Year 2050, Germany

Run, Chaani! Run!”, the words reverberate in his ears. “Don’t look back. They can never catch us.” Though her injured ankle is hurting and refuses to proceed yet Chaani keeps running. The thunderous night, the swollen river, the gushing waters and the man following scares her but she knows she has to. And then suddenly the arrow strikes her back. Thud! Chaani falls on the ground. Blood oozes out from her back like a spring, getting mixed with the heavy downpour. And a wounded Sarman carefully takes her up in his arms, as she lies unconscious…

“Sarman…!” Perspiration covers his face, as he jerks upon his bed, and his scary eyes try not to ponder on the dream. It is the 7th time that Lazarus is haunted by the dream. Every full moon night, he lives the dream and today was no less. “I need to find an answer, this time.” Murmuring, Lazarus steps towards the window panes. The dark starry night, the faint streak of light emanating from his outhouse is inviting him. Without losing a second,  Lazarus scampers towards the outhouse in his night robe.

~~~~~~~

The machine was left in a running condition by Lazarus after he fixed it last night. This is the Time Machine, made by his grandfather, Waldorf Dietrich, in the ’80s. But owing to lack of funds and Waldorf’s inability to convince the powerful men, this machine never saw the light of the day. But Lazarus, the adopted heir of the Dietrich family always felt fascinated and inclined to reconstruct the machine. 

Lazarus along with his Turkish parents were tenants at Mr Waldorf’s place. Owing to his parent’s death in a plane crash, Lazarus was reared by the heirless Waldorf as his own grandson. An archaeologist by profession, he periodically funded and tried to complete the time machine. It was the haunting dream of Lazarus that forced him to do so; he wanted to know the past that he regularly visualized.

He returns back to his room and scours every corner of his wardrobe. Scrutinizing the drawers and chests carefully, Lazarus finally, packs a few important possessions of his, like his lucky Golden coin and a compass. Removing his night robe, dressing in casuals, he hurries to the outhouse.

 Ultimately, he was feeling proud and excited to dominate the driver’s seat for the most exhilarating experience of his lifetime. Igniting the engine, and flushing behind a cloud of smoke, Lazarus makes his way for a new world… a lost world that once existed but got erased leaving behind numerous traces of identification.

~~~~~~~ 

2200 BCE, Somewhere around Sindh

The time machine after hovering over the Arabian Sea, a few times finally lands itself on the Indus soil, on a deserted area, amidst the densely packed green foliage. Lazarus checks his watch, still a few hours left to dawn. The dark, sleepy night feels peaceful. The stridulating noise of the crickets, the whispering of the woods, the mistiness of the sea breeze, the silence of the starlit night, everything seems to talk. He feels a strange attachment to the soil; as he takes a 360-degree look at the surrounding, a queer feeling erupts inside his heart. The unknown land suddenly transforms itself into a long known familiar cosy home. 

Uncovering his compass, Lazarus checks the alignment of the site. Everything is according to the map but still, he can’t locate a soul. “It’s 3.45 in the morning… I must not expect people to be awake now.” He laughs at his own thoughts. With excitement to unravel the mysteries building in his heart, Lazarus walks with fast paces, eventually finding his way out of the forest. As his vision cleared, he sees beyond the greenery and is astounded to see the reality. 

He is standing in the middle of a long lost civilization. In front of his eyes, he is witnessing a new world. The World that was lost miraculously, leaving behind a legacy of urbanism, and development. He has now finally reached the Indus Valley Civilisation that will in the coming days give shape to his haunting dream.

“Sarman, Sarman!” His ears caught those familiar words as it wafted in the breeze. 

Lazarus turns to check the voice.

“Sarman! Where have you been? Your mother has been panicking for the past two months. We thought they must have caught and trapped you.” Said the voice as it gradually approached him.

Though the person was speaking to him yet his eyes were staring at the outlandish attire of Lazarus, bewildered he speaks. 

“What are you wearing? Who gave you this?” 

Apprehensive of telling the truth, Lazarus chose to remain silent. He was speculating the fashion of the man before him. He was wearing a skirt like a thing, could be an older version of dhoti, the material looked like cotton; the centre of which was neatly tucked behind. He had left his right shoulder and part of his chest bare while a stole adorned his left shoulder. And a copper pot shining in his hand.

“Must be a priest…” thought Lazarus.

“The people and your parents will be so happy to see you again. We had lost all hopes. But thankfully you are alive.” He repeated and hurried to the citadel. 

Once there, he started hitting the gongs. The crashing sound of the tam-tam was enough to arouse the inhabitants. Eventually curbing the black night, the first streak of dawn peeps along the eastern edge. The sudden loud noise compels the sleepy souls to peep out of their establishments. Soon one after another, people start gathering around Lazarus at the citadel. Cheerful faces wave at him.

“Sarman! When did you come? Where were you?” Numerous voices, innumerable queries.

Within moments, Sarman is wrapped in the warmth of his mother’s arms. An old fragile lady, decked in a knee-length skirt, dazzling with heavy accessories.  Her love and kisses were distributed all over his face. “I knew you would be safe.” 

“What could happen to me? I am a warrior.” The words seemed to flow effortlessly from Sarman’s throat.

“But where were you?” Enquired his mother, Laashi.

“I was lost in the jungle and while returning one of those man-eaters attacked me. I suffered deep injury. In fact, I would have died if the locals wouldn’t have reached on time and rescued me. I was under their supervision for the past two months. Every time I tried to embark on my voyage, my feet dwindled and my heart trembled.” 

“God sent those great souls. They gave life to my son.” Laments Laashi.

“Now I will not let you leave me and go elsewhere.” She protested with a stern glance towards her husband.

~~~~~~

Shortly, within a few days, Lazarus realised he was the lost hope of the Harappans. The dream that stalked him in his sleep originated here, in this divine land.

” So I am Sarman, the lost heir of this soil. But that girl… who’s she? I must go, find and meet her. How does she look? Why did she got killed? I need to know the answers before I return to Germany.” He wondered. His perplexed mind blended with various curious queries. 

The next few days passed as Sarman surveyed his land closely. He was going to be declared the next man in power who will represent the Harappans. The lively, prosperous brimming land of Harappa was situated in the upstream of the Indus river. As he kept discovering the unknown land he learnt the treasures that it held. The flourishing agriculture, the trade activities, the cultivation of cotton and rearing of wool, pottery, seals, inscriptions; to sum up, this region was the gold mine of art and architecture.

Sarman was living a life that he had always experienced in his dream. He was trying to adapt himself to this new phase of life and was reluctant to return back to his fast life. He was enjoying the role of a warrior. 

One day, while strolling along the corridor, Sarman overhears the boiling conversation between his parents. He could easily guess that his father was proposing to send him for some war while his mother was strongly defending it.

“No… he won’t visit there.” Remarked Laashi, strictly.

“I know you are worried. But he is our only hope. He can fight the barbarians and prohibit their invasion. Even the warriors from Mohenjo Daro are also with us. Our friendly ties will certainly help banish those invaders from our land…” replied Sarman’s father, Maham.

“But… what if destiny isn’t by his side this time? Last time he went on the hunting spree and returned after two months. We all lost hope and to add to that, the news about the valiant group was spreading like wildfire. No…I don’t agree…” she replied arrogantly.

“But…” Maham’s words were interrupted by the sudden admission of Sarman in the room. 

“Where do I need to go? And what do I  need to do father?” He asked with an empathetic look.

“You will be assisted with the best fighters from our land and also the best warriors from our neighbouring city, Mohenjo Daro. You will have to fight and resist the invading brutes, those white ghosts.” Claimed Maham.

“You mean, war?” He enquired but his words reflected a touch of persuasion. His gesture ignited an unknown fear in his mother’s heart.

Sitting close to Sarman, and replacing his hands in hers, Laashi speaks in a restrained tone, “You need not bother. Your father and his men will solve it out. You enjoy here.”

Smelling his mother’s agony, Sarman replied pragmatically, “Mother, I am the leader. And I will lead and return victorious.” After a brief pause, he continues, “Mother, this is my land, my people, my family. They need me. You named me Sarman, which denotes delight. They need my shelter, my protection. So no one can harm them. I will return victorious. And Harappa will never see any war again.” The words kept flowing unintentionally. He felt as if the words were bound to be said.

With his minimum knowledge of various warfare techniques, Sarman trained his group. They under his guidance also sharpened and prepared a few new tools and weapons.

These two cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro never fought any battle in the past, but this time they were in a critical situation. The barbarians already invaded their lands, capturing their trade centres, destroying their cleverly built economic structures. These invaders were trying their best to capture the flourishing pastures and ruin the prevailing peace and harmony. 

These trained brutal groups were though successful in brainwashing few local powers and with their assistance they sneaked into the cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. These foreigners, disguised as spies burrowed out the inner weaknesses and internal quarrels and ties. They learnt that the main river Indus is the source of life for these two important cities. So their aim was to gain the confidence of any one city and the rest will happen automatically. Their strategy was to break the unity and belief of these civilians. 

But after repeated attempts, they failed to destroy, the unison and so the war was inevitable.

~~~~~

“Sarman, let’s spend the night here. I can’t continue further and even our men must be exhausted too.” Chaani lamented.

“But it’s already pouring and our destination is afar. Let us continue for some more time.” Defied Sarman.

Continuing their journey for some more time, finally, they reached the destined place. It was the underground hideout of the Indus people. They ducked themselves into a tunnel that gradually led them to a cave which finally opens somewhere near the Sutlej river. 

“This is a secure hideout for us. No one can trace us. Tomorrow morning when the rest of our men reach, we will hoist the battle song.” Chaani speaks, encouragingly.

Chaani is one of the warriors from Mohenjodaro. She is a fighter well versed in self-defence. Sarman, Chaani and few of their men are spending the night in that cave, waiting for the rest of the team to join them. Once they are all together they would wage war against these barbarians.

“But why do we need to wage war?” Enquired Sarman.

“Will you let your soil be captured and dominated by the foreigners?” She replied sternly.

” Can’t it be settled otherwise?”

” Yes, we tried that method. They first approached your father and asked him to create dams on Saraswati and the Indus river. This would reduce the water supply for us because we stay downstream. But thankfully your father denied as we share friendly relations. But then they began to play foul games with both of us. They captured our trade centres, threatened few traders and merchants not to deal with us. When these ruthless people failed to cut off the hydrological supply they tried to curb our economic front. They sent spies to our places, who did a recce of our areas, treasures…”

Interrupting Chaani, Sarman asks, “Is there any traitor amongst our people? I mean any vindictive approach by anyone?”

“Could be… but a silent one.”

“Are the barbarians aware of this battle?”

“Message has been sent. We are counting hours. This will be our first battle ever in this life. Never before the Indus people were ever required to wage a war. But now we have to, to save ourselves.” Chaani, replied with a daring attitude.

The night in that cave seemed like a long, dark fateful night. Sarman is no more Lazarus now. He has shaped himself as one of those ancient men. His attire, his thoughts, his dreams are concerned only about the well being of his people. He almost forgot about his return. 

Dawn saw the arrival of many more men. It was their strategy, that they will reach the battleground as separate teams. The dense forest is an obstruction for Sarman but he is well guided by the expert mind of Chaani.

~~~~~~

The battle between the barbarians and the Indus people lasted for 7 days. The Harappans were equipped with copper and bronze weapons like bows and arrows, sling, dagger. But these weapons weren’t war materials. Yet the guerilla techniques that Sarman knew helped them defend themselves to quite an extent. To add to the miseries, the deluge since the fifth day caused flash floods. The swollen river, the stormy winds and the trained men on the other side wreaked havoc. 

The thunderstorms were gradually building up. Heaven was pouring relentlessly. Because of the undulating terrain, it was further difficult for Sarman and his troupe to proceed.

“We have lost almost all our men. And we cannot move further. Even if we hide in the nearby cave, they may hunt us down and our tools are not as polished as theirs.” Sarman grieved. 

“But neither we will hide nor will we give up. With these weapons, we will fight. If we have to die we will die. But never retreat. They lost their men too. So we have still chances left ” Defied Chaani strongly.

Her powerful words ignited the receding spirit of Sarman, re-establishing his enthusiasm. 

With determination in their minds and courage in their hearts, they attacked the whites again. This time their inner will and their focus won. They put up a strong fight but at the end, Chaani and Sarman were both wounded. Chaani suffered a twisted ankle while Sarman was stabbed on his left arm.

“Run…Chaani! Run! Don’t look back. They can never catch us.” Sarman utters as he recovers himself from the ground. His dream sequence is repeating itself. He knew the ending. And terrified is he. They were being chased. Time was running out. Aiming his dagger at the last man, he threw it. But before the dagger hits the man, he had already released his arrow. The arrow hits Chaani. Thud! She collapses on the ground. Blood oozes out from her back and the rainwater turns red. He runs in to save his warrior friend.

The cries from the distance attract his attention. Sarman turns to check. The dagger had hit the man and he lay on the ground, bleeding. Carefully picking Chaani in his arms, Sarman runs for shelter. The inaccessible terrain, the fear of hostile creatures amidst the forests and lack of conveyance didn’t allow Sarman to return. With the help of a few locals and their medical assistance, he helps Chaani survive for two days. But by the end of the second day, Chaani breathed her last. Distressed and disheartened, Sarman returns to his land. The war ended with none winning but the death of Chaani left him devastated. 

Few days post his return, a melancholic Sarman is sitting in his room and stares at the gleaming full moon. Dilemma shrouds his mind and he feels uncomfortable. “Should I or should I not? But if I return what will happen to these innocent people? They will be ruined.” Indecisive he preferred to perform his casual act. The act of tossing the coin in tricky situations. The toss that he always relied on when his heart and mind battled each other. 

And he flips it. Before his lucky golden coin touches the ground he grabs it. “Heads I return.” He thought. He wanted to return but his heart ached with that thought. He felt invisible shackles enclosing his feet. His world darkened as he thought of leaving Indus. So quickly, replacing his palm, he checks the coin.

“Yes.” Happy is he and his eyes glow. His excited heart, throbs. His plans of returning to his country are nowhere in his mind. He now promises himself to avenge these nasty men and save his soil and people from their treacherous hands. As he decides to stay back the shining face of his courageous friend, Chaani flashes in front of his eyes.

And thereby Lazarus dies and Sarman breathes a new life. Thus the time machine never sees daylight again.

***

Photo By: Prasanth Dasari

***

This is an entry from team viibrant quillers of ArttrA-3 – A Game of  Writers, co-sponsored by Diners Club International.

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Thanks for reading.

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