Editor: Read Chapter XXXVI here.
When Rajesh reached Avinash’s chawl in Goregaon, he was met by a Deputy Central Intelligence Officer from the Intelligence Bureau, who had three sub-ordinate officers with him. Rajesh was accompanied by an Inspector and two Sub-Inspectors from the Goregaon police station. A Deputy Central Intelligence Officer is equal to an Additional Superintendent, in terms of rank and Rajesh was disconcerted to notice that the IB officer was at least fifteen years older than him, clearly someone who had risen through the ranks.
The residents became even more excited when Rajesh and his team arrived and talked to each other animatedly and nervously. Did the presence of so many policemen have anything to do with Avinash who had disappeared many months ago? Or was it to do with Ravi who had gone on the All India Tour with Avinash, only to return mysteriously alone the previous day and then disappear again almost immediately. What of Swapna who had looked so sad and who had left that morning for Chiplun to visit her maternal grandparents, they wondered.
‘Avinash Korde, his daughter Swapna and a duplicate key maker named Ravi Avitekar were the only ones associated with Marxist Thoughts who lived in this chawl. All three of them are missing,’ Rajesh was informed by the IB Officer.
‘Did they all go on an All India Tour?’
‘Avinash and Ravi did. Swapna was here but she went away early this morning. Apparently, she has gone to Chiplun.’
‘What about Avinash’s wife?’
‘He was a widower.’
‘Does Ravi have a family?’
‘His mother stays here.’
‘Have you looked inside Avinash’s place?’
‘His kholi is locked.’
‘I’d like to look inside,’ Rajesh said.
‘Who’s stopping you?’ The IB officer looked bemused.
One of the policemen fetched a locksmith who opened Avinash’s kholi which the policemen carefully searched, watched by a few neighbours who had trickled in. The search revealed nothing of interest other than a bunch of reading materials for the Marxist Thoughts’ study circle, which was only to be expected. They found a photo album which had photos of Swapna as a baby with her mother and a much younger Avinash standing nearby. One of Avinash’s neighbours pointed out Avinash and Swapna to Rajesh. There was one photograph of the study circle in action, sixteen men and a teenage Swapna in pigtails, pretending to be in the midst of a discussion, but it was at least five years old. Nevertheless, Rajesh carefully extracted it from the album and put it in his bag.
Rajesh ordered the policemen to fetch a member of each family living in the chawl for him to interview.
‘If you don’t mind, we’ll carry on,’ the IB Officer told Rajesh.
‘I’d like you to be around when I talk to Ravi’s mother,’ Rajesh said.
‘I’ve already spoken to her. She knows nothing.’
‘I’d like to speak to her again. Just a couple of questions.’
‘Go on, but you don’t need me for that. Listen, ever since those men were killed in Kalina, we have been checking out communist groups like this one. There are so many of them and there is no reason to believe that these people are responsible for any of the attacks. I don’t see why I should spend any more time talking to these people.’
‘What about the families of the men who are supposedly on tour?’ Rajesh persisted.
‘We have already spoken to them.’
‘Why is it that they are only sending text messages? Why aren’t they answering any phone calls?’
‘Listen, there could be any number of explanations for that. Maybe they are running low on cash and are trying to save money.’
‘Can I have their mobile numbers? The ones from which text messages are being sent to their kith and kin in Mumbai while on tour?’
‘Sure, I’ll email the list to you. What’s your email ID?’
With that, the IB officers left.
The Policemen brought in a middle-aged house wife who understandably looked nervous.
‘Are you sure Ravi came yesterday evening and left immediately?’ Rajesh asked the woman.
‘Yes, yes. He came, spent some time with his mother, went to meet Swapna and then left.’
‘You saw him leave.’
‘No, but they told me.’
‘Who told you?’
‘The others.’ Rajesh decided not to probe any further realising that the chawl was an information free-flow domain.
‘Would you have Swapna’s mobile number?’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Why didn’t you join Marxist Thoughts?’ Rajesh asked the fifty-year old man who came next.
‘They are crazy people. Why should I waste my time on something like that?’
‘Was Avinash your friend?’
‘No, not really. He didn’t really have any friends in this building.’
‘None of the people in this building joined Marxist Thoughts?’
‘No, no one except Ravi.’
‘Was Ravi a committed Marxist?’
‘No, but he was committed to Swapna.’
‘They are in love?’
‘He is. She is not. One-way traffic.’
‘Would you have Avinash’s mobile number?’
‘Yes, I think so. I once took it from him and saved it on my mobile.’ The interviewee twisted around and produced an old phone from which he extracted the required piece of information.
After speaking to two more men and another woman, Rajesh realised that the people in the chawl knew very little about Marxist Thoughts. They only knew that they held Friday meetings since many, many years and even when Avinash was away on his All India Tour, his daughter Swapna had held those meetings, and that five or six men attended those meetings in Avinash’s absence. He got Swapna’s mobile number from a woman whose daughter was supposedly friendly with Swapna.
‘That’s enough. Let’s go speak to Ravi’s mother.’
‘Shall I get her here?’ the Police Inspector asked.
‘No, I would like to talk to her in her kholi.’
Ravi’s mother looked indescribably sad, as if she knew that Ravi would not be coming back.
‘So, your son Ravi came here yesterday night, right?’
‘Yes, and he left immediately.’
‘He came back from an All India Tour and left immediately? Where did he go?’
‘I don’t know.’ Rajesh felt that the old woman was not being very honest with him, though she looked very innocent and harmless.
‘Do you know Swapna very well?’
‘Yes of course. I’ve known her since she was a little girl.’
‘Were Ravi and Swapna good friends?’
‘Not really. They knew each other and they both took part in those Friday discussions, but that’s about it.’
‘Listen, your son may be in trouble and we could help him. You need to tell us everything if we are to help your son.’
Ravi’s mother’s eyes became wide. ‘What has my poor son done to deserve this? He is the most helpful boy around. He has never harmed anyone. The only mistake he made was to fall in love with that horrible Swapna and she never gave two hoots about him,’ she screamed.
‘Where is he now?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you have a mobile phone?’
‘No.’ The old woman started to laugh.
‘What’s Ravi’s mobile number?’
She brought out a tattered diary and Rajesh took down Ravi’s number.
‘Do you have Swapna’s mobile number?’
‘No, of course not. Why would I need her number?’
As they left, Rajesh pulled out his phone to try and call Swapna. However, before he could do so, his phone rang. It was Felix.
‘Get your arse over to Dadar station. A woman with a gun is holding two men hostage inside a food-stall on a platform.’
‘I am on my way. I’ll see you there,’ Rajesh told Felix, even as he wondered whether the hostage taker was the same woman who was involved in the Sampat attack.
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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