The Noble Deed of Inspector Rao
Dr Ratan Lal Basu
A Short Stoty
The Police Inspector Sudhakar Rao looked down the deep gorge with bewildered eyes. The rivulet, locally called Drejon-chu, was flowing about 200 feet below, dancing down the boulders and pebbles and the musical resonance could be heard from the stiff bank at the foothill. A patch of sooty cloud was gliding down the undulating crest of the hill to the other side of the river and a chilly breeze from the heights made Rao tighten his jacket. He looked up at his guide Thupden Lepcha. Thupden smiled amiably and said assuredly, This is a simple job sir. Always have tight grip on the ropes and never look down while crossing.
The narrow causeway had abruptly widened into a rectangular space that sloped gently down to the mouth of the timber-bridge at the ledge edging the bank of the river. Two long sal logs were laid side by side and fitted close, the ends riveted tightly into the slits cut on the ledges on both the banks. Two thick ropes of mesta, fastened on poles at both the banks, ran alongside the two logs at a height of five feet. He would have to cross the bridge by catching hold of the ropes. Any slip is sure death. His heart sank as he pondered over the adventure he had to undertake right at the moment. The sun had now glided down behind the hills at the west and light was fading fast.
Sir, dont waste time, we are already late. Its about a mile from the other side of the river and because of stiff rise at the first phase, it would take time to reach the village and we would be in trouble if its dark before we reach there. Hurry up sir. Okay, Im showing you how easy it is to cross the bridge.
Thupden scurried along the bridge like a squirrel and returned in a matter of seconds.
Rao was now absorbed in thought. All these risks and troubles would be an exercise in futility if the information is wrong, he thought. But Tribhuban is a very reliable informer and he would never commit anything unless he has unquestionable evidence. But this deadly tree-bridge is to be crossed anyway. He followed the guide along the bridge with palpitating heart and tried to keep his mind distracted through prayers to Lord Tirupati.
After the informer at Hyderabad had reported about the presence of the two boys at North Bengal hills, Rao consulted the seniors who advised him to immediately rush to Kolkata and make further enquiries after consulting Calcutta Police and visit North Bengal if necessary. Upon arriving at Kolkata from Hyderabad, Rao was at a loss how to accomplish his assignment. After groping in the dark for a few days, Rao got dismayed and was thinking that he should better give up but the lure for the promotion prevented him from giving up. He started rethinking how to proceed in a different way. Then by good luck he came upon his friend, Inspector Datta of Calcutta Police. He was acquainted to him at a training camp and thereafter they exchanged mails for a long time. Datta was delighted to meet him after a long time and took Rao right to his house. Rao told Datta about his predicament and sought his help. He also told Datta that they had unconfirmed information that the boys were likely to be hiding somewhere in North Bengal hills. Datta assured Rao that he would be able to assist him in the matter as he was once posted at Darjeeling and he had still good connections there. Datta contacted a Nepali informer who was trustworthy and very efficient. Within a week good news came for Rao. The informer reported that two Bengali youths resembling Raos description were hiding at a Lepcha village of Darjeeling district adjacent to Sikkim.
Police authorities at Kolkata informed the Superintendent of Police of Darjeeling District about Inspector Raos urgent visit and requested him to make arrangements for receiving him and arranging for his stay at Darjeeling. Rao immediately booked an air ticket from VIP quota for Bagdogra Airport and from the airport a police car took him direct to the office of the district police superintendent at Darjeeling. He consulted the S. P. and a few of his reliable subordinates about the pros and cons of the matter and an immaculate plan was chalked out so that he could visit the village under the guise of a researcher interested in economics of Lepcha villages. The entire village was under the jurisdiction of the S. P., Darjeeling and therefore there was no need to consult the Sikkim police. The S.P., however, decided to alert the authorities in Sikkim apprehending that the culprits may try to escape to Sikkim.
Rao found time enough to have a sightseeing of the beautiful hill resort. On the third day of his arrival at Darjeeling he called on a travel agents office at Chawk bazaar, described himself as a tourist and professor conducting research on hill people and asked if they could arrange for a trip to the remote village with a reliable guide. They showed the chart of charges for the trip and Rao booked the package tour with a guide immediately. A land rover carried them up to the end of the motorable road and thereafter they had to climb the rise along a narrow causeway. It was mostly an uphill journey and Rao had to take rest every now and then causing inordinate delay to reach the approach of the timber-bridge.
Are all these troubles worth taking? Doubt lingered in the mind of Rao. But a great reward waits if he succeeds. If he could apprehend the absconding boys the long cherished promotion to the post of DSP is just a matter of weeks. It was his good luck that the authorities had entrusted the job to him.
The breath taking venture along the narrow log-bridge seemed never to end and even in this cold weather, beads of sweat dripped down Raos cheeks and he felt clammy inside his garments. The tedious journey ended at last and Rao heaved a sigh of relief and sat right down on the stony ledge, exhausted out of fear and more so of tension. The guide handed out a few small tablets from the pocket of his threadbare coat, flicked some into his mouth and handed a few to Rao. Take them sir, and your nerves would be in order in no time.
Watching Raos hesitant gaze, the guide smiled candidly, No drug sir, made from harmless herbs.
Rao reached for the tabs and dropped them on his tongue imitating the guide. The salty tabs melted on his tongue instantly and his heart stopped pounding in a matter of seconds. He felt courage and energy reviving within him. Soon they resumed their journey. The first part was stiff rise and really troublesome for Rao, but he endured the ordeal dreaming over the promotion. He had to take several breaks for rest until they reached the crest and started the downhill journey. As they turned corner keeping the stiff hill to the right, a new vista opened up before the eyes of Rao and he was enchanted by the picturesque valley dotted with scattered huts and clusters of pines.
It was yet to be five but the shadow of the hills started spreading a dark blanket across the valley. Downhill journey now was much easy but he had to climb down with caution as the guide alerted him, There are pebbles and pine needles and you should be careful sir not to step on them.
It was dark when they reached the village and dots of light were flickering from the scattered dwellings of the Lepchas. The guide, a resident of a nearby village, had already informed Yalmo Lepcha, a well to do businessman of the village, that a researcher from Hyderabad would visit the village to collect information for the benefit of the villagers. Yalmo, a robust and short man around forty five with a large round face, small eyes and a curved goatee on the chin, cordially received Rao and took him right to the dwelling where Rao was to stay during his sojourn at the village. The dwelling was at the upper floor of the two-storey house of Yalmo and meant for the occasional tourists or trekkers. Dinner was served with thupka which hungry Rao gulped fast ignoring the fishy smell and the peach wine, served thereafter was unquestionably excellent. He was also offered local liquor in a bamboo cask but it tasted very strong and he gave up after a few seeps. He fell fast asleep as soon as he got under the heavy blanket.
Next day, his sleep broke as sunshine greeted him through the glass of the window and looking out he could not move his eyes from the fantastic view that was unfolding. He looked at the watch and leapt out of bed as it was about ten thirty. Oh, Ive slept for such a long time he said to himself. He hastened to open the door and found Thupden and Yalmo standing near the sill and smiling affably.
I was going to nock at the door right now sir the guide said politely.
You could have done it earlier; it has already been late, Rao said with worry.
Like to have your breakfast now sir? the Yalmo asked.
Oh sure, Im awfully hungry, but Im to finish my toilet job first. Okay Im getting ready in a few minutes.
If you like to bathe I may get you warm water in a no time.
No need right now. Ill tell you if I need it tomorrow. In this cold weather I may as well go without baths for days.
The dwelling was a beautiful two storey wooden house. The ground floor was occupied by the Yalmo and his family consisting of his wife and two adolescent sons. There was also a shop attached to the house and it was the only shop in the village that used to sell all sorts of commodities that had to be brought from outside the village. Once a week, his men used to travel to the nearest market carrying over yaks, vegetables and other saleable articles produced in the village and return with necessary wares not produced in the village.
The breakfast was bread and butter along with locally made alubakhra jelly and the sweetish peach wine again. Thereafter the guide led him through the village and showed him various places of interest in the village. The village, surrounded by hills on all sides, looked like a cauldron. The hills were thickly covered with green pines and cryptomarius. A small river originating from a dancing spring at the northern end of the village was flowing gingerly across the entire length of the village into the pine forest sloping down through the crevice between two adjacent hills. The water of the river was silver and glittering in sun rays. It was the source of water for the villagers for all purposes drinking, washing, bathing and irrigation. Fields were also irrigated by narrow channels dug from small perennial springs that were gliding down from the natural reservoirs at the heights.
There were around fifty Buddhist Lepcha families in the village, all peasants and they grew all sorts of vegetables cabbages, cauliflowers, beans, beets, gourds, cucumbers, peas, radishes, red potatoes, carrots etc. The lush green of the vegetable fields, adorning the lower slopes of the hills and the spaces between the huts, were enchanting. Produces of the fields over and above family needs were sold to city markets, and with this income, necessaries from the towns were bought. Most of the dwellers were poor and had no savings. Yalmo was the richest man in the village and a trader through whom all excess produces of the poor villagers were sold in the town markets and the necessaries bought from there. The other tiny villages around were connected with each other by narrow hilly paths cut at places by streams which had to be crossed along tree or rope bridges. Occasionally a few intrepid trekkers visit this village for trekking the steep hills around. Ordinary tourists rarely come here because of the difficult journey. All the villagers are Buddhists and they offer prayers to a monastery situated at another village beyond the hill to the south.
Rao was astonished to come upon some young boys speaking good English in this remote village from where the nearest convent school was at least eight hours journey. He was also amazed to learn that everyone of the village knew the three Rs, i.e. cent percent of the villagers were literate according to Indian definition of literacy. As an explanation of this unexpected fact, the guide said that only two years ago all the villagers, except two adventurous and intrepid girls, were illiterate. The girls had left the village in childhood and managed to get admitted to a convent at Kurseong and got into the favor of an old catholic Bishop. They adopted Christianity but the liberal villagers accepted them after they had returned with two Bengali boys and established a school and devoted themselves to the noble mission of making everyone in the village literate. These four teachers had done miracle for the village within a short span of time and their school was treated by the villagers as a sacred place. The girls had married the boys and everyone in the village had attended their wedding. The monastery helped the marriage between Hindus and Christians as they did not change their religions and therefore neither any Christian Church nor any Hindu priest agreed to perform the rituals for the marriage.
Rao could hardly pay any heed to the lengthy account of the guide about the pious school. His mind hovered around the boys; they must be those culprits and now his promotion is just a matter of time, he thought gleefully, but he was a bit disappointed to learn that the boys had gone out to meet relatives in North Bengal and would return after a week. Then it dawned upon him that this had been a boon to him. It occurred to Rao that if the boys had been in the village he could not arrest them right away and being alerted the boys could have escaped to some other place before he could be prepared to arrest them. I need considerable preparation before I proceed to arrest them Rao said to himself. The border with Sikkim is to be sealed first; then considerable police in plain dress are to be sneaked in. The boys are popular in the village and there would be strong resistance from the villagers. Forces are to be properly mobilized to overcome these obstacles and assistance of Darjeeling Police would be needed for the entire operation. . He would have to return immediately to Darjeeling under some ruse and chalk out a full proof plan and seek assistance of the S. P. But first he was to be sure they were the culprits he was looking for.
He asked the guide if the latter could make him meet the girls and the guide took him right away to the school. The girls, Chuning and Doma were in the class but as soon as they learnt about the arrival of an important guest, they gave the students some tasks and came promptly over to greet Rao with sweet smiles. Rao praised ebulliently the girls for their dedication to the noble mission and queried at length about all matters pertaining to the school emphasizing the financial position of the school and the girls admitted that the desired progress of the school had been stalled because of financial stringency and it would be a boon for them if he could arrange for some financial assistance from government and NGOs. Rao assured them that he would do his best. In fact his mind was not in these talks and he was thinking how to ask about the boys without raising any suspicion in the minds of the girls and then the opportunity dropped from heaven. The girls showed him an album containing photos of school festivals and there they were. Heart of Rao fluttered in excitement. Rao asked casually why two Bengali boys had come to a remote village to impart education and then himself answered his query by commenting that they must be philanthropists with lofty ideals. The girls appreciated him for his correct assessment of the boys and thereafter, in course of conversation, disclosed how they had happened to meet the boys at Kurseong, of their mutual love and the willingness of the boys to be permanent residents of the village and assist them in their mission to eradicate the curse of illiteracy from the village. They emphasized with pride that the noble mission had been successful within a short span of time only because of the deep devotion of the villagers, but further achievement is well neigh impossible without financial assistance from outside. The Church at Kurseong was ready to help but string of religious conversion was attached with their assurance of assistance.
Rao assured the girls once again that he would talk with the authorities about the school and the financial help it badly needs and left the school jubilantly. The long cherished promotion is now just a matter of time, he thought with delight. But the arrest of the boys from this village would not be an easy task and his heart sank to take stock of the hazards to be encountered to arrest, from an isolated hilly village, the boys who are not only popular among the villagers but also husbands of two local girls. Should I give up after coming so close? Rao thought to himself and tried hard to shake off the worries from his mind. With perfect planning and mobilization of adequate forces he must be successful in the all important mission. Im to go to Darjeeling right away. Rao pondered over the excuse he is to resort to for his leaving abruptly. Then a good idea struck his mind.
Returning to his dwelling in the evening Rao started rummaging his luggage pretending to be worried in the presence of both the Thupden and Yalmo. While asked he told with mock anxiety that he had left an important data book at Darjeeling and he would have to go back to the hotel at Darjeeling the next day and return as early as possible. Next day leaving his belongings in his room he again went through the tedious journey back to Darjeeling and because of his ebullience the crossing of the timber-bridge was no problem now. It was afternoon when Rao reached the office of the S. P. who was busy conducting a meeting. So, Rao had to wait on a bench outside the meeting room and he got absorbed in thought.
He thought of the preparations to be made for the great job and then his long cherished promotion would be there. After meeting the S.P. he should immediately call Inspector Datta who would sure help him with his connections here. His mind drifted to the privileges of the high position he would soon be in and who knows if luck is with him he could one day be nominated to the IPS category. His dream was interrupted as the peon of the S. P. informed him that the meeting was over and the S. P. was now waiting for Rao in his personal chamber.
Rao pushed open the swing door of the S. P.s chamber and asked humbly, May I come in sir?
Yes, the S. P. replied jovially. Any good news?
No sir, Rao said dejectedly. Two boys are there no doubt, but they are not the murderers. I was very much hopeful about the promotion but now all my hopes are shattered sir.
In course of his journey back to Siliguri Rao was overwhelmingly puzzled at his own mystic behavior but felt happy for his first noble deed in life.
Ratan Lal Basu, Ph.D. (Economics) is an ex-Reader in Economics and Teacher-in-Charge, Bhairab Ganguly College, Kolkata, India. Dr. Basu has written & edited several books on Economics.
Apart from his passion for the field of Economics, Dr. Basu's other interests are Boxing & Small Game Hunting (gave up the nasty games during college life); Swimming in Turbulent Rivers (physically impossible now); Himalayan Treks, Adventure in Dense Forests, Singing Tagore Songs and also writing travelogues and fiction in Bengali and English.
Dr. Ratan Lal Basu can be reached at rlbasu [at] rediffmail.com.
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