There was everything but silence on that new moon night in the graveyard. The gusts of wind cut through the dark night, muffling Vikram’s footsteps. Eerie sounds mingled with the creaks of the branches as Vikram hauled the corpse on his shoulder and climbed down from the tree. Then, he began his long walk towards the camp where his guards waited for him.

“Oh, King Vikrama! Careful who you help! Just because the hermit is a human being, you believe him. Like all your kind, you think I’m the dangerous one out to harm you. But do you really know if the hermit wishes your people well? Are you sure he won’t accuse you of being dangerous and treacherous? Let me tell you the story of how someone who supports you can turn around and accuse you of being the wrong one.

The False Love

The vampire went on. “Veeran was a farmer and loved to work on his farm. He and his wife Jaya had one son, Chandran. Jaya used to take the baby and help her husband on the farm. One evening as they all returned from the fields, they were stopped by a wailing sound. “That sounds like a baby! But I don’t see anyone,” Jaya whispered. “Sssshh! Let’s listen to see where the cry comes from.” Veeran whispered back. The sound came from near a big tree on their right. With the light from their lantern shining on the path, Veeran and Jaya, along with their baby, reached the tree. There, in a basket, was a small baby!

The two grown ups took the baby home. In the morning, they asked around to find out who the baby’s parents were without much luck.

“Well, we have been given another baby. Chandran will have a baby brother.” Veeran said. The baby was called Shyam. Shyam was too young to remember anything about his birth parents and felt one with his adoptive family.

Chandran and Shyam grew up together as brothers. They went to the same school and played in the same fields. When Chandran finished his schooling he spoke to his parents, “I want to go to the city to study. I don’t want to stay back and work on our farm.”

Veeran was both sad and excited. “I would like him to work on the farm,’ he told his wife. “But I suppose we should let him explore other choices and let him make up his own mind.” Together, they agreed that it was important for Chandran to go to the city and study more.

The following year, it was Shyam’s turn. Before he could ask, Veeran and Jaya suggested that he too go to the city and study. I don’t know if you can understand how Shyam felt, you being a king and all that. But Shyam was super excited. He had never left the village before. Chandran would be there to guide him in the new place. Life felt perfect!

Shyam got off the bus and looked around for Chandran. Their mother had packed so many pickles and snacks that the weight pulled his arms to the ground. A tap on his shoulder, and he turned around to see three young men. One of those men threw back his head in laughter at Shyam’s confusion.

“You don’t recognize me? It’s been only one year since I’ve been away from home!”

His clothes, his hair, his talk, everything had changed, but the voice was Chandran’s, all right!

“Those other men look wrong to me. But maybe I’m just old-fashioned because I’m from the village.” Shyam thought to himself as he went home with them.

Shyam had his own room, as did Chandran. The younger boy was surprised at how clean and tidy the older boy’s room was. He learned the secret soon enough. Chandran hardly ever slept there. He was always out and about with his friends.

At first, Shyam joined the others as they went about the town partying and enjoying themselves. Slowly, he began to get bored of staying out. He tried to talk to Chandran, but the one year apart had changed Chandran too much.

“You have become a bore!” Chandran taunted him. “I suppose that you are going to write to our parents and tattle! Remember, Father sends the money to me. You keep quiet, and I will give you your share. You say anything, and we’ll see what happens after that!”

Shyam was aghast. He wanted to stay in the city and study. Nor couldn’t he bring himself to tell Veeran and Jaya about Chandran’s habits. He stayed out of Chandran’s way and kept quiet.

A few months later, Veeran visited the boys. “Stay out of my business,” Chandran warned Shyam. Then pretending to be a dutiful son, he took his father to many temples and other places to sightsee. “The city has changed my son. It has made him more sophisticated. These days, you must know more than what a village has to offer,” he thought. He was surprised that Shyam was still the same. One day Veeran explored the city on his own. He bought a pair of diamond earrings for Jaya and showed it to the boys.

Soon, it was time for Veeran to go back home. He was happy about Chandran but worried about Shyam. As he shared his worries with Jaya, he opened his bags to look for the diamond earrings. The bag from the jeweller was there, but the earrings were missing. Veeran felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach. He had seen Shyam put the bag in. “Let’s wait for the boys to come home after their exams. It’s better to ask them directly,” Jaya advised him.

Vacation came bringing the boys back to the village. “Amma, why are you not wearing your diamond earrings? Don’t set them aside for special occasions! Wear them every day. Appa brought it for you with so much love,” Chandran asked on the very first evening. “That’s what we want to talk to, you boys,” Veeran told them about the missing diamonds. Even before he finished, Chandran turned on Shaym, “I saw you put the box with the earrings in the bag. How dare you! What did you do with it, you…,” he pounced on his younger brother. Jaya stepped in between them. “Oh Shyam, why didn’t you just ask me? I would have given you the money happily,” Veeran spoke, a disappointed man.

Even then, Shyam did not speak up.

It didn’t stop there. When the boys returned to the city, Chandran went gambling and lost a lot of money.

“There are many ways to get that money, Chandran,” his friends advised him. That night a group of black-clad men walked silently on the streets. A creaking window alerted the security guard outside the city’s largest jewellery shop. The fools were peering into a shelf of jewellery in the light of a candle when a big group of security guards caught them. A fight broke out, and Chandran’s mask came off his face. The thieves managed to escape, but the guards recognized Chandran.

Veeran rushed to the city. He didn’t understand how his nice boy could be arrested for stealing jewellery!

This time, after talking to others who knew Chandran, Veeran learned the truth. Shyam lied in court that Chandran had been with him the night of the theft. But too many guards had seen Chandran when his mask fell. He had to go to prison.

Shyam felt bad. Everyone praised him for trying to save Chandran’s life. He walked over to a worried Veeran.

The old man looked at him. “Get out of my sight!” he yelled.

I, I…I tried to save him.” Shyam spluttered.

“No, you didn’t! You had no love for your brother! That was false love! I’m ashamed that we raised such a selfish and weak person.” And with that, Veeran walked away.

The vampire spoke to Vikramaditya. “Now, oh king, don’t you think Veeran was wrong to blame Shyam? It wasn’t Shyam’s fault that Chandran got into bad company. In fact, Shyam even tried to save him from jail time. Why do you think Veeran blamed Shyam for Chandran’s failings?”

King Vikram didn’t have to think too hard. “Chandran fell into bad company without any help from Shyam. But If Shyam had truly loved his brother, he would have done more to correct him. There were many opportunities for him to speak up and let his parents know the truth about Chandran. Shyam’s silence was for selfish reasons. He didn’t want Chandran to stop giving him his share of the money to be able to stay in the city. Shyam had an opportunity to tell Veeran the truth when the earrings went missing, but he was too afraid of Chandran. When you know someone you love is doing something wrong, you must have the courage to correct them. That is why Veeran called it false love.”

As soon as Vikramaditya finished speaking, the vampire flew away.

Click here to listen to other episodes of Vikram and Betaal:

Speaking the Truth

The False Love

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