Arun Pathak grew up the son of a storekeeper in the Jain dharamshala near Assi Ghat in Varanasi. There was little to distinguish his childhood except his gift for speeches. “On Republic Day every year, my friends would dance and sing, but I would give speeches in clothes just like Nehru’s,” says he. One day, a teacher told him he’d become a politician. Pathak took the prophecy seriously. He left school when he was 14 to join the Shiv Sena. “The Hindutva wave appealed to me,” he says, “and I was told new recruits would get a Mauser pistol. I was looking for that protection because every month I earned Rs 30 which local bullies would snatch from me.”


Pathak, 31, still lives in a tiny blue room in the Jain dharamshala near Assi Ghat where he grew up. He sleeps on the floor on a thin mattress beside his wife and his young daughter, Rakshita. The walls have several photos of gods, and a large one of identical Chinese twin babies. “You can see it isn’t air-conditioned, and if people have problems they can come to me straightaway.” It’s a point of pride, because one of Pathak’s pet grouses is that the country’s rulers sit in chilled offices and are inaccessible. His own goal is to ensure swift and instant justice. “If the police harass anyone unnecessarily, we stop it. No one should suffer unnecessarily.”


His interventions have earned him a kind of sullen power. People give him free boat rides, free tea, free hotel food. But these people who love him are too quiet, too stiff, around him. “He’s a good man,” they say softly, and leave it at that. But some talk. One, who ferries people, says he has to be nice to Pathak. Another, a shopkeeper, says standing in the same frame as him is like taking a picture with a thief. A policeman describes him as “not a criminal, and not a politician either. He’s somewhere between the two, if you know what I mean.”


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