Have you ever faced an attempt on your life?

A pity, if your answer is no! If only because the soul experiences a tremendous release in that moment. Instantly, body and soul part ways within your living self. They take wing on their separate paths. One thing, however, is certain. It is better to die at an assassin’s hands than escape. If you do escape, then say “swaha” to the rest of your life, which is gone forever, like an offering to a sacrificial fire. Every face you see after will be suspect. Even your own shadow won’t seem to belong to you – but to the assassin. You will feel something piercing right through your chest; you will squirm in sudden bursts of pain.

I have been in such a state since November 16, the night on which I was attacked. The whole of that day was spent standing in a queue in front of the bank. Just eight days earlier, one-thousand- and five hundred-rupee notes were banned in the country. The government was still making mutually contradictory statements; the new notes were not yet ready. People camped in front of banks day and night. News of them collapsing and dying in queues kept piling. I had reached my workplace looking limp and wilted. I was on the fourth shift. The attack happened when, after work, I was dropped off at the rusted gate of my rented house, just as I had started to push it open.

It was past midnight. The company vehicle that had dropped me had not even disappeared from sight when a motorbike came up noiselessly from the dark. Someone who’s lost his way inside the housing colony, I thought, and turned. I saw his hand slink between his legs. Ah, an exhibitionist, thought I – a member of that eternal race, sure to outlast us all. Then he pointed something at me. I did not peer again to make sure that it was a gun. I ducked; the sound of a windowpane shattering rang terrifyingly. My consciousness was dripping away but I saw him take aim again. I fell flat on my face.

A bullet hit the ground, and the sand and dust got into my eyes. I did not see him aim a third time, but I could foresee it. Clutching on to my life, I rolled towards the road. My good luck or bad – a wild-looking young man, a neighbour whom I had not yet met, arrived there on his hulk of a motorbike after a late-night movie. He braked suddenly and honked repeatedly. The gunman’s vehicle sped away, and I escaped. The young man helped me up. But body and soul had already parted. I am dead, I continued to believe. My limbs stiffened. Still holding me up, honking, and shouting for help, he roused the neighbours. I heard his voice as if from across a river. Death was the bluish-red-tinged bank of a river – such things were revealed to me. I was crossing it, seated atop my bullet-ridden body as a canoe. The river was the colour of flames. The ripples rose as cool tongues of flame towards the sky, the spray of sparks scattered all over.

Some people ran up to us and carried me to the house of our neighbour, Dr Fernandes. The doctor shook me awake gently, splattered water on my face. I was reborn into the disquiets of life with great reluctance. Completely exhausted, I lay still for about an hour, still craving for the violet shores of death. Akhil Gupta, a Superintendent of Police and a resident of our colony, came up to me in between and asked some questions. I could only babble. He told me that men from the local police would be protecting me. I spent the rest of the night in the house of that “freaken” young man. I couldn’t but help a laugh even in my terrible state when I heard that his name was Mrityunjoy Sen. His mother, Dr Sandeepa Sen, was a teacher at the university. She received me very kindly. Dr Fernandes had given me a sleeping pill; I slept like I was rehearsing death.

In the morning, Sandeepa told me that I had screamed twice in my sleep. By the time I bid her goodbye and staggered towards my house, my body had become a damp sheath of leather with soggy flesh hanging inside. A sheath like the one Gurkhas use to keep their knives in. One used to conceal the sharpness of the dagger and to protect the world outside from that sharpness. The SP and the president and secretary of our Residents’ Association were waiting outside, in front of the gate of my house. They were chatting about the wedding of an ex-minister’s daughter. I overheard the inspector say that the bride’s sari was worth 17 crore. The optimism around black money vanishing was dimming, it seemed. I led them inside. The broken shards of glass had fallen on the sit-out too. The inspector was observing the premises keenly. He loosened the bullet that had broken the windowpane and pierced a wall. He frowned like a great crime investigator, pressed his fingers on his lips, bent, craned his neck and stretched to examine closely all of the 750 square feet, including a drawing-cum-dining area, a bedroom, a study, a small living room, a kitchen, and a small work area outside, enclosed with an iron grille.

He asked me to describe what had passed. The president of our Residents’ Association HH Reddy and the secretary Atul Shetty encouraged me to speak. Shetty recorded all of it on his iPhone. Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity? Reddy expressed his doubt. A senior scholar had been murdered this way.

I, too, remembered the image of the blood-splattered pieces of his round spectacles. Not surprising he died that way, said Shetty. He wrote false stories against the government. Sandeepa Sen also writes such things, Shetty added, lowering his voice. He shot the wrong person, the SP said to himself. For a split second, Samir’s face flashed in my mind. But my voice did not rise. The three continued to ask questions which they themselves answered. Gandhis are gone, said Shetty, now the contract killings are going to go up. But only the ordinary folk are bereft of Gandhis, Reddy countered. They were talking about the five-hundred-rupee notes, of course.

The SP assured me that soon a detailed statement would be taken from me. He promised Reddy that security in the colony would be increased. Soon, all of them were gone. The house was now empty. My heart was still pounding. I was swamped with guilt and the fear of humiliation. Intense darkness rolled and thrashed about inside my head.

Excerpted with permission from Assassin, KR Meera, translated from the Malayalam by J Devika, HarperCollins India.