“Papa , God puts in a lot of hard work to create humans. And when they kill one another, all of God’s efforts go in vain.” — A five year old boy to his father.
The day was like a raging thirst. And I was a yearning, thirsty traveller. I had heard a lot about Vigyaneshwarji from my acquaintances; that he was a writer trying to decipher the contemporary times. But my interest in him was not just about his writing. When I went to meet him, late at night, I found a sad light emanating from him, under the glow of which, he sat writing. After meeting him, I found the edges of time to be less sharp and piercing. Truth be told, he appeared to be the sole heir to our depressing times.
I greeted him respectfully and sat down next to him. It was an endless, heavy night, filled with dark fireflies and without any dawn in sight.
“I am a great admirer of your works; be it your story the ‘brazen sky’ or the ‘dry river’, you pick out the specifics of life very cleverly. Your stories detail the fear of death and the insecurities rampant in life. It often seems as if your stories are like extended verses, rather than prose. Along with the skillful crafting of the plot, there is a lively sensitivity flowing through your stories,” I said.
He gave a dry laugh. It was filled with the pain of stars breaking apart from the night sky. His eyes didn’t smile. Instead, there was fear coiled up in them. A grey and dirty fear!
“But my intentions in coming tonight are different. I want to know about the pair of spectacles that have been in your family for a few generations. That is, if you don’t object,” I continued.
An inky silence spread between us for some time.
At last, he got a hold on himself and said, “Where should I start from? Around the year 1850, one of my ancestors found these spectacles in a scrap shop. During those days, he lived in the Chandni Chowk area of Delhi. He was a collector of old, odd things. After buying those spectacles, they just lay around for a year or half. One day, as he was searching for something, he found them again. He cleaned them and put them up on his eyes. The result left him astounded! These were no ordinary eyeglasses. He could see strange sights and visions through these glasses. As if he was watching a movie filled with scenes of violence. Although, in those days, movies had not been invented. The scenes he saw gave him goose bumps.”
“My ancestor failed to understand the matter properly. Later on, during the mutiny of 1857, the horrific events made him realize that he had seen those visions long ago, through these spectacles. And then he came to the conclusion that the glasses showed him events that were to happen in future.”
“There is one more thing I should mention. Whenever my ancestor put on these specs, he experienced severe pain in his eyes for a few days. Sometimes, they would also bleed.”
It was a black, burnt night, when I asked him, “Did your ancestor ever share the secrets of these eyeglasses with anyone?”
“Many times. But people thought he was crazy and insane. They started to say that the old man had become demented. His entire life turned into a giant headache. At last, he stopped sharing the truth with everyone. He locked these spectacles in a box and stored them in a dark attic.”
“But…,” I started to say.
He interrupted me, “What else could he have done? In those times, had someone told you about such eyeglasses, wouldn’t you have considered him deranged?”
I nodded. The night shivered like a dog getting drenched in the cold rain. The old man started to speak again. “My ancestor was on his deathbed when he revealed the secret to his son, who was my great grandfather. He inherited these spectacles, as well as the accompanying problems. He had a secret which was unbelievable.”
“My great grandpa did something about this. In an attempt to prove himself, he called his friends and asked them to wear the specs. But destiny had something else in mind. None of his friends had any visions or saw anything strange. My great grandpa’s problems increased.”
“One day, his five year old son, that is, my grandfather, and his friends stole the glasses and tried them on. The kids were able to see visions of the future. My five year old grandpa and his friends were astounded! They returned the eyeglasses and confessed everything. They even criticized the violent scenes they had seen.”
“My great grandpa was lost in thought. Five year old kids could see visions through the spectacles whereas his adult friends couldn’t. What was the mystery? In the end, my great grandpa solved the puzzle himself. After experimenting with adults and kids, he realized that the glasses worked only on those people who had a clear conscience. People with tarnished hearts didn’t have the power to see the future through them. Since kids are innocent, they were able to have the visions of the future.”
“What happened then?” my curiosity was on the rise.
“My great grandpa left the specs to my grandfather. Around the year 1915, he tried them on and saw some horrific scenes of mass killings. He saw British officers firing on Indians in a garden . His soul shivered at the sight. It was evident that the crowd consisted of freedom fighters. But when and where would this barbaric act take place? My grandfather began to lose sleep over it. He tried to talk to a few freedom fighters about this. But they didn’t take him seriously. How could they believe that someone could forecast the future?”
“At last, on the 14th of April, 1919, the brutal and heinous killings took place in Jalianwallah Bagh, Amritsar. The British officers shot dead many unarmed Indians trapped in the garden. Darkness blotted out all the light from the world. My grandfather was stunned. His greatest tragedy was that no one had believed his warnings. He suffered from anguish and compunction till his death. He tried to approach newspapers with his story but they considered him crazy. Editors and reporters tried on the eyeglasses but unfortunately they could see nothing. One or two newspapers reported him as a deranged old man and treated the whole thing as an April Fool’s joke. Evidently, my grandfather was hurt by such allegations.”
“The spectacles were passed on to my father after my grandpa’s death. It was my father’s inheritance and he kept it safe. You always treasure something that you have inherited. So did my father. Those were years of great upheaval in the country. The fight for our independence was at its peak. The British were doing their best to crush us. Whenever my father put on the glasses, he saw scenes of police brutality. But the visions of Hindu Muslim riots were more terrifying. He saw barbarians killing innocent people. Women getting raped. Carnage and genocide were rampant.”
“These scary spectres would leave my father stunned and paralyzed. He would bleed from his eyes for many days and spend sleepless nights. In this state of mind, he decided to meet with Gandhi ji or Nehru ji to warn them. I don’t know if he ever did meet them. History doesn’t mention any such thing. Neither do the contemporary newspapers. We will never know the reason why he could not warn them in time.”
“We all know what transpired during the time of India’s independence and the partition of the country. Millions of innocent people were slaughtered, millions of women were widowed and children were orphaned. My father’s mental state started to deteriorate. He felt guilty that he had been unable to prevent this massacre although he had prior knowledge.”
“But the heaviest blow was yet to come. During those dark days, the spectacles gave him a precognition of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. A darkness set before his eyes. By then, the Britishers had announced their decision to leave the country. My father met with prominent people associated with the Independence struggle, to warn them of the danger to Gandhiji’s life. But they were immersed in celebrating our long sought independence. They failed to take him seriously. Who would want to murder a respected man like the Mahatma – they jested. They termed it his neurotic fantasy. Unaware of the danger to himself, the Mahatma was traversing through Bengal on marches to protest against the Hindu Muslim riots.”
“At last, the day arrived when the world’s light was swallowed by evil darkness. Nature itself erupted in screams. Our country’s sun was eclipsed forever. On 30th January, 1948, our beloved Mahatma was assassinated . The news left my father devastated. It was a great blow for him. From that day on, he started to lose his mental stability. In a similar situation, any sensitive man would lose his sanity. And Gandhiji was not one man, but the entire humanity.”
The open wound of the night throbbed, when I asked him, “Do you still have the spectacles?”
“For the last sixty years, I have been the caretaker , the only custodian of these spectacles. During these years, I tried to reveal the truth about these glasses many times. But every time, I became an object of jest and ridicule. I approached the policy makers at the highest levels of our society but their corroded and corrupted souls made them unable to visualize through the eyeglasses. The light of their inner self was dim like a zero watt bulb. It is the country’s misfortune that they didn’t believe my truth. Some people even taunted me with the suggestion that I should get my mental health evaluated at institutions in Agra or Ranchi. Some advised me to write science fiction.” So saying, he quieted down suddenly. As if the strings of the musical instrument Sarangi broke off with a twang at the peak of the melancholic melody.
The night lay like an unidentified and unclaimed body as I asked him, “Would you leave the spectacles to your son?”
“To be honest with you, this conundrum has been eating away at me. A great agony flows through my veins. Restlessness has become a constant with me. Sometimes, I feel trapped in a coffin. Whenever I try on these specs, I am shamed and embarrassed by the naked image of humanity reflected through the mirrors of time. I carry the weight of the future on my shoulders. In the middle of the night, the entire world seems to be drumming inside me. Some demented man is ringing the town bells in my ears. From the day I have been given these spectacles, my world had become dark and sad. The eruptions inside me have left my soul torn and mangled. I am cursed for having to carry this cross on my back. Should I bestow this grey sadness, this constant pain on my son?”
Death lingered in his moaning voice and his face held the desolation of a deforested land.
The night was a sneaky twitch in my palms, when his distracted voice continued, “I don’t want my son to become a neutered confidant to these destructive secrets, like me and my ancestors.” His words were like a lightning bolt in a thunderous sky.
“So, what will you do with these spectacles?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I carry inside me the torn wings of innumerable birds. I can no longer bear the unending burden of these dark, boiling days.” His whispering voice was like air caught in a gurgitating water tap. The shadows in his eyes were getting long.
He controlled himself and continued, “We are living in times where even dry sand gets infested by worms. Even the air has mold. The world’s incandescence is paralysed. Deep rooted infection in our society is changing every hue to black. But I believe that although the flame of righteousness may waver in ill winds, it is never extinguished completely. My last wish is to hand over the glasses to someone who will use it for the benefit of humanity.” His impassioned speech ended and it felt like the sweet waters of a river had been cut off or that the cool winds had died off on a hot day.
It was a godforsaken, sad and sobbing night, when I asked him, “You are a talented Hindi author. Why don’t you write this story?”
“The language I write in is a poor man’s language. I doubt anybody will ever read this true story written in a neglected language.” His words speared my eyes like burning spikes of these thankless times.
Before taking my leave, I took his permission to write a story about this. I bade him goodbye and departed. I am the director of a well-established detective agency. But I didn’t have the guts to try on these spectacles. Perhaps I didn’t want to know about the truth that the kids had seen. Or maybe , who knows , nothing would have been visible to me too through these spectacles .
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