The two boys police had picked up were much younger in age than they had appeared. The growth of hair on their faces had hidden their actual age. Besides the long gowns they were wearing further added to their facial look more number of years. It was not so easy to identify the killers of the bus passengers, but the analysis of the film at last provided some clue to begin with.  DIG Meena’s tenacity to solve the case at any cost had paid dividends. It was on his instructions that sleuths from the special investigation squad had parked themselves in the village where the old shrine was situated, “the co- incidents are just too many to be digested easily. The seer’s call for independence, his warning to the other community, and the blind devotion of the young blood towards the sage can exhort the young people to indulge into any kind of criminal and nefarious activities. Besides the massacre of the unknown bus passengers could serve only one purpose i.e. isolate one community from the other, widen the gap to create the wedge in relationship built over many a centuries. Once the differences are created amongst the communities; the government will have no moral right to continue and thus anarchy will cause the kind of confusion that prevailed when the Britishers were handing over the powers to Indian leaders on this side of the borders”, said Meena to the group of officers from the special investigation cell who were being detailed to keep an eye on the village shrine, where young boys of the cadres run by the sage were still living.

The shoemaker in the main crossing of the village had brought one of his relations from the native place as an apprentice. The shoe mender’s kiosk was situated on the street leading to the shrine.  He could overlook the main door leading into the God’s house. The new boy who was related to the shoe mender would go to the shoes stand where people took off their slippers before going inside. He rendered free service for shoe shining to the devotees. The pilgrims and the daily devotees were too pleased to see this young man cleaning and dusting off their slip-ons before handing it over to them.

Such devotion did not go unnoticed by the inhabitants of the sacred house. The contact from inside, with the shoe shiner was made after he had undergone the ordeal of shoe shining continuously for two weeks. “What kind of sins are you atoning for by rolling yourself in dust like this? This is not the age to waste time, at your age you should be serving the nation and society by more active role”.

“And pray how do I do it “, he had asked the visitor who took him inside to meet their leader. “You are not from this part of the country nor you belong to our religion, why do you then undertake the shoe shine service? Mind you if you have been planted by the local police amongst us then you will have to pay it by your life “.

“No sir! I am not from any kind of police. I am a poor boy from shoe mender’s native village. My folks are hardly able to make ends meet hence they have sent me to this village to earn my livelihood.  I shall thank you if you could give me some small employment so that I could feed myself and may be save a penny or two to send back home for my younger siblings also”.

“Have you ever held this before?’ the leader threw the gun towards him but did not let it go from his hands. The shoe shine boy caught both of his own ears “please forgive me sir! But only the rich landlords of our village owned guns. But those guns were big and crude looking, unlike the one you have in your hands. This is very small and sophisticated. It must be automatic”, the shoeshine boy asked him. “Will you like to fire one? We will teach you?’

“But sir what will a poor boy like me do with a gun. I do not have any enemies in this world. I pray, you will permit me to stay here and serve all of you “.

The leader who was taken aback by his simplicity thought “such boys can be initiated into the movement and their naivety will come handy to use them in furthering the cause of the great Priest. “You see we are all employed by the shrine to protect the pontiff. You know like the big landlords of your village the owner of this shrine too has many enemies who are always on the look out to take a pot shot at the seer. You too will be engaged as a bodyguard like all of us. You will have to teach a lesson or two to the enemies of the great sage. Will you do it”?

“Of course my dears’ sir I am prepared to lay down my life for the service of the god”. One of the boys laughed aloud “and take a few lives if need be “.

The sugarcane juice seller outside the shrine had seen the shoe shine boy being escorted into the holy fort. He anxiously waited for the outcome; in case he has been found out to be a police officer the gun shot will be heard any time. But his colleague and friend have been through many such masquerades earlier; and he should be able to carry this out successfully.  He was quite confident of the acting capabilities of the gentleman. Two boys came out of the main gate, and went to the old shoe mender’s kiosk. They spoke to him for a while. The shoe mender took out an old dusty album. He was showing them the photographs of a small child .The shoe mender raised both hands to point out to the investigators that the same boy who happens to be his nephew has grown up. The boys appeared quite satisfied with their queries and returned to the main door again.

The juice seller too heaved a sigh of relief. He eased his fingers on the trigger of the rifle; he was clutching in the lower portion of the push cart. He must speak to the control room immediately and confirm the successful transplantation of “stem I “the grafting has been completed successfully”, he whispered through the cash chest which was fitted with a sensitive mike.

The herd of cows returning from the grazing fields made too much noise; some of them were announcing their arrival to their owners by braying loudly. He pushed his cart to the other street and moved out of the village. He found the transport waiting for him on the road leading to the trunk road. The” stem I” should be able to get the head of Tanwar’s murderer soon, he hoped and hopped on to the transport.

The message from the” stem I “was delivered ten days after he had gone inside the shrine, through the old shoe mender. Though he had been forewarned by the leader against making any contact with his so called uncle, he took a chance after the morning prayers one day. The crowd at the shoe stand had thinned out and the boys too were busy preparing for a mission given to them by the leader. He had been privy to the discussions when the leader had called him,” it is a big day for all of us. We have information that some of the enemies of our great sage are planning to eliminate him within next few days but before they do so we will strike at their roots and finish them without giving them any chance to react and retaliate. Today is also the day when your training with the gun will be put to test.  You shall be accompanying one of the teams assigned to track down the enemies at the railway station”. The leader had not divulged any details further but the persistent questioning to the young team members he had to go with gave him enough details.  The youngster in his excitement had told him, “It is a biggest strike plan. We shall be hitting simultaneously at many places. The teams to cover the bus stand and the one to strike at the city school have already left. We shall leave immediately after they have carried out their strikes. The cops will deploy their full energy at the school and the bus stand and we will have a field’s day at the railway station, imagine getting them like sitting ducks.  They will hardly have a chance to get away. We should have done the same to bus commuters too.  I do not know why Parma took the trouble of taking them to the forest”. Parma was the leader of the gang that struck the bus that day became clear to him but who was this Parma , how to reach him and most of all how to prevent further massacre of the innocents hung heavy on his mind; when he decided to take a risk of his life and took quick strides towards the kiosk. If someone had seen him; the end could come even now but he was not afraid of that; at least he will be able to save a few hundred innocent lives. These murderers were merciless and ruthless in their act of spreading terror. They are not even sparing the schoolchildren. He jotted down the few lines on a piece of paper with the black shoe shine cream, provided by the shoe maker. “A police man is posted at the main road controlling the traffic. Please ensure the paper reaches him without any further loss of time otherwise many of the unknown will be laying their lives at  alter of communal hatred”, he had told the old man repairing shoes.

Meena looked aghast at the paper, “the pigeons will be flying in three pairs.  Two of the pairs have already left their nest. They will be hovering over the bus stand and the school. Ensure they do not spread their shits around.  The group of two for the railway station flies in the evening along with the maiden dove”.  These pigeons that had already left their nest were difficult to be halted by now.  Still he tried sending the alarm signals to the security staff posted at the local bus stand. He asked for the additional security to be sent to the railway station. The name of the school had not been mentioned in the slip of paper.  That created a real panic when he informed the chief of the state   police on the wireless net, “How do we know which school. What locality and what time they are planning to strike.  We have although taken adequate security measure at the other two places”.

“There are more than forty big or small schools operating in this town. With killers lurking free, they can strike at will any where they want. Should we want to inform all schools on telephone it will create a big terror all over the town. You will have to then face the traffic chaos at all intersections with harried and worried parents trying to reach their children and fetch them home”, Meena was aware of the impossibilities they were faced with to control an unknown missile that could have hit the youth in their schools any where in town.

“You should immediately get in touch with the inspector of schools. It must still be the morning assembly time in all the schools, tell him it is an emergency. No student will be allowed to remain in the assembly grounds and that we are sending police force to man the main entrance to all the schools. Flash the executive order to dispatch the group of four guards each in schools situated in the localities closer to the police stations, to guard their entrances. Any suspicious looking intruder has  to be shot in the legs as we would like to hold them for questioning into the bus case and also may be find a lead to the killers of Tanwar” the chief of the state   police was issuing instructions to Meena, when he heard the other telephone line ringing persistently. The chief of the state   police barked instructions to his personal staff that seemed to have been paralyzed by the emergency, “Pick up the phone dammit!” Thakur his personal assistant listened to the incoming call and his face went pale with the news.  He extended the receiver towards the chief of the state   police who could understand that the worst has already happened.

“Sir there has been shooting out at the morning assembly in two government schools. We have received the information on phone and I am leaving for there at once”, it was the city superintendent of police on line.  He mentioned the names of the locality and cut off the line. The chief shouted back the locality names to Meena on the other line and asked him to rush there. In the meanwhile he decided to handle the bus stand threat himself and dialed the walky talky number of the station officer under whose jurisdiction the area had been assigned.

The officer in charge came on line “hello” and then he heard the big bang that had torn a bus apart.  The fire ball reached out to the other buses parked nearby and set them aflame too. There were people running out of the burning hells. “They have struck here”, he spoke through the walky set and rushed towards the burning buses. The chief of the state   police who had heard the bang on the other side rushed out of his office, the set of four commando guards were already in the jeep.  He jumped into the front seat next to the driver and said, “The local bus stand on the double”. He came across the fire brigade vehicles moving towards the same direction, some one did have the presence of mind to call up the fire brigade. The flames were   still leaping in the smoldering buses when he reached there. The stink of burning flesh was too much to bear.  The human body parts were slashed into small pieces and were strewn all over the bus stand. There was no semblance of the cheerful yet hurried atmosphere that normally surrounded this bus terminal, instead he witnessed hue and cry all around. The social activists have brought ambulances and other small vehicles to carry those injured to the hospitals nearby.  The dead were being lifted and put on the side for identification. He wondered how the naked burnt out cadavers will be recognized and identified by their kith and kin. He found out from the station officer if his men will take care of the dead and injured; the forensic experts will soon be here for investigation. There was nothing he could however do at this stage.   He rushed to the schools where the shoot out had taken place.

The terrorists had sprayed bullets from Kalashnikovs at the outer boundary of the school ground, where a few young children were busy playing football. There has not been any casualty so far but the injured have been immediately rushed to the hospitals in the near by locality. The stray bullet had hit a Gardner who  died on the spot .The young children were too petrified to come out of the school building in spite of the fact that principal had declared immediate closure of the classes   and arranged for the buses to carry the students  home . The chief of the state   police thought of addressing the young students. He assured them “whatever had to happen has already taken place and nothing untoward will be allowed to occur now”. “The young students will be escorted back by the police squad under protection”, he had told the principal. However the students replied in one voice “we do not need this but please take care of our friends who have been injured and if it is required we can stay back for giving them our blood”. He felt overwhelmed by this gesture of the future of the nation, “the humanity survives in spite of the demons “, and the chief of the state   police told the principal, “ We have enough police force to donate blood for the hopes of our country and I salute all of you for showing exemplary courage during this hour of crisis. No my children! I rather assure you the innocent blood spilt will be avenged soon and the murderers will not be spared” he raised his hand in salute to the children, who replied in unanimous voice “Bharat maata ki jai” .He held back his tears from swelling up his eyes and asked the principal of the school to accompany him to the hospital where Meena had already taken the injured students.

However Meena’s mind was at present too obsessed with the letter that he had read. The “stem I” had said “three pair of pigeons will take off on flight “that meant the third pair of pigeons should be on its way to cause another havoc, “oh my GOD! The railway station! Express to national capital leaves in the evening”, he issued frantic instruction to the bomb disposal squad to reach the rail terminal, and he himself rushed there instantly. He found the platform fully crowded.  It was difficult to walk through the evening swarm of daily commuters and locate the pigeons. He spoke to the station master, “The train must be vacated immediately without causing any kind of panic. We are afraid there could be a bomb on the train, or there could be firing of bullets by the terrorists on this train on the way. It shall be our task to prevent either of this at any cost.  We do not know if it is a timer device or a remote controlled that would trigger the explosion”.

The station master understood the emergency, and agreed to help them on the condition that, “we can not create bomb scare amongst the common public.  It can cause a stampede which will then be difficult to control”.  “Let me handle it my way. I will announce the cancellation of the train on the condition that another rake will have to be arranged due to mechanical fault in this set of coaches. The entire process will take two hours and hence passengers will be requested to come out of their compartments. But I cannot ask them to vacate the platform”.

The announcement took everyone by surprise.  People had crowded the information booth wanting to know the reason for the delay and why the change of rake at this stage?  “Where will the new rake come from? How long will it take for the new rake to arrive?” they all were eager to know. The announcer declared “due to malfunctioning in the air conditioning duct of the train compartments it will have to be attended to immediately at the station workshop. Please vacate the same so that the train can move”. Some of the passengers were getting agitated. They were abusing the railway authorities. Then some one from the crowd pointed towards the police dog squad and the sniffers moving towards the train, and he said, “Why do you not tell the truth? It seems like there has been a bomb threat “. The statement had its immediate impact. The passengers rushed back to their compartments.  Some of them lifted their baggage and hurried out of the platform, running towards the gate leading to the parking lot.

Plainclothes policemen were keeping watch on any suspicious move in the crowd, “you should look for the youngsters. They could be three of them together or may be they have split up and spread out. Overpower any one making a suspicious move. Watch out for signs if someone is hiding a gun under his clothes or may be even in a hand bag”, the instructions were issued to every one of the team member. DIG Meena accompanied by the special squad man (who could identify the “stem I”) parked himself at the strategic location from where he could look at the entire stretch of the railway station. He was looking at particularly the ticket windows, the eating stalls and the doors leading in and out of the terminal. He was losing his patience thinking it must be a hoax played to divert attention from other vulnerable points in the main town. After all it is such a big city. It is well neigh impossible to provide protection to each nook and corner of the growing populace. The terrorists can strike any where at will.

He saw a greater number of policemen on the platform than the passengers.  He could identify his own men by their body language and the hawk like eyes looking for the criminals. It was likely they may not strike at the railway station when they see so many policemen at the terminal. The crowd had thinned out to the open grounds out side the parking lots. The weather in the lawns was too cold with the chilled breeze blowing in from the snow capped hills nearby. Some of the passengers had cancelled their journey plans when they saw the canine squad. They were conjecturing what might happen and no one wanted to risk his or her life.  Only a few brave ones were waiting for their rescheduled train journey. “ we wait here for  twenty minutes more  and we call off the exercise” he spoke through the walky talky set for the benefit of the plainclothes cops engaged in keeping vigil and also to preempt the terror strike. The radio came alive again. One of the officers whispered into the system “look at the parking lot for two wheelers. The black and red motorcycles; they must be armed. They are two on the red bike and one on black”.

DIG Meena came in again “No one fires till we move close to the targets, four of you   move in towards the parking lot with adequate cover. Duck immediately if they start firing. I want them alive”. The plainclothes detectives near the railway enquiry window moved to the entrance to the railway station. One of them had, picked up the hold all baggage already placed on the road side there and hung it on his shoulders.  They pretended to be passengers coming out of the station to go to the town.

The three boys from the shrine were in their mid twenties attired in fashion leather jackets generally worn by the college students to protect themselves from the chilled weather and also to make a fashion statement. They started moving like eagles on the prowl towards the railway station, looking in all directions through the corner of their eyes. The one of the boys who had alighted from the red motorcycle cracked a joke. He patted the other one on the back and they all started laughing loudly. “Stem I” was walking in the middle of both of the attackers. He carried a small hand bag into his left hand. The bag had been handed to him by one of the boys while alighting from the motorcycle. He told him “the apples can be used by you to give a better health check to passengers. Only make sure you pull out their pins before throwing them” they had laughed then too. Any one who did not know why and what they were there for would by mistake take them to be college boys out on a loitering trip.

The security men kick started their own motorcycle. The pillion rider was carrying a hold all hung on to his shoulder. As soon as the first rider came near the boys, the pillion rider let go his hold all letting it fall on the ground below. The driver stopped the vehicle for a minute to let the pillion rider pick up the fallen piece of luggage. The boys from the shrine hearing the noise at their back got alerted and put their hands inside their jackets. “I am sorry, my baggage has fallen. Could you please help me pick it up”, the pillion rider put the boys at ease. As soon as one of the boys bent down to lift the baggage, the pillion rider hit him hard on his neck with the iron trunk he was carrying in his other hand. The boy fell on his knees, the detective jumped from his seat and hit him once again on the head, and the boy fell down limply losing consciousness.

His companion drew a Kalashnikov and pointed it towards assailant.  He had not anticipated the bullet that came from behind and hit him on the lower leg. The boy let go off his gun and he ran towards the red motorcycle. He wanted to get away. DIG Meena shot him again on the other leg, below his knee. He fell with the machine falling on top of him. The security men threw themselves on top of him, lest he reached for his gun again. The entire drama took less than three minutes. A third pair of cops drew their guns and pointed towards “stem I” DIG Meena stopped them from firing with a big shout “not at him you fool, he is one of us”. “Stem 1” had raised his both the hands and stood still. They threw the boys in a police van and took off at break neck speed towards police headquarters.

 

 

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