The adjustment bureau is snowed under with work, the moral police force is on the prowl. The country, but most of all the capital, must live by the Conduct Book. But it isn’t easy. Despite all the efforts of these organizations to maintain peace and social order, people, especially women, continue to flout the law – they ask for divorces, dress provocatively, drink with men and attempt to avoid marriage and childbearing.

But there’s a one-man army, more effective than the entire moral police force put together, who will bring law to the land. A vigilante who has his own methods. No matter how many wanton, difficult women there are, he will persevere for the greater good. He will shame them like they have never been shamed before. And when one particular woman’s rebellion threatens to spiral out of control, he’s called upon to remedy the situation … and teach her a lesson. An excerpt:

The building that the rapist worked in was full of government offices like his own. But his was the only one with a single employee. The others were teeming with men and women who clattered past his corridor noisily in their suits and with their BlackBerrys. There were seven floors in all. The rapist sat in the fourth floor. To the right was the Adjustment Bureau and to the left, the Moral Police.

Now, at last, the building was quiet. The street was a heady mix of car lights and long shadows and the moon was barely visible beneath the heavy cloud cover. The rapist’s office was the only one that remained open twenty-four hours a day. He was expected to be available always, at least over the phone, though most people errantly assumed that he worked only night shifts. As if he were an owl, the rapist snorted.

He closed his eyes, thinking of all the work he had to do in the next few days. His hand ran over his penis absently.

‘May I come in?’

The rapist opened his eyes with a jolt. Who was it at this time of the day?

‘Mr President?’ he said, surprised. He did not need a confirmation. The stodgy figure before him was unmistakable. The president of the Adjustment Bureau was rarely seen or heard. And yet, he was one of the most powerful men in the capital city.

The president said nothing. He seated himself opposite the rapist and looked at him appraisingly. The rapist did not know how he was supposed to react. This was the first time he was meeting the president face to face; in the past, he had only caught fleeting glimpses of the man as he zoomed in and out of the building in his black Ambassador. He had seen his photographs in the newspapers though.

After what seemed to be an interminable pause, the president cleared his throat and said, ‘I need your help.’

The rapist was taken aback. The president of the Adjustment Bureau was a man of connections. Politicians, actors, cricketers, musicians, scientists, journalists, corporate bigwigs – he knew them all. The president always got complimentary tickets for the best entertainment shows – music concerts to World Cup matches – from his posh clientele, but he rarely blessed them with a visit. The president had only one addiction: his job.

‘Why me?’ said the rapist cautiously.

‘I’m asking you for help,’ the president said, ‘because I know you are the only one who can render it. There is a woman.’

The rapist leaned forward, listening.

‘She came to the bureau today,’ the president said, and continued with some difficulty. ‘She would not be persuaded. She’s determined to go through with it.’ The president spat at the floor with distaste.

The rapist stared at the glob of spit with fascination. It was white as an angel. If he stared hard enough, he could almost see the wings.

‘Even after the PoI?’ he asked, forcing himself to look away from the glob and at the president instead.

‘Yes,’ said the president. ‘Yes. She walked out of the Prison of Illusion screaming that her current life was worse.’

The rapist started to say something but stopped. He knew this was a sensitive subject. The president was very proud of the prison. It was something that gave his irate clients an experience of the world that awaited them if they flouted the authority of the bureau – absolutely state-of-the-art. The wide range of monsters, from unwilling landlords to molesting bosses, who lived in its dark corners were enough to make them yield.

But not this woman. ‘She emerged out of the prison, complaining that they made her wear saris every day,’ said the president, irritation crowding his brow. ‘In a nation where most people cannot afford clothes, I would think that’s a blessing!’

The rapist grinned. A ribald joke involving Draupadi came to his head but he dared not say a word. He did not know if the president would encourage such familiarity. Instead, he nodded at him seriously.

‘Apparently, that fool of a husband hit her,’ the president grumbled. ‘And she comes running to me like a kindergartner running to her principal. What am I to do? Cane the husband? I showed her the flyer. The national adjustment policy. You’ve seen it?’

Of course the rapist had seen the pink flyers with the legendary words ‘Please Adjust’. He would have to be blind not to have. They were everywhere. He said so to the president.

The president smiled at him, pleased. ‘Yes, our new marketing team does a good job. Young recruits from top business schools. I chucked the old fogeys out. They’d clearly lost their bling. Just because it’s a government job, they thought they’d never get fired.’

‘And what did the woman say?’ said the rapist.

‘She — ’ The president swallowed hard and said, ‘spat at me.’

The rapist’s jaw fell to his chest.

‘And then she threw my paperweight at the clock,’ the president went on, his mouth tightening. ‘Even then, I did not lose my calm. She threatened to take her clothes off to show me her bruises!’

A sly smile crossed the rapist’s face.

‘Well, obviously, I told her I’d have her arrested for indecency if she did that,’ said the president, not moving a muscle.

‘Did you give her the box?’ asked the rapist softly.

‘You know about the box?’ said the president, surprised. The box was the ultimate weapon in the bureau’s armoury but it had been used very rarely in its long history. It involved very expensive technology and the bureau couldn’t use it as often as it would have liked to. In the president’s twenty-year reign, since the PoI had been introduced, it had never been used. The president had seen to that.

‘I have my friends,’ the rapist said.

‘Yes, I gave the bitch the box,’ said the president, forgetting himself for a moment. ‘And do you know what she did with it?’

The rapist shrugged.

‘She dropped it on the floor and left. Now I ask you, what normal woman would drop a baby? And it was crying too! I told her it would save her marriage but she just walked over the box, baby and all, and simply left!’ the president said, working himself up.

‘So why are you here?’ asked the rapist. He knew the answer already but he wanted to hear it from the president.

‘Teach her a lesson,’ said the president. ‘I can’t have this happening in my tenure. Not now.’

Excerpted with permission from The Lesson, Sowmya Rajendran, HarperCollins India.