The long shrieking sound of whistle pierced the cold, lull atmosphere. The police-men were on patrol. Their booming heavy boots were petrifying. Few moments before a police van rolled onto the silent street cautioning people not to venture out, as the curfew had been imposed in the area…
“Two days have passed…” his ailing wife said in feeble voice, groaning with pain, “…what will we do now?”
Ramu said nothing. His face distorted with the thought of his helplessness. He could do nothing but to wait for curfew to be lifted. He affectionately asked his pretty frail wife Sita if she required anything, but she kept quiet.
“How can I help it,” he murmured in a low whisper as if someone would grapple him if heard him. Without waiting further, he got up and slowly reached to a tin wherein some floor was kept. He opened the lid and peeped inside. “Only few fistful of flour…” he said aloud, “…sufficient for this evening. What will we eat if the curfew is not lifted soon.” his wretch was writ large on his face.
A daily-wage labour, Ramu was a middle-aged man with frail body. He worked with a local trader who was in a business of handicrafts. Hard labour combined with low calorie diet had made him arch-spine. The couple had no children. To meet their ends Sita also worked as house-maid, but since last few days she could not go to her work; now this curfew.
All was well in the morning except few gossiping and rumours. Rumours had it that some people stabbed a youth who succumbed. The news was casual but soon became viral leading to wide-spread violence and loot.
“Did you hear? They have killed our man just to show their supremacy,” a fellow worker said in a voice socked with anger. “It ought not to be tolerated,” said the other.
“Who told you?” asked one among all who seemed a bit prudent. “I’ve seen it while coming to factory,” said the previous one with a sense of confidence, inflating his chest as if was going to receive a medal.
Few people hurriedly entered the premise and cried in panic, “Public-order has become disrupted. Main market is burning. Shops, offices and vehicles have been torched.” The premise was closed hastily and people were urged not to go out until the things were normal. Ostensibly, things had taken an devilish shape.
Sitting capitulated in a corner Ramu was closely observing the events. “Sita is alone and ailing…” he said to his colleague in frightening voice. “What might be happening there?” he finished and became silent. After a brief but heavy calm, the fellow said, “You should go home immediately.” Suddenly a group of hooligans appeared from no-where and started raising slogans. The atmosphere became tense and before occurrence of any untoward incident, a siren of police van was heard. The hooligans dispersed.
“Curfew has been imposed…” a gruff voice from the van on public-address system was informing people, “…people are advised to be in their houses soon. Rumour mongering will not be tolerated.”
Ramu hurriedly came out of the premise and headed towards his home where his wife was anxiously waiting for him. She had come out and was desperately walking up and down onto the silent road.
“Where had you been?” she cried and hugged him. She was becoming breathless, eyes brimmed with tears. “I was about to die with fret,” she said holding him tenderly. Sita had become pale more with emotion than her ailment. Her face started distorting with pain. Ramu helped her bringing her back in the house. She was copiously perspiring and gasping. He helped her lying on the cot and gave a glass of water. After sometime though she was emotionally contained, but was caught with high fever. With whatever they had, he managed to prepare tea and offered her with utmost care and affection.
The flame of the kerosene lamp – the only source of light in the house flickered. The shadows of the objects shivered and then everything became normal. Sita was in sound sleep which was a great thing for Ramu. The booming sound of police boots reverberated followed by a long whistle blow. Ramu was at the site when the problem started…
“Was it a thing to reckon with?” He whispered with a deep breath. “We do not want such sectarian frenzy, but who does it,” he was talking to himself looking impassively towards the wall onto which elongated shadow of the pot was flickering with each stroke of the flame. The lone window sill was moving with blowing wind and making sound with rhythmical note. “Why this happened?” he thought. He was worried about the ailing condition of his wife who was in dire need of medical care, but due to curfew he was unable to take her to hospital. Her pain was exaggerating but he could do nothing. He patted her forehead and as if relieved from her pain, she gradually went in slumber.
The flame of the kerosene lamp started dimming. “The oil might be finishing,” he said and got up to reach the lamp. “Puff…” he blew the flame to put it off. Birds started chirping outside. The night was giving place to dawn. “How free and innocent are they!” he said to Sita who had also woken and was looking outside.
“I’ve brought some tea for you,” a middle aged lady said entering their room.
“Thanks Rani, but dear me why did you take pain?” he said to her affectionately. Rani, who was living in a room adjacent to theirs, was a kind hearted lady who always showed concern for them. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter. How is Sita?” she asked Raju.
“She is not well, though she has had a sound sleep,” Raju replied offering her a place to sit.
Rani looked at Sita a bit more deeply. “She indeed has become very frail…” pushing forward the conversation she said, “…medical care is needed but the situations does not support the idea…” while she was mid-way of her conversation, she cried in a terrified voice, “O God! Look at her! How pale she is becoming!”
Petrified by the horror, Raju became dumb and perplexed. Hurriedly he came out of his room to seek help. There was a complete silence. The roads were deserted and no one was there except few armed police-men, who shouted at him. “Why have you come out? Don’t you know that curfew has been imposed?” One of them asked in a gruff voice.
“Sita is seriously ill…” he pleaded, “…and needs urgent medical care.” The callous police-man did not heed and said in rough voice, “So what? Nothing can be done.” The words penetrated deep in his heart. His eyes brimmed with tears. Once again he begged.
“Sir, please let me take her to the hospital soon lest she die…” he kept on pleading, “She is the only person in my life.”
“What’s going on?” asked another one in a rude voice. He was a middle aged police sergeant with high cheek bones and jutting eyebrows. “My ailing wife is groaning with pain and needs immediate medical care,” Raju repeated in trembling voice. As if not ready to believe, the sergeant looked at him with penetrating eyes. “How did you come here in the midst of curfew?” He asked in heavy voice. Dishevelled Raju had nothing more to say. “I’m quite helpless and know nothing as to how I came here. The only thing I know is that you, my lord, can help me saving the life of my wife.” The sergeant mellowed down and accompanied with Raju towards his hutment. Sita was moaning and wriggling. Sitting beside her, Rani was trying to soothe her.
“Alfa calling delta…” he called on the walky-talky. “Here is a serious patient who needs urgent medical care. Please send an ambulance soon.”
They boarded the government ambulance and hurried towards the hospital. The hospital was full of wounded people and there was a chaotic atmosphere. The small team of doctors were trying to cater the needs of several people. There was no time for them to look upon the ailing people. They were running heather and thither.
“There are causalities. At least five people have been reported killed and thirteen injured in the frenzy.” The news-reader was reporting on the TV set installed in the hall of the hospital. “The opposition parties are blaming the government for their laidback approach,” reporting about the untoward incidences she further said. The blame-game had started and political parties had started blaming each other and trying to take advantage of the situation.
“The things are under control. Situation is though tense,” an official was making statement on the TV. “Soon the normalcy will be restored. We appeal public to remain cool.”
Oblivious of this all, Raju was deeply engrossed in his thoughts. Sitting beside his wife, he was waiting for his chance. “Come,” the doctor called him.
He looked at her wife. Her face had become pale and distorted with pain. Strangely, she was not making voices nor was showing signs of movement. Horrified Raju almost cried, “Doctor, look at her!”
The doctor took hold of her wrist and sensed the pulse. He was making gestures. After few mock examinations said, “It has become too late. She has left us for her heavenly abode.”
The words flowed like molten lead in his ears. He fell down and became unconscious. His senses became blunt and stopped responding.
“You cannot be rude to me dear Sita. How shall I be able to survive in such world without you?” Raju cried and became unconscious again…