By Ramana Dhara
Author note: The great Mahabharata war occurred thousands of years ago. The rival Pandava and Kaurava clans fought each other to a standstill, but in the end, the Pandavas prevailed. The victory resulted from clever strategy, warcraft, cunning, luck, as well as trickery. History shows that most wars are fought over property, and this one was no exception. However, the popular perception is that the ‘evil’ Kauravas tricked the ‘good’ Pandavas into giving up their kingdom in a dice game; they also molested the Pandavas’ wife, whom they had acquired as part of their winnings. The Pandavas sought revenge, and waged a battle to restore their property and honor. The rest is history. Sounds familiar? Given that the basic elements of human nature have been essentially unchanged since the beginning of mankind, it was inevitable that history would repeat itself in a different era.....
Arjunotti was angry. Really, really angry. For the life of him, he could not understand how things suddenly and inexplicably went so horribly wrong. The moral code of the crime families had been broken. For centuries, it was understood that women were not to be involved in any disputes that occurred between men. And now this unspoken rule had been violated. Shame and dishonor would be cast on all those concerned.
Arjunotti ‘The Bow’ Pandino, was the ace hit man, gunslinger, and scion of the great Pandino family. His older brother, Yudini, was the Don of the Pandino family. Yudini was a master strategist, and was also respected for his personal integrity. It was rumored that he may even go into politics, which would give the Pandino’s an edge in the ongoing rivalry between the various crime families. This possibility did not sit well with the leaders of the Kurovese clan, some of whom were related to the Pandinos. They were Arjunotti’s cousins, the arrogant Dorapatti, the lecherous Dosapatti, and the canny gambler uncle Sakunini. They knew that Yudini’s weakness was his grossly inflated opinion of himself as a gambler, and they decided to exploit it by challenging him to a game of dice in the local casino. The stakes were huge, with winner taking control of the rival family’s operations. In one reckless week, Yudini staked the entire Pandino family assets, including his brothers and their polyandrous wife, Draupadiva, at the games. This maniacal act caused the family to slalom at breakneck speed down a slippery slope leading to humiliation and destruction of all the values they held so dear. To top it all, the Pandino brothers had to stand by helplessly watching, as their wife Draupadiva was tormented and disrobed in public by the men of the Kurovese family. The Pandinos’ were bound by the prevailing code of ethics dictating that a man’s word was more important than a woman’s honor.
Deep down inside, Arjunotti knew the real reason for this moral carnage was Yudini’s inability to resist his fondness for gambling. Arjunotti was outraged but could do nothing against the wishes of the family Don. How he wished that Krishnani, the family consiglieri and soothsayer, had been present. But Krishnani had been gone for many weeks to see a man about a cow, and therefore could not be reached for advice. Only the intervention of the Kurovese patriarch, Dritaratti, saved the Pandinos from complete destitution. Dritaratti was known to be a decent man, but was rapidly losing control over his clan due to his failing eyesight. Having witnessed many family disputes over the years, Dritaratti realized that his sons had committed a travesty on the Pandinos, and that their actions could only lead them down the path of self-destruction. Resolving to correct this travesty, he declared that the results of the dice game were null and void. While this decision restored the physical property of the Pandinos, there was nothing he could do about their lost honor and dignity. These values were important, even among crime families; it was well known that an insult, real or perceived, could be carried by the insulted family well beyond the grave.
In Arjunotti’s mind, the die had been cast: there was going to be all-out war with the Kurovese. To prepare himself for the upcoming conflict, he would have to possess the antidotes for the new chemical and biological weapons which every crime family was acquiring. Though Arjunotti was known as a great fighter, he had never been tested against his own cousins, many of whom were equally reputed in street warfare. Unlike his brother Yudini, he did not want to leave this battle to chance. Arjunotti sought the weapon antidotes from many arms merchants, but learned from them that these may only be available from a reclusive man named Sivacchia who lived in a forest at the foot of the Himalpini Mountains. Since the journey to the forest would be long, arduous, and dangerous, Arjunotti carried his trusted weapon, the Gandolfini, to fend off criminals and hunt game for nourishment.
Sivacchia had unruly matted hair, ashen looks, and carried a trident. There were rumors that he had supernatural powers and collaborated with other-worldly creatures to develop an antidote for a mysterious substance called methyl isocyanate, which had killed thousands of humans in the distant city of Bhopal. Sivacchia was rumored to roam the cemeteries at night, collecting evidence of the toxicity of this substance on the human body. As Arjunotti made his way deeper into the forest, he wondered how Sivacchia lived in this desolate place. While thus occupied with these thoughts, Arjunotti failed to notice a wild boar bearing down upon him until it was almost too late. His excellent vision and quick reflexes, however, enabled him to aim the Gandolfini in time to fire off a volley squarely between the boar’s eyes. At exactly the same time, he saw a trident hit the boar on its side, stopping it in its tracks. A red, corrosive blotch appeared near the animal’s heart, and with a strangely human death rattle, it fell to the ground, giving up its life. Arjunotti wondered whether this was the effect of the mysterious poison, methyl isocyanate.
He turned in amazement to see a resplendent dark man dressed as a hunter, standing ten feet away, readjusting his weapons in case the boar were to spring up again. Beside him was a woman dressed in a similar manner and also carrying a set of weapons. Both Arjunotti and the hunter claimed the boar for themselves, since food was scarce in this deserted forest. Neither gave in and, being men, they decided to settle this matter in a boxing match. Entreaties from the woman to cooperate and share were brushed aside. Arjunotti was supremely confident that he would win, for he was yet to meet a man who had bested him. However, as the combat ensued and continued over many hours, he found himself at the losing end. He was finally felled by a mighty right hook from the hunter, and he hit the floor bottom-first. A spine-tingling revelation traveled upwards from his bottom to his brain: was this man with the trident none other than the great Sivacchia?
Arjunotti’s ego had taken a greater spanking than his bottom. Both the ego and the bottom quickly recovered, however, upon learning that he was beaten by a person who was ‘more than human’. He was relieved that his reputation as a fighter among ordinary humans was still untarnished. Sivacchia, on the other hand, was so impressed with Arjunotti’s courage and prowess that he granted him the antidotes he was seeking. After spending many energetic days with Sivacchia learning the art and science of using the antidotes, Arjunotti made his way back to the abode of the Pandinos. Reflecting on the events in the forest, he was overcome with a feeling of deja vu. He listened to the birds in the forest singing a song, and he set the song’s tune to a ditty he remembered from his school days. The resulting jingle soon became a silly refrain that he could not get out of his head. It went like this:
History repeats itself
The first time as tragedy
And the second time as farce
If your brains are not in your head
Surely they must be in your arse!
Ramana Dhara, MD, ScD, is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Dept. of Occupational & Environmental Health, Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, and the Dept. of Community Health & Preventive Medicine in the Morehouse School of Medicine. He is a physician practicing occupational and environmental medicine in Atlanta, GA, USA.
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