Company Club had world class facilities. Bar, food, décor, service, staff would pop any commoners’ eyes out. Sandhya also had seen a lot in life, moving with her minister husband. But she thought this might beat the best, by a small margin. She was warmly received by Pratima, who escorted her to the prime space reserved for the richest of this world. Kirit Patel was looking bright and talkative in the company of his executives and other business partners. There were also some of the most glamorous women on the table. After exchanging greetings, Kirit Patel introduced one of them as his wife, Sonal and some more and… even more.
As Sandhya took a chair, Pratima sat next to her. Sandhya gave her a thank you smile. The waiter placed white wine in front of them. Kirit Patel ordered fresh snacks. The evening was going by happily. As the glasses filled and refilled, happiness graph in the group turned north. Sandhya met many high profile Indian and foreign industrialists and executives. Some asked her for her background, qualifications and some… “Oh, then why don’t you join our organization, we need someone like you”. “Someone with your personality should be not sitting at home. Send the children to a boarding school and you make your own place in the world.” She was feeling heady with these compliments and offers. After three glasses of wine, she asked to be excused. She made a familiar gesture at Pratima and they both walked towards the ‘Ladies’… Kirit Patel’s eyes followed them…
Around 2am, Sandhya said she wanted to leave. Pratima gestured for the car instantly. After many affectionate handshakes and good nights, they walked off. In the porch a driver was holding the door of a black BMW 7 Series sedan.
After a 20 min drive, they reached the house. Driver rolled down Sandhya’s side of window and security opened the gate. After 2 minutes, both women emerged out of the car laughing, may be sharing a women’s joke. Arm in arm, a bit unsteady on their feet, they moved towards the main door. It was difficult to guess, who was supporting whom.
Sandhya: “Please call me, when you reach home, ok? And shall we keep in touch.”
Pratima: “Of course yes, to both points.”
Sandhya: “I have to discuss a lot with you, especially about some those offers that were made to me.”
Pratima: “You are lucky… charmed so many big guns in one evening. I have been stuck with this company and Kirit bhai for five years now.”
As Sandhya stepped in, she waved to Pratima.
Sandhya: “See you soon.”
She shut the door, stood still and looked up. She shut her eyes as the sound of powerful car engine faded away. She moved to children’s room and peeped in. They were sleeping peacefully. It was past 2.30am. She changed and lied down on her bed. She was wondered what kind of life did Pratima lead. She was not married and was well in her thirties. Women need a lot at that stage. They need male attentions, money, worst of all they need to feel secure and find a so called ‘shore’, someone who might marry them. Sex too is important; but if the man is not yielding to marriage, then it better be with ‘no strings attached’.
Sandhya’s train of thought got derailed with phone ring.
“Oh, so you reached safely. I was waiting for this. I will catch some sleep now. Children will be up at 6.30. Yes I will call you after breakfast. Bye”
Pratima typed an SMS, ‘it will work. Response is good. But too early to decide a final course of action.’ She sent it to a number from her diary.
Sandhya was not surprised to see Kirit Patel at the airport with his entire executive team. It was such a big deal, they had to be there. He wished her warmly. She too was proactive with her good morning Kirit Bhai. Vinod Natarajan emerged in vision. He waved out in their direction. Everyone was together. Kirit Patel and Sandhya too waved back.
Kirit Patel: “Sandhya sorry but I will be kidnapping your husband for an hour or so. Pratima will take care of you. Please don’t mind.”
Sandhya: “Oh, I understand. It’s fine.”
Kirit Patel: “But he will be with you for lunch… on second thought we all can have lunch in our corporate office after the meeting. That is, if you are fine with it.”
Sandhya: “Sure, I will be fine with Pratima.”
They let the empty car with red light move first and rest followed it. At a point Pratima and Sandhya’s car changed direction and entered the same club again. We will spend some time here until lunch, Pratima said. Soon after they settled down in the executive lounge with glasses of virgin pinacolada, Pratima’s phone rang. She said can you call me on the club phone, signal is week here? Sandhya was surprised; but understood. She has just met them. They will surely share a lot of information that could not be leaked to anyone. She gestured to Pratima to go ahead and take the call. Pratima gestured, ‘will be back in a bit.’
Pratima took the call inside a private cabin and kept listening and nodding with ‘hmm’ throughout the conversation.
Voice: “You can give her some leads that will mess her mind.”
Sandhya was going through the menu card, when Pratima returned.
Sandhya: “Some important secret? I hope it has nothing to do with me.” (laughs)
Pratima: “You? Oh no, how can that be. (laughing and fixing her gaze on her) Mr. Desai inquired about you.”
Sandhya: “Me why?”
Pratima: “He is stupid you know, he was wondering if you were really interested in his offer.”
Sandhya: “What offer, oh that day in the club?”
Pratima: “He has really taken up for you.”
Sandhya: “I don’t think I am that good. It must be due to my husband’s position.”
Pratima: “umm, I don’t think; because it is not an Indian company and there is a lot travel involved.”
Sandhya: “No way, I cannot travel. My children are small and he would not allow it.”
Sandhya’s phone rang again. She took it and a second after hello, she disconnected.
“Let’s go. They are done and waiting for us.”
Sandhya feels relieved too. During lunch Sandhya sat next to her husband, who seemed rather happy and chirpy. He said he had told his secretary for us see a good movie today, whichever one she wanted.
Gradually Sandhya and Pratima became close friends. Pratima would come over for lunch often to Sandhya’s place when her husband would be out and late in evening they would plan something else. Natarajan did not mind it at all as his wife was with a woman who had a senior position at Patel&Patel.
One day both had gone to the club in the evening. Pratima was working on her laptop, when suddenly she said that she has got some nice photographs to show and clicked on ‘Celebration’ folder. The occasion was the first dinner after Kirit Patel had got the permit for the spectrum. Sandhya moved to the other side to see the pictures.
Pratima: “You see them peacefully, I will just freshen up then we will order drinks.”
Sandhya: “I can order, I know now what you like. You take your time.”
With a smile she started seeing the photos. She featured very prominent in many of them. She noticed Mr. Desai too. She was feeling very important that day meeting rich and famous. In her husband’s circle she met only dirty and corrupt. She thought she will ask a CD for herself too. The folder got over and she shut it. There were many more folders on the desktop. She became inquisitive about folder ‘Kirit Patel.Pvt’. Pratima hadn’t come back yet. She quickly double clicked on it. Her eyes widened. There were pictures of many of her husband’s politician friends and secretary level officers. Most of them were drunk silly and many of them were clinging to different women. She knew most of these men, some of them were in very compromising positions with semi naked girls… she lost her balance when she saw her husband right on top of a woman in a sari, whose blouse was fully open and her breasts spilled out. Sandhya was sweating. She clicked once more to find another, in which Vinod Natarajan’s hand was between a woman’s legs. She couldn’t handle it. There was internet connection in the laptop. She selected some of these pictures and mailed them to her own ID. She didn’t know what she will do with them; but she knew she should have them. She shut the folder. Pratima was chatting with the waiter near the bar and perhaps asking him if any order was placed. She returned to her seat. She had noticed the expressions on Sandhya’s face. She knew her job was done.
Pratima: “Nice pictures no? I will give you a CD.”
They had many glasses of wine and both had got out of control. Her face showed a mix of sadness, anger and anxiety; but she kept her spirits up. She clanked ‘cheers’ with every new glass of wine. Pratima too was drunk. Somehow she kept going to the toilet often.
A little after midnight Pratima dropped her home. Sandhya walked in stumbling. She went to sleep next to her daughter in children’s room. Vinod Natarajan too was very high and couldn’t care less. He thought Sandhya is working her ways to get into international business, which is good for them. She will be busy traveling and he can be free too.
Next two days Pratima and Sandhya did not contact each other. Vinod Natarajan asked about her. But Sandhya didn’t encourage the conversation. Same day she called up Pratima and asked if they could meet.
With the first clank of the red wine Sandhya asked how could she get in touch with Mr Desai. “I want to get more details of this job”. “Sure, no problem”, Pratima said. “I will call you in the morning and give you details. I have to find out his whereabouts from his office. Ok?”
Next morning when she was having breakfast with her children, her phone rang. Vinod Natarajan shouted from bedroom “call for you”. A servant went in and got the phone for her.
“Yes I am Sandhya speaking… oh Mr. Desai. That’s very nice of you, calling me personally… yes I do have time… but I need to know a lot more about this Mr. Desai before I… oh that’s great, if Pratima is meeting you, then I will come with her… yes we are very close. Thank you, sir. See you.”
Vinod Natarajan had overheard his wife on phone. “Is this the same guy who owns a cable networks in New Zealand?”
“Yes, he is same. I am trying to see if there is any merit in what he had said earlier. You don’t mind, if I work with them?”
“No no, it is always good to be in the company of rich and influential. But be careful as he is not very dependable with women.”
“How do you know that? Moreover, he knows, I am a minister’s wife. Why would he take such a big risk, in acting fresh with me?”
“I don’t know that; I feel don’t say ‘yes’ to him if you have to travel. But if work is in this city, then you can take care of children too and come back home, to me also. You know what I mean?” “If I want the job, I can’t be dictating my terms. Normally it is the other way. I also feel all my education and ambitions are being wasted. It will be nice to meet cultured and smart people that are around him. I hate people in your company.”
Continued in Part-3