All the Chapters of the Book are now published here.

One can select chapters from the Blog list below.

For Chapters 2 to 6, and 28, please see the August, 2016 section below. Rest of the Chapters are in May, 2020 section below.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Chapter 8: Mistrust

Mr.Thakur was to arrive early today, to record my statements.
Sooraj had last night shown the account of events he had submitted to the lawyer Verma ji.  It was so dark on that night in the forest that we anyways couldn't have seen much, if at all different. Verma ji had shaken his head in frustration when he saw the account but there was nothing he could do. At this stage he didn't want to introduce any new information or imagination. All he had asked me was to call him if the officer tried to cajole me or pressure me to putting anything beyond that account.
Raju Mama had stayed back for one more day. He told me about Mr.Thakur, “Bhaiya, Thakur Sahab is as educated as you but doesn't know much outside his office. The station inspectors are having a free run and he doesn't even get a cut. He only looks at the reported crime chart in his territory but has no control over extortion and unreported crimes.”
I looked at Raju Mama in surprise - he had a view on everything, even Mr.Thakur.
Mr.Thakur, a bespectacled man, with moustaches and tall and good built, had been in police services for last twelve years. In terms of the Indian police services, he was at the threshold of crossing the initial ladders. Like most of them, he had been a studious person before joining the service. Incidentally, he had graduated from a different IIT than me; and was a few years senior to me. The thought that both of us had the similar Alma-mater had assured me of some warmth and help from him but that hope was quickly crushed. I think he was far more proud and aware of his level versus me in this government system. As he entered the room with his two police guards, he remained stiff.
Without much ado, he quickly read my written statement and asked, “Why you did not submit it earlier?” It was meant to make me responsible for delay, washing their hands off all delays.
I politely told him that I was medically not allowed to travel to the station where that event happened. And we had informed the police to take the statement as soon as possible. He didn't seem pleased at this answer but I had nothing else to say.
Next he asked me if I can identify the vehicle and the attackers. I answered in negative, “It was too dark to make out anything.”
Then he continued, “So how can you say with certainty if the vehicle that you saw the day previous to the accident was the same as this one.”  I had no option but to answer in negative, and replied, “I only suspect.”
Then he went over many things including how I landed up in the tribal village and who all accompanied me.
Before leaving, he asked me if I wanted to share anything more. I said, “No,” though I wanted to tell him that his station in charge had taken all savings of my father just to register a report.
My father made a facial indication and asked me to shut up. Then he did an act that I did not approve of but could not stop it as it happened. He begged to Mr.Thakur to help us. But Mr.Thakur left without making any compromise in his formality.
We discussed him for sometime after he had left. My father believed he was stiff as he hadn't been paid. But Raju Mama was different, “He is known as strict and honest but without tact.”
 I asked, “Then why is he posted in such an important territory. Police misrule will cause the ruling party to lose in elections.”
Now Raju Mama's chest swelled, “Bhaiya, the sitting Member of Parliament is a strong adversary of the local minister, though from the same party. The minister is deliberately weakening any adversaries within, so that there are none left by the next election. Hence all ineffective officers have been posted in this region.”
 I knew it was not correct knowledge; it was made up.  Such enmities were a fa├žade of democracy. There had to be some other reason. 
 It was not such a good meeting though. I called up Mr.Lal and updated him. He listened calmly to the briefing and then advised me to rest. Something in his voice told me that he had done his part and I should move on. He also told me to be practical henceforth in life.  I knew that he was a small or ineffective cog in this system and there was no further point in calling him.
My father had his ears close to the cell phone, “What did he say?” I answered, “Says he will take care; need not worry.”  I could see my father getting relaxed.
By now it was time for lunch. We all shared what had come from my home. While having lunch, the seven of us, including my parents and Raju Mama, had quite a laugh. Tilak had just learned from a Pandit (Hindu priest) that if a tortoise with six nails could be found, it would solve all problems of poverty and health in the world. Raju Mama had also seen the news in one of the news channel specializing in such content. The two of them were quite convinced.  This was too much even for my mother, and the more we heard and with more conviction from the duo, the more we laughed.
All this while, Sooraj had been laughing too. But as the topic came to close, he said, “Bhaiya, they even say that it has to be found before 2011 for this to work.”  I looked at him amazed, and said, “You too believe all this?”
Sooraj answered, “It’s on the major news channel and many famous people have commented on it.” 
I wondered and asked, “Then what were you all laughing at?”
 Sooraj answered, “When you laughed in disbelief you looked so hilarious, we all laughed looking at you.”  I shook my head in amazement, realizing that my mother and even Shafiq now believed in it.
Raju Mama decided to stay back for one more day. He was quite keen to meet Nagbaba. My father was apprehensive about some demands coming from tribals. And Tilak was quite straight and said, “Bhaiya, I think this Nagbaba wants something for not framing you. Leave him to me if he demands anything.”
Raju Mama didn’t agree, “These people are not like that. They have little use for money.”
Now I was very tired and ready for a rest before Nagbaba came in the evening. Deep inside, I was sad too. After the call with Mr.Lal, I thought that there won’t be much help from many quarters, friends and relatives. I will have to stand on my own.
 I was sad also because these other six in the room, seemed the ones to trust most, and that none of them was financially or socially strong. My father was a shadow of his government job days and now with money gone, he was demoralized. 
Further, it was not hidden from me that most investors in our project had turned cold about our project, after this event. Most of them called to share their concern about my health but didn’t concern themselves with the project update.
Also, most of my old friends whom I had lived with, in hostels and then worked in companies seemed too distant. The closest of them called to know my well being but they could do little in this scenario. This event had shrunk my world. 
Lastly, Aditya had started keeping aloof, though most of the junior employees regularly called and offered help. Prakash and his team were as animated as ever.  I told him that he had to keep his focus where it mattered most to us- his facilities’ operations. Lost in my thoughts, I dozed off.
When I woke up, as usual the room was full. Apart from the six people who had become a part of my room, there were two more. I recognized Nagbaba, and one more of his villagers, whom I had met on the fateful day when Tulsi died.
We didn’t have the chairs to seat more than two, so rest spread a bed sheet on the floor and sat on it.
Everyone had stayed put in my room, and everyone had different reasons.  During those days, I had started to look at every new meeting with an expectancy which I did not understand. For some reason, I had built most expectations from meeting Nagbaba. He had acted brave that fateful day and his men had an air of arrogance, and that had made me believe this man had some power or had powerful men to his side. My expectations had risen that he can use that to negotiate with my unknown enemies. Now his old small and bent frame did not reduce his stature.
My father was most skeptical – he trusted these simple tribals but believed they were too weak and impoverished to be of any help. Yet when I introduced him to both of them, he expressed gratitude for saving my life.
My mother was most unconcerned; it was just another visit for her – there was no future to it. Yet she was not willing to not listen to the talks. Sooraj was also respectful but didn’t have much interest in them.
For Tilak and Shafiq, these were spectacles – half clad, skinny, too polite and respectful men, the kind of folks they had no place for in their lives. But both of them were also curious to know what was going to be discussed.
Raju Mama, out of habit and his familiarity with the tales in that area, was most optimistic – he felt they could be of use some day.
I had reasons to meet Nagbaba, but did not have much expectation. Rather I expected him to ask us for favors.  It was fortunately so; years later I realized that Nagbaba, like many a struggling person, gave his best when not burdened with expectations.  The biggest casualty of a long struggle is the commitment to more of it.
Nagbaba asked, “How long will it take to heal?”
“Can take up to six months,” I answered, “but I can start going out in 3 months time.”
 I ordered the evening tea. I continued, “That day, Tulsi saved our lives. I wonder about his family’s future now. What will his wife take up now?”
Nagbaba calmly said, “His wife will have to find work soon. The situation is not well since Tulsi used to earn the daily bread. She has thought of going to the city and work but being an elder, I advised against it. She is like my daughter, and I feel responsible. We are supporting them as much as we can.”
I had views about tribals’ livelihood and any need for money. To me they had appeared a self sufficient closed system.  But I left the topic; it was neither appropriate nor urgent.
I promised him, “I will help them; right now I have problems but soon I will be able to.”
I continued with the conversation about that fateful day, “Nagbaba, were you able to predict how dangerous those criminals were? You may not have sent Tulsi then with us.”
Nagbaba was sure, “Bhaiya, I have seen such dangers many times in last fifty years, since my father passed away, and my son was killed by similar men.”  He took a pause; it was a surprise for us too.
Then he continued, “and our issues may be smaller than your plans. I could guess the intention of these criminals and that they won’t waste a minute in conversation. They had a job to do. I also figured out that you don’t have much knowledge about such affairs. But I made a mistake in thinking that once you are out of this area in daylight, you will be safe. I did not think that you would be chased for sixty kilometers, almost to the border to Bhopal. I could not think that Tulsi would be harmed. I would have asked you to stay back till someone finds you. But we are not used to such things. We live our lives and protect each other against encroachment and exploitation. We keep away from the affairs of outside people. Now they are using this to come to my home.”
I asked, “Who is coming to you, and why?”
Nagbaba continued, “The next morning after Tulsi died, we were informed by the Sohagpur police station guys. We went to collect his body, but they kept it for a day. After the funeral, the Chowki in charge came to our village and enquired about you, and why were you here. He told me that you are a notorious criminal and they are investigating our network with you. He wanted my cooperation.”
I smiled and winked at Sooraj and Tilak, “Did you hear, a notorious criminal, that’s what police guys say.”
Tilak replied, “That’s how the world is. Guys like you don’t do much, yet get the fame, while I do all the dirty work and have no name.”
I laughed aloud, “Fame?”
My father hastened, “Let us call Lal and tell him.”
Nagbaba calmed him down, “Babuji,” addressing my father, “Do not worry. The police fellow who came to me has no weight or direction. He is just a middleman for others. For many years, this policeman has tried to persuade me to hear some proposals for the land where we live, all illegal works. I have some sense in my head to know Bhaiya is a good person. A criminal doesn’t come in a small car in these times, and doesn’t have the free flow to roam around the village.”
I interrupted, “But it means he will report nonsense about our stay there.”
Nagbaba continued, “He would have already done so. It may not be to harm you, but to get me talking to him. He knows we avoid police due to long held misgivings. And he can help me out in return for something.”
I sighed, “May be he also gets paid for harming my report and what I was doing there. Who knows?”
Finally, I asked him, “Is there anything worrying you?”
Nagbaba said, “Bhaiya, my worry is that you will face pressure in future. The tribals in my area believe in me as their father. In my lifetime, we have only become poorer and distressed. In time to come, we will further get scattered and move where livelihood takes. And I can’t stop that.  But if I break down, it will happen immediately. They want us to leave our settlements and have a free run over our teak wood and mines. My worry is that they can offer money and pressurize you to make Tulsi as the accused, and make me and others as the masterminds.”
I told him, “See I don’t know about the pressure on your community to move. And I don’t know many things about future. But money or pressure doesn’t get me to do such things as you fear. I won’t let you down.”
Nagbaba said, “I know money can’t buy you, but same can’t be said of fear of jail or court punishment, especially for a person like you. And if something happens to you, it can buy others around you.”
I knew he was right but we both had the same insecurity. I replied, “Same applies to you also. I need you help in confirming my account, and getting the tribal eyewitnesses who helped us to hold to the truth.” There was a pause.
Many years back, while doing my MBA, I had studied Game theory and the prisoner’s dilemma. It came to my mind instantaneously. Left alone and dealt separately, we could end up implicating each other. Police and our enemies would do the rituals.
Nagbaba didn’t know Game theory. But dealing with snakes had given him a different kind of intuition. He read my mind.
I said, “Thankfully you have come. We have to be wise now. I really feel sorry now for bringing this to your doorstep.”
Nagbaba said, “No don’t be sorry. We could have done more.”
I said, “I have believed always that good deeds never go waste.”
While we chatted, others were still getting a hang of our minds, trying to decipher the full implications.
Nagbaba wanted to leave by late evening bus. He wanted to be within his village limits in the morning. I told him that I will make contact when things clear out. He could call me whenever required. I bade him goodbye.
The others in the room were in a mood to discuss but I was drowsy. Three hours of sitting up was very tiring. I left it for another day.

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