Calcutta, late 1960s
My father is part of a student movement that has determined to target for assassination a significant Western political personality who will be visiting the city for three days. He is important enough to merit an open-car procession down Central Avenue as he comes in from the airport, which perhaps at this particular time in this city isn’t a wise choice, because it’s also the occasion Baba’s friends have picked during which to strike.
Except, in the actual execution of their plot, they prove to be rather far from deadly, although to be fair, luck too — in the form of the weather — is never on their side. The rain is unrelenting throughout the day of the dignitary’s arrival; by noon, it’s obvious there’ll be no welcome parade. And yet, at two, just an hour before the attempt was to have taken place, a messenger arrives to inform Baba to go ahead exactly as planned, even though nothing else about the day is unfolding as they had hoped.
Ma is totally against it, and calls him a fool to his face several times in his Vivekananda Road Oxford Mission student hostel room (his roommate is away attending classes), even as Baba carefully hides away in pockets and underneath his trouser waistband two bullets and three separate parts of a hand-made pistol that can (supposedly) be rapidly assembled just before use. Ma is certain he is setting himself up to be locked away for a lifetime, and that too without the satisfaction of successful martyrhood, but for some reason, despite the non-stop torrent outside and Ma’s utterly sound objections, Baba remains firm about following his orders. As a last resort, as they both leave the room, Ma even asks him to consider the possibility that his comrades are throwing him to the wolves, perhaps as part of some shadowy deal with the police.
Although it is the middle of the afternoon, there are precisely five people standing on Central Avenue along the procession route when they arrive, none of them Baba’s co-conspirators. Within two minutes, four of these drenched souls have boarded the first bus that has come along, one of the few still chugging through the knee-high lake that has replaced most of the road. Still, after a half-hour wait under a pointless umbrella, Baba’s tenacity is somewhat rewarded when his target does go by as expected, except the open-top car has been replaced by a sleek Rover that speeds past them at about 40 miles an hour, zig-zagging constantly to avoid the most waterlogged parts of the road. The car had curtained windows; the other clue that the VIP was probably inside was its escort of two police jeeps, one leading the way and the other behind. But they appeared in the distance and then went past so quickly that Baba had no chance to even pull out all the different bits of his gun from under his soaked clothing, let alone begin assembling them as he’d so often practised. No, instead he’d run all the risks, made himself dangerously conspicuous on an empty road, and it had all come to nothing in the end, exactly as Ma had predicted. And yet, for some unknown reason, despite the obvious danger of being captured and charged as an accomplice, and the dozen bad decisions her boyfriend of just a few months had made in the course of one morning, she had remained by his side all the way to this pointless anticlimax, scorning, fuming, but inexplicably loyal.
Finally Baba concedes defeat and the two of them wade across the road and jump onto the first bus going in the direction of his hostel. The next task will be to dispose of the unused weapon: there isn’t going to be another opportunity to get close to this target. But first they’ll both have to return to Baba’s room to change; afterwards Ma will go home while Baba heads out again to dump the various pieces of the gun into several roadside dustbins and rubbish heaps. For that job at least, the rain would provide useful cover.
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