The Second Dream
The previous night still ruled his mind, making him uneasy. He recollected his thoughts with some effort and began tending to a sapling uprooted by the wind. The flowerbed was overflowing with water released by the night’s rain. He wondered about the temporary rejection of water by the earth that it would later relent. The fields across his house lay wrapped in a mist, with the sun visible through it – perfectly round – its dazzle of uncertain shape and size all gone.
The first dream was clear in his mind – a human form rushing out of a haze and another one trying to follow it. It would come true some time during the day. This was a ritual he had neither chosen nor could wish away.
However, today – for the first time since his premonitions started coming true – there was something that escaped his mind. It was blurred like the landscape before him. What was the second dream? It had always disturbed him to occupy the intermediate position between the creator and his people, a state of half power in which he could foresee but not alter as much as the fall of a leaf.
He walked about his house in a state of uncertainty, saw his children going to school, his wife engaged in the household jobs which absorbed her completely in spite of their complete predictability. Thinking the day would roll out the event of his dream, he went out of the house.
On the way, he thought about the cause of his unease. He rejected the idea that it was merely his need for information. “No,” he mumbled aloud. Was it that the favour of the unseen forces was being withdrawn? “It does not matter,” he said to himself. While walking through the fields sown with sugarcane, he felt it was a ripple in his life, governed by perfect order, that was disturbing him, and he, who saw order in the universe like sugarcane in a field, jagged and uneven from near but smooth and even from a distance, found this one dream jutting out. “I must move away,” he said to himself.
Gradually, his surroundings blanked out of his mind. He continued to walk at an even pace, as if guided. At a turning near the edge of the next village, Biswan, a farmer, smiled and restrained his oxen on the narrow path when he saw the venerable man famous for his vision and eccentric walking habits. “It is him, that schoolmaster,” he said to his wife, a small woman carrying food for the man who would toil with a merciless sun gazing at him all day.
Vashishtha nodded his head in acknowledgement of the favour. The mighty beasts who could tear open large stretches of infertile land and make them green with their strength also had sharp horns. They recognised only one voice, knew only one pair of hands that fed them every day before dawn.
The road bent and for a short stretch went into a small forest. Inside its darkness Vashishtha went.
Suddenly, he heard the sound of swift footsteps behind. “Please stop, teacher, where are you going? It is not the place for an old man to enter alone.” It was the farmer. He had left the oxen under the temporary charge of his wife and had rushed to stop him.
Vashishtha smiled to himself. The first dream had already come true. Unusually, he himself was a character today in his own story. “I will be back soon,” he told the farmer who refused to get out of the way. “I will,” he said softly. The farmer moved away.
Vashishtha picked his way carefully inside the forest with the path damp and dark under the impenetrable canopy that could hold up objects, not just weightless rays of sunlight. The first thing that struck him inside was the silence. It was as if millions of animated voices in the infinite space had chosen one moment to stop their activity. It was this moment the forest had seized, preserved and wrapped itself with. He felt like an intruder.
A bird shrieked: “Kooo…kooo” and fluttered across the path. The tress held on to the sound, tossed it around before letting it die. Standing alone in that vacuousness, a particular incident from his childhood was released by his memory for the present. As a child who had been escorted by servants for a game of cricket in the village playing field, he had entered a forest. It was an old forest that was cut down while he was away at his boarding school. He remembered walking on and on one day when he was back, never finding it.
The first time he had entered that forest alone. The silence had scared him. It had fallen on him like a monstrous object, intent on crushing him under its weight. The stillness had come to him loaded with certain possibilities of destruction. He had run out, as if chased by ghosts. Yet, years later, when he had learnt to probe into silence, he had spent a day looking for the forest.
His thoughts were interrupted by the farmer’s coughing. The memory, surprised, took its possessions back and returned Vashishtha to the present. The farmer stood at the hemispherical opening, bidding adieu from the limits he understood perfectly well. Vashishtha walked on.
The railway post at the end of the forest was visible by now. The signal was down, beckoning the train. Vashishtha felt it was as much for him. After a curve that hid the opening briefly, he emerged at the other end. Suddenly the sun broke through the mist and he was bathed in sunlight. In that instant, the first recollections of his second dream came to him. It was the signal post.
He did not remember beyond this. The mystery of partial knowledge gave him energy. He quickened his pace up the ascent and within no time was on the railway track. Built at a height, the railway track was the purpose behind an elevated track that girdled the region possessively. Though a fleeting thing, the train that ran on it converged men and women who waited each day in anticipation of its arrival. Through the vast plain, the train moved on it like an ant. The trail of passengers moving towards or away from it looked like its elongated legs the train gained or lost every time it stopped at a station.
Vashishtha’s mind began to respond to every object. The wild flowers growing through the stones looked familiar. The herd of goats going down the slope like a group of careful pilgrims descending a treacherous path, the old iron bridge that looked too flaky to support the puffing black engine with its band of coaches – all looked visited. He had been here the previous night.
The rattle of the bridge broke the spell. The sound introduced him to the train swiftly coming towards him. His eyes opened wide and his old heart skipped a beat. “It was the train,” he said aloud.
Another layer of mystery had fallen off. What was in its heart? How would the kernel taste, the thoughts raced through his mind.
Transfixed, he stood between the tracks and looked. The hiss was in his ears. “It was the sound…the letting out of steam, the smoke belching out of the chimney in powerful blasts,” he exulted.
The driver of the train who bent out in search of the signal post froze with horror. Here was a madman weary of the world, and he had chosen his train to transport himself out of it. He put all his strength in one yell: “Hat ja! Move!”
Vashishtha's closeness to the train, the warmth emanating from it, gave him boundless joy. By now, he could feel the heat on his face. “It was the same feeling,” he chuckled. Then he saw the horrified driver’s face. Vashishtha remembered the eyes from the last night. They were the same – in them a mixture of horror, accusation, even jealousy – possibly an agent of the subconscious that had sneaked in unnoticed.
The impact flung him across the track. The train was on him the next moment. His mind was working at a speed he had never known till now. In the instant when the first wheels cut through him, the moment in which he began to lose his life, the last dream showed up in a faint fullness. The dream was about his death. He had been deceived, kept trapped in a web of mystery till the very end. It was a breach of trust. He had the right to know. It would have been a far worthier test, a far worthier death.
(Anupam Srivastava is the author of The Brown Sahebs - Sample chapter: http://www.readomania.com/story/the-brown-sahebs and Review: http://www.readomania.com/book_review/the-brown-sahebs)