Thursday, 19 June 2008

ROYAL SPIRIT?

[Disclaimer: The places, incidents and persons mentioned in this work of fiction do not enjoy any historical or factual accuracy and are purely fictitious]

“From the arguments advanced and on the basis of the evidence presented, this court is convinced that the accused, Mr.Vinay Raj, 35, is guilty of the offence of trespassing into an area of archaeological importance and causing substantial damage to the structure. It has been proven beyond the limit of reasonable doubt that the accused on the 30th day of April 2006, at around 11:45 PM, clandestinely stepped into the tomb of Maharaja Chandrakant Topde, defiled the premises and made an attempt to distort and rewrite the historical facts inscribed on the walls of the tomb. By committing the said offence, the accused has not only dishonored a historical icon but also hurt the sentiments of lakhs of people who regard him as a legendary figure of Anantpuri culture. The slanderous remarks written by accused on the walls of tomb are of such nature that, if Maharaja Chandrakant Topde was alive, it would have given him sufficient grounds to win a case of libel against the accused. However, by taking into account the inebriated state of mind of the accused during the commission of the offence, the odd behaviour displayed by him during the course of trial and the fancy arguments pt forth by him in his defence, the court feels compelled to infer that the accused is an eccentric and absent-minded person. From these and from other circumstantial evidences, the court feels that the act was not done with any malicious intent and it was a result of sheer inadvertence on the part of the accused. Hence, under the relevant provisions of Indian Penal Code and Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, this court sentences him to six months simple imprisonment and Rs.10, 000/- fine…”

The Anantpur District Court judge read out the judgment. I listened to it in a rather indifferent manner. I was trying to come to terms with the fact that the next six months of my life will have to be spent behind the bars. The policemen escorted me outside the court. Lots of people, including the media, had assembled to catch a glimpse of mine. People of Topde Sena were also present. They are the self-assumed followers of Maharaja Chandrakant Topde and the protectors of the Anantpuri culture. As soon as I came out they started their slogans.


Long live Maharaja Chandrakant Topde!
Jai Jai Topdeji!
Kill the Traitor!”


What ensued was a heavy pelting of stones. I was rushed into the police van. Luckily, none of them hit me. Amidst the chaos, the police van made its way to the main road, skillfully avoiding the agitating sainiks

The policemen inside the van were giving me tough looks.
“Scoundrel! See, what all mess you’ve created. How dare you do such a thing to Topdeji?”
Another one pulled out the collar of my shirt and yelled.
“Don’t think that you can easily get away with this. You’ll get to know the real might of Anantpuris in the coming 6 months.”
“Those raging sainiks can chop you off. It’s just a matter of seconds.”

‘Yes. I know that. They can do it’. I thought. Some months back, which means before the commission of my ‘offence’, the National Institute of Historical Research (NIHR) published a treatise which stated that Maharaja Chandrakant Topde wasn’t responsible for the ‘Great Recapture’ of 1750. It was mastered by his uncle and the French forces. It also went on to state that he was a very incompetent and irresponsible king, but on the other hand was a very gifted painter. That enraged the Topde Sena, who views him as the embodiment of machismo and bravery, and they ransacked the entire institute. And my commission of the ‘offence’ added fire to fuel. I would have perished long time back but for the police protection and judicial custody. Since I was a non-Anantpuri, they unwired their ire at all the outsiders. A violent campaign was orchestrated against them. That was the Topde Sena. They are capable of doing anything.

The van went past the statue of Maharaja Chandrakant Topde. A virile stature mounted on a horse brandishing a sword. Broad face with pride in his eyes. ‘This image doesn’t suit you Topde’. I reflected. I thought about that fateful night. Was it just a dream? Was it a drunkard’s hallucination? Did such a thing really occur, or as the court said, was it just a figment of my imagination?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m still trying to grasp it. No one believed it. No one can believe it. My lawyer termed it preposterous. Despite his strong objection, I stated it in the court. Court termed it fanciful. People termed it crazy. I don’t know what to term it. I’ll give you my account it. And you may decide what it is.

It was the 30th day of April 2006. It was supposed to be my last day in the city of Anantpur. I’d quit my un-happening job of an underpaid draftsman in an obscure Architecture firm. After letting out all the suppressed resentment, I took the door before it was shown to me. That liberation called for a celebration. Since I was a loner, the schedule of that solo celebration involved exploring the ghettos of Anantpur, doing an act of self-patting my audacity, by gulping shots of Old Monk Rum masqueraded as an innocuous cold drink in a bottle of Coca-Cola. It was drizzling a bit and I stood at the West-Side Bridge over Nila. Nila was flowing peacefully, carrying all the garbage in her womb. It was almost 11’o clock and most of the city had gone to bed. Then something caught my attention. The silhouette of a structure. Since I’d worked in an architecture firm, I could sense the charm in any building. I was sure that it was no simple building. It was situated right on the banks of Nila. There was a stairway running down from the side of the bridge, which lead to the building. But, to my chagrin, I found an imposing gate, which stopped my further advancement. There was a wall with barbed wire. I’ve jumped many walls in my youth. I jumped over it. In that state of curiosity and intoxication, the bruise that happened in my leg didn’t bother me much.

I walked towards the structure. There was an eerie silence hung there. The structure was an ideal example of architectural integrity. It was built in the shape of a chariot. And there was a triangular saffron flag fluttering on the top of it. I instantly recognized it. It was the flag of Topde Sena. After the vandalization of NIHR, which occurred a couple of months ago, this flag had become a very dreaded thing. Then, I learnt that the structure was the tomb of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde.

On the wall of the tomb the history of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde was inscribed. Born in 1727, he was a very efficient ruler. In 1748 British forces invaded the Kingdom of Anantpur and it was conquered. But Topde escaped incredibly from their hands. He spent two years in exile. During that period he regrouped his army and in 1750 he launched an attack on the British forces occupying Anantpur and recaptured his kingdom. Hence, he attained a cult status among the Anantpuris and the legend of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde became famous through folklores and epics.

I stood there astonished. It would be really great to have Mahraja Chandrakant Topde narrating to me the heroic manner by which he recaptured his kingdom.

“Well done my boy. I’m really proud of you. You taught those white buggers a great deal of lesson. Ha! Ha!” I patted on the tomb.

The drizzling stopped after a while. Moon came out of the clouds. The entire area was lit by prolific moonlight. I sat at the steps of the tomb, sipping my Old Monk.

After a short while, I heard the sound of footsteps approaching. I looked in that direction. I could see a tall slender figure, clad in white kurta-pyjama, coming towards me. He had a bearded face and his long curly hair was swaying in the cool breeze. I grew a bit apprehensive. It could be the guard coming to reprimand me for trespassing. But the demeanor of the person was not at all intimidating. I stood up. He came close to me. He folded his hands and greeted me by saying ‘Namasthe’.
It was done in a royal manner. A neatly trimmed beard, feminine lips and intense eyes exuding elegance formed the features of the face of the person who seemed to be aged around 40.
“I was on my way home. Then I thought I’d just visit the tomb of Mahraja Chandrakant Topde
and pay my tributes to him. After all he’s a great person, you know. I mean, he drove out those Dutch people, pardon, those British people. A great freedom fighter who forced British to quit India. I wasn’t doing anything else. You see, I’m leaving right now” I tried to explain. While doing that I discreetly stacked my bottle into my pocket.

He smiled and replied. “ I didn’t say you’re a trespasser. Nor did I ask you to leave. On the other hand you’re my honorable guest. Please be merciful enough to grant this humble host of yours to grant the privilege to treat you in the utmost perfect manner.”

I was bewildered. What’s he blabbering? What does this crack head mean by ‘honorable guest…’ and all? I concluded that he too was a vagabond drunkard like me. Topde’s tomb might be a haven of drunkards. He read my face and said.
“My honorable friend, this humble host of yours begs your pardon for confounding you by offering my hospitality without introducing myself and asking for your introduction. This humble host of yours requests you to not treat it as insolence from my part. But please be generous enough to accept the truth that on account of my not having received any guests for the past 254 years, I forgot to observe the appropriate protocol.”

That was the height. “Hey man, are you nuts.? I’m not your guest and you are not my host. OK.”I retorted. Then I went close to him and patted on his left shoulder and asked. “How many pegs one has to have to make him feel older by centuries?Eh?. Ha!Ha!Ha!” I laughed incessantly. I took out the bottle from my pocket, had a gulp and offered it to him.

He stood there nonchalantly and said. “I am Maharaja Chandrakant Topde”
“What? Ha!Ha!Ha! Great man. You happen to share the name of this hero. Glad to meet you Mr. Maharaja Chandrakant Topde. I’m Mr.Vinay Raj.” I shook his arm.

“Not only his name, my honorable friend. But also his life, his flesh, his blood, his mind, his dreams, his aspirations, his pains and his pleasures. And finally when his body was buried under lakhs of lies and his life was sealed by plethora of pseudo-legends, this spirit of him had to wander for more than 250 years in search of eternal salvation., which could be achieved only through the rectification of his image.”. The person who claimed to be ‘Maharaja Chandrakant Topde’ said with an air of authority.

I got really dumbfounded.” Did you…er…say ‘spirit’ or something?” I asked with an unusual stammer. I once again closely observed his face. I discerned that he’d a 18-centurish face and it bore a remote semblance to the portraits of Topde which I’d seen. Have I taken in too much of liquor so as to hallucinate about a ‘spirit’? I felt some kind of inexplicable sensation wrapping my body. I decided to leave the place.

“Mr. Topde. I’m sorry. I…I don’t know. I think I’d better leave. You know, I’m not accustomed to talking with spirits. No offence meant. OK. Take Care. I mean Good Night.” I reluctantly extended my arm. Then I withdrew it and walked off briskly.

The breeze was getting stronger. It upgraded to the level of a gale. I looked back. In that bright moonlight, I saw him sitting on the steps of, with his hands wrapped around the legs and head sunk between them. I could see his body shaking in a rhythm. Then he raised his head and looked at me. I saw tears in his eyes. Tear drops flowed out of his eyes and drew parallel lines on his cheeks before watering the roots of his beard. His eyes drew me to him like a magnet. I’d lost my volition.

He rose from his position. He joined his hands in an imploring gesture and said “My honorable friend, I can fathom. It would be difficult for you to stomach. An encounter with a spirit can come as an odd experience to anyone. Yet, I request you to spend some of your valuable time with me. I don’t belong to the genre of sprits being portrayed in your movies and novels. I’m a spirit who is endeavoring to enlighten the society about the real facts of my life and to demystify some of the myths surrounding me. But on many occasions, people have mistaken me for a ghost or a drunken lunatic. However, in you I find a receptive and intelligent listener. Please be merciful enough to accept the request of this royal spirit”. No sooner had he finished this than he broke down to tears. He retreated to his initial posture. I took a gulp from my bottle and went near him.

“Mr. Topde, it’s true that I’m a bit baffled by this encounter. Still, I’m willing to listen whatever you’ve got to say about yourself. Mr.Topde, please stop crying. This sort of behavior doesn’t befit a courageous king who recaptured his kingdom from his enemies.”

He instantly rose from his position and lashed out at me. “Stop it! This… this’d been harrowing me for the past 254 years. Neither was I a courageous king nor did I recapture anything. You know, I haven’t used a sword or a weapon in my entire life. I haven’t even killed a mosquito in my life. Then how can I recapture your idiotic kingdom from enemies”. His expression changed from that of a weepy lad to that of an ‘angry young man’.

I got dumbfounded again. “Hey Mr.Spirit, are you sure you are the spirit of the right person or have you got mixed up with some one else’s identity? As in, you sound more of like the spirit of some royal belly dancer! Only thing, the gender doesn’t match. But one never knows…the kings of that time…Ha!Ha!Ha!” I got a bit mischievous.

“No, my honorable friend. We spirits are not susceptible to such fallibilities. Now please grant me a chance to enlighten you about the true life of mine and to invalidate the lies being perpetuated in my name.”

“Yes, Mr.Spirit. You may…you may proceed.”
“I, Chandrakant Topde, took birth as the single issue of Maharaja Brihidishwar Topde and Rani Saraswatibai Topde in the year 1727 according to the Gregorian calendar. My father was a valiant and visionary king, whose only concern was the security and prosperity of Anantpur. Unfortunately, in the year 1742, when I was 15, my father breathed his last on account of contracting some chronic disease which the doctors of that time couldn’t diagnose. And, as the custom was, I was coroneted as the next King. Since I was a novice in the nuances of governance, my mother’s only brother, Mr. Balwant Kishen Rao , resigned the post of minister of the kingdom of Cholamandalam, and came to Anantpur to guide me with his wisdom and gradually he assumed the status of a de facto king. Honestly speaking, he was a man of scruples and that erudite man, who’s committed to Anantpur, tried his level best to inculcate in me all the desirable attributes of an ideal king. However, all his efforts went in vain. For, from the very young age itself, I’d not evinced any intrest in matters of governance and armory skills. What fascinated me was the world of art-world of colors, to be precise. When I was young I used to graffiti the walls of the palace with my colors and imagination. Although they seemed like crude strokes of color, they bore different meanings and conveyed many thoughts But my parents and relatives, who were bereft of artistic and aesthetic sense couldn’t appreciate my efforts and tried to dissuade me from pursuing my passion.

My behavioral and thought patterns were not in conformity with that of the image of a normal prince. I was, in fact, a royal aberration. Things like hunting, archery, wrestling, oratory, adjudication and diplomacy skills didn’t amuse me. I always kept to myself and my world of dreams. My uncle and the royal teachers grew apprehensive about the future of Anantpur. To an extend that was justified too. When I was 18, along with painting, I added one more vice to my life-Gita. Oh my honorable friend, she’s a goddess. She’s the daughter of one of the employees of the palace. She’s the ideal muse for an artist and the beauty she possessed and elegance she exuded inspired me to take my paintings to new zeniths. Moreover, she was endowed with artistic sense too. She’d possessed a good taste of music. Our romance blossomed and love flourished, with the River Nila and countless twinkling stars being the only witnesses to that holy sacrament. We’re living a surreal world of ecstasy.

However, as all love stories have, there were people who’d resolved to spoil our happiness. My mother and uncle couldn’t bear the truism of my live with a girl who occupied the lower strata of the financial and social hierarchical order. They cajoled; they coerced; but I was adamant and asserted my freedom of choice. Finally, my uncle adopted a very callous measure and forcefully deported Gita and her family to some undisclosed place. They were probably killed too. I never knew about that. I couldn’t bear that loss. I ran amuck through the corridors of the palace, crying and yelling out the name of Gita. Rumors spread among the subjects that their king’d gone mad. Meanwhile, my uncle tried to force me into an alliance with the daughter of king of Ratnagiri. I was taken there against my will to meet her. I whined before that princess not to accept me. After that she openly declared in front of every one that she’d rather marry my horse, which was more masculine! That insult was more than bearable for my uncle. We instantly left the place. I was reprimanded through out the journey back for my misdemeanors. Finally, my patience broke. I lashed out at him, for separating Gita, and me for spoiling my works of art and for acting against my will. I accused him of trying to usurp my authority. For the first time I asserted my royal power and declared that I’d renounced the kingdom of Anantpur and that I’m going to be a sanyasi. I ran into the forest. When they followed me, I took out the sword and threatened to kill myself if they tried to chase me. They gave up and I ran deeper into the forest. After two days of wandering, I found an ashram and I tool respite there. I spent about three months there. I didn’t become a sanyasi as I’d vowed. I tried to detach myself from the world. But the reminiscences of Gita were haunting me and I tried to recreate her and her love through colors.

It was 1748. On day I got the news that British forces had invaded Anantpur and it got crushed under their might. I instantly set back for Anantpur. I also came to know that my uncle and my mother had escaped from their hands and their whereabouts were unknown. I could see British presence in my vanquished kingdom. It was actually the result of collusion between Ratnagiri kingdom and British forces. I also heard that the Prince of Ratnagiri was to be coroneted as the titular king of Anantpur soon.

I wasn’t actually affected by the downfall of Anantpur. It can be said that I was indifferent to it. I came back to my ashram. After some months, I got the news that my uncle and mother had taken political asylum in the kingdom of Pandyaraja, which was being controlled by French forces. In the year 1750, my uncle with the help of forces of Pandyaraja and France recaptured the kingdom of Anantpur. At that time I was afflicted with chronic tuberculosis and was bed-ridded.

But you wont find these facts in history. My uncle wanted the clan name of his sister to survive with its prestige intact. He initiated rumors that it was me who’d spearheaded the campaign and it was because of my strategy and planning that the recapture of kingdom happened. But in that process, I got injured and courted a heroic and proud death. Then this tomb was erected and the body of some anonymous soldier, which was badly disfigured, was buried as Maharaja Chandrakant Topde. He took the help of historians and fabricated fake documents to validate his claims. He commanded musicians to compose ballads about my legend, writers to write about my heroics, sculptures to erect valiant statues of mine. His efforts were a reply to Ratnagiri king and an effort to prove the ‘masculinity’ of Topde clan.

My honorable friend, that was one of the greatest manipulation of history ever done. Subsequently, my uncle’s son was adopted by the Topde clan and thus the family survived. Thus, as a result of the ingenious distortion of history cleverly engineered by my uncle, I earned a name for a feat, which I never accomplished. When this entire hullabaloo was going on in my name in my kindom, I died a silent death in the ashram because of chronic tuberculosis, in the year 1752. But I was never able to have a peaceful after-life existence, because of this undeserved fame. Ever since, I’ve been trying to rectify that. But, as you know, a dead man has his own limitations. My honorable friend, please be my medium. Only you can help me. Mr.Vinay Raj, now that you are enlightened with the knowledge of truth and with the aid of a spirit, do something to invalidate the lies about me and let the world know about the real Chandrakant Topde, who was an artist, who was a lover and who was everything but what he is deemed to be. Please help me to attain eternal salvation so that I can hope to spend the rest of my after-life with the spirit of Gita. Please…Plea.s.e….P..l..e..a..s..e…P…l…..e……a…..s……e……….”

I was completely astonished by this. I was not able to bear the sight of the image of great Maharaja Chandrakant Topde falling down like a house of cards. And the fact that he himself, or his spirit, was responsible for this plummet added to the implausibility. I finished my bottle and threw it away. A sudden sense of dizziness got over me and I fell flat on the ground. I lied there for about five minutes. The request of Topde was still echoing inside my head. I got up. But there was no Topde! Not even a trace suggesting that such a person existed there! As if he’d vaporized. But his words were rattling against my ear. I looked around. I could see some paint cans lying near the compound wall which was being painted. I went there and took it. There was a brush too. I came back to the tomb and blackened the wall on which his history was inscribed. When the blackening was over, I took the raid paint and wrote his ‘real’ history on that black background. My experiences of being a draftsman came in handy this time as it enabled me to do the job with dexterity. Once the job was done, I fell asleep there.

Next morning, when I opened my eyes, I was surrounded by policemen. Then followed the police custody, bail, remand, interviews, debates, threats, attacks, trial, incrimination and finally the conviction. I’m still not able to figure out what was it. Was it a ‘real spirit’ or was it some idiot’s prank? Or was it my tipsy hallucination? I don’t know. The only thing I know is that my next six months food is from Anantpur Sub-Jail Canteen.
*********************************************************
MANU SEBASTIAN

7 comments:

Nivipooh said...

Hi Manu,
You have done it again. You have fabricated a wonderful tale. I enjoyed it.
There is just a small typo error in 1st para it should be "put forth".

Anyways, thanks for the read.
Nivi

Srinivas said...

Hi,
Good effort Manu.Your writing and expression has improved. Theme of the story 'Distortion of history and personalities' is very different and good. Story ends with a question mark... ie whether act of the hero is outcome of some prank, hallucination or something else !! provokes thought.God knows how much history has been distorted. Even our scriptures have got distorted down the centuries, it is said.
Keep up your efforts Manu

mg said...

hi..read ur post..very different theme..and good presentation..and the flow was maintained too..althouhgh it was very long,the longest one u've ever written, i guess, it didnt appear boring at any instance..the narration was well-paced..and the element of suspense was maintained throughout..

mb said...

brilliant effort!!you are getting better by each story. and the amazing fact is that, your stories always leave the reader with something to think about. this time your theme was " distortion of history and manufacturing of legends". a very pertinent topic to ponder about. especially in the wake of recent events. story had a natural flow inherent with it. and the manner in whihc you have set up the background linking to the present scenario was really good. but it can raise a few eyebrows. the "topde" in ur story seems to be a sketchy figure of "Shivaji". let it be anything..anyways carry on with the good work..i wudnt be surprised if u turn out to be the most brilliant and revolutionary writer the future india would witness..bets wishes

atmavu said...

decent effort...but not ur vest one...i found it too long and boring...u concentrated on unnecessary facts and details..it was irritating to an extent..once the "Spirit" is introduced it gains pace...but the climax wasnt great..leaves the reader dejected..
having read ur "Razor's Edge" and "An Accomplished Writer" I approached this with a lot of expectations..but it was a lind of let down..anyways stick to ur writing..keenly awaiting ur next wrok..

g3...! said...

hey that was a brilliant storyline! the idea is just amazing.. talking spirits to distorted history to lost love .....loads of concepts neatly woven together! keep the good work up!
i hav a feeling this one was a bit too long for my liking, but then the storyline made up for all that!

Ketan said...

Hi, Manu!

Very good! Liked your leaving the ending incomplete. There were minor grammatical and logical glitches, like Topde referring to "parents (in plural) and relatives" even after the death of his father. If I get time, I'll get back with other such minor issues, too.

Keep it up! Do you write anything nonfiction?

TC.