Light of the North Star
Global Academy of Population Health Training Exceptional Leaders in Population Health Rocklin, California
OTHER BOOKS BY DHRUBAJYOTI BHATTACHARYA Public Health Leadership: Strategies for Innovation (Routledge, 2016) Public Health Policy: Issues, Theories, and Advocacy (Jossey-Bass 2013) Global Health Disputes and Disparities (Routledge, 2012) AUDIOBOOK Light of the North Star Narrated by Jean Gilpin and Dominic Keating
Copyright © 2018 Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharya All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America First Edition Book design and Artwork by Raphaël Fabre Production by Veronika Grebennikova vgrebennikova.wordpress.com Edited by Teja Watson Name: Dhrubajyoti Bhattacharya, author. Title: Light of the North Star Description: Rocklin : Global Academy of Population Health 2018. ISBN-13: 978-1-7322432-0-0
Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice, and I’ll tell you a story. —F. Scott Fitzgerald
Contents PART I: THE DESCENT
AFTER THE FLOOD
INTO THE DARKNESS
TWILIGHT ON THE YAMUNA
THE SIEGE OF KALDESH
JOURNEY TO CRETE
A WORTHY HEIR
Light of the North Star is an epic poem composed in English in the 21st century. To “the initiated,” as one reviewer proclaimed, it invokes an old tradition on the heels of its ancient predecessors, namely, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Vyasa’s Mahabharata. The epic is composed in blank verse, or unrhymed metrical lines, in a tradition of English poetry that can be traced back to the 16th century, though we can find unrhymed works in non-English poems composed in Latin and Ancient Greek. As an epic poem in English, it is at once similar and distinguishable from previous works within the broader genre. John Milton’s magnus opus, Paradise Lost, is perhaps the most well-known work to which it bears some resemblance. On the surface, both works are an extension of an existent tradition and they commit to a particular poetic form to convey their tales. Unlike its ancient predecessors or the later works inspired by them, Light of the North Star is a novel construct with a slew of new characters and storylines unbeknownst to its contemporary scholars and laymen, alike. It also harkens back to a classical era when epics were meant to be heard.
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There is power in sound, but the recitation of poetry is an uncommon practice save the occasional poetry slam. These days, academic scholars translate these tales onto paper and share the stage, affixing their own names to the author byline, juxtaposed with their ancient counterpart. Ironically, many university publishers will not publish original poetry, but will be keen to publish the scholarly translations thereof. In other words, you can get paid to translate Homer and pontificate on his work; but you probably won’t get a contract to be Homer. We often mythologize the past in ways that serve an idealistic purpose. For example, there is something noble about teasing out values that may inform our collective desire to raise upright global citizens and lean on works that facilitate this task. The Odyssey, for example, has been translated into English at least 62 times and is required reading in almost every high school across the United States. Alongside the subsequent philosophical works of Plato and Aristotle, it forms the backbone of the broader discipline of the Humanities, enabling us to critically examine ourselves as humans. The Stanford Humanities Center defines the Humanities as “the study of how people process and document the human experience.” Notably, it cites a myriad of modes of expression that facilitate this study, including philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, history, and language that, together, help us better understand and record our world, and heighten our connection to the past, and to one another. To this list we ought to add film and contemporary digital media that allows voice and visual preservation. Where Light of the North Star parts ways with its predecessors is in its unification of all of these modes of expression. With insight into philosophy and religion, the poem as literature is a mixed-media creation with the integration of digital graphics for each book. Its audio rendition is accompanied by music and narrated by two renowned actors—Dominic Keating and Jean
Gilpin—equipped with their mastery of the English language and serve as our contemporary bards who return epic poetry to its authentic roots as tales that were meant to be recited and heard. Dominic’s success in television, film, and theatre is well known, particularly for his lead role in Star Trek: Enterprise, The Pitchfork Disney, and Beowulf with Angelina Jolie. A lesser known role is his narration of the entire Iliad, translated by Caroline Alexander in 2016, thereby making him particularly suitable for this role. Jean is known for her work as a television and film actress and voice-acting specialist for over 200 Hollywood films, including X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Chronicles of Riddick, and The Fault in Our Stars. Together, Dominic and Jean bring the charm and charisma to explore the work in ways that we could not have imagined. They are as close to the mythic bards as we can probably get, bringing the tale to life, and reminding us that epics are meant to be heard. Special thanks must be given to Deyan Audio, and particularly Jamie Dupras and Philip Miller for their patience and skill in managing and incorporating the narration and music. Leaning on the poet’s background in screenwriting, the work has also become the basis of a video trailer that may perhaps inspire a future film or television series. To be sure, each mode of expression offers a unique insight into the story, at times foreshadowing later events, and at other times capturing the spirit of a character or event. As such, the work allows listeners to become true students of the Humanities and its evolution, enabling them to reflect upon, and participate in, the interplay of the different modes of expression. The story begins in medias res, or ‘in the middle of things’—a clear nod to the Homeric tradition—that picks up decades after the fall of Troy and a great flood that submerged the ancient Indian city of Dwaraka. These events, and the subsequent voyage and return of Odysseus to his native land of Ithaca,
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mark the end of an important era in both the Greek and Indian traditions. In Greece, the philosopher Hesiod would later describe the transition from the Age of Heroes to the Age of Iron, our present age when “virtue no more distinguishes the great,” and “the pious, just, and good, neglected stand.” Similarly, in ancient India, the flood of Dwaraka marked the Yuga-Sandhi, or transitional period between two eras into our present age, known as the Age of Discord or Strife. These characterizations of fallen ages aptly capture a shared spirit of distress that becomes a backdrop for humanistic inquiry. Perhaps we are in a “fallen state” in a historical context of collective norms and practices, or perhaps we have an allegory for our individual plights that enable us to visualize and pursue excellence as a shared value. Each characterization necessarily reinforces the other since the individual is affected by those social norms and practices that will enable him or her to aspire towards this ideal. Additionally, as individuals progressively realize those admirable traits and qualities, their individual efforts, characters, and contributions thereby constitute and reinforce that shared value. Consequently, there is an inextricable linkage between the historical and psychological context within which each individual and, collectively, society must operate to actualize the pursuit of excellence. There are many characters that, at first blush, can be categorized according to their geographical domains: among the Greeks, we find King Solon, his wife, Queen Argeia, and their children, Prince Diokles and Princess Selene. We also have Solon’s brother, Meletus, who also serves as his commander, and his son, Elasus. Among the Indians, we have King Sarvagya and his wife, Queen Radhasati, and their children, Prince Dharmajyoti, and
Princesses Esha and Iśāni. On the periphery we have notable figures, including the counselors Echephron and Alanam, and, in Part I, mention of a mysterious band of characters known as the Dark Riders. Here, we find another departure with the prior epics. Unlike the Iliad, which begins with an invocation to sing of the wrath of Peleus’s son, Achilles, or the Odyssey, which focuses on the plight of Laertes’s son, Odysseus, or even the Ramayana, which glorifies the heroism of Rama, there is no singular—and notably male—character as the definitive hero in our story. The spotlight shines on many faces and facets of human relationships, which evolve over time and, as here, over the course of the 24 books. Part I, comprised of Books I through VIII, introduces us to the immediate plights and perspectives of our characters. The tale begins in the immediate aftermath of the great flood that submerges the entire city of Dwaraka. A Greek envoy who had just left the city, but witnessed the horrific turn of events, rushes home to inform King Solon of the tragedy. Solon then leads an army east to see if he can render aid to any survivors, but only finds an old counselor, Alanam, who can barely hold himself together. The Greeks come to learn that a band of thieves led by a rogue chieftain, Ninamshu, has taken his spoils and occupied a land known as Kaldesh. The reaction to this news on the part of numerous characters sets in motion a series of decisions and events that starts to build and strain relationships within, and across, the empires. In this way, we come to learn about the different characters and what motivates them as they try to make sense of everything and discern their own place in it all. On the periphery we have the Nagas, or snake-like species that enter the tale with an unclear purpose that culminates in confrontation, which will predictably unite the people in retaliation. The Dark Riders are invoked in passing, but they will necessarily emerge from
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the shadows in subsequent parts. The gods are also notably silent, but some goddesses make importance appearances, and in more subtle ways than we have become accustomed to in prior epics. These developments, however, should not be taken to suggest that their roles are less important than before, but rather more carefully positioned in relation to certain characters and events that will later unfold. It would have been concededly easier to write a linear tale for a genre-driven industry. And it would have certainly been more profitable to create a suspense-thriller revolving around a professor housed in a fictitious department of Harvard University, but I am afraid that my experience as an actual professor, and as someone having studied at Harvard, would dispel any possibility of glorifying either experience as the basis of this tale. Let the scholars and researchers find their calling in obscure journals or classroom deliberations while the poets, artists, and actors find their solace in the Valley of Badrinath, home to the roots of this endeavor, and Apollo’s Temple at Delphi where its inscription bears the only aid a person needs on this journey: ΓΝΏΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΌΝ (“Gnothi Seauton”) or “Know Thyself.”
BOOK I AFTER THE FLOOD
f ancient lore traversing Heavâ€™n and Hell Withheld from eyes till inward gaze unveils The song of souls that marched with fervent gait Upholding law amidst untiring strife; Withdrawn in rays of glory self-imbued, Entwined in tresses of immortal curls Whilst mortal gaze would fall on earthly coin, Such courage raged forth towards supernal bliss. Awaken goddess! Sing the tale in me For I belong to neither space nor time Transcending claims of mine or theirs, thereby Embracing speech amongst the holy nine Who shall give sightless poets eyes to see The clouds of smoke from Priamâ€™s reign forlorn; As Vyasa of sacred sight foresaw, The future poetry awakens peace. Men seek the treasure, scouring earth with hate,
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Immersed within their own deluded void Bereft of questions seeking something true Content with tangent strolls, forever lost. Oh Muse, now stir the blood of those who cry Afoul when truth is scorned and silence speaks; The quiet voice projects from sullen eyes When honor moans and vices claim the throne: Is hope a fleeting moment of despair? Now breathe in me the elemental cause Uplift abysmal voices to the sky With words that flow from incandescent smiles Proclaiming true the song of Iśana As told to Elpis so that she endures; When twilight moves across this fateful hour, Forewarn the junction bridged by night and day As time stands idle; gods and daemons rise. The loyal envoy strode with fearsome gait Aloft the mountaintops in distant lands His heart abreast with soft but hurried beats Anticipating orders from the king. His voice rang out as he approached the gates A charred face smitten hard with piercing blows From rays that fell upon resistant mores, The mindful servant stood with steady poise. “The days have passed and I return to thee Awaiting words that only you can speak.” With gentle tones the ruler cast his glance Upon the man whose eyes were now his own. “For want of news this old king gave up sleep As any father whose son takes the field, Without the slightest trace of fear of death; But anxiously awaits his spry return.” The servant beamed with gracious piety,
BOOK I: After the Flood
Uplifting sounds from a disquieted heart, “The words were true; I could only stare With untiring glare towards hordes of men With eyes that shone with blood-filled rage That twists the twine of hope that ’twas between The two of dusk and dawn with muted gaze, For I had froze, absorbing fearsome light. As quiet waters rose and terror breathed Such fire in men that stole all sense of right As brothers fought and greed consumed the air, The women screamed and children took to arms; With no sense they brought death upon themselves.” The servant paused, perspiring blood and sweat, Reclaiming strength, his voice now bellowed loud, “The eyes that place their service before you Have seen the face of death-defying fate With formless gait did walk amidst the cries, Issue an order – ‘Rise!’ – the shores obeyed Drifting away as tides as high as sky Shot towards the stars with rays as bright as light But white with might of fury I’ve not heard Since years ago, Laertes’s son took sail. Oh king, not years but hours had fate decried As I blinked thrice to see if I could breathe For want of air amidst the putrid fumes Of hate and anger – I then closed my eyes To pray till death or sounds were no more heard. When calm returned and I then feared the worst To open a box, I would dare not try As hope had died that day with no quick flight But Zeus had steered the fear, as my heart swayed, Into dark night so I could no more see The air I breathed than souls beneath the sea, With mortal gaze affixed on earthly sights.”
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The servant lay his head before the king As he then reached for jewels and bade him off With pleasant speech and thoughts to free his mind From awful memories clothed in dreadful tire. The aged minister proceeded forth – Aside the king who frowned with pointed brows That sheltered thoughts encased within himself – And spoke his weary heart to Echephron. “That man was young of years to bear such pain And I had feared such plight as you had warned The moment we descended from that isle To see the owl with glowing eyes depart When coiled serpents descended upon us Then drawing fangs as swords with fearful blades, Yet I cannot explain the reason why The winds then howled and they were soon to flee, For I had not declared a sacrifice. But as well I did for the order came As Pallas Athena descended near That seven days must we appease the gods.” Echephron braced his arm within his own, “And be the bearer of the fruits as such; Am I correct? That you indeed survived With mind affixed on heeding her advice And turned the tide onto itself that day; The signs are known to you as father said: Among men, you have no superior.” The king then shook his head with lowered voice, “It was not winds that howled at us that day But wolves that beckoned serpents to retreat; Since there was no swift movement of the boats Atop the placid waters sound asleep.” Echephron frowned as laughter joined the two With darkened curls and eyes of azure hue
BOOK I: After the Flood
On shoulders wide enough to fathom space; Aside the maiden sweet as honeyed wine, Yet wit as sharp as spears flung from Ares. “Is ruling a grand kingdom troubling you? For I recall the time when you did say ‘That I am yours first, daughter, and then king’ – Alas! The vows of man are seldom true.” The king then grinned and threw his cloak aside And shouted so that guests below would hear “That I can face the wrath of Poseidon If he can pardon me in my demise; But not the ire the fairest maiden wears On sweet lips I had promised would never frown.” Then Solon took her arms entwined in his And swiftly glided towards the hall below As guests then jeered at Argeia in jest, “When flowers bloom, the king is quick to shear As queens must bear the age of waning weeds,” Yet Argeia had known the reason why As bees must seek the pollen to survive; “Yet who am I but a provider proud With roots as deep as Olympian heights With Zeus as witness, whom the wise adore With pleas of right, not might, but sight as I That wants the shear that frees the ties with life That I can be perhaps remembered so That of the women here, the joy was mine.” The women laughed as they then swarmed the queen Aside men who then held the king in shame: “In words befitting gods did she then speak Awhile the king misplaces weeds for bees!” The king let go Selene so that he
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Regain the glory of his royalty With firm embrace did he then hold the queen Amidst the roars that echoed through the hall Back to the ears that waited patiently As two friends wait till one among them leaves In proper form that gives them right to speak. “Tell me, blue-eyed prince, why the steps are slow To join the others there in merriment; Indeed, the stomach growls in want of food Not words of old men who the young deride.” “And for that Zeus decries such lives as death,” The young prince beamed with due respect and pride. “Since what is prized beyond the worth of coin In times when honor rules the heart of man?” Amused, yet not surprised at this exchange, Echephron led the way apart from crowds Upon the balcony above Cyme. “The moon, Diokles, is the sun that shines When darkness swallows even the brightest light.” Diokles frowned and leaned against the edge Embroiled in thoughts beyond his days and strength; “It was not darkness racing towards the king On horseback, ready to deliver news.” Echephron smiled as Diokles stepped forth With anxious plea that parents often see When children want to lose their innocence Before the time when Fate shall strip them bare. “Tell Father I can bear the weight of stones Amidst the battle cries that threaten us And quash the fear that troubles him this night If he but grant the order to attack.” “Do not be hasty, prince,” Echephron laughed, “Will you then strike the fog that circles around Without the name or face of enemies?
BOOK I: After the Flood
Oh prince, what good can come from patience lost On possibilities without the truth? For greater dangers lurk ahead of us If we must take to arms without due thought.” Diokles spun around with lowered eyes: “If I have spoken rashly, forgive me But Father deserves no less from this son.” “Cyme will claim thee first,” Echephron beamed, “And I assure her you shall lead the charge, But not this night when all is well and calm.” Echephron paused as voices neared the two, “And we shall see no harm befall the prince!” A heavy voice called out with solemn pledge. “Yet, I beg you, defer such worries, son, Till counsel serves us notice to reflect.” Echephron welcomed Meletus with joy. “The brother of the king is wise in words And poets try in vain to mimic him And certainly among them he would rule, But he has other interests at heart.” Meletus put his arm around the prince And asked how he had fared with Balista: “For dueling mighty foes shall strengthen you And wear away the softness gained in youth, But do not waste this night in thoughts of war As women call for you among the fray.” Diokles blushed in youthful innocence, “Lest I bring trouble, I beg to depart,” And took his leave from Echephron, the wise. The others gathered close to Meletus As he requested Echephron remain. “The ships returned in full capacity With myrrh, cassia, dried fish aplenty Alongside rows of ivory and gold
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But what of our envoy sent to the east?” Echephron frowned and held his thoughts with poise, “The king shall answer you on the morrow When we confirm reports that came today But now, let us indulge in food and wine As tongues run dry if soaked in words alone.” The group then made its way back towards the hall Without a second thought of yesterday With hearts set upon sumptuous feast and drink That flowed from golden vessels brought from Crete.
Excerpt of Light of the North Star, an original epic poem, which tells the tale of empires from Ancient Greece and India decades after the f...
Published on Mar 16, 2019
Excerpt of Light of the North Star, an original epic poem, which tells the tale of empires from Ancient Greece and India decades after the f...