“In good times I’ll be with you,
in bad times I’ll be with you,
in the depth of chasm
at the peak of joy
I’ll be with you.
I’ll be so much with you
that I will become you;
I’ll make you become me!”
Katrang hears the whisper for the second time, but he doesn’t open his eyes. He isn’t scared. He is a fourteen year old grown up boy now. He has just started the first of his early morning rituals — meditation. To be followed by thirty minutes of exercise, twenty minutes of reading Wings of Fire and fifteen minutes of journaling his morning insights. All these, before getting ready for school.
“You’ll hear many voices telling you this and that, but don’t open your eyes. Hold your focus on to the sound that you want to listen to. The sound of peace,” his Master, the Great Shen de Puran, keeps telling him almost every afternoon when he, along with many other fellow disciples, sit down to meditate in the Kung-Fu Academy.
But this isn’t the kind of chatter he hears every day in the first few minutes of meditation — the chatter from within trying to distract him from seeking the sound of peace. This is a whisper. A real one! As if someone sitting next to him is muttering these words into his ears. He can feel the presence of someone close to him, around him. Perhaps waiting for him to open his eyes.
“There are distractions all around, within yourself and outside. To be able to listen to the sound of peace, you’ve got to forego all of them,” his Master’s words echo within. Seated cross-legged and upright on a cushioned mat on the floor of his bedroom, Katrang tries to focus again. It is important to seek to listen to the sound of peace every morning, before he carries on with his daily schedule. His Master says, everyone has their own sound of peace within themselves. It takes time and practice to manifest. But when it manifests, it feels like a heart-warming melody. Katrang is yet to feel it. But with diligent seeking, he is sure, someday he will. Doing well in studies, pursuing his dream of becoming a Kung-Fu expert like his Master, helping his mother with household chores and his eight year old sister with her studies; all these require a lot of grit and patience. Meditation helps him inculcate both.
“In misery and pain
In dreams and passion
In noise and in silence
I’ll be with you
So, open your eyes and heart and soul to me
Let me…let me make you become me.”
The whisper now appears closer than before. It is a strange voice. He has never heard it before. None of his acquaintances has this kind of a voice. It is different. Kind of, distorted, but shrill enough to pierce through the eardrums. For a moment, he feels like opening his eyes and looking around. Is someone playing a prank? But who’s so stupid to play a prank so early in the morning? It’s not even 5 o’clock. He feels confused.
“When in doubt about what to do, think about what not to do,” his Master’s advice echoes again within.
He knows what not to do. Not to open his eyes and not to think about what’s going around. Rather, he should think what awaits him at the end of the day, if he can live every moment true to himself. It’s a special day for him. After school, he will fight his final contest to become second level Kung-Fu expert. If he performs well and is ordained as a second level expert, he will indeed be the youngest one in the Academy to achieve this. It is a great feat, but as his Master says, he needs to stay grounded. At the moment he shouldn’t be carried away. Fame, success and failure fade away; it’s only the learning, insights and skills that stay back.
Taking a deep breath, he imagines the view outside the glass window in front of him — the garden of their house, replete with white, pink, red and yellow dahlias, the narrow serpentine lane that goes uphill, the never-ending stretches of deep green hills, strewn with snow at places and the snow-capped mountains beyond. The sun is yet to rise, but the sky is gradually turning from still-grey to a pleasant mix of orange and blue. Birds, especially sparrows, have started their early morning chirping. It is the pleasantest part of the day. Nothing feels better than to be in sync with this early morning symphony. It is the sound of peace. He can listen to it. Feel it inside. Everywhere.
But not for long!
“Listen to me! I am your peace! Let me in!
Open your eyes. I am asking you for the last time!”
The whisper comes back again. No, it’s not a whisper anymore. It’s loud. It’s a bellowing voice. And it’s as real as the sound of his own breathing!
He almost feels the urge to open his eyes. One glimpse, just to make sure who the early morning prankster is, so that he can take him to task later. But then, other than the voice he doesn’t feel any sign of presence of a second person in the room. Like a movement or a smell. Except for the continuous whistling of the autumn wind outside. The sound of the wind is a bit strange though. Eerie, to be specific.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy
–He remembers the line from his rapid reader, an abridged version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He also reckons what his English teacher had said while explaining that line:
“There are indeed mysteries we can’t figure out. There will always be. So we must not think about them all the time. Instead, we should focus on what is important for us. Mysteries reveal themselves when the time is right.”
The echo of those lines has a calming effect on him. In the next few moments he feels everything around and within him sinking in a realm of absolute quietness. There is nothing more to think about. Nothing more to look for. In a moment a drowsy inertia engulfs him. There’s nothing more to feel, either.
When he opens his eyes, he finds his parents, sister and his Master standing by him. He is not sitting upright, but lying down on a bed. There is also Dr. Khurana, their family doctor, and his assistant standing there. All six pairs of eyes on him with a fixed gaze. He feels he can’t move his hands and feet. They are tied tightly with thick ropes to the edges of the bed. He can’t even move his body, as he starts feeling an unbearable pain in every part. He looks around, still feeling drowsy. It’s neither his bedroom, nor any of the rooms in their house. He recognizes the room. When his sister was born eight years ago, his mother was kept in a similar room. It’s a private room in the Dr. Khurana’s nursing home.
It takes two weeks for Katrang to be released from the nursing home. During these days, he gets to know that he was brought to the nursing home four days before he opened his eyes. For four days, he was lying unconscious. His master, the Great Shen de Puran, had struck him a mortal blow on the left side of his chest in a bid to stop his heart beat. That was the only way out to stop him from the havoc he was wreaking on every moving thing that came by him before he fell to his master’s blow. Nobody knows where he got that beastly strength from, but in that fit of destruction, he had turned their house almost into ruins, wounded at least twenty seven of his fellow disciples in the Kung-Fu Academy and had nearly killed his master with a surprise attack on him with two Qiang swords. He had used those weapons like an expert, whereas he had never been trained on them. Police had to be called, and tranquilizers had to be used. But nothing had worked. Finally, his Master had decided, quite sadly though, to give him the Touch of Death.
“I had used this only once before, and the man died on the spot. He was my best friend, Liam. In a fit of anger he had killed his entire clan. His uncles, aunts, cousins, everyone. And then he attacked me in the same way the way you did. With swords. I executed the Touch of Death to save myself. But lost my friend to it,” Shen de Puran had said with teary eyes, while Katrang was getting ready for a walk in the nursing home garden with him on the eighth day of his stay.
“Why didn’t I die then, Master?” Katrang couldn’t hold on to his curiosity. He couldn’t remember any of the things his parents or his Master say he had done.
“I never thought you’d come out of it, son. But you did. Or else I would have been guilty of killing someone who didn’t even know why he was doing something he would never want to do. You are a brave boy. I’ll teach you how to deal with this too,” Shen de Puran had said, gently placing his hand upon Katrang’s head.
His Master’s compassionate touch was like soothing breeze in the middle of unbearable heat. The pain in his body hadn’t fully subsided yet.
Two weeks after the nightmarish episode in his life, he feels sad to see the tastefully made interiors of his house in ramshackle. His father had spent two-thirds of their family savings to do up the house. God knows how long it will take to bring everything back to normal.
“Everything will be alright, Babu. You don’t feel bad about all these. Master Shen told us everything. It was actually not your doing,” his father consoles him.
“Whose doing was it then, papa?” he feels like asking. But he doesn’t. Mysteries reveal themselves when the time is right, runs past his mind.
“You know what, Katrang? I still don’t know why Liam wanted to kill me,” Master Shen tells him while taking a sip from a cup of tea. He has accompanied Katrang and his father to their home after Katrang’s discharge from the nursing home.“I know why he killed his entire clan. Because they had betrayed him, robbed him and his brothers of their inheritance. Rich people they were. The big and the rich often get into such scuffles. But why me? I still wonder. You know, I miss him at times. He was a nice man. My best friend. I still remember the sweet melody he used to sing for me. Long before, when I hadn’t found mine, Liam’s melody was my sound of peace:
In good times, I’ll be with you
In bad times I’ll be with you…”