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Saturday, 29 March 2014

A FATEFUL MEMOIR by Sobhan Pramanik Part 1

(Based on incidents post Indira Gandhi’s assassination)

Sobhan Pramanik

Part 1
2nd November 1984

Little Mehran sat frightened behind the thick Sal trunk, the flat top of which still wet with the morning trade. Pieces of flesh lying in puddles of blood and long, flat knives, the edges of which yellow with the fat tissues occupy the surface. The woody brown texture of the trunk slightly dark with the soaking of the goat blood through the crevasses made by the steel chopper, every time it came down on it through the meat. At the foot of the chopping platform, the bark of which have gradually come off with time, lays the head of a goat. Its eyes rolled out in a lifeless gaze, blackish tongue smeared in dried sputum hangs through the jaws and the back of the neck, pale pink with blood drained out.

Mehran feels suffocated with the place stinking of blood and rotting flesh. He sits with his back against the wall, as anxiety in form of perspiration, in patches soak through his shirt on the back. Lack of oxygen strikes him with a fit of coughing that rocks his fragile body to and fro; his silhouette on the wall behind moving tad slower than him. He immediately covers his mouth by curling his palms over them, making sure he is not heard. Through the window overhead the humid afternoon breeze blows in, carrying clouds of charred smoke that further intoxicates the place. His sunk eyes now red with irritation, flutters behind haze of dark smoke. He tries to take a deep breath to revive as the veins on his forehead dilate and shrink almost in unison.

Suddenly there is a loud thumbing on the door. His grip over his mouth tightens. Pupils dilated than before. He holds back the coughing. The banging of the door intensifies; its bolts ringing sharp now. Mehran is almost holding up his breath. Slightest of noise could lead him to danger. Outside, the goats bleat out of panic. In the room hovers nothing more than the dark clouds of smoke blowing in from the window overhead and the undying smell of the dried blood and flesh, hovered over by swarm of flies. Streams of sweat crisscross at his chin as new beads of sweat roll down from his brows. He was about to turn unconscious that the banging ceased. He loosened his grip, as the intoxicated air made way to his lungs. In the darkness he then staggered towards the window, his feet stamping against strewn blood and guts of the slaughtered goats.

Against the blowing of the black smoke all that could be seen was the Gurdwara in the far west being set on fire. Its white domes slowly turning dark against the shaft of the flames as the pillars at the front, one-by-one collapse amid the crowd of frisking people. He then peers through the parting of the weary door of the shop, the hinges of which had been perforated by kingdom of termites. A group of infuriated men rapidly move around the place. A woman in burqa stirred something in a bowl kept over the chulha in the courtyard. There’s lean man in a dirty green shirt and black pyajama standing before her as he kicks at the chulha. The bowl goes running all the way down the courtyard, spilling half boiled grains of rice all over. He then gets hold of her hairs beneath the draping of burqa and brings down his clenched fists on her back. A desperate yelp left her mouth.

“Traitors you people are….” He spoke through his teeth and upturned the flaming chulha over her. Pieces of burning charcoal and wood went bouncing down her body as screams of agony helplessly escaped her throat.

Beneath the shade of the Jamun tree in the other end of the courtyard was a middle aged man leaning against stacks of fodder kept for the goats as other men crowd before him. His hands folded on his broad chest before them as he begs for plea.
“They are Muslim I think…the woman wears burqa” One of the encircling men called out.

“I don’t believe. Just check that motherfucker…” Replied almost instantly a heavily built man in a khadi shirt. His arms tanned against the beating of the sun as he pulls at the cords of the well to quench his thirst that sultry afternoon.

One of them then produced a dagger and made a wild slash at the pleading man. Its tip caught his kurta and tore it apart right till its hem, exposing his bare chest behind a threadbare vest. A slight nudge of his shoulder and then it dropped from his body onto the dusty earth below.

“Please….” He cried. His hands holding onto the strings of his pyajama as tears of shame run down his face and disappear in the mesh of his brown beard.

Soon two of the men held his hands, pressing it down against the stacks of fodder. The man stamping his legs hard on the earth made loose soil rise in clouds and disperse to the swaying of the Jamun tree. His eyes welling up and plea on his lips, now incessant.

The strings were pulled and with it the pyajama descended onto the earth, lying alongside his torn kurta like a mop. He was poked at his pecker with the dagger as others joined in a sheepish grin before the judgment was made.

“He is circumcised.” Period. A sullen wind drifted through the branches of the Jamun. “They are Muslim for sure.” The man concluded walking towards the well, stashing his dagger through the cloth tied around his waist.

It was when each of them left their house that suffocating Mehran unbolted the door of his father’s butcher shop and came out. Wetness of tear and perspiration playing havoc on his face that he ran towards his mother. She lay on the ground writhing in pain. Her face behind the translucent curtain of the burqa had developed blisters, her forehead sore and limbs burnt in patches.

He sat on the ground with his mind entangled amid series of consequences and a sense of fear thudding in his belly. In the backdrop was the husky playing of the transistor radio. A transistor radio from the veranda belted out news headlines about the mob being furious post Indira Gandhi’s assassination across the nation and demanded immediate execution of the accused Satwant Singh. Revolts have broken out everywhere and hundreds were being killed every day.

Mehran was clueless about the present conditions. An unfamiliar emergency ran through him. His dad, hangs his head low beneath the tree, his trembling hands reaching out to his pyajama. His mother shrieking in pain before him, the goats bleating out of panic and above the clear sky, in which hovered low the dark smoke rising from the flaming Gurdwara. 

To be continued...


Authored by - Sobhan Pramanik

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