“See him?  He’s your target,” said the man, pointing to the photograph of a bald, bespectacled man who looked much older than his forty five years.

The burly, bearded man standing in front of him was listening intently.

“Amir, you will get this done,” the first man continued, looking up from his chair at the standing man.

Amir nodded in agreement.  “Yes, boss.’

Next to Amir stood a younger man.  His baby face and average build made him look much younger than his twenty two years; rather he could pass off as an innocent student.  Except that he was neither.  In fact, he could be deadlier than Amir, if required.

The boss continued his instructions.  “You have three days to get it done.  And yes,” he added, pointing to Baby Face.  “Take him for assistance.”

Amir brightened up.  

The boss adjusted the shawl that covered his face, abruptly got up and left.

Amir turned to Baby Face.  “Salim, send away your wife and parents to your village.  We’ll be using your house.”

If Salim had any objection, he decided not to show it.


“Ma,” called Hayagriv, as he disconnected the call.  “The doctor says we should get Samidha to the hospital now.” 

“Okay, beta,” came the response from the kitchen.  “I’ll tell your Papa to book a cab.”

Hayagriv turned towards his heavily pregnant wife, who was lying on the bed in their room.  He sat next to her and caressed her forehead.  She smiled, exhausted.  She was due any day now.

“Don’t worry, Samidha,” he said softly.  “Everything will be fine.  I’m there, na?”

Samidha tried to put her arms around him.  He bent forward and hugged her.  He knew how much she depended on him for emotional support.  He had spent every spare moment with her in the last eight months, even as she could barely move from her bed, thanks to a difficult pregnancy.

Hayagriv had no idea that fate would soon call for Samidha to develop nerves of steel.

Hayagriv’s mother left the kitchen and reached the door of his bedroom.  One look and she quietly tiptoed her way back.  

The cab arrived.  Hayagriv had just sat in the taxi next to his wife, when his phone rang.  He looked at the screen.  The name “JD Singh Boss” stared back.

His heart sank.  Oh no, not now, he prayed.  

Hayagriv was the marketing head in a chemical manufacturing company.  He was also the right hand to the CEO, who often travelled to meet their existing clients and potential customers.  He took Hayagriv along with him every time, for he knew that the latter’s smooth-talking skills and captivating smile would compensate for his own rough tongue.

Getting a call from JD, as he was known, on a holiday at 5 pm meant only one thing – a visit to a potential client.  Hayagriv also knew the consequences of saying no to such a call.   The job market was tight and he needed the money, not least for the baby on the way.

Samidha looked up at her husband’s worried face, then at the phone.  Her face fell.  “Oh!” was all she said.

“What happened, beta?”

Hayagriv looked at his parents standing outside the cab.  “JD calling.”

“”Answer it, beta,” said his father.  Hayagriv hesitantly swiped the green button to the right.

“Hello Sir..”

“Hayagriv,” came a deep, firm voice from the other end.  “We’ve a new client appointment at Sumer Nagar at 6:30 pm.  Potential big deal.  Reach the main road signal at 5:30.  I’ll pick you up there.”

It took all of Hayagriv’a strength to keep himself from exploding at his boss.  JD was very well aware that his wife was due for delivery and his presence was required at home.  But that is what JD is, he thought with a sigh.  Money-minded, ruthless, self-contred and occasionally enjoying the discomfort of the people who worked for him.

His reverie was interrupted by a deliberate cough from Samidha.  “Er, um, well…,” he began.

“Beta, if your boss has called you, you go.  We’ll look after Samidha,” said his father.

Hayagriv smiled.  His family knew JD only too well.  But how could he leave his wife at this stage?

“Never mind.  We’ll manage.  You go,” Samidha’s response surprised him.  

The decision was made.


Hayagriv waited at the main road signal, thinking about the potential appointment.  Sumer Nagar was an hour’s drive away from the city.  The route passed through a narrow, less frequented highway in the midst of densely forested areas and was known for robberies.  Hayagriv knew it would be dark by the time they returned and prayed for safety.

“Sa’ab,” called the familiar voice of JD’s driver.  Hayagriv got into the back seat, next to a bald, bespectacled forty-five-year old man wearing a silver pin on his shirt that spelt “J.D.” in a fancy font.

Little did Hayagriv know the twists and turns that fate had in store for him.

It was 9 pm when they left the client’s office, having closed an unbelievably profitable deal.  JD was on top of the world.  Hayagriv  was simply relieved.  His wife was in labour and maybe he could still reach on time.

The moment they left, the “client” made a phone call.  “They’ve just left, boss.”

“9 pm.  Well done,” came the reply.  The call was disconnected.


“Amir, we catch one of them.  What about the other?”

“Salim, we get them both.  We don’t want trouble.”

Salim was learning fast.


JD talked non stop on the way back.  Hayagriv’s mind was thinking only of Samidha.

Halfway through the journey, at a particularly notorious spot on the road, the car screeched to a sudden halt.  The driver stepped out, opened up the front and tinkered around for what seemed an eternity, before declaring that they were stranded.

“You fool,” began JD, just as expected.  “Couldn’t you get the car checked before the trip?” 

“JD Saab, you called me so suddenly that there was no time,” replied the driver without batting an eyelid.  “I’ll call a cab.”

That was when they all realised that the area had no mobile network.

“Don’t worry, JD Saab, I’ll go get help.”

Before anyone could react, the driver had walked away into the darkness, leaving behind two men, both grumpy and desperate for different reasons, stranded in the middle of nowhere.


It was an hour before the two of them started having doubts about the return of the driver.  

Looking around, Hayagriv spotted a light in the distance.  The jungle wasn’t very deep and wasn’t known for wild animals.  The duo decided to walk towards the source of the light.

Like a mirage in the desert, it was a couple of kilometres before they reached their target.  It was a little hamlet where all families had apparently gone to sleep, except one, where the light still shone.

Hungry, desperate and in dire need of help they walked towards the little hut and knocked on the door.

Meanwhile, on the main road, a figure crept out of the darkness, got into their car and drove away.

JD and Hayagriv heard a faint sound of the engine.  But they were too far, too tired and too hungry to think clearly.

The door opened and the duo turned to see an old, bent woman staring at them.

Hunger and exhaustion overcame anger and frustration as the duo ultimately accepted the old woman’s invitation and entered the little hut.

It was a small house with minimal possessions – a rolled up mattress ìn one corner and a little kitchen with a wood fire on the other.  Near the rolled up mattress was an old wooden charpai, on which lay an emaciated young man, wide awake and staring at them with curious eyes.

There’s something wrong with him  thought Hayagriv, but I can’t seem to place it.  The answer came to him soon enough, as he observed the woman caring for him in between serving them hot dal-roti.  The young man was her son and was paralysed from the neck down.  Hayagriv’s heart melted as he saw the frail woman hobbling around.  Mother’s love can do anything, he thought.

He was soon to witness how the same mother’s love would sacrifice him for the sake of her own son.

JD, on the other hand, was interested only in gorging on the food while simultaneously shaking his mobile phone and pointing it in every conceivable direction in the hope of finding a network. 

The meal had a heavenly taste and Hayagriv thanked the woman profusely.  He was about to get up to wash his hands when his phone beeped.

Ah, network!  Hayagriv grabbed his phone before JD could pounce on it.  He felt himself slow down a bit as he opened its flip cover.  Hmmm, drowsiness after a tasty meal, he thought.

As his phone buffered a bit, he looked up to find the woman staring hard at him.  Somehow she doesn’t look kindly anymore, mused Hayagriv. 

He opened his WhatsApp.  There was one new message from his Ma.  His eyes blurred as he struggled to read the one-liner.

“Congratulations, beta.  You are now father of a baby girl.”

Though the message registered in his head, the letters blurred and danced before him.  A moment later, he slumped atop the supine body of JD, who was already in deep slumber.

Half an hour later, an ambulance showed up at the door of the cottage, along with a minivan.  The curious villagers saw the young man being carried off into the white vehicle.  A heap of belongings were dumped into the minivan.  The old woman, with an agility that defied her seventy-five years on the planet, helped in loading the minivan and explained to the neighbours that she was migrating to the city, to a place where her son would receive proper medical treatment.

With everyone’s attention on the son, no one noticed the two huge sacks that were also loaded into the minivan by two loaders, one burly and the other of delicate build.

The old woman sat erect next to the driver’s seat as the burly man swiftly drove away.  The other man accompanied her son in the ambulance. 

Hayagriv woke up to find himself on a cold hard surface, surrounded by complete darkness.  His head throbbed as he tried to recollect what had happened.  Where was he?  Which day was it?

He had travelled to a client meeting with JD.  On the way back, their car had broken down.  They had walked to an old woman’s house and then…

His eyes were getting accustomed to the darkness, as he looked around.

The old woman had served them dinner.  And then.. 

Hayagriv’s eyes could slowly discern a bare room.  

And he had received a message.  Where was his mobile?  He slid his shaky, heavy hands into all his pockets, but they were empty.

It was quiet, very quiet around him.  Hayagriv strained his ears to pick up some sound, any sound, but it was no use.

He sat up straight, though with some difficulty.  His hands were slowly regaining their strength.  

And the message was that there was a baby girl…wait, he had become the father of a baby girl.

A smile broke out on his face, involuntarily.   He wanted to jump up and dance.  But wait!  Where was he?  Where was his family?  Was it day or night?  And JD had been with him.  What had happened to JD?

The old woman! She had been staring at him with a strange look in her eyes.  Yes, she had done something.  But what?  She was the villain, no doubt.

“Hello!!  Anyone here?” he called out, surprised at how his voice echoed across the room.

Almost immediately, a door opened and daylight flooded in, only to be eclipsed by a big, burly form.

“Quiet!” growled the form as it moved closer to him.  The next instant, Hayagriv felt something cold on his neck.  It took him some time to digest the fact that it was the muzzle of a machine gun.

All his wooziness vanished instantly, as he realised that he was in trouble, deep trouble.  Ordinary kidnappers do not use Kalashnikovs.  But how come I’m here?

With death just a whisker away, he whispered, “Where am I?  What happened?”

The burly man glared and pushed him with the muzzle of his gun.  Hayagriv fell backwards.

A younger, smaller man entered.  “You are safe.”

Hayagriv wondered how safe it was to cower at gunpoint.

“As long as you cooperate with us,” the man completed his sentence.  “Don’t struggle.  Don’t try to escape.  Once we get what we want, we let you go.”

“Salim,” said the burly man.  “Give him something to eat.”

“Yes, Amir…”

But the last thing on Hayagriv’s mind was food.  He had a million questions.  First and foremost, he wanted to get back home.  To Samidha.  To his parents.  To his baby.  His new baby.  He wanted to take her in his arms for the first time, coo sweet nothings into her ears, kiss those delicate cheeks.  He wanted to calm her cries, sing her a lullaby and have her tiny form fall asleep in his arms.  He wanted to know whom she looked like.  The face, nose, eyes, ears…were they like her mother or father?  Or grandparents?

A noise brought him back to harsh reality.  Salim had kept a plate of dal roti in front of him and left.

Hayagriv wanted to scream.  He wanted to cry out loud.  He wanted to just get up and go home.  He noticed that the door to the room was now open and daylight was streaming in from the window in the next room.  It appeared to be early afternoon.  What was the date?  Hayagriv was about to fumble in his pockets for his mobile, when he remembered they were empty.

He sank back onto the floor in frustration.  What the hell was this?  Or maybe hell was better.  He realised he couldn’t even move out of the room without being watched.  And any attempt to escape would activate that AK-56.

Hunger pangs rumbled in his stomach like the growls of a hundred tigers.  Hayagriv realised that there was no point in staying hungry and disoriented.  He gingerly picked up a piece of roti and put it in his mouth.  It felt like heaven within hell.

The food helped to revive his strength a little and eased his headache.  He got up and started walking around the room, trying to look outside and take in the view without alerting his kidnappers.  And without getting shot.

He was in an empty room of around 10 feet by 10 feet.  There were two doors opposite each other.  One was closed.  It had a window next to it, which was also closed.  The other was the one through which Amir and Salim had entered.  This opened out into a bigger room, which had a closed door and an open window at the far end.  The open window was the source of the daylight.

The floor was red cement.  Hayagriv saw a little black platform in the room, which looked like a cooking platform in a kitchen.  Which it probably was.  An emptied-out kitchen.  The double doors, the wood-framed windows and the old-fashioned switchboards all pointed to one of those old tenements that had survived the test of time.  But where was he?

Where was JD?  They were together when this happened.

The sudden sound of a television set bursting into life broke the silence in the air.  Hayagriv jumped.  Recollecting himself, he looked around and saw a stream of light coming into the next room from the side.  He decided to find out and walked towards it.

It was a door, connecting into the neighbouring tenement.  Salim and Amir sat there with their backs to him, staring into a huge 42 inch TV screen.

Hayagriv saw his own, larger-than-life face staring back at him from the screen.

A voice in the background was screaming over noisy music.  Hayagriv found all his questions getting answered, one by one.

“The police have cordoned off Sita Niwas.  The terrorists have prohibited anyone from coming within 100 feet of the building, else they have threatened to shoot Hayagriv. 

“The Chief Minister shall negotiate with the terrorists.”


The reporter screeched on.

“Hayagriv and his CEO, JD Singh, also known as JD, were kidnapped on their way back from Sumer Nagar after a meeting with a client.  They were lured into a hut by an old woman who sedated them through their food, in return for a promise by the terrorists to pay for her paralysed son’s treatment.”

The headlines at the side of the screen screamed, “A Mother’s Love For Her Son Aided The Kidnapping.”

So I was thinking right, said Hayagriv to himself.

“It is suspected that JD’s driver was also paid to get this done.  The driver is presently absconding.  

“We attempted to reach the client in Sumer Nagar, but the place he claimed as his office is locked and the name board missing.  Neighbouring establishments claim that such an office never existed and was open for only one day, the day of the kidnapping.”

Hayagriv’s eyes grew wide in surprise.

The headlines screamed, “Where Is JD?”
An ad break ensued, during which Hayagriv noticed the date and time on the top left part of the screen.

Monday 11 am.  So I was kidnapped yesterday.

He waited impatiently, till the reporter resumed.

“While the terrorists have Hayagriv in their custody, the body of JD was found dumped on the highway.

“Initial investigations show that JD may have struggled to escape from the kidnappers’ moving vehicle and may have met his end.”

The news channel then proceeded to show a map of the area he was in, along with a floor plan of Sita Niwas.

Hmmm, thought Hayagriv, these people know everything, except how to get me out of here.

He noticed that Sita Niwas was a collection of 6 tenements, 3 each on the ground and first floors.  The houses comprised a hall and a kitchen, with washrooms at the back and a common gallery in the front.  The building was old and dilapidated and the ground floor rooms housed a godown.  The last house on the first floor was empty and locked.  The first two houses on the first floor were connected through a door and that was where Hayagriv now stood, watching TV through the door.

The reporter was back.  “We now meet Hayagriv’s parents.”

Before Hayagriv could understand what was happening, the camera zoomed in to his parents.  

Hayagriv’s eyes filled with tears.  How they had aged overnight!  Samidha was still in hospital.  He longed to see her and the baby, his baby.  He seethed with anger at the terrorists.  Why me? Oh, why me?  He thought again and again.

He continued watching as his parents cried, ranted and pleaded with the police to rescue their son.  His heart broke.  And his anger clouded his mind so much that he lunged at his captors from behind, hoping to disarm them.

One punch from Amir sent him reeling to the floor.  Salim trained his gun at him and whispered menacingly.  “One more attempt…..”  He left the rest to Hayagriv’s terrified imagination.

No, I won’t struggle.  I’m held for ransom.  I’ll be free someday.  I want to see my baby.  Hayagriv stayed rooted to a corner of the room.



“Yes, Samidha?”

“Where is Hayagriv?  Has he still not returned?”

“No, beta.”

“You have taken my phone away.  I tried him from your phone.  Why is his phone switched off?”

“He must have forgotten to charge it, beta.  Look at your baby.  She seems to be needing you.”

“Papaji, the baby’s sleeping.  And you’re lying.  Please tell the truth.”

“No, Samidha, I…”

“Then why have you aged ten years overnight?”

Her father-in-law fell silent.

“I saw the news on the nurse’s phone this morning.”

Papaji’s jaw dropped.  Not just because he realised that she now knew everything, but also because the clingy, over-emotional Samidha was surprisingly calm.  So unlike her.  Was it due to motherhood?

Fumbling for words, Papaji finally uttered, “D-don’t worry, Samidha.  The police will get him out safely.  They will be negotiating….”

Samidha interjected, “Maybe I’m cynical, but I really don’t think any of that stuff works for anyone who is truly broken.  Serves us better to just keep barreling forward and hope the demons can’t keep up, so you might as well be who you are.”


“Nothing.”  Samidha picked up her baby.

Papa left the ward with unanswered questions.

Amir’s phone rang.  It was the Chief Minister.  Hayagriv could hear only one side of the conversation, but it was sufficient. 

“We want Rupees fifty crores in cash.  We want the release of Rashid and his two team members.  We want safe passage out of here.  Car from here and then, private plane.  And we want all this done by 10 am tomorrow. “

Rashid was the dreaded kingpin of the militant outfit that Amir and Salim were part of, who masterminded the killing of all ten people aboard a bus a year ago.  He was also wanted for several crimes including communal riots in various parts of the country.  Crime had seen a lull ever since he landed behind bars two months ago.

The only bargain the Chief Minister could achieve was the reduction in ransom money to Rupees ten crores.



“Yes, beta..”

“I want to talk to Hayagriv.”


“I want to show him our baby…”

“But he will be released tomorrow.  The Government is moving forward to meet the demands of the terrorists.”

“But I want to talk to him today.”

Papaji looked at Samidha’s face.  She appeared calm and determined.  Had she cried a while ago?   He would never know.  Samidha would never let him know.


“I want to talk to my family.”

Hayagriv was blunt in his demand.

Amir glared at him, then mumbled, “Let’s see.”


“We’ll see.”

“Will I be released tomorrow after you get what you want?”

“Let’s see.”

“What do you mean?”

Amir guffawed. “Watch the TV,” he said.

Two analysts were hotly debating on whether the Government would meet the terrorists’ demands,  whether Hayagriv was alive and so on.

“Let me talk to my family.”


Hayagriv didn’t know what that meant  but decided to keep quiet for the time being.

The TV remained turned on throughout the day.  Hayagriv watched himself becoming the face of the masses, the representative of the common man and simply famous for reasons he never wanted.  

The channel never changed.  Nor did that particular channel relay any other news.  

A reporter was stationed as close to Sita Niwas as he was allowed, leading a curious crowd that vied with each other to be seen on camera.  He kept himself busy through random interviews with passersby on whether the Government would meet the terrorists’ demands.

Hayagriv was fed up of all the attention.  He just wanted to go back home and resume his normal life.  But he knew at the back of his mind that things had changed completely.  If anything kept him going, it was his family.  And the hope of being released alive.

Afternoon turned into evening and then night.  Hayagriv discovered that the adjoining tenement had a functional kitchen and Salim cooked their meals.  He had to admit that the youngster cooked tasty meals.  

Salim also accompanied Hayagriv to the washroom.  It was in these few moments, away from the dreadful Amir, that Hayagriv tried to strike a conversation with Salim.  But the latter remained impassive and unresponsive. 

Hayagriv lay on the floor, exhausted by the longest day in his life.  Salim tossed him a blanket.  He fell into a deep, dreamless sleep almost immediately. 

The next day dawned early for Hayagriv.   The TV was still on, with the sound lowered.  He saw Amir sitting awake, watching him.  Salim was asleep.

He turned his gaze to the TV screen.  Nothing had changed overnight.  There was no further news of his family.  Tears of helplessness and frustration gnawed at the corners of Hayagriv’s eyes. 

He saw the time on the TV.  5 am.  5 hours more to go.  But will the terrorists actually let him go alive?  The doubt remained.

An hour later, Salim woke up.  The TV volume was turned up

Soon enough, the reporter of yesterday was back on the screen.  Unkempt, unshaven and wearing yesterday’s crumpled shirt, he had obviously camped at the site overnight.  Hayagriv gave a wry smile, despite his predicament.  Ah, the pressures of being a reporter, he thought.

The reporter was still repeating yesterday’s news, interspersed with reminders about the 10 am deadline.

Quite suddenly, the screen filled with the letters “Breaking News.“  The reporter was back, this time his eyes shining with excitement.

“Confidential sources say that the Government has agreed to the demands of the terrorists and is all set to meet the deadline of 10 am.”

“But we can’t take chances.  We must do something,” muttered Amir.

Hayagriv wondered what it  would be.  He wasn’t in the dark for very long, for Salim soon appeared with what looked like a lumbar support belt for back pain, the kind his father wore.  Except that this wasn’t one.

“Raise your hands,” commanded Salim.  Hayagriv watched as Salim fitted the belt around him, using a complicated mechanism and a series of numeric codes to clasp it shut.

“What is it?” he finally asked.

“Bomb,” replied Salim, watching Hayagriv’a face carefully.  There wasn’t any reaction.

“Time bomb,” he continued, “Set for 10 am.  Can be activated with by remote too, or by cuttimg it open.  The only way to be released from it is to unclasp  it the way I locked it.”

“But why…”

“You’ll see.  Now stand still while I take a picture.”

As expected, there was a call from the Chief Minister at 8 am.  Amir answered it.

Again, Hayagriv could hear only one side of the conversation. 

“Okay.  At 10 am sharp, you release the terrorists and put a call through from them to me.  At 10:05 am, you hand over the money to them and they confirm.  Once that is done, we leave this place. Arrange the cab and the private plane immediately.

“And yes, we’ve fitted your man with a bomb.  Any misstep or delay and it goes off.  I’m sending a picture.”  He cut the line.

The photo was sent.

Barely five minutes later, the photo filled the TV screen.  Hayagriv saw his face for the first time after he was kidnapped.  He was shocked.  He felt he was looking at a version of himself from thirty years into the future.

He was now getting more and more convinced that he might never get out alive.  The ordeal of the past two days had emotionally numbed him, though he still craved for his family and… his baby.

He suddenly said, “I want to go to the bathroom.”

Salim accompanied him.

At the door of the bathroom, Hayagriv whispered, “Will I get out alive?”

No response.

When he stepped out, he heard a gruff “no.”

Half an hour later, Hayagriv clutched his stomach and said, “I want to go.  Urgent.”

Outside the bathroom, he whispered, “How?”

“That belt is one way.  It can never be opened the way I closed it.”

“Means you take the money, your men and my life too.  Great.”

No response.

“How potent is it?”

“Small.  Range of two feet around you.  Enough to take your life.”

Hayagriv returned to his spot on the floor of the house and sank down, limp and exhausted.  He had suspected all along that he would be disposed of, but for it to be confirmed was another thing.  It destroyed that little sliver of hope he had had.

He felt frustrated, lost and beaten.  He let the floodgates open.

Half an hour later, when there were no more tears left in him, he made a decision.  

He cried out, “I want to talk to my family.  Now.”

“What if you tell them you won’t survive?” 

Hayagriv advanced forward and stood in front of a surprised Amir.  The soft-spoken man let out a string of expletives and would have gone on further if not for the ring of the phone.

Amir answered it, then turned and announced, “The money’s arranged.”

In the few seconds that Amir was on the phone, something happened within Hayagriv.  He made another decision.

He quietly looked around.  And saw what he wanted, on a little side table next to Amir.  Salim had set it down while fitting him with the belt.  It had only one button.  And Hayagriv was standing right next to it, between Amir and the TV.

Hayagriv suddenly bent double and held his stomach, groaning, “Bathroooom!!”

Salim came forward to assist him.  Hayagriv ensured that Salim was standing in such a manner that the remote was behind him and Amir was in front.

It was now or never.

Hayagriv put his right hand around Salim as if for support and picked up the remote on the way.  Then, before either of them could understand what was happening, he hugged Amir as tight as he could, with his left hand.

He pressed the button on the remote with all his might.

The resultant explosion brought the police scurrying inside from a 100 feet away, within no time.

They found three people lying on the floor, burnt and covered in splinters.  One of them was still moving.


“You knew, right?”

“Yes, Papaji,” replied Samidha.  “Though I wanted us to do everything possible to get him back alive, I knew I should prepare for the worst.”

Papaji smiled.

“But God has still been kind to us.”


“That belt bomb kills instantly.  It was a miracle Hayagriv survived, just long enough for us to meet him, just long enough to hold his baby in his arms,” Samidha said, looking proudly at the posthumous bravery medal resting on the table.


Author’s note:  This is a work of fiction.


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Archie Iyer
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