It was a regular Saturday morning except for the fact that it had been raining for almost a day now. I was sitting on the veranda which also happens to be my favourite part of the house when i heard a familiar voice calling out.
“Arnesh! You know the riots are on right? You shouldn’t be sitting out there in the open.”
“But it’s raining Didi! And I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t kill a kid. Look I also have that cap gun you got me for Diwali last year.”
To which she sighed and said, “I wish they thought like you did!”
Shubham Didi worked as a Math teacher in a nearby school. I was the only one allowed to call her Shubham. I don’t exactly remember when she switched her name to Shobhaa from Shubham but I couldn’t let go of the habit and she was okay as long as I called her ‘didi’. I do have a very faint memory of her in those gray office trousers and a pale blue shirt around the time I went to Kindergarten, but that’s the only memory I have of hers looking like a man. She looks a lot different from Chintu’s elder sister, or for that matter even Azhar’s Apa. She has broad shoulders and a flat chest, but she is my Didi and I love her to the moon and back. She is the sole breadwinner of the family after Baba was asked to resign, owing to his irrational and incorrigible drinking habit. I seldom see him around in the house and I sort of like it that way. Because every time he’s awake, he’d be reprimanding and constantly nagging Shubham Didi for the way she dresses. She looks very pretty in her colorful floral kurtas and tan kolhapuri chappals with little golden beads that she stitches herself on them. She is a lot better dressed than a lot of the other girls in Muzaffarnagar but I don’t know why everybody in our village looks down upon her and calls her names. I don’t understand. It was very difficult for her to get a job at the school too. No-one wanted her but she fought her way in.
Since she was so persistent, I had to get inside the house and was asked to finish all my homework before it was lunch time. They give a lot of work-load to us kids these days. At only age seven I have to remember the multiplication table till 15, solve 50 word problems and remember three line answers in science. I have been trying to remember the tables since the last week, but managed to remember only tables one and nine. Didi told me a very interesting trick to write the multiplication table for nine. What would I do without her?! Anyway, our school has been shut off owing to the ongoing riots and I finally have time to play and watch as much TV as I want to.
We were having lunch when Maa asked Didi to take her hijab off.
“We are Hindus. We don’t wear hijabs. I had warned your father of the repercussions of living in a Muslim community. Black birds must live with black birds and not with the white ones. And nor do men dress like women. Why can’t you act normal and get married to a pretty girl and bless us with a grandson?”
“Where is it written that Hindu women can’t wear Hijabs? And how many times have I told you that this is what makes me happy. And I’m anyway planning to adopt a girl child from the Anath-
“I’m not living with you anymore if you continue your lifestyle this way!”, asserted Maa angrily.
“Okay. I’ll leave. And then who is going to feed you and pay your bills? Your husband right?”
“Don’t play these emotional games with me. I’m smarter than you think I am.”
This is how our lunch conversations often end up. The situation is a lot better now. Three months back Didi fell for Izhaan. He lived just down the lane and our families were good friends.
One day Baba saw them holding hands and was furious. He got him married off to one of his close friends’ daughter and Didi was all the more furious with him for doing this to her.
Usually in the evenings the curfew gets worse. Azhar told me that the reason for these riots was that some guy from Kawal was killed by two Jat guys, while Chintu said it was the result of an eve-teasing incident. Whatever the reason was, I was very upset because despite the week long holiday, I wasn’t allowed to go out and play with my friends in the evenings. What is the point of having holidays if I have to play inside our house all the time? I was bored and felt helpless.
It was around eight forty five at night when a huge thump on the ground broke my sleep. I looked out of the window and saw a man lying in a pool of blood. A troop of screaming men with swords and knives were marching towards our house. Houses were burning in bright orange flames. People were running around screaming for help.
I heard Maa screaming at the top of her voice, “Take off that hijab now! I said now. If not for yourself, at least for us. I don’t want that thing to be the reason for our death.”
Meanwhile there was a loud knock on the door and my heart sunk into my stomach.
“Don’t open the door!”, said Maa.
“Let me check. What if it is Baba?”, said Didi.
While Maa kept begging her to not open the door, Didi went ahead and opened the door. A man at the door dressed in a white kurta heavily stained in blood stood in front of us with a sword in hand. As he held Didi’s hand, she kicked him hard in the groin. His sword fell off his hand as he screamed and fell on the ground unconscious . Didi quickly picked up his sword and rolled him out of the house. She closed the door and said, “Om Shanti Om was supposed to start at nine on Set Max. It’s 9:15 already. I don’t wanna miss out on the first half!”
– Anwesh Kumar Sahoo