Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. Each time it was three successive movements, involuntary from birth. Occasionally, there would be a grunt or a murmur. Nothing really noticeable. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. Another three movements.
There she sat, alone on the sidewalk. A raggedy cloak outlined her hunched frame, its hood enveloping her withered skin. Her bony fingers peeked out from beneath the folds of the cloak, tightly clasping a rusted tin can with a few copper coins. The people around her might have been oblivious to her presence but she was not to theirs. Even if they did notice her, they probably thought she was mentally unsound. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. Three movements once more. These twitches were part of her. Not like she could tell anyone that though. People probably just saw her as another one of the millions of beggars in Delhi, just about as common as dust. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. But things are always more than what we see through our tinted lenses.
Her eyes surveyed the area for signs of danger with the expertise of a seasoned pro. Satisfied with the conditions, she fixed her gaze on the entrance of ^ city. It was coming. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk.
In the distance, she saw the convoy with 4 security vehicles in accompaniment. The left side of her mouth curved upwards slightly in a half-smile. They were ready. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. As the unsuspecting entourage passed the city gates, she rose, tinkling the coins in her tin can ever so slightly as she disappeared into the maze of shadows.
And then, there was the glorious melody of gunshots.
As she navigated her way through the sewer tunnels, she contemplated the legacy etched into these very walls. Her father had created the Code, used it to encrypt everything about the Sakti and inscribed the organisation’s journey onto the tunnel walls, everything from the rules to the successes and failures; she continued this practice after taking over the organisation. As she ran her fingers over her fresher inscriptions, a lump rose in her throat. If only her father had lived to see this. He would have been proud that she was propelling the organisation from strength to strength. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. From the folds of her cloak, she withdrew the knife that once belonged to her father and inscribed the latest victory. Taking a step back, she took a moment to savour her success before returning the knife to its sheath. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. Wrapping her cloak around her, she continued down the reeking waterways toward the faint sound of voices.
The Sakti Headquarters was located in a supposedly sealed-off, abandoned segment of the Delhi sewage system; it was where every member of Sakti underwent training before commencing missions. Should the authorities ever be able to discover their headquarters, it would still be impossible to capture them; each member knew the waterways like the back of their hand and could easily disappear into the labyrinth of tunnels.
The Delhi authorities had been attempting to shut down Sakti for years but with little progress. It was especially hard when every member was someone thought to be dead and therefore off the government’s radar; prior to joining Sakti, each member had to stage his or her own disappearance, undergo physical changes to become unrecognisable and thereafter take on a fake identity. These individuals would then re-introduce themselves into the community, getting jobs and staying in apartments across Delhi. If an identity were in danger of being compromised, that person would fall off the radar immediately and repeat the transformation process. The entire organisation was also split into squads and they took turns to execute missions, making them practically untraceable.
Even within the organisation, the members knew little about each other’s lives; they just did what they had to do. Their operations were seamless, exhibiting the brilliance of this hunched frame and her predecessor; they were discreetly present at every major mission, heading the execution. Nobody actually knew how these two were related and while some had seen the face of Sakti’s founder, no one actually knew what this beggar really looked like. But no one asked questions.
As the beggar made her way into the Sakti headquarters, a hushed silence filled the area. As she made her way to the chair on the raised platform at the centre of the area, men and women alike made way for her; her presence had a way of striking fear in every heart. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. She seemed oblivious to the acrid smell of sweat coupled with the stench of the sewer. She took her seat quietly and nodded slightly in the direction of her deputy for that day, signalling him to proceed with his report on the mission.
Everything went according to plan. A sizeable sum of gold retrieved and stored safely. No casualties on the team. No civilians hurt.
Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. She was silent for a few moments; the tension in the room was palpable and no one dared to move a muscle. Finally, her lips parted and her voice echoed through the headquarters, raspy from years of smoking.
“Good. Tie up loose ends and then everyone get back to ground level.”
As the members began to their preparations, Hamza, her personal aide, stepped forward and handed her a cigarette before bending down and whispering something. Her bony fingers seemed to tighten their grip on the cigarette as she rose to her feet and hobbled down one of the tunnels, heading to her hidden chamber for privacy. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk.
Upon reaching the chamber, Hamza withdrew a phone, handed it to her and then retreated to the common area to ensure that preparations were going smoothly. Mustering all her strength to keep her cool, she answered the call on hold.
“I saw what you did.” She couldn’t help but roll her eyes. How dramatic. “This has to stop. You’re going to get yourself killed!”
“Your underworld contacts are efficient, brother, but you need to stop tracking me down like this. Maybe you should only call me on New Year’s Day, brother. But it’s nice to hear from you, Jai.”
“I don’t want to see you getting hurt.”
“You work in law enforcement, Jai. How could you not want to see criminals like me suffer?” There was silence on his end.
“You’re my sister. Why would I want that?”
“But you wanted that when it came to Dad. As if it wasn’t bad enough that you left us to become a cop, you led the cops straight to Dad! What the hell for, if not to see him get hurt?” Her grip on the phone was so tight that her knuckles went white. She remembered that day as clear as crystal; her father being caught defenceless and taken straight to the death row. She swallowed hard.
“He had to be punished, you know that. He killed innocent people…
“Those people sold their souls to a corrupt government by serving them, Jai! He wasn’t wrong!” She was shocked at her own outburst and struggled for a few moments to collect her emotions.
“Listen, they think someone else is running the organisation. Nobody even knows you exist; nobody knows Malik Gupta even had a daughter. You could live a normal life!”
She’d had enough by now. This was her life. Through gritted teeth, she delivered her ultimatum.
“I am my father’s daughter. He would’ve wanted me to finish what he started. You are either with me or against me.” And that was that; a line drawn in the sand.
Years passed. Sakti grew in numbers and continued to fight against the corrupt Delhi authorities with great fervency under her leadership. But one day, the inevitable happened: someone’s fake identity was discovered and the authorities, now aware that such a person could possibly be linked to Sakti, were hot on his heels. She dispatched a retrieval team to bring him safely underground. That night, Hamza called; they were a step behind the authorities and one of their operatives was already being interrogated. There was no choice but to call for an assembly at the headquarters.
The mood in the sewers was sombre. Everyone was fully aware of what the corrupt government would do to those they considered dissidents; each feared deeply for his or her own life. Jerk. Jerk. Jerk. Just as she was about to speak, government Special Forces swarmed into the headquarters. She disappeared stealthily through the nearest tunnel and hurried through the maze of tunnels, heart pounding fast. How had they discovered them so soon? She couldn’t understand it.
“Stop!” A familiar voice echoed along the tunnels. She whipped round to see her brother, weapon drawn.
“Could you bring yourself to shoot me, Jai?” she taunted, her voice dripping with sarcasm. That raspy tone; he would recognise it anywhere. His face paled and conflict was written all over his face. She shook her head, bemused at his lack of conviction.
“You don’t recognise me? Not surprising; you left when I was just 13. Even if you did see me brother.” She knew him too well. Jai would never pull the trigger on her. He pressed his lips together and maintained his position, unwavering and determined, finger on the trigger. Just before he pulled the trigger, memories of the past and his little sister flooded his mind; it was that split-second of hesitancy that cost him.
Seizing his moment of weakness, she hurled a tear gas grenade in his direction and fled down the tunnels. Gone.
Emerging from the manhole in an abandoned alley, she heaved a sigh of relief. If it hadn’t been for her brother’s weakness, it would’ve been the end for her. After surveying the area to ensure she was alone, she tossed back her hood and peeled off the mask she had been wearing, revealing her stunning features and flawless skin. She stripped off the cloak, revealing the cropped top and shorts beneath it.
Peeling the custom-made coverings off her arms and legs, she revealed soft, fair skin; it felt good seeing that instead of crinkly skin. She straightened her back; all that hunching and twitching had proved tiring and strenuous but it was probably worth it. With one last lingering look down into pitch-black darkness, she replaced the manhole cover and emerged from the shadows of the alley. Effortlessly, she slipped into the bustling sea of people.
Meet Jitya Gupta, the invisible head of the largest crime syndicate in Delhi.