To hell and back

Around 11am Ramesh was called in the cabin of manager Srivastav ji. Whenever this happens most people become alert wondering about reason of the meeting. It could be bad sales, complains about product or sometimes even a new order. Bad sales could mean delay in salary or even pay cut. Product complains means someone has to be sent to the factory to inform them, which is a horrible job. There no one listens to you and you come back with message that ‘message has been conveyed’. Ramesh emerged after 15 min with the hint of a smile. Everyone reacted to that and wanted a piece of good news.

“A new company in Shahjahanpur has decided to purchase 120 chairs and 20 tables from us.”

A wave of happiness spread among all 11 people. Lata gave a look to Ramesh and a thumb up. She asked quietly when do you leave. He showed his stop palm meaning, wait, will tell. Just then the phone rang. Peon Tripathi picked it, ”Ramesh ji, for you”.

Yes! Who is that? I see… After so long. Where are you? Hmm… I don’t think it will be possible. I need to be home by 6.30 after office. Mother is old and unwell. I… frankly it’s very difficult… I know that big hut. I have also heard about Lala ji… this is embarrassing… okay… so today bus depot 8pm.

When he placed the receiver down Ramesh was visibly tense and sweaty. He headed to the washroom. After he shut the door he clutched his head and waited for a bit, then rested his head on side wall. My god! How the hell did he appear again?

He knew Satish from college days. He was a very tricky person. Not violent but almost dangerous. Because of this Ramesh barely spoke to him. He would borrow money from anyone and not return it. Then threaten the person. Perhaps he was looking for short cuts to success. Satish also had tried his luck in getting friendly with Ramesh’s sister Pushpa. He borrowed a cycle once and returned it after 3 days…

After Ramesh left the office, he started walking in opposite direction. Lata asked,  “what has happened, why aren’t you going home?”

“I have to meet someone at bus stop at 8.”

“8! Who will inform you mother. She will be so worried!”

“I know. But can’t help. It’s an old friend.”

“I can take a detour and inform them if you want.”

“Can you do that? I hope it doesn’t put you in trouble in your own house?”

They parted. Both wore extremely worried look.

He purposely walked slowly. Bus stop was hardly 15 min away. But at this time that area starts getting deserted. Bus stop appeared. A bus was idling. Conductor was waving people to get in fast. He reached the place. The bus drove off, leaving a translucent mountain of dust. He noticed the hazy light of cigarette shop through it. Waving his hand in front of this face he reached the shop. Half an hour to go! He remembered he had refused a smoke earlier in the day, but now it is required for two reasons, one is to wait for a person who he hates and second to kill the killing tension.

“Four square small”. How expensive these are! But there are people who carry packets of them. He lit it with the end of a hanging rope, dragged once, looked around; country liquor bar came in his vision. He walked up, looked inside casually through the torn curtain. How in the hell people drink the stuff which smells so foul! He looked at his watch. Still 10 min to go. He walked back to cigarette shop and asked the man, “does the last Saharanpur bus come in time.” Man started with, ‘hmm’ and was getting into the mood of starting a chapter to explain it. Ramesh walked away.

He saw approaching lights of a bus. Kids selling snacks got active with their wares. He came to know the bus goes back after 20 min. So he realized that would be the maximum time he will have to tolerate Satish. But it was already so late. He thought he will stand and talk near this shop only. In case he plays foul; people can see. Bus stopped. Soon Satish emerged. He recognized him after so many years. He had to, because all others looked simple people. He got off with a flourish. Panned his look and found Ramesh. He walked briskly to him, “come” and moved as briskly to the bar. He walked in smoothly, as though he is a regular. Ramesh thought about the idea he just had about the bar. Satish pulled him inside by the hand and took an empty table, got it cleaned and ordered, “two ilaichi with soda.” I am not having”, Ramesh protested sharply. “don’t worry. I am there na. I will need it for my return journey. One limca”. He told waiter. After his first sip he relaxed. Ramesh asked him, what did he want. “Wait”. He said. After cold drink arrived and waiter left, he leaned forward and said, “I need a packet to be delivered to Lala ji. The one who lives in the big hut at the end of Teli lane.”

“Packet? What’s in the packet?” Ramesh had to be very alert. He knew he could get entangled in some very undesirable situations.

“Nothing big. My company owes him some chemical material for a process. I will pick up the product myself when it is ready.” He opened his brief-case and took out a palm size packet wrapped seriously in brown paper, then packaging tape. Few rubber bands also crisscrossed the packet.

“Looks like wad of money to me.” Ramesh said.

“If it was money I wouldn’t give it to anyone to deliver.”

He gulped his drinks and Ramesh emptied Limca. Satish paid at the counter and outside they parted. Ramesh bought some peanuts for his walk home. Soon bus reversed and started its journey.

In a while, he decided it was too late to deliver the packet to Lalaji at this time, although it was on the way. He should be going home soon. He was eating peanuts and thinking, what to do. Should he give it now or tomorrow? Then he realized crookedness of Satish. No, I wouldn’t like to take this damn packet home. Mom will ask hundred questions and hearing Satish’s name she will freak out. It’s already late, so might as well…

He started towards the hut. Outside a long haired man sat quietly. He wore a shirt that was perhaps a bed-sheet earlier. It had huge checks. He was sitting on a bound heap of garbage. There were more such heaps all around. Hesitantly Ramesh reached, stopped and approached him. Man became alert. He looked at him with questioning eyes.

“Lala ji? Have to meet Lala ji. Is he in?”

“You want to meet him? No body meets him just like that. What do you want?”

“I don’t want anything. Satish has given a parcel for him.”

“Who Satish?”

“From Saharanpur. I met him at the bus stop.”

“Wait here.” Man got up from the garbage heap. He himself seemed garbage personified. He had a heavy limp. Ramesh thought he was like Shakuni Mama. Oh god, so he too is crooked! Man parted the layers of heavy gunny bag curtain and entered. Ramesh could see little of inside the hut as there was a bright bulb. But things were kept systematically, not like outside. Then the curtain fell. Ramesh finished packet of peanuts and tossed it aside, contribution to garbage, he thought.

Soon the limping man emerged, “do you have any message or any other thing?”

“No. Nothing.”

“You can go. He will get in touch with him.”

“I want emphasize that I have nothing to do with Satish. I just helped him to deliver this parcel.”

He reached home to two desperately worried women. His mother without asking any question served him food. Pushpa got a glass of water. After washing up he sat down. “Don’t ask anything. We will talk tomorrow.”

In the morning he did not give anyone a chance to talk and cycled quickly to the office. He was bit early. Staff started coming in. Soon all were inside. Srivastav ji also entered and sat in his cabin. Peon gave him a glass of water and newspaper. He received a call on his personal number. His face changed. He pointed to Lata to come in with her assistant. As she went in, he asked her to sit. She said it was fine. He disconnected the phone and said urgently, “pick-up your shooting equipment and crew. There has been a blast nearby. In fact in Teli lane. Go and get as much footage as possible from all angles… I mean you know all that. Our news agency has called. They heard about it from their own sources. We can get a lot of benefits if we send them exciting footage.”

“Yes sir of course.” And she came out of the cabin. Ramesh hinted, “What happened?” She showed him the stop sign as though she was in a tearing hurry. She picked up all the equipment and left.

Now the part below here has been ‘reproduced’ painstakingly from my memory. I just did not feel like writing all this all over again. But somehow I dragged myself to it. Moreover there was someone who really wanted to see how it ends and that made the reason strong enough to take it to its logical end.

In a minute Srivastav ji came out and said, “Lata has gone out urgently to shoot a story in Teli lane. There was big blast there.” Ramesh’s jaw dropped and heart sank down to the depth of hell, “Oh my god!” Everyone else wondered, how come a blast in this sleepy town! Who is so important or rich to be blown up? From this insignificant area if anything would appear on TV was, only when Neelkamal Ad Company sends their video report. This is the only company that does it.

At the blast site the big hut had been completely blown into tiny bits. Both the persons had died. Body of Lala ji was in shambles and man with bed-sheet shirt was lying up aide down. Ambulance staff was preparing to take them away. A police party was working, clicking pictures of various suspicious articles. Officer asked them to not come closer or enter right inside the hut, in case there is another charge. Gradually crowd from locality collected. They started questioning.

“Where do you stay? Did you hear the blast?”

“I stay at the other end of the lane. I heard a big sound, but did not know what it was. I thought some truck might have dumped coal in the iron factory. They keep doing that.”

Chai wala appeared from the close-by stall and started offering tea to cops. Sirens were heard and police officer dispersed everybody away. A senior officer was expected from the head quarter. Police jeep stopped near the crowd. Someone shouted everyone to get back. Cops looked at the destruction and perhaps made mental notes.

They might have got a lead on the gangs operating from another state and Lala ji was on their radar as assembler of crude bombs. Soon all the action got over. All inquiries by cops ended. Lata was shooting all this continuously. She went on the roof of opposite house and panned the camera across entire area to get all the details. In the end of the shot camera caught a crumpled paper that Ramesh had chucked, before he spoke to the man outside the hut.

After lunch Srivastav ji wanted to view entire footage before sending it off to agency. They were making a copy to send. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the monitor. As soon as Ramesh saw the peanut packet, he was shocked and ran to the washroom. Lata was surprised at his sudden action. But she kept her mind on work.

Ramesh shut the door and puked instantly. He was feeling shattered. What now! These people are sleuths. They will find everything. They will pick that paper and figure from where it came. At 9pm very few shops are open. That will lead them to bus depot. The cigarette shop will identify him… God! Oh my god! Nothing is left for him to look forward to. Life with Lata, his mother and sister! When they will know that he delivered that bomb to the big hut!

Office door opened and two police men waked in. They had seen Lata shooting the blast location. They watched some of it and then said, “we will need a copy of this right now. It has to be sent to higher ups. Srivastav ji said, “It is still being done. I will bring it myself to police station.” Ramesh got extremely nervous knowing cops had entered the office. He stayed in the washroom holding the fittings to avoid collapsing. After cops left, he came out and tried to behave as normal as he could. Lata instantly knew there was something drastically wrong with Ramesh. After the copy completed Srivastav ji left to deliver it. Lata loaded another tape to make a copy for agency. While leaving Srivastav ji announced, he will be going home after this. It is quite late. And everyone should come tomorrow on time.

Lata told Ramesh, “You carry on home. I will take some time. Last night also you reached late.” He agreed, picked up his things but looked back at her from the door… he felt this might be the last time he is looking at her.

Work at office finished an hour later. After the copy was completed Lata called agency and walked out. Peon shut the door from inside. He would stay there today.

Ramesh kept usual light hearted conversations on with two women. They ate in time. Spoke little about the blast. He made it sound unimportant. So many bigger blasts happen all over. You forgot about Mumbai? What is this; nothing, in front of Mumbai.

Pan wala saw Ramesh walking to the office. But he felt there is something different about him today and didn’t call out to him. He pushed the door and entered. Around 10.30 everyone was there. Srivastav ji came out of the cabin and addressed everyone. “Late last night cops have arrested the real culprit. Their links are with someone on the border of Nepal. One man called Satish died of a crude bomb blast in Saharanpur.” Oh! Saharanpur? Thank God! Did Ramesh suddenly step on a cloud?

“Ramesh you are going to Shahjahanpur to execute that furniture order. You leave tomorrow by 9am bus, return same day. Here are your tickets. Lata you have to interview SP at the police station tomorrow at 11am.” He went back in the cabin.

Bus to Shahjahanpur was to leave in 5 min.

Ramesh has taken his window seat.

Lata is happily chatting with him.

In Teli gali the blast site had been cleared. Someone is sweeping the area. An insignificant crumpled paper was seen getting swept with other rubbish.

In original version Ramesh just sits in the bus; feeling very relieved, and a faint smile appears on his face.

Reason to smile

Ramesh is a simple, hard-working youth. He is a Marketing & Accounts Clerk in Neelkamal Ad Co, Rampur. He makes very little money, just enough to support himself and two more, the old and frail mother and a young sister. He wants to save enough for his sister Pushpa’s wedding. Three of them live in a simple home, and possess old and rusty things. They cook simple food and lead a very basic life. Only kind of expensive articles with the family are two bicycles.

Sick! Isn’t it? So boring. But I did try to add some spice in my language and tried to make the family’s financial situation more tragic. When people are younger and their entire life is ahead of them, that’s the time money should not fall short, for boys and perhaps more so for girls. Everyone young girl wants to dress up and look nice, go out once in a while, perhaps see a movie, have an outing with friends etc. But Ramesh couldn’t afford to indulge at all:

Panwallah: saab finally today you want to spend one rupee on smoke?

Ramesh: Hmm I thought I may be getting some overtime in the office, so might as well relax a little.

Panwallah: very good idea. I know you do scrounge for the sake of didi’s marriage.  But sometime you should relax. How can one cigarette in two weeks harm your savings?

I have added a suspense angle in the story, when Ramesh is waiting for his worst friend at a bus stop at night. It was 8.15pm. Ramesh is always home by 6.30 and by 8 he is through with his dinner and sleeps off by 9.30, reading a book. But his unannounced delay had put his family in a deep state of worry:

“Subhash placed his briefcase on the table and looked around, then a second later he opened it. He withdrew a fat brown paper packet, its contents held toghether with two rubber bands. Ramesh could guess its contents only as a lot of papers. A glass of country liquor some Pakoras had arrived. He had a swig and offered him the Pakoras right into his nose. Ramesh found it quite aggressive, he picked one any ways. Subhash said, I want you to deliver this to Lalaji, of that big hut at the end of Teli lane. Ramesh was apprehensive. He hates Subhash and also had not heard good things about Lala.”

I hope I am able to really complete “Reason to smile”. Not that it’s a great story; but only that I started writing it in a very strange way. I had no plot in my mind, no characters and no idea about its genre, comedy, tragedy, love story or suspense… I just started punching the key board:

“Ramesh was walking to his office.”

Ok. Now what?

“He seemed a bit tense today. He was walking a bit more briskly than he usually did. He did not stop at the ‘paan wala’ and not even waved at him in usual daily namaskar Mishraji.”

Well it seems that Ramesh will be the lead character and he is tense right now. So, situations have to be created in the past that have made him tense in the present. Also the situations have to be good enough for him to ‘not’ turn towards his friends and wave at them. And more importantly they have to be strong enough to be included in the story. I was not in a mood of adding villains or fights with his family. So I decided to add that he received a phone call in the office and he went into his shell after that. I had no idea what the phone conversation was going to be:

“Phone rings. Peon picks it and points to Ramesh, “You have a call.” Lata and Ramesh both are confused. Who could be calling him on office number? Hesitating, he gets up and takes the receiver. Hello. His face distorts. He looks at heaven, stunned. He only listens. Then a yes, hmm, very difficult, it’s too far. I don’t even have a cycle today. Sweat appears on his forehead. Finally he says ok and hangs up.

“Who was that”, Lata asks.

“An old college friend”, he says.

“College friend, but then why are you so worried?”

I had introduced people in the office where Ramesh works. Lata was one of them. She and Ramesh are good friends, you know what I mean. Then I named the town the story is set in, Rampur. Now to match the small town Rampur, everything becomes small in size and status; office, business, people, their conversation, topics, salaries… but what doesn’t change are friendships and love, its intensity and spice that goes with it. Ramesh and Lata have been seeing each other without anyone seeing them, seeing each other. They have to work real hard to not bump into any familiar person around them. In a small town it is a near impossible task. But no one can fight what a young heart demands. A telephonic conversation between them is here as I end this last part of ‘Tragedy…’ with this:

Lata on phone, “is our evening plan still there?”

“Yes, 6.30, Mahatma Gandhi park.” Ramesh has called her from a public phone.

“Umm, but it is too bright at 6.30pm.”

“7.30 then?”

“Better. You know how this town is. Last Sunday we nearly bumped into the office peon in the park. It is not Bombay, you know.”

“Huh, as though you have been there. Listen should we try to take a bus a little out of town today?

“It will be too late to return.”

“That is true, it will be late. We could find the last bus time and go next time.”

“We can plan that when we meet now. See you then. By the way, are you wearing the shirt I gave you?’

“Yes, I am and are you wearing that what I gave you?”

“Shut up.”

Reason to smile? Hardly; but for a small town like this, may be.

Dangerous Methods

Part-3

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.

End of ‘Dangerous Methods’

Dangerous Methods

Part-2

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

Dangerous Methods

(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.)

Part-1

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’.”

“Ok sir.”

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?”

Sandhya: “huh… alright, I will be ready.”

Kirit Patel: “See you then.”

He hinted to Pratima that her work starts now.

(To be continued in Part-2)

Leopard in my Dream

Sometime back a dog in his playfulness scratched my arm with his tooth. It made a slight crack in the skin, so I was advised to take full course of five anti-rabies injections. After the course was over, a friend told me that now I am safe for next five years of any dog bites. In a humor I asked him, will the injections work if a lion bit me? Laughing aloud he said of course it will.

In Mumbai’s National Park there is supposedly a good leopard population, who keep venturing into their ‘No Entry’ areas quite often, in search of food. Generally small children and dogs get killed by the beasts; but most grownups who are attacked generally escape with some bites or missing pieces of flesh from their body. But of course attack by a leopard does shake anybody badly.

So, armed with the anti-rabies shots, I thought that meeting a leopard would not be a bad idea. If the animal attacked me, my name will definitely appear in newspapers and personally for me it would be a rare honor too… doesn’t matter if I survive to tell the story or not.

I can see, not many people are in agreement with me. Well, traveling thousands of miles at a great expense to climb the Everest is such an honor that is fraught with worse dangers. Quite a few climbers have not come back home to show the pictures of the summit and tell the story. I think it will be proportionately honorable and dangerous to meet a leopard nearer home and click his pictures leaping towards me. If I stay in my senses, ward off the leopard somehow and run away like a gazelle; I will be able to tell my story punctuated with related real pictures. Just like everybody whoever has climbed or even tried to climb that peak has gone into the record books. But then even leopard attacks are well covered by news channels that send each such encounter into record books and the person also gets frozen into the ocean of internet data for ever…

One day (night actually) with all this unrealistic rubbish in my mind, I went to sleep and dreamt of an ‘encounter of the real kind’ – with a leopard. Location is Mumbai’s ‘film city’ studios, night shift. I am shooting for a television program. It is raining. The scenes are being shot inside a running taxi. I am in the back seat recording sound. I have my headphones with a Beta-recorder by my side. The girl actor sitting on the other side of the seat is enacting her part. In a while due to change in camera position, there is a short break. I get out of the cramped space to stretch my legs and move a bit away to pee by the side of the road. As I am about to unzip for the act, a light-boy shouted from the back, ‘sir be careful, don’t go far. It is not safe at this time.’ It was past 2.00 am. I took the advice seriously and wanted to get back in a hurry. A light drizzle started. Rain drops were creating very soothing soft sounds hitting the soggy leafs. Instead of sharp clicks of ‘tup tup’, the drops fell with soft ‘dhub, dhub’. There is a thick cover of leafs in that dense forest. It is pitch dark ahead and I have no intention of straining my eyes. As I am about to zip up, I notice two small dots of faint light in the dark. In a moment they both vanished and then lit up again, together. Then they moved sideways, but together, retaining the distance between them. A shiver went through my spine. I kept my movements very slow and small and started retreating back keeping my eyes at those lights. The light dots simultaneously lowered towards the ground and moved forward. Now I was able to see the figure of a small leopard in the ‘service light’ provided for the shooting crew. In fright I turned back and ran towards the taxi. But I didn’t know that the taxi had been pushed back by a few meters. I took a swift turn and ran with long paces and grabbed the taxi handle. Silence of the night got shattered by an animal’s roar. Taxi door opened, I rushed in and as I was about to shut the door, the animal too managed to push its roaring face inside. I knew I had to hold the door tight and keep it pulled in with all my strength to keep the leopard out. It was a spotted leopard! His bare teeth and foul smell were inches away from my own face. I did not have enough time to slide further away on the seat as the girl and the recorder were there too. His roar in surround sound had scared the hell out of everyone. I could hear the girl’s squeak too in between. I was holding the door tight to keep the hungry leopard away from me. After a while for some reason, leopard started pulling away to release himself from this unfamiliar tangle. May be he was tired or his neck may have started hurting…

Gradually all the his sounds ceased and a faint regular breathing faded in. His face was not as ferocious now. Feeling easy and safer, I decided to do the most unthinkable. I touched leopard’s nose with my left hand. His ferocious face squirmed and rotated aggressively to bite my hand. But he was getting tired. So in a few moments again, very carefully, I touched him between his eyes as if it was a dog. He protested less this time. Encouraged, I started moving my hand on his face. His shut his mouth and looked at me with wonder in his eyes. Obviously he had never met a human so up close. I remembered there were some omelet sandwiches on the seat. I fumbled behind my back and found them. Slowly I took one near his mouth and released the pressure on his neck, just a little. He smelled it, looked away and then suddenly snapped and gobbled it up. It was the best thing that happened in my life. Seeing this scene, the girl passed some more which also were eaten up in no time. Everyone was quiet and stayed locked up in various vehicles. I gestured for more edible stuff, which was placed behind me by our adventurous spot boy named, Kutti from the half open window on the other side. Soon all the sandwiches were over, although I was sure my esteemed guest could have eaten a hundred more.
Now I was getting restless due to lack of distraction and entertainment for the leopard. I had made the grip on leopard’s neck quite loose so that he could eat comfortably. Now was the time to let him go. It was also the time that was full of risk, apprehension and perhaps loads of sadness. Just as final moments were approaching, I felt leopard’s face one last time. This time his head pushed my hand with affection to increase its pressure.

Meeting a leopard was the most valuable incidence of my entire life. I rolled my fingers on his head, between his eyes and on his ears. He was quiet. I released the pressure on the door. He pulled away a little and finally he was out. Now was the time to do the next right thing. There was enough space for the door to shut. And I did shut it. The animal was confused. I rolled my window down a bit and looked at him. He put his front legs on the door and stood on his hind legs. As I was about to put my hand out of the window, the girl screamed and pulled my hand away. The scream shocked the leopard and he sprinted off with a jerk. Somewhere an ignition key turned and a vehicle started with a rickety sound. I turned to see who this was. It was the camera van. I turned back swiftly, but the leopard had vanished. I could see no trace of him anywhere. There was darkness all around. I got off from the car and tried to search for those two dots of light, but could not…

I felt very sad that I could not go further in this relationship for so many reasons; but was extremely happy for whatever I achieved. We had to restart the shooting. Continuous sound of all the vehicles that scared the leopard was irritating me now…

A school bus was idling and revving outside my bedroom window. Kids were boarding the bus. I left my bed feeling fresh and happy and went out for a walk.

Carpenter’s Grave (P-5)

Blood was flowing all over on the rough stone floor. Suyesh and his three followers were chained to uneven dirty walls of a prison cell. They were bleeding from their numerous wounds. A couple of tired soldiers were resting with whips in their hands.

Earlier a court had been summoned in the middle of the night of Suyesh’s arrest. After a short hearing sleepy judges pronounced him and his friends, enemies of the state, guilty of treason that were plotting to topple the legitimate kingdom. They said that Suyesh especially was doing it by misguiding the innocent and ignorant subjects of the kingdom of Amor. The court had awarded death to all four by crucifying them on the crosses. They announced the sentence was harsh since the crime was severe. They could have been simply beheaded. But the court thought differently. Their death had to be seen as lesson for people of this kind. Sentence was to be carried out next day…

On the day of Suyesh and his follower’s arrest; much after the sounds of speeding heavy hoofs had died down, a shadow emerged from behind a large tree. It looked around at the empty space and scattered things. The shadow’s right hand was placed carefully and firmly under the bulging stomach. The shadow bent down carefully to gather what was left behind of some importance. Slowly a few other shadows emerged from the hiding. Slowly they also picked up few things from ground and then went back to the darkness of a thick tree. Ironically it was also the darkest day of their life. After conferring for some time, all of them started chopping their beard with a pair of scissors. Everyone chopped off their long hair also, including the pregnant woman. They threw the hair and their skull caps in a fire. Now they looked like normal Amorans. The sky was getting brighter. They set off for Amor from a different and longer route. By the time they reached Amor many more had joined them. Nearly 100 of Suyesh’s followers reached Amor, all looking like Amorans. They merged themselves into the market places, but stayed in each other’s vision. There seemed a lot of excitement among people. Many soldiers were on duty scattered all around. It seems nobody was going to work that day. They were informed that the king had approved two days holidays for everyone. As Sunday was till two days away, they were told to come to work on Monday. Today a traitor was to be crucified in public view.

In a lane, close by, a huge crowd was waiting for the criminals to pass carrying their crosses. Soon enough they heard loud excited noises of “shame shame”. The group appeared in a distance. They were walking casually in that direction. Everyone’s heart sank to infinite depths on watching badly bloodied bodies of Suyesh and three other men. A crown made from barbed wire had been pushed into Suyesh’s head. The blood from those wounds was constantly flowing onto his calm face. The crosses were heavy. Condemned criminals were falling and rising up as they negotiated the steep climb of the lane. Thick black shawl barely showed Mandakini’s eyes. She was also in short hair. She hinted someone to move towards the hill. That’s where it was all going to end, at the city grave yard. The group separately moved quietly and swiftly. They kept looking back at their saints, now pronounced criminals.

At the grave yard too, people were collecting in large numbers. This is where main action was to be performed. The group merged itself among other Amorans. By evening the tired bloodied bodies reached the plateau of the climb and end of their journey. Swiftly the soldiers took over. They started the process of hammering everyone to their crosses. No normal human being could dare to look at the cruel site, even for a moment. Everyone in the group was weeping with covered faces. It was very dangerous to cry in public view. Nobody must sympathize with such criminals.

In front of a large gathering the procedure started. It took quite long to hammer Suyesh and others to their crosses and then hoist them up. Nobody was hammered in the head, since it would hurry their death. The agony had to be enhanced and elongated for Amorans to see punishment for the traitors. In the end all the four crosses were secured into the ground and workers left, leaving only the security personnel behind.

Late evening King Vikram himself came over and approved the arrangements. He gave a short speech about the devious plans of these criminals. After he went away, most of the soldiers too left, except a few guarding the crosses. All the crucified bodies were still breathing.

During one of many glances Mandakini managed to take at Suyesh; once she suddenly felt that her eyes locked with Suyesh’s eyes. She noticed a faint smile crossed his lips. She knew he noticed her. He made no gesture, could not do so. Nobody expects any gesture from a man nailed to a cross. This fraction of a moment, meeting of the eyes started a huge storm in Mandakini’s heart. She told the group about it at night. She told them that Suyesh should not be allowed to remain in a land where he is considered a criminal. He must be brought back among the people who loved him and shared his vision. They all agreed. The men set about planning, what to do and when.

On second day, city doctors announced all the crucified men dead. The crosses were lowered, the bodies released and buried in the graves that were ready to receive them. Some people came forward to drop a customary handful of mud. With partly hidden faces some men from Suyesh’s group too dropped the mud and carefully watched the location of the grave, it’s depth, noted the white cloth that covered the body. After the burials, everyone left. No onlookers, no soldiers, no spies. There was nothing to be done, nothing to guard. It was a good sign. It was Saturday. Men decided that Sunday would be the perfect day to carry out their plans. Since it would be the last holiday after the burial, every official of the kingdom would be busy celebrating their success with food and wine…

With the precision of nature, the group reached the grave at 2 at night on Sunday, dug it up, lovingly took hold of Suyesh’s body, rearranged the mud, dropped some flowers on other graves and disappeared…

During the day some drunken soldiers came to watch the site where they had stood guard and witnessed an extreme drama three days ago. They were shocked to see the flowers on the graves. It was a crime! The news spread. Soon an army of soldiers came. They checked out the flowers. They also noted that Suyesh’s grave looked ruffled. King was informed, who arrived in the company of the Army General. They ordered the grave to be dug open.

Soon the bloodied white cloth appeared. It was stretched across the body, like it was on Friday. On a hint a soldier pulled the cloth off, revealing the shape of a body made in mud!

Red Eye Effect

My right eye is red. It hurts a bit too. As if I got something stirring inside there. But I know there isn’t anything. I got some eye drops from the chemist. It was his suggestion, ‘here, you will be fine in a day’. Eir called first, “whats up bro?” I told him about my right eye. Bir was next to call,” why aren’t you out for a walk?” I told him I haven’t been out for two days. “But why?” Phatte demanded. “Did not feel like it. My back is also getting a bit stiff.” I was worried these three friends of mine were going to drop by to ‘enquire’ about my health and that’s not going to be very healthy for me.

They came, enquired about me and then they left… left me in, kind of worse health…

Here are excerpts of a weird conversation that almost never took place between me, Eir, Bir, and Phatte:

Eir: Hey, your right eye is red.
Me: Yeah (joking) I told you that. Maybe it is the red eye effect.
Bir: Red eye effect? But that happens to the people in the photographs.
Me: Yeah? Then maybe I am also a photograph.
Eir: Ha ha ha. Are you a picture? How come?
Me: No; I may not be a picture, like a flat 2-D print or something; but maybe I am a film. I mean I am being projected like a film!
Phatte: Oh, so you are getting into film technology here, your own field, huh?
Me: I don’t know that, but I really feel I am an image being projected from somewhere high up… may be from near the sun.
Bir: From the sun?
Me: (excited) yes that’s it. The sun is the bright Helium (Xenon) lamp inside the projector and I am being projected as a 3-D film from there. Doesn’t it look pretty real?
Eir: Real? That means the ‘real you’ has to be somewhere between ‘you here’ and the sun.
Me: Hmm… I guess so.
Phatte: Oh come on. If he is being projected from the sun, then even that would be only his image.
Bir: And (chuckling) who might have made that film (touché)?
Me: (lost) oh please.
Phatte: Do you know what you are saying?
Me: What? What I did I say?
Phatte: You are saying that your film has already been shot and is being projected right NOW!
Me: Yes I am saying that… I guess.
Eir: You obviously mean that all of us are also part of this 3-D film that you are talking about?
Phatte: So what is all this? What are we? Are we all just Maya or are we real?
Me: (confused) I guess Maya in reality is illusion.
Bir: (more confused) where does that take us?
Me: Where do you want to go? We are real illusions…

Eir, Bir and Phatte looked at each other’s faces, get very angry. They think I am fooling them. They beat me up bad and left fuming and grumbling. I am left with a red right eye that hurts just a little bit.
But after using the eye drops twice, color of my eyes is already pale pink instead of red. I will be fine in the morning.

Infectious Goodness

I met my friend Gautam yesterday. Like me he too is very regular in his exercise regimen, especially the walks. His doctor has told him that at his age, one-hour walk everyday is a must. If he wants to go to a gym, do Yoga, learn karate or any other activity, it has to be ‘walk’+ that activity. During one such walk something strange happened with Gautam. He narrated to me the story next day.

Gautam had already completed his daily walk quota in the morning. He had come out again in the evening for a stroll in the park; maybe just to stay a little ahead in life. He was only half way down the track; he spotted a wad of money on the ground. He stopped right next to it, keeping his shoe near the neatly folded notes and looked down directly at it. Watching an awkwardly static person in the jogging park; other walkers too followed his look and also saw the money. Gautam looked up at some passing men engrossed in serious walking.

Gautam: does this belong to any of you? He stayed near the money. But it seemed that those people had already started breaking their carbohydrates into glucose and water. So, no one was in a mood to break the pace for little money that didn’t even belong to them. A tall man just nodded ‘no’ and walked off without slowing his pace. A dark lady in short hair said smilingly, ‘finders keepers’, not bothering to stop. Gautam picked up the money. Watchman from his cabin had also noticed this. Gautam walked to the watchman, showed him the money and told him, “I found it (pointing to the spot) there. Did any one inform you about their lost money?”
Watchman: “no (extending his hand to grab the notes); but I will keep an eye.”
Gautam: “wait, let me count it (he counted the money). It is 110 rupees. Keep it but if I cannot find the owner then I will take it from you before I leave. It is 110, ok?”
Watchman: “ok sir.” But just as Gautam was about to hand over the money to watchman, Gautam noticed a large bunch of women entering the garden. He stood at the edge of walking area and raised his hand with the money.

Gautam: “anyone lost this… any one?” Most ladies laughed and passed him by; but a thin woman with graying hair said, “you are giving so much of your time for someone else’s money. Everyone is not so nice.” Gautam: ‘

“that’s no problem; I will give it just a few minutes more.”
Thin woman with graying hair: “good luck to you” (she walked off laughing away).
Gautam: (trying his luck again) “hello any one dropped this right here, any one?”
Next was a group of four women, chatting loudly. Among them there was a fat lady in yellow suit, “Yes, it could be mine. I had a 50 rupee note with me when I was shopping.” She showed her empty handkerchief. So careless! Gautam thought.
Gautam: “you should have at least tied up the money in your handkerchief.”
Fat woman in yellow suit: “yes. I don’t know how it slipped.”
Gautam: (placing money in her hanky) “here, take this.”

Other women started complimenting him and smiling, as they always do. Gautam was hugely relieved; but by now he had lost precious five-minute walk. So he picked up speed thanking women for their complements. The women too continued walking for a while. Gautam paced faster in the next two rounds. That group of women was now sitting on a bench and chatting. So every two minutes Gautam passed them, he knew they were looking at him. He felt very uncomfortable.

Soon there was a surprising twist in the tale. A small made woman had walked to that group of four women and was talking to them. As Gautam passed again, group of women stopped him.
Fat woman in yellow suit: “actually the money belongs to this lady. She has come back all the way from her house trying to find it.”
Gautam: “so now you are giving it to her?”
Fat woman in yellow suit: “yes. I thought it was mine; but it is surely hers.”
Gautam: “but what about your fifty rupee note? Do you have it or is that lost too?”
Fat woman in yellow suit: “no, it is in my bag.”
Gautam: “sure? Otherwise tell me I will keep an eye on the ground for your money too.”
They all laugh aloud. Gautam coolly started his walks again. He was pleasantly surprised at what had happened.

Dark lady in short hair: “you can’t go on finding money in every trip.”
Gautam: “yes I know. But even if I do find more money, it will be a big headache to find it’s owner every time.”
Dark lady in short hair: (laughing) “true. I don’t think anyone thinks like you do.”
Gautam was moving away from her.
Gautam: “oh that’s no big deal. Bye.”
Dark lady in short hair, “bye.”

King Vs. Carpenter (P-4)

It became a huge point of contention in Amor that meetings of Suyesh were ten times more, well attended than the temple of the King. People were going crazy listening to discourses of Suyesh. No one in the King’s court could analyze the reasons for this, especially when there was no comparison between the two. One was the most powerful king of all land and the other was a mere carpenter following Godaism! King’s ministers had already started working on the plans to break the spirit of Suyesh and his followers.

Now there were no discourses where king’s spies were not present. The spies had initially started incognito, but soon turned brash and bold. They would appear in their army uniform and watch over what was being said. They also would not allow the meetings to continue beyond certain duration of time. This became troublesome for people who came from far off villages. The soldiers would announce suddenly that the time was up and meeting would have to be dispersed. Army would attack the harmless villager returning home after discourses and rob their belongings. They would snatch their food packets, only to throw it away to dogs. In spite of this torture nobody seemed overly discouraged; not just as yet. Kingdom had decided to that non-violence of villagers be replied with violence. In order to break them, soldiers attacked regular devotees more. Suyesh’s body guards tried to interfere with a soldier who was being rough with an old lady. In retaliation the soldier had drawn his sword and body guard had to cool it. Everyone saw it. Now the picture was clear.

It had been Suyesh’s routine to discuss each day’s matters with all his supporters and advisers. They sat on a large wooden dining table. Mangala would serve dinner and wine quietly and efficiently. These days mostly there were security and violence related problems. Everyone was concerned about Suyesh’s followers. A villager who was attacked on his way back home had succumbed to his injury. His funeral was attended by Suyesh and all his close men. During the last rites some young people threw stones at the King’s soldiers shouting, ‘killers killers’. They were taken by surprise and had to retreat. But this made the battle lines even more clear. Now every one of Suyesh’s followers was marked and was being persecuted. They were being harassed for taxes. Their properties were being confiscated.

It was high time a tough decision was taken by Suyesh and his advisers in order to solve this tangle with king’s men. So many innocent people cannot be allowed to get killed or even hurt. It was decided to send a senior person as a messenger or ambassador to King’s court to discuss matters amicably. But before he could put his point across, he was arrested and put behind bars. No one ever saw him again. This was a big loss to Suyesh’s think tank.

In the next supper meeting it was decided that the all discourses be suspended until further notice. Innocent villagers were getting hurt in so many different ways. It was totally unfair. Suyesh’s personal message, ‘there will be no meetings, until further notice’, was sent to all residing near and far through a chain of messengers. The villagers now were to follow regimen of Suyesh’s teaching inside their homes only. While outside, the soldiers with bare swords were combing the area to find their unarmed enemies. The war was in the open.

It was a gloomy evening in Suyesh’s hut. There were eleven of village’s most worried men sitting on the large wooden table. They had nothing better to do except glare blankly at the food and wine glasses. Breathing the air thick with tension; Mangala too was uncomfortable. She had been working extra hard to serve them. She could not bear to watch the faces of those strong and intelligent men feeling so completely helpless. She decided to stay at the back of everyone. All those intellectual minds did not have an answer to current situation. No one was speaking. No one was drinking and eating either. They were so static that all together they seemed like a painting. The most senior security adviser spoke, ‘we have to move out of here. Soon the soldiers will attack this hut.’ With this statement the existing pin drop silence became even heavier. Everyone’s minds were racing with various thoughts. After a short while the silence was broken again but this time, by Suyesh. He said, ‘I don’t know what must be the good reason; but one of us has betrayed me.’ This statement burst like a bomb inside the humble hut and started a flurry of activity on the table. Suyesh had never ever uttered a thing like this before. It was totally unbelievable. A traitor! One of them! Everyone was trying to look at others, to find hidden clues in the faces. Suyesh raised his hand in order to quiet everyone’s mind and added, ‘it did not matter as long as it put only me in trouble; but it is going to be very dangerous for each of us. I feel sorry for all of you. I ask for everyone’s forgiveness on his behalf.’ Now the security adviser got up with a firm, ‘let us go now.’ With this decisive announcement the last supper of Suyesh and his close friends was over.

As the seriousness of the situation dawned in their minds people they started getting up, leaving their unconsumed food behind. Soon everyone was up and was packing their essential belongings methodically. Mangala took her cloth bag and pushed her and Suyesh’s cloths in. She also packed all the bread and dry meat from the table. As a woman she knew life was going to be very uncertain from now on. She was wearing a multi layered long flowing robe. Suyesh had noticed Mangala looked rather fat in it. Just before she stepped out of the hut, she went to the bathing place and puked.

All the inmates now had entirely covered themselves, in dark blankets. Outside, Suyesh’s hidden security experts were keeping an eye for enemy’s prying eyes. They sent a quiet ‘all clear’ message. Soon many shadows walked out in the darkness of a moonless night. There was no one to notice twelve shadows walking briskly to nowhere.

Early morning king Vikram’s soldiers fanned out everywhere. They cursed themselves on finding the hut, empty! They had the information that Suyesh and his group will soon be moving to an unknown place. But perhaps they were a day too late.

King’s spies dressed themselves in villager’s attires and were trying to find the whereabouts of the group. But their bulging muscles and well fed faces gave away their secret. In the next move they started looking for people carrying food stuff outside any village. They caught some of them. They were promptly killed on not giving the location of Suyesh’s group.

Suyesh had about 250 of his most faithful followers spread around. They all had strict instructions from Suyesh that since he was in danger, everyone must stay away. None of us can fight a huge army. We are also not trained to fight. There is no point in loosing precious life. Many of Suyesh’s people were regularly being nabbed and killed. The security expert chose few strongest of men to keep Mangala hidden in the middle of group. From the hut itself they had moved quickly to most unlikely and entirely different route. At that point she was the most precious person in the world. Mangala couldn’t even give a last look at Suyesh. She knew it would be the last time she was watching ‘his’ shadow receding away.

Sound of running horses was a matter of concern for a small group of people huddled together in a dark patch of behind a large bush. Someone threw water on the fire to hide it. The smoke rose up. The gradually horses were came close. And soon the group of soldiers spotted the huddled shadows. Suyesh forced many of them to run away. But his most faithful did not listen to him. They wanted to fight. To save them from being slain, Suyesh came out swiftly and surrendered to Amoran soldiers. Suyesh and three of his men were tied up and soon horses were galloping dragging the group.

King had his carpenter.