The curfew had been lifted for an hour. Tilaksaheb rushed
out to buy some essentials from the corner shop. Most likely
it will be shut, he thought as he hurried down the lane.
So he clutched his dhoti and strode on, towards the crossroad,
where one of the shops would be open. He frowned as he walked.
A thought niggled in the corner of his brain. No, it wasn’t
a thought. It was a vision into the future: a knowledge
that something was going to occur soon.
Tilaksaheb was a prophesier. He made a living telling the
fortunes of people. Two hundred rupees per sitting, and
he would read the palms or the creases on the forehead that
communicated to him the person’s future. He was good,
quite accurate, but he had not been able to predict these
present times: charred skeletons of taxis on pavements,
ruined shops – ransacked and bare, smoke emerging
from burning buildings and cries of human beings, tortured
and beaten and kicked over the edge into death.
The violence of the communal riots had washed over the city
like a tsunami of hatred. Muslims attacked the Hindus. Hindus
preyed on the Muslims. It was a merciless game, with both
sides lobbying the most vicious of blows. The city was reduced
to cinder and ash, to hatred and pain.
Tilaksaheb did not like this vision that occurred to him.
It was disconcerting, yet, he knew he could not avoid it.
And there, lying in the ditch was his destiny. Beaten, mutilated,
barely breathing was a boy in the ditch. Tilaksaheb crouched
by him and searched for a pulse. He found a whisper of a
heartbeat, like the tremulous flapping of a dying butterfly.
Without hesitation, he picked up the wasting body and turned
around. He stumbled and ran, praying no one would see what
load he carried.
Once inside his house, he laid the boy on his bed and pulled
the curtains tight. The boy floated between two worlds.
A struggle was evident in his breathing, that he could not
decide which way to go. Tilaksaheb studied the situation.
Blood had dried on the boy’s body and his ragged clothes
were stuck to his skin. His hair was matted and face quite
bashed and shapeless. Tilaksaheb’s tears didn’t
allow him to observe any more. Slowly he washed the boy’s
limbs and cut the clothes from the body. Strip by strip,
he cleansed and disinfected.
Finally, he stopped to look at the boy’s nakedness,
hoping to find what he wanted to see. It was not there.
He was circumcised. The boy was a Muslim.
With this realisation came fear. For Tilaksaheb was a respectable
Hindu. He lived in a Hindu area, and the people there had
now turned into blood thirsty Muslim massacring Hindus.
He had a choice. He could return the boy to the ditch to
die, or hide him in his house and revive him back to life.
What future did this young boy have? The only thing Tilaksaheb
knew was that the boy’s life was now linked to his.
There was no doctor, no sophisticated medicine to save him.
His life was in the hands of a Hindu soothsayer.
Outside the darkened house, the city heaved with uprising.
As the sun set and night caught the city in her net, the
weapons gleamed in the moonlight and the rioters sought
blood. Outside the soothsayer’s house, women were
getting raped, men axed, children set ablaze, and when the
bodies were left dissipated and charred, no one could tell
if they were Hindu or Muslim.
Tilaksaheb worked quietly and endlessly. Spoon by spoon,
he fed strength into the boy. Wound by wound, he medicated
and bandaged. Prayer upon prayer, he asked for the boy’s
A couple of days passed before the boy’s heartbeat
strengthened. Tilaksaheb’s potions and salves helped
heal his battered body. On the third day, his eyes flickered
open and saw light.
But destiny had not played her hand yet. When the boy blinked
and met the eyes of his saviour, Tilaksaheb knew the time
had come. It was no coincidence that there was a knock on
Tilaksaheb sighed and smiled at the boy. “Rest,”
he whispered. “Don’t be afraid, you are safe
He opened the door and a pair of hands pulled him outside.
“Break his bones.”
The mob shouted in one voice. Machetes sliced the air and
sticks clashed with each other,
“Brothers,” Tilaksaheb cried. “What is
my fault? Tell me before you kill me.”
“You? Don’t pretend all innocence,” the
leader screamed and dragged Tilaksaheb by his arm. “Karim
mia saw you murder our boy. You threw him in the ditch to
“My son. You killed my son,” another man raged,
his blood-red eyes seared into Tilaksaheb’s.
“We saw you. We saw you bending over his body, enjoying
The words merged and became one steady rhythm. “Kill
him, kill him.” Tilaksaheb closed his eyes and waited.
They hacked his arms off. They smashed his legs till they
were pulp. They screamed and attacked. Tilaksaheb saw the
fury of their death dance. The reds of their eyes, the whites
of their teeth, and the glistening sweat on their backs…
in slow motion they sent him towards his end. When they
stopped, his pulse was like the flapping of a dying butterfly’s
wings. The mob turned towards his house.
Tilaksaheb closed his eyes and smiled, safe in the knowledge
they would find their boy alive and recovering, He lay in
the same ditch. Bloody, limbless and ready. For this was
the vision he had seen three days ago, and he knew his powers
had not faded.