(A short fiction by Sidharth Vardhan
July 15, 2018)
I probably know more about Adiyaas then anyone else does. The Empire has long known that they have dwelled in the difficult conditions of these mountains in the North of empire. In fact, I myself have been part of several of Empire’s efforts to seek them out, so as to civilize them. Several times the whole of their communities have fled when we were just moments from getting hold of them. A few times, some of them have actually been caught.
The ones that were caught were almost always old or sick, too weak to move, but never children. Few who could walk were too weak to go too far –we had to carry them all on horses. These ‘deserted’ ones were always submissive – not crying, not wailing, not resisting. Unfortunately, we were forbidden killing those who give themselves up. The Empire still hoped to try and understand about ways of the Adiyaas from them. They had been deserted, you could expect them to betray; but no, not one of them did.
They wouldn’t understand our language when we tried to speak to them. Even in the case of necessities, they would communicate merely with signs. It was as if they were dumb and stupid. They never ever spoke or let a sound escape their mouths – even when our torturers would beat them, though their faces would show the signs of pain, they never cried audibly. Not out of strength or pride – I could see that much even back then, but it was as if they just didn’t know how to. And anyway, what was the use of crying? Who could have helped them in the civilized worlds? But they were not dumb and mute – they would sing, always sing those songs in some language unknown to us, those very same songs – charming to our ears, meaningless to our minds. We couldn’t get them to tell us; and they would sing them in the chorus if they could, or if they couldn’t do so, then each one would sing it alone, though in the later case, they always seemed somewhat sadder.
These songs have long fascinated the people all over the empire. They travel from far to listen to these people, perhaps even enjoying the tortures given to the deserted ones. The children they brought along almost always took to dancing on these songs. The impact these songs have on people of Empire could be felt from the number of and frequent use of proverbial expressions, metaphors and similes these songs have given birth to. “Stop singing Adiyas songs” one would say to someone talking gibberish, or too technical language to be understood, or “Her voice is as melodious as Adiyas’ singing their songs” for someone singing beautifully or “He is singing Adiyas’ songs” for an artist doing the best of his works in his or her last years or ‘An Adiya’ is title given to person who seems soft and easy going in every day but changes entirely into a different person when singing, dancing or doing any other indulgent activity. One of the provinces was often called ‘Adiyas of East’ because of their communal unity or “He knows how to sing Adiyas songs” for someone really good at befriending children. In last few years, the apparent rebellious nature and popularity of these songs led Empire to ban visitors (and thus foolishly making Adiyas into a legend) and even try to ban any kind of reference to Adiyas and their songs, a ban which failed and was soon forgotten because those expressions had become a vital part of Empire’s language.
Empire has employed several linguists to interpret these songs – the best in their field of course, but all to nothing. Like other intellectuals, they knew how to put in a ‘theory’ where truth could not be discovered – and they were full of these theories, each theory as good as the next one which was not very good.
I was no exception. Those songs have held as much interest for me as the mysterious stars and secrets which make some of the flowers bend their head down as if blushing. I first heard them at age of eleven when I first saw Adiyas sing them while they were tortured – I was taken there by my father who supervised the torture (unlike other visitors who were more interested in songs, sights of torture being available in every town and village of the empire, making it redundant to travel this far). My father, though, didn’t want me to grow into a softy. Before I myself knew it, I was dancing to the songs. I still remember the dancing thing came naturally to me – even though, I have always been a really introvert person. My father seeing me dance gave me a good beating – it was the start of training that ended when I was a man.
I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to know more about these songs. It was years later, while leading one of the hunts for Adiyas that I got separated from the rest of my crew and was a castaway in these almost barren mountains. I was lucky to have been found by Adiyas. After a couple of days, I woke to find myself surrounded by them; they can be as quiet in their moments as a fox. One of them held out some food for me, which I fearing it to be poison refused to take and ran away. They left off in another direction ignoring me, not at all trying to catch me. Having so long lived in the civilized world, you develop the instinct of expecting everyone else to be civilized like you – and so it took me a while to notice that none of them were carrying any weapons. I myself still had a gun and a revolver, I could use it if I needed to – I followed them at a little distance. They noticed me and waited for a while to see if I will join but when I stayed at distance, they resumed their walk.
We soon reached the place where their tribe was living. Although awestruck at seeing me in my civilized clothes for a few moments, none of them gave me any special attention for too long. It was strange when men in the very uniform I was wearing had been the cause of their having to leave their homes so many times. Yet, as soon as they saw that I was alone and so harmless, they resumed their work. Their only defensive action was to take children out of my sight. I took both my weapons out and cried aloud to scare them. A few of them came forward – both men and women, especially the older ones; they formed a ring around me and started making gestures which, after a few moments I realized correctly, meant asking me to throw my weapons away. Except for this, they made no aggressive moments. What I saw on their faces was neither aggressiveness nor fear; but rather ….. how to put it? A tension – a tension born of almost paternal affection, the kind parents show when their children keep making an error or fail to understand a lesson which must have looked so obvious to parents themselves. And it was this very affection which made me weak and throw the weapons away. Quickly they jumped to weapons and a fire torch was brought in and the weapons were set to fire. Again they offered food to me, this time I took with some hesitation – knowing I would starve to death otherwise.
That night I joined them when they gathered around the fireplace. Again they offered me food – and though they never talked, they sang those very same songs that had always fascinated me. Over the next few days, they initiated me into their community – through those very same silences and very same songs. They would sing these same songs on all occasions – the mother would sing these songs while rocking their children to sleep, mourners would sing them while bidding farewell to the dead.
It has been years – I’ve been part of them, have been with their women, have played their children, sung their songs and I don’t yet know what words in those songs mean. In fact, it has even made my own mother tongue a stranger to me. Even the very words I use in this little memorial seem so strange, so false, so meaningless, so unreal now.
I know, as a matter of fact, they have no words for anything – no names for things, people or actions. No adjectives, no qualities. Mothers never teach their children what the words in those songs mean. In fact, it is my belief that the words in the songs mean nothing. The songs communicate through their music, not through their words. And in the music is their whole philosophy of life. You may find it strange, and yet these songs perfected over generations have got everything in them – all that they must remember about, not day to day things, but answers to the bigger questions of life. If you would listen to them, sing them along, dance with them – you shall understand. That is how their children are bred, cultured on the very songs of life.
The Empire had kept wondering what maintained their rebellious spirit, what made them accept their death so easily – when the answer was always in front of them. Once you have got them running in your veins with your blood, those songs answer all your questions. You ask them how to fight an enemy as powerful as Empire and they, the songs, will tell – there are no enemies, only ignorant souls. You ask them how to defend ourselves against such suppression and tortures as Empire inflicted onAdiyas and, listen if you know how to, for they will tell – “remember what you deserve; remember what you had; remember to call an injustice by its name even if no one hears you and don’t; never accept it as fate – they will ask you to get used to it, to forget it; they will try to force you to silence; it may appear to be of no use; maybe no one will listen to you; or they will hate you for saying; and yet you must speak –speak, speak, speak” or in short to keep singing these very songs. To Empire, they had seemed fatalistic, submissive; those old and diseased souls who had sacrificed themselves and not betray others – when they were letting empire beat itself by killing them.
They never use weapons even the traditional ones like knives – not that they never did in their past but they grew out of them. Now they won’t even use them against animals. ‘Once you get hold of weapons,’ the songs tell you, ‘you will always be looking for new ways to use them.’
It might seem peculiar at first –this principle, seeing how this makes it difficult for them to defend themselves against animals of prey and how much it makes hunting difficult – for both these purposes as well as preparing and cooking hunted animals, all they can resort to is rocks and fire.
Moreover, anything, almost anything can be used as weapons – one remembers that the person considered most wicked in civilized worlds never used a weapon; except to kill himself; the countless other lives that he took were merely by inspiring violence among people through his words. But that is exactly why Adiyas gave up on languages.
You might object that even fire and stones, which they do use, can be used as weapons as well. Their principle though seems to be simple – both these things are available in abundance and to animals too, even if they don’t know how to use them. While something like knives would assume use of certain kind of machines. I can think a number of arguments against this line of reasoning but I shall refrain from indulging in silly arguments because I have other things to tell. “You can go on arguing for years on a subject,” the songs say, “and you won’t be a day wiser.”
There are other lessons too – ‘Die, but don’t kill’, ‘Beg, but don’t steal’ and so on. They have no gods – except for the songs (a God which answers your questions), no xenophobic regionalism, no sense of property, no delusions like those of ‘honor’, no lack of trust or sense of property which causes institution of marriage. Only responsibility is collective and is towards, in that order – infants, to pregnant and lactating women, to children, to themselves individually, to sick, to weak and to old.
They have no armies, no slaves, no governments. There is a special solitude in those songs if you want it, there is a sense of party if you want that. I never saw a community at such a peace with themselves and their surroundings. Every reward is a shared one, in a civilized society full of, what economists call, self-interest seeking rational people –this sharing might make people lethargic; for rewards are shared even if you don’t work. I could have lived with them all my life comfortably without working at all and yet not be judged in any manner but those songs cause in you a hypnotic submission, after which you can’t betray them.
All this may suggest to you a Utopia or something and yet nothing is further from the truth. Given their disgust against weapons, they are highly prone to all kinds of threats and have a lot more trouble in hunting. Their disgust at knowledge is so high, for example, so much that any kind of personal expertise – even in something as crucial as medicine is not allowed to function. And thus their children, who are their most priced and only treasures die, due to most easily curable causes. Though, this same thing might have resulted in their loving their children more. Everyone weeps and laments on the death of a child – and you won’t be able to tell who were the real parents, they can’t tell themselves. This also means that they have more children – children are the biggest gifts you could offer to the community and they are always welcomed.
However repeated pregnancies naturally degrade the health of women, even if they have some primitive methods to facilitate the delivery of the child. Adiyaas understand how much more women among them struggle and that is perhaps why women are the ones given the right to chose their mates for the evenings – or whether or not they would have one. The tradition is that men would stand in common area and women will when they wish, take their pick from among the remaining men and ask him to follow. There are no age bars – and women are allowed complete freedom on the subject. Men are to be more submissive to the question –which is justified by songs on account that the act will cost them much lesser. It is in fact not infrequent that men – who may be physically weak, ugly or physically disabled; won’t get any sex all their lives. Even these men seem to hold no grudges – and most of them are likely to occasionally attract pity of one or other of women every once a while, or a favor from a more sexually charged woman. As regards order, the first woman to chose (or not to chose) each day shall be the last to choose the next day while the rest of the order remains the same. If a new woman joins in, she will be put at the head of the sequence on the first day but shall be similarly moved to last next day. New men are given no such favors. One more observation about this tradition is that there will always be some men, given their higher numbers, who won’t get any sex.
It is difficult to tell around which sex the community is based, but wherever there is a clash between the two, women get both the first and last word. They are only slightly outnumbered by men by a significant count – as I already have mentioned, despite the numbers of women dying in childbirth. Slightly because much of the loss through maternal mortality is made up for with protections offered in other forms. And so, women seem to tend to live longer than men.
Still, as I said, they are in no way perfect. In fact, the empire is correct on this one count – they are primitive. But they are primitive not because they don’t have a culture – on that count they are far superior to Empire which is only pomp and show; but because their thought process is not at all scientific, but rather sentimental. Their almost equal treatment of animals will tell you why they won’t accept scientific discoveries – they don’t want anything that will offer them any advantage whatsoever that is superior to other animals. “Great is One,” the songs tell you, “…who has a chance and even reason to grab power, but doesn’t.”
And so, life, in general, is hard. Even though they mature quickly – as in transforming from protected and playful children into self-caring and even care-providing grown-ups (which also sadly means early motherhood); the aging into old is very slow. Also, ages aren’t too high – the oldest among them has seen forty-six winters (that is how they count years) and there are only four people above forty years of age. This means there is almost no one old enough not to be able to provide for himself/herself. The ones that do get old are provided for by society as long as caring them do not obstruct caring of younger ones. And old people almost always very willingly sacrifice themselves to fire when they think they are coming in the way – or, in case of an attack from the empire, stay behind for fear they will slow others.
I’ve never seen a society more focused on reproducing and survival. The young ones are to be preferred over old, the women before men, the pregnant or lactating women before other women – all these priorities point towards the goal of maintaining the race. Their weakest moment is perhaps the death of a child which is something too common – and there won’t be an eye you will find that hasn’t shed tears. And even in those moments, they find comfort in their songs.
They do not ask themselves questions, often to their own peril. If you ask the songs – who causes the rain? Who uses the wind to play with a flower? Why do people die? They will tell you and, yes, they will tell you – ‘if you ask too many questions about the world around you, a point will come when you will forget yourself – and start asking ‘Who am I’ and won’t know the answer.’ A strange thing to tell to people who don’t even have names. No, they are far from perfection, yet what struck me hard is that even though they haven’t progressed on the grounds of knowledge, they have learned that peace is the only sustainable way of life.
How do they come to be so wise? I don’t know. Not having a language means not having a past. All their legacy is in those meaningless songs.
I have written while hiding from Adiyas and on these last sheets of paper I had carried with me when coming to these mountains. I will leave it here in this cave and hope that what is written here will find its way to hearts of people in Empire or, in fact, whole civilization and that they will learn something from the wisdom of Adiyas. And that would be my last gift to the land which gave me birth as my loyalties have already shifted.
I am almost fully assimilated in their culture and am already forgetting this language. That is why writing this short history has taken me two years. I started this history just a few months after I had been with them when I decided I do not want to go back to Empire anymore. I still remember that day which decided the course of my life. I was on a walk alone – even looking for a way to escape back to empire (not that they held me captive), I hadn’t still got used to their ways so entirely but was learning; when I saw Empire’s forces were coming my way. My ears were full of the songs at that moment, songs that had made me dance when I was a child and never before learned to sing. I opened my mouth to call out to army men, but no voice left my mouth. Rather, the choice made itself for me and I ran towards tribe to warn. As I knew, they guessed what had happened when they saw me – that is how they communicated, by seeing rather than hearing; and started to leave. I along with them carrying one of their …. our infants. In the hilly mountains, under the shadow of some meaningless songs, I chose to desert the civilization that day and become human.