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Payback

August 26, 2012

I was quite touched when I was greeted with pleasant birthday wishes by the entire staff the moment I entered my office. I thanked all of them with a big smile, informed that the lunch would be on the house and then locked myself inside my cabin.

Well it’s not that my birthday does not hold a special place in the year for me. Nor is it that I have lost interest in birthdays after having lived 52 of them. Just that I had something more serious on my mind that day which could not let me force myself to feel something I truly did not.

Thankfully I am blessed with the skill of never letting the other person make out what is truly going on in my mind. This has helped me immensely in my personal as well as professional life. Especially in business negotiations, which, being a hot shot property developer are an irreplaceable part of my profession.

I started my day with checking my e-mails, personally responding to the queries of high profile clients, sending thank you responses to the e-mail birthday wishes, returning a few phone calls etc. But somewhere at the back of my mind I was not feeling hundred percent safe. I was getting a feeling that something bad was about to happen. My left eye was flickering constantly. Accepting that I did think that it was a bad sign would have been contradictory to my image of a strong and powerful businessman, so I chose to ignore that part as best as I could. But somehow by 2:00 PM I was too restless to continue sitting in my office. I decided to call it a day and meet Rajendranath over a drink.

 

 

Rajendranath and I have known each other since not very long after we were born. We were in the same class from nursery till our graduation, and he moved to Mumbai at around the same time that I did. But he got into a high paying managerial job in a manufacturing company while I chose to pursue the gold mine, the real estate business in the city of Mumbai. Though we have been in completely different fields altogether since last many years, Rajendranath has been with me through the thick and thin, as a selfless friend who is always there by my side. The bittersweet memories of our childhood and our roots in Uttar Pradesh have always kept us attached.

“Happy birthday once again Guddu! Nice suit, you look great!”

“Thanks Raju!”

Though today the world knows me as Mr. Govind Kumar Mishra, one of the real estate tycoons in Mumbai, I am still the good old Guddu for a very few people, and that small list starts with the name of Rajendranath.

“So, what are the plans tonight?”

“Well I shall take Pooja and Gargi out for dinner, probably followed by a late night movie. Gargi is quite upset with me; she thinks I do not really act like a normal father. By normal she means a man that is back home by 6:00 PM, spends more time with his wife and daughter, cares about what his daughter’s grades are in college, shops for grocery etc. Typical family man and all, you know. All that jazz.”

“Well she is too young to realize that a typical family man would be willing to sacrifice to any extent to reach the stage where her dad is at! But anyway, spending more time with them once in a while is not a bad idea either.”

“True. But I am really worried about Gargi. I am somehow getting a feeling that something serious is about to happen to her…”

I had to say this because even Rajendranath could not make out that behind the dark suit and the dynamic personality there was a worried father, unable to open up to anyone about his concerns regarding his lovely daughter.

Rajendranath was not somebody who would immediately give a reaction or an opinion. He simply asked me, “What makes you think so?”

“She is really not in a great health. She has been suffering with some vague psychiatric and behavioral changes again. I thought it was all over two years ago. But I think it has come back.”

Gargi is a victim of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is believed that this disease occurs throughout the world at an incidence of one person in a million. It was diagnosed around 5 years ago, but the symptoms existed almost since the time she entered the high school. There is no known cure for the disease. It could also be fatal in some cases, if it is accompanied by a progressive dementia. Fortunately it has not been the case with Gargi yet, but strange psychological movements have been observed. The doctor says he really cannot do anything, but as long as she is living a normal life there is not much to worry about.

Rajendranath knows some part of it. As a rule I never give away hundred percent details of anything concerning my personal life to anyone and even Rajendranath is not an exception. But at that time I thought I had to tell him about Gargi’s entire medical history. I guess you need to confide in somebody at one point or another. Taking tonnes of secrets with you to the grave is not always a great idea. So I told him everything about her disease this time. He is a great listener, so he grasped everything without interrupting. When I was done, he asked me,

“But has this not been there since many years now? Considering she is 21, she has been dealing with this since at least 10-11 years if not more. Honestly, I could never make out that something was abnormal with her. If she could survive so easily till now, I guess she can lead a normal life hereafter as well. It’s all in your mind Guddu, you worry too much. Sometimes it’s better to let the God handle some worries on your behalf, especially when you have so many things on your plate already.”

One could have felt relieved with such words of courage in such situations, but to me they sounded like mere false assurances. Being a practical man such words have little impact on me.  Rajendranath realized that well.

“Guddu, I know all this sounds too typical to you. But then there is nothing you or I can do about this, is there? Just make sure that she is taken good care of during days when her mental state is unstable. She has had such cycles before and then the life was back to normal. Relate it to your business; you don’t have sunshine all round the year, do you? Just hold on. A little tighter. That’s all we can do. And I am always there if I can be of any help.”

“I understand all this Raju. But I have a very strong feeling that she is in danger. I am getting bad dreams. Scary vibes. My left eye flickers occasionally. And almost always when Gargi is in front of me. I tried to convince myself that it was a mere coincidence. But it is not. The moment she is in front of me, it starts flickering. My left eyebrow twitches and at the same time my phone starts ringing. It only happens when Gargi is calling. Do you really think it is all in my mind? It had started happening a few years ago as well. Whenever dad called from Kanpur there was a movement in my left eye. I tried to look away from the fact the something was not right. And he died in a plane crash within a month from that. I can’t be that wrong. Come on Raju, you know me well.”

And he did. I could see that he got a little worried as well. Beyond all the swanky buildings, dark suits and flashy cars there were these so called superstitions that both of us believed in. At least between each other we were not afraid to accept certain things. Nobody was at a risk of termed as a backward person. We strongly felt that there was no point in fooling yourself into ignoring something that your heart leans more towards believing in.

He thought for a moment and asked me,

“Do you have to go back to office now?”

“I am not going back today, unless Suzie calls me for something that requires my presence in the office today.”

Suzie is the name of my personal assistant. In a normal situation Raju would have asked me if I still enjoyed observing the movements of her butt when she walked, but it probably did not even cross his mind today. Or at least he did not show that it did.

“I know this astrologer at Bandra that you might want to meet and discuss about Gargi with. Quite a well known personality amongst film stars, stockbrokers etc. I mean, only if you are open to.”

I would be kidding myself if I said I was not.

 

 

Surendra Bhatt’s personality was not even close to what I had perceived him to have. By no means did he look like a typical astrologer. His air conditioned office was spacious with mahogany table and chairs, one laptop and a desktop, and a photo of Shirdi’s Sai Baba—at least some sign of being an astrologer, if at all. But he did have a spiritual aura around him that could not be faked, eyes that sparkled with shine and a smiling face that had an “I know what I am doing” kind of feeling to it. I felt a certain calmness inside me when Raju and I sat in front of him. He then offered us tea, and asked me to fill out a form, which basically had fields like date/time/place of birth, names of parents/wife/kids etc. Once I gave the form back to him, he entered those details on his computer and then studied something on his screen for a couple of minutes.

“Mr. Mishra, your chart looks good career and moneywise. I can sense that there will be no real peace of mind for you and you are not one of those who like to find happiness in small things and things like that. Am I quite safe with assuming that you have got a mind that can think at least hundred times faster than an average human being and it only became sharper with age?”

I am never comfortable with bragging about myself. Being down to earth has played a key role in bringing success to me, and I would not prefer talking high of myself after tasting the success. It never has and nor it ever would get into my head. So I just smiled and chose to remain silent on that question. Surendra got the point.

“I was expecting that you would not answer this question! Alright, please go ahead and explain to me what is worrying you. I shall try and see if I can help you with your problem.”

And I started explaining the problem to him. I started with telling him that I did realize that Gargi’s was a medical problem and like any other sensible educated man I was seeking medical help for her as well. However as there was little doctors could do about it I had chosen to seek Surendra’s advice too.

He patiently listened to me, made a few notes on his computer as I was talking, and when I was done, he asked me if I remembered Gargi’s birth details as well. Being someone cursed with a flawless memory, there was no way I did not.

He studied her details for a few minutes, and then closed his eyes.

When he finally opened them, he looked me straight in the eyes, and asked me,

“Mr. Mishra, have you ever cheated anybody in your business?”

Well that was a tricky one. Cheating is a relative term. But as far as I could speak for myself, I almost followed the teachings of Sri Swami Sivananda in business and earned my bread by honest means. Took a moderate and reasonable profit. Was quite truthful and honest in my dealings. Did abundant charity etc.

“Cheating is a different thing for different people. If you ask me about my honest opinion, my answer is no, I have never cheated anyone in business. But of course, if someone thinks that I have cheated him in some way and he never brought that to my attention, there is no way I would know about it.”

“No, it is not all that complicated. Leave aside these would have/ could have/ should have possibilities. Have you ever done something in business that can most obviously be termed as cheating in any normal sense?”

“Not that I can think of.” It was an honest answer.

He closed his eyes for another minute or so. And again, he looked me in the eyes and very coldly asked me a question that almost shook me in the chair,

“Do you remember a person called Gopinath Sharma?”

Hell I did.

 

 

Well too much water has passed under the bridge for anyone to care now. When I look back, it seems like another lifetime– my early days in Mumbai when I was trying my luck working as a real estate broker. Mumbai’s land was the goose that laid golden eggs and everybody wanted a piece of it. My job was to identify potential investment opportunities for some of my clients, do my due diligence on the piece of land, perform a title search, bring both the parties together on the table and step aside. I always participated in the fees on the buyer side, which would mostly be a certain percentage cut of the total transaction amount. The job was hard, involved plenty of leg work and patiently dealing with too many time wasters, but it did pay well.

I was quite surprised to have received a trunk call from Gopinath that day. Phone calls were expensive and nobody apart from your family members spent money on trunk calls to speak with you unless it was something really very important.

“Hello Guddu, this is Gopi, your neighbor from Kanpur!”

He spoke very abruptly, for economic reasons I believe.

“Yes Gopi, I hope all is well.”

“All is well. I have a good business opportunity. Both of us can make very good money.”

I always perceived Gopi to be an idiot and a total time waster. He was known to have lost a large part of whatever little income he earned intomany get-rich-quick schemes. But some people never learn from their mistakes.

“I am listening.”

“Look, there is this very rich party from Lucknow that wants to start their furniture factory near Mumbai. Since most of their customers are based in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, they think they can save a lot on the transport cost if they set up a manufacturing unit between Pune and Mumbai. I thought I would put them across with you. They are ready to pay big commissions if a broker can do the initial work on their behalf of identifying and verifying a piece of land, and bring a good deal to the table.”

It took me some time to grasp the information. If the Lucknow party Gopi was mentioning was really so serious then considering the contacts I had built up, it was no big deal for me to help them get such a land anywhere within the belt of Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. Moreover, Gopi, who had lost one of his fingers from an axe cutting accident at the saw mill he worked at, was likely to have real contacts within the wood industry as many furniture manufacturers from all parts of Uttar Pradesh bought wood from the same saw mill.

“Gopi, please pass my number on to them. If they are serious and have the funds to execute such a transaction, I know how to close this deal successfully. I am taking your word that they will protect our commissions.”

“And I need your word that you will share half the commission amount with me.”

“Sure, don’t worry about that.”

I can swear to God that the thought of not paying Gopi his cut had not even crossed my mind until the time the deal actually got confirmed and the papers were about to be signed by both the parties. I got the buyer a very big piece of land on the outskirts of a town on the Mumbai- Pune Highway called Khopoli for a price so less that the term dirt cheap would be a serious underestimation. It was a distressed sale by a farmer that needed to raise immediate liquidity and was willing to sell at below market rates if the buyer paid in cash. The buyer from Lucknow was very impressed with my courteous and professional behavior along with the transparent dealings. So he offered to pay me double the commissions, which I gladly accepted as I believed I deserved every bit of it.

And then the greed took over. While conveniently forgetting that I would have never even known the name of this Lucknow party had Gopi not made that phone call, my mind started playing games with my conscious. I had a feeling that the deal’s success was achieved purely out of my hard work and smart actions, and an idiot like Gopi who could not understand a word of real estate dealings did not deserve even a single penny of commission. In the end the lust won and I betrayed my conscious.

When the buyer was about to leave for Lucknow, I said to him,

“I have a small request to make, if you don’t mind.”

“Come on Govind Kumar, don’t be so formal. We are friends now.”

“Well, please let the details of this deal remain between you and I. I would appreciate it if nobody; I mean absolutely nobody got to know about this transaction.”

He was a smart guy, so he got the point.

Later on I learnt that the buyer had told Gopi that I was not able to help them find a suitable property so they had to hire another real estate brokerage firm for this work, who eventually got them a reasonably good deal. He further went on to mentioning that he was highly disappointed with me, Govind Kumar, a reference passed on by Gopi. Gopi made another trunk call to me to inform this and apologized for having wasted my time. I felt sorry for the poor guy, but that was only a momentary guilt. I totally forgot about this incidence as I got busy closing bigger deals, eventually starting my own property development company down the line.

Around 3 years after that I got the news that Gopi had passed away due to liver damage. Country liquor does that to you I guess. I wished his soul rested in peace…

 

 

“Well, I was an ambitious young man at that time and did not realize that I was cheating somebody.”

“Or probably you did not want to realize that you were?”

Surendra, the astrologer’s words hit me like a whip. I did not bother asking him questions like how he could guess about that incidence and how he knew the exact name of Gopi. Instead I asked him,

“What is the relevance here? Do you mean to say that my daughter is suffering because of my wrong deeds, or may I say a wrong ‘deed ‘in the past?”

“Precisely, yes.”

I let his answer linger in my mind for a few seconds. I did not have the courage to even look at Rajendranath, who was sitting right next to me.

I finally gathered the courage to ask Surendra,

“What can be done now? How do I pay Gopi back? He is no longer alive. He had no family either.”

“Well he will make you pay him back, in some way or the other. I am afraid you cannot go back in the past and change certain things. Just keep faith in God, pray that Gargi gets well soon. And do as much charity as you can, you will do with some blessings of the poor and needy. Do not smother and kill your conscience. Keep your conscience ever clean and pure.”

Though Rajendranath was sitting next to me, it was a long and lonely drive back home. He asked me if I wanted him to come home and spend some more time with me. But I did not want to sound weak so asked him not to.

 

 

When Gargi opened the door she looked in her best health. She had features of her mother, a natural smile, fair skin, pointing chin and high cheek bones. My beautiful princess!

I took my wife and daughter out for dinner in a plush restaurant. We ended up ordering more than we could finish and spent 3 hours eating. We had to abandon the movie plan but got to spend quality time discussing things that any ordinary family would do over dinner. I could see the happiness pouring from the smiles of both the wonderful women in my life, and once again realized that money could bring security and keep your ego intact, but it was family that brought the real happiness.

 

 

The very next day I learnt that it was simply pointless to get carried away with such moments of happiness, as your sins never stop chasing you.

Gargi had swallowed more sleeping pills than any human being could handle and had written a note that she was committing suicide because she was fed up of her mental illness and preferred leaving this world before it worsened.

Somewhere in my heart I had a hope that she would still be alive and would gain consciousness after doctors treated her at the hospital. But all the doctor did was said he was sorry and asked us to call the police.

Apart from the neighbors, the first people to reach our house were Rajendranath and his wife. Pooja rested her head on Raju’s wife’s shoulder and started sobbing. Being a man I was supposed to act strong in such a situation. So I just kept quiet.

After a few moments I said to Raju,

“I told you yesterday that I had a feeling that something was about to go wrong, didn’t I?”

He looked confused, but did not say anything.

“Raju, that astrologer Surendra Bhatt was right. My daughter had to pay for my wrong deeds in the past.”

“Who is Surendra Bhatt? When did you meet him?”

“Raju, the Bandra astrologer you took me to meet yesterday. Were you not sitting next to me when he was telling me about all this?”

“You need to rest Guddu. I don’t know any Surendra Bhatt in Bandra, or elsewhere. Moreover, I was not even in Mumbai yesterday. I came back early this morning from Kolkata.”

“Then was that all a dream? Did we not meet that astrologer yesterday, I clearly remember the address. Senora Park on Oxford Street at Pali Hill in Bandra!”

“There is no street called Oxford Street in Pali Hill, Guddu. I know that area in and out. I do not recall a building by the name Senora Park either. Let’s meet the police, they are at the door.”

I was too stunned to say anything whatsoever. I saw Raju walking to the police, answering to their questions. Everything looked animated to me.

When the police was taking Gargi’s dead body away for the post mortem, I felt that I saw she was missing a finger on her left hand…

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Hello world!

May 8, 2009

It’s 3:31 in the morning on the digital clock as I am making this entry in the Notepad of my system.  This message will be available for the world to view when I wake up and publish it on my new blog. But at this moment, I can’t connect to the internet. Not because of the usual “server down” problem of Tata Indicom, today it’s MSEB that is responsible for no internet connectivity, and of course, no electricity. It is probably the first time I am experiencing a power-cut in the night in this beautiful locale of Ideal Colony.

Well, writing is something that I’ve been doing since as long as I can remember. Be that writing short suspense/comedy stories while in school, starting a new venture called “novel writing” while in junior college, or writing restaurant reviews while at office. But for those who can write, writing is something that needs ample time, relaxed mind and a perfect “mood’. While the first two are not very difficult to achieve, creating the third one is surprisingly difficult and that’s why many thoughts in brilliant minds are left unwritten.

So let’s thank this power-cut for setting a perfect mood for a not-so-brilliant mind to start its new blog 🙂
This blog will be completely miscellaneous, to write about absolutely anything from the tragedy of a street beggar to a grocery shopowner’s sexy daughter!

I request all the readers to be active on this blog, and feel free to disagree, debate and post comments on all the posts.

Wish me happy blogging!

Good night Pune!