Ghazala left Pritha’s home at around 11 p.m. There wasn’t a taxi in sight and she knew she wouldn’t find a bus going her way at that time of the night. Having walked for around ten minutes in the direction of Sealdah station, a centre-of the-city landmark that serviced both suburban and long-distance trains, she found a cab. The cabbie was leaning against the side of the car. He was bearded, wore a skullcap and looked mean. Ghazala, the combat expert, could see that his lean frame was sinewy and tough. A fighter, she automatically thought. Ghazala never watched television, except for judo and karate championships. Or Sumo wrestling, which fascinated her. As for the papers, she’d read page one, and scan the rest quickly, lingering for a while on the business page. Consequently, she wasn’t much aware of what went on in the city. Mostly what she picked up from her friends. When JCP Rath had been giving his presser, she’d been at the gym. Unfortunately, Pritha and her mother had gone out shopping and missed the presser as well.
As a result, Ghazala, who was a pretty confident young woman, had no hesitation about approaching the cabbie. ‘I want to go to Ironside Road,’ she started off. ‘You know where that is?’
‘Near Birla Mandir, behen (sister),’ the man said.
‘Correct. Will you go there?’
‘Yes, behen,’ the man said.
‘I’ll pay you what’s on the meter. Not one extra rupee,’ Ghazala said.
‘That’s all right, behen,’ the cabbie replied.
Ghazala sat down on the backseat. ‘Okay, let’s go,’ she said, pleasantly surprised.
The taxi cruised past Sealdah on the empty road and reached the Moulali intersection, turning left into CIT Road. No cause for alarm, thought Ghazala, he knows I know the route, he won’t try to give me a grand tour. Unfortunately, CIT Road was almost deserted at 11:30 p.m. Traffic was thin. CIT Road takes a right angle turn about half a kilometre from the Moulali crossing. The taxi took the turn, travelled a short distance and suddenly slowed down to turn into a badly-lit lane. Ghazala had trained one way or another for exactly this kind of an eventuality for over six years. Before the taxi turned, slowed further and stopped in front of a vacant plot, she drew the knife with a six-inch blade, finely honed, from the sheath she wore at the small of her back. It was practised, smooth.
The man stopped the car and turned, which straightaway put him at a disadvantage. Then he said in good English, dropping the behen shit. ‘You should have walked, bitch. Didn’t you read about what happened to that other fuckwit bitch in the Lake?’ he said, grinning wolfishly. Ghazala chose that moment to strike with her right hand, the knife was in her left. She didn’t punch. The balled fist is not the most efficient of weapons. She used the side of her hand to deliver a karate chop on the left side of his neck he had exposed when he had turned. Garcia almost passed out. He didn’t because Ghazala couldn’t generate enough force in the confined space. But it was good enough. She opened the door on the side away from the driver, where she’d been sitting, and stepped out coolly, knife in her left hand. No scrambling, no panic.
Garcia was still stunned. Ghazala went around the bonnet, went up to Garcia and punched him in the face, through the window. Then she opened the door and pulled him out and beat him mercilessly, bones broken, nose and a patella smashed. The first by a well-aimed elbow and the second by a foot encased in heavy military boots stomping repeatedly on it. Finally, she slashed him across the face with her knife as she belatedly remembered hearing something at the university about a rape near Dhakuria Lake.
She cleaned her knife on Garcia’s shirt thoroughly using some water she found in the car. Dried and sheathed the knife, kicked him in the face again, one for the road, and took off. She walked all the way to Park Circus, which took her under half an hour, texting home to say she’d be late. She finally found another cabbie in Park Circus, who agreed to take her to her Ballygunge home for a premium. Normal. She reached home at around 2 in the morning.
Extracted from The Hunter of Lalbazar by Suhit Sen. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.