by Abha Iyengar
Mithuna wanted to see the world with a thousand eyes. He wanted to see what others saw, the way they saw the world. He wanted to have different views of the same thing and of different things. He wanted this so much that he walked and walked and walked till he reached the highest mountain peak of the Himalayas. Then he sat there, cross-legged, and meditated. He sat like this for five years, lost in ‘tapasya’, without eating or drinking. He was like a block of stone covered with ice and frost, yet he breathed. And he invoked all the gods to grant him his wish.
Eventually, Shiva, the God of a thousand dances, the God of the third all-seeing eye, decided to grant his wish. He appeared before Mithuna in the form of a snake, ready to bite him. Mithuna could not see the snake for his eyes were closed, he could not sense the snake for he was lost in meditation, concentrating only on his wish and that it be granted. The snake went up to him and bit him.
Mithuna did not feel anything. He was numb to all outside sensation or stimuli. The ice and frost fell away from Mithuna. He was exposed, a beautifully preserved piece of flesh. The snake coiled itself around him. Mithuna continued with his meditation. The snake licked Mithuna’s eyes. Mithuna did not open them. The snake slithered off and changed into Shiva.
“Open your eyes,” Shiva commanded, but Mithuna ignored the command.
“I am Shiva, commanding that you do so,” said the god, but Mithuna ignored him.
Shiva knew what Mithuna wanted, but he wanted him to spell it out.
“What is it you wish for?” he asked, yet he received no answer. Shiva was losing patience in the face of this lack of response.
“I will grant you your wish,” said Shiva, “Open your eyes.”
Mithuna slowly opened his eyes and though the process was painful, his eyes having been sealed shut for years, he finally managed to do so. Shiva did not help him in this. He was angry that he had to say that he would grant the wish before Mithuna began to open his eyes.
Mithuna saw the god, resplendent and blue, throwing his golden light. It was like sunshine in the frosty cold surrounds. Shiva heated up the place with his presence, more so because he was angry now. Mithuna began to smile, his lips bleeding and dry, the skin like cracked badam shells.
“So,” thundered Shiva, stopping himself from breaking into a ‘tandava’ dance of anger. His dance would shake the world and he did not want the other gods protesting. They had been complaining that he was upsetting the world order too much with his impromptu dances, creating earthquakes and typhoons out of time.
“So,” he repeated. “What is it that you want?”
“You know it,” said Mithuna, hands folded now in supplication. Caked with mud and grime of the many years, they looked more like thick black knarled branches.
“Why do you want this?”
“I want to look at the world with a thousand eyes. I will see so much more than what I see with these eyes of mine. I will see the same thing in myriad ways.”
“But why this wish?”
Mithuna did not tell him. If the god knew, well and good. If he did not, so much the better. This is what Mithuna thought.
Now, Shiva had to grant him the wish since he had done so much ‘tapasya’. Yet, he would not give it to him so easily.
“A thousand eyes you will get. Which ones do you want? I can give you a thousand new ones.”
“No,” Mithuna mocked Shiva’s attempts to change his boon. Mithuna had not done such rigourous ‘tapasya’ for new eyes.
“A thousand eyes of the dead? They would have seen a lot.”
“No,” said Mithuna. “They deal with the past.” Mithuna had not done such rigourous ‘tapasya’ for dead eyes.
Shiva gave up his attempts to save the eyes of the living.
“The ones that belong to your people in this land of Yunida?”
“No. They are common enough.”
“I want to see the world from the eyes of those who travel, who have been to different places. I want to gouge their eyes out and make them mine. No human should prevent me from fulfilling this wish.”
Mithuna stopped himself from asking for more. Shiva was looking at him, fire in his eyes.
Shiva said, “I will grant you your wish. But you will have to gouge the eyes out of each traveller that arrives in the port city of Momandapa in your land. Do not spare any one. If you fail to gouge out the eyes of even one traveller, all the eyes that you would have procured till then will return to the owners. You will lose your own eyes as well. The owners, no longer blind, may find you and do whatever they want to you, a blind man. You have to be ready for this.”
But Shiva knew that any man who could do ‘tapasya’ for five years on the highest peak of the Himalayas and not feel the sting of Shiva’s snake bite would not find this prospect daunting.
Mithuna bowed his big head. His face was black, long and narrow, made longer by the black beard that covered it now.
“When you have the thousandth eye, you must stop. Do not forget the count. For if you gouge out the thousand and one eye, then too, you will lose all the eyes, including yours. Be prepared.”
But Shiva knew that any man who could do penance for five years on the highest peak of the Himalayas and not feel the sting of Shiva’s snake bite would not find this prospect daunting.
Mithuna, a man who had waited so long, was prepared.
“So be it,” said Shiva.
Mithuna made his way back down the mountains, feeling the blood course through his veins, feeling the sun of his land heat his body, feeling the cool waters clean his skin, feeling the rough texture of his cheek after the beard was removed. He now felt more alive than ever before.
He did not get his fingernails completely trimmed. He had them cut to a suitable length, their tips sharp like razors. He made his way straight to Momandapa. He had waited long enough, and unbound desire coursed through his being.
He looked like a god himself, tall, black and glowing. He prepared to wait for the arrivals of travellers at Momandapa.
The first few travellers were easy prey. As he scourged their eyes out, they screamed and fell, clutching the spaces where once their eyes had been, now only blood and pain and darkness filled them. They wandered like lost souls in a new, unknown land.
Mithuna took intense pleasure in gouging out the eyes and making them his. If the hapless travellers fought him, he enjoyed it even more, for he knew that he would win in the end. Mithuna continued in his pursuit of attaching all these eyes over himself, and gloried in the views he got from each of the different pairs. He had no guilt about what he was doing, that he was destroying so many lives to get what he wanted. He thought that he deserved this. Shiva had granted him a boon.
He began to take even greater pleasure in the scrounging. It became an obsession, something which his whole mind and body concentrated upon. When once he had turned into a block of ice, he now turned into a man on fire, devouring and revelling in the blood that felt warm in his hands, flowed over his palms and wrists like a thick river, reminding him that blood meant life. The eyes were getting plastered all over him, and it was as if a kaleidoscope of colours and events flickered all the time in his brain.
Slowly, the distractions began. The tales and stories that he saw through his new eyes began to turn him away from his need to pluck eyes. Meanwhile, travellers had begun to stay away from Yunida, and the country’s trade was suffering. No one wanted to come to the place which had once promised so much, spices and pearls and tropical forests and beaches and blue surf and bluer skies. Now it had the shadow over it of the Wild Eyed Man- for that is what Mithuna had begun to be called. No one dared to stop him for his powers were immense. One look from his eyes could make a man come up with red rashes that spread and burned the skin till the skin flaked away. This was just a step away from a kind of death which no man wanted.
But this was before Mithuna lost count. Every night, he tried to count the eyes he had collected, and knew that he had to get some more before he reached the thousandth one. He no longer knew the exact number of eyes he had because he was on a constant visual high and he could not shut his visions. Sometimes these views coalesced and separated to form a huge kaleidoscope of changing colour before him. His brain swam with the sights. They transported him into a world from where he found it difficult to return. He could not shut all his eyes to sleep and keeping them open was continuous visual stimulation.
His meditative ascetism had given way to a frenzied state of being. He could only think of how to get his thousandth eye and put an end to his now ever increasing fear of losing all that he saw and entering a world of total blackness.
And so it came to be that one day, all the eyes shut. That was the day an unsuspecting traveller arrived on Momandapa port and stood staring at the deserted beach, except for a man who stood in front of him, covered with eyes that opened and blinked all over his body, of different shapes and sizes and colours. This was the traveller with a pair of eyes that Mithuna needed but Mithuna had grown oblivious.
As this traveller walked away back to his vessel and set sail, thankful that he was leaving this deserted land where a strange creature stood and nothing else seemed to breathe, Mithuna lost all his eyes. They left his body where he had implanted them and went back to where they belonged. His own eyes died on him, and blackness entered his life.
Mithuna did not cry out in agony. He gave a sigh, lay down and rolled onto his side, and slept, something he had not done for a long, long time.
It would not be long before the marauding hordes came to take their revenge, to give him what they considered his due. Till then he was alone and finally with himself.