By Sunil Sharma
The Doctor was livid with rage, “You, self-styled lieutenant of this damned outlawed liberation organization, you rascal, you cannot hold me here in this stinking hell of a hole any longer. Who do you think you are? Greater than the President of the United States?”
The object of his venom, a very tall and muscular man with a flowing beard and deep-set dark eyes, came over to the old doctor’s bed and standing over the lean and short doctor, spoke in a gentle voice, “Calm down, doc, please, Remember you are a heart patient and our chief guest in this jungle. You are most precious to our organization.”
The old doctor stared hard at the set of the dark penetrating eyes of his captor that were cold and blood-shot as usual and said in a low but determined tone, “You would pay this with your blood, man. You have kidnapped an internationally – known American nuclear scientist and not some bloody stinking oriental of your own lazy, corrupt government. My government won’t spare any effort in getting me released.”
“Tut, Tut,” the captor answered coolly, “Dr Sutherland, you should not sound racist, should you? You are our guest. We have extended all the facilities to you. Come on, doctor, don’t act like a boy and be your age. Thank your God that my boys in this room do not understand English. Otherwise this bunch of trigger-happy recruits would be very glad to bump off an eccentric old man.”
The ‘eccentric old man’ glared at him with open hostility but opted to remain quite. The towering lieutenant, in dark Pathani- kurta and pyjama suit, with elaborate red head-gear, sat down on a mat. Resting his AK-56 rifle against his left thigh, he looked back at his gaunt hostage and smiled serenely at the angry figure. Two strapping young men along with their guns were lurking in the afternoon shadows of the thick jungle outside, while three were keeping vigil outside the entrance of the one-roomed thatched cottage in a clearing deep in the jungle. There were three more such cottages equally spaced in the clearing that accommodated roughly one hundred guerillas. It was steaming hot.
“I am afraid, doc, I have some bad news for you,” said the guerilla in a cool and gentle voice. The doctor straightened up against his will, eager for more details. He was stripped up to his waist, sweating and cursing these ‘freedom fighters’ for an obscure cause the legitimacy of which was totally lost to any sympathetic soul. The guerilla remained quiet while the doctor continued to look expectantly at him.
At last the doctor said in a whining tone, “What bad news, lieutenant? Please don’t play this game of cat and mouse with me again. Why do you mentally torture me?”
“Well”, spoke the guerilla, “I am sorry to say that there are only twenty four hours left for your administration to meet our ultimatum.”
“Well, you know that….”
“Know what? Come on, be straight.”
“Truth may be frightening.”
“No truth in the world can put fear in a 63- year-old man, no, nothing!!”
“Well, if you insist, I will come out with the truth.”
“You are going to be executed tomorrow. The headquarters have given this command”
“Still there are twenty four hours left.”
“I am sorry but I am a bit pessimistic.”
“The negotiations have almost collapsed. The General of our great Republic says he won’t release our comrades under Yankee pressure. He is adamant and the public seems to be with him on this issue.”
“Only a chance miracle can deliver you and as a scientific man, you know, miracles have ceased to happen of late.”
The old doctor suddenly bent down and cupped his face. He looked very old and pathetic.
They remained motionless for an eternity. The windowless, low-ceilinged, mud-walled cottage in the middle of a steaming jungle was a far cry from the advanced technology of the West. The entire life flashed before the old man’s eyes. A glittering life of a successful scientist. Sitting in the semi-dark interior with a low-watt naked bulb and an ancient table fan and an improvised bed, the doctor was suddenly overwhelmed with ennui. Thanks to that crazy, power-drunk General with his harem of women and dreaded secret police, here he was holed up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by these morons – the sons of the starving peasants and workers, mouthing fiery revolutionary clichés in a parrot-like manner. He had lost count of the days of his captivity. Already he was feeling like a semi-savage. He felt crushed, defeated and humiliated.
“What the hell is it now?”
“I am genuinely sorry for you…”
“Cut that goddamned crap, you swine.
“Do not act smart with me. O.K.?”
“I say I am genuinely sorry. I mean it.”
The temperamental doctor stood up in a sudden rage and advanced towards the reclining figure, foaming at the mouth and shrieking hysterically, “You bastard, you son of a bitch, I will kill you with my bare hands. You a fanatic rascal, a mass murderer trying to act with me like a liberal civilized gentleman with refined language and manners. See his hypocrisy: The man who will shoot me tomorrow talking of sympathy. You disgust me: You are simply a butcher with no heart and no conscience.”
The babbling doctor was oblivious of the drawn guns of the anxious guards. Their leader motioned them to keep quite. As the doctor charged towards him, the tall guerilla expertly rolled over to one side and the old man crashed headlong onto the mat. They roared with laughter. Their leader was a usual cool. Finally, the old man composed himself. The guerilla gently lifted him to his bed and placed him on it.
The doctor was too humiliated to resist. The guerilla resumed his seat and took up a book. After a long and heavy silence the old scientist stood up from his narrow bed and began pacing the mud floor like some agitated chained animal.
“Hi, Lieutenant ?”
“Yes Dr. Sutherland.”
“Why do you not tell me about yourself? Name, family other details?”
“It does not matter at all. I am simply a soldier in the cause of Revolution. My identity is my ideology.”
Dr. Sutherland stopped suddenly and facing the leader, said in much horror, “Ideology! My God! I believe all ideologies have already been exhausted. Betrayed by a corrupt, self-serving leadership. You are simply fooling with your youth.”
“No, I am not. I am fighting a war.”
The doctor was quiet in sheer exasperation.
“Well, young comrade, you believe in God?”
After a pause, the doctor asked the leader, “Any other agency?”
“Not even humanity?”
“Oh, that I do, of course, I do”
“Does that imply that you believe in liberal humanistic values?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Okay. Then why do you kill innocent, helpless, poor people ? Why?”
The guerilla did not answer.
“Do you hate me? An old, neutral guy, on a visit to your country, on the invitation of one of the ministers who is an old friend! I demand an answer.”
The guerilla answered slowly, “No, we do not hate you, dear Dr. Sutherland. On the other hand, we respect you as a brilliant international scientist.”
The old scientist spoke vehemently, “Then why do you want to kill an old harmless man? What have I done to deserve this fate? I do not want to die.”
“I can understand, Doc, but orders are to be carried out by me.”
“You seem to me an intelligent, young man. Tell me what purpose my killing would serve?”
“It is all a part of military strategy prepared by the top brass.”
“I see! The top brass! That bunch of mass murderers; the merchants of death and destruction; killing, raping and plundering thugs…”
“Dr. Sutherland, I advise you to be careful with your assessment of our leadership.”
“Let an old, helpless condemned man speak.”
“Okay. Go on.”
“When would you execute me?”
“Tentatively speaking, tomorrow afternoon.”
“Who would have this honour?”
“Unfortunately, I am going to have that honour.’
“Would my murder hang upon your conscience? Would it affect your soul?”
“I am afraid we don’t have any conscience.”
“I see…let me tell you one more truth, my young comrade.”
The old Scientist paused for a few second, heaved a long sigh and then said, “If this mask of civilization is ripped apart, what do you have here? A bunch of exhausted comrades or revolutionaries or freedom-fighters. The people suffering from exhaustion both physical and moral. I am afraid the ‘war’ waged by already exhausted, blood-thirsty animals leads to a no-win situation. Well, goodbye, young man. You will gain nothing, mind it, nothing, you or your bosses or the international powers behind you. It will provide sickness of mind and soul…and…”
“And,” the doctor said, “It will eat away all your vital statistics, your body, ideology, everything, in due course of time. Nothing will ever come out of this spiral of violence — nothing ever did so far. You will be defeated by your own wars of hatred and bigotry, all waged in the name of some cause! You can never kill a nation or an entire community, you fool! Bombs or bullets—never work. Love does! Insanity self-destructs! Mind it, this is a sober scientist speaking to the lieutenant of a programmed army of mercenaries, the merchants of death and mayhem, the so-called terrorists!”
The lieutenant smiled. Said nothing. He liked the bravery of the prisoner who was no longer afraid.
His moment of truth!
Truths can be relative, thought the young freedom fighter, wearing fatigues and a cap and smoking a cigar, while his juniors patrolled the area outside, guns ready.
“I am not babbling!” the doctor pronounced. “Hatred eats its own offspring — like the hungry cats eating their cubs. You will all die, disillusioned.”
Then, the doctor abruptly turned, climbed his narrow bed and lay down with his back turned towards his captor, as the fading light left a gloomy spot on the mud floor of the hut in that jungle.
First time, his captor was surprised by the sudden composure of the haughty scientist who appeared dignified and calm in the face of death – like some resolute Samurai facing the dagger that will enable hara-kiri — and the response of a condemned man, gaining tranquility and rare insight, kind of revelation!
The captor shrugged shoulders and continued to stare at the frail figure stretched out on the narrow bed lying silent…and then, at the bleak sky outside, trying to locate his favourite constellation out there—the Orion.
Sunil Sharma is an Indian academic and writer with 22 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu. Currently based in MMR (Mumbai Metropolitan Region).
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.