“The girls say they’re from villages in Dhanbad and Ranchi districts, but are in Calcutta to be trained as nurses”: an epic story set in India by Wellington writer Rajorshi Chakraborti

She is a security guard at FM High School for Girls, and he is an Uber driver. Every morning he drops off a pair of sisters whose parents have to leave very early for work. One day, after the girls have gone inside, he pulls over and parks just past the school gate, alongside a barrier specifically forbidding this. She, of course, heads straight for the car to tell him off.

“You can’t park here. You’re holding everyone up. Keep moving.”

But that only makes him break into a smile, even as he starts his engine.

“I was hoping you would come to scold me.” Sumati’s colleague at the gate is a much older man.

“See you tomorrow,” he winks, looks over his shoulder and drives off.


What strikes her most about his courtship is its considerateness. The next morning, he drops the girls off as usual and doesn’t follow up with any tricks, almost to her surprise. But then, much later, when Sumati has finished her shift at 4.30 and gone around the corner to wait for a bus to Park Circus station from where she’ll catch her train, a white Swift sidles up and it’s him, offering to take her wherever she’s going. Sumati is at a crowded bus stop, aware that many around her will be watching this exchange with interest, and also that there is no danger in refusing. In fact, he would be in trouble at any sign of misbehaviour, as long as she stays out of his car.

I have a black belt in karate, she wants to announce to the people at the bus stop as she opens the car door. Don’t worry.

Which is true – and it helped with getting her present job; she also teaches karate to children on Saturday and Sunday afternoons – but she doesn’t need it. Pronobesh does no more than drive her to Park Circus station, asking friendly questions on the way. She sees him briefly as usual the following morning; in the afternoon he has made time once more to give her a ride.

The day after that is a Friday. Pronobesh suggests – how about I take you to another station that’s closer to your home? In return, we go to the lakes for a bit, sit on a bench and chat. After a few minutes driving on their usual route, Sumati agrees. Pronobesh won’t know this, but she grew up right beside the lakes. Even now, her karate classes are in the safari park at the lakes. There are familiar faces there at all times of day. Plus, there’s the black belt.

The following Friday, they go to one of his friends’ houses in a back lane of Bhowanipur, for which Pronobesh has a key. The friend and his roommate will both be at work, he’d promised. This is also the first time he tells Sumati how irresistible she is in her uniform. They end up with her on top, shirt unbuttoned, but he wants her to leave it on. “Wait till you see me in my karate suit,” Sumati says, which mental picture proves enough to send him over the edge.

Pronobesh visits Sumati’s mother and older sister, with whom she lives, a month after their first meeting. Her mother takes to him immediately; her sister’s reaction is less important, as she has a bad husband in her past and is suspicious of everyone. Two months later, on an auspicious date, they marry and she moves into his house in Behala alongside his younger brother and his parents. The new couple share the only bedroom while the rest of the family sleep in the front room. There is a large divan which Pronobesh’s parents use, and his brother, who is fifteen, uses a camp cot that gets folded away each morning.

Everybody seems happy. When Pronobesh drops off the girls at school, it makes Sumati smile to think they have no idea their Uber driver is the husband of the security guard. Then again, she often finds it hard to believe that her husband – that word again – had been a stranger to her as late as the start of April (it’s now July). And that, not once in those first three months of this year had she thought of marriage!


In August, Sumati learns that she is pregnant. Pronobesh is delighted. She thinks they need to talk about it, perhaps even before sharing the news with their families. For instance, there’s her job, which she doesn’t want to give up, and they won’t hold it for her while the baby is little.

“They won’t need to. You think Ma won’t be thrilled to look after her grandchild?”

“Okay, maybe,” Sumati concedes, “but what about our incomes? Shouldn’t we have some savings first?”

“I earn, you earn, my father earns. We happily pool our earnings. How many families can say that?”

“I’ll have to give up the karate classes, and first let me talk to Sanjeev Sir to see if I can remain at the gate while I’m pregnant. I’ve never seen a pregnant security guard. I mean, what use would I be if there was an incident? It’s not good for the school or the baby.

“There’s also the pollution,” it comes to her a moment later. “It cannot be good that I’m inhaling those fumes all day.”

That seems to clinch something for Pronobesh. “You’re right. You need something indoors. And where you aren’t always on your feet.”

Sumati argues that most employers would hesitate to hire a visibly pregnant woman. What she doesn’t tell Pronobesh – who makes the point that she should try to get something right away – is that she never quite passed all the necessary papers in her school-leaving exams, despite two subsequent attempts to sit them separately, which is why she lacks the confidence to put herself forward for anything involving, say, numbers or a computer (for example, to be one of those women who so confidently scan items and bring up the bill at a supermarket). At the very least, any such job would demand a higher secondary certificate. Her original dream had been to join the police; there too, this had been the barrier.

Pronobesh senses her reluctance to give up a job in hand, and embraces her. He says, carry on for a bit longer. Before we tell Ma and Baba, I promise I’ll think of something.


The girls’ names are Pinki and Champa. They’re sitting on her bed busy with their phones when Sumati gets home. Her mother-in-law opens the front door and – before her attention returns to the Ramayana episode on TV – mentions as if in passing, while Sumati takes off her shoes, the “girls in the bedroom”. “Tultul” (which is Pronobesh’s pet name) “is doing contract work for some agency. He is going to drop them off tonight when the people who will receive them are at home. I gave them dal and rice for lunch. Neither wanted to try the fish.” What girls, who’s going to receive them, which agency, Sumati wants to ask. Pronobesh has said nothing about taking on extra work. Her mother-in-law adds, “They’ve both had baths and washed their clothes. I had to remind them to bring them in off the line.”

The girls say they’re from villages in Dhanbad and Ranchi districts respectively, but are in Calcutta to be trained as nurses. ‘Pranab-dada’ (which is what they’re calling Pronobesh) met them off different overnight buses that morning at the terminus, and will drive them this evening to the homes where they’ll be working.

“But you’re going to study,” Sumati objects, sitting down beside them (they’re speaking in Hindi, which she uses all the time with her boss and another colleague). They both nod. “Then why the domestic work?”

“Our parents cannot pay the training fees or the hostel costs, so the agency came up with this solution. A family takes us in; in return we do some household work. But, in a year, we will be nurses with guaranteed jobs.”

“Yes Didi, the training institute is attached to a hospital,” Pinki adds to what her new friend Champa has shared (they have met just this morning, when Pronobesh picked them up at the bus station, but clearly they’ve been made the same promises). “Plus we get some spending and transport money from the families we’ll be working for, after deducting the cost of the room and one daily meal.”

“1500 a month,” Champa informs Sumati. She is slightly taller and has her hair open. Pinki wears glasses and has pigtails, which Champa must have helped with after their baths. Or else, she didn’t wet her hair.

“But school?” is Sumati’s response while thinking all this. They are both seventeen (she’s also asked that), and it touches her how trusting they are. Of each other, of her at this first-ever meeting, of ‘Pranab-dada’ who’s gone back out to do his usual Uber round as well as this agency. “If you finish school, many more opportunities open up.” She wants to say – take it from me. Something else flashes through her head. “Even this nursing course! I promise that you’ll have a higher starting pay if you join after passing your Class Twelve exams, and the hospital will promote you more often. They will let you do things with computers, rather than simply giving injections and helping to keep patients clean.”

Both girls look unsure, but Pinki valiantly counters “Didi, we were told that the nursing diploma which you get after a year is worth more than a school certificate.”

“Yes, because it guarantees a job,” says Champa.

“I’ve passed Class Ten, Didi,” Pinki adds. Champa doesn’t say that.

“Do you know what the agency gets out of it?” Fine, Sumati has no way of knowing if a nursing diploma can count for more than a high-school certificate (although she could ask a teacher at FMHS), but putting that to one side, the promises made to the girls still seem implausibly generous. In fact, she’s a bit annoyed if they’re true. She wouldn’t have minded the opportunity to train as a nurse, assuming it was open to those in their early twenties. If Pronobesh had learnt about such an agency, he could have tried suggesting the idea to her.

Maybe he thought it’s not the right time with the baby inside.

“Nothing, Didi, not until we start earning. Only when we have a job will they take fifteen percent of our salaries each month for the first two years.”

“That’s a very drawn-out commission.”

“They’re paying our fees just now, Didi!” Pinki makes the agency’s case for them. “They’ve found us these families who need help at home.”

“Without them we would never have this opportunity.”

While changing out of her uniform – which both girls admired; it turned out neither had ever worn trousers – in the bathroom, Sumati decides to walk over to the nearby sweet-shop to get everyone some treats: sweets, as well as radha-bollobi and alur dum. The girls excitedly accompany her. They’ve heard about the famous sweets of Calcutta, but haven’t tried any before. Sumati lets them choose two each of whatever catches their eye from the array at the counter. Soon Pronobesh is home, and is happy to find the girls have been fed. He wolfs down his share of the snacks and sweets, and is ready to drive them to their respective homes. They look sad to be separated, and he teases them “But you only met this morning!” Then he points out – “You’ll see each other all the time at the training institute.”

The way the girls hug Sumati, then touch the feet of her mother-in-law (her father-in-law is working late), also doesn’t feel like an acquaintance of a few hours. Sumati reminds them to call their parents, who would be anxious to know more about where they are staying. Pinki has forgotten to charge her phone while she was here, and her battery is almost down to zero. “Your phones are even more important now,” Sumati tells them. “You’re in a big, faraway city, and they are the only way for your families to reach you. Imagine how worried they would be if your phone was off because you didn’t remember to charge it.”

When the girls are already in the back seat of Pronobesh’s Swift, they ask – and Sumati makes the promise – that she’ll visit them soon, either at the institute or somewhere outside. “We’ll do a Sunday picnic,” Sumati says. “There are some beautiful places.” Everyone has made sure, earlier, to get everyone else’s number.

As they drive off, Sumati is in tears. She shakes her head at herself, but also because it seems impossible they met exactly two hours ago, after she got home from work! She feels she has said goodbye to nieces, or even sisters. This is the kind of first meeting, she thinks, during which people say – I feel as though I know you from a past life.


Pronobesh’s father, Dilip, is the original driver in the family, but has been working for one, now-elderly couple, the Sanyals, for over fifteen years. Dilip has been diabetic for a long time, but manages his condition with discipline. As well, he takes a regular heart medication. Lately though, it is obvious to everyone he has been shedding weight. And there is a persistent cough, which at first was attributed to the change of season (it’s now late October), but after a whole month, Pronobesh worries it might be pneumonia.

He reminds his father of something Mr Sanyal, Baba’s employer, has complained about on the phone, that “Dilip doesn’t get that with antibiotics and several other kinds of medicine, he has to finish the course even if he starts to feel better after just two days. And at other times he does the opposite, and decides by himself that a particular medicine isn’t working.”

Dilip sits up on the divan. When he lies down the coughing is worse. Pronobesh picks up the remote to turn down the volume on the dance talent show his father is watching.

“According to Mr Sanyal, this is why you suffer repeatedly from the same complaints, and also why the doctors he sends you to can’t understand the reason. You don’t tell them, do you, that once you’ve come home, you make all the decisions about your medicines?”

Pronobesh is not wrong about Dilip’s unilateral judgements regarding his own treatment, but when Sumati sees him for the first time in over two months, she doesn’t believe that’s the main thing affecting her father-in-law, who is a good man.

Stunned as she is at his decline, she feels certain that he is wasting away from anxiety and shame at what his son has been doing.


Pronobesh said, that first night itself upon returning after dropping off Pinki and Champa, that he didn’t know which nursing institute they were at.

“Okay, I’ll ask them.”

“Sure, but wait a day or two. Let them at least start going.”

She took his advice and waited two days. She did ask him if the families they would be staying with had seemed friendly. All he could say from his brief meetings was that they hadn’t seemed unkind. There was a two-year-old that Champa would be helping with, but girl or boy Pronobesh had omitted to ask.

When two further days passed after her first messages, Sumati called on the Sunday. Pinki’s phone was off because she must have again forgotten to charge it, but when she got the same ‘non-reachable’ response from Champa, Sumati called Pronobesh, who was driving.

“It’s nurse training. I’m sure they have to switch off their phones.”

“It’s Sunday!”

“In that case, maybe that’s the rule in the houses while they work.”

“Both houses? I’m a security guard and I leave my phone on. You’re driving and your phone is on.”

 “Sumati, my business is in my phone! I don’t know, maybe their employers don’t want them talking to their friends while they’re supposed to be looking after a child or washing plates and glasses. Look, I have to go; I’m running late for a trip to the airport.”

That was at eleven in the morning. At four, after trying both phones consistently every twenty minutes right through the day, Sumati messaged Pronobesh to ask where he’d dropped the girls. Even one of the addresses would do. “Send me the one closer to us. I’ll visit her today, and the other after work one evening this week.”

“Neither is close,” Pronobesh wrote back. “They’re both in the extreme north, because that’s where the nursing school is. Remember how late I got back that night?” Their house is in the south-western neighbourhood of Behala.

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll get myself to a station and take the Metro. You send the addresses.”

When Pronobesh got home that night, having not replied in the interim, Sumati was ready with her charge. “There is no nursing institute, is there?” She said it in the front room, where Tublu, her fifteen-year-old brother-in-law was playing a game on his phone, and Pronobesh’s parents were watching a Bengali serial.

Pronobesh replied, “Ask the girl who is coming tomorrow whether there is a nursing institute or not.”

Despite him standing in her way at each stage and her in-laws doing their best to convince her to stay, Sumati managed to pack a bag and leave for her mother and sister’s place that night itself. She even booked someone else’s cab for the journey (it was an extravagance, but the multiple changes involved in taking a train or the Metro, all while carrying a full bag, were exhausting to contemplate. Plus, to make the gesture in front of Pronobesh felt satisfying).

“How easily you shift all the blame,” ran Pronobesh’s first text, which she received in the car. “You were the one who insisted our income wasn’t going to be enough.”

“Did you ask me once before choosing this way of increasing our income? No, because you knew I would never agree.”

An hour later, he messaged: “I can back out. I’ll say I won’t do this again. Come back.”

Sumati hadn’t yet told her family the cause of the argument. From the room she once shared with her sister, she replied “It’s not enough. You need to get Pinki and Champa home.”

Immediately he responded “Have you gone crazy? They might let me leave if I promise to keep my mouth shut, but they’ll certainly kill me if I go anywhere near those girls.”

“Well, I can go to the police if you tell me where you dropped them. I’m not afraid,” to which madness Pronobesh didn’t reply. Not even after Sumati added, “I can request them not to bring our names into it.”

Ten minutes later, Pronobesh implored her, “Just come home. I made a mistake. But there are hundreds of girls being sold today in Calcutta alone. Hundreds were bought and sold yesterday, and it will happen again tomorrow. Just because you met these two, should we put all our lives at risk?”

“Yes, just because I met these two.”

“You are so naïve! You’re blind. Do you think returning them to their homes will be safe? Where do you think the agents operate who lured them here?” It came to Pronobesh and he added, “It could even be that their parents know! They took money because they needed it.”

To this Sumati wrote, “The two girls I met believed they were going to be nurses.”

“What if I promise they aren’t where you believe they are? That they are here to work in people’s houses?”

“Let me talk to them. Or take me to the houses where they’re working.”

That was the final text of the night, perhaps because they were back to where they’d started. Pronobesh visited Sumati the following evening and repeated to her mother and sister that the girls were working as maids. “Okay, they aren’t going to be nurses, but Sumati is overreacting. Pinki and Champa are going to be able to send money home to their families.” He begged Sumati to return, promising never again to take any such assignment, “even though all I actually did was meet two girls off a bus in a huge, strange city, give them rest and shelter and escort them safely to where they needed to go. If I’d known my helpfulness would blow up in my face, just because you chatted with them for a while!” Bandana, his mother-in-law, joined Pronobesh in urging Sumati to be reasonable, but Shanti, her older daughter, reiterated her sister’s condition. Let Sumati meet the girls or talk to them first.

In frustration, Pronobesh exploded. “I won’t. What will she do? You want to go to the police, Sumati? Where are you going to send them to look?”

“I’ll send them to you to ask.”

“Ma,” Pronobesh appealed to his sympathetic mother-in-law. “Do you hear what your daughter is saying? She is threatening to send her husband to jail. The father of her child.”

“The child who has not yet been born,” Sumati reminded. But this was the limit for her mother.

“Sumati! What’s the matter with you? Who says such a thing? All for two girls whom we don’t know …”

“Ask him why he will go to jail if they are merely domestic helps. Why is he mentioning jail?”

“Oh, you naïve bitch. You think the world revolves around these girls? Do you actually believe the police will help you? You think those who bring girls here haven’t taken care of the police?” Pronobesh then warned his in-laws “This will end in disaster for all of us. Even now, we have everything. Nothing has happened that can’t be fixed. But one wrong step from here …”

Eventually Bandana got Pronobesh to leave, promising at the door that Sumati would almost certainly change her mind. She’d work on her, reminding her of the bigger picture. Most of all, he mustn’t worry about the baby. That was an empty threat.

As soon as they were alone, Shanti told her sister all the proof she needed just came out of Pronobesh’s own mouth. Whatever Sumati decided from here on, she could count on her Didi. “If the baby is born here, it will have its mother, grandma and auntie, and many kind neighbours.” Sumati couldn’t stop crying, thinking of the baby, whose father she loved until last night. Even now she could choose to believe him. If she returned, they could all pretend yesterday hadn’t happened. Not even the entire day – all she needed to forget were the two hours she spent with Pinki and Champa. What was she doing? Why couldn’t she forgive Pronobesh one error? How could she let two hours determine the course of the future, take away from her child its father?

Then she thought of Pinki and Champa, and how she’d felt she had known them in a past life. And how their eyes had gleamed when they told their new Didi that a nursing diploma that led to a job – at a hospital attached to the training institute – was going to prove more valuable than a higher secondary certificate.

Despite five more visits over the next two months from Pronobesh to her home and to the bus stop around the corner from her school, Sumati refused to return, but on each occasion offered him the option of accepting her original conditions. She never stopped trying the numbers she had for the girls. Every day after work, she pictured arriving at the nearby Karaya police station – which even had a dedicated women’s unit, she’d looked up and found – but hesitated. She had no idea where Pinki and Champa were. And, was it fair to make Pronobesh’s entire family pay for his mistake? They would lose everything. How could they carry on in that neighbourhood after his arrest? They had lived there for thirty years.

But now her father-in-law, almost unrecognisable since she last saw him in August, has come to her school.


When the car pulled up just past the gate, Sumati got up wearily to tell the driver off. How people in this city ignore signs.

“Sir, it clearly says … Baba, what happened? How …” and her mouth drops open. He looks ten years older, or even more, and like someone who can no longer take in food.

Sumati lost her own Baba when she was eight, to a heart attack. It was one of the things she believed she had gained upon marrying Pronobesh – a second chance at having a father.

“I know I can’t stop here, but can we talk somewhere else?” It’s 3.10, but when Sumati goes inside and says her father-in-law is here and seems very unwell, Sanjeev Sir gives her the rest of the afternoon off. She thinks for a moment and suggests a nearby park. Dilip has come in the Sanyals’ car. Mr Sanyal is visiting his lawyer on Camac Street and doesn’t expect him back until 4. That’s why Dilip took the chance, even though he knew Sumati would be working.

“Baba, but you shouldn’t be working. Not in this condition. What’s happened?”

“They changed your uniform.” For the second time, Dilip sidesteps Sumati’s question. It’s true – she now wears a salwar kameez instead of her usual shirt and trousers.

“Yes, so that it’s not as tight,” which makes Dilip ask about the baby. Sumati replies that for now, everything has “stabilised”. In the mornings, she comes in on an earlier, less crowded train. The ones going home are still a problem whether she leaves a bit early or not, but she tries her best to be careful, especially when getting on and off.

When Sumati refuses to give up asking about his health, Dilip says that of late he has been diligently taking every medicine prescribed by the Sanyals’ doctor. He tells her about the incident of Pronobesh – or Tultul, as they call him – scolding him.

“In that case they may be the wrong medicines,” Sumati suggests. “You should ask for a specialist. Tell me what tests they have done.”

“Tultul didn’t stop that work,” Dilip again changes the subject.

“What? But he keeps telling me …”

“He doesn’t bring them home anymore, but I know. Even his mother knows.”

That’s when it crashes down on Sumati that Baba’s health cannot be fixed by medicines. This is what he’s carrying inside. He hadn’t changed the subject.

“Baba, believe me, I had no idea. He tells me the exact opposite.”

A fit of coughing overcomes Dilip until he has to brake in the middle of the road, causing unrelenting protests behind them. People go around their car on both sides as and when they can, looking over at them and cursing. Sumati feels terrible that Baba still has to work. Of course he’s making a point – that he won’t touch Pronobesh’s dirty money. But if I was there, with my salary, he could recover …

If I was there, it might never have come to this! I could have made Pronobesh stick to his promise. I’ve done nothing to help Pinki and Champa. Instead, every choice of mine has made things worse – for Baba, for my mother who says neighbours whisper about the second daughter whose marriage didn’t work, most of all for many unknown girls I never even considered.

The park is a hundred metres away. Only after they’ve sat down does Dilip speak once more.

“If you come back, all this can stop.”


Dilip insists that Sumati and the unborn child matter very much to his son. Sumati claims the opposite – that the police are the only solution. She too hasn’t asked Pronobesh for any money since she left their house. “Don’t you see, Baba, he’s not doing it for us. He’s developed a taste for this kind of work, or else it’s the extra money.”

Dilip has two further coughing attacks. They happen pretty much anytime he tries to speak at length. Sumati, part of whom has decided to go to Karaya women’s police station straight after this conversation, envisions the impact on the family if Pronobesh were suddenly imprisoned. Baba – in this state – will be the only earning member. But for how long? And what would the blow mean for his health?

She says she needs time. Dilip repeats his belief that Pronobesh has carried on with the work out of anger and spite. “This is not my boy,” he says, “but only you and the child can rescue him.” Sumati asks when he’ll finish work this evening, and then for the home address of the Sanyals.


“I want to talk to them about taking you to a specialist.” She adds that any homecoming deal is off if Baba won’t give her the address.

That evening, at six, Sumati is in Chetla where the Sanyals live. She knows Baba left half an hour ago. She has also made sure that the Sanyals are going to be home. “They wouldn’t have let me leave if they had plans for the evening,” Baba had reminded her.

Sumati introduces herself and comes straight to the point. If one or both of the Sanyals would accompany her to the police station, she feels certain the complaint would be taken more seriously. She makes clear the stakes: the fates of dozens of girls, many below the age of eighteen.

But the Sanyals are doubly astounded, first by what they have learnt about their driver’s son from his own wife, and, even more, by Sumati’s proposal to become involved. “Why would we bring such danger upon themselves,” Mrs Sanyal reacts. Sumati thinks – these are the same people who are still getting as much work as they can out of her father-in-law.

“Our children live in New Zealand and America,” Mr Sanyal says. “Even if we believe your stories about Pronobesh, they sound like a mafia. They would finish two old people like us.”

“If you want to help these girls, you should go by yourself,” Mrs Sanyal continues, which is the first useful and true thing Sumati has heard in ages. “But please, don’t bring us into it.”

“We’re hearing about it for the first time. Our only connection is that we have a driver whom, in any case, we try to help as much as possible.”

Sumati gets up. She says if her father-in-law is sacked, or if he learns what they have spoken about, and if he isn’t taken to see a second doctor with all his test reports within a week, a rumour would leak that Mr and Mrs Sanyal had urged her to tell the police.

“And if the doctor advises that Baba needs rest …”

Mrs Sanyal finishes the sentence Sumati leaves hanging. “We will take care of Dilip for as long as he needs.” She points out something Sumati hadn’t considered. “He’s the one who insists on coming to work.”

Done looking for allies or crutches or excuses, Sumati takes a bus from Chetla followed by a shuttle auto to Behala Police Station. Behala is where the girls were last seen; they cannot refuse the inquiry.

Four days later at eight in the evening, she receives a phone call from Maity, the assistant sub-inspector she had spoken to. Apparently, Pinki and Champa had both just left the police station, accompanied by Pronobesh. They’d confirmed they were working as domestic helps.

“But Sir, how can you …”

Maity interrupts her. “They brought their Aadhar cards along. Neither had any complaints.”

“But … did you ask why their phones have been off?”

“I don’t know what numbers you have. The ones they gave me work fine.” Before Sumati can ask for these, the assistant sub-inspector continues “Your husband said you want him out of the picture when your child is born. If that’s true, be careful. It’s a dangerous game. I persuaded him not to file a case.”

Sumati is still sitting on her bed stunned that she has been able to do nothing for Pinki and Champa, when Pronobesh calls. Underneath a torrent of abuse – she can also tell from the background noise that he’s driving, perhaps even taking the girls back to wherever they are – his message is: now it’s only my baby inside you that’s keeping you alive. As soon as it is born, watch out.

“You come near me, I’ll break your legs,” she cuts him off, hangs up and switches off her phone. As soon as it is quiet, it comes to Sumati that she must try the specialist women’s unit at Karaya. And if that fails, and the baby arrives as expected in April, and if Pronobesh sticks to his word, whatever then follows will happen exactly twelve months since she decided she, a black belt, could handle herself just fine getting into this stranger’s car.

Rajorshi Chakraborti was born in Kolkata, and now lives in Wellington with his family. He is the author of six novels including Shakti, a supernatural mystery thriller set in present-day India (Penguin,...

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