Vijay, superintendent of police, fought to concentrate on his workout. He went through the motions, at times unmindfully falling into phases of non-activity. He lifted a dumb-bell with his left hand and then placed it back. He stood on the weighing scale. At twenty-six, his six-foot tall and muscular frame tilted the scales at eighty-three kilograms. He ran his fingers through his thick black hair, massaging it gently with his fingertips. He ended his workout prematurely.
His mobile trilled. Inspector Madhukar Dalvi was trying to reach him. Irritation coursed through his veins. A lovely day was about to be ruined.
‘Morning, Sir.’ Dalvi’s enthusiastic voice cheered him up. ‘The students’ union has changed their venue of protest. They have now decided to picket the Secretariat.’ He stopped.
Vijay understood the rest. The venue fell within his jurisdiction, so the headache was his. The site was sensitive, and the slightest of transgressions would be blown up. Reporting in Nagpur had become florid and intrusive. ‘I will be at the site in fifteen minutes,’ he told Dalvi. ‘Keep water cannons and barricades ready.’
‘A fifty-strong cavalry is already at the site. Barricades have also been erected. I am also at the site. I do not think you need to come.’ ‘What a blessed soul I am to have an inspector like you!’ Dalvi hung up. Vijay decided to go. Although Dalvi could be trusted, Vijay liked being with the boys. He drove himself.
As soon as he reached the site, he put on his dark glasses. He always felt that dark glasses accentuated his impact. A smiling student leader was negotiating with Dalvi, who was shaking his head to disagree. Even at forty-one, Dalvi’s six-foot-three frame was all sinew, and passed skinfold tests with flying colours. He was still strong enough to finish third in a half marathon. A dedicated officer, he would lay down his life for Vijay.
Vijay walked briskly and gave a long hard stare. Unperturbed, the student leader extended his hand. ‘Sir, I am Rajat Sharma.’ Vijay was impressed with his calm, confident demeanour. He asked gruffly, ‘What is going on?’ Rajat smiled. ‘We are protesting against the repeated hike in bus fares.’ ‘Do not,’ Dalvi warned, ‘do it here.’
Nearly five hundred students were squatting on a makeshift podium. Most citizens seemed to be supporting them. Girls apologized to pedestrians and motorists for the inconvenience. A group of boys requested passers-by to register their support for the cause by signing on huge posters affixed to cardboards. Leaflets were distributed, anti- government slogans were shouted and banners held aloft. Rajat folded his hands respectfully. ‘Sirs,’ he said humbly, ‘we will not indulge in any violence.’ Vijay spoke affectionately, ‘Why don’t you choose some other venue?’ Rajat smiled. ‘Sir, we need media coverage, and there is no better place for that than the Secretariat.’
Vijay put a comforting arm around Rajat’s shoulders. He had started to like the boy. ‘The problem with this venue is its sensitivity. Any slip and I am impaled.’ Rajat waved off other student leaders converging on them. He could exercise hypnotic control over his followers. ‘I can understand that an award-winning cop must have many enemies waiting to pounce at the first opportunity.’ The comment cut Vijay to the bone. This youngster was mature beyond his years. ‘Sir,’ Rajat explained, ‘any violence will hurt our movement because attention will be diverted from the core issue.’
Vijay relented and wished Rajat all the best. Egged on by Rajat, the students shouted, ‘SP Sahib Zindabad!’ Dalvi whispered in his ear, ‘Sir, this could boomerang.’ Vijay grinned. ‘Relax. This boy,’ he said pointing at Rajat, ‘is a leader to watch.’ Dalvi took off his cap and put it back on.
Vijay knew that this was his subordinate’s way of registering his disapproval. He smiled affably. Dalvi had spent a decade wrestling with the filth and squalor of Mumbai’s underworld. His wide exposure to the evil in human nature had made him suspicious. Vijay prepared to leave. A tall, lissom young woman walked confidently towards him. She was wearing black denims and a white top, her deep blue eyes brimming with life. She smiled, revealing her pearly
whites. ‘You are a risk-taker.’ He swatted her off.
‘I am a crime reporter, not a student,’ she clarified. ‘I am not giving interviews!’ he snapped and walked towards
his jeep. She followed him. ‘I am not asking for one.’ ‘Then?’ Vijay put on a stern face, ‘What do you want?’ ‘I want to compliment you and wish you good luck.’ Vijay was too stunned to speak. ‘You have taken a bold gamble. I hope it comes off.’
‘Thanks.’ Vijay’s tone softened. ‘By the way, what’s your name?’ ‘Padmini Jain.’ She waved and went away. Vijay could not stop thinking of the woman. She was different—bold, intelligent but not intrusive. He tried to believe that he was not momentarily infatuated.
(Carried with due permission from the author R.Giridharan and publisher Rupa Publications)