It was getting to be evening.  The villagers were bringing back the cattle and goats they had taken for grazing. The entire village was abuzz with the sounds made by goats, cattle and hens, and the cries of infants.  Comrades Bhagat and Rakesh of the dalam managed to come to the village after many days as they were busy with other work.  Bhagat was the area’s LGS (Local Guerrilla Squad) commander.  Once they knew Annas1 had come, everyone in the village tried to finish their work quickly and go meet them. Some of the villagers decided to finish their work later and they rushed to meet Bhagat and Rakesh.

Men, women, children and old people had all gathered around Bhagat and were talking to him.  As it was getting to be evening, many who had gone on farm work and coolie work returned home.  Those who were returning too saw the crowd that had gathered and joined them.  Seeing the Annas, they stretched out their hands happily, and said, “lal salaam”.  As they were meeting the dalam people after a long time, they enquired about the comrades they knew by naming each one.  They discussed the news in the papers, the radio and TV, and all their problems with the Annas.  Bhagat patiently answered all their questions.  What more did Bhagat want than to meet the masses!

When Bhagat talked to people he would forget himself.  He would not pay heed to anything.  He would forget that he needed to be alert and keep an eye on everything even as he spoke to the people.  He had been criticized multiple times regarding this aspect.

Rakesh who was sitting leaning against the wall of a house with a rifle on his shoulders and speaking to the people suddenly stopped speaking and perked up his ears.  Immediately, he slung the rifle on to his shoulders, went to Bhagat who was a little away from him, and said, “Bhagat, I’ve been hearing the dogs bark for quite some time.”

Rakesh and Bhagat were in civil clothes.  As only the two of them were coming to the village, they wore civil clothes so that they could easily mingle with the crowd.

One akka (village woman) said, “Let me go and find out”  Pretending as if she was going there to urinate, she went to check  the area from where the dogs were barking.   The police had almost surrounded the village.  She pretended she did not see them, urinated and returned.

By then, the people, Bhagat and Rakesh had stopped talking, and were awaiting akka’s return.  The dogs were barking from all directions of the village.

“Anna, the police have surrounded the village.  There are more coming,” akka said hurriedly.

“Where shall we keep the rifles?  There are police all around the village.  It’s not even dark yet.  Can we keep firing and cross the police cordon?” Even as Bhagat and Rakesh were discussing thus, an akka, listening to them said,

“Give me the rifles.  I’ll keep them in my house and lock them up.”  Saying this, without waiting for Bhagat or Rakesh’s reply, she took the rifles.  She kept them inside the house, locked them up, took a potful of water and went out. 

“Anna, don’t worry!  We’ll take care of the rest,” said the people.

A mother who was aged took Rakesh to her house.  Lakshmibai took Bhagat to her house.  Every one returned to their houses and got involved in their work.

Lakshmibai took Bhagat to her house, asked him to sit down and went and brought him rice in a plate and placed it in front of him.  Lakshmibai’s husband had not returned from the farm yet.

It was not even half an hour since Bhagat had eaten.  He had eaten as he was talking to people.  He did not know for a second why Lakshmibai had again served food in a plate and given it to him.  Lakshmibai said, “Pretend you are mixing the rice and eating,” and sat down in front of him, serving him curry.

Bhagat kept doing as akka instructed.  He was wondering how the information that they were here had reached the police.

“Anna, you behave normally,” said Lakshmibai.

In addition to the police who had surrounded the village, another batch of police too came into the village.

“Umm … search all houses.  Not a single creature should escape,” said the S I.

Saying, “Yes, sir,” the police split, and started searching each and every house.

The S I and two policemen stood in the centre of the village.  For a while, the S I went about this way and that.   The police were doing their job.

Wondering  why he should do leg work like this, the SI ordered an old woman who was standing in front of her house, “Hey, you old woman, bring the cot here.”

“Are you deaf?  Sir is asking you,” said a policeman.  Even then she did not move.

One of the policemen went and brought the cot in front of the old woman’s house and placed it near the SI.  Keeping the pistol on the cot, the S I sat down and placed his palm on the pistol.

The Amma who took Rakesh to her home put the rice on the stove, and stoking the firewood into the stove, she blew on it as the smoke rose.  The police who had searched the next door, went into amma’s house.  Amma did not move from the stove.

“Who’s the one lying down on the cot?” asked the policeman.

“My son, sir” she said.

“Call him here.”

“He had fever for the past three days, sir.  He’s vomiting continuously.”  Saying this, she removed the sheet with which she had covered Rakesh.

Rakesh in a weak voice moaned, “Ooo …”

            Listening to the moan, the policeman left saying, “Okay, okay, let him lie   down.”

Even before Bhagat and Lakshmibai had discussed as to what to say when the police questioned them, the policemen arrived.

“Find out who is in this house,” the constable stood outside and told the policeman.   

                        “Who is he?” asked the policeman who came in and saw them.

Bhagat stopped eating and stood up.

“Namskaram sir,” said Lakshmibai raising both her hands.

In the meanwhile, the constable standing outside screamed, “Bring him outside,” because the policeman inside was talking without his permission.

“What’s your name ra?” the constable asked Bhagat who came out.

“Ramlu Nayak sir.”

“What’s your family name ra?” said the constable as if it was his birthright to address poor people rudely as ra.

“Ramavat, sir.”

“Oh!  What ra?  You’re so neat with a pen in your pocket and an ironed shirt.”  Saying this, the constable looked intently at Bhagat.

Realising that he had not folded his arms as is expected of people in front of the police, Bhagat folded them.

Not getting a response from Bhagat, the constable asked, “What have you studied, ra?”

“I haven’t studied sir.”

“Then why have you kept a pen, ra?”  Saying this, he pulled out the pen from Bhagat’s pocket.

“Because it will look good sir”

Lakshmibai brought a chair and said, “Please sit down, sir.”

Sitting royally with one leg over the other on the chair, the constable took out a piece of paper from his pocket, wrote “Ramlu Nayak” on it and said, “Read this out, ra.”

Looking at the piece of paper, Bhagat said very innocently, “I don’t know sir.”

Putting the pen in his pants pocket, the constable asked Bhagat, “What is she to you?”

“He is my husband, sir.”  Not knowing what Bhagat would say, Lakshmibai replied even before Bhagat uttered a word.

“Why are you replying when I’m asking him?”  Saying this, he asked Bhagat again, looking directly into his eyes, “What is she to you?”

“My wife, sir.”

“That one—your wife?  she looks so much  older than you,” said  the constable. He then told the policeman, “Go and call sir,” and sent him to the S I.  Then realizing he was all by himself he felt scared and thought  “Oh!, one can’t trust these sons of a …”  Thinking so he went to pee, kept the 303 in half cock, came back and sat on the chair holding the pistol.

While sitting down, he asked “What’s your real village, ra,” The S I came just then, pulling up his pants over his protruding stomach and said “ Why did you call me?”

On seeing the S I, the constable got up and said, “Sir, what he is saying seems to be suspicious.  They say they are husband and wife.  When you look at them she looks much older than him.”

“Aha …!  Take her to one side, take him to another and interrogate them separately.”  Saying this, the SI sat down on the chair.

The constable took Bhagat to one side.

Lakshmibai was anxious wondering what they would ask Anna and what responses he would give.  Taking courage that whatever had to happen would happen she answered the SI’s questions regarding the hens and goats in a preoccupied manner.

“Which village is yours, ra?” The constable who had taken Bhagat aside asked him.

“Remidicharla, sir,” said Bhagat.  He knew that a number of Sugalis (Lambadas) lived in that village.  That was why he said that.

“How long since you’ve been married, ra?”

“Two years, sir.”

“How many children, ra?”

“Two, sir.”

“You’ve had two in two years?”   Saying this, he sent Bhagat away.  Standing right there, he waved out with both his hands to Lakshmibai, and called out, “Hey you, you come here.”

As Lakshmibai went towards the constable, she looked keenly into Bhagat’s face as he was walking back.

“What’s your village?” the constable asked Lakshmibai.

All the people in this village had in fact come from other villages, settled down here and were cultivating forest land.  So anyone would ask them first what their native place was.

“Akkapalem, sir.”

“Aha…!  Akka … palem.”  And again he asked, “How long since you got married?”

“Six months, sir.”

“How many children?”

“I’ve no children, sir.”

While the constable was interrogating the SI was thinking “What should I do with the money I would get on killing the naxalites in an encounter?  If we can’t find the naxalites, we’ve come such a long way. Shall we catch hold of someone, kill him in an encounter and call him a naxalite?’  Then the SI recalled the words of the SP, “When we are ambushed, or when the action team shoots at us, we can kill anyone.  If no encounter takes place for a while, then we can take someone and kill him.  But now let us wait for a few days.  Of late, they are making a big hue and cry that we took three from Bodipalem thanda and three from Kothuru and killed them in a fake encounter.  We don’t pay much attention to such things, but a small gap is necessary.”  The SI thought “now if we take someone and kill him, the S P will abuse us.” 

Holding on to Lakshmibai’s shoulder, pulling her to where the SI was sitting, the constable said, “Nothing of what she says matches what he says sir.  It’s looking suspicious, sir.”

The SI who was sitting, took his pistol and stood up. He looked into Lakshmibai’s face and said, “Tell the truth woman.  Is he a naxalite?” He ordered, “tie his hands behind him.”  The policemen immediately twisted Bhagat’s arms and tied them behind him. 

Bhagat thought that now he had indeed been caught by the police.   He made up his mind that he would not let out even one secret no matter how much the police tortured him.

“I swear on my god, he is my husband, sir” said Lakshmibai.

“Sir, both of them are telling all lies.  That fellow says Remidicherla, this woman says Akkapalem, sir,” said the constable.

“We stayed in Remidicherla for some time sir” said Lakshmibai.

“Sir, he says they have two children, she says they have none.”

“Come along to the police station, ra.”  Saying this, the S I gave Bhagat a tight slap on his cheek, and pushed him hard from behind.

“I beg you sir. Let him off, sir.  If you want to, take me along.”  Lakshmibai cried and pleaded falling at the feet of the S I.

“Bring her along too” the SI said, pushing Bhagat along.

Lakshmibai fell on the SI’s feet and said, “If we come to the station we will lose our honour, sir.  If you need to ask us anything, do so here, sir.  I beg you, sir”. 

The S I stopped.

“This fellow says it is two years since they got married, she says it is six months, sir,” said the constable.  If they were really Naxalites, thought the constable, they would get money if they killed them in an encounter.  Even if the S I were to take most of it, a few morsels might come down to them.  The constable was worried that he would miss out on that money.

“There’s no doubt, this one is a naxalite.”  Saying thus, the S I slapped Bhagat once more on his cheek. The S I tried to get his feet free by kicking Lakshmibai.

Without letting his feet go, Lakshmibai said, “The two of us eloped, sir.  If you want to, take me along, sir,” and started howling, beating her chest.

On listening to Lakshmibai’s words, the S I stopped a bit and said, “When he is saying it is two years since your marriage, why are you saying six months?”

“Actually, it is six months since we got married, sir.  But we have been living together for two years, sir.” 

 “Then what about the children?”

“Sir, his first wife had two children.  I don’t have any children, sir.  That’s why he said that, sir.”

People were standing in front of their own houses and were wondering what was happening.  They did not have the courage to come near the policemen.

An old man coming from the fields was passing by and the SI hailed him.

“Hey, you old man, come here.”

“What’s it, sir?”  The police keep coming to that village claiming that the villagers had fed the naxalites or that they had given them asylum.  If one stopped to look, they would say, “Hey, ra, why are you stopping to look … to tell the Annas—are you counting as to how many police are there?” and beat them.  That was why the old man was going by as if he had not seen anything.

“Are these two really husband and wife?” asked the S I.

The old man saw Lakshmibai and Bhagat standing next to her.  The old man understood the situation.  He knew who Bhagat was.

“Yes, sir.  They are really husband and wife.”

“Never mind, we’ll talk in the station and send them back.”  Saying this, the S I made Bhagat walk towards the jeep.

“Oh … sir … I beg you, sir … take me along, sir … let him off, sir … if our relatives come to know of us, they won’t let us live, sir … his wife will come and take him away, sir …” wailed Lakshmibai  beating her chest.

The S I stopped.  In the meanwhile, the police that had surrounded the village returned.  The S I understood on seeing them that the naxalites had escaped.  He thought that this was indeed a case of elopement. At just that instant, the police jeep came into the village and stopped.  When he heard the sound of the jeep, the SI wanted to leave quickly.  If it became dark, one could not say what would happen here.  The naxalites themselves might lay siege.  The S I felt the urge to leave quickly.

“What’s the matter with you?  You seem young.   Couldn’t you find someone better than this middle-aged woman?” the SI asked Bhagat.

“Any man would want a relationship.  But, he must have it with a young woman.”  The S I who had a lot of experience in such matters advised Bhagat.

Bhagat did not say anything.  Lakshmibai’s anxiety lessened a bit.

“In fact, why aren’t you going to your wife, ra?”

“Sir, she is dark.  Lakshmibai is fair.”  Bhagat said as it struck him suddenly.

“Just because she is dark, will you leave your wife and children and live with this one, ra?  The next time I come here, you must have gone back to your village” the SI said.

“Okay, sir.”

“Hey you, instead of leading a married life with your husband, you wanted this youngster, is it?” he abused Lakshmibai.

Lakshmibai stood with bent head.

“Come tomorrow to the station and meet me once,” the S I told Bhagat.

Thinking that it was enough if he let him off then, Bhagat said, “Okay sir”. He took two hundred rupees from his pocket and gave them to the S I.

The policemen who had searched the entire village came back.  The four hens in the hands of the policemen were crowing.  The S I looked towards them.  He felt hungry.  By then it had also become dark.

“All of you, come.”  Saying this, the S I climbed in to the jeep and left.  The other policemen walked behind the jeep and went towards the bus that was waiting for them.

Bhagat felt his life would have ended that day, and he would have been dead in an encounter by the morning.  Even if they were just two of them, they should have asked the people to stand sentry.  Because of small mistakes, they would have lost their lives.  How is Rakesh, whether he would be alive the next day or not … Bhagat thought in many different ways.  No matter how much he told himself, he was tense till then.  Now the tension disappeared all at once.  The life that seemed heavy till then seemed to have become light.

In fact, if akka had not shown courage and determination, where would he be now?  Normally, no woman would like to refer to another man as her husband.  But akka, today, to save his life … As Bhagat kept thinking, he could not control his emotions.

Bhagat went near Lakshmibai, held both her hands, placed them on his head, and said, “Akka!  If you had not saved me today, I would have lost my life.”  A couple of tear drops fell on akka’s hands.

“Anna!  Are your lives different from ours? Isn’t it for us that you have left everyone and are roaming these hillocks and mounds and going through so much of trouble?” said Lakshmibai.  Till then Lakshmibai was very worried—that they might take Anna away, that they might kill him.

“Akka, till I’m alive, I’ll remember you, akka,” said Bhagat.

“I only did my little bit, Anna,” said Lakshmibai.

“I will protect till my last breath those people because of whom I am alive today,” Bhagat promised himself.

In the meanwhile, all people gathered.   Their eyes filled with tears that Anna had a close shave with death.  Rakesh also came.  Bhagat and Rakesh shook hands with everyone and disappeared into the darkness.

(Based on a real life incident of Comrade Bhagat being rescued by an akka in Guntur district. Com Bhagat was martyred on November 18, 2003.)

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