I was exhausted, all I wanted was a good hot shower and to zone out in front of the TV, but I knew I wouldn’t get any as soon as I got in. Kory was fiddling with the remote, the set-top gizmo was blinking wildly in response, and the screen was flashing on and off to angry buzzes and beeps. He looked up as I threw down my gear on the sofa.
“Some friend of yours called a million times. Asked to call back. Seemed pretty desperate.”
“What name? Why didn’t you tell him to call the cell?” Really, Kory could be seriously weird.
“Sounded something like Raavan. Or maybe Ravin and I misheard. I did tell him. He said he couldn’t cope with cells and stuff, fixed line was as far as he was prepared to go, what with his family problems. Maybe I misunderstood that too. He sounded odd, quite insane actually.”
My heart sank. Kory hadn’t misheard. I was the consultant, not just the friend.
I plonked down and dialled. He picked it up on the second ring. Himself, no assistants, no operators mincing words like majesty and highness.
“Shiv? Man, where you been? I’m ruined!” He did sound desperate. And strange, like he had a cold.
“I’ve told you – you can get me on the mobile anytime.”
“Hell, I can’t remember strings of numbers. Don’t have the heads for it. And I don’t want operators buzzing around all the time either. A man can only take so much.”
“Okay, okay. Tell me. What’s the problem?”
“I need a no job. I’ll get no peace otherwise.”
“A no job?” I repeated tentatively. I wasn’t sure I had heard right. I could see what Kory had meant.
“No no no. A know job. For Surbhi. You know what’s happened, don’t you?”
“Not Surbhi, yaar. Surpi. Surpi. P for pandemonium. That’s what going on out here. Madhouse.”
"Ah, Surpi.” Surpi was the sister. A regular foot-in-mouther. And though I didn’t get his drift, still I was in complete agreement. A madhouse was exactly it. “No, I don’t. What’s happened?”
He groaned, “Well, here’s the short version. She made a pass at some man or men, and one of them nicked her nose off. And she’ll give me no peace till I get her vengeance. And a no job.”
“A nose job, do you mean?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said, a nose job. And ears. Have to get her a pair of ears, they’ve been notched off too. And vengeance. In that order.”
“Nose won’t be a problem. Or ears. Huge leaps all over medical fields. We’ll find something. Maybe they do bionic ears nowadays. Is that all?”
“No, that’s not all at all. I need you here. How soon can you make it?”
I sighed. There went zoning out for the rest of the evening. “First hour tomorrow?” A brave but futile attempt.
“No. Come for dinner. Privy chambers.”
“Right, I’ll be there.” When a king asks you to dinner at the privy chambers, there has to be something seriously wrong. “Would you like to tell me what else- ?”
That turned out unwise, royal reticence was abandoned rather promptly.
“My nose has been put out of joint too, but do I complain? I would get the – um....feature repaired and just go on. But Surpi won’t let it rest. She wants the wife of that man, the one who nicked her nose? apparently he has a sister-in-law somewhere in the forest, shady or what? Anyways, Surpi wants me to kidnap her immediately, as in NOW. I mean think of it, at my age!
“And Mandy, I mean Queen Mandoderi, is going ballistic at the idea too. Dear brother Viv has put on his holier-than-thou face, that precise one I’d slap, if it didn’t violate royal protocol. He’s supporting his sis-in-law rather than his sister, and that is of course making Surpi go one up on the ballistic scale. Because, well, the girl has a point there, how can anybody support an in-law over his own flesh and blood? Beats every one of my brains. Viv’s being a complete git as usual. The happy family unit is close to crumbling, I fear.
“The council of ministers is split right down the middle, both on the nose job and the kidnap, some of them have whispered that leaving Surpi’s nose out of kilter would make sure mine remained okay, what the hell? Am I supposed to have my sister go around permanently denosed?
“Meanwhile a wrong photo has leaked into Facebook, all my faces are trying to adjust the expressions to each speaker individually, I thought that was a must – this individual attention caper - but it just ends up with me looking majorly cross-eyed with ten pairs of eyes looking in ten directions. We need a serious change of strategy here. Some fool journo slipped through and took a photo and leaked it, and damage is spiralling beyond control, the whole PR machinery has ground to a halt. My fifth face has developed a tic, the tenth head has a raging migraine, the third and seventh heads have gone grey in just two nights, the fool coiffeur has run out of my brand of hair colour too. I need you here pronto.”
“Okay. Tic on fifth face. Tenth has migraine. Hair colour. Got it. I am on my way.”
Kory was looking at me with wide, curious eyes. “What was that all about? Fifth face?!”
"That's about keeping a straight face." I told him wearily. "A difficult job, when there are ten of them."
For those who are not familiar with the Ramayana, a truncated, super-short summary below:
Ram – Crown Prince of Ayodhya and MC of Ramayana. Depicted in Hindu mythology as the ideal son and king, the epitome of virtue and manliness. Ram is revered as a god, as an avatar of Vishnu.
Laxman – Ram’s half-brother, and son of the (proverbial evil) stepmother.
Sita – Ram’s wife, depicted as the ultimate ideal of beauty and feminine virtue.
Raavan – the demon king of Lanka. There is much ambiguity about his character, generally he symbolises “evil” to Ram’s “good”; but it is not as straight forward as that. He was supposed to be an ascetic, a devotee of Shiv, a learned man, and a brave warrior.
Surpanakha - (Soor-puh-nuh-khaa) the sister of Raavan. A minor appearance but a major role.
Mandoderi – (Mun- doh- duh-ree) Ravan’s queen and a fearless lady. She did not submit to her husband at every count.
Vibhishan – (Vee-bhee-shun) Raavan’s youngest brother. Also did not agree with Raavan and defected to the enemy, i.e. Ram’s side.
Ram was exiled to a 14-year term due to an evil conspiracy by his stepmother. Laxman and Sita both accompanied him into exile. They lived rough off the land, travelling through forests and desolate places in South India.
Surpanakha, the sister of the king of Lanka, Raavan spotted them and tried to seduce both Ram and Laxman. Both brothers snubbed her advances.
Naturally, a royal row ensued, the lady attacked Sita and a furious Laxman sliced off the peeved party’s nose and ears. Adding injury to insult, if you know what I mean.
She then went to her brother Raavan, and an elaborate plot was hatched by them to abduct Sita.
Ram and Laxman fought an epic war with Raavan to free Sita.
Raavan’s brother Vibhishan switched sides and went over to Ram, Queen Mandoderi did not approve of the abduction scheme either.
Many plot twists later Raavan was killed. Ram got Sita back, set Vibhishan on the empty throne of Lanka; and went home to reclaim his own kingdom.
Essentially Ramayana is a virtue-always-prevails tale, and is the basis for the Hindu festivals - Durgapuja, Dussera and Diwali. The battle is portrayed every year in a form of North Indian folk theatre called Ram-leela where effigies of Raavan are burnt with fireworks and actors play the roles of Ram and other characters. Raavan is typically portrayed as a man with ten heads, one of his names is Dashaanan which literally means ten faces.
Happy Dussera to you if you are celebrating!