Editor: Read Chapter IV here.
Ravi woke up and groggily wondered what time it was. His watch was under his pillow, but it was too dark to see the time. His mobile phone was with Sanket and he could make or receive calls or use the phone in any manner, only in the presence of Tarun or one of the Unit Leaders. The windows in the room were boarded up and the only route for any light to enter was through a vent on top. Since there was not even a ray of light coming through, Ravi assumed that sunrise was sometime away. Until three months back, Ravi was a key-maker who made duplicate keys for those who wanted an extra key for their locks or those who had lost the only key they had and came to him in distress. Now, he was a skeptical soldier, apparently fighting to create a Marxist utopia for the common man!
The building in which the men were holed up was evidently built for commercial use. Situated inside an old mill compound in Parel, in the heart of the metropolis, the twelfth floor consisted of a hall which could easily accommodate fifty work stations and had four cabins for senior staff. However, it was all bare and even the walls were unpainted.
Tarun, Sanket and Niranjan occupied a cabin each. So did Avinash, the Platoon Leader, the man who would rule India once the revolution was successful. Avinash and Tarun had folding beds, while Sanket and Niranjan slept on thin cotton mattresses laid out on the floor. Ravi and the rest of the men slept on straw mattresses, laid out in the cavernous hall.
The men had got used to treating Sanket and Niranjan with respect and reverence, almost on par with the respect accorded to Tarun and Avinash. Gone was the earlier camaraderie and banter which had included Avinash as well. One of the reasons for this was that punishments for infringements, in the form of push ups, pay cuts and food deprivation, were meted out by the Unit Leaders with alacrity. Perks and privileges such as higher pay, better food and mattresses, made it evident that there was a clear class distinction between the leaders and the rank and file.
Ravi had wanted to question Avinash about the class system which had emerged, but never got round to doing it. Avinash didn’t seem to mind the new system and Tarun seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Whatever he did seemed to work.
At the end of the day, Tarun was the one who had funded the entire enterprise with his family money – buying weapons, getting them a Russian trainer and even paying them something every month! Ravi and the other men got five thousand rupees per month while the Unit Leaders got ten thousand each. He could only guess how much Platoon Leader Comrade Avinash was being paid!
What was Swapna doing, Ravi wondered? How was his mother faring? He had embarked on an adventure he did not like, the outcome of which was, to his mind, dubious. However, he had no choice. Both Swapna and her father Avinash were so taken in with Tarun that to disobey him was tantamount to disobeying Avinash. This was something Ravi could never do as long as he was in love with Swapna and he knew that he would love her as long as he lived.
Ravi had a few misgivings about their enterprise, even though he hoped and prayed for its success. They shouldn’t have killed Janak. It was unpardonable. Thank God, Ravi was not in the firing squad which did the dirty deed. How could Comrade Avinash have allowed Comrade Tarun to kill Janak?
Was Swapna in love with Tarun? It was possible. In any event, Tarun was a better match for Swapna that he would ever be. What right did he have to expect Swapna to love him when Tarun was available? Sometimes he wished Tarun hadn’t arrived in their lives so unexpectedly one rainy day, walking into one of their Friday meetings and turning over their lives completely.
He knew that he would never marry Swapna, even if he survived the mad enterprise he had joined. In a way, he wished he would die rather than stay alive and face a future without her. He was only too happy to admit that he had become a Marxist and attended the ‘Marxist Thoughts’ meetings solely because her father organised them. After all, he was the only person from their chawl who attended those meetings, wasn’t he?
Ravi sat up quietly and pussyfooted his way to one of the two toilets he was allowed to use. The third one was reserved for the bosses. Should he run away, he wondered? If they caught him leaving without permission, they would kill him. Tarun had set such an example with Janak that anyone would think twice before fleeing. Desertion was an evil thing Ravi knew, but anyhow, he wouldn’t desert Swapna’s father.
Ravi went back to bed and closed his eyes, but sleep eluded him. A familiar image of Swapna appeared before his eyes, heart-breakingly beautiful with her long, silky hair, perfect complexion and an innocent cleft in her chin. If only, if only, she could be his. Ravi determinedly started counting down from hundred.
Was Tarun a genuine Marxist as he claimed to be? Everyone who was part of Marxist Thoughts was a communist, except for him who had joined the group for love.
Ravi decided that he needed some wise counsel, someone to confide in. The only person he could think of, other than Avinash, was Holambe and he did not even know where Holambe was. Even if he did, it would be very difficult to contact him, let alone actually meet and talk to him.
Holambe was a very good friend, who had at one time been with Marxist Thoughts. A couple of years ago, Avinash had expelled him from the group for allegedly misappropriating some money collected from the public for their cause. Even though Ravi knew that the charges against Holambe were most likely true, he had been furious with Avinash for so crudely exposing and expelling Holambe. Hadn’t he been so much in love with Swapna, he too would have walked away from their outfit. Holambe had made his way to the forests of Central India where he actually joined a Maoist outfit. A drifter and an outlier, he never made it to the inner ranks of the Maoists but he was happy to stay that way. He occasionally came to Mumbai to stay with his brother Opesh, who had a small bangle shop near Dadar. Holambe was clever and would know exactly what to do in his position.
Ravi had Opesh’s number stored in his mobile phone. Now he had to find a way of calling Opesh without attracting Tarun’s attention or that of the Unit Leaders and ask Opesh to connect him with Holambe.
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