M D Riti


My four-year-old daughter faced me with grim determination.

"I demand that you place my Barbie doll on top of the television and let my five pet cockroaches out of that cardboard box," she told me firmly. "If you don't, I won't allow you out of the house to go interview Raaghu Anna or Appu Anna."

"And how do you hope to stop me?" I asked, annoyed, my handbag with tape-recorder and camera slung over my shoulder.

"Simple: I've kept your car keys in the middle of the jungle. You'll never be able to find them."

"Which jungle?" I demanded, beginning to get worried.

"This one. I dare you to find the exact spot under all that grass where I've buried it. And if you think you can scare me into telling you, you won't succeed," she said, quickly retreating into her grandmother's protective arms.

"You know your demands are unreasonable. And just where did you learn these terrorist tactics?"

"From Veerappan," she replied smugly. "Isn't that what he is doing with Appu's father Uncle Rajakumar?"

"And where did they tell you about Veerappan, Rajakumar and the jungle?"

"In school, of course," she replied. "Yesterday, when we got back after the two-week break. Teacher explained it all to us because one of my classmates insisted that Rajakumar was called doctor, and that he was busy treating sick animals in the jungle. And in the car going up to school too -- that nice police uncle told Ishan and me about it."

I groaned silently, ruing the day I had put Amala into one of Bangalore's best schools and allowed her to accept an offer from a classmate, who just happened to be Chief Minister S M Krishna's grandson, to carpool to school.

As I left home 10 shameful minutes later, having succumbed to the pressure tactic of my daughter and watch cockroaches run in giddy circles around my living room, I wondered idly whether Veerappan would have it quite so easy...

If Rajakumar, who discovered the joys of the Net just three months ago, had ever read any of the material available on how to cope with being kidnapped, would he have been in a better position now? I wonder.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council, for example, offers some guidelines to those citizens who travel abroad, presumably under the assumption that they are more at risk when they are out of the United States.

If you are abducted, it says, do not struggle. Calm yourself mentally and concentrate on surviving. Try to visualise the route being taken, notice turns or smells. Once you reach your destination, if you are interrogated, try to be co-operative even as you retain your own sense of pride. Give out only information that cannot be used against you. Do not antagonise your captor with obstinacy. Concentrate on surviving, knowing that if you are to be used as a bargaining tool or to obtain ransom, you will be kept alive.

All very sound advice for a potential kidnap victim, but much of it irrelevant to Rajakumar, like the suggestion that you notice street noises to help you know where you are being taken. Or that you seek opportunities to escape constantly: they probably had not thought of hostages being carted off deep into forests.

There's more: After reaching what you may presume to be your permanent detention site (you may be moved several more times), quickly settle into the situation. Be observant: notice the details of the room, the sounds of activity in the building and determine its layout by studying what is visible to you. Listen for sounds through the walls, windows or out in the streets, and try to distinguish smells.

Before you dismiss all this as perfectly irrelevant to dwellers of Karnataka or Tamil Nadu (or Ram Gopal Varma's terrain), who are likely to be hauled off into deep jungles by bandits, let me add that this is mainly intended to help you stay mentally active. You are also advised to keep track of the time, find a way to track the day, date and the time, and use it to devise a daily schedule of activities for yourself.

Everyone who knows Rajakumar is confident that he must be following the next suggestion -- that a hostage must stay physically active, even if his or her movement is very limited. The Yanks suggest isometric exercises to keep muscles toned, but Rajakumar's daily two-hour yoga routine must be standing him in good stead now.

The guide finally advises the abducted to get to know their captors, memorise their schedule, look for patterns of behaviour that can be used to advantage, and identify weaknesses or vulnerabilities. It also proposes that they establish rapport with the captors, and use that to ask for things that will increase their personal comfort. If the victim is a celebrity like Rajakumar, that is hardly likely to be necessary, of course.

Just where is Rajakumar now? And what exactly are his living conditions?

Nobody really knows. At first, everyone assumed that he was walking 25 kilometres on his arthritic knee every day and sleeping on wet grass. Then, Chief Minister Krishna announced in public that he was in a house, and not in a guhe [cave] or out in the open.

Everyone who knew him felt greatly reassured, knowing that Rajakumar lives and travels quite austerely, and that he is quite used to staying in simple, relatively unfurnished accommodation in places like his old Gajanur house, from where he was abducted.

Then, his sons met government emissary R R Gopal in person, when he returned to Madras. "My father is not being kept in a house," cried an anguished Raghavendra. " He is staying out in the open, protected only by plastic sheets. So says Gopal-avaru."

The anxiety surfaced again. Will the septuagenarian emerge from this long ordeal unharmed? His family, which now looks much the worse for wear, has no answer, although his doctor sounds optimistic...

M D Riti is a close friend of the Rajakumar family.

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