1904 – Congo
Shiva had lead a most peculiar life. Having travelled widely in Africa, he had seen sights so outlandish, so outrageously beautiful that even his patriotic heart had to accept that this strange land was prettier than his own. After a while, however, even the unimaginable becomes mundane, and Shiva found his heart yearning for the monotony of his home. India, enslaved though it was, still figured in all his fondest dreams. He was not suited to the harshness of this continent.
Shiva used to be an intimidating sight. Though not overly tall, he was as stout as they came, and had immensely broad shoulders and burly arms. However, his recent travels had seen him fall victim to various forms of diseases, and, though he survived them all, he did not make it through unscathed.
He had lost his former stockiness, his body having shrivelled up into a much tinier frame due to weakness. His skin had a jaundiced tone which lent him a slight radiance, but a sickly one. His muscles could no longer bear the strain of the soldier’s life, and he had been allowed to leave the forces, provided he aid the soldiers in other ways, doing odd jobs around the camp. This allowed him some time to himself, and he used it to roam the wildlands and soak in all he could before he set off on his journey back home.
It was on one of these meandering walks that Shiva met the man that would unwittingly change his life. Walking leisurely through the tall grass, Shiva heard the unmistakable sound of a man running at full pelt. The intermittent prayers being offered up in the local dialect and the absolute abandon with which he ran told Shiva that this was a flight for survival.
Moving towards the sound, he intercepted the man, a petrified looking local, and asked him if he could be of any help.
“A spirit!” he gasped, “An evil spirit is come.”
He continued in this vein for many minutes before Shiva could calm him down. From his incoherent mutterings, Shiva gleaned that some beast was on the prowl. There seemed to be a lot more to the tale than that, but it was beyond Shiva’s ability to comprehend the rest.
Armed with his rifle and the confidence of his days as a soldier, Shiva undertook to seek out this beast, if only for the thrill of hunting and the gratitude of the locals. Crawling through the undergrowth, he came upon a clearing within which a little round hut sat, drawing attention to itself by means of the plumes of smoke emanating from it.
A menacing growl reached Shiva’s ears, one of a large cat partaking of its victuals. Crawling sideways to get a better look at it, Shiva espied the lion tearing into a woman’s corpse.
The lion was a majestic specimen, its coat without a blemish, its fangs glistening red. A shudder ran down Shiva’s spine, one that was an admixture of fear and awe. He sat there for who knows how long, contemplating the clash of civilization and the unabashed brutality of nature that the spectacle before him presented. However, as he watched on, Shiva’s eye was caught by a protuberance on the lion’s forehead. At first glance, it looked like the beast possessed a third eye. It’s positioning and otherworldly appearance fell right in line with the many mythologies Shiva had acquainted himself with regarding this very characteristic. It was only on more careful and considered examination that he realized that it was merely a tumour, or an overgrown wart.
The ramblings of the local man now made much more sense to Shiva. The mere appearance of a wild beast in these parts was no anomaly and would not command such fear. That man must have fallen prey to the same sleight-of-mind that had at first attempted to take Shiva in. A supernatural being in the form of a lion with three eyes is a matter that would legitimately warrant widespread panic, especially when the beast set about attacking the population in broad daylight, with nary a care for the consequences.
A cunning plan began to form itself in Shiva’s head. He had scoured the plains of Africa for many a long year searching for something that would break the monotony of his life. He had given up hope of returning to his homeland with anything resembling a fortune that would allow him to live out the rest of his days in a restful vein. But here was providence dropping just such a fortune into his lap.
With just a little prep and some inspired marketing, he could charge people for the experience of witnessing the all-wise, all-seeing, three-eyed-lion that he, Shiva, had risked his life capturing alive.
If he could get this creature back to India, somehow… But there were far too many obstacles in the way for him to be thinking of that just now.
With his adrenaline pumping, Shiva’s thoughts were all action. He fashioned a trap similar to the kind the locals used when they wished to capture a wild beast. The trap was simple, involving a carcass, some primitive, natural tranquilizers and a cage. Within a couple of hours, the three-eyed-lion was unconscious, in the cage, and at Shiva’s mercy.
The next few weeks were spent making arrangements. First, he obtained permission to return to India. He cited health reasons that were all too well-known to his superiors. He then set about bribing the various officials that he would encounter if he wished to take the beast with him.
Being a lowly soldier, he did not have much in the way of wealth, but he drained most of what he had put away, knowing that if this gamble paid off, the influx of wealth would far surpass his wildest dreams.
The rest of his savings went into arranging for the maintenance of the lion for the long trip ahead. It would not do to have a malnourished, mangy lion when the whole point was to dupe the public into thinking this was a supernatural beast. The beast had to be fed, cleaned and kept in luxury so that, on arrival, it still possessed the aura that had sent the local man scurrying in terror.
The terror was key. Fear kept people at a safe distance. Far enough away that they would not see through the makeup and the ruse.
At long last, Shiva found himself approaching the shores of his country. The very air seemed to wrap itself around him, welcoming him into his new life of comfort and luxury. No longer did his eyes catch the misery of the common man, trampled underfoot as the British Empire wreaked its havoc. No longer did he see in his neighbour’s eyes the vestiges of dreams crushed by colonial rule. Shiva had eyes only for the opulence of princes and the magnificence of the many castles. He snorted in contempt at those who accepted their lowly state and stagnated while they were ruled by the white man. He would show them how one breaks free from chains.
With these thoughts and others akin to these flowing swiftly and nobly through his head, he set foot on his beloved nation’s soil and breathed a lungful of air.
It was to be his last breath as a free man.
Immediately, he was accosted by a group of guards. A large, white man dressed impeccably in a military outfit watched on as Shiva struggled to free himself from their grasp. When they succeeded in finally subduing him, he approached Shiva, somehow seeming aloof while obviously orchestrating the entire episode.
“What is the meaning of this ruckus?” he asked, “Why are you resisting arrest?”
“What have I done, sahib?” Shiva asked, nearly in tears at this point.
“You have been charged with dereliction of military duty, illegal smuggling of animals, bribing members of the army, falsifying reasons to leave military service and a whole bunch of other crimes of which you shall be duly noted in court.”
Shiva’s ears turned red, his breath came in short bursts and his face drained of all its colour as he saw his visions of vulgar excesses turn to dust before his very eyes. Half blinded by the tears now openly streaming down his cheeks, he turned to the imperious white man one last time.
In a broken voice, he asked,
“And what will become of my beast?”
The white man smiled and said, simply,
“The lion belongs to the Empire.”