I feel a little unsettled and anxious, Anju, Hari’s father Narender Hegde spoke to Anju on the phone. He sounded worried. “Hari did not return my call or reply to my message; do you think I should come to Madras and meet him?"
“Pa, he is fine. I spoke to him just last week. He must have been busy in some class or assignments. Don’t worry about him; we should give him some space. He is a big boy now," Anju reasoned calmly.
A lightning bolt came arcing over the tops of the trees and struck close to him. The blue streak of light revealed his face in a flash.
“Sorry Anju, but lately I have been feeling that something inauspicious is going to happen," and he became emotional. “I am worried."
“Pa, I am there na? Please control yourself. I will go and visit him tomorrow okay? His birthday is just a couple of weeks away. Let us all go to your favourite Udipi Krishna Temple," Anju consoled him.
The clock chimed a perfect ten and Mrs. Narender placed a glass of warm milk on the side table near his bed. She touched his shoulder and both exchanged affectionate glances. Narender was reading the book, “The Teyyam Kettu of Northern Kerala". He had been fascinated by the art form, since his search for Haridas, the Theyyam dancer, during his travel to Kerala earlier this year.
‘Theyyam’ derived from the word ‘Deivam’ or ‘God’ is a popular ritual in the North Malabar regions of Kerala. It is a confluence of art, music, dance, worship and story-telling by dancers who narrated stories of local legends and from Hindu mythology.
Mrs. Narender gently removed his reading glasses and placed it along with the book on the side table. Narender was fast asleep, so she switched off the reading light next to him. The night was cold and windy than normal and her sleep was disturbed by a distant flickering tube light.
A lightning bolt came arcing over the tops of the trees and struck close to him. The blue streak of light revealed his face in a flash. His reddish eyes were horrifically wide open and reflected the lightning. Deafening thunder struck like a bolt from hell. Narender stood shell shocked amongst a silent crowd. The night was pitch dark and all he could hear were the noisy frogs and crickets fighting for sound space along with the steady drumming of the rain.
“Is it a human being or a beast?" Narender wondered.
Balls of fire rained all over and vapourised everything in its path. A patch of dry grass caught fire and its flames burned red-hot right up towards the sky. His face was now visible. He was staring angrily at the consuming fire. The face was painted orangish red with intricate blue lines and yellow geometric shapes. The most prominent feature in the face were the silvery white long pointed canine teeth that curvedly protruded outside his lips and tapered to a sharp end point.
He drew a circular pattern with a long shaft around the burning fire starting exactly at the same spot where the lightening had hit the ground. Leaves and muck swirled at the touch of the shaft, spiraling upwards like agitated locusts.
He stepped into the circular pattern, stared briefly at the raging fire and chanted something that was inaudible.
The silence was broken suddenly by his thunderous roar, “the long armed, mettlesome, bull-eyed, fearless and wrathful, he is all muscle, yet marked with all good lines, unassailable, with the shoulders of a bull and the wide mouth of a snake, a great archer with the pride of a lion and the power of a mad elephant, the voice of a thundercloud and a kettledrum, the face of the full moon, the match only to the King of Gods in bravery, might, beauty and shape."
Narender and the rest of the crowd watched in awe and horror while he narrated the story, in a high pitched and nasal voice, dancing at the same time.
“Hari’s eyes glowed red."
“Did he say Hari? He couldn’t have said my son’s name? How does he know my son?" Narender was consumed by paranoia.
“And in that deep orangish glow, a golden light flickered, like tiny shimmering stars suspended in a fiery hot substance. Hari stood patient with his eagle eyes concentrating on the frontline attack force that protected the chakra. The frontline was a complex hybrid of midgets and dogs with their hind-legs longer than the frontal ones. Hari noticed that their open mouths were chattering and it seemed that they were responding to commands from the secure inner column".
Hari! My son, my child, my life, I am there for you. I am coming. Nothing will happen to you. Please…please someone help!
“Hari charged towards the frontline while loosening arrows at the speed of light with stubborn relentlessness. He lost count of how many beasts he had downed. He had already breached the first cordon of the chakra’s frontline attack. The beasts fell dead screaming in a voice that was neither a wolf’s howl nor a man’s cry."
“He could sense the nervousness in the way the beasts charged towards him, compared to the others who had attacked just a while ago. A large eyed hyena with a falcon body and wings, approached him slowly, which gave him the much needed time to see his father and sister waiting behind for him to break the frontline, so that they could follow him in the mortal combat. He ducked, as it flew over his left shoulder and used his sword to chop the head of the beast mercilessly."
“Much to the horrific bewilderment of his father and sister, Hari tore out the demons’ throats, and ripped open their hybrid faces, shattered beaks and cracked open skulls. A blood fest was raging and his only passage to survival was to match the violence with equal or more brutality."
“Hari wreaked havoc like a siege machine, but he was slowly being cornered southwards by the ever increasing devilish supply of meaner and vulgarly shaped beasts. A menacing cobra with wings of a bat swooped northwards towards his father and sister. The phalanges from his hind legs protruded a foot in length, with sharp nails that could tear open a bull in a matter of seconds. The beast moved closer to them and attacked them straightaway. The cobra face spat dangerous venom on the warriors at breath taking speed, that they were forced to retreat. The monster flew directly over his sister to tear apart her back with its menacing hind legs. His sister ducked, just in time, but rendered her vulnerable and powerless to the onslaught of missiles from the chakra frontline. His father was surprised at the aggression and capability of the beast. Its cobra head, man’s body, bat wings and legs were behaving asynchronous and synchronous simultaneously. They operated and attacked both of them at the same time. Surprisingly, it seemed that it was not aiming to kill them. It was making them retreat while the chakra was closing behind Hari. His father roared impotently for not being able to defend Hari."
“Hari did not wait longer for his father and sister to cover him. He was a warrior and had to learn and adapt to changing situations. The chakra was closing in fast and there was no shortage of beasts. As sooner as they fell; more sprang to life in devilish designs. Hari felt as if the lid of Hell had been opened just to face him."
A dangerous eerie blue covered the sky and the wind picked up speed, taking the foliage from the floor and swirling it like a coracle caught in a twister. The story telling dancer jumped and circled the raging inferno while vultures and other scavengers circled above, signaling catastrophic consequences. His orangish red painted body glowed in the brightness of the fire.
The dancing story teller continued, “A large monster with the head of a rhinoceros tore its way through the debris, thrusting its long sword-like horn, surprising Hari, as it clamped its jaws on his back. A searing pain raked his back and he realised that it was no ordinary beast. He felt blood oozing from the cuts and flowing thickly down his side. Hari struggled to free himself and he wrestled furiously with the rhino beast, but then another beast shaped like a boar attacked him with a hungry wrath and broke his hip. He felt that he was being ambushed by larger beasts and was closing in thicker, harder and closer. Even the smallest lapse in his defense would bring him down with a slash of razor-sharp claw, or the plunging point of a tail dripping with venom."
“A coyote beast clenched its jaws together in a bone-crunching vice, shattering his left arm and severing his hand. Hari’s sword fell from his broken hand, blood spurting from the severed arteries on to his face, blinding him."
“Appa….!" Hari screamed.
“God! These beasts will destroy my son. Please save him," Narender pleaded.
“God, save my son. Are you deaf? Oh dear lord, isn’t there anyone with a heart? He is crying in pain. Please help! Someone! Anyone?"
The dancer’s eyes were blood red now. He swiveled to the rhythm of the loud thunders. He continued, “the next instant, the beasts were on Hari, biting, clawing, slashing, tearing. He felt something cold and sharp eat through his back, cracking his ribs and piercing its edges into his lungs. Blood spurted out of his mouth and a hammer shaped head of another creature smashed into the right side of his head, cracking his skull open. They devoured him, each beast attacking its own favourite body part, from behind, sides and front, biting and tearing skin, flesh and bones. They bit and swallowed his organs with their menacing claws and teeth.
“Appa…!" Hari cried his last breath.
“Hari! My son, my child, my life, I am there for you. I am coming. Nothing will happen to you. Please…please someone help! This can’t happen to my son. I would not allow this to happen. Please take me. Please spare him."
Narender Hedge woke up from his sleep terrorised. He was still shaking and sweating profusely. In a quick motion he jumped out of the bed and called out for Hari.
Mrs. Hegde woke up to his shouts and hurried to pacify him.
Where is he? Hari!"
“Why are you not answering? Is he ok? He is alive, right? He is! No one can take him, away from me." Tears flowed down his cheeks.