The following story is my 1266-word entry to a 1200-word short story contest with the Lodhi empire as its theme. The winning entry can be read here
ACP Singh hated peeing in public. He hated killing human beings as well. However, when properly compensated, he would pee without a flinch. And kill.
A rain that subsided just before sunset had left south Delhi’s troughs and contours brimming with mucky water. It was almost an hour past sunset now. Singh, along with inspector Yadav, chose a puddle in front of the Lodhi Garden entrance to splutter their rueful bladders’ contents. The two constables, the driver and Irfan waited inside the Innova.
Irfan, with the numbing succinylcholine forcefully injected earlier, lay like a potato. It was raining when the policemen picked him from Batla House and shoved him in the car. They also looked for his roommate Anwar. The latter’s phone’s GPS traced him to Lodhi Garden and brought the party here. Although Irfan vehemently denied it till the drug rendered him dumb and senile, the policemen were convinced that the two Kashmiri scoundrels were in Delhi to execute some godforsaken separatist mission. Singh’s men were to hurl them to heaven. The plan involved utter secrecy. And a million rupees that had already been transferred to Singh’s account. He had checked the transfer earlier. Sitting beside him, Irfan had watched and noted his bank account password. In fact, the ACP had let him watch. The youngster would die anyway.
The air was tangy yellow wherever the streetlights reached. However, behind the walls or the trees, or far away from the lights’ reach, black trounced yellow. Thus, there were blackish brown tree trunks or blackish green grass where some light seeped in. And pitch black where the light was completely thwarted.
As their tinkles dwindled down and their eyes adjusted to the black zones, Singh and Yadav noticed a minute quiver at one of the black corners not too far inside the garden. They squinted. It was definitely a couple.
Ten minutes later, the car sped past Hauz Khas metro station. Singh sat on the passenger seat, Yadav and the constables were in the backseat. Irfan, a tall guy believed to be Anwar and a girl were huddled in the bench seat in the trunk. The girl was covered head to toe in a turquoise burqa. She was picked from inside Lodhi Garden, along with Anwar, and shoved into the car. Anwar nonchalantly obliged when Ratan craned back and injected him with the drug. They now had to let him talk. His speech would slur in around ten minutes. He would then slabber and go mute in another ten-fifteen minutes’ time.
Ratan attempted to prick the girl and she screamed, “Wadrega.”
Yadav instructed, “Leave the girl alone, smarty-pants. We don’t need drug to use her. Work on the boy.”
Ratan turned towards Anwar, “Anwar, how do you feel?”
“Who’s Anwar? My name is Raoff.”
Ratan chuckled, “Ok, Raoff. Where do you live?”
“You picked me up from Khairpur.”
Ratan craned back again, “And where’s your Anarkali from? The same place?”
“She’s from Sirhind.”
“Who do you work for?”
“Khan-i-khanan Bahlol Lodhi.”
“Weird name for a terrorist. Where did you meet Anarkali?”
“Talk about the first meeting.” Tired of asking questions, Ratan hoped for an elaborate answer.
“It was a stormy night. Our army was on the way to Delhi. We were close to the borders of Sirhind when the khan-i-khanan noticed a light from a hut a stone’s throw away. The light glowed unfazed despite the storm. An amazed khan-i-khanan checked in the hut while we waited outside. It belonged to a hermit named Amir Sayyid. I noticed another hut not too far away. A woman stared out its window. Her pale, surreal face smote me. Our eyes locked. We stood like that for close to a minute. I guess she then heard a flutter inside the hut and vanished.”
Singh frowned, “I hope you’re not talking about someone related to Ibrahim Lodhi?”
“I believe Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi was the khan-i-khanan’s grandson.”
The policemen guffawed.
JNU’s long wall ran parallel to the car. Ratan urged, “Carry on. How did you unite?”
“A spate of treachery saw the khan-i-khanan annex the Delhi throne two nights later. This is exactly what Amir Sayyid had prophesied. The khan-i-khanan was elated, and went back to meet the hermit a week later. He carried tons of fruits, flowers and his daughter Taj Murassa to bestow on the saint. The hermit was also conferred the title mir-i-miran. I accompanied the sultan this time as well. While the sultan supervised his daughter’s nikah, I walked up to the other hut hoping to meet the owner of that pale face again. Much to my relief, I didn’t wait too long. She had been out on some errand, and appeared a while later. Our eyes locked again. We stood still for a few noiseless moments. I mastered courage and was about to speak to her when a noise from the hut drew her inside it. Later that night, on my way to Delhi, someone accosted me. Although the stranger was covered head to toe in a burqa, I knew it was she. We shared a horse ride all the way to Delhi.”
The car swished past a roundabout ahead of DLF Promenade.
Singh asked, “Ratan, what’s going on?”
“Sir, it’s all horseshit, but is a good story.”
“I’m not talking about him, idiot. Was it succinylcholine that you inserted or crack? His speech is still intact.”
Ratan frowned, “Raoff, what happened later? Did you get married?”
“We didn’t. We reached Delhi by afternoon. Love was in the air. Her pale velvet skin, that amazing body and a mellifluous voice left me transfixed. We made endless love through the night. The next morning, a relentless knock at my door jolted me off sleep. She clung to me. I carefully unclasped her arms off me and opened the door to a weird rotund man with shoulder-length hair and beard resembling a bird’s nest. I squeezed my groggy eyes and saw him stab me with a knife. He happened to be her husband, and stabbed her as well. We died a blood-red death.”
There was a peal of laughter in the car that now stood beside a jungle.
“Enough of his story,” Singh hissed. “Let’s do Irfan first. We’ll think about Anwar later.”
The driver stepped out to open the back door and folded the left seat. Three policemen effortlessly tugged Irfan out of the car, laid him ten feet away on the road and sat back in the car. Still in the passenger seat, Singh rolled down his window glass and trained a pistol at Irfan. A row of LED bulbs glowed atop a wall not too far away with a signboard on it that read “TERI”. It was otherwise dark and desolate. Irfan shut his limp eyelids. A few raindrops cuffed him. He failed to see the brutal white rope of lightning that cracked the sky, split the air and banged the car. He did open his eyes to a scorched car with five men trembling in agony. A booming thunder rattled the earth. He then saw the couple glide off the car.
The woman removed the burqa to reveal a beguiling oval face and mouthed an electric smile. Raoff said, “Khuda hafiz.” His eyes were calm.
The drizzle gave in to a heavy shower and the duo melted in it.
By morning, media was abuzz with news of ACP Singh and his associates killed by lightning.
A hands-to-mouth fruit-seller returned to the picturesque valley, bought a chain of houseboats in the next few months and mostly led a contented life.
Copyright: Souptik Banerjee