Now Milkha, the patriot-apparition finally gets something interesting to do. He is no longer worried about the overwhelming changes in everything he comes accross in the city. He is not in a hurry to go back to his cave to resume his life as a ghost. He'll help people in distress in his preternatural way. Read on, here's the last installment of the story.
As the shadow of despondency swept the troupe, Milkha took it upon
himself to prevent the impending fiasco. In a way, the disappearance of Mihir
threw a golden opportunity before Milkha to realise the dream of his life. Yes!
The spectral being had a dream—and a nagging dream at that! With no loss of
time he transformed himself into Mihir’s appearance. Milkha had had no occasion
to see Mihir anytime in the past. Nevertheless, for a ghost with exalted sense
of patriotism, it was not very hard a job to morph into any form—seen or
Everybody in the troupe
was happy to see Mihir back. None could get a scent of the trick Milkha was
then up to, as he was eminently suited to his new role. The director was both
angry and happy at the same time.
‘How can you...you...my donkey...how can you make it? Time is
running out...my god, how can you make it?’ the director fumbled for words
effective enough to reprimand and at the same time encourage the neglectful
‘I promise my
mentor...I promise...I promise my guide...I’ll not leave any scope for your
embarrassment,’ the spectral imposter tried to assure the director. His
implicit parody was more than evident that made the director chuckle.
‘Let the show
get over, I’ll kill you to death,’ the director hinted Mihir that he was going
to sodomise him for all the tension he had perpetrated on him.
The play would be staged in
five short hours. The actors should proceed to the green room at least two
hours in advance. So, where was the time for Milkha alias Mihir to go through
the rehearsal? Now a full course of it was out of question since the rest of
the actors who had already done their bits were just not willing to repeat them
for the fear of muddling things up. Anyhow, the director took the help of the
spot-boys and went ahead. To his amazement, he found Mihir superbly fluent and
bereft of any jitters. As if he was imitating certain live character. There was
no slip of his tongue, and his dialogue delivery was only too perfect. The
fellow did not even wait to catch the prompting near him to recall his words!
All the fear of the director was allayed. He was cheering the actor at regular
intervals, pause-by-pause, and delivery-by-delivery. He had no doubt that the
show was going to register a success—a thundering success.
The play began at the
appointed time, 7:30 p.m. sharp, amidst capacity crowd. The show was organised
in the Netaji Stadium to be enacted on an open-air stage. With minimum of
introductory music, the play started.
The playwright, it
appeared, had hastily cobbled together scenes and sequences that did not
necessarily keep in mind the temperament of the modern audience. It had no
frill of necessary humour; it was a tragedy, a tearjerker in that sense.
Nevertheless, the storyline had its moments of histrionics—alien’s barbaric
treatment for the violence, the accumulation of anger for building of the plot,
the conspiracy and the killing of the villain for the climax, and finally the
backlash and the parting tragedy.
Just a few scenes
hurried through the introduction of the characters and the play briskly
gathered the pace. As the plot thickened, it plodded its way to a flat top to
show the nitty-gritty of the barbaric treatment of the deportees. More and more
it became evident that the playwright had lost his grip. Now it was a challenge
before the artists to turn a crudely written drama into a well-enacted play.
There were standard performances from everybody. But the two artists who
outperformed the others were in the roles of Viceroy, Lord Mayo and Sher Ali.
The effect of Viceroy Mayo could not be long lasting on the audience, as the
same was very brief. But Milkha played the role of Sher Ali with matchless
élan, moving in tandem with the spectators and claiming their approbations on
the way. There was ecstasy among the spectators when Sher Ali stabbed Lord
Mayo, the symbol of exploitation. Milkha in the role of Sher Ali was also
ecstatic. He overacted on the stage exceeding his brief. In a fit of
jubilation, he laughed and laughed creating a crescendo that reverberated
through the atmosphere right into the depth of the Bay of
Bengal. It appeared as though the original soundtrack of Gabbar
Singh’s laugh in the movie “Sholay” was being played at the background boosting
its pitch and volume by a thousand times. The sense of xenophobic derision
behind the momentous laughter of Milkha on the stage touched the audience, and
they all joined him in their bid to express their solidarity with the patriot.
The whole of Port Blair resonated from corner to corner. Initially perturbed at
the wayward performance of the artist, the director of the play began to
realise the magic. He also started to chortle with delight.
the tragic end of Sher Ali. When the trial of the accused-murderer took place,
Milkha in the role of Sher Ali went on replying to all the questions the
prosecutor put to him, bluntly and derisively. There were lines in his reply
that even the playwright did not provide. There were cadences in his tone that even
the director did not teach. He held his head high in pride and satisfaction of
achieving something good, something great, and something that would have
required him to take birth again and again to accomplish. He was literally
wearing a halo, awe-inspiring and majestic.
Prosecutor: Who else was with you when
you killed his Excellency?
Sher Ali: Nobody, er, God, the great.
Prosecutor: Why did you kill?
Sher Ali: By the order of God.
Prosecutor: Did you do the crime?
Sher Ali: God knows.
Prosecutor: Do you know you’ll be hanged?
Sher Ali: Kill me? Do you know
I’m dead? And you want to kill a man
in shackles? A dead man?
Uttering those words of
contempt he again burst into laughter. The tempo and pitch of his laughter was
as high as it was at the time of the climax when Sher Ali killed Lord Mayo. But
this time the audience did not join. Rather, a few of them cried and a few
others held back their emotion in grim anticipation of the impending calamity.
The last scene of
execution of Sher Ali was quite touching. The enactment was flawless, and
everybody had only praise for the artists…and for their director.
The splendid performance of the dramatic group had an unexpected
spin-off. It caught the attention of one Mr Premkant, the owner of a chain of star
hotels in India
and abroad, who was also known for his interests in movie making. Dealing with
historical themes and patriotic potboilers had been his forte. Whatever
historical movies he had produced so far had registered their success at the
box office. Now, deeply impressed by the performance of Sher Ali, he sent word
from his hotel that he would like to see the artist. He was sure the drama
could be profitably filmed and for that he was ready to invest up to a billion.
It would be a fantastic historical, a movie that would be better than the best
he had ever produced. He would not compromise on anything and, to start with,
he would have the entire shooting done at the Andamans.
Mr Premkant’s assistant
came down to the place where the troupe was lodged. He had the message of his
boss for Mihir that he sought to deliver personally. The director was restless,
pacing up and down outside his lodge.
‘Mihir? Oh yes, Mihir. But where the hell the man is now? We
don’t know where the fellow is disappearing. Only yesterday, he kept us under
head-bursting tension and finally turned up at the eleventh hour to take part
in the play. Today, as soon as the performance was over, he’s vanished, God
knows where,’ said the director in a very exasperated mood.
‘Well, here’s an
important message for your friend from Mr Premkant. He intends to make a movie
on last night’s play and wants to take your friend Mr Mihir in the lead role,’
said the messenger explaining the purpose of his visit.
As the visitor was about to
leave, he sighted somebody approaching the camp. He was barely lugging his
feet. At his first glance the director rushed towards his favourite disciple
addressing him by his name. The visitor came to know that the fellow was Mihir,
the person he was supposed to meet on behalf of Mr Premkant. It was beyond his
wildest dreams that his boss was going to make a hero out of this person, who
was nothing less than a lanky haggard of a famine-stricken village. He decided to
share his impression fully with Mr Premkant and save him from an impending
Now the mystery that
unfolded by and by drove everybody into great befuddlement. Mihir emphatically
denied that he had taken part in the previous night’s play. He went to Mt
Harriet by trekking and while coming downhill on a different trail, he lost his
way. Howsoever he tried he could not come out of the wilderness. It was in his
destiny to suffer. Hunger and the stings of the centipede, the loss of blood to
leeches and a night full of harrowing uncertainties—everything came down too
hard on him. The leeches that rained from the trees or the snakes that crossed
his road were full of mercy for him—maybe they spared him to see his friends again.
When the day broke, he resumed his journey, and at noon, he discovered that he
was going in a wrong direction. Then and there he changed his course, an act
that finally brought him to Port Blair after a forty-six-hour terrifying
ordeal. Now, back in his brood, he was profusely apologetic in his tone as he
asked the pardon of one and all for his act of crass stupidity.
Initially, none present
there was prepared to buy his explanation. It was just too weird. But as Mihir
insisted and showed the sores on his feet or the marks of insect bite on his
body, all began to believe the version but reluctantly. The mystery still
remained before them: who acted Sher Ali onstage last night if he was not
It was a double drama,
a double mystery—Mihir in the role of Sher Ali, and some mysterious fellow in
the role of Mihir.
Milkha, the ghost
being, the pious and patriotic, had no further desire left in him after killing
the viceroy, His Excellency Lord Mayo. He had had the last laugh, sonorously
deriding the colonial cruelty, from the land of free India. He left the surreal realm of
ghosts and goblins and set out his journey into the heaven. There his friends
were waiting to accord him a hero’s welcome.
At Port Blair, the historical pageantry commemorating the golden jubilee
Written on - 16-06-1999
Published in the year 2007
in the collection of (21) stories
under title "The Remix of Orchid"
A. N. Nanda