MALABAR AFLAME : Lesson 1 – (Karoor Soman)


1. Born again

1945. War is over. The City of London is basking under
a blistering sun over a vast meadow of ruins, the spoils
a prolonged war. Blossoms of red lilac fail to smile at the
morning mist. No more scary bombers from the Fuhrer’s
Luftwaffe. Winds wafting the smell of sulfur have gone.
Military vehicles and cavalry that often crammed the roads
are seldom found. Nature is trying to forget everything for a
new dawn, a new beginning.
Antony could not. He remembered his wife and children
left in his native land of India. The news of the acute scarcity
of rice there depressed him. Medicines and kerosene too are
also in short supply. He has no idea what to do. He longs to
leave London somehow and return to his home and hearth
and be near to his wife and children, and help them to eke out
a living during the painful post war times.
He remembered the day when he stood in front of the
remains of the Cathedral burnt down a few weeks back.
When he reached there, he made the sign of the cross
on his forehead. Then the siren blared as if it were an
acknowledgement from the Heavens. Antony was walking
the warfront for the first time. He was not bothered who
did fight against whom. He only knew that it was a German
bomber which appeared from nowhere that saved him from the rifle butt of a British soldier. Antony spent that night in
a bunker with the headless corpse of an Englishman beside

That day…enemy planes lit the sky like the fireworks of
Thrissur Pooram (a fabled annual festival of a Hindu temple
in Central Kerala, India) that he had seen in his younger days.
Bombs and bullets rained on the earth. He closed his eyes
tight but he could feel the flashing of the bombardment
around. He plugged his ears with his thumbs and escape the
fury of the inferno. He felt God had abandoned him just as
he had abandoned London. The city was burning like hell.
He saw the dome of the Cathedral in front of which he
prayed for almost a hour tumbling down because of the
bombing. Sitting in the trench, he whimpered in acute horror.
There were no birds perched on the trees around as they had
all flown away in terror. He saw only trunks of pine trees that
bordered the Cathedral remain. Animals scattered here and
there cried out in hunger as they had not a blade of grass to
eat. Dogs barked, horses neighed, pigeons purred in despair
Humans and animals dropped dead like worms. The stink of
burnt raw flesh filled the air everywhere.ns in its acme.
At the last lap of the night when it seemed as if all ended
Antony came out of the dungeon leaving the soldier’s torso
behind. There was blood all over his body. Bruises did not
pain him. He stood there frozen with fear. Above him the
black sky hovered like a dome of doom.

Having escaped, he consoled himself. A war begun will
have to end. Where the demolished buildings stood, other
structures will come up. In place of the lost souls, new lives
will sprout. Martyrs should be remembered but the survivors
need to be nursed back to life. Their lost dwelling s are to
be rebuilt. Civic amenities like water and power have to be
restored. That is what he has to do as part of the massive
reconstruction endeavour.
Peter Scot, his boss, was fully engaged in the restoration
of London to its past glory. Peter belongs to a noble family. A
large stock of horses he has. A majority of the horses in the
British cavalry belong to Peter. Trading in horses and waging
in horse races are his obsessions. All horse races in Europe
will have Peter’s horses. He throws big parties to celebrate
the victory of his horses. He invites the rich and the beautiful
for his celebrations. His workers will have the share of the
crumbs. After all he is a large hearted man.
In the golden twinkle of the illuminated nights beautiful
female singers in glossy outfits will mesmerize the audience.
On such occasions, the boss allows all invitees to don their
own national dress. Antony opens his large metal trunk and
picks up a white dhoti and jhuba that he wore at the time
of his marriage with Mary. He wears them on every Sunday
when he goes for the Holy Mass. That was the only native
dress that he carried with him when he boarded the ship from
Cochin that brought him to Southampton a few months
back. Then he was brought to London to be part of Peter
Scot’s workforce for his race horse enterprise.

Antony remembered one such party which was attended
by the well known Indian, V. K Krishna Menon from his own
native state of Kerala. Menon approached the white dhotiand jhuba-clad Antony and asked: “Malayali?.” (Malayalam speaking people of the State of Travancore at that time).
Where do you come from? I am Krishna Menon from British
Malabar, from the district of Palakkad.” While they were
exchanging pleasantries, Peter Scot came to their midst with
pipe on his mouth. A pleasing face. Aged about 50. Long
golden hair and a snow-white thick moustache.
Peter explained to Menon how he happened to bring
Antony to London. Dreaded by war, many of the Irish
workers he had in his stable had fled to their native land. Peter
had heard that in the First World War thousands of Indians
had become martyrs fighting for Britain. So he could also
try to bring some Indian workers to England. His younger
brother William Scot was the chief of the British Navy in
Cochin. Peter sent a wireless message to William to locate
and dispatch two smart soldiers for him. In the next ship,
William promptly sent two—Antony and Abdulla..
Ali Abdulla stood at a distance looking at the bare
bosomed ladies of the evening.. Fair-complexioned like a
Briton, he was a hefty six-footer. His father Abdullah was
a butcher. He slaughtered animals for the British Army in
Kashmir. With the help of the army chief, Ali got a job in the
British India’s cavalry. Soon he was relocated to Kochi.
Initially, looking after the horses was his duty. Then he
was put in charge of taking stock of the soldiers’ uniforms
and weapons. He was a bona fide servant of the British. A
kind of supplicant who was too willing to call every Briton
‘Sir’. That obviously pleased them.
In London also, Antony did not change his manners. He
did not feel wrong about the habit which he had developed
in Cochin. With the backwaters fringed with Chinese nets,
Cochin was a fascination for him. What a time it was! Cochin
was then the Queen of the Arabian Sea. He still has memories
of the Portuguese red wine he tasted at Mattanchery. He gave
‘kalana’ (quarter of an ‘ana’, 16 ana a British Rupee} for that.
When on a high Antony had shouted `jai’ for William Scot,
Ali told him later. But William Scot knew it already.
Red wine took away some of the pains of sea sickness on
board. The pines on London roadsides kindled his memories
He feels like breaking down. It is Ali who consoles him.
Antony tried to forget everything. But horrible thoughts
crawled up to his memory.
Power-crazy people unleash wars like unbridled galloping
horses and beckon the poor to the graveyard. Each war
creates bloody rivers and builds tombs for martyrs. Poor
people remain dazed. People who were dismayed by
witnessing victories and defeats for ages, say that fighting is
for truth and justice. Then they coalesce with dishonesty and
injustice. Men without goodness in their hearts.

Which are noble in the universe? The deep sea or the
infinite sky? Or the bloody battle for power?Why do the
sheep grazing on the green climb up the hills? Why do they
loiter without the shepherd? Is it not because there is no
shepherd to take care of them? Didn’t King David save the
lambs from the mouth of the lion? No more are there any
good shepherds among both animals and humans? There is
no feeling of protection for men. Fear grips all. What else are
all these but signs of imminent misfortunes? Humans who
are expected to turn arsenals into granaries wander aimlessly.Someone is hammering the earth to split it. Who is that
blacksmith? Where is his workshop?

When the stray thoughts vanished, Antony realized that
he was standing at the desolate street. He walked ahead. The
trees fringing the street dragged his mind to the previous
nights… Nights during which life and death put the noose
tight around his neck, nights as and when the sirens blared
he left his bed to take shelter under the shade of the trees.
Sleepless nights when the cries of frightened babies
frightened him. With a war, man’s greed grows like the sea.
When man gets accustomed to blood, he loses his aversion
to it and it then becomes an obsession to see and enjoy rivers
of blood. The ocean or the earth do not scare at the sight of
falling bombs.
Those who cause human to sigh on the soil of the
graveyard are showing the style of people living and enjoying
themselves in the comforts of the palace. That is the frenzy
to hurt others when power haunts their head. Is the Word of
God true? You build, I demolish. Still Nature is reborn.
The basket in his hand slipped from his hand reminding
him of his job. Others waited for Antony who went to
collect bricks. He felt someone was calling from a distance.
His mind became a mess. A deluge in the brain. Who called?
Anyone from these bricks? Do these bricks open their eyes
and stare at me? Are the souls of those who lost their lives
standing around me and mocking? Why did the pigeons
which flew away come back? He stared at them. Fat birds
with strange shapes and eagle-eyed. Their piercing looks
hack the body. Blood boils in those eyes. Will all of them
fly together towards me and hurt me? Are they murmuring
to protest against me to deter me from touching the bricks?
You can’t hurt me like an eagle. You are creatures who spread
peace and tranquility.
Your mutual affection is an example for human to follow.
Please don’t hurt me. I too want peace. Just as you are flying
in search of food, I too have come here for food. I have not
killed anyone. I am a human being. I am not a lion or tiger to
kill other human. I have no right to injure or kill them. I never
knew that so many bombs would be dropped in this country
on which the sun never sets. True. Had I known it I would
never have come here. I have come here to lead a good life.
Please go away from the heap of bricks.

Someone called fondly from afar. He hollered back, “Yes,
coming.’’ When he carried the first brick, it shook a little in
his hand. Are they not blood-stained? There was anxiety on
his face. Despair on the part of Nature. Over the sky rain
clouds, like women in labour with bulging bellies, waited for
the order of the king of clouds to rain down.
An Irishman came near him with a basket. Antony loaded
it with bricks and placed it on to his head which he carried
off. Antony looked with anguish at the bricks. How many
noblemen’s blood might these bricks have sucked? He
hesitated to pick the bricks. I came here to escape from the
clutches of hunger and deprivation and to lead a contented
life. I should not allow myself to be lazy or lousy. I came here
not to be frightened by corpses or graves.

Fear won’t take me to my destination. Disappointment
and depression are natural. The desires of big cities are like those of greedy people. Their wishes, principles, pleasures
– these are never-ending. They are unaware of impending
calamities. Can’t one see the plight of a nation that suppressed
many a nation and ruled over them? Didn’t you too come to
rebuild this nation? He pulled out an iron piece. It looked like
the stump of a thorny fence.
His work was over, he went in search of Ali. Antony was
not at all attracted by the array of the charming night hunters
on the streets after the war. He walked along the Thames
looking for Ali. Meandering down to Cochin, the river led
him to the acid taste of the red wine on the Mattanchery
streets. The path lay stretching up to Wales – like the road to
a new dawn.

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