Editor: Read Chapter XII here.
Rajesh and Anjali were back on talking terms, but conversations didn’t last long. Rajesh asked himself if he was still in love with her. He had sometimes been on the verge of telling her that it was over, that it had all been one big mistake, but something held him back. Once Rajesh briefly mentioned marriage, but there was no heart in his words and Anjali didn’t encourage him. As a result of all that, Rajesh threw himself into his job, though at times he didn’t really know what he was doing or what he was likely to achieve.
‘Cordon and search operations! I want Kopida surrounded before dawn and we’ll move in after sunrise to turn the place upside down.’
Inspector Makarand raised an eyebrow as Rajesh flung down the file he had been reading. ‘It’s twenty kilometres from Aheri. Eight kilometres from the nearest road!’ he informed him.
‘This chap claims that three months ago, he spent two weeks hiding at Kopida,’ Rajesh passed the file over to Inspector Makarand. It had the transcript of a detainee’s confession during the course of an interrogation. The tactics used for the interrogation would definitely not have passed muster in Geneva. Inspector Makarand picked up the file with an air of resignation. Like everyone who worked with Rajesh, he had got used to Rajesh dissipating excess energy in such activities. Like everyone else, he too grumbled and muttered that if only Rajesh would get married and have some kids, his life would be easier.
‘Sir, just because that man sheltered at Kopida for two weeks does not mean we will find Maoists there today.’
‘I know, but you know something? It also doesn’t mean there won’t be any for sure. If a Maoist or two found safety at Kopida once, why shouldn’t they try it again? Anyway, what have we got to lose?’
‘What have we got to lose except our sleep’, Inspector Makarand mumbled to himself as he hid his irritation.
Rajesh, Inspector Makarand and a few other C60 officers, along with a former Maoist turned informer, got to the village by eight in the morning, after a ninety-minute trek. The cordon had been in place since four o’clock.
‘Bring them out. All men over fifteen under that neem tree. The rest of the villagers to that side, by that haystack,’ Rajesh ordered.
The villagers came out timidly, in no particular hurry. They knew that they wouldn’t be going anywhere for the better part of the day. The informer, his face masked, sat on a large rock, surrounded by policemen. The men were made to appear before him one by one. If the informer nodded, the men would be taken into custody. If he shook his head, it meant freedom for the villager in question.
There were not more than thirty men of military age and not more than a hundred villagers in total. The informer kept shaking his head at everyone, till he hesitated once. The man who stood in front of the informer was a middle-aged man who was missing some of his front teeth. The remaining teeth were decaying, thanks to his excessive use of betel leaves or tobacco or whatever else he chewed.
‘Is he a Maoist?’ Rajesh demanded.
The informer hesitated once more. Then he slowly shook his head.
‘Never mind, let’s take him,’ Rajesh announced. The man immediately fell at his feet and begged for mercy. ‘No, I am not a Maoist,’ he pleaded.
‘Who are your family members?’ Rajesh asked the hapless man.
‘No sir, please no, don’t harm us,’ the man continued to plead. ‘I am not a Maoist.’
‘I just want to know who your family members are! Do you have any relatives in this village?’’
Inspector Makarand grabbed the man by his collar and dragged him away. ‘Enough of this cringing and begging and pleading. Guna, ask this man’s family to step forward.’
An old man, an even older looking woman, doubtless the man’s parents, a woman in his thirties, most probably his wife, and three boys, the eldest no older than fifteen and the youngest around ten, came forward. The presence of a family could be taken to mean the man was probably not a Maoist.
‘Ask him once more, is he a Maoist?
A heated hush, hush discussion was held with the informer. ‘No’, was the answer was conveyed to Rajesh. The man was not a Maoist.
‘Fingerprint him and let him go,’ Rajesh told Inspector Makarand, who curtly ordered the man to follow him. The victim hesitated when one of the C60 commandoes caught him by the scruff of his neck and started dragging him behind. The man’s father broke into loud wails.
‘Please don’t harm my son. Etayya is over there, there, over there, that man is Etayya.’
There was a shocked silence and then a middle-aged man with a week’s stubble and a greying head, at whom the finger was pointed, got up and broke into a stumbling run. A younger man, much fitter and agile, jumped up and followed him. Neither of them got very far.
Ashok, Guna and three others ran after them. The young bodyguard suddenly stopped, turned around and drew out a long blade from inside his shirt. Within seconds a volley of shots were pumped into him and he slammed to the ground, dead. The sounds of the shots sounded unusually loud and the older man lost heart and stopped in his tracks. Just to play it safe, the officers clubbed him to the ground with their rifle butts.
He lay prone on the ground though it was obvious that he was conscious.
‘Get up,’ Rajesh demanded. There was no response. Guna stepped forward and kicked him hard on his shin bone, which elicited a grunt of agony.
‘You better sit up or we will give you more.’
‘He is Etayya!’ Ashok declared. Soon everyone was crowding around the prisoner.
‘What’s your name?’ Rajesh asked the man who continued to remain silent.
‘He is Etayya,’ Ashok repeated again. ‘Can you deny it?’ There was more silence.
It took a while for realisation to sink in and then euphoria swept through the group. ‘Fucking hell, we got Etayya!’ the officers screamed in jubilation. The villagers looked scared, wondering what punishment would befall them for having sheltered such an important Maoist.
‘Everyone stay where you are,’ Rajesh ordered the villagers. ‘Nobody should move.’
He turned to Inspector Makarand. ‘Make sure none of the constables call their families on their mobile phones. We’ll need reinforcements to take this shark out of here. Maybe the DIG can arrange to send us a helicopter.’
He then radioed the SP and conveyed the good news. ‘Sir, it was a sheer stroke of luck. That man’s father thought we were going to torture his son, when we were only going to fingerprint him. Yes sir, please sir. Yes sir, there’s some flat, empty land right here for the helicopter to land.’
‘Make sure this news doesn’t leak out till the helicopter takes him away’, he repeated to Inspector Makarand after which he sent Anjali a text message boasting of his exploit. But don’t tell anyone for a while, he requested her with a second text message, as an afterthought.
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