Editor: Read Chapter XXXVIII here.
‘She’s inside that stall,’ Rajesh was informed when he reached Dadar Railway Station. The entire platform on which the stall was located and both adjacent platforms had been closed to the public. Since Dadar is one of the busiest stations in Mumbai’s local train network and because it serves to connect the Western and Central lines, the inconvenience caused to the general public was not minor.
Nothing much had changed since Teji took refuge inside the stall and forced her hostages to sit on the ground on either side of the stall, except that many more policemen had converged on the spot. The station master’s office had been commandeered and a conclave of police officers was assessing the situation.
‘We could just charge in and kill her any time,’ a senior policeman said.
‘We need her alive at any cost. There is no hurry, whatsoever,’ Felix insisted.
‘There is some hurry. We do not want this situation to be prolonged. We want closure. The inconvenience caused on account of this disruption is terrible. So many passengers have been stranded because at least fifty percent of the trains have been cancelled.’
The station master and a couple of other senior railway officials who were present wanted the situation to be sorted out at the earliest and they didn’t particularly care if the woman or her hostages were killed.
‘Can’t we lob a few tear gas canisters and then kill her?’ an officer asked.
‘We can do that, but she might kill herself and the hostages as soon as the teargas hits her.’
Rajesh could see that the officers hated inertia and wanted to see some action. The fact that the hostage taker was a lone woman dressed in a saree made things even worse. If the terrorist wasn’t holed up inside a food stall, they could have offered her food and water and wrung out some concessions in return.
‘Felix Sir, can we please speak outside,’ Rajesh asked. Felix nodded after a moment’s hesitation and they both went outside the station master’s office looking for a quiet corner. There was none. Rajesh knew that he was taking a big risk, but he could not think of any other idea. ‘
‘Sir, what if I get Etayya to speak to this woman? Won’t that make a difference?’
‘What makes you think he will agree to help us now? He hasn’t agreed so far, right?’
‘Right sir, but if I were to show him a picture of this woman from those CCTV images and if he were to recognise her, he might speak to her to save her life.’
‘You mean, if this chick is actually a Maoist and he recognises her from his glory days, he might speak with her?’
Rajesh smiled despite the circumstances.
‘Exactly Sir, he’s one cool dude. He might want to persuade this chick here to give up if she turns out to be an old flame.’
‘You think it’s likely that he knows her?’
‘Sir, I am reasonably sure this female is a trained Maoist guerrilla fighter.’
‘And if you’re wrong?’
‘Sir what have we got to lose?’
Felix pondered for a second and said, ‘I’ll have to get the DGP’s permission.’
‘Sir, let’s not waste any time. I’ll head towards Arthur Road Jail. In the meantime, please speak with the DGP and let me know either way what his decision is. And please get someone to text me a CCTV image of this woman.’
Rajesh summoned his driver and was soon on his way to Mumbai’s oldest prison. The traffic was heavy and Rajesh made slow progress. The total distance was only a little over five kilometres, but Rajesh budgeted forty-five minutes for the journey, sufficient time for Felix to talk to the DGP and obtain his consent.
Rajesh called Inspector Makarand who, along with Ashok and Guna, had been allocated living quarters within the jail, and briefed him. At the end of Senapati Bapat Marg, the traffic slowed to a crawl for the left turn into Dr. E. Moses Marg, which took them past the Mahalakshmi Race Course. After the Race course grounds, once again they slowed down as they approached Mahalakshmi Railway Station. Rajesh kept looking at his mobile phone anxiously, hoping that Felix would call him.
His phone rang. It was Anjali. ‘Honey, I am expecting an important call. I will call you back.’
After a few minutes, a ping sound announced the arrival of an MMS. Rajesh clicked on the message and looked at the photo he had been sent. It was a reasonably clear image of the woman as she ran away after hitting the ticket examiner. And then, just as they were about to reach the jail, Felix called.
‘It’s fine. Approved. You can go ahead.’
‘Sir, have the jail authorities been informed?’
‘I’ll do that now. You start talking to him.’
When Rajesh entered Etayya’s special cell, he found him reading a Telugu translation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. The day’s Nav Bharat Times lay on the table, folded up, showing signs of having been read.
‘How do you like Solzhenitsyn?’ Rajesh asked.
‘Good. I asked for Sholokov and got Solzhenitsyn.’
‘We did the best we could. I will try and arrange for Sholokov as well.’
‘I don’t believe you. Why would you give me books by a writer who celebrates communism?’
‘We are a free society. You are entitled to read what you like. Never mind that, I am here for a reason.’
‘I’ve told you before, I am not willing to do anything you ask me to do.’
‘Etayya, what do you think of the people carrying out these attacks in Mumbai? Blowing up buildings and killing innocent people. What do you think? You think it’s justified?’
‘No, I don’t. However, I will be darned if I help you.’
‘But now we really need your help Etayya.’
‘You are wasting your time.’
‘Today, one of the attackers did something stupid and she has been surrounded. She is holed up inside a small stall in a railway station. She has taken two hostages. She has no escape and she will be killed sooner or later.’
‘What makes you think she is a Maoist? Maybe she is a terrorist sent by Pakistan or China. In any event, I don’t care what happens to her.’
‘Listen, I just want you to come with me to Dadar Station and talk to this woman using a megaphone. If you don’t help me with this, then it’s back to square one.’ Rajesh grew angry as he spoke. ‘I’ve done my best to get you a good deal. I’ve negotiated on your behalf. And this is how you repay me?’
‘Like hell you have done all that for my welfare. Why should I believe you are any different?’
Rajesh decided not to waste any more time. He took out his phone, clicked on the MMS he had been sent and showed the photo to Etayya. ‘Do you know this woman?’
Etayya looked at the picture, more out of curiosity than any willingness to please Rajesh. There was a sudden inhalation of breath and then Etayya was bending forward for a closer look. ‘That’s Teji,’ he burst out.
‘You know her?’
‘Teji. A Madia Gond girl. One of our best. I know her very well. She was deputy commander in a dalam.’ Etayya’s voice had slowed to a whisper.
‘You know her, don’t you? Do you want to see her get killed in a few hours from now?’ Rajesh asked without a hint of compassion.
Featured Image (Cover): Nisha Joseph
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