by Jeyamohan and Translated from Tamil by Jegadeesh Kumar
The Chancellor had reserved for him an hour, from eight twenty.
In the guest room, the skinny, bald-headed man waited with his equipment, a square-shaped machine with an eyepiece made of glass and a few buttons on the front. The guest room was extremely cold. It seemed the freezing cold would pierce your bones no matter the kind of clothes you wore. There were still five minutes left for the meeting. The clock’s hand moved painfully slowly. He checked his equipment once again and appeared satisfied. Taking off his monocle, he nervously wiped it several times with a silk handkerchief. The call came when he wore it back again. A guard, wearing a red uniform and several gold medals, walked in slowly and majestically and said, “Your time, comrade.” His heart began to pound hard when he got up hurriedly to enter the meeting hall.
The meeting hall was huge and freezing. The light from the chandeliers that hung from the high ceiling above scattered all over the hall. In their chairs sat three men, whose faces looked as if they had been stored in a refrigerator for a long time. Their eyes looked like snowballs. The visitor placed his instrument on the ground and greeted them. Their voices sounded awfully thin when they greeted him back. Inside, the cold seemed to grow by the minute.
“I’m Remingo Romelo Don. A scientist. I’ve been given permission to demonstrate my device to you.” said the visitor, in what he hoped to be a polite tone.
They identified themselves as Grigor Vasilievsky, Yevgeny Fatayev, and Ivan Davidov, who were the principal members of the Chancellor’s Scientific Research and Advisory Committee, with Grigor as its Chairman.“What’s your nationality?” asked Grigor.
Don replied with a slight embarrassment. “I have no country. I’m a Gypsy. We are being chased out by all European nations. Based on the shape of my eyes, people say my father could have been German. My name has a Spanish sound but has no real meaning in Spanish,” said Don, smiling politely.
They smiled back.
“It’s been a year since I invented this machine. So far, I couldn’t sell it anywhere. I had a hard time getting permission to come to visit here.”
A faint noise was heard outside. And the trio straightened up and stiffened immediately. Don respectfully stood up. A cold wave ensued as the doors opened. Uniform footsteps were heard. The Chancellor walked in majestically, surrounded by two bodyguards. He had short-cropped hair and a square face with a wide jaw aptly made for the army. Beneath his little nose was the perfectly twisted mustache. His eyes were small, blurred, and slightly contracted. The trio bowed their heads to the Chancellor. Don followed suit. When the Chancellor sat down and nodded his head, everyone took their seats.
The room became increasingly cold as if the floor and walls had turned to ice blocks. Gregor came to life when he realized the Chancellor was staring at him. “Mr. Don Remingo Romelo, What’s your machine for?”
“Your Excellency, this is a powerful destroyer. It has the power to annihilate History. If there are areas in History that your Majesty doesn’t like, we can erase them without a trace with the help of this machine.”
“Elaborate,” said Fatayev. “Will it make a few pages from the History book vanish?”
“No, your Highness. This will destroy real History.”
“What you say is incredible!” said Ivan. We’ve got some high efficiency photo erasing equipment here. They’d erase precisely the unwanted areas from a picture. Is this such a machine?”
“No, your Highness. They are photo erasers. There are some that could destroy texts. Some machines erase memories. But this is not such equipment. This is a complete destroyer of History. This can make a part of History completely non-existent. What you are referring to are just traces of History being removed.”
The Chancellor sent a note to the servants. They kept bringing in bundles of books and albums.
Grigor said, “We have reason to believe that this machine has failed to have built enough confidence in us about its reliability.”
“Your highness, I can give you a trial run,” said Don.
“How do you use this device to remove someone from History?” asked Grigor.
“It’s very simple. Place an article inside it that has a direct connection to that person, such as a photograph, a body part, or clothing, and then press the blue button.”
“Will the person die?”
“No, my lord. It’ll be as if he were not born.”
“This is unbelievable,” said Ivan Dalidov.
“Comrade Don,” said the Chancellor. He too had a thin voice. “Can you show us how it works?”
“Most certainly, your excellency.”
“You can take comrade Grigor as a model.”
Griegor’s face whitened like that of a corpse. Standing upright, he tried to maintain his composure, but his hands couldn’t help trembling. Don quietly turned his equipment and targeted Grigor. Grigor’s head stiffened as he crouched forward slightly. His face tilted to one side as the margins of his lips curled tightly. He let out a sobbing wail. As soon as the light of the machine went out, the place where Grigorhad had stood looked empty.
The other bodies displayed movements that indicated they were relaxing and returning to normal.
The chancellor said in a soft voice, “Check if we still got Grigor’s name in writing.” Ivan started flipping through the encyclopedias while Yevgeni Fatayev did the same with the Government documents.
“There’s no such name,” said Ivan.
“Incredible! The documents do not contain a reference to such a name,” said Yevgeni Fatayev. Grigor’s name was nowhere to be found, including historical texts, Government reports, birth certificates, and documents from educational institutions. Not even in a secret file containing the names of those who were previously destroyed. There simply was no such name. In photographs, the places where Grigor had stood were either filled by other people or they remained empty.
“This is wonderful, Comrade!” said Ivan.
As per the Chancellor’s orders, a woman and her son came in from outside. Their movement was mechanical.
Saying Grigor’s name in full, Ivan asked the boy if he knew him.
The boy frowned, unable to comprehend the question. He looked at his mother. “No,” he answered.
“Do you know him?” Ivan asked the mother.
“No! Who’s he? Is he a traitor?” the woman asked, bewildered.
Ivan insisted. “Mrs. Natalia, what’s your husband’s name?”
“Ivan Sergiyevich. A Komi. He’s dead.”
“What’s your full name?”
“What’s your father’s name?” Fatayev asked the boy.
“Ivan Sergiyevich. My name is Dimitri Ivanov.”
At the Chancellor’s nod, the mother and the son left the room. Files and texts were removed. For the first time the Chancellor had a faint smile on his lips.
“You can fill comrade Grigor’s place now. You are more deserving than him.”
The two looked perplexed. Ivan said in a low tone, “Pardon, comrade. But I do not understand the order.”
The Chancellor’s eyes narrowed.
“We are the only two members of the High-Level Technical Advisory Board. I’m the leader. He is the secretary. We’ve never heard of the name you just mentioned.”
Fatayev said, “Maybe you wanted to appoint someone with that name?”
The Chancellor’s face brightened. He said, “You can leave now.”
When they left, he got up and said, “Fantastic machine! Marvelous invention! I’ll buy this.”
“You are my savior,” said Don.
“Show me once personally how to run this machine.”
“You mean like I’ve demonstrated just now? Certainly, comrade.”
“What? Did you run this machine just now? When?”
“Just now, I’ve shown you how to remove someone from History.”
“Just now? In here? Who was it?” said the Chancellor, baffled.
Don was confused now. “But…” he started. He too could not remember anything. “I’m sorry. I’m a little confused. I’ll show you the button.”
“How did you invent this? What is the formula?”
“This is one of my ancestral secrets,” said Don. “I’m a Gypsy. My race has spread all over the world. Over the past thousands of years, our ethnic groups have gradually been getting extinct from History. Only a few of us are left now. One of my ancestors lost his way and found an entry into one of my dreams. In the dream, he sang a song that contained the secret to building this machine.”
The Chancellor laughed. “It is easier and sweeter to be non-existent from History. Because there is no fear, is there?”
“Yes, my Lord. Which race knew it better than the Gypsies?”
“But History is an expanse of power. I don’t think I can survive without power,” said the Chancellor. For a moment, he appeared to become human. “I have to carry the load, even if I am tired and exhausted. I’ve come a long way. I can’t go back now.”
“Your excellency, this is a very dangerous machine,” said Don. “It should always be next to you. In your bedroom. Under your direct supervision.”
“Thank you so much, Don,” said the Chancellor. “History has been so unbearable for me. Now, there will be no more fear. Your money will be deposited in foreign banks. You can leave now. I have a lot of work at hand.”
Don bowed and said goodbye. A carriage waited for him outside. The moment he reached his residence, he went in and howled at his wife, “Get ready, Maria. We are leaving right now. Perhaps to one of the Asian countries…”
“You said you would get big money for the…”
“I did. But what can we do with it? Do you think that the Europe that plowed the entire world for gold would leave us alone? Let’s go.”
Hurriedly they left their residence, showing their identity cards and permission orders. When the evening flight took off into the sky, Mariya asked, “Then why did you sell him the machine?”
“I Didn’t. It’s my gift to the Chancellor,” said Don.
“I don’t understand.”
“Idiot!” said Don, laughing. “Where do you think those obliterated histories go? They will be continuously stored inside the machine. The machine will always be at the Chancellor’s side in his bedroom. It can never be destroyed; nor can anyone stop it. Within that machine, a different history will emerge and constantly run as non-permanent images. It’ll be the history of the destroyed.”
“My God!” said Marya.
“Perhaps that might be the true History,” said Don. “With the Chancellor himself as its primary witness.” The entire plane trembled as he laughed out insanely loud, all the passengers turning to look at him.
This story is found in the manuscript collection by an anonymous author and cannot be determined if it is the original, an adaptation or a translation. But the handwriting belongs to Veera Bathran.
This story appears in the novel Pinthodarum Nizhalin Kural (The Voice of the Chasing Shadow), released in 1999.
About the Author:
B. Jeyamohan (b. 1962) is a Tamil writer and literary critic based in Nagercoil, India. One of India’s finest authors writing today, he has traveled the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, and his work examines and reinterprets India’s rich literary and classical traditions. His best-known, critically acclaimed novel, Vishnupuram (1997), is an epic fantasy that layers history, myth-making, and philosophy. His works of fiction include the novels Pin Thodarum Nizhalin Kural (1999), Kaadu (2003), Kottravai (2005), and Vellai Yaanai (2013), and explore diverse themes ranging from ideological anguish following the collapse of Soviet Russia to the symbol of the mother goddess in Tamil cultural history to the great famine of Madras in 1876-78. A prolific writer, his output includes multiple novels, short stories, volumes of literary criticism, writer biographies, introductory texts to Indian and Western literature, books on philosophy, and numerous other translations and collections. He has completed his serialized retelling of the Indian epic Mahabharata called Venmurasu (The White Drum), consisting of twenty-six volumes. This is the longest novel in the world. https://www.jeyamohan.in/
Jegadeesh Kumar is a student of Eastern Philosophy, Mathematics teacher, writer, and translator, raised in Southern India, now living in South Carolina, USA. He writes, both in English and Tamil, short stories, poems, and Eastern Philosophy. His work has appeared in The Prometheus Dreaming, Indian Periodical, The Academy of Heart and Mind, Spillwords, Vallinam magazine, The Piker Press and elsewhere.