In the 980th year of the 2nd millennium of the Anno Domini, the 80th year of the 20th century, the leap year of our Lord 1980, a frail and strange-looking tiny boy was born to a mentally unstable beggar lady in a flimsy cloth shanty beside the Belur Math Kali Temple on the banks of the river Hooghly in India’s Kolkata city. At that very moment, some eight thousand kilometres away, a healthy and handsome boy was also born to a Punjabi lady in the United Kingdom’s port city of Liverpool on the banks of river Mersey.
The sudden strike of a matchlight on the deck of a sixteen-footer diesel steamer on the still waters in the dead of a moonless night revealed a scarred and pocked face of a scary-looking man. He lit a thin mini cigar of tobacco flakes wrapped in a Diospyros melanoxylon leaf tied with a blue string, his favourite brand of beedi.
There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him, and the muscles under his sunburnt skin hugged his bones to the precision of Michelangelo’s David. Scars all over his bare upper torso were a testament to the many conflicts that he had survived. With a skullcap on his nog, he stood barefoot, wearing a pair of rugged jeans. The butt of a 9mm Glock 43 peeped out of the rim of his jeans on his backside. He oozed with an aura of a stone-cold soul that had weathered unspeakable hardships.
Haji had carved a name for himself smuggling goods up and down the river Hooghly and the waterways around the Sundarbans, Bangladesh, and Kolkata city. That night was very crucial for him. He was about to execute his last job as a river smuggler. Back on the land earlier that day, he had promised his sweetheart Jamini that he would give up this way of life forever after that night. The devout Hindu girl had tied a red string bearing the blessing of the Goddess Kali around the wrist of her Muslim lover for the success of his last nocturnal river enterprise.
“Jamini, you need to understand that what I am about to do is not easy for me. It is not that I have led a pious life. You know me better than anyone. You know that I have painted my life in blood, yet this is something that I shudder from,” spoke up Haji in a stern and cold voice with an underlying tone of a saddened heart. “Do not think too deeply about it or trouble your soul. You have to do this for the greater good of our love,” said Jamini and gently kissed her lover.
As the sixteen-footer left the waters of the Hooghly and entered the Bay of Bengal, the waves became choppier. Being an experienced captain, Haji exactly knew how to manoeuvre the bobbing tides. Reaching the shores of Jambu Island, he released the anchor and waited for his British counterpart to deliver the package that would hopefully be the last smuggling deal of his life.
Fifty nautical miles from Haji’s anchored steamer, a three-hundred container freighter feeder ship cut across the waters of the Bay of Bengal. It was heading toward the Haldia dock, which Haji had passed a few hours back during his nocturnal river ride. On the roof of the bridge of the cargo ship stood a handsome and well-built turban-clad Sardar or Sikh man in his late thirties wearing a weathered leather jacket and a pair of old breeches. The outline of a curved dagger bulged subtly under his clothes on his left flank.
Like Haji’s mother, Harry’s mama also passed away, bringing him into the world. He grew up in the arms of neighbours and strangers in the port of Liverpool while his father drank and made merry living the vilest of life possible. Though he was not religious, he hung on to his father’s Sikh religion for some reason. He wore the five k’s of Kesh (uncut hair), Kara (a steel bracelet), Kanga (a wooden comb), Kaccha (cotton loincloth) and Kirpan (a steel dagger).
From a very early age, Harry had to fight for his survival. Soon he picked up the ways of the wicked world, and by the age of twenty, he had carved out a reputation of terror. There was no stopping him after that. Over the next twenty years, he mastered the art of smuggling across international waters.
Just like Haji, for Harry also, it was a decisive night. There was, however, a slight difference. Unlike the motherless Indian Muslim’s desire to quit the dark trade, the motherless British Sikh wanted to destroy the business. Both of them perhaps desired the same but in slightly different ways. Just like Haji, harry had also fallen in love back in Britain. His sweetheart Cecilia had made him promise to end this smuggling racket forever. Though he was a criminal, Harry had always followed a set of values, and what he needed to do that night was a violation of his moral code of conduct.
Harry embarked on a small motorised lifeboat from the freighter feeder, which carried on its sluggish voyage towards the Haldia dock. Carrying the precious smuggled load in a wooden carton, he headed towards Haji’s steamer, following its location on his mobile, wading through the waters.
As Harry spotted the glow from a lighted beedi on the deck of a solitary sixteen-footer, he knew it was his Indian counterpart. Approaching the steamer, he threw a line, and Haji secured the swaying motorboat to the stabler rivercraft.
Haji and Harry’s business was highly profitable, yet somehow both of them did not have peace of mind. Deep within their troubled and tortured souls, somewhere, a seed of righteousness constantly knocked on their conscience, asking them to stop. The narcotics and weapons they smuggled only brought sorrow and misery to others. Now both of their lovers had nearly convinced them to give up this life. So, on that moonless night, while one wished to quit for good, the other wanted to end the business forever. Both respected and admired one another. Each knew that this business was not possible without the other.
Both the men waved at each other and then shook hands. Masks on their faces protected their identities. Together they had developed a foolproof smuggling route and operating system, establishing a solid smuggling racket between India and Great Britain but had never seen each other’s faces in the past decade of their criminal enterprise.
There was a short conversation and a quick exchange of a wooden crate filled with automatic weapons from Great Britain and a briefcase full of blood diamonds from Gujarat. Then something happened that had never occurred between them.
“Haji, my brother, let us embrace and close the deal tonight,” spoke up Harry in a very awkward manner. None of the men had ever said something like that to each other. It was just something very non-professional.
To Harry’s surprise, the Indian Muslim stepped forward and embraced the British Sardar. At that very moment, a bang and a flash of light appeared between the smugglers. A 9mm slug from a Glock 43 tore through Harry’s bosom as a steel Kripan dagger plunged into Haji’s back, piercing his heart.
For a moment, both the men thought they had succeeded in their plans for the night. One thought he had finally quitted this trade by terminating his British counterpart, and the other assumed that he had killed his Indian coequal to end this business forever.
The next day, a coast guard Advanced Off Shore Patrol Vessel found the sixteen-footer anchored close to the shore of the Jambu Island on the Bay of Bengal. Looking at the box of guns, a suitcase full of diamonds, and the two lifeless bodies, they instantly deduced that it was a smuggling deal gone amok. What they could not understand after removing the masks on the faces of the two dead men was how on earth could a British Sardar and an Indian Muslim have identical faces like a doppelganger.
On that same night, an old and shabby Sardar brooded over a tall glass of Whiskey in a pub in Liverpool. He reflected on how worthless his life had been. He regretted all the follies of his youth. He regretted not loving his wife with all the affection that she deserved. He thought, perhaps that was the reason why God had taken her away at childbirth. He regretted not raising his only legitimate son with proper love and care. Perhaps, the lad would not have turned out to be a criminal if only he had shown a bit of affection.
He regretted all the false affairs he had as a sailor, and above all, he regretted having raped a mentally unstable lady on the banks of the river Hooghly in India; many years back. He felt ashamed even to think – that on the very same night, he had returned to the hotel and made love to his wife. The next day they had boarded a ship for England to start anew but had miserably failed to change his life.
In the 20th year of the 3rd millennium of the Anno Domini in the 21st century, the leap year of our Lord 2020, a Hindu girl anxiously waited for her Muslim lover’s boat to return to the banks of the river Hooghly beside the Belur Math Kali Temple in India’s Kolkata city. At that very moment, some eight thousand kilometres away, a Christian lassy eagerly anticipated receiving a call from her Sardar sweetheart in the United Kingdom’s port city of Liverpool on the banks of river Mersey. While a drunk old Sardar wobbled on an English cobbled street, two lifeless bodies of identical brothers with different mothers lay beside each other on the deck of a sixteen-footer on the bobbing waters of the Bay of Bengal.
Copyright © 2022 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. 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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