This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Dark of the (Full) Moon

From June 2009:

Let’s tell a story.

Like many unlikely stories in the movies and suchlike, it’s not particularly realistic, but here goes anyway.

We have a guy here, young in years, but a career criminal. He has a ridiculous name. Let’s call him the most ridiculous name we can think of. How does Full Moon sound? Is that ridiculous enough? Yes? OK, so he’s Full Moon. Right.

He’s a contract killer, a serial rapist, an extortionist, who was finally arrested for decapitating two women who had refused to put out for him during a picnic. This Full Moon is in jail, of course, and apparently having a great time there. For him, jail regulations mean nothing. He has money enough and to spare; he throws parties for the other inmates every week, and the alcohol is brought in by bribed jailers. He uses the warden’s cell phone when he wants to talk to someone on the outside. He has as many visitors as he needs, and they are never checked for contraband. He’s the king of the prison population.

There’s just one little problem as far as he is concerned. He’s inside, and there doesn’t seem any immediate prospect of getting out.

He’s tried the legal route, petitioned the court as many times as he could for bail; but not even the most clueless court of law would be eager to bail him. He even hatched an escape plan, getting his girlfriend (for even a serial rapist and a woman-beheader can have a girlfriend) to smuggle a hacksaw blade to him in jail hidden in a vacuum flask. After he had the blade, he “fell ill” and even though the jail has a hospital, he was taken to a hospital outside for treatment. There, he visits the toilet and tries to use the hacksaw blade to saw his way out through the exhaust fan housing. Unfortunately, he apparently hasn’t bribed the guard, so he doesn’t get away with it. Back to jail for him.

By now, our Full Moon is getting desperate to get out. He knows the people of the city are against him now after those two women had their heads removed; he knows the chances of his getting out legally are slim indeed. Remember, though, that he is also a contract killer. So he begins pressuring the politicians and businessmen who have used his services in the past to get him out; he might even, he insinuates, tell all he knows if he has to stay in jail much longer.

In order to understand what happens next, one needs a bit of information about this jail.

There are no individual cells; the prisoners are housed in any one of several barracks in the prison compound, where they are locked up in the evening after dinner and let out again in the morning at 6.30am. This prison compound is surrounded by a very high wall, quite impossible to get over without rock-climbing equipment, and overlooked by two watchtowers (although usually only one is manned). In this wall there’s one gate. Beyond this gate there’s a second, lower wall with another gate; beyond that, the jail’s administrative offices, and finally, an outer wall with a third gate. Normally, each of these gates is locked and each has an armed guard; besides, there’s closed circuit TV monitored from the warden’s office, and then there are the watchtowers. Fine?

However, in recent times there’s been some diminution in the jail’s capabilities. The phone line has been out of order for months, and nobody’s bothered to contact the telephone department to have it fixed. The closed-circuit TV has ceased to operate, and nobody attends to either watchtower any more. In other words, the jail is in sorry shape.

So, at 6.30am, one Sunday morning at the end of May, the warden in charge goes into the main prison compound, unlocks the barracks, and then goes away to have tea, leaving, strange to say, the innermost gate unlocked. Somehow, there is, today, no guard at this gate. The Chief Warder is also absent from his office, which is again strange; and, somehow, along with the chief warder, the guard at the outermost gate is also absent from duty. The entire prison has only one guard – at the middle gate.

Meanwhile, our hero Full Moon, fresh out of his cell, approaches six fellow prisoners. They talk briefly, walk around, and then, at 7.20am, shall we say, they stroll through the unlocked inner gate and go straight to the manned middle gate. Full Moon takes out a revolver and fires once in the air, his friends “overpower” the guard, and they all walk out through that and the unmanned outer gate. A vehicle is awaiting them there; a second-hand car bought specifically for the purpose. They get into it and drive away.

Meanwhile the rest of the prisoners remain where they are. With no functioning guard and all gates unlocked and open, not one of them tries to get away.

Bollywoodish enough for you? Wait. I’ve hardly begun.

A massive “manhunt” is launched to track down these people, with all traffic out of town stopped and searched (well, in theory, at least). The day goes by, and people are disturbed at the prospect of a murdering rapist attacking their wives and daughters – as they should be.

Next morning, far away from town, some boys at a highway eatery see Full Moon buying food. Or, alternatively, some labourers at a quarry in the woods see our hero and his merry men making their way through the forest. Somehow or other, they inform the police in town, many kilometres away. The police – the same police who didn’t have a clue as to the planned jailbreak and couldn’t stop Full Moon from getting hold of arms in prison – arrive within minutes and, after a twenty minute gun battle, Full Moon lies dead with about twenty bullets in him. One for each minute of fighting. Some of his associates, who apparently did their share of fighting, are arrested on the spot and the rest are rounded up the next day, all around Full Moon’s home village, from which the residents threw him out long ago and where, apparently, he’s headed for shelter.

I ask you – does this sound like a believable story? Would you say, if you’d watched a film on this, “ that was realistic”?

Of course not.

Now, of course, if you haven’t guessed already, I’ve not made any of this up.

The criminal I mentioned was actually known as Full Moon – Full Moon Dhar – and he was held in the jail in this town until he broke out on 31 May, precisely as described. He was killed on 1 June, and after that, well, people here are anxiously awaiting the morning paper to find the latest on this soap opera.

The latest is that Full Moon’s girlfriend was arrested yesterday, and she’s spilled some rather large beans.

She said, you see, that Full Moon was paid large amounts of money, amounting to over 300,000 rupees, which the girlfriend collected and passed on to him, to buy weapons and bribe jail staff (one of whom also arranged the guns). The majority of this money was paid to her in three tranches by a man called Thomas Nongtdu, a businessman and politician who also owns a coal mine. (Incidentally, it was Thomas Nongtdu who was visited by the incompetent bandit in the episode I mentioned here.) Nongtdu, apparently, had been a long-time patron of Full Moon Dhar. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s used Full Moon to eliminate or exterminate business rivals. Apparently, he was the head of a group which organised the springing of Full Moon from prison in order to stop him from spilling the beans.

I suppose this is as good a time as any to inject a personal note in this story. First, I know Thomas Nongtdu very well; he’s been a patient of mine for years. Like all the businessmen hereabouts, he has no scruples at all and knows no laws except those that can be bent to his purposes by money, of which he has an obscene amount. Secondly, I visited that jail in 2003 while researching my first novel – so I can describe the situation inside the prison as I saw it. Third, I was myself stopped briefly by the police on Sunday at a roadblock, and a “check” that doesn’t even involve asking a motorcyclist to remove his full-face, visor-down helmet or show his driving licence isn’t, I think, a serious check.

Now, I admit I have a nasty suspicious mind. It’s a great bane, this nasty suspicious mind. It gives me strange ideas. For instance...

This nasty suspicious mind leads me to wonder how a police force so incompetent that it missed Full Moon’s jail parties, arms and money smuggling, and breakout plans (what with prisons here, like everywhere in the world, being full of stool pigeons), a police that can’t organise a  decent roadblock, can track down a gang forty or more kilometres out of town, in the middle of a forest, within minutes of a tip-off (and there are two conflicting accounts of who made that tip-off, too). It’s also kind of surprising that only Full Moon Dhar was killed in that shootout, with twenty bullets in him while nobody else on either side suffered so much as a scratch. It makes me wonder if the whole jail break was an elaborate attempt to set Full Moon up for the chop, if the police knew exactly where he was and eliminated him when it could safely do so, with no questions asked.

And since the police are completely hand in glove with the politicians anywhere in India, and since businessmen and politicians are the same people here, and also since Full Moon Dhar was a hitman for certain people who, presumably, had the money to pay, it makes me wonder if certain businessmen paid the police to launch the whole episode.

My nasty suspicious mind also tells me that now that all the escapees have been rounded up, the entire investigation into the financing and arming of the episode, the bribery of the warders, and so on, will be quietly dropped. And I assume – no, I’m sure – that Thomas Nongtdu will be out in two weeks or less.

I may have a nasty suspicious mind, but I’m sure of all that.


A week ago, I’d written about the strange story of Full Moon Dhar, a hit-man, serial rapist and murderer who broke dramatically and somewhat farcically out of jail only to be gunned down by the police in a somewhat, shall we say, suspicious incident. I’d speculated the entire escape was a set-up engineered for the sole purpose of silencing Full Moon Dhar before he could expose the politicians and businessmen who had used his services in the past.

I’d also written about my long-time patient Thomas Nongtdu, arrested for financing Full Moon Dhar’s jailbreak to the tune of 300,000 rupees ferried to him through his girlfriend – as revealed by the girlfriend, Ibatiplang Kharkongor, herself. I’d predicted that Nongtdu, an obscenely rich businessman-cum-coal mine owner-cum-politician, would be out in two weeks at the outside.

I was off by thirteen days.

Yes, after spending one entire, full and complete day in custody, Nongtdu was released by the same police that had arrested and was interrogating him. The release came after the government of the state, run by the same Congress Party to which Nongtdu belongs (and which took office less than two months ago with a promise of zero tolerance to crime) declared him innocent and ordered the police to drop all charges against him. The state’s Chief Minister himself, a Doctorate in Divinity, has declared that nothing would be done against Nongtdu unless he’s found guilty by the courts – which will never happen, since the charges against him have been dropped.

Um, you know, some things are kind of difficult to get away with no matter how shameless you are.

Ibatiplang Kharkongor, the college girl turned gangster’s moll who fingered Nongtdu (yes, I do sometimes read bad 1950s detective fiction) has been declared “insane” by the police, sans psychiatric evaluation, naturally. Since she’s insane, her testimony has no value. Since her testimony has no value, everything she says is ipso factofalse and the government and police are perfectly justified in letting Nongtdu go.

Thomas Nongtdu, for his part, did some talking. First, he said he had given the money in good faith, in order to help Full Moon Dhar meet his legal costs. When that didn’t quite wash – why would a politician give money to a crook to meet his legal bills? – Nongtdu changed his story. He then said he hadn’t known a thing about Full Moon Dhar; he’d paid Ibatiplang Kharkongor the money because she had told him that she needed it for a family member who was ill, and, being the big-hearted man he is, he just couldn’t say “no”.

And when Ibatiplang Kharkongor stuck by what she’d been saying from Day One – she’d gone to Nongtdu to get money from Dhar to get him out of jail, and Nongtdu had known this perfectly well while giving her the money in three instalments – Nongtdu took up another story. Now, Ibatiplang Kharkongor (a non-Christian, if you please) had come to him to ask money to build a church, and, as a devout Christian, how could he refuse? 

I know – everyone in this state knows – about the extremely intimate bonds between the churches and criminals/businessmen/politicians (which are all the same thing; Nongtdu for one now turns out to be a land-grabber and possibly a murderer as well). But it passeth all suspension of belief to assume a church would send a non-Christian college girl to beg money from a crook-cum-politico, instead of a holy bigwig coming in person. Besides which, the village that the alleged church was to be built in has denied that it ever had any plans to construct a church at all.

And that’s where things stand at the moment. Nongtdu is free; Ibatiplang Kharkongor has been declared to be mad – yet remains in jail, not in a psychiatric facility, which you’d suppose she should be placed in given her insanity. Several local organisations are up in arms demanding action against Nongtdu. I assume the protests will last until Nongtdu and his fellow coal barons, who own this government, pay off the protestors; which is something that should occur any day now.

One last point: that madwoman, Ibatiplang Kharkongor, is also insistent that her dear much lamented Full Moon Dhar had called her from a mobile phone shortly before being killed. Since she is mad, it’s not really a surprise that the police never found that mobile either...

Of course, I may be mistaken. Thomas Nongtdu may be a completely innocent man, caught up in a situation not of his making. Everything he says, no matter how self-contradictory, may be correct.

But, Thomas, I have my doubts. 


Earlier article on T. Nongtdu:

One of my specimens today brought back memories of something that I read in the local paper about five years ago.

I’ll call him (because it happens to be part of his real name) Thomas N. He’s a businessman from the town of Lad Rymbai, about 90 kilometres to the east of here. I’ve known him for about a decade now, and if he hadn’t confirmed this episode himself I’d have thought it was our deluded media at work again...

Briefly, what happened was this. Thomas N, along with some other people, was involved in promoting a function in Lad Rymbai where some minor Bollywood actresses and actors were brought in for publicity and to attract people. While the preparations were in progress, N, who acted as the treasurer of the promoting group, had a substantial amount of money in his possession, and on one occasion, it being the weekend, could not bank it at once.

That evening, then, he was visited in his house by a masked “bandit” who invited him to part with the money. N told the “bandit” that he had kept the money for safekeeping elsewhere, and it would take an hour for him to get hold of it. He told the “bandit” to go away and come back after an hour.

Agreeing readily, the “bandit” went away – and even returned. Exactly on the hour. To find, not too unnaturally, the police waiting for him.

Sometimes I despair even of human stupidity.

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