By Diti Swain
In a land far far away, lived king Shatroop and queen Ranjini with their twin sons. Both of them looked largely similar, with the only difference being in their skin colour. One was dark as the night and was named Shyam, while the other was fair as the day, and was called Shwet. The kingdom rejoiced at the birth of twin sons, the royal couple and the subjects happy in equal measure and more. But, is it possible for happiness to arrive without sadness tagging along?
And as per the custom, the royal astrologer, Vaani was called in to chart the horoscopes of both the princes. He was the 4th generation serving the royal family, with three generations before him having served the last three generations of the current emperor. The family tree of King Shatroop lay safe with him too. The 40 something pandit was in shock. And at loss. Loss of words, courage, and hope, for neither he nor his ancestors seen or predicted what he had witnessed, and was about to reveal.
Swallowing yet another gulp in his throat, he set to calculate again, hoping to arrive at a different conclusion. And this time, he wanted time alone, asking the king and queen to leave along with Shyam and Shwet, who oblivious to the surroundings, were fast asleep.
King Shatroop and Queen Ranjini by then realized that something was very wrong, hoping and praying that whatever it was, could be corrected by poojas, yagnas, and fasts, even if they had to do it forever. An hour passed by. And another. And another. The king paced the lengths of the darbaar while the queen did the same in the bedroom, glancing occasionally at the babies who were now rolling gleefully on the bed. Vaani’s expressions were not allowing the Queen to be in the present, for the thought of what the astrologer saw in the future made her restless.
Back in the temple sat Vaani, having lost the count of the number of times he had made the calculations. Nothing more to do now, he slowly made his way to the darbaar, knowing well that he was being waited on. And with no other way out (keeping the facts hidden was never one), his mind tried to think of ways to cushion the news that he was about to break, even though that seemed futile.
So, said the king…”You took unusually long this time. Didn’t you”?
Vaani cleared his throat, while Shatroop and Ranjini waited, their patience wearing thin. “Yes your highness, for I wanted to be totally sure of what I was charting, he said.Without looking up, he continued “I have bad news Your Highness. Both the babies will grow up to be the reason for the destruction of your lineage! In the 18th year of their lives, there will be a great war where brothers will be up in arms against each other, and that will see the end of your lineage forever! Blood will flow like water, and water will turn blood-red”.
The king and the queen listened in horror, not wanting to believe a word of what they had heard. “You know what you are saying pandit”? The king thundered in anger. His voice boomed across the great hall, echo making it sound like a hundred. The queen had sunk to the nearest seat, not sure if she was unable to withstand her own weight or that of the prediction.
Vaani remained composed. The reaction was not unanticipated. “I am not saying this Your Highness, but the stars and planets are. And they never lie”. His voice was calm, but firm. The king, as shocked and angry that he was, realized that Vaani was talking sense. He was only conveying what the stars had spoken. Punishing him would change the destinies of neither. The father in him overpowered the king. He sunk to the ground, tears flowing through his eyes like blood oozing out of a fresh wound. Seeing his king and queen so vulnerable, Vaani felt helpless. What was he supposed to do? Stay? Leave?
Just when he decided to do the latter, Ranjini signaled him to stop. Standing up on her feet, she wiped her tears and asked – “Is there any way to avoid the destruction? Or minimize it”? “I knew you would ask this, your highness. There is no way to avoid the destruction, but we can think of minimizing it. You will have to do away with one of your sons. Kill him, or send him far away. So far, that these two never ever meet, or even get to know of each other’s existence”. “Is this the only way out”? The Queen asked. “I am afraid yes”, Vaani answered.
And that’s how the 40 something astrologer turned into a father overnight, taking Shyam away for good, never to be seen in the kingdom again. With time, things began to get normal. No one ever mentioned the gone prince. All proofs of his existence were done away with, making Shwet believe in him being the only child ever. Even if he experienced a gnawing feeling of emptiness which he could never explain.
Meanwhile, Shyam too was growing up with Vaani. Father son got along famously on most accounts except one. Shyam wanted to learn warfare, while Vaani wanted him to focus on scriptures. More than that, Vaani wanted Shyam to to give up his fascination and aspirations for weapons and wars, since that was the exact fear which had changed the destiny of a kingdom forever.
Years passed. Shwet learnt royal duties inclusive of warfare and became one of the fiercest fighters ever. And unknown to his father, Shyam too heeded to the call of the blood and learnt warfare in secrecy. With time, he came to possess celestial weapons, capable of being ushered with powerful mantras, ones that were unknown to his father as well.
More time passed. Both the princes turned 16. The king and the queen got their “only” son married to a princess, and he eventually succeeded the throne. The new queen was trained well in warfare, and was an even better strategist. As if following suit, Vaani too got Shyam married off to the his childhood friend’s daughter.
With so much time passing, the now old royal couple and Pundit Vaani had forgotten about the prophecy and looked forward to spending the last phase of their lives in peace. That is what they had thought of, unaware of the fact that destiny had a different game plan. A massive drought shook the kingdom. Rains refused to touch it altogether. Trees withered, and agriculture produce turned to nil. Royal treasury was getting emptied faster than water through a sieve. Nothing seemed to be working. With a solution becoming inevitable, a yajna to pacify Indra was planned, that being the last resort.
And thus began, the biggest ever yajna that the kingdom had ever seen. 100 priests chanted mantras day and night, and the holy pyre was guarded and lit perennially. Efforts bore results, and Indra appeared from the Holy fire at the 64th day.
“I am pleased by your devotion king. Tell me, what do you want”? Indra asked.
“O Lord, my kingdom has been facing severe drought since months now. Request you to have it done with, and fill every river, pond, well, and field with water”. Prince Shwet could not think of anything else to ask for in the hours of calamity.
“O king, while I can do that, I also need to tell you that the drought is the consequence of the action of your own parents. When you refuse to accept the gift of nature, nature too refuses to bless you anymore with its gifts. . Your parents did away with your twin brother, the result of which is the drought. And the only way things will get normal is when he gets his rightful place and position. Do this, and your kingdom will be blessed with rains again”. Having said this, Indra disappeared.
The piece of information hit Shwet like a bolt of lightening. His parents finally revealed the truth, unable to keep the secret locked in their hearts anymore. However, the night was to turn more fateful. A fate that would seal the destinies of both the princes unimaginably.
Meanwhile, Vaani was no longer alive, leaving Shyam with no reason to suppress his political ambitions. He had given in to them, secretly training an army of his own. Driven by his ambitions, Shyam had already overpowered the kingdom he had grew up in, and had plans to annex the entire country subsequently. By force, or by kinship. He planned to attack Shwet, eyeing his kingdom, not knowing that Shwet’s kingdom was his own too. And in the dead of the night thus, Shyam carried out his plans, not knowing that he was being searched, only to be reinstated as a rightful prince.
Shwet fought fiercely too, oblivious to the fact that he was fighting with the very brother he was looking for. A great battle ensured, with both the sides losing lives, blood, and hope alike. What only seemed like never ending had actually turned so. Brothers turned blood thirsty, leaving no reason for the lineage to continue.
Along with the lightening of the gleaming swords, a massive one cut the sky in two. Lord Vishnu appeared, and said – “You both are brothers. And as destined, you both are responsible for the destruction of your and so many other families. Deaths that are gory, painful, and untimely. I curse you both. I curse that you will continue to be at the opposite ends, and continue to fight each other forever. No lives would be lost, but you will never be at peace. Fighting through the day, and putting up with each other in the same place for the night”.
Cursing Shwet and Shyam, Vishnu disappeared. And in a matter of minutes, both the brothers with their spouses and remaining armies turned into black and white pieces of chess. Their kingdom became the chessboard, and that’s is how the game of chess came into being. The black and the white pieces are Shyam and Shwet, with their armies who eternally fight during the day, and go back into the same box in the night. Legend says, that they are still waiting to be relieved off the curse. Meanwhile, it’s been 1500 years and still counting. The game is called Shatranj, sealing the consequences of the actions of King Shatroop and Queen Ranjini forever…
This is an entry for the Kunzum Short Story Contest ending July 15, 2021. Read the next story here.