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Bhaskar Thakuria Bhaskar Thakuria
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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

The sun rose high over the plains of the great outskirts of the village at the foothills of the Eastern highlands bordering the pine forests. It was becoming very bright and the rooks were rising in great numbers from the thickets: in a single file they would rise to their predestined heights clearing, in their ascension, the lowest crags of the venerable peaks which were visible in the hazy mist of the day pregnant, as a glowing monolith warning all passers-by of the redoubtable forces of nature’s element.
Nearby in the thickets, somewhere not very distant, a peacock struck up a gay scream celebrating the season of love and courtship for its mate. The morning’s mist had pirouetted their semblance through arclights of the rising sun and as kindreds, starred the fringes of the greenish canopy of the thickets which then sent off he call for the new day through the air; while, at the same time, rooks were dancing in the mist with the long flappings of their which hoped, but only futilely, to drown out the tenuous climax of the breaking of the new day, the roar of life of another kingdom lying latent in the depths of the woods.
Inspector D……., who was scrambling up some jagged portion of the rough, slowed down in his tracks and looked eastwards. On his back he was carrying an armyman’s satchel which held all his daily accessories, particularly those which he considered his basic needs at times of adversity----for the past few days it had been hard work. He and his sole assistant, who were posted in the rural town of -------in the district of------ had been forced to scour the country nearby for two days running. A miscreant had been on the loose and as far as they were informed they had been able to follow his scent through the course of a night’s duration and a further twenty-four hours of skirting the rocky tableaux of an eastern village. His double-barrelled firearm was slung across his right shoulder. It’s smooth polished surface was shining in all its glory in the glitter of the rising sun. The equipment was new and modern, and indeed one which he prided himself upon.
Nearby in the thickets, the day was awakening in all its multitude of colours. The fluttering of the wings and the aerial screams and peals were growing more animated and intense.
Inspector D---, who had stood still now for some minutes contemplating this grand spectacle, now turned to his two fellow travelers who had accordingly slowed down their pace and stood now beside him worn out and sleepy.
“I think we could get some of these for our breakfast?”
“I hope so. The packet seems considerable enough, by the look and sound of it. At this time of the year these arid places get really animated and this is the time of the year to have these for your pallate. For these places gets filled up with unknown objects. And you know, boss, it is a privilege to have these avian species. But at other times of the year you ruin your appetite by the pampering you receive from these vintages. And now if we set to brushing these firearms into order we will have time enough to get one or two for our breakfast.”
The assistant got quite animated while he delivered this piece of information and promptly sat down on a nearby rock while he seized the rope with which he held his prisoner and tied it firmly to a nearby monolith. And then, with his customary alacricity that seemed inherent to his devices, he set about arranging his firearm in due order and then started setting the necessary preliminaries for a meal.
“Won’t you give me your gun, boss? I think it could do with some cleaning.”
“I don’t think so. It is pretty new and by the way I gave it a long scrub last night.”
“I hope it serves you well, sir. You see…last night they sputtered when I was aiming for the stars.”
“What? When?”
The Inspector slung off his priceless firearm from his shoulders and inspected it with a concerned look while going over the finely polished surface of the barrel to the varnished texture of the butt end, brilliantly etched in his own initials by his own directions. Indeed when he received the gun as a present from a fellow hunter during one of those hunting sprees of last year’s summer----when they together felled, amongst others, a pair of wild buffaloes and topped it off with the prize trophy of a feline, a 400 pound tiger---he would treasure it as a memento and hung it on the wall of his living room, never daring to go out with it, afraid to mix this in the commonality of his otherwise fruitless everyday events.
“What did you mean by that? How did this thing sputter? It goes of quite well.”
“Well I don’t know. You were not there. We were camping by that stream last evening and you were probably seeking provisions, out in the nearby village. I was looking at your gun and was admiring this beautiful thing when I had the sudden will to test it out. I do not know anything. Probably the cock went off the wrong way somewhere. Now do not be angry, boss…”
“You fool! You would kill us someday, all of us. I had a presentiment that no good would come out of my taking you out on this long trek. That gun alone costs around three thousand rupees. And besides that we were travelling alone, and I have been taking every possible precaution to let our identity remain a secret. This is the territory of the Redbucks, let it be known. And once the word gets out that we are holding their right hand man in chains there would be no rest for us holding our skins intact. Come to think of it, you could have brought all those rebels out there after us and that I was being too discreet down there in that village hiding my true self. And now you are  probably done with this thing. I would fleece you, skin and bones all! That I will! Be careful!”
“I am sorry, boss. But you know what the night air does to my nerves. And I need only a drop of that tonic down here,” his companion, who had by now come to a halt below the sun with a stiff breeze coursing across the plain, said pointing to the square satchel that was hanging by his sides, “and all the rum thoughts gather together tom set me free…. And you probably know I had a drop too much. I was a bit reckless and I know that that is not decent, not proper way to behave.” He suddenly became quite serious and was musing over the dry grass at his feet. “That was the last time I will be carrying on like this, boss.”
“Of course! You really need to take care! Get a grip on yourselves! There must be no fooling this time around. Take my word for it!”
And then, in a milder vein, he went on:
“You need to rein in yourselves. There is always a thin line between your duty and your pleasures and you always got to respect that. You know what…. This ain’t any longer the open country our forefathers were wont to find sport for big game hunting. That period is gone, dead and buried. You witnessed yourselves how the hunting season never really got off this time around. And this is a trend which we have become just aware of and which we, unfortunately cannot help but see proliferate and root deeper in all the social trends here. The world here is not big enough for those rebels to let us rule them. Ears are everywhere, nowadays. You need to be on your toes and so there goes an end to all these unkempt reveling of sorts…. Which you cannot do without.”
The Inspector, who had grown quite speculative during this discourse, now took hold of that gun and began inspecting it carefully.
“And now…. I got to get a hold of this thing. And I must find out all the damages you have inflicted. All damages…. And all costs and I will fleece them out of your hide.”
After some moments he handed the gun over to his assistant.
“The thing seems all right to me. Everything is in order. I would like you to scrub that thing a little bit however.”
“How did you handle this thing? Tell me.”
The assistant who had then set about his task with his conventional gusto then set about to relate the particulars of his views of marksmanship of which he appeared to be quite frank and earnest, rather cowed down by the sound chastening from his superior.
“I knew it… that is not the proper way to do it. My gun is quite different from those old army rifles you still potter about with. Of course, you won’t know it. No doubt you did not recognize it because you were not mastering the thing itself,” concluded the Inspector with great vehemence.
The assistant had one mind to ask his boss regarding the functioning of that priceless object. He had come to regard gamesmanship as a necessary sport. He had been a late bloomer in that respect but had come to master the instrument to a level where he became inseparably linked with the profession. But he hated the supercilious note in the Inspector’s officious manner and he felt that he was being trod upon by the overbearing manner of his superior. And so he relegated that fleeting thought to the back of his head fearing another vicious rebuff. And however hard he tried to establish a harmonious communion with his chief on a friendly level he was repelled ignominiously by the terseness of his rejoinders, the disparagement of his replies.  
The Inspector had by now worked himself to a surge of venerable wrath which he poured forth upon his subordinate in an unpitying train that left one with the impression of being duly chastised by one’s superior. It was, for the junior official, the common medium of acknowledgement which attempted to cure, at the very outset, the utter contrariness of his thoughts.

He had--- ever since he had come under the wings of his commander--- began to regard the particular chastisements meted out to him now and then as a necessary and sufficient condition made implicit by the tenets of his training, to be endured for the sake of his own personal gain and for the furtherment of his professional skills. Too busy with the tasks imposed upon him of maintaining a strong base of law and order in his place, too engaged in constant speculation over the social upheavals of the locals, too preoccupied with the systematic demise of his favourite pastime--- his master was to him the veritable image of steadfast humility and steely resolve; and he had been content enough to be a obedient and humble second to his principles, never intruding in the domain of his private life and speculations so as to be regarded as an honourable accomplice to his plans and duties----for he had been content enough to know as much as needed of the peculiarities of his master and his profession without stirring far outside his own sphere with, however, the occasional instance of loosening his moral principles and for which instance one was required to spare a thought for the edification of one’s moral scruples along with the loose morals of these days. Now, more than ever, especially after the success of these last few missions with his master since he could no longer brush aside as fanciful his apprentice’s idea of being made out for the job, of having enough fire in his guts to gain a soft ascendancy in the ranks, he could now reflect back only with bitterness in his soul about the domineering principle of his master’s daily work, and the mute subordination of himself and his juniors; and indeed he felt as if all of them were reeking in the effluvia of a closely spaced, guttural quarters with very little breathing space, and his person now itched to get outside into the charming city of enlightenment and radiance which he desired to make his home; and where he stood at the same level of understanding and equanimity with his master.
And so this new impulse which thus late and suddenly swept over him was made to conform to the pattern of his self-discipline which he followed with strict and rigorous exactness throughout the period of his duty hours. He had hoped to impress his master throughout by that time honoured principle of meticulous exactness and rigorous discipline thus, achieving at last, a common plane of understanding and affability before hoping to advance his further gain. However now the thought of that slow, but seemingly futile mode of ascending through the ranks of another’s favour rose in front of him like a detestable anathema morally and sentimentally. Yet the source of the unexpected contagion was known to him only too well.
“There is something about him and especially in the air he puts on; and it is not that he does it in an offhand manner to impress anybody, but it is something that radiates from him at the outset. And it is this inexplicable thing that makes me anxious; and that is something that makes me want to like him more and understand him. Yes he does have a way with men that brings out their best,”---with these and other similar trains of thought the lieutenant continued to peddle around with the guns and finishing with the happy thought of a coming breakfast reverberating through his mind. But then, as if in a sudden afterthought, he glanced at the tragic-looking creature lying cramped near the stones and he then undid the ropes that tied him to the rock. They had been leading him on travelling around forty-odd miles first, on carriage from S-town, where a curious circumstance of mass arson had recently been unearthed and decided upon, and then, on horseback, riding through the villages lying east of the K-river since yesterday evening.
“Come on get up, you old devil! Face upwards now! Look sharp!”
The prisoner had fallen to the ground during that short interval of contemplation and condemnation for the true man in uniform----for he was totally worked out, his vitality burnt out within himself by the long walks he had underwent throughout last night besides the two on horseback. He was very dusty with the soles of his rather shabby pair of galoshes torn apart and his feet showed the traces of the savage strain and torture due to the roughness of the roads. His manacled hands, which bore the traces of hard labour and insurmountable hardships were now raised together above his head in mute supplication, as if expecting a blow to descend on him at that very instant. He raised himself with a weary and deadbeaten movement that elicited coarse rejoinders from the official.
“Be kind on a poor old convict, good sir. For the love of god, have mercy!”
The official led the old man towards a thicket which gave way to a little path with a clearing, shabbily marked away by the uncleared remnants of some tree, felled some time back recently, with its newly dried leaves and trunk fragments presenting an aura of decay.
“Now get yourselves up front, old man. Start marching down this path… that one, yes. And take the route as I say. Or else you know better than to get a taste of my whip.”
With this final threat, which he uttered with particular viciousness, he let go off his whip in the open air. He always carried this instrument of torture with him, slung under his belt, during his periods of duty. He always prided himself upon it; a relic of his grandfather’s he like slinging it by his belt and then slicing its course through the open air, and thus fetching the dubious nickname of ‘slick’ among his fellow countrymen; and for which fact he gave not the slightest importance as it being something odd or outdated. Indeed he had instilled in himself a sullen and uncaring attitude towards social concerns, and even prided himself upon a certain peculiarity in his traits that he attached to himself. Even now as he loosened his favourite weapon in the ripe and virgin air of the early morning it made a fearful rasping sound that made the prisoner shudder.
The path led to another thicket, much denser in foliage, which then led forth to a clump of trees which was then the haunt of the only extant batch of ravenry around the countryside as was evident from the intense cawings that throbbed around the surrounding thickets. Around these clumps of dense foliage the path took a turn towards the right, which then coursed an inclined plane proceeding through clumps of tall, cedar trees along a narrow path that led to a clearing beyond which they were able to perceive the sandy banks of a narrow stream.
They reached its edges where they observed its clear waters, transparent as glass, showing its sandy bed full of pebbles of multicoloured hue and the sands of which shone, in the radiant aura of the bright sunlight scattered manifold by its miniscule granules, like golden fleece cast upon the glittering adornments of a virgin lasses’ bosom.
The official, with one secure hand on the rope bonding him with his prisoner and the other upon his gun which he kept uncocked for ready effect, sat beside the stream and casting a wary and concentrated gaze upon the prisoner, started lapping up the water in great handfuls; washing his hands, neck and face, he also filled up a bottle of cool stream water. Then he untied the bounds holding the prisoner’s hands together and kicked the old fellow. He fell beside the stream and washed himself in those virgin waters and drank to his fill from this river of life which, in the prostate agonies of one so demented and wretchedly derisive, was like the organic manna pouring from one of the Houris of Paradise. He sucked at it and swam on it to his heart’s content.
After both had quenched their thirst, they returned to the open road where they saw the Inspector exerting himself, with undivided attention, to the feeding of the two horses which he had led to graze in a dense meadow by the roadside and where, at a distance, one could observe a group of herons just descending from the sky and settling down on the wide, open fields in great, fair, billowing masses----restless and volatile.

“Look at those birds down there. Do you think we could catch one or two of these for our breakfast? What do you say, Lieutenant?”
The assistant (which his superior often jokingly alluded to as his lieutenant) who had sat beside one of the roadside rocks and was starting to tidy up the cooking materials and cleaning the guns, merely replied in an affirmative nod. He was a person of medium height; a lean man with a somewhat ungainly posture which compounded the ugly effect that his long, spindly legs had on his general bearing-------an effect which was redeemed and suitable modified by his officer’s outfit-------which dress he was wont to wield with considerable pride and esteem, and which set, in those long Sunday afternoons at his birthplace, he used to wear especially for the contemplation of all visitors, the gossiping neighbourhood and the thriving taverns. The usual set of dresses that he had for fancying himself on weekdays presented him in a much poorer light and he fancied himself more presentable in this particular set.
The Inspector was a tall, dignified man of middle age with a sparse moustache on a sparse face. He carried himself quite upright although, somewhat shabby looking, probably owing to his unkempt and often unshaven face, and his rather absent looking and contemplative gaze which,at once, was dignified and piercing. His gaze was like a chisel boring through your self and went to one’s very soul.
The Inspector was now looking at the prisoner, scrutinizing him as he stood there by the fields with his hands behind his back. The prisoner, feeling those piercing eyes so intent upon him, was moving uncomfortably upon a rock where he sat with his hands on his laps holding some morsel of food carried among his clothes.
“What is that thing in your hands? Where did you get that stuff?”
“Well…it is a piece of rye bread,sir…not fresh. I got it at the station we came through last night, when you were probably waiting for meals at the inn.”
“So you stole it again. And old habits die hard, they say. Indeed only yeaterday I was thinking of how a real pest of a man would look like, and here he is in front of me ….. the one who really stinks.”
“No, no sir. Not that. It was an act of commiseration for a wretched and depraved person. The person did it out of love… out of his own free will.”
“Love? What does love got to do with you, you fool? People like you cannot know the finer points of love,” replied the Inspector with a sharpness that seemed to brook no further contradiction. "People like you know only guns and daggers. Besides commiseration-love-desire are bounded by veils that are all thin and fragile; one little whiff of imprecision or misjudgement, and lo! They are all too merged with each other for us to be able to distinguish. Commiseration---an act of benediction that leads us closer to the secret premises of God’s grace---is an expression of our innate wish to commit ourselves to humankind and achieve oneness with our own body and mind…with the eternal being. Commiseration is the heavenly manna that gives life to the throes of compassion. Compassion for these earthy objects----the fleshy forms of corruptible matter begets the desire for acquiring the same.”
“But sir one can indeed resort to virtuous self expression through the medium of love. One can easily be carried away by debauchery and voluptousness. Besides a degenerate body afflicted with the sickness of sensual caresses can never enjoy happiness---the joy of glorified and sanctified love. Love is like a chaste flower.”
The Inspector looked at him strangely; probably he was amazed at his volubility, for it contrasted strikingly with the silence of the previous evening when they had whipped him twenty lashes for inducing a minor hiccup in the smoothness of proceedings. He took out a match and lit a cigar which he started puffing with great contentment, all the while regarding the distant mountain which was now visible in the newly bright and sunlit sky, as the pale and shadowy breasts of some nocturnal creature upon which the bluish veil----set aside by the sky-----had descended.
“And did you ever go to those mountains at times? That seems the proper spot for you. A sort of dreamer, eh? And do you love wood and stone, eh? And dirt? Probably you love dirt!”
The prisoner appeared a bit flustered by this sudden retort by the Inspector. He was a very reserved man and felt these rude starts and interruptions on the part of a fellow speaker as an open assault to his comments. This was strange in a person belonging to a mob of such lowly blackguards. But besides this one would find several other exceptions in an unique psychological blend of aesthetics and anarchy, of hate and loving kindness. One must indeed mention the rare fact of having his hands yet unsullied by the spilling of kindred blood.
The lieutenant, who had arranged all their stuff in a neat pile by the side of the rock bordering the clearing and was setting the final touches upon their arms and ammunitions, stood up now with a gun in his hand and, with one hand on his hip, addressed his senior:
“See that path over there boss. Those bushes. You will find capital game over there. Mind you, I have scouted these areas previously and, without doubt, a sumptuous meal of roasted jungle fowl is at hand.”
The officer gazed in the direction where the lieutenant pointed. He picked up his gun and went through the muzzle and then to his intense perturbation had to uncock it.
“It is not loaded boss. You need not be too careful.”
“Precautions are a necessity young fellow. Mind what I say next time.”
“That is okay boss.”
“Are you sure you know these habitats well?”
“Of course. You cannot find a better guide than me. I have been through this place three times before. I know this place like the palm of my hand.”
“So you have hunted this place before, eh?”
“Every inch of it.”

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