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Prey on the Prowl - A Crime Novel
When Ranjit reached 9, Castle Hills, in its sprawling backyard, Dhruva was playing shuttle badminton with Rani. As Raju announced Ranjit’s arrival, Dhruva playfully told Rani that he would like to flaunt her before the visitor. Turning coquettish, she told him that she had no eyes for any other man, and not to be outdone, he said that had she been there on the Tank Bund the other day, Ranjit would have lost his eyes for her, thereby putting Pravar in a fix. She said joyously that though she was flattered, she was eager to know how Kavya could have spent the time with her captors, and he told her she better eavesdrop as he closeted with the visitor. Chiding him for wanting to spoil her, she got into the swimming pool, and he went into the study to meet with Ranjit.
Dismissing Dhruva’s apologies for having kept him waiting, Ranjit lost no time in scolding him for the fake-notes mess he had created for him albeit falling short of demanding compensation for the damage caused. Turning apologetic for not having taken him into confidence, Dhruva explained that had Ranjit been privy to the plan, he would have probably fumbled in handling Pravar, and that would have put Kavya’s life at risk. However, Ranjit bemoaned that Kavya was cut up with him for playing foul with Pravar for he was so fair to her.
Cajoled by Dhruva that all that would come to a pass, Ranjit placed the Kavya-cards on the table - around three that day, she locked the gate and wondered how to hire an auto in the pouring rain; what a hassle it was in Hyderabad to hire an auto as the auto-wallahs tended to veto the savaaris. So, when a youth drove his auto straight up to her, thinking it was a Godsend, she got into it, and to spare herself the spatter, she gratefully accepted his offer to unwind the Rexene windshields. Not long after they turned the bend, as a well-drenched young woman was beckoning for an auto, he wanted to know from Kavya whether she would mind accommodating the hapless lass. As an unsuspecting Kavya agreed to his proposition, he let the grateful woman share the backseat with her.
The next thing that Kavya could recall was that she woke up in an alien place with the pair around, who, after introducing themselves as Pravar and Natya, began to press her to disclose her man’s monitory worth. Kavya kept mum but as he warned her that she better revealed that before he forced her to tell about her man’s manly worth as well, she retorted that it was unbecoming of a man to tick a woman on the sly. But when he asked Natya to leave him alone to let him eye her assets, afraid of rape, and desperately holding Natya, Kavya agreed to cooperate. He thought of a ransom of five-crore rupees but Kavya told him that he might as well prepare himself for her perpetual captivity; even as he scaled it down to three-crores, yet as she protested, he told her that she might as well count her days if her man was not prepared to cough up even that much.
They confined her to the guestroom of that desolated house on the outskirts, and having warned her against any misadventure, they still took turns to guard her, lest she should give them a slip. Pravar was younger to Kavya by twelve years, but whenever she was alone with him, she was ever in fright that he might turn eager for her; during nights, even though, holding the rope that tied both her hands, he was fast asleep on the floor, keeping an eye on him, she used to keep awake on the cot all night. He always tried to win her sympathy by picturing his wayward life and Natya too went out of her way to earn her goodwill by catering to her every need. When Kavya told him that once freed, she might practice law, Pravar joked that if only she took his briefs, he would ensure that her wallet bulged like a pregnant womb. Well, his semantics only helped aggravate her lurking fear of rape that was at the back of her mind all the while - that was the long and short of Kavya’s ordeal of a kidnap.
Asked by Dhruva about his rendezvous on the Tank Bund, Ranjit said that after verifying the ransom and ensuring that there were no khakis in mufti around, Pravar let him talk to Kavya on the mobile. Later, followed by Pravar, as Ranjit was half way down the staircase, he saw Natya leading Kavya up the steps, and after the operation exchange, as Natya ascended the stairs; Pravar descended it with the false booty of fake-notes. Later, upon learning that Shakeel falsely implicated Pravar, as Kavya became furious, and wanted an explanation from him, he told her that he had no inkling about it. While she saw it as a dirty trick of the police to serve their own ends, he tried to pacify her by saying that, in either case, Pravar had to serve the sentence. Maintaining that it was no justification for such falsification, she recalled what Pravar said in jest about her being his lawyer and wondered aloud what if she took up his case.
As Ranjit lamented that he was at a loss to understand her inexplicable behavior, after cautioning him not to let Kavya ever wiser to the nuances of her rescue act, Dhruva tried to counsel him to keep his cool while she got over her nerves. Harping on how the Operation Checkmate had upset his mate, Ranjit wondered of what avail it all was, and thus having put Dhruva on the back foot, he gave him a cheque for a paltry sum of Rupees twenty-thousand. Measuring Ranjit’s meanness in that meager amount, yet Dhruva told him that he was free to call on him if ever needed any help, and as an after-thought enquired about the fate of his call letter to Kavyar. Ranjit merely said that having read it, she had tucked it in her handbag.
Seeing Ranjit’s back, as Dhruva turned pensive, Rani, failing to enliven him with her coquetry, nevertheless, managed to cajole him into breaking his silence; he said he was worried that the foisted case on Pravar might end up hurting Kavya in inexplicable ways. Rani wondered how that could be and he elucidated the intriguing features of the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.
“It’s a psychic state in which the kidnapped turn sympathetic to their captors after they are freed,” he said. “It is said that the survival instinct activates the defensive mechanism in the captives to let them identify themselves with the captors to ward off possible violence against them. In that state of emotional stress and physical duress, accentuated by a sense of helplessness dominated by fear, the captives magnify small acts of kindness by their captors. Wonder how I failed to factor that!”
“What an irony is that!” said Rani.
“Courtesy those four days in Pravar’s captivity, apparently her latent sympathies for the underdogs resurged,” he said pensively. “Maybe, she came to identify herself more with her depraved captor, than with her mean man, who came to enjoy her father’s largesse.”
“I’ve heard of a story, fact or fiction I can’t say,” said Rani. “Seeing a murderer being paraded to the gallows, it was love at first sight for a girl, and what’s more, she wanted to marry him before he was hanged, and so begged the king to spare his life; my memory fails me at that.”
“Dear, it’s all about the imponderables of human psychology,” said Dhruva. “Coming to Kavya, it is possible that in Ranjit’s move to deny Pravar the ransom, she could have seen the propensity of the rich to deprive the poor. Now that Pravar was falsely implicated, her sympathy for him would have acquired weird emotional wings; given Ranjit’s deceitfulness towards pravar, she might even begin to lean towards her ex-captor even more. Where it all might lead her to, her fate only would know; how I wish she wouldn’t become another Patty Hearst. You may know that Hearst became an accomplice of her captors to assist them, of all things, in bank robberies. May God forbid that to Kavya, but the silver-lining was that Hearst could come out of her psychic aberration to disown her gory association. Maybe, as I created the mess, I may have to clear it up as well.”
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