Among the survivors of the twenty-eighth was someone who took thirteen years to see herself as a victim. She did not lose her family that day. She was, in fact, married to a man from the mob. A man who had helped kill Abdul Majid’s family and Kauser Bi. His name was Suresh Jadeja, better known in these parts as Suresh Langdo, the man with the bad leg.
Not all sons of thieves from Chharanagar had such glorious or heart-warming stories to tell. For Suresh, growing up was about the light going out of his eyes. There was no pride in being the son of a thief, no family history being told, no folklore to draw on. There was, in fact, no story. There were only ruptures and disaggregated pieces of his life that could later be used to describe the void.
It all came down to the father. While Dakxin’s story was one of intimacy and belonging, Suresh’s was about disease and defeat. As a child, Suresh contracted polio. The disease was rampant in India in the 1970s and an entire generation of “polio kids” were marked by its side-effects – muscular dystrophy that sometimes stayed for life. Polio gave Suresh his middle name as a child, one everyone in Chharanagar used: Langdo, the limper. There was no getting away from it. His leg preceded him wherever he went – a visible, physical sign of failure. That’s how his father Kanti Lal described it anyway.
Suresh was the oldest of five children. This, combined with the fact that he was a son, should have meant privilege. It should have earned him a place in the family hierarchy at the very top. Only, a freak of nature had caused it all to come apart for Suresh. To begin with, the father and mother wanted Suresh’s bad leg to mend. So they followed what many in the area believed was the best form of healing. Bathing their son’s leg in the blood of a pigeon. It had to be fresh to be effective. That meant catching and killing the bird and almost instantly extracting its blood. On one occasion, when Kanti Lal went to trap a pigeon, he fell right through the wire-mesh into the well where the trap was laid. It caused the flesh to peel off his leg. He screamed in pain, cursed his son and gave up. “He’s going to remain like this – one-legged limper. Good for nothing!”
The descriptor stuck and was implanted in Suresh’s brain like a curse. Every time the kids in Chharanagar called him Langdo, it stung with the pain of being an unwanted child.
Later, his classmates would describe him as the boy who was always angry. Afrezbhai Sheikh saw that in him as he was growing up. He lived in Naroda Patiya – the Muslim neighbourhood adjoining Chharanagar – and went to school with Suresh. “There were five or six of us who were always up to no good,” he recalled, smiling. “We threw stones at the teacher and cursed like mad – motherfucker, sisterfucker,” he said and then quickly qualified: “I was a bystander. I didn’t use those words. Suresh and the others did.”
School in Chharanagar wasn’t the best place to change hearts or minds. Bansidhar Acharya was a teacher in the area. He described how low the standards were when he started his career. People got a degree just for clearing class seven. “It was called the Primary School Certificate and, on the basis of that, you could get a job as a primary school teacher.” To study any further, a parent would have to invest in bus transport for the child to travel out of the area to attend high school. While Dakxin’s father did, Suresh’s didn’t. By the time he was in class two, Suresh and his gang were expelled from school for hitting a teacher on the head with a stone. He was expected to eventually take on the family trade of thieving. And he did.
“I’ve seen him since he was ten years old,” said a middle-aged man from the area. “Suresh and my son got into a scuffle, he hit my son and stole his watch. I registered a complaint with the local police,” he said. “And the cops came after Suresh and beat the crap out of him. They went on beating him, over and over,” the man said with a shudder. “They beat him so much, even I felt bad. But then he is a Chhara after all. This is in their blood.”
Suresh did try and replace the moniker “Langdo” with something positive, something he was crazy about – cricket. Despite his bad leg, he spent as much time as he could on the game, fashioning himself after his hero, who at the time was every cricket-crazy kid’s idol. The West Indies team captain and one of the best batsmen ever to have played the game – Vivian Richards. When he was called “Langdo”, Suresh would yell back an instruction that everyone should call him Richard, only Richard. In part, it seemed to have worked. Suresh gradually took on the last name “Richard”.
Over time, the police file on him put him down as Suresh “Langdo” and Suresh Richard in equal measure. Over time, fewer and fewer people linked him with his father’s last name – Suresh Kantibhai Jadeja. Over time, Suresh found his way out of the fractured family history through violence.
Abdul Majid had seen signs of it when Suresh was just sixteen years old – a quarter-century or more before 2002. At the corner of Chharanagar, where Majid sold crackly papad and other deep-fried snacks, Majid saw Suresh molest a girl.
“Because the Chharas were such big drinkers, my snacks lorry did very well in the area, so I made sure I was there every night, stacked with stuff to go with the booze,” he recalled. One evening, Suresh and his friend dragged a girl who was passing by into a by-lane, pinned her arms to her back and then whisked her away to the back of a workshop. She was screaming for help, but no one interfered. Majid decided enough was enough, and stepped in. “This is not at all okay. You cannot do this,” he said to the defiant teenager with angry black eyes. In return, Suresh got his friends to gang up and loot Majid’s food cart.
The next day, Suresh’s father met Majid, apologising profusely on his behalf. “That sisterfucker bastard of a boy! He’s not my son. I don’t know whose son he is. I am really sorry, and I can’t even pay you for the damages, I am not earning anything,” said Kantilal, who was more often than not found in a drunken stupor. And lost no opportunity to publicly shame his son. “I don’t know who that wife of mine has slept with to produce this bastard. He’s not my blood. This boy is not my son,” Kantilal’s voice would echo in the street.
Excerpted with permission from The Anatomy Of Hate, Revati Laul, Context.
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