futile trial by fire

(this was 500-word flash fiction, a contest entry on the platform, Penmancy. The theme was ‘verve‘, where we had to include the following lines in the story.

the buffaloes bellowed, the boys shouted, and the birds flew shrieking from the trees.)


The futile trial by fire

The chariot set in motion as Lakshman cracked his whip, and I turned around to look at the massive palace I had painstakingly and dedicatedly restored to its glory. Unfortunately, I missed meeting my beloved Ram since he had already left to douse some statesmanship trouble brewing at the Ayodhya borders.

I was on my way to the holy abode of revered Rishi Valmiki. Having lived in Panchvati* during exile, I missed the forest’s enchanting freedom. Despite having worldly opulence and the love and respect of my family and the people of Ayodhya and beyond, I felt an esurient lacuna in my heart.

Given the coronation duties, I barely had the time and energy to reminisce and reflect on my life. As if sensing my discomfort, my twins began their somersaults in my womb, changing the contours of my convex belly, calming me instantly.

As the chariot entered the thresholds of the forest, I was enamored by the lush greenery as the trees waved their welcome, the bushes showing off their flowers like their prized ornaments. I reveled in the embrace of the wild-smelling air and let the wilderness seep into my soul.

However, the sense of untowardness returned with a vengeance.

Did I disregard the presages?

Was it when Hanuman bid adieu? Did I fail to comprehend his fathomless deep eyes despite the merriment around? Or when Sage Vashishtha frowned on the coronation day regardless of blessing Ram amidst the cacophonic roar of applause?

Was it the vision of Lord Shiva with his matted locks, beautiful blue throat, and arm raised in benediction? “Keep your mind on Me…in the darkest hour,” Why did the Lord say that?

As we neared the Yamuna river close to the hermitage, I decided to freshen. I smiled, watching a group of ashram boys who had brought the buffaloes for a bath. My heart soared, watching them sparkling in the majestic water sprays as they drenched the buffaloes. The melodious birds perched on the surrounding trees provided the needed balm to my anxious mind.

Having washed, I turned to Lakshman to proceed on our journey, but to my horror, he was weeping silently

“What… what is it, Lakshman?” I asked, my sense of foreboding bearing heavily on my heart.

“I am sorry, sister-in-law; I am only doing this on Ram’s command.”

“I don’t understand….”

“I am here to leave you in Valmiki’s ashram… forever. Ram has banished you from Ayodhya…. and…”

I didn’t hear the rest. My head spun, and I held on to a fallen muddy sprig to maintain my footing.

Subdued susceptibilities and rage overcame my prudence, and an unwomanly strident wail escaped my dried lips.

In tandem with my disposition, the buffaloes bellowed, the boys shouted, and the birds flew shrieking from the trees.

I pushed my way barefoot, impetuously through the bushes, the heartache more agonizing than the pricking thorns.

My Pyrrhic Agnipariksha* ineloquent, I was never a part of the decision-making but a sacrificial goat.

I was a woman…


Author notes (*)

  • Panchvati: One of the forests where Ram, Sita, and Lakshman spent the days during their exile.
  • Agnipariksha: Trial by fire. Sita had to face this to prove her chastity after she was freed from Lanka. Metaphorically used here.




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