Ahmed A. Khan

- The Book of Pain -



The gods silently assessed the new candidate and nodded to each other. He looked promising. Then one of them spoke.

"Time for the test. Are you ready?"

"Yes," said the newcomer.

"It will be painful," warned the god. The other gods chuckled. "Good pun, good pun," they applauded.

"Pun?" the new-comer was confused.

"Come with me," said the god who had spoken to him earlier. He led the new-comer to the mouth of a huge pit.

"Look within," he said.

The new-comer looked. In the pit, he saw a huge, seething and swarming pile of ... something indescribable. This pile was immense, almost reaching the boundaries of infinity, and it was still growing. The sight of it made him feel uneasy for some reason.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It is Pain," said the god.


"Pain. Created as a result of certain unwise actions of creatures throughout the universe. Ever-growing through a chain of causes and effects. What you see before you is a reservoir of all the Pain in the universe. You are given the job of handling this Pain for two celestial days. In this time, dispense with the Pain completely and as you see fit. This is your test," and then the god gave him a book.

"This book will be your guide. Read it and act wisely." Saying this, the god walked away, leaving the new-comer to his own thoughts.

The new-comer started taking stock of the situation. What was the quantity of Pain present? What was its rate of growth? Among how many creatures was it to be distributed? Who was to get what kind of Pain and how much of it?

He looked at the book the god had given to him. Its title was "The Book of Pain."

He opened the book.

The first page of the book gave him all the statistical data he needed about the pile of Pain. From the second page onwards, the main body of the book started. It was divided into several untitled chapters. The book went thus:

Chapter 1

Pain punishes.

No unrepented evil deed goes unpunished, for as you sow, so shall you reap, etc.

And the Punisher can be as subtle as he wishes.

(Further reading: "The Water Babies", by Charles Kingsley, especially the parts of the book featuring the two fairies called Do-as-you-be-done-by and Be-done-by-as-you-did.)

Chapter 2

Pain teaches.

Come near and listen to a story.

Once upon a time, there was a nice and tender-hearted boy. This tender-hearted boy was extremely chummy with a nice and tender-hearted girl.

The girl was interested in photography and always carried a camera with her. She tried to take as many photographs of the boy as possible.

Time passed.

They grew up and drifted apart. He went his way and she went hers.

People change with time, and so the tender-hearted boy grew up to become a hard-hearted man. He became a thoroughly materialistic, flinty and self-centered individual.

Time passed.

He remained a hard-hearted man for a long time. For a long time, he caused misery to a number of people, and - though he would never admit it - was miserable himself.

It came to pass that one day, while casually flipping through the pages of an old book in his library, he came across an old photograph, neatly tucked between the pages of the book. He glanced at the photograph and was about to put it away again when something hit him. For a moment he was startled into immobility. Then slowly, almost apprehensively, he lowered his eyes and looked at the photograph again.

The photograph showed the tearful face of a boy looking at a dead bird in his hand. Something in the face of the boy made him glance away quickly. The man found he could not face the boy he had been.

Then, like a huge tidal wave, his past came flooding over his present, and he found himself floating over a vast ocean of memories - memories of the boy who was, memories of the girl who had taken the photograph, memories of many other things.

He got up and went to the mirror on the wall. He looked at himself for some time. Suddenly, without any warning, a strange sort of bitter-sweet pain gripped his heart. Like a small child, he burst into tears.

From then on, he was a changed man, a tender-hearted man.

So that's the story. Now what do you think of it?

You think it is nothing but a naive and unrealistic fairy tale?

How stupid of you.

Things like this sometimes (though not often) do happen in the real life.

(Further reading: "A Christmas Carol", by Charles Dickens.)

Chapter 3

Pain tests.

Chapter 4

In the world there are people, though very few, who are brave and noble enough to come forward and offer their help in carrying other people's burden of Pain. When this happens, there is a substantial lessening in the overall amount of Pain in the universe.

Chapter 5

Being a sentient is to accept responsibilities. With responsibilities comes Pain. Face it or live the life of an animal.

Chapter 6

Some people maintain that sometimes Pain helps one in better appreciating Pleasure.

(Further reading: "Paingod", by Harlan Ellison.)

Thus ended The Book of Pain.

The distribution of Pain was still not an easy task. The capacity of a creature to bear Pain had to be gauged quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Then the Pain had to be distributed, with justice.

At last, after a lot of deliberation, he started the distribution of Pain. A malady or two here. A misery or two there. Here, the pain of parting from a loved one. There, the pain of an unattained desire. Here, the pain of birth. There, the pain of death. The pain of corporeal punishment here. The pain of self-reproach there... It went on and on and on.

And then the universe was saturated with Pain.

But the task of distribution of Pain remained unfinished. There still remained a lot of undispensed Pain in the reservoir.

The dispenser of Pain was stumped.

The time given to him was coming to an end. What should he do now? Unleash extra Pain among the creatures of the universe? No. That was out of question. They would not be able to bear it.

So what was he to do?

And then, going through The Book of Pain again, he found the answer.

Slowly, deliberately, he moved to the pit, bent down, picked up the whole of the surplus Pain and placed this burden squarely upon his own broad shoulders.

He reeled. A darkness descended upon him. He screamed. He wept. Then suddenly, he felt the weight of pain being taken away from him. He sagged to the ground with the intensity of relief.

He slowly opened his watery eyes to find himself surrounded by the gods. Suddenly, the air vibrated with sounds of applause. There, before him, stood a host of gods grinning and cheering him. The Pain had been thrown back into the pit, perhaps for other tests, other times.

One of the gods, the one who had given him The Book of Pain, stepped forward, smiled.

"Welcome to the ranks," he said. "Come, let's go, have a drink." And all the gods, including the new-comer, made their way to the nearest ambrosia parlour.

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