Minotaur: Second Chapter (Sunil Sharma)

Minotaur (Sunil Sharma)

Chapter 2

 

They are called the storytellers. They occupy a privileged position in the class. These are usually ten-to-twelve male members of the group. They perform a dance around the camp-fire and narrate the stories in their rich husky voices to the music of drums and hand-held banjo type instruments of bamboo and bells, on special occasions only, when there is full moon in the sky and a scented wind blows down from the dark heavily-wooded hills looming in the fluid-dark of the background. On such special occasions, the spirits of the forest emerge from their gloomy resting-place and watch the humans perform stories through dance and songs. During these moments, the forest rising like a giant over their huts, falls silent and gets brooding. It was one such special occasion.

The storytellers were arranged in a circle around the campfire. The village was seated, in the same circular style, hundred feet or so away from the storytellers.

The brilliant light of the camp fire had lit up the surroundings in an orange color, in a leaping irregular pattern, and the faces of the spell-bound tensed audience were all red-hued in the dancing broken flames, listening to the musical stories under a sky dotted with twinkling diamonds and a full silvery moon washing the vast dome in her white cool light. Even the dogs and pet monkeys were silent, adding to the mystique of the wonderful night. The head storyteller, he older of the group, was reciting the story in a full-throated deep voice travelling over the jagged tongues of the sacred fire vibrating in the cold scented wind, the mesmerized faces, and over the melting centuries, at this intense moment of time:

And listen you, the clan of the Hararas present, listen hard all you, to our stories, told by gods through us, the mere form, the humble medium, the chroniclers of time gone and to be yet born, listen you all to the tales of past, present and resent-to-come, when gods and spirits of the Hararas dead and resting speak to all.

There comes a time rare when past heaving restless reaches out to time present, the moment living, the moment-yet-realized not, through us, who are not important, but the narratives are, that speak through us, top you all, the stars, the moon the size of a bowl and faced white and scarred, and to the wind whispering moaning and crooning as it did in the past. I am nobody. You are nobody. But we are WE- The ones who defeated the creatures strange and mighty who roamed the earth before, WE- as ONE. Without this WE, all you and me, are helpless as a newborn baby, as a body without soul, a soul minus body. I and me are we; we are I and m. we and this forest unique who mothers us and our daily needs.


Above us, the forest. 
The forest above has spirits. 
The spirits of dead Hararas.

The Hararas dead, live for us. They watch and listen and guide us. The chorus broke into a song: 

Must respect our dead,

The dead--------

Alive for us in

Forms unseen:

In shapes that cannot be

Seen by eyes mortal.

The dead walk the forest

And the night

Ready to talk

When the need arise.

Strange are their ways

And powers unique,

They talk like stars

And

Whisper like the winds.

Respect our dead.

Because of them

We live.

The drumbeats grew louder:

We respect them,

Those who walk the other

Side of darkly night;

The fierce denizens

Of jungles deep,

Where

Mortals

Can never reach.

 

The beats grew louder and louder, the strains of flutes and tom-toms adding melody and enchantment to the deepening night. The hypnotized clan clapped hands and stamped their feet. Food and drinks were passed around. The glacial bowl in the sky smiled and the stars broke into a silvery stardust that rained down in shafts of moonlight. The head storyteller sipped a drink from the common bowl and resumed:

We must recall history. History forgotten is history dead. It must not be forgotten. It binds the yesterday with today, today with day tomorrow: our past is present; present is past, both them the tomorrow.

The chorus added:

 

Time is
A river eternal,
Where moments-
Fused as one-
Float together.
Let us sharpen
Memories racial
And
Keep them floating up
In the
River eternal.


The louder drumbeats. The storyteller stood up and started swaying in a loose manner around the bright campfire. The frenzy was mounting. The head storyteller continued:

 
Then blows down the wind
From lands beyond,
Bring up the man
Different-colored,
Who murders and plans.
Plans to kill us
And the forest,
This white man-
The Stealer of our lands and
Womenfolk-
And all in the name of divine.
In the war of gods,
Ours are called inferior
And theirs-
More powerful
And
Divine.


 

The chorus spoke loudly over the crackling merry fire and a wind dancing:

 

We are devil,

Our place & home-

The devil’s Island,

He butchers us all,

In the name of his King

And his Divine.

The White ways are different,

We, the ‘natives’, cannot

Understand them at all!

 

The head teller, standing up to his height, sang:

 

 

Let us not forget

History that tells us

About wrongs,

To enable us

Right

The wrongs.

 

The chorus spoke:

The Negro
The Bushman
The Bantu
Forget not
The days of slavery
When black blood
Flowed in lands
White.
They put us in chains,
Beat us
Killed us, our ancestors fought them,
Our warriors-
A power brutal
And spilled black blood,
Blood
Somewhere
Black and
Somewhere
Brown,
So that we live in peace.

The chorus added:

We fight not all Whites,

But only those

Whose greed and lust

Hurts us most,

Who treat us animals

A fate

We, the fierce Hararas

Refuse.

The head storyteller said:

Once again

A cruel wind

Blows down from the

Misty mountains afar,

And brings with it,

The man with the ruddy face

With his blazing guns,

We must be wary

Our lands are threatened,

The spirits of the dead

Inform us through dreams,

The eagle circle in the

Skies,

Let us be prepared

For an unjust unequal

Fight

With the greedy

Whites.

The chorus sang:

 

 

This time

The fight would not be so

Unequal,

We have with us

The Harara White

Whose ancestors

Come from the land white,

The Harara White-

One among us

Lives in his offspring,

Whose bones are intermixed

With our ancestors,

In this, our Paradise!

 

The head teller and the chorus started dancing wildly to the loud beat of drums and clapping of hands and feet, almost in a frenzied state, their red-painted faces flushed eyes blood-shot, feathered heads with their mops of frizzled hair moving side ways and then heavenwards, shouting rhythmically:

 

Hail the dead,

Hail the forest,

Hail the Harara White

Hail the spirits,

Hail the gods

Hail them all-

For their dear gift

Of life.

Hail them all-

For protecting us

From the

Evil Eye.

 

The group of storyteller, painted in the war-paint, leaped and danced in the air, reaching a pure stage of ecstasy.

And, finally, they fainted before the fire.

A tall figure, white-headed, emerged from the shadows and walked up to the prostrate figures. A hush fell over the gathering. A man carried a pot of water and respectfully held it for the white-headed tall trim figure that sprinkled it over the figures. Then he said in a deep booming voice in Hararas:

“In the name of the gods and our ancestors, our kind protectors, I command you to rise from your trance. Rise, the magnificent storytellers of the Hararas!”

The spell was broken. The storyteller gradually came out of their sleep and looked refreshed and happy. They shook hands with the tall man. The clan clapped. The feasting began. The tall man, unusually tall for his clan, went to the comparative solitude of his elevated corner, and sat down in a high chair, surrounded by his harem off partly dark-skinned wives and two stocky Harara warriors. His pets were there: a spider monkey and a full-grown tiger near the high chair. The monkey chattered and the tiger growled. The local fermented whisky was passed around in a large bowl. The wives sipped it and the senior-most wife handed over the bowl to the white-headed sprightly man. The feasting and music were on, the clan singing dancing and eating from common dishes.

The head storyteller, short stocky, approached the high chair, bowed and said, “How was it, chief?” The man looked at the broad, muscular man and smiled, “You did a fine job, Buntu. Excellent!” Buntu smiled and answered in a rich voice, “I am flattered. Rare to get A grade from the white Harara.”

The white Harara smiled.

“The white Harara appreciates good work. You are an asset to our clan. The warrior-poet.”

“Tomorrow night then?”

“Yes, everybody ready?”

“Yes, these sessions always work magic on the warriors. We are ready.”

“So, tomorrow night then.”

“Yes, chief.”

Buntu withdrew discreetly. Chief does not speak English every day and with everybody. That means he trusts me absolutely. A great honor!

I am the trusted lieutenant of the white Harara, our chief!

The white Harara suddenly got up. He took the leashed tiger and the monkey with him and withdrew to the Long House of the clan to converse with the dead spirit of his grandfather, the first White Harara of the clan, Henry Livingston, who was declared the supreme leader of the lands of the Hararas spread over the far-flung small islands in the south-east Pacific Ocean. He tethered the tiger in the courtyard of the Long House and kept the spider monkey at the door and went inside.

Tomorrow was an important day for Mark Livingstone, the third white Harara of the clan, a day of reckoning.

He needed rest and blessing. Long House is also called the spirit House and still a common sight in Papua New Guinea.

Mark went inside the gloomy main room lit up by the candles and sat down on the mat before the altar. The housekeeper, an ancient Harara, lit up the candles and incense-sticks and placed them before the altar, then withdrew silently, shutting the doors to the main-room. No women are ever allowed entry in the spirit house. Only the chiefs, the shamans and the elders are allowed to enter the spirit House and talk to the spirits of the ancestors, who may or may not appear on the desired day or night. Mark Livingston prayed and waited before the altar set on a raised level and in darkness fart the comfort of the spirits who may not like to reveal themselves to their seekers. Mark Livingston waited for the signs. He was fifty, trim as a coconut tree, almost six-foot among the dark-skinned people of the clan. A powerful man, he could wrestle with three warriors at a time, and ran like the mountain wind. The clans of the Hararas, scattered on other islands, truly respected him as their overall leader.

The dark space started vibrating with a hazy figure. Livingston, all concentration, went into an intense state of trance, totally withdrawing from the objective world.

“What brings you here?”

“I pay my deep respects to you.”

“You are strong-willed person,

What help you need from me now?”

“I need your blessings for tomorrow.”

“You always have them.”

“Will I be successful?”

“Doubts should never haunt you, Son. Any doubtful mission should be abandoned quickly.

If you have no faith in you, do not do it.”

“I come to seek advice and the blessings.”

“Both are granted. Go out with faith and firm decision.”

The apparition was gone.

They were ten warriors known for their bravery, agility and marksmanship. The white Harara and Buntu brought up the rear. They arrived with the stealth of a leopard at the gates of the fort.

They entered the fort, bolstered up by the presence of their great chief. The fort was forbidden place for the warriors since it housed the Sinister Spirits of the white men, the evil ones who had massacred their ancestors and enslaved the weaker ones for their plantations.

It had taken a lot of coaching by the white Harara to dispel their dread of the fort. He had selected the ten best warriors of the large clan; the men who could fight a tiger with bare hands and hunt the wild boars with their spears; the men who could mimic the sounds of the birds and animals and kill accurately in thick dark jungle by the location of the sound of the intended prey. They ran like the cheetah, climbed the tallest trees like monkeys, and fought as an angry ram. They were best swimmers. The white Harara, as the chief, had trained them from the childhood, in anticipation of such scenario, because he knew instinctively that the outside world driven by lust for money and profits was going to find out about the island again, and try to colonize and plunder their emerald-green island of its sugar, spices, coconuts, coffee. Then there were silver mines, bred in the south-east corner, under the shadows of the big hills, 150 km from the fort. Mines were well-guarded secret of the Hararas and once out, were sure to attract the merchants and miners and traders from all over the West, sealing the fate of the island and the community. The warriors, called Jaguars by Mark Livingston, were his task force and ceremonial body-guards, at his side at the time of births, marriages, and deaths. And especially on the night of the spirits when he communed with the dead along with the select band of the elders of their clan. Mark Livingston’s fears had come true in the proceeding weeks when the Harara hunters had spotted the white aliens in the groups waking and resting on the beach of the island, much frequented by the children, women and elders of their clan.

Mark Livingston was faced with a moral dilemma. Should he kill these people coming from the other side of the world to which his grandpa once belonged? Or spare them? After all they were peaceful aliens and non-threatening. When he saw the ammunition being loaded and taken to the fort, he was convinced about their intentions.

If we do not eliminate them, they will kill, enclave and dominate his tribe.

Again they will be subjugated. After weeks, he decided: Kill some of them and then wait before finishing them off in a swift move.

The two guards were silhouetted against the dimly-lit background of the central chamber, its old iron-doors slightly ajar, and the torches throwing a weak illumination on the immediate square where the two guards re standing in a relaxed position.

They are not expecting any danger.

Mark Livingston had expected things like that. He surveyed the scene from the knoll in comparative dark and found it satisfactory. The warriors, tensed, stood like shadows, silent as trees. Mark motioned. Buntu and five warriors split up and moved towards the right flank, remaining five to the left side, their chief stationed on the knoll. After some time Buntu emitted the sound of a monkey. Mark then mimicked a low roar of the tiger, which echoed down the square and caught the two commandoes by surprise. They become alert. The low roar was coming from the far-off hedges. The roar of an angry tiger! A few stones, dislodged, scattered down the bushes, six hundred meters away, followed by the low shriek of a bull caught up in the jaws of death. One of the guards exchanged looks and gestured the other to remain alert. He glided don to the dark hedges, AK-56 ready. Meanwhile the other sentry stood at attention, cradling his weapon. The roar was coming regularly followed by an intermittent strike. The first guard approached cautiously the irregular hedges and stood there. The sounds stopped. He wanted for full five minutes and then spun on wheels. Mark shot the poison-tipped arrow that pierced his heart and killed the deadly killing-machine in a few seconds. The poor man had not the chance to shriek.

The morning brought death. Minotaurch woke up early from a bad dream and came out of the dank and stifling chamber where two hours earlier he had made love to his mistress who was part of the group of females being ferried to his palatial house in Argentine in the ill-fated jet. He emerged from the humid gloom of the chamber and noticed the absence of the guards. Unusual! It never happens.

Where the hell are these fucking robots?

Morning sun had splashed a deep reddish hue on the young fresh sky. A cool breeze was blowing his way, kissing his rugged, deeply-lined face. The ramparts lit up in the bright colors of the rising red-disc, looking handsome and masculine in the distance. He exercised lightly in the breeze. No sign of the guards! A profound solitude of uninterrupted ages hung over the fort and the jungle. A solitude that had greeted the first setters here, thousands of years ago. On  a morning like this, the first band of hominids, dominated by the dangerous forest teeming with  strange creatures and a wild sea standing there, he looked beyond the misty past and into the very beginning of Time. Nothing has changed in this preserve of the history. Time sits still here. He surveyed the place and saw the vultures flying in the sky. His animal instincts got activated. His uncanny instinct for danger. He went inside and took out his pistol. Then he sprinted down the roughly hewn footpath stones to the hedges, some six hundred meters away, and saw the fallen figure of the dead commando, an arrow half-buried in the heart, the face caught up in a surprised expression permanently frozen and arranged neatly on the blue oval face of the soldier by the departing death.

My hunch was true!

He turned around and ran back. A careful search revealed the second body, near the bushes, in rigor mortis.

I was right! The Hararas have arrived and made contact with us.

The Group was rudely awakened and hastily assembled in the courtyard. Minotaurch was in a foul mood. The group stood patiently.

“The warning is clear”, he said in a soft voice, his face grim, eyes cold and glittering without any emotions, the vein of his smooth broad forehead standing out and throbbing his predatory instincts sharpest at this time.

He is most dangerous now, thought Gorilla nervously, devoid of emotions and on the point of attacking his prey. His mind, drained of any other feeling, concentrating on revenge only.

“They want us out of here. Drive us out. To the sea. The only problem with their calculation is that”, he paused, voice steely and low, “that … we are not going to leave this island, a safe haven for all of us. Clear? Anybody objecting?”

The cold eyes surveying the group in various stages of undress. They shivered. “Good. The problem is we do not have good boats or a chopper to ferry us out of this goddamned stinking hellhole. We are stuck. No exit.”

He paused.

“Problem no.2. We are not good swimmers who can swim across this sea. So, we are just holed up here. For good. They want us out. Ha, ha, ha.” A metallic hollow small laughter that ran down in small waves over the group.

It scalds like the hot lave!

He cleared his throat and said, “Everybody wants us out- from some place or the other. We ran away from our nation which we have built with our bare hands, from scratch. They drove us out. Sure, we escaped a humiliating death there. Outwitted those barbarians. Here these barbarians, with their arrows and javelins, want us to run away to the sea. These primitive buggers, these forest people with their crude weapons, want us to be the food of the sharks. Ha, ha, ha! What a silly joke!”

The hollow clanging laughter.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure these apes, on your behalf, we are not going to be the sitting duck for these bastards. Agreed”

The Group nodded automatically. “The world has changed a lot since the last invasion and occupation of this small island some five hundred years ago. We are the 20th century. Highly evolved and sophisticated. We are different from those early Spaniards in every sense. I am unique as a leader, as a visionary, as a tactician. I am the ultimate. The man who shaped up to 50 million destinies and raised that dusty impoverished country to heights.”

The same far-away look, the vacant look, the eyes unfocussed, voice low and hissing. A man out of touch with reality.

A man gone mad! Insane with self-importance and self-glorification. Such men are awfully dangerous with and without power. Noted Chameleon. “Now, look, we cannot run twice from a hostile situation. First time we had a choice. Now, we do not. There are no escape routes than death. I am sure, nobody here wants to die early in this remote goddamn island. At least, I do not.”

He paused. The vacant look was gone. The determined eyes were probing the immediate space as if searching for some clues of a hazy future, the seeds, and the shape in that space that could calm him down. Any assuring telltale signs up there.

 

 "Friends, the Gods are playing a cruel game of the dice. Loaded, this game is against us. I had an emergency plan ready. We were to spend out time in Lima, six months, in safe houses provided by my friends in the army. When the uproar had died down about my escape in six months, we would have moved to Cali, Colombia where General Balthazar and others in the narco trade would have set us up. The Cali Cartel has always been very hospitable to us. They were committed to back us up with arms and ammunition to overthrow the regime of this traitor who is holed up in US.A. and calls the shots from there, this traitor who was my best friend once." The vein in his forehead started throbbing again, the eyes took on an expression of hatred pure that spread up his features and contorted them in a dark mask of fury. "How this ungrateful punk incited the once-loyal subjects of mine over radio, set up a guerilla army in the mountains and seized power with the help of C.I.A-well, well, I should have murdered him in the first place than allow a safe passage to USA. under threat from that ambassador, that Yankee, you all know. Bet I do not forget so easily? The cartel was ready with money and their agents. Ready to topple the government within a year of its installation. And I would be riding home to a rousing reception in the public square - within a year of the pretenders accession to the throne - ha, ha ha - The Gods playing the dice game, loaded against me. Well, well. The Gods won the first game. Our plans came unstuck. The cyclonic storm, the jet losing direction, breaking down -when the nature unleashes its elemental fury, we and our toys are nothing but a mere speck of dust....N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Now, stuck in the island for good, with no means of escape and contact with the outside world, we are marooned like that English sailor Francis Drake, for totally different reasons, in this place. Then Gods play the second round of the dice game and we have these savages under the leadership of an Englishman or Scot- what ever that jerk is- asking us to go out and drown ourselves in the shark- infested Pacific. I find the whole thing very funny. They see us a threat- we who are not even fifity in numbers! Very funny? Is it not?”

He laughed aloud. A dry mirthless laughter of a hyena, unsettling and harsh.

“They have this white-fixation. They dread us as mortals dread death. We equal death and destruction for them. They do not know we are not even the White- I mean the pure, lily-white! We are the light brown or wheatish white, a result of marriage of the native and the European over the centuries. We are not pure but bastards! And thousands of years ago the settelers that vast rugged hot country. So you see, everything is so hotch-potch. We are part Spanish-Italians, part native and trace our decent from the distant Asians who themselves were Aryans or so they say. South America parallels our evolution, culturally and racially. As professor has pointed out here that this is a classic model that holds in majority of the cases: invaders marrying the locals and producing a mix race of different strains. So, you see, we are like the Hararas. They are also, at least some, descents of the Spanish and the natives united in the marriages in the past.”

“You are a bit off-track!”

They were stunned. The voice belonged to that little, unassuming professor.

A clear commanding voice, despite a quiet tone, nobody missed the firm voice, issuing from such a small but compact man, a voice that irritated and slightly disoriented the leader. “I beg your pardon, professor Bloom”, the voice of the man called wolf or butcher of the New Land was razor sharp. A flicker of old hatred, at being challenged by an inferior, returned, flushing his face in red. Gorilla held his breath. During such moments he had seen the Wolf losing his self-control and shooting the person who had earned the displeasure of the leader.

During such intense moments he loses touch with reality and gets truly mad. Arrogance of power amnesia, Gorilla called this mental state when white anger and unbridled power sense made him forget about social norms, his own standing as the Prez of the nation, his good manners- everything. But that after happened to the powerful people everywhere. Including himself. They do not like to be challenged!

He was fearing for the safety of his protégé, almost like son to him.

“You have got your history wrong, Your Majesty, as far as the Hararas are concerned.”

“Professor Bloom seems to me a true admirer of these eaters-of-the-raw-flesh and cannibals.” The Group naturally laughed at the expense of the mysterious Bloom who, to them, appeared as arrogant philosopher showing off his wide knowledge to a class of the first-graders and thus totally confusing those small minds. One of the group had dryly commented, “Our own Voltaire in a pack of mentally –retarded persons!”

The mysterious but highly-intelligent ‘Professor’ Bloom stepped out of the line and directly stood before the 6-feet-four-inches tall leader , a spectacle comic for the onlookers, in term of the height-discrepancies, but they dared not giggle loudly.

“I am being objective only because”, here he looked at the Group in a mocking way, “we need an objective and rational perspective when dealing with our enemy. A psychosocial and cultural profile. To understand the workings of an alien mind before we make our move to confront that intimidating enemy. False cultural stereotypes and racial prejudices- the Western theories of looking at them as the ‘other’- will not service our purpose here.”

The little bastard is right!

Minotaurch smiled hi sundering fresh-faced, innocent smile.

Gorilla heaved a sigh of relief.

“As you remember, Sir, the Hararas were the natives of this island. They were massacred and enslaved. Many died of European diseases, of forced labour. The invaders treated their women as their property and used them for their vigorous sexual appetites. The exotic always turns on the male sexual drives and they used them as cultural trophies and conquests to boost up their egos. I guess these women were mere low-grade mistresses for these white invaders and nothing else. But, of course, not all women readily agreed to this insulting arrangement, a humiliation resented by the menfolk, since it was only-way traffic. I remember certain details from Henry Livingston that is relevant to the profile of this clan and the purpose of our present discussion. He says any Harara caught with any white woman was castrated and then murdered most brutality by the white males. That goes for the marriage and equality argument! Actually marriages were never solemnized between the whites and these native women. They were picked up, raped and abandoned. Some were part of the royal harem a slaves and exploited sexually by the sexually active royal court. The children of such forced unions never got royal patronage and acted as exalted slave labour to the rulers. Some clans, tells Livingston, quietly slipped out to the outlying islands in their swift canoes and dispersed in the thick forests and hills on those islands. The clan founded by Henry, as per the oral traditions of their storytellers, itself moved inside the then inaccessible jungle and remained hidden in the secret caves in the steep hill range of the so-called Devil’s Island for a long time. This way they were able to safeguard the purity of their bloodline and the honor of their clan. The present clan claims their descent from these early fierce Hararas. Thus you see, Sir, our Hararas are pure Hraras who never compromised their integrity, honor and dignity. They hated the white colonizers and refused to be enslaved and humiliated by an external force. We are dealing with this clan whose fierce love of independence is now widely appreciated by other marginal and aborigines like the Red Indians, the Maoris, the Australian natives, the Bushman.”

Minotaurch nodded his agreement.

“I see your point, Bloom. My point is, we are all connected one way or the other, in a hodge-podge, and many of races have also experienced subjugation and domination: France occupied by the Nazis and South Africa, to give two examples of the recent contemporary history.”

The Group also nodded silently.

“The point is, Bloom, our hand is being forced. Just ousted from our nation by engineered riots, protests and worldwide outcry against the so-called suppression of the human rights; now, in the middle of the Pacific, with no changes of going back to civilization, we are stuck in this wilderness, in this old crumbling fort- no better than an ancient series of interconnected caves, and this towering jungle so strange to our citified sensibilities!”

Gorilla spoke for the first time, “And two of our best commandoes dead. Murdered by these apes. I am going to get even. My commandoes are more precious than gold to me.”

Minotaurch replied, pacing up and down the courtyard. ‘You are right. Their deaths are to be avenged, at any cost. They have thrown the challenge at us. They are testing us. Testing our courage. Our feeling loyalty to our dead comrades. Our attitude towards revenge. If we do not strike early, we are all doomed. We are visible to them. Hey are not to us. Do, at any cost, we have to take a pre-emptive action? Either we or they.” Gorilla said, “It is going to be they. We have sophisticated weapons and enough R. D. X. To blow up this goddamned island itself.”

“Let us think and evolve a strategy”, asked the agitated Minotaurch.

“We have been put on a notice. Time is running out. And, mind it, this time am not going o lose the second game of dice to the Gods.”

Mark Livingston was watching the rainfall in straight sheets. The dense rain and the greenery thick as a vertical Colum intermixed freely, the greyness of the rain lending a surreal touch to the whole surrounding in the light-darkness of the afternoon. The heavy forest was dripping with rainwater. The curtain of the rain was moving fast from the dark skies to the damp wet floor of the brooding forest, a tall curtain joining heavens with the mother earth. Rains had always fascinated the white Harara. Rains that regenerated the forest and made it alive. The large settlement was being lashed furiously by the divine waters, producing it’s our harmony and sweet music. The bamboo huts with their conical roofs were arranged in a semi-circle, in a vast clearing, in the middle of the forest. The centre of the settlement was used for community purposes: Communal feasting, dancing and singing, and, for sessions with the clan elders. The whispering forest provided them the clan elders. The whispering forest provided them the green canopy and the hunting grounds. Our limited universe! Now, this universe was again threatened with the unexpected arrival of the aliens, a fact that saddened and angered him. Why do they not leave us along? He knew that their isolation was not going to be permanent; the world was going to catch up with them sooner or later. A world with sophisticated weapon. We are no match to the. We stand no chance! Our unique life-style, going back centuries, will be wiped out totally, destroying a culture that can never be replicated in the ‘civilized’ world.

He had seen the flying bird in the sky, broken, then going up in the flames. The Hararas were terrified of the huge metal bird that self-destructed in red flames. For last five hundred years they were leading an isolated life and knew nothing about the world. They grew panicky seeing the bird, the fire spouting metals that killed games, the tall ruddy white males and females. A strange world for the half-clad, bare-foot forest children-almost frightening. He assembled them later in the day before his large elevated hut and explained to them about the weapons and the jet in their own language that had no words for these objects and that consisted of forest sounds only and a limited oral vocabulary. No need for a formal written system for a simple community with most limited demands. His presence had calmed them down. Since then he was trekking ‘their’ movements. Three, four scouts always watched the movements of the new arrivals from the treetops facing the main entry of the forest. Things reported were not very assuring. Generally the intruders came out in small groups for hunting and fishing. They had made a canoe out of a sturdy tree trunk and went out in that hollowed-out improvised canoe to the sea for fishing. They also regularly came down to the beach for swimming and bathing purposes. A group of tall and heavy-set persons carried guns, knives and daggers with them. The same group of the ‘warriors’ did the hunting and the fishing also. Nothing unusual! A small group frolicking and enjoying their vacation on the island. But Mark knew something was a miss. Beneath the calm surface, there must be some disturbance going on.  The message of the killings was already sunk in. What are they waiting for?

Naturally, they are planning. What? He had no clues. With their exits closed, they have two options: to die or to surrender. They cannot fight us in the forest, as it is our natural home. We will not fight them in the fort. They will kill us with their weapons there. We have to smoke them out of their hiding place and kill them all. Or keep them as slaves. But given their violent nature, they will be dangerous as a lion in the captivity. Either way, he was in dilemma. Killing them means innocent blood on his hands. Captive intruders mean more trouble since no person likes to be enslaved or kept prisoner. Both ways you look at that bunch drop outs of the skies, you will find them troublesome. In keeping with their character!

Two days earlier, Mark had made his monthly trip top the Solomon Islands in his speed-boat, a gift by his uncle, whose great grandpa had settled down on those island’s hundred years ago along with other whites. They were successful merchants dealing in ivory, spices, coffee and sugar. Their colonial house stood on the modulating well-manicured lawns in the sprawling acres. The house of Livingston always welcomed another ‘lost’ Livingston in their midst. The reception was very warm and Mark always looked forward to these monthly meets with the ‘civilized’ family. His uncle, the third generation of the Livingstone on the Solomon, seventy-year-old spruced father and drove comfort from the company of old Uncle Roberts. Mark had spent his teenage years at Uncle Roberts’ estate where he was taught, in a informal way by an English governess, the 3 Rs. There, in the company of his cousins, he learnt motor driving, riding, boxing and table tennis. He read lots of books and picked up French and Spanish from the nearby settlers. His father had never insisted that he continue as the white Harara of the tribe. He, therefore, packed off his eldest son to Roberts’ estate and asked his son to absorb the civilization. Mark liked the planned upper sections of the capital there and other comforts of a city life but found the metro ‘civilized’ life awfully stifling and boring. It lacked the romance of the jungle and the vast freedom, which it afforded to its children. The mysterious nights and multi-colored glorious dawns and the sun-dappled morning; the concert of voices emanating from the insect-and-animal world- the nature’s grand opera; the quietly-flowing river Kan Kan near the village, and the heavily-wooded hills towering above their huts. That excitement and rhythm was lacking in the highly regimental city life. He worshipped nature, “as the Hellenic Keats and Shelly”, and returned to his only world where he felt at home. But he continued the family links with uncle Roberts. Two days ago, he had gone there to spend a night with the ailing Roberts. After having a sumptuous meal and strong coffee, he drove around the capital Honiara in their car, uncle Roberts drinking in the sights, sounds and colours of the city. There were the huge white-painted mansions, all done in the colonial style, with vast lawns and flowering trees. The old man was getting nostalgic. He recalled early days of the white rule, the tea parties, the endless discussions about the World War II, the fish-and-chips and rum-filled evenings, the latest about the governor’s many escapades, the breaking-up of the empire and the emergence of the Yankee power. They returned towards late evening and drank scotch in the book-lined small study. “I have seen it all”, the old man said, “the rise and rise of the white man’s supremacy and its decline. The end of colonialism. Once the sum never set in the British Empire. Now, look, where are we? John Bull is now here. Uncle Sam, everywhere. Sad, very sad!”

Mark quietly sipped the scotch. He had come to tolerate the conservatism of the old man.

“We were all driven by the pioneer’s romance with the unknown. The Yankees call it the frontiersman’s spirit. A restless spirit it was. We conquered lands unknown and the continents new. The great period of the western civilization was, mark, from the 14th-to-the 19th century. The West discovered and dominated the rest of landmass and oceans. 1492, the year America was discovered. Such a vast continent! The soul of the early pioneers was as big as America. Nothing less, small could satisfy the continental hunger of the soul, Ha!”

That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them.....the sea pirates were white.....color was everything.....they had the best boats in the world.....and they had gunpowder. Mark suddenly remembered Kurt Vonnegut jr.

Uncle Roberts peered over is cut glasses and asked, “You are with me, Mark?”

Mark said quietly, “very much, Uncle Roberts. Go ahead. I am listening.”

“During those heady days of progress, when Walter and i were growing up, the world was so exciting and young. Walter, ‘courage,  enjoyed that jungle, you remind me of your father in every way, dear and i enjoyed Honiara. Our worlds were so different......”

His voice, sad hollow, trailed. The blue eyes focused on the space, seeing buried times in the swirling grey fog the way only the aged and the lonely can see. Mark had the rush of pity for this wasted-up gnarled skeletal figure who once could heave tree trunks at one go! “Walter was awfully nice, caring and sensitive fellow. Death and destruction, unnecessary, filled him with sadness and anger. He never liked our hunting parties. You kill unnecessarily! He would say. Wounded birds, rabbits and deers brought tears in his eyes. We called him Saint Walter! He lacked in that aggressive, competitive feeling, which we civilized, have. The killer instinct! We needed it to survive in our own jungle here!”

Mark listened hard. First time he was hearing Roberts calling Honiara-life a jungle. How time changes viewpoints!” actually sensitive folks like my cousin Walter, let his soul rest in peace, could never adjust to the type of society inherited by us. It is very lonely here, mark, my son......” The voice trailing off.

“This type of society, son, is fit for the young, ambitious. A very violent society where individual has no place. Yes, I am telling the truth, dear Mark who is more than a son to me. This society has no place for the aged, the infirm, the invalid, and the poor. A jungle so different from your jungle! It took me 70 years to realize all this. Ha!” He lit his cigar and sipped the scotch.

“As a young colonizer, i was driven by lust for land, profits, young women-all the usual good things! I quarrelled and fought violently. I killed. I was a mini continent. Proud to be white in color, male, young, Christian. What else you need? Our firm was doing pretty well. We set up our firms in the French Guinea, Papua New Guinea. My sons, let me tell you, were as driven as i was, God bless them and our clan! We made a good deal of money. The whites ruled everywhere. The joke, at that time, was, God ruled a just world, the God was white, male and British naturally He favoured His children. Then things changed in the late 40s, 50s, 60s. The God was white, male but American! He favoured His American children. Then even all that changed. Our God was replaced by the black gods, yellow gods, and brown gods. Then our women-so delicate, pretty things who earlier painted faces, reared children and treated men as masters- they also said God did not exist because he was male! See the fun! These dolls saying they do not believe a male God! Ha ha! I could never believe all this trash! Freedom, everybody was shouting. The Nigger, the Jap, the Indian, the Savage? It pained me a lot. So you see, dear, i saw it all. The rise and rise and fall and fall of our power. A world without the white God is a mad-house.”

He stopped, exhausted. A deathly pale color spread over his face. Mark said politely, “Uncle Roberts, do not work up your anger. Things change. We cannot stop them. You told me once, way back, that the Greeks thought they were the most advanced civilization. They had achieved the best in everything. Nothing could surpass them and their achievements! The world began and ended with them. Now, it sounds so ridiculous to us. Then came feudalism. They thought the earth was fixed and the sun revolved around it! Even that ended. Things change. You cannot rule over people on the basis of their color only!”

Roberts gulped his Scotch. “You sound like Walter. Why should you not? Like father, like son. Ha, ha!”

They sat quietly in the book-lined study with its heavy furniture. “The Livingstones are famous folks. David Livingston was the most famous among us. There are two strains in our clan. One mercantile and the other missionary. In a way, we served our God in our own way.” You cannot impose foreign Gods on them for long. One day they are going to hit back. You cannot suppress whole nations, peoples for long. Their gods were bound to protest!

“Mark, my child, i love you. I am old, wasted, shriveled-up. Waiting for my call from our Maker. I know you treat me respectfully. Think i am sad, stripped of illusions. In a way, you are right. My world has come to an end. You are right. We cannot stop history. It just marches on. But it pains me awfully. Once we were the gods. Now, mere mortals. Yes, it hurts deeply.”

The old man lapsed into silence.

The second World War. Hitler. Holocaust. All could happen because people like Roberts believed in strange theories to justify their loot and aggression.

In a way, Mark felt relieved also. Roberts was dying. Good! People like Roberts, if young but bitter, could always resurrect Hitler and the fear of the other. Walter and Roberts: two faces of  the West but so different. One worked with the non-whites; the other tried to dominate and suppress them.

Next morning he opened the Solomon Times and read it over coffee, bacon, eggs and toasts. A picture on the international page caught his attention. The long, rugged, smiling face under a big- rimmed hat appeared familiar. Where have i seen this fellow?

He read the item. It said the president of the republic of New Land was absconding. The fugitive had flown out of the country in his jet along with the select members of his group on the very night when the people and the armed forces had set up a new popular government of the general Oscar Wee Wee, an ethnic Indian-African Christian, who had declared the ex-president as the most-wanted criminal and enemy of the state. The general said the ex-president had robbed the poor nation of billions and stashed away this loot in his Swiss banks. “This man is a criminal who needs to be shot dead”, said one of the ministers in the new council. A hunt was on to capture swindler and bring him to justice. Mark looked at the man in the picture. Where have i seen him?

The item, six-column long, went on: the new military government of general Oscar Wee Wee had announced a million cash award to any informant who could give info on this runaway criminal. The name was Caesar Constantine popularly known as the butcher, the wolf. And Minotaurch. Suddenly, everything fell in its place.

Mark had observed the tall, rugged by, handsome person from behind the trees. A tall, muscular person with a regal bearing, and a booming voice that commanded the loyalty of the group immediately. He was struck by the royalty and majesty of that man. So natural to him. Then he had forgotten. The man, on the island, was same as the one in the picture. Worth millions.

So, we have Minotaurch with us for company, a man known as a mini-Hitler.

I am going to deal with an insane fugitive, stripped of his powers. Minotaurch- half-bull, half-man! What an apt description! Does not power transform us just into that a savage beast, an insane man? This man sure is going to be a lot of trouble here.

He continued to read:

The popular government of the general Oscar Wee Wee enjoys a broad support of the students who were in the vanguard of the popular protest against the corrupt regime of Constantine Caesar for last six months. Writers, doctors, lawyers, teachers and all-important “Moms of the Missing Action group” (MMAG) have also extended their moral support to the new regime. This has lent legitimacy to the military rulers who have seized power in a coup and therefore badly need universal backing in a democracy. This is a second coup, within twenty years, in the history of his poor nation of 50 million people who live a sub-standard and sub-human life in the town and villages. It may be recalled that the former president seized power in a coup, in the year 1967, and set up a communist model of government, characterized by rampant corruption, police rule, repression and the overall suppression of the democratic rights. During his rule of roughly 20 years, the country has seen large-scale corruption of unprecedented nature, decline in the industrial and agricultural growth an torture and execution of hundreds of thousands young dissidents, officially ‘missing’ their homes. The foreign diplomats say these missing persons can never be traced since official machinery of Constantine Caesar had no such records. The Western intelligence believes these unfortunate persons were tortured and killed on the order of the one-eyed chief of the secret police, hydra, who left no telltale clues of his crime against the humanity, much like the Nazis. It is feared that the dead were either gassed in the chambers or left to rot in the deep jungles. The diplomats say that the one-eyed chief, called Gorilla for his brute powers, was acting on behalf of the deposed president Constantine. “Both the gorilla and the Minotaurch were monsters”, informs a Western analyst, “But of the two, Minotaurch was definitely the Evil incarnate.”

Although U. S. A. Has recognized the rule of the general Wee Wee, the fugitive Constantine Caesar will be a source of trouble to the new ruler, as he may try to grab power in the long run by fomenting unrest in the country. He can easily buy arms from the international arms dealers, set up his guerrilla bases in the rough mountains with his stolen millions. The Western diplomatic source, however, say he does not pose any immediate threat. They point out that the C. I. A. Had actually backed the General Wee Wee and set up his government. “Without their covert support, the general stood no chance. As long as the General serves their purpose, he has nothing to worry about” says a source. However, the general is taking all precautions. The international hunt o the fugitive is a pointer in this direction.

Mark Livingston went pale.

So, these are not some shipwrecked castaways, the victims of some caprice of fate. They were cold-blooded murdered, mass-murderers, running away from justice! Washed ashore to their paradise by the hands of cruel gods.

When the gods play the game of dice, you do not know what have you in store!

An old Melanesian proverb! The morning had no charm left for the white Harara. His first instinct was to reach the embassy of the New Land and inform them of the sightings of the man wanted by the military rulers of their nation. But prudence prevented him. He knew once C. I. A. And rest of America come to know about this man and the island he is staying on, they are finished. The closely guarded isolation of last centuries would be over and their unique life-style, threatened by the so-called advanced civilization of the West.

A sure death of a culture that can never be repeated elsewhere. A culture which attracted his grandpa Henry Livingston, the missionary, who got converted to the natural style of the social existence of the Harars, the forest children, and who guarded the isolation of the clan with the zealousness of a fresh convert. In this book, My Tryst with a Vanished Time, Henry had spoken of finding his god in these children of a lesser God. In a passage, which had moved Mark deeply, Henry had written.

I have found Jesus in these small innocent children of Mother Nature. They are totally guileless people; still not corrupted by money, exchange systems, lust for power. They are the children of God, not a western God, who trust each other, share everything they have with the neighbours, never experience jealousy or hatred. Everything belongs to the clan. The women enjoy the freedom of selecting their own mates and can leave them easily also. They quarrel and forget as quickly as the children. They are free. As free as the wind and the singing river. The community is important, not the individual. The forest looks after their very basic needs. They lead a much fulfilled life organically linked with nature. The fight over private property is unheard of here. All things belong to all. This sharing approach, so refreshing, lacks in our materialistic culture. It is not the community of believers we all miss? Is it not the Eden we all dream about? Catholicity we no longer find in people of our own culture. Jesus, our Lord, talks of love, compassion, and kindness. Love thy neighbor! These ‘barbarians’ practice precisely this type of Christianity here. That way all the civilized Christians were Jews, all Jews Romans, all Romans Greeks, and all the Greeks pagans- in a manner of speaking- the early man was savage. So it boils down to same thing: all mankind has the savage blood by way of descent. We have it in our bones. When i arrived here, they welcomed me as they welcome a lost brother. Gradually I came to appreciate their culture. I found mental peace and my lost self here in their midst. I discovered a simple humanism here that appealed to me a lot. The same humanism which Christ talks but which later Christianity forgot to practice. The church, as an organizing system, simply drifted away from the Christ itself. Of course, I know i sound as heretic but I speak well-known truths. God reveals Himself in various ways. Mysterious ways. All creation is His. Including the Hararas. But the West sees the world through the stained window of the Church only. The Church drives its power and influence from the human figure of Jesus Christ. Naturally it wants to cast the whole world in its image. Like many other religions, Christianity too asserts the superiority of Jesus, to the exclusion of all others. When you come down to this island and to the Hararas, you find that all this looks so remote here, in the isolated forest. You get a feel of the spirit of nature and of the essential human mind. You come to realize the politics of power and religion clearly here. Religion as a means of the spiritual and political subjugation of people. The Hararas practice the communism of human spirit, no longer possible anywhere else. Historically, it is not possible. God made me discover this clan, this lifestyle, lost in time. I feel privileged. My calling in life. God guided my destiny in such a way that I stumbled upon this lost civilization, the delight of any anthropologist. I knew my destiny lay here. My Jesus understands me. This is my tryst with a vanished time.

Mark had treasured this book and read it many times from cover-to-cover. “Our Bible”, Walter had said often, in a reverential tone. The book had been an encounter of the white civilization with the so-called savage mind and tried to see that mind from a different point-of-view, refreshingly novel at that time, a view that questioned the received assumptions about the clans still clinging to their prehistoric methods of survival. Henry Livingston had not painted the Melanesians or their descendants found on the Devil’s Island’ as the noble savage or romanticized them; he had simply underlined the fact that the organic relationship between man and nature, now no longer possible in the advanced world, is still the best model of human development”, his father Walter would say to him during the long jungle walks, “There are no artificial needs generated in such a life-style. No excesses of consumption. No heavy expenditure on wasteful things. A simple system of needs satisfied by the clan in the forest.

Ain’t it, Mark?

He would nod his head.

“It is our sacred duty to preserve this type of culture, come what may. We owe it to the memory of Henry, my father and your grandpa.” Mark was growing up and quite fast, “like a tree in the rain-forest”, his dad would say with pride in his voice. He alternated between the island and the capital of the Solomon, Honiara. His rowdy cousins called him Tarzan of the jungle cave. It took him many years to understand that these comics were the artistic version of the white imperialism and ideology: the white man, the lord of the jungle and the beasts, and the ultimate harbinger of the rule to the dark-skimned people of that jungle. Tarzan and Phantom were two faces of this ideology. The actual world of the Hararas was totally different. A tough world out there in the wilds. Mortality rate was very high. There were no medicines or regular hospitals for these poor forest-children. Malarial deaths were brought under control by Henry and Walter by a constant supply of the anti-malarial drugs. Then there was the problem of malnourishment and early child mortality. The city-regimen was not possible here but even then a minimum health-care programme was taken up by his grandpa, pa and he, himself. He had trained under the supervision of a white doctor at Honiara of a certificate as medical nurse and got minimum knowledge about the tropical diseases, dressing and injections. This helped him a lot in the jungle. Although Shaman hated him for his ‘white witchcraft’, the old man never showed it because of the status of Mark as the chief. The devotion and dedication of Henry Livingston was so intense to the Hararas that the then elders of the clan had adopted him as one of their very own and later on, made him the Chief of the large clan. The native chief was already indebted to the foreigner for saving his first-born’s life and averting the divine wrath. He willingly stepped down in favour of this white man. And soon, the legend of the white Harara spread everywhere, to Honiara, to Bismarck Island, to Port Korsby, the capital of Papua New Guiea. Once anointed as the Chief, Henry felt compelled to safeguard his fragile territory he was committed towards the preservation of the isolation of the settlement. So, carefully, he built-up the image of the clan as the most fierce warriors and dreaded hunters of the heads of their enemies. The Hararas were told by the new chief to do or die for their freedom. Over the years, the Hararas did grow into a most dangerous tribe of the island scattered in the Pacific. They spared no body. They Henry did another important thing. He wrote a book in which he described the island as a place not worth investment by any outside power. He did not mention the existence of the silver mines on the island. This secret was known to the Livingstones and the Hararas only. The plan worked. All Western nations ignored the small island as a worthless place. The Hararas got their much-treasured isolation!

Now, it is going to change!

The afternoon was a pleasant one.

Uncle Roberts, a bit refreshed, looked better. They sat down in the covered verandah. Roberts lit up hi pipe and looked at his nephew. He was still pale-faced, the typical Livingston fire gone from those gray-bluish eyes.

Mark thought he was looking at the magnificent ruins. Sadness gripped the young Livingston. He is more than a father to me. His days are now numbered. I will be very lonely after he is gone.

“What ya thinking, kids?” Uncle Roberts’ caressing voice hovered over him. “Aha...Nothing... Just remembering good old days. Uncle Roberts. I am feeling awfully wretched .... You look so wan tired... I am miserable...”, Mark’s deep voice cracked suddenly and trailed off. Roberts drew on his pipe, held the smoke in his mouth for few seconds coughed and then exhaled it. He looked at Mark with affection. “Nothing, my son, is permanent in the world. When mighty empires come and go-crash easily, then who are we? Mere mortals... ordinary folks... No more...”

Mark recovered quickly.

“Uncle Roberts?”

The old man looked up “You know something about a man called Constantine Caesar?” Roberts looked at him hard. “The Butcher of New Land?”

“Yes, yes. He goes by several names.”

“Yes, I know.”

“What do you know about this man?”

“Why?”

“Oh! Just plain curiosity.”

Roberts looked across the well-kept lawns of his mansion. The local gardeners ere working upon them. The afternoon stillness lay hanging on the vast estate. “I had a few chances to meet the bastard in person.”

“What?” Mark almost jumped.

“Yes. I met the butcher here at Honiara and at Port Korsby. The governor had called a meet of the prominent businessman of the Solomon’s at his residence. A working lunch, so to say. Caesar was interested in meeting the businessman. I met him first there, some 10 years ago... Then, at the governor’s banquet, two years later... After that, maybe three years later on, at Port Korsby.”

“How was he?”

“What do you mean?”

“I, er. How he looked and acted?”

Roberts paused, mind going back.

“The bastard was a great charmer.... and a womanizer.”

“Charmer? Very interesting. The international press calls him a mass-murderer, psychopath.” Robert laughed.

“Western press has no fixed yardsticks. He was the blue-eyed boy of the conservative Dixon administration in U. S. A. At that time, U. S. A. Media played up his positive side, his American connections.”

“He went to America?”

“Yes. Most of them do. These rich kids from the third-world.”

“Interesting!” Mark exclaimed.

“The swine was well-educated. A lovely rogue, we would call him. He was trained as a doctor.”

“A what?”mark sat up suddenly.

“A medico? Unbelievable!”

Uncle Roberts laughed. “You see, sometimes i feel, all of us are living in Ripley’s world, Believe it or not, or whatever. The humans as species always puzzle me. They are so unpredictable!”

“Where did he go for his medical degree?”

The old man paused. Tapped his cigar and then, “U.S.A. where else? He did his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins university. A heart specialist! Ha, ha, ha! A doctor specializing in bypass surgery, transplants, what not? The same man, later in his life, just killing people. A paradox of life? Is it not?”

Mark took some time to digest the latest info about the fugitive.

“Was he successful doc?”

“Sure. An eminent Doctor. Popular too. He had a very successful practice.”

“What were his parents?”

“Oh! If I remember correctly, his father was a wealthy exporter and a hotelier, his mom was a piano teacher and a failed poet who wrote sentimental poetry in French and Spanish.”

“French and Spanish?”

“Yes. She was half-French, half-Spanish. His father was a native.

Caesar’s grandfather had married an English woman. Bloodline was all hodge-podge. That is why Constantine Caesar was such a strikingly-handsome person, thanks to the cross-breeding.”

“So he came from a wealthy family?”

“Yes, he did. His pop wanted him to be a doc. He became one. Then one fine morn, he left everything. And went into the jungle.”

“Jungle?” Mark was speechless.

Roberts eyed him for sometime.

Then he broke into a grim. “Yes, kiddo, the jungle. I told you we all, at one point or the other, come across Ripley’s Believe It or Not, ain’t we?”

“But old man paused and looked across the lawns. For a long time, he said nothing.

“You see, life is so strange! Here we have a hugely successful doc, a tall handsome fellow, America-educated, awfully wealthy, living in a large apartment in a posh locality. A terribly successful bloke. Then he decides, one fine morn, to leave everything and joins a group of communist guerrillas in the jungle, just outside the capital city of Anaconda of his country.”

“Communists?” Mark was stunned.

“Yes, communists. His comrades.”

Mark said nothing. He was absorbing the history of the new guest on his island. A strange person!

“in fact, Constantine Caesar had founded the communist party in his country, the New Land. Those were the revolutionary days, late 50s and early 60s. The Western universities were in turmoil. The radicalism was in the air. The young restless students, from well-off families, were searching the ideal everywhere- in politics, personal relationships, society at large. They were angry, bitter and critical. They rejected the Western bourgeois assumptions and revolted against the state. The French student’s revolt of 1967 is well known. In America, the hippie culture was spreading fast. Drugs, beat generation, flower children- they called it the counter culture. Constantine Caesar was the young gifted child of such an intellectual age, which favoured Marxism to capitalism. Understand?” mark nodded.

“Yes, I do. As usual, you are pretty enlightening.”

The old man laughed.

“Books, dear Marks! The desire to know what is happening right around you. Still I read a lot, despite my failing health.”

The bugger is right! He has a great passion for books of every type. And he has a prodigious memory. The other white planters and estate owners never bothered about books but uncle Roberts always bought books and arty journals from the Paris book stores on his semi-annual ‘pilgrimages’ to that fine centre of Western refinement, as he would dub Paris. And his wine and champagne from the Southern France. “The influence of Marxism was all pervasive in the universities all over the Western hemi-sphere. The children from the rich families came under its sway. Surprising?

These young well-fed minds were fired by the revolutionary appeal of Marxism. Naturally they adopted it as a mantra. They wanted to bring an exploitation-free society, a sort of Eden, to the earth. These bright minds all went astray. They searched and found a utopia in this theory. I do not blame....all of us do search for something, aspire for something, need something as our faith. Call it our Holy Grail. Call it our golden fleece. The point is, mark, we quest for something or the other in our conscious, adult life.”

Our cultural totems; our dreams; the faith in our own faculties, in the power of our dreams in certain ideals that are universal.

Thought  mark.

“Our Caesar was communist b his political leanings. He was a voracious reader. He read all the classics of Marxism-Leninism. He was appalled by the poverty of his third-world country. He said he felt trapped in his luxurious existence and bored. Totally fed up by his life of luxury, he gave up everything, saying his social conscience pricked him a lot. Said he was unable to bear the prick of his conscience.”

“Where did you learn all this?”

“Oh! Caesar was the darling of various power blocs during the checkered career as the president. As communist leader, feted by the Russians and the left French intellectuals. Le Monde carried many articles on him. Then, the Americans wooed him, using him as a pawn, in their international power games. He needed their tanks and dollars. Then, he was the darling of the American media. The New York Times carried a couple of interviews with him, CNN profiled him. He wrote a highly-readable essay ‘Why I became a communist?” he gave a lucid account of the society of his early youth and the intellectual influences at work there. Need not to say. It became a sort of manifesto for his own party.”

“So he was a nice sensitive guy.”

“Yes, now –a-days, at the turn of the century, we no longer hear of any radicalism, of social-conscience. Idealism and radicalism are missing. Conservative spirit has set in.”

“You are right.”

They kept quiet. Roberts was feeling exhausted, the pallor in the face again pronounced. After fifteen minutes or so, mark said, “Something went wrong somewhere. The doc turned into a mass-murderer.”

Robert said, “Look, mark, this happens often. Power corrupts. Constantine Caesar started with the noblest intentions and ended up as the most-hated person of his own country. A hero-becoming-a-pariah. Classic third-world case. A young, revolutionary, ideal hero. Ushering in a new age. Then growing smug. A close group bleeding the country dry. Rampant corruption. Nepotism. The stifling of democracy. Opposition going underground. There is lot of repression. Police brutality. And no accountability.”

Mark studied his uncle: if he had not become a businessman, he would have become a university don or a top editor of a newspaper.

“You are right, Uncle. Most of the African countries, Latin American countries, Asian countries and countries like Philippines- they all undergo this type of a volatile process. Generals taking over from the duly elected governments. The governments getting corrupt and hugely unpopular. Then the generals themselves following the same router! Monkey and power- it becomes a deadly cocktail.”

Roberts nodded his head. The bright afternoon lay spread before them. A cool breeze was blowing. The covered verandah was dark and pleasant. The local gardeners were silently tending the rosebushes. In the distance, across the empty afternoon street, rose the belfry of the church. A lazy hair circled over the posh locality. Roberts coughed and then stretched out his long bony legs before him. The family dog, a German Shepherded, stirred itself lazily and eyed mark with one half-open eye and then went back to sleep.

The perfect British upper-middle-class culture!

“See, dear nephew, these third-world countries have recently come out of colonial experience. Got independence in a short span. Naturally they do not have stable apparatus in their countries. No long traditions of democracy. No long history of democratic institutions. They are terribly volatile nations. The masses have awakened and grown nationalist but the rulers are the same.”

“Sorry I lost you, sir”.

“The politically-conscious masses are very demanding. They know they were earlier ruled by the whites. The whites left and the newest of rulers took over. These are the blacks or browns with white masks. The brown Sahibs. Naturally, once awakened, the people will not tolerate these new whites from amongst their own.”

“So they drove out Caesar?”

“Yes. People’s power, as they call it now-a-days. Interestingly, majority of these nations follow the same pattern. Their democratic aspirations get thwarted, they get annoyed, take to streets, get violent. Thus the whole nation rises up in anger. You simply cannot avoid people’s overall expectations. Once roused, no power can stop the masses.”

Mark nodded at the analysis.

“The country Caesar ruled for roughly twenty years was called the sleeping giant’s country in their native language. The local beliefs say that the giant goes underground and sleeps there for twenty years and then, well, comes over ground and shakes the country, at its foundations, like a tree. The angry giant demands sacrifices. Once placated and fed, the giant goes back to his resting place, for another twenty years. This time, the giant woke up and.......”

“Got Caesar as his reward”, said mark, smiling, “A good folktale. Full of folk wisdom. The Hararas also have such tales. Call them the myths or the legends.”

Roberts kept quiet. His eyes had that far-off look again. Trying to see the fogs of time.

“Constantine Caesar was a fine young man.”

“How?”

“A sensitive, intelligent person. A product of liberalism and humanism.

Now we do not get folks like them.”

“Well, I dare say, I have to agree.”

“One more tid-bit about this highly remarkable fella.”

“Yes.”

“He used to play the game of chess with you know whom?”

“Any rewards for guessing?”

Roberts laughed. The blue eyes twinkled merrily.

“Guess who?”

“Umm....lemme see. Kazoo?”

“No.”

“Then?”

“Bobby Fisher.”

“What?”

“Yes. As president, he invited the reclusive American to his nation. The  temperamental American, who breathed chess only, said he would come and stay if......”

“If?”

“If the President played chess with him.”

“He played with the master?”

“Very much, and defeated the world champ.”

“You must be joking.”

“No, the American became very fond of his host, said nobody could play better than Caesar!”

“Wonderful!”

“You see, Caesar is a fine young man. Brilliant. He plays chess with grandmasters. His mind is awfully fine. Analytical. Sharp Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another buddy also praised Caesar for his fine understanding of the current literature.”

Uncle Roberts paused.

“Very good as a friend. Dangerous as a cobra, when an enemy.”

I am prepared, thought Mark.

They were watching the rain. The two solitary figures. Couched low.

In the pelting rain. Thick vegetation was around them, screening them off them off from the settlement. 700-hundred yards away.

A large, settlement of bamboo huts with conical roofs. A spacious hut, on elevated ground, stood detached and slightly aloof from the rest of the colony. The clearing where the huts were arranged, in a semi-circular manner, was surrounded by the deep forest. The rain was coming down in torrents, hissing angrily. A strong wind hit the lonesome duo in the face. “Damn it, “said the tall athletic figure, “we are doomed. From one stinking hellhole to another.” The companion of the irritated man, a short and compact person, said softly, “We are almost there. Let us see how the reception goes.” Audacious! That was the word to describe the plan of the tall person. They spoke about the audacity of the idea but dared not oppose it. They were all mortally terrified of the tall person. But they also admired the guts of the man. Not for nothing, his aides called Minotaurch the fearless hyena.

“You sure?”, asked Constantine Caesar of his short companion.

“yes, sir,” said Chameleon alias professor bloom alias a the  correspondent of La Monde, “it is the Harara settlement. By the looks of it. Semi-circular. Conical roofs, big clearing. The elevated hut is that of the local chief.”

“The white Harara?”

“I guess so?”

“Yes ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let us go.”

Mark was watching the fury of the rain. I am prepared, thought the white Harara. I know a great deal more about my new visitors than the older Hararas about the first wave of invaders. Constantine Caesar is an excellent chess player. A renowned doctor. A voracious reader. A brilliant tactician. An ex-President. A deadly combination of mental skills! It is going to be a game of chess now between him and me. For a stake in a little-known territory. I am not going to let him win this time.

“Chief?”

Mark spun around on his heels. The patter of the rain was very loud in the empty covered verandah. The curtain of rain was moving rapidly, driven by the harsh wind.

A gray day!

“Yes?”

It was Buntu.

“The trouble is here.”

Mark was immediately alert.

“What trouble?”

“Two of the aliens are here.”

“Here? “Mark was speechless.

“Yes, Chief. In the middle of the village.”

“Village?”

“Yes. They just walked into our village. Their tall chief. And his short companion.”

“J-e-s-u-s!” exclaimed Mark.

“Where are they right now?”

“we are holding them in the hut on the east edge of the colony.”

Mark was dazed. Disoriented. He played chess with Bobby Fisher!

Uncle Roberts was right. This man sure is devil. You cannot beat him so easily.

“O.K. I am coming with you. Wait here. Let us find out how our guests are behaving.”

The large hut with conical roof, on the eastern edge of the village, was called the house of the dead. It was built away from the settlement, on a rising ground, under the canopy of tropical trees, almost overlooking the Kan Kan River flowing below in the distance. The house was built on a platform supported by the stilts and could be reached by a short bamboo ladder. It was a gloomy, windowless, vast room- a single room, where the Hararas brought up their dead before a formal burial. The male members of the clan generally held a wake before burying the dead in the early dawn. The Shaman, an old sprightly person, would supervise the washing of the body and its final anointing in orange-and-white colors. Then, at the crack of dawn, he would briefly hold a conversation with the spirit-world, from where it could easily watch the world of the living. On rare occasions, those willing could easily invoke the spirits of their ancestors, in the spirit-houses, some half-a-km away. Normally, the house of the dead was a place to be avoided and only their chief and the Shaman had an unrestricted entry to this dismal place, a halfway house between the living and the dead worlds. Mark, along with Buntu, reached the house under ten minutes. A group of the short, athletic, young, male Hararas was guarding the entry of the house. They looked very excited but under control. They bowed before their chief. A furious rain was pounding upon the roof of the house. The white Harara, his heart all a-flutter, entered the dark bowels of the house of the dead, to meet his new guests.

They started at each other in the semi-darkness lit-up by big torches.

The white Harara and the Minotaurch. The two arch enemies. Starting at the other. Evaluating. Mentally making notes and comparing, their minds, alert and anticipatory. In turmoil, yet in control.

So, this is Minotaurch!

A man declared fugitive. On the run from the law of the land. Carrying an award on his head. A deposed dictator who stole millions from an impoverished third-world nation; a butcher responsible for the mass-murders of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Mark looked hard at the man. Ruggedly handsome, radiating charisma, almost my height. He looks like a cross between Che Guavara and Castro. He emits a raw, wild energy and earthy appeal. So, this is the white Harara!

Constantine Caesar looked at his adversary. This is the man. My challenger. A threat to our survival.

He carefully examined his enemy. Well, well, impressive! The guy is handsome! A Sean-Connery look-alike!

Tall, commanding, powerful.

This guy sure is a leader. Has a terrific presence. Almost aristocrat, despite the stay in this tropical hellhole. He has already set up his white empire in this far-flung obscure island, lording it over the natives. He is an oriental Raja here!

Caesar suddenly recalled Kurtz, the hero of Heart of Darkness. Conrad is still relevant! The white man, always enterprising and adventures, still rules the non-white world like a master.

Well, do not worry, you got competition.

They looked hard at each other for a long time.

“Good Afternoon, Mr. President. I mean, er, ex-president”, “Mark spoke in a low but clear tone. Caesar was astonished but recovered quite fast.

“Good Afternoon, Mr. White Harara, I mean, the chief of the Hararas”, said Caesar with an innocent, charming smile.

Now, it was the turn of Mark to be surprised but he did not show it.

He is a good chess-player!

“You are welcome to our ancient and unspoilt civilization. The Hararas are the children of a world, where Gods still rule their destiny.”

Caesar bowed reverentially.

I am honoured, Chief, to discover and make contact with a lost culture.

“I am aware how the tribe still maintains its primitive style of existence in the deep forest. And let me tell my distinguished host here, I am also very appreciative about the contributions made by the Livingstones to the noble cause of the preservation of the purity of the Harara culture.”

The scoundrel sounds like a seasoned diplomat! Damn it! He is good with highbrow words.

“Oh! I profusely thank my unexpected guests for their highly perceptive and effusive comments. Let me tell my new guests that their awareness level is pretty good about the Harara culture. Mr. Caesar is, in particular, extremely knowledgeable and also very effective communicator.”

They are the mirror image of each other! Thought Chameleon.

“Well, Mr. White Harara...”

“Mark, Mark is the name.”

“Call me Caesar.”

They formally shook hands. Mark gestured towards low stools. Both sat down face-to-face. Others simply stood around, at a safe distance.

“Well, mark, I am sorry for any inconvenience to you or the tribe but my companion and i were awfully interested in knowing your primeval culture at first-hand. Allow me to introduce my companion professor Bloom, a world-renowned anthropologist.”

Professor Bloom, short, compact with dishevelled hair and bifocals,, stepped forward, his eyes lost, a permanent look of preoccupied mind clear to even the blind.

“Hullo, Sir! How do you do?”

“How do you do?”

The Professor adjusted his hair, which kept falling over his forehead. Absent-mindedly, he kept pushing the bifocals on his nose, which gain, kept sliding down.

“I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Mark. You and your grandpa are legendary figures for us, the poor anthropologists.”

I am honoured, Sir.”

Something in the quality of the voice of professor Bloom alerted the well-honed instincts of the trained hunter in Mark. His danger instincts told him this man was dangerous. He looked carefully: A typical absent-minded professor lost in his own world of idea! Short. Ordinary. Of not much consequence. But the instincts were alert. He could sense danger the way the hounds scent it. The man was short and compact. No problem. Many academics go to the gyms for a sculpted-look.

What is it?

The man is harmless. But the sound did not match his body and overall behaviour of an academic. There was a wide discrepancy between the voice and the demeanor of this man. As a trained hunter, he was proficient enough to judge an animal by its voice, and, to kill it by locating its voice. A difficult skill but native to the Hararas.

I must be cautious!

“Please have a seat, professor.”

“Oh! Thank You.”

Bloom took a tentative step and nearby fell down in the gloom.

He, almost, lost his bifocals.

Caesar helped him sit on the stool. The short man sat down on the stool, running his fingers in his hair and then rubbing his nose in a preoccupied manner. A pitiable creature! I am getting unnecessarily alarmed. Paranoid! This man is a helpless, forgetful person who cannot kill an ant!

“What brings our distinguished professor to our modest backward settlement?”

“Oh! “Answered Bloom; eyes with their typical far-off look in them, “i have been an ardent admirer and a junior friend of Margrat Maed. She is.......”

“I know who she is. A world-class anthropologist who went to Papua New Guinea.”

“We are amazed”, boomed Caesar, all surprise, “All Livingstone are simply wonderful but you are just- well, fabulous!”

Mark smiled.

“So you are a disciple of the famous Margrat Maed!”

“Intellectually, yes! Her work was a pioneering one for all of us in the field of anthropology. She taught the Western world to look at the so-called primitive people...”

“You mean the savages?”

“Oh!”, Bloom sounded apologetic. “i appreciate your feelings.. er... on this delicate subject. Maed just taught us to look at these folks not as the ‘other’ but as a distinct culture with its positive sides. She challenged our deep-seated biases and prejudices and compared our Western culture with the primitive culture...and showed, er, the ugly side, the ills....”

“Plaguing the so-called advanced Western civilization”, said Caesar in his deep voice. “As a matter-of-fact, professor Bloom introduced me to the exciting world of anthropology and to the works of the likes of Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, Leonard Bloomfield and Margrat Maed. Since then, my views about the surviving tribes of the world- for example American Indians, the Maoris, the Bushman- have undergone a dramatic change. I have come to respect the indigenous cultures. I know we have to study his unique mind in order to arrive at our distant past, when well, all of us were like them.” Mark had never heard people speak like this before. The civilized world had always ridiculed the simple, uncomplicated life of the children of the forests and pushed them to the margins of the social life. Even, in America, they were not better than the marginal’s like the Hispanics, the Blacks, and the gays. Or Britain, where perceptions about these tribes were as hostile a their attitude to the Asians, despite two ancient universities there and a lot of research in this field. He felt touched and his angry animosity dissolved, to some extent.

“See, Mark”, continued Caesar in his soothing honeyed voice, a voice that hypnotized million once, a gentle innocent smile hovering over his broad rugged face, “When we accidentally discovered this paradise, we were not aware that we have also discovered another paradise here. The Eden of mankind! A life-style that stretches back to hundreds of thousands years, to very beginning of the time, a life-style uninterrupted for thousands of years. I was so excited, no, euphoric. Believe me, dear friend; I could not believe my luck I was about to part the curtains of the Time and peer through the mists at a unique tribe, a tribe, let me put it this was, that has  preserved for us the very innocence and charming childhood of the humankind. As you poetically said, they live in a world still supervised by the gods of the early humanity. That is why, even at the pain of death, at great risk to our life, we two ventured out to eek you and your great tribe. Tomorrow, when we go out into the world, we can say we saw through the misty time a lost civilization!”

And Minotaurch bowed deeply.

He plays chess with Fisher. The voice of Uncle Roberts echoed in a remote recess of his mind. He is harmless. And in our territory. And sounds sincere!

Very few people can resist Caesar, thought Chameleon admiringly, when he decides to be nice to them and turns on his magic or them.

“I am touched by your openness and unorthodox view about the so-called primitives and savages”, answered Mark in a slow voice, “You are a well-read man with a wide-ranging interests, Doctor Constantine Caesar.”

Doctor looked at his adversary, for a fleeting second, a startled expression on his face.

“You seem to be pretty well-informed, mark. You now more about me than i know about myself.”

Phantom! Going to the City, leaving his skull-cave under the care of Goran and other pygmies, Phantom in the overcoat, hat, followed by his wolf! Chameleon thought.

“Just plain curiosity!” remarked Mark modestly.

“The world seems to be shrinking fast!” said doctor in his usual light vein.

“Yes, doc. The world is a small place.”

They were quiet for sometime, each mentally assessing.

“Sorry, Mark”, spoke Bloom, clearing his throat and rubbing his nose, “Can we have the privilege of looking at the life-style of the Hararas? I mean, a God’s gift to any anthropologist, this stumbling upon a lost culture. It i like discovering a gold mine for a mercenary digger. I just took the risk. I fervently hope we would not be turned down by our new hosts.”

An alarm bell sounded in Mark’s brain: these are dangerous fugitives. Running away like felons from the law. I should be wary! He looked at the mismatched couple. The first one towering and the second one, an ordinary, puny academic. He thought quickly.

They are on our territory. We have our own guards here. The great warriors of the Harara tribe! What can they do to us?

“You are welcome.”

That night, in the deep solitude of the jungle night, sleeping, in an alien hut; Constantine Caesar had a dream. The outlines of the Harara ghosts came down to visit him. H was on top of a mountain. Evening shadows were lengthening. He was standing near a cavernous cave. Suddenly many insubstantial figures popped out and surrounded the lonesome human form. They started hard at him; he could feel those invisible eyes fastened on him. Intruder, go back, your hands are blooded, screamed a floating ghost. He checked. His hands were dripping with blood! He looked back. Now, their eyes were glowing. You are not welcome here! This is our land. You will be killed here. Go, go, go!

The shadows tried to grab him. They started dancing around him. Their fierce stare just knifed him in two halves. Petrified, he ran out, the shadows chasing....

He woke up. Sweat was running down his spine. He came out of the hut and stared at the two Hararas guarding his hut. They sat stock still, like a stalking tiger. Gave their new guest a sweeping glance. Resumed their watch over a merry crackling fire. As immobile statues carved in stone. He sat down on a log, under the bright stars, enjoying the fresh outdoors air. The jungle was alive with nightly sounds. Then he saw him, a sight that simply stunned him with its abruptness.

The horseman!

The same royal horseman was smiling at him from 500 yards!

He was struck speechless. The majestic horseman smiling, in the very middle of the camp of the Hararas!

The white Harara was roused from his deep slumber. The ancient spirit was calling. He could feel it. He stepped out and into the outside air. In the deserted outside space, he saw what he could see only. The ancient spirit of the Hararas. It beckoned him. “It beckons like the spirit of Hamlet”, he thought. He followed. On the edge of the village, h stood near a pile of sacred stone lying on an elevated ground.

The spirit spoke clearly:

“Beware of the man who feeds on your trust! He comes in many shapes. A devil who returns faith with murder!” Mark bowed and started to ask something.

“Question not, mortal. Listen. The power-hungry spare not anybody. They are friendly not to anybody. They chase power as men chase women beautiful. Trust not the man who has faces many but only ambition one. How to rule the weak, the unwary, the unseeing, the fool- that ambition drives certain men, in ages new and old. Strike before he strikes and destroys all things.”

The Ancient Harara disappeared. A warning from the spirit-world!

Mark was in turmoil.

He plays chess well. Uncle Roberts. I have brought death right in my courtyard. The first round i have lost to my enemy.

Now, let us plan our round no.2

Or our Act II?

He searched for answers but there were none.

At least, immediately.

They stuck the very next night. The dark ghosts blending with the thick gloom of the forest night. A dozen or so elite commandoes. Camouflaged. A was their custom, they come around three o’clock, and surrounded the village, led by the one-eyed giant called the gorilla. The guards, outside the hut of their royal prisoner, were sleeping and offered no resistance. Gorilla, despite his bulk, was as agile a young predator and killed them both with his jungle knife. The raiders spread out in the village and captured the Hararas-young and old-and killed those who resisted. Within twenty minutes, the operation was over.

Constantine Caesar finally emerged from the shadow. A bonfire was burning bright in the middle of the village. The captive were all huddled around the fire under the watchful eyes of the carbine-toting royal commandoes. They smartly saluted the imposing figure who looked down upon the captured Hararas with naked contempt. Gorilla addressed him reverentially, “operation successful, Sir”, Constantine Caesar smiled broadly and said in the Harara language a sentence he had picked up from his guards: “i am your new Chief. Your king.”

They returned his contempt.

“Where is Harara? The white Harara?”

Gorilla said softly, “The white Harara has escaped.”


1 comment :

  1. a!”
    That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them.....the sea pirates were white.....color was everything.....they had the best boats in the world.....and they had gunpowder. Mark suddenly remembered Kurt Vonnegut jr.

    It is rapidly becoming interesting respite missing the previous part
    Best wishes fir the this novel the uncommon event for the common people
    Devi nangrani

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