Chapter One: The Pledge
After the darkness of the night, Sun gave away a hue of copper to the sky. The beaked chorus of birds filled the air. Like any other summer morning on the hilly regions of Kozhikode, the atmosphere was music to the ears and painting to one’s eyes. Contrastingly, the mood in Siddiqui’s residence right beside the hill was that of chaos.
Early morning Namaz by younger generations was followed by Aarti ritual by Radha Siddiqui, the oldest member of the Siddiqui family and Grandma to three naughty kids. She wouldn’t let her son, Iqbal, start the car without her special protection Aarti even when the camphor fire triggered her asthma. While Iqbal thought of this as a waste of time, Grandma knew that her prayers were much needed for the long journey from Kozhikode to Mathura. This was to be her first visit to her father’s home after she got married in the early 80s.
A few days back, news of her father’s death reached her over a phone call from her grumpy elder brother, Lakshmikant. Her family mourned the demise of their patriarch by hosting a seven-day mourning ceremony. Five different types of yajnas* were carried on the first day to liberate his five senses. But, she couldn’t wait for this ceremony to get over to meet her four sisters and their families.
Her late father, Umakant Chaturvedi, took an oath to never allow her and her husband, Abdul, into Chaturvedi residence until his last breath. No other family members raised their voice against him and vowed to uphold his oath. The sisters were in touch with each other via sporadic postcards, phone calls, and Skype sessions with their children’s help. Though they never met each other. In two days, Iqbal would make her wish come true. Her fear of airplane travel made them plan a road trip.
Everyone got busy with calling dibs for the best seats. Mrs Iqbal, Ayesha was busy scrolling her newsfeed, browsing an article about the notorious Koyla Daaku*. His murderous loots on the western coast roads made her hands tremble. Her coffee tasted bitter than usual. Iqbal proclaimed that it’s not worthwhile to take the longer hinterland route than take the scenic coastal road in fear of some Daaku whose name reminded him of a B grade movie villain.
He ushered his daughter, Nazia, and the twins, Nafees and Nabil, towards the car. Grandma Siddiqui was already in the car, ready to go. She had her big blue shoulder bag in one corner. Underneath her bag, she hid a crate with Lucky, the family cat in it. She didn’t intend to leave the cat home alone for a week. The thought of Lucky accidentally brushing against one of her gas burners and asphyxiating itself scared her. Her son didn’t like his car smelling of cat faeces. Grandma’s secret was well kept as no one noticed Lucky, who slept placidly.
She sat in the middle of the backseat with Nafees and Nabil on either side of her. Iqbal, Nazia, and Ayesha sat in front. They left Kozhikode at 6.15, an hour later than the scheduled time. It took them thirty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city. Iqbal started driving north and reached National Highway 66 which ran parallel to the western coast. His face glimmered with a smile as the speedometer touched triple digits. The kids got busy with their parent’s brand new iPhone 11s. They were regularly intervened by Grandma to make sure there are no fights between them. Ayesha took this opportunity to take a nap which eluded her for a long time due to her jam-packed schedule.
Grandma pointed out interesting details of the scenery. The trees of western ghat were full of silver-white sunlight, and the meanest of them sparkled. In no time, they reached Kannur for a scrumptious breakfast. Grandma smuggled some chicken korma and orotti* to feed Lucky. Rest of the family members were busy taking selfies near a gorilla statue. Within two minutes, Lucky was back in the crate and resumed his sleep.
‘Let’s quickly get through Kerala so that we don’t have to look at it much,’ Nazia tapped her dad’s arm coaxing him to throttle the accelerator.
‘In my time,’ hissed grandma, ‘children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else’. Nazia reciprocated with an eye-roll. Soon, iPhones’ battery gave up, children took naps. When they woke up, they played a game where each one chose a cloud, and the other two guessed what shape it looked like. Nafees spotted a cloud shaped like a gun and Nabil spotted a cloud that looked like a broken skull. The cat napped without any break. Grandma catnapped and woke up every few minutes disturbed by her own snoring. Heavy breakfast had its effects on Iqbal as he was dawdling at a speed of 40kmph*.
Chapter Two: The Turn
They took off the highway and entered a muddy road as per their car’s GPS. The dirt road was hilly, and there were sharp curves on dangerous ridges that made the journey all the more troubling. Iqbal couldn’t judge the depth of a nasty pothole resulting in the whole car jumping in shock. Grandma’s eyes dilated as she got knocked back, disturbing the delicate shoulderbag-crate arrangement which made Lucky spring onto Iqbal’s head. It made him push his brakes and accelerator at once in a state of panic, toppling the car.
Kids were thrown onto the dashboard. Ayesha was knocked out of the door onto the ground outside the toppled car. Iqbal remained in his driver’s seat. Lucky held onto Iqbal’s face like a caterpillar clinging to a vine. He was miffed at his mother, who curled up in the back seat. She was hoping that her back was broken so that his wrath would not come down on her all at once.
Iqbal flung the cursed cat out of the window. He got down to look for his injured wife, with a broken and bleeding skull, clutching the car’s handle to get up.
‘We’ve had an Accident!, ‘the twins screamed in delight. Both of them got resounding slaps from Nazia who was crying and helping her Grandma get out of the car. With dead phones, injured wife, and a totaled car, things couldn’t have gone worse for Iqbal. He hoped that someone would take the same path and help them out of this misery. Grandma started calling for Lucky, which was nowhere to be found. A black Scorpio approached them from the turn.
Iqbal recognized the car immediately since it had followed them from Kannur’s breakfast joint for some time and then teed off. He waved at the driver, who got out of the car and stood by the side, looking down at them. He examined each one of them while they gazed at him with hope. His spade-shaped beard, bristly mustache, and a hawkish nose were underlined by his titan shoulders.
He gestured at his passengers to get down, and soon, the family was surrounded by six massively built men wielding pistols and knives. While others had a puzzled look on their face, Ayesha recognized the driver, Koyla Daaku. She hobbled towards him and adjured him to spare them. She was the only one who knew what to come. Iqbal dragged her back and gave his wallet, chain, and car keys to Koyla, also gesturing his mother and wife to give away their ornaments.
‘Don’t go near him, Iqbal, he is Koyla Daaku!’, screamed Ayesha as she pulled him towards her.
‘Lady, it seems that you know the drill, tell me who would like to tell this story?’
‘Please don’t kill us!’, she begged him.
‘Lady,’ Koyla sneered at Ayesha, ‘would you mind calling your kids to sit down by you? Kids make me nervous. I want you all to come together so that this gets done swiftly.’
Grandma shrieked in horror as she scrambled to the ground near him, fell at his feet and begged him to let them go.
‘You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?’
‘I would hate to have to…’ He replied, pointing his pistol at someone. Grandma turned back to look where the weapon pointed. A bullet emerged from it and struck Ayesha’s wounded head as she dropped dead. The children screamed in horror, trying to wake their mother.
‘Listen,’ Grandma screeched. ‘I know you are a good man coming from nice people, don’t kill the kids, please don’t!’. She tried to get him to point his gun to the ground.
‘Amma, this is not an Ekta Kapoor drama, this is a Kashyap movie. You remind me of my mother, and yes, I come from the nicest people. My dad pimped my poor mother to all the Goans to fill his belly with the finest liquor around. One such drink made him conceive me.’
‘But, these kids, they remind me of my siblings who abandoned my mother and me to lead their life. I hate them,’ he said with a look of disgust on his face. He gestured one of his henchmen to huddle the kids together.
As soon as the henchman stepped towards the kids, Iqbal got hold of him and punched him on his face. His associates rushed and kicked Iqbal in the gut. He fell on the ground and they assaulted him as he wriggled in pain. Grandma was still clinging to Koyla’s feet, begging him to let her grandkids live. The henchman huddled the kids together. With three accurate shots, the count of corpses increased to four.
Iqbal’s body lay motionless on the road with blood oozing out from his mouth, nose, and eyes. One of his eyeballs fell off its socket and got crushed under the attacker’s boot. Grandma rushed towards her son trying to fend them away. It didn’t take her long to realize that her son had already breathed his last. She got up and cursed the attackers, hit them, kicked them to no avail as her weak body was no match for theirs. She crawled towards Koyla and gestured him to kill her, pointing his pistol to her head.
‘Amma, I won’t kill you. Koyla always leaves a victim behind to tell his story’, he addressed himself in the third person.
‘You…You are the first person to call me a good man in a long, long time. You…you are unusual. We won’t leave you behind to tell this story. We can use someone like you to recreate many such scenes,’ he declared while Grandma cried at her loss.
Chapter Three: The Prestige
Four months later…somewhere near Jaipur
Four college girls, on their way to Hawa mahal, were stopped by an elderly hitchhiker on a deserted road. She was alone, her tattered clothes underlined her helplessness. The girls decided to give her a ride. They got down with a bottle of water and offered her to have a sip. She threw it away and screamed at them to go away. Their puzzled face turned purple in fear when a group of six men emerged from nearby bushes. In a few minutes, four bruised dead bodies were laid bare on the ground with bullets embedded into their skulls.
Grandma got down into the car with the attackers and left for home. Koyla used Grandma’s unassuming looks to great use. He promised to drop her off at Mathura in return for such ‘favors’. With each loot, they changed their car and appearance which made them hard to be traced. Their success ratio quadrupled in the last four months. Grandma knew that all this was a ruse to take advantage of her and kill her at the end.
After two months, the gang and grandma reached Mathura, waiting for one final loot before they diverged towards their ways. Six more innocents were done away with, and an Innova was sold off with loot worth around four lakhs in gold and cash. Grandma offered to cook them a treat. Koyla took leave from the feast and went to a nearby brothel to celebrate his manhood. Two chickens were butchered, and a carton of local liquor was emptied for the feast. Grandma promised them the best Chicken biryani of their lives. But, she withheld revealing her secret ingredient. She had gotten it from a local chemist shop a day before.
The party started at midnight and continued till dawn the next day. A beacon of light pierced through the textured panes of glass. Five sets of eyes closed without realising that it was the last ray of light they would ever see. Grandma waited for this moment with bated breath.
A few hours later
Koyla returned from his adventure and found the home empty. He called for his henchmen without any response. Grandma emerged from the kitchen with a smile on her face and a cup of tea in her hand.
‘Amma, where are the guys?’
‘They went out to have some fun, they will be back soon.’
‘So, Amma, how are you feeling on your last day with us?’
‘Very delightful, son. In fact, as a thank-you you gift, I prepared my special meat cutlet for you. Hold this chai cup, let me get them for you.’
Koyla took a sip from the cup and felt refreshed. Grandma returned with five meat cutlets neatly arranged on a tray. He took a bite and loved it, and within a few minutes, the tray was empty.
‘Beta, how were the cutlets?’
‘Delicious! loved them!’
‘Of course, you loved them, they were your henchmen.’
‘What?’ he asked with a puzzled look on his face as he saw grandma untying her dupatta and take something out.
Before he could react, three bullets from Grandma’s pistol pierced through various parts of his body.
‘These are for my grandkids.’
He tried to take out his own pistol when two more bullets paid a visit to his skull. His vision went blank as he crashed onto the floor.
‘And these…are for my son and his wife.’
During these past six months, she had sixteen chances to escape. But she didn’t want to. Her vengeance bubbled up to the brim. She lost her humanity with various killings. Her only motive was to rise, revolt, and revenge. Unlike her piping hot criminal-cutlets, the revenge was served cold.
She reached the Chaturvedi residence that evening. Lakshmikant hugged his sister with tears in his eyes, a sister who was assumed dead.
Yajna – A ritual sacrifice with a specific objective.
Daaku – Bandit
Kmph – Kilometers per hour
Orotti – A traditional South Indian dish made with grated coconut and rice flour
A decade back, I was introduced the world of experimental fiction by a friend of mine, a voracious reader. Some of those stories read during that time – Hyperbole and a half, Good country people, Everything that rises must converge, This too can be yours, Hot Pink, A good man is hard to find, and many others stuck with me for a long time. 2015’s Tamasha, an Imtiaz Ali film, sparked the creative mind in me where the protagonist is lost in his world of stories, which mixed and matched with each other blurring the lines of a coherent narrative. My story follows a similar trend and is inspired by many stories, including the ones mentioned above. I would like to state that this is my tribute to O’Connor, who is a significant influence on my writing journey.
Before I leave you alone, here is something you will enjoy:
Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird, or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”
‘Tamasha’ is my humble attempt to follow the tricky ‘Magic trick’ narration. Thanks for your time!
Photo By: Cristian Newman
(This is an entry in ArttrA-4, a room8 writing game at ArtoonsInn. We’d much appreciate you rating the story and leaving a review in the comments.)