Shiv Kunal Verma’s latest offering – INDUSTANI – reads like a work of fiction gone off the rails till one realises that this is the actual life story of a man empowered by jet propulsion. Using a not so familiar format for biographies, Verma has kept the attention of the reader from end to end including some events I personally relate to. It is now an established fact that he is a true storyteller who says it like it is. His two earlier books on the wars fought by India are a testimony to that. An interesting addition to the genre of autobiographies.
Former Chief of Bureau
The Garhwal Post serializes the fifth of the six extracts from the book INDUSTANI as a prelude to the books release later today at the Valley of Words Literature Festival.
By SHIV KUNAL VERMA
Night Without End
It was three in the morning on a pitch-black night on the eve of the New Year, the temperature was further plummeting, and the sides of the road had over ten feet of snow. Wearing a straw-coloured phiran over my jacket I had the Canon video camera with four spare batteries, a small tripod, half-a-dozen tapes and a slightly damaged 10-year-old identity card that said I was from the AP. Making me even more uncomfortable was a 9 mm Beretta tucked away in the waistband of my trousers, with two fully loaded magazines. The pistol was a last-minute addition to my gear, handed to me by Colonel Ravi Jamwal after I had got out of his Jonga at Milestone 7. ‘It’s a captured weapon,’ he had said, ‘throw it away if you don’t need it.’ Before I could protest, he had driven away.
It was so cold there was no ambient sound, no crickets, no cicadas, not even a whisper of a sound. An hour seemed to be a lifetime and then out of nowhere someone had grabbed both my arms and a sack was put over my head. A voice told me to start walking, and with two men holding me from either side I was frogmarched roughly along. First, I tried to count… twenty-five steps to the right… fifteen to the left but it was useless, so I gave up within the first minute itself. We must have been walking like that for half an hour, though I suspected we were still pretty close to where I had originally been picked up. We went up a stairway, and finally the sack was yanked off my head and my arms freed.
The room was carpeted with mattresses, and it had about a dozen men, all wearing the trademark phirans looking at me. Each man had an AK-47, those who had come in with me were holding theirs, while those who were sitting there from before had their weapons by their side. A mild-mannered man with a bald head, whose voice I recognized as the one that told me to start walking, introduced himself as the ‘Peer’ and for the next four days he was rarely more than two feet away from me.
A young girl, her head covered in a floral hijab, handed me a cup of tea that I gratefully accepted. Then the ‘Peer’ started to introduce the others, starting with one man who had a pock-marked face and obviously was their kingpin. Meet Lieutenant General so-and-so… (I didn’t catch his name, but I think he said Saibuddin or something like that… ‘Yeh yeha ke army commander hain… inhone army ka teen head shot kiya hai… aur baiaasi aurto ka balatkar kiya hai’ (He is the local army commander, and he has shot in the head three army personnel and raped eighty-two women). I couldn’t believe my ears! I stopped the ‘Peer’ and asked, ‘Can I film the introduction?’ Amazingly he said yes, so I put the camera on the tripod and started rolling… the introduction was repeated while pock-marked grinned hideously.
As I bent down to look through the viewfinder the pistol popped out of my waistband and fell with a ‘thunk’ on the thick rugs. My heart was in my mouth, and I was grateful I was wearing a phiran, for I sank down and groped around for the weapon like a pregnant duck. I was feeling quite pleased with myself for having recovered the situation without anyone having noticed.
I had to conserve battery, so I was filming selectively. I was asked to sit and make myself comfortable and drink my tea. Then the ‘Peer’ said in his soft voice, ‘Kunal saab, aap woh pistaul ko side mein rakh do. Chub rahi hogi’ (Why don’t you put the pistol away? It must be poking you). All the men in the room, obviously in on the joke, burst out laughing. It would transpire later that they had been observing me the whole time with a night vision device. They were better equipped than most infantry units, even their communication systems were superior.