24 THE UNDERGROUND
[Fetuses will be killed in the wombs of their mothers, without their wish and sometimes with their own wish too. People will prefer to choose false ideas over knowledge. No one will be able to trust anyone else. Whether it is too much heat, snow, earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones, tornadoes, or other storms, portend the age of Kali. People suffering from hunger and fear will take refuge in 'underground shelters'.]
-Vishnu Purana and the Linga Purana
"Everybody, follow me," the Nirbhaya leader Jagpati says as soon as we finish our breakfast.
All the Sunyas nod and move behind him as if we are nothing but a troop of the ship, I and my father go first, walking down the stairs to the basement.
I am going to work, first time - Maybe the most important thing in the life of a Sunya.
My first working day in beyond the wall, or maybe the last day here If the building will fall down in the storm outside, we are all going to die. I think.
‘Accident happens.’ The phrase passes through my mind as we follow down the stairs to the leader; the remaining troop of Nirbhayas is following us.
I can feel the troop behind us at their heels as we enter the dark hallway through the stairs. It smells of mildew and rot; I can’t see the walls or the ceiling properly, the place is blinding dark.
"Just keep going," leader says from ahead as if we aren’t following him, "here's the place at the end from where we start our search."
I want to turn and go back but I can’t I want to scream at the guy but kept walking. Most of us want to go back but we aren’t idiots. The troop behind will kill us if we disobey.
POOR SHUNYAS! I think.
After several minutes of quiet walk, we finally approached a metal door with a round knob. The leader reaches out and opens it without hesitating, trying to show us that he doesn’t fear of strange or dark places. And he is right we all are in the fear but he doesn’t nor his troop.
Inside it’s pitch-black.
“Torches,” the leader shouts as the troop behind us enter inside the pitch-black, “burn them.”
Then there are some clicks, sounds of the switch being on. Many of hot, blinding lights appeared in hands of the troop, illumination the whole area and I have to shield my eyes with my forearms. I can only squint at first, then eventually drop my arms and am able to see okay; I realize that the troop has burned their torches their torches aren’t like our lantern but they have bulbs inside, powerful bulbs, more powerful than I have seen at the station.
“All the Sunyas,” the leader comes to a stop in the middle of this hall type vast basement and slowly turns to address the whole Sunyas. I think he was looking impressive - like a leader.
“First, we need to check everything here, how much entrances and exits his basement has and how many of them are connected with tunnels. Check the pipes here because pipes are so important for making it residence.” He pauses and glances over us, “all the pipe workers take your apprentice and search for pipes and make repair them if they are leaking. Till now the generators (machines) outside must have filled the tanks of this building. Water workers have found the tank f this building last night and now you have to check every leakage and every pipe and if there is any secondary water tank inside the basement.
“Distribute them small torches.” He orders his troop and the same way we have got our food packet we get torch after standing in the queue for ten minutes.
‘Keep your eyes open.’ I remember my teacher’s words as my father leads me to the end of the basement hall. He opens a metal door and we enter in a tunnel. It’s dark inside except two lines of light emerging from our small torches and ending in the infinity of the darkness.
My all senses are on high alert – mostly, my eyes and my ears. I am full of attention. This is the world at last, where I would get a chance to do something useful for my people. What my teacher has taught me, what I have learned myself from my own thoughts – I will put it all to find something important now.
As we head inside the darkness, following two tiny lines of light I feel the air smelling strongly of dampness and rubber, which seems me unpleasant, uninteresting smell.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Where we can find the pipes,” my father says, “we are in a tunnel.”
“So where this tunnel leads?”
“I don’t know but I think these tunnels are made in the same pattern outside the road has. Most of the tunnels meet each other and can lead you anywhere in the city….” He cut off himself suddenly and shouted, “STOP.”
“What?” I say and the next moment I see a huge gap in the tunnel, if we have stepped ahead we have fallen into it.
“Throw light inside,” my father says, throwing light inside the gape with his torch.
“It’s another stairway,” I exclaimed as both torches succeed to make visible inside the gape.
“Looks like stairways,” my father chuckles, “let’s check it.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“I go first, you follow me.”
“Yes.” I nod.
The stairway is not of metal but of the stone that leads us far down where I can’t see more than some steps ahead of us. I turn my torch sideways to see on either side is a sheer wall of stone, ancient, full of dampness. There isn’t railing.
We start down. I concentrate on my feet, fearing I will miss a footing; there isn’t railing to save me falling in the sea of darkness.
The stairway ends at a door. My father throws light over the door, every corner of the door.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m checking if there is any warning.”
“Yes, I can read and that’s why I am still alive after working as pipe worker in abandoned cities for more than ten years.” He says, “many doors aren’t meant to open, having dangerous gas inside, enough dangerous to kill you the very next moment you open it.”
He is right. I have heard many accidents in pipe works. No one has survived as long as my father in this field of work. Mostly pipe worker dies in three or maximum five years.
“I found it.” I stop my torch travelling and say, “Here is it.”
“What does it read?”
“It reads the MAIN TUNNEL.”
“Then it’s safe.” He says and opens it, and as we step inside I see another sea of the darkness, more pitch- blacker than the first.
The tunnel we are standing is about ten feet wide and ten feet high. I see in both directions. Just wall made of stones nothing else.
“Are you ready for this?” he asks, He keeps his voice low and toneless in case the Nirbhayas will overhear us. Though his voice is like a whisper I can see the hint of worry running underneath it.
I think so," I say and try to manage a smile, but my lips feel cracked and dry and could give pale smile.
“Come behind me.” My father says.
He walks in front of me as though he's leading me on official business. I keep my eyes open to take in anything useful.
As we move I think the tunnels are like web everywhere below the city. Surely people would be living under the city to save themselves from some dangers but what could the danger be?
Maybe the harsh rays of the sun. I guess.
After fifteen minutes walk suddenly my eyes fall on a double door and I almost shout, “This door is different.”
“Yes,” my father shouts back, in excitement as he knows Nirbhayas can’t overhear us now.
“What’s it for?”
“Can we go inside?”
“Won’t it be dangerous?”
“Double door can’t be dangerous,” he says, “It can’t stop gas leaking.”
“Why Nirbhayas don’t keep watch us on while we are on work?” I ask as he leads me inside.
“They don’t need.”
“Why?” I say and next moment my eyes open wide seeing what’s inside the room.
“Because they know everyone will work and every one does as all Sunyas know they can’t go home before repairing all buildings.” My father says but I barely hear it as my full attention is in the room.
The walls of the room are lined with shelves, and on most of the shelves are hundreds of packets of pages. Each packet is held together with stout loops of string. The packets are leaning against each other at angles and lay in untidy stacks. Some are thick, and some are so slim as if made of only some pages.
I go near the self and throw torchlight over the books. The pages of the oldest packets are yellowed and warped, and their edges are uneven rows of ripples.
“These are the fiction books,” my father says, “they aren’t useful.”
“What’s fiction?” I ask, “And why it’s not useful?”
“Fiction is which books people have made up out of their imaginations, and there isn’t fact inside them. They contained in their close-written pages all that man can imagine but nothing that’s real.” He pauses for just a fraction of a second. “You should look there,” he says, without looking at me as he throws light over left side shelves.
It reads NON FICTION.
The smell that hits us is only dumbness, ink and paper.
“The non-fiction is for the facts, which are information about the real world.”
I travel my torchlight over the wall till the selves end and what I see makes me cry. Cry in horror.
At the end of the wall is a desk and behind the desk is a man, not a man but a skeleton of a man.
“Don’t fear,” my father comes near me, “he is dead.”
“I can see he is dead and that’s why I fear.”
“We should fear of alive not the dead.” He says and steps toward the skeleton, I following him.
I reach near the skeleton who sat behind his desk writing something with a tiny pencil clutched in his bony fingers.
“It’s a parchment,” I say, almost shouting.
“Hold your horses’ boy.” My father clutches my shoulder, “you will disturb the Nirbhayas in their games.”
“they are fond of playing card games,” he says, “when we do hard work in tunnels they sit on the floor, crossing their legs under them, making pairs of four and play with cards made of thick papers. We shouldn’t disturb them if we don’t wish our back to burn with their whips.”
“I understand but we should steal this parchment.”
“We should,” he says and hides it inside his shirt, “let’s go before anyone notice we have found a library.”
“Okay,” I say and we leave the room.
“Now we can solve the mystery.” I say coming out in the main tunnel, “We have the book.”
“But it’s also incomplete.” his voice disappointed, “the author was writing it when he died means the book isn’t complete.”
“Don’t be disappointed, something is good than nothing.” He says, “Last time we found the parchment but it was ruined and this one is in readable condition. We can get a lot from it.”
“I hope so,” I say and we leave.
I follow my father down one narrow tunnel, and then another. The tunnels are empty if we don’t consider dust, sand, and spiderwebs.
Then we search for two hours till we get pipelines in the tunnel which read ‘tunnel 07’.
To be continue.....
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