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The Four Brothers

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

When a young king asks his council of scholars about what mere mortals such as themselves should do to add significant value and meaning to their existence, many councillors answer instantly to the displeasure of their king. Unsatisfied, the king promises to promote the scholar who could find him a proper answer to be the head of the council and with this motivation, Maya the second in the council finds the answer in a horrifying dream.

Read R. S. Chintalapati’s “The Four Brothers” to know how Maya perceives four abstract concepts as embodiments and explains how individuals who could master these concepts are the ones who could make a difference and add meaning to their lives.

Cover Photo by Pankaj Tottada

One sunny morning, a young king who was crowned only a couple of years ago after his father’s untimely death, summoned his council of scholars to learn, as he did every week. Resting in the courtyard on the cotton bed while relishing the scent of the jasmines and lilies, the King queried the nine scholars as they all sat in a circle, “Today, I would like to know as to what we as mere mortals should dictate in our lives to add significant meaning to our existence?”

The very next moment a couple of scholars proposed contentment, skillfulness, ambition and none of these answers made the king happy. He turned to the head of the council for an answer and all he got was silence. Amused, the young king foolishly promised, “Whoever offers me an answer that would please me by tomorrow morning, would be made the head of this council for a year.”

Though that promise hurt the head of the council, it instigated Maya, the second in command. For years now, she sought to be the head of the council but was never even offered the chance to compete against her superior. She saw this as an opportunity to prove her worth though she didn’t have a clue as to what the answer could be.

That evening, after having their supper, Maya told her husband about the King’s offer and expressed to him that she would like to make the best of this possibility. As much as he wanted his wife to succeed, her husband could see the aggressive determination in her eyes and calmly replied, “The young king is reckless enough to propose replacing the current head over a single question. Do you really want to compete to gain validation from someone who would replace you just as easily?”

Noticing his wife’s disappointment, the husband held her hand as he assured, “If it is meant to be yours, you will get it no matter the circumstances. However, if it isn’t meant for you, no matter what you sacrifice, it will slip right through your fingers.”

As much as she disagreed with him, Maya chose to instead focus on the challenge at hand and just smiled. It bothered her that she did not receive the encouragement she expected, she still hoped to succeed in being the one to find the answer for the king.

That night lost in her thoughts, Maya closed her eyes before she felt nothing for a moment. But suddenly, she felt like she was falling from the vast nothingness to a world covered in red clouds. When she almost touched the clouds, Maya felt like someone was holding her. Floating above the clouds, she heard a voice from within asking her, “Do you really wish to know the truth?”

When Maya replied, “Yes”, she kept falling until she almost hit the land but felt nothing. When she opened her eyes, she was standing on a planet filled with darkness under the red clouds. It was terrifying to be surrounded by nothing until she saw a light at a distance from a tunnel. Maya slowly approached the tunnel until she saw her husband waiting at the entrance. Relieved, she rushed towards him and they hugged each other.

Asking as to where they were, Maya got to know that the answer she is looking for is on the other end of the tunnel. However, her husband also informed her that if she is set on this journey, there is no coming back and since he doesn’t want to seek the truth, this is the end of their relationship. Looking into his eyes, Maya felt he meant every word of what he just said. While her inner voice kept saying, “Let him go. Keep going!”

Though there was a part of her that agreed with her inner voice, there was a part of her that didn’t want to either. Conflicted, she asked, “What would you want me to do?”

With a smile, her husband kept mum. Making up her mind, Maya left into the tunnel to truly seek the truth. As she walked away from him, she could hear a voice crying in pain and when she turned around, her husband was just standing there staring at her in silence. Turning back to her path, she could hear the wailing again but not intending to be bothered about it, she kept walking until she heard the crying stop.

Feeling relieved, she closed her eyes for a moment before the voice reappeared shrieking in pain begging her to help. Rushing back to the entrance, Maya could no longer find her husband but she could hear his pain. She heard a butcher’s axe fling and her husband kept shouting at the top of his voice begging for help.

Standing in the middle of nowhere helplessly, Maya decided to go to the other end of the tunnel and try her best to not be bothered by the voice crying for help. When she reached almost the other end, the crying stopped but now, she felt like someone was following her.

Turning around, she saw her shadow standing before her and before she could even process what she was looking at, the shadow pulled a blade out of thin air and slit Maya’s throat. Pressing her bloody wound, Maya turned around to run but crashed on the floor after being stabbed in her back.

As she nearly felt her soul leave her body, she felt the blade slice into her three more times before she closed her eyes. For a moment she felt nothingness before she saw a million stars as leaves of a gigantic blue tree that has no end and spread all across the dark skies. Standing before the tree on its roots in her astral form, Maya looked at a boy whose face kept changing.

Looking at her, the boy asked, “Do you know who I am?”

Realising who he truly was, Maya faintly replied, “The truth.”

The boy smiled as his face finally turned into Maya’s husband’s face. Terrified, Maya woke up and there was her husband just beside her in bed. Thinking about her dream in excruciating detail, the next morning, Maya informed the entire council about it.

The head of the council questioned in frustration, “Does this figment of the imagination mean anything or are you just killing our time?”

Not intending to waste a moment more, Maya explained, “This haunting dream has taught me that if we, mere mortals, could not control our inner thoughts, emotions, ego and our dreams, forget about adding meaning and significance but we could not even lead peaceful lives.”

Surprised, another councillor asked, “How could you infer that conclusion from your dream? After all, that dream is far from such a conclusion.”

Hoping to make sense, Maya explained, “Let’s consider the notions I suggested as embodiments. Let each notion be a boy and let’s consider them to be four brothers and one has to pass through each of them to truly master their own self. To begin with, the fourth brother whom I would like to refer to as Halo, or the Master of Inner-self, is the one who tests an individual of their strength and motivation to find the destination of their journey. The third brother whom I would like to refer to as Dreary, named after dread or the Master of Emotions, is the one who tests an individual if they have the strength to continue on their pursuit even when the emotion they dread is what they experience. The second brother, whom I would like to refer to as Shadow, or the Master of Ego, forces you to kill your alter-ego to truly be only you and the first brother, whom I would like to refer to as Dream, reveals to the individual their true desires with his face expressing it. So to answer your question my King is that only those of us who are the master of these four embodiments are the ones who could make their life meaningful.”

For a moment, the entire council was silent until the head of the council remarked, “I must confess that though the dream might not mean much, the meaning Councilor Maya learnt of it must be applauded, considering how terrifying the experience must have been.”

As the other councillors applauded, Maya turned to the head of the council to thank him before turning towards the young king for her reward. With a smile on his face, the young king looked at Maya for a moment before his face changed.





This contribution is edited by Manognya Bethapudi & Tarun Chintam, & photographed by Pankaj Tottada.



This short story is available in paperback & ebook.

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