Birju was on his knees, with two men pinning him down. His hands were tied behind his back, and blood was oozing from the innumerable cuts and wounds on his face and body. His left eye had been bruised. Through his right eye, he looked at Amit and hissed, “Kill me! If I come out of this alive – mark my words – you can start counting your days.”
Amit leaned back on his chair. His blood-curling laughter echoed through the ruined fort walls. Finally, he stood up and walked towards Birju.
Holding his jaw in an iron-like grip, Amit sneered, “I thought your father’s death was enough to silence you all. But your mother wanted to become Jhansi ki Rani, eh? Why did she have to go to the district magistrate (DM) against my father, tell me? You want to know what I did to her and your sister inside that room? Or were their agonising cries enough?”
At that, Birju spat at him. “You murderer! I will kill you!” Screaming, he tried with all his might to lunge at Amit, but his henchmen were too strong and kept him pinned down.
Amit wiped his face and punched Birju hard on the nose. “Did that hurt?”
He caught hold of his jaw again and continued, “Your father should never have tried to stand up to zamindar Brahmanand Rai. We are meant to rule the land and people of your ilk are supposed to be under our feet. How much did my father try to convince him, you know? He even said he will make him sarpanch. But that was not enough. He wanted to send my father to jail! Why? Because my father was corrupt? He siphoned Government funds? Come on, he is the head of the village. That’s what has been happening for so long, isn’t it? Why did your father report to the police, Birju? Bad, very bad. Hence he had to pay the price and so will you.”
He turned to his most trusted henchman. “Raghav, kill this m…f… after I leave. Ensure that his body is never recovered or traced back to me. In fact, cut it to small pieces and throw them into the river. Let the crocodiles have a feast today.”
Amit signalled all the others to follow him out of the ruined fortress. As the last vehicle left, Raghav turned to Birju, who was lying on the ground, begging for water. Raghav looked around and found the water bottle which Amit had left, and let Birju drink the remaining water.
Birju looked at Raghav. “Chacha, are you going to kill me?”
Tears welled up in Raghav’s eyes, but he quickly regained his composure. “First I will take care of your mother and sister, and then I will come for you.”
Raghav went into the adjoining room, but the scene inside was too grotesque. Both women lay on the ground, disrobed, bloodied and lifeless. He brought out a big sheet of cloth from his vehicle, wrapped both bodies and carried them to the adjoining Sone River. There, after going knee deep into the water, he let the river take them afar. Looking up into the sky, he begged his forefathers for forgiveness, and turned towards the fort. As he went up the steps, memories of the last few days flashed before his eyes.
Brahmanand Rai was the richest man in Rohtas village. His family had been zamindars during the British rule, but after independence, after the “Land to the tillers” order from Delhi, he had cleverly taken over all the patta from the illiterate farmers and had again become the unofficial land-owner entire village. His palatial haveli on the banks of the Sone River was a sharp contrast to the life led by the villagers. His terror reigned supreme, and as he kept the DM and police happy with his regular contribution to their pockets, no one questioned his corrupt ways. Any Government allocation of money, ration or relief to farmers was confiscated and stored in his haveli and only a pittance was given to the poor families. It was during such times that Birju’s father – Mohanlal Yadav – decided to protest against his atrocities. Mohanlal had collected proof of his wrong-doings and threatened him to expose all to the then Chief Minister of Bihar. Brahmanand Rai tried to persuade him, but Mohanlal was firm and decided to go to Patna with all the evidence. As he crossed the Sone River, Mohanlal’s bullock cart was attacked by the zamindar’s men. They killed Mohanlal, shredded all his documents and threw his body into the river. At this, Mohanlal’s wife tried to approach the DM but Amit kidnapped her and their daughter and took them to the ruins of Rohtas fort. Birju tried to save them, but he was brutally beaten up in the process.
As Raghav’s footsteps neared him, Birju opened his eyes. “Chacha, my maa, didi…is it over?” Raghav just nodded, sniffing and wiping away his tears. He was, after all, Birju’s own uncle.
Taking a deep breath, Birju whispered, “Chacha, give me one chance to recover. I will teach that Amit a good lesson which neither he nor his father would forget.”
“I told you to throw all three bodies into the river. Why did you leave out Birju? If I see him alive, your family will face the same consequences. Understand?” Amit tightened his grip on Raghav’s neck, as he bellowed in rage.
“Maalik, please listen to me first. If you feel I have committed a mistake, you are free to do what you want”, Raghav pleaded. “Once I came back to the fort after throwing the two women into the river, Birju had already died. There were jungle mice all over him, biting him from all sides. If anyone goes there now, they will not find a thing.”
Amit relaxed his grip and smiled. “Jungle mice, eh? That is even better than a crocodile.” He turned around to face his other henchmen. Crocodiles dirty the water with blood. So, it creates an ugly scene. But jungle mice, they don’t leave any trace of flesh, blood or bones, am I right?” He started laughing and everyone joined him.
Suddenly Amit became serious and raised his hand indicating to others to be silent. “Raghav, you are his uncle. I hope for your own good that what you said is correct. Now you may leave.” As Raghav thanked Amit and left, Amit gestured to another henchman, Dinesh, to keep an eye on his movements.
Fifteen years later
In the next few years, Amit took over total control from his father. Brahmanand Rai confined himself to routine rounds of his farm. The villagers were too terrified to report their misdeeds to the DM and police as they were in Amit’s payroll and they would turned a blind eye to all his atrocities.
One day, the DM came to the haveli to meet Amit to announce his transfer to West Champaran. “Saheb, how many times I requested you to speak to the minister and stop my transfer? These transfers are such a pain.”
“Don’t worry Samar ji”, Amit waved his hand as a blessing. “You have been so good to me all these years. If you need anything, write to me and I will speak to the minister and get it done for you. By the way, who is the new DM?”
Samar looked around, then bend down to Amit’s side and whispered, “Saheb, I don’t know him, but I heard that he is very tough. He beats the hell out of anyone who tries to bribe him.”
Amit smiled and waved him off. Once Samar left, he called Dinesh and told him to inform him when the new DM arrives.
“Pranaam, I am Brijmohan Yadav.” The voice boomed from the door. Amit stood up and turned around to see a huge burly man with sunglasses, a big moustache and beard walking through the door. He had come to meet the new DM at the latter’s residence, but he never expected someone so commanding.
“Pranaam. I am Am… Amit Ranjan Rai.”, he stammered as Brijmohan took his seat and gestured him to do the same.
Seeing Amit staring at him, he thundered, “Why are you staring at me as if you have seen a ghost?”
Amit recoiled in his seat and again stammered. “So… Sorry saheb, you look so handsome and strong. I have never seen a DM like you.”
“So, are you terrified even before you speak to me?” With this the DM burst into laughter and swivelled on his chair. Suddenly he stopped, banged the table and leaned forward. “My time is precious. Since I already know who you are, I have allowed you to sit here. Quickly…”, he snapped his fingers. “Tell me what you want.”
“Saheb, we just came to say hello and give you this”, Amit took a covered basket from Dinesh and placed it on the table.
“What is in this?”
“Saheb, this basket contains seasonal fruits from our garden. I instructed my men to select the best for you.”
“Open it and show me then.”
One by one, Amit took out the mangoes and lichis from the basket. After a while, he stopped.
“Why did you stop? Is that all?”
“Saheb, the rest is for you.”
“So, these fruits are not for me?”, he said, pointing to the ones on the table. “Only those, which are inside, are for me? What are you saying? Show me what is inside.” With that, the DM came up to the basket, glanced inside and then turned to look up to Amit.
A sharp pain rang across Amit’s cheeks as the DM slapped him so hard that he fell down two feet away. With a roar, the DM picked Amit by the collar. “I am letting you go because this is the first time and this should be the last time. If you have not heard about me, get it in your head that I hate people who try to bribe me. Understand? Now take that basket and get out of my office. Now!”
As Dinesh drove back to the haveli, Amit was still nursing his jaws and cheeks. A tooth had almost come off and blood was coming out.
Brahmanand Rai was unperturbed. “Let’s see what he can do. He cannot touch me. You control your lust for a couple of weeks. Put your men on him. They should report his every movement to us.”
It turned out that the new DM was quite a character. Immediately after taking charge, he organised a film show, once every week, for each of the villages in the district free of charge. Before the show started, he would introduce himself and tell them to enjoy the evening. Then, at the end, he would speak to each and every person and this way, he got acquainted with everyone, their whims and woes. Next, he targeted the ration shops which were under complete control of Rai Saheb. Once he found any irregularity, he immediately issued orders to cancel licenses and set up new ration shops which ensured proper supply of daily ration to public. But this was only the beginning. As things started to look bad, Brahmanand Rai called all his trusted henchmen along with Amit one morning.
“He is doing everything by the book, pitaji. We cannot complain against him to Patna. Last time I complained to the chief secretary since he cancelled Sajjan Kumar’s license in Rampur, I got a sound hearing about the irregularities committed by that shop. He has stopped taking my calls altogether. Looks like we have to take some action on our own.” Amit was frustrated and angry, but controlled himself in front of his father.
A long silence followed which was broken by Brahmanand Rai. “Did you look into his family history as I told you?”
“Yes, pitaji”, Amit looked down as he continued. “He is an orphan. Nothing is known about his origin or his relatives. All we know is that he is an IAS topper and the entire secretariat shakes when he walks in.”
Brahmanand Rai looked around. “Dinesh, where is Raghav? I don’t see him nowadays with you all.”
Dinesh immediately came forward and bent down with folded hands. “Saheb, Chote saheb had told me to keep an eye on him. But one night, five years ago, he, along with his wife and daughter, just vanished without a trace. I asked around along the highways and buses conductors also, but no one saw him or his family after that.”
“He must be angry with us for killing his brother and his family.” Brahmanand Rai smirked as he spoke. “Well, what can be done? Now, this DM… shall we put him off? What do you say Amit?”
Suddenly, they heard sirens and soon two police jeeps along with a white ambassador car came inside the haveli.
One of the henchmen ran towards the vehicles and started screaming. “Arey, arey! How you dare to enter our Rai saheb’s haveli? Get…” Before he could say anything more, a big burley man from the ambassador punched him so hard that he dropped motionless on the ground.
“Saheb, this is the new DM.” Dinesh whispered to Brahmanand Rai, who stood up.
Brijmohan Yadav walked up to Brahmanand Rai with an aura of confidence. Behind him, the superintendent of police, his deputy and a number of constables followed.
Thrusting a document on his chest, he thundered, “Brahmanand Rai, this is a warrant to search your haveli. I have proof that you have stashed away food grains, cash and other valuables which rightfully were due to the farmers. Anything which is beyond your legal requirement will be confiscated by the Government of Bihar. So, if you don’t mind, step aside and let us do our work. Understand?”
Before Amit could intervene, Brahmanand Rai raised his hand. “Let them do their work.” But, by this time, the constables had already stepped inside the haveli.
In the mealie, both continued to stare at each other. Amit suddenly shouted “Listen DM, you don’t know what you are doing. This will cost you…”. But seeing his father’s stern look, he stopped.
Brijmohan stepped forward and sat on the chair in which Brahmanand Rai was sitting, crossed his legs and folded his hands behind his head. Everyone just stood there seething in anger, but could not say anything.
The loot brought out from the haveli was astounding, to say the least. Brahmanand Rai was charged with hoarding, siphoning Government funds, cheating poor farmers off their land among other things. He was immediately arrested and taken to Sasaram jail till the court hearing.
Next day, all the farmers were handed over title deeds to their farm lands. In the next few days, Brijmohan held an extensive campaign to ensure that they understood the steps taken by the Government of Bihar to help them grow and prosper. As he ensured proper distribution of ration cards to villagers the people started to look happy all around.
All this left Amit fuming. The other officials in his payroll, quietly shirked off any kind of responsibility citing helplessness against the DM’s brute, but technically correct ways. But most of his day went by visiting his father in Sasaram jail and meeting with their advocate. One day, on his way back home from Sasaram, with Dinesh at the wheel, he suddenly saw the DM standing in the middle of the road, adjacent to Rohtas fort. With him was a contingent of police.
As he alighted from his jeep, Brijmohan approached Amit, waving a document. “Yeh lo Chote mian, your arrest warrant. Charges are unlawful confinement and sexual abuse of fifteen women in Rohtas village in the last two years. People are ready to testify against you. SP saheb, take him into custody please.”
“DM!”, screaming at the top of his voice, Amit took out a rampuri knife tucked inside his kurta and lashed out at him. But Brijmohan was too quick for him. He ducked the charge and held Amit in an iron grip, left hand around his neck and right hand firmly gripping the Rampuri. Even before Dinesh could do anything, three constables had taken him into custody.
As Amit was finally handcuffed and taken into the waiting police van, Brijmohan laughed as he tweaked his moustache. “Even now, you could not recognise me, Chote saheb. I am the same Birju, whom you wanted to be killed fifteen years ago in this very fort, remember?”
Hearing this, Amit started to sweat. “Birju, you… you are alive?” He suddenly ran and fell onto Brijmohan’s feet. “Please forgive me, Birju. You know me very well. I will reform. All women are my sisters. I don’t want to go to jail. Please help me.”
Brijmohan pulled Amit up by the collar and snarled at him. “If I had my way, I would have killed both you and your father, the day I landed in Rohtas. But no – I wanted both of you to suffer for your sins. Then only you will understand the pain of all the farmers of the village. SP saheb, please take him away.”
After the police went away, Brijmohan called his driver. “Chacha, shall we leave? I am hungry. Hope Chachi has cooked a delicious lunch for us today.”
Raghav waved from the driver’s seat. “Come, let’s go quickly DM saheb. Otherwise, you know your Chachi’s temper.” Both laughed. It was a time for celebrations as good times had finally come to Rohtas.
Author’s note: The story is set in Rohtas village in Bihar along the Sone River. First scene is set during late 1950s when Birju is fourteen years old.
- Chacha – Uncle. Here it is used to refer to younger brother of Ramlal Yadav, Birju’s father
- Patta – Title deeds to farm land
- Haveli – Old zamindar’s houses were almost like a palace and were called haveli
- Pitaji – father
- Rampuri knife – a very sharp knife of 9-12 inches long used by dacoits, mafia etc before use of pistols and guns.
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