I had just reached home after a long day. My phone buzzed. I picked it up.
“Dai, come out.” came the answer.
“Arun? Where are you?”
“I am outside your house.”
I peered through the curtains of my window. “I can’t see you.”
“It is dark da!”
“Ya but I can’t see your bike also dude”, this idiot was always irritating me. He had been for the last 20 years.
“Can you see a white Benz?” Arun asked gleefully.
“Yeah”, I replied.
“I am in it”.
“Benz ah?!”. The dude usually came in a Honda Shine 125 CC bike. That too second hand.
“Ya bro it is Kishore Anna’s” drawled Arun.
Kishore Anna was all I heard about every single time I chilled with Arun. “Kishore Anna knows every cop in town”, “Kishore Anna once slapped a guy and he went deaf”, “Kishore Anna is so kind that when a beggar asks for money, he gives his gold chain”. Whew.
“What are you doing in his car?”
“Yo CID. Shut the fuck up and come. We are going to the spot to put one scene.”
“That river dhaba spot?”, I asked. They had gone there last weekend and I had seen some pictures. It apparently belonged to one of Kishore Anna’s many friends and the boys got priority service and any table they wanted.
“Yeah. Same spot.”
I looked at my watch. It was 8 PM on a Sunday night. I had a long week ahead. I was already tired. It was a bad idea. I should have said no, had dinner with my folks, watched some TV, prepared for a 9 AM meeting the next day and then gone to bed. Ideally.
“Coming”. I walked out of my house.
I got out of my house and approached the shiny German car. Most times, these fancy cars are white in colour. “To hide the black of the money that bought them”, I thought to myself self-righteously. I got into the backseat. Arun welcomed me from the driver’s seat with a smug smile and a very Arun-like eyebrow raise + head tilt that I knew all too well. It was a combination of , “Pretty awesome eh?!” and “Aren’t you glad you made it?”.
Kishore Anna was sitting up front. He was a short dark guy with a tight little paunch. He was one of those men who had literally no fat on any body part except his stomach. He almost always had bags under his eyes and a weary face. He said he was 36 years old. But he looked about 45. He carried many cell phones that rang constantly. He usually wore a simple white shirt and black pants. But today, since we were going to chill, he was wearing a plain collared t-shirt and pants. He welcomed me into his car with a wave. He was on the phone.
I had hung out with Arun, Kishore Anna and the boys a few times before. Some of the other guys in that gang were also people I knew from college and were equally taken with the big bad Anna as Arun was. They always told me stories in hushed tones about the super secret multi-crore land deals he was involved in, the elite and powerful people he worked with and how his network spread far and wide. I always wondered that if what he did was so secret, how did all these guys know such intimate details. I would always hear stuff like, “You know that land behind that ice cream shop, Kishore Anna got the deal done hush hush for a political big shot who doesn’t want to be named.”. These were our town’s ‘blind items’.
“When we get angry, we are hurting us internally more than the other person in the opposite side.” proclaimed Anna after taking a long sip of his beer. Today, Anna seemed to be in a spiritual and zen mood. He was advising us against violence and anger. We had reached the spot, a rustic ‘dhaba’ of sorts. It was a cool and breezy July night. Beers had been ordered, spicy chicken was on the table, cigarettes had been lit. I was now enjoying myself. It was a good ‘scene’. And however much I scoffed at it, hanging out with Anna did have perks. We got the best table, the beer was ice cold and the service was great! There was also some sort of water trickling behind us that made this spot the ‘river spot’. It was most likely filthy during the day but at night the sound was soothing.
“I was in that Isha Yoga Ashram last week boys.”, said Anna. “That Sadhguru is totally amazing, I tell you. He is the perfect life example. He has fun but is still a Guru. He rides bikes, he drives cars, plays golf, but still he has detachment and not attachment. No anger, no violence, nothing. Peace is all he has in his life.” Anna seemed to have taken a massive detour from his normal topics of conversation. His brethren seemed quite confused and so they just nodded and focused on the chicken.
In my head, I had the privilege of being an outsider without any allegiance and hence I could be more candid and ask stuff that the others would not. I also had the privilege of being 3 beers down. KF Strong always goes down like a bomb! So I asked, “Anna you are saying non violence but recently you slapped one guy at the tea shop I heard.”. As I said this, I saw Arun shoot me a look. I realised with a jolt that Arun would get into trouble if Anna heard that he was talking about his stories behind his back. But Anna didn’t seem to mind. “That is a different case ma. In that case someone is not giving us respect means we should not simply stand. We should always fight for our respect and our family’s respect.”. I nodded not completely out of arguments but giving my counterpoint a minute’s gap to make it seem like his point had really forced me to think hard. It had not. As I was about to ask a follow up question, Arun interrupted. “Anna, tell us about your US trip. Did you go to Las Vegas?”. He was clearly trying to change the topic. I didn’t really care that much, so I also dropped it.
The night progressed smoothly after that. We got progressively more drunk. Soon the place had to shut and it was time for us to leave. But at this point of time, no one wanted to go home. Everyone was up for some more alcohol. “I want one more beer bro”, said Arun. “Me too”, chimed someone else. “Where will we get anything at this time guys?”, I asked. “When Anna is there, never fear”, Arun exclaimed. Fuckin’ ass kisser.
So the plan was set, we had two cars. One car would go and buy beer. The second car would go to the bakery, a sort of snack shop, that was owned by Anna’s wife and wait for the beer wagon. I was in car 2. We reached the bakery uneventfully. It was a prominent bakery on the main road. They served snacks and beverages and there were colleges nearby so it was generally full during the day and evenings. But now we had to open the shutter. Soon, the beer arrived and party #2 was underway.
The party in the shop started with a short warning by Arun saying that we had to be extra careful as this was Anni’s (Anna’s wife) shop and that we couldn’t break anything or leave a mess. Anni was someone Anna was supposedly scared of. Legend has it that she apparently once caught him smoking in secret after being warned not to many times and dumped a full vat of hot sambar on him. Needless to say, Anna stopped smoking.
We had taken some of the chairs and arranged them inside the shop and had commenced our activities with the shutter half down.. Thirty minutes in, I got up and went out from under the shutter to take a leak beside the shop. As I was unloading all the beer I had, two guys on a bike stopped next to me, “Bro, we need tea and some food.”. “The shop is closed”, I said. “Are you the owner?”, the driver asked. “No, but the shop is shut and we have nothing”, I repeated. The driver of the bike was the one doing the talking. He was a tall skinny guy with longish hair and shirt buttons open to his chest. He was wearing glasses that were all too big for his face. The other guy behind him was bald and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. He had a bulky backpack on. Glasses and Baldy looked like they had been drinking. I could smell it. Or maybe I could just smell myself, I wasn’t too sure.
“Dai, where you disappeared? Anna is telling us about his college days”, Arun came looking for me. He saw the two guys on the bike, “What happened?”, he asked.
“They want some food, I told them we are shut but they want to talk to the owner. Just ask Anna and see na if there is some food”, I replied. By now all the other boys had noticed this conversation and had started to come out. “Mad or what? Tell them to go”, said Arun. “Shop is shut, come tomorrow, get lost.” Arun started shooing them off. He wouldn’t usually adopt such a brusque attitude but I saw everyone’s attitude shift around Anna (and alcohol). They knew they were protected. Such is the heady feel of power. “Go, get lost”, Arun repeated.
At this point if the bike guys had left, it would have been an uneventful night. Nothing would have happened. But Arun’s attitude and the way they were being told to leave played on their ego. “We will pay for what we get, take more money if you want!” said Glasses. Dangerous territory. I started telling them to leave, in a kinder tone, “We are closed guys, just go down the road for a kilometer there might be another shop near the hospital. Go now.”.
“Money ah? You think you can buy anything you want, dirty fuckers!?”, Anna had appeared by now and he did not like the money statement. His hand was on their bike handle. Another guy was now standing diagonally opposite to their bike at close quarters. All danger signs. These guys were slowly making up their mind to not let the bike guys leave without an ass kicking. All the ‘non violence’ talk from 5 hours ago had evaporated.
Glasses and Baldy were not getting it. They were going to get beaten up if they opened their mouths again. These are the times that puzzle me the most. There is a side to so many of us that clamours for any kind of adrenaline rush, regardless of the danger that might put ourselves in. Glasses refused to listen to me. He took a different route. “Do I look like an orphan to you? Do you think I am a thief? I just want tea, I can go inside and make it!”. Things escalated quickly after that.
“Let’s see you do it”, said one of our guys. These guys with absolutely nothing to do with the situation, often tend to unnecessarily worsen it. They add that extra chorus for no reason. Glasses now started to get off the bike. “Dude, let us leave!”, said Baldy. The first sensible thing he had said. “Why should we be scared, we are doing nothing wrong” retorted Glasses. He got off the bike and started to make his way to the shop.
From where he came I don’t know, because he had disappeared for a bit, presumably to go take a leak, Anna came charging towards the guy from behind the shop. Luckily for the Glasses, I saw Anna at the last minute and caught him. I managed to get a good hold on him around his chest. I kept telling him, “Let it go Anna, we are having a good night. Why do we need this nonsense? You go inside, I’ll tell them to leave!”. “You don’t know these kinds of people da, I’ll fix them!” came the response, but I still held on. Then one of the idiots in our gang would say something like, “Do you know who he is? Do you know who this shop belongs to?” and rouse him up again. I did not let go. I held on.
I was now feeling bad for Baldy. He wasn’t even being as much of a dick as Glasses was. He had a heavy bag on his back and genuinely seemed irritated by Glasses. I implored to him, “Take your crazy friend and leave!”. He looked confused. It seemed to me that he was scared of Glasses somehow. Baldy was muscular and seemed to be older than that impetuous skinny idiot, but who knows what their relationship was.
Arun and the guys had by now taken Glasses’ phone and also the bike keys. They had made Baldy stand in the corner and were now menacingly standing around Glasses making all kinds of threats. I made Anna sit and rushed to them. I was tired by now. No one seemed to want peace except me. Even the guys at the receiving end of the hostility seemed belligerent about it. Idiots. I went and plucked the phone out of Arun’s hand and handed it over but he refused to hand over the bike keys to me. “Let them come tomorrow and take the bike.”, said Arun.
“Leave, just leave. Right now. Get lost.”, I exclaimed. “Come tomorrow for your bike!”. Glasses showed all signs of refusing to budge without his bike. “Give me my bike and I’ll leave”, said Glasses. He repeated the sentence around 10 times. Arun turned around, threw the keys inside the shop and pulled down the shutter and locked it. “Fuck off!”, said Arun. I am sure he thought he was being some Tamil movie badass in his head, but he was just being a drunk asshole in my book. Baldy now came into his own. He pulled Glasses and they started to walk away. Whew! Finally!
Anna and the guys seemed disappointed by the tame end of this potential fight. They went to the car and started playing music. “Come let’s dance guys!”, said Anna. He was almost shirtless by now, with all his buttons off. He was dancing with a beer bottle perched on his head.
I was feeling really guilty. We shouldn’t have kept the bike I thought. “Chill da, we’ll give their bike. They should know na, not to fuck with us.”, Arun said as he walked up to where I was standing. “This was highly unnecessary da Arun.” I told him. We had turned around and we were walking to Anna when we heard glass shatter from somewhere inside the shop. I looked at Arun to see if he heard it too. He had. Anna and the others were standing with their backs to us a little away, so it didn’t seem like they heard anything. Plus their music was loud. Arun and I walked to the shop and raised the shutter to see what had caused the sound. “Unlock that side.” instructed Arun. We raised the heavy shutter together and to my utter disbelief there was Glasses standing inside with his phone torch light on. The window at the back of the shop was broken and he had climbed in from there. The fool had also successfully broken a 2 of the tea glasses within the bakery and that was the sound that we had heard. “ANNAAAA!”, screamed Arun. He proceeded to swear profusely and he jumped on Glasses. I went inside to break them up and Glasses caught me by the neck. I couldn’t breathe, “L..et.. go”, I was choking! I managed to somehow wrestle free and finally get a breath in. By now the rest of the crew had come. Anna charged in with a right hook that would have knocked an elephant to the ground, and I got the brunt of it as I was trying to stop him. Dazed I stepped out of the fray. Within seconds the boys had Glasses and Baldy (who got stuck in the window because of his backpack), in WWE style master locks. Anna looked at the damage to his shop. The shop was a mess. The fight had broken more glasses, a table’s legs were off, the window was of course broken, biscuits were all over the floor. Mayhem. I could see Anna thinking how much trouble he was going to get into with his wife. I was really hurting now with the punch and the choke so I stepped out of the shop into fresh air. Arun followed me out. He was an old friend after all and was not happy that I got hurt. Especially on a night he had organised. All of a sudden, we heard the shutter sound and turned around to see one of the boys pull down the shutter locking themselves in with Glasses and Baldy.
Now even Arun looked uncertain. He was not a mean guy and did not mean for actual violence to occur and was looking unsure of his role in the outcome. “How dare they break into the shop da?” he justified. “But we took their keys no!” I said. I had given up by now. I just wanted to go home. We sat in brooding silence for the next 5 minutes. Suddenly, the shutter opened a little and a guy from our cohort rushed out and got on his bike. “Where are you going?”, asked Arun. “To get the police”, came the reply. There was a checkpost half a km to the west and that is where he was going, to get the duty cops. This was terrible. “Dude, the cops will beat the shit out of them da, it will scar them Arun! Do something!”. “What can I do now? Anna will not leave now”, Arun shot back but his cockiness was gone. He also thought that calling the cops was not cool and I knew it. I started pounding on the shutter, “Open up!”. By the time the shutter got opened and I was able to start talking to Anna, the cops were there. The fastest they had ever responded. They were also bored and this added some excitement to their life, plus they got the chance to help out Anna who they could contact when they needed something done. They pushed the two guys into the jeep and left.
“Anna that was too much Anna, what did they do? What is their crime?”, I asked. “We were the ones who took their keys!”. I was quite upset. It felt wrong. No one else cared. This was something that they were going to talk about for the next 10 drinking sessions. It was a sensational story. Anna came to me and Arun, who by now was also on my side. “Relax boys, these kinds of people need to be taught lessons. Did you know they are Laxmi Nagar boys, that area all rowdies only.”, explained Anna. “But their parents will have to come, they will get beaten up, you know how the cops are Anna!”, I said. By now Anna was pretty much done explaining himself to me. He yawned, “It is done now ma, it is late, let us leave! Arun, take the car and drop him and then I’ll pick the car from you tomorrow.”
Arun and I got into the car. “Smoke?”, asked Arun. I nodded. “Water tank?”. I nodded again. We climbed to the top of the water tank we had been coming to for years and sat down in our usual spot. Both of us not saying much. We lit up. Arun’s phone rang. “It is Anna da”…”Hello, Ya Anna?”.
He listened for 30 seconds.
He hung up and looked at me, a huge smile on his face.
— — — — — — — -
NEXT MONTH — 15th August
It was a really hot day and I was suffocating in my full sleeves shirt. I was sitting on an uncomfortable plastic chair. Arun sat next to me looking equally stuffy. He was wearing a horrible purple velvet shirt that looked like something Hagrid from Harry Potter would wear. Anna sat on the far corner of the stage. Our local Corporation Commissioner had the mic and was making a speech. Arun nudged me as he heard our names being called. I went to the front of the stage and shook hands with the Commissioner. We stood in line next to him and got our pictures clicked. I could see my parents sitting in the audience. They looked proud and happy.
Who would have thought that those two bike idiots were wanted thieves in a burglary?
Who would have thought that their arrest led to the arrest of one of the largest chain snatching gangs in the city?
Who would have thought that Baldy’s backpack had stolen goods worth lakhs?
Who would have thought that in my quest to stop the fight and take the moral high ground, I would have let two thieves escape?
I shook my head and smiled for the cameras.
Original story written by Pranav Mathur and published on Medium and Instagram.