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offering for this month's prompt is another retelling of a well known tale...please note that all characters and events in this flash are totally
imaginary and any resemblance to any
leaders oops, I mean persons, living or dead, is purely
I'm tad over the word limit, but I'm hoping you all will forgive me when I tell you I've whittled this baby down from an initial draft of over 2200, phew!
A Fine Yarn
The truth, they said, will set you free. In this case, it did just the opposite. Abu’s fate was sealed the moment the truth was uttered - he was 7 at the time, not old enough to realise the benefits of lying.
The Books of Wisdom, the Fabulists, the Clan Elders, the Keepers of the Lore - they tell you only half the story, half the truth. They truncate beginnings to hook the listener. Fob him off with a neat ending where poetic justice is seen to be served. The whole truth never makes a good tale, it’s too boring, too inconvenient, doesn’t deliver the critical mass of dramatic punch.
You probably know that the ruler carried on without batting an eyelid. Have you never wondered what happened to the boy? Hasn’t it ever occurred to you to do so?
The ruler had come at a tumultuous time. The two main communities that had lived amicably for centuries in this town were at each other’s throats. The landed Bhumiputra had somehow been convinced that the Musafireen, a minority, were out to ruin the larger community.
Into this tinderbox had stepped this tiny Purvi man. He went to the Bhumiputra and said – my home is in the east, I have no interest in your lands. Choose me and I’ll lead you back to the glory days when seven nations bowed to us and our ships knitted up the coastlines of the seven seas. To the Musafireen he said – I’m a traveller like you, a stranger among the settled. Who will understand your sufferings better? Choose me and I’ll make sure your rights and freedoms are safeguarded. And so the communities, both the Bhumiputra as well as the Musafireen said yes, you shall be our ruler.
But once he was seated, he brought in councilmen from his own hometown. Neither the Bhumiputra nor the Musafireen were prioritised. When a few of them went to air their legitimate grievances, the Purvi snapped – be patient! - it takes time to rectify the huge blunders of an ancient past. When their leader persisted, he had the young man placed under arrest for obstruction of peace. More delegations – newspapermen, entrepreneurs, historians – met with the same fate. The jails became standing room only.
A great procession was planned for the 100th National Day. A new boulevard was to be made, complete with exotic landscaping and impressive public buildings. Street parties would span a week, with an explosion of food and fireworks, mountains of merchandise and memorabilia.
Kavista and Shopnek strode into the town on the crest of the announcement. They claimed they spun thread and wove fabric so fine, so pure, that only the virtuous could tolerate its dazzling lightness upon their person. Only the sinless could admire its exquisite weave.
The Purvi forthwith ordered a magnificent suit. Rumours soon circulated about yarns of gold more valuable than rubies and the ruler’s name worked into the pattern in fancy calligraphy, as if he were not an ordinary mortal but the Almighty Himself.
Kavista and Shopnek set up their workshop on the outskirts. Massive advances were given, but they bought nothing locally. The looms could be heard early in the morning and in the darkness beyond sunset. However, when the curious went in, all they saw was great looms empty of either yarns or fabric. Questions were discouraged.
The 100th National Day dawned bright and clear. Abu rose early, peeked out of the small window and called to his father. You promised! The father sighed.
Abu’s father was a master tailor with a workshop of 20 assistants. When the festivities had been announced he had hoped for orders. Even after the grand commission was given to total strangers he was unperturbed. After all, there were the councilmen to dress too, and their families, the rich and famous. But as time ticked on no commissions came his way, not even a bunting.
A hundred white horses, caparisoned in red and gold, came first - the clip-clop of their hooves perfectly harmonised, the sun glinting off the metal of their riders’ weapons. Ten guards marched on both sides of the special chariot, the flawlessly matched black stallions moving at a slow trot. The ruler stood and waved to the crowds with both hands alternately, like he was semaphoring some message. About twenty feet behind four pageboys followed, their hands all at the same level holding onto something that appeared to have spilled over from the chariot - Abu screwed up his eyes but couldn’t see clearly, was it a cape? a train? Whichever way he tried, he couldn’t make out the pattern, or the colour, or anything else.
When the horses drew closer, Abu saw that the pageboys’ hands were clutching thin air. Father, look, there’s nothing, he’s not wearing a stitch! I can see everything!
The father said hush! Too late. The crowd around them had heard, had already split into two.
One group shouted yes, there’s nothing, this is the biggest con that ever was!
The other shouted back louder, swearing the ruler was wearing the most exquisitely worked fabrics. The boy’s a liar and a troublemaker! - stirring things up on behalf of disgruntled adults. Clearly, what else could you expect? The father’s a tailor, isn’t he? Come to vent, what else?
It soon spiralled into a full-fledged brawl. Abu stood bewildered as hefty men descended on his father and pummelled the poor man. The melee spilled over onto the boulevard, just in front of the ruler’s vehicle.
The ruler stood impassive through it all. The guards had the crowd under control in a while. The Purvi went on, his tiny frame held very straight, his face as inscrutable as before, his arms rising and falling in his strange semaphore-like waving. Abu still couldn’t see any kind of clothes on him.
Four horsemen from behind the chariot fell away onto the grassy verge. Where’s the young lad? Where’s he? they called. The crowds quickly pointed to Abu and his roughed-up father.
You’re under arrest, the uniformed men said. Abu’s father said, he’s only 7 huzoor, just a boy! So they said no, it was the tailor they were arresting. For obstructing the National Day celebrations, jeopardising the ruler’s security. The boy would go to a juvenile home.
So the tailor rotted in prison for the next umpteen years as an undertrial. Abu was sent to a remedial home, let out only after 18. The ruler was still seated, the town was still edgy and polarised, no-one would give Abu an honest job for fear of giving offence. He took to crime and fetched up in prison like his father, on solidly real charges this time. The truth never did set him free. The more he stuck to it, the deeper he worked himself into a trap.
And what of Kavista and Shopnek? They got the Mumtaz Designer Award and were appointed the official clothiers to the ruler. You can still hear their looms going in the workshop on the outskirts of the town.
WC - 1181
Bhumiputra - from Sanskrit, bhumi = land, putra = son(s)
Musafireen - from Arabic, safar = journey, musafir = traveller, pl musafireen
Purvi - from Sanskrit, Purva = East, Purvi = from the East, Easterner
huzoor = sir
I have omitted inverted commas/quotation marks for the dialogues above, so as to 'age' the narrative and blur the exact setting. I'd value your feedback on it. Did it work for you? Did you find it irritating? Did it achieve its purpose? Thank you as always for reading and critiquing.
Read the other entries here.