For the first time, in a long time, the land of the Ashok Vatika resonated with life. Trijata twirled, smiling in happiness. Her gaze sought the birds that sang melodiously in the verdant canopy.
A day back, Lord Rama’s arrow had pierced the body of King Ravana and slain him. With that, the whole world heaved a collective sigh of relief – flower petals showered from the heavens, Apsaras* descended on the Earth and danced in ethereal splendour. The benevolent sun shone, lighting Trijata’s path as she commenced her walk, to join Sita on her journey back to Ayodhya.
At that moment, the golden exuberance of the skies was enshrouded by a large body that hurtled downwards. It shrunk in size as it neared and morphed into a persona. It alighted on Trijata’s path, startling her.
The last time when he had come, Lanka had burned to cinders.
‘O Rama doota Hanuman, what made you come here? Did Sita Ma start her journey to Ayodhya?’
‘O Trijata Devi, I came for Sita Ma’s wooden chest. She told me that she had kept it near the Ashoka vriksha* where she rested these past few years.’
‘I know what you seek. Follow me, Bajarangi,’ said Trijata, leading Hanuman to the chest.
Hanuman struggled to pick up the tiny chest. He heaved with all his might, but the chest did not move.
‘O blessed Rakshasi*, what sort of enigma is this?’ Hanuman asked, perplexed. ‘I lifted the Sanjivini Parvata* with ease. But, today I am unable to lift a tiny chest the size of my palm?’
‘Anjaneya, might is not the answer to this puzzle,’ replied Trijata. ‘This chest represents the sum total of the sins committed against Sita Ma. Each petal in it accounts for each day that she shed her tears and bore the injustices meted out to her. O Anjaneya, this is the baggage of all the travails endured by her.’
Trijata opened the chest for him. Hanuman was aggrieved at the sight of hundreds of shrivelled petals in the chest. He closed his eyes and prayed.
‘O Mrunmayee, bless me with the ability to lift the weight of thy soul.’
Several thousand years later.
Sensorylink Office, California.
‘Welcome to the launch of our most anticipated product – Mbaggage,’ Ceylon Tusk, the CEO of Sensorylink announced.
He continued, ‘Today, we are changing the course of human history.
God…well, God doesn’t have a plan. There is no plan at all. There is nothing but chaos and pain. Pain…and chaos. Life…life is reminiscent of a spiral…a spiral of pain. But, today…we are going to change that.’
An assistant, at that moment, brought him what looked like an attaché case. He proudly held it aloft. The hundreds of people gathered there clicked pictures on their cell phones to post on social media. The audience was teeming with renowned personalities from around the globe. World leaders, Tech moguls, Kings, and Princes, everyone wanted to get their hands on the first batch of this pioneering, revolutionary product.
Among the rich and the powerful at the gathering, sat an aging woman. Clad in an orange saree, her wrinkled skin was ashen, almost anaemic. A cold sweat glistened on her forehead. What do I, an old teacher from a village have to do with gadgets, she thought? Her husband, who had abandoned her long back, had assured her that this product would wash her troubles away.
Ceylon added, ‘This product in my hand will take care of all your troubles. Just open the case, strap these two sensors on your forehead and take a nap. By the time you are done, you will feel as light as a feather.’
The crowd murmured. The product indeed seemed unprecedented.
‘But beware, these pieces of baggage get heavier with each of your troubled experiences. You will be aware of the incidents; however, the attached pain will be gone,’ continued Ceylon.
‘Your first transfer will be monitored by us in the adjacent resting room. After that, our company cars will ferry you to the airport. Make sure you keep this case with you throughout your life. You will need to download near the end. You can avoid your baggage while you are alive, but not at the time of your death.’
A few hours later…
After the launch and succeeding transfer session, the beta users of Mbaggage landed in New York to catch their respective flights.
Rishi Vardhan, entrepreneur and CEO of Flipbook, the world’s biggest social networking site impatiently waited for the passengers to disembark. He picked up his Mbaggage from the overhead cabin. It’s quite heavy, he realized. Do my troubles weight this much?
Back at his mansion, he took a quick shower. Refreshed, he hopped onto his bed and checked his Mbaggage.
I am feeling lighter. Did I, in reality, shed my emotional baggage? I wonder, is it possible for us to escape our demons? Can we shake the shadow of tragedy that stalks us all? Lemme check this…
He connected the Mbaggage to his laptop and browsed the contents.
‘Bloody hell! This is not my device,’ he muttered in dismay.
The decent thing to do would have been to disconnect the device. But, his curiosity swamped his rational thinking.
Lemme just take a peek, see what the fuss is all about.
He browsed the contents and clicked on a folder. It had pictures and memories of a girl. She seemed to be around thirteen years old, in wedding attire. He clicked on a vision.
Maithili checked her reflection in the mirror. Doe shaped eyes, lined with kohl on a demure, innocent face stared back at her. Beads of sweat glistened on her forehead. She dabbed at them. This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life. But, it didn’t feel so. She was to be married to Rajendra. Her Rajendra. He was a quiet-natured man, but not out of painful shyness. He was the kind who preferred playing larger-than-life characters in his school’s Ram-Leela enactments.
He was a hard worker who helped his father run their tea stall. No work was beneath him. He had joined the Swayamsevak Sangh as a volunteer. He was awed by them and aspired to ascend in the organization. Marriage was the last thing on his mind.
Maithili, his betrothed yearned to be the cynosure of his attention. But, she knew it was wishful thinking. With sadness, she squeezed her eyes shut, a futile attempt to erase Rajendra’s image from her mind.
Rajendra? THE Rajendra Bedi?
Rishi’s inquisitiveness made him click on another folder. It had some pictures of a middle-aged woman. He clicked on a vision.
Year after year, Rajendra’s visits dwindled. His political career soared, leaving his marital life parched. His last visit brought gloom.
‘Rajendra, I will miss your presence,’ she said sorrowfully.
‘I wish things were different Maithili…I wish. At this point, my country needs me. I wish I had a choice.’
A melancholic silence filled the room as she bid him goodbye.
What.the.fuck, this is PM’s wife’s Mbaggage! Rishi comprehended.
Lord Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita returned to Ayodhya.
The dwellers of Ayodhya lit earthen lamps to welcome them. Rama, the rightful heir was back and he would ascend to the throne of Ayodhya. The people celebrated this on the night of the new moon of Ashwini.
All was well till one day; a spy witnessed the following:
A washer-man, in anger, kicked his wife who had stayed at another man’s house. ‘Begone woman, I cast you out. Go to the house where you spent your day. I renounce you. You no longer remain pious. You are soiled.’
His wife begged him to reconsider.
The incensed washer-man retorted, ‘I am not as great as Lord Rama. I will not accept a wife who stayed in another man’s house. Whatever the maryada purushottam* does might be lawful; but, for me, you are a fallen woman.’
Riled, the spy conveyed the conversation to Lord Rama. The news saddened Rama, forcing him to question the honourable path of righteousness that he had sworn to follow. Bharata, his brother, offered counsel reminding him that Devi Sita had been ordained as pure by Lord Brahma. But, alas! His words fell on deaf ears. To prove her chastity, Sita willingly underwent an ordeal – a trial by fire.
Engulfed by the flames that burned around the lotus blossom platform on which she stood, the chest she held in her hands, burned to ashes. Devi Sita emerged unscathed.
The videos of Maithili’s memories were leaked. They spread like wildfire on Flipbook. While a renowned journalist wanted to discuss the consequences of this on Primetime, another asserted that the Nation wanted to know the culprit behind the leak. However, neither Cybercrime nor Sensorylink could trace the source. Rishi filed a false complaint that his device had been misplaced by Sensorylink staff and requested a replacement. Greed is the root of evil, is it not?
Rajendra Bedi, India’s Prime Minister was on his way back to Delhi after performing the first puja at the newly constructed Ram Mandir in Ayodhya – his dream. He was aghast at the leak. Elections were due. He was running for the unprecedented fourth term.
A week back, his wife, Maithili had gone for the launch of Mbaggage. He had received the launch pass and complimentary product for the event. But, intuitively he had known that she needed it more. So, he had gifted it to her, urging her to attend in his stead.
His mother’s death had robbed him of a shoulder to cry on. His native home was the one place where he was just Rajendra and not PM Rajendra Bedi. The death had brought them, him and his wife closer. Their calls had become more frequent. The channel of communication that had opened, had strengthened the bond. He had promised her that this product would wash away all the pain of the sins he had committed by abandoning her.
A day later, Party Office
‘Sir, you should see this!’ said Party Vice-President, Aakriti Irani pointing at her iPad.
Rajendra looked at the screen where a news channel was streaming a live video of a mob burning his effigies. When the cameraman approached a vile young man, who had a torch in his hand, he screamed, ‘How can a man take care of a country when he can’t take care of his own wife?’
Rajendra’s wizened face paled. The question sneaked up on him, assaulting him with its demand for an answer. He requested Aakriti to leave his office. He wanted a moment of peace. The grief of a tampered legacy surged with every expelled breath, always reaching higher peaks, never sufficiently soothed by his long intakes of the damp spring air. It was the moment of truth for him. He had to make a definitive choice. He had been a good son, was a model citizen, and a great leader. He thought that was enough. It wasn’t.
A few days passed but the heat never abated. While some wanted his resignation, others wanted his life, baying for blood. His close aides banded around him, like a protective wall. A new sect was forming in the party which wanted Aakriti Irani to take up the position and lead India. She didn’t want to. How could she ever replace her mentor?
After proving her chastity in the Agnipariksha, Sita offered herself to Mother Earth, her originator and her creator. Lord Rama wept in impotent helplessness.
‘O Lord Ramachandra, I am neither impure nor unchaste. Pray, tell me, what sin was it of mine that led me to be put to this fiery trial?’
Lord Rama could not answer.
‘Devi Sita, my birth in this life was to be a Maryada Purusha. As a Kshatriya*, my duty is to lead my subjects on a path of righteousness. If my subjects doubt me, tell me, would I not be a failure as a leader?’
‘My Lord, today, your subject questioned my chastity; tomorrow, someone else may question something else. At what point will you stop?’
Lord Rama was silent. The tears spilling from his eyes spoke more than he could.
Just then, the Earth cleaved and a chasm opened up. Devi Sita walked into it, returning to the same bosom from whence she had been birthed.
Rajendra couldn’t overcome his grief. He had always aspired to be the perfect, moralistic man. He wasn’t. He knew it was time to step down. Great leaders had mushroomed under him. It is their time, he thought. His disturbed past would forever haunt him. But, at least now, he knew what to do.
Aakriti Irani was named the PM candidate for the upcoming general elections. The public supported her. Rajendra resigned from the various party posts.
Thousands of kilometres from the Party headquarters, Maithili was resting her head on the windowpane in her home. She blamed herself for all the hullabaloo over the viral videos and posts. It’s due to me that Rajendra had to go through all the trauma, she agonized. Her tears, tethered to her anguish, poured unchecked from her eyes till she sank to the ground, sobbing.
An hour later, a series of familiar knocks stirred her supine form. She got up and opened the door. It was him. Her Rajendra.
‘Maithili, I am back. For good,’ he said.
Her eyes welled up again. A sole tear streaked a path down from her warm, tourmaline eyes. Others followed, until soon, a steady stream of briny emotions flowed their way down her pale cheek. She sagged against Rajendra’s chest moistening his clothes with the release of her pent-up sorrow. Today was the catharsis she had sought for a lifetime, but been denied.
‘Maithili, I am your culprit. I feel guilty that I abandoned you. I was only trying to escape my grief. I was in denial. And, because of that, I made you deny your own grief. Forgive me, Maithili. I am sorry.’
Rajendra led Maithili to the couch. Seating her, he opened his bag and pulled out two similar-looking attaché cases.
‘This is my Mbaggage,’ he said. ‘I also got your back-up Mbaggage from Sensorylink.’
He stowed both the Mbaggages, placing them on top of an old, dusty almirah…out of prying eyes.
‘Let’s start afresh, please…,’ he pleaded. Maithili nodded.
Isn’t this the way of everything? Of all the chaos, the feeling of completeness, the sunshine… and everything else with a sprinkle of destiny.
Rishi was in his office chuckling at how a baggage exchange had changed the course of the world’s biggest democracy. He knew that he had a hand in it. He had made the most of the exchange, hadn’t he?
A text message chimed on his mobile. It was from an unknown number.
‘Deal done. Amount credited.’
He knew what it meant. He grinned.
After all, greed is a motivation to err, is it not?
Apsaras – Celestial maidens/nymphs
Vriksha – Tree
Rakshasi – Demonic lady
Parvata – Mountain
Maryada purushottam – The man who is supreme in honour, a reference to Lord Rama
Kshatriya – The second varna/caste in the Hindu social hierarchy
Team: Chekhov Guns
Prompt: The MC comes home from the airport to realize that they picked up the wrong baggage. What follows this incident?
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