NT investigative team beards the lion in its den

I am already free, why do I need amnesty: Veerappan

It was the dead of night and an eerie silence prevailed at the camp on the outskirts of Devil’s Domain, the forest where the dreaded and hence revered brigand Veerappan was said to be hiding or say, residing. Barring the crackling of twigs on the camp fire, there was not a sound and the air was still. Suddenly, the dry leaves ruffled and the nightly silence was broken by a throaty groan that emanated from the trees.

A dark figure, evidently a native, attired in just loin cloth made of thick elephant skin, with a Rolex watch around his wrist, not to speak of the Philips emergency lamp held in the other hand and a Sony walkman hung loosely over his shoulders, emerged from the darkness, sipping from a can of Coke.. or was it Pepsi?… damn the Cola wars. He introduced himself.

The NT investigative team, code-named Wretched Creatures, who were on the trail of the slippery bandit.. no not to catch him, but to scoop an interview… for quite some time now, starved and thirsty for months, suddenly found in their midst, much to their surprise and elation, an emissary of the brigand himself. We were informed that the brigand had taken pity on us for being so perseverant and had condescended to grant us an audience. We readily agreed and were promptly led to the brigand’s hideout, a few thousand centimetres from where we were camping.

In this elusive, pardon, exclusive interview, which was video taped for the sake of prosperity, sorry, posterity, the outlaw, besides dispelling several wrong notions about him, also expressed his views on a wide range of issues. Here is the unabridged version of the interview. The NT Bureau consisted of three correspondents, code-named Flying Cockroach, Leaping Frog and Limping Lizard. Brig. Veerappan was assisted by his trusted lieutenants and a few hooded-lums.

Noted forest brigand and well known poacher Veerappan says that there was no necessity for him to claim amnesty, general or specific, as he was already free. Addressing a team of NT correspondents at gunpoint, in a familiar jungle hideout in Devil’s Domain, he says that all the talk about his surrender are plain gibberish and there was no question or need for it as he was quite happy and content, where he is now.

Why should I leave these quaint surroundings and enter the concrete jungles, that too when there is not a soul searching for me, he says and adds that the STF would not enter the forest unless they had lost their way and ventured into it by mistake. He thanked the authorities for realising his elusive capabilities and patted the two State governments for coming to a common conclusion on this issue, despite quarreling over Cauvery.

He comes across as a peace-loving, compassionate bandit, who loves to kill in peace and then spare the corpses by leaving them behind and not burning them. Why does he kill, or for that matter, what made him choose poaching as a profession? The brigand says he took to poaching because he had nothing better to do and he took to killing because the authorities thought poaching was illegal. Besides, selling ivory and sandalwood fetched him some pocket money with which he had to buy arms and gunpowder. But why did he need them? Well, the authorities thought poaching was illegal and so I had to defend myself, he reasons in a display of native intelligence.

But you have killed even innocent and unarmed hostages, we persist. Tears well up in his eyes. After all even a brutal brigand had a heart? Whipping out a kerchief made of deerskin, he wipes his eyes clean. Damn, these flies, he curses. They are always getting into the eyes. Probably, it is time I bought myself a pair of dark glasses he says. ‘Er, what did you say?’ We move on to the next question. How is business in these days of recession?

There are rumours that ‘power’ful, men in politics have taken to sandalwood smuggling using Maruti vans? Veerappan seems unfazed by competition. An outcome of liberalisation, he explains. So long as there is a level playing field, I am not concerned. And politicians will eventually fade out for they are not good at anything, he asserts. ‘The real test lies in not getting caught’ he says with justifiable pride. ‘They are a blot on the criminal landscape’.

Veerappan condemns the perpetrators of the Kovai blasts. ‘They must have used landmines, instead’, he says with conviction. He even offers to do a demonstration, but we politely decline. But he is truly upset about the possibility of Pakistan’s ISI’s hand behind the blasts. ‘I am all for Swadeshi’ he proclaims. ‘How can we allow foreigners to destabilise the country when so many of us are around’, he demands with righteous indignation.

He is also quite abreast of the national developments, which he says he learns from the BBC radio and a few sensational Tamil magazines like Durvasar and Third eye. He hopes that the new BJP government would relax the curbs on sandalwood in all temples. He even offered to supply for life, sandal paste for the idols in the various shrines if only the government heeded his advice. He is happy that actress Khushboo has been elected as the leader of the BJP.

He however chided the newspaper editors for consistently mis-spelling her name. ‘They never learn’, he bemoans. He recalls his own bad experience with an editor. ‘I once told an editor that I can be nasty and that god-saken fellow promptly mis-reported that I wanted amnesty’, Veerappan says and laughs, thereby putting an end to almost two years of ‘wild’ speculation in the media. It was indeed a startling revelation and we agreed that matching moustaches do not automatically mean identical intellect.

What is his message to civilization? Anything to be conveyed to the CM, or rather, CMs? Veerappan promptly whips out a couple of video cassettes and a CD from his pocket. ‘One is PAL and the other, NESCAM, both on Dolby. There is also a multi-media presentation. It is all in this, my latest demands, and whatever you may want to know’, he says and adds confidently, ‘all you have to do is go to the secretariat car park and shout that you have a message from me.

The entire government, from CM to CS to CoP would immediately usher you into their private chambers equipped with special video equipment to hear me out.’ Will we land in any problem? He reassures us about our rights. ‘Absolutely none, all is taken care of, and besides, press freedom includes brigand’s freedom also. After all what are you without me, I am your subject’.

The interview is concluded and we are dropped back at the same place we were picked up. The brigand comes upto the main road to see us off, but he refuses to go any further. I don’t want to scare the police, he says with concern. Besides, my jurisdiction ends here, he explains. We bid him farewell as he vanishes into the thickets in a hurry. We later learn that a TV channel crew was waiting for him.

For the eyes of the Editor only

Kindly do not edit the story. Mr. V wants it in toto. Otherwise we will be taken as hostages and fed to the wolves and wild pigs for their breakfast, he has warned. Mercy please, or else you have to change our code-name from Wretched Creatures to Sitting Ducks. And beware of printer’s devils. We are in the grip of one.

(This ‘Dupe’ report was filed by our Wild correspondents, in a fit of delirium, scared and shaken to their very roots. Readers are advised to remember this.)

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Jawahar T R