By the sixth day, I had started coming out of post operational stress. I had to arrange money immediately for payment of the hospital bills. There were two more issues to be handled - Sooraj's bail, and then transferring my work to someone.
The hospital had done the first operations and now wanted an immediate deposit of fifty thousand. I had a cashless insurance which covered accidents.
For some reason, the insurance company had not processed the hospital charges. Possibly and quite likely, the hospital had not been on good books of the Insurance companies, suspecting the hospital for overcharging. Possibly, the cashless payment processing agency agent was assessed on how less burden it created for the Insuring Company. Of all people in the world, I could not complain about such practices; after all while I worked in the financial world, I turned a blind eye to many such practices.
Whatever be the reason, there was a certain resistance to pay for the treatment. When I pursued to the extent of calling responsible people in the Insurance Company, a response came immediately that the hospital bills shall be reimbursed. I would have to pay now and get them reimbursed later - again a promise that I fell for, having no other choice.
But I had no free cash left after the initial hospital payments. That exposed me to amusing events. Now I had to arrange money, and I was aware of my father's situation after bribes to the police.
My right hand was not functional - I could not sign checks or withdrawal slips. My cards were gone with the wallet. And I used to take pride in having very unique signature not easily copied. It made situation hopeless.
Soon I arranged to travel to the bank branch manager's office - a modern bank that suited my needs. The Manager, a young fellow, understood my situation, and arranged for withdrawal of cash.
Frankly, we tried to imitate the signatures and he overlooked who was forging.
But I needed more from my fixed deposits for future treatment. He called up his head office to check and they recommended that either my finger prints be matched with an official record or a notarized affidavit be produced.
There was no official record of my finger prints - one never planned that way here. And an affidavit again required forgery of signatures. This time the notary overlooked. The application was submitted to the Bank.
Next day, I came to know that the head-office of the bank had rejected my papers, fearing some scam.
It was time to turn to relatives and friends – and I had now discovered the surest way of limiting the visitors and well wishers.
Some help did arrive from friends and some from my company's cash. But I wanted to remain on my own - it was strange to ask people, even close ones for money.
While the hospital was busy plotting maximum cash from me, my father was busy attracting more and more recipients of his money.
He had been very worried about ensuring my safety here. At his age, he was very prone to believing in any threat. A couple of hospital staff soon recognized it. And told him they would keep an eye on all visitors and mislead if anyone suspicious asks for me. They bagged a weekly payment from him. Soon it would be discussed amongst the entire staff and they would draw a weekly amount from my father.
When I got the news and confronted him about such payments, first he tried to explain to me that it was just for a few days. Later he would deny any such payments but quietly give his entire pension to these folks.
From the hospital nursing staff, the news of the incident and the threat to me had spread. Now my father was getting phone calls to either pay or wait for consequences.
Every time such a call came, initially he would consider it a hoax and someone exploiting him. His confidence remained while we had some company in the hospital. But within a few hours of solitude, his thoughts transformed to worry. And without my knowledge, he was negotiating with unknowns.
My mother, unaware of the deteriorating cash situation, had her own contributions to make. She had realized, with some help from a saint, that some snake formation in my horoscope was the reason for these events. And it needed a silver snake to be donated to the temple, along with some money to perform rituals to correct the horoscope.
She had more faith in these saints and rituals than on her own self. And her faith had grown as she had diminished with age.
The cash situation brought an end to civilities between the two oldies. Both were spending without letting anyone know, and suspecting each other for the cash distress.
I told them that I had enough cash lined up for entire treatment. It was my fourth lie; after the first lie to tribals in trying to save Tulsi and the two forgeries approved by me to get my cash from the bank.
Almost 10 days had passed since I had come here. While my physical distress was getting in control, the mind had relaxed on worldly issues. Time, a trusted healer for distressed, and a great foe for the relaxed, was doing its work on either side.
I had relaxed not because I did not comprehend the scale of the problem that could happen next, but I trusted the goodwill of a lot of responsible men around. I trusted that truth will eventually prevail.
What I did not understand was that truth was not of much importance to anyone - only thing that mattered was what was at stake? It was the first rule followed in corporate cases, police stations, personal life, investments and wherever I had been. Yet this had not occurred to me.
Meanwhile, Sooraj had been sent to police custody for seven days by the local court. There were no charges framed but investigation required this. Sooraj had not panicked. His poverty and a life of struggle had been a great inner strength, as I would realize later. He would take any insult, pain or pressure with a smile that said to the system that he expected no better result.
A few days passed. I waited for Sooraj's release. I had to leave him to fend for himself and find someone to give his bail and get him released. Looking back, one may call it was my biggest error. But I don’t make such judgments now. It was meant to be that way.
The police had been silent but it was deceptive - they were quietly trying to figure out how to make maximum money from this situation. And I had been lulled into believing the calm. My mind wanted peace and it looked away from the last week's events, believing that now everything would be fine.
But how could it be? There were two murders that were to be explained to the police and courts, then there were unexplained dangers still lurking outside, and I had an additional responsibility I had promised to Tulsi.
Life had taken a blind turn. My strength was weak and hope strong, so I was avoiding to acknowledge the turn as one.
Finally, Sooraj was out on bail after eight days in jail. Another big payment had been made to the lawyer. After visiting a temple, and taking a few hours at home, he came to visit me.
I asked him how it had been. He smiled and said, “It was better inside (in custody). The other inmates thought I was a big goon - so there was respect everywhere. At home it’s alright but in my colony, everyone is having their own stories.”
I asked, “Who arranged your bail?” I had completely forgotten about this aspect but I knew a bond of Fifty thousand rupees had to be provided as bail security.
Sooraj said, “It was arranged by Tilak. For an annual charge of fifteen thousand, lots of slum pattas are available to be pledged.” While it was a common practice everywhere, it was new to me - another thirty percent business model as most poor accused could not have given a bail security otherwise.
Sooraj was worried that my statements were not yet taken by the police. They were supposed to come the moment I was in a condition to state. It was strange. The moment I realized why he was worried, I got worried too. I was the sole witness supporting his case.
Further, had I died, his economic and social status and the corrupt system didn't give him much hope. Put together, my elimination would have meant that even the sponsor's of the assault could have easily used their influence to close the case at him. Even now, with my statement not being taken and recorded for future evidence, this was a chance. The question was why and how had police slept on this step.
My life was his hope. And some things were not in order. As I thought and looked at him, we had not spoken a word. But both had arrived at that conclusion, and worried looks said it.
As I am writing this, a lot of water has flown. Some things never happened but anyways played out in our minds, and shaped many actions we took.
Hyenas are interesting animals. It is important to understand them in this part of the world. They are strong built, yet they feast on old, decaying creatures or dead ones. They are ferocious and merciless in a group and cowardly alone. They have a strong sense to figure out who is dying or weak, and there is no doubt about morality of what they do. But the natural hyenas multiply naturally using the mechanism created by God and served an important purpose for nature; while human hyenas multiplied like insects and only served themselves and their masters.
In corrupt and poor societies, they form an important part of the ecosystem. Without them, there would be far more voices of reason, a risk their wealthy masters and hence the system can ill afford.
They are usually found in and around hospitals, courts, police stations and jewelers or other such money lenders – the places where one is more likely to meet worried folks. Then gradually, they would convert the victim’s state to utter distress. From being outsider to such institutions, they had become an internal part in our times. Recent years had been good for their growth as all they needed was an environment of increasing corruption and disparity.
One such agent’s boys worked in the hospital as a guard staff and he was my father’s first friend there, and had decent weekly earnings from him. The problem that was as the word spread that my father could share more, the weekly amount was going up steadily to more folks.
And as the business of creating business works, the human hyenas also brought solution with them –they introduced my father to a money lender or the agent, who was a generous man. That evening, while I was sitting with Sooraj, my father walked in with Mr.Agarwal. My father introduced him as a big businessman and financier. Mr.Agarwal was very glad to meet me and said that young and educated folks are the future. He was vague about his work but mentioned he owned many buildings and has partnerships in many local engineering colleges. He asked me not to worry about anything and that my father was like his elder brother. Should anyone trouble me, he will be there.
Fortunately, Sooraj, being poor, knew all such folks and warned me to keep distance. Mr.Lal also immediately got angry when he heard the name, “Why are you meeting such people?”
I said, “I am not. God knows where he met my father and then even came to meet me.”
He said, “Agarwal is showing to your parents that he cares about their son. He has broken their defenses. All his friends are bankrupt.”
It was the first and last time I lost cool on my cousin and let myself utter my mind, “See Brother, you are a police officer and you just give orders on phone. When those people chased me, you couldn’t do much. When such people come in, you can’t do anything. When I was stuck in a remote hospital, you sat citing that procedure must be followed. When my witness account is not taken till now, you will cite some more technical issues. On phone, you will shout that such folks shouldn’t be around, but in person you will not have the courage to utter one word to them – you know their political reach. My parents have lost their senses, but they are here and now.”
I didn’t say more, the remaining was understood. But I knew my cousin was right and so was I. Now, my problem priorities changed. We had to do something urgently about my safety, the police statement and this money lender.
Given a few days, Agarwal would become the ray of hope to my parents and get everything they can give. So we had to move fast. Ironically, what I did not figure out in the equation was that as long as the Agarwal had a hope that he will get a pledge on my home, I was safe. If anything happened to me, my parents won’t have any more reason to pledge their home. He won’t let anyone mess with me till his stakes are served. He had taken care of it.
If I have had more time to think, I would figure it out well. But it didn’t matter, as things turned out.
My father approached a few public banks with his home property but they refused citing his old age. Over next two days, my father went and pledged the house to Mr.Agarwal, in return for a credit line of Rupees thirty lacs, at 36% per annum. He intended to use just a fraction of the amount and then quickly clear it off and take the home documents back. Mr.Agarwal intended to give just a fraction and never return the home.
Mr.Agarwal would have to ‘invest’ a few lacs to make sure it happens. He would get extra demand created for cash required by me, give it willingly, and recycle it back after sharing a decent percentage with demanding folks. That was his business model. He was very unhappy if he made less than 4 times on his money in a short span. Normally he used to get a lot of small folks – sub 1 lac ones. This time he had got a decent account – one month worth work done in two days!
Even shrewd businessman gets overtaken by greed. There is something called core competency. He was very competent in dealing with and trashing uneducated, unaware folks. My type of person was not his terrain of operation. Howsoever bad my situation was, my ability to think it over and solve it was far more than that of folks he was used to. The day would come soon.
Meanwhile, my other problem – that of the recording my statement to add to the incident report, was getting solved. Mr.Lal, my cousin, after hearing a mouthful, had again become active. He did not have a conversation with me. But he did get Mr.Thakur to act. He had openly spoken to the Superintendent Mr.Thakur, about this concern. Mr.Thakur hadn’t given it much importance as it was a routine matter to him. Earlier he had authorized an officer to take my statements.
Mr.Thakur was going to look into it quickly. Mr.Thakur called up to confirm if my statement had been taken and I denied. He was surprised; now he planned to himself come over and record it again. But I was more surprised on how lax their processes and checks were.
Who had given the statement on my behalf? - I had no clue. I no longer had any more doubt about my state. There were far too many moving pieces outside. First I had to think of safety. The one policeman attached to the hospital for general purpose was useless.
Sooraj came up with a suggestion- he thought that two of his friends – Tilak and Shafiq, who had shared his poverty and gas tragedy, will be a good option as trusted guards. The only problem was both these fellows had no attachment to anyone except to each other, and no permanency. They would stay as long as they pleased, then announce they are going and will go. Further, they would stay here in hospital if it clicked in their mind.
Sooraj said he can bring them here and let me talk to them. Even if they stay for a few days, it will be a relief. He cautioned me that they will disagree and blame each other for various things, but never work alone. He assured me that they did not cheat. But they were very abrasive.
I was not ruling out any option right now. I asked him to call them. Sooraj sent a message to Tilak. The two were going to be here by night. Sooraj used to do small works for them that required some reading and writing, like paying electricity bills, filling up railway ticket forms etc. So they felt obliged to come.
I was very tired. I used to sleep after every couple of hours. Before I dozed off again, I asked Sooraj if a contact can be made with Nagbaba- probably he can help guess what is going on. He would anyways be aware of Tulsi’s death. Sooraj was able to send someone to the remote village. Nagbaba got the message and he planned to visit us in next couple of days. He was coming out of forest after years.
When I woke up that evening, I wanted to go to the balcony to feel fresh air. A wheelchair was arranged. I had not shaven for many days now. The hair had grown with my worries, and I decided to clean it up.
As I sat out, there was a strange calm. I had accepted what had happened. Everything in life would depend upon how good my answers to these situations would be, and it was not a familiar terrain.