Is Lal Bahadur Shastri fine?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is a story of one wonderful day when I met a genius who was sent to Tashkent to protect the Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri.

It was Sunday, the 10th of January 2016. That afternoon, I was supposed to be enjoying myself with five of my friends at Wonderla, an amusement park near Delhi, but a completely unexpected thing happened. An 80-year-old man spoiled the fun—or should I say he bought the fun from the six frustrated-with-life software engineers? We had purchased tickets for Wonderla online and had packed our bags to leave in the morning. But as we were about to enter our SUV, my old neighbour Mr Menon — who was considered grumpy and good for nothing — offered us Rs. 100,000 to do an errand for him.


He asked us in his weak faltering voice, "Are you free today?"


We were not. We were on our way to the amusement park to quench our urge to relax. After all, we all were software engineers. Four among us had to work on that weekend a day before and had got a compensatory Monday off. Using the Monday to rest, we planned the Sunday amusement park trip. There was no way we were going to spoil this opportunity.


Everybody is taught to respect their elders from the childhood. So it would be too rude to discard the old man without asking, although not conscientiously. Kids in the building hated the man for his constantly nagging nature. However, we respected this man as we knew he was a great scientist in his heydays. But the question was - what help does this old man need from us? As he lived alone, he had no one else to seek help. Furthermore, he seemed very serious.


Puzzled at his question, I said in hesitant tones, "Yes, uncle. What is the matter?"


"I need you to drive 30 kilometres outside of Delhi, pick up a young man from this location, and bring him here." Saying this, the old man gave us a black-and-white photograph of a 25-year-old man and some coordinates written on a paper. "His name is Laxman".


With all the rips and creases around the edges, the photo looked ancient to me, so my friend Vicky inquired, "Wouldn’t he be older now?"


The old man answered, "This is not an old picture. It is just an Instagram pic of him on Traditional Day. I only have this."


"Traditional Day? His moustache seems very natural.", my friend Prabhu probed.


Menon Uncle chose to ignore the question. "You have to convince him to come with you, but don't tell him that I have asked for him. More importantly, he should not know you have his picture. He should feel you are just helping him out."


Money may be a great motivator, though the offered sum was not significant for six of us. It was up to us whether to take up the task or not. This task made us curious, and we had nothing to lose here. We were three couples hungry for fun and adventure. I expected that the girls may not be willing to give up the pleasure trip and will require convincing, but it was the other way round.


"But what about Wonderla?", Vicky, who was the driver of the car in the group, demanded with a frown.


"It's not the place, it's the people we have fun with", Prabhu claimed.


"And it’s too crowded on Sundays", I made a 'the grapes are sour' kind of statement to criticize the park.


The vote count was five to one. Only Vicky was the one against the adventure.


In the car, we all discussed who the guy in the picture could be.


"Maybe it’s his grandson?", Prabhu proposed.


"But the old man is not married!", my wife Trisha stated.


"Maybe the old man is gay, so he did not marry, and now he is buying poor villagers to fulfil his desires. The man in the picture is one such unfortunate man.", Vicky's wife Kritika offered with amusement.


Vicky gave her a grim stare.


Kritika defended herself playfully, "Baby, I was joking. I know he must be more than a hundred years old."


Vicky was not amused. He was still angry at being voted out.


"Who takes a hard copy of an Instagram picture? Something is fishy. The old man is lying. We better be careful.", Prabhu's wife Sujata exclaimed.


"Google Maps tells we have reached. The location is not on the road. I think we should park the car here and search on foot. It's just 50 meters inside.", I informed everyone.


We parked just 100 metres off the Meerut highway near a crowded village market and began the search. As soon as we got down, we realised that it was too cold outside. So only Vicky, Prabhu and I got off the car and Trisha, Sujata and Kritika waited in the car. Our location was behind the shops in the fields but there no way to get there without jumping the fence. In the crowd, we saw a very old-fashioned man wandering around like an idiot, stunned. Everyone stood laughing at him, but we immediately recognized that he was the man in the photo.


"Is he still in his clothes for Traditional Day?", Prabhu told sarcastically and suspiciously.


"Is he not feeling cold?", Vicky exclaimed.


"Let's get him in the car and talk there.", I spoke shivering and holding myself tight.


Vicky and Prabhu went ahead to talk to him and I followed them.


"Hi", Vicky greeted the man.


He looked at us with surprise, then asked in English, "Are you Indian?"


"Yes.", Vicky replied.


"Is this Tashkent?", he asked.


"Is this what? Sorry, you seem to be lost. Do you want to come to our car? We can help you. My name is Vicky.", Vicky answered.


"My name is Laxman", he replied showing us his ID card.


"It’s ok.", Vicky said.


Laxman followed us to the car.


"There's our car.", I told him pointing towards the car.


He looked at the car with shock. He might not have seen a modern car in his village.


"Soviet is so advanced", he mumbled.


"Soviet? Did I hear correctly? Does he mean Russia? Why does he think that? Had the old man lied to him too? Should I tell him or silently do the task given to us?", I wondered.


Laxman was very alert all the time. His one hand was always inside his grey bush coat, ready to draw out the pistol if required. Yes, I presumed he obviously had a pistol underneath. But we did not know, why?


"Are we safe with him? He agreed to come with us very easily.", I suspected.


Laxman was sceptical too. He seated behind the driver deliberately. I guessed he intended to jump off the car if he senses any threat. He was more circumspect than we were. He saw the three girls in the back seat and asked "Are they with us?" and I just shook my head. He saw the girls clothes and was flabbergasted.


Once we were all inside the car, Laxman asked, "Is Shastri Ji fine and where is my father?"


"Who is Shastri Ji?", Prabhu questioned back.


"Lal Bahadur Shastri? He was the prime minister of India.", I interrupted mentioning the only Shastri I know.


"Was? Damn! I came to Tashkent to save him.", Laxman started feeling guilty as if a catastrophe had happened. "But according to the intelligence, the plan of the assassination was supposed to be today night or tomorrow morning. Are you lying to distract me from saving him?" His hand went inside his coat threatening us with the pistol.


"This is not Tashkent. This is New Delhi. Lal Bahadur Shastri died before you and I were even born.", Prabhu responded defensively.


He looked confused as if Prabhu made no sense.


I Googled the information on my phone and interrupted. "To be specific, he died on the 11th of January, 1966 in Tashkent. Tashkent was previously in the USSR but is now in Uzbekistan." I paused, surprised. "The 11th of January. Tomorrow, the day will be exactly 50 years ago."


"What do you mean 50 years ago? Is it not 1966?"


"It's 2016.", I replied.


"How is this possible? The scientist should have teleported me to Tashkent to save Shastri. Instead, he sent me 50 years ahead. How is this possible?"


"You mean teleport places and travel time? Is he playing a prank on us?" I looked at Trisha with a giggle.


Laxman stared at me angrily. I realised I was the only one who was amused.


"You serious? Someone made a time machine and you time travelled. I don't believe you.", I questioned.


"Which scientist?" Prabhu asked in astonishment. Now we six were confused.


"Vignesh Rameshwaram."


I Googled the name and informed everyone. "He is also dead. Born in 1921 and died in 2013."


"Teleportation or time travelling is not possible.", Prabhu doubted.


"Can you prove to me that this is not Tashkent and that it is 2016?"


"First of all, can you see any white people here? Everyone knows Russians are tall and white. So will be Uzbekistanis.", I asked him for establishing our point.


"Yes, even I pondered how can the Soviet people look like us, they should be as fair as British."


I continued showing him Prabhu's phone and opening Maps. "Second, do you know what this device is? This is a phone. Check this Map. This blue dot denotes where we are, and this is Delhi. We are heading towards Delhi. And see here is your Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Soviet is divided into ten-twenty countries."


Showing him the Map, I guess we assured him that he was not in Tashkent.


He took the phone, looked at it for a few seconds, and then started talking to it. "Oh. Call 012—"


"What are you doing?", Prabhu jumped in.


"I am calling the lab."


"How did this man know that mobile phones understand voice commands?", I thought.


"A number like that cannot exist. And, how do you know how to use voice commands if you’re from the past?", Prabhu asked.


He barely glanced toward Prabhu asserting that it was apparent that after 50 years if some human can make a wireless phone, why can't they remove keys and dialers?


For us, it was difficult to digest that reality of time travel or even teleportation. But, we had living proof in front of us. We, also, realised that the man was not an ordinary one. He was a genius. He was sort of an agent who was to be sent to an assassination scene to stop it using teleportation and that too of a prime minister. That's why he easily figured out that he time travelled or guessed the mobile phone functions.


"Or I was correct. Menon Uncle is probably playing a prank. He lives alone and has a pretty dull life. He might need some entertainment.", I preferred to believe.


As he was struggling with the phone, I decided to help. "You can dial the number with the touchpad, but you can also use voice commands. Listen to this. Ok, Google. Call Trisha Mittal." After a second or two, my wife's phone began to ring. "See?"


Up to this point, the girls had been silent at the back seat because Prabhu and I were conversing very much, and they preferred listening. They couldn't resist and got involved too but came directly to the point we wanted to ask.


"So, Vignesh Rameshwaram made a time machine?", my wife asked with amazement.


"Yes, and it seems like he did. He tricked me into becoming his lab rat. I couldn't even save Shastri Ji. He sent my father on the same mission in a similar-looking machine, but I don't know what time he sent my father. I couldn't find my dad when I landed, and there were no signs of another machine being destroyed at the place."


"Destroyed? Why? I want to see it.", Trisha demanded.


"Vignesh commanded my father and me to do that. He specifically told it should not go in someone else's hands. So I destroyed it. Not sure about my father."


"How did the machine look like?", Sujata jumped in.


"It was a small three feet wide six feet tall half papaya-shaped capsule with red glass cover and had few buttons and levers inside. It could accommodate only one person at a time."


"Can you tell us more what you felt while time travelling?", Kritika continued.


"I felt nothing while travelling. When I pressed the button in the capsule and the counter started. I could see Vignesh and his assistant outside. When the counter reached zero, suddenly the scientists and the lab disappeared. I was in an open field. Around 50 meters away I saw a road and many shops in it. I thought this is how Tashkent looks like. I remembered what Vignesh had told us. So I pressed another button and the machine self-destroyed itself."


"Was there a blast?", Kritika interrupted.


"No, there wasn't. It gradually and noiselessly burned itself down. I stood in front of it so that no one else notices the burning machine. When I came on the road, whoever I saw, everyone looked Indian. I thought maybe there are Indian settlements in Tashkent. Vignesh told us that Mr Kaul, Indian ambassador in Moscow, will send two Indian soldiers, who will escort me to the villa that was provided to Shastri Ji by the hosts. I thought these three boys are soldiers."


"If what you are saying is true, our adventure trip is successful. We witnessed a time travel. Laxman, you should be happy and proud too. You travelled time. You may not have prevented the political assassination, but you are a major player in a great scientific invention. Dude, you have time travelled, and I am so happy I witnessed it.", Sujata got excited and even shook Laxman by his shoulders.


"Technically we did not witness the time travel, but we met a time traveller. Even that is huge.", Kritika corrected.


"Thank you. I felt disappointed and cheated earlier for not being able to save Shastri Ji, but now am feeling overwhelmed. I travelled time, which everyone thought in my time is impossible."  Laxman relaxed.


"Even now in our time, it is considered to be impossible.", I added.


"Wow. Giving Wonderla a miss was worth it. We got to know about such an incredible invention the time machine.", Vicky spoke for the first time while driving.


"What's that?", Laxman asked.


I still thought something is unclear and I couldn't hold myself asking it, ignoring his question and everyone's excitement. "Laxman, it seems absolutely strange that the scientist Vignesh Rameshwaram sent his invention further in time than his death. Why won't he want to see its success and why will he want it to be destroyed?"


"Now that you have mentioned it, even I want to know the same. But how? Vignesh is dead. I am also thinking how will I go back when I have destroyed the machine. If I am stuck in this time what will I do?", Laxman responded, confused.


"You said your father had one more time machine. In total, how many time machines did he make?", Trisha questioned.


"How much I know of, two", he answered.


As we reached the city, I noticed him watching the towers and flyovers with excitement. He was seeing other vehicles and the people on the roads in astonishment. He was silent for a long time, though six of us were talking among ourselves.


I wanted to ask him how he knew Menon Uncle, but as we were not supposed to reveal Menon Uncle's name. Still, I decided to make him uncomfortable. "Now, what will you do? Where should we drop you?"


He casually said, "Anywhere".


"Is he not worried?", I wondered.


We took him to our building, and he subconsciously kept following us to our apartment. We dumped our bags we packed for Wonderla. All seven of us lie down on the sofa. Laxman silently kept looking at us for some directions.


"Are you not wondering why we picked you up from the village?", I asked.


"Yes, I am trying to figure that out as well. And I know you will tell me yourselves in some time. Even if you are very kind and helpful people, believing in an extraordinary stranger like me, who claims to be a time traveller and has a gun too, is impossible. Even if you are six people, feeling safe with me can't be wise and practical that you allowed me in your home." The man was smart.


"Let's go", I said after receiving confirmation from Menon Uncle.


We took him to the old man's home and stayed there hoping for some drama as we wanted to know the man’s secrets, too. I and my friends stood a few meters away from Menon Uncle and Laxman. We wanted to hear stories that might be coming next.


He looked at the old man, he studied his face for a few seconds and said, "I know you. You are Sujeet Menon, Vignesh Rameshwaram's assistant, but you are 50 years older now."


"Did he not recognized a person, fifty years older than he previously saw, so easily and quickly? Maybe his memory is fresh, so he can easily recollect each of them. He might have prepared himself to see older and wrinkly versions of anyone from his life." I admired him for that.


Menon Uncle was so glad to see Laxman fit and alive that his face lightened up.


"Yes, I am Menon."


"Do you know where my father is?"


I expected some ferocious argument, but Laxman was not as angry as I anticipated he would be. I think the pride of having time travelled might have suppressed the anger. Plus, there was no reason to bombard his anger on an old man who was only an assistant to the chief scientist.


Menon Uncle saw the concern and answered. "Your father was teleported to Tashkent as planned, but he couldn't save Shastri Ji. No one heard from him since. We don't have any clue whether he returned back to India or stayed back in Soviet investigating the assassination. Whatever happened to him then, but by now, he might be naturally dead."


Menon Uncle continued. "He expressly instructed us not to send you to Tashkent. He assumed that you would be a liability in Tashkent. After your father left, Vignesh thought to test the time machine. So he used you."


Menon Uncle was surprised to notice that Laxman was not offended by the remark. Laxman already figured that out while discussing with us. Seeing no hostility, the old man continued. "First, he experimented with the machine by setting the dial as five minutes. You disappeared for five minutes. Before you came back, we planned to send you ahead by five years with you not knowing it. Vignesh told me to act as if nothing had happened and reset the time. When you came back, you did not even differentiate. Pretending to be checking the machine, I adjusted the time. You assumed the machine did not function. But unwittingly, I set the dial to 50 years instead of 5 years in a hurry. By the time I realised my blunder, you had pushed the button and had disappeared. Vignesh did not notice my error. Afraid of getting abused, I did not report this to Vignesh. After five years in 1971, he and I waited for your return. He thought something had gone wrong, so he felt guilty for spoiling your life and stopped making another time machine. I could never gather enough courage to tell him the truth."


"He is such a moron", I thought.


"Do you mean to say that the time machine in which I travelled in was the only one and I destroyed it?", Laxman asked.




"That means I am the only one in the world who has time travelled." Laxman's pride was intense.




"Then why did you ask me to destroy it?"


"We did not specifically ask you to destroy the machine. You just heard our talk with your father. His mission required stealth. If someone came to know about the teleporter, they would know where it had come from; and the mission would be compromised."


"Damn! I should not have destroyed it."


"I knew what went wrong and also the time and place when you would come. Vignesh shut the lab down. I bought the land from the Government and maintained it clear. So that when you reach you don't encounter a wall or a tree passing through your body. I take all the blame for bringing you 50 years into the future, and I will help you settle into this time now. I am sincerely sorry for the trouble that my blunder has created." Menon Uncle looked truly apologetic.


"It's Ok. You don't need to be extremely sorry. You were doing your duty. My father and Vignesh were doing theirs." Laxman consoled him.


"I thought you would be mad at me? But since the time you have come, you are unusually calm."


"Conversing with your grandchildren on the way here, I got answers to most of the questions. We together figured out that I time travelled 50 years in the future. I understood that Vignesh lied. I came to know about Shastri Ji too. I knew these young ones are not helping me out of humanity. I guessed some person related to Vignesh or my father, who knew that I time travelled, has sent them. I knew everyone, with who I am familiar with, will be 50 years older than earlier. The only question that was unanswered was about my father. I am witnessing that the world had progressed a lot. It will be an adventure for me to adjust here and I am looking forward to it."


"I am impressed. And they are not my grandchildren. They brought you to me for money."


"No, we did not. We did it for adventure.", I thought. I could see in Laxman's eyes that regards, he had for us, was gone.


"Uncle, I think it's time for us to take a leave. Thanks for giving us the opportunity of the adventure. We all had fun." With these intriguing words, we left.


I saw Laxman many times in the society premises for months. He always wore modern clothes and had a mobile phone in his hand. Trisha and I always wanted to invite him to my place for drinks, but he never stopped to talk. I always wondered where does this man, who has come from the past, keep himself so busy. When my friends came home, they always asked for him.


It had been almost a year that I had seen Laxman or Menon Uncle. I hope they both are well.


Submitted: August 27, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Dr Mystique. All rights reserved.

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