‘The Director will be here any moment,’ someone standing behind him promised a weary colleague.
‘I still can’t believe we pulled it off.’ Purohit did not have to turn around to see who the speaker was. Among the dozen odd members of the back-up team, Ashok must have contributed the least to the entire operation and yet he was speaking! The person standing directly behind him exuded the heavy smell of sweat and at times the odour overpowered the fragrance of the air freshener.
‘I can’t believe you didn’t want to be around when the bastards were arrested.’
If you can’t believe it, then don’t, you fucking bastard. As Purohit remained silent, his admirer continued, ‘you had seen so much of them, you must have seen them at their worst. Didn’t you?’
‘Well yes,’ Purohit was forced to concede. Once again, an arm was thrown around his shoulder. He realised that a number of people were staring at him and he was forced to smile and make some conversation.
‘We were lucky,’ he said lamely.
Three newspapers were spread out on the table, plates of sweets circulating among them. ‘ROBBERY GANG BUSTED. TEN GANG MEMBERS ARRESTED.’
‘You stuck with it,’ his boss spoke again, his voice full of pride. ‘Fourteen months embedded inside such a ruthless gang and you held your nerve. If they had found you out, you’d have been dead meat.’
Next time, you do it yourself, Purohit silently told his boss. Silence was golden. People wouldn’t get offended with silence. At least not as much as they would if he were to express his thoughts.
The door opened once again and everyone held their breaths. No, it was not the Director. However, the bearer was welcome as he carried a tray with paper cups with coffee and tea. People parted way so that they could be served.
Most of the men were in their mid-thirties, just like Purohit. There were a few in their late twenties and a handful who were in their forties. ‘What sort of bastards were they? Really, really nasty and vicious or just hoodlums?’ a man in his late twenties asked him across the table. When Purohit remained silent, he repeated his question.
‘They were vicious,’ Purohit responded gruffly. But each of them had another side to them, he was about to add. No, it wouldn’t do. He would never be able to explain that to anyone else.
‘I saw the video of their last plan. Where they planned to break into that Noida farmhouse, not knowing that they were about to be nabbed.’ Sharmila giggled into his ears. Earlier he would have been delighted to receive such attention from Sharmila, but now, he couldn’t think of an appropriate reaction. Also, Sharmila seemed to have aged, her jowls disgustingly fleshy.
The door opened again and this time it was the Director, his tie slightly askew as usual. Those who were sitting, including Purohit, stood up. He was popular, the Director was, and he did not waste much time. Occupying the chair kept aside for him at the head of the conference table, he said, ‘I wish we could do more to honour our heroes, but we can’t. We knew that when we signed up and we might as well accept it. A man who spends over one year undercover deserves something more than a pat on the back and a medal.’ He then turned to Purohit and said, ‘we’ll need you to give evidence at the trial. Can you do that? It'll be in-camera and quick,’ the Director added.
‘Yes sir.’ Purohit had to clear his throat before he could speak.
‘Make sure he gets some R&R,’ the Director told Purohit’s boss. ‘Anyway, you’d be relieved to know that only nine of your former friends will be on trial.’
Bile rose up from inside Purohit’s stomach ‘Which one is not’
‘Pratap. What was his nick-name? Chappan? He was the least co-operative of the lot and our boys got carried away. He committed suicide using his bedsheet.’
Everyone laughed. ‘It’s amazing, the quality of bedsheets in our jails and police-stations.’
‘Was Chappan the most vicious of the lot?’
‘I don’t know. He had a terrific sense of humor. I always laughed at his jokes.’ Purohit looked very earnest and the Director suddenly looked puzzled.
‘Anyway, you’ve earned this medal.’ He got up and started to walk towards Purohit, but Purohit was halfway out of the room by then.