“A worthless piece of garbage, is this what I wanted?” Roshan Singh Meena, called Bappa, roared on the scrawny house help. People, circling around the overweight politician were annoyed too. The seriousness of the mistake was as big as serving a glass of not so chilled water. Anticipating the severity of the punishment, the malnourished offender was shivering in fear.
“He is not worth your time and anger Bappa,” a man of average height and lean build entered the room and interrupted.
Bappa’s attention immediately shifted on him. “Ah, Vasu… just the man I was about to call.” He stretched his fingers embellished with gold rings, and made a gesture with his right hand to signal his associates to leave.
“Some son of a b*** has threatened me. If I do not withdraw my name from the upcoming election, he will forward the videos of me having a go at a Dalit girl at my guesthouse to Mohan Das, the leader of the opposing party. He has sent me this clip to prove the worth of his claim,” Bappa uttered in an exasperated voice and showed the video clip. “If he makes it public, I will be doomed. Vasu, I want you to find the man who has dared to invade my privacy. I can’t afford to have blood on my hands. Find him and pull his entrails out on my behalf,” Bappa ranted angrily.
“I will try to free you from your worries,” Vasudev sounded calm as usual.
“My worries will end once you will retrieve those videos and delete every single clip in my presence. Take this. It will encourage you to move your muscles faster,” Bappa threw a heavy brown-colored envelop which landed in Vasu’s lap.
Vasudev, the supervisor of the only timber mill of Shivpuri District, and resident of Bhavkhedi village was a man of many skills. However, his position as a supervisor was the most humble identity amongst many other roles he played.
The maximum population of Bhavkhedi was Dalits, the untouchables. Vasudev had eased the lives of those underprivileged, poverty-ridden souls to some extent by providing money and job opportunities at the timber mill. There were occasions when upper cast big shots and politicians longed to quench their bodily thirst, with chosen Dalit girls. He was the only reason they couldn’t force any unwilling soul.
Vasudev was privy to the dirty secrets of some people placed high in the hierarchy of power, and he had his ways of using them like a skilled card player. Those powerful rats hated him for that but couldn’t end his life. They needed him for the unspeakable tasks. So, even though a mercenary, for the less fortunate lower casts, he was no less than a god.
“Destroy the SIM card which you have used to call Bappa and give me the memory chip. Go somewhere else. Keep a low profile until I contact you,” Vasudev instructed one of his acquaintances and mounted his Royal Enfield. He needed to shed some blood as promised.
“You can now celebrate Bappa. The troublemaker has been identified and taken care of,” Vasudev assured the anxious politician.
“But where are the clips? And, who was the troublemaker?” Bappa’s jitteriness persisted.
Vasudev paused for effect before stating, “It was one of your obedient subordinates.” Bappa’s face darkened but before he could ask anything, Vasudev continued, “You once had slapped him publicly for defying you. He held and nurtured a grudge and at the right opportunity, recorded one of your amorous trysts to get back at you. He wanted to publicly shame you by giving the clip to the opposition.”
Bappa mouthed a string of expletives as Vasudev handed him the memory chip. As always, he staged a flawless drama without casting aspersions on his own role. It went perfect.
Later that evening, he pondered.
The Bhagwad Gita states that Lord Krishna keeps track of our karma and maintains the balance of good and evil on earth. Am I not doing the same? I helped Bappa to win the election. But, I detest what he and his cronies do to the Dalit girls. It’s time for some karmic payback. He should get the taste of his own medicine. So what if I earn a bit of Moolah in the process? I deserve the compensation. And, people need it too.
But, I wonder what it makes me – a messiah or a demon?
“Kaka*, take this money. Buy the pesticides you need for your crops.”
“Chachi*, repair your shed with this.”
“Tau*, take this and repay your loan.”
As always, Vasudev distributed happiness and smoothed out wrinkles from a few withered faces with a fraction of his ill-gotten gains.
Vasudev poured himself some fine scotch and looked at the twinkling stars. Bappa’s associate, a mere pawn in the game, had wet himself in fear when he saw Vasudev’s shining dagger. With shivering hands, he had shown Vasudev his one-year-old daughter’s photo with a faint hope to soften him. But that certainly hadn’t stopped Vasudev’s bloodthirsty dagger from gutting him.
An orphan, Vasudev had been raised by a gang of beggars. By the time he reached adolescence, he drifted away from them and wandered a lot before reaching the Shivpuri district of MP and settling in Bhavkhedi. Over time, the sharp-witted fellow managed to become an irreplaceable ally for power mongers and a savior for the underprivileged Dalits.
The images of his life’s journey ran through his mind. They stopped at the cherubic face of that one-year-old from the photo.
The entire village clustered around the house in mourning. Corpses of two nearly seven-year-old boys were laid on the uneven ground. Their faces had been beaten to pulp.
“At the crack of the dawn, Bappa sahib had caught them defecating in open near his house. Furious, he sent his men to punish them. They hit my kids in the head with a stone and kept hitting until they died. Hai mere bachche*,” the anguished and inconsolable mother narrated the barbarous incident, her voice choked with tears.
Vasudev cringed when he witnessed the incident. Cases of oppression and humiliation of Dalits were common in Bhavkhedi. But, this was sheer brutality and proof of Bappa’s megalomania. The lifeless bodies reminded Vasu of the cherubic face again and involuntarily he shuddered at the memory.
Bhavkhedi police chowki*
“Sir, over the years, there have been many incidents of local Dalits being the victim of casteism. Do you think your department has been taking proper action to reduce such unpleasant happenings?” Chaitanya Rao, a young crime reporter asked the officer in charge.
The officer gave him a dismissive look and continued scratching his ear with a thin roll of paper.
Chaitanya repeated the question.
“We know our job and we are doing it,” the officer replied this time.
“But the data isn’t saying so. This recent incident of brutal killings has attracted the whole country’s attention towards the existing casteism in Bhavkhedi. And yet, the police have made no arrests,” Chaitanya continued.
“Look, uppity reporters like you, keep coming and asking these questions without knowing the facts. Those children’s murder has nothing to do with casteism. Violent squabbles between two families over a disputed land resulted in their death. We went to arrest the murderer, but he had escaped before we reached the crime scene. Our team has been searching for him. I know someone has recorded some bullshit video and uploaded it on social media. Well, now, you know the truth. Don’t make an elephant out of a fly,” agitated, the officer uttered.
“You are right, Sir. Without being acquainted with this village and the people living here, I cannot write my story. I will not leave Bhavkhedi until I find out the truth behind the truth,” Chaitanya added ominously and exited the chowki.
The vicenarian reporter ignored the deafening sound of the timber mill and reached the supervisor’s cabin. Vasudev waved him to a seat, with a smile.
“Chaitanya Rao, a young and enthusiastic crime reporter of The India News. You are here to cover the murders of two Dalit children. You have been in and around this village for the last fifteen days, assiduously collecting facts.”
Chaitanya nodded. “As per my information, you are the only bridge between the privileged upper cast and the deprived ones, Mr. Vasudev. I am here to talk about the extreme casteism in Bhavkhedi, which has taken two innocent lives.”
“Casteism is rampant in India. Why is media targeting Bhavkhedi only? I love this scenic, small village. Yes, not everything is perfect here. But I do not want any outsider to infiltrate. Besides, I wasn’t present there when that incident took place. I believe the police will find the murderer soon,” Vasudev replied testily.
Chaitanya arched his eyebrows in mock query asking, “Strange that you have all the information about an outsider, but you don’t know the truth behind the murders. Come on Mr. Vasudev. You have many trusted eyes and ears in this village. Businesspersons, ministers, your friend list is lengthy and quite enviable. Why don’t you use your power to seek justice for the anguished family of the murdered boys?”
His fearless and downright approach left Vasudev baffled. However, he managed to maintain an impassive face throughout the conversation. “It seems you have wasted your time and every bit of energy on researching about me. All I heard was exaggerated and unnecessary stuff. Well, I don’t cook up stories for a living. So if you will excuse me…” Vasudev replied, indicating the meeting was over.
His favorite cutlets were getting cold. A glass of scotch was waiting too on the center table. Vasudev was lost in his thoughts. The urge and dedication Vasudev had seen in Chaitanya’s eyes, he knew, unlike those well-wishers and reporters he had come across over the years, who were in it for fame, power, or money, that fellow would never back down without knowing the truth.
Bappa has enough connections to turn the events the way he wants. Soon, he will make arrangements for Chaitanya, if he doesn’t leave his quest. But that won’t do any good for me. It will attract more attention to the case. If Bappa’s misdeeds come to light, I will have to share in the burden. Chaitanya’s curiosity will also cost me. He can reveal my name. But giving him the cold shoulder will only aggravate his determination. Well, today, at least I tried to save him. God, am I getting softer or, is it my fear of being stripped of the life I lead? Ah, those mangled faces…, that man almost defeated my capacity of infusing pain.
Vasudev sat musing over his conflict-ridden thoughts.
“You bastard, I know everything about your sweet rendezvous with Mohan Das. How dare you to join him and pass on our information?,” Bappa screamed.
“Calm down Bappa. He did offer me a great deal of money, but I refused. I will be at your service whenever you need me. Do not let the opponents misguide you and break our alliance,” he tried to sound obedient. However, Vasudev knew it wasn’t easy to convince Bappa to let go of his doubts on his faithfulness.
Thank god. He doesn’t yet know about my other actions against him. Else, it would be my last day in the mortal world.
Vasudev released a sigh of relief and concentrated on softening the furious man.
Vasudev found Chaitanya at his doorstep as he answered the door. He gestured for him to step inside.
“No thanks. I haven’t come here to party.”
“Have you come here to tell me a new tale or a probable plot maybe?”
Chaitanya met Vasudev’s eyes and spoke, “My investigation says that you were the one to upload the video on social media about the murders. Then why aren’t you telling me the truth?”
Vasudev’s expression remained inscrutable, so Chaitanya continued, “Waking up every day without any hope of seeing a better tomorrow, that’s the bitter reality of the Dalits of Bhavkhedi. It is not out of kindness that you help them. You help them to assuage your ego just like you help corrupted people. They fill you with money and power and, poor Dalits venerate you. You get the best of both worlds. You like being the villain and the messiah. But, no matter what you do for a living, how can you live without a conscience?”
Vasudev’s impassive expression remained.
“I am here to make a deal. The editor of The India News has given me a week to finish my story or go back empty-handed, which I won’t at any cost. I know you work for Bappa. You can’t hide your acts of fake kindness from him forever. I will make my story without any hint about you if you tell me the truth and give me proof of Bappa’s wrongdoings. You can take my life. But that won’t help you. Whatever data and evidence I have collected, they have safely reached a person who will disclose it on my behalf if any mishap takes place.”
Vasudev finally spoke.
“Courage doesn’t give you the right to do stupid things. You dare to come here and lecture me on morals? Leave now, before your bravery breaks my patience.”
Bappa was enraged about his meeting with Mohan Das. The reporter had dug too deep in search of the truth. Vasudev felt cornered.
Mohan Das too was an experienced and expert player of the dirty game of politics. He was well aware of Bappa’s decreasing popularity. It was a perfect opportunity for him to turn the tide in his favour. Vasudev wasn’t surprised when he had received the offer from Mohan Das to join him. He could cash in on the antagonism between Bappa and Mohan Das. He put his hemispheres on work to design a way out.
Vasudev handed over a sealed package to Chaitanya, “These should be enough to get him. Now everyone will believe the video I have uploaded on social media proving that Bappa had instructed to kill those boys. Leave this village, complete your story, and do not forget our deal.”
The contents of the pack included a few documents of Bappa’s various frauds and video clips of his sexcapades, which could never prove Vasudev’s involvement in it.
Even if my name pops up, I will use my trump card.
Vasudev left the party of Roshan Singh Meena, a cruel and corrupted leader because his conscience didn’t allow him to work with a murderer. He has joined Mohan Das, a hardworking and kind-hearted man who wants to end casteism. How’s that for news?
Musing over his perfect plan, Vasudev grinned and headed towards his abode to devour his favorite cutlets with scotch.
Author’s Note: It is extremely saddening that the practice of untouchability is still alive and kicking in present-day India. This story is inspired by the movie Article 15 and the true incident of two Dalit minors beaten to death for open defecation in Bhavkhedi village of Shivpuri district, MP.
You can read more about the incident here:
Kaka/Tau : Uncle
Chachi : Aunty
Police Chowki : Police station
Hai mere bachche : Oh, my poor kids
Photo By: Pixabay
(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.)