Life is meaningless. There is no deeper purpose to it. We are creatures of instincts drawn to trivial pleasures like moths to a flame. Crisis and grief are inevitable. Here they engulf a nation all at once. There is no good or evil. Violence and strife seem to be the natural order of things. At times a person comes who changes the lives of people for the better. Seemed unlikely here in the burning streets of an once prosperous nation. Soon there may not be a nation India anymore.
It is unknown when, where or how the nation began to crumble and came to such a pass. Some say the economic collapse brought about the break down of law and order. Others claim internal strife, violence and lawlessness crippled the economy. The fact is that the economy and the law and order situation has collapsed. Unemployment was at its highest since independence. Millions of people lost their jobs overnight. Many were government employees and they took to the streets first, soon joined by others. In many regions people wanted to secede from the union so they can take care of the mess.
A few ruthless politicians in power saw it as a chance to permanently hold power by taking control of the democratic institutions by intimidation. The unruliness of their supporters added to the chaos. Some promoted caste violence and hatred, burning villages and cities. There was an intense law and order problem. Terrorist attacks had risen through out the nation. Foreign terrorists were working hard to drive the final nails in to the coffin of a languishing nation and force it in to disintegration. Some of the truly affluent had skipped the nation. A vast section of people unaffected as of yet continued as if nothing much was amiss.
The nation has passed through a period of stagflation which is inflation without any actual growth in production. Now hyperinflation has set in with a loaf of bread costing a few thousand rupees. The inflation was predicted to double in a couple of months. After that it would spiral and the fiat currency almost worthless now would truly become worthless. The failure of the monsoon and resulting crop failure was said to be one factor. The global recession and poor GDP posted for several quarters was cited as a factor. Poor Fiscal prudence, increasing international debt and low GDP pushed the nation in to a debt trap. The increase in the NPAs of the public sector banks and the need to close down a few led to a panic of the people. It resulted in a run on other banks and a few couldn’t manage it. This resulted in high levels of panic and was said to be a major factor for the situation. The unchecked unemployment scenario led to riots and lawlessness and caused the collapse it was said.
What was not said was that the ever increasing divide between the ultra rich and the poor became untenable. There were several major political scams. Several second generation businessmen and other heirs of business empires ran their businesses to ground and filed for bankruptcies or where they were personally liable fled the nation. This caused the banks to crumble. The people took to the streets and burnt shops and properties, crushing an already weak economy. The political opportunists and secessionists helped by foreign terrorists joined the fray bringing the lawlessness to untenable proportions.
It was sad that all this had to happen in the Prime Ministership of Mr. Satyendra Dubey. He was an honest uncorrupt politician. At a time when the nation needed a strong leader the electorate gave a fragmented mandate. The Jan Shakthi Party to which Dubey ji belonged came as the third largest party next to BJP and Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Janta Vikas Sankatan (JVS) Coalition under the Jan Shakthi party was asked to form the government. There was a fight for Prime Ministership between Manoj Pandey who was now the Home Minister and Vikram Bhatt who was now the Finance Minister. This threatened to break the party. Ninety year old Ashok Gaekwad, the founder of the party, with a couple of Septuagenarians constituted the high command of the Party. The high command invited the austere Dubey ji, who had been Education Minister in the NDA coalition, to be the Prime Minister as a consensus candidate. The date today is August 26 , 2021 and the country even in its ravaged state had a festive independence day, a few days earlier, but to see another independence day it has to cross the threat on the coming Republic day in 180 days.
PMO, South Block, Secretariat, New Delhi, Aug 26
One of Samyuktha’s assistants gave her a cordless phone and said, “Call from the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra.”
She got the phone and the Chief Secretary said, “We need more CRPF personnel here urgently.”
“The CRPF is already stretched thin through out the nation. I will see what I can do,” she said.
“The Chief Minister wants to talk to you,” said the Chief Secretary.
She waited on the line as the Chief Minister said, “The condition here is worsening by the day. We need additional forces urgently.”
She said, “Don’t worry sir, I will deploy an army contingent there as soon as possible.”
She then made her way in to the meeting room and waited for the others to arrive. Soon they arrived and the meeting started. She yawned and wondered why the damn air conditioners were so chilled in the Prime Minister’s office, as the wise and powerful men of the nation exchanged pleasantries. She was sitting beside Dubey ji who sat at the head of the table. She was a principled pragmatist. She worked within the constraints of the existing system not struggling to change it. But she never compromised on her principles and personal integrity. She felt comfortable in the black and white salwar kameez. She mostly wore salwars or saris. She hadn’t bothered much with her shoulder length curly hair today. She was short, fair complexioned, mild featured but with piercing eyes, she was told. At thirty six, she considered herself stylish and attractive. Then she turned left and her eyes fell on Mayuri sitting beside Dubey ji like her and she felt unsure of herself.
Mayuri was a vivacious girl. She was a tall alluring beauty. She was wearing a knee length black skirt and a violet shirt tucked in neatly. The shirt had the top two buttons undone. This exposed her ample melons, which she shamelessly thrust in the face of anyone she was talking to. Shame on that vixen, can’t she at least button up when she talked to other girls. Samyuktha found it very distracting. In the short bob cut hair Mayuri looked fairly fashionable.
This was an important meeting to review the steps taken to handle the crisis in the nation. Though frankly all steps have not helped to change the situation. Samyuktha loved the nation enough to want things to change. Yet she was cynical about the nation’s ability. The situation was so precarious that they were only fighting to postpone the inevitable. She was worried for the nation. Yet she was more worried about her nemesis Mayuri, two years her junior in IAS and also in joining Dubey ji. Both were with him from his days as union minister for education. Dubey ji did not trust Mayuri as there were rumours that she was corrupt and was on the take. Yet even Samyuktha had to grudgingly accept that she had certain cunning in political and party affairs. She was a wild fun girl and extremely popular. This made Samyuktha even more furious. Mayuri was only a private secretary yet was cunning and influential. Samyuktha could tell from the way Mayuri was hovering over Dubey ji that she was upto something. Whatever it was would not bade well for a nation in crisis and must be thwarted at inception.
She worked hard putting in more hours than others. She put up with inconveniences because she loved her work. Being a joint secretary to the PM was a prestigious and powerful job. She was proud to have the distinction of being the youngest Joint Secretary to the PM at thirty six. She just loved waving her ID in the face of everyone in the capital and see them cringe. She loved shouting at people even more. These perks don’t come with any other job. Technically except a handful of bureaucrats above her everyone else in the nation worked under her. It was as if the whole administrative wing of the nation bowed to her. She had scores of people working directly under her command who would dance to any tune of hers. Dubey ji had made bold decisions and was loved by the people before the crisis. She had the ears of the most powerful man in the country. Her ideas found its way into several executive decisions and a few legislations. She was proud of it.
The morning had not gone well for Samyuktha. She slipped on her sister’s strewn clothes and fell in the living room. She liked neatness but that was not to be had sharing an apartment with her irritating younger sister Pratyusha who worked in an IT firm. She received a call from her parents. The issue was the same as always, her marriage. She had postponed her marriage talks on one pretext or other. They used the same old routine, only if she got married could they search a groom for Pratyusha.This made her really angry. She conveyed the decision, she had made a while back, that she would never marry. She felt like a rat chased by a storm. She wanted to marry but she wanted to be in love and then marry that person, like in the movies. She bathed in cold water as her sister had forgotten to repair the geyser. She then read two major national newspapers almost page to page even while dining. Then the chauffeur arrived and she had left for work. She saw picketers lining the road side and glimpsed a couple of tanks on the road on her drive to work.
She snapped back to reality as the meeting got underway. The meeting was attended by the Principal Secretary Hari Prasad, the National Security Advisor Pankaj Mehra, the Cabinet Secretary Harish Wadia, the Home Secretary and Finance Secretary.
“What is being done to check the hyper inflation? Prices are skyrocketing,” said Dubey ji.
“The Indian Rupee has been pegged to the dollar. It is the standard measure in such situations,” said the Principal Secretary Hari Prasad.
Dubey ji turned to Samyuktha who said, “The measure needs time to take effect Dubey ji.”
Though she herself didn’t believe it. It has been months since the Rupee had been pegged to the dollar yet it hasn’t restored confidence domestically or with foreign investors.
“What else has been done about this?” asked Dubey ji
“RBI has increased the Repo rates and the CRR, this also needs time,” said the Finance Secretary.
“What else?” asked a frustrated Dubey ji.
“The loan to IMF which is apart from their bailout package is due shortly. If we fail to make it the consequences will be disastrous. Moreover we have already exhausted most of the bail out money far ahead of schedule,” said the Finance Secretary.
“I ask for what can be done and you pile up more bad news. I am moving America and Europe for more aid. We will see how that pans out.”
Samyuktha yawned again and felt guilty about it. She had been in so many of these meetings where various measures were discussed and some implemented but the situation just kept worsening.
“We are taking stern measures for fiscal discipline and have cut expenses across all ministries. We have stopped almost all subsidies across sectors. We need more time sir for these measures to take effect,” said the Cabinet Secretary Harish Wadia.
“The law and order situation is worsening. What has been done about it?” asked Dubey ji.
“The situation is unprecedented I agree. It seems as if the whole nation has took to the streets in protest. There has been heavy rioting, looting and arson in many parts of the nation. We have begun to clamp down heavily on it. We have taken several persons in to preventive custody to improve the situation,” said the Home Secretary.
“You’ve arrested everyone opposing Pandey ji while his supporters and goons are on a rampage. You are worsening the situation,” said the National Security Advisor Pankaj Mehra.
“But…” started the Home Secretary but was cut off by Dubey ji.
“I don’t care if Pandey’s supporters get zealous but ask him to restore law and order to the nation or else all of us may be out of our jobs soon,” said Dubey ji then turning to the National Security Advisor asked, “What of the terror situation?”
“There are reports of increasing terrorist incursions and something big has been planned for the Republic day that is capable of destroying the nation. It includes a series of bomb blasts in the capital. We don’t have any more intel on that as of now,” said the National Security Advisor Pankaj Mehra.
“Then please find intel on that. What use in knowing something disastrous will happen on a day if we don’t exactly know what it is. Step on it,” said Dubey ji and the NSA nodded his head.
“Sir, the terror strikes are on the rise, the law and order scenario is a mess, the opposition isn’t helping either with their protests and picketing. We are of the opinion that the only way to restore law and order would be to impose emergency,” said the NSA Pankaj Mehra.
“No one can stop the inevitable. We will see how the situation is in a month’s time when I return from hospital after my surgery. If it still hasn’t improved we will impose emergency,” said a visibly tired Dubey ji.
Dubey ji glanced at Samyuktha and Mayuri and asked, “Have I missed anything?” both nodded their heads in negation, then he said to the group, “that is all folks. Hope you have better news by the next meeting.”
Samyuktha who was still feeling mildly sleepy was glad that the meeting was over. She looked at the ornate clock on the wall. It was almost noon.
Home Minister Pandey’s Residence, Akbar Road, New Delhi, Aug 26
Home minister Manoj Pandey was in his pyjamas and a vest helping his grandson feed red meat from a bucket to the twelve doberman dogs in the cage at the back of his house. These dogs would be let out only at night and were fed only once during the day. He was an unprincipled pragmatist. He was a pious man but that didn’t prevent him in doing anything wrong or convoluted to achieve his ends. He was a doer. He did things on the ground while the principled idealists stood on the sidelines never doing anything. He liked the word pragmatism a device to hide behind for any person without integrity. Integrity was a myth according to him. He was tall, muscular and had a thick greying moustache and greying hair. It was said he used to be a wrestler in his youth. He was from a village in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh known for its caste violence. He was born to a poor shopkeeper of a dominant upper caste in the region. He caught on to caste politics at a very early age and was now the home minister at 62. He would have been the Prime Minister if not for the London educated prick Vikram Bhatt. Yet it doesn’t matter as he was now presented with the opportunity of holding on to power forever as the PM. He was Home Minister at a time the nation was crumbling and the Law and order situation was the worst. He would be unquestioned in his measures now. Any lesser mortal would pass up this opportunity but not him. He would strike at his enemies and inspire fear among the people and take over the institutions of democracy like the courts and the election commission.
His aides, his P.A Milind Shukla, his Man Friday Vipul Bakshi and his top goon Jignesh Malviya were standing behind him patiently. Shukla was a corrupt IAS officer, meek and balding. Vipul was once a henchman. He used to run an underworld gang with Jignesh in Mumbai and had steadily distanced himself from the underworld and joined active politics. Jignesh, a dark lean guy with a pock marked face, on the other hand had stuck to being a gang leader and ran his goons all over the nation from the capital. Pandey seeing potential in the men and the multiple uses they could be put to had promptly absorbed them.
Pandey gently caressing the hair of his grandson turned back with an empty bucket and Jignesh soon replaced it with a bucket full of red meat. Pandey was the god of his world. People fell at his feet seeking blessings but mostly out of fear. He liked it that way, fear and awe are a sure fire way to maintain power. He had started at the grass root level. He had a basic degree to his name, that is all. He wasn’t London educated like that thug Bhatt. He had pasted party posters as a humble party worker when he was young. He had grown with the party and was powerful now.
Seeing the dogs go for the meat he thought human beings were like them. It was truly a dog eat dog world. Human beings would also do anything for their survival. They just didn’t know it yet. When put to test in perilous times all their principles would vanish. Fear was the ultimate motivator.
He started speaking as he fed the dogs, “What has been done about the movie?”
There was a movie in which a character similar to him was shown in bad light.
“Babu ji, protests have been successful in four states in north India. Several buses have been burnt down and shops forced to close. Normal lives have been effectively disrupted,” said Vipul with a quiet pride in his voice as though he had done something remarkable.
“That is not enough. We need to stop the screening of the movie. Burn down the theatres that screen the movie.”
“But the courts have allowed the screening and asked us to protect the theatres.”
“I don’t care about the movie. But we need to prove a point to people that the courts can’t be trusted anymore. I want the judges themselves to know that. The people have to come to us and the courts have to act through us. Let Jignesh take care of this for now.”
Jignesh said excitedly, “I will burn down the theatres and kill anyone opposing us, Babu ji.”
Pandey used to favour the political savvy and discrete Vipul to do his bidding. But changing times meant a more ruthless man needs to handle things and Jignesh was the man for it.
“Do it in broad daylight in full view of the world. I want the people to know who is in charge and fear us.”
He finished feeding the dogs and stood up and patted his grandson in the back sending him inside the house. He washed his hands in a nearby tap and dried it with the towel Vipul extended.
He then turned to Shukla and said, “Align all the MPs to our side soon. If your persuasion and money alone aren’t enough use Jignesh. Also get through several business deals including the Worlington deal quickly we will be needing the cash.”
“It will be tough as Dubey ji is uncorrupt but I have Mayuri working on it,” replied Shukla.
“What about the recruitment?” asked Pandey placing his hand over Vipul’s shoulder.
“A lot many youngsters have become what is being called the ‘Pandey Sainiks’,” said Vipul.
“No, the other recruitment.”
“We have a lot many bureaucrats with us who are mostly corrupt and where they are not they are being intimidated to join us. The cops are under our control by law but we are making them absolutely ours to the extent of overriding the control of the PM. The judges are the most difficult and there is little headway except the lower levels. The armed forces can’t be breached.”
“The judges will be vulnerable with their families and the forces will not interfere out of fear of protocol.” He took a shirt from a hook on the cage and wearing it said, “I need to be in unquestioned control of the nation within the new year which is in six months time.”
He looked at his watch it was time to feed himself. It was almost noon.
ISI Headquarters, Aabpara, Islamabad, Aug 26
Salim Akmal sat on the sofa studying the notes in the file on his lap. Despite the meeting being a regular part of his work, he was still nervous each time he met General Hamid Qureshi, the head of the Inter Services Intelligence. For several years he had never been to this plushly furnished section of the ISI headquarters containing the top brass.
He was a short, spectacled and clean shaven man who gave the impression of being a docile and harmless person. He was married and had a fourteen year old daughter. He used to be a software programmer in California. He was a fun loving youngster with a tinge of faith and nationalism. It was to be expected from the son of a man who died in the Bangladesh war. Then he lost his job and had to return to Karachi, Pakistan. After several hardships he became a freelance podcaster or news journalist on the web. He found faith and nationalism in a deep profound way.
He had to travel heavily and the ISI initially used him to recruit skilled youngsters abroad for the cause of the nation. He became zealous about it and began to take pains to recruit high value assets for the ISI. Back then the ISI had began to recruit civilians in to their fold and Salim was rewarded with a job. He moved to Islamabad with his family. He was put on a stint of field duty in Azaad Kashmir where he handled several hard core terrorists. He had relatives in India and used to visit often. His biggest success was in enticing a top Indian intelligence officer with money. Not resting with the laurels, with the help of that officer he had honey trapped a top Indian politician. He earned the nickname of ‘Recruiter’. This and the economic collapse and lawlessness in India made him hatch a plan to disintegrate India once and for all. This got the attention of the top brass and the plan was approved and Salim was made the terrorist handler in charge of execution of the plan. He was asked to report to General Qureshi himself.
For this plan on Salim’s idea, for the first time in history, as a cover and carrier for the terrorists, two ten year old girls were recruited and trained. The two girls were from backward villages and were daughters of dead terrorists. The girls were special. A girl Zohura did not talk with people for she had some mental condition. The other girl Ghazia had a heart condition not treatable in Pakistan and will die soon. Salim recognising the value of the girls had used them extensively. Zohura as a resource has been used across terrorist cells and he himself had used her as cover while meeting with the various separatist forces in India. Zohura was considered retarded and therefore not a threat to the plan. Yet she had the uncanny ability to remember things and follow orders. Salim was happy that the plan was going smoothly so far.
Salim was called in and he was greeted by the General and he sat across the table from the General.
“Salim, how is your wife and daughter?” asked General Qureshi.
“They are fine sir. The plan so far has…” Salim was saying when he was interrupted by the General.
“Relax Salim, what is the hurry. Why are you so uptight and wound up all the time? How do you get work done if you are always like this?”
“Please tell me the steps in the plan again,” said the General and took the file Salim gave.
“Sir there are five stages of the plan. Stage one is the recruitment and training of personnel. This has been done using the terrorist camps in the Kashmir Valley. Stage two is establishing contact, co-ordination and control of the separatist forces. I have visited India and taken care of this.”
The General pressed a buzzer and a man came with two cups of tea. Salim sat silent till the man departed.
Then he continued, “Stage three is the moving and assembling of our personnel as terrorist cells inside India. It is underway and partly done. Stage four is execution of several major terrorist strikes like the assassination of the Indian PM that can be claimed by the separatist forces increasing their credibility.”
“Assasinate the PM did you say. Isn’t that like a mission inside a mission?”
“Yes sir, the separatists from Tamil Nadu are weak without a militant arm and feel they need to claim something substantial like this before people there could be motivated to join them.”
“Okay, go ahead.”
“Stage five is the final blasts to destabilise and deconstruct India sir.”
“So stages one and two of training personnel and controlling separatists is over. Stage three of assembling our guys there is underway. You can share the burden of stage four of major terror strikes with others on the Indian desk. I am giving this plan the highest priority over everything. If you have trouble with any resource come to me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now go over stage five.”
“It has four parts sir. First, blasting the Secretariat building and the Parliament making the nation leadership deficient. Second, our forces with separatist forces will take control of Kashmir, North East, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. Thirdly…” Salim was saying when the General took a call from his home on his mobile.
When the General signalled Salim to continue he said, “Thirdly, our guy, the union minister will unilaterally make an announcement supporting Nationhood to these regions. Finally the United Nations under Chinese and our lobby will grant diplomatic status to these regions and send in UN peace keeping forces from Ireland and other neutral nations.”
“Wonderful, what is the schedule for this?”
“On January 26, the Indian Republic day, at exactly noon the Secretariat and Parliament will be blown and India will disintegrate in to pieces.”
The meeting was over and Salim looked at his watch it was almost noon.
Tuticorin, Tamilnadu, Aug 26
Oblivious to the events of the world a lazy Saravanan rolled over in his bed and peeked at the clock it was not yet noon so he went back to sleep.
His mother shouted to him from outside his room, “Get up Saravanan it is almost noon and you haven’t had breakfast yet.”
Saravanan impervious to the midday heat because of the air conditioner in his room, pulled the blanket firmly over him and rolled back to sleep.
Lack of accountability and transparency were the primary reasons for the state of the nation and Saravanan.
Tuticorin, Tamilnadu, Aug 27
Samyuktha stretched her limbs on the side of the stage as the Prime Minister Dubey ji addressed a massive state assembly election rally in the south eastern tip of Tamilnadu, India.
“Thud,” Samyuktha swatted a mosquito on her arm.
“By the year 2020 India will be a super power, you are just pigs,” boomed the voice of Prime Minister Satyendra Dubey over the loud speakers.
A shocked Samyuktha hurriedly referred the speech in her hands, it was written ‘India will be a super power if you don’t vote for those who think you are just pigs’. Some loose connection in the microphone had cut a few words. But it didn’t matter as the crowd cheered in the high decibel levels she was used to. Damn the mosquitoes, damn the heat and most of all damn this dead beat town, she thought. She felt uncomfortable as perspiration soaked her armpits, chest and other parts of her body. If standing in the shade she felt like this, then what about all the poor idiots standing out there in the sun. It was early evening and the wretched sun had not yet set in this god damned town. Seeing the crowd she realised you can never separate people and politics. She hated politics and politicians but the only exception was PM Dubey ji. Even that was a grudging exception.
Samyuktha was standing in a corner of the stage. So that if the Prime Minister glanced in her direction, she could help get whatever he wants, from his monkey cap to his false teeth. She wished she hadn’t worn the thick, high cut, brown salwar kameez. It didn’t help with the heat situation. She felt like a pig being roasted. She will make a tasty meal she mused.
To her left stood her rival, the vile and vulgar Mayuri. To her right stood Kalpana who was dressed in her standard issue uniform of black suit and pants. She looked mean carrying a machine gun. Samyuktha wondered what turn on men found in women in men’s clothes. She would never want her boyfriend to wear women’s clothes, not that she had any boyfriend. Kalpana had a navy cut hair and was beautiful in her own way. The tall, dark and crisp looking Kalpana was an agent in the special protection group assigned to protect the Prime Minister. Samyuktha liked her company though she was of the silent type.
Dubey ji was campaigning for the state legislative elections of the state of Tamil Nadu. Despite the dominance of the national parties in the north, here the two Dravidian parties dominated the scene. All that has began to change under the leadership of Dubey ji. This was Samyuktha’s home state and she had with her wise counsel and innovative ideas helped change the scene. Though yet the Jan Shakthi Party was not a contender and had no chance of forming a government in the state.
She could smell her sweat and she cursed the hot and rundown town. She was born and brought up in the city of Chennai. She had never been this far south and was appalled by the stupidity, brazenness and uncouth behaviour of these mongrels. What more, she would have to babysit one of these idiots for a month, all thanks to Mayuri’s bright idea.
Mayuri leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Didi, you look tired, if you want please go ahead and rest. I have everything covered here.”
“How very considerate of you, thanks, but it is all right,” replied Samyuktha with the sweetest smile she could muster which came out as a half scowl.
Everything covered my foot, cover the babies peeking from your shirt first, thought Samyuktha. ‘Didi’ means sister and she hated it when Mayuri called her that. She put her hands around Mayuri’s neck and strangled her with her bare hands or at least wished she had done so.
Mayuri was on the phone with the State youth wing president of the party and asked him to be prepared. The day had dawned weirdly for her. She woke up in a strange place in bed with a stranger and had a terrible hangover. Then she remembered she had hooked with him at a party last night. Guys and almost all people were to be used as pawns in a game as far as she was concerned. Heck did she hate the serious sentimental types. She really hated the guts of that prude Samyuktha. She silently snuck out from there and raced to her bungalow in her Ferrari. She was the only bureaucrat to live with such a grand lifestyle. Not just because she was on the take but also because she wasn’t stingy like the other buffoons who hoarded. She was the only one in the top rung of Dubey ji’s circle who was on the take. She had contact and influence with most cabinet ministers who were corrupt. Once in her bungalow she got ready real quick and hopped in to her other car and drove to work.
The principled bureaucrats and others who talked of poverty and the suffering masses and the need to uplift their plight were the ones who never knew the meaning of the word poverty. Having been through the slums of Mumbai while growing up and having used public libraries to crack the UPSC she knew the in and out of poverty. She had started up as an honest bureaucrat but her higher ups and politicians had reminded her that she came from the trash and could be easily sent back to it. She then immersed herself in corruption and cunningness like a monster and started living it up. Hell, life is short and principles have no place in it, was her policy.
Her car was stopped three times and she had to show her ID at all places. At the last stop her vehicle was checked summarily before being allowed to pass. Then after a metal detector screening and handbag check voila she was at her office cabin. She was only a private secretary and not a Joint secretary like Samyuktha but still had a private cabin. She had the ears of the PM more importantly, so she was in a powerful position like Samyuktha. But it was not to be denied that Samyuktha had the respect of Dubey ji and the party high command while she had contacts with corrupt cabinet ministers like the Home Minister Pandey. The way things were going in the nation Pandey might grow powerful than Dubey ji. She was waiting for such a day where she would be far more powerful than the prude Samyuktha. For the past few days she had been pitching an idea to Dubey ji. It was time to see if it worked or not.
As soon as she settled in the office she didn’t bother about her routine work files. She called Dubey ji and asked him of what he thought of her proposal to have the caretaker PM she suggested while he had surgery. She stated that Gulzarilal Nanda had been such a caretaker PM for a fortnight twice, once when Nehru died and again when Shastri died. She added how making a guy from Tamil Nadu, caretaker PM, would bolster their party’s performance in the coming Tamil Nadu State elections. When Dubey ji said he’ll talk to the high command she was pensive. But then he called and said her plan was approved and that he’ll make the announcement during the campaign speech in the state youth wing president’s home town. Mayuri was elated. All this meant was that she could have a few dubious files signed when Dubey ji was indisposed. But it meant a lot of money and to have pulled it off without that nag Samyuktha knowing was something.
Samyuktha’s attention fell on Dubey ji and she couldn’t help feeling a bit let down by the various compromises he made for electoral politics. He had a kidney problem that required major surgery and will hospitalise him for a month. He felt it was too long a time for the country to go without a Prime Minister. There was a problem in appointing a caretaker Prime Minister because of the feud between Pandey and Bhatt.
That morning under the helicopter’s wings Dubey ji said “Today Mayuri made an interesting proposal. If we announce a caretaker PM from this state, it would bolster our performance here and will not antagonise Pandey or Bhatt. She has vetted a candidate who belongs to the town we are going to visit. He is the state youth wing president, I am told. Even I haven’t seen him before. It is kept as a secret, even the man doesn’t know yet. The party high command has approved.”
“But sir, who else has vetted –“ started Samyuktha.
“That is why I need you to stay behind the guy full time. I have made it clear to Mayuri that once the new person assumes office, you would be the one in charge of him. I trust you to hold the fort till I return from hospital,” said Dubey ji.
“Sure sir,” she replied.
She didn’t like this even a teeny bit. She was pissed that Mayuri had managed to pull this off from right under her nose. She had no doubts that this strange unknown candidate must be well known to Mayuri and of the same breed, the corrupt breed. She just hoped they don’t loot the nation to bankruptcy before the month was over.
What the hell, why do the damn speakers have to be so loud. Samyuktha eyed all the television cameras and crew in front of the stage. Even in a normal campaign speech of Dubey ji these wolves would be in full force. But today it has been leaked to them that an important announcement was about to be made. They were having live coverage of every single minute. She hated the press and wished she could swat them like mosquitoes. They just didn’t get that running a country is a tough job.
If not for the likes of her, the nation would crumble. She was such a smart individual to rise to such heights at so early an age. But she knew smartness needs to be backed by real hard work to bear fruits. She knew this from her IAS preparation days. Boy was she a nerd then, she was sort of a nerd even now. She didn’t have much of a social life. May be all high risers were like her she mused until her eyes fell on the twerp Mayuri.
Samyuktha thought, that girl Mayuri was almost in the same level as far as job goes, but was a few years younger. She had a string of boyfriends and was close to several political bosses. She danced at parties and was popular. But that minx drank and Samyuktha can’t tolerate even the boys who drank. Was this all because of the fact that Mayuri hailed from Mumbai and Samyuktha from an orthodox family in Chennai. No, how could she even compare, she was the more mature and wise person.
She was brought out of her reverie when she saw Mayuri waving to someone in the front row.
Ignoring that she turned to Kalpana standing beside her and said, “We are beginning to stink, aren’t we?
Kalpana smiled and said, “Yes, I am used to the heat and the cold, part of a field job. But at times like this, don’t you smart cats wish you had taken a different job?”
“It isn’t everyday that I’ve to suffer this. I will live,” said Samyuktha with a genuine smile on her face.
“I am proud of what I am but when I see you, I feel a tad envious. Want to trade jobs with me?” asked Kalpana.
“I don’t think so. In the mood I am in, if I am given a gun then quite a few people might find release from this world.”
“That bad huh, is it just the heat or are you having a real bad day.”
Samyuktha wiped the sweat from her neck with her kerchief and said, “I am riled up. Please don’t ask.”
“Cheer up. At least soon you will be in an air conditioned office while I sweat it out on the outside.”
That was true Samyuktha thought. Kalpana was in no way less intelligent than her. In fact Kalpana had to also be physically fit to do summersaults, flip flops or whatever the black suited people do. Both jobs were highly prestigious. Her job though had more power and perks attached to it. More over the influence she had on the Prime Minister was considerable while Kalpana would never fall in the radar of the Prime Minister. Tough world and lucky me thought Samyuktha.
“Didi, when do you think the Prime Minister will make the announcement?” Mayuri asked.
Samyuktha knew it was less of a question and more of a boast to piss her off.
When you are dead and rotting in hell thought Samyuktha but instead smiled and told, “Anytime soon, most of the topics are over.”
Saravanan sitting in the front row closed the game he was playing on his mobile. He was of average height and build, fair with an unshaven and pock marked face. He was a sore and disgusting sight to the eye in the condition he was in.
He whispered in his friend Kamal Pasha’s ear, “It is great man that you got a front row seat to the Prime Minister’s speech but I am bored and leaving.”
“Please wait buddy till the announcement,” Kamal begged.
Kamal was a friend of the nephew of the state youth wing president of the Jan Shakthi party. An important announcement concerning the youth wing president was about to be made it seemed. Today too like all days Saravanan had woken up at noon around twelve and after breakfast had promptly immersed himself in pirated movies from the internet. He lived life watching movies on his laptop while smoking continuously. Books and movies were not only his pass time but also his whole life.
Saravanan rarely ventured out of his house except to drink cool drinks and buy several packs of cigarettes from the shop adjacent to his home. He lived with his parents who were retired bankers. He had no job and had squandered quite a bit of money on business ventures in the distant past. He suffered from a mental condition called Bipolar disorder and his parents and brother supported him now without any questions asked. He was defeated by life and didn’t even make attempts to socialise with others. He had a couple of friends like Kamal with whom he drank and went to restaurants occasionally. He stopped taking the effort to go out even for that a while ago. Out of the blue Kamal had called and compelled him to come here.
He had however managed to complete his Bachelor of Engineering and Masters in Business Administration. He even had worked two jobs for six months each, ten years apart. He was thirty eight and single. He had given up hopes of getting married. What girl in her right mind would marry a loser, loony and jobless guy like him. The one lucky thing for him was he never had to worry about money from his childhood. Yet he too had felt the pinch of poverty as a jobless youth in Chennai searching for a job. Those were the days when he still had some fight left in him.
He didn’t mind spending money. Yet he had to be prompted to do good like give alms to a beggar or biscuits to a dog. He lacked initiative to do even these ordinary things. He though acted impulsively at times shocking everyone around him. In short he was a dude who was in no hurry to get anywhere and enjoyed life the way he was.
Today Kamal had called and despite Saravanan’s protests had dragged him here. The youth wing president left to the restroom and he had left his mobile on the chair. Saravanan was wondering when that damned announcement would be made and he could leave.
Right on cue Dubey ji said, “Due to a medical necessity I will be hospitalised and indisposed for a month. The party high command has decided to make a son of this soil, one of your own, as the Prime Minister till I recover.”
The phone on the chair was incessantly ringing and the youth wing president’s nephew and Kamal panicked and pushed Saravanan to go to the stage and stall them for some time.
As soon as Saravanan, the young man with a pock marked face and unshaven half grown beard, climbed the stage Dubey ji hugged him and dragged him to the microphone and said, “This is the new face of India for a month from now,” and raised the hand of the youth.
But Saravanan didn’t notice anything else except the girl in the brown Salwar Kameez who was looking at him curiously. He noticed that the girl standing next to her was stylish in her short skirt but this one looked so homely and captivating that he didn’t have the heart to take his eyes off her. He chided himself for he was destined to be alone forever. Marriage and a family of his own was one dream he will never attain.
“Didi, this isn’t the person,” shrieked Mayuri and rushed to Dubey ji and Samyuktha followed her close behind.
Dubey ji got away from the microphone and waved to the crowd as Mayuri went and whispered in his ears.
“Wrong man or not, this is the guy who will be Prime Minister for a month unless he has any terrorist or other party affiliation. Samyuktha, call a meeting of the high command and make sure they are okay with this,” said Dubey ji and climbed off stage, closely followed by others.
Kalpana followed the developments unfolding before her with bewilderment. She wondered at how a bizarre turn of events has made an unassuming young man the PM, but she did not let it show on her face. Any by stander seeing her standing on the sides with a machine gun in her hand would have thought of her as some tough person on a dead beat job with less intelligence.
They would have been too far from the truth as Kalpana was an IPS officer of the rank of Assistant Inspector General. She had put in her share of days in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) while working for the Indian Police Force and had even recently in the Special Protection Group (SPG) been in the intelligence function. She and intelligence were entwined together. Yet she couldn’t help but wonder what this accident could mean for her and most of all this nation.
She was from Assam and believed herself fortunate to have born to such dependable and supportive parents as hers. Her elder brother was an army man who died at the border and this left a gaping hole in her heart. She was tough and had dealt with corrupt politicians and underworld goons with a firm hand. She was patriotic to the core but still people in the bureaucracy doubted her antecedents since she was from Assam in the North East. At a time when the nation was facing its gravest crisis this clueless and unassuming man has been made the PM. She wasn’t sure if she should feel sorry for the nation or for this youngster who was sure to be out of depths in his new job.
Samyuktha tried to hide her fury. What a folly of gigantic proportions. It was a stupid plan to start with. Only an idiot like Mayuri would come up with such absurd ideas. And Dubey ji, how could he let himself be trapped by that fool Mayuri. But now his decision to go ahead with the plan was a colossal blunder. Has he lost his mind?
“But Dubey ji, we can still say it was a mistake and announce the selected guy,” said Samyuktha.
“What difference does it make, I will be back soon and I have full faith in you,” said Dubey ji and then putting a hand on the young man’s shoulder he asked, “are you willing to be the Prime Minister for a month?”
“Sure sir,” replied the young man.
“What is your name boy?”
“What were you doing in the stage?”
“The youth wing president asked me to enquire what the issue is.”
“So you are a sincere party cadre.”
“No sir, I was bored and a friend brought me here.”
“Do you belong to any other party?”
“Have you been to prison?”
“See I told you, destiny has made the ideal choice for us,” said Dubey ji looking at Samyuktha and Mayuri.
Samyuktha didn’t like Saravanan from the moment she laid eyes on him. What a creature with so much hair, left uncombed and ruffled. He had an unshaven face with a sort of a goat beard. He had no sense of personal hygiene and had big dirty nails. He is a god damn cave man she thought. Now it fell to her to take care of this mess and hold the fort for a month. She thought maybe it is for the best. She wouldn’t have to worry about Mayuri’s pawn being the Prime Minister for a month. Yet this month is going to be a great ordeal she thought. Little did she know that this incident had irrevocably entwined the fate of these four people and that of the nation together for much more than a month.
Connaught Place, New Delhi, Aug 27
Mayuri sipped her lemonade observing the Home Minister’s P.A Milind Shukla from the corner of her eyes. This balding and bespectacled old man might fool others with the look of helplessness, but not her.
“Have you been waiting for long?” she asked leaning forward.
“Not really, no problem, none at all,” he said to her chest.
She didn’t mind ogling youngsters but lecherous old men made her murder crazy. She sorely wished to knock hard on the baldpate before her with her knuckles. She wondered how these stupid ducks managed to grow this high. They were just chump change to her. Cunningness was her staple diet. The person sitting next to Shukla was Jignesh, Pandey’s goon, whom she knew by reputation. The mere sight of him gave her the shivers. They were in a private booth of the Bonbon restaurant in Connaught place. She had helped the restaurant get a permission to add extra floors. So she was taken good care of, whenever she visited the place, which was often.
“So what is the real status of Dubey ji’s health? Will he be back in a month?” asked Shukla.
“Yes, unless any complications creep up,” she said.
Old man, don’t worry about Dubey ji’s health, he will be here even when you are rolling in your grave, she thought.
“So how does the presence of this new one instead of our planned man affect the plan?” asked Shukla.
“Now it is a whole new game. We’ll have to wait and see.”
She enjoyed such parlays but with weaker moronic opponents like Shukla one just gets bored. The new Prime Minister was a curve ball she hadn’t expected. All her carefully laid plans spoiled on the last moment by sheer mad chance. She had even hoodwinked Samyuktha. Now that was a worthy adversary.
The new guy had been elected Prime Minister by the selfless wise guys in parliament as soon as Dubey ji tendered his resignation. They neither had self nor self esteem. He had also been sworn in by the president. Dubey ji was now hospitalised. Samyuktha had managed to keep the new guy away from public eye and her eye too so far. But it is early days yet.
“The client is getting impatient.” said Shukla still looking the wrong way, at her chest, maybe he needs a map to find the face.
“I will get in touch with you within this week. By that time I would have pulsed out our new Prime Minister.”
Impatient or not, the only way to get shady deals through the PMO was through her. She was the only one on the take in the PMO. Dubey ji was a clean man and ran a tight ship. She was a lone wolf in a den of lions. This new Worlington lead extraction plant was considered untouchable. It was so polluting that several countries had rejected it. That wouldn’t deter sweet India though, after all folks here shunned any form of untouchability. This one month window was the only chance to get permission for the venture.
She watched with distaste at Jignesh slurping his ice cream but took a box and said to Shukla, “Here is the newest remote controlled helicopter for your Grandson on his birthday.”
“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” Shukla said while his eyes told a different tale, “this is the difference between you and the others.”
At least this time he had looked at her face. Not so hard now, is it, looking at the face.
“How is minister Manoj Pandey ji doing? Convey my regards to him,” she said.
“I’ll do. He has high regards for you. As do I. With age on your side you’ll go very far.”
“But I am hoping for an early retirement.”
“At your age you shouldn’t talk of retirement. Leave such talk to old men like me.”
Very true, why don’t you retire? You old cretin, she thought.
“So with Dubey ji hospitalised, is that other girl Samyuktha, the one calling the shots,” asked Jignesh.
“Yes, but not for long if I have my way with this new guy,” said Mayuri.
She admired Samyuktha, that clever fox. But it was inevitable that they both were pitted against each other. Samyuktha was as straight forward as they come. Her motivation was to do something big and good for the country, what a load of crap. Mayuri on the other hand had no pretensions. She craved power and wealth, a heady cocktail. She was corrupt, devious and cunning.
She parted with Shukla and Jignesh and got in to her car and drove to the Prime Minister’s residence on 7, Lok Kalyan Marg. There had been no sign of the new Prime Minister in the Secretariat office for quite some days. So she decided to flush him out of his cocoon and came here. She had with her a few files that needed the Prime Minister’s signature, but nothing important. This should help her get past Samyuktha.
7, Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi, Aug 27
Mayuri breezed through the security check ups and entered the main building. She was told that the Prime Minister was still in his bed room. Samyuktha came down to the foyer and greeted her. Samyuktha was wearing the usual salwar kameez, this time in blue colour. Mayuri looked at her own dress, a grey skirt and a cream shirt. She can beat that old girl at fashion anytime, she thought to herself.
“Didi, I know you don’t trust me and that too with good reason. But if we are going to get through this month, I think you need my help. You can’t keep him locked up forever,” said Mayuri
“You don’t know how true that is. He is an absolute nut case. Come with me,” said Samyuktha and led her to the Prime Minister’s bedroom.
Kalpana was standing outside the bedroom door in her usual black suit. How can people tolerate jobs doing nothing all day long wondered Mayuri. She pitied these poor creatures on such deadbeat jobs. She could never last for a day in such a job.
“Is the Prime Minister ready? Has he come out yet?” asked Samyuktha.
“Not so far,” replied Kalpana.
Samyuktha knocked the door and a brusque voice yelled, “Come in.”
As soon as the door opened a rotten burning smell hit Mayuri in the face. Saravanan had a towel around his waist and was drying his hair with another towel. Mayuri saw that the dustbin had been converted in to a giant ash tray. It was lying near the bed already half filled with ash, cigarette butts and copious amounts of spit. She felt like puking. The bed stand had three unopened cigarette packs and a litter of empty cigarette packs. She looked at her watch, it was twelve already. The television was tuned in to some music station. The whole place looked like a pig sty. The smell of tobacco was too strong for even her, who occasionally smoked.
Samyuktha looked exasperatedly at Mayuri and said, “His highness can’t wake before eleven and the most he could be made to do is ten. More importantly highness takes longer than any girl to get ready. He looked a lot worse when he came in. But I had hairdressers come in to cut his hair and shave him. Highness doesn’t know to shave himself. We even had to give his highness a manicure and pedicure.”
Mayuri was happy seeing this state of affairs. Samyuktha was pissed beyond limits but not enough to dump this person in Mayuri’s hands. Still it was enough to make her seek Mayuri’s help. This meant that Mayuri still had a chance to push the industry deal that would make her filthy rich.
“Please don’t talk like I am not even in the room, it is demeaning. Be glad that I am not a greedy or power crazed political animal,” said Saravanan.
“Prime Minister, please forgive Didi, she forgets herself in her dedication to the job. I am Mayuri,” she said shaking his hands.
“Let me be frank with you guys, I have an Engineering and Masters of Business degrees. That doesn’t mean much though. I’ve only been in two jobs in my life, ten years apart and both for not more than six months,” said Saravanan.
“We don’t want your Resume pretty boy. Just do what you are told for a month and you’ll be out of here and out of our faces,” said Samyuktha.
“I’ll show no pretensions. I don’t have any interest in politics or the affairs of the state. I am a bachelor who once had this one girl friend. I am not interested in romance either. I am here to have a nice time away from my parents. Yes, I am thirty eight years old and still living with my parents,” said Saravanan.
“That also doesn’t concern us. Just cooperate for this month and make our job easier,” said Samyuktha.
“I’ll do my best. As you can see I am a chain smoker and can’t help it. I couldn’t drink as much as I liked when with my family. So I intend to be drunk for the next month.”
“You can’t smoke in public and neither can you be drunk. You are the Prime Minister for god’s sake. Can you do that?” asked Samyuktha.
“Sorry, you have to work around those things,” said Saravanan.
“Prime Minister, we are here to help you. So don’t worry about anything. Didi and I will find a way to make sure you enjoy this month,” said Mayuri.
“If you girls wait here for a moment, I will get dressed,” said Saravanan.
“Today dress as you like, tomorrow the Kurta Pyjamas will arrive and you are to dress in that,” said Samyuktha.
Mayuri turned to the buffoon who was now Prime Minister and mouthed the word ‘Sorry’.
Saravanan mumbled “Who is the high and mighty now,” and went to an inner dressing room in the suite.
Mayuri got a call in her mobile from Principal secretary Hari Prasad. At 72, the man still worked zealously and was the architect of several major policy decisions of the nation. Technically he was the big boss and most strategic decisions pass through him but the day to day running of the nation and other major political decisions stem from the secretary or joint secretary closest to the PM.
She flashed the caller name in the mobile to Samyuktha and took the call, “Hello sir.”
“Where are you?” asked Hari Prasad.
“I am at the Prime Minister’s residence with Samyuktha Didi”
“Do you both need to be there? Dubey ji disposed most of the important stuff before he got hospitalised but a few things are still pending. Will the new Prime Minister come here or do I have to come over.”
“No, please, not today sir. I will come to office around evening and brief you.”
Saravanan came out wearing a red and black checkered shirt and black pants.
“Is there anything planned for me for today?” asked Saravanan.
“No, nothing today, we still got to vet you, train you and make you presentable,” said Samyuktha.
“You talk as if I were a monkey. You are lucky that I am kind of a cool fun guy. Any other person will take affront at the way you talk.”
“Any other person wouldn’t be as degenerate as you. So take your Prime Ministerial ego somewhere else.”
“My ego doesn’t come from being PM. Though I guess your ego comes from being a hot shot IAS and in being secretary to the P.M. Yet I must admit I love your candidness.”
“Didi, did you realise, caretaker or not, he is the youngest Prime Minister we’ve got yet,” said Mayuri.
“How can I miss, when it is plastered all over the idiot box. He has been a silent partner in some shipping firm. That has effectively camouflaged his being idle for over ten years. His parents are retired bankers and his brother runs a successful restaurant. All this I learnt from the news. No skeletons in the past, we are lucky that way at least,” said Samyuktha.
“You hate me, don’t you? Not an iota of respect. You are pissed that sheer luck has made me PM, your boss,” said Saravanan.
“It doesn’t matter what I think of you or for that matter what you think of me. Let us get this month done,” said Samyuktha.
They are like snake and mongoose, throwing daggers all the time. Samyuktha has let her prejudice take precedence over her rationality thought Mayuri. Things have gone beautifully, more than she expected. Yet, Samyuktha can’t be counted down yet. That wily fox will not let anything come between her and her job. Still Mayuri thought conditions were favourable to her. She just had to get the approval of this clown.. All she had to do was to stoke his ego.
“So when are you planning to let loose the new Prime Minister?” asked Mayuri.
“I am thinking of our Prime Minister hosting a party here for the visiting Japanese delegation. That way there will be no media monkeys. We can cover our mistakes,” said Samyuktha.
“Excellent idea Didi, don’t worry, nothing can go wrong that way,” said Mayuri.
“There you go again, talking as if I am not here,” said Saravanan.
Mayuri got ready to leave. She would play the fool of the caretaker Prime Minister some more, but when he was alone. She was giving the files she brought to him when Samyuktha got a phone call. She went outside to attend the call.
When Samyuktha came back she looked crestfallen. There were mild tears on the corner of her eyes.
“Dubey ji’s operation has gone well but it seems that he has slipped in to a coma. Doctors say he might recover in a month, maybe a year, maybe even more, they just can’t tell. Party high command says choosing a new Prime Minister now might break the party. They want our boy to continue until they find a consensus candidate,” said Samyuktha.
“No, that can’t be, I agreed to only a month of this and I am already beginning to hate it,” said Saravanan.
Mayuri felt as though Diwali had come early. This clown may just turn out to be her ticket to great fortune and power.
Lajpat Nagar, Delhi, Aug 27
Ten year old Zohura sat in the bus looking through the window at all the big buildings packed closely together and the people in colourful clothes milling about in great hurry through the crowded roadsides. Her village wasn’t like this at all. It had small shanty houses but there was space, wide grazing fields and lush green farms. She had never seen such crowds in her village. She was a Pakistani but she had never been to any of the Pakistani cities like Karachi or Lahore either. These people were the bad folks, the devil worshippers who had killed her father. She looked at the old woman sitting near her and thought she didn’t look like a bad person. But then chastised herself not to be weak and be fooled by appearances.
Her father was a freedom fighter killed by the godless people living in this nation. She loved her mother very much. She missed her and wanted to be hugged by her and to hear stories from her. She wondered how she agreed to be taken away from her mom and village. She could talk only to her mother and a few other girls of her own age like Ghazia. She intuitively knew she was not like other girls. She couldn’t talk to people like others and she always seemed to think slow and different from others. She stuttered when talking to the girls. She has heard people telling that she was not right in her mind. She used to wonder why God had made her that way. But now she got a chance to prove that she can do things just like others. She will be known fondly by all and God was on her side.
She looked through the window at the cloudy skies. At first the clouds looked like mountains in the sky, then she thought she could discern the shape of a face in the clouds, but then no, no, it definitely looked like a person reading a book. She tapped the shoulder bag lying near her feet making sure it was still there. She felt proud to have been entrusted again with a task to do all alone. She had done several such errands for commander Naqvi. She had carried a few such bags from Rajasthan to here. She had been counting stops and was now anxious as she had to get down in the coming stop and the crowd was heavy both outside and inside the bus. She hefted the heavy bag on her shoulders and slowly made way towards the exit of the bus. She somehow managed to get down from the crowded bus. Then came the next ordeal of crossing the busy road.
Kalpana went to visit a friend who lived in Lajpat nagar before starting her shift. As she was walking by the road she saw an affable traffic cop trying to help a school kid cross the road. Kalpana liked to see kindness in people in this increasingly cynical world. But as the cop offered to get the bag off the kid’s sagging shoulders the girl resisted. The bag seemed unusually heavy for the girl. Kalpana’s suspicious instincts kicked in and she quickly went and flashed her badge to the cop and snatched the bag off the girl. Inside were a couple of books and several packets. She opened one with her Swiss knife and found black sticky material which her trained eye recognised to be Semtex.
The girl by then had panicked and started to run. The traffic cop followed suit and the girl hit an opposing passerby and fell. In panic the girl took a gun from her salwaar and fired at the rushing cop. Kalpana had arrived on top of the girl and had her arm with the gun crushed beneath her foot and took the gun out. One look at the fallen cop told her that he was dead. She phoned her friend who was DIG at the Intelligence Bureau and yanked up the girl. Without a sign of drizzling, rain suddenly began to pour in sheets accompanied by heavy lightning and thunder. She felt it was the foreboding of some very grim things to come.
7, Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi, Aug 27
Samyuktha patiently explained how the PM should behave with a foreign delegation but Saravanan was half listening to her and half fiddling with his mobile phone. She wondered how a person could sink to such depravity as to not respect the opportunity of a lifetime. How could a person be oblivious to everything. This was not even selfishness but depravity and indifference at its extreme.
Samyuktha got a call from the Director of IB and listened to him patiently. She finally said “I’ll get back to you shortly,” and kept the phone down.
As soon as she recovered she snapped at Mayuri, “Get off the phone, something has come up.”
Mayuri didn’t take affront at Samyuktha’s manner for there seemed to be some sort of secret code between bureaucrats that indicated when something bad had happened. She ended the phone call and went near Samyuktha.
Samyuktha said, “A ten year old Pakistani girl Zohura has been caught in the capital with seven kilos of Semtex enough to blast 20 Boeings to smithereens.”
Then Samyuktha hesitated a bit before continuing, “An IB officer has threatened her and man handled her a bit and she has told them of a terrorist hangout and a phone number and mail id to be used in case of emergencies. IB believes her story but have intelligence that the girl could lead to the plan of the terrorists and their capture. The first few hours after the capture of a terrorist are vital. IB wants permission for advanced interrogation of the girl. They are sure they can end this once and for all. We have to reply soon.”
Samyuktha and Mayuri kept talking as usual as if Saravanan was not there.
Saravanan clapped and said, “Enough, girls,” and then he hollered, “Kalpana,” and when she entered the room he said, “have the staff bring me brandy, Err… one second.”
He turned to Samyuktha and Mayuri and said, “Get me the emergency phone number the girl gave, I want to know what kind of people would use kids for their nefarious purposes.”
Samyuktha spoke on the phone and then got Saravanan’s mobile and stored the number under the title of ‘Handler.’
She then said to Saravanan, “The number has been traced to Islamabad and is suspected to be of the ISI handler behind whatever blasts they have planned for the Republic day. There is no use trying to contact it as you won’t get any response.”
He called the number and was diverted to a voice mail box and he said, “What kind of low life are you to use kids for your plans? Shame on you scoundrels.”
He then paced the room for a while and said to Samyuktha, “Reprimand the officer who had been rough with the little girl and say no to advanced interrogation, yuck what an euphemism for torture. I can’t think how you guys would even contemplate torturing a little girl. End of discussion. I am the PM after all, you can blame it on me if something went wrong. Now move away I want to watch a movie on the TV.”
Saravanan said this with such a force that both Samyuktha and Mayuri were taken aback.
He then turned and said, “and sweet Kalpana, a chicken tandoor along with the brandy please.”
A stunned Samyuktha looked at him haltingly but glad to have a weight lifted off her shoulders silently called the Director IB and conveyed the PM’s decision.
7, Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi, Aug 28
More than the Prime Ministerial position, the presence of young and attractive women around him made Saravanan happy. He felt like a rabbit in a carrot shop. The capital must be swarming with beautiful girls he thought. Why do grumpy old men alone become Prime Ministers and get the chance to be surrounded by the most beautiful women. He was no flirt but he loved talking to girls. He was not the type looking to score with anything that moved and had a pair of headlights. He was thinking of cars of course.
just wanted to have a few laughs with girls. Samyuktha and Mayuri seemed to be constantly around him. Having no sisters and only a brother, he had little exposure to girls growing up.
He wasn’t exactly a nerd, he had wild fun in his college days. His excessive smoking, joblessness and a sort of a mental condition has made him almost a sociopath. At thirty eight, he was the only bachelor in his batch. He lost touch with most of his friends over the years. Was life back in college one big party with the head ache and hangover still tormenting him?
The party for the reception of the Japanese foreign minister and his delegation was hosted on the terrace of one of the five buildings in the Prime minister’s residence complex. He went there accompanied by Samyuktha and Mayuri. All other guests were already there. He was wearing an orange and white kurta pyjama. The girls were wearing saris, Samyuktha in green and Mayuri in pink. Both looked ravishing.
The Japanese foreign minister and his wife were introduced by Samyuktha. He greeted them in Japanese, telling them it was an honour to meet them.
“What was that?” asked Samyuktha when they were alone.
“I googled some Japanese,” he said smiling.
He greeted most of the other guests and had polite conversation about climate, food and other naïve topics. After those numerous conversations he gleaned that Japan had the loveliest climate and the most delicious food and India was worth crap. At least that is what the Japanese claimed. Everyone claimed this about their junk countries and called it nationalism. After half an hour of this he was left alone with Samyuktha and Mayuri. Almost everyone had a glass in their hand, sipping something. He had declined everything so far. He was bored and was thinking maybe it was time for him to hit the drinks.
Samyuktha said, “You clean up well. You look fine in this dress. The foreign minister’s wife told me, ‘we not only have a young but a very well mannered Prime Minister.’ Even the kitchen staff were all praise for you. It seems you’ve dropped in and complimented the cooking. But I know you’ve not taken a bite of anything yet.”
“We’ve got ourselves a winner. Cheers,” said Mayuri raising her glass and then looking at him, “Where is your glass? I’ve specially ordered your preferred black rum.”
She swished her fingers and suddenly a glass of black rum appeared from nowhere.
Saravanan finished the glass in a single gulp. He never had enough patience to sip his drinks or enjoy the so called finer things in life.
“Boy, do I like you. You downed it straight and fast,” said Mayuri.
“What are you drinking?” asked Saravanan looking at Samyuktha.
“Oh, me, it is just lemon juice. I don’t drink,” said Samyuktha and left to mingle with the other guests.
“She is confident about you that she is leaving you alone,” said Mayuri.
“Damn her and damn these foreigners. Let us get drunk,” said Saravanan and led Maayuri to the makeshift bar that had been set up there.
Drink after drink was downed by them. It became a kind of a competition on who would out drink the other. Both were drinking fast and had not factored that the effect of alcohol takes time to set in. Soon both were sloshed and pretty tipsy. He had never drunk with a girl before, heck he had never done pretty much anything with a girl before, and so loved this moment intensely.
“I’ve never been this drunk before, not even in the private parties with my friends,” said Mayuri giggling at him.
“Let us do something completely insane,” he said drowning his glass in a single gulp as always.
“Let us start by playing a truth or dare game,” said Mayuri.
“Okay, ladies first.”
“Have you ever slept with a girl?”
“No, and you?”
“With a girl, no, no way. With a boy yes, with two boy friends who were going steady then and a few one nighters.”
“What? Why do girls opt for one nighters? I’ve heard they are more in to the emotional aspects of a relation than the physical.”
“I don’t know about other girls but I opt for the one nighters for the thrill. Truth or dare?”
“Dare,” he said. Truth was easy for him. He always spoke the truth. He never had to lie or use subterfuge. He was clever but not cunning. He trusted others and even tried to put himself in the shoes of the buggers who wronged him. A dare would be fun he thought.
She raised her eyebrows and whispered in his ears.
“That’s easy,” he said and got up with Mayuri following him, and went in to the crowd and stopped at the first Japanese delegate he came across. “All you fools look the same, like monkeys. Now tell me which the head monkey is.”
Luckily the man said, “No English, no understand,” and bowed and went away.
Saravanan returned to his chair and Mayuri said, “Boy, that was close, an international disaster was averted there.”
“Your turn, truth or dare?” he asked.
“Truth,” she said giggling and almost fell off her chair.
Saravanan thought for a while and wondered if she would reply honestly to the next question.
“Are you corrupt?”
She paused for a long while and after thinking hard said, “Yes, did Samyuktha tell you that?”
“She warned me against you,” he said and admired her audacity in accepting the truth to him.
“My turn, I dare you to slap the behind of any girl in the party.”
He got up and she too followed suit, he slapped her behind hard.
“Ouch, no, that’s cheating,” she said laughing.
He turned and slapped the behind of a passing Japanese female delegate. The woman yelped like a puppy and turning to him spewed a tirade of words that he guessed could only have been profanities.
“A cockroach, not to worry, I got it,” he said with a bashful smile on his face.
Mayuri stood with her jaws open and looked like a puppy that has lost its dog food.
“My turn, I dare you to walk a straight line,” he said.
She put her glass aside and tried to walk straight but was zig zagging this way and that and almost fell but steadied herself holding on to the bar table.
“Don’t stand there laughing, why don’t you try doing this,” she challenged.
“I can do even better,” he said and climbed on the parapet wall and began walking on it. He had to balance with his hands to keep from falling. All conversation stopped and everyone there was gaping at him. Samyuktha who was standing in a far corner rushed towards him. But a hand pulled him in even before Samyuktha reached him. He was standing in front of Kalpana in her ever faithful black suit.
Samyuktha took charge from then on. She confined him and Mayuri to their chairs and disbursed the delegates slowly after they had their dinner. At last the terrace was empty except the kitchen staff and the four of them including Kalpana who was standing in the shadows. He had never seen her sitting. He looked at Mayuri who was sleeping in the chair. Samyuktha called them over to a table in the centre. He woke up Mayuri and dragged her to the table. He invited Kalpana over too. She refused at first but finally relented.
“I give up, it is a disaster. He is a walking, talking disaster. I could have managed a month but any more with this moron is just impossible,” said Samyuktha burying her head in both hands.
“Didi, don’t exaggerate, we’re fine, not a word of this will go out. Quit worrying,” said Mayuri.
“See,” said Samyuktha pointing her mobile phone, “some idiot has photographed the Prime Minister’s monkey dance on the parapet wall with a mobile and it is plastered all over social media. The media have found sources within the party attendees confirming his drunkenness and are running it as we speak.”
“Didi, forget it, I assure you, if we ignore, it will go away. Let us have him do something substantial and all this will go away. We’ll take care. Silence is the best damage control for now. Relax Didi,” said Mayuri.
Saravanan felt bad for Samyuktha. She was sort of a busy bee with no life outside of her work. She was kind of like him, except that he had never really worked. He had thought being Prime Minister would be fun. But seeing the sad face of Samyuktha, he felt she deserved better. Mayuri at least had a life outside her work and was fun he mused.
“Not one of us has had dinner. Let us all have a bite,” said Samyuktha and signalled a waiter.
“I don’t want food, all I need are a couple or more of drinks,” he said.
“Are you serious? No more drinks. It is bad for health to sleep on an empty stomach after drinking, I’ve been told,” said Samyuktha.
Saravanan also felt tizzy and a mild rumbling in the stomach. Maybe it would be wiser to eat he thought. Soon food was brought for all four of them. The egg noodles and chilly chicken felt very tasty to him.
“Mayuri was a lot of fun today. Have you ever been like this enjoying life without a care,” Saravanan asked Samyuktha pushing his plate away.
“No, I’ve always been a bit of a more serious person than Mayuri. I always was an ambitious girl,” said Samyuktha.
“It must have sucked not being popular and having very few friends,” said Saravanan.
Samyuktha blushed a little and said, “I was popular in my own way with quite a few friends. I was a kind of a singing sensation in my college days.”
She then hummed a few lines of the evergreen ‘Pyar hua ikrar hua’ love song. Saravanan was mesmerised by the cute sincerity of her voice. He wished he could hear her sing all through his life. Soon everyone finished their dinner.
“Sir ji, Can I ask you something? You could have died out there if you had fallen from the parapet wall. Even I wouldn’t dare such a thing. Was it the alcohol or was it something else?” asked Kalpana.
He realised that this was the first time she had spoken to him and he replied, “No, it wasn’t the alcohol. Yes, it was stupid and yes, indeed I was really afraid.” He mused on how the emptiness of his life made him do it but instead said, “leave me, where do you come from Kalpana? What prompted you to become who you are?”
“I am from a village in Assam. Where I hail from, you are either a patriot or part of a riot. My family was patriotic right from the word go. My brother was in the army and he died at the border.”
“Was it Kargil or something else?” he asked.
“No, my brother died of a stomach flu but he was my inspiration that made me what I am today.”
They all finished their dinner and were having ice creams when Samyuktha got a call. She moved away to attend the call. When she returned she looked tired yet pensive.
She said, “News of Dubey ji’s coma has already made the two factions fight as to who the next Prime Minister should be. High command wants our guy to fight a by-election and thus hold the fort for the next few months until a consensus candidate emerges.”
On that note every one departed saying good nights to each other.
Samyuktha’s residence, Chanakyapuri, Delhi, Aug 28
When Samyuktha reached her apartment she found her sister Pratyusha watching news on the television.
Her sister greeted her saying, “So finally her highness, miss perfection has decided to grant us humble mortals with an audience.”
Samyuktha slumped on the sofa next to her sister and hit her with a pillow. On the television was the news of the girl with Semtex which was cut short for the breaking news of the Prime Minister dancing on the parapet wall.
“Oh, what a nightmare for me and what a gargantuan fool to have landed on my hands,” said Samyuktha.
“He is kind of a cute and handsome fool though. Won’t you agree?” Prathyusha asked.
Samyuktha pinched her sister hard and asked, “are you insane?”
“Ouch, I am saying what is a popular opinion with girls. I kind of have a crush on our youngest PM as do most of my friends. He is trending as the third hottest Indian on Facebook neck and neck with movie actors.”
“Good, if at all any good has come out of this terrible ordeal, it must be the spicing up of the desirability of this moron. Let him have that.”
Prathyusha detected a hesitancy in her sister while talking so she asked, “Come on, what is bothering you, spit it out?”
Samyuktha sat up straight and said, “There is something about this guy that bothers me. Leave alone the life threatening parapet walk. He is an insufferable, indifferent moron. What right minded person would get bored by being a PM. He simply isn’t interested in the trappings of being a PM or leading the nation.”
Prathyusha was about to say something when Samyuktha interrupted her and continued, “And one more thing. There was the question of harshly interrogating Zohura, the kid with Semtex, which me and Mayuri were pondering over when he said no in such forceful yet nonchalant manner. Was it indifference or conviction I can’t tell yet. I hate that moron like anything but he is also a puzzle that intrigues me at times when I am away from his madness.”
“Didi, what is happening? Tell me, do you find him interesting?”
“May be if it weren’t for the PM thing I might not hate him this much. Heck what am I saying, he is the greatest moron and the quicker I get him away the best it is for me.”
“Didi have you fallen for his charms?”
“Yuck, what?” Samyuktha hit her sister with the pillow and said, “If that moron was the last and only man standing I still wouldn’t fall for him. So sleep peacefully.”
Vasant Vihar, Delhi, Aug 28
Kalpana got a phone call as she was opening her apartment door. She entered and closed the door and switched on the lights before attending the phone.
“Papa, your timing is perfect I just entered the apartment. You’ll live a hundred years too for I was just thinking of you,” said Kalpana.
“You remembering me. Do you need money?” asked her father.
“Come on Papa, I never took money from you after my first posting as ASP.”
“Ah, come on, I was kidding you my girl. Your first posting was in Rajasthan, wasn’t it? I believe your posting as the SP of IB, Mumbai though was the high point of your career. I still don’t understand why you opted and got deputed for the dead beat job in SPG. I saw the dance on the parapet wall by our PM.”
“I opted this job for the prestige and also the experience. As for our PM, for the first time I feel proud and content in my job because of him. He is a good guy. He is unassuming and affectionate to all, including us. I am confident he will do great service to the nation.”
“Okay, did you have dinner?”
“Yes, I am not twelve anymore.”
“Yes, okay, go sleep early, bye.”
Kalpana took a book in to her hands when another call came from her friend Arun who was DIG in the IB.
“Kalpana, You heard of a plan of the terrorists for Republic Day?,” he asked.
She replied “Yes”
“A guy in Rajasthan who rents out premises says he saw Zohura there. He also claims seeing maps of Delhi and black plastic like substance probably Semtex. The guys have shifted from that place though. We are enquiring.”
“So the terrorists have crossed via Rajasthan,” said Kalpana.
“Yes, also a call intercepted by RAW confirms an impending threat to the PM’s life by the same gang who employed Zohura.”
“Wow, aren’t those fellows ambitious.”
“Anyway analysts feel since the bombing and assassination require separate planning, the attempt on the PM’s life might be very soon. This has been submitted to the regular channels and you’ll be informed. But I thought of giving you a heads up.”
She cut her call and sat there brooding. This guy had been plucked out of nowhere and made PM and now his life is under threat. What a sorry state of affairs for him. She had heard him put the foot down on torturing Zohura. She resolved to protect this guy from the impending danger.
[The complete novel is available on Amazon kindle]