Guarding from the Guardians

Subhash Mathur

Subhash Mathur was born and brought up in small towns in Rajasthan. During his school and college education at Jaipur, he was keenly involved in sports, journalism and public speaking. His civil services career has given him a platform for spreading his ideas about modernising tax administration to benefit the commmon man. Post retirement he is devoting his energies, along with his wife Tilak, to public and humane causes.

King Pasha! That was the name of the strongman operating in and around Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, and parts of Rajasthan. Largely a shadowy figure - rarely seen - but his footprints were in evidence in most big crimes. His exploits were folklore. Smuggling, cross border trafficking and prostitution were his forte. He was also Robinhood-esque in his approach.

This is the late 70s when I was working with DRI. 15th and 16th floor of Atmaram House on Barakhamba Road was where DZU (Delhi Zonal Unit) and OSD (Nepal) were located.

And I was some sort of a Nepal expert! (In those DRI was full of experts: gold /diamond / Pakistan/ Nepal and so on. Some were singleton experts say, on Hazi Mastan or Wallahbhi brothers etc.)

Both the wings of DRI were overstaffed and underutilized till a dynamic DD (DZU) entered the scene. Things began to change rapidly.

Let's call him Happy Go Lucky Strike. Luck was usually on his side. Like a magnet! No less! No wonder he was popularly called Lucky Strike (not as in cigarettes).

Very quickly Lucky Strike sensed that I was underworked and he could utilise my services once in a while for DZU. When Lucky Strike requested Nepal OSD for my services from time to time OSD readily obliged. (After all Nepal was a small country and Myanmar, an insignificant country - my beat).

And Lucky Strike was after King Pasha! Himself! I admired Lucky Strike’s courage. It was a mission dangerous and tricky at the same time. But Lucky Strike went after his quarry relentlessly. Without a care in the world. He was focused. We often discussed the nuances over tons of cups of tea and मूँगफली during shared lunch hour.

Once in a while Lucky Strike would ask me to accompany him on surveillance missions leaving behind his regular DZU staff, much to the chagrin of their roly poly AD. (Let me clarify: I was no great shakes with leg work or shadowing or surveillance; the nearest I ever got to that was during a week’s stint with IB.

But I think Lucky Strike liked my face!) Yet these outings were a mix of fun and adventure. And fear too. We often went to some very nasty areas just outside Delhi. (Frankly, I was scared shit.)

But with the upcoming Joint Review Committee [JRC] talks with Nepal just a fortnight away, I forgot all about King Pasha. (For the time being.) These talks required a lot of preparations. (These were the lifeline discussions with Nepal to iron out implementation issues of the Indo–Nepal Treaty and sundry protocols – issue were many and often thorny). And no easy resolutions.

JRC over, I went back to my routine Nepal division ways. And King Pasha simply slipped out of my mind.

On New Year's Eve, just as I was getting the food and stuff ready to welcome the New Year 1979, the phone jangled. Casually I sauntered over to answer the phone. (Most of the calls used to be for neighbours, as residential phones were a rarity those days.) But this one was not - for the neighbours.

DD Hqs was at the other end. (Let’s name him Hasmukh Bhai.) Which surprised me, immensely? Because otherwise he was my neighbour next door in Mayapuri flats.

After making some small and polite talk Hasmukh bhai delivered the big news. I was needed at DRI Headquarters. Pronto! DZU had made a big seizure and arrested a Top Gun!

No names! Just come over! Here and now!

I bid goodbye to the dance and dine revelries with friends and relatives. Thumbed an auto from Mayapuri to DRI office. It was a bitterly cold evening and in those days cold meant biting cold.

And in an auto it was quite chilling! I took care to dress up with lots of woollens, but not for what was in store.

I was ready for a long evening in office, taking down statements of a few minions and generally being around. And to enjoy the hospitality. But I didn't know at that point of time that DRI was made of sterner stuff!

When I stepped off the lift, I found the office abuzz. Doors were opening and closing furiously.Agents were running helter skelter. Low tone, hush-hush meetings were going on in the corridors. Red lights were on in most cabins. All kinds of instructions and urgent commands were being literally barked!

Everyone was scurrying about! Trying to look busy! and perhaps important! Too! Surely, there had to be some method in this madness.

I took me a while to check out the real situation. One AD whispered in my ears very very confidentially ‘Sir, King Pasha is in DRI net! With his girlfriend for the evening and a few henchmen!’

Nice work Lucky Strike. Kudos!

No specific work was assigned to me immediately although I had peeped into Hasmukh bhai’s room and helloed him. He gestured me to wait. So I moved from cubicle to cubicle just trying to look important and busy (as others). Thankfully someone offered me a welcome hot cup of tea.

The general gossip was about the Lucky Strike of the Day! Of course! And I tried to look for Lucky Strike. To, congratulate him of course. I triangulated Lucky Strike in JD’s room. Just as I was about to push the handle to step into JD’s room, I was waylaid by an IO Bhakti. ‘Sir, Hasmukh bhai Sir आपको yaad कर rahe heI!’

I turned around, knocked on the door of Hasmukh bhai and entered. Hasmukh bhai was ordering food. For all!!!

Butter Chicken, Paneer do piyaaza, dal makhani, papad aachaar salad and roomali roti! From Moti Mahal! Kashmere Gate se! Wah! सही paaakde hain!

Order placed, Hasmukh bhai turned his attention towards me.

‘U see Subhash, King Pasha is in Malviya Nagar police station lock up. We have some HIGHLY (emphasis mine) credible info that the SHO is in cahoots with King Pasha. We suspect that King Pasha may try to escape from the police lock up! In connivance with Police!’

Holy Mackerel Hallelujah! Is this real! What the world had come to! Incredulous!

I opened my mouth but Hasmukh bhai continued with the flow. ‘Subhash – DG wants you to go the police station post haste and keep a vigil overnight. Please ensure no untoward incident takes place’.

In other words safety of Pasha King for the night was my responsibility in a police lock up!

‘Don't fraternise with SHO. Don't accept hospitality. And don’t doze off. Here’s a couple of Hundreds – for tea and snacks. We are relying on you!’

Wow! How sweet! What faith! Not in Police but in Me! It was bizarre! Before I could get in a word edgewise, Hasmukh bhai hotfooted from the chamber - surely on another urgent mission!

To protect the devil! I did not even remotely look like King Kong or Dara Singh! Man, I was barely 5”5’! And I weighed less than 50 kg! and no SIX PACKs like Sonu Sood! And to defy the SHO and protect King Pasha! I put my head on the table and wondered!

Before I could recover from the shock, IO Bhakti tapped on my shoulder. Gently. ‘Sir छोले bhature Conference room मैं aapka इन्तज़ार कर रहे hain! Aur hot coffee bhi!’

Best laid plans… Jeffery! Up in smoke? What a come down! There goes my mouth-watering butter chicken et al from Moti Mahal.

Fifty two minutes later I was walking into the Malviya Nagar Police Station. It was a new building. Well lit. The place was full of police activity.

I went over and met the SHO Rajendra Kumar who was expecting me, having been alerted. No prizes for guessing? SHO Kumar was DR from 1972 batch. Delhi Police. He was tall with aquiline features. And He also exuded confidence! And I liked him instantly. To hell with the instructions!

But the police station was pretty cold with biting chill sweeping in from the front door. Kumar welcomed me warmly with a hot cup of tea and wished me well in my assignment. To ensure that King Pasha did NOT escape from Kumar’s custody! Wah! Wah!

Yet he also informed me that since 1962 no one has ever escaped from the Malviya Nagar Police station. What a database! Instant! Of course I dismissed his Revelations! Quickly! (After all I had secret info from Hasmukh bhai that SHO was in cahoots!)

I thanked him for the cup of hot and sweet tea and went out in search of King Pasha. I found him in a corner cell stretched out on a bare bunk. Sleeping nonchalantly! My suspicions became stronger. याहा तो daal में कुछ kaala लगाता हैं! Hasmukh bhai? (Look how relaxed he is! Is he planning something?)

The guy was hugely built. Solid mush! Long tresses! Dressed casually with just a thick woollen sweater and washed up jeans! And he was freshly shaven (to impress his girlfriend, I suppose?) And he looked so humble! And so plain! Where is he hiding his brute strength?

I introduced myself and he chatted easily in broken English. ‘आप kaiko टाइम waste karte हो hain सांब! ग़लती हो gaya सांब! Woh saali मंजू ने धोखा दिया saab! हमको usko doobara naahi बुलाना chaahiye thaa! लेकिन saali ke ब्यूटी ने डूबा दीया! गलतीं hui hai hamse! Saab, go and celebrate the New year at home!’

(Sound advice! From a strong man!)

‘Aapne तो kismet ही gaachha खा gaaye aaj. उस londiiya ने dhokha diaa Saab! Saali को doobra बुलाना ही humko भारी paada! Saab! Maghz मारा gaaya tha मेरा! Challo lesson सीखा sir! आप तो रेस्ट karo!’

And turned his back on me! Conversation over! Go to hell!

I took up my strategic position on a stool-type chair and got ready for the vigil. As the night wore on the cold intensified. Chill down the spine! And I thought that I was adequately dressed up for the cold night!

My mind wondered many a times about that sumptuous dinner from Moti Mahal. Did I miss it? You betccha! And cursed the guys enjoying it! Now! Even The Best Laid Plans- Jeffery!

The night passed slowly and in utter agony. Easily the longest in my life! Dozed off a few times but remembered Hasmukh bhai. As soon as the Sun was up I went out and stood where the sun was at its brightest. (In Delhi winters Sun is not very strong even till 11 am.) But I needed the warmth from the sunlight! However weak! Just to get the cold out from the bone marrow.

But I had nevertheless achieved my given task. I DID NOT allow King Pasha to escape under my watch! Bravo! Clap! Clap? SHO not withstanding! Hail Mary! And much else!

Much ado about nothing?

छोले bhature! Again?

My foot!

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