The shop looked bigger. It didn’t seem to have expanded physically but it did look more spacious. May be it was because of the now lighter coloured walls. Not many years ago, these very same walls had nothing but a ragged covering of grayish brown raw plaster. Now all the sides were yellowish-white while the ceiling radiated a shade resembling the noon-sky.
The tea arrived. I didn’t look up at the boy who brought me the beverage. I didn’t look at anyone or in any direction in particular. As the boy moved to other customers, I picked up the thick glassed tumbler, inhaled the aroma of the tea-vapours and then gently took a sip, with eyes closed. Finally I could recall where I had seen the doctor last. He was the one – shit! I continued sipping.
‘How is it’?
‘Again? I hardly added any sugar today’.
‘But you added something else – an overdose of love’.
Like always, she blushed. Like always, I kissed her on the lips and returned to my tea and newspaper.
‘You should stop doing that now. Ahmed is growing up real fast’.
‘Parents kiss in front of their kids in US’, I protested.
‘This is Mumbai. Here they beat up couples holding hands in malls. They won’t raise their hands against a drunkard raping a kid but they would thrash educated people in love with each other, telling them it is against the Indian culture’. No one does the right thing these days’.
She might have had a point but she had drifted away. I didn’t want to answer her. I returned to my newspaper. A small news in the seventh page was about a doctor who had been kidnapped and killed. He was the same doctor who was there during my boy’s delivery.
‘I think I will visit my old shop soon’.
‘Ah, you are back so soon’.
Sardarji smiled. This time he had a brief-case with him. ‘Oh yes, I wan’t to get it done today itself – it’s a lucky day’.
Papers were signed and the deal executed.
‘Thank you. And please be in touch. Mumbai is a crowded city but believe me, people there are the loneliest. Sometimes you might miss your old tea shop. So whenever you are in town, feel free to drop by’.
I could have smiled back without replying but I felt like replying.
‘I have a new life to begin now and I wonder Paji if I would even remember I had a tea-shop once. But if I do, I am sure I shall drop by. That would be the right thing to do’ – with that I headed towards home.
Ten years ago, they had tried real hard to take over the property but they couldn’t. No one could figure out from where did a twelve year old kid arrange for enough money to bribe the police. The fact is, the police didn’t care a bit about the source. They cared about the money and that they had. So they saved me from the wolves and the wolves couldn’t do much about it. The riot had died down about a week ago – it was not the right time to re-start it and with the cops on my side, it made sense for them to give up. They gave up.
When Ahmed died, I was mad not just at the hindus but also at the police. I wanted to kill them all. But first, I wanted to kill the guy who had started it all. I returned to the burnt shop, so that I could find him. I never found him. I wondered what he would have become by now – a politician? A laywer? Or may be a doctor? But I knew what I had become – I had become a businessman. Instead of killing the police, I was bribing them.
When I had returned to the shop to take revenge, taking revenge had appeared to be the right thing. When I stole money from a temple to bribe the police so that I could not let Ahmed’s shop go away to the hands of hindus, it had appeared to be the right thing. Four years down the line, I was not sure what was right anymore. Four years down the line, things were back to normal and I was a successful businessman. I had my own tea-shop that served hindus and muslims alike.
The year I turned twenty, I married a hindu girl. Yesterday, she gave birth to my boy. I can’t tell you how happy I felt when the doctor gave me the news. I think I have seen that doctor somewhere but cannot really recall. Anyway, you should see Ahmed someday, he looks so cute. When he grows up, he shall always do the right thing. Tomorrow we are moving to Bombay.
Here I am, at the railway station, wondering if I should leave this town. Hindus are killing muslims, trying to teach the miyas lessons they would remember all their lives. It is but obvious that the government is not interested in doing much about this mass murder. What is more disgusting is the ubiquitous observation that the government is instead promoting the riot from underground. The government wants us dead.
It had all started in front of my own eyes a mere three days ago at Ahmed’s shop. Ahmed was a good guy who had adopted me and given me home and work and a muslim name.
Three days ago, in his shop Ahmed beat up a guy who must have been not more than twenty. The guy had been teasing a younger girl sitting in the adjacent table for the past ten minutes. Ahmed did not start off with physical assault.Â Initially he was polite and all that but the guy didn’t seem to be in the mood to behave. Finally when Ahmed couldn’t take it any longer, he landed a slap. It was a hard slap. Blood oozed out of the mouth of the young man. Before he fled he abused Allah and his men.
‘I know that girl – she is a hindu’.
‘He was abusing Allah when you were thrashing him. He must have been a hindu too’.
‘Are hindus allowed to eve-tease women’?
‘How does it matter? Let them do what they want to do as long they don’t interfere with us. Why bother’?
‘I didn’t know whether you were borne to a hindu or a muslim when I adopted you kid. Why did I bother to do that‘?
I didn’t reply. For the first time it occurred to me that I might not be a real muslim, so what if I had a muslim name. Ahmed never bothered to teach me anything religious – he only taught me the importance of hard work and the courage to do the right thing. Ahmed had always done the right things. To Ahmed it didn’t matter who my real parents were. To Ahmed it didn’t matter who was teasing whom. There were certain things that were right and certain things that were wrong. To abuse a girl was wrong. To fight for the girl was right. Ahmed did the right thing by slapping that guy. The hindu guy.
The next day, they killed Ahmed and torched his shop. They had had tea there for the last eight years and one fine day they killed the owner of their favourite tea-shop and burned down his shop. The life of the adopted kid was spared after an inspection of his penis that showed no signs of Islam. But I was beaten up and told to keep my mouth shut if the police enquired. The police never enquired. This agitated the muslim friends of Ahmed who gheraoed the local police-station and demanded action. A hindu constable was minorly hurt. That’s how the riots began.
Since the last three days I have been running from here to there, occasionally making my way through heaps of smelling corpses and litters of blood-stained skin.
The train on platform number 1 just left. I have decided I won’t run anymore. I don’t think I can run anymore. Running away is not the right thing to do. I will do the right thing.