• Reece Willis

Towards the Within Deleted Scene

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Warning: Towards the Within spoiler ahead. It would probably be best to read the book in full before continuing on.

The following is a deleted scene from Towards the Within which takes place in Pune. It starts leaving Bijapur and rejoins the story at Aurangabad. The reason this section was removed from the final draft was to reduce the word count.

On the way to pick up my bus in the bare light of the early morning, I stopped to photograph a handful of men conducting their morning exercises, or at best stretches and warm-ups in the grounds of the Gagan Mahal or Heavenly Palace. The ruins of the 16th century archways seemed a perfect place to start one's day. I wished I could have stayed longer and maybe even join them, but I was bound for Pune after a last minute decision to go back to Mumbai a little later than planned.

The rickety old bus had rusted wheel arches and bald tires, and the ride was as hectic as ever, but I accepted it for what it was and spent the journey staring from the window and soaking up the endless views of the velvet green Sahyadri Hills of the Deccan Plateau.

I imagined Pune to be a small place like Hospet or Bijapur, but I couldn't have been more wrong. As night fell, I arrived in a city of lights that was overwhelming, overflowing with traffic and people, reminding me more of Delhi and Agra. I worked my around the crammed streets searching for accommodation without a clue of my whereabouts. I ended up settling for a low-budget hotel tucked up a side street from a main road. The room was quiet and spotlessly clean; a change to what I was used to over the last few days. It had an en-suite bathroom and a comfortable double bed and a laundry service, which I took full advantage of with a promise my clothes would be returned the following lunchtime. After a welcomed cold shower, I went back out and into the restaurant two doors down for a veg thali, before collapsing into bed for the night.

The light filtering through the curtains woke me before my alarm. The young man on reception showed me where I was on the map in my guidebook and over breakfast in the neighbouring restaurant, I planned my morning in Pune and beyond. North-east of Pune was Aurangabad and a little way from there, the ancient cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora. I hoped to get a bus to Aurangabad that afternoon with a view of travelling west to Mumbai from there.

The first two auto-rickshaw wallahs I came across were unsuitable; the first asked too much and the second didn't speak a word of English. But the third was perfect. Kahill was in his early thirties, very friendly and agreed a good rate for my morning's excursion to Aga Khan Palace.

'From how long you be in India?' he called back over the engine and surrounding horns.

'About three months.'

'Ah, three month, that is long time, na? And where you go in all this time?' I reeled off the places I'd been. 'Ha, you have been to more places than me and I am living in India. Tell me about the mountains.' I spoke of Naini Tal, Corbett, Rishikesh, the house in Manali, of Leh and the houseboat on Nagin Lake. 'Oh, what wonderful time you must have. It not so hot in mountain like Pune?'

'It can get quite cold in Ladakh and Kashmir, like a completely different India.'

I'd never seen a building in India such as the Aga Khan Palace. Set back from the road amongst beautiful gardens, the palace, with its sloped red-tiled roofs, gracious balconies and Italianate arches, combined Muslim and French architectural styles. A national monument of India's freedom movement, it was originally built as an act of charity to help and employ the poor in the neighbouring areas of Pune who were hit by harsh famine.

Without trial in August 1942, along with other leaders of the Indian National Congress in response to Gandhi's Quit India speech, the British arrested and imprisoned Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturba in the palace. Within a week of their confinement, Gandhi lost one of his closest friends and private secretary of thirty five years, Mahadev Desai, and on February 22 1944, Gandhi suffered another blow, the bereavement of his beloved wife, Kasturba. Under the shade of a cluster of tamarind trees, a small marble monument stood dedicated to Kasturba where her ashes lay beneath. Nearby I stared in disbelief at another memorial with the words, 'HERE LIE THE ASHES OF MAHATMA GANDHI' inscribed. The tranquil gardens were a fitting place for a man who fought for peace amongst his followers. I found it hard to pull myself away. Inside the palace, spacious rooms paid homage to Gandhi, his wife and associates. Statues and tributes to certain aspects of the Mahatma's life were displayed; photographs and items of a personal nature such as his bed, writing desk, utensils and clothes, the dining table where meals and conversations of great importance took place, and Kasturba's bed where she took her last breath. Lost in thought, Kahill brought me back to present day Pune as we drove away, 'Pune is cultural capital of Maharashtra and known for its fine music, spirituality, theatres, sports and literature. The city has many university, college and school. Young people from all over India come to Pune to learn.' The ride took us into the heart of the modern city, passing the towering walls of the formidable Shaniwar Wada – the 18th century Moghul fort and the seat of the Peshwa rulers of the Maratha Empire until 1818 when it was surrendered to the British.

Kahill told me a chilling tale while we idled in traffic, 'Shaniwar Wada is one of most haunted buildings in all India. In 1773, thirteen year old Peshwa king Narayan Rao was brutally murdered. As assassins chased him across fort, boy yell, “Uncle, Uncle, save me!” but nobody come and he was hacked to pieces. People say they still hear boy cry for help at midnight on every new moon day.' I held the story in mind as we moved on, gazing up at the ghostly towers and imposing gateways and at the huge wooden doors of the Dilli Darwaza gatehouse with its deadly metal spikes thrusting outwards to prevent the charging of elephants.

At the bus terminal I bought a ticket and found I'd not long missed a bus. Another was due in forty five minutes. Nearby in a restaurant I took out my guidebook. Aurangabad was two hundred and forty kilometres north of Pune. North-west of Aurangabad were the Ellora caves and north-east were Ajanta. If I planned carefully I could pack both sites into a day trip.

On the bus I waited until an aisle seat became available. I put my earphones in and rested my eyes. The trip from Mumbai to Mumbai was starting to take its toll. I'd had very little sleep, taken a lot of bus journeys and was now beginning to feel unwell again. After two hours my eyes flew open. Severe cramps had me clutching my stomach. Sweating and gritting my teeth, I tapped my toes on the floor, clenching my fists in desperation of a rest break. When one finally came I rushed into the dhaba and screamed, 'Toilet!'

I was pointed in the right direction by the chef but found a queue of three people waiting. Scrabbling around my pockets I pulled out a handful of rupees, asking if they would take my money so I could jump the queue. They looked at me as if I'd gone crazy, didn't accept the money, but took pity on me hopping around red-faced and sweating, and let me go ahead anyway. Staggering out with weakness and relief, I mumbled my undying thanks and fell into a chair, ordering a cold bottle of water.

At a quarter past ten the bus arrived in Aurangabad and I found a cheap hotel without a hitch.

Towards The Within is available now in paperback and on Amazon Kindle

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