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Assassin

Discover a gripping narrative from the acclaimed author of Hangwoman in K.R. Meera's latest work, Assassin. A profound allegory for our tumultuous era, Meera's storytelling prowess is lauded by K. Satchidanandan. In a metropolis, Satyapriya's life takes an alarming turn as a stranger targets her repeatedly. Unveiling a web of conspiracy, she confronts questions of identity, gender, and power. Set against India's demonetization and Gandhi's assassination, Assassin, masterfully translated by J. Devika, is an essential, genre-defying opus capturing the essence of contemporary India.
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Assassin

© Amazon / amazon.in

August 20, 2023 02:14 EDT
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Have you ever faced an attempt on your life?

A pity, if your answer is no! If only because the soul experiences a tremendous release in that

moment. Instantly, body and soul part ways within your living self. They take wing on their

separate paths. One thing, however, is certain. It is better to die at an assassin’s hands than

escape. If you do escape, then say ‘swaha’ to the rest of your life, which is gone forever, like an

offering to a sacrificial fire. Every face you see after will be suspect. Even your own shadow

won’t seem to belong to you – but to the assassin. You will feel something piercing right

through your chest; you will squirm in sudden bursts of pain.

I have been in such a state since 16 November, the night on which I was attacked. The whole of

that day was spent standing in a queue in front of the bank. Just eight days earlier, one-

thousand- and five-hundred-rupee notes were banned in the country. The government was still

making mutually contradictory statements; the new notes were not yet ready. People camped

in front of banks day and night. News of them collapsing and dying in queues kept piling. I had

reached my workplace looking limp and wilted. I was on the fourth shift. The attack happened

when, after work, I was dropped off at the rusted gate of my rented house, just as I had started

to push it open. It was past midnight. The company vehicle that had dropped me had not even

disappeared from sight when a motorbike came up noiselessly from the dark. Someone who’s

lost his way inside the housing colony, I thought, and turned. I saw his hand slink between his

legs. Ah, an exhibitionist, thought I – a member of that eternal race, sure to outlast us all. Then

he pointed something at me. I did not peer again to make sure that it was a gun. I ducked; the

sound of a windowpane shattering rang terrifyingly. My consciousness was dripping away but I

saw him take aim again. I fell flat on my face. A bullet hit the ground, and the sand and dust got

into my eyes. I did not see him aim a third time, but I could foresee it. Clutching on to my life, I

rolled towards the road. My good luck or bad – a wild-looking young man, a neighbour whom I

had not yet met, arrived there on his hulk of a motorbike after a late-night movie. He braked

suddenly and honked repeatedly. The gunman’s vehicle sped away, and I escaped.

The young man helped me up. But body and soul had already parted. I am dead, I continued to

believe. My limbs stiffened. Still holding me up, honking, and shouting for help, he roused the

neighbours. I heard his voice as if from across a river. Death was the bluish-red-tinged bank of a

river – such things were revealed to me. I was crossing it, seated atop my bullet-ridden body as

a canoe. The river was the colour of flames. The ripples rose as cool tongues of flame towards

the sky, the spray of sparks scattered all over.

Some people ran up to us and carried me to the house of our neighbour, Dr Fernandes. The

doctor shook me awake gently, splattered water on my face. I was reborn into the disquiets of

life with great reluctance.

Completely exhausted, I lay still for about an hour, still craving for the violet shores of death.

Akhil Gupta, a Superintendent of Police and a resident of our colony, came up to me in between

and asked some questions. I could only babble. He told me that men from the local police

would be protecting me. I spent the rest of the night in the house of that ‘freaken’ young man. I

couldn’t but help a laugh even in my terrible state when I heard that his name was Mrityunjoy

Sen. His mother, Dr Sandeepa Sen, was a teacher at the university. She received me very kindly.

Dr Fernandes had given me a sleeping pill; I slept like I was rehearsing death. In the morning,

Sandeepa told me that I had screamed twice in my sleep. By the time I bid her goodbye and

staggered towards my house, my body had become a damp sheath of leather with soggy flesh

hanging inside. A sheath like the one Gurkhas use to keep their knives in. One used to conceal

the sharpness of the dagger and to protect the world outside from that sharpness.

The SP and the president and secretary of our Residents’ Association were waiting outside, in

front of the gate of my house. They were chatting about the wedding of an ex-minister’s

daughter. I overheard the inspector say that the bride’s sari was worth seventeen crore. The

optimism around black money vanishing was dimming, it seemed. I led them inside. The broken

shards of glass had fallen on the sit-out too. The inspector was observing the premises keenly.

He loosened the bullet that had broken the windowpane and pierced a wall. He frowned like a

great crime investigator, pressed his fingers on his lips, bent, craned his neck and stretched to

examine closely all of the 750 square feet, including a drawing-cum-dining area, a bedroom, a

study, a small living room, a kitchen, and a small work area outside, enclosed with an iron grille.

He asked me to describe what had passed. The president of our Residents’ Association H.H.

Reddy and the secretary Atul Shetty encouraged me to speak. Shetty recorded all of it on his

iPhone. Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity? Reddy expressed his doubt. A senior scholar

had been murdered this way. I, too, remembered the image of the blood-splattered pieces of

his round spectacles. Not surprising he died that way, said Shetty. He wrote false stories against

the government. Sandeepa Sen also writes such things, Shetty added, lowering his voice. He

shot the wrong person, the SP said to himself. For a split second, Samir’s face flashed in my

mind. But my voice did not rise. The three continued to ask questions which they themselves

answered. Gandhis are gone, said Shetty, now the contract killings are going to go up. But only

the ordinary folk are bereft of Gandhis, Reddy countered. They were talking about the five-

hundred-rupee notes, of course. The SP assured me that soon a detailed statement would be

taken from me. He promised Reddy that security in the colony would be increased. Soon, all of

them were gone. The house was now empty. My heart was still pounding. I was swamped with

guilt and the fear of humiliation. Intense darkness rolled and thrashed about inside my head.

After some time, in came a sub-inspector with swarthy cheeks and eyes that looked as though

sorrow had congealed in them forever, accompanied by a pot-bellied head constable and a

young woman constable who was at least five feet ten inches tall. They were to record my

statement. They asked me the following questions, and these were the responses I gave them:

‘What is your name?’

‘Satyapriya.’

‘How long have you been living here?’

‘Sixteen months.’

‘Aren’t you afraid to live here alone?’

‘The woman who used to live here earlier was also alone.’

‘But you could have found a flat or a hostel room?’

‘Simply can’t put up with hostel wardens on top of everything at the age of forty-four.’

‘Where were you before you moved here?’

‘In Odisha.’

‘Why did you move here?’

‘Because I found a better job.’

‘What is your job?’

‘It is in the HR department of a software company.’

‘Do HR employees work at night?’

‘This is an American company.’

‘At what time did you go to work yesterday?’

‘At five, in the evening.’

‘Where were you until then?’

‘I had gone to the bank at ten in the morning.’

‘To deposit or withdraw?’

‘To withdraw.’

‘How much?’

‘The ink to mark those who change notes ran out. So I couldn’t change any money.’

‘Do you think that the motive was robbery?’

‘No.’

‘Aren’t there security arrangements in your company’s vehicle? Shouldn’t they make sure that

you are safely inside your house before leaving?’

‘That’s the rule.’

‘Why have you not complained against this breach of rules?’

‘Have not really felt insecure here. The SP’s house is just past the bend down the road.’

‘All right. What is your educational qualification?’

‘Double MA, MBA.’

‘Double MA?’

‘In Communicative English and Malayalam.’

‘You have no relatives?’

‘My parents live in my native place.’

‘Are you married?’

‘No.’

‘What does your father do?’

‘Nothing nowadays. He is fully paralysed.’

‘Siblings?’

‘A sister. She died in a car crash.’

‘A car crash?’

‘On the road. Her scooter collided with a lorry.’

‘Was it an accident?’

‘That’s what the police said.’

‘Do you have any enemies?’

‘Not to my knowledge.’

‘Anybody in the office?’

‘There have been disagreements.’

‘About what?’

‘Work-related matters.’

‘Why are you not married?’

‘Because I haven’t found anyone suitable.’

‘Didn’t you try putting out a matrimonial ad?’

‘No luck.’

‘It is difficult to imagine that no man ever fell in love with a good-looking woman like you.’

I thought for a moment and then said, ‘Luck in love is directly proportional to submissiveness,

not beauty.’

The SI frowned. The woman constable gaped, her eyes filled with disbelief. To change the topic,

the SI asked for my identity card. I gave it to him. The head constable copied down the address

carefully. The questions continued.

‘Have you seen the man on the bike anywhere?’

‘I didn’t see his face. He was wearing a helmet. All I saw was the pistol in his hand.’

‘Can you describe him?’

‘The truth is that I saw only the pistol.’

‘Did you note down the bike’s registration number?’

‘No, but I think it ended with 25.’

‘So you have no suspects in mind?’

‘No. At least for now.’

‘That means?’

‘My mind feels numb. Can’t focus.’

‘All right, we will come again. Do let us know if you recollect anything else.’

The police left.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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