Sunaina was bent over her smartphone, video chatting away with her boyfriend, Amar. Her phone was always kept easily accessible but not easily noticeable even when she studied; or pretended to study.
She had been a good student till the 9th standard, scoring good marks, exam after exam. Her parents spoilt her silly, being the only child. Every good performance in the annual exams, her wish was their command. And so, after the 8th standard exams she asked for a smartphone.
The screen was bright. “Sunaina, kiss me. I just love the arch of your lips when you pout. Won’t you show me?”, Amar was pleading with a naughty smile on his lips.
Sunaina blushed, her skin flushed with goosebumps. Amar always had this effect on her when they chatted.
Precisely the reason why she loved him even though they had never met yet.
And precisely the reason for her falling grades as their chat sessions dragged into the late night.
The reason why her mother was spying on her, unknown to Sunaina.
Just as Sunaina moved the mobile camera to her pouting lips, her mom barged into the room.
Grabbing the phone from Sunaina’s hand, mom threw it against the wall. It fell to the ground in three separate pieces.
Mom slapped her across her cheeks and exclaimed angrily, “Is this how you study everyday? No wonder your grades are falling abysmally.”, and as she said this, another slap landed on Sunaina’s face.
“Mom! You are hurting me”, cried out Sunaina, tear drops flowing down her eyes.
“And who is this boy, you were making faces at? Is this the age you will indulge in such foolishness? Don’t venture on this path. Soon you will be on the path of no return.”, her mother was in no mood to let go.
The rebellious girl exclaimed, “But mom, I was just chatting. It’s harmless.”
“Harmless! Don’t try to teach me. I have seen many more summers than you. Soon that boy will start manipulating you. But I am just banging my head against the wall. Wait till your father is home.”, so saying she stormed into the kitchen.
“And start studying. Seriously. It’s not late yet.”, mom shouted from the kitchen.
Sunaina was fuming inside as she caressed her stinging cheeks. How dare mom hit her? She picked up the mobile parts and kept them on the table, deciding to get them repaired from the mobile shop down the street.
Sam swayed across the narrow street as he made his way to his tenement near the railway station, after having one too many.
If any new person tried to find their way through the narrow alleyways of Kushi Nagar, he would get lost. But Sam had lived these narrow alleys; nay he had suffered them.
He knocked on the ramshackle door.
“If you have again come drunk you can come tomorrow, you filthy drunkard.”, screamed Rina, his wife. The cacophony made by the utensils increased, proportionate to her anger.
“Foolish woman! Who do you think you are? You are just a lowly maid but behave like a queen! Open the door or I will break it down.”, and he started banging, disturbing the neighbours in the process.
Gangaram, his neighbour emerged from his hut hurling abuses.
“Sam, you nincompoop! If you don’t stop this daily drama…”, a knife flashing in his hand, as he held him by his collar, and slapped him violently.
“Gangaram…Ganga, my friend. Don’t hit me. It’s my shrew, she does not allow me to get in. I tell you, if this goes on like this, I will ask you to kill her.”
“What do you think, I am your slave or what? If your family drama doesn’t stop, I might as well kill you both and stop this daily annoyance.”, Gangaram shouted at the top of his voice.
Hearing him, Sam’s wife barged out of the tenement.
“Kill! Kill, you bloody bastard. At least it will solve all my troubles.”, she screamed at Gangaram, as her daughter cowered behind her, holding her mother’s pallu.
While Rina was defiant, her drunkard husband was grovelling at Gangaram’s feet.
“Both of you, get inside your house, and don’t disturb the neighbourhood with your daily whinings.” He kicked at Sam and stormed off into his own tenement.
Rina went in with her daughter, wildly swinging the door on her husband’s face. Somehow, with shivering hands, Sam managed to stop it from hitting his face, and closed it behind him.
“Are you going to give me something to eat, you prostitute!”
Rina flung the utensil in her hand at her husband, catching him off guard, as she screamed at him again, “How dare you, you imbecile, you nincompoop. What do you think, your piddling earnings will feed the family. Whatever little you earn, you drink it away. Don’t you forget, if you get to eat something, it is only because of me.” Then raising her voice further, “And don’t you dare stare at my daughter with those bloodshot eyes.”
“I am not staring at her. What can I do if my eyes are red.”, and lowering his voice, he added, “There are many things which I cannot control.”
“Yes, you bastard! You are a total waste. Now eat whatever there is. I am going to sleep. I have to go to work, early tomorrow.”
Hussein had just came home. After a tiring day, a bucket-full of water was the elixir to rejuvenate himself. He was drying his almost bald pate with a towel, when his wife, Rukhsana called him for dinner.
“How are dear Zeenat’s studies progressing?” he asked, as he partook the tasty biryani his wife had lovingly prepared for him.
“With Allah’s grace, our Zeenat is very mature. I don’t have any complaints. She studies with concentration and considering the amount of hard work she is putting in, she is bound to do well.”, Rukhsana’s pleasant expression was enough for Hussein to understand that everything was well on his home front.
Hussein’s colleagues knew him to be a God fearing, honest man. He was one of the few persons in his department, who was known for his honesty.
“Tomorrow is a busy day. Let’s sleep, I have to rise early, @5.00 o’clock.”, he said to his wife, while washing his hands.
“Please proceed, I will just wash these few dishes and join you soon.”
“Come, let me help so that it can be finished faster.”, Hussein volunteered.
“Oh, no. It’s only a few dishes, I will manage”, as she smilingly nudged him away from the kitchen.
The next day, after a very early breakfast, he left for his workplace after planting a quick kiss on little Zeenat’s forehead.
While proceeding on his bike, he saw a huddle of people around a crying woman. Curious, he stopped and got off his bike.
“Oh lady, why are you crying?”, he asked, while pushing away few of the people crowding around her.
“That man…that boy…on the bike, he pulled my mangalsutra as I was on my morning walk. The streets…sniff…are no longer safe in this city. Oh, what will my husband say. Please help me…”, the poor woman was lamenting.
“Don’t worry, madam. Tell me, what was he wearing, what colour was his bike, did you manage to see his face, how did he look…tell me anything you remember.”
By now, the crowd around her was looking at this tall stranger with admiration; admiration for the way he had taken charge of the situation.
One among them exclaimed enthusiastically , “I saw him. He was on a red coloured bike. But he was wearing a helmet, so couldn’t see his face. But his jacket had leather patches on the elbows.”
“Thank you so much. But anything else? Did anyone else see him?”, Hussein looked around expectantly.
This time it was the lady, “Yes…but…but, I did not see his face. But as he raced away, I could only see that he wore his hair long.”
“Ok, seems good. Please go home now, or should I drop you?”, he offered.
Whether it was the beard or the hawk-like nose which gave him a ferocious look, the lady was not comfortable; she declined.
With a quick adab, Hussein mounted his bike and zoomed off.
On the way to work, he passed the railway station, taking in the sights of common people, coming out or going in, lost in their own worlds.
Hardly had he gone about 3 kms. ahead, he saw another commotion in the street. However this time he had reached earlier and could clearly see a bike zooming into the distance…and the tell-tale long hair.
With his adrenaline pumping, Hussein shifted the gears on his own bike.
Soon he was within sniffing distance when the other biker realised someone was on his tail. Suddenly he inclined his bike to take a sharp left turn.
Braking sharply, Hussein followed suit. As the other rider tried the same manoeuvre again, Hussein was quick to kick the inclined bike, sending him sprawling across the road.
In a swift motion, Hussein was upon him and had pinned him to the floor. The dazed chain snatcher had lost the will to fight. Jerking off his helmet, Hussein landed two tight slaps on him.
Soon a crowd gathered, as it always does. Few men among the crowd tried to land some blows of their own, when Hussein hollered, “Back off! Let the police take care of this ruffian.”
Someone had already called the police meanwhile and soon their van arrived. The crowd did not fail to notice the respect which Hussein commanded from the men in uniform.
Sunaina was fuming, her hands shivering with anger and with what she was contemplating.
The loss of a mobile was nothing as compared to what she went through when her father came home.
“Sunaina!”, her father had thundered. It was only when he was really annoyed that he called her Sunaina, otherwise she was always his Sonya.
“Why am I working so hard, mollycoddling that good for nothing boss of mine? For you to flirt with every Tom, Dick and Harry?”, her father was firing at her, without giving her a chance to speak. Then without a warning he stormed out of the room and soon returned with a broom in hand.
Looking at her father in this belligerent mood, Sunaina cowered into the far corner of the room. But to no avail. The broom landed on her repeatedly. Hardly 6-7 strokes landed on her and she wasn’t unduly injured, but the strikes were accompanied by the choicest curses and that is what, broke her.
Finally she made up her mind. If her parents were tired of her then so be it.
She picked up a few clothes and accessories, dumped them in her backpack, and waited for the house to go quiet.
When she assured herself that her parents were fast asleep, she made her move. She knew her father always kept money handy, in the corner table in the bedroom. Sure enough, she was able to grab a few 2000’s, and she pocketed some without counting. She could do that later.
Picking up the backpack, she tiptoed out of the house, swearing never to return. If her parents suffered in the bargain, then suffer they must.
Leaving her neighbourhood was not a problem, no one noticed. But once she was out her walk became tentative. Just then, she saw an auto coming towards her and decided to go to the railway station.
As usual, Sam was swaying towards his hut, after his drinking session in a nearby toddy bar. While going past the railway station, he felt an urge to ogle at the scantily clad models on the magazines displayed on the ramshackle newspaper stall of his friend, Munna.
“Munna…Munna, my friend. Anything new, any new items.”, as He lasciviously scanned through the magazine covers on display.
“No man. Nothing new. Nowadays, it is very difficult to get such magazines. Tough luck, man.”, then suddenly he went quiet but his eyes were following something…or someone.
Sam turned to look in the direction of Munna’s stare. He saw her too. A girl, who appeared not more than 14-15 years, but drawing attention to herself, not the least due to the fact that she was alone.
The two of them stared at her and then at each other. “Shall we try? Let’s…”, an eager Sam hissed.
“No, no…are you mad? There are cameras.”, said a tentative Munna.
“Ahhh…that only means, you are in the mood, isn’t it, naughty boy.”, smiled Sam evilly.
When he found Munna respond with a shy smile, he pushed him further, “Come on, go home. Prepare the bed, or whatever you have. Await me there, we will have something to devour tonight.”, as he winked at his friend.
Hussein was dead tired. Throughout the day he had been engrossed in a particularly challenging case, which remained unsolved. Unsatisfied, but stubborn to resolve it the next day, come what may, he drove past the railway station, desperate to reach home, wind down and relax.
Just a few yards ahead, he saw a disparate couple, which spiked his curiosity. The man, appeared quite ragged and scruffy, but was accompanied by a girl, who was following him few steps back, but her head darting from side to side, as if unsure about the surroundings. She was comparatively well dressed.
Hussein slowed down, his protective instincts taking over. He decided to park the bike and follow the couple on foot. He was unsure; it was entirely possible that the girl was the man’s girlfriend or even a relative.
Sometimes the girl stopped but the man was quick to grab her hand and lead her ahead. Hussein found it strange but did not intervene.
Suddenly the couple took a turn in an alley to the left and disappeared. Hussein reached the turning; the alley was empty.
Am pushed at a door in the alley and nudged the girl inside and put on the light. Sunaina was surprised to see another person inside, lying on a cot.
“Don’t be afraid, girl. I am very concerned about you so I didn’t want you to remain alone on the platform. The next train is expected at 4.30 in the morning. This world is not good. Had you had anything to eat or should I arrange something.”, then seeing the girl tentatively watching Munna, he assured, “Oh, don’t worry about him. He is my nephew.”
Sunaina’s heart was hammering inside her chest. She did not have a good feeling about her situation and regretted her foolishness in accepting this man’s purported kindness at the station, when he had offered her a shelter. She now wanted to go home.
“I want to go home.”, she blurted, her eyes welling up with tears.
“Yes, Yes, we will take you to your house, but in the morning. Not at this time, it is very dangerous”, drawled Sam as he stole a look at Munna, from the corner of his eyes. Munna restrained a snigger.
“If you are not hungry, you can sleep on this cot.” Then continuing, he said, “Don’t you worry, we will sleep outside.”, so saying, he pushed Munna and followed him outside, closing the door behind him.
Sunaina sat for a while not knowing what to do. She was sweating, more from fear than from the hot environment of the hut. She lay down on the cot on her side, pulling her knees towards her chest in a fetal pose, feeling very vulnerable.
She did not hear the door opening again. But suddenly she felt the cot vibrate, a whiff of alcohol, the warmth of a body touching hers and she let out a piercing scream. Next moment, a palm covered her mouth violently, muffling her breath. She passed out.
Hussein was trying to check where the couple had disappeared when suddenly he saw a light being put on in a nearby hut. He decided to keep a watch for sometime. No harm in being a little late going home.
In about five-ten minutes, two men came out of hut. Hussein was surprised as the girl was nowhere to be seen. They took quick swigs from a bottle; surely it was alcohol. As they loitered outside, Hussein felt he was being unduly suspicious.
Finally he decided to walk back to his bike. He had hardly walked 15-20 yards, when a piercing scream rent the air. He turned back towards the source of the sound and started running in its general direction; the two men were nowhere to be seen.
“I brought her here, so…”, Sam signalled Munna to step out with a wave of his hand. Munna was giggling hysterically, he had just reached the door, when the door slammed into his face violently. Munna tottered backwards, lost his footing, and hit his head against a trunk in the corner. He passed out.
Hearing the door banging, Sam stumbled to his feet, when a hammer-like fist landed on his face. It was enough to knock him out.
Hussein saw a girl lying on the cot, unconscious. He saw a water bottle lying nearby, took some water in his palm, and sprinkled it on her face.
Sunaina woke up with a start and withdrew backwards in fear, tears running down her face. “Don’t hurt me. I want to go home.”, she sobbed.
“Hush…don’t worry, I am from the police, don’t worry.” But looking at the unbelieving girl, he fished out the ID from his pocket.
Sunaina just broke down in violent sobs, unsure. Hussein patted her on her hair, trying to comfort a really distressed girl.
Finally he escorted her out of the hut, calling for women constables from the police station.
Soon a police van had arrived, the two injured men were handcuffed and pushed into the van while a crowd, which had gathered hearing the sirens, was busy filming the drama unfolding before them.
Sunaina is back home. Her parents are just grateful that their daughter is back safely. She has now started concentrating on her studies yet again. Her parents too, make it a point to interact more with her. They have learnt a very important life lesson, the hard way.
Sam is cooling his heels in the lockup with Munna for company. They have been slapped with section 347 and section 372.
Both are bound to serve minimum of 10 years in jail.
Unable to bear the insult and taunts of the neighbours, Sam’s wife left the locality along with her small daughter, and shifted to a far away slum, where her cruel husband’s ill repute will not be a hindrance for them to set up a new life.
Hussein was being feted by the Department. His wife and daughter were among the admiring onlookers. Hussein was invited to say a few words after he had been honoured by his department on saving a girl from a life of sure damnation.
“I am highly honoured to be feted by my colleagues.”, he started .
“But I was just doing my duty. It was The Almighty’s will that I was at the right place at the right time. It was just a game of providence, I would say. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had ignored my hunch.”
Hussein continued, “However I was disturbed how the young girl had ended up where she had. I had the opportunity to talk to her parents and am convinced that all this could have been easily avoided if the communication channels within the four walls of their home were open.”
His colleagues were listening to him in rapt attention .
“The parents were happy in providing all her physical wants forgetting a child’s main need is a feeling of belonging. Over a period of time, the girl, who just wanted some love and positive attention, did not get it where she should have got it; inside her own house. And when she started receiving attention from her so-called friends, she started to crave it to the point of ignoring her studies, her overall development.”
“ Then a single incidence of parental discipline was enough for her to leave them and abandon her home. There are more than enough beasts of prey in the big, bad world to feast on an easy kill.”
“ So I sincerely request all parents to work hard at home to ensure a conducive atmosphere for their children which will help them thrive in whatever they choose to do in their lives. Once again thank you, I am utterly grateful to this department for moulding me into an empathetic human being.”
His speech, which came from the bottom of his heart, was greeted with a standing ovation and a few wet eyes.
At the end, little Zeenat came running towards him and climbed onto his shoulder while his wife proudly held her husband’s arm.