Ranjit was satisfied with his accomplishment. Kishore, the target, had a high price -tag, as he was a powerful politician with muscle and money power. It was a test and trial to Ranjit's talent. Even a trivial mistake or miscalculation would have caused his personal disaster, as Kishore was a terror to many, including the underworld dons. Kishore's assassination strangely coincided with Ranjit's twenty-fifth assignment, which obviously meant that Ranjit had so far successfully evaded the long arm of the law, which followed even his shadows. His silver jubilee list also included some killings undertaken with 'philanthropic flavor' on behalf of poor whose victims were denied even access to justice system due to political clout of the offenders.
When Ranjit returned home, it was few hours for the dawn. He decanted a large peg of ' Civas' into a crystal and swigged it on the rocks. The impact of the scotch was instant in his system, stimulating him for a smoke. He lighted a Marlborough and puffed the first smoke as he gazed at the old pink-stripped shirt, hanging on the wall. It was more than a memento or a memoir to him, which he adored, as it was the last gift from his mother on his eleventh birthday. He disdained it in moments of despair, since it was responsible for their separation; yet he valued it as the only available remembrance of his mother since their parting.
The chemical combination of the inhaled nicotine and the intoxication by the scotch led him to stroll down his memory lane. First, he could visualize Bagalpur, his birthplace, a small sandy village located at 200 miles from Bombay on the Bombay-Ahmedabad sector inhabited by a thin population. The half dilapidated stonewalled Hindu temple and a semi-finished community hall were the only strong structures acted as the landmarks in the village. The numerous thatched huts of that hamlet evidenced its impoverished economic state. Ranjit's world was confined only within the four peripheries of the village marked by drylands and deadwood. As the only child to his mother, Madhuri, he enjoyed comprehensive freedom and protection from all responsibilities. She compromised and condoned even his numerous serious mischiefs and lapses of discipline since she had an inherent fear that he would just leave her even at the slightest rebuke irrespective of its reason. She took strides in every adversity to ensure Ranjit's happiness. She worked hard labor to guarantee this even at a high price of her failing health. She worked from dawn to dusk as a housemaid in the landlord's home for paltry wages, that were also settled in kind. The village, so backward in facilities, had nothing much to offer to Ranjit in terms of education, employment or entertainment. The small rail station, through which only two trains to and from Bombay passed everyday, was the hangout for Ranjit and his friend Shashi to enjoy clandestine smoking with left over cigarette bits.
It was his eleventh birthday. His mother woke him up early in the morning to take bath and wear new clothes. She also got him some of his favorite sweets. "Mom! Why so early in the morning?" "Yes my son! I have to go to work early today as I have to compensate for the money I borrowed from the landlord to buy you the new clothes and sweets".
These words moved Ranjit very strongly and he was brooding over them. He was longing to relieve her from her tribulations; but he could do it only by working and earning for which there was never an opportunity in the village. "Ranjit! It is getting late for me. Have the new dress and let me see how you look in it". After wearing the new clothes, Ranjit touched his mother's feet to invoke her blessings. "Ranjit! I pray 'God to give you the serenity to change things you can, to accept things which you cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference'. You should grow up to a respected man, revered by the society for integrity, honesty and character. You should be the vanguard and upholder of the principles of truth. God will certainly bless you with all prosperity. Promise me that whatever be the circumstances in life, you will not leave me".
Ranjit could see her blurred eyes full of tears. They were tears of hope amidst fear. As she was holding his hands for the pledge, there was a knock on the door. A messenger from the landlord's place to take her for an urgent errand waited at the entrance. Ranjit felt disappointed at his failure to promise her as she desired. He came to the rail station and looked for Shashi. He wanted to show his birthday gift to him; but he was not there. The train to Bombay had just entered the station. One of the alighted passengers looked desperately for help to unload his heavy luggage from the compartment. Ranjit instantly offered his services even for a meager amount. He thought at least this would be a beginning in his quest to relieve his mother from her toil. Before he carried the load, he removed the 'gift' shirt and left it in the compartment. After unloading the baggage on the platform, he realized that he had left his new shirt in the train. He jumped into the compartment to pick that. By that time, the train moved at a good speed. He was bewildered at the momentum of the train and scarred to jump from the compartment. He looked at the few passengers in the compartment in a hope for help; but they only evinced their sympathy to him without any solution to his problem. His punctuated sobbing turned out to an outburst, as the train, in its speed, passed quite a distance from his village. He was perplexed at the sudden turn of events on his birthday. He realized how the destiny's directive had not allowed him to promise his mother against his desertion. Even in broad daylight, he saw pervasive darkness regarding his future and rejoining his mother became an oblivion. Haunted by isolation agony, he became panicky. Continued crying and sobbing turned his eyes red and swollen. By then, it was evening and the setting sun had already disappeared on the western skies, leaving the golden horizon for the dusk to set in. The long hours of starvation since morning, made him weak and finally dozed him to sleep.
When he woke up, he found it was next day morning and the train was in its final destination; the great city of Bombay extended its hearty welcome to him, as it did for any such visitors by first ushering them to its customary avenues for livelihood. Iinitially they started with begging on the streets, followed by stealing the people, indulging in drug trafficking for cortels and finally turning them as hitmen before anointing to the throne of the underworld boss. Though Ranjit hated each phase of these transformations, he had to go through them as there was no other option for his survival. He could have easily become an underworld don in a short time with his success in each phase; yet he preferred to be a 'top gun'' that paid him reasonably well. It also allowed him to escape from the surveillance eye of the law, whose focus was always on the leaders. In moments of introspection, he was very eager to see his mother by visiting the village; but with the number of years passed by, he was almost certain that she would have been dead by that time due to her ill-health.
The stroll down the memory lane was interrupted by the surfeit of booze and smoke which finally knocked him down to bed.
The next morning when he opened the newspapers, he saw Kishore's murder splashed on the headlines along with a photograph of the murder scene. He was non-chalant and unperturbed, as he had seen many such on his earlier assassinations. As he flipped the pages of the newspaper, his attention was sharply drawn to a small advertisement with a photograph of an old lady and words reading "I am sinking. I would like to see you before I die. Please come home." From the address and the photograph, he recognized that she was none but his mother. Ranjit erupted into spurts of joy at the information that his mother was still alive. But he was at the crossroads of eagerness to see her alive as well as an instinctive premonition of getting caught by the authorities. However, his strong sentiments to see his mother prevailed, and he decided to travel by car overnight which would dissemble him to escape the police net.
When he reached the village it was three in the morning. He parked the car at a distance from his home and walked the distance. The early morning breeze was soothing and the half-hidden moon was mellowing with its soft light. The stray dogs skulked the narrow lanes here and there. Even after an efflux of two decades, he found no major change in the village and it had its old impoverished rural existence. He entered his old home. As he stepped on the threshold, the nostalgic memories of his childhood crossed his mind. He could not believe that he spent eleven years of his early life there. A solitary oil lamp in a corner lighted the small room. He saw his mother lying in the middle of the room, groaning under pain. Even the silhouetted outline of her body displayed distinctly the shrunken stature of her figure. With calibrated and silent steps he reached the bedside to see her closely. She was merely a skeleton with minimal flesh. Her thin wrinkled brown skin concealed the color of the protruded bones. The close wrinkles on the cheeks and the deep furrows on her brows with sunken eyes reflected the extensive sufferings she had gone through for her survival. At the sight of her devastated health, he felt like screaming. He controlled his emotional outburst to ensure no disturbance to her. Ranjit held her hands and instantly felt the familiar warmth in it. He whispered into her ears, "Mom! I have come!"
After a wait of two decades, she finally heard his voice and also felt his physical warmth, for which, all along, she desperately longed for. Despite her struggle, she slowly opened her eyes with a faint smile. They peered at each other for few moments. She recognized him even through her blurred vision. Her face bloomed like a fresh flower. A glimmer of light radiated from her eyes, which were stung with tears of joy that were seized from her since their separation. The tears that welled up, pulsed in her throat and finally burst into uncontrolled sobs. Ranjit became lost in the torrent of feelings that rushed over him at her emotional reaction. The sobs were finally silenced with an infusion of strength in her at the joy of seeing him. She held his hands firmly and quivered warmly; "Ranjit! At last you have come. While I am pleased to see you so prosperous and grown into a smart and handsome young man, I believe you had followed my guidelines of ethical means for your prosperity". An awkward shame suddenly engulfed Ranjit as the words "ethical means" kept ringing in his ears while the semi-darkness cleverly covered his guilty reflections.
"All these days, I was fighting a battle with death and refused to die as I was carrying a burden in my heart. I was withholding an important personal detail from you all long, and I did not like to die until I revealed that to you".
"I had been telling you that your father died in a traffic accident. That was not true. Forgive me, I had been a sinner all these years for lying to you. Before your birth, I was working as a housemaid in the next village and staying with that family. One night, when the family was away for a wedding, the landlord, in his drunken mood, raped me against all my resistance; out of that unfortunate incident, you were created. He promised to marry me as his second wife; but he did not keep that promise. Instead, with his money and muscle power, he made me to leave that village". As she completed her narration, she pulled out a photograph under the pillow and identified the man in the picture, as his father. Ranjit could observe her placid face relieved and relaxed; for, after all, she was bearing the cross all these years. She felt she had unloaded a heavy burden from her heart. "If you ever find your father, show this picture to him; your paternity would not be anymore obscure".
Following these words, her sudden silence confirmed that she breathed her last. It was a strange coincidence that the flame of the oil lamp also became extinct denying him to have a glimpse of the picture. He got up from the bed and flicked his cigarette lighter and lighted the lamp again. As the glow of the lamp gradually illuminated the area, Ranjit hurriedly peeked at the picture. Even at a cursory glance, he felt a tremor under his feet and a heavy blow on his head. He carefully looked at the picture again. The whole world was falling apart before him and he was shattered to pieces. He even wished that he had not visited his mother and known his paternity. Even his strong mental forte, that had infused courage in him several times in critical assassination scenarios, had a severe setback at that time. The man in the photograph was none but Kishore, his last victim.
It took some time for Ranjit to get over from the impact of the shock, as the turn of events was so sudden and least anticipated. He felt extremely sorry and sad for his father to be killed by his own son. For the first time, he regretted his profession as a hitman and wanted to give it up. He consoled himself on the bereavement. Ironically, on the flip side, he strongly believed that his father's assassination was totally justified; he even asserted that his father deserved such an end and paid the right price for the desertion of his mother Because of him, she had to bear a stigma and consequent life-long struggle and suffering. He was also instrumental for her life- long struggle and suffering. He was ashamed and embarrassed at his paternity, which he preferred to be obscure as it was. In short he wanted it to be a frozen truth for the rest of his life.
It was already dawn in the village and the normal life was getting into gradual momentum. He stepped out of the hut and was surprised to see the whole area surrounded by police to take him. He was astounded as to how the police contingent came to the village. The police officer, who was assigned to arrest him, said, "you must be wondering as to how we came here to take you. We had been monitoring all your family details and movements. When we knew that your mother was in a dying stage, we only gave the ad in the papers; we were sure that you would come down to see her. Finally we got you this time with a good evidence who witnessed Kishore's murder". Ranjit shrugged his shoulders and looked back at the hut. The triumphed truth winked at him and whispered that he too had to pay the right price of punishment for all his killings including his father's.