Minotaur: Fifth Chapter (Sunil Sharma)

Minotaur (Sunil Sharma)

Chapter 5

Writing is a difficult art.

What to select and what to eliminate?

The artistic selection is tough.

I know I am not a born storyteller. I am a soldier. A politician. I know my own limitations. I cannot write inspired prose. I write bald prose. Sparse. I admire Hemingway for his bone-dry style. Simple, economical but super-efficient. My writer friends tell me that the big-bearded Papa worked very hard to achieve this apparent simplicity. Joyce, his contemporary and friend in Paris, turning blind, wrote Finnegans Wake in a very inspired manner. Wake could be accessed by only two persons, so the joke goes, in the entire literary world: Joyce himself, and God! Since Joyce insisted that you read it and discover your meaning in it, the reader has no choice but to plod through the masterpiece, which cared nothing about punctuation and grammar and left him, that well-read and well-meaning guy, feeling suffocated in that extremely private world of myths, allusions, neologisms and opacity. I started it and left it mid-way.

Sorry! I have no patience for that art that needs Britannica to unravel it. I need that art that enlightens. That gives courage. That maps out the route to suffering masses. If it entertains, well and good. Entertainment is not profane act in classic arts. Greene called his fictions as entertainments.

That is why I like the Victorians.

Before them, Shakespeare.

The French masters.

Stendhal.

The Russians.

And the Americans!

Nobody can beat the Yankee in telling beautiful stories in a simple, direct prose that just sparkles! The colloquial style conveys the rhythm of a huge nation on the march. No heavy, convoluted, stilted prose. They are the new masters who write unusual stories. Their romances are more real than the realist novels themselves! And they are epic in their sweep! A young energetic continent seeking freshness of approach, a new vision, a new reality, in a rudely, robust, vigorous prose. Their founding fathers speak a direct effective prose in the declaration of human rights. Thoreau sings America. Hawthorn and Twain speak the same uncluttered language. Who does not love Finn?

Only an America like Faulkner can say: “I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance. The writer’s duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart by reminding him of the courage and honor, hope and pride, compassion and pity and sacrifice, which have been the glory of his past.”

You may find it silly?

A man, writing about immortality and soul and the best virtues, in the very epicenter of rationalism, pragmatism and hard science that is America for you and me. Faulkner deliberately uses transcendental terms to show that any high-tech civilization, without a soul, is useless. This soul equals liberal humanism. The formula is like this:

Man =Soul

Soul = Humanism

Humanism = Society

 

Man, without soul, is a dead man. That is what. The job of the writer is to talk about this humanism, this soul, and the best qualities that ennoble man and make him what he is: man.

That is why, as a reader, I never liked Beckett and Joyce.

Talking man, lemme recall Hemingway. The man can be destroyed but never defeated! Or something to this effect.

What is the point?

The point is, any art, which is divorced from life, is anemic, useless, irrelevant and dies naturally in short time. Great art, allied with life, endures.

And what is art?

Well, well, art looks at the world and formulates an artistic response to the world through images, feelings and emotions. An artist, visually or linguistically, tries to comprehend the objective world, abandoned by the Gods. Art appropriates the space vacated by religion and, therefore, appeals to a secular mind, who wants to understand the world around him.

Art is sacred to those who no longer cling to old dogmas, rituals and the religions of their emotional childhood. It is an aesthetic way of seeing the world. But only gifted artists can see the world as it is, in totality, which lead a rich life of community-living and are not mere isolated, atomized things. Americans again beat the link between individual and the community, and suggests the relevance of the latter to the former.

But why am I talking all this?

Well, subconsciously I am trying to trace the influence of arts on the shaping up of my sensitive self, maybe. I am not sure. Maybe this. Maybe that. I dunno. I told you, I am not good at writing. So many ideas are flooding my mind, so many memories, I am confused. That is why art of writing is difficult and not all good oral communicators can master the written narrative. A politician is good at oral communication, a teacher, too. A journalist, at written one but it is the writer, the author, the great one, who puts bounce in the language, who renews it, who makes the tired language of commerce and ad-world sparkle and glitter, in a creative way.

I am not all this.

I am just kind of unraveling my life. Sorting it out. Making a sense of all that sensory, auditory data. Trying to figure it out. In my own way. On my pace and terms. One thing is pretty certain. I am he child of a liberal age. An age that will never repeat itself in the march forward of Time. A very precious age, the 20th century, rich and full of contradictions, a monumental age that shook up a slumbering world! A powerhouse of ideas! A century in deep turmoil.

Mother.

Of all influence, mum’s was the best and the best and most enduring.

She exposed me to the very best.

She told me about Cervantes, Flaubert, Balzac, Beethovan, Chagal…

She was an exponent of European culture. Half-French, half Spanish, she was the epitome of the European refinement. She was tall, thin and pale-faced. Her long nose regally dominated long sallow face.

Her blue eyes were large, liquid and very expressive. The eyes directly opened upon her crystal-clear soul, as pure as the virgin snow of Alaska. They reflected her soul most graphically. These liquid eyes also accurately showed every inner emotion and agitation. Her lips were red and full and broke into the most charming smile in the world. Throughout her life- and a sad one it was- my mum retained her innocence and purity of heart. She remained a kid by heart throughout: easily excited, curious, kind and compassionate. She will throw tantrums one minute or cry and forget the harshest humiliations, the next moment. She could never keep hard feelings for long. And she was capable of loving the whole world like a true earth mother.  Forgiveness was her virtue and fault. Her pop was French and a well-known painter of the 20s France. Monsieur de Merret was a tall and handsome person, somewhat aloof and reserved, with a long, ruddy face and gray side-whiskers. He had interacted closely with Picasso and Dali and many others.

In the 40s, he had met and developed a close relationship with the émigré writers like Joyce and Hemingway in the bohemian Paris. He was also friendly with Sartre and Camus. Mum just adored her pop. Monsieur de Merret was a kind and compassionate fellow and a hardcore artist of Parisian nature: a rebel, non-conformist, searching a cause and canonizing arts as the most sacred part of the human existence that can give spiritual nourishment and act as an antidote to the increasing commercialization of life and relations.

“Art is my religion!” that was his painted manifesto in his cluttered-up studio in Paris. My grandma was Spanish and a good singer who often sang in the Sunday church as part of the choir and on other special occasions. She was thick fat woman, big-bone, boisterous and loved food and music in a fanatic manner. Quick-tempered and egoist, she never liked being insulted and hated every boorish, uncouth person in the world.

The de Merrets made an old couple. Madame de Merret, despite her garrulous nature and king-size ego, loved her husband and was totally devoted to the rebel artist. “My man is a great painter and France has no appreciation for great painters and artists!” that was how she summed up the moderate commercial success of my grandpa’s early cubist paintings. Madame had worked as a waitress in a road side café and often served coffee and burgers to some of the hungry down-n-out artists, paying from her little salary their bills. Drawn by this kindness of the fun-loving fat waitress, Monsieur courted her and proposed the rest was history! In the long run, driven by the commercial failure of Monsieur de merret’s artistic canvass and his strange Cubist universe, Madame opened up a small restaurant in the seedy section of Paris and through hard work and humor, made it quite successful, feeding many frustrated poor younger artists there. “France and Picasso swallowed up my poor Merret; otherwise he is a great artist!”

One art-critic, stung, wrote a piece with the following title:

France Has Room for only One Picasso by Andre Bretton

Does France need more than one Picasso? So many doppelgangers we see of the great master now-a-days in the seedy cafes and sun-kissed meadows near the river Seine. Every Salon has one or two resident Picassos measuring out the world in cubes and squares! The unilinear has become multi-linear. You see eyes where a nose is supposed to be, a nose where a tongue is to be. It is so disorienting and challenging! Everywhere the sure comfortable and certain Parisian world is undergoing a visual metamorphosis and turning ordinary everyday objects into something funny and gravity defying. These copy-cats, headed by a tall thin slender Frenchman, have created a surrealist world. This Frenchman is often seen in a run-down café in a seedy section, surrounded by his own band of hungry young disciples, holding forth on the current trends, and depicting human figure in the unique manner of the Homeric mythological world: one-eyed Cyclopses, multilayered faces, Gorgons and what not. What is art in the accomplished hands of the innovative Master, is pure de trop in the art of the second-rate copy-cats….

This acidic piece, a frontal attack on the reputation of fairly well-known Monsieur Merret, playfully inspired by Picasso, hurt de Merrets a lot but they survived. “Unfortunate it is to be born in an age of the giants. Other original voices, less successfully marketed, are doomed to be swamped. But History is the best judge!” de mere wrote in his diary.

That was my grandpa, the vintage de Merret. Later on, disgusted by the meaner, predatory side of the Parisian art life, he stopped painting. After the death of their only son in the car accident, de Merret went back to the simplicity of the Renaissance masters and sought refuge in the artistic world. He abandoned cubism and surrealism totally and painted scenes of everyday Parisian life in a realistic style. These paintings of the workers, domestics, peasants, clerks, waiters, entitled “The Invisible of Paris”, drew lot of admiration from the French Left and the general public recovering from the horrors of the Second World War. His simple pastoral paintings, celebrating the soothing power of eternal calm nature, provided the required balm to a wounded nation and sold pretty well. U.S.S.R. and Cuba decorated him. He became a true son of the lower middle-class, working France. Surrounded by destruction and despair, haunted by the death of his young son, de Merret found refuge, via art, in the community of fellow French who had lost their near and dear ones. This universal community suffering of the common people made him declare: “No money, no award is better than the recognition and love of the common man suffering injustices and pain in a cruel unequal world. That art is relevant, welcome that gives strength and moral support to these suffering, exploited, hard-working masses of the exploited of the world. Any art that does not address the concern of the millions; that does not directly engage with the pressing issues of the age; that does not challenge the exploitation of man; this art, which is not the comrade of the exploited world, will not survive in a changed socio-economic order. The shelf-line of such an elitist art will not be more than 50 years.”

‘Course, de Merret was the most feted man on Left circuits, de Merret who discovered larger humanity within him and became a champion of the proletariat art, de Merret who started off as a follower of Cubism and ended up as a proletariat painter, the darling of the masses and Left! Grandma had the last word:

“When he was ready, Fame was not,

When Fame was ready, ‘course he was not.”

My mum was 14 at that time and saw the history unfold so closely.

Their influence shaped up my sensitive mind to a large extent. Grandpa de Merret had told me once: “Always discover your inner voice, child. Listen to your heart. Follow it. Do its biddings. It is the authentic voice, all others are false. I paid a heavy price for not listening to it. I imitated. I copied. The avant garde fascinated me. I wanted to become what I was not. And, then, one fine day, I discover the voice in me and I did what it bid. I swam against the current. I became what I was. And see, how the other half of the world recognized me!”

The elite regarded his style retro but the common people found it refreshing. By the time money and fame reached him, they had stopped having any meaning for him.

A true artist is the one who discovers his true worth among the struggling people and prefers to remain obscure like them, singing their songs and identifying with them and their aspirations. An artist’s wealth lies there, among people. All other awards are useless before this recognition. So he believed.

Naturally, he was called people’s artist by the Left.

In a way, de Merret represents the growth and development of the 20th century art and theory in a symbolic manner. There are two broad currents here. One, elite; and, second, a popular mass-based art. The first for the minorities and the second, for majority. Although these broad distinctions had always existed earlier also, they became well-pronounced and clear-cut in the last century.

An art for the few.

An art for the people.

Mum, growing up in such a bohemian, artistic environment, imbibed the most liberal values and passed them down to me. A music lover, she learnt guitar and piano. She sang beautifully. As an adolescent, she wrote some sentimental poetry which was published in little magazines and later on, totally forgotten. She painted as well. As usual grandma summed mum’s generation up in her pithy manner: “In her generation everybody wanted to be either a poet or actor but my daughter found her passion in music. Other’s, her age, are still struggling!”

That was Paris, heady. Full of artists. Musicians. Painters. Authors. Actors. Muses, they say, have been very kind to France.

Pa met mum in grandma’s café- now famous all over Paris among artists new and old- and found the tall, long-legged lady with expressive eyes very charming. Pa had gone there with an African painter and found the informal atmosphere quite agreeable. Bored to death by the artistic snobbery and repelled by the arrogance of the artists towards the non-artistic fellows, he was about to leave when he saw an awkward, shy, tall girl walk into the café and dazzle it by her quiet magnetism. When she sang for few of her regular friends there and strummed her Spanish guitar, Pa was smitten. He gaped and stared. The son of a painter, Pa had always secretly admired the world of arts. Here was a young woman artist, a singer, a poet; her dad a famous painter and mother, a versatile singer. Pa’s father was only a hunter and wrestler but was a rich country gentleman with an English wife, a great achievement in those times.

Pa was broad and athletic and good at languages. He excelled in the game of soccer- the national favorite- where he was the undisputed king and as a defender, had an awesome reputation. He was a good swimmer and boxer. But literature and arts were beyond him. He found the longhaired musicians and painters rather boring and self-opinionated. A man of action, impatient and impulsive, he preferred the soccer field to the salons but the Paris air had a calming effect upon him and he decided to visit some of these spots where art happened. “It was just destiny”, Pa declared once, “I went there for a cup of coffee and some talk with these arty fellows, and, mind it, walked out with the daughter of the café owner, every bit artist!” Romance bloomed full-time. Mum found the exotic Eurasian sort of features of Pa very attractive and his simple direct approach, appealing. They were married soon. Again they made an odd couple. But mum adored him awfully and never thought of deserting or divorcing him.

While mum represented the artistic refinement, Pa symbolized the energy, honesty and aggression of a sportsperson. He swam and exercised daily and watched only sports on T.V He went out along with grandpa for hunting in the country and regaled us whit his tales of blood and gore.

In a way, both represented the two faces of the European or any other culture: One, emotional; the other, physical. One, Appolonian; the other, Dinocyean.

I was lucky to have both the sides in me, thanks to such a gene-pool and the rich cross-breeding.

My paternal grandfather, the famous hunter and wrestler, had named me has Constantine Caesar. Caesar, who belongs to not one but all ages, the constant Caesar who had inspired practical men down the ages.

The men who wanted to rule the world, for such men Caesar was a hero and will be, for coming ages also. No other name would have been appropriate for me.

From my paternal grandpa I learnt the hunting skills. He taught me the value of patience, courage and planning in the hunting game that involved a superior unpredictable predator.

Pa told me about the value of team spirit. Dedication, discipline and focused approach in the game of soccer and their importance in social life. The 90-minute game can make you a hero or a villain.

So, strategize carefully.

These practical lessons proved to be simply invaluable in my later life as the president.

Like many people of my generation, I believed I deserved what I got in life. It was fairly an upper-middle-class comfortable life. I was educated in an English boarding school. It was an unhappy period for me. The rains, the cold, the gloomy lonely life in the boarding school, the discipline of the masters- they all combined to produce a feeling of depression. I felt wretched. But I liked the Brits for their sense of justice and fair play. What irritated me the most was their aloofness and a reserved nature- their national trait. Their class system was more solid than ours. I always wondered how an old monarchy could co-exist within a vibrant democracy and both could function so easily within the polity. But there was a time when entire world loved their Britain. Later on, it was U.S. A. my paternal granpa and parents had told me that I was unique and therefore, have to create a name for myself. Granpa, as a hunter and wrestler, had earned solid reputation. My Pa was the soccer legend who was complimented by the ‘Black pearl’ Pele. Mum was also well known as a singer and the piano-teacher. Pa wanted me to be a soccer star and join the giants like Real Madrid or Barcelona FC. “The real action is going to be in Spain. Go and join them. You will be an international star and millionaire”, he would say. Mum wanted me to be a singer! “You have good voice. You can easily become a great singer.” She would say. I wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut, going out into the space, and, if possible meet aliens or Martians!

But that was not be.

Destiny had willed otherwise.

I became a doctor.

Once, granpa got hit in a car accident and was rushed to the nearest hospital in a critical condition, where a team of young. Finally, he was out of danger. Pa almost broke down. Mum cried. We thanked the doctor profusely.

At that hour, in my young eyes, they had appeared like angels who saved my granpa and my hero and thus defied death.

These young energetic men and women in the white cassocks who could give life and snatch away people from the jaws of death.

Doctors- the life-givers! Angels!

I decided to become a doctor and save people’s lives and spread cheer and hope.

And I became one. A successful doctor, pretty popular, admired by patients. And this started me off on my path to presidency, in a most strange way.

After doing my M.S., I had set up my practice in an upscale section of the capital Anaconda. An American degree counted a lot during those days in the capital and I was one of the four doctors who had a foreign degree. New land was waking up painfully from a British rule of more than 200 years. The divide between the haves and have-nots was great. The new rulers, led by the President Rio Ferdinand Reewario, were setting up the industries and minting money. The President was surrounded by a coterie of business friends and bureaucrats who were feeding him false information about the growth of the economy. The new republic, after 20 years of independence, was reeling in grim poverty. Corruption was rampant. There were no jobs. The recession was severe. The farmer were badly hit as the successive floods and then droughts, in the major parts of the vast country, for last four years, had ruined their cash crops and brought them to the brink of starvation.

Actually the entire nation was in a shambles, stagnating and rotting. Except a class of wealthy men, in minority, the whole of the country was starving. This class of the businessmen was the only class that was flourishing. I was not aware of all these things when I had set up my clinic in the posh section of the city. I was not aware of all these things when I had set up my clinic in the posh section of the city. I was happy, leading a life of luxury. My clients were all wealthy and powerful folks. I drove down to my clinic in the car with tinted glasses and could not notice the grim poverty all ground. My fellow doctors were all busy making money. They indulged in all sorts of unethical practices. They fleeced the clients and ran rackets. They wanted to be rich overnight. The poor could not pay their fat fees and were driven out. The government hospitals had no qualified doctors and the compounders treated the poor peasants rudely and charged any amount they fancied. Many died, without complaining. It pricked me a lot but I could do nothing. Then, one rainy night, I was roused from sleep by a persistent phone ring.

It was my chauffer: His son was gravely ill. There was no doctor in the area. He requested me to come down. I agreed.

Driving through whipping heavy rain, on a dark night, along pot-holed bumpy dark roads with no streetlight, I could somehow locate the narrow lane leading to the house of my chauffer. A strange surreal world surrounded me. The shanty town was living hell. The lanes were gloomy and slushy and broken. The looming shadows looked ominous. I parked my car and walked down the brooding lane in shadows. Dogs chased me. The chauffer received me at the end of the lane and took me to a one-room tenement, hardly 10 feet x 10 feet, low ceilinged, with an asbestos sheet. A lamp was burning since there was a power failure. Eight people were packed together in that gaping hovel. Utensils, one old iron bed and a couple of tin trunks, and, yes, a stove- these were the possessions of my 45-years-old, lean and thin chauffer. His son was running high temperature. There were convulsions. The poor reed-like kid, working in a garage, had vomited and shivered badly and then passed out. There was no doctor in the shanty town. Some quacks, operating there, were closed for the night. The bony mother- a domestic, pencil-thin anemic woman- was praying fervently before the local family deity. The other kids were sitting outside in the narrow veranda and staring wide-eyed at the dark hissing rain lashing the small shanties. The neighborhood was fast asleep at that unearthly hour except the famished kids. They were stoically waiting for death to strike and accept it calmly. I took the temperature, asked the father to apply wet towel on young patient’s forehead and gave medicines. The worn-out father started applying the wet towel and began crying silently. That hollow face with washed-out eyes with its deep despair and impotence still haunts me. It was the face of the undead!

The eyes sunken in the sockets held no ray of hope, and, were glassy and listless. His cheeks were gaunt, the bones jutting out in the starved deeply-lined face.

The daylong stubble gave a pale ghostly look to his face. Big silent sobs shook up his thin body. The mother was still in deep prayer to the local gods of their tribe. The listless children just sat and stared like a batch of frozen status. A little oil lamp flickered in the thick sad gloom. A furious rain lashed the sleepy neighborhood; winds rattled the rude tiles and canvas roofs while thunder rolled down an overcast sky, splitting it up in two halves. The demeaning poverty had reduced these people- bipedal like you and me- to the level of sub humans. I sat there on a tin trunk and watched the angry rain and the visible outlines of the ghetto of extreme poverty and misery. Every succeeding thunderbolt ripped me apart and tore away the veils of the century on my eyes. I shuddered. If I were born in this hovel….

Till that point in time, I had believed that we deserted what we got. The rich worked hard, took risks and deserved their wealth. Rational, enterprising, they earned their place in the sun because of the individual initiative. The poor, irrational and deterministic, drank and idled away.

They gambled. Beat their wives and kids omitted theft and murder, and were plain animals. They were a blot, a heavy weight on earth, irresponsible, crude and stupid. They ate, lived and died. No refinement could ever touch them. They were brutes who deserved their fate!

Al that bullshit was washed away that night.

“It is the system!” Pa and told me. Mum had once told me, “Pa is basically fine man. A nice guy. The system has made him what he is today.”

I had hated Pa for his womanizing and hard drinking but looking around later, I found every other guy was doing like him. Even respectable women also! All were participating willingly in the big fraud. They were all paying a game of big masquerade going on around. That was the acceptable norm, sanctioned culturally by the system…..

The same system, not God, created the unequal division and produced poverty and wealth.

I was lucky I was born differently!

The veils were torn asunder and the naked truth revealed itself in that depressing hovel on that dirty stained bare floor.

It is man who has created such an ugly world and my job is to change it.

Towards a gray sad dawn, the boy came out of coma and the fever subsided. I gave chauffer money and medicines and left in the car.

I had saved the boy. The boy had saved me. I was reborn. Follow your heart, grandpa de Merret had often told me. Find your voice.

Your authentic self.

I had done just that!

After 20 days I was headed for the mountains. My family and friends were scandalized. Pa was furious. “You crazy or what?” I did not say anything.

“My only child leaving us, walking out on all this wealth, abandoning parents getting…getting old. I cannot make it out.

You cannot do this to us. We do not deserve it. You can-n-o-t, cannot treat your pa and mum like this. All this, this business, property… you are leaving all this!”

Mum, crying, said, “Just kill me… before you go. Hardly 30. A successful heart doctor. Not married. How can you do all this? Imagine it? Who will look after the hotels and the export business. Pa is already tired. We want you to settle down, marry, produce kids… no… oh! Gawd! Oh!”

I listened, argued, reasoned.

“It is a sign from the God.”

Pa laughed.

“God! Since when God has started talking to atheists like you?”

“He talked to me yester night.”

“Very good. What did he say?”

“He said lot of suffering is there, real suffering. Go and remove it.”

“Excellent! Our son is going to be the servant of God. Good. Well done!”

His sarcasm was biting.

“I am sorry but I cannot go back to this life of luxury anymore!”

“What is wrong?”

“I cannot explain all this. Something snapped up in me. I now find it sinful, this life of opulence and surfeit. Sort of guilt is there… it was there, earlier also, this sensitive to pain and suffering in the world but now it has crystallized. Call it empathy. I got all correct answers to my questions…. Why there is poverty?... I got them all straight. I cannot, simply, return to my old life-style. I want to do something positive… meaningful… relevant than go on making money, pigging on food, chasing new sensation…. The false life, yes, I led this false life…. I cannot now.”

They listened, stunned. It was an indictment of them, their society, indirectly.

Pa’s face, deeply lined and broad, almost collapsed into bits. By rejecting value-system dear to them, I was sort of rejecting my parents also.

It could have distressed any parents. I was firm. I found the whole atmosphere awfully oppressive, stifling. The walls were closing upon me, leaving me gasping. I could no longer fit into the system that cared for itself. Maybe, the sensitivity I had inherited from my artist mum. Or the concern for the underdog from my maternal painter grandpa. Or the independent streak I got from Pa and granpa.

Maybe, the liberal English education. Maybe, my American experience at johns Hopkins University where I got my M.S. or all of it rolled into a solid one reason that compelled me to reject luxury and wealth.

I dunno.

The accumulated centuries woke up in me and expressed themselves poignantly in my strong rebellion and protest. I had found my choice. My authentic self. Found the cause, the center of my life that anchored me firmly in the new life, the reincarnation.

I reinvented myself.

Through friends I came to know about the non-governmental organization Nation First. NF worked with the poorest of the poor of the society: tribals, marginal farmers, casual workers, prostitutes, landless labour and peasants. NF wanted some good doctors to work primary health rural centers, I willingly volunteered. They interviewed me and probed. Discouraged me. I did not give up. The chairman of the selection boar said I could not survive even a single day out in the field. The poverty would churn out your inwards. No electricity there. No potable water. Only huts, flies and mosquitoes. I said quietly, try me on. Impressed by my sincerity, they hired me.

The last day home is deeply etched in my memory. Still fresh, I can recall every detail of that memorable early morning. Pa had stopped talking to me and shut himself up in his study. Mum, as usual, had cried herself dry and was resigned to her latest fate.

Early morning, I knocked on the study. Pa must have been drinking heavily the last night. He opened up the doors.

Red-eyed, disheveled, bags under his puffed-up eyes, he seemed to have aged overnight.

“I am going, Pa,” I said softly.

He was blank.

“Won’t you walk me down to the car, Pa. as you always did when I went back to U.S.A.?”

“Oh, sure, son”, he said in a broken, miserable sad voice.

Mum was waiting near the car.

We reached the car in an eternity.

“I am sorry Pa I caused you so much of trouble.”

“It is O.K., son. You are grown-up now. You are free to make your choices. I wish you the very best.”

“O.K., mum. O.K., Pa.”

I climbed into the car and started the engine. Pa was blankly looking at the road ahead. Mum was hiding tears.

I could no longer bear it. I turned off the engine, and flew out towards these two pathetic figures- Mum and Dad.

Mum clung to me, crying. I patted her.

Then I turned to Pa and said, “Won’t you give me a big hug, Pa? To your old fat kiddo who always beat you in every game in which you excelled? The games where you surrendered to a twelve-year-old wide-eyed child to make him feel superior and important. The child who broke all your precious crockery and best watches and you never lifted a single finger. The kid, who tugged your hair and climbed all over you; the kid who wanted, in the dead of night, a story from you and you only. An awkward ordinary child, afraid of ghosts and the dark steamy nights…. You lulled that child to sleep and carried him upstairs… you who attended all parents- teachers meetings and the annual days. Then the child grew into an adolescent and made you tear your hair… the teenager who would not talk to you and throw tantrums… on  whose bed-side you spent tearful nights when he broke his arm in  a bike accident… come on, Pa, that same annoying fatso is waiting for your hug..”

The mists trembled and dissolved. I went and hugged the tall athletic man, responsible for my birth and fate. Pa clasped me and a dam broke down, taking away all the barriers. My back was soaked in the silent tears of a father about to lose his son forever. I have never seen Pa crying. Then he broke loose and stood apart and said, “Goodbye, my fatso. I love you my son. Go.”

I started the car and waved at those two lonely ageing figures, the two of the finest people in the world.

That was the last glimpse I had of them, waving back, broken, shattered-two frail human figures losing a dear child before their helpless eyes.

We never met again.

The coming months changed our fate and the fate of a corrupt bleak depressed nation of 50 million people, forever, with tragic consequences.

The drive was uneventful.

The dusty hot plains were parched and barren. There had been no rains for the last 3-4 years. The mountains loomed up in the background, beckoning me silently. I saw grinding poverty all around. The slums and the small desolate towns had receded rapidly like the hairs on a bald head. The narrow strip of road snaked up and down on the hilly terrain. There was hunger and starvation all around. Occasional villages came up on the horizon and disappeared. On parched land, the villages looked lost and forlorn, a cluster of the mud cottages having tiled sloping roofs, amid thickets of bamboos and other trees laden with dust. A merciless sun beat down upon the patched-u tarred road, heaving up and down like the bosom of an excited maiden. There was dust. There was heat. And hopeless sad despair stalking the poor countryside. I had seen the slums and urban poverty but was noticing it the first time so closely. It shattered my self-complacency and smugness, making me uncomfortable and uneasy. They are no different, I thought, these specimens of humankind from me! The thing is, they are not lucky to be born into upper middle-class homes. They have to slog it out throughout. After driving 10-12 hours, I reached the village under the shadow of the mountains. A steep mountain road descended sharply and led to the village- my destination. A westering sun had cast gigantic shadows across the lonely barren landscape. The whole horizon was dyed in deep crimson. The mountain wind was strong and there was an evening chill in it. As I was negotiating a treacherous bend in the road, I saw the horsemen, 500 feet away, clocking my path. I applied brakes and almost reached them on the dipping road. Then I saw they had guns trained in my direction.

They were five fierce-looking, wild eyed horsemen, their thick hair flying under the red bandanas, their beard thick and unkempt, eyes glowing and wild.

They had guns trained on my car!

They asked me to get down in the local dialect.

Confused, exhausted, angry, I got down.

“What do you want?”

They did not answer. They stared at me, open hostility showing in their red eyes.

“Clear my way.” I commanded. Local thugs have always repulsed me. They never scared me, either.

The horsemen just stared hard.

“What is the meaning of all this? Get away, I have to go right now.”

I stared opening the door of the car.

“S-T-O-P!”

A deep voice boomed, commanding, robust, and powerful.

I turned around on that desolate, sad mountain road, buffeted by the winds, against an orange-colored vast sky, and saw him!

The sixth horseman!

Riding a black steed, his hair streaking in the fast wind, his beard trimmed, and the sixth horseman came out from behind the five horsemen, surprising me by his sudden dramatic appearance.

I still remember him till this day.

He galloping on the beautiful steed in slow motion, hair flying, coming to a sudden stop near me. His face was handsome.  Strong straight nose. Full lips. Determined jaw-line. Black eyebrows. A broad forehead. And the most hypnotic eyes I have ever seen!

Broad-shouldered, big-boned, his muscles ripped smoothly under his blue T-shirt.

Hardly 28, he looked innocent and very handsome village lad, out for an evening ride on his favorite horse. He had this star appeal of an athlete or a soccer player. I stared at this apparition, my jaw dropping.

He could see he had made the theatrical effect on me and was pleased.

“What you doing here? In the remote parts of the mountains?”

His voice was rich baritone. His style was theatrical as if he were performing to an invisible audience. Definitely regal!

“I am a doctor. A heart specialist. I am going to work in the village down there. If you allow me to work…”

I took out a letter from the Nation First chairman to the local headman of the village and the priest which he read carefully and then looked at me and the car sticker which said Dr.

He bowed deeply to me and said in English, “Sorry, Sir, we mean no harm to a fine upstanding doctor like you. Welcome to Romareeo country. Bye.”

He gave a tug to the horse and went past me galloping into the setting sun. The horsemen, too, bowed and followed him, disappearing round the sharp corner of the road. The drama was over in five minutes. The road was as lonely and melancholic as it was earlier. I thought I must be hallucinating. At that point of time I did not know that this young horseman was going to change my destiny forever!

Hardly five minutes on a windy mountain road and those minutes would alter my personal fate and the fate of the nation!

At that time I did not know I had run into the most wanted man of the country. A man hunted desperately by the police and military of Rio Ferdinand Reewario.

The man was the legendary young hero of the masses in the north. The name was Romareeo that created terror in police and stampede in militia. ‘Course, I did not know all these things at that time.

The village!

It lay before me in the splendor of the setting sun. The orange golden light had illuminated the cluster of hovels which huddled together like a pack of scared children. Smoke was coming out from the kitchen windows and lazily curling up in the sky. Dirty children were playing in dust and shouting at the top of their voices. At the far northern edge, bordering the forest and fast-approaching dusk, stood the white-painted Church, a rude structure of stones and cement, in a large sprawling compound. I pulled up in the compound, chased by the screaming children. On the right side, amid tall trees, was a two-roomed structure simply marked as hospital. The whole place was as bleak as a house haunted. The night comes suddenly, without warning, in these parts and before I could realize, darkness was upon the village. My heart sank. What a hell-hole! No electricity there, only hurricane lamps glowing like the fire-flies in the thick cold dark.

It could have easily passed off as a Mexican or African or Indian village: impoverished, surviving somehow a slow decay and death, light years away from civilization and technology.

“Dr. Constantine Caesar?”

The hoarse voice startled me up. I spun around and collided with a short, stocky, bearded figure, smelling of cheap liquor.

“Welcome to God’s country!”

The irony was intentionally conveyed.

“Father Cereebio?”

“Yes, my son. Father Cereebio at your service. We are going to be pals. I can see. Why? Because you serve God by serving the poor and so do I. we are brothers in Christ. Come on, I will show you the kingdom of God to you. Come on…”

“But, father, my luggage?”

“Do not worry, my good doctor. Folks here are dirt poor but honest to the bones. We are good hosts around here.”

I followed him in the thickening darkness.

The priest took me to his quarters on the first floor. The stairs were in pitch darkness but he climbed up as sure-footed as a deer over the flat country. I groped my way up, totally in low spirits. First time I doubted mu intentions as the servant of the poor I was not even sure I could last a single night in this land of darkness and despair. A voice said to me to turn around and flee. But I held on, steadying my will. His quarters were modestly furnished. The living-room was lit up by a lamp. There was rickety old sofa-set with busted springs and a center table moaning under the weight of books and newspapers. Dirty clothes were heaped upon the sofa. A dismal house! Disrepair was the ruling spirit of the house. A cold wind was blowing in from the open windows and fluttering the papers. “Welcome Dr. to the humble abode of God’s servant. Come, let us sit in the balcony.” A middle-aged man, Father Cereebio seemed lost and out of place.

A young dark peasant woman popped up silently out of the shadows. We sat down in the open balcony- long and narrow- overlooking the village located on a lower level. The village lights twinkled in the fluid darkness and lent the place an exotic touch. Cereebio gestured at the tall stout lady and she disappeared like a silent apparition. The cold wind was quite strong and chilled our faces. In the background loomed the mountains outlined in giant-form against the darkening star-studded sky.

The place has a totally different feel!

Mournful, sad, lonely, abandoned. A grim silence hovered over the landscape. I felt I had stumbled upon an ancient site of human settlement, thousand years old, derelict and forlorn, untouched by time and progress.

Like entering a different time zone!

Still disoriented, tired and pensive, I sat down and watched the scene, a sinking feeling in my heart.

Pop’s and Mom’s faces swam before me.

I felt utterly lonely and depressed. I realized as long as your mum and Pa are around, you are still a kid and this kid was feeling insecure and wanted to return to his parental vast bungalow and the city lights. My impulsive decision to work among the poor, in these inhospitable primitive conditions, looked stupid. I just wanted to fly back and be with my unhappy parents. I am not fit for this humanitarian role as a messiah! “I still felt the same six months ago”, the hoarse voice of Cereebio imposed rudely on me, “And I still do. Take a drink, Doc.”

The woman had quietly set the tray of drinks and fixed up Cereebio’s glass. I badly needed a drink to steady my nerves and poured a still one. We toasted and I gulped down the nerves and poured a stiff one. We toasted and I gulped down the fiery purple thing, it searching my insides like a sharp-edged sword. Cereebio, too, tossed it down and lit up a fat cigar. “Sorry, no scotch! I am a poor priest. But his local concoction is very strong. It makes you forget so many things. Undesirable thoughts. Unpleasant memories. Pain in your heart. Everything. Next morning, you feel you have survived one more night. Good. If you do not drink around these parts, you will sure die, not of cirrhosis my good doc, but of terrible sadness….. Yes….of sadness gargantuan in size…of deep emptiness….. Yes, you feel you are empty, useless, powerless… insignificant. This country kills…slowly.” How true!

At that point, ‘Course, I could not realize that truth. I dismissed him as a ranting bitter drunken man, disappointment with the real world.

“This country is ruled by two men. God, who is indifferent and no longer kind, rules the mind. Romareeo, who is kind and nice, rules the heart of the poor. Folks down here can die for both.”

“Who is Romareeo?”

Cereebio poured more.

“Wait. You will know him soon. New arrivals, births and deaths get fast to the man on the horse. Trees, too, obey his command.”

Man on the horse! There were so many! “Militia calls him the Bandit. Folks call him the hero. They hate the former and worship the latter.”

It was news to me. I never thought that the country north had such divisions. We sat and drank. The woman brought smoked meat and some fruits.

“I am happy and sad,” said Cereebio, voice steady, “Happy I got a friend I can talk to. Sad because a fine man is going to rot for foolish idealism. Idealism no longer works in our damned nation. We are all rotten from inside. The middle-class. The poor are rotten inside outside. They exist. We also exist. Condemned to exist. No escape route, no exits here. Be born and die. A rotten stinking life here.”

The more he drank, the more he loosened up.

“You the first man I talking to. After six months. No decent man around. They are cattle. Poor dumb animals. Work their barren lands, eat frugally, drink local brew, fight and make women pregnant with their worthless seeds- that is life here in this village called Cerassus. Cerassus! Ha, ha, ha! This place is called Cerassus. A fool named it Cerassus which means cherries. No cherries in the entire hot dusty land and they call it cherry. Only women are free with their cherry. You can easily break their cherry, as easily you pluck a flower in your garden. The rest is trash.”

Cereebio told me he had been posted to Cerassus because the Church was told he loved young boys. “Me? An arse-lover! Imagine it. What a joke! When you get women easily, why will you be an arse-stealer! Silly joke. I had to come. I know I am not God. I am weak in flesh. But so many fellow priests are like that. Yes, the church is rotten. The militia is rotten. Politicians, press- every-body is rotten. I drink to survive my utter disillusionment. And despair.” His sadness was touching. He was a totally broken man- bitter, angry and resigned. He symbolized the country well. Broken and despairing. Around midnight, the priest got up and said, “You stay with me tonight. Your quarters will be ready tomorrow evening. Woman show him the way. And my good fellow, she is yours for the night.”

The woman walked me to another room, airy and compact, with an iron-bed and a mosquito net, a pitcher in the corner and a lounge chair. The open windows let in the cold air and thick dark quiet night. The Church stood on an elevated ground and commanded a good view of the sleeping village and the solid mountains. The stars twinkled in the sky, casting a strange spell on me.

Drinks had made me unwind and free of stress. The valley and the mountains looked peaceful in the mellow starlight. The woman came and stood near me, by now fully alive, in the buff. She clasped me and crashed her full brown bosom in me, searching and discovering my manliness. “The good handsome doctor needs a full woman like me”, she said, fumbling with my clothes, “Come on, Rita wants you to be inside her. Come on, I cannot wait.”

I badly needed a woman. The stars, the powerful local brew and her earthy physical cent drove me crazy. When I entered, she made such a moaning sound that could have brought down the roof on us.

Morning highlighted the same dismal sad features of the country. Rugged and barren, it lay stretched out like an exhausted woman. Peasants were working an obdurate land under a harsh sun. Grim poverty was everywhere. The dispensary was in bad shape and needed surgery itself. A large room, two barred and grilled windows letting the sun in on a rough stone floor, it had three benches for the patients and a table and a chair for the doctor. A green curtain partitioned off a small area for the physical examination of the patients. A big fan, when on, created a huge racket and failed to keep the heat out. The room adjacent was my ‘home’. Equally modest, it had an iron bed found in the military hospital, an iron side table, a chair and an almirah. A loft was there to keep old unused things. It was bigger and more airy with an attached bath-cum-W/C. a tiny store room, tucked away at the back, doubled as the kitchenette for the resident doctor. That was all. Rita looked after the kitchen and the dispensary. A one-eyed man, in his fifties, was the longest surviving compounder in the history of the dispensary. Filo had picked up basics about dispensing medicines and bandaging from previous doctors. This hands-on experience has made him a good assistant who could deal with minor ailments and inject the villagers rather painlessly, a skill that had bought him admiration and respect in the God-forsaken unfortunate village of Cerassus. The hardy illiterate villagers called him Doctor Filo, a title that he loved awfully well. Doctor Filo lived in a small hovel along with his dog, a street cur, and the young men called the dog, Doctor Filo junior. The two-roomed stone structure in Cerassus was named ‘Doctor-Palace’ where two docs lived. During long summer evening and short winter nights, doctor Filo and Doctor Bruno- the name of the dog-would go for long walks, Filo talking and Bruno barking to the utter delight of the regulars at the Sailors’ Pub, many of these regulars calling out “Doc, Doc” and inviting Filo and his companion to the pub and offering Filo free drinks and a bone to Bruno. Once I was witness to this hilarious rituals. The regulars, upon espying the pair, chorused, “Come, docs, come, be our guests”, Filo and Bruno filing in. the strong country liquor being passed around, Filo gulping down the brew called ‘manna’ in quick succession, the drunks just waiting.

When manna hit him hard, he would loosen up and act as the real doctor. “How is life, our good old doctor Filo?” they asked.

“Oh! Fine, very fine! God is in heaven, everything is right with the world.”

“After drinking manna, all of us are in heaven!”

“Yes. This is a terrible concoction. Very good. Hits hard.”

Then, a senior would say, tone serious.

“How is our little doctor Bruno?”

“Oh! Fine. Very fine.”

The senior would say. “All wenches are badly hung up on you but they say you are badly hung up on your dog.”

Filo, hurt, would say, “Who says this?”

“Well, all the old wenches and widows, waiting and waiting. Say you act funny with your dog.”

Filo, enraged, would shout, “Me! With the dog! I am not that type. I am cent percent male.”

“We never doubt. The maids have hots for you. Only grumble is you waste your come in undesirable places. Come on, doc, such a fine doctor, wasting it all…. Come on, marry some robust virgin and make babies.”

Filo, flushed, would scream, “Bastards! Cannot control their own women and daughters. Send them down and I will show how man, real man, can make them cry in the bed. Old Filo can make them jump. Send them tonight.”

“O.K. we will send old maid Wanda. She is plain insatiable. She thirsts after you. Says you cannot please women any longer.”

“Wanda! That fat stupid old woman! Wife of the pub-owner? What is wrong with that hag?”

“Says her man, old Reemo, cannot have it straight and standing. Drinks, dear doc, drinks. They have ruined him and made him a her.”

“Him, a her?”

“Yes. He is like a woman. His manliness is gone. Cannot perform. The old fool ate up frogs, dogs’, lions, private parts but this thing never stands up. Now, old Wanda, poor lady, old Wanda needs real man. Says if the good old doc is ready, she can meet in the barn.”

“I am ready. Tell her.”

They called out her name and the fat matron walked in.

“Wanda dear, congrats!”

“For what? Winning a lottery? Or the hand of the President’s son in marriage?”

“Better. Better than that. Doc Filo is ready to meet you in the barn tomorrow.”

“And Why?”

“To make you see stars in the barn. You ready?”

Wanda did not any emotion. She looked at the group for long and then stared at the flustered one-eyed, graying, weed-like suitor and said matter-of-factly, “A tough challenge, young man! Many men have failed in their mission. I have well-deserved reputation.”

Filo, drunk and excited, said, “Once you come to me, you will never go back.”

“Sure?”

“Sure!”

“Let us shake hands. You are my man, my new lover.”

Filo held out his bony shaking hand.

Old Wanda gripped it and suddenly without any warning, yanked him off his stool and threw a helpless, surprised Filo on the floor. A general uproarious laughter ran around the room, every soul joining including Wanda. Filo, drunk, passed out. The regulars laughed and their bones at the barking Bruno. That was Cerassus, a typical village, with its robust humor and fun-loving residents. ‘Course Wanda was middle-aged and plump but very loyal to her husband, the healthy ever-smiling Reemo. They were both God-loving and honest people and never resented such jokes. In fact, all things sacred and personal got inverted in the Sailor’s Pub, all sorts of reputation made and unmade, sex lives unraveled and boastful claims made about size and bedroom performances. Their world resembled our upper-class world of clubs and gyms so closely. But they were more open, honest and humorous and never felt offended by crude jokes.

Humor, I guess, was the sole weapon by which they could fight the bitterness and grimness of their existence in that part of the northern country which was not favored by the gods, yet they all had great faith in a merciful, kind Divinity and worked hard. Fatalism and industry were two features of Cerassus and Cerassus symbolized rural New Land most poignantly.

I refurbished and stocked the dispensary. I had brought medicines, glucose bottles and syringes with me. I asked Nation First to rush more antibiotics, broad-spectrum medicines, bandages, cotton and drips. Filo assisted me in a competent, dedicated manner. He dispensed drugs, injected the patients and bandaged them. Most of the cases were simple fever or cough-n-cold or superficial wounds-n-cuts. Hardly anyone complaining angina pain or elevated blood pressure or diabetes. Pregnant mothers came and reported morning sickness. Reeta assisted in deliveries. She was the daughter of Filo’s deceased sister and raised on the charity before the Church adopted her. She was married young to a village drunk who has run away with her younger sister and never returned. She lived in the outhouse on the edge of the church property along with her ancient father and a teenage brother who was a plain idiot but pretty simple, trusting and loving. Reeta, despite hardships, was devoted to family and was a quiet, hard-working woman, with tremendous capacity for love. She loved trees, curs, flowers, elders, the sick-everybody. Always smiled and never complained. To me, she represented the female face of Cerassus and our own rural country womanhood. Our urban women were the opposite: mere sex dolls, pampered, egoistic, puffed up and delicate.

This was the world I had walked into. Now Cerassus was my large family. And they had also welcomed me open. In the beginning they were skeptical. In past, six-seven well-meaning doctors had come there but could not last a fortnight. The harsh discomfort and the stone-age life-style of the rural Newland were too much for those doctors. They could never relate. So most fled in the darkness of night. I could understand that. Majority of the city doctors were into medicine just for earning big money and name. They never bothered about the poor or the nation. They lacked in social conscience and lived a cocooned life in Anaconda City earlier. But I wanted to serve the poor, despite initial panic and depression. My conscience was now awake and nothing stopping it. Once Cerassus realized my sincerity, they opened up their hearts and home to me. During my three-month uneventful stay I picked up their dialect fast. This made communication and acceptance quite easy. I taught Cerassus the virtues of hygiene and prescribed vitamins to their malnourished mothers and children. I told them about proteins and fiber-rich diets. I asked them to eat up raw onions, tomatoes, beets and cabbage. They listened respectfully and invited me to their homes during dinner time. What I saw there shocked me. They had bread and watery lentils only as their principal meal. A few families had pooled together their meager resources and boiled potatoes and a dish of salad and roasted chicken. The headman had bought the best available Scotch from the nearby town and they welcomed me like a hero. I felt stupid. I have never seen such grinding poverty earlier an realized my mistake. But their calm dignity and magnanimity left a permanent impression on me. I could see the human nobility beneath those tatters.

And then I met Colonel Cardino Lassa. This man, again, altered my life forever. He initiated, by accident, a series of dramatic events that made me transform from a mild-mannered decent doctor into a fearsome personality.

And the President. The metamorphosis was so complete that even I could not believe in it.

Maybe, my destiny!

It all started on a rainy July morning. Without warning. Abruptly.

I saw them coming from my covered verandah. It was pouring. A gray misty frothy rain curtain wind-driven, was swaying gently, obscuring the trees in the compound and everything else.

As there were no patients around, I decided to sit in the verandah and enjoy the thick falling rain. It sprayed me lightly on my feet and face and I enjoyed the cold water droplets on my naked flesh. Rains have always excited me. They created a magical water kingdom around me, greening parched brown-black earth and wove multi-splendored rainbows between contented wet earth and clear blue heavens for brief spells. In childhood, I had always yearned to climb those multi-hued step-ladders to the heavens and find out the secrets of driving rain. Sitting there I saw a little column coming my way in the pouring rain from village side. When it drew nearer, I saw a short stocky man at the head of it, a boxer type wearing the uniform of the militia under his wet mackintosh. His face was broad and fleshy, the hooked nose battered and leaning on the right side, the eyes cold and glittering. Serpent!

The vibrations coming from that man were not good. I felt uneasy and sort of threatened. I could smell danger. The man was pugnacious and rude. There was alcohol on his breath.

A local thug!

He surveyed me with contempt.

“You, the new doc?” He spoke in chaste American English.

“”Yeah.” I replied.

“Colonel Cardino Lassa. Head, local militia here.”

“Doctor Constantine Caesar, Sir.”

He looked at me with his cop-like eyes. Hard and full of contempt for anything civilian and therefore powerless being.

“Can we sit inside?”

“Oh! Sure, come on in.”

We went inside. The rain was beating upon the asbestos roof and the glass-panes of the windows.

“What would you like to have? Coffee?” His manner was brusque.

“No… Nothing…I carry my tonic with me.”

He took out a pint and gulped down the contents hungrily.

“Good old rum… Military stuff. Genuine. Beats the hell out of you. You need this stuff in this stinking hell.”

I said nothing. I began disliking this guy. He lit up a cigar and stretched out on the chair in an obscene manner.

“A nice guy like you, what ya doing out here, in this wilderness?”

I said nothing, seething inside.

“Good doctors are not required here for these cattle. Yes, these peasants are worms. They need whipping. You go back to city. Why wasting your life here?” he took a large swig and inhaled the smoke.

“City people come here and talk their liberal shit. They excite these dumb folks about their rights. What bull shit! Ha, ha, ha.”

Just then the idiot brother of Reeta walked in as he often did and grinned at the sprawling figure. Cardino felt offended and beckoned the boy.

“Why ya laughing at me?”

The boy could not understand the situation. He grinned more widely. Cardino sprang up and slapped him hard across his face, sending the boy reeling backwards.

The boy started whining. Colonel laughed. “Cardino Lasso does not like idiots and effeminates. He hates softies.” I lost my cool.

“It is unbecoming of you, Colonel.’

Colonel’s jaw dropped open.

“You said something, doc?”

Just then Reeta walked in and saw the scene. She went up to the crying brother and cuddled him.

“What is this? This beauty here… Still warming the bed of that useless priest. Come on with me. You need a big real man like me.”

Reeta glowered and spat out, “There are more young and handsome men here than you.’ And glanced at me. Colonel caught the glance and dissolved in laughter. Then he grew serious.

“I see. A prostitute with golden-heart. Ensnaring a young handsome doctor. Wow! The doctor will empty his nut inside the good whore and then disappear as the earlier doctors did”, turning to Reeta, “tell me, Signora, how many men have passed between your legs?” she glowered at him, eyes on fire. “Oh! I see. Signora has lost count of them. She opens up her legs to dogs…” my blood boiled. I said coldly, “Hold it, Cardino. You are crossing all limits of decency and public decorum.” I knew he was provoking me but I could no longer contain the feeling of outrage. He spun around and stared at me in utter disbelief. Then he mirthlessly laughed. “The city paramour taking the side of the prostitute. Wow! What good example of a knight in the shining armor! Good! I never thought you had such low tastes. Go and screw some healthy young wench. There are plenty around.”

I said, voice ice-cold, “If you had been a civilian, I would have killed you.” A wicked grin spread across his mean face. “I like the sound of it. Threats. They work wonders with me. They are very erotic. I love them. Come on, buster; let us slug it out here. The winner takes the whore.’ He adopted a boxer’s position.

“What is going on here? In the house of God, violence is out, love is in,” said Cereebio in his hoarse voice.

“Oh! The whisky priest! Welcome, father. Doctor and I were discussing some boxing technique. Fine-tuning. The doctor is handsome and manly. The only guy who could challenge the dreaded Colonel . Good.”

Cereebio smiled and said, “Welcome, my friend, Colonel cardino, welcome to the house of God. I am privileged to have the State as my honorable guest. Come on in, we will celebrate in my poor quarters. Come on, doc. Hey woman, go and fetch some glasses.”

Cardino Lasso looked me up and down and suddenly showed me two pictures: “have you ever seen these two guys?” The horsemen!

A young handsome face looked out at me from the picture.

“He is Romareerio- the bandit. Wanted by the government. A fugitive from the law of the nation. Fancies himself as the Robin Hood. My job is to hunt him down.”

The handsome young horseman talking to me the first evening was Romareerio.

“And this one?”

I looked at a thin-faced young man, hardly in twenties, with innocent eyes.

“Looks can be deceptive. He is Lopez. Second-in-command. Diazo Lopez. He is a great shooter. Wanted by the state. Have you seen him?”

My memory was jolted. Three days ago, a woman had asked me to see an ailing relative in her hut, near the mountains. I walked down six miles while the woman rode a donkey in the gathering dusk. We reached the house set in a thicket of bamboos and obscured by shady trees. There were other houses scattered nearby. I found my patient lying on a bunk an suffering from high fever. Young, innocent-looking, bearded lad he appeared to be from the same village. I applied wet towels and gave him medicines to bring down temperature. The house was unusually quiet. There were four five young men, lean and trim, sitting outside the house and staring listlessly. The woman’s eyes were pouring lot of affection on the thin prostrate figure. “My cousin”, she said, “works in the forest. A good lad who cares for all of us here.  A noble soul.” I sat in that poor house and listened to the nightly sounds. I could also hear the neighing of the horses in the background. Finally, the lad came to, and I left. The relief was visible everywhere.

That was Diago Lopez, the ‘cousin’ of the entire village, kept in a safe house, on the edge of the forest, hidden from the main village. The boys were the bodyguards. I got the picture now only.

“I am afraid not”, I said quietly. Cardino looked at me for a long time.

“You sure, mate?”

“Yes, Colonel Lasso, Sir.”

He broke into a vicious grin.

“You are a brave man. I like you. Colonel Lasso likes brave men who can stand up to him. Good. Brave, awfully brave.”

He gulped down the rum. And barked out, “Where is my batman?” a man immediately appeared, sticking his head in, “Sir?”

Colonel said, “Bring the gift to our doctor friend. Ask the lieutenant to deliver it personally- N-O-W.’ we waited. I knew this man was quite unpredictable and awfully nice actor. A classic military interrogator’s approach. Keep them guessing.

My hunch was correct. They brought the same peasant woman shackled to me. She was limping and her face was swollen.

“You know her?”

“No.”

“Good. Ask her, the fat ass and her answer is going to be no. what a strange country! No respect for law. These roaches do not recognize the writ of the Prez. Nor mine. They have their own laws. This has become a Sicilian town with its code of Omerta. Wow! This dungheap respects bandits more than men of law. Very strange! O.K. , no problem! I have a final solution. We shoot the fat arse in the village center. Then take lovely wenches from the village and keep them in the Fort Acquda as our upkeeps. Once the villagers crack up, we release their daughters and wives. Lovely! Ain’t it, lieutenant Shark?”

“Fine! Very fine, sir! Just brilliant!” shark said, all smiles and humility. Cardino beamed, “You always say that to me, Shark.”

Shark blushed, “brilliant men have brilliant ideas, Sir. That is why you are a colonel, heading such a large force. Others your age are just rotting as sergeants.”

Cardino beamed more, “Good! You are a good comrade. O. K. we leave now. Take this bitch away. We re going to shoot her within 10 minutes. O. K. doc. O.K. father. We meet in different circumstances. Bye-bye.”

He marched down to the door and again stopped abruptly, swung around, came back to me and said in a chilling tone, “if I catch you with one of the bandits, I will shoot you as an accomplice. I have large network of spies everywhere. Money! It can buy anything. So, heed this warning. Do not cross my path in future. Understand? Have a nice day, my good doctor? Nice day, Father!... And send this, er, loan this dusky beauty to me for a single night. It is ages since I had eaten a country pussy. Bye-bye!” He was gone.

Cereebio heaved a long sigh of relief.

“Evil! Pure evil!” he said, badly shaken up.

“Nobody can stop this mad man?” I said, again outraged by this naked dance of power and tyranny.

“His writ runs large here. He is a thug. Related to the president distantly. He is a tyrant. A great debauch. Kidnaps young girls and rapes them. A pure terror. Nobody can challenge him and live to tell his story.”

“Strange! Not a single soul here who can stop this insanity?”

“None. The poor are already broken by poverty. Only Romareeo and his band can be some formidable challenge to him. Cardino Lasso has the State with him. Both are sworn enemies. Itching for a fight-to-finish. Cardino is coward, a snake, without conscience. Romareeo is honest and very brave. He is a great fighter. A dead shot. Good swimmer and athlete. And without fear. He has many hiding places. Has a larger network of local spies spread across the entire north. The poor adore him. Virgins swoon upon him. Matrons swear by him. Men respect him for his sense of honor and loyalty. They can die for Romareeo. He represents the best of the feudal culture. His men never rape or plunder. Majority are from local villages. The colonel has unleashed terror here. Cardino is the most hated figure in this part.”

I listened. My respect grew for that young horseman who had met me in the mountains.

He was my idea of Man.

Half-an-hour later, Cerassus erupted. Cardino Lasso had shot dead the poor woman in the poor woman in the village square. He had kidnapped a dozen or so women and taken them to the Fort Acquada, some sixty miles away.

Two armored military trucks had herded the young women and sped away in the relentless driving rain. The protestors were shot dead. A bloody trail was left by the marauding men of law in that cursed village. “Expect more trouble and bloodshed”, warned Father Cereebio sadly, “I told you, it is a cursed country. We are in the middle of the crossfire.” I was seething. I had already decided which side I was on.

I did not have to wait for long.

The very next night, dead of the night, I was woken up by the neighing of the horses. It was pitch dark and there were hardly any other sounds. The power supply to the Church was erratic. A couple of houses in the village had the privilege of having electricity and the rest juts lived in the Stone Age. The supply to the Church was never continuous. Most of the time it was not there. The nights were terrible without fans. I was fast asleep.

Then I heard the horses in my dream. Since I was a light sleeper and hot nights made sleep fitful, I woke up. I had this strange feeling of danger. My instinct told me something was amiss. I listened. The sound of the galloping horses was now distinct. The earth was being pounded by the coming hooves. I tiptoed to the window and waited. Very soon, in the soft gloom of the moonless night, I saw shadowy figures entering the Church through the gates of the circular high compound, a procession of dark cloaked figures. The panting horses could be easily heard. They surrounded the dispensary. I knew my wait was over. Sure enough, ten minutes later, there was a gentle knock on my door. “Who is it?” I asked.

“Friends of Dr. Constantine Caesar and the poor folks around. Open up. We mean no harm.” A voice called out.

Friends of the poor!

That is how the peasants called the band of the rebels.

I opened up. Five well-built men marched in, switched on a powerful torch and swung the strong beam across the room. Then, satisfied, they spread out in the room. A man whistled from outside and one of the visitors returned the whistle.

“May I come in, please?”

The same rich baritone, heard two months ago on a mountain road, asked from the door frame. A hulking figure blocked out the little starlight.

Romareeo!

My heart missed a beat.

“Come on in, Mr. Romareeo, I am honored!” the figure entered and came straight to me, near my iron bed, where I was standing. This guy, sure, have eyes that can see in the dark!

“Evening, Doctor Caesar. We are meeting again. Sorry for the inconvenience but these are strange times and we have to meet under strange circumstances and in unusual manner. Can I sit down?”

“Aha! Sure!”

He sat down on the edge of the iron bed, always alert.

“I have come down to thank you personally for saving my friend and brother Lopez. You saved Lopez and did a great favor to all of us here. Diazo Lopez is an asset and dedicated comrade in the large organization. By saving him, you have saved me, the organization, and the poor New Landers of this vast North Country. We are all grateful to you. You are a noble soul and true to your calling. Besides, you are a brave person who has earned my respect. Not even once did you squeal in the face of great terror. Brave can do that.”

I felt awkward. I had not done it out of any heroism. Or for later glory. I just did that as any conscientious person would have done it under the similar circumstances.

“I did my duty. I always hate local bullies and Cardino is a plain local bully.”

Romareeo laughed. A rich laughter that was musical and echoed in the room.

“Perceptive, awfully perceptive! I like you. I had this gut feeling that you were one of us. Now you are family.”

“I am honored.”

At that moment, a lady was ushered in. “meet the mother of Lopez. She was keen to see the savior of her only son in person.”

The lady bowed deeply. I stood up and kissed her thin gnarled hands, the hands that took me back to my own mother.

“Mother, I am honored.”

“God bless you, Son! You are truly noble. A nice person. May God bless you.’

“You are like my mother. Tonight I am very strongly reminded of my own suffering silent m-u-m…”

My voice trailed off. Warm tears of love and remembrance started flowing down my cheeks. I never suspected one mother could remind me of another, languishing in the enormous house, alone and sad. I felt like flying away if I had wings!

Next week I am going to visit mum and pop.

The phantom-lady embraced me in her large bosom and lovingly tousled my hair.

“Your mum must be proud of a fine son like you. I am as good as your mother.”

My tears washed down hr old poor blouse. Through her I felt I was connecting up with my own mother.

I came to know how much I loved my mum and mother’s silent love on that hot fateful night.

The greatest creation of God is Mother! I thought.

Next night the prisoners were back from the notorious Fort Acquada. They were quietly deposited, in the village square, in the gathering gloom of a cold wet evening. A sort of miracle for me. Soon I got the complete picture. Romareeo had done to Cardino Lasso what the colonel had been doing to others. He had walked into the public school where Cardino junior was a student of Standard VIII and kidnapped the young fat boy in broad daylight. The entire plan was simple enough. The boy was in the boarding school run by the Catholic priests 80 kms away from the Fort Acquda and registered under a false name. Very few people knew that Cardino Lasso had a son studying in the school. The school was spread over an acre and attracted children of the wealthy parents. Secrecy was ensured for those who wanted it. Lasso was fanatic about it. His wife, a fat quarrelsome lady, had died recently, leaving the only boy who was the darling of Lasso. So he had sent him away to the boarding school under false name. He would visit the child wearing a disguise. Only the headmaster and a few close friends knew the real identity of the child. That sunny morning, Romareeo and his trusted aides walked into the headmaster’s room, wearing the starched uniform of the militia in an army truck. Romareeo showed the headmaster a letter written by Lasso on his official letterhead. It said the kid was required at the ancestral house of the memory of his deceased mother. The headmaster checked the signature of Colonel Cardino Lasso from the records. They sure tallied. The head master casually asked for details and the smart, friendly lieutenant told all, giving the codename of his boss: Cerebus. The last piece impressed the headmaster. Extremely close friends knew this codename selected by the colonel himself. He allowed the quiet boy to accompany the lieutenant and gave the party sandwiches and fresh tomato sauce for the hour-long journey to Tazo village, nestling under the shadows of the Fort Acquda that sat high on the mountains of the long range called the Lion range for its faint resemblance to a fully stretched-out lion. Within 3 hours, Lasso got a call from an excited son who said he was with paternal uncle Romareeo and enjoying his stay at the uncle’s mountain resort called Pine House and asked the bewildered Pa to join them for dinner of fresh trout, chicken and ale. Then the happy nephew fast. The villagers were shocked to find the colonel apologizing profusely to them. He brought out the best French wines and spread out the best mid-day meal for them all. In the evening he came down to the gates to wave at them and with them all a safe and happy journey!

Needless to say that the poor headmaster had to lose his job and his close friends were put on the surveillance. Lasso junior was withdrawn from the school and sent abroad where he was said to have missed Uncle Romareeo for initial two-three months. That made the tock of Cerebus low and that of Romareeo very high. I was speechless with wonder at the audacity of the young Romareeo and came to admire his guts and bold campaigns. He was a truly fearless person and the hero for all us. Gradually I came to learn that his sympathizers were everywhere, from top ranks to lowest, the folks who cared for human values and hated tyranny of any kind. Their hearts and homes were always open to this bearded handsome Robinhood. A cult figure in the North, his popularity was rising like a gigantic tidal wave. Virgins were dying to sleep with him and have his unique seed; mothers wanted him as a son-in-law, and, young men modeled themselves after him.

No doubt, he was emerging as a grave threat to the dictator Rio Ferdinand Reewario.

Three days later, Colonel Cardino Lasso reappeared like an apparition.

Uninvited and unwanted. His very presence fouled up the atmosphere. You could feel the evil in the air. Smiling his crooked smile, he appeared before me like a silent ghost, upsetting me awfully. He had left his jeep at the gate and walked down the drive way in order to surprise me, an emotion I did not show.

“How is doc?”

“Fine.”

He settled down in the chair, stretched out legs, yawned and said, “Expecting somebody?”

“No.”

The evening was spread out like a lazy cat. The fires were burning in the kitchens. A pleasant cool evening.

“What brings the government here?” I asked, voice controlled.

“Courtesy visit. Hi-and-bye visit only. We are pals now. Ain’t we, doc?”

I flinched but said nothing.

He enjoyed my discomfort.

“Why do you hate me, doc?”

He looked at me, right brow raised, expression grim.

A dog itching for fight!

“Me? Hating you? Why? I do not see any reason!”

He relaxed. Took out his bottle and gulped it down neat, finishing half of it in one go. Then belched loudly.

“Mature rum! Nothing can beat it!”

He eyed me for long. Then grinned.

“You have become lean and trim. Good. The mountains suit you. The climate agrees with you. Good!”

I said nothing stared past him at the evening darkening outside my room-window. The compound looked lonely and sad in the gathering gloom.

“Wanna a drink, doc?”

“No, thanks. I do not drink much.”

We sat facing each other.

“So, how was our old pal Romareeo?”

I felt electrocuted.

“Romareeo?”

“Yes. Enemy no. 1 of the state visiting our good doctor here in the middle of the night for a chat.” His voice was neutral as if reading out my rights.

My mind was in swirl. Who is the betrayer?

“We have good friends everywhere. Stooges. Guys can sell mother here for few bucks. Strange world, isn’t it?”

I said nothing.

“Good guys helping bad guys. What a strange country!”

Just then Reeta breezed in, carrying coffee on a tray. Lasso’s wild eyes popped out. She was looking young and earthy. She stopped dead in her tracks.

What a beauty! Rotting here. What she has brought? Oh, coffee to her lover-boy!”

She said nothing. Only glowered. Lasso stood up and said, “excuse me”, and went past her to the door. Then, abruptly, he turned around, came back and boldly squeezed her right breast. Reeta put down the tray, smiled and slapped him hard.

“Beast!” she said with contempt. Lasso laughed mirthlessly.

“Beauty and the beast! Let me show you, my bird, that Lasso is bigger than your lover-boy. Lemme show and stick it inside your juices, my salted fish! You will moan and forget this city-boy, little whore. You need a big guy.” Fearless, she stood there and spat out. Enraged, Lasso stripped down to his short, removing his holster with revolver.

A grave mistake that changed our lives and the destiny of the nation.

As he was about to pounce and rape, I put his service revolver against his temple.

“Do not move, Bastard. If you do, you are dead man!”

He raised his hands.

“Turn around…slowly.”

He did. I saw fear in his eyes. First time. He groveled.

“Do not shoot. I will do whatever you ask.”

I smiled for the first time. I asked Reeta to tie up his hands at the back, a task pleasant to her. Then I put the gun at his temple and together we went outside. Two of his guards, hiding in the shadows, sprang out with drawn revolvers. I asked them to put down their weapons. Reeta collected them. Then I ordered them to drive up the jeep to the dispensary. They did promptly. I strapped his hand to the bar and climbed into the driver’s seat. Reeta also hopped in. I said, “You are not coming with us.” She smile and said, “I am coming.”

“No.”

“You do not seem to understand, lover-boy. I stay here and I am dead meat. They will rape and shoot me.”

I understood. “O.K. you are on board. Remember, if this fat thug does anything funny, blast away his nuts immediately. O.K.?”

“O.K, Boss!”

Colonel Lasso shrank in terror.

We sped away, raising a cloud of dust.

We passed through the wretched noisy village, now wreathed in smoke and dust, and hit the dirt road leading to the mountains. As the cool mountain air hit us in the face, I grew relaxed. The air also revived Lasso who became his swaggering self again.

“Where you headed, buster?” he asked arrogantly.

“Shut up, big arse! I have a mind that I will go to the edge of the road in the mountains, get down and push the jeep down the step precipice along with you! How do you like the idea, my friend?”

His face got drained of blood.

“You cannot do it.”

“And why not, you son-a-bitch?”

“Because I am the head of militia. The word will be out that I have been kidnapped by a rookie, a love-stricken cub, and my men will spread out everywhere, blocking every path, checking out every nook and corner. Live, I can be your passport to freedom. Dead, I am more menacing to you. The trigger-happy loyal men of my militia, along with the federal agents and troops, will love to roast you and the whore alive. You are trapped.

“Who cares?”

“What?” his jaw dropped. “You do not care about your own life! Just for a piece of flat pussy! Be your age, Doctor Caesar. Your father is a good friend of the government. A wealthy, upper-middle-class, respectable citizen. You are a nobleman. I respect your feelings. Let me go and I promise no harm will be done to you.” I laughed loudly, driving carefully on the treacherous, steeply-climbing road in the dark mountains. “I never believe wolves!”

“No, doctor, I am serious. I promise.”

“O.K. O.K. I release you. What will you do?”

“I grant you immunity. Word of honor.”

“Devil quoting the scriptures! O.K. what about Reeta?”

“She will be put behind the bars.”

“Then the deal is off.”

“What! For a third-class peasant pussy you are risking your own life?”

“Aha!” I said and applied the brakes abruptly, throwing Cardino forward, “Third-class peasant pussy! Wow! Colonel Cardino Lasso was about to stick his first –class big prick in that smelly cunt, if I recall correctly. What a strange world! The head of the militia, honorable Colonel Lasso, screwing stinking peasant woman! Wow!”

He kept quiet.

“Are you familiar with the terrain?”

“No.”

“Then you are risking our lives.”

“Who care?”

“See, doctor, I have got a son.”

“So what?”

“You are a doctor, Savior. Not a murderer!”

“Yes. I do not deny. You are malignant cancer. I want to surgically remove it, this cancer.”

I restarted the engine and shot out.

“Easy! Easy,” he shouted.

I pressed the accelerator.

“O.K. where you headed now?”

“I have changed my mind. I am going to visit our old friend Romareeo , the author of my present predicament. How do you like the idea?”

He flinched. “You must be mad!”

“Let us see.’

“How can you find him here?”

“I know how to reach him.”

“You sure mad as a hatter, Doc.”

“Desperate remedies in the desperate situations, on something like that. Who said that?”

“Fuck off.”

The other side of the mountain, there was a lonely valley, criss-crossed by the river and trees. I reached the river and switched off the engine. Across the pebbly river was an abandoned stone house, in ruins, overrun with weeds and rotting wooden structure. The beams were falling and there was no roof. We crossed the river and sat down near the house in the mellow moon-lit darkness. A cold wind buffeted us on the face. I had again tied up the hands of Lasso behind his back. We waited. “This place sure is ghostly. Gives me creeps”, said lasso in pitiable voice.

“Me too.”

“I need a drink.”

“Help yourself.”

“Untie my hands.”

“No. I do not believe snakes.”

“I am harmless.”

“Yes. The most harmless guy around. We have to change the meaning of the word.”

“What can I do here in this wilderness?”

“That is a point. Here we are all equals.”

“Are there wild cats here?”

“Plenty. Man-eaters and snakes. But they won’t touch a big man-eater like you.”

He kept quiet. Darkness thickness quickly. The silvery moon lit up and accentuated the desolate wilderness. The river sang quietly.

“Caesar?”

“Yeah.”

“I am not that bad as you think…. I know I am hated hereabout but it is the way I have been made to be.”

“S-o-r-r-y!”

He cleared his throat.

“We, the militia, are taught to be tough…”

“Sure, you do… raping, plundering, killing.”

“Of course, it is wrong. But we are asked to be brutal… to create fear.”

“Yeah. To kill countrymen. Rape them.”

“Well, well. It depends on your point-of-view. I represent the ruling class. We are living in the rebel country. Rebels want to challenge the Rio Ferdinand government. My brief is to stamp them out by any means. Fear is the key. We are here to inspire fear Normal rules do not apply in the abnormal situation.”

“Fear is always counter-productive.’

“I know. “

“You cannot suppress an entire people for long and rule.

They are bound to rise.”

“I am doing my job.”

“Rebels are doing their job.”

“They cannot win. State is very big.”

“If not today, then tomorrow.”

“I dunno. I am a simple man….”

“What a perverted logic! You are the ugly side of an ugly administration that is anti-forever. That rapes and kills its own folks. Dictators do not last forever! People are important. Once they wake up, no stopping them. State terrorism will fail. People power will smash it. You are a marked man, Colonel Cardino Lasso!”

“A remote possibility, dear doctor!”

“You are totally alienated, Colonel. You do not have the feel of the nation’s pulse. I work with the dispossessed, the poor. I feel the nation’s pulse. The rumblings are all there. The storm may break out soon than you expect.”

Just then the horsemen appeared.

“Who goes there?”

“A friend of the Friend of the People.’

“Name?”

“Constantine Caesar.”

“Welcome to the country of Romareeo!”

Romareeo was ecstatic.

“Welcome, my brother Caesar and friend.

I could see it happen…. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. It happened sooner than expected. Friends, please welcome the good doctor and a man of courage and conviction. The savior of precious lives.”

We embraced like lost brothers. Lasso had shrunk considerably. Romareeo, never even once, glanced at his direction. He ignored him totally. His comrades kept a constant vigil over him. He was sitting in a corner, huddled up on the rude ground. Many armed, fierce-looking men were freely roaming in the ‘living quarters.”

The jungle was spread out everywhere. After a long bumpy ride over the horseback, blindfolded, we had arrived finally at home. In a clearing in the thick jungle, over treacherous mountain passes, was the temporary headquarters of the ‘popular government’. Tin sheds were built around a large square ground. A huge shed, covered, open on all sides, served as mess and recreational center. Big trees were all around with a vast canopy of the green. Loudspeakers were fitted at the strategic points. Powerful generators were installed at various locations, supplying the ‘rebel capital’ with power. Men in fatigues and dogs patrolled the big territory. Men armed to the teeth. Later on Romareeo took me to his ‘private rooms’- a concrete structure small but spacious, nestling under trees, camouflaged with greenery- and we talked for long.

“Caesar, comrade and brother, you did a good job by kidnapping the bastard Colonel Cardino Lasso. You are a brave man, no doubt! You took lot of personal risk. I do appreciate your bravery but, er…”

“But?” I asked, looking at him, a bit puzzled, a bit hurt.

“Hmm…”

“Go ahead, mate.’

Romareeo coughed, glanced past me and finally said, “It was, er, an impulsive action you should have avoided.”

“What?” my jaws fell.

“Do not take it wrongly, buddy. Try to understand the situation.”

“What situation?” My hurt showed.

“You got me wrong, dear doctor. You are big, brave and sensitive person. You hate this bugger as much as we all do. He is Evil. A complete baddie. By kidnapping him…”

“Yes…”

“Well, you have declared yourself as an enemy of the state and….”

“And…”

“Put your parents at considerable risk!”

“What?”

“Yes.”

I was stunned. Euphoria was over. I had not realized the implications of my hasty action by then. A worst case scenario unfolded: My parents, dear mum and dad, taken hostage by the state, because of a foolish act by their wayward impulsive son. Irresponsible! They would be subjected to third-degree treatment. I shuddered. My face fell. Bravado just evaporated.

“You are right, brother Romareeo. I was a fool. I never was a calculating type. Now my parents…”my heart sank. “I am ready to face consequences of my actions. I hate this thug who terrorizes rapes and kills the innocent folks….. No man, with an iota of conscience, can go on tolerating this kind of brutal behavior from the guardian of the state…”

It is so shocking! It boiled my blood.

I could not tolerate any longer…This… this, demeaning behavior. A man brutalizing fellow men!  A man appointed to look after the interests of the poor citizens… the guardian of law turning into a predator just, just… Because the bully has the state sanction in the uniform he wears! I mean, it sounds so ridiculous! Is there no law in this land? Is it for the high and the mighty? The poor are just dirt? Just because they happen to be poor! Wow! What a hell is this country! We are a passive lot… mere watchers….. I was breathless. Angry. Frustrated, impotent. Emotions clouded my face. Romareeo hugged me affectionately.

“I understand, I understand, Caesar, your feelings, hurt, pain, anger… many years ago, it happened with me also. I challenged the local mafia. Politicians, rich landlords, corrupt police… they came after me…” A painful look crossed his handsome features.

“What happened?” I knew what was coming.

“Oh, the same that happens in such cases… a lone man challenging the rotten state...the state chasing him and declaring him a fugitive… an enemy…they burnt down my home and shot down my parents, attached all the property and left me no choice but the jungle. Since then I am on the run… of course, I have a bi army now and popular support. The North is my and my country only. My writ runs here…”

His chilling words curdled my blood. My parents were in mortal danger now! Something was to be done and done very fast.

“Romareeo, brother, save my mum and dad.”

“I was planning that.”

The word was out. In the city of Anaconda, Romareeo’s contacts were immediately activated. They went to my house there but the reports conveyed on wireless and telephones were depressing. The military had run over the place in the early morning. They contacted a source in the military. He confirmed the occupation. The militia, headed by lieutenant Shark, had immediately alerted the military about the kidnapping of Colonel Cardino Lasso and since Lasso was distantly related to the President Ferdinand Reewario, the military immediately swung into action by occupying my parental house. Your parents are under house arrest, the reports said. My heart sank. I deeply regretted my action. I was a bad son who had caused untold misery to his loving parents. Their house arrest was the last straw. Next evening a courier delivered a message from our source in the military and a poster. The message was simple:  DO NOT GO NEAR HCME. PARENTS TAKEN TO HQs. TORTURE POSSIBLE.  A poster was also chilling: it showed my handsome father, badly bruised and puffed up, sitting with other prisoners, looking defiantly at the camera. He was beaten terribly in the HQs. Second photo showed ma dejected and humiliated on a stool under a powerful beam of a lamp or floodlight, the neighboring area in stark darkness, her face swollen up, eyes downcast. The poster said: DELIVER LASSO. TAKE HOME YOUR PARENTS. DEADLINE: 24 HOURS. Bloody Nazis! They had circulated the posters in the villages in the north and in Anaconda. My anger was boundless. It raged silently. My first thought was to surrender myself but that was not possible now. Our sources said they would torture and kill me after extracting info about Romareeo, a scenario I hated as I did not wish to compromise the security of the people’s army at any cost. Attacking the headquarters would have been suicidal. The next option was to release Lasso, an option I hated. But my luck was running out fast. We were on the verge of negotiating the release of my parents when I got the cold message from the source in the military: PARENTS SHOT DEAD. DO NOT FALL FOR THEIR TRICK.

That sealed my fate forever. The ground beneath my feet shook and I fainted. Yes, I was the murderer of my parents!

The following days brought more bad news. Unable to extract the release of Lasso, the government grew desperate. They made Shark-in-charge of the operations. He went on a murder spree. He picked up villagers at random, tortured them and shot them in the village squares. Many innocents were dad because he suspected them to be sympathizers of Romareeo. We seethed. Then, unable to contain himself any longer, Romareeo struck. Brilliant and audacious, he left his signature tune at the site of destruction. The plan was simple. At the dead of the night, his mountaineers struck at the very heart of state: Fort Acquada. With rocket launchers, machine guns and field guns, they battered the defenses and sent a rain of burning rockets on the arrogant and careless Fort. After three hours of fierce fight, the fort and the garrison were totally eliminated. The horsemen and the guerillas did the finishing job. More than five hundred freedom fighters took part with no casualties. Darkness and element of surprise helped them win in the military strategy devised in the unique school of Romareeo. At dawn, the villages lined up our return path, with women shrieking and blowing kisses at handsome Romareeo and men proudly clapping. More than 50,000 people had greeted us that dawn, confirming the hold of Romareeo on popular imagination.

Our next Prez!

The destruction of the Fort had stunned the government of Ferdinand Reewario. The message was clear: The North was slipping through their fingers. Romareeo and his men were everywhere – in towns, villages and cities. Lower hierarchies supported us.

Entire North was with us. There were thousands of safe homes and havens for the people’s government. Romareeo’s men struck selectively at the visible symbols of the state: Police stations, army camps, bridges, banks- paralyzing the entire North. And the author who caused this counter-offensive, Colonel Lasso, the very figure of evil, was shot dead and his body was thrown to vultures. The war was on.

I was not political at that time. Childhood and early youth were carefree and pretty sheltered. Upper-middle-class background and English education had insulted me from the hurly-burly of politics. My American experience was also flat and uneventful. I lived for myself at that point of time. I was a medical doctor and had good practice, money and pretty women. I hated masses.

I hated politics. I admired West, especially America and England. I had no patience for my native country and whatever it represented. O looked at my country through the prism of the Western media and believed my countrymen were ignorant, baby-producing fools, mired in poverty and superstitions. Since they were sloth bear, they were poor and deserved their fate. I knew very little of my nation’s history and did not care much about the colonial past. In fact, I did not matter or touch my life at all. I lived in the present, a present which had no past or future. How wrong I was!

By an irony of fate, I was thrown, almost unwillingly, in the crucible of history! History in the making! I got sucked into it by forces beyond my control. It shaped me and I shaped it up also. One thing is sure: I had never bargained for the kind of role I was destined to play in the national life of New Land. And it all happened so fast that I could never believe it for a long time. The war unleashed by Romareeo had unnerved the establishment. The north had fallen. The army had to withdraw from many areas. The whole North was in smoke, ruined, run by the dedicate but undisciplined people’s army of Romareeo. I saw the rise of a popular hero and the decline of a dictator from close quarters. Over the long months I became quite close to the handsome and romantic Romareeo, a brave heart who challenged the might of a brutal dictator. From my close association with him I came to learn a lot about my country and the world politics. In every sense, he was my guru. In his own style, he taught me that world was not a simple place. It never was! The world was a huge chess board where, currently, Yankees and Russians played a deadly game of power and hegemony.

The two players had carved out large chunk of territories under different names and ruled by proxy. Spheres of influence. Third word was a victim. Be it Latin America, Asia or Africa. The two players were present everywhere. The Chinese dragon was also lurking in the background. The recently liberated poor nations had no chance against them. The post-independent New Land was no exception. The Americans had set up puppet government in the country. Rio Ferdinand Reewario was a tin pot dictator who talked of democracy and the human rights for international audiences and massacred a million people at home. Americans had the run of the place. Their business interests were protected. So they gave a damn about the internal democracy as long as Reewario served their strategic purpose. C. I. A. trained military and provided intelligence about dissident, liberal opposition. Reewario stamped out opposition by a simple method: he killed them all! He bought automobiles, tanks and arms from America and threatened neighboring countries. It was a façade. The arms were meant for the poor peasants and liberal voices. Reewario never liked any center of power other than his own and brutally eliminated everyone on his way to power. He ruled through generals and secret service. Over the years it proved counter-productive. It generated an underground opposition. Initially garmented and episodic, it found a rallying point in the charismatic Romareeo who provided stable leadership and hope to the suppressed and the oppressed. Russians supported him by supplying him with money and arms. Later on, C.I.A. also set up channels and negotiated with him. They also pumped in money and limited arms. Being a clever peasant, Romareeo never displeased either. He delivered lines which were music to both C.I. A. and K.G.B. but his true loyalty was for the bleeding country and the poor countrymen. And this became his fatal point. Of that later.

Romareeo was basically an adventurist. Although he had a feel of the countryside, he was no more than a larger-than-life Robin Hood. He had no fixed agenda or manifesto. His only aim was to resist Reewario and if possible, overthrow him. In a way, he typified any underground leader or overseas dissident. Many such guerilla leaders still haunt a Nicaragua or a Somalia or an Afghanistan or an Iran. They are no more than great tribal leaders or clan chiefs who directly or indirectly supported and propped up by the Yankees or the Russians attempt to dislodge a tin pot dictator from their lands. Majority have very limited vision and understanding of the currents and cross-currents of History. Over the long years of my struggle and later on, presidency, I came to interact with many world-class leaders but I could whip up deep admiration for only a few. Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Margaret Thatcher are the ones that have left their impress upon me. Romareeo was also unique. The son of a rich country gentleman and a deeply-religious mother, he was raised on an estate at the foothills of the great mountain range. The grandpa was a famous feudal lord but the new ‘sociolist’ government of Reewario had attached much of the vast landed properties and left the family an estate where the Romareeo, Sr., lived comfortably with his retinue of servants. Romareeo had the open country in his blood and characteristics of the peasant: bold, aggressive, open and a propensity to fight at the slightest injury to his pride and sense of manliness. As a student in the Northland University, he outshone everybody in sports, athletics and academics. Girls fell for him. His fiery temper, athletic body and handsome features marked him out as the star everywhere he went. As a man, he stood for fairness, justice and democratic rights. While doing M.Sc. in Physics, he came into contact with some radical groups on the campus and became their natural leader. He championed the cause of the underdog and came to challenge academic authority first and later the might of the mafia. A son of a prominent local politician raped a girl on the campus and the union got to know about it. Romareeo pressured the reluctant authorities to take action. Then the son and brother of a local mafia don murdered three students in a drunken brawl and roamed free. Nobody dared touch the hoodlums. The university mirrored the violent North at a micro level. Rules exist for the weak and the poor. Lock ups were stuffed with the landless and surfs. Any inconvenient voice was dubbed as a traitor and declared as an enemy of the state and sent to jail or just shot dead. Practically, there was no redressal system for such unfortunate people. An entire proud people were sinking rapidly into self-pity, superstition and submissiveness. But the anger was smoldering, just waiting to ignite at the slightest friction. Romareeo provide that and the North erupted episodically across universities and colleges. He did what any idealism-driven person, with a social conscience, would have done. He confronted the murderers and beat them mercilessly till they were half-dead. The campus watched. Hundreds of sudents gathered up and cheered up the tall, well-built fearless Romareeo. When he finished beating them, the crowd took over and lynched them, fed up with their thugery on the campus. Soon the restless students assemble in thousands on the sprawling campus, joined by their counterparts from nearby colleges. They did the next best thing. They picked up the sons of the mafia and politicians, the rich spoilt brats who had terrorized the campus and nearby areas, and began hitting them and finally killing them. The anger spread out like wildfire and towns and village got affected by this popular wave of discontent against the authorities. After four days of rioting and looting and murders, some order was restored.

Romareeo, unwittingly, had started a bush fire that was contained but not extinguished. And,, in the progress, had become Enemy no. one.

The cult status which he achieved was really remarkable. No doubt, he had to make personal sacrifices, tough on the conscience of any but the exceptionally brave heart. Parents shot dead, property burnt down, a fugitive life in the jungle or the caves- the life of a marked man. The love and affection he got was stupendous. He was adored as a god. All this mass hysteria, the adulation made him, a bit eccentric, moody, daredevil and headstrong. He had an eye for the beautiful women. On the whole, he was good and nice. “Good to those who are good to me, worst for those who are bad to me!” was his motto. Overall, he carefully cultivated the image of a knight out for justice in the maze of the urban jungle. This streak of adventurism and quest for personal heroism contributed a great to his solid reputation and fan following and transformed him into a kind of modern King Arthur. We got along well. He respected me for courage of convictions and bravery and my integrity. He asked me to read the political history of my nation and the world. We discussed a lot of current theories about state, politics, economics and society. He had pretty good working knowledge of Marxism. He told me about Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Of course, he had a simple understanding of these intellectual giants and had to fixed programme about changing the country’s destiny. Most of the people around him were disgruntled landless youth- exploited victims of the system- who had an equally simplistic view of the things. They were all, at best, liberal humanists. They thought a change of guard and of heart would suffice to usher in a new reign of peace and prosperity. As was the fashion then, everybody of some worth called themselves socialists and the followers of Romareeo were no exception to the rule. We were all socialists!

Romareeo saw huge potential in me. He asked me to go to University of Moscow and study Marxism there. The Cp of U.S.S.R. conducted many crash courses for the fraternal countries. “Theoretically you are very sound. This course and a hands-on experience of their system will definitely help us. I want you to be our party’s ideologue and the ambassador-at-large”, he told me once. I readily agreed. He sounded out his deep contacts in Kremlin. Two weeks later, I was picked up at the northern border by three K.G.B. officers and later on flown to Moscow under an assumed name. One Ivan, a field officer and my escort, took me to a special flat near the university. I was a special guest of the U.S.S.R. government!

U.S.S.R. was massive!

Kremlin is fabulous. Moscow, in winter, looks terrific. U.S.S.R., in the 60s, was a country recovering from Stalinism and Second World War horrors. Apparently, the country had made a lot of progress but the masses, as I found out privately, were not happy with the totalitarian system. It was a state under siege. Secret police had unlimited powers. Dissidence was outlawed. Distrust was thick in the air. Despite all these drawbacks, the country had made achievements in various fields and consolidated its opposition as a superpower. My affinity with Russia is more spiritual and literary. I had read Russian masters. I liked my Gogol, Puskin, Turgnev, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy. Later on, Gorky was dear to me. Through these great gifted writers- the blessed children of the  mother Russia, the Russia of the peasants, surfs, underdogs; a Russia that you can never find in official history texts. An average Russian is friendly and fun-loving, outgoing and genial who loves his vodka. I found Russians warm and open, unlike the frosty Englishmen. Tall and big, almost gigantic, Russian men and women made the best of a worst situation like ordinary people, under hostile conditions, do everywhere. They felt smothered and snowed down but their gregariousness and will power were supreme. It was the Cancer Ward all the way up! Turgnev has sketched the hopelessness of the situation beautifully. Dostoevsky paints the darker side of this dilemma poignantly. He goes underground and then surfaces to find sanity in crime and idiocy and madness. All his characters, sensitive or otherwise, find themselves in a trap. The tap in the severe Russian winter or Siberia, the trap of the unfathomable depths of a soul in agony, they have a bleak present and unpromising future. Dostoevsky’s Russia is awfully disturbing! Tolstoy’ universe is redeemed through a sense of morality and personal initiative. Only through such acts, they are resurrected morally and spiritually. I guess only Hemingway, with his sense of personal code of conduct, comes nearest to Tolstoy in the portrayal of a man’s response in a world which has gone mad and offers no hope for man. Man has to grapple with this world of power in a cynical manner and work out his own destiny as per the finest traditions of a less mercantile age. This continuity I fin, tight from the Homeric epic, Greek myths to modern parables, a bit intriguing. A bewildered man, trapped in a violent world, trying to make sense on basis of the strength of his character, convictions and inner resource. It happened in pagan Greece and happens in Serbia or Bosnia even today. Literature thus offered me a rare insight into the human mind across centuries and cultures. Great minds at work, figuring out the meaning of being human and of life under the most harsh conditions, through artistic images and literary imaginations. These extraordinary talents taught me a lot about life and our rich past on this planet in a way which no dry philosophy could have done. My interaction with the common Russians told me that this system, despite noble intentions, would collapse sooner or later .U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991. In a way, the 60s Russia resembled my own native country.

For that matter, any impoverished third world country, recovering from slavery slowly only to slide down in another form of slavery, this time for their native masters.

But I learnt Marxism from U.S.S.R.

I have always wondered how a single man could alter the destiny of the millions and political boundaries of the world. Karl Marx, that bearded intellectual from Germany, writing in the latter half of the 19th century could see social contradictions and change the history of the world on the basis of his ideas. I came to idolize this man with fierce eyebrows and deep penetrating eyes that exposed sham of every kind. Of course, the greatest thinker of the Western world, his philosophy had a direct bearing on the world politics. In the 20th century, Marxism as a single force, undid the citadel of capitalism and ushered in socialism as a political practice. It divided the world into two halves: capitalist and socialist. U.S.S.R. was the child of Marxism whose later caretakers just smothered the 75-year-old dream and a society better than many others.

But such dreams rarely die!

It was again sort of ironic that I, son of upper-middle-class businessman, felt attracted towards a philosophy of the oppressed. But early 60s and 70s were very liberal and produced many radicals who came from rich families. Marx and Lenin are no exception. Another thing of interest was that I had visited America earlier and had a first-hand experience of the capitalist system also. My long visit and stay in U.S.S.R. told me a lot about human nature and how even the best theories can be corrupted by human greed for money, power and new emerging hierarchies.

Communist Party and its officials were the new czars at state and local levels. They had all the privileges while the common Russians starved. They were the new capitalists! They lived in Dachas, drove in luxury cars and had the best of life. Like any bureaucracy, they had their own world of unfettered rights and were remote from ground realities.

While walking down Moscow streets, I saw tell-tale signs. Often there were long queues outside departmental stores. The food shelves were often empty. The housing scene was equally grim. State was everywhere, yet nowhere. Ordinary citizens were suspicious of foreigners and of each other. K.G.B’s long shadow was everywhere. Whenever I went, a tail followed. I often visited Moscow River and admired the view of the city. Moscow is built like a wheel, all sections radiating like spokes. I went to red Square and saw the majestic boulevards. Kremlin was fascinating. Ivan, my escort, took me to Bolshoi theatre. I saw. I observed. I realized the common man had to struggle hard and had no platform to air his grievances. Dissent, legitimate or otherwise, was outlawed by the Party Czars. They paid for it with their life. During my 6-month-stay and later, on other subsequent short visits, I found out that there were two sets of people in the former socialist land: die-hard fanatics and young anarchists. Fanatics, a word that would delight West, were the folks raised with the Revolution of October 5. They were the children of the revolution who had made great sacrifices. They were the exploited earlier by the old Czarist system. Their fathers and grandfathers were brutalized by the feudalism which went in the name of czarist regime. They had sought refuge in Greek Orthodox Church and other denominations and of course, vodka, the national pastime. Men drank heavily, did nothing, beat wives, terrorized kids, fought each other and died of cirrhosis at a young age. You read Gorky and you can understand that Russia in a better way. Mother paints the grim world of object poverty and dehumanized people under an exploiting, merciless social system. In short, they were stripped of human qualities and dignity. Revolution and Lenin changed all that. They got their basics.

And a lot more humane way of life. Earlier years were glorious but very bloody. Any transitional period is that way bloody! These soldiers of the revolution learnt Marxism on the streets. This practical knowledge made them downright fanatics who will kill rather than tolerate dissidence. All of them were fine, ideal, noble persons. Second and third generations were more skeptical and hated the system that prohibited finer values like democracy, freedoms of press and speech, or religion, of movement. They were boiling, simmering. They hated the Party and the cramping environment. They hated party ideologues and functionaries who led a decent, comfortable life but they had no opportunity to ventilate their anger and frustrations. Thus, U.S.S.R. was divided into two countries: the country of the powerful communists and the country of the masses. The twain never met. Gorbachev completed the final rites and buried a beautiful dream.

Of course, Russia of Yeltsin or Putin is no better than any African or Asian nation: corrupt, illiterate, poor, crime-ridden, hopeless, on boiling point.

My real engagement with Marxism began in U.S.S.R. I have heard about but never bothered to check what it really meant. The exposure to harsh realities of the peasant existence and grim social conditions in the north of my native land had opened up my eyes to the exploitative nature of Reewario regime. Long conversations with Romareeo helped me form some idea about social justice and the need for a better society, the dream of every man over last thousands of centuries. But my real education began in Moscow State University where 60 delegates from Africa and south Asia attended day-long sessions. Majority came from poor background and were teachers, journalists and workers. It was their first chance to visit a European country and they were plain crazy about anything foreign and white. White women turned them on. They drank vodka and created nuisance to the embarrassment of their polite hosts. Marxism was an excuse to visit and see a foreign country-kind of free tour. Some were really committed. The course was exhaustive. Western philosophy, economics and political science, apart from science and literature, were required to be understood. A working knowledge of these overlapping fields helped in grapping the essence of Marxism. It was tough. None of us had a theoretical grounding in the Western philosophy! I plodded on. Our mentor was Dimtri Plekhanovitch, a senior academician, on the board of Pravada was a big gun, the massive bearded Russian was a mobile encyclopedia.

Very jovial, patient, vodka-loving bachelor, in his late 50s, he lived in a two-bedroom flat. His connections went right up to Kremlin and K.G.B he was feared by his fellow Russians. He looked after the foreign desk and cultivated potential leaders from third world.

He spotted me and built up my intellectual side. I was a willing protégé. We spent long fruitful hours of discussion. He took me to the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow. He showed me around. He told me how History worked. He made me a Marxists!

Dimtri proved to be a reliable ally. He introduced me to General Boris khrepchenko, the no.2 of the Party. There we planned possible outlines to oust the C.I.A.- financed and supported regime of Reewario. I was fired by great patriotic fervor. Then I got the chilling news.

Romareeo, my darling and hero, was murdered by some unknown persons!

The north of the country went up in flames. The spark ignited the dormant passions of the rugged north and it erupted as a volcano. The peasants, the workers, the teachers and the students came out on the streets and burnt down everything.

Police and army depots and vehicles were targeted. Phone lines were cut. Offices of the government were torched. The fury of the people was so intense that both the police and army withdrew from the towns. Anarchy was loosed upon the world. The marauding mobs and lumpen elements combined and terrorized and looted civilians. There was no writ of the government. News came that Colonel Cardino Lasso’s sympathizers were planning a big assault on the countryside. This fueled the hatred of the masses against the Ferdinand Reewario government. At his delicate stage, I entered the picture. On the instructions of the General Boris Khrepchenko, I was airlifted from Moscow and then smuggled into the mountains of the New Land. Dimtri and a couple of K.G.B. agents were my escorts. They had a deep undercover network in the country and the neighboring nations. I reached the central command of the Romareeo headquarters and took over as the Chief under the most unusual circumstances.

Destiny, as they say, has its own laws, inscrutable to mere mortals.

I had never bargained for all this.

Starting my life in an upper-class neighborhood of Anaconda City years ago, then later on, during my medical practice there, I had never dreamt even once that one day I would become part of outlawed organization Friends of the people. But, at that time, things were happening so fast that I had no time for such reflections. My job was to find out the killers of Romareeo and finish the brutal and corrupt government of Rio Ferdinand Reewario at this opportune time. Moscow was backing me up with arms and finance. Dimtri was ready with the blueprint. Action was soon to follow.

The game plan was simple. I was to seize the day by sending out friends of the people as guerillas to the Capital and blow up everything on their way. A huge army was hiding in the mountains, ready to strike at Reewario’s hated palace. An army of unemployed youth, farmers driven out of their lands, workers and the poor who would lay down their lives for their slain leader Romareeo. The deep resentment against the corrupt and despotic administration was now spilling to the south also. Dimitry and his agents had contacted the rebel groups operating in the Dewanda nation on the northern border and they agreed to join this war. The arms were to be couriered through these rebels with their bases in the thick forests bordering our porous frontier. The supply of the arms was financed by K.G. B. the rebels were all Marxists and backed up by the Soviets and some extreme fringes, by china. In fact, the entire continent had become a vast mobile chessboard where K.G.B. and C.I.A ran their own wars of hegemony, overseen by Kremlin and Washington. Red China, too, entered the war games. The first causalities were of course civilians of the third-world nations and development also. Of course, at that point, I had no such idea about the consequences of the hegemonic struggle of these two blocs and the tragic results of this cold war. My mind was fixed on mounting a frontal assault on the bastard Reewario. I was waiting for the right moment. Meanwhile, reports came from reliable sources that the state was planning a vicious offensive against us in the harsh winter of December a few weeks ago.

My contacts passed on the details of the murder of my friend Romareeo. They were chilling.

Romareeo, it appeared, was invited by the palace for negotiations. Fearless as he was, he left secretly with his few aides. A dark limo picked up the party, next evening, from a pre-decided farm house on the outskirts of the capital. Two or three unmarked vans, carrying the local version of the Gestapo, followed the deserted roads, glistening in the light of the streetlamps. A rainstorm had hit the wintry evening a couple of hours ago, the roads were wet and lonely. It was a dismal and sad night. A cold wind swept the city. People were indoors. After an hour, the caravan was ushered in form the rear entrance, where the chief protocol officer received the handsome and unsuspecting Romareeo. An American attaché was there in the banquet hall who had arranged this meet, guarantying the safety of the guest at any cost in the presence of a top general who has the second cousin of the president. Romareeo had left instructions in the headquarters: in case he is caught or murdered by the wily president, his large army should inform me and attack the palace. He had this premonition. He took grave risk to his personal security out of his love for the poor of the country. That romantic trait cost him his life. He just walked into the trap. The visitors were warmly received by the president. Reewario hugged the younger challenger and treated him with utmost respect and love. A barbeque party was arranged in the lawns where ministers and generals fawned upon him. Drinks flowed. Women circulated freely. Romareeo sat next to Reewario on the dais and smiled at the awe-struck crowd. After four hours, president gave him private audience for twenty minutes. They decided to meet again on coming Sunday. Then the president excused himself to receive a private call in the neighboring room. Romareeo set alone in the big audience room and became a sitting duck. Security persons shot him from close range. He got thirty slugs from the security agents. He died on the spot.

His unarmed aides were also shot dead by a contingent. Their bodies were thrown down to the vultures. The word was out that the rebels were gunned down by the palace guards who had successfully averted an attack on the palace. No mention was ever made of Romareeo officially. It was treachery I could never forget.

Two incidents hastened the pace of the civil war. The first one was sadly feudal. The eldest son of Reewario, tipped to be the successor of that old bastard of a president, on a visit to an upscale disco in the capital, spotted a pretty vivacious teenager dancing on the floor along with her college friends. Reewario Jr. took a fancy for that girl and asked her to dance with him. The young girl refused. A drunk heavy-set Reewario Jr. slapped her hard and seized her around the waist, an act that provoked her friends. One of them assaulted the brute. This unhinged the future president of the republic. He ordered his bulky bodyguards to shoot the youngsters in the backyard. Then he set his eyes upon the plump girl and raped her on a large table while rest of the bodyguards turned their black-suited backs on the fiend and kept watch. The dance hall echoed with the gasping sounds of the rapist and his wild satisfied animal laughter. The youngsters were openly murdered by the carbine-wielding bodyguards in the dimly-lit backyard. The next morning the official press declared these fun-loving innocent upper-middle-class victims as the dreaded rebels! The raped girl was also shot dead, having been raped repeatedly by some of the friends of the Reewario Jr. that girl was the only child of a senior general. Livid with anger, he confronted the Jr. and asked for the facts. The answer was a bullet in his heart. This senseless, mindless violence by the heavy-drinking womanizer son of Reewario, who had no sense of ethics and moral values, alienated a large section of the army brass. The senior most generals reviewed their options in a secret conclave. The decision: they did not want to serve under a president who was killing his fellow countrymen and his son who raped and killed without any shame or guilt. Both the father and son were becoming unpopular, increasingly being viewed as a mounting liability. The top generals could hear the rumblings of a badly- shaken nation loud and clear. They knew the days of the current administration were numbered. They did what sensible people controlling power always do: to make peace with the next administration. Their courier met me with a proposal. They would support us once we reach the palace. I said I want full surrender. Three days later, the answer was their battalions would not resist the advance of our army and open the way. Beware of the palace guards! I promised amnesty to these generals.

The second incident happened after 20 days or so. The army faction, still loyal to the president opened up fire on a peaceful demonstration of men, women and children protesting against the increasing lawlessness in the capital,  a kind of procession you see in a dozen of capitals worldwide on any working Saturday or Monday. Since the president had come to trust those factions loyal to him, he had started deploying them around important corners of the city. This particular faction, nervous and trigger-happy, saw ghosts that never existed. Every peaceful protestor was a declared state enemy and a threat. And threats are not to be tolerated, howsoever mild they might be. As the procession surged forward towards Parliament, breaking and jumping barricades shouting slogans, the jumpy commander saw a huge threat to the beleaguerd country. He did what he was taught to do: eliminate the threat. The massacre of harmless children, working mothers and other professionals, in broad day-light, 800 meters away from the parliament, severely shook up the dormant upper-middle-class conscience. They also started hating the brutal regime that had shed the last vestige of decency and decorum. The paranoid regime was now about to self-destruct. The news of the massacre was flashed on CNN and BBC. Somebody had video-taped the entire massacre and smuggled out the copies of the priceless tape to these news networks. The pictures of the army mercilessly killing innocent citizens evoked repulsion and moral debates across the world. The West took up the issue and called it the murder of the democracy. The Western press dubbed the regime as Pol Pot, Junta Fascist, a horror, and what not. This further isolated the Reewario administration in the international community. Our nation, our beloved motherland, lay bleeding. It had become like a banana republic. I heard echoes of the contemporary history in my native land. Colonized, liberated, ruled by crazy dictator, suffering hardships of a bloody civil war for years, my poor country exactly mirrored any other Latin American, African or South Asian country. The old order remained stuck in place only the faces changed. I could see no change in the old and new masters. Both plundered the nation for different reasons. The old masters sucked it dry for their own country, for imperialist agenda, for enriching their governments. The new masters looted their own mother for their self-aggrandizement. A usual, the poor suffered. The white oligarchy was replaced by the black or yellow one. Everything else remained same, solid, and static. All this caused me a lot of moral anguish and physical pain, sometimes I felt utterly lonely, irrelevant and useless. I despaired in silence. I could not share all these thoughts, my anxieties, fears, doubts with anybody. There was nobody to guide me. My friend Romareeo was murdered.

I had no friends left. He was a true genius, a great romantic, a driven man to whom History had not been kind. He had set me off a journey in an alien country. I had no control over the speed and the destination of this journey. It just sent me hurtling forward, in the dimness of a stormy night, the contours of the passing country almost invisible to a probing eye. Like a rollercoaster where you shut your eyes, take the plunge, hollering all the time.

And then it happened!

Things simmering for long follow their own internal logic. They continue to simmer and then spill over like hot lava, scalding every object in its red-hot path. The massacre before the nation’s parliament brought out a restless capital on the streets, a few days later. People started piling up in public squares. Everybody joined the loose spontaneous groups. Transport came to a standstill. People just massed up in every corner. A sizeable section of the army refused to turn their turrets on their compatriots. Frenzied crowds began chanting anti-government slogans and then started looting government’s stores, offices and other property. The top generals sent the word: S T R I K E. we did. Our army of guerillas, mountain-weary, descended on the capital like a swarm of locusts. Young, bleary-eyed, in battle fatigues, these coarse peasants and workers in their early 20s brought, what the sophisticated army of the president Reewario did not have at all, an all-consuming hatred for this monster. Hatred can be a most potent weapon in the hands of an angry person. It can supply you with the most powerful motive to win, and to win at any cost. The overpowering hatred worked like a talisman. The hatred I saw in the eyes of these impoverished, lean and poor soldiers both delighted and frightened me. I had no doubts that they would destroy the bloody dictator and smash his gated machinery. This delighted me. I also felt scared by the intensity of their hatred. This hatred was like Frankstein’s monster.  It could also destroy its own creator in a moment of irrational anger. And a mass hatred was more dangerous. Then, no earthly sovereign could escape its wrath. Unfortunately, no dictator so far has fully absorbed this self-evident truth. Power makes us blind. And deaf. By the time we realize the mistake, it is too late for making amends or any possible retreat. Rio Ferdinand Reewario made this costly mistake. And paid for it with his life. I distinctly remember that awfully cold December night. The factions sympathetic to us had opened up corridors to us. In other parts, the fighting was very severe. We could finally make it to the palace, despite tough resistance put up by the loyalist palace guards. After a long-n-bitter fight, supported by the army factions loyal to us, we ripped their opposition apart like a pack of cards. Majority lay wounded and dead. The rest of elite force fled in the darkness of the night. The captured were killed. And so were Reewario and later on, his son. The mortal fear, in the eyes of the dictator, still remains in my memory. He was discovered accidentally by the colonel of the faction loyal to us. When the word reached the top generals about the fall of the palace, they rushed the colonel and a back-up platoon to deal with any emergency. We had started conducting room-to-room search for the elusive president. We searched every room of that 400-roomed luxury palace. 2,000 troopers had fanned out all across the sprawling palace, combing every inch for that fugitive guy Reewario. After an hour or so, I was told about some palace servants found huddled in a dark cellar. Majority had fled except remnants of the retinue. I reached the cellar along with my trusted aides. We questioned them about the president. 40-odd servants agreed that their boss had already flown away to a secret place outside the capital. Most probably to the neighboring country two days ago. I felt frustrated. I ordered them all to be brought to the state banquet hall, the temporary headquarters of our yet-to-be installed government. As the servants were rushed in by the carbine-toting soldiers, the colonel walked in along with his junior officer. He saluted me, a smart military salute, and said, “At your service, Excellency”, a title I was not used to but which delighted me secretly. I sat at the head of the royal banquet table, surrounded by my hand-picked aides and soldiers. The servants bowed deeply. They were in their late 40s and 50s, in various shapes and sizes. The commander of our platoon started interviewing the servants. They were blank and frightened. One of them, in late 60s, bespectacled and slightly bent, was almost incoherent, babbling like a maniac. A walrus-moustache drooped down on his thin, lantern-jawed face. Bushy eyebrows and a black mole made him appear gaunt and aged. He was shivering. Two of his colleagues were supporting him.

“Who is he?” I asked pitying him.

“He is the butler. Down with fever. A bit deaf. Lost his son recently. Gone a bit soft in mind. He has been retained by the ex-owner of this place purely on humanitarian grounds. A harmless guy. Almost an idiot”, said one of the servants. I ordered him to leave the room and sty in the adjoining one. Suddenly, the butler stood erect, bowed and walked imperiously towards the room. Tired, numbed, I could not detect this change. But the hawk-eyed colonel saw the subtle difference in the gait. “Stop that bastard!” he shouted, every inch a military man. His junior drew out their guns and barked at the butler, “Hey, stop there!” the butler panicked and broke into a trot. I snapped at my soldiers. They caught the butler and brought him back to the table. The colonel took my permission to search the sweating babbling butler. He ran down his fingers upon his new prisoner’s person for few seconds, patting here and there. Then he suddenly yanked off the wig and tore off the bifocals and false moustache. Revealed before our amazed eyes was the frail figure of the deposed president Rio Ferdinand Reewario, the lifelong ruler of New Land, self-styled emperor of the Universe; the hated dictator who had massacred hundreds of thousands of people and made the liberated nation bankrupt, this balding butcher stood before me, cowering and nervous, a pathetic old man stripped of power and glory, a man most undignified in his moment of reckoning.

“Hullo, Mr. President!”

He did not say anything.

“I never knew that you were such a fine, such an accomplished actor. Wow! What a performance! Did you do theater in your early years?”

Reewario did not say anything.

“Well, Mr. President, your time is over. Thanks to this colonel, we could arrest state enemy no. one. You killed my most beloved friend. Now, time to pay back, Reewario bastard. Justice has finally caught up with you. You killed my pal in a most treacherous manner. You abused the very concept of a host. You killed a very fine young man, an idealist, who wanted to change the lives of the poor, give them better life, equal opportunities- in short, a quality life enjoyed by the thugs like you. You have proved to be a vampire for the nation, you and your cronies, who have sucked New Land dry. I have come as a Nemesis to you. I will avenge for all the crimes done by you. I, on behalf of the millions dead, the countrymen you killed, on behalf of these dead and missing citizens, I, Constantine Caesar, the new President of the republic of New Land, sentence you to death b the firing squad at the first light… take the bastard away before I kill him myself with my bare hands… I loathe this evil creature! The sooner he is disposed off, the better for all of us. He is such a hideous monster!” I spat in his direction. The few minutes that elapsed between the elaborate deception and its discovery changed the course of history of our nation. Seeing that his fate was sealed permanently, Rio Ferdinand Reewario started shivering, this time genuinely, his sunken eyes full of fear. This frail man, lacking in dignity, once the terror for the nation, looked at me with unseeing eyes. He had that classic hunted look of a condemned man, universal in every time and age. His shoulders sagged, back bent forward automatically, legs almost gave way. Two soldiers took hold of him and took him away, almost dragging him on the highly-polished floor as if he were a big human sack. Nothing could have been so demeaning for a fallen dictator! His downfall was complete. I turned to the colonel, “You deserve promotion, my dear friend. You were alert and this alertness prevented a fugitive from escaping from law and justice. How could you recognize this rascal, despite such a disguise?” the colonel beamed, “Mr. President, Sir, I was on the palace guards committee that supplied ADCs to the palace on a monthly rotational basis, I had served him as a bodyguard also. I was here for 6 years and had often seen this man from close quarters. His gait, mannerism, and voice and sound inflections- I am quite familiar with. That is why the 5 top generals dispatched me here to foil a possible escape attempt. The way this hood walked betrayed him immediately. I recognized him by his body language”. “You did a fine job. If he had escaped, he would have stirred trouble for all of us. Thanks, dear. You deserve promotion. I, hereby, appoint you as the commander of the elite palace guards. Take the best of my battle- weary men, train them and make them the best force: You have full freedom. Raise a new battalion, money no bar.”

The colonel beamed, drew himself to his full height and saluted, “Yes, sir, Mr. President, Sir!”

“Listen, Commander, take charge. Call your unit. Inform the generals loyal to us. Make the announcements over the radio and T.V. that I have taken over. And…”

“Sir.”

“Kill all these servants, the accomplices to the failed grand escape of Reewario, the bastard. Hang their bodies from the poles. Let barbarity’s faces be displayed. And public opinion roused. OK?”

“My job, sire, is sure to carry out orders. Not to question them.”

I smiled.

“You will go a long way.”

He saluted and left.

His name was Oscar Wee Wee.

He was to replace me after a spell of 20 years as general Oscar Wee Wee. A man mentored by me, my protégé thirsting for my own blood, like a mad hound. How equations change! How loyalties get switched! Nothing is permanent in the world except power, and less worthy can go to any extent to pursue power, Well…!

The next morning, at the first light, I marched at the head of the firing squad and ordered, “Fire!” the squad pulled the triggers on a lonely, pathetic, old blind-folded man. The business was over in few seconds. In coming weeks, his son and the entire clan was put to death. I never took chance with the opposition. All this happened on December 23, 1976. I was 35 then. December 25, my new presidency was inaugurated, cheered on by millions of hysteric people. More than 40,000 people had gathered in the central plaza and gone wild when I had made my first appearance from the big balcony of the huge Gothic Town Hall. My friend Dimitry had stood in an adjacent room and watched the mass adulation from the window. This Moscow connection was to prove fatal to me on the international chess board. My experience in actual governance was extremely limited to running the friends of the People organization from different hideouts only. Dimitry and his team helped me concretize the blueprint for the New Land. I had declared, in my victory speech from the balcony of the Town Hall, the socialist nature of my administration. President Fidel Castro had recognized my government and so had Moscow. China was an exception. Then, slowly, some non-aligned countries- Afro-Asian recognized us. And this started a 20-year romance with power for me.


No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।