#Gurgaon , 1130 Views
Byline: Aditya Bidikar
Illustration: Biboswan Bose
The year was 2080, and I, that is Haryana Jones, adventurer, archaeologist, known on all five continents, had recently returned from my moderately legendary adventures in locales as exotic as the African Savannah, the Pacific Rim, and Pondicherry. I decided to take a little break from adventuring, and paid a visit to my colleagues at the Haryana University of History, where I am resident Professor of Archaeology.
I went straight to the office of the Dean of History, and I burst in with a kind word on the decor and a remark on his new haircut. He joked about how I really should spend more time at the university teaching than running after … what was his term? … yes, ‘these ridiculous treasure larks’. He stood up and shouted that I shouldn’t be swanning off to the farthest corners of the world when I could be tramping about in …
And then he paused. My interest was piqued. I made a keen deduction that the dean had been about to refer to an adventure I could be having in my own veritable backyard. Over the next hour, I cajoled him with tea and savouries and finally, thoroughly charmed by my personable demeanour, he blurted out five words …
The Lost Treasure of Dronacharya … after which he refused to say more. I excused myself and sauntered off to the University Archives, where I spent the next two days looking for anything related to this mysterious treasure.
Legend had it that the land of Gurgaon was bestowed upon Guru Dronacharya by the blind king Dhritarashtra for services rendered. But another, secret, legend said that along with the land, Dhritarashtra also gave Dronacharya a gift. No one knew what this was supposed to be, but it was said that Dronacharya kept it somewhere safe, and then forgot where he put it.
The dean and some of his antecedents had traced rumours about the treasure down the ages and found tell that the Mughals had discovered it when they ruled the area, and never realizing its significance, had buried it deep somewhere within the city, as you do with random things you find and don’t understand. And there, legend said, the treasure lay still, waiting for an adventurer such as myself to find it in a quest for the ages.
The one problem, however, was that this meant I would have to go to Gurgaon. And brave man though I may be, this almost made me wet my trousers. Now, dear reader, it is obvious that an illustrious explorer such as myself knows much more about the history of Our Great Land™ than most. Even so, a reminder may help.
Many years ago, you see, Gurgaon was a great commercial and business hub, filled with wonders such as the Sahara Market (which flourished in spite of all the sand), and Metroline (a sophisticated transport system situated entirely underground – the bullock carts were fitted with special wheels to run on the rails, but I don’t know how they handled the dung). It was ruled by the Great Democratic Party of Haryana, the first political organisation to ban chow mein as a serious health risk.
Then a day came when Delhi, then the capital of Our Great Land™, collapsed under political rebellion after the fierce demon Mee-Dee-Ya split the rebels into two equally ineffective parties and when even that didn’t destroy the system, he turned every political leader in the city into a monkey.
Thus began a great migration of monkeys, moving to Delhi to live among their own kind. Monkeys possessing the social skills that they do, most humans were forced to move to Gurgaon. (My grandmother always insisted this is what happened, although by that time in her life she also claimed direct lineage from the de’ Medicis.)
However all those people really ended up there, Gurgaon was already parched, and it didn’t take long for the land to become positively dehydrated. The city’s drainage and sewer systems, dysfunctional at the best of times, were overloaded, and without enough water to wash the waste away, even Gurgaon’s most obdurate residents, the pigs, decided to flee.
Following this great drought (informally called the Shitstorm), the once-thriving city was easily overtaken by the dhau trees of the Mangar Bani, almost as if the forest had been lying in wait, biding its time.
Of course a seasoned veteran of intrigue like myself found all this irresistible. I snuck into the dean’s office in the middle of the night, and as I suspected, found a map to the treasure hidden among his personal effects, with the cunning disguise of an office memo demanding more notepaper on the other side. The next day, I packed my rucksack with basic amenities, along with an earbud music device loaded with my favourite jungle exploration music (popular songs about forests interspersed with vintage cricket match commentaries), and thus equipped, I made my way towards the ghost city of Gurgaon, first passing a strangely smelly mountain and a tollbooth which looked as if it had been the recipient of some significant road-rage sometime in the distant past.
I must have been the first soul to enter the still expanding Mangar forest in at least 30 years. As I made my way in, following the map down trails that looked like they had been tramped by wild animals, I came upon a strange complex of tree roots that had formed into a shape that looked like a coffee shop. Presumably a relic of the magic that had helped the forest take over the city, it was peopled by strange automata, repeating words like ‘gaia’, ‘shakra’ and ‘probiotic yoghurt’ at such speeds I was quickly nauseated and had to hurry past the strange apparition.
And it was right after this, in my disoriented state, that I met the Yogis. I had heard of these Yogis. The last chai-wallah I encountered before I reached the forest had told me they were the last residents of Gurgaon, descended from two spiritual factions, one that worshipped the forest and one that had urban roots but had decided to go back to nature and play Noble Savage. They were said to live peacefully and abstemiously in the forest, emanating wisdom. The story deviated a little from the truth as it escaped the forest, I mused to myself, as the feral Yogis, emanating wisdom and transcendence, tried to kill me.
“The energy field is sacred,” said one, as he lobbed in my general direction something I’d only ever read about as being called an iPhone. “You must enter with a pure mind!”
“The path to enlightenment,” agreed another, “is paved with sharp stones and grenades.” A third, appearing out of nowhere, rammed his forearm under my chin, pinning me against a tree trunk. “Expectations are the enemy. I do not expect you to die. I accomplish the deed myself!”
Struggling for a way to distract them so I could make my escape, I managed to dig into my rucksack and find a rare artifact I’d meant to leave back at the university lab, a ‘Supaar-Dupaar Bollywood Hits’ CD. I lobbed it as far away from myself as I could, yelling, “LOOK! AN OSHO ALBUM! A NEVER-BEFORE HEARD SERMON!”
“Ooooohm,” the feral Yogis moaned in unison. I was dropped as the entire pack of them leapt off after the CD.
I waited until they had disappeared, and, I am unashamed to say, bolted. I made my way deeper into the forest, following my map, and I came upon a strange temple with faded signboards for what must have once been mantras all over its walls, such as ‘Indigo Nation’, ‘Marks & Spencer’ and ‘Big Bazaar’. Who were these ancient Gods? I pricked my ears and I could hear a soft, hollow voice floating on the wind, chanting incantations over and over, like a spell.
I gathered my courage, hitched up my trousers, and I entered. When I stepped onto a polished metal staircase inside, it gave a loud beep and began to slowly descend. This wasn’t the first time I had encountered magic, but one never really gets used to it.
Deep in the bowels of the temple, I followed the path and came to a room with a platform in its centre. On the platform sat a box. Shaking with nerves and excitement, I opened the box and found … a rod.
Okay, I thought, that’s an odd bit of treasure. The rod was made of a soft, pliant material, and had a pebbled surface with a rounded end. As I held the rod, my hand began to feel warm. The warmth spread, and I started to feel a strange pull, which I instinctively followed.
The rod took me back up another staircase next to the first one, back outside the temple. It led me straight through the forest (bumping into a few trees, though I handled that with my usual grace and deftness of foot), into a perfectly preserved but empty city block. The ghostly chants I had been hearing near the temple were now loud and clear, echoing through the windows and doors of the empty buildings around me.
The rest of the forest had a few buildings here and there, covered in vines and creepers, but this one had no greenery covering it, nor dust. What it did have, that I could see in the distance, was a decrepit old man, the one repeating the spells, hugging a wall.
“Who are you?” I asked, approaching with caution. He turned his head towards me, and sure enough, the spells stopped, their echoes trailing off into the ether. “I am the last guardian of the Millenarian City,” he said, still rapt in his hug. “I keep it alive with the energy of my mind. I chant my spells all day, every day, and that is how I keep my city alive.”
“My beautiful, beautiful city,” he continued, “all ravaged by the beastly beastly trees. All her wonderful concrete, Oh, I love her so much, I love her I love her. She keeps me alive and young so I can love her better.”
“Erm,” I said. “How old are you anyway?”
“149 in a week. I don’t look a day over 70, do I?”
“Not at all! And you … love the city?”
“Yes, and she loves me. She told me you were coming. She’s been waiting for you a long time.”
“She’s been waiting for me?”
“Yes. I am to lead you to her hidden treasure,” said the old man, climbing down a manhole.
But instead of the sewer, we emerged into a giant cave, with a river flowing peacefully, and a tall statue of something that looked a lot like a woman. The moment we entered the large space, the creepy old man ran to the statue and hugged it.
“I brought him, my love,” he shouted. “Tell me I’ve done well, tell me you love me, please.” He cocked his ear towards the statue, and then grinned. Presumably she was speaking to him.
“She says that someone worthy of the treasure only comes along once every generation,” beamed the old man, “that the last chosen one couldn’t save the city because he sold all his land and moved to the Bahamas. But she looks at you and she tells me I have chosen wisely.” I wanted to pat him on the shoulder, but restrained myself. I had a feeling he might have bitten me. He pointed to a hole in the statue.
“That’s where the key goes,” he said.
I walked to the statue, and looked at the hole.
“Can I help you put it in?” he asked, his eyes pleading.
“I think I can handle it.”
I put the rod in, and stood back. Nothing seemed to be happening.
After a moment, I applied my superior observation skills in the direction of the underground river. “Is the level of the water rising?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the old man.
“And,” I said, listening keenly to the sounds of my environment, “is that the sound of water flowing more urgently?”
“Yes,” said the old man, cocking his head, listening.
“What’s she saying now?” I asked. “She says, ‘RUN!’”
“She says, ‘RUN!’”
And that, dear reader, is what we did. We came up out of the manhole, and we ran, looking back to see the ground blast open as the water spumed violently from underground. We ran like hell, but the river caught up with us. We tried to run faster, but in the end, we swam.
The year is 2080, and I, Haryana Jones, consummate voyager and archaeologist par excellence, have found the lost treasure of Dronacharya. Water. All the water Gurgaon would have ever needed.
I don’t know in which direction we’re floating at this point, but somewhere beneath me, the thirsty city has been drowned. I try reading the stars, but I’ve only ever used them for guidance in the southern hemisphere and they make me dizzy. I look up at the sky anyway. I’m trying to see if there are any helicopters. I hope the dean has noticed his missing map and sends someone to look for me.
This lifesaver that happened to float by is very uncomfortable, but it’s all I’ve got to keep me afloat. My butt keeps getting wet. The creepy old man has a comfy log to stretch out on, and yet he keeps weeping uncontrollably. But I can understand that. His beloved city is now lost. His immortality is bound to be lost with it. But he’s right, he still doesn’t look a day over 70.