The second tape from Sikander was in Mira’s mail at once next morning on Saturday, proving that Sikander had seen the published story in the newspaper. Gearing up for the Sunday edition, Bhaskar called a meeting to listen to the recording; Munshi was absent that day.

Once again, Sikander’s familiar voice announced the time and date:

“Today is December 7, Parliament building. The time is 1.25 p.m. I am walking towards Mr Sunil Patel, who is about to leave Parliament. I should catch up with him in less than a minute.”

He moved through the crowded corridor inside Parliament amid conversations, beeping security apparatus and paging announcements for MPs’ vehicles at the exit door.

“Hi, good afternoon!” Sikander said in a greeting. “Are you Mr Sunil Patel, the station house officer?”

“Yes,” Patel answered.

“I am Sikander Bansi, an MP from the People’s Party.”

There was a pause. Voices in the background were momentarily louder as a group of people walked past.

“Can we speak alone for a moment?”

“Actually, I was leaving, Mr Bansi. I have to reach

somewhere in half an hour.”

“Won’t take any time at all,” Sikander invited, then added

gently, “Besides, it may be good for you to be seen with a PP politician. It will build pressure on Nuri to give you whatever you demanded from him.”

There was a long pause. “What do you want?” Patel asked tersely.

“The real story, of course,” Sikander laughed, “off the record.”

“And you think, sir, that I go about telling the real story in busy corridors like this?”

“Fair enough,” Sikander said amiably. “The lounge then.”

After some time, there was a sudden silence as they entered the lounge. They settled down and refused the tea that the attendant offered.

“I will get to the point,” Sikander began. “Over 200 people were butchered in communal riots exactly one year ago. You were in charge of the area where the clashes started. I would like to know what had really happened.”

“What is the point?” Patel sneered. “You seem too young to understand, even if I explained.”

“By ‘young’ you mean ignorant. I get that.” Sikander laughed. “Let me see if I can impress you with my grasp of communal politics. There had been peace for long, and people of the state expected development; they wanted better roads, better power supply and better drinking water. The NP leader who represented the state wasn’t interested in development; it would have meant the end of the illegitimate businesses of his funders. And god knows elections require funds,” Sikander sighed. “The campaigning, the media and the advertising, these cost money. The NP leader knew he would lose the election on the development issue unless he changed the agenda…”

“No disrespect, but is this how all the young MPs here speak?” Patel inquired.

Sikander did not reply for an instant. “All right,” he said finally. “How would you put it?”

“It was always the agenda of the NP to exclude some communities from its plan for growth and development. Far too much money has been spent on the minorities and the underprivileged, and that money would now be spent on the general prosperity of the entire country. That was the promise!” Patel explained. “The NP had to deliver on this promise. People wanted a better life for themselves and did not care if it came at the expense of someone else’s better life.”

“So,” Sikander said, “you are saying it was a planned riot. And you were part of the plan.”

“I resent that, sir,” he objected. “I stopped the riot and without me, the toll would have certainly crossed 500.”

“My apologies. As you can see, I am most ill-informed about everything.”

“You are,” Patel confirmed, flatly.

“So why were you suspended if you stopped the riot?”

“I just told you, because I stopped the riot! What’s the

matter with you?”

“I’m so sorry. So, how did you stop the riot?”

Patel sighed impatiently. “The houses on a street caught fire, and about thirty families from one community were trapped. They could not escape because the rioters waited outside, and were burnt to death. Everyone was shocked by this gruesome ‘accident’ and that ended the riot. Always remember: in a riot, the cruellest side wins.”

“I will remember that,” Sikandar promised. “So you saved many lives by sacrificing a few. Did they understand that here at the NP chief’s office?”

“What do you mean?” he demanded. “Are you saying I supervised that riot for my own pleasure? Of course they understood. The entire NP monitored the events that day. They would all have been suspects in the inquiry if I had not signed an affidavit stating there was not enough evidence against them. They know that.”

“Then why did the NP government suspend you?” Sikander was intrigued. “Is that not bound to upset you and make you expose everyone?”

“I was in charge,” Patel said reasonably. “They had to take some action.”

“That’s what they told you.”

“Yes,” Patel said quietly, “and I believed them.”

“Why not? You are from the same state as Nuri, and you must be his supporter.”

“Who wasn’t?” Patel was earnest. “That is what I told him

today. I worshipped him; he was like a god to me. And I have been waiting, convinced that he will do justice. But I am still on suspension, and there is no hope. I told him this too, that he has lost one of his best devotees.”

They were silent for an instant. Then Sikander asked, “But what can you do? Who will believe your story?”

“I have proof, Mr Bansi,” Patel said triumphantly. “That is the reason why I am here today. I played him the tapes of the telephone calls from that night when the riot started. As a rule, I recorded all calls in my police station. There was a call, one of the many made by Nuri, in which he asked me to pull out my men from a locality. Four families were killed hours after we withdrew protection.” He paused and added discreetly, “I also have log records of the other calls we received that night. My men were all over the area, and did their best to control the angry mobs. Someone complained to the headquarters that the police had succeeded in keeping the peace. So, I got a call from the NP chief’s office, from one of his lieutenants who monitored the riots. He was dismayed that I had not grasped the idea and asked me to call back my men immediately. He also stressed that reinforcements were on their way and to await them before taking further action.”

“By NP chief, you mean Nuri’s office?”

“Who else? Good god!”

Sikander apologised again.

“Anyway,” Patel continued tolerantly, “now they know I

have the records, but what they don’t know is whether I have shared the facts with anyone else. That is the only reason why I am still alive.”

“You mean you may be killed?”

“It’s a possibility.”

“I don’t understand this,” Sikander said, sounding

perplexed. “Your life is in danger, and your name is tarnished. Why did you do it then?”

“I believed in Nuri’s politics,” Patel said repentantly, “his promise of a golden future for everyone. I too wanted to be a part of that dream. I am not the villain; I am just another supporter of Nuri.”

“But is this all you have? Call logs from a police station?”

“Of course not, sir! You think Nuri would have met me if this was all?”

He fell silent, indecisively, and then said, “I often carry a hidden recorder, a small thing that we use for undercover operations. I took it with me to an informal meeting with two senior police officials a month before the riots. They guided me about communal tensions and how to ‘handle’ them, and recruited me for the plan.” Patel’s voice was forlorn. “I told them I was ready; this was not my first riot.”

“That’s fascinating! Tell me, how does one go about it?”

“Well, it’s a delicate thing and has to be thought out well beforehand. I am old school and like to use the traditional trick. Drop a butchered pig outside a mosque and a severed cow’s head outside a temple. They race out with weapons, screaming, puppets on strings ready to kill each other. I am actually tired of how easy it can be.”

“Surely, you make it sound easy!”

“Perhaps.” He chuckled briefly. “Anyway, talking of evidence, I also have a record of the conversation I had with the headquarters, requesting additional forces. They clearly mentioned that it would take two hours for them to reach from a neighbouring district. It took them two days. By that time, 202 people had been killed in communal riots. Job done!”

“You must be proud of such excellent execution… of the plan, I mean,” Sikander corrected himself. “Why are you still suspended from duty, sir?”

“Nuri thinks I wouldn’t care. His men take care of my expenses, and I get a monthly payment from the NP. But it’s not just about that anymore. It’s a matter of my family… people call me a butcher. And while cases are pending against me, the real culprits have gone and won Parliament elections.”

“Doesn’t Nuri realise you might use the information you have?”

“Well, Nuri got to know about it only today,” Patel explained. “I threatened to go to the People’s Party with the information if he does not get my suspension revoked. That is the reason I agreed to speak with you.” Patel added sarcastically, “I’m sure you didn’t know how right you were; it will do me good to be seen with the rival party.”

“You’re right, I didn’t know,” Sikander admitted coolly. “So, what’s the way out for you then?”

“I return to my state tonight and will soon address the first press conference after my suspension from duty. Activists will ask me questions about the riots, and I will say that I simply followed orders of NP’s top leadership.”

“Won’t the activists come after you?”

Patel was silent, then said, “I am guessing here, but have you just returned from abroad, after completing your MBA or whatever you do these days to prove you have administrative experience?”

“How did you know?” Sikander exclaimed.

“Never mind,” Patel dismissed cynically. “No, the activists won’t give me a tough time because they understand and cooperate. Why do you think they have quickly politicised the issue? Why do you think they never ask why I followed my orders without questions? They know everything.”

“Everyone seems to know everything,” Sikander noted, “except for the people.”

“Don’t be so naïve, Mr Bansi. You think people don’t know whom they vote for? Communal riots take place because they do not finish a politician’s career. Everyone is complicit in this, everyone is guilty.”

Sikander agreed with him. “Did you tell Nuri about the press conference?”

“Yes, I had to. He told me to be patient and not to tempt fate.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well, do be careful, and thanks for your time,’ Sikander mentioned gratefully. ‘It has been educational.”

“I am sure it was,” Patel remarked. “Please keep it to

yourself, sir. You are far too young to get hurt.” Sikander laughed. “What do you take me for? A fool?” “Don’t ask.”

The chairs moved back as the two men stood up and took leave of each other. Then there was a break in the recording before it restarted:

“This is the clue for Mira.”

Sikander’s voice was somehow pained as he said:

“You asked when you were wounded. What’s the difference between blood and rain? One flows over the skin, the other under it. Both are free and can’t be captured. You said, fill my veins with rain when my eyes are closed. Let the clouds take possession of my mind and set me free. If I must live, please let me choose the rainbows that are yet to come, over the blood that is yet to be shed in the battlefield.”


“Questions?” Bhaskar asked.

No one spoke.

Bhaskar put the pen down and sat back in his chair pensively.

“I find this very predictable,” he observed. “This is just political rivalry; a PP politician against an NP politician.”

Excerpted with permission from The Honest Season, Kota Neelima, Random House India.