Editor’s Note: ‘High Rises’ is the first novel to be serialized on DDR. It will initially be published on a weekly schedule.
The Garden of Eden was scheduled to receive its first occupants in less than a week’s time. An imposing, lean structure of twenty-one storeys, not counting the three storeys allotted for car parks, two of which were subterranean, it eclipsed all its neighbours effortlessly, not just in height, but also because it was spanking new whilst the buildings nearby were as shabby as Mumbai itself.
In some of the flats, polishing, painting and wiring work was yet to be completed and groups of workmen went in and out all the time, even at night. The builders had promoted the building as a big garden, one that would make its occupants forget that they were in Andheri East, one of Mumbai’s most overcrowded localities. Potted plants were fitted into every nook and cranny of the tall, thin building, which looked as if it had been squeezed into its congested surroundings.
Three men wearing soiled workmen’s clothes and turbans with dangling loose ends which partly covered their faces, sauntered into the compound at around five in the morning through the semi-open gate. The security guards who were scheduled to be replaced in an hour did not challenge them. As they neared the end of a twelve-hour shift, they had neither the energy nor the inclination to lift a finger, especially since the newcomers walked with purpose and determination, making it evident that they did not need directions.
Two of the guards were inside the booth meant for security guards and the third man, who was in his late forties, stood outside, lightly leaning on a bamboo lathi that seemed to be as old as its master, smoking. Unit Leaders Sanket and Niranjan carried four long pipes, with Sanket walking in front and Niranjan trailing behind. They dumped the pipes on the ground, raising a small cloud of dust. The security guards looked on with boredom just as the three men whipped out a pistol each, from inside their shirts and walked towards them, a finger on each gunman’s lips.
Soon the three security guards and two genuine workmen who had been inside the building were made to sit on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs. The security guards were stripped of their uniforms and the three gunmen wore them. Bluetooth headsets were clipped on. Tarun, the third gunman in charge of the attackers, made a call, and within minutes a small van which until then had been parked a short distance away, entered the compound. The van emptied a bunch of fresh “workmen”, who brought with them explosives and detonators for the job at hand. The five prisoners, naked but for their underwear, their hands tied behind them, were ordered into the rear of the van and made to sit with their heads in their laps.
The new arrivals went to work, fixing blocks of C-4, an off-white plastic explosive, light and malleable, which came in convenient rectangular blocks, all around the base of the building. Their job was made much easier by the fact that the Garden of Eden’s entire ground level was one giant car park, the parking lots interspersed with stocky, thickset pillars. Tarun monitored the progress of the explosives team as well as those guarding the prisoners inside the van. It was twenty-five minutes past five and the replacement security guards would potentially start arriving in the next fifteen minutes.
‘Sir, we are done,’ Sanket muttered into his mouth-piece.
Twenty feet away, Tarun nodded. ‘Let’s go.’
The van moved off slowly, followed by the explosives team, who walked behind briskly, looking straight ahead and not talking among themselves as workmen often do. However, it didn’t really matter since the streets were still deserted. As soon as they had walked a hundred yards, Tarun took out a bunch of red pamphlets from his pocket and started to drop them on the ground.
As they’d almost reached the end of the street, they saw a man wearing a blue uniform, similar to what the three guards had worn, slowly cycle past them, his eyes still drowsy with sleep. The light brown lathi tethered to the cycle’s handlebar seemed to be as droopy as the cyclist. Sanket gave Tarun an enquiring look and Tarun shook his head. The van turned left onto the main road and parked without any fuss in front of a restaurant which displayed a ‘closed’ sign on its door.
The workmen stood around the van, obscuring the windows. Sanket held the rolled up, discarded uniforms whilst Niranjan held on to a mobile phone as though it was an explosive. Tarun kept staring at his watch and after thirty seconds he said, ‘Niranjan, go on.’ Everyone held their breath as Niranjan took forever to dial a ten-digit number and then press the green button on the mobile handset.
‘It’s ringing,’ he said holding the phone to his ears. Immediately afterwards, there was a very loud explosion, followed by a series of others, which caused a number of men sleeping on the pavements and a few vendors sleeping on their push carts to jump up and run.
‘Oh mother fuckers! The Garden of Eden is no more!’ Sanket shouted melodramatically and Tarun frowned, though Sanket did not notice. The rest of the men said nothing, but their hearts pounded in exultation.
A huge cloud of black dust rose up into the sky and some light debris fell among the standing men. A primeval scream could be heard faintly. The saboteurs looked at each other guiltily. There was stunned silence for a few more seconds and then there were more screams, much louder this time. A man got off his pushcart, on which he was sleeping until a few moments earlier, and started to run towards the blown-up building, but as he got close, he seemed to change his mind and ran back. In the midst of so much confusion, everyone ignored the small white van and the men standing around it.
‘Untie them and bring them out,’ Tarun ordered. There was the sound of sharp knives cutting through the ropes, some mumbled curses and the three security guards and two workmen came out trembling, their hands still held close to their bodies, bound with fear.
‘Don’t look up. Look down,’ Tarun shouted at them. They obeyed instantly.
Niranjan handed the rolled-up bundle to one of them and said, ‘Go on, take your uniforms.’
‘If any of you give detailed descriptions to the police, we will find you and kill you,’ Tarun warned them.
As the guards busied themselves in sorting and putting on their clothes, right in the middle of the road which was rapidly filling with people, a few curious men came near the van and stared.
‘Let’s go, let’s go.’
The workmen got into the van and drove off.
‘Congratulations everyone! We did a good job. It all went off like clockwork.’ Tarun looked satisfied, though his eyes kept darting from one to the other.
‘I wish we could have gone back to take a look.’
‘And get us all into trouble? Sanket, you are one big idiot’
‘Just saying Comrade. I hope the entire building collapsed and not just a part of it,’ Sanket added.
‘We should have stopped that guard on that cycle. We could have made some excuse,’ Ravi muttered. ‘He was a man like us. A worker.’
‘And ruin everything?’ Tarun thundered. ‘Comrade Ravi, sacrifices will have to be made. That man died for the right cause. In any event, he had enrolled as a security guard to protect capitalist property. There is no reason to feel too much sympathy.’
Ravi was a big bear-like man, almost twice Tarun’s size, but he immediately fell in line. ‘Yes Comrade Tarun. I understand,’ he mumbled.
As the van moved on, they encountered two police vehicles rushing towards the scene of the blast.
‘I hope they find those pamphlets,’ Tarun muttered to himself.
Vinod Joseph is a Mumbai-based corporate lawyer who spends most of his spare time writing fiction
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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