Finding inspiration in a real life incident that took place in Pune years ago, where a state transport bus driver went on a rampage on the streets of the city, Punekar Salil Desai has used this event and spun an astounding fictional psychological tale around it, one that will leave you cold with its chilling unfoldings.
Salil Desai is an author, columnist, and film-maker based in Pune. He is best known for his much-acclaimed Inspector Saralkar Mystery Series which includes 3 and a Half Murders (2017), The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen (2015), and Killing Ashish Karve (2014). His other popular books are Murder on a Side Street (2011) as well as a collection of short stories, Lost Libido and Other Gulp Fiction (2012). The Sane Psychopath (2018) is his sixth book.
He also conducts intensive workshops in creative fiction writing, story and scenario design, screenplay writing and film-making. Salil was also one of the four international authors worldwide selected for the HALD International Writers’ Residency in Denmark, hosted by the Danish Centre for Writers & Translators in June 2016. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, The Sane Psychopath. Courtesy: Fingerprint.
An excerpt from the book The Sane Psychopath by Salil Desai
On the road adjoining Swargate State Transport Depot, the traffic had yet to start building up, shops had barely begun to open, people and passengers were teeming around but the bustle was nothing compared to what it would usually be just half an hour later. Two girls on a scooter stopped right near the exit side gate. The girl riding pillion, Shalaka Patil, got down quickly with her travel bag and grinned at her friend.
“Thanks for the drop, Divya. I’ll be back next Wednesday, okay?”
They were hostel mates. “Wednesday? But what about Tuesday’s viva?”
“Who cares,” Shalaka giggled. “I’m going to have fun. All my cousins and uncles and aunts are getting together after so long in my native place. Can’t miss it for the world.”
Perhaps Divya would have said something in reply, but that was not to be. She had already spoken her last coherent words on earth.
For at that precise moment a bus shot through the Swargate Depot exit and sped towards them.
Shanker Lande honked loudly, gesticulated at the girls to move out of the way through the windscreen, as he charged at them.
The girls were shocked out of their senses at the metal monster tearing down at them, less than thirty feet away, and stood rooted to the spot for a vital second. Then Shalaka jolted to one side, moving out of the bus’s path but Divya tried and failed to start her scooter. Numb with fear she tried to get off the vehicle and jump away, but was still in the impact zone as the bus rammed the scooter. It hit her with such force that she was flung to one side, probably dead even before her body hit the tar.
The bus didn’t slow down or stop. It turned into the main road, ploughing into roadside stalls and hawker’s carts in its way. People started diving out of the way to safety while bystanders looked stunned at the unbelievable spectacle.
Shanker threw a glance over his shoulders at the damage done and the girl lying in the pool of blood, now fifty metres behind. There was no remorse on his face, as if it wasn’t a human being he’d just knocked over, just an illusory character in a video game. He turned to look ahead at the road, accelerating now, putting the bus into high gear, honking hard, overtaking cars and autos, dashing some. Scooterists, cyclists, and motorcyclists lost their balance or swerved out of the way. Those that didn’t were slammed or crushed. Pedestrians shouted abuses but to no avail. The bus tore through the streets like a manic metallic contraption gone haywire, with Shanker at the wheel, his grey eyes unblinking.
It took Swargate Depot Controller Chandrashekhar Rawat a few minutes to comprehend what the service workshop people were reporting—that Shanker Lande had simply driven away with an unattended breakdown service bus standing in the yard.
A minute later, a security man informed Rawat about the girl horrifically mowed down just outside and other damage done. When the enormity finally dawned on Rawat’s mind, he immediately called the police control room. “Sir, Swargate ST stand Controller Rawat speaking. One of our drivers has just driven off with a service bus. He knocked down a young girl and dashed into several other shops and vehicles.”
“What? You mean deliberately?”
“Yes. He’s fled with the bus . . . he needs to be stopped . . . seems to have gone berserk,” Rawat explained as best as his dry mouth and panicked faculties could permit.
“Which direction has he taken? Anyone else in the bus? Bus number and description,” Police Control demanded.
Rawat licked his lips and conferred with the employees gathered in his cabin, then replied, “He turned towards Shankersheth Road. Please hurry. Bus number is MH-14—. Green and red breakdown service bus.
Driver’s name is Shanker Lande.”
“Papa, tomorrow is my school picnic, no?” his daughter asked Sanjay Agarwal, as they halted at a traffic signal.
“Is it, beta? Mummy would know. Where are your teachers taking you this time?” he replied with a half-turned head. He hoped the traffic constable standing near the zebra crossing wouldn’t stop him for not wearing a helmet.
“Katraj zoo . . . Papa.”
But his daughter’s reply never reached Sanjay Agarwal’s ears, or if it did, it never registered on his mind. Because first the sound and then the sight of the green and red bus heading towards them at breakneck speed from behind, unnerved him.
All the signals Shanker Lande had crossed so far were yet to start functioning that morning. This was the first major crossroad and hence the signal was on. Just a handful of vehicles, two wheelers and cars, stood waiting about fifty metres away. He began honking. They better get out of the way. He wasn’t stopping. He blasted his horn again but the imbeciles failed to move. Well, so be it. He had his instructions.
Shanker drove straight into them.
The bus hit Agarwal’s scooter and the car next to him with full force, mangling father and daughter on the spot. The car, an old Maruti, was hit on the passenger side and its metal ripped apart, getting stuck in the bus’s under carriage. It got dragged along with the bus for a few meters before the metal disentangled.
Two cyclists in the front were saved by a whisker even as their cycles got driven over.
The traffic constable who saw it happening from a few feet away, was aghast. Nothing in his tenure had prepared him for an accident quite like this. His hands first flew to cover his eyes and mouth.
Then, outraged, he began feebly running after the bus, realized the futility of it, turned around and ran towards the writhing dead bodies of the unfortunate father and daughter. He and a small crowd that had gathered watched with horror the flesh and blood and entrails stuck to the road. A woman fainted.
There was no point even in checking if either of them was alive.
The constable controlled his nausea with superhuman effort. Someone in the crowd suddenly pointed to the crushed car. A badly injured and bleeding man stumbled out of it from the driver seat. He collapsed.
“Help,” he sobbed, “my wife . . . my wife.”
The constable and onlookers were galvanized into action. Someone quickly stopped a passing car. The man’s wife lay gruesomely trapped inside the warped metal, bleeding profusely, pinned to the passenger seat, horribly twisted. Shards of glass were all over her. Life was ebbing away in her open eyes and death was most certainly on its way. They only hoped she felt no pain, which was just wishful thinking.
Shanker’s foot pressed down hard on the accelerator. Speed didn’t really matter any longer. He could drive as fast as he wanted to. He had no use for the brake.
His mobile phone began ringing as he started up a flyover, weaving dangerously away from a loaded tempo in his way. Banging wouldn’t have helped. He just gave it a bump, as he began overtaking it. The tempo swerved towards the side by the force of the impact and hit a car next to it, which in turn crashed into the wall of the flyover.
The mobile continued ringing. Shanker let it ring.
Inspector Raote had heard about the alert. He knew the bus might be heading his way. He’d already got two of his constables to stand by to give chase. Constable Mujawar was already sitting on his bike while Constable Bhagwat was once again checking the functions of his weapon, which he hadn’t fired in a long time, except during practice drill.
The Baba Adam Wasti Police Chowky was situated on the road under the Ghashiram Kotwal flyover. Inspector Raote spotted the bus as it crested the flyover and began hurling down the other end like a runaway roller coaster.
“Mujawar, Bhagwat, there he is. Go!”
Bhagwat and Mujawar looked in the direction Inspector Raote was pointing and then at each other.
Bhagwat jumped on the pillion as Mujawar revved the bike.
“Sir, am I to shoot only at bus tyres to stop him?” Bhagwat asked, his heart pounding as he watched the bus drive away.
Mujawar had already started moving.
“First hit the tyres,” Inspector Raote said. “If he does not stop, then orders are to shoot him.”
“Saheb, I am not confident of hitting a moving target. It’s too risky. Somebody else might get shot,”
Bhagwat replied, now almost fifteen feet away.
“Do your best,” Inspector Raote hollered back. “Don’t waste time. Get going.”
What else could he say?