To make any sense of this post, you need to first go back to the post titled ‘A Hero is born.’
Eleven years before the wild goose chase on the streets of Dhanbad.
It was a bleak and sunless day over the Diamond Hostel. Mid december is not the most cheerful time at Dhanbad. The reddish walls of the building that had witnessed the suns of pre-independence India were cold and dry. The Red Fort of the School. The lone figure on the courtyard stood motionless, his tired eyes fighting to remain open. His unshaven face and matted hair and his lips twitched into the familiar smoker’s curl did not need an eagle-eye to deduce his lifestyle. His body ached after facing the ordeals of the previous night and it made standing a painful experience. I am the birthday boy. To avoid using his real name, let he be known as Shaant for calm. Presently, his eyes were fixed on the object before him. From the sleek handlebars to the state of the art fenders and heat deflectors and down to the red framework, the bike before him was every young man’s dream. Shaant picked up the card neatly folded on the bike’s seat: ‘To our dear son on his 21st birthday.’ The card had come in an envelope that bore the stamp of South Africa and the logo of a global oil and energy giant. He kept the card carefully in his jacket pocket and stared back at his present. Happiness served to me on a plate. Quietly, Shaant turned on the ignition and rode the Harley out of the hostel. He brought it to a stop at the dilapidated Former Army Camp near the hostel. The Army Camp had probably been built by the British and was long abandoned and was not frequented by the students of the School. ‘The bike must be hid here. I hate cynosures.’ He pushed against an old wooden door that creaked and gave way and took the bike to the room inside. ‘Stay here my birthday present. Maybe, when I leave this place, I shall find use of you. Till then it is goodbye.’ He secured the door by a weight which could act as a lock and returned.
“Hey, Shaant, we have another mining excursion tomorrow to Jharia. The booze is as usual on you!” This was a branch-mate termed as a close friend. “Yeah, sure man. But it is you who must hide it at the back of the bus,” replied Shaant. “Ha! Ha! Mining rocks. Look at those CSE guys. They think that being the second batch here through JEE, studying like dogs would make MNCs recruit them! This is ISM man. School of Mines! When would they realise?” This was a rhetorical question from a third companion. They may be birds of a feather but not I. “Why do you care about MNCs? My dad heads one and I can tell you what it is like. They just don’t care about development of an area. For them it is just the profit. ISM is for Indians. There is so much to change here. Even Dhanbad can be developed if we put our mind to it,” retorted Shaant.
Next day at the Jharia mining site, Shaant decided to take a walk while the instructor was busy explaining the intricacies of an equipment. Nothing intrigues me now. The wave of procrastination had taken its toll on Shaant and now he didn’t know what he wanted. He was dying to make the change but he couldn’t tell how or what. He wasn’t even sure about why he had come to the School in the first place. He wandered around the slums of Jharia desultorily. I am the last man alive on earth.
The aborigines of this part of the country are known as Santals. The belonged to the largest tribal community in India and are said to be the descendants of the humans who first came to India about fifty thousand years ago. The present state of Jharkhand is supposed to be an exclusive state for the Santal community. Shaant was always intrigued by the mysterious and rich culture of the Santals and would often spend hours looking for conclusive evidences in the articles published in local newspapers about how the Santals still believed in witchcraft and black magic.
“Please! Do you have some water? I am thirsty.” Shaant knocked on to a nearby hut. An old lady of about sixty came out with a pot of water. Shaant gulped it down faster than a pelican. “What is that building?” He asked pointing to a desolate and wrecked structure that once would have been a grand manor. “Oh! That is the old library. No one goes in there. Soon the municipality would have it razed. It is completely wrecked from within.” Shaant coaxed her to take him in to which she reluctantly agreed after a while. She replied: “Ok, for you may be the last one who sees it.”
Inside the building was a mess. The shelves and the books were badly infected with lice and all kinds of pests. The plaster had crumbled off long back and the stench of long accumulated water dripping from the ceilings filled the place. Shaant gave a quick glance across the central hall of the building. There were more than two hundred volumes with several in hardback and calligraphic cohevers. He brought down a couple of them from the lower shelves onto the floor. The script in which all these books were written was no way similar to anything he had seen before. The strange alphabets did not fall into the well known Devanagri or Dravidian categories. Baffled, he looked at the lady for assistance. “Ol Chiki,” she replied, “the ancient script of the Santals. Here give it to me. I shall help translate.”
The first volume in a thin red cover turned out to be a practical implementation of the Atharva-veda, the most ancient text on medicine. It was written by some medieval Santal priest. The other volume cased in black hardbound cover with ornate golden letters on the top bore the title “Looking beyond the moon.” It was a scientific text on the stars and planets and their effects known to the tribes. Shaant was thrilled. “These texts are priceless. Diamonds in the rough.” Seeing his curiosity, the lady laughed: “I have tried some of the techniques that were taught to us by our parents. Most do not work or one can’t figure out what they mean.” Shaant was not hearing. He opened another book. The heading translated into: “On the greatest gift to man from God.” Clearly it referred to the Brain. Agog, he flipped around the pages, momentarily stopping to ask for translations. The book talked about the seemingly infinite power of the human brain and how to harness it for good as well as evil. It introduced the definition Psycho-sorcery which the book claimed could control the weakness of another human’s brain and magnify it to enormous proportions. The Spell of Procrastination particularly caught his eye. Casting it by a straight eye contact would cause an opponent’s brain to procrastinate involuntarily activities that it is subjected to perform –from muscle contraction to even heartbeat. The effect would largely be dependent on the prowess of the sorcerer.
Shaant had seen enough to understand the power he held in his hands. ‘It may be cock and bull but why can’t I give it a try,’ he thought. He bagged the couple of texts under his arm and thanked the lady for her help. On his way out his gaze transfixed on a strange device next to the door, that he had missed earlier. “What is that?” He asked curiously. It resembled a huge chain with serrations all over it and a solid metal handle at one end. “It is the weapon of the warriors during the times of our forefathers.” Shaant instantly asked: “Can I take it as a memento that I visited this place.” “You are insane!” was the reply. “You bet I am!”
Shaant returned to Dhanbad. This wasn’t the first time he has bunked an excursion or training. However, his steps were firmer this time. He had formed a project. Learning Ol Chiki topped his list of priorities now. Back at the School, he sprinted to the Former Army Camp. I need to bury my treasure. Pushing aside the door, he took a long gaze at the Harley. Red is definitely not my colour.
To be continued.
On the next instalment: ‘Back to the streets.'
My heartfelt thanks to all those who read, loved and appreciated my modest creation. Your comments and criticism are most welcome.