This story is dedicated to Madhuri Maitra, my creative writing teacher who taught me how to rewrite.
Rafeeq graduated on the same day as the Delhi 2012 bombing; the rest of the world may think it was a coincidence but he knew it to be divine cruelty. The value of an MBA takes a steep dive when the entire country is forced into war. The only commodities worth manufacturing now were food grains and medical supplies. Even then there heavy price restrictions. But one still needed money to buy food. Hunger had become an omnipresent entity and jobs were scarce.
That past week he had already attended 11 job interviews. He had called up many companies for the umpteenth time, and they all gave him the same “I’m sorry, but you are just not right for us right now” line. He would have given up years ago if he had the luxury, but he knew he couldn’t. And that drove him to the next one, and the next one, and so on.
Back at home, his ailing-father’s-ammunition-factory-job was what was keeping the entire family alive. He had been a successful paan wholesaler but had taken this job once his business went bust at the beginning of The War. Just last week a notice had come from the factory stating that the sole bread winner of the family was no longer needed to serve at his grand post of a safaiiwala. They had started noticing that Ali, that was his name, was creating more messes than he was cleaning them.
Ali’s dismissal sent shockwaves through the entire family. Mariya, his wife, now forced herself to live on only a single meal a day, quietly giving the rest of the family her portion. Nasreen, Rafeeq’s sister, had left her college long ago, and now had taken to a small job cleaning people’s houses; though this job didn’t really pay well since other people, even the richest, themselves didn’t have much disposable money. All this while Rafeeq still hunted for that one opportunity he had been denied for the past 3 years.
Rafeeq had already borrowed from every viable source. The loan sharks were closing in and had already taken Ali’s old Scooter. One by one all of Mariya’s and Nasreen’s jewelry had also been taken. They had already started camping out in front of their house. Rafeeq and family were on the verge of committing group suicide.
All this had changed when The Large Man had offered him a job. He had rescued his family from their depths of their gapping chasms of lives. That was two months ago. Now Rafeeq wore expensive new clothes and drank very expensive cups of coffee, a habit he had picked up over the past few weeks of prosperity.
He looked at his quite expensive watch. There was still an hour left for his project to start. He hailed an autorickshaw. His mind drifted back to his first meeting with him. He still remembered the large man’s visit like it was just yesterday. To the untrained eye he was a regular passer-by. Nothing stood out about him except his muscular frame, which could be compared to yesteryear’s comic book hero Superman. He wore a plain checked shirt and denims to match. It was almost as if he was trying to blend in. He made his approach when he was sure that Rafeeq was alone.
‘Hello, Rafeeq Ali I presume?’ the large man had asked, almost rhetorically in his deep voice. He had been researching Rafeeq for days. A detail like a name would be the last thing to slip his mind. Conversations had to start from somewhere though.
‘Yes? Can I help you?’ Rafeeq had been taken a little by surprise.
‘We’ll see,’ the man had said suspiciously. ‘We hear you have been looking for a job?’
‘We?’ Rafeeq had queried, not in the mood to dilly-dally.
‘All in good time, Rafeeq. Right now, how about you answer my question?’
‘Okay then, yes, I’ve been looking for a job for a while now.’ His annoyance had started to show in his voice. ‘What’s it to you?’
‘Well I’m here to offer you a job, Rafeeq.’
‘What kind of job?’
‘Patience, Rafeeq, is a very important virtue. I will tell you everything in good time. Shall we go sit and talk? It’s not easy to carry on a conversation on the streets.’
‘I cannot afford to just come, sit and waste away my time on some random stranger. I have to go now, sorry.’
Rafeeq was about to walk away when the large man produced a 1000 rupee note. He stared at it with astonishment. He hadn’t seen one in years and was relishing the sight of it now.
‘I’ll make it worth your while,’ the large man had said temptingly.
‘Okay.’ Rafeeq had no idea that he had just signed a deal with the devil.
The two of them went to a nearby café, King’s, and the large man ordered two coffees. Coffee was a luxury Rafeeq had forgotten and he happily took huge gulps, burning his tongue in his excitement. He was in the process of wailing for the burned tongue when the large man cleared his throat.
‘My name is Rashid, Rashid Mohammed Khan.’ The large man began. ‘I have a job. But first I just need to confirm a few details with you.’ He said brusquely.
‘Go ahead,’ Rafeeq said in between sips. He had forgotten all about his burned tongue.
‘Your family needs money, am I right?’
‘How do you know?’ inquired Rafeeq. This whole scene was getting more suspicious by the second, Rafeeq thought.
‘I told you, we’ve been looking in to you. I’ll take that as a yes. You tried to join the army a few months back, am I right?’ Rafeeq had nodded in agreement. ‘But they rejected you because you didn’t meet their height requirement, yes?’
‘Yes. I’ve been looking for a job since 3 years, sir,’ he whined, ‘I’m a qualified MBA degree holder and everyone refuses to hire me.’ The indignation he bottled up had started to pour out. All it took to change his tone was a cup of coffee and a little kindness.
‘I know, Rafeeq. So I guess you trying to join the army were not an act of patriotism from your part?’
‘Not at all, sir.’
‘I see. The war has been tough on you, hasn’t it?’ Rashid had asked in the most considerate of tones his deep voice could muster up.
‘My family is suffering, sir. And with my father out of a job, things have really taken a turn for the worse.’ Tears had started to appear in Rafeeq’s big brown eyes.
‘I can imagine, Rafeeq. It must be worse to see your sweet sister clean her way through other people’s houses for just basic wages.’
‘You sure know a lot, sir,’ he had managed through his tears.
‘My company takes research very seriously.’ Rashid had produced a tissue from his pocket and offered it to Rafeeq. Rafeeq had promptly accepted it and wiped away his tears. ‘I think it’s time I told you a little about my organization, Rafeeq. We are a multi-national corporation that deals in mostly arms and ammunitions, especially on special projects.’
‘Arms and ammunitions and special projects? I thought Arms and Ammunitions weren’t allowed to be traded in India?’ Rafeeq had asked apprehensively.
‘That’s really none of your business. How much do you know about this war?’
‘I know that it was started by the Pakistanis with the 2012 bombing of the Indian parliament and that we retaliated soon, bombing Islamabad. Since then the war has been taking its toll on both countries for years.’
‘Good. My organization is actually based in Pakistan and we desperately need this war to keep on going. It has shown some signs of slowing down recently and that is really bad for business.’
‘What!’ Rafeeq had been appalled, ‘you want to keep a war that takes millions of lives every month going?!’
‘It’s nothing personal, Rafeeq, just business.’ Rashid had said in his calm deep voice.
‘What sort of business do you run, man!’
‘A successful one. First of all stop shouting, this is a café and people will start looking.’ Rashid had a quick look around and said, ‘Okay listen, we have come to the conclusion that another bombing of Delhi would spark of an entirely new wave of emotion in the people. The war would rekindle and our business would be throw profits like a machine gun.’
‘Another bombing of Delhi?’ Rafeeq had said in distress. ‘Do you know how many innocent lives were lost in the first one?’
The man had a glitter in his eye when he said ‘Who do you think caused the first one.’
‘What! I’m going to call the police right now!’ he jumped up.
‘There’s no point, Rafeeq.’ Rashid had said coolly. ‘No one would believe you.’
‘Why are you telling me all this anyway?’ Rafeeq had slowly eased in to his chair again.
‘Good question. We realized that using a Jihadist last time was a mistake. Those people don’t leave any impact. The real impact comes when you use a countryman to blow up his fellow brothers and sisters. This would show the extent of your enemy’s reach. And that’s where you come in.’
His thoughts were interrupted by his auto coming to a halt. The crowd at India Gate was as loud as usual. He promptly paid the driver his fare and walked up to the centre of the large ground that surrounded the monument. The vest he was wearing underneath was itchy but that was the last thing on his mind right now. His entire life was flashing in front of his eyes. He could imagine the smiles on his parents’ faces when they got the money. And he could imagine the disappointment and sorrow in his mother’s eyes when she found out what he had done to earn it.
He slowly took out the remote they had supplied him with. A big red button marked the trigger for the bomb. He got himself into the most crowded portion of the ground he could find and put his fingers on the remote.
The bomb would take a few seconds to detonate, Rashid had told him. An innocent passerby heard the sudden beeps that were emanating from Rafeeq’s person. ‘Sir, you seem to be beeping,’ he curiously pointed out to Rafeeq.
‘I’m sorry,’ was all Rafeeq could manage to say.