The Dark Night: A Short Story Dedicated To The Victims of the Worst Communal Riots in Delhi by Suresh Nair

There is a fascinating thing about living in Delhi that most residents do not value: 

It is a colorful exposure to all the cultures of India. The colors of India can be seen like a beautiful rainbow in Delhi. 

The beauty of this rainbow is unique, as there are more than six colors.

My parents came from Kerala way back in 1965. I was born here and have lived my entire life in Delhi. 

From an early age, you assimilate the vibrancy of the diversity of different people in Delhi. 

I was 10 years old. I was studying in a well-known public school in south Delhi. Life was a bed of roses. It was all fun and games. Studies were a duty, an obligation to fulfil. For me, life was like a typical 10-year-old in a metro city.

Manjeet was my classmate. He was an easy-going, happy-go-lucky, and fun-loving kid. and an exceptional athlete. 

He played all the sports that were available in the school. He was a scholar with an exceptional grasp of mathematics.

I still remember the incident which led to our friendship. Manjeet and his male family members wore a turban on their heads. As a child, unaware of the importance of the turban, I teased him about it. 

I immediately regretted my stupidity. I could see the hurt in his eyes. 

He went home and complained to his parents. His father spoke to a neighbor, Colonel Vikram Singh, who was a friend of my father.

One evening, I saw my parents sitting with Col. Singh in our living room. The expression on the face of my parents told me that I had done something silly. They were angry.

Col. Singh asked my parents to speak to me alone. I was scared out of my wits. He was an imposing figure with a military moustache. He kept twirling that moustache in frequent intervals. All the children were in awe of him. 

He was a retired army officer who lived alone. His apartment was close to mine. 

Col. Singh put his hand gently on my shoulder. I was petrified. He asked, “Son, do you know why Manjeet wears a turban?" 

Fearfully, I shook my head.

He asked me to sit next to him.

He shared the wonderful and glorious history of the ancestors of Manjeet.

He explained how their religion came into existence to save humanity from the prevalent evil existing at those times and how well they served humanity through untold sacrifices.

Millions have perished serving society and humankind.

He shared stories of great valor and bravery that shook my soul.

 He shared names of soldiers from the community of Manjeet who have won medals in the Indian defence forces during all the wars fought by India. 

The Colonel spoke of the courage and heroism of the people who served in the British Army and broke the backbone of German troops in Europe. He talked about how they sacrificed themselves, even their children, for their beliefs. 

Never had there been such a glorious history of any community in such a short time.

I was ashamed. 

My tears won't stop. 

I understood why my parents were angry. 

I behaved against the tents of their beliefs.

 I was judgmental as someone had chosen to dress differently than me.

I rang the doorbell.

Manjeet’s father opened the door. 

Before I could say anything, he gave me a warm hug.

 I remember the day like yesterday. 

All his family members treated me like their own. 

I told everyone Manjeet was my brother.

My parent had gone to our native place for a marriage.

 I had school, and my sister had her college exams; we were relishing the ‘independence’ of living without any adult supervision.

The darkest chapters in history happen in an instant. 

People say that unrest and chaos build over a while, but most people fail to notice. Or else, why would society allow it to ferment, brainwash people, and unleash madness? 

Can't they see that the volcano was about to erupt?

It was a terrible chapter in the history of Delhi. The Prime Minister of our country was assassinated. The country was in a state of shock and agony. 

The assassins belonged to a particular community. 

A misplaced sense of revenge gave them the idea to kill the Prime Minister. As the news of her death spread all over, massive social unrest erupted in India.

People targeted members of the community who had killed the PM. They were stopped on the roads, beaten, killed, burnt, and abused. Men with turbans were chased and brutally beaten to death. Their shops, their vehicles, and any form of establishment or property belonging to the community were destroyed.

Ordinary people, guided by a misplaced sense of anger, showed a propensity to violence that was sheer barbarism. For days, the city burnt. There was a shutdown. 

It was after the Army was called in that a sense of normalcy returned to the state. It was toll late for thousands of people.

Children were kept away from any news of violence. Those were the days of the Doordarshan channel, All India Radio and landline phones. All the information available was sketchy. Children were kept away from listening to the news.

I remember going to the market with my sister for provisions. The streets were empty. The hustle and bustle of what is now south Delhi was missing. My sister was uncomfortable stepping out. The market had been shut for a few days, and there was little to eat at home.

We passed by my school. The Indian army was using our school premises as a base. For the first time in my life, I saw Army Tanks. It was exciting and intimidating for a ten-year-old. I saluted the jawan standing guard next to the tank. He saluted back. I was on top of the world.

I realized I had not seen or heard from Manjeet for the past few days. I told my sister that I wanted to meet him. For some reason, I could fathom a sense of skepticism in her eyes. I had misread it. It was fear. 

Manjeet’s flat was next to the block of flats where I lived. I walked towards his place. My sister had her eyes on me the whole time.

As I was about to knock on the door, I heard a familiar voice call me.

“What are you doing outside here Suresh”?  

It was my dear Colonel Uncle.

“I have not seen Manjeet for many days. I wanted to see him”.

Uncle said, “It is best if you visit another day”. 

My sister was standing on our first-floor balcony. 

I realized later that she had let me go down as she had seen Uncle sitting in the corner.

She waved to me, asking me to come up.

For a ten-year-old, it becomes difficult to understand why I cannot meet my friend.

 My eyes went to the front door. 

It seemed different. 

There were wooden logs nailed to the main door.

There was heavy furniture in front of the apartment door. 

I was puzzled. 

What was going on?

Uncle could gauge the confusion in my eyes. 

We walked to our flat. 

Over a cup of tea, he explained what had been happening in the city for the last few days. 

I was terrified by the stories of violence.

I realized he was reluctant to share the details with me. 

He tried to explain the situation in the simplest possible terms, but it was beyond my comprehension.

The colony decided to set up patrolling units for the safety of the residents.  

Men beyond a certain age were put in teams who patrolled the colony day and night. They were carrying sticks and lathis. I heard Uncle talk about how ineffective the patrolling units were without training. He had a rifle.

All the young men, teenagers and boys were fascinated by the rifle. Uncle never allowed anyone to touch it. He explained that weapons are to be used only as a last resort. He tried to explain to us the enormity of taking a life. I was not able to comprehend much. The idea of killing anyone was way beyond my scope of imagination.

However, my fascination with the rifle bordered on a near-crazy level. I pestered my uncle for some lessons. He would have none of it. After relentless insistence, he agreed to show me how it works. He did not let me touch it. I was thrilled. 

The next few days, I had an imaginary rifle on my shoulder. 

I was on border patrol in my country, rescuing people facing distress and guarding our colony. The Colonel was amused at my antics. 

One night, the city was covered in winter fog. It was chilling to the bones. People from the colony were patrolling the streets. Suddenly, there was a commotion and screaming and shouting. People started rushing out of their homes. Three young men were running to the Colonel’s house. When asked, one of them said: There is a mob of 300 people led by the local politician, Sapan Kumar. They are looking for families from the community targeted in the riots”. 

I was standing with my sister on my balcony. I realized that they were coming for Manjeet’s family. Without a moment of thought, I ran down. My sister followed me. She was pleading with me to stop.

As I ran towards Manjeet’s house, I saw the Colonel come out of his house. He had his rifle in his hand. 

We heard voices of men screaming at the top of their voices. They were baying for blood. From a distance, I could see the bloodshot red eyes of men. There was lust in their eyes. A lust to kill, to see the colour of blood. It was a terrifying moment. Nearly 300 men were staring down at us. 

For a minute, we were all staring at each other. 

Sapan turned towards his goons and said something to them. The mob stepped back a few paces. I had no clue what he had said to them.

He started to walk towards us. Two of his henchmen were accompanying him. They had machetes in their hands. Yet, it was their eyes that terrified me. They pleaded death. 

Sapan was smiling. It was an evil smile. He glared at the Colonel and then at the barrel pointing towards him. He laughed. It was the sound of a barbarian about to ravage his enemies. He told the Colonel, “Your rifle will not stop 300 people.” True.

Col. Singh did not budge from his place; he did not even bat an eyelid. He told Sapan, “Walk away, or you die”. Sapan glared back. “Give us the family”, he said, “and we walk away without causing harm to anyone. If you stand in our way, we will kill all of you”. He looked at me with those terrifying eyes. I winced.

A soldier never backs down. Colonel Singh was a veteran of three wars. He had lost one of those wars, he had won two. He was not a man who backed down against overwhelming odds. His training and indomitable courage stood like a wall between the rioters and Manjeet’s family.

We could hear movement from behind the barred window to Manjeet’s house. Someone was listening and watching what was going on outside.

Sapan growled, “You are all going to die. Pity that your friends must die for you”. 

One of his goons came running with something in his hand. It was a Molotov cocktail. A bottle with petrol inside, there is cloth tied to the tip of the bottle that is set on fire. When the bottle is thrown, it shatters, and the petrol spreads to a wide area, catching fire. It was a lethal weapon. A homemade one, to kill. 

As he was about to throw the bottle, Col. Singh fired the rifle at the man at point-blank range. The man seemed to be torn apart at various places. Blood splattered on all of us.

For a few seconds, all of us were rooted to our spot. The colonel’s white shirt had a massive red splatter.

Sapan reacted first. He swung his machete on the Colonel. He tried to sway to the right, but the machete got him on the shoulder. The rifle fell from his hands. He fell to the floor.

Blinded by rage, I picked up the rifle and pointed it at Sapan. He laughed. He said, “Boy, this is not a toy. Give it to me”.

I never claim to be a Braveheart. I only advocate self-defence. A young boy had a fleeting realization that he was about to die. His sister, his friend Manjeet, his family, The Colonel, and God knows how many more may die tonight because of the ravings of a madman.

No, I will not allow it. 

God was with me. I had a moment of clarity. 

Sapan stretched his hand to grab the rifle from my hands. There was a loud Bang. It was the most terrifying noise I have ever heard in my life.

Sapan grabbed his chest. There was a mass of red on his shirt. The blood trickles from the hole in the chest. He yells out a cry of pain and collapses. The rifle falls from my hands, and I scream. 

The mob is stunned into silence. 

They are in shock. A kid had killed their leader. In a fit of rage, they charged at us.

It is said that the sight of death is terrifying. It was. 

The moment I was about to be struck by a machete, I heard gunfire. I closed my eyes. I was pushed to the ground by a set of burly hands.

The army had reached the spot in the nick of time. The mob was immobilized by the Army in a few minutes.

When the carnage ended, I got up. I could hear things moving. After a few minutes, Manjeet and his father stepped out of their house.

Manjeet and I hug each other. My brother was safe. He points towards his home and asks me, “Lassi piyega veere”?


  1. Heartwarming yet sad. Well written

  2. Heartwarming yet sad. Well written.

  3. Touching and well written

  4. Very well written, touches the heart deep inside. What begins as a child's narrative on life around, culminates with that child's heroic. Kudos to @Suresh Nair for bringing out the message and the emotion so well.


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