Evening on the Dark Streets

Apoorva Khare

With eyes glued on the laptop screen and the piles of document to finish before the deadline, the mind, however, was finding it hard to stay focus on the job. The faint sound of the “Breaking News” coming from television kept in the common room was enough to give my heart a reason to twitch and quiver. The clock ticked and my heart trembled with the thought of sitting two more hours before signing off for the day. Suddenly, the door slam shut and the manager rushed to my cubicle. “The situation has turned out of hand and it is better to rush,” he said, “leave right now and ask others to follow as well.” Hearing concern and tremors in his voice, I leaptand pranced towards the common room to inform others. The morning newspaper had already voiced the upturn of events that might take place today in the city wide protest going on for the last two days. But the situation would take such an upward trend was not anticipated. The ongoing peaceful protect turned into a ragging war within a few hours, reasons of which were not known until then.

I grabbed my bag and moved out of the colossal building standing firm in the then declared ‘alert zone’. As I stepped out, miffed breeze caressed my hair. I took a deep assuring breath before setting my foot in the ‘zone’. The evening sky was wearing its perfect hues with the speckles of tangerine clouds cascading the blue sky. The horizon flared in the scarlet red, making way for the night sky. However, there was an absurd alienation in the air. Perhaps, nature too was trying to taste human emotions. The winter season had made all the trees shed their leaves and on the tar roads, brown trees stood in the linear chain with their branches running in all direction. The roads—otherwise bustling with chaiwallahs, autowallah, and roadside kiosks—carried an eerie silence in them. The shops were shut and the only person accompanying me was my shadow. Soon I reached the crossroad. With the thought that the metro station is just 10 minutes away, I smiled a little to myself, turned and started walking. And in a flash, I saw a car burning profusely a few steps ahead of me. The oil was oozing out of the car and the metal body, now churned in black, was emitting hatred it had just witnessed first-hand. I swallowed my gut and stood frozen on the spot. My head jerked with the uproar in the air. I turned and saw a group of almost fifty men hollering slogan and running in my direction. They were carrying batons and fired whatever came in the way; gas bombs were thrown and soon everything blurred. Some of them were carrying sticks covered in blood with satanic smiles pasted on their face. As they reached the end of the lane, they flamed the tall peepal tree flowering on the left side; and beneath it, the tapri that used to be my relaxation point burnt slowly, the smoke gently mingling with the winter air. I could see Ramesh bhaiya watching everything from afar; standing firm, without blinking. But not a single drop of tear rolled from his eyes. Glum, he turned and left the spot. Myriad of shops running parallel with blazing vehicles were either broken or set on fire. Civilians were running amok in fear and trying to it put off. The trees were uprooted and dividers on road, hammered. On the extreme right, a bull-cart was stuck in the middle, and the animal screeched in fright. The next moment, a little boy hiding underneath the shackles of his burnt shops came and helped the bull to run away from the clutches. No sooner did they run, the crowd set it on fire too. The maddening crowd was now just a few steps away when an auto came and stopped in front of me. The driver signalled me to jump in and we drove past the crowd.

As we neared the residential area, I saw gloomy roads of the city laden with ill
muteness. The windows and doors were jam-locked and not even a soul was
present in the deserted lanes. The hollowness had sucked the life out of the city. I looked out and saw a cart turned upside down and all the vegetables and fruits squashed on the road. At a distance, a dog with his foot cut and body heavily bruised was wailing in pain waiting for his last moments. Benumbed, looking at the broken street lights, wall painted in black with hate slogans, roadside shops burned and screeching voices coming from afar, I zoomed past the metropolitan. “The station is on the other side of the road, just 100 meters away. No public vehicles are allowed going there; I am afraid you have to walk,” said the driver. I thanked him for his help, and though reluctantly, I stepped out again. Faint sirens were echoing in the air. Grey clouds evaporated from the ashes of burned building enveloped the city and the air felt stuffy with burnt pollutants. The sky was turning darker and the only light present to guide me was coming from a broken street lamp on the pavement. With my eyes dug deep on the road, I clutched my handbag a little tighter and sprinted forward. Soon I was inside the metro.

As I sat, I looked down from the window. Everyday view of bustling lanes, people on road, shops filled with customers and the golden-coloured setting sun was changed into a reflection of nether regions. Only police cars and ambulances raced down the road. The streets today were draped in the shroud and the only sound, in the otherwise peaceful city, was blaring cry

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