It was a lovely Friday morning when I came out of my house to go to my office. I have always loved February, the air is fresh and the temperature is just right.
From my parking I had an unobstructed view of Mr. Upadhyay’s house, across the street. The villa had a beautiful garden. The tall Ashoka trees, standing in line as if guarding the house from imaginary intruders, had obstructed the view of the main building to a great extent. The Ashokas were interspersed with a variety of plants- Bougainville, ferns, palms; one mulberry tree leaning towards the lone chikoo as if trying to whisper something, perhaps it’s disapproval of my own humble dwelling, which paled in front of this grand abode of the Upadhyays; in front of the trees and running along the boundary wall was a hedge and beyond it, in the strip of land before the road, were a couple of Gulmohar trees that produced bright, radiant and luxuriant red flowers in the season.
It’s quite possible for someone, a visitor for example, to harbour a notion in the mind after having a look at the two contrasting villas sitting in front of each other, The Upadhayay’s and The Patel’s, that perhaps the residents of these two homes would not be on speaking terms. That hurt by the indifference and contempt of the Upadhyas, the Patels would be a bunch of bitter and grumpy people, bent upon revealing dirty secrets of their neighbour to anyone willing to listen and eager to show their torn hearts to one and all. After all, so great was the difference in the two residences – one resplendent – the other grey, one beautiful – the other a black swan amongst the villas, one mighty and headstrong – the other meek and mute.
I laughed at this line of thought, at my own unreigned imagination and over-active mind.
In reality, Keshav upadhyay and Dinesh patel ( yours truly) were quite good friends and the two families were on very healthy terms, having lived near each other for a decade now. That he was a big businessman and I, a modest goverment official, had made no difference.
As I turned towards my car to reverse it out of my parking, I caught the sight of Keshav coming out of the gate of his house to give me a call.
‘ Patel, good morning, do you have a moment please?’
‘ Good morning Upadhyay sahab, how are you today?’ I answered as I walked towards him.
Anyone who laid eyes on Mr. Upadhyay for the first time was in for massive disappointment. One would have thought that such a successful businessman leading such a grandiose life would have an overpowering personality – tall, masculine, charming . A tour-de-force of worldwiseness, razor sharp intellect, and magnetic aura served along with good-looking, albeit sunburnt face, resulting from his wide travels around the globe, and entertaining tales of his colorful life.
Infact, Keshav was short, stout and balding. He had not entered middle-age as gracefully as his villa, the hairline had receded so much that now there were just few meagre patches at the backside and on both sides near the temple, the waistline, perhaps to compensate for the failing hairline had decided to expand and now was flirting with morbid obesity. He was diminutive with an effeminate voice and a non-assuming nature. He had a mild, almost an apologetic demeanor, in the public life.
‘Arrey yaar! You know how these fellows are- workers, I mean, the event manager just called up that the decorators would be arriving late in the afternoon, as supposed to in the morning. ‘
I looked towards his place, which was looking even more pleasing than the routine, as it had been decorated with lights recently. There were lights of all sizes and colors, either hanging alone or in tandem as chains of different lengths all over- on the roof, in the garden and on the trees, where they had startled and uprooted the birds who had been living in those trees for a long time peacefully, only to be disturbed screechingly one day by the sudden appearance of bidi wielding faces of workers – bearded, sullen and grumpy, who were hanging lights on the trees, that ironically signified the union and the happy beginning of a new and shiny long domestic life for the ‘soon to be married’ couple.
‘Aha! The wedding! I hope you are managing things well. Things can very become hectic and haphazard in the wedding of one’s daughter. Do tell me if I can be of any help.’ I told him with enthusiasm, after all I considered his daughter Sonu, like my daughter.
‘ That’s why I interrupted you, could you drop this form at the municipality office? I was going to do it myself after giving the directions for decorations at the venue of the wedding to the workers. But now they will be arriving late and probably I won’t be able to go to the office today, and tomorrow it’s closed for the weekend. Sorry to bother you.’
‘Oho!..It’s no bother, ‘ I exclaimed as I took the piece of paper from his hand, ‘ by the way- what is it?’
‘ It’s the form for marriage certificate for Sonu and Rishabh.’ he stated simply.
I looked at him oddly, ‘ Upadhyay sahab are you aware that the marriage is still about a week away – it hasn’t happened already! You have ample of time after the wedding to get this certificate, and anyhow even Rishabh’s family can get it done too, they also stay at Ahmedabad only.’
‘ I know Patel, but why let anything wait for later? And you know how bad the red tape in India is. No work is done here without a bribe or if at all , it would take ages. I don’t want to take the risk. I have given 1000 rupees to the clerk at the municipality office to process it as soon as possible. I am afraid I will forget it later in the ceremonies and this thought has been nagging me, so I thought – why not to finish off the errand.’
‘You mean the clerk will process the marriage certificate even before the marriage takes place? How is it possible?’ I enquired incredulously.
‘Bhaisaab, everything is possible in India. You just need to know the way,’ said Upadhyay making the universal gesture of money with his thumb rubbing over the index finger,’ Grease their palms and see how efficient Indian clerks are, you might be an exception, but a rare exception rather than the rule.’
This was so typical of Keshav to feel anxious about a document, infact I had not met a more fanatic man with regards to have ‘proper’ and ‘in-time’ paperwork. He was obsessed with having all documents which this country, in its fondness for drowning it’s citizens with floods of tedious documentation, had to offer – passport, election card, registries of properties, banking papers, Loan papers, R.C. of vehicles, P.U.C., P.A.N. card, tax papers, mediclaims and insurance papers etc…you name the document, he had it properly filed, regularly updated and stored. Not that I didn’t have these papers but the zeal with which he collected them and the anxiety which he demonstrated if there was any lacuna in his sacred assortments of all these documents, was lacking in myself, and actually in anyone else for that matter.
It was rumoured that he had built a special hidden vault in his home to keep all the papers safe, the location of which was known only to his wife and daughter. Of course, this was an exaggeration but it did show his reputation as a stickler for paperwork.
And it was also quite typical of him to stride into an office and promptly bribe the first clerk which he encountered. Such was his unshakeable faith in the efficiency of indian offices in the post- bribed period that it was a ritual for him to do so. Infact, we had first met in this manner only, about a decade ago – he had walked into the office of the electricity board; where I had worked in a humble capacity, and where I still worked, rising slowly to a mid-senior level position; and had kept 300 rupees on my table without uttering a word and had stared at me expectantly –
‘Yes? What can I do for you?’ I had asked startled.
‘ I have recently bought a house and I want to get the name changed in the electricity bill from the previous owner to mine,’ he said pointing towards the money.
I saw the address and was surprised to see the address was of the opposite villa to my house.
‘ No need for the money Keshav ji, some of us do our work honestly, and secondly you would be surprised that I live opposite to your new house.’
He had sat there open-mouthed, unable to believe the scene unfolding, but had the good sense to apologize, pick up the money and extend his hand towards me to shake, and begin a new friendship.
In due course of time I understood him better and now knew that he had been handed over a well-run business of manufacture of auto-parts by his father, and he has had just enough common sense, goodwill earned by his father and deep pockets to maintain the business in good health. He certainly didn’t have the enterprise, vision, audacity and the courage to lead his inherited business to new and unchartered heights. That needed a lot of tact, and a will to dabble beyond the fine line of legality, to venture into the financial pathways which are ruled by – ‘ Black’ money, and for him there was no colour except for ‘White’, not even – shades of grey.
The only tact he had learnt from his wise father, anecdotes of thousands of acquaintances and biased soap-operas and films, which projected indian offices through a lense of corruption, was to – grease the palm of anyone dealing with any sort of paperwork – document, certificate or a file. And this too was because he was so anxious and obsessed to get all the paperwork done as fast and as smoothly as possible. And in this one tact too he was so ‘tactless’ – so naive, too open and bluntly direct.
‘ Ok, I will drop this off and also take a form of Aadhar card from the centre for the child which will soon be forthcoming in a couple of years out of the wedlock of Sonu and Rishabh.’ I said teasingly and quickly walked away from him towards my car, before he could hurl a friendly obscenity in my direction.
* * * * * * *
On Monday, as I was just wrapping up the work on my table to get up for my well earned lunch, in came Keshav inside my cubicle, walking with lines of consternation drawn over his brow.
‘Upadhay sahab, what happened? You looked worried..is everything alright?’ I asked, gesturing him to be seated in the chair opposite to mine.
‘Patel, I have been thinking of having a conversation with you about something…I was passing by from this area, actually had gone to registrar’s office to finish the process for the flat which I am purchasing for Sonu and his fiancee, and I thought I would have a word with you here, in the office rather than at home where our wives can become unduly worried,’
”Yes, tell me, what’s troubling you?’
‘ Nishant. I have heard he was seen in the vicinity of our houses yesterday. It would be a big trouble if that is true..You know,’
I started on hearing the name – Nishant, it’s been almost two years that I had heard it.
‘But I thought he had moved to Surat permanently,’
‘ I thought so too, but the scoundrel he is, he might have come to create nuisance in Sonu’s marriage. You remember what he had said that day?’
I remembered it distinctly – ‘ I will not forget this…I will destroy you,’ he had screamed at Keshav that day when he was being accosted by the constables and was being taken to the police station.
‘ I do, but I thought that those words had been spoken in anger and had meant nothing, and he has not been seen or heard of for the past two years,’
‘ Cheap men like him are very vindictive, they lie hidden somewhere until the right opportunity to take out their ill-imagined revenge arrives. I am feeling quite apprehensive suddenly, suppose he appears at the wedding and creates a scene! Apart from my family I can only rely upon your wise counsel – what should I do?’
‘Don’t worry keshav ji! We are all here to support you, and Sonu is like my daughter. You remain busy in the preparations of marriage, I will talk to few senior and sensible members of our society, who are already aware about the history, and are your well-wishers. We will formulate a plan- we will take the local S.I. of police into our confidence, and I myself will be on the lookout along with few able-bodied young men of our neighborhood, if Nishant is foolish enough to show his face at the venue of wedding- we will deal with him. We will not let him create trouble in the marriage. Don’t worry,’
He clutched my hand,’ Thanks Patel, I knew I could count upon you in this sensitive manner,’
‘I am there always for you Upadhyay sahab,’
As I saw him off, he was visibly relieved, but now I was thoughtful – What could be done about this matter?
I thought that what a great tragedy it was that such a ‘proper’ man and a thorough gentleman had such a free-spirited, vivacious and careless daughter. I had great affection for Sonu, but it was true that her affair with that ruffian Nishant had brought a lot of trouble and headache for Keshav.
It had started in the last years of school, where both of them studied. Though Nishant belonged to a decent family, he had strayed early in his life – filled with a misplaced sense of his inflated importance due to bronzed good looks, a hunky body and a charming personality, he waded the murky waters of the world with a careless swagger and ‘devil-may-care’ attitude, which perhaps enamoured him in the hearts of many unsuspecting young girls, who were on the cusp of blossoming of adulthood, brimming with ‘Mills and boons’ romantic ideas. That Nishant had many vices and an obnoxiously rude personality and moved in questionable company, was invisible to these girls, or perhaps added one more attractive dimension in his alluring personna.
Sonu was one such girl, but she also was quite beautiful, rich and had a colorful personality. In short – it was a recipe for disaster.
So, in the time period when she should have been focussing on her career, she was engaged in a bitter fight with her parents due to Nishant. Mr. and Mrs. Upadhayay were at the end of their wits. Keshav, always soft-spoken, tried to instill sense in his beloved daughter delicately, but Ratna bhabhi, a formidable woman any given day, was more dominant and stricter than ever. She had imposed restrictions on Sonu, even got me and my wife to give an uncomfortable lecture on ‘impotance of right choices at the right time in life’ to her. Ultimately she was barred to go out from her home and in true Bollywood style Nishant had started encircling her house – shouting, whistling and writing graffiti on walls. It was all very shameful and hurting to the reputation of Upadhyays and disturbing to the residents of Apple county society, where our villas were located.
Finally, I and some senior members, along with Keshav, had approached Nishant’s parents. They were a long suffering lot. They themselves were quite wary of him and his ways. His father told us to get strict with him and teach him a life-altering lesson.
So one evening, we found Nishant scaling the boundary wall of the villa in an attempt to meet Sonu, some of us gathered together and called the local police, which caught him red-handed trying to scale the walls of the house and was taken to police station, in full view of everyone to instill ‘sense’ in him. It was then that he had threatened Keshav with dire consequences, and that he would elope with Sonu somehow and get married and what not.
He was let off with a warning next day, as Upadhayas had pressed no charges, in an attempt to suppress the matter. Then it was heard that he had been sent off to Surat by his parents to work with his uncle there in his business.
Meanwhile, Sonu had cried copious amount of tears for him for few days, we all were worried to death about her. But slowly, due to the absence of his magnetic presence and as board exams. were looming quite near, she had started to recover, much to the relief of everyone and managed to pass with decent marks. We heard later that Nishant had flunked and was in depression, but as the time went by nothing more was heard of him. Later he had tried to contact Sonu many times, but she had understood the importance of ‘ right choices in life’ by now, and gave him a cold shoulder. And everyone, including myself, thought that it was the end of that tainted chapter….until now.
As time had passed, Sonu got immersed in her diploma of fashion designing and grew more and more responsive to the idea of a ‘good‘ marriage – a well educated and settled husband, broad-minded in-laws, a big comfortable house to live in and a secure future leading to motherhood, obesity and a long luxurious life. Already there were indications and suggestions floating in the air that the couple could shift to Australia after the wedding, and Sonu’s excitement knew no bounds.
I thought that how happy she had been for the past few days after meeting Rishabh, She had been positively radiant in the the last months, flitting from one showroom of bridal wear to another, like a glorious butterfly coming of age.
How strange a woman’s heart is, when it loves a man she can perform feats of unnatural strength, courage or sacrifice for him or can cry to death for him, but when it moves over to another man, it becomes ruthless- mercilessly destroying all memories of the previous ‘knight in shining armour’, then no plea of the former lover can touch the strings of her heart, no reflection of the past deters her from going onward the new path leading towards the ‘man of her dreams’.
And how strange a man’s heart is – it could play games with many lovelorn ladies earlier, can flirt shamelessly with any number of maidens, happy in his ability to influence the fairer sex it discards many a proposal, ruthlessly breaks many hearts. But when it is fixated upon a girl and if that lady dumps him, this former hero of the love-town becomes a thing to pity. Drowned in his sorrows and burning from the rejection, this former Romeo becomes a whining Devdas. But, it’s a dangerously imbalanced man, who would not think for a moment before performing foolish acts, either of self-inflicting injuries or moronic actions of misplaced bravado, to impress his former lover or to avenge his rejection.
Perhaps on hearing the news of the upcoming marriage of his former sweetheart, the slumbering passion in Nishant’s heart had again become inflammed, and the dormant volcano of suppressed anger had become active again with the hot lava of revenge.
* * * * * *
On the night of marriage everyone was a bit tense, as there had been reports of sightings of Nishant in the vicinity. I had involved few boys of the area which had been placed on regular intervals around the venue of the wedding, which was at a walkable distance from our houses. Some other seniors members of our society were also on lookout of any signs of trouble.
Keshav and Ratna bhabhi were understandably worried. As we heard the loud music of the band accompanying the baarat, Keshav turned towards me with questioning eyes. I signalled him with my hand thay everything was fine and under control.
The baaratis danced frantically and comically, but also endearingly. It was as if they all had thrown caution and social inhibitions to the wind and were so drunk with the ecstasy that they didn’t care what others thought of them.
Eventually, the bride and the groom got seated on the plush sofa on the platform and people started going up to greet the couple and their parents.
I was standing on the ground in front of the platform, and from the corner of my left eye I saw a commotion, Mr. Jani, who was our neighbour, and Pankaj, son of Mr. Aggarwal, were coming towards me briskly. I quickly walked towards them so as to meet them as far away from the stage as possible.
‘ Something has happened,’ said Mr Jani urgently, ‘Pankaj just came from near the house, and the front door is ajar, he shouted for Birju but he didn’t answer,’
‘Yes,’ said Pankaj, ‘ I thought it was suspicious, it might be nothing but I came here fast to inform you and everyone,’
The house? I thought quickly that why would Nishant go to Upadhayay’s house. We were all expecting him to create a scene at the venue of the wedding and nobody had thought that he, or anyone else, would go to the villa. Of course, it could be burglars too, a house of wedding is the favorite target of thieves, that’s why Keshav had left Birju, their faithful and long-standing housekeeper behind, to take care of the jewellery and other valuables. All the manpower had been concentrating on the party plot, where marriage was taking place, and we had left the villa conspicuously under guarded.
I took Madhav, keshav’s younger brother, with us and all four of us went quickly to check on the villa. Keshav had seen us huddled together and talking animatedly, he seemed quite anxious. I signalled him to stay-put and not to worry.
As we turned the corner which lead to our homes, we could distinctly see Keshav’s villa in the distance – resplendent and bright. Then all at once, there was a figure scaling the boundary wall. We all shouted at once at the figure, whose back was turned towards us – Aaey…Aaey…Who is this.. Stop! and started running towards him.
The man fell on the ground but quickly got up and ran frantically towards the gap between the two neighbouring houses, which lead to a large empty plot behind, filled with wild grass and weeds, and other colonies after that. We could not see who it was and he melted into the darkness.
I urgently diverted Jani and Pankaj to go for the man and also to call for the police, while Madhav and I ran towards the house.
Everything was happening so fast, I could not control my heartbeat which was so quick and loud that I could clearly hear it.
As we entered the front door, our hearts sank, Birju was lying near it, sprawled on the floor in the gallery which lead to the hall – unconscious, but without any obvious wounds on his body.
I told Madhav to quickly inspect the whole house to see whether any damage has been done or anything valuable was missing, and went to help Birju. I checked his pulse and whether he was breathing, and found that he was sleeping soundly, perhaps he had been given something to eat or drink, that had knocked him out.
He was in no immediate danger, I kept a pillow underneath his head. He would wake up groggily after few hours.
Then I got up and myself started inspecting the place critically. There was a dreadful and suspicious silence hanging over the place. Everything seemed exactly like it always had been. Master bedroom, hall, kitchen and guestroom on the ground floor revealed nothing amiss. I went up to first floor -Sonu’s bedroom and the adjoining study room were also untouched.
As I got down I met Madhav coming up from the basement, ‘ Anything?’ I asked him.
‘No, everything is alright, ‘ Madhav answered, ‘ nothing has been touched, all ornaments, money and other valuables are fine, I have checked,’
‘Yes, it does seem that everything is fine, though it’s quite puzzling,’
‘Perhaps the man lost his nerve or heard us coming before he could do any damage and fled,’
‘Perhaps,’ I said as we wandered out of the front door and saw Keshav and Ratna bhabhi ambling towards us anxiously.
‘What happened? Where is Birju? Have they looted everything? Hai! ..What will happen now? My Sonu’ s marriage is ruined. I told him not to leave so much gold and cash in charge of Birju, one can’t trust these servants, however faithful they pretend to be. But No! He does not listen to me….’ babbled Ratna bhabhi excitedly as they met us.
‘ Bhabhi, calm down… everything is fine. All the ornaments and cash are fine…Madhav ji has checked, Birju is here only, he has been given something to knock him off, but otherwise he is alright, both of you shouldn’t have come here, ‘
‘ Hugh!..What? Who were they? And why did they come to our house?’ fired indomitable Ratna bhabhi, as Keshav caught his breath standing by her side.
‘Was it Nishant? We were so worried that we couldn’t stay there, ‘ he enquired.
‘We don’t know…We saw a man jumping down the boundary wall, but could not see who it was,’
As we stood there discussing, in the strip of land in between the boundary wall and the road, near the Gulmohar tree, we saw a group of people dragging a man along, who was resisting and fighting to get himself freed.
It was Mr. Jani, Pankaj and two constables, and as they came near us, pulling at the man with all the strength, we saw that it was Nishant – he had lost quite a bit of weight. He seemed thin and gaunt, and an ungainly stubble had sprouted on his face. I could see few strands of silver on his head.
‘Chal.!..Tell us what did you do?’ one of the constable demanded from him.
Nishant looked in the direction of Keshav with a glint in his wicked eyes and spat on the ground near his feet, ‘ I told you I would tear you apart if you got her married to someone else,’ he spoke with vehemence and then went flying to the ground as the constable punched him in the back.
‘Please, ‘ I motioned the constable to stop and asked Nishant, ‘ you are bluffing, you scoundrel, no damage has been done…We have stopped you from doing your filthy mischief and now you will be locked up for a long time,’
He turned towards me and watched me for a few moments, then a grin broke out on his face, ‘ you won’t understand …He knows,’ said Nishant pointing towards Keshav.
I whirled towards Keshav, who was standing behind me, he had suddenly gone pale, he was white as a ghost.
‘But…’ I started to speak, but all of a sudden Keshav ran towards the house, he went very fast as if his life was in danger. We were all rooted there, bound by our incomprehension. It was as if we had been glued to the ground.
I remember the scene in slow-motion, though everything happened in an eye’s blink, but in my mind it has been imprinted forever in slow-motion – Keshav sprinting towards the house, Nishant sitting in the mud flashing his cruel smile, a mystified suspense of few brief seconds, then a loud wail …Aaghhh! followed by a sickening thud…And then – silence.
We all woke with up with a start and rushed inside the house.
‘Kya hua..Suniye..Kya hua?’, Ratna bhabhi ran in front of me shouting and tripped over Birju, who was dreaming peacefully, unaware of the tumult going on around him.
As I helped her to her feet, I thought that in all probability Keshav’s anguished shriek had emerged from the bowels of the basement. I went down the flight of stairs, two stairs at a time, and was stopped in my tracks at the end by the scene in front of me,
The wall- sized painting of Lord Krishna, which I always thought had denoted Keshav’s special devotion to the Lord, had been unhooked from its hooks and was standing at an angle from the wall near the stairs, and behind it’s original position, where there should have been the wall, was a hole! It was a concealed locker in fact, made In the wall, with lots of shelf and occupied the area of about half the length of the wall and about one metre in breath; on the floor nearby the foot of the uprooted painted, lay Keshav, facedown and apparently insensible. All around him were strewn shredded pieces of papers!
There were shredded papers in the lockers too…a lot of them. A glance told me what I already knew in my heart, there were all sorts of documents – land deeds, bonds, insurances, certificates – neatly cut into pieces, calmly cut, purposefully cut, methodically cut and ruthlessly cut to dust; fluttering around their master as if to awaken him, clinging on to him, as if even after their destruction, they still wanted to show their loyalty and commitment to their fallen master.
I came out of my stupor, ‘Keshav!..Keshav!’, I turned him over and started giving thumps to his chest on the left side with my palms, as had been taught to us few days back in a workshop at the electricity board by the visiting medical team, ‘Call an ambulance! Dial 108…’
* * * * * * *
It was the third day after the marriage, thankfully it had taken place without any further incident, when I parked my car in the parking of the hospital. I had accompanied Keshav in the ambulance that night to this hospital to get him admitted. Madhav had taken Ratna bhabhi back to the wedding, despite her vociferous protests. But it was a difficult situation which needed to be tackled delicately. Fortunately, Ratna bhabhi had risen to the occasion and kept her wits and head intact.
It was told there to everyone, Including Sonu and Rishabh, that there had been an unsuccessful attempt of burglary at the residence of Upadhayay’s, but the thieves had been apprehended in the act and no damage had occurred, except that they had destroyed some papers and files, but while investigating keshav had slipped on the stairs and had sustained minor injuries on his left leg and hand, for which he had been taken to the hospital. Madhav and his wife had done the Kanyadaan, and Ratna bhabhi had managed to smile and assure everyone, including the parents of Rishabh, that everything was under control. They were quite understanding and took charge of the situation and saw that wedding proceeded unhindered. Of course Sonu and Rishabh wanted to come to the hospital straight away after the feras, but they were counselled by all elders that it was inauspicious and that Keshav was alright.
As I entered the hospital, I met Sonu and Rishabh coming down after meeting Keshav. Sonu had cried much the next day when it was revealed that Keshav had sustained a minor heart attack. No mention of Nishant had been done to her, so as not to compound her grief with guilt.
‘Bless you both…enjoy your honeymoon, don’t worry about Keshav, we are all here for him and he is sound as a horse,’ I told them as they touched my feet and Sonu hugged me. I had been involved the day before in getting their tickets done for Kerala. As Sonu’s passport had been torn by Nishant, they no longer were able to go to Bali, their original destination for honeymoon. They had wanted to cancel the trip, but as doctors announced that Keshav was alright, and as the family wanted to send the couple away from the dark shadows of Nishant, they were convinced to carry on.
After seeing them off, I entered the room where Keshav had been admitted. I saw him staring up at the wall.
I thought that given the efficient h in which the matter of Nishant had been suppressed and no scandal had been allowed to break, and the smooth way in which wedding had proceeded; he ought be reasonably happy, considering the circumstances. But, then again, how could you reason with a man who considered documents more worthy for safe-keeping than his daughter’s jewellery. A person who on the occasion of his only daughter’s marriage, kept huge amount of cash and gold in charge of his servant but refused to share the secret location of the locker of his papers from his own brother, let alone his friends and servant, would not be expected to respond to one’s reasoning.
‘How are you Upadhyay sahab today? You should be happy,’
‘All thanks to you Patel, you are a true friend. But not everything is well, that bastard has ruined me. I could not perform Kanyadaan of my only daughter. He will not spared by the God…there is delay in his justice but not neglect of sins…he will rot in hell,’
Keshav had to resort to his faith in the judgement by Providence because after a lot of discussion amongst the family members, it had been decided not to press charges against Nishant – again. He was let off with a warning after two days. With a written apology and assurance that he won’t come near the house of Upadhayay’s or Sonu’s in the future. I had been there and thought that his passion was spent now and he won’t be a trouble anymore. What a tragedy it is that even in today’s era, parents and the family of a girl can’t express their indignation outrightly, they can’t react to an insult or a crime openly; they have to calibrate their response and measure it against the repercussions. They have to think about the society and about the ‘good’ name of their daughter. They have to gulp down their bruised egos, overlook their trampled emotions and water down their burning resentments.
‘ But that ruffian struck where it hurt the most, and at the worst possible time. I wonder how did he come to know about the locker and the combination number to open it?’ continued Keshav.
An image sprang up in my mind – It might have been a beautiful evening and the dusk might have started to fall – soft and romantic, when two young lovers sat somewhere secluded, perhaps on the bench in a park, full of greenery and colorful flowers and devoid of crowd. As the boy and girl held the hands, as they hugged and smiled shyly, as the girl rested her head on his strong shoulder; it might have occured to both of them that they were made for each other and were soulmates, inseparable for seven lives atleast. As their conversation proceeded from declaring their undying love to each other to discovering each other, as they decided not to have any secret anymore amongst them; the girl felt confident that she had met her man of dreams and as she laughed on his charming compliments, she told him about her father, who was the best father in the world, a true gentleman- just a little eccentric. He loved the documents and papers more than anything else, he was so obsessed about his fear of loosing them that he had had a special secret locker made for them. Perhaps the boy had said – I don’t believe it. The girl might have retorted – Arrey baba, I am telling you na! And then in her compulsive need to gain his acceptance, she had gone on to tell him about the location and the combination of the locker.
The boy might have laughed it off, but he stored the information in his mind. It might be useful someday, he might have thought. And never again the topic was discussed, the girl thought nothing of it an forgot all about it in due course of time, but not the boy, who bade his time- hidden, patient, and attentive- to strike at the most opportune moment to inflict maximum damage.
‘ They were just papers Upadhyay sahab…’ I said as I woke up from my reverie.
‘ Just papers! They were everything, you know how much damage has been done? Everything is gone- everything, right from all the necessary documents of all three of us to all our academic certificates and degrees to all my property papers; I have nothing as of now; to all banking papers about investments etc. and worse of all – he has destroyed my precious memories. There were cards and letters written to me by Sonu when she was young and there were letters which I and Ratna had exchanged during our courtship.’
‘ I fear I will get my second heart attack just by thinking how to get all these paperwork done again…Where will I begin?’ he turned his face away from me, trying to suppress a sob, ‘ and you know – how bad the red-tape in India is…’