How many times has it happened to you that a strange person would approach you and start making a conversation? I guess your answer would be ‘Never’. In a city where people are too scared and uncomfortable to breach their protective shell and start a tête-à-tête with a stranger for the fear of a backlash, this answer doesn’t surprise me. Let me narrate one recent and rare incident to you I was a part of.
It was around 8 in the evening. It was quite dark and the only light was of the traffic moving on the road. I was coming back from the gym. The shirt was covered in sweat and my hair was in a mess. There was this gaunt woman wearing a saree walking a few steps ahead of me. Her hair were very rough, starched, kind of Bob Marleyish and made a structure like a bee-hive around her head. I could just about hear her blabbering, not understand it though. She stopped for a second and asked a man ‘Bhai Sahab, Whats the time?’. The man replied. She couldn’t hear it and asked him again. 7:30 he said. She got it right the second time and continued walking.
By this time, I had already overtaken her by two steps. Now, her blabbering was clear, pretty loud she was.
“You should not be talking to strange men. Why do you talk to men you don’t even know. I was just asking the time. Bitch”
Now, I had somewhat realized that the woman was a freak, a little crazy in her head. She was talking shit to herself and that too very loudly. I started moving faster now.
“Bhai Sahab!! Bhai Sahab!!!” – She called out to someone. “Bhai Sahab.. Suno!!!”. I turned around to see it was me she was screaming to.
“Do you know till what time the Hanuman temple is open for devotees?”
I didn’t know which temple she was referring to, as there was none in that area. Now I was sure she lives in a different world than mine, a world inhabited by retards.
“I don’t know” – I tried to shrug her off but she was matching my speed pretty well.
“I have to buy a mango and offer it to the gods. Do you think the temple would be open till then?”
“I don’t know”
“You know today is Tuesday and I never miss going to the temple on this day. I came back from the office late today and thought of skipping but now I think I should not. Good mangoes are not easy to choose. I really don’t want to be going there and find the temple is closed.”
Just when I thought I was losing my cool, she saw a fruit shop on the roadside and went there. I sped up a few notches until I was sure she can not call me back.
“What pagal lady yaar. Sali she was talking to herself. Man, thank god I got rid of her too soon. She had plans to spoil my return walk back to home. I don’t understand how the people who know her tolerate this woman. Non stop blabber she was. And the way she looked, messed up hair, malnourished appearance. Trying to get too sticky. I should have straight away told her to go away. And if she hadn’t I should have screamed at her – LEAVE ME ALONE ”
Suddenly I saw people around me looking at me strangely. Oh… I was blabbering to myself. Loudly. I was that woman.
DISCLAIMER: This is a fictional story set in the backdrop of Godhra riots in Gujarat. This was an early morning dream that I needed to put down somewhere. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is coincidental.
27 Febuary, 2002
It was a beautiful February morning here in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. I was in my morning prayers when Bulbul came up and sat on my lap. In the whole family, only she has the privilege to disturb me when I am connecting with my god. Everyone knew it was Dad’s personal space.
“Bapuji, you know what is the day tomorrow?”. The nightingale’s voice inquired.
“Yes. its a Thursday”. Although I knew what she was coming up to, I feigned ignorance.
“Baaaapuuuji!!!”. I love it when she stretches the words like that. “Its 28th of February, MY BIRTHDAY. You never remember it”. She said, her smile inverted now.
“Ohhh Gaaawwwd. How can I forget that??? Shame on me. So, how old are you going to be? 4 years? Right?”
Her expression changed into of a mother admonishing her wayward son and her arms folded now “I am not talking to you. You are so dumb Bapuji. I am going to be five tomorrow. FIVE. ONE. TWO. THREE. FOUR. FIVE” She counted on her fingers.
“Aah.. Yes.. 1998, 99, 2000, 2001, 2002. Five it is. So, now that you have reminded me, I will try to get something for you tomorrow. Okay?”
‘Try??? Just Try?? Nooo.. you HAVE to get me something tomorrow.. Okay??”
“Okay Beta. I will. Now please let me finish my prayers”.
I kissed her. She hopped off my lap and ran back to the Kitchen to her mother.
It was 11:00 AM now. I was ready to move when I heard some commotion outside. Looking out of the window, I saw a cluster of people, mostly my neighbours, surrounding two-three men who seemed to be telling a story. It aroused my curiosity and I went downstairs to join them.
“What happened?”. I asked to no one in particular.
“Muslims burnt a carriage of the Sabarmati Express this morning. It was full of Karsewaks returning from Ayodhya”. Somebody replied.
“WHAT??? WHERE???”. I was shocked.
“Godhra station. Many of the Hindu brothers and sisters were burnt alive. These men have brought the news”. Someone in the crowd joined us in the conversation. “Balgopal was also in that carriage”.
“Shit.. Is he dead too??” Balgopal was the god fearing devout Hindu living two blocks away from my house. It was his annual ritual to visit Ayodhya- The land of Lord Ram.
“Yes, thats what has been heard”
The more we spoke about it, angrier I was. Blood had started to boil. Within a minute or two, one of the messengers of the destruction was addressing the whole crowd, which has by now swelled to be around 80-100, like a veteran politician.
“Brothers, how long? How long are you going to let them do this? All this time, we have been letting them live with us, giving them shelter, help, being friends with them. And what do we get in return? These fuckers burnt a train full of our brothers and sisters. There were kids in the train too. It takes a heart of stone to see a site like that. They have kidnapped some of our young girls too. Brothers and sisters, We need to unite. We need to teach them a lesson. Tell them that Hindus are as united as these muslims are. Get up. Dont sleep now. Take whatever weapons you have. Lets do to them what they have done to us all these years. We will let them know that we are not going to be sitting on our asses now while they continue killing us and raping our sisters and daughters. NOW IS THE TIME TO TAKE REVENGE. LETS SEND THEM BACK TO WHERE THEY BELONG”
Now, the rage was visible on my face. My Jaws tensed up.
We started marching. The war cry continued as we marched towards a Muslim residential complex close to our area. There were some more groups of people now merged with ours. Many of them were carrying swords. Some were carrying kerosene containers and torches. Somebody passed on a sword to me too. I gripped it tightly. Heavy it was. With 500 of us now, screaming, thumping our chests, holding our swords, raising anti-Muslim slogans, the land of non-violence was not going to remain the same.
After 20 minutes, we were at the Gulbahar Society gates. The society full of rich people. Lawyers, lecturers, MPs, MLAs, Doctors. All Muslims. All haters.
‘KILL THE BASTARDS. EACH ONE OF THEM”
The big gate of the colony was wide open. Seeing the crowds from the distance, the guards sensed the trouble and had run away already. The whole crowd now rushed in, roaring. I could see the enemy closing their doors and shutting their windows. We divided into groups of 20-25 and decided that each group will attack one house.
BHAM. BHAM. We were banging the door, trying to break it open. Some of us were throwing stones on their windows in order to break the glass. Trying to find any way we could enter the house and avenge the killing of our people by their people. It took us two minutes to break the door open which would otherwise take at least 30 minutes. That moment, I knew that God was with us. God wanted us to do this. God wanted us to kill the people who killed his disciples. God made us all powerful for that very moment.
It was a beautiful house. The walls adorned with big paintings. I wondered for a tenth of a second about the stupidity of rich people who spend thousands on just a painting. And two of them were right in front of our eyes, begging for survival. He was a man around the same age as me and his wife was the same age as my wife, but much more beautiful and accessorised. They were both on their knees, hands folded shaking and crying at the same time.
“Please let us go. What have we done? Take anything you want but let us go”. His shaking voice said.
“BASTARDS. You killed our people. Now, its your turn”. Said someone and a wide swoosh of the sword cut off one of his folded arm in a split second. Blood splattered. He screamed in pain. She screamed in horror.
“Look for others in the house. Get the stuff you can get your hands on before we burn this house down”. The messenger, who was in our group, ordered.
I, a mute spectator till now, sprung into action and started searching through the rooms. These rich guys have such big rooms and so many of them. I would feel so alone in a house like that. I was kicking the door of each room and checking for any signs of the enemy. In the background, I could hear the loud cries. Sounded like another limb was chopped off. Assholes were screaming so loud that I had to go through every corner and open every cupboard myself. Otherwise, I would have found out from the muffled sounds of cries.
Wait, this room had a strange looking cartoon character smoking a cigar on its door. This could be the kids room. Bloody time bombs they are. As I looked in, I realized there is a kid under the bed. I crouched. It was a girl, must be around 4 or 5. The moment she saw me, her muffled cries were muffled no more. She was crying at the top of her very shrill voice now, I started getting irritated.
“Stop Crying”. I said. But she would not listen to me. The squeal got louder. I tried to shut her up by putting my hand across her mouth. No use. There was only one way left now. Anyways, somebody else was going to do it sooner or later, why not me.
It was four in the afternoon. Although I was tired, I had this very fulfilling feeling of doing something for my people. The next time they would think a hundred times before touching any of our people. Time to go home. I just could not wait to go home and pick Bulbul up in my arms. That smile would make me forget what bloodbath this day has been and would freshen me all up. Oh, and she would be waiting for her gift. This big stuffed monkey I picked for her from that girl’s room is going to make her ecstatic. Only 5 more minutes, and she will be in her Babuji’s arms.
As I got closer to my colony, I realized something was wrong. The place looked like it has been hit with a meteor. Oh Fuck, there was a man’s dead body on the roadside, multiple stab wounds on body. Such a gory site it was. And then it hit me. I rushed towards my house. The area around was a mess. The site of people crying was a bit too much for me. It was strange because I had seen this site many times in the day today. Entering into the main gate didn’t give me a good feeling.
“BULBUL. AARTI. DEVRAJ”. I screamed my lungs out.
I heard Aarti crying in the next room. Knowing that she was alive gave me a sense of relief. I ran towards the room. There she was, crying, with Dev standing next to her and she carrying Bulbul. The nightingale had her head rested on Aarti’s shoulders, silent.
“Thank god, you are all right. I was so scared for you guys”. Tears rolling down my eyes, I rushed to pick Bulbul. Aarti was still crying.
“We went..went to the market.. for some time… and.. and.. all this..Bulbul.. Bulbul..” Aarti murmured.
As I was transferring Bulbul from Aarti’s shoulder to mine, I noticed blood on her shoulder. I now knew the reason for the nightingale’s silence. The monkey was sitting on the ground and staring into my eyes, smiling.