Perspiration beaded his brow and wet the saffron cloth tied around his head. Dust billowed from the ground where the political rally had been conducted under the hot sun, as the people walked away towards their waiting buses. His throat was dry from all the shouting and cheering as their leader had clamoured for the support of the crowd for their cause, the cause of the common people and the political party. Thinking about it pumped him and there was a rush of adrenaline as he walked towards a shanty to get a cold drink. His hand curled into a fist as he raised the slogan “Down with the infidels!” He had come from his village to be a part of the rally. Their beliefs and traditions were in danger, they had been told by their leaders and he had shut the small grocery shop he owned and decided to join the rally for the greater cause of mankind. Niranjan felt elated and important to be there. There were police cars and tight security all around the field. Sipping his ‘Nemu pani sharbat’ (Lemonade), he looked at the surroundings for the first time and noticed the small Mosque almost hidden by the tall buildings near the end of the lane and a frown marred his brow.
Abdul came out of the Mosque after the Friday afternoon prayers with his young son, Rehmat in tow. He looked at the tight security and wondered apprehensively whether he should take a different route to go home, especially as he and his young son in spotless white Kurta Pajamas and caps would look rather conspicuous. He did not trust those people and their aggressive behavior. In fact it was now a known fact that their faith was at risk because of them. There was no rickshaw in sight and against his better judgement, he decided to take the usual route circling the ground and crossing the main road to reach his house in one of the lanes.
Abdul started walking towards the receding crowds of people, firmly holding the tiny hand of his son, Rehmat. “Abba, in the evening will you take me to the park to play?” Rehmat asked his father. He nodded absent mindedly; he was anxiously trying not to look at the stranger eyeing them as they approached the shanty. From that distance he could not see his eyes but he was sure they were full of distrust that was reflected in his own. The next moment there was a tremendous sound and the earth shook violently and like rag dolls they were thrown into the air. “Rehmat!” was the last word that Abdul screamed as everything went dark. There were sirens blaring, people screaming in pain and fear. The road was littered with torn clothing and limbs, bottles, sandals, people lying inert or moaning in pain. Niranjan coughed and spat out the dust from his mouth. He realized he was lying on the ground. He raised his head and looked at the chaos all around. There was a ringing in his ears and he shook his head to clear it. His head was throbbing and blood poured from his forehead which had hit the hard road. He tried to stop it with the ends of the saffron cloth that had come loose. It dawned on him that it must have been a bomb explosion. Otherwise he was fine. Suddenly, someone touched his shoulder, “Save my little boy, Rehmat. Please save him, he is hurt”. It was the man he had seen walking towards him sometime back with a little boy. The front of his Kurta was stained red and there was an open gash on his forehead. He seemed to be in great pain as he somehow got out the words. He was pointing in the opposite direction. Niranjan looked at the distraught face of the stranger, a helpless father and nodding he hobbled in the direction that he pointed. What he saw hit him and shook his very being. Somehow controlling himself he walked a little further and finally saw a little boy lying unconscious on the ground with splayed limbs. His clothes were torn and bloody. Was he alive? He checked and was relieved to find him breathing. His tiny hand seemed to be stretched as though trying to find someone. It was then he noticed the man lying only a few feet away from the boy. Shaking his head in disbelief he hurried to him and he was sure, it was the same man who had approached him for help. His Kurta was stained red and there was a deep gash on his forehead. His eyes were open and even in death seemed to reflect shock and question the existence of humanity. How was it possible? He trembled, if this was the boy’s father, then who had sought his help? Tears streaming down his dirty face he gently bent to close his eyes.
Ambulances were soon at the site and reporters were the first to click pictures of Niranjan with a bloodied saffron cloth tied around his forehead carry a small boy in his arms to the waiting ambulance. What was not reported was that Niranjan even now, two years since that unfortunate incident, is a frequent visitor to Rehmat’s house and his mother calls Niranjan, “Kakaiti”, that is older brother. Rehmat lost his father that day but now has an uncle who never fails to bring small gifts of rice, pulses or fresh vegetables whenever he visits them. These days he is quite busy as he is going to get married soon and also has plans to expand his business. He no longer has time for political rallies or meetings.
Pallavi Gogoi is a teacher by profession, humorist by temperament and humanist by choice. Writing and cooking help to calm her frayed nerves when things go haywire. Her poems and short stories have been published in newspapers and magazines.