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This is not a cheery post. (Leo, you have been warned.)

It’s 3.04am and Janmashtami is now officially over. There were three handi within a stone’s throw of my house this year. The handi is a clay pot filled with buttermilk. It’s a critical part of Janmashtami celebrations. Janmashtami is the day when we say happy birthday to Krishna, the blue god who has tales of mischief from his youth and grows up to be one helluva Machiavellian character. Instead of cake, Krishna’s birthday is marked by a handi that dangles from a great height. A group of boys, known as govinda or govinda pathak, form a human pyramid to reach the handi and break it. This results in buttermilk pouring over one and all, in the manner of a champagne fountain. Obviously a crowd gathers and cheers. It’s loud, accompanied by music played on loud speakers and dangerous for the chaps doing the climbing and building. After the handi has been broken, the govinda get on a truck and go cruising about while making a racket. Most govinda teams are sponsored by political parties. You can tell which party sponsored the group from their t-shirts and the flags they wave. There’s also mad traffic and a small degree of mayhem since the streets are overrun with adrenalised young men, many of whom are sticky post buttermilk-drenching. It’s not pretty. You’d think living in a predominantly Christian neighbourhood would spare you the trauma of handi breakage and its associated mayhem. I did. Sadly, this year, it seems my building is at the centre of the Bermuda triangle of handi. On the plus side, one of them had an all-girl govinda team, which is a first for me. The other benefit of this pagan jollity is that it becomes pretty much impossible to leave the house so I worked from home.

Today, though, I wouldn’t have minded getting out and the hell away from everything.

The story of Krishna’s birth is a gory one. Krishna was born to Vasudeva and Devaki. Devaki was the princess of Mathura and sister to the king, Kansa. Kansa was learned there was a prophecy that Devaki’s eighth son would kill him so he imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki. The story goes that Devaki became pregnant eight times while in jail. The last two children were smuggled out and would grow up to be Balaram and Krishna. Kansa killed the other six by throwing the infants against the wall of Vasudeva and Devaki’s prison cell. It makes my spine curl to think of that prison cell, of Devaki living with that blood-stained wall. The thought of that cell saddened me even when I was told the story as a child but the horror of it really sank in later, when I became a little more knowledgeable about sex. I asked my mother once, “How could she do it? How could she bear to have sex, bear to even risk having a child, with that wall so near her?” It’s one of the few times that I’ve managed to render my mother speechless. Surely Kansa murdered those infants in the cell because he hoped that their deaths would haunt the imprisoned couple and keep them from making more babies? What kind of a man was Vasudeva that he kept having sex with Devaki? Was Devaki raped? She must have begged Vasudeva to not put her through another pregnancy, she must have begged the prison guards for help. How did everyone ignore her? How did anyone ignore that wall or Devaki?

An autorickshaw just purred its way past my house. There’s the sound of white noise in my ear — I was careless with the earbud — but I can hear the quiet hum of the neighbours’ air conditioners. A few streets away, some mongrels are having a conversation. Now the deep swoosh of a car and the murmur of leaves unsettled by the wind. Right now, if I heard some screaming, some thuds and then my doorbell rang, what would I do?

Night before last, at approximately 1.30am, Pallavi Purkayastha was killed by one of the guards stationed in her building. He hit her, raped her, stabbed her, slit her throat and left her to die once he was done. From the blood stains, you can tell that the bleeding Pallavi came out of her house, stumbled to the doors of the neighbouring flats. This seems to have happened between the stabbing and the slitting. Her blood stains are on at least one neighbour’s, Mr. K.T. Shah’s, doorbell. That neighbour says he heard nothing.

Here’s what I imagine:

It’s 1.30am. Mr. Shah hears thuds and screams. He thinks the young couple that lives next door is probably playing a video game, the inconsiderate bastards.

Or maybe he sleeps early, is a sound sleeper and didn’t hear any noise from next door.

Then the doorbell rings. Once. He looks at his mobile phone. It’s almost 1.45am. The doorbell rings again. He wonders who’s at the door at this hour. He looks out of his peephole. There’s a girl there, a young girl, the one who lives next door. She’s saying something, looking over her shoulder. He can hear her, he can see the fear in her. Is that blood?

Does Mr. Shah freeze in horror at the sight of the raped and beaten Pallavi?
Does he dither, unsure of whether he should open the door to her? Does he imagine a situation where he’s being asked uncomfortable questions because he helped a mysteriously hurt girl? Is he afraid that he’ll be blamed for her bloodied state?
Does he see the guard drag the injured Pallavi  — she’s screaming now. Screaming loudly, desperately. That’s why the guard slits her throat. She’s screaming and screaming — back to her flat? The flat with which Mr. Shah shares a wall. Is Mr. Shah scared that the guard will come after Mr. Shah if he opens the door? Does he want to call the police? Perhaps he doesn’t know what the number for the police. Perhaps all he can think of are the American shows he watches, in which people call 911.
How does Mr. Shah feel when the screaming suddenly stops?
Does he go back to sleep?

Or maybe Mr. Shah had taken a sleeping pill. Maybe the other three neighbours on the floor had all taken a hefty dose of Mr. Shah’s sleeping pill. Maybe that’s why no one realised there was a woman being raped and killed on their floor.
The only commonality between Devaki and Pallavi is that no one heard either of them. There were no saviours.

It’s 3.30am. Only the airconditioners keep humming. Even the mongrels have quietened. I’m still awake. I wonder if Mr. Shah is.

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4 thoughts on “Rest in peace

  1. This one left me with a strange feeling for the whole day…
    Pallavi P story is depressing and the neighbours reaction (or lack of) tells the story of modern societies: people barricaded in their houses, egoistically scared of anything that could hurt/destroy their loved one and possession + not knowing their neighbours therefore not feeling involved when something happen to them…when they do wittness it, because in Pallavi story, as you said it, we don’t know if the neighbours really did not hear anything or if they were to scared to react. What ever is true, they’ll have to carry the weight of it for the rest of their life…
    Pallavi P story is also saddening because it really tells the story of violence. violence that women are more likely to experience than men in a changing society where they (the women) don’t seem to follow what is considered the traditonal role. I guess it’s easier to blame the women than change people thinking…
    Now concerning Devaki, maybe the story should be looked at from another angle. You look at it, from a victim point of view, hence you can only feel bad for her. But, try to look at her as the hero of the story. I see her as the strong one. She’s showing Kansa that even if he’s put her and her husband in jail (by the way, if Kansa had been really clever he would’nt have put them in jail together!!!) and killed her children, she’s still the one “holding the knive by the handle” (as we say in French). Despite being deprived of her freedom and having to survive the death of her babies she still manages to scared Kansa and to make sure that the prophecy happens.
    So i think that her story can give women hope. In what seems to be our weakness we can find our strength. Maybe not in Pallavi P story but in other case it can…

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