An excerpt from ‘The Queen’.

Months after Jayalalithaas death a book of fiction inspired by her life
news Book Excerpt Friday, April 28, 2017 - 15:05

By Anita Sivakumaran

Officer Chandramohan stepped down from his police jeep, stumbled in his nervousness. He put a shaky hand on the jeep rail to steady himself. The sight that awaited him did nothing to ease his nerves. His sphincter muscles loosened. Dear god, Muruga, Shanmuga, he prayed. Let me not soil myself in front of the entire country’s news media. He had hardly taken a step towards the house, flanked by his fellow officers − although none of them were useless fellows, he was the one entrusted with this specific task, he was the one in the firing line − when the bulbs started flashing, microphones thrust into his face and questions fell on him like rubble from the backs of lorries.

He had already emptied his bowels four times that morning. Even his wife was so nervous she’d vomited. The previous night, he had been summoned at an ungodly hour to the presence, the personal, private presence, of the newly sworn-in Chief Minister. Chandramohan had received his orders. His bowel trouble had started even before he left the CM’s sprawling house in R. Nagar.

The raid party was already in the house. When Chandramohan walked in, they were dragging items from cupboards, piling them neatly in the middle of the hall. The furniture had been moved already to the corners. There didn’t seem to be anyone from the house in sight. He tried to pick out who was in charge. They all wore safari suits. Men from the Central Bureau of Investigation. Just as a CBI man caught his eye, another walked into his vision carrying a pile of jewellery cases. He wore JFD party colours.

‘Hey you,’ called Chandramohan. ‘Who let you in?’

‘Aahn?’ said the man, rather with insouciance. Chandramohan immediately panicked. He’d been in this godforsaken city more than a year. He seemed never to get it right. Who to pick on. Who not to pick on. The man in JFD colours ignored Chandramohan and went to lay the pile of leather cases on a stool. He then started opening them one by one and laying them on the floor as though he were working on the display window in a jewellery store. He nodded to someone at the door. Three men with cameras rushed in and began filming the goods on display. Chandramohan had time to notice the logos on the sides of the cameras, before he was addressed by the safari suit who’d first caught his eye.

‘Best let them get on with it,’ said the man in a kind tone, the sandalwood paste between his eyebrows crinkling.

‘Are you in charge?’

‘Yes, of the raid. I suppose you’ve come for the arrest.’

‘Will you come with me?’

The man considered. ‘Yes, but I will stand behind you, won’t say a word. Who knows how things will turn around in five years’ time.’

‘You think there is a chance?’ Chandramohan’s belly did another flip. His wife. His family. His career.

The CBI officer looked sympathetic. He was homegrown. He knew how things were in this godforsaken state controlled by movie stars and speechwriters.

‘Listen,’ he told Chandramohan. ‘Every five years there is a political landslide. The people are completely predictable, and also completely unpredictable. Look at all the media, rooting for her downfall. You read the papers, you think the public opinion is one thing. You go to the villages, it is another. Come and have lunch with me one day. I sympathise with your situation, but I cannot help you. I have a family too. Never mind five years from now. Even tomorrow is unpredictable in this political climate. Learn to improve your Tamil. It will help you in your job.’

Chandramohan nodded reluctantly. Every godforsaken Tamil was full of opinions. ‘Where is she?’

‘In her bedroom. Alone. Come, let us get it done with.’

They climbed the stairs, the CBI man leading. But then without warning, he stopped midway and awkwardly shuffled his bulk to one side. He gestured to Chandramohan to go ahead.

‘I will stand behind you, by the door. I do not want to have her think it was my idea, you understand.’

‘Aren’t you paranoid? She knows it is not us acting of our own accord.’

‘Nevertheless,’ said the CBI man, still eerily cheerful.

Chandramohan hadn’t thought to ask his name. He had the feeling the man would refuse to tell him.

‘She is a very smart woman, but unpredictable. She might take it personally, or she might see reason. Why take chances?’

Chandramohan held tight his sphincter, breathed like a marathon runner on the short walk from landing to bedroom. He had no need to knock. It was open. Inside, by the window, a suitcase next to her, stood Madam Kalai Arasi herself. In the flesh.

Chandramohan stepped forward, stepped back. The sides of his throat seemed glued together. Try as he might, he could not get a single word out. His mind went blank. He stood with his mouth gaping like a landed guppy.

The freshly dethroned ex-CM turned, looked him up and down, expressionless. ‘Come, inspector,’ she said, not unkindly. ‘Let us go.’  Then she swept past him and out of the room, leaving Chandramohan to pick up her suitcase. The CBI man was nowhere to be seen.

Excerpted with the permission of Juggernaut Books from The Queen by Anita Sivakumaran, available in bookstores and on www.juggernaut.in

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