Nights on the way home, nearing journey's end, we leave the main street and turn into Sadashivanagar — to enjoy for a short stretch a little less traffic. On this length live the actor-brothers Puneeth and Raghavendra, in adjacent identical cubic palaces. Several political leaders own private residences on this street, such as a recent foreign minister of India. And then there are the homes that hide that belong to the big, big industrialists.
Early last week we’d gone up one block in Sadashivanagar when we hit a police cordon. We were forced to turn right, back to the highway.
“What’s up?” I asked Mahesh, my driver. He gathers all the news during his downtime through the day.
“There’s a raid at Shivakumar’s house. By Income Tax people.”
Shivakumar is a top minister in the state government. He lives on this street that I favor. Entry to it was blocked the next night as well.
And the day after, I was in the area in the afternoon, needing to see my dentist on the edge of Sadashivanagar. The dentist has no parking and, being without a driver for the day, I had to struggle for space, circling, again and again, the cordon that covered three or several blocks around Shivakumar’s house. Hunting on the periphery, I found an opening by the Chroma electronics store. I drove in parked my car among a posse of police cars.
At the yellow barricade manned by the police end to end, I asked, “Can I leave my car there?”
“I need to go to the dentist.”
“Park there, then,” the policeman I was talking to said, waving toward a far distance.
“No room there. I’ve been going round and round twenty minutes.”
He considered me, my gray hair, and the hardcover book in my hand. On my part, I studied his burnt face, beaten by daily duty beneath the sun. Sweat glistened on it. Rain from the night before had left the day sultry.
He signaled okay to another cop.
The Police were camped at every intersection, sprawled and baking in red plastic chairs in the middle of the road and on the sidewalks. The thickest concentration of them was before Shivakumar’s house. Media persons milled about their OB vans. In Shivakumar’s compound, there were men in fatigues holding mean-looking guns. For all the numbers of men and women of action — the police, the press, the super-police, the minister's fans — there was no action. Boredom ruled. An IT raid is exciting in name only, the action itself being slow, tedious, bureaucratic.
Young broadcasters sat on the sidewalks and leaned back on compound walls. They seemed the most affected by the ennui of the thing. Shivakumar’s followers sat about in groups, in conversation among themselves — their faces showed concern, anger even, but there was no danger in the air.
The evening news reported the cash found. Seven crores, some said. Ten crores, others claimed. Barely a million and a half dollars! That’s no compliment to Shivakumar.
Because Shivakumar has a reputation. A big reputation. My grasp of its details is hazy, though. That’s because I belong to the legion that’s more glued to Donald Trump and his potential nemeses. So bitten am I by the Trump bug, I’m more focused on how he'll handle Jong-un than I am on our giant neighbor rapping a paw on a sore spot near India’s shoulder. At Doklam. Am I ashamed? Yes. Will I do something about it? I have only the addict’s weak answer.
Also, Shivakumar has a story. The ever-inspiring rags-to-riches story. The story of a farmer's son who started out with five acres of land and created wealth enough to be ranked among the richest in India. And he built himself a matching career in politics, reaching within grasp of Chief Ministership. His business success is significant for me; it points to what I could've done, but didn't.
I haven’t met Shivakumar ever, but I remember this: While driving past his house once, I had to pause a moment. Shivakumar had gotten out of his car and was crossing the street to his gate. He glanced at me, a smile playing on his lips. His face shone with the sheen of the powerful. His politico's whites were bright and stiff with starch. He seemed to be reaching out, to engage, and I'd liked him that moment. It was another face of his in the newspapers this week, with sag and pouches and stubble and fatigue on it.
So there, this was the big local news this week, close to where I live. It provoked no emotion in me. Now on the weekend, the police and the press and the strongman's fans have left. The barricades are folded and stacked helter-skelter by Shivakumar’s gates and by the gates of his neighbors. A new sight competes with the scene of last week: across Sadashivanagar billboards and posters and banners have sprung, announcing the birthday of Parameshwar, president of Shivakumar’s Congress Party. I'm adjusting to their glare.