In the middle cell of a high security prison, in the end of moon’s waning 15 days cycle, a woman delivers a baby boy in the middle of the night. She was delivering her baby in a prison because the king was scared of her children. All her babies were born there. It was predicted that her seventh child would kill the king. So the reasonable King was scared of woman’s every child. How could he take chances with his own security? He had killed earlier six babies of his own sister, Devaki, right after birth. This was the seventh one. He must be killed without doubt.
To save this newborn’s life, his father was furiously thinking of ways to smuggle him out of the jail. But for this he had to pass right in the middle of armed guards, carrying the baby. Guards knew this was the most dangerous baby for the king and had to be killed as soon as he was born. And for the mother this was yet another fading hope to see her child grow up. Bitterly sobbing mother placed the baby in a cane basket, in the middle of trash for disposal and covered him with a dirty cloth. Father was to carry the basket out of the jail. Hopelessly he looks around him. As he makes up his mind to take the risk of his life, he notices that the guard near his cell is sleeping with the keys placed on the table. The man extends his hand to grab it. The bunch falls on the floor, but man quickly pads the floor with a cloth. Guard does not move. Now baby’s father opens heavy metal door of his cell, just a crack. Carrying the basket, he places the keys near the guard and moves out. Mother Devaki lying in a dark corner.
In the middle of a deep royal crisis, every guard in the jail was asleep, leaving the all the gates open. Father quietly goes out of jail. It is raining heavily. He picks up some leafs and covers the baby. Crisscrossing the lanes of town he reaches the banks of river Yamuna. He has to go across to another small town for child’s safety. River is swollen. It is mid night. Sky is clouded. There is no moon. There is no light. All the boatmen have gone home. A few are sleeping soundly under covers in their anchored boats. Situation is hopeless. But the river has to be crossed. The child has to be saved. Man takes a strong mental decision. This has to be done. He puts the basket on his head and steps into waters of swirling Yamuna. He tries to judge the depth by keeping one foot in front. He is able to find the shallow part of river. He is in the middle now. He can feel the ground but the water is beginning to rise. He is surprised. Water is up to his neck. He keeps moving ahead. Water rises further. His nose is getting splashed by waves. His concern is the child. To raise the basket further up, he raises his arms heaven wards. Yamuna rises further. Suddenly the child stirs and his right foot dangles out of the basket. Man stands on his toes, but a huge splash of wave rises covering the man’s head. Uncontrollable waves spash on the child’s dangling foot… and suddenly, in the middle of swirling floods, father notices that level of water has started going down. Man is shocked but he is too tense to analyse it. Soon he steps on land and walks swiftly towards his friend’s home.
Outside a large mud house there are hundreds of cows and buffaloes. He walks in the middle of numerous resting kettle and reaches already ajar wooden door. He knocks and walks in, shutting the door behind him. He brings the basket down. He calls softly. A calf moos. The baby turns. An elderly man appears. His wife too walks up sleepily… Through the sleeping town, same feet start tracing the journey back to the prison. He hears his baby crying and soon a woman pacifying him.
Baby’s loud cries wakes up entire household. They know he is hungry. Woman breast feeds him. He is still howling. Someone goes to milk a cow. It is too early. All the live stock gets disturbed and a din starts. Sun is rising. Hungry baby is crying. Everyone is awake now. Baby eyes a pot of butter hanging high up in the kitchen. Everyone is busy. He crawls to the kitchen, pulls himself on a settee, stands on a platform and grabs the pot.
Many years back I read a book titled, ‘The Energy of Prayer’, by spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh. The book starts so perfectly with, “urge to pray is universal. We know of no culture, past or present, in which prayer does not occur… ” The book managed to start a frantic inquiry in my mind.
Without meaning any disrespect to the book or to the prayer, I would like to put my own thoughts on this point, meaning importance of prayer. My religion allows me to have my own intellectual interpretation of religious rules or tweak the religion according to my own analysis, intelligence and needs. Well, I feel sometimes prayers work and sometimes they don’t. There are no rules that it will surely work, just like no one can claim that it will never work. But millions of people pray in different religious ways. Some people quietly drop loads on money, gold and precious jewels into the temple donation-boxes. For them this too may be a prayer. Getting rid of hard cash keeps them safe from robbers and income tax. But also their prayers are answered with more cash and even more diamonds in return. So are their prayers working? Most people in this world do remember God, mostly as a natural instinct. When I yawn I migth say ‘ooooh god’. I don’t mean to remember god, it is just a reaction. For people of all faiths, speaking out the name of their God has been a habit, part of psyche, and genetics for centuries. In my opinion prayers too fall in the same genetic habit category.
The book tells a story of a young kid losing his pet white mouse, who has walked into a hole. Kid prays for 2 hours, but the mouse does not emerge. Kid is upset. He derives prayers do not work. Later the moral of the story is revealed, ‘since the kid was not praying for the wellbeing of the mouse; but was being selfish to get his friend back and that is why his prayers did not work’. Well isn’t everyone attached to various things and people around them and pray for the welfare of those. There would be no reason for anyone to pray unless there is something to pray for. But as soon as you have something to pray for it becomes a selfish motive. Asking God for upturn in your fortune, good health of a friend, getting a son, getting admission in IIM… is asking God to run errands for you. Praying with benefits in mind is reducing God’s value… Let me analyze my own life as a sample case. I do not pray to anyone or any God. I am not a praying type, period. I believe in science and logic and thus do not find prayers logical. Praying is no way to get results in life. I cannot depend on prayers for success. In my younger days I too wished, prayed hard and worked hard to get so many things, but whatever I wanted never came to me. On the other side whatever I have got in my life has fallen in my lap on its own. So, prayers did not come in the picture. It is a simple law; ‘you get some, you don’t get some’. As the Urdu couplet goes, ‘har kisi ko muqammal jahan nahin milta, kabhi zameen to kabhi aasman nahin milta’ (people’s wishes do not get fulfilled entirely, sometimes the earth and sometimes the sky is missing) So if you want something in life, use all the faculties God has already blessed you with like intelligence, strength, cunning, will power, smartness… and what have you. Just use these and get your piece of cake in life. You don’t need to pray for anything. Getting results on your own merit makes you more content and happy, than struggling on your knees and then getting it. People always have more respect for things they earned the hard way. If you have received a gold medal in a field, you would value it much more than all the expensive gifts that family receives every X’mas or Diwali. No one will ever part with any medal; but all the easy coming gifts are hauled away into a dark loft, to be lovingly gifted to other praying mantis, later on. In recent times there has been only one occasion when I prayed desperately hard to get a certain result. It was because the nothing was in my hand, neither the action nor the result, only prayer was. But I did not pray to any usual, run of the mill known, but unseen and unfelt God. I chose to involve real entities like mountains, rivers, sun, moon, rain, sea, wind etc. I asked for their strength. Well, the result did go in my favor. If I want I can easily call it as my victory; but I don’t want to. It could have gone the other way too. It was only a matter of chance. Logically I doubt the effectiveness and dependability of prayers. For example ‘if you prayed for something and you got it, can be one part. But there is no proof that if you didn’t pray for it, you will not get it!’ For this you have to repeat the scene with same and not similar situation. It is not even a take 2. Take for example a Sikh couple in Punjab prays hard for years, to get a son as their first child; and they get it. Now to complete the experiment there has to be another but same situation. Same couple has to be used to determine the sex of their first child, but this time without prayers. It is impossible to do it. And that is a lacuna. There is no way to check both sides of the story; unless of course we ask the superman to turn the earth around in reverse direction and take the couple back in time, before the wife conceived for the first time. Prayers are a way to keep oneself content and happy, especially if things do go wrong. We can say, ‘we did pray hard for this but hard luck.’
Here I will narrate an incidence that happened in my family. Long ago an astrologer told my aunt that her son, Suresh (name changed) had a fatal confluence of planets in his birth chart. Obviously everyone at home got worried. Astrologer recommended a full course of ‘Maha Mrutunjay Yagna’. It was sincerely performed at the earliest available date. Years passed, after his education Suresh joined Indian Air Force. He used to enjoy flying and he was good at it. Soon he got married and had a daughter. In due course he was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader. One day he was taking his wife and the baby girl for an outing on his motor cycle, when a speeding truck driven by a drunk driver smashed into them. Sunil died on the spot and other two thankfully survived. If I take astrologer’s true reading as a ‘constant’- which means that the accident has to happen. The lesson that I learn from this story is that if ‘Maha Mrutunjay Yagna’ (prayer) was not performed and same accident would still happen; then the entire family, especially the parents would have never forgiven themselves till eternity. But performing it, kept them away from the guilt and scare of the eventuality, until the very day, it happened. And even after the accident, they would not feel guilty; since they did, what was in their power to do.
With every passing day this planet will go on becoming harsher and less inhabitable. Day to day survival will depend on your own strength, alertness and reflexes. You may find this statement entirely nonsensical, since today no one is ready to think this way. All the religious blabber has been so ‘politically correct’ for centuries. But after a century we will say, ‘who needs God, I have to do it myself ’, or ‘you can sit on your bottom and pray; but I am going out and getting it done.’ Obviously the world will grow less dependent on prayers, gods and religion; until a day will come when the ‘Word’ would have lost its significance… and forgotten. (Collection 2008)
Long ago once I was taking down some stuff from the loft in my house, I found a huge bunch of bank pass-books, exhausted cheque-books and deposting slips. I called my chartered accountant and informed him that I wanted to junk this bunch. They approved it instantly. I started tearing them and dumping them in a plastic bag, to be trashed later. But slowly as the period started receding back, I realized I had opened a tunnel of memories with real documentary evidences right in front of me. Real books, real dates, real deposits, withdrawals… I could not believe my eyes when I discovered the oldest pass-book was of 1969! From Central bank of India, Tilak road branch, Poona; SB A/C # 5671. The account was opened on 19 July, 1969. It was my first independent bank account, during the period, when I was a first year student in the Film Institute, Poona. I was very unsure then, very cautious, even scared. I used to receive mostly monthly ‘money orders’ from daddy, so the dealings were strictly cash. The pass-book displayed princely depositing sums like Rs 855, 144, 300 and the withdrawals were of the order of Rs. 50, 60, 30 and sometimes even 20. The financial transactions were of the similar scale for the entire 3 years period in Poona. Respectable figures appeared only when Institute’s fees was to be paid. Among the earliest of Bombay chapter, I found a pass-book of SBI, Girgaon branch, A/c # 1044, opened on May 22, 1972. I had deposited Rs. 300 on this day to open the account. When I came to this city on May 3, 1972, I had just a few rupees brought back from Poona. I realized that my finances will not be able to buy me even a week’s meal. I wrote to daddy to send some money. I knew it would take not less than 10 days for the letter to reach and money order to follow. As soon as I dropped the inland letter in the ‘letter box’, I promised myself that this would be the last time I asked for money from home. I also knew that I will have to manage coming 10 days within those 300 rupees. Daddy sent me 500 and it was the last time he did so. So, to spot this mile stone entry was very important for me, as it denoted the end of a very important phase. Further going through the same pass-book, I came across a cheque deposit of 2000/- on 20 Oct, 1974. Instantly I realized that this was my first cheque from Navketan against the film ‘Ishq Ishq Ishq’ – another mile stone for me. It was the biggest amount I had received from anyone in Bombay, till then. At that time my heart was beating hard and I wondered, what will I do with so much money. Funnily, I also developed a phobia for income tax, because that year I paid my first income tax of 250/-. Coming back to that Navketan cheque, I remember, when I went to deposit it, the clerk noticed the signature and he announced loudly that he was holding a cheque signed by Dev Anand himself! With a chorus of staff, ‘let me see, let me see’, the cheque left his hand and went to each and everyone in the bank. They all looked at me too with a lot of interest. Some of them asked me if I was acting in the film. But they were able to maintain a fair amount of interest in me, even after knowing what I did for living; which was NOT acting. They made me a minor ‘VIP’, as staring at Dev Saab’s signature on the cheques became a pattern. After that, whenever I would make any deposit or withdrawals, I did so sitting in a chair in front of Mr. Rathod (now no more), an officer there, who soon became a close friend.
Not too distant in the past, I noted three news items concerning the respectable field of education that came into the limelight from different geographical areas of India.
First story is from a Madhya Pradesh town of Ujjain, dated March 2012. In this scene on the right of the frame is a very agitated, but not very young looking man using his index finger to make a strong point to an older person on the left of the frame. The dialogues were being delivered only by this, not so young person, supposedly a student of Ujjain College. The background is that the student union body elections are being postponed and the professor seems to have taken this decision. The student leaders do not like it. After all it may be a stepping stone for their entry into the world of real politics. They would not allow anyone to mess with or delay their political careers. We can hear the student threatening the professor in a chilling tone, ‘We will tell you what does Gundagargi mean?’, ‘Be ware of the consequences’, ‘We all know what you people are doing in the name of education’. Many beeps had to be inserted in his long dialogue sequence to self-censor the sound bytes. It was a very lengthy single shot in which the so called student leader delivered his lines without any hesitation or fumble. Third important person in this scene was standing in the middle of the two main characters and was wearing a police uniform. For some vague reasons he was also wearing a metal ‘riot helmet’. I guess they over-dressed him. His uniform was ill fitting, as it was hanging loose on his body. This guy in the middle did not deliver any dialogue and no visible action was assigned to him too; quite like a C-class ‘junior artistes’ in Hindi films. He only adjusted his pant once by pulling it up. All he did was to shift his look left and right between the professor and the student leader according to the punch in the lines. The scene ended with the leader exiting from the right of the frame, followed by the so called cop. Next day the perhaps camera could not pickup the thrilling action sequence in time. But promises (read threats) made in the previous unrecorded scene seemed to have come true, behind the camera. 3 professors were beaten up by would be Indian leaders. Camera picked up action when the professor was already unconscious and was being lifted into an ambulance. He was declared dead after that. The professor who was a part of ‘scene one’ placed on left of the camera is now confined to wheel chair due to severe real beatings.
In the reversal of the roles, the setting moves to a very small school in small village in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir. Some very young children with pink cheeks and runny noses are happily running around in the school compound. Walls of the school have been raised higher to keep the terrorist’s bullets away. But no one can predict a known teacher to do the unexpected. A teacher comes calmly out of the laboratory with a bottle in his hand and started spraying some liquid on the young ones. It may have taken a few moments for the kids to realize that the liquid had actually started burning them. Only then they all decided to pick up their bags and run! In the beginning a 6 year old boy got the liquid on his face, while others got their backs and clothes burnt. A girl of 9th standard, carried a boy for 7 km on her back to reach him home! The teacher had been missing from the scene.
DAV Girl’s College, New Delhi. A cell phone rings in the classroom; a student picks it up. A teacher feels very let down. The girl student gets a tight slap for using a cell phone in the class. The college goes on strike. The girls go on flash strike and protest by clapping and singing slogans. A girl jumps the high gate to enter in principal’s home, another one is trying to break the gate by banging it with a stone.
Do these 3 episodes educate us in any way? It can be hazardous guessing game for me. But generally I would imagine that however irresponsible and disrespectful students may get, the teacher is a teacher. He or she still holds the responsibility of retaining their mental balance and composure.
Very idealistic sure, and should be so too, but what about the teacher spraying acid on his little students! What about that teacher? Any ideas, anyone?
After a very long time we are renovating our home. It must be a good 7-8 year back when we went through the motions of spending money on painting and other usual wear and tear jobs. I had enough spare money then, for using it on such necessary luxuries… Somehow the winds changed direction, as they always do; the flow of money got restricted and an unusually dense fog of lull enveloped my professional life. A string of projects that were lined up to roll any day- did not roll at all. In India we like blame the poor distant planets. So, for a true Indian the planets seemed to have turned their favorable face away. All this had started after my main employers downed their shutters under the demonic burden of their bad financial situation. For the next 18 months I was very busy doing some of my most high profile and better paying jobs. I did some serious ‘audio’ work for television in the United States and India. Then I was picked up and appointed as ‘general manager’ in the office of a high profile film maker. Soon I had another offer from a ‘distance learning’ company. Here I was working in a very high technology area. This job gave me experiences of using VSAT and software used for online education. I enjoyed this job the most, since I have been looking to get away from the glaring lights of media related environment. Perhaps enjoying the work here seemed to have made the company run aground. I said ‘seemed to have’. I am a die-hard optimist. If I have to take cues from twists and turns of my life, then a massive surprise is waiting for me in the wings, about which I have no idea. Well today I am in a mood of counting the chickens that did not hatch. It’s rather amusing to count that in last five years of my professional life how many high profile and exciting projects surfaced, but never swam ashore. So many films were conceived but never delivered; they remained on the idea and project levels only. The most important one was ‘Singularity’. It was a Hollywood film, being directed Oscar nominated Roland Joffe with Brandon Fraser and our own Aishvarya Rai. I had done documentaries with foreign teams, cinematographers and directors. But I was exited that this time I was going to experience the making of a pure Hollywood cinema, for the first time. I was on cloud nine; but treading cautiously. A very close old friend of mine was involved in the film as an executive. I visited him often, gave him my CV, kept in touch on phone, went to his office and read the script of the film twice over. I had asked to be a part of the direction team at any capacity. If there were going to be 12 assistants I was ready to be the twelfth. Desperately yours, but I was dying to be exposed to the experience of ‘Singularity’. I wanted to see how is it done in Hollywood, how does everyone gets ready, actors are given lines, makeup tested, lighting and sound levels checked, each shot being taken… After all Roland Joffe was going to be in Mumbai next week and he was to meet and interview the direction team. That next week hasn’t arrived for the past 2 years. As per the last update this project has been re-announced for Jan 2007. Next in line was a friend of mine actor/director Dolly Jena, who was to shoot a film in Goa. It was a period film depicting Portuguese times. I was to be her associate on this project. I read her script too many times over and got involved in production process. Film was to roll in six months, so we were busy getting hotels rates and identifying old houses for shooting. The period of six months has over shot by three years. Among all these dream productions, three films managed to break through and reach a stage of getting themselves (a) married print. And that’s where they too stopped. I was involved in them in various capacities like script, direction, production design and sound. Presently they all are far from getting a commercial release. Coincidently, my dues from all these films are also awaiting release. Most interesting part of this long ‘touch and go’ sequence was when an unknown person phoned me to ask, if I would make a children’s film for him. ‘Of course’ was the best answer I could think of. He said he had seen my name on the IDPA festival brochure. That’s it! Soon a contract was signed on his official letterhead and a cheque equivalent to $20, was handed over to me. It thought things have got serious this time. I called up a scriptwriter, organized our meetings and started the work briskly. Producer was in a hurry. I struggled and finally handed over a fairly good version of hand written script to him in two weeks. The Gentleman went back to his hometown to organize adequate funds. After that he never made a call to me or sent any note. No not even to ask for the refund of his money. None of his telephones worked. I wonder why was he in hurry to lose his money on us if he had to do a Harry Houdini. I was never approached by cheats. There was no fake person among all these. All of them had been well meaning people and serious filmmakers. They just did not have it in them, to finally swing it. Whenever someone has asked, ‘so what are you doing these days?’ I have formatted a humorous answer for this situation, ‘only serious job that I have been doing for years; is looking for it!’ Under these unavoidable circumstances, I decided to take a relaxing stance, instead of usual stance of struggling and worrying. I thought of changing gear as I step into the next stage of age in my life. I started reading and I started writing. I would never have read and written, so much satisfying and meaningful stuff, if I had been busy making small money from the mundane motions of making movies. Of course many do not agree. But I really feel very satisfied with my growth as a writer. I am not bothered if it has not been financially rewarding. This was the right time for me to start using my time doing un-ordinary things, things that gave me a chance of making my immortality a little longer. This would be the best thing to come out from all this nothingness.
Many years back I had written a story called, ‘Reason to smile’. I did not blog that time. So it was lying there in my computer’s D-drive. I felt the story had turned out pretty nice. Unable to contain my excitement, I mailed it to some friends. I expected some will surely write back with a few encouraging words. I received none. Obviously for all practical purposes story was much different. As bad luck arrived in the form of a strong virus; my hard disk got infected badly and had to be junked. And I had to get a new one. I had already told the repair man the data was of utmost importance to me. So please somehow retrieve all my data to the new disk. I didn’t have much ‘text’ data but surely a lot of photographs were there. They were very important and had a lot of value, as well as cost! Well, because back then I used to shoot pictures on 35mm film camera. They had to be developed and printed. And whatever pictures were on the computer were scanned at a nearby cyber café. So you can see, cost of negative, cost of developing, cost of printing and then cost of scanning. Sounds like a scam today. So I was saying that the pictures on the HDD were actually expensive and if he did not manage to put them on the new disk, I will have to get them scanned all over again…
In 2004 December I started blogging. My first blog post was on a site called as ‘blogcity’ and my first post was about the death of my close friend, Pradeep’s father. It had exactly 5 sentences. I was quite happy that I had started blogging and my first post had a real serious topic. Soon, I got a chance to show it to Pradeep, the friend of mine. He was so excited! He read it twice and then called his wife and said ‘look, everything it written here!’
But this ‘story in question’ was 7 pages long and it could not be found in the new HDD. That was a bit too much to take. Around the same time my brother visited us. I told him about my loss. He said show me, I will try to find it. He knew something about retrieving lost data from the disks. Cyber forensics, I think that’s what they call it. Well, he did find a lot of other random stuff, which I didn’t even know was missing, but for my ‘Reason to smile’. There was no way that I will be able to write the entire story all over again. I knew the plot and the scenes by heart; but I had no patience, nor inclination, not even will, to rewrite it.
Enlightenment! I realized I should check my mail ‘sent box’. It has to be there. I had sent it to at least 4-5 people. So, it will take some time to go back and more back to find the right mail, but it will be surely there. And then I will download it back on my folder and then… Well dreaming too much of good things is not good for the good fortune. I signed in, clicked on the ‘sent items’ and went directly to last section. It wasn’t there. I came forward, nothing, one more step, still nothing… ooops I realized it was so utterly stupid to do that, because, I did not have ‘gmail’ then. My first email account was with ‘yahoo mail’ that had been shut long ago, also due to too many viruses entering my system; thanks to mail spams and bad spam filters. Oh my god. This is certainly the dead end. Somehow I was refusing to let go of the two fold problem. One I kept brooding that I couldn’t find it and second I was in no mental state to rewrite it; barring of course if someone put a gun to my ear. Yes it was that bad. During my weeks of worries I had another minor enlightenment and that was I knew to who I must have sent the story. Promptly, I wrote to few friends requesting them to please check their past mails and see if anyone could trace my ‘Reason to smile’ and if they did find it then kindly mail it back to me. Phew and I left it to non-existent, almighty. Now I had no more options to explore. This truly was the last one and if this does not work then it is the dead end… I don’t know after how long, but one of them sent my story back to me. I read it once and then once again. I felt there is something not the same… finally it dawned on me that it was written so badly that in present moment I could not find it as exciting as I did earlier. Few days back finally I decided to rewrite, ‘Reason to smile’…
Kirit Patel and Pratima are sitting in the backseat of a car. The car stopped at Patel&Patel’s head office and he got off. The car sped away with Pratima and soon Sandhya was sitting next to her. Car entered a very swanky gate of ‘Desai Cable World’. Pratima walked ahead and spoke to the reception. They were graciously asked to take a seat in the huge lobby. Glasses of water were placed on the gleaming glass table in front with a question, “tea, coffee or cold drink?” Sandhya wanted tea and looked at Pratima. She did not want anything. Sandhya noticed she looked off color.
“What happened? You don’t look too good.”
“Yes that deal that your husband wanted from us to give us the band of spectrum is troubling Kirit Patel a lot.”
“Why is it troubling?”
And Pratima gave her the explanation in detail, elaborating the technicalities making it impossible for their audit and accounts department to handle it. She added dramatically, “just imagine Vinod Natarajan blackmailed us to sell Patel&Patel’s shares to him at the rate of Re 1! That too one crore of them!”
Sandhya was shocked, “but your share in the market is more than 1000.”
“You are right. That is the main problem. We would have given him entire amount in cash, if he allowed us. We have done it in the past; but this time he was very unreasonable. He knows that it can’t be done and yet he pressurized us. And that is how we had to make a strict contract with him.”
She opened the laptop and showed her the final contract. Sandhya’s eyes popped out reading the language. Casually Pratima added, “See we never had any issues with him dealing in cash. We gave him holidays, cars, wine, women whenever he demanded.” Sandhya’s jaw dropped. “I somehow feel that he is sensing to lose the next election; that is if he gets a ticket in the first place. After all Kirit Bhai also knows people in each political high command. If this shares episode ever gets leaked to them, your husband’s political carrier is over. He is acting like this due to extreme insecurity. He should not be so pessimistic. ”
Sandhya could not take a sip from the tea placed in front of her.
“Madam Sandhya Natarajan?”
She looked at the well dressed man.
“Please follow me”
“Mrs. Natarajan, it is so nice to meet you one more time”, Mr Desai sang and came forward to shake her hand.
“You can call me Sandhya.” She added shaking his hand.
“Why, you don’t look too well. If there is any problem we can meet any other time. Absolutely no hassle.” He picked up the phone, “I will tell them to drop you back.” That’s when she realized, what was happening.
“No, no Mr Desai. I am sorry I was just lost in some random thoughts. You don’t worry about it. I am fine now. Really, I mean it. Let’s get down to business.”
He sat in his chair and told her clearly how she could contribute in their office. There was going to be just a little travel, may be only 4-5 days in a month to New Zealand.
“It is a beautiful place. You will have no trouble handling it.”
Sandhya looked straight at him and said: “Mr Desai, I can start from 1st of next month.” In a few minutes they had a formal contract in front of them. She was to be paid nearly 10 lakh a year with office car pick up and drop. They both signed it and she emerged from the cabin with a victorious smile. She ran towards Pratima waving the sheet of white paper. Pratima hugged her warmly.
Sandhya was not going home today to that stinky and corrupt ambience, called home; but to the club with her best friend. She knew it was too early to drink; but what the hell.
Both the women were flying high at 8pm only. With the strength of the job letter in her bag, Sandhya asked in very drunk but determined voice, “what are the options to save Kirit Bhai from the jaws of my husband, Mr. Vinod Natarajan? Give me the full list of them. I want to see where I can help you and Kirit bhai.”
Pratima pulled out her phone from the bag and played the phone conversation between Kirit Patel and Vinod Natarajan recorded earlier. Sandhya was shattered with her husband’s voice. He was behaving like a seasoned extortionist. Oh god, my husband? Is he the reason behind all this money crap? Pratima pulled her for a walk in the empty jogging track. They strolled slowly going over various possibilities. Sandhya found most were not practical and would leave them in difficult long term troubles with government, until Pratima came out with the last one…
They returned to their seats. Sandhya sat down with a thump. She couldn’t believe her ears! How could anyone even think of such an alternate? But as she thought more and more about it, it started sinking in. After all Kirit Patel’s company has hundreds of thousands of employees and millions of share holders. If and when the government finds out about free transfer of shares to someone, hell will break lose! Too many lives and livelihoods were at stake. Patel&Patel will lose their entire reputation in a flash! Yes it made sense… it did.
Now the details of who, how and when, had to be worked upon. Kirit Bhai was ready to support anyone for life who would take up this project. ‘Who’ or the actor was most important, because he/she had to have a very good motive to bump off someone otherwise it will look that he was a hired professional. So finding that person was the major task. It has to be someone who should have lifelong serious grudges against the man; like if a pregnant woman was left in the lurch or took away somebody’s entire source of livelihood… or it could be a deranged or mentally unstable person, who doesn’t know what he is doing. Such a person might be better since even law cannot convict him like it would a normal person. Many criminal have hidden behind the curtain of lost mental balance when cornered in a court.
Sandhya had gone into a shell for many days after that day’s meeting. She was thinking of the kind of sex she had with her husband was so unnatural. He seemed to act as though he was acting in porn movie rather making love to his wife. All the memories of dirty remarks and orders in bed were making her sick…
After two days Pratima called her and they met in the evening, in the same jogging track of the club. They talked for a long time.
First Sunday, after parliament session gets over, was zeroed in. Breakfast time. Sunday morning was most suitable, as everyone is in a lazy and holiday mood, even the law keepers. Sandhya chose her own semi-retarded brother as the ‘man’ for the mission. His mental state, that was against him all his life; was going to be an asset suddenly. There was a lot of discussion in Kirit bhai’s beach house about this. In such a fool proof case, there was no scope of taking a chance. Although Sandhya said she will take care of it, experts made arrangements for tier 2 and tier 3 also. Sandhya was getting eager to get over with her stinking life with a horrible human being. She was also looking forward to her new job, traveling and some fresh air. She had a mission and she knew it. She had to get rid of this uncouth, corrupt and sex hungry man, who couldn’t even perform in bed. He being her husband was not going to stop her.
Sandhya’s brother Prashant had arrived on Friday morning. Soon his classes started. He had been explained over and over where the piece will be lying. He has to be right in front of him, across the table, and when Sandhya didi calls the servant to the kitchen Prashant will do the needful and do it three times. He is going to help his very depressed sister. His family will be very rich after Sunday.
Final day arrived. Official staff was less than normal. Driver was given an off; mercifully he had asked for it. Children will sleep till well past 9am…
Vinod Natarajan was at the breakfast table at 8, sipping his tea and scanning the newspaper. No one noticed an athletic shadow jumped into the compound and hid behind the large flower pots, just behind the dining room window. He looked like any gardener or dhobi. After looking around, he took the red ‘angochaa’ from his right shoulder and wrapped it tightly on his face, leaving a narrow slit for his eyes. Prashant had taken his place on the chair opposite Vinod Natarajan. He fiddled under his cushion, pulled out the revolver and placed it securely on his thighs under his long shirt… Sandhya called out from the kitchen to take other dishes. The servant who was setting plates and glasses left the dining room. Prashant pulled out the revolver and aimed at Vinod Natarajan, who looked confused and dismissed the mad man with serious hesitation. He turned the page of the news paper but kept Prashant in his vision. Prashant’s hands shivered violently, as he tried to squeeze the trigger. Natarajan’s confusion turned into horror as the first bullet hit the ceiling. In a split second Natarajan got up from his chair and dashed towards Prashant to disarm him. Just then the shadow appeared, calmly placed his own right hand neatly on top of Prashant’s and finger on top of the finger on the trigger. And as they had planned 1, 2, 3, game was over. Sandhya and the servant appeared in the dining room hurriedly in a few seconds. They noticed a movement in the curtain. The shadow moved out of the door, went behind the house and vanished. Prashant was still holding the revolver.
On the face of it: Prashant is retarded. He cannot shoot anyone and why should he? The unknown shadow might have done it. As it had moved the curtain while leaving the scene of crime. But no one saw the shadow and the shooting. To add to it there were no other finger prints anywhere, except Prashant’s. After effect: Prashant is put behind bars as he surrendered to the nearest police station immediately. Surrendering guidance provided by Sandhya Natarajan. Getting his bail accomplished by lawyers recommended by Kirit Patel. Prashant’s family gets 25000 every month for killing/ not killing Vinod Natarajan. Sandhya is happy in her new job. She feels very important and useful. Vinod Natarajan’s death certificate was submitted to authorities with a copy of the contract between Patel&Patel and Vinod Natarajan. It accompanied a letter saying since the primary owner was no more, one crore shares were to be transferred back to the company’s official shares ledger.
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.”
(I wrote this thriller dabbling with politicians, business tycoons, display of money, corruption, use of power and women seeking revenge. I divided it into 3 parts, as I found it bit long.)
After carefully wiping the brass name plate, ‘Vinod Natarajan-MP’ the servant entered the government bungalow in New Delhi. Inside, a driver in uniform is dusting a white Ambassador car in the drive way. Vinod Natarajan is on phone, pacing up and down in the verandah. His large rough hand is holding a gleaming cell phone to his hairy ear. There is motion of head nodding up and down along with hmm, hmm. Inside two uniformed servants are organizing breakfast on the dining table, Natarajan’s wife Sandhya is busy getting children ready for school.
A large mahogany board room table in Patel&Patel’s corporate office. A cordless phone is placed on a huge table with speakers on. There are six powerfully dressed men around the table. The phone is close to immaculately dressed Kirit Patel.
Kirit Patel: Sir, I understand your situation. We have always dealt with each other in the best ways possible… i.e. in cash with you and with cheques for your party. But I must say this time your demand seems very illogical… Yes, yes I know that business is big, but we don’t know about the profits, just as yet. Kirit Patel looks up to others, who nod in affirmative.
Vinod Natarajan: what are you talking about? You are doubting profits in communication field? You should not be acting so naive… at least not with me please. You are the third generation in your family business and you all know very well how to make money.
Kirit Patel: I don’t know sir, if it is a compliment or… but this time you are really being very difficult. (Looking at others) If I am allowed to be frank, you seem to be doubtful about yourself in next elections, so you want to collect as much as you can with both hands, fair or unfair.
Some men smirk at this remark.
Vinod Natarajan: (Irritated takes the phone away from his ears and looks towards heaven). See, I am ready to leave. Parliament session is on and after that there are few meetings. And as you know that after two days, I am off to Europe for four days. By that time it will be too late for you to send in application. Now you decide.
Kirit Patel: Sir, this has to be tied up before you leave. Sir, why can’t I hand you over one thousand crore in any form other than issuing one crore shares for Re 1 each! Boss, it is an official matter. It is like me asking SEBI, RBI and ED to come and kill us. We could be banned forever! We must find another way to go about it. Please. Just think of our millions of shareholders at least.
Vinod Natarajan: Umm… that, you think. I am leaving… (loudly) Is my breakfast on the table?
Kirit Patel: Ok sir, give me time till evening. I will get in touch with you.
Vinod Natarajan: Fine, between 9 and 11pm. Thank you.
Both phones disconnect.
Kirit Patel: (talks in an intercom) Hemant please check the replay. Did you get everything clearly?
In a few seconds a voice returns over the intercom, “Yes, Kirit Bhai it is fine.”
Kirit Patel: Good, thank you Hemant. Download a copy of this on my phone, email to our personal IDs and rest you know where to store it safely.
Looking at other company executives, “this time he has put me in a lot of trouble. Problem is that we need the spectrum badly. Actually, everyone needs it, but some need it more badly then others.”
In spite of serious problems created by that impossible Vinod Natarajan, a short burst of laughter was heard. After all a joke told by the boss is funniest in the world. He talked into the intercom, “send Mr. Singh in, he has only a few minutes to show me a way out of this ‘chakravyooh’.”
An elderly Sikh gentle man entered and took a seat with others.
“Let me freshen up a little Singh saab. By that time Manoj Bhai will update you with our most serious crisis until date. Manoj please. And please get some tea, coffee and healthy snacks with proteins. We all need energy to handle this super patriot leader.”
After Kirit Patel emerged from the toilet and looked at Mr. Singh who shook his head sideways a few times showing ‘no way out’ as yet.
Kirit Patel taking the command, “What is the main roadblock in this transaction?”
Mr. Singh: “sir, Re 1/- per share will never work. We will have to compensate the balance Rs 999 per share externally, but on the same transfer account.”
Kirit Patel: “hmm… we know the problem, so let us find the solution. Now no one will talk about the problem and concentrate only on solution.”
Vinod Natarajan’s large frame is spread in the back seat of his car heading towards parliament. He is on phone with his wife Sandhya.
Vinod Natarajan: “How are Shweta and Sharad doing in school… that’s it? 60% is not good… see that Sharad doesn’t miss his cricket practice. I have spoken to coach Archarekar in Mumbai. He will accept him. He is the one who made Sachin and Sunil… I am in talks with Kirit Bhai for some arrangement that will secure our family forever, whether I am an MP or not.” Sandhya keeps adding ‘yes’ in between. She knows if she even raised her eyebrows in a question, he will turn abusive. She can’t take that risk.
Mr. Singh: “Sir, we will have to draft the contract in such a way that shares must seem to be in company’s possession. I mean a kind of, ‘waiting to be transferred’. For this there will be few strict conditions Vinod Natarajan will have to adhere to.”
Kirit Patel: “Like?”
Mr. Singh: “Point ‘one’, the shares will be jointly held by two parties, primarily him and second owner will be our own company. ‘Two’, shares will be transferred to his name entirely only after five years. ‘Three’, there will be no nominations from either party. Point ‘four’ goes in his favor, annual dividends will go to Vinod Natarajan in his personal account, being primary though owner.”
Kirit Patel: “That’s a good idea. See now brains are working. What else?”
Mr. Singh: “‘Five’, we must also insist, if Natarajan is ever found on the wrong side of the law, like if any court ever pronounces him guilty of any charge, he will be cease to be part of this arrangement. And finally ‘six’, in least likely case of his death, obviously all the shares will be automatically be transferred to the second owner, as there is no nomination from either side.”
Kirit Patel: “Thank you (thinking) Mr. Singh. Please draft the contract. I am sure Vinod Natarajan too is in a hurry to start earning the dividends of his good deeds.”
A faint smile appears on some faces.
Kirit Patel: “You all can go to your cabins now.”
Vinod Natarajan: “Ok listen and don’t talk about it to anyone yet. We might become part of Kirit Bhai’s business family soon… no, no stupid I am not talking about any marriage. Our children are so young… I may be getting a large chuck of shares from them… as a gesture of helping them in their business… one crore. It is fine, with my signature they will be making hundred times more than this… again! You always doubt my decisions. If I lose next election we will not have enough even to run our house… Leaders have to make money for the unavoidable periods of uncertainties… ok hang-up, my BP is shooting… Security post is also here.” He disconnects abruptly. Sandhya has a very worried look as she keeps holding the phone.
A very good-looking woman in her early thirties is listening to Kirit Patel intently and without any visible tension.
Kirit Patel: “As you can see the matter is very complicated. We can take our time. I have told you the points of the contract that we will offer to him… I know he will refuse some points…”
Pratima: “But sir, joint ownership, five years period before total transfer, court order and death must be a part of it.”
Kirit Patel: “Yes yes they are. I am sure he will object to all or at least most of these points. He will never agree to ‘court’ part. These leaders keep having brushes with law all the time. This is the only point which we will use to work as compromise.”
Pratima: “Good idea sir.”
Kirit Patel: “So in such a case what will be your first step?”
Pratima: “As soon as Natarajan is flies away, I will call his wife Sandhya from the corporate office for some authentic but silly reason, like when is Mr. Natarajan coming back… maybe we can send a car to receive him… in case Mr Patel wants to have a word with him has he left a phone number… and very next day send a bouquet of flowers in his name with a gracious grateful note. We will use one of office cars for this. May be I will take the flowers.”
Kirit Patel: “Sounds fine. But just be very soft, discreet and genuine in all calls you make. Always make a reference to previous conversations between people. You could quote, mine and Natarajan’s conversations, to make a point. His wife will talk about it to her husband that will help in confidence building.”
Draft approval meeting was at Vinod Natarajan’s residence at 10pm same evening. His frowns are very prominent. He could not believe Kirit Patel would draft a contract like this! Surely he is the first owner, but co-owner is the company itself! He couldn’t believe his eyes. He was grunting as though there was a bone stuck in his throat which was neither going down nor coming out.
Vinod Natarajan: “What is this? Is this my ‘cut’ or some kind of noose around my neck? Five years to transfer the shares? Then why am I doing you this favor today?”
Kirit Patel: “Boss, sorry we had no other way to do it. It was either we drop the entire game or we share the burden equally. You can’t expect us to risk being banned by SEBI due to transfer of huge number of shares for Re 1 each!”
Finally the draft was signed with most clauses intact except the ‘wrong side of law’. Natarajan gave in to realization that finally it should be fine, as five years was not really a long period. An MP’s term of five years flies off in no time. He signed on the dotted line.
Two days after Natarajan’s airplane took off, a courier service delivered a large envelope to Natarajan’s wife Sandhya at their official residence. Same day a sealed envelope from the ministry was delivered to Kirit Patel’s office, allocating them the band of spectrum they had applied for.
Same evening Kirit Patel personally called Sandhya Natarajan to confirm about the most expensive delivery yet received by her.
Kirit Patel: “Hello can I speak with Mrs. Sandhya Natarajan? Oh hello Sandhya ji, did you receive our envelope?”
Sandhya: “Yes Kirit Bhai thank you sir, I have got it. I will show it to him as soon as he returns. And if he calls, I will inform him anyways.”
Kirit Patel: “Sandhyaji, we are having a small celebration at our clubhouse tonight. It would be great if you could join us for dinner. Since Mr Natarajan is not here I thought at least you could be a part of it. After all it has been fruitful give and take between us.”
Sandhya: “Thank you so much but with children at home… driver also goes away by 5pm when Vinod ji is out.”
Kirit Patel: Oh don’t worry about such petty things. Our driver will pick you around 9 o’clock and drop you back whenever you wish to return. And Sandhya ji, I am sure your children will be safe in one of the most secure houses in the country. Ok?”
On 25 Nov, 2005 at 5am, I left home for Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi racecourse. It was still dark then. I got a bus going to Andheri station easily. With all the inside lights on and my sleepiness yet to wear off, the bus looked so dreamy. From Andheri station I took a slow train to Mahalaxmi. Mumbai has slow and fast trains. Fast ones have limited stops, while slow stop on all stations. There was place to sit; but I decided to stand near the entry to get strong breeze on my face to get rid of drowsiness. After a while I sat down and checked my belongings, mainly my camera, extra film roll etc. I was yet to get my first digital camera then. Mission was to watch a ‘mission near impossible’ by Indian industrialist and sports adventurer, Dr. Vijaypat Singhania (CEO Raymond). He was to fly in a hot air balloon with the intention of creating a new world record. The previous record had been held by the Britain based Swede, Per Lindstrand since June 6, 1988, after touching 64,997 ft in Texas. So Mr. Lindstrand held on to that record for long 17 years! There were not many chances that it would fall easily. Because of this, I knew the importance of this mission; and that is why I did not want to miss the opportunity to watch its starting point. I got off at Mahalaxmi station and came up near the high level road facing the race course. A large area in the middle had been cordoned off. The balloon was being inflated far in the distance. It was so exciting. I took some pictures of completely a new visual of the panorama, a large red and yellow balloon changing shapes in the middle of huge space of race course. Then I took a cab up to the gate and walked in. Race course is for horses to run. They go around it in seconds. But it took me 15 min walk to get close to the balloon. There were placards announcing “MI70K (Mission Impossible 70,000) History in the making”. Not too many people were there. Mostly technicians and engineers were working in various areas. Well I could not get much closer; but I took a lot of pictures of the gadgets and the ambiance. To my pleasant surprise the horses came out to practice. Watching them run close by was exhilarating. That meant clicking some more pictures! As the sun came up I got information that take off has been postponed to next day, due to high air turbulence. Well, it seemed that I had reached the racecourse a day too early. I indulged in shooting pictures of those lovely horses doing their practice runs. Later it was great to watch the sunrise from such an open space, and not to forget brisk walking 2 rounds of the course. The walking-track runs inside parallel to the racetrack made for the superior beings. It took me nearly 30 min to do one round. A Walk on the racecourse tack has been in my ‘to-do’ agenda for many years! In fact it was a revelation that one does not have to be a member of the Turf Club to get inside for a morning walk. It is open for all. So I relaxed, enjoyed my walk and then walked out to the bus stop and soon was home for breakfast.
Next day on Nov 26, I was even more serious to reach Mahalaxmi on time, because I was sure that in all probability this was going to be the ‘historical day’. Near the gallery steps they had placed large screens showing the visuals from a multi-camera setup. It was good to watch close up of the capsule and activities around it. The sound track was filling-in the details of Dr. Singhania’s previous records. One of them was flying in a Microlite aircraft from UK to India in 1988. This is record that he still holds. I was lucky to see this tiny plane from close quarters and also meet Dr. Singhania at Pune airport. He had just finished his great adventure then. I found it really very brave. He showed us the pressure marks on his knees due to constantly being pressed against the dash board of the tiny plane. The second record was winning the world air race in 1994.
Near the launch site the atmosphere was electric. There were a lot of people. Most of them seemed to be from Dr. Singhania’s office. Raymond is huge organization and Dr. Singhania has a lot of friends in every field. There were many celebrities. I got a chance to say hello to Dr. Jagmohan Mundhra and Mr. Vinod Khanna (a famous actor and an MP). Mr. Khanna was accompanied by Mr. A. Parthasarthi (an expert on Vedanta). Just before entering the capsule Dr. Singhania waved to everyone. Crowd responded by waving and clapping for long time. The door shut securely. The capsule seemed pretty small. It may have space for just one person to stand or sit on a chair. If it had to take a man to edge of space, it had to be highly technical. Other than life support and flight control equipment, Capsule had advanced communication system. It also was insulated and pressurized to the perfection. Since at its maximum height the outside temperature might be nearly -100C and atmospheric pressure will be so rare that it could kill you instantly. A huge flame was being fired inside the balloon to make the inner air hot. The balloon was now becoming taller and bigger. At its peak its height was supposed to be equivalent to a 20-story building! The take-off time was close. Finally the wait was over and capsule lifted from the ground in a shaky manner as it was still tied to the ground. It was really a wonderful moment. My heart was beating hard. Everyone was clapping. As balloon’s lifting power built up it was untied and allowed to move on its very fateful journey at 6.39AM. The capsule swayed unsteadily for a few moments. Excited crowd cheered and clapped as capsule gained height. Capsule was now just above us all and moving south slowly. From Mumbai’s point of view, it moved towards Peddar road, soaring over tall buildings. Within 5 minutes of lift off I felt that balloon was losing height. I was worried. I watched other faces to confirm my doubt. Everyone seemed worried. There was a young couple next to me who shared my apprehension with ‘oh my god’. Still above those tall Pedder road buildings, I saw a whole lot of flames being fired into the balloon to counter a possible descent, followed by a lot of smoke escaping from top of the balloon. That smoke got me very worried. Kerosene is used for igniting the fire up to a certain altitude. Soon the smoke vanished and balloon started moving higher. Its path curved towards northwest, above the sea and gained good height. People started moving off. I watched it moving fast above the sea. It was looking very small now. Soon tall buildings of Worli blocked its view and I too turned back slowly and decided to take a walk on Haji Ali-Worli road. After witnessing an important event, I prefer to spend some quiet time with myself. Last time it was when I attended the Zubin Mehta show. It helps me absorb the show into my system. I do not feel like coming out of that mood too quickly. There was a lingering apprehension too; whether the mission will be accomplished? If not then I hope Dr. Singhania lands back safely… I walked towards Worli for about 15 minutes and sat down for a cup of tea.
PS: At 8.55 AM Dr. Vijaypat Singhania broke the previous world record of 64,997 ft. And while flying above Ulhasnagar he created a new hot air balloon record of 69,852 ft. He could not touch 70000ft as planned. He said later ‘it was not worth it to endanger life for the sake of 148ft’. So from the edge of space, he decided that it was good time to return home to family and friends. His balloon landed safely near Nasik at 11.30 AM. The record was monitored by the Aero Club of India. It was later recognized by Federation Aeronautique Internationale as an international record.