Authors: Karan Mahajan
Later, Zunaid and he stood side by side taking a leisurely piss over the garbage dump behind the house. Ayub examined the brands of the wrappers in the garbage, their good fonts, the fine printâhe thought of the craftsmanship that had gone into these wrappers and had a strong feeling that, despite all its problems, the country was progressing. The fact that Azamgarh received all the trash of the country was proof that it would
someday receive other things as well, that it was not cut off. Someday the trash itself would be of such high value, so beautifully made, that this awful place wouldn't need an economy at all.
“Are you good at keeping secrets, Zunaid bhai?” Ayub asked, tucking his dick back into his pants.
Zunaid said yes, he could keep secrets.
“You asked me why I wanted the gun,” Ayub said as they walked back. “It was a test. To see if you were trustworthy.”
Zunaid smiled, clearly pleased.
“And you were,” Ayub said. “I'm going to let you in on a secret.” He told him that he had been sent by a political party to recruit people to kill Modi and that he was looking for a team to carry it out. The payment would come from a rich man in Bhopal.
Ayub was dismayed to discover that Zunaid had no idea who Modi was. “Arre, yaar, not the tire company,” he said. “He killed thousands of Muslims in Gujarat.” He proceeded to describe Modi's atrocities.
“We must take revenge on such a person,” Zunaid said, tears in his eyes. “For our own self-respect.”
“The problem is that he's well guarded,” said Ayub.
“Don't worry,” Zunaid said. “We have means.”
The two men talked for a while and then Ayub went home. He was light-headed from excitement, the heat, the wood fires at dusk, the mosquitoes, the angle at which the sunlight pushed dust motes into his room through a small window, making him think again of jail. Maybe the thing to do is to run away from Azamgarh right now, he thought. Before Zunaid tells the police. But the same strangling pleasant inertia, which had been his constant companion these past few months, took hold of him and the next day he returned to work at the farm. He was reminded, watching the farmers in the field, of the opening of his favorite novel,
, the first novel he'd read about
type of town, in which a man dressed in khadi hitches a ride on a truck on the way back to town and is mistaken for a CBI agent. Ayub felt that he too, with these conversations, had turned himself into an agentâan agent for an imaginary organization, yes, but one that, on the
edge of this field, verging on madness, he could summon into existence just by thinking about it. And who was to say such an organization didn't exist? There were thousands of groups trying to kill Modiâyes, one reason he had acted so quickly was because he was afraid of being beaten to it. Yet the presence of these groups gave him the confidence that this work would be completedâif not by him, then by someone else. There would be justice eventually. He didn't feel alone. The field grew smaller. The branches of the trees seemed to reach out, brown and hard, carved with footholds. There are times in the day when every plant seems to breathe openly.
He had never hated anyone with the passion that he brought to his hatred of Modi. He'd often wondered why, tried to examine how this bearded fellow had infiltrated his imagination, and could only chalk it up to one thing: Modi's arrogance. There had been so many killers in Indian history but none as unrepentant or shameless as this capitalist politician pig. None had operated in public view. And none seemed so above the law, so beloved by Hindus of all kindsâyes, he hated the Chief Minister because he represented the worst in Hindus, a belief in their own invincibility that always sprang up when they were doing well, making money hand over first, a belief that you could get away with anything
you had money. Forget Modi: he hated money too, money of all kinds, stripes, and currencies. He hated what the country had become, a capitalist stooge of America. In his mind he carried an image of India's pure precapitalist past: a water pump by a paddy field unreeling a stream of electrified water. Where this image had come from he didn't knowâhe'd never actually seen it; all he'd seen was the trash of Azamgarh and the crush of Delhi, where all the garbage was generated. Still, the image was powerful, and Tara and he had discussed ways in which it could be achieved, how India could shake off the shackles of Western capitalism. But the economy was a large, inexorable machine. There seemed to be no way to turn it back. “Not till lots of people are miserable and poor,” she'd said.
“But the rich will never be miserable,” he'd said. “And they rule the country.”
Zunaid came and told Ayub that he had someone he wanted him to meet. It was Shockie.
hockie had been reluctant to meet Ayub; he had learned, from years of experience, that no one could be trusted when it came to the work of revolution.
So, when he met Ayub near Zunaid's house, he asked Ayub basic questions about himself: his age, his birth place, his work background.
When he heard that Ayub had worked with inmates, people wrongly jailed for terrorist attacks, including the blast in 1996, he fell silent. “And you were doing this for free? Who was paying you?” Did Ayub know his friend Malik?
Ayub, meanwhile, was confused by Shockie. He must have been in his mid- or late thirties, but looked older: there were prominent worry lines on his forehead and something permanent-seeming about his small, black, tough mustache, as if it had been there from the beginning of time to assert his avuncular place in the world. His questions too, these worried, careful questions about money, were the questions of an uncle. Still, Ayub, who was used to being interviewed, said, “Sir, I worked for an NGOâthey paid me. The condition in the jails is very bad, as you can imagine. There are no human rights.”
Shockie's resolve, in the warm evening air, diminished. He'd waited so many years for news of Malik, for access to himâhad even considered disguising himself and visiting him in jailâand now here was someone who had not only met Malik but also worked with him.
How would this fellow feel if he knew I was behind the blast? How
would he respond? But this was the terrible thing about the professionâyou could take credit for nothing. When blasts were mentioned, Shockie tried to clear his mind completely and respond with the mild shock of a civilian. He saw that he was on dangerous turf. “You will have to leave your family,” he said suddenly.
“No contact with your mother or father.” (He himself had never followed this rule, but that had been a different, less brutal time. The internationalization of terror, the increased scrutiny in the press, had changed everything.) “You can't even know if they die. For you, they are dead from this moment.”
“Yes, sir,” Ayub said, surprised at how quickly the man's tone had shifted, how he had gone from a harmless middle-aged uncle to a priest, delivering well-worn mantras and cleaning his nose occasionally by squeezing his nostrils with his fingers. He might have been stating the prayers for a marriage. There was something practical, nasal, and strict about it.
“You give up money, drinks, happiness. You give up everything. You're ready for that?”
“Yes,” Ayub said.
Shockie paused, still testing him out. What was that expression on his faceâthat ready, watchful, but resigned expression?
“Why do you want to do this?” he asked him directly.
“To take revenge,” Ayub said.
“On who?” asked Shockie.
“On Modi,” said Ayub.
“For who?” said Shockie.
“Why do you hate him so much?” Shockie asked. “He's just a man.”
“He's not a man; he's a symbol.”
“There's something else,” Shockie said. “A man like you doesn't turn to revolution just like that. What do you want? Are you angry? You want to show the world you're a hero?”
Ayub considered this. The reasons were murky in his head, all the more
so because he had lived them out with such intensity. Death. I want to die. Some weeks ago, he had taken a drug in the field. The drug was mixed with milk and peddled by the local witch doctor. What had followed was a series of terrifying hallucinations. First the fields, bulging under the sodium lamp of the sun, had changed colors, parted, leapt about, danced with flames of murmuring wheat. He could touch and see everything for kilometers around. Then, as he'd walked, he'd had a strong sense that all the people around himâthe men in their small square stalls, selling bidis and phone chargers; the auto drivers; the farmers whipping their skeletal bulls; the man selling pomegranates by the circuit house; the boy riding his bicycle to and from the shabby hotel; the frightened women in burqas clustered outside their homes, awaiting their husbands from the Gulfâwere
. That's what people were when you took away the basic veneer of civilization. And he'd had a vision then of Tara, a vision of love. What was Tara but a lost monkey from a powerful family of monkeys, who'd fallen down from her tree and randomly played with a poor monkey far from its own family? No, there was nothing to do but feel sad about Taraâwhat fault was it of hers? She had been pulled back into the thicket of her family and that was how it should be. As for him, he was a small, wounded, seeking animal, one who had strayed from the path a long time ago; he saw now that his time in Delhi, with Tara, had been a conference of the weak. They thought they were changing the world, but everyone except for him could see they were weak, damaged animals, clasping each other.
Why am I so wounded? he thought. But that is the fate of certain people. They lose themselves and never find themselves again.
He saw too, in this vision on drugs, that the world was dictated by power (he did not think, as he would later, that the reason he'd had such nihilistic visions was that he was depressed). What was Modi but a violent, screaming animal demanding the death and destruction of other clans? There were two ways to handle such a fat chest-beating monkey: to hide away forever in the forest or to attack him and
clan. In an instant, hallucinating, the field leaping about, he grasped the swift logic of violence. The world existed in a state of battle between clans and races. Each clan rose at
the expense of the other. Whenever one came up, it was important to cut it down to size with violence.Â .Â .Â . He thought of 9/11, a crime that had, for all its religious implications, always seemed opaque to him, and it was clear that, in world historical terms, if you thought of the world as a jungle, what had happened was simple, obvious: sensing the rising power of one group, Atta and company had attacked the temple of that group.
As for death? It did not matter. We are only animals, and if we give a complex name to our grief, it is because we like to pretend otherwise.
A clan is more important than the animal. In fact, it is in grief that we become most like animals, hiding, curling up, refusing to accept the truth of someone's goneness, acting as if the person gone is a part of ourselves.
It was during this hallucination that Ayub decided to give himself to revolution and violence. “I tried nonviolence,” he told Shockie now. “I was a big believer in Gandhi. You could say I was a self-hating Muslim. I wanted equality between Hindus and Muslims, brotherhood. I thought the majority could be persuaded with such action. At one point, when the farmer suicides were happening in Andhra and Maharashtra, I even staged a protest where Muslims threatened to take the poison and kill themselves. It was nonviolence taken to its full extreme. But the press gave it no attention. Now I see it's a world where everything operates by force. If you sit and let people go on, then they will. I had always thought you had to educate others about your pain, show them how to solve it. Now I realize you have to make them
“That's a very good speech,” Shockie said. “You should be a politician.”
Ayub grew exasperated. Maybe this wasn't the best idea after all. The door he'd been about to walk through closed a little. He had an inkling of how life would look if he retreatedâhow he could rebuild it. The sounds of hammers and construction were at his back. All of India was under renovation. Why was he so eager to destroy it? “It looks like you won't be convinced,” Ayub said, curling his lips. “So forget it.”
“You see my problem,” Shockie said. “It's a problem of trust. But there is a way. If you can get me to meet Malik Aziz, who is a friend of mine, I'll be convinced.”
“You know Malik?” Ayub said. “It's not that easy.”
“I just want to see him,” Shockie said.
“For that you can go to the trial,” Ayub said. “If you're confident and well dressed you can enter anywhere.”
“How is he?” Shockie asked.
Confused by the direction of the conversation, Ayub said, “You know he hasn't spoken in six years, right? Some of the ideas of nonviolence I got from him. He's one of the major exemplars of such protest in the country. Even the foreign media has covered him.”
Poor Malik! Shockie thought. Who loved to talk! “I know,” Shockie lied.
But now an intimacy developed between them. Shockie suddenly decided to trust Ayub.
At a certain point all such work is risk. The question is when you are willing to take it. In any case, the danger existed regardless of where you hunted for it; often it came from the most unexpected source.
The group operated out of a series of safe houses in the countryside of Uttar Pradesh. For Ayub, everything connected to the group was new. His fellow revolutionaries, shady figures he might or might not have heard about in the news, were serene individuals. Wrapped in woodsmoke, they conversed quietly, surrounded by sacks of cement or grain inside small huts. Several of the men in the group were educated, young professional types who'd given up their careers in big towns. Tauqeer was a former software engineer; Rafiq had an MA in psychology and had worked for Coca-Cola in marketing; Mohammed was a renowned hacker. These men greeted Ayub with interest, suspicion, condescension. He'd forgotten what it meant to be the junior member of a group after having a free run with Peace For All.
Ayub had always railed against Muslims who turned to violence (though he had been sure, after working with inmates for years, that many of the bombs were planted by Hindus to frame Muslims), but now he found himself on the cutting edge of news events, on the verge of becoming a
. He marveled at how this group of men, gathered in a warm, dark room, could alter the political future of a country. “If we disrupt the
economy,” one was saying as he chewed a bit of bread, his legs dangling from a ledge in the hut, “then Modi automatically goes.” Ayub had been introduced as a new member with no criminal record, who could infiltrate Modi's inner circleâhe had boasted of his connection with Tara, whose parents were rich, well-connected BJP supporters.
The men, because they were educated, talked in economic terms. Plant enough bombs, Tauqeer said (he had a memorable face with gaunt cheekbones, a prayer callus on his forehead, and black whorls where the cheekbones jutted out of his face), and you create uncertainty in the economy and investment dries up. “This so-called economic boom is fragile,” he said. “It's caused simply by a cost advantage on the Indian side. The investors are like hawks. They'll move to another country or state the minute they feel it's dangerous. And Modi too will be voted out of power.” He was arguing, in effect, that there was no need to kill Modi directly. Just taking aim at the economy of Gujarat, the apple on Modi's head (or was it vice versa?), was enough.
“And think about what happens if he's killed,” Rafiq said.
Ayub had an image of riots, bloodshed, babies speared from the stomachs of pregnant mothersâreal images; he'd seen them a thousand times when he'd screened the documentary about the Gujarat riots for schools.
“We shouldn't be afraid of such consequences,” Tauqeer, obviously the leader, burst in. “We should welcome them. Unlike our friend Rafiq here,” he said, turning to Ayub, “I don't share such a rosy view of our fellow Muslims. They're corrupt, cowardly, hypocritical, and busy fighting among themselves. There's no difference between them and Hindus, if you ask me. The Muslims in this country are Indians first and Muslims second.” (It occurred to Ayub that just months earlier, he would have considered this a good thing.) “Having a few more riots will awaken them to the reality in this country.” Ayub saw now that he was being addressed directlyâthat he was considered one of those Muslims who had woken up
the riots. But was he the only one? All these people are young. I suspect they too only took this extreme step after the riots, he thought.
How much blood will we have to shed to create a million versions of me?
Tauqeer produced an inhaler and sucked on it. So that wasn't just a rumor, that he was asthmatic. Taking a puff, he said, “You want?”
The five men in the room laughed.
“In the old days they had hookahs,” Tauqeer said, laughing.
The men traveled to a forest outside the city of Hubli, in Karnatakaâa dry, arid region famous for its sweets and reddish rotis. At this time Shockie's position in the group became clearer to Ayub. He was a handler, an uncle who watched his reckless wards with his hands behind his back and eyes slightly absent till danger presented itself. Always dressed in a sleeveless sweater, whatever the weather, he wore dusty black pants with astonishingly sharp pleats. Later, Ayub would learn that Shockie, the son of a presswali, took a dandy's pride, despite his thinning curly hair, in wearing ironed clothes. Shockie kept a distance as they practiced and conducted training drills in the forest. The practice, Ayub had imagined, would be easy, a way of killing time before the actual killing. But it was exhausting. He was made to run through the bramble and brush till he collapsed. He lay in a puddle of his own vomit. Screaming, he hung for an hour from a branch on a tree, a branch that refused to spare him by breaking off, despite his prayers. He was left in a forest with a compass and no Odomos or light and made to find his way back to the camp in the forest. How could such training be possibly useful in the jungles of urban India?
Later, when they were exhausted out of their skulls, sitting dead-eyed around a fire at night, the fire like a performer throwing its hands this way and that, someone would pass a packet of biscuits and the others would accept and a warm, happy communal feeling would engulf them. Shockie remained standing off to the side.