Seconds before the Molvi sahib began the Zuhr prayers, one Friday, I received a call each on my two phones, one after the other. I didn’t pay any heed to the incessant vibration in my left pocket, but when my other leg began to tremble, I quickly fished out the phone to see if it was someone really important. It was. It was my girlfriend.
I rejected the phone call quite sure that she would have understood that I was busy. Half an hour later, I returned the call. After explaining the reason for calling at such an odd time, she said she wanted to meet me. Usually I avoid meeting her on Fridays for the obvious reasons, but this time I half-heartedly made an exception. We were to meet near Jahangir Chowk for few minutes wherefrom she would board a Sumo and leave.
Usually, I avoid taking my friends along on a ‘date’ but this time I made another exception, thinking the meeting hardly qualified as a ‘date’.
We met at the designated place and moments later, the three of us were hauling ourselves up towards Budshah Bridge. It was a hartal day and there was a thin movement of vehicles and even the pedestrians were missing which made us somewhat conspicuous. I stopped right in the middle of the bridge and waved down a Harwan- bound Sumo. The driver pulled over but my girl-friend grimaced, so I waved him to move on.
It had snowed a couple of days ago and there was a distinct chill in the air. While we were waiting for another Sumo on the snow-laden footpath, a snowball hit my friend on the shoulder. From nowhere another snowball came hurtling towards us but missed the intended target. I was alarmed by such a sudden attack and tried to figure out the source from where the snowballs were raining towards us. At the far end of the bridge, I spotted few boys waving us to go away from the spot.
I am a pacifist on any given day but my girl-friend was enraged and she instigated me to “teach these boys a hard lesson.” Now even before I reluctantly made my way towards our assailants, I realized that I had made a mistake. I was outnumbered. Sensing that there was no point in locking horns with these guys, I tried to reason with them. I tried to explain to them that we were just waiting for a Sumo and we would disappear in a moment. But they wouldn’t listen to anything. They were hell-bent on creating a scene and their utterances betrayed their sick mentality. They blamed us for 2014 Kashmir floods (I was single and happy then) and spreading waywardness in the society.
Life is not a Bollywood movie where the bad-guys get their dues. The next moment I was on all fours receiving the kicks and punches of god-knows-how-many people, while my coward friend watched as a mute spectator. Somebody landed a blow on the back of my head and for a moment I thought I will pass-out.
The next few minutes were a blur. I vaguely remember my girl-friend boarding a Sumo and a boy telling me that these boys were a bunch of thugs. When I regained my consciousness near the Foot Bridge, the first thing I did was to assure my friend that I was alright and then I dialed my girl-friend’s number to enquire about her well-being.
I had thought that she would have been in a deep trauma. But I was in for a shock. She had deboarded the vehicle at the same place to break the news of the incident to her best friend at her Human rights office. I felt pathetic at learning that they had had a good laugh at my expense. But I gulped down the insult and pretended to be amused.
Later that night my head, nose and eyes began to ache and I had become irritable. My girl-friend blamed herself for “provoking you to jump into the mud”, but in the same breath she questioned whether I really hailed from Lal chowk, as according to her, the men from Shahar– the city- were characteristically unruly and quarrelsome. A bad generalization, I know. My witty self would have traced my roots to Samarkand, in the normal circumstances, but it was hardly the time for humor. I was hurting and wanted to sleep but she wanted to know if I had any Gunday and Mawali-type of friends whose help could be sought to settle the scores with those people. I don’t know whether he qualifies for the Goonda and Mawali tag, but my girl-friend’s words conjured the images of only one guy in my mind- Sameer. But the problem was that he was out of station.
Earlier in the day I had narrated my ordeal to a political big-wig friend, who after mobilizing his contacts in the Police Department, had directed me to meet the SHO of the local police station, to take the cognizance of the matter. My friend assured me that he would get bamboo sticks shoved up the culprits’ posteriors. I believed him but after a deep thought decided against using his influence for my personal benefits.
At 3 o’ clock in the morning, my ringing phones awoke me out of my slumber. With my sleepy eyes I figured the familiar name of the caller, the one who had disturbed my prayers in the day, but decided not to attend to the call. I was not crossed with her; in fact I had all the love in the world for her; however I didn’t want her to recollect the details of the harrowing experience all over again. In the meantime, the pain had returned to steal my sleep and keep me awake till the morning.
Next day I tried hard to shake off yesterday’s experience but that haunting memory was just a mirror away. My face was badly bruised and my eyes had developed dark bags underneath. I avoided seeing my parents and mostly dashed straight to my room when I entered my home.
Three days passed and Sameer was back and so was my thirst for Intiqaam-revenge. I described the gory details of the incident to him and watched his face turn red with rage. He was fuming now and mouthed all the vulgar abuses he knew and swore that he would avenge my thrashing. He guessed that the boys who had beaten me up lived somewhere behind the Jehangir Hotel.
The news of my beating had flown thick and fast in the neighborhood and whosoever was informed of the “Breaking News” and then happened to bump into me, pitied me.
“Alaaai amis ha chuab ditmet,” remarked one neighbor.
“Nyeeare ya Lal Chowkuk naav ha mandchowuth,” said another.
“Why didn’t you call me,” offered one friend.
But I was in no mood to explain that I had not sullied Lal Chowk’s name or brought infamy on anyone’s family. I wanted revenge and wanted it fast to calm my senses down.
Few days later I was summoned to Sameer’s shop at Maharaja Bazar where I found a small assembly of our neighborhood boys and a few other mercenaries waiting for me. These guys had been summoned from other parts of the city especially to inflict maximum damage on our rivals. The most notorious among them was nicknamed Majme who reportedly has 16 FIRs registered against him.
With the gang trailing me, I passed through the enemy territory in broad day light and scanned every nook and corner for my prey but found the entire neighborhood deserted. We enquired from the shopkeepers and whoever-cared-to- listen about any fight that had taken place in the vicinity but everybody was tight-lipped. Everybody was bribed. Nobody had seen anything. There was no clue, no lead and no trace to follow. It was as if everything was a figment of my imagination. I was flummoxed.
But I was not the one to give up so easily. For few more days I put on the cloak of an investigative journalist and tried to dig out any details about the incident. I rigorously questioned myself and my girlfriend about the incident. I tried to coax her into revealing to me the details of those shadowy figures- who had apparently vanished in thin air- but she caustically said that I had lost my mental balance.
Quite a few days have passed since that dark Friday afternoon. Quite a few things have changed in my life. Yet I am doggedly pursuing my attackers. And my girl friend has become my ex.