Anurag took aim with his gulel. The sparrow was perched on the peepal tree blissfully unaware of the threat to its life. As Anurag was about to 'shoot' a voice said, "Stop! What are you doing?" The little bird flew off and Anurag turned to see the intruder. It was Kishan.
"What's the matter? Why did you disturb me?"
"Why were you taking aim at the bird. You know you could have killed the poor thing."
"Just for fun; because I like it."
"Would you like if someone broke your hand - just for fun - because he liked it," Kishan said walking up to him and placing a friendly hand on his shoulder.
"Come on Kishan. That is a different issue. I am a human being, not a dumb animal."
"But Anurag don't forget that even the dumb animal is a living being like you and me. Just because it is weaker than you and can't express its feelings as well as you can, you think you have a right to kill it - and that too only for sport."
Anurag kept quiet. It was however apparent to Kishan that he wasn't totally convinced.
"Anurag, I think I'll take you to meet my grandfather - Suraj Chand Bishnoi. He will be able to explain these things better."
Anurag was a class seven student studying in Jodhpur. He had come to Gudda Bishnoi, a village quite close to his home town for spending his Deepawali holidays. Anurag's grandfather owned a small farm in Gudda which was near Kishan's house.
* * *
"Dadaji, this is Anurag. He is Dinesh Ramji's grandson."
"Come beta, sit beside me," Suraj Chand said. He was a tall, well built seventy year old man with thick, white hair and long and thick whiskers.
"Kishan was telling me that he stopped you from hitting the bird. He is afraid you might have felt bad. Let me explain. First I'll tell you a little about myself. I belong to the Bishnoi community. For more than 500 years we have been sacrificing our lives to protect trees and animals. In Khejrala village stands a memorial to our community's fierce commitment to nature. It records a saga which took place in 1730. There was a wicked king who wanted wood to construct his palace. He sent his army to cut the Khejri trees. Amrita Devi, a Bishnoi woman, and 362 of her people stood bravely in the way. They sacrificed their lives in their attempt to stop the cruel king's marauding army. The State government has named an award of Rs 50,000 for conservation after her. Last year that award went to Nihal Chand Bishnoi, a youth who was shot while trying to protect the deer from poachers. Beta, Kishan too is a Bishnoi, how could he watch you kill a harmless bird?" Suraj Chand paused and after affectionately patting Anurag on his head continued, "Animals, birds, flowers and trees are all living beings like us. How can you think of harming them just for fun?"
* * *
"Anurag beta, your Sunil mama had sent a message - some film star has come for shooting to Jodhpur and is staying in Sunil's hotel."
"Dadaji which film star?" asked Anurag excitedly. He loved Hindi movies.
"I forget the name he mentioned - some Khan-."
"Khan? Was it Armaan Khan by any chance?"
"Yes, yes. Armaan Khan."
"Oh, Wow!" Anurag jumped up clapping his hands and doing a jig.
"Dadaji I want to go to Jodhpur today. I'll meet my favorite hero and come back in a couple of days."
"Okay beta. You can catch the afternoon bus. Ask your dadi to pack some alu parathas for you. You can have them on the way."
Anurag's maternal uncle Sunil was the Lobby Manager in Regal Palace - the best Hotel in Jodhpur. He knew Anurag enjoyed Hindi films and was crazy about Armaan Khan - the reigning monarch of Bollywood. Anurag hadn't missed a single film of Armaan Khan or AK as he was popularly known as. He fancied that he looked quite like his idol. He had got his hair cut in the same style and tried his best to ape the mannerisms of the superstar. Like AK, Anurag too had a cleft on his chin. Even their initials were the same - AK for Armaan Khan as well as Anurag Kumar. Anurag's friends often called him AK Junior and he felt thrilled to bits.
* * *
"This evening AK will be in his suite at around eight. I've already talked to his secretary Tikkoo. But you won't get more than a couple of minutes with him. So be prepared with your autograph book or poster or wherever else you want his autograph.
* * *
Sharp at eight Sunil knocked softly on the door.
"Come in," some one yelled from inside.
They entered to find AK standing in the middle of the huge suite shouting at the top of his voice at a pot bellied man who was standing with his head bowed. AK was clad in light blue jeans which seemed a couple of sizes smaller for him. He was bare-bodied and his muscles glistened in the golden yellow light of the room. He was much shorter than what Anurag had imagined him to be.
"Yes," he frowned, glaring at them.
"Boss, this young fellow has come to meet you. He wants your autograph," the pot-bellied man said.
"Later," was AK's curt response as he dismissed Sunil and Anurag with a wave of his hand and continued, "Tikkoo, you fool, what kind of arrangements are these? See the size of this room! Tell me who is the hero of this damn film?"
"You are the hero, boss."
"Then, why is my room smaller than the heroine's?"
"But Boss Preetyji's room is also of the same size."
"You donkey why should it even be of the same size. I am the hero dammit. I am also senior to her in the industry and far more successful. My last three films were silver jubilee hits whereas Preety hasn't had a hit for the last one year."
"Yes, boss," Tikkoo answered meekly.
"Don't just stand there yes bossing. Get out and tell that stupid producer Tolani if I am not given the best and the biggest room in this hotel I'll pack my bags and leave. He can then dress up Preety in trousers and make her play both the hero as well as the heroine."
AK turned round and seeing them still standing shouted,"Out you two. I told you I am in no mood for silly fans."
Sunil led Anurag out into the corridor. Anurag was really disappointed. He had expected AK to be a thorough gentleman - well mannered, gallant and a lover of children. In almost every hit film of his AK had portrayed characters who had a great way with kids - men who were tough with toughies but were kind and gentle, otherwise. Seeing the pompous and boorish side of AK's personality, Anurag really felt let down. 'He must be tired after a long day's shooting or upset about something', Anurag rationalized not willing to condemn his hero so easily.
"Do you want to wait a bit and try your luck again," Sunil asked Anurag.
"Yes, mama, if it's okay by you."
Just then Tikkoo appeared wiping his brow.
"Sorry yaar. Boss is in a bad mood. Some other time."
"Tikkooji, it will only take a minute. Poor fellow has come all the way from Gudda Bishnoi only to meet AKji."
"I am really sorry Sunil. There is nothing I can do. Now please excuse me, Boss has given me an urgent task," he waved to them and disappeared.
Anurag decided to go home. Since Sunil was in the night shift, Anurag bid him goodbye and trudged down the stairs. Just outside the gate he found Tikkoo arguing with the driver of Maruti Gypsy. On an impulse Anurag hid behind a taxi which was close by and listened.
"Suno bhai, AK want to go hunting right now. Are you willing to take us to the spots where the deer are available? He wants to hunt the black bucks and chinkaras."
"Saab both these animals are on the endangered list. It is illegal to hunt them. I might get into trouble."
"Come on yaar. Don't be fussy. If you want some extra incentive I'll give you. Will Rs 25000 help you change your mind."
"Okay saab, but I want the money in advance."
"Sure, we'll start in another ten minutes."
Tikkoo walked into the hotel with Anurag close on his heels. As Tikkoo got into the lift Anurag followed him.
"Well, young man, still hanging around. I told you there is no use. You can't meet him today."
"Please sir, I heard you talking to the driver. Can I accompany you?"
"Sir, my grandfather stays in Gudda Bishnoi. I am familiar with the area. I can serve as a guide. I will sit beside the driver quietly. I will not disturb AKji at all."
Anurag pleaded imitating AK in a scene from his latest hit 'Maan mujhe aanchal mein chupa le'.
"Okay, okay, let me talk to boss. Wait near the Gypsy. If I give you the nod you can jump in or just vanish. Okay?"
Anurag nodded and ran to where the Gypsy was parked. Half an hour later AK emerged with Tikkoo in tow. He was wearing a leather jacket, jeans and ankle boots. A Stetson on his head and a rifle in his hand completed the picture of an urban cowboy. He looked straight out of one of his numerous action films. He sat in the back seat. Tikkoo waved to Anurag and he quickly jumped in and sat beside the driver.
"So young man. You want to see your favorite hero doing some real shooting eh!" AK drawled.
Apparently his mood had improved. A strange smell was emanating from him.
'Looks like he has been drinking', Anurag thought.
The driver whose name was Jeeta started the Gypsy and soon had left Jodhpur behind. They reached the open fields and after driving for forty minutes they saw a herd of chinkara gamboling in the moonlight night.
"Yaah!" AK yelled and picked up his rifle.
"Boss shooting the chinkaras is illegal. Why don't we just take some photographs?" suggested Tikkoo.
"Are you forgetting you idiot that I am Armaan Khan the number one star? No fool is going to tell me what is illegal and what is not. I make my own rules," AK shouted and poking the driver with his rifle snapped, "Come on you donkey, get close. I want to get one with my first shot."
As the jeep surged ahead the chinkaras started moving faster. The Gypsy chased them across the barren fields inching closer and closer to the herd. AK raised his rifle and two shots rang out in rapid succession.
"Dammit I missed," he cursed. "Get closer," he yelled at the driver who accelerated. AK took aim and fired. A chinkara leapt in the air and fell down in a heap on the sand.
"Yaah," AK shouted like a savage and as the Gypsy braked to a halt he jumped down. He walked with a swagger towards the dead animal and removing a knife from his belt slit its throat.
"Sir, can I take a photograph of you with the deer?" Anurag asked.
"Why not? AK stood with the rifle on his shoulder and one leg on the carcass.
Anurag quickly took two snaps. He had bought the camera so that his photograph with AK could be taken. Tikkoo carried the deer and dumped it on the floor of the gypsy. The severed head lay a few inches away from the body. The fawns' large and expressive eyes stared at Anurag as if even now pleading for mercy. Anurag knew he would never be able to forget the pain and helplessness in the animal's eyes.
On the way AK told Tikkoo. "I want to eat deer meat tonight. Get this thing cooked."
"Boss if we do it in Regal Palace it will create unnecessary publicity."
"So, do you think I am scared of publicity. Don't you know I love publicity yaar?"
"Boss, I think we should look for some smaller hotel."
"Okay, okay but do it fast. Don't expect me to wait the entire night. And tomorrow morning cancel my shooting. I want to go and hunt some black bucks this time. I want to see which tastes better a black buck or a chinkara."
Tikkoo turned to the driver and asked him, "You heard what Boss said. Can you suggest the name of a hotel where we can get the deer meat cooked?"
Jeeta thought for sometime and then said, "I know of a hotel. Its called Park View and is quite close to Regal Palace. But you'll have to shell down some more money."
"That's no problem. After we drop Boss at Regal Place we'll go to Park View."
When the Maruti Gypsy reached Regal Palace, AK got down and swaggered off, rifle in hand.
"Hey Anurag, you get down here. And not a word to anyone about the shooting okay?" Tikkoo said waving to Anurag as the Gypsy sped away. Anurag took an auto and went home. Next morning he rang up the post office at Gudda Bishnoi and left a message for Suraj Chand Bishnoi. He then took out the reel from the camera and gave it for developing and printing. By afternoon Suraj Chand was with Anurag in Jodhpur. Anurag told him the entire story and showed the photographs.
"Hey bhagwan! This scoundrel should be publicly thrashed for this crime," he said, his face red with anger.
He sat brooding for sometime and then got up. "Come with me beta, let's go and meet the SP."
Suraj Chand was an important leader of the Bishnoi community. He had also served as an independent MLA in the last assembly and as such wielded a lot of influence. At the Police Station they went straight into SP's chamber. The SP, Chandrabhan Rawat, was a dark, hefty man of around forty. Suraj Chand recounted the entire sordid tale and showed him the photographs. The SP questioned Anurag at length and took the name of the driver and the Gypsy number which Anurag had been smart enough to memorize as well as the name of the hotel where the meat had been cooked.
"Anurag, you have done a terrific job. I am proud of you. Now go home and relax. I'll take care of the rest.
By next day the entire nation had come to know. AK was arrested along with Tikkoo, the driver Jeeta and the Manager and cook of Park View. The photograph of AK standing with his foot on the slain deer alongside a photo of him in the police station with his head in his hands, was published in every major newspaper. The same afternoon SP called Suraj Chand and Anurag to his chamber.
"What is going to happen to that scoundrel Armaan Khan?" Suraj Chand asked.
"His goose is cooked, nice and tender just as he wanted his deer meat to be made," SP said. "He can face a jail term of up to seven years."
Suraj Chand patted Anurag and said,"Anurag my boy I don't know how to thank you. If it wasn't for your quick thinking and guts God knows how many deer that rascal would have killed".
"You are right Suraj Chandji. Moreover, this will be a lesson to all those trigger happy scoundrels to keep away from hunting animals. Very few would now have the guts to hunt animals just for fun."
Shaking Anurag's hand SP added, "So my brave young friend, instead of asking for his autograph you should be giving him yours. After all Armaan Khan is only the 'reel life hero' while you have proved yourself to be the 'real life hero'.