E Harikumar

To The Unknown Realms

E Harikumar


The chess board made of copper was an enigma. We got it from the attic and took it to the pond to wash. Only after washing thoroughly did we notice all the squares and the position of the chess pieces. There were stubborn scars here and there that wouldn't go away. Most surprising fact was the pieces etched on it. They were positioned as if a play was stopped abruptly and the players just disappeared into eternity. As if in an exigency the play suddenly froze and time had stopped in an unknown world. God knows how long that chess board was lying dormant in the attic.

When the board dried up the figures in black got clearer and brighter against the red hue of the copper board. Kuttettan was intently looking at it and his face turned into a question mark. He has found out something not agreeable in it. I did not understand it. After some moments of uncertainty he raised his face and looked at me.

"Do you see anything wrong in this?"

I looked at it once again but couldn't find anything wrong. I looked at Kuttettan with a questioning eye.

"This is an impossible play. This situation can never happen in chess. This is wrong, look."

When I looked at it for a second and studied it did I find what is wrong with it. The display of the pieces on the chess squares was not laid out correctly. This situation can never happen. The white king was checkmated with three pieces, with the rook, bishop and a knight. There is no possibility to arrive at this scenario. This play is wrong.

"Yeah," I said, "this end can never be."

"What does it show?" Kuttettan asked. His way of talk was like a school teacher. The way they talk when taking classes. Not getting any reply from me, he continued. "This shows that it is not just a play, but a key to something...... to what, we should find out. Come on; let's go to the attic once more. There could be more clues."

Kuttettan was a good reader. He had read most of the detective novels available in the school library. In fact detective novels and treasure hunting novels are his favorites. The attic was full of mysteries and wonders. It hides ageless secrets. It covers the entire roof of the nalukettu and crisscrossed with huge bulky beams that you can't reach with your hands. It was fixed so low even we children had to bow down under it.

From the shocking experience I had when we went there I wouldn't venture out there for a second time. It was my fifteenth birthday. We had feast as usual for a birthday. After having our lunch we took the rickety wooden stairs to the attic. I don't recollect how we started it. My duty those days was to follow the leader. Kuttettan decides something and start on it and I am a mute follower. The attic was littered with old wooden furniture. A table that had only three legs, broken chairs, all mutilated, or cane weave snapped and a good bed and I wondered why it was thrown on the attic. Then there were jars and vessels made of china clay. They could have been discarded at different times. As we went deep inside I felt scary. There was only a dim light and you could hardly see what is lying in some corners. Walking through that maze we saw that wooden box with four short legs. It was in fact an ornate writing table. In the olden days people sat on the floor and wrote on such tables which also serve as a place to keep their writing materials and may be valuables. Kuttetten pointed his index finger and said.

"See, a box."

Kuttettan was looking around to see why there was only a very dim light in this part. He found out the reason. The gap between the slanted roof and the half wall in this particular place was covered with small kiln bricks. Somebody had done it intentionally, or why should there be bricks only in this part of the whole terrace? The mysterious character of the writing box table starts from here. Kuttettan removed two bricks and the area was slightly lit up. The writing box was in good condition. It was hardly one and a half feet high with three inch straight legs. The brass ornaments in the corners are slightly oxidized, otherwise in good condition. Kuttettan sat in front of it and tried to open the top. It was locked, the lid didn't budge. He was looking around for its key. On the sides and on top of it wherever Kuttettan's fingers moved they left traces on the dust laden surface.

"Where should I go for the key?" Looking at the soiled hand Kuttettan said.

"Shall I try if I can open it?"

Kuttettan nodded as if to say you may try, but it won't open. I sat in front of the box and using all the force tried to open the lid. Such heavy force was not necessary, the lid was open. This was unexpected and because of the force used I stooped on to the box and my nose hit on it. When I sat back Kuttettan said.

"Look there is blood coming from your nose."

"It's okay..."

The inside of the box was in good condition. There were small divisions on one side of it and under that space for keeping notebooks etc. I put my hand inside and felt around only to fish out a horoscope written in palm leaves. In the olden days horoscopes were written on palm leaves cut to length and polished and written with a sharp stylus called ezhuthani.

"This is a horoscope of a long dead ancestor." He said with a sense of disappointment. He was expecting something more useful than a bunch of palm leaves in it. Beneath the shelf where I got the horoscope there was still some space and I explored that space. My hand felt something lying on the bottom and I took it out. It was a square plate. I could take it out only by holding it in a particular slanting position.

"Let me see what it is?" Kuttettan held out his hand. He brought it to the gap where the light was better. "Oh, this is a chess board."

I wanted to tell him that his intelligence is superb. Eight squares on each side each other square in black and there are pictures of chess pieces, King, rook, knight and pawns.

"You might be thinking you need not be very intelligent to realize that this is a chess board." Kuttettan said, "but why such a board? You can't play with it."

"Let's go." I said. We closed the lid and walked towards the rickety staircase. Kuttettan was silent for some time. When we reached the entrance to the stairs, he turned to me and asked.

"Did you notice one thing?"

I raised my eyes with a question.

"That box...... when you tried to open it, it opened suddenly. I couldn't open it using all my force."

It was true. I needed no effort to open it. Now thinking about it I was really surprised.

"What does it mean?" The school teacher of a Kuttettan asked.

I shrugged my shoulders.

"It means somebody had kept it for you only."

Suddenly I was seized with fear. I somehow wanted to get out of that dreadful place.

"Let's do one thing." Kuttettan said. "Now that you have closed, I will try my luck once again and see if I can open it. Come."

Unwilling to go back to the mysterious place again, I held back. But Kuttettan won't relent. He caught hold of my hand and dragged me to it. Sitting in front of the writing table he seemed jittery. He at first tried to open it without any force, and finding it not working, he used more force. The box moved a little, but the lid did not open. I felt very scary. I said. "Let's go."

"Now you try to open it." He said getting up.

I turned and ran to the entrance and in a jiffy climbed down the stairs. Only after reaching the first floor did I heave a sigh.

Kuttettan took his time to appear and I was worried. Was he trying to open the box, or if something could have happened to him? ..... I felt nervous and started to climb up the stairs. There I saw Kuttettan standing at the entrance holding that chess board.

"What a brave boy I had taken along!" Kuttettan said with a smile. "What is there to be afraid of? Come let's go to the pond and clean this board."

After all these happened I have made up my mind not to go back to that attic another time. But Kuttettan was very demanding and unrelenting. He never wanted to be a loser. He was also good in talking.

"Why are you scared? I am there with you. You don't do anything. Just come with me. I thought you were a brave boy....."

In any case in ten minutes I was following him to the cursed attic. I was frequently turning back to see that all escape routes are clear and kept open, so that in case.....

Kuttettan sat in front of the box and used a lot of force but to no avail. He got up and told me. "Now it's your turn. You open it."

He has somehow come to terms with the fact that I can open it. I sat on the floor and with quivering hands tried to open it. It opened without my using any force. I suddenly got up. Kuttettan was now really surprised. Waking from the trance, he asked me to move and sat in front of it.

"Let me see if there is anything else in it."

He was exploring every nook and corner inside the writing table. Nothing more, only that blasted horoscope. He took it out and closed the box.

"Somebody's horoscope, anyway we take it along. May be it belongs to that ancestor who made that chess board."

I nodded. I was growing a little bit bold. We turned and moved on. When we were passing under the first beam across we head a click sound, as if a lock is closing. It was so loud and clear. I looked at Kuttettan. Even he had heard it. It looks like he has also lost all his courage. We walked fast without venturing to look back.

About this translation

An unusual novel by E Harikumar originally published in Malayalam (Ariyathalangalilekk oru kavatam അറിയാത്തലങ്ങളി'ലേക്ക് ഒരു കവാടം). In this novel, you will see many things beyond your logic. Every fifteen years a wonderful and unusual phenomenon changes a person's life completely. Irrational ecstasies often take the character to the mysterious levels of time.

അനുബന്ധ വായനയ്ക്ക്