The river flowed on, beyond a curtain of mist, its coquettish laughter ringing out in the morning air. Today, its laughter seemed to hold the sighs of a mourning heart. On its lonely banks, sat a little girl. “Mamma, do wake up!” she cried, tugging at her mother’s sari, painted red by the blood gushing out of a bullet wound. Mother opened her eyes and screamed, “Run, Piu, run!”, as her hands fell limp across her breasts.
Piu ran for the bushes, as shadows appeared in the distance. The events of the past few hours made no sense to little Piu. Neighbours had barged in, one fine afternoon, as she sat reading Enid-Blyton in the porch. “You’ve killed our Prime Minister!” they had exclaimed, dragging her father out by his turban. Piu shuddered. What must have happened to him and her baby-sister, Minu? Mother had left her in the crib, when they fled through the garden-gate.
Piu heard footsteps approaching. From her hiding-place, she recognized Mukesh-Chacha, her father’s childhood-friend and their loving neighbor, who would often bring her goodies. Relieved, she wailed, “Mukesh-Chacha, save us!” All she heard was cruel laughter, as darkness descended upon her eyes.
It was dark when Piu finally woke up. Her white dress was drenched in blood- she heard the river sigh, as it caressed her wounds. But, she had no time to lose…she’d have to find Minu. All the fatigue of hours past seemed to have drained away. She ran homewards.
Piu felt her blood freeze momentarily. Hungry flames lolled over the home in which she had enjoyed a peaceful childhood. “Our place is on fire!” she screamed, rushing to Mukesh-Chacha’s house. The front door was locked. She made for the kitchen-door. “Why aren’t they responding?” she wondered, creeping in through the half-open door. Granny was in the kitchen, cradling Minu in her arms.
“Mukesh will come to know of her!” exclaimed Chachi.
“He won’t,” said Granny, and they exchanged a meaningful glance.
Chachi fished out the table-knife and turned to her mother-in-law, “Let’s have it done, now.”
In silence, they made their way to the bedroom, where the exhausted master-of-the-house lay in deep slumber. Piu saw two bangled arms raise the knife, one by one, and plunge it into the sleeping figure.
“You murdered our neighbours, even little Piu who rushed to you for protection,” muttered the old lady, as she collapsed before the mutilated corpse of her son.
Piu turned around to see Mother smiling at her.
“Let’s go,” Mother said.
“Where?” asked the little girl, her eyes wide in amazement.
“Far from the madding crowd,” smiled Mother.
The night shed silent tears as from tattered corpses scattered on streets, rose smiling men and women, marching slowly up, to their new home amidst the stars.
Over the mourning world of 1984, smiled a new dawn, and the river… it flowed gently on.