“Democracy is a funny thing. It’s almost like homeopathy – some believe in it, others don’t. But the important thing here is that there is a disease and we are looking for a cure.
Look, we are a small community of hardworking people. We do not need elaborate bureaucracies or fat constitutions or massive penal codes or big buildings to function. We just need small groups of willing people to look after everyone. Governance from within. Yes! From within! We do not need tall, burly men from big offices with long, black cars to tell us how to conduct ourselves. We are all wise enough to decide that for ourselves, aren’t we? And can anyone force upon us something that we don’t need?
Yes they can.
But only if you allow them to, friends.”
Rachi stopped. Kwaiz was breathing down her shoulders.
“There is a whole convoy of military police vehicles heading towards the field. We need to leave.”
Rachi embarked on a longer pause, with no discernible emotion visible on her face. The microphone in front of her buzzed with a tiny spurt of static noise. The crowd waited.
“Not less than 10, ma’am.”
Rachi turned to the audience. Between a short sigh and the widest smile, she said
“Friends. I am not your leader. I am merely someone who is expressing on stage. The only true leader here is you. You get to decide your fate, and no one else. Remember that.”
Kwaiz looked back with a sense of growing anxiety. The Deputy was waiting next to the dais. With eyes closed, he seemed to be focusing all his attention on something.
Rachi was simply staring at the crowd, which had begun to sense the tension on stage.
“Ma’am, we need to move.”
Rachi stepped aside, leaving the microphone buzzing again.
“Get me that bastard on the phone.”
Kwaiz rushed to take out a cellphone from the pocket of his loose-hanging, dusty blazer.
“The office line, ma’am?”
Rachi sneered, just a little.
“No. His personal.”
He dialed exactly four numbers and handed the phone to Rachi.
Seven rings later, someone picked up at the other end.
“Hello, Pratap speaking,” the mouthpiece crackled mutedly.
“You are a good one. You do have some impressive level of depth in you. If I was in love with you, then I would do good to admire you well.”
“Who is th…oh.”
“You say ‘Pratap’ on your private line, and ‘Prime Minister’ on your official. That’s profound. Really! It’s almost like you are a fully-functional, dual-SIM phone.”
“Rachi, listen. I need you to wrap your meeting up fast and go home. Ask the others to do that too. I thought you would phone me. Good you did.”
“So this time you chose the military police. Military-fucking-police. That’s profound too, you know! Not the police, not the military. But the military-fucking-pol…”
“Rachi, I already told you that we’ll have the peace talks. I’ll personally invite you and your elected leaders here and hash it all out. The table is ready and the room is warm. For now, just make this easier for both of us and pack up.”
Rachi let out, not so sheepishly, a gentle giggle. Kwaiz was antsier than ever.
“Pratap, you are a fine man. But you have a massive problem. You take people for granted. And then you mess it all up. You are a filthy player. You know your enemy’s weakness, and you constantly hit there without any regard for the rules of the game. But trust me, if we are talking about rules here, there are none for me. Absolutely none.”
“You can’t fathom the consequences of this, Rachi. This is a complete…”
“Listen to me now. You ask your military-fucking-police to take a U turn and go back to their barracks. Let me do my business here, it’s very important. You have tried me before. You have hurt me too, now take a bloody pause already. I am talking to real people here, about real issues. Not riling sentiments, not campaigning. You stop me today, you kill the final sense of justice left in you.”
“Rachi, do as I say. This is an order from the PMO…and this is for the good of you and your people.”
“Do you know what Churchill once said about ‘orders’?”
“Rachi, you are wasting time. Get the hell out of Druz Circle right now. You get out, the police turns back.”
“You mean the military police?”
“Yes…the military police.”
Faint shrieks of sirens began to ebb in to the still air of the tent. The crowd, which had been stone silent as yet, began to murmur. The drone of the public chatter and the muffled siren noise courted with each other, slowly and with much unease.
Ms Rachi and Kwaiz stood still on the stage. It was beginning to get dark.
Rachi looked at Kwaiz.
“So Pratap. Churchill once said that orders are best served cold. But not very cold, only slightly cold. Just enough for one to bite into them without burning the mouth.”
“You don’t have much time, Rachi. Be realistic and go home.”
“You caught the bluff there, didn’t you? Oh Pratap, what a fine fine man you are. Not unlike Churchill!
What ‘time’ are you talking about? Time until? A mass arrest? Lathicharge? Oh wait…we are talking about the military police here. So, a mass execution, maybe? Where’s the press, Pratap? Have you gagged them too, this time round? Or did they gag themselves? The last time your forces assaulted our people, I didn’t spot one camera. You killed fifteen people, six women and one infant. You beat the living shits out of us. No cameras, no reporters. Yours is a spineless lot, Pratap. Every single one of you. You are like spurious alcohol and we want to stay away from you. Don’t you dare force yourselves down our throats.”
“Rachi, you shall have your political fucking dialogue with us. Now please, do your own people a favour and ask everyone to return home. Now!”
Kwaiz was getting a call on his other phone. This was a far cheaper model than the one Rachi was speaking on. He picked it up without wasting a moment. A few monosyllabic notes later, Kwaiz hung up. He must not have looked more bothered that evening.
Rachi looked at him, holding time to respond. Kwaiz stooped closer, only very slightly.
“Ma’am. We have two incoming helicopters. 2 minutes ETA to Druz.”
“Military police?” Rachi whispered close to Kwaiz’s ears while muffling the phone on the soft cashmere of her shawl.
“We don’t know.”
Rachi yanked the phone back onto her ears.
“What’s up, Pratap? You want to fry us from the air now? Do we look so resilient? That’s flattering, you know.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We see the choppers on our radars.”
Rachi seemed to tremble in a sudden, quick, discreet jerk. Kwaiz seemed transfixed. The Deputy was still meditating, whilst standing ramrod straight. The crowd was getting palpably nervous.
“Pratap. This is a garden and we are just the flowers. You might clip our stems from time to time, but don’t uproot us.”
“Shut the fuck up. Tell me what helicopters are you talking about?”
The sirens were getting louder, shriller. It was clear that there were multiple of them. The faint rumble of helicopter rotors were beginning to come in, too.
“Pratap…what is going on?”
“How many heli………”
The line had gone off.