February 5, 1948.
Aundh was on fire. It was a retaliation for what had transpired in the national capital, about a week ago. Mahatma was murdered. Overnight the Chitpavan community was in disgrace, as the echoes of those three fired bullets reverberated through the country with vicious overtones. In the last 24 hours, we had witnessed our ancestral house being wrecked. The school where I taught was set ablaze by the very people I had grown up with. Saru was made to watch as Maai* was crushed in a stampede. She herself had barely managed to get away from a frenzied mob. “Do we deserve to be butchered like this?” She kept mumbling. “It not who fired the shot, but who paid for the bullet. They believe we did. Now we are paying for the consequences.” I tried to explain to my fifteen-year-old pregnant wife.
The massacre continued. We scampered like rats and hid in a grubby storehouse that belonged to an old acquaintance, till the shrieks of our own flesh and blood around us dampened. Later, we managed to convince a tempo owner to take us to Kolhapur, at my in-law’s house. The price for our life was Saru’s Nath*, a precious pearl-and-gold nose ring gifted to her by my late mother.
“They killed Maai just because of a shared Gotra*?” Saru’s tone was defeated. I had no retort as we huddled at back of a filthy tempo full of broken stone pestles. The beast continued to trudge along the uneven roads, its motions causing bile to rise at the back of my throat. I swallowed it back, just like I had been swallowing my pride of late.
Tempo came to an abrupt halt and Saru pressed down on my arm. I heard no voices or commotion. Yet, it was too soon to have arrived at Kolhapur. The shutter opened and we seemed to be in some alley. I saw his face by the lantern and it dawned.
Grabbing me by the collar, he slapped me hard like I was some cockroach. I fell on the ground and turned just in time to see him groping Saru’s bosom.
The next few minutes were a haze. I do not remember grabbing a pestle from the filth around me. The pestle’s force crushed his skull from behind. I kept hitting till his brains oozed out and splattered over the floor of the tempo as Saru looked at me with a curious expression.
The sight of blood stains all over my hands made me throw up over his dead body. Saru held my head as I retched. Then she went up the front and got some water and sheera*, that probably belonged to our victim. With a steady hand, she cleaned me and fed me some morsels before devouring the rest herself.
She took back her Nath* from his breast pocket. I found some money in his Batwa* and pocketed it as we left.
We had paid enough.
Nath: a Maharashtrian nose ring
Sheera: A semolina sweetmeat
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