The Mumbai airport is empty today. Weary and jetlagged, I walk with slumped shoulders on which two huge bags are hung. The bags are marked with security tags, bearing my name. Wonder is taking me; my eyes look hither and thither in surprise. The city of dreams; the city that never sleeps – is filled with a melancholy atmosphere. I am surprised at the quiet; a nasty silence that filled the air.
As time passes by, I distrust the very emptiness as I walk. I doubt in my heart; I knew it by instinct, even as I set foot on the land; that something was amiss. I am not aware of it – not aware of the blood rivers that now flow down the very roads that were meant for civic transportation.
Here and there, policemen run; some look at me with doubtful eyes. Some even comment on me. I am curious to know what has happened to the city. I walk through a long corridor and come out into the open. The sky is a little dark; fumes and dust fill the air. I cough aloud. The porch of the airport is empty.
I walk a few miles; I cannot find any means of public transportation. The streets are filled with platoons from the army; clad in their khaki uniforms. Many of them hold a walkie-talkie in their hands; speaking to their superiors, reporting the status. Many of them don't look at me; but there are also many who do. One of them walks up. I must say I admire his style. He is of a fair complexion, with an air of command. He walks briskly, his shoulders straight and broad. He is carrying an AK-47 with him. A sudden pang of fear seizes my heart.
He speaks to me; his voice rigid and tough. "Who are you, Sir? You walk without care in a city that is struck by riots. A total emergency has been called and we have been asked to shoot at sight. Since you seem to be unaware of it and you are an outsider, I might try and make an exception without consulting my superiors. Pray, show me your identity."
I take out my Indian passport and hand it over to the officer. He briefly checks out my identity and returns it back to me. "Sir," he says, "Do not walk about the city thus. There would be many of us on the road who would first shoot you and then realize their folly. Not many are like me, who like to fondle with words. I do not like to kill unnecessarily. As per your passport, your house is just five streets away to the left and there are no patrolling parties there. You may walk free. But walk faster. The city has become evil."
I thank the Officer for his kindness, upon which he smiles and returns back to his post. I walk away, my legs move faster.
The windows are closed and the hutments are empty. I turn upon the road to my left and my eyes are filled with disgust. I find strewn hands and rolling eyeballs, broken legs and chopped livers. I feel sick; feel like vomiting. Blood flows on the road in little rivers. I pull my hand over my nose, try to block the dirty smell. I find that I cannot.
I jump over the bloody mess but the footholds I find are not entirely clean either. I see long swords dropped; they have feasted on human blood. I walk a little further. I keep chanting the name of God. My hands tremble; my body shivering. Why has the world grown so wicked?
I see beheaded bodies; bodies of men pulled to the side. An army vehicle zooms by; totally ignoring me – the lone walker. The sun is glaring hot now; nine O clock in the early morning. I am weary, I did not expect such a welcome. The city that I loved has become evil; full of shadows.
I cross two more intersections. The blood rivers are meeting there, forming a black pool. Glass panes lie all over the concrete road. Broken streetlights and cut wires lay strewn across the road. A hose pipe lies cut and spurts of water fountains out of it. I shake my head at the gloomy weather.
I hear noises. They come from my left. They are kind of rough, some are too hoarse. They speak Bombaiyya Hindi with almost a Muslim dialect. I curse my luck a little. It is a Hindu – Muslim riot; I dread these wars on the basis of religion. Why do religions exist? What is their motive? Nobody seems to understand; nobody follows their religious doctrines with true hearts; rather, all are seemingly hell bent on discussing which religion is the true path to God.
The footsteps approach; they are running. From an alley they come out; into the open. They have knives and long swords in their hands. They are all clad in white gowns, with white pants underneath. They also wear a white cap on their head. Many are fair in complexion and have broad shoulders. They look at me with curious eyes.
One of them comes forward. I think he is the leader. He comes towards me and stands just a little farther. He smiles a little; that smile makes me a little uncomfortable. I wince just by looking at his eyes. He is about 5 feet 9 inches tall, a burly chap with strong arms. His forehead bears a small cut just above his right eye. Downright evil he looks to me.
He moves ahead a one step.
"Who are you?" he asks me in his hoarse voice. "Don't you know this city has grown evil for your kind of guys? For what you did to our community, we shall never forgive." And then he came and hit me on my chins.
Blood gushed out of my mouth. My lips were bruised. My head swirled and my eyes dimmed a little. The force of the blow was too much to bear. I lay on the ground, coughing, with my face downward. I slowly tilt my head towards him. He bends down and looks at me with sneering eyes.
Then I faint.
The next time I wake up, I find myself, two hours thence, with my hands tied up. I try to wriggle but the ropes are tight. I am in a room under a thatched roof, with beams of sunlight breaking in through peeping holes. I am sitting on a wooden chair that creaks as I wriggle. I stamp my foot out loud, cursing my luck. The room is accessed through a door which is now closed. I think my life is about to end. But I wave off such pessimist thoughts immediately.
I am alone. I have never been so alone. I am in a lair from which there seems no escape. I am stuck up with some religious psychedelics. Religion has become a drug which induces to fight. I thought religion was a way to God, but it now has become a warpath. And men are easily susceptible to such wayward principles.
There is no light except for the beams of sunlight. Dust fills the very air that I am breathing. I choke and cough. My mouth is bloodied. Dry blood still forms a piece of cake around my lips. I am unable to move them either. It pains, something like a dull throb.
I hear some vehicles zoom by. I am on some main road. I try to scream but cannot. But suddenly, the door opens and the sudden light blinds my eyes. I try to shield them but cannot lift my hands. I curse again.
Two men barge in through the opened door. One of them is the man who hit me. The other I have not seen before; he is a man as tall as the other familiar one; but is quite thin and athletic. He is quite morose and his right hand bears a huge wound.
The familiar man brings a wooden red stool and sits in front of me. I feel a little uncomfortable. He likes it and wears a wry smile.
"I am Salim Sheikh" he says to me. "And the other one is Mohammed Ghazi. We are the sufferers; and you guys just kill us because of our religion. You people don't have any sympathy for us. Your political party instigated this evil and so you have to suffer too. Make you die a living death." And he laughed again aloud. I shuddered; my heart clasped itself with fear and terror.
I looked here and there; searching for some ways to escape. I just wanted to go home.
"Please, let me go home." I said.
"Let you go home? When our people were going home from their work, your goons came and harried us. What do you say to that?"
"Then why don't you just kill me?" I shouted.
"We want you to die the same way some of our men died. A slow death."
"No, please, either kill me or just let me go home."
"You don't offer choices to us. There is only one choice to you. And that is our choice."
My eyes flashed with anger and fear, both together.
My hopes grow dim but they never fade. I lift up my eyes and stare straight into the eyes of my captor who seems unnerved.
"Why are you doing this?" I ask
"Ask your kin that question. Ask your community. Ask your parties. Ask your people. Why did they destroy Babri Masjid in Ayodhya? What wrong have we done? You can build your Rama temple just behind for all we care. But you say that it is disputed. And then you kill our people. Why?"
"Because of some religious fanatics, you are trying to kill me?"
"Do not try to play with me, damn Hindu. Explain to me, tell me, whether to stay back in India after the Partition, was our mistake? Was it our folly that we stayed behind? We stayed because we loved India. And now your people are bent on calling us terrorists and branding us unpatriotic. When your people slaughter us, should we keep quiet? Tell me, if a stranger barges in your house and kills your family, will you not seek revenge?"
"I will. But through proper means."
"By proper means, you refer to the judiciary. It will take years to resolve and the whole freaking system is corrupt. You think I should go to the cops. Bah! You people are dirty swine."
I still kept my patience.
He started again. "We have always felt left out. Always, you people have called us invaders. What with your campaign for Hindustan? Your party, that thrice blasted Sena, they started it all. The riots. And now something is going to happen. You will all be dead." He laughed again.
I looked at him, anger written on my face.
"Don't look at me like that. Lower your bloody eyes. Not your authority here, you dog. Look down and just listen or I will blacken your filthy eyes."
"Wait, your concerns are right but you have no right to kill. I agree that the other party that you mention has done wrong but inquiries are being held. Do not take law in your hands. Religion was not created by God. It was created by us. Look, I am no Hindu, no Sindhi, no Muslim, I am just a man. I follow nothing. Why are you holding a Jihad? What has my family done to you? I have small kids who go to school. Why deprive them of their father? Why make my wife a widow? You all believe in God, but will your God forgive you, grant you jannat as your community holds, when he judges you for the sins that you have committed on this earth? No, he will not. Jihad means holy war but it is fought to defend yourself from the unholy world. Not to take it as a weapon and kill whom you will. You are destroying yourself by participating in the riots."
"You say you have no religion, yet you believe in God. But how can we take your word for it?"
"You have to believe me, please, let me go home."
He looks at his companion. The other guy just nods his head.
He removes a knife from underneath his pants and slits open the cords that bind my hands.
"You can go. We don't intend to kill you. We never did. We only wanted to get our word out. Go now."
I stand up. I look with gratitude. I walk to the door which is only a few steps away. My feet are a little sore. I halt when I reach the door. I silently turn my head back.
I bend down as if to tie my shoelace. I pick up a small 9mm from my socks. I point the gun towards them. Their face goes deathly white. They have realized their mistake.
"Fool!" I say to them, "When you should just have killed me and walked away, you talk. If you want to kill, just kill. Don't speak."
I fire two bullets into each of their legs. They fall down, writhing in pain. I now wear a sneering smile.
"I came here to counter you. I deliberately let myself fall into your hands, even when I knew I was taking a great risk. But I also knew that you would talk first. So, I was willing to take that risk. That airport walk was a farce. I knew about the riots beforehand. I had my reports sent to you. Remember Ahmad Hussain. He was my informant. He said to you that I was willing to make peace between your kind and ours. I had orders from above to shoot you but you were impossible to find. Your men had gone underground. Then one day, I found you in the Carnival Bar, Worli. I knew Ahmad Hussain worked for the bar. So, I contacted him and asked him to tell you that which you already received. Then you made a plan to abduct me and tell what you would and what you now already have. Everything now goes according to my original plan. Now, you were telling me, that something is going to happen. Tell me quickly."
He spits on the dusty floor. His companion still writhes in pain, screaming.
"Now, now. Don't be silent, though you have the right to remain so. But I know something very bad is going to happen. And I will prevent it."
And then I shoot the remaining bullets into their heads.
I then walk out. I find myself on the streets, happy with what I have accomplished. Two of the greatest threats to Mumbai were eliminated. My men had found RDX in the warehouses nearby. I phoned my superior and told them about my mission. They called me quickly to the headquarters.
A question then arose within me. "Did I kill them because they belonged to Islam?"
Then my conscience answered, "No, I killed them for my country."