Little Vishal did not understand it at all. Why were people not scolding him today? Why was daddy not draping the superman cape around his little back? Why was granny not shouting at him to take bath? Why was Sneha didi not complaining nor crying when he rummaged through her bag? And mom. Where was she?
The three year old had not heard his mom’s voice since morning. Everyone was out in the veranda and the lawn. But whenever he tried to go there, he was stopped by someone. So he made ruckus inside, in the hope that someone would ask him to go out. But it was strange today. Not one soul shouted at him. And all of them looked…now what was it called? Sad? Papa avoided looking at him. But his eyes looked red, like the monster on Nickelodeon. But why? Granny did not bother to change her saree; she generally did that every morning. But where was mom? Was she angry with him for fussing over his dinner last night?
“Oh Krishnaji, I will drink my milk and eat my food without troubling mom. I promise. Please tell her not to be angry with me.” Vishal closed his eyes, joined his baby palms and prayed faithfully.
But his mother was not going to come back to him ever again.
At 5:30 every morning, Saakshi went to the milk booth nearby. Like any other day she had gone out today. She bought the milk and was on her way back. Suddenly a man attacked her. He had a sharp blade in his hand. He asked her to give her valuables to him. Frightened at the situation, Saakshi looked around for help. There were others who had come to the milk shop. But everyone watched with intrigue and fear. Not one person stood up for helpless Sakshi. She handed over the milk packet to him, and cried out loud, “Please let me go. I don’t have anything with me.” Furious and frustrated the attacker caught her by the hair and pulled her away from public sight. The bystanders tiptoed and followed. The attacker looked back and fumed at them, flashing at them the sharp blade. At his hideout nearby, the angry man raped Sakshi and then slit her wrists like it was a demon’s doing. 6:30am Saakshi, a mother, a wife, a daughter died.
Where is father? Why hasn’t he come back home? Has God listened to mother’s prayers? We have not eaten the whole day. I am very hungry. But so is mother. So I cannot complain right now. But tomorrow morning I will sit at the mosque gate. Someone will surely give me something to eat.
The little four year old Shabnam was worried about her father. He had left in the afternoon. He had beaten mother as usual and then left the shack with Rs 50. That was all mother had with her. Mother had cried the whole day cursing her luck. She had prayed to god to make this man, her husband disappear forever. And then she had cried again. Now her tears had dried and she was asleep on the dirty floor. There was nothing to eat inside the shack. Shabnam did not feel like crying again. Instead she took her limbless doll and pretended to make dough with water and loose mud. Evening had given way to night and now all was quiet. Tired and lonely, Shabnam sat down beside her mother; ‘where is father? When will he come?’ she thought.
Her mother stirred a little. Shabnam put her dirty little palm on her mother’s forehead. It was burning. The little girl had seen others put wet cloth on the forehead when it was hot. She did the same. And she prayed. “Allah, please make my mother fine. I will not complain about being hungry. I promise.”
Suddenly at the dead of the night, she heard her father come in. He was screaming and calling names to someone or something called ‘Sala Sarkar’. Shabnam did not understand the target for his father’s rage, but he was very angry, and she understood that perfectly. Getting up from beside her mother, little Shabnam put a glass of water near the entrance. “Father must be parched after all the screaming.” She thought.
Finally he came inside the shack. He demanded food. Shabnam was scared to say no. So she kept quiet. She was expecting a tight slap on her face. To her shock and surprise, her father broke down crying.
“Why is he crying? Is he hungry like me? But I am not crying. Maybe the Sarkar he was shouting at has hurt him. Or maybe he lost the Rs 50.” Her tiny mind could not process the scene before her.
Her father looked at her sick mother. Her breathing had become very shallow. In a vain effort, he tried to soothe her. And then slowly, like a wilted leaf, she stopped breathing. Like a possessed man, the father looked around for something. He was not crying. Certain hardness had set upon his face. He was searching frantically for something.
The little four year old Shabnam had dozed off in the middle of all this. The noise of utensils falling woke her up. As she opened her eyes, she saw her father run out of the house with a shining sharp blade in his hand!
A day after Sakshi’s death, riot broke out in the city.
Hindus blamed Muslims for their barbaric behavior. Muslims in the city retorted. Hindu men attacked Muslim women on the streets. Muslims responded with equal violence. A curfew set in. Military troops poured in to control the violence. Hindus were injured. Muslims lay bleeding. Blood banks we busy supplying blood to the injured men. And in the midst of all this two little children wondered:
“Why didn’t Krishna bring back my mom?”
“Why did Allah take my mom?”