Neither very far from the hustle-bustle of the Kolkata city nor very deep in the lap of the South 24 Parganas rural landscape stood an ageing gated community, the Adidham Housing Complex. It was developed in the year 1937, a decade prior to Indian independence. At the time of its inception, the project was a hallmark of the twentieth-century community residence. Now in the year 2000 much had changed from the original vision of its creators after sixty-three years of its existence.
Most of the individual cottages now stood abandoned with rusted locks hanging on their wrought-iron picket gates. The once lush and colourful mini-gardens within the white wooden fences of each of the little houses now lay overgrown with wild vegetation and barb nettles. While unhinged doors and windows flopped with the wind night and day, plaster pealed brick revealing walls greeted bats and critters who had become the new residents.
Now such a lucrative realty fell on the radar of many preying business houses. Amongst all of them, Choski Developers, a fast-growing and new property dealer and construction company, showed the keenest interest to acquire this massive real estate.
The office of Choski went to great lengths to track down the descendants of the original owners and bought off most of the little cottages. They could not, however, track down the family of just one of the houses, which was burnt down during the communal riots of 1947. It was a problem, which they could not figure out how to eliminate.
For the handful of the remaining residents, who did not want to sell their houses, Choski set in place many tactics to force them to evacuate. Right from disturbing peace and tranquillity to even threatening their lives, hoodlums hired by Choski did everything to acquire the place. Only a one-legged old man and his six feet hickory fighting stick stood as a menacing force against them.
The demise of this once-thriving community was mainly due to the downfall of industrial activities in the region. Bengal was once British India’s most industrialised domain – a powerhouse of the Empire’s wealth. Sadly, when the colonial oppressors were finally forced to leave the county, in an ultimate vindictive move fueled by their divide-and-rule policy, they split the country into two on the basis of religion.
The majority of this ancient country’s landmass in the middle now became the Republic of India dominated by the Hindu’s and the northwest and northeast regions became the predominantly Muslim country of Pakistan. To form this new country, the British had to divide the two mighty states of Punjab in the West and Bengal in the East.
With this Partition of Bengal, along with the bloody riots and unfathomable famines came the downfall of industry in the region. A blow, which the state never really overcame. Dependence on only a few industries like jute, mining, and tea without the foresight of diversification further ensured this industrial ruin.
Most of the original owners of the cottages of the Adidham Housing Complex, who were employees of the factories in the region, had gradually migrated to other places in search of a better existence. Sadly, the exodus of these families was mostly abrupt. Some were killed during the blood-soaked riots following the partition, while others simply had to move on to survive. Now, after six decades, only a few of the original cottages remained occupied.
The one-legged octogenarian Bashded Dolui was the last surviving man living in the complex who had been a part of this community from the very beginning. All of the few other remaining residents were second and third-generation owners of the houses. The oldtimer did not own any of the cottages he was but an employee of the place. He resided in a small quarter of five by ten feet beside the main entrance of the complex.
For many years he had not received any salary. There was no system in place to pay him, yet he continued with his duties, nevertheless. In 1937, the twenty-year-old orphan Bashdeb thanked the Gods for granting him the job of a gatekeeper at the newly constructed Adidham Housing Complex. More than the job, he was happy to experience the feeling of belonging to a family, which he found with the residents.
Since that day, he never looked for anything else but made it his heart’s desire and life’s mission to care for the people of the place. He lost his left leg, saving a little boy from a burning house back in the communal riots of 1947. Though old and disabled, he was strong as an ox, agile as a fox, pretty fit and moved extremely well with a wooden prosthetic left leg.
Bashdeb always carried a six feet hickory fighting stick, with which he performed much of his sentinel duties. Right from switching streetlights to chasing thieves and hoodlums, his trusted hickory fighting stick always sufficed. It was the only thing that the goons of the Choski Developers feared and ran from to save their dear lives.
Now at the dusk of his life, it grieved Bashded much to see his beloved adopted family, his loving housing complex, in its last dying phase. Throughout his life, he had done much to save and upkeep the place. Unfortunately, what could the efforts of a single old sentinel do to stop the multi-factored demise of such a large place?
He was strong and determined, but for how long could he keep the goons of Choski at bay. After all, he was a single man and could not be present all the time at every corner of this massive complex.
With time his confrontation with the miscreants hired by the Choski Developers increased to pretty disturbing levels. The residents, however, knew that as long as Bashdeb was alive, no harm would come to them.
One day a silver-coloured Mercedes Benz E-Class screeched and halted in front of the main gate of the Adidham Housing Complex. A short and stout chauffeur in a neat white safari suit and a large wobbly scally cap hopped out of the driver’s seat and ran on his tiny legs. Circling the long car from its front side, he hurried to open the back left passenger door of the pompous automobile to let out its imposing occupant.
A tall and dark well-groomed man in a blue suit came down from the E-Class and walked towards the main gate. From the Toyota Fortuner SUV that stopped behind the Merc came down four henchmen with Glock 17s holstered on their hips, ready to discharge their weapons at the whim of their master at any moment.
“Do I have to do everything myself now,” sighed the master? “It’s been a year since I had my eyes on this place. How will I build my ultimate hotel and resort here if you buffoons are unable to acquire the gasping property in the first place,” bellowed the man stomping his foot on the ground, causing his gargantuan henchmen to tremble?
It was clear that this was no ordinary businessman to mess with. The orphan Ram Charan Choski had risen through the ashes of poverty and hardships. He had literally fought his way through the world, gaining ground inch by inch, moving from one business to the next till he had established the ‘Choski Developers Property Dealers and Construction Company.’ Now his next big plan was to enter into the hotel and resort business and for that, he had to acquire the Adidham Housing Complex.
“I want to see the whole property for myself and visit each of the owners who have refused to sell but first take me to the one house, whose owners you clowns have not been able to track down till date,” roared Ram Charan to his pot-bellied dhoti-kurta-clad assistant Chitragupt who until now was hiding behind the wall of henchmen.
“S-s-s-sir, that one house is nearly burnt to the ground and in r-r-r-ruins. N-n-n-n-no one lives t-t-t-there. A-a-a-are you s-s-s-sure you want to go t-t-t-there,” stuttered Chitragupt in a trembling voice.
“I will make you eat the ashes of the burnt cottage and make you tell me the name of the owner you fool. Keep your trap shut and take me there this very instance I say,” shouted his master barely controlling his rage.
“S-s-s-strong old m-m-m-man, s-s-s-stick, d-d-d-death,” mumbled Chirtagupt. Right at the brink of losing his patience, Ram Charan took a long and deep breath to calm his nerve and spoke slowly in a most eery way and said, “take me to the burnt cottage right now or I will cut your tongue, shove it inside you from your unpleasant end and bury you alive on the very spot you stand at this very moment.”
Without saying another word Chitragupt tiptoed forward, looking over his shoulders now and then clearly afraid of something or rather someone perhaps more menacing than his master, one could say. Ram Charan and his goons followed till they came in front of an old and charred skeletal of a cottage, which had been engulfed by fire fifty-three years ago on a dark and horrifying day.
Ram Charan kept on staring at the charred cottage, standing speechless without moving a single muscle. All scared and alert, Chitragupt moved behind from one henchman to the next, instructing them to be ready with the weapons. “B-b-b-be ready you f-f-f-fools, beware of the s-s-s-sentinel. D-d-d-don’t underestimate the old m-m-m-man. A-a-a-a single blow from his stick can crack open your melons, and it would be your e-e-e-end,” uttered the fearful assistant.
At that very moment, from behind the burnt cottage came the sound of a wooden stick striking the ground with its wielder’s every step. The old sentinel slowly emerged through the ruined house to stand in front of Ram Charan, Chitragupt and the armed henchmen.
“S-s-s-shoot, s-s-s-shoot, s-s-s-shoot before it’s too l-l-l-late. D-d-d-don’t let him lift his s-s-s-stick,” screamed Chitragupt, shaking in fear. “Don’t worry sir, his stick is no match for our Glocks. Our bullets will cut him down before he even moves a muscle,” said one of the henchmen with great confidence, as he and the other three drew their pistols.
“STOP EVERYONE! Lower your weapons,” screamed Ram Charan and moved towards Bashdeb. The old man’s grasp on the hickory tightened as he readied himself for the seemingly inevitable. Chitragupt and the henchmen now knew that their master had decided to take the matter into his own hands. They knew Ram Charan was not just any money counting businessman. He was a strong and menacing fighter, and it seemed he had decided to end the old man with his bare hands all by himself.
The old man did not flinch. He was at the end of his days and knew that he had nothing else to live for. His life would be worthy if he gave it up trying to save the only family he ever had.
The warrior-businessman of the present now stood face-to-face with the ancient sentinel with a foot of distance in between them. Chitragupt closed his eyes, he was uncertain of the outcome but knew there would be blood in the end. The henchmen though had lowered their weapons, had not holstered them yet.
As Ram Charan slowly raised both of his hands Bashdeb lifted his stick an inch above the ground. Before the old man could make his move, the businessman fell on his knees and clasped his raised hands in a namaste. No one could believe what just happened. How did the unflinching and menacing Ram Charan lower his head in front of a mere gatekeeper of a dying complex?
“Forgive me kaka (uncle) for all my trespasses. I did not know whom I had come to fight with. My life is only a gift from you, which you saved from the fire fifty-three years ago,” said Ram Charan as tears rolled down his face.
“Right at the moment when I came and stood in front of this charred house, a floodgate of memory started flowing back into my brain. Then seeing you cleared any doubts that I might have had in my head. This was my house, my parents’ house. We lived happily till one terrifying night back in 1947 when rioters came and burnt this home of ours and killed my parents,” cried Ram Charan now holding Bashdeb’s feet with his hands.
“It was you who saved me from the rioters and the fire that day. I had forgotten all this in time, as I became too focused on survival moving on from one orphanage to another to juvenile correctional facilities to jails, trailing a life of violence and cons till I became the businessman you see kneeling in front of you today,” continued Ram Charan as droplets of his tears caressed the old man’s leather sandals.
Bashdeb lifted Ram Charan and hugged him saying, “don’t worry my child you are back in your home now. You are not an orphan. Like me, you too will always have a family with the residents of the Adidham Housing Complex.”
Over the course of the next year, Ram Charan took it up as his topmost project to restore the Adidham Housing Complex and return the deeds of the cottages to all the owners that his men had painstakingly found out. He restored his burnt home and gave its key to Bashdeb to live in it for the remainder of his days.
The old sentinel, however, refused to stay in the cottage and continued to live in his small quarter of five by ten feet beside the main entrance of the complex. He still goes about performing his gatekeeper duties moving around on his wooden prosthetic legs, wielding his trusted six feet hickory fighting stick, which still today stands as a menacing force against anyone daring to lift an eye against his family of the Adidham Housing Complex.
Copyright © 2021 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.
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