Minotaur: Third Chapter (Sunil Sharma)

Minotaur (Sunil Sharma)

Chapter 3

The day after.

Their worlds were totally different. The invaders, dropping out of the dark skies in a fiery ball, were the new masters.

The natives, long attached to the forest and leading an almost obscure existence, had become the slaves.

The gods were playing dice and I have wrested the first round from them, thought a bemused Caesar.

The commandoes had virtually run over the peaceful primitive village. Any resistance was greeted with bullets. Death was instant. All the males of the tribe were lines up in the crude square and beaten mercilessly. The elders, women and children witnessed the cruel beatings and torture from the sidelines. They experienced a foreign emotion first time: fear of man armed with the guns. Man, worst than the natural predators, trying to oppress fellow man, in their own country. The one-eyed giant marched up to Caesar and said, “Your new Subjects, Sire”. Caesar nodded and smiled. He stepped out in the middle and faced a young athletic Harara, proud of manners, eyes showing contempt and defiance.

“What is your name, bastard?”

Asked the new ruler mockingly.

“I am not bastard”, said the man in English.

For a moment, Caesar was astonished.

He recovered, “Oh, wonderful! Here we have somebody who speaks good English. I am real happy. Who taught you this language of the white rulers, bugger?”

The man stared back and spat.

Gorilla came flying and punched the defiant tribal in his stomach. The man doubled up on the leafy wet ground. Gorilla took out his revolver and aimed at the head of the crouching figure.

“Stop!” said a deep voice.

They all looked in the direction of the voice. A compact figure emerged from the forest, into the clearing, carrying dead rabbits in his hands. He looked solid as an oak tree and walked in the measured walk of a trained soldier.

“Do not shoot unarmed men”, he commanded in a clear voice of local authority.

Caesar gestured. Gorilla lowered his revolver.

“And who are you?”

The man walked nonchalantly towards Caesar and looked him straight in the eyes.

“I am Buntu, the trusted lieutenant of Mark, the White Harara.”

A hush fell over the gathering.

“Oh!”, exclaimed Ceasar , “Welcome to the celebrations, Buntu. I am your new master. We have taken over. Where is my friend the white Harara?”

Buntu’s face showed no reaction.

“Mark, I believe, was a man of courage and deep convictions. Where your leader has fled? A good leader always stands with his people. He does not fly in extreme conditions. Is it not?”

Buntu did not reply.

“I see, lieutenants are more loyal and courageous than the disgraced general.”

“He is better than you”, said Buntu, voice steely, “He never abuses the hospitality and trust of his simple hosts.”

Gorilla aimed his gun again. Caesar motioned him to stop.

“Buntu is a courageous and fearless person. I always like such folks. Bring him to my new quarters. I would like to have a word with him.

The temporary headquarters were set up in Mark’s big hut. The commandoes meanwhile, with the help of the local labour, built up a huge mansion of bamboos and wires and with barricades, to accommodate the new king. The interrogation was simple. Buntu, after a few hours of resistance, broke down. Caesar and gorilla worked on him as an American detective team; farmer being friendly, the latter, harsh. Mark, it appeared, was alerted by his pet spider monkey about the invaders’ presence and fled into the forest. His other pet, a lion was recovered chained to the post a duly claimed as a trophy. Most probably he had escaped in a canoe o a nearby island. Although Gorilla was satisfied, Caesar was not. Somewhere, along the lines, Buntu was hiding some facts and feeding them false indo to keep them off the trail. The commandoes searched but every trail went cold. Finally, they gave up.

Constructing an empire has been the most challenging job in every age. Especially so, if the masters are outsiders. Imposing their foreign culture, on the indigenous people, with their old culture, poses new problems. Caesar was not unaware of this historical responsibility. A widely-read man, he often read and re-read books on the western history and tried to make out generalizations. He was painfully aware that imperialism as a doctrine and political practice ha d rapidly declined and the ruled Asia and Africa had emerged as a powerful voice against this type of suppression. The newly liberated nations themselves suffered from lots of problems. Fundamentalism, ethnicity, riots, genocide, corruption were the demons, difficult to be exorcised. Of all the colonial powers that emerged in that last two hundred years or so, he preferred the British pattern of imperialism. Although Napoleon called them a nation of shopkeepers, Caesar had great respect for the inhabitants of the isles, obscured in the rains, who came to rule the world. He admired them for their fair sense of justice and their national genius. And, ironically, their democratic institutions. Of course, the flip side was a rigid class system and an inbuilt racism. The aloofness of the British temperament and their overall belief that the British English and culture were simply matchless were the national traits much liked by Caesar. This is the way the masters should behave. Caesar often thought if Germans had come to rule one third of the world; then the whole ruled territory would have become a vast Auschwitz and the entire subjects would have been gassed to death. Now, confronted with the choice of crafting an empire, he rejected the French or the American model and instead, went for the British one. Divide and Rule.

During his presidency, Caesar had closely observed human nature. Majority of the people, middle class, was enamored of power and wealth and its ethos was upward mobility. All of them aspired for money and power and thus became part of the ruling elite, ideologically and organically, and supported the ruling party. Lower classes had no time for these values, a involved were they in a grim struggle-for-existence on daily basis. Despite this, there was a section of the dispossessed, the exploited and the idealism of the youth from the lower-middle-class which, combined together, could act as the most potent weapon against any well-entrenched ruling elite anywhere in the world.

“Beware of the hot-blooded youth and the marginalized”, Caesar would exhort, “They can unseat the most-dreaded despot with their anger and contempt. They have nothing to lose but their chains.”

His own reading of bourgeois history confirmed this thesis: the aristocracy or the high class had the means of ruling nations in the West but opposition always came from the lower classes. The intellectual leadership always came from the educated, well- off classes with leisure for these things, - even Marx and Lenin came from good decent families, and the soldiers were invariably from the lower classes, with no easy access to education, culture and even daily food. The theoreticians were high class but the executors were the poor and the deprived who ushered in bloody revolutions. But like every power-drunk ruler, Caesar had, most regretfully overlooked his own thesis and paid heavily for this omission. Now, supervising his new empire in this remote South-Pacific island of the wild primitives, as a Eurasian would, he counted his options. He knew America was colonized in the same manner by the English, just by systematically butchering the Red Indians. But, in present times, it was a difficult model. So he thought to adopt the British model by ruling the natives harshly and occasionally showing liberal attitude. He liked Lord Maculae. He wanted to create a race that would resemble their masters in choice and taste except their color. He also knew there would definitely be folks who would join the new rulers and betray their own. He was to identify these loyalists and weld them into the system. Then, divide and rule. He was on the lookout for people like Buntu who, once won over, could be trusted allies in the task of empire building in a remote place. Disciples, once disillusioned, could be the reliable allies in the new dispensation. Discrediting Harara-Mark-was a job he had to perform in a subtle way.

The Group-men and women who had assisted Constantine Caesar during his long rule as the president- installed itself in the new cottages on an elevated ground that overlooked the large village. Gorilla was the Security Chief. Chimpanzee, the man who looked after defense, planned the fortifications. Bald eagle, a man known as a financial genius, looked after the physical needs of the men and cooked meals for them. Caesar took over. He had an eye for the beautiful women and Harara women appeared as exotic. He picked up the best-looking and the well-endowed. They were free in their favors and least conservative. Sex was not confined to marriage and willingness of woman was required before the act. Most of the Harara women, it appeared, were always willing for the act which could tire out the most males in few days.

Most of the men were damn happy with their native women and set up their own homes on the rising ground.

The party was on.

An unusual request came his way. One morn, suffering from hangover, surrounded by dusky naked women sleeping around, he got up and sat down in the shaded balcony. The village was not up. Hardly anybody stirred. He got the message that a person wants to see him in the Spirit House. Intrigued, he reached the bleak house.

It was Shaman!

A dark tall man, with fierce rd eyes, body painted in the war paint, a garland of gaping skulls around his thick neck, bird feathers worn as a headgear, the Shaman carried a staff topped with an animal skull, exuding menace. He carried himself with dignified authority. For the first time, on the island, Constantine Caesar felt fear in the pit of his stomach. He could sense evil in the air. The early morn-wind coming off from the river was chilly and damp. The sky was overcast.  Dismal gray morning. The village was asleep after a long night of revelry. He started at Shaman. The witch doctor looked back, eyes blood-shot, a malevolent air hovering around him.

“What can I do for you?”

The man started hard and long.

“A lot.”

Caesar was again jolted.

“You speak English?”

“Obviously. One must learn one’s master’s language to beat them at their game.”

It was news for the host.

“Let us sit down and talk, Sir. Happy to meet you, er….”

“Bora.”

“Yes, Mr. Bora, Glad you called.”

“I am here on an urgent business, Mr. Caesar.”

“I am listening.”

“You see, this Spirit House is sacred.

I supervise all the ceremonies.

Very few people can enter here, unbidden. This is, as the Americans say, my territory.”

“You speak perfect English, with a touch of the American.”

The Shaman smiled.

“You see, our families run parallel. Mark’s and my family. My grandpa was the Shaman of the tribe and the spiritual head. We are the supreme authority here. Our writ used to run here. Mark just changed that all.”

Jealously! Pieces were falling into a quick pattern.

“Afraid I cannot understand you.”

The man gave Caesar a mocking glance.

“You are a wise man, Mr. Caesar.’

Caesar grinned.

“Very few presidents survive bloody coups back home and are lucky to become chief of defenseless people on the island.”

Caesar grew serious. With new interest, he looked again at his guest.

“Give it straight to me, Mr. Bora.”

“Bora.”

“O.K. we are pals. And on to this thing.”

“You see my point. Mark was educating the tribe. He brought liberal changes.

Western medicines. Beliefs. Liberal education….”

“That means weakening of the traditional authority of the Shaman.”

“You deserve my respect.”

“Mark, I guess, was a typical liberal Englishman, on search of nirvana…”

“Yes. In search of personal redemption. He strongly identified with the local tribe. But he was an usurper.”

The anger, the hurt was palpable.

“He had come to cast himself in the role of a messiah. He believed, like many missionaries, he was fated to save the dead souls. Only the manner was different. He challenged our ancient ways. I resented him for this.”

“Naturally. Where were you educated?”

“In a public school in the Solomon islands. A product of the same liberal British education as Mark.

Caesar whistled softly.

“Our destinies were similar. Both of us came back to our roots. Mine indigenous; his, naturalized.”

“You are extremely articulate and well-informed.”

“Bora, in our language mean, the wise one.”

“You are.”

“I knew we were destined to cross. I was planning. Meanwhile, you came. A good omen.”

They looked at each other and then smiled.

“You are like a brother, Bora.”

“I am honored.”

They hugged each other.

“We will rule together.”

Bora left as quietly as he had come.

Caesar sat for sometime in the gloomy Spirit House for sometime.

It was a windfall. Shaman, siding with him, meant he had won a major battle.

They met a couple of times over the next week.

Shaman was a rich source. He told the new chief that mark had escaped on his speedboat to the Solomon Islands where Livingstones lived.

Good riddance!

Another piece of information simply knocked Caesar off his feet.

The island of the Hararas had silver mines!

He was jolted. Silver mines. On the remote island. He was speechless. Gods were, after all, kind to mortals, at least on the island. He had hit the gold pot. Why the Hararas had not exploited them?”

The answer was simple. Mines would have surely attracted the fortune hunters and changed the face of the island forever. The Hararas had little use for silver as they were still a hunting tribe who lived off the large forest and the ocean for their food habits. The knowledge of the silver mines was suppressed even to the ordinary members of the tribe. Only the white Hararas and the Shamans were privileged to share the exact location of the mines. Of course, during rituals, silver was used in a purely ceremonial way. On special nights, devoted to the dead, the tribal chief and the Shaman donned crowns made of silver. No other person had the authority to wear or use silver in any form. Now, the mines were the property of the new chief.

Caesar could not believe his luck.

The island was also fertile for sugar and coffee and rubber. It spelt more money! Shaman, as a religious figure, exerted a lot of influence on the spirit-worshipping tribe and the other Harara clans scattered around a cluster of small islands. Only he could converse, recall and evoke the dead spirits from the world of the eternal sleep.

His word was the la for the tribe. Caesar was ecstatic. The island was provoking to be a treasure island for him. Although he was skeptical earlier of the fortune-tellers, Soothe-Sayers and Tarot-card readers, Caesar had grown a reluctant believer in these mystic arts in the later years of his presidency. A fact much disguised. One evening, in a Paris home of his millionaire friend, he had come across a fat and ruddy-faced Romanian gypsy, a certain Madam Ruby, who just looked at his face and had smiled a knowing smile. Caesar was drunk and in his playboy-mood. “What makes our charming lady smile?” The gypsy continued smiling. Finally, at the goading of her French host, the fat gypsy said, your friend was born under a lucky star. A tempest awaits him. But survive he will. The lucky bastard!”

How true and prophetic!

Caesar, at that time, was bemused. He playfully asked the gypsy, “I am a successful businessman. What does future hold for me?”

Madame Ruby looked at his lined, rugged face for a long time, took out some cards, read them and then predicted, “As I can see, the subject is going to be the king one day. A turbulent period follows the coronation. Beware of the angry gods! Beware of the Jaguar.” The guests, flushed with drinks, had laughed. They knew, excepting the call-girls and the Madame, that the man being engaged by the gypsy was actually the president of a vast country. The visit of Caesar was always a hush-hush affair. He came down there to have a bit of fun with the most fabulous Parisian call-girls, all of them high-ranking from the House of Madame Bovary who serviced the top guys from the world of finance and power and cost their clients a fortune. Later Caesar had asked his French host about the fortune-teller. “Oh!” exclaimed the French millionaire, “she is superb! I have complete faith in her powers. The big people of Paris consult her. She is hot here.” After returning home, he had forgotten about her. When things started hotting up and the streets erupted and the cities began burning, he was rudely reminded of Madame Ruby’s words. And now, he was again recalling those words. How correct! Accurate!

While fleeing, he had not bargained for all this.

And here I am, the king of tribe, on an obscure island in South pacific, presumed dead or missing!

I wish I could reach Madame Ruby!

The Shaman Bora began his work in right earnest. The Council of Elders was convened. The wizened seniors were all and the sole mystical powers of the Shaman. He was the healer and the sole communicator with the dead of the Hararas. He could bring the wrath of the ancestors and the gods down upon the tribe. He consulted gods, the stars, and the spirit-world. Every hunting expedition began and ended with his blessings. Marriages, births and deaths were not complete without him. He controlled the soul of the tribe. Constantine Caesar understood the precise role and relevance of the Shaman in the evolution of historical consciousness of humankind over a large period of time. Shamans were central to the tribal life, a sort of collective of a crude form, dominated by a hostile and powerful nature. Nature got personified for such a primitive consciousness that was overwhelmed by the power and the fury of the elements and which was unable to rationalize this fear. The Shaman, in such a historical social formation, exploited this fear and came to occupy a high position in the tribe. He became the voice of the great Beyond. Caesar also understood that the Shaman, as a healer and interpreter of divine signs, played on the general insecurities of the tribes. As long as the fear of mortality and nature was there in man’s racial unconscious, the role of God and the Shaman was fixed and could not be challenge. In advanced cultures, the Shamans were English speaking or French or German-speaking and called the priests. He also knew that a Shaman, if manipulated by an advanced mind, could play a dangerous role in the tribe’s social life. Much like the priests in modern-day statecraft.

The role of the subversive.

The council sat down in the Spirit House. The windows were barred. A gloomy darkness pervaded the large main room. The air was damp and stale. The Shaman was in full regalia, out to impress and inspire awe from the council. The elders sat down on the bamboo mats, cross-legged, while Bora sat on a low stool. He bowed before that figurine of stone and started chanting.

Then he started swaying violently. Gradually he slipped into a trance. After a long dreadful silence, his deep voice boomed over the heads of the overawed elders, “Listen, you, the mortals. The beyond speaks through the voice of the Shaman. All welcome the new king because he brings luck to the tribe. Those who do not, do so at their own peril. The spirits keep an eye on the chief and you. Those who defy, die.” The Shaman went through a paroxysm and convulsed violently. Then he dropped like a dead man on the bare floor. When he came to, he cast a burning eye on the assembled elders and said, “You got the Beyond?” the mesmerized elders nodded a Yes. They bowed, “We welcome the new chief who came down from the sky.” The Shaman looked into far-off space, eyes steady, voice cold, “The man from the sky brings luck. The gods chose him as our new chief. The mortals frail as they are, cannot question the word. Hail, the chief.” The council bowed.

Except the ancient Harara.

More than hundred years old, tall and slim, the ancient Harara was deeply respected by the tribe, including Mark. The ancient Harara was the best hunter and athlete. He was still ramrod and walked as swiftly as a young man. He was the master of the jungle and could imitate all the varied sounds of the jungle-birds, beasts, insects. A great archer, he ran like the wind, wrestled with the bears, tiptoed like a tiger, speared swimming fish, in his youth. Mark had calculated his age to be more than hundred years. But age sat lightly on him. He could still see through dark and hear sounds, which others could not. His body was agile and senses sharp. The tribe called him the ancient Harara. Wisdom and accumulated experience had made him the uncrowned chief of the tribe.

“One test remains to be done.” The ancient Harara spoke in a clear voice. The council looked at him. The Shaman frowned.

“What test?”

“The fire temple.”

“A what?”

“An old rituals of which nobody around here is much aware of.”

“Explain.”

“Every chief has to undergo this test. The new chief has to go to the sacred temple in the shadows of the Mount Ra, hundred and fifty miles from the settlement. There he has to wait for the fire god to appear and predict his future. If the fire god accepts him, the tribe also accepts him. And I accompany the new chief to the sacred temple. As a guard and witness. The new chief has to submit to the authority of the fire god before me.”

The council immediately agreed. The auspicious day was the third on after the full-moon night. Roughly twenty days after.

Caesar was always intrigued the unknown. The phenomena of the occult had come to fascinate him during the last phase of his troubled presidency.

Secretly, in the presidential palace, he would meet the Soothe-Sayers and fortune-readers and do their biddings. He was amazed the way some of the reputed stargazers could rustle up tit-bits of his earlier life known only to the immediate family but future nobody could forecast. But his interest continued. Caesar, when told of the fire test, only smiled. He was keen to see how the primitives handled their god. The deep impenetrable primeval forest had awakened in his citified heart longings long dormant for the marvelous. He appreciated the fact that the mythical mind of the primitives was more sensitive to the call of the marvelous than the so-called enlightened one of the civilized. The shadows of the mysterious forest could turn the most skeptics into a romantic receptor of the fabulous images and extraordinary visuals, a wonderful elasticity of imagination and empathy now lost for the modern man. He also knew that the category of the rational itself was very fluid. His own experiences told him that the rational was an idea consecrated by the West that was hard to find in the political and social life of the West itself!

“I am ready to meet your fire god.”

The word was out.

Bora, the Shaman, put out the word among his faithful that the new chief was protected by the Cobra. The Cobra was sacred to the tribe. The Shaman was going down to the river, alone, to converse with the forest spirits there, in the solitude of the forest- a usual ritual he would do on certain mornings. There, after a bath in the river Ken-Ken, he would go deep in the forest and meditate and then call the spirits. There, he finds the new chief, lying sprawled under a tree, exhausted and asleep, a big king cobra protecting the sleeping figure, its hood raised, eyes glittering, forked tongue moving in and out. The cobra saw the Shaman and then disappeared suddenly.

“Amazing!” exclaimed the Shaman, “Never seen such a sight! The sacred king cobra shading the new chief! A sure sign from the heavens that the new chief is the favorite of the gods.” The faithful were wonder-struck. They all agreed that the new chief was being favored by the unseen forces. “The man brings luck to the tribe.” The Shaman pronounced finally. “All heavenly signs point in that direction only. “The tribe also believed in this strange event. Who can question their own fierce witch doctor? Caesar, who had fed this story to Bora, smiled. The opposition, back home, called him the cobra! The cobra was the royal sign of the Pharos and often dreaded and worshipped by many early tribe of the world. He was just reviving an ancient myth to consolidate his grip over the large tribe.

Another event happened a few days later. On a lazy morn, Caesar went to the house of the white Harara, whose household and wives now belonged to him. The showman was crossing the area with his trusted aides. There, the lion, the pet of the white Harara, was seen roaring and raising its forelegs in an attack mode. Somebody had set it free. Caesar, surprised, wrestled with the large beast and threw it down, taming it completely. Then he leashed it and tethered it again. He was hurt and bleeding but fierce. Even the terrified wives- the younger ones- were impressed by this raw courage. The news spread fast and the tribe assembled to cheer up the brave new chief. The elders called him, the lion-man of the tribe. A different matter that the beast was drugged by the Shaman and the uneven fight- the hind legs of the beast were tied and held up by one of the men of Caesar- was stage-managed. The whole thing was inspired by the gladiators, the risk minimized.

A new myth was born:

The myth of the lion-man. A man, protected by the sacred cobra, a master of the beasts. A fear less warrior. A skilful wrestler.

A true king of the fierce Hararas!

“Every culture has its collaborators and saboteurs. The job of the man at the top is to hunt for both the species.” Summed up Caesar. The group was listening. “Collaborators, as a universal species, have some well-defined traits. They are greedy, without principles and morality, and, in general power-hungry. They are local bullies outside; cowards, inside. They have no conscience. Do not have a sense of finer values. Can sell their own mothers. They are good collaborators but very dangerous long-term allies. If things go for worst, they would shoot their own masters without hesitation.”

The Group nodded, sipping scotch. The commandos were keeping vigil. They had brought native women also for a night of fun, food and music. The scene reminded Caesar of a Roman palace or an English court of the Restoration period.

“The saboteurs, as a species, have the opposite characteristics. They are young, hot-blooded, driven by idealism.  They live and die for abstract ideas like honor, nation, pride. They call themselves resistance. Highly-motivated. Principled. The young, the average are the bulwarks of any resistance. They are the greatest threat to any government. The French resistance, remember? The head of any nation should take measures against the underground.” He paused. The native women, his favorite, leaned over him. He sipped his scotch.

“Fortunately for any ruler, the collaborators come a –plenty and the saboteurs, a few. Our job is to locate the collaborators who can help us in our task of the empire-building.”

The discovery was shocking. It created a sensation. A deep pit, roughly six hundred yards away, in the sprawling backyard of the cottage of the white Harara, contained hundreds of human skulls. The Shaman was in same with anger.

“My worst fears are confirmed. The white Harara was a cannibal. He feasted on the flesh of the dead and living Hararas. Many adults, who went out in the forest alone, never returned. One night, I saw him eating human flesh, in the backyard. He could not see me. He practiced voodoo on us. That dark night, hid behind the tree, my skull-mounted staff in hand and the spirit-world acting my shield, I watched him closely. He danced and offered skulls to some dark powers. Then he turned into a vampire. Blood-sucking, fanged vampire, red-eyes turning. The blood spilling over his bare chest. My spirits were powerful than his. He could not harm me. Then I knew he was an evil soul who was not fit for our old tribe. The spirits were damn angry. They told me they had damned him. The put a curse on him and his family. Now, you can all see, the Harara, the evil one, has disappeared. Our gods had taken revenge on him. The false man. His should roast in the fires of the great Beyond.” The villagers, mesmerized, agreed. They never believed their popular leader was a vampire! How looks can be deceptive!

The Shaman pronounced:

“The gods have spoken. Death to the family of the evil vampire. The eater of our brothers and children. The evil one who put spells on our old tribe. Death to his evil family.”

His followers chanted frenzied by “Death, Death.”

The large tribe, settled around the area, on two levels of elevated area, gathered. The locally brewed rum was being passed around, the drums were being beaten in the loud, war-like manner. More than one-thousand people had gathered for the religious function. The Shaman was appeasing the gods of the tribe. His chosen followers were performing war dance and emitting war cries, which curdled the blood. The children and women were excited, men were reasonably drunk. The heavy brew was passed around.

“Death! D-E-A-T-H!”….

Two days later….the tribe was believed to be purged of the evil influences.

1692, witch-hunts of the year 1692, in Massachusetts, U.S.A. the Crucible. Arthur Miller. Is there any qualitative change in human nature since 1692 or much earlier?

Caesar had no answers.

The huge silver mines needed slave labor for smelting. The solution was in the nearby islands.

An archipelago of islands lay in the South Pacific Ocean, near the Harara Island. The slaves could be captured from those small free islands. They could work the mines. Caesar had a simple idea. The Shaman readily agreed. Entice those black sub-humans to our own island. The plan was put in the operation.

The first batch of the backs from the small island of Tara, some 30 miles away, was an easy catch. Chameleon, quick to learn new tongue, was the in-charge of the party. He had already acquired proficiency in the simple Harara language, which consisted of hundreds of jungle sounds and limited words to describe their natural world. The Hararas had only the oral tradition of the language.

There were no written records of any sort. Chameleon, with his self effacing smile and gentle manners, had already won the confidence of many a Harara and affection and love of many ‘forest nymphs’- the young maids of the tribe whom he described in the best English Romantic manner of a Shelley or a Keats. The lush and ripe nymphs, shorn of urban hypocrisy, had openly invited the short man on full-moon nights to the back of their homes for the most enduring sport of the humankind. These nightly adventures, easily tolerated in the tribe where young women were still not the property of the males of the home and tribe, delighted the gentle professor who had made them into an art and elaborate ritual. These day encounters with the males and nightly trysts with the females of the tribe made him learn their language and customs pretty quickly. He merged with their life-style easily and grew popular. On the first raiding party, he put on the black paint and feather headgear to blend with the natives, the loyalists of Shaman. In three canoes, the party reached the Tara Island in the forenoon and sat down in the forest, near the settlement, laughing, drinking and chatting. Many young able-bodied Tarans joined them for free dinks. There were fifteen bare-breasted Harara maids also, already high on the rum, who were to act as the Sirens. The drinks were drugged and carefully passed on to the growing number of the young Tarans. Free drinks, meat and bare flesh- the concoction, believed Chameleon, was irresistible in every culture and age-proved to be a powerful aphrodisiac to the tribals who had to slog for them on their island. The result was that they all landed up as the slaves of Constantine Caesar, betrayed by their own brothers of the clan. They were chained and belabored by the slave drivers chosen by Bora, the Shaman. Evenings they were driven to the dark cells and fed a rich diet to keep them going. Any rebellion attracted whiplashes. The more obdurate ones- were clubbed to death or shot dead and their bodies left for the predators and scavengers of the jungle. The silver mines were being worked by the free labor.

Ambush was another method. The raiders would wait on the islands as far away as the Bismarck Archipelago and capture the hunters from the Admiralty Islands, Mussan and Manus islands. The victims would be beaten senseless, gagged and brought back as prisoners.

Chameleon along with Bora would visit Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, as wealthy partners of James and Tucker Company of Honiara, Solomon Islands, for the purchase of fast speed-boats, arms and ammunition from the arms dealers. They paid in U.S.A. dollars and nobody asked any questions. Both looked highly prosperous and well-educated businessman who checked in the luxury hotels and went about in hired limos. The partners spoke perfect English and showed a keen interested in the local art museums. The arms and ammunitions were shipped and delivered in wooden crates to a remote warehouse on a large farm outside the city of Honiara by the smugglers in their speedboats and carted on horse back in the nights. From there, the men Bora took charge and carried them back to the Harara Island in their own speedboats on the dark nights. The liquors were purchased from Honiara along with tinned soups and frozen meat for the rulers of the island. Since the population of slaves was on the increase, a new colony was built around the mines, colony that was a fortress with high-mast lights, live lines, barricaded, barbed wires, guarded by the machine-gun-toting nasty guards.  A battery of engineers, lured with dreams of fabulous wealth on a deserted island from Honiara, worked very hard and soon stared generating power for the mines and for the Harara village. The engineer’s were promised the most attractive packages and ultra-modern conditions on the islands and 2 percent stakes in the company’s shares. They were given bonds and silver mementoes. The dreamy-eyed young engineers, coming from middle-class homes, were treated to the five-star luxuries during the recruitment drive. The selected engineers were lodged in the hotels of Honiara, each having a rented car at his disposal, dining and wining lavishly. Pretty call-girls attended to their nightly needs. They were paid advance salaries in dollars to purchase items of personal toiletteries. The young B. Techs and M.Techs, stars in the eyes, could not believe their luck. They splurged on hip brands and roamed like kings. Majority came from struggling families of clerks and teachers and thought they had finally hit the jackpot. They came in droves, responding to the ads in the Solomon Times, where a solemn Mr. James told them in his Texan drawl that a Kuwait waited for them on a deserted island owned by a Texan billionaire. “Two years of hard work, bonds an shares, a highly-paid job, high-tech conditions, and you become a millionaire. American dollars, a suburban villa and you own the world. What else you need gentlemen?”

The out-of-job, the lowly paid, the struggling ones nodded. The gentlemen were already playing out different scenarios in their minds. “Your daily needs would be looked after. Food, clothing and furnished flats-all free. Saturdays off. Sundays for girls and booze. The girls would be flown in the choppers for you as comfort girls. Latest Hollywood on giant screens in our AC auditorium. Silver mines. Two years later, you step off the island a super rich man”, said a somber Tucker in his Brit clipped accent. They all agreed to depart the same day. “Wait enjoys the life-style of the super rich for some days. Then, it is business.” They all offered daily prayers and turned religious “El Dorado can never die for us”, observed Caesar, “You need just the right person to arouse in others the desire for it. A driven person can go to any sleeping with many call-girls and praying, the selected engineers were transported to the island on the chopper, a recent addition of the company, where they all realized that they were all high-tech slaves for their mad Texan billionaires boss. They generated and ran a power plant and helped oversee the mining process. Nobody was allowed to leave their crude barracks. They were the modern-day slaves of Constantine Caesar on an island worst than the Devil’s Island.

There were 2,000 slaves.

Over the months, an underground system was fine-tuned by Chameleon, which laundered money, drugs and ammunition to the rulers of the island. An entire network of smugglers, money launderers and arms dealers were involved in the clandestine operations. The silver was sent through another bogus firm and sold on the market. The returns were substantial for the new monarch. Since the health of the slaves was important, Caesar employed the identical recruitment methods, this time in an Asian and African country. A dozen or so doctors were hired and brought to the island. “Greed makes a person a willing victim”, said Caesar, “you need not kidnap him. He will volunteer himself, making the job easier for the head-hunters.”  A host of Asian and African M. D.s and M.S.s, young and brilliant, wanting to avoid the corruption and the grinding poverty  of the third world nation, eagerly swallowed the bait of the American James and Tucker Company. Another Bahamas awaits you, dear doctors, on the island of Paradise, owned by an eccentric and recluse Texan oil tycoon. The conditions are the very best on the exotic private island with the white beaches and high tech white villas on a winding mountain road that overlooks the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean Paradise, pure paradise, gentlemen! Private power supply, luxurious yachts in the harbor, private security, gorgeous gals! A state-of-the-art 60-bed hospital and battery of Filipino nurses. Free international cuisines, nine-hole golf course, badminton courts and free sea-facing cottages. The pay is American, the locale Hawaiian! The best of both the worlds,” The island was the private holiday resort of the mad Texan who courted the royalty and the presidents. The third-world doctors had seen Monte Carlo in the Hollywood films and many of them had secretly dreamed about life on a private island and on a yacht. Chained to the reality of the third-world country, they had Western aspirational levels, a contradiction of sorts. The globalization and satellite T. V. channels had brought the American dream into their rickety homes. A dream, which an impoverished third world nation, waking up from hundred years of the colonial exploitation , was unable to afford for its citizens. James and Tucker were just playing a variation of El Dorado-called American dream in the corporatized world- for a captive audience. The docs dreamed of European royalty, movie stars, business Czars and of course, presidents. Power and money- the universal aphrodisiac- were a few days away. After a week of whoring, wining and dining, the specialists were flown in the chopper to the dream island. Before leaving, some thirty minutes early, their families were presented briefcases full of dollars. The eye of the departing doctors popped out, seeing so much money being given to their families as a goodwill gesture of the mad Texan boss. They all thanked their patron gods for such a windfall. With their pounding hearts, they climbed into the chopper and flew into the unknown. The next day, the relatives found out their American dollars were fake! They also came to know that no such company existed in Texas or even in the world! The doctors could never be traced.

The money started pouring.

Chameleon, Bora and Gorilla were the new triumvirate of the island. Coffee, sugar and rubber plantations were started on the island. The estates needed slaves, more slaves. The raiders brought them in their speedboats by raiding, looting, raping the distant islands. They captured the men, women and children. The old were shot and their villages were burned down.

“Leave no trace that can lead to us”, warned Caesar, “the world does not know we exist. Let it be like that”, Chameleon ensured just that. Small islands were plundered and destroyed. Most of them barren and of no use to the West, the mayhem there went unnoticed.

He slaves worked the plantations and the mines. The engineers and doctors worked in the plantations and mines and hospitals, the former ensuring power supply, good roads and machines, while the doctors looked after the ill and trained paramedics. The civilization had come to the island through the back door, along with trade and traders. Mark’s paradise was lost, almost.

The world did know about the fugitives.

The American case officer was listening raptly to the tall, intense man.

They were sitting in the embassy room and sipping coffee. The Honiara afternoon sun was hot in a blue sky. Finally, the case officer spoke in his southern drawl, “I appreciate your concerns but American government cannot directly help you. The current administration does not encourage involvement of American troops on foreign missions. It is sensitive to domestic opinion. Vietnam, Gulf War, remember? This sort of adventurism no longer suits American foreign policy. And, you see, our interests are also not directly threatened. So, we are awfully sorry….”

Goddamnit! Be straight. All this crap about foreign policy!

The visitors started getting up. His broad, deeply lined face showed strong emotions. Disappointment, anger and hurt. When he spoke, his voice was cold and firm, “I am sorry I took up your precious time, Mr.…?”

“Call me Jack.”

“Yes, Mr. Jack…”

“Only Jack.”

“So, I was saying Jack that I am sorry for wasting your time.”

The visitors stood up, tall and impressive-looking man, with the British accent. He loomed over Jack, the case officer.

“Wait Mr.…?”

“They call me Jaguar here!” the distinguished looking visitor searched for any reaction but the face of the veteran C.I.A. officer was a blank as the screen of an off-T.V.

“Nice meeting you, jaguar, Sir.”

“No Sir or Mr. Stuff, either.”

“O.K. Jaguar. Sit down. I said the government couldn’t help you directly. I did not mean that it could not help you indirectly. The meeting is on, as far as I am concerned.”

Jaguar sat down again.

“Interested?”

“Pretty much. Go on. Tell me.”

Jack waited for some time. Then he spoke in a low voice, “We, the C.I.A., can help you achieve your goal. As you must be aware, the C.I.A. is created precisely for such types of activities, the covert operations, which no Western democracy would approve, the U.S.A. government being no exception. In a manner of speaking, hmm, you can say that we do the dirty job of our government. A job, which will never be publicly admitted. Our organization is well entrenched. We are the shadow men, executing some of the most unpleasant jobs in the world. Only Mossad beats us in this game of no rules and ethics. Call us the bad guys with good conscience. Anyway, in the dirty world out there, when things go wrong for our agents, Langley just disowns by washing its hand off. The agent just- disappears. No records, nothing! Good stuff for popular fiction! For Le Carrs and Ludlums of the world, this provides good stuff but the reality is bitter for us here.

It bites. We continue with our job. Political assassinations. Eliminate the inconvenient folks. Dangerous and dirty assignments for our field staff…”

He paused. Took out a cigarette and lit it. A pained look crossed his face.

“You see, certain things never change in the world revenge is one of them. Hatred is another. I see you feel wronged and want to even out. We just share the same mindset….. We are into the hate business, like much of this world gone crazy.”

He stopped. Released a cloud of smoke from his wide nostrils and looked fixedly at his guest in the first floor Spartan room of the embassy. The AC. hummed in the background. “Individuals no longer matter now. The system does not recognize individuals. Kings, Prez, ordinary guys- everybody is disposable. Only power matters. Money counts. Everything else is, well, shit.

In this hate business, the powerful survive. Big-fish-eating-small-fish thing. Honor, dignity, patriotism, love-all these are pure crap. Shit of an earlier society, romantic society. Now terror rules. Terror, hatred, money, power. Terror kills and maims. It goes on and on like a pack of mad wolves on the scent of blood. One packs you kill, then comes another pack. Replacement killers come easily. What a bloody, terrible, messy world we are going to leave for our own children! Hate-filled. Blood-smeared. I just shudder…”

Jack became silent. Jaguar studied the heavy-set black officer with a growing respect. He was younger than Jaguar and powerfully-built. Once I was like him. He sounds genuine. A man struggling with his conscience, remnants of a dying humanism.

“I dunno why the fuck I am telling you all this bullshit, man. This fucking philosophy of terror adopted by modern states. I dunno. Maybe, your face, your honest-to-gawd blue eyes. Your sincerity your driven look- really, I dun no. I am on the verge of retirement and wanna quit this crazy world as fast as a burning house. It makes you insane”, shades of lieutenant Fredrick Henry?

Jaguar recalled the film version of A Farewell to arms, seen many years ago in a smelly Honiara theatre.

“I just wanna save you from this madness sweeping the globe. Man is dead. Things rule. Money rules. Human being are no longer sacred. As expend as the cattle for slaughter. Ha ha, ha.”

The bitter laughter sounded hollow. Denmark is an unweeded garden. Desperate remedies.

“I just wanted to save, at least, one soul. So it looks to me O.K. No problem. I can figure it out now. Your kid face reminds me of my lost buddy Steve Mac Gil. Once we were into this, together. Then one morning, Steve just cracked up. He calls me up and says I am quitting. I say, man, you a nut or what? Just walking out like this? He says he cannot take this shit no longer.  Says he cannot fight the war of others for others. I am just quitting. I say, hold on, buster, I am coming. Says no use now. The line goes dead. Just dead. And he vanishes. Six years later, he pops up in Mexico desert and calls me on long-distance, saying he runs a school for mercenaries. Let others do this dirty ones for others. Says, I have a belly to fill and his is the only job I know. Just thin, old Steve running training camp for mercenaries teaching the hotheads how to kill and plant bobs! The guy is a sure nut.” Jaguar smiled. Abroad grin. Steve is a good Yankee businessman, making lots of money out of this hate business. What else can he do? Selling hot-dogs on Fifth Avenue to busy executives? That way he won’t be able to keep the shirt on his back in dollar-driven America!

Jack stubbed-out his cigarette.

“If you want help, he can give, our Steve can give. You have lots of dough with you? If you have, old Steve will provide you with a whole army of mercenaries of ready-to-kill. More dough, and he gives you weapons and ammunition. Ain’t it fair, man?”

Jaguar smiled. So Jack is also into it, commission and all that.

“Give me his address, man.”

In the blazing Mexico desert, the big ranch was a visual relief. The ranch was spread across acres of a wasteland dotted with cacti. The desert was immense and intimidating. It spelt death for those wanderers who had lost their way in its vastness. The tough terrain and conditions could drive anybody crazy in that land of sand except the locals or the Arabs. He remembered the lush forest, the dripping rain on the tree branches, the singing river, and the quiet blue Pacific Ocean. The rain has its music, pitter-patter, that sounds heavenly. The river and the big ocean have their own symphonies. He, deliberately, stopped thinking. The ranch was like a fortress. The outer parameters were electronically wired. Any contact with the live wires meant death. There wert owes, search-lights and barbed wires. The desert was a suitable place for setting up the ranch for the would be merchants of death. Any intruder or inquisitive inquirer could be seen from a mile in the flat featureless desert. Besides it could not afford any hiding place to any curios person. The ranch was a hundred miles away from the nearby town and the only means of transport was either a twin-engined plane or a sturdy land rover, and both could be easily spotted by the alert sentries. In the cold desert nights, the drone of a light plane or the spatter of a land rover could be heard easily. Besides that, there were landmines planted along the outer parameters that could blow any intruder into pieces. A squad of bloodhounds had the run of the place in the night.

Entry into the heartland of terror was not easy. Local inquiries about the ranch were conveyed promptly from the town to the owner of the death ranch and a reception committee of ruthless assassins awaited the unwelcome guests

Perfect! Thought Jaguar.

Steve was tall and trim and could pass for an average suburban American. He was warm and jovial.

“Welcome to this modern temple”, he said.

He is the high priest of this high-tech temple of death and destruction!

“Please make yourself at home, Mr. Jaguar.’

They sat down in the sparse functional office. Nothing suggestive of opulence or dirty money here!

“See, Mr. Jaguar, we are not interested here in your real identity or the motives. We are pro and interested in delivering goods. No questions asked. You pay dollars and the work is done. Ethics and morality matter not. Nor friendships. During your long stay, you are not required to make friends or unsolicited queries. You stick to your regimen and cabin. Do as directed. Is it clear?”

Jaguar nodded.

“Lemme put it straight. I got the low-down on you before admitting you as my student. Your antecedents were thoroughly checked and re-checked.

To eliminate risk factor. We cannot afford risks or goof-ups. So many missions are at stake. I am satisfied with your credentials. I know everything about you, Mr. Mark Livingston, because my jobs is to know who I am admitting here. Pure precaution. I am not being nosey: I am not interested in raising dirt or in dirt on others. So we stick to false identities and we will never refer to this topic again. You accept the ground rules, you join or quit?”

Mark or Jaguar nodded.

“O.K. we live in a dangerous world of shadows. A false world where deceptions are the rules of the game. Only thing counts here is the murderous game of survival. You kill or get killed in this roulette of death and destruction. Once you commit yourself and enter this world, well, death is the only certainty. Nothing else matters any more. But remember, terror is the product of the 20th-century power politics and failing ideologies. When powerful nations do not have any morality and are at war for profits among themselves, then terror becomes a natural corollary of this predatory exploiting political system. Terror becomes a low-intensity war of committed and deeply motivated individuals against dirty states where, for ruthless competition for profits, powerful states swallow small states. Terror, my friend, is the child of such an unhappy sad world, devoid of ethics and morality a world where might is right.”

Steve went on talking. After an hour, a silent Arab appeared.

“Take our guest and show him around the ranch.”

The Arab beckoned the new resident. They quietly climbed into a jeep and went around.

Jaguar almost whistled.

“Madness and terror are great industry, a global industry and we are its top executives.”- Steve.

They went around in the open jeep. The Arab was quiet. The first thing Jaguar noticed was the total absence of women in the camp. The second was the extraordinary precautions. The third was the Spartan cabins and life-style of the assassins.

And, lastly, the global nature of terrorism on the rambling ranch. The Arabs predominated. Japs were there. The Irish. The Spanish. The Kashmiris. The Russians. The Blacks.

It is a Noah’s Ark of terror!

Everywhere round he saw a group men, their faces stony. Eyes set, practicing drills. Various groups, in various stages of commando training, on the rambling ranch. All were wearing army fatigues and had their faces covered. Some groups were exercising; some running, and some walking on ropes. Deep in the sprawling ranch were large dormitories where the ‘fighters of freedom’ lived. Two shed-like structures, with sloping corrugated sheets as roof, stood apart from the dormitories. Two huge colour T.V. sets were kept suspended from the roof in an iron cage- the likes you come across some Asian railway stations. And finally, on elevated ground, was a scattering of long-cabins, meant for the trainers and some wealthy patrons who preferred total anonymity and a customized special course on terror. The bill picked up for such an intensive course and on individual long-cabin was enormous, the annual budget of some smaller states.

“Welcome Home”, said the Arab, his face inscrutable and grim. Voice cold. “I am Abu.”

“Oh, Hi”, answerer Mark Livingston, equally cold and aloof.

“Jaguar.”

“Want some coffee? Drinks and smoking not allowed.”

“Do not worry. I do neither.”

Abu made espresso coffee. They settled down.

“I am the official host here for you. The only link between you and Steve.”

“And my personal trainer also, I guess.”

Abu allowed his roughly hewn broad face a phantom of a grimaee, a gesture that made him a bit human. “You are observant and pretty good one. Happy to meet you.” They shook hands, the coldness melting a little.

“I am from Palestine. My land was stolen from my people. Now we are homeless.”

“Me, too. My land was also stolen from me…”

“By a fugitive from popular justice. A man who christened himself as Constantine Caesar after Julius Caesar to show his greatness.”

“You are also well-informed person. Compliment returned.”

Two elderly men smiled.

“Caesar was once a great revolutionary. Power went to his head. He clung to power as youth clings to beauty or a man to a woman. This ruined him. He is a plain criminal with a huge appetite for power and wealth. A typical ruthless dictator.”

Jaguar was impressed by Abu’s understanding and oriental similes.

“Where did you pick it up? All this?”

“Oh! Homework”, said Abu. “Justify my salary.”

“My job is to kill the bastard and reclaim my land”, said jaguar fiercely.

Abu smiled: Not so easy, mate!

He said: “My job is to help you in your mission. Insha Allah, we would be successful.”

They sat for sometime, each in his private world.

“See you tomorrow. Your new life starts from tomorrow.”

“Just dying for it.”

You don’t know; mate, that very few can survive this intensive six-month rigorous training that can beat the most elite course of the American defense for its chosen commandos. Thought Abu as he guided the vehicle back to his command center.

But even Abu did not fully realize that revenge is, in exceptional cases like him and Mark, the best motivator for an action that always results in death and destruction.

Halfway across the world, on the tiny obscure island, deep in the South Pacific Ocean, Chameleon got a call on his Satellite phone that left him worried. He immediately drove up to the royal quarters in the newly constructed fort to seek an urgent audience with the ‘King’ Caesar. The fort was rebuilt with slave labor and matched the best as far as security was concerned. Over the moths, Chameleon had hired the two hundred fierce warriors of the Zulu tribe and two hundred mercenaries of different nationalities from around the reputed mercenary schools in the select parts of the world, and raised a private army of guards to protect the king. Money was no problem. The guards got all the creatures comforts; their families were well provided and in return, they were asked a simple emotion: the tribal loyalty for their chief. And they were never found wanting there.

“What is up?” asked Caesar.

“Bad news.” Said Chameleon.

“I am used to it”, said Caesar calmly.

“To put it straight, Chief”, Chameleon in his usual blunt manner, “An enemy has resurfaced that has the potential of destroying our paradise.”

Caesar laughed. “When you run a big set-up like this, it sure attracts enemies.”

Chameleon said quietly, “I know. This guy is different.”

“How much different?”

“He goes by the name Jaguar.”

A faint echo: “Beware of jaguar!” Madame Ruby of Paris.

He sat bolt upright.

“How reliable your source?”

“Impeccable.”

“Who the hell is he?”

“Mark Livingston.”

Constantine Caesar felt a cold trickle. A state of pain in his pit of stomach.

Danger. He could smell it.

You fools goofed up! Messed the whole operation. Allowed the man to escape. Now, he is coming back. A wronged man rides a tiger. Real danger.

“Where is that bastard?”

“Training in Steve Mac Gill’s”

“I see. OI’ Steve preparing an enemy against us. Good.”

“Their world has no such ethics. Money counts.”

“Course, we cannot penetrate them.”

“No.”

“Steve cannot be bought.”

“No.”

Caesar fell silent.

“What else?”

“Certain influential people are financing him.”

“Who?”

“C.I.A.”

“I can understand. Who else?”

“General Oscar Wee Wee. Our arch enemy.”

Constantine Caesar just started ahead.

“Beware of jaguar!” Madame Ruby. How close to truth, once again.

“So Wee Wee knows I am here.”

“Yes.”

“C.I.A. too?”

“Yes…. They were not initially interested. The elements in the Solomon Island favorable to the White Livingston clan- they are power to reckon with there- prevailed. They got the local embassy of U.S.A. interested. All about hegemony. Sphere of influence- all that shit.”

“So C.I.A. is financing the dirty game.”

“Yes, Wee Wee is interested in eliminating you. Alive, you pose a permanent threat. Your charisma still holds. Your appeal to certain sections of big business and the poorest of the poor is intact. He has his own compulsions. They have ganged up.”

“How long is he into the training?”

“Fourth month. And progressing well.”

“Hmm. How long will he be there?”

“Two months. His trainers say he will be a deadly fighting machine.”

“Is he real danger?”

“Sure as hell. His appeal, like yours, is enduring. The disgruntled, the young. Once his call goes out, they may rise.”

Caesar reflected a long time.

“As usual, you are excellent. Simply indispensable.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Caesar kept quiet. Chameleon quietly slipped out. Caesar sat for sometime and then dialed a number.

“Ask Gorilla to see me. Quick.”

Ten minutes later, the one-eyed giant was ushered in by the Zulus.

“Anything u, boss?”

Caesar nodded towards a lounging chair. Gorilla sat down on its edge.

“Mike?”

Ages since Caesar had called him by his first Christian name.

“Caesar.”

“We have got trouble.”

Gorilla’s one good eye started throbbing. The old loyalty for his old friend resurfaced.

“I can handle any big trouble.”

“I know, my friend. You are very loyal. We go back a long way. You and I.

I have always respected your professional skills. I need you, buddy now.”

The gentle tone. Dropping to mere whisper. It did the trick. It always did in these situations. Mike, touched, said, “At your disposal, Sir, Just tell me.”

“Are we not happy here?”

“Yes. We are.”

“A new danger in looming ahead, which may threaten our paradise once again.”

“What is that?”

“Mark Livingston.”

Mike started stupidly at Caesar.

“Once you bungled up. Go out, find him and kill the bastard.”

Mike was still in a daze.

“Raise the private army. Increase surveillance. Keep a watch. This time, I do not want to lose, Mike.”

Mike, dazed, nodded.

“As chief of security, you are responsible. We have so much at stake here.”

Mike just looked.

“Money is no problem. Do not act dumb. Go out and eliminate him.”

Mike stood up. Saluted smartly and left, his mind in turmoil. A gentle knock on the door brought Caesar back to reality.

“Come on in.”

The door opened silently. A tall young woman- a perfect stunner- walked in, hips swaying, lips pouted, breasts spilling out from a see-through gown.

Caesar could not suppress delight.

“Oh, honey. Come on.”

She walked provocatively. Long-legged , trim, a flat stomach, she was a walking temptation.

“Oh, darling! My Caesar baby.”

She climbed on to his lap and kissed him passionately.

“You have no time for me, darling.”

Caesar laughed. “You are my precious breath, Eva darling. My pet. My life. So dear to me.” He fondled her breasts. She moaned in pleasure.

“You have brought happiness to my life. A month ago, we were strangers. Then you walked into my life. I am thankful to stars for such a fine gift.”

She smiled. She started working up her way. Caesar whistled.

“Heavenly… I am useless without you, my pet.”

She looked up at him.

“I do not like this scar-faced animal. He always gives me dirty looks. I just hate this dumb man.”

Caesar laughed. “Any normal man would do that. He wants to shag you, honey.”

She started hitting him, “I will kill you. That rat shagging me? Disgusting. I need a man, real man, like you.”

“Then why are you waiting?”

He still remembered the day.

She was clicking the Great Pyramids at Giza. The Egyptian afternoon sun appeared merciless. He was visiting Egypt as part of a business deal. Pyramids were on the tourist agenda. He was admiring Giza’s Sphinx, golden in the hot Sun, body guards blending with the gaggle of curious Americans and Japanese furiously clicking the Great Pyramid. The mysterious sphinx had always fascinated him right from childhood. The lion’s body and man’s head of the sphinx had become a personal myth for him. An enduring myth that stayed in memory. The lion represented controlled aggression and natural grace; man’s head, the rational powers of Homo sapiens, and the combination of animal and man- the master of beasts- symbolized the highly-evolved from of mastery over the very best of the animal and human worlds. Very close to his another favorite Greek myth-the Minotaurch.

In isolation, lion was a mere beast, and, man, a mere animal. Caesar had always believed that only exception people could achieve this balance between raw bestiality and man’s nobility in exceptional times. The Pharos, the rulers of ancient Egypt, were such gifted people. And since he believed that he was a direct descendant of such a class of rulers, he would make it a point to visit Egypt in November and relish his contact with these magnificent dead of a glorious past of humankind buried in the desert of Egypt, every year. A ritual he never forgot to perform. The burning sandy  desert, the pyramids rising from the haze of the remote past and dominating eternal Nile, the cool nights under the twinkling’s stars- the beauty of Egypt- beckoned like a belly- dancer. There he found a civilization and culture straddling past and present and forming a continuum.

“Isn’t he beautiful?”

He came out of his reverie. She was standing near him and pointing to an Egyptian little girl. His heart had missed a beat. As former president he had seen beauty but never liked hers.

“You are fabulous. I have never seen such a beauty in such a rugged sandy terrain.”

She went crimson. “I meant the girl-child over there.”

“And I meant you the child-woman”, said he, “Caesar is the name.”

She blushed. “You Greek or Latino?”

“I combine both. Why?”

“Only they flatter women like this.”

“Many friends accuse me of many things but never of false flattery or dishonest words, my lady”, he replied, putting on his charming smile. Then he bowed very deep.

“Call me a Chinese for this gesture.” She laughed. It echoed in the timeless desert where kings lay buried.

“I guess I have seen you somewhere. Heard your voice.” She looked at his handsomely rugged face closely.

“They say I am the double of Sean Connery.”

She smiled. “Your voice. Yes, yes, yes, got it. Sure you are Constantine Caesar.”

It was the turn of Caesar to be flattered. “My lady has a photographic memory. The truth cannot be denied any longer.”

She squealed. “You are the royalty. See, my lucky day. In these royal tombs. I encounter living royalty. A man whom I admire most. By Gawd! I cannot believe it! Just cannot.” She placed her delicate small hands over her mouth, eyes widened, extremely excited, her sumptuous breasts moving u and down in her white thin T-Shirt.

“May I have the pleasure of your company, Miss…?

“Eva Hassan.”

“Glad to meet you. How come you recognized me so fast? Am I so transparent?”

She laughed. A clear musical laugh.

“I am a freelance press photographer. I often cover exclusive stories. Many years ago, when you were on the official visit to Egypt, I had covered you for the Daily Egypt newspaper. I had taken your pics. The news editor had dispatched me and the bureau chief for the morning interview. There were so many pres guys. I was working with them at that time. You were wearing blue shirt, blue tie and grey suit, double-breasted. Wearing half-moon glasses for the press conference.”

“You are amazing!”

I had fallen in love with you. Oh, so silly of me, falling for the prez of a big country.”

Not at all! Thought Caesar.

“I was 19. Imagine! Out of college. Fresh –eyed.”

You still are!

“I had this massive crush on you. Your thick Stalin like moustache…”

She peered at the face behind the goggle, “where is that beauty?”

“Oh! Gray hairs. Removed that.”

“You are still as dashing…”

He smiled. “The most lucky guy around here.” He bowed.

“I read every speech of yours, articles- everything. I heard your speeches often. For many years, I was a mobile authority on you. Just silly of me.”

She went beet red in face.

Marvelous!

“Miss Hassan…”

“Eva.”

“Eva, what brings you here? My lucky stars?”

She flashed a dazzling smile. His heart fluttered.

“I am doing an exclusive on the life of camel drivers of Giza for the National Geographic.

A photo-feature and the text both. Also moonlighting for the Khaleej Times a piece on the Great Pyramids. Lot of leg work.”

“I always respect Pres especially beautiful Press. Honored to meet you.”

They shook hands.

“Where are you staying?”

She gave her hotel address.

“What are you doing in the evening?”

“Not sure. My official host may take me to home. Nice talking to you. See you soon. Bye.” And she was gone. He was left speechless. That evening, he faxed an urgent order to his communications center at Paradise: Check the suit I was wearing on my first official tour to Egypt. The answer arrived in twenty minutes: blue shirt, blue tie, gray suit, double-breasted, half-moon glasses.

Perfect!

The address in Cairo was genuine. His Cairo office checked with the head office of National geography at Washington. Yes, Eva Hassan had been commissioned to write an article for them. And, yes, The Daily Egypt had run a story on the visiting President of the New Land and two pictures. The credit was to one Eva Hassan.

Everything was genuine.

In the early night he went down to the favorite coffee shop in the crowded bazaar in the heart of dusty Cairo. He would sip black coffee and chat up with Khalid, an old friend. They would often play backgammon. It was a favorite haunt of the City’s young and old. They would come, talk and drink sweet coffee or tea. The place had attracted a lot of media attention because of a special visitor there- Najib Mahfuz, the 1988 Nobel laureate. Mahfuz, if around in the town, would occasionally come down and meet ordinary citizens, chatting for hours with them. Many writers had started patronizing the coffee shop afterwards. He had gone there, wearing black spectacles and a skullcap, in faded jeans and a yellow T-shirt. As anonymous pouring in the old city. As he was sipping the sweet black coffee, he saw a tall swarthy Arab enter the shop with two women, their faces obscured by the milling crowd in the small lobby.

He started talking to Khalid. “What a pleasant surprise, Sir!”

A familiar female voice said in pleasant American English. He turned around. His heart pounded fast. “Can I sit down next to you,” and Eva Hassan sidled next to him, Khalid excused himself.

“And guess who did I see in the evening?

Omar Sharif! Oh, so handsome!”

Jealousy hit him in the chest like the hot iron rods.

“How come you are here?”

“Covering the bazaars and Café’s. My host is there- over there.”

The same Arab waved back. The blonde also smiled.

“What a lucky day! He said.

“For me, too. Meeting two of my idols in the same day.”

They talked for an hour. Eva Hassan, the daughter of an Egyptian businessman and a Latino tourist-guide, trained at Columbia School of journalism, was settled in Washington with her divorced mother. Her father had bought her a flat in New Jersey and one in Paris. She was single, unattached, freelancing as a hobby. Fluent in Arabic, Spanish, English and French, she did translation on job for some publishers and got good money. Photography was her first love, followed by Sufi music and painting. Her simple vivacious nature, coupled with stunning looks and easy people skills, had made her popular everywhere.

That night he made passionate, red-hot love to her that left her gasping for breath and badly-bruised.

“You are Big there. It hurts.”

He poured big shots of brandy.

“No apologies, luv. In that department, I score many points with hungry women. They just want an encore.”

She hugged him, the naked body rubbing against his.

“I may also ask for a repeat soon.”

They talked late into the night.

“Strange”, she said. “In this old city going back more than 4,500 years in history where B.C. meets A.D. in a curious mix, two souls are fused together. The foolish dream of an eighteen-year-old girl coming true under the stars, which were gazed at by the finest woman of the ancient world, Cleopatra. I feel like the Queen to-day waiting upon my luv and Lord, Julius Caesar.”

At that unearthly hour, drunk and exhausted, the significance of these words had escaped him totally. Cleopatra, the unwitting tool of Caesar’s violent death, in a past soaked in bloody treachery and unbridled ambition and selfish interests.

At a later point of time, Caesar was to learn about the consequences of this comparison and regret for his own weakness of flesh. But, at that time, it was too late for him to do anything or control things.

Their next meeting was in Nairobi, Kenya. Two months later. He was sitting near the pool, under the shade, drinking beer, hidden behind dark glasses and a newspaper. His African safari guide was sitting next, ogling at the bikinied Western women in the pool and lying sprawled along the pool.

“Gawd!” the guide whistled. “Is she not fabulous?”

Involuntarily he lowered the paper and fell weak in the knees.

Eva Hassan, looking divine, was coming out of the pool, water dripping off her sculpted body.

“Venus!” said the Kenyan Mahmood. Caesar just gaped at the lush body. Old passion searched through his own body like a match firing petrol. Coincidence! Easy coincidences always made Caesar uncomfortable in his line of business. He picked up the paper.

“I just want to lay my hands on this piece of beauty and knead her like a dough”, croaked an aroused Mahmood. “She should know how big Kenyans do the fun with their women. Once she knows, she would beg for more.”

Caesar would have murdered the black for this blasphemes.

He looked over the edge of the paper. Eva was joined by a huge black. They stretched out under the shades, chatting and smiling. Once the black leaned over and kissed her. The whore!

“Oh, no! What this son-of-bitch is doing here?, asked Mahmood.

“Who?”

“Big Joe over huge black talking animatedly with Eva.

“Big Joe?”

“Yeah. The bastard runs the biggest security agency in Nairobi.

That is a cover, ‘course’. He deals with lot of shady characters. His agency employs all the local thugs and fronts for his smuggling and other illegal activities. Everybody knows about him but dare not touch him since his connections run deep. Everybody except the tourists. Some employ his security and safari as he is well recommended on the tourist circuit.

Real dangerous.”

Caesar smiled. A small fry for us! Then something strange happened. Eva slapped an inquisitive big Joe and cursed him in the choicest American slang. Big Joe smiled and suddenly grabbed her by her hair. “Big Joe wants a kiss. Nobody says no to big Joe. Come on. Baby. Big Joe is waiting. He gets cross if kept waiting.”

“go away, piece of shit.”

“Black shit, you mean, you whore.”

He jerked her head. She screamed.

They all stare, frozen. Big Joe laughed, “Everybody afraid of Big Joe, see, honey. Come on, be a nice girl. Let us have fun.”

He suddenly lifted her up and started carrying her on his shoulder towards the lobby. She was kicking and screaming. Everybody around looked the other way.

“Help, Help”, she screamed.

Caesar stoop up. “Leave her along.”

Mahmood tried to restrain him. His words echoed clearly across the wide space. Joe stopped, spun around, a vicious grim in his broad face, “Who the hell are you? Prez of the United States of America?”

Caesar walked towards him with the agility of a tiger, “I said leave her alone, buster.” The chill was unmistakable. Big Joe laughed hoarsely.

“No body is big Joe’s boss. Big Joe, his own boss. Do not mess with me, you ol’ punk.”

“Place her down on the ground.”

“O. K. You win, Boss.”

Big Joe did as ordered. Then he moved swiftly, a huge engine of power. But Caesar lightly stepped off his path and gave him a vicious punch in the head, followed by a Kung Fu twist to his arm. Big Joe limped to the ground. Meanwhile, the bodyguards of Caesar, the Zulu warriors, in gray business suits, moved casually from the lounge chairs and formed a semi-circle around Joe. Enraged and humiliated, Joe took out his revolver and aimed at Caesar. The body guards suddenly tripped and fell over Big Joe, disarming and silently punching him on stomach and chest. Big Joe passed out. A sobbing Eva thanked the stranger, “A knight coming to rescue of a damsel in distress.”

“Romance and chivalry are not yet dead, Mademoiselle”, Caesar said. She reacted fast. “Caesar, my luv. I thought I have lost you to the wide wicked world.”

“The same here.”

“What are you doing here in Kenya? Of all places?”

“I was going to ask you the same.”

“Umm…. Doing a photo feature on the Safari for the New Yorker.

They hired me for this purpose. I have to earn my living also.”

“Come on, let us have drinks in my suite.”

While they were having drinks, a security check was run again. As usual, all credentials were found impeccable. Next day, Eva was included as a last minute addition on the Kenyan Safari arranged for Caesar. A week later, she was flown in a special chartered plane to the most-guarded island in the South-Pacific Ocean: The Paradise. Since then he had become the closet person to Caesar, almost controlling the man who never surrendered easily to the charms of any woman in the world.

A fact resented by Gorilla and Chameleon. But nobody dared question the choices of Caesar as far as women were concerned. The profession of Eva had also intrigued Caesar initially. Chameleon himself had used the cover of a journalist on some occasions and that too successfully. The only thing in her favour was her gender and her published photo-essays in the prestigious magazines and journals of international repute. Beside, hiding in an obscure island, Caesar knew he was facing no clear and present danger from anybody. His weakness for women was well advertised within inner circles but then that was the way most presidents and prime ministers functioned in the high-pressure zone called power. Pretty females were both ego-boosters and human tools to ease pressures and loneliness of the top-most job of a given nation. A miscalculation that was to cost him dearly later on.

At the ranch, at Steve’s , they were sitting and talking.

Mark and Abu. It was late evening. The course was coming to a close. Mark, as usual, had excelled in every in every module of the course and won the admiration of Steve and Abu. A cold wind was blowing from the desert. The stars were shining in the sky and all around was the deep silence of the desolate nothingness, chilling for any soul with citified sensibilities. An occasional baying of bloodhounds on patrol with fierce guards could be heard in the background.

They were sitting in the covered verandah. Mark had grown extremely trim, losing 20 pounds during the rigorous training. His already sharp senses had become critically finessed and reflexes, equally lightening fast. Leave him alone in a dark thick jungle or lonely desert and you will find him back, in one piece, at the crack of dawn, at the place of origin of the campaign. His long years in the jungle had made him simply unique among other fighters who did not have this advantages jungle with them.

Over the months, Abu and Mark had grown close to each other. Abu was tough taskmaster. A lean and mean fighting machine, Abu was totally immersed in the doctrine of terror and mobile encyclopedia on all the branches of terror. Mark had come to respect this Arab and of course, Steve. Like him, they were children of a bitter age devoid of morality and regrets, an age driven by money and power. Steve was the ultimate Guru: His knowledge was enormous; expression pungent and pithy; observation very analytical and penetrating, and, skills vastly amazing and superior to Abu and other lieutenants.

He was called the mastermind. A born leader whose survival instincts were honed to perfection in the shadowy world of espionage and counter-espionage where a small mistake cost you your life. Walking a grey world of life and death, he like many of his ilk had mastered fear and become a daily street-smart survivor, his brain and natural instincts his only weapon in a treacherous terrain where there are no friends. Only death.

Steve had taught him a lot about the urban terrorism. Mark’s natural stamina and the Harara upbringing had made him a born survivor in the wilderness. He had also learnt from Abu and Steve the basic principle of surviving the world of terror: never trust anybody completely; never reveal completely the plans and never stay in one place for more than 48 hours. “Be unpredictable”, Steve told him, “Never follow a set pattern. Confuse the enemy. Never leave a trail that leads to you.” He was advised to remain anonymous, act normal, mix up with crowds, and rent houses in middle-class localities, working class, where people follow a set routine. “Such folks always give you your space.” He had understood. In the ranch, he had seen people who were ready to die for their beliefs. Mission was more important than men. Most of them were in their young 20s. Very agile and powerful. Hatred had worked like a magic potion for them. All the men came from good background and some of them were well educated. The bespectacled Omar was a graduate of London School of economics and spoke Brit English with propah accent. They all knew that they were on borrowed time. Mark was reminded of revolutionaries who laid down their lives for their cause willingly.

“One man’ terrorist, another man’s revolutionary.” Said Steve. “They represent nations with suppressed histories. They want an engagement with governments on their own terms. They wage a low-intensity war against state terror, bleeding them white, inflicting emotional scars. A no-win situation for both the parties.” Religion played a pivotal role and gave them the identity and feeling of solidarity. Perceived wrongs cemented these young warriors in their terror campaign. A lonely world!”

“Remembering your land?”

Abu’s husky voice floated up.

“Yes, and many other things.”

“I also remember my native village in Palestine, nestling on a slope of a hill, the road going to Israel-gleaming in the glow of morning sun. A peaceful Arab village. I miss the scented wind, the smell of the earth, the hilltops, the valley. Israeli soldiers change our lives forever.

“I do appreciate your longings”, said Mark gently to Arab.

“The longing to belong. To return. To be part of a normal landscape. My land also beckons me in my dreams. Anything can suddenly stir up long-repressed memories. The pain is awful, searing. I wish I could fly off and mingle with the crowds sing with birds and run with the river. The somber forest calls me in this burning desert. It is impossible! It is like losing your innocence forever.”

He fell silent, bitter and angry. Abu tapped him on his knee.

“It is a brotherhood of pain, misery and humiliation for all of us.”

Mark nodded.

“What is current?” Abu asked. Mark thought. “Everything is going as per the plans.”

“Good. I wish you the very best.”

“Thank you. You have been like a brother- a younger brother. How things turn up you never know! In a desert ranch, meeting a stranger coming from a different world- thousands of miles away, an alien world- who was inscrutable to me. Now, over the months, the same man has become a daily part of my life. One of the ironies of life.!”

Abu laughed. The cold wind coming from the arid wasteland whipped them in their faces. The silence was adding mystery to the nightscape- the glittering distant stars, the phantom dunes, the shivering black shroud, occasional barking of dogs.

“I am flattered. I have also come to like you in my own way. In our line of work, long-term relations are never encouraged. We simply cannot afford them- emotional liabilities. Still, we are humans, not robots.”

“I know, brother Abu. Common suffering brings so many nationalities together. Terror is the single most powerful religion for us folks. The modern religion, with its own community. Revenge is its high priestess. Violence the offering.”

“Some states understand only violence. Violence begetting violence.

War is the epic form inflicted by big nation on a small one.

What is war?

Butchering innocent paid mercenaries.

All in the name of national integrity and national honor. The entire ideology stinks. Bullshit. One nation’s army another nation’s enemy. What a silly joke! I am a noble patriot as I am defending my borders. You are my enemy just for this precise reason! Poor lads, coming from poor background, killing each other for fat loafers. All blah blah! What rubbish!”

Mark listened raptly.

“You are right Abu. Wars are but violent and bloody forms of national aggression at macro level. They just suit the big governments and they whip up hysteria and the appropriate ideology. Mass media, nationalism, and patriotism- all these elements contribute to the build-up and justification. All wanton killings.”

“The point is, when small groups or communities feel wronged, these ethnic groups take to terror, they resort to the violence to reclaim the lost histories and cultural identities. ‘Course, it is again a long and bloody battle… in an un equal world… a world of North and South………of rich nations and poor ones…….capitalism and socialism. Of Christianity and Islam. The capital divides the world and parcels it out among its owners… profits and more profits……race for colonies. Then new colonialism. Terror is the child of this unequal. What fine piece of shit! The hypocrisy of the advanced nations!”

Abu stared into the darkness around. Bitter and angry.

“I can still see my village vividly. Perched on the hill. Bathed in the glorious morning light. Peaceful. Then the violence. I joined Hamas. I toured West Bank and Gaza. All Arabs were angry. They wanted to do something. Hamas became their favorite army of resistance. We may not be a perfect match, yet our support lines are local average educated Arab people.  They are our strength. Let me tell you one thing, Mark. You can beat big armies, tanks, bombs. But you can never beat people power by any weapon. Once arouse, common people’s resolve to resist any type of dictator ship can never be broken. You can kill thousands, lakhs but not an entire nation of woken-up and determined people. All the powerful generals and leaders just ignore this basic lesson of history. They think common man is idiot and powerless and useless. A mere thing to be dominated and ruled. A costly mistake for the rulers. People, once aroused, are unstoppable force. Remember the U.S.S.R.? Ordinary citizens dismantled that type of corrupt socialism-socialism for few top generals who had their dachas, mistresses, fast cars, lots of easy money while they, the common people starved. Just see.

A totalitarian regime collapsed because of the poor people’s will. Mark admired the Arab.

“I understand.”

“O.K. Let us forget the whole thing.

Tell me what is going on in your stolen island.”

A shadow crossed Mark’s face. He was quiet for a long period, the wind howling in the vast nothingness.

“So strange”, he said quietly. “An islander relating to a Bedouin. I had these images: an Arab is not literate, has many wives, is revengeful…”

“Give me straight”, interrupted Abu, smiling, “Arabs are idiots, half-wits, and tribal, uncivilized. Ha, ha, ha. They cannot master Queen’s English. Those who do not speak English are already perceived to be barbaric. They follow bloody Islam. All that Western crap about Orient. I do not mind that. My good friend Edward Said has done a lot of good job. I know how the invaders manufacture a suitable ideology. To demonise entire people to justify their hegemony. By the way, I was also a victim of such prejudice. Before you arrived, I thought I was going to be saddled with a bloody cannibal, half-naked, the head-hunter with a garland of dried-up skulls- Ostrich feathers, all tattooed, the way it is shown in Hollywood. Ha, ha, ha.”

They laughed loudly, amused.

“My Gawd!”, exclaimed Mark.

“Well, well. O.K. we got even. Where were we? Yes. The news is not good. They are bringing slaves. Old slaves are dead or dying of diarrhea or malaria. They are bringing Africans and Asians to work their silver mines. Then they have hi-tech workers, doctors, engineers as slaves- better-off than the mine workers.”

“Sad. Very sad!” Abu said.

“They wanted to stop Time when they arrived. Time means modernity. Now Time and Christianity are back through back door.”

“How?”

“They have employed ultra modern surveillance gadgets. Security of the island will beat even the White House set-up. State-of-the-art hospitals and communications systems. Run by computer experts. Have a modern airport. Speedboats. A huge network global in reach. Smuggled arms. Now cultivating poppies.”

“I see narcotics, smuggling of arms- narco money to run their empire.”

“Yes. Caesar is paranoid about security. Gorilla and Chameleon were on the shopping spree last week. Sighted in Sudan and Libya. They have pumped lots of money and planted spies.”

“But our network is also deep and invisible?”

“Yes, very much.”

“Good. How deep is our mole?”

“Terribly deep.”

“I am satisfied.”

Mark paused.

“Their cultural vandalism pains me most. Caesar is atheist. He has brought some Christian priests to convert the Hararas. A thing my forefathers never dared. A church has come up. They are distributing free medicines, clothes, food. Spreading the gospels. Very subtle. English is being taught and Western values. Our forest gods are ridiculed indirectly and simple culture savaged. Heathens we are to the missionaries. Barbarians! Uncivilized. Half-people only to the Western agents of progress!” Abu looked closely. The pain, the hurt showed.

“I know. This has been the way the Christianity has taken in Africa and Asia. First, the traders. Then, the missionaries. First they appropriate the body, then the soul of a less-privileged nation. You rightly said we are half-people in the Western eyes. Not fit to rule or govern our destiny. We are different, therefore to be either condemned or saved. What a force! I recall once being told by you, jokingly, that the modern world is ruled by a single God who is white, male, American and Christian. What an apt summing up of modern civilization!”

Mark paused. The solitude was primeval and profound around them. Mark could see the dead humanity of lost ages rising up and swirling about in the cold desert.

“Caesar hates our gods, our natural way of life, our customs- everything. He needs local people in running his empire. He wants them to adopt his viewpoint, his Westernised culture, English. He wants them to hate their own native culture. Wants to rule their hearts and minds. Wants to show that the West is superior to their culture. Once he creates such a class of collaborators, he can easily divide and rule the island pretty easily. Hence, the aggressive conversions and teaching of the English language. A thing I never did. You cannot impose foreign gods and tongues on the so-called indigenous people. At least, I believe so.”

“But this has been the pattern followed by all the major religions.”

“O.K. I agree there. But you may also see a revival of nationalism and pride in one’s ethnicity. In American-Africans with their hyphenated identity, for example. Non-Christians going back to their native religions and culture. A form of counter- culture. Call it resistance….”

“….To the dominant modes of Western discourse, modes of perceptions. Ha, ha, ha sounds like our Ole’ said. Ain it?”

Mark smiled.

“You are brilliant. Go and apply for a chair at Yale or Princeton, Dr. Mark Livingston. Give them stiff competition. Move over, Dr. Said or Noam Chomsky. Here comes our brilliant Dr. Livingston.” Both the men laughed heartily.

“Knowledge is not the province of academics only, dear Abu. We learn by experience and observe. And we are less privileged, ‘course.”

“Come on, Mark, I was joking.’

“I am also not serious.”

They laughed. The laughter rolled down the dismal expanse. The darkness was deepening around them.

“One thing is certain”, Abu said. “When you are alone, your senses sharpen. In your loneliness, you pick up fast. The perspectives change. More objectivity comes. Is it not?”

“Sure, it does. Sometimes I wonder if there is absolute truth in human world, the like we come across in sciences.”

“Afraid I do not get you, Mark, Dr. Mark?

“Aha… You see, the sun rise in the east and sets in the west… the earth pulls every object to its center… Universal truths. The P is equal to 22/7 for a Chinese or an Eskimo.

It is invariable. E=mc2 For every African or America. But truth human varies from people to people, group-to-group, man to man. In fact, I wonder in my solitude and the long hours of the night, whether we create our own truth or not, in accordance with our environment. I believe we do. We manufacture our own world, our own reality according to our whims and fancies… through the language we inherit…. This reality is as arbitrary as yours. I do not suggest that the world is an illusion or a product of some ideas only…..it is very real and has its own rules but what I mean is that it is certainly shaped-up by the inherited language which a community uses. Got me?

The world is not a pale shadow of some ideas but perceived and created via a language.”

Abu got serious. “I also read a lot like you. And reflect. ‘Course, language is an important tool of describing the world, it is arbitrary also, but the world is not a linguistic category or product. It has its own valid objective world and the subjective consciousness.” Mark paused. Finally: “I do not deny the objectivity of the laws. I simply mean that language is an important tool by which we create our personal universe. Literature, religion, myths- all create their own worlds which we think are realistic windows on the outside world but which are not. They just reflect common grounds, common biases and prejudices. They are all part of a great, hidden value-system governing our class. I think my truth is a real as yours but both of us are wrong. Our linguistic reality is as loaded as somebody else’s. Arriving at the core is very tough and demanding job.”

“That is right… the production of reality is not innocent act but very much coloured through the prison of our beliefs and attitudes. It is of course arbitrary and unreliable. But scientific truths are often relatively valid, reliable and stable form of cognition. Right?” mark smiled. “You are a good disciple.”

They were quiet for a long period. Both wrapped up in their own little worlds.

“See, sometimes I wonder”, spoke Mark, “why people like you and me read during leisure. I have often pondered over this fate of ors- the sensitive, inquiring souls. I think when all the certainties are vanished from our private world, we fall upon the act of reading books to… To sort out, straighten our own lives…to disentangle the threads… to clear the things. Trying to figure out things in a lonely world. Reading, much like the act of writing is a product of a lonely society where we live like separate atoms. The moderns read and write but not my beloved Hararas. It is a unique feature of those societies who are in solitude, their members socially recluse. It is like the monovision of a society in retreat. We, as members of these silent societies, try to understand the truth through these routes. For example, literary truth. We have literary truths of every age. Then, philosophical truths. Religious truths. We try to see world through thee, as you said, prisms which may or may not be true reflects of the reality.”

Abu just stared. “Marvellous. You are genius. I am enlightened.” Mark said nothing. Abu placed his hand over Mark’s shoulder.

“I know this is the first and last confession of a wounded conscience.

A confession to a comrade-in-arms. A sensitive conscience struggling with itself. Forced on a path of terror and meaningless violence. Or avoidable violence. Violence as a political weapon.”

“Yes. An honest man’s anguished quest for real truth in a welter of truths.

I know oppression creates its own vocabulary and its own enemy. The oppositional consciousness is its first enemy. The enemy of institutional oppression everywhere. I am just making a painful-transition from peace to violence. It is like entering a new soul, a new body.”

“From being Mark to becoming Jaguar- the lord of the jungle.” Abu said quietly. “When does your Operation Thunder start?”

“Very Soon.”

“I wish you the best of luck.”

“Thanks.”

“Khuda hafis.”

“Khuda hafis.”

Both men stood up and shook hands warmly. Then Abu melted in the long shadows. Mark went inside the cabin. He had a lot of planning to do. Time was crucial and running out.

Op. Thunder was to start soon.

“The info is correct. Has been authenticated by my spy network.”

Caesar looked at Gorilla. They were sitting in his study at the fort. The Zulus were guarding the study and the lawns. March sun was pouring in the room, on the third floor of the totally renovated fort, through the open windows. A beautiful hunting lodge had come up two miles down, in the clearing, on a rising ground. Equally impregnable, the lodge was a masterpiece of gothic architecture, a 100-room three-storeyed mansion with a circular moat and draw-bridge, guards and hounds in toe. He was planning to move there. Along with Eva Hassan.

“You sure?”

“Yes, my lord”, said Gorilla.

“Repeat.” His mind had drifted off.

“Jaguar is in Paris. Tomorrow he is meeting this Arab who will take him to his boss. To clinch an arms deal. The meeting place is a small cemetery outside Paris, towards Versailles. They are meeting at 2.30 p.m. there.”

“Last week he was at Kandahar. You allowed him to slip out.”

“Give me this last chance.”

Caesar thought.

“Who gave you this info?”

“The Arab wanted a million. We negotiated. Down to one lakh dollars.’

“How reliable?”

“100 percent. The local office of our company checked his background. A middleman in the arms smuggling . Showed the pic of Mark. The pic was scanned to me here. It matched with the earlier pics taken of him at Kandahar with a long-distance telecom era fitted with telescopic lens. It also matched with the photos found in the personal albums at his home here on the island. He is same. More lean and muscular. Military crew cut hair. More determined jaw-line. A defiant look in the eyes, typical of a terrorist on a mission. He is wearing a black T-shirt, a locket, and faded blue jeans. Can easily pass off as a Yankee solider out on a holiday. Of course, looks younger and very bitter also.”

“Good.”

“He is meeting the Arab at the cemetery. A small cemetery.”

“Why there?”

“A lonely deserted place where there is no movement or traffic. He can keep a vigil and watch his back. He will pose as a mourner offering flowers.”

“People often prefer crowded places like café’s or public gardens for such meets.”

“Well… terrorists try out both the scenarios. Generally spymasters and agents prefer the first scenario to pass on messages and disperse among the crowds.

But a determined assassin can easily bump of the visible target and melt away in the rush-hour crowds there. The second scenario, a classic textbook type, is favourite of lovers. The guy who goes solo. It fits his psychological profile also. Jaguar is solo and does not want to take risks or leave a trail. He will come and scout the place a week in advance. Again, in the morning, he will come and survey the entire place. He will hide four-five hours ahead of the meet and watch. Once satisfied, he will come out and meet the Arab. “Sounds logical. How do you plan to take him out?”

Gorilla told him about the plan.

“Good. Finish him off.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“One last question.”

Gorilla looked at Caesar.

“Why does the Arab want to betray a lucrative client like Jaguar?”

“The Arab has run up huge gambling debts. Short of money. He desperately needs money to wipe off the debts. He was asking for a million but I brought it down to 3 lakhs for this piece of info. I said 2 lakhs now and one lakh after the mission. Very greedy. Somehow he has taken the bait.”

“What happens to him if the arms dealer- his boss comes to know about the betrayal?”

“He won’t live to tell all this to his boss.”

The cemetery was a small one, in an open area, Southwest of Paris, some 12 kms between Paris and Versailles. Set away from the highway, it was located on a high ground, overlooking the local villages and pointing towards the famous Versailles. It was the resting place for the simple ruddy farmers of the area and modest by Parisian standard. Very few people came there except some love-torn couple, trying to avoid the public gaze and trying to find some peace and privacy amid the dead, and occasional mourner. All around was the solitude of a wilderness. Gorilla had got the place surveyed by the local team of his commandos. 3 kms down the road, the second team was waiting, dressed as local shepherds, spread out in the shrubs, keeping a watch on the winding road. Gorilla and the old caretaker were sitting in the shade of the tools-shed, drinking and chatting like old mattes. Gorilla was using the disguise of the local peasant and playing cards. At 2 p.m., the Arab entered the cemetery and went towards the eastern side where he sat down near a grave, under the tree, bringing out flowers and candles. There was nobody else. At 2.15 p. m. a tall and trim woman along with a male companion entered the cemetery and went straight to a grave, diagonally across the one where the Arab was, peering at the tomb stone. She had brought basket full of flowers and candles. She knelt down in a prayer mode and closed her eyes, her companion with the duffel bag keeping a respectful distance from someone in mourning. The male, an American by appearance, was very restive and bored of the whole ritual. The lady, deep in prayers, started sobbing. Just then, Jaguar materialized from nowhere, standing next to the Arab. Even Gorilla was taken aback. It was as if some grave had thrown him up in a jiffy. The Arab was also startled by the sudden appearance. He was exactly looking like the way he did in the recent picture: a black T-Shirt, a locker, faded jeans. A jacket over his shoulder. Goggles.

The Arab got up and looked around. Jaguar was standing. Apart, a casual visitor, careless. The Arab looked and saw the male companion. What he saw scandalized him. “Hey”, he said to the male, “You cannot have a smoke here.” The male, in suit, spoke tauntingly, “Who do you think you are? Yasser Arafat? I will smoke if I feel the urge.” And he emitted a mouthful of grey smoke in the direction of the Arab. The Arab marched towards the male. “You and your Yankee arrogance. You dirty guys think you own the whole earth as your private estate. Get off this sacred place…” in response, the Yankee gave him a punch in the stomach that sent the short stout Arab reeling. “Come on, Jerk”, challenged the Yankee, “Let us slug it out here.” The Arab got up and rushed headlong towards his new enemy.

Jaguar, amused, looked on.

Then, it happened.

The woman standing up, taking out her gun from the basket and shooting Jaguar in the stomach. Jaguar was swept off his feet and fell down, blood spurting out in streams.

The Arab disentangled himself from the Yankee. The American shot the prostrate man in the back, from a safe distance. The Arab shook hands with the gent and as he turned his back and started moving towards the gates, the agent shot the retreating figure three times. Meanwhile, Gorilla shot the old caretaker and dumped the body in the back of the tools-shed. Then all of them left the scene quickly.

The entire operation lasted barely five minutes.

In the evening, Gorilla e-mailed the message: the client was satisfactorily dealt with. The deal is successfully over to entire satisfaction. Next morning, the French newspapers ran a small two-column item on the third page, confirming the recovery of the three dead bodies in a cemetery, the victims of a gangland shoot-out. No witnesses. The unclaimed bodies were kept in the morgue and finally disposed off in the electric crematorium.

“Time to celebrate.”

Caesar said to Eva Hassan and the group assembled in the hunting lodge, named by Caesar as the Palace of Versailles after the original built by Louis XII in 1623. Louis XIV, the Sun King, had changed the old hunting lode into 1,300-room residence surrounded by a 100-hectare park and gardens. The palace had always impressed Caesar. He had settled for its mini-version. A 100-room, three-storeyed chateau, surrounded by formal gardens- the result of the labor of 2,000 slaves on the island and designed by the best French architects. The Zulu guards, in African tribal dress, armed and with hounds, were patrolling the outer lawns. A garden party was arranged.  Barbecue and liquor, an orchestra under the star-studded sky. The guests were arriving. The locals led by the Shaman and his hefty slave drivers; the engineers and the doctors; the high call-girls flown in from the Solomon Island. A Raj party! Thought Chameleon. Soon the soft music started. People paid courtesies to Caesar and a resplendent Hassan. She was wearing a Versace gown and diamonds. Caesar was wearing the Armani suit. The guests and their girls started floating in the sprawling gardens. Liquor flowed. Caesar was happy and cheerful. “Finally the bastard got the bullets”, he said to Chameleon. “I am the favorite child of destiny. Imagine the dog lying dead in obscure cemetery unclaimed. I am alive. He is dead.” He laughed metallically. The old deranged look returning to his eyes and distorting his features. Nothing but contempt for the enemies and the world.

“I have my doubts, Sir.’

“What?” Caesar was struck speechless.

“I do not want to spoil the party mood. But I have certain reservations.”

Caesar’s face contorted with fury.

Then he controlled his temper.

“What now, Mr. Spoilsport?” he hissed.

“At the cost of upsetting you and earning your displeasure, I will make my case brief.”

Caesar looked at Chameleon with raised eyebrows. “Come on, we will sit in a secluded corner. Eva, if you will excuse me for a minute.”

They went and occupied garden chairs in a secluded order, screened off by the hedges. Caesar’s bodyguards hovered in the background. A waiter brought them their drinks and salted cheese and sliced raw tomatoes. They sipped vintage scotch. Caesar took out his Havana and lit it. The glowing lights in the Palace, the fairy lights on the trees, the drinks and the music, the floating laughter-all this made the whole place magical. “What makes you skeptical, Mr. Homes?” chameleon did not flinch by the withering look and tone.

“The entire thing does not fit the psychological profile of Mark as Jaguar. Look at the picture closely. A couple walks into the cemetery, bored, stands aloof and smokes. Jaguar appears and watches the scene indifferently. A fight erupts between the Arab and the male companion over a trifle. Racial slurs hasten the fight. Meanwhile, the Jaguar just stands and watches the unexpected but wholly avoidable fight, again casually and indifferently. A fight deigned to distract the victim.  A lay victim may fall for the trap. Not a Steve-trained professional. A pro who stages his own death to shake the pursuers off his train.”

Caesar smiled.

“I studied the plan from his angle also. The plan was bold but perfect. A lady mourner- well, looks natural. No terrorist will suspect an ordinary slim woman of deadly intents. Her friend is bored and a aloof, a stand-alone. Natural.  The fight was staged in a spontaneous manner, the slurs thrown in deliberately. Any terrorist will be looking for unusual activity- like digging up of a grave, three- four gravediggers. He will sure check the village for any death. Any killer, before settling for a tryst like that, would study the place weeks in advance. He would familiarize himself with al entry and exit points. Would run a check on all the caretakers, their habits, their background. Except a new caretaker to turn up in place of a drinking buddy who reports sick. He will have a dry run of the place several times. Will visit the cemetery at odd hours and visualize defense, if suddenly ambushed by commandos. Gorilla came up with an idea and fine-tuned it in consultation with me. My emphasis was on ordinary elements that will not arouse the suspicion of a logical mind. A lady, half-an-hour earlier, may arouse suspicion  but 10-15 minutes earlier, may not. In a cemetery such things do happen. Predictable element in a scenario like that.

An occasional couple looks very natural. But lots of couples or lot of male workers again, look very suspicion.”

Chameleon nodded his head.

“I agree. But I have this gut feeling that something, somewhere, does not fit into the pattern. I cannot figure it out right now.”

Caesar laughed. “You are a veteran. Career in espionage spanning two decades. Field experience. You are world-class spy. A grade. Who is this bloody Mark? A fifty-something upstart hardly trained for six months, driven by hatred. Not young and agile. Emotionally surcharged fools can be good killers butt not a world-class terrorist. They lack in coldness and emotional health. They are plain ordinary killers.”

Chameleon nodded the agreement.

“Mercenary training camps can produce killers but not a terrorist of high-grade. They are like acting schools, which churn out ordinary actors are self-made, driven people. They are not swayed by mob sentiments or poor sentiments. They are like great generals planning every detail meticulously in advance. And, generally, they are gifted with a great mind and well read. The only difference is they are on the other side. When they seize the opportunity correctly, they become rulers  of their nations. Most guerilla leaders have seized power like this in third world countries. Today’s assassins, tomorrow’s leaders. The thinking is almost identical but sides differ. A successful coup leader of an Asian or African volatile nation is that mastermind who is the head of a rag-tag army of assassins of lower grade. The names differ. Call them revolutionaries, guerillas, freedom fighters or terrorist. And no terrorist can act solo. He needs a well-laid network of friends, sympathizers, informants, and arms-smugglers. Poor of friends, sympathizers, informants, and arms-smugglers. Poor mark did not have all this. We had a good head-start over him.”

Chameleon had to agree.

“Besides, mark had set up meeting with a middleman of an arms-dealer. He expected no real danger. The deal was to benefit the Arab and not him. He was not planning anything sinister. He did not expect police or any security personnel. Besides, he had not yet started his career as a terrorist. There were no records, no red-cornered alerts by Interpol. Nothing, nothing. So, he did not expect any substantial danger. He paid for this indiscretion. The Arab, for his greed. The old caretaker, well, as the Americans say, was part of the collateral damage.”

Paris was his favorite city and haunt. Of all world capitals, Gorilla liked Paris and the true Parisian cosmopolitanism. Everybody enjoyed their private space there: Turks, Algerians, Arabs, Indians, Africans. Home to European culture, arts, literature, music, painting. To dissidents. He enjoyed the city. The bohemian city of Baudelaire, Picasso and Proust. Of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. These immortals were not the talking point of the intellectual elite in some salon of a French Madame with literary pretensions but part of the general public currency of the city. A thing missing in new York or London or Berlin where artists kept to themselves, and, public- the ordinary 9-to-5 crowds- to itself, more worried about mundane things than things artistic.

Whenever in the city, Gorilla would give himself a break of two-three days to enjoy the flavor of the city. Tonight was no exception. After the successful operation, he allowed himself the much-needed respite. The Harry’s was a joint he often preferred. Situated on the west bank of Seine, it was a garish seedy popular hangout of gays. Sailors came there. So did young executives. In search of pleasures of a different type. The place was international. You got what you wanted.  A one night stand. Net morning, you were on your own. Nobody bothered you for your choices or stalked you. The anonymity helped everybody. Your private life remained private. Gorilla surveyed the room. Gays of all types and nationalities were enjoying the young night. Gorilla was sipping the French wine in his corner table, still undecided. “Can I sit here?” gorilla looked up and saw a handsome fairy. A young, neat and trim Oriental. “Yes, please.” The man sat down and smiled, “Thanks, Monsieur. I am Marcos. Philippines. Nice meeting you.” That settled it. They bought drinks and gulped down leisurely, chatting. Then Gorilla asked, “Can I buy you dinner, my beauty? Some cosy, candle-lit place where we can sit and talk in a more relaxed manner.” Marcos smiled, “Yes, my lord and handsome lover.” They stood up and left, arms-entwined, lurching. As they were rounding the corner, a huge African called out, “Marcos.”

Marcos stopped, “Oh, no.”

“What is it now, my beauty?” asked a concerned Gorilla.

“My lover. Very jealous. Split up with him some time ago. He stalks me.”

“Do not bother. I will take care of him.”

The African accosted Marcos, “You cannot leave me like this. I am miserable.”

“No way. I am with my new lover.”

African glowered at Gorilla, “You cannot take away my breath….”

Gorilla was about to say something when his cell-phone beeped. “Hullo.”

“Mike.”

This disoriented Gorilla totally. Only Caesar and a handful of buddies knew a name buried in a hoary past.

“Yes.”

“I never knew you were an arse-stealer. A back-door commando.”

“Who are you?”

“An old friend. You are in danger. Look up. A sniper is aiming at you from  the opposite building. R-U-N.”

Confused, he looked up. Only dancing shadows of the night. He peered.

Nothing. He tried to focus his bloody eyes.

Marcos brought out a revolver and shot him in the heart thrice. A bewildered Gorilla, eyes wide open, pitched backward in a muddy pool. The African shot him once more. The silencer muffled the shots. The African dropped a chit on the dead body: “Never steal another man’s love and pride. A wronged person will come calling.” An idle car came out of the shadows and the two men jumped in and sped away.

“What the hell was he doing at Harry’s? I mean, he could have picked up some upscale joint. This indiscretion cost him his life.”

Caesar was furious. Four days later, Chameleon had activated his contacts in the police force and got the news about his chief who had vanished into the thin air.

“Harry’s  offers an earthy choice. Rough necks, seamen, toughs and softies. Typical of Mike to opt such a run-down bar where no middle-class guy would ever walk. Mike would get roaring drunk, smash a few bottles, fight with few roughnecks and pick up a guy of his choice. The bar is notorious for such brawls and fisticuffs. ‘Boys are having fun’ says the management to any patrolman new to the area. Of course, cops do not bother them and they do not bother the cops. No party ever complains. A wild place for macho men. Violence, liquor and fun-that is the Harry’s for you. It totally suited Mike’s temperament”, said Chameleon.

“The fool… I never thought this love for another man’s ass would cost so dear to him. So stupid. I just cannot understand the whole sick thing. He had the run of the place here. Any boy he could have enjoyed…. So foolish of him.”

Caesar ranted, hands clasped.

“Whosoever did it, did a neat job”, continued Chameleon. “The job of a pro. No lover, how so ever crazy, can pull it off like this. The assassin or assassins were good shot. Skilled marksmen. Mike stood no chance. They knew he was in town and his choices also. Whenever in Paris, Mike made it a point to visit the Harry’s. They were on his trail. It was a set-up. Mike just walked into it. Someone very clever and with good resource at local level execute the whole thing.  A person who wanted to reach out to us through a dead man.”

“Who the fuck is that person?”

“We are still investigating”, said the spy.

“Two possibilities. One: folks associated with the dead jaguar.

They want to signal that jaguar may be dead but not his cause. A weak possibility since available reports suggest that Mark was acting solo. Second possibility, more plausible: a gangland-killing. A revenge killing. Most mafia operates that way. The manner suggests the Chinese mafia or the Egyptian mafia did it. Most probably the Egyptians did it. The Arab, who got killed along with mark, represented the interests of a leading Egyptian arms-dealer. He lost a very valuable customer to our bullets, so he wanted to get even with us. My sources say the black hit man was a Sudanese and the Philippino was also a hit man. Freelancers who work for mercenaries and then disappear from the scene of crime.  Difficult to trace them. Local police also does not bother much as long as one baddie bumps off another. I am still checking and rechecking. “Caesar listened, left eyebrow raised. He thought for a long time. “O.K. no point in any hot-pursuit of the killers. The man is gone. We get what we deserve. Let us forget the whole episode.”

Chameleon was struck by the coldness of tone. Old comrades do not matter to this bastard. He wants to save his ass. The rest are garbage. Totally expendable things. But that is the way most powerful people behave. To retain sanity, control over power. Nothing else matters except power and wealth.

“Now you are boss of security of the island. And of me. Congrats, Mr. Home Minister! A new seaside villa smile of achievement and joy.

Trouble arrived soon.

One of the slave drivers was found murdered in a ditch. A sharp dagger was thrust deep in his hear. His body was discovered late.

A couple of days later, one of Zulus who had molested a local Harara girl, was  found impaled on a tree-trunk, deep inside the jungle. In a big settlement spread out around the mines, the village, and below the fort, it was difficult to capture the killers. The slain were immediately buried. Caesar was not interested in pursuing the killers. “Bury the matter”, he ordered. “If news spread, more trouble follows.” He had the experience to spot the trouble and the reasons were also obvious to him. He called Bora, the Shaman, now part of the inner group. They sat in the study. “Trouble is brewing, brother”, said Caesar, pouring scotch to Shaman, “Mark is dead. His legacy is to be stamped out. Mark is a mindset. I do not want any more marks.” His voice was pleasant and manner, courteous. “You are the boss. Tell me.” “See, Bora. You cannot suppress people for long. I need a different weapon.”

“Sorry?”

“Look, the whole damn place looks like a vast prison. The oppressed are likely to react. These are two individual cases. Stray cases in the wind. Indicators of this  coming storm. Got me.”

“Yes.”

“I was toying with the idea… I want to take the position of the white Harara.”

Bora kept quit. “How?”

“Remember the ancient Harara?”

“Yes… the fire test. In the fire temple. In the shadow of the sacred Mount Ra. But you kept it postponing.”

“I want it arranged as soon as possible. Spread the word among the locals. Arrange the journey. Broadcast it fully. I want the position of the tribal Chief to win the loyalty.”

“Done.”

The journey was an unforgettable one. They had started on the journey before dawn. The ancient Harara and Constantine Caesar.  The ancient Harara was wearing the lion-cloth. He was barefoot. He carried a lance and arrows along with a study old bow. Caesar was allowed only a big hunting knife. The village of Hararas had gathered together to bid them farewell. Bora had travelled with them for a mile and then stopped at the outer limit of the old village. “May gods be with you folks!” he said in a solemn manner and then departed. The deep jungle started at the edge of the outer limit of the large village. Soon it engulfed the two lonely figures in its rich green embrace. Giant trees dominated them. A huge canopy rose up in the sky, blocking out the sun. The creepers had woven out a green-dark roof. The jungle was alive with birdcalls. The dewdrops dripped. It is like entering a different world! Shadows and pale light creating in illusionary zone. The twisted pathways. The slumbering jungle which could be the grave for a lost traveler with its criss-crossing trails, dangerous animals and biting insects, the slithering reptiles and poisonous berries. Cutting your way through thick creepers and grass and walking through the highlands on the steep silent mountains can be a tough endurance test for any trained trekker thought a physically fit and trim Caesar. Although familiar with jungle life as a guerilla leader in his youth, even Caesar found it difficult to keep pace with the agile ancient Harara who never seemed to tire out or even stop for breath. The old Harara kept pushing forward, picking up the lost trail in the confusion of vines and creepers with the skill and certainty of a master, a talent native to a forest-dweller with their highly-developed uncanny senses and a racial memory still intact. Not once did the ancient Harara look back to check the progress of his ‘royal ward’; he kept on striding on his long bony legs ‘like Moses’ and the jungle parted to create a pathway to the privileged traveler on a special mission. A man, in a hurry, to keep a sacred date with gods. Caesar found it difficult to match the pace of the old man. He would stop, catch his breath, rest, resume the journey on the uneven paths. This five-seven minute break revived him. Meanwhile, the jungle would just swallow up its native son, refusing clear admission to the tall and hulking follower. Then he would call out the name of the preceding traveler who would emit a piercing call, enough to startle the monkeys and birds who would raise a deafening racket. Only the formal training in the jungle warfare and practiced ears of Caesar would aid him in finding his way in that utter chaos of light and shadows, trees and undergrowth, ascending and descending sloppy ground.

The bastard is enjoying his game!

They kept on walking. An unequal pair. Caesar was determined not to be dominated by the old lanky Harara. The forest was opening up to the magic fingers of the old man. He seamed to know the forest like the back of his hand. The deep mystery of the forest- a timeless zone- was hugging the solitary humans marching in a zigzag manner, penetrating the thick curtains of greenery around them. Caesar felt the invisible presence of the jungle spirits. The solitude was profound, the effect uniquely balming. Towering trees, ferns, undergrowth, vines and creepers- all the natural elements had woven a strange spell about. Caesar regarded himself as an intruder on the sacred grounds once trodden upon by primeval ancestors at the very beginning of time. The place was alive with their dead souls and almost connected him up with the very first settlers of the young planet. It was as if he had crossed a corridor and found a well-preserved kingdom of pristine beauty and eternal peace. It is like entering the pyramids as raiders for the first time and stumbling upon a hoary past preserved intact for last 4,500 years!

A strange sensation overwhelmed him. Almost calming him. Reviving the nobility of an innocent child in him. He was overawed by the power and range of nature. The immensity of an ocean and forest was always an humbling experience to Caesar’s vast ego. He felt puny and helpless, dependent upon the guidance of the old savage whom he had held in contempt. Now, his survival depended upon the old man.

A new respect, anew bond was developing between him and the ancient Harara. At least, he felt so, looking at him from a new angle. The primitive and the modern, two highly arbitrary and dissatisfying terms, dissolved in that enduring relationship-of man and man, called humanism. By discovering the ancient Harara- the prototype of the original man who settled the planet in the misty past, he had come to discover his own latent humanism obscured by many a human factors during his reign as a president and now, the ruler of the tiny island in the South Pacific Ocean.

That too, in the deep forest, going back across centuries to the very point of time when life came to discover the beginnings of humanity in the early settlements and the fruitfulness of clannishness.

The mystique of the forest! I am going soft and sentimental. A poet! I am shedding my islandishness!

Surrounded by the forest every side, dwarfed by the huge trees, the only human figures plodded on, the silence of the forgotten ages clinging to them.

Wilderness is a wrong term? Jungle has its own life. The first home to the human beings, plants and animals. Modernity and thirst for profits have destroyed this prime habitat. A priceless treasure, an album of the nursery of humankind when gods, giants, devils played with the highly-imaginative children, now lost and beyond retrieval for the adult rationalism of the modern, post-industrial world. An association beyond reclamation! The thoughts rushed across Caesar’s sensitive mind. He grew sad and depressed at this senselessness of modern mind which did not recognize no other values than power and wealth. The deeper he went into the jungle, the more removed he felt from the modern self. The memories buried there, the swirling mists of past centuries- they all resurfaced and enveloped him from around, severing his links from the teeming world of mad ambitions, pleasure pursuits and selfishness. The afternoon came suddenly and so did the dark evening. A thick pall of gloom and soft blackness spread out everywhere. The ancient Harara motioned his ‘royal burden’ to stop and they sat down in a clearing, near the river Kan-Kan. The ancient lit up the fire with two flint-stones and heated the dried-up meat of the two fowls he had killed in the afternoon. He served the large chunks of the dark-brownish meat on large leaves. Exhausted, thirsty and hungry, Caesar forgot his manners and tablespoons, wolfing down the modest meal of his ancestors of forgotten obscure time. The ancient Harara watched him, amused, a faint smile playing on his broad deeply-lined stony face, a face that reminded Caesar of the Neanderthal man. The Harara had some remote family resemblance to red Indians, minus their two braids. Caesar had rarely liked the aborigines and ethnic Red Indians. Their features repelled him strongly. The African or Central American tribes- dark-skinned and rough facial features- he fond distasteful. Now the destiny had forced him to share meals with a representative of such ‘half-people’. Up close and personal, Caesar came to shed his prejudices and develop respect for this man’s agility and endurance power. He watched the tribal elder closely. They had decided to rest. The old man, controlled and silent, motioned him to sit under a vast tree. Then he whistled and produced bird sounds. The imitation was perfect. The wild fowl returned the call. The Harara stood silently and shot his skinned them expertly and served them up. His skills amazed his reluctant companion. Jungle was an open book to this native son. His hearing was exceptional, workmanship excellent. While Caesar peered in the mellow dark, the ancient forest man saw clearly, despite his advanced age. His reflexes were equally sharp and hand grip, very strong.

And then he was fearless. Nothing scared him in the wide jungle. He was the lord of the jungle. Caesar felt puny and insignificant.

“Time to sleep”, announced the Harara in his baritone. He fed the fire with twigs and bamboo. The orange fire leaped up, casting shadows around. Caesar was now familiar with the simple Harara language, a system of some basic sounds. He lay down, his arms folded, body curled-up in a foetal position. Immediately he was hurtling down a bottomless abyss of stark darkness.

Wolves! Burning eyes, jaws open, prowling, growling.

Stalking.

A pack of wolves with glowing eyes!

Patient. Stalking. Waiting. Ready to pounce.

He is bleeding. Dying slowly. Vultures flying in the air. Settling down on the bare branches.

Darkness. Light. Darkness. Light.

He is in the African wild. Vast.

Intimidating, alone. Dying.

Wolves.

Vultures.

Wolves springing up. Pouncing on him. Tearing his flesh apart with fangs.

Then vultures flying down.

 He woke up, sweaty and wet. A trickle he felt going down his arms. He touched it sleepily. Blood! He was jolted out of his sleep. Something slithered off his body.

King Cobra!

Headless, it was writhing around in its last throes of death-agony.

He looked around.

The ancient Harara was wiping the blade of his hunting knife. He smiled at the startled-up figure and said, “King Cobra no longer protects you!”

Caesar did not respond. He could not. One of the myths around him had now crumbled away. The lie had been exposed. Caesar felt relieved. He, no longer, needed any pretense. He felt normal and human. And the unique fellowship between two human beings, in the middle of complete wilderness of a brooding nature, juts delighted him.

He could relate to his protector more freely. “Time for you to retire”, said a chastened modest Caesar. The old man smiled and then curled up on the rough ground and went to sleep. Caesar looked at the broad stony face. Neanderthal looks. No, ape like. The man was asleep; sound asleep, within a few seconds. Caesar looked around. Only dancing shadows. A sheet of dark ink was stretched up to the heavens. Everything was blurred. Like swimming in the womb of utter darkness! Nobody except the two of them under a sky with twinkling stars, a cold wind and the nightly sounds. He got up. Stretched himself and exercised lightly. The jungle calmed him up. His nerves were shot. The outdoors, the eternity just balmed his spirit.

Then he saw them.

They just popped from the ground or the thick shadows. Beyond the dancing fire, in the mellow darkness, they stood like two carved-up status of stone who had become mobile.

Two warriors. Aborigines. Rough-faced.

Blood-hot eyes. Stocky. Wearing loincloths. Bows and quiver. They shot him a menacing look.

Danger!

He tried to lift his hunting knife. Could not. He felt paralyzed, hands numb and cold and without sensation. He was rooted to the ground, speechless and without will, a mere statue. The warriors fixed him up with a stare malevolent. It seared him up. He felt helpless and in their control, a total control.

Then others appeared. Primitives. Hunters. Well-built. Well-muscled. Bodies gleaming in the golden fire. Short and stocky. Flared nostrils of noses flattened out. Rippling biceps. They moved like shadows in perfect co-ordination, without rustling up even the leaves on the forest bed. The group surrounded the duo from every side. They took out their arrows and aimed. He looked at the old man. Sleeping like a log. He closed his eyes. Waited. An era passed. No swishing rain of poisoned arrows.

He prayed. And waited.

Nothing!

He opened his eyes.

There was nobody except a howling wind and the laughter of hyenas in the far-off darkness.

Sweat broke out in rivulets, despite the chill in the air.

He peered hard. Nobody!

The jungle is playing tricks on me! I am seeing things. Strange! It never happened before. Where have they vanished?

The army of the hunters?

He sat and stared.

Who were they? Ghosts? Spirits of the jungle? The dead warriors?

He had no clues.

Next morning they resumed their long journey. When told, ancient Harara stopped dead in his track and stared open-mouthed at his foreign friend. He thought for a long time. “You were lucky. They were the spirits of the Hararas. Forefathers. Going back over the sleeping ages buried in the forest here. This land is sacred. Hallowed ground for us. Generations trod on this holy ground. Their bones are scattered her about. Very few Hararas are permitted here by the law. Those who know the correct rituals and history are permitted. The men who lead good austere life. You saw the rare spectacle, which very few among us have witnessed. I knew one or two old men who had seen these holy spirits and communed with them. Their description fitted yours. I saw one or two of our sacred ancestors on my occasional visits here. And now, very soon, we will be entering a sacred place, the heart of the most holy place for us. You have to be cautious and respectful. Enter with the open mind of a child and you will get amply rewarded here?”

A mist came travelling down, obscuring everything in its rolling path. Visibility was zero. The ancient Harara kept walking ahead. As a blind man picks up his way in the confusion of things in the crowded city, he also went ahead with the grace and assurance of a ballerina. The route to the Mount Ra was seared in his simple memory of primitive mind not yet cluttered with the extra baggage of citified life. The mist, almost magical, blurred the solidity of the surrounding objects and severed them from their present context. They entered a mythical land, swept away by the force of the mysterious mist coming down from the heavens, guided by forces unseen. At that moment, Caesar came to believe in the existence of the gods pagan or otherwise and felt the magnetism of a powerful field around, pulling and sucking them with the force of gravity. The mist was rolling down in waves upon waves, whitening all the objects around, creating an enchanting world of fluidity and musical silence. Hoary ages, buried deep and preserved in the virgin forest, sprang up like a sturdy drawbridge, connecting up with the early childhood of humanity. Caesar’s skepticism and rationalism sloughed off him like dead skin. A sense of wonderment was rekindled in him like a smoldering spark, when lighted, leaps up into a huge fire. He reviewed his pilgrim’s progress from a new vantage point and saw the whole thing around with the freshness granted by the jealous gods to a Homer and the Grecian heroes or to the Hararas, the pure children of the forest still uncorrupted by the so-called progress and modernity. I am privileged! I can see the sweet purity of a stage of the history denied to the peers and revisit that moment also, still intact, in this ancient land of music and magic whose distant echo we find in the great poetry of the world.

Realms were opening up fast like a long hall of doors that led to more doors. Drenched in the mist, they walked quietly, afraid to disturb the sanctity of the place where the gods played with the early humans, the paths undulating among gigantic tees, the valley rushing up and the hills sloping down gently, a profundity deep and overwhelming, touching the very center of heart.

The wind was caressing them and whispering melodious songs. The scent coming off from the flowers was invigorating and rejuvenating. Caesar felt lightness of being for the first time. Bliss overcame him. I want to die right here, in this unique state of blessedness!

Almost drunk, he went on, greedily expecting more of this nectar, this manna, which he had never tasted before in any situation in his life- both as the President or as commoner. His narrow heart expanded and felt full. He was utterly contented, despite the absence of power, wealth and prestige.

I am at peace and happy.

And then the mist vanished equally suddenly, revealing a new vista of experience for him.

There, in full glory, was the Mount Ra. kissed by the fluffy, white clouds.

Splendid!

A breath-taking view. He was reminded of the White Mountains of Afghanistan. The Mount Ra sprang up abruptly in their field of vision: Huge, solid, dominating the entire landscape: a range of tall mountains; the tallest one the sacred Mount Ra of the large tribe of the Hararas, its peaked summit rising above other mounts, like a defiant gesture in massive stones sculpted by some invisible sculptor, to the empyrean heights of the blue vault. It was glittering in the cold rays of the sun; bleached white, the brilliance almost blinding.

A white diamond!

The forest canopy surrounded its base and lent it a colorful touch. There, in the maze of the criss-crossing valleys and the singing river Kan-Kan, the mount stood erect and bold like the blood-engorged massive penis of a giant. The clouds were floating by. He looked mesmerized.

“Here are buried the bones of our chiefs and ancestors. A sacred place. We hold it in great reverence.

Now, we rest, sup and pray. Then we resume our journey to the hall of the holy fires in the womb of the mount.”

The ancient Harara spoke. His face was radiating an inner bliss, an ecstasy rarely seen by the men like Caesar. It seemed to grow from some inner sources and spread across his body and soul. His eyes had a glazed look and voice seemed to be coming from across a great divide. He was suffused with superhuman energy and power. The very air around the old forest man was buzzing with high-voltage electricity. The divine and the earthly were fused in that specimen of Home sapiens.

In fact, the entire atmosphere was surcharged with a rare vibration. They sat down on the rude ground. The ancient Harara closed his eyes. He remained motionless. A status cast in the brown-black stone!

The sun was rapidly climbing and westering. The bird-songs lent a musical track to the green landscape; mount Ra was a masterpiece of brilliant radiance under an afternoon sky.

Eden must have been like this!

The ancient Harara opened up his eyes. “Constantine Caesar”, he spoke in perfect English for the first time, “I formally welcome you to the resting place of our gods. Relax and listen. The gods ask me, your earthly tutor and escort on this spiritual journey, to show respect and attention to the silent ways of the heavens. No earthly power can enter and exit without the blessings of the gods who inhabit the empyrean heights of Mount Ra, under the benevolence of the sun god, the giver of life to earthlings. Once, the fire god accepts you as a true Harara through his tests, you will be accepted as the Chief by all of us.”

Caesar nodded, his aggression no longer dominant.

“I will be honored, ancient one.”

And he curtsied to the old man.

“I am happy to witness a new change in you. This transformation is welcome, although unexpected. This shows that you have a residual of humanism still left within your soul. The capacity to love and experience the joys of the union of man and nature, of the values of the unique brotherhood, to appreciate the significance of the community of man, beast and nature- all this, of course, is a rare and noble gift bestowed by the gods everywhere upon human beings only, the most evolved of the species in the world. This gesturing towards humanism, lost to modern age, is worthy of commendation. My congrats to you for this resurgence of fellow feelings which you ceased to experience way back when you began your rule over your fellow men, your brothers by virtue of their common species to you and all of them.

As you can see, we are all born as equal but false distinctions, create by a few privilege, separate us from each other. Man, thus, becomes the worst predator of man on this lonely planet. This practice, abhorrent, gets resisted by the ruled and ends in bloody revolutions. Oppression and freedom are the two constants in the upward journey of mankind.

Today I can see the spirit world and the higher realm of our sacred gods from my vantage position. At this moment, blessed by gods, I can see what I could not earlier. I see ages rolling down before me like pure cascades of water flowing down from great heights, waves after waves. I see the early men huddled up in the cold dark caves dimly lit by fires, surrounded by the mammoths and huge reptiles in an all-enveloping gloom. The next wave is that of the long settlement near the big rivers, followed by the wave of gleaming cities and town. The pictures just collide and collapse into each other in fast-motion. The early men lived happily amid groups and wandered the vast earth in a herd. Later on, they settled down, built cities of steel and fog, invented money and gradually were sundered apart. Out of this inevitable chaos, I see the Harara village where time is still preserved by a decree of gods, an Oasis in an advancing desert, looted and plundered by the white man, again relocating and settling down in the very heart of nature. And then I see the danger looming ahead for this type of social existence. Dark hideous faces, blood-shot eyes and fangs, half-men and half-monsters, looking menacingly at the village of the Hararas. A dark vision and then everything goes blank.”

The ancient Harara coughed and slid down, exhausted. Caesar felt pity for the man.

“You must be tired.”

“Now, I am alright.”

The ancient Harara looked ahead, Caesar kept quiet.

“You are a truly wise man, ancient one, during my brief existence on this planet, I have become up close and personal with the world’s royalty, sports stars, movie stars and writers- celebrities from every field. I came to hate people who were not rich and literate. Dumb and stupid I despised. After spending some time with you, I have to change my view about the masses, not radically, but at least substantially. I may still hold the ignorant in contempt but I respect people like you. A grudging respect but respect because guys like you are rare who have been blessed with the wisdom which even educated, with their narrow outlook, do not possess. The gods and life have been very kind to you. You are like the early Greeks who could see an unraveling world before them with clear, wide eyes of innocent children, having a plastic imagination and rich emotional life.”

Ancient Harara smiled broadly.

“I do not know much about these things. I know the oral history of my tribe, which goes back a long way and our struggle to preserve our distinct identity in a fast-changing world. I knew all the Livingstones and came to learn a lot about the wicked world out there. The greed, the strife, the brutalization. The domination of man by man on the basis of wealth and naked power. Of man’s bestiality. How the lust for wealth and power drives some people crazy. They think they are big and those deprived of them, small. These false distinctions never existed in tribes like us. I also know that soon our lifestyle too would vanish before the onslaught of the modern forces of industry. Ours is a threatened species. Doomed. Once we survive the foreign invasion but now it won’t be possible for long. I know ours is not Eden here but it is better, definitely better than your cities and town. Mark tried to preserve this oasis but even he failed. You bring with you the virus of greed which will finally kill us all.”

“I am sorry but here I do not agree. See, I did not come in the pirates’ ship to loot and plunder a less-developed civilization. Destiny willed it and I got landed up on a obscure little island and then got entangled here with your tribe. Then it was a question of survival…”

Ancient Harara laughed a dry laugh.

“I never meant it that way. You arrived here and chanced upon a sleepy village insulated from the world for hundreds of years on this small island. Before you came the pirates who raped and looted and called us barbarians, semi-formed men who needed to be saved. Ha, ha, ha! What a silly joke! They came with superior technology and massacred the primitives, worked our mines, sent away the profits. You also brought advanced technology to us and started lording over us. We hate those who rule over their brothers, kill them, exploit them. Just for money! For metal! Unbelievable! Any system that reduces one community, one nation as the slave of another set of rulers- humans like us- is abhorred by us. It never worked earlier. It will not work in long run. As breath is natural to a living being, so is the freedom. It is like breathing pure air, which gives you life and sustenance. As a choked man desperately tries to grab free air, so does the slave for the freedom. Any unequal system will not work, therefore, in the long-term anywhere.” “I do understand your position. All of us are born into such an unequal world, not of our making. We have to live with it. Adjust. No way out.”

Harara laughed loudly.

“Do not speak the tongue of the masters. You know masters, as a race, are doomed.”

Just then a strange thing happened. He saw a heart-stopping scene. A very beautiful small bird, sporting al the colors of the rainbow, landed near the half-reclining figure of the old man. The bird was stunning in appearance. A small wonder of colors and swift movement, it looked a masterpiece done by nature, a painterly feat achieved that had no rivals in the human world of arts.

No renaissance masters can duplicate it!

It flew in from nowhere and settled down near the Harara, opposite the eyes directly, looking here and there. Caesar had never seen such a brilliant hued bird. From innocent eyes, it looked at him and then the half-prostrate figure. It was not startled. Just looked around. Caesar held his breath.

“What a beauty!”

Caesar exclaimed in a low voice, mesmerized.

“What?”

“Cannot you see the bird? So cute. Rainbow.

Lorikeet, I guess, is the name. can be seen from Indonesia to Australia.”

“Now. I cannot.”

The bird suddenly flew off. Resplendent and glorious in the Sun. he watched it go.

And then it struck him. With the force of a furious gale. Suddenly. Without warning. He looked closer. The eyes were listless. No light. Just stone eyes. Staring blankly at the opposite vacancy. Lifeless! My Gawd! This guy is stone-blind! He was shocked. Unbelievable!

I was being led all the time by a blind old man in this treacherous jungle! Putting my life in the hands of a blind man!

He was aghast!

Never did he suspect the old man to be blind. He was as swift as the deer on the slopes and valley and hills. As fast as the wind. Never faltered. Never tripped. Never lost the way. Killed the snake and saved his life. It was just impossible!

“I was born blind”, said the old man in his deep voice, “the gods took away my light for reasons known to them. But they gifted me with the power to see and hear things which normal eyes and ears cannot see and hear. I can see what no other mortal can see. That is why they respect me in my tribe for my visionary power.” Indeed!

“I have seen more than a hundred springs in my life. I have led a rich contented life on the mother earth. Now, I am waiting for the inevitable call from the great Beyond.

The land of eternal sleep and peace. The world of spirits. The world of no needs and desires. A perfect world. Very few among us can commune with the spirits. Sensitivity and respect are the required skills for that special dialogue with the dead…”

“The Un-dead?”

“No. they are not the un-dead. A Western concept of popular culture. They are souls living in a higher world. Call it primitive imagination but we believe that souls inhabit our body and leave it for the afterlife. The deep forest has a soul. The mountains. The rivers. The animals. They have soul unique to their order. It is all real to us. Real as you are. The big world is a family. We respect all form of life. And never kill wantonly or unnecessarily. Our needs are few and get satisfied by the forest. That is the world of the savages for you. A simple world. You will never appreciate it, although you, too, sprang up from the same stock like us.”

“Nobel savage, ha!”

 He blind man laughed.

“What romanticization! Pure non-sense. We have been like this for thousands of years. A tough life. We are happy. Now, you are changing all that!”

“I told you, only the powerful can survive. Either you kill me or I kill you in this game.”

“Yes. This is a brute way of telling. Justifying the murder of innocent folks. Natives. Our arrows are no match to your guns. An unequal war. You kill fellow brothers for greed, for gold. Call them dark, half-wits, savages. Have you ever seen a lion killing another lion? No, never. It is man who does that.”

Caesar felt irritated and angry.

“See, even you folks are known to kill and plunder and cannibalize your rivals. You are not ideal or very virtuous!”

Harara laughed.

“When rivals come a –calling, we have to defend. All they want is a piece of territory. Or slaves. Or women. Or gold. What should we do? Get killed? Raped? No way.”

Caesar saw no point in continuing.

“It is all about power and gold. The might is right is the theory to do it. I never meant that we are ideal or noble but we are better. I also do not mean that the White civilization is bad. For every Caesar, there is a Mark. For every Shaman, in our culture, there is an ancient Harara. I also know that we were doomed. One day the world was to discover us. It did. My only regret is I shall die as a slave on my own sacred land. A painful thing for most of us here. Now, I am waiting for our gods to speak.”

The evening came on early minus any warning. A dark sheet was unfurled across the sky and it came down directly to the forest bed. Birds started singing. The trees lost their solidity and blurred with the gloomy background. A thick opaqueness spread out. The stars were dim and the moon was hiding behind the clouds. A damp air thick with mosquitoes and jungle odors was blowing. Monkeys were chattering. Caesar felt utterly lonely in the evening jungle and lost. He pined for the comforts of his home and the company of the voluptuous Eva Hassan and the sizzling Chinese food and the hot Thai curry.

“I cannot feel the noon!” exclaimed the old blind man. “A bad sign!”

Caesar cursed silently. He is becoming my cross! “It is there  ... behind the clouds.”

“Come let us start our final journey!”

Once again, as a practiced guide, Harara led the way among the intertwined vines and over arching branches. He never bumped against any tree or fell down. The trees just parted and made way to him and seemed to close up from behind the departing figures.

Amazing! This guy is a wizard of the forest! Smells and sounds were the only navigation tools with him.

Caesar just followed.

An hour later, they emerged from the shadows of the brooding forest. Mount Ra loomed up large before them like an upraised granite fist, piercing the heavenly vault with its rugged summit, serrate in appearance. A cold wind blew down from the top and left them shivering. A desolate place!

The wind moaned and cried and whistled as if some woman were mourning and signing a dirge from a great height.

All around them was primeval silence that was unnerving for Caesar. The ancient Harara stopped beneath the central Mount Ra and bowed deeply. He stood transfixed for more than half-an-hour, silently communing with the spirits of the mount. Then he turned around and said in a commanding voice, “Wait here for me and do not move”, a royal voice he had never heard from the poor savage, a fact surprising. The old man had become more erect and suddenly dignified. Then he was gone.

He felt like a poor version of Adam, surveying the solitude stretched out before. The negritude, the silence at the birth of the world, the phantom forest around produced panic I him. I am the only survivor on the mother earth! The lone human being after the Great Flood!

He shuddered. If I were to die here, nobody will ever know about me. The Great Caesar, nothing but a few shining bones in the shadow of Ra, obscure and futile, irrelevant and un-mourned!

The terror of being alone hit hard. He looked around. Only the whispering strong wind. Deep shadows. And the jagged mountains towering and dominating everything else. He felt small and insignificant before the marvels of nature. Just a tiny speck on the big earth- itself a tiny speck in the cosmos. The star-studded sky looked a brilliant work of light and darkness by some supernatural force. The heavenly canvas sewn with the bright diamonds! They look cold but comforting to a solitary wanderer on the earth, the first celestial guide to the early earthlings sending down the divine messages to the receptive souls with plastic imagination still uncluttered with modern baggage. Suddenly he felt connected with the early generations through the centuries.

He had an awakening, the stirrings, of wonderment and awe at the mystery of creation. Like a first-born on the primitive planet when Time was not yet an important cultural discovery, he looked at the immense stellar and earthly grandeur with child-like curiosity and questioning spirit. Who is the Creator? who, the prime mover? Who, the first cause? Who, the absolute Idea who, the Brahma? Who, the Chaos? Who, God? What is big bang? Nebula? All the anxieties just evaporated before the divinity revealed to him on that wind-swept spot that moment.

And he, abruptly, got the point-of-view of the Hararas, the children whose dynamic continuity with the past was intact, despite many set backs.

He could see now clearly what was denied earlier: the presence of an emotional and symbolic order the pantheon of pagan gods.

The lonely night stripped away the mantle of rationalism and showed the kingdom of early gods to the first phase of the humanity. The gods and their colorful world. He could hear them and their songs. The enchanted music, the brilliant music of the spheres, the breathing of the forest. They all became alive and real. As real as the breath of wind on his face or the dim outlined forest behind. The air vibrate with the presence of the spirit world. He could feel them. A dramatic thing occurred. He heard the screeching sound clearly. Looked around and saw an eagle coming down from the empyrean heights of the dark sky. It was circling around him, the huge wings spread out, the eyes glittering, the screeching louder and louder. It came swiftly and settled down near him, the wings flapping. A beautiful bird! He stared at it and it showed no fear of his presence. It sat down stock-still there.

Awaiting.

Then he heard the sharp whistle.

He spun on his wheels and almost collided with a tall gaunt figure.

It was Harara.

“You scared me!”

The Harara smiled.

“You work like a ghost!”

The Harara said nothing. He emitted a low call. The eagle flapped the wings and flew immediately and sat down on the right shoulder of the blind man.

Just then, the full moon appeared in a cloudless sky and flooded the area with milky whiteness. The Mount Ra Gleamed in the silvery light like a giant necklace.

“Come. Follow me.”

The blind Harara strode rapidly with the grace of a ballet dancer. Caesar fell in the step. Soon they were standing at the eastern side of the massive Ra. The eagle flapped the wings and gave a low screech. At that precise moment, the high beams of the moon lit up the comparatively obscure area at the base of the mount and revealed a low opening partially covered with the rocks and weeds. The bird of prey flew and sat down on the pile of the rocks, screeching in a low tone. The old man bent down on his knees and prayed. Then he started clearing the rocks fast. The bird began circling the immediate space, hovered above as if suspended on invisible string, surveying the scene with its beady eyes like a divine guardian, whistling in a low volume. The Harara swept away the rocks and weeds quickly, his old gnarled hands moving skillfully. In the clear milky whiteness of the moonlight, the opening sprang into view. Like a half- open mouth, it gaped hideously. Harara gestured and half-crouching, entered the mouth of the cave. Caesar also bent down and followed the retreating figure. As he entered fully, he heard a low screech of the eagle and then the flapping of the wings in the air. He bent a last lingering look at the outside world and saw the bird flying off into the sky.

And then the clouds rolled down and completely obscured the moon. A solid darkness fell all around. Almost the identical darkness hit him hard in the narrow cave. As if a powerful wave had crashed into the cave from outside and blinded and groping he was riding on its crest, being to seed around.

It is the end of the world for me!

Thought Caesar.

The cave gradually widened and flattened out. After an eternity, they emerged into a vast, wide and vaulted cave. A central cave, serviced by many caves, the ceiling very high as you see in the gothic churches of the Europe, the light filtering from high opening cu into the steep rock face by the natural forces.

Amazing, this complex of caves! Right in the heart of the mountain chain known only to a select few.

A waterfall was cascading down in the far eastern portion of the gigantic cave. The murmuring waters sounded sweet.

The moonlight, frolicking and dancing on the bubbly waters, streaming through aperture, lent the magical touch to the whole scene. The central cave, a study in chiaroscuro, seemed to be made by a heavenly painter. Half dark, half-fit in the silk-smooth silvery light of moon, it looked otherworldly and full of mystique. A thick solitude lay around like a slumbering lioness: intense and charged-up. Caesar felt overawe by the accumulated burden of centuries in such a small cramped place. Like a tom-raider who had stumbled upon the sleepy world of the Pharos. Sacrilege! Disturbing the dead ages in this cave where early men came to worship alien gods.

“Those ages had all the romance and magic of childhood of man’, boomed the voice of the ancient Harara as if reading his ward’s mind. “The innocent ages when gods and first humans gamboled together in the blessed dales and verdant valleys of a full mother nature. When stars, moons, mountains, trees, rivers exited the clean imagination of the people who strode those early centuries. When nature was not mere trees but breathed life and a home to spirits of a lower order. When an infinite sky conversed with earth, the oceans and the men. When Gods talked to the heroes. A race of the giants who performed miracles. When heavenly intervention saved or ruined mortal drama called human life. A world, abandoned not yet by the Gods. There were no uncertainties at that time but only the blessedness of oneness between the earthly and the heavenly… A happy age, contented and blissful. Welcome, O Caesar, to that age, here in this cave, rarely trodden by the human feet.”

 A long pause.

“o Caesar, you who come from the world civilized and modern and rational, you are blessed that you are  going to see what very few can see and the majority can never see. So enter the holy domain of gods with the humility and curiosity of a trusting child, a full heart and a prayer on lips. Shed your fears and doubts and be a privileged witness to a most fabulous scene of your life. A scene unrivalled anywhere in your world. A spectacle unique which I am empowered to invoke for the larger benefit of our tribe.”

He motioned Caesar to sit down.

“Close your eyes.”

Caesar did.

“Drain your mind of all thoughts. Just relax.”

Caesar did but failed. All fears rushed into his mind.

They sat there for a long time.

The dulcet notes of the murmuring waters lulled his doubtful mind. The intense solitude and remoteness from the present moment balmed his frayed nerves. He no longer felt jumpy and shot with unknown fears. Tranquility came to grip him and finally overwhelmed him.

He felt connected.

He felt gliding himself smoothly over the turbulence of Time.

He saw figures phantom and heard voices foreign.

New vistas opened up and rushed up to him.

History in reverse!

The universe in the process of creation. The earth, the sun the moon being churned out of reigning chaos. The raging ice storms, the shifting of the landmass, the cooling of the earth.

First earthlings surveying a frightening world of shadows and long dark nights….

Huge monsters walking the earth…mountains issuing forth from the womb of the earth…vast water bodies…

Then the frolicking gamboling gods, peering from behind fluffy soft white clouds. Playing with their children on the earth.

 Then the plagues… the wars…

Heroes fighting aided by jealous gods against another se of heroes… Then the gods, sullen and remote, receding from the earth, beyond human reach…Man, now, self-absorbed, no longer caring for the divinity… More wars ….Bloodshed.

Man, emerging as the Lord of the universe, indifferent and bloodthirsty… races being created unequally… man ruling over man and beasts…..

Man, power-hungry and mad, seeking out new empires, plundering and killing…enslaving…

Empires rising up and falling down, armies massacring…

Master races and subject races being created…

Poor masses toiling hard…..

Man-superior

Man- inferior

Man-Savage

Man-White

Man-Black, brown, yellow.

One religion= the revealed truth.

Superior

Another religion=Barbaric. Inferior.

One man = Master

Another = Slave

Gods receding further and further…

Animal becoming human.

Human becoming animal.

Gods leaving mount and valleys, nature, slowly fading away….

Man showing claws and fangs, tearing apart other men….

Blood-bath…. Thrones shaky…

Armies marching….

Suddenly Man becoming completely crazed beast-

The Minotaurch!

The spirit of Caesar lingering on…

Constantine Caesar came out of trance, badly shaken up.

“We blind ourselves to the Truth, O

Caesar, said the blind Harara quietly.

“Only the Blind can see the truth!”

“Yes, Mater”, replied Caesar humbly.

“Those who see and ignore the Truth, die and perish and lie forgotten by the traveler time. Those who see and recognize the Truth shine through mists.”

“Yes, mater.”

“The first one is King. The second one is saint.”

Caesar nodded.

“A crown soaked in blood of fellow men never rests in peace and gets replaced. An empire erected on the blood and sweat of fellow men always gets reduced to dust. You cannot go on ruling over your brothers with a whip. Poor folks, once roused, will trample upon and kill the tyrant because they despise slaving for a fellow man.”

Caesar nodded silently.

“Beware of the silent masses. The real kingdom lies with them.”

Caesar listened.

“Now, the real test begins for you, my distinguished guest. Very soon, the fire test starts and the fiery god appears here in this cave. Prepare yourself well.”

Caesar tensed up, in anticipation. He felt alone on the earth and awfully terrified. The dreaded time was approaching. Trapped up in a timeless zone and the darkened point of space, he waited.

The earth began shuddering. In the deep womb of the cave, suspended in a dark moment, he saw the most amazing spectacle or so he recalled later to Eva Hassan.

“The shuddering and rumbling went on for an eternity”, he remembered in the place room, entwined with the lush ripe body of his exotic mistress, a full moon filtering in through the window.

“I thought thousands of horses or bisons came charging towards me, the ground shaking and vibrating under my feet. Maybe,, an earthquake. Not sure. The place moved terribly like a saucer on table. I am going to die in this hole.” “Then?” asked the Egyptian seductress in a honey-smooth voice, her dainty fingers tracing a pattern in the hair on his broad chest. A breeze, with a hint of summer, agitated the curtains. Caesar propped his torso on the pillows and looked into the dark space. Finally, he said…

The floor, a rude area of mud and embedded stone, suddenly split up and a huge ball of fire leapt out of the gaping hole, blinding the two lonely humans by its sheer brilliance. The huge orange ball, a gigantic tidal wave of burning fire, came tumbling down, out of the depths unknown, and stopped a few feet from the earthly figures. Surprisingly, he did not feel the singing effect of the fire, at such close quarters. The fire was leaping and dancing like a drunken person. He saw some faces, blank and stony, looking from behind the fiery curtain.

He suspected he could make out the wizened face of Henry Livingston from that medley of dark flat faces of the dead Hararas.

The ancient Harara prostrated fully before the fire, chanting sacred words, dazed and euphoric. The fire lit up the gloomy interiors of the cave, transforming them into golden hued solid pieces of the rocks. He thought he heard the screeching sounds of the eagle somewhere in the large cave. All around, he could feel the presence of the undead, eyes probing and X-raying him. They are hostile!

Then a deep voice boomed out, issuing forth from the stomach of the ball of leaping fire, in the foreign tongue, now understood by Caesar also.

“Beware of the man you bring with you?

He brings no luck to your tribe and to you. Trust him not. Go out and tell the world. He is not one of us and will never be. His aim is different. Go out and tell the world. And defend.”

Then the fire vanished, leaving everything in primeval dark.

“What happened them?”

The silken voice of Eva Hassan cooed. She was sitting propped up in the huge bed, her breasts looking bronzed in the soft glow of the moonlight, a cigarette dangling from her small mouth, her dainty hand stroking the thick mass of hair in the erotic zone of Caesar’s well-sculpted muscular body.

“Well, well…everything is in a daze. I do not recall anything concrete from that blur of fast-forward events……just a haze. Not sure if it happened to me at all. Almost like a dream sequence…”

“I can understand, honey. You were under great stress. You experienced lots of things, which few of us have ever seen or gone through. That too, within a couple of days and hours. Enough to unsettle and unnerve the sanest mind.”

“As always you are perfectly right. And understanding. Now let us see what do I have for you here.”

“Oh, no! Not again!”

“You have roused little Caesar and he never likes a ‘no’, especially from young sexy babes like you.”

“Little Caesar!” giggled the woman.

“It is h-u-g-e. Like a fat dwarf!

I will die…”

Caesar grabbed her and climbed on her. She moaned in pleasure.

“See, I told you. The job of the little Caesar is to unravel and melt young babes like you!”

As he drove ferociously into her, she gasped for air and then shrieked, biting into the massive shoulders of the thrusting man.

Afterwards, exhausted but relaxed, they lay entwined. Caesar climbed down from her, went to the corner chair and lit a Havana.

His mind going back….

The night was dark and col. The moon was obscured in clouds. A terrific wind was blowing. Ancient Harara looked at his royal companion, the blank eyes fixed in his direction.

He can see through his unseeing eyes!

“You know the divine judgment.”

The voice of the old man sounded harsh.

“Yes, I could understand a bit.”

“You are what I have suspected all along: a curse to us.”

Caesar ignored the threat.

“A stealer of our land. A rapist. You have destroyed our culture.”

Caesar laughed, the vein throbbing in the forehead, mouth twitching. His face was set in a snarl, a controlled fury.

“I came. I saw. I conquered.’

The tone was icy. The voice, on the edge.

“You came. You saw. You divided. You butchered. You raped.”

Old man’s voice was even, betraying no fear.

“Nothing new. Through out centuries, the conquerors have done that. The masters bring their own rule book and play according to that.”

“Yes. They do. And get killed by the slaves. The verdict is out. You are a murderer. Not welcome here in our land. You destroyed our religion, culture, simple life, everything. Now, you must go.”

Caesar laughed. The laugh of hyena!

“It was my destiny that brought me here. I wanted to civilize the semi-naked, raw flesh-eating savages like you. My Gods willed it that way. Nobody could stop me earlier or can stop me now, not even your damn fire god!”

This infuriated the ancient Harara to a great extent. Suddenly, without any warning, he came charging like an enraged bull, his arms swinging wildly. Caesar, unprepared, got flattered down by this abrupt charge. The blind man sat down on the chest of his companion, his gnarled long hands clamped down upon the face of the infidel, almost choking off the supply of oxygen. Then, as quietly, he dismounted. Badly shaken by the raw energy of the blind man, Caesar got up, gasping.

Jesus! The man has steely hands!

Like being trapped in a spider’s web.

“I am sorry!” the old man said.

“I am also!” Returned a chastised Caesar. “You have incredible energy and stamina. Your hands are powerful…like the eagle’s claws.”

The old man smiled.

“I meant no offence. I am sorry. I was disoriented…and upset. You were holding me responsible for feelings that are old as the mountains. The feelings to control and rule.” The old man said nothing. He listened. “We come from different worlds. In my world, competition, aggression and brutality are culturally encouraged. We are to individuals competing with each other in a mad race. Only the survivor is the winner and takes everything. A ruler has to be ruthless. Soft-hearted do not survive. You have to be a predator…. Your world is totally different…. Naturally we can not understand each other.”

The old man spoke, bitterness in voice, “You introduced same emotions here in our society, that is why I hold you personally responsible for polluting our culture….. for destroying an ancient society and the balance in it. I could never trust you. I thought our simple clan could humanize you but…’

Caesar sighed. Not again!

“I told you. One day the outside world was sure to catch you. If not me, then somebody else. Your clan could not lead an isolated existence for long. The world has shrunk rapidly. No body can live in isolation for long.

“And, in the process, kill a thousand-year-old unique culture and clan that is the best in human civilization.”

Constantine Caesar laughed dryly.

“The Greeks thought so…. The Persians….

The Chinese…. The Vedic Aryans… they all believed that they were the best…..the last word…How mistaken they all were!”

“No”, ancient Harara said emphatically.

“I have seen other civilization also.

This benefit the earlier peoples did not have. i visited the Solomons, the French Guinea and other island. Mark and before him Walter had taken me to all the places. I heard and participated in discussions and debates there. In coffee houses, bars, seminars, church.

The liberals discussed many things among themselves and ourselves. In the early 60s, the white world was very excited about the discovery of many old tribes and totemic clans in deep Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Central Americas. A new world was opening up for them. A world, which still preserved old ways. A precious link with our common past. It taught the liberals, the thinkers, the sympathizers- the best minds there- the beauty of a lost age. They were all impressed by the beauty and the simplicity of the savage mind”, he paused, painful expression on his leathery face, the eyes sunken in the deep hollows. He looked back and could see the things crystal-clear.

The last of the wise Hararas. Proud. Bitter. Angry. Disillusioned. Yet deeply caring for his tribe and trying to prevent the modern tragedy from visiting his tribe. One frail man trying to hold back the flood and he inevitable destruction.

Caesar felt touched by his sincerity and wanted to reach out to this man who has saved his life and spared him again when he could have easily killed Caesar in a fit of anger and hatred.

“We know we can never revive the past. Can never revisit it. Things were going to change sooner or later. But the point was that, at the dawn of civilization, early man could work out a simple social arrangement that was never possible in more advanced societies. A simple society where clan, the tribe was more important than the members. Where everybody hunted and gathered food according to his or her might. Where the whole clan sat down and enjoyed food together. Where the Chief was a notional idea. Nobody was the master and nobody the slave. Nobody, rich and nobody, poor. Women enjoyed freedom of sex and choice. Everybody stuck together in the group for survival and security”, he paused, coughed and looked at Caesar, his face now a mask of fury and hatred, “You changed all that. You, the worst side of the Western culture. You killed. You brought your own language, religion, culture. You made us feel inferior and small. You wanted to rule our heart and mind. You made a free people slave.” He stopped and stabbed the air with his claws, lips snarled.

My mirror image! Hatred has universal language and a universal face. It just kills human dignity and finer qualities.

“You could have killed me. Why did you not?”

“I am a skilful hunter. Not a killer. We never kill unnecessarily. In nature, the big cats kill but not excessively. We kill for food and not indulge in wanton destruction. We adopt little animals to appease forest spirits. We adopt little monkeys and birds and dogs and look after them. We gather roots and flowers and edible. We are not like you. In similar situation, you would have surely killed me!

Caesar looked closely. A washed-up man, of no use. A babbling old man. On the brink of death. Of no relevance and utility to anybody.

“I know what you are thinking”, the voice of the blind tribal startled him rudely.

You are thinking to kill me.”

Caesar smiled. “Why should I kill an old harmless person? My savior?”

“Because I am the only witness to the fire test. Your nemesis.”

Caesar reflected.

“My killing will add to your spiraling sins. You can kill me but not the entire people. You cannot kill a whole nation. You cannot kill dissidence. Once the masses are roused, they cannot be stopped by any army. People are the real power. You are- just a small arrangement on the chessboard. If they rise up- as a nation, you are toppled and killed. Violence has never paid. You know the strength of a slave? The exploited, brutalized slave gets radicalized, to quote my old friend Mark and his liberals, and the Master gets weakened. Then the slave comes and kills the master. It happens everywhere. The poor and the exploited learn it the hard way and risk their which has already no value- to turn around a grim situation to their advantage.”

The bugger!

“Be your age. You cannot flee and be lucky twice. You are a fine man. You lost your touch with the masses. You forget your earlier sensitive self. A self that cared for the downtrodden. The poor. You buried your finer self. The humanism that unites us all. We all belong to same humanity. We are all same. Then why should a man like me rule over me? Lord over me? By my master? You are not special. You and me have same hands and feet. You cannot kill the yearning for freedom. So be your old self. Do not start this descent into hell.”

“You speak like Mark and the early liberal humanists of the West!”

“I speak the truth. I have seen so much and heard so much. I observe and meditate. I am the only link between the past and the present. Gods gave me the gift of seeing what others cannot. Mark called me the Tiresias of the Hararas. I can see centuries rising up and falling down behind me and before me. I have this gift of vision and prophecy.”

“And what does future hold for me?” asked Caesar with contempt.

The blind man stopped and thought. Then he said in a clear voice, “The fate that awaits every dictator. Death.”

Caesar’s hollow laugh sounded harsh and grating. It echoed in the nigh and traveled far and wide.

“What happened to this mad old man?

The pretentious fool who thought he was Tiresias? A prophet?”, asked Eva in her lilting tone, her bust propped up on soft pillow, head in her hands, milky legs moving up and down.

The seductress lying on her stomach, pouting and wild, was trying to control a powerful man through classic pose of an enchantress! I have seen so many of them. Used them and thrown them like a used condom. Nobody can control me.

“Hmm…the opinionated blind babbling fool… Ha! Ha! Ha!... Passing on the old arguments of that Jerk, Mark, the White god, to these savages…this bunch of naked flesh-eaters… But Mark must have been a hypnotic ruler- like every successful leader. Had lots of charisma. The punk connected well with these fuckers. Had the gift of communication. Spoke their language. And became popular… The bastards spoke his language. So nobody could challenge him.

He got assimilated. And survived..ran the island like his fiefdom and screwed their women.”

Constantine Caesar spat out on the floor, features contorted in hate. “He was a devil… devil quoting the scriptures. I saw through his game. He was a greedy, as frail as all of us. He did lot of posturing…mouthing a lot holy shit… The noble savage shit of the early liberal intellectual tradition. The world has moved away from such nonsense. Techno world has no room for such romantic stuff any longer… We have outgrown that early stage.”

“You are right, my lord and master”, said Hassan in a husky voice.

Caesar smiled. “Fakes! Both. Mark and ancient Harara. Dead like liberalism. The fool could see centuries past and future but not his death. What a big joke!”

“How did the rascal die?”

“Why you so interested?”

“Just curious…in the heroic exploits of my master and lord.”

Caesar felt flattered.

“You are my woman.”

“Better than these dark-skinned natives?”

Caesar laughed.

“Women and jealousy!”

“I know my man has roving eyes and a huge cock that is never satisfied.”

“Yes. Women, of all ages and colors, are my favorite. I eat them raw.

Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Eva Hassan sprang up and attached her man like a wild cat. He laughed and then threw her violently on the bed. “My girlie needs good spanking.” He playfully slapped her on her bare buttocks. She squealed.

“You are a brute! A savage!”

Caesar stopped. “a man must subdue a wild cat like you. Hence, violence. And most women like to be beaten into submission. Beaten and battered.” Then he stood up and poured scotch. “The ancient Harara fell down and died a violent death. But I often see him in my dreams.”

The dream was recurrent:

They are in the middle of the thick jungle. A green canopy is spread over them. The rainwater is dripping from foliage.

In the distance, from the jagged hills, can be seen a wisp of smoke. Fog is coming down and spreading its grey curtain on the surroundings. The river is flowing in the valley, a mere ribbon of sparkling water in the faint light of a weak sun, now shining and now hiding. Around them is deep solitude undisturbed and untrod by human feet. The undulating rugged rocky wilderness is throbbing with silence. Then they hear the screeching of an eagle. The massive bird is circling overhead, wide wings flapping in the cool morning air. He looks up and sees the eagle swooping down near him and then flying away in a swift motion. He stops and looks at the bird of prey.

What a fabulous bird!

The ancient Harara stops and whistles. The eagle comes down and settles on his bony hand. The bird and the blind man look unreal in the sudden fog swirling around. The bird’s screeching sound is the only guide for him. Walking blindly through the fog, he reaches a desolate spot, the ancient Harara resting ahead on a craggy ledge, the hill dropping abruptly to a great depth vertically, the bottom almost invisible in the dark shadows. The bird rises up and starts hovering over the lean and thin old man who is looking transfixed at the bird, which is sacred to the clan.

It happens…..

In slow motion, the experienced old gentle Harara starts falling of the ledge, pushed over by some ghost, the free fall slow and painful, the reed-like emaciated legs flailing in the crisp morning air, head downwards in descent dictated by the gravity. His face, old wrinkled leathery, eyes small and brown, nose flattened and wide, lip lower thick, reveling some surviving stained teeth, the fading sunrays glistening off the enamel. Looking wretched and pathetic, a caricature of his early self-possessed and dignified self.

He cautiously peers down the craggy ledge at the vertically dropping abyss and finds no trace of his travelling companion. The man who had brought him safety to the cave, hi one-time savior in the jungle, his guide.

The savage who guaranteed the survival of his ward in the jungle. The unread man, not sure of his actual age, holding forth on lofty issues of universal appeal to all ages.

The man. Gifted by the gods to see and speak, as nobody else, could do.

Ancient Harara. The Tiresias. A guy through whom gods and life spoke to mortals. The equivalent of your modern writer or philosopher.

The wise one!

As he is peering down, the bloodied hideous gnashed broken face of the gnarled man pops up, the skull open and tissues leaking out, fresh blood spluttering down. The head, without body, travels up and looks hard into his eyes and shrieks, murderer, murderer! The eagle shrieks deafeningly and swoops down upon him, trying to attack him ferociously….

And he wakes up, shuddering…

Another variation of the dream….

He is in a vast sunless chamber. A windowless chamber with vaulted roofs. Dank stale air is circulating in the gloomy place. He is climbing down from a narrow flight of stairs. His eyes adjust to the darkness. He sees a throne. He starts towards the throne. He stumbles upon something. Bends down to check. Suddenly, without warning, the thing springs up and grabs him by throat. It is a skeleton. The grinning skull, with empty sockets and nose, grips him in a vice-like grip. He struggles, frees himself, runs to the throne and panting and huffing, sits down. As he looks up, he sees the bloodied face of the ancient Harara, grinning quite hideously face gets enlarged throes, as if mocking death itself. The bodyless face gets enlarged and amplified. It fills up the entire space. Murderer, Murderer, it whispers, you will get your just punishment.

He gets up and flees.

The face floats up nearer and nearer.

The eyes fastened upon the fleeing killer. Then he sees an army of the chained skeletal figures moving unsteadily but firmly towards him. A chant of murderer, murderer goes up from the lipless clenched teeth. He tries to escape but finds no exit. In a corner, he is trapped.

The army of the undead inches forward. The skeletal bones swing side ways, extend and grope the immediate space like a blind probe. His breath is rapid. Sweat breaks out. He cannot move forward. He waits. The undead find him and start pummeling him with their hard bony hands….

He wakes up, shuddering…..

Three months later, the news came that couple of Hararas had killed the two overseers of the Zulu tribe on the silver mines. Deep knife wounds had punctured the heart, the liver and the stomach of the short, stocky overseers message was pinned on the body of the senior: death to the slave- drivers.

Death to the tyrants.

Constantine Caesar knew the symptoms. When he had emerged from the shadows of the forest into the clearing, his guards and Shaman had joyously welcomed his triumphal return.

He had assembled the meeting of the village council and announced the tragic death of the blind Harara. Shaman had anointed him as the true Chief of the Harara tribe. But he understood the anger of some of them.

It is simmering!

The violence, random, made him sit up. He wanted to suppress the whole thing before it turned into a rebellion or an uprising. The guards were very agitated, thirsting for revenge. Despite their best efforts, they could not catch the killers. One sultry afternoon, the overseers beat an old slave mercilessly who had fainted. This inflamed the hatreds. The slaves turned upon the overseers and lynched them. The guards went berserk and opened fire. The slaves tumbled down and died. A blood bath followed. The remaining slaves hurled stones and hammered the overseers in their range. The armed Zulu guards, from their vantage positions, fired into the rioting mob. Hundreds died. After seven hours, the rebellion was brought under control.

Chameleon caught hold of the young males. The Royal Guards shot them and left their bodies hanging from the bamboo poles as a dire warning to others.

Over the moths, Constantine Caesar, the chief of the Hararas, the King of the island called Paradise, grew pensive and paranoids. He brought hundreds of Zulu warriors from Africa and raised his private army.

I do not want to take chances!

A rule of terror was unleashed.

Kill the rebels!

The royal guards, brutal and fierce, patrolled the mines and plantations. They led a pampered life.

With dreams recurrent, sleepless nights, Caesar felt awfully lonely and pessimistic. He consulted a Zulu witch doctor and told him about his dreams. The doctor, a massive fellow with a protruding belly and blood-shot eyes, listened patiently. He consulted his books. Finally he said, “Omens are not good, Chief. Bad spirits need blood. More blood. You need to drive them out.”

Caesar knew he was sitting on a powder keg.

How the old past, the familiar scenario, was repeating itself!

The ghosts had come to haunt the island.

The ghost of Mark.

Of ancient Harara.

Were they dead?

He was not sure.

They clung to him day and night. They were not dead. They were the undead. He was unable to shake them off.

“How the past repeats!”

Caesar said over scotch, sitting in the balcony of his lodge.

“How?”, asked Eva.

“It happened earlier…in a different time zone… and place, two years ago… two years? Three years? Not sure.”

“When you were the President?”

“Yes.”

“I am curious…to know about that part.’

Caesar pointed to the room.

“There… in the writing desk.. The diary is kept. I have written about the experience there. Read it.”

“What is it called?”

“When I was the President…”


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