Divine Intervention – 3 [part II]

The story so far:

Nungambakkam, part of Chennai’s central region witnessed the brutal murder of a young techie – Swathi – in June 2016.

As her killer Ram Kumar too died under mysterious circumstances, the reasons for her killing remain a diabolic mystery.

The short story below is an endeavour to investigate the possibilities that could have led to the killing of Swathi.

Part one of this longish short story was published earlier.

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It can be accessed here.

Young Veerabahu was set to arrive in the Nungambakkam railway station platform some 10 minutes later.

I surveyed the scene.

The evening crowd was milling around close to the point where the foot over-bridge touched the ground.

A sizeable number of the passengers were students from the nearby Loyola College – believed to be the best in India – where freedom of thought was/is as important as breathing. Some of them had participated in an ongoing survey to discern the mood of the people – as fresh elections to the assembly were round the corner. Political instability post December 5 2016 – the day Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was declared dead – had led to it.

I listened to the chatter.

A few months ago, reports alleged that the Tamil Nadu Government was functioning as per the diktat of Sasikala Natarajan, currently ensconced in Parapana Agrahara Central Prison in Bangalore’s outskirts as a convict. Politicians love to say that always law is allowed to take its course. India’s Supreme Court is of a clear mind in such a situation. “Corruption is not only a punishable offence but also undermines human rights, indirectly violating them, and systematic corruption, is a human rights’ violation in itself, as it leads to systematic economic crimes,” it said. Sasikala was punished for offences under sections 13[1][e] and 13[2] of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988 read with 120B [conspiracy] and 109 [abetment] of the Indian Penal Code. Rather strangely, none from any political party in Tamil Nadu had approached the courts to sack the regime that took orders from a convicted prisoner then and there on the principle of breakdown of the constitution. Any person in custody would be disqualified from holding any government job. A convict’s fate was even clearer. By publicly admitting that a female jail bird was flinging yolk from her steel nest in another state, a senior member of the cabinet had violated tenets of the constitution,” a girl with a sharp nose and bold voice said.

“There was worse. By itself, the ‘election’ of Sasikala as the general secretary of the ‘ruling’ All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is ultra vires of its own constitution. The so-called election was patently illegal if one goes by the constitution of that party. AIADMK by-laws available in the Election Commission’s website state that the party general secretary can only be declared elected by the political unit’s representatives from all the states – including those from Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh plus the Andaman and Nicobar Islands during a specially convened General Council to ‘elect’ a ‘proper’ candidate who ought to have been an uninterrupted member for 5 years. Such an event never happened. It was this so-called election that caused Sasikala’s ‘empowerment’ to be ‘elected’ as the leader of the AIADMK legislature party. So, that was an illegal act in itself. It was the cause for the then CM O Panneerselvam to resign and make way for Sasikala – which also is legally non est. To ram all these unsavoury events down the throats of the people of Tamil Nadu, the Sasikala group had cocooned a majority of the MLAs in a beach resort, allegedly wined, dined and ‘entertained otherwise’ with dancing women. Reports said that all of them were recipients of several million rupees in cash, gold and a lot more. This captive legislators’ crowd had ensured that Chief Minister E Palanisamy survived the trust vote on the floors of the assembly vide violent harangue in February 2017. Since Sasikala’s original sin – in itself was unpardonable – the shameful aftermath could not have the luxury of hiding behind a legal fig leaf of having passed muster in the assembly. Every so called political event after the December 5 2016 demise of Jayalalithaa could be termed illegal,” a Kurta clad young man chimed in.

“The inner contradictions were too much to bear. Now, the AIADMK has ceased to exist as a party. The ‘twin-leaf’ symbol and the name AIADMK were frozen initially on account of the RK Nagar by elections. After the various groups of the AIADMK ended up shaming themselves through the results, the party has little chances of reviving itself. On the flip side, the DMK’s existence is on the basis of hate AIADMK slogan – that keeps its voters interested. Sooner or later the DMK would suffer the same chagrin as the AIADMK. The reasons are simple. There are one too many claimants for the ill-gotten wealth of the party’s leadership mainstays – comprising the members of its leader Karunanidhi’s family. Surveys conducted in the length and breadth of Tamil Nadu revealed that the people want a change … a change for the better from the self-centred politicians for whom only grabbing cash was the only vocational and ‘vacational’ theme. And that would inevitably end in the decimation of regionalism that began in southern India through the separatist Dravidar Kazhagam [DK] and its so-called political offshoot – the DMK,” a somewhat senior student added.

I smiled. The young ladies and gentlemen were on the right track.

At that moment an express train whizzed past on track three moving at 85 km ph northward.

The duty station master or his assistant was supposed to stand on platform 2 holding a green flag or light – to be spotted and acknowledged by the motorman driving the train.

After the passage of the train, the SM ought to inform master signal control that the clickety-clack sounds of the wheels on the tracks were normal and betrayed no derailment danger to the train. The acknowledgement by the motorman or driver was the proverbial feel-good-factor to help the safety of several thousand passengers’ lives in the clasps of his/her hands.

Instead of doing his duty, the person manning the railway platform’s office cubicle was chatting with someone on his mobile phone.

Seated in that console was a person whose demeanour depicted that he was someone in authority. He was flanked by 2 constables from the Railway Protection Force.

“I am conducting surprise checks for ticketless travellers. Obviously some will pay a fine or a bribe to escape. All of us can expect some ‘cash relief’ for the month end,” the ticket examiner in civvies said.

Interrupting his chat on the mobile, the person in charge of the station in white uniform quipped: “Don’t forget my share!”

The RPF men looked a bit nonplussed.

“In these busy hours, the state railway police personnel conduct their own raids … and collect sizeable booty. None of us get any share from that. Worse, they do not cooperate in nabbing those trying to run away,” one constable complained.

“Well, we are not parting with any part of our collection on that count…so one minus one is zero. Accounts are squared. All of us need to supplement our incomes thus in these difficult times. Our salaries are inadequate to maintain our families. We need the cooperation of the local cops when something like that Swathi murder blows. In the melee for audience eyeballs, television channels ignored the simple fact that on that fateful morning of June last year, none of us was performing our duties. And then, none noticed when the RPF and Railway Police beat ran round the mulberry bush on the non-existent issue of jurisdiction… simply to buy time,” the TE announced with a grim finality.

These were signs of systems’ societal decay.

The duty station master coming out every 10 minutes or so while fast trains went past was also meant to keep a wary eye on the passengers in the station and report any suspicious activity. He didn’t care a tuppence about it. Instead of according protection to passengers by incessantly patrolling the platforms as per their job mandates, RPF and state railway police personnel were actively harvesting funds for month-end pecuniary problems. Senior officials were actively collaborating.

I shook my head in disapproval.

Spotting Veerabahu alighting from the foot over bridge, I moved northward.

The slim, slender looking teenager was on the mobile phone – talking to his sister.

“Where have you reached?”

“Crossing Saidapet station,” the girl’s voice said. The kid had switched the hands free button on the instrument.

“I have homework to do. And then I have to prepare for the first semester tests,” Veerabahu protested.

“Is the rowdy waiting outside the station?”

“I actually wasn’t looking. But, what can I do if he turns violent? We need to ask pa to move home… to somewhere close to where I work,” the lass grumbled.

“What about pa’s job at the EB? What about my school? My whole life will be spoiled!”

“Would it be alright then if someone spoils and soils your sister? What kind of a brother are you?”

Veerabahu looked uneasy.

“You better come fast. I am waiting!” He cut the connection and rolled his eyes skywards in sheer exasperation.

“Why is God not around when we need him? Rowdies, crowded cities, rising prices, police apathy, scolding school teachers, difficult syllabus…”

As is the wont of youngsters, Veerabahu grumbled.

Aren’t you Damarla Veerabahu, little Swati’s younger brother?”

My question startled the boy.

“How do you know me?”

Every Friday, your sister Swathi is in the forefront of the palanquin bearers – carrying the idol of Shukaravaara Amman in the Aghastheeswarar temple nearby. I remember you because you once wanted to help your sister…but the priests forbade you from touching the palanquin, as it violates the temple rules. I see you offering prayers in that temple regularly.”

The boy looked closely at me and espied an old man with a kind face, dressed in a white Indian shirt and trousers. The salt and pepper facial and pate hair disarmed him.

“What is your name?”

Most persons in this vicinity refer to me as Agathi!”

“A very strange name, I would say,” the boy said thoughtfully.

It is the shortened form of a very famous sage – Agasthya. Some persons translate the name from Sanskrit as ‘mountain thrower’. The Tamil meaning denotes a person who has realised his inner self. In Tamil, Agam stands for a home. ‘Thiyan’ refers to a householder … who ensures the well-being of the home’s inhabitants. In a nutshell, if one goes by the Tamil meaning, every male is an Agathi … or Agathiyan. The sage Agasthya was a diminutive man. By the Sanskrit definition he could throw a mountain. It only implies that determination can cause any person to complete any superhuman feat. There is an entire city block in Kanyakumari district – called Agastheeswaram. Some 400 km off Kochi – in the Arabian Sea – there is an island called Agatti – the virtual capital of Lakshadweep archipelago. Finally, the temple you visit every Friday with your sister – is a shrine for Agastheeswarar. Hence, it is not such a strange name.”

The boy giggled.

“So what do you want from me?”

The boy pertly asked the question abruptly.

“Oh, I have no needs to be fulfilled by anyone. I only grant favours, more often than not, without anyone asking for it … completely free of charge. You and your sister have a problem in the form of a young unruly male tormentor. He follows your sister somewhat threateningly. Probably, you are here to accompany young Swathi home… because she feels safer with you around. But, you are not at all comfortable with the idea of facing the rowdy. Suppose… I give you a little formula to defeat this rowdy and thus prove that you indeed are really Veerabahu … the brave-heart with strong protecting arms. That is without any risk and no sweat. Will you be interested?”

The boy was puzzled. His confusion showed on his countenance.

“I am no Jackie Chan … and cannot hope to fight and win a grown up man who pumps iron in gyms.”

“Jackie Chan does those choreographed fights only in the films. There is a scene in a movie featuring a one minute shot where Jackie is shown as getting killed by Lee in Enter the Dragon. Bruce was his idol and Chan tells anyone willing to listen to him that he loved losing to his idol and did a lot of play acting to retain the sympathetic attention of the then more famous man. More seriously, the movie Enter the Dragon has a scene featuring Bruce Lee – teaching a little boy how to win a fight with a grown up man – without actually fighting. You could actually do it. It is very simple. I could help you win,” I informed the child.

“But, why would you do that?”

“Because… I love helping people. It is that simple. Come closer, I will teach you the trick. You can try it out tomorrow itself! And don’t worry. If something goes wrong, I will be around… to help you.”

The boy came closer.

“Is this absolutely free? No hidden tricks or charges?”

“None at all, my young friend, you can be sure.”

I then began telling him a simple trick. I took leave as the EMU steamed into the terminal.

I knew that the girl Swathi would frown at Veerabahu talking to strangers. But, that was par for the course.

O0o0o0o0o0o0o0oO

Indian Police Service [IPS] officer Nar Bahadur Thapa was posted to the Narcotics Control Bureau’s Chennai Unit in its northwest outskirts as southern India’s regional head. It was a ‘punishment’ posting. A set of corrupt men who controlled the vigilance and anti-corruption wings of the Central Bureau of Investigation had wanted Thapa out of the way.

Of Nepalese extraction, Thapa had the tenacity of bloodhounds that never let go a sniffed criminal at wrong end of an invisible but ‘smellable’ trail.

That evening, his table had 2 bulky files of criminals – linked to drug trade from across the Palk Straits – in Sri Lanka’s war-torn north and northeast, whose tentacles snaked into the innards of India’s various cities, and also into the innards of around 50 national capitals spread all over the globe.

The profits were enormous.

At its little known, obscure procurement points, prices of drugs like heroin, crack, cocaine, and marijuana was as low as Rs.50 per base unit. But, when sold in the retail ‘open air markets’, their prices ballooned 50,000 times. The methods of the underworld were becoming more sophisticated than those of the cops – and this was a worldwide malady. The resultant ill gotten wealth was round-tripped and pumped into legal economies – to push real estate prices skyward. India was no exception.

Real estate was the safest venue to park black funds – as very few could every actually measure the profit margins.

Thapa had done the hard work.

An acre of land with a legal floor space index [FSI] of 3.5 in the outskirts of Chennai or for that matter any city in India ranged between Rs. 2 and 4 crores. Each acre has 43,500 square feet on the ground level as its ‘carpet’ area. When multiplied by 3.5 – the allowed amount of FSI – the price of undivided share of the proposed built up area ranged between Rs. 133 to Rs.263 per square foot. Costs of building huge blocks of flats ranged around Rs.1000 per square foot. In a nutshell, builders spent around Rs.5 lakhs for a 500 sq ft flat and sold it for Rs.25 lakhs. Burdened by other factors of the global meltdown, big time mainstream media outlets winked at this racket. There was a method to this madness. Builders’ networks splurged money on full page colour advertisements – often occupying the first three pages of newspapers besides sponsoring hours and hours of television time.

The operators of this huge sinister machine also bankrolled political parties. In some states, political parties’ sections actually owned and ran the racket. The sinister game drew sustenance by cannibalising its own assets. Some of the real estate defaulters’ flats were used as dens to peddle drugs and then discarded whenever some “untoward” event happened. Often such “events” were “rave” parties catering to the spoilt rich brats and also to draw more potential victims into the concentric vortex of drug addiction and peddling. The victim owner of such a den – soon declared as an erstwhile owner – would be flung to the wolves as a drug trafficker. The whole racket suited only wrongdoers and rendered them richer after every deal – botched or otherwise..

A ‘foolproof’ system had been hammered into place to run this evil empire. It was done vide the creation of a network of agents employed by private and foreign banks that had begun lending money in India at usurious interest rates since the turn of the millennium.

The grey market of ‘collection agents’ was a good source of information to identify future victims to be fleeced and/or raped and/or prostituted.

‘Minor’ funding began with credit cards and ‘personal loans’. The dues amounted to a few thousands of rupees. Usurious interest rates ensured indebtedness. Before long, a vast section of the middle-class was in the thrall of these sophisticated moneylenders. Those who deferred paying on time were catchment areas of potential victims. Rowdies from the dregs of society worked as ‘collection agents’ and provided vital info. Those amongst these gangs that were smarter than the rest slowly levitated towards the drug distribution. Thus began a database of persons who be preyed upon to buy ‘dream homes’ engineered to default to turn such residences into nightmares – only to be repossessed and sold to other similar victims.

The operation was a large scale one.

While in the CBI, Thapa had been assigned the task of identifying the shady methods of foreign banks, their lending patterns and recovery methodology. At the start of his probe, he had stumbled on to the world of pricey auditing firms which violated every known law in every nation possible and yet retained the veneer of respectability. One such firm is Pricewaterhouse Coopers [PwC].

A minor cog of this giant machine, Sengodan had committed the cardinal sin of ‘leaning on’ Pachaiappan – nicknamed ‘patch-boy’ amongst a small group of friends for recovering credit card dues. Pachaiappan was the son of Duraisingham, a head constable who worked for CBI. The young man had apparently used the rectangular piece of plastic during a new year’s party in a 3-star hotel. The bill had come to Rs.26K. Patch-boy’s pals promised to pool in the money to square the loan off. But, the sharing of the financial load actually never took place.

Without knowing the antecedents of his victim’s father, Sengodan began sending threatening messages to Pachaiappan. Usually, credit card and finance companies avoid 3 categories of individuals viz. Journalists, lawyers and police officials. The avoidance is explained away with a two-word term: “negative profile”. Secretly the movers and shakers in this rat race admit that discovery of the workings of their racket is their big fear. The bigger fear is journalists, lawyers and cops using the instrument of blackmail to clean the wrongdoers out, aver the men and women at tertiary levels of this game. The bitter truth is stranger. Those who never deserve a single rupee manage to net billions of rupees and are allowed to not only default but also helped to escape the laws of India under everyone’s noses. 

Before long, seeing his son listless most of the day, the cop accessed the SMS from his son’s mobile.

Duraisingham sought the advice of his superior officer.

Holding the rank of Inspector General, Thapa merited a landlubber bosun. Duraisingham performed that task admirably in Chennai.

So, when the hapless minion approached his boss for saving his son, the IG – then looking after various high profile cases from Delhi for the CBI’s southern operations, Thapa realised the potential and pulled the young man’s chestnuts out of the fire and began watching the gang of ‘recovery agents.’ That endeavour had landed the strange fish – Sengodan.

By keeping tabs on Sengodan, Thapa had traced most of the racketeers and identified their modus operandi. That was when he suspected something else – the presence of a vigilante group of IT professionals functioning beyond their work-station borders to identify ill-gotten funds parked abroad. As he had begun taking an interest in the activities of several young men and women, one of them – a Brahmin girl aged 24 – Swathi – had been brutally killed in mid 2016.

When others above him found out Thapa’s focus, they got him transferred – virtually on punishment. But, being pushed to the wall, Thapa had decided to fight. And that fight had led to his unearthing the huge racket whose minor loose end was Sengodan. The big time players were builders and architects working from flashy offices.

Thapa looked at the clock in his office.

It was close to 7 p.m.

Pressing his buzzer, he summoned Duraisingham – who had levitated to the NCB along with his boss.

“We may have a major job to do, tomorrow, to end rackets of youngsters’ tormentors – like the man who had harassed your son,” Thapa said.

“Sure sir,” the orderly said.

“I have been tracking the mobile of this person called Sengodan. He lives in Choolaimedu area but does his trade in OMR. It seems he is also stalking a girl Swathi – like someone else had chased her namesake last year. What makes the whole thing interesting is the qualification of this girl and her core competence area. She is a code breaking ethical hacker. I suspect that last year’s dead Swathi was one as well.”

“Did the other girl – the dead Swathi do the same thing and was she killed on that count sir?”

Duraisingham asked the question at the spur of the moment in total innocence.

“I have a strong suspicion that she was,” Thapa enigmatically said.

-to be continued

Divine Intervention – 3

Official apathy, corrupted systems of governance, criminal politicians, cussed cops and the odd judicial slip have harmed human psyche.

Could God be of help?

Trying to generate hope, I have so far penned 2 pieces of fiction – to restore faith in divinity amongst humans.

The links:

Divine Intervention 1

Divine Intervention 2

In both the tales, God Almighty plays a subtle role and restores sanity and parity.

I have begun writing the third.

Here is the first instalment.

August 22 2017

Nungambakkam rail terminal seemed huge and imposing to the demure, dusky 22-year-old, Telugu speaking girl D Swathi at 5-55 a.m. that Tuesday.

Her namesake had been murdered in cold blood in that very railway station in June 2016. The perpetrator, stalker-killer – one Ram Kumar – had dropped dead in a prison under mysterious circumstances a few weeks later. Chennai’s corrupt cops had complicated the murder probe. Some among them had succeeded in getting sections in the media to cast aspersions on the character of the victim posthumously. Later, Kumar’s suspicious ‘suicide’ was hurriedly buried in the shallowest of graves.

She had other reasons to be afraid.

Fear in a male form, with rippling muscles, clad in a crocodile brand black “T” shirt and black trousers with a leery expression to boot had stalked her all the way from home located some 600 metres away.

Chennai is India’s 4th largest metropolis located on the right flank of the Asian subcontinent’s limp phallus shaped peninsula’s upper half. On a map, Sri Lanka, the island nation, seems like a drop of semen dripping from a flaccid male organ.

Swati had joined the very organisation where her namesake had worked before – Tata Consultancy Services [TCS] a few weeks back.

The firm’s offices were located in a distant suburb named Maraimalai Nagar – some 50 km due south of where she stood.

Juxtaposed to rail terminals, the names Swathi and TCS have an eerie ring. Way back in 2014, another girl by the same name had died when a bomb planted under her seat went off in a stationary train in Chennai Central Railway Station.

Hailing from a lower middleclass family, D Swathi stayed with her parents and younger brother in Choolaimedu, a nondescript district located within a km of Nungambakkam railhead.

The place is a beehive of criminals. Many of them are drug peddlers, eunuch sex workers and pimps. Most of them are stool pigeons. Policemen wink at this flotsam and jetsam of the underworld – under the guise of running a network of informers to solve more serious crimes. The shameful ruse rarely works.

Defenceless girls trudging to and from work and/or educational institutions are regularly kidnapped and handed over to rich, sexual perverts. Videos of the resultant sadistic acts are used to blackmail and force some of the survivor victims into prostitution. Less attractive girls were/are first raped, then slaughtered and flung by the wayside far away from the crime scene – where – more often than not – the bodies are not identified.

Such abominable crimes have become commonplace in almost every 3rd world city. India’s Chennai is no exception.

Small-timers operating in Choolaimedu were “service providers” for larger underworld outfits centred some 7 km northward surrounding the city’s Puzhal Central Prison.

Swathi’s killer Ram Kumar was cited as dead after biting into a live electric wire in a highly restricted and remote zone within Puzhal prison – which was off bounds for an under-trial prisoner. Kumar’s regular cell was almost a km away from where his body was reportedly found – an electrical control room. Cops trotted out a cock and bull story that Swathi’s killer had bitten into an electric cable and had died of a fatal shock.

Swathi’s initial ‘D’ stood for Damarla. It denotes origins in the neighbourhood state of Andhra Pradesh. On that very day – August 22 – in 1639, one of her forefathers – a small-time vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire – Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu – had ‘granted’ the land between 2 rivers – the first being Cooum and the second named ‘Egmore’ to the ‘Honourable’ East India Company to build a ‘factory’ and a warehouse. [1] The former has morphed into a huge gutter. The latter river isn’t even visible. The ‘factory’ served as the first seat of power of colonial British.

Fort St George is the seat of power in Tamil Nadu today. From 1744 onwards, that stockade served as the take-off stage of the career of colonial Britain’s worst specimen Robert Clive.[2]

When known as Madras, Chennai could boast of a uniformed fraternity that cared for citizens. Police commissioners like Parangusam Naidu in 1919 and Sripall [1980-1984] the citizenry enjoyed a sense of safety. The political rulers – like the late Chief Minister MGR were of better stock. Finally there were others like Mohandas – the legendary policeman of Tamil Nadu.

The situation had worsened since the turn of the century.

It had reached its nadir after the Swathi murder. Since then, the mismanagement of law and order southern India’s show piece is at its worst. In early 2017, cops had allowed half a million persons to gather at Chennai’s seafront called the Marina Beach – demanding the holding of the annual bull-taming festival that had been banned by the Supreme Court. The do had culminated in mindless violence. The cops blamed it on the sudden entry of ‘unruly, non-state, opposition sponsored so-called unknown violent elements. The vital question as to how such a huge crowd had gathered on a thoroughfare marked in the south by the state police headquarters and Tamil Nadu’s seat of power – Fort St George in the north remains unanswered. 

Swathi briefly ducked into a nationalised bank’s air-conditioned teller machine console, inserted her Andhra Bank debit card, punched her 4 digit personal index number [PIN], clicked the ‘savings account’ and ‘withdrawal’ slots respectively and typed 5-0-0. Unexpectedly, 5 crisp, hundred rupee notes came out of the dispenser.

A warning note in the balance slip informed her that she was below the Rs.1000 minimum limit in bank accounts.

“Mine is a Jan-Dhan account – and hence the minimum balance routine shouldn’t count,” she muttered under her breath.

The tall promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi didn’t matter to the shrewish females that manned Andhra Bank’s branch where her savings account was lodged.

“Those are our rules. If you think we are violating them, you can take your account and go elsewhere. The banks need to make a profit and pay its staff. You freebooter paupers keep draining our precious resources,” the school marm-like manageress had announced when Swati had tried to protest the other day. During that exercise, a diabetic subordinate of the man-eating tigress like manageress was ticked off for being a bit late in a highhanded and rude manner. His obvious chagrin caused the man to initially wince and then lurch unsteadily before he returned to his seat.

The likes of scofflaw Vijay Mallya who owed close to Rs.100 billion to high street banks in India were enjoying life abroad while the nationalised financial institutions’ decision makers that had illegally funded his shenanigans with people’s money played silly parlour games by pretending to auction the ill gotten wealth of the fugitive profligate. If the poor as much as whimpered a protest, the persons behind the counters shamelessly cited non-existent rules and barked threats – sending those whose money actually generated their salaries – scurrying for cover. Like elsewhere in the globe, the dice were loaded against the poor in India and its southern metropolis.

Swathi had needed the change. She entered a small shrine for the elephant headed Hindu God, Ganesh sitting virtually next to the ATM.

“Save me from the clutches of this cruel world, O Lord! Every day, this stalker chases me right till the station and I do not want to die like my namesake. I am afraid to go to the police because he may be part of a gang that regularly pays the cops. I am scared of losing my job. My family needs the money badly. The management will wash its hands off if something untoward happens. I get the heebie-jeebies about getting raped. Please save me, sir!”

Wiping tears from her eyes, Swathi hurriedly shoved a single Rs.100 currency note into the offerings’ box, joined her palms in prayer and ducked out of the shrine’s low threshold. As she ran up the stairs of the foot over-bridge towards the platform– the rowdy – leaning on a lamp post at ground level – whistled.

“The rhythmic movement of your behind stirs my loins and challenges my manhood! Why don’t you take an off and see a movie with me today?”

The rowdy’s cat call irked her. Pretending not to hear him, Swathi bounded up the stairs.

Meanwhile, another, similar devotee placed two plantains on the offerings’ box hurriedly and left. A hungry cow craned its neck and succeeded in grabbing the fruits. Swathi’s improperly inserted hundred rupee note slipped out and fell by the wayside.

I picked it up – knowing that it would come in good use a few minutes later.

Some 1 km to the north of the railhead is a small vegetarian eatery Subha Niwas that serves mouth watering fare at very competitive prices.

An obviously hungry beggar stood beyond the cash counter asking for a free cup of tea. The cashier was shooing him away.

“It is okay. Please give him the drink. I will pay,” I said as I entered.

“Hello! You are here after a long time,” the waiter said as he placed the cup of strong coffee on the table. A small stainless steel vessel containing sugar was placed helpfully next to the beverage. “You seem fitter than before,” the waiter added.

As the beggar finished his cup of tea and tried to enter the establishment to thank me, the cashier waved him away angrily.

A moment later, the rowdy who had stalked Damarla Swathi wandered in and devoured four idlis [spongy rice-cakes] in a jiffy.

The rowdy was obviously very, very, hungry.

Someone looking like his cousin parked his ‘Enfield Bullet’ outside and ambled in.

“You ready with the cash, Sengodan? The boss doesn’t like to wait. And the rendezvous is a long way off – close to Sriperumbudur – on the Bangalore highway,” the newcomer said.

“Yes…I have the Rs.1.5 lakhs in 2000-rupee-notes. I hope the brown sugar is of better quality this time. Last time’s supply had some silly, illegal additive. Clients got a better ‘kick’ but one of them dropped dead. Luckily none in the vicinity of the OMR [Old Mahabalipuram Road] – the IT corridor – where most of the stuff was sold – made the connection. A murder rap is the last thing I want,” Swathi’s stalker said.

“The boss has it all covered. He has huge influence in the police department – both at the state and at the centre. He invests the money earned from these shenanigans into real estate – building on lands acquired cheaply and at what are known as ‘competitive rates’. The money is very, very well hidden. Some 3 years ago, there was a building collapse in the suburbs that killed 61 chaps – all poor labourers from northern India. That makes it 61 murders and not even a single murder case was registered and/or pursued. The semi-high rise with 11 floors in question collapsed like a house of cards and yet none of those who had bought them seriously pursued the case. Whatever settlement had to be done, was perhaps done out of court. Don’t worry about murder and/or any raps. The boss will take care of them all. Talking of the drug OD victim, I heard that the boy died on the road. Someone cleaned out his purse, credit cards, wrist watch, gold chain, i-fone mobile and a lot more. That someone happened to be one of your flunkeys. So, cut the sanctimonious, self-righteous shit and let us get going.”

The duo settled the bill and left.

“You haven’t touched your coffee, sir,” the waiter announced standing next to the chair where I was seated.

“I suddenly don’t feel like having any. There is a bitter feeling on the tongue and in the intellect,” I said, settled the bill for the other man’s tea and my coffee with the Rs.100 crisp note I had picked up and emerged from the eatery. The beggar rushed towards me. I left Rs.20 and change in his bowl. I retained the Rs.50 note, for I knew it would soon find a use.

“Use the money for eating and not drinking,” I told the man and walked away.

O0o0o0o0o0o0o0oO

As she left her office around 6 p.m., Swathi called Veerabahu – her younger brother – a class 9 student.

“Come to the railway station in exactly one hour. That fellow was chasing me today morning also,” Swathi announced.

“I can do very little to that body-builder if something bad happens,” Swathi’s male sibling commented.

“Let us all hope that it never comes to that. There is a saying in Telugu – a male even if he is of the size of a palm – is protection enough.”

“Okay, I will come,” the boy grudgingly said.

It had been a hectic day at office.

Retired Director General of Police Durgaiyadimai Dheeran Thiruvachagam had addressed a select gathering of systems analysts in TCS. Swathi had been part of the audience. The man’s initials constituted the acronym DDT, an insecticide currently banned in many nations. [3]

“In more ways than one, my initials – DDT have serious similarities with the properties of the insecticide DDT. There are many who call me a ruthless, uncompromising demon who ends criminals’ lives with ruthless and cruel suddenness. I had served in the army and was known as a killing machine. More often than not, I shot the enemy-wallahs dead and never bothered asking questions. But, once I returned to civvy-street as a cop, I changed a few of my tactics. In one of the districts bordering Chennai – where I had been posted as a DIG, a retired colonel and his wife were robbed and killed by masked robbers. The killers had decamped with cash and jewels worth about Rs.60 lakhs. They were parents of one of my pals killed in action Kargil. The doctor who examined the bodies told me that they had died less than an hour ago. These gangs usually have about 10 or 11 chaps. We stopped all vehicles and the odd train leaving the area. In some 45 minutes, my juniors had nabbed the baddies. I asked my men to herd the villains into a nearby forest area sans any locals. The booty was found on them. Someone in the force who knew these types guessed that they all were hardened criminals who could be made to talk. But, recovery of stolen properties from past heists could well nigh be impossible as smart lawyers could delay matters in court. The chaps would eventually get bail, vanish and sooner or later…would commit the same crimes again, he said. I knew that the assessment was correct to the last punctuation mark. I asked the criminals to be lined up and took a hard look at them. Picking up a 303 rifle, I calmly shot all the knee caps of all the chaps and also their elbows – rendering them invalids for life. By then, the criminals were begging for mercy and said they would part with all their booty hidden somewhere in Andhra Pradesh – between the railway terminals of Bitragunta and Kaavali. The criminals were then forced to lie down on their stomachs. One of my boys ran the wheels of a police jeep on their injured limbs. We ensured that the chaps lived and dropped them off outside their village and came away leaving a note in Telugu behind – “Any and all those who wish to sample our welcoming party in Chennai are welcome. This wonderful treatment awaits you!” The number of masked robber gangs’ activities in TN has been vastly reduced. The villains, probably, are still alive but will never squeal to bleeding heart human rights’ defenders. They know my type never takes a chance. None of those gangsters can ever be sure as to what I would end up doing. In their warped mind they may imagine that I would lead a vigilante team of commandos and kill them all. Some of my batch mates actually did something like that in Maharashtra a few years ago. Nevertheless, there are cases of such gangs operating in AP. I admit that the methods I just described are not legal at all. Obviously, they are very, very cruel and inhuman. These days, such robbers have learnt a few more dirty tricks. The operators with different modus operandi come from other states too. Criminals’ heist planning quotient – has improved and larger heists have happened and are eluding the inevitable end. But, instances of masked robbers – hitting families in secluded homes in the edges of Chennai city have drastically come down. Is it only due to what I did? Perhaps not, I would carefully add. But, my tactics, sure as hell, must have contributed to the number of such instances coming down. I am like the DDT – illegal in many ways, but, have my useful sides as well,” DDT had said as his opening gambit. The listeners had giggled.

The balding retired cop advised the IT professionals to strengthen the arms of the central government by getting time allotted by the management to hack codes of secretive offshore banks that helped villains stash ill-gotten money in numbered accounts.

“These bastards stole from this nation … or … every one of you. You should help retrieve this stash and deposit it into the coffers of the Government of India, from where the baddies cannot get it back. The money will help India that is Bharat into becoming Bharat that is India. Emperor Bharat had sowed the seeds of proper, operative democracy and selection process of rulers strictly on the basis of merit some 4,000 years ago. It is well nigh impossible to do something as dramatic as that at this point in time. But, with better funding, the government can attempt doing stuff that will help the larger interests of we the people of this nation,” the former officer had stated during his 2 hour long presentation. During the tea break, Swathi had buttonholed the former officer.

“I am not sure whether the management here will allow such hacking. But, some of my friends could do this outside the office in our spare time, sir,” Swathi had told the man.

“Better be careful child. Your namesake was killed … I suspect … because …she was attempting something of this sort. Her killer Ram Kumar was a fall guy who was easily and shamelessly eliminated by corrupt elements in the police force to which I belonged sometime ago. In my opinion, a chilling message was sent to warn such covert vigilante groups – not to crack such codes and retrieve stolen stashes. But, I would say, continue doing it till the baddies find it too difficult to rob the common citizens of India. God only knows how many Ram Kumars are lurking and with what purpose,” DDT had opined.

“But sir, as you say, if some bad people from the police department are involved, what about our safety? Forget the stashes abroad. I am being tormented by a local stalker and am scared to seek help from the nearby cop house,” Swathi said bitterly.

“I played the role of an avenger while donning the uniform. Now, I can’t pull off such shenanigans. Times have changed. The way things are regressing, one can only pray to God! Who knows, God may still help,” DDT had said finally.

As Swathi got into the train at Maraimalai Nagar, her younger brother – a slender teenager lad set out from home, to accord his sister a modicum of security as she walked home.

To be continued

[1]

The factory and the warehouse were housed in what came to be known as Fort St George – from where the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu is being ruled … or perhaps more correctly … misruled.

On 22 August 1639, the piece of land lying between the river Cooum almost at the point it enters the sea and another river known as the Egmore river was granted by a junior member of the Damarla clan to East India Company after obtaining a permission to cede to the white man had been obtained from then Vijayanagar monarch whose first name was Venkatadri.

On this piece of waste land was founded Fort St. George, a fortified settlement of British merchants, factory workers, and other colonial settlers. Upon this settlement the English expanded their colony to include a number of other European communities, new British settlements, and various native villages, one of which was named Madraspatnam. The British named the entire combined city Madras to mark the occasion.

Located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, Chennai is one of the biggest cultural, economic and educational centres in South India. According to the 2011 Indian census, it is the sixth-largest city and fourth-most populous urban agglomeration in India. The city and its suburbs that includes most part of Kanchipuram district, constitute the Chennai Metropolitan Area, which is the 36th-largest urban area by population in the world. Chennai is among the most visited Indian cities by foreign tourists. It was ranked 43rd most visited city in the world for year 2015.

The Quality of Living Survey rated Chennai as the safest city in India.

Chennai attracts 45 percent of health tourists visiting India, and 30 to 40 percent of domestic health tourists.

As such, it is termed “India’s health capital”

Chennai has the third-largest expatriate population in India. It stood at over 100,000 in 2016 as per census reports.

Tourism guide publisher Lonely Planet named Chennai as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit in 2015.

The metropolis is ranked as a beta-level city in the Global Cities Index and was ranked the best city in India by India Today in the 2014 annual Indian city survey.

 In 2015 Chennai was named the “hottest” city (worth visiting and worth living in the long term) by the BBC, citing the mixture of both modern and traditional values.

 National Geographic ranked Chennai’s food as second best in the world; it was the only Indian city to feature in the list.[23] Chennai was also named the ninth-best cosmopolitan city in the world by Lonely Planet.

The Chennai Metropolitan Area is one of the largest city economies of India. Chennai is nicknamed “The Detroit of India”, with more than one-third of India’s automobile industry being based in the city. In January 2015, it was ranked third in terms of per capita GDP. Chennai has been selected as one of the 100 Indian cities to be developed as a smart city under PM Narendra Modi’s flagship Smart Cities Mission.

[2]

Sometime in June 1744, a rowdy element from England’s Shropshire called Robert Clive began life as a clerk and rose to become a general. Known to have terrorised those who studied in his home’s vicinity, Clive cemented the authority of what was also then known as ‘John Company’.

Clive ‘oversaw’ the dispensation of the ‘white man’s ‘justice’. The greed of short-sighted, egoist weak Muslim noblemen – Muhammad Ali and Chanda Sahib helped him. The insistence of blue-blooded Frenchman Governor General Joseph-François, Marquis Dupleix to fight according to rules aided the cunning former clerk with enormous chutzpah. Within the next half a decade, the authority of the French had decayed and that of the British flew full mast from Fort St George.

In the mid 1740’s, British Prime Minister William Pitt ‘the elder’ hailed Clive as a ‘heaven-born-general’ without any military training.

Clive returned to Great Britain at the age of 35 with a fortune of at least £300,000 filched from India plus an annual ‘quit-rentof £27,000.

Lord Macaulay praised Clive thus: “Clive gave peace, security, prosperity and such liberty as the case allowed to millions of Indians, who had for centuries been the prey of oppression. [Clive was better than] Napoleon [Bonaparte whose] career of conquest was inspired only by personal ambition. 

[3]

DDT or Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane is a colourless insipid odourless crystalline insecticide whose early form was created in 1874. Its commercial use was perfected by Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Mueller in 1939. Some 9 plus years later, Mueller got the Nobel for medicine as the poisonous chemical was effective in destroying harmful arthropods which are insects of the arachnid and crustacean variety. These beings constitute roughly 80% of the world’s animal population. Opinion about letting them live peacefully is divided. Known to cause several diseases in two-legged and 4-legged creatures, a section of humanity wishes to exterminate them. A larger group opposes this idea because the poor voiceless things help in pollination and thus spread of vegetation – the world over.

In 1962, marine biologist Rachel Louise Carson – whose interests centred around saving the world through conservation of multiple species authored the book Silent Spring. The book revealed that DDT also caused cancer among humans and was a serious threat to wildlife, particularly birds. The ‘Bald Eagle’ [national bird of the US of A] and Peregrine Falcon were 2 birds that had almost been rendered extinct by hunters and also by DDT. A decade later, United States of America banned use of DDT by accepting the ruling made under the auspices of Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Thanks to the ban, the 2 birds in question can be seen flying freely in the American continent. Nevertheless, DDT is still used in some nations as it effectively kills mosquitoes that spread fatal epidemics like malaria.