Author : An Indian
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Review by Rubina Ramesh
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India Was One
“जल्दी करो| वरना देखने नहीं मिलेगा (jaldi karo. warna dekhne nahin milega - Hurry up. Or you won’t be able to see),” he whispered in an urgent tone. Jai nodded, hurrying after the man with the lantern.
Suddenly, the jungle disappeared, giving way to an open area. They were standing on a hilltop. On the edge of the cliff was a makeshift railing of wooden sticks made from fallen tree branches. It looked as if someone had hurriedly built it to warn people to be aware of the deep ravine beyond. The man with the lantern hurried towards the far end of the cliff. It was the highest point with a great vantage point. From here, one could clearly see the mountains in the distance. Suddenly, Jai froze. He could see the man with the lantern hurrying toward what looked like a silhouette of a tall man. As the man with the lantern approached, the tall man didn’t move. He raised his lantern, and Jai sighed in relief. The silhouette was not a man; it was just a 6 foot tall tree. The man started to tear leaves from the top of the tree, and Jai realized that the man was not tearing the leaves but simply peeling them off to reveal what was hiding behind it. It was a very powerful stationary binocular, with a slot to insert coins. The metal glistened in the moonlight.
The man waved to Jai.
“इधर आओ (idhar aao - Come here),” he beckoned Jai.
Jai hurried towards him, and the man showed him the binoculars. Jai smiled.
He quickly moved his face towards the binoculars. However, his face hit a leathery hand. Jai was confused.
“Why can’t I see anything?” he thought.
He backed his face away to see what was obstructing his view. The man had placed a hand on the binoculars, while the other hand was outstretched towards Jai.
“1000 Rupees pliss (please),” he grinned.
Jai was furious. He had already paid the man Rs. 5,000/- for this.
“He is getting greedy,” he thought.
But he realized that there was nothing he could do. He was at the mercy of this man. He would have to pay whatever the man demanded.
“Just pay him. It’s worth it,” a voice inside his head told him.
Jai reached his hand in his shirt pocket and took out the money. The man’s eyes gleamed at the sight of this. They hungrily followed Jai’s hand. As the money came out, he broke into a gleeful smile. He took the money with one hand and removed his other hand from the binoculars at the same time. He reached his hand in his pocket and produced a coin. He inserted it in the coin-slot of the binoculars.
“अब देखो (ab dekho - See now),” he said.
Jai eagerly moved his head towards the binoculars. They were out of focus. He adjusted the knob, and the hills far away on the horizon came into focus as if they were only a few feet away. He could see the same makeshift railing - made out of tree branches – on the other hill. He slowly moved his binoculars, scanning the cliff on the horizon. He suddenly stopped. He could see a figure on the horizon peering through the same kind of binoculars. He could not see the face as it was obscured by the binoculars. The opposite figure also stopped. The binoculars were focusing on Jai. The figure slowly lifted her face. Jai’s heart skipped a beat.
There she was.
His soul, his life, his Kaahi.
Kaahi lowered her head. She was now looking through the binoculars. Jai lifted his head from behind the binoculars. He wanted Kaahi to see him, to let her know it was him. Tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly, he remembered something. He lifted his hand and rubbed his earlobe gently between his index fingers and thumb.
“I love you,” he muttered.
He then hurriedly placed his face on the binoculars. He could tell that Kaahi was smiling behind the binoculars. She raised her head. Jai could clearly see her face now. She was smiling but her eyes were wet, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. She responded with the same gesture, and then she raised her hand and made a “v for victory” sign with two fingers
Jai instantly realized what she was saying. He also smiled but his eyes were getting misty. She was saying:
“I love you too.”
She was crying uncontrollably now. Tears were pouring all over her cheeks. Jai had never felt so helpless in his life. He was always used to being in control. This was a different feeling, totally new to him. He had the sudden urge to run to her.
“That’s not the plan,” he reminded himself. But looking at her, made his heart take over his mind. He just wanted to be with her.
“What if I just walked down the ravine? I can be with her in no time,” he thought.
He walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down. The man with the lantern came walking behind him, holding the lantern high. Jai took the lantern from the man and extended his hand into the ravine. The light from the lantern was good only for a few feet, beyond which was darkness. He picked up a pebble and threw it in the ravine to see how long it took for the pebble to reach the bottom. He tried to hear a sound of the pebble hitting the ground, but nothing, no sound. It was as if the pebble had vanished into an abyss.
Suddenly, he saw something shiny at the bottom of the abyss. He squinted his eyes to see what it was. He ran back to his binoculars and turned them to see what it was. Sharp barbed wires that separated the two mountains came into focus. He had come as far as he could in his country. But she was standing in another country.
He was in South India and she was in North India.