First Hand Account: People’s War in India, Part 2
Posted by irisbright on November 14, 2008
This is a first hand account of how Naxalite fighters live in India. It was originally titled: “Karl and the Kalishnakov: Notes from the diary of Chindu Sreedharan, who spent 82 hours with the People’s War guerillas [in 1998]” The photos are original to the article. This is part two. Part one can be found here. Thanks to Behrooz Navaii for sharing this article with us.
By Chindu Sreedharan
July 25: Women make better guerillas than men
Up at 0530 hours after a miserable night. It was a false alarm. Though we hadn’t had to flee, and had even got food, sleep was a commodity which none of us managed enough. The mosquito repellent failed me completely. And it was a sticky hot night to boot.
We are to trek to a safe place, about 40 minutes away, shortly. There we would stay for the next two days.
I learn something more about jungle life this morning: here everything, even an empty plastic bag, is invaluable.
Off to answer the second call of nature, I am handed my ration of water in a plastic bag. I walk into the bushes, clutching its mouth close and praying the water won’t ooze out before I finish. Fortunately, it doesn’t. But I commit a cardinal sin: I toss the bag away after I finish! The only excuse I can offer for my thoughtlessness is that I was somewhat hurried in my exercise by the undue interest of a cowherd, whose presence I discovered very, very late in the proceeding.
Vishwanath’s face falls as I return empty-handed.
“Isse bina idhar kaam nahin chalta, bhaiyya (We can’t do the job without this),” he tells me. Chastened, I walk back to the camp, promising myself never to be so stupid again.
The morning also teaches me another lesson: that it takes no effort to get lost in this jungle. You think you know where you are going, but you don’t. On my way back after the unfortunate encounter, I wander off in a direction which I think is right — and nearly stumble on G.
“Hey, where do you think you are going?” comes his panicked shout from behind some bushes, “The camp is that way!”
By 0630 hours, we are ready to start. We are a big procession. Karan starts a roll call and I find I am the 16th of the total 28.
Today we are moving at a picnic pace, in respect of the seven ‘patients’, or sick members, we have, and the provisions we are carrying. Many of the guerrillas, besides their rucksacks and rifles, have an additional burden — either balanced on their head, strapped on top of their backpacks or in their free hand.
At 0715 hours, we stop for a 10-minute halt. As we wait to catch our breath, R asks whether there are any police pickets inside. Karan says there aren’t, for the simple reason it would take a big contingent there — at least 30 to 40 personnel — if they are to defend it from guerrilla attacks.
“But they have enough informers among the villagers,” he says, “Sometimes CIDs (personnel of the criminal investigation department) roam around pretending to be mad. We finished off three or four of them in 1992. Once we caught one who had his photograph in full uniform and ID card on him!”
We stop again a little later. I take it we have reached our destination. The guerrillas are scouting around, trying to find a clearing for the tents. H is busy clicking. I too remove my camera and get a couple of shots. From here, it is only four kilometers to the road. Yet, it looks secluded, secure.
No, I am wrong. We will not be camping here. After scrutinizing the land, Karan decides it is not safe enough. Too vulnerable, he says, as we start moving. It’s a climb uphill and we stop at the top. From here, you can see every point of approach.
As the camp settles in, we are asked whether we want breakfast first or a bath. We settle for breakfast and then a bath.
“Waisa hai to didilog abhi nahane jayenge (In that case, women members will go for a bath now),” Karan decides.
All around guerrillas are spreading plastic sheets. I see Sitaakka laying out a white, thick wire to one end of the camp. Vishwanath tells me she is laying a Claymore mine. The mine is home-made, the explosives packed into a small tiffin box. There is a small hole underneath for the detonator. The wire leads right up to the camp from where, in case of an attack, it can be set off. The deadly tiffin-box is duly camouflaged with rocks and leaves.
As we wait for breakfast, which Taraakka is preparing a little away near a reluctantly-running stream, I ask Karan about the PW’s structure. In each division, he tells me, there are 6 to 7 squad area committees. Each of the SACs would normally have a central guerrilla squad and one or two local squads. The commanders of all squads are SAC members, and so are the majority deputy commanders.
“To become a squad member you don’t need political awareness, but to become a party member you certainly do,” Karan says, “Anyone who’s willing, is 16 years of age, has worked for any of our front organizations (like the Dandakaranya Adivasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangh and Krantikari Adivasi Mahila Sanghatan) for at least a year and has a good character is eligible. But for the party, you should believe in the revolution. You should have a certain level of political maturity. “Yeh marg se jane se har revolution success ho jayega karke vishwas rahna chahiye. (They should believe that this is the right way and the revolution will succeed.)”
The number of women in the squads, Karan tells me, is quite high — 33 per cent. In the last few years, they have risen in leadership too. DK, thus, has 30 women SAC members. Of this, four are central guerrilla squad commanders, 12 deputy commanders and one local guerrilla squad commander.
“Actually, there were two LGS commanders,” Karan adds, “But one of them — Kamalaakka — got killed recently.”
Despite physical limitations, the women comrades make as good guerrillas as the men. Sometimes better, because their loyalty to the party is much more than that of their male counterparts.
“Compared to the men, very few women leave the squads after joining,” the Naxal says, “Once they are here, this becomes their home.”
The conversation turns to married women. Would a woman with family be taken in if she is willing to join?
“If she’s eligible, yes,” Karan replies, “If she wants to leave her husband, then we will enquire about the reasons. If we find that the relation is not good for her, the party will sanction her divorce and recruit her. She may join the squad even without a divorce — that we leave to her.”
Marriages between squad members are very common. Karan himself is married to Sumitra, a dark, slim woman, who’s part of Radhaakka’s dalam.
“But starting a family is discouraged,” he says, “This is the time of revolution. Not a good time to bring a child into the world. We try to make the members understand this and get them to go in for vasectomy or use condoms. But if they still want a child, they are free to go ahead.”
We talk till it is breakfast time. Karan picks up his SLR, dons his ammunition jacket, and I follow him down the steep, rocky path to the stream. Taraakka is serving chivida (a mixture of puffed rice, peanuts and onions) and hot, sweet tea.
As we eat, H and G make good-natured fun of my constant scribbling. “Don’t take so many notes,” G advises, “For one, I find that too much notes confuses me. Two, you stop enjoying the trip.”
I tell him about my editor’s expectation of me — I am to bring home at least 8,000 words — and his horror for half-baked, detail-less stories.
An hour later, it is bathing time. Finally! But bathing is not jumping into the water here. The guerrillas are careful to keep their small pool clean. So they make tiny individual pools for all of us by spreading plastic sheets and blocking its sides with stones placed underneath. Water is filled in, and we set to do our most urgent laundry.
The guerrillas are provided a Lifebuoy soap and half a slab of detergent, Rin, every month. The women, in addition to this, get a Detol soap — the only allowance which the PW makes for their monthly cycle.
On the way back to the camp, I stop to talk to Taradidi. She is busy with preparations for lunch, but offers me tea anyway. She has been with the movement for 11 years and is one of the first women guerrillas in DK. Now the deputy commander of a squad, she used to work on a farm earlier.
“The party people used to come to our village. Acche log hain (They are good people)… They told us how the world works, about exploitation. They were doing good work. So I also joined,” she says.
Now she totes a .303 rifle, which, incidentally, is almost as tall as she. She has seen two ambushes and three encounters. But surprisingly, Taradidi, despite her long years in the jungle, has not killed anyone.
“Moka nahi mila, na (Never got the chance),” she says, answering my surprise, “Moka milega tho (If I get a chance)…”
A guerrilla comes to tell me Karan and the others are waiting, that they are about to start the briefing. Today, Karan is to talk about the history of the movement and the repression in DK, especially in Gadchiroli. And the whole of tomorrow is for questions. The plan, however, is to change drastically, but I have no inkling of it as I walk up to join in.
July 25: “The men who rule now, they will be in control of a proletarian leadership.”
Karan starts with the time when the PW decided to establish the Dandakaranya guerrilla zone. This was shortly after the Adilabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar and Khammam districts of Andhra Pradesh were grouped together to form the North Telengana zone, the first of PW’s guerrilla areas. DK was meant to be a base camp, a retreat for the Telengana guerrillas if they had to fall back. Today, however, it is in a much stronger position than NT, where encounters and killings of Naxals are everyday occurrences. This is mainly because NT is scarce in forest cover, the mightiest of all guerrilla weapons.
“The first stage of any revolution,” Karan is telling us, “is the preparatory stage. It involves building a mass base to start guerrilla operations. The second is what you see now, guerrilla warfare. The third stage is a liberated zone, an area which is completely free of state control.”
The second stage can further be divided into primary and secondary. DK is now in the lower level, and the immediate task before the PW is to take it to the higher stage. This would require that there are platoons throughout the zones (three squads form a platoon), 2 to 3 local guerrilla squads under all squad area committees and the presence of people’s militia. Plus, there should be a centralized military command. As of now, the PW has only two platoons — one each in Gadchiroli and Telengana.
Though only initial-stage guerrilla areas, the people in the two zones, especially DK, appear more tuned to the PW than the government. Thus, large sections of the DK’s 8 million population pay tax to the PW, not to the State. This support, to a large extent, was prompted by two major fights that the party took up for the tribals. In 1982, a laborer was paid only three paise for a bundle of 75 tendu leaves. Today, it is Rs 1.33.
Similarly, the PW had brought the bamboo laborers under its umbrella, causing the mills to raise their payment for a bundle (20 pieces) from 30 paise in 1982 to Rs 5.35 in 1996.
“The villagers give one day’s labor to the party every season. We collected around Rs 1 million from them in Gadchiroli division alone,” Karan says, “A part-time party worker who holds a regular job, contributes five per cent of his salary. Then there are contributions from sympathizers and well-wishers, besides the tax on bamboo mill owners.”
The PW doesn’t need much money as an organization. The villagers take care of the food requirements of the squads. And the weapons and ammunition are mostly seized from the police. The other operational costs are easily met through contributions, Karan says.
A little later — at 1430 hours, according to my diary — we break up for lunch. Rice, mixed dal and bengan (brinjal). I think it is the jungle air, but my appetite seems to have reached revolutionary proportions. Three huge helpings of rice disappear in no time. Even the bengan, which I would normally run a mile to avoid, finds favor with me today.
In tribute to the oppressive heat, we are to sit down only by 1400 hours. Karan is trying to catch a little sleep. The others too are taking it easy. A few guerrillas, mostly ‘patients’, are dozing. The rest are up — stitching, talking, but mostly bending over books.
To the left, an outlaw is stitching a rucksack out of coarse black canvas. He’s pretty good with the thick long needle, guiding it in and out with enough speed and dexterity to give many of the Bombay cobblers I know a complex. In less than four days, he would have a nice, sturdy backpack.
A little ahead, Vishwanath is teaching another outlaw English. They have a big colorful book, the kind you find in nursery, open on the ground. “A,” says Vishwanath, pointing with his stubby finger. The other repeats, and Vishwanath’s finger moves to the next letter…
The sun is tolerably over the right side of the sky when we, assisted by tall glasses of sugary tea, reopen our conversation. There’s a smoke-fire on beside us, and, as usual, a couple of guerrillas near Karan.
“We have to strengthen our mass base,” Karan starts, “Our vision is to create a new democracy where the leadership will be that of the proletariat. We will spread our movement through the rural areas of Central India, then to the North-East. “Ek ek guerrilla zones banake, ek ek liberated zones banake aage jaana padega (We have to go forward by creating guerrilla zones and liberated zones). Then by consolidating our forces, we will build a red army that will capture power.”
“We would form alliances with all the forces who are fighting the State. We already have an agreement with the ULFA. Our forces would be grouped under a united democratic front. Once the main battle is won, these forces will have the freedom of self-determination. If they want to be part of our movement, they would be welcome. If they want a separate land, like the Nagas do, we will grant them that,” he pauses.
The PW’s enemies are only the imperialists, not the petty bourgeoisie or the middle class. Once in power, the property of the multinationals and big bourgeoisie would be confiscated and redistributed among the landless.
“There will be a complete turn around. The men who rule now, the imperialists and big bourgeois, they will be under the control of a proletariat leadership,” the Naxal leader explains, “There will be land and property ceilings. But this doesn’t mean we would victimize them or shoot them down. The bourgeoisie would have equal rights as the rest. Simultaneously, we will struggle with the ideology of the imperialists and try to win them over to Communism. We will be working towards building a commune, building co-operatives where everything — factories, farms — will be jointly owned by the masses.”
How, we ask him, will such a power relate to the rest of the world? Who would be its enemies?
“The imperialistic forces,” Karan replies, “The Third World countries will be our friends. Later, in the years to come, these imperialistic countries will also fall, there will be revolutions there and Communist regimes will emerge… ”
The talk carries on — with a couple of breaks when Karan, in answer to the alarm on his watch, excuses himself to listen to the news on his radio — till it is time for dinner. A few of the guerrillas are grouped round a campfire, singing. The song is tribal, its tune simple and pure.
By the time we finish the dinner of rice and dal, it is time for sleep. It looks as if it’s going to rain. The guerrillas have put up a tent for us. G, R and H make their bed inside, but it is too stuffy there. I decide to sleep out. I find a comfortable place near Karan who looks a bit haggard — malaria, coupled with the attack of the media, would make anyone tired, I should think!
I hand him a questionnaire that I want him to answer. Karan goes through it, nods, and promises to tackle it the next day. The candle is blown off, and I settle down to sleep.
Through the ring of trees overhead, I can see a large patch of grey sky, unusually luminous despite the threat of rain. Around me, the camp is silent, starting to doze off. A couple of fires still burn lethargically, radiating a coziness that belongs more to a summer camp than here in a guerrilla area. Peaceful.
But I feel uneasy. My notebooks, taped cassettes and exposed film rolls are inside the tent. I quietly get up, fish out the stuff in the light of a pen-torch, wrap everything in a plastic cover and return to bed. Hereafter, I make a mental note, I must have these on me all the time.
July 26: “Our day will come. If not today, it will come tomorrow.”
Vishwanath nearly gives me a heart-attack. Early morning, he shouts into my ears, “Uto (Up)!” Not used to such stern awakenings, my first thought is that it is a police alert. But no, it is a wake-up call. Vishwanath, being the last sentry, and more zealous than the others, is carrying out his duty vigorously, that is all. After watching him scares a couple of others, I decide to doze a little more.
When I wake up, I find the guerrillas getting ready for their morning drill. The drill is an everyday affair, normally for an hour. Depending on whether the squads have marched for long in the morning, it would decrease or increase.
The PW conducts centralized and divisional training camps every year. The centralized camps, at times held under Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam guerrillas, are for instructors. Vishwanath, who now takes charge of the drill, is an instructor.
The drill is mainly of guerrilla tactics. All the outlaws need for it is a small clearing. They start with running in tight circles, faster and faster, suddenly changing directions. Stretching exercises follows. The drill ends with weapons training.
The PW publishes a military publication — Jung — which presents the squads the latest military tactics, and analyses the raids they have conducted. Jung is in English. The group also has other books in Telugu, some of them translations from English.
We go down for breakfast a little later. It’s chivida again. I gobble it down fast, as I am to visit a tribal village this morning. The village — or rather the hamlet — is about one-and-a-half hours away. Vishwanath and Prabhakar would accompany me.
But after breakfast, H says the light is good for photography. Can he shoot some pictures? Karan had earlier told us that he would rather we finished our pictures at one go. So we postpone my trip to the evening — “after 10.30 the villagers would be away in the jungles.”
I walk over to where R, G and H are standing. With their stubble, they look pretty outlawish. They are planning to return the next night. Karan, who has joined us, says he has sent word to a guerrilla, Hanumanthu, whom he is particular that we meet. Hanumanthu had escaped from the jaws of death recently. The cops had taken him into the forest to be shot, but he had escaped. Luck prevailing, we would meet him, the next evening. But if he was late, would we mind staying on?
“We would like it covered,” he tells us, before moving away to brief the squads about the photo-session.
Karan tells the guerrillas that they are about to be part of history. H is looking around for good locations, planning his shots in great detail. Fifteen minutes on, I decide I have got enough shots and decide to retire and update my notes.
Lying on my stomach, my notebooks spread out before me, with Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik crooning to each other on my Walkman, I start pondering the details I need to collect from the village. Outside, R is listening to what he has recorded of Karan’s briefing yesterday over and over. His logic: if the police, by some misfortune, arrest us and confiscate all notes and cassettes, he would at least be able to recreate it from memory. But there doesn’t seem to be any cause for alarm now. What could possibly go wrong?
The bad news comes an hour later while we are having our second round off talks. Radhaakka is sharing her experiences with us when a guerrilla approaches us. She tells Karan something in Telugu. He excuses himself, but comes back a few minutes later.
“I think we will have to change our plans a little,” he says, “We will have lunch now. You will move out immediately after.”
It’s around 11.30 now. We ask him how serious the situation is. We wouldn’t mind forsaking lunch, we say.
“Situation tho thoda serious hai (The situation is a little serious),” Karan replies, “But you can start after lunch. Somebody has informed the police that we are here. Can you get ready immediately?”
We pack our belongings. For the first time during the trip, none of us has anything to say. I tuck away my precious package of notebooks and taped interview in the side pocket of my rucksack, within easy reach — now even if I have to drop my bag and make a run for it my notes and cassettes would go with me.
Karan, meanwhile, has joined us. He tells us that Radhaakka, Vishwanath and a couple of others would take us out. He would join us a little later, after he finishes the work here. “Have to make some arrangements,” he explains and moves off to give Radhaakka last minute instructions.
“There goes the chance of another bath,” I remark to G in an attempt to lighten the mood.
“Don’t worry,” he replies as we move off, “Who knows, our next stop might have a bigger stream!”
Vishwanath, Ganesh and Sagar are in front. We are sandwiched in the middle, with another outlaw between us. Radhaakka and her AK-47 brings up the rear.
The sun is high, maddeningly hot, and covers me in sweat in five minutes flat. But there’s no slackening of pace. I cover my head with a small towel that I had wet for the purpose — but have second thoughts about it soon. A pink-and-white bobbing head, I realize, would make an excellent target in the undergrowth if we ran into cops.
We halt on a dry stream, after 30 minutes of march. Karan joins us an hour later — an hour which we spent contemplating the possibilities of danger and watching the fruitless efforts of the guerrillas, who were trying to flush out a ghorpad (a big lizard) from its underground sanctuary.
Our camp for the night is at least another hour from here. We move on. There’s not a full squad with us now. Only nine people. The majority of Radhaakka’steam is here.
A little later — it must be another 30 minutes — we stop to rest. Again, on another dry stream. We group around Karan, who tells us what happened in the morning. Apparently, the police had got wind of the fact that four civilians were roaming the jungles with Naxals. One of their informers must have spotted us. Though the cops hadn’t any idea who we were — if they knew, they would be less alarmed, I should imagine — they had a rough idea we were moving north.
“They will start combing from north down to the road,” Karan tells us, “So we have doubled back. I have sent a squad towards them. They will show themselves and divert their attention.”
He pauses a little, and adds: “It’s better all of you get out tomorrow. We can continue with the interview now, if you want.”
\G says he needs to catch his breath first and Karan lies back on his sheet. H, R and Radhaakka have disappeared into the jungle with Vishwanath. They have seen a viper. A few minutes later there’s a slight commotion, and they come out triumphantly. Vishwanath has the deadly snake captive at the end of a string that is tied to a long stick.
Karan is watching the proceedings unimpressed — obviously snakes and snake-catching have lost their thrill for him. I tell him I need to stay back, explaining the data that still remain to be collected.
“You can stay back,” he decides, after a little thought. G, who has been following our conversation, however, does not think that that’s feasible.
“It will be dangerous to them,” he tells me, “You may risk your life, but you have no right to endanger the lives of these people.” The logic behind his argument is that without me the guerrillas can move faster and easily escape any ambush that the cops choose to throw.
“I would still like to stay,” I tell Karan, leaving the decision to him.
My moment of truth arrives just before we set off. As I hoist my rucksack, Karan comes over to where we are standing. “Kal subhe nikalna accha hoga (It will be better if you leave tomorrow),” he tells me, “Maybe we can arrange a meeting later.”
I am disappointed, but there is nothing I can do about it. If the big man wanted me out, out I would have to go. “Well,” I console myself, “So much less to file!”
The sun is fading as we reach our last camp. There’s not much of a clearing here. Groundsheets are spread and the guerrillas build a fire. I corner Karan to finish as much as possible. R too joins in.
We begin with the violent image that the Naxals enjoy among the urban population. To them, the PW is more of a militant outfit than a political organization.
“That’s negative propaganda,” Karan replies promptly, “We have that image because that’s what the State wants. That is only expected. It happened in China, it happened in Peru and it is happening here. In China, even after the revolution succeeded, the communists were called the red dacoits. In Peru, they used to call the Shining Path guerrillas bandits.”
“In India the upper middle-class and sections of the middle-class have this ugly picture of us. They haven’t seen our mass base. They don’t know the work we do. They will come to know about these only when our movement extends to the cities. Now, our propaganda is weak. We need to strengthen it to counter this,” he adds.
The objective conditions needed for a revolution, Karan continues, assessing the PW’s weak areas, are present in India. But the group’s subjective forces — namely, party and military organizations — are weak.
“We have only started. We have to build more squads and platoons,” he says, “Also, we have to spread the flow of our political education.”
Another area of concentration is to raise what the party calls ‘proletariat intellectuals’, or people capable of leadership from among peasants and tribals. This has been prompted by the defection of the urban intellectuals, who had formed the backbone of the party during its initial days.
“Mao,” the Naxal says, “has said the intellectuals, the so-called urban ones, are all fence-sitters. They will join the side that is winning. We do not want to have such people.”
The commitment on the part of such intellectuals, he continues, is less. That’s why so many of them have gone back. But a tribal, even if he cannot fully comprehend the ideology, will join the party on the basis of his belief in the little that he knows. And once he is taught the ideology and his exposure increases, his commitment is more than that of the intellectuals.
“Tho isme, kaun better hai?” Karan asks, “Hamare vision me, intellectuals social practice se banega. Knowledge practicese ayeaga. Intellectuals ka base jo hai, woh production hai. Productive forces jo hai, woh proletariat and peasants hai. Thointellectuals kal yeh bhi ban sakte. Thab unka army badega tho thabi revolution success ho jayega. (So who’s better? In our vision, intellectuals are made through social practice. Knowledge comes from practice. The base of the intellectuals is production. And the productive forces are the proletariat and peasants. So, these people can also become intellectuals tomorrow. The revolution will succeed when their army grows.The revolution will succeed when the people’s consciousness is awakened.)”
The conversation turns to violence. I wonder at what point the party advocates it.
“The violence we advocate is more defensive than offensive,” Karan replies, “Our aim is not to physically eliminate the enemy, but to protect our movement from elimination. We want to warn the enemy not to attack our revolution, not to attack our people. That’s all.”
This, probably, is why there is such a gulf between the PW and the other armed forces in the country. Unlike the groups in, say, Jammu and Kashmir, these are not angry young men who have picked up the gun out of rage or frustration. There’s nothing personal in their fight. Only principle. It is not emotion that propels them on to the path of violence, but ideology. If the Kashmir militants look at the security forces with burning hatred, so powerful that one can feel it physically, the PW men see them in a remarkably different way. For them, the police are enemies. Not to be hated or revenged on, but to be defended against. And, if possible, won over.
“Our enemy is the state. Not individuals. The police are also exploited men. We would like to show them the correct path. We would like them to join us,” Karan explains.
I marvel for the umpteenth time at the strength of his conviction. Here’s a man, in the prime of youth, coldly, serenely, going about a mission the end of which he knows he will never see. A mission which the world has laughed off as unattainable, a mirage.
“We communists are dreamers,” Karan smiles at my unasked questions, “This is a protracted war. We know our revolution is not going to succeed in one year or even 10 years. It will take years. That is spelt out very clearly in our party ideology. But our day will come. If not today, it will come tomorrow.”
Do you, I persist, see it succeeding in your lifetime?
Karan thinks for a few seconds before starting to answer. “In 1985, when I was fighting in Telengana, there were encounters every day. I would have someone with me today, but tomorrow he would be dead. Shot. Killed in an encounter. I stopped thinking about the longevity of my life then. I can die today. I can die tomorrow. But even if I die, there will be people like me. The fight will continue. And the revolution will succeed,” he pauses for a moment.
“I am not saying that I don’t dream of it happening during my life-time. I do,” he adds, “We communists are all dreamers…”
The sun has retired. So have G, H and R. I too follow suit, going over what we have discussed to see if there are any gaps.
I don’t remember when I doze off. The next thing I know is somebody shaking me awake. It’s about to rain. We would have to take shelter in a shed on a farm nearby.
There’s half a kilometer to be negotiated — which distance, in nil light and my drowsy state, I find pretty tedious. Somehow I manage to make it without spraining my ankle or toppling into the slushy field.
The shed is dusty, not very big, but is any day a better option than sleeping in the rain, wrapped in plastic sheets. We find it already taken — by a couple of hens that refuse to be evicted. The guerrillas finally repress them underneath a bamboo basket, from where they are to keep me awake half the night with their muted protests.
Vishwanath, meanwhile, is putting up a tent outside. I must say the man works fast. Within 10 minutes flat — I timed him — he has the tent up and ready!
Tonight, again, the food is late in arriving. Radhaakka tells me the police had been to the village, around 1800 hours. The villagers are waiting to make sure everything is okay before they come to us. Finally, at around 2300 hours, they arrive. Kichadi, dal and bengan (brinjal) — cooked with so much chili that it burns down our throat. We are eating in the open. We have to hurry as it has started drizzling. By the time we retire, it is raining heavily outside.
July 27: “We will meet again. If I live…”
Our last day with the Naxals starts at 0545 hours. The morning chores are hurried, as we are to leave for the main road soon. It’s about an hour’s walk from here. We are to catch the 0730 hours bus. It would take us to Allappally. From there, we would get conveyance for Nagpur easily.
I pack my things, go through my notes one final time, before walking out. Behind the shed, Radhaakka is making tea. I go over and chat for a few minutes. By the time I finish the piping hot tea she provides, it is time to start. There are a couple of villagers waiting. Vishwanath and Sagar would come with us till about 10 minutes from the road. The villagers would be our last link with the Naxals, and would take us to the bus stop and see us off.
The guerrillas have all lined up. We shake hands with them. Like their greeting, it is ‘Lal salaam ‘ again. I raise my fist in acknowledgement as we start off.
After an hour’s march, we reach an open field. This is where the guerrillas leave us. They seem genuinely sad to see us go.
” Lal salaam. Phir milenge (Red salute. See you later),” Vishwanath says. And adds softly, ” Bacche tho… (If I live…)”
We follow the villagers, cutting across the naked field. Just before we re-enter the jungles, I turn back to wave. Vishwanath and Sagar are standing where we left them, two silent sentries of communism, fighting a fight they will not live to win. They raise their fists in salute.