Owning my Destiny
by Devakee Rahalkar
I scratched the bleeding itch on my arm, the action further intensifying the burn.
The restlessness was eating me up. I needed to move more. Act more. Do More. My brain whirring in twenty different directions.
All my life I had been an action-taker, never letting circumstances beat me into submission. Scrapping and scratching my way up into the dream life I believed I was owed.
I looked around my empty house, noting the expensive Rajasthani tapestry my wife had ordered beyond the plush recliner cushions – the silence of my house overwhelming. The ticking of the huge antique clock almost mocking in its mundane activity.
Every showpiece and material possession in my vicinity spoke loudly of my quickly accumulated wealth, power I had deluded myself into believing I possessed and some purported status among my peers.
‘You are responsible for your own destiny baccha! Always watch out for your own blood’ – All my life, I had clung to the only wise words my old man had ever said to me, amid his perpetual drunken stupor.
And since the scrawny age of 8 years when my father passed away leaving me alone in this world, I had done just that – looked out for myself.
No relative had ever come forward to claim me. The orphanage where I landed up hungry and lost was very clear that no one will adopt a middle-aged child with a shady violent past. So, I looked out for myself growing up amid screaming children of the orphanage, while in school with disinterested judgmental teachers and made a name for myself among school bullies who later owned the streets.
A few times, at the orphanage, we would watch awkward meetings of young parents coming in to adopt the younger children. The tearful goodbyes and the tight handholds of a new family in the making brought forth further yearnings of my own shortcomings. One day – I shall have it all!
In my race to control my own destiny, I studied and cheated my way through school to join the police force. Throughout my career of 20 years, I was never averse to running favours for powerful men to get the most profitable postings. Sometimes, I had to get my hands dirty, sometimes just be the messenger and most often, simply look the other way.
Any bubbling guilt would be assuaged by a frequent repeated promise to myself, “My child will live a different life. A life of no compromises.”
I paced a hole in my Rs.50,000 worth imported pashmina rug on the living room floor. Who can I call upon now? Can I turn this around? Make this all go away?
My overactive brain went into a default mode of running through all the people who have crossed paths with me in the past. Except today – something was off. The brain was stopping at odd points in my shady past.
20 years in the police force – I had built an excellent knack of remembering names, secrets and favors owed by powerful men throughout the last few decades. But never have I looked at the people beneath me twice.
Instead of running through the usual well-used mental rolodex of favors, secrets and possible manipulation techniques of powerful men, today my brain was throwing up all the non-consequentials. People, faces and eyes of those whom I never gave a second thought to – all swimming in front of my eyes like a gruesome montage of whines, whimpers and pleas for mercy.
I was 22 when I first got my hands dirty in the name of favor. Two large packets of drugs which I had planted in the senior laborer’s huts sealed their fate for good. The old red-rimmed eyes of the aged laborer showed more disappointment in me than fear of the future.
The angry yet determined eyes of Shantiben swam in front of me. Her piercing gaze full of desperation yet determination and she begged a 24-year old me to waiver her monthly bribe as she wanted to feed her children. I remember feeling resolute as other hawkers watched the exchange, the feeling of being most powerful on the entire street and asking Shantiben in a cold voice to keep her monthly hafta ready by evening.
Be the system to beat the system. One day, my bloodline will own this system!
My early years on the force had always been a blur of scraping and scratching my way to the top. Even my marriage was a stepping stone to strengthen my position in this world. Anita was the DGP’s daughter and marrying her had catapulted me into a life of guaranteed power and leisure.
The birth of my only son had given me the next motivation – to earn more, do more, and grab more. I was building his future, one day at a time.
The blurred years of scrapping my way to the top all stood out to me today in sharp clarity.
The whimpering cries of 12 year-old Ramesh lying paralyzed in the hospital hit my ears out of nowhere. The previous afternoon, Ramesh had been a victim of hit and run near his municipal school. The next day, I was at the hospital to ensure there is no legal case.
The family was given a meagre portion of a large amount of money which changed hands after the incident. This money was just enough to cover the immediate cost of the hospital. Their son, Ramesh would remain an invalid for life. I was richer by ten lakhs for a day’s job.
While stepping outside the hospital after paying their bill for the next ten days, his poor father with eyes full of despair had thanked me profusely for helping them out.
I scratched my arm again, a single drop of blood fell on the expensive pashmina rug. I had cut my hand a few hours ago when I had thrown a china pot against the wall in a blind rage when I received the phone call from my subordinate.
“Sir,” said a trembling voice at the other end. “I am sorry, truly sorry.”
“Kay bakwaas karto Kamble. Jaldi bol, kya baat hai,” I had lambasted him.
“Sir, your son’s body has been identified… as one of the bomb blast victims… I am truly sorry for your loss.”
This story was written as part of the Writer’s Gym program conducted by Rashmi Bansal.