"Sir, now the ball is in their court. It is he who has to decide. And we have four to five hours. It's almost dawn. Sir, I most humbly request you to take rest. You haven't slept for the past 49 hours. At your age..."
From across the heavily carpeted room, seventy one year Daya Patil aka DP stared back. On a regular day, that glare, those blood shot eagle eyes that sat royally under a bushel of thick set black as coal eyebrows would have been enough to make a ordinary mortal tremble. Such was the omnipotent, intimidation that the six foot six inch tall elicited in every human spine within a ten mile radius. No wonder his umpteen enemies and friends alike had saddled him another famed epithet LION.
But, tonight, this sultry mid_June Saturday night, the usually shimmering night sky was shorn of its twinkling glitter, the horizon a thick black blanket, blacker than a bat's wings suspended in a cavernous hilltop.
And as if to match the sombre mood, the man they called the lion of the jungle was quiet, as quiet as a death row prisoner who has just been told that the judge, his last big hope, has also turned his back on him and has ordered that he be hanged to death before dawn's rays kiss the Earth.
Home Minister Daya Patil aka DP aka Lion looked at Atanu Babu his chief aide, his principal secretary, his confidante of half a century, his most trusted Man Friday and knew he was left with no other option.
Slowly, he limped towards the exit door, his otherwise ramrod figure half bent, his large hairy hands ans legs clearly shaking and trembling. The droopy eyelids, heavily lined brow that looked like an eight lane highway, and the putrid air of deep intense sorrow that seeped from his every pore completed the picture of a man in the throes of an unfathomable pain.
Five Hours Later...
"Sir...sir...sorry to wake you up. Its urgent. Something has come up."
The lion was woken from his slumber.
He looked up and his eyes, still weary and sleep deprived, bored into the intruder's eyes.
Atanu replied in halted notes.
"Sir, the call just came through. They have flatly refused.:
DK rubbed his eyes in disbelief as he scrambled out of the bed.
His first reaction was a searing "What"?
Atanu, frightful that his boss may fall down, took two hurried steps forward, and held out his hand.
It was that instant that Mrs Tripathi entered the corner room.
"What...why...what is all this? Tell me, what have they done to my daughter? Where is my Lolo?"
DK half ran towards his wife, but it was his aide who framed a reply.
"Ma'am, that's what I has come to tell Sir. But now that you're here, you too can listen to this. A few minutes ago, we received a call. It was from Jaish E .Mohammed. The caller refused to identify himself. Simply said that if they were to realise the Home Minister's daughter, they would want five of their associates, currently lodged in various prisons all over the country be realised. They also said that this release of their comrades has to be unconditional. A six hour deadline is what they have set. Failing which they have threatened to mur..."
An ear splitting, heart wrenching scream filled the room. Even before anyone of the duo could respond, on the floor lay the limpid figure of Mrs Asha Tripathi, wife of Daya Patil, more widely known as Number Two in the Union Cabinet, also arguably one of the most powerful men in the entire world by virtue of his being the Home Minister of India, the largest functional democracy of the world.
Locaton: War Room, East Wing, Home Minister's Office
'Sir, we have a tape. First, we would like you to hear it'.
Home Minister Daya Patil, nodded his head.
Within seconds, the oblong shaped room darkened and the large mini theatre screen sprang to life.
A man, only his face, jet black beard sitting rough on a square shaped acquinine noses face that screamed rough and tough came into vision.
Jet black eyes, their pupils-two murals carved into stone-stared onto space as a voice boomed loud and clear.
"Mr Home Minister, your daughter is in my custody. If you want her to be safely released, you will have to hand over our six men that your forces captured last July. Remember, no men, no daughter. You have two hours to decide."
The face faded away as ants began to crawl all over the giant sized projector screen.
As the lights were turned on, four pairs of eyes turned fowards the man at the centre, the Number Two in the Union Cabinet.
For the next two whole minutes, pin drop silence prevailed. Depsite the air conditioning, the air in the heavily fortified ground floor 'war room' suddenly became rarified. Amidst the eerie quietness one could feel the tension rising. It was so thick that one could slice it with a knife.
After what seemd an eternity, the Lion spoke. His voice was low, yet steady; one would have to be deaf and dumb as well as an imbecile not to have understood the full import of what he meant when he spat out the words, "I DON'T COMPROMISE, NEVER HAVE, NEVER WILL."
The other men-Chief Aide Atanu Babu and National Security Advisor Ratnesh Pathak waited, their lips tightly sealed; experience had taught them that when the 'Lion' is upset and angry and raging, it's best to bide their time. Let the king find his way; after it's his jungle.
"Mr Pathak, tell me all that to know. And better be quick. Time is slipping by", roared DK.
Quick on the uptake, the NSA responded, "The tape was sent to our official Telegram channel. The man in the video is Akbar Moosa, the dreaded chief of Lashkar E-Jahaan, the most powerful terrorist organisation in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Last years they killed 112 of defence personnel, set off over three dozen bomb explosions, and carried no less than 13 drone strikes- the total casualty inflicted by these insurgents is over 5000. IED blasts are their..."
"Enough!", bellowed DK.
"I don't want an entire treatise of their varied exploits. Just tell me who are these three that Moosa is referring to."
The NSA chief cleared his throat and croaked.
"Sir, their names are Rashid Khan, Anwar Qureshi, and Shiraz Maulvi."
As the Home Minister narrowed his eyes and looked on, Pathak continued, "two of them are area commanders and have under them no less than half a lakh militants each. The third terrorist Shiraz is the younger brother of Moosa. He is what we call in crime intelligence parlance a spotter. A spotter of talent (read naive, impressionable young men and women sold to a dystopian vision of pan Arabic Caliphate with Allah as their whole soul supreme lord and protector. He is the chief recruiter behind the organization. You release him and the head comes back, meaning the dreaded Lashkar E Jahaan turns double deadly. The first two are currently serving their life sentences, both lodged in Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai while Shiraz Maulvi..."
The raised hand did the trick this time too. As if on cue, Pathak bit his lower lip as the words died out within his mouth.
DK, his large bulbous eyes now a fiery flaming crimson, bellowed, "Ok let me make it clear. None, I repeat no one except I will communicate with these bastards. And, I need on my table within 30 minutes a detailed Plan of Action for our likely course of action that would enable us to effectively neutralise, once and for all, this societal menace that is the Lashkar E Jahaan."
So saying, the Lion stomped out of the room, leaving behind a stunned audience of two men who between them had to hatch a foolroof plan, a plan so ingenious and never heard before, a course of action that would ensure a double whammy of benefits.
Ananta looked at Tripathi, the most powerful and most respected defence expert in the country, and volleyed, "Got to kill this man, got to save 19 year old Aishu as well. Both knew that was impossible as the dreaded terrorist was holed up in Pakistan, a country with which India, to put it euphemisticaly, was not on friendly terms.
Tripathi squinted his eyes, Ananta rubbed his nose. The two knew what soup the Home Minister, and by extension the nation had gottten themselves into.