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[e] and 13 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.
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