(Devil Blessed Us- Maithili story by Shyam darihare, translated by Praveen k Jha )
The police chief had just left and the Supremo was about to retire for the day when a guard entered and saluted. Moving his neck-tied glasses to his eyes, the Supremo asked, 'now what'?
'Sir, B TV's owner has been waiting outside for long to call on', replied the guard politely.
'I won't see any TV guy right now. Ask him to come later. And with an appointment.' Said the supremo climbing stairs of his mansion.
'Sir, he is not here for an interview, but for a redressal. His nephew has been abducted.' the guard explained.
Supremo halted his steps. He turned his head, 'abducted? Nephew? How? When?'
'He didn't tell me all that', guard said humbly.
'Alright, have him wait into the outer drawing room. I will be right back'. Saying, supremo went upstairs, immediately called his brother-in-law and asked,'man! How could you kidnap B TV's owner's nephew?'
Santlal was stunned. Said,'what you sayin, Monsieur? My team got only a doctor in our custody and Monsieur has already been informed of that. We know nothin 'bout no B TV's owner's kin. My team don't touch no one without my permission, monsieur. Me sure some other team gotta done that.'
Supremo's eyes turned red. Said he,'Only your team has the wherewithal to pull this kind of a job through. No other team is authorized to lay their hands on such a figure. Contact B team, C team, D team right away and let me know within ten minutes who has him. Meanwhile, I will meet the B TV's owner and engage him in conversation.'
Angrily, supremo inserted three pints of paan instead of usual two and started downstairs grumbling,'these bastards want to gulp all the ransom all by themselves. Which is why didn't tell me. What they don't understand is they can't challenge the master.'
Supremo brought down his glasses to hang onto his chest from upon the eyes. Spitting a load into the spittoon outside the room, he entered the outer drawing room. B TV's owner and accompanying news editor and senior photographer got on to their feet and greeted him. After the supremo took to his seat, the owner started,' sir, I am B TV's CEO Suresh Bahal...'
'hnn-hnn what, CO?' interrupted the supremo.
'no sir, CEO' Mr. Suresh clarified.
'What's that?' Supremo asked diverting the talk.
'Sir, Chief Executive Officer'.
'Oh that! That what Pakistan's President calls himself and some of the chief ministers here also take pride in doing that' Supremo displayed his treasure of knowledge.
'Yes sir...yes sir' said Mr. Suresh Bahal pleased with his success in explaining. Introducing his colleagues, he said,'Sir, this is our news editor Mr. Mohan Bhatia and...'
Supremo interrupted yet again,'So, Mr. Bhat! What kind of news editing do you do - always finding fault with my state? My family is especially targeted by your TV. Why don't you show something positive once in a while?'
'Like what, sir?' Asked Mr. Bhatia.
'Like what? Why are you asking me that? Can't you see all the healthy fish growing in my pond....? Fisheries industry can be encouraged by that. Potato, onion and cabbage...high varieties of these are grown in my mansion. You won't find such varieties elsewhere. In my dairy, one cow can give thirty liters of milk! All these you can't see! All you do is to criticize!'
Mr. Bhatia was speechless. Understanding that arguing on this matter right now might be extremely harmful to the kidnapped, he folded his hands,'Sorry, sir! I will keep it in mind now on.'
'Yeah, these things should be kept in mind. Who is this third, Mr. CO?, Supremo asked.
'My name is Prabal Mishra. I am a senior photographer with B TV.' The third person introduced himself with folded hands.
'Ohhhh, so it's you, Mr. Prabal Mishra! Isn't it you who came to cover my rally and snapped photos of people squabbling for snacks and fighting each other instead of listening to me! You had interviewed shopkeepers about how my party people extorted contributions from them. What have you come here for today? Wanna snap something spicy? All of you are hands in glove with opposition. Media folks are bent on conspiring to discredit a government of poor and downtrodden...'
Supremo was lecturing them in his signature fashion to terrorize them earlier on so they won't much open their mouth later. Whereas, Mr. Suresh Bahal was shaking to his very core thinking he may have to return empty-handed.
Supremo's dissertation continued,'...especially people of your caste are dead against my government. But photos would do nothing. My government of poor and fallen will go on. Don't dream that I will ever allow a government of your caste in this state. Biggies pundits are falling at my feet in my court and you are out to disrepute me with a mere lens...!' Paan's spit was pouring out of supremo's mouth. A guard ran out and brought a spittoon. He put it along supremo's mouth. Supremo spit it all out along with a piece stuck in his throat. Keeping the spittoon in one hand, the guard passed a napkin with the other. Wiping the red saliva drooling out of his lips, supremo tossed the napkin towards the guard. Using his training skills, the guard caught the napkin with one hand. He looked at the guests anticipating an appreciation of his feat. He couldn't read the disgust and fear splattered on their faces. It didn't matter to him anyway and gloomily he went his way.
Seeing all that gurgling and spit Mr. Suresh Bahal was feeling a little dizzy. Bending his head down he tried to regain his composure and said, 'Sir, we haven't come for an interview today nor to cover any news.'
'Then why are you here? Don't tell me you came to negotiate a marriage because my son is too young and invitation I haven't extended any!' Supremo roared in laughter.
Ignoring the implied insult in his remarks, Mr. Bahal said, 'Sir, my nephew has been abducted. We came to ask for your help.'
'Hnn your nephew has been abducted? When? From where?' Supremo pretended to be surprised.
Pushing in a couple of pints of paan in his mouth out of the bowl kept besides, and topping it with some jarda, the supremo took to digging his ears with a Johnson bud. Mr. Bahal continued, 'Sir, My nephew came to the capital day before yesterday to prepare a special report. He was abducted moments after he came out of the hotel. In front of Mr. Prabal Mishra's eyes four gun-totting men forced him to their car and spirited away.'
Washing off his ear-dirt into the ashtray, the supremo asked,'Did you file a report with the police?'
'If it happened in front of your photo-man Mr. Mishra, he must have seen the number on the license plate?' Supremo asked apprehensively.
Mr. Prabal Mishra concealed the truth,'no sir. Couldn't catch the no. in all that hustle.'
Supremo heaved a sigh of relief. Mr. Bahal et al became a little hopeful with this sigh. Mr. Bhatia presently said,'Sir, you have such a standing in this state that all bureaucrats and police administration tremble with fear before you.So we thought that reporting the matter to police will unnecessary publicize it and endanger the life of the victim as well as bring disrepute to your government. We suggest you personally ask the police to create a pressure...'
Mr. Suresh Bahal interrupted,'Sir, we haven't even got any call for ransom yet. Had it come, we would have resolved it then and there and wouldn't have bothered you sir.'
'My botheration is immaterial. After all, terrible it is that a journalist has been kidnapped. All this is a conspiracy to discredit my government. I ask you to have faith in me. Yet, it is not a low hanging fruit which you can enjoy immediately. You have to be a little patient.' Supremo assured them.
A guard came in and saluted,'Sir, Madam is calling you upstairs.'
'Can't you see, we are talking?', Supremo rebuked.
'Sir, the Patron has called up' the guard replied unaffected.
'Oh, shouldn't you say that.' saying supremo hurried towards the stairs.
Mr. Bahal looked towards Mr. Prabal Mishra and Mr. Bhatia. Uttered Mr. Prabal Mishra,'The supremo doesn't talk intimate on this phone. There are phones in his bedroom for special conversations.'
Then they all fell silent.
After about ten minutes, Supremo reappeared in the room and said,'All of you should now go. Be patient. I have asked the police chief and have also taken the station officer to task. We should get some information by the evening.'
'When should we come again sir?' Asked Mr. Bahal.
'Call before you come'. Supremo stood up.
No sooner had they left than supremo again ran upstairs. Elder brother-in-law was seated in the upper patio. Supremo yelled at him,'You speak such things on phone? Whole story you started narrating on the phone. You are aware that my enemies are all around. But you don't think. Now tell me what you have found out.'
'Monsieur, me inquired from everyone of my team. The boys swore they took no one except that doctor' Replied Santlal hesitatingly.
'Could you talk to the other teams?' Supremo was turning red.
'Yes, Monsieur, total five targets are in hand – two traders, a doctor, a girl and an unknown big figure.'
'Who did you talk to about that unknown guy?'
'To Nalkatta, monsieur!'
'And he said what', supremo was losing patience.
'He knew not the total thing. But he sure blurted out that his group has laid their hands on a fat target.' Santlal informed.
'Where is this asshole Nalkatta?' Supremo lost his temper.
'Me asked him to find everything and come here straight, monsieur'.
Supremo was not calming down. Shouted he,'Now this bugger Nalkatta is lifting billionaires and you are sitting on your ass. When every team has been alloted their areas then how come this B team has touched this target? What the hell have you been doing? If you are done with it then let me know.'
Santlal was panicking. Couldn't speak a thing.
Supremo's wife presently entered. Sitting besides the supremo, she asked,'What's the matter? What are you yelling at him for?'
'Go mind your own business. Don't you interfere in everything. We are talking something very important.' Supremo was extremely angry.
An orderly came in and informed,'Sir, your cousin is waiting downstairs.'
'That's Nalkatta, monsieur', Santlal spurted happily.
'Since when did he become Nalkatta?' Madam was laughing.
A thin smile came upon supremo's face too. Pinning it towards his wife, he directed,'You should go. I have to reprimand Nalkatta.'
Wife stood up and left.
Nalkatta appeared and laid prostate. Supremo remained unmoved like a stone.
Santlal asked,'What did you find out?'
Nalkatta's voice got stuck in his throat. He started choking. Supremo got up and slapped him hard on his face,'Bastard, now you are grabbing billionaires! Can your ass handle it now?'
'Monsieur, they got him by mistake.' Nalkatta spoke massaging his cheeks.
'How come by mistake?' Santlal inquired.
'Monsieur, they had the information that a hotel owner from Delhi was staying in that hotel and that he had come to attend a wedding. But they held the B. TV man instead by mistake.' Nalkatta gave his explanation.
Supremo again hit him with his foot,'And now do you have the capacity to handle it you motherfu..! Operate only as far as your infrastructure permits.'
Pretending to be Nalkatta's saviour, Santlal proposed, ' Monsieur, they cannot handle such a target. They don't have such large scale arrangement. Pray ask him to transfer the target to my team. I promise there won't be any disparity in sharing the goodies'.
'What share and what goodies! My government may even fall due to abductions of such parties' Shouting, the supremo turned to Nalkatta and ordered him,'Transfer the target to Santlal's team within two hours. Or else each one of you will face encounters'.
Trembling with fear, Nalkatta said,'will do, Monsieur. Right away.'
Nalkatta and Santlal both stood up and started out. Supremo asked from behind,'I will take the next step only after getting confirmation about the transfer, remember that.'
When they left, Supremo was so ecstatic on his skillful diplomacy that he laughed out,'These assholes think they are chiefs. I would let them take away this party of forty-fifty million and and I will always be on thirty percent? Give me all of it this time, you bloodyfools.'
It was just over half an hour that two party members of parliament and two assembly members came over. Supremo was going to have his lunch. He said to his wife,' These suckers don't understand what hour it is. Wandering around all the time. Must be some transfer-posting recco. Wait for a few minutes. Let me drive'em out first.'
Entering the meeting hall, the supremo inquired,' Aha..ha...how came all the four musketeers together?'
'Sir, the matters have gone to such an extent that it forced us to be here today.' An assembly member replied.
'Why, what happened?' Supremo asked.
'Sir, this abduction industry is growing thick and fast in the whole province' A member of parliament expressed worry.
Supremo roared with laughter and said,'Ain't that better! Opposition says that our government is not allowing any industry to come up. Go and tell'em don't we have the abduction industry growing fast and furious!'
All these four people's representatives have been known admirer of his witty remarks. But presently they all maintained their sorry posture.
Asked the supremo again,'Why these long faces?'
'Sir, just two days ago, a gangster forced one Mr. Mishra's daughter out of her home and forcibly married her. The girl kept howling horribly but no one came to her rescue out of fear of the stengun.' Spoke one member of parliament.
'Yeah..yeah the police superintendent mentioned this to me yesterday only. The search is on. Now he has married her and has kept her for the last two days...do you think she would be pristine by now that you folks are getting so distressed? Now she has to live with him be it a gangster or a gentleman like you. These brahmins can even turn an impure one to a pristine one. You guys close your eyes and ears and relax. There will be some uproar for a few days and then all will be calm. People do not have more time than that.'
'But the media is bellowing with rage' Second assembly member said.
Supremo gave him a hard glance,'if you were such a coward then why did you join politics? Thicken your skin.'
'But some response has to be there', said the first member of parliament again.
'Response has to be there so let it be there! Say that when Veerappan was abducting people no one showed any concern. And in this rule of the poor and downtrodden, the moment there is a crime, everyone starts shouting. This is a opposition conspiracy. People of this state are closely watching how they are bent on discrediting a government of the poor and the downtrodden. The exploited and troubled people will definitely avenge this of those conspirators.' Thus providing enough armor to his representatives to fight the media, the Supremo moved out for his lunch.
The representatives too went their ways satisfied praising their leader's offensive politics.
As they were leaving, Supremo had assured them further,'Folks, do not be afraid of the media. Our voters don't read newspapers, so let them write whatever they want to. Nevertheless, I have instructed the superintendent to hold a press briefing in the evening.'
Two notable things happened in the evening. The superintendent declared to the press,'the girl was not abducted, it is a love lorn case.'
The media asked,'But the girl was wailing and the stengun-totting criminals forcibly took her away. It's been two days. What has the police been doing?'
The superintendent had replied,'Even a super power like America has not been able to catch Osama Bin Laden despite all their efforts, how do you expect us to catch the kidnappers so quickly? We are trying. Please wait.'
Secondly, Supremo was informed by Santlal that the B. TV target has been moved to a safehouse. No police or media can ever trace him there.
Supremo immediately counseled Santlal,'Now don't forget that you are also a people's representative, so do not ever bring the target to your own house and yes, negotiate the ransom yourself by phone. Do not start below seventy million. Hide the vehicle used in the abduction in a secured garage. This Mishra must have read the numbers.'
After sunset, Mr. Suresh Bahal alone presented himself in supremo's court in this high-security zone. When in private, he informed,'Sir, someone called on my cell from a public phone a while ago. The kidnappers are asking for seventy million.'
Supremo expressed surprise,'I can't believe how shameless these criminals have become! Seventy million! Who asks for this kind of a figure in a ransom! Don't you worry. I am calling the police chief right here in front of you. They will beat the hell out of them. Never seen so daring criminals. Oh my God! This is now crossing limits!'
Mr. Suresh Bahal stopped him,'Sir, please do not tell anything to police. I am sure I am being followed. If you tell police the abductee's life will be in danger.'
'Then what kind of help do you want from me?' The supremo asked. He didn't expect a mediaperson to agree to a ransom so fast.
'Sir, seventy million is too much for me. You are an influential person. You know all kinds of people. You are familiar with all intricacies of this province. Please just let me negotiate through someone. I am ready to pay forty million.' Said Mr. Bahal.
'You are a mediaman. Don't give up so easily. If you pay ransom, they will be even more encouraged. If you hold your ground, I will have the police of entire state go after them big time. But of course, there are always some risks in this kind of campaign. You must be prepared to accept that. If something goes wrong it will be you guys raising all hue and cry.' Supremo extolled the strengths of his administration.
'No sir, we will not raise a voice. Please let me negotiate. It will be a great favor to me. I am arranging for the money.' Saying so, Mr. Bahal left.
How the negotiation took place and finally how much was bargained for, remained a mystery but on the third day Mr. Suresh Bahal's nephew returned safely. The same day, the whole team packed up and escaped out by next flight.