Behind The Black Clouds
— Abhinav Chandel
“What do you think, is tomorrow the D-day?” Jai Singh asked.
Abhaya didn’t answer; he was just looking towards the blood-red horizon. By his calculations, the fourth Pahar of the day was about to end. He wondered why days start getting shorter during the later months of monsoon and why black clouds return every year. He hated the rains as he saw another set of black clouds approaching from the south west skies; it felt as if a storm is brewing up in the sky to accompany the one about to shake the earth. He sipped some more of the alcohol; Jai Singh brought a bottle of it, especially for him.
Jai Singh is right; it’s one of the finest liquors I have ever tasted. He thought.
“They're saying that Seleucus has asked to organize the troops,” Jai Singh whispered into his ears.
“I heard about it, I guess tomorrow is the day then,” Abhay replied.
“And death, with its black veil like these dark clouds, will be again standing to cover those lifeless bodies,” Jai Singh turned philosophical. The liquor was showing its effects as he chewed on a piece of lamb.
Abhaya never liked the smell of cooked flesh, after all these years in the warrior tribes, he had never gotten used to eating meat. There were times when that's all he got to eat, but he never savoured it.
He saw a few cows grazing nearby on the banks of Jhelum, at a stone throw distance from the piece of rock he and Jai Singh were sitting on. Abhaya wondered if those cows were feeling the same anxiety about what was going to happen the next morning.
He picked up his sword and got up to patrol the area. He and Jai Singh were in-charge of that part of the jungle, as it was rumoured that the troops of King Purshottam had lined up on the other side of the river anticipating the oncoming attack.
“Abhaya, I guess you must be aware of these parts of Punjab. After all it’s your land,” Jai Singh questioned.
A memory which was lying dormant in some corner of Abhaya’s mind immediately caused a whirlwind; he closely observed the abandoned Goddess Durga temple on the other side of the river. He remembered that temple; it was his father who bought him there for the first time. And since then he and his younger brother, Aditya, always came there and discussed about various topics from politics to religion to different techniques of seducing women.
20 years ago:
“Mother, I have to leave now. It’s pointless stopping me,” said Abhaya, as he picked up his bundle and proceeded towards the door.
“Please stop him; you’re his father,” his mother pleaded to the father. However, Abhaya had decided to fulfil his wishes. He always wanted to explore new lands; even though, his father wanted him and his younger brother Aditya to join their cloth business.
“No mother, today I am not going to stop. After all, what kind of Kshatriyas are we? We should be out there saving people and fighting battles instead of selling clothes,” Abhaya argued.
The father intervened, “But that’s what our ancestors have been doing from centuries; we can’t just abandon our business. Because of this cloth business, we have our home, our own land and enough money to live lavish life.”
“Yes, a land which has been given to poor farmers who get only 10% of what we earn through that land, even though they have given their life to keep that piece of land fertile. We should be out there fighting for the rights of these farmers, instead of being the ones exploiting them. Why did you name me Abhaya, the fearless, and my younger brother Aditya, the sun, if you had to wrap us in in such luxuries; like this house that you made by tricking the traders?” Abhaya’s eyes grew red with anger.
“Brother, father is right. This is what we have inherited, and this is what we’re supposed to do,” Aditya intervened.
“Then you be the perfect son, and I’ll be what my heart says,” and Abhaya stormed out of the house, leaving a crying mother and fuming father behind. He couldn't believe that Aditya went against him; he was his best friend since childhood. They both took an oath as kids that they would join the army. However, once Abhaya reminded Aditya about the oath, he just laughed it off saying that they were stupid kids.
It had been 15 years since then, Abhaya roamed around for years in the company of traders. He was a great swordsman, and very few could dare to compete with him in the physical attributes. In short, he was a beast who could handle ten men at once. This made him a favourite among the traders, who asked him to come along and thus protect them from the dacoits.
Abhaya had been to the land of Far East. He had seen the great ocean where Ganges ended its journey, and had been as far as Persia in the West during one of his travels. However, one day, the clan of traders finally decided to settle down. Abhaya didn’t like the idea, and that’s when he met Jai Singh.
Abhaya had once defeated Jai Singh in a wrestling match and since then earned an admirer in him. Jai Singh invited him to join the warrior tribes. They didn't belong to any one kingdom, just fought for whoever paid them more money, and they were the free people. Abhaya liked the idea and decided to join Jai Singh’s tribe.
“Abhaya, don’t you miss your brother Aditya,” Jai Singh asked as they strolled on the banks of Jhelum, the 3rd Pahar of the night had started. The sky was full of stars and the moon was creating a magical effect on the calm and icy cold waters of Jhelum.
“I don’t, but that’s because I know that at any moment, I can go back to my home and meet him. It’s just a three-day journey from here. Maybe after this battle, I’ll go and meet him,” Abhaya answered, and Jai Singh smiled. He put his arm around Abhaya's shoulders as they took a view of their surroundings. The area was secured and they had already received the message that the next day is the one.
Abhaya decided that once the battle is over, he would immediately go back to his home. He wanted to meet his brother; it had been 15 years.
“Abhaya, in case I die, just go back to my home and tell my family that I love them the most,” Jai Singh shouted as they galloped towards King Purshottam’s infantry shielding the elephants.
“I think at this moment it’s those elephants that should be scared of you, not the other way around,” Abhaya shouted and they both laughed.
The battle of Hydaspes river had started; Alexander had finally attacked India. The body pieces were lying on the ground as Abhaya and Jai Singh continued surging forward along with their tribe.
“This seems too easy,” Jai Singh shouted as he sliced across the chest of an enemy soldier.
“Yes it might, but their army is ten times the size of ours,” Abhaya replied as he beheaded one more of King Purshottam's army.
“Abhaya watch out...”
Abhaya turned around to see two bloodshot eyes staring at him; the enemy soldier, with a spear in his hands, stayed rooted to his place. His spear didn't move an inch further, as it remained just a finger nail away from piercing Abhaya’s heart.
This couldn’t be possible. It was the first thought that sprang into Abhaya’s mind.
“Brother...”, Abhaya was shocked.
“Brother Abha...”, even before the soldier could have completed his sentence, Jai Singh's sword had finished its business.
Later that night:
Alexander’s troops were celebrating their success as Abhaya continued his walk towards the battle ground along with Jai Singh.
“Abhaya, was that your brother?” Jai Singh asked for the umpteenth time, but Abhaya didn’t reply.
They reached at the spot where the battle took place; Abhaya remembered the green piece of cloth that soldier had tied on his elbow. It was the same cloth that he gave to Aditya before leaving his home; Abhaya was still finding it hard to accept that soldier who almost killed him was Aditya.
After searching for few minutes, he finally found the dead body. The piece of cloth was tied to the right elbow; he lowered himself down and stared at Aditya’s head lying nearby. Aditya’s eyes were still open, but Abhaya wasn’t able to understand the expression in those eyes. Was it the shock of almost killing his own brother or was he happy that after all these years they were together, even if for only 10 seconds?
A cold drop of rainwater fell on Abhaya’s neck as he almost cursed, he hated rains. The thought of clouds covering the sky and the rain spluttering down all the time again crept into his mind. He remembered his conversation with Aditya from their teen years.
“I hate this rainy weather; I am missing the calming presence of the sun,” Abhaya complained as Aditya sat down next to him in the ashram.
“Why do we have so many black clouds after the summers? Why can’t we have the sun for some more time?” Abhaya continued as Aditya smiled at the ignorance of his elder brother.
“Guruji said that as the summer gets over, the earth gets thirstier and therefore, to quench its thirst these clouds come here with the water. He says that we miss the sun only when it’s farthest away from us, behind those black clouds,” Aditya answered to his brother.
Abhaya immediately stood up and looked towards the tents of his own troops; they were dancing around the bonfire while drinking the delicious foreign liquor and chewing the juicy pieces of lamb. The smell of cooked flesh was mingling with the smell of rotting human flesh and creating an unbearable environment for Abhaya. However, he didn't care, as there was something else causing a commotion inside his head.
A tear drop rolled down his cheeks. He closed his eyes as those words repeatedly echoed inside his mind, “We miss the sun only when it's the farthest away from us, behind those black clouds.”