There was a war that left the living dead and the dead immortal. And it affected the village, its soul died a sacrificial death. No one in the village witnessed the war they were in, they never saw the battlefront, never heard the war cry, never smelt the metallic emanate of the blood spilt. They were so far away that the news from the battlefront took days to reach them, yet it affected the village, its soul died.
The village always had someone trying to rival the classical poets, someone to question the taxes, and all sorts of crazy people. They sang in the fields and danced at the bonfire. Art was on every pretext. But after the war, no new songs were sung, and there were no dances. Leisure and recreation were looked down as sins. Any form of entertainment was regarded as a perversion. They counted their life as a vain remnant of a great sacrifice.
The only eatery in the village was situated next to the temple and was run by the high priest. In place of a variety of delicacies prepared, now it only served millet gruel, which the workers took before they set off to work. For even the gods forgot the flavours of their glorious past and settled down to millet gruel.
The high priest was also the head chef who worshipped the Art of Cooking more than anything, and his most prized possession was a sweet delicacy he learned from the royal chefs. He prepared the sweet every day and placed it on the counter but the sweet lay there alone, untouched and wasted. The head chef was not discouraged because he knew that his food would someday earn its rightful place in people’s hearts.
A lone visitor came to the village one morning. He walked erect carrying a spear, there were scars on his face and chest. A coloured thread on his wrist confirmed that he was a warrior. The warrior walked the temple street and stood in front of the temple, joined his hands, raised them over his head, looking at the sky-high temple tower he mumbled his prayers. But he didn’t enter the temple, rather turned to the eatery and enquired about the high priest.
The warrior had wandered across the country in search of a divine delicacy he tasted on the eve of the Great War, served by the general who died in the war but won. In the capital city, he learned that none of the royal chefs who knew the recipe survived the war. Fortunately, a servant remembered an enthusiastic priest who took the recipe home.
The high priest jumped out of his bed and ran to greet his visitor, he held his hand and asked him to sit on his porch. He served the divine delicacy to the warrior with much devout like an offering to the gods he worshipped. He sat side by, waving a hand fan.
The warrior sat and stared at the delicacy served on a copper plate by the kind priest. He didn’t know if the sweet looked the same or completely different from his memory. A moment of trepidation took over him, the war spared nothing but his life, he filled his worthless days with the purpose of finding the delicacy, he wondered if it was all just another pointless thing he did in life. First, a faint smell of the sweet embraced him. He leaned forward for more. He greedily grabbed a generous portion of the sweet and put it in his mouth. From the first contact between the sweet dust and saliva covering his tongue to the point of the decimation of the last bit of the food, the wholeness of the sweet transcended him, transporting him to oblivion. It was indeed food worth dying for and also living for. He slowed down to enjoy his remaining servings, prolonging the process, unwilling to end the magical experience of the delicacy. It ended inevitably and he cherished the taste, forever.
After finishing the treat the warrior opened his eyes to see the people gathered around him, paused in the middle of their activities, watching him. He realized the show he made of himself, embarrassed, he got up and asked the high priest for the money he owed.
The high priest at an age beyond his expectations was in a trance after vicariously sharing the divine experience with the warrior. With misty eyes, he thanked the warrior and dismissed the money matters. The warrior’s pursuit ended and he stood indecisively contemplating his next journey. The high priest asked him to lodge at the eatery. The warrior obliged.
The next morning was a surprise for the warrior as he saw the street flocked with people and there was commotion all around. When he walked into the crowd, the high priest was arguing with impatient customers, they were stalled for some reason. The priest ignored the crowd once he saw the warrior and invited him over to offer him the freshly prepared sweet. The crowd went silent once the warrior sat down with the sweet. All eyes were on him as he started indulging and the physical world around him began to disappear. Even after he finished eating the sweet the villagers were still looking at him as if they were mesmerized. The indignant crowd broke in for the sale of the divine sweet. For the first time since its inception, there were no leftovers. And the custom was followed every day, the custom of serving the sweet dish first to the warrior.
The divine delicacy not just reinstated the sense of taste in the village. People once again began to appreciate their senses. There were new songs and dance forms. Recreation began to gain traction. And they all started doing things that didn’t make sense in the name of art. The warrior realized that he became the medium to influence society. This awareness instilled a sense of power in him. The glory of the divine delicacy spread to all four corners of the state. People from faraway places came in search of it and also to witness the display of indulgence by the warrior, which has gained a strong audience base, much to the surprise of the warrior himself.
The high priest realized his dream in his living days but still, his heart yearned for more glory and greatness. One morning equipped with a new recipe he went to serve it to the warrior. His hope came crashing down when the warrior dismissed it with just one bite. The high priest was disappointed by the critique, but not discouraged, he went ahead and placed the new dish on the counter. The villagers didn’t accept the dish rejected by the warrior who had become their institute of gastronomic expertise. Day after day of dumping the new dish into the drain the high priest became weary of the recent events in his life. How a stranger exalted and trampled him. He had lost his own game, he thought, the warrior did it to boost his ego and to assert his position. He was betrayed by the serpent he had reared. He went to sleep with such disturbing thoughts and didn’t wake up.
The death of the high priest stirred serious trouble in the village. The man who lived a simple life became a complication after death. The successor of the high priest was a conceited man with a strict notion of genealogical supremacy. He employed his role to showcase the superiority of his caste and to condemn others. There were certain castes of people who were not even allowed to enter the temple but were given free access to the divine delicacy, which troubled him greatly. Commercialization of the divine delicacy meant the commercialization of the almighty himself. He passed a law that forbade the lower caste populace to lay their hands on the sweet.
A man tried to break into the eatery and was caught. He explained that he was not a thief, rather a wretched father of an obstinate child, who went on hunger strike after the denial of the divine delicacy. The man paid dearly for his parenting ideals. He would have survived if he was just branded a thief but unfortunately he was lynched after being identified as a low caste member breaking into the temple eatery.
The warrior was unconcerned with the deaths surrounding the delicacy, all he cared about was when he could eat the next piece of the sweet treat. And he liked his life to be simple like that.
Things started to spiral as fake eateries cropped up around the village and a power struggle ensued within the class of people in control of the temple and hence the eatery and the copyright of the Divine delicacy. In the midst, a rich man died. He had a body full of ailments and the doctor advised him on strict diets, which the rich guy followed until the fateful day, the day he saw the warrior indulging in the divine delicacy. A little bit wouldn’t hurt, he convinced his wife. A few days later he died. Even though there was a lack of proper evidence. Everyone thought he died because of divine delicacy. But the real blame was attributed to the warrior. Suddenly someone questioned his caste, was he even eligible to eat the divine delicacy? The thread just means he fought in the war, and in troubled times caste didn’t matter to fighting wars. He was accused of corrupting the people with gluttony. Slavery to one’s senses was a betrayal of the gods. It was blasphemy. He created a rift in their social order. They also remembered the death of the high priest, he killed the high priest. A secret meeting was held with the proxy of all the important men of the village.
A group confronted the lodging of the warrior intending to restore social order. The warrior, fully aware of the plot, searched for a saved piece of the delicacy. The group knocked on the door shouting obscenities at him. The warrior gleamed with joy as he found a small piece of the sweet. The texture and the aroma was enticing an urge to taste the dish. The group now started breaking the door. The warrior looked at the sweet and turned deaf to the sound of death waiting outside his door. He had always eaten the dish like it was his last meal before death. His reality reeked of irony. The group broke in and saw the warrior lost in a bliss induced by the taste of the divine delicacy.
One thought on “The Curse of Mysore-Pak : Short Story”
Good One yaar… do you knw the author personally…
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