Friday, January 07, 2005

Ramzan - II

A few days later, I'm sent a militant radio intercept from my controlling HQ with a portion highlighted by the Brigadier.

“Kal Khalid mere gaon aaya tha. Pooch tach ki. Aap log fikr na karein. Us kutte ko main jald hi khatam kar doonga.”

This perks me up. Maybe the guy does have a spine. I like his spirit.

The fact that he got irked by my visiting his village means I should go again, and again. Let me rile him up and then maybe he’ll emerge from the woodwork.

A few more visits follow. I make threats all around. I get hold of the entire village and announce to them that Ramzan is a worthless SOB (sorry, this is not being expanded) and that I’m going to behead him personally.

All this to make him react because I’m sure he won’t like being abused, insulted and undermined in his own village.

Slowly, I start pumping in some funds into the village. Kilos love crispies of the 500 variety and I hope to buy myself some ‘sources’.

One morning, as I’m sunning myself outside my hut, Karan turns up with two men. Ones an MM (Muslim Mujahideen, another counter insurgent group like the Ikhwans) chap and the other guy I have no clue about.

I’m shortly clued up about his identity by the MM lad. The man is Salim, he’s from Ramzan’s village and wants to give me information for hard cash. Ah, well !! I have absolutely nothing against a free trade agreement.

The man’s info is that Ramzan visits the village mosque every morning and if I lay an ambush there, I can easily get him. Very nice. Except that the mosque is in the middle of the village and there is no way that an ambush can be laid without getting compromised. I ask the fellow to give me something better. This isn’t good enough. He argues with me. Says that I ought to get into the mosque at night and wait inside. Ramzan gets there early in the mornings and I can easily knock him off. The whole concept is fraught with too much of risk and too many intangibles and in any case, there’s no way I’m going to be firing guns inside a mosque, so I tell him to buzz off unless he wants to talk sense.

Seeing as he’s getting no richer than he was when he arrived, he gets serious.

“Uski ek mashooqa (lover) hai, Saab. J gaon mein rehti hai.”

Village J is close to Ramzan’s village.

He goes on to tell me that Ramzan visits his gal often and it’ll be easy to knock him off there.

“Are the lover’s tryst’s in one house always? Her home or some other?” is my query.

No, is the answer. “Kabhi yahaan, kabhi wahaan.”

Darn these Kilo militants. Why can’t they do up a nice little lover’s lair and get comfortable. Would make life (and death) so much easier.

J again, is a village out in the open. So there are no specific routes for ingress/egress. That cuts out an ambush.

RV with his lover girl at different locations. No fixed schedule. Cuts out a break-in op.

All that I can think of at the present moment is a CASO. And that’s so unpredictable. The night/day the CASO is effected, he may not be in J Village. It may turn out to be a waste of time and manpower and also, will alert him to our intentions.

I should try something else.

I decide to go look up the lady in question and see what I can achieve there.

The next morning finds me with Karan and two Ikhwans in J Village, settled comfortably on the floor in Ms Nazreen’s house. Her parents are around but have no answers. They regret the fact that their daughter has been selected by a militant as his girl friend, but can do nothing about it. They are vehement that he never visits this particular house and therefore, they cannot help me in any manner. A question thrown at them by me asking if they would tell me when and where she leaves home to meet him is answered by silence, though their eyes seem to be saying, “Think we’re fools? Think we don’t value our lives?”

Sigh !!!

The meeting proceeds. Ms Nazreen is on the agenda now. All of 15. A school girl. Unable and unwilling to talk to us about Ramzan, except to admit that he’s seeing her. She’s far too young for me to get into ‘bullying’ mode. I leave her to her fate and we leave.

Something ventured, nothing gained.

I decide to let it ride for a while. Maybe something will crop up with time.

And sure enough, that happens.

Two days down the line, I get a call on my radio from the RR company commander of the area. “ Mike 30 for Khalid. Request meet me at XXX location. One of my patrols has found something.”

“Wilco.” I rush off with Karan.

XXX is located on a track going from Ramzan’s village to the North. It cuts across a thickish grove, through which a nala (rivulet) flows.

What I see horrifies me. Near the nala, a headless corpse nailed to a tree. And at the feet, a head. It’s Salim.

“The patrol found this in the dead man’s pocket, Sir” says the company commander as he hands me a folded piece of paper.

' Khalid, yeh tere mukhbair (informant) ka haal kiya hai. Tera haal is se bhi kharab hoga – Ramzan.'

I feel sad, disgusted, angry.

But the battle lines are drawn.

Over the next few days, all hell breaks loose.

Day One, Salim's family comes to me and cries their hearts out. I feel for them, because I know how it feels to lose someone near and dear, but there really is nothing I can do. I give them some money and ask them to bear the loss with fortitude. Salim is not coming back and they'll have to cope.

Day Two, I get a delegation from Ramzan's village. They tell me that the previous evening he got them all together and threatened to set fire to the entire village in case I was allowed to enter it. I tell them to buzz off since I'm going to visit the village whenever I wish to and woe betide any drama done to stop me. I feel for them, because they're simple folks, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Day Three. Nazreen's parents turn up. Ramzan has kidnapped her. I feel for them, because I'm a parent myself, but what am I to do here? I assure them I'll do my best to get her back and thats that.

Day Four. I'm feeling for myself. Damn ! This Ramzan character has got on my nerves and if I don't do something fast, he'll gain a psychologically upper hand.

I speak to HPS and get a section of RR boys temporarily from him. I task them to carry out relentless patrolling in and around Ramzan's village. Day, night, good weather, inclement weather, whatever. I want the locals to see us and not him. Let them learn who runs this place.

Karan and I start moving around a lot ourselves in the area. The village, the orchards, the fields, along the nalas. Searching for Ramzan, searching for any information on him, searching for any damn thing that will get him to us or us to him.

I keep scanning the HM frequencies, hoping to get a peep out of him.

I go to Nazreen's school and meet her classmates, hoping to get some news of her whereabouts from them.

All adds up to a big zero.

And then, one afternoon a week or so later, as Karan and I are walking back from town to the village I live in, a little girl from within a bunch of school kids, drops a piece of paper as they cross us.

I wait till they're out of sight and then retrieve the paper. Neatly written on it, in english, are the words ' Mr Khalid Sir. Nazreen is in Ramzan's village. He has hidden her there. Please save her. She is my best friend and I want to celebrate Eid with her. Yours faithfully, Tarannum.'

I can't stop the tears that spring to my eyes. I think of the child that wrote this and of Nazreen and am suddenly reminded of my own children.

Eid is two days away and I make a silent vow to get Nazreen back, come what may.

The next morning, I ask HPS to get the village cordoned by a company and once thats in place, Karan and I move in with the RR section. We carry out a thorough search of every house and are done by late afternoon. NTR.

Damn ! I just cannot understand where Ramzan could have hidden Nazreen. If she's here, we should have found her. And I'm not willing to believe that little Tarannum's information is wrong.

But I've searched every house,out house, barn, toilet. Every damn structure. And I've done it myself. What else can I do? I think of my silent vow and feel bad.

Anyways, moping will not get me anywhere. Its getting dark and I might as well head back, leaving the villagers to prepare for their big day on the morrow - Eid ul Fitr.

As we are heading out and cross the village mosque, the local maulvi and I exchange greetings. He invites me for Iftaar (the meal taken at the end of the day to break the fast, during Ramzan) and while I'm in no mood to make PC with him, I accept out of courtesy.

I leave my rifle and magazines outside with Karan and enter the mosque. The maulvi lives just behind it. As we're walking through the prayer hall, the maulvi draws my attention to a little rug in one corner, telling me how pretty it is. I look at it and wonder whats wrong with him. It's just a simple, drab rug. But then I guess it's his mosque and he's entitled to propreitary pride, however warped it be. I nod my head in agreement to humour him and walk on.

We get to his place. Some polite chitter chatter about how militants misuse mosques, thereby defiling them, a simple meal and I'm ready to leave. As I'm headed back through the prayer hall, I look at the rug again, wondering what in the name of God the maulvi finds exciting about it.

Suddenly my two old friends, intuition and perception, are yelling into my head.

I walk across to the rug and pull it away. Under it is a trap door, snug with the wooden floor.

Immediately, all the locals inside the mosque rush out.

I yell out for Karan and he comes charging in.

I yank the trap door open and before I can take a look, Karan has chucked in a flash bang and jumped in. I follow.

It's a cubby hole. Theres a lantern burning and before I can take in anything else, I sense rather than see, someone lunging to a side. It's a guy reaching for a rifle hanging on the wall.

Sadly for him, he doesn't get there. Karan fires and the guy drops, yelling in agony.

In one corner, I spot young Nazreen sitting on a mattress. Tear streaked face, looking shocked, but happy.

We got Ramzan.

The maulvi got his mosque purified.

Most importantly, Tarannum got to spend Eid with Nazreen.


At 10:09 PM, January 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truly engrossing ... Mayaa

At 5:21 AM, January 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Ramzan II (u wanted me to)... rivetting in content and flowing in its narrative... a peep into an episode we normally read in impersonal news headlines or simply as a statistic... what comes across is the cold precision in the narrator's thoughts and planning of his job... unnerving..yet the human emotions percolate with his tears for the two young girls and softens the clinical assignment... bringing home to us civilians, the inherent tragedy of war...and the waste of human life and potential..of the people involved on both sides...wonder what Ramzan's narrative would be if he could write one???

At 10:06 PM, March 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Powerful enuf to drag us along with him. I hung on till d very end...

At 2:20 AM, March 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel no shame in admitting that I was actually starting to cry a little myself...


At 11:59 PM, April 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing :)



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