The Devourers

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Authors: Indra Das
“Might as well hang up your fucking pelt like those witch-faced vukodlaks and declare yourself a khrissal,” he adds.
    “Gévaudan.” I shake my head. “You blame me for acting the khrissal. Yet you cross yourself, and show the signs of jealousy, like a human wed to a mate.”
    “Because I’ve eaten many Christians, and many jealous husbands and wives. What’s your excuse? Did you eat a poet while I wasn’t looking?”
    I smile. “Not everything humans write is poetry.”
    “I’m a shape-shifter, not illiterate. I have read their books. As many as you have, I’m sure. Maybe more. The holy ones. The romances. The poems.”
    “And what is your opinion on human literature, Gévaudan?”
    “All the same. Litanies of arrogance.”
    I nod, and laugh. But there remains a glamour of malevolence around him. He is not happy that our fight ended with no catharsis, one way or the other. I would be worried, but there are other things on my mind.
    Now night lingers around me:
    And I can only think of you in that courtyard, in the afternoon sun yesterday. And then I think of you by moonlight last night, so different. I am sick with fear, should Gévaudan or Makedon find what I’m writing. I take the lock of your hair on my necklace, press it to my mouth. I look at what I wrote after returning from the bazaars of Mumtazabad, after I first saw you. I barely thought of it at the time, but it is as a letter, to you. A letter that is also a lie, though it came so easily and so true. Such is the nefarious magic of this human art.
    When I saw you, I did not wish you were not human, as I wrote then.
    When I saw you, I saw also the face of that mother outside Lahore, her face gemmed with flies, the created life she’d held inside her wasted. I remembered the urge I had to kiss that corpse on its open mouth.
    But it occurs to me that I have the answer to Makedon’s question. I could never tell him that, but I do. You: hunted, uneaten, spared. You are the one I write for now. If this knowledge gladdens me, I cannot tell.
    A hunt, yes. But it was not to devour.
    ----

    *1 The stranger divides the translation into two fragments, which I assume are pieces of the original scroll mentioned within the text. His handwritten text has no real divisions, though I’ve remained faithful to his paragraph and line breaks. I attempted some formatting of my own by dividing the two fragments further into sections where it seemed appropriate.

    *2 Archaic term for a bag or bundle.

    *3 A town built during Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s reign to house the large number of workers building the Taj Mahal. Later it was also called Taj Ganji.

    *4 A type of dagger originating in the region now known as Iran, in the seventeenth century.

    *5 A hunt, followed by a meal consisting of a human being, and an insistence that they are not quite human; the narrator and his companions clearly share my dear stranger’s delusions/predilections. If this wasn’t in fact written by my stranger, perhaps this journal or tale, whatever it may be, is where he gets his ideas from? I’m assuming one needs to be more than human to survive eating raw human flesh like this; that can’t be very safe. It’s not my area of expertise, but there are, however, various examples of ritualistic cannibalism among human cultures all along the historical record.

    *6 From the description that follows, this is the construction site of the Taj Mahal, placing the time of these events anywhere between A.D. 1632 and 1653, the period it was being built. Probably somewhere in the middle (1640s) going by the degree of completion. Shah Jahan ruled the Mughal Empire until 1658.

    *7 The roc or rukh, a mythical giant bird of prey. It’s interesting to note that the narrator and his companions have recently completed a trek across the region of the Middle East. The myth of the roc has possible Arabic roots, but also resembles the powerful Garuda, from Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

    *8 Not a word

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