If you are courageous enough to venture out after midnight in a small Indian town, you will be greeted by the creatures of the night. Your first companions will be the stray dogs with limp tails, their eyes glinting in the dark, their noses leading them to their late night snack. They scavenge through the piles of rotting garbage while their fortunate pure-bred counterparts enjoy a snooze in their marble palaces. Look up and you will find flappy wings in the sky as large bats try to cast a shadow on the moon. Don’t get startled by the shrieks of the owls, they are less dangerous than the silent serpents in the grass.
You might find a seemingly abandoned pair of slippers by the side of the road, don’t steal them, their owner still lives. Look inside the concrete pipes and under the heap of polythene sheets, you will find a tired rickshaw puller sleeping barefoot and possibly bare-chested. He has moved to the town from the village, to send back money for his siblings. You will notice blisters on his palms and wrinkles on his face but he will be smiling while he is asleep. In fact, don’t try to find him, let him rest until the sun announces a new morning of back-breaking labour.
If the town is big enough to boast of an ATM, there will be a group of youngsters a few feet away. Far enough from the peripheral vision of the drowsy guard yet close enough to steal some light from the vestibule, the privileged progeny of the rich merchants enjoys a party on the footpath. Leaning against their motorbikes or lying down on the boots of their cars, they laugh at a vulgar joke while draining the last drop from their beer bottles. Why they need to congregate in the middle of the night is a mystery to all but them. Perhaps at the centre of the huddle are secret lovers who cannot meet in broad daylight or maybe they just prefer the taste of the Biryani sold by the stall that opens for business after dark.
You can stand and judge these creatures of the night or can walk towards the innocent looking houses. Over the chirping of the crickets, you will hear the moans of a battered housewife as she is brutally whipped by her drunken husband. The wind might carry the whimpers of a woman abused by her own kin or the sobs of a bullied child who doesn’t want to face another day at school. If you stay really quiet you will hear the creaking of the beds, the rolling of the tears, and the whispers of protest. The creatures of the night do not just haunt the streets.