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The Roman Hoard!

June 4, 2011

Warning: Pretty long one. Please do not feel disheartened by the insipid prose below; coz I did not when I wrote it.

It was a hot afternoon in Kodungallur, Kerala and the heat was stifling, partly because he was waiting inside his car as he could not risk stepping outside. It was already six hours into his shift that day but there were no sign of any activity in the house near the famous Kodungallur Bhagavathi Temple. It was missions like these that he hated the most; but it was a part of the job that he had chosen.

Working for the “Research and the Analysis Wing”; or RAW as the common man called it was 99% boring intelligence gathering work and 1% electrifying action.

It was never as exciting as shown in the movies!

Shavam; atleast this is much better than writing up long reports,” he said to himself as he continued to watch the house, lighting another cigarette. The sheer bureaucracy of the academy got to him at times, but he was partly shielded from it because he was a member of the “SOU”: the Special Operations Unit.

He was Major Riyas Mohammed; a member of the elite within the elite; people who were licensed to make their own judgment calls on assignments, basically work as lone wolfs when it came to dangerous missions. He was under oath, answerable to only two things: his mission and the defense of his country! And he was paranoid about maintaining his secrecy. He had been working on this current assignment for the past 7 months, one which had come as an urgent order, direct from the Minister of Defense and the highest echelons of the Home Ministry.

He was one of RAW’s most priced assets; partly due to his heritage. He was half Malabar Malayalee, on his father’s side and half Iranian, on his mothers and had grown up all over the country as his dad was in the army. And his looks, along with his fluency in multiple languages including Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Dari and Arabic had made him an important resource. Prior to this assignment, he had spent close to two years, undercover in POK to map out the terror camps run in them and to maintain a dossier of the high profile targets who had visited them. He was 35, but looked much older; thanks to the multiple white streaks in his brown hair and the hollow bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep. But he still retained a twinkle in his light colored cat-like eyes; the same curiosity; the same strength which had carried him all through those years. He was not tall; nor was he remarkably built and there was nothing conspicuous about his looks or his demeanor as he had been trained to remain invisible even in broad daylight! There was absolutely nothing in his persona to suggest that he was a highly trained assassin.

The “academy”; an obscure unmarked camp, in the jungles of Karnataka had taught him well and had invested a lot in training him in the use of firearms, Krav Maga, different languages and the art of espionage! He had graduated as the best in his class, hence had been inducted into the special ops.

His attitude and his positive approach had saved in his life on multiple missions in the ten years that he had spent in RAW, but unfortunately had failed to save his marriage. It was always on the cards as his job demanded his time and his marriage had failed as soon as he got back from POK. He got to say the dreaded word trice and had never forgiven himself after that.

And so, seeking comfort in familiarity, he had accepted the current mission about 7 months back, even when the doctor had suggested that he was close to breaking point!

His mission was simple. He had to find the cash source of the Naxalites. It was one of the most puzzling things that the IB had to contend with. They had frozen multiple accounts within and outsideIndiabut somehow the terrorists managed to get cash flow from some internal source in the huge thriving black-market and were able to buy arms and ammunitions with it from the free lancers.

His mission was to find that source and neutralize it. The War on terror had multiple fronts and his SOU was involved in this front. The trail which had initially started in Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, had led him to this discreet little town called Kodungallur at the basin of the Periyar River in Kerala; one of the most unlikeliest of places.

He had initially gone undercover in Bengal and had learnt about the Maoist policy from the cadres there; then had ingratiated with the armed militants in Chhattisgarh and central Orissa, even joining their ranks by fighting the military. On one occasion, he even had to fight the COBRA forces; anything to not blow his cover of being a Maoist sympathizer. And he had learnt a lot from his time there.

The major cash flow for them occurred from Mumbai andHyderabad; funneled in through the agents that they had there.

But what did they sell there? What was their source?” he wondered.

And after months of surveillance and monitoring carriers, he realized that the evidence all pointed to a safe house in Kodungallur in sleepy Kerala. The trail had often run thread-bare, and he had no option but to come to Kerala. And hence for the past two weeks, he had placed the house that a carrier frequented, under surveillance and had also bugged the house. He had even contemplated a military strike but he did not want to lose out on collecting the evidence. He was old school; and he personally believed in putting in hours to solve the case rather than use technology.

The person, who lived in the house was Mr. Dinesh Menon; a disgruntled middle aged man, who was short and stout.

When Riyas had started his surveillance work two weeks back, he also started collecting details of Dinesh and gradually, a profile of him emerged. An idealistic Marxist, he had quit the party about a couple of years back as he was dissatisfied with many of the party policies. Some even claimed that he had contacts with the sand mining mafia, which was quite active along the Periyar River. In a span of a couple of years, Dinesh had become immensely rich, which he claimed was due to his business interests in the Gulf. It all somehow fits in together, Riyas knew but he still did not have the clinching evidence.

He is certainly involved in something illegal but what was it?” Riyas had asked his team members and they did not know. And for the past two weeks, nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Suddenly at that moment, the bugs that he had placed crackled into life!

Dinesh was speaking on his mobile phone but this time, his voice had a certain nervous edge to it.

I think it is time for another round of dredging?” Dinesh said.

The deep voice on the other end replied, “OK, I will be in our usual spot by two with our people.

And the line went dead…………

Dredging?” Riyas asked himself; “All this sounds crazy!” as he sent the other number to his department for tracking.

Things were finally beginning to heat up!

Finally at 1:30, Dinesh left his house and started driving south in his little pickup truck, through NH-17. He crossed the Periyar River, and made his way to a little hamlet called Pattanam, where he picked up two more people at the local bus stand and took a right turn towards the Chendamagalam Lake.

This is getting more interesting,” Riyas thought to himself as he followed them at a safe distance.

They reached the local boat-jetty which was practically empty; parked their car and made their way to a boat; a mid sized trawler. Riyas knew that he somehow had to get onto the boat without the others spotting him. He then jumped into the water, and swam as silently as a fish to the boat just as they were about to cast off, and with the stealth of a Ninja, he boarded the boat and made his way to the engine room, just below the deck. It was a little cramped in there but he was sure that he would be safe there.

And Dinesh steered the boat to the south and away, into the uninhabited lagoon. The blokes on the boat did not talk much on the journey, almost like they had done this many times. 15 minutes later, they were at a peculiar looking, deserted spot in the exotic lagoon, hidden from plain sight by the surrounding thick foliage. They dropped anchor and the guys, got ready for the dive.

Riyas was also amazed when he saw the high tech equipment that they had on board. The two blokes, who had come along dove into the water with their underwater lights, frogman attire and ample oxygen and Dinesh waited above with his computer monitoring the situation. And he then waited for 17 minutes for the men to come out. They had a quaint looking thick casket with them and Dinesh helped them bring it to the deck.

Riyas was taken aback when the casket was opened. It was full of solid gold bars and old antique coins! He knew that it was time that he started getting answers. He did not have to be careful as he stepped out as all three men were all busy looking at their loot.

When he was within a few feet, he said loudly, “Namaskaaram.”

All three men spun around when they heard him, but Riyas was too quick for them. He at once jumped on the two men dressed in the scuba gear and they did not have a chance to defend themselves as he dropped them in quick succession.

As he quickly turned towards Dinesh, he stared at the end of a gun!

Damn, did not expect this guy to have a gun,” he cursed silently.

The expression on Dinesh’s face was one of shock and anger mixed together and he shouted, “Who are you; where did you come from?

Riyas decided to tell him the truth. “I am from the government and we know that you are involved with the Maoists. Surrender now. Your game is over.

Quick to compose himself, Dinesh smiled and replied, “Don’t think that is going to happen. It is a pity that you found us here, but you are not going back.

So where did you get all these coins from?

Dinesh laughed out aloud and replied, “You have no idea about the significance or the history of this place, do you? Ha-ha! Let me tell you a small story.

Drunk with power because he had the gun, he continued, “Long ago, about 2000 years back, this place was a bustling little port called Muziris, which even did trade with the Roman and the Africans. The Romans built a temple to their emperor here and stacked it with gold and other precious gems, but I guess a couple of floods destroyed this port long back, thus burying this temple under water. About 3 years back, when I was a part of the sand mining mafia, I came across this ruin under water and have ever since been using the artifacts to finance our cause! I have only recovered about a tenth of what is hidden down there and things like these cost millions in the black market and are in much demand!

We are going to win the war and you cannot stop us!” Dinesh added with a maniacal look on the face.

Riyas was flabbergasted when he heard this. Never in his wildest dreams, would he have thought about something like this. His knowledge of History was pretty hazy to begin with, but this seriously took the cake. A Roman ruin in the middle of Kerala! Sounded surreal! All the pieces in the tale finally fit in perfectly and he knew that he had one more thing to do.

As fast as lightning, his right hand took the knife that he had stowed in his belt and he then ducked under Dinesh, who was slightly slow on the trigger and fired a millisecond too late. Riyas spun around like a top and slammed the sharp knife into his target and Dinesh let out a scream and dropped into the water; dead even before he hit it.

Riyas knew that he had executed his move perfectly! He whispered, “Sleep with the fish! Patti!” as he watched the bubbles peter out slowly.

He knew that he had hit a jackpot and as he looked into the water, it was hard for him to imagine an ancient temple buried deep beneath the turgid water. He was now part of history; of legends long spoken about; which the world would never know about!

This was his life!

Another mission accomplished; another file closed! Disconnect and move on.

He lit another cigarette and as he slowly exhaled, taking in the beauty of the brilliant lagoon, the cool breeze and the birds which flew above; he placed a scrambled call to his superior on a safe line………..

PS:

1) This is work of fiction.

2) “Muziris” or “Murachipattinam” was once a major trading port in ancient Kerala right from 1000 BC, until a great earthquake/flood (probably a tsunami) destroyed it around 1340 AD, thus changing the course of the Periyar River. The fertile, near sea-level Kuttanad plains and the extended waterways of theVembanad Lake are said to have been created during that ancient apocalypse as the water receded. After 1340 AD,Kochi little down south, turned into the next major trading port.

Legends say that there existed a grand Roman Temple to Emperor Augustus at that spot about 2000 years back and that there even existed, a roman legion to guard it. Excavation by the Archeological Survey of India at the present day town called Pattanam (about 8 kms south of Kodungallur) has revealed it to be the ancient site of that port city and they have recovered many roman artifacts from the ruins dating back to the first century BC. But the temple has not yet been found.

The Jews (originally from that place) who live in Kochi to this day, fear going to Kodungallur because of that ancient catastrophe and in their tradition, a little of the Kodungallur sand is used to bury their dead. It is also said that when St. Thomas landed in Muziris in 52 AD, he was welcomed to shore by a beautiful flute playing Jewish girl.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2011 6:21 am

    Absolutely loved it….u led it brilliantly. 🙂
    OG: thanks ums!

  2. June 5, 2011 6:22 am

    Wow!!!! 😯 I’m floored!!!
    OG: haha!
    Dude how much of research did you do to get this one up and running!!! I had no idea of these facts!!
    OG: quite a lot actually!
    Awesome narration! I loved the way you began with the character description of Riyas….drawing us into the story by making more human than just an assasin. All these details are true….I have an uncle who worked with RAW and is retired now. 🙂 I don’t think he was sent for very dangerous missions as these, but his travel took him all over the world. And yes like ur story says, he could never reveal his true identity except to his own family. And yes, he was supposed to be one among the crowd….not to be recognized. 🙂
    One more fact: the more drunk he got, the more silent he became. There was no way u could get him to just talk by getting him drunk. All part of training 🙂
    OG: danku danku! best of luck to your uncle!
    Er….may I also be a spoilsport and present a tiny spelling mistake in ur post? 😛
    As he quickly turned towards Dinesh, he starred at the end of a gun!
    It’s STARED, not starred right? :mrgreen:
    OG: updated!
    Ducks the barrage of chappals and runsssss…!

    • June 5, 2011 6:25 am

      Forgot to add: my uncle is happily married with two sons. His wife was pretty understanding and travelling with him no matter what the circumstances, living with him in difficult situations or makeshift arrangements. Hats off to her.
      But his elder son got frustrated and rebelled at the lack of identity of his dad and broke away from them. His younger son is more docile though and kind of complies.

      So I can imagine the marriage breaking story. It’s a tough life!
      OG: it always is………..

  3. Gautam Jayasurya permalink
    June 6, 2011 10:31 am

    Reminds me of old Detective Shobaraj created by Kottayam Pushpanath.
    OG: haha!

  4. Gayle P.F. permalink
    June 16, 2011 4:32 am

    Love this story! I always enjoy your descriptions… 🙂
    OG: haha! gayle!!!!! how are u???? been a long time……………

  5. lakshmy permalink
    July 3, 2011 3:27 pm

    nice really superb man …………..u got a nice talent to narrate things…………..keep your own image and don’t be a copycat of other writers……….please consider this as ma criticism only…. …….because Criticism,is always like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.”………….
    OG: thanks for the comment! but who do you think I have copied here?

    • lakshmy permalink
      July 5, 2011 7:41 am

      i never mean like that……………hope you are mistaken….
      OG: ok 🙂

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