“Amma, tell me a story,” I asked her one day, Amma on that winter morning was busy shelling
peas but she paused and gave me a shrewd eye look. The one that made people say I took after
her. She reminded me I was twenty-four and a little too old to be told stories. I picked the pan
with peas off of her lap and planted my head instead. She brushed my head, whispered if I was
alright. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t, but I was always told a man may never get too old to listen
to stories but he does get old enough at some point to not tell what’s bothering him to anyone.
Not even to his worried mother. She sighed, poked me in my cheek and cleared her throat.
‘Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away
(“Why do all stories start the same way?” I asked her, she shrugged. It was one of those rules
apparently, she said. Like how men won’t share their secrets with anyone else. “Fair enough.”)
Came a storm and quake so strong,
That it flooded the city and took mighty towers from their roots,
It thundered and shook brave men in their iron suits.
But the storm isn’t part of this story,
Plenty of storms come and go.
Many of them less and others are worse,
The story started after the storm passed.
The story of a wise emperor and his strange curse.
For in the heart of the city, in the court of the emperor himself
Appeared a crack in the floor, like a wound on the earth.
Ordinary at first sight easily jumped over in a leap
The only issue with it that it was dead centre of his keep.
One other issue with crack, just a minor-little case
It was deep, deep enough that not the keenest of the king’s watcher could see its base.
The emperor, wise as he was, paid no heed to it at first.
His subjects needed him, and yet
How could he worry about his vanity?
While the people hungered and thirst.
Every night as he lay down,
The crack waited for him in his dreams.
So went on life for the emperor.
His days busy with state and nights consumed by the wound on his courtroom’s floor.
He’d sit on his throne, pass laws and make judgments
All the while, the pit at the corner of his eyes.
One morning, the emperor sent out his heralds with the message thus.
“whosoever could mend the crack shall receive their weight in gold.”
Men and women came from far and wide; both well-meaning and selfish ones,
Some came for the reward,
others for the love of their lord.
They put in rocks first,
All the rubble left by the storm crushed and gravelled went in,
Then ruins of homes abandoned around the city and then sands from all the desert around his
In the end, the wound in the ground looked fresh as ever.
A Wiseman, with his beard whitened with age, came forth and counselled his emperor thus,
ignore the hole outside and look at the wound within. “for no simple crack can ever bind a man’s
Consumed by the thought of it, the lord nodded and sent the Wiseman on his way.
Unheard and unheeded.
Then came water, the largest canal ever made by mankind since the dawn of men,
Drew water from the great river at the edge of his kingdom to the heart of his court, and when
The mighty river had run all but dry…
one could only hear faint gurgle at the water drained down the pit.
The crops are dying, said an adviser.
With the river dried. The emperor opened his stores to people, and for a moment all was well.
With earth and water, they tried.
with earth and water, they failed.
Longer and longer, the hole bore on his mind until the thought of it could not be assailed.
Soon the pit followed him even in waking hours.
All he could think of was the pit and what waited for him at the bottom.
In a fit of madness one day, the emperor ordered his men to fill the crack with gold.
Out of love for their master and fear, his men obeyed.
Three days and three nights, they endlessly relayed.
Shoving treasure and keepsakes until his coffers ran dry,
Then with taxes from his people in the city, the soldiers continued to try
Emperor, once wise and mighty, now a king in but name
Walked in the empty halls, shunned by his own people
Who still loved him but thought his mind went feeble.
Poor, starving and almost mad.
Days passed, and in his mind,
the crack widened, growing ever deeper.
The thought of it blotted everything else.
In this darkness of mind, the emperor heard the storm,
And heard his people cry in fear outside his walls, calling for him.
The pit dragged him towards itself, its thought pulling with a deadly ease
What did it matter? Part of him demanded if they feared and perished.
He had lost everything too, all that he had ever cherished.
Let them scream themselves hoarse,
Let them surrender to fear and despair.
You have more pressing matters
You have a crack that demands repair.
And it was like clouds parting before the sun,
In a moment of precious clarity, the emperor understood all that he had done.
The Wiseman’s words came to him again,
Ignore the hole outside and look at the wound within.
Well, that could wait for a while longer
The emperor had more important knots to bind,
He called for his general
At last, the emperor made up his mind.
He understood the folly in dwelling on what he could do nothing about when there were things
he could improve.
At that moment, he accepted the wound as a flaw he could never rid of but must live despite it.
He threw his gates open to shelter everyone around.
When the storm passed, and his people returned to their homes. The emperor noticed… the crack
in the floor was starting to heal.’
“Hmmmmm?” I was still in her lap. She had picked her peas again, only now it was on my belly.
“Why did you tell me that story?” she shrugged. I asked her if she knew what was going on, but
she popped a pea in my open mouth. She told me it was one of those unspoken rules, like how
men can’t tell their secrets and how all stories must start once upon a time in a land far, far away;
mothers always knew what stories their children needed to be told and when.