This is an excerpt from the book I hope to one day write, ”This is NOT History’, a collection of historical events with historical figures that totally did not happen. But it would have been nice had it happened like this. Also, I don’t want to find out what really happened, waste my youth pirating academic documents, only to get told that it offends a group of people whose idea of Mahatma Gandhi is derived from his stunning biography – the 2000 rupee note (the 10 rupee notes are the cheap paper cousins). And maybe get a death threat or two because I questioned the “non” in nonviolence!
This letter is written by Samprati Devvarman, a childhood friend of Ashoka and his general at the battle of Kalinga. He might have been the Robin to Ashoka’s Batman if not Hardy to his Laurel. This letter finds Samprati in a state of angst over his friend’s “nonsensical *&^%$#@ conversion to Buddhism”. (The quotes are added despite the lack of proof that Samprati actually said it, because, historians have concluded there is a very strong chance he might have.) Sadly the letter did not reach Ashoka, as a devious Buddhist monk decided to take this letter to his grave. But, in one of nature’s greatest miracles, the letter survived. Nature did not extend the favour to the monk or his grave.
Dear Friend, Emperor, Friend-Emperor Ashoka,
It is I, Samprati Devvarman writing to you from the banks of the river Narmada. I do not need to inform you that I am a general of the highest calibre having personally killed so many savages from the south, north, east, and west. Basically, anyone not from our kingdom!
You and I have been friends since childhood. Ever since the day I challenged you to drink thirty pots of toddy and you took it far too seriously. I do not need to remind you that though you vomited the toddy into my cupped hands, I carried you all the way back to the palace avoiding all the palace guards.
When you had your little affairs with the lowly chambermaids (I cannot fathom how you were so desperate) I told your angry father Bindusara that it was my fault.
I bring this up because I have to ask you: what in the name of the Holy Buddha are you doing? Literally!
First you give up war. What??? How can you even think about that?
Was all that blood lost in Kalinga for nothing? We planned to go to Greece and knock on the door of Alexander’s successors and say “I think only one person deserves the middle name “THE” and that is Ashoka.” Have you lost that fire?
Now you’re making me PLANT TREES! ME? Having killed savages with my bare fists, I must now take care of saplings.
All the soldiers are tired of planting seeds. Besides why are we planting trees? What use are they except to hide monkeys and bandits. And I have realized, here they are one and the same thing. Just yesterday a monkey stole the clothes of a soldier from the banks of the river. These darned monks didn’t give clothes to cover his precious little modesty until he chanted some Buddhist nonsense.
Let me narrate my experiences with these so-called monks and maybe you will convert back to…whatever God we believed in before these fellows came and took over your life.
Don’t trust these Buddhists and their ideas about non-violence. Last night I saw one fellow among them killing a mosquito here. When I asked him how he could have done something like that he looked at me and said “Buddha said everything is subject to change. So I am not killing this mosquito just changing it.” When I asked one of them to help me plant a sapling that bugger had the gall to say “Buddha said work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.”
I think they make up everything as they go. Yesterday when a soldier proclaimed he wants happiness, the monks said remove the ‘I’, remove the ‘want’ and all that remains is ‘happiness’. When I tried to explain to the soldier that it was nonsense and a play on syntax and semantics he looked at me like I was a langoor trying to draw a self-portrait with my tail!
And these monks were giggling away like gossiping little girls at how seriously the soldier took them. I promise on my plump mother’s life that one of them said next they’ll try convincing a soldier that the middle path between good and evil is, and I cannot believe that this is passing off as philosophy nowadays, DOING NOTHING! Really? That’s the path of wisdom you want to follow?
The old chubby Buddha was seen laughing because he is actually laughing at all those who take him seriously and offer him food. The only way Buddha has overcome suffering is by laughing at us over his potbelly.
And may I also ask you why you have sent this bizarre instruction to carve anything onto stone? Do you think your soldiers are poets? Soldiers are barely following instructions and are writing whatever pleases them. Some are writing the names of their lovers others are writing messages varying between “I was here” and “Sugatra loves Nandaneshwari” to “If you are reading this then you are wasting your time.”
And one monk told an illiterate soldier to carve “Buddha was laughing because he saw your mother’s bottom”. The illiterate fellow was sure he was typing one of Buddha’s messages of peace onto the walls. These are just the ones I have seen. Who knows what else they have written elsewhere. I am absolutely worried about what future generations will think about your legacy when they read these messages which are now set in stone.
Anyway I must conclude this letter for I am running out of parchment paper, ink, and patience. I can see a monk peering into my letter. But please reconsider your conversion to Buddhism, the planting of trees and carving writings on the stone.
Your troubled friend,
Samprati Devvarman had this painting made as a way expressing his anger