Sakhya desperately needed to get into the championship. He knew that if he got in he would be unstoppable. His guru had said so…
Sakhya was in possession of just a tanka and twenty paisa, his guru’s recommendation letter and a fake identity when he reached the capital city of Puri. He was only three days from the Rudra Deva bravery championship and he had to make fifty tanka by then. Fifty tanka was no small amount, considering that one could have a sumptuous meal at a good inn and end up poorer by only two paisa.
Sakhya desperately needed to get into the championship. He knew that if he got in he would be unstoppable. His guru had said so and considering his guru’s credibility, his confidence wasn’t misplaced. If he couldn’t get in… he just didn’t want to think of that situation.
Sakhya searched for a small room on the outskirts of the city, the cheapest of them available.
“A tanka a day. You have to pay three tankas as advance,” said the landlady of the supposedly cheapest lodge he could find. A short, portly lady in her forties but looking fiftyfive, she was dressed in a sari without a blouse.
“Actually I was looking for something cheaper,” Sakhya said, almost whispered, as if by that the landlady won’t know of his poverty. “Don’t you think this is way too costly?”
“Now listen boy. This time of the year you won’t get any room for even a tanka. Visitors are coming from all over the country and from abroad. Don’t you think I am being too generous?”
“Ma’am, I have only a tanka and eighteen paisa,” Sakhya pleaded “But I am not any visitor. I come here to participate in the game.”
“You mean you have this much besides the fee of fifty tanka?”
“Actually no… but I will work that out.”
The woman gave him a sarcastic look.
“Listen, boy. I am too dumb for a Vaishya woman. That’s what people say. I may not have good business sense but the way you try to fool me is dumber.”
“Trust me mausi. I am here for the fight. I am well-prepared and am expecting one of the top honours. If I win the championship in any category, I shall pay you double the rent and acknowledge you in front of the whole city.”
“There is a good chance that Gajapati Sasankavarman would propose to me before the tournament starts. If he does, I may accommodate you in the royal palace,” the woman mocked.
Sakhya paused for a moment trying to evaluate the alternatives. It was the peak of winter and Sakhya didn’t want to risk his health just before the championship.
“Fine then. Here is a tanka. Let me stay a day and try to figure things out. If I can’t pay by tomorrow I will get out myself.”
The woman looked at the coin apprehensively.
“If you don’t get out and try to make trouble, I have my boys in the lane. They will throw you out.”
“That situation won’t come. I am a man of honour, and will keep my word.”
“Yes… yes of course,” Sakhya’s tone became a little nervous, which the landlady didn’t fail to notice. He wasn’t used to lying.
“Khandayat. Khandayat Paika.”
“Paika? From where?”
“Ah… from…” Sakhya fumbled “From Balijhari, Cuttack.”
“Anyone in Puri who can be your reference?”
The landlady was still suspicious. She sized up Sakhya. Tall, broad shouldered and well-built, he wasn’t exactly good looking, though his demeanour gave an impressive feel that quite compensated his looks. More black than brown in colour, he had a wide forehead and an intense gaze that betrayed his hesitant self. He was wearing a cheap, untidy grey kurta over an equally untidy dhoti, an indication that he had come from quite a distance. A voluminous travelling bag was hanging from his left shoulder.
“What’s in that?” the landlady asked, pointing at the unusually large bag.
“Just regular stuff.”
Sakhya promptly opened his bag to show an elegant bow and a long, sharp sword. These were the only things he was proud of, besides his mentor. He removed the sheath to show her the sword. Made of a special alloy not known to most sword-makers of the day, it was a pride handed over to him by his guru. Its shine was blinding and its edge looked deadly.
“Wow,” the landlady couldn’t help gasping “You sure are a paika. That would fetch you enough to buy my whole place.”
“This is not for sale.”
The landlady had driven a hard deal. Even after taking a tanka she had thrown him with another fellow, a Brahmin. The room was just enough for two. There were just two rugs, an earthen pot of water and a copper lota. The Brahmin was already snoring away, a leg generously spread over Sakhya’s part of the space. The Brahmin was clean-shaven except for a patch of long hair at the back of his head. He was wearing a saffron dhoti and was bare-bodied, except for the sacred thread.
Sakhya was a little frightened at the prospect of sleeping by the side of a Brahmin. Nothing would be more sacrilegious than that. He had heard that some Brahmins had a special power by which they could see through things and recognize an untouchable in their vicinity by smelling the air. He wouldn’t normally be frightened of getting busted – he could take on a fifty in combat. But this time he needed money for his family and he didn’t want any trouble lest he be not allowed to participate in the tournament. The only words of consolation for him were his guru’s words, “Nothing but the sensate is real.” He was a genius, nevertheless an eccentric atheist, “I never met God, so can’t say much about him.”
Sakhya poured some water from the pot into the lota and drank it. Not in a mood to disturb the Brahmin, he accommodated his huge self in a very limited space.
To be continued
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