THE ONLY WAY OUT
As he looked at the photograph, he could sense an excitement. The police chief had called him to assist the police force in an intriguing case of kidnapping, in a remote quarter of the tribal country. He had been genuinely surprised by the sudden arrival of the police constable at his hideout. He has been staying here for the last five months, after having injured his right eye in an ugly brawl. He had kept his identity under wraps. He knew, he was vulnerable anywhere else. With around nine active cases of murder, and three rapes to his name, he could just become a potshot of target practice for the police force, if they wanted to hunt him down in a fake encounter. How he managed to escape that, was something, really bizarre. When he saw the constable enter his dimly lit room, in the heart of the ravine, his immediate reaction was to hide behind the door, and wait for an opportune moment to slit the constable’s throat with his razor sharp blade. But, something had stopped him. When the constable declared himself as an emissary of the Government, assigned to escort him to the police head quarters for some reasons unknown to him, he crept out of his hiding and asked the constable to display his unarmed hands. Satisfied, that the constable meant no immediate harm to his person, he came out, with a face mask, completely covering his vital features.
“What is it?” he quothed.
“The Director General, Mr. Srivastav, wants you to be presented before him any time today”, said the constable.
“What’s the guarantee that I won’t be shot down even before I see his face?”
“I have brought a letter from the Governor’s personal note pad. You can see it if you desire”.
“Show!” commanded Suprit Murmu, once a dreaded tribal criminal, who had kept the police force of an entire district in tenterhooks, by dint of his effective links in the political world, that saved his skin even after a dozen murders and three rape cases. What made him so evasive, was a unique skill of disappearing into thin air, after every crime. The ravines of Chambal gave him this advantage, as, no police force would ever dream of venturing anywhere near such unexplored, treacherous terrain.
He had reached the police head quarters in a rented car, driven by plain clothed police personnel. Before embarking on this journey, he had made sure, no harm could come to him, by keeping a sub-inspector as hostage at his hideout. This world of death left nothing to good faith and belief. One had to make one’s own security cover. A slight deviation from the norm, and you are no better than dead. The sub-inspector would be released only after he returned to his hideout. Till then, his son, Suresh, would stand guard. The sub-inspector could lose his life at the slightest misadventure made by any one of the police team. With such protective clouds in place, Suprit had agreed to visit the Director General of police, Mr. Srivastav. He had to be transported in a rented car, to avoid being spotted as a criminal, visiting the police head quarters. When he reached the building, he was, at once, ushered in to the DG’s room. The D.G spoke to him in person. In fact, the police were in a fix. They had to deploy a mercenary like Suprit, to come out of the juncture, they were in.
The daughter of a local councilor, a close aid of the Home Minister, had been kidnapped by a tribal militant outfit, which raised its head after the Government had declared Salwa Judum illegal. The 18 year old girl had been kidnapped from the parking lot of a shopping mall, where she had been loitering about, with her boyfriend, another tribal connection in the case. The police are wondering why the daughter of a councilor could get involved with a tribal boy, whose identity was yet to be ascertained.
The photograph that Suprit was holding , was that of the girl, Sukanya Singh. A bitch, he thought, a sexy bitch. Could, as well, have served as a whore for his intensifying libido. Why do these modern girls wear any dress at all? As if, exposing her cleavage wasn’t enough; she also had to expose her thighs, knees, and butts, by tearing off the jeans at so many places! Disgusting! He would like to… His train of thoughts was cut off by the gruff voice of Srivastav.
“We have agreed to all your terms. Now, you have to find this girl, from wherever she is”.
“What, if I fail?” Suprit had to be extremely cautious while negotiating with the police. Asking for very huge sums, or safe passage to other states, in return for this favor, would incur more danger to his life and that of his son, as, in both cases, the police would be completely aware of his whereabouts. They could, both, get executed any time the Government wished to waste them for a political mileage. He knew that extremely well.
“I know, you won’t fail. You know the local dialect well. No one would suspect you to be an outsider, or, a state personnel, in the least. You got a far greater advantage than any of us”, said the D.G. Suprit knew, the D.G. would never answer his question. He cut the D.G. short, saying, “What do I get then?”
The D.G. knew his limits of bargaining. He said, “Your men will have all the fire power needed, firearms, ammunitions, vehicles, everything you need in this campaign. What more do you need?”
“That’s for retrieving this lash. I said, after that..!”
The D.G. had to be cautious too. Already, he had lost five of his personnel to the naxalites in the ravines. He couldn’t risk more. This tribal criminal, seated before him, was the best bet, to relieve him of his distress. Phone calls were coming to his office all twenty four hours, seeking details of progress in the rescue mission. He had only mentioned the name of Suprit, as an engagement from the underworld, to handle the mission without any involvement of the state police force. The Minister was peeved at this gesture. “Disgusting!” the minister had blurted out, “How do you think, you can engage an outlaw, to rescue an eighteen year old girl from the clutches of the Naxalite forces?” The D.G. had to convince him, saying that, the state could not deploy further forces in the region, and risk more head counts. The minister did not seem convinced, but, had to give in to the idea. He, however, had warned him against going overboard in hatching a deal with the tribal criminal, so much, so that, the state machinery might look, nothing but a bunch of ill fed bumpkins in front of the public. That would do greater harm than ever, to the already dwindling faith of the public, for his party in the up coming elections.
“What do you want?” the D.G. asked, a rather, direct question, for the first time in this conversation.
Suprit weighed the balances. “Amnesty for me and my son”, he said, “and a sum, sufficient enough to allow me a healthy living”. He knew, he was aging, and needed some threshold, to embark upon a life, free from the blood and gore, that he had been spending till then.
“That’s too much an ask!” exclaimed the D.G. He couldn’t manage that, he knew very well, even though this fellow had links up in the political echelons of the state.
“Then”, said Suprit, “I better, call this off”. He had to pressurize the D.G., to get whatever he needed. This was only the beginning of his bargain. He couldn’t let this off, for nothing.
“O.K., O.K.! Let me talk to my superiors, and see what can be arranged”, said the D.G. His back was against the wall. He had very little choice, as the kidnapping was already a pain in his ass. He had to make decisions.
Two hours later, Suprit was on his way to his hideout. His insistence had paid off. Now, he only needed to rake up the entire valley, to find this lash. He knew, with almost absolute certainty, where the girl could be. The D.G., on the other hand was facing the music, for agreeing to the terms of the tribal criminal. “You could have asked me to talk to him. Why did you agree to such insane arm-twisting techniques?”the minister had said. But, Srivastav knew better than that. It would take him only a staged encounter to alleviate these criminals. Court cases might follow. But, his job would be over by then. But, first things first. Now, only action was what was needed. Let’s hope for the best.
After a thorough combing operation of the entire region, for the last two days, by his most trusted henchmen, Suprit felt frustrated. The results were far from expectation. His wits seemed to be draining. He simply could not believe, that, he had failed in the mission. He was desperate now. He had to get a result. But, heaven knows what went wrong. He had searched all the hideouts known to him in the entire region, but, could not find the hostage. Had she been killed? Who knows? Not a single ransom call had been made till now, and she had been missing for the last ten days! What could, possibly, be the reason for such a stoic silence of her captors. In most cases of kidnapping, the usual modus operandi is to make a ransom call within twenty four hours of the incident. But, this case seemed to be completely different.
Suprit decided to call it a day, and returned to his hideout, while his men continued the man hunt. As he was stepping in, he remembered something from the past. Suprit nodded his head, and set out, once again, on the trail. He shouldn’t be mistaken this time. His old father’s sermon must succeed. Not surprisingly, it really did.
He called one of his men and asked him to prepare for an assault immediately. It was late at night, but then, darkness was the only reliable cover he could get. With around twelve men, he marched to the den, the hideout where the sub-inspector had been kept hostage under Suresh. Suresh was a born criminal, as, he did not face the pangs of poverty or the whips of torture, that he had had to face in his life. Suresh could have turned into a well-to-do person in the society, if he so wanted. Suprit had provided for his education. But, the hankering for the rush of adrenaline had brought Suresh into the criminal fold at such a young age. He wanted to become a leader, a master mind of all happenings in the ravine. He was over ambitious, avaricious, and a shrewd politician, who could rise to the top of the world. Suprit was very much hopeful of his success. He felt, that, all education and modern day upbringing only aimed at one target- to become wealthy and rule your lot. In that case, there was no harm in becoming a criminal, since, every body is hankering for power today, no matter whether it is earned by virtue or vice. The end result only mattered, and that meant wealth and power- the power to rule, the power to subdue others, the power to kill. It feels like God, when you decide who should live and who should not. Doesn’t it? That is what matters. Everything else is mere eyewash.
When the group reached the den, Suprit was visibly surprised by the number of guards present there. On other days, only two guards keep a tight vigil at night, while the others go off to enjoy their sleep. The vigilance is increased only when some important and valued victim is brought in as a …guest? Yes, a guest who can be exchanged for a hefty ransom. But, what is it today! Let’s see! The den was a hutment of around thirty huts inside a fence of bamboo stakes. There were trees all around, giving it a look of a dense mangrove. At night, the den was almost impregnable. With fortifications in force, the den could stage a battle that could last for a few days. Now ,Suprit needed to find out, who or what was being guarded. He didn’t want to announce himself before unearthing the truth. He had to be sure. He asked two of his men to circumvent the fence, and enter the hutment through the back. More two were sent to give them a cover fire, if required. Of the rest eight, he led four himself towards the right, and the rest four were told to stay ready in case of any emergency. All the men wore light rubber soled shoes, so that, they wouldn’t be heard.
Someone hooted. Suprit knew, that, it was an old method of sending signals of complete order in the vigil. A return hoot was heard as well. Suprit was satisfied, that, the men inside were calm. They hadn’t been able to detect any intruder. That was a good sign. The longer they remained undetected, the better. Suprit and his team of four were poised to climb the fence on the right, which was adjacent to the largest hut in the hutment. Suprit gave the signal to go ahead. Two men, clad in dark clothes and equipped with video cameras and transmitters hidden in their clothes, sprang up to clear the fence and enter inside. The monitor that showed the visuals from those cameras, were with Suprit. He could also pick up their distress signals by a red light on one side of the same monitor. They climbed atop the hut. The huts had tiled roofs. They would have to stealthily remove a few of the tiles to view, what was happening inside. That was the trickiest part of the whole plan, but, there were no other ways around. They had to take the risk. When both of them were in position, one of them started removing the tiles, while the other stood in attention, lest someone chance to find them. Suprit stood with wrapped attention, as his eyes scanned the screen continuously. His eyes did not blink. He saw the man removing the tiles, through the camera of the other person standing guard. At first, it was all dark. Then he could see inside. He instructed the second man to position himself properly, so that, he could get the optimum view. As the man adjusted his position, Suprit adjusted the brightness of the screen, for a clear view. Images of two persons sleeping together, appeared on the screen. The inside of the room was quite dark for Suprit to see their faces clearly, but, he could make out the features of a female and a male, both of them, stark naked.
He could tell by the features, that, it was none other than Suresh, his son. But, the female! Suprit could not recognize the female, of course. The female seemed to be a girl in her teens. His first reaction had been that of a victory, on seeing the image of the girl in the monitor, but, the face did not match that in the photograph given to him. This girl was dark and rather heavy. It couldn’t be Sukanya Singh, no way! He could easily discern that. He asked the surveillance team to move on to the next hut. As they did so, a flashlight scanned the fence. Suprit had to duck behind the fence, to avoid detection. Probably, it was a routine inspection. The team on top had also been alerted by the flashlight. They ducked behind the rooftop. Suprit instructed them to wait for a few minutes, before continuing their search.
The flashlight continued to scan the entire courtyard for some time. Then it went out. Suprit waited for still more time, before signaling them to resume the operation. The next two huts gave no encouraging result either. Suprit’s confidence seemed to falter. But, something at the back of his mind told him, that, it was the only place left in the world, where the lash could have been kept hidden in the ravines of Chambal. He continued the search. However, when all the huts had been searched, and the lash was nowhere to be found, Suprit began to feel uneasy. He perfectly knew that, there were no underground basements in the hutment. Then, where had the lash gone? He had been pretty much confident, that, no one other than Suresh could have been behind the kidnapping. But, now, where the hell is she? Has she been devoured by the earth, or, has she simply vanished into the thin air?
Suddenly, a message flashed in his cell phone. He opened it, and then, everything began to fall in place. He called back the search party, and asked them to follow him on foot. He warned them against using any kind of light. He told them to switch off all their cell phones and electronic gadgets. He also asked them to remove their boots and march bare foot. Nobody questioned him. They simply followed his advice. He knew, they were his best followers. So, he also had the added responsibility of securing their lives at any cost. He could not afford to lose even a single one of them. Having cast off all their military outfits and Government sponsored equipment, they simply trudged along bare foot.
So, the story of the kidnapping was nothing, but a ploy to nab him red handed, with army equipments. The Director General of police had tricked him into a trap. He had provided him with a cock and bull story to begin with, and arms and ammunition of the army, so that, when he was caught, the only thing that he would need to do, was to simply deny the story of kidnapping that was fed to Suprit. “Wonderful plan”, thought Suprit, “to engage in a fake encounter, and kill them all at a time”. However, he would have to fight. He made his plan. The narrow valley leading to the river, would act as a perfect place for an ambush. But, they needed to reach there fast. The tribesmen were provided with arms to fight the Naxals during “Salwa Judum”, and now the police were tracking down the tribals and killing them at random, to obliterate them.
Five kilometers behind them, a completely fortified group of para military force, equipped with all sorts of wares to engage in a combat, closed in from all sides, targeting the hutment of Suresh. They were coming on foot. They had no vehicle to, inadvertently, alert their target and give them time to flee.
As the large group of para-military force approached a narrow valley before entering the river, their commander sensed something unusual, but, could not gauge, what it was. Only something told him, that, everything wasn’t perfect for the surprise attack. Then he remembered. The jungle was inexplicably quiet. This shouldn’t have happened. It was a warning signal for his sixth sense, but, it was really too late. The ambush had begun. They were completely trapped in the valley. The hunter became the hunted. The sound of crushing trees came from above. Then, the large boulders appeared. There was no way out. Many of them got crushed beneath the heavy boulders. Then came the poisonous arrows of the tribesmen. Death came in the form of arrows whistling through the air, and it was terrible, very painful and frightening. The force tried to scramble for cover, but, there were none. The arrows practically rained on them from every angle, top, sideways and from behind. The unexpected had happened. Each one of the force was either dead or venomously injured. There seemed to be no one who hadn’t been fatally wounded. A massacre, a complete massacre.
With all his men intact, Suprit was satisfied that he had successfully carried out the ambush against the forces. Now, his only task was to lead his men to safety, as, the Government was sure to send out yet more troops, and this time, they, most certainly, would avoid using the jungle, for his hideout was, now, known to them. The vengeance would come soon. The dead calm was no permanent solution. He was marked as a dreaded outlaw now, and would, soon, be declared as a fugitive. He knew, his days were numbered. You can survive a Government sponsored attack once or twice, not always. One day or other, he would be taken out and shot from behind. He could see the headlines in the next day newspapers, “Dreaded Gangster killed in an encounter when he snatched a rifle from the police and ran from the police vehicle”. That was a very easily made up story after every fake encounter. No body would even bother to investigate the reasons any further. He couldn’t even venture to go for a surrender, as, that would be suicidal. So! What should he do now? That was a million dollar question.
He led his trusted followers into a trench in the ravine. They could escape to another region, and, with no one to identify them, they staked nothing. They could easily mingle into the crowd. Nobody would know, who they were. But, he himself was in grave danger. He could be recognized by the police. He had nowhere to hide. So, he took out his colt from the holster, and, setting it against his forehead, pulled the trigger.
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