When a Great Tree Falls…
Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 24 February, 2015
Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar. All Rights Reserved.
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All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.
This is purely a work of fiction. This work of fiction has been inspired by real-life events, and uses events and quotes from real-life events for the setting of the story, but those events have only been used as an anchor to give this story a context. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. There is no direct or implied allegation in this work of any crimes committed by any real people. This is an essay meant to be assessed purely on its literary merit and has been written purely to showcase the author’s skills in literary fiction. The entire scenario depicted here is simply a “what if” portrayal of how power may be abused. The author makes no claims that any of the events mentioned herein actually occurred in real life.
Sanjiv continued looking at the television, his face set, his eyes red, his fists clenched, his knuckles white. They were showing his mother's dead body round the clock, interspersed with shots of crowds yelling "khoon ka badla khoon se lengey." (“We will avenge blood by blood.”)
His childhood friend, the big Bollywood star, Vijay Verma, was also there on TV, saying the same thing. How long we have known each other, thought Sanjiv. A good man, he thought. A friend in need.
His mother, the Prime Minister, had been assassinated by Sikh assailants that morning. The party had quickly made him the new Prime Minister, but right now he was too numb to think about that. His biggest anchor in life, his mother, was gone, never to come back.
He couldn't go on. He switched off the TV. It was 10 pm. His wife Tanya came to the living room and said, "It's late. You look terrible. It’s been a long, rough day. You need some rest." He waved her off and said, "I know. I’ll sleep in a little while. You go to bed."
He opened his cabinet and pulled out a bottle of scotch. He took out a glass and poured out a large double. No soda, no water, no ice. He took a long sip and let the whisky burn his throat. I don't want anything to mask the pain today, he thought to himself.
He stared into the opposite wall that was blank except for a photograph of his grandfather with his mother. Thoughts of the meeting at the house earlier came back to him in a flood, and he closed his eyes as he winced again at the pain within...
Earlier That Evening…
His home had been full of friends, and while he himself could not speak much, his friends and colleagues of his slain mother did all the talking.
"Those Sikh bastards should all be burned alive!" thundered Jatin. Many made sympathetic noises and nodded their heads grimly.
"We should pick them out one by one, and teach them a lesson they will never forget!" yelled Vimal, his eyes bloodshot, his face twisted with rage.
"We'll bury the bastards alive!" shouted Ajay. “They took your mom, we'll take their mothers. And sisters. And daughters. We'll make them feel pain like they never have felt before."
Sanjiv said nothing. His face was stony, devoid of any emotion. He looked at Jatin, then Vimal, then Ajay, and then continued to look down on the ground.
"Shut up, all of you," growled Kishan, who was sprawled out on the armchair opposite Sanjiv. Kishan was built like an ox, and was the de-facto king of the capital city. When he spoke, everyone listened. He had a habit of wearing dark goggles even indoors and at night, which added to his intimidation quotient.
"Can't you see he is upset? Is this the time for us to bother him like this by yelling like this? Don't you fellows know how to behave in a house of mourning? Leave him alone."
He then got up, giving the signal for the others to follow suit, and put his arm around Sanjiv, and said, "She was like a mother to us too. We sons are not ungrateful. Don't worry about a thing. You have a lot of grieving to do. Focus on mom's funeral. We will take care of everything."
Sanjiv did not say anything, but nodded silently.
***Sanjiv refilled his drink and turned on the TV again. They were broadcasting his mother's last speech: "If I were to die tomorrow, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation." He hastily switched off the TV again, unable to bear the pain.
As the neat drink scorched his throat again, he thought of a conversation with his mom a few months ago...
***"But mom, are you sure?"
"Bloody hell, yeah I'm sure. I made that pipsqueak who he is. And he dares to thumb his nose at me? I'll teach him a lesson he won't forget."
"But they are dangerous people, mom!"
"And you think your mother is a sheep? Son, politics is a business in which a woman has to become as tough as a man!"
"But what if something goes wrong?"
"Be a man, Sanjiv!!!" yelled his mother, her eyes furious. Sanjiv was stunned. He had never seen his mother this angry. Her face was white with rage, her lips quivering, her hair disheveled because of how rapidly she had whirled around to face him.
Seeing the stunned look on his face, she composed herself, and told him, this time in a gentle voice, "I have talked to Gen. Krishna and Gen. Shridhar. There is no risk. Don't worry."
***The alcohol burned again in his throat as he thought, "maybe she should have worried."
He thought for a long time in the silence. Then he finally said to himself, "Yes, she was right. This is the time to be a man."
He looked at his watch. It was 2 am. "What must be done has to be done," he thought to himself.
He would not make the call to Kishan.
Let the boys take care of things.
He finally went to bed.
Four Days Later…
Sanjiv got out of the bathroom and got dressed.
Since he had those few glasses of neat scotch a few days ago, the burning had not left his throat. He drank some water to make himself feel better.
He had almost finished dressing when the doorbell rang. It was Kishan.
"It's done." said Kishan quietly.
"Yes?" inquired Sanjiv.
"We took care of them."
The burning in the throat suddenly stopped.
"Jatin took care of Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri; I took care of Shakarpur; Vimal took care of Rakab Ganj. Everyone contributed. No place was left untouched. In Trilokpuri Ajay..."
Sanjiv interrupted him. "That's enough. We will talk later. Not now."
Kishan paused, thought for a minute, and then said, slowly and carefully, "It had to be done, you realize, don’t you, Sanjiv?"
"I do.” Putting his arm on Kishan’s shoulder, Sanjiv said, “Thank you.”
Kishan held Sanjiv’s hand in both of his, shook it, and turned to leave. As he was leaving, Sanjiv said, "Kishan."
Kishan turned to face him. "Yes?"
"The family will never forget what you have done for us."
"You make sure the others know as well."
"Good. Now I have to go to Doordarshan."
***Half an hour later, Sanjiv addressed the country on national TV. He appealed for calm and asked people to put aside hatred. He said that what had happened was regrettable, but said:
"When a great tree falls, the earth must shake a little."