CHAPTER - 35
Bharathi wrote out a long petition to the Collector, the Head of the District Administration, setting out cogently all the facts in such a manner that it was sure to make an appeal. She pinned the anonymous warning letter to it, and put both in a cover. She wrote the address of the Collector on it, and marked the envelope at the top with the inscription : "Most urgent/For Personal attention Please". She asked her father Saptharishi to post himself beside the Swamiji till she returned. She also advised him to keep within calling distance some of the brawniest among the temple attendants. There were about thirty such men among the temple staff. No visitors were to be allowed into the Guest House. She would return before sundown. The Swamiji was not to be told of anything about the anonymous letter and about Kalingaroyan's intended mischief. She walked into the Swamiji's room and told him that she was going to Ashtaksharam town to make some purchases. She took his permission and left the room.
She took the bus direct to Nellore, the headquarters of the District Administration. She would see the Collector and plead with him for immediate action. But the Collector could not be seen so easily. To have access to him was sometimes next to impossible. Anyway she trusted to God, luck, and was determined. If necessary she would gatecrash into his presence, place the facts before him, and try to move him into instant action. The Collector had already a reputation that he was a friend of the poor, and as a man of great compassion. It was also said that if he found any complaint deserving of immediate action, he would give all the necessary instructions to the subordinate officials at once, and personally watch action. It was also said that at times he used to give his own money to the poor petitioners who came to see him and who had no money for their return journey. No Collector of a District had ever been so famous.
She had to change three buses and wait in each place for a long hour. Not merely she felt fatigued, but also feared if she would be able to present herself before the Collector in time. She had to fight for her ticket at each bus-stand, and sometimes elbow her way into the bus with a lot of strain and sweat. At last she was able to go into the Collectorate building. It was a crowded place looking mighty, seething with power and authority, and strewn everywhere with liveried attendants, and looked in every respect quite an impossible place for a poor girl like her. But nothing of it bothered the girl that was dead set on her purpose. All that filled her mind was that it ought to be a place of justice, and there must be at least a few next to the Collector who would have some heart and a little sympathy to help her into the presence of the great official.
She was at last able to reach the Collector's office which was in a regular siege of high-looking personages in costly dresses, both men and women. And those who got in to see the Collector hardly came out. And those who came out beamed with a pride as if they had had one of the rarest privileges in having met and spoken to the wielder of the highest authority in the district. There were haughty-looking snobs sitting in the waiting room and talking boastfully and hobnobbing with the staff in charge of the waiting room, cooking up pretexts on the spot to take precedence over others to gain entry into the collector's chamber. There were poor people too waiting, but none seemed to care for them. There was fortunately an empty chair on which she could sit and breathe a little comfortably, she was so tired. One of the office peons came and asked her if she had an appointment with the Collector. She said No, but the peon was a little helpful. He told her that the Collector was leaving for his bungalow in another half-hour. She could go and wait there. But she should lose no time. If she was quick, she could go and wait close to his office room in the bungalow. And she could force her entry in when the Collector entered. He would not object, he would simply smile and give her a hearing if she managed to get near him. Of course it would be a hard thing, for there would be so many others like her standing in wait for an opportune moment like that. He gave her the address of the Collector's bungalow, and also suggested to her the quickest bus routes. She thanked him and hurried out.
She had to take two buses. In each of them she had to push her way in. In one of the bus stops she had to encounter gallivanting rakes and eve teasers who were too forward and loudly appreciative. It was a deserted bus stand because a bus had just left which she had missed. The next bus was due in another fifteen minutes. The crowds therefore were yet to collect. The presumptuous cads were now getting too near her. Her eyes desperately looked for help. Fortunately there was a police constable about fifty yards away. He was busily directing the traffic, and there was actually a traffic jam. She walked straight through the confusion of the roaring vehicles to the constable. She told him what was happening, and asked for help and protection. He asked her to wait just for a minute, In the meantime the expected bus had arrived. She could not wait. She thanked him and hastened to the bus stop, and got into the bus, actually she was squeezed in by the crush of the boarding passengers.
When she thought she was at last free of the dirty cads, she was alarmed to find all the four, strap hanging, and standing close beside her. They were pursuing her. They had begun again to misconduct themselves. There was a checking inspector who noticed her predicament and the behavior of the polished-looking bounders. He politely forced them to the rear of the bus which resulted in an altercation between them, but the checking official who was a hard and grim-looking man cared nothing for them. He silenced them in no time.
She had now arrived at the Collector's bungalow. And her pursuers had followed her into the bungalow too, and waited among the crowds, looking like most innocent. They had their eyes set on her viciously. They were a positive menace, and were sure to make trouble. It was evident they were bent on her. No doubt. But to her dismay the Collector had already arrived. He was in his room seeing V. I. Ps. Her hopes were damped. She breathed hard and held her head that was beginning to ache. She was in real anguish.
There were any number of cars. There were any number of bigwigs waiting in the lobby and along the verandahs. The bungalow stood on an extent of about ten acres. There were trees and gardens. Many posh-looking people went into the Collector's room and came out. It was rumored that the Collector was on the point of leaving for some place and was in a hurry. He was going to one of the local women’s' colleges to preside over a function. He was to open a block of new buildings, And from there he would again go to his office and be there just for half hour, and without returning to his bungalow he was traveling to Hyderabad to discuss some files with the chief secretary at the Government Secretariat. Bharathi was in jitters.
Now the thing happened. It depressed her spirits and whetted her anxiety. Her heart beat wildly, Collector had come out and got into his car. The rumor was correct. He was going to the women’s' college. Collector's wife got in with him. Two vans followed. In one of the vans there was the grown-up daughter of the collector and three of the Collector's little children. Bharathi stretched out her arm and waved before the girl in the van begging her to please stop. The van stopped, and the girl signaled her to come over. The van was surrounded by the police and they stopped her from getting near the van. But the girl in the van asked the police to let her come in front. The Collector's daughter was instantly struck by the astounding beauty that stood before her. Bharathi explained to her that she was a music teacher and that she was currently in serious trouble, and wanted Collector's help. The girl asked her to get into the van and be seated beside her. She said her name was Ragini, and she was a student of the college where her father was now going to participate in a function. The van moved. Incidentally Bharathi told her of the mischievous imps that held on to her from the bus stand and were now inside the bungalow. The girl asked the driver to stop. She asked Bharathi to show her where they were. Fortunately the fellows were still there, and she could identify at once. The girl asked the police orderlies who were already around her to apprehend them at once and hand them over at the police station. The van then moved. The girl told Bharathi, "Bharathi, I think you are younger than I. Kindly don't mistake me. It is not good for you to come alone like this. You are too beautiful a girl. I have hardly seen one like you. The cities and all the urban towns are getting very bad nowadays. They are full of women-hunters and procurers. They are abducting beautif ul women and selling them to sheiks and oil magnates in Arab countries. There would always be some danger looming around a beautiful girl. And for girls like you, life anywhere is fraught with risk unless you have watchful and intelligent protectors to keep you from harm". Bharathi thanked her. The girl herself was a beauty of the first order. They could not but become close friends in a few moments.
The van was presently within the college campus. Before the proceedings began some one had to sing the invocation song. A prayer song. Bharathi sat next to Collector's daughter in the front row. The latter seized the opportunity. She said there was a young music teacher who was her friend. She was with her. She would get on the stage and sing. This was a capital chance which Bharathi didn't want to miss. She got on the stage. And in her fine liquid melting voice, she sang the invocation song. It was as if her beauty and her song went together. Everyone was enraptured. Collector could not contain his admiration. He gave the girl an effusive complement, and said he was happy to know her. His daughter formally introduced her to him, and narrated her trouble in a nutshell. The Collector asked Bharathi to accompany him in his car to the office, and advised her, not to get behind, but to walk along with him into his room. When the car arrived at the Collectorate, they both together marched into his chamber. Collector asked his waiting orderlies not to permit any visitors to come inside until after his instructions. Collector had also instructed to shut off all phone calls.
Collector heard Bharathi patiently. She narrated everything, and handed him her petition. He read every line of it, and asked her to inform him more about one or two. In about fifteen minutes her entire case stood fully amplified to his satisfaction. He rang up the Superintendent of Police to please come and meet him. He came in about ten minutes. The Collector handed him the petition and also introduced Bharathi to him. The police official read it and smiled. He assured that he would immediately go into action. The Collector wanted a report about the action taken and the result in exactly four hours. He expected it first on the phone in a short resume'. The Superintendent said that this Kalingaroyan was already in the bad books of the police, and that he was under their close surveillance. He had already many atrocious criminal offenses to his credit. Pending inquiry into the petition of the girl, the Superintendent gave instructions to the concerned Inspector of Police to arrest him and take him into custody, and not to let him out till a week after the Swamiji had left the village Marthandam. Bharathi thanked the Collector and the police officer most heartily, and said she would never forget their help. She asked the Collector if he could permit her to thank his daughter Ragini on his phone. He felt glad and had no objection. She got the connection at once. She thanked her profusely with eyes that glistened. Then she left. She had again to change three buses, a tiresome thing that caused her extreme impatience. She was able to reach the village only by about 5 P.M. Kalingaroyan had already been arrested and whisked away by the police.
Gora Reddy and Saptharishi rejoiced. She wrote very touching letters of thanks to Ragini, the Collector and the Superintendent of Police. Her eyes would not have lighted on Ragini but for a rare blessing and guidance of the Almighty.