A Surge Of Time (Chapter 10)

Updated on February 17, 2018

Dwarakadas stood halfway down the stairway to the hill top temple surveying the sea of humanity gathered below in the village square. He had completed the evening ritual at the temple sanctum a few moments before and carried a brass plate in his hand with lighted camphor to the people waiting below.

The crowd was larger than usual because many people from other villages had camped at Champaner to be able to go to Raigadh each day to witness the cricket match.

Despite the huge numbers, there was hardly any clamor or noise, the general mood being extremely somber. The village team was in a perilous position in the match and the prospect of a threefold tax to be paid loomed ominously.

All eyes were riveted on the flames fed by the disintegrating camphor in the plate held by the priest, hoping to see by its divine light some obscure path to redemption, while the priest himself was pondering over the stupidity of humans in making very little – if at all any, use of the reasoning power granted to them. They invariably came to god as the last refuge. If they truly believed in His existence, then they should never be sliding into dejection and despair – as by definition, every happening should be His handiwork. But then, he said to himself, that humans are stupid, was also His handiwork.

From the midst of the waiting crowd, rose a figure clad in white and moved towards the descending priest. It was Bhuvan’s mother Yashoda. She had been weighed down by this very fact. As the mother of the man who had challenged the whites and brought the entire population of the kingdom of Raigadh to such a cross roads, she felt she was more responsible for it than Bhuvan himself.

There was no doubt in her mind about the correctness of what her son had done. It is the possible consequential plight of the people that tormented her. Saluting the flame in the priest’s hand and raising her arms heavenwards, she sang in a beseeching voice -

Eternally have thou been sought;

Thou art there and yet art not;

It hast been said and hast been taught,

Thou always redeemeth a hapless lot.

Gauri, who had been by Yashoda’s side constantly over the last two days, was alarmed and anxious about the debilitating effect that such agony would have on her health.

As Yashoda staggered from the effort of singing aloud, Gauri held her and in an endeavor to maintain the mood that the elder lady’s words had produced, continued with the espousal -

We are vulnerable and on the brink;

Hopelessly afloat, to inexorably sink;

By the instant, we see our horizon shrink;

To life and light, thou art our sole link.

The solemnity already pervading the air, was infused with an additional sense of entreaty that provoked a universal chorus from all those camping in the square –

Eternally have thou been sought;

Thou art there and yet art not;

It hast been said and hast been taught,

Thou always redeemeth a hapless lot.

It was the first time in three months that Bhuvan’s confidence had ebbed. All these days, he would turn to his mother for encouragement whenever he felt despondency raise its head, and would find ready assistance and comfort in those calm eyes and gentle smile to reinvigorate him.

Today, that fountainhead of reassurance and support, itself appeared to be looking for succor elsewhere. He too added his pleadings to those of his mother –

Shower thine compassion, O Lord God!

Mercilessly upon have we been trod;

In fetters of slavery are we shod;

Freedom is thine to grant with but a nod.

The loss of resolution on the part of the flag-bearer of their unparalleled endeavor, made the anguished onlookers sing the opening verses of Yashoda again in chorus -

Eternally have thou been sought;

Thou art there and yet art not;

It hast been said and hast been taught,

Thou always redeemeth a hapless lot.

Lakha with his head swathed in a bandage, had been trying to get over his sense of culpability by openly and repeatedly admitting his misconduct. It made him feel miserable once again, when he remembered how he initially let his people down, by aligning with the enemy.

His distress overflowed in the form of yet another confession –

Hate guided me to an accursed path;

Tasted have I, its bitter aftermath;

Realized, in life’s maze, I am but a lath;

Thy justice, wizened me, it certainly hath.

Though it was only the previous evening that the crowd had bayed for his blood, the fast moving developments and Lakha’s subsequent efforts at making amends, had secured for the reformed man the villagers pardon.

His words now erased all traces of ill will against him and the crowd chorused once again –

Eternally have thou been sought;

Thou art there and yet art not;

It hast been said and hast been taught,

Thou always redeemeth a hapless lot.

The pace of events and its twists and turns made the Mukhiya realize the hollowness of his pride. Many ideas and explanations of Shambhu kaka and Dwarakadas, to which he had paid scant attention earlier, seemed to expose their meaningful depths. He felt that if blame were to be apportioned for their current quandary, he too would have a right to a fair share. His penitence was vocalized thus –

Deluded was I, when I thought I led;

This pride of mine has now been shed;

Rebuke for my follies I deserve but dread;

Sinned have I, daring to speak in thy stead.

True remorse certainly lightens the burden of guilt and the villagers saw its manifestation in the countenance of their leader, as peace spread across his face and tension eased from his manner. In relief, the crowd chorused their prayer to the almighty –

Eternally have thou been sought;

Thou art there and yet art not;

It hast been said and hast been taught,

Thou always redeemeth a hapless lot.

It made Dwarakadas sadly happy to see everyone in such a reflective mood. He had always had the advantage of his philosophy, his equanimity, and his disinterestedness in material possessions to ride through the turbulences in life.

He also believed that everyone had these attributes in some degree and this conviction appeared to be in the process of being proved. He gave vent to his thoughts aloud –

Whether qualified we are, we do not know;

To seek thy kindness, thy comforting glow;

Insignificant are we, in thy cosmic show,

Where the good and the bad blend and flow.

In the context of the present situation, all seemed to understand the substance and connotation of his words and expressed their appreciation by singing the chorus –

Eternally have thou been sought;

Thou art there and yet art not;

It hast been said and hast been taught,

Thou always redeemeth a hapless lot.

Having poured forth their woe to the Omnipotent, the assembly felt the mood transform from one of hopeless depression to one of expectant anticipation for what the ‘morrow had in store for them.

With this transformation came sleep like an unseen mist - peaceful, serene, and soothing, that swept over the village and rocked its exhausted inhabitants and their guests in its comforting cradle.

There was something in the air that morning, as sunlight ushered in dawn on the final day of the cricket match between the Raigadh cantonment eleven and the Champaner eleven. Something indescribable, something amiably ominous. It would have been preposterous to assume that nature having divined the outcome of the match had set in motion its preparatory measures for a suitable heraldry.

Divine the outcome, nature indeed could have, but human affairs - that too of a minuscule horde cramped in a field of irrelevant proportions - would have been of too little significance for any such groundwork. Nature’s outlook would have been all encompassing, its interests universal, its actions being of consequence to all things alive – not just humans.

Shambhu kaka felt it but could not discern.

Dwarakadas sensed it but was unable to distinguish.

Boyer detected it, clarity failing him in his endeavor at identification.

Every man, woman and child present there experienced it, lacking recognition.

Even if one of them could, it would have negated the charm of uncertainties in life, the allure of being alive. It was with this strange yet exhilarating awareness that all gathered around the field to witness the continuing conflict between misconception and determination, the arrogance of the whites and the resolve of the natives, between the willow and leather.

Play resumed with the overnight score at 99 for 4, Bhuvan and Ishwar in the middle with their individual scores at 20 and 0 respectively, their opponents keen to wrap up the match quickly and believing that they could do so.

The captain’s strategy was to keep the older man from facing the bowling to the extent possible and do the bulk of the scoring himself. He also felt that the run gathering would have to be preferably in fours and sixes in view of the lack of stamina in Ishwar and his aging body.

He was able to enact this proposition to a fair degree and in the process, completed his half-century, which was received with applause from all.

“This boy has verve!” exclaimed Boyer.

“And to think that I strongly dissuaded him…” Puran Singh stopped in mid-sentence, casting a furtive look at the man seated next to him.

The pair of batsmen had carried the score to 151 for 4, having added 52 runs to the overnight tally.

The strain began to tell upon Ishwar. He was perspiring profusely, breathing painstakingly.

A single became an ordeal, a two a torment. Bhuvan’s hit of the last ball of a Flynn over was running away towards the boundary with Brooks after it. There was time for two runs, which they completed - Ishwar gritting his teeth to bear the excruciating pain in his sides.

It was then that the younger man realized that he would remain at the bowler’s end during the next over. Wanting to avoid this situation and seeing that there was still time for a third run, he urged the struggling man for one more and himself darted across the pitch.

Ishwar tried to run and had to abandon it after a couple of steps; made an effort to walk and was forced to give up this too after a couple of more steps; attempted to stand but found his legs go blubbery as he collapsed, the safety of the crease – as it seemed to him, an infinite distance away.

Brooks smartly fielded the ball a yard inside the boundary after a long chase and threw it back to Burton who broke the stumps, with Ishwar still staggering far away.

Up went umpire Doherty’s finger followed by the mood in the fielding camp and down plummeted the spirits of the villagers.

The two completed runs were awarded to the batting team and their score went up to 153 for 5. Bhuvan ran across to Ishwar and helped him to his feet.

“Are you alright, kaka?” The older man was a picture of wretched despair.

“I let you down, my son!” he wailed, as he slowly walked away from the field. At its edge stood Gauri, terribly concerned. She conducted her father to a makeshift cot to minister to his overwhelming exhaustion.

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge,” thundered Gurran as he issued forth from the tent, bat held like a mace, shoulder-length hair and chest-length beard waving in the gentle wind, reinvigorating the subdued atmosphere.

“Doesn’t he look like a forest?” commented a middle-aged foreigner seated around a table under a sunshade in the vicinity of the pavilion.

“And there is a lion roaring from inside it!” added his female partner seated across.

Gurran’s figure and mannerisms elicited general mirth among all those in the elite enclosure. The fielders too were having a good joke at his expense, as he assumed his familiar horse-riding stance.

He threw conventions to the wind as he belted the ball in every direction, facilitated by his exceptional posture. It was a swashbuckling innings of 33 runs that he played reducing Bhuvan to a junior partner.

There were uncommon drives, atypical sweeps, abnormal hooks, aberrant pulls, unusual cuts, and uncharacteristic glances.

On the whole, an extraordinarily bizarre innings that enthralled the audience and punched the score up to 192.

Any explosive action lacks the potential of sustenance and so it was with Gurran’s tenure at the crease, which was cut short by the wily Willis who got a slower one to beat the batsman’s pad, as it stood rooted in front of the stumps.

Gurran walked back to the tent as he had come, a walking forest with the lion in it roaring.

The score had reached 192 for 6.

Bhuvan mulled over their chances. With their main batsmen gone, it was only the tail that remained. Goli who was walking in was the first of them.

Effectively the score was 192 for 7, Ismail having sustained a serious enough injury to render him immobile. He wished fate had not been so cruel with Ismail, so cruel with them all.

But time was a one-way street. He could only look forwards and do what ever he could. Brooding over what was done wasn’t going to help in any way.

“Do your best, Goli. Let’s see how far we go,” Bhuvan tried to pep up the man at the other end.

Willis ran in, fresh with his success in the previous delivery and bowled to Goli, who though being fresh at the wicket was weighed down by pessimism and diffidence. The ball preferred the stumps to the bat, knocking one off. The beaten man started his walk back.

The bowler was on a hat-trick and his mates gathered around him imparting advice and conferring confidence to help him achieve it.

“The villain couldn’t last a single ball. I will show you how to bat,” said Bhura, casting a withering look at the returning man as he prepared to replace him.

When he made to go, a firm hand at his shoulder held him back and a gritty voice said, “Wait, Bhura, I will go first.”

All present there looked around.

It was Ismail.

“But, how can you...” began several other voices that were silenced by a hand held up.

“Bhuvan needs me now. Our team and the village need me and I have to go!” he exclaimed, starting to swiftly limp his way to the middle.

The captain was both a worried and happy man. Looking at this personification of confidence limping up, his hope was granted a new lease of life. But would it not mean an aggravation of the already serious injury?

“Ismail, how can you run with this foot?”

The umpires too had been monitoring the developments. They got together for a quick conference that made them decide in favor of allowing the injured man a runner. Failing to covey their verdict to Bhuvan, they did so through a reluctant Russell.

The relieved and overjoyed batting team captain sprinted across to the tent and brought along Tipu for the purpose. The boy was all excitement. He had been sore at being left out of the team but here he was playing the match at last.

“Listen carefully, Tipu. You will always stay inside the crease when not taking a run. Never stray from it or you will get Ismail out. Go for a run only when I call,” instructed Bhuvan.

The boy nodded vigorously.

Thus began a saga of batting display powered by steely tenacity, earthy obstinacy, and airy abandon, that was to be long remembered and retold in Champaner and its surrounding villages and was to find a prominent place in their folklore for generations to come.

Initially, Ismail did find his injury cramping his style of play. There were close shaves of the run-out kind when both the batsman and his runner would involuntarily start for a run before the wounded man would realize his mistake and retract.

Soon, all three involved in the endeavor adapted to the roles required of them and functioned as a well-oiled run-making machine. The exhibition of cricketing fire works provided by Gurran during the brief time that he was at the crease, was continued by his successor, and enthusiastically replicated at the other end of the wicket by his captain.

While Gurran essayed raw power, this pair presented an exhibition of finesse.

The first was thrilling; this was scintillating.

The one earlier was an expression of harsh authority; this was inspired poetry.

“Incredibly entertaining! I am glad that I am here to watch it,” commented Boyer and turning to Elizabeth seated beside said, “I believe you too have had a hand in this.”

The girl beamed. She was proud of Bhuvan. Her Bhuvan. He would certainly win the match.

He would be the uncrowned king of Champaner and she his …

The sun had begun its descent and the umpires began looking at their watches after every over. When it was exactly an hour to the scheduled close of play, they quickly conferred among themselves and then signaled to the two captains and the scorer. Ram Singh too noticed the indication and made the appropriate announcement over the megaphone.

“The last hour of play commences now. The bowling team has to send down twenty mandatory overs in this hour. The game will conclude under any of these three possibilities, whichever is the first to occur. The first possibility is that twenty overs are bowled even if the elapsed time goes beyond the hour and the batting team is unable to make the required number of runs in them. The second is that the bowling team gets all batsmen of the opposing team out and the third is that the batting team scores the required runs. The score of the batting team now stands at 228 for 7 and it requires 95 runs more to win this match with three wickets in hand.”

The announcement was received with loud cheering and chants of “Bhuvan! Ismail!”

“What chances do you accord to the home team, Major Cotton?” enquired Boyer.

“One in four, Sir!” responded Cotton and gave his reasons.

“We have had 17 hours of play so far and 550 runs scored. That makes an average of roughly 32 runs an hour. The requirement now is 95 runs an hour which appears to be a pretty uphill task to me.”

Boyer turned to Warren seated on his other side.

“And what say you, Major?”

There was a brief pause while the man reflected, slowly scratching his graying beard.

“I would give them an even chance, Sir. Statistics, unfortunately, provides us only an average of many possibilities, including the two extremes, which too have a fair probability, though certainly less than the prospect attributable to the average. But considering the grit of the two batsmen in the centre, I would enhance the odds for the home team to equal what could be supposed for the mean. So I give them two in four, Sir,” countered Major Warren.

Boyer had no personal preferences but Warren’s deduction seemed more acceptable to him.

‘I would put the odds at ten to one,’ thought Elizabeth to herself.

Over the next three quarters of an hour, Ismail and Bhuvan gave a sterling display of batsmanship, substantiating the inference of Major Warren. Fours and sixes flowed from their blades and were augmented by the singles and twos that continued to come in the wake of Bhuvan’s agility and Tipu’s fleet footedness.

But the long tenure at the wicket and the emotional tension began to tell on Bhuvan’s strength and alertness. Increasingly, possible twos were being restricted to singles and certain but sharp singles went abegging.

Russell quickly rotated his bowlers in the hope that variety in the bowling attack would destabilize their concentration, but it was not to be. The pair had put on 81 runs for the eighth wicket brought the score up to 303 for 7, with 16 balls to go.

At a little more than a run a ball, the target seemed achievable and the British captain was at his wit’s end. The next ball from Willis provided him with the means to be adopted to break this dangerous partnership.

Tipu, in his childish excitement, had begun to stray out of the bowling crease before the bowler had released the ball. The two batsmen in their preoccupation with the target and their tiredness had not noticed this to warn the boy against it.

Emboldened by the possibility of completing a run in a shorter time, Tipu took off for a run while Willis was still two strides away from the stumps. Willis bowled and the batting team added two more runs through a sweep from Bhuvan’s blade behind the wicket.

The tactic of Tipu was not however lost on Russell. He had noticed this earlier also but the boy had been more cautious and had waited almost up to the point of release of the ball. The captain quietly walked up to the bowler to give precise instructions in a whisper.

Willis began running in. The boy waited until he was a few strides away and buoyed by the success in the previous delivery, started his run a little earlier than the previous time.

The bowler ran up to the stumps and stopped.

Tipu was almost half way down the pitch and when the ball did not whiz past him as expected, stopped too.

All stood still for a moment.

Time itself appeared to do so, as everyone realized the impending consequence.

Horror clouded the faces of the two batsmen and froze their voices.

Smiles of relief spread across those of the fielders and the bowler and they had no such problems with their larynx.

Willis flicked a bail off the stumps, turned to the umpire and asked “How was that, Sir?”

Sympathy for the innocent boy sparkled in umpire Doherty’s eyes for a moment. He remembered his allegiance to his calling and summarily extinguishing emotions that had no place in such a situation, raised his index finger.

“Get along, you cur. Shoo!” said the bowler, derisively waving his hand at the stunned boy.

His mates guffawed, gathering around to congratulate him. Umpire Doherty, kept a straight face, suppressing the impulse to stop this unwarranted verbal abuse.

Tears welled up in the boys eyes. He ran to Bhuvan and began to wail loudly, hugging him. The sense of having let down the team with his stupidity coupled with the jeers of the white men made him feel miserable.

“Good work, Tipu”

“You have done a great job,” said the two batsmen by turn, in their attempt to console him.

“Go on, Ismail, and send Bhura in. We still have a chance,” said Bhuvan extricating himself from the inconsolable boy.

Ismail put a comforting arm around Tipu’s shoulders and hobbled back towards the pavilion. The happening had moved many among the spectators.

“The brutes,” said Puran Singh, under his breath.

“Oh! What a shame,” exclaimed Boyer.

“Perhaps the umpire should have let the boy off with a warning, but rules are rules,” opined Cotton.

Elizabeth’s streaming eyes said it all; she did not need further words to express her feeling.

There were many in the crowd who felt and reacted as she did.

The score read 305 for 8. The target was 18 runs from 14 balls. Gettable yet, if they could conserve their wickets.

Bhura joined Bhuvan, replacing Ismail.

“Just keep your end up. Do not let your wicket fall. I will get the runs,” said his captain to him, as they met at mid-pitch.

Bhuvan channeled his resentment at Ismail’s unsportsmanlike dismissal into his next shot. An alert Flynn stopped it a yard inside the boundary restricting what might have been a certain four to merely two runs. The score inched up to 307 for 8.

It was now the last ball of Willis’ over.

“We have to get a single, Bhura. Only a single! That will let me retain strike in the next over,” instructed Bhuvan to his partner who nodded his nervous assent.

His rival on the other hand exhorted his men to close in and prevent a single. The final delivery came up and the batsman swished his blade and immediately took off for a run. The ball raced towards Russell who realized that he would be unable to affect a run-out considering the head start that the batsmen had. His presence of mind made him do the next best thing to ensure that Bhuvan did not gain the striker’s end for the next over. He kicked the ball away towards and past the boundary achieving his objective at the cost of four runs and smiled at Bhuvan condescendingly, as they walked past each other to take their respective positions for the penultimate over of the match.

The score now stood at 311 for 8 and the target 12 runs from 12 balls. It looked far easier than before until one realized that it was Bhura, dismal with the bat, who faced Smith in charge of the bowling attack.

“Keep it tight, Smith, and fell this joker quickly,” commanded the captain.

Smith sent in his first delivery and Bhura jabbed the bat at it awkwardly. The ball went in a direction opposite to that intended. It caught the fielder on the wrong foot and provided sufficient time to scamper for a single.

Both batsmen were keenly following the ball as they ran and did not notice that they were headed for a collision. Bhura being more agile of the two swerved at the last moment and continued on his way. Bhuvan, already tired from the daylong effort and not familiar with Bhura’s fowl snaring maneuvers, attempted to mimic his partner’s tactic, only to slip and fall flat on his face on the pitch.

There were excited shouts of, “The ball, get the ball!”

Bhura turned back to survey the scene of disaster. The ball was being retrieved and was about to be thrown back at the end that he had just vacated and to which Bhuvan was headed. His captain too was on the verge of getting back to his feet and attempting to make his ground. Bhura realized that his partner would not be able to make it and with the captain gone, their hope of winning the match would also fade away.

His decision was quick and his reaction equally fast. In one movement, he swiveled around and raced ahead of Bhuvan, pushing him away as he went past. As he closed in towards the crease, the ball was thrown back to an eagerly waiting Burton who whipped of the bails with it. Being closer to the crease than Bhuvan, Bhura was adjudged run out. The two met yet again in mid-pitch.

“It was my fault, Bhura! I am sorry but you may have still won us the match with your quick thinking and action. I hope that your effort does not go in vain.”

The departing man was grateful to his captain to have taken the blame upon himself for that avoidable mix-up, but he knew that he was equally at fault. Russell was elated that his devious move of the previous over had paid off and was basking in the ego-boosting warmth of adulation with a smug expression on his face.

He believed that he had the opposition by the jugular. It was now only a matter of squeezing it tight and snuffing it out.

The score had changed only in terms of wickets lost no runs having been added since the pervious over. At 311 for 9, the task for the batting side looked very intimidating indeed.

Bhura returned to the makeshift pavilion in tears and surprisingly it was to Goli that he went first to seek solace. Goli was not found wanting in providing what was sought, as he took his redoubtable everyday adversary in a tight embrace saying softly in his ears, “You did well, my friend! You saved Bhuvan’s wicket!”

It was Kachra’s turn to walk to the wicket and he felt as if he was about to walk to the scaffold. The reminders from his teammates that the fate of the match and that of their own was dependent on the kind of support that he provided Bhuvan, only accentuated this impression.

He walked in wide-eyed, with fear showing in them unashamedly. Those in the elite enclosure who were not aware of the composition of the local team let out a gasp at this strange sight.

“Oh dear! He is severely disabled,” whispered Boyer.

“With him on strike, I would put the odds at one on ten, Sir,” said Cotton.

“Kachra, there is nothing to be afraid off. I am there with you. Take a single as soon as you can.”

His fall and Bhura’s run out had shaken Bhuvan. The words of encouragement that he heaped on his current partner did not seem convincing even to himself. To his fellow batsman, it made no difference at all because the words hardly penetrated the shroud of fright in which he was engulfed.

“The sitting duck at last. Your game, Smith. Choose your spot and shoot,” Russell’s self-assured voice attempted a disparaging jest.

The bowler grimaced at the cringing cripple. He had five balls to go in this over and decided to intimidate his quarry a little before going for the kill.

‘Why deny oneself some amusement when it is there for the asking?’ he said to himself. It was a thought that he would soon rue.

The first two deliveries to Kachra were aimed at the batsman’s body rather than on his stumps and each time, an inapt evasive action came in the way of certain injury. Familiarization to conditions does diminish unreasonable aversion and the last two balls had instilled in the quavering Kachra the seed of a thought that if he could survive two then he could survive more.

The next ball from Smith was aimed at the stumps but the batsman hung out a tentative bat at it. The ball glanced off the extended bat’s face between the wicket keeper and the slip fielder. It did not go far, but far enough for the two batsmen to scurry for a close run.

There was an attempt to get the striker run out as he headed towards the bowler’s end following a late start, but the ball missed its mark. With two balls remaining, the danger that looked imminent had been temporarily stalled.

“Man, can’t you slaughter a half-dead prey!” cried Russell in disgust.

The score crawled up to 312 for 9, and the target wriggled down to 11 runs from 8 balls.

Bhuvan decided not to chance a run in the next delivery from Smith. After blocking it with no revision to the score, he called out to Kachra.

“We have to take a single now. Start running as soon as the ball quits the bowler’s hand. Do not tarry and do not hesitate.”

The batsman at the other end nodded vigorously, averting his eyes away from the menacing stare of Smith.

The spectators were on their feet.

The privileged were on the edge of their seats.

Never during the match had a single run been of more importance.

Bhuvan had seen the effectiveness of opening the face of the bat and glancing the ball behind the stumps, as Kachra did the previous time, though involuntarily. All batsmen from his team barring Gurran had concentrated only on hitting the ball to the front. Whenever it did go behind it had been only inadvertently.

The last ball of the over was on its way. The batsman put his plan to work, made a deliberate effort at directing the ball behind the stumps, and succeeded. The single was there and was taken.

There were gasps of relief and sighs of disappointment from the audience, the former much louder and far outnumbering the latter. The batting team had endured; the game was still alive.

The match had reached its tense climax. It was the final over. The village team with their score at 313 for 9 required ten runs to win, while their opponents needed one wicket.

Russell tossed the ball to Yardley, Bhuvan being on strike.

“To the boundary, men. Stop the fours!” yelled the captain at his fielders.

Nine men were evenly spread across the perimeter of the field, as Yardley came charging in to bowl the first ball. Bhuvan knew that the only way he could pierce the well-guarded turf was to hit the ball hard between a pair of fielders. He did not want to chance a big one just yet, for fear of spooning a catch.

The bat swung and the batsman swiveled. The ball was sent speeding along the ground, square of the batsman towards the boundary. Two fielders converged upon it, but the ball raced them past the line.

The crowd erupted. It was 317 for 9.

‘Six runs to go,’ thought Bhuvan.

‘I am going to give him hell,’ said Yardley to himself, as he walked back to the beginning of his long run up, tossing the ball hand to hand. His teammates knew what it portended and waited expectantly. There might be more then just a wicket to fall, there might blood spilt, even inculpable murder.

The bowling machine of a man thundered in and hit the deck with the ball that rose menacingly after pitching. Bhuvan had anticipated the extra speed that Yardley had generated with his longer run-up and his pent up anger at being hit to the boundary of the previous delivery. However, his tired body could not measure up to the required swiftness of a reaction. He swung the bat as before, missed, and got the ball on the side of the head just above the left ear.

The force with which he was hit sent him staggering near the stumps bringing him down on his knees quite close to it. Unluckily for Russell and his men, the batsman’s half turban, wound around his head saved him from serious injury as well as from falling over the wickets, by absorbing a fraction of the momentum.

Draw blood and fell him, Yardley did, but not to much avail. A loud collective sigh issued forth from the terrified spectators; a gleeful shout from the bowler and fielders who had expected the batsman to have passed out and hurt badly enough rendering him unable to play any further, but they had not accounted for the interfering turban.

As the two umpires rushed towards the fallen batsman, they saw him slowly get to his feet waving a hand at the make shift pavilion to indicate that he was all right. A concerned Mukhiya who had breached the boundary leading a bunch of villagers to carry Bhuvan away had to beat a hasty retreat as the game resumed. Seeing the batsman taking his stance again, blood streaming from his split ear, Russell patted the bowler on the back and said, “Keep it up, Yardley. Get the guy.”

There were four balls to go and six runs to be scored.

The bowler ran in for the third time in the over and sent in another ball like the previous one. This time Bhuvan was more careful, which had its own repercussions. He couldn’t get to bear the full power of the bat upon the speeding ball, which carried it only to a short distance and not as speedily. Nevertheless, before a fielder could run up and gather it, a single had been taken, bringing the deficit down to five runs to be scored off three balls.

Bhuvan had desperately wanted to take the second run, but the fielder was too quick for him. Kachra had barely made his ground after the aborted second run. A grim looking captain of the village team walked up to his number eleven batsman and looked at him with concern.

“Just touch the ball and run like you would run for your life, Kachra. We need to take a single, come what may. Don’t be afraid.”

The alarmed Kachra nodded and took up position.

“Now is our chance, Yardley! Blow the cripple away,” yelled Russell.

The seamer ran in once again and bowled. The batsman cowered, bending almost knee high, the ball whizzing past over his head and safely into wicket keeper Burton’s waiting gloves. There was another big sigh from the awfully nervous crowd.

“Don’t be afraid, Kachra! Get the ball to touch the bat and run. Get me to the striker’s end. We cannot afford to miss a single now,” called out the frantic captain.

There were two balls remaining, the deficit still being five runs. The fifth ball of Yardley and its consequence was a repeat of the fourth. Bhuvan was almost in tears as he ran down the pitch entreating the terrified Kachra to swing his bat with all his might and attempt to hit the ball for a six.

“Only you can save us now. Hit the ball high over the fielders. Give your best.”

The British team members sported warily joyful smiles. “A ball away from wrapping it up, boys!” shouted Russell with an air of bravado, which was only skin-deep.

He was, in fact, more tense than his colleagues. It was so ironical that the focus of everybody at that moment was on the lowliest individual in their midst, who appeared to hold the answer to all their problems. Kachra had never imagined that he could ever be in such a situation and loathed it. The sight and sound of a multitude of hysterical people calling out his name and seeking deliverance was unbearable a burden.

‘Oh! What have I gotten into? My little mound was better than this hell hole,’ lamented he, silently.

“Do not think of anything else, Kachra. Focus on the ball and swing at it,” exhorted Bhuvan, as Yardley charged in and released the ball.

Dread and panic froze the batsman’s body in position and the energy of the frenzied calls of “Hit Kachra, hit!” from the many thousands of voices powered his feeble muscles to heave the bat in a wide circle.

Bat found ball, which ballooned up into the sky. May be it was the force of the recently formed habit or a little detail of destiny, Bhuvan and Kachra sprinted across the pitch to the opposite ends in a bid to complete an otherwise worthless single under the circumstances, as they could perceive.

The ball had rebounded off the bat’s leading edge sending it into a high loop that gave a fielder ample time to get under it and hold it. Smith it was who took the catch and let out an exultant cry as he held his hands aloft. The next instant his teammates had encircled him with triumphant whoops. The crowd let out a groan of grief.

Kachra stood petrified at one end. Bhuvan had sunk to the ground in terrible agony. He had failed. He had truly given his best. Each one of them had, but that had not been good enough to surmount the challenge.

Time and history show no mercy. They are ruthless in their documentation and unfeeling in their judgment. It will be only said that a foolish man had challenged the British might, miserably failed, and brought ignominy and wretchedness upon his people. None would care to remember the intensity of the effort that had gone into the attempt.

He found the weight of defeat already swamping his mind and obliterating those memories.

Amidst all this excitement of a myriad hues, stood a serene and solitary figure with one arm raised parallel to the ground, patiently trying to catch the attention of the batsmen, fielders, spectators, and the scorers perched behind the giant score board.

The sound of his voice that had been drowned in the dissonance began to be slowly heard as the din of the background gradually subsided. “No ball! That was a no ball!” said the irritated umpire for the umpteenth time.

Delight froze on the faces of the white players in various manner of mid-expression. So did the feeling of sorrow in the faces of those who considered themselves vanquished.

All eyes turned to the umpire who had that uncomfortable feeling of suddenly being in the eye of a storm. Umpires are human, but trained to be exalted ones in such situations, or else they wouldn’t be. Umpire Neilson measured up to his dignified office, when he withstood the avalanche of protests from the aggrieved team that considered itself to have been robbed of a deserved win.

“What No-Ball? What do you mean by a No-Ball?” roared Russell, as he walked menacingly towards the umpire.

“It means that the bowler’s foot was over the line at the time of releasing the ball,” replied the old man calmly.

“How can it be? Are you sure about it?” demanded the incensed interrogator.

“I am not going to argue with you on that point and suggest that we get on with the game, Sir.” The retort from the umpire was soft and calm, yet stern. It conveyed the clear impression that it would brook no disobedience.

A chastised Russell – which was generally a rarity but had become a frequent phenomenon over the past few weeks, walked back to his mates.

“We have one more ball to bowl. Let’s get over with this quickly,” he said tossing the ball to Yardley yet again.

Bhuvan had watched all this in disbelief. From the depths of the darkness of despair rose a faint gleam of nascent hope that rapidly swelled to a strong self-belief and unwavering resolution. He sensed the unseen hand of providence herding happenings towards a just culmination.

He also realized the purpose of the unmanageable twists and un-maneuverable turns along the way that provided glimpses of the truth from diverse viewpoints. The match was meant to be won. He was to be the instrument to achieve it, to cement the final brick to the edifice that the team, all those who supported it, and even the antagonism of their distracters, had collectively built.

It was when Bhuvan took his stance at the striker’s end that Russell noticed this fact.

“What the hell is this man doing at the striker’s end? It is the cripple who should be here,” he said walking once again up to the umpire.

“If you hadn’t noticed, Sir, the batsmen had crossed over while the ball was in the air during the previous delivery,” responded the annoyed old man.

The euphoria of the false victory had blinded the nervous British officers to this happening in the field.

“All right men, to the boundary. Give him the treatment, Yardley! We will yet win,” bawled the captain with unconvincing confidence.

Our sinews we urge, we go, we surge,’ Bhuvan fortified his mind and body silently repeating their war cry, as a spent Yardley ran in for the last time to bowl.

The score now stood at 320 for 9, two runs having come from the previous delivery – a single that they had run and the extra run for the no-ball.

Three runs were required of the last and he had to send the little leather-bound wooden sphere past the boundary line.

The moment he spied the ball in the bowler’s hand, time seemed to have considerably slowed down for Bhuvan. He could see every movement of the ball minutely. The fingers curled over the seam and the thumb around the rough surface releasing their grip; the ball wobbling slightly as it was buffeted by the atmospheric air that it cleaved; the slight swing away to the outside, as the higher air friction on its rougher surface tending to alter its direction of movement; the pitching on the dusty surface with a slight loss of impetus and its tilting to one side due to the uneven seam and finally its gradual ascent towards him. He raised the bat high and brought it down in a slanting arc in time for the ball to make contact with the centre of the blade to send it rocketing high over the heads of the fielders.

Seeing that the ball was headed in his direction, Russell who was standing a few feet inside the perimeter began to back away.

“Catch it, Sir!” shouted a chorus of voices from the field and a few from the pavilion.

The ball began its descent. Russell continued to back step until he felt that he was correctly positioned to hold it. The ball was now speeding down, acted upon by the continuous pull of gravity, all eyes - and many of them in the company of open mouths, following it.

“Catch it, Sir!” came the reminders again...

And catch it he did and safely, the good cricketer that he was. It was an inhuman shriek of elation that rent an otherwise abnormally noiseless air.

Captain Russell slowly looked around expecting adulation from his mates on the field and compatriots seated in the pavilion but found only stupefaction on their faces and their eyes riveted at his feet. His pair too followed the general gaze and to their horror saw his feet standing about a yard outside the boundary line.

Umpire Neilson’s arms began to rise to signal a six and with it rose the jubilant yells of many thousands of happy souls.

The not-so-fair-minded in the pavilion stood up and walked away with eyes downcast, while the unprejudiced few gave the winning team a standing ovation and among them was Colonel Boyer.

King Puran Singh was initially apprehensive about openly venting his unbounded joy, for he appeared ill placed to do so.

However on seeing the governor of the Central Provinces conferring his approbation, he shed his inhibitions and heartily joined in the all around applause.

The villagers had no such dignity of office to uphold, no discomforting decorum to maintain, no uncomfortable etiquettes to espouse. They were all over the field, with no mounted soldiers to restrain them.

They shouted.

They danced.

They jumped about.

They embraced each other.

They cried and laughed.

And when Gurran bawled out in his deep throated voice, “Glory be to the Lord!”, they all looked up to sky to pay obeisance to the almighty.

As if on cue, there was a loud clap of thunder. Nature could not have been more dramatic.

While the assembly below was utterly engrossed in the happenings on the field, the rain god above was planning a fitting finale. No one had noticed thunder clouds unhurriedly crowding off the horizon and rising up across the sky towards Raigadh and Champaner.

They had concluded their leisurely journey to coincide with the ending of the match. The cool and moist breeze preceded the impending rain that could be seen as a fast approaching mist. A blinding flash of lightning heralded the rain that started as a light drizzle and rapidly turned to a regular downpour.

The bard in Gurran was unleashed. He stood on one leg and spinning around with his arms raised began to sing –

Bridging the expanse between earth and sky,

The column of rain clouds trundle by;

A streak of lightning, a rumble of thunder;

Praise be to the Lord, says I.

There were more than five times the number of people than the previous occasion when Gurran had sung these lines some months ago, who lent their voice to the chorus that followed-

We do inherit as we ply -

Bounty if true, upon deceit, fie;

There’s strength in our arms and trust in our hearts;

Praise be to the Lord! says I.

There was one person who ran into this light-hearted melee from the pavilion end. It was Elizabeth with emotions that were just waiting to burst out.

She had held them back with great difficulty reserving the moment of its gushing out to her meeting Bhuvan. She would open her heart out to him today unrestrainedly. She would surrender herself to him. Nothing could stop her today.

Half-way to the middle of the field where she recognized Bhuvan to be from the intensity of merriment, the drizzle sweeping over the land overtook her. The exhilarating sensation only made her resolution more intense. The drizzle had transformed into a torrent by the time she had made her way to the centre of the crowd and what she saw there made her stop abruptly.

Ahead of her were Gauri and Bhuvan in each other’s arms, lost to the world, with his mates doing a jig around them to the clapping of the other villagers and the heavens generously sprinkling their blessings upon them.

The dam that was close to exploding, found the emotional waters behind it suddenly drying up. The thriving greenery in the undulating spread of the heart was abruptly altered into a desolate and barren desert. The change was so swift that it left her gasping.

She turned around quickly before anyone could spot her and retraced her steps.

Ram Singh who had watched her hurried exit from her seat and her equally hurried return could surmise the turn of events. He lavished a fatherly affection and care upon the forlorn girl, which is the only thing that he could do, and which he knew would be of little consolation to her in her present state.

He decided to stay at her side until her departure for England that he inferred was very soon to be.

It poured, persistently and heavily, as if to make up for the deficiency of the past two years. Nature exhibited its resilience in all its magnificence.

Seeds that had lain dormant biding their time, sprouted into vigorous life.

Insects and vermin that had dug deep into crevices and niches patiently awaiting the return of the days of plenty had released themselves from their enforced confines to spiritedly breed into widespread and colorful proliferation.

Greenery engulfed the earth.

The vibrancy of life filled the air.

Champaner and the other villages of the kingdom had their fair share of nature’s magnanimity. The fields were lush and verdant, the wells overflowed, the bovines had ample feed, the people had adequate work, and for the next three years, they did not have to pay tax to the government.

The British administration had been true to its promise. The cricket match having been fairly lost, they passed relevant orders waiving the annual tax for the period agreed upon as the winner’s reward.

Although Boyer was reasonably happy with the way things had turned out, Governor Boyer took a dim view of the result. It was seen as a black spot on his performance. But he had an alibi to cushion criticism. It was on record that he had opposed the appointment of Captain Russell citing his temperamental unworthiness and that he was overruled by his superiors.

The British administration could not countenance such a reverse to their authority and decided to disband the cantonment at Raigadh and locate it elsewhere. Boyer passed the relevant orders to this effect.

He was particularly severe on Russell but certainly not out of spite. It was more an exemplary punishment that was awarded to the firebrand officer to send out a message to others of his ilk who may have entertained similar plans, not to step out of line. He was asked to pay the entire tax due from the villages and was transferred to a military post in central Africa.

Within two weeks of the game, the Union Jack was lowered from the flag-post atop the mansion that served as the office and residence of the commandant.

A mile long convoy began to march out of the gates of the cantonment leading away to the destination that it had been ordered to. Word of this exodus reached Champaner. Ram Singh, who had decided to resign his job but had stayed on until the dissolution at the request of Elizabeth, had returned to the village with his belongings a few hours earlier and informed the Mukhiya about it and said that the procession would pass by the outskirts very soon.

Despite the heavy downpour, news spread from door to door, hut to hut, family to family. There was no mass rejoicing, no triumphant exultation but only a stunned silence. People slowly began to gather in groups and gradually walk towards the road, as if pulled by an unseen force, to watch those going away and who perhaps were never to return.

Soon the marching column showed up through a hazy curtain of rain and trudged along on its way. Men plodding through the slushy path on foot, bullock-carts hauling an assortment of luggage, horses bearing officers and soldiers, carriages transporting senior officers and ladies.

In one such, the emotionless countenances of the staring villagers saw the face of an utterly castigated Russell, looking straight ahead at nothing in particular.

The carriage behind it seemed to slow down and stop near the group that comprised of Yashoda, Bhuvan, and Gauri, while those behind slowly overtook it and continued. The door of the carriage that had stopped was opened by an accompanying footman.

Elizabeth, red and bleary eyed, got slowly down and approached the watching group. She walked up to Yashoda, bent down to touch her feet in the Indian manner of greeting an elder, but was swept into the arms of the older woman.

“Long may you live, my daughter,” Yashoda blessed her with tears streaming down her eyes, “May you always be happy.”

Extricating herself from an embrace in which she would have liked to be for long, Elizabeth stood before Bhuvan. She knew that this was the last time that she would be seeing him and wanted to etch his image in her heart as deeply as she could.

Bhuvan had been aware of Gauri’s resentment about his close association with the white woman. During the course of their cricket practice sessions, the impish streak in him had made him feign a romantic tilt towards her, just to affectionately spite Gauri, whom he truly loved.

But he had never imagined that Elizabeth could have harbored any such feeling for himself. He was a practically romantic man, not idealistically so.

Rationality being his inherent guide, any passionate leanings that the unfettered part of his mind might have contemplated would have been unconsciously and involuntarily checked. At that moment, as the white girl stood facing him, he thought he saw more than a feeling of friendliness in those brimming eyes.

Perhaps, whatever that she had wanted to say on the day that she had brought them the cricket ball was... His realism came to his rescue again. Even if it were so, time had swept them away, along widely divergent streams that would never again meet.

“Thank you, memsahib, for all that you did for us. We will never forget it,” said Bhuvan forcing his thoughts back to the present.

“Neither will I,” said Elizabeth in a choked voice and she could say no more as her emotions overwhelmed her.

Quickly turning around, she darted back into the carriage. The footman closed the door and the coachman slashed his whip setting the horses that were harnessed to the carriage into a gentle trot to catch up with the file of migrants, which was now all but a hazy outline in the rain induced misty atmosphere.

While her unseeing eyes gazed at the incessant rain through the secured glass paned window of the carriage, Elizabeth’s mind recalled the story of Radha and Krishna narrated to her by Yashoda not long ago in all its details, and the additional embellishments that her passionate imaginations had imparted to it.

Though the personality of Radha fascinated her, she would have preferred a different conclusion to the story where the character’s love would have been consummated.

She however found justification to the contrary in the thought that it was unrequited love that was pure, divine, and more blissful. It asked for nothing in return. Demanded no reciprocation. Set no conditions.

She would bear Bhuvan’s image in her heart all her life.

She would be his Radha.

Kachra was perched at the stop of the stairway to the temple, unmindful of the pelting raindrops. A lifetime of loneliness had made him a compulsive recluse. Everyone in the village had gone to see the caravan conducting the former residents of the Raigadh cantonment to their new domicile far away.

Surprisingly, the people did not seem to be wholly elated about it. There certainly was relief but there was also undeniable melancholy, perhaps providing evidence for the notion that every kind of emotion establishes a bonding between individuals and on being broken leaves behind a void that may possibly be overshadowed but never filled.

Kachra found it strange that the very group of persons who symbolized their predicament, who were the cause for all their misery should now find the people they persecuted lining up the path to watch them go, to bid them a silent farewell. How could the villagers continue to harbor any form of attachment with the departing soldiers, which would only rekindle memories of their tyranny?

The answer was not long in coming. It was nearly instantaneous. As his gaze swept across the landscape, it found a familiar spot suddenly arrest its progress. The little mound at the other end of the village and his former home. He felt a sudden pang of nostalgia.

It was a month since he had been released from the state of forced seclusion and exclusion and welcomed into the community – initially with reluctance and after his unintended heroics in the cricket match, almost wholeheartedly.

He now lived in a hut not far from that of Bhuvan. Though the little mound was left forlorn, desolate, and uninhabited, it had an indelible and enduring place in Kachra’s heart.

It was the mound that had been privy to some of his most bitter feelings.

It was the mound that had shared some of the simple yet most profound joys that life could bestow within the confines of his then degraded state.

It was the mound that had been his refuge when people around shunned him.

The mound had been his reality.

He had detested its filthy environs while he was there, dreamed of getting away from it forever, yet found its image and the memories associated with it being recalled with wistfulness.

End of Chapter 10

End of the story, "A Surge Of Time".


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