Stone in the middle

With Anshar and Ninsar safe in the bullock cart, their mother takes them to a safer place…far, far away.

July 21, 2016 04:56 pm | Updated 04:56 pm IST

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Part II

The first part in the series was published on June 24. We read how siblings Anshar and Ninsar are forced to flee their peaceful settlement with their mother, in the middle of the night. Read the story to find out what happened next.

Water is the most terrifying thing in the world. When you hear it roar in the distance like a demon when it thunders through the streets, when it crashes against walls, you feel like the world is ending.

Brave endeavours

If my mother hadn’t bundled us all into the cart with whatever of our household things she could throw in, like my father’s engraved water cup and driven us to higher ground at top-speed, our world would have ended. Ninsar and I, together with a few other families watch the horror, hands covering our mouths. My mother looks terrible; hair flying in all directions and face streaked with mud. Suddenly, I realise that my sister and I probably look just as bad.

“Where’s Ada?” Ninsar asks suddenly, and I freeze. “Ma, where’s he? He’s coming, isn’t he? He’ll be all right, no? Ma?”

My mother’s lips tremble. “We must leave.” Her voice sounds like she’s being strangled.

In that moment, I know that we’ll never see my father again. I don’t remember much about our journey over the next two months. Amma drives our bullock-cart with a fierce determination along little-known hilly tracks, through mountain passes and grassy meadows.

“How do you know where to go?” I ask her once as we sit eating dry fruits. Ninsar sleeps fitfully nearby, bundled up in heavy blankets.

“This is an ancient trade route; my parents knew it. So did your …” she seems to choke. “Your Ada. Now get up. Time to leave.”

We climb higher and higher into the mountains. Snow begins to appear; the landscape changes. The views are spectacular; I’d have loved to paint them but I don’t have the heart. More people join us; turns out that many more settlements have emptied, and they’re taking the same route. On one of the rare occasions Amma speaks, she calls it an exodus. That’s when a large group of people leave a place at the same time.

We’re going down, now. The snows are gone; the air is denser, thicker. Amma teaches us to hunt. We travel through pretty hillside villages dotted with tiny wheat farms. Some families settle here for there are five rivers in this region. Through a sandy desert, and then a land close to the sea. We approach hills again but not as high as the ones we left. We plunge through thick jungle; wild animals pass by us often, at night. One evening, we stumble upon three elephants grazing silently. My heart almost stops.

We cross two great rivers. One of our bulls is washed away, mooing in fear. I have nightmares about the time we left home, barely escaping the floods. I plead with Amma to go somewhere, somewhere safe. No floods. No animals. No danger. Please … please!

We pass through a few settlements here and manage to get an ox. It rains often. At least there are a lot of people with us, so there’s safety in numbers. We’re in dense forests again, and I’m exhausted.

And then…something unexpected happens.

A new home

We’re at the base of a hillock. I fully expect to pass it by but Amma drags us up the sides. Others follow. I scramble amongst the rocks and into a small cavern. Amma gives me a hand; I climb up, and reach a ledge in the side. The plains stretch out before my eyes but she drags me on again, through a small opening in the rock-face. Inside is a large cave.

“Home,” she says, and I collapse in relief. We’re finally in the southernmost part of the Hind, in a lush, beautiful land — the land of her ancestors. A long time ago, they used to live on this mountain as hunters and gatherers. A place safe from wild animals, floods and other dangers. And because it looked like a stone had fallen overhead, forming a roof, they called this place “Stone in the Middle”. Or, as Amma says, “Edakkal”.

Days go by, and we settle down in the large cave. Amma is busy; over the months, she has emerged as the leader of our clan. The people hail her as a “Mother Goddess”. She supervises the hunting, forms trade parties, and even takes lessons for us, the youngsters. At the request of others, she’s now started wearing a feathered head-dress. It marks her as the Head.

I see her one evening, sitting on a stone seat, surrounded by people who gaze at her with devotion, when I get an idea. I pick up a sharp iron rod, move to a rock face, and slowly begin to chip away. I cannot chisel as well as I draw so I end up with a figure wearing a head-dress. Ninsar comes up and begins to chisel in her turn. She’s etched the rough figure of a man holding a cup. “Amma,” I point to the head-dress wearing leader.

“Ada,” Ninsar says, to the man with the cup. She gazes sadly at our father’s water goblet, which we still cherish. “Do you think anyone will ever know we were here?”

“We’re the survivors of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro,” I answer. “And we finally made it here. Look, other people who lived before us have etched figures too. Now we’ve added ours. Someday, people may come here, see all this, and know where we came from. Isn’t that what matters?”

“It does,” Ninsar agrees.

Historical Note

The Man with a Cup being Anshar and Ninsar’s father may be a figment of imagination, but it really does exist in the Edakkal Caves in Wayanad, Kerala, and is said to be proof of a connection with the Indus Valley Civilisation, circa 2600 BCE–1800 BCE. The figure wearing a head-dress exists, too.

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