The Warrior and the Sage
by Shweta Sundararajan
A year before the mountain disappeared, my life was simple.There were lessons and
chores, as for any nine-year-old girl. There was my family, and the house we lived in, in the
Brahmin colony next to the temple.There was play, and there were the stories my grandmother
Then, one afternoon, Ashraf muddled it all up.
It started innocently enough. I was on the mountain, up in a tree, pretending to be the
warrior-goddess Chamundi, when I saw seven-year-old Ashraf, in a purple kurta-pyjama and a
white cap, climbing up.
"Halt!" I yelled. "Who goes there? Are you a henchman of the terrible demon
"N-no," said Ashraf, looking all around for the voice. "Who are you?"
"I am Chamundi the terrible!"
Ashraf finally looked up and found me. "Oh, it's you, Soujanya. Can I be on the good
It turned out that, just like me, he did not like to sleep in the afternoons. After weeks of
wheedling, he had finally been allowed to go out and play.
I was glad of the company. These were enchanted hours, when the sun burned the dust
under our feet, when the trees themselves looked thirsty and even the flies looked for shade. It
always seemed such a shame that everyone else chose to sleep them away.
So together we fought the mighty demon Mahishasura and, after a tremendous battle,
Wesat panting under the tamarind tree, wondering what to play next,and Ashraf said, "Let
me be a khwaja and you can be a rani, coming to ask him for advice ruling her kingdom." He
straightened up into a cross-legged pose.
"Isn't a khwaja like a sage? Someone who meditates for magical powers?"
"Well, for wisdom, really. But yes, they get magical powers too."
Playing at sages was the most boring thing on earth, something grown-ups liked to get us
to do,something we always resisted. But Ashraf looked so eager and excited that it seemed
possible he knew how to make it fun.
"Oh. All right."
I bowed to him and said, "Great khwaja, our north borders are being attacked--"
"No! No attacks. Come on, Soujanya, think of something else."
"Good god. Fine! Let's see. I know. Great khwaja, the rains have disappointed us this
year. Crops are failing across the land. What do we do?"
"Please be patient, Your Majesty, as I meditate on this problem."
And Ashraf was gone, just like that. He closed his eyes and had them closed so long that I
thought he had fallen asleep. Disgusted, I moved away a little and resumed fighting--a whole
army of asuras this time. While I was lobbing cannon-balls at a particularly nasty fellow, with
scaly silver skin, blazing red eyes, and wickedly sharp talons, Ashraf woke up.
"It has been taken care of, rani," he said.
"But you haven't done anything, silly. How has it been taken care of?"
"I worked a miracle, you ninny. Dark clouds are gathering over your people's lands as we
speak. The problem is solved."
This was why I hated playing at sages. Not that they weren't every bit as stupendous as
warriors were: Durvasa-muni could curse the very gods themselves; Vishwamitra-muni could
create a whole new heaven just to spite them. But where was the fun in sitting in one place with
your eyes closed?