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It was about six in the morning. Somaa was in his 8th round of the police parade ground. He was feeling tired and weak. He was not able to sleep well yesterday night – for no apparent reason. He was remembering his home, his village, his parents, his friend Mangu, the hillock, the trees and his dog. His friend Shyaama laughed at him and said, “You are becoming really girlish now a days. What is wrong with you?” Somaa had smiled and kept quiet. However he continued to feel uneasy about something, which he was not able to name.
Suddenly a car appeared on the scene and a man alighted down. Somaa had never seen him. He must have called the people here, because at that moment Somaa’s reporting officer too rushed in. From the manners of the reporting officer, Somaa could guess that this must be a very senior officer. “City Commissioner”– somebody said in hushed tone.
“Somaa MaDaavee, come here,” Somaa’s reporting officer ordered.
Somaa stopped in an instant. He felt weak in legs; a drop of sweat ran down his neck. He knew everybody was watching him.
“Sir,” he came forward and saluted both the officers.
“Are you from GaDachirolee district?” the Senior officer asked.
“Yes sir,” Somaa answered. The reporting officer nodded in affirmative.
“From which area?” another question; without revealing the cause of the inquiry.
Somaa answered. The officer thought for a second. Then he ordered, “Pack up. You are traveling to GaDachirolee in 10 minutes.”
Somaa panicked. What was it? Was he being expelled? What was his fault? He looked at his reporting officer, but he avoided eye contact. “Run, only nine minutes now,” the senior said.
After half an hour, Somaa along with a group of police officials was in the railway which was heading towards Nagpur. Most of them were from Chandrapura and GaDachirolee districts. He knew some of them and he gathered about others from informal interaction.
He heaved a sigh of relief when he realized that he was not expelled but was called on a Special Duty. What would be that duty? They were going to GaDachirolee – meant some special mission. In GaDachirolee area, Special Mission could mean only one thing – combat with Nakshalites. From experience Somaa knew that combat with Nakshalites meant life or death – nothing less than that.
Was he ready for that? His relief was so short lived.
Somaa remembered Mangu. Mangu had strongly advised him not to join police force. Somaa’s family had little land and so many mouths to feed. There was no alternative but someone in the family had to move to city and earn money. When the police recruitment advertisement was announced in the newspapers, Somaa decided to give it a try. Having studied in Ashram School, Somaa had such dreams to be a ‘man in uniform’. He was mature enough to understand that he could not become a doctor or an engineer.
Somaa’s father did not object, “You are grown up now, you know what is good for you” he had calmly said. Somaa’s mother did not understand anything; she was used to Somaa’s being away from home. Somaa’s siblings were too young to understand anything. However Mangu opposed the idea and Somaa was surprised by that.
Mangu had dropped out of school very early, but Somaa’s friendship with him remained intact. Somaa always was surprised with the knowledge Mangu had in spite of lack of education. Lately Mangu seemed to have been earning good money – he wore posh clothes, had a golden wristwatch and even had a motorcycle. When Somaa asked him the source of wealth, Mangu had told him that he was taking various forest contracts. Somaa had accepted it without giving much thought.
When Somaa shared his idea of joining the police force, Mangu asked, “what for?”
“Money, obviously,” Somaa had said.
“Ok, work with me. I will give you more money.” Mangu had said. Initially Somaa thought it was a joke. So, he humorously added, “I don’t want to work on wages. I want to earn status. I want to see the world at large.”
Mangu with exceptional seriousness had said, “I promise you more status, more power, more money and more luxuries if you work with me.”
Somaa was confused and asked Mangu to explain. But Mangu did not explain. He had another point.
“You are half the time in the city, so you do not know. But those people have banned us joining the police or for that matter any government job.” Mangu said politely but firmly. Somaa knew that ‘Those people’ were Nakshalites. He had come across some suggestions of joining them, but he always had kept himself away from them.
“What are those people to me? Do they feed me and my family? Do they take care of our needs?” Somaa spoke angrily. “They have not bothered about me, why should I bother about them? Why are they against my progress? ” Somaa was still furious but stopped when he saw Mangu’s face.
“Tell me the truth Mangu, are you one of them?” Somaa asked, hoping that it won’t be true. Mangu was silent. “That is how you get all that money, by killing some, by exploiting our own people… “Somaa stopped once again abruptly.
“Look,” Mangu was very polite, but Somaa could sense the volcanic anger behind his calmness. “I never came to ask your advice, so keep it to yourself. What I want to tell you is that don’t join the police force, I assure you that you will be taken care of.”
“And as a friend it is my duty to tell you that if after all this assurance, you decide to join the police, I will not be responsible for its consequences.” Mangu said again.
“Are you threatening me? You, my friend? Do you think it is Sultanate? We are free people and we can do anything that we want. Now let me see, who stops me from joining. I also tell you, that come what may, I will make it happen. I am not going to join the dogs….” Somaa had to stop again because Mangu left without even looking at Somaa.
Somaa traveled from Wardhaa towards Chandrapura – with a tea break at Jaama. On the way they were not allowed to read newspapers, no radio, even mobiles were ordered to be switched off. But Somaa gathered that Nakshalites had struck some of the villages in GaDachirolee. Somaa knew that Nakshalites always struck badly – involving many deaths.
After a brief at Chandrapura district police headquarters they moved towards Etapalli with many more joining the group. They were moving like an army in the battle. Somaa knew the forest paths, and once they entered the forests; his role was to guide the team.
Slowly they moved in the direction towards Somaa’ village. Somaa became more and more anxious. Was his village surrounded by Nakshalites? Was his family safe? Was his home safe? Could he help them? Or was it too late?
Now he knew that it was his village that was at the center of the event.
From the distance Somaa saw fire mounting to skies. He ran. He screamed. He shouted. He wept.
But it was of no use.
There were no human beings – only dead bodies – some half burnt, some burnt into ashes.
Somaa had no time to lament, to grieve, to weep for the dead. Nakshalites were in the next areas, other villagers were trapped by them. They had to be saved. Somaa had to lead the police force to the next village through the forest.
The other day, this village was vibrant.
The other day, his family was here.
The other day, the trees were adding serenity.
The other day the animals were moving listlessly.
The other day he and his friend Mangu were smiling together.
Someone found a piece of paper, well preserved in a plastic sheet. It must have been kept when the Nakshalites left the village. The officer tried to read but could not. It was written in Devanaagaree script but in tribal language. Assuming that Nakshalites had put their demands, the officer asked Somaa to read those lines.
Somaa read it.
The note said: “The other day, I tried to convince you. But you did not heed to my advice. Now, this is the price you had to pay. For your foolishness, the villagers had to pay the price of their life. Have you now the honor, the money, the status, the power you were talking just the other day?”
Somaa’s agony had no end. Somaa’s anger had no outlet. Somaa’s pain had to be kept to himself.
Everybody looked at Somaa questioningly. Somaa had no answer.
But the chief of the mission understood – he said, “My God! They had warned you against joining us. Is it?” Somaa nodded. The chief patted him as consolation and ordered to move on.
Somaa wished, he could go back to ‘The Other Day’ and change everything, but he knew it was too late.
The Other Day is either in the past or in the future, it is never in the present!