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Adventures in Aipotu
By Sanat Mohanty
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Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 6, Part 1

The Turtle's Tale

Her heart felt sorry for having to part with the kind old man. At least in Aipotu, he was God. She clutched her fists and began to walk resolutely, trying hard not to cry at parting with that old man with a flowing beard. Another grassland stretched out in front of her. She stayed on the path that weaved through the grass. The grass was as tall as her shoulders - her head barely stayed over the waving green surface. Up ahead on the path lay a large gray rock. It seemed rather slippery and Damini wondered whether she could scale it without slipping. She considered walking around it but the tall grass on either side of the grass seemed formidable and Damini did not want to lose sight of the path. Before she could make up her mind, the rock moved. And then an old wizened face peeped out from under the rock. Damini realized she was looking at a large tortoise like creature.

"Hi, I am Damini", she said. It had become second nature, now, for Damini to speak to animals, plants and even boats.

The creature tilted its head, looked up and Damini and the replied. "I am Aris Turtle. You are late", the turtle added curtly. "I have been waiting for you for quite sometime."

Damini stared at the turtle. No one had spoken to her in this manner. But this turtle was at least five thousand years old. Besides, he called himself Aristotle, err, Aris Turtle. He looked very wise too. Damini was sure that he would tell her interesting things. So Damini decided that she would not be put off by Aris Turtle's tone. "I am sorry", she said. "I was with God and we were delayed."

"Hmm", Aris Turtle grunted. It almost sounded like a bad musician blowing his horn. "Lets get on. Get on my back or you will lose me in this sea of grass." Damini clambered on to Aris Turtle's back. She slipped a couple of times but eventually found footholds and steady her self. Aris Turtle waded into the swaying green sea. Damini's head was barely over the grass. "Girl", Aris Turtle asked loudly. "Are there any good story tellers on Earth these days?"

"Oh yes", Damini replied, enthusiastic to talk about her favorite authors. "There is Gorge Lucas and his stories situated a long time ago in a place far away and there is Growling who writes about witches and wizards and whose main character is this boy wizard named Hatty Porrer. And then, there is Talkin who talks about dwarves and elves and hobbits." "You mean rabbits?", Aris Turtle interjected. "No I mean habits. Or may be robbits." Damini was confused. She could not remember things from Earth very clearly. With the amicable "Water Connoisseur", that seemed all right but she really wanted to show this wise old Aris Turtle how intelligent she was.

"Bah!", Aris Turtle exclaimed. "Wizards and elves. Really. The standard of story telling has indeed gone down. And what names these folks have? Growling and Talkin! Are these real names, for Aipotu's sake? In my days we would tell stories of societies and ethics and how we should organize our selves. There were Plato and Socrates and some other great men. Even a few centuries ago Voltaire was telling stories. And Goethe. Stories that had meaning. Let me show you a story that is worth telling."

"You mean you will tell me a story", Damini replied, trying to correct the wise turtle's obvious mistake. "No, I meant what I said, girl!", the turtle replied curtly. Immediately, on the right a portal opened up. On the portal she could see the sun rising over a village. The architecture was clearly Japanese. Damini realized that she was watching something like a television.

"Hundreds of years ago, in a land that you call Japan, there was a village on the eastern coast. In that village lived a landlord - a wise man who was loved by all who knew him", Aris Turtle narrated. "His wife had died and now he lived with his son, whom he loved dearly. He also had a horse that he cared about. Our story begins one morning when the landlord discovered that the door of his horses stable was open and the horse was missing." The scene moved to the landlord's house where a servant gave him the news. It was clear that either someone had stolen the horse or the door had been left open unintentionally and the horse ran away. The news spread through the village and hundreds of people came to the landlord's house to commiserate with him. Everyone came and said that they were sorry that the horse was missing, that it was indeed bad luck and that it must hurt the landlord to be without his favorite horse. The landlord received the villagers kindly, offered them refreshments, told them not to worry since nothing could be done about it now. He behaved in an emotionally balanced manner. The villagers were rather astounded to see that the landlord was not at all affected by the news of his horse missing.

A few days went by and the landlord's favorite horse came back. It had found the door unlocked and had run away into the forests. There it met a number of wild horses. After a few days, it missed home and his friend, the landlord and trotted back. However, it did not come back alone. With this horse, there came a number of other wild horses. Thus, the landlord now had about a hundred horses. This was rather unusual news and traveled through the village like a forest fire. All the villagers came to meet the landlord and told him how lucky he was and that it was indeed a windfall that he now had so many more horses. All the villagers came to tell him how they were happy for him. The landlord nodded at their statements, smiled at their happiness and offered them refreshments. However, it was clear that he was not ecstatic. When the villagers left, he had some people help him make more stables and corrals for the new horses. Life continued as before.

A few months went by. His son, who was in his early teens, was one day trying to ride one of the wild horses. The horse bucked and threw him off. As the boy fell, the horse trampled on his left foot. Hearing his cries for help, some people passing by jumped over the fence and helped him out. His life was saved but his left foot had to be amputated below his knee. The entire village gathered at the landlord's house. The atmosphere at the house was rather somber. The landlord received everyone kindly and had refreshments passed around. He sat with his son after the amputation, speaking quietly with him. As it became evening, he thanked everyone for coming and requested that they all go home. As people offered condolences, he accepted them and answered that such things happen and one must live on. But at no time did the villagers feel he was very sorry or angry as to why this was happening to him.

Life went on. The son recovered and began to learn to move around with one leg. Thanks to his father, he became strong and did not wallow in self-pity. He went around energetically, just as before. Years passed by. The boy grew up into a strong young man and the landlord grew older. The times began to change and a civil war was thrust upon that region. All the young men were drafted to join the local lord's army. All except the landlord's son, since he was handicapped. The war went on for a few months and the fortunes of the two sides changed every week - sometimes every day. In the end, the side that the people of this village were on, lost. Most of them were killed and some were taken prisoners. The village had lost all its young men - all except the son of the landlord.

All the villagers gathered around the landlord, weeping. The landlord received them cordially, heard their sorrows and offered them food to eat and took care of them. They were sorry to have lost their young men. And they told the landlord that he was really lucky to have his son with him. The landlord nodded but was not overly happy nor was he very sad. As usual, he was his equanimous self. Soon the villagers left.

His son came up to him and asked him why he was neither happy nor sad. He asked him why he had never seen his father, the landlord, happy at his windfalls or sad at his misfortune. The landlord told him the story of his mother's death. He told him that she had slipped into the village river and was drowning. The landlord, then a strong young man, saved his wife from drowning. However, there was so much water in her lungs that she would not live a healthy active life again. It was clear that she would either die or stay impaired for the rest of her life. The landlord did not know what he should wish for. Should he wish for his young wife to die or to live an impaired life? His wife died soon after but that incident taught the young lord that we never know what is for good and what is for bad. We can never judge when we are lucky and we are unlucky. For should he not have mourned the horse running away? But it was that horse that had brought to him other horses. "Should he not have considered himself lucky and been ecstatic at the turn of events?", Aris Turtle asked. "But then, it was one of the wild horses that caused his son to lose his foot. Should he have cried at his misfortune? For it was this physical handicap that saved his son from going to war and being killed."

The portal disappeared just as it had appeared. Damini turned her head and asked, "But does this imply inaction? Does it imply a fatalistic attitude where we must accept whatever comes our way and not do anything about it?"

"No, girl", Aris Turtle replied, irritably. "This story is not about inaction. It is about how we perceive events. If we understand that events are tied to each other and we cannot predict what event leads to what, we will make decisions calmly, we will act without anger, hatred or sadness. Various cultures in the world have a pithy to describe this. They say that everything happens for the best."

Damini sat quietly, thinking about the story. She remembered her mother use that proverb often. The landlord seemed like a wonderful person. She would have liked to meet him. Aris Turtle's story was a gem - and she told him that.

With no hint of humility, the turtle replied, "Yes, I know it's a great story. Did I not tell you that there were wonderful storytellers in our times? Now it is your turn to tell me things. Tell me about your society girl? How is your society governed?"
 

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By Sanat Mohanty
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