Raghavan was having an anger fit. He just couldn’t understand his wife’s nagging since the last few days.
“I am telling you, Radhi, we aren’t going anywhere. Please stop your constant whining. Let the people go wherever they want, we will stay put. Understand! You better understand”, with that he stormed out of the kitchen.
“Don’t you understand, Raghav. This isn’t a safe place. Otherwise, why would they just vacate this God forsaken place? People are disappearing! Why doesn’t it enter your bloody mind”, Radhika wasn’t the one to give up.
“Radhika! Just stop it, I say”, and he turned on the bed, away from her, switching off the light in the room.
Radhika was fuming but she knew that Raghavan called her Radhika only when he was very angry with her. She stormed out of the room.
The couple had just moved to Area 153, a comparatively economical neighbourhood in an expensive city in a new country. Raghavan and Radhika had recently managed to get the citizenship after a long waiting period of 12 years.
Both were professional photographers; individually they wouldn’t have managed to make two ends meet, but their combined income brought them to Area 153.
The initial few days flew off in a jiffy, busy as they were in decorating their Studio apartment. Radhika being a wildlife photographer, the entire apartment was decked up as a jungle, a beautiful painting of a roaring Tiger, adorning an entire wall.
“Raghav…I don’t want to start work again. I am loving it here. It’s so peaceful”, Radhika pouted as she downed the umpteenth glass of wine.
“Radhi! That’s so unlike you. Are you serious?”
After a hectic two weeks, Raghavan and Radhika were relaxing in the neighbourhood pub.
“Yaar…you are right. After all, paapi pet ka sawaal hai. But jokes apart, I love photography. More than the final click, I love staking out the spot for catching my prey unawares, so that it is firmly in my viewfinder…”, wine certainly made her talk.
“Yes, in the same way, you preyed on me, my wildcat”, Raghavan laughed, his eyes twinkling flirtatiously.
Go away you puny Indians! Why are you here?”, an old woman approached them aggressively, brandishing her walking stick like a sword.
Taken aback, Radhika and Raghavan just stared back at the old woman. They were stunned into silence by the sudden aggressive behaviour.
Just then the Manager of the pub came running and started to gently escort the woman out of the pub.
“Go away. Don’t stay here. Indians are not welcome. Many have disappeared into thin air, never to be seen again. Heed my words!”, cried out the woman on her way out.
“Wait here. Let me get this clear”. Raghavan proceeded towards the Manager’s chair.
“What was she saying? Why was she so rude?”, demanded Raghavan.
“Oh, that. Ignore her. You know how these old people are. Still staying in that old world, when black people meant slaves. Can’t accept their independence and certainly can’t accept their confident demeanour. Relax, have a drink with your woman and go home. A bottle on the house for you”, he grinned.
“But what did she mean; many have disappeared”, Raghavan was persistent.
This time the Manager was silent as he fidgeted with the cash counter. He didn’t reply and avoided eye contact.
“Tell me, man. I need to know” Raghavan pressed on.
Still avoiding eye contact, the Manager said, “About that, she was right. But whatever it is or for whichever reasons people have disappeared in this area, the reason is certainly not racism. In fact, most of the disappearances involve white people”, then looking up at Raghavan, he said with a smile, “You and I are at an equal risk, my friend. By the way, people here call me Mikky”
“And me, Raghavan”, as they shook hands.
“What was he saying?”, asked Radhika, as Raghavan returned to the table.
“Oh. Don’t worry, my love. Just some folk tales of a pub. You know, these pub dudes have the tallest tales to tell”
“But still, what did he tell you?”, Radhika insisted.
“He said there are many Mr India’s around here. People disappear in front of you. Just like that, puff…”
“Ha…that’s a PJ. Let’s go home and get some shut-eye. Tomorrow, a new fight begins”, Radhika pulled Raghavan towards the exit.
“Raghav, do you see that building over there? Well, my colleague Samuel tells me, it’s haunted”, Radhika pointed it out across the street, as they stood taking in the cool breeze in their congested little terrace.
“Don’t believe these tales. These are nothing but urban legends. In fact, do you remember that pub visit, where we came to know about the disappearances here? Well, my colleague tells me that all the disappearances have happened in that very building”.
With his hand around her waist, Raghavan continued, “But it is just an abandoned old building around which mischievous people have spun some yarn. But I must say, in this moonless night it does look eerie, doesn’t it”
“Now you are frightening me, Raghav”, her embrace tightened around Raghavan.
“Oh, come on. Has anything happened till now?”
“To tell you frankly Raghav, when you were not in town, I had seen some shadows on the first floor of that building one night. I think it was candlelight since there was a lot of flickering. But then everything died down and all was peaceful again”
Raghavan was taken aback. “The last disappearance from this area was during my absence. I mean, the disappearance and the activities you saw in that building. No… that’s not possible”
Radhika stormed out of the bedroom and stood on the terrace. There had been 6 disappearances since they had come to Area 153. ‘Why was Raghavan being so blockheaded? It was just not worth it. They wanted to build a life but this area was dangerous. It would be better if they left like the others’
Lost in her own thoughts, suddenly she espied shadows in the abandoned building. She had to get to the bottom of it. Who or what was it?
She went back into the bedroom to wake up Raghavan. But he appeared to be fast asleep. So much is happening and this person is having his beauty sleep.
She gathered her small torch which was her only guide during her jungle adventures. She gathered her Swiss knife and was on her way.
She approached the abandoned building briskly. As she neared she saw most of the windows in a dilapidated condition. As she entered through the entrance, in the dim torchlight she saw that the bats had made it their residence. Ugh! She hated bats. But she pressed ahead.
She moved towards the stairs. The lift in the building had long ceased to work.
She reached the first floor and moved towards the door of a flat in the general direction of her house.
She pushed at it, feebly at first and then with all her might. Finally, the door gave way and it opened reluctantly. She pushed it ajar.
She saw that the room was like any other room, though fully covered in dust and cobwebs. A desk still occupied a corner of the room and on it was a small antique table lamp.
Opposite the table was a door opening into another room. It was half open and she decided to enter.
Upon entering it, she saw a window on the opposite wall. She approached the window and pushed at it. It wouldn’t budge.
Then she realised that the window opened inside. She pulled with all her force and finally it opened.
She peered outside and saw her own building. Her terrace was clearly visible and in the moonlight, she could see someone standing. Raghavan! Was he awake? Was he looking at this building only? Has he seen my torchlight? She shone it towards the terrace.
Suddenly she had an urge to be with Raghavan and turned back to return…
Raghavan has woken up but Radhika was not by his side.
“Radhi! Where are you? Are you on the sofa? Are you still angry with me? Come, let us sleep. We both have a long day tomorrow”
But she wasn’t there. Neither in the bathroom. He went to the terrace but no one.
As he was turning back into the house, he saw some activity in the abandoned building. It was certainly a torchlight on the first floor. The same window where Radhika had seen shadows. He stopped to look.
Certainly, there was someone there! As he crinkled his eyes to see clearly, suddenly the torchlight from the first floor was shone into his eyes.
Was it Radhika? It had to be her! Otherwise, why was the torchlight shone on his face? Then equally suddenly the torchlight was lowered and went inside the room.
He decided to investigate. How foolish of Radhika to go to that building alone.
Like Radhika before him, Raghavan entered the same room in the abandoned building. However seeing no one there and sensing no human presence, a shiver ran down his spine. Was it fear? He was not sure.
He went towards the window which was still open. Which means someone had been there. Had it really been Radhika? But seeing no sign of her anywhere he turned back. For all he knew, she must have returned home and gone to sleep.
He returned back to the outside room and exited from the main door…but hey! Why was it suddenly so bright? It took quite some time for his eyes to adjust to the sudden bright light.
As his sight slowly adjusted to the light, he was surprised to see a…huge dome! Where the hell am I? he wondered. What is this place? Where has the building disappeared!
At the other end of the dome, he saw a circular door. Seeing no other openings and the stark emptiness of the dome, he started walking towards the circular door.
Immediately he noticed a lightness in his movements and he was almost gliding towards the door, his one step was almost equal to his usual three steps. His brain could not fathom this feeling and he felt nauseous. And all this in spite of being very tentative due to the surprising new setting.
Raghavan wondered how he would open the door, however, his doubt was resolved when he neared the door. It opened on its own.
As he stepped out he was zapped further. The entire area was drowned in a purple hue. As he looked up, the ceiling was awash with purple. But was it the ceiling? It was the sky! That puzzled him further. Why wasn’t it dark yet.
He clearly remembered leaving his flat at @3.00 in the morning. And it must hardly have been 1 hour since then. How is it so bright now? And why purple? The northern lights have never been seen before in this part of the world. These cannot be the northern lights.
Suddenly a person, half in height, appeared before him. The first thing that grabbed Raghavan’s attention was the oversized sunglasses. And the incisors protruding from his mouth. Raghavan recoiled from the horrible sight.
“Welcome to planet Zendla. I, Regorca, on behalf of my fellow Zendlan’s welcome you, oh Earthling, on our esteemed planet”, the creature named Regorca said.
“Cut the crap! Is this some sort of a fancy dress competition? Who are you? What is this God-forsaken place? How did I come here? You better have some answers otherwise you are going to get it from me, I promise”, Raghavan threatened half-heartedly.
“Hyuc, hyuc, hyuc…”, it was some sort of a weird laughter. “You earthlings certainly have high ambitions. Big egos in puny bodies, that’s your reality. Otherwise good for nothing. No mental strength, no proper use of a certain superior brain. And curious; where you need not be”, Regorca ridiculed Raghavan.
Raghavan was losing his patience and he was itching for a fight. “Don’t you dare insult me, Rego…whatever”
He tried to push away the short fellow but he felt paralysed. He could not even move, almost a statue, rooted to the spot.
“See. No use of the entire brain. Here, I am controlling Your body but you have no control over yours. Please accept your limitations and you will have a better life on Zendla”, Regorca advised him sagely.
“I don’t believe this. Inside the dome I was moving at a fast pace, here I am not able to move at all. What is all this? Why am I here?”, a puzzled Raghavan queried, worry written all over his face.
“First you have to promise me that you will behave. I don’t want any impulsive reactions from you.”
“Ok. I accept. Please tell me, where am I? I just entered an abandoned building looking for my foolish wife but how did I end up here?”, a puzzled Raghavan asked.
“Wife? Do you mean a spouse? Do you mean your female species which came here 4 hours back? Oh, that’s why she looks similar to you. Otherwise, the others who have come here from earth, have always been lighter than you. You seem to be different”, now it was Regorca who was being curious.
“What? Radhika is here? Please, let me meet her. And what do you mean 4 hours back? She was with me, in our house, 4 hours back. It is only about 1.5 hours since she disappeared”
“You forget, earthling. You are no longer on your Earth but on my Zendla. Here 4 hours have passed since she came. This difference in the timeline between the two planets will be an advantage for you and your ilk, if and when you are fortunate to get back to your own planet”
Raghavan was now consumed with fright. “What do you mean? Why am I not understanding a word you say? And where is my Radhi?”
“Come, let’s go back into the dome. I can explain it to you better there”, Regorca guided Raghavan back to the dome. Raghavan’s body was not in his control, he followed…
“Now look at that red dot, up there. Oh…for you, it’s a blue dot…even your eyes are weak. Just concentrate on that dot for 15 seconds, you will start seeing whatever I am now going to narrate. Afterwards, we will meet your spouse. Let me tell you, she is safe. Though a bit hysterical, always crying ‘Raghav, Raghav….”, Regorca paused and then added, “I understand, that is your name, right”
Raghavan just nodded, as he tried to concentrate on the blue dot.
Regorca started his narration, “Many years back, the people on our planet Zendla initiated a big project to move between different worlds, not be means of rockets or spaceships but something different, something which is faster, something which will consume the least time with minimal energy”
As Regorca continued, Raghavan’s mind muted Regorca’s voice and started projecting the happenings visually, on the huge canvas of the dome.
Raghavan saw the Zendlans in Pink coats in what appeared to be a lab. As the images ran across the dome, he saw something familiar; from planet earth.
He saw the huge megalithic constructions of Peru. But these were not the recent ruined one; these were occupied by ancient people, going about their daily chores.
An airborne vehicle landed nearby and a few Zendlans ran out of the vehicle. They carried a contraption which they aimed towards a rocky hillside. The rock evaporated and when they were done, a doorway stood carved on the hillside. The doorway didn’t go anywhere, it just looked like a door carved in the rock face.
He then saw the humans occupying the megaliths, marvel at the doorway, folding their hands and bowing before the act of God.
Later he saw the Zendlans just appearing like ghosts out of that closed doorway after reciting something from a huge script displayed in the lab. Was it a key to open a portal on another world? It did seem so.
Then he saw the Zendlans returning back from Earth with huge containers containing crystals, again after reciting something. These crystals seemed to serve as Energy building blocks on Zendla.
“But why am I seeing all this? How does it concern me and where is my Radhika? Please don’t waste time. Let me meet her”, Raghavan pleaded. The visuals on the dome were interrupted.
“It is all connected with you. Just like the ancient Zendlans established transportation from here to Earth and back, we are trying to do it again. In the intervening many hundreds of years, we had lost the ancient technology by which this was possible due to a natural catastrophe on this planet”, Regorca explained patiently.
“Then our project enabled us to discover the ancient technology once again. We found the ancient script, we deciphered it again. We needed a doorway on your planet, however, we were no longer able to build a stone doorway. We decided to make do with what you had built but we didn’t want to reveal ourselves. So we selected one in an abandoned building”
Regorca gave a pause-giving time for the information to sink in.
“Do you grasp what I am saying? Yes, it’s the same building. However, something went wrong. The reverse is happening. Earthlings are crossing the portal but we are not able to go there”
As Raghavan stared in surprise, Regorca continued, “And we are not able to send them back”
“What? What do you mean you are not able to send us back. What, for goodness sake, are we supposed to do on your planet?”, demanded Raghavan.
“At least now take me to Radhika”
“Follow me”, so saying Regorca started walking away. Raghavan had no option, but to follow him, he was so totally remotely controlled.
They went through the circular door, but this time they entered another huge dome. A huge creature appeared before them with its flapping paws. As it stood before them, a door in its belly opened and Regorca pulled him inside.
Finally, it came to a halt. When they emerged from the belly, the creature scampered off.
Raghavan saw some igloo like constructions scattered across the landscape.
“This is the Earth camp. All the earthlings are hosted here and you are the 36th. There are two earthlings in each unit and you will join your wife shortly”
Regorca knocked on one and the door opened. As soon as Raghavan saw her, he enveloped her in a bear hug.
“Radhi! Radhi! Oh, how happy am I to see you. I thought I had lost you”, and he enveloped her in one long kiss.
With tears streaming down her eyes Radhika could hardly control herself. “Raghav! Where are we? How did we end up here? I…I was so afraid. But now that you are here, all my worries, all my fears have disappeared”, so saying she buried her face in his chest.
Regorca met a pair of excited Earthlings.
Radhika was the first one to speak, “We have a theory which you Zendlans should certainly try. Our fate depends on it”
“Yes, Regorca, please hear her out.”
“But what is it that you have got? It better be something substantial”
“You told us that the portal gets activated because of an ancient script which you deciphered and the door is just a vehicle. Well, we too have an ancient language, Sanskrit!”, Radhika was rattling off.
“So?”, Regorca was hardly interested.
“Well, we are so confident that first, we need to know, that you won’t misuse the key to our world, to destroy us”, in spite of their desperation to return back to Earth, they were still worried about this eventuality.
“Please be rest assured. We are only interested in the crystals on earth to drive our power plants. We will use it of course, if you really have the key, to get the crystals”, then with a smirk, Regorca added, “That is if you or your fellow earthlings keep it a secret on Earth. Because once you divulge, there are many greedy earthlings who would be ready to sell your planet for a price”
Radhika and Raghavan looked at each other in silence. Then Raghavan signalled Radhika to continue.
“In Sanskrit poetry, there are many palindromes. Palindromes are poems which can be read in the usual direction…and, they can be read in the reverse as well and that too, with no loss of meaning!”
“Venkathdhvari was a famous Sanskrit poet who wrote the ‘Raghava Yadaviyam’. When you read it straight, it’s Ramayana and while reading in reverse, you enjoy Lord Krishna’s life story!”, Raghavan boasted.
“So? How does it matter to me? What am I to do with this information?”, then leaning forward, Regorca asked, “How will it help me reach your planet?”
“Well read your script in reverse, my friend. That…is your key”
Regorca’s eyes twinkled in anticipation.
Radhika and Raghavan were resting in their bed at home. Radhika’s head was cradled in Raghavan’s arms.
“Raghu I am never going to be curious again. One adventure is enough for me. My curiosity has been well and truly killed”
“But Radhi you have now fuelled my passion”, so saying, Raghavan enveloped her in a bear hug…
Meanwhile, the Earthlings are curious to know the reason for the fast diminishing crystal hauls…