Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 5, Part 2
The initial few kilometers were through hilly tracts of scrubland. Soon the hills gave in to plains. But what plains they were. Stark. Barren. Cracked. Not a leaf of grass was to be found. Far away in the horizon, the fortress stood overlooking the plain. Between the fortress and this ragtag group of 'fighters' rose a cloud of dust from a rapidly advancing army. On the left a dried bed of a lost river curled across the plain - like a cracked, dead skin of a snake. Sitting on top of the tusker, God pointed the region out to Damini. "This is the plain of Hubcenter. That was a river basin as few as fifty years ago. The ancestors of this group lived here for centuries, on this verdant fertile plain, farming paddy. This was one of the centers of population in Aipotu. Now bad agricultural practices, intensive and consistent exploitation of the land has resulted in this. Water intensive cash crops drained the water from the water table. High levels of chemicals were used to increase yield, completely polluting the water. Shrimp farming in fertile lands caused high concentrations of chemicals to seep into the water table. 'Efficient Production Protocols', the scientists of that day called it. I think it was efficient exploitation. Now this is what remains. The land has died." God sighed. Damini looked up to see intense pain in God's eyes. She turned around and hugged the wise old man that she had begun to love. God smiled at this display of affection.
They proceeded quietly. The stark ambience had affected the usual talkative disposition of the party. Suddenly God raised his hand and the group stopped. They were approximately at the center of the plain. The opposite army was now closing and they could discern various formations in the group. Heavy machinery rolled along. Various kinds of flying equipment very different from planes or helicopters that Damini recognized hovered along the advancing front. Suddenly a group of flying objects broke away from the main group and flew towards this rebel group. Each of the flying objects had a central sphere, which was about as large as a small car. Around the central sphere were circling rings that gave off a strange light. As this group of flying objects approached, the group let out of shriek of fear and huddled around the tusker, afraid. Only Rana and Ritu stood with in front of the elephant defiantly. Rana had managed to find himself a weapon of some sort and pointing it at one of the objects emptied a few rounds of ammunition. The shorts rang out like electric crackles. They seemed to hit one of the objects but did not affect it. The squadron of flying objects flew low over the group, as if gauging the opposition. The last object flew especially low and as it passed the group shot at Rana. Rana's weapon rattled to the ground and he just vaporized. There was absolutely nothing left where Rana was standing only a few seconds ago. Ritu shrieked and ran towards where her father had been standing. She stood quietly, then picked up the weapon and began to point it at the objects. Now the objects had flown up higher and were hovering like vultures over the rebel group.
God called out to Ritu and asked her to drop that weapon. Ritu stared at God defiantly, but eventually dropped it. God raised his staff and mumbled something. Immediately a shimmering, transparent bubble formed around the rebels. The squadron chose this moment to dive towards the group shooting streaks of fire. The streaks bounced off the walls of the bubble. God sighed, raised his staff and pointed it at one of those objects. "These 'pankhees' are the least potent of their weapons", he said quietly. "Pankhees - that was what these sinister looking objects were called", Damini thought to herself. The staff crackled and a blue light streaked across. One of the Pankhees exploded. Soon the sky was lit up as the Pankhees exploded one after the other like fireworks. The group of rebels cheered and clapped.
Before the cheers had died down a large something rose from the army of machinery. It rose to about hundred feet in the air and advanced slowly towards the group. "Don't worry", God hissed from within his beard, "the bubble will keep us safe". This monster flying ship was as big as a city. It was surrounded by a number of smaller vessels. They kept shooting the bubble. There was some movement behind her and she saw God was standing on the back of the tusker. He thrust the staff at Damini. "Keep this", he whispered. As Damini grasped the cylindrical wood of the staff, God spread his hands and began to rise, slowly, into the air. He rose through the bubble. The transparent wall lit up as he passed through. The vessels were now shooting at God. Suddenly intense light shot out from God in all directions. There was series of blinding flash and loud noises. Damini and the group of rebels covered their eyes to shield themselves from the intense brightness. It was brighter than a thousand suns. And then everything became normal again. The mother-ship and the other vessels were falling out of the sky. They fell all around the bubble - flaming streaks lighting up the sky like meteor showers. God descended back into the bubble.
But before the army could react to this brilliant destruction, a wall of fire sprang up along the periphery of the plains, enclosing the mechanized army completely. The enemy was clearly startled for nothing happened for the next few minutes. Subsequently, the well-ordered ranks of mechanized equipment went into disarray. A few tried to ride through the wall but were completely vaporized. Suddenly, all kinds of flying vessels took to the air. Clearly, they were trying to escape the wall of fire that had now begun to advance towards the center of the plain. God pointed his staff to the sky and a silver blue streak shot out. It reached a certain height and then as if colliding on to a flat wall it caused a bright silver blue wave of energy to streak outward. The destructive ring of energy shot out from the center and eventually collapsed into the firewall. When the crackling had ended, there were no vessels left in the sky.
God's voice rang out, echoing off the firewall. "Commanders of Opprasia, surrender or you will be destroyed." Suddenly, narrow slits opened up in the firewall. "Soldiers of Opprasia, you may get out of your vessels, disarm yourself and leave through the firewall. In a short while, all military vessels and equipment on this plain will be destroyed." The vessels opened up and thousands of soldiers ran towards the small doors in the wall. Those who tried to sneak weapons out were vaporized as they passed through the firewall. Another blue wave of light shot out like a growing ring, vaporizing all military vessels in its wake. Finally, it reached the firewall and collapsed. The plain was now an empty barren land again. The firewall collapsed. The group of rebels could now see shimmering spheres in a distance. The soldiers were all prisoners in these spheres. The shimmering bubble collapsed.
The rebels let out a cheer of joy. They shouted and sang, praising Sardar. The war was over. Years of oppression had ended. As the rebels marched towards the fortress now, with the tusker bringing up the rear, it was clear that Ritu had taken charge of this group. She was giving out instructions, making plans. The rebels would occupy the fortress. Some of the enemy would be allowed to stay to perform tasks and carry out orders. But, most of the people would be driven out to the plains. They would have to revive the plains, make it fertile again. After all they had destroyed the plains with their exploitation, she argued. It was also noticeable that the decision making within the group had become less democratic. God sat behind Damini on the tusker, not uttering a word. Damini looked up to see God staring blankly towards the horizon, with tears rolling down his cheeks.
Quietly, he whispered to Damini, "Our job is done. We should leave now." He patted the tuskers back and whispered something. The tusker trumpeted loudly. The rebel group turned around. They had already forgotten their "Sardar". "Friends", God said quietly, "I will take your leave now. Go and live peacefully. Do not be oppressive." Ritu replied, "Sardar, how can we thank you for your help? Come and visit us soon. You will always be welcome. We will live peacefully. We know the effects of oppression and we do not plan to walk down that path."
God waved his hand and then patted the tusker. He turned left and Damini and God left the rebels. They walked across the plain quietly. God clearly was thinking about something and Damini did not want to distract him. After sometime, they reached small hills with desert like scrubland. God finally broke the silence. "Decades ago, the predecessors of Ritu ruled the land and were oppressive. I helped the farmers and the marginalized groups overthrow the rulers and hoped that they would live peacefully. For a few years, they did. They were benevolent rulers. But then they became oppressive. Power does that. Now the wheel has turned." He paused, and then continued, "I am afraid, it will turn again. You see how the dynamics within the group has changed. I can see another oppressive regime. Nothing changes. Every revolution changes the oppressor. Oppression does not die. My involvement will change nothing. See!"
Damini sat listening. God was right. He had brought relief to the oppressed. But the signs for another oppressive regime were already manifesting themselves. Very soon, Ritu and her clan would oppress those who were defeated. The solution - if there was one - had to involve evolution of the civilization to a level of greater maturity. Else every revolution will only change the oppressors. She wrinkled her forehead, thinking hard. Would there ever be an end to this cycle of oppression?
God looked at Damini and smiled affectionately. "Don't be discouraged by the magnitude of the problem, nor by the failures that pave this path. These changes are slow. The civilization has matured. Overt slavery has ended - that is a good sign. There are others who are also working for equality and justice. Very often, the victories you seek will not come in your lifetime. But remember that you still need to keep working, fighting for a just world. For even if you think you fail, you are building a platform from which your future generations have a better chance to renegotiate."
Damini smiled at God's encouragement. Yet, she sat somberly, playing with this thought and then that. Her mind soon began to wander. Suddenly, with a sense of triumphant understanding, she asked, "So it is true that you are only one God and all of us on Earth actually perceive the various manifestations of you?" God laughed and then answered patiently, "As Ollie told you, Aipotu is the world of your imagination. In Aipotu you explore your beliefs. What you see here is what you believe. If someone believed that God was a woman, she might have seen to be a woman. If an atheist stumbled into Aipotu, he may not even see this garden. Since you live in a religiously pluralistic community that tolerates various forms of a God, you see all my manifestations and me. I am what you believe, what you make of me."
"Oh", said Damini, rather crestfallen, "I see you only as I think you would be." For a moment she had hoped that she had seen God.
God replied, "Do not be crestfallen. As Gandhi said, God is Truth. And you have begun your search for your truth. And speaking of journeys, our journey together will soon end. At the end of this forest, we will part ways."
Damini looked up startled. Lost in her thoughts, she had not noticed that the scrubland had now become a dense forest. She became sad. She was enjoying God's company and now their journey together would end. Noticing her sadness, God said, "You will find other interesting people, Damini, who will teach you and help you sort out your own thoughts. So go happily and look forward to your journeys on Aipotu."
Soon they reached the edge of the forest. A grassland with very few trees stretched out in front of them. God patted the tusker and it kneeled down. Damini suddenly found emotions welling up inside her and she turned around and embraced the wise old man. After a short while, she let go, and jumped down the tuskers back. She rubbed the tuskers belly and the tusker swung its trunk and caressed her head. Damini looked up, waved at God and then without looking back, walked away from the two of them towards the barren land.