“Father, give me the strength to forgive and fight back the feeling of vengeance. Father, pray for me to achieve the peace of mind, for my patience is a very thin rope on which I walk,” said the man who sat in the confession box. For past twenty five years or so, he had followed the same routine of coming to the church and then spending a while in the confession box, repeating those same lines over and over again, before starting his day. As he walked out of the church after his daily prayer, he heard someone calling his name.
“Dr Mathews…Dr Joshua Mathews, Bhaiji has called in for you.”
Joshua turned and from his black rim glasses he could see two men running towards him. Joshua stopped for the men to catch up with him. Once they were near the audible distance, he said, “Tell Mr. Goswami, I would be there in the afternoon.”
“What? Are you going to make Bhaiji wait…Hey Doctor, are you out of your mind, don’t you know he is a big leader of our Hindu political party? How could you dare…” one of the men was furious at Joshua’s reply but before he could vent out all his rage, the other man, who was busy catching his breath, sharply transcended him, “My apologies Doctor sahab, please forgive him. He is new in the clan. If you want we can send the jeep to pick you in the afternoon.”
“No, thank you, I will come,” and without another word or a frown, Joshua walked away. The new boy in Bhaiji’s force was confused. He couldn’t do the math here. He was trained to portray in the likes to twin the angry Hulk to generate fear in the heart of his opponent and now, that he was perfectly role playing, he was abruptly cut short. He looked at his accomplice in utter bewilderment and said, “Now we have to fear this mouse too. Don’t you find the difference between our giant lithe and his five feet six inches frame, our abs and his lanky physique and wrinkled phizog?”
“Shut up, just shut up. If Bhaiji comes to know about it, he is going to bury you alive. Bhaiji is very fond of this doctor and Joshua has been his doctor since the very day Bhaiji needed a doctor. There alliances run over a decade or so,” reprimanded the other man.
“But can’t you see this oldie taking undue advantage of Bhaiji veneration for him. Look at his attitude.”
“That’s what Bhaiji likes about him, his strength of character. In this fake world around Bhaiji where everybody tries to impress him with flattery; it is this Doctor who face him fearlessly with blunt honesty but still being polite. And moreover he is a busy doctor. Can’t you see in the six kilometre radius, he is the only doctor practising in this village? He has patients lined up to see at his clinic.”
“But he could have made an exception to come and see Bhaiji first and then went along with his day…”
“Until and unless it’s an unavoidable emergency, he will never break his routine. That’s who Joshua is. He will come to the church first, walk to the grave yard and finally to his nursing home.”
“Yes, his family is buried there, his wife and his son. I don’t know much about it but people say that they died very young, whether it was an accident or natural calamity, no one knows. Doctor is a very introvert man and speaks only when necessary. No one really knows his real story. But he seems to be a nice man, always helping people, sometimes going absolutely out of his way too. He is very much respected here.”
“Ah! Why doesn’t Bhaiji call another experienced doctor that too, a Hindu one from the city, when this one is busy being Messiah? And as matter of fact, why does Bhaiji need a doctor, he seems perfectly fit to me? He wrestles the whole day in mud. Even at the age of 40, he is more energetic than all of us combined.”
“Though Bhaiji is a superman but beneath all that iron and steel, his nerves are rusting away. Every six months he gets himself vitamin B12 shots for twenty to thirty days. According to Bhaiji, this doctor has magical hands and he feels no pain when being injected by him. What so ever be the reason, Bhaji really adores his doctor. If given an opportunity, he could put this doctor in a locket and hang him in his neck like his lucky charm.”
“What rubbish Yadav, my gut feeling says, we can’t trust this Christian. One day he would lead to our doom.”
“Stop running the wild horses of your mind, Raftar, I don’t have an entire day to debate you over the relationship of Bhaiji and the doctor. We have to rush back to be beside Bhaiji, we are his bodyguards. Elections are on head, there are various strategies which we have to give our contribution to. Come let’s go.”
In afternoon, when Joshua went to the Haveli of Pitamber Goswami, the big boss of big Hindu party, he laid there on the cot with his hired servility massaging him. As soon as he saw his doctor, entering his door, he immediately stood up giving him open arm welcome. Joshua never voted in for such kind of physical contacts but he knew it is impossible for his slinky body structure to slip out of the strong grip of Bhaiji’s athletic body type.
“Hey Josh, it’s again that time of the year that we meet. What shall I say; I really look forward to meeting you. I am the only person on this planet who feels happy to meet his doctor.”
“Let’s get back to business. If you please, lie down Mr. Goswami.”
“Oh! Ramji! Why are you so dry, Josh? Don’t you ever smile; just try fake smiling at least.”
“It’s Joshua; my name is Joshua not Josh, Mr. Goswami….”
“It’s Bhaiji for all too not Mr. Goswami. Since you don’t change your ways, why do you expect me to change mine and start calling you what you want me to call you?” said Bhaiji and started laughing. Joshua never participated in such kind of frivolity but instead waited for him to calm down and to lie prone on the cot so that he could complete his unfinished work and get back to his pending work. Once he was through he got up to move to his favourite place in Pitamber’s Haveli, the library. The reason why he agreed for the home visits for Bhaiji in first place. He got the free pass to this grand collection of wisdom and had liberty to get himself as many books as he wanted to from the shelf and there was never any time limit put on him on the return of those books. “Josh, I heard you are reading Bhagvad Gita and Chanakya’s arthashastra, all the ancient Hindu literature. Is that true?”
“Yes” came the prompt answer. Joshua being man of few words was never inclined for big chit-chat therefore he preferred being monosyllabic in his endeavours. Since there year’s long acquaintanceship had made Bhaiji well aware of this fact, therefore without any further delay he let him go to love of his life, the books. Now this was going to be the routine that Joshua would be following for next twenty or thirty days like always. But this time, destiny had some hidden un-played card that would be changing the course of the life of Joshua. He was ten days old in this house visit that, that particular day he stayed long in the library, probably enchanted by the words of the book he was reading that he lost the tap of the time. But once that realisation struck him, he rushed out. His exit path ran through the central hall and as always he took it only to find a big official meeting going on in that premises, presided by the bigwigs of that Hindu party. It was some kind of pre-election strategy forming, assembly at Bhaiji Haveli. Joshua thought to take a detour, avoid disturbing the seriousness of the environment in the central hall but then suddenly he heard something that made him freeze to his very grounds.
“So Bhiaji you want us to kill them, the children too…”
“Yes,” came as the paradoxically simple answer.
“You are very smart Bhaiji, you are really qualified in the art to win an election. It will be our hunt down and blame would be put on these minorities clique and then when the things get pretty heated up between these two communities, we will bake our bacon over it. It’s a win-win for us.”
“Riots are always the key ingredient to win an election and it happens to be my field of expertise. I have done it in the past and I could do it now too. You see, the mass is collection of foolishly emotional people who rate their egotism and hatred above their basic problems of poverty, hunger, education, housing etc. This weakness of theirs happens to be the icing of the cake for politicians like us. Therefore it leaves no scope of any mistake; let’s discuss the intricate details of the plan again. After all it’s the key to our walk on the moon, figuratively speaking.” said Bhaiji. And as per his instruction their riot plan was discussed again in convoluted details. The people in the central hall were still unaware of the fact that there was someone else beside them making mental notes of their nefarious intention.
That very evening, instead of going back to his clinical duties, Joshua went straight to the police station divulging everything what he witnessed. He requested the inspector to work fast to save this bloody massacre. The men in uniform assured him that they would take the matter with utmost seriousness and would work diligently on it. Next afternoon when Joshua went to the Haveli for his daily visit, he could feel the hostility in the environment especially in the eye of the new recruit in Bhaiji’s personal guards. Joshua could see his pulsating vein on the forehead and his nostrils puffing out like an angry buffalo. He ignored him and walked unperturbed to do his needful duty of injecting Bhaiji. He was happy that police have intervened to prevent those bloody murders of the innocents. But his happiness was short lived as he found, yesterday’s authoritative inspector of police station, massaging Bhaiji’s feet. That very moment he knew that he blew his cover for nothing.
Still unflinchingly he completed his doctor’s duty and was about to pack up his stuff to go that Bhaiji jumped out of his patent royal cot and stood in front of him like a mountain and said, “That’s why I like you, you are fearless. I wish if quarter of my men were like you, I would have been ruling this world. But it is unfortunate that you play for the other team and you went behind my back to rat me out. Tell me, who has purchased your loyalty? If I would have known that it was in the market for sale, I would have definitely made a good offer?”
“I have no interest in picking sides. What’s wrong is, wrong and I did what I have to do.” Joshua came straight forward.
“Oh! Yes Ramji, how could I forget you are the Good Samaritan with twenty four caret gold standards? I am sorry to inform you, you just flunked. This is politics and you have to play dirty. It’s the first rule of the game. There is nothing much you could do about it expect close your eye to it. Its divide and rule, I am just following Chanakya’s neeti.”
“That’s the strategy to deal with the enemies not with your own people. If you have read Chanakya’s neeti properly you would know the king is just a servant to his kingdom and his only duty is to serve his people and bring prosperity to his nation. But on contrary you are playing a bloody game.” It was first time ever Bhaiji could hear Joshua using so many words to convey his thoughts.
“I think these books in my library are ruining you. For now onwards you are prohibited to go there. And if few of the men are sacrificing their lives for their king, it’s their good fortune, a God given golden opportunity to go to heaven.”
“You are murdering few and then making the rest to kill each other. It’s inhumane.”
“Josh, what’s the matter with you? Can’t you shut up? If you fear about your community, you have my words; your people would be left unharmed. Just ask all of them to wear crosses in their neck as a signal for us.”
“Every human life is sacred and you have no right….”
“For Ramji sake’s shut up Josh. I really like you and that’s why listening to all your crap here. But that’s my threshold, I can’t take it anymore. I told you, I will do whatever it takes to fulfill my dream and I won’t spare anyone coming between it, even if it’s you.”
“And I will do everything to stop you....”
“So what are you going to do Josh, bring AK47 and kill me. Because that’s the only way you can stop me. But I know you can’t do it, because you have no balls.” And then Bhaiji turned towards his new recruit, “Hey Raftar, you will shadow Josh day and night. I don’t want him to repeat this silly mistake again because I will hate to lose him.”
Joshua knew he couldn’t talk Bhaiji out of his massacre plan but at the same time he couldn’t sit, warming his hands. He had to do something but the question was, what and how. And now being under constant surveillance his task has became even more difficult. Time was skipping away like sand between his fingers.
The stress of being the sitting duck was taking a toll on Joshua. He couldn’t concentrate in his daily chores. He desperately needed answers and he could find none. He needed peace therefore he took a break from his clinic duties and went to attend the evening mass at the church. The first day of Raftar’s follow-up trail and he had to go to the church. The very thought of stepping in church was sickening for his orthodox bigotry Hindu mind set. But how could he defy his master’s order. When he was able to synchronising his loo breaks with that of Joshua, going to church would be difficult not impossible.
After the choir, reverend took the rostrum and started preaching. “When one finds the higher purpose of his living event the humble soul can conquer invincible heights. It’s then the whole sole duty of God is to lead you there. And it could be best exemplified by Joshua, who led Israelites from the slavery of Egypt to the promise land by winning the battle of Jericho. God fought for him, for he hurled huge hailstones from the sky and killed more Canaanites than those slaughtered by Joshua’s army. And in one of such battle, when Joshua ordered sun and moon to hold still, God obeyed….‘There was no day like that before it or after it, that the Yahweh hearkened unto the voice of a man. For the Yahweh fought for Israel.’reference from Joshua10:14…”
“I hope you are not getting any ideas thinking yourself to be that Joshua from history book. Don’t even think to evoke your traits of foolish chivalry.” Rafter whispered in Joshua’s ear. Joshua didn’t react; he kept listening to the reverend. The circumstances that surrounded him, the only solace he found was in his work, therefore Joshua burned himself with an extra load and he took the additional duty of serving as Pathologist in the Zila’s health center, in his offbeat hours.
“You have deliberately pushed me in the cockpit of infection whirlpool. You want me to die of tuberculosis but you know what I have full scores in my vaccination chart.” Rafter was irritated following him to places with health hazard whereas Joshua didn’t cringe.
Just shutting like a shuttle with Joshua between his monotonous busy life style, took away every spice from Rafter’s life. He hadn’t met his girlfriend, hadn’t gossiped with Yadav and most importantly pumped in the gym. It’s been just two days and Rafter felt like spending an entire lifetime in Jail. Finally on third day, he asked Joshua to assign him some meagre duty to pass his day, he couldn’t spend his entire time just staring at him, it felt so gay-ish. And since then, for the next multiple days to come Rafter multi tasked under Joshua, sometimes being his compounder dispensing medicine for him, sometimes his receptionist filling in appointment calls and sometimes his assistant jotting down notes for him. But what surprised Joshua was that the hands that only knew, how to press trigger of gun were so efficient in drawing blood samples from the patient by using syringes. He was proficient and a quick learner too. Joshua could foresee a decent future for Rafter from the skills that he just witnessed in him. He even confronted Raftar with a brand new career plan but Raftar laughed it over and was happy with his adventurous goon life.
As the time passed, things started to change between Raftar and Joshua. Raftar too could find uncalled, un-named adoration for him like his master, Bhaiji. And sometimes the idea of working as Doctor’s assistant started to cross his mind but it was still long shot away from virtual reality. The election month was quiet near and so was the date of execution of nefarious plan of Bhaiji that could create ransack in otherwise calm and peaceful environment of the village. But instead of experiencing an anticipatory anxiety, Joshua was at his tranquil best. Since he was out of action he was out of everybody’s memory.
It was the last day of Joshua’s obligation towards Bhaiji. But something unusual happened. Joshua excused himself from the church visit and graveyard attendance, the routine which he had never ever skipped for past twenty years. He reached that Haveli directly with Raftar. Raftar noticed this peculiarity too but he chose to ignore it, thinking it to be a personal choice. There at Haveli, Bhaiji too didn’t look his usual self. He was pretty much under the weather, coughing his lungs out with high grade fever.
Once Joshua was through with his assigned duty and was packing his bags, as a regular formality Bhaiji asked him to join him for the tea. In the regular days, Joshua always declined the offer but today he went affirmative to Bhaiji’s request. For Bhaiji it was a breeze of fresh air, a keyhole opportunity to revive his relationship with his trusted doctor, but for Raftar these subtle omens were getting high on his nerves. For a very short period of time that he had spent with Joshua he was sure enough to bet his entire fortune on the fact that this man would prefer dying rather than compromising his principles. He was certainly up to something. Raftar checked the bullets in his revolver.
“I think Josh, you need to add more shots to my treatment, I haven’t yet recovered from neuralgic pains in my legs. Moreover I got webbed in this season change allergies.” Bhaiji said sipping from his cup.
“Hmm!” was Joshua’s response.
“Come on Josh, let it go. Why are you mixing your work and pleasure? You know I like you and I want you to reciprocate these feelings of friendship of mine. I can’t change that’s the way I am. You need to be more accepting of me and be a little less judgmental.”
“I have been trying to follow that formula with you for a decade now, Bhaiji…”
‘Bhaiji’ was the third bouncer being bowled by Joshua in the same over. The word with has never ever been the part of his vocabulary was slipping out of his tongue smoothly and deliberately. Raftar was now on high alert and there Joshua was using more tongue power than usual, “I swear, I sincerely tried but failed. But as you said men like you can never change therefore monsters like you should be annihilated.”
“Is this a joke, Josh?” Bhaiji’s was taken aback and his muscles got tensed.
“No” came the blunt reply from Joshua. Every living soul in that room had an undivided attention on Joshua’s face, waiting for his revelation. He continued, “You are going to die Bhaiji. I would advice, you start improvising your karma because very soon you are going to meet your creator.”
“Have you brought AK 47 with you?” Bhaiji humored him.
“Ah! I am a doctor, I don’t need AK47. All I need is a syringe, a poison and your blood vessels. I had access to all. For past couple of days I have been injecting you with viruses of HIV, Hepatitis B and hepatitis C, the most deadly weapon which would slowly and gradually rot your systems within your breathing living body.” Raftar was the only one to join the dotted points here, that’s the reason he accepted spending extra hours in the pathology laboratory, to procure him with these deadly viruses that he used as his weapons against Bhaiji.
There was ten seconds pin drop silence in the room which was broken by the boisterous laughter of Bhaiji, “Ha..Ha. You think I will believe these words in wind. You think generating fear in my heart would make me cave and I will go on my knees pleading you for an antidote. I am no fool, I know you have no balls, man.”
“What do you know about strength Bhaiji….you killed my wife and my toddler son…” for first time in long time, Joshua had emotions painting his phizog. “…twenty years back, when you were just a mere lad, a drop out of school, you headed a riot on orders of your late father. You boasted their brutal murder as your first kill. I witnessed it. You were about to slaughter me too but the distant police siren saved my life. I wish you would have killed me that day; my life has been a living hell since then. Every day I fought the feeling of vengeance against desperately praying to Jesus to give me that endurance. For past twenty five years I have been apologizing to the graves of my son and wife, finding logical reasoning in those books in your library to give you second chance, to forgive you. I thought you were just a boy gone astray from his path. I hoped against hope that one day you will turn up just fine human being but I was wrong. Men like you are like the tail of dog, which even after staying in the cast for years would never change. It’s the time you smell your own death, taste your own medicine, Bhaiji.”
It was lightening outside, it seemed like the precursor to a dangerous thunderstorm. Inside the Haveli, the guns were out and unanimously pointing at one target. After a little sentimental leak, Joshua was back to his mental serenity and grit. He sat there valiantly, patiently waiting for his fate. He knew his time was over and soon enough he would join his wife and kid in the gardens of God. As a surprise, between all that hostility, he was shielded by none other than Raftar.
“Bhaiji don’t kill him…” he pleaded.
“Are you out of your mind, Raftar,” Yadav, one of the Bhaiji’s trusted men and Raftar’s mentor, screamed at his childish behavior.
“Bhaiji think for one second, he knows the cure of your disease. If he dies, you will die too.”
“Irrespective of the fact that whether I live or die, Mr Goswami you are destined to doom. The seventy two hours window period to reverse your pathology have long past. No men in this planet could save you now.” Joshua cleared the air.
“Raftar, are you trying to save this man, who tried to kill your master. Boy, pick a side, because it won’t matter for us to kill you two,” Yadav shrieked the last warning.
Raftar slowly paced towards Bhaiji, “Please listen to me Bhaiji, it’s the election time and we can’t afford a controversy over a dead doctor…” But as soon as he was in Bhaiji breathing Zone, he immediately took Bhaiji at his point blank range and roared, “Let the doctor go…”
“Raftar,” screamed Yadav
“Don’t even think of that Yadav, if you moved a muscle, your master will die sooner than expected.” Raftar then turned towards Joshua and said, “Now do you require a formal invitation to move from that chair.”
Couple of minutes later the duo, were talking to wind on Raftar’s bullet bike. Though they have bolted the main gate of Haveli from outside on their way out but they knew that it was not sufficient to dam those furious Bhaiji men.
“There is no use running?” Joshua commented after a while. Raftar ignored to answer.
Joshua continued, “… Because of me, your life is in danger too. Why are you doing this?” Raftar was still quiet.
“At least you could show little curtsey to answer my questions…”
“I have no answers to it. I don’t know, why?All I know is that I have to take you somewhere safe.”
“Raftar, how old are you?”
“Why? Twenty five.”
“My son would have been a year or two older than you, if he would have been alive….Anyways you still have good left inside you. I have seen you working so earnestly at my clinic and you are good with patients too.”
“Now, you want me to be a doctor.”Raftar humored him.
“I wish but you can still end up good in pharmaceutical line. I had talk to my friend about you and he was ready to help.”
“Okay! After all this gets over, I will do what you say but for now stop worrying about my future.”
“Okay, here, just keep his card in case you need it…” Joshua inserted the business card of his friend in Raftar’s shirt pocket. He continued, “By the way where are you taking me?”
“The safest place of the world, where Bhaiji can’t touch you, the jail. We are going to get a press conference and there you are going to confess everything you did to Bhaiji. Once you become the breaking news you would be out of his reach.You will live, Joshua, you will live.”
“Take me to the church, first.”
“What! Are you crazy?”
“Please, I need to pray and confess. It will just take two seconds.” Joshua pleaded.
Raftar had to cave in and in no time they were standing outside the church. Joshua went inside and Raftar stood there guarding the entrance. It had been 15 minutes and Joshua was still not out. Raftar was getting restless at his post, he went in to check. But the church was empty; Joshua was nowhere to be found. At that moment Raftar knew, he had been tricked. Joshua had left from the back door of the church. He knew that wherever in the world he would go, Bhaiji will find him and kill him and if Raftar came along, he would experience the same fate, therefore to save his life he sacrificed his own, deliberately walking in the death trap.
Raftar was almost in tears, fearing the worst. He didn’t want to be orphaned again. Like a mad man he started to run in a random direction. He was just few steps ahead that he heard three gun shots. He froze to the ground. His teacher, guide, mentor, fatherly figure was no more. He has shown him the place to run and selflessly took all the bullets.
“Why are you stopping daddy, then what happened?” a curious child asked.
“It’s been seven years to that incident. No one was able to find Joshua’s remains; Bhaiji had hid it from the world to cover up his acts. Raftar couldn’t let Joshua’s sacrifices go in waste, though he went underground but left evidentiary trails for the media and police to Bhaiji sin world. In no time Bhaiji was arrested but because of Joshua’s shot, he had more hospital stay than being behind the bars. Four years back he died in the hospital bed. His loyal army was too fearful to claim his dead remains. Joshua single handedly averted a disaster and saved million lives. He is a forgotten saint, son.”
“What happened to Raftar daddy?”
“No one knows about him. He was never seen thereafter.” The man took a deep breath as he reached the climax to the bed time story to his son.With loving affection he asked his son, “so tell me boy, what’s the moral of the story?”
“We should be a hero and kill bad people like Bhaiji....”
His father laughed, “Oh! Sammy boy, it teaches patience, forgiveness and righteousness. With this note now you go to sleep, before your mother comes marching here and reprimanding both of us.”
“Did you notice one thing daddy?”
“What boy?” said the dotting father.
“Your name too is Joshua like the protagonist of our story.”
The father just smiled and tugged his boy in the bed, kissed him good night. He was about to switch off the light that his eyes crossed his reflection in the mirror. Though he had taken up his name, his principles, his values and his chosen career for himself and his ideal family life which he never had an opportunity to live but still the face in the mirror reveals the past life of Raftar.
He had no pictures of the man that changed his life forever and better but not a day passes by when he forgets to remember his hero.