Friday, May 15, 2009

Short Story - Ganglands

Once upon a time, in a little known town in India, there lived two handsome young men, driven by one great ambition – to bring the town’s haphazard but promising gangland under their control. Naturally, the two bayed for each other’s blood.

Now, the small time gang lords, obviously displeased with this interference, against their best judgements, called a temporary truce and convened a meeting in a long abandoned textile mill, appropriately located in a rundown part of town. That these two would have to be stopped was agreed upon unequivocally. However, exactly how this should be accomplished was more vigorously discussed. Various means were suggested. Coercion was immediately ruled out given the well known ambitiousness and stubbornness of the individuals in question. Eliminating them was deemed too drastic; the two had by that time gained much popularity amongst the minions and such an action could lead to outrage and revolt.  Someone suggested eliciting the local police’s help. “Let them sleep” said somebody else.

The problem was nobody had definite knowledge of how the two men planned to lay siege upon their fiefdoms and therefore planning a counteroffensive proved to be a somewhat ambiguous task. When after many hours of poring over the matter, no consensus could be arrived at, they decided to not indulge in any immediate action; rather let those two make the first move. Nevertheless, the gang lords promised to bury individual differences and business interests and remain united against this enigmatic external threat.

With this uneasy alliance, the town became an edgy, peaceful place. The small time crooks, drug dealers, robbers, etc, part of one clan or the other, were given strict instructions to not pick up fights with members of rival clans. To assuage their barely controllable tempers, they were allowed free booze in the evenings and free women later. So there they were in the ill-lit bars from early evening, drinking their fill and exchanging hostile and helpless glances with each other. In the early hours of the morning, they’d be deposited into a girl’s room, where they’d sleep till the next evening.

The townsfolk too were disgruntled. The perennial conflict of the gangs had been the cornerstone of the town’s economy. With the war on hold, bribes and payoffs reduced to a trickle. Bar owners and pimps had to peddle their wares at enormous discounts to the gang lords, owing to the free booze & women benefits being meted out. This meant the common folk had to be charged higher to keep the money flowing in. The drug trade too suffered. In the absence of competing clans vying for the same set of customers, prices shot up.

In short, the entire town was on the verge of revolt.

This was precisely the situation the two young men had hoped for. Without any effort on their own parts, they could see discontent and rage set in the ranks. This was their golden chance to exploit the situation. And thus started the long drawn and skilful process of indulging and buying out men from all echelons of these gangs. So began the great exodus. Money was spent, favours exchanged and infidels eliminated. For the disgruntled populace, a fantastic new opportunity had opened up. They negotiated and renegotiated with the two aspiring men; each out to outdo the other in the formation of their armies.

 By the time the gang lords realized their folly, it was a tad too late. For a while, they threatened their men and the public with violence. They met with abject failure. The town had witnessed firsthand the limitations of these aging lords and had no intention of bringing them back to power. Each act of violence was retaliated with a more gruesome one. Myriad battles raged on the streets. Blood spilled and flowed. The sewers overflowed with disposed bodies.

In time, the gang lords realized the hopelessness of their predicament. There was nothing they could do now. They summoned their closest aides and advisors and scratched their heads over an alternate solution. As it turned out, there was only one. They had to reach a compromise with either of the two factions. And they had to do it before the rest. Hasty communications were sent. The lords fell over each other in their bid to align themselves with those in positions of power.

The two men bargained hard. Those that committed the highest percentages, had more and pertinent officials on their payroll and were docile or dumb enough to not pose future threat were preferred. The rest, like their henchmen, were thrown out of the window. Literally.

Eventually, the realignment was complete. Drug peddlers and pimps infested the streets again. The bars reopened their supplies of booze at affordable prices to the commoner. The town returned to normalcy.

The revolt, however, had been a great education for both the men. And it was important to avoid this at all costs. Peace , calm and unity were virtues of another world. So then, the two avowed enemies met. They understood that for one to survive, the other must too. But coexistence could not be congenial. Therefore, the two men shook hands and made several important decisions. Artificial and actual sale prices, payoffs, etc were fixed, leaving sufficient room for bargaining and satisfaction for the public. Intermittent, unremarkable clashes between the two were mandated. These would be used to cleanse each others’ groups of irrelevant, dispensable resources. Deriding each other on public platforms was encouraged.

For many years hence, the town blossomed. The economy expanded manifold. As did prices, which didn’t pinch the citizens so much since they themselves were receiving higher payoffs and revenues in business. Occasional scuffles between the two regimes were doctored; irrelevant The two men grew their wealth and power even as the rest remained happy and as poor as they always had been.

Till the two ran, unplanned, into each other at a posh restaurant and didn’t know how to react. Everybody in the vicinity closed in around them, expecting a thrilling encounter. Their bodyguards and disciples, unaware of the arrangement of coexistence, drew their guns and readied for a bloody finale. There was no escape.

“Put your guns down” said one of the young men to his bunch, “this is between him and me”

The other fellow commanded his troops likewise.

They formed a battle ring around the two men. “A fight till death!” cried someone.

“Yes! Yes! A fight till death!” echoed everyone else.

And thus began the great combat. They exchanged blows and kicks and everything else in their armoury. For hours they strived for an artificial advantage, even as their minds raced to find a way out of the mess. They were battered, bruised and barely able to stand. Yet they fought on. Finally, one of them, punched hard on the nose fell and would not get up.

Someone threw a gun into the ring. “Finish him! Finish him!” they cried, even as the other side looked on in horror.

The man picked up the gun and stood over his motionless competitor. He took aim. Suddenly, the other man, swung his legs into his knees. He toppled and fell, the gun slipping out of his hands. Even as he fell, with one swift action, the other man reached for the gun and fired. On the chandelier that hung over them. The chandelier groaned and came crashing down, breaking into a million pieces of useless glass and burying both men underneath.

When they woke up, they lay in the local hospital, in their respective rooms. Their followers stood teary eyed all around them. As their eyes gradually focussed on the real world again, they heard chants of relief and gratitude.

“He’s come back to us! He’s come back to us!”

They looked around quizzically at their bunch, failing to comprehend what all the noise was about. Who were these people anyway?

The doctors diagnosed them with loss of memory. They may regain it with time, they said. When they go back to their old familiar people, objects and places, they might.

The doctors’ instructions were followed. Back in their dens, the two spent time reading the local newspaper, sipping tea with biscuits and refusing to acknowledge anyone with familiarity.

All the clashes and violence and trade that had remained standstill while the two were still in hospital, returned with a vengeance. Each clan indicted the other for the state of their leader. The town watched and heard from behind closed doors and shuttered windows, as the war raged on the streets. Loss of property and life became irrelevant. Nobody knew where this would end.

Even as the war waged, close allies of the two men worked endlessly and tirelessly on them to regain their memory and take stock of the situation. Old stories were recounted in excruciating details, supplemented with photographs wherever possible. Nothing worked.

Unable to control the self destructive bloodshed on the streets any longer, the think tank of both sides decided their only hope was to make the two confront each other again. Recreating that epic battle in the restaurant could conceivably strike a chord inside their wayward minds.

The restaurant scene was recreated with painstaking detail. They searched and found everyone who had been present that day. Many had, of course, died in the meanwhile, but there was nothing that could be done about that. The same people, the same waiters, the same tables, the same time, the same date, the same clothes.

And so, they met again. The crowd cheered and jeered. “A fight till death” someone shouted.

“Yes! Yes! A fight till death!” echoed everyone else.

“He is your worst enemy! You want to kill him!” aides whispered into their ears.

“Maybe he is. But now, I don’t even know him!” they replied

1 comment:

priyankar said...

clever and nice...well-written...but the influence of borges and calvino is too evident...especially their fable-like stories...and the ending somehow didn't work for me...don't have any issues with the anti-climax's something else...some ingredient essential for these kind of stories was missing..