I was working for Bombay [Dear MNS, please note: It was Bombay then, and anyway I am no Karan Johar] tabloid Mid-Day when my editor called me to his workspace and told me of Dr Buddhikota Subbarao. He was jailed as a spy, my editor told me while asking me to interview the man, and has been behind bars for over five years.
I went to Subbarao’s Vashi home, early in the morning two days after his release, with a vague idea of the kind of person I’d encounter – a mental image derived from considerable immersion in the works of John le Carre and others.
I expected security, paranoia and, worst case, having to tell my editor I couldn’t get the interview. What I found was a ‘row house’ like any other on that street. There were no guards, no dogs or other obstacles to journalistic endeavor – so I knocked on the door, and a roly-poly man in lungi, frayed shirt and horn-rim spectacles answered my knock.
Subbarao ushered me in, sat me down, brought me a cup of tea and biscuits [both replenished in course of a chat that lasted over an hour], and with no visible hesitation, spoke about his experiences.
That interview, published [with the kind of ‘Exclusive: First ever…’ tag that gave a then newbie journalist a huge high] in a Sunday edition of Mid-Day back in 1991, doesn’t seem to have an online presence – but this story is consonant with the facts as he recounted them then. [Also read this sequel, by Manu Joseph in Outlook nearly a decade later].
Among other things, that encounter forced me to rethink the readiness to accept the “official” view of matters of national security. [And that rethink, in turn, led to the story I filed for Sunday Observer when the national press was all agog over the “ISRO spy scandal” of 1994 – a story that materialized because I went to Thiruvananthapuram unwilling to blindly accept the “official” story [a comment piece I did for Rediff four years later, when the courts ruled on the case].
Back to Subbarao: the jinx on the family continues. There has still been no official resolution of his spy case. And now, a scary sequel: Open magazine reports the case of Subbarao’s son Vikram, now facing the prospect of a 30-year jail term for “threatening” George Bush.