Sunday, October 25, 2020
Home ArttrA Rare Earth

Rare Earth

Narsimha stretched his hands and stood upright, wiped the beads of sweat as his skin dazzled in the scorching sun. Time was running out. Bending down, he continued digging again, his passage to freedom. 

He glanced into the distance as he heard the revving of an approaching engine. He had to dig out the sand and gravel and clear the way leading up to the tar road. He had to send his truck to the Sunday market. But he was holed up here, locked out from all sides in his own land.

He needed to break free from this strange captivity, which had appeared overnight out of nowhere. He had wondered about it.  He got an inkling as to what must have happened—Anna!

The vehicle screeched to a halt right in front of him and clad in a crisp white cotton Veshti and silk Kurta, Anna stepped out of the imposing Fortuner. He wore multiple gold rings studded with precious stones and a gaudy, thick gold chain dangled down his neck. It announced his authority and power. His two bodyguards got down and opened the door for him, creating an aura of intimidation.

Unfazed, Narsimha continued with his digging. 

Anna roared, “Narsimha, stop! What are you doing?”

Narsimha continued to clear the path, ignoring Anna, which infuriated him further. After a while, he stopped and said, “Can’t you see? I am clearing the path for my trucks to pass.”

“You are trespassing on my property. This is my land and nothing moves from here without my permission,” Anna said with a booming voice.

“I need access to the main road. How can I get to it? You now own the entire land surrounding my four acres.”

Anna slyly smiled at whining Narsimha. Not even a year had passed, when Narsimha had stubbornly denied permission for his sand carrier trucks to pass through his plot. He had since schemed and plotted to get back at Narsimha. Anna purchased the entire forty acres of land along the beach, engulfing Narsimha’s plot like pseudopodia of an amoeba.

Anna’s goons pushed Narsimha and shoved him away violently. Losing balance he hit the ground with a thud. Blood trickled down his temple. He threw an irate glance and dashed towards them. He butted his head into the stomach and pushed back one of the men ferociously. The goon fell on his back and his occiput hit the ground. Narsimha tackled the other with a strong upper-cut that landed on his jawbone. It took them a few minutes to recover from the unexpected retaliation and get back at Narsimha. He was no match for the two musclemen. They brought him to ground in no time and kicked, punched and abused him, as he groaned in pain on the sandy surface. A gooey mixture of sand and blood stuck to the oozing wounds on his brow and cheek.

Pragasam—Narsimha’s teenage son—who was watching the proceedings from a distance— dashed just in time to help his father who lay sprawled on the ground. He tried to resist the beatings and shield his father. Seeing the young lad, the duo hesitated and looked at Anna. He waved at them, signaling them to let him go. He hurled abuses, spit on the ground and screamed, “Stay away from my land. Is that clear? I’ll leave a small passage for you to access the main road.”

Without waiting for a reply, he got back into his Fortuner and sped off.

* * * * *

  Anna’s Beach Sand Mining operations for rare earth minerals gathered momentum. He mined ilmenite, sillimanite, garnet, zircon, monazite and rutile, collectively called Beach Sand Minerals (BSM). It was 2006 and the sector had just opened up for private sector participation. Anna had an inherent advantage of the first-mover.

What was once an idyllic small hamlet on the seashore with a deserted beach teemed with activity. Bulldozers and heavy earth movers were seen lifting tons of sand and scooping earth from the adjacent hillock on the seashore.

The Minerals Separation Plant generated much-needed employment and made the surrounding villages more than happy.

Narsimha looked on as Anna’s business flourished. He still ferried his meager produce of coconuts, cashews, and fish to the nearby market using the tiny gated trail passage that Anna had left for him. 

Narsimha cursed every time he passed the gate for what he had done to him and what he was doing to the beach that he loved so much. He had spent all his life there and it saddened him to watch the green cover gradually erode. Huge mounds of red earth lay scattered everywhere  eclipsing the beauty of the seashore.

“Appa, can’t we do something to stop this?  It used to be so beautiful . . .” remarked Pragasam, now a lad of eighteen.

“I want to . . . but how? He is providing jobs to the villagers and that’s why they don’t mind it. Nobody dares to speak up against him.”

Pragasam vividly remembered the day his father was beaten up by Anna’s men.  The insult and scar were etched on his mind and soul. It would take something more than just time to pacify it.

“Son, you must prepare to study Engineering. Forget about all this and concentrate on your education,” Anna said. 

Pragasam was soon to leave for the city. He felt a surge of emotions as they sat on the beach watching the waves lash at the shore, the huge whale-shaped hillock looming in the background. It pained to watch it getting defaced.

 

* * * * *

 

As years passed by, Anna expanded his business to various beaches, spanning across many states. He controlled a massive 90% of the ‘Beach Sand Mining’ business in India. 

Over the years, the Chinese had aggressively pursued their ambitions and now dominated the world market. Anna gauged the opportunities and collaborated with them. His operations were fueled by the ever-increasing  Chinese demand for raw materials.

Today was a laid back evening for Anna, a rarity for him nowadays. As he strolled down the beach from his seaside bungalow he ran into Narsimha.  

 “You seem to be enjoying the work, doing everything yourself . . . ” he sneered at Narsimha, who was thatching a shack on his land.

“I don’t mind the work. In fact, I enjoy it,” replied Narsimha. His stoic composure bothered Anna, who with his vindictive ways had badly affected Narsimha’s life.

“If you need any help, I can send somebody to do it for you.”

”I am happy with my little land and water. You remain happy in your empire. But try and save the Earth before it’s too late,” he pointed to the hillock, and Anna’s eyes followed. The grotesque sight was now a sore point in the otherwise lush green landscape.

He looked at it but sarcastically smiled and waved it aside by a smug gesture. He walked away ignoring Narsimha thereafter.

 

* * * * *

 

Four years zipped by and Pragasam was on his way home after finishing his Engineering. His taxi meandered along the thickly wooded curvy road as he entered his familiar countryside. Looking at the sea after a long gap thrilled him. The familiar breeze and saltiness of the air hit him and brought back many childhood memories—the strolls on the beach, the fishing boats and their little house by the sea—it all rushed to him in an instant. He closed his eyes and smelt the air feeling his roots.

As he approached his village, he stopped on the final bend which offered a panoramic view of the sea, the beach and the village—and the huge hillock overlooking the beach that appeared like a giant beached whale.

The sight was jarring. Almost half of the hillock was now excavated out, appearing as if some malignancy had nibbled at it. Gone was the green cover of the Palms, Coconuts and Cashew trees. It was replaced with modern concrete buildings, offices and acid treatment wells of the minerals separation plant. He was shocked by the deterioration!

He reached home, shattered by the ghastly sights. But the sight of his father and mother lifted his mood to some extent. He felt his eyes moisten.

“How are you, my son?” asked Narsimha, “Congratulations on being the First Engineer in the family.”

“Thanks, Dad, it’s all because of you . . . ” Pragasam said bending down to touch his feet. 

He hugged his mother and found comfort in her welcoming eyes.

The family subsequently dined together, gorging on his favourite fish curry, especially cooked by his mother to celebrate his homecoming. He ate slowly, relishing the feast as he told them stories about his life in college.

His father appraised him about the developments in the village and how Anna’s business had become omnipotent, dominating the entire coastline and its economy.

“He is a big man now, Pragasam. In a matter of a few years, he has built an empire!”

“It’s too big and too fast! And look at what he has done to our beach and hillock—it’s a shame…” cried out the young man.

 

* * * * *

 

The next few days were spent in lazy walks around the beach and catching up with old friends. Pragasam felt alive and at ease, far from the hustle-bustle of the city. He wandered into the nearby dense plantation and by chance, came across the barricade marking Anna’s territory.

The big blob of Sun was setting on the Arabian Sea, its golden rays caressing the palms as they shone. He hesitated for a moment, but then jumped across the fence into Anna’s area.

The area was surprisingly desolate. Most of the workers had already left. The godowns were on the extreme end of the estate. He approached them as he observed that the door was partially open. The guard was nowhere in sight. He was tempted to explore further.

He noticed a large number of filled up gunny bags stacked neatly onto each other. They were probably waiting to be shipped. Some of them were marked with a ‘Radioactive Hazard’ sign.  Pragasam was alarmed.

On the other side were huge heaps of sand-minerals in different colours. Pragasam assumed that these must be the contents of the bags.

His technically trained mind became curious and he hastily collected samples from various heaps, packing them in small plastic bags. His pulse quickened with excitement. 

“Let me find  out, what exactly is Anna mining and exporting to the Chinese…”

* * * * *

Pragasam carried the samples to the city. Using references from his college professors, he managed to persuade a Geological Lab to run a battery of tests on them. He returned to the village filled with anticipation, feeling like a debutant detective, determined to know what exactly was brewing in his backyard.

A fortnight later, he got a call from his friend who worked at the lab.

“If you were looking for some exotic rare Earth mineral, the results are disappointing. It is all usual stuff—garnet, ilmenite, sillimanite, monazite, etc. Even if it is a tailings sample, the concentration is very low. In fact, it is all raw and unprocessed.”

A disappointed Pragasam stared blankly in the distance.

But how is he making so much money? 

Monazite . . . Monazite . . .

He felt restless.

Monazite can yield Thorium and it can be enriched to Uranium, hence it can’t be exported.

His academic mind was processing this information rapidly.

The monazite tailings have to be kept with care in radioactive protected areas deep underground. It is supervised by the Atomic Energy Regulation Board. 

He thought harder.

And then a sudden brainwave hit him.

“Oh shit! Anna is exporting unprocessed minerals to China. A safe camouflage for exporting fuel for  radioactive material extraction!”

He rushed to discuss the findings with his dad. He explained what Anna was doing and how it was grossly illegal. 

Narsimha smiled in contentment. They had finally figured out Anna’s dirty secret!

They were now all charged up.

“It’s time to screw the bastard. Let’s get our retribution.”

The father-son duo launched a clandestine operation to collect more evidence. They snooped over Anna’s plant, took photographs, samples, and noted details of all the stock held and vehicular movements.

They got all the evidence scrutinized by experts and hired a freelance journalist and a top lawyer to prepare an airtight case against Anna. 

It was time to go for the kill!

* * * * *

A PIL was filed against Anna for illegal Beach Sand mining and exporting unlicensed minerals to China, thereby jeopardising national security. Simultaneously, the father-son duo filed a case to remove the physical blockade on their land in the sessions court. 

The very next day, an article detailing all the evidence appeared in newsprint. TV channels were abuzz with breaking news:

 

Illegal Sand Mining Operations caught!

 

Radioactive Minerals exported to China illegally!

 

Both police and the government agencies swung into action. It was an embarrassment for them too. In no time, Anna was booked and put behind bars. The once-all-powerful man, considered invincible, was humbled and reduced to a lowly indicted mortal in a blip of a moment. The shame and disgrace were total and in full public view.

Although he was released on bail later, his operations came to a grinding halt. CBI took over the investigations, due to the alleged involvement of high ranking bureaucrats and politicians. 

Courts ordered the blockade on Narsimha’s plot to be removed at once.

* * * * *

Pragasam and Narsimha sat on their favourite spot on the beach watching the waves from the shack. They breathed an air of contentment.

Narsimha sighed as he realised that there was something more that needed to be done!

“We have to get our beach back to its former self—rejuvenate it,” Narsimha brooded.

“We will do it Dad, don’t worry.”

Not far from where they sat, Anna too was contemplating—what went wrong? why did all this happen? Gradually, he realized it.  He had failed to tame his ego and greed. The two devils had caused his downfall.

For Narsimha and Pragasam, what started off as a simple digging of the earth for a right of physical passage, culminated in bringing true freedom from Anna’s clutches—not only to Narsimha but for all—the villagers, the country and this RARE EARTH!

 

* * * * *

 

Notes:

 

Monazite is an atomic mineral that occurs naturally in the coastal sands. It yields a number of rare-earth elements, such as neodymium and praseodymium. Both of these are in demand internationally for making high-performance rare-earth magnets – components of power wind turbines, electric vehicles and robotics.

Thorium can also be retrieved from monazite, and thorium can further be enriched to uranium.

For this reason, private firms are restricted from processing or exporting monazite. It remains a government monopoly, extracted under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy. However, it remains legal for private companies to process and export other minerals mixed in beach sand – such as garnet, ilmenite, sillimanite, zircon and rutile.

These other minerals are separated, leaving behind waste sand containing monazite – or ‘monazite tailings’. These must be stored in areas or yards specified by the AERB, which is mandated to check these areas for radioactivity levels.

***

Team: Inklings

Prompt: The protagonist stretched his/her hands and stood upright, while the beads of sweat as his/her skin dazzled in the scorching sun. Time was running out. Bending down, the protagonist continued digging again- his/her passage to freedom. Take the story forward. 

This is an entry in ArtoonsInn ArttrA-5 hosted at Writers Room.

This ArttrA is sponsored by Tanima Das Mitra, Claws Club Member – ArtoonsInn, and hosted by the Watchers of ArtoonsInn.

Cover Photo By Curioso Photography

Get a Free website and 1-month free hosting from ArtoonsInn Geeks Room during ArttrA. No technical knowledge required. Click here to talk to the Builders at The Geeks Room.

Previous articleWhat’s in a name?
Next articleLights, Camera, Action
Manoj Paprikar
Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession, a gynaecologist. He is an avid trekker, traveller, reader and a writer. He has a blog and has published a book. He plays Table Tennis and loves playing guitar.
- Advertisment -

Watcher Picks

Don't Miss

Holy Cow! (Part II)

“Marry a cow,” said Swamiji without flinching a muscle in his face. “What?” the supreme star, as he was known in the Cine industry, was...

Games At Twilight

Adare, County Limerick  2020 “Something 'bout this photograph takes me back in time,” said the retiring Inspector. He was looking down at the contents of his...

To Be Or Not To Be!

In the days of yore, there lived King Chaucer who hailed from the House of Fame and ruled over the kingdom of Canterbury. He...

Seven Happy Kids

How often is it that you see some kids playing and feel nostalgic? Blissful, Isn’t it? Well, this is a simple and sweet story...