He was a tired Indian politician. He had won the elections, and he was coming back home after a press conference with his regular escort of fifteen government cars. As he watched the lights of the city night crawl by outside his window, he focused his mind on his last speech. Nice speech, that one, and original too. Not by his secretary as they usually were. He had even asked her daughter to check it once. She had told him that it was ‘Rocking, Dad!’ and he had smiled when he heard his daughter say that. It’s not often that he writes one of his speeches himself. He forced his attention now to a few well-chosen lines. And no longer shall we lag behind, because we do not deserve it. We shall move forth as all developed countries have, in mind and in work. We shall eliminate the barriers of cast, religion, poverty. We shall strive to build a better and more open-minded country for the future. As we have done before, we shall leave the great burden of orthodoxy behind, for this is the age of change, of rationalism, of accepting whole-heartedly the new generation. We physically live no longer in the past, and neither shall we mentally do so. We shall accept new norms and live for the present and future and secure free will, free decision and free life to all our people. Our children shall be given the rights they deserve, given the freedom of opinion, and the acknowledgement of their importance in building our nation, for their decisions are just as important as ours. And no longer shall our country be crippled by the menace of religious, cast-wise or regional discrimination and bias. We shall step into a new era of broad-minded acceptance.
Even in his mind now the words sounded so sweet.
His car halted a few meters from his apartment gate, and a bodyguard in black opened the door for him. He walked out, through the reception, and then into a waiting lift, accompanied by two armed guards.
At his flat, the guards left him and went back downstairs as he opened the door and entered. The living room was empty. He heard sounds from the bedroom and went in. What met him was a complete mess.
His daughter was sitting on the bed, clasping something to her heart and crying. His wife was standing over her, and pulling out an endless string of rebukes onto the shaking, sobbing creature. The whole room was topsy-turvy. The clothes had been pulled out of the cupboards, a backpack lying on the bed was overflowing with clothes, and an expensive china vase lay on the floor in pieces.
Even before he could ask what had happened, she thundered her statement through the room.
‘A Muslim boy! She is in love with a Muslim boy. Can you believe it? Here, I found a photo of the bastard in her school books.’ — and she yanked a photograph from the girl’s hands and shoved it into his face — ‘And when I asked her dear, please come to your senses. Dear, we love you, she said she is going to leave his place for ever and started packing her clothes, can you imagine! And she accuses us of not understanding her point of view.’ — and she said the last three words mockingly and with utter distaste, and stopped and stood looking at the man with those big round glaring eyes of hers.
‘Let me handle this.’ He said at last, after he had taken his few seconds to take it all in. The girl looked up from her sobbing with fear etched clearly in her eyes.
After the wife had left the room with much unnecessary noise and banging the bedroom door shut behind her (never in all its years of service had this door ever been required to be closed) with a sound that was sure to have been carried to all the flats in the apartment, to the ears of all the voters that had voted for his husband and expected as reward if not education for everyone but still silence and quiet in the residential complex, the man turned to her daughter with the fire in his eyes that she had leaned to fear like the devil through the days she had been brought up.
‘A Muslim boy, eh?’ he shouted as he always did during his speeches, rendering the whole effort of acquiring a loudspeaker pointless. The girl quaked at his sight and withdrew slowly to a corner of the bed.
‘Tell me, a Muslim boy? Being a Hindu, you choose a Muslim boy? Answer me!’
The girl looked at her father through teary eyes, at the man standing at the doorway who was shouting at her now. He was still in the Punjabi that he had left for the conference in, and now it was wet and soggy with sweat, and revealed his underclothing.
‘Why don’t you answer me!’ and he came and grabbed her hand and yanked her to her feet.
She uttered some words amidst her sobs that sounded like ‘he loves me’.
And then she looked up to catch another glimpse of the familiar fire in his eyes before being thrown roughly on the floor. Her head hit the wall and it hurt like hell. She felt for the place where the pain was the greatest and could feel something wet. Her ears were buzzing with a constant monotonous sound and her limbs started to grow numb. She watched hazily as her father picked up the photograph from the bed and shred it to pieces. Then he shouted some more and she thought she could hear the words ‘how much we love you’ and ‘no food for you tonight’, but she was too numb by then to consider them. The last thing she heard was the bedroom door being opened and closed again, and with it the unmistakable click of the Yale lock, the special Yale lock that her father had installed specially for her daughter’s bedroom, where the lock was outside, not inside.
And then, in the few moments before going to sleep in the wet pool of blood around her head, like a red halo, she remembered last night, when Dad had come to have her speech reviewed by her daughter and daughter had admired his sentences more than usual for some unknown reason, for some reason that stayed inside her school books and in the precious few minutes that she and the boy could meet in a week, and in her heart. And now, before her senses went to sleep with her, she thought of those sentences.
We shall eliminate the barriers of cast, religion, poverty. As we have done before, we shall leave the great burden of orthodoxy behind, for this is the age of change, of rationalism, of accepting whole-heartedly the new generation.
Our children shall be given the rights they deserve, given the freedom of opinion, and the acknowledgement of their importance in building our nation, for their decisions are just as important as ours. And no longer shall our country be crippled by the menace of religious, cast-wise or regional discrimination and bias. We shall step into a new era of broad-minded acceptance.
And then the words became too heavy and hard for her tiring mind to read, and she gave up and went to sleep.