“Maa, I’m almost done in the kitchen. Would you turn off the stove at the third whistle? I’ll go take a bath.”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
Lekha turns and walks towards her room. Seconds later, she walks out, grabbing fresh clothes to change into.
“Lekha,” her mother-in-law, Meenakshi Devi calls out, “did Navin tell you when he’d be back?”
“No, Maa. He said he has some meeting at the party-office.”
“I’ll never understand why he has to get involved in party-politics. Forget about this old soul, he should at least think of you,” Meenakshi Devi sighs. “These are not healthy times to oppose the ruling government,” she whispers to herself, as her eyes water up.
Sssshhhhh… The pressure cooker whistle goes off in the kitchen.
“Anyway,” Meenakshi Devi composes herself. “Go and get bathed. I’ll go to the kitchen.”
Lekha holds her stance for a moment not knowing how to react, as she watches her mother-in-law walk into the kitchen, before she herself walks to the bathroom.
Thud! Thud! Thud! Lekha hears three loud bangs on the front door soon after she shuts the bath door behind her.
Meenakshi Devi pulls the latch open, as another bang sends the door smashing into her face. A tall muscular guy with tight tees enters as Meenakshi Devi holds her bleeding forehead.
“Government hospital now has an ENT as well. Get your ears checked, Aunty.”
“Your son’s eyes, as well,” laughs a shorter guy as he pulls a bleeding Navin by the hair and almost throws him inside beside his mother. Meenakshi Devi takes one look at her son’s eye-less face and falls into a trance. No tears. No howling cries. Just a blank stare. Is he dead? She sits and grabs his hand. He still has a pulse.
The group of at least half-a-dozen boys continue laughing at the eye check-up joke. The commotion is already drawing attention. Almost a dozen people have stopped in their tracks while passing the house. But none waited longer than a moment. The neighbours who still had their windows open in the heated noon, have now decided it is too hot outside.
Tapan, Navin’s youngest brother, comes running from the other room, followed by his tutor, Mishra Sir. Tapan runs straight to his mother as his eyes meet his brother lying beside her. Lekha, now redressed with her partially wet hair tied in a bun, opens the bathroom door, but Mishra Sir signs at her to stay inside, as he himself pulls the door shut from outside.
“Areh Mishra Sir,” the tall guy calls out as he sees him. “Pee break? Nice. Look, your student ran out at the first chance. Teaching is a tough job, Masterji. One can’t even have a quick pee break!”
“Tapan,” Mishra Sir calls out. “You have ten more sums to solve. Come inside!”
“Yes, Tapan. Listen to your teacher,” the tall guy smiles. “Go inside.”
Tapan looks up at the guy, his eyes burning in rage, his cheeks wet. “Aaaaarghhh!” Tapan screams the loudest he possibly could, as he jumps up at the guy. The guy holds him by the neck and stops him mid-air, his feet inches above the ground. Tapan, still ferocious, scratches across the guy’s face with his unkempt nails.
“Tapan!” Mishra Sir almost screams. Meenakshi Devi, hearing her youngest son’s name being called, breaks free from her trance, and looks up. Nooo… The guy takes out a dozen inch butcher’s knife and slices across Tapan’s face, and drops him in her lap. The second whistle goes off in the kitchen.
Almost under a spell, Mishra Sir takes a step back.
“Eh! Catch him,” the shorter guy instructs calmly, as three guys run across the living space. Mishra Sir trips in an effort to run, and the guys grab him by the leg.
“Maa,” a scream is heard in the distance. Moments later, Meenakshi Devi’s second-born, Dilip runs into the room pushing through the crowd of hooligans at the door. Apparently, some passer-by told him of the commotion at his place, and he came running home from his nearby shop.
“Oh my! Look who else is here. The second revolutionary from this family,” mocks the tall guy. “These two brothers will together cleanse the society of all the evil that our government stands for!” Laughter booms across the room, as Dilip watches his mother sitting with her two bleeding sons and Mishra Sir trying to crawl away from the grasp on his leg.
“Please, let us be,” Dilip pleads with his hands folded together. “I give you my word, no one from my family will ever stand with the opposition. Please.” Tears roll down Dilip’s cheeks. Meenakshi Devi, with no clue as to the next course of action to save her kids, is now sobbing, spending every ounce of strength in her being to be as quiet as possible. I still have one healthy kid standing.
“Talk to your mom, kid,” the shorter guy sniggers. “We did tell her what could happen if she didn’t keep you guys in check. Didn’t we, aunty?” He holds her chin and lifts her face up.
“Yeah, yeah!” The taller guy speaks louder. “If they didn’t listen then, they won’t learn now. Just get this over with.” He throws his butcher’s knife to one of the three guys who now surround the shivering Mishra Sir lain on the floor. He catches it right on the handle, clearly used to being passed sharp weapons of murder.
“Nogh…” Mishra Sir’s scream dies out with a choke, faster than it could start. His eyes remain wide open in an expression of shock and fear, as blood gushes out of the gaping slit running diagonally downwards from his nape. His arms still wriggle quaintly for a while, even after his breathing stops.
The guy who landed the blow, now pulls the knife out of the dead tutor’s half-open scruff. Dilip watches as Mishra Sir’s limp carcass falls to the floor, with the head tilted in a fashion human heads aren’t supposed to.
Before Dilip could make another move, someone holds Dilip by the scruff of his neck and forces him into kneeling. The tall guy pulls another butcher’s knife from the bag one of his men is clutching. Dilip violently tries to escape the grasp on him. He knows what is to come. He takes another look at his brothers lying beside him. Navin, his elder brother, will never see light again, even if he lives. Tapan, his younger brother, will wear a scar across his face, if the blood loss doesn’t kill him. He tries to take a look at his mother’s eyes, but the grasp on him tightens as his head is forced lower. The third whistle goes off in the kitchen.
“Ohho!” The whistle catches the attention of the shorter guy. “You guys carry on. I’ll grab lunch.” He walks to the kitchen. Grabbing the kitchen towel, he wipes the splashes of Tapan’s blood off his face. He turns off the knob, places the pressure cooker under running tap water to cool it, and opens the lid carefully.
“It was plain daal,” he announces in disappointment. He introduces the daal to the tap water. The cooker overflows as the pulses get washed off into the basin.
“Aunty! Just daal? No chicken? No mutton? Where is the fun in that?” He walks out of the kitchen with a plate of white rice.
Dilip lies drowned in his own blood. Navin and Tapan are still unconscious, barely breathing. Meenakshi Devi has stopped crying in a certain sense of shock. Unbeknownst to the everyone, Lekha still sits behind the bathroom door, scared and confused.
“No worries, Aunty,” the shorter guy continues. “I’ll make your lunch better.”
He walks towards Dilip’s bleeding neck, holds him up by the collar and holds the plate under him. Blood spills over the rice. The taller guy is now cleaning his knife in preparation for packing up. The former now mixes the rice as if in curry.
“Here, Aunty. Eat this,” he offers a morsel. Suddenly, Tapan resting his head on his mother’s lap, holds on to his hand.
“Motherfucker!” the taller guy exclaims, as he brings down the now clean knife on Tapan’s neck like an axe.
“Aah! Better yet,” the shorter guy smiles, as he mixes some of Tapan’s blood as well in the rice. “Have this.” He forces a mouthful down Meenakshi Devi’s throat.
Inspired from real events.
Written by Aninda K. Nanda
Behind the lens: Rajarshi Samanta