- Sulogna Mehta
The Other Horizon
It was a black, black night. Only darkness prevailed upon the sky stripped off the moon and stars. There was no breeze, no rustling trees, but enervating heat was emanating from the heart of the still atmosphere. The owls screeched and the dogs howled at the distance.
I came out of the police super’s office where I had gone to dig out a scoop about a certain sensational double murder case in the town, being reporter of a regional newspaper in those days. My work was over, I got on my bicycle. It was 11.25 pm. I was well aware that it would take at least 15 minutes to cross the huge field adjacent to the district court premises before I hit the main town road to reach home.
I tried to ‘convert’ my two-wheeler into a racing car, inventing an invisible speedometer. It had rained the previous night and the fields and semi-kutcha roads were full of mud and slush. As I tried to speed up, the miry track beneath just mocked me and made me reflect on Newton’s third law of motion.
The sultry stillness around me heralded the likelihood of a storm. Brushing aside anxiety, I rode steadily on this familiar route, trying to maintain balance and straining my eyes to look ahead through the poor light fitted to my cycle. Suddenly, (I shiver even as I recall it now), an unseen hand clutched my bicycle’s handle and dragged it towards a big abandoned, dilapidated building at the periphery of the field. I screamed. “Hey! What’s happening?”
The rusty iron-gate of the building screeched open automatically. An irresistible force pulled me in. Like a robot, I found myself pushing the front door, which opened with a creaking noise.
Despite the dimly lit room, I could find a sprawling hall in front of me. A few huge solid, mahogany tables lay here and there. Thick candles glowed creating an eerie light. With a queer, overpowering feeling of antiquity, I beheld human figures appearing from nowhere. All of them held the Tricolor flag in their hands. They approached silently and stood before me.
“What’s tomorrow’s date?” One of the shadowy figures asked me.
“August 15, a very special day,” I answered as if in a trance.
“What’s the specialty?” Another shadow asked in a sardonic tone.
“Don’t you know, tomorrow is India’s Independence Day?” I replied promptly.
“Oh! So do you commemorate the day?” He uttered pungently.
“Of course,” I said and elaborated, “Tomorrow the prime minister will address the nation and prominent politicians will deliver speeches too. Patriotic songs, dances and plays, flag hoisting, March Past, parade, bugle will mark the day.”
“What do you get from these superficial celebrations? Teeming millions still remain unfed, bereft of clothing and a roof above their head. There’s a lot of crime, injustice and corruption happening,” thundered one of them and asked, “What’s the essence of independence?”
I stammered, “Well you see, we are a free, sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic Republic…”
“Really?” Ask yourself if there’s true peace and harmony. Religion versus religion, province versus province, caste versus caste, rich versus poor - blame game, bigotry and blind hatred - are all dividing the people, destroying the heritage and tarnishing the history. Exploitation, population explosion, poverty, abysmal superstition and illiteracy, disease, unemployment and corruption are rampant,” said another, smoldering anger in his voice.
“You do not spare us even and raise questions about ‘Azadi,’ and our sacrifices,” averred another and questioned, “What have you achieved after almost 70 years of independence?”
I made an effort to speak. “We have become industrialized, technologically advanced, launched satellites in space, possess nuclear power, and become self-reliant…”
“But you have lost true spiritualism, the mantra of ‘tyaag,’ unity in diversity, respect towards one another’s culture and love towards all. Your minds have lost free, rational thinking and you have imprisoned yourselves in narrow sectarian walls. Nefarious politicians cutting across parties only dole out misleading lectures to their ignorant votebacks. We were hanged by the British while trying to win India’s independence back. Seven decades ago, divisive politics was played by the British to keep the Indians fighting among themselves to prevent them from uniting against imperialist forces - a role played by Indian politicians from various parties even now. When will you wake up from your slumber? When?”
I jolted from my stupor with the resurgence of an epoch. The shadowy figures vaguely reminded me of freedom fighters I have read about in history books. So many names I read about…they all seem to merge before my eyes now.
I found myself seated on the stairs leading to the dilapidated building. My bicycle was placed carelessly against the partially open iron gate. It was already daybreak.
I heard a bugle blowing in the distance, probably from the parade grounds, heralding August 15. But my eyes looked towards another horizon, far, far away.
(I reasoned with myself that probably I was too tired and dozed off and dreamt all these. But still I vividly remember being forced to land up at the dilapidated building gate by some inexplicable power, against my wish or intention when I was in a hurry to return home from the police super’s office. Later, from old records, I found that the dilapidated building beside the district court housed a police interrogation centre in the pre-independence era. Old timers told me that many freedom fighters and revolutionaries were tortured and murdered by the British officials at that place in the early 20th century).