Tuesday, July 16, 2013

THERE, ALMOST!

cover photo by duyum dulom
On the fourth day, the clouds cleared, and the heat returned, and silence still prevailed as a rule. I hadn't slept for the third night in a row. But I couldn't complain of fatigue or pain as it was all shrouded in a kind of ineffable numbness. I did not lament about boredom either, with the wide blue sky, stretched out in front of me, cheering me with its ever-changing reflections of clouds, now scantier and less menacing than the days before, frolicking endlessly in it, changing shapes at will.  I never got bored of that sight all my life, even though I was staring at the sky of Kotah-ki-Sarai for the first time. I could spend a whole day looking up there, but this was the fourth in a stretch and here, I had no other option.

My earliest memory is of the vast blue when I lay on my back trying hard not to wink, while mother on my side coaxed and fed me along with her tales of Gods and their lovers who lived up there. The wide open green in the garden adjacent to the Palace Zenana is where she took me whenever I refused to eat. There looking up at the heavens is how I took most part of my feedings in my initial years. Every few minutes her face, obscured with light, loomed into sight, blocking the light and the view, thrusting another mouthful. At times she sang from her folk collection as well. And occasionally had loud conversations across the court with other servant girls who refused to step into the heat. Even on starless nights, it gave me definitive solace when I knew that the dark I stared into was of that familiar world of clouds, stars and sun, also of mother's countless mischievous Gods.

The birds and the wolves were not back yet after sunrise. Only the merciless heat returned with a bang. The smell of putrefaction around me was turning into a deflated impression, although hard and real. Death surrounded me in its advanced form, and the creepy crawlies, never tired of amassing food, clamored in excitement around bodies and blood soaked in the dust.

Sandstones at the tips of one of the towers along the Haati-Pul gate gleamed in the sun in one corner of my vision range as my head was tilted towards the fort. Clouds lumbered into sight in no hurry to clash with each other, all peaceful and coy. Now, as I lay waiting for death, this was the most comforting picture I could ever have asked for, the vault of heaven, the ever-tempting bait from my formative years.

The heat was killing although it did not get as bad as the day of the battle. It only ignited a new kind of burn, when sweat streamed down into the fissures of my maggot filled wounds. I still couldn't move from chest down with the dead animal lodged there like a mountain. But, except a few pangs lurking here and there, the pain had lost its significance. The last it actually manifested in a decipherable magnitude was when the damned horse, hit with the Englishman’s canon, reeled out of balance and ploughed right into me. When I regained consciousness, it was all over and from my neglected state, it didn’t take much to know which side made it. My hands were dead for two days already under the rotting weight of the martyred colt, and the rest were heading there by the minute. I remember, I had wailed for help immediately after I regained senses, but had gradually lost it to thirst, exhaustion and a broken throat.

Anticipation for death was always in my immediate scheme of things after what happened in Jhansi, and there was nothing more gallant than death on the war-field for a soldier. But stranded in a world in-between for almost a week is not what I expected when we overthrew the Gwalior fort, fleeing Jhansi. I'm not sure if I was still more worried than curious about the Rani. The last I saw of her was her frantic silhouette eviscerating a Hussar with her blade in the middle of a conflagration of dust and blood. Little Damodar Rao should have survived, as he was not bundled up on her back this time.

The color of the sky gradually dimmed. Was it twilight already? Or was my time up? The vultures, with their prayers for me to die out completely, have gotten back on circling. The blue up there, even with its lusterless display still had all my attention. Was it that, which made my hair stand on end? Or was it the tugging on my feet that I could only faintly feel? The wolves were back, and they were making their first move on me.

The distant persuasive voice of mother rang from beyond the blue. It went on for some time, and then it abruptly stopped.
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(This short story was entered for an online writing contest with NOSTALGIA as the theme and word-limit 1000. The results were taking too long, or, taking the hint, I lost already!)

1 comment:

  1. I like it much more now although I still maintain that the story doesn't fit under the 'nostalgia' theme

    ReplyDelete

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