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
‘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.
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.
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
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
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