Short Stories : Ashvamegh : Issue X : November 2015 : ISSN : 2454-4574
Short Stories, November 2015, Issue X
Welcome to the stories section of Ashvamegh Issue X. On this page, you can read the stories by our selected authors.
Read Robinhood of Chitrakoot by Ashok Patwari
Robinhood of Chitrakoot by Ashok Patwari
Raghu suddenly felt numbness in both his legs and he decided to squat for a while after standing for a long time in the hideout – a hollow space in the trunk of a huge banyan tree. It was almost at sunset when he ventured to enter the hideout with a lot of optimism!
Waiting inside a hideout in the trunk of a tree wasn’t the best place to spend the evening in a hot and humid day but for him this was strategically the best place to operationalise his plans and wait for some vulnerable prey to appear on the lonely road connecting the outskirts of the town from the south end. It was his third fruitless day in succession and he had already spent over four hours by now! Even the last attempt, four days ago, wasn’t really a successful one. That evening he chose to try the northern side of the town connecting the bus stand and the main market. After waiting for several hours all that he got was a malnourished middle aged man with just a hundred rupee note on his person. It was almost a failed attempt he didn’t want to remember, but after waiting in vain for several hours it got on his mind to diminish his optimism.
“Please let me go…” the man had pleaded. “ I don’t have any money except for this note. I am going to buy medicine for my son… he is sick….”
“Give it to me….” roared Raghu while pressing his rampuri (knife ) against his jugulars.
“Please… I beg you…” the man dared to say in a choked voice but before he could feel any relief of pain in his neck Raghu had snatched the hundred rupee note from his hand and pushed him away. The next moment Raghu cycled away from the spot. The man kept on screaming for help but Raghu had already vanished.
That night Raghu did feel bad for a while as he was buying some roti and dal from a dhaba near his home, but the very next moment he started calculating for how many days his earning of hundred rupees can support them.
Raghu was under the impression that south connecting road would be a better location for his operation. Because of a cinema hall nearby and the connecting road to the local railway station, possibility of finding a victim was greater. But so far he only noticed groups of people walking together or driving a motor bike passing by his side. He hid his bicycle behind the banyan tree and watched the road like a submarine with his body hidden in the hollow space in the trunk of the tree. Unfortunately last three locales were worst than the north road. He was quite optimistic about this one and positioned himself in the hide out soon after sunset. But except for coughing out dust and mud produced by fast moving three wheelers and a mini bus he didn’t see a single prey he could handle successfully. His frustration overwhelmed him and he cursed his fate why he had to take up this profession.
Raghu was not the brightest student in his middle school but was doing fine in his class. With hardly any stimulation from his illiterate mother and perpetually absent father he was able to get through his examination without any problem. Since most of his classmates were much younger than him, he always felt confident about himself even though he ranked in the group of students with lowest marks. But he had no complexes because, unlike several of his classmates, his mother never had to see his teachers to plead for promoting him to the next class. In fact she never came to see him in his school. It was one of his neighbours who came with him for the first time when he was admitted in the school.
But that fateful day his mother came to his school for the first time. He was in his classroom when he saw his mother through the window. She looked petrified and without a word coming from her mouth she gestured him to immediately come out of his classroom. Raghu had never seen that kind of an expression on her face and coming to his school like this definitely indicated a serious problem.
Raghu was surprised when his mother asked him to follow her towards the beehad (deep forest) away from the village. He kept on asking her where they were going while they passed through the beehad. But she didn’t answer and only pleaded him to walk faster before it is too late. The reality was obvious when they entered a camouflaged bunker deep inside the forest.
There was his father, Daku Shamsheer Singh gasping for breath and trying to stick on to his life. He was hit by three police bullets in his right leg and abdomen and a fourth bullet on his left arm was from his own gang members when they were trapped in a police encounter. The fourth bullet was meant to kill him because with those serious injuries he became a liability to the gang and leaving him behind alive was even worse. The bullet missed his heart but pierced his arm. Shamsheer Singh pretended to be dead and later managed to crawl out from the scene of encounter but was unable to seek any medical help for over a fortnight. By now his bullet wounds were infected and his right leg was gangrenous.
Raghu was so shocked to see his father in that condition that his voice failed him. He couldn’t speak a word. It didn’t take him too long to know the reality about his father and to realize that he was dying.
After his father’s death all that Raghu inherited was a stigma that his father was a bandit though nobody in their neighbourhood knew this fact all these years. After quietly cremating his father in the beehad, Raghu took time to review the situation and to decide about his and his mother’s future after his father was gone.
Raghu for the first time learnt from his mother that his grandfather Daler Singh was a dreaded dacoit in Chambal and had his own strong gang of bandits. He was an orphan raised by a dacoit who eventually handed over the reins of his gang to him. Daku Daler Singh, like many others in the ravines of Chambal, specifically targeted the rich and never attacked children, women, poor and the sick. It was on record that he had monetarily helped several poor farmers to marry off their daughters. Daler Singh never forgot that he was an orphan and secretly donated to couple of orphanges in Lucknow. In a way he and other dacoits in his time were like local Robinhoods who targeted only the rich and helped the poor. By the time Daler Singh passed on the baton to Shamsheer Singh things had dramatically changed in Bunderkhand area. It had become increasingly difficult to target rich people because they were protected by their strong security system with couple of strong body guards protecting them and their households all the time. Installation of CCTVs at key vulnerable positions and increasing public awareness and self security system of majority of well to do families made their life difficult. Dacoity became a risky and less gainful profession. Some dreaded dacoits were rehabilitated by opting for politics and got busy fighting elections. With the increasing necessities in life and dwindling resources there were more vultures than the corpses. Inter-gang rivalry was at its peak and some bandits felt safer inside the jails than in the beehad.
There were only a few strong groups of bandits left who brandished AK-series assault rifles and had the privilege of making their operations more effective using Russian made binoculars. But everybody wasn’t as lucky and many dreaded dacoits surrendered themselves to inhabit the jails for rest of their life. It was an end of the era of Robinhoods. Mushrooming of individuals or smaller groups of bandits became a reality. For Shamsher Singh it was a climb down from where his illustrious father stood like a rock for years as the most dreaded dacoit of Chitrakoot district, who was also respected as a kind hearted Robinhood by the poor villagers. Shamsher Singh could not retain the glory of his father’s gang. Within years of Daler Singh’s death his gang disintegrated and the only option left for him was to join up as an ordinary member of a splinter group from Thokia gang. Despite the downhill graph as an individual bandit he was lucky He to have a AK-47 which qualified him to work with the gang. But after sustaining severe injuries during the police encounter on that fateful day he became a liability for the gang with a potential risk of turning as an approver incase he was caught alive. Therefore his gang members not only tried to eliminate him but also took away his AK-47 to save his identity. His half dead body was accidentally discovered by village barber, who also served as a part time messenger for the gang, and he quietly informed Raghu’s mother about the tragedy.
Raghu was mature enough to assess the situation after his father’s death and had no doubt about what was in store for them. That fateful day when his mother came to call him was his last day in the school. Even though people living in their neighbourhood did not know about their relation with Daku Shamsher Singh, they preferred to move to another place to start their life afresh. While struggling to survive with whatever little money they were left with, Raghu tried his best to forget his lineage and move on to the main stream but his life had already taken a turn for the worse. Daku Daler Singh’s grandson was left with no option but to follow his ancestral vocation.
Raghu could not even think of becoming somebody like his grandfather because over the time things had drastically changed in whole of Bundelkhand region. More so in Banda and Chitrakoot districts which at one time virtually witnessed a parallel administration by famous dacoits like Dadua, Nirbhay Gujjar, Thokia and many others. There were hardly any bandits left now. Most of the off springs of the dreaded breed were so cash-strapped that they had to remodel themselves in to small scale thugs relying on empty roads, deep forests, lonely spots etc. There was hardly any difference between a bandit or a bootlegger , a chain snatcher or a petty thief. The only difference perhaps was that the so called dynastic dacoits always carried a weapon usually a country made pistol or a rampuri (knife) for their operations. The second unique feature with this new generation of dynastic dacoits was that they themselves decided the victims, place and the time for the loot. Keeping the tradition of their ‘royal genes’ they would not snatch and run away with the valuables but expect the victim to surrender and handover their belongings under the nozzle of the pistol or the sharp edge of a rampuri.
Raghu had aspired to be like other people in his neighbourhood, working in a factory, as office attendant, driver or something else which he believed were respectful means of earning. His mother was very keen he attended a school and at least passed his 10th class. Though his father remained invisible most of the time, he also endorsed his mother’s decision. But the moment reality dawned upon Raghu he looked at the situation with a practical outlook and understood what was the writing on the wall for him.
The ganta ghar (the municipal clock), far away in the center of the town at least a mile away from Raghu’s hideout, struck twelve midnight. Raghu faced disappointment once again like the previous three nights. His effort was a waste again. He knew that due to security reasons lately the night show used to be over by half past eleven. It was already twelve and there was no trace of a lonely victim coming from the direction of cinema hall. There was no hope to prey upon a lonely train passenger coming from the railway station because it was a small railway station and except for a couple of passenger trains most of the trains passed through the station. He didn’t expect any train stopping there till next morning. Frustrated with another day of failure Raghu came out from his hideout and started moving slowly towards his bicycle when he heard the whistle of the train.
A surge of happiness rippled all over his face. He had not realized that the last train to nearby railway station which usually arrived by eight in the evening was late. In his own deep thoughts he did not register that he did not hear any whistle after hiding inside the tree. It took him no time to imagine that this must have been Chitrakoot Express which was late, may be a good omen for him. He immediately returned to his hideout and started looking out for a miracle at this late hour.
And a miracle did happen!
Raghu saw an image suddenly appearing from nowhere and gradually coming towards him. “Must be a local person arriving by this late train”, Raghu guessed. The man looked lean and thin carrying an overweight handbag which he was finding difficult to handle. Raghu’s imagination incited him and he felt happy to see the man who was not physically so strong and was carrying an unmanageable baggage, a perfect victim from his point of view. The man couldn’t overpower him even if Raghu had no rampuri and even if he dared to run away the person couldn’t run with that bag. The situation was perfect for a successful operation.
Raghu got ready for the act, made a stiff face before the real action, checked his rampuri in his pocket and readied himself to pounce upon the victim at the right moment. As the person drew nearer, Raghu started feeling a bit nervous for no good reason. The person in focus appeared to be a familiar face but Raghu got over those strange feelings and considered his planned operation as his primary task which had to be accomplished at any cost, whether that person is known or unknown to him.
As soon as the person came very close to the banyan tree, Raghu rolled out like a tennis ball from his hiding with the speed of a panther. He was about to take out the knife from his pocket when the person in front of him got startled by his abrupt appearance.
“Raghu….. what are you doing here..?”, it was Pandit Dina Nath, his Hindi teacher who was already breathless carrying his heavy bag.
Raghu was crestfallen!
What a coincidence ? What a fate ?? For a moment Raghu thought his face was covered as he always did before conducting his operations. But waiting for five hours in the hideout in suffocating weather had really drained him off his senses. He had forgotten to take this safety precaution and was face to face in front of his Hindi teacher. He felt tongue tied and his vocal cords paralysed !
“It is midnight and you are roaming around…..” Dina Nath put his bag on the ground and in his typical style with his left hand over his hip he gestured with his right hand, “You should have been in bed at this time”.
“ Have you run away from home……?” Dina Nath gave a gentle slap on Raghu’s right cheek and said with a smile, “ got a scolding from your mother or had a fight with your elder brother……”
“No…no… Master Ji… I was a with a friend who had to take the train…. “Raghu’s vocal cords got unlocked and he muttered.
“Good boys don’t run away from home like this…. ” Dina Nath came closer to him and affectionately touched his shoulders, “Come on! I will take you with me…”
Raghu felt as if caught in a death trap. He breathed a long sigh without realizing that his Master Ji’s nose was always extra sensitive.
Dina Nath suddenly stopped walking. He placed another gentle slap on Raghu’s cheek, this time harder than the previous one, and without looking in to his eyes he muttered “Now….you have started smoking also?” Raghu looked down remorsefully.
Without looking at Raghu’ apologetic face Dina Nath looked unhappy and serious expressions appeared on his face. He bent down to pick up his bag and whispered in Raghu’s ears, “Good boys don’t smoke….”
Disappointment was evident on Dina Nath’s face. Raghu’s smoking habit had really disturbed him. He lifted his bag and started walking. But because of the heavy bag he swayed and almost lost his balance.
‘Master Ji, let me help you with this bag…” Raghu offered to help.
“No. It is Ok. I can carry it myself…”, Dina Nath was still in a bad mood. “I always told you that smoking is bad for health… you have forgotten everything I taught you…”
Raghu avoided the second part of his conversation but offered his help again, “Sorry Master Ji, but please allow me to help you. I have a bicycle with me …”
Dina Nath couldn’t cheer himself up but when he saw Raghu’s bicycle behind the tree he relented looking at his heavy bag and gave his nod.
Next moment Raghu was pedaling his bicycle towards Master Ji’s house. Master Dina Nath was still unhappy but quietly sitting on the carrier of the bicycle, tightly holding on to his heavy bag!
Introduction to the Author:
Ashok Patwari is a Pediatrician and Public Health Researcher by profession. Apart from his professional contribution as Professor of Pediatrics at Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi and as Research Professor in International Health at Boston University School of Public Health, He has also served World Health Organization in India and Philippines.
He has been writing Urdu short stories for a long time. A compilation of his short stories in Urdu titled ‘Kuch lamhey kuch saayey’ was awarded by Delhi Urdu Academy in 2005. He has also published 4 collections of Hindi short stories ‘Behta paani’ (in print), ‘Racecourse key goddey’, ‘Sitaron sey aagey’ and ‘Ghonsla’ (e-books).
He has published around 75 short stories in English, in print and online journals, during the last 20 years encompassing a wide spectrum of social issues and events which often jiggle a creative mind. He regularly contributes to ‘Muse India’, ‘Contemporary Literature Review of India’ and ‘Phenomenal Literature’