Aaple saheb gele….
In plain English it meant, ‘our boss has gone’. But actually the cook who was informing a senior police officer, with whom Ashok Kamte had his last dinner meant, ‘our boss is no more’.
9.45pm 26/11/2008: “Are you watching the TV?” asked Ashok Kamte, ACP East Mumbai to his wife Vinita Kamte, who resides in Pune with their children. “Switch it on once you reach home. Some kind of gang war seems to have gripped Mumbai.”
The family watched events unfold on TV.
Rahul, their elder son, asked “Mamma, Dadda looks after East Mumbai (Chembur/Ghatkopar/Mulund)….” Clearly the son was hoping against hope that since the events were not happening in his dad’s area he would not be summoned.
A little while later Arjun, the younger of their two sons, said, “Mamma, see Karkare uncle.”
Reality TV was unfolding events live and Arjun had just spotted Mr. Hemant Karkare, Head of Anti-terrorist Squad (ATS) donning (by now the in-famous) bullet proof jacket.
10.43pm 26/11/2008: Mrs. Kamte rings up her husband once again only to get confirmation of her worst fears. Ashok Kamte says, “Mr. Hasan Gafoor (Police Commissioner) has asked me to head South Mumbai…”
11.15pm 26/11/2008: The anxious wife calls once again. This time Ashok says, “I am on my way to Hotel Trident.”
Arjun says with anxiety, “Mamma please call up Dadda and tell him to wear his bullet proof jacket.”
11.27pm 26/11/2008: Vinita Kamte calls up again. This time her husband said, “I am on the spot and in the middle of an operation, so don’t call me.”
Arjun the younger son goes upstairs to catch some sleep.
1.30 am 27/11/2008: Vinita and Rahul hug each other and begin crying.
Scrolling at the bottom of their TV screen was a one liner, “Ashok Kamte Saheed”
The main gate clanks. The dogs begin to bark. Neighbors begin streaming in. Relatives start rushing in. Phone lines get busy. This is India. No grief is private grief.
Instead of collapsing in shock and sorrow Mrs. Vinita Kamte takes charge. It is from precisely this point on one starts seeing the steel in Vinita Kamte’s personality. Since her father in-law had suffered a heart attack she first alerts her family doctor. She finds out the hospital where Kamte is admitted. She heads for Mumbai and gives one last instruction to the family. No one should say anything to Arjun, “Only I will break the news after I get back.”
This is virtually how the gripping story of “To the last Bullet” by Vinita Kamte with Vinita Deshmukh and published by Ameya Prakashan unfolds.
But if you thought this was the tragedy then you are wrong. The wife’s quest to find out what exactly happened is a bigger tragedy. The search for what were the circumstances that led to the death of her husband assumes epic proportions.
Tragedy becomes a calamity as wife and family helplessly see truth being suppressed.
There are questions, questions and questions. Till date she does not understand as to why her husband was diverted from Trident to Cama Hospital. She does not know as to why re-inforcements never arrived. She does not know as to why she had to take the RTI route even to get her husband’s post-mortem report. She does not know as to why it is being made out that three of the best officers (Ashok Kamte, Nitin Karkare & Vijay Salaskar) in Mumbai police are being portrayed as people who did not understand the gravity of situation. She still does not understand as to why it is being said that such people got killed instantly and went down without a fight and without a strategy to combat the terrorists.
Clearly not all is well with the system. For then how can you explain that the bullet proof jacket that Mr. Karkare wore that night has now disappeared?
Although this is not the subject matter of this book yet I feel really-really sad for encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar. He was there at the spot taking on the terrorists but yet he did not have his AK-47. In pages 48, 49 there is a reference in passing that says and I quote, “Mr. Salaskar was adept at the use of AK-47 but the weapon had been withdrawn from him.” Now if your officer cannot have an AK-47 for whatever reason (valid or invalid is a different issue) why should he then be on the front line of the anti-terrorist operation?
The second half of the book deals with the early life and times of ACP Ashok Kamte. It throws light on his zest for life, his love for sports, his passion for music and food and above all his dedication and commitment to his family. His stints in Bhandara, where he took on the Naxalites and Solapur where he took on the local mafia are very well documented. The fear he drove in the hearts of the mafia earned him the wholesome praise and love from the people of Solapur. They even put up a hoarding, “Solapur ka Don Kaun? Ashok Kamte aur kaun?”
The book also throws light on the work of Ashok Kamte’s paternal grandfather, Narayanrao Marutirao Kamte, the first post-independence Inspector General of Police (IG), Bombay State. Late Mr. Ashok Kamte’s father was also a colonel in the Indian Army. Clearly wearing the uniform was a family tradition.
I feel that the readers would have been happier to know more about the steel will and determination with which Mrs. Vinita Kamte, her children and other family members came to terms with their personal loss and grief. That is precisely why the chapter, “A New Day, A New Dream” was really touching.
It very briefly talks about how Rahul, their elder son, expresses the desire to study in Kodaikanal International School. The Principal and the staff welcome Rahul with open arms as this is the very school from where Late Mr. Ashok Kamte did his XII before moving on to St. Xaviers, Mumbai and St. Stephens Delhi. A paragraph towards the end of this chapter is also very reassuring and shows just how strong the Kamte family is.
I reproduce it verbatim:
Once I was I was lazing in bed in the afternoon. Arjun kissed me and said, “I also want to go to Kodaikanal International School, but then who will look after you? You will feel lonely?
In an effort to reassure him, I smiled and told him, “No, why should I feel lonely? I will find things to do and will be happy to see you both well settled in the same school. I can always come and spend a few weeks with both of you.”
I know that soon he would also pursue his dreams in that picturesque landscape which gave their Dadda the formidable foundation in life.
The name Ashok itself means ‘beyond grief’. All of us are trying to go beyond grief to find our bearings.
To the Last Bullet is a gripping book and a must read. One really hopes that Mrs. Vinita Kamte continues her crusade and takes on the system in the hope that events like these do not deter the bright officers but goes on to motivate them to take on the terrorists fearlessly in the future.
Apla saheb gele. It is the sad truth. But as long as there are women like Mrs. Vinita Kamte in this country there would be many- many more sons of India who would be willing to defend this great country from evil eyes and intentions.