Book Excerpt Prologue
20 August 2018
Somewhere in the cold mountains of Leh, India. Date: 2nd January. The sheep were nibbling away on sparse grass that lay shaded from the slow drizzle of snow. A figure, shrouded in dirty rags sat on a rock nearby, all alone. One hand held a long stick which flicked lazily at the sheep once in a while. Though the skinny spare body and face were totally covered, the eyes could be seen darting this way and that, furtively. Although the body language spoke of total lethargy, the eyes were spewing hate.... the bloodshot eyes of a fanatic. Suddenly there were some stealthy movements near the broken fences of the Indo-Pak border. A small lamb was pulled out of the herd and bundled into a bush. The figure consciously avoided looking there, by deliberately averting gaze and turning to look up as if to check the snowfall. After a while, the lamb was tossed back into the flock and it got up on wobbly legs and joined the herd. The figure sauntered nonchalantly and lazily picked up the lamb and leisurely hugged it, as the fingers explored the belly and found the piece of paper neatly folded and stuck there. Again the eyes darted all around to check and make sure that no one lurked around. After a long pause, the figure slowly unfolded the paper and read it.
To: Agent Kafir.
Flight XXXXXX. Date 13th August. Agent Kafir let out a whoop of excitement screaming wildly 'Subaan Allah'. The fanatic laughter never left until the paper was torn to shreds and thrown away.
CHAPTER 1 NILIMA
Nilima Ranjan Baruah sat on the bed as the tears slowly rolled down her cheeks. She thought to herself 'one last time' and went and stood in the small compact balcony. She gazed at the characterless buildings on either side of her apartment block, drawing comfort from their anonymity. Then she looked for that slice of blue sky visible through the buildings, marvelling at the small piece of beauty amidst all that concrete jungle.
Her gaze travelled down to her own balcony. Earlier it used to be full of potted plants with lovely flowers. Some she kept for the colors and others for the fragrance. Now, only the faint ring-marks of the pots remained. Determinedly wiping away the tears she walked back into the bedroom and sat down filling up the suitcases. As she automatically packed her things, she came across a very old album. She took it out with loving hands and began flicking through. Her childhood in Assam... school photos... her NCC and rock climbing activities... the black and white wedding snaps with her handsome husband smiling... her ‘first day in Mumbai’ photo... the class photo with her students as she took their drill... the march past photo as she stood rigidly saluting... the middle-aged photo in her new office with ‘Principal’ board on the table.
The next photo was that of her husband, cut out of the newspaper from the obituary column. She thought about the empty slots in the album after that. No children’s photos as she did not have any. No photos of her life after that, as she completely devoted herself to the school. No photos of herself as her school went on to win many laurels and marched ahead with more and more students wanting to get admissions. No photos of the teams she had taken to the Himalayas on mountain climbing expeditions. No photos of the empty house and lonely life she had at home. She closed the album reverently and placed it inside the suitcase.
But her mind continued the train of thought. She thought of the sudden taking over of her school by new board members who wanted the school to become more academics oriented and less tuned to sports and related activities. Their first action was to remove her, and appoint the Head of the Department of Physics, as the new Principal of the school.
After spending many sad, sleepless nights, Nilima decided to go back home to her old house in Assam. True, her parents were dead. But there were some assorted uncles and aunts still living in the village. Leaving Mumbai which had been home for three decades was very tough. But with iron determination, she had booked the tickets, noting sadly that she was leaving Mumbai two days ahead of Independence Day.
She had hastened her departure as she wanted to avoid the dubious honor of being nominated as the chief guest at her own school. Of course, she couldn't go. She couldn't give those formal speeches and pretend that she didn't care that she was not the Principal of the school anymore. That's why she had speeded up her departure and booked a flight to Guwahati via Delhi.
She became very morose at the thought of how dull her life was going to be, back in the village, after her busy life in Mumbai. Little did she know that her immediate future was going to be anything but dull.