Abbu, the club secretary has called you.” “Called me? The club secretary! How does he dare?” “I don’t know. He said, if you don’t go this time, they won’t allow the work…” “It’s my house. Who the hell are they to stop it?” “They said we cannot purchase the materials from outside.” “Remember, I was a police inspector. The SPs and DMs used to call me. That man will go to meet those ruffians!” “I do not know, I just said what I heard from them.” The matter hurt the pride of Sohorab Mirza. He had retired just a month ago from service after spending 36 years in the police department. He remained officer in charge of four police stations. He used to call people.

They had to take permission before entering his chamber. He could not make out how those unemployed bidi-smoking people can dare call him! The taste of the tea suddenly became unpalatable. He stared at the cup. Just 10 years ago Sayra had bought the land after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper. Plot inspection, bargaining and registration —everything was done by Sayra because he was in a profession, which did not allow one to be on leave often. Sayra took a flat on rent in the vicinity. While staying there she supervised the construction.

Sohorab managed to come only at the time of the house warming function. Then too, while he was enjoying the happiness of being in one’s own house on a weeklong leave, Rupsa came one day and said, “Abbu, the local club members will come to meet you this evening.” That day, around 7 pm, some members of the local club came. They demanded the cost of a colour television. Sohorab snubbed them hearing the amount. “Twenty thousand rupees in the name of chanda! Without any occasion? Don’t you think this is one kind of extortion?”

In the face of his salvo, the club members fumbled for a just reply. During his next sojourn, Sohorab came to know that Sayra had given them Rs 5,000 to help buy a new colour TV. Since then everything ran smoothly. He thought of building the second floor after retirement. Both Altaf and Rupsa had entered college. They also needed separate rooms. Ergo, without making any delay, Sohorab went to Ruporpur market and made a contract with a building material supplier for the required bricks, sand, stone chips et al. Next day, when the club members saw the supplier’s truck drop bricks at his doorstep, they started clamouring among themselves.

Somebody ran to the market and threatened the supplier asking him to stop the supply immediately. Sohorab came to know the fact when the supplier called him. Return of the truck un-emptied pricked the balloon of his pride. That evening they sent an emissary to him with the proposal of a “meeting” at the club for discussion before taking up the work. That was like an affront for a cop. Sohorab turned down the proposal and showed him the door. Today they dared to call him at their club!

Hearing those words from Altaf, Sohorab was trembling in rage. Sayra came. “It has been a rule here. You don’t know. The club people are not like what they were 10 years ago. Everything has changed. Last month Sanyal Babudenied taking second grade bricks from them. So they chased away the masons from the road. Nobody turned up to do the job for months. At last Sanyal Babu paid a ‘fine’ for not taking their bricks.”

“Sir, you know it all, the tricks of their trade. You were officer in charge of so many police stations…” “But brother, in our time we did not see this type of terror. I can not purchase things of my choice!” “No Sir, you can. You can purchase everything at your own will. You purchase TV, fridge, AC, furniture, utensils from any shop you wish. Nobody is going to put any objection. Only, as you know…it has been a phenomenon everywhere… local syndicates object to the purchase of building material from outside their area…”

“Listen brother, I am not going to be worried if that man does not supply the materials out of fear of the club. I have my own capacity to bring it, even from outside this district.” “That’s your choice Sir, surely your personal matter. They can hardly threaten a supplier from another district”, said the officer-in-charge of Ruporpur PS, “In that case, one thing to keep in mind Sir, remain alert at night. There remains a chance of material theft…”

Sohorab understood the local police would not help him in this matter. No other local supplier was ready to supply the materials. Everybody came to know about the diktat of Sharantirtha Sangha. Anyway, Sohorab had another thought in his mind. He was the Circle Inspector of Minakha, famous for its production of the best bricks. He brought bricks from there. He was officer-in-charge of Mohammad Bazar, famous for its stone chips.

That evening Samar Roychoudhury called at his house. He was very aged and alighted from the car with a stick in his hand. He was one of the descendants of the zamindar of the locality, Sashanka Sekhar Roychoudhury. After his introduction Samar Babu said, “Bhai please remove your materials from the ground by tomorrow.” The vacant land in front of Sohorab’s house belonged to Samar Babu. “See brother, for a long time the club members have been opposing the sale of the land.

Have you seen a notice board in front of the club which reads, ‘Inform the club before sale or purchase of land’?” Sohorab looked astonished at his words. “If I don’t ask you to remove the materials they won’t allow me to sell the land… So please make it by tomorrow, brother…” The next morning, Sohorab cleaned the garden. He chopped off the flower plants, plantain and jack-fruit trees, and sprouting mahoganies. Sayra was sobbing, staring at her obstinate and uncompromising husband. By afternoon, he shifted the materials to the cleaned garden, inside the boundary wall.

Sohorab knew that the local masons would not dare take the job. So he brought a team from Kandi, Murshidabad. They worked for two days smoothly. On the third day, their leader came to Sohorab. “Babu, give us our wages. We won’t work here anymore.” “Why?” “No sir…” “Tell me the reason.” “No Babu, leaders of your area called our contractor. The village committee threatened our family asking for our immediate return.” Sohorab flared up. “Is it a joke? You made a contract to complete the job. If you don’t do, I will put every one of you in the lockup!”

The masons left his house after taking their wages. In the evening Sohorab was sitting in the balcony facing the road. The club members were walking past his house. “Wasn’t he flying like a kite? Now see, your thread has been cut off…” “Right you are. Flying so high, bringing bricks from Minakha, stones from Panchami…” “I just didn’t slap him as he was a cop.” Sohorab could identify that voice. It was club secretary Nikhil Mistry, who was a close aide of the local MLA Sadhan Mukherjee.

The next morning, the Imam of Begumpara Baro Masjid with some other clerics called on him. In their mosque hundreds of Namaji perform Oju five times a day before each prayer. Water for their Oju was insufficient as the municipality supply was time-restricted. They wished to install a submersible pump inside the mosque. So they asked for some subscription. “Listen Imam Saheb, you are going to do a great job in the name of Allah. Begging door to door will be unbecoming. I am going to give you the full expenditure of a submersible and a water tank.” T

he clerics put their unfolded hands high up in the air and started praying to Allah for Sohorab Mirza’s well-being. “Please do me a favour, if you can,” Sohorab moved to the next step smilingly. “Of course, why not. You are our big brother, were such a big officer…” “Are there any masons among our namaji brothers?” “A lot. Do you need them for any work?” asked the Imam. “Yes. But there is a problem also.” ‘What problem bhaisaab ? Tell us.” “Do you know the Sarantirtha Sangha of this ward? They are obstructing my works…” “What! How do they dare? They are like children to our Ajaadia Yuba Sangha, the biggest club of Ruporpur with two hundred members…” the Imam said. “Yes, we will see who obstructs…” assured the other clerics. Sohorab made a quick calculation in his mind.

He heard of the Hindu-Muslim population ratio of this town to be 40-60. He guessed that the voter share will also be like that. The Imam of the largest mosque of this town is on his side, other clerics also. Sohorab tore a leaf from his cheque book and handed it over to the Imam. “We will send the mistris tomorrow bhaisaab, don’t bother about the club. If anybody obstructs I will make an ayylan from the mosque with the microphone. Not a single one out of the 2,500 votes of our locality will be cast in favour of Sadhan Mukherjee.”

Nowadays, Sohorab drinks his flavoured Darjeeling tea while sitting on his cozy arm-chair in the balcony. First he takes in the smell. Then his tongue touches the heavenly liquid. But Nikhil Mistry and his members do not tread on this road, anymore. The Muslim masons of the vote bank ward are doing the construction work peacefully. Only the young people of Ajaadia Yuba Sangha come now and then to supervise the progress. All the building materials are inside the boundary walls of his house now. There is no fear of theft, anymore. The MLA made a call just few days ago. He said, “Don’t be afraid of anybody Mr Mirza. The government is with the minority…”