Friday, December 19, 2008

Reach for the Skies !

On the way to Lake Tahoe sometime in summer !! 

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Slow down, Cross Roads Ahead !

Musing over
a shot of expresso...
I had felt
a tug on legs
Jokes on me,
Thank you Lord...
Dusting myself up,
Left behind,
Ahead of me,
Is that life ?

Gentle knock,
in my head
Feeling that bump,
I see
besides me...
I'm told
Life's a circle...
I'll board it
the next time around.

A shot of expresso,
lazy pain expressed
in mutilated pottery!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Genius Vs Genius - Who is better ?

I’ve grown seeing Borg and Mac play and win Wimbledons. Then when the TV was truly in India fell in love with the beauty and precision with the serve and volleys in the 80’s. To me it was a combination of Art and Engineering coming together! McEnroe, Edberg, Becker, Henman (to some extent) were all masters at that. They brought a kind of wistful romanticism into Tennis…
…Then came this kid along – as a 19 year old winning the first US open in 1990 – he was good at that time, but personally I thought he would be in the top 10 player. He didn’t win another grand slam for another three years; and then it rained. Pete Sampras was a sight to behold. In the era when you needed to be bad and loud to be noticed, he was boring and great. To me, it was just good enough to watch his game. Serve, move in and Volley, finish. Go back, serve and iterate until win. In the mean time, on the opponents serve, unleash that ferocious tongue-hanging-out cross-court winner, killing the opponent flat footed.  Or swift and bleeding cuts with the one-handed back-hand… He was unparalleled with his single minded focus and pursuit of greatness. Perhaps one thing that can be held against him was he was never good at clay. He has never even played a French Open final. I believe the closest he came to it was in 1996 when he had a great preparation on clay, playing Russia in the Davis cup (IIRC) and he beat the clay-court specialist (was it Kafelnikov ?) in the 5th match and in 5 sets. On court, although he had his vulnerable moments – when his coach and mentor Tim Gullikson was battling cancer and was critical; and playing against Courier in Australian open and a fan calling out, “Do it for Tim!” – from there on it was gut-wrenching to watch – he cried, cried and cried through rest of the match and demolished Courier from there on.  He ended up with 14 Grand Slams – 7 Wimbledon, 2 Australian and 5 US open. He would have won 8 wimbledons in a row, if not for a loss to another up and coming genius…
…Roger Federer. If Sampras was a complete serve and volleyer, Federer seemed to be complete all-court player. He is graceful, quietly confident without being arrogant, moved as well as Sampras, has the same forehand as Sampras, has a backhand that was amazing when on song - (in this youtube video line, watch for the amazing backhand flick winner) and all over the place when the timing was off. He has a serve that was very deceptive; he seems to use his wrist a lot more to generate incredible racquet speed. His movement in the court is graceful and with his sense of anticipation, minimalistic – he seems to be there before the ball gets there; that also perhaps explained why he was healthy and injury-free during his peak. If I’ve one doubt about Federer’s game, it is the serve and volley – I’m not sure if he is in the same class as Sampras (or Edberg or Becker) was. I used to joke to my friend that Federer starts practicing for French open throughout the year by staying at the baseline and winning just as easy out with ground strokes, some of them just incredible and defying reality. The 4 years, from 2004 to end 2007, were Federer years; perhaps for the first time in recent years there was a complete domination of one player in an individual sport – there were others too, with Nadal being in the fore-front. This was the time, when the aura of Federer was good enough for him to go to a 5-set match with a 1-set lead; the opponents seemed to come to the match with a resignation of defeat. From there, it always seemed the opponents had to win 3 out 4 sets, which was impossible. Of late, there is a marked decline in his wins – not sure if it is due to his game decline or his health issues or if the opponents have caught up – definitely Nadal seemed to have caught up. One dimension that stands out in favor of Federer when compared to Sampras is this – Federer reached three consecutive French open finals (the streak that was a started with a semifinal appearance). And in all the three he had lost out to Nadal – who possibly, after his time, would be known as the greatest clay court player ever (Sidenote: I had a fortune of watching live in Chennai in 2007). We can safely say, at his peak, Federer was the best Grass court and hard-court player and 2nd best in the Clay-court.  For the record, Federer now has 13 Grand-slams, one shy of Sampras’ – 5 Wimbledon, 5 US Open and 3 Australian.
Watching some of the games with couple of friends and in discussions, usually the discussion around who is greater would surface. I tried to do a mathematical compare of the two, based on their wins.
Here goes. The below table assigns points per Grand Slam wins and bonus points:

The table is self-explanatory - The Grand Slams carry the most points, ATP Masters half of that and the ATP tourney half of ATP masters (I think ATP points are similar - 1000 for GS winner, 500 for ATP Masters and 250 for normal tourneys). Qualifying for Masters gets a point. Finally, #1 ranking gets a point for every week.
Using this, here are the tables for both Sampras and Federer. For the “Years at Peak”, I looked at their number of years they have been within top-10.


So what does this mean ?
Although in points per year, Federer seemed to be much ahead, I’ve no doubt that would fall in the next few years, when he continues to play to beat Sampras’ grand-slam record. Also, if he does that in the next two or three years, I’m not sure if he would have the same motivation to play any longer. I believe Federer would probably retire earlier than Sampras, so he would always have an advantage on points per year – ofcourse the extreme case being that he wins nothing in the next 2-3 years.
In conclusion; I loved watching and was a great fan of both of these geniuses; I’d like Federer to also get 14 grand-slams and retire; perhaps for his French-open deeds, may be get to 15. Both are geniuses and we were lucky to have one follow the other – it leaves space for lesser mortals like us to work the spreadsheets! The versus should hardly matter !!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

5C's of Problem Solving in a Complex Space...

I’ve used a framework (5Cs) that I’ve come up with to solve some complex problems – both in professional life and personal life… I’ve solved and am in the process of resolution for a few of them using this concept. Although you could live without complex issues, at one level these are exciting and keep life interesting.

When I had first inherently started using the model of 5Cs approach to a solve a problem, I did not have a knowledge on Cynefin framework. However, understanding the Cynefin framework, gave me further clarity as to when to use the 5Cs method and when to use other methods like reductionism etc.

My first approach to a problem is to step back and think and place it in the Cynefin Framework. Although I had inherently used the 5Cs framework, the knowledge of this tool has given me more clarity. Cynefin framework essentially divides the problems into 4 quadrants – Simple, complicated, complex and chaotic – essentially a problem can be based on how much line of sight you can draw between cause and effect. The further the cause and effect are, the problem tends to be in complex or chaotic domain. Cynefin framework also talks about complicated problem could be solved by reductionism, where as different approaches are required for problems in the complex quadrant.

Looking at complex problems, where we cannot clearly draw a connection between cause and effect, I use the 5C framework mentally to discover, construct and craft solutions.

  1. Compartmentalize

The first C is Compartmentalize the problem. A complex problem could have lot of extraneous information, corner cases that can appear central to the problem thus only serving to introduce a high noise ratio. Hence, it is key for us to compartmentalize the problem into several cores (fewer the better) and excluding those noises. This is not linear reductionism approach – the problem itself not broken down, where the sum of the parts is equal to the whole; the cores have similar complexity to that of whole, but perhaps at a lower scale. The core at the center has higher clarity and at the edges it could be blurry. Imagine core to be something similar to fractal - a piece of similar shape although a bit smaller in scale.

  1. Constrain

Once the problem is compartmentalized into multiple cores, the next C is to Constrain the core. Name those variables that have an impact to this specific core; including dependencies amongst these variables. Analyze in-depth to out the variables; but use the 80-20 rule to name the variables that only has bigger impact on the result; for now ignore the weaker influencers. There would be variables that play across the cores; have cognition of that fact, but for now keep them in the back-burner; you will bring them to the fore-front later on.

  1. Contain

The third C is the Contain. The fact that it is a complex problem implies that there will be dependencies across the cores. But it is also important to use the same approach and contain the problem within the core. Minimize the interfaces across the core; eliminate dependencies across the cores as much as possible and as much as a solution allows for the specific core. As we are looking to contain the core and ignore few of the variables, it is possible that the solution that we would have come up with would be incomplete to a certain extent. Let us live with it for now.

Now the core is small enough for it to be solved, although the complexity of the core (much like fractal doesn't lose its shape) is not diminished – the scale could be lower. This is where we use whatever standard methodology for any solution - analytics, empirical, statistical etc. By resolving multiple cores, we perhaps have reached much more clarity on a larger part of the problem that we started with. There would still be areas of holes – that’s where the next C comes in.

  1. Connect

Once the cores are resolved, we are going to have few loose threads, the ones we left in the backburner – some part of solution that seems not in place or fitting in right since it has the dependency on another core or an adjacent one. Now its time to Connect; and introduce the variables (from the back-burner) and across the cores – this is where one looks as each core as a puzzle piece and then start fitting the edges together. Now is the time to connect them – its like building a complex Lego pieces with dovetail joints… We now work on the connections to make the cores cohesive enough with each other – start introducing the variables that now run across the cores – go back tune the cores to manage the impact of the new variables. Re-work the core; as we do that, typically I found the blurry edges are places where I needed to work on; the center of the core remains untouched in most cases. In exceptions, it would take a couple of iterations.

  1. Complete

Once you have the connections done, we now Complete the solution. The Complete phase is also the phase, I use, what I call, the “Bounce-High and Bounce-Low” method. We have to keep moving between big picture and details – bounce-high for a big picture view to see if the resolution of cores put together does solve the problem and bounce-low to see if the connectors are indeed fitting well enough to make the solution right. This is key, since the solution could be neither solved at a big picture level nor at details level – its like keep a 10 ft x 10 ft puzzle pieces… One cannot solve a large puzzle piece by either staying at 1000 feet level; nor can one put together the puzzle pieces, by just look connector end of the pieces. 

The Final “C” – the sixth C – is the Context. But that is an assumption that I have all the time – it is a necessary condition for a problem resolution (so, it should really be the zero’th C). The context in which the problem exists needs to be understood. Without that understanding, my belief is that the people do not acquire the resiliency required to live in the same space in which the complex problem exists. Building that context is very important and essential – it also gives us the ability to look at things in the shades of grey and not just black and white.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sighting Surya

It was about 11AM in the morning – I was taking the Chennai MRTS for the first time today. I had gotten a job at a software company in the ITPL at Velachery. Since this was the first day at the job, this company had asked us to report at 1PM – I found it unusual, but when asked, I was told it was easy to get all the HR formalities done at that time, with the availability of a bank representative to aid us open the salary account and so on and so forth (thus spake the HR person who had made me the offer 2 weeks ago).  I had worked for about 2 years in a small company in Coimbatore, staying with parents; and then took up an offer at Chennai as the company seemed to be bigger and the work seemed to be interesting – in the product creation area as against IT services.

So, the planets had aligned and here I was waiting at the Thiruvallikeni MRTS station. I was going to join a couple of my college mates who had taken up a house nearer to Velachery, but both of them were out of the country and one of them was returning in a month’s time. Until then, I was to stay with a distant relative of mine, who had children in college. It was not the perfect situation I would have preferred, but I was ready to roll with it until one of the friends returned; atleast the relatives kids are older !

Since it was late-morning, the office-growing crowd was thin at the station. So was the MRTS train that bawled into the station. I got into general compartment, which was just half-full (I am not the one ever to be blamed for seeing things half-empty…). I got in, made myself comfortable in a window seat and took out the book I was reading. As I opened the book, I heard my cell phone ring…

I picked it up – it showed my house number, should be mom. As I picked the phone up, I let my eyes rove absent-mindedly… I almost gasped – was that guy on the sunny side of the compartment, Surya?

“This is Shalini…”, I answered as a matter of habit and mind being elsewhere. It was mom, wishing me the best on the first day and as she was enquiring about my well-being. I quickly answered my moms few questions and then said byes – I had promised that I will call her later in the day after everything is settled.

I looked at that guy again – He looked very much like Surya in Khaka Khaka !! He had laid his head back on the guardrails of the window and was snoozing – or so it seemed… I took another glance at him. Hmmm… he had serenity in his face – a sort of still calmness that is compelling and makes you look at someone one more time… In his case, I had shamelessly looked many times.

I noticed that he had an ear-plug. There was obviously some music playing, since I could see his fingers drum and his feet tap once in a while. I wonder what music would he be listening – would it be Sheryl Crow that’s on my phone? “Shoot!” I thought – what the heck is this – how long have I been looking at him! I tore myself away, looked out and into the book, that talked about the specifics of product development and management. I had found the book very interesting and absorbing thus far, but in the train, I just could not focus. I was hoping he too was joining my company!

As I looked down at the book, I mentally checked out myself – not bad looking myself, in fact was quite attractive and was told to be photogenic, with a great smile and much greater sense of humor; I was wearing a colorful dress, yet not very stand-out but a simple patterns; I believe it accentuated my personality. I was wearing shades pushed up on to my head. I was wondering if he would see me, when he wakes up or his station comes by.

As the stations rolled on and Taramani was the upcoming one, I discreetly looked myself on my tiny vanity mirror (“looking good”), got up, stole a surreptitious look at Surya – he was still looking handsome, I told myself. I could see early signs of movement on him. I quickly moved and stood in way that I will have to be on his line of sight, just in case he was getting off at the station. As I planted myself on the way, it became quite apparent that he was getting off too… He was taking off his ear plugs and switching off his ipod. I was directly on his way to the door and there is no way he is going to get past me, without looking at me – my heartbeat quickened…

As Surya got up, he looked directly at me, took out his sun-glasses out of his pocket, wore it and took out his stacked white stick, opened it up, tapped it on the ground and moved towards door…


Author's Note: Had to use "Surya", since my DW has a crush on him ! :-)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Altruism 101

Someone posted this link in one of the common forum in response to a "complaint" (which was actually set of observations mixed with his own editorial comments)...

The link has some great reading... However, I hold a view that I'm not sure if its complementary, alternate, contradictory or supplementary to that...

Perhaps some economist expert can explain better, what Adam Smith meant. On the other end of the spectrum (to the link above) was something expounded by Adam Smith in his book "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" (terming the concept as invisible hand) - "There is a school of thought in economy which revolves around the idea that every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it ... he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led to promote an end which was not part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for society that it was not part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it"...

(which in turn you see, Russel Crowe, as John Nash, say "Adam Smith is wrong" in the bar, when he and his friends all try to hit on a same women in a bar).

Through this, I'm not saying I'm for or on either side of the spectrum. Given this continuum, I believe people generally think of/about and do what is right for themselves and the society at large. Very few people pick just one (either). If they say so, they are perhaps not telling the truth - that goes for both end of the spectrum, imo.

Friday, August 01, 2008


Someone who saw this snap said the colors were vibrant and positive...

Friday, July 18, 2008

End of a Rainbow

It was typical hot summer day – as is wont in our part of the world (which, by the way, is Chennai) when its hot, its really sweltering hot. The afternoons before the onset of the sea-breeze are the worst affected – it affects me and my friends more – the ones that lives on the street and off the streets! During such heat (or rain), I take shelter in the shade that the bus stand offers; with my friend, Jimmy, the stray – this was the stray who adopted me – and I named him Jimmy since every dog’s named seemed to be Jimmy or Tommy; I’ve very few needs and usually work when I have to and rest of the time, I sit around the shelter. My home was a makeshift made of paper and remnants of gunny bag, just beside a shelter. Due to the nature of the materials, my home does get renovated more often than any other houses in the world!! I get ignored by all who have their transience presence in the bus-stop. Looked like, Jimmy and I were the permanence in that part of small-world.

Today seemed to be different – I guess, its that time of the year when the first rains show up late in the summer. The hot afternoon seemed to be transforming slowly – there was a distant thunder. The breeze had picked up in strength to a brisk wind, brining in dark clouds from somewhere else and deposited them right overhead. It was cool and sultry. As the afternoon wore on, the college crowd seemed to increase, so were mothers who were going home early from the office. Everyone seemed to have a frown and a worried look on their faces as they looked up to the darkening clouds – there was a smart old man, who was smug in his looks as he was the only one with an umbrella !

Then the drizzle started. In a while the drizzle turned in a down pour – typical of Chennai, quickly water puddle appeared. As the rain poured, there seemed to be a transformation within that shelter – it had turned into a small world itself. Jimmy was curled up besides me, inconspicuous and trying to blend into the backdrop so that his place in shelter would not be taken away by others. I looked around – a fat lady, who seemed to take the whole corner, seemed to deflate herself willingly and give place to another old lady. The three college girls were giggling and talking about something else – at the same time they seemed to enjoy the rain and being consciously careless and get themselves wet. That office guy in the opposite corner, who seemed to peep out to look if the buses were coming, stole a look at the girls every time he did that. The girls conscious of that, increased their giggling frequency – one of them even smiled at the guy. Hmmmmm….

The shelter was getting smaller for the crowd; but everyone seemed to be kind and accommodating as more people filled in. The smart old man with the umbrella, even opened it against a leak in the corner and let another old man to share his umbrella, but at a cost – the other man had to listen to the changing weather patterns in the world and how unusual this rain in Chennai was.

There was a mother with her two kids in the shelter. It looked like on the way back from her office, she had picked her children up from the school. As she was protective of her kids and shielding them from the cold water spray from the heavy rain now, she found another kid, a bit older hit by the spray at the front of the shelter. She took her tiffin box out of the plastic cover and handed that to the boy – the boy thanked her and wore it over his head as a protective cap. Meanwhile, the old man’s umbrella had become another shelter on its own, he had added a small girl and her mom to his vast umbrella, and added them to his audience on global warming. The cycle-rickshaw man, who was in the shelter with others, looked hopefully at the crowd to see if he would get a ride when the rain-stops. He took at a beedi which I’m sure was a substitute for his lunch and started lighting it. Few of the people at the shelter looked at him; the man smiled and put the beedi out. As I watching the world around, I saw this person purposefully threading his way through the crowd towards us. He came near, opened his tiffin box and offered us his uneaten food. Jimmy’s ears perked up and started wagging his tail; I would have wagged mine, if I had one too – we both looked at him thankfully and devoured it down; I had not had anything since morning and the late-summer heat and humidity had taken a toll.

It was an ideal world in that shelter – everyone was benevolent and helping each other. It seemed a vibrant and symbiotic existence there. I thanked the rain, and looked at the people with gratitude, particularly the one who had shared the food with us.

Normalcy was around the door – slowly the rain had stopped to a drizzle and people were now craning their necks to look if their bus was coming. The girls had stopped their giggle, their wet dress a liability now. The rickshaw man who seemed not to have found a customer in the crowd, lit up his beedi to the irritation of others – but he could care less now. The old man had now turned his ire from global warming into the state of Transport Corporation – only now there weren’t any willing listeners – they had turned their back to him. The office guy stepped into a puddle and muttered a curse – he was no longer looking at the girls. The mother with kids wanted to get home early and was looking for an auto; she was irritated by the other kid who threw away the plastic cover that she gave as a shield against rain; at that instance her kid dropped the school bag on the ground and she smacked him.

As the bus appeared, in the horizon, everyone was hopeful – but the bus had a board that announced it was headed to shed and moved on without stopping and in fact seemed to speed-up as it was close to the shelter spraying an unprepared few with puddle water. The character of the shelter had changed definitely – it was clearly more tense and filled with irksome people. Fortunately, within five minutes another bus appeared, but it was so full that it had people hanging out of the door-way. The college girls were able to board the bus through the front door – they guy who had shared his food with us, tried his might to get in, and Jimmy went behind him. The bus started to move and the guy was left behind – as he turned, he stumbled into Jimmy who had followed him; The man was clearly annoyed and angry – he swung his office bag at Jimmy; it hit him on the head – Jimmy gave a loud yelp, continued to wag his tail and scampered from that place.

The rain had stopped, the sun had come out. As the collective mood turned blacker in the shelter, a rainbow had blossomed at the horizon. I wonder at the end of that rainbow, if there was a bus-shelter in a pouring rain.

Monday, June 30, 2008


One of the shrubs in the apartment complex...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Magnum Opus !

This is my 100th post ! I was keen to finish my mini-novel - in fact, that was the first story I wrote several years ago, but never completed it. This novel was one of the triggers to start this blog, but its funny that it has made as the 100th post ! Thanks to prodding from someone near/dear, and thanks to the cross-country plane time, here it is, completed.

So here goes... I'm posting this as multiple chapters, one chapter a week. Hopefully, it would work!!



Prologue (posted 22/May)
Chapter 1: Opening Gambit - the Good Guys, setting it up (posted 26/May)
Chapter 2: The Past
(posted 31/May)
Chapter 3: The Middle Game - the bait
(posted 6/Jun)
Chapter 4: The Event
Chapter 5: The End Game - Cleaning up



Vel had been ushered into the rear of the aircraft with rest of the passengers left behind. He was tense waiting for the signal. Then he heard three shots ring out from the front. Trusting his commando training in a worst case scenario, Vel sprinted to the business class section of the plane, stopped behind the curtain and took a silent peek with a heightened sense of alertness. There was carnage – with dead all around. Nawaz Khan was the only one alive and he had the gun in his hands and he turned, with the gun pointing at Vel….

Chapter 1: Opening Gambit – The Good Guys – Setting it up

The Scrap

Tariq should have been rejoicing – he had been just told by his boss that he has been chosen for a plum assignment; Instead, Tariq was furious. During the recent past, on a few occasions he had let go of the barbs. It was not easy but he was used to it and he was brought up and trained to ignore it. It had become more frequent since the patriotism had been usurped by a few sections, more so since the rise of rightist forces. But today it was different; Sikander Singh, who was transferred to same team Tariq was on about 4 months ago, had made it a point to needle Tariq at every possible instance. Today it went beyond the line…

Tariq was still furious – he was taking out his fury in the Karate dojo. Earlier, this morning, Major. Uday Chatterjee had called for a quick briefing session of his department. He had talked about imminent terrorist threat in generalities and specific intelligence that a possible hijack or a 9/11 type of attack is being planned within the country. He had chosen a team of two – Tariq and Murugavel (aka Vel) for a specific high-profile and high-risk assignment and the rest would support them. He had asked the two to meet with him in the evening at 5PM.

The Major left the hall and as the team began to disperse, Sikander looking at Tariq remarked, “The country is being destroyed by Muslim terrorists; why would another of the same ilk do anything to prevent that?”
It was the first time that Sikander got so direct with his innuendo. Furious, Tariq asked,
“what the bloody hell do you mean ?”
“You know, bloody well, what I mean”
“I will rip your heart out…”, said Tariq and jumped at Sikander; there was pushing and shoving with others getting into this; Vel separated Tariq,
“Tari, let go, it is not worthwhile, there will be another time”
“I will be looking forward to that”, baited Sikander

It was now pre-Lunch. Tariq and his partner (and who also became a very close friend through the past 3+ years in TIW) Vel were at the dojo ahead of the class; Tariq was letting go of the steam, doing his kicks and punches. Holding the punching bag for him, Vel wondered if Tariq was going to rip apart the punching bag. Just before the class start at 12 Noon, others filtered in, including Sikander (who claimed that he was an expert in another form of Karate). Sikander looked like he was in for a scrap and walked dangerously close to Tariq; Vel sensing that would happen had placed himself in between the two. Sensei Subburaman, a retired army major, walked in at 12 and after the initial warm-up, and kathas, announced the class would have shi-ai (sparring session), with standard rules; 3 points per shi-ai; when one scores a point, the fight stops and restarts; the stop-restart is to avoid a street-fight. Unfortunately and not knowing what transpired the morning events, he had paired Sikander with Tariq. By the time the sparring session started, Tariq was very calm – he seemed to be in complete control of himself.

First round had started. Sikander danced around darted in and out with his front jab. Tariq, who seemed to be in a zone, easily swatted them out. Once Sikander tired himself out with his dancing, Tariq feinted with his own jab; Sikander fell for that speed and went for defending that; as he was doing that, Tariq followed the fake with a front kick to Sikander solar plexus. He had scored a point and clearly the round was over; as he was withdrawing to start the second round, Sikander hit him in the jaw, as if he was countering Tariq’s attack. Tariq brushed off the apology that ensued from Sikander and assumed his sparring stance – he felt a numbness in his jaw, tasted blood in his mouth and knew the swelling would start soon. The second round started as the first round had. Tariq again warded off attacks from Sikander with ease and had decided that first time in his life, he will pay back in kind; “well, what the heck, there is always first for everything”. As Sikander came forward with one of his front kick, Tariq quickly stepped to his left moving forward to the right of Sikander, drawing level with him, blocked the kick with his right hand and unleashed a round house kick. Typically, that kick in a sparring is aimed at the solar-plexus; but today, Tariq was beyond caring, he aimed at Sikander face; when it connected, Sikander doubled up with a scream of pain. He got up holding his nose with blood in his hands. Sensei, stepped in and stopped the fight and sent Sikander to the hospital and Tariq to corner for his punishment of 100 push-ups and 100 abdomen kicks.


It was 5’o clock. Both Vel and Tariq were standing in attention in front of Maj. Chatterjee. Major started the conversation,

“Tariq, I had heard about the incidence in the gym. This is very disappointing”
“Sorry sir, but, to be honest, I’m notr”, Tariq replied.
“Sir, you should hear what Sikander did this morning and then at the dojo”, Vel interjected.
Major stopped Vel short - “That’s no explanation”, Turning to the other, he queried, “ Tariq?”
“I apologize sir, it won’t happen again”. After a pause, Tariq asked, “However, can I add something, sir ?”
“Go ahead”
“Sir, The real issue in this country now, when people like you look at people like us, we are first looked at as Muslims and then as Indians. Even during peaceful times, each and every one of us has to constantly prove our Indian-ness Sir. Somehow, I hope that isn’t spawning new terrorist elsewhere”

The room fell silent for a while. The Major broke the silence,

“Sit down both of you; I need to talk to both of you on this assignment. What do you know about Maulana Mazhar Khan ?”
Vel broke in, “Sir, he is the one who led the mid-90s insurgency in Kashmir; and after the successful brokering of peace in the 2000s, he went underground somewhere in Pakistan”.

Peace had indeed been brokered between Pakistan and India. A combination of US tilt towards India after the India voting at IAEA against Iran, softening of the LOC post the Kashmir earth quake had accelerated both the countries towards Peace.

Maj. Chatterjee nodded, “and when we established peace with Pakistan last year, and under pressure from Western agencies, it was getting too hot for him there. He apparently fled from there and was supposed to have come back into the country and is hiding somewhere in the north. He is heading a terrorist organization named Jamiat Ul Islamia (JUI). Inspired by the 9/11, he is planning an attack within the country – our information is either a 9/11 type of attack on one of our buildings or a hijack with inside collusion”.

He added, “Here is the dossier, go over it. We will talk again at 9AM tomorrow. Dismissed”.

Tariq and Vel rose, saluted and began to leave.

Maj. Chatterjee called out, “by the way Tariq…” Tariq stopped and turned around, as Vel left the room. “Major Subburaman and I spoke. I’ve recommended Sikander be transferred out”

Tariq remained silent.

The major continued, looking Tariq in his eye, “Tariq, I wish everyone else had your commitment to the regiment and country; I am proud to have you in my regiment. I will see you both at 9 tomorrow”.

Tariq started to thank the major, but the major was already looking into another file. He turned around and joined Vel in the corridor.

The Plan:

Tariq and Vel had just finished their breakfast and there was untold excitement in them – they had hardly talked with each other during the morning run or during the breakfast, probably deeply lost in the thoughts of what the assignment would be. Their initial attempt at conversation petered out. When they reached the major’s office, he was already in there talking on the phone and seemed had put almost 4 hours of work already.

Maj Chatterjee looked up from the phone and gestured them to take their seats. He handed them each a folder as he continued talking on the phone. He was saying to someone on the phone, presumably his superior, “…Thank you, sir. We will need complete support and anonymity and strictly need to know basis on this assignment”. He looked up at both Tariq and Vel, winked and continued, “I’m having my best people on this”.

He replaced the receiver on the hook, he asked,
“What do you know of changes in the airlines post 9/11 ?”
Vel answered, “Unidentified Air marshal for a while, some basic commando training for the pilots”.
“As time went on, I’ve heard the airlines were against having air-marshal in the flight; solely for commercial reasons and they believe that the threat perception has come down significantly”, Tariq interjected.
“Right”, said the major, “Instead as a part of basic commando training, the pilots were also given basic training on shooting. The airlines installed an automatic gun in the cock-pit, secured inside a safe”.

Both Tariq and Vel looked surprised.

“Yes, this practice was started some 8 months ago”, Maj Chatterjee continued, “however, the gun can only be taken out after the Chief pilot and 2 other cockpit crew punch in the number for the safe. This apparently, is to avoid pilot based madness as it was alleged with the Egyptian Airlines in the late 90s”

Both the field operatives knew this was going somewhere and waited, finding their excitement growing.

“We had an intelligence tip-off that there is a captain who would give away the gun to potential hijackers for the hijacking to be carried out. You have read about the JUI in the dossier...", the Major trailed off absent-mindedly waving towards a bunch of files on his desk. "...The JUI have this captain on their radar and if they get to him, the consequences would be terrible. I would like to bait the captain out and put him away for ever. That’s the assignment”. He paused; there was a silence in the room for a while.

The captain looked at Tariq – Tariq seemed glazed over. Tariq’s mind was working furiously. He got up from his seat and paced the room a couple of times. An idea was forming in his mind…

He turned to Vel and the major, “Sir, I’ve another plan…”

The Plan B:

As Major and Vel listened to the Tariq’s plan, they could feel the tension in the room and possibilities. It was a plan most daring and most dangerous and most comprehensive – it will be a major coup against terrorism. Although the TIW had enormous powers and autonomy, for this plan, Major needed to go back to his superior for approval who will perhaps need to go the secretary in the ministry; It was not going to be easy, but that his problem, he will have to solve it and he will, and at the same time ensuring that plan is not known outside 3 of them and perhaps one more. He didn’t believe the sieve that is bureaucracy. He will have to manage his lies.

For the next 5 hours, well past Lunch, they sat in the room and discussed the pros and cons and each and every possibility in detail. At around 2PM, the major had asked for some lunch to be served and dismissed both his officers.

“Go back and think more about it on your own and come back at 6PM”.

At about 6PM, both Tariq and Vel were back at major’s office. When they broke after going through each and every possibility, they had a draft plan by 2AM in the morning. It was also clear, that both of them will have to be transferred out of the base due to the very high sensitivity of the plan and will set-up base in an undisclosed area, where Major is the only other person they would see. They had by that time, in broad terms, had set up contact points, codes and modus operandi; and because of the expanse and the need for travel, Vel and Tariq knew that they would hardly meet in the next 3-4 months. Little they knew that will never meet in the next few months, and when they eventually do, it would be in circumstances, so uncertain and that potentially can set them up against each other.

Chapter 2: The Past

Tariq Ahmed:

Tariq aka Tariq Ahmed was born in a small-town in Tamil Nadu near Nagapattinam. His family and world were made up of his parents, mother a teacher in the local school and father running a up and down tailoring shop and his older brother, Shafiq, who seemed to be constantly ailing of something or the other and was a paraplegic. He was brought up in a household where his parents were righteous and god-fearing. More, they brought up both their kids with a strong sense of social and civic commitment and what was wrong and right (they had a picture of Gandhiji in their hall, which also doubled up as bed-room). Shafiq hardly went to school, whereas Tariq seemed was outstanding at everything he did – with minimum effort at studies, he constantly seemed to top in his class; he had a great flair for sports and was exactly opposite to his brother, whenever the schools were closed for holidays he helped out his father in small chores in tailoring – within a short time, at the age of 11, he could cut and stitch dresses. In short, in that innocent and young age, Tariq was an extremely well-behaved boy with outstanding talent, an amazing sense of inner-strength constantly fed by his parent’s teachings and extremely positive thinking. He was a happy kid and was well appreciated in the neighborhood. Then two things changed his life in a space of 3 years…

When Tariq was 13, Shafiq was afflicted by strange sickness that Tariq could not understand and he passed away. Tariq’s mother was shattered. Everyday in that place reminded her of Shafiq and his father merchant business was also in shambles. After the grieving of one year, the family shifted to Coimbatore, with his mother getting to teach at a local school in the rural areas around the city; his father opened a small tailoring shop outside their house. Shafiq’s absence and realization that he was the only son for his parents seemed to mature Tariq more and he carried himself with an air that was far beyond his age. He had also become taller and with his proclivity for physical play, filled out nicely and was looking more like a young man… He also, on a whim joined the local Karate dojo and seemed a natural for it. The family, probably more because of Tariq’s presence, became a respected family in that street and their family was called as “Bai’s House” (Bai-veedu, in Tamil).

He clearly remembered the day, when the 2nd event had happened. It was one of those things that Coimbatore seemed to have recently afflicted with. It was during the diwali and it was one of the topical times, when Bai’s tailoring shop did the best business of the year. Somewhere, something silly happened and the communal riots had flared up – Tariq’s father, was in his shop when the rioters stormed his shop – bruised him severely, burnt his shop and damaged the clothes, both stitched and unstitched. The rioters were lead by a small-time charge-sheeter, who was aspiring to be a local councillor. It was Bai’s neighbors pleaded with the rioters to spare Bai of his life and saved him. Tariq, who was in class 12th then, perhaps for the first time in his life, felt what fury and anger meant. He was infuriated at the senselessness of the event and infuriated by the people who perpetrated it and at the same time thankful for the neighbours to have saved his father’s life. Bai, sensing Tariq’s mind for revenge, sat Tariq down at edge of the government hospital bed and told him how some people from the same community had saved his life and there are fanatics everywhere. Quoting Gandhiji’s eye-for-an-eye and pointing out the duality of the people who inflicted him with the damage were of the same ilk of those people who had saved him, he urged Tariq to do something about it to correct such a situation. Once again, thinking far beyond his age, Tariq came to a resolve, a resolve that he undertook that he will eliminate evil in all forms where possible; at that time, Tariq could not have known his simple idealistic resolve will in future have a far reaching consequence to the country…

Tariq, who passed his school exam with flying colors (was 1st in the district and 8th in the state), chose to do Bachelor of Arts in Economics and then prepared for the IPS exam with a maniacal intensity and resolve. During this time, his father who never recovered from the injury, perhaps more mental, had to close down the shop, joined as a security guard in a local factory – there were times, when Bai was abused, but Bai took that with an equanimity that Tariq had inherited. In his Civil Services exam, Tariq was placed 19th and had no hesitation choosing IPS over IAS and other possibilities that were open to him. Within IPS, once he had heard about Intelligence wing it was obvious to him and others that he would apply for it. During the mandatory training period, Bai passed away, perhaps secure that his son would do something. Tariq did realize at that time, how much influence his father had on him; it was a reinforcement of what he has to do. At the end of the training, the top 10 of the class were asked to write an exam that tested their analytical ability, their physical ability and their flair for languages. Tariq easily topped the analytical ability; his training in Karate for the past 11 years (he was a 2nd degree black-belt now) helped him easily finish the physical tests ahead of others. He was placed 2nd in the language test, behind a rich small-town Malayalee (“with a tamil name”, he thought wryly) – Vel. Post-test, Tariq and Vel were introduced to Major Uday Chatterjee, who was in-charge Terrorist Intelligence Wing (TIW) in the National Intelligence Bureau and were offered a posting as field-operative-trainee. Tariq, merely thought it to be a natural destination of where he wanted to go and instantly agreed. He was now the ‘spy’ that is so glamorized by the movies – but for Tariq it was merely hard work and a path towards what he wanted to do.

Basheer Ahmed:

Basheer (called lovingly as Basha by his doting parents) was born in a lower middle-class family as the only child in bustling metropolis of Mumbai. Basheer’s father worked in a state government and they had lived in the suburbs of Mumbai in Andheri, which was closer to the airport. They lived a typical Mumbai lower middle-class life: Mother taking care of the household, looking for best prices on anything and everything, so that they can save away a little bit of money every month. His father, Mr. Waseem Ali, awoke at 4AM in the morning to travel by the suburban train and bus for more than an hour to get to his work. Consistent with every middle-class family’s dream of getting Basheer a better life, he started his schooling in a place, which was slightly upscale and over-the-pocket for their life.

Basheer’s awakening to their state-of-life came when he was about 7. One day, when he missed his school van getting back, he was dropped at his street corner by his class-mate Prakash, in a car that, to Basheer, looked as large as his living room and perhaps more comfortable than it. That was the time when Basheer wanted out, of what he began to consider life of drudgery. At the age of 11, when he found purse in the school ground with several 100 rupees notes in it, he did not even miss a beat in throwing the purse away and taking the money and living the life that would parallel Prakash’s, even it was for a day. By the time he was 13, he had less and less of scruples of what shouldn’t be done. By 15, when he finished schooling, he knew what he wanted to do, he will be a pilot – it will give him the glamorous life that he craved for and perhaps, it was symbolically getting-out too. To get the money needed for pilot training, Basheer did not really bat an eye-lid to go to lengths, even if it were outside law’s parenthesis. He also had the smartness to pick the right people for his scam and selling his scam. In 1st year of his college, Basheer went to great lengths to secure the exam question papers, borrowing money from the lenders at exorbitant rates to pay the people who had access to them; few days later, after targetted selling of the leak to a select few ‘customers’ who can afford an high price, he made neat sum of profit in the vicinity of Rs.3 Lakhs after paying back the loan within 22 days. That profit went to his pilot-training kitty. By the time he was 25, Basheer had sponsored himself through Pilot training and was hired as the in-flight navigator by Government airlines, which was to him the first step to get the private airlines and more money. By the time he was 29, he was a pilot and had command of a plane. He still wasn’t looking to get married or settling down and he found that a nuisance to his path to utopia. In any case, the pilot and the way he looked after himself got him the girls he wanted.

Murugavel Balakrishnan:

Vel was lost in thought... His thoughts went back to his past. He was a son of a rich land-owner in Kerala, bordering Southern Tamil Nadu – his father had multiple and flourishing business, centered on a hugely successful exports business. He was the only son with 3 other elder sisters, with a gap of 7 years between himself and the third. He had heard the story, that his parents after praying for a son at a particular temple in the neighboring state, had gotten him – hence the name Murugavel which is quite alien in those parts. He had seen them shower him (to some extent, a punishment) with love and kindness. He was the prince of house. Since there was never an issue about money, he had got whatever he wanted or whatever his parents and sisters thought he may want. He had the best of everything. When most students walked to school, he was always dropped to school in a car, mostly 2-3 different cars within a week. His school mates never could jell with him, although he wanted them to. Somehow, he tried hard but never seemed to be good at it – in a small town the rich bridge wasn’t the easy one to cross for the rest. Also, as he grew up, he found two things – that he wanted to get out of his home town and live a normal life, away from all his riches; secondly, he had a flair for languages, other than that, he was good at most things that he did, but never the best in the field. By the time, he was in college, he had reconciled to the fact that he will never be the top dog, but will be in the top 5 and his strengths were in being the best supporting player. He was perfectly ok in what he was doing now – supporting Tariq who was in the field. Someone else may feel a tinge of jealousy and would want to be out as number 1; not Vel, he was extremely satisfied and happy what he was doing and enjoyed it – he had understood that not being #1 was his calling; and he was merely glad that this job had taken him away from his hometown and he could slip into an egalitarian anonymity...

Chapter 3: The Middle Game – The Bait

Dec 5th, around 11.20AM:

It was nearly 6 months past since the plan was first discussed. He had not met his friend Tariq during these months. But progress had been made – slow but very deliberate, for there cannot be any slip-ups. It had been a tortuous inch towards the goals.

Vel thoughts were interrupted by the ring of his scrambled phone. He knew it was Tariq on the other side of the line... He picked it up, “Yes?”

“I have zeroed in on the pilot – Basheer Ahmed; he has been contacted and he is apparently very much ready to play – one down”, said Tariq on the other end of the line. “On the other two, the first meeting is being set-up in the next two days; I’ve a hunch it would happen tonight. This is where the link between the pilot and the preacher is being made”, said Tariq on the line.

Vel knew the preacher was the Maulana. He asked, “What do you need?” – Vel did not need to take notes; the conversation was getting recorded somewhere, that he can play it back, if required. He was sure Major was awake and listening in on the conversation.

Tariq pointed out what he needed. Vel responded, “It will be delivered to you in the drop box 3”.

Tariq had hung-up the phone.

Dec 5th, 10.00PM:

Ahmed Akbari, the second-in-command of Jamiat Ul Islami, was in a pensive mood; there was a sense of elation in him – although he was second-in-command, he did not really think himself of so; he simply lived to serve the Maulana. Ahmed had listened in rapt attention few months ago, when Maulana had talked about one strike. They knew and understood that something grandiose as the Parliament attack was bound to fail. It was idiocy of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to attempt something like that – that had only served to make things tougher for pragmatist such as themselves. Ahmed believed it was stupid to under-estimate the Indian Government and politicos’ will to come together in such adversity. So choose the target right, design to align a few variables and then strike. He can still recall what the Maulana had said – ‘one strike at the heart at the appropriate time, and enemy will be weakened tremendously. We should pick one target that will get the world to sit up and notice what we are doing; then we should not have any problems in recruiting and financing”.

Ahmed knew the Maulana was right; the opportunity to do that one strike was looming right in front him; a mercenary was willing to give access to a weapon for lot of money (sometimes it amused Ahmed that he is called the mercenary!!). A loose but very committed cannon, named Nawaz Khan, had the conduit to the pilot. Maulana himself had recommended Nawaz’s name, but Ahmed had done some research on Nawaz independently before recruiting him into the project. All he needed to do was to google and re-verified his findings with someone in the government service – he smiled wondering what people would do for some money; if greed dies, terrorism would be the first casualty.

Nawaz Khan had come up from a poor family in Lal Darwaza area of Ahmedabad. Ahmed had learned that Nawaz was 4th son (of 8 in the family) of a shop keeper in the walled city; they had lost their belongings and his father in one of the localized mini communal riots that happen all the time, but hardly gets reported. Nawaz had roamed from state to state; a great target for potential recruiters, which he eventually was in Uttar Pradesh. After recruitment, he was sent for terrorist training, most specifically in fire-arms, bomb-making and close-combat in the city terrain. Nawaz was caught in New Delhi during one of the failed attempt to blow-up a shopping complex and jailed. What caught the attention of Maulana was, in a daring move, he had killed two of his guards, blew up the vehicle, further maiming 3 other guards and had escaped. Fearing loss of face just ahead of the election, the government had hushed up the whole event. Maulana had sensed an opportunity and had sent his recruiters after Nawaz Khan.

Now there was this opportunity. From the first contact in mid-october, Ahmed had finally gotten to Nawaz through a series of intermediaries. Nawaz had also brought the golden goose to him – in form of a pilot, who was willing to do a couple of things for them, for huge amount of money. Ahmed had nothing but scorn and hatred for people such as this pilot – who have no ideological mooring and are willing to do anything for money; but he will live with this, if only it will get him to reach their goal quickly.

It was the typical shady joint in the deep innards of Bangalore. Bangalore was chosen as meeting point by Ahmed as it was easily the most cosmopolitan of all the cities. At the same time, if you tip the ‘authorities’ well enough, they seem to see the other way and would tend to ignore minor offences. A decrepit restaurant near Russell market was chosen for the meeting; Ahmed, who was clean-shaven and had a very short hair-cut had chosen a separate box, that can seat about 4. He was just reading the newspaper and was getting absorbed in new mobile phone that is being touted as the ultimate tool, he had heard a soft ‘Salaam-Alaikum’. He looked up and saw a young man, who had silently slipped into the opposite seat. The young-man was thin and wiry, spectacled with a scar running from his cheek to his chin, but most of it was masked by the stylish goatee and the thin mustache. He was aged between 28 and 30. As is wont, Ahmed looked his visitor in the eye and tried to gauge him – he thought he saw steel there…

“I’m Nawaz khan”, he had introduced him simply.

“Valaikum Salaam Nawaz”. Ahmed did not introduce himself; looking up he found the young man could pass as one of the software people that Bangalore had in abundance.

They called in the waiter and got the order out of the way and got into business. They did not certainly want to be seen together. Quickly, they got into the crux of the point – executing a 9/11 type of hijack; Nawaz talked about the pilot he had come across in Mumbai. The pilot was willing to do the transfer of fire-arm to enable the hijack.

Nawaz had added jokingly, “if only we could get a high-value target in the same flight... The infidel wanted 2M$ for the work; I think he will accept a half-a-million dollars; his other demand was the transfer of gun should have look liked a forced one. After the hijack, he will pilot the plane to one of the safe haven and will get lost in there”, said Khan.

“That will be done”, Ahmed was impatient– the talk about the high-value target peaked Ahmed’s interest, “The stars have arrayed”, he thought. “Hold on, lets talk about the target…”

Ahmed and Nawaz talked quietly for the next 20 minutes or so. At the end of it, Ahmed could sense victory and believed the plan could work; at the same time, he knew that they have to be extremely careful. If they strike well, it will also be safe passage for himself and the Maulana – the martyrdom can wait, another 9/11 can wait. Regarding Nawaz Khan, who the Maulana had highly recommended, he was ambivalent – that was Maulana’s decision.

“...need to meet up with Maulana, when the right opportunity comes up”, Nawaz khan was saying.

Ahmed Akbari gave the details necessary for planning to Nawaz and they broke up, with the food lightly touched.

Dec 5th, 11.45PM:

Tariq was in the shadows, he had been waiting patiently in the balcony in front of the hotel where the meeting had taken place some 2hrs ago. He had expertly opened the shop with a key and with a snack watched to see if the people from the meeting will return. After an hour, he went in as a dilapidated old man, who has saved some money from days alms and was going to get food at the end of it. When he left the restaurant, he had the wire he had set-up earlier in the day, in the hollow of the wooden table leg. He would deliver it to Vel and the Major; and they could look for nuances in the conversation – he had would hear them a few times before he made the delivery.

He took his phone and punched the regular number. It was familiar voice at the other end. Tariq simply said. “The wire will be in the drop box 4 by 2AM tonight” and disconnected.

Dec 29th 11.20PM:

The Major was quite tense and was pacing the floor; in the last few weeks, his smoking had increased and he believed he had smoked away 3 months of cigarettes in the last week, since the plan had gained speed. It seemed to have a lot of momentum now, that he can do nothing to stop it. He also had to be imaginative to create and build a scenario; since it was highly secret operation with not more than 2 other people in know (“that too not completely”), he personally had to pore through record with a fine comb to ensure there are no holes – there cannot be even an iota of doubt in anyone’s mind. He had to pull all his strings possible to get the bait set-up. He probably had used up all his quid-pro-quos of his lifetime.

He paused his pacing and returned to his desk and looked at the computer screen – in his Level-Z secure account, he stared at the draft press-release he had started writing that he’d use when the operation ended. Uday prided himself on his uncanny ability to predict outcome of an operation earlier in the inception – has been one reason that his ops ended up as successes more often than not. Here too, he had predicted this op to end in a certain way. He read through it and smiled and placed a bet on his prediction… Amidst all the tension, he grinned – he’d love to see how Tariq and Vel would react to the draft, if they read it!

That thought petered out to give way to anxiety of wait – As he lighted up another smoke he thought wryly, the smoke could kill him or this operation could kill him! Either way, he was fine! Since the time his dear wife Moushumi and Shylu were lost in senseless violence in Kashmir, he had no personal life. It suited his bureaucratic and political bosses well – he was dedicated to the cause and he had not the one looking for moving up – all he seemed to want was to ensure that his people received fair treatment and he did his best that no else loses their Moushumi and Shylu. He looked at the phone one more time willing it to ring! He ran through the checklist in his mind again. He was not sure if he should put something in writing ahead of time… As he glanced at the phone one more time, it rang – seemed eerily loud with the pall of smoke around. He picked up the phone. It was Tariq.

Major just said tersely, “All set, everything is a go”

Jan 9th 21.45Hrs:

This time, Nawaz Khan was waiting in the booth at the same restaurant for Ahmed Akbari. They were like anyone else - appeared to have walked into dinner after a night at the movies. They had decided that this was the last time they would meet. Ahmed walked in, with a paper and they greeted each other. The tension was palpable and neither of them wanted to prolong the meeting more than it needed to be.

“Everything has been set-up Ahmed-bhai – the date is 13th, two days from now”. Ahmed assumed the bhai was a practice from Nawaz’s upbringing in Gujarat. “We will be out of the country and with the prized possession”.

Nawaz quickly ran Ahmed with the necessary information. The tickets have been bought – they would be in the Business class of the flight for easy access; and they would board at Bhopal.

Ahmed confirmed for the last time… “, both of us will board the plane at Bhopal ? I will bring Maulana and will not be talking to you until we are in charge of the flight. Your pilot has been set-up?”

Nawaz Khan nodded quietly in affirmative.

Both of them arose, and in a silent mutual respect, shook hands and embraced each other thrice and left.

Jan 9th, 02.05AM:

Tariq woke up with a start. He had waited in the shadows, on the balcony, as he had done a few days ago. The tiredness and lack of sleep should have gotten to him - inspite of the incessant buzz of the famous Bangalore mosquitos, he had dozed off. He glanced at his watch in his pocket - it was close to 2AM. He was sure Vel would be waiting, a bit concerned on the lateness. Vigilant, he hurried to the back of the restaurant, went through the worker’s quarters, to the booth, picked the wire from the hollow of the table leg and returned it to the drop box.

On reaching the drop area, he called up Vel, “It is in the drop box 8 tonight”, he knew Vel would be out on his bike to pick it up in about 15m from now – he wanted to stay back at the box and see his friend and talk to him about the plan one more time. He heard Vel say, “Good Luck, my friend and take care”. Tariq, quickly closed the flip-top on his cell and left.

Jan 12th, Around 8.30 PM

Nawaz Khan was at his desk, he was at his last part of the plan. He was giving final touches to the pen. It would neatly go into his pocket, when he walks through the security. It would beep along with his belt and when the security man pats him down, he would take out his wallet and pen and leave it on the table. To the bored security, under cursory examination, it would be just a pen. It was one of those, that when clicked would push the nib out – and another hidden click, it actually pushed out the needle with the clicker becoming the plunger – it had the thing that would immobilize the victim… After a few minutes, he was done – Nawaz Khan looked at his work, he had no doubt it would pass – he had the best material to work with.

Chapter 4: The Event

Maj. Chatterjee was restless, with nervous energy – it seemed to be the norm since this op had started; his characteristic cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He was nicely very economical with truth and he knew that if things were to go south, there would be major inquisition. He knew that there was a very fine line between success and failure – between patriotism and a scoundrel; if it fails that would be the end of the career and perhaps even a court-martial. But then, looking at the whole with checks and balances, he still believed it was surplus for the country. So, he had shut that out from his mind and pursued his part of the assignment with a single minded laser focus – or else he would have failed Tariq and Vel. In front of him, he saw the itinerary of the home minister – the home minister in the coalition and the bait – Mr. Marichamy was going to Chennai en-route a brief stop-over in Bhopal with the security attaché that Maj. Chatterjee had assigned to him. “I’m fortunate to have two of the top field-operatives on it”, he thought. Although Vel seemed not comfortable to be in the limelight or the first option, he believed that Vel was almost as good as Tariq is. He stared at the ticker on the screen that he had his assistant stream to him on his monitor – it was about airline departure. He glanced at his watch, it was close to 10.45AM, and he noticed that the New Delhi ATC has given a go ahead to the plane for push-back and taxi, after a brief delay…

Jan 13th, Around 10.15 AM

At the departure hall at Delhi, Vel had his internal strife in check. He had two assignments in parallel – help protect the minister from harm and at the same time ensure the plan is a resounding success – it would halt terrorism dead on its track and give peace an opportunity to succeed. The previous night, as he was channel surfing to get rid of his tension, something caught his eye on TV – he had looked at the TV program with interest that gave way to morbid fascination to dilemma. He had immediately gone on the net and searched for the details; rushed to the TIW archives and looked it up. His hunch was right – he had fleetingly, wrestled going to Maj. Chatterjee… Finally, he had come to that decision – He would give that possibility of ever-lasting peace a chance.

Vel was waiting in the VIP lounge of the departure hall for the minister to finish his durbar. The final announcement for boarding had been done. An airline official came to the minister and fawned on him – “Sir, all the passengers have boarded, we would be ready when you are”. The minister talking to the chamchas ignored the airline official and continued talking to his crowd – Vel had half a mind to get rid of the chamchas and drag the minister to the plane.

Finally, the minister turned to Vel and said, “ennayya, polama”? Vel who knew Tamil very well, started walking, in assent – On his ride to the plane, the minister was saying that he was going to his home town to celebrate pongal in his home-state. Vel nodded, he wanted to speak very little to the minister.

Elsewhere, Tariq was waiting comfortably – everything was going on plan and he had inserted himself into the situation and had ensured he has gotten lost in the crowd – he had disguised himself sufficiently enough that he can pass close scrutiny for a while. He looked around, there officials milling around and there was a delay in departure. Although, it was annoying, it didn’t make him desperate or edgy. He knew this would play out to the end. He had spent hours listening to the nuances in the taped conversations and other intel. The terrorists would show up on the plane. The bait was too strong for them to pass up. Like Vel and the Major), he knew this was one good chance for cleansing and to end the strife. He just needed to wait for the opportune moment to strike.

As they boarded the flight, the captain had come out from his cockpit and fawned on the minister for a while. Vel immediately knew he was the kind of person who would sell his mother to make a few bucks. Vel took his seat next to the minister on the aisle. Finally, the plane departed about 30 minutes late thanks to the minister’s aimless talk to his chamchas. Vel did not notice the stylish young man with a goatee beard about three rows behind him.

For his part, Nawaz Khan seemed immersed in working on his laptop. Nawaz sitting in the 3rd row of the almost empty business class saw the minister climb in with his attaché, his mouth tightened a bit into a grimace. He quickly looked into his laptop and continued on his work. He had also noticed the captain, with a couple of blanket-packs in his hand come out from the corner of the eye and talking to the minister. The captain walked up to the end of the section and made small talk to the only other passenger in that section; and then to Nawaz. As he turned around, he dropped the pillow-blanket pack at Nawaz’ feet, nodded perceptibly. The signal has been given.

The plane made a landing at Bhopal – it was quite uneventful. There were passengers deplaning, including the other one in the business class and new passengers boarding. There were two new passengers in the business class; Nawaz glanced at Ahmed briefly without any trace of recognition and looked at the person accompanying him – his heart soared – he had seen the maulana – very few have!

Now to the next step – he had a practical problem – he needed to get to the minister going past the security attaché. He had seen the minister take a few drinks, right from Delhi; and he waited for his opportunity – he knew the minister would need to go to the toilet. And it happened in about 30 minutes and as soon as the seat belt signs were off. As the minister got out of the toilet, with amazing speed, Nawaz got out of his seat and in few paces had minister in a lock with the needle on the throat. He quietly told the attaché to be seated and try no heroics or the minister’s throat would sport a puncture.

Tariq’s heart soared. He had all the ducks lined up in a row. Their plan was going to be a success. His plan is going to be a success too. The terrorist were contained in the front and he knew he could take them. He had seen Vel and that assured him… like earlier, just need to await that opportune moment and he could sense it around the corner.

Nawaz Khan saw Ahmed and the Maulana get up from their seats. On the way to the front the Maulana tightened the attaché’s belt and asked him softly to get his hands behind his head and warned of no heroics. They knew the “Hijack code” was on the door to the cockpit; and told the head stewardess to knock at the door.

Inside the pilot cabin, Basheer and his co-pilots heard the knock differently; they knew there was trouble. They decided to open the safe and take out the automatic and make a reconnaissance of the situation to see if the automatic could be used since they were not quite certain if any other arms have been smuggled in and how many of the hijackers were in the plane. Basheer took automatic gun, tucked it in his waist behind his back, slipped on his coat and stepped out. As soon as he cleared the toilets, he went black.

Nawaz waited for the pilot to show; he had the minister cringe on the floor, near the door with the sharp edge of the knife on his throat. As the pilot crossed the toilet, Nawaz hit him with such a force that he fell as if he was pole-axed. Quickly, Nawaz took the gun away from the captain. By this time, Ahmed had expertly patted down the attaché and found a gun in the holster and relieved him of it; then found the knife tucked it in his shoes. He threw the knife to Nawaz, who put his pen away and had the knife in the other hand. Ahmed, now commanded the aircraft to Amritsar; and at the same time asked the co-pilot to get in touch with the ATC for a negotiator to state his litany of demands. Then Ahmed went to the economy section of the aircraft, waved his gun and herded the passengers to the aft of the aircraft.

As the plane landed in Amritsar, Nawaz and Ahmed saw lot of activity and some trucks which they had no doubt were military and police. They knew that the game has to be played and played out – they had decided to pilot the plane beyond Kabul and onto one of the new Islamic republics and had asked for fuel; and that had set the negotiations going.

After several hours of negotiations, with the assent from Maulana, they had agreed to free all the passengers, except for a few men and the minisiter for exchange of fuel. The remaining few passengers were bundled into the last few seats, the rear door firmly locked. The last act was to send the Security attaché to the rear to join rest of the passengers, before the plane was ready to take off.

Tariq looked around at the passengers left behind. He did not see any heroes there. But we never know, he thought to himself. Like the Flight-93 on that fated September 11th, desperate situations are likely to throw up unlikely heroes. He needed to keep an eye on them to ensure there aren’t any disruptions. He had seen Vel in the rear and Vel knew that he was around and would wait for the signal.

As the aircraft was preparing to move, Vel was at the rear with rest of the passengers, waiting for the signal – a signal from Tariq. Then he heard three shots, two quick shots and one a few seconds later, ring out from the front. A thought flashed across, “Things have gone horribly wrong…”. Mortified, Vel sprinted to the business class section of the plane and he found Maulana and Ahmed Akbari dead, Maulana with the knife expertly thrown into his heart and Ahmed shot; Basheer was also shot – Vel didn’t bother much about him, but looked for the home minister; Marichamy was very much alive, but dying with a bullet shot below his the throat, severing the windpipe – it was macabre to see the gurgling blood and his life ebb out – perhaps he had his whole life replay in front of him. Seeing Vel enter, Nawaz Khan straightened up over Ahmed Akbari, who seemed to have shot Marichamy; as he turned to face Vel, Nawaz Khan’s gun was pointing at Vel, fingers on the trigger, the safety off and …

Chapter 5: End Game, Cleaning up…

As Nawaz Khan’s eyes bore through Vel…

Flashback to Jan 12th, 10.35PM, night before the hijack

Vel was all tensed up – tomorrow was the big day. He tried to get rid of some of the tension through channel surfing – he had gone for a 10k run in the evening and that hadn’t helped much. He wished he was running with his friend Tariq now, as was their wont. As he was flipping channels, he caught a news item on the Home minister Marichamy. The news anchor was covering the meteoric rise of Marichamy from being a councilor in Coimbatore locality and slowly to the MLA and then to the minister in the regional party. Later on, in the coalition, with a bit of arm twisting to the level of home minister. Then something clicked in Vel’s head – Vel jumped onto his computer and searched on Marichamy’s life; then a short ride to TIW archives for further confirmation. He found how Marichamy was a small town crook, then rose to a status of local henchman and how he shot to prominence by rioting and arson; that was the short-step to a councilor and then onto state and national politics. That one thing caught Vel’s eye was Marichamy’s alleged role in the 1993 riots. The gang led by him had allegedly set fire to several shops, including a poor tailor’s shop; It was rumoured that Marichamy himself had personally lit fire to shops on that part of the street – It was never proven, since no one, including the tailor had come forward to speak up against him – there was a photo of the ailing tailor in the hospital, with his young son looking squarely into the camera, with piercing eyes.

Back onboard the Plane

As Vel entered the business class, Nawaz pivoted around smiling and lowering his gun – “Hello Vel, we have some collateral damage. Ahmed got to him...”. Vel recognized that cold mirth in his friend’s eyes; at that instant, he knew that his friend Tariq had achieved what he had set out at – revenge and eliminating evil. In Vel’s mind, there was very little doubt, that Tariq had shot Ahmed first and killed Maulana with the knife that was taken away from him. Using Ahmed’s gun, he had shot Marichamy and Basheer and fixed up the gun on dead Ahmed’s hand.

He went over to Tariq and looked at him. He knew that Tariq recognized that he knew. There was an unsaid Thank you in Tariq’s eyes.


Four days later, after all the hoopla had died down a bit, Major Chatterjee was in a room; for the past two days he had been questioned several times by his superiors. He had shielded both Tariq and Vel as much as possible, on the pretext that both were undercover and needed time to recoup. Now, it was a meeting with the Home secreatary and with the Security Advisor to the PM.

He was asked again and he again faithfully stuck the story - he glanced at the paper in front of him - it was a meesage that he had sent out to the command on hearing from Vel about the "collateral damage". His eyes caught parts of the message - “… and the honorable home minister was killed in the cross-fire between the TIW operatives and the terrorist on-board”.

The Major heard the Advisor asking, "...stick by your message and are you sure that is what really happened ?".

Major replied, "Yes Sir !".

Afterall that was the message he had prepared around a month ago. He smiled to himself and once again, he won his little bet with himself – he had the analysis spot-on and predicted the outcome accurately. Only this time, he did nothing to stop the course of the events.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Truly Funny Poem...

Got this from someone. This was truly truly funny. Thus far, this blog was about what I write and publish what I (call) create ! :) But then, this was really, really, genuinely funny that I cannot pass up; I'll file this under "Opinion"
Not sure of the origin of this- it says 'Colonial poetry of the Raj', but whether genuinely written by Rangaswamy or spoofed by someone else, it definitely is super.

Deep in jungle I am went
On shooting Tiger I am bent
Bugger Tiger has eaten wife
No doubt I avenge poor darling's life

Too much quiet, snakes and leeches
But am not feared these sons of beeches
Hearing loud noise I am jump with start
But noise is coming from damn fool heart

Taking care not to be fright
I am clutching rifle with eye to sight
Should Tiger come I will fall him down
Then like hero return to native town

Then through trees I am espying one cave
I am telling self - 'Rangaswamy be brave'
I now proceed with too much care
From nonsense smell this Tiger's lair

My leg is shake, I start to pray
I think I shoot Tiger some other day
Turning round I am going to go
But Tiger giving bloody roar

He bounding from cave like shooting star
I commend my soul to Kali Ma
Through the jungle I am went
Like bullet w ith Tiger hot on scent

Mighty Tiger rave and rant
Rangaswamy shit in pant!
Must to therefore leave the jungle
Killing Tiger one big bungle!!

I am telling that never in life
I will risk again for damn fool wife