It was a lazy afternoon, with the sea breeze from the Arabian Sea blowing away scarves and giving the beggar on the footpath a small reason to smile. The roads were full of cars speeding away towards Nariman Point (which never sleeps, even on a weekend) as young couples held hands and walked aimlessly around Marine Drive, assured that, since Valentine’s Day was far away, they would be safe from the Sena’s men.
Near the Gateway of India, there is a small Hanuman temple. I always go there before a mission. That day too, I was there, praying for the safety of my wife and daughter at home. Once I was done, Ejaz started up the motorcycle and we made our way. Anamika, white top, blue jeans and large, golden earrings: in the jungle that is Bombay, it might be possible to find a hundred different people with that description. But to our trained eyes, this was easy. As we made our way through the traffic, I finally found my prize.
Ejaz stopped by the kerb and I made my way towards the couple. Such a cute pair they made but then, what do I care? I would have locked my little girl inside her room if I was like her father. A man, probably her boyfriend, was feeding her an ice gola when I came near them. And then the motorcycle’s engine sprung to life. Ejaz was always on time. I pulled out the little bottle of acid from under my shirt and tossed its contents at the girl. She didn’t even have time to react and I was already on the motorcycle. Her boyfriend tried to chase us: it’s amazing how people who ride in BMWs can fool themselves into believing that they can outrun a motorcycle!
“Chamaila… maader… don’t you have a mother?” he screamed at us just as he collapsed on the pavement. I laughed. Ejaz laughed too. Of all the reactions we ever saw, this was the funniest. Of course I had a mother but then, this is my profession. I am an acid attacker. The Mumbai Police put so many restrictions on guns that we were forced to look for other ways to meet our contracts. Amazingly, acid is cheaper than water in this water-starved island and it was more effective than knives. Our employers didn’t want to us to kill; they wanted us to send a message. Loud and clear.
Ejaz, my partner, my brother, was an expert. He and I were taught the trade together. What else do you expect two hungry boys to do after their homes had been demolished by the BMC in the middle of the monsoon? We found good employment: it was either that or starvation. If only these rich kids knew just how many poor people their daddies were killing every day! We made our way quickly to Parel. This was our thikana: this is where we went to get our wages and sip a glass of beer. Of course, Ejaz would never drink alcohol: he was too pious. But how could a Gujarati boy like me give up his drink?
We never got caught. After all, when the lawmakers hire us, how can we break the law? The Police would come out with sketches and the Home Minister would assure the world that Mumbai was safe. That evening, the Home Minister himself came to hand us our money. “Shaabaash!” he said with a large smile across his face. Our target had been his rival’s daughter. Now that he was Home Minister, he wanted to send him a little reminder as to who was the real Maratha King in Mumbai. I’m sure he got the message.(Continued)