Editor: Read Chapter X here.
On the morning of the big raid, the alarms went off at three thirty a.m. Four days had passed since they had blown up the Garden of Eden and the unnamed building in Kandivali East. Ravi got up and charged towards the toilet, only to find someone ahead of him. Thankfully he was second in line.
Since there were only three functioning toilets on that floor, one of which was reserved for the bosses, the men had to take turns to use the toilets. He wasn’t particularly hungry. Whoever heard of eating breakfast at four in the morning, but he knew he had to force himself to eat, for it was going to be a long day. Would he be alive at the end of it all, he wondered?
He was the only one who seemed to have reservations about what they were doing. Both the Unit Leaders had become fanatics for the cause of the revolution. Even the other men behaved as if they had been brainwashed. However, the biggest change was in Comrade Avinash who had started to conduct himself as if he were already the Premier or someone equally important.
‘Will we be coming back to this place Comrade Unit Leader?’ one of the men asked Niranjan as he stood in the toilet queue.
‘Of course not, you fool. We will never come back to the same place. When you leave, carry your belongings with you and put them in the boot of the car you will be travelling in.’
‘Especially after today when there will be an alert out for a large group of men who look like us,’ Sanket added in a more conciliatory tone.
They had been warned repeatedly that today’s attack would involve a gun battle and that the guards at Everglades would fight back. This wouldn’t be a cakewalk like the Garden of Eden attack or the one at Kandivali East. To add to Ravi’s tension, it was his turn to drive today. They had all been given driving lessons as part of their training and they took turns to drive. Ravi was a reasonably competent driver but driving just before a battle only added to the stress.
So far, Ravi had been unable to contact his friend Holambe. Sanket or Niranjan made it a point to listen to every phone call he made to his mother or Swapna. If only he had one of those pre-stamped inland letter sheets, he could write a letter to Holambe, care of Opesh’s bangle shop and leave it behind when they left this place for good.
He was sure that someone would find the letter and post it without opening it. Even if it was opened, he wouldn’t say much in the letter, other than that he wanted to talk to Holmabe. But then what good would come of it? Even if Holambe were to call him on his phone, how could he talk to him freely? Ravi grunted in despair. The only way he could seek out Holambe would be by deserting, something he would never do.
Once again, breakfast consisted of cereal and milk from Amul tetra packs, which the men served themselves. The hall was very warm and humid, since it was built to retain cold conditioned air, except that there were no air conditioners. The men sweated profusely. Ravi wished they could open some of the windows but could understand why they didn’t.
They had three old battered cars – a Hyundai Santro, a Ford Fiesta and a Tata Indica, to ferry them to the site chosen for the attack.
‘Remember, this time it’s different. Everglades has trained security guards who will fight back,’ Tarun and the two Unit Leaders repeated once again. Ever since the two attacks four days ago, Mumbai had descended into a state of siege. Building societies started to beef up security, hiring security guards and putting in place better gates, barricades and locks. Police check posts had sprung up all over the city, carrying out random checks on vehicles, especially if they had two or more adult males inside.
Within five minutes of exiting the old mill compound, the three cars reached Everglades, a fifteen-story high building on Senapati Bapat Marg, surrounded with high walls, almost all its sixty flats fully occupied with families, without being stopped. Ravi and the other driver parked their cars by the road and the attackers got out quietly. They all wore stained orange overalls with pockets inside to hold their pistols and ammunition, as if they were a gang of workmen going about a routine road maintenance task early in the morning, before sunrise. Except, none of them carried any tools, other than the large bolt cutter that hung around Sanket’s neck on a rope.
If there hadn’t been any previous attacks and if the atmosphere hadn’t been so tense, they might have gotten away with such pretence, but with things being the way they were, it took just a moment for the alarm to be raised.
‘Who are you?’ a security guard standing inside the compound by the main gate, challenged them as soon as they came close to Everglades.
However, it didn’t matter. Tarun drew his pistol, a Glock 17, poked it through the iron bars of the closed gate and shot the guard dead. Soon after, all the attackers took out large handkerchiefs from inside their orange overalls and masked their faces. A number of guards came running forward on hearing the gunshot, but they were at a huge disadvantage since the five feet high wall around Everglades served as a perfect barricade for the attackers who could fire at the guards as they came running forward or ran around like headless chickens, and duck behind the wall.
As the firing went on, Sanket brought out the bolt cutter and cut open the big chain that held the big gates together. Soon the men were inside the compound and they dashed into the building. Avinash stood by the main gate, a whistle in his hands, anxiously looking at his watch. Ravi reloaded as he ran inside.
They had plenty of ammunition, each man carrying five spare magazines for his pistol. The ornate front door which led to the lobby was not even locked and Ravi wanted to laugh. These capitalist idiots had no clue about security. How long did they think they could stay safe behind their weak walls? He tripped over a dead guard and almost fell forward, but kept going. Had any of his comrades fallen? He saw a guard with his hands held high, his .303 Enfield Rifle held aloft. Such a big rifle and they with just their pistols had brought them to their knees, Ravi smirked.
‘You, you, go there and sit in that corner. Hands behind your head, put your head in your lap. Don’t look up or we will kill you,’ Tarun commanded a guard.
They had been specifically told that they should target only adults who were not part of the working class. The guards didn’t put up much of a fight. Soon they were either dead or had been disarmed.
‘We have barely eight minutes before the police start arriving. Four minutes to get inside. Then two minutes each, per flat,’ Tarun had earlier analysed. Since two of the men would be busy fixing explosives to the B Wing, the remaining eight would attack flats in the A Wing, in groups of two. There were four teams and each team had to attack two flats each and kill as many adults as possible.
I will not kill a woman, Ravi told himself as he and a man named Dinesh ran to the second floor and kicked open the door to flat 201. Dinesh was a small-built man, not more than five feet four, whose straight hair was always combed and in place. However, today his eyes reminded Ravi of a wild animal which only knew cruelty.
The inhabitants of the flat – a man, woman and a child were huddled on the sofa, shuddering with fear. The woman reminded him of Swapna, though she was taller and fairer. Even before Ravi could blink, Dinesh shot the man who was wearing Bermudas. The man crumpled dead and the child, a girl, shrieked in terror while the man’s wife sat in shock, shuddering in her pretty pink night gown.
Dinesh waited for a second to see if Ravi would kill the woman. When he didn’t, Dinesh shot her too in the head and ran out. Ravi dragged himself away from the bodies and the crying child. They didn’t have much time. Ravi was sure they had taken more than two minutes in flat 201.
When they tried to kick open flat 202, they found that it was barricaded from inside with something heavy. However, they fired a few shots around the key hole and the lock gave away. Then they pushed with all their might and the table behind the door moved backwards. Whoever did the barricading did not have much time to do a good job. Once inside the flat, they didn’t see a single soul in the carpeted main hall. There were a few empty beer bottles on the table and one on the carpet.
Dinesh kicked open a door, but the room was empty. They tried another and realized that it was locked. Dinesh scowled in anger. Where did someone like him who was roughly half his size get so much energy and fury from, Ravi wondered.
‘We may as well leave. We don’t have the time,’ Ravi said. But he had already realized that Dinesh would never listen to him.
‘Come outside before we count three, or we will kill you all,’ Dinesh yelled. Dinesh reminded Ravi of a small mangy dog which lived outside their chawl. The dog had become rabid one day and the innocuous animal had turned into a demon, scaring the daylights out of many, before it was caught and put down.
‘One, two, three.’ Dinesh shouted.
It had the desired effect. They heard the sound of something heavy being moved and the door opened. There were three young men inside, men like Comrade Tarun, but with polished, shiny faces and without any revolutionary fire in them.
‘Come outside, you bastards,’ Dinesh yelled at them.
Ravi realised that the three men had used a very heavy bed to barricade the door and they could never have breached it in time. The men had unwittingly signed their own death warrants.
‘Kneel down, the three of you,’ Dinesh ordered. Two of the men complied with alacrity. The third, a man with a small tuft of hair below his lower lip, stood his ground and begged. ‘Please don’t kill me. Didn’t I surrender?’
Dinesh laughed aloud. ‘Why are you so scared?’ he asked. ‘This is the sort of man who on a normal day will turn his nose away to avoid my bad smell as he walks past me,’ he jovially told Ravi.
‘On your knees,’ Dinesh screamed even as Ravi looked on dazed. When the begging man did not comply, Dinesh shot him in the forehead and the man crumbled to the ground. Ravi was sure that Dinesh hadn’t done the right thing. After all, that man had surrendered, hadn’t he? Dinesh gave Ravi a fierce look and jerked his head so that his eyes moved from Ravi to the two men who cowered even as they kneeled.
‘What?’ he asked Dinesh. Dinesh glared at him. If looks could kill, he would have been dead by then.
Dinesh gave Ravi another contemptuous look, walked around and shot the two supplicant men in the back of their heads, from behind. One fell forward, the other sideways, their bodies twitched for a couple of seconds, before they became still.
‘Why don’t you give me your magazines? I’m sure you have a lot of ammunition left,’ Ravi asked even as a small pool of blood collected near the bodies.
Ravi ignored Dinesh’s sarcastic comment. At that moment, they heard Avinash’s whistle and both men ran out of the flat.
There was no sign of the police, or anyone else, though it seemed as if the entire locality was screaming aloud in fear. Windows in the neighbouring buildings were open and people shouted out for help. The apartment on the other side of the road had a few security guards with guns, but they seemed to have disappeared and no one fired at the attackers or tried to stop them.
Tarun had already scattered a number of The Red Spark pamphlets in the lobby of the A Wing. The masked men ran out of the building and got into their cars and drove off, disappearing into the darkness which would in less than thirty minutes, lighten with the first rays of the sun. An eerie silence followed and then, there was a loud blast, followed by a deep rumble as the entire B Wing of Everglades collapsed to the ground, bringing down with it, all the people inside. As the dust and debris rose into the air, the first of the police vehicles arrived.
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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