Divine Intervention

Divine Intervention

An indeterminate Time in an indeterminate Century 

“What is an artist?

A person engaged in creating, practising or demonstrating an art form. 

Per convention, I must be a painter, musician, performer, writer, comedian, or photographer, or one of the innumerable subcategories of people identified as artists. 

I am none of these. So, who am I? What do I do?

I am glad you asked. I am Yamaraja, God of the Dead, and I steal souls!”

“No! No! Ah, Mita. I gave you one job! This introduction is incorrect. I, or to be factually correct, my employees, reap souls who leave their earthly bodies behind. And then I decide their eternal fates. Why would I say that I steal?”

“Artistic liberty. Reaping and passing judgement is not nearly as glamorous as stealing, Yama… Sir. You check the ledger, show up as per schedule and help the newly dead pass on to the great beyond. That’s just fancy talk for corporate prison.”

Yamaraja sighed and stretched out on the pearl-white couch that rested on the crimson red floor of the palace courtyard. His green skin glowed against the white, even as the amber of his eyes provided a fiery contrast to the menagerie of eye-watering colours. 

The courtyard was open to the Heavens, and Yama could just glimpse the shadow of the heavenly light beyond the dark clouds that rumbled overhead. 

“You cannot be an artist if you reap souls,” Mita concluded.

“But why do we want me to be an artist?” 

“Artists are all the rage these days, Sir! It adds such pizzazz to your application. Besides, you are an integral part of the cosmos. Bhagwan Brahma is The Creator, Bhagwan Vishnu is The Preserver, and Bhagwan Mahesh is The Destroyer. Why shouldn’t you have a catchy title?” 

Yama’s bushy brows knit together as he contemplated the upcoming meeting with the Big Three. A pit of curdling apprehension nestled in his gut. 

Will they listen to me? What if they reject my application?

He reflected on the opening lines of his speech.

My Greetings to the Great Trinity, 

With utmost reverence and regret, I register my resignation as the King of the Underworld. 

Yeah, they’ll reject it. What a load of utter damnfoolery!

He shook his head to rid himself of the engulfing panic and sat up. A nest of curly dark hair sat atop him like a badly hewn crown. Barely visible underneath the hair were the points of two horns on either side of his temple. 

“I have a catchy title. God of Death, King of Hell, Purveyor of Justice…” 

“But these terms present such a negative picture of you. God of Death! It’s God of the Dead… hello? Who’s putting out this misnomeric data? What are our editors and proofreaders doing? There can be no excuse for bad writing!” Mita shuddered. 

Then she flipped the pages of a handbound ledger on her lap and scribbled enthusiastically.

“Why do you use that thing?” Yama frowned at the primitive technology. “You can easily dictate notes and appointments to the cloud.” 

Mita looked up distractedly. 

“Oh! Holding a pen and paper is more inducive to creation.” 

“That’s blasphemy. Creation is Brahma’s domain.” 

“But it doesn’t need to be!” Mita said, thrusting her fist in the air, apparently having proven a point. “An artist has the prowess to create! I think it’ll help your case if we can showcase the potential for growth after your retirement. We can’t have an immortal layabout. You need to be doing something. Yama The Artist! Now, that’s loaded with positive connotations! What do you think?”

“Hey Brahma, you are impossible.’

“I agree. Sh… He is.”

“Remind me how you became the next Yama-in-training?”

“I was the only one who showed up for the auditions.” 

An inadvertent smile flitted across Yama’s lips as he remembered the hiring campaign for his potential replacement. 

Mita, an immortal godling, was created and raised in Patal Loka. She’d made her parents proud by getting hired as a Junior Reaper as soon as she was of age. When the word had gone out that Yamaraja was looking for an intern who’d act as his understudy for a couple of centuries before succeeding him to become the next Yama, Mita had pounced upon the opportunity. 

Slender, with liquid black eyes and high cheekbones, Mita was beautiful. Her copper skin shimmered under the glaring crimson of the palace, and her dark red hair fell in serpentine folds across her waist. 

Her beauty was not, however, what had made Yama select her. Besides being the only one who applied for the post, Mita, at 17 cent., had a zeal for the job that Yama, at 45 cent., felt no longer able to conjure. She was driven and passionate. It was her dream to collect the souls of the dead and pass judgement. 

Youngsters were a strange breed.

“When is the next reaping?” he inquired.

Mita took out a separate ledger from her handbag. “In about 5 minutes.”

“I will go down for it. You may accompany me.” 

“Shouldn’t you remain here and assign a lackey to do it? The Judgement Department is backed up. Souls have been in waiting for a couple of decades.”

Yama ignored the comment on the dropping efficiency at the office, donned his red blazer and fixed his tie, glancing fleetingly in a mirror beside the coat hanger. He did not like what he saw. 

There were bags under his eyes. His shoulders drooped, and the shadow on his chin threatened to become an entity in its own right. Like his hair. He averted his gaze from the sorry sight.

“Alright, let’s go,” he said. “We’ll be late.” 

“We can’t be late, Yama Sir. Death is never late. Nor is it ever early. It’s exactly on time,” Mita said, standing up and quickly jotting down something in her ledger. She slipped on a black coat over her black shirt and trousers and gave Yama a once over. 

“That attire will clash awfully with my hair…,” she mumbled morosely as they proceeded towards the bank of cosmic elevators in the palace lobby. 

As they stepped inside the plush red interior, Mita squealed with delight, examining the glossy LED touchscreen. 

“Neat!” she said as she entered the coordinates. “We are totally in with the times here. Have you been to Heaven? Somebody needs to tell them to drop those ancient harps and subscribe to Spotify or something.”

She pulled out the ledger and began scribbling furiously in it. 

“Hmmm…,” Yama sighed. “I miss flying. And Buffalo.” 

“Your Vahana?”

Yama nodded. 

“His name was Buffalo? Buffalo, the buffalo?” Mita raised an eyebrow, barely containing her smirk. 

“They took him to some country farm in the skies!” Yama lamented, oblivious to the remark. “These Animal Rights Activists are a pest! Buffalo wanted to stay. We had so much fun together. But noooo, when has anyone been allowed to have any fun down here?” 

Mita sighed. “With all due respect, Sir, remind me why you are even thinking of going through with this resignation? What happened? You look so… depressed.” 

“It’s because I am depressed.” 

“Why?”

“It’s this job. I have been at it for aeons, and it just gets to you after a time. You know?”

“I don’t, actually. I just started. And you’re not painting a pretty picture of it.” 

“Life has to be more than… this.”  

“Technically, we aren’t even alive, Sir.”

Yama groaned. 

The elevator dinged open and they stepped out into a busy hospital corridor. 

“I hate hospitals.” 

“Not a fan, either,” Mita nodded. “So, our man is 25. Leukaemia. Ouch! Poor bastard… er… Excuse me! Well, at least he’s out of his misery now. That has to be a relief.”

They found the soul wailing outside a private ward. It still retained its physical form, tall, dark and handsome, but not relieved in the slightest.

“Hello, Mr Sen. Our condolences upon the cessation of your earthly existence. I’m sure you have lived a happy life. And considering your medical condition, it must be a relief that the pain has ended.”

“Relief! I’m in my twenties! I had just started this new job, and my girlfriend had accepted my proposal! God! Why me?! I never drank, never smoked… I never even had sex! What did I do to deserve this?!”

The pain and disbelief plastered on the man’s spiritual features were so palpable that Yama felt it as his own.

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

“There’s been some mistake. It wasn’t supposed to be me!”

Yama and Mita allowed the soul a few moments of mourning before getting down to business. 

“Young man, there’s no mistake. We are here to escort you to the Pataal Loka, where you will receive judgement.” 

“Judgement?!” Mr Sen squealed, staring wild-eyed at his unusual visitors. “What judgement? Who’ll judge me?”

“I will.” 

“And who are you?”

“I am Yama, the God of the Dead…” 

Mita coughed. 

“Er… Yama, the.. Er.. er.. Artist!” 

“Yama, The Artist?” Mr Sen wiped snot from his dripping nose. “Never heard of you.”

“Yes, well,” Yama reverted, disgruntled. “I understand your anguish. But your time has come.” 

“Understand my anguish, my buttocks! You know nothing! Have you ever died? Have you ever lived and then had everything taken away from you? What gives you the right? You don’t even know what it’s like to be human!” 

Yama stood, stunned into silence. 

“Mr Sen, please,” Mita stepped in. “I assure you we’ll address all your grievances in due time. But first, we must begin our journey.”

“Okay, okay… I just.” Mr Sen gazed longingly at his family and a piteous moan escaped him. “It’s strange. It feels like they are the ones who are dead. Not me.”

“Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side. We’re all aware of it.” Mita said, businesslike, scribbling away in her ledger. “Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve held the elevator far longer than we should. There are other people in the pipeline, you know.” 

“Alright! Lead the way, madam. But I don’t think you used that expression correctly.” 

“Don’t be silly. I couldn’t have misused it.” 

A hubbub of grief-stricken cries followed them as, unnoticed by anyone, the three apparitions floated away into nothingness. 

***

That evening, Yama sat at his crimson desk, decked out in full God regalia, gazing at the unending line of souls stretching out from the desk to the distant horizon. 

To his right sat Chitragupta, reading out the life story of yet another soul, weighing good and bad deeds of its life. On his left, a large digital display beeped incessantly as the number of souls climbed higher and higher.

“Phew!” Mita whistled as she took in the scene. “It’s a good thing they don’t have to be anywhere anytime soon,” she said, scribbling away in her ledger.

Yama scowled. “You are supposed to be helping me. You take over when I retire,” he whispered the last word, lest it caused panic. 

If you retire,” Mita whispered back. 

She smiled at him, but Yama did not reciprocate. 

“Yama, Sir, this is your purpose. Why doesn’t it seem to be worthwhile any longer? I’m genuinely concerned. Please talk to me.”

Yama stood up and instructed Chitragupta to carry on. He wondered if he had heard him at all, so lost was he in his perusal of the book of life.

It didn’t matter anyway. Chitragupta loved his job. He would probably go on perfectly well without Yama if not for his signature on the paperwork. 

Yama and Mita retreated to the palace courtyard and strolled along the perimeter. 

“Okay, here’s the thing,” he said. “We aren’t human. We don’t know what it’s like to live their lives, face the challenges they do or make their decisions… We just sit here, stewing in our immortality and pass judgement on their souls! How is that fair?”

“I heard you used to be human once,” Mita interjected. 

“Yes, perhaps. Although there’s an endless infinity between then and now. It almost feels like a dream.” 

“It’s said you were the first human to die and pass over to the other side. Brahma, it has to suck to know you were the one who began the circle of life and death. Day and Night. The inception of the passage of time.”

Yama groaned. 

“See what I mean? How can I judge the eternal fate of souls when the only qualification I have is that I died first? Hello everyone! Meet me! Yama, the one who screwed it up for the universe!” 

“I understand your quandary, Sir. But there’s nothing to be done about it.” 

“If only I could be one of them.” 

“One of whom? Oh, Mahesh! Don’t say it!”

“No! Mita, listen! If I could be born a human and live a single life on Earth, I could finally know what it feels like to be human. To live and breathe and die. Imagine how much deeper my understanding of their lives would be! Perhaps then, I would be capable of passing judgement on them.” 

“Born as a human! Are you out of your mind?!… Sir?” Mita shrieked, her hands flying to her mouth and her ledgers slipping out of her grasp to lie neatly stacked at her feet. “The Three will never allow this. The times of Avatars are long past. Modern world runs smoothly without Divine Interventions. Creating one would be devastating. Have you ever looked up the conspiracy theories about the Dashavatara? Sir, I’m sorry. It can’t be done.” 

Yama closed his eyes as he processed Mita’s words. Their truth hammering against his entire being with the force of a million thunderstorms. His shoulders slumped, and the green aura dancing around him dimmed. 

“You are right. I must have been mad to even dream of it,” he said. “Come, let’s get through today’s souls, and you can log off early.”

“Yama… Sir? Are you okay?” 

“No, Mita. I doubt I’ll ever be okay.”

***

A Few Centuries Later

Time passed, and Yama sank deeper into the depths of his despair. Mita watched as he withdrew himself more and more from active command and delegated his duties to her. 

Yama’s malaise was so intense, so potent, it emanated from him and embedded itself in the whole of Pataal Loka. The bright crimson of the palace dulled to a muddy brown, the hell fires dimmed to embers, and the magnificence of the netherworld faded to mirror its fading ruler. 

All Mita’s efforts to draw Yama out of his misery were futile. She tried everything. Impromptu parties, standup comedians, a circus which had been a management disaster, and a group therapy intervention session where the souls told Yama how happy they were with his judgement, including the ones destined for eternal damnation. 

Nothing worked. 

Finally, the day dawned when souls judged to spend eternity in the gardens of Heaven, who would otherwise have whooped and cried with joy, responded with a nonchalant ‘Oh, alright. Thanks… I guess’. 

Mita realised it was time to take matters into her own hands. 

***

A Few Cosmic Decades Later

Yama stared at the paper in his hands, unable to believe the big, green letters stamped on it. 

APPROVED 

“H… How?”

“I submitted your application.” 

“But I tore it up! I threw it out!” 

“Sir, you of all the divine beings must know that nothing is ever gone. It exists as matter or energy, transmuting into one or the other.” Mita smiled benignly. “I traced down the bits and pieces of your dream and glued it back together, so to speak.” 

“But how did you convince the Three?” 

“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you,” Mita winked. “Not ideal considering all the trouble I’ve gone through! Suffice it to say, I showed them the creative potential that lay within a certain artist’s grasp if he had the opportunity to explore it.” 

Yama gaped at her, uncomprehending. Behind him, beside the gateways to Heaven and Hell, the portal to Earth glowed a mix of blue and orange.

“Now, bear in mind, you can’t be born a human. That’s a whole other level of crazy. But, yes, you can live as a mortal, sans any supernatural powers, and die as a mortal. Of course, when you are mortal, you won’t have any memory of being in the great beyond or being Yama.” 

“But…”

“But they have permitted you to keep the memories and experiences you gather in life when you step through to this side. Their only condition is once you return, you continue where you left off. Resignation or retirement is out of the question. Consider this a sabbatical.” 

“But… what about you? Being Yamaraja is your dream! If I return…” 

“Oh, I’ll be in charge in your absence. But when you come back, I will be happy to step down. Honestly, this job isn’t as much fun without you. I’m sure I’ll have much else to occupy me.”

Yama didn’t know what to say. If at all he could conjure up words to convey his gratitude, he wasn’t sure he could utter them.

“I’ll miss you,” Mita said. “It’s not appropriate in this scenario. But I’m going to say it anyway. Come back soon, Yama.”

Yama hugged Mita. 

“I can’t come back soon, Mita,” he said, finally overcoming the lump of raw emotion obstructing his throat. “As someone wise said to me, Death is never early. Nor is it ever late. It’s exactly on time.”

“That’s not what I said…!” Mita frowned, pulling out her ever-present ledger. 

Yama winked and stepped through the portal, realising a second too late that he hadn’t said goodbye. He turned around and slammed face-first into the trunk of an earthly tree.  

Then he fainted. 

***

A Few Mortal Decades Later

“So, Dharmaraj! That’s such an unusual name!” 

“I know… My parents, my adoptive parents, were huge Mahabharat fans.” 

“Life as Dharmaraj must have been pretty difficult.” 

“At least as difficult as Dhumorna, I’m assuming?”

They laughed. Dhumorna’s tinkling laughter was music to his ears.

“So, tell me a bit about yourself. What do you do?” Dhumorna asked, leaning forward in her chair, resting her chin in a cupped palm. 

Dharmaraj thought back to his early days as a pre-adolescent street urchin. Orphaned, abandoned, and lonely. Then, the kindness of a random passer-by had landed him in an orphanage where, after an extremely unhappy three years, during which the older kids had bullied and beaten him, an elderly couple had chosen him. They had loved him, showered him with attention and care, as they’d have on their own child, had they been lucky enough to have one. 

Although he could never picture his biological parents or the reason they’d abandoned him, his adoptive parents had filled their absence as if it had never existed. 

School, college, and now post-grad. It had not all been smooth sailing, of course. He’d fallen, and how! Drugs had consumed his teen years, and then there was the time he’d run away when his parents tried to check him into rehab. 

He’d been bitter and so, so angry. Angry enough to end it all by slicing away at his wrists! 

It’d been a miracle he’d survived. 

“Someone up there must be looking out for you, young man,” his doctor had told him when he had awoken from his stupor. “Life is a gift not easily had; treasure it.”

And he had. 

Now, sitting in the restaurant, in the company of the most beautiful woman he’d ever met, he felt overwhelmed by the pain and the joy of his experiences. He averted his eyes and looked out of the window, subtly wiping away the dew in his eyes. 

Across the street, a homeless woman sat on the footpath, drawing portraits of passersby. Her paintings the only burst of colour in the otherwise rain-washed street. 

Life was such a blessing! 

Dharmaraj smiled. 

“I… I am an artist! I live!” 

***

Several million miles away, deep in the netherworld, Mita put Her pen down and closed the ledger. 

“Oooooh… that’s a nice one! What a blessing Creation is! Well done, me!” 

She stood up from Her chair and stretched. 

Enough of that. Duty calls! 

She strolled over to the walk-in closet, ruminating about Her attire for the day. Her fingers reached for the white 3-piece suit. Yes, it was a Heaven kind of day. Perhaps She should pay little Cupid a visit. 

She smiled indulgently. She would continue writing Yama’s story. It was promising to be a Hell of a pageturner! She’d decided to call it ‘The First Artist’.  

She hummed happily as She stepped onto the cosmic elevator to Heaven. 

In the beginning there was I

Even before the Earth and the Sky…

What a wondrous adventure it would be

To live and breathe and die…
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Glossary- 

  1. The name, Mita, is derived from the Hindi word Meet or Mitra and simply means a friend. 
  2. Cent. is shorthand for Century (made up, I don’t know if this is accurate) 

Author’s Note- 

This is a fictional piece of writing meant to engage and entertain. It is not intended to hurt the sentiments of any faith/or beliefs. I accept that the mythological legends or stories that inspired me to write this one may not be 100% accurate. There may be other versions of these events. We might never know which of them is true. So, I accept them as stories passed down the generations. They were stories. This is also a story. 
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