The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Salvation-III

The Salvation-III
Now Milkha, the patriot-apparition finally gets something interesting to do. He is no longer worried about the overwhelming changes in everything he comes accross in the city. He is not in a hurry to go back to his cave to resume his life as a ghost. He'll help people in distress in his preternatural way. Read on, here's the last installment of the story.
                       As the shadow of despondency swept the troupe, Milkha took it upon himself to prevent the impending fiasco. In a way, the disappearance of Mihir threw a golden opportunity before Milkha to realise the dream of his life. Yes! The spectral being had a dream—and a nagging dream at that! With no loss of time he transformed himself into Mihir’s appearance. Milkha had had no occasion to see Mihir anytime in the past. Nevertheless, for a ghost with exalted sense of patriotism, it was not very hard a job to morph into any form—seen or unseen.
                        Everybody in the troupe was happy to see Mihir back. None could get a scent of the trick Milkha was then up to, as he was eminently suited to his new role. The director was both angry and happy at the same time.

‘How can can you make it? Time is running god, how can you make it?’ the director fumbled for words effective enough to reprimand and at the same time encourage the neglectful artist.

‘I promise my mentor...I promise...I promise my guide...I’ll not leave any scope for your embarrassment,’ the spectral imposter tried to assure the director. His implicit parody was more than evident that made the director chuckle.

‘Let the show get over, I’ll kill you to death,’ the director hinted Mihir that he was going to sodomise him for all the tension he had perpetrated on him.

                        The play would be staged in five short hours. The actors should proceed to the green room at least two hours in advance. So, where was the time for Milkha alias Mihir to go through the rehearsal? Now a full course of it was out of question since the rest of the actors who had already done their bits were just not willing to repeat them for the fear of muddling things up. Anyhow, the director took the help of the spot-boys and went ahead. To his amazement, he found Mihir superbly fluent and bereft of any jitters. As if he was imitating certain live character. There was no slip of his tongue, and his dialogue delivery was only too perfect. The fellow did not even wait to catch the prompting near him to recall his words! All the fear of the director was allayed. He was cheering the actor at regular intervals, pause-by-pause, and delivery-by-delivery. He had no doubt that the show was going to register a success—a thundering success.
                        The play began at the appointed time, 7:30 p.m. sharp, amidst capacity crowd. The show was organised in the Netaji Stadium to be enacted on an open-air stage. With minimum of introductory music, the play started.
                        The playwright, it appeared, had hastily cobbled together scenes and sequences that did not necessarily keep in mind the temperament of the modern audience. It had no frill of necessary humour; it was a tragedy, a tearjerker in that sense. Nevertheless, the storyline had its moments of histrionics—alien’s barbaric treatment for the violence, the accumulation of anger for building of the plot, the conspiracy and the killing of the villain for the climax, and finally the backlash and the parting tragedy.
                        Just a few scenes hurried through the introduction of the characters and the play briskly gathered the pace. As the plot thickened, it plodded its way to a flat top to show the nitty-gritty of the barbaric treatment of the deportees. More and more it became evident that the playwright had lost his grip. Now it was a challenge before the artists to turn a crudely written drama into a well-enacted play. There were standard performances from everybody. But the two artists who outperformed the others were in the roles of Viceroy, Lord Mayo and Sher Ali. The effect of Viceroy Mayo could not be long lasting on the audience, as the same was very brief. But Milkha played the role of Sher Ali with matchless élan, moving in tandem with the spectators and claiming their approbations on the way. There was ecstasy among the spectators when Sher Ali stabbed Lord Mayo, the symbol of exploitation. Milkha in the role of Sher Ali was also ecstatic. He overacted on the stage exceeding his brief. In a fit of jubilation, he laughed and laughed creating a crescendo that reverberated through the atmosphere right into the depth of the Bay of Bengal. It appeared as though the original soundtrack of Gabbar Singh’s laugh in the movie “Sholay” was being played at the background boosting its pitch and volume by a thousand times. The sense of xenophobic derision behind the momentous laughter of Milkha on the stage touched the audience, and they all joined him in their bid to express their solidarity with the patriot. The whole of Port Blair resonated from corner to corner. Initially perturbed at the wayward performance of the artist, the director of the play began to realise the magic. He also started to chortle with delight.
                        Followed, thereafter, the tragic end of Sher Ali. When the trial of the accused-murderer took place, Milkha in the role of Sher Ali went on replying to all the questions the prosecutor put to him, bluntly and derisively. There were lines in his reply that even the playwright did not provide. There were cadences in his tone that even the director did not teach. He held his head high in pride and satisfaction of achieving something good, something great, and something that would have required him to take birth again and again to accomplish. He was literally wearing a halo, awe-inspiring and majestic.

                          Prosecutor:        Who else was with you when
                                                    you killed his Excellency?
                         Sher Ali:            Nobody, er, God, the great.
                         Prosecutor:        Why did you kill?
                         Sher Ali:            By the order of God.
                         Prosecutor:        Did you do the crime?
                         Sher Ali:           God knows.
                         Prosecutor:        Do you know you’ll be hanged?
                        Sher Ali:             Kill me?  Do you know
                                                    I’m dead? And you want to kill a man
                                                    in shackles? A dead man?

                        Uttering those words of contempt he again burst into laughter. The tempo and pitch of his laughter was as high as it was at the time of the climax when Sher Ali killed Lord Mayo. But this time the audience did not join. Rather, a few of them cried and a few others held back their emotion in grim anticipation of the impending calamity.
                        The last scene of execution of Sher Ali was quite touching. The enactment was flawless, and everybody had only praise for the artists…and for their director.
***     ***     ***
                         The splendid performance of the dramatic group had an unexpected spin-off. It caught the attention of one Mr Premkant, the owner of a chain of star hotels in India and abroad, who was also known for his interests in movie making. Dealing with historical themes and patriotic potboilers had been his forte. Whatever historical movies he had produced so far had registered their success at the box office. Now, deeply impressed by the performance of Sher Ali, he sent word from his hotel that he would like to see the artist. He was sure the drama could be profitably filmed and for that he was ready to invest up to a billion. It would be a fantastic historical, a movie that would be better than the best he had ever produced. He would not compromise on anything and, to start with, he would have the entire shooting done at the Andamans.
                        Mr Premkant’s assistant came down to the place where the troupe was lodged. He had the message of his boss for Mihir that he sought to deliver personally. The director was restless, pacing up and down outside his lodge.

‘Mihir? Oh yes, Mihir. But where the hell the man is now? We don’t know where the fellow is disappearing. Only yesterday, he kept us under head-bursting tension and finally turned up at the eleventh hour to take part in the play. Today, as soon as the performance was over, he’s vanished, God knows where,’ said the director in a very exasperated mood.

‘Well, here’s an important message for your friend from Mr Premkant. He intends to make a movie on last night’s play and wants to take your friend Mr Mihir in the lead role,’ said the messenger explaining the purpose of his visit.

                        As the visitor was about to leave, he sighted somebody approaching the camp. He was barely lugging his feet. At his first glance the director rushed towards his favourite disciple addressing him by his name. The visitor came to know that the fellow was Mihir, the person he was supposed to meet on behalf of Mr Premkant. It was beyond his wildest dreams that his boss was going to make a hero out of this person, who was nothing less than a lanky haggard of a famine-stricken village. He decided to share his impression fully with Mr Premkant and save him from an impending financial disaster.
                        Now the mystery that unfolded by and by drove everybody into great befuddlement. Mihir emphatically denied that he had taken part in the previous night’s play. He went to Mt Harriet by trekking and while coming downhill on a different trail, he lost his way. Howsoever he tried he could not come out of the wilderness. It was in his destiny to suffer. Hunger and the stings of the centipede, the loss of blood to leeches and a night full of harrowing uncertainties—everything came down too hard on him. The leeches that rained from the trees or the snakes that crossed his road were full of mercy for him—maybe they spared him to see his friends again. When the day broke, he resumed his journey, and at noon, he discovered that he was going in a wrong direction. Then and there he changed his course, an act that finally brought him to Port Blair after a forty-six-hour terrifying ordeal. Now, back in his brood, he was profusely apologetic in his tone as he asked the pardon of one and all for his act of crass stupidity.
                        Initially, none present there was prepared to buy his explanation. It was just too weird. But as Mihir insisted and showed the sores on his feet or the marks of insect bite on his body, all began to believe the version but reluctantly. The mystery still remained before them: who acted Sher Ali onstage last night if he was not Mihir?
                        It was a double drama, a double mystery—Mihir in the role of Sher Ali, and some mysterious fellow in the role of Mihir.
                        Milkha, the ghost being, the pious and patriotic, had no further desire left in him after killing the viceroy, His Excellency Lord Mayo. He had had the last laugh, sonorously deriding the colonial cruelty, from the land of free India. He left the surreal realm of ghosts and goblins and set out his journey into the heaven. There his friends were waiting to accord him a hero’s welcome. 

At Port Blair, the historical pageantry commemorating the golden jubilee of India’s independence continued.
 [The End]
Written on - 16-06-1999
Published in the year 2007
in the collection of (21) stories
under title "The Remix of Orchid"
ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0
A. N. Nanda

Labels: ,

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Salvation-II

The Salvation-II
Milkha, the fellow from the small principality under the British rule was falsely implicated in a case of sedition and was banished to the island of the Andamans where there were only sufferings for him to endure. He was tortured by the officials and Milkha tried to escape the agony come what may. In the process, let us see, what happened to him to make him a ghost...and a patriotic ghost at that. Read on...

Finally, Milkha had reached the limit of his endurance. Yes, for him it was his limit. He could not have continued assenting to the carnal misuse of his body. It was time he took the crucial decision of his life as a deportee.

‘Oh, the protector of my life! This humble fellow supplicates to you...have some mercy on him,’ Milkha gave his best encomiums hoping to draw the lenient attention of the Jamadar-supervisor on duty.

‘What...what’s that you rot want from me? My distinguished bone-breaking kick or what?’ the Jamadar was derisive but unusually soft in his tone. This fact encouraged Milkha to try on.

‘My benevolent saviour! This forever object of your kick has a terrible pain in his rotten belly. Kindly have some mercy,’ Milkha pleaded maintaining effectively the same subservient tone.

                        With a lot of initial hesitation the supervisor finally yielded to the rarest of good sense within himself. He removed the shackles from Milkha’s legs, gave him a mild kick, and asked him to proceed to hospital to consult the physician over there.
                        Milkha left that place and slowly headed for the hospital. When he was sure he had moved sufficiently away from the watchful view of the supervisor, he swerved into the jungle and thereafter towards the creek where it was negotiable. Now was time to cross the creek for liberty’s sake. With his knowledge of swimming that was only rudimentary, Milkha was out to take the last desperate gamble of his life. A burning desire to flee, a nebulous call to meet the unknown, and the blinding charm of the liberty plunged him into the water right away. The width of the creek was not much—barely a hundred metres or so. Despite his not being an expert swimmer, Milkha could have crossed it with ease; but his encounter with a man-eating shark pushed him on his way to his ultimate fate. After fighting a desperate bout with the wandering pelagian he gave in. Fatally wounded, he managed to somehow wade his way to the rocky shore. There was hardly any hope of his recovery. None came to his rescue. He died the death of a wounded boar in the deserted corner of the jungle.
                        Death could not end Milkha. It could only jettison his soul out of his ephemeral body. For a soul that was busy till a moment ago chasing its far dream of emancipation, it was not easy to give up. Milkha, the ghost lingered on. He wandered about the places in search of opportunity to punish the officers of penal settlement to satiate his psyche. He went everywhere his spectral proclivities took him—to the peak of Mt Harriet, to the beaches of Wandoor and Chidiya Tapu, and to the furthest islands of Nancowrie and Teressa. As his permanent abode of meditation he finally chose the cave near the jungle at Wandoor beach—not for its serene backdrop only, but for its special spectral ambience. It was in this colony of ghosts and goblins that he met his companion-confidant Lal Bawa who enlightened him how to conduct himself well in his new role as a phantom. But his pursuit of liberty through enlightenment came to an abrupt end on that fateful day of devastation—the earthquake of June 1941.
*         *          *          *          *
                        Liberated from the stony trap, Milkha was lost in momentary aimlessness. His incorporeal impulse in high effervescence, he just moved about the places touching the landmarks of the island. What could have been his first choice if it was not the Cellular Jail? At first glance of the place, Milkha could feel the difference. The whole place wore an entirely changed look. It had a nicely laid out lawns with meticulously manicured hedges along the cobbled paths. The lighting arrangement over there was quite elaborate. He came to observe from the signposts that the structure had been elevated to the status of a national memorial, a befitting classification for a venue of that importance. But Milkha was very unhappy to see that the awe-inspiring structure of the jail had not survived intact to the present day. A few of the wings had been demolished to give way to the modern constructions.
                        Soon after, the patriot-ghost left the place and went round the town. There had been a sea change everywhere, a change that touched and tampered almost every aspect of the topography. With roads wider and houses multiplied in their concrete incarnations, with trees cleared and swamps filled, with hillocks razed and shores walled, Port Blair surprised Milkha more than it welcomed him. Not many log houses of the past were in sight. The horse carriages of the past had given way to the fuming automobiles. There were a lot more shoppers and shopkeepers in the bazaar than Milkha was familiar with, more boats moored to the quays than it was the case in his time. There were light posts everywhere capable of inundating a flood of light in whole of the township and keeping the darkness at bay. All these made him feel ill at ease in his old habitat. It was definitely not the place Milkha wanted to visit to assuage his nostalgia. Dismayed, he was now ready to leave for his cave.
                        As he was about to move, he came to hear some music playing nearby. What was that the melody reminded him about? It sounded very much like the opening concert of the open-air plays he used to organise at his home town before misfortune overtook him. The attraction of the old music was irresistible and Milkha felt like bursting into a song. It was a feast for his psyche. To get the better feel of things, he went inside the hall gingerly, making sure he did not disturb anybody in the process.
                        And what did he find there? Inside the hall, Milkha found a dozen of souls deeply engrossed in some serious business. Quietly, he sat down on an empty bench and tried to concentrate on their activities and conversation. It did not take him any length of time to know that he was among a group of artists, rehearsing a play to be staged that night.
                        The title of the drama was a historical one, an episode that eulogised the heroic exploits of Sher Ali, the deportee who assassinated Viceroy Lord Mayo. He accomplished that when the viceroy was on his tour of the island, a place then full of the victims of colonial injustice. No topic would have excited Milkha more than the present one. The patriot-apparition was bodily alive when Sher Ali executed his plan with enviable perfection. The chained convicts, the reformed convicts, and the deportees—all were jubilant to receive the news of the success of Sher Ali. Milkha had felt deeply anguished when Sher Ali was finally executed on 11th March 1872, thirty-two days after the calamity. Repeatedly thereafter he had dreamt about it. In his dream, he used to grab the gullet of the cruel superintendent in his left hand and a dagger in his right, and sometimes he even went to a point where his victim was just a thrust away from his end. Milkha cherished to actually emulate the example of Sher Ali and give at least one more tormentors a lesson of his life. He was for setting yet another example before the perpetrators to dread. But queer was the course of history; an achievement of that magnitude was not to happen again and again. At least Milkha was not so lucky. Seated on the bench and spellbound, he watched the proceedings there with total involvement.

‘Where is that unthinking duffer called Mihir? Where is that callow youth called Mihir? My God, what’s that sin you’re punishing me for? The show is only a few hours away and where have you hidden my thespian?’ the director went on blabbering his choicest invectives. His reputation at stake, he did not even spare god.

‘We can’t wait any longer. I feel we’ve to rush through our parts and get ready for the show,’ one of the actors insisted.

‘Rushing through what? A play without a hero...what a big hassle! Okay...Okay, you guys go ahead. Let me be here waiting for the irresponsible absentee,’ the director went out in a fit of perturbation.

                        Milkha could not initially figure out the reason for the director’s worry. But in due course this too became clear to him. He came to know that a person by the name of Mihir, who was cast on the lead role of the play as Sher Ali, was missing. The director had managed the rehearsal putting a dummy in place of the absentee. But that did not solve the problem. As the afternoon wore on, they all began to feel panicky. It was now a prestige issue. Among the guests invited were the persons of national and international fame. Cancelling a show of this significance would mean getting blacklisted in the books of the Zonal Cultural Centre. It would ultimately mean cessation of all the future sponsorships and the death for the dramatic institution.

[To be concluded....]
A. N. Nanda

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Salvation

This is a story from my book "The Remix of Orchid". I thought I could present it in three installments and keep the momentum of the blog going. It's a ghost story; its setting is historical; and the events took place at Port Blair. Read it not to believe but to enjoy it. Happy reading.

It was pleasant December of 1997. Just by being part of the laid-back city of Port Blair, nobody could have grasped the reason why the unexciting place suddenly buzzed with activity...why the sleepy little place amid the indigo waters of the Bay of Bengal so frantically woke to a frenzy of excitement. One thing was certain: India was at the moment in her golden jubilee year of independence, but that was too official to excite anybody at all. Then what was in the air that made everybody feel so different?
                        The ambience, nevertheless, had its historical overtones. Now all those terribly old people who had once created the history visiting the Cellular Jail in the island as the patriot-convicts in their fiery youth would be invited and honoured. The island folks knew it very well—if it were not for those historical souls, the tiny island would not have secured a niche for itself in the annals of patriotism. But still they kept wondering if that was the right way to honour them, as the old were just right for their sickbed, and not for a crowded public function! Given that most of the patriots were dead by now, the question remained: whither should they go to invite them? 
                        It was open to anybody’s guess if the invitation was also extended officially to the daemons of the preternatural realm. But Milkha, a ghost being, came to know about the pageantry-in-progress when a blast in a quarry catapulted him, making him afloat in the ether of free India. A grand feeling of liberation seized him. Now he was all out for action—something he must do that would help him achieve his life’s ambition, justify his posthumous existence, and above all, secure him peace and heavenly rapture.
                        The poor apparition had been dwelling restfully in a cave near the pristine beach of Wandoor ever since he attained his ghosthood. But then a disaster was to strike his abode on that fateful day of 26th June 1941. It was a double ravage by the combined force of a powerful earthquake and a tsunami that blocked the cave’s exit by a huge rock, and plunged the poor little soul into an agony of confinement. Finding everything dark and dungeon-like all around, Milkha abandoned all his hope of liberation. He was resigned to never seeing the light again, for it was improbable that somebody would ever come to his rescue and extricate him from the sealed cave.
                        Many a time thereafter Milkha had thought of forcing his exit all alone, but something seemed to have prevented him always. His boundless supernatural might had proved to be of little use. He used to fear his incautious attempt might uproot the Banmohua tree standing down the slope. It was a tree, a very special one to him indeed, where his mentor Lal Bawa used to live, and Milkha could not have dreamt of destroying it. It would have been an act of sheer ungratefulness on his part to despoil the abode of somebody that had once accommodated him so affably. He and his mentor, the two surreal beings, had spent countless hours of conviviality there. When in due course of his spectral maturation Milkha came to realise that his salvation would take years to eventuate and when such realisation in him plunged him into the quicksand of depression, he had desperately needed somebody to look to for his solace. Lal Bawa was his companion-in-need then, who had consoled him, encouraged him, and given him the mantra that proved to be the ultimate raison d’etre of his surreal existence. Now that Milkha was in trouble he could not have behaved insensibly and rolled the huge rock onto his mentor’s abode to damage it. He decided he had better remain trapped in the cave, listen to all the developments around from his mentor, and wait for the opportune moment for his release and salvation. He was prepared to wait for aeons even, if his luck was not to make it happen any earlier.        
                        Finally the detonation of dynamite played the symphony of liberation to the ghost being. It ripped apart the huge rock and ejected him out to show the light of free India. Milkha was overwhelmed. He wanted to thank the quarry owner, even for his unintentional help. The latter was standing at a distance, safe enough to keep him away from hitting the splinters.

‘Thanks a lot, brother, I’m really, really grateful to you,’ Milkha approached the contractor with a woodcutter’s axe resting on his shoulder.

‘Grateful to me…and for what?’ the dumbstruck contractor had no clue how a person could still be left so near the detonation spot and return so luckily unhurt!

‘I thank you for saving me,’ Milkha told something as an explanation that failed to convince the contractor.

‘Then go and thank God for keeping you alive and I’m thanking Him for saving me from a murder case,’ the contractor had this much to mumble before trying to forget the shock. But then he could not be so abrupt in his communication with a person who had just returned from the doorstep of the lord of death. ‘Aren’t you heading for Port Blair? A band is putting on a gala concert this evening at the stadium, you know—Netaji Stadium.’

‘Of course, I’m going there now,’ Milkha the ghost being sped up and vanished in a trice. The contractor went back to his work.

                        Before he attained his ghosthood, let’s say, more than a century ago, Milkha was a deported convict at the Andamans. He had come there on being sentenced to deportation by the session’s judge of Balasore. The charge against him was one of sedition, for the simple reason that he did not pull on well with the royal scion of Rajnilgir. The British resident commissioner of that princely state had instituted the case on behalf of the ruler. One of the frivolous charges brought against Milkha was he had drugged the horse meant for the lady Resident Commissioner to induce a wayward behaviour in the animal and cause injury to the white lady. It was taken to be an attempt of an inferior black to murder a lady of a superior race. The other charge was rather complicated. The allegation said that Milkha staged the folk drama in the open-air theatres and composed some anti-white lyrics for its musical sequences. “Lily-white skin upon a chilly-hot heart, hound them first oh-ho hound them first...” The lyrics were considered potentially dangerous, intended to incite a rebellion against the princely state and its British protectors. In fact, after the play was staged, people started reciting them everywhere—on the road, in the field, aboard the bullock carts, at the bathing ghats—parodying the colonialists and their stooge in the ruler of the princely state. It was the evidence they were looking for and, what was more it was easy for the prosecution to bring in witnesses from tribals who could recite the lyric before the judge at an unbroken pace.
                        But the main motive of the young prince was to eliminate Milkha who was the sole witness to his passionate affair with the lady Resident Commissioner. As the coachman of the carriage, Milkha had been the witness to numerous instances of those unseemly sessions that took place between the paramours. Somehow the adulterous duo felt increasingly insecure about the trustworthiness of Milkha. Then followed a secret report to the residency: Milkha with the active help from the tribals of the area was going to organise a rebellion against the British authorities and their protectorate, the princely state of Rajnilgir. A search and seizure operation was conducted at Milkha’s place that resulted in recovery of firearms, bows and arrows, and swords and spikes.

‘You’re conspiring to kill white people—is that true?’ the judge had asked Milkha at the end of the proceeding.

‘No my lord, I’m incapable of killing even a rodent. I can’t kill my masters, I’m not so ungrateful,’ Milkha had insisted in response.

‘But we’ve evidence before us. Weapons have been seized from your house. Can you disprove that?’ the judge had dared.   

                        Milkha could not explain properly that the seized objects were the accessories for staging open-air plays, and that they were only the fake ones meant for the mock fighting onstage. The trial constituted a mockery of justice. The European lady testified that Milkha was often careless in managing the horse carriage and that he was spiteful of the British race in his talk and manners. That was all. Now Milkha was dubbed a seditious fellow in the guise of a servant of the British. Justice saw the truth shown to it: the rustic scoundrel was not to be taken for what he looked; he was definitely preparing to kill the officers posted there and usurp the kingship of Rajnilgir.
                        While it was time to award punishment, the judge had banked on his pet colonial prejudice. That crime was the natural tendency with the natives was his belief, and that a punishment was no punishment if not exemplary was his conviction. Such was the notion, more or less, with all the white people in the subcontinent and there had been no change in their attitudes ever since the Sepoy Mutiny had nearly uprooted them. The case against Milkha did not involve a murder. It was the only extenuating factor before the dispenser of justice. As such, awarding a punishment of hanging was out of consideration. Finally, the judge had decided to order deportation of Milkha to Kālāpāni or the penal settlement of the Andamans for a life-term to meet what he called the end of justice. The ruler of Rajnilgir could not have been happier.
                        Released from the dark depth of his hellish cave, Milkha remembered his days of agony on the island. Now he had only a bundle of experience with him that made him feel different from other ordinary spectral figures. He loved to ruminate over them, reconstruct them and feel inspired by the righteous satisfaction that emanated from them. It appeared to him as if events had happened only the previous night, and his agonies were like those distant nightmares that no longer scared him to gloom.         
                        It was vivid before Milkha how he had bid a teary adieu to his motherland in that sombre autumn evening, and how he was taken by a steamer to the Andamans via Rangoon. He had reached the island a broken man, with a feeling of helplessness compounded by despair and revolt. In a flash, everything about his native place had just receded into the domain of distant memory; it was finally lost for him far behind the black waters of the Bay of Bengal. Situation had demanded that he should quickly begin to like the place or perish. But what was there for him to like? Swamp and centipede, mosquito and insomnia, physical pain and famishment—with living conditions so brutal and an environment so full of malevolence, the whole environment was only too infernal.
                        When he had reached at Viper Island, a place every deportee was brought for inculcating discipline, terrible things were waiting to happen. His unfortunate body was yet another one to be fettered with a chain gang. Already he had the shackles on his legs and waist; now a chain joined him to a group of four persons. All the four convicts were likewise in shackles, each chained with a neck ring, and their number-badges dangling from such rings made them look like animals on their way to butchery. Everyday a promoted convict used to come to them to supervise. The label “promoted” gave them each a sadistic halo and those dangerous ex-convicts took their job too seriously on being promoted as the supervisors of the chain gangs. They would give unprovoked canning to the new deportees—as if they were the softest possible targets for their unending wrath, and as if it were their turn to take revenge for the punishment meted out to them by the jail officers before their so-called good behaviour brought them the promotion. Such emancipating merit of theirs, recognised as the ‘good behaviour’, was only a euphemism for their shameful acquiescence; it was nothing but their passive role in sodomy that the petty officers used to rightfully practise on them!
                        The thick-skinned co-convicts in the gang, it seemed to Milkha, had no great difficulty in putting up with the physical punishments. At times they used to ridicule, snorting the barbaric punishment away by their contemptuous whimpers. But Milkha found them agonising; his body and soul used to rattle with every swish of can that ruptured his skin. There was always a back-breaking load of work to perform if one were to avoid punishment, earn subsistence and keep the supervisors “happy” for an elusive promotion to a status of a reformed convict! His chain gang was asked to clear the jungle in and around Viper Island while the rings around their necks and waists, and in some cases fetters around their feet, made them struggle for steps. The convict Jamadar used to guard them from a distance, his watchful gaze fixed on every single movement of Milkha. The ancient trees were stubborn enough to disregard the thud of an axe. The cutting implements were deliberately made small just to prevent their misuse by the convicts against the guarding Jamadars. When authorities found Milkha not skilled enough for felling the trees, they confined him to the refractory ward to slog moulding bricks and grinding lime mortar paste for catering to the construction activities. The food was horrible, less than a working fellow would require for sustaining him through the hard days’ labour under scorching tropical sun. The wretched Rangoon rice with coarse salt and the nominal brown liquid called dal were the items meant for those hungry unfortunate humans. And they were the ones kept alive just for cutting down the jungle!
                        The agonising moments thus slogged past the wasteland of Milkha’s life through the ten long suffering years. He was transformed, as it were, into a worthless mound of pessimism. There was none with whom he could have shared his anguish; no spot nearby was safe enough for risking an escape. Many a time his desperation made him contemplate all sorts of reckless adventures. Sometimes it appeared to him as though everything was within his reach, and what was required of him was only a gutsy step out of the barrack. He was ready to run away from Viper Island and go anywhere his fate would lead him to—no matter whether it were the hell. Too desperate to be circumspect, he was not bothered by the consequence that lay ahead. His absent-mindedness, his slip in daily drudgery, and above all his physical incapacity to give an impressive outturn earned him additional physical punishments day after day.
[To be continued.....]
A. N. Nanda

Labels: ,