Posts tagged ‘story’

Maddening Corridors of Intrigues 38

Chief Minister Pratap was explaining to the state police chief Nirbhaya, “I am aghast at the invitation extended to me by the great Priest. Not only that he also had the temerity to spite me by telling that my rival will be presiding over and blessing the newly weds. This tradition which was established in the fourteenth centuries to marry off the young ones at the community gatherings to save them the cost of weddings and to eliminate the bridegroom price is virtually degenerating into show of public followings and the strength thereof by the rivals in politics. We must somehow both take it out of the hands of the so called social reformers and bring it under the control of administration. We must device rules for not making the function a political platform by any one. But I know my own party members have been quite keen to start using this platform for their political mileages which I have been resisting all along”.

Nirbhaya, “You are in the wrong profession sir! I do believe a person of your vision and principles can take the state and country too far and show a new path to the builders of nation. But I also know that the likes of big man will hardly allow you to survive. In fact he must already be plotting your obituary with Colonel Bangru and you can get the summons in no time. I have not come here to rub salt on your wounds but to tell you that I too am suffering from the same injuries. My team’s entire efforts will come to a naught should the Governor write the death knell of the state assembly. But before that happens I will ask you to sign the orders permitting my men to raid the sanctum sanctorum and arrest the great priest Rajamantran and his protégés. We have picked up sufficient evidence from the two boys who had been   caught by Meena and his officers from the railway station. They were initially a tough nut to crack; but when they were made a target by their own companions from the shrine they decided to sing a song”.

“You mean Meena is still holding on to those two boys; but his report states that the boys were killed in the bomb blast at the office of the senior superintendent of police”.

“It is certain that no judicial officer will sign his own death warrant by permitting us hold these boys for long with us. Hence they have not been produced in any court. We shall of course do that when we have to make use of their witness for damning the great priest Rajamantran and his men”. Nirbhaya knew that Pratap will never be able to sign a search warrant that could damn him for many generations, “none dare do that. The sanctum sanctorum is too sensitive and sacred a place. Yet the great priest Rajamantran was committing sacrilege with the connivance and the cowardliness of some of the selfish and self centered political heavyweights. Still there is no harm in convincing the most pliable politician. May be he can see reason and prevent the disaster we   both anticipate. He has so far been able to resist adopting the double edged face of a politician and I am sure he will never be able to adopt one”.

The chief minister Pratap was expressing his sympathetic consideration to the state police chief rather than agreeing to sign the search warrants “I do understand your eagerness to bring the offenders down to their knees. I also can see the pain and frustration of you and your colleagues for not being able to do so. But let me tell you in politics it is not always the law of the land that is upheld. Even though we are the makers of laws of the land yet we scoundrels many a times pretend ignorance to the legal prerequisite. We create our own convenient interpretation of the law to suit our convenience. In this case too I will permit you to raid the peripheral offices to the sanctum sanctorum.  It will be up to you and your team to either challenge the culprit to move out of their hide. You must be able to otherwise on your own initiative get inside to fight it out and bring him to the book. I am sure you would not want my entire successive generations to suffer the stigma that I permitted you to defile the sacred territory”.

Pratap had stretched himself on the table to pick up a pen from holder kept on to his left when he heard a knock on door to his private office, “ come in “, he shouted back, “ it was the protocol officer from the Governor’s house along with Pratap’s secretary, “ You did not have to barge into my privacy like this. In case you are carrying an urgent invitation please leave it with my secretary. I shall attend to it as early as possible”.

“I have been told sir by his Excellency the governor of the state  to hand it over in person to you and make sure it is read in my presence because I have to carry your acknowledgement from your good offices” , the protocol officer told him curtly. Pratap gave a wry smile as he read aloud one line message from the President of the country, “on account of deteriorating law and order administration by ministry headed by you;   the president regrets to announce the imposition of the central rule in the state of …… with immediate effect. The state henceforth will be directly governed by the governor” signed and sealed”. He read aloud the office order twice to make sure the chief of the state   police had heard him properly, “that also seals the fate of democratic traditions in this country. Your friend the big man has been able to wipe out the will of the people of the state by one stroke of pen. He forgets that the same people will not allow him to come back too. “I am sorry I do not hold the authority to sign this. Let the governor’s office decide the fate of great Priest and his men. As for the nation’s welfare I will have to consult my party members and other allies to chart out a new agenda. We will have to lodge a formal protest with the public and proletariat’. They heard a big commotion outside the chief minister’s office, “long live Pratap” “long live the democratic spirits’, “down with the central government”; Pratap beckoned the chief of the state   police to follow him to the corridors to see what was happening. His ministerial colleagues had gathered outside his office and they were expressing their solidarity with him. Brahma came forward and hugged him, he spoke with tears in his eyes, and “we heard him on the television boss, he has dismissed our government. He did not even have the courtesy to come personally and speak to you. It is the most cowardly act. He and his mentor in the central government will have to pay a heavy price. The people of this state are being taken for a ride. We must go to the common folks and take our case to the man in the street. Let them create a revolution. We must fight till we reestablish the right of the common voter to be the judge of the representatives elected by him. The Governor or even the Union government has no authority to dispense with the duly elected legislative at the state level. We will challenge the draconian step in the highest court of this country”.

Pratap had allowed him to speak so that he could take out his bottled emotions; he also waited if any of his other colleagues too were willing to speak. When none else spoke, he poked them further to find out “if any of you wants to take it out please do so. We will have to drop emotions to sit and discuss seriously the next step proposed for matching the gimmicks of the big man. He has not only deceived all of us; rather he has played with the trust of the commoner of this state. We will have to go to the men on the streets to explain to them the fate that lies in store for each one of them henceforth. The Governor’s report has been obtained by coercive methods. The poor chap had to; otherwise he would have been hauled up for the corrupt practices he indulged into when he was heading procurement wing while in active service. We however forgive him for the act of cowardice shown by him”. “The election schedule mentioned by him in his address to the press is also a big farce”, this was Dhanwan speaking, “chief he wants to hand over the state on a platter to the great Priest”.  Chief Minister Pratap who was not aware of the press meet addressed by the big man, the home minister Aaham of the central government was in for a surprise when he heard what his own colleague had to tell him. “We saw his press meet on television a while ago, he has straight away gone to the press rather than speaking to you which does not tell of the good parliamentary tradition being set by our rivals. It would have been appropriate if you had been called in by the governor to discuss the subject of law and order. Should it have failed to satisfy him he could have got you and your government voted out at the floor of the assembly”.

“Yes, you are correct my dear friend and colleague but if he had adopted the constitutional method; he would have not been able to usurp the powers from under our feet. We will however ourselves go to the people to seek their cooperation and from this moment onwards, the movements of boycotting the central administration will start. We shall not allow any elections to take place in the state till the legitimate government which was already in position is restored by the Governor.  We shall all of us including the members of the legislative assembly of all allies will lay seize to the Governor’s office”, Pratap who had been the guardian of the civil administration in this very office was pained at the words used by him. He looked at the police chief, “now that tables had been turned by our dear friend the big man from the central government you may have to take all of us in, as state guests for a few days. It appears to me that the law of the charlatans and the gun totters will rule the country side hence forth. Your predictions are finally finding expression little too soon and I wish I had the courage to sign this paper even on my way out. But cowards as we all are; do not dare defy the fear that governs their mind and hearts. I hope some day I may come back and be able to face the challenge thrown to me by the nation but not at this juncture when I may have to go back to people with bowl again and seek their support, who knows my party may enter an alliance with the great priest Rajamantran himself”.

“I know boss I can understand you. If only you had not brought police under home department, each of us would have done our job as expected by the people of a state. Politicians of this country have created home department to shield their own failings from any kind of police action. They wanted to remain above the law of the land by making law subordinate to bureaucrats”, Nirbhaya walked back towards his official jeep parked on the ground floor of the secretariat building. He may have to make arrangements to contain hostility and demonstrations which were certainly be carried out by the demonstrators in front of the gates of the Governor’s house.

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Maddening Corridors of Intrigues -36

He looked at Koena who was leading him in the front. They had been walking around the holy fire for the last round of marriage circles.  The other couples too had completed their seven rounds along with them on their respective holy fire pots set up for each couple who was getting married on that day, separately. The great priest Rajamantran was explaining to them the meaning of the husbands leading their wives into the matrimonial bliss. “You will take care of your wife through all walks of life. Even when she is not well you will look after her. It will be your pious duty to provide for her and her children etc”. He will ask them to stop in between the circles and explain to them the meaning of each round taken till they completed the seventh round. “We declare all of you husband and wife respectively. All of the newly married couples should seek the blessings of your elders”.

The great priest Rajamantran personally introduced all the couples to the gentry of the highly placed people of the society of the town present on the stage. Ranjit and Koena were being led to the home minister Aaham when a commotion was noticed outside the marriage pandal.  The guards deployed by the shrine were preventing two men from entering the marriage pandal, “you may be the officers from any big department. We will not permit you to enter here. Our great priest will be free in a couple of hours.   Then only we will permit you to come inside the pandal. Or otherwise you can go and meet the home minister Aaham at the state guest house. We have orders from our great Priest that no one other than the specific invitees will be permitted to enter the marriage venue”.

The home minister Aaham beckoned his secretary to go and enquire into the matter. The secretary listened to the visitors and came rushing to the home minister Aaham and whispered a few words into the ears of the politician.  Ranjit and his newly wed were standing next to the minister. They  overheard the following remarks, “warrants being issued, murder of bus passengers and the killing of the police deputy chief”.  He covered his face with the flower mask worn by the bridegroom, it had become apparent they were talking of the blood chilling murder of Tanwar committed by him, but he was still not sure they were actually looking for him; unless someone from the shrine has sung a song to the police.  It was impossible to link him to the crime. Then someone mentioned the name Parma, cops were looking for Parma and they have information he should have come to wedding ; hence the plain clothes men from the investigation cell had discretely come to the function to inform home minister Aaham about the search warrants issued by the local  police after they had obtained permission of the chief minister. They wanted to come inside and without disturbing the wedding function wanted to give advance intimation to the Home minister Aaham who otherwise would be embarrassed if the fugitive was found and apprehended here in his presence.

” Has your chief minister gone out of his mind? Does he think that we shall be attending a function where criminals abound? This is a place of God. Our dear children are being married off by the blessings of the great priest Rajamantran of our community. We do not ascribe to the view that the person by the name you suggested can be even allowed to come any where near to the holy men. Go back and tell your bosses that I have ordered them to stop all the nonsense of this search etc at once. In case they do not, we shall see to it that the government that has signed such a non sensical orders should fall.  Your chief minister then my dear friend will have to give lots of explanation to the new administration”.

“Sir we are simply obeying orders that have been issued from the top and in no case we shall be undertaking any step that could be against the ethics of decency. We have worked under you when you were at the helm of the affairs of the state.  In fact I was directly attached to the security wing at your residence; so how do you expect my lord that I will allow any of the warrants to be operated against any one even distantly associated with you”.  The home minister Aaham closely looked at the balding man whose smile appeared familiar and then he placed him, “I see you are Ralla Ram who used to accompany me to the morning walks.  Thank god it is you.  I am sure you will not permit your subordinates to create nuisance here”.

“No question of creating any unpleasantness here sir.  We will rather prefer that you come back to the state.  This new government is of no use. They are neither allowing us to do our duty, nor do they allow the antisocial elements to do their work. How do you expect we all can survive? I am sure one day we all will perish if we do not get from the law breakers what is rightfully due to us”. The home minister Aaham and the great Priest; laughed out aloud on the joke thrown by the petty police officer. He ordered two chairs to be placed for the investigators and told his men meaning fully to look after them well.

Ranjit heaved a sigh of relief once he heard the name of another person being mentioned but it had become apparent the local police was still investigating into the murder case that happened inside the shrine. Unless the current administration changes and the forces closer to the sage come to the thrown; he will always have a Damocles’ sword hanging on his head.  He will not be able to function the way the great priest Rajamantran wanted him to. He was feeling scared.  He felt that the law will some day catch on with him.

A large number of people who had come to attend the mass marriage function were getting restless. The sage addressed them in his most endearing tone “it is nothing my children. It is only a small disturbance from the local administration. We have already taken care of the same. The food for every one is being served at the community kitchen. It is my earnest desire we all sit together and partake what the lord has kind fully sent for us along with his heavenly bliss”. He   personally went around to the newly weds and led them towards the inner courtyard of the temple shrine.

Koena who had been worried about her father’s state of mind wished to reassure her self that Ranjit is not involved in any of such nefarious activities the shrine was suspect fully  being associated with.

“I sincerely hope you will keep your self away from the activities of the sage and his men”.

“Believe me dear I have my personal business to attend to which has been started recently by me. Once we are finished with our job of getting married, we may migrate abroad as the business of hardware exports and imports can be handled from there too”, he deliberately spoke in the louder tone to make sure her father had overheard whatever they were discussing. He went and sat next to his mother in law. He beckoned Koena also to do the same. He spoke to the family as one of their family member “I think the time has come to put a morsel and two in mouth and believe me I am absolutely famished. I can eat plenty of food. This exercise of going round the fire for such a long rounds, really tires you out”.

“Yes dear but it is only the beginning.  You will have to do this running around all through your life since you are a married man now. This wife of yours used to make me dance to her tunes all my life. We are sure now she will have you responding to her finger’s movements”, Munna spoke in a very serious tone.  Every one burst out laughing. Ranjit knew he had to make extra effort to remove any doubt lurking in the family’s mind about his association with the great priest Rajamantran and his men.  He did not want his marital life to start on a sore note “all of us shall be hence forth living all together in my house. I want you dear dad to leave your job to help me in my business and guide us with your wisdom”.

“But that is impossible I have never handled any kind of commercial business in my life. It is however reassuring to note that you are serious about your business. I pray that you will remain away from the dirty politics of your uncle. It is not meant for simpletons like us. We are better off in our small little world of family pleasures”,   this was the first advice given to him by his bride’s father.

The great priest Rajamantran who had been controlling himself during the public function; flew off his handle once he found the home minister Aaham alone with him, and in his uncontrolled rage gave a warning note to the big man, “if the state government does not stop prying into the affairs of shrine, lots of skeletons will fly out of different cupboards.  Your name could also be dragged into whatever has been happening into the public life. I will tell you either you dismiss this chief minister or we know how to take care of the enemies of the shrine. You must speak to the governor of the state here in our presence and like you had promised; carry out the agreement of imposing the central rule on this state. The agreement of handing over the powers to one of our nominees must be honored by you. We on our part have created situation where the common man today is scared and terrorized of stepping out of his abode without a threat to his life and liberty. If you still believe we have not done enough; the violence in common man’s life can be escalated to unprecedented levels. But we are afraid then our boys will have reached a point of no return.  The state will have to pay a very high price to yours and our ambitions”. The great priest Rajamantran lifted the telephone receiver and handed it over to the home minister Aaham, “please you may dial the telephone number of the governor’s house. You may tell him that the administrative powers of the state ministry must be withdrawn immediately.  You will tell the governor to issue orders forthwith, lest the state police apprehend any of our men”.

“I will have to consult the prime minister and it is not desirable from the public propriety point of view that such a step is initiated at the times when I am enjoying your hospitality. The press could kill my political career.  In any case it is time to declare fresh elections to the state assembly.  I will ask the prime minister to hasten up the process of dismissing the state assembly”, the home minister Aaham wanted to gain some time to talk to his mentors.  Besides he did not like the manner in which the sage was ordering him to do things. He wished he could tell this preacher of no importance to behave himself. “Howsoever big and mighty this sage might have become he has been the creation of my diabolical mind and the creation can seldom be bigger than the creator”.

“You can not declare election to the state assembly even if you dismiss the incumbent ministry. General Durjan public does not want to vote under the existing franchise and the constitution. We have all along been asking for an independent state.  I strongly believe you will support us the way we have been doing all kinds of favor for you and your party. We must have a separate identity as an independent country. Since you have been the foremost propagator of an agitation against the existing government; we sincerely will provide you with the highest office in our independent country. You can be the president of a new nation, a nation which will be based on the purity of caste, creed and community, where you and I will get enough authority to promote our own culture, and heritage”, the great priest Rajamantran thundered in front of the home minister Aaham.

“I do understand your concern for the nation and the religion but believe me we had never thought of severing you and your people from the main stream.  It has never been the ideology to separate your community from the national reckoning. You have always been the front runners in this country and you will remain so for centuries to come. My party and the high command would hate to be associated with any separatist demand that creates a gulf between the existing constitutional system and its provisions of accommodating different flavors of minorities in this vast country. You have always been given a fair deal by the successive governments that have been at the helm of affairs in the central government. May be it is the state units who have acted discriminatingly whenever they have had a mandate for the party other than ours .This time too the people of this state made a blunder of voting for a party that had its roots in two different ideologies. This marriage of political convenience could prove very dangerous for such a large democracy in the world.  The political parties of different ideologies had   come together for the sake of defeating the oldest representatives of the people. We are the born aristocrats and rulers of this country. We have always supported a strong opposition given to us by the people so that our successive governments over the years are never mistaken for one party rule by the supporters of democratic traditions. The opposition has always been our guiding torch for devising the pro people schemes. Now that we have been virtually forced to move to the left, the opposition will cease to exist. That is why we want to give one more chance to    people of the state to use their franchise again.  We will let them help the opposition sit in their proper seats in the state assembly.   I must say that your boys have done their job fairly well but it is time they went back to the shrine. It is high time they  concentrated on the study of theology and religious sermons. Your services rendered will be well rewarded.  The police cases pending against you and your boys will be taken care of once we regain control of the state after removing our arch rivals, which will be done immediately. I shall be personally meeting the prime minister and sending the communiqué to the governor to recommend the end to the state assembly on the grounds of deteriorating law and order in the state”.

“Do you expect the enemy to wait till the fall of the ministry? I am surprised to see the naivety being shown by you. My boys are getting desperate ever since two of their companions have been picked up by the chief of the state   police and his henchmen. The public frenzy can not be built time and again to support any move that creates havoc with their daily living. There may not be enough public support should the police come up with the charges against my men. Why they may even nab me for engineering a murder of the police officer; though it may not hold in the court of law.  But I will hate to be hauled up and put under any kind of forced captivity. You and your party may not come to our rescue should that happen,” the seer was visibly upset and apprehensive.

The home minister Aaham hated the day he had gone to the small time preacher for help; it was getting out of his hands now. He knew that unless he takes control of the situation in the state immediately he may regret it all his life later.

“You have a complete control over the Sanctro sanctorum. None dare touch you here so long as we do not permit any one to enter.  Believe you me the common folks will protect you at any cost as long as you maintain the facade of being their religious savior and protector of their ethnic identity. We are not asking you to play down the role so devised by the circumstances. In fact this garb of religiosity will fetch us the record numbers of votes in the ensuing elections. We will offer you the seats in the constituencies falling within the jurisdictions of your shrine. That will enable you to maintain your grip on the masses of your flocks. You have a complete control over the finance of the Sanctro sanctorum. We will ensure you win hands down in the next managing committee’s election. Let the new elections be completed without any kind of disturbances.  You will hold your boys till the final day of the mandate. The boys will move back to the shrine in case we win.  Otherwise we will let leash the arsenal you have been secretly getting into the country. I hope by now you must have fortified your self against even the mightiest attack”.

The religious preacher, the spokesperson for the souls of his parishioners, the king’s soul keeper had very amusingly been listening to the proposal of the politician par excellence.   He was amazed that this person has been playing dirty politics not only with the state subjects but also with the likes of the pontiff himself. But he said to himself, “this is not the right time to react and antagonize this python in the garb of a   chameleon.  We will have to toe the line drawn by him, till we get the current state government removed from the position of power. As soon as we are able to achieve this we will strike back against this so called big man and his manipulating godfathers in the central government”.

The sage put on his most endearing smile and in sugar coated words asked the home minister Aaham from the central government “sir I do understand your concern in getting back the powers to the state assembly and as guided by you we have created enough havoc already for the electorate.  The common man has been cursing the state chief minister and his protégés for their failure to control the every day macabre incidents. They will be very happy in case you are able to do away with this state administration. Accordingly I have been requesting that this must be done when you are on a visit to the state. You have assessed the failure of the state machinery to prevent attacks on poor public hence on the recommendations of the state governor please have the assembly dissolved. Thus you will be   paving way for fresh elections”.  The great priest Rajamantran continued in his honey dipped words “I am sure the prime minister will understand that it is required to give a sense of confidence back to the voter. Nothing can be more important for any political party than to regain its trust, faith and   face with the electorate. Should you want me to speak to the common public on the dismissal of their elected representatives I shall be too happy to do so. Just remember we were partners in turmoil’s and will remain so even in reconstruction and rebuilding exercise too”.

The home minister Aaham who had been on the look out to rebuild the burnt bridges with the state subjects could see a silver lining in the clouds that had appeared on the political horizon of the state, “you should understand that in this entire political game plan we may have to at times condemn the activities under taken by your shrine.  Will you be prepared to face that kind of flack and take it in the right spirits? Of course we will also find a route to the main stream for all your boys by offering them the prized positions in the party, government and public life. The hype their surrender will create will add a new chapter to the political maneuverings managed by me. Let me speak to the governor and arrange a fax on the deteriorated administrative situation, to the prime minister. I will immediately thereafter speak to him for getting the necessary presidential orders signed. Who knows I may give you an invaluable gift before I leave this state. You and your buddies will always be thankful to me for getting them into such a prominence though”.

The home minister Aaham undertook the journey to the governor’s house immediately thereafter. The oncoming darkness of the times when both ends of day meet i.e. when the sun has just set in and the stars and the moon have still not found their way high enough in sky to provide a little light to the weary traveler was making it difficult for the home minister Aaham’s driver to find his way through “you can slow down a bit, I know with growing age it is difficult to see in the darkness of the ensuing dusk. The headlights of the oncoming vehicles simply throw flash of their head lights in your eyes. These flashes are virtually blinding you”, he told his driver.

“The high speed at this age is bad for health in any way. I wish I could say the same about your public life. You should also slow down a minute and pause to redirect your way through. Let the things mature and may be then you can find better grip of the situation”, the driver who had seen his master go through ups and downs of political life for past thirty years, and had been with him through all kinds of conditions could afford to speak so.

“Oh shut up you are still a novice to the world of royal intrigues. What do you know how kingdoms are won? Your only job is to steer the car through traffic snarls. hence pay full attention to your job only. I have seen of late you have been poking your nose around too much”, the politician got irritated on the advice rendered by his chauffer, “when I need your advice I will ask for it.  Do not just sit morose on the wheel. Pick up some speed too”, the driver knew such minor clashes between him and his master were quite frequent during the day.  He just laughed it out and shrugged his shoulders as if he was saying “what is it to me”.

The secretary to the governor of the state was waiting for him in the front security office. The official ran up to car of the important visitor. He opened the front door, hopped into seat next to the driver and directed the chauffer to drive down for the meeting at square room. The square room was a small hall whose four walls ran parallel to each other. It had been named so by one of the last British residents and ever since the name stuck on to the room.

The home minister Aaham noticed the military discipline visible in the governor house managed by the state administration. It has so been because most of the occupants who lived here have come to this position after they retire from the active service of the armed forces or even the civil services. The current incumbent Colonel Bangru belonged to the supply corps of the armed forces where he had helped many of his politician friends dig gold through supply contracts to the armed forces. One such tender in which the home minister Aaham’s relatives had shown interest brought him closer to the politicians. Aaham   have always preferred non-active politicians to be placed on the gubernatorial positions. He always felt that the non partisan approach of the representative could not be maintained. Besides the politicians will willy-nilly ask for certain favors off the civil and military officials which definitely had to be paid back in terms of such prized positions to them when they retired. Such carrots were necessary to be dangled in front of the adamant and “stick to the file policy” civil and military servants. The British who ruled this country for a long time were quite wise in devising such plum postings in almost all the colonies they ruled over. The availability of such plum positions after retirement ensured a sense of camaraderie and brotherhood prevailed amongst the officers posted within the colonized countries.

Aaham was happy to see that “the governor had the necessary courtesy to meet him at the entrance to the square room.  Otherwise some of the latest lots appointed to these posts were always behaving in their own peculiar and idiosyncratic ways. They carried with them the burdens of their earlier lifestyles. They still were loaded with disdain for public representatives even though they knew the term of governorship depended on the politicians”. He remembered the constitutional crisis they had to face in one of the large lingual state where the governor simply refused to tender the resignation demanded by the central government. Eventually the home ministry had to dig out the pending cases of criminal corruption against the bureaucrat turned governor to force him to step down. Thereafter the prime minister had taken charge of all confidential dossiers of such appointments. Colonel Bangru the man waiting for him, spread both his arms for the home minister Aaham for a warm and friendly hug. He has been anticipating his visit ever since he came to know that the big man has come to attend the marriage fair organized by the great Priest, “it is good to see you back in your home state after such a long time Mr. Home minister. I am sure your visit will bring some sanity back to the life of common man otherwise the entire state has been turned into a slaughter house by the extremists”.

The home minister Aaham extricated himself from the bear hug. He selected a prominent seat on the sofa laid in the square room from where he could have a commanding position in the conclave with this ex- military officer and parked himself therein. He mentioned the governor to sit too, “Yes but as administrative and constitutional head of the state it is equinamally your responsibility to keep the central government informed of the law and order situation in your state. We have to yet receive a formal report from your end. Surely you can not be the silent spectator to the inefficient and ineffective state administration. The prime minister has been quite upset on the recent spate of killings in the state. You can not have one community being subjected to all kind of annihilation by the criminals running their murderous gangs. The prime minister has asked me to convey a note of serious concern. The state administration, who has been fiddling like Nero when Rome burnt, has lost all moral grounds to remain in power. We will like to have your recommendation for dismissing chief minister Pratap’s ministry and dissolve the state assembly. This state must have a fresh election to find another legitimate ruler. I am sure you will not mind mounting the horse of administration and get into active life once again”.

“But Pratap’s ministry has been elected a short while ago only. He needs sufficient time to prove himself to the common publics who have elected him. Whatever violence and reaction we get is a spillover from the poll setbacks to selfish factions of the religious body. I am sure this will ultimately die a natural death. Soon we will have peace once again”. Colonel Bangru’s statement angered him but the home minister Aaham kept his cool, “I did not know you are still such a novice in the art of politics. Can you not see that if that happens and this ministry runs its full term , people of the state will by then get used to be ruled by the likes of Pratap who bring with them the reconciliatory policy of having trucks with the fundamentalists. There exists in this country an unwritten code of keeping fundamentalists out of power. However by the coming together of two different religious thoughts they will form a strong awakening amongst the masses that the administration can survive on two different legs too. That might spell a doomed future for a secular party of our standing. You must understand it is dangerous to have that kind of rising amongst the masses.  Hence the government must go”.

“I beg your pardon sir but I do not subscribe to the views expressed by you. On the contrary these fundamentalists have always been closer to your regime. There have been instances when their powers were enhanced by you which should have been instead curtailed. The shrine that is purported to be behind all the violent activities has not come up all of a sudden.  The successive governments much prior to the current administration have always stood behind these religious exploiters of mass mentality. Once you pull back your support to these leaches and suckers of the society’s blood they will automatically stop acting like parasites of common good. I do not have the moral courage to ask Pratap to step down.  His mass support base will catapult the state into a riot of no return. At least at this fag end of my carrier I do not want to carry the burden of having put the state on fire”, Colonel Bangru did not know how he was able to utter the words just spoken by him. He had no intentions to spoil his relations with such a big man yet he could not help himself.

“Mr. Governor I have all respects for the moral pangs you are suffering from. But what about my conscious, it too is burdened with many moral thoughts; for example your daughter’s industrial empire which has come up on the funds siphoned off from the state exchequer, your sons’ visits to foreign countries when you were heading the state public commission to stash the illegal funds collected by you by doling out the appointment to state executive positions.  It is difficult for me to contain within my pure conscience all these moral pricks.  Plus you also must remember the court marshal held in abeyance when you were a serving soldier. All of your misdoings hang heavy on my mind and heart too. I think you will not like me to unburden myself by spilling out every thing to the press and public. The impeachment could rather be expensive for your entire family. You could all be doomed to stay behind bars for many years. I suggest you weigh the outcome as against the signing of a simple law and order report”, the home minister Aaham knew he had hit the right cord with the governor.

He called the secretary to the governor on the intercom, (each official of the state was known to the politician by first name) “Ramkishore your boss has some thing stuck up in his throat.  He may not be in a position to dictate the correct vocabulary. Since I am not very familiar with the English language I will tell you in short to address a letter to the President of the country asking for the dismissal of the present state government. I do not have to spell the grounds of dismissal to you.  I am sure you are literate enough to use your discretion”.

He thrust the letter under the governor’s nose for his signatures “do not raise your blood pressure.  We will not prefer losing a friend of your stature. However you could instead ask either your son or daughter to apply for an election ticket to the forth coming state assembly.  We will reserve one seat for one of your family members”.

“Mind you sir! You have forced me to sign a letter which will prove very expensive to the nation. It is not the dismissal of Pratap’s ministry.  It is possibly the death knell for the century old communal harmony and the brotherhood of different minority groups living in this country. One day the great priest Rajamantran will bite the hand that has fed him the poisonous milk”, Colonel Bangru’s emotional outburst was dismissed with a shrug of both the shoulders by the home minister Aaham. “You will have to accompany me to the press meet”.

Maddening Corridors of Intrigues 33

Mr. Kumar did not want to unload the burden he carried on the serene atmosphere of his home. But at the same time he could ill afford to forget the threat hanging on the neck of his family. It was a choice between the fire and the frying pan. He dare not ignore the dictate of the shrine.

“Shall he go to the law”? “Will it help?’ he recalled the drama that took place outside the shrine on the holy day. The great priest Rajamantran is a law unto his own self. The law of the land had crumbled in front of the so called religious center and its occupant. He witnessed it on television.  Does his daughter know the boy she has befriended belongs to the same shrine? He was sure the innocent girl had been duped by the cunning impostor. At the next instant another thought came to his mind, “what if he is genuine? He is still a student. He could only be distantly related to the pontiff. Only time itself could resolve the riddle they all have got into.

He found his wife quite worried about him when he reached home.

“Where have you been dear?  We have been waiting for you on evening tea”?

She looked at his ashen face and swollen eyes. She showed her concern.

“What’s the matter dear? You do not look well. Do you have a headache?” She called out to her daughter, “Koena fetch a glass of water for your father and put the kettle on the stove to prepare some hot tea”, and again she came back to her husband.

“Come let me keep your Tiffin box and files away. Oh my god you have not had your meals too. The food is left untouched. If you were so unwell you should have come home earlier. Why do you bring the entire office work to home with you? I will not allow you to work here”. She put the files away from him and addressed her daughter.

“Koena you bring the tea to bedroom”. She was handing over a glass of water to her father Mr. Kumar. Kumar was led into the sleeping room by his wife.

Koena saw her father’s deteriorating health and got worried, “you should take a few days off from your job father. Look at yourself. The hard work and no rest are definitely telling on your body”.

Mr. Kumar who avoided looking at his daughter closed his eyes and thought “how could such a prodigal, docile and innocent girl be wed away like a cow tied to the hook, simply because some great Priest wants it”. He thought of fighting it out and saying no to him and facing the consequence thereof.

“Where is Munna?” he asked his wife who caught the immediacy in his voice.

“Don’t you spare a worry about him?  He must be playing outside with other brats. I shall soon call him back. You should finish this tea.  Just lie down and close your eyes. Soon you will go to sleep. We shall wake you up when it is supper time”.

He started snoring in no time. No one woke him up for supper. His wife looked into the room two three times and found him in deep slumber. She decided not to disturb him.

“The poor chap must have been tired. He had a lot of work in office to do. He could not find time to have a morsel of food too”.

“Both of us are not going to our works today”, she declared as she handed over the morning cup of tea to him the next morning. She kissed him lightly on his lips.

“The kids have already left for their school and college. You had a sound and long sleep. We intentionally did not wake you up for dinner last night. I hope you are not tired anymore. We shall have a hearty breakfast. I have planned a special menu for this. We will have stuffed omelets, porridge and sandwiches. I am sick of fried stuff that we have to gobble every morning in a hurry. I have kept the bath room ready for you. Will you please freshen up and come to   kitchen. In the mean while let us get some fresh air into this room”. She was quite chirpy. She withdrew curtains, and opened the window panes.

“By the way I found this book in your office files. It is a book of hymns in praise of goddess. Since when have you become so devoted?  I have never found you reading such religious stuff earlier.  You must be getting old”.

“I had gone to the sanctum sanctorum yesterday”, he solemnly told her. “I had been summoned by the great Priest”.

“What were you called for? Why should he summon you from your office? Did I hear you say the great Priest Rajamantran?  His shrine is so far away. How could you have made it and come back well in office time?”

“Some of his boys drove me in his car to the shrine”. He wanted to get it off his chest.

“The great priest Rajamantran has recommended a boy for our daughter”. Mr. Kumar did not use the word ‘forced’. He waited to look for his wife’s expressions and reaction to the statement “he has sought our daughter’s hand for his nephew, who happens to be her class mate”.

“I am not surprised. Our daughter is quite beautiful. The young man must have been besotted by her charms. But if the young man is still a student, we will have to wait till he settles down. Is he capable of earning bread for his wife as well? I know Koena, she will also like to complete her education”, his wife casually told him.

“Just forget about the entire thing. I hope you have told the great sage we are not interested”.

“He wants us to marry her off within this week”, he again told her “other wise our son will be kidnapped by the goons of the sage, should we fail to do so”.

“He must be playing a prank on you. A pontiff of his stature can not indulge into bullying his own followers. He is quite a pious man. I have been visiting local worship hall, where cassettes of sermons delivered by him are played for benefit of all devotees present. Yes he does advocate piety and purity of the faith. But so have all religions of the world been doing it for ages. They have all been propagating their own trumpets. Look how Mughal fundamentalists during Mughal rule had subjugated us for centuries. They even went to the extent of forcible conversions. If any one did not agree to their religious overtures they had simply beheaded the opponents. The Christianity that supports charity of all kinds wants to bring the members of other communities into its fold by offering financial, educational and other vocational incentives of all kinds. Why should they do it? I believe they do it because they want their race creed and community to expand and become a major force in numbers. If our preacher is preaching a separate identity he must be having similar thoughts of ensuring the survival of our race for many generations which otherwise in the modern life style is being merged into other majority society. It may so happen those centuries later some one will find a specimen and mention of our existence only in museums and history books”.

Mr. Kumar was losing his nerves listening to her ideas and thoughts on the pontiff and his philosophy.

“Are you regretting that you had married some one outside your community”, he asked his wife. She belonged to the same creed as that of the seer. While Mr. Kumar himself hailed from a different section of society.

“No I am not. Please do not make it a personal affront. I am not the only one from our family who has gone into an inter caste and intercommunity marriage. There are millions others like me who have done it prior to us.  There will still be many couples doing it centuries later. Marrying some one within or outside one’s faith is a personal decision. I have never even pondered over my decision; because we have been quite neutral over our ways of following a belief. All these years I have been following my faith religiously. You have not ever forced the thoughts, rituals and the preaching of your ancestors on our family life. Our children have learnt good or bad, merits or demerits of both our ways of worshipping the creator. And I am sure they are capable of deciding for themselves when it comes to adopting a particular sect for appeasement of their souls. But some where I do feel and believe that our pontiff is leading us to the correct destination, even though I do not agree to the means adopted by him. He has been able to bring a sense of pride amongst our nation after many ages”.

Mr. Kumar, “my dear wife we are not holding a debate on the political thoughts, philosophy and isms of the world. The painful dilemma that we are faced with is a question of our daughter’s life. Do you want me to go down on my knees and with folded hands tell the great priest Rajamantran that we have agreed to his proposal”?

“No I do not want you to do that. If our daughter has been a friend of this boy then I will prefer that she takes a decision about her future life herself. We will anyhow speak to him, meet his family, analyze and examine if he is capable enough to earn his bread for a decent living. We must leave the decision to be taken between them to themselves alone”.

Mr. Kumar did not believe this catch-22 situation of their life time could have been solved so easily but then his wife is a strong woman.  Her decision making capability had amazed him many a times earlier too. She had always been proved correct over any of his doubting

Thomas’s.

Maddening Corridors of Intrigues 32

Mr. Kumar reached his office like any other day.  Today also he had wished every one on the way like he had done on any other normal day. He parked his scooter and took the stairs to the second floor of the building. He put down a bundle of files he was carrying. He shoved the Tiffin box into the side table and pressed the calling ring for the office boy. There was nothing new in this routine. He has been following this routine for last many years. Except that today he was surprised to see the director of the office he worked for, waiting for him. The director had been occupying the chair meant for the visitor placed in front of Kumar’s work desk. Kumar in his eagerness to start the day’s job of the day had not noticed the visitor waiting for him.

“Good morning Mr. Kumar”, the director wished him before Kumar could so, “I sincerely apologize for not having noticed your presence in my office. It is an honor to have some one close to the great priest Rajamantran of the great shrine working for us. You never even mentioned it once that you are related to the sage”.

The office boy had brought two cups of coffee on Kumar’s table and asked the director if he wanted it to be served there. “You take it to my cabin. Mr. Kumar I hope you will not mind joining me for a cup of coffee in my office. I have personally come to make this request to you”.

Mr. Kumar’s working in the office has always been unassuming, quite and strictly adhering to the rules. He was somewhat taken aback to find the director pleading for his company for a cup of coffee. He wondered if “the director has lost his balance of mind. May be he is annoyed at him for some reason. The director is taking it out on him in this fashion”.

“I am sorry sir! But I do not want to have coffee such early in the morning. And by the way you mentioned something about being related to some great Priest. I am sure there must be some kind of mistaken identity.  I do not know any great Priest.”

“Oh come on Mr. Kumar I am impressed by your modesty and humility. If you do not mind can we discuss this in my room”? He held Kumar from his elbow and led him towards his room. He offered a chair to Kumar and moved on to the other side of the table to sit into his own chair.

“Look here Mr. Kumar, I have been instructed by the pontiff of the great shrine to provide my personal car to you to visit the Sanctro sanctorum. He wants our Mr. Kumar to have an audience with the pontiff. He wants to meet you. He has sent two of his emissaries to escort you to the holy shrine. The sage had also informed me that you will also be escorted back by the evening. He was very particular that full honor should be accorded to you henceforth. That he will soon visit this office too to see all of us in person”.

“I am sure it must be a prank played by some one.  I do not know any sage. I do not want to go. You can check up if there is some other Kumar working in various branches.  It must be for him”.

The two emissaries from the shrine who were sitting in the adjoining room walked into the office on hearing the discussion between them.

“Please accept our Greetings Mr. Kumar. Our great Priest has sent for you only. He has requested that he will feel honored if you could give him an audience this afternoon. It is some thing very personal. He will like to discuss with you only. And we have double checked it sir he is referring to you and you only in particular.  So please do us the favor of accompanying us to the shrine. We will be back by the evening before your office gets over. We will make sure that you are not unnecessary put to inconvenience”.

Kumar looked askance at his boss.  He felt as if he was being kidnapped, “but me”.

The visitors did not let him complete his sentence, “you will have to believe us sir. There is nothing to fear about.  We shall get you back by the evening”.

Kumar who did not seem to have any other choice left shrugged his shoulders as if he resigning to his fate “it is all right. But you make sure we come back before my office closes for the day”, he told them.

Once at the shrine he was led to the public relation officer’s room which was just outside the main shrine. “The seer will shortly be seeing you sir” the emissaries told him. “In the mean while we will arrange some food for you”.  They left him alone in the office to wonder again as to why he has been called.

“How nice it is to see you here”. Mr. Kumar looked back towards the direction of the voice.  This was a stranger’s face. He was certainly not the great Priest. Kumar had often seen the sage on local television. “I am sorry! But have we met before?” he asked the new comer.

“How silly of me but of course I should have introduced myself. You can just call me General”.  General Durjan extended his hand towards Kumar which was accepted hesitatingly. “The great priest Rajamantran is ready to see you now.  You will come with me to this side please. We are sorry to have put you through this inconvenience. In fact you must be aware of the security hassles that can be created for the great Priest’s safety if he has to go outside this place. Hence he has asked us to fetch you here. Otherwise you must believe me we would have personally come to see you”.  Mr. Kumar felt as if the humility and the courtesy was the hall mark of people associated with the great Priest.

The great priest Rajamantran extended both the arms when he saw Kumar coming into his room. He was accompanied by General Durjan.  He had not seen Kumar any time earlier in his life.  He behaved as if he had known him all his life.

“How happy we are that you decided to come.  Brother Come you will sit near me.” The great priest Rajamantran was squatting on the floor with both of his feet spread out in front of him. He picked up a round cushion and set it on the floor next to him. He beckoned Kumar to come and sit into the cushion on the floor.

“Can we have something to eat and drink for Kumar”, the great priest Rajamantran clapped with both his hands summoning some one from the wings.

While Kumar was being served his food and the soft drinks, the great priest Rajamantran started his address to him in direct tone,  “Mr. Kumar I understand that you are fortunate enough to have a daughter and a son.  I know it is very difficult to rear up children in the hard times today. The society of our times has been losing its grip on the moral and ethical system of living. We should all be held responsible for the moral degradation.  The weak character of the modern youth has been eating into the very social and righteous   thread of this generation. The youngsters want to be left alone. They want to become the arbiters of their own decisions in their life. Come you must start eating”, the great priest Rajamantran pointed towards the food tray placed in front of Kumar.

“While we are talking you can continue eating simultaneously”, he told him.

“Thank you sir”, Kumar took a bite. “Why is he discussing this with me? Has he called me here to give me a sermon on the morality of the society”, Kumar thought aloud.

The great priest Rajamantran continued “it is still acceptable if the child happens to be a boy. The society is little more tolerant towards the waywardness of the male of the progeny. But heavens forbid. Ones existence in social circles becomes all the more difficult if a daughter has to be brought up in the modern scenario. Our society expects the girls and the female of the species to be nice and good all the while. It wants the parents to act as a watch dog for whatever their kids do in their free times”.

Kumar who was listening to great Priest in rapt attention interrupted, “yes sir but my kids are quite well behaved”.

“I know. I know Mr. Kumar that is the reason we have summoned for you here. We appreciate the fact that you and your wife have brought the children as they ought to be. I understand your daughter is very intelligent. She is very well behaved. She is quite civilized and is a simpleton”.

The great priest Rajamantran was praising his daughter which made Kumar feel proud and at the same time he was feeling little ill at ease too while listening to all the praise of his children from a man he had never met in his life before .

“I think it is your daughter’s decency that has besotted our young man. He has fallen head over heals in love with your daughter”.

“I beg your pardon sir”, the glass of cold drink slipped out of his hands, the liquid spilled over Kumar’s clothes.  The great priest Rajamantran handed over his scarf to him.

“Never mind Mr. Kumar we will get you another drink.  I was referring to one of my nephews who have been smitten by the charms of your beautiful daughter. He obviously has been bitten by the cupid and seeks your permission to marry your daughter. I am sure you will also like the young lady to settle down well in life and the sooner it is done better it will be”.

“My daughter is yet to complete her education.  Besides we are not prepared for such a decision. It is little too early to decide. She is quite young yet”. Kumar got up from the cushion he was sitting on. He was apparently quite agitated with the ridiculous demand made by the great Priest, “If that is what you had fetched me here for, please excuse me. The proposal is absolutely untimed besides its being totally absurd. I will like to go back at once”, Kumar retorted as he was walking out of the room.

General Durjan, who has never interfered while the great priest Rajamantran spoke, physically forced Kumar back on the cushion, “please do sit down. Do not get worked up.  You must listen to the great priest Rajamantran. Do not interrupt till he has finished speaking. Your insolence towards him is uncalled for”.

The great priest Rajamantran lifted his right hand to hold back General Durjan.

“Easy, please do not be harsh on our dear brother Mr. Kumar. His reaction is reasonable. It is expected. It is not uncalled for. Any of the parents will react in the similar fashion.  But Mr. Kumar you have not listened to our proposal completely. Once I finish explaining the entire situation to you, this matter will become logical to you. Can we get another drink for him?” he looked up towards the passage where his body guards were waiting upon him. “Mr. Kumar, the young man I am discussing about, is a college mate of your daughter. It is a plain truth. They are well known to each other. We are sure their love for each other could be mutual and this attraction exists both ways”.

Kumar wanted to speak.

“Do not be in haste my dear brother.  Such matters need to be handled tactfully. You might tell me that your daughter is unlike this.  I agree with you we are not casting any aspersions on the moral character of the young lady. All we are suggesting is the arrangement of marriage between the couple with your blessings. If you agree to this proposal it is very magnanimous of you. Well otherwise we are afraid their marriage ceremony will be arranged without your blessings too. This young man happens to be my nephew. You would have heard of the kidnap marriages in certain parts of this country”. The menace and the threat in the voice of the great priest Rajamantran were quite apparent. “I do understand you will like your young son to grow up and give you a helping hand in your old age”.

Kumar shuddered at such a naked warning, being given to him “Munna his son was too young to be referred to in a discussion of this kind. He has hardly seen any of the life so far”.

Kumar covered his face with both his hands. He  started crying and with tears in his eyes he looked up at the priest  , “ your lordship I do not know what kind of crime me or my family have committed that you are subjecting all of us to this punishment. Please forgive us if you are annoyed at some of our mistakes. But we are wiling to atone for the sins. I will request you to spare me and my family from the pains we are being subjected to”, he fell on the feet of the great Priest.

General Durjan told him, “Will you stop this melodrama at once. Pay heed to what we tell you. First of all the marriage proposal will be taken by you personally to the boy at this address. He should be waiting for your visit. You will take care of any objection raised by your spouse or any other family member. Your daughter as we said earlier is not to be blamed for this. In fact you must encourage her to take decision for an early marriage, which in any case will be held under the aegis of this shrine. We have a few community marriages scheduled for next week.  This couple will also be blessed on the same day. Your daughter is very fortunate to have found a young man who is completely committed to the religion. You must trust me. One day this boy will become an icon and a celebrity of our great nation. I can assure you, we have your welfare at our heart. We will not force you to do any such act that is not in favor of the young lady”.  The great priest Rajamantran helped him get up.

He handed over a small book bound in red cardboard. “Here you can take this book full of verses eulogizing the goddess. This will keep your mind in peace”. He clapped his hands loudly, “will some one take our brother Mr. Kumar back to his abode”.

The young men who had fetched Mr. Kumar in the morning from his office appeared from the wings in the corridor adjoining the room the sage was occupying.

“Go Mr. Kumar go with them. They will reach you home safely. You must keep in mind that we have a date next week. You must attend the wedding of the young couple, along with your family”.

Mr. Kumar wondered how he will break the news to his wife, and Koena. “The sinless angel that his daughter was has never ever kept a secret from them”. He in his heart of hearts refused to believe that she could have fallen in love. “She had not told her mother about this. It will be absolutely derogatory to confront her and find out the truth, but it has to be done”. The threat made out to him by the great priest Rajamantran and his henchman hanged. His mind was filled with hatred and loathe for the great priest Rajamantran.  But he fully well knew his helplessness to escape the situation. It would be easy for them to pick up the small boy any time. Then they can and hold the entire family to ransom.

“Do not overburden your mind with unnecessary fear old man. The great sage Rajamantran will not suggest any suitor unworthy of your daughter. You have to have a look at the hero of the story.   Only Then it will be appropriate for you to form an opinion about him. Everyone says he is the right hand man of the pontiff. He is loaded with money. He keeps his dollars and pounds stashed abroad.  The young lady will lead a blessed marital life. I wish I could be like him.  It is a very rare fortune to get a son in law of the kind that this young boy is. In any case, this marriage is bound to take place, whether you agree or not. Now that it has been ordained by the shrine, it will have to be done accordingly. It is better you also accept this as your fait accompli” the boy who had been driving the car spoke to him.

They dropped Mr. Kumar outside his office as they had promised him safe and sound. But his visit to shrine had created a turmoil boiling and seething within him. He did not acknowledge the greetings extended to him by one of his colleagues on the staircases of his office. He continued sitting on his office chair long after every one had left.

“If you want to sit any further you can take this bunch of keys to lock the main door later when you are ready to leave”, it was the office peon. He wanted to finally lock the office. He brought him back to his senses. “In case you have some of the office work left over I can help you carry the files to your home”. He had many a times earlier too carried office home hence the suggestion.

Mr. Kumar, “no thank you Dhani Ram one must be capable of carrying his own burden on his shoulders”. He hurriedly collected his Tiffin box and walked out of the office. But he made a decision on the way.

“I must confront the girl and if it is her choice so be it. Each one of us has to live the life earned by us. If she is destined to, so be it. I must give her a fair chance to explain”.

The road to his house appeared to be much crowded today. It took him long to cover the distance between his office and his home.

Maddening Corridors of Intrigues – Chapter 21

The much-anticipated invitation to Ranjit for a meeting with the seer Rajamantran came late in the evening. Ranjit had taken his dinner at the common feast organized at the community kitchen. He was impatiently waiting for the summons

from the pontiff since he had sent a message across that he should wait for his call.

 “You can not leave until the saint orders you to do so. He wants you to have your dinner at the common feast. You must wait for an audience with him” the boy had told him.

Ranjit was led to a room upstairs for the interview. The saint Rajamantran was sitting on the floor with both of his legs spread in front of him. The gun brought by Ranjit was lying on the right of seer. Two boys standing behind the seer looked quite ferocious. They had their fingers on the triggers. Ranjit knew the volley of fire could kill many people if boys put little more pressure on those fingers. He was trembling.  His fear had engulfed all other persons sitting in room. Ranjit touched the feet of Rajamantran. He stood with head bowed and hands folded. Ranjit had been expecting some kind of reprimand and admonishment from him.

Instead the pontiff spoke to him in most endearing tone, “you should relax young man. I know you are the son of this soil. Every son of the  soil has to pay a price for having been born in the toughest of times. You’re taking to drugs smuggling initially. Thereafter you have been betraying the young women around every where. Finally you have been employed in the act of bringing in arms from across borders and beyond seven seas at the cost of your life and freedom. It points to only one fact that the country has not been administered in right manner. The young ones of this country cannot find their bearings.  They do not quite know how to live a pious life.  They do not quite know what is right or what is wrong. They are desperately searching in the dark for all the answers…. The politicians have not been able to ameliorate the masses from the shackles of poverty.   Their filthy greed and hunger for the lucre has brought in them their overwhelming sense of servitude towards the capitalist countries of the west. Even today they want to remain the stooges of foreign powers through the pawning of the agriculturist, the industrialist, the educationist, the banker and so much so the common citizen to the alien powers by the economic policies dictated by big financial muscles of awful domination. I believe the time has now come to turn the tide. Our religion teaches us tolerance but not at the cost of subservience. Our self-respect, our human self-esteem and above all our right to independent thinking must not be subject to any cause. I beseech all rightful thinking people esp., young blood in the countryside to come and join our movement.  That will take our nation to new heights of independent edict. As for you young man we are not sure of your intentions. You are free to go back to the life of making a few dollars cuts from the contrabands. One-day you will fall into the net of the lawmakers.  That will be your sure ultimate end. On the other hand should you desire to join our fight for survival of faith which I believe you are; you have to prove your allegiance to the faith.”

“And how do I do that my lord!” he heard his voice getting hoarse due to excitement. Rajamantran the seer beckoned to one of the boys to bring forward the small urn kept in one corner of the room. The urn was decorated with fresh flowers. Ranjit remembered having seen this pitcher at the shrine where he had gone along with his mother to pay obeisance to the seer on his grandmother’s last rites. “Do not worry your mother has reached home “, he told him.

Ranjit looked at the pot, and wondered if “it contained some one’s ashes and saint wanted him to immerse them some where.  May be he wants him to make some monetary contribution in the decorated vessel for the faith”.  He did not count how much money he had in his wallet, when he left home along with his mother, besides he had to pay for the tickets on the way.  There will hardly be any amount left. But a pontiff of his status, who can bring the entire state machinery to its knees, will hardly be looking forward for an offering from a small time courier. The young boy kept the urn at the feet of the seer.  He addressed one of the elderly gentlemen, “General will you do us this favor please”?  The Gentle man named General Durjan got up from his seat, picked up the pot and brought it to Ranjit “you will take out one slip out of the many slips available in this container pot. The mission wants you to prove your loyalty, pledge your willingness to join the faith by punishing the person whose name appears on the slip, within seven days from today. And in case you fail to do so within stipulated time our boys will take your life. So before you really take one slip out you better make up your mind; because once you have seen the name written on this piece of paper, you either eliminate the man whose name is scribbled or you pay with your life in return”.

“But why should I kill any innocent human being “, Ranjit asked General Durjan and wondered if the pontiff knew about grandmother as well.  “We can assure you their names in this warrant list are added only after we are fully convinced that these people are not innocents. They are the enemies of our faith, the nation and the community. Any one who opposes the system of belief of our society does not have a right to live. Let me tell you further that in case you are successful in this mission the riches will be yours for the asking. We plan assigning you the task of organizing arms procurement for the mission on such a large scale that you could take home sacks full of dollars “.

There was a pin drop silence in the room. Ranjit had put his left hand in the urn and took out a slip that contained death warrants for some one. Ranjit handed over the piece of paper to pontiff. He asked General Durjan, “Let the boy read aloud the name.  Let the august audience gathered here realize that we do not forgive the betrayers of faith, nor do we kill innocents”.

The name announced threw a pall of fear on some present but it also made some of them ecstatic. If this could be achieved, their mission will become a force to reckon with in this country.

General Durjan took Ranjit away,” come young man, let us initiate your baptism and training thereafter”. The initiation took place by sprinkling holy water and tying a new bandana on him. “You can select any of the guns from the lot available and accordingly we will train you in the use of fire arm. Though I feel as a courier you must have had the opportunity to play with a few of these. I will suggest you need to get familiar with these two main weapons initially”. He picked up a long-range rifle with binoculars and the other was a smaller gun similar to the one that had been brought by Ranjit. Ranjit wondered how many couriers were operative in the country. He was looking at the number of arsenal displayed there.

Maddening Corridors of Intrigues -11

11

Ranjit listened to the remembrance songs sung by the cleric hired by the family from a local temple to perform the last rites of his grandmother. The cleric had been reciting hymns quite dolefully and poignantly. The words of the sad song and its heartbreaking tune sung by the singer were emitting so much pain in the ambience that every one present had tears into his eyes. It was as if as if each person there had been grieved by the death of his own grandmother, who had breathed her last into the late hours previous night. Ranjit remembered how he had called out to people living in the neighborhood of his grandmother’s house to inform them of the passing away of the old lady. He had wept hysterically and uncontrollably in their presence. He requested all of them to inform his parents, who were living in the nearby village.

His father and mother along with the other relatives immediately left for the town as soon as they heard of the demise of the old lady. They had also brought along with them one more village priest for conducting the last rites. The funeral could be arranged by late evening only. The village Priest was singing hymns associated with the last ritual that follows the cremation on the death of a person.

The village priest beckoned Ranjit to light the pyre. He looked at the dead corpse of the old lady. She appeared weak, small, frail, and yet tenacious. She had fought him like a tigress for good long one hour before she had given in to his powerful blows showered by her own grandson on her. He could still see that sense of determination on her face. She wanted to live even in her death. Ranjit had no intentions to nor did he ever want to kill her. She would have lived for a long time, had she not pried into his affairs.

Ranjit hid the guns at his house as soon as he reached home from the airport.   The old lady had left for the local temple to say her evening prayers. He deliberately came home during the time when the old woman will not be around. He knew her schedule of the evening and that she will be away between 4 P.M to 6 P. M. was a regular routine known to every one in the locality.

The consignment that he had brought with him was to be delivered to three different destinations. Ranjit decided that the home of his grandmother, where he had been provided shelter by the old lady out of her love and pity for her grand son, was the safest place to hide the consignment of the guns.  He strongly felt that no other place could be better. It was a perfect as there no one else except the old lady lived besides him. He had many times earlier too retained the packets of drugs in his own room and removed them in different stages over the time. Accordingly this time too he thought it to prudent to keep the guns in his room. He would at later days take away some of them in smaller lots for different consignees. The old lady had absolutely  stopped entering his room ever since she had excommunicated him on account of the duplicate keys made and used by him to steal money from her almirah.

“Do you mind if I come in” the old lady called from outside the doors of his room.

Before he could answer her, she had walked in into the room and sat on the bed under which he had concealed the guns in a gunnysack.

“You have been missing for so many days? What are you up to? You have no regards and respects left for the family honors. I can understand that, but at least you must have some iota of self-pity on your life style. Why do you not want to   do something worthwhile in your life? Your father had visited me in your absence. He has suggested that he can recommend you for a job, in case you are willing to mend your ways and are willing to get into some kind of employment”.

“Thanks a lot grandma, but I can manage my own life very well. I have no expectations about anything from you. I do not ask for any money of you now.  See I do not even ask for food” he retorted. The old lady began to sob softly.

“Sonny I know what you are up to. If I do not stop you that does not mean I do not know your whereabouts and deeds. You thank your stars that I have not informed your father because I still believe you can be brought back to normal life. The immoral games and littlies that you are indulging into do not pay in the long run. Some day the law will catch up with you and you will end up behind bars. Why do you want to bring the bad name to all of us? Just think of your own future even if you have no remorse left for your parents”.

“So the old lady has been looking into his room even in his nonattendance. Is she throwing a bait to catch him off guard or has she been rummaging through his belongings in his absence”, he was not sure although she was capable of searching his personal luggage too.

“Oh shut up old ma! I am not doing any thing that is unlawful or even what can be called against the established morality,” he shot back. It was at this point that she had bent down to pick up her slip-ons from under the cot. One slipper had accidentally been pushed little further under the bed and she was looking for the same.

“What is this thing kept here in a gunny sack?” she pulled the gunny sack towards her. She started feeling the contents of the gunnysack with her hands. “Oh! My God!  These are guns. So you are one of the terrorists now. How many murders have you committed? How many innocents lives have you eliminated? When did you join this gang of killers?”

“I have not killed any one, nor am I terrorist” he virtually shouted back at her.

“Then why do you keep this these guns at my home. What are you planning? I must inform your father. I must inform the police. You cannot do that to your own family. You are a killer”.

The old lady caught him by the collar of his shirt in a fit of rage.

“You bastard is that the reason we gave birth to you. Why did you not die the day you were born”? Ranjit had not expected this kind of violent confrontation. The old lady showered blows on his face and she was crying simultaneously “You fool, you shameless creature! You murderer! You are bringing disgrace to the family. I will kill you”.

Ranjit realized he must stop her before the neighbors heard her wailing shouts. “She must not spill the beans to any one. She cannot demolish what has not even begun yet. It is the first lot, the future offered scope of making tons of money to him. I cannot let my dream of making billions of dollars get eliminated just because this old lady gets pangs of morality from time to time”.

“You better stop hitting me like that and making a racket to the entire world about it ”, he caught the old lady by her neck and put his right hand on her mouth to shut her up.

She bit his hand, at the same time she had been hitting him with all her strength, “you scoundrel how you dare raise your hand on me?”

“Listen to me grandma; what you are saying is not correct. These guns do not belong to me.  These are to be delivered elsewhere and belong to a friend”, Ranjit tried to reason with her .He managed to put his left hand also on her mouth. He noticed she was getting breathless; his hands were covering part of her nose too. He had been blocking the breathing process of his grandmother. The old lady fell back on the cot. At this stage Ranjit took a pillow in his hands and smothered her with that pillow. She struggled very hard to extricate herself from his death like knot of his hands. She was beating him at his chest with both her hands. Ranjit had no intentions to kill her, yet he knew the instant he lifted the pillow she will start shouting at him again. He pressed the pillow deeper on to her nose. The old lady made one last effort to free herself from his clutches. She was able to push the pillow away but he sat on the pillow.

“She cannot be allowed to do this to him; not at this stage. Once she cools down I would be able to prevail upon her and explain to her that the guns belonged to a friend”. The old lady had stopped struggling. Ranjit lifted himself from top of her face. He had a close look at her. She lay there with her head tilted to the left. Ranjit lifted her head and put it on the pillow he had now placed under her head. She had stopped breathing. He put his hands on her nostrils; there was no air felt. He patted her on the cheek; her head fell on to the other side, the old lady was gone.

Ranjit reminded himself not to panic “I must not allow the fear to pervade over my thinking faculty”.

He felt strange elation within him.  It was a sense of relief. He had never felt any lighter.

“The old lady must be sent back to her own room and put into her own bed” thought Ranjit. Her hair were always tied in neat pleats, the disheveled hair could give out the story of her struggle. He picked up the dead body. It was too heavy, yet still warm. He did not wish to drag her dead body, which could leave the marks on the floor. He carried her on his shoulders to her own room and put her on the bed.  The small wooden comb with which she used to straighten her hair was there on the side stool. He opened her hair, combed them gently and tied them in a single pleat. He coupled the rubber hair band at the end of the pleat like she used to do.

Then he remembered, she would powder her cheeks before going to bed.

“Let me apply the powder on the puff”, he lightly dusted her cheeks, simultaneously removing a small drop of blood that appeared in her left nostril. “Nothing should give away the fight; you went through while leaving this world grandma!”

He took a last look at her, satisfied with the job on her face he let her lie down on the bed with her head resting comfortably on the pillow. He pulled the sheet up to her neck. That’s how she used to sleep and will be found by the neighbors in the morning.  He has to start the hue and cry for the loss of his dear and only grand mother in the early hours of tomorrow morning. He went back to his own room.   He collected the gunnysacks.

“These guns must reach the intended destination immediately”.

He pushed the motorcycle to a distance of two hundred meters and kick started it. It took him approximately two hours to deliver the consignments and come back. He noticed the quite neighborhood, there was nothing amiss. He went back in the same fashion shutting down the engine much before he reached the house. He was hoping no one watched him. He parked his motorcycle in the garage and quietly went to sleep. He will get ample chance to show his acting ability in the morning when he will have to announce to the neighbors about the sudden passing away of his grandmother while she was asleep during the night.

Ranjit wished that if he could have his way today, he could have shut his eyes to the entire world around him. But there was no way Ranjit could avoid an encounter with his father. After offering the last piece of the firewood to his grandmother’s pyre Ranjit went to one of his cousins “I shall reach home early to arrange for some cold water and refreshments etc., for the guests. None of the guests has had anything to eat since the early hours of the morning”.

His father who overheard him came to him and retorted angrily,” How can you leave this place? The ashes of your dear grandmother are still simmering.  We should at least wait till the last of the flames of her funeral pyre go down”. Ranjit, acting as if he had not heard him took one of his cousins along and reached home thus avoiding the comments made by his father. In no way he would have allowed himself any kind of direct contact with his father lest the old man would start blaming him for the old lady’s death.

However his father cornered him again at night.  After they had finished eating their supper everyone had found a place for him to sleep. Ranjit also huddled himself into a far corner of the room.  He pretended to have fallen asleep when his father nudged him to wake up. “Thank god your grand mom breathed her last. I am sure she would have had a miserable life with a vagabond like you around in her house. I am happy that your grandmother is no more alive to protect you;   I suggest you better decide to move yourself out of this house. Neither I nor any member of our family can have anything to do with you. Your activities have been tarnishing my reputation all over the town. I thought your grandma would be able to make you see some kind of reason and mend your ways and a good sense would prevail upon you. It is now quite evident her that efforts could not yield much results and you continue to live a life on the other side of the law. I will rather not have you in my house. You could be a bad influence on the younger members of my family”.

“So the old man wants to severe all relations with me” thought Ranjit. “This man has always been worried about his own position through out his life. The petty job of a policeman was more important to him than the happiness of his own progeny, all I wanted in life was a reasonable money and decent lifestyle and yet even this is not acceptable to my old man”.

“Don’t you bother about me; I will manage my own life. As far as this house is concerned I shall soon find another place to live for my soul” Ranjit retorted angrily. He could hear his mother sobbing softly behind the veil of her scarf, “Son you must listen to him.  He is your birth giver and is your best well wisher. You should always remember that despite all the differences you both have he still remains your father. I will ask him to get you recruited in police as a constable. I wish you should also like your father one day be decorated with a shining star on your shoulders”.

“Oh shut up why do you always have to come between us”, his father admonished the poor lady. “This good for nothing fellow can do nothing of this sort. He acts as a pimp and he thinks I do not know about this. Make sure he does not cast his bad shadow on his siblings”. His mother started crying loudly. Some of the relatives heard her wailings and came into the room.

Ranjit thought it prudent to leave the area,   “It seems my father, is determined to show the dispute between both of us off to all the relations who have come for the grandma’s funeral”.

His father’s shouts for dressing-down his vagrant son had become louder “My mother died because of you. You useless fellow I would not have let you live here even for a minute if it were not for her.  You must get out of this place at once.  His mother by now had also become aggressive.

She told her husband, “What are you up to. You can not ask him to leave like this? The memorial service fires of your own mother are still burning .Ranjit being eldest son of the family has to attend to all the sacrament and observance for his grandmother’s peace and departure of her pious soul to heavens”. “Why do you not help us? She had begun her pleading to the people watching this fight between the father and son. “Please explain to his father that the eldest of the grandsons have to be the available here for all kinds of worshipping to appease the gods of death and well being”. His mother looked pleadingly at one of the relatives through her tear swollen eyes and beckoned him to take Ranjit or his furious father away from the room. .

The people took led his father to another room. The fight had been temporary resolved through a momentarily truce but Ranjit could not sleep through the entire night thereafter. It was very early morning when his mother came to his bed with a hot cup of tea to see and speak to him.  He quietly sipped the hot brew, not paying any attention to sweet-talk being indulged into by his mother.

“Do not pay any attention to the outbursts of your father my dear son. He is very grieved due to the sudden demise of his mother. He will come by and become himself within a day or two. You should not mind your father’s foul temper. Whatever he says it will be for your betterment only. He means no harm to you. All we want is that you should find yourself a nice job. I shall get you a good and attractive girl as your bride and then you can continue staying in your grandmother’s house only”.

He wanted to tell her that he has already selected Koena as his would be wife and that he will bring her only after he attains the lifestyle he considers appropriate for his wife but he just looked sympathetically at his mother and got up “I must go and find out  if servant has served tea to every one ”. ‘These people will not have any inkling of my dreams” He shrugged his shoulders.