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.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Salvation

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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.
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THE SALVATION
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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.....]
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By
A. N. Nanda
Dharmasala
18-09-2014
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2 Comments:

Blogger prema dash said...

Your narration is arresting the attention. Fortunately i found your blog yesterday itself. Tnank U

2:49 AM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

Thank you Prema ji. I too visited your blog and read a post. It's about a letter written by a father to his son. It's quite gripping as narration, attention-grabbing out and out, and the flow makes your post intensely readable. I have left a comment too.

7:10 AM  

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