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16 October 2014
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Susmita Bhattacharya
Susmita Bhattacharya

Susmita Bhattacharya grew up in Mumbai, India. She graduated in Art and worked as a graphic designer. She got married in Calcutta and then sailed around the world with her husband for three years, writing and painting, before dropping anchor in Singapore for a couple of years. She is now doing her M.A. in Creative Writing at the Cardiff University.

The Prophecy by Susmita Bhattacharya

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. It was.

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 life.

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 the door.

Tilaksaheb sighed and smiled at the boy. “Rest,” he whispered. “Don’t be afraid, you are safe here.”

He opened the door and a pair of hands pulled him outside.

“Murderer.”

“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 die.”

“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 your handiwork.”

The words merged and became one steady rhythm. “Kill him, kill him.” Tilaksaheb closed his eyes and waited. It came.

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.


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Meeting Munni
The Prophecy

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