Sha No Varuna
Pune, 27 July, 2005
I have known that tree since it was a little sapling. It was a banyan – the king of trees – and it grew from a little fig cast upon my shores one day. It is a long time since, I’ve forgotten when. At first it was an innocuous little plant. Many years went by, and it became a big shrub, several feet high. That is when it started irritating me.
It blocked my view of the city. The city grew up slowly, almost along with the tree. It was a little village at first, located on a tiny island. I, Sagara, looked upon it as my child. It was inhabited by humble folk, who set out at the high tide every day to fish in my deep waters. Before they climbed into their boats, they poured out their heart to me, begging of me to be kind to me with the three words that please me most – Sha No Varuna! – Be kind, O Varuna. Tremulously they steered their craft and cast their nets, hoping and praying that I would give them many fish and no woes. They were a happy, contented lot – they took what I gave them, and were silent when I took from them what was my due.
Strange men from other shores landed here. They were not afraid of my might, even though they lost many of their kin to my currents. They knew the winds like no one else, and reached far and wide across the Earth. They came to be masters of these shores. They had one God, and He was not I. I was angry. I sent a storm to torment a shipload of these men, but their God intervened. Their fervent prayer brought them in safety to this shore, which they called kindly the Good Bay. And from the time they landed here, the village was never the same again.
A great city grew in its place. And that was when the tree first came into my notice, for it obstructed the grandest of the new humans’ constructions. I liked to see the setting sun’s rays reflected on it’s great dome every evening. I sent out little waves at first, to loosen the soil around its roots. It held firm. I sent out bigger waves. The little fishermen were frightened – they knew I was angry. But not the ‘cityfolk’. They just said the sea was a bit rough. But the tree stood rooted as ever.
I resigned myself to this little tree that spoiled the view, and turned my attention to other shores and other sights. But after a long time I yearned to see my beloved island again. It had grown beyond the little island I allowed it. These men, these strange fearless men, had put rocks and sand between two of my little islands to make a bigger one. They had dared to take what I had never given. I respected their courage, and let them be. I looked for the dome instead. The little shrub had become a tree now, and spread a little canopy. It blocked the dome, and I could see the sunset’s glow no longer. I raged. I sent out a storm. My waves lashed against the tree. Clouds poured out over it. The cityfolk ran amok, piteously screaming for shelter. But the tree held its ground.
My ire was now no longer appeased. My shores were quiet no longer. The poor fisherfolk trembled. Offerings of every kind were poured to me. Their livelihoods suffered, their children starved. They pleaded for mercy – ‘Sha No Varuna, Sha No Varuna’. They knew my anger, but knew not what caused it. They thought it was the greed of the city, but I cared not for it.
Undeterred, the city continued to crave. The little archipelago disappeared, replaced by a monolith of a landmass, over which many tall things sprouted. Made of stone and mortar, these were immune to the monsoon. They stood firm, even as the fishermen’s huts collapsed in the voluminous rain. These things were hungry for land, as they multiplied. Tetrapods were thrown on the rocky shores, big walls were built to keep out the brine. The people of this new era knew my whims, and knew how to tackle them.
Their antics protected the tree. It had become a giant now, and had begun to plant new trunks like its ilk. It became a centre for worship, and I was forgotten slowly. No more were the humans supplicating me, no more did I enjoy the taste of coconuts and flowers. No more the mixture of reverence and fear – all that went to the tree, that became greater and greater. My waters, more turbulent than ever, raged and dashed against the walls that protected it. I summoned my energies, and unleashed another storm on the city. My surf rose several yards into the air, and crashed on the walls of the city. Winds ripped through the city, blowing away roofs and rendering the poor homeless. Several trees, big and small, met an untimely death and decayed in the damp air. The rains flooded the streets, washing away all int their midst. But the banyan, it remained firm.
For years it remained there, defiant to my threats. It collected the people even more now, who revered it as a protector from my ravages. For years I seethed furiously, capsizing boats, drowning swimmers, sapping the foundations of stone buildings. I became as feared as I was earlier. ‘Sha No Varuna’ the humans cried again. Be calm, O Sea! O Sagara, why do you rage so? But I was not satisfied.
Another monsoon came, and my pent up rage finally found vent. The rain poured for days. The city was flooded and hundreds drowned – humans, dogs, cows. Huts were washed away, the winds blew away all that came in their way. Buildings, which I had sapped for years, collapsed crushing all those within them. Metal was twisted and concrete shattered. Thousands of trees fell under the force of my torment, and millions of birds and other creature perished in their nests. I laid the city waste, and let loose fear and disease among the survivors. The unceasing urbs, that had stood there like a defiant middle finger at me, finally surrendered to my might.
And the tree had fallen at last. Its great canopy was broken into countless pieces of rotting foliage strewn over the mud. The many trunks were snapped and broken, they lay like faggots at a funeral. The roots were exposed, and they lay in the sun, white and withering. And its great trunk, that had stood for years an object of proud defiance, lay prostate, in final submission.
I am calm again, and my kindness is upon ye again. Sha No Varuna.
EOF. 1135 words.
[Varuna – Hindu God of the Waters]