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The sun crept out like a coy virgin, blushed deep crimson and discouraged nocturnal rodents with its presence, making them scurry into abandoned buildings and under rocks. Not able to withstand the warmth of the all conquering fiery yellow ball, the delicate dew drops settled on leaves became coquettish and mingled with the atmosphere. Brisk women who had beaten the sun to the river bank were returning from their cold baths, their wet saris clinging provocatively to their sturdy physiques. The sheen on their skins, the smiles emanating from their eyes and the camaraderie shared among them bespoke the health, innocence and carefree nature of these villagers.
The silence of the morning was pierced by the wailing sirens in the industry denoting the end of a shift, as the half-a-dozen gates spewed forth hundreds of workers, creating a cloud of dust that settled on the seats of bicycles in the make-shift sheds built outside. Bhowmik shied his eyes from the strong sun and looked searchingly for his reliever. His shift was over and it would take time for him to walk five kilometres, reach his house and take his daughter to school. Working as a security guard earned him money to run his family - just so. Having come from Darjeeling, life in Pidaichivilai, in the southern corner of India was not the same for Bhowmik. Yet life wasn’t as bad as it was for many others. His credibility as a security officer in the industry helped him to avoid the baleful stares usually reserved for Northerners in South India.
“Arey bhaiya… I am coming…” cried a voice.
Bhowmik turned to look at a young man, his replacement due to take up the next shift, bicycling fast towards the security gate. He heaved a sigh of relief, removed his cap and went into the security officers’ cabin to change into civilian clothes.
“Why so late Velraj?” enquired Bhowmik, as the young man entered the cabin to sign in the register.
“Got up late”, said Velraj, and leaning close whispered in Bhowmik’s ears, “had too much to drink last night.”
“You never learn, do you?” questioned Bhowmik, as he buttoned up his shirt.
“Ha… no one will know bhaiya. You do not worry” smiled Velraj, as Bhowmik looked back at Velraj, shrugged his shoulders and started the trek home.
Bhowmik hummed a favourite song as he strode fast, looking at his watch every now and then. He dreaded the tongue-lash his wife would readily inflict on him were he to take their daughter late for school. Having lived in the cool climate of Darjeeling till the end of his teenage years, Bhowmik still hadn’t come to terms with the hot climate of Pidaichivilai. Sweat trickled down his back as he turned the last corner that led to his modest cottage. He smiled and waved as he saw his daughter look out from his house. She waved back, went into the house and by the time he reached the house, she had come out with her bag.
“Must you always come at the last time?” chided Bhowmik’s wife, as Bhowmik smiled apologetically and took the bag from his daughter’s shoulders.
“No problem, no problem. Do not worry. I will take her to school” said he to his wife and added towards his daughter, “Come Bijli, come now, my little one.”
Bijli took hold of her dad’s hands and they started the walk towards school. The mother wiped the sweat off her forehead with her sari and stood at the threshold of her house watching the two walk hand in hand. Smiling inwardly, she went into the house to prepare breakfast for her husband.
“Are you studying well Bijli? Have you learnt how to colour your pictures now?” asked Bhowmik, his face looking intently at his daughter.
Bijli bubbled into laughter at this and said good-humouredly, “Dad, that was in second standard. Now I am in eighth standard. I don’t need to colour pictures.”
“Oh yeah… you told me already… I forgot. What do they ask you to do in school now?”
“They teach us about plants, animals, the sun, the moon, stars, calculations, music and English” said Bijli and added, “Why do you ask me so Dad? You’ve never asked me this before!”
“You know very well that I am not educated… I never had the chance. I… I just… hmm… I just wonder if you could tell me what happens in school each day, so that I can understand what it is to be in school” said a demure Bhowmik, clearly uncomfortable in having this conversation with his daughter.
“Oh Dad! I would love to tell you. Why don’t we start today? Where do you want to start?”
“Ok. Hmmm… how will you tell your friend that we both went to the school yesterday?” asked Bijli with an eager face.
Bhowmik concentrated hard, shrunk his brows and said, “myself and my daughter went to school yesterday.”
“That’s what many of my friends also said Dad. But it’s wrong. You should say, my daughter and I went to the school yesterday.”
“Oh… why is it so?”
“Hmmm… I don’t know Dad. But that’s how our teachers talk. You know, Karuna uncle also talks like this” said the girl with a serious face.
Bhowmik was at once convinced. “Karuna uncle also talks like this eh? Ok. Then it must be correct.”
They came in sight of the school which propelled Bijli to quicken her steps and Bhowmik to slow his. There stood the headmaster and the chemistry teacher at the school’s gate talking to a parent. Seeing the father and daughter coming towards them, the chemistry teacher gave a fleeting smile at Bhowmik and motioned Bijli to enter the school.
“How is Bijli at school sir?” asked Bhowmik meekly.
“She is studious, talkative and bubbly” said the teacher and added, “see that she concentrates on improving her grades.”
Months rolled by. Bhowmik learnt through his daughter that contrary to his belief, the snake did not have ears, but that it used its body to sense vibration. He was amazed to know that there were countries many times bigger than India in size and could not believe that China’s population was more than that of India. He adored the walk with his daughter each day and would not miss it for the world. People in the industry where he worked were surprised by the improvement in his English. He proudly told people who cared, his daughter’s proficiency in studies.
It was yet another humid night spent sweating and cursing in the darkness. Bhowmik wiped the free flowing sweat with his damp kerchief and wrung the liquid from it. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the cool nights in Darjeeling. How he wished he hadn’t come out of West Bengal! But he also knew that he could not have risen in life to this position had he not stepped out of his state. He was thankful to Tamil Nadu for his job… yet this heat! It drove a man mad at times. But that is life, ruminated Bhowmik. One doesn’t get the best of both worlds. Strain, push, suffer and gain glory. People who hesitated to step out of their comfort zones had no business whatsoever in stepping in to obtain crowns. Life always doled out suffering.
A twig broke, making Bhowmik jump out of his reverie. He looked around, all senses alert. Village boys sneaking into the remote campus to steal whatever they could lay their hands on was a headache that never seemed to leave Bhowmik. There was a shuffling sound behind some dense bushes. Bhowmik wiped his sweaty hands on his pants, clutched the baton firmly and crept stealthily towards the bushes. What enfolded before his eyes would remain etched to his mind forever.
There lay on the floor, gagged and struggling like a wild animal, an employee. Her stretched arms were pinned by two men on each side. Her legs thrashed about for some time, to no avail. As she stopped moving, there stepped in between her and Bhowmik, a man immaculately dressed, with the grace of a banker. His receding gray hairline at his temple bespoke his age. He crossed his hands across his chest and stared at the girl who looked at him wide-eyed in terror.
“Pull her up” commanded the man brusquely.
The two goons lifted her up and slammed her against the trunk of a tree. Bhowmik gasped in horror as the girl winced in pain, her face a mask of extreme pain. The man moved closer to the girl, took out a Wills and angled his head to his right to light the cigarette. Bhowmik’s heart leaped to his mouth as he realized that the middle-aged man was his Manager. His Manager, the gentle and soft-spoken man, fondly called the gentleman of the company was about to rape a girl, thought Bhowmik. The thought chilled him. The Manager drew in hot breath of the noxious air and blew it into the girl’s face.
“Malathi, the beauty queen of the industry, destined for greatness, became spoilt by choice - to become the bitch of the village” spat out the Manager, and added as he threw the cigarette from his hands, “I showered you with kindness, enveloped you with love and you dared despise me and my love.”
He then stood toe to toe with the girl, looked into her eyes, smiled sarcastically and said, “Do not worry, my love. I am not going to touch you again. I loathe soiled clothes.” He took one end of the sari that the girl wore and caressed it with his hands. His eyes moistened as he added, “even if it means the clothes that I have gifted you.”
He stood still for a moment, gathering his strength that seemed to have failed him. His face hardened as he barked, “bring the bastard here.”
Two men who had been waiting for the word from their boss pulled into the gathering a young man whose hands were tied securely behind his back. His hair was disheveled, his face bruised and bleeding. Bhowmik could hardly control his desperation and sorrow as he saw that the young man was Velraj.
“You young whelp, you dare to climb into my bedchamber and dirty my linen” shouted the Manager as he slapped Velraj full in the face. He then turned towards the girl and asked, “what did it feel like making love to Velraj, your secret lover? You will see soon enough, my love, you will see.” So saying, he guffawed into the night, his echoes breaking the silence of the night.
“Where is our stud?” asked the manager.
There stepped from the shadows a man on whose thin body was no shirt. He had on a dirty lungi that was tied up to his knees. Velraj’s head was hanging down as the lungi man approached him. The manager looked at the girl who looked bewildered.
“How did you feel when your lover entered you? You enjoyed the show, didn’t you bitch? How big was he? Loved the feeling eh? Let’s see what made you to go way from me you double-crossing prostitute”, said the Manager, venom spitting out of his words. The girl’s eyes widened as she realized with a sickening feeling what was about to happen. She looked pitifully at Velraj her lover, and moaned sorrowfully. Velraj looked up at her sound to see the Manager come towards him smiling cruelly.
“Do you snatch only girls from other men’s beds or do you enjoy men too?” asked the manager.
Velraj’s head lolled down only to be yanked up by the Manager. “Look at me and talk, you whoreson. Open your useless mouth and tell me” shouted the man. Velraj was too weak to reply and looked on, his eyes panic-stricken.
The stud came near Velraj and leered at him.
“You like me boy? I like you… your hands and shoulders are big… a good sign” said the stud circling Velraj and inspecting him.
“See that she does not look away”, ordered the Manager to the two men holding her. They held her head firmly pointed towards Velraj as the stud performed his acts on the hapless man. She cried out in utter helplessness as the organ that had entered her many times was handled by the stud to perform hideous deeds. Her eyes that closed involuntarily were pried open by the goons and forced to stay open. As the last act of cruelty, the stud removed his lungi, made Velraj face the other side and demoralized the young man, making him faint before the final act was over.
Bhowmik could not believe the inhumane act that froze his blood. He lay transfixed in shock as the men pulled away, taking the girl away with them and leaving Velraj there. After almost thirty minutes, Bhowmik heard soft moans coming from Velraj. He stood up shakily, caught hold of a sapling there to steady his movement and went close to Velraj. By the time he had taken the young man to the hospital it was six in the morning. The hospital staff demanded that police be called in. There came the police with the speed of a striking cobra as the news had started spreading about the bleeding security officer. The unnatural wound of the young man saw to it that Bhowmik could not lie. Even the police officials were stunned to hear what had happened.
It was nine thirty in the morning when Bhowmik reached home. His wife had received news about the strange event and had sent Bijli to school alone, knowing that Bhowmik would not be at home on time. Bhowmik was a shaken man as he flopped into his bed and kept staring at the ceiling.
“Come and eat. Stop behaving like a kid”, rebuked his wife.
Bhowmik washed his face with trembling hands and sat down on the mat to eat. There was sound of a car screeching to a halt. There rushed into the house Bijli’s chemistry teacher.
“Mr. Bhowmik, Bijli has been kidnapped.”
Life seemed to stop for Bhowmik. He let out a cry of anguish and accompanied the teacher to the car which took him to the school. A gang of ruffians had come into the class and taken her out, screaming and cursing. The school headmaster who had tried to intervene was also taken with her. The school was shocked to see this monstrous act, but unable to respond or react.
Bijli’s mouth was gagged and clamped shut. She was taken in a Scorpio to a remote place where there was parked, a white Tata Safari. She was bundled into it with the headmaster and brought to a house in the village itself. No one gave a second glance at the Safari. Bijli looked at the headmaster who gave her a reassuring look and motioned with his eyes to be confident. She gained courage and looked around trying to figure out a way of escape.
“Your father thinks he is smart eh? You have come from North India to earn a living. Not to peep into the lives of other people” snarled a man.
“We will teach you not to meddle with us”, shouted another.
“Leave the girl alone. She does not know anything. What can she do?” cried the headmaster.
“You keep your bloody mouth shut”, slapped a man hard in the cheeks of the Headmaster, who cried out in pain.
“We will deal with you too, you good for nothing scumbag, coming in when all others were silent”, said another man and kicked the headmaster, who fell down heavily.
“Come on baby. Let’s have some fun” said the first goon and started pulling Bijli into the next room.
Bijli fought like a tigress. She bit the hand of one man, kicked in the groin of the second and scratched her nails on another one. The fourth man gave her a resounding smack on her head that shocked her into obedience. She looked pleadingly at the Headmaster. Having had enough, the Headmaster stood up, faced the ruffians and said in a loud voice,
“Stop it you rascals. She is my student. Don’t you dare touch her.”
Surprised by his sudden outburst, the men took their hands off her. She shook free, crossed the room in three strides and jumped into the hands of the Headmaster who held her protectively.
“How dare you kidnap her and try to molest her in front of my eyes?” Shouted the headmaster as Bijli snuggled into the folds of his muscular frame.
The men remained silent. The headmaster’s mouth gave way to a lecherous smile that turned into a cruel laugh.
“The lion must have its share before hyenas like you scavenge for food. She is my student and I have the right to taste her first. Don’t I Bijli darling? Don’t I?” said the headmaster, his voice turning into a shriek.
Before Bijli could understand the turn of events, the Headmaster had carried her bodily into the other room and locked the door.
“Wait for your turn guys”, shouted he, to which the men replied “Yes boss.”
“Do not be shocked darling. These men are my men only. Why do you think I intervened? How many times have I looked at you in school and fantasized about you? To think that your father will watch my brother’s act in the industry was something I did not think of… ha ha… you look confused. The Manager of the industry is my brother. When his men came to kidnap you, how could I not miss the chance? You will not leave this place alive my darling… ha ha ha… what a coincidence!” said the headmaster bursting into peals of laughter.
Bijli stood still, not moving, a small smile playing around her lips.
“You are an idiot sir”, said the girl, much to the shock of the Headmaster.
“What do you mean girl?”
“What do I call a person who kidnaps a girl who already likes him?” asked Bijli, the smile prolonging.
“You like me? You mean to say that you like me?” blabbered the man.
“Yes, my dear man. I like you. To think that you have taken such pain to take me! You could have had me any time you wanted, right there in school.”
The headmaster could feel his senses spiraling. This was something he had not expected. He asked Bijli to wait, went out to the other room and told the men that he would bring the girl to the next rendezvous. Having dismissed them, he locked the door and came into where Bijli lay. There lay Bijli sprawled on the bed, her clothes lying on the floor. She was covered in a blanket that exposed her naked shoulders. The man shouted in glee, came out of his clothes in a jiffy and jumped into bed. She kissed him passionately. The Headmaster hadn’t encountered such intense desire in any woman he had enjoyed so far. Bijli was heavenly. He had come to avenge the arrest of his brother. What he was experiencing now was nothing short of ecstasy. He became hard instantly. Bijli bade him close his eyes and in the peak of his lust, stabbed his organ with the compass from her geometry box that she had hidden under the mattress when the Headmaster had gone out briefly. The excruciating pain made the beast to scream in agony, clutch his organ and try to stem the flow of blood. Bijli clothed herself calmly, kicked the fainted the Headmaster repeatedly in his shamehood, went out of the house, locked it and walked into her classroom for the next class.