Them in the Pub

(Repeated later below with explanations, references and puzzles solved)

 

 This time it was the pub
Just down the road from me
I thought I’d pop in for a bit
Just for the company

The regulars were there
Their corner full of cheer
And then the loners scattered
They didn’t want anyone too near

The room was dark in parts
Lit by candles and the fire
I’d almost missed the brooding trio
Till the host called out ‘Sire!’

“How many of you tonight?
We might have a good deal
If you have friends call them now
Half a dozen gets you a free meal”

They perked up visibly, those three
And then scowled into their glass
You could see they were friendless
But could not let the deal pass

A hurried consultation ‘twixt ‘em
And a passing around of phones
Whispered conversations drew attention
It was the way their voice drones

I thought as I sat beside
A table away for comfort
These are people who have been admired
But they have not been loved

Duty bound, they have been victors
Kingly, their bearing, Godlike their glow
But there was something solid
That stopped them mid-flow

I wondered if I should ask them
Their stories, or let it pass
Or maybe wait a little more
There’s more at the bottom of the glass

Soon three more joined them
And I was glad I had waited
For nothing would I’ve missed this
Sharp conversation, baited

“Ha! Called out one of the new ones
We meet again, now in peace
The last time you saw me
I thought the battle would never cease!”

“Eighteen days we battled
Eighteen days of war
You lost with your massive army
I understand, you still bear the scar”

The voice that replied was calm
As if weighted with justice known
Contrasting, cutting the first
Who spoke as if trumpets were blown.

“Don’t be a bore, you two
And speak of battles past
Him and I”, and he nodded aft
“Have got over that at last”

This third voice was calm too
But a tad different than most
As if it was a sentry
Reporting from duty’s post

I expect the fourth to reply
In a voice that resembled a boom
And sure enough he responded
To be heard across the room.

“You winners think you know it all
Taking every glory
While we fester in darkness
Irked at your-told-story”

“Now, c’mon, don’t you start
On the winner taking the spoils
We tell the tale as we saw it
Simple, sans your roils”

Now this was the fifth voice
I wondered who it was
He sounded learned by his tone
And yet espoused a cause

Who was he defending
Himself or the storyteller anon
Or was he the teller of tales
From times that were long gone

I waited for the sixth to speak
Thinking this too might be fun
These men, they don’t like each other
But in something, they were as one

There was a bitterness about them
That they shared at the table that day
As if they knew they were great
Tinged with what they could not say

The sixth was a peacemaker first
Set out to ease the pace
Pointing to the first he asked,
“Tell us about your perfect Rajya place”

He smiled a beatific smile
You could tell this is what he liked
Talking about what was right
A land where truth could not be spiked

“It was not easy y’all know
To be duty bound and tight
Knowing all those who loved me
Could not see it in the same light”

His opponent across grinned
An unseemly smile, a blight
But had the sense to keep shut
Nobody wanted another fight

“And yet it was for love you know
That I really lived my life
The love for kingdom and queen
I loved both duty and wife”

“Then why did you abandon her so
Not once but twice
In the jungles, a beauty alone
Was bound to lead to strife”

“Her beauty was all that you could see
Not the good and the strong she bore
She was the foundation and the substance
On which he wrote our lore”

He pointed with his chin across
The table to the fifth
Who was listening with a quite smile
At nuances he’d slipped

Into his stories long and grand
Which told tales of battles upon the land
But of people too, and he’d ensured
Clues, placed like lines on the sand

He cleared his throat, in his learned voice
Spoke, “My lords you were both kings great
Fighting for more than your lands
Stories that people even today debate”

“Which of you was right, and who in the wrong
The wife stealer unforgivable, no doubt
And so all your devotees support your wars
Leaving some to purse their lips in pout”

“For there is no way that you were perfect,
Though dutybound you did as told
Nor you, the greatest of worshippers,
Your deeds writ upon that land of gold.”

“Nor were they, who sit with us
From another age of kings
Their battle they say lasted eighteen days
Their stories still resonate in the winds”

“Not one of us was good, not one of us all bad
We were worshipped in temples though
In temples throughout the land
As we are even now, in places high and low”

“I learnt to hate and kill as a youth
Till enlightened by the sage
I learnt what each of us knows as truth
That love is greater than hate”

“I learnt to love when spurned at home
And we all know that fate
That the greater good has led us all
To pass through that bitter gate”

“When we know we do what we must
To keep the world to rights
To stand for what we know to be true
To show people what must be in their sights”

“You make it sound so grand, V
When we know it’s not always so
Sometimes we do what we do
Because of what we know”

This was the sixth, the last one there
And now he spoke up so
As if he was the last word
His words, I’ll say were aglow

They flowed clear and quiet
I could hear them even when low
And each sounded like a golden bell
As if in judgement or show

I wonder what gave him the right
To speak to these Lords this way
I wonder what made them listen
As if this sixth, somehow held sway

“Grandsire you called me, as I watched you all
Grow into fate’s hands to play
I led you there or maybe not
In that I had no say”

“You, Valmiki, watched from afar
You bear no brunt for the affray
But I was an active part
Myself, I must af-flay”
“I took part when I could bear no more
To see father parted from son
Of what use were his duty and right
What good was the battle won?”

“And so, you came when you thought fit
Principles you had none
And I fought for principles
In the end, people I had none”

“Do not mistake me, for we were worshipped
Each one of us like the Gods above
But when it came to comfort true
Not one of us knew for long that love”

“We were not alone in that,
said the one who was always true
My brother Karna, my cousin’s friend
His claims we always slew”

“You speak the truth again cousin,
And a halftruth comes forth still
For I loved Karna like a brother
Like you never could nor will”

“Why speak of those who are not here
We six here are enough
An unlikely gathering
Of those with secrets tough”

“It is true, what he says,
Though I would not want it known
For all the glory we got
In life, much cannot be shown”

“Yes, here sits the perfect king,
Whose Rajya still stands as a goal
For all rulers and servants alike
Yet who comforts his troubled soul”

“I sit opposite him, here as in war
He pierced by life with his arrow
The King of the city of Gold
Yet alone, vilified and cold”

“I too, led the life of truth
But my heart bears this stone
Our brother’s wife, we all took
Loveless, yet duty borne”

“Worse, you led them to battle
And not one of them came back
Your loveless wife now stands abandoned
Husbands and sons, alack”

“Our wives all stand abandoned
Good and true to the last,
Where of yours, o blue one
You stood for love amassed”

“You speak the truth,
you are named well for sure
From Radha to Rukmini
My story is of love, loss and more”

“I was loved more than most
I still stand a symbol of love
Even Meera centuries later
Dissolved in it’s true light above”

“And yet ye look again and wonder
How in love I can still trust
Abandoned, poisoned, waters blackened
Sent to fight as a child- I did what I must”

“And yet I say to you, Sage and Kings
By our stories we were tossed,
We did because we knew we must
For comfort we were crossed”

“We knew then what all humans learn
That nothing is built to last
Make the most of the love you have
And give more than you get, and fast”

I watched their table and listened hard
For I had never seen any such
From power and gold, they’d earned their name
Still yearned for comforting touch

Dare I, step up, and ask their names
Maybe an autograph of kings
Who’d left their times and gathered here
Telling tales hidden beneath their wings

Could I, mere listener, even ask them
For what mattered most in life
Good, glory, love, lust
All had ended for them in strife

Only one seemed calm in myth and here
The blue one with peacock tail
Despite all that was thrown at him,
I’d never heard him flail.

Hesitantly, and as boldly as I could
Yet with respect and a little bow
I asked them what mattered real
I asked them what they know

As one six pairs of bright lit eyes
Turned on me in force
As if the secret to happiness
Was sought direct from the source

That was when I knew wordlessly
That this was what I was told
To be happy go back to the beginning
And share whatever feels like gold.

Thus this tale dear reader
I share what I was shown
May joy follow you for ever more
As it has followed my own.

((c) Meeta Sengupta)

Now, Repeated with Explanations, and a who is who….

1
This time it was the pub
Just down the road from me
I thought I’d pop in for a bit
Just for the company
(The voice of the narrator, an ordinary person, a flaneur)
2
The regulars were there
Their corner full of cheer
And then the loners scattered
They didn’t want anyone too near
3
The room was dark in parts
Lit by candles and the fire
I’d almost missed the brooding trio
Till the host called out ‘Sire!’
4
“How many of you tonight?
We might have a good deal
If you have friends call them now
Half a dozen gets you a free meal”
5
They perked up visibly, those three
And then scowled into their glass
You could see they were friendless
But could not let the deal pass
6
A hurried consultation ‘twixt ‘em
And a passing around of phones
Whispered conversations drew attention
It was the way their voice drones
7
I thought as I sat beside
A table away for comfort
These are people who have been admired
But they have not been loved
8
Duty bound, they have been victors
Kingly, their bearing, Godlike their glow
But there was something solid
That stopped them mid-flow
9
I wondered if I should ask them
Their stories, or let it pass
Or maybe wait a little more
There’s more at the bottom of the glass
10
Soon three more joined them
And I was glad I had waited
For nothing would I’ve missed this
Sharp conversation, baited
(Narrator)
11
“Ha! Called out one of the new ones
We meet again, now in peace
The last time you saw me
I thought the battle would never cease!”
(Duryodhana)
12
“Eighteen days we battled
Eighteen days of war
You lost with your massive army
I understand, you still bear the scar”
(Yudhisthira)
13
The voice that replied was calm
As if weighted with justice known
Contrasting, cutting the first
Who spoke as if trumpets were blown.
(Narrator about Yudhisthira)
14
“Don’t be a bore, you two
And speak of battles past
Him and I”, and he nodded aft
“Have got over that at last”
(Rama)
15
This third voice was calm too
But a tad different than most
As if it was a sentry
Reporting from duty’s post
(Narrator about Rama)
16
I expect the fourth to reply
In a voice that resembled a boom
And sure enough he responded
To be heard across the room.
(Narrator about Ravana)
17
“You winners think you know it all
Taking every glory
While we fester in darkness
Irked at your-told-story”
(Ravana)
18
“Now, c’mon, don’t you start
On the winner taking the spoils
We tell the tale as we saw it
Simple, sans your roils”
(Valmiki)
19
Now this was the fifth voice
I wondered who it was
He sounded learned by his tone
And yet espoused a cause
(Narrator)
20
Who was he defending
Himself or the storyteller anon
Or was he the teller of tales
From times that were long gone
(Narrator)
21
I waited for the sixth to speak
Thinking this too might be fun
These men, they don’t like each other
But in something, they were as one
(Narrator)
22
There was a bitterness about them
That they shared at the table that day
As if they knew they were great
Tinged with what they could not say
(Narrator)
23
The sixth was a peacemaker first
Set out to ease the pace
Pointing to the first he asked,
“Tell us about your perfect Rajya place”
(Krishna, unrecognised yet)
24
He smiled a beatific smile
You could tell this is what he liked
Talking about what was right
A land where truth could not be spiked
(Narrator about Rama)
25
“It was not easy y’all know
To be duty bound and tight
Knowing all those who loved me
Could not see it in the same light”
(Rama)
26
His opponent across grinned
An unseemly smile, a blight
But had the sense to keep shut
Nobody wanted another fight
(Narrator about Ravana)
27
“And yet it was for love you know
That I really lived my life
The love for kingdom and queen
I loved both duty and wife”
(Rama)
28
“Then why did you abandon her so
Not once but twice
In the jungles, a beauty alone
Was bound to lead to strife”
(Ravana)
29
“Her beauty was all that you could see
Not the good and the strong she bore
She was the foundation and the substance
On which he wrote our lore”
(Rama)
30
He pointed with his chin across
The table to the fifth
Who was listening with a quite smile
At nuances he’d slipped
(Narrator about Ram pointing to Valmiki)
31
Into his stories long and grand
Which told tales of battles upon the land
But of people too, and he’d ensured
Clues, placed like lines on the sand
(Narrator about Valmiki)
32
He cleared his throat, in his learned voice
Spoke, “My lords you were both kings great
Fighting for more than your lands
Stories that people even today debate”
(Valmiki)
33
“Which of you was right, and who in the wrong
The wife stealer unforgivable, no doubt
And so all your devotees support your wars
Leaving some to purse their lips in pout”
(Valmiki)
34
“For there is no way that you were perfect,
Though dutybound you did as told
Nor you, the greatest of worshippers,
Your deeds writ upon that land of gold.”
(Valmiki)
35
“Nor were they, who sit with us
From another age of kings
Their battle they say lasted eighteen days
Their stories still resonate in the winds”
(Ravana)
36
“Not one of us was good, not one of us all bad
We were worshipped in temples though
In temples throughout the land
As we are even now, in places high and low”
(Ravana)
37
“I learnt to hate and kill as a youth
Till enlightened by the sage
I learnt what each of us knows as truth
That love is greater than hate”
(Valmiki)
38
“I learnt to love when spurned at home
And we all know that fate
That the greater good has led us all
To pass through that bitter gate”
(Valmiki)
39
“When we know we do what we must
To keep the world to rights
To stand for what we know to be true
To show people what must be in their sights”
(Rama)
40
“You make it sound so grand, V
When we know it’s not always so
Sometimes we do what we do
Because of what we know”
(Krishna)
41
This was the sixth, the last one there
And now he spoke up so
As if he was the last word
His words, I’ll say were aglow
(Narrator)
42
They flowed clear and quiet
I could hear them even when low
And each sounded like a golden bell
As if in judgement or show
(Narrator)
43
I wonder what gave him the right
To speak to these Lords this way
I wonder what made them listen
As if this sixth, somehow held sway
(Narrator)
44
“Grandsire you called me, as I watched you all
Grow into fate’s hands to play
I led you there or maybe not
In that I had no say”
(Bhishma)
45
“You, Valmiki, watched from afar
You bear no brunt for the affray
But I was an active part
Myself, I must af-flay”
(Bhishma)
46
“I took part when I could bear no more
To see father parted from son
Of what use were his duty and right
What good was the battle won?”
(Valmiki)
47
“And so, you came when you thought fit
In the beginning, Principles you had none
And I fought for principles
In the end, people I had none”
(Bhishma)
48
“Do not mistake me, for we were worshipped
Each one of us like the Gods above
But when it came to comfort true
Not one of us knew for long that love”
(Bhishma)
49
“We were not alone in that,
said the one who was always true
My brother Karna, my cousin’s friend
His claims we always slew”
(Yudhisthira)
50
“You speak the truth again cousin,
And a halftruth comes forth still
For I loved Karna like a brother
Like you never could nor will”
(Duryodhana)
51
“Why speak of those who are not here
We six here are enough
An unlikely gathering
Of those with secrets tough”
()
52
“It is true, what he says,
Though I would not want it known
For all the glory we got
In life, much cannot be shown”
()
53
“Yes, here sits the perfect king,
Whose Rajya still stands as a goal
For all rulers and servants alike
Yet who comforts his troubled soul”
(Ravana)()
54
“I sit opposite him, here as in war
He pierced by life with his arrow
The King of the city of Gold
Yet alone, vilified and cold”
(Ravana)
55
“I too, led the life of truth
But my heart bears this stone
Our brother’s wife, we all took
Loveless, yet duty borne”
(Yudhisthira)
56
“Worse, you led them to battle
And not one of them came back
Your loveless wife now stands abandoned
Husbands and sons, alack”
(Bhishma)
57
“Our wives all stand abandoned
Good and true to the last,
Where of yours, o blue one
You stood for love amassed”
(Yudhisthira)
58
“You speak the truth,
you are named well for sure
From Radha to Rukmini
My story is of love, loss and more”
(Krishna)
59
“I was loved more than most
I still stand a symbol of love
Even Meera centuries later
Dissolved in it’s true light above”
(Krishna)
60
“And yet ye look again and wonder
How in love I can still trust
Abandoned, poisoned, waters blackened
Sent to fight as a child- I did what I must”
(Krishna)
61
“And yet I say to you, Sage and Kings
By our stories we were tossed,
We did because we knew we must
For comfort we were crossed”
(Krishna)
62
“We knew then what all humans learn
That nothing is built to last
Make the most of the love you have
And give more than you get, and fast”
(Krishna)

Part III
63
I watched their table and listened hard
For I had never seen any such
From power and gold, they’d earned their name
Still yearned for comforting touch
64
Dare I, step up, and ask their names
Maybe an autograph of kings
Who’d left their times and gathered here
Telling tales hidden beneath their wings
65
Could I, mere listener, even ask them
For what mattered most in life
Good, glory, love, lust
All had ended for them in strife
66
Only one seemed calm in myth and now
The blue one with peacock tail
Despite all that was thrown at him,
I’d never heard him flail.
67
Hesitantly, and as boldly as I could
Yet with respect and a little bow
I asked them what mattered real
I asked them what they know
68
As one six pairs of bright lit eyes
Turned on me in force
As if the secret to happiness
Was sought direct from the source
69
That was when I knew wordlessly
That this was what I was told
To be happy go back to the beginning
And share whatever feels like gold.
70
Thus this tale dear reader
I share what I was shown
May joy follow you for ever more
As it has followed my own.

((c) Meeta Sengupta)

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