What is uprooting the only tree in our courtyard?
The tree that always gave us love and protection; it is now trembling with fear, the fear of an invisible monster which is tearing it down.
This mysterious ogre grew up on our blood. Is it death? The ultimate end? Perhaps not. It seems that the hate that we nourished in our minds for each other for so long is finally catching up with us, pushing us close to our end.
We cannot blame anyone for this. We were warned that this hatred will one day devour us but we ignored the warning. And now we have fiends and ghouls inside our homes. We want to cast them out but we cannot.
They tie us upside down on that old tree which is already shivering with fear. We mourn our loss but nobody is there to help us out.
We are stuck in a whirlpool and we are drowning. We cannot escape because there is no escape.
We are so scared that we cannot even scream. We are waiting, hanging upside down, and the priests of this religion of fear are performing our last rites. But we are silent.
We wait, hanging upside down, for the redeemer to come and deliver us. But we do not realise that there is no redeemer. Nobody will come and rescue us. Nobody will bring us our freedom.
We just have blood-sucking bats. And they have a job too. They have been asked to make sure that we do not escape.
We are the prisoners of these fearful priests who want our blood. And they suck our blood every night to perform their filthy rites.
They force us to celebrate every death in our neighbourhood. The moon brings some comfort. But as the sun sets, the jackals come out, hordes and hordes of them, howling madly. Their howling brings out the dead, instilling new fears among the living.
This is how one of the four regular dervishes at the Alif Laila Tavern, Virginia, began his story but before he could finish, someone in the audience stopped him.
“This is a morbid story, we want something cheerful,” he said.
“Cheerful? OK,” said the dervish. “Here is a cheerful story.”
“This is the story of a nation of amputees and its leaders, both military and civilian and now judicial too,” he said. “You may ask how an entire nation lost its limbs. It is simple, this problem started with one person and spread like a jungle fire until the whole nation was affected.”
“A man went to a surgeon and showed his leg, which was blue. The surgeon amputated the leg. But soon his other leg also went blue and was amputated. The man got an artificial leg.
“After a while that leg went blue too, so he went to the surgeon again. The surgeon looked at the artificial leg and said: ‘Now I know what is wrong with you. Your dhoti sheds colour.’”
“So now that you know how we have a nation of amputees, can I proceed with my story?” asked the dervish.
“It is very gloomy. We do not want to know,” said the audience.
“Gloomy? Jokes are supposed to make you laugh,” the dervish said.
“No, we cannot laugh. It was a cruel joke,” the audience responded.
“You cannot laugh. You cannot cry. Do you know why?” the dervish asked.
And without waiting for their response, he added: “You have lost your emotions. And it only happens when you lose your ability to hear or tell stories.”
And then he started telling them how an entire village lost its ability to tell stories.
“This happened long, long ago,” said the dervish. “So long ago that people had not yet learned to read books, at least not in this village. And since they could not read, they had no books in the village.”
So the story-fairy came to this village one day, thinking she will teach the villagers how to read and write. And as it often happens in such stories, the fairy came to that village disguised as a beautiful songbird.
She sat on a tree and started singing a beautiful song. The villagers heard this song and gathered around the tree, men, women and children.
“It is a beautiful bird,” said one of them. “It sings so well. Let us capture it.”
They brought their nets and traps and began laying them around the tree to catch the bird. The bird, since it was no bird but a fairy, escaped and went to another tree and started singing again.
They villagers went to that tree too with their nets and traps but failed to catch the bird. When they failed for the third time, they brought catapults and tried to shoot the bird down.
This also failed, so they gave little stones to their children and asked them to drive the bird away.
When the bird, which was no bird but the story-fairy, saw this, she quietly flew away from the village.
When the night came, the children gathered around fireplaces, in their living rooms and inside their bedrooms and asked their mothers and grandmothers to tell them stories as they did every night.
But no matter how hard they tried, their mothers and grandmothers could not tell a story. They seemed to have forgotten all the stories they knew, so they asked their men.
But the men proved as helpless as the women. So the children had to go to bed without their bedtime stories.
When it happened night after night, the villagers sent their men far and wide to find out what was wrong with their village, who had cursed it and how to remove this curse.
They went everywhere but nobody could find a cure for this strange ailment. Not until one day a very old man came to the village and told them he was a retired wizard from the story land and he knew what was wrong with them.
“You annoyed the story-fairy who came to your village as a songbird but you tried to trap it, shoot it down and threw stones at it. So she flew away, taking all the stories with her,” said the old man.
“What do we do now?” asked the villagers.
“It is easy. Go and buy birdfeed and setup little birdhouses around your village. Fill them with birdfeed and put little pots, filled with water near them.
“This will bring birds from far and wide, and one day the story-fairy will also return. If she is satisfied with your arrangement and feels that you really repent what you did, she may return your stories,” the old man said.
So the villagers setup a body, gave them money to buy bird feed and birdhouses and some more money to set them up. But people entrusted with this task did everything except what they were asked to do.
They collected funds in the name of the story-fairy but used them for buying everything but what they were supposed to buy.
To convince the people that they meant business, they changed the name of their village to the Great People’s Republic of the Storytellers. Then to the Great Religious Republic of the Storytellers. And then to the Great Liberal Republic of the Storytellers.
But such gimmicks did not bring back the story-fairy or her stories. People still hope that one day the fairy will return with her stories. So they keep on funding these governing bodies. What they do not know is that the people they have entrusted with this task are working against it.
They have hired people who go from tree to tree with their catapults and scare away the birds. They do not want their funds to stop by bringing back the stories.
They are good at chanting slogans, though. So if you go to this village, you will often hear: “Long live the Republic of the Story-fairy,” – story or no story.
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