“Is there a God at all? I have never done a bad deed in my entire life. Three months ago, my employer, a newspaper, fired me – one of its experienced and loyal machine operators. My promised severance pay is yet to come. The union leader who signed the mass pink slip deal wants me to be patient because he doesn’t want to antagonise the management – as his chosen men are still working. Illnesses needing urgent cures are breathing down my neck at home. Neither those who prescribe cures nor those who sell them exhibit patience towards any patient no matter how serious – to extend any credit. The grocer who extended credit lost his patience long ago. The management has shifted the press beyond the city limits to a remote area surrounded by a slum – infested with Moslem rowdies who distil moonshine and sell drugs with police protection. Politicians vowed that ‘happy days would be here again,’ the mo@#$%^&kers!”
In extreme frustration, Karthik was venting his anger the only way he could – yelling in the privacy of his little tenement in India’s financial capital.
Karthik had several reasons to be cross. His daughter Ananya’s school fee was overdue. The landlord’s eviction notice had arrived citing 3 months’ rental dues. Wife Devsena had fever and whooping cough which could turn out to be dengue. Some priest had said that if he performed the annual Ganesh festival properly at home, the bad luck would go away.
Karthik had no money. He was scared to even dream of spending any money on anything.
Such frustrations’ mood-swings’ extremities often turned law-abiding citizens into criminals. Karthik was at its rim.
“Don’t lose heart, Ananya’s father,” Karthik’s wife Devsena, who heard his frustrated muttering, reacted and stuttered, punctuating her coughing spasm.
“Visit your old office’s new premises and meet old Joseph – your foreman and friend. Perhaps, he may get you your job back.”
Elaborately, Karthik pretended to spit on the floor in sheer disgust.
“You women only have pipedreams … that are – us men’s nightmares. Joseph didn’t save my job as he was bothered about his own,” Karthik spat the words out.
The city where Karthik and his family lived had once been called Bombay.
It had been sold to the colonial conquerors for a mere Rs.10 a few centuries ago. For ages, it had sported a cosmopolitan outlook. Its citizens proudly called themselves Mumbaikars in the local language Marathi. They wore their mutual trust sans divisive elements of religion and/or social and/or caste and/or language on the shirt sleeves in the past. The economic downturns since the turn of the century and the Hindu-Muslim riots of the 90’s had changed all that. Every denizen is now either suspicious or jealous of the other.
“We surely won’t get any money if you do not visit your former employers. May be you can borrow some money from someone,” Devsena added listlessly and began coughing again.
Karthik angrily lit his beedi, wore his shirt that needed washing, wriggled into his trousers, slid the feet into wafer thin rubber slippers abutting the edge of his single-room tenement-home’s outer threshold and began the trudge towards the bus stop.
He reached his former employers’ new offices an hour later after bumpy bus and train rides. Bad roads and ill-maintained tracks had rendered the journey a pain.
Karthik called Joseph on the latter’s mobile phone as he got off the train. The foreman received him at the gate.
The security guard eyed them cautiously.
“Karthik is an ex-colleague from the old office visiting me. We will only be spending time in the canteen. Don’t worry, we won’t violate any rules,” Joseph said, waved his photo-id and ambled in.
The canteen staff had just finished the morning worship – offering Modaks – rice paste wrapped sweet to the presiding deity – Lord Ganesh. Joseph and Karthik took one each.
“For me it is just a piece of sweet and for you it is Prasad – the holy offering,” Joseph said, patted his friend on the shoulder to convey his commiserations for the suffering, smiled, produced two envelopes from his trouser pocket and handed them over.
Seeing incomprehension writ large on his pal’s face, the foreman began explaining.
“The first is your official settlement letter along with the cheque for Rs.1, 80,000 – the one-off severance payment. I managed to wangle it from the GM – fat Bharucha. The money will hit your account three days later. The second envelope has Rs.5, 000 in cash you could use for the Ganesh festival as everyone feels the prayers will improve our luck.”
Karthik felt ashamed about his comments against Joe – made a little while ago at home.
“We have no children of our own. Every year, we save to buy presents for the poor children near our home as Santa Claus’s gifts. Yesterday, over my evening dram of whiskey, I was recalling your prowess with all the modern printing machines to divert my wife Mary’s attention from my drink, because she always cribs about it. It was her idea to lend you the money because both of us see commonalities between your elephant headed God and Father Christmas – or Santa Claus – including the rotund tummy,” Joseph said with a comic cackle.
His joy – the printing machines’ sweet background purr – suddenly changed to a staccato beat.
“Some savage must have left the press door open. No civic sense, these days.”
Karthik became pensive.
“The management had bought latest Colour Master HB 5000ED Web printing machine from Japan’s Tokyo Kikai Seisakusho Ltd earlier this year. The mo@#$%^&kers used the event as an excuse to kick the likes of me out,” Karthik remarked rather abruptly.
“I am very bad at pronouncing tongue-twister Jap names, but, you are right,” Joseph responded. He liked his junior’s being up to date with cutting edge printing technology and understood the continuing bitterness about the pink slips.
“The machine may grind to a halt within the next 4 minutes,” Karthik announced with a grim expression.
Joseph looked at his junior with astonishment.
“The shaft-less drive technology is the backbone of Colour Master HB-5000ED. Its inbuilt independent motors reduce paper wastage and trim maintenance costs,” Karthik started his elaborate explanation of the problem.
“You said the press would halt … within minutes. Instead of giving explanations like a bloody politician during a television debate, tell me why!”
“The noise is coming from one or two of the independent motors controlling the reel-stand and/or the in-feed devices – meant to speed up the work. Perhaps, some nutcase has left the odd bolt uneven.”
At that precise moment, the presses stopped. The eerie silence bothered Joseph.
“The GM would piss ice as we are supposed to deliver the 16-page colour advertisement feature supplement for security equipment factories within the next five hours. If we fail, the paper may end up losing crores of rupees,” Joseph exclaimed and ran towards the plant.
Sitting a row away, I permitted myself a smile at the nice taste of Modaks on my tongue.
India Tidings Group Ltd [ITGL] – a blue-chip, publicly quoted media major – is the market leader in India. A mental pandemic of protectionist vigilantism is in vogue. The global economic downturn was worsening its hunger and thirst by the hour. Movies featuring ‘peoples’ vendetta’ made huge profits at the box office. The paper’s sister concern – a television channel – had asked its anchors and reporters to question every minor misdemeanour of politicians, bureaucrats, political parties, judges and police – with ferocity. Improved eyeball attraction fed on cannibalised viewers’ using the trend as convenient forks, either to scratch own or friends’ backs, or maul foes’ faces by leaking documents during sting ops to expose wrongdoing.
Less than 2 km to the east – at the fringes of the slum that surrounded the ITGL presses, a bearded man, clad in white, pyjama and an Indian shirt – the long sleeved Kurta with buttons on the cuff-links and sporting a skullcap marking his faith, dialled a 14 digit number starting with 00, followed by 971. Upon use of the ubiquitous instrument called the phone, the integers 00971 connect Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and India.
“Our man inside the press has loosened two sets of nuts and bolts which will silence the presses. The supplement on security gadgets will surely not come out. The yellow-skinned flat nosed Jap maintenance engineer Toshiro is away in neighbourhood hill station of Lonavla – with his female Indian secretary – one of our agent provocateurs – obviously to have fun during the long weekend. The call to run a chill up the spine of the management can be made soon. The management can be told that its silly telly channel is making too much chin music terming us Muslims as traitors. The management will, as expected, yell terrorism. The Jap chap will end up finding the loose nuts and bolts. The paper and its television channels will then have yolk dripping off their made-up mugs. Then, when the trail is cold and slips off everyone’s radar, we will use our boy inside the press, line it with RDX and blow it sky-high. That will teach these kaffirs the grim, deadly lesson. Our recruitment plan for ISIS will take off famously as more of my pals will join after this success. I will get more commission. The unemployed kids here hate every aspect of comfort they see on the roads in the forms BMWs, Mercedes Benz cars, swank restaurants and fancy residential blocks. Those who do not go to Syria will begin destroying edifices here. We will make a killing out of the debris as well. Before long, India will be rebuilt as the next Islamic republic. Mumbai will become another Srinagar. We will demand that Sharia must replace the Indian Penal Code, Jiziya shall become the basis of Income Tax Act and VAT will be on the basis of Islamic rules for charity – the Zakat. I hope Clifton overhears my plan,” the 40-year-old man named Aurangzeb Khan said in a casual, but hoarse whisper.
The ISD phone booth was operated by Alimuddin Ansari, another of the saboteur gang members.
Overhearing what his pal said, he muttered an oft repeated Arabic utterance – Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God]!
Ansari did not expect the cops to ever put two and two together. Even if someone did, the excuse of some unknown stranger making a call to Dubai was ready.
Terrorist operations against India emanate from Mumbai-born gangster Dawood Ibrahim sheltered in Karachi centred in a palatial mansion called ‘White House’ located in the Pakistani port city’s fashionable Clifton district.
The newspaper’s general manager – the fat Parsi Kersey Bharucha – arrived four minutes later with Joseph leading the way.
“This is the boy, who accurately predicted the stoppage of the machine, sir. He used to work at the old office. He lost his job because of the retrenchment. I handed over the envelope containing his cheque – you were so magnanimous with – despite the union playing truant saying it wanted to have all the cheques of all the workers – some of whom were pronouncedly against the management, sir.”
Joseph uttered the sentences in a tone dripping with treacly flattery.
The foreman was trying to save his own job and indulging in shameless mollycoddle exercise, Bharucha reckoned, ignored Joseph, and looked at Karthik with some interest.
“You think you can get the machine sorted out?”
The question reeked of arrogance.
“Yes sir. I think I can make it work in all of 5 minutes,” Karthik replied with confidence.
“The whole thing is fixed. Joseph loosened the screws, is twisting my arm and you are here very conveniently to repair the press. You think I was born yesterday to believe this cock and bull story? All of you blue-collar bastards are in cahoots with each other,” Bharucha made the piquant remark – the habit of upper-middle-class white collar tertiary-level decision makers.
“You can believe what these gentlemen said, sir. I am a witness to the whole thing,” I said.
Bharucha turned to look at me.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“One of the directors here – I believe his name is Bhanwarlal Chandaalia – or BC – wanted to see me urgently. My meeting with him is scheduled 30 minutes later. I arrived a bit early.”
Bharucha regarded my appearance with his trained eye. His eyes noticed a harmless old man clad in decent clothes with a kind expression.
“This gentleman with the somewhat dirty clothes predicted that the machines would grind to a halt with some technical details. And then they did – correct to the last second. I was watching the clock there, sir,” I added in a matter of fact tone.
Bharucha’s mobile phone rang. Seeing who it was, his face underwent a deferential expression drooling with reverence. He flicked the hands free button on. This was his usual trick to get everyone around to know that he was the closest to the top management.
“Good morning, sirji, Mr Chandaaliaji!”
“Someone informed me that the printing press conked out. If the supplement featuring security companies is late – I will lose some Rs.3.5 crores. Haul your ass out of your room and get it repaired!”
“Yes sirji that is what I am doing, sirji. You see, sirji, the Jap engineer is out for the weekend and we seem to have located a mechanic who once worked for us to repair the machine, sirji. Once the presses work again, I will call you back sirji!”
“Don’t bother calling me if they do not work, you fat slob! You can leave your resignation on my table and let yourself out. I won’t be in today as I have a meeting in Delhi. Someone called MG is supposed to meet me today. When he turns up, treat him respectfully, offer him a cup of good coffee and tell him that I would see him Monday!”
The click said the loud-mannered boss had hung up.
“You could have allowed me to have had a word edgeways. But, I understand. Mr Chandaalia was obviously in a bad mood. You seem to have plenty of things to worry about.”
I spoke in a helpful tone.
“Are you Mr MG, sir?”
“That is correct. Sometimes, killjoys call me A.M. because I always rise early.”
“You must come in with me to my office for your cup of coffee, as the boss suggested. Meanwhile, Joseph, get this guy to give the machine a try. And better be careful. We are still under warranty and do not want the Jap company to charge us a pile if something goes wrong. Oh, Hormuz! Let nothing go wrong,” Bharucha said turning heaven-wards.
“Don’t worry, Mr Bharucha. You can be sure that your prayers to the God of Zoroaster will bear fruit. I will have the coffee another day. I just had a few sweets here. It was a free meal – after the morning worship in the canteen and very enjoyable. Coffee – immediately after sweets will make the caffeine taste bitter,” I said and began walking away.
The constable camp-clerk connected me to Ajinkya Devadiga, Joint Commissioner – in charge of Mumbai Police’s anti-terrorist-wing or simply ATW some 3 minutes later.
“How are you AD? It is Alexander Mohandas this side!”
“Good morning sir! How are you? It has been a long time since we spoke. I was told you weren’t keeping well.”
“Well, since retirement, I am partly like pasteurized milk. The hair and beard have turned white and I have become usefully harmless.”
“Are you in the city sir? Please join me for lunch.”
“Well, I will take a rain check on that for another day. I was visiting someone in the city outskirts … to where ITGL has moved its presses. I overheard a conversation in an ISD booth whose name-board is fully in Urdu – the only one in that street. Someone seems to have quietly sabotaged the presses of the paper subtly and will tip the management about the act. If the paper goes public with the terrorism charge, it will look silly as it will turn out to be two nuts loose. But, it indeed is the handiwork of terrorists. It is not far from your Rapid Action Force’s barracks in the outskirts. It is a huge slum – abutting two sides of a road leading to the ITGL presses. The third shop on the right as you enter the road off the highway in Akdoowadi is this ISD booth owned by one Alimuddin Ansari, a Bangladeshi illegal. The sixth room in the shanty behind his shop is where a neo convert to Islam – called Abu Bakr – his actual name is Aurangzeb – stays. Apparently, he recruits for the ISIS. I happened to overhear a conversation between him and someone in Dubai. Soon, the threat from Clifton would make ITGL go ape-shit on television. Prevent it. Tell them that their machines – would be set right by tightening the odd nut and some uneven bolts, but, after the hoax becomes public, ITGL would be hit by a bigger catastrophe later.”
I gave him all the details.
“This is critical info and I will get the boys to nab the bastards. Meanwhile, give me your address. I need to see you to seek your blessings once again. I learnt my trade under your tutelage … and need to recharge my batteries.”
“I live far away from the city … in the middle of a wilderness. Find it peaceful. You will find it extremely difficult to locate the place.”
“I remember what you taught me, sir. I will find it. Just give me the address.”
Karthik had asked the switch-off-switch-on of the presses 6 times during the last 4 minutes. He tightened the nuts and bolts with the ‘16’ spanner and Decker cutting pliers – always available in the ITGL print-shop tool-room.
“Switch the press on again, please!”
Karthik said it softly. He was sweating a wee bit due to tension generated by the prospect of getting his job back. His voice, however, was very confident.
Bharucha watched anxiously.
Joseph switched the machine on.
The old and pleasant purring hum was back. There was a new greased smoothness in the performance of the Japanese Colour Master HB 5000ED printing machine.
“Ganpati Bappa Morya! Mangal Murti Morya!”
Karthik was saying this loudly.
The staff at the print-shop clapped.
Bharucha’s mobile rang.
“It is an act of terrorism, Bharucha! We just got a call from D Company. The bastards have sabotaged our press! Send someone to get the Jap engineer! Don’t touch anything!”
Chandaalia was yelling his head off.
“But sirji, the machine is working now … thanks to the mechanic networked by our trusted foreman Joseph!”
“Sirji, I was about to call you with the good news, sirji. But … you called … someone must have made a hoax call. Don’t worry sirji. As you thoughtfully said, sirji, I will send a vehicle, find the Jap and get him here on the ample side of precaution, sirji!”
“Hey… I am getting an important call. I will call you back!”
Majid Masood who had loosened the nuts and bolts watched the scene from 10 feet away with pure malevolence writ on his face as he glowered at Karthik.
“Where did this bastard spring from? This silly Christian son of a bitch spoiled the will of Allah! He won’t reach his home alive … And we will kill the other bastard as well. I will make sure,” he told himself.
Joseph was beaming with pride at the happy turn of events.
Bharucha ordered sweets from the canteen.
“You have done a great job. What is your name?”
“Karthik Moreshwar Waghmare, from Chiplun, Ratnagiri district, sir!”
Karthik wiped a tear off his left cheek. Joseph patted him on the back a bit roughly.
Looking skyward, the good Christian that he was, he mumbled a prayer – Praise Ye, The Lord! You have not let us down!
Iqbal Mustaquim – the new apprentice in the print-shop who had noticed Majid’s oddities earlier, got ready for the afternoon namaaz.
The loudspeaker from the nearby mosque suddenly announced:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar
Having learnt the Arabic meaning, Mustaquim knew what the caller was uttering.
Allah is the greatest
I bear witness that the only deity is Allah
I swear that Muhammad (SAW) indeed
Is THE Messenger of Allah
Join in payer
Allah, the greatest, is the Universe’s only saviour deity
Joseph Kannamala was muttering sotto voce in Malayalam.
God of all blessings,
Source of all life,
Giver of all grace
We thank you for the gift of life
For the food of this earth
For the love of family and friends
We thank you for the mystery of creation
For the beauty
That human eyes can see
For the joy that the ear may hear
For the unknown
That we cannot behold
But which draws us beyond the definitions of ourselves
“Listen carefully, Chandaalia. The D Company is about to fool you. Don’t walk into their trap. Ask your effervescent silly telly anchor to hold his reporter nags and mares. Someone in your print-shop loosened a few screws in your Japanese printing machine to screw your paper. We have accurate info I have organised a raid on that fucking slum that surrounds your press in Mumbai’s outskirts. There could be some violence … some firing … as the ISIS seems to be involved. Do you have a camera crew near your factory … er press?”
AD hated Chandaalia. The society at large, however, has its defined uses for minor villains.
Mustaquim bowed finally, touched the ground with his forehead, straightened, turned his face either way and rubbed his face with his palms. Those were chores he always performed to mark the completion of his namaaz.
As he got up, he noticed that Majid Masood had not only skipped the prayer, but was calling someone from his mobile.
“Some arsehole tightened the loose nuts and bolts suddenly, Bhai. I will kill the man who repaired it and also the haraami who networked the mechanic!”
“Don’t lose your head, you fool,” the ISD booth operator hissed. “Quietly continue working today. We will make plans tonight. Clifton will not be happy to hear this. Apparently, the threat had been issued.”
Two floors above, Bharucha, Joseph and Karthik were sipping tea.
“How would like to be rewarded, Karthik, my boy?”
Looking suitably humble, yet confident, Karthik spoke without a trace of any cleverness.
“I will be grateful if I get my job back sir. I have eaten the salt of this organisation. My loyalty remains unaltered as always.”
Bharucha considered the offer carefully with a sly expression. His mobile rang.
“Apparently there is some cock-skewered-ISIS scum in the print shop. Don’t allow anyone to leave. Meanwhile, I have information that cops are raiding that accursed slum nearby. I hope they clear the place, because I have acquired the piece of real estate on paper. The cops may kill the odd guy and I will make a killing in profit terms.”
The line went dead.
Bharucha was overjoyed, but had a clear head on his shoulders.
He barked orders to the security.
Joseph found his tongue.
“There is a good Muslim boy – Mustaquim – who is loyal, sir. He may have an idea as to who the enemy agent is. And I will take Karthik down with me – to ensure there is no further harm, sir.”
Bharucha thought this was reasonable. “Do it,” he said in a voice cold like that of the devil.
Rapid Action Force 27th Battalion commandant Tandav Nath Tiwari has an acronym – TNT.
Its full form is 2-4-6 – trinitrotoluene whose chemical formula is C6H2(NO2)3CH3. The yellow coloured explosive is very convenient to handle. All explosions are referred to with the TNT standard to explain destructive strengths. The chemical is also a re-agent whose other application is charge-transfer-salts.
Many confuse it with dynamite – a specially formatted version of nitro-glycerine. It has a single known utility. It is an industrial explosive.
But for the yellowness, Indian Police Service officer TNT – holding the rank of superintendent possessed all the characteristics mentioned above and when in action, he was pure dynamite.
He had been in the army – as a special commando – and a human killing machine. He worked to a simple purpose – quell the enemy – come what may. At the first discernible inkling of danger – he had the nasty habit of ‘wasting’ them. If the enemy ‘behaved’ he accepted surrender.
“Pimps serving the cause of the Daesh are threatening this city and its symbol of free thought – the Tidings of India newspaper. Let us get some,” he told his men as they boarded the 3-tonne armoured truck called ‘Vajra’ – some 1800 metres from their target spot.
Sitting in his phone-booth shop, Alimuddin Ansari thought nothing of the armoured truck – whose sibling machines were always parked by the roadside like resting rhinos.
He realised the danger only when it was too late as its nose rammed into his outlet at 80 kmph and the trained commandos spilled out like bullets being sprayed out of an AK47.
“Unless the John Does’ hands reach for the sky, shoot to kill,” TNT yelled.
“I did not see you offer namaaz today,” Mustaquim said looking at Masood in the eye.
“Occasionally one can skip the odd one.”
“You are the one who is odd. I saw you talking to someone on the phone when the call for prayer was made. What was so important about a phone call than a holy prayer to The Almighty?”
“That is none of your fucking business!”
That sentence proved to be the straw that broke the tolerance limit of Mustaquim.
“How dare you use a bad word while referring to the holy prayer duty meant to be in the praise of Allah?”
“You do not understand the cause of Jihad against infidels here!”
“Blasphemer of Islam, you shall be punished with eternal damnation,” Mustaquim hissed and began moving forward.
Masood produced a deadly looking flick knife and raised it to strike.
Fitter than Joseph, Karthik moved like greased lightning and caught Majid’s wrist and savagely twisted it. The knife fell down harmlessly.
Mustaquim hurled himself forward and began throwing punches at Masood’s face.
None had expected Masood to be armed with a pistol, stowed in his socks beside his right ankle. Retrieving it with his left hand, despite being in extreme pain, he shifted the .38 to his fractured hand and fired.
The bullet lodged itself on the right shoulder of Mustaquim and he fell on his back.
Beside himself with anger, Karthik began a ferocious attack – breaking the left arm of his adversary as Joseph rushed to help the bleeding Muslim colleague.
Bharucha phoned the hospital for an ambulance.
The shadows were lengthening as the official vehicle carrying Mumbai’s Police Commissioner Parvataneni Shankar Rao and his second in command Ajinkya Devadiga took the exit from the expressway linking Mumbai and Pune and entered Khopoli – a small town at the foot of the mountain range called the Western Ghats.
The two senior police officers were on their way to meet the fabled retired cop – Alexander Mohandas.
The local station had been alerted to find the place.
The car – equipped with a television set that downloaded pictures seamlessly from satellites above showed the destruction at Akdoowadi – and the bodies of 7 Muslims. Ansari – with a bloodied face was being dragged away – alive.
Hailing from Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district, Rao belonged to the business community of Naidus. He winced as he saw the visuals in the Tidings Now Channel.
“The visuals have too much blood, too much gore, AD. The human rights guys and gals are going to send us to the taxidermist for this.”
Though the words were meant to convey worry, the CP was actually smiling.
“Do I discern sir that you are pleased that the visuals are sending a chill down the spine of the desperadoes trying to recruit for ISIS?”
Devadiga asked the question with a sardonic expression.
“I don’t answer rhetorical questions that have inbuilt answers. Besides, the idea isn’t original. Israel always does this sort of thing to terrorists in its backyard,” Rao quipped.
Spotting the patrol jeep from which a constable sitting beside the driver was waving wildly – signalling the officer’s car to follow, CP Rao’s driver swerved to his left – as the vehicles passed a huge amusement park. The semi dirt track took them along a rivulet. Some 2 km inside – another dusty street took them to a quiet bungalow. There were a lot of people with mournful expressions.
As he got off the car, Devadiga noticed Serena – the aristocratic looking wife of his ex-boss – with tears brimming from her eyes.
“What happened, ma’am?”
“Oh, you didn’t know? I thought you have come to pay your last respects to Alex. He passed away an hour before.”
An hour later, a somewhat steadier Serena was chatting with the 2 officers, who used to visit her home in the city on every Hindu festival when her husband had been alive and on duty.
“Alex had converted to Christianity to get married to me. But, at heart, he always was a Hindu. He wanted his body cremated and his ashes immersed in the Godavari – not too far from here. I have a polite request. If you could arrange an official car, to get carry the ashes, I suppose, Alex would be happy – that the force remembered and honoured him after his death.”
AD looked expectantly towards his boss. He nodded once in agreement.
“It will be done, ma’am. But, how did the death come so suddenly, ma’am? He spoke to me around noon and sounded perfectly normal.”
Devadiga said this in an emotionally choked voice.
“I had told Alex that he should not exert himself. He always disregarded my advice and took his brisk 4 km walks. He used to keep phoning people from his mobile – getting details of crimes that never concern us any longer as he had retired a decade ago. But … he must have called you when he had been out. The strain of his brisk walk…perhaps proved too much for him.”
Serena began crying again.
“Maharashtra police honoured one of its greatest sons – Alexander Mohandas who passed away a few hours ago. Moments before a massive and fatal cardiac arrest that claimed his life, Mohandas, ever the conscientious officer, passed on critical details to top anti-terror officers of Mumbai about the ISIS network in Akdoowadi. Apparently – a diabolic plot to force the nation to bend and buckle before the terrorist threat that encompassed this channel’s sister concern – was being hatched there. Swift action by the cops thwarted this sinister danger that was stalking Mumbai. The retired DGP known affectionately as AM – a few also called him by the Sanskritised version of his first name – Alakshendra – passed away due to a heart attack. Unlike what had happened in the past in the state of Tamil Nadu – where another equally distinguished former DGP’s widow had to carry the urn carrying her husband’s ashes in a fake official car at the turn of the century, Maharashtra honoured its worthy son much better, posthumously,”  the Oxford-educated anchor Arvind Ghorpade announced solemnly.
Coming out of his shower – late that night in his Ghatkopar flat, JCP Devadiga asked his wife Amayaa to bring a cup of black coffee, sat down in front of the television and lit his Briar pipe. The rich aroma from the Czar tobacco – that came in a brown pouch – upon being lit – lent a pleasant odour to the room. The Briar had been a present from AM. It had been purchased in Hamburg, Germany, at the outlet called Pfeiffer Tesch – arguably the best tobacconist in the world who stocked all types of pipes and hookahs. Immediately before his retirement, AM had been to Western Europe to advise various governments on the issue of Tamil Tiger terrorists operating with impunity thanks to the lopsided foreign policies of NATO nations. Knowing his junior officer’s love for good Briar pipes, he had picked one from Hamburg on his way back to India.
Into his third puff – he began fiddling with the mobile phone to find the number from where his former boss had phoned for the last time.
He was surprised to notice that the entry said, “Private Number.”
He was to know only 3 days later that the call was virtually untraceable.
Bharucha visiting a single room tenement where one of his employees lived was a rarity – or so felt Joseph, Mary, Mustaquim – with his arm in a sling – and his mother Khadijah as they stood behind Karthik Waghmare who was doing the Aarti – obeisance to Lord Ganesh in Marathi language. Thanks to its catchy tune, the Aarti had become world famous – among almost all Indians – even those who do not understand a word in that language.
Joy providing Lord who removes life’s obstacles
Your blessings spread love all round
In yellowish sandal paste – your original skin’s hue
Sporting white pearls of wisdom around your neck
Victory to You, Divinity, auspiciousness personified
Beholding your idol shall fulfil our desires
Karthik had got back his job – with a back-dated order – as though he had never lost it. He was allowed to keep the severance cheque as a gift from the management. Chandaalia had offered prayers … to get the land and had told his favourite deity – Lord Ganesh that he would give a fitting gift to anyone who made it happen.
The slum was demolished and the land was given to ITGL to develop a media city which would also encompass a colony of residences of those who worked for the media group.
Karthik was scheduled to get one free – as the management’s gratitude.
The piece of real estate – some 17 acres – were worth Rs. 9,000 crores – came almost free to the ITGL management. Chandaalia was tickled pink. Bharucha had landed a fat cheque as incentive.
“Waghmare denotes a man who slays a tiger. You captured one alive, my boy,” Bharucha said – sending Devsena into sheer ecstasy. Her coughing spasms had been vastly reduced. It had been diagnosed as symptom of common cold with some chest congestion and certainly had not been dengue. Ananya’s quarterly test results were out and she had come first in class. There was some talk of her getting a free scholarship. Karthik had treated his daughter to a new dress – a Ghaagraa-choli in blood-red colour – something the child had yearned for.
Karthik had borne all the medical expenses of Mustaquim – that amounted to nearly Rs.28, 000 – using part of that windfall – as the boy was yet to be covered under the group insurance scheme – being an apprentice. The management had confirmed him.
Karthik returned the Rs.5, 000 and added another Rs.17, 000 to add to Christmas gifts to the needy children.
Bharucha had thanked the deity – Hormuz – for the management had praised his sagacity in getting the right man at the right time.
Joseph was promoted as well.
Someone was saying in an aside – “When luck turns everything good happens. Waghmare realised this much, the hard and the soft way. This year – the Ganesh festival brought rains and brought rain to fill the nearby Modak dam with water as the Prasad of the Lord. It surely will be auspicious from now on. The good days will arrive soon.”
The identity of the caller who alerted AD remained an unsolved mystery. The officer chalked it up to the mysterious ways of his former boss.
Bharucha hadn’t paid much attention to the witness whose testimony got Karthik his job again and had forgotten his face.
Chandaalia met the real MG he was scheduled to meet in a different rendezvous. He had no way of knowing about the witness in the print-shop.
For Bharucha, the event was one of no consequence. He was never to know that the two persons looked completely different.
Karthik thanked his luck and developed a liking for Santa Claus and saw an elder brother in Joseph.
Karthik had saved Mustaquim’s life. The Moslem youngster was telling everyone willing to listen to him that all Hindus weren’t bad Kafirs and all Muslims weren’t good and devout believers. Allah, Mustaquim added, totally disapproved of terrorism and/or any form of violence.
Ansari didn’t have too many details to reveal the real purpose of those who made him aid ISIS in Mumbai and will remain in prison for a long time. Abu Bakr alias Aurangzeb had been killed in the encounter. Masood was scheduled to be awarded a prison sentence lasting a decade. In the lock-up – he had been subjected to extreme torture. When sent to judicial custody – AD was making sure that he would be lodged in a cell where the majority were Hindu fundamentalist criminals – most of whom were homosexuals.
“Humanity praises myriad forms of Divinity. When would they understand the concept of God only needs their loving faith and nothing more? Maha Ganapati, Hormuz or Ahura Mazda, the formless Allah and the form of Jesus Christ are all one and the same. The eternal Shirdi Baba used to say Sab kaa maalik ek, Allaah Maalik. It actually means there is only one boss of us all, and the Omnipresent One owns us! The Baba lived a simple life, begged every day in the vicinity of his ashram but fed hundreds of his devotees free. Today, there is a huge, elaborate temple in that site. But, touts and brokers – out to make a fast buck – give Faith in God a bad name by fleecing the throngs of devotees. In their folly, humans waste money, time and precious resources in festivities, create clay icons with poisonous chemicals and pollute the divine gift of water in the forms of Ganesh and Durga and many more,” a busybody journalist who stayed in the vicinity was heard remarking.
“Who pays any attention at all to this killjoy anyway? If he doesn’t like it – that is his problem. The others like it and that is their enjoyment. With very little to rejoice during these difficult times, what is wrong in a few people splurging a little money and dancing in the streets to give an icon of faith a grand send off? The expenditure incurred helps in redistribution of wealth and resources – to some of the needy and spreads happiness overall,” someone else remarked.
Such inputs would improve in the fine tuning of the creation experiment. Being called MG, AM, Allah, Jesus … doesn’t matter to me … one little bit. But, I love my creations … they are all my children. Those punished for misdemeanours come back to me to get their putrefied souls purefied … including the terrorists.
The thought gave me a little smile. I still have a lot to improve. The thought sobered me and stifled the smile.
Excerpts from my blog – describing a “dreamt” conversation with the smartest cop of India – the late K Mohandas published on August 21 2015: [The original remains illegally and shamelessly blocked by Google.]
Tamil Nadu’s former Director General of Police, A.X. Alexander remained faithful to his former boss K Mohandas till the end.
When he passed away in 2000 – Mohandas had become a political nobody.
Mohandas’s wife ‘Shan’ [a very highly cultured, aristocratic looking lady] had wanted to immerse her husband’s ashes in Rameshwaram. For some strange reason, she believed, her husband’s ashes deserved an official vehicle.
Then, Alexander was ‘in disgrace’ – posted in the middle of nowhere.
Those who had got promoted after Mohandas were jealous of the man even posthumously. The ‘official’ vehicle request was bluntly turned down.
Ever the gracious man, Alexander, who got wind of the widow’s wish, hired a white ambassador car from Madurai, got an ‘official’ number-plate created, got a fake red dome light fixed on top – and ensured a uniformed driver [a real cop, and old time faithful man] to take the grieving lady from Madurai to Rameshwaram to immerse the ashes and back to the airport in the outskirts of the southern temple-city for her to fly back to Chennai.
Till she passed away a few years later due to cancer, Shan never knew that the police force, to which her husband had given his entire life, had chosen to forget the man’s yeoman service to the nation since his death.
I am publishing this despite the now retired Alexander’s request not to do so.
This blog has a huge viewership:
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