Princess Naga and the Untouchable Ram

Pam Crane April 22, 2021
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Once upon a time, in a land so far away that this story need not strike undue fear in the gentle reader, the people worshipped a pantheon of deities not dissimilar to those with which you will be familar, and among these was of course a Trickster. You will not be surprised to learn that as Time began he took the form of a monkey, and shared his name – though not necessarily his character – with the Hindu god Hanuman. Being uniquely clever, mischievous, and exceedingly playful, this Hanuman, determined to become just as powerful as his own ineffable father, spied on the Creator god so that he might learn the secret magic with which worlds were made. In the beginning was the word, he learned; and by manipulating the word he could change the forms of matter.

The very first thing he did was to reconfigure the letters of his own name. He became Anhuman. His tail, so long and expressive, dropped away to live forever as a snake in the grass, his fur floated off into the solar wind to glow and twinkle in the aurorae, and his face so changed that it became as handsome as the countenance of Apollo, Krishna or Baldur.
One day a bright shower fell as Anhuman was admiring his new beauty in a celestial pool, and scattered his image. Every tiny reflection became a magic spark that darted and whirled through the Pleistocene forests; the sparks flashed in the eyes of their simian denizens, and in two shakes of a monkey’s tail the trees were full of transformed creatures, all walking upright with no need for a tail, all as self-aware and creative as the gods themselves. The Trickster leapt to his feet, startled, and grasped the nearest creature by the arm.
‘Who are you?’ he asked.
‘I am an human,’ came the reply. ‘You have made me in your own image. Now you must be a good father to your family.’

And so he was.
Until two days later – which in the created world took two full Ages to pass . He became restive, as many of his children did when they had run out of interesting things to do, and decided to have some fun. He had become adept at self-transformation, so one thundery day, as a girl-child was being born to the Queen of the very land in which our story is set, the Trickster changed himself into a dusty mendicant and knocked at the palace gates.
‘Who are you?’ asked the royal gate-keeper, staring with disdain at the barefoot and dishevelled old man before him.
‘I am an human like you,’ he replied, holding out an empty wooden bowl, ‘But I am also a prophet. In return for food, I have a special gift for the Queen’s new daughter.’
Holding his nose, the gate-keeper ushered the visitor through many twisting passages and up many winding stairs to the royal nursery. As his guide backed out, bowing so low his eyelashes swept the carpet, the Trickster said to the exhausted Queen,
‘Your daughter will be called the Princess Naga.’ He helped himself to a lemon from the Queen’s golden bowl, and smiled as it turned into a melon.
‘I am leaving her a magical gift which is both wonderful and dangerous. She will only be able to use it, however, when she takes the hand of her own dark twin. If you wish to keep the Princess from this danger, do not let her stray from the Palace and its grounds. And burn all your dictionaries.’
The poor Queen was distraught. She summoned her guards and had the horrid, greedy old man thrown from the turret window. The Trickster simply chuckled, became a raven, and flew away.

His next visit was to the poorest slum in the nearby capital city where, in a mud hut with mice running in the straw on a dirt floor, the ragged spouse of an Untouchable street sweeper had at the very same fateful moment given birth to her seventh son. The midwife had just put the infant to his mother’s scrawny breast when she looked up to see a stranger filling the open doorway.
‘Who are you?’ she asked, in awe of the fine figure standing before her in a rich cloak of iridescent black feathers.
‘I am god-father to this child,’ he replied. ‘His name is to be Ram; and I bring him an unparalleled gift, whose magic will only manifest when he finds and takes the hand of his royal twin. To use it he must be a hero or a fool. His only protection will be ignorance, closing his ears to voices and his lips to speech.’
The women’s eyes filled with tears of fright and they set up such a wailing that the poor baby was at once deafened. Ram spent the next eighteen years unable to hear or speak, safe from the gift that might be blessing or curse.

On her eighteenth birthday,the Princess Naga reached the limit of her patience. She addressed her father and mother:
‘Even the servants’ children go out to play, have friends to visit, and read books in corners. You have kept me away from people, from education and from fun. You summon the fortune-tellers, but never tell me what they say. You may be the King and Queen of this land, but you no longer rule over me. I am leaving, to start my life.’ And of course because she was now Of Age, despite their rage and their fear they were quite unable to stop her.

You will already have guessed that the Princess’s instinct drove her as far from the palace as her dainty feet would take her, drawing nearer and nearer to the very poorest part of the city, by the shore of its mighty river. At the same moment, the 18-year-old Ram was turning his back forever on the miserable hovel in which he had been a silent prisoner for so long. As he stood by the water preparing to drown himself, he felt someone close to him. He turned – and beheld the Princess, glorious in silks and jewels.
‘Who are you?’ he gasped, unaware of the miracle of his very first words.
‘I am Naga,’ replied the vision – and he heard her.
‘I am Ram,’ said he, ‘and you must not touch me!’
‘Nonsense!’ cried the Princess. ‘I shall do whatever I like on my birthday!’ And at this she took his hand, and the universe turned inside out, and instead of standing side by side on the shore they were sitting together astride the most wonderful horse that first took them into a canter – and then into a trance.
Ram was no longer silent but could listen.
He heard a frightened deer chased through a forest – and with a thought turned it into a reed that deflected the hunters’ arrows.
Every dog he saw turned into a god. Every god became a dog.
Even the winter gales turned into sweltering heat.
Now, though united with Naga, at a thought Ram would be untied; as soon as they were untied they became united once more. Their trance would break into a canter again, and the horse vanish, leaving them hand in hand on the shore. Everything turned into its anagram and back again faster and faster at the speed of thought. Neither had ever been in such peril… nor had the entire Creation.
Anhuman had been watching all this time, and laughed at his secret success. He turned into a breeze that whispered in their ears, ‘Together you have the power to change the World! All you need is the L-Word! Take Heart! And change your Lives! ’ and he laughed aloud again as at once Naga-Ram let all the Evils of the Earth swarm out of the abyss where the Creator-god had banished them.

The Father of Hanuman beheld all this mischief with anger. There was only one way to put an end to it and that was to intervene. He became the air that gave the Princess her voice, and made her say the very words he would much later put in the mind of an extremely clever man.
‘Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the universe!’ she found herself saying.
And this turned at once into, ‘A masquerade can cover a sense of what is real to deceive us; to be unjaded and not lost, we must, then, determine truth.’ **
The Trickster’s ruse was now in utter confusion!
The Creator said, ‘I have other magic with words. You, my son, are now not Anhuman but Inhuman. I am replacing the Evils of the Earth with the Loves of the human Heart. All will at last be well.’
And so it was.
Except of course the Princess was trapped in her palace forever; and Ram stepped into the mighty river.

(**Kurt Vonnegut)

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