The Conferring

The Banyan tree was believed to be several hundred years old and was the largest the king had ever seen in all his conquests. With its ever expanding branches, it spread over a vast area of the Temple’s premises. Many believed that it had magical powers, and that it could make one’s wishes come true. Another popular belief was that this was a tree of wisdom. It was said that hundreds of years ago, a great saint had attained salvation under this tree. Every now and then, one could see an old man narrating tales of heroics and wisdom to a spell-bound audience here.

By sheer miracle or fate or some unexplainable reason, the fire that had swept through the temple left this great tree unscathed. It was some solace that at least the city’s oldest known landmark had survived.

This tree which offered respite to humans, animals and birds alike on hot summer days and wet rainy days was now offering shelter to the man who had destroyed everything around it.  Impressed by the grandeur of this great tree and the cool breeze it offered, the king had ordered his men to build the tent under it.

“The king wants to see you!” one of the guards barked at the now fully conscious Satyajit, as two of them grabbed him by his arms.

“You too!” he pointed to Khadira.

“Me? Why?”

“Never question the king’s orders, lady!” he snapped as he escorted her as well.

Satyajit and Khadira were led to the king’s new make-shift chambers. The area around the banyan tree had been radically transformed. Several majestic Arabian horses were basking under the tree. A man was meticulously dusting a huge golden chariot. The sick and the dead were all gone as if nothing had happened.

As she was trying to come to terms with her sorrow, anger, hatred and even a tinge of admiration at all the extravaganza, she noticed that Satyajit’s face remained calm, devoid of any emotions. “How could he remain calm in the midst of all this carnage?” She thought. “After all, this was his Temple!”

The huge red tent was a sight to behold. Khadira wondered how they could set up something so grand and so beautiful within hours. As they entered the tent, she felt that they had stepped inside a palace. The burning of aromatic oil and incense sticks and the vast array of lavender, roses and lilies eliminated the stench of blood and death that surrounded the area not too long ago. Richly decorated carpets covered the ground, and seats were laid, covered with silk cushions.

At the centre of it all was a tall throne, and there he was – the man responsible for all this savagery. Tall, muscular and with an intimidating presence and an enormous sword under a scabbard by his side, he stared at Satyajit and Khadira as they were brought in.

Khadira couldn’t help noticing the stark contrast between the king and this temple keeper. The death of his parents had transformed Satyajit from a mischievous young boy to a noble saint. The death of his son had transformed the noble king to a ruthless, cold blooded tyrant.

“Never look at the king in his eyes” she had been warned. “Always remember to keep your head bowed”.

Too late. Unlike many women she knew, Khadira was neither used to bowing her head nor taking orders from anyone. She kept her eyes fixed on the king and noticed the king staring back at her. At any other time, the king would have taken strong exception to this. That he was in some kind of pain didn’t escape her keen sense of observation. “Didn’t he too lose his son in a fire?” she thought.

The End

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