Literature & Fiction | 28 Chapters
Author: G V Subba Rao
Finished the novel in three straight sittings which is quite rare for a reader like me. Simply because I found it unputdownable and was constantly curious to know how the story would unfold. -Rishi Kapoor, Actor
A very fine book. The characters are believable, intriguing and smart. The narrative was from the wheels of Lewis Hamilton and the finish had the flourish of a James Bond film. -Suhasini
The fact that you are actually holding this book with my name printed on it as author, is for me a surreal and most pleasurable emotion. It still seems too good to be true. Having accomplished what I had reluctantly set out to do, I am eager to share with you, the circumstances that led me to undertaking the task of putting on paper an idea that I had harboured in my mind for several years.
Let me begin with an honest disclaimer. This story is pure fiction and a figment of my imagination. Any resemblance to anyone alive or otherwise is only coincidental. In the same breath, I have to say that the characters and situations in the novel are not only plausible, but could be real! Like it or hate it, you’ll not find this story lacking in verisimilitude, because it was conceived in the Indian context, based on people and situations that we would come across in our complex society - people who are perilously bound together with inherent diversity. Some of the events cited are indeed derived from personal experience. This I did to bring about certain believability in the narrative.
The core idea of this story had been perpetually frozen within my memory. I had no courage or gumption to share what I thought to be my ‘crazy thoughts’ with anyone, until one day, I accidently blurted them out to my long-time friend, Rajiv Menon.
Normally a reticent person, Rajiv, to my astonishment, not only told me that it was good, but even graciously suggested an opening scene to the story. It turned out to be a defining moment. He remains the first person in my life to gently nudge me to write. I am eternally indebted to him for this impetus.
The second incident that firmly set me on the course to writing came a few months later, when I stumbled onto a ‘Creative Writing of Crime Fiction’ course on the internet. This course was being conducted in the United Kingdom. I took the bait.
When I reached Lumb Bank, a small, sleepy town near Manchester two weeks later, I discovered that the residential training course was primarily, to help you write a novel.
Today, I consider myself lucky to have met this wonderful bunch of prospective writers from all over the world, who are brimming with ideas and enthusiasm. For a week we discussed and dissected each others’ stories and voluntarily became involved in this process as if every story was our own. We shared the common dream of writing something worthwhile and seeing the work published.
Published or not, all of them have since become dear friends. Our lady tutors Ms. Dreda and Ms. Frances worked tirelessly with each one of us, explaining the nuances of a smooth narrative, a quintessential pre-requisite for any crime story. I returned from Lumb Bank , reasonably equipped to write a crime novel.
My dad Gollapudi Maruthi Rao is the first and only prolific writer that I have known at close quarters. He is a renowned author in the Telugu language (my mother tongue), having written novels, plays, short stories and screenplays for movies.
Upon returning from London, I approached him with apprehension, “Am I ready to write a novel?”
I must tell you here that my dad is not only a writer but a veteran actor as well, who has starred in over 260 films to date and still counting, at the ripe age of 76. He delivered the following punch line with characteristic aplomb and that nailed the issue. He said,
“Shut up and start writing!”
I did. The result is in your hands.
Chennai Police under Fire
Sub-Inspector Raj was looking forward to his sole pleasure - guzzling a quarter bottle of whisky at a makeshift bar, on the ride home. Such outlets always welcomed policemen despite the cops’ standard practice of not paying for services, because their mere presence brought authenticity to the bar, and held drunken troublemakers at bay. For Raj, the problem of having to drink away from home arose, as his wife Latha had forbidden alcohol in their tiny Police enclave flat. “Finish all your dirty work outside,” was her mantra, keen on protecting her children from exposure to the vice.
Raj was at his desk, manning the Teynampet Police Station while eagerly waiting for his reliever. It was 11 p.m. and Chennai’s nightlife had barely begun. He had been on duty since early afternoon.
“All I wish for now is twenty minutes of peace in this damn city,” he said to Constable Manickam, while curling his moustache with his right thumb, and fiddling with a round paperweight on the table.
Raj, forty-five, is dark, short, and like most policemen in Tamil Nadu, pot-bellied, which added to his age. His smart uniform fit snugly, and his belt held his protruding belly in check. That night, a couple of Sub-Inspectors were out on patrol, while the others in the station, including him were going about their normal routine. By force of habit, he spun the paperweight rapidly. His eyes following its movement, but his mind, far away, pre-occupied with plans for his entertainment later that night.
Restless, he asked Manickam, “Any plans after
With a hint of regret, and a boyish smile, the 25-year-old Manickam answered, “No sir. By the time I ride my moped home to Aynavaram, my wife and little son will be fast asleep, and my biggest joy is to feel my boy’s breath on my face, while lying beside him.”
“I can imagine that,” said Raj, with a wry smile. “This thankless job is no better than that of a prostitute’s.”
The minutes ticked by. Raj adjusted his sweaty uniform and looked at the whirling fan that barely circulated hot air in the stifling humidity. The station had fans but no air conditioners, a privilege reserved only for his superiors. “All they do is bark orders from their plush offices, to men like me who work tirelessly on the ground”, he thought contemptuously.
“Kadavule,” said Raj. “Somebody has to do this job. Maybe I’m the chosen one… this place is steaming like a furnace. Who says summer is over? This goddamn city has only two seasons a year… six months it is hot, and the other six, very hot! Bloody hell!” “Check the status of our friends on patrol,” he instructed Manickam, who left the room with a servile salute, saying, “Yes sir.”
It was late October, yet Chennai was sweltering. Humidity hung in the air like a thick blanket. It always did. The city had not witnessed rain in the past few days, despite the regular visits of nimbus clouds. Thunderstorms had been forecast throughout the week, but they never really arrived. It seemed, nature too was conspiring to give false promises like politicians, and disappointing the locals. The weather forecasts in news bulletins had become the butt of jokes for city folk, used to expecting the opposite.
Raj picked up the newspaper from his table and browsed the headlines. He wasn’t pleased to read the now familiar, “All Eyes on NE Monsoon as Water Shortage Crisis Looms for Chennai.” The report went on to explain that the city was largely dependent on the north-east monsoon, as it provided more than half the annual rainfall, which was already overdue by a week. “Deivame,” Raj grimaced; “this city perennially suffers from water shortage. We could do with some copious rains, especially in the catchment areas. Sad though, that year after year, we have to depend on a good monsoon for uninterrupted water supply. If only our corrupt self-serving politicians would organize more reservoirs for water storage.”
Raj put the paper down and turned his attention to the next problem - law and order. Chennai city had been relatively calm for some time. The FIR’s registered were mainly for road accidents, a majority of them due to drunken driving, besides a few house break-ins. Except for an occasional murder for gain, like the one he had dealt with the previous fortnight, involving a cab driver killing his own sister- in- law who refused to give him a loan of 10K, it had been fairly all right. He never really understood why anyone would kill one’s own kin for money. What drove these people to such extremes, he couldn’t comprehend. Besides all the crimes of the metropolis, there was the eternal threat of a ‘terrorist attack’ looming, especially as the festive season of Diwali was round the corner. For desperadoes, the milling crowds out shopping presented a perfect opportunity to set off an explosive, with maximum casualties. Raj hurriedly pushed away the depressing thought. “All I want now, this night, just minutes before signing off, is for this locality to remain peaceful. No drama for heaven’s sake,” he fervently wished. But that’s the thing about trouble, it comes calling when you least expect it.
The wireless radio crackled and a colleague somewhere reported a car number with a drunken driver, and his subsequent detainment. “There’s another one,” Raj thought to himself in disgust, “serves them right to be humiliated at a police station for the night”. But he knew that come daylight, their fathers and uncles would arrive with wads of cash, pleading with the officers to let off their degenerate kids. A loud clap of thunder sounding as if a colossal mountain had collapsed nearby, interrupted Raj’s stream of consciousness, and suddenly, the sky opened up. Raj looked out of the window and smiled. “Ayyo, when it rains in Chennai it pours… and it invariably turns into a deluge.”
Raj had just reached for his phone to check on his reliever, when suddenly, the door of his cabin was flung open, and a young man burst in. The intruder had a deep gash on the shoulder, which had turned into a dark patch - a blend of blood and rainwater. Sub-Inspector Raj quickly inferred from past experience, that the intruder’s sunken eyes and stagger were, most likely, due to severe blood loss. His cop training also told him that the shoulder injury on the intruder was not caused by any bloody scuffle; it was a bullet wound! Meanwhile, the intruder managed to drag himself to the lone unoccupied chair. He was soaked to the bone. “So much for the peace I was expecting,” Raj cursed under his breath. He quickly rose to his feet, while the intruder slumped in the chair - oblivious to Raj’s movements and clearly not in the mood for a confrontation.
“Who are you? How did you…?” Raj froze as the young man, sitting in the chair with his head down, slowly pulled out a modern 9 mm Chinese police revolver from under his shirt and placed it on the table, with minimum fuss.
“Fuck! Is this real, or a film shooting?”
Raj reached smoothly for his gun, flipped back its safety and pointed the nozzle at his unwanted intruder.
“I killed him… I shot him,” the young man said slowly, as though he was confessing to picking a pocket, and paused, waiting for the enormity of his confession to sink in on the policeman in front of him. Raj had encountered several sensational cases in his career in the police department, but it had to be said that the one unfolding now went right to the top of the list.
“Mister, you are in a shit hole,” Raj said, deftly dropping a handkerchief on the weapon, to preserve any fingerprints, and pushing it away from the confessing intruder who, on face value, appeared to be sane and fully aware of the tragic consequences of his actions.
“Where the hell is everyone?” Raj pressed the alarm button placed under his table precisely for emergencies such as this. Raj’s subordinates, mainly corpulent constables, led by Manickam, stumbled into the room clumsily, startled by the alarm.
“How did this man get in here? Were you all sleeping, you morons?”
All of them stared at the intruder, puzzled, but remained immobile. “Idiots, don’t just stare at his face. Bring water. You there, put some cuffs on this guy. He has just confessed to a murder,” Raj roared. With one eye on the intruder, he checked the magazine of the young man’s gun and found that four to five bullets had indeed, been fired from it.
A few minutes later, the station settled down after the drama. The intruder was now tied to a chair with plastic rope. Manickam attempted first aid on him. He dabbed a cotton ball on the bullet wound ineffectively, to stop the blood flow. Within a few seconds the white cotton ball turned bright red.
“We need to take him to a hospital quickly, or he’ll die here,” said Manickam. “Hurry up!” Raj yelled. “I want him to talk here and now.”
Manickam dropped the cotton ball and splashed water on the intruder’s face. He gently slapped his cheeks and asked, “Hey, what’s your name?”
The intruder woke with a start and mumbled, “Santosh.”
“Where are you from?” Manickam continued, as Sub-Inspector Raj and the others moved closer. The sound and fury of nature outside made it difficult to hear Santosh’s whispering voice. He was struggling to stay conscious.
“Salem,” Santosh said.
“Who did you kill?” Raj probed impatiently.
“Power Minister Salem Palanisamy.”
Santosh’s monosyllabic response had the ripple effect of a tsunami. It literally pulled the rug from under the cops’ feet in the room, accompanied as it was by a dramatic roll of thunder outside, and flashes of lightning. The cops gaped at him open-mouthed.
“Salem Palanisamy,” Santosh mumbled again, slumping deeper into the chair.
“I shot and killed the bastard. I have done my job…now you can do yours…” with that, Santosh sank into unconsciousness.
Almost immediately, as if on cue, the wireless phone on Sub-Inspector Raj’s desk crackled to life. A voice announced, urgently -
“V I P Movement, Minister Palanisamy critical and rushed to hospital…” It confirmed the veracity of Santosh’s outrageous claim. Raj quickly inferred two things. One, he knew this was for real and two; it was way beyond his league to handle. He decided to alert his seniors at once. This is going to be a long night, he cursed under his breath.
“Get the jeep ready. We’ll take this bastard to the hospital,” he said.
Unknown to Santosh and the uniformed men in the room, elsewhere another scene was beginning to unfold. The location was another police station two miles away – the ‘All Women Police Station’ on Greams Road. A stunningly beautiful young woman made an entry, as dramatic as Santosh’s, and demanding to speak to the station-in-charge on a matter of ‘life and death.’ The station-in-charge was an experienced forty-six-year-old Sub-Inspector Lakshmi. When told that a young woman demanded to see her at that hour, Lakshmi wasn’t surprised. “I can guess her problem. It is either a fight with a volatile boyfriend or a case of domestic violence.” Yet she admired the woman’s audacity to seek the help of the police in the dead of the night.
“Send her in at once,” she commanded. She too, like Sub-Inspector Raj, had been looking forward to a quiet night. Diwali, was only a week away. Her son, who was pursuing an engineering course in Bangalore, was due to arrive. In her mind, she had been planning the delicacies she was going to cook for him. The young woman walked in accompanied by a woman constable. “Oh no! Another slut,” Lakshmi thought, looking at the scantily clad woman “assaulted in my city, and not paid for her services.”
As Sub-Inspector Lakshmi continued to study her, the first thing that struck her was the beauty of the young woman. She had a film star’s good looks. She had walked in with an air of supreme confidence reflected in her serene, yet strangely intense black eyes. However, it was also evident that the young woman was under duress. Her eyes were swollen and she had bruises on her forehead that in a strange way, added to her charm. Her features were sophisticated, with sculpted cheekbones framing a slender nose. But, right now, that perfect nose was red, probably due to incessant weeping. She looked like she was in her early 20’s. Her complexion was fair, in fact, very fair for an average South Indian. She was wearing a micro mini skirt with tiny sequins that reflected the lights of the room. The skirt barely covered her modesty. On closer examination, Lakshmi realised that the woman was too classy to be a slut. Maybe, she wasn’t one?
A plethora of questions emerged in one breath, “Who are you?” “Why are you out in the streets at this hour, dressed like a whore?” “What do you want in a Police Station?” The young woman sat down confidently in the unoccupied chair without seeking permission and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to explain. Sub-Inspector Lakshmi wasn’t amused by this impertinence. She brought her fist down on the desk with a mighty thwack, disturbing papers and files and startling the young lady out of her complacency.
“I am talking to you.”
“Maria… er... My name is Maria.”
SI Lakshmi settled back in her chair, “Who assaulted you?”
“I am not a call girl. I’ll explain, but first can I have a glass of water, please?” Maria requested. “It’s been a long night and I’m hassled. I don’t belong to this city. I am from Salem.” Lakshmi melted considerably, and pressed the buzzer. A woman constable came in, “Yes madam?”
“Bring a glass of water for this girl.”
Maria downed the water in one big gulp. She continued, “I lost my husband in the Central Railway Station earlier in the night. Nobody assaulted me. I…er... I... fell down.”
Lakshmi leaned forward and said, “You fell down, really? What do you mean you lost your husband? Did he die?”
“No. No. Not like that. He went missing. We arrived by Duronto Express late in the evening. He is mentally unstable and I brought him for specialized treatment in Chennai. He doesn’t know anyone here. Both of us are new to this city,” Maria said.
“Well he must be somewhere, he can’t just vanish. Where did you look for him? Doesn’t he have a mobile phone? Did he run away with your money?” Lakshmi asked.
“I have his mobile. He just disappeared. I don’t know where. No, please don’t say he ran away. Santosh is not like that. He doesn’t have any money on him. I am worried about him” Maria said, and fell silent.
“So, both of you must have quarrelled,” Lakshmi deduced. “Listen Maria, I’m busy in this goddamn station, in charge of welfare of the good people of this city… protecting them from mean criminals. And mind you - that’s not easy. You shouldn’t be walking up and down on the roads, dressed like that looking for a missing husband at this hour. Someone is bound to take you down sooner than later and brutally rape you. Your husband will return sometime, but by then you’ll be lying on the beach or park or God knows where - gang raped. I don’t want that to happen. You seem to be a nice girl. And nice girls don’t run around at night, in an unknown city. Do you understand? Give your name, address and phone number to the clerk at the reception. Also describe how he looks - meaning what he was wearing, the colour of his shirt, trousers, height etc. Put on a decent dress before you step out. We’ll get back when we have any credible information about your husband. Don’t worry; all will be well by the morning,” SI Lakshmi said, reaching for the buzzer to wrap up the meeting.
“Wait, there is more. I have to tell you something,” Maria said.
“He has a gun, a sophisticated weapon, and it’s loaded.”
Sub-Inspector Lakshmi froze in her chair, least expecting this.
“His name is Santosh. There are some unknown people out to kill him. They want him dead. But I don’t want him to die. I want him back.”
In the distance, lightning flashed. A deafening crash of thunder and a gust of wind rushed into the room, through the window.
The Politician and the Mistress
Salem Palanisamy was a popular leader in his own right. He was 75 at the time of his death. He was never a charismatic statesman. His overwhelming support was more at the grassroots level in a town traditionally known for its divisive politics. He was born into a community that had a large vote bank. He was elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly a record seven times in his life. He served as a Cabinet Minister in the ruling regional party on three occasions. To the party, he was an important cog in the wheel. A right hand man to the Chief Minister, Palanisamy was considered the number two in the party hierarchy. He hailed from Salem. Nobody knew his ancestry. The name of the town became a prefix since the day he began his journey as a politician. The custom of the father’s name becoming the surname of the progeny of Tamils was not to be in his case. He had completed his high school before he actively engaged in politics. Although he never went to college, he was an excellent orator. He could mesmerise people with the extent of his Tamil vocabulary, and people travelled long distances just to listen to his speeches. He was also a man of self-esteem who never asked anyone to educate him on things he did not know. He learnt everything in life by himself, either through books, or through practice. He was loyal to his party and this loyalty made him the unanimous choice for ‘Minister for Power’ in the state cabinet. This was a vital portfolio, handling the generation of power in the state. Like water, electricity was always in short supply in the state of Tamil Nadu. It borrowed heavily from the neighbouring states to fulfil the ever-increasing demand. Thus, it was critical for the Ministry to perform well as it had a major influence on the minds of the voting public. It made sense to put a senior man from the Party to head the Ministry.