06
May
12

“Did you change the world, my love?”

“…every little thing that happens to people remains with them throughout their lives. Every experience influences every choice. In case of traumatic experiences, the past occupies most of all the space available in the present.”  – Lars Kepler, ‘The Hypnotist’

As I sit in this depressing place inhabited by mundane sounds and people, I feel like an old piece of furniture from a by-gone era, occupying precious space, but kept only because of its socio-sentimental value.

Somehow, I cannot pinpoint the time factor of these happenings but I am certain that they are real fragments of my life.

I only wish I could remember when and where? But my head begins to ache if I try too hard and…

I try to reach out again…I travel.

 *

Long bus journeys tire me and I always land-up with an aching back. The cramped leg positions trigger knee and ankle pain. Visit to an orthopaedist and eventual x-rays had revealed old fracture marks. Fractures! When the hell did I break my bones?

The bus jolted to a stop and I came out of my reverie to find a young girl looking at me with curious eyes that held some recognition. Did I know her?

Feeling a bit strange I turned away to peer out at familiar sights. Familiar? Where was I?

A commotion at the bus door made me get up and I saw that the girl had been surrounded by auto-wallahs yelling out for their rickshaws. My sudden appearance prompted them to quickly step away from the girl and avert their eyes. In the silence that ensued I felt as if the world was moving in slow motion. None of the faces registered except for the driver who seemed to be peering at me with his mouth open. I realised that he was saying something but all I could hear was a prolonged “Whaaalh”. I strained to comprehend and felt somebody tugging at my shirt. It was the girl, and at once, the world picked-up its usual pace and I heard the driver say, “Welcome! So good to see you after such a long time!” He then turned away as if something out of place and wrong had been said. Why did they seem wary of me?

The tugging became persistent and I told the girl to go home. She just stood there looking at me and then, to my utter surprise and embarrassment, gave me a quick hug and said, “Don’t be late.”

“What are you doing here?” was my foolish response.

“Taking another letter to the police station,” and then, with a shy wave she walked away.

I stood there watching her and trying to establish her identity. The bus had departed or at least I couldn’t see it and all around me was a blue haze through which I could make out movement. It was quiet and I seemed to be alone but felt watched…being summed-up. I was about to glare at my invisible observers when a gust of wind made the nostrils flare. My stomach churned with the vaguely familiar, unpleasant smell.

 *

From this point is another blank patch that I am unable to fill with details. Through a bluish-grey mist…an ochre path and dull brown wooden houses with staircases splashed with black moved in-and-out of my vision and though the path became steep, I felt no discomfort. No joint pain. There was a purpose and I walked very alert, gripping firmly the short, stout and sturdy bamboo stick.

Still no sign of people but I felt them.

The path widened and led to a house that had seen better days. Various kinds of trees surrounded the structure from prying eyes. I had been here earlier!

Anxious to find answers I opened the latch of the gate but a sense of acute danger made me spin around. Two pairs of ugly orange-speckled eyes were advancing and with the surprise element gone; the savage beasts launched themselves at me. With a snarl just as vicious, I jumped towards them. My unexpected behaviour led to the knocking aside of one animal. The other managed to nip my arm before a powerful swing from the short-stick broke its skull. Like a beast myself, I lusted in the act of killing and took quick steps towards the first animal lying on the ground whose shoulder seemed dislocated. It gnashed its teeth, grunted and looked at me with malevolent-hateful eyes. We stared at each other and there was pity in neither. As it tried to get at me again, I raised my stick and with great relish hit it again and again and again – till it had no eyes left!

The mist was lifting all around me and sounds of daily life filtered in. A coucal ‘tookh-tookhed’ somewhere; a door opened elsewhere; and there, a baby cried.

 *

Wild clapping greeted me from the gate and I saw that it was the girl from the bus. In a flash, I knew who she was and I grinned with delight.

“Gauri,” I yelled, and throwing aside my cudgel, rushed to take her in my arms.

“I knew it! I knew it!” she squealed, “I knew you would come back and get rid of them.”

My mind was a typhoon and I felt weak and tried to acknowledge her excited prattle. She had grown and wasn’t it yesterday that I had sung ‘Chandamama door ke…’ as she lay cradled in my arms with a small hand pulling my earlobe? Why and when did I leave? An ice-cold hand of dread froze my innards and I stood there motionless.

It was clear to me now that this cool and welcoming house was where I was meant to be. This was home.

Gauri had pickled-up the discarded stick and was standing near the dead animals mumbling and looking like a small Durga.

“Is…?” I tried to find words but could not ask the question.

“She is waiting,” and with a mischievous grin pushed me towards the house.

“But, why isn’t she outside?”

“Oh!  She’s not been well.”

With this cheeky reply she ran in waving the bloodied cudgel.

“Leave the stick outside, you silly child,” a voice loomed out from the shaded veranda, and Gauri sheepishly kept my stick near the Tulsi pot.

 *

I floated in. There is no other way to describe it. I did not notice the flowers kept in various vases nor did I smell the mild fragrance of incense.

There she was! Tahzhe – my life. Warmth poured out from each and every pore of my body as I gazed into those glistening eyes with the naturally shaped eyebrows. A face etched with character and determination, glowing with an inner beauty. A slightly long, wonky but pert nose and the small mole on the upper lip were devastating.

I realised that I was holding my breath.

I croaked-out something and as always, she laughed enjoying my discomfort. I saw that she lay reclined on a huge bed with colourful pillows supporting her back. Her body still and seemingly lifeless. Lustrous eyes beckoned me and I shuffled forward trying to control my emotions and numbly stood looking down at her. What had happened?

“So! Did you change the world, my love?” she asked. Why wasn’t she moving?

“Gauri,” she ordered, “Don’t just stand there! He is here now. Go and make some lemon tea. Large cup and one full nimboo, right?”

I nodded and a tear rolled down my cheek as Gauri disappeared. I could not utter a word and my throat was choked with pain.

“Don’t cry,” Whispered she, “And sit you down and tell me where all have you been?”

“Are you paralysed?” I blurted out in anguish and guilt.

“No. Can’t move on my own though.”

Gently, I clutched her hand and caressed the fingers. She was fine when I saw her last.

“I can sense that but there is no feeling,” she added softly, “I am going to be useless to you from the neck down!”

Stung, I released her hand.

“I didn’t mean that to be a jibe,” she said, sensing my great hurt. I believed her, for that is the way she was.

I cupped her face and felt the wet cheeks and my heart broke as she tried to hold me in her arms with her eyes. She moaned and rubbed her face against my palms and I leaned forward to kiss her trembling lips.

“I felt and sensed that,” her eyes still closed savouring the moment as I traced her lips and mole.

A yell from the kitchen accompanied by rattling of cups rudely awakened us.

“I can’t stay here forever, you know? Do you want the lemon tea or not? Are you finished?”

Tahzhe laughed and blushed gloriously as a giggling Gauri walked in with the tea and I marvelled how fast the girl-child had become a girl-woman.

 *

“Is it true…?” Gauri asked, as I sipped my tea watching her massage oil into Tahzhe’s hair and scalp.

“…Is it true?” she continued, “that you used to charge 5 rupees from college girls for massaging their hair and then peer down to admire their breasts, including Tahzhe’s?”

“What?” I spluttered, glaring at Tahzhe who studiously avoided looking at me. I knew that smile!

“And, then one day, Tahzhe carried a small plastic bottle and squirted your face with kerosene?”

I couldn’t believe this conversation. Maybe I should never have come back. Blustering to save my face, I yelled at them, “That was our secret and you are one hell-of-a precocious child!”

My bruised pride was propelled outside by peals of laughter.

I was reminded of another ego-bruising situation, a long time ago, whilst travelling on a passenger train in Rajasthan. Village women who immediately pulled their ‘ghoonghats’ further down on spotting this shaher-ka-babu had invaded the compartment. It was difficult to follow their dialect but I could gauge that I was the subject of their conversation. There had been a young woman sitting opposite me who was unable to push the wooden-shutter up to open the window. I watched her lovely arms straining and then some others tried to assist. The shutter refused to budge but nobody asked for my help. Fluffing my manly feathers, I stood up, and immediately the chatter stopped. I indicated that I would open the window, and then, for the next ten minutes or so, entertained the women with my futile attempts. I just couldn’t open the bloody window! The women by now were delirious with glee at my predicament, and one didn’t have to understand the dialect to comprehend the plucking of the ‘murga’. Most of the old women had pulled their ghoonghats back and one old crone even did a ‘hinjra-dance’ to taunt me. The icing on the cake was when the ‘lovely arms lady’ slightly pulled-up her ghoonghat to exhibit a smiling mouth, took off some of her bangles and offered them to me. The chorus of laughter was deafening and congratulatory remarks rained on this brave woman, who I noticed had a mole on her upper lip.

I wished I had had Sita’s power and be swallowed by mother Earth, but that seemed to be a woman’s privilege. Never the less, their status established and my manhood trimmed, the women bonded again to trouble me no more. As a matter of fact, the rest of the journey was delightful – the singing, attempts to learn their dialect, sharing of food and even being fed a ‘motichur laddoo’ by lovely-hands – a peace offering?

 *

There were sounds of soft voices and few minutes later Gauri snuggled up to me on the bench.

“We promise not to tease you again, like this. It is just our stupid way to show how happy we are, and I haven’t seen Tahzhe laugh like this in ages.”

I kept quiet.

“You’re not angry, are you?” she asked, “Tahzhe laughs only when you are home.”

How could I be angry? It’s just that I had been away too long. A lot seemed to have happened and I did not know how to react. I also had to learn about love, companionship and trust, once again.

“How old are you?” I asked Gauri.

“Don’t know.”

“Tahzhe will be what…?”

“Don’t know. Do you?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t even know my age.”

“So it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“No,” I replied with some relief, watching the evening light filter through the trees.

“How long have you known Tahzhe?” Gauri asked.

I had never thought of that and tried to calculate the unknown time span.

“I don’t know…long. Well, ever since she was your age.”

“How old were we then?”

“I don’t know!”

We both chortled at this absurd conversation trying not to snort out aloud. Tahzhe was resting and a bridge had been crossed.

 *

Gauri had reached some sort of decision but I could still feel her hesitation.

“Would you like to tell me what happened?” I asked to help her along, “and where are the children?”

She kept quiet for a while and then slowly filled me with details. Images of Tahzhe giving passionate speeches; waving the flag and walking amongst the bonded; leading rallies and urging people to think before casting their vote. She was all over the place. News of my exploits elsewhere would seem to fill her with strength and she would start each day with renewed energy…and she would wait for me to return.

We both knew that the Creator of Beasts had to be fought. This was our destiny. This is what we had been taught to do and we pursued our tasks because we believed that it would make the world a better place – create ripples – even in a vacuum pond.

Once, Tahzhe came back with two children who had been abandoned.

“To take care of you,” Gauri was told, “when I am away.”

The girl hid her merry nature behind intense eyes and a reserved demeanour; studied birds; sucked her thumb; loved music and drab clothes; had a fondness for curry and woke-up at odd hours to watch the sky. She was named Aastha.

Her brother was a lean and thin boy with curly eye-lashes; collected bars of bathing soap; devoured books; ate junk food; survived on colas and was hooked-on to kite flying. They called him Abhay.

 *

Gauri went to check on Tahzhe and I thought about the children.

Our bus trips, the plays, the circus, the camping trips, the tents, magical recipes and snacks, open barbeques, flash-floods, pretending to sleep with one leg in the air, travelling on bus-tops, Christmas and New Year in the hills, the sea-shore, the stories and Diwali – and the stuff I used to get from far-away worlds. Aastha loved chocolates and perfumes and Abhay’s greatest delight was undoubtedly receiving different kinds of fragrant soap-bars that he would smell and then hide them over the place. I think there were times when he was more excited about the soap then my return!

We didn’t have money to splurge but lived like kings! Our treasure was our love that had remained un-corrupted by money. I was always selling my things to give them their holidays and once I got them puppies! Tahzhe and Gauri always complained that I spoilt them but the joy on their faces was worth everything I owned, and more.

All gone now and how I missed them!

 *

The girl-woman seemed older as she came back.

“You are going to be here for good, na?”

“I think so,” I replied, “why?”

“Then it is time you took care of Tahzhe. She won’t say it but I know…”

There was no rancour or jealously in her voice for she knew that I loved her as much I did Tahzhe…and Tahzhe was aware of it too. And, so it was a woman who continued the story and I had to strain my ears to listen to the words. The darkness of the night was creeping into my heart and my chest felt as if it would burst!

“Then one day they came. The beasts with human faces, the small people with mediocre minds breeding in the cesspools of disharmony – they asked Tahzhe to stop being anti. They accused her of causing trouble and asking too many questions, of poking her nose where it did not belong. She had no right to interfere, they said…”

“…Who was she anyway, but a woman with a strange name; a woman who spurned the good wishes of ‘gentlemen’, and lived with a weirdo who went around trying to shape lives – change the world?”

Tahzhe had faced them with pride and bravely stood firm against the intimidation.

They left behind veiled threats. Slowly the beasts changed colours and the harassment began in earnest. It started with Gauri and Tahzhe being followed everywhere. Stones would pelt down on the ‘witch house’ at odd hours and shopkeepers did not give credit. The phone would ring and a voice would ask how many men could be serviced. ‘Concerned’ teachers would question the children. So-called friends disappeared and invitations became rare. And, grunting beasts roamed around the house.

Tahzhe complained to the police who asked for proof of harassment and witnesses. They would not even file a report, instead suggested that she settle down and stop being a female-Gandhi.

A friend decided to become a witness but on the way to the police station met with an accident. The truck driver was never found – nor was any more witnesses.

Tahzhe had tried to contact me and Gauri had sent frantic messages too, but I was still chasing the beams of a faithless moon and looking for the light behind it. The scheming Moon-maiden, consort of the Beast Creator had censored and altered all communication and nothing reached my ears.

Tahzhe, Gauri and the children were slowly restricted to the house and contact with the world outside became limited.

“Tahzhe’s free spirit erupted occasionally but she spent most of her time thinking, watching, waiting for you and writing…then the second attack came.”

 *

“…The Creator of Beasts was supposed to visit the area to launch a welfare scheme for the poor and unemployed. The project was expected to generate a sense of nationalism and provide employment to hundreds of people. A universal Centre of Peace, Harmony and Tolerance were to be built – the best in the world, more beautiful than the Taj Mahal. Leaflets informed the general public that besides money, the workers would be provided with free uniforms and a multi-purpose tool.

Consecrated grounds had to be cleared of existing structures and these ‘squatters’ re-located. Resistance was bound to happen.

Tahzhe was contacted and she was back in action – protesting, rallying and staging sit-ins. Demanding explanations and asking people to stand-up to their rights.

No warnings were given this time nor were there any threats. Armed with official papers the beasts came in a police-van one evening. They had a warrant for Tahzhe’s arrest. The list of charges included Disturbance of Peace, Abduction of Minors, Unlawful Activities, Practise of Witchcraft, Child Abuse, Solicitation, Suspicious and Seditious Behaviour, Instigation against the State…”

“…The Moon-maiden, in the meantime, claimed to be the unfortunate mother of the two ‘abducted’ children living with us. Her sudden love for her long-lost daughter and son was nauseating and whilst Tahzhe was in prison, came to meet them. The brain-washing began.”

 *

The children’s life style underwent a dramatic change. They tasted money and the power that came with it. They were no longer dependant on Tahzhe’s and my contributions. They no longer had to wait for us to gather finances to buy things.  Money was Freedom. Money was Power. Money spoke the Truth.

The Moon-maiden and her circle of friends made sure that the children, especially Abhay was told the real ‘truth’. The children travelled to exotic places, holidayed in style and received a sizable amount of pocket money. If they wanted something all they had to do now was ask and it would be provided for or home delivered by a lackey.

Fragrant soap-bars and promises were things of the past. The house became a convenient transit place. They learnt to use people and Tahzhe, Gauri and I became the ‘bad guys’ who never did or said anything nice to them.

One day like his sister the brother left too.

 *

“I was so scared and didn’t know what to do?” Gauri said through her anguish, “I was powerless and the children…I don’t know what happened to them? That horrible woman wanted me to sign papers, but I refused. I couldn’t watch them all the time…they said that they would parade Tahzhe naked if I didn’t listen to them…I am so sorry…” her voice broke, “Where were you?”

I sat there like petrified stone with my arm drenched with Gauri’s tears. How had these two survived?  I had failed them. Was this the reward of pursuing a Cause?

Tahzhe! My inspiration and strength, my companion, my beloved – with blood running down her thighs, was paraded naked on the streets. Ironically, the country was celebrating its Republic Day and wasn’t it apt that the Whore of Freedom be made known to all?

It is said that many called out her name, bowed and cried but nobody came forward to stop this spectacle; nobody stood against the uniformed beasts; nobody covered their shame!

 *

The usual uproar of concerned citizens followed. Those in the media were ecstatic. The past became ‘live’ and experts from all over appeared on programmes to fight it out. The common man dressed for the camera and sat with the Ysts, Ists and Erts from various areas of specialisation, listened self-consciously and hoped that the anchor would at some point of time give them the mike.

Cultural and moral caretakers had a field day. Goons dressed in ethnic khadi exposed the latrines of their mind on national networks. People clapped or booed as the modern day gladiators fought it out while others bled. Discussing and interviewing with sterile passion, the anchors kept their focus on commercial break-times with promises to come back with more!

One news channel opened its morning transmission with ‘Aaj ke Taazi Khabar’. Some even sent their camera-people to look around for places where they could find Tahzhe’s dried blood on the ground. Those visual impact photos!

Political parties bombarded each other with accusations and counter-accusations. The Gandhian philosophy of non-cooperation was exercised. Compensations of all kind were announced.

But how do you compensate for the loss of one’s self-respect and honour? How do you compensate for the broken spirit? What balm do you apply?

 *

In the midst of all this lay Tahzhe, talking only to Gauri and refusing to speak to anybody else.

Something had happened to her and she could no longer walk on her own. It was as if the effort of keeping her head held high had exhausted her and snapped every other part of her body. She had to be supported.

Her thinking, though, was still free and reactions sharp. Her scathing look accompanied by a gentle smile had once withered a young twenty-something TV journalist who had fought her way forward and thrust a mike at Tahzhe and had asked with all professional intensity, “So, how do you feel, ma’am? Could you tell us what was going on in your mind at that time?”

The perpetrators of the crime, though, were never caught; nobody was bought to justice as incredibly all the suspects had alibi’s that placed them miles away from the place of incident. So! The beasts roamed with arrogance and increased their numbers.

Gauri relentlessly continued to submit letters of complaint to the police.

“To let them know that we are still alive!” she told me with vehemence.

 *

A great ball of anger had been building inside me and the rage seemed to stem from my very being. The more I thought about what happened to Tahzhe and Gauri, the stronger the urge to kill.

Gauri had retired for the night with instructions that I help Tahzhe to the bedroom.

“Your room too,” she had reminded me softly.

I strolled up to the gate and something scurried away on the outside.

“I am here now, you bastards!” I whispered fiercely into the night, “You’d better watch out, for I never forget and one day I will come and get you!”

The night fell silent and I deliberately turned and walked away.

 *

Tahzhe’s eyes were bright and shining and she seemed breath-less. I was at a loss too and sure that my cool-and-calm façade did not fool her.

I desperately wanted to utter thousands of words, reach out and erase all her pain – but once again I proved myself to be totally inadequate in expressing myself. Tahzhe always had this crippling effect on me and it annoyed me no end! But such was the music of our minds.

“Are you going to stand there again,” she said, once more taking the initiative, “I know what you want to say. Don’t blame yourself for what happened to me. All you have to do is touch me and I will begin to heal.”

I tenderly gathered her in my arms and carried her to the other room. It was a bit awkward at first for both of us. We were shy and conscious and did not know where to pick up from…but we remembered. There were the usual bouts of giggling and we re-discovered passion.

The sense of contentment, of knowing that you are with the right person comes from the fact that you share a bond that surpasses everything; the fact that you understand your partner’s need to be alone; the fact that a single look across the room can continue to excite you; the fact that you don’t try to possess, own or use each other; the fact that you maintain the sanctity of a relationship, and, the fact that you can sleep naked together and still not have sex!

 *

Days passed…I don’t know how many. I spent time pottering around the house taking care of things that required attention. Gauri chirped and prattled as usual. Tahzhe glowed and both still teased me mercilessly!

Journalists, leaders, occasional noveau-activist and news channels with follow-up story agendas were shown the gate. Some were even chased out by me – much to the amused mortification of the two women in my life.

People dropped by. They all sat around Tahzhe but secretly checked us out. A man and two women living together! I am sure eyebrows were raised but my reputation had travelled far and nobody dared to ask anything or even attempt an inappropriate remark.

When I went to the market, people gave me a wide berth or were careful with their words and attitude. The beasts watched from the shadows and I made it clear that I knew where they were.

Once, I retraced Tahzhe’s shame by walking on the same streets. Even Gauri, who had accompanied me, said later that she was really scared of me that day.

 *

That night I lay with my head nestled against Tahzhe’s thigh, my fingers running through the crinkly-soft hair of her mound.

“What’s wrong?” Tahzhe asked.

“Nothing. Why?” I responded.

“Something is,” she insisted.

“Why do you say that?”

“Your breathing is different,” was her analyses, and she was right. How I loved this woman!

“The beasts are gathering,” I told her, “and I am a bit concerned, and I swear, if I see even one of them near this house, I will slaughter them…and I am really scared about the animal inside me that threatens to come out,” I added, “I go berserk when this happens.”

She hummed a note of sorts.

“Move up here,” she said lightly.

Soon, her head was resting in the hollow of my arm and her intoxicating aroma enveloped my senses.

“Hold my breasts,” she murmured, and I cupped my palm over her contours. Her nipples had a life of their own and I could feel her heart pulsate its music.

“I wish I could give you a baby to fill your barren-ness,” Tahzhe sighed, “you know, you can’t hide your pain and suffering from me. You don’t talk but I know. The hard shield you have built around yourself does not exist for me or even Gauri.”

“You see too much, my love,” she went on, “your clarity of vision and thought comes from the purest of hearts that I have known. You do what you have to because it is the right thing. Your actions speak more than your words…but people want words now, even if they belie the action.”

I allowed myself to submerge into the word patterns she was drawing on my soul.

“You get angry with yourself for not behaving the way other people want you to behave,” she continued, “and it is your anger, your rage that people misunderstand. They cannot comprehend nor have the depths or sensitivity to realize that your silences, your aloofness is your way to mend your insides and cope. But you still cannot create the internal ‘on-and-off’ switch that most people have.”

A feeling of dread was sweeping through the room and I wanted Tahzhe to stop but she was perceptively relentless.

“Don’t ask me to stop,” was her knowing command, “Hold me closer,” the loving request, and at the back of my mind I heard a door open.

Treacherous moonbeams attempted to flirt through the window. The night shone and created intricate designs on the naked body of Gauri, who stood watching us silently.

In the distance, a train announced its passage with a shrill scream. Tahzhe shivered slightly and I got up to pull a sheet over us. The door was shut and nobody else was in the room. Was it my imagination?

“We are a dying breed, you know, people like us,” said Tahzhe, “We three are part of a species that is talked about or at best tolerated if not dismissed outright.”

The one-sided communication had taken its toll and Tahzhe seemed pale, but she was looking at me with great intensity as if trying to devour me with her eyes for the last time. Had there been a premonition?

Finally, I nodded and said, “You are right but I don’t know what to do? I have tried to change but…”

“You don’t have to do anything and I am not asking you to change,” Tahzhe said quietly, “I just want you to know that you should remain who you are…and the animal you talk about is in all of us. But the individual, who feeds it, is important. If the feeding is of the right kind, then the animal, as you call it, becomes your weapon and strength.”

Tahzhe’s words came as a great source of relief for me. I knew she wouldn’t lie or just say things to please. At the same time, I felt very uncomfortable about the direction the conversation was heading towards. There seemed to be a final note to the statements.

“Why are you saying all these things?” I suddenly spoke out my feelings, “I love you Tahzhe, more than anything in this world and I don’t want to lose you again. Let’s leave today…just the three of us, and the hell with the world! I have seen this place up in the hills…an old house. Hardly anybody goes there…” and then, I ran out of courage.

There were so many things that I meant to say to her.

I wanted to tell her that she gave me the strength and reason to continue. That all I desired was to be with her; to be able to sleep with my head in her lap, inhaling the signature smells of her body; to be able to feel her skin vibrate; to take away all her pain; to hold her safe in my arms while her gentle fingers created soothing waves…………and so many other things.

She knew.

Loving arms pulled me down and sealed our love. As always she crooned something softly, this being an indication of her extreme happiness. Totally at peace with each other we privately feared for our love because both knew that the world around us would soon erupt.

 *

Something woke me up. It was still dark but the sky shone a strange hue. The horizon was coloured with a reddish-yellow and blue light that shimmered, moved and shifted constantly. I padded softly through the house and saw that Gauri was standing outside near the Tulsi pot.

“So, it begins,” she said tonelessly and I nodded.

The sound of an eerie cry in the distance travelled up to us and the animal twitched inside me. Gauri turned and pressing her full body, reached up to kiss me. Her lips were like cold fire. Then stepping away she picked the cudgel and gave it to me.

“You will need it,” she said sadly.

 *

I have often wondered why humans behave the way they do? No other species in this world killed for pleasure or enjoyment. No other species thrived on the grief of another. No other species went out of its way to annihilate everything around it.

The head of the State was a politically impotent man; incapable of taking a firm stand against the lumpen elements that slowly but steadily infected the minds of the common man. The beasts had been waiting, planning and growing. Never allowing the fires of hatred and fear to burn out, they kept fanning the embers. The vampires of humanity were allowed to roam unchecked.

And one day, without warning the world went mad. Chain reaction of events catapulted the country into one of its darkest hours, where the only illumination was from burning houses and shops. Murder, rape, looting – acts of unimaginable brutality committed in the name of the Divine!

The beasts had also acquired new faces or were they just old ones coming out openly now? An auto-rickshaw man, mother, father, brother, school principal, doctor, Rotarian, teacher, sister, wife, neighbours………they all oozed the pus of an old contamination………the rot was from within!

Parents taught their children to make cement spike balls; families fleeing from rapine gangs and seeking protection from policemen were directed to ‘safer areas’ where slobbering mobs waited expectantly; vehicles were stopped on the roads, doors jammed and the terrified people inside burnt alive; mothers raped in front of their children; young girls in front of family members; boys sodomised; people’s heads pushed inside revolving washing machines; bodies branded, hacked and thrown into canals and roadsides. The horrific nature of it all even video filmed by some for private circulation!

In the midst of all this the Creator of Beasts bathed in the glory of gore and as ethnic cleansing took a new meaning, the ghettoisation of the country began.

*

Apart from keeping our area protected from hooligans, we had given shelter to a dozen families, mostly women and children – victims and survivors who had managed to escape the carnage in their respective localities. During curfew relaxation, Gauri or I managed to get rations for ourselves and also for the refugee camps that had sprung-up on the outskirts of the city. These tasks were fraught with danger. Most basic commodities were being sold in the black-market and going to a refugee camp was like travelling through a war zone. We did it in small tight groups.

There were times when nothing happened and on such occasions we would sit together. But none of us were fooled or lulled by this false atmosphere. We knew that the fires were coming closer.

One day Gauri came back and called out for me urgently. Some beasts had followed her and one of them had her dupatta in his hands. He rubbed it on his crotch and made humping movements in the air accompanied by the shouts of his cronies, who encouraged and offered variety. A ball of anger exploded inside me. Asking Gauri to get into the house I walked towards the beasts. Facing their taunts I let loose the animal. Three lay dead and the others ran away as I howled out my defiant presence.

 *

“It’s not fair,” Gauri grumbled, “Why can’t I stay? Why do I have to go this time? I am not scared!”

“It has nothing to do with you not being scared,” Tahzhe’s light but firm voice countered Gauri’s protests, “It is different this time and you are not ready yet.”

Gauri looked at me for support but I did not say anything. She sulked, glaring at my amused smile.

“Take her away,” Tahzhe said, “Away from here, before they regroup and return.”

Shaking my head I held her hand, “But where do you want me to take her? And what about you? How can I leave you alone?”

“I’ll be fine,” Tahzhe assured me, “All these people are here.”

“These people!” I snorted, “I don’t think they will stand around to help you. Look at them…they are a frightened lot as it is. They will run!”

“Don’t worry. I want you to promise that you will take Gauri to a safe place. Once she is there, we will go and join her. Then the three of us will move to that special place of yours…you have my word,” Tahzhe beseeched.

I was not really happy about this even though I knew that Gauri had to be taken to a safer place. But I did not want to leave Tahzhe alone for too long either. So, it was planned that I would first take Gauri to a trusted friend who lived about a day’s journey away. I would then return for Tahzhe.

 *

I decided to lie down and rest before the early morning start. From the room I could hear the murmur of voices – Tahzhe talking to the refugees and then with Gauri. I must have dozed-off because when I woke it was quiet and I found my head in Tahzhe’s lap. Sensing my movement she leaned forward to whisper, “Sleep! I’ll wake you when it is time.”

I took a deep breath and snuggled closer to her. Much later, a hand shook me and I woke-up with my entire senses alert.

Small bags had been packed and I went out to listen and smell the air. No words were spoken. Tahzhe and Gauri hugged each other tightly. There were quiet tears but also an atmosphere of purpose. I picked my stick and turned to say something to Tahzhe who stopped me by coming into my arms.

“Go!” She breathed in my ear.

I never saw her alive again.

 *

It was one of those days when people went around pretending that all was well. We took the route from behind the house and by the time we reached the market place some shops had opened. There was a bus with a few sleepy passengers aboard. We got in…I was beginning to develop a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It was late afternoon when I knocked on the door of my friend’s house. My un-easiness had passed-on to Gauri, who insisted that I get back home. Refusing the offer to sleep overnight, I requested my friend to take Gauri to the next safe house, in case I did not return within a stipulated period.

Turning to an un-consolable Gauri, I told her what had to be done.

“You said you were going to be with us now,” she wept, “you promised!”

I lingered long enough for her weeping to subside and then gave her the cudgel and asked her to keep it for me.

“Don’t hesitate to use it,” I instructed, “and never let it out of your reach. Always remember who you are and what you have to do…I don’t want to leave you like this but you know I have to get back alone.”

She nodded, this woman who looked and behaved more like Tahzhe every day. She smiled bravely through her tears and opened her arms for a hug.

“Go!” She breathed in my ear.

 *

I goaded myself to travel through the night and took whatever mode of transport that was available. It was in these vehicular moments that I tried to rest, but it was impossible to do so. My mind was torn between Tahzhe and Gauri. Had I done the right thing? Had I made the correct decision?

I was jolted out of my sombre thoughts by the voice of the van driver who said that he could go no further as the road ahead was blocked. I looked and saw that I wasn’t too far from home. Sorely missing my stick, I stepped out and began to walk.

The beasts had moved in. Here and there, I could see dead bodies scattered around like gulmohar flowers swept by the wind. The market place had been torched and the air smelt of burnt wood and flesh. With an enormous feeling of doom I started walking up to the house. I barely saw the houses and walls splashed with blotches of drying black-red blood. The smouldering buildings filled the place with a thick fog like smoke.

The house had been plundered. There had been no mercy and bodies of some refugees lay in the verandah – twisted and grotesque – obscene in death. I noticed there had been resistance but the attackers had smashed their way in. The floor was wet and slippery with blood. Where was Tahzhe?  My foot knocked aside a round object and I saw that it was the chopped-off head of one of the refugee children. In front of the bedroom door l found Tahzhe’s torn blouse and a trail of blood. I could hear whimpering from within the room. I pushed the door but it was barricaded from inside. I then followed the drag marks to the kitchen from where I could hear laughter.

Like a zombie I moved in and I felt as if my body had swollen to abnormal proportions. All the beasts were in one corner with their backs towards me and the stench of roasting flesh was overpowering. As I stumbled in they turned and I saw that one of them was urinating on Tahzhe’s ravaged body. She had been mutilated. Her stomach ripped open, breasts hacked and a small coloured flag between her legs – the staff of which had been thrust inside her. Hair-ash stuck to her charred face and scalp. The lumps of her breasts were on the hot plate, slowly spluttering and producing smoke.

I heard a wild, savage wail of anguish and anger fill the room. It was coming from my throat. Blindly I rushed to the group of revellers and caught one by the neck and squeezed. Recovering from their initial reaction of surprise and fear the beasts mobbed together.

“It’s him!” yelled one.

Blows and kicks were aimed at me from all sides but I felt nothing. Snapping the neck I had in my hands I fought back like a maniac. My rage knew no bounds and I hit and clawed and smashed like someone possessed. Managing to get hold of a leg, I groped and grabbed a pair of testicles and wrenched as hard as possible. There was a cry of agony, but I heard nothing except my mad screaming. Something hit me hard on the back of my head and I fell forward. My face was inches away from Tahzhe and I reached out to grab her body. Her head lolled-on to one side and I looked into her dead-open eyes that asked, “So! Did you change the world, my love?”

I died many deaths that day.

 *

As I lay weeping and holding my Tahzhe’s body, the beasts continued to shower abuse and more blows.

“Kill the fucking bastard!”

“Cut his balls off!”

“First pull out his eyes!”

“Feed the mother-fucker his whore’s meat then shove a burning rag up his arse!”

“Use the flag! Use the flag!”

“No! Don’t kill him. We must find out where the other woman is?”

I have no recollection of how long they tormented my body because I passed out after they systematically broke my ankles and then smashed my knees. Once when they revived me to continue the questioning and to listen to my screams, I bit my tongue in half. They would never know where Gauri was.

Finally, choking on my own blood, they left me for dead.

 *

It is very lonely here.

My mind wanders, things are hazy and sometimes the pain is unbearably intense. I do a lot of cleaning and sweeping here and I cry a lot from inside. I see and hear things that others can’t, and I have no explanations. I loose track of time. Sometimes, events are crystal clear but mostly I try to remember who I was.

Many nights I wake-up calling out strange names. There are images that haunt me continuously as I attempt to make sense out of my existence – an existence that echoes with taunts and accusations that come my way from these people.

“How much we have cared for you!”

“What have you done for us?”

“Get out of this room!”

“Mothers with sons like you should commit suicide!”

“Hey! There was money in this cupboard?”

 *

My strength is returning and I will soon leave this place for there are times when a soft crooning in the air breathes a familiar tune in my ear.

I must look for a weapon I once used. I must cope with the nightmares.

I must travel.

 *

Adieu!



1 Response to ““Did you change the world, my love?””


  1. 1 sacredfig
    May 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    phew! knocked the wind out of my lungs that one…


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