Derinchi was your everyday midget – the but-end of ‘short’ jokes. A daily dose of entertainment for the village bullies. Growing up with short stature, the dwarf had learnt to live a life of indifference and mockery. Take his name for instance – Der-inchi, which meant one-and-a-half-inch in the native tongue, was enough to add fuel to the constant misery in his ‘minuscule’ existence.
His small and obscure village Ghuti, a tiny dot in the foothills of Eastern Himalayas, was cut off from the rest of humanity by the 315 Km long and mighty Teesta river. Connectivity was also missing in terms of telephone or internet, which were pretty rare for the surrounding geography in the early eighties.
The only thing that connected this pristine and secluded hamlet to the rest of the world was a two-hundred-foot-long, meter wide, pinewood planked, steel cable anchored, swaying suspension bridge. This marvel of British engineering built by Sir George Turnbull, Chief Engineer of the East India Railway Company in 1862, withstanding the test of time for more than a century, now cried for decommissioning.
After five years of continuous pleading with the BRO (Border Road Organisation), the village elders had finally managed to secure the construction of a new bridge to replace Sir George’s old and rickety ‘connector of lives-to-civilisation.’
Five months had passed since the work of the so-called ‘new bridge’ began. A single steel cable spanning across the river, 50 meters apart and parallel to the old bridge was the only indication that a new bridge was coming up. It was a sign of great hope to the villagers.
Coming back to our hero – Derinchi had just turned 18 this year and was all set to escape this life of perpetual mockery. For many years now he had been dreaming of leaving the village and its insensitive inhabitants, most of whom only made fun of him.
He was all alone in the world and had never seen his parents, who had abandoned him with his grandma many years back and left for the cities. Granny’s sudden demise two years back severed Derinchi’s last human connect and desire to stay at Ghuti anymore.
He wanted to leave, but somewhere deep in his heart, he had an unexpressed love for the place he grew up in. Though the villagers mocked him, deep down he still loved them. This dilemma of a love and hate relationship was that, which had kept him from leaving till now.
He had saved some money by doing odd and unwanted jobs in the village. He was all set to leave but lacked the courage to take the uncertain leap of faith into the unknown abyss of the outside world.
Huddled in the corner of his 3-feet bed, clenching an old and tattered yellow flyer Derinchi smiled in the dim light of the kerosene lantern. It flickered with the cold draft that entered his tiny stone shanty through the gaps of the weathered wooden window panel.
It had been raining badly for the past seven days, and finally, on this particular night, the rain seemed to take a break at last. The slow and evenly paced trickle of water through the corner of the hut’s rusty tin roof into an ancient enamel bowl was the only thing that broke the silence of the night.
Stretching out his bowed left hand, Derinchi turned up the light of the lamp to have a better look at his precious yellow flyer. Gently brushing his fingers across the ‘hallowed parchment’ feeling its texture, he read out the nearly faded words – ‘Barnum and Baileys Great and Bizzare Bombay Circus.’
He was reading the ‘sacred scroll’ for maybe the millionth time. It was one of the few worthless ‘treasures’ that he had inherited from his father, who had left it behind with a few other wretched relics in a squeaky aluminium box.
Derinchi’s smile grew wider as he gazed into the ‘bygone pamphlet’ from the nineteen twenties. The psychedelic collage of a roaring lion, a crouching tiger, two dancing bears, a cycling elephant and his favourite at the centre, ‘Dwarf Dwalin’ treading majestic on the tightrope high above the cheering crowd below, took him into a world of imagination.
He pictured himself high on the rope acknowledging the imaginary roar of applause from the crowds below, with a proud yet humble nod.
From the moment he had laid his eyes on the flyer for the first time, he’d made up his mind to pursue fortune and fame as a tightrope-walker – a dwarf trapeze artist, touring the world as part of a famous circus.
Many years had passed since the very first time Derinchi had visualised this dream. He had even been practising every day on a 10 feet tightrope. This he had somehow managed to rig between two pine trees in the forest behind the village. Over time he had become very good at balancing and walking on it.
Sitting up, on his bed, Derinchi delicately placed back the circus flyer into his aluminium box. The slow trickle of water into the enamel bowl had now turned into a fast drip. Sliding down from his bed, the dwarf placed the palm of his left hand, outside the window to gauge the intensity of the rain. Within a few moments, he could feel the steady drizzle turn into fat and fast droplets of icy-cold rain. The downpour was becoming pretty bad again.
Climbing back on his bed, Derinchi tried to fall asleep. He twisted and turned from one side to the other but could not sleep. The rain outside was now turning into a violent thunderstorm.
The sudden crack of lightning somewhere near made the dwarf spring out of his bed. Like a Jack-out-of-a-box the midget bounced and bobbed inside the shack. Disoriented, Derinchi somehow managed to push open the door of his shanty only to witness the scene of an annihilating natural disaster unfold before his eyes. The likes of which he had not seen in the eighteen years of his existence in Ghuti.
Torrents of calamitous mountain rain gushed down on their village. Thousands of tons of icy-cold mud and water came rushing down the hilltop behind. The villagers clung to their dear lives, holding on to whatever they could.
With all its might the flash flood lashed on to Sir Turnbull’s dying bridge. Within moments in front of everyone’s eyes, the old and rickety hundred-year-old structure broke and vanished into the mighty raging Teesta below.
Shouts and cries of petrified villagers clinging on to their dear lives mixed with the terrifying sound of the killer storm filled the ravaged surroundings. As the minutes turned into hours, right before Derinchi’s eyes, many were washed away into the river. Cadavers floated in the flooded village bylanes, while survivors awaited death on rooftops and high grounds.
Someone had to do something, the storm would not stop. Derinchi realised that as time passed things would only get worse. Their only way out of this was to get help from outside, but how, and who could help them?
For a moment Derinchi’s entire life flashed before his eyes, amidst all the bullying, mocking and hatred, somehow he could only remember the smiles, laughs, goodness and beauty of his wrongdoers. However they were, they were still his own, they were the only folks he knew. Despite everything, somewhere deep down, he loved them too.
Without wasting any more time or thinking anything else, Derinchi took the leap of faith he had dreaded for so long. Only this time not into an unknown world of fortune and fame in a famous circus, but to save the lives of the people he thought he hated so much.
Making his way from rooftop to tree branches, the dwarf swung like a pro. Like a seasoned parkour practitioner, the midget made his way through the obstacle course of natural disaster to the anchor point of the steel cable for the new bridge. The cable spanned across the river stretched strong and confident, too thin to be destroyed by the storm.
Climbing on to the steel wire, the dwarf slowly stood up. Closing his eyes he calmed his nerves. Taking a deep breath and then releasing the same, Derinchi inched ahead on the longest and scariest tightrope that he could ever imagine walking in the wildest of his dreams.
Onlooking villagers, clinging to their lives, shouted out, coaxing him to stop this madness and return to safety. Derinchi, however, did not hear their cries of warning, all he heard in his mind was the cheer and applause of hundreds of mesmerised fans. It was his moment of glory. For the first time in his life, he was not a useless dwarf, but the only hope of survival for many – a real-life hero to the people he knew.
As lightning thundered and danced in the backdrop of the stormy night sky, it left behind the tall shadow of a small man with a big heart, who vanished into the haze of the tempest, 150 feet above the frenzied Teesta river, risking his life to save those who hardly thought anything of him.
As the storm calmed at the break of dawn, two Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama Indian Army helicopters, better known as the Cheetah appeared on the horizon. They were there to rescue the villagers.
So it seemed Derinchi had made it across the steel-tightrope and managed to hike to the Indian Army base 40 km away from the village and ask for help in time. The timely arrival of the choppers saved many lives that day.
On that dreadful night, Derinchi had lived at the ‘pinnacle’ of his life. Sadly, on reaching the army base and after informing the commander about the dreadful plight of the villagers of Ghuti, Derinchi breathed his last.
The hour-long crossing on the tightrope amidst the lashing thunderstorm followed by the treacherous hike through the deadly mountain jungle to the army camp caused the dwarf to lose his life. His loving heart succumbed to the strain and ceased to beat anymore.
Many years have passed since that dreadful night, and today if you visit Ghuti, you will surely be thrilled to enter the picturesque hamlet crossing the new suspension bridge. However, what will take your breath away, stop you, and make you think for a moment – is the giant statue of a dwarf with the following words inscribed below it:
“Derinchi the tallest amongst us, who gave up his mighty life to save even the smallest of us.”
Copyright © 2020 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
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