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Out of Place


Canossa Castle


Sitting on a boulder that looked rather out of place amidst the tall trees and thick grass, he watched the vehicles that plied on the ghat road. His car was parked in the shade of a tree on the roadside. The car also looked out of place there. Why would anyone stop his car at the edge of a forest? He did, though. Out of an impulse. He had nowhere to go, in fact. He was driving aimlessly. No destination. The Corona pandemic had kept him home for a long time. Months. It was like an imprisonment.

What else would he do if the pandemic wasn’t there? He had nothing to do. He was a retired clerk. He pushed files all his life in a government office. That was not what he wanted to do, however. He wanted to hold a high position in one of those government offices and bring about changes in public life. Positive changes. Radical changes. Reformation. For a better world.

Nothing happened but. He didn’t pass the required tests in the required age limit. He didn’t know how to please the right people who could have helped him with some internal promotions. He could only wonder how other people managed their lives so effortlessly. They were successful people. They moved from lower to higher ranks as smoothly as honeybees moved from flower to flower. Better flower, of course, each time. They possessed the required skills. He was out of place among all those skilful people.

He was a writer, nevertheless. He wrote stories and poems and a couple of novels too. A few of them were published in some obscure journals. Most of them found their places in his blog which was not particularly popular. The novels were e-books which hardly sold beyond a dozen copies.

Failed writer. Failed reformer. Failed human being. Out of place.

Something moved in the forest behind him at a little distance. He knew that there were elephants in this part of the forest. They must be hunting for food. Let them. At least they may not be out of place here. This is their place.

This must have been the place of dinosaurs once upon a time. Dinosaurs have to go too when their time is over.

Dinosaurs reminded him strangely of King Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. Who is greater: the king or the pope? That was their problem. The pope should govern the spiritual dinosaurs and leave the earthly ones to the king, Henry said. The Pope is next to God, said Gregory. Even the King and his dinosaurs are subordinate to the Pope. Henry challenged that.

And Henry learnt the lesson the hard way. Gregory the Pope threatened to excommunicate Henry the King. You will no longer be a part of God’s people, the Pope told the King. God and his angels will spew fire and brimstone on you and your kingdom. You will live and die in misery like a wretched pagan. Your soul will rot in hell. Satan and his devils will drag you with a chain into the eternal hellfire where snakes and worms will crawl over you…

Henry was shaken. His knees wobbled. He pleaded for mercy. Forgive me, Your Holiness. I have sinned. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Repent and perform the penance, Henry was told. Stand with bare head and bare feet in the open air outside the Canossa Castle for three days. The winter of 1077 saw the King of England shivering like a beggar standing in the snows of Reggio Emilia. Then Henry was asked to walk barefoot all the way from Canossa to Roma, kneel before the Holy Father and beg for forgiveness.

Dinosaurs became extinct.

The sun had sunk beyond the trees in the western horizon. The road became increasingly deserted and formidably darker.

The forest seemed to move behind him. A herd of elephants? Probably. But he did not move. He did not want to move. He lay down on the rock and stared at the blank, bland sky above. And waited for the forest to move on to him.


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