The Colors of Time
by Saurbh Katyal
March 31, 2025
Scott looked at his reflection in the mirror and was satisfied: the suit and the hat were appropriate to the period, but he particularly found the cane rather becoming; he approached Peter, and asked, “What do you think?”
Peter replied, “The outfit is fine, professor, but is the cane necessary?”
Scott put on a façade of shock and said, “I am disappointed in your sartorial taste, Peter. Don’t you think it gives me an aura of dignity? Besides, the cane was in fashion those days.” He brandished the cane dramatically in front of Peter’s face.
Peter sighed, “I see what they say is true: there is a little boy in every old man; yours seems to be hyperactive today. Either that, or you are getting senile.”
Scott smiled fondly at him and stuck his tongue out, “Well cuckoo to you, too!”
Then Scott got serious. “I am going to my study room; I need some quietude to calm my nerves. We will proceed as planned. Say, after an hour?”
Peter nodded. “You relax, Professor. I will pack your bag in the meantime.”
“Remember to use the jute bag; a leather bag may be evoke too much attention in 1947.”
Peter raised his thumb, “Roger that, Professor. Go and get your beauty sleep, old man.”
Scott rolled his eyes, “Do I look sleepy? I just need to recapitulate the details one last time.”
Scott sat in the rocking chair in his study, and closed his eyes. Today his hard work of twenty years would culminate into success. He had sacrificed everything for his research, but it was a small price to pay for the experience he was undertaking today. If everything went according to the plan, he would cheat time. There was no conspicuous loophole in the plan; he had been meticulous about the smallest of details. Once the arrangements for traveling through time were ready, he had spent the next six months with Peter over more intimate details.
The most cumbersome problem had been the selection of the correct period. He wanted a historical event which was momentous but, most importantly, an event which did not put him in a position to tamper with the natural unfolding of the future. The last thing he wanted was to create any sort of paradox in the past.
Scott devoted a lot of time to the selection of the correct event. After considerable research, he had decided to witness the partition of India in 1947. The decision had been heavily influenced by memories of his grandfather; the old man had been an officer in the British army during the British regime in India and had often regaled young Scott with his experiences there.
As Scott grew up, he retained some of the childhood fascination for that period. More importantly, he had chosen the year 1947 because the British had just announced the imminent freedom of India, and the prevailing mood was a festive one. The most important consideration, however, was that this period facilitated his intent of being a passive observer; the local crowd would probably be too scared for a direct confrontation, and the British would just see him as one of their peers. Besides arranging the suitable dress, he had learnt the native tongue, Hindi, and managed to obtain some coins of that period with the help of a numismatist friend.
Peter checked the apparatus for the umpteenth time. It was time to wake the professor. Peter marveled at the professor’s composure at a time like this. Peter had been a student in the professor’s class. Once, he had shown Scott some of his research papers on teleporting. Scott had immediately offered Peter the job of assisting him in his research. Peter had accepted, and had been working with the professor for the past five years.
With the proliferation of quantum computers in 2015, time travel had become a definite possibility. However, most of the researchers met with an impasse in this field, because they were intimidated by the two greatest drawbacks in time travel, the first being to accelerate greater than the speed of light; and the second, to find an alternate source of tremendous energy.
Initially, Scott had been obsessed with finding solutions to these problems. However, he soon realized that these impediments were too great to comprehend. So he looked for another opening. He had found an alternative in the concepts of wormholes and closed timelike curves. If he could distort an object’s worldline so much that it formed a loop, which connected with a point on itself representing an earlier place and time, it would create a corridor to the past! This closed loop was a closed timelike curve, and had been the groundwork of Scott’s research. Later, he correlated this with quantum mechanics and EMR to finally consummate the quest for manipulating time.
Scott embraced Peter and said, “Peter, I am eternally grateful to you for helping me realize this dream. If something goes wrong during the trip, I just want you to know that you are dearer than a son to me.”
These were the last words which Scott said before he entered the zero-gravity optical cubicle. Once inside, he started floating. He gave the thumbs-up sign to Peter. Peter switched on the generator to activate the electrical charging of the two gigantic metal plates surrounding the cubicle. This would facilitate in ripping a hole in space-time and creating a path to the past in the form of a wormhole.
Next, he began the complex process of feeding instructions to the quantum computer, which would formulate and maneuver the timelike curve. Peter returned the thumbs-up sign. This was a cue for Scott to activate the teleport-dial, which he was carrying. Once the dial had been activated, Peter sat before the multiple screens and watched the simultaneous destruction of photons, to be replicated in some other particle group, in another time. The billions of atoms were being transported and vaporized through the wormhole, to reassemble at another place and time. He muttered a silent prayer and sighed with relief when Scott disappeared without any entanglement or other casualties.
* * *
Harish stared with disbelief at the white man. So the news had been true. He had rushed to the bazaar as soon as Abdul had informed; he had been following the white man for the past ten minutes and felt sure this was no bait by the Britishers. His mind comprehended the various possibilities: karma had smiled on him today. He turned to Abdul and spoke in the native tongue, “Listen carefully, and convey it to the others.”
When the whirling stopped, Scott suddenly found solid ground beneath him. The first thing he did was to look for the bag. The bag contained the teleport dial, his ticket home. After ensuring that there was no visible physical defect or pain, he turned his attention to the ambiance around. He was in some sort of bazaar. As far as his gaze extended, he saw a plethora of colorful shops. When people saw him, they stopped their activities and stared at him. Soon the bazaar within his vicinity became still. After registering surprise, their glances turned hostile. He was expecting the Indians to be in an ecstatic mood; as per the annals of history, this period signified the most compatible rapport between the locals and the British, following years of clashes. He had to know the date. He saw a young man in a white cap, staring at him intrepidly. Scott accosted him and spoke in thick accented Hindi, “Good morning. What date is it today?”
The man showed no hesitation. He glanced at the bag Scott carried with great interest. He promptly replied, “17th August.”
Scott queried, “What year?”
The man did not register any surprise at the absurdness of the question and answered, “1945.”
Scott muttered an involuntary curse in English. Something had gone wrong in the calculations; the wormhole established was for 1945 instead of 1947.
He asked the man, “What is your name?”
The man answered, “Abdul.”
Scott extended his hand and greeted, “Hello Abdul, I am Scott.” The man looked confused. He shook Scott’s hands in a daze, and then with a celerity that surprised Scott, dashed away. Scott put on a semblance of a smile and started walking amidst the stares. He had walked a little distance, contemplating his next action, when a man accosted him in flawless English, “Hello Sir. You seem to be lost. May I be of any assistance?”
Scott started a conversation with the man. He learnt that the man’s name was Harish and he was some sort of trader. Scott was just going to ask him the name of the place, when he felt hands grabbing him from behind. Someone put a damp cloth on his nose; that was the last thing he remembered before he lost consciousness.
When Scott regained consciousness, he found himself in a dark room. He was seated on a chair with his hands tied behind. He felt eyes watching him. He stretched his neck and spotted a small boy. He asked deliberately in Hindi, “ Are your parents here?”
The boy shouted something and ran out of the room. His departure was followed by the arrival of Harish. “Good to see you are awake. Scott isn’t it?”
Scott spoke, “Why have I been kidnapped? What happened at the bazaar?”
Harish signaled to someone behind him, “Abdul, untie him.”
While Abdul was cutting the ropes, Harish came and stood besides Scott; Scott had to look up to face him “I took the privilege of going through your bag; the pistol and the, what shall I call this instrument, has really aroused the curiosity of my group. You may stand if you want to, Scott.”
Harish turned to the little boy, and smiled. “Go get your mother and uncle Atul, Rohit.” The boy ran out of the door.
The first thing which Scott observed about Harish was his eyes; Scott believed that a person’s eyes were the most insightful anatomical feature to his character. Harish’s eyes were light grey and conflicting; they were the coldest eyes he had seen, however when Harish was talking to the boy, they had been transformed into the warmest eyes he had seen.
Soon, the boy was back with a woman and another man. Before he could discern the scene further, Harish started speaking, “No wallet, no identification, some loose change, a pistol and an exotic looking instrument. Why are you in this area all alone, Scott?”
Scott’s mind was considering various explanations simultaneously. He lied effortlessly, “I am new to your country. I am a reporter. I have been assigned to get your side of story, how the local Indians respond to the British rule. I came here alone because I felt, that an accomplice would intimidate the locals and lead to a compromise on the truth. The pistol was meant for self-defense; and the instrument you refer to is actually a new kind of camera.”
Harish looked genuinely surprised, “What paper would that be?” Scott lied again, “It’s a famous daily in England. It’s called The Truth.”
Harry dangled the dial in front of Scott, “Can you tell me how this camera operates?”
Scott replied in a confident tone, “Of course. You have to press the red button to bring a person in focus.”
Harish pressed the button and a laser beam shot straight at the boy’s face. The woman gave a cry of distress and embraced him protectively. Abdul and the other man looked at it with awe. Only Harish kept a poker face. When the beam receded, the woman, who was hitherto comforting the crying boy, looked angrily at Harish and admonished, “We should send a message to James, instead of wasting time over silly games.”
When the beam had lit the room, Scott had observed the woman. She was an attractive woman in her early twenties; swarthy complexioned with charming features. Scott assumed that the boy was her son.
Harish was unapologetic. He said in a cold tone to the woman, “I am fully aware of the consequences. Scott, you are a hostage now. We will negotiate your freedom for our leader’s with the British government. Unfortunately, their views are not as accommodating as your paper’s. We need your full name and residential address in India.”
Scott was in a state of shock. He was gauging the extent to which this incident could contaminate the future. His first instinct was to grab the dial from Harish’s hands and run. But that was not pragmatic. His thoughts were interrupted as Harish raised the pistol slightly and said in a threatening tone, “Or would you rather prefer staying with us?”
Scott replied, “Scott Harrington. I am staying at the Officer’s Mess of the infantry regiment.”
Harish turned to the other man and said, “Atul, ensure that the details of our guest are conveyed to James.”
Scott was tempted to ask who was James, but did not want to arouse their suspicion. As it is, he felt they had accepted his reporter theory rather complacently. Now the main priority was to get the dial back, and leave as inconspicuously as he could.
* * *
James Morrison had just finished a six-course lunch at the police station. A timid looking attendant brought the coffee. James considered castigating the attendant over something. When he could think of nothing, he said in an irritated tone, “Where is my cigar?”
The obsequious attendant promptly took a cigar from his pocket; he still remembered the kick he had received in the stomach, when he had failed to produce a cigar, the last time sahib demanded one. James took a puff from his cigar and felt good. He was slightly irritated to see the attendant still standing for orders. He barked, “Get out.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Saurbh Katyal