Annihilated6 mins 273 6 mins 273
Standing on the MLA's roof top we saw our home turn to ash. Our's was not the only house that burnt. The skyline was, as far as the eye could see, spangled by dense columns of smoke intermittently broken by leaping orange flames – photogenic devastation set out against the clear blue skies of the capital. Not a shred of cloud, no possibility of rain, nothing to avert the complete annihilation of everything we ever owned, materially speaking. Our lives and limbs were still intact and their preservation was the only thing that mattered at that moment. The mobs that had set houses on fire were still on rampage, perfectly capable of lighting up the MLA's house together with its original occupants and the refugee population.
A hundred lives teetering on the edge of extinction. Half a dozen fanatics, a few liters of petrol and a single matchstick was all that it would take to roast us all to death. The thought filled me with unbearable dread. I clung to my mother and howled. She did not comfort me as she usually would, and continued looking with unblinking, forlorn eyes at the buffet of destruction laid out before us. My father lifted me and placed my head against his shoulder. Although it was February his back was drenched in sweat. Cold nervous sweat. 'We will make another house,' he said to me; his voice quivering, tone bereft of its former surety.
At noon we boarded the bus that brought us here, at the relief camp, set up in the Eidgah ground for the newly homeless. University students and NGOs had set it up using their meager resources. Now they were running desperate online campaigns to raise funds for the likes of us, who had until recently fed the poor and given out charity – mandatory and voluntary. I wondered if my mother's gold jewelry kept in the iron safe has melted like a blob of butter in the fire, the way they show in jewelry making videos on YouTube; or has it become blackened and burnt like the toast I made last week. It's a pity that my mother did not like wearing gold and all she had on her person at the moment we fled was a pair of polki studded jhumkis. If we had the gold jewelry and cash we wouldn't have been here, at the mercy of donors and camp organizers. Of course, any attempt to collect valuables from the safe on the first floor would have drastically cut down our chances of survival. Mother did the wisest thing when she pulled Father away with all her might as he attempted to sprint to the first floor to retrieve papers and valuables. It was neighbor Sanjeev uncle who had spotted, from his terrace, the mob entering our lane and alerted us, banging like a maniac on our stairway door. 'Run! Run! Run away! They are here,'.
And how we had run!
Father's feet are now blistered and bleeding because earlier in the day I had carelessly pushed his slippers under the bed. I asked one of the relief workers with a generous face and big kind eyes, for cotton and antiseptic. They didn't have any dressing supplies, he told me and asked one of his companions to arrange them. The companion couldn't arrange them. The camp had been constantly swelling with people - like us - forced to flee their homes at the shortest notice; leaving clothes spinning in the washing machine, chapati unturned on the tawa, slippers under the bed waiting for their owner to retrieve them. The conversations falling in my ears are cataclysmic in nature - missing children, dead parents, molested women. The bearers of these monumental tragedies are however perfectly stoic. I have come to learn that this is how the human mind brokers the deal with anguish - by feigning indifference.
My parents volunteered to assist the camp organizers and came across two families from my father's brother's locality. They are acquainted with my paternal uncle but are unable to provide any specific information about him and his family's condition. Until we came across these families the thought of mob violence in my Uncle's area had not occurred to us – we had been too busy surviving to think of anyone else. These people, my Uncle's acquaintance, related to us the events that had unfolded in their locality in the morning. They were so horrible that after a point my gut started to wrench and I threw up. Mother made me lie down, my head on her folded lap and from that vantage point I saw her lips quiver, the way I had never seen before. Listening to those tales, my father's entire being assumed a strange form. The veins in his face it seemed would burst and the whites of his eyes would pop out like ping pong balls. The people whose fate had been looming in a zone riddled with murkiest possibilities were after all his own flesh and blood.
Terrified, I cupped his face in my hands and caressed the strained muscles so they may reassume their usual dimensions. Father held my hands in his own and started to sob, like a child, his huge body vibrating as if possessed by a power beyond his control. As if on cue it started to rain – at first just a drizzle, gentle and harmless, but soon it assumed a vicious form. Within minutes the relief camp was under a vindictive shower. The blue tarpaulin set up to give the homeless a semblance of roof over their heads could not provide even a semblance of protection from the water. The ground turned into a shallow pond and water started to seep into the thin mattresses provided by the relief workers. We could no longer sit on them. Every now and then people passed from fatigue and high blood pressure. I wished to pass out too, so that I may get a break from the relentless misery.
It rained for almost half an hour, during which I remained nestled between Father and Mother, my teeth clattering, the hair on our hands and legs standing tall and erect. When the rain finally stopped Mother and Father held the ends of the thin mattress and squeezed it as hard as they could twisting it first anti-clock wise, then clockwise. The foam readily gave up its load and resumed its shape, almost with a sigh of relief. We laid down on the moist mattress hoping that more water wouldn't seep in from the ground. It did. Father and mother laid side to side and made me lie on top of them.
'Alhamdulillah- praise be to God',' said Mother stroking my hair.
'Alhamdullilah,' said Father.
'Alhamdulillah,' I repaeted and dozed off on Father's chest.