Another excerpt from SHARDS OF SUNLIGHT
The Police arrive. I am terrified:
Next week, Indu woke up on Monday morning with a sense of momentous events, larger than herself, larger than any one person, looming. Instead of her slow, dopey shuffle around the house and compound, she skipped and ran around making Shinnu ask, ‘Why are you acting like a kitten before a storm – lifting your fluffed up tail and darting about?’
As she walked through to the kitchen Indu could hear the excited chatter of the milk boy as Shinnu held out the lotta for the day’s milk.
Kodathi, she heard, and pathaka. The Courts and the flag. She went to the back door to listen.
‘Enthada?’ What is it, boy? ‘Noise and chatter when people are still sleeping,’ Devi said to the boy.
‘Devi ammey, kettilley.’ Haven’t you heard?
‘Heard what?’ Devi sounded offhand.
‘The Court grounds are crawling with policemen. Even the beach in front is crowded with people watching. Can you believe it? The flag flying on top of the building is ours.’ The ‘ours’ had a jubilant, almost uxorious ring to it.
The boy was pouring milk into the lotta, looking up at the women as he talked, and the milk overflowed from the top of the brass pot.
‘Look at the milk,’ Shinnu shouted.
The boy sobered up and tried to wipe the side of the lotta with a piece of multi-purpose rag that adorned his neck as a sweat band; normally he carried it on the seat of his bicycle to cushion his bony buttocks. Shinnu pulled the milk-pot away in disgust.
As the boy went to the gate, Vijayan (neighbour and activist) scurried in. ‘The police are on their way,’ he said to Devi and sprinted off breathlessly. ‘Don’t want to be seen here. Keep the door to Ammini Amma’s room closed.’
He reached the gate, stopped a moment and rushed back breathlessly. His sleek, pomaded hair was dishevelled for once. ‘Don’t let them go too quickly from here.’
‘That’s great,’ Devi started sarcastically, but Vijayan had already disappeared.
Indu and Mani ran to the gate to have a look.
Marching down the Court Road, the police, they saw, had gathered a tail of urchins. The neighbours spilled out to the edge of their compounds, pretending to look at the coconut trees, hang out clothes on the line, beat the door mats on the veranda steps… Anything to join the mela. The Inspector leading the group of policemen opened Indu’s front gate and the men filed through. The last policeman shooed away the boys. ‘Poda,’ he said almost in a whisper, go. He raised his lathi, his swagger stick, in threat and the boys hung back for a moment, feigning fear. As soon as he turned away they came closer, whispering to each other.
Devi saw them coming but went inside. Her thin joyless lips were set into an even thinner line and she pulled her top-cloth over her shoulders. She intoned a few quick ramaramaramas under her breath. Indu knew all about those ramaramas. Devi needed her God because the problems were beyond her.
‘Shinnu,’ Devi called out as she walked to the door, ‘Don’t come to the veranda.’
The two girls, Indu and Mani, had followed the policemen to the veranda but escaped Devi’s X-ray eyes. When Devi came out, the policemen were gathering in an uneasy group on the steps of the veranda, with the Inspector on the top step. Devi watched impassively.
‘Entha?’ she asked as though policemen on the doorstep were a daily event. What is it?
The Inspector took his time answering. Indu could not decide whether it was embarrassment that made him hesitate, or pompousness. Maybe he is waiting for Devi to be afraid, she thought.
‘We need to search the house,’ he said.
The Inspector clearly did not know what he was looking for. ‘Search means looking for anything, everything. Move aside from the doorway.’
Devi was blocking the doorway, but she didn’t move. The man took a step forward. Indu got a little closer to Mani.
‘Mani,’ she whispered.
Mani clutched Indu’s hand tight in hers.
The policeman made as if to push Devi away to enter inside, but Devi stood her ground, staring at him, as though challenging him.
‘Stop there,’ a breathless voice commanded from behind the police. ‘Have you got a search warrant?’
It was Damu, from down the lane. He was wearing only a dothi and a vest and must have sprinted down the road. The dothi was doubled up and tucked into his waist for running.
‘I don’t need a search warrant. These are special times.’
‘Yes, yes. Special time indeed when policemen can come and threaten women in houses where there are no men. Shameless lot. Go find some men to frighten.’
The Inspector took a step back from the doorway.
The lawyer turned to Devi. ‘Don’t open the door to anyone without letting me know. Search indeed!’
The Inspector stood back for a moment and then signalled to his entourage. They filed out of the veranda in an untidy group as the urchins turned round and giggled at them.
Devi breathed a sigh of relief; Indu and Mani followed her inside. Her courage lasted only till she reached the kitchen; there she collapsed in an untidy heap and started trembling.
‘Keep that scum here indeed. What did Vijayan think I was going to do?’