The Rediff Special

'When will this nightmare end?'

Read the earlier part of this series.

What must Kannada film icon Rajakumar have thought when he saw forest bandit Veerappan walk into his living room at the Gajanur farmhouse?

One guess could be that he remembered what intelligence officers had been telling him for a long time: that he needed police protection.

Intelligence officials knew that Rajakumar topped Veerappan's list of targets. The Karnataka police had offered him protection, but the actor had refused it. He did take protection once, but later wanted it discontinued.

Superintendent of Police, Intelligence, Maheshwaran, who is based in Bangalore, personally went to Rajakumar many times to convince him.

Rajakumar just laughed it off. He is supposed to have said that a simple man with just a dhoti and kurta was not likely to be kidnapped. Rajakumar loved his privacy too much.

Both the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police had requested the actor to inform them when he was going to his farmhouse in Gajanur in Tamil Nadu, which is on the edge of the forests that Veerappan operates from. But he did not let them know.

Rajakumar had just built a palatial farmhouse at an estimated cost of over Rs 8 million. It overlooks green fields and the forests Veerappan has been operating from. He had just finished the grihapravesham [inauguration ceremony] of the house, but had not started staying in it. He was still staying in a simple congested little house opposite.

The little house is typical, with tiled slanting roofs, a little courtyard with gunny bags full of paddy and a weighing scale. It definitely does not look like the house of Karnataka's leading film icon and Dadasaheb Phalke award winner.

Roving Editor Ramesh Menon visited the deserted farmhouse and talked to Gopal, Rajakumar's nephew, in charge of the property. Here is Gopal's first person account of the kidnap:

IT was around 9 pm [2100 hours IST]. I was hungry and went to the back of the house that has a dining room area. Rajakumar had already finished dinner and was relaxing in the living room watching television.

Suddenly, my 13-year-old daughter Pallavi burst in crying. She said her grandfather was being taken away. I could not figure out what it meant for the first few seconds.

Not even in my wildest imagination had I thought that one day this would happen to us. Look at our house. Look at our living room. Our lives cannot be simpler. We all sit on the floor all the time. Rajakumar used to sleep on the floor on a simple grass mat. He liked this life.

That new house opposite looks like a palace all right, but Rajakumar felt very happy here.

I rushed towards the living room. I could not believe what I saw. Veerappan stood there with a gun. There were around nine of them. All of them were in light green battle dress. All had guns.

There were five others with guns who were standing guard outside. So that no one would raise the alarm.

Rajakumar and his wife, Parvathamma, were sitting on the floor. Veerappan pointed his gun at Rajakumar. As he stood up, one of his aides tied his hands.

Rajakumar was cool. There was not even a sign of panic on his face. He said he would go with Veerappan and nothing would happen to him. In fact, he was trying to reassure us.

Parvathamma was not crying. She was too stunned to react.

Veerappan was treating everyone with respect. He did not misbehave or use any threatening tone. He just said: Do not shout, or else I will shoot. So we all kept quiet. It was absolutely silent.

Veerappan handed a cassette to Parvathamma. He politely said it should be given to Chief Minister S M Krishna. It had his demands. If they were met, he would release Krishnakumar, he said.

Then, they all took Rajakumar, Govindraju, his son-in-law, Nagesh, his cousin brother's son and Nagappa, an assistant director.

Outside, Veerappan's armed men had held Nagaraj, a schoolteacher. But he was allowed to go when Rajakumar said he was a diabetic. Ravi, a driver of Rajakumar, was also let off.

We were all very shocked. All were numb with fear.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, Parvathamma left for Bangalore in a car with the cassette.

She did not speak at all.

At 2 am [0200 hours], she reached Bangalore and handed over the cassette to Krishna. The chief minister must have been shocked too. He called an emergency meeting. By 7 am [0700 hours], the news was on television. The police reached here by 8.30 am [0830 hours] to make inquiries.

It is a fact that Rajakumar said no to security. On one occasion, he had agreed to it when he came here, but later said no. He came here to feel free. Security would have restricted his feeling of freedom.

Rajakumar built this house in Gajanur as he loved this place. He was born in a house nearby. Everything that his mother owned was very, very close to him.

He had strong roots here. He wanted to spend the rest of his life here. In peace. He loved to farm and had great plans of cultivating everything he could. I thought I would be very busy with lots of new work, new farms, new challenges. Now, I do not feel like doing anything.

We had just got the auspicious grihapravesham ceremony done for the new house. But Rajakumar wanted to move in after it had been furnished. In fact, he had come here not just to see his new house, but to supervise how fruit and paddy were being developed in the new areas brought under cultivation.

None of us could ever imagine such a thing would happen. Veerappan had become so quiet. There was no movement or news of Veerappan for so many months.

Rajakumar was very dear to the people of Karnataka. I knew that people loved him. But now, I know what he means to common people. Hundreds of poor people pool in money to hire vehicles to come here. Just to see this house. Just to set foot in this humble house. They are mostly silent. It is their way of telling us that they care and they are also hurt. They spend a few minutes here and then go back, sad and depressed.

When will this nightmare end for all of us?

This is the third of Ramesh Menon's series on India's most-wanted bandit. Watch this space for more.

'I aimed at the head and hit it with the first shot'

Read Part 1 | Part 2

The abduction of Rajakumar