Yamraj was happy, it had been a good day, no goof-ups at all, everything went smoothly. He slid off his water buffalo, Paundraka, patted him on his vast, black nose, and handed the reins to the doorman-cum-security-guard, Vaidhyata.
“Good evening Lord Yamraj,” said Vaidhyata, saluting smartly.
Yamraj nodded a hello at him, not breaking his stride, moved towards the elevator. It would take him to his office. He swiped his card, marking his in-time. There, he found Chitragupta, his assistant, squinting at the computer, typing matching staccato beats, and making notes in his massive register.
“Hello, Chitragupta. How are you? Can you please join me in my cabin?” he boomed, startling Chitragupta.
Chitragupta joined him in his inner sanctum, carrying a tray, holding tea and cookies.
“Ah! You are a good man, Chitragupta! That is exactly what I needed right now.”
Yamraj beamed at Chitragupta. It was their daily ritual, after each day of work, they would analyse the day’s soul collection, and Chitragupta would match it against the huge book he maintained.
Chitragupta was rather fastidious and as per Yamraj, a stick in the mud. He religiously wrote in the register he had termed, Agrasandhani, the deeds committed by the humans in their lifetime. These acts acted as the evidence, presided by the judge, jury, and executioner, Yamraj, in whose hands, lay the fate of the departed souls.
“The total count of souls collected tallies –in the computer as well as the Agrasandhani,” Chitragupta said, pushing his glasses over his nose.
Yamraj, in vain, was trying to convince Chitragupta to move completely digital, but he kept resisting, hence they did the number crunching in two places.
“The numbers for this month are excellent, my lord. The list of souls. departing calmly is way higher than those who had to be pulled out, screaming and shouting. If we continue like this, I think you have an excellent chance at winning the ‘Employee of the month’, again!”
Yamraj beamed, stroking his moustache, and why not! His job was to collect souls from the earth, some came willingly, some not so willingly, but they always did come! He had the best track record of soul collection, and he was really happy about it.
“Are we done here? Cool, I’m headed home, see you tomorrow. Try and have some fun, Chitragupta. Your entry in your Agrasandhani will have just one entry – ‘Chitragupta made entries here.’. Ha. Ha. Lighten up, my man.”
He winked at and slapped Chitragupta on his shoulders as he exited his office.
Chitragupta looked at the departing figure of Yamraj, and smiled with affection. He continued to meddle with his book and his precious records.
Despite the finality of his job, Yamraj was a very jovial man. There was a spring in his step as he made his way to the stables, where Paundraka awaited his master, snorting impatiently. Yamraj swung his massive girth over Paundraka with a grunt, and they made their way home, slow and steady. A huge bowl of popcorn and the Indian cricket league match’s opening ceremony awaited his presence at home.
At night, Yamraj went to bed, still pleased with himself. The next day bright-eyed, he reported at work, swiping his card, and was handed the list of souls.
Chitragupta stopped him by keeping a hand on his shoulder
“The boss wants to meet you in her cabin,” he said.
“Why? Did she say anything?”
Yamraj gulped nervously.
Chitragupta gave him a sympathetic look. “No, not a peep. Just a call for the appointment.”
Yamraj was apprehensive, employee assessments weren’t due for another six months, had he goofed up and was unaware of it? Nervously, he made his way to the White Office, showing his ID as he made his way up. His heart practically in his mouth.
The boss was happy to see him.
“Yamraj! Just the man I was thinking about,” she smiled benignly. “In the coming week, we will be receiving some saintly souls, I just wanted to make sure that you give them the royal treatment. They’re special guests of mine. And how’s that bull of yours, Yamraj?”
“Ma’am, he is a water buffalo and he is fine. And yes, I’ll ensure the souls are treated well. I’ll do it personally. Is that all, ma’am?”
“Yes. Oh, can you switch off the lights in the passage on your way out? Got to conserve energy! Have a great day!”
Yamraj sighed with relief, eager to get back to his office, and start work.
It was his day off and an interesting movie was on the telly. He was sprawled over the sofa, alternating between snoozing and watching the movie, when his phone trilled, waking him up. Annoyed, he answered it.
“Yes Chitragupta, what happened?” he asked curtly.
“Hey! How did you know it was me?” said Chitragupta’s voice, surprised.
“Really, Chitragupta? Really? You want to get into that on my one-day off?”
“No, of course not, sir. Sorry, sir. There is a problem, sir. Kalapurush and Mahachanda had gone to collect the souls on earth, today. And um…there is a mismatch in my records. They have not collected one soul –of a man. There is an imbalance in my tally. The equilibrium has been disturbed. That’s why I was forced to call you, sir.”
Yamraj sighed with irritation.
“I will be there in 15 minutes. Get me the coordinates.”
He hung up and with regret switched off the television. He picked up his keys and lanyard. whistled for Paundraka, who, pleased, made his way with his ungracious gait, towards him.
On reaching office, he found Kalapurush and Mahachanda, standing sheepishly, outside his door. He glared at them and entered his office with Chitragupta at his heels.
“Sir, a man, Satyavan, his soul hasn’t been collected. There was some issue with his wife. I am a little hazy about the details. Here are the directions.”
Yamraj, with his noose and stick by his side, stormed out of the room, leaving Kalapurush and Mahachanda quivering in their boots, pondering over their respective futures.
“Who are you?” Savitri asked as soon as Yamraj made his presence known.
“I’m Yamraj. The god of death, the taker of souls. Haven’t you heard of me? Who are you?”
“Ah! Hello Lord Yamraj. I’m Savitri, the man lying in my arms is my husband, Satyavan. Please excuse him as he can’t rise to greet you.”
“Yeah. Whatever. Satyavan’s time on earth is over, he has to check-out, Samruti. I’m here to bind him in my noose and take his soul for its last journey.”
“My name is Savitri, Lord Yamraj. Why are you here?”
“Your devotion and stubbornness has brought me here, on my day off, that too. You should be thankful you’ve got a chance to talk to me,” said Yamraj, haughtily.
“Yes, my lord. A while back, I spoke to, or rather, had an altercation with your assistants. They were quite rude and extremely unhelpful. You must re-train them in customer service etiquette. I demanded that I speak to their manager, is this why you’re here?”
“Barely. Your husband…Satyavan was a nobleman, a good man, and his qualities are what propelled me here –and I’ve come personally to collect his soul. Anyway, enough talking.”
With that said, Yamraj placed the noose around the supine Satyavan’s head and extracted his soul. Satyavan fell back in Savitri’s arms, lifeless. Savitri began to weep but collected herself. She was on a mission, there was no time for emotional outbursts.
“Later,” said Yamraj as he waltzed off, flicking a goodbye wave.
“Wait, wait. Lord Yamraj, I’m coming too.”
Savitri started following him. She had gauged Yamraj and she had a plan to restore the session of life.
Yamraj stopped, turned around.
“You can’t accompany me. It isn’t your time. Go and arrange for this man’s funeral, his body’s turning cold. Living humans can’t go where I’m headed. Your association with your husband has now ended. Scram.”
“Ours was an alliance of love, and such relationships don’t end so easily. Where my husband goes, I’ll go with him.”
And, if my idea bears fruit, there won’t be any funeral, she thought.
Savitri continued to walk with him. Yamraj sighed with exasperation. He knew what would follow next. Soon the woman would appeal to him to spare her husband’s life, if that wouldn’t work, she would start to flatter him. He exhaled loudly, irritated, this wasn’t his first rodeo. But he humoured her. And, he was curious. She seemed smart and had intelligent eyes. He nodded at her.
Savitri seized the opening, however slim. After a short distance, she spoke.
“My mother used to say, ‘If we walk seven steps with someone, we seal our friendship with them, forever.’. Satyavan and I have walked so much more! Our fates are sealed together.”
Yamraj’s stride slowed a little, he was touched by the simplicity of her words.
“Since you and I have walked together for more than seven steps, I consider you as my friend, Lord Yamraj. Of course, if you would accept a humble human like me as a friend. And I would like to thank you for coming in personally. We have lived a very simple yet virtuous life. We have always done good deeds for others and followed the rules. When one’s generous and obeys all regulations, certain exceptions are made for them, don’t you think?”
A smile escaped Yamraj’s lips, he understood Savitri’s subtle hint. His physical presence, however gratuitous, was earned by Satyavan and Savitri –by the force of their sheer piety. He applauded her sly yet innocent proverbial nudge and was pleased with her underlying reasoning. However, he didn’t let go of his guard.
“Savitri, I accept your friendship. And I am happy with your logic. You may not know but I am very partial towards logic and logical humans. You have earned yourself a boon. You can ask me for anything, except your husband’s life, of course”
Guard, check, he thought.
“Lord, my father-in-law is blind, and has grown very old and weak, can you grant him his sight and health back?”
“Granted. Now go back. Your journey ends here. Give your weary feet some rest, it’s a long way back home. Shoo.”
He waved her off.
“Oh as long as I’m walking with my husband, tiredness has nothing over me. And, my husband and I are joined forever. Where you take him, I follow.”
Yamraj’s smile faltered at his exclusion in her tight band of friends. Savitri immediately caught the downward slope of his mouth, smartly, adding.
“Also, the present company is so delightful, I can barely feel the distance. Friendship with a wise and knowledgeable man like you can enhance the mind, and my mind’s truly been elevated by walking these few steps with you, Lord Yamraj. My mother always said, `Try to stay in the enlightened and benevolent company, your mind will thank you later.’”
Yamraj’s smile was restored to its full wattage. He sneaked a look at her, flattered,
“Your mother is a smart lady, and you’re not far behind, Savitri. For that save, ask me for another boon, and I will grant you anything but your husband’s life.”
He was nothing, if not wary.
Savitri grinned at him, shyly.
“Yamrajji, my father-in-law was cheated out of his kingdom, can you return the glory to him?”
“Yes, buddy. Now go back, your feet are swelling up. You are frail and unused to the rigour. I am used to these long walks.”
Savitri, ignoring his advice.
“Would you mind if I confessed something?”
“No. Please proceed.”
Savitri dug deep into her memory, snatching the following pearls from its ridges.
“Lord Yamraj, you are such an impartial god. You follow all the rules of life and death, and you never interfere in it. You display such admirable restraint. Is that why you are famous as Yama, the controlled one? The one who protects those who seek it, and displays mercy even to his foes. You are so noble, a true follower of your duty, I have always had a very soft spot for you, sir. My mother always advised me, ‘If you ask nicely, you’ll receive what you want.’”
Yamraj puffed his chest. Clearly, this lady was too good for his ego, and yet, he understood her silent request for his mercy. His earlier thoughts, forgotten, he said.
“Savitri, you are such a lovely company. I can’t believe it but I am enjoying our talks. Your conversations are captivating and meaningful, I am very impressed with you. Ask me for your third gift, anything except your husband’s life.”
Caution had nothing on him.
“My father, Ashwapati’s very lonely, I was his only child, born after a lot of efforts. And ever since I’ve been married and have moved away, he’s been sad and misses me. Do you think he can have more children, who’ll keep him company in his old age?”
“Done. Now delightful as you are, please return. You’ve already come too far.”
“No distance with my husband by my side can be too long, my lord. And every second I spend in your company is only making me wiser.”
Savitri had learnt her lesson well.
Yamraj nodded his head, smirking.
“Lord Yamraj, you are the son of Lord Surya. You spread sunshine over each human, equally. Each one gets their share of it. You are a true follower of your duty. Dharma means everything to you. And maybe that is why you are famous as Dharamraj –the one who grants justice, the righteous one. I consider myself lucky to be in such an eminent presence of a god, who redefines dharma. Who is the living embodiment of it! I know you will be fair and just with me.”
Savitri bowed her head.
Yamraj’s ears were in sheer ecstasy, never had a human praised him so much, sung paeans in his honour. Usually, he wasn’t welcome –whenever he turned up, more often than not, he met with curses and occasionally greeted with flying spittle.
“Your words are as fine as gossamer on a bright summer day, Savitri. You’ve earned yourself a fourth wish! Ask me anything but Satyavan’s life.”
He was attentive if anything.
“May I have a large brood of children, my lord? I just love children!”
Savitri had put the last part of her plan in action. It was now or nothing.
“Given. Now return, Savitri. I’ll get into trouble, otherwise.”
Savitri’s heart was full of joy, she knew Yamraj hadn’t yet latched on to her plan.
I still have a chance! she thought.
“Thank you, O’ generous Lord Yamraj. It is gods like you, who define the sanctity of a promise. They know the meaning of giving their word –a boon once granted can’t be taken back and they honour it. It’s your generosity and adherence to this belief that makes the world go round. You, Lord Yamraj, are one of a kind!”
She began to advance deeper in her plan.
“I’m pleased with your devotion and sweet words, Savitri. It is true, I am very generous, and once I make a promise, I always respect it. Ask me for any boon.”
Yamraj lost in her words, swayed by them, threw caution to the winds. He forgot to add his usual caveat.
“You have already given me the gift of several children, but how can that be possible without my husband, Satyavan? Please grant me his life, so your fourth boon can be fulfilled. Else, you’ll be known as the god who grants but doesn’t honour his boons.”
Bingo. It’s now or never, have I done enough? Will it be enough? Did I play my cards correctly? Oh Mother, in heaven, please let this be my ace, she thought frantically, her eyes closed in silent prayer.
Yama stood rock still, shocked. His eyes appraising and appreciating Savitri’s crafty skill. Her honey-covered-words had won him over, despite himself. Her flawless logic had left him stunned. He was in a bind, if he denied her, her wish, he was proven a liar but if he accepted it, he could kiss his ‘Employee of the month’ award goodbye.
Honest and judicious, in the end, he undid the noose, returning Satyavan to life, knowing he was going to face a unique hell in heaven back home.
Satyavan and Savitri thanked him and returned to their hut.
Chitragupta is going to be apoplectic! I have tarnished his great book…what does he call it…Agrasandhani or something. My transgression is not going to go down so easily and even the boss will express her displeasure. Man, I’m in a soup. Maybe, I can retire –do some consultancy work for the other side. What blasphemy am I thinking? Of course, I am not going to retire or resign. I am a god, and I can decide if someone lives or not. It’s well within my paygrade to do that,” he gulped. I just hope Chitragupta doesn’t spit in my tea.
Yamraj gazed into the yonder, debating with himself. He consoled himself, rationalizing.
A promise is a promise and I did forget to add the warning. Sigh. A speck of a girl has taught me a life’s lesson –in fact, two lessons –never judge a book by its cover and everyone’s fallible. Including me. Including the great me! I wonder which team is playing against the Mumbai Indians tonight, he thought.
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