Eleventh Hour: Zaidi’s Thriller Chronicles the 26/11 Siege
(The excerpt has been taken from Eleventh Hour, written by veteran journalist S Hussain Zaidi. It has been reproduced here with permission from HarperCollins India.)
Soon after 26/11, Vikrant, thanks to the IM module bust, was transferred to the Intelligence Bureau on deputation, something he had always wanted. He threw himself into the world of surveillance and monitoring like a man possessed, using all his source-building and investigation skills with the sole motive of preventing another 26/11. He found a mentor in his reporting head, Inspector General of Police Shahwaz Ali Mirza, who was not only an intelligence pro but also had keen insight into the way the mind of a radicalized Muslim youth worked.
After four years with the IB, Vikrant was transferred to the Delhi bureau of the National Investigation Agency, another outcome of 26/11. Two years later, Mirza too was transferred to the same bureau as Vikrant’s immediate superior. Both devoted themselves to investigating terror-related incidents and gathering strong evidence against terror accused.
But the wounds of 26/11 never really healed. For nine years, Vikrant had watched in helpless fury as the Indian government kept sending evidence to Pakistan, and Pakistan all but spat on the files. At the same time, both governments kept talking about nurturing friendly relations, promoting harmony and similar rubbish.
Which was why, when he learned that Pakistan High Commissioner Zakir Abdul Rauf Khan was going to be the guest of honour at the MEA’s concert to promote friendly relations between India and Pakistan, Vikrant had immediately asked Mirza to arrange a personal meeting with the diplomat.
‘Absolutely not!’ Mirza had thundered.
‘I’ll be damned if I’m letting you anywhere near the Pakistani high commissioner, with all that fire over 26/11 still burning inside you!’
‘Please, sir,’ Vikrant said. ‘I just want to talk to him.’
‘Yes, and I am the shah of Iran.’
‘With you, I can believe that,’ Vikrant replied, tongue in cheek. Mirza had to laugh.
The number of identities he had assumed when he was a field agent for the Research and Analysis Wing were legendary.
After a minute’s silence, Mirza looked at his protégé thoughtfully. ‘This is important to you, son?’ Mirza asked softly.
‘It is,’ Vikrant asserted. ‘I’ll see what I can do. But I’m coming with you. Clear?’
And so it was that half an hour before the concert, Vikrant and Mirza had walked into the conference room where Khan was greeting the other guests.
Mirza introduced Vikrant as ‘the talented boy who has cracked all those cases’, and Khan came forward with a big smile on his face.
‘Mashallah!’ he said, placing one hand on each of Vikrant’s burly shoulders.‘We need people like you, beta. The world is in short supply of honest and dedicated men like you.’ ‘Thank you, sir,’ Vikrant said.
‘I hope I am not the only one who dreams of a day when the work I do will no longer be required.’ ‘Ah, but you see, beta, there are so many forces of evil working against people like you and me,’ Khan said sadly.
‘As long as we have each other, right, janaab?’ Vikrant said, smiling.
Only Mirza knew that Vikrant hardly, if ever, smiled. He stiffened a little. Khan smiled back. ‘Alhamdulillah!’
‘So, does this mean we can expect some progress regarding 26/11, sir?’ Vikrant asked.
‘Boy…!’ Mirza warned, but Khan, unaware of what he was walking into, stopped the veteran spy.
‘No, no. It’s okay. He is an investigator and this is a question he will naturally ask. You see, beta, the thing with democracy is that it has to take its own time.’
‘Its own time, as in, nine years?’ Vikrant said sardonically.
‘Nine, nineteen, ninety. As long as necessary. Verdicts should be based on evidence, not sentiment, or else how are your country and mine any different from the military rules that we condemn, don’t you agree?’
‘So you are going to stick to that, sir?’ ‘That is my nation’s stand, beta. And hence, it is also mine. Till such time as we are shown concrete evidence, this will have to be our stand,’ Khan said, smiling condescendingly.
Vikrant chuckled. Mirza felt a tremor inside him.‘You find something funny, barkhurdaar?’ Khan asked.
‘Just the fact that I had come here hoping to appeal to your finer instincts. To plead for justice for all those who died and who were left broken that night. They deserve closure, if nothing else.’
‘And why do you find it funny?’
‘Because now I know that there’s only one way to deal with you people.’
Khan turned to Mirza, who was, in his mind, begging for the diplomat to shut his bloody trap before it was too late.
‘Mirza sahab, our young friend is still at an age where he lets emotions get the better of him. It is up to us to forgive him, as life will soon teach him…’
The others in the room never got to know what life was going to teach Vikrant because at that very instant, Vikrant drew his right hand back and swung it with all the force he could muster, delivering a resounding blow on Khan’s left cheek.
The force of the burly hand, coupled with eight years of pent-up rage, sent the short, portly diplomat careening into a table laden with sandwiches and cookies, on which he landed face first, breaking his nose.