Chapter 8: Maanav’s journey

Chapter 8

Young Maanav was confident. The plan was perfect. The leader of their pack was a 20-year-old Ratan, a muscular guy from the wrong side of the tracks… so were the others. Infiltrating the gang took time for Maanav since he was fair and came from money. There was immense prejudice against him and he had to impress Ratan with his martial arts skills that made them look up to him. They loved his guts especially when they heard about his exploits from the Graffiti gang days.

After teaching him the basics of picking pockets, they took him along to a few tourist hubs in and around Mount Abu. He had made a kill on his debut run and his share amounted to 20000 INR. While others watched in awe, Maanav didn’t care. He didn’t need the money. His father had left him enough in the form of bonds, investments and properties that he would inherit on completing 18. He didn’t know who managed all that but his money orders were received on time every month.

He handed over the 20000 back to Ratan to treat the boys, earning him further brownie points. He soon rose to fame… remembering the fixed motto of the pick-pocketing gang, a Houdini saying, ‘A pickpocketer had to be well dressed and of prepossessing appearance’.

He suited the bill well and no one in the wildest of dreams would assume the handsome young guy in a suit seated in the foyer of the 5-star hotel was actually a thief. He was very good at blending, a virtue received from and honed by his late father. He had made a good fortune in the span of 6 months and returned it all to Ratan and the gang. He wanted to feel belonged and his reliance on drugs was now low as well. He had started to workout too…

Then came a golden chance to cement his name in the world of petty crimes. Ratan had this offer to loot the Pune Howrah Durronto Express. It was relatively a new line at the time and besides the Rajdhani, the elite train travellers used the Durronto… It was also the Navratri ending phase and people were travelling back to their workplaces from their home town in Kolkata. There was a huge wedding party travelling back too. An estimated jewellery heist would procure them a good amount. The money didn’t matter to Maanas, but the adrenaline rush of doing something against the law had its thrill…

The Durronto was to slow a bit at a particular place near Raipur Junction. That was the research the gang had done for weeks. Maanas boarded the train at Howrah along with a couple of the fairer gang members. He was well dressed and had reserved seats so no one got an inkling of their motive.

The bogie turned dark as the lights were switched off at around 1 AM.

Maanav’s fellow gang members began their MO and immediately set to their jobs. The marriage party members fell unconscious in their slumber. It was to be a cakewalk for Maanav to make them lighter of their valuables.

However, what they didn’t know was the groom’s side belonged to generations of defence servicemen. They were seated at the far end and till the gang got closer they didn’t know these were army men in casual clothes. By the time Maanav realized it was too late. His friends were caught while he managed to hide on time. He didn’t take the jewelry along so the people got busy consolidating their valuables. The train began to slow down at Raipur but the Army men were worried about the unconscious relatives and called the train to a complete halt.

In the chaos that followed, the police rushed in and began combing the bogies. Maanas used the distraction to jump on the tracks and make his escape. To his surprise, he didn’t care about the ‘gang’ anymore.

From there he travelled for hours on foot and almost starving himself. He changed trains and finally reached Mumbai…

However, it was barely 2 years since his father was martyred and coming to the city hit him hard. He was slipping into an abyss of pain. It was then he realized what he had been doing… He thought of Chandran and Nitya and her brother… he was to make things better for them. How did he land up like this? He hated himself.

By habit he clutched at the locket around his neck… but this time he tugged it harder than usual and he heard a snap… the locket opened suddenly. Surprised he unlocked the thin chain and checked… there was a tiny chit in multiple folds in the locket. The locket was the only piece of jewelry in his father’s belongings so he had worn it after his father passed.

He unfolded the letter standing in the shade outside the CST railway station.

My boy

You are reading this means, I am no more and you are messed up.

Call 91———- Captain Rawat. He will know it all. He will be your guardian.

  • Deshmukh

Even in such a letter his father never used words like your dad or my dear son

But at that moment Maanav began to cry… for the first time after his father’s passing… he cried for not being able to understand his father who was always protecting him. He realized, his father loved him in his own way.

Without a second thought, he rushed to one of the only two phone booths and dialled the number on the chit. He had no mobile phone. He had relinquished it after joining Ratan. Now, he barely had money on him so it was important to save every cent.

He just had to identify himself and his father’s letter and the gruff voice on the other end only hummed. He was asked to wait right where he was for half an hour.

As told, exactly half an hour later a man in black overalls identified him and gave him a tiffin filled with modest khichdi. It was barely warm but given that he hadn’t eaten anything for hours, Maanav wolfed it at a go, while the man, a firm-looking guy who appeared on a constant state of alert, skimmed the busy area around them. He looked like a soldier and Maanav could make out because he had seen so many of their ilk because of his father. A while later they boarded a state transport bus and Maanav who was physically and mentally exhausted dozed off. After ages, it seemed like he didn’t have to be vigilant… When he woke up after what seemed like hours, the man asked him to alight. They had no luggage so it was easy to make the trek… The place…wherever it was, was picturesque with lush greenery around them. The winter rains had just subsided and the rustic redolence calmed his senses.

He knew he would eventually get the answers so he didn’t ask anything and the duo just kept walking.

After about an hour they stood outside a large gate. It was a school… an army prep school of some sort. The huge done like structure over the gate read “Sainik Gurukul

So this was what his father had planned for him? he wondered as he took in his surroundings. He didn’t know if he qualified for any of this… but the only thing mattered at that moment was getting himself back on track. If this was what it took, so it be.

As the duo walked in the man spoke to the guards on duty at the gate and made a call on the intercom. All this while Maanav looked around the premises. There was a board titled ‘The Army Welfare Residential School – The Sainik gurukul’

It felt like he had come into a new world. He inhaled the tranquil air crisp and fragrant with the scent if marigolds and a number of flowers he didn’t know the names of. Mud-covered winding paths connected stone-walled buildings that looked like dormitories and at the end of the row stood the undisputed school building in its proud glory. There was a lot more beyond that but this was where Maanav’s visual boundaries ended. Was there a stream somewhere? The gentle harmonics created a symphony of vibrant tunes with the avian friends above amidst the canopy of trees…

In the soothing cacophony he could hear some kind of screaming from the distance indicating there were children and at the same time he suddenly felt like a fish out of water. He had a miserable couple of years… he hadn’t touched his books, and if these people checked with his earlier school, they wouldn’t get anything favorable to hear. Would he be abandoned and all alone… yet again?

He shuddered at the thought. He had wanted to escape everything by taking the forbidden paths… at least there would be no abandonment…

He was startled as he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.

He turned around to see a tall, middle-aged man with broad shoulders dressed in a white full-sleeved shirt and crisp black trousers with an extremely calm and composed stance staring into his eyes. He seemed familiar… had they met before? He wasn’t sure.

“Welcome, son, welcome to this gurukul. I am captain Rawat. I hope you like this new beginning to your life and take things seriously from now on. This country needs men like you. Are you ready?” The gruff baritone mesmerised him. And he called him… ‘son’. Something mellowed in his heart. There were no questions asked from either side. He just nodded.

The other man who had brought him here had disappeared. Captain Rawat walked ahead and Maanav followed him on auto pilot. In the last 24 hours he had almost looted a train bogie, almost gotten arrested for the second time in his life and this would have been catastrophic and with the same time frame, he had got a chance towards new beginnings.

He wondered what his father must be thinking from wherever the man was… would he be happy about this? He probably would be because Maanav was following his path after all.

A lone through cruised along… what would Nitya say about this? Maanav stumbled on a pebble as he wondered why Nitya wobbled into his thoughts at that moment. He hadn’t heard about her at all… not even once when he tried exploring through the online resources available to him. It was like she had disappeared from the face of the earth…. He made it a point to look for her once he became capable enough to do so. He was sure she wouldn’t be in danger because of him anymore… since his father was out of the picture.

Captain Rawat showed him his dormitory. He was to share it with another guy a little older to him to join them soon. The name tag on the bunker bed read ‘Shiv Ranjan Chouhan’.

The captain had already kept a few sets of clothes for him neatly folded on his bed. They were a bit faded and definitely used but he didn’t complain. Right then he made it a resolve to use this as an impetus to achieve his goals and whatever Captain Rawat had planned for him.

From then on began a period of change filled with rigorous training, both in academic and physical fitness. Shiv who came in a little after him became his best friend and he also cared about him like an older brother. A year later they were moved to a new room along with a new roommate named Avinash Thakur. Avinash’s twin sister Anandi was there in another dorm and soon the four became inseparable. The 3 boys always trained together under the watchful eyes of the Captain. The rigours were so intense that they had no time for anything else apart from the Gurukul regime.

Maanav observed that other students didn’t receive training like they did. Though the trio discussed this in their dorm, they didn’t dare ask the captain.

This continued for a few years until they graduated and got selected for ground duty.

They realised that the four of them were trained for eventually getting into the super Ops segment of the Indian Army. The part of the Army free from the bureaucratic tug and with secret missions. The four pledged their alliance for the same and started off on the tough training journey. They were separated nationwide as they began their specialised training and basic-level missions. But they made it a point to meet in the gurukul once a year. They were in touch with each other through a special phone that each of them had and only could connect to each other. There was no way the signals could be intercepted. Shiv had arranged it from somewhere, and he excelled at stealth. So they practically knew what each of them was upto.

Though Maanav felt he had found his calling in life that revolved around his missions and his friends, he still felt a lacuna… a sense of unfulfillment and he knew what that was. Nitya. An unresolved chapter from his childhood, the source of his nightmares that had become scarce but existed nonetheless. He connected with Chandran once in a while in his line of work. During one such time, he requested Chandran to search Nitya on the web. But all searches came up empty to his astonishment.

If anyone could locate a person anywhere in the world it was Chandran who had access to the best systems possible. However, Nitya wasn’t found, meant… one of the two reasons. Either she was dead or she had changed her identity. He couldn’t digest the fact that she was no more… his heart didn’t concede to the fact. That only could mean she was in hiding… but why? Was she in danger?

He had tried to find out details when he had made a couple of rare visits to his Pune home but no one knew of her existence… He had vowed to find out about her by hook or crook. The situation was frustrating. His friends knew about his history because of his nightmares. Shiv, the ever perceptive of them all had suggested he wait and not ruffle feathers that could get him in trouble and by default Nitya, in case she were hiding.

 

The wait had been prolonged and here he was years later wondering what was in store for him… his face had been revealed on the terrace in that last mission and also his decision to call in help without a sanction from his handlers hadn’t gone down well with the higher-ups. He knew that meant the end of special ops for him.

Shiv had suggested subtly, that he join the SPS. He realized he now wanted to do so… Probably that would open other avenues for him.

And there was that package with him as well… his father’s last gift he had received while leaving Sainik Gurukul. He also got to know that Captain Rawat was the man who managed his trust fund. His father must have trusted the Captain immensely to have handed over the responsibility of such a magnitude.

 

The sofa creaked as Maanav stood up breathing heavily and walked to his bedroom. The pain had subsided but still feebly lingered on as he moved. Opening the wardrobe, he moved clothes in the bottom rack and opened a concealed locker. He removed the ‘gift’ and placed it on the floor right there. He had no energy to go back to the drawing room.

He opened the now-blotted letter. He had read it a few times but even today nothing made sense.

My boy

You are reading this means I am no more and your mess is sorted out. Don’t forget to thank Captain Rawat. Here’s something for you. Get your affairs in order and fill in the gaps. Complete the missing puzzle…compliment this to save the world. Remember you can’t do this alone. The bearer of the solution holds the key to your future too… Together you can prevent a catastrophe. You are meant to do this.

Good bye my boy

-Dad

 

That was the first time his father had addressed himself as ‘dad’. His eyes welled up as he blinked away the moisture. He wasn’t a cry baby… in fact he was emotionless and hence he could carry out those dreaded dastardly missions. But the letter always made him mushy. That’s why he had buried it here…

He took out what looked like a funny looking cordless phone only, it wasn’t. That’s all he knew. The bottom of the device had strange fixtures. He had shown it to Shiv and Avinash but they hadn’t been able to find out about the instrument either. He had researched a lot but to no avail.

 

What is this, dad? He spoke into oblivion. His dad never did anything without reason…

What was he missing?

He sighed… did he get this break just for this … mission that his father had left for him?

Only time would tell… or would it?

Nitya… where are you? How are you? Do you remember me? Long time….

The cascading thoughts patted by the gentle AC breeze sent him to a slumber…..

 

©priyanayakgole

(Disclaimer: This is a piece of fiction using the backdrop of the attack that happened and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. This doesn’t attempt to change history or facts.)

 

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