It had been so easy.
John Almeida smiled as he looked out of his tenth floor window. No trucks rumbled in the rush on the arterial expressway linking far-flung city suburbs, no, not today. No big cars on their way to town, to fancy glass offices. No blaring loudspeakers jarred either, from the plastic sheeted slums directly in his line of vision. A TV somewhere hummed with the newscaster’s excited jabbering, staccato curfew warnings from the authorities, and riot numbers—almost like a cricket score. Shiny red buses in the distant depot past the hutments, stood arranged in straight lines, like a child’s toys. Tomorrow, newspaper headlines would list the cost to the city, Rs. xxx crores lost, yet another rolling number of damage.
He’d arrived. Finally. With this one move, he’d made his presence felt in the hierarchy of dons, of *bhai-log*, the underworld who efficiently ran this city.
It had been simple. He’d scoured the Indian almanac and picked a day of festivity for one community that was a day of mourning for another. He’d weighed the astrological signs carefully, looking for such a day of communal frenzy well in advance. Then he’d carefully set alight this cauldron of human emotions, this teeming metropolis, with its tide and ebb of people coming and leaving, this cauldron of bustling humanity called Mumbai.
He’d taken his time, built his base, created a roster of well placed contacts, stooges and foot soldiers, layering all the time so that nothing would reach him, nothing would stick. He’d created the network and bid his time while the pressure from his overseas masters increased, noose-like. Starting with polite requests, “What news do you have?” it had cascaded to threats, “Get on with it, or go”. They needed deliverables, a return on their investment, newspaper headlines, and a frisson of fear rippling through the city.
And he had delivered. In posh Colaba, in a slum by the sea, an argument over taps had been engineered and fanned on preplanned religious lines. People were so gullible really. Taken in by Gods, saints and prophets.
He’d added to this volatile admixture a man who was built up as a visionary, a long- departed leader of the downtrodden, a torchbearer of progress. He’d arranged for ten thousand rupees to be paid for a man to blacken this leader’s statue at the crossroads in the dead of night, and garland it with slippers.
From there, the argument had been allowed to skip, jump and hop across suburbs, as old enmities were brought to life and forgiven slights surfaced and helped to blossom. Soon, flames had engulfed lanes where both communities had lived in peace for long, putting up with water cuts, light cuts, flood waters and rabid politicians.
He’d sat back and watched.
The rest had taken care of itself.
published 18 April 2012