Friday, December 7, 2007

A monsoon to haunt!

The dark sky pelleted again; this time with heavier drops.
The waiter peeped out of the veranda door and called out, "Sir, you might want to move inside - you'll get wet".
I smiled and waved him off "Its okay, I'm enjoying it".
"Fine, sir", he smiled and disappeared.

It was half past six on a Friday evening, and I sat there at the Coffee beanz veranda atop Bhavani, watching the soft steam whirling away from my hot cup of Mocha beans.

The view from here is awesome, especially on a clear day! The roof-top of Bhavani, which itself is on a hill, is like 250 feet above sea level. What do you need to relax after a tough day at work..? I'll say, all you need is this lush green coconut tree canopy spread around, melting into the million crimson mirrors of Arabian sea; the sweet air of coastal Kerala gently caressing your hair; the calm distant blue-green mountains of the Western Ghats... and of course, a hot cup of mocha and a musical backdrop of Ray Charles or Norah Jones.


I took a sip and craned my neck to see if Nithin had come. He was to join me ten minutes ago - poor soul, probably he's stuck in some conference call or something.


A wind blew, and a few drops sprayed on me... I closed my eyes and sank back into my chair. Some say monsoon is all about love and poetry and salvage and greenery... some say, it brings back memories of a lost childhood, those youthful days of school and college, of times you've spent with your dear ones... but..., for me, these rain drops feel a bit different..., sound a bit different... oh yes, memories are what they bring back, of course... certain memories, and certain sounds - but..., of screams, cries and gunfire!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Africa!
I was a kid when I watched 'Gods must be crazy' - the 'click' tongue of the natives fascinated me so much then, that the only thing I wanted to do once I grew up, was to go to Africa; and yeah, speak to the natives in that tongue! I even thought that Africa would be a little country, where all these natives hunted for a living, and they all passed their life in peace and solace, and oh yes, never having been pushed to attend school.

Yup, the school part might have been partially right, but with the rest, Oh my, how wrong I was!!!

It was during my 2nd year of service in the UN, that I stood looking out from our New York headquarters, a sheet of paper dangling from my folded arms - a memo, deputing me off to Mali! By then, I had already learned that Africa was not just a country - It was a whole big continent with 27 of them, almost all haunted with poverty, famines, civil wars, and not to mention, terror. But, you don't join UN to lead a life of comfort - you join it for something else - and that's what put across a smile on my lips as my aircraft screeched down on to the reddish brown earth of Mali.

Six months had passed since the day I got the memo; I was stationed at Bamako, as the regional 'Telecommunications field engineer', in charge of all telecom infrastructure managed by UN in the area. I did miss 'Starbucks' and the busy streets & pubs of New York, but Mali was fun too; well, in a different way! My time in Mali, its political scenario was a bit steamy. Things were under control for sometime, but then there's a limit, especially when you do get an illegal supply of firearms in abundance! The first local riot was reported in Sakoba, a week prior to the onset of the African Monsoon. And, in Africa, this means that pretty soon you can hear gunshots in your neighborhood. I heard the first gunshot three days from then.

The government declared a curfew, and military tanks roaming the streets became a common sight amidst the pouring rain. A week passed without much trouble other than distant gunshots, and occasional faint screams. Streets other than a few were mostly empty, and packed with more soldiers than civilians.

It seemed that everything was returning to normal, when on that heavily pouring Friday, something sinister dug its fangs!

It was past six in the evening; crimson had already crept in, and I was on my drive back home. A military jeep rolled past, soldiers sat drenched in open rain, armed, alert with fingers perched on their triggers. I watched them drift away slowly, my eyes darting between the road and the rearview mirror. A folk of chicken ran across the street suddenly, and I stamped my breaks in reflex. I was almost absent-minded, and this 'reflex breaking' was the last thing I needed - my engine stalled. A four-letter swear word did escape my lips as I leaned over to turn the ignition back on. Hardly had my fingers closed on the key, that a sudden shouting sprang from some where behind. I jerked a look back; the military jeep was like 200 meters away from me, the soldiers were yelling and trying to jump out in panic, and then I noticed it - a streak of fire closing on them from further down the road.

My breath halted. My heart pounded. Each second seemed like a year, and silence filled my ears; and then, after a moment, the vehicle was no more! A deafening blast, a blinding explosion, and I ducked under my seat for cover. Something fell atop my jeep, and rolled down - a military helmet - it was black and red, and oh my, it wasn't empty!

Sirens started howling immediately in the distant - military vehicles rushing to the spot; but something else too sounded at the same time - not far away - machine gun fires!! I pulled out my service pistol and cocked it, ready to fire. Well, I should mention that I had pulled a trigger many times, but that was always at the training room. This was my first field ordeal, and to worsen things, a panic attack crept in. My heart was pounding heavily, breath was deep and shaky, hands shivering, and I was fighting to hold on to the gun. People ran all over in panic, the shops pulled their shutters down, and the entire place was drowned in screams, yells, and growing gun fires. Then I heard a swoosh, a cling, and in a moment, I was staring at a hole on my windshield!

Reflexes - probably if I was good at anything then, that was it. I ducked before the next bullet cut another spider web on my windshield, and in another five seconds, there was no windshield to cast holes anymore. I listened to bullets thumping in to the seats for another couple of seconds more, and then it stopped. Probably my attacker had found another victim, and I knew that I was right, in another second, when a motor bike across the road gave a handful of clinks, and exploded into a ball of fire. I grabbed the moment, and wriggled across the jeep. I was close to the line of shops at this side, and probably if I could steal a moment, I could run and take shelter around the corner of the next shop.

I peeped out for a look; the attackers were nearer, but were now concentrating on breaking open a set of shops nearby - probably around 100 meters away from me. The black smoke from the burning motor bike clouded down around the place I was, and if I was lucky enough, no one might notice the dark green figure crawling out of the shattered jeep, in thick rain. I took a deep breath, and slipped out, and not wasting a moment, ran around the shop's corner. It was a small dark wedge between two shops, and with all my might, I thumped myself into it. It was darker there, and the moment I was in, I felt I had run into something or someone, and in a moment, I learned it was true. Two panicky screams wailed from around me, and I realized in a bolt of shock that I was not alone.

Two kids stood there - a boy and a girl, probably siblings, in a tight hug, protecting each other. They might have thought I was one of the attackers; I grabbed them around and wrapped my hands around their mouths. "Shhhhh" I hissed. "I'm not going to hurt you, stop it! they'll hear!" The kids continued the scream, and I had to repeat it once more, in French, before they even considered shutting up. They were silent in another few seconds, but I was pretty sure that we'd been heard, and guns would be here any moment now.

The sirens were closer now, and I heard more gunfire. Probably more of army was there, and they were exchanging fire. At least there was a chance of hope. The three of us stood there facing the road, expecting a gun to intrude upon us soon. I had released my hands from over their mouths, and the kids were hugging me tight. The marvel of life - in front of death, anything is hope!! The next moment, I saw the bonnet of an outstretched machine gun streaking around the corner, and there stood a man, black and tall, grinning a cruel stretch of lips. A vulture on a prey, his hands closed on the trigger.

Reflexes, I mentioned a while ago, was my best friend. My right hand shot ahead, my forefinger acting on itself upon the trigger. My bullet hit him fraction of a second before he fired his, and a screeching pain shot up my left shoulder joint, as it almost found its mark. Reflexes again. My right forefinger worked like a piston, pumping out bullets one after the other into him, and as I watched, his gun collapsed, and then he beside it, like a lump of log. I kept on pumping bullets even after he fell, and my fingers never stopped until it was only the empty clicks that were left. I stood there like a statue, looking at my dead enemy - my first kill, my eternal stain!

The kids were screaming again, muffling their mouths tight against my belly; I was in a trance, my right hand still outstretched, holding the pistol, the pain from my left shoulder taking me over. I felt weak, I wrapped my hands around the kids, my fingers still fastened around the empty weapon; and I leaned against the wall, and slid down to a squat.

Gun fire was heavy, so was the rain, but no one came again; probably the army was all over, and the attackers were fleeing or were cornered. Five minutes passed, gun fire ceased, but I was fighting to hold myself from passing out. I sat there holding them close to my face, absorbing their shiver and sobs, and mumbling softly in French, "It's alright, it'll be over right away, you'll be safe." We heard footsteps and yells nearing again, probably the army's; and as a group pounced around the corner, pointing their guns and yelling "Hands up", I yelled back "Don't shoot, don't shoot, there are kids with me". They closed in, and I passed out.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A hand touched my shoulder, and I looked around with a jerk.
"Sorry da, that conf call overshot. Couldn't help it." Nithin dropped into the chair near by.
"Oh... It's okay..." I smiled back
"So, how did it end up?"
"Pretty bad - they say this was not what they wanted."
"Ha ha..!! Same old crap, man... same old crap!!" I laughed out loud.
"Yeah... whatever...! Hey, I'll just go in for a sec and place my order. You want one more?" Nithin glanced at my almost empty cup.
"Sure.. go ahead."

As Nithin climbed back into the shop, I slowly ran my fingers over my left shoulder joint. How much has life changed in the past two years! It's like two worlds apart! Sometimes, I even wonder if it’s the same me, here at Infosys. But then, life is a journey... an endless odyssey from realm to realm... What's the fun if you are to tour the same grounds for eternity? To write the same pages for all time to come...? Life has to change... to evolve... to play new games, to fight new battles, to paint new colors, and to make sure that at the end of the journey, you diary is full... full with tales, adventures... of life lived, sights seen, and hearts conquered!

The rain poured even harder.

[This is a short story from "An African Odyssey", which paints out the Author's life in Africa during the time he served in the UN (2003 - 2006). After having left the New York headquarters in 2004, he served at various locations across Africa, mostly in Mali, till he returned to New York towards the end of 2006. He soon resigned from UN, and returned to his native place - Kerala, India - to continue his adventures there.

And, yeah, of course, it's all imaginary ;-)]

Oh, and btw, the illustration above, of the shoot-out, was a wonderful work from Nithin - yup, the same guy in the story! :-)

13 comments:

  1. Really nice dude, Suberb imagination :) - Jenny

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  2. You ability to put down your imaginations is always great. Nice write man

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  3. Aneeshji / അനീഷ്ജിDecember 13, 2007 at 3:22 PM

    africa shooting UN... thallunnathinu oru mayam okke veenam :-)

    tedka nice to read something in painted glass after a while :-) malayalam bloggukalude idayil angaleyathe marakkanda...

    keep writing pls

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  4. Hey Tedy..read your karadi tales ,let me tell u you are a story teller ....Gr8 imaginations....and it indeed is a painted glasss very well painted at that..

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  5. hehe.... nice one.. was wondering if u really had gone to Africa.... n was almost sure u wuld hve for u r d kind of person who wuld do all this.. isn't it???
    one suggestion... this time when u go pls get a gun frm our Heroes.. their guns never get empty.. so u don't have to worrry....

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  6. Hullo Teddy! I am yet to read the entry. But thought I will get this right - you drew that pic? Wow I didn't know that! And the fellow with the glasses looks like you! Self-portrait! Even more wow!

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  7. Wow that was some amazing narration! You wrote just like you'd really been there, each detail. I thought it real!

    How come there is a huge break after Dec 07?
    Nithin's work was great too :-)

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  8. റ്റെഡിച്ചായന്‍ | TedyJuly 1, 2008 at 5:33 PM

    The huge break is busted now, after reading 'About me' in Cris's world! (http://4sometime.com/blog/)

    I'm starting another blog at wordpress, just for blogging, and to be in touch with 'writing'... a fresh start as a alter ego... :-)

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  9. Hi teddy,
    WOW! fabulous....I was really drawn into it....the way it was written and the descriptions......that reminds me.....ehhhh.....I haven't completed the project I had to do on UN!! Ekkkkss.......could that imagined guy help me out LOL!!

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