journal: 23 Apr 1924

The narcotics, in conjunction with the attempt on my life and other strange happenings in recent days, are evoking some unusually vivid dreams. I must commit this one to paper before the image fades:

I was a hunter (hero?) on a quest or pilgrimage of some kind. I felt as though my entire life were culminating at this particular place and time. I think I was in some manner of temple, or some other place of ceremony.

There was chanting all around me in an unfamiliar language. I was chanting, too. (The syllables continue to echo faintly in my mind, but not with sufficient clarity for me to transpose them here.)

There was a woman there as well. Her beauty was incomparable, yet flawed, perhaps unnaturally so? She was special and revered by the crowd, but there was a doom about her. Was she to be wedded to me? Or sacrificed?

Alas, the trace is gone, and I can remember no more.
What might it mean?


HomoDM said...

(text by da solomon)

It was the best breakfast Peter had eaten since the dig had picked up in full swing: two delicious roti stuffed with potatoes and chives, a fresh lassi, and hot chai. Full and sated, he allowed himself to drift back to sleep.

His dreams recaptured snatches of the struggle of two nights ago, but edited them into a fantasy narrative that allowed him to channel his anger. Peter charged into the tent, the thief leapt at him – and time slowed. Peter lifted his rifle and shot the thief right in the face. (Where is Irene?) He fell, and Peter kicked him and kicked him, spreading the gore of his shattered skull across the floor. Peter's boot, still half-laced, dripped with blood, and still he kicked and kicked and kicked until the intruder's head fell apart into pieces. (Is she watching?) He brought his ruined boot down into the mess and ground bits of flesh and brain into the dust . . . (Is anyone watching?)

Something grabbed his foot. Peter looked downward and his eyes widene. A dark tattooed hand grasped him from beneath the pile of red and wet rags. In the dreamlight, Peter could see the shape of a mountain peak. It shined with sunlight now, and erupted suddenly into a pink floral tone.

The hand grasped him tightly. It squeezed his toes together through his boot – Peter's eyes really opened now.

At the foot of his bed: a black mane and two beastly eyes. Lips moved behind a thick beard, but in his drowsiness, Peter could not understand the words coming from them. Finally, "Jagte raho!" the wild face roared. "Stay awake!" The man stood up – he was huge, tall and thick like a bear on its hind legs, and clad in a ragged tunic and dhoti. His clothes may have once been white or some other light color, but they have been long dusted into the same light tan as the soil here. In unsteady Urdu, the man at your bed addresses you. "You have summoned Ashan and Ashan I am! Are you sick?"

HomoDM said...

Peter initially started at the appearance of the dirty, towering hirsute before remembering his manners.

"Ashan ji," the Englishman replied in his own limited Urdu, "Thank you for coming so quickly. No, I am not sick. I was stabbed by a thief, but Doctor Ayub has been tending to me."

Peter sat up to better converse with his visitor, wincing slightly with the movement. He spoke slowly and deliberately, not only to give himself time to select the right words, but also to provide Ashan time to process them.

"I asked to see you because one of our men behaved very strangely the night of the attack, and Doctor Ayub does not know why. He thought you might offer some other ideas."

He continued, "Our man, Mohan, says he does not know what happened to him. He was standing guard outside of a tent that the thieves tried to rob. When we found him, he stood like a statue, and even the sound of gunfire did not cause him to stir. He said the last thing he can remember is needing to sneeze."

"Doctor Ayub does not believe he was poisoned, and it seems unlikely that Mohan would have allowed the thieves to get near enough to entrance him. Have you any idea what could have happened to him? Have you seen anything like what I am describing?"

Peter retrieved his notebook from the bedside table and flipped it open to show Ashan the copies he had made of the dead thief's strange tattoos. "One of the thieves had these on his body," he explained. "I don't suppose you might know what they mean, or from where these men might have come?"

da solomon said...

The big man came to Peter's bedside and stood there. With his feet apart and his hands in fists, it looked to Peter as though Ashan might pounce upon him. The furrows of concentration on Ashan's face as he listened to Peter made it seem all the more probably that he might erupt into fury at any moment and throw his legs around Peter, locking him into what would undoubtedly be an extremely uncomfortable position.

But Peter found his words and explained Mohan's condition to Ashan in his his best Sindhi-accented Urdu.

Ashan grunted. "Bilkul. They are like dust. I know the poisons" - he used the word "diwai" or "Western medicine" - "but I cannot make them. Not allowed for Siddhars." Peter had heard of the Siddhars - yet another cultish medical lineage. Siddhars claimed to practice the oldest formal medicine in the world.

He hitched up his dhoti as he crouched down low to Peter. "Stealthy-wealthy. Then:" He opened his palm as if offering something to Peter, and then blew into it. Peter could feel Ashan's breath on his face. It smelled of sweet betel paan, and the wrestler's red-stained teeth were a physical demonstration of his affection for the nut. "Having forgotten, one cannot move." Ashan stared right into Peter's face. "Fwoo," he blew into his hand again.

Turning away from Ashan, Peter reached to the other side of the bed to get his notes. He handed the open book to Ashan, who, laughing at how his breath seemed to have driven the Englishman away, straightened his back as he took it.

Ashan turned it around in his hands several times. He checked the pages just before and just after the drawing. "Yantras don't come to me. Maybe Lakhshmi. Wealth goddess. I think those ones are divai." He grunted again. "You show me."

(Peter passed an occult check.)

HomoDM said...

Peter collected his notebook from Ashan, asking somewhat incredulously, "Show you.. the body?"

He made a face and said, "I suppose I could, if they haven't disposed of him yet. I will warn you, though, it's not a pretty sight. He, ah..." (What was the Urdu word for syphilis?) "Well. You'll see."

Peter slid his legs off the side of the bed and set his feet on the floor, pushing himself up into a standing position using his arms. "Sorry that I am not more properly dressed for the occasion," he joked weakly, referring to his pyjamas and slippers.

As they walked, Peter took down a few notes corresponding to what Ashan had told him thus far. He hoped it was good information, and that McCormick would not balk at the recommendation that all guards be outfitted with goggles and keep their noses and mouths covered while on duty.

Peter guessed that, since Ayub had ruled out poisoning as the cause of Mohan's severely dissociated state, he had failed to consider (or, more likely, simply did not know about) the paralytic powder Ashan had described. This in turn suggested that the poison was esoteric knowledge limited to a relative few, which cemented Peter's apprehension that they were dealing with someone other than common thieves. But who, and why?

Peter turned back to Ashan. "So, this poison dust - who out there would have the knowledge and skill needed to make it it? Can it be purchased by just anyone, or does it 'belong' to a particular group? And aside from not inhaling it, is there any antidote or defence against it that you know of?"

da solomon said...

Ashan lumbered alongside Peter and answered his questions as they approached the still-covered body of the thief – to be burned later that morning. "Dust. I never saw it," he explains. "I can make antidote. All ingredients are written. And who? – Perhaps I know. Let us look."

Ashan lifted the sheet from the wretched corpse, taut in a modicum of rigor. He brought his thick fingers over the thief's chest, but did not touch it. "Gun wound, here." Peter confirmed his observation.

Humphing, the wrestler hovered his fingertips over the man's swollen nipples. "Milk here." He was joking? Then he gestured at the thief's lumpy, fruitlike sack, apparently bloated with some disorder – "Lingam becomes less and yoni arrives here." Alternately Peter could interpret Ashan's awkward use of the word "arrives" as "is inflicted." How in the world would one inflict a yoni? Peter looked to Ashan questioningly. "Yes, it splits here," and he gestured to the seam of the scrotum.

"Who . . . ?"


HomoDM said...

Lingam, yoni. Peter recognized these as terms for the male and female genitalia, respectively. Was Ashan identifying the dead thief as a hermaphrodite? He had encountered one such individual before at Dr. Hirschfeld's institute in Berlin, but did not recall any obvious physical deformities of the magnitude exhibited by the corpse on the table.

Perhaps he was not comprehending Ashan correctly. "Forgive me, Ashan ji," he said, making no effort to conceal his consternation, "but I do not understand. Are you saying that this man... this man is also a woman?"

Laap-mudr. Peter had not heard this word before. He repeated it, looking to Ashan for explanation.

da solomon said...

It was round and black, like something overripe. It looked like it could burst, like it might already be seeping with sticky juices – perhaps on the underside, between the dead thighs.

Ashan pointed again to the raphe scroti. "Look, close. Here." The seam was thick. It bulged like a scar. "Not both." he said. "Changing. You understand?" Ashan looked very much like an unkempt coroner for a moment, then he stood straight once again and resumed a boasting warrior's stance. Chest out, hands on his hips, he said, "Laap. Mudr."

Having heard the word "Mudr" again, Peter's mind settled on a meaning for it: face, or expression.

"Laap," however, still had the meaningless ring of a name in an unfamiliar language. It was always much easier to remember English names than the novel combinations of sound that were Nordic and Indian names; but as empty of content as this word was, Peter would not forget it. His mind tried out the combination of name and meaning before Peter realized he had had the idea. He spoke it, "Laap-'Face'. Laap?"

Ashan stuttered, "Ah, hai . . . ho gaya." Slowly, choosing his words carefully, he explained, "Laap's meaning is went gone. When she tried to steal her husband's medicines, her face went gone. Agasthiya is her husband. Siddhars' guru."

"So," Peter reasoned, "these people represent some affiliation of devotees to Laap-Mudr?"

"Perhaps. Even though. I don't know why they were at your . . . hole. Digging. You understand."

HomoDM said...

Peter nodded, but wanted Ashan to confirm that his understanding was accurate.

"Ashan ji, please correct me if I am wrong, for this is all very unfamiliar to me... but you say a woman stole her guru husband's medicines and her face went missing? And she became Laap-Mudr? How? And how long ago?"

He gestured to the swollen corpse on the table without looking at it directly. "And this fellow here is a devotee of this Laap-Mudr? And this is supposed to explain how he is changing from a man into a woman? But how? Is Laap-Mudr a goddess? A rakshasa? Or something else?"

Try as he might, Peter could not keep the skeptical edge from creeping into his voice. Surely a man could not transform into a woman the way Ashan had described!
He hoped that the huge man would not be offended by his incredulity, and quickly softened his tone into something approaching supplication.

"I understand I have asked many questions of you already, Ashan ji, and I am very grateful for all you have shared. But if you could enlighten me further on these matters, tell me more about the followers of Laap-Mudr and show me how to overcome the poison dust, I will most certainly compensate you for your time."

da solomon said...

Ashan grimaced and threw the sheet back over the body. It seemed that even he was disturbed by it. He exhaled roughly and held his open hand over the corpse's covered face as he spoke. "Yes. She lost her face. Yes. She stole his medicines . . . with her . . . looking glass. She too is a guru. How long ago?" He stopped and thought. "More than five thousand years ago. In Dwapar Yuga, the age before this age."

The cosmologies of India were varied, but many scholars in those religious traditions derived from the Vedas held that there were four ages. The Dwapar Yuga was the last great age – the current age, the Kali Yuga, was an age of moral and physical degeneration, when men were no longer capable of the great virtues and deeds of their ancestors. At the end of the Kali Yuga – still some time in the distant future – the universe would end, but a new cycle would soon begin. Multiple cycles of the universe made up the lifespan of the universal man, and some number of universal men – being born and dying in succession – made up a day in the life of the godhead Brahman. After a hundred God years, Brahman himself would be destroyed and after a hundred more reincarnated. Peter could not remember the exact numbers, but the Vedas offered a cosmic timeline quite distinct from that of the Western religions, which still held that the world was around six thousand years old. No, the cosmology of the Hindus was, at least in terms of chronology, more expansive than any other, even those boggling projections forwarded by theoretical cosmologists in the hallowed halls of physical science. The Vedic world was not thousands of years old, not millions, but trillions and trillions and trillions . . . But, truthfully, the notion of a cyclic universe mooted all calculations of the universe's age.

Ashan tried to answer the rest of Peter's questions. "Yes, he must be Laap-Mudr's betihoniwalee." Betihoniwalee: One who is about to be a daughter. A strange neologism.

"I do not know Laap-Mudr's people. They must be secret – I did not think that there are any, but I see now there are." When Peter suggests that Ashan might provide him with a means of curing the poison, he balked. "No," he said emphatically, "I can't show you medicine. It has to be kept secret." His face softened. "Your men get sick, you bring them to me. Okay? At wrestling school. No danger to life, just short time. Or . . . I make some antidote for you, you keep. Satisfactory? Two nights will be spent. Then you take. Price is twenty-five paise, and you remember me this way. Satisfactory?"

da solomon said...

(Peter passed an anthropology check.)

HomoDM said...

"Twenty-five paise?" Peter balked. "Ashan ji, you have been so helpful that it would feel wrong of me not to give you more." Hoping that Ashan's pride would not be offended by the offer, he asked, "Can I not give you a full rupee at least?"

In actuality, Peter was not altogether certain whether any of what he had been told by Ashan had any worth at all. The Siddhar was almost certainly wrong about the dead thief's condition, after all, having mistaken a common venereal disease for spontaneous change in sexual morphology. What if he was also wrong about Mohan, and what if the antidote he had promised turned out only to be so much "snake oil"?

Still, Ashan was the only person Peter had found who had been able to offer anything in the way of answers about the men who had attacked the camp. Even if he was completely wrong about their affiliation with the Laap-Mudr legend, it at least provided a direction in which to look. For this reason alone, Peter hoped to retain Ashan's counsel for a while longer.

"There is another," Peter said. "Alive, but unable to speak. Would you care to see him?"

As the two men walked, Peter thought of Irene, hoping that she had received his letter and that her visit would not be delayed by having to repair whatever damage had been caused to the artifacts. Then he remembered something.

"Ashan ji," he asked, "do you know of any connection between Laap-Mudr and Pashupati?"

da solomon said...

"One rupee, that's good. I will take, and give to you . . . " The wrestler stopped walking. Ashan's fingers moved, his forehead wrinkled – he was counting. ". . . twenty medicines." Calculations concluded, he rocked forward and began to resume his slow lumber down the hospital hallway. "Yes, you show him to me. Show me other thief."

Just outside the doorway to Mumbles' room, Ashan answered Peter's inquiry about Pashupati's relationship with Laap-Mudr. "Pashupati? Meaning, Lord Shiva-ji? Some people say name of Shiva is Agasthiya. Husband of Laap-Mudr." Pleased with his insight, he nodded and let out a great sigh from his massive lungs before entering the room. The curtains were pulled and the light in the room was dim and white. "I think that they are not same," Ashan grunted. "As much as I am Lord Shiva himself!" He approached the thief's bedside.

Mumbles was conscious. His mouth was full of cotton and taped half-open. He was still handcuffed, but with considerably more moving room than he had been previously allowed. Ashan looked down at him, and the two men's gazes met. With his mouth open as it was, the thief's expression could have been anything from astonishment at the bulk of hair and fat and muscle looming over him to defiance. Ashan took Mumbles in for a moment, and then dispassionately lifted the man's shirt up. "Hm." Mumbles did not move until Ashan roughly pulled the man's pants down and revealed his surprisingly hairy sex. The thief lifted his hands and snorted, but he could do nothing to stop the wrestler from accosting his dignity so. Making a token effort at fixing the man's pants, Ashan told him, "You have muscles of fighting in your chest. Your legs are too skinny." Turning again to Peter, Ashan continued, "He is a man, and he has been training his body. Too skinny for a soldier. I am guessing he is a Thug." Peter had heard of the thugs, and he knew what every British child dreamed them to be: swarthy assassins, weirdly religious dacoits, and especially stranglers. Were they still lurking along the dark roads and alleys of India today? Had Peter himself bested one of these legendary murderers? "He needs to eat more," Ashan added as he shifted into the hallway. "When his mouth is better."

(Not all rolls have been revealed.)

HomoDM said...

"The reason I asked about Pashupati is there was recently found an amulet of a yogi among beasts, and it featured strange letters similar to some of the markings on the dead man's thighs."

As Ashan examined Mumbles and remarked that he was a thug, it took Peter a moment to realize that the Siddhar meant Thug in the proper sense.

Once they were in the hallway, Peter asked quietly, "Ashan ji, are you certain? I had thought the Thuggee were destroyed over fifty years ago, and I had been told that they strangled travelers to steal their money. I did not know they also came into campsites, or used knives."

He continued, "I had also been told the Thuggee were devotees of Kali, who is the consort of Shiva... if Laap-Mudr was the wife of Agasthiya, who is also Shiva, is Laap-Mudr then also Kali? Please help this Englishman to understand."

da solomon said...

Ashan patted his stomach and sighed again. "Tiredness has struck. This way it seems to me you know a lot. So, now I go to take tea and food. Two days you come and get medicines." He looks at Peter and waited for him to respond somehow - clearly he meant to see Peter agree and release him. "Good day, yes?"

HomoDM said...

Peter could take a hint.

"Yes. Good day, Ashan ji. Thank you again for coming, and I am sorry for keeping you for so long. I will see you in two days' time, with payment."

He nodded and took his leave, trusting that the burly wrestler would be able to find his own way out of the hospital.

Tired, indeed! Peter thought crossly as he shuffled back to his room. He's not the one with a gash in his belly!