While things were good at home, I spent those few days going over what had been done by the new team Aditya had hired. It was not encouraging. They again wanted more funding to become profitable. They had wanted to invest more in advertising now, and had stretched the timeline for software projects, adding enhanced analytical capabilities.
All of it was not making sense to me as I thought that the basic elements regarding people, product and customers had been lost while focusing on processes. I also realized that Aditya was not keen to keep our own packaged and branded products. The reason was that it attracted food and product inspectors and it was a hassle bribing and entertaining them. So he had started dealing with big brands and almost working on thin margins but high credit.
Something had to be done. Finally I weighed all advice and went with what Prakash had once suggested – link all the top salaries to income. I gave them a month before the withdrawal from company’s cash was going to stop. It was not to be used for funding loss making projects or loss making roles. I could see that some of the folks were ready to leave us and had prepared for it.
Friday, January 11th, 2008. Prakash called on my cell in the afternoon. He seemed agitated and said, “Bhaiya, you may have to come here and sort this out. Dau Patel’s brother visited our premises yesterday and spoke to Ravi. They said they have a need to use a quarter of our storages. I told Ravi not to agree without your permission but according to Ravi, he didn’t come to ask but to tell.”
I asked, “Prakash, check if they will pay? Even if they pay just to cover our cost, don’t haggle. We can talk to them in better times. If they don’t pay anything, then that’s stealing forcefully.”
It was a tricky situation. I discussed it with Tilak. By doing so, they were showing to everyone that nothing moved without their consent. It did not matter that our premises were a minute walk from the police station or the local tehsil court. Further, they were going to spoil the financials of the project. I was our headache to explain the unrecovered revenue to the banks.
Tilak said, “Bhaiya, they need to be spoken to. If they do not see us as a threat, they may not spoil the project. But they will still want something in return.”
By now I understood that all these chiefs and their political counterparts did not have egos, unlike the bureaucrats. They had their territories and cash sources to defend. I had to figure out a solution that made economic sense.
While the problem was still being understood, I called up my cousin, Mr.Lal. Despite his last assertion to remain out of our affairs, he could not ignore the relations. He connected to Pipariya Thana in-charge and then advised me, “Don’t get into any dealing with them – it will be difficult to be seen as neutral after that. You will antagonize others like Sardars. Sardars are more powerful, devastatingly cunning, and currently connected to state power too.”
I asked him, “What should we do? I can’t bank on the administration if I say an outright no to Dau.”
He looked frustrated, and asked, “Why did you choose Pipariya? It is the worst place to do any work.”
I smiled and said, “Because the government reports suggested this place for our project. Also, the farm production volume makes it best suitable for such a project.” Then I told him of conditions in Nasik and Aligarh.
He smiled back, “Welcome to the real world. But don’t worry too much. Just remember that a little give and take works. Do not meet such folks without protection. They also live every minute in fear.”
He then continued, “I am advising you as a brother. Check if someone local wants to takeover this project. You may be better off in other countries.”
I reminded him, “But that case has to be finished.”
“Yes.” he said, “Monitor it tightly till it is over in the lower court. Then leave it to a good lawyer and take your parents and go.” I thanked him for his care.
We decided to buy a few days before meeting Dau Patels. But I was now willing to make concessions – I didn’t want any trouble from them.
I called up Prakash and told him, “Please tell Dau’s brother that we will meet him. I will be there after Sunday. But we must admit we had been bad at incorporating such things in our plan.” Prakash had no answers. His confidence was at stake, just like mine.
Now, I planned to consult Nagbaba on how to meet Dau. Tilak asked, “Why should we bring Nagbaba in picture?”
I told him, “What if Dau had a hand in assault on me? If that was true, this event may just be a trap to finish the story. In such a situation, I need someone more knowledgeable about these folks. Last time, he was instructing me on how to deal with such snakes.”
I called up Raju Mama and asked him to go to Nagbaba’s village on his bike next morning. And tell him we were going to come on Monday. We needed to meet Dau Patel and hence sought his advice.
Then I said to Tilak, “I don’t think the books give a clue on how to handle such situations. I feel it is an unequal battle. There is no police, no court and no law to restrain them against us. All I know is that they won’t spend any energy if they didn’t have some goal in mind. They won’t risk killing my mother or father or any employee – unless they find a great reason. It is all business and there are costs and benefits and risks but no rules.”
I called up Verma ji and updated him. But he had not much experience in such matters outside law. He advised me to be careful.
It was 4 pm by the time we finished our discussion. A few minutes back, Sooraj and Shafiq had joined us and listened. They were here to leave me to the station but my Mumbai trip was cancelled.
Once Sooraj was aware of the issue, he asked, “Bhaiya, can’t we do as Raju Mama suggested; give him the charge? He will be able to handle such issue better.”
I asked back, “If Dau drops a hint to Raju Mama that he would get a party ticket next time in MLA elections, Raju Mama will forget all his commitments or project interest. Do you agree it is that easy?”
Sooraj said, “Yes. We can’t trust him with any responsibility.”
Then I said, “Prakash is good. He does not know how to deal with Dau, and neither me or you. But he is the best as long as he keeps his focus only on the project. Ravi is the problem –he is too weak emotionally.”
Then Sooraj asked, “Then will they not target Prakash too?” He meant an assault like the previous one on us.
I told all of them, “Perhaps it is okay to share now with you all. I and Prakash had discussed long back, immediately after the first assault. First, we made sure he looks and acts nothing more than an employee handling only one function while all approvals and decisions come from me. I had told him to leave his rigidity behind and come across as a flexible person to folks like Dau. And showcase me to be the rigid one. That made him a low value target not worth an effort. Then he made good contacts with local administration – it involved some gifts and ego massaging but he did it. Prakash has worked accordingly. Prakash should be safe as long as he downplays his role.”
Then we disbursed. I went to my room and for the first time in years, I sat down to pray, ‘Please God, don’t bring more trouble from anyone.’
I was very depressed that evening. I had made up my mind to wind up and leave forever once the case got over. My parents understood there was some tension but we all kept quiet.
Saturday morning, I woke up at 11. I must have slept for more than 12 hours. When I tried to think after opening my eyes, everything was hazy. It took a while to look around and understand that this was my room. It took a few more minutes to figure out how I was here.
I walked out of my room to the dining table for a cup of tea. But I was very lost. As my mother came out of the kitchen to offer a cup, she asked, “What happened yesterday? You were deep in thought.”
I thought she was trying to be intrusive. I was furious and threw the china cup away, breaking it into pieces. I shouted at her, “Why don’t you mind your own business? Anyways you two oldies haven’t left any peace of mind with me.”
She seemed scared but did not retreat, which made me more upset. I was angry and ashamed, not clear which feeling was dominant at any moment.
I took another cup of tea and carried it to my room and closed the door and latched it hard.
Soon my parents were knocking at the door. I opened the door but my father asked me to apologize. I asked, “Why do you want me to apologize?”
He also lost his temper, “We were happy before you came here. And now you create such scenes inside the house. I am not going to tolerate this if you ill-treat your mother.”
I still did not understand what he wanted. I told them I needed some rest and just slammed the door.
I took a sleeping tablet and went off to sleep. When I woke up, it was almost dark in the evening. The storm had passed. I was normal again but remembered what had happened in the morning.
I went to my parents – both of them had not overcome what had happened. They turned their face away for a few moments but couldn’t keep it that way for long. I told them I was sorry for the morning.
I said, “I don’t know why I had been upset when I woke up.” They did not ask anything. But my father said, “If there are any problems, they can be overcome with a calm mind.”
I nodded, and we settled back to our normal evening topics. My mother was most relieved and brought tea for all including the tenants. The storm had passed in a day, without much damage.
I did not think of a doctor then. It was a stress triggered attack of PTSD (post trauma stress disorder).
After a couple of days, I planned to meet Mr.Thakur. On Thursday morning as I prepared to leave, I informed the lawyer Verma ji. He said, “Don’t take Sooraj to any police station. In case they have prepared the charges, let them bring it to the court.” He said the last one loudly.
I asked him, “Should I ask Mr.Thakur about the charge sheet?”
He said, “Yes. You can. I don’t see any harm in it.”
Tilak explained to Sooraj, “In case they send summon to your home, your family should tell the police that you were outside the town and that they were not aware of your location. Meanwhile, the lawyer will take over.”
Sooraj said, “Bhaiya, my wife will panic, and immediately call me.”
Tilak said, “Don’t worry, talk to the police guys and tell them you will be back in a day or so.”
Verma ji’s call was an indication that we were now approaching the climax. That’s how I interpreted it – till then I had not seen court cases. But for him, it was the beginning only.
I called up Mr.Thakur’s office. The assistant gave an appointment for 2 pm. In all government offices, Tuesdays were meant for public grievances hearing. Mr.Thakur had asked us to come during public meeting hours. We had to leave immediately.
We reached his office before the scheduled time. I left Sooraj and Shafiq at a nearby tea stall, while Tilak accompanied me.
There were around fifty others seated in a large room, with Mr.Thakur seated on a small dais. His assistant and reader stood on either side taking notes.
While we watched, Tilak whispered, “Bhaiya, Mr.Thakur also studied in IIT, he must have a soft corner for you.”
I said, “May not have – he is a police officer and can’t judge me by my academics. And that day when he came to hospital, he seemed quite stern.”
One by one, in the order of seating, they asked each person about his grievances. Some had complaints about their police station not writing their FIR. Many complained about partiality in probes or harassment by an inspector. One old lady was crying as her son and daughter-in-law had thrown her out of the house. Another family had been forcefully evicted from their slum by some strongmen, and they were unsure of what to do. They didn’t want to complain, so demanded another place to live.
I had chosen a corner seat a few rows back. When my turn came, before I could say anything, he signaled to me to wait till the end. I nodded. He wanted to give more time to me; after all I was still his IIT alumni.
Once everyone had left, we followed him to his room. I asked Sooraj to wait outside. He ordered his assistant to arrange tea and some biscuits.
He shook my left hand, and asked how my hand was. We settled down. He said, “I just returned from a tour of a tehsil, some VIP movement was there. That’s our main job now days.”
I replied, “Any day million times better than my current work.”
He continued, “You can’t say that. We didn’t study so much for this shit. Last two years I have been the Superintendent here and most of my time was spent saluting VIPs and filling reports.”
“But you must thank your stars – you are lucky to be alive after that event.” He said.
I replied, “Yes very lucky; not only the gunshots but also the car accident didn’t do a big damage.”
He asked, “What is happening in your case?”
I said, “Sir, waiting for police to file charge sheet to the court. I came here to request you to see if it can be expedited. It has been more than six months.”
I was hesitatingly polite as asking for a favor was not my strong point. Seeking favors was a habit that was a must in an Indian upbringing but I somehow missed learning it despite my middle class parentage.
He smiled, “Folks normally think delays will help them, while you are asking for it faster.”
Then both of us had a chat about our days after graduation. In the end he asked, “What have you achieved by coming to this rotting swamp? If at all you wanted to do some work here, you should have tried for civil services and come here like me, with power and prestige.”
I had my views, and said “See, all of us are inhabitants of this swamp. The only difference between you and me is that I am naked, while you have a protective covering. But trust me; elements in this swamp try each moment to get through your covering, looking for a tiny hole. You are a brave person but the odds are against you with too many corrupt politicians and officials. There is no other option for the good inhabitants of the swamp but to clean it.”
It was a bit harsh statement to make, but he took it without showing any ego. It was not far from the truth and the stress of his job was well known.
He asked, “What next – will you continue your work here or leave for greener pastures?”
Those days such questions used to ring an alarm – which side this person was. But I gave an honest answer, “I can’t leave till the case gets decided. I don’t want to stay thereafter.”
I thought I gave him enough hint, if it was meant for someone, to let me go on my way, defeated. Then I continued, “That’s why I came here – am anxious to know when will police file the charge sheet.”
Mr.Thakur said sternly, “See I cannot compromise on any official information. I empathize with you; else if someone else had dared to ask me that, I would have thrown him out.”
I was polite and requested, “I apologize if I asked something wrong – my lawyer advised me to get the status of the case. Interfering in your duty was not my intent.”
He mellowed down, “I know you are a nice person. But I cannot help you in this case. I can ask the concerned Police Inspector to help in your queries.”
Then he called someone on cell. Mr.Thakur said, “Dixit, remember that case in which a tribal was shot in your area. I am sending Bharat to you. Please do whatever you can.”
I also had one query, “Was there any pressure on you in this case?” He answered, “No. May be your actions are quite confusing to anyone interested.”
I smiled, “Insecure minds read too much into everything. I am just trying to untangle myself and let bygones be bygones.”
He nodded, “Yes I know.” Then he said, “You keep a good lawyer. Our force is often blamed for shoddy investigation. If we submit the charge sheet without anyone accused, then many times the judges send it back with more queries.”
I thanked Mr.Thakur and came out. We went to pick up Sooraj and Shafiq. There I narrated what happened in the meeting.
Tilak was furious. He said, “Bhaiya, had he wanted to help, he would have without directing you to Dixit. They break laws everyday for powerful folks. They know each and every detail of all wrong doings yet do nothing about it.”
I told him, “No point being sour – it will only spoil our mood. Let us go to Dixit.”
We drove for ten kilometers to reach the Police station where Dixit was posted. There was a huge collection of bikes and people in front of the station – almost thirty of them. A few policemen were standing on either side of the police station and stopping any passing bike. We parked away and sat inside the premises –waiting for this commotion to end. Mr.Dixit was surrounded by a few folks and looked busy.
I asked a waiting bike rider sitting nearby, “What is going on?”
He said, “Sahab, this morning there was a theft in a nearby village. The thieves had come on two bikes. Now they are stopping and checking everyone.”
I was amused, “Which thief will openly roam on the same bike on the main road in front of the Police station?” Tilak answered, “Bhaiya, they will ask for all kind of papers – from license to bike documents and then if someone produces everything, then they will ask for some other document. Most people in villages don’t have a license. They are just collecting money – who cares about the theft.”
I asked the villager, “How much was stolen?” He replied, “No idea, Sir; will not be more than twenty or thirty thousand?”
I smiled and said to Tilak, “Even if these guys get a hundred rupees from each bike, in a few days, their collection would surpass the theft. They must be thanking the thieves.”
We waited there for almost an hour. Finally Dixit was free from his collection work. He took us to his room, and had some questions on my hand and the accident. Then, he asked, “What can I do for you?”
I said, “Dixit ji, we were just worried when the charge-sheet will be filed in the court.” I continued deliberately, “I want to leave and move on in life.”
Dixit smiled and said, “I met your father the day after your accident. It is the right choice you have made. This place is full of criminals. You saw the ruckus due to the theft in a village. If I don’t stop these bikes, then the press will say we didn’t do anything. It is a dog’s work.”
Contrary to what I thought, I nodded in agreement. I again asked, “Mr.Dixit, can you help us in any way in our case?”
He replied, again with a big smile, “I am wondering why Superintendent Sahab didn’t help you himself. Though he is not known to help anyone, but at least for you he should have. What is the use of such principles?”
I said, “What can I say on this topic?”
Then Dixit said, “I understand your situation. Senior officers have a lot of work these days; they are forced to leave a lot of unimportant work to others. Nowadays even my transfer and promotion is controlled by the minister himself.”
‘What a chameleon’, I said to myself. The fact that Dixit had collected obscene money from my father to file the FIR was not lost on me.
Dixit continued, “I have already submitted my report. You are late by a week or so. I can’t do more for you, but you meet the record keeper. He will help you.”
Then he quipped, “I know you are going to meet Dau soon. Convey my regards to him.”
We thanked him, and went to the Record keeper. He asked us to wait outside the Police station under a tree. In ten minutes he appeared. Tilak explained what we were looking for. He demanded five hundred rupees for the information. Tilak slipped a note in his hand. He went inside and came back after ten minutes. All he said was that the case diary was in the court.
I was a novice but Tilak knew a lot more in such matters. He told me, “Bhaiya, this Dixit must be having two or three versions. He will file one based on how things go.’
Anything was possible. I again went to Mr.Dixit’s room and asked if he could help more. He smiled and said, “I won’t do anything right now. Once you return from Pipariya, then I will meet you.’ It appeared that he was yet to decide a price.
On our drive ahead, I wondered, ‘How did Dixit know that we were meeting Dau? Either he tapped my phone, or Dau called him up. But how does Dau know that we were meeting Dixit? That happened at a short notice.’
I tried many different reasons but the dots could not be connected.