One day the routine was shattered when the Sabarmati express was set alight at Godhra. Soon enough the riots began in retaliation, with looters joining in to earn their stash under the cover of religious duty. At first Wasim did not fear for his life. Although he had lived in this area for twenty years, he was not aware that anyone even knew of his existence. Who would come searching for him? But this was no focused search for a few individuals; It had a broader, nobler mission to wipe out a larger enemy and to that objective, its spotlight was ruthlessly trained. From the small window in his bedroom, Wasim could see large bands of mostly young men, their foreheads bound with saffron dupattas and their hands strong with swords and trishuls. It was inconceivable that this medieval army was marching along the modern urban spaces of Ahmedabad where eateries and book shops, cloth stores and cinema halls jostled for space. But there it was. Armed with its self-righteous anger built up carefully and supplied with well organised lists to ferret out the enemies hiding in every corner.
Wasim knew now that it was only a matter of time before they cornered him. He was not afraid of death in the abstract.He knew that it would be facing him some other day, if not now. He was glad that he did not have a wife, or children, to protect. The burden of hiding, and waiting to be eventually discovered, would be too much. He would not hide, he was not afraid to die. But he was afraid of the fury of the mob which would hack down people and leave them half-dead, half-dying. He was afraid of the pain. And he was afraid for his fishes. The goldfish, the guppies, the gouramis. Who would care for them when he was finished? He hoped that once things had cooled down, someone would find and adopt them. He did not mind even if it was one of the looters. With great effort, he hoisted the heavy tank onto the loft where it would not fall in the way of the violence.
He barred his doors, pulled a bureau against them in a futile gesture and went inside to his bedroom where he switched off the lights and lay down on the single cot. With sunrise, a reddish hue rose over the many bloodstained streets and alleys. A group of ragged young men whom he had often seen lounging around at the local chai shop, burst in and hacked him to death with mercifully few strokes.The fish were swimming faster and faster in their tank but went unnoticed.
The next day there was no one to feed them. Nor the day after. Or the next. They were startled out of their peaceful existence by the disappearance of the hand that fed them every morning. Now they had to fend for themselves. The miniature goldfish were the first to go. They swam in faster circles helplessly, but were no match for the larger, stronger fish that ganged up against them. Next was the turn of the guppies which were swallowed by the larger Gouramis. The Oscar fish attacked everyone. Soon the tank was empty except for the single oscar fish that waited impatiently for food to appear. But the windows had all been shattered by the mob. The neighbours orange cat thad waited patiently for its opportunity. It flew in triumphantly and, sailed to glory with its long awaited prize.