Whispers of a ransom payment lurked at every corner of his journey from the clutches of his captors to the safety of his Salt Lake home. The only loud comment on money, however, came from a taxi-driver, who said he lent the shoe magnate Rs 10 to pay off a rickshaw-puller.
Neither the police nor their superiors would shed more light than the cabbie. “I’m informed that he has returned unharmed,” chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said. Declining to elaborate, he added: “The CID will tell you everything.”
But they did not.
All questions — where he was taken, who his captors were, where they dropped him and why — remained unanswered as Roy Burman was whisked away in a Toyota Qualis by his family to Woodlands Hospital.
“He has just come back and needs urgent medical attention,” CID inspector-general Partha Bhattacharjee said. “We will go for the reconstruction of the crime after he comes back from hospital. We can’t disclose anything now as that will hamper our probe.”
The unprecedented police operation, which rolled through several states, to track down Roy Burman and his abductors, came to an end around 2.45 pm when the businessman reached his BH-180 residence, exhausted and without his trademark beard, his left arm in a crude plaster.
Roy Burman returned in a taxi which he hired from Nagerbazar, having got there in a rickshaw, both modes of transport unknown to him. The shoe baron borrowed the rickshaw fare from cabbie Biswanath Mandal. “Please lend me Rs 10 to pay off this rickshaw-puller,” Mandal quoted Roy Burman as saying. “He told me he did not have a single paisa in his pocket.”
Few manhunts in the state have matched the week-long Operation Khadim’s — that began after Roy Burman was kidnapped near his Tiljala warehouse after being shot at twice on July 25 by his abductors — in its size and sweep. Several hundred officials and undercover agents were deployed and a vast network of informers activated in Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The operation crossed the nation’s borders as police did not leave out even the Dubai angle.
Roy Burman’s reappearance was as undramatic as his disappearance was dramatic. In contrast to the hundreds who saw him being shoved into a Maruti 800 in the crowded Tiljala bylane, Roy Burman entered his residence with even media personnel waiting at BH-164 — another family house — unaware of his return.
Police officials were hesitant to confirm his return. Roy Burman walked into his tastefully-done home with the aid of a middle-aged man who happened to be waiting at the gates.
A distraught father and Khadim’s chairman, S.N. Roy Burman, was in front of the family deity at BH-164 when his son entered BH-180. Brother Siddhartha was having a reluctant lunch. “We never dreamed he would finally be back today,” sister Jayashree said.
Youngest daughter Riddhima, who turned 11 yesterday, came out on the terrace after the family left for Woodlands and waved. Responding to a question from reporters, she replied: “Yes, my dad has come back. I am so happy.”
His family was not giving any clue about his eight-day ordeal. “Neither is my brother in a state to tell us what exactly happened nor did we bother to ask him,” brother Siddhartha said. “Let him recover from the trauma and you will get all the answers.”
But, for the first time, he admitted that the family received several threat-calls in the past week. “From the day after the incident occurred, the abductors started calling and threatening us,” he said. “But the last call came two days ago.”
Siddhartha, however, would not say that the kidnappers asked for any ransom. Nor would he tell what their demands were. “I can’t tell you what exactly they threatened for my family’s security,” he said.
It was a call that was long awaited. Police had placed caller line identification (CLI) instruments in the Roy Burman home and the telephones were being tapped. The caller, speaking in Hindi, calmly informed the Roy Burmans that Parthapratim was in their custody. If the family wanted him back, they would have to come to “an arrangement” with them.
But, who were they? And where were they calling from? The callers informed the Roy Burmans that they were a “dangerous gang” calling from a “Gulf country” and if the family did not respond positively, they would make a very sorry picture of Parthapratim, who had already suffered bullet injuries in his arm and shoulder.
There was no disputing the fact that they were either calling from a foreign country or using a SIM card belonging to another country. For, the CLI instrument did not pick up the number of the caller. The CLI instruments in use in India so far are not equipped to do that.
But, the Roy Burmans asked, how would they know that they had Parthapratim with them? The callers then said that, in fact, the shoe magnate was being held for them by their “contacts” in West Bengal.
So, if the family were unwilling to reach an agreement with them, “suitable instructions” would be sent to their contacts who would then deal with the shoe magnate “appropriately”.
The Roy Burmans obviously did not want that. But they also wanted to be absolutely sure that Parthapratim was in their custody. For the next couple of days, talks between the two parties continued and it was decided that the Roy Burmans would provide the callers with three questions, the answers to which only Parthapratim knew.
The alleged abductors passed this test. They got back to the Roy Burmans with the correct answers. The Khadim’s owners now had reason to believe that Parthapratim was actually in their custody. But they wanted to be doubly sure. They wanted to hear his voice. This time, it took the abductors a little more time, but once again they scored.
A taped message by Parthapratim was played on the phone. There he detailed how he was kidnapped and said that he was badly injured and in great pain. Could the family bail him out of this situation and relieve him of his sufferings?
Convinced that Parthapratim was actually in their custody, the Roy Burmans said they were ready to talk. This is where fresh hurdles began to arise: the “understanding” proved elusive with the abductors appearing to be “totally unreasonable”.
Back and forth the talks went, and at one point of time it seemed that Parthapratim would never come back home.
But, finally, on Monday it seems that both sides saw reason and a “final agreement” was reached. It was decided that they would meet in Hyderabad to chalk out the finer points.
On Tuesday, the “arrangement” was worked out with a representative of the abductors — who was identified, filmy-style, by a number on a currency note he showed a Roy Burman representative — and it was decided that Parthapratim would be released the next day. Word would be sent to a Calcutta contact who would then carry out the necessary job.
Then began the agonising wait. On Wednesday, as everyone waited on tenterhooks, Parthapratim did not show up. Had the abductors reneged on the deal? Why hadn’t the shoe magnate showed up? Was he too unwell to be removed? Had relations between the abductors and their Bengal contacts suddenly soured? The Roy Burman family was tormented by these questions as the day wore on and Parthapratim did not show up.
But on Wednesday, another sideshow was being played out. Another group of people, claiming to have Parthapratim in their “possession”, wanted to cut a “side-arrangement” with the Roy Burmans. Only, unlike the earlier callers, they failed the “three-question” test and had to bow out of the picture.
But this did not help matters in any way for the Roy Burmans. For, through Wednesday, the promised return of Parthapratim did not happen. One contact, who through the day kept giving encouraging messages that Parthapratim would surface any time, suddenly dived out of the picture around 7 pm, promising to remain in touch but going incommunicado for the rest of the night.
After an agonising night, the Roy Burmans finally received a message from the abductors today that Parthapratim would be home by the afternoon. He was kept a long way away and it was taking time to get him back, the Roy Burmans were told. At 2.30 pm, they realised that the abductors had finally kept their word when Parthapratim walked into their home again.
UTI’s officers have started a fund to pay for the legal expenses of Subramanyam as well as suspended executive directors M.M. Kapur and S.K. Basu. All three are in CBI custody. Their case will come up for hearing tomorrow.
A large section of the staff appears keen to contribute to the fund — that could raise as much as Rs 18 lakh — mainly because they are convinced that the government has made a convenient scapegoat of the three.
Even today, finance minister Yashwant Sinha laid the blame squarely at the door of the Unit Trust top brass while absolving himself and his ministry.
He ruled out a joint parliamentary committee probe into the muddle and said he would not resign. “The issue is not going to be resolved only because Yashwant Sinha resigns,” he told the Rajya Sabha.
The decision to raise money for Subramanyam and Co. was taken at a meeting of the UTI top brass in New Delhi on Saturday. Four executive directors started the fund by contributing Rs 5,000 each. Senior officers are likely to chip in with Rs 5,000 each, while junior officers will contribute Rs 1,000 each.
“But there’s nothing hard and fast about it. The whole thing is optional and flexible. These figures are some kind of benchmarks to go by,” a UTI officer said.
After Saturday’s meeting, the decision was communicated to the branch heads. They put up an informal notice, urging their staff “to extend a helping hand to our beloved colleagues”.
“The response was phenomenal and contributions are flowing in,” a UTI officer based in Calcutta said.
The eastern zone could raise as much as Rs 1.1 lakh, but it will be Mumbai which will contribute the most to the kitty as most of the mutual fund’s officers are based there.
The amount raised will be sent to Mumbai tomorrow through a demand draft drawn in favour of one of the executive directors, in all likelihood Brij Gopal Daga.
Even UTI’s unionised employees are planning to raise funds from among themselves, sources said.
“The whole of UTI stands united in defence of our former chairman and executive directors,” an employee said.
UTI has also kicked off an exercise to repair its bruised image. Officials today met agents at various offices across the country for a round of pep-talk to boost their morale before the mutual fund launches some of its schemes over the next few days.
“Initially, after the decision to ban sale and repurchase of US-64 units, there was some amount of resentment among our agents. But they have now realised that UTI has been victimised,” the officers claimed.
Through these interactive sessions, UTI hopes to regain their confidence, and, in turn, the trust of the investors.
The stocky Sehwag’s “favourite” knocks, of course.
A few hours later, Sehwag actually realised that dream and, in turn, put New Zealand through a nightmare during the tri-series’ last league game in Colombo.
Powered by the makeshift opener’s blistering century, the joint sixth-fastest in ODIs, India overhauled New Zealand’s formidable 264 for seven to book a place in Sunday’s final.
A week ago, India were on the mat after losing the first three matches (twice to New Zealand, once to Sri Lanka). Now, they are in their second tri-series final in under a month.
Sehwag fell for 100 (70 balls, 19x4, 1x6), while India finished on 267 for three, with a minimum of 26 deliveries in hand. The winning runs came off the consistent Rahul Dravid’s blade and Yuvraj Singh, yesterday’s hero, wasn’t even required to take guard.
Earlier, captain Sourav, too, played a big hand — scoring 64 and featuring in the initiative-wresting 143-run opening stand.
While New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming wasn’t exactly effusive in his praise of Man-of-the-Match Sehwag, Sourav had no words to salute the “God-fearing” New Delhi-based allrounder. He kept repeating “unbelievable, unbelievable...”
As for Sehwag, who took the first congratulatory call from The Telegraph (on returning to the Taj Samudra), he had this to say: “Bas bahut khushi hai... For the past few days, the captain and coach (John Wright) kept saying ‘You have to do it’ and, as it turned out, I didn’t disappoint anybody.”
The 22-year-old added: “I dedicate this (maiden) century to the team... Ek combined effort raha hai, otherwise how could we have recovered from three defeats in-a-row?”
Asked about the red handkerchief, in his left trouser pocket quite like Mohinder Amarnath, Sehwag laughed: “This is the first tournament that I’ve been keeping one... Yeh maine ek rishtedaar ke suggestion pe kiya... In fact, the hanky I used today was absolutely new (arranged by a local) as I lost the old one yesterday.”
Being somewhat superstitious, Sehwag surely won’t ever let go of that red piece of linen!
Incidentally, today’s MoM award is Sehwag’s second, the first being in Bangalore earlier this year, versus world champions Australia. Then, Sehwag smashed 58 off 54 balls besides taking three for 59.
Sehwag, it may be recalled, hurt himself trying to effect a save and the injury (a broken right thumb) eventually kept him out of the rest of that series. Sehwag had to wait for the tri-series in Zimbabwe to earn his next India cap.
He was fielded in all four games there as also all five previous matches in Colombo. Frankly, however, he did little to enthuse backers. It must be said, though, that he was pitchforked into a new role — that of an opener — after the second game in Colombo.
“Was I comfortable? Well, adjustment is an important component of one-day cricket and, when the captain and coach asked whether I would open, I assured them I would do whatever was in the team’s interest,” Sehwag responded.
He didn’t ignite the Palk Strait with scores of 33, 27 and 0 as opener, in the run-in to today’s ‘semi-final’, but more than made amends this afternoon.
Talking about his blinder, Sehwag said: “I played my natural game and, obviously, wanted to make the most of the first 15 overs. Sourav kept encouraging me, besides reminding me that I should play seedha. Overall, I think I played the deliveries on merit... No, I wasn’t conscious of any record.”
[Sehwag, by the way, lashed 80 of the 100-odd runs when the field restrictions were in place.]
So, should he now be seen as an opener?
“Aap yeh samajhiye ki main wahin bat karunga, jahan team ko zaroorat hai... Cricket is a team sport and I’m a humble team man,” Sehwag insisted.
This attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed.