Once upon a time, deep in the forest of Mandasur, along with the nilgais, langurs, peacocks, otters, leopards and other birds and animals lived a lioness named Durga. Durga had a dream in her heart. A very big one. Every morning, the dream would beckon her with more intensity than ever. One day Durga decided to stop procrastinating and follow her dream. So she swam through the deepest rivers, navigated scary looking marshes, braved blizzards and storms and came to the final path which would take her to her dream. Far away in the horizon lay her dream– sparkling, clear and blue.
But here was the catch. The path that separated her from her dream was long winding, endless terrain filled with thorns. The thorns looked sharp, brown and dangerous. Of course there were tiny, clear patches in between. If Durga was very careful and made her calculations right, she could leap on to the patches. The thorns would still scratch her. But it was better than landing on the pile of thorns, isn’t it?
Inhaling deeply, Durga raised her face to the skies. The branches of the huge Sal trees swayed in the afternoon light. Their presence filled Durga with comfort. They would protect her, she told herself. Taking a deep breath, she leapt forward with all her might and landed on the first clear patch. But the thorns! She had underestimated their power. They cut deep into her flesh. Tears sprung to Durga’s eyes. But her lioness spirit prevailed. Taking another deep breath, she leapt on to the next clear patch. Once again, the sharp, brown and dangerous thorns tore through her flesh. This time, blood gushed out. Durga’s pain multiplied. But the lioness was stubborn. She leaped from one clear patch to the other, determined to ignore the pain that coursed through her veins.
Finally, on the twenty first patch, only the pain prevailed. She could not move another inch, forget taking a leap. On either side of the path stood the Sal trees looking fierce and gentle in their protection. Above them, the sky had turned into a shade of deep, inky blue. Inhaling deeply, Durga leaped for one last time and landed on one of the branches of the Sal tree. The woody Sal fragrance enveloped her being. In its thick, green foliage, the lioness felt safe and protected. The air was thick with the squawking of bulbuls, parakeets, fowls and egrets. As the moon rose in the sky, all fell silent. Holding on to the branches, the lioness fell into a deep slumber.
But sometime in the night, Durga woke up with a start. A barn Owl who was keeping night vigil saw all this.
“What troubles you O Lioness?”
“The pains have returned,” Durga replied, feeling more feverish and more vulnerable than ever.
“…From where O Lioness?” the barn owl asked.
“From their source dear Barn Owl.”
“And where be the source dear Lioness?”
“The source is the path that separates me from my dream O wise one.”
“Would you be so kind as to lead me to this path O Lioness?”
Durga thought for a while. Two minds were better than one. And more than that, at that moment, she trusted the Owl’s wisdom.
Getting down from the branch, Durga started to walk. Above her, the Barn Owl flew navigating the night skies. Once again, they reached the path that had left the lioness bruised and battered.
“…And so my dear friend, this is the path that wounded me. This is the path that bled me.”
The Barn Owl sighed deeply.
“Tell me dear lioness, is it that path or is it something else? For how can something so intangible cause you to bleed?”
Durga thought for a while.
“No…it is not the path. But those thorns that rest on it.”
“And who put those thorns there O Lioness?”
The Lioness winced.
“The ones I loved and the ones who I still love. The ones I lost and who are no longer a part of my universe.”
“And who else, dear Lioness?”
“Ones I hold in deep contempt,” finished Durga, the familiar pain rising in her chest.
“And why do you let them all to lay thorns on the path that is exclusively yours?”
“I don’t know O Wise owl. I don’t know if I can call this path my own. I am sure there have been others before me who have treaded this path.”
“Oh! I am sure. But at this moment O Lioness, when the night stands on the brink of dawn and the Koels and Mynahs are in their last lap of sleep, you are the one who is standing on the threshold of this path.
“So?” asked Durga, unable to comprehend what the wise Owl meant.
The Wise Owl was not the one to give tailor made answers.
“So…I guess I just brave through the thorns and reach my dream?”
“Are you absolutely sure O lioness? Now you have a lot more wisdom than what you had before you began this journey. You have choices and you know it.”
Exhaling deeply, Durga looked up.
“Look at that eagle, dear Owl. How still she looks and yet how far she travels.”
“Aah Lioness…stillness and movements are just a matter of perception. But tell me, what have you decided about the thorns?”
“You are one smart bird, Mr Owl. I guess…I can destroy these thorns.”
“You guess, or you can O Lioness?”
Durga felt her chest tighten.
“I can and I will dear Owl. I will burn them till not a single thorn remains.”
But once again doubts assailed Durga.
“But…what if…the fire destroys the Sal trees, rabbits, crocodiles, peacocks, hyenas and all the friends who I so cherish.”
The Barn Owl sighed deeply.
“You own the fire O Lioness. I am sure, you would have thought about that too.”
All of a sudden, Durga felt light hearted. She owned the fire. She owned every bit of it. Which meant she was the one who decided its course. It was like the beginning of magic.
“O Friend Owl, I can destroy only the thorns that destroyed me.”
“Now, you are talking,” beamed the owl.
“So what are you waiting for O Lioness. Go get the fire.”
Get the fire.
Get the fire.
Durga knew just the place where she could find fire. The two legged creatures who came to collect honey and other herbs from the forest had a fire burning outside their dwelling. Taking giant leaps, she came to the spot. In front of her burned the fire—crimson, warm and crackling. Taking a log in her mouth, the lioness hurried back to the path.
The thorns lay stretched in front of her. In the just emerging morning light, they looked dull and listless. The lioness inhaled deeply. For her to go to the other side of the path, the thorns must cease to exist. Only then, would she able to heal in body and mind. Only then would she be able to catch her dream.
Throwing the log on to the thorns, she muttered,
“Rise O dear Fire.
The one who resides in the Sun and stars
And the one who nurtures me, every day, every moment
Rise O Warm one
Let your heat today destroy
These thorns that lies strewn in my path.
In their fear, have I aged
In their beauty, have I grown wise.
Now I no longer have a use
For the hurt that they inflict upon me.
I have assimilated their learnings into my skin, bones and DNA.
Destroy them O fire
As you spiral higher into the sky”
Saying this, Durga sat down heavily on the floor. In front of her the flames rose higher into the sky. For a while, the thorns resisted. But their resistance was nothing compared to the strength of the fire. One by one, they got reduced to ashes. Wisps of smoke curled up into the sky.
As the lioness continued to watch, the pains from her body began to ebb. The thorns continued to die. Finally, as the last of the thorns breathed its last, the fire too left the path. All that the lioness could now see was soft, grey ash. Speckles of sunlight fell on the path.
The lioness felt light and rejuvenated. As she began to walk along the path, a few Nimbus clouds hurriedly formed in the sky. Even as the path ahead of her lay drenched in sunshine, rain drops began to fall. Durga lifted her face to the sky and let out a deep, satisfied roar. The raindrops and sunshine felt delicious on her skin. She was in her elements. Far away yet not quite out of reach, stood her dream, vivid, blue and intense.
Sitting on the branches of the sal tree, the barn owl watched all this with a slow smile spreading across his face.
©: Sridevi Datta.