PART 1-: THE LEOPARD
It was an autumn night. The inert street lamps of siqandar city stood like silent spectators of imminent doom. The wind was blowing carrying unknown melancholia, probably singing a hymn of death. Everything was silent, enmeshed in the never-ending loop of inexplicable sadness. Houses, which stood like soapboxes always led to those alleyways where light and darkness had played hide and seek.
And Maria Rosario stood alone in that silence, killed by two bullets which had pierced her heart straight away, completely shutting out her existence from this weary earth, by an unknown masked man.
Faraway, canoes were moved by skilled oarsmen, singing folk songs in rustic Pancavani, the national language of Dharmadesh. The town was surprisingly silent, which shouldn’t have been the case, as it would have been frequented by hordes of Saul singers, singing about the pain of longing and separation, and tramcars, where existences of people swayed back and forth like marionettes.
Rosario, known as the Leopard in journalistic circles, for her indomitable courage in reporting the exploitation of the Eastern province of Atamia, was hated by the ruling elite of Dharmadesh. The Qaramats, one of the most powerful families of Dharmadesh, with huge stakes in oil, mineral and steel industries always held a grudge against her, as she exposed their illicit businesses in her daily columns in the ‘Dharmadesh Sentinel’ the newspaper she worked for. It had shaken up the fulcrum of the society, almost creating an earthquake, whose ripples are still being felt.
She had accused that Azad Qaramat, the powerful military man of Dharmadesh had a role in the brutal murder of Porali, an environmental activist in Atamia. Porali, son of a poor manual labourer, had organized powerful candle light marches to protest against forced disappearances and mass killings of Atamian activists. Atamia has always remained distinct from the rest of the country of Dharmadesh, fanatically protecting its culture from the ‘fair- skinned invaders’ from the west. 80% of the land was forested, and they worshipped mountains and most of the natural phenomena as divinities. After the ascendance of Sadanand Pinglay,the jingoistic scion of the first family of Dharmadesh, the pinglays, there were attempts to impose the Dharmadeshi culture in Atamia. This was followed by ruthless destruction of local libraries, where armed mobs set fire to thousands of years old invaluable manuscripts in broad daylight. Porali was a leading member of the Jingano language movement, which demanded official status for Jingano, the language of Atamian tribes. But he never knew what was in store for him as on one winter night, he was dragged out of his shabby home by an enraged mob and three days later his bullet ridden body was found on the shores of Mahanadi.
The priest again relapsed to gloomy silence. The sky was filled with clouds, predicting heavy rainfall. The church was filled with lots of people and the most surprising thing was that many of them were non- believers. They came only for Rosario, whom they affectionately called as ‘ Didi’. Jesus stared at the distance from the crucifix, perhaps welcoming another benevolent soul.
The Vicar asked the congregation. They all nodded yes in unison. They began marching towards the cemetery, like pilgrims, chanting ‘death to the Qaramats’.
Then the rain began to fall and no one noticed the tears of the priest.