Sunday, April 19, 2009

Traffic Signal

Slow – says the yellow light.

The light blinked as an amber siren, measured but diffused amidst the neon lights. Meenu got on her feet, and so did ten others with the same mission as hers.

Stop – says the red light.

The red light flashed. Another gridlock. The road exhaled. Within seconds it was packed with all kinds of motors. The street stopped moving. Meenu entered the labyrinth, commencing her work. They were told not to waste time on the two-wheelers, so she headed towards the rikshas. A two-rupee coin was tossed at her. She caught it expertly. Then she picked the child given to her for facilitating her rounds, and advanced towards the cars. After a few futile attempts, she approached an SUV. She stretched herself up to reach the half-opened window and face its occupant. It was a garishly dressed woman with a heavy dose of pancake on her face. She could’ve been anywhere between thirty and fifty years of age.She placed her hand on the gear and equipped herself for the change of light. Meenu hurriedly tapped the window with her knuckles and raised the sightless child she was carrying. The woman had fixed her eyes on the signal light and Meenu’s act seemed to have brought no variance in her focus.

It was evening already. It would’ve been well past seven; Meenu could tell judging by the rush on the road. She glanced back to check on her brother who was leaning on a lemonade stand, beseeching. His lips moved instinctively in the tune of a popular hymn. It was the only one known to him. He wasn’t as fast as her, owing to his atrophied left leg. He met her glance and answered it with a reassuring nod.

Meenu was too tired to go for another vehicle, so she kept rocking the child and accentuating its impairment. The jam of machines shifted from the low murmur to a restive roar. She slid her hand into the vehicle and seized the woman’s arm. Infuriated, the woman gave her a slap and jerked her hand off, calling her an unrefined litter.

Go – says the green light.

The light changed to a grassy green, setting the road into action. The SUV speeded off, while Meenu made her way to the pedestal, with a hand over her red cheeks. She sat down with the child on her lap, waiting. Waiting - for another pack of buzzing automobiles with fresh hosts, for some empathy towards her and the child, for a few more jangling coins or perhaps a note or two; for the red light to stop the world and start hers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Pendulum

He was all of twelve. Raghu. He didn’t know his last name. Just as he didn’t know who his father was. His mother, Mala, was a ragpicker. Albeit illiterate, she was high on knowledge. She had witnessed the name board of a building close by jack up like a missile, and plunge into the earth on account of a 4.2 magnitude earthquake. She could tell the cement was adulterated. But she remained tight lipped. Who would have paid heed to her? She drew an analogy between her work and the evanescent mob. Both dealt with crap. Raghu always took her stance and took pride in it. Now, at the age of thirty two, she felt weary and senile, and sported an amputated leg.

Once, while pacing her way towards home, Mala fell into the hands of a couple of promiscuous gundas, who treated every uncommitted woman as their personal assets. Her resilience only enticed them further. Within minutes, there were about fifty spectators wooing and a dozen of hawaldars shrugging their icy shoulders. But what followed wasn’t something that the perpetrators had counted on. She crammed up mud from the ground and shoved it into their eyes, then leapt upon one of them, almost pinning him. Well aware that she might not come out in one piece after her nerve-wracking audacity, she unzipped him and bit his dick off. His ally got on his feet immediately, pulled her off, and virtually beat her to pulp. After a while when they saw their audience dispersing, they discarded her and drove off swearing and spitting on her.
When the message reached Raghu, he was petrified. Leaving his kid-sister, crying, with the neighbour, he rushed to the site. Raghu carried his mother home on his toy cart. A ten year old Raghu succeeded her in work.

He was the bread-earner for his mother and his sister, Pinky – who was going on four now. Meanwhile, he had befriended a girl who went to the community school. Her name was Nafisa, but he called her Guddy. Sometimes she accompanied him on his Sunday morning trips to junk yard.
“Raghu, boys from all faiths come to school. And it’s for free. Why do you prefer staying in this trash?”

“Then why aren’t you at home, like other Muslim girls?”

“Dad says if I want to change the world, I need to be educated first”

“So you’ll change the world?”

“Yes! I will become a lawyer, just like my father. And put all the criminals in jail!”

“Really? All the gundas?”

“Yes, Raghu” Picking his cue, she added, “..All of them.”

He smiled at her.
“Thanks, Guddy”

“So Mister, joining school?”

“Na na. It suits the fair-skinned only. Besides, I like it here. I get many nice things from trash, y’know.” He grinned.

“Accha? Let me have a look.”

He dug his pockets and produced few one rupee coins, a pen with refill, some interesting wrappers, and a childishly tied beaded bracelet which he held out to her.
“Here. You can keep it.”

Guddy’s mother had passed away during childbirth. Her father , Mohammad Umar, wasn’t an adherent. That is perhaps why the Ram Lal murder case could be given only to him. A Muslim bloc had allegedly raided the house of the temple help, Ram Lal, and stabbed him in the chest. Nobody stepped out of their houses till it was all over, and now there was a dearth of witnesses. He might have been a bit too coherent for his age. And maybe that is what lead the bloc to pull their guns out again. Some shuddered and cried over Umar’s corpse for a day. Next day, to justify their actions, Umar was declared as a harami. Guddy sneaked out and ran away. She took with herself only her father’s photograph and the beaded bracelet. Nobody ever found her.

Within a week, everything became normal. As if nothing had ever happened. The only one to be hauled towards that house was Raghu. In spite of his mother’s protests, he went to the police thana to enquire about Guddy. But he was received only with profanity. He summed up all his courage and went to the house of one of the members of the bloc to request him to find Guddy’s whereabouts. He played every gimmick, gave him all sorts of justification on her father’s behalf. But he was kicked out of the house and threatened to be killed if seen nearby again. Raghu came back home crying. This was the second time in her life that Mala had seen him cry. She knew it very well that it was the presence of his family and, possibly, Raghu’s age that forbade the man from shooting him.

“Your tears aren’t worth a speck, beta. Nobody can hear your pleas. The world is deaf. It’s run by a handful of powerful conniving people. Why did Lal ji have to orate about this being a Hindu land? When leaders falter, they take down the mob with them.”

“But the bloc is full of murderers! How could they kill someone for that? And another of their own faith? What kind of absurd logic do they follow? They are sinners. They all deserve to go to hell.”

“You are still young, beta. You don’t understand things.”

Another day had passed without a trace of Guddy. Helplessness was sinking in. But Raghu didn’t have the mind to lose.
He went to the Hindu union and hurled abuses at them for not safeguarding Umar or his daughter.

“..Dogs! He lost his life for you all. And you wash your hands off the issue?! You are also murderers. You are the worst lot. You bastards!..”

The people were both, surprised and enraged on seeing a twelve-year old reacting in this manner.
“We are not like that, child. Come here, we’ll explain.”, said one of them.

He was taken into a room, and beaten until they heard a crack of some bone of his. His mouth was tied and he was dumped on the river side.

By the dawn of the next day, he crawled his way to his house, only to find the bodies of his mother and sister fossilized. There was red in his eyes. He grabbed a kerosene bottle and a matchbox, and darted towards the bloc.

They were shocked to see him again, and the sudden dynamism in him. He addressed to their head and growled,

“You Muslims killed your brother and the Hindus killed their sisters. What do you make of it, sahebs? Aren’t eunuchs better than you big folks?”

Before they could take their next step, he discharged the oil on himself, held out the matchbox and hurled,

“Maybe this would light up your eyes! .. Haye!”

He struck a matchstick and bloated into a big ball of fire.

“Water! Bring water! Bhai, quick! WATER!” exclaimed the Head.

Everyone got on their feet and quenched him. He was taken to the adjoining hospital and admitted into the ICU. Within hours, the area was flocked with reporters. Police was called to look into the matter. They searched for his family, but they were unregistered. Raghu regained conscience by nightfall, and was declared out of danger with 60% burns.


The next day, his arrest orders were dispatched on account self-immolation and for being a public menace.