There came a knock on the door. A servant opened the door and looked up to see a CID inspector standing before him. The inspector came in and waited until Phanindra had finished his lunch. As Phanindra came into the drawing room, the inspector placed a pamphlet on the table and said, “Have a look.”

Phanindra’s face went white momentarily as he saw the image of an older man and woman holding the severed heads of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. A message was printed on the bottom “Will you carry the traitor’s blot, or will you dare to wash it away?” He knew immediately that it was a message from the remaining revolutionaries in Punjab, directed towards Bihar. But he quickly composed himself, placing his hand on his Mauser, and expressed calmly, “I don’t understand what this means.”

The inspector looked at him with empathy but then handed him the picture. “It’s a message, Mr Ghosh,” he said. “A message from those who seek to avenge the death of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. And it seems you are at the wrong end of the message.”

Phanindra took the picture, studying it carefully. He knew it was a call to action, a challenge to the people of Bihar to carry the traitor’s blot or dare to cleanse it. But he also knew that he could not show fear or weakness in front of the inspector.

“I know what you’re talking about, Sir,” he said, his voice steady. “I am a loyal servant of the British Empire, as you well know. And I am confident that you and your people can handle any unforeseen situation. My trust in you is not misplaced, right?”

The inspector looked at him sceptically for a moment, then nodded. “Very well. We are here round the clock, but be alert, Mr Ghosh. Keep the Mauser close to you always.”

Phanindra nodded, watching as the inspector left the room. He knew he was in grave danger now that the revolutionaries were closing in on him. But he was not afraid. He knew that the British Empire would do whatever it took to protect him.

And so he sat there, holding the picture of Bhagat Singh’s severed head, and he felt nothing but cold, calculating resolve. He would not let anyone stand in his way. He would not let anyone challenge his authority. And he would do whatever it took to keep his enemies at bay.

Baikunth strolled through the bustling market of Mathurapur, the morning sun casting long shadows on the cobblestone streets. The air was crisp and cool, carrying the scents of fresh vegetables and spices. As he navigated the stalls, he mentally reviewed his shopping list, eager to return home with his groceries.

Suddenly, the market’s hum was shattered by the sound of running feet and anxious shouts. A horde of police officers descended upon the scene, their faces stern and determined. Baikunth’s heart raced as he caught sight of a young boy sprinting through the crowd, a bundle of newspapers clutched tightly to his chest. The wind whipped at his heels, tugging at the papers, threatening to scatter them like leaves.

Baikunth’s eyes widened as a constable lunged forward, grabbing the boy’s arm and sending him tumbling to the ground. The newspapers burst from his grasp, each sheet carried away by the merciless wind. The police officers, as if following an unspoken command, frantically dashed about, snatching the flying papers from the air.

One of the newspapers spiralled toward Baikunth, coming to rest near his feet. Driven by curiosity and a sense of foreboding, he unfolded the paper, only to discover a pamphlet tucked between its pages. The faces of Bhagat, Sukhdev and Rajguru stared back at him, their expressions resolute and defiant.

Understanding dawned on Baikunth; this was the reason for the police’s frenzied pursuit. He hastily tucked the pamphlet into his sleeve, concealing the dangerous material. As a constable approached, Baikunth feigned nonchalance, handing the newspaper back to the officer.

“Here you go,” he said, his voice barely betraying the anxiety that roiled within him. “The wind carried it away.” The constable eyed him suspiciously, but nodded in thanks before hurrying off to continue his search. Baikunth’s heart hammered in his chest as he resumed his shopping, acutely aware of the pamphlet hidden in his sleeve. The atmosphere in the market had shifted, tension and fear now palpable in the air. He moved quickly, eager to return home, away from the watchful eyes of the police. As he walked, the pamphlet seemed to burn against his skin.

Despite the mass confiscation of pamphlets, some copies reached the hands of Yogendra in Hazaribagh Jail. Both Baikunth and Yogendra spent much time for the next few days staring at the severed heads and the message printed below.

Excerpted with permission from The Man Who Avenged Bhagat Singh, Abhijeet Bhalerao, Penguin India.