Short-Story Varun and the Giant Vaccum Cleaner   by: Chandra Ghosh Jain   
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Varun looked up at the clouds lazily floating away on a clear blue sky. Several grey coloured clouds followed it and soon a thick blanket of gray black clouds covered the sky and the sun. A pleasant breeze lifted his spirits. The trees swayed in anticipation, acquiring an iridescent green hue. Varun could smell the rains. After a scorching summer the rain gods had finaly smiled on this parched desert. It was too good to be true. Somewhere a koel was calling out in abandoned happiness. Varun was filled with an unnamed joy. He wanted to jump on to the clouds and join them on their adventures. A sudden sharp short shower ended as quickly as it had begun leaving the soil just beginning to quench its thirst disappointed. The weathermen were all smiling smugly on T.V. They had predicted a normal monsoon. However, Varun and his grandmother sitting in Jodhpur watched the clear shining blue cloudless skies along with other farmers as the initial promise of rains gave way to a prolonged dryness. Year 2004, another blistering summer, the weary people of Rajasthan would stare heavenwards for the welcoming cloud. As each day brought no sign of the promised good monsoon rains people started losing hope and talking of a severe drought. Even the slothful officials of the agriculture department, started making preliminary surveys. Talks began on famine relief works. People spoke grimly of years, which had two months of sawan. Prognosis: that year saw acute droughts. Eminent Pandits signed such articles. Newspapers carried pictures on the front page of cracked parched earth. Varun and Nanisa like many others wondered at the fate of their animals and crops. On the other hand other parts of the country were reeling under the floods. They watched the T.V. news in silence as pictures of Brahmaputra in a rage, sweeping away houses cattle and men filled the screen. The Army and Air Force were called into evacuate the villagers trapped in the floodwaters. Varun asked in exasperation “But the Hindu calendar must be holding true for the rest of the country as well?” “ Yes, beta” his grandmother replied. “Then why do some States face floods and some drought? One should ask these astrologers! To top it all we see our CM offering prayers to the gods for rains in this day and age,” Nanisa exclaimed. “That’s not all, some of the pundits who were not invited for the havan are claiming that the drought is caused by their ire. Some sort of variation of ‘Sleeping beauty’,” stated Varun. “It’s been like this ever since I can remember. In school I was either contributing for the flood relief or the drought relief. Sometimes I feel we are caught in a time warp. This despite your computers and internet,” exclaimed Dadisa. Varun suggested, “May be we should first try and appease the angry pundits as well. As in Sleeping Beauty, the offended angel changes her curse from death to the princess to a sleep of hundred years. May be then we will get some showers!” His grandmother was now really angry. Varun watched Nanisa’s pointed chin thrust out in determination. “ They make our children enmeshed in blind superstitions. Instead of trying to find rational and sane solutions to the problem.” The news reporter droned on about changes in the climate. The gloomy voice predicted morosely greater extent and frequency of droughts and floods. Varun switched channels only to find some old fogies discuss adaptation to climate change with the reduced availability of water. They spoke of glaciers that were receding at an alarming rate. “It would initially increase the flow of water. But once the mass of ice receded the rate of flow of water would decline. We have to make a long-term change in water management”, one old fogey with only tufts of hair around his ears remarked. Varun perked up when another old man with spectacles remarked, “ We should have focused and efficient use of water where it is available in relative abundance would make it possible to provide water to those areas where it is deficient. I suggest making Rainwater Harvesting compulsory for all house owners. The simple Roof top method by which rain water is collected through drainpipes connected to this open terrace surface and is redirected to the open well.” The moderator chipped in with his suggestion, “Keep large buckets and vessels in open area during rains. In this way we can prevent wastage of rainwater.” The old fogey went into details of The absorption pit method through which rain water from the terrace is diverted to the existing open well using PVC( poly vinyl chloride) pipes through a filter chamber. In vexation Varun surfed the channels. He stopped at another where a middle aged woman appearing very grave announced that the wars of the next century will be fought on water, which she called blue gold. Droughts and floods account for half of the world’s deaths from disaster according to the UN. She continued gloomily, “Water crises are man made, global warming, dams, deforestations and slash and burn farming exponentially exacerbate these seasonal weather patterns. Inept water management allows water to run off into the seas or lie in floods on the land. In Nepal, which has felled 60% of its forests, the waters gushed from the mountains in flash floods. The water then surged into North Eastern states of Assam and Bihar. Poorly maintained embankments burst and irrigation channels and dams that had been allowed to choke trapped the flood on land. The devastating floods are only half the story. In eleven states across central and western India this year the rainfall is 20-59% below normal. The human cost of the drought is nearly incalculable.” “ Nanisa, why don’t we build a giant broom and sweep those clouds from Assam and bring it to Rajasthan?” “Yes, and then create a low pressure for them to pour here. Then both the people of Assam, Bihar reeling under floods and us who need the rains can benefit!” “Yes, some sort of a huge vaccum cleaner, with a giant bag to hold those wayward clouds…” cried Varun excitedly. He was carried away by the endless possibilities it opened up. “Yes, all our lakes, rivers and dams will be filled up,” added Nanisa joining in. “ Nanisa, then we can always get as much rains as and when we require. We can go off to England where it rains through the year and make our desert state one green, prosperous land! Maybe we can even manage to get snowfall as well? Wouldn’t it be marvelous? Then there will be no need to get worried when a Punjab CM threatens to stop the rivers from flowing to other states,” Varun was lost in his exciting world of potential promises. Varun was feeling hot and tired and probably dozed off. He woke with a start as he watched the announcer flash a toothy smile and introduced a contraption, which was a mix between a giant looking broom cum vacuum cleaner. “This is an invention by Dr. Subbanah Behari”, she said. Varun couldn’t believe his eyes it was his Subbu uncle! Nanisa’s adopted son. He was the son of Nanisa’s very dear friend who had died in a plane crash. He was a scientist in the Indian Institute of Science Bangalore. Varun and Subbu uncle shared a special relationship. Both were orphans and brought up by Nanisa. It must have been some sort of an intuitive or extra sensory perception that Varun had talked about the Giant Vacuum cleaner and have it translated in reality by Subbu Uncle. Nanisa was also watching the programme with keen interest. The toothy announcer explained that with this Giant Vaccum cleaner would help sweep the rain clouds from Assam to Rajasthan. The Government has decided to try sweeping the clouds away from flood hit areas of Assam and Bihar and direct it towards drought stricken states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana. Subbu uncle appeared delighted almost like a schoolboy, noted Varun as he explained the principle of the apparatus. “ How does a vacuum cleaner make use of the principle for the change in velocity of air to create a vacuum?” Asked the toothy announcer flashing yet another of her foolish smiles. Subbu Uncle’s deep guttural voice filled the room as he explained the Bernoulli’s principle that tells us that when flow speed is increased the pressure drops. “Using two pieces of paper arranged face to face and blowing a flow stream through them easily display this. As a result the two pieces of paper would attract each other due to reduced pressure (relative to the atmospheric pressure) caused by the flow (relative to the stagnant air outside the two papers). Similarly, changing flow of velocity/speed, there will be a corresponding change in pressure and these two parameters are in opposite trend.”

“And will you manage to sweep the clouds away?” persisted the toothy announcer doubtfully. Varun marveled at Subbu uncle’s smiling visage as he went into the details of creating a flow stream. Nanisa watched with intensity as the announcer gave a graphic detail of the ‘The Giant Vaccum Cleaner’. Varun was already on the phone speaking to his Subbu uncle. “We are coming with you on your expedition! Yes, yes and Nanisa too! Don’t worry about school. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity…” before he could finish, the phone was snatched by his grandmother, who appeared to have been transformed into a high spirited young girl. “Subbu, you never told me about this Vaccum cleaner! No wonder last year you were so busy vaccuming my carpets everyday! And I kept wondering whether some new form of madness had overtaken you.” She stopped for breath and Varun put the phone to his ear, to discover that it was disconnected. Redialing and trying the mobile phone served no purpose as both were switched off. Subbu Uncle however much he loved Nanisa and Varun obviously didn’t wish to have them on his mission. But he should have known better, they loved challenges even more. * * * * * They were on a special Air Force plane peering down at the thick cloud cover below. “Those are Nimbostratus Clouds, cried Varun in rising excitement as he watched Subbu Uncle press some buttons which made the gray blanket quiver and get drawn into barrel like contraption attached to the aircraft. Subbu Uncle smiled genially, “These clouds are very dark, and contain large areas of continuous precipitation. I am just hoping that they are not multi-layered in which case we are in for trouble.” “Subbu Uncle, you mean they include the cumulonimbus clouds that can produce lightning, thunder, heavy rains, hail, strong winds, and tornadoes?” “ Yes, I see that you have done your geography lessons properly. They are the tallest of all clouds that can span all cloud layers and extend above 60,000 feet. They usually have large anvil-shaped tops, which form because of the stronger winds at those higher levels of the atmosphere,” Subbu added. The clouds were being continuously sucked into the ‘Super Sack’. It was wonderful to watch them trembling with pleasurable anticipation hurrying into the bag. The clouds reminded him of the rats of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, rushing in from far and near. The one stray wisp of a black cloud appeared so forlorn as it was left out, as it didn’t hurry up to be in time with the others. Their aircraft moved higher and higher. “Most clouds owe their existence to upward vertical motion of air, hence they are often associated with weather producing phenomena, such as fronts, troughs, and low pressure systems. However, topography can also help move air upwards and produce clouds,” offered Subbu Uncle by way of explanation as some more clouds were systematically sucked in. Suddenly Dadisa exclaimed, “Look, the sun has come out.” They could see people on treetops staring upwards at their strange contraption. Scenes of devastation caused by the floods met their eyes. Entire villages submerged, some floating carcasses of cows, goats could be seen. Uprooted trees, houses, and some stray household belongings were being carried away by the current helplessly. “I wonder, why the clouds get into such a rage and create such havoc, Nanisa?” “ May be we should build a Noah’s Arc as well, eh Subbu? I hope your clouds will rain in moderation on Rajasthan”, asked Nanisa a little anxiously. Subbu appeared thoughtful, “ So many things are not in our hands. I can just about get them there but other than that I can’t promise.” They had to land in Gangtok to refuel. Rains fell clouding their view. A fine enchanting mist enveloped the whole city. The mountains appeared cloaked in an exquisite green cover. Varun shivered partly with cold and partly with excitement, coming from the scorching sun of the desert this was heavenly. He peered at the Super Sack it appeared passive and inanimate. But he felt uncomfortable, as if some thing was not quite right. He looked around and found Subbu uncle smiling and relaxed. “Everything O.K?” asked Subbu. “Yes, sir, so far so good,” replied the laconic young pilot. Nanisa was just busy soaking in the environment lost in her memories of a long past. She held Varun’s hands tightly on take off. Varun glanced at her; she withdrew giving out a long sigh. “I had come here decades back with your mother and Nanosa on a holiday. I could hear Mihika, sing out her then current favourite song.” Nanisa was remote lost in another time. Mihika meaning clouds and fog was his mother. His grandmother had never quite recovered from that loss. He had been named Varun the lord of rains by his mother. She was the smiling pretty face in the photo kept in Nanisa’s room. Varun felt a sudden tightening in his chest. “ Be prepared for some rough riding as I unload the clouds”, announced Subbu quite cheerfully. They were flying over Delhi, dry, parched the Yamuna a thin dirty gray stream. “Subbu Uncle what if the clouds decide to fly away and not rain,” asked Varun. “I have asked my team to create an artificial low pressure over Jaipur where I will begin delivering these clouds. I hope other clouds will come in naturally. And help my project‘Badal’.” Yes, it was a moment that would remain etched in his mind forever. As Varun watched with bated breath, the button was pressed to open the Super Sack and the clouds began streaming out cautiously at first then with an impatient roar huge black clouds pushed their way out angry at being waylaid and shut in. Within seconds they were enveloped and surrounded by dense coal black clouds. The pilot spluttered, “I can’t see anything. My vision is blocked….” Next moment he heard a loud roar and the sky was split with a brilliant lightning and he was spun around like a scrap of paper. The flash of light revealed the frozen expressions on the faces of his co-passengers. Nanisa was frantically trying to reach out to him… Varun opened his eyes cautiously, the roar had subsided, was at a distance. He was drenched and a cool current of air carried him off a little further. “Nanisa, Nanisa?” called out Varun tremulously. “ Beta, Varun I am here.” Her voice sounded as if coming from a deep, deep faraway well. Varun sat up gingerly and looked around. He was floating on a cloud! And so was his Nanisa on another black angry looking one! “Nanisa come to me”, cried out Varun. “Don’t worry I will take you there,” a sweet melodious voice assured him. Now what was that he heard a rumble of laughter, he was swaying from side to side. Was that his cloud speaking? Varun glanced around nervously, he had nothing to hold on to, and he might fall. Immediately his cloud took the shape of a car seat with a steering wheel for balance. Ah, that was so much more comforting. Nanisa, jumped agilely from her dense black carpet on to his. Varun felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland. He began expecting the unexpected. They floated away in silence for some time, just happy being with each other. Nanisa began reciting an old favourite Tagore poem dreamily, “Where the mind is without fear And the head is held high Where words come out from the depths of truth Where tireless striving comes stretches it's arms towards perfection When the clear stream of reason has not lost its way Into the dreary desert seed of dead habit Where the mind is led forward into ever widening thought and action.” Varun felt a sense of contentment wash over him. He could hear some low mellifluous music, as if the clouds were also just as happy to carry him on their travels. “That’s the music of one of Mihika’s favourite songs,” commented Nanisa dreamily. Varun felt that these clouds were beginning to transform them. His grandmother was moving into hitherto unknown regions, he wanted to pull her back. Varun announced very loudly, “Look Nanisa, Jaipur’s getting torrential rainfall and within hours M.I road has turned into a river. Sawai Man Singh hospital wards are flooded. All the katchi bustees are under water near Aamgarh and Jhalana. The Secretariat is water logged!” “Yes what Subbu had hoped for has come true.” Nanisa’s reply still sounded otherworldly. Before Varun could react, other clouds joined these annoyed disgruntled captive ones. And in a sense of rage and injury poured their pent-up fury on the unsuspecting people. Varun floating atop his cloud was mesmerized by the rehearsal of the Independence Day function on Jaipur parade ground. In a moment of mischief when the girls are dancing on the song, begging the rain gods to come Varun exclaims, “What fun if it actually begins to rain!” As if the clouds understood and joined in the tomfoolery and duly poured out their rains. The schoolgirls scurried for cover abandoning their exercise under a heavy downpour. Varun’s initial fears of falling off receded. He began to sway to the rhythm of his cloud perch. Much like his camel ride. Varun wondered whether he should call it a ‘Magic Carpet’ or ‘ Camel Cloud’. “Call me MeghVahini,” the melodious voice could read his mind as well. “Look, look the rains have the entire city water logged. They were now floating on Jodhpur. Khaternaak puliya is a little pond!” Varun watched all the cars stuck in the water. “Nayee sarak turns into a stream where it was wiser to use a boat for transport than a car. Shastri Nagar was no better. Only the fort situated at the top of a hill probably didn’t face any waterlogging problem. “The older people were wiser, commented Dadisa. Situated at a height with proper catchments made for collecting water, so that the rainwater didn’t run to a waste.” All the familiar landmarks in Jodhpur Khandafalsa, Singhpol, Surajpol, Sojatigate, PWD colony, Pall road and Chopasani Housing board were unrecognizable. The narrow lanes filled with gushing waters made it a risky journey on foot. All open manholes were covered with rainwater and one could easily be sucked straight underground. It was obvious that the drainage system existed in paper only. Nobody appeared interested in improving it. “We blame the government and the ministers, but Nanisa, I think we all are to blame for this apathy,” commented Varun wise beyond his years. “Yes, everyone takes his share of the bribe from the lowly clerk, engineer to the highest Minister and they forget that it’s this very roads, buses and colleges that they have to use that will get damaged in the process.” “All funds taken away from development works to line individual nests pull our country into a trap of backwardness. Maybe the very minister taking his cut doesn’t know that his family may die of a road accident. Because of bad roads not because ‘gods willed it’ or ‘it was destined’ as they all very conveniently claim.” “Varun I am glad you think this way. May be there is hope still left. Not all of us lost in a madly cynical race to acquire more money, cars, houses, etc” “Just look at that black cloud coming towards us so menacingly. He just thinks everyone must do just as he wishes,” MeghVahini was clearly contemptuous. “Yes, he reminds me of Bahadur Singh. He was your Nanosa’s tough boss. The D.G of police when Nanosa was quite young. Always browbeating the honest upright officers. Yet in front of the political bosses he would prostrate and behave like a mild mannered man. A bully to beat all bullies. Manipulating so that he could hold on to his seat. Corrupt, the end justifies the means. He left behind conventions of treachery, lies and falsehood difficult to undo.” Varun watched as MeghVahini managed to steer them away from the black cloud’s path. “Nanisa, often, people say they are forced into corruption because of personal problems. Like Shambhu Singh says that he has to get four of his sisters married. Each one requires a huge dowry. And he gets a paltry salary as a policeman.” “Is the individual needs more important than society’s?” “Is he wrong or is he a creature of circumstance, Nanisa?” “Yes, difficult though it sounds, nothing can justify breaking the law, or bending it.” “What about all the ministers and politicians who make millions of rupees and then go Scot free?” “One life stamps and influences another, which in turn stamps and influences another, on and on until the soul of human experience breathes on in generations we will never even meet, I read this somewhere, Nanisa informs. Corruption has hardened us. Now it’s no longer for a sister’s wedding that we bend the rule. But to go on foreign jaunts. Send our children to study abroad. Live lavishly, a bigger car and a better house. They were so involved in their discussions that they didn’t notice a jet black cloud creep upon them silently. Suddenly this dark almost inky black cloud was rip apart by lightening revealing unexpected images. An ear splitting roar followed. Again he was flung around and thrown off his perch in one swift moment. Varun found himself lying on his garden drenched to his skin. Where was Nanisa and Subbu uncle? The pilot, the plane? What happened to his MeghVahini? Was everything a dream? He sat up gingerly, trying to slowly focus his thoughts. Not everything was untrue. It had been raining hard his garden was a large puddle. When he had left it was dry and burnt up. Man Singh their old faithful retainer came running. “Kya hua? Mataji kahan?” Gradually, Varun pieced together that the ‘Giant Vaccum Cleaner had crashed at the outskirts of Jaipur. The pilot and Subbu Uncle were in hospital but alive. However, project Badal had been successful. Strong wind currents had sent in other clouds and it had been pouring all over the state. All water bodies lakes and dams were full and in some cases overflowing. Everyone had been worried about Varun and Nanisa. The Air Force had sent in special planes to locate them. But they could find no signs of them. Friends and neighbours poured in. Even some distant cousin of Nanisa’s was camping in the house. Varun recalled that Nanisa had mentioned some cousin brother vaguely. But Nanisa where was she? Who would believe his adventures? Varun knew that if only he could remember the images he saw when the clouds were split apart by lightening and interpret them before darkness descended then he could understand his true destiny. He wondered did the clouds represent the mind, the flights of fancy, and his dreams?

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