Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Rivals

From Hunger Mountain:

an excerpt from Karna: A Re-Imagining of the Indian Epic The Mahabharata

There is blood all over the battlefield, the broken bodies of warriors and weapons. Spirit shadows rise like mist from the ground, and among the fallen soldiers rides Yama, the god of death, upon his mighty buffalo. Dark as a rain-cloud, with eyes of burning flames, he brandishes a noose and spear in two of his four hands. Newborn babes in Bharat are never given names too early, lest Yama call them to him. And until they are old enough to protest, mothers mar the cheeks of their sons with black spots of kajol, so that the god of death is not tempted by their beauty.

But I cannot be distracted from my goal. Not by the calls of Yama; not by the trickster Krishna, who I know seeks my downfall; not even if Indra, king of the gods, were to charge down on me upon his trumpeting elephant.

I am not afraid, though I have been thrown down from my chariot. Its wheel is stuck in the mud, and even if I were to dislodge it with my great strength, I could not fix its splintered spokes. And so I wait for my enemy Arjun. I wait to kill him, or be killed myself.

Sometimes I think it’s what I was born to do. My only reason for being.

My lips form, over and over again, the holy words of the mantra I will use to kill him. Despite the mystic’s curses, I refuse to forget their magic power. A hundred arrows may fly from his bow toward my armor-covered chest, but I do not need such showmanship. I will send from my bow only one arrow, straight and true. The very sun will burn and fire rain down from the sky.

But I am not the hero of this tale. I am an interloper, even in my own life. This much, the blue-skinned Krishna has shown me. By my very existence, I’ve somehow screwed up the mechanics of the universe, broken the spokes of the wheel of life. Unless Arjun kills me, or so the gods say, the circle cannot turn; life cannot go on in its unending cycle of birth and death.

They know this because it has all happened before. And it will all happen again. They say our lives were already lived out during other ages in other bodies, our joys and sorrows all played out in other times. They say that existence itself is a recurring illusion, veiling us from seeing the truth of the universe.

I don’t know if I believe it.

To read the rest of this excerpt, please visit Hunger Mountain,

To read an essay on writing from Indian myths and folktales (including writing this novel) please visit Hunger Mountain here

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