BENGALURU: The dog continued to sit with its head turned towards the sky; its eerie moaning cut across the wind, now for three days on...time and again. Its howl was a complaint to both God and Allah. Umaben’s head began a rapid tattoo. She knew the crying of a dog was an omen for bad things, but how much worse could things possibly be? For the last three days, an earthquake had unsettled Umaben’s entire spirit, shaken her flesh and bones. She knew it was impossible to escape the pain of that.
She got up to open the box of rotis. A small stale piece of bhakri was left. She took it in her palm, crossed the otla and pushed the heavy wooden door to reach the street. She advanced towards Kalu, the dog who sat right in the centre of the street. All around, the road was strewn with stones and bricks, shards of glass, iron rods, bicycle chains. On the left, slightly far away, Fakirbhai’s bandhej shop still spouted a thin thread of smoke. By the footpath, three wooden carts had overturned their wares: apples, bananas, radish, tomatoes and cucumbers were lying scattered on the street.
Tabrez’s cart, from which he sold besan fritters, was upturned too: a group of flies hummed over a stash of rotting onions and chillies coated with flour. All around, burnt and putrefying smells made their way upwards. The smell of dried blood mingled with them and created invisible ropeways to hell. Umaben felt nausea grip her throat at the overpowering odour. Her three- day empty stomach churned in revulsion. She had stepped out of her home after three long days.
Slowly, she tiptoed through the debris strewn on the road, picking her way with care. Kalu was sitting at the crossing. Umaben called out as she waved the bhakri at him. Kalu looked at her and turned away. Umaben moved forward and said: ‘Roti, jomle baap.’ Eat the bread. But the dog showed no interest. She noticed some pieces of bread strewn about the road; some others must have tried to dissuade the creature from howling. Umaben looked at the dog: its head on the ground, Kalu lay supine, ignoring her. A sigh escaped her throat: Ha Bhagwan! Oh my God!
On her left, a small group of people talked in a murmur. A few policemen stood nearby, looking at her. One of them waved his hand, gesturing at her to leave. Kalu began crying again. Umaben’s heart leapt up win fear. Day before yesterday, the men had poured petrol over Fakirbhai and had burnt him alive. There was not a soul in the neighbourhood who had dared to intervene. Fakirbhai used to tell her, ‘Ben, even God is afraid of the poor and the naked.’
He was fearless about his poverty, but he did not know that someone who was feared by God could become a target for Satan. Umaben turned away from the crossing and walked like a robot to the small shop that was once owned by Fakirbhai. It had no signboard now. She pushed open the door to the small room. Kalu came running and stopped in front of the open door.
It then turned back once again to go back to its old place. Umaben went in with slow steps; the floor was covered in rush mats. On it lay a piece of white silk cloth. Numerous threads were tied on it and on the other side were marks of a design made with pencil. Nearby stood three big aluminum pans filled with blackish water. Umaben suddenly had the sensation of someone standing at her back. She turned and saw that a policeman had entered the room.Excerpted from the short story Bandhni by Sunanda Bhattacharya, from the book Women’s Writings from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, edited by Rakhshanda Jalil and Debjani Sengupta, with permission from Bloomsbury India.