It was the dawn after the long night. The family of abducted Sukma collector Alex Menon had been on tenterhooks for 12 days. And the flip-fops of his Maoist captors over the last few days had shattered nerves.
But on Thursday, as the news of his impending release came in, celebrations began in Chennai and Sukma. Sweets were distributed, crackers burst and the smell of Menon's favourite dishes wafted from the kitchens.Menon's pregnant wife Asha, who bore the brunt of the tension in Sukma, almost collapsed under the last minute strain.
The welcoming thali of aarti was ready and auspicious mango leaves decked the doorways, but Asha was too wound up to speak to anyone.
"Madam is not well, all of us are too worried," said one of the security guards at Menon's official residence.
"Maybe she will meet people after saheb comes back."
Later in the evening, Asha made a brief appearance before media, but rushed in within minutes when Menon called from the Chintalnar-based CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) camp where he would be spending the night.
"We were almost sure he would not be harmed by Maoists," said Pradip Dwivedi, a close friend who has been associated with various projects of Menon over the last four years.
"Now, the stalled development works will come back on track again," said Surendra Vaidya, sub-divisional magistrate of Sukma.
In North Chennai's Kolattur, Menon's father, sisters and father-in-law gathered at a house in the late afternoon as television channels beamed the news of his imminent release.
As crackers burst outside and special prayers were held, Menon's father A Vardhas, a retired headmaster, distributed sweets to all.
"I will go to visit my son in a day or two," he beamed.
"I want my son to continue work in Sukma, but request the state and central government to give him adequate protection."