Deep in the bowels of the Eastern Ghats Mountain Range nestled the small and obscure village of Cheenna Gato, meaning a tiny hole in the native tribal dialect, a mix of the Odiya and Telugu languages. The year is 1960, and while the rest of the world celebrated many human advancements, the villagers of this tiny jungle-mountain settlement remained happy with their secluded existence. Ramaloo and Anantamma, along with their eight-year-old twin girls Daksha and Aadrika, lived on the fringe of this heavenly little hamlet.
On one pleasant morning, a massive and thunderous sound shattered the tranquillity of this peaceful village. Anantamma rushed out of the hut throwing down the basket of leafy vegetables that she was inspecting to prepare lunch. Daksha and Aadrika, who were playing with little dolls made of mud, ran towards their mother in scare. A startled Ramaloo looked towards the sky, letting go of his axe buried on the side of a fallen tree, which he was chopping to collect firewood for his wife to prepare the afternoon meal of the day.
The sudden and near-deafening noise had jolted every soul of the Cheenna Gato village. Following the earsplitting boom, noises of falling rocks and trees resonated through the entire hamlet. The villagers stood still wherever they were. A great fear had engulfed their very existence. They did not know what was happening as many different sounds of varying decibels travelled through the air, and then there was the boom again, and again, and again. It split through the jungle like the thunderbolts of Zeus cracking in uncontrollable rage.
The noise carried with it fragments of dust, rock, and earth, which settled on the entire forest and the village. From dusk to dawn that day, many more thunderous cracks and unknown sounds took the villagers peace away and along with it came tons of dust and debris spoiling the atmosphere of the entire settlement.
That evening no one dared to speak or discuss anything about the noises. They went to sleep thinking that the next day everything would be normal once again. Alas! The next day the sound had returned afresh, and for days it kept on resonating through the jungle.
“Our very existence can be at threat over here. The ancient scare that our forefathers ran away from has come to haunt us. We shall all die,” screamed a villager addressing the chief of the village. “Do not jump to conclusions, Pandu. We do not know what the sound means. Maybe it will pass away without disturbing our village,” spoke up one of the elders.
“For generations, we have survived by remaining hidden. The ancient scare from which our forefather had run, has never been able to breach the tunnel to reach our village. We lived while the world around us fought many wars and morphed many times, till it became what it has become, unknown to us, and it’s perhaps better this way,” added another old man.
“What if the calamity reaches the village this time? We do not even know what our forefathers were running away from. We need to know what we are up against. We need to investigate,” came another voice from the crowd that circled the great banyan tree, under which sat the chieftain and his council of the five wise old men. That evening after many days of continuously hearing the sounds, the villagers had finally gathered to discuss; what to do about it.
“We could use the tunnel to investigate,” spoke up Ramaloo’s elder twin daughter Daksha. Every villager had a right to speak irrespective of gender or age at any meeting in the Cheenna Gato village, so the young girl was not afraid to share her mind. “How could you even suggest that. It is forbidden for any of us to enter the tunnel,” spoke up Anantamma, covering her daughter’s mouth with her hand and hushing her to silence.
Many generations ago, few families were running from something. Something that had scared them too much. After roaming in the jungles for more than a month, they had come to find a hidden passageway naturally carved on the facade of a gargantuan stoneface. On crossing over to the other side of this tunnel, they found a paradise of habitable space, with a bountiful stream originating from an eternal spring, with fruit trees, game animals and wild cattle.
They settled in the land and came to call their settlement the Cheenna Gato village. To keep the reason for their fear away, they sealed the passageway and forbid anyone from ever travelling through the tunnel to visit the world outside their secret hamlet. For centuries the villagers had heeded this call of their forefathers and never ventured into the tunnel.
“No one needs to investigate this any further. We will ward off this unknown evil by hiding as we have always done,” was the final verdict of the chieftain that day.
Days turned to weeks. The weeks turned to months, and the months turned to years; the sounds became a part of their very existence. The mighty thunderous crack was initially pretty far away but gradually came closer till it was right at the village doorstep, and then it moved away.
As time passed, the sounds also morphed and changed. Booms, clangs, thuds, thumps, cracks, clatters, rings, voices, animal noises and other inexpressible sonic variants resonated through the village. It was a mixture of many sounds that became a constant source of an unknown scare. The tranquillity of their heavenly little hamlet was gone forever, and though the sounds changed, they never completely left.
Seven years passed this way, and the once peaceful village had turned into a realm of perpetual and unexplainable fear. The villagers were scared to stay out of their houses for too long. They looked towards the hills and the sky whenever they heard the sounds, fearing that it would harm them. During this time, no festival or occasion was celebrated in the village.
Daksha and Aadrika were now eighteen years of age. It was time for them to get married as per the village custom. Ramaloo had even identified two boys, but the twins refused to get married in the environment of the scary and unknown noises. The few marriages that happened in the last seven years were all uneventful and silent. The girls were also worried about their mother, who had grown extremely paranoid about the noises. Anantamma had become nearly insane and lived in a constant fearful state of a spontaneous scare. They wanted to free their mother and the villagers of this paranoia.
Then one-morning Ramaloo woke up to find the beds of her daughters empty. They never woke up before him. Anantamma was still sleeping. Something must have happened. Where had they gone so early? Ramaloo frantically searched all over the village but could not find the girls, till he realised what had happened when he saw his axe missing. A lot of time had passed since the girls were gone, and it was nearly mid-day by then. By now, most of the villagers had come to know about the twins’ disappearance and were searching for them.
Now Ramaloo and a few of the villagers stood at the village side entrance of the tunnel with a small opening on its face just wide enough for a slim person. It was clear now that the girls had used their father’s axe to make a hole in the wood and stone cluster that sealed the tunnel and ventured into it to investigate the noises.
The worried father darted to enter the tunnel but was held back by the villagers. Ramaloo shouted and pleaded for the others to let him go after his daughters, but no one would listen. The chief said that they would wait not a minute more than two hours for the girls. If they did not return by then they would seal the tunnel. They could not allow the ancient scare to enter the village.
Daksha and Aadrika had managed to reach the other end of the tunnel. Contrary to the belief of the villagers, there seemed to be no danger in the tunnel. It was just dark, damp and naturally scary. The light from their two burning lard-fuelled torches provided sufficient illumination for the girls to trace their way comfortably. Their bodies however got covered in cobwebs, dirt, mud and water. They realised that whatever their forefathers were afraid of was certainly not in the tunnel but in the world outside.
Using her father’s axe Daksha punched a small gash on the sealed-up entrance of the tunnel and the girls emerged on the other side after an hour of struggle. They were the first individuals from the Cheenna Gato village to step into the outside world and they froze in silence at what they saw in front of them. For five long minutes, they did not move a muscle as a long and slender slithering beast of great fear slowly approached and then passed them. They realised that it must be the dirt, mud and water from the cave that covered their bodies, which had helped camouflage them from the gargantuan serpent that would have otherwise devoured them.
A minute short of the two-hour window, when the villagers were just about to seal up the cave, the girls emerged from the forbidden crevice. Ramaloo and Anantamma ran and hugged their daughters who were covered in cobwebs, mud, and water. The villagers quickly sealed the opening and shut themselves in from the rest of the world once again.
That night a meeting was called around the great banyan tree once again, where Daksha and Aadrika spoke about the beast they had encountered in the world outside.
“The beast is a long and shiny metal-skinned black dragon-like serpent, that released huge columns of smoke from its head as it moved on two shiny metallic lines laid on a circulated path carved on the side of the mountain going through the forest. It made a lot of noise as it moved along the track and released a sharp shrill every now and then. The monster had made many holes in the mountain, long tunnels through which it slithered across the impregnable jungle. There were square openings on its sides, and as it passed by we saw many many people packed inside its belly,” explained Daksha to the confused villagers, who had never heard of such a thing.
I think we need not fear the monster, as it seems to be capable of only moving on the laid metallic line. We think it can never come to the village. All the poor people it had gobbled must have landed in its metallic path by accident,” added Aadrika with a great sense of confidence bringing much relief to the residents of the Cheenna Gato village.
Perhaps it was no monster that the ancestors of the Cheenna Gato village were running from after all. Perhaps they were getting away from the destructive ways of man in general or something else, that we would never know. The present generation of villagers however was happy to get an idea of the monster that lurked beyond their hamlet and thanked Daksha and Aadrika for their extreme courage to bring closure to this ancient scare that had suddenly emerged after many generations during their time.
The Kothavalasa–Kirandul broad-gauge railway line meanders through the dense jungles of the Eastern Ghats Mountain range in India. Cutting across three states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh, the line pierces through fifty-eight tunnels and rolls over eighty-four bridges. This marvel of engineering feet, not seen anywhere else in the world was built over a span of seven years from 1960 to 1967 through Japanese support for transporting iron ore from the Bailadila mines to the Visakhapatnam port.
Today the line is also used by tourists to visit the million-year-old Borra caves at a height of eight hundred to thirteen hundred meters from sea level. So, if you happen to travel on this railway line someday, do keep an eye out who knows you may spot the sealed entrance to an ancient tunnel leading to a secret village.
Copyright © 2021 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at email@example.com or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.
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