Ram Singh, aka Ramu Bhaiya, was in his late 30’s. A hanuman devotee with chandan smeared on his forehead. His haircut was a signature army cut with a mustache reminded me of Ravan from the famous Ramayana serial telecasted on Doordarshan. He ran away from his family in Nepal for a job and life in our hometown.
It was the year 1990, and we were still living in the pre-modernization era. Ramu Bhaiya had a torch, khukri, and a well-oiled danda(stick). At first, when he walked to the mohalla(society) head, he was cynical about the proposal of a night watchman. After all, how can anyone trust a stranger? Our mohalla was sparsely populated and, most were moving from village to district for a better life and kids’ education. Some were teachers, bankers but most state government employee. Many of us were not comfortable paying him money for the service, and we offered grains for his service.
Most of us would retire by 10 pm and, that is when Ramu bhaiya would begin his duty. A loud whistle, thud on the ground with his danda followed with loud shouts: Jagte Raho(stay awake). Much old age and early risers later requested him not to shout: Jagte Raho. Their sleep was getting affected.
After six months of his diligent service, sometimes in October, he mentioned to the society head about the regular death threats. Some miscreants and thieves were stone-pelting and giving him death threats. He did not take them seriously but, we reported it to the police.
In November, most of the mohalla gets deserted, school winter break plus chatt puja, and most active time for thieves. We had Ramu Bhaiya this time around. My father told me about the death of Ramu Bhaiya when for weeks I heard no thud or whistle at night after returning from Gaon(village). Some miscreants strangled him to death. His corpse stayed for a day, waiting for relatives to show up. It was local thana(police) subedar Sahab who did the last rites for poor Ramu Bhaiya. There were no witnesses and, the case was closed.
After two months, a foggy day, a lady and a boy of my age knocked on our door. Mother opened the door, the lady introduced herself as the wife of deceased chowkidar(watchman) and produced a marriage photograph as proof. Her eye, hair, and looks witnessed her misery. She has been living with her parents immediately after marriage. Her father had not paid a promised dowry money to Ramu Bhaiya’s father. It was this reason why he ran away and came to work in India. His goal was to pay money to his father and bring back his wife and son. My mom hugged, cried, and fed them. She also gave her some money and used woolen sweaters, shawls. She was not wearing any chappal(slipper), so mom gave her one of hers.
That was the end of Ramu Bhaiya. A faceless population in our country, carrying so much burden for their end meets and union. Who cares for a poverty-stricken person’s death investigation in our country.