Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 39
by Akendra Sana
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
contd from previous Sunday
‘Nini has gone out for a while’, stated Bem.
‘She said she was going to get something from the neighbouring house and that she won’t be long.’ Bem continued.
Some concession there, he thought. By now, he knew when he had to be patient.
There was no sign of Nini even after sometime. He then made it obvious that it was time to leave as he said, ‘Bem, would you please locate Nini? We are already late.’
Bem did not say anything and went out.
After about fifteen minutes, Nini returned with some herbs. Bem followed close. It was the longest fifteen minutes. He was angry but he knew it was best not to show.
As if there was no urgency, Nini smiled and said, ‘There are many like you who expect me to provide them with antidotes to their problems.’
How original, he thought.
He also wanted to think that whatever they had experienced the night before was special and others who were expecting other antidotes were never privy to such things.
It was nine in the morning. Leima and mother are restless, he knew. The nearest telephone must be at least an hour later if Nini condescended to leave now, anxiety stalked.
As he waited for Nini to make her next move, he reflected of the times these hills had undergone a few years back. Gruesome tales of one ethnic group subjecting the other were uppermost in his mind. Depending on the relative strengths at varying points of time, the sufferers changed sides.
Newspapers of those days spoke of several houses of whole villages razed to the ground. He could not help wondering if the early men who struck stones to discover fire had the germs in them of such hatred to produce such infernos. And was there any regard for life itself? Stories of men lined up and “ceremoniously” beheaded when their houses were burning in the local newspapers had numbed everyone.
On many of those occasions, women, children and churches were spared. Women and children generally were allowed to flee to nearby jungles. Village churches were known to have been left untouched. Some justice there, Rajen noted.
Although he desperately wanted to return home, there was also a strong secret desire to see a village, an abandoned village after the devastation of the recent past. To achieve his twin objectives, he of course, needed Nini’s cooperation.
It did not take long now for Nini to come out from the house as he waited for her in the open courtyard and also to bid farewell to Bem and her mother-in-law.
Nini walked past him as if he did not exist. This was an act he was now familiar with. He had no choice. Waved to the two women and he followed Nini.
As he took quicker steps to catch up, he could not help wondering how valid and effective the Koans of the Taoist poets of the past were. There was one, which had been in his mind for long that went something like:
The body is the tree of perfect wisdom.
The mind is the stand of a bright mirror.
At all times diligently wipe it.
Do not allow it to become dusty.
They did not exchange a word till they crossed the village gate and nobody was near them. Nini then got closer and began holding his left arm affectionately. This was one woman he was not going to understand easily, he nodded silently.
The Chief’s house they had left the car was all he could focus on. Yet he mentioned he wanted to see an “abandoned village” if they were to pass near one such place and if it would not take too long. Torn between his desire to reach home soonest and his curiosity, he stated if it was not to take long. But what Nini would do next, he could not speculate. Nini said that she knew the place perfectly well and that they would soon be passing through one such abandoned village.
After about twenty minutes’ walk, Nini pointed out to a flatland with tall grasses. The grasses were greener in some parts. He could also notice that there were still black poles at intervals. On closer look it was clear that the places where cinders had fallen more heavily were where the grass was greener and the charred sturdier poles were still standing.
The immediate aftermath of such devastation must have been similar to land ravaged by rats, on a different scale and was he not therefore familiar with such an experience? But blood was here, color of blood was all that came before his eyes.
How much of blood was lost in these places during say 1990-95, a thousand human lives were lost some say during the ethnic conflict, his mind raced to add that the future of these hills will have a bloody past. One thousand deaths may constitute a small part of the large number of people who have had unnatural deaths due to insurgency in Northeast India; some say the number is in scores of thousands even though exactly how many died in direct encounters with the security forces would never be known especially since they are over such a long period; but one thousand was no mean number considering that it was in such a short period; and as for the insurgency deaths, the number is still growing; deaths were of many kinds; some could be straight simple fights between the militants and the government police and army; many others could be in crossfire; “collateral damage” is often mentioned; others could be by bomb explosions; again the explosions could be of those caused by very potent materials like RDX as security experts would say or others could be by simpler IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device) and grenades, his mind raced.
‘How often do you come to these places?’ Rajen asked Nini as if he was making sure that what was going on in his mind was not anything unusual.
‘Well, as often as these hills beckon’, Nini riddled.
‘That is when?’ he ventured not certain what reply he would hear.
‘There you are. This is what independence and freedom is all about. Do I need to elaborate?’
‘These hills have yielded to ideas, ideas of change, no matter what the changes are to be.’ Rajen half spoke to himself although he wanted her to respond.
She did not react. She only looked at him and blew a long breath, a soft whistle and said, ‘I am trying to understand what you are saying. Are you not saying that these hills have been the home of many an upheaval which seem to promise changes they had never seen before?’
To be contd...
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