December 7th, 2008. Almost nine weeks after the accident, I was ready to be discharged from the hospital. It had been four weeks since the external fixators were put on my arm but there had been no progress. I wanted to change the doctor and take another advice next day itself.
We prepared to leave the hospital by 11 am. We had informed no one - friends, relatives or office folks; we wanted to quietly slip away.
My father had an old Maruti 800, a few remaining on roads. My car was damaged in the accident and was now a part of Police junkyard. Sooraj and Tilak brought their motorbikes. They rode in front and behind the car, while I sat next to my father who was driving. My mother sat behind. It was a strange feeling and sight.
Once an astrologer, like many that visited us all our lives on my mother’s insistence, had told her that one day I would ride a car with a motorcade leading it and one following it, just like the President’s caravan. She had paid him off heavily. I smiled- the prophecy had come true: Two fragile oldies trying to act like bodyguards, in the earliest generation car and the two riders.
By the time we reached home, I was tired, and went off to sleep for long. It meant I could avoid all the neighbors who came visiting the same afternoon.
Sweety, my Labrador, was uncontrollable in her happiness. In one of my visits to the home, while I was working in US, I had brought her home to be a companion to the ageing parents. Within a few days, she had learnt to fetch my things – newspapers, shoes, cricket ball. But after that my visits had been shorter. Now she couldn’t figure out what I needed and quickly brought whatever rags tags she had in her dog home, and piled it next to me while I slept.
I had planned to do go to a new doctor, and meet the lawyer Verma ji as I had not met him before.
Early next morning, I went with Tilak and my father, to another orthopedic, known for his simplicity, knowledge and easy nature. He did not have a hospital but consulted only, and operated by renting operation theaters when required. He told me, “You have been late in coming. This fixator was ill advised. It’s doing nothing but harming the alignment and has atrophied the lower muscles.”
I asked him, “Do you mean the doctor intentionally misguided to make money?”
Now he tried to be technically correct, “No one can say that. Each doctor has her own way of looking at cases. But I wouldn’t have advised you the last surgery based on the X-rays then.”
I knew nothing could be done about it. Four weeks of room charges, drips and miscellaneous medicines and operating charges were probably fleeced, probably not. There was no way of telling that.
“What should we do now?” I asked.
“We will remove the fixators when you are ready for a ten minutes operation. Instead a plaster shall be put for four weeks.” The doctor concluded which I agreed to. The operation was planned two days later.
That decision brought some sense of relief as I was very suspicious of the fixators. From there, we went to the nearest open air tea stall, that also served some samosas. After a long while, I was out to a tea stall. A long time of stress had been in between. Sipping a tea, sitting under a tree, gave its own sense of freedom.
Then we proceeded to meet the lawyer Verma ji.
Verma ji used to leave for the courts post noon and had some time for us. As we settled, he straight away came to the point, “Police hasn’t filed the charge sheet report. I have been tracking. Till then we can’t fix our approach.”
“What do you think will happen in this case?” my father asked, betraying his weakness and wanting an assurance.
Now he started his analysis, “The police have to prove their case against the person they charge. Assuming the police ignores the evidence of the assailants and their motive, and are trying to frame Sooraj, they still have to find some evidence and motive to weaken your statement. That way, it’s a weak case to prove.”
I asked, “What if Nagbaba is lured or threatened and comes up with some reason why Tulsi and the other dead were with us?”
Verma ji replied, ‘We will ask for evidence and cross examines any such witness stories. See law is based on logic, and if followed strictly, it is not so easy to prove anything based on a lie. A good lawyer will know a false story when it starts and keep asking for more of it, till it falls. That is why all false people use delay and confusion as a tactic, they avoid answering rather than telling a false story.”
Now my mind was waking up, “Verma ji, there were also a few tribals who carried us to the road. Tulsi was alive then. Those tribals who live near to the spot knew that we were trying to save Tulsi and what had happened. Police may ignore their statements in its investigation.”
Verma ji said, “If police report ignores it, let us keep our mouth shut. They are weak folks who will easily get pressurized and then we will have to prepare harder to prove their accounts wrong. I always assume everyone is against us. If they are not, it’s good for us.”
My father asked, “Should I talk to the Thana inspector or Mr.Thakur? They might be waiting for some money.”
Verma ji, and as I came to know him more, was an enigma when it came to paying to Police. He retorted, “Definitely they would want money. Since it is a murder case, the rate will be not less than ten lacs. But all this does not matter in the court. If they make a charge-sheet based on falsehood, they still have to prove it. Your payment may allow a different version of charge sheet but the judge will see through that. If he is an honest person of law, he will send it back, or if the judge belongs to the other half, you should rather keep the money for him. That is why I advise to fight on facts, for now.”
We got ready to leave after signing documents authorizing Verma ji in this case.
By then, I had one thing clear in my mind- that if the tribals who assisted us after the accident and stated the truth they saw, then no manipulations would affect our case. If they don’t, then we leave a lot to arguments and to money and power, which we didn’t have. It would also lead to a lot of delays. So I needed to keep witnesses ready, irrespective of what Verma ji thought.
I had not shared Tilak’s research on Pipariya with my father or Sooraj. If they imagined that any of those names might be behind this incident, they would surely lose the battle in their heart.
Now, I needed assurance that Nagbaba and tribals were beyond any influence. It was a tough ask since they seemed very poor, yet my experience that night gave me great hope. One of their folks had died protecting us. That we had tried hard to save him was also known to them. I had more faith in them now than the police and courts. I decided to visit Nagbaba’s village once more.
By the time we reached home, it was dark. I settled in my bed after dinner.
Next morning, I woke up before daybreak, out of some discomfort in my hand. It required a change in position. I sat up and I looked around the room, searching for a good book to read. It felt as if I had gone back many years.
This was my room since we had moved in when I was fifteen. We had just vacated the small government provided house in the heart of the city and moved to this house in the outskirts then. My father had bought a small plot and then got a three bedroom house constructed upon it. As the area around got more populated, we got half of the garden converted to rooms and then built another floor, all given out on rentals. Since last many years, these rooms had been occupied by students, all boys, coming from smaller towns and studying in nearby colleges.
Earlier my parents used to be very tight on rationing water, timings and noise from these student rooms. But now they had become very nice to the boys. They felt safe inside the house with these students living around.
The two other rooms were occupied by my parents and one room was kept for guests, which was now occupied by Sooraj or Tilak or Shafiq.
My dog, Sweetie, also had her fortunes changed. Though Sweetie was a large Labrador with a loud bark, she was far too gentle and friendly. Earlier she was mostly roaming out in the garden and had a shelter and bed in the car garage. She was now given a place in the verandah during daytime and slept in the drawing room at night. Again it was the oldies’ sense of safety.
Other than that, things had not changed much in the house. Even the curtains seemed as old as the house.
My room had also remained unchanged for years. I had been a visitor once or twice a year, for last fifteen years, and that too my visits had been very short. But my old books, my school study table and cupboard had remained as they were.
Once I had moved in again, which was about a month before my accident, my parents had added a few accessories in my room. My father had put a telephone cord extension, and many such electrical fittings that came to his mind. My mother had put a new carpet and sofa covers, as she deemed fit. I think it was also because after living in US for many years, I had cribbed to them that this house won’t make me stay for long. After last three months in hospital, I was able to like this place more than ever before.
By next morning, a small used Air conditioner was installed. The necessary phone and internet connections were ordered. Finally, I needed a small almirah for a wardrobe. I didn’t have much of a collection of clothes and whatever was there was mostly gifted by Tara. But they had no use for now as I could wear only loose and easily wearable clothes till the fixators and then the plaster was removed.
Before noon, I was prepared to go the new hospital. If things went well, I would be out with a light plaster by evening.
Things did go well but not as expected. The doctors removed the external fixators and the gory looking wires around the lower arm, and a plaster was put below the elbow. But the arm felt as if it had no weight, and I still had to move it with the other hand. Long atrophy had set in and the arm was mostly bent at right angle. Every day for next few months, I had to make it move by a degree more than previous day. I could hold a pen and small things now. Within two weeks, it became fairly comfortable though the plaster was extended for another four weeks. By the third week of December, I was itching to get back to the road.
I quickly needed to put a few things in place, before leaving for Nagbaba’s village. These included a long due bank visit, finding a new car for moving around, checking how Aditya had been doing at work and settling affairs with Mr.Agarwal. He had been calling my parents often.
I wanted to start contributing again so that more earnings could help my finances.
First I went to the bank branch. Now that I could move my finger enough to sign, I broke my deposits to keep four to five lacs in cash, in anticipation of the meeting with Mr.Agarwal.
Then I checked the company accounts to see if a larger car or SUV could be financed. The old small car was completely destroyed. The loan was approved by the bank and a new Safari was chosen. It was to be delivered in three days. I had remembered the words of the first tribal we had met. I could not take more risks now. There was no choice but to think like the way the country thought.
In the evening, I called Aditya and his retail trading team to my home. They had outlined a new grand vision. When folks gathered, I realized there were two groups now. One a more qualified new group and the second one was the old employees group who had been less skilled and resistant to changes but took pride in their role here.
It was an open discussion. In last four months, we had burnt cash and were now sitting with only six months cash; just enough to complete the new projects and show us returns.
One middle aged man said, “Bhaiya, I do not understand their plans but all I know is we are making losses now.” I asked him what can be reason. He just said that no one cares about small things now; beyond that he couldn’t find reasons. As we went over the projects, I realized that new projects had been slow to completion and had been initiated with low regard to existing knowledge. There was a feeling that once the Pipariya storages send goods at reduced cost; we would be well off due to high margins.
Since I was now the majority owner in the business, and other partners had gone cold after my accident, this cash burn was hurting me. We agreed to a three months plan to get back to profits. I told them that more delay would lead to a cut in the salaries to senior folks. This cost was the bulk of the monthly budget.
This meeting had happened three months late; I had been too preoccupied to take notice earlier. The problem was that no one was taking the losses as personal.