Hari Nath Rai was relentlessly pursuing his scoop of the century about false prophets and spurious secularists and to expose the proclivities and propensities of phony Jihad declared by power-hungry fanatics with covert support of seekers of minority votes . He was also an assiduous critic of the country’s selfidolizing dictator Mandira Patel.. This often landed him in detention.
Ironically, he was also petrified of pain inflicted to chasten him for
criticizing the malpractices of the extra-constitutional emergency regime for its
tyranny, corruption, opaqueness and flawed administration. But that did
not deter him from pursuing the truth about the mindless carnage culture
of perverted Jihad and soul-stifling brutality of the intoxication of power. It was the age of conspiratorial leadership, self-styled peace-makers secretly hobnobbing with militants inebriated by lust, greed, covetousness and hatred against all those who did not fall in their multifarious traps. The ruthless Muslim and Hindu leaders were brainwashing the masses and playing snakes and leaders, snakes for the people and ladders for themselves.
“From the mixer-grinder of bigotry into the pressure cooker of
political chicanery,” Hari mocked while being grilled about the identity of
the man who tried to assassinate the Pope during his explosive live face-to-face about fanatics of all faiths with the young chief editor of Verdict Today, the newspaper which
prided itself on being free, fair, fearless, forthright and first.
“Who was the assailant?” grunted the chief of Research and Analysis
Wing (RAW), Major Dial Singh, a cloak-and-dagger hireling of the
shredder of human rights, Prime Minister Mandira Patel.
“I didn’t see the hit man,” Hari winced as the interrogator stamped on
his toes with spiked boots; “How could I? I heard the report of a gun and
pushed away the Pope with lightning speed. The bullet hit me instead, if
“Smart guy. Reflex action. Your ribcage! I’ve heard all that, dude.
Who was the assassin? Speak up, bum, before I send you to the assembly
Hari shuddered. He had enough experience of “the assembly line” to
write a treatise on methods of torture routinely practiced by the sadist
sycophants of the lullaby-voiced widow catapulted into the seat of
Absolute Power by self-seeking knaves. Hari enjoyed stepping on the toes
of militants and megalomaniacs. This time, he was at the receiving end
from both presumptous Islamic supremacists and minions of a populist leader who thrived on sloganeering and double-dealing with vote-bank leaders of all creeds..
“Who tried to assassinate the Pope?” repeated the green-eyed bully,
the indefatigable chief of RAW, a close friend of a son of Mrs. Patel, the
puppeteer. Hari was currently checking out on a rumor that a
granddaughter of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was living in his private farmhouse
outside the city.
“Not me, major, I swear,” he laughed; “I was interviewing the Pontiff
when I heard the report of a gun from behind, swirled
around while simultaneously pushing the Pope away on the spur of
the moment, the bullet hitting me in the ribcage.”
“Incredible! And that was that, was it?” Singh grunted, reminding
Hari of the sound of a faulty mixer-grinder.
“Reflex action,” he said truthfully; “I don’t know what happened
after that as I passed out instantly and woke up in hospital.”
“Did you see the hit man?” the cop asked.
“No. The shot was fired from the wings behind me. I suggest that you
watch the TV replay of the interview to make sure,” he said.
“Wise guy!” Singh sniggered; “How much have you been paid?”
“For concealing the culprit’s identity!” the inquisitor boomed.
Hari laughed: “And for shooting myself by mistake?”
“You were there,” Singh said, urging him to “quietly disclose the
identity of the assailant, make the PM happy and forgive you for your
unreasonable opposition to the great woman’s authority. And help me
wrap up the world’s most sensitive case.”
Hari shrugged: “I am not in the business of pleasing conscience-stranglers
and harbingers of doom.”
“You are a bloody defiant snob, Hari. I hate you, buddy. Just make an
admission about your links with Jihad,” he screamed; “I am being real
nice to you, dude. You were talking to the Pope when this happened and
you must have seen the hit man. Who was he? Tell me now before I take
you to my favorite interrogation den and turn you over to the professional
pain-inflictors you would never get accustomed to.”
Hari raised both hands in mockery: “All right. The Dalai Lama was
also around. Why don’t you get him in.”
Highly-strung Mrs. Patel’s thick-skinned sycophant was livid. He had
the reputation of never getting tired of causing agony to tight-lipped naïve
idealists like Hari in her putrefying prisons designed for freedom-loving
activists committed to fair play and the rule of law. Even so, the officer
handed him over to routine third degree specialists who worked on his
toes and lower back. “Take him to the pedicure unit,” thundered the
But they gave up after two days when they were ordered to release
him forthwith because New York-based Global Media Freedom Forum
was “raising hell and threatening to launch a campaign to cut off all
development assistance to India because of the government’s
lackadaisical investigations into the attack on the Pope as well as
outrageous mishandling of issues relating to governance and civil
A full day in hospital and two in detention left Hari extremely
debilitated and exhausted. But he didn’t go home and headed straight for
the place where he often ended up whenever he was feeling low: Ivory
Tower Lane. He made no secret of his personal dislike and professional
abhorrence of “the lady who wanted to be both feared and loved like the
goddess Durga while she was masquerading in Durga’s rampaging homicidal
form”, Hari had written in his column on the day she assumed office in
a coup de grace six months earlier.
Ever since that first pinprick, the politician who practiced politics
without morals was at daggers drawn with the naïve idealist. She had
enrolled many opportunists as her allies, among them his own managing
director Karan M. Iyer, the saccharin-tongued son-in-law of the Parsi
president of the holding company, Jal Wadia. The secretly adversarial MD
described the chief editor as “the workaholic wine-guzzling womanizer!”
But the shrewd Fortune 500 tycoon had full faith in Hari’s ability to turn
obstacles into opportunities. Wadia’s success was largely attributed to
meticulous picking of his teams in his multi-faceted business empire. Hari
was handpicked by him after he had the audacity to criticize Wadia
Airways for its atrocious airline safety standards and poor in-flight
hospitality in an article in The Chronicle, of which he was deputy editor at
Wadia needed somebody like Hari to bring back Verdict Today’s lost
glory with his disarming charm, unflinching dynamism, fear-free result-orientation
and team spirit. The tycoon sized him up thus to snub his son-in-
law: “Unlike your gallivanting ways, son, there is no time for dalliance
for the youngest editor in the country. Hari is playfully flirtatious, and
cathartically flippant; unobtrusively intense, deceptively perceptive, and
persistently intrusive … in other words, the ideal journalist hated by those
who have something to hide.”
Hari had no real interest in women and wealth though he was painted
by gossip columnists as a flamboyant playboy. He loved work. And liquor
was a necessary evil; he was unable to sleep well since childhood for
reasons he was loathe to share with anyone.His detractors dismissed him as a
schizophrenic upstart posing as a result-oriented idealist pampered by the feudal
Zoroastran tycoon and members of his family, including charming Roshan, slippery Karan’s
straight wife, and her brother Rustom.
Right now, Hari was in agony, having been released a short while
earlier, nauseated by the acrid odor of rotting democratic values. He
stepped out of a cab outside a pharmacy in Ivory Tower Heights, a
building which in his view was possibly linked to Jihad, the Muslim holy
war, the century’s biggest scoop he was chasing and often getting into
trouble with both the perpetrators and double-dealing oligarchs who
failed to fulfill their solemn promise of curbing the scourge of fanaticism.
He hobbled into the pharmacy and was greeted by a distinguished-looking
man smoking a hookah-shaped pipe: “You look like a crushed
carrot, Mr. Rai. What can we do for you?” The vibes Hari received inside
the pharmacy made him feel strangely uneasy.
“That’s a new one. How do you know me?” he winced, taking off one
of his shoes; “Please fix my big toe.” The man examined his toes and
summoned a young man, who gave him an injection and dressed the
crushed big toe without saying a word, mechanically, zombie-like. “Do
you know me, sir?” he repeated feeling somewhat uneasy.
“Of course. Who doesn’t after the attack on the Pope? Who shot the
Pope? Did you see the hit man?” the man asked. Hari shrugged as he
thought he felt a tremor anxiety in the man’s deep voice.
“No, I couldn’t see the hit man,” Hari chuckled for no apparent
reason, suddenly feeling light-hearted; “The Dalai Lama had the
opportunity, but not the motive. But the Archbishop of Canterbury had
both! Are you also a religious leader, sir?”
“I am Khalifa Hasham Ali,” he said and gave him some pills. “Sit
down and relax. You will be happy again in five minutes,” he said
condescendingly, sitting down next to Hari, who felt inexplicably
repulsed by the man’s proximity. “I am chairman of Ivory Tower
Hari was examining the bandage on his toe, mutilated by the
innovative interrogators forcing him to divulge the identity of the person
who had taken a pot shot at the Pontiff as well as the names of his sources
quoted in his column, Below the Belt, predicting indiscriminate attacks on
Hindu temples and Christian churches in the near future.
Hari straightened and looked closely at Ali. Very fair, pointed nose,
sparse rust-color hair, the pipe. Opaque eyes. Handsome in a rugged sort
of way. Around forty. Deep persuasive voice and acne-hardened cheeks.
There was something indefinably revolting about him, like his sneer
showing that he was drawing pleasure out of Hari’s pain.
Hari closed his eyes again, listening to the throbbing pain ebb out
through the tips of his toes. The happy pills did their job in less than three
Presently, he felt a furtive movement near him and heard a whisper: “The
device is placed inside the church, sir.” He opened his eyes and saw a lad
rush out of the pharmacy.
Hari thanked Ali, got up and limped cautiously towards the exit,
crashing head-on into David John Crawford, Reuters South Asia bureau
chief. They embraced, like long lost friends, throwing choicest Punjabi
swear words at each other. David deliberately addressed him as Harry
with emphasis because he hated any attempt to defile the pristine sanctity
of his Hindu name with a western affliction.
“The name is not Harry,” he retorted, irritated by David’s mock
attempt; “Hari, as in hurry! How’s your obscenely sexy mulatto wife?”
David laughed: “ But she’s not a Negro-Caucasianmix, but half-Hindu-Muslim.
She has left me, so I’m celebrating. Come to
my bottle party this evening. Where have you been?”
“In the cooler! Those guys sure are inventive agony-dispensers.”
“What was it this time?”
“They pickled my toes.”
“For shooting the Pope!”
“Can you pull a trigger?” David laughed; “Who was the hit man?”
“The Archbishop of Canterbury!”
“Seriously, why were you picked up this time? Was it your Below the
Belt about Jihad, Sharia and rule of law?”
“Partly. They pulled the nail out of the dermis with a white-hot
wrench and punctured my spine with a blunt spike.”
“So you are truly spineless now,” David laughed; “Why don’t you go
home, dude. You look terrible? Did you see the assassin?”
“My God, no! I need to go to a decent washroom in this city which has
no cleanliness culture. And I need a drink! There’s a swanky place on the
top floor, Seventh Heaven. Excellent restrooms, the best, probably
replicas of those in paradise.”
“Don’t worry, thanks to my bourgeoisie expense account,” Hari
grinned: “I have a gut feeling that this building is the current hub of
Islamic Jihad. Something diabolical is being planned somewhere inside
this elephant-shaped polyhedron. Perhaps the biggest story of the
century!” he said.
David said: “Tell me more about it.”
“We are up against two horrendous evils, Islamic Jihad on the one
hand and a spurious secularist’s tyranny on the other. We take on both
simultaneously!” Hari said with such intensity that David was taken