Thursday, 27 February 2014

Professor Gaitonde's Tryst With History!

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~~~

The Jijamata Express sped along the Pune - Bombay route, considerably faster than the Deccan Queen.
Lonavala arrived in 40 minutes, followed by Karjat and Kalyan...

Professor Gaitonde's mind had arrived at a substantial plan of action, already...

 Indeed, as a historian, he felt he should have thought of it sooner. 
He would go to a library & browse through the section cataloged 'History'. 
The most appropriate way of finding out how the present state of affairs came to be.

Upon his return, he resolved to interact with Rajendra Deshpande, who would surely help him understand what had happened.

That is, assuming that in this world there existed someone
called Rajendra Deshpande!

The small station, Sarhad, awaited, at the end of a long tunnel. 
An Anglo-Indian in uniform went on to check permits.

He noticed certain gentlemen conversing...
Khan Sahib and Professor Gangadharpant Gaitonde.

"This is where the British Raj begins. You are travelling for the first time, presumably?"
The voice at the other end replied in the positive, ignorantly inquiring about the time in the tow to reach Peshawar.

Khan Sahib patiently explained that it was a long journey, he'd embarked on - Bombay to Delhi, to Lahore and then Peshawar.

Khan Sahib passionately narrated his business and Gaitonde was a patient listener.

The train made its way through the suburban rail traffic...

And, 'GBMR' - Greater Bombay Metropolitan Railway, was a gentle reminder of British oppression.

The final destination, Victoria Terminus, arrived too soon...

~~~

As he emerged from the station, Professor found himself facing an imposing building. The letters on it proclaimed its identity to those who did not know this Bombay landmark:

EAST INDIA HOUSE HEADQUARTERS OF
THE EAST INDIA COMPANY.


Prepared as he was for many shocks, Professor Gaitonde had not expected this. The East India Company had been wound up shortly after the events of 1857 — at least, history stood testimony.

Yet, here it was, not only alive but flourishing!
So, history had taken a different turn, perhaps before 1857.

How?
When?

It weighed heavy on a historian's mind!

~~~

The Hornby Road, too, was sporting a different look.
The Handloom House was taken over by Boots and Woolworth, Llyod's, Barclay's and the likes of it.

Bombay had been presented as England, perhaps?

He made his way to the Forbes building, however.

Professor Gangadharpant Gaitonde requested to see a certain Mr. Vinay Gaitonde.

The English receptionist, however, shook her head in dismay and exclaimed that the Professor might have been mistaken and there was none there by that name, whom Professor wished to see!

This was a blow, not totally unexpected.
If he himself were dead in this world, what guarantee had he that his son would be alive? 
Indeed, he may not even have been born!

Professor, however, grabbed a quick lunch and made his way to the Town Hall.

~~~

Yes, to his relief, the Town Hall was there, and it did house the library.

He entered the reading room and asked for a list of history books including his own.
His five volumes duly arrived on his table. He started from the beginning.

Volume One took the history up to the period of Ashoka, Volume Two up to Samudragupta, Volume Three up to Mohammad Ghori and Volume Four up to the death of Aurangzeb.

Up to this period history was as he knew it.
The change evidentlyhad occurred in the last volume.

~~~

Reading Volume Five from both ends inwards, Gangadharpant finally converged on the precise moment where history had taken a different turn.

That page in the book described the Battle of Panipat, and it mentioned that the Marathas won it handsomely. 
Abdali was chased back to Kabul by the triumphant Maratha army led by Sadashivrao Bhau and his nephew, the young Vishwasrao.
 The account elaborated in detail its consequences for the power struggle in India.

 Gangadharpant read through the account avidly.

The style of writing was unmistakably his, yet he was reading the account for the first time!

~~~

Their victory in the battle was not only a great morale booster to the Marathas but it also established their supremacy in Northern India. The East India Company, which had been watching these developments from the sidelines, got the message, temporarily shelving its expansionist program.

For the Peshwas, the immediate result was an increase in the influence of Bhausaheb and Vishwasrao, who eventfully succeeded his father in 1780 A.D.

The trouble-maker, Dadasaheb, was relegated to the background and he eventually
retired from state politics.

~~~

As he read on, Gangadharpant began to appreciate the India he had seen. It was a country that had not been subjected to slavery for the white man; it had learnt to stand on its feet and knew what self-respect was. 

From a position of strength and for purely commercial reasons, it had allowed the British to retain Bombay as the sole outpost on the subcontinent.
That lease was to expire in the year 2001, according to a treaty of 1908.

~~~

Gangadhar could not believe how the face of India had changed in the blink of an eye!

How did the Marathas win the battle?
To find the answer he must look for accounts of the battle itself.
He went through the books and journals before him.
At last, among the books he found one that gave him the clue.
It was Bhausahebanchi Bakhar.

He found one in a three-line account of how close Vishwasrao had come to being killed...

... And then Vishwasrao guided his horse to the melee where the elite troops were fighting and he attacked them. 
And God was merciful. 
A shot brushed past his ear. 
Even the difference of a til (sesame) would have led to his death.

~~~

The librarian intervened at that very moment!
The library had to close for the day...

She requested him to leave, politely answering his query for the opening time, the next day.

Before leaving, however, he gathered his notes and absent-minded, shoved the Bakhar also into his right pocket.

~~~

The historian, after his meal for the night, ventured into the Azad Maidaan for a stroll.

In the Maidaan he found a throng moving towards a Pandaal.

So, a lecture was to take place.
Force of habit took Professor Gaitonde towards the Pandaal.
The lecture was in progress, although people kept coming and going.

But Professor Gaitonde was not looking at the audience.
 He was staring at the platform.
The presidential chair was unoccupied!
The sight stirred him to the depths.
Like a piece of iron attracted to a magnet, he swiftly moved towards the chair.


The speaker stopped in mid-sentence, too shocked to continue. But the audience soon found voice.
“Vacate the chair!”
“This lecture series has no chairperson...”
“Away from the platform, mister!”
“The chair is symbolic, don’t you know?”

What nonsense! Whoever heard of a public lecture without a presiding dignitary? Professor Gaitonde went to the mic and gave vent to his views.

“Ladies and gentlemen, an unchaired lecture is like Shakespeare’s Hamlet without the Prince of
Denmark.
Let me tell you...”

But the audience was in no mood to listen. “Tell us nothing.
We are sick of remarks from the chair, of vote of thanks, of long introductions.”

He soon became a target for a shower of tomatoes, eggs and other objects. 
But he kept on trying valiantly to correct this sacrilege. 
Finally, the audience swarmed to the stage to eject him bodily.

And, in the crowd Gangadharpant was nowhere to be seen.

~~~

“That is all I have to tell, Rajendra. 
All I know is that I was found in the Azad Maidaan in the morning. 

But I was back in the world I am familiar with. 
Now, where exactly did I spend those two days when I was absent from here?”

Rajendra was dumbfounded by the narrative. It took him a while to reply.

“Professor, before, just prior to your collision with the truck,
what were you doing?” Rajendra asked.

“I was thinking of the catastrophe theory and its implications for history.”
“Right! I thought so!” Rajendra smiled.

 Professor Gaitonde produced his vital piece of evidence: a page torn out of a book.

Rajendra read the text on the printed page and his face underwent a change. 

Gone was the smile and in its place came a grave expression. 
He was visibly moved.

Gangadharpant pressed home his advantage. 

“I had inadvertently slipped the Bakhar in my pocket as I left the library.
I discovered my error when I was paying for my meal. I had intended to return it the next morning. 
But it seems that in the melee of Azad Maidaan, the book was lost; only this torn-off page remained. 
And, luckily for me, the page contains vital evidence.”

Rajendra again read the page. 
It described how Vishwasrao narrowly missed the bullet; and how that event, taken as an omen by the Maratha army, turned the tide in their favour.

“Now look at this.”, Gangadharpant produced his own copy of Bhausahebanchi Bakhar, opened at the relevant page. 

The account ran thus:

... And then Vishwasrao guided his horse to the melee where the elite troops were fighting, and he attacked them.
And God expressed His displeasure. 
He was hit by the bullet.

“Professor Gaitonde, you have given me food for thought. Until I saw this material evidence, I had simply put your experience down to fantasy. 
But facts can be stranger than fantasies, as I am beginning to realise.”

“Facts? What are the facts? I am dying to know!”, Professor
Gaitonde said.

~~~

As it turns out, 

When Professor was hit by a truck, he'd been thinking of the possibilities of India's fate if the Marathas had won the Third Battle Of Panipat.


With the collision, something in his brain got mislaid, some neurons got misplaced and he got into a different India.

No Congress.
No Gandhiji.
Flourishing East India.
NO Independence!

~~~

This post has been written as a part of the IndiSpire initiative launched by IndiBlogger. This post is an adaptation from Jayant Narlikar's Science-Fiction, 'The Adventure'.


~~~

4 comments:

  1. Beautifully crafted. I kept on guessing till end! I am a fan of JVN since childhood. And loved this post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the compliment, Saket.
      I'm glad I could spin an intriguing twist.
      Keep Visiting. :)

      Delete
  2. Loved it! Nicely written Poonam. Congrats!

    Thanks for your nice comment at my blog.

    Dhiyana.
    http://sparklingbuds.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Dhiyana!
      And you're welcome too.
      Keep Visiting. :)

      Delete

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