By Mihir Vatsa:
When I’ll be a writer, I shall definitely write a story about these stones- this is what I thought when I read the article on a news website which stated that the whole area where these megaliths stand would be mined out for coal. Black diamond. I don’t think I would have given much thought to it if these stones lay in some other part of the world; as a matter of fact, I would have dismissed any possible debate- Why should I bother? It’s not my problem that the area would be mined out; these are just a few stones- is what I would have said, maybe while vigorously pulling the last drops of my coke. But the problem, here, is that it is Hazaribagh. Further, I have been to the place and seen myself – these unsung stones.
What happened to that novel you were writing- she asked while we were desperately looking for seats in a crowded metro. Her question made me travel back from Hazaribagh to Delhi. Huh- I shrugged. The novel. I wonder if a mere rough draft would please the publisher. Sometimes, I try to concentrate and focus on the chapters which are still left to be edited; well, as she says- hugely edited. Could you get the scene- I asked, diverting the question- of ancient Greeks assembling at the huge amphitheatre to watch plays? This was in reference to what we were taught in the class yesterday. Not really- she said- the lecture was so boring I almost slept. Hmm- I replied in a fake understanding tone. At times, I find it difficult to understand how she could not see what I could. Brave Greek men, their wives and children, laughing, joking, talking about some recent marriage while walking towards the theatre. I could see their clothes- robes wrapped across their bodies, flowing and drifting through the ground; their faces- the square cut jaw lines and the breathtaking beauty while they tried to secure seats for themselves; rebuking, fighting with each others. An ancient civilization; so valued, so treasured.
The voice in the metro announced. Here, we would change the platform for another metro line.
It happened a year ago.
The time during which the Indus Valley flourished was also the time when a parallel civilization ran here, in Hazaribagh- this is what my master said, while explaining the shapes and cuts of the stones he had collected. And why did I find it curious? I could never imagine my hometown to be of such a historical importance. I never read anything in my history books, nor did anyone ever tell me. How could they, in the first place? People hardly know things other than coal. Look at this- he showed me the photograph, revealing the impression of the stones to me for the first time- these stones are almost your height… well, at least the two major ones are. It was a neat picture. The two stones aligned to form a V at the spot they almost touched each other, the clear blue sky, and the lush green field- completely undisturbed. Where is it- I asked, to which he replied- thirty kilometres from here, in the village named Punkree Barwadih. I looked at the photograph again. I had to go there.
Have you heard of this place called Stonehenge? – I asked randomly. She looked up at me and nodded. She had got the seat while I was standing, holding a latch. The train stopped at stations, picked up the passengers and slid easily, again, on the rails. Two stations had passed. Just one more. What about it- she asked; nothing- I said- they say it’s quite awesome… during solstices. I know- she said, with that smile- have been there, some three years ago. I don’t know what this solstice thing is though, but it’s quite impressive. The whole structure, so to say. The guide said something about megaliths but I couldn’t get his accent. Hmmm- I said, and then we both went silent. Once, while researching on internet about megaliths, I had come across this site of wonder- Stonehenge. It is in England and standsÂ marvelouslyÂ on a high green field. The article said- people gather in millions to watch sunrise at solstices and booking is done in advance. Further searching took me to the official website of Stonehenge. People in England, apparently, know how to respect culture and history.
Three months after I had first seen the photograph, I was learning driving with the help of a dear uncle. I was home for autumn break. Where would we go today- I asked my uncle. He looked at his watch, contracted the muscle on his forehead and finally said- Barkagaon. Isn’t it a naxalite area- I asked, to which he said- Don’t worry, we will stay on the road. They operate in forests, not in a township. I agreed. I knew Punkree Barwadih was somewhere close. I drove my little Alto past Hazaribagh and pulled it on Barkagaon road. Till then, I only knew that Barkagaon was a valley heavily forested, naxal affected. The density of houses decreased first, the number of trees beside the road increased significantly. The naked sky of Hazaribagh town now transformed into a stage veiled with the branches of tress shooting higher. The road now turned abruptly, steep left, steep right. On bicycles, men with tanned skin carried heavy loads of coal. They extract coal from closed mines and sell the sacks in Hazaribagh. They don’t actually care whether their lives are at danger; money rules here as well. The topology changed significantly. Hills started to take shapes behind us and then I realised that we were descending. Where? Into the valley. The trees hid the sun and the ride became cooler. Since I was still a learning driver, the car bumped quite a number of times into ditches and speed breakers. The town appeared. The density of houses increased first, the number of trees beside the road decreased significantly. I looked at my uncle who smiled and said- Barkagaon. We went a little ahead when he asked me to park the car to the left. There was a strange elevation beside the spot where the car stood. A kind of small plateau whose top I could not see. Leaving my uncle behind, I climbed up the elevation- it didn’t take me even fifteen seconds- the slants were not steep but smooth. After I reached the top, I could very easily see:
The huge field- lush green; the awesome sunlight- bathing the whole area in a strong contrast; the majestic megaliths- arranged neatly, preserved still, standing like magnificent monarchs; a history- some thirty five hundred old; an evidence- of a civilization advanced enough to construct one of the finest stone observatories.
The voice in the metro announced and we stepped out of the train. Students carrying bags on their shoulders rushed towards the escalator. We decided to wait for the crowd to decrease. It was she who spoke this time- By the way, I read a news column somewhere online, some Hazaribagh thing. I knew you are from the same place so I decided to give it a read. A girlfriend should know things about her boyfriend, right?- she smiled again. I returned her smile and held her right hand firmly in my left. What did it say, the article I mean- I asked. Something about megaliths- she replied- and some mining project in that area; guess they would demolish the site too. I did not release her hand. No, it was not a melodramatic movie of which we were a part rather I knew I couldn’t do anything. The only thing I could do was to attend the lecture. Classical Literature. Greek Civilization. Ancient Indian Civilization. Indus Valley Civilization. Megalithic Civilization. Just the last civilization does not find its place in books. People who wrote history maybe forgot to record it- human error, I believe. Quite understandable.
She dozed off in the lecture, again, but told me an interesting thing when we were coming out of the room. She dreamed. She dreamed that she was there, in that village, moving along with women, men, and children- Indian still (was it called ‘India’ then?), assimilating in the crowd, climbing an elevation. She was there, on top of that little plateau, the vast green field. She, in her jeans and a top; others, in some clothes she couldn’t recognize. She moved around the field- oblivious to others’ presence. An early morning; no concrete houses; thick forests surrounded the area; the sun cracked through the V of the meeting point; the crowd cheered. The roar of jubilation filled the air. The first ray pierced through the slit and landed on the ground. At that moment, the Sun rose there. She dreamed the light travelled. It came to her while she stood silent. The beams lifted her and swivelled her round, spun her fast enough to get unconscious. She was transported back- to the lecture room where her eyes opened with a yawn.
So you saw the megaliths- I asked, smiling- how did they look? She rested her head on my shoulder and in a semi conscious voice, said- majestic… very much like your brave Greeks. I sniggered and put my hand behind her head. We walked in silence. You think they would mine the site out- she asked after a while. No- I said- I won’t let them; I might not be a writer now, but I will write a story on these stones, today- I said. Good boy- she remarked as we entered the canteen.
Author bio:Â Mihir Vatsa’s poems and writings have appeared in Muse India, The Enchanting Verses Literary Review and, of course, Youth Ki Awaaz. He is the Founder and Administrator is Tales of Hazaribagh- a web portal dedicated to raise awareness about the prospects of tourism in Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. He currently lives in New Delhi, where he is pursuing his graduation in English Literature from the Delhi University.
This short story was can also be viewed at his personal weblog here.