“Not all Angels have feathers”

NAKED ANGELS

SRIRAM KRISHNAN

1 Since when did we stop realizing that change starts with us. The truth is that we never did realize.

One spark is all it takes for people to feast on each other. This time it wasn’t just a small spark. In the already tense atmosphere of Mumbai, a bomb blast was just to exacerbate. Three blasts in the last two months. One Muslim community and two largely populated by Hindus. Things were worsening and there was strife between both communities blinded by the political leaders.

A riot had broken out which the local police was finding hard to restrain. Siddhartha knew they would be called any moment to cease the riot. He was part of the Black Commandos Saber group which was a special task force for handling issues like these. “Cant these idiots find anything else to keep themselves busy?” thought Siddhartha. He reached for a cigarette in his pocket, which never seemed to run out of them. Placing the butt of one, he searched for his lighter when his friend Ram helped him light the cigarette.

“Tensed eh?” asked Ram.

“Come again. I’ve never been tensed. Not even after marriage,” giggled Siddhartha. They had a hearty laugh.

“ These bloody Muslims. Can’t they rest their butt even for a day? Only if we had made all leave…” Ram was interrupted by Siddhartha.

“ Ram…,” frowned Siddhartha, “ Stop this religious divide for God’s sake. We have to realize that these terrorists are using us like puppets. Terrorists are indifferent to both communities. Sooner we realize, better it will be.”

Ram scorned, “ Tell that to yourself.” Just then the Chief barged into the room filled with ace commandos.

“ Boys, we have a situation at hand. We have been asked to restrain this riot,” chief continued, “ We will move in four troops. Is that clear?”

“ Yes sir,” shouted all.

Trucks roared and they got in like a flock of chickens not knowing what was in store for them.

2 The hospital was like a cemetery now with bodies incessantly being brought in. People sobbing everywhere or moaning with pain. The scenes around him were now getting onto Hari. Despite being ill at ease, he continued with his duty. Doctors were after all Gods on

Earth. But what an irony it is, God allows the sufferings to happen in order to perform his duty. Already thirty people were injured and about six killed in the riots.

“ Doctor, you are required in the operation theater,” cried out a nurse as Hari dressed the wound on a girl’ s head. “ I’ ll be there.”

As he walked towards the OT, an old woman approached him and held his hand, “ Saab, I have only one son. Please save him. Please.” She sobbed. Hari held his tears and helped the old woman on to a seat. He walked into the OT quietly, for he didn’ t want to make any false promises.

A man in his early thirties lay on the bed with an oxygen mask. “ Oh my god, he is charred,” exclaimed Hari.

“ Kerosene fire. He has got third degree burns,” replied a junior.

They started with the operation. Exchange of scalpel, towel and forceps. Fifteen minutes had gone by and suddenly the lub on the heart-beat monitor grew louder and faster. They were loosing him and then their worst fears came true. The monitor went flat. Their effort to bring him back went in vain.

Hari pulled himself back and sat on the couch pondering how he would face the man’ s near ones outside.

The OT light went off and Hari opened the door as the anxious eyes awaited for an answer. His drooped head said more than he could have. A lady who seemed like the man’ s wife broke down disheveled crying at her peak and a boy came running towards Hari and pounced on him tearing his coat. “ You killed him,” the boy screamed, “ you… ” Hari could do nothing but stand. Other doctors tried to stop the boy and tried to mollify him. The old lady approached him with a container in her hand, “ Could you give this lunch box to my son? He hasn’ t had anything since morning. I have made his favorite dish.” She raised the container towards Hari.

Tears rolled out and to conceal it, he walked away from there and went to his cabin and cried his heart out.

His phone rang and he was in no mood to receive the call. It rang repeatedly. Annoyed he picked up the receiver, “ Who is it?” he screamed unable to keep his emotions under control.

“ Hari, Purwa didn’ t listen to me. She she… ” Hari’ s wife struggled for words.

“ What happened? Where is she?”

“ She left for her friend’ s place.”

“ What?” Hari stood up in anger, “ What the hell… there is a riot and she left for her friend’ s place? Is she out of her mind?”

“ I am very tensed, Hari. Please do something,” his wife sobbed.

“ Don’ t worry. Where has she gone?” noting down the address, Hari left with his senior’ s permission.

3 Ali, under extreme penury, always dreamt of having all things that the rich boasted of. He had once started his own garage. But, his blind faith in others failed him. One fine night, all his belongings were stolen by he whom he considered as a true friend. It dented him to such an extent that he lost faith in almost all including God.

With chaos all around, Ali knew he could now get all he had dreamt of. People were busy killing ach other. No one would even care about a robbery. He stood wondering under the tin shed nervous because he had never attempted the same before. He reached out for one of his favorite pair of dress. A bright golden yellow shirt with the pocket torn off and a trouser with one leg cut half. That was the best he had. He picked up his bottle of beer which had nothing but a few drops left. But, Ali considered it to be his elixir.

He left as he had an agenda to meet. A dream he had been waiting for long. He raced through the narrow lanes to get to the bazaar. He was delirious to get on with his task.

He shattered the glass wall of one of the apparel shops and made his way in.

4 The trucks reached their respective places and the commandos got down to take positions. The road was full of stones which clearly indicated stones having been pelted on the officers. Ram and Siddhartha exchanged sights and primed themselves for what was to come.

It rained stones all over and it was becoming all the more difficult to advance towards the mob. Few of the commandos were hit by the stones. As they approached the mob, Ram caught hold of one and started hitting him with his cane badly bruising him. “ You Muslims. Bloody… ”

Siddhartha managed to pull him back and slapped him to bring him back to his senses, “ Ram, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“ These rats are the root behind all this,” screamed Ram furiously.

“ Look here,” Siddhartha caught him by his collar, “ We are not on a war against Muslims or Hindus or by the way any community. We are here to cease this, damn it.”

Ram gazed at Siddhartha. He had never been this furious. Ram held Siddhartha’ s arm, “ I am sorry. I acted foolishly.”

Siddhartha was glad that Ram repented for what he had done.

Soon the fire engines were called. Water cannons managed to bring the mob down to a certain extent. Tear gas was thrown at the mob and it started retreating.

Soon the noise in the street fell as dead as a cemetery. Few people lay there moaning in pain. Siddhartha overheard the conversation between a fellow commando and chief, “ Sir, there has been an oil tanker blast in the adjacent lane.”

Just then in the alley, came a man running towards the commando group furiously. The man carried something in his hand wrapped in a shawl.

Chief cried out, “ Stop or else we would have to shoot. Stop.” He kept crying out but he won’ t listen.

Siddhartha expected the worst. He saw a leg protruding out of the shawl. It wasn’ t anything to be afraid of. But before he could mention it to the chief, one of the commandos fired at the man. Thump, he fell to the ground. Siddhartha rushed towards the man.

“ Stop Siddhartha,” ordered chief.

“ Sir,” Siddhartha remarked, “ that man has a child with him.” Everybody stood spellbound.

5 Hari got into his old Peugeot. He stumbled to insert the keys. He screeched off the parking, leaving tyre marks. He drove through the roads in top gear towards Dharavi.

As he reached Dharavi, he charily drove looking for his little daughter. She was nineteen but for Hari, she was still a baby. “If only I hadn’t pampered her, she would have been staying home,” he thought as he drove through stone pelted roads.

At a distance, he could see a screaming mob and a girl dressed in pink and carrying a blue purse waiting anxiously for everything to end. Hari knew she was his daughter. He honked his car horn to let her know he was here. But, she won’ t listen. As he closed in, she turned and was all smiles on seeing her father. As she paced towards the car, a nearby oil tanker went ablaze and exploded throwing everyone around it, creating a ripple.

The windshield shattered and Hari bent down in reflex to keep the glasses away from his eyes. He was bruised. He feared the worst as he looked at the street. It looked deserted all of a sudden. He flew the car door open and rushed towards the site where he had seen his daughter last.

“Oh god, please don’t do this to me. Wake me up from this dream. Please.” Hari prayed.

He was dumbstruck at the scene in front of him. A girl lay numb with her fingers twitching as she called out, “ Dad...”

Hari broke down on his knee and helped his daughter’ s head on to his lap, “ Everything is going to be okay, baby.” He said finding it hard to swallow. Tears won’ t come out for his eyes couldn’ t believe.

“ I am sorry dad. I should have listened to mom,” she mumbled.

“ Dad, the pain is cutting me. Please take me home.” Hari kept quiet. He caressed her hair. She spoke her last words, “ Dad, I like it when you caress my hair like that… ” then there was a long silence. The girl lay there with her eyes staring at the sky and smiling.

Finally Hari broke out and screamed looking at sky, “ Shouldn’ t she be lighting my funeral pyre? Shouldn’ t it be me?” and as always he wasn’ t answered, “ Why my daughter?”

He gathered his daughter’ s things and put them in her torn purse as he sobbed. He looked around. There were many lying in pain. He gathered strength and called his hospital, “ Hello, this is Dr. Hari. Send the paramedical team to Dharavi. There has been an oil tanker explosion.”

6 Ali was busy gathering clothes of all sorts. He was enjoying his time inside the store. When he realized that he had gathered enough, he decided to leave. As he walked through the alley of the store, a deafening blast shattered the windows of the store. He rushed to see what had caused the blast. The last thing he wanted was to be caught by the cops. So he carefully looked out, standing behind a mannequin. An oil tanker had blown off and people lay on the road like scattered pieces of meat moaning in pain.

He spotted a child weeping near a lady’ s body. She lay dead. Ali couldn’ t stand the sight. He immediately bent down and carried the baby. Not able to carry the weight of both the child and the cloth bundle he had gathered, he decided to let go off the bundle thinking he could always come back to get it. He pulled out a shawl from the bundle and wrapped the child.

The child had a chain with a pendant which said Nadira. Ali thought of handing over the child to some police officer. He didn’ t want her to end up in wrong hands. As he made his way through the street, he was interrupted by two boys in their early twenties, “ What’ s your name?” one man demanded.

“ Please, I need to go to a hospital. I have a kid,” Ali remarked.

One guy signaled to the other, “ Check him.”

He searched for an amulet but in vain. Ali had removed his amulet after the incident that happened to him long back. He had lost his faith in God.

Ali placed his palm over the child’ s pendant. “ Stay away from Muslims,” the man spoke out. And Ali nodded as the words pinched him.

Keeping his anger under control, he walked past them. Just when he thought he was done with them, one man called, “ hey, give us that necklace.”

Ali knew he had to give it. “But, what if they see the inscription on the pendant?” He threw the chain towards them and started walking fast. “ Nadira?” they exclaimed.

Ali had started running by now. He had to find some officer for the child’ s safety. One man threw a stone at him and it hit him on his shoulder. But, it won’ t stop him. He spotted some men, who seemed like task officers, at some hundred meters from him. He rushed hurriedly towards them. “I wish I get to them before those scoundrels catch me.”

Ali could hear those men dressed in black khakis shouting at him and asking to stop. “Can’t they understand? I can’t stop. I need help. This child needs help...”

Just when he thought he almost made it, a gun shot followed. Ali fell down with the child. He could see smoke coming out of the wound caused by the bullet. His favorite shirt was now stained with blood.

His vision was becoming blurred and he could only hear some people. He could figure out a man coming towards him. Ali pointed towards the girl child and smiled, “ This is not what I dreamt for.”

Then he uttered his final word, “ Allah… ”

7 Siddhartha rushed towards the man to hear him utter his final words “ Allah” . He checked on the child to know if it was hurt as well. “ Can’ t you see? You just shot an innocent guy,” Siddhartha screamed.

“ Siddhartha, listen we didn’ t know what he was carrying,” chief spoke as he checked for Ali’ s pulse, “ I can feel his pulse. Now somebody help me carry him. Paramedical has reached the blast site. Help me carry him to the site. We might still be able to save him.”

Commandos lifted Ali’ s body. They knew the effort was going to be in vain. Siddhartha carried the child and moved with them.

As they reached the blast site, they saw people scattered all over daubed in blood. Doctors were carrying few who had the chances of living yet another day in this world of retribution.

Dr. Hari was plastering a man’ s wounds when the chief and Siddhartha walked in. “ Doctor, we have a man here. He has been shot. Please come quickly.”

Siddhartha rushed to see him. Ali’ s heart was still ticking. But, it was too late. He had lost a lot of blood. As he reached for a towel to wipe off the blood, Ali regained consciousness, “ Saab, where is that girl?”

Siddhartha placed the child close to Ali. Ali looked at Hari and spoke, “ Saab, this is not my girl. Her mother died in that blast. I just wanted to help her. Her name is Nadira. As beautiful as her name isn’ t she?” he smiled as he gathered his last few ounces of air.

“ Saab, please take care of her. I had dreams,” he continued, “ But none could be fulfilled. I hope she gets a better life.”

“ Sure, I will give her a better life,” Hari exclaimed.

Ali smiled and silence followed.

Hari moved towards a girl’ s body covered with a sheet and sobbed. Siddhartha saw a photograph next to the body, the doctor carrying a girl. And the body was of the same girl. Hari’ s daughter, he presumed.

Siddhartha stood still, “ I am sorry,” he found it hard to speak. Hari moved on without even showing a sign of how disheveled he was. Hari wiped his tears and held Nadira high and she giggled. Hari knew he got his daughter back. “ Nadira,” he called out.

It is true that angels do exist. Not all have wings. There is an angel within all of us. It is time we realize it and make this world a better place to live in. Since when did we stop realizing that together we can make a difference. Somebody has to step forward. Somebody has to unleash the angel within him and so will all.

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