Kaul lives and works in New Delhi. His first novel, The
Ascension, was published by Writers Workshop, India,
and was a winner of the Indie Book Awards, 2009, U.S.A. His
fiction is forthcoming in the PEN International Magazine,
U.K., and Carpe Articulum Literary Review, U.S.A.
gods! My baffled steps are lost in you!
sounds have long fallen into a rhythm. They emerge – from
his nostrils, from his hurried step crunching the dry leaves,
faintly, from the metal of the rifle slung over his shoulder
as it rubs across his khaki shorts, and there is even a jingle
from the few bullets in his pocket – cut each other, and
lose themselves like flashes in the wide spaces between the
trees that are stark and echoless. The heat fails to touch him,
for he shivers and his teeth chatter; but his lips are sealed,
allowing neither the saline fluids to enter and sting his tongue
nor the sobs to escape. Surely this is all a dream, but how
to explain the pain that persists in his shoulder and spreads
across his back, obliging him to slow down every now and then?
Yet he must keep up his pace; from what he knows of these parts,
the brook is at least two miles away.
a year ago, he was still in the village; playing, running errands,
and going to the new school. Although not quite taken in by
school, he was the last to leave each day, for he had early
on made the discovery of some books in the common room where
it was always cool and shady. These were strange things, alive
to the touch, and he stayed alone, reading and weaving fantasies
until light began to leave the sky. He was just beginning to
make sense of the words, but the pictures spoke to him openly
– of distant lands and times, fishlike maidens and fire-spitting
dragons, magic cloaks and tunnels you took to slip into earth’s
belly. Only if he had not been dispatched posthaste to live
with his uncle in the town. More than once, his family had received
feelers from the guerrillas that he was now old enough to handle
town he could not go to school immediately: that he had to wait
for the term to end was one in many reasons. With each day he
grew ever more listless, and when for six months he had not
touched a book, it was not difficult to succumb to the offer
of becoming a soldier in a new ‘civil resistance’
movement fostered by the authorities to fight the guerrillas,
for the allowance was handsome and at last the bookstore lay
within easy reach. But without a warning he was removed to the
camps on the edge of the forests along the main road to guard
the town and resist the advance of the enemy. Here all you saw
were khaki clothes, guns and bullets, and some food, but never
books. Here, too, was a boy his age who by the third month had
become his friend.
evening he had found his friend fingering – he could not
believe it – a book: hardly outside his grasp, waiting.
Beholding it with watery eyes, he moved towards it. But just
then there was a shuffle of steps outside the tent, and as if
a trance had been broken, he ran away in confusion, though not
before hurriedly imploring his friend to bring the book along
in the morning to their secret place. Night was spent counting
stars, awaiting that one which would make all others disappear.
At dawn he was already at the meeting point in the forest, though
nearly three hours passed before his friend showed up –
he could not comprehend it – empty-handed. Uncontrollable
rage welled up in him, making him dizzy; and he came to himself
only when he heard the shot.
falls into the stream with open arms and drinks greedily never
noticing the shadows that are thickening over the hill.