“No! I do not have the foggiest idea about the history of jeep ORO 510, except that it must have seen better days” was my surprised reply.
“You must be knowing that we had a very big site at Barsua where all the major work is nearly over and the site is now being closed down?” asked Mr. Ghosh
“Yes, I do!” I replied not hiding my impatience.
Then Mr. Ghosh with some prompting from his colleagues told me a story which was both intriguing and horrifying.
“Mr. R. K. Khanna used to be the site-in-charge at Barsua. He was a very capable person but was also very tough and some what abusive, which was quite common for the job he was doing. He maintained a strict discipline at site and the workers were quite afraid of him.
One day a rigger...a crane operator, Puran Singh..... a young sardarji... came drunk to site and had altercation with Mr. Khanna. Mr. Khanna wanted to sack him immediately but due to intervention of Harbans, who was the leader of riggers and was also related to Puran Singh, he was let off with an ultimate warning. However, about a month later Puran Singh was caught drunk at the site once again and Mr. Khanna sacked him summarily not paying any heed to Puran Singh’s pleadings or Harbans’ requests. Puran Singh threatened Mr. Khanna with dire consequence while being released. Harbans also had an altercation with Mr. Khanna on that day and was warned by Mr. Khanna.
Puran Singh left the site on the same day and nothing happened for about a month. Then one night Mrs. Khanna rang me up to inform that Mr. Khanna had not returned from the site! Immediately we arranged a search party but we could neither locate Mr. Khanna nor his driver and jeep in which they used to travel! An FIR was lodged with Barsua Police station. Next day the jeep was located at the bottom of a gorge. We thought this was an accident and along with police personnel searched the adjoining area for the missing bodies in vain. Finally the police dogs were brought in to help and the bodies of Mr. Khanna and that of his driver ...both in severely mutilated condition ....were found stuffed in a nearby rain water drain pipe.
Considering foul play, an arrest warrant was issued against Puran Singh, but he could not be located anywhere....even at his hometown in
Punjab. Police were also certain that it could not have been possible for Puran Singh alone to overpower both Mr. Khanna and his driver who were physically quite strong. They suspected that he must have had accomplices. Harbans along with his entire rigger-gang was rounded up and grilled by the police, but were released later due to lack of evidence. Everybody, however, was convinced that Harbans must have been involved.
The jeep was recovered from the gorge and was sent to Kansbahal works for repair. The registration number of that jeep was ORO 510 ....the one you are using. Mr. Khanna’s driver was tribal and used to stay in a village opposite to the hill with twin peaks”.
I was shocked to hear this gruesome story but did not tell Mr. Ghosh and others that every night my jeep stopped near that village because of some unexplained reason. I did not want to fuel any superstition.
That day I could not enjoy my dinner, not due to any fault of Kalyan...our cook, but I was really very disturbed and was always thinking about Mr. Khanna and his driver and their untimely end.
Next day morning when I was again getting busy with my work,
came to me and asked “Sir, may I take the jeep for servicing?” Lawrence
“Please go ahead and see that all the filters are also changed. It is too dusty out here” I replied.
That day we closed the site at about 8 PM and after dropping my colleagues when we started towards Kansbahal, it was already past 9 PM.
Lawrence, did you hear any story about this jeep” I asked , when we were alone. Lawrence
“No, Sir, I do not know anything except that it has been transferred from another site” replied
I briefly narrated to
what I heard yesterday night. Lawrence was aghast and very perturbed! Lawrence
When we were climbing the up-hill gradient near the ‘hill with twin peaks” it was about 9:30 PM and I was thinking about the brutal killing of Mr. Khanna’s tribal driver who used to live in the cluster of huts on the left hand side of the highway, exactly opposite to the spot where the jeep stopped automatically everyday for the last one month. I was expecting the jeep to stop at the same spot even that day. Probably
was also thinking the same. Lawrence
BUT THE JEEP DID NOT STOP!
It did not stop at that spot that day and never afterwards! I have since wondered whether it was because some mechanical fault got rectified in the last servicing or was there something else to it ... some questions always remain unanswered ...