Black And White
Black And White
Veeranna was waiting in the coffee shop for the courier. The courier is planned to come and meet him at this location. A few months ago, he would have not stepped out of forests. The government of the day was reducing their pressure on catching Naxals. They were busy with their elections. Today he felt he was safe to be there. He had his favourite Chai and looking for the courier. He has only been waiting there for a few minutes. He still was anxious that the courier is not there ahead of him. That is when someone came and sat opposite to him. Veeranna recognised who it was immediately. Veeranna asked the man, so this was your setup? The man nodded his head yes. Veeranna asked if he can have his last Chai. The man sat silent for Veeranna to finish his drink.
The year was 1955, the Razakar movement finished only a few years ago. The villages under Razakar's have not come out of poverty yet. Seetayya coming from one of those villages took his first steps into his dream college. He was overwhelmed by the surroundings. The place made him feel undeserving even though he got in with pure merit. Before that day, the only building in the village which had a concrete roof was the collector office. The 6 storied building and the luxurious cars made him feel like an outsider. Just as he was hesitating to take the next step a hand dragged him to a different path. He got scared of the sudden action.
The one who was taking him was the senior. They walked to a corner spot in the college. Where already was a group of juniors jumping up and down holding ends of their shirts, which are popping out of their zippers. Seetayya understood what was going on, ragging of the freshers.
The senior ordered Seetayya to follow his friends. He started jumping. During the jumping, he noticed one of the juniors not adhering to anything the seniors had to say. A little later all headed to their classes.
After classes, Seetayya reached his hostel room. His roommate was the guy who he saw in the morning not adhering to seniors. His name was Seetharam. Seetharam's father was a zamindar. He had plenty of money. Seetayya thought Seetharam got in because of his father's money. But he comes to know soon Seetharam was a topper. In a short time, they became friends. Very soon, it felt like only death can do them apart. The whole college started calling them Sita square. As everyone called them Sita. They named themselves differently. Seetharam called Seetayya, Ayya and Seetayya called Seetharam, Ram. Everyone in college laughed at the irony that a zamindar is calling a poor man Ayya (usually used for zamindars and leaders).
The first year of engineering ran away before ragging could finish. They had no time to know what was going on. The second year of college was when things started getting interesting. The Naxal movement was very active in college. All Seetayya's family except for his father were part of the rebellion and died in the movement. He made a promise to his father not to join Naxalites. After all, he is the only family left for his father. Naxals felt Seetayya is sold out to zamindars, seeing him with Ram made them confirm their doubts. Only they knew what reality is.
That day was the Engineering Drawing examination. Ram is not ready for it. He was praying for something to happen, so that exam is postponed. His prayers were answered the student’s union was on strike for something. Ram had no clue for what the strike is called. He, however, had participated enthusiastically and dragged Ayya with him. After the first few hours of agitation, the exam was cancelled. The plan was to head to the hostel and prepare for other exams after that. But Ram did not come instead he followed the group to agitate some more. He followed the leaders that day. That night when Ram returned to the hostel Ayya noticed his eyes were angry red. What Ayya did not realize is that was the last he will get to see Ram. Ram turned busy with student politics. He did not attend the classes. At night he was attending secret meetings all over the place. He stepped up the ladder of student politics in a short time. Every one of the members and volunteers was dependent on Ram for direction. He has become so big and no one calls him by name anymore. He is only known as Anna (Big Brother) to everyone. Ayya, on the other hand, continued his study to be the top student.
Seetayya never liked wearing the jeans and the t-shirt when going
into duty. He only loved to where his khaki uniform. Every time he is not in uniform something shady is going to undergo. For any other officer, it is like painting outside the lines, not for Seetayya. With a heavy heart, Seetayya picked the revolver, which is not his service weapon. He stepped out and was waiting outside his house. After a few minutes of waiting a van came to halt in front of Seetayya. There were four more of the officers in the Van. Not one of them were in their uniforms. From there, things went like clockwork. The day's actions were planned for months with every detail step for every minute action planned.
The van stopped on seeing the constable, who was the lookout. He confirmed the arrival of the person of interest. Seetayya with his team walked into the tea shop. He saw Veeranna sipping tea and sat opposite to him. Veeranna knows Seetayya came for him. Veeranna did not even flinch for a second. He asked Seetayya to give him a few more minutes to finish his tea. After the tea is done, they all got into the van and left the place.
The van drove to a remote place. They could not see a hint of people around for kilometres of stretch. They all got down from the van. There was a long stretch of trees, it almost felt like they were seeing a forest. They decided to take Veeranna inside and encounter him behind the trees, that way no one can see them. All the officers started to walk into the tree-laden area. Seetayya asked others to stay back and walked behind the trees with Veeranna. They walked about half a kilometre and stopped. Seetayya turned out to make sure no one can see them. Seetayya looked into Veeranna's eyes and remembered the same fiery red he has seen years ago. "It has been almost 15 years of the revolution but the anger in the eyes were the same", said Seetayya. "You too, the fear in the eyes is the same from 15 years", replied Veeranna. Both looked at each other intensely for a second and burst into laughter.
Seetayya picked a cigarette to share with his friend Sitaram (alias Veeranna). They both sat down sharing a puff of a cigarette and started to reminisce what went by. Seetayya asked his friend what happened that day. Why did you decide to join the Naxalite movement? Sitaram was pitiful for his friend, that he is not aware of the happening of the world. He started telling him what happened that day. Ayya, I followed the leader that day to make him continue the strike a few more days. I did not expect what was in store. If you remember, the strike was for the death of the girl in our college. Yes, nodded Ayya. What I came to know that day was the girl was only 22. She was murdered in a fake encounter. She was cut into 17 pieces and dropped in a well. They cut her into seventeen pieces, Ram repeated. Ayya waited for his friend to calm down. Then he asked Ram did that make him join Naxalite movement. Then he reminded Ram how she was one of the Naxalites and how the government was searching long to catch her.
Ram angrily threw out the cigarette in his hand. Naxalite, she a Naxalite? Your mind has rotten in this system. She was never a Naxal. She was only doing revolutionary plays and songs. The number of people coming to see her perform was increasing, so the police and government said she joined Naxalites. Three days later we find her dead body, 17 pieces of her body. Ayya was silent, had no response for his friend.
After a few minutes, Ayya started to speak. A one-off case should not make you like this Ram. You became Veeranna, have you ever thought what will happen to your family. Ram burst out laughing. My father did not worry about me for a second. You can't say that he came to see you in the hostel, said Ayya. Do you want to know, why he has come? That year was a drought in the state. My father, on the other hand, had enough to feed for the next 3 years. I with my team went overnight and burgled all the food. My father found out I was the one who did it. He visited to find me and hand me over to the police. This was a copy of the police complaint, he gave on me. I kept this as a memento. Ayya ignoring what Ram had to say said “You are very intelligent and educated man, you could have done so much for the people. Now you are hiding in the forests running from police.” Ram replying to Ayya said, “I am hiding in the forests without any guilt. You are in a normal life full of guilt. Don't you remember, Mallanna? Are you not the part of the team, which encountered him? He asked his friend and Ayya could not bear the stare of Ram and turned his head.
That was the first encounter of Ayya. He can never forget that. But Mallanna killed many politicians and officers which gave a little respite to Ayya. He with a strong note reminded him of all that. In reply, Ram had a big laugh. Mallanna had killed politicians who sold his constituency people's lives. What they got in return, every 5 years 200 rupees per vote. These officers and politicians, in the name of the ceiling act, took away the land of small farmers. The officers instead of supporting the people stood behind the politicians. When Ram told this to Ayya, Ayya could not believe. The guilt he was carrying of the encounter started to multiply to many more folds. He, however, believed no one had the right to kill government officers. They work for the people, the pressures they get could cause them to break. Ram could not believe Ayya was such a naïve officer.
Ram was angry with what his friend had to say to him. Rules this, rules that and no one can do any harm to a government officer. What about people, where are the people in all these rules? Ram was also angry that every common man had to follow rules but not the officers. He reminded his friend about Mallanna again. Mallanna was killed in a fake encounter. No rule book allows this. There was every option in the hands of the police. But the plan was to encounter. Ram felt all the officers were murders including his friend. He strongly stared and shouted “Murder” to his friend.
Ayya knew the case very well. So many of the officers were being killed every day. The police had to take that step. He slipped out of their hands a multiple time. They cannot let him go one more time and get more officers' blood on their hand. He even remembers the kid who died because of the bomb placed by Mallanna long while ago. The kid’s only mistake was standing near the police station auto stand. He asked Ram about the innocents losing lives because of people like him and Mallanna.
Ram did not even flinch an eye. He left a wonderful and comfortable life to be here today. If revolution requests a sacrifice, he will be the one to give out his head first. He was sorry for all the innocent lives that were lost. He was even ashamed of that. But the fight is bigger than all these lives. He without any doubt in his mind told Ayya these lives are required for the bigger cause. But he could not see into the eyes of Ayya when saying this.
Ayya remembered why he decided to be an IPS at that moment. He wanted to fight for the innocent. He could have opted to go into the big software job he got after his graduation. He did not. He worked hard and got selected as IPS. He did everything after that to make sure he helped the innocent. He had to do cross a few lines on the way. But that is for the greater good. Don’t we all remember “Aswathama hathaha, kunjaraha” from Mahabaratha? The good he did in the last 10 years was more than the few encounters he did. The thought made him feel confident. He started at Ram with fierce eyes and said, “That is how you want to justify deaths of thousands”. Now Ayya turned away his head.
Ram felt Ayya can only count the bodies. Ram felt Ayya was ignoring all the good Naxalites done for the common man. He remembered the time he was instrumental in getting a lady her house back by killing the landlord. He recollected many more of the instances where they could get the people the occupied lands, houses without even firing the bullets. He tried to recollect how did it change the life for the people. That is when he remembered that all people died poor. Because the officers and businessmen were not ready to work with them. But that was not his mistake he told himself. But he had no rebuttal to his friend and bent his head completely down in surrender.
Ayya spoke this time directly to his friend. I want you to think hard. Think well, you could have done better for the people by being more accessible than being in the forest. When you started all this, it might have felt the right way. There was no one to talk for the people or listen to them. You decided the gun will help to make people listen. But it did not. It might have worked for a few things. In the end, it did more damage than benefit. The fight was not like fighting with Razakkars, it is not war. The fight is not black and white. The people on both sides are our own. You had the option to surrender a few years ago. Tell me if you are ready today to surrender, I will manage this. Ram said he cannot survive the world without his movement and principles. Ram looked into the eyes of Ayya and realized what is coming.
Seetayya took out his gun and pointed at Veeranna. Seetayya looked at Ram’s fiery red eyes again. There is no trace of fear of death. Veeranna is not even 35 years of age. Seetayya could not do this to his friend. Seetayya threw his gun to his friend's Friend. Ram did not understand what was happening. Seetayya pointed to his hand for Ram to shoot and run away. Seetayya was waiting for his friend to shoot him and run. Ram was taking his time and not shooting Seetayya. To make it easy for him Seetayya turned around and lied down on his knees for him to shoot. He was ready to get injured or even die for his friend.
Ram was shifting his eyes between the gun in hand and his friend. He could not make up his mind on what to do. The long conversation with his friend and the blurring lines are not helping him at all. Now all he could think of was the body count. Every second moving on the body count just kept piling on. He shrieked out of disappointment and indecision. His friend believing that his life was wrong just broke him. Before today, he never thought he was right, but he thought he was not wrong. He could not take it any longer. He pointed the gun and fired a shot. Hearing the sound, the police came running. They were all praise for Seetayya in convincing Veeranna to kill himself. Only Seetayya knows that the additional burden he had to carry for killing his friend on top of being not able to convince him.