– Navanshu Agarwal (Executive Member, English Club NITH)
Disclaimer- All events and characters described in this blog post are absolutely real. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely intentional. Though this post isn’t intended to hurt feelings or offend anyone, but even if it does… Nobody really cares!
This dates back to the time when the English Club was on a trip to Khajjiar. It was late in the night and I was lying asleep (and snoring loudly, according to Jayesh) in my bed. Then suddenly Pranjal had this moment of creative genius and suggested that all of us should go and explore the woods that surrounded our hotel. The next thing I know, the blankets were torn asunder from my body, ten people started nudging me, then shaking me and then literally shouting in my ears to wake up. Let me tell me you, you really learn the meaning of the expression ‘pissed off’ when someone wakes you up at 1am on a cold winter night from your warm, cozy slumber just to suggest something as stupid as this. But be as it may, within the next few minutes, I found myself pulling on my jacket, rubbing my eyes and tying my shoelaces as I got ready for this supposedly “Fun-o-Fun Adventure in the Woods”.
To be honest there is not much to describe about the forest, the trees were exactly as one would expect them to be- Goddamn trees! Although the forest floor was a bit wet owing to the rain that had graced us on our arrival to Khajjiar. It was a full moon that night ( and before this comes to your mind- No we did not have any vampires or werewolves amongst us ) and I admit it was lovely to see the moonlight shimmering through the dense canopy as thin streaks of light made their way to us. Now consider this: you are in a forest very late in the night, it’s a full moon night, you have a bunch of perhaps the craziest yet amazing people along with you, what is the next thing that follows? Horror stories… And for the next half an hour, we had people making up some mumbo-jumbo about a headless witch with twisted legs, the young kid who had died in an accident and whose spirit still haunted the place and the list goes on and on (now that I have mentioned this, don’t you reckon, all horror stories have such kinds of characters who died prematurely and whose spirit turns out to be an evil badass and condemns people to eternal pain & misery).
Then suddenly Satyam spotted a fire burning in a grove of trees a little far away from us. Excited about the prospect of having a bonfire, we all moved towards it and saw this person sitting beside the fire with his back towards us.
No sooner had we reached near him, that he turned his face towards us and almost immediately Kriti let out a scream. With eyes as red as blood, canines that seemed sharper than a knife and a messed up face as if someone had botched it all up and a huge scar stretching across the entire length of the face, the man stared at us blankly. I felt the blood receding from my hands as goose bumps erupted all over my skin. Everything suddenly seemed to go cold and amidst that rush of adrenaline I realised that my legs refused to move, no voice came out of my mouth and that was when I realised how paralysed fear can leave you. But then to my utter relief, a smile came upon the man’s face and he motioned with his hands for all of us to sit down around the blazing fire.
As we all settled down , in a raspy and damn creepy tone which can be described to exactly suit his character the old man inquired us where we were from and the purpose of our trip to Khajjiar. Then out of nowhere, he asked us if we knew the legend of Khajjiar and how did the place earn its name! All of us responded with a despondent NO! To which a smug smile stretched across his already creepy face (by this point a fifth grader would have already peed in his pants) and he began reciting the legend of Khajjiar to us.
“ Ahh. It just feels like yesterday when I think about how this place used to be. Before this valley was defiled by tourists, it was just the small village of Shivpura. Nestled amongst the lush green pine trees, the dense deodars and the towering Dhauladhars (Note To Reader- If you might have observed by now, this expression has become a sort of a clichéd description of Himachal Pradesh, every time you read something about HP, this line is sure to follow- full marks to creativity and originality) – Shivpura was alienated from most of the world. As the name suggests, the people of Shivpura were great devotees of Lord Shiva and in his honour had built an 81 foot Lord Shiva statue (The one which now stands outside the Jagdambe Mata Temple) out of some kind of divine metal / special alloy- which scientists suggest has also been used in the construction of the Ashoka Pillar.
But life was not as quiet and peaceful as it may seem, fear used to strike within the hearts of people when the sound of horses galloping and gunshots reverberated throughout the valley, for it signalled the arrival of Khajjiar Singh; Khajjiar Singh- the bandit amongst bandits, the most feared dacoit throughout Himachal. Abandoned by his parents at the age of 8, he had been forced to steal in order to survive. He had acquainted himself with all the ways, paths, and the secret lairs through the surrounding forests- something that would later make him an exceptionally skilled tactician at Guerrilla Warfare. Oblivious to the feeling of love, there was always this rage that reflected in his eyes- a hatred for human kind & a hatred for rules and regulations. As he grew up, he earned quite a name for himself and was joined by other orphans. Together they formed the band of dacoits known as the Black Bandits. Slowly and steadily, the terror of the Black Bandits grew. The sheer frame of Khajjiar Singh, his ripping muscles, dense facial hair and bloodshed red eyes would make anyone cower under his gaze. He could be described of as nothing short as a monster. In fact most people don’t know this but the dialogue of the movie Gabbar- “door jab kisi gaon mai raat ko koi bacha rota hai to uski maa kehti hai beta, so jaa nahi to Gabbar aa jaayega” was infact originally used for Khajjiar Singh.
Every month, Khajjiar and his band of dacoits used to visit Shivpura to collect taxes from its innocent inhabitants. Faced with the choice to either pay up or be executed, the villagers didn’t have much of a choice. The sarpanch himself felt powerless against the atrocities afflicted upon them by Khajjiar Singh. But it was on the occasion of the first Purnima of Chaitra that all of it changed. As usual Khajjiar Singh’s men were knocking upon doors, demanding taxes from the villagers when Shamsher the village milkman refused to pay up to them. What followed was a scuffle with Khajjiar’s Lieutenant ‘Kalia’, which only left Shamsher bloodied and bruised along with a black swollen eye. Then suddenly out of nowhere, someone came from behind and slapped Kalia right across the face, it was the village Sarpanch’s daughter: Chamba Devi and along with her were some of the village’s strongest young men , up in arms, ready to strike the moment Kalia dared to touch her. Taken aback by this show of solidarity, Kalia made a run, vowing to return along with his master Khajjiar Singh and make them all pay for this insolence. And return he did, at nightfall, gunshots shook the entire village of Shivpura as the Black Bandits marched into the village on top of horses, pillaging and burning everything in their way. Khajjiar himself made way to the sarpanch’s house- hoping to meet the woman who had dared to stand up against him. As soon as he reached the sarpanch’s home, Kalia emerged dragging Chamba Devi by her hair as her parents begged him to leave her alone. Whether it was defiance or pride, nobody knows but Chamba did not utter a single shriek or show any remorse for what she had done. When produced before Khajjiar, she looked him straight up in the eye with no sense of regret or fear of what was going to happen to her. Khajjiar himself was taken aback at first by the sheer audacity of this woman but then began studying her closely and a few minutes later he spoke. No-one could believe the words that came out of his mouth- for he had ordered his men to retreat and leave the villagers alone. Yes, my friends he had fallen in love with the woman known as Chamba Devi. Her silky black hair, beautiful black eyes and sheer courage had left him smitten.
The next morning saw something that can be only described as a wonder. Khajjiar Singh and his men had turned up to the village but not with guns but rations and tools to help repair all the damage that they had done. Khajjiar instructed Kalia to go apologise to Shamsher- something that Kalia felt was beyond his dignity to do but had to do because of fear of reprimand from Khajjiar Singh. While Khajjiar himself approached the sarpanch’s house in order to catch a glimpse and hopefully talk to Chamba. And thus began Khajjiar’s attempts to woo Chamba Devi. At first she rebuffed his advances, but gradually with time, her hatred for him mellowed down and she too developed feelings from him. But unknown to all, the Sarpanch had already fixed Chamba’s wedding to Khajjiar Singh’s arch nemesis- Lord Dalhousie of the British Empire a lot of years back in exchange of being restricted from paying lagaan to the Britishers. The Sarpanch could not sprout the courage to face Khajjiar Singh and tell him about this but the way things were proceeding, the day when Khajjiar approached him for Chamba’s hand in marriage wasn’t far away. Faced with either the devil or the ditch, he somehow approached Khajjiar and told him about this misfortunate arrangement. Hell hath no fury than Khajjiar scorned, such was Khajjiar’s anger when he learnt of this arrangement. In a fit of rage, he smashed everything around him to bits and pieces and started abusing everyone around him. Then suddenly someone placed a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to calm his down, but blinded by anger he just turned and slapped the person. It was after a few seconds he realised what he had done, in his fury he had slapped his beloved Chamba. Devastated by what he had done, he just ordered all his men to pack their bags and return to their secret lair amongst the forest. And without a single word, he left…left laughing on how love was something not meant for him.
But this sordid love affair of Khajjiar and Chamba had left things uneasy amongst the Black Bandits as well. There were rumours of a spy- a bandit who had sided with Lord Dalhousie, unhappy with the way Khajjiar was leading his troops, doing rounds in camp.
On the other hand, Lord Dalhousie upon learning of the love affair of Khajjiar and his soon to be bride had vowed to destroy the village of Shivpura along with Khajjiar Singh and his men. Infact he had already amassed an army of British soldiers and had begun marching towards Shivpura from Dalhousie. Khajjiar upon learning of this calamity that was about to befall them, decided that it was time he went face to face with Lord Dalhousie and eliminate his threat once and for all and also protect his beloved Chamba. He too began preparations for the war that was to follow and started calling in the ‘Sardars’ of all the bands of dacoits of Himachal that had sworn their allegiance to him along with their men. He sent Kalia to escort all the villagers to a safe spot in the jungles.
And on the Poornmashi of Phalgun, the day that we celebrate as Holi, the war broke out. Oh yeah, Holi was celebrated but with the blood and sweat of men. Arrows pierced, horses galloped, swords clanked, shields banged against each other as crows and vultures circled above the dead bodies. The water of the lake in the middle of the ground became red with blood as dead bodies piled up. Khajjiar Singh himself seemed like a man possessed by the devil, slaughtering anyone who would dare to stand up against him. There was so much bloodshed that the battle was later famously referred to as the ‘Red Battle of Khajjiar’. The British soldiers were driven into the forests where they were no match for the Guerrilla Warfare tactics employed by the bandits. The war raged on for three days, and the British Army was on the verge of perishing until Lord Dalhousie somehow discovered the secret lair in which Chamba and the villagers were hiding. After capturing them, he sent out a proclamation to Khajjiar stating that he would execute each and every single person, if Khajjiar did not surrender by dusk and it would all begin with the execution of Chamba.
Had it been the Khajjiar who hadn’t met Chamba at all, he wouldn’t have cared at all about the innocent lives that were going to be shed that day, but all had changed. For the first time after being abandoned by his parents, he had the longing to be with someone, to be cared for, to be loved. So while the sardars debated hotly about their next course of action, Khajjiar slipped away unknown to everyone, to surrender himself and bring an end to this bloodbath. Faced with almost certain death, he approached Lord Dalhousie outside his camp, such was his fear that no British soldier dared to stop him. As the villagers watched, he agreed to surrender provided that Lord Dalhousie would spare Chamba along with the villagers & leave the bandits alone to put an end to this Battle. Lord Dalhousie vouched upon his honour that all his demands would be met, provided he accompanied them peacefully to Dalhousie as a prisoner to be produced before the Queen. But it was at that very moment that someone emerged from Lord Dalhousie’s tent that shook the ground beneath Khajjiar’s legs, for it was Kalia. It had been Kalia all along, Kalia- the spy who had leaked all information about Khajjiar Singh and his men to Lord Dalhousie, Kalia who had been responsible for Lord Dalhousie finding out that Chamba had an affair with Khajjiar and for finding out where Chamba and the other villagers were hidden in the forest. In fact it was Kalia, who was responsible for all the battle itself. In a fit of rage, he pulled out his sword and charged towards him. The British soldiers assuming that Khajjiar was about to attack Lord Dalhousie began firing at him. Out of nowhere, Chamba suddenly flung herself between the soldiers and him in order to protect her love and before they could bring Khajjiar down to the ground, he had already put a gash across the face of Kalia with his sword. Both Chamba and Khajjiar lay on the ground, trying to crawl and reach towards the other as their lives ebbed away in front of them. They say his last words were Chamba and hers were Khajjiar.
And it was in the honour of their undying love, that Shivpura was renamed as Khajjiar and the adjoining district Chamba.”
Now by this time, some girls had tears in their eyes and I- well I was just yawning. But then, something struck me as odd and I asked him what happened to Kalia. The old man got up and started leaving, but as he left he replied, well Lord Dalhousie left Kalia to die in the forest, citing the fact that when he could not be faithful to the man who he had followed for years, how could Lord Dalhousie be assured that he would not stab him in the back the next moment he got. And legend says that his spirit still wanders in this forest reciting the tale of Khajjiar and Chamba to wary travellers.
And then it struck me, the messed up face, the scar running across the length of the face- the old man was goddamn Kalia. But by now he had disappeared into the depths of the forest without leaving behind a single trace of his existence.
Coming Up Next: Why Jwala Ji was visited by Aliens and is Now a Secret Base of Operation of RAW!