Saturday Story 26: Tere mere beach mein
He sat in a seaside cafe, with a splendid view of turquoise blue waters. Bikini-clad Russian girls were tanning themselves next to the swimming pool. Pot-bellied gentlemen enjoyed these wonders of nature, augmented by silicone, as they sipped on tall margaritas.
But Suresh Sawant turned his face the other way. He gazed on the beach, where adults rested under striped umbrellas while children frolicked. While one determined young fellow built and rebuilt a shaky sand castle.
Suresh Sawant sighed. The last few weeks he too has been chasing castles in the air. Except his castles were not made of sand, they were built on rumours.
Ever since the Government of India had announced a prize of $1 million to anyone who could pinpoint the whereabouts of Kanjibhai Savjibhai Morarka, Inspector Sawant’s life had been turned upside down.
The Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP – South Mumbai) had instituted a special task force with the ‘best of the best’. Meaning, officers who used more brain than brawn.
Suresh Sawant had been handpicked by DCP sir himself. Everyone knew exactly why. He was a protege of Inspector Madhukar Zende, who had famously apprehended the serial killer Charles Sobhraj at O Coqeueiro restaurant in Goa, in 1986.
Of course, at the time, Inspector Sawant was a schoolboy in long shorts. By the time he joined the force, Inspector Zende was a legend. But the dour fifty something took a liking to the new recruit and took him under his wing.
“Kutriya bhonkte, detective zopte, “ was his favourite catchphrase.
No matter how smart a criminal is, ultimately he is a human being. He cannot hide in a cave. He will make social connections. He will leave clues. But to recognise them, you must know who he is, how he thinks.
Behind every sensational arrest is a lifetime of legwork.
“You see,”’ Inspector Zende used to say. “Lord Krishna was invincible in the battlefield. But he too had one weakness.”
Jara’s arrow found that weak spot.
“Find the weak spot and you will find our criminal.”.
Well, it was easier said than done. Weeks before the 50,000 crore rupee scam broke, Morarka bhai had disappeared into thin air. He left behind an elderly mother, no wife, no children, no siblings.
It was said that as a young man, Morarka bhai had fallen in love with a girl from a higher caste. When her father got wind of it, he quickly married off his daughter to a rich businessman in Napean Sea Road, Mumbai.
“Maaro laadlo na dil tooti gaayo, “ whispered Ba, when Suresh Sawant went to meet here. For 6 months, he sat in silence next to the village temple. His hair grew long and matter, eyes bloodshot but clear. People left food for him every morning and evening, which remained untouched.
“How can he survive?” they wondered. Were they witnessing the birth of a saint?
No one had noticed a wisp of a woman scurrying to the temple in the dead of night…. all her love, her sorrow and concern rolled into a few grams of carefully cooked dough.
Just when the lovelorn Kanji was in danger of being anointed with divinity, he got up and went straight to the barber shop. A day later, he was just another young man in terrycot shirt and polyester pants. He touched his mother’s feet and took her blessings.
“Ba, I will return only when I am a rich man!”
And he kept that promise. No one knows exactly how he made his fortune. Some say through mining in Africa, others say it was export of rice to Russia. How did it really matter?
When Kanjibhai made a triumphant entry into Ghaaswada village in a Mercedes Benz C class the residents lined the streets, to clap and cheer. Every home was lit up with a new colour TV, every child had new toys and new clothes.
A public meeting was held to felicitate the son of the soil. Sitting in the front row with a slightly regretful expression was the man who had snatched from Kanjibhai his beloved. Who must be a grandmother by now… for sure, the wife of a rich man. But not the richest man in Saurashtra.
In years to come, Kanjibhai set up a slew of business ventures in India. Textiles, diamonds, cement and construction. At the same time he set up an NGO to aid and assist young couples who went ahead with inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, despite opposition.
“If your family won’t support you, I will,” he often declared. And it was not an empty promise. A place to live, a job, interest free loans – all were provided, on a case to case basis. Kanjibhai was hailed as a new age social reformer, who was also a successful capitalist. He was photographed with the Prime Minister, the President, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. and Malala Yousufzai.
No one quite noticed when he started cooking the books, over a slow fire of deception and creative invoicing. Banks continued to give low interest loans against non-existent assets. Until one fine day it all blew up on the front page of Times of India and Arnab Goswami’s angry prime time face.
To be sure, Kanjibhai was not the only one in garam paani. But he was the smartest of the lot. Unlike Vijay Mallya who put his faith in the English courts or Nirav Modi who was spotted in London hiding behind only a moustache. No sir, that was plain stupid. Kanjibhai was a master of disguise.
So while Modi and Mallya were cooling their heels in custody, Kanjibhai was untraceable. He could be hiding in the jungles of Africa, or in war-ravaged Afghanistan. He would have changed appearance, changed passports, but surely something must be unchangeable?
“My son is no criminal… he was only trying to help people… !” wailed Ba, before she collected herself and laid out a simple lunch for the inspector.
“My Kanji… he loved eating my rotla and shaak,” she sniffed. Indeed, the lunch was enjoyable but the visit yielded no new information.
Such is the drab reality of detective work.
And now, 6 weeks later, he was in Barbados, on what was perhaps the most reliable tip-off so far. honeymoon couple Hetal and Shwetal got a cheap honeymoon package on Takemytrip reported seeing a man who claimed to be Mexican but took special interest in their theplas. (Which they carry without fail, on every abroad trip).
“Ay caramba… just like our tortilla!” he exclaimed and Hetal offered him one, he was pleased as punch.
“This is how we eat it… with sweet mango pickle,” she instructed, speaking slowly, as she always did when explaining things to these dumb foreigners. Why, once when they had an American visitor from the head office and they took him out for thali, he almost gulped down the hot water and lemon offered at the end of the meal…. Thinking it was some kind of tea!
But this man was… different. He expertly broke the thepla with his fingers (‘the way we do nay!’), scooped up the pickle and wolfed it down. But what made Hetal suspicious was when the man licked his fingers and (she swears she heard him) whisper under his breath, “Chhundo!!”
“Tell me, which Mexican knows the Gujarati name for sweet mango pickle… and would he be able to pronounce Chch in chchundo??”
Shwetal shook his head… he’d been staring at some cute chick on the next table and completely missed the tell-tale moment. The least he could do now was nod in agreement!
“Sir.. my wife is right… she is always right.”
Sifting through hundreds of such tip-offs – on phone, on email and Whatsapp – was no easy task. Someone claimed to have Kanjibhai in Disneyland, dressed as Mickey Mouse. Another said he was now a tantrik at a shamshaan ghaat. The only way to identify a few credible leads was the Madhukar Zende method.
“Dokyacha bijli chalale tar lead follow kara,” he used to say. When an antenna in your head goes ‘ping’ pay attention to it
That was actually how Inspector Zende actually nabbed Charles Sobhraj… who has ceased to look anything like Charles Sobhraj.
“When you meet your man… you will just know!”
So it was on the strength of a feeling and Star Alliance miles, kindly donated to the task force by the Air India MD, that brought Inspector Sawant to Barbados. 3 days later, no sign of the Mexican gentleman. All Mexicans in hotels had been checked and cleared. No Mexican had left on any scheduled flights.
“He could be travelling on any passport,” reminded the DGP. But Sawant somehow knew.. apna aadmi yahin hai. All he had to do was lay the right trap. Late that evening, aided by a bottle of Jamaican Rum, the solution came to him.
“Sir, I need some assistance, “ he said on the telephone
“Tell me what – more money? Or helicopters? Or commandos?” asked the DGP.
When he heard Sawant’s request he was a bit confused. And then a slow smile spread on his face
He walked into the trap 4 days later.
“Hello, Kanjibhai,” said Inspector Sawant.
A man in a floral shirt and Mexican hat looked up without an iota of surprise.
“Allow me to finish my rotla and shaak,” he said calmly.
After all, how often did a genuine Gujarati maharaj come to the Sun Ville hotel in Barbados for the Food Festival of India?
“Of course,” added Kanjibhai, “Nothing compared to the rotlas made by my Ba.”
Don’t miss the audio track – Inside the Author’s Mind: Why I wrote Tere Mere Beach Mein.