03. Torch Man | Patoli and Biryani

August 16, 2020 Sujay Sarma

One day, Meeta’s elder brother came to visit us. He was a burly, swarthy man, with large hands. He had been working as a construction worker in Pune. When he saw the casual friendly sort of relationship that his sister and I had, he was suspicious at first. I overheard him asking Meeta one evening,…


One day, Meeta’s elder brother came to visit us. He was a burly, swarthy man, with large hands. He had been working as a construction worker in Pune. When he saw the casual friendly sort of relationship that his sister and I had, he was suspicious at first.

I overheard him asking Meeta one evening, “I hope you are still loyal to your husband, sister.”

“Don’t be silly. He is like my elder brother.” Meeta had laughed at him.

Her brother turned to look at me suspiciously, nonetheless. Consciously, I kept my distance from Meeta, restricting our conversations to the bare essentials, while her brother was home.

When his visit was done, we dropped him at the nearby Mahim railway station in my taxi. She sat alongside me on the long front seat of the Premier Padmini car. We had just turned into the street with the old post office building when four men blocked our way. They carried long poles and looked menacing. I could not see the faces of any of them. My heart sank.

“Trouble.” I whispered to her.

She nodded silently. “Lafda karliya?” She asked.

I shook my head. I did nothing but fares. I rarely even engaged in conversation with any of my passengers. I usually shut them down saying I did not want to know.

One of the men came to my window and motioned for me to roll it down. The windowpanes had darkening film applied. I rolled it down.

Bhai, what…” I began to plead.

He held up a hand for me to shut up and shone his torch on our faces.

Kaun?” He asked gruffly, in Marathi.

Behen.” I said, simply.

“Get out of the car.” He said, flashing his torch into the back seat. “Both of you.”

Not wanting to make trouble, I unlocked my door and motioned for Meeta to get off as well. One of the other men motioned for us to stand to a side of the road and held his pole horizontally across us to indicate we should stay there. I found myself shaking from head to toe. Until this time, I had only heard of such things or seen them in movies.

It was happening. To me. In real life.

I turned to look at Meeta and found her biting her lip. Her fists were clenched, and I could see the fear in her eyes in the light of the nearby streetlamp. I put an arm around her and hugged her reassuringly.

She was happy to shrink into my embrace. I could feel that she was shaking violently.

The man with the torch searched the car and even the trunk at the back. There was nothing there for him to find. Whatever he was looking for could have been very small, he even looked under the seats.

“Fine. You can go.” He said.

Still shaking all over, we got into the car.

“What are you looking for?” I tried to ask the man with the torch.

“Not your business.” He answered gruffly.

I drove off in a hurry.

I would never forget the face of the man with the torch.

Torch Man.

His eyes were like that of a cat, kind of a shade of green. And, I thought his corneas were long, not round. They seemed to open and close sideways. The man had a kind of creepy menace to him. He wore a kind of turban on his head, clumpy and hastily made. I wondered where he was from. His almost sing-song accent reminded me of somewhere further north.

A few days later, I was returning to my usual parking spot when I spotted the man who had accosted us that night, Torch Man, again. He was walking on the pavement on my side of the road. He was heading toward me. Well, not toward me, but in my direction. I tried to watch him as I inched the car forward. As he crossed, I shrank back in my seat trying to avoid being spotted.

That night, I had just parked and was getting out of the car when I heard a match flare. I looked around. It was him. He slouched against an empty barrel a few car lengths away.

Somewhere in the distance, I heard a crack of thunder. It might rain later. The weather was musty.

“Come here.” He beckoned to me. He did not look at me.

Reluctantly, I walked closer.

“You saw me today, didn’t you?” He asked.

I felt cold. I had never once seen him look in my direction earlier that day. And it had been a busy road. How had he spotted me? He was not looking in my direction even right now. Rather, he had his eyes firmly on the rough tarmac under our feet.

I nodded slowly.

“One word to anyone, and…” he completed his sentence with a quick sign with his free hand across his throat. The meaning of that was clear.

I swallowed hard and nodded again.

Jao!” he said suddenly, waving me away.

I ran from there as quickly as I could.


About the author:

Sujay Sarma is an IT industry veteran, about 43 years of age. He has spent 25 years in the IT industry and has done it all, and seen it all. Now, his passion is writing [blogs, stories, novels] and music. He has his own YouTube channel called "Sujay Sarma's Musical Adventures" where he posts his covers and originals, and a Podcast named "Interesting People Interesting Stories".
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