One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet
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Two teenagers close to their adulthood entered the station-side coffee shop at Barasat. One of them was Ravi Kumar, the son of the DSP Sanjay Kumar while the other was Raktim Lakhotia, the son of millionaire businessman Apurva Lakhotia. Ravi was a tall and well-built young man of an introvert disposition while Raktim was a lean and lanky lad of fun-loving nature. It was evident from their conversation that Ravi was unwilling to stop for a snack but was coaxed into it by his friend Raktim.
Ravi – “You don’t understand the problem Raktim. My father lives by a set of strict principles and punctuality tops that list. He has set strict rules that I have to be home by 9 PM and I don’t dare break that.”
Raktim chuckled and replied – “Dude your father is a police officer. Rules and regulations are the ways of his life but you are a boy of class 11. It’s your time to enjoy life and the best form of enjoyment is in breaking a few rules. Moreover, what’s so wrong with having a cold drink and a sandwich with a friend especially when you are hungry as a tiger?”
Ravi – “It is very difficult to reason with my father regarding something that he disagrees. Moreover, what am I going to say when he asks me for the reason of my lapse in punctuality?”
Raktim smiled mischievously and said – “Just tell him that sir was teaching for an extra hour in our physics tuition. I bet he wouldn’t object to an extra hour of studies”
Ravi – “You don’t know my father. He will call the bluff in the blink of an eye. It’s very difficult to evade his trained and experienced eye and if he feels the slightest doubt then he will call up sir to check on me. He is not as cool as your father.”
Raktim – “Yeah dude. My old man is really pretty cool. He doesn’t mind me having a little fun as long as there is a limit to it and my academic results are on the right track. However, I won’t force you on staying much longer. We are almost done with the sandwiches. Let’s each grab a can of coke and board the 8.15 local and you will be home by 9 PM.”
Ravi – “That’s better and we will talk about our coming football match on…”
Ravi was interrupted mid-sentence by the announcement of the 8.15 PM local. He looked with a sense of urgency at Raktim who was paying the shopkeeper and getting two cans of coke. Raktim had also heard the announcement. He motioned at Ravi to go and board the train and he will catch up once he was done.
The train was fairly empty and had quite a few vacant seats. Ravi selected a pair of seats by the window and sat on one of them comfortably when his mobile phone rang. A quick glance at the identity of the caller sent a chill down his spine. He received the call with a scared look and said with a trembling voice – “Yes Dad! I am on my way from…”
Sanjay Kumar from the other said of the phone cut off his son mid-sentence and said with an excited tone – “Stop with your blabbering Ravi and listen to what I am saying. I am in pursuit of a dangerous terrorist now along with few of my colleagues and subordinates. Hence, I will be late tonight and in case we are successful then I won’t be coming home tonight as I will be busy interrogating him. Your mother tends to get tense when I am late hence I am informing you as her phone is unreachable. Moreover, my phone will be switched off from now on till the operation is complete and so she won’t be able to contact me. So please inform her and tell her not to worry and stay safe both of you. Bye.”
Before Ravi could say anything, his father disconnected the phone. He was a little stunned by this quick and long message from his father but he didn’t worry. He had seen and heard about operations like this from his father since his very childhood. However, it would be difficult to keep his mother calm till she receives any further tidings of her husband. His chain of thoughts was broken as a sudden realisation dawned upon him. His father wouldn’t be home and that meant he wouldn’t have to face the ordeal of answering his father regarding his lapse in punctuality. He almost jumped out of elation at this thought.
As the locomotive declared its departure with a whistle, Raktim boarded and sat on the other seat handing Ravi a bottle of coke and a pack of chips.
He said – “Sorry to keep you waiting. I thought that its better if we get a pack of chips with the coke and that’s what held me back.”
Ravi replied in a carefree tone – “Never mind brother.”
He then narrated the phone call to his friend. Happy with this unprecedented freedom they then laughed and joked while enjoying the burps and fizzes of the cold drink along with the chips as the train scurried on.
“Shombhu please drive faster, will you? You are letting Abbas get away!” – Shouted Sanjay to the driver of his vehicle as they were chasing the terrorist Abbas Naqvi, who featured on the upper part of the most-wanted list of every anti-terrorist organisation in the world.
Sanjay Kumar was in pursuit of the fugitive with two of his colleagues and two subordinates, all heavily armed in anticipation of a sanguinary confrontation.
The pursuit had been a long one. It started with five cars of police and 30 policemen. Abbas had been successful in sabotaging the four police cars with the use of bullets and bombs. However, that didn’t throw Sanjay Kumar off the pursuit. Just as Sanjay Kumar ran out of support similarly Abbas’ aides also ran out of ammunition and were hurling glass bottles and nailed splinters as last ditched attempts to shake the police off their back.
They were passing through the busy Dumdum road and the over populated road and heavy traffic made it even harder for them to carry on. It gave Abbas an edge over them.
Sanjay Kumar’s overtly stern and serious face coupled with a thick moustache and a pair of square glasses was now as stiff as a stone out of excitement. He ground his teeth and cautioned the driver – “Shombhu be careful about the attempts to puncture our tires. We are the last hope of catching them and we just can’t let them get away.”
Shombhu acknowledged while concentrating on the road dodging people and glass – “Right sir.”
A man on a cycle was coming from another side of the road when suddenly something fell on his head and threw him off balance. He crashed with full speed into the shop of a vegetable vendor sitting beside the road. All his vegetables spilled on the road. A pedestrian in a bid to cross the road stepped on one of the spilled tomatoes and slipped out of control. He fell down in front of the speeding car of Sanjiv Kumar. Shombhu was awestruck and in order to avoid running over the man he turned his steering wheel fully and led the car into an empty warehouse beside a road before crashing to a halt. The whole scene of a busy road metamorphosed into a scene of catastrophe in a matter of few seconds.
The guard in front of Sanjay Kumar’s bungalow in Alipore Road saluted Ravi and opened the gate for him.
Ravi smiled at him before glancing at the watch. The arms struck 9.10 PM. He thanked his stars for saving him from his father. Had Sanjay been home tonight he would have subjected Ravi to a long stretch of investigation followed by a pontificated sermon on punctuality.
He bribed the guard with a twenty-rupee note as he does often before ringing the doorbell so that the guard reports his entry time as 9 PM to his father’s future interrogations.
“Sarala masi where is mother?”, asked Ravi to their domestic help who answered his doorbell.
Sarala – “She is in her room working on her laptop.”
Ravi strolled lazily to his mother’s room in order to convey his father’s message.
Ravi broke the concentration of Rebati Kumar who was working minutely on her office presentation.
Rebati – “Ravi you are home. You must be hungry. There are rice and curry on the table. Tell Sarala to warm them and serve them to you. By the way, it’s really late and your father isn’t home yet. His phone is also switched off. I am really worried now. I…”
Ravi – “Dad called me about an hour ago. He is in pursuit of a fugitive and said that his phone will be switched off. He won’t be coming home tonight and asked you not to worry. Your phone was unreachable and hence he called me.”
The news agitated Mrs. Kumar even more instead of pacifying her.
“Yeah, my phone ran out of charge. Oh, God! Please keep him safe. I hate his job. Why couldn’t he go for a desk job? Oh, my…”
“Mom! mom! Calm down. Dad has been to hundreds of these missions and he knows how to be safe.”
These words somewhat calmed Mrs. Kumar down.
“Fine. Go on and have your dinner.”
Ravi asked Sarala to serve him the food and switched on the TV as he sat down on the couch.
He was casually surfing through the channels when he suddenly stopped at a news channel.
The news channel was showing a breaking news whose headline was – A barbaric civilian ruined the hopes of catching a terrorist in DumDum Road area.
More importantly, the coverage along with the headline was showing the face that was most familiar to him.
The cameraman was focused on Sanjay Kumar’s face who was getting a cut on his forehead dressed. He looked furious.
The news reporter – “Sir, what would you like to say about the unfortunate turn of events that occurred here and let a notorious criminal like Abbas Naqvi get away about half an hour ago?”
Sanjay Kumar vociferated – “I ought to shoot such irresponsible and uncivilized citizens.”
News reporter – “But sir the cyclist didn’t trigger this chain of accidents on purpose and he himself is quite injured. Do you mean to say that he is one of the aides of Abbas and it was a ploy to help him escape?”
Sanjay’s irritation got aggravated by the reporter’s presumptuous nature – “No Sir. I am talking about the uncouth who threw this while his train was going across the railway bridge directly above this road. His barbaric behaviour wreaked havoc and brought everything crashing down like a pack of dominoes.”
The cameraman zoomed on the object that Sanjay Kumar displayed. It was an empty can of coke bearing on it a hand-drawn cartoon of a man with moustache and spectacles.
Ravi jumped out of the couch on seeing it and recollected how Raktim had drawn that very cartoon of Sanjay Kumar on his empty can of coke in a bid to mock his strictness. Yes, they did throw the cans off the train when the train was going across the DumDum railway bridge and that definitely was thirty minutes ago.
The elation that he had been feeling till now in the absence of his father evaporated and a chill shot up his spine as he remembered Sanjay Kumar’s thunderous words –
I ought to shoot such irresponsible and uncivilized citizens