The General

It was two hours away from the time of execution of The General when the public screamed his name followed by the utterance of choicest of obscenities. “Hang the motherfucker by his balls until it turns numb and useless!” said the jubilant old tart, who once happened to be the celebrity whore of the town and had begun her illustrious career with The General as the customer. Fire crackers were burst and the public rejoiced in joy after each rocket surged and exploded in the sky. The last time a cracker was burst was ninety nine years ago when The General took over as our respected Dictator. The grandiose of celebrations was even higher to mark his inglorious exit now. Blockades had been set a day earlier on either side of the road to restrict the public from entering the procession to be carried out by the new army which would allow the public to witness the disgraced old Dictator being taken to the shooting ground. People had started trickling in the streets the night before to catch their first class front seats to get the best view of the impending proceedings. Street vendors had started selling their ripe tomatoes and rotten eggs in the mean time which sold like exhibition tickets. Folks had even taken positions in nearby rooftops and windows with their vegetable artillery. It was known to all that this day would eventually come after The General’s meek surrender to The Barbarians but none of us had expected the scale of arrangements the new army would be making to make The General’s farewell as inglorious as this.

The Barbarians made a blitzkrieg attack on a Saturday which left The General and his Violet army no choice but to surrender. The General was still in his bed when the news of the coup arrived along with his bed coffee that morning. The Loyal Maid recalled that dreaded morning, “It was seven in the morning and I went to wake him up with the coffee cup in hand as I did every morning before that for thirteen years, only to find the Red army already inside awaiting my arrival. Maybe they had been trying their bit to wake him, but when I peeped in he was still in the same position in which I had seen him as I did every morning before that for thirteen years. I called out The General as The General and told him the imminent news. He still had his eyes closed and said with a warm conviction ‘God, woman! I know how I would go. I have seen it in my dreams. This would not be the way I go because this is not what I dreamt’. I thought the Red army would retreat hearing this but what ensued was quite the contrary. Bad for The General, the wrong dream cost him his job”.

There were many elderly loyalists for The General many of whom, quite unlike the maid, flipped sides to save their arses from being fucked by The Barbarians. Many loyalists who couldn’t switch sides on time were identified by the locals and tied upside down in the coconut trees of the castle garden. In the mean time, volunteers were sent to the Galleria Stadia, a stadium where The General had promised to conduct the next Olympics in collusion with the friendly Italian Government, to dig up 10*10 holes. The loyalists were released from the garden only to be lynched later in the night after the children of the town had gone to sleep and were buried in the newly dug holes of Galleria Stadia.

To explain the events that led to the downfall of The General in a chronological fashion, it all started with a piss. What could have been contained and released later was prematurely let out and in this moment of lessened alertness of the officer in charge of guarding the Northern wing, came flying the order from the Major of the Red army to his soldiers to let go of the arrows held in their bows. Three thousand arrows headed towards the Red army camp out which two thousand two hundred and twenty two dealt their rightful sting, which was sufficient for the Red army to clinch victory. Once the Northern wing was ousted, there wasn’t much left for the Violet army as their archipelago of an island was routed with the fierce naval artillery of the Barbarians. The chief port on the Western end and the Rihas cliff, the stronghold of the Army on the South Western front, were captured after intense shelling. Then on, the Red army marched right into the city centre in the next three hours. The blanket of darkness gave the Barbarians the shield of invisibility and when dawn broke out, all that the denizens of the town could do was stare at the red clad, armour wielding new guards of the town. For all they knew, it was a change in uniform as a part of the promises made by The General as a part of this year’s manifesto. The ninety nine year rule gave little chances for wondering about the change in leadership. The Red Army had even prepared posters and pamphlets indicating the downfall of the anarchy and about the days to come under the exciting leadership of The Barbarians, even before they had launched their assault. It was quite breathe taking for us to realise the preparedness, premeditation and the confidence of our new rulers. The posters were pasted on all the doors of the city and the responsibility of pamphlet distribution fell upon the children of our godless city. The only God we had ever known and planned to ever know was The General. The thought of worshipping him was never taught to us. It wasn’t imbibed. Devotion just happened to be aligned in the general direction of The General. It never occurred to me for a good sixty years the reason behind this blind act, until one morning my fifty year old boy came up to me and asked the rational. I, in turn, had to turn my eye towards my seventy year old father, who in turn didn’t have anyone to turn to except to himself. Apparently, the answer came, not from my father but from my eighty year old mother who happened to be the neighbour of The General in her childhood days.

“Oh what days they were? Feels like a long time ago. Like I’ve given birth to a million generations when all I could muster from your father’s depositions was you. Our neighbours were a conservative lot who didn’t come out of their houses ever except for the Man. We had never seen them since the time we moved in. The only evidence of neighbourhood was the squealing of a new arrival in the family which happened every ten months. Fearing we would lose count or a day may come when the couple would themselves approach us for clarification, we started making marks on our wall, one strike for every new addition. The house was no palace. They couldn’t afford to go beyond a head count of ten. But the twelfth arrived the same night. All the several arrivals lead to a departure that same star studded night. The mother had made a quiet exit to the Moon and the Father was heard yelling all day at Mr. Twelfth for coming out the canal with his mother’s heart in hand. Silence restored after almost a week when the Father had nothing left to say. All this while Mr. Twelfth lay on the ground with his hands folded across his chest and a stark face, intently listening to his father’s oration. Little did Father know Twelfth would recollect the words of that week and recite them again- to pinpoint exactness, an accuracy which would stun a woodpecker locating a tunnel- twenty four years later before sending a bullet through his father’s head.” Apparently the story didn’t end there. But it didn’t start there either too.

The tag of a killer had hounded the General since his birth and no wonder socialising was not something that came naturally to him. His eleven siblings distanced themselves from him by a clear five metres. Neighbours goaded him with their vicious tongues. Words which were not meant to be spoken were spoken with utmost sincerity. No one had ever heard any of his siblings or his father call for him. Thus, none knew his name. But, as in any scenario, there was an exception to this. Anoida, a proud mother of twenty seven and the grandmother of sixty five of the town’s inhabitants, recollected her memory of a Thursday evening when she saw ten year old General walking by the lane with a puppy in one hand and a knife in the other.

“Ha Ha! I do remember that evening. Fucking dogs started barking everywhere. No such I have ever heard. Ha Ha! Then I turn around and I see the freak, oh that’s what we used to call him then, walking with a pup and a knife. And all the town’s dogs were behind him. Even the dogs knew this bastard was going to chop the poor thing up and have it for dinner. They knew how fucking crazy the freak was. Ha Ha! He was like the Pied Piper, dogs instead of mice. No one wanted to witness it. Just the thought of his ‘coming-soon’ deeds made people puke in the streets. Ha Ha! But I didn’t feel that way. Some Thursday evening air it was I guess, didn’t make me feel like puking nor piss in my skirt right then. Ha Ha! Given everyone had already run inside and bolted their doors; I brought up myself before his path. It didn’t even matter to him whether I was there or not. Maybe he had taken for granted that none would be around. He walked past me without even noticing me. All his eyes were on the poor pup. Ha Ha! I didn’t know how to call him. So I walked behind him and patted his shoulder. He turned around and to my surprise smiled at me and said ‘Good evening miss. How may I help you?’ Ha Ha! Can you believe a good mannered killer? Ha Ha! Fucking disappointed me. Hell of first words when a cold stare would have summed him up for me. I wanted to know his name but the dog in his hand got my first attention. Ha Ha! I said, ‘What are you going to do to him?’ And then he says, ‘Nothing. Why?’ And then I go, ‘Nothing. Felt like I wanted to ask. What is your name?’ And he said, ‘What is your favourite name?’ I have always known Axel was my favourite name and I immediately said ‘Axel.’ And then he said, ‘What a coincidence? My name is Axel too’ He then walked away with the dogs in his trail. I was the only one in the neighbourhood who had spoken to him then, the only one who knew his name, the only one who knows how he sounds like besides his neighbours who had heard him wail as a kid. I never told anyone about it and kept it as a best laid secret. I wanted the privilege to remain with me forever. This was until it came to my knowledge that there were many in the town whose favourite names matched with the name of the General. Ha Ha! He fucking cheated on me. I was so angry when I came to know of it, I decided to keep all this to myself and take this humiliation to my death bed. I just told you all that, didn’t I? I am not even in my death bed, am I? Ha Ha! Fucking wasted.”

There are many legends associated to his rise from a poor household to a fiery dictator who ruled the country with iron fists and Caribbean beach trousers. One among them, the most favourite among them all, was once recited by my father as a bed time story when I was ten years old. “Once upon a time there was boy in an island. He had no friends. He had no family which considered him to be family. He wandered around the island aimlessly; pissing, snorting, and sniffing in any place he wanted. One night, in one of his sojourns around the island in night time, he found a gang of nine armed men standing behind the fort wall. He immediately hid behind a bush and closely monitored their movements. He then realised they belonged to the Barbarian army which had long tried to assassinate our beloved King. He did not raise any alarm but pursued the gang in stealth. The gang had then entered the fort by scaling the walls and had found their way till the King’s chamber. The boy who was until now ten feet behind the gang sprang like a hungry leopard and fought with bravery unmatched by any historic character there has ever been or ever will be, killed all of them and saved the King’s life. The King, as a sign of his gratefulness and out of pure fatherhood instincts, adopted the boy as he had no children of his own. But alas, the bachelor King expired the very next night due to a sickness he had suffered in secrecy for a long time and thus brings to end the story of a boy to King. Good night.”

I totally understand. I empathise with you, completely. ‘Why did he call himself a General when he was crowned a King? Why did he turn fiery when he was to be beloved? How come a King was never married and had no legal heir to the throne? If not a legal heir, how come no illegal ones too? Were we ruled by a Virgin King? Why was a General wearing Caribbean beach shorts?’ These questions kept lingering for a long time. The truth was known only to an elite few and was withheld by them in fear of dear life. The public hanging of Minister No. 7 along with his family and his whore was still fresh in memory (The General didn’t like to be questioned too. That explains the reason why the Minister of Public Works was hanged ten minutes after he pointed out that the General’s consumption of water and electricity was the highest in the town). This day, the day of hanging of our secretive General, was the day I had to await to get the answers. The obnoxious level of adulteration that gone in the legend became clear to me.

The initial premise was all fine. Of him being lonely and walking down the alleys of darkness, being Pied Piper and befriending dogs. But on the inside the General was a man of wants. It is quite obvious that for a man who was undergoing big bad bitter things, his wish would be to get big good beautiful things. He aspired for them. He longed for them so badly that he was prepared to sacrifice anything, anything but himself to attain it. Not that he had any attachments to give away, even then. And in deep search of his wants he entered dark alleys. He mixed with the people of the night. They owned him. They possessed him like their own. And he in return possessed them. He killed for money. He smuggled goods that were then prohibited. His status quo of a destitute young boy favoured fewer suspicions. His acts were well thought of and excellently staged. No traces led to him or his sources ever. News spread of his crimes and soon it fell in the ears of the Barbarians. They arranged for his deportation from the island. They inducted him in secrecy. They trained him in every front possible. He did not find the armed ten member gang that fateful night. The gang had found him a long time back and he was out playing his part in the play that night. It was a ten member suicide squad to assassinate the King and his men. But one among the ten had no intentions of committing suicide that night. This one had bigger and better plans. Plans as big as to make it seem unfathomable but was attained in due course of time.

The General, on his return to the island after his training, was sent on a clear agenda to identify ways to break into the castle and make possible the assassination. But study of the fort was not possible without knowing someone who knew the fort inside out; the number of soldiers guarding the fort, both inside and outside, the rooms and their alignment, the best escape routes in case of a failed attempt, so on and so forth. He chose to be that someone as he couldn’t trust anyone else. He enlisted himself in the government as a soldier. Two months later his name was in the shortlist of candidates who could appear for the army. His skills as an excellent marksman, a skill he had honed in the training grounds of the Barbarian army, won him accolades and brought him close to the then General of the army. Soon his name had found a place in the elite squad which guarded the fort, which is what he had worked for all along, to move in proximity to the fort and eventually to the King. He took the oath to protect his King and his fortune for the welfare of the country. From the walls he gradually proceeded to inch towards the main tower and then the prime chamber of the King. He studied the fort so well he could move in it with his eyes closed without making a pin dropping sound. He prepared detailed drawings of the fort and monitored the positions of the guards who numbered in hundreds. And all this weren’t achieved not in months, but years. Years which the Barbarians didn’t mind waiting for to exact revenge and to attain a death which had evaded their grasp for almost two hundred years. It was on his twenty third birthday that the General thought was apt to carry out to the plan. He made the Barbarians know of his master plan and he grouped a team of nine, the most trust worthy and skilled, to carry out the act. Each of them was given detailed sheets explaining their individual moves and the guards they have to take off like chess pawns and reach the main chamber where they would eventually meet to reach their ultimate target. A pilot version was carried out in the supervision of the Barbarian King who gave his immediate assent for the project. The General also had prepared detailed plans as to how the Barbarians should move their army into the country following the fall of the King. The attack and the subsequent seizure were to be swift and efficient to catch the Violet army pants down. Once the suicide squad’s deeds were over, the General had taken the personal responsibility of sending the signal to the Red army to launch attack by lighting the beacon on top of the cliff.

The same night the Red army was made ready and sent to the forefront of the Rihas cliff. The ten member assassination squad had made an early move towards the island in a separate boat. On reaching the island, the squad moved into the castle right away. They picked the guards one by one, slashed their necks and dumped the body in corners. All went well for the squad and in no time were they able to reach the inner chambers. The General reached the main chamber first among the ten, and made his way through easily given he was the guard of the fort. But in a case of misplaced trust, the King didn’t realise the true intention of this guard who was about to breach his oath. The tip of the General’s sword had already reached the King’s chest when the latter had made a motion to reach for his dagger. And before a finger could be laid on the dagger, the heart was pierced and the General’s sword had come out from the King’s back. The General then proceeded to behead the King and came out of the chamber grabbing the King’s head through the lock of the hair. The other nine of the squad had enacted scenes on similar lines with the Ministers and most importantly with the then General of the Violet army. A meeting was then convened with the members of the squad in a round table, with the heads in the centre, on the future course of action. The General took centre stage and gave instructions which were quite contrary to what was decided before. He clearly stated his intentions of becoming the General and made announcements of promotion to the squad for being his lieutenants. He even made allocations for them in various departments of administration and their yearly remunerations with no tax cuts. He even allocated them lands in hectares and proclaimed that their days of hard work and suffering were over and gave a picture of happiness and glory in the days to come. Statues of bronze which would be placed in every street corner were also indicated in their honour. He openly questioned the attitude of the Barbarian King who wished to take the throne after having not even raised a tooth pick to attain it. The benefits of the General’s scheme seemed to override those of the Barbarian king and the team of nine immediately gave their inclination to avail them. They proceeded to march out of the fort with the heads of the ex-chieftains and placed them in the entrance. The army troops were assembled over night in the Galleria Stadia and the General made them aware of the change in the administration that had taken place a few hours ago over a round table.

The Red army awaited the beacon to glow any time. The Barbarian king was puzzled by the time it was taking for the proceedings to complete as the pilot demonstration had only taken half an hour to complete. Dawn broke out and still there was no signal. Thinking the squad had failed yet again he announced the Red army to retreat back to their original posts in dejection. It was only in the morning of the capture of the General did the Barbarian king come to know the true nature of the events that had taken place ninety nine years ago. The illusion of his neighbouring country being ruled by a King while it was ruled by a dictator made him feel so bad, that he banged his head in the nearest wall for a full five minutes until the soldier standing next to him stopped him from continuing as his Red soldier uniform was getting spoilt by the blood bursting out from the King’s head. It was not just the Barbarian King who was banging his head. On the corner the General had started hitting his head on the wall for dreaming the wrong dream on his downfall. This continued until the good maid with the coffee tray in her hand stopped him for the same reason as the Red army soldier. He was then led to the shooting ground for his execution after his hands were strapped with chains. His request to change to his uniform from his night gown was turned down by the Barbarian King, who was still wincing from pain due to excessive bleeding from his forehead. The General, unable to bear the humiliation of being executed in his night gown, started crying uncontrollably.

The lanes leading to the shooting ground was filled with people who would not allow the Red army to proceed until everyone’s had their turn to spit and curse the General. It was also the first time they had ever seen him cry which they mistook as his sense of remorse for all the bitter things he had done. News of the crying spread soon and more people rushed to see it in amazement and leading to a blockade and delaying the proceedings by almost an hour. The bleeding Barbarian King was upset that this delay could mean he would have to shorten his first public speech in the island accordingly. But the joy of the proceedings gave him immense pleasure which overrode the upset. To see the island curse the General and rejoice his name and the days of glory to come was the only dream the Barbarian King and his ancestors had dreamed of. Seeing the General being reduced to nothing was a painful sight for a select some, which more or less constituted only one single breed, his dogs. The rest of the crowd burst crackers drank their hidden undrawn beers, sang their un-sung songs, spoke their un-spoken languages and shown their un-shown disgust. His siblings too had come to see their infamous brother to whom they hadn’t spoken since his birth and joined along with the crowd to try and spell obscenities. Their angst for taking away their mother at birth and later their father poured out and came to be known to the public for the first time.

Well, the episode of the General with his father is not a long one. After realising that his son was now the ruler of the island, the father went to meet him in his castle. Upon meeting him, the father couldn’t control his happiness over seeing his son and went over and hugged him. The General still hadn’t forgotten the bitterness of his childhood and drove his father from the castle. The attitude of his son did not disappoint the father who continued to visit the castle now and then. Most of the times, the General declined to meet him and the father walked back home convincing himself that a day was not far when his son would understand the renewed love and respect of his father. No more able to control his father’s visits and in the fear of making the public know of his ancestry and roots, the General promised to meet his father in a secluded place every Tuesday evening and talk over things that were bothering them. No reconciliation was ever reached. Yet the meetings continued with talks where the father persuaded the son to consider bringing his family close to him. One fine day, when the General was on his usual yearly Independence Day General parade along the streets of the town, the father approached and stopped the parade and requested his son to drop a cheque at the bank which was in the route of the parade. Enraged by the incident, the General in his next meeting with his father, committed patricide and put to an end to his bitter parental relations.

Upon reaching the shooting ground, after about six hours, the General was tied to a post and the shooters were aligned and instructed to take the best shot possible. The General, who was crying until then, suddenly stopped doing so and called out for the shooting squad supervisor. The General requested that he be unbound and shot at. He pleaded for the supervisor to do it and save a last moment of disgrace, which was until then flourished upon him. The supervisor agreed and ordered a trooper to untie the knot. Once freed, the General, in his undoubted level of stupidity, made a run for the walls of the ground with his back against the squad. Everyone, even he knew, it would be impossible for him to scale a twenty foot wall with his hands tied in his back. Yet the confident run towards the wall made the supervisor doubt this belief. Shooting at the back was something the Red army detested from following as a course of action and awaited the right moment to take a shot. Every barrel was aligned in the direction of the General’s chest. At this moment of heightened drama, a black cat crossed the path of the General and unable to forego his superstitious belief of it being a symbol of bad luck, he restrained himself from proceeding any further and continued to rotate three times in clockwise direction before proceeding any further. The squad, confused by the proceedings they were witnessing, had lost clear sight of the purpose of the evening. But, I hadn’t let down my barrel at any moment of time, and I sent my first shot towards the General. It pierced through the General and I guess he was unaware about it as he continued to go about his gyrations. The second time he made his bare chest available for viewing through the barrel, I made sure he felt the pinch this time. And it did. He stopped moving and stared right at the squad which by now sent bullets at will until the General collapsed on his knees and later on his back. The squadron leader asked two among us to pick and heave the body into the pit. I happened to lift him by the legs when my partner held him by the arm pits and we placed the body inside the trench. The sporadic shooting to kill the General had also made prey of the cat and somebody threw the dead cat after him before the trench was closed.

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