An excerpt from ‘of Whom Shall I Be Afraid’, by Sougata Roybarman, translated from the Bengali by Subhadeep Palit
The parapet of this high-rise building was different from the others. It was not lonely. On many a late night, it witnessed Rishin’s footsteps. Down below, far, far below, Anwar Shah Road cut through the heart of the city. Headlights flooded the street and light-pollution the sky.
Rishin tiptoed on the parapet with feline agility. He tried walking with his eyes closed. But failed. He wanted to fall deep into the abyss of the darkness, and then collide with the hard pitch of the road, and die a brutal death. He would have laughed at his mangled corpse. He thought it over for a while. He had no reason for self-annihilation. Down below, in one of the plushly furnished apartments, at this moment, lay the exhausted body of Mayuri, fagged out from their violent lovemaking. He was unsure of his love for her, but his lust was indisputable. There was a mystery in every fold of her skin. And the mystery deepened as the night matured. On certain nights like these, a particular fragrance emanated from between her legs. The fragrance maddened him with passion. It made him bloodthirsty, like a pillager out for plunder. He was walking on the parapet of the seventeenth floor. Oh! How he wished he had slipped!
A splash of water awoke him. There was a blindingly bright light. His hands and legs were tied to a chair. He winced as he felt a stab of pain in his neck. The sensation of pain made him happy. Targeted on only the vulnerable spots, the attacker was a professional.
‘Now be a good boy and blurt out your name.’ The cold barrel of a pistol touched one of his temples. The man with the gun brought the source of light even closer.
‘First things first. Kill the headlight. I need some balm for my neck. I’ve never passed out from a blow before.’
The man with the gun shifted the barrel of the pistol to the center of his forehead. ‘You think you’re a comedian, huh? Tell me, who the hell are you?’ he demanded.
‘Would you believe me if I told you I were the police?’ The prisoner chuckled.
The reply brought out a guffaw from the man with the gun. The man shifted his weight and the pistol between his hands. ‘I can smell those brutes from a mile away. I can smell Fire and Ice on you. The police never use such expensive perfume. Think you’re a funny-funny man?’
‘Then there’s no need to be afraid of me, huh? Lose that metal rod and untie my legs. We could chat like proper civilized people.’
For a minute, he could feel the stern gaze on him.
‘You’re free now. Tell me who you are.’ The ropes loosened over his whitened wrists.
Smooth. Insufferably smooth. Why has life been so easy? As easygoing as the white clouds against a picturesque sky. Everything is by the clock. Routine. Uniform. Like a drive along the highway. Undeviating speed all along. Conformity. Not a single glitch, not a single speed-breaker to break the monotony.
Often, Rishin wakes up at midnight or in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep eludes him, and thoughts crowd in his mind. Pills don’t work, sex doesn’t either. As if something in his brain is turned off. Is he going insane? Can someone go insane and watch the process unfold inside them? People are either born insane or they are not. There’s no middle ground.
Rishin’s life is not mundane, but not exciting either. He has a lot on his plate and nothing to execute at the same time. He has found love, but even if he had not, it would not be something to lose his sleep over. His fierce libido is a perpetual source of bane for him, yet a sense of nothingness grasps him the next moment when he has given vent to his pent-up sexual passions. Is he a nihilist? Why is he not afraid of death? What is he afraid of?
His only fear is that he fears nothing.
The sky was crimson before the sunset. Rishin and a couple of teenagers stood amidst the paddy fields. The shoots reached up to their waists. Rishin held a leaflet on which shone the legend, ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.’ Rishin waved the leaflet and declared, ‘The land belongs to the ruled and oppressed. Those who think they are ruling with their Police, Army, and Judiciary, assume they can rule forever. What do we have to lose but our shackles? It is time for unification, to usurp the power of the bourgeois. Power is not bestowed; it is taken through revolution. We must cannon the bastions of power. Comrades, it is our duty and honor to take away the power reserved for the privileged. This requires weapons. Ammunitions. Guns. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Hail comrade Charu Mazumdar! Hail the Naxalbari movement!’ He clenched his fist and raised it in the air. ‘Inqilab Zindabad!’
A sudden gunfire shattered the serenity.
‘The fucking Thullas are here. Run!’ Subrata alerted him with a scream.
The teenagers tore through the paddy fields, through the muck and water beneath their feet. They ran. Fell. Got up. It rained again. Behind them was a swarm of chasing khakis.
Cusswords from the police constables chased them like bullets.
‘Ei suarer bacha, khankir chele.’ Barks followed the cusses. ‘Stop or get shot!’
Nobody stopped. The police would shoot them anyway. Better take chances.
Rono fell on his face. Rishin was ahead of him. He turned his head. There was a gaping hole on Rono’s forehead. Rishin continued to run. To stop was to die. Someone else fell too.
Death had the sound of soft thuds.
Rishin did not have the time to stop. He ran in a zigzag manner. The rail colony was just ahead. Once he crossed the rail tracks, he would be on the highway. Delhi Road. The trucks plying would be his ticket to safety. He could thumb a ride to save his life.
‘Rishi…go ahead. Save yourself. I am holding them back.’ Jaga’s voice thundered from behind.
Jaga tottered and took out a country-made pistol to defend himself, but a hail of bullets smashed him to pieces. The Police surrounded his corpse like vultures around a dead animal. Jaga kept his promise. He gave Rishin the time to escape. Darkness unfurled on the scene as he ran for his life.