About Me

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Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
hi! This BLOG is a collection of short stories authored by me. I'm new to writing and take it as a means to explore the ungiven. I hope you enjoy the stories and look forward to your comments, queries and/or criticisms. Enjoy! :)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Indo-Bangladesh Immigration: a neatly woven fallacy

I was woken up by this person whose eyes were popping out, cheeks were sucked in and whose mouth smelled of fresh tobacco. He said something in Bengali, to which I responded, “ Bangla jaani naa.” which translates to 'I don't Know Bengali'.

“Passport, passport. Quick. Now!”, he said as he pointed to a transparent '60 paisa polythene' that had a dozen other passports. I obliged to his asking and did the needful. Although it was a little unusual for someone to handle your identity in a manner that was obscure, indignant and abstruse.

I was in a bus to Bangladesh from Kolkata. At 7 a.m. , I boarded it with 5 other friends and fell asleep. And I was woken up now when the clock struck 11. It was the town of Benapole, the India-Bangladesh border. We were supposed to get off the bus and run through immigration and customs and then cross the border to the other side, where the smell of fresh fish, groggy sweat and astounding amounts of garbage-along-the-road awaited us. Not to forget the meandering and careen traffic!

And so we would do. But the process was rather unusual. We were made to sit in a room first and given stickers to out on our shirts that read the name of the travels so that we could be identified. Then, we were asked to assemble our luggage and give it to the porters who would transfer the luggage to the other side. These were normal porters that you would find anywhere in India. Most of them didn't have a badge or even the dress-code as one would expect. They were just known by face. And all this under the nose of Border Security Force. The porters were allowed to enter and exit the border without any show of identification. They were treated like the police, as if no illegal trading or transport of goods could be done via them. They were trusted completely.

These porters weren't educated people doing a part-time-job. They were uneducated, lower-strata of the society trying to make a living. Many of them should have been in school, but were at the India- Bangladesh border being trusted by the Indian and Bangladeshi Security forces to not cause any illegal trade or subsequent harm to either of the nations. They were just normal people, who for 20 rupees( 52 rupees=1 USD) , would pick 20 kilos worth luggage and move on to the next customer.
Oh! Obviously, they couldn't be bribed, could they? How sententious of the police to allow a)ILLEGAL working of school going kids and b) to have them cross the border to a totally different country without any check.

In 2011 in the Rajya Sabha session- a private member's bill was moved by Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi regarding illegal Bangladeshi immigration in India. It was withdrawn after the assurance given by Minister of State for Home, Mullappally Ramachandran, about the tackling of the problem and how things would become better after the UID came into existence.

After knowing about the bill and observing the porters' everyday activity, we were amazed at what we saw but little did we know, this was just the start.

We followed the porters to an old dilapidated building that in an unclear, strange, moss-filled, damp, faded and something-that-looked-like-white-colour read 'IMMIGRATION'. It was in bad shape. For some reason it reminded me of Dharavi( No! I'm not exaggerating). The Sardonic entrance was a little less than inviting. We entered the room that could be described in a single word- CHAOS!

As we entered the room, to the right were a couple of tables that seemed to have been made ages ago. The room was coloured green and it had lots of people, some in queue and some out of it.
The reason we were brought there was so that our identities could be confirmed, we could be checked and after all that verification we would we be allowed entry to a foreign country, so we thought.

But those thoughts were only dissonant voices crying inside us. The reality was in front of us. Suddenly someone called our names (yes! The 6 of us, together. How did they know we were together, don't ask! Indian 'jugaad' probably...) and we were told to sign the 'departure forms'. They had already been filled by the travel guys to speed up work. All we had to do was a signature and we would get the immigration stamps on our visas. And so we did, and no surprises- there we were- identities confirmed, all checked, all verification done, ready to go for customs-everything done with a signature... butter smooth! But we weren't given our passports. They were held by this another dude who asked us to follow him.

We exited the building from another gate into a courtyard where our entire luggage was kept. Everything was there. This guy asked us to identify our luggage and keep it aside. We did so. Then he ordered some porters to pick it up. Then he came close to us and talked in Hindi, “Now. We'll go for customs. After that whatever it is you want to give me, just hand it over. No questions asked. Whatever you want to give.” and he repeated the last statement thrice!

We entered a ramshackle building, a little better than the previous one, the walls pink in colour and the corridors filled with spider's web with pan spat all over the walls- yes, a little better than the previous one. Nowhere was it mentioned that it was Customs. We assumed it was because of the large metal detectors, both for humans and for the luggage and about 5-10 police officers.
This person still had our passports. He called out for us and took us to the police guy and a dialogue in Bangla started. After it ended, the police dude asked us-
“So, you are students? What to do in Bangladesh?” he said.
We answered him. He looked deadly and vitriolic. He had our passports in his hand. Only I was talking on the behalf of my contingent. After a few more questions like when we were coming back or where we were going to live, he allowed us to go.

His dissemble attitude was remarkable. A senior police official allowing some citizens, he doesn't know for sure, if they belong to the country they claim to belong to, entry into a foreign country and all this without even checking their passports. No verification done! For all you know, I would be traveling on my father's passport but they wouldn't give a rat's arse. And the metal detectors, I noticed weren't even working, leave alone us-passing through them. We skipped everything. No one opened our bags. No one checked our luggage. No one checked us. I could be carrying a 9mm berretta under my jacket and they wouldn't know. I would have a kilo of cocaine in my bag and they just wouldn't care.

The legitimacy of our existence was ransacked and our passports were stamped- we cleared customs.

We walked ambulatory out of the building where the person gave us our passports. We paid him 100 rupees(less that 2 USD) for the 6 of us and he had the Great Indian smile on his face, “salaam Saab!” he said as he nodded 'bye' and we followed the porters once again.

The border was a gate. The police it seemed were bolstering crimes instead of putting an end to them. The porters didn't have to do anything to get to no-man's-land. Our passports were checked for stamps and within moments we were on no man's land where the porters left us and were replaced by Bangladeshi porters.

After leaving the laconic Indians, the Bangladeshis seemed loquacious. The porter asked us a large number of questions about our hometown, about India, about where we were going and while doing that he gave us some insights on the new land.
We expected nothing from the Bangladeshi immigration and customs. Our faith in 'security' had lapsed and by the end of the process, our expectations were met, candidly indeed.

Our arrival forms were filled by anonymous people who had taken our passports from us and we just had to sign. Now we had to enter a building that looked a lot better than the Indian side. We were supposed to enter and come out from adjacent gates. It was in a U-shape. First, we were supposed to get our passports signed from someone who did something on a computer and took a while to finish the process, being Bangladesh Immigration and then we were supposed to get our bags checked, being Bangladesh customs.

So, we stood in line to get our passports stamped. By that time, I had befriended a porter. He was standing next to us blabbering hay-wire things. And then he asked me to stoop as he whispered something,

“Listen boss.” he said in Hindi, “after this stamping, you will be passed through a metal detector. The security guard there will ask you for some bribe. Tell him you are students and don't give him the money. Else, if you give him less, he will ask for more and then you might lose out on a substantial amount. It’s the 6 of you, which is why I am saying.”

Wo-ow-wow was the expression I had on my face and so did everyone in my group. How open can they be about all this? I mean even a porter knows about the kind of money they take. It’s difficult for the Prime Minister to be unaware of this. And so we reached the metal detector. More than the bribe, it was astonishing to see our names and passport numbers being manually jotted down in a pale yellow notebook. That was the record for the people entering a nation. The guy sitting on the table noting our passport numbers asked us for bribe and we refused and he did not insist again, although he was faking a smile now with his alternate teeth having pan-masala stuck between them and the other alternate missing.

We had taken a U-turn and now there were tables where some dudes were opening bags and manually checking for things. We were asked to do the same. My suitcase was opened and closed. The checker didn't even lift up the clothes or make an attempt to see below them. He asked me what was in there and as I answered, he let it be. My bagpack, still hanging on my back wasn't even opened. Nobody seemed to have even noticed it.

And so we got out with the porter who gave us the information about the bribe, smiling at us as if he were captain planet who had saved the world. And this is where it ends. We paid the porters and they took our luggage to the bus and we were happily in Dhaka, in a 5-star hotel sleeping off with no reason to feel like an outsider who had entered another country.

The officials’ lured faith and trust in us, so much so- that they were dead sure that we did not have any 'harmful' things. And I presume this was for the 15,000 people that cross the border everyday from India to Bangladesh. Every-god-damned-day.

But then, let’s look at the other side. Every day 25,000 Bangladeshis enter India on temporary visas and never get back. And we're talking diurnally since 1971 till god-knows-when.

1 week later, I was among them getting back to my country with my 5 other mates. This time it was even easier, even more hilarious or should I say, even more melancholy.

We were on a bus boarded at 7am from Bangladesh and we reached the border at about 4 in the evening. This time we were on the West bengal official bus. So, we had some privileges, as if we hadn't had enough.

On the Bangladesh side, we were supposed to fill our departure forms and pay some money in takas- the Bangladeshi currency. But we were out of takas.

The deal is that, the Bangladeshi taka is an undervalued currency (75 takas = 1 USD). So, it is not exchanged in India. Hence, we blew it up in Bangladesh. So, we were left with USD and rupees. We chose to keep the dollar aside and pay in rupee. Initially, some confusion persisted and we were told that the rupee wasn't accepted. And the conductor arranged for some guy to allow us to pay in rupee to the official who would stamp our passports for exiting the country. Basically, we would bribe him and get ourselves out of the country. But then my friend found out that we could pay in rupee. We had to pay close to 300 rupees to get out. The bribe would have been much higher. Then, our stamps were signed for exiting and the receipt for payment was also stamped.

Did, I mention- our bags were still in the bus?

While getting out of Bangladesh, our bags remained in the bus. We were supposed to complete all the formalities and sit back in the bus. And then cross the border in the bus and when we got to the other side our bags were checked. Whats more, in the bus we had a conductor and a police official. They gave us a disclaimer. They said there were crooks who would cheat us on currency exchange and that we were not supposed to give in to that. “Okay!” we agreed wondering shouldn't they actually prevent that from happening instead of warning us?

We caught hold of our bags and entered the same destitute building in India. We were made to stand in line that led to an old, wooden metal detector with spider webs on it and the mains switch broken. The detector was switched off or not working- which ever makes you feel better. Whether we passed through it or not, it didn't practically make a difference but it seemed as if the government expected applause for it. We went to the police guy, looking similar to the one on our way to Dhaka. He did the same thing, asked us a few questions and let us go. Our passports were with us. No 3rd party mediator was involved and our passports weren't even checked, forget our luggage. The bags were still zipped.

The indisputable were those who paved way and set examples, or were they the diffident, I for sure was confused.

Having done with customs, we would keep our bags in the bus and proceed for immigration. It was the same process, we would stand in a queue, fill our arrival forms, they would ask us to sign and done! We can now enter India. We are as safe as any India-loving person with no threat to the country whatsoever. As safe and certified as Manmohan Singh, himself. Or was it Ajmal Kasab who was certified safe?

And the best part was this- right outside the immigration office a person was standing with money in his hand, shouting, “ Taka-dollar. Taka-rupee. Dollar-rupee.” Illegal FOREX was happening right outside the immigration building, the forex guy chatting away with the police official at the gate. Incidentally, it was the same official who warned us in the bus!

There is a reason why 30,000 Bangladeshi women are in brothels in Calcutta, only. Whats more? The price for girls is between Tk. 10,000 for the old and 'used-up' to Tk. 30,000 for the beautiful and healthy girls. Children are bought for Tk. 7,000 to Tk. 8,000. (Trafficking in Women and Children: The Cases of Bangladesh, pp. 20 &21, UBINIG, 1995)

There is a reason why the Nellie massacre in 1983 happened in Assam.

India has already sanctioned a $1 billion loan to Bangladesh (it’s largest-ever to a foreign country) and held out the promise of electricity exports and trade concessions. Billions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled across the 4,100km (2,500-mile) Indo-Bangladesh border every year. Making that trade legal would make the official figures look more respectable.

In August 2008, the Delhi High Court dismissed a petition by a Bangladeshi national against her deportation. The High Court ruled that the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants "pose a danger to India's internal security".

The Assam Accord and The Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act (IMDT) still remain ineffective and the Foreigner's act of 1946 is still not being used for determination of Bangladeshi migrants.

The National Register of Citizens should be updated and computerized and a separate register of stateless citizens should also be maintained. Its obviously not happening!

Assam shares a 272-km-long border with Bangladesh. A vast stretch of that is still unfenced. India says that the large-scale infiltration from across the border was threatening the region's demographic profile. Though the exact number of illegal immigrants is not known, generally it is estimated that about 20 million Bangladeshis are illegally staying in India .Of this number; about 6 million are present in Assam alone.

India seems to be just as confused as the pregnant stepmother who can't seem to understand who the de-facto child is! And guess what- it’s divorced too!!

And when we were just about to board the bus from the Indian Immigration office while coming back from the country in crisis to the country in duplicity, I noticed one last sight that I don't think I will ever forget.

The bus which was parked on the roadside and with the night setting in, it was a little dark. There was a black coffin kept under a tree with a women sitting beside it reading something from a book and a candle lit by her side. It was big enough for people to notice it.

To the right of the coffin, people were taking a leak. Yes, they were peeing-on the road, on the wall of the customs office. With nobody saying anything. Like- right there. As if they were playing a game as they pissed- “whose goes farther, yours or mine?”

And under the same tree, on the other side of the trunk ,behind the woman, a man was selling 'jhalmuri' and people were bargaining for the price, forgetting for a while that they were live humans and someone around them wasn't as fortunate!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Experiment Of Change

Vinit reached the Sector17 market to buy a gift for Rahul. He had ordered a Swiss wool jacket imported from abroad. He entered WLS lifestyle and asked the shopkeeper for his order. It was ready. The shopkeeper opened the cover and from there one could see the gleaming black jacket with the high-collar and clean streaks shine under the incandescent bulbs. It was a rare piece. Definitely worth a quarter of a lakh, one would reckon.

Vinit was the head of Strategic Initiatives of a Marketing firm. He was earning quite a sum. He was a carefree dude. It was not his temperament to respond to people's criticisms. His friends tried to drill into his head that there could be a better Vinit but he wouldn't budge. He always twisted the conversation to their mistakes and they were humble enough to accept their blame and so the point of any conversation that involved any kind of thoughts against him was lost. He thought he was the best and no one better than him. He thought he was king.

Rahul and Vinit were friends for quite a long time. Both of them studied together since primary in Chandigarh and even now, since both of them were settled in Chandigarh, they met atleast once a week over a beer and talked a lot of things. Some people thought Vinit was closer to Rahul than his wife!

Vinit had forgotten his wallet in the car and so he stepped out to the parking to get his wallet. He unlocked it. As he picked up the wallet, his phone rang.

It was Arjun- Rahul’s brother. The party was going to be started, they were waiting for Vinit.

“Yes man. Wait for 15 minutes, I’ll be there.”, Vinit said in his snobbish tone.

He walked back to the store, swiped his card, picked up the jacket and came back to his car. He switched on the ignition and drove off.

The parking guy stopped him for the parking ticket. Vinit couldn’t locate it. He checked all the chambers of his car but couldn’t locate it. He had probably misplaced it. The parking guy asked him to park the car along the sidewalk and pay the fine.

Vinit realized enough time had already been wasted and this was really uncalled for. His temper was rising. He was a person who could shout at anyone for no fault of theirs if he was angry.

Vinit got out of the car and settled the amount. His brows were contracted. His frustration had reached the brink. It hadn’t overflown…yet.

To top it all off- a transgender walked towards Vinit.

“Aye chikne! De naa. Tere bachche ke liye. Aisa aashirwaad dungi ki aishwarya rai paida hogi!!”, he finished his gimmick with the usual clapping of palms that is characteristic of them.

No one was around. It was very silent. Only one street light was on and one couldn’t see very clearly in that. It was god’s enigmatic way of making things less awkward, more.

Vinit, since birth felt a little weird in their presence, “kuch nahin hai”, he signaled the guy with his hand impetuously.

Some eeriness had crept into the air. Abrogation was evident. He was on the verge of flipping out and the transgender was unaware of the consequences.

The transgender gave another attempt, “Apni biwi ka toh khayal; kar. Uske liye dede. Agar nahin dega toh tera khada hi nahin hoga.”

Vinit was inexorable by this attempt as well. Though he was very angry, he held himself.

“bola na nahin. Ab jaa apna kaam kar.”, he said acting as calm as possible.

Somewhere he started feeling some sort of a danger from this guy. Diffidence sneaked in somewhere as he opened the door of his car to step in.

But the transgender wouldn’t leave. He came closer to Vinint, less than a foot away.

“De naa…. agar…” before he could complete it, Vinit lost all his clemency and slapped the transgender across the face. It was hard, not only physically, even metaphorically.

The transgender had worn a wig, which came out of his head and fell to one side. He was a man with short hair, now.

The guy stood there bewildered and astounded with delirium. He didn’t know what to do. Vinit, also for one of the few moments of his life thought it was wrong on his part to slap. He realized he was wrong, something that he seldom missed out. He didn’t mean to showcase his loathing against such people but couldn’t help himself. And now, the reality was evident.

The guy looked up with teary eyes, in what Vinit thought was shame. It was actually helplessness.

“App kya jaano, humse bhi ye koi karvata hai, sahib….” And that struck Vinit, He got goosebumps. A vivid picture of how these people were pulled into such acts; of how downtrodden they were; of why they did what they did, revolved in front of Vinit. He felt like being dragged in a maze with no way out.

“Ab bhi meharbaani karke dedo. Kuch bhi hai toh dedo”

The desperation showed and how, Vinit thought. Even though his reality was disclosed- he was asking for money. He was genuinely forced to do this. And for what? Money! That is why this guy sold off everything he had? Is it really that important? Or is it the love of his family held hostage somewhere, in some part of the world that is driving him to do this for money? Either ways, it boils down to a couple of notes, doesn’t it?

Vinit checked his wallet only to find no cash. All was gone to the parking guy.

He opened the back gate of his car, took out the jacket and threw it at the transgender, whose name he still didn’t know. He didn’t think twice before doing it. He didn’t know how much that would help the guy but he did it because he felt that this guy will value it more than Rahul and he felt so instinctively. Not much thought went in.

He then opened the driver’s gate, sat in and kept staring at the face of the man standing under the streetlight in his back-mirror until the phone rang.
“Where dammit? You ass- we are all waiting for you” , said Arjun, also angry but for different reasons.

“Yea. Coming. Just collecting change from the shopkeeper”, said Vinit impulsively.

“Fuck it dude! Is money that important? We are all waiting for you. Now come fast!”, said Arjun and hung up.

Ironically, it was an important question that Arjun had put forth and both Vinit and Arjun knew the correct answers to that question.

The difference was that both answers were contrary! And the one that each knew, was the correct one…

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Magical Religion

“ Sir, Crime Branch is here.”, said the short but stouted hawaldar of Bombay Police. Yes, it was bombay then- 1980!

“ How can I help you?”, asked Inspector Aditya, a thin man with a healthy beard around the chin and a long face.

“ I'm Ravi Saxena, Mumbai Crime Branch.”, said the other with the rolicking eye smearing the place. His bold arrogant jaw and the high bridged nose made him look ferocious and deadly.

“ Yes sir. I was told that you would come here, on the crime scene. We checked with the details. We got the body out of the water about an hour ago. He was shot four times in the chest. It seemed a close range shot with a 9mm pistol. Reports still awaiting.” , said the inspector.

“ Any luck on the person. Who he was? His name? Profession?”, asked the detective from crime branch.

“ We've got sketchy details. His name is claimed to be Frank and it is said that he was a street magician by profession. He used to do a lot of card tricks. Entertaining people was what gave him happiness. No family except a girlfriend living in Malad. Police are en route to her house as we speak. All these details are just the primary investigation. They need to be confirmed. “, he said and looking over the skyline at marine drive. Cloudy, Blue sky with the sun shining bright in the afternoon. The glory of it all was common for them-an everyday phenomenon. but for tourists it was magical.

The detective nodded , “ Okay, i'll take over- get the forensic reports as soon as possible. We need to uncover the......”

He couldn't complete because the inspector's wireless rang. The Police team had reached the girlfriend's house in Malad. The girl was dead. She had been shot by a 9mm too, in the same manner- 4 times in the chest.

“ Dont touch anything- we'll be there.”, said the inspector.

The detective and the inspector jumped in the Sparkling White gypsy and left immediately for Malad.

They reached there . It was a 3 storeyed building. Each floor had 2 houses. The girl lived on the second floor.

They entered the house. Everything was where it should be. It didn't look like a robbery. No sign of any kind of fight or resistance by the girl. It seemed as if the killer knew the girl.

Detective Ravi's phone rang. He went out, attended the call and came back inside. He called for the inspector and signaled him to come at aside so that he could speak to him in person.

“ Inspector- Get the forensic examinations done, verify the calls on the girl's phone. Match the number's on her phone and Frank's phone and see if you can get something. Also, there has been another call to the crime branch about another murder. I have to head to the crime scene. The body is said to be in a van outside the Malad police station. This is all planned. The killer knew we were going to come here and so he killed the girl and then he put the body outside the Malad police station only. I need your car.”

“ Sure sir. Let me know if uo need anything.”, said the inspector.

The Detective rushed to the police station. The body was removed from the van. Same thing. 9mm beretta. Close range. 4 bullets in the chest.

“ Whats the update?” , the detective asked the inspector on the scene- Kartik.

“ Sir! His name was Alfred. No family. He had a friend here in Bombay and he lived with that friend.”, said Kartik.

“ What was he doing here? Studying?”, asked the detective.

“ No Sir. He is claimed to be a magician.”, said Kartik.

“Magician?”, replied the Detective in a very instinctive tone. Very unexpected to hear that word.

Why would somebody want to kill magicians, he thought. It is very unbecoming to kill people who entertain others. They use normal printed, spotted face cards and just create amazing things out of it. They make people happy, render them speechless. They create an aura of bliss and spellbound craziness amongst the people they face. Why would somebody want to kill them? What would they hold against magicians? It is simply not worth it, or is it?

“ Okay. Do a little more detailing and let me know. Where does his friend live? I'm pretty sure he is dead by now but anyways- his house address?”, asked the detective.

“ It is in Santa Cruz. 313, Dream Queen building.”, said the inspector.

The detective went alone- he thought if he took a police team- it will take more time.

He reached Dream queen and climbed to the 13th floor. It was dingy. He found 313. He removed his gun and loaded it. The click of the bullet entering the chamber was rather loud. Sweat was every where. He didn't want to see another body. He held the gun firmly and rang the bell of the house.

To his surprise, somebody shouted, “ Coming. One minute.”

He quickly put the gun inside at the back. And hid it under his shirt.

“ Yes. Who is that ?”, said the well groomed man in a white shirt and creased trousers as if ready to go somewhere.

“ Detective Ravi. Crime branch. Can I come in?”

He was offered a glass of water as he sat on the sofa. It was a 2 bedroom flat. As he looked around he observed that 1 room was locked and the other was messy.

“ So- how come in my apartment, sir? Any problems?”

“ yes- Mr.....?”, said the detective.

“ Suraj, sir”

“ yes- Mr. Suraj- we've got to know that a person called Alfred lives in your apartment.”

“ Sure sir. He does. He originally belongs to England, sir, but has come here for a show. He is a magician, sir-performs tricks. “

“Mr. suraj- We had got a phone call about a murder. And when we enquired- i'm sorry to say- Mr. Alfred was the victim. Details are yet to be clear. I can't tell you more but right now I need you to do 2 things. Firstly, open the locked bedroom and secondly, give me any and all details that you have about tonight's show.”

“ I woke up late in the morning and Alfred had already left for practice. I didn't lock the door, Alfred did. You'd have to brake it, sir as I don't have the keys. And i'll get you the details of the show- it is scheduled to start at 8. I have the pamphlet. “ , said Suraj

Ravi was in this business for a long time. he knew who to believe. He believed Suraj.

As Suraj turned to get the pamphlet, Detective got up and gave a few kicks to the door of Alfred's room and then finally opened it with the push of a shoulder.

The room was clean. None of Alfred's belongings were there.

“ Alfred had a late night flight after the show tonight. And so he preferred to take his stuff, I believe. I have no idea what happened. “, said Suraj with exponential disbelief and disgrace.

Suraj handed over the pamphlet to the Detective. It was happening at a hall in IC colony, to the south of Borivalli at 8 tonight. It had 6 magicians. All of them were well known over the world. Frank O'ralph, Alfred Keisher, Sigmund Butler, Stephanie Clemenses, Fryms E'llyses and Davip Cooper. Frank, Alfred and Sigmund and Stephanie were Americans. Fryms was French and David was English.

As the Detective was looking at the pamphlet, the Inspector working on the previous murder- Inspector Aditya called,

“Sir- the girlfriend of Frank was an American female. Her name was Stephanie and she was also a magician. She was killed in the same way as Frank. Any results, sir? Can I help with the second murder?”

Detective Ravi thought to himself for a while and then something struck him- Alfred, Stephanie and Frank were Americans- and by that logic the only one left is Sigmund. It was 5 o'clock then, show started at about 8. The Detective thought- somebody was killing the Americans. The reason was unclear but that was the only lead he had. He told Inspector Aditya to go to the organizers of the show- the address of which he read out from the pamphlet and get Sigmund's address. His premonition was that Sigmund would be murdered if he already isn't.

The detective went to his car and sat back. Trying to link the 3 murders. He thought why would someone kill magicians who were Americans? The show was happening at IC colony- Immaculate Church Colony. Was their being Christians related to this? But why would somebody kill Christians. Hindus and Muslims can be thought of. But this was very unusual.

His thinking yielded no luck. He had no idea. His eyes were in utter dismay and delirium. He felt Heavy weighted as if he had a neuropathic syndrome. He wanted the day to end. An image of Sigmund kept flashing in front of him and he felt helpless not to be able to save the smile on the face. And then Inspector Aditya called,

“ Sir, he is living in hotel Renaissance. Stephanie and Frank were staying in Bombay in that flat and Alfred opted to stay with his friend. The rest of the magicians including Sigmund are in Renaissance on Juhu.”

The detective rushed to Juhu, dodging the traffic with the best of his abilities. He thought if another magician died, it will end Mumbai's magic realm and he wondered how it would affect public. But, more than that these were magic stars. They were foreign nationals. The country's reputation was at stake and he could save whatever is left of it.

They reached Renaissance hotel. He asked the Inspector to have a perimeter outside the hotel. The inspector had already arranged for policemen in civilian dresses.

“ Room 409. We have asked the hotel authorities to tell all the residents to stay inside their rooms. The authorities have confirmed on that. They have told the guests that the fire system is being repaired.”, said the inspector.

“ I'll go alone. Be with me on the wireless. I don't want any activity that might make this place feel any different or abnormal. Hear that?”, said the detective.

“ Yes sir.”

The detective entered the hotel and climbed the stairs. He reached 409. It was silent. The wooden door was in front of him. He just had to enter it and see for himself if he were any good or not. He opened the door and 2 people were talking to each other.

“ Detective Ravi Saxena. Crime Branch. Dont move. You're safe. Who is sigmund?”

Sigmund lifted his hand up.

Ravi ordered the other person, wearing a white robe, to close the window and draw the curtains.

“ Who is he?”, Ravi asked Sigmund.

“ He is a priest in the Later Day Saints church. He claims to have been sent by the organisers of the IC church. He just came in 15 minutes ago.”, said Sigmund- his voice trying to control shiver, his throat suffering from draught.

Detective Ravi nodded. He told Inspector on wireless that Sigmund was safe. He asked the Inspector to go check the other magicians also. After a while, he got the reply that all of them were safe.

Ravi thought it'll be best if they waited in the room. He didn't tell Sigmund anything about the other murders. Sigmund and the priest, meanwhile were silent expecting Ravi to tell them what he was doing there and what was expected of them.

Ravi was still expecting the killer. He put his gun on the bed and just looked around. He then noticed something puffed under the priest's robe.

“ Father- what do you have under that robe.”

“ why? Nothing son. Nothing...nothing-at-all.”, said the priest, a little anxious now.

“I need you to open the robe and tell me whats inside. “, said ravi- as he suddenly stood up, now holding his gun with both hands and the barrel at the priest.

Suddenly the priest removed the gun from under the robe and tried to shoot Sigmund. 1 bullet was shot. It missed him. Ravi immediately shot the priest in the leg and he was wounded. Sigmund was asked to go wait in the bathroom till asked to come out.

Sigmund was safe.

Detective Ravi then wired for backup and told the inspector to come up.

“ Why did you do that? You only killed the others, didn't you? Why?”, asked Ravi with sheer anger. His eyes blood red and eyebrows contracted.

The priest still had the gun in his hand. He pointed it towards Detective Ravi.

“ Bloody Bitches! They call themselves Mormons..... Oh! Sorry. You are Ravi- a hindu- how would you know? Frank, Stephanie, Alfred and Sigmund were American Mormons. Mormons are a seperate group that believe in Lord Christ and worship the church of the Jesus Christ and the later day saints. We were active since 1820. All of these dead magicians were Mormons.”

“ So- you killed them because they are Mormons? What logic is that?”, asked the detective.

“ Mormons are barred from playing Spotted face cards. Its a sin to do so. It is against God's will. And these people were not only playing it but making a living out of it. They were deeming it more popular and rendering no respect towards their religion. We talked to these so-to-speak magicians so many times but they wouldn't listen at all. They would start talking god-knows-what-not and they kept justifying their stance. This created a divide in the sect. Some people left the sect because of this. The number of people leaving the sect was growing and the followers kept questioning the authority and kept blaming them for not being able to follow the doctrines. We had to do something about these 4 people. “

“ So you thought of killing them? Wow? You think you're doing any good to your religion?”, asked Ravi still holding his gun upright.

“ Me? You think I did this? I got a call from Utah to get rid of these magicians before tonight. Utah is the Centre of Mormon Influence. It is the highest authority. None of us priests can over rule them. God knows I did the right thing. Someone has to take initiative and I now I will lay in peace. “

The priest concluded and immediately turned his gun towards himself and shot through the head. Ravi could just watch. Ravi couldn't do anything.

Ravi was engrossed in the thoughts about sincerity of the priest towards god. He wondered, if god didn't want this to happen, it wouldn't have happened. But no one could tell, could they.

Inpector Aditya came in with his team and took charge of the crime scene.

Ravi walked down the steps of Renaissance, the only hotel in Mumbai then- back in 1980.

He was thinking about what he had done towards religion, towards Hinduism. He was greatly moved by the priest and his devotion to god. Ravi quit the crime branch after that. Speculations were that he had gone to Mahabaleshwar, his hometown and he followed a guru. But who knows what actually happened.

In the later years- around 1985-1987, bombay witnessed a series of killings where beggars on the road lay with their head smashed with stones and chandan all around as if somebody had worshiped the body. The city witnessed 12 killings around Sion in Bombay itself. The man was finally caught. He was declared a psychopath and in n-number of interrogations, he said only 2 things-

First that whatever, his guru would say- he would perform those sacrifices and keep his relegious beliefs alive for the benefit of the relegion.
And the second that he was a part of the Mumbai Crime Branch.

Nobody would believe the second part.

The court declared him to be hanged to death.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Timeless Conjecture

It was 3 in the afternoon. Something was different about today.

He sat on his table looking out of the window. It had been 6 hours since he was sitting there. Staring through those clouds. As if waiting for something to happen. But it wasn't helping at all. But he remained patient and had faith. He was adamant on reaching a solution today.

He was 40 years old. He had carried this burden on him for quite a while,now. He couldn't live with it any more. Allah wouldn't accept him if he didn't sort this thing out for himself. The elongated face was filled with sweat droplets. The fan was switched off. Nothing was moving in the house. It was still and silent. He swept his hand across his face to clear the sweat. The kurta was also wet. One could see the body beneath it, the balck torture marks, the huge cuts on the back as if it were whipped a million times. He looked into the mirror at the table. The mole on his right cheek was something that he was always ashamed off. Today, he seemed to be at peace with it.

Finaly, he made his decision. He thought of finishing it today, for those people who lie for a living and kill millions of people to make money for themselves; for those who never say a word even though they see this happening; for those who play mind games; and last but not the least... for himself.

With all his will power, he took out his cell phone from his pocket. He typed the number. Before dialing, he thought one last time. And then muttered to himself, "lets bring them to dust." he dialled the number.

" Hello? yes. who is that?", said the frail, skinny voice on the other line.
" Is that Poonam?", he said.
" Yes. This is. May i know who is that?".
" I have to meet you in an hour. Come to 1st floor, 3/32, Gulmohar park. Its urgent."
" But i have another appointment. I have to interview Liaqat Ali in the evening. I have to set it up.", said Poonam.

"I have something that can change the way you look at journalism. Gulmohar park. Before 5. Trust me, you'll repent not coming."

And he cut the call.

He had done his research on Poonam, the 22 year old journalist who worked with Clive and Colemann co. ltd. She was young and wasn't interested in bribes. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel. She was in this profession to make a change. And he knew that. She was the only one, he thought, who could do justice to his intentions.

He went to the almira. And took out his 9mm Beretta. It was dismantled. He assembled it. He took out the nylon cloth, wiped each bullet whose head was gold and the rest of the body was silver. He had a full packet of bullets. He started filling it in. He filled in 3 bullets and realised it was too much. He removed 2 bullets and let one be in the magazine of the automatic pistol.
"Excess is not good for health", he chuckled.

Then he made another phone call.
" Ramazan bhai. I had placed an order 5 days ago. I need it today.", he said.

" Yes. Its ready. Shall i give it now?"

" No. Give it in about 2 hours. Thank you."

It was 4:45 now. The bell rang. He unlocked the door.

" Poonam Sanyal. I got a call from here.", she said showing her ID.
" Yes ma'am. I only called you. You're alone?"
She nodded and was invited inside the house.

Her brown eyes were searching the place for clues to her reason of being here. She found none.

" Okay. Since you are a journalist, I presume you have a note pad with you. Please take it out.", he asked her calmly.

" Yea sure. But before that can i have some water please?"

" No. I dont have time. Please- lets start. I cant live with this anymore."
" Okay. No problem. What do you have to tell me?", said the rather furious Poonam.

And he started. With every word, he unwinded himself. As if just leaving everything.

" So- i'm going to tell you something that is very important. You must believe me. I'll give you the proof later. Just listen now.

My name is Ashfaq Pasha. I'm a ex-member of the ISI. I specialised in field ops. Dont search for me in their database. You wont find me because I was deleted from there. I shall explain to you why, a little later. I'll start fromm the very beginning...."

" Ahh. listen, MR. Pasha. I told you I have an appointment today. Please finish as soon as possible. I have to take care of other things also.", said poonam in a if-i'm-not-interested-can-i-go tone.

" Your mother is at her sister's house. You have made rajma today for dinner.Sandeep's office is closing early today. He'll call you for dinner. You'll give the rajma to Kanta bai tomorrow morning. So- dont lie to me, you have only one thing to take care- LIAQAT ALI! And i shall do everything i can to finish early."

" But how do you know....", she said

" Ma'am. As I said I dont have time for this.", he said in his heavy voice. It was granulated.

She nodded. And sat in a posture as if she was interested. She heard him carefully now. He had earned his credibility.

" It started in 1988. I was the lieutenant general at Poonch district in Kashmir. One night I got a call from the then commander-in-chief, Aslam Beg. He said that today he was going through gallantry personnel records and he noticed mine. He then pulled up his high school photos and then realized that we were together in high school.He thought he was obliged to serve my needs first and then the others. And so he gave me an offer"

" What offer?", she said, her interest growing.

" He told me that he would see to it that my branch was transferred to ISI where I could work from an air- conditioned office and triple my earnings if in return I would allow a group of 100 people to cross the border to the indian side.
I told him that even if I were not to allow. He could send them by plane. He said he couldn't. He had some limitations. And this work was important. I thought of it for a moment and then agreed. And soon there were people crossing from this side to that while we cover fired the Indians. And they thought that we were violating the ceasefire norms. Fools. Huh.

So- I was now posted in Rawalpindi.

A few years passed. Me and Aslam Beg became good friends. We talked and discussed a lot of confidential things. We were influencing each others decisions now. He suddenly started trusting me. I thought this friendship was pretty normal but I didn't know he had an inferior motive behind all this. Until I found out.

It was spring 1990 when Liaqat Ali, the husband of Akleem Akhtar- yes the president of Pakistan, was sent to jail on curruption charges. The politics had become very bad. Shareef sahib was wanting to be seated on the chair but the other parties didn't want him. So- he was lying about one party to another. I dont know how he managed it- but it seemed really genuine. And so 6 months later Mrs Akleem was impeached on grounds of corruption.

I was in the chief security staff of Akleem. She knew me well and always wanted me beside her. She trusted me-literally- with her life. The day she was impeached, she called me and asked me if I thought she was corrupt and I denied it firmly and I must admit I was true then. She couldn't have done that. I was convinced that Liaqat was the one at fault but she wouldn't believe that also. She thought even he was framed. But I think he was at fault and thats why he rotted in jail for 8 long years.

Akleem akhtar went to Dubai under self imposed exile with her son, her husband still in jail.

I was saturated with this politics. I didn't want to be a part of a system like this. Besides, I had earned enough to live life and still leave some behind. I approached Aslam Beg and asked him to have me shifted back to field ops. I passed the required tests and was all set to go. Until one night Beg came to my house.

It was 12 and he came in his uniform with his 2 body guards. I was supposed to leave the next night for Naushera towards Kashmir. I thought he came to bid me farewell. But it was far from that.

He told me that I was one of the few good brains left in ISI then and that he needed me in various other places.

At that time there was a nuclear crisis where a few political people were involved in selling Pakistan's nuke tech specs to various countries. My work was simple- to locate them and kill them. He would give me the names of the people. I would get a huge sum of money and whatever resources i needed to complete the operation.

Only, there was one googly to this whole thing. The Pakistan government wouldn't authorize such a mission. It was impossible to do so. Hence, i would have to be removed as a member of isi and do this as a freelence, indepandent assassin. He guaranteed help but he said he couldn't make it official. I would be alone on this mission.

I obviously didnt accept it at first because I had made enough money but then he started threatening my family. I don't have a wife but I have a joint family who live close to Quetta. They love me a lot and so do I. Aslam Beg threatened to kill them. That bastard!

I had to give in. Finally. That is the reason why you wont find me anywhere in the records of this country. Officially, I'm not even a citizen of this country.", he said expecting compassion from the other. None granted. She was still listening to him and expected him to move on.

"I did his jobs and he kept giving me more and more of them. There was a time when I was scared of my own shadow.
Once I was in Abu Dhabi- to take down the owner of a casino because they wanted to stop funding Pakistan's military drone project.
And there I saw Akleem Akhtar. She was having dinner with some dignatories. She seemed to be my only hope. I followed her to her room and enquired. She was living alone. I had access to the intercom of the hotel where she was staying. I called her up and told her that I wanted to meet her. She recognised me and she agreed.

I told her everything I had to. She said that a year later, she was planning to come back to Pakistan and that she would ensure that I'm her guard. I thanked her, completed my mission and came back..

About 2 years later- I was standing next to MRS AKHTAR again. Now, we had a different relation. I wanted to approach her many times to tell her about what I felt about Liaqat Ali, her husband. I knew for sure- he was misusing her. I felt that I should tell her but I knew she wouldn't believe me without proof. And that tall, lean son of a bitch was good at his work. He didn't leave any tails behind.

Elections were near and campaigning started. By this time, me and Beg also built up on our relation. He had appologised to me and explained to me why he did what he did. I found it difficult to confront him at first but then I learnt to do it the diplomatic way. We met and had drinks and became friends.

About 4 months ago- 6th october march 2005. It was the last day of campaign. Mrs Akhtar had recieved good reviews till now. It seemed as if people were supporting her. I was beside her all the time. I wanted to see her there. I wanted her to get what she deserved.

She was giving her speech at Islamabad. After her speech was over- Liaqat was supposed to address the gathering. But he wasn't to be seen anywhere. Mr beg was there in the audience and I was standing on the stage. He signalled me to go check in the loo. As I was going, I saw Liaqat coming out of the loo. He looked a little uneasy but smiled when he looked at me.

I told him that it was time for him to address the gathering. He agreed and on the way he told me, " Ashfaq! Akleem is getting an amazing support. Before she leaves the venue, ask her to stand outside the van and wave to audience. They'll love it. "

" But sir, ma'am's car is fully closed. How will she stand?"

" No. Not her car. Ask her to get in the gypsy. It is fully covered except the top can be slid and she can be seen. Atleast her torso onwards she will be visible. Just tell her to do it. Then we'll ensure our victory"

And he left me with those words. I coudn't make a decision then. When we sat in the car. The crowd was all around us and we couldn't move because the police was busy clearing people of our car. I thought ma'am could capitalise on this time. I asked her to stand up. She thanked me for that idea. And asked me to open the top. So i did and then...."

" and then a sniper at the north-west corner shot her right through the forehead. and she fell back in the car. correct?", Poonam finally broke her silence.

" Yes. That part the whole world knows. No one knows how it happened. This is the truth. This is the reality. Liaqat Ali is the current president of this country- so i heard in the news. Not even 3 months and he is already the chairman of Akleem's party and the president of this country."

" So- are you suggesting that....?", asked poonam

"Yes- that is exactly what I'm suggesting. The president of this country is a murderer and I have proof. Its going to be a major political feud, I know. I had to tell someone this and now its in your hands to bring it to justice. They are behind my life. I somehow ran away from the scenario then. But they know I have figured this out. They'll do anything to kill me. But I'm not ready to die like this. I want to die with dignity and respect."

He gave her a pair of keys and a box. About the size of a palm.

"These are the keys to this box . Proof is in that. It has tape recordings and stuff. Open it only when you go home or office. Please let people know about this."

She closed her notepad and with the box and kept it in her bag.

" I'll do whatever I can.", she said.

She didnt know if all this was true or even possible. Making such an accusation on the president was a big deal in itself. She had to take the decision.

She opened the gate and she stepped out. She turned back to close it and saw him for the last time. He was still staring at her. Tears in his eyes. He wasn't blinking. Something was wrong, she thought. Something was missing. But she left it at that.

Poonam had to inform her office that she wouldn't be able to interview Liaqat Ali. so on the staircase- she was walking down slowly out of the building, trying her office via a cell phone when she heard a gun shot.

She ran up and saw Ashfaq Pasha with a shining silver Beretta in one hand and the other on his chest lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He had shot himself in the head. She had never seen a dead man before. She was shocked. She slid down the wall and sat with her head in her arms, her knees were folded.

Suddenly someone rang the bell of the house. Poonam got scared. she didnt know what to do.

Did Beg come to know about this encounter? Was Liaqat after her life also? Was the police here? Will they frame her for murder?

She was clueless.

Very reluctantly, she opened the door. It was Ramazan bhai.
He said, " Madamji, is Kareem sahib at home?"

Poonam was shocked for a minute.

Kareem? Probably he wanted to hide his identity-so he changed his name- she thought.

" No....i mean no. He isn't, what do you want?", she said controlling her shiver.

" He had asked for this packet in the morning. Please give it him.", Ramazan said as he handed over something wrapped in a newspaper. It was the same packet that Ashfaq had asked for Ramazan to bring a few hours ago.

She grabbed it with one hand and shut the door.

She wanted to see what it was. Proof for the murder? Real identity of the Ashfaq/Kareem? What exactly?

She opened it. It was neatly polished medal. "Nishan-e-Haider", she recognised it. Her father was also in the army. It was the highest military award.

The packet also had a white, cotton cloth. Pretty long.

......White cotton cloth is what the dead are wrapped in....

It was all very creepy. She didn't know what was happening. Immediately she realised she had the box and the keys.

She took it out and opened it. It had nothing but a note. The note read:-

" I dont have any proof as I had not forsighted such an outcome. But I assure you its the truth. All truth that I could look for is destroyed. Please do something about it."

She sat there. In that room with green walls staring at the medal. She couldn't comprehend anything. She didn't know what to do.

Poonam walked down to her car. She tried to link everything she experienced while battling the shock and disgrace she was in. But no result.

She didnt know what to do. She didn't know if she could live not telling this truth to anybody or if she chooses to tell how she would conclusively prove it.

She went home and couldn't sleep that whole night. She kept staring at the moon. Fan off. Face was sweating.

The next morning she called her senior journalist," Seema ma'am. Please come home as soon as possible. I have to tell you something very important."

She then walked into her father's room. Her father was in the army. she opened his cupboard and took out his colt .45 revolver. She inserted one bullet in it and waited for Seema to come.......

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Anonymous Echoes

Incandescent bulbs were a luxury from where he came. He climbed the steps of McDonalds. After a long time did he step into a restaurant. He didn't know what to order or what to eat. He put his hand in his right pocket searching for his cell phone, scrolled the contacts list and located Amarbir Singh. "Oye! I'm at the saket j-block Macdonald's. You?....Achcha okay. come asap. If possible fly your bike over the traffic- like seriously. hah. lol. I dont think I'll fit in this place. Chal see you soon. Bye." He knew it in his heart, only the last sentence of the conversation with his friend Amar was true or rather serious, practical- if you may. And it was just a matter of time for it to be proven....

He sat at the table closest to the cashier. The A/C was something he wasn't used to. He couldn't help but overhear people talking. On the right,a girl talking about a break-up with her ex-boyfriend because she wanted to get intimate and he wanted a proper relationship. On his left, 2 boys talking about the suicide attempt of a girl residing in Triveni hostel of AIIMS because she was caught cheating and the principal humiliated her tremendously; she couldn't bear it and wanted to give up her life for that. Next to them, two girls talking about the crazy elders accusing their parents for not giving them enough freedom to go out after twelve in the night, "cummon ya! this is just ridiculous. We're in class 11 now ya. We should be given the freedom to take our own decisions. 12 O'clock is nothing ya. All parties start at that time. But who will tell this to my mom. Chalo, we have to live like this only. Bonded labour. ", one girl said to the other as the other nodded in agreement. He really thought that he wouldn't ever fit in such a world. Two words that he had never ever even hinted himself about. He had to give in today. "Its impossible", he muttered to himself.

As he was thinking about this, a hand came and gave him a slight push on his right shoulder. " Lieutenant colonel Dilsher Dhillon. Welcome. Tussi toh vaisehi ho. Ji bilkul same-to-same. Welcome to our part of the country sirjee. Its southern to your part but its still north. Ha-ha-ha", said Amarbir Singh as he kept his bike helmet on the table. "Amarbir! Nice to meet you. After a long time, we've met. Remember our days in school. We use to roam on your bike. Just ride and ride", Dilsher chuckled simultaneously trying to overcome the "its impossible" situation.
"So- you wanna eat here only??... Chal thoda peg-sheg lagate hain. Thats the haemoglobin my body craves for.", said Amarbir.
"Sure. Whatever you say. I dont remember anything here. Everything has changed. I can tell you what is exactly where in Srinagar, Anathnag and Drass valley. But Delhi- Haha. Only if I could reach a cyber cafe....". And they talked as they entered, Attitude, a restro-pub in the heart of that shopping complex. Old monk was the choice for both of them. They sipped and talked. They were both avid drinkers and knew their limits. They also had the capacity and realised that they could spend days in this kind of a place. But- what the hell, who cares about over drinking -its two grown up childhood friends after all!!

After about 45 mins of Amarbir talking about how badly he was grinded in his sales job and about how he couldn't find a girl yet to marry. And about how he is bored of watching porn and wanted to get realistic and -well, old monk was starting to show up- about quitting drinking and non-veg after tonight. He asked Dilsher, " I've heard a lot of rumours about you. But i dont know what to believe. Its sort of skeptical- your character. Did you seriously rape that girl? I mean i'm just asking. I just think its time to clarify things. I need to know who i'm sitting with. I need to be acquainted with you." Dilsher, the 48 year old colonel was in deep need to clarify things. He could feel the weight on his mind and he knew that if he didnt talk tonight, he'd lose control and that it might change his life completely. Also, talking to his friend had many advantages. The first being, Amar was currently a drunk Punjabi- thats like saying a human being with no storage of memory throughout the night. Thereby making him dumping ground of the most confidential things possible. Also, Amar was very understanding and since there was nobody left in Dilsher's family, so Dilsher couldn't refuse Amar's offer. " Yes Amar! I realise it too. I'll start from the very beginning. Okay? Ab sun".
Amarbir obliged and Dilsher started- "As you know when we were kids, I wasn't given as much freedom as you were. Ma-papa, both died in a car accident and I came to Delhi to live with Dev chacha. And then we had lots of fun. What was it- class 1 to class 9 I think, nahin?". Amar nodded, " Yessir. That was it, my friend, the golden years." Dilsher continued, " And then, after 10th I was sent to Army school. And from there, UPSC exam clear karke, I was asked to fill my choices. You know- as everyone is asked. Army, navy, airforce, infantry, artillery etc. I did my dues. When the result was announced, I was among the top 15 of the 1,10,000 odd people who wrote the UPSC exam. My first choice was army and I got it.

Now, this is the funny thing. I was scheduled to go to Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in 3 days. Two day before my departure, I got a phone call saying I was supposed to reach army administrative office in Delhi cantonment by 4 in the evening. The voice specifically said, "Its not an option. Its an order. Ask for Field Marshall BEDI when you get here. 1600 hours tops. " And I didnt know if it was a prank or what. But then I thought, I'll check for myself.

So i reached there at about 3ish and asked for Mr. Bedi. I told the person at the reception my name. He imidiately cross-checked it in front of a printed paper and sent me in. Mr Bedi, a lean man. Stout in build. He had a nice, ironed green uniform and a sprawling office. Various medals and photographs were all over the room. Like everywhere... "Cadet Dhillon, please have a seat. Thank you for coming on such a short notice. Okay- so let me get to the point. You have excellent scores in your theory. Your, aptitude is magnificent. Now- what i'm going to say to you is confidential, please refrain form discussing our conversation". I was confused, but i agreed, " In all honesty- I shall do the same, sir".
"Good to know that. Okay, I Field Marshall Bedi, am also the director general of MI ". I suddenly got goosebumps. MI- if you dont know, amar, is MILITARY INTELLIGENCE. It is the intelligence wing of the Indian National Army. It contains a very few amount of people, the identities of whom are highly confidential. The work they do is of a lot of importance to the country. They have their sources. Also, sometimes the MI agents are expected to infiltrate other countries in fake identities. If they breach laws there- the government does not back them. They have no immunity. Their identities are changed. Spies, if you wanna call them.....
"And as the acting chief of MI, I am responsible for personally overseeing the recruitment of people in intelligence division. We need people whose brains are dynamic, who can think radically. People who can troubleshoot instantaneously. Looking at your scores, I think you are very apt for this job and so before you go to IMA, consider this as a new window. I shall give you 24 hours to decide. Two days later, either you'll be training for the army or the MI, its in your hands." He walked up to his window. His back at me. After a pause, rather long one, he said, " you can go now."

And i got up, adjusted the chair back to its position and walked straight out of the door". Excuse me. Restroom?", I asked. I followed the directions, went and splashed litres of water on my face. I didn't know what to do. Suddenly all this had happened. I went back home. And decided- MI shall be it. Next day nine O'clock I went to his office. I told him I will accept his offer. He smiled and said, " today evening at 5- your van will come. Be ready. And take minimal things. Your family members shall be told that you're in the army. Okay? Clear?".
" Yes sir. Although my parents expired and my chacha is supporting me only as a formality. I dont think, my family should be a problem." I said. " You answer me only what I ask you. Be crisp and precise. Learn it as soon as possible else you'll find it really difficult in our field. Now you may leave. Remember 5 today". I packed and time ran faster than Ussian Bolt. The van came and took me to- lets say, it was in the hills. I am still a part of MI and so still under oath. I can't disclose all such stuff. Its not that , I dont trust you Amar but you understand naa. However, the training was very difficult. They made us do things that you can't imagine.

Then I was assigned to various places. I was a part of the ELINT operations that were conducted with CIA and STOL in Himalayas to check on China's nuclear testing capabilities. I was also a part of operation Meghdoot when we were tipped off that even pakistan army had ordered Arctic- survival gear for its army members and so we quickly captured Siachen and saved another war. Operation Cactus, Kanishka bombings, Amalgamation of sikkim, Operation leech, Operation chanakya were some things that I worked on. Read on the internet about them, but just remember the inside story never comes out.....The assignment that changed my life was yet to come. In May 1999, we were tipped off about Pakistani infiltrators at Peak 5179, more popularly known as Kargil. The infantry and artillery divisions were on its way but side by side covert operations were also going on to combat Pakistani militancy. I was a part of operation Smiling Buddha.
We had three goals. first, to setup OP across MSR. OP stands for Observation Post and MSR stands for Main supply route. We were also expected to destroy the Pakistani Scud missiles. And last to be able to get the details about Pakistan's Kahuta nuclear plant. I was leading a team of 6 agents. Our company had 3 such teams. My call sign was bravotwozero.
Amar interrupted, "Yaar, ek aur old monk. Purani dosti ke naam"......
"Waiter, two large monk, ice seperate, soda and water. Jaldi" As they sipped on, Dilsher continued, "We were dropped off by Chinook CT5 helicopters at Rajouri, that is just off the border towards India. POK, that is Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is about 7 kilometres from there. Its practically the last Indian village. It was 2 in the night. I set my compass, used the usual measures to mark the drop off point and moved towards Pakistan. We were properly armed. More like military men although we had more more sophisticated weapons like LAW rockets. We established 7 OPs. Till about 5 in the morning, our first objective was over. We were supposed to get back in 17 hours. At about 8 in the morning, a shepherd was roaming about with his sheep for grazing. He spotted us. We were drinking water and waiting for the checkpost to be empty. The gunner was at the post constantly there. He hadn't moved. We were expecting him to go for a break or something so that we could make our move.
The shepherd smiled at us and went away. A fellow of mine, lets call him alpha-1 suggested that we were compromised. But we stayed where we were. The shepherd didn't recognize us. He thought we were Pakistanis and kept shut. Finally, the gunner left the gun at the check-post and we all smiled together because now we could secretly cross towards Kahuta. Just this one hurdle and we're bang on target. Unfortunately, to our surprise, the gunner was walking towards us. He was looking down and smiling to himself. We were behind a bush and the gunner probably wanted to take a leak. Before reaching us, he looked at his zip and reached out to open it until and then he looked up towards us. He became suspicious and so removed his Beretta 9 mm from his pocket and was still approaching towards us. We obviously would be compromised, if we couldn't divert him. It was impossible to fight a 9mm with a knife from a distance of roughly 10 metres. So- the only way we could survive is by shooting and that gunshot would make a noise, that would put us in danger. He approached a little closer. About 15 mts. Firmly held his beretta. Re-loaded it. Checked his bullets. I'm not sure, but I think he saw alpha-2's shoes and he fired a gunshot. It missed alpha2 but now we knew we were in for some danger. We open fired at him and soon there was complete pandemonium. Standard operating procedures, SOPs suggest that if we're compromised we go back to the drop off point and inform the nearest post on the radio so that we could be picked up and so we aimed at heading back. However we were actually going towards West Pakistan. We didnt realise it then. We thought were moving towards Kashmir. Soon we were surrounded by the Pakistani army. All of us shot and fought for about 20-30 mins, I dont exactly know. And then we were caught. We were sent to Pakistani camps for interrogation. And that is when you heard the rumours.

So- after the war was over, India returned Pakistani soldiers. However, Pakistan didnt. They told the government that we had murdered Pakistani civillians or raped them and other such allegations. These rumours spread. All defense people know that they are rumours. However, among the normal public- skepticism prevails. They think we were actually in such a rage that we did such actions. No! Its completely baseless. We're there to protect our country, not to ruin their's. I was in the jail for 4 years in Pakistan. For the first two years I was in a black cell. With a small window at the base for light. It was horrific. The kind of food they gave. The way the Pakistan prisoners treated us. They used to beat iron nails into our fingers and laugh. They used to put us on an inclined plank with our head down and legs up and then keep a cloth on our noes. On the cloth, they poured ice cold water. It is the worst torture. It feels as if a hammer is constantly hitting the inside of your head. They did it for hours. They didnt care if we would give them information or not. They wanted to harm us. It was terrible and drastic.

Pakistan relieved some of us in 2003 due to enforcement of the 4th Geneva convention. Indian agencies had setup a rehabilitation camp in the Drass valley. We were there for two years. They rejuvinated us and made us fit for being humans again. We followed strict rules and regulations. It was then that we came to know that India actually "Won" the war. And we wondered in awe. We thought how can we win something like this? Some 60 of us were there in the camp. And only 9 from MI whom i'd never met before. All anonymous faces.
Now, i'm posted here- in Delhi Cantt as an instructor of MI. Cant say more, confidentiality-you know.
So- that was about me. The changed life of me. I just cant stop thinking about the rehabilitation camp, about the Pakistan prison, about the moment when my ammo got over when the Pakistani troop captured me, about out tip-off about Kargil war, about my training of MI and mostly about my decision to join MI and not the Indian Army".

Amarbir was listening to him carefully. He gulped down his last sip and said, " Paaji, ek aur monk banti hai"
"Waiter! Ek aur bottle lao".
The waiter said it was 11:30 and that they were closing. Nothing else was availaible.

In disappointment, Amarbir asked for the cheque and volunteered to pay-off. Dilsher was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didnt realise where he was. He surely was feeling lighter. Infact he appreciated Amar's patience to listen to him right till the end. Life, he thought, was destined to take him to a better place. Suddenly, the impossibility of being a Delhi-ite was reducing. The cultural backdrop started echoing. He started enjoying the whole idea of being here and not being elsewhere.

"Amar, yaar- aaj toh feel aa gayi!.", he said as Amar signed the credit card receipt. As they walked down the steps of Attitude, they promised to meet again sooner to discuss various facets of life.
" Yaar, agli baar ladkiyaan discuss karenge.", said Amar trying to sound sober. He miserably failed.
"You'll manage by bike? I got a driver. Army ki gadi hai. I can drop you.", said dilsher.
" Naah- old habits die hard. I'll manage. I'm not drunk......No,no,no,no- I'm definately not drunk...." said Amar.
And they parted ways.

Today, two years later.Amar went back to fighting with his boss for promotion or an increase in salary. He met a girl in his office. They dated for a while and then without much ado got married. Dilsher was invited. They live in green park extension in a huge villa.

Whereas dilsher is still trying to fit in Delhi. He is still trying to find a way to overcome 'Pakistan'. He is still trying to find a reason to live. He is unsuccessfully justifying his right to exist. And it happens everyday.....

P.S.:- Please spend a minute in silence for all those who sacrifice their lives for our nation everyday since the birth of the Indian National Army. Its the least we can do to commemorate our reason for existence. Dont sympathize. Just respect. Plain simple respect.

P.P.S.- The above article is a work of fiction and any co-incidence to any person living or dead is purely co-incidental.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Epic Story

A splash of water on Abdul's face opened his eyes. "Get up son. Its already 11. father is waiting for you at the shop.", said his mother. With a weary, helpless look he woke up and stared around his house that was built in late 1800s in that small, but happening lane of old Delhi. Nayi sadak they'd call it and infact it was called so since ages.

He entered the washroom. Completed his morning chores and started going towards AZHAR TAILORS, his father's store that sold sarees, salwar-kameez and lehangas. It was their family business. His father although, had given him the option of doing whatever he wanted but now, at the age of 18 he had finished Xth grade with 59% and XIIth grade with 48% marks- his father was forced to kill all the liberty given to him and forced him to work at the shop.

"Everyday, the same thing again and again. Try and get up early from tomorrow. Now go to Patel uncle's shop and give him these 3 suits and get 30 rupees in return". As Abdul started to walk, his father looked at the window in the building in front of the shop. A woman in her burqa was shaking her hand. "And take this 10 paisa coin and feed yourself at the bakery. Your mother is saying you've not had anything. But come fast."

In 1940, a 10 paisa coin was more than enough to get a good meal for two people. Thinking that he'll spend 5 paise on a pastry and the other 5 will go in his piggy bank, Abdul reached patel uncle's shop and did exactly what his dad told him. " Shukriya. anything else from abba, do let me know." With a smiling nod, Patel uncle accepted Abdul's words.

Settling the 30 rupees in the safest pocket of his kurta-pyjama- Abdul continued towards MODERN BAKERY. The only bakery that sold British goods in the whole of Delhi- so was told. But in reality they'd make it at the back and sell it-calling it IMPORTED or 'vilayati'. Either ways, it sold delicious cream rolls. Abdul finished 4 cream rolls. 1 paisa each. He ordered for one more. Cashier uncle said, "Beta, cream rolls are over. Wait for 2 mins, we're baking fresh ones. Almost done." As if Abdul had an option of neglecting those soft creamy rolls, he waited and started looking around at people. He could see so many familiar and unfamiliar faces. And then suddenly a gleeful smile came into the frame. All he could see was that girl's face now. Subtle and stunning. Chubby cheeks she had with a dimple on her right cheek. He felt like been sucked into a valley of flowers. The bright yellow salwar and the black chunni over it was devastating to Abdul's heart.

Abdul observed a really thin delicate payal around her ankle as she walked the steps of Modern bakery. " Oh! How are you? All is going fine at home? If you need help- tell me. How is Rashmi's marriage going?", said the cashier to her as she entered the bakery with a lady beside her who Abdul presumed to be her friend or sister.

" Everything is fine. All well. And even i have to rush. Is liye jaldi se do cream roll- special wale."

Abdul wondered if she always had that kind of a smile or was it something special today. Either ways, it was killing him. He'd never seen anybody so beautiful ever. As his heart was melting- the most embarrasing moment came. She looked at him. And her lips widened as if acknowledging Abdul's eyeline. Her smile grew wider and then narrowed but her eyes didn get off Abdul's. She seemed to be liking Abdul too, so he thought.

He was in a baloon and so was she. Admiring each other's looks and wanting to know more about each other. By now it was clear damages were equal on both ends. The fire had struck both sides. And then Fire brigade arrived.

" Abdul Bhaijaan- congratulations. Abba is really happy. Very unexpected,naa!. Go fast, everyone is eagerly waiting for you at the shop."

Not being able to understand the gravity of the situation, Abdul started going towards home. And in the process of walking he looked back. She was still staring at him in harmony. As if that was the only thing she was going to do throughout life. As if it brought peace to her.

Her face hid behind the pillar of the bakery. Abdul looked in front and gave a pat at the back of his head smiling to himself.

On reaching the shop- Abdul saw his father with his arms wide open and wondered what was happening.
" Very good son. I've never been so happy. You got selected!!".
" Selected? Selected for what abba?", enquired Abdul.
" Oh! My memory!. I forgot to tell you. The Britishers are recruiting people for the ARMY. They promise to take you abroad. France, I heard. And they also give pension after retirement. Fully secured life, it is. Even Nehru and Gandhi have said that the moment this war is over, we will get indepepndence! So, you should go and be welcomed back in independant India. Your country needs you now. Also, the Britishers have promised special training for 2 years in UK first and then they will send you in the battlefield. Your career will be set,my son. They will directly give you the rank of a captain, so, no need to worry. And Aamir, your elder brother can handle this shop. So- all in all it is a good deal my son. Accept it."

"But when do have to leave and where do I go?"

" Today- at 5 o'clock- the bus will come to pick you up. Go, hurry -pack your bags. We have a marriage at Sharma uncle's house. His daughter Rashmi is getting married. So, i am busy at the shop. You go now."

Never in Abdul's life- had he ever gone against his father's wishes. Why would he do it now? Also, he would be going abroad. Nobody in his family or in his colony had ever gone abroad. So, he accepted it and went home. With the help of his rather sentimental mother- he packed his bags.

At 4 o'clock-he was ready. He went to the shop and saw his father. His father was busy showing sarees to a bunch of girls. So, he quietly went and sat at the cashier's chair thinking about leaving Delhi and going to UK. Thinking about who he will meet, about how his life would be, about how he would miss his mother, about how he would miss his father's taunting and on and on.

" Abdul, pass the green saree. Fourth from the right in the silk saree bundle". His father said. Rather startled by this- Abdul removed the saree and looked towards the bunch of girls. There she was again! for the second time today, he saw her. The same clothes, the same gleeful face.

Their eyes met again. They kept looking at each other wishing the fire brigade would never arrive.
" Sweety, ye dekh naa." said the lady beside her with a nudge from the elbow. And the link was broken. The vibrant strings stopped strumming. The positive energy suddenly got secluded.

"Sweety?", Abdul thought to himself. And kept jumping in his mind for more information on her. His father then asked one of the shopkeepers to take over and went towards Abdul.

Abdul sat next to his father and a dialogue took place about how he should take care of him and they'll always wait for him. So, the dialogue was accompanied by tears and mutual love was evident. The bus arrived right in front of the shop. Adul looked up to his mother in the opposite building. She was at the window. In a burqua, she shook her hand. Then, with the other hand over her mouth she rushed inside the house, wanting to cry loudly.

Abdul got on the bus and looked at everybody -for what he thought the last time. He set his bags alright. And then he stared at "sweety" for a while and then got to his window seat. With a big smile to his father- the bus started moving. He kept staring at his father and that girl until the distance made them invisible. With tears down his eyes, he heard," first time away form mother-father. Or is it your girlfriend you are crying for?"

He looked beside him. It was this young fellow, small eyes, brown moustache- gray shirt. White khaki pant and neatly combed hair. " Hi I am Rajiv Thukral", the unknown face said.

" me-Abdul."

And so the conversation started. All throughout the bus they were talking sharing annecdotes of their respective lives. They enjoyed each others company. They enjoyed knowing about each other.

After the 13 hour journey, Rajiv said" you didn't answer my question. Were you crying for your parents or your girlfriend?", as they enreted the gates of the INDO-BRITISH MILITARY ACADEMY, DEHRADUN.

" Haha. Oh no! That was just for my mother and father. I realise how much they love me. And my girlfriend-ha!no girl friend. I just saw the girl first time today morning. All i know is that her name or pet-name is SWEETY and she is born in a Hindu family and they have a wedding this weekend."

Showing some pitty, some contentment and some disbelief- Rajiv got down the bus first followed by Abdul.

At the academy, they got training for 3 weeks. They learnt how to use guns and some outdooring survival skills. Rajiv was excelling at his training and so he applied for leave to get married before going- he was granted the same.

The british army was falling short of soldiers. So, they had to send send troops as soon as possible. Abdul was supposed to be sent this week! No formal training. No training in the Uk. Just this 3 weeks training and he'll be off to Berlin.
Naturally, Rajiv would be called back now. But Abdul and Rajiv would be in two different regiments. In two different parts of the world. Probably never to meet- never to be seen again. Never would that face to face talk come. Never can they share their stories again!

The next week saw his departure to Delhi and from Dehradun. They were airlifted to Bombay. And from there ships packed with soldiers form different parts of India were welcomed in Berlin with guns and cannons all around.

One night all of them had to go and ambush the German establishments while the other they were supposed to save themselves from such attacks. Being a part of the ROYAL ANGLIAN REGIMENT which was the most successful regiment till now in the whole war- was a relief to some extent. But it can't stop the pain that one experiences if a bullet is hit in one's ankle or if one is deprived of food for 3 days, the agony in oneself.

Everyone was smoking around Abdul- sometimes to kill memories, sometimes to kill time...but he didn't. He did namaz whenever he found time. And was regular in his prayers. He was stationed in the medic camp for 2 weeks after being up-ranked to a major. Where he had to help the doctors to treat the soldiers that came in.

On one such night, Abdul was at his chair when 4 people rushed in the camp with a stretcher in their hands .
"Cummon guys. Fast. Find us a bed." One of the stretcher bearers shouted.

Abdul helped them to a bed in that huge medic camp and called for a doctor.

As the doctor came, Abdul told him, "Quick. Colt .5 mm in the wrist and 2 L.R. 56 MCG bullets in the right leg. Gangrene suspected. Right wrist fracture. Bullet too deep to be taken out."
" The doctor nodded in agreement with Abdul. We need to put him on the ventilator."

As luck would have it- all ventilators were used up. All soldiers that were using the ventilators were in a critical phase. This was very normal for Abdul to witness. Almost thirty to forty soldiers died of lack of equipment/medicines or sometimes even doctors. He saw it as a mode of sacrifice. That is what a soldier devotes his life to- SACRIFICE. And this be one of the many aspects of that word.

So, he wasn't startled this time. He went to the man on the bed. Removed his helmet. The man was breathing and his face turned towads Abdul. Abdul read his nametag on the right part of his chest.

Unbelievable as much as it might be- it stated RAJIV THUKRAL!!
In a flawless state of creeping delirium- Abdul kept staring at the lamp on the side table. He didnt know what to do.

" I know my time has come. These fucking Britishers, with no training they sent me here. No one taught us how to use the medic kit given. Infact, many of us weren't even given medic kits. Instead they gave us extra-rounds of ammos. They said we'll need it. I am from India by the way. I dont know if you understand what I'm saying. But believe it or not- you are the last person I'm talking to. I can feel it."

nNot knowing what to say, he decided not to tell Rajiv who he was.
Abdul said, " I am from India too. As a last wish, is there anything I can do for."
" I was in the middle of my marriage when they called me back. Those fucking assholes. However, my wife said she'll wait for me to come back and kissed me silently on my cheek. I can't forget that feeling. That moment has crept into the bottom of my heart. The stillness of her lips on my cheek has over-awed me. I have a letter in the pocket of my pant. Once I die, please take it and give it to her. 16/330, khajoor road New Delhi. Tell her I love her the most. Also tell her to get married and not wait for me. Tell her I was a valiant soldier and I died serving a Country. I died a brave man- not a coward!!"

Abdul couldn't stop his tears. With his hand to his mouth- he walked out of the tent. Cried for a while, wiped his tears and came back.

When he returned, RAJIV WAS DEAD. Unmoved. Lying still. Abdul reached closely, felt Rajiv's pulse and slowly closed his eyes. Then he removed the letter from Rajiv's pant and cried even more. His eyes swelled up and his body drained out of mucous and tears. He had to get back to his duty.

Handling himself- he stood upright and kept the letter safely in his bagpack.

Two days later the war ended. It was announced that the allied forces had won. And they were the champions. Everyone would get their salaries and medals when they went back home.

This time lesser people on the ship back to India. With all kinds of questions in mind, they arrived at Bombay and then a train led them to Delhi.

Abdul went home and met his parents joyfully. They cut meat that night. Eveoryne was so happy that he was back. His arrival was not expected after two years of no communication between him and his family. It was an extremely happy moment. In the next week Abdul was going to get married. He was welcomed as a hero and out of the so-many offers , they chose AISHA, the beautiful young b.com graduate from Jamia Milia university.

That night he went towards the window. Staring outside, he reflected back on his days at the war. It then struck him, about Rajiv's letter. How could he forget! He checked the cupboard, it was there. He thought he would go and give it the very next day.

He took an auto and then a bus.
After eacing the area, he asked a bunch of people" 16/330 kahan hai?". No one knew it.

Then a lady was passing by. He said, "Madam. 16/330 is where?" She too didn't know then he asked the same lady," MAJOR RAJIV THUKRAL's house?"

The lady laughed and said," Sir!- its right in front of view!"

"Okay. Thank you." He said and raised his eyes.

A dilapilated but vibrant house was in front of him. No address. No name.

He knocked the door. An old lady opened the door. "Yes? Who do you want?", said the lady.

Thinking that she was old, he preferred not to tell her the truth. He thought a younger member of the family would tell her, then she'd feel better.
" I am rajiv's friend. He was with me in the army. And I heard he returned yesterday- just came to say hi!"

"OH! i am his mother and he hasn't come back till now. I am his mother by the way- SHEILA.", she said with confusion and smile on her face.

"Okay. He might be on his way. I met him in Bombay three days ago. He might be coming.", said Abdul

"Yes. Yes. Please come inside. Have some tea."
As he entered the house, she said," Please sit here. I'll call Rajiv's wife."

As he sat there, his heartbeat increased and forehead started sweating. He didnt know how to say it now. He was in a dilemma whether to sit or to leave the house right away. There was sarcasm all over in the air.

And then the unexpected happened.

" SWEETY, come fast- Rajiv's friend has come here."

The moment Abdul heard this- the world stopped in front of him. Suddenly a picture struck to him. He was scared to death now. " Sweety?", he thought to himself. And there she came. It was the same girl. He had a photographic memory of her. He now didnt know what to do.

"Hello sir. Tea with ginger, naa? Amma told me that you are Rajiv's friend and that Rajiv is back in India. Safe and sound. You've brought real good news. I'll order some sweets. I knew Lord Rama would not disappoint me!"

In mere bewilderment he kept staring at her smile. Wondering if he should be the one to take it away or let it be.......