Mainak Dhar’s Vimana:
The author hopes you will enjoy this free excerpt:
“The Pushpaka vimana that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was
brought by the powerful Ravana; that aerial and excellent vimana going everywhere
at will…that vimana resembling a bright cloud in the sky…and the King got in, and
the excellent vimana rose up into the higher atmosphere.‘
The earliest written account of a flying vehicle called a vimana. This is found in the
Indian epic the Ramayana, which was written at least 5000 years before the Wright
Brothers made what we widely believe to be the first manned flight on Earth in 1903.
Western India, 13000 BC
The old hunter cursed his son for what would have been at least the tenth time that
day. He needed help to carry back the deer he had killed, and with the darkness soon
to be upon them, he wanted to get back to the relative safety of their group well
before the Sun retired for the night.
As he skinned the deer, he smiled as he remembered how he had brought it down
with a single arrow. He may have been an old man, but his eyes were still sharp. It
was a pity that his arms did not have the same strength they did forty summers ago,
otherwise he would not have had to depend on his lazy son to help him carry the deer
He soon saw the boy cresting the top of the hill and coming towards him. He seemed
to be excited.
‘Father, do you know what I saw?’
‘I know that you certainly didn’t see any other animals to hunt. So, my observant son,
what did you see?’
The boy sat down on his haunches next to his father, barely able to conceal his
‘Father, today I saw three vimanas fly over the coast. You know what Kalindi has
been saying, right? About the Gods fighting amongst themselves, about their war
across the oceans?’
The man shook his head in disapproval at his son believing the words of that accursed
wandering storyteller. He still remembered what it was to be young, and to be excited
by such fantastic tales, but he also knew that he needed to focus on providing for his
family, and not worry about what the Gods were doing.
‘My son, the Gods have been around since before my forefathers were born. They
have their own ways, their own lives, and we have ours. Now, help me gather the deer
and carry it back. Or do you want to repeat what happened three moons ago?’
That brought a sudden flush of fear to the boy’s face. He remembered only too well
how another clan had attacked them and taken all their skins and meat. They had been
lucky to escape alive. The boy was just twelve summers old, but he already knew that
he lived in a world where life could be brutal, and short. He started to help his father
pick up the deer when they heard loud crackling noises, like that of thunder. They
both looked up to see that there was not a cloud in the sky and no signs that the Rain
God was going to vent his fury on them. The father watched the sky for some time
and then started to pick up his bow when they heard three more thunderous cracks.
This time, they saw what was causing the sound. High above them in the sky, where
only the birds and Gods flew, they saw three vimanas streak by. Even at this distance,
the father recognized the round shapes of the Vimanas that Kalindi claimed were
flown by the Dark Ones. One of the vimanas separated from the others and dove
towards the ground, seeming to the hunter’s eyes like a bird of prey diving for the kill.
He ran to the edge of the cliff, followed by his son.
They watched as a small object separated from the vimana, and sped towards the
ground, with smoke and fire trailing it. The hunter had heard of the Gods firing
their divine flaming bolts, but this was the first time he had witnessed the awesome
power of the Gods. He watched the object fly towards the ground, almost beyond the
horizon, and then there was a mighty roar that was louder than anything the hunter
had ever heard. He felt his son’s hand clutch his in fear, but he had no reassurance to
offer. He watched in mute horror as a giant fireball covered the horizon. He stared at
the light that seemed brighter than the Sun on the hottest day, and then looked away
as the fireball seemed to expand. His son was screaming.
‘Father, I am blind!’
The hunter felt strong gusts pummeling him and his son a few moments later and they
were thrown to the ground. There seemed to be ash everywhere around them, and
his skin was burning. When the hunter gathered up the courage to look up, he saw a
gigantic pillar of smoke rising above the world.
The Gods had indeed gone to war, and it seemed they were going to set the world on
New Delhi, India, the present day
Aaditya Ghosh watched as the enemy surface to air missile tracked in on him. He
estimated that he was no more than a few seconds away from a fiery death.
As the smoke trail got closer and closer, he was tempted to turn his jet away, but
he knew that keeping a cool head was the best way to evade the missile that was
reaching out towards him. When the missile was just a few hundred meters away, he
released some flares to distract it and then put his fighter through a punishing turn.
For a second, he could see very little as the world spun around him. When he was in
level flight again, he breathed a sigh of relief as he saw no sign of the missile. But the
battle was far from over. He was cruising at thirty thousand feet when he picked up
the first enemy jet on his radar. Fifty kilometers out and ten thousand feet below him.
A quick glance at the top right hand corner of his display told him that the intruders
were two F-16s. He messaged his wingmen to cover him and then swooped down
to intercept the enemy planes. Having chosen a Su-35 for his mission, he knew that
he would likely have an edge when it came to locking on and firing his long range
missiles first, but with two enemies and wingmen he was not sure he could count on
to cover his back, it would be tight.
He slowed down to Mach 0.8 and armed his radar homing missiles as he watched
the F-16s come closer on his radar scope. The two red dots were now barely thirty
kilometers away, and Aaditya noted with some dismay that his wingmen, indicated by
blue dots on his display, were not quite doing much to cover him. In theory, they were
to operate as a team, but in reality, he knew that he was very much on his own.
At twenty seven kilometers, Aaditya’s radar emitted a whistling tone that indicated
that he had locked in on the first F-16. He waited for the triangle to appear over the
enemy jet on his Heads Up Display that indicated that he had a solid lock before
he fired a missile. A second later, he fired another. It was a bit of an overkill, but
carrying a huge load of missiles, he had more than enough, and he had long learnt
that rankings and honors were conferred based on the number of kills, not on
efficiency. He watched both missiles streak across the sky towards their quarry as he
switched focus to the next enemy. The range was now less than twenty kilometers
and he watched as the enemy jet fired a missile at him. The red arrow shape rapidly
approached on his radar display, and Aaditya reacted with no trace of panic or alarm,
his reactions honed by countless hours of practice. He deployed some chaff strips to
confuse the enemy radar guided missiles and put his jet through a series of punishing
9G turns. When he had stabilized, the enemy missiles were nowhere to be seen, and
the first enemy jet had disappeared off his scope, having been obliterated by one of
Without waiting to celebrate his kill, Aaditya selected his short ranged heat seeking
missiles and turned towards the second F-16. He accelerated to over Mach 1 and at a
range of less than ten kilometers, he fired two missiles at the F-16.
That was when his mission was ended abruptly by a tap on the shoulder.
‘Dude, Donkey’s coming this way.’
Aaditya quickly slid the PSP into his backpack as Professor D.K.Kumar, known with
much mirth and little affection among his students as Donkey, walked over to his
‘Mr.Ghosh, you seem to be preoccupied today. Perhaps you could tell the class a little
more about the impact the colonial system had on the Indian economy.’
Aaditya looked at the Professor, a smile on his face, as if he were about to answer. In
reality, his mind was blank. Blasting enemy fighters while playing Ace Combat 6 on
his PSP was about all he had remembered of his Economic History classes till now.
He kept looking at the Professor, hoping he would find a new prey, but he persisted.
Someone coughed, a few notebooks were slammed shut, and Aaditya found himself
being rescued by the fact that the period was over. He heaved a sigh of relief and
looked at Samrat, who was sitting behind him.
‘Sam, thanks for the heads up.’
Samrat smiled, but behind his eager, bespectacled eyes, Aaditya could detect a trace
of disapproval. Oh well, everyone could not be a bookworm like Samrat. Aaditya
was about to leave the class when the Professor called him over. Fearing that he was
in for a lecture, he braced himself, only to be shocked when the overweight, balding
Professor smiled at him.
‘Play your video games all you want, just not in my class.’
Shit, he knew.
Aaditya wondered what he could possibly say in his defense when the Professor
continued, this time, his smile taking on a sad tinge.
‘I know it must be difficult for you. The Principal had told us, but do try and adjust
and let me know if I can help in any way.’
Aaditya mumbled his thanks and left, but was fuming inside. The last thing he wanted
from anyone was sympathy. He barely noticed Samrat walk up next to him.
‘Hey, what happened? Did you get into trouble?’
Aaditya looked down at Samrat and just shook his head. They wandered over to the
basketball court where several boys were locked in a frenetic game. They sat down
near the court, Aaditya wistfully looking at the game. When the ball bounced over to
them, Aaditya picked it up, and was about to hand it back, when an urge came over
him. He looked at the basket, and sent a looping shot that went cleanly through the
basket. Several of the boys on the court whistled and one of them asked Aaditya if he
wanted to join them. Aaditya said he had something else to do and rejoined Samrat, a
smile on his face.
For old times sake.
‘Shit! That was some shot. Why don’t you try out for the college team or something?’
‘It’s nothing. Come on, let’s go grab a bite to eat.’
They sat down at a corner table at the cafeteria, eating their sandwiches when they
were joined by another boy.
‘Hey Sam. Hey Ghosh.’
The newcomer was Deepak, thin and wiry, and with his customary iPod earphones
plugged into his ears.
Samrat’s calling him by the nickname always made him laugh, and Deepak grimace.
Deepak sat down and if Samrat could be summed up in one word as a bookworm, the
word for Deepak, not to put too delicate a point on it, would be a lech. The unlikely
couple had been the best of friends, and in the two months that Aaditya had been in
the college, they had become the closest things to friends he had in his new home.
Deepak immediately began scanning the cafeteria for likely objects of his attention.
Aaditya heard him whisper, ‘She’s looking at me!’
The ‘she’ referred to Surpiya, resident heartthrob of most of the boys in their college.
Supriya of the long legs. Supriya of the impish smile. Supriya of the cute accent.
And also, Supriya of the impossibly rich father and expensive tastes. That was a
combination which put her firmly out of the league of her many admirers.
‘In your dreams, iPod. She’s looking at our own Mister Tall, Dark and Handsome
here’, said Samrat, gesturing towards Aaditya. Aaditya tried to change the topic-
almost the last thing on his mind was flirting with some girl in college. But then when
Samrat nudged Aaditya again, he couldn’t resist but look at the three girls sitting
about a dozen feet away. Supriya was sipping a cup of coffee, but over the rim of the
cup, she was definitely looking at him. Aaditya stared right back. Their gazes met
for a few seconds, and then she turned away. Aaditya smiled to himself, correcting
himself that flirting was almost the last thing on his mind, but certainly not at the
absolute bottom of the list. As on the basketball court, memories came flooding back.
Memories he would rather not have dealt with right now. Standing well over six
feet tall, with the physique of an athlete, he had always had more than his fair share
of female admirers in school. The one thing he hated with a vengeance about his
appearance, his mop of unruly hair, somehow seemed to only enhance his appeal, and
so over time, he had learnt to make peace with the fact that he could never keep his
hair in place.
But that had been seemingly a different life. He had never imagined then that he
would be studying Economics at a Delhi college, with not the foggiest idea of what
he was going to do with his degree, if indeed he ended up getting one. Life had
seemed so certain, so simple, but as the last few months had taught him, just when
you thought you had things totally under control, life threw you a googly you couldn’t
possibly have anticipated.
‘Dude, you lost in thinking about her or what? Come on, we need to hurry, otherwise
we’ll be late for Macro class again. I do hope you’ve done your assignment.’
Just a few months earlier, Aaditya would have laughed at the thought of rushing from
class to class, being harangued for not doing homework. No, his place was in the
sky. Soaring above mere mortals, kissing the clouds. The only uniform that he had
considered worthy of wearing was that of a fighter pilot, the only worthy assignment
being a sortie with a fighter jet at his command. But for now, he would have to settle
for not being chewed up by the Professor for not having bothered to read up about the
Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy.
Aaditya was still thanking his stars that the Professor had not picked on him, and did
not notice Supriya standing in the corridor till he almost bumped into her.
‘Hi. Aaditya, isn’t it?’
Aaditya had never seen her this close before, and he quickly saw that both her
reputation and her legion of admirers were well deserved.
‘Hi. My friends call me Aadi, and you must be the Supriya that half the college tries
‘Only half?’ she said, jokingly.
‘I was referring to the half that is made up of every boy in college.’
She smiled, and Aaditya could sense Samrat shuffling behind him.
‘Supriya, this is Sam. He’s in my class.’
‘You’re the one who came first or something, right? I’ve heard of you, Sam.’
Aaditya was beginning to wonder what Supriya wanted with him when two more girls
‘Aadi, this is Anu and this is Suchi. Girls, this is Aaditya. I guess you’ve just been
here for a couple of months, right?’
Aaditya nodded and smiled at the two girls as Supriya continued.
‘Hey, we were going to grab some coffee. I figured since you’re new in college, you
may want to join us and get to meet some of the gang.’
Aaditya was thinking of what to say when he heard Samrat hissing in his ear.
‘Say yes, you moron.’
Ten minutes later, they were in front of a nearby coffee shop and as they entered,
Aaditya looked at Samrat and Deepak, whom they had called over. Both had wide
grins plastered on their faces.
‘Sam, you look you’ve won a lottery.’
‘Dude, she knows who I am!’
Deepak scowled and playfully punched Samrat on the shoulder.
When they entered and joined Supriya and her friends, Aaditya saw Sam and
Deepak’s expressions change to one of dismay. He realized that his friends had
perhaps imagined this to be a date with Supriya and her friends. Instead there were
four boys with the girls inside.
Samrat and Deepak had been planning all through the short walk to the café how they
would be at their charming and witty best. They had no idea of just how much their
new friend could turn on the charm. Having grown up literally among officers and
gentlemen, Aaditya knew well how to literally charm the pants off someone. Right
from the time he stood up to pull the chairs back so the ladies could sit, to the way
he insisted on starting his responses to them with a ‘Ma’am’. When Supriya heard of
Aaditya’s background, she leaned over and smiled.
‘An Air Force kid. I should have figured. Most guys are not so chivalrous nowadays.’
When Anu asked if the gang would like to meet up later in the evening to go dancing,
Supriya enthusiastically agreed, and before Aaditya knew it, plans had been made to
go to a disco.
Sam caught the look on Aaditya’s face, and was about to say something when Aaditya
motioned for him to stop.
‘I have a long day tomorrow, so sorry to be a spoilsport, but I need to get home early
Supriya protested, but as much as Aaditya wanted to spend more time with her, he did
not want to tell her why he could not go dancing, and he most certainly did not want
the pity and platitudes that he knew would be forthcoming if he did tell her the real
reason. Perhaps on any other day, he would have tagged along, but tonight he was in
no mood to be reminded of his shortcomings. So he excused himself, and said that he
could not join them.
When they walked out, Samrat caught up with him.
‘Man, you should have come along. It’s no big deal.’
Aaditya stopped and looked at him.
‘That’s easy for you to say.’
Samrat looked at him apologetically.
‘Sorry, dude, you know that’s not what I meant. Look, screw them. Why don’t you
me and iPod meet up at my place. I’ve got the new Medal of Honor on my PS3, and
we can go and blow up some Taliban.’
Aaditya smiled. So far only Samrat and Deepak had learnt his full story, and he
was beginning to realize that of all the things that had gone wrong over the last few
months, he had at least been lucky to get a couple of really good guys as friends.
‘That sounds like a plan.’
Aaditya returned to his apartment just after ten o clock. On balance it had been a fun
evening- they had played on Sam’s PS3 for a couple of hours, and then Sam’s parents
had joined them for dinner. His father had asked the boys what they planned to do
after college. Samrat had already decided on an MBA, or rather, Aaditya thought, his
father had decided that for him. And so, even though they were only in First Year,
Sam had started planning on joining tutorials the next year to prepare him for the
admission tests. Deepak was nowhere as certain of what he wanted to do, but given
that every second person in their class was planning to try for an MBA, he replied
with a shrug of his shoulder that he guessed he was also going to join Sam for his
Then came Aaditya’s turn, and when he answered that he really did not know what he
wanted to do, he almost heard an audible gasp from Sam’s father. The awkwardness
had been defused by Sam’s mother who wheeled in dessert. As Aaditya listened to
Sam’s father talk about how important it was to have a plan for life, it kept reminding
him of how different his life may have been if he had been able to follow his plan. To
be honest, he knew he had a lot to be thankful for, but Aaditya hated having to live
with the regret of not being able to do what he had always dreamed of doing. And it
wasn’t just his career. He wanted to meet someone like Supriya without cringing at
the pity that he knew was inevitable when she got to know him better.
He sat down on the sofa in his living room and turned on the television, not to watch
anything in particular, but just trying to divert his mind. He willed himself to not think
too much about the things he didn’t have.
Please don’t go into a self-pity trip again. We’ve been there before and it is not a
When he realized that there was little else on offer other than the usual soaps, he
turned it off and got up to change. As he passed the side table outside his bedroom, he
paused to look down at the photo frames on it.
For most people, photographs are a way of preserving memories. A way of freezing in
time moments that have passed. For Aaditya, they served an additional purpose- they
acted as a constant reminder of the life he could have had if only a couple of things
had turned out differently.
There were a few photographs of Aaditya and his father. The elder Ghosh was as
tall as Aaditya, and Aaditya paused before the photos as he remembered his earliest
memories being that of looking up into his father’s smiling face. There were a couple
of photos of his father with his mother, but honestly Aaditya remembered nothing
of her. The woman who had given birth to him was no better than a stranger, having
shared less than three hours together in this world. She had died soon after giving
birth to him.
He showered and changed, and before he threw his clothes into a corner where the
cleaning lady would pick them up in the morning for washing, he remembered to
take out his good luck charm from his pocket. He ran his hands over the raised edges
of the round, embroidered patch of cloth. He felt the outline of the Hawk, soaring,
its talons bared, two crisscrossing lightning bolts below it. And then just four words
No return without conquest.
The words mocked him now. There certainly had been no return. Not that evening.
Not ever since.
He put his father’s old squadron patch on his bedside table and then booted up his
computer. The wallpaper on his computer desktop was a collage of photos- all
showing his father in uniform. Most of them had Aaditya standing beside him, and
most showed them next to fighter planes. Aaditya smiled as he saw one photo- of him
and his father in the cockpit of a Sukhoi 30. He had sat in the back seat, devouring
every detail, imagining what a joy it must be to fly such a beast every day for a living.
Then there was a photo of him receiving the Silver medal in the National Cadet Corps
Flying Wing. His father stood a few feet away, pride apparent in his eyes.
Growing up among fighter planes and pilots, there had never been any real question
of what Aaditya would do when he grew up. It wasn’t that his father had ever pushed
him to follow in his footsteps, but for as long as he could remember, Aaditya had only
one dream- to be a fighter pilot. Growing up in various airbases, surrounded by pilots,
the dream of flying a fighter had long come to define his life. He had done everything
he needed to do to make that dream come true- join the NCC, fly as much as he
could- often accumulating more hours in the NCC Flying Wing’s gliders and light
planes than many active duty pilots did, and keeping himself supremely fit through
sports and martial arts. It had seemed like a no-brainer for him to join the National
Defence Academy straight out of school, and then make his dream come true by
joining the Indian Air Force.
But ultimately none of that had mattered. And here he was, with little left to show for
the life he once dreamed of, other than a collection of old photos, and the squadron
patch he kept with him at all times. He didn’t want to think about the past, but perhaps
today, there was no way he could avoid it. If his father had still been with him,
tomorrow would have been his birthday. When Aaditya had been growing up, an Air
Force officer’s salary may not have allowed his father to always shower him with
extravagant gifts, but his father had always made sure that Aaditya never felt the
absence of a mother. Every birthday was magnified into a memorable event, including
that one unforgettable time when, on Aaditya’s birthday, his father had allowed him to
sit in the back seat of a Sukhoi.
But while Aaditya had not been able to follow his dreams, he could still live them
vicariously. So, for the next hour, he expounded on the relative merits of the various
contenders for the Air Force’s new fighter contract on an online forum where he had
long come to be recognized as the resident expert when it came to anything to do with
fighter aircraft. He then logged onto his favorite air combat sim and flew a mission
where he obliterated an enemy nuclear plant and shot down a handful of fighters, once
again firmly establishing himself at the top of the Leaderboard, and more than making
up for the afternoon’s aborted mission.
At midnight, Aaditya lay down on his bed. In the drawer of his bedside table was the
letter that had changed his life.
We regret to inform you that Squadron Leader Mayukh Ghosh…
For three days after his father’s jet had gone missing during an exercise over the
Arabian Sea, Aaditya had kept his hopes alive. His father’s squadron mates and their
families had closed ranks around him, ensuring he was never alone, ensuring he had
food, ensuring that the young motherless boy whom they had collectively adopted
as their own never felt abandoned in this moment of need. Aaditya had then truly
appreciated what his father had told him about the Air Force being one big family,
and he was grateful for all the support he had got. But none of that could change the
fact that his father was not going to come back home again. After three days of frantic
searching in shark-infested waters, and with even the wreckage not recovered in the
deep seas, he had been given up as lost.
In one stroke, Aaditya’s life had been turned upside down. And if fate had left the
door even slightly open for him to continue with his life the way he had dreamed, he
had himself slammed it shut with what he had done in the following days.
Aaditya came to realize that perhaps his father had always known, with the instinct
of a career fighter pilot, that one day it might come to this. And so, he had prepared
meticulously- the apartment in Aaditya’s name, the family inheritances invested
in fixed deposits in Aaditya’s name, and a list of contacts, including a good friend
in Delhi who had helped Aaditya get into college and into his new life. His father,
Aaditya thought, even in death, had proved to be the best father in the world. It was
he who had thrown away all the dreams his father may have once had for him.
But tonight was not the time to think of that. Tonight was a time to remember all the
good times he had shared with his father. As he drifted off to sleep, he whispered to
himself, ‘Happy birthday, Dad.’
He dreamt of flying a Sukhoi, streaking through the skies at supersonic speed, the
world and worldly worries left thousands of feet below. But for a change, he did not
dream of flying alone. In the back seat was his father.
Aaditya barely made it in time for his first class the next morning, a combination
of having woken up late and also having decided to ride his bike to college. He had
bought his bike just a month ago, and was still getting used to it. At the time, it had
seemed like a bright idea, but now that he was faced with the practicalities of kick-
starting it, he was yet to work out a routine that did not leave him looking like a circus
acrobat, or gasping in pain as he put pressure on his right leg.
Transfemoral prosthesis. Trust the doctors to come with such a fancy word to
describe chopping off your leg and sticking an artificial and inconvenient contraption
in its place. As Aaditya entered his class, he reminded himself that he should
not really be blaming the doctors for chopping off his leg- he had been the one
responsible for that. And as for the contraption he now had attached below his right
thigh, it may not have been a real leg, but it sure beat hobbling along on one foot and
carrying crutches, as he had done for the first three months after the accident. More
than a year later, when he walked, nobody could tell that he had an artificial leg. That
was of course, unless they wanted to see him in shorts or, indeed, go dancing. The one
legged hop- now that would be a sure way to impress Supriya, wouldn’t it?
‘You seem to be in a good mood. So, did you catch up with Supriya later at night?’
As Aaditya sat down at his desk he just gave a look of sheer exasperation at Sam’s
comment. Sam reached over and whispered into Aaditya’s ear.
‘Take it from someone who’s neither older, nor much wiser, but you need to stop
thinking of what you don’t have and think of what you do have. You’re tall, fair and
good looking- short of casting you in a bloody fairness cream ad, I don’t know what
else I can do to cheer you up.’
Aaditya grinned. Trust Sam to break the ice like that.
After classes, Aaditya had been invited for tea to Wing Commander Asthana’s house.
He had been a batchmate of his father’s and had helped Aaditya settle down in Delhi
when he had moved back to Delhi from Pune after his father’s accident, both for his
treatment and also to move into the apartment his father had left for him. Aaditya
always felt a bit uncomfortable meeting his father’s former colleagues. They both
brought back memories of the life he had left behind, and even if he was imagining
it, he always thought their eyes reflected the unasked question of how he could have
thrown it all away.
An hour later, Aaditya was on his bike, riding home. While he had not shown much
interest to Sam, he had not told him that he had already taken Supriya’s number,
either. He may have been missing a leg, and he certainly did not want any woman to
go out with him out of pity, but he retained enough sense to know that he would be a
fool to not call Supriya again. She was a looker for sure, but more importantly, he had
really been comfortable with her, so there was really no harm in going out with her
and seeing where things went from there.
His bike was almost halfway home, threading through the dense traffic near the
Delhi Zoo, on his way to cross the bridge across the Yamuna river and then on to
Mayur Vihar in the suburbs, where his apartment was. Suddenly, he saw a bus careen
towards him from the opposite direction. The bus driver was either drunk, or didn’t
know how to drive, or both, because he was weaving in and out of his lane. At the last
minute, Aaditya swerved his bike away to avoid the bus.
‘Bastard!’ Aaditya screamed over his shoulder as he continued home, trying to think
of what he’d say to Supriya when he call her, but the bus bearing down at him had
brought back other, less pleasant, memories.
BK or AK?
That mystifying question had been the first words he had heard when he had
awakened to find himself on a hospital bed. The day after the search for his father had
been called off, he had pleaded with the authorities to keep looking. Perhaps his father
had just drifted away. Perhaps he was unconscious and had not seen or heard any of
the helicopters. The officer in charge of the search, a man who had known Aaditya
since he had been in diapers, had looked to be on the verge of tears, but said that there
was nothing more to be done. Aaditya should have known better, but then he had
been only seventeen, and had just lost the only family he had ever known. So he had
helped himself to his father’s stash of Scotch, and then screaming out his rage at the
unfairness of it all, had gone roaring down the highway on his bike.
By the time he saw the bus, it had been too late.
Below the knee or above the knee? That was what the doctor had been asking, as
Aaditya realized later. There perhaps is no good way to lose a leg, but as Aaditya
was to learn, if you do lose one, pray it’s BK. An amputation above the knee makes
recovery much tougher. The Air Force had paid for the best care available, and he
had been fitted with a state of the art prosthetic leg, but as the doctor told him, with
an amputation above the knee, the average patient needed 80% more strength to carry
himself along than a normal person. Aaditya had beaten those odds, turning to the
gym with a frenzy, building his already strong physique into solid muscle, but he had
not been so lucky when, after six months, he had worked up the courage to ask his
father’s Commanding Officer whether he still had a chance to be a fighter pilot.
Chopra uncle, as Aaditya had known him for most of his life, had looked up Aaditya
nearly every day since his father had been lost. He had told Aaditya that he could
certainly still join the Air Force, provided he could pass the fitness tests. That had
been the good news. The bad news was that the doctors had recommended that even
if he were to be accepted into the Air Force, it be ideally for ground duties, since they
were not sure his leg could take the strain of flying. At best he could be allowed to
pilot helicopters, but fast jets were out. The strains of pulling high G forces could be
dangerous, and if he ever had to use an ejection seat, his leg would never be able to
withstand the force.
Aaditya had wondered if he had made the right decision in giving up on joining the
Air Force. He knew the answer. No matter how much he regretted not joining the
Air Force, working in it every day, next to fighters and fighter pilots, yet knowing
he could never be one of them was far worse than being in a world far removed from
it all. Still rattled by the near accident and by the memories it had brought back, he
stopped his bike near the Old Fort, wanting to grab some fresh air and clear his head.
And perhaps call Supriya.
It was now almost nine at night, and while a few hours ago the grounds would have
been full of families strolling or taking a ride in the boats on the small lake in front of
the fort, at this hour it was totally deserted. There were a few food stalls open outside
the front gates, and he picked up some chips, and munching on them, walked towards
the lake. He had been lost in thought and soon realized just how far he had ventured
when he turned to see the traffic in the distance behind him, their lights dimly lighting
up the darkness. Oh well, he was in no hurry to go anywhere, and the cool October
weather in Delhi was perfect, so he walked some more and entered the main fort
premises, walking through the ruins till he found a secluded spot near a large tree that
was just a few meters away from the pond. He sat down there to call Supriya.
She picked up on the third ring.
‘Hey Supriya, it’s Aadi here.’
‘Hey there! So did you decide to make up for ditching me last night?’
Aaditya smiled. Good looking and nice. So they did still make girls that way.
‘Here’s a deal- don’t ask me to dance, and if you’re free tomorrow, I’ll treat you to
dinner anyplace you like.’
A brave offer since he heard she came from a pretty rich family, but he hoped that she
would not ask for the Taj. And if she did, what the hell, Aaditya was feeling happy
and reckless enough.
Before she could answer, someone stumbled into Aaditya, sending his phone flying
onto the grass.
Before he could complete his sentence, he looked up to see a very large man, dressed
in black. Aaditya could not make out many of his features, but saw that his face was
as black as the night. Figuring that this did not look like the kind of man to get into a
tangle with and not wanting any trouble, he got up and moved out of the man’s way to
pick up his phone.
That was when he heard the scream.
The scream that pierced the night was high-pitched and shrill, but the moaning
that followed left no doubt that it was a man in utter agony. The man who had just
bumped into Aaditya raced towards the sound, moving at a speed faster than Aaditya
would have believed someone his size capable of.
Probably some gang related violence.
Not wanting to get caught up in it, Aaditya started to turn towards the pond and make
his way back to the gate, which was a few hundred meters away. That was when he
saw a struggle in the distance. He could not see too many details in the dark, but what
was obvious was that a large figure, likely the man who had just bumped into him,
was grappling with a much smaller person. Her long hair made it obvious that she was
Aaditya never liked getting into fights. Always more trouble than they’re worth,
his father used to say. Walk away if all you’re fighting for is your ego. Defuse the
situation if you can, and only then fight if you’re left with no option.
Walking away was not an option, not when it looked like there was a woman in
trouble. However, Aaditya had every intention of settling this with little or no
fighting. He figured it was a local goon who was taking advantage of the darkness
and the secluded location to get frisky with a woman. Most likely he would just scoot
when he saw that there was someone else there.
Aaditya rushed towards them. With his leg, he could no longer sprint like he once
did in school, but he moved as fast as he could. When he was closer, he saw a man
sprawled on the ground, but the other man and the woman were still locked in a
‘Let her go!’
He screamed at the top of his voice, and the man turned to look at him. He was now
close enough to see the man more clearly. He was huge- at least a few inches taller
than Aaditya and much broader across the chest and shoulders. His forehead seemed
to have a prominent ridge above the eyebrows, and Aaditya was wondering what that
could be, when the woman struck.
She was small, perhaps no more than five feet six inches and looked thin, almost
waiflike, but she struck with a speed and precision that shocked Aaditya. Her hand
snaked out and hit the large man on the neck, sending him down in a heap, grabbing
at his neck and gurgling in agony.
Aaditya stopped in his tracks.
What the hell had he got into?
The woman looked at him for an instant, and he could now see her long, flowing
hair, cascading down to her waist, and she seemed to be wearing a fitting white suit,
similar to what divers wore. But what struck him the most was her face. Her eyes
were blazing as if on fire, and she had a dark red smear running down the middle of
her forehead. Even though she was much smaller than him, Aaditya felt truly afraid as
her eyes bore through him.
He was about to back off, when four more men suddenly appeared, seemingly out
of nowhere. They looked to be carbon copies of the men the woman had already
dispatched- large, well built, and dressed in black. Two of them took out what looked
like curved blades and lunged at the woman. Aaditya wasn’t sure what to do- the
woman certainly looked like she could take care of herself, yet he didn’t want to just
walk away, leaving her facing these four new attackers. His choice was made for him
when one of the men saw him and rushed at him.
Aaditya was in great physical shape, having been an athlete for most of his school
years, and had a Brown Belt in Karate to boot, so he certainly knew how to take care
of himself. As his attacker came closer and reached out to grab Aaditya, he side-
stepped him, grabbed the man’s wrist, and using the larger man’s momentum against
him, sent him sprawling to the ground. Aaditya turned to see that the woman had sent
one attacker down, but was now trading blows with her other attacker, a blade in her
own hand. The two of them moved in a deadly rhythm, circling each other, looking
for an opening, and striking and blocking with lightning fast speed. Aaditya would
have kept watching, but he now had big problems of his own. Two big problems.
Two men, including the one he had sent down, were now running towards him. As
tough as he thought he was, he wasn’t sure he could take on both of these giants, and
not having any way of backing off now, he decided to use surprise to his advantage
and struck first. His feet couldn’t move as fast as they once could, and he certainly
was limited in his ability to kick, but he moved towards the nearer man, and landed
a series of two quick punches- one to the solar plexus that winded the big man, and
as he doubled over, a second blow to the temple that sent the man staggering back.
Aaditya had put most of his strength into the blows and was shocked when the man
stood up a split second later and grinned at him, baring a mouth full of yellowed and
Now I’m in deep shit.
The second man struck out at Aaditya with a punch. Aaditya saw it coming and
blocked it, his right hand coming down in an arc to deflect the momentum of the
man’s blow, and followed through with a kick to the man’s shin. The blow jarred
Aaditya’s right leg and sent pain shooting through his body, but the metal and carbon
fibre artificial leg did much more damage than his real leg would ever have. The man
grabbed his shin and staggered down on one knee. Before Aaditya could do anything
else, total pandemonium erupted around him.
He felt a gust of wind blow around him, and sand being blown across his face, before
he heard the humming noise behind him. It was no louder than a vacuum cleaner, but
when he turned to look, he saw a large flying vehicle land just next to the pond. He
could not make out too many details in the dark, but it was easily as large as a fighter
jet, and seemed to be white in colour. It had a raised canopy, and a nose that was split
and curved upwards, like a bull’s horns. As the vehicle landed on the sand, the canopy
slid open, and a man jumped out.
He was tall, perhaps as tall as the four men in black Aaditya and the woman had been
grappling with, but while they looked like gym-buffed bodybuilders, he was all lean
muscle. He wore a striped bodysuit, and as he came closer, Aaditya thought they
looked like tiger stripes. His hair was matted, almost in dreadlocks and he carried
what looked like a small trident in his hand.
If the woman had looked like she could dish out violence, this newcomer took it to
a whole new level. He rolled on the ground, evading a blow from one attacker and
casually slashed him in the back with the trident, sending him down, and even before
he had fully gotten up from the roll, he had implanted the trident in another man’s
stomach. In no more than a couple of seconds, he had killed or maimed two of the
giants, and stood facing the remaining two, a smile playing at the edges of his mouth
as he said.
‘Want to dance, dear daityas?’
The two men rushed at him, blades glistening in the dark. The woman intercepted
one, sliding on the ground, her legs wrapping around his, sending him down, as she
gracefully rolled onto one knee, and before Aaditya’s astonished eyes, brought her
blade down in one smooth move. When Aaditya looked up, he saw that the last man
in black was also down, lying at the feet of the man in matted hair. He felt a surge of
panic as the man walked towards him, bloodied trident in hand, but the woman came
between them, gently shaking her head. The two of them entered the flying vehicle
and in an instant, it had taken off and disappeared from view.
Aaditya moved to a corner of the grounds and slumped behind a fallen oak tree.
Getting into the odd scrape in school was one thing- the violence he had witnessed
was of a totally different nature. Sitting there among six dead or dying men, he
fumbled for his phone, wondering if he should call the police.
What would he tell them? How could he explain what he had just witnessed? That
was when he saw the glowing cylinder lying a few feet away from him. He picked it
up gingerly and was about to take a closer look when he heard another flying vehicle
approach. He looked and saw it in the distance- it was a different ship- black in colour
and shaped like a saucer. One of the men writhing on the ground seemed to be in
contact with the pilot and said, presumably into some communication system.
‘They got away. We need help.’
If help was what they were looking for, they did not get it. Some sort of beam flashed
from the ship, and one by one, the men lying on the ground were incinerated, reduced
to ash in an instant.
Aaditya lay hiding behind the tree, not daring to breathe. When he heard the sound of
the ship receding, and got up to see a clear sky, he ran faster than he had in years to
his bike and sped home.