The Glorious Success - a short story - Ratan Lal Basu | WBRi Online Magazine

 

Submit your songs, music, poems, stories, pictures, elocution and creative work to WBRi for global visibility and broadcast - use the Contact link to contact us.

The Glorious Succuess

A Short Story

 

Ratan Lal Basu

Maoist activities in India may not be desirable, but the persons involved in such activities are human beings and citizens of our country. They may be misguided, but instead being blindly hated, they could be treated more humanely as fellow citizens.

Keshab Rao felt hungry and fingered out the biscuits from the small container and started chewing them. They were too dry and he felt he should have brought drinking water along which he had forgotten in haste. The water course was not far off and he could find it after moving about hundred meters through the hilly forest. The water was clean and cool and it relieved his fatigue. He would have to walk three more kilo meters to get at the hiding where the other boys would assemble. They are not likely to come before twelve p.m. and it was now just eight o’clock. So he could take some rest at this place. He fell flat on his back on the mossy ground and felt the soothing coldness of the moist velvety mosses.

Incoherent images started streaming through his tired brain. He was a brilliant student at a rural school in Andhra Pradesh and desired to be a computer engineer. His father, a small shop keeper, could hardly afford his study expenses and so Keshab had taken up private coaching of a few students to meet the necessary expenses for his studies. At school leaving examination he stood first in his district and got a scholarship for higher studies at an Engineering college at Chennai. Everything was going on smoothly according to his desires and aspirations but a sudden acquaintance made his life topsy-turvy.

He was then walking near the Madras railway station. A tall gentleman in dhoti and punjabi, high powered glasses, sharp features and thick beard suddenly asked him, ‘brother can you tell me where could I find pan shop here?’ It appeared to Keshab that he must be a Bengali from his demeanor, English pronunciation and pan-addiction. He had great respect for the Bengalis, the novelists, poets, politicians. So he replied promptly, ‘sir, you would have to walk about a mile from here to get the pan-shop. Unlike your Calcutta, people are generally not addicted to pan here.’

How do you know I’m from Calcutta?’ the gentleman expressed surprise.

‘You’re certainly a Bengali from Calcutta I guess from your features and pan-addiction.’

‘You must be acquainted with other Bengalis.’

‘Not at all. You’re the first one I come upon. But I know your literature, culture and many other things. You’re a great race. I’m accompanying you to the pan shop. I feel very glad to be acquainted with a Bengali.’

In course of their discussion the Bengali gentleman, Dr. Asis Patra revealed that he was a member of the Peoples’ War Group (PWG), a radical Maoist revolutionary group. He had come to Chennai to attend a secret meeting of the revolutionaries. Keshab was highly impressed by his talks on the economic situation, poverty and exploitation of the majority of the population in India. Mr. Patra remained in the city for three more days and Keshab learnt many things from him about Marxism, Communist and Maoist Guerrilla warfare to overthrow the present State machinery in India and replace it by a Socialistic State ensuring equity, justice and welfare of the majority. He left his contact number and Keshab continued connection with him secretly from various local booths. He downloaded Mao Zedong’s works from the internet, started reading them and a new world of dream opened up before his eyes. He felt an inner urge to be associated with Maoists after completion of his studies. In the meantime, the two Maoist groups (PWG and Maoist Communist Center) merged to form the CPI-ML (Maoist).

Keshab had no intention to give up is studies and join the Maoists immediately, but a family tragedy prompted him to change his decision abruptly.

---

Keshab came back to the present as the distant hooting of a rice mill alerted that it was already nine p.m.  He hastened up and fastening the bag containing his belongings and started again for the targeted hideout. 

The crescent moon was now visible through the foliage of the tall trees and shadows were flickering as the branches were swaying in the gentle breeze that had made the weather charming. Patches of clouds were drifting aimlessly across the starry sky. The moon would wane day by day and perish into the new moon. This had been the fate of their lofty dream of changing the society through revolutionary guerrilla warfare. The movement was now waning rapidly and would soon be lost into darkness and utter frustration.

Keshab had joined the movement in a hopeless state of mind but soon his frustration vanished and he could rouse himself with new hopes and aspirations to build up a bright future for the exploited masses, free from poverty and exploitation. He had offered his life for the noble cause.

An insect hidden in a bush was making a continuous ringing noise and some bats fluttered away as he stumbled down being obstructed by an outspread root of a tree but he was not hurt as he fell down on the cushion of dried leaves. He would have to walk carefully as the way was semi-dark and besides projected roots, there might be pits hidden underneath the dried leaves and stepping on them may break or sprain the leg. He turned around to the right and came out of the forest to a clear land, an abandoned cultivable field made by burning the trees. The tribals occasionally burnt down trees to make cultivable land and abandoned them after a few years when the fertility of the land was exhausted. This was a harmful practice having serious adverse effects on forest ecology. The terrorists had convinced the tribals to refrain from the practice but still in many areas the practice was still going on.

Keshab had already walked a long way and the targeted hideout was not far off. The clear land ended up in grassy land and bushes that hid a ditch beyond which surrounded by tiny hillocks was the hideout. It was only fifteen minutes walk and it was only 11 o’clock by his wrist watch.

Keshab got himself settled on a broken log left by the tribal cultivators. He handed out a few biscuits from his side bag and started chewing them and coughed as the dried crumbs went straight to his throat. He swallowed his saliva again and again and tried to cough out the crumbs. A rodent from under the log came out, looked intrepidly with small curious eyes at him. Keshab smiled and asked it ‘what do you want, rat brother?’ His voice startled the rodent and it scurried fast across the field into the grassy land. Suddenly the sweet face of his sister Priti flashed across his mind and he could not help tears rolling down his cheeks. A brilliant student of class VII, she aspired to be a doctor and Keshab had promised to her that after getting his engineer’s job he would do his best to get her aspirations fulfilled.

His first year exam was not far off and he for the time being concentrated on his exam studies, skipping aside the study of Maoist literature. A sudden phone call from a friend about some family disaster made him hurry over to his native village.  

His friend was waiting for him at the bus stop. He looked grave and without responding to Keshab’s queries he dragged him by the hand right to their house. After he got settled, his friend and his parents slowly disclosed the tragedy. About a week ago Priti, while returning from school was kidnapped by a group of ruffians who were the men of a local landlord according to the helpless villagers before whose eyes the incident happened. An intrepid social worker of the village took his parents to the police station to lodge a complaint against the landlord. The officer-in-charge of the police station hastened to put his parents and the local leader to lock up where they were severely beaten up before they were released the next day on personal bail by a powerful lawyer of a democratic rights association.

The landlord’s men and the police terrorized the local people with threats of dire consequences for anyone who would give evidence against the landlord. After two days the raped and mutilated dead body of Priti was found in a bushy ditch and Keshab’s parents committed suicide.

The shock at first benumbed the senses of Keshab. Thereafter he became grave with a deep resolve to take revenge. He did not disclose his designs to his friend’s family who insisted him to leave the village right away as the police could arrest Keshab if detected. Keshab did not waste time and left the village to contact a Maoist leader at Chennai introduced to him by Mr. Patra. The Maoists listened patiently to his account of the incident and his resolve to take revenge. They discussed the matter among themselves and contacted Mr. Patra. They approved his resolve, held a court which pronounced death sentence for the landlord and a meticulous plan was chalked out to execute the sentence. Keshab was sent to a Maoist hideout at a village close to their own and on a full-moon night, Keashab along with five other actionists, attacked the house of the landlord, killed him and all his family members mercilessly and set fire to all the buildings after pouring out petrol.
According to plan the actionists were sent deep inside the jungle of Shrikakulam of Andhra Pradesh. There, in a terrorist technical school, Keshab attended theoretical classes on guerrilla warfare, target of the Maoists in India, and received practical training in the use of modern arms for three months. After three-month’s rigorous training, Keshab was sent to the Bankura district of West Bengal, to participate in guerrilla warfare against the ‘black dragons’, the secret army, of a political party, composed of criminals and mercenaries.

The criminal organization was at the root of exploitation and torture of the tribals in the region and the Maoists expected to gain the support and confidence of the tribal people by protecting them against the ‘black dragons’.

Besides use of modern fire arms, during the tree-month training, Keshab had learnt many other things, the history of the Maoist movement in India, its objectives and ultimate goals. Now he had forgotten all his family tragedies as he could not reverse them and the culprit was punished and with the new knowledge a new world of dream opened up before his eyes and he dedicated himself to the cause of the movement.  

He was at first enchanted by the fantastic plans and strategies of the Maoists. They would first organize the tribals, the most oppressed class in India, into guerrilla groups and bring the tribal area under their control by means of guerrilla warfare as devised by Mao. These areas would then be declared liberated zone, free from the control of the Government of India and they would organize their own administrative machinery. Soon the movement would attract the peasants and all other oppressed classes elsewhere in India and guerrilla warfare would spread to other regions and the area of the liberated zone would go on expanding. The advanced guerrilla groups would now join to form the red army which would defend the already liberated area and assist the guerrillas to expand the geographical coverage of the liberated area under the peoples’ democratic government led by the Maoist communist party.

Lower ranks of the army, police and the para-military forces would be attracted by their movement and they could be convinced to change side and join them along with the arms under their control. There would be revolts in police and military and the red army, with the help of the guerrillas outside and inside the government forces, would capture police stations, military barracks and their arm depots.

Then the red army in the rural areas would encircle the cities and capture them. Ultimately, the existing government would be overthrown and the new peoples’ government would bring entire India under its rule.

The initial enthusiasm and spell of fantastic dream soon started waning in course of real experience of the movement, and it did not take long for Keshab to be completely disillusioned about the fantastic dreams. He realized that their movement would never spread beyond the jungles adjacent to the tribal areas and their influence could not be spread among the experienced peasants and other oppressed classes outside the tribal areas. Only some romantic intellectuals might give them moral support and just that.

Their guerrilla warfare soon degenerated into killing individuals and terrorist sabotages killing innocent people. Many leaders, notwithstanding their outward affected confidence, could not conceal their frustration and they were confused about the purpose and path of their movement. Confusion and frustration raged high among the activists. 

Studying the fate of the recent guerrilla movements in Latin American countries, Nepal and Myanmar, Keshab was now convinced that considering the sophistication of arms, ammunitions and technology of modern military forces, it is but a day dream to think of capturing state power through guerrilla movement.

Then there was the final blow. The government stepped up military operations and some of the guerrilla groups including the one to which Keshab belonged were chased into deep jungles which were encircled by the govt. forces. They were cut off from outside supplies, their mobile connections were jammed, and ultimately they were compelled to come out in the open and were killed mercilessly in unequal fights. All members of Keshab’s group except Keshab were killed or captured wounded. Keshab was shot in his left leg and he fell unconscious into a deep watercourse covered with bushes. 

While his senses returned Keshab found himself in a small room with stone walls and stone roof. Shelves, chiseled out into the stone walls, were stacked with earthen utensils, a lantern, tooth paste and brush, packs of herbal medicine and other tit bits for daily use. The stone platform on which his bed was made was high up on the wall and through the small ventilators of the windowless room, green forest below brightened by sun rays and distant hillocks were visible. The stone-room must be somewhere high up on a hillock. He could not understand where he was and how he happened to be there. Slowly he remembered everything. Ammunitions exhausted, he had taken shelter behind the huge trunk of a tree and random shots of the commandoes were flowing relentlessly by both the sides of the tree and hitting into the bushes that rose up from the depth of the water course close by. Suddenly a bullet pierced through the thick buckle of the trunk and hit his thigh. He fell down and to save himself from the bullet-rains, he rolled down into the water course and fell unconscious. He could not guess how long he had been unconscious and who had carried him over to this cave house. Now it was past midday, as he guessed from the sun which was visible through a ventilator, and he was hit at day break. So it might be eight to ten hours or it could also be the day next to their fight. He tried to turn round and shrieked loudly in sharp pain in his thigh. An elderly tribal man and a young girl rushed into the room, moved alongside his bed and leaning over him said in Hindi, ‘don’t move, your wounded thigh has been bandaged and movement would lead to bleeding.’

He could now clearly see both of them standing side by side. The bare bodied old man was wearing only a loincloth. The girl looked like sixteen or thereabout, had worn a pandhat, a sari worn from above the breasts down to the knees. The v-line sloping up to the sharp large boobs under the upper edge of the pandhat and her strong bare legs were distinctly visible. He thick, long and deep black hair that reached down to her waistline were swaying with every movement and combined with her dark complexion, deer like large eyes, sharp nose and mysterious smile on her lips, she looked exactly like goddess Kali. Was he dead and transported to the land of the goddess, the thought crossed momentarily across his mind. The girl, as though reading his thought, said with a sweet smile, ‘I’m not any goddess. We are Oraons from the small Oraon village beyond these hillocks and forest land.

‘Where am I now?’ Keshab blubbered out with effort.

‘You’re in a cave house known as “spook-house” and you’re perfectly safe here as nobody dare come near this haunted place. Okay, take rest and don’t talk much now. We’ll tell you everything later. You must be hungry and thirsty. So first take water and some food first.’

The man handed out an earthen container from the wall shelf and the girl poured water from a pitcher in a glass. They served him fruits, milk and sweets made from roots. Keshab was accustomed these tribal foods which were both nourishing and medicinal. But now he could not eat much because of his feverish condition and pain all over his body which too was bruised and superficially torn as he had rolled down the bushes and thickets that walled the deep watercourse.

Toilet works at an adjacent toilet were the most horrible and painful and the hosts did their best to help him. After he was carried back from the toilet into his bed, he was administered a sedative to relieve his sufferings as an aftermath of the struggle in the toilet and he relapsed into deep slumber.

He woke to find the room lighted by a lantern and the girl seated at the corner of his bed and looking at him with deep affection. He now felt better and took tea and tribal biscuits. Her father would soon bring soft breads and curry for his dinner, the girl told. Her name was Maina Tirke and her father Mongra tike. They were Kurukhs (Oraons) residing in a small Oraon village beyond the jungle mahal (forest habitations). Mongra was an ojha and herbal doctor. Being requested by Keshab, Maina told how she had found and rescued him.     

Some rare herbs are found in this area. She came to collect the herbs grown inside the water course Keshab had fallen into. She had to wait because there was a fighting. After the fight was over and the forces left, she waited for a while and in the afternoon when she was confident they would not return she went close to the water course and was startled to hear a deep moaning from inside the water course. In normal times she would have thought it to be related to some specter that she did not care as she too knew mantras to prevent harms from them. But now because of her knowledge of the fight she was confident it must be some wounded human being. Whichever side he belonged to, it was her duty to help the suffering person. Climbing down the slope she discovered Keshab on the slush reddened by blood. She recognized him to be a guerrilla and immediately rushed back to her village and brought her father along and they both carried him out of the pit. It was not safe to take him over to the village, because at any time the government forces may search the village and there were also ‘black dragon’ spies in the village. So they decided to hide him at this forbidden ghost cave. It was on a hillock hidden in between to larger hillocks surrounded by dense forest.

She told Keshab the myth of the cave house. Long ago a sacred tantrik with the help of the local tribals, made this dwelling in between two hillocks for occult religious practices and it was hidden from the sight of the outsiders by the surrounding hillocks and forests.

People used to say that he had under his command ghosts and apparitions. The local tribals believed that after death of the tantric the cave house had become an abode of the ghosts and no body dared approach near that place and there were stories galore about the horrible ghosts guarding the forbidden land. Mongra and Maina, being experts in ojha cult, knew mantras to tame the ghosts and so they never feared to visit the area rich in rare herbs. Before carrying Keshab into the cave they had purified the house driving away the ghosts by mantras. Keshab, however, did not believe these superstitions but he felt satisfied that because of these myths there was no possibility of his being detected. The Oraon and her daughter regularly visited the place to collect medicinal herbs and so nobody would show any curiosity if they visit Keshab regularly. Maina told that only half inch of flesh from his left thigh was torn away by the bullet and the herbal paste administered on the wound would soon cure his leg.  

It took about a month for Keshab to be fully cured, capable of walking without the help of sticks. However, a depression remained on his thigh and he had to walk with a limp. During his recovery Maina used to come and talk with him for long hours. She knew Sathali which Keshab too had learnt to speak in course of his activities among the Santhals. So they could talk freely and slowly they were drawn to each other and they realized that unknowingly they had fallen in love with each other.

Maina was not illiterate. She had studied at the convent run by a Catholic church which had converted all the fifty Kurukh families of the village to Christianity, but the tribals still practiced their primitive ‘sarna’ religion of nature worship and along with attending church and Christian festivals they used to attend tribal rituals and festivals too. Maina, after school studies, had taken a three months’ short training in nursing and she was likely to get a temporary job at a private nursing home at Suri town of the Birbhum district. She could also read, write and speak both Bengali and English.

They ultimately decided to marry. Keshab had the desire that they would marry and get settled at Suri town. Mongra gladly gave consent and once again hope enlivened Keshab and he started dreaming of a happy life with Maina. But the most serious hurdle was his position as an accused Maoists lioable to be arrested or shot at sight. Maina took him secretly to father Reverend Anthony Bhagat who was a very sacred and kind man. He too believed that Keshab was still an accused extremist liable to be arrested and tried at court (if he was lucky not to be shot at sight) and the father could not device a way out. He assured them that he would think over the matter and contact the Bishop to negotiate the matter with the government. The father advised him to remain in hiding until the matter was settled.

Then suddenly the golden opportunity came. The Government of India declared openly that all the Maoists with minor offenses would be forgiven with token punishment if they surrender unconditionally with an undertaking of refraining from terrorist activities in future. Those who wanted to eschew the wrong path and return to normal life would be welcome.

Dhanesh Oraon, an erstwhile ‘black dragon’ agent for seducing tribal girls, had now become honest and was working as the mediator between the surrendering Maoist and the government forces.

Maina had learnt from Dhanesh that twenty other Maoists from different areas would surrender after a few days at midnight at a specified place. He told Maina that any willing Maoist activist might assemble at the hideout at midnight on a specified date. Keshab decided to surrender on that day and the day before the surrender he and Maina found out the location of the specified cave. Now Keshab felt happy and he was seized with dreams. Occasionally he got morose remembering his parents and Priti and Maina always consoled him by saying that they would never return and he should now think of the days ahead.

---


Keshab cautiously crossed the creek and climbed down a slope to reach at the specified venue for surrender. All other terrorists had already assembled there. They greeted Keshab and introduced themselves. Exactly at twelve they laid down their arms and ammunitions outside the cave and waited for the arrival of the commandos. The commandoes arrived on time exactly at one a.m. and their commander announced over microphone, ‘you come out of the cave one by one with hands over your heads and line up as ordered by me for body searching, but you would meet with death if you try to be over smart.’

The terrorists came out one by one and were lined up. A chill went down the spine of Keshab. Was it a trick by the commandos to shot them in cold blood? Nothing like that happened to his relief and body searching started. The commander announced again, ‘after searching you would be hand cuffed, but don’t worry boys, you would be set free tomorrow after you sign an undertaking.’

Keshab was the tenth in the line and it would be at least half an hour before his term comes. He got absorbed in dream again. How happy Maina looked today! Her face came to the surface of his mind and he forgot the surroundings.

All of a sudden the place became alive and two commandoes were shot dead by firings from ‘black dragon’ activists hidden behind the hillock. This was according to the plan of the notorious Dhanesh, who was still an active agent of the ‘black dragons’ In the fraction of a second rifles of the commandoes went alive, the entire area reverberated with the continuous ‘tat-tat-tat……..’, nocturnal birds fluttered high up into the sky and all the Maoist boys including Keshab were killed.

Front page headlines of the dailies the next day read:

Glorious Success of the Government Forces against the Maoist Guerrillas




Dr.Ratan Lal BasuRatan Lal Basu, Ph.D. (Economics) is an ex-Reader in Economics and Teacher-in-Charge, Bhairab Ganguly College, Kolkata, India. Dr. Basu has written & edited several books on Economics.

Apart from his passion for the field of Economics, Dr. Basu's other interests are Boxing & Small Game Hunting (gave up the nasty games during college life); Swimming in Turbulent Rivers (physically impossible now); Himalayan Treks, Adventure in Dense Forests, Singing Tagore Songs and also writing travelogues and fiction in Bengali and English.

Dr. Ratan Lal Basu can be reached at rlbasu [at] rediffmail.com.