black from the heat, until the fire was out. I could feel no pain, only a sense of fulfilment, a happiness that I had never felt since Aranya had died. She was right, I thought. We were magical creatures. No wonder, the humans wanted us so much.
As I closed my eyes, I saw her, smiling at me. Beckoning me. I smiled too, excited to be reunited with her. And happy that the humans could never have us anymore.
Now, we would remain what they thought we were. Myths.
Photo By: cocoparisienee
This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
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