The Huntsman’s Daughter

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Author’s note: I began writing this novel some 18 years ago as a result of a deep personal incident that occurred in my life at that time which deeply moved me. I started writing and finished the novel in six months flat. I sent it to a couple of publishers and got a polite rejection letter and the manuscript made its way to the cupboard that stores all my memories. 

Six months ago I pulled out the manuscript, dusted off the cover and began to do an edit of it. I hope to have this published in the next six odd months.

This excerpt is from the opening chapter of the yet-to-be-published novel. As an author, I would love to have your comments and critiques on it. Does it make you want to read more? Does it grip you? Please do let me know. I would love to hear back from you.

Happy Reading!!

Rajesh Menon

The Huntsman’s Daughter- Opening Excerpt

Today: 13 March, 2010

The car was a non-descriptive white Maruti Alto, one of the many thousands that were usually found plying on the roads. It was parked between two other vehicles, a television van belonging to Aaj Tak and a Scorpio. The car’s sole occupant had chosen the spot well. While discretely parked well away from the police barricades, the position nevertheless afforded him a good view of the building and the road that extended on either side.

The television van’s door opened disgorging a young man and a girl. The man carried a camera, while the girl clutched a microphone in her hands. They did not glance at the car. Even if they had, the driver was confident that they would not notice him. The car had been specially fitted with ultra-dark tinted glasses well above the specified norm and was further coated with a reflective surface. All they would have seen were their own reflection.

He watched them stride across the road to join the other television crews that were setting up shop in front of the building. The police had cordoned off an area adjacent to the front of the building for the television crews that were already beginning to jostle for space. He had earlier counted some ten of them from various channels including a few foreign ones. He grinned to himself at the thought that by the time the day had ended, they would probably get more than they had bargained for.

The car stank of stale cigarettes and for the moment, the man felt nauseated. Gingerly he eased the windows down an inch and turned on the exhaust to full blast. Instantly the cold air-conditioned breeze hit his face, relaxing him. He checked his watch. It was only 8.30 am. There was another hour and half before the small flurry of activity around the building would reach its tempo. He sighed with the patience of one who was used to waiting for long periods of time and settled himself more comfortably into his seat.

Beside him on the passenger seat were a bundle of newspapers and magazines the man had bought along to read while he waited. His orders had been clear. He was to wait in front of the building until 10 before he switched on the transmitter. The recording devices he had placed clandestinely earlier in the night were working perfectly. He tested them a few minutes ago and had caught the excited chatter of two steno typists right from within the building as they had discussed what the day would bring.

The car itself had been altered significantly. The entire backseat had been removed and a sophisticated transmitter, which he knew would be instantly transmitting whatever he was capturing to some location somewhere in the city, took up its place. He did not know who his employers were. He did not care. This was another job. He was well paid and in his line of work, one did not ask too many questions. His job had to been to plant the listening devices inside the courtroom and the chambers and set up the transmitter in a safe place so that he could transmit whatever was being spoken inside the building. He had done his job well enough until now and he would take no risks drawing any attention to him.

He had chosen to park the car amidst all the television crews, partly in order to avoid dragging attention to himself. The large press media sticker he had stuck on the windshield was an authentic one, he had grabbed during one of his earlier jobs. Parked as he was beside all the television crews, he was confident that his transmitting device would not be detected among all the other transmissions that were sure to be sent to various channels through the day.

Satisfied that he had everything possible to avoid detection save for the most unlikely chance of someone actually physically opening the door and finding the transmitter and wondering why such a piece of equipment was lying around in an alto, the man picked up a newspaper. It was the Times of India and they had devoted a special edition to the unfolding drama.

He began to read.

Times of India- Special Evening Edition
Pankaj Kapoor- Special Correspondent

Baby Case on trial tomorrow

I am standing out a building, which under normal days would be teeming with school children dressed in whites and greens, all anxious to get into their respective classrooms. On normal days, this place would have been crowded with a multitude of vehicles depositing anxious parents and their wards. On normal days, this would have been a place of learning.

Today however is not a normal day. Today, although there is anxiety all around. It is not an anxiety bred from discipline or an anxiety created from a missing homework. This is an anxiety bred from the unknown.

The schoolhouse which on any other normal day would have simply been known as the Municipal School No 230, bears no name today say the name the media have given it. While its official name for the next few months would be that of Special Court of the Magistrate Jayant Acharya, the media has however given it a sobriquet. Popularly the building goes by the name ‘The Truth Chamber”

It is but ironic that on the eve of the most glamorous trial in Indian history, that the building in which the trial will take place is a schoolhouse. There is a certain irony in the fact that the case is about to be tried in a schoolhouse where young minds are imbibed with the power of knowledge and truth. The bible is quoted as saying ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free’. Tomorrow morning as Special Magistrate Jayant Acharya presides over this case, his opening brief to the lawyers on both sides would be just that – Let the Truth Set You Free.

Justice.Truth.Freedom. Never have these words been more relevant to the parties involved in this case than in today’s context. The constitution guarantees us Justice from persecution, justice from any wrongdoing, justice irrespective of class, creed or economic status. Today as the lawyers on both sides get ready to fold up their sleeves and do battle in the Truth Chamber, the underlying hope among both sides would be to get justice for their client. Moreover, for Special Magistrate Jayant Acharya, the underlying hope would be that at the end of the case, the truth would have prevailed in his courtroom and set the innocent free.

The police have set up a barricade. Khaki uniformed police officers have replaced the normal crowd of white and green uniforms. Instead of the normal rickshaws and buses that crowd the entrance to the building, there are the ubiquitous PCR vans discretely blocking the entrance.

Considering the high media attention the case has drawn from the media both domestic and international, the police are taking no chances. While the case would be heard in classroom Number Ten., other classrooms have been taken over by the police. Two classrooms have been designated as chambers to lawyers on both sides. One classroom has been refurbished as the communication center for the assembled journalists and reporters to file their stories as the case unfolds. The principal’s office has been converted into the Judge’s chambers while the common room is now the de-facto police control room. Even a chemical lavatory has been set up in the school grounds.The government it appears has left nothing to chance nor has the judiciary.

Entry into the courthouse is strictly by invitation. Classroom Number Ten can accommodate fifty people. The benches have been removed and replaced with conventional courtroom chairs. Ten of these have been allotted to the prosecution team and a similar number to the defendants. Twenty seats are reserved for the media, the elite selected by random lots from over a hundred applications. The defense’s request for an in-camera proceeding was rejected by the court a week ago. These twenty favorites are the ones who would get to see the proceedings inside the courtroom as the drama unfolds from tomorrow. These twenty are the ones who will file their stories from the media room, reports that would be picked up by syndicated columns and further filed in a thousand publications each day. They are God’s chosen spokesperson for the next few months.

The remaining ten seats have been allotted to the public, chosen again from over thousands of applications through random lots. Over the past one month, the judiciary and the police have been working in tandem on the onerous task of seat allotment. Black market prices for these seats have sky rocketed with each day touching over ten thousand rupees. Most of the bidding appears to have come from media houses eager to get a share of the ringside view to the most sensational trial ever held in India.

The public’s appetite for stories on the case has been simply enormous since it broke six months ago. The case itself has all the trappings of a Sidney Sheldon thriller. A beautiful, yet physically challenged woman who is both victim and prosecutor in the trial. A vengeful father who hunts down his victim through tenuous patience over thirty years. A Dick Tracy type private detective who works the case to bring the accused to justice. An industrial tycoon with a mysterious and possibly shady past, a missing child and untold fortunes at stake, all of them have come together in this pot boiler human drama of the ‘Throw Away Baby Case”

The public appetite is both exhilarating and debasing. What is it within us that prompt us to gain vicarious pleasures out of laying bare other people’s sordid lives?

Tomorrow as the case goes to trial this will be a question least on anyone’s mind. An industrial tycoon on trial for defrauding on taxes is not news. Nor is it news if the tycoon has over the past 30 years grown to be the richest Indian in the country and among the one of the wealthiest men on the planet. Nor is it news if that Goliath of a transnational is as complex and convoluted as the labyrinths of ancient Rome. What is news today and will continue to be news in the near future is that same tycoon goes on trial tomorrow on charges of attempted female infanticide allegedly committed over years ago in a hospital not more than five kilometers from where he will stand trial.

What goes round comes back.

Tomorrow as the case goes on trial, on the prosecution end there will be a visible sign of relief in some people’s face. After thirty years of patient, often-frustrating detective work both Mr. Satish Bajaj and Major Kaul can finally sigh with relief on seeing their life’s work come to a fruitful end. The mind boggles at the patience both these men must have had. Thirty years to track down and bring an accused to justice. Thirty years. A lifetime for many.

After the second world war, the Jews who had been persecuted and gassed under the Hitler’s Nazi Germany’s ‘new world order’ had displayed the same tenacity to bring to book many of Hitler’s infamous henchmen, several of whom had disappeared after the war. In each case the Jews, often working alone, but some in groups had not only penetrated the detailed lies these men had built around them after the way, but managed to extricate them from safe havens in South America and made to stand trial.

Vengeance is mine said the Lord. Moreover, this desire to be avenged was what had driven the Jews to continue their search for the killers of their brothers, sisters and families and bring them to justice. One can only imagine that similar thoughts could have driven Satish Bajaj and Major Kaul to not only search out their man, but also bring him to trial after thirty years.

Possibly presenting their case tomorrow on behalf of the government’s prosecution team would be the young woman in question who Satish Bajaj picked thirty years ago out of a rubbish bin. Possibly standing before her in the witness box would be India’s richest man, a man who stands accused of throwing her away thirty years ago. As the prosecution’s star showcase, the prosecution would pull no stops to bring her up close and personal in this unfolding drama. It is but a foregone conclusion that the prosecution would use every opportunity to showcase Shiela Bajaj to the judge, the media and the public as they present the evidence to prove that her father deliberately tried to kill her thirty years ago by throwing her into the dustbin simply because she was a female and a love child.
Vengeance will be hers. The prosecution is likely to invoke these holy words tomorrow when Sheila stands up to make her statement before Justice Acharya.

Presiding over all this human drama, the job before Justice Acharya is not a simple one. The crime committed is over thirty years old. Evidence which would be presented are likely to be old, worn out and in question. Both sides have a legal battery of lawyers much experienced in courtroom battles, of maneuvering legal issues and delaying judgments. One the defense side, the legal power is enormous. What money can buy has been bought. The weight of legal experience is enormous. This coupled with an unending unlimited legal budget is likely to see the defense side pulling out all stops to get an early acquittal for their client. The odds at the bookmakers in upmarket GK and Panchsheel are a ten to four for the defense.

However, what money can’t buy is emotions. The sight of Shiela Bajaj standing in front of the courtroom on her crutches arguing the case against the man accused of being both her father and her attempted killer is bound to have an emotional impact on the case. The prosecution also has Satish Bajaj, Shiela Bajaj’s adopted father and Major Kaul who have spent the last thirty years tracking down the accused.

The fact that the police have agreed to file an FIR and take the case to trial indicates that sufficient evidence has been collected. The government too seems to have made every effort to impress. The legal battery of lawyers on the government’s side ready to do battle include an ex Supreme Court judge and the chief public prosecutor as well as Ms. Shiela Bajaj herself.

Money power not withstanding both sides seems equally poised as far as legal brains are concerned. What remain to be seen is how the evidence is presented on both sides and what manner of legal skullduggery either side would resort to in an attempt to reach for their version of the truth.

In all this, what Justice Acharya has to pray for when he sits on the judge’s chair, puts on his coat tomorrow is the ability to chaff the truth from the untruths as it gets unfolded every day. His is the onerous task of deciding not who is right or wrong, but more importantly of what is right and wrong. He will have to absolve himself from the human drama around him side the courtroom and media and brace himself to look only for the facts.

The law tells us that no matter if a hundred guilty is found innocent, not one innocent should be found guilty. That is justice. That is democracy. That is the truth. And starting tomorrow, he will have to find out for himself the true story of what happened thirty years ago, five miles away in ward number twenty-one.

Author’s note: I began writing this novel some 18 years ago as a result of a deep personal incident that occurred in my life at that time which deeply moved me. I started writing and finished the novel in six months flat. I sent it to a couple of publishers and got a polite rejection letter and the manuscript made its way to the cupboard that stores all my memories. 

Six months ago I pulled out the manuscript, dusted off the cover and began to do an edit of it. I hope to have this published in the next six odd months.

This excerpt is from the opening chapter of the yet-to-be-published novel. As an author, I would love to have your comments and critiques on it. Does it make you want to read more? Does it grip you? Please do let me know. I would love to hear back from you.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi – did give it a read – you did very well – publishers have a different eye and that is why they are publishers…..

  2. Wow! The plot is interesting, the prose is inviting, and the storytelling is enticing. I enjoyed this a lot and can’t wait to read more.

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