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The Last Halt



Autumn of '74


The sound of the engine kept fading away. 1 AM - reported the watch on her hand. That was the last train of the night just leaving the last halt deep inside the forest. A bit anxious, she kept her luggage on a bench and sat down. The platform was located against the backdrop of hills. Beside the hills were thick forests peeping right into the platform gate. The narrow pasaage leading to the small village cut through these forests.

Meanwhile, looking across the platform on the narrow road, she could not find any vehicle. The cab supposed to pick her had not arrived. In case the cab didn't arrive she would have to spend at least 4 hours on the platform - 4 hours alone before dawn.


Redland


Nira had been posted as the Station

Master of Redland in the autumn of 1974. Redland was the Maoists' den - the base.

That was a phase when the rebellion was at its peak. The rebels were demanding a new governance mechanism. Arms were being distributed freely among the masses. A new domestic order was taking shape in the dense jungles of the central mainland. Forests had become the unwritten prohibition zone for the government agencies and the armed forces. A mere clue about the presence of any government authority would result in a murderous bloodshed. Such was the rage that not even postmen, teachers or railway officials were spared. Redland was the undeclared 'Bermuda Triangle' for the government. Those volunteering to be posted at Redland were provided bonus salaries and 'special' safe residences.


Melody of Chaos




After a while, she stood up. A quick glance across the platform revealed nothing but few vacant benches and an eerie silence. A few minutes of stroll may help in reducing the anxiety - she thought.

While passing by an empty cabin, she suddenly heard gunshots in the West, emanating from the forests. The ambience outside was fearsome, dark as hell and weirder than mystique. The sound kept echoing in the hills. Getting louder and terrifying, it seemed to approach nearer by the second.


In the next instance, a flash struck the cabin and the lights went dark. Complete blackout!

Barring intermittent flashes in the night sky, nothing else was visible. Those flashes were like the galaxies in the dark universe.

Strange is the human mind! Even after such eventful last few minutes, Nira didn't bother to hide somewhere. As if the noise, gloom, chaos and fright had conspired to form a soothing melody that pains yet calms.


In a trance, she kept moving ahead.


The Autumn Sky


A few seconds later, the gunshots ended abruptly.

No lights then!

No lights and no sound now!

The galaxies had dissolved in the bleakness!

Directions no longer existed for her, nor distances. Only time kept ticking.

"Don't move. Put your hands up and surrender. Do as we say. You might be allowed to live. If you try to call anyone, you'll get a dreadful death."

A few torchlights lit up. Their rays tore up the night into shades of white and black. Around eleven men armed with rifles and grenades had occupied the platform. Whether she surrendered or not, she'd be killed. The only advantage, in case of non-surrender, would be time. Time during which rebels would bait her for ransom. The government would have to pay for her or someone else's release. There was barely any chance of government acceding to the rebels' demands in order to save a petty station master. Moreover, the later death would be more agonizing than tonight's.


"Tie up her hands. Let's go. We don't have time."

Yelled one of them.

Then another one went to get hold of her hands.


He could find none!


He looked up. He could find no body!

He looked further up. He could find no face!

He looked around. His fellow rebels were nowhere!


Only Nira was everwhere, all around him!


Just then, in the wink of an eye, she vanished!

A red flash glided out of the last halt, melting away into the grey autumn sky.


The silence of the darkness still prevailed, broken intermittently by the bursts of gunshots.


That was the autumn of '74...and Redland...



 


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