The scene was rather bizarre.
It was evening, the hour of peace. Under an ancient banyan tree sat the Sage. He was the village elder and often discoursed on various subjects. That day too he was reading homilies while his disciples gazed in awe upon his hirsute visage accepting every word that fell from his lips. Just outside the circle of ardent admirers lay the corpse of a young man – an arrow was deeply embedded in his chest, his features were frozen over an expression of pain and dismay.
“We should always assert our importance, but live in amity with those who recognize our worth,” the old Sage was expounding. Just then a latecomer stumbled over the corpse. He picked himself up hurriedly and exclaimed over the familiar blue-grey feathers at the tail-end of the arrow.
“Why Sage you killed the man! That is your arrow.” The Sage was an ace archer. Every morning he practised shooting and sharpened the tips of his arrows. He had a considerable arsenal and the neighbouring villages were wary of his cunning and prowess.
“He is a stranger. He shouldn’t have come here without permission. His audacity couldn’t go unpunished,” the Sage replied nonchalantly. And all the devotees nodded their heads in agreement, pointedly averting their faces from the inert figure sprawled behind them.
“But, but, Sage, did he harm you?”
“We can’t take chances,” the Sage’s voice had risen a notch. “Remember last year how an intruder stole into our village at night. He entered my back-yard and even kicked my dog. Evidently he had come to harm me, your leader.”
“But that man was a common crook and he escaped,” the latecomer interposed.
“Isn’t that reason enough for any intruder to die! We can’t have such comings and goings. It jeopardizes our security,” the Sage answered peremptorily. The people around him huddled together in fear of his growing anger. But the latecomer was unaffected by the Sage’s angry rhetoric and he carried on in a whining and complaining tone.
“And now there will be reprisals and counter-attacks. Our villagers too will be endangered.” The latecomer sounded worried for he was thinking of his two brothers who had gone to sell their merchandise in one of the neighbouring villages.
“Tut-tut. Every village knows it is wrong to harm one of us. Our village is bigger, our land more fertile, the people healthier and cleverer. Woe to the hand that even dares to pluck a fruit off one of our trees!” the Sage’s voice seemed to challenge the whole world. And the disciples bowed their heads before the sublime logic of the Sage. There was a moment of profound silence for the newcomer was mulling over the incident and the Sage’s words.
“But Master, only your dog was hurt and even that slightly. And just for that an innocent man died,” the man sounded aggrieved and ready to burst into tears.
“How can you say he was innocent? Is there any proof?” the Sage shouted, beside himself with anger. “He was trespassing. And remember kicking my dog is akin to kicking me. It’s no minor offence,” he concluded pompously.
“And kissing him is akin to kissing you, I guess,’ the latecomer said quietly. Someone actually tittered and this incensed the Sage even more.
“You’re a fool! Making all this fuss over an enemy’s life! His death means one enemy less. The previous intruder escaped and I had to kill this one to teach a lesson to all the neighbouring villages. No one can take me and my village for granted.” The Sage’s voice was cold and unfriendly.
“But our people too might be killed for merely trespassing on others’ lands.”
“Woe to the hand that harms me and my people. Wherever we go we carry our aura of superiority with us and what we do to others, others can’t do to us,” the Sage said sententiously. And the very ambience seemed cowed down by the declaration.
The latecomer held his peace for some time, sighing long and deeply the while. The Sage was happy to resume his discourse. The former sat with his head bowed trying to unravel the complexities of the Sage’s arguments.
“I get you,” suddenly the latecomer blurted out, “all villages on the other side of the river are inhabited by our enemies. We are superior so other villages should respect us and woe to them if they tread on our toes. We of course have the privilege of harassing our inferiors.” The tone was innocuous enough but heavily laced with sarcasm which the Sage in his sagacity chose to ignore.
“Correct,’ he replied coolly, frowning at the recalcitrant man. But the latter had picked up a dirty cloth bag lying at the dead man’s feet. He emptied it out and, plop, a fish fell out – as dead and stiff as the angler.
“He was only a poor fisherman who had come to try his luck on this side of the river and, Sage, you killed him!” The old man squirmed at the accusation which hung like a curse in the air and made every leaf of the banyan quiver in shame.
“He was from the other village and deserved to die,” the Sage said in a terrible voice; he got up in a huff and left. His retinue followed tamely behind him. The latecomer didn’t see them leaving for he was kneeling beside the dead man and thinking of his wife and children waiting for his return and hoping he’d bring a fish for dinner that night.
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