How long is eternity?
Updated: Oct 1
“Dadu tell me a story.”
“You always fall asleep halfway”, I replied knowing full well she won’t give up that easily.
Carla was my granddaughter. She stayed in the states with her parents. Once a year she would come to visit us during the festivals. This year she broke her leg skating and my son arranged for me to come to visit her. We have come to a silent agreement, the two of us. Every night after dinner I would tell her a story, and in the morning she would tell me everything about her school and the boys she liked.
- I don’t remember any new stories.
- Then tell an old one.
I paused and looked at her. Her eyes were glistening with excitement. She wouldn’t go to sleep anytime soon, which meant I would have to tell her a long one. I dimmed the lights and looked out of the window, the sky was sprinkled with stars and the moon shone high above. I started:
“Long before the tribe of men came to this Earth. This land was ruled by strange beasts. They were far powerful than humans and built great cities and monuments with their bare hands. They were a skilled lot and yet wise and kind. But they were not alone, you see the Earth was home to many such species. There were the beasts, the first of the men, and giants. The giants were at war with the beasts for centuries, the giants were powerful beings but had neither the skills nor the dexterity of their rival.
But times change and empires fall. The first of the men, your great forefathers started hunting these beasts. They weren’t easy to kill or hunt. But these men, cunning and evil as they were called upon the giants and prayed to them. The giants got stronger and stronger, feeding on their prayers. By and by most of the beasts were killed, the ones that survived were driven into exile.
Mahzur was one such poor creature. In the end, he was truly the only beast left, the last of his kind. His kind were farmers, skilled with the plough, and could work magic even with the most unfertile lands…”
- What kind of name is Mahzur?
-Our tongues are not built to pronounce his name, Mahzur is the closest approximation.
- Then, what happened?
“Well, Mahzur was a quiet beast. Sad and lonely. He ploughed the Earth and brought the harvest to the village in return for little food. The villagers did not like him, they observed him from distance. He was a beast of great strength, they thought. He had the head of a bull and the body of man, almost as tall as the trees of the woods. He was dark and silent, and his hands worked gently and skillfully as he toiled the Earth. The harvest was plenty and the food was flavourful.
The men grew envious of the beast and tried to imitate him, but they did not have his skill or his strength. So grudgingly they tolerated him and gave him leftovers. He stayed outside the village near the fields. In the past, his kind lived in great comfort. But Mahzur did not complain. He liked sleeping in the open, under the vast sky, sprinkled with stars. The sweet smell of the Earth reminded him of his youth.
Mahzur had a friend. A small village girl, who could reach no higher than his knees. The girl played in the fields where he worked. She was sweet and innocent and occasionally brought him fruits and berries. Mahzur would make her toys - clay idols that he built from the Earth. He would tell the stories of his fathers and forefathers through the idols. When the stories were told he would give them to her, and she would take them back with her. Her eyes glistening with excitement. The girl had a pet, a lion with the head of a fox. It was a sly, cunning creature and followed her closely. Mahzur did not trust the creature but said nothing.”
- And then, then what happened??
“ The villagers grew more and more envious, they realized that they would never match the skill or strength of the beast. They realized that although they could learn anything, they could never work the Earth like the beasts. The giants that they prayed to, were useful in wars and for offering protection but rarely took any interest in their daily lives. They decided Mahzur had served his purpose. The beast sensed this as well and thought of going away to another place, somewhere the tribes of men hadn’t yet set foot.
‘When the moon is full and the men of the villages have slept, wait outside the woods. She’ll meet you there’, the fox faced lion said. Mahzur wanted to meet his only friend before he left. He had made her a clay idol that she could play with. It resembled Mahzur.
The beast sat outside the woods as was agreed upon. The village had long slept and the moon was high upon his head. But the air felt heavy and the sweet smell of the Earth was filled with the stench of treachery. Mahzur looked south towards the village. The villagers had gathered in large numbers. They were angry and shouting, their hands held flaming torches and spears.
Mahzur knew what would happen. The men would hunt him and kill him. His hide would be skinned and offered to the giants as a prayer. His head would be mounted on a spike outside the forest to turn away wild animals. Mahzur started running. He ran in disgust and in disbelief. But mostly he ran in fear.
He ran through the woods and the villagers followed, the light from their torches glazing by. They shouted and screamed - ‘ kill the traitor’. The woods shuddered - ‘kill the traitor’. The wind whispered - ‘kill the traitor’. The leaves rustled softly and sadly - ‘Kill. The. Traitor.’
Mahzur ran fast and strong. The men fell behind in the woods while he was already in the fields. The grass smelled of freedom and Mahzur could already see the orange in the horizon. He was on all fours now, sprinting with all his might. He noticed the fox faced lion close at his heels. Its sly face twisted with a treacherous smile.
“What did you do?”, asked Mahzur panting.
“What did you do to the girl?”, the beast asked again. Fear clawed his insides.
“What girl?”, laughed the lion. Mahzur tripped and fell. The lion closed its jaws around the beasts’ leg. He roared in pain. He saw the villagers had now crossed the woods. The light from their torches poured onto the field.
It was then that Mahzur looked up. The sky had turned crimson red, the contour of an enormous giant, furious and feminine had encroached the view. She was coming down, a trident in her hands. Her hair danced like dark rippling fumes that mark the aftermath of a terrible fire. Her skin shone like gold in the first light of the sun and her face - Mahzur knew that face. He had seen it numerous times, beam with joy and happiness when he made her toys from the Earth.
The trident pinned him down to the ground. The last thing Mahzur saw were the eyes of the little girl he loved- glistening with excitement.”
“And then? Is that the end? Did he die?”, Carla asked, her voice choked with tears.
I breathed a heavy sigh as I looked at her. She was too young and too innocent for the story. But I continued nonetheless:
“Well no. Mahzur was the last of the great beasts. And as the laws of the universe would have it the very last creature of any kind could not really die. They lived on through eternity. His body did indeed die that night. But he lives through stories. The tribes of men worshipped the giant that killed him, celebrating his death. Over time they changed his name and appearance. They wove lies to justify his killing. But each year Mahzur lived again, only to be betrayed and killed.
Men’s years were shorter than the beasts’, their measure of time was flawed. Yet every year, during the festivals when they sang of the giants’ glory, Mahzur asked Mother Earth, who saw all and knew everything,
How long is eternity?”