In your last letter, you asked me a great but difficult question. All I can share is my journey through this mysterious concept that we call ‘life’. Like you, I was a stranger to this world, buried deep within. Then I was brought forth to the surface and prepared for a new purpose. My new life began as a facilitator of grand schemes. I helped with the development of the garments industry in Bengal under Mughal rule. I aided in the purchase of extravagant artwork for the Emperor’s greatest palace and delicate astrolabes for his greatest observatories. I enabled the burgeoning glory of their economy and the strength of their military. I was the facilitator of all that came to pass; of hopes and dreams and fear.
My purpose had brought me in contact with people from all walks of life, rich and poor, young and old, thieves and the honest. Many I have forgotten but some will always be etched in my memory. A small child, malnourished, smiled in both wonderment and delight, for she had never seen someone like me before. She called her mother who regarded me with equal astonishment but also recognition for she knew something of my value. The mother took me to the guards who collected tax from poor farmers and she hoped I would be able to persuade them from throwing her family out of their land.
It was a fair trade but the greedy guards laughed at her and claimed she was a thief. It was an utter lie, it was purely by chance the little girl had found me. Yet, they dragged her mother away from her and left her crumpled on the ground in tears. I was powerless against the guards but the terrible injustice crushed my soul. The empire was flourishing, progress had been made but still the weak were being terrorized by the greedy.
Such injustice strengthened my resolve. I knew that the weak had to become strong to fight back against the rotting souls of society. Wealth had to be distributed to the poor. To this end, I tried to ease the transactions of the poor wherever I could. I would roll to them, be in their presence so as to offer my services to them.
This way I found that there were many who had compassion and did their best to ease the lives of others. A youth, dressed in rags, had almost purchased a new seed drill for his farmland when he noticed a man with an amputated arm. He was once a soldier and had lost his arm in battle. Now he was having difficulty providing for his wife and little children. Knowing the disabled man was in more dire need than he, the boy instead bought livestock for the former soldier, so as to grant him a steady source of income. It touched me deeply to witness how a young boy in so pitiful a state had the heart to support one in a more desperate plight. I was proud to aid in such a gracious act. I am proud to look back at moments of this sort where the best of humanity shone.
The next part of my life is rather unsavoury so I will go over it briefly. Eventually, I came to meet a poor sailor in the port of Bengal. He took me aboard a large ship that was set to sail to the neighbouring Aceh Empire to take part in their lucrative trade. Alas, in the darkness of the night, pirates attacked our vessel. In the midst of the battle, I was flung over the side of the ship, plunging deep into the water. Cold, dark and silent. Deadly silent. That was all I could feel.
A shark almost ate me, mistaking the pouch I was in for a meal. Yet, upon reflection, I would say it was fortunate the ignorant creature attacked, for its fangs tore through the fabric, thus freeing me to be carried away by the powerful current. If that had not happened then I might never have been discovered and would be left lying on rocks at the bottom of the ocean forever.
As it was, I travelled miles before settling on soft sand in the ocean floor. For hundreds of years I lay there, alone and forgotten. I thought that forsaken ground would be my eternal resting place. Fortunately I was wrong. At last, I was discovered by a diver and brought up to the surface, after lying underwater for nearly four hundred years.
Soon I was brought to my new home where I am now enjoying my retirement. My status is rather similar to that of a celebrity. Everyday people come to admire me as I am a treasured relic of the olden days. So you see, life is tough. Is it worth it? I do not know. But I know this: life is more than you could ever imagine.
Proud resident of Taka Museum
The writer is a graduate of Monash University.