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August 17, 2000
The tension is palpable in Rajakumar's family
M D Riti in Bangalore
"I always loved talking to the auto and bus drivers in Madras," Shivaraj Kumar, son of Dr Rajakumar, had told me six months ago, reminiscing nostalgically about his boyhood days.
Shivaraj was in Madras again on Thursday, with brother Raghavendra, to see off emissary R R Gopal to the forests in quest of their father. But now Shivu, as his family and the Kannada film industry know him, is hardly in the frame of mind to indulge in idle chatter. He just jumps into a waiting car and rushes to his place of stay, his unshaven cheeks and bloodshot eyes mute testimony to the tension that he and his entire family are undergoing, as Dr Rajakumar spends his eighteenth day in the forests with Veerappan.
This is the fourth trip that members of the Dr Rajakumar family have made to Madras over the past 18 days.
Shivu has made most, as he is conversant with Tamil and familiar with life in Madras. Shivu and Rajakumar's second daughter Poornima alias Pinky's film star husband Ram Kumar went to Madras on August 2, to monitor developments there, since it was more likely that Veerappan would send word to Karunanidhi than to Krishna.
The duo came back to Bangalore after four days, with a copy of the third audiocassette sent by Veerappan with his demands. Shivu was back in Madras on August 10 with Raghavendra, to receive Gopal and see the video of their father immediately. They came back the next day. They flew back again on Wednesday night, to be on the scene when Gopal left for the jungle again.
The rest of the family has more or less grouped together in Rajakumar's family home. Shivu's house, where he lives with his wife Gita, former chief minister S Bangarappa's second daughter, and their two children Nishkala and Nivedita, is shut. As Shivu travels up and down, his wife and children are in Rajakumar's home, two streets away, standing by Parvathamma.
Puneet, who is known to be closest to Parvathamma, also stays with his mother. Puneet is in the film production and distribution business. Shivu is mostly busy with his own film career, which has ground to a standstill with this episode, while Raghavendra is always with his father.
Cars, media vans, fans, and police buses now line the First Cross Road in Sadashivanagar, where Dr Rajakumar lives with his wife, his two sons and their families.
A huge police van of the Vajra Striking Force is parked outside the front gate of the house. Its occupants have got used to walking up and down outside menacingly for the benefit of television crews filming the closed gate. They even pose obligingly for local photographers.
When the crowds become too large, they barricade the road and request motorists to take a minor deviation. One or two more vans full of policemen are parked on the sides of the huge compound, eyeing passers-by. Fans have to content themselves with stopping their vehicles one or two crossroads away, assembling on the footpath and watching the house from afar.
But the crowds have thinned considerably over the past two weeks.
As the brothers deal with Gopal and the Tamil Nadu government in Madras again, rumours abound outside the house. Political leaders and film stars who walk in and out talk in hushed tones about Gopal having already carried a token ransom from Karunanidhi on his first mission. They speculate about his being given a larger sum now by Krishna, who is rumoured to have collected it from industrialists, business lobbies and the family itself.
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