Next day, I reached home by seven in the morning. I had been away for four days. Sweety was at the gate and welcomed me. My mother answered the door bell. As I settled in the drawing room, my father came out and sat on the next sofa. He didn’t speak anything. My mother brought tea and breakfast.
She asked, “Have the surveyors gone back?” I nodded. Then my father asked, “Were they satisfied?”
I said, “Yes, they will assess the claim amount. We should get most of the damages.”
Then he asked, nervously, “By when will they pay?” I said, “A few months, at least six months.”
My mother asked, “Will everyone wait for so long?” I now saw why they were nervous.
I assured them, “Everyone knows the process. So everyone will have to manage.” Then I calmly got down to reading the newspaper.
Before going to my room, I asked my father, “Tulsi and Muniya are not visible. Have they gone somewhere?” He said, “Your mother must know.” It was quite a usual response from him in matters that he was not aware of.
Soon I asked my mother. She said, “They have gone back to the village. They were quite scared after hearing about the fire. I gave them the money for the bus ride.” I felt relieved. I thought that the village was the best place for them.
Then I went to my room. There were four documents on my table. One was four days old, sent by the Insurance Company, informing us about the claim settlement process. The two others were monthly statements.
The last one was a fax received yesterday. It was sent by Mr.Rao. He had confirmed that the handwritten proofs submitted by small farmers shall be considered as valid proofs during the assessment. Further, he had confirmed that claims not supported by any documents were not admissible. In effect, around fifty lacs worth of claims were inadmissible; rest were going to be considered. Out of this, I knew that thirty lacs were being claimed by those fraudsters.
It was a setback, but it was expected. Thought there was no legal liability upon us as they had failed to provide proofs requested. But I felt that we should pay the damages for the genuine ones. Instead of giving any profit, this project was going to clean my accounts.
By now, all the old partners had turned cold. They were my friends still in jobs in senior positions. I called up Mukesh to ask if he could do without any financial support from us. Mukesh said, “Yes Bhaiya, this operation can run on its own.” Mukesh had been enjoying this work.
Now, I would start looking for some stable well paying job for myself.
Around four pm, while I was resting in my room, my mother woke me up. She said, “Some farmer folks have come from Pipariya. They want to meet you. They are sitting in the verandah. I have bolted from inside.” She was quite suspicious. My father had gone out for a walk.
I called Tilak. He arrived within fifteen minutes with a few others. Then I came out to the verandah.
There were four of them. On seeing me, they greeted me with folded hands. And then one said, “Babuji, we are finished. Till we return the principal amount to Sahukars, no one is willing to lend to us. Please help us.” A couple of men even tried to touch my feet.
They were very poor folks. I knew that their claims were a part of the rejections, but they were genuine. I told them that we are trying to work it out, but it will take time.
Then another one said, “Folks say in Pipariya that now no one will pay. You all have vanished. We won’t leave unless we get our loss. You can recover it from the payments when Insurance Company pays to us.”
I told him, “I need some time to work things out. I am not going anywhere. But if you all disturb me and won’t let me work, then I won’t be able to do anything for you.”
He said, “We won’t disturb you. But we have no money to pay to a hotel. We can stay in your porch or garage. But we can’t go back empty handed.”
My mother argued with them, but it was of no use. Meanwhile, my father returned and started hearing them. He took a chair and they sat on the floor around him. He told me in front of them, “Bharat, these folks are very poor. Can you do something?”
I told him, “I need two to three days time.” He looked satisfied. He allowed them to stay in the garage for the night but told them that if more come from Pipariya, they will have to make sure they don’t disturb us. They all agreed.
By next noon, another ten had arrived. The others had been waiting in Pipariya for these four to return from Bhopal. But then they lost patience amongst rumors of all kinds- from these four having run away with all the money we gave them, or these four having been confined and tortured by us, or we having run away without trace, and many more.
But due to my father’s conversation last evening, no one disturbed us. The new ones decided to sleep on the Railway platform, during their stay. Some of them wanted to go to Insurance Company’s office to find out about their claim, but I stopped them.
I asked them not to disturb anyone there; else they may not process their claim. It worked. Had they gone there, they would have known about its rejection, and got agitated. My parents were also nervous though they believed that the claim was being processed.
I spoke to the Lawyer Verma ji about the possibility of the Insurance Company paying to these folks. He advised me to get an agreement printed with each one of these that their claim was fully settled, and that if ever Insurance company clears their claim, any such amount shall be payable to us. He also advised me to settle each one of them when all are ready for it, else they would individually haggle and argue.
That decided, I decided to put my twenty five lacs in the storage company account and clear all these guys’ losses.
With inspector’s amount and other recent expenses, I was going to be left with my last one lac. I would have to borrow some amount for lawyer’s fees and other expenses for next few months. With Tilak around, that was not a major worry.
A list was prepared of the genuine small farmers and traders, and I asked the ones at my home to call all others in the list. Next day, we gathered in our trading office room.
All those who were called had come. Sooraj explained the amount each one had filed as claim and how much we had assessed based on our receipt. Then he explained that if all agree, then each one has to sign an agreement. He explained the agreement.
We had started this process at three pm but even by nine, there was no end to queries and discussions. Someone thought he had lost one lac but was being paid only eighty thousand, while others were being paid more than their loss. We realized that they were all fighting about petty amounts, rather than solving the situation.
Finally, Tilak knew how to finish it off. He announced, “Folks, we will leave by ten pm. You could discuss the agreement and the amounts all night and come back tomorrow. Then we will meet again.”
Someone asked, “What time tomorrow?” He answered, “I can’t say right now. We will decide tomorrow. We might also have to return the amount we have arranged.” That did the trick. The agreements were quickly signed and cheques handed over. It was over by late night.
Next early morning, I went to the Bhopal Lake. It is a huge lake, and looks larger when its calm in the morning. I was also calm, reflecting. Once these payments were made, I had to start from scratch again. Still, there was the court case, and then completion of claims also to be seen off.
Last few months had completely turned my life upside down. I had been able to see through many veils, many friendships, and many facades. But I had also found some good friends on the road, and in the forests. I had also rediscovered my parents.
That morning, I got a call from Sohagpur. It was Nagbaba. He had heard about the fire accident and called to express his regrets. I told him, “Baba, nothing to worry. This will also pass but now I am free to do better work.” Then I asked, “How is Muniya and Tulsi?”
He was a bit surprised, “Bhaiya, they were in your house. How will I know?” Then I told him that they had left for the village a few days back.
Apparently they had not reached there, or changed their plans. Both of us were worried. I told him I will find out where they went.
While having lunch, I told my mother about Tulsi’s disappearance. She frowned and said, “I knew she was not of a good character.”
I was surprised to hear that. It appeared that my mother had again made some remarks that sent her off. Next day I had to search for her.
In the morning, Tilak and I went to the shanties where we had found Tulsi. His friend was there. He had seen Tulsi a few days back but she did not stay there for long. She had come to meet her tribal friends and then left.
We waited for the lunch hour. The laborers came to their huts. We went to the few tribal ones. They had already known us from last time. I asked about Tulsi.
One ageing man replied, “Babuji, six days earlier, she had come here in the evening very depressed. There is no more new work here, and she wanted to borrow some money and go to another place we could suggest. I told her to go to Nagpur. I have heard there is more construction work there and they pay more. We collected money and gave her three hundred rupees. Then I took them to the railway station and saw them off in a train going to Nagpur.” There was no more information. She did not have a cell and had not contacted anyone.
We both came back home but did not have lunch. My parents thought there was something worrying me about Insurance claim or the case. I confronted them with what I knew about Tulsi.
My mother erupted, “She was a bad omen. First her husband died. And the moment you entered her village, your fate changed. You had an accident. Then she came here and brought this fire. Besides that, you are never around. We have to tolerate all questions about her, from our friends and neighbors. As it is we are having financial problems. Feeding two more persons and taking up someone’s school expense is beyond us now”
I had a burst of anger in my head. I just said, “I wished you both were less dark inside. There is no point arguing with you.”
Tilak took me inside my room, and said, “Bhaiya, they are your parents. Lord Ram gladly accepted even the banishment ordered by his father. You have to let go. When times are better, they will realize their mistake.”
Then he went out and said similar things to my parents to calm them down. He stayed in our house for the night, made dinner for all and forced me to eat something.
Next morning, I planned to leave the home, first for Mumbai, and then think over the options.
Around nine am, five men came to our house. Tilak was in the verandah. He made them sit there. Then he came inside, latched the main door, and called Shafiq.
My parents were in the drawing room. Tilak informed them that a few persons had come, and that I know them well. He didn’t want to raise an alarm. Then he came to my room and told me, “Bhaiya, those four who had threatened Prakash have come with another person. You don’t meet them till Shafiq is here.”
I told him, “Lets meet and see them off once and for all.” Meanwhile, my mother in curiosity opened the latch and went to the verandah. Three of them immediately barged inside and came to drawing room, while two waited outside.
They told my parents, “We have to meet Bharat Bhaiya.” My father protested, “This is no way to meet anyone. Why don’t you wait outside?” They didn’t pay any heed to it.
Hearing the commotion, I and Tilak came out. One of them, the main trouble creator at Pipariya immediately said, “Why were you holed up inside? There was no need for us to barge in.”
I asked, “What is your purpose?” He said, “Everyone else has been given payments but our thirty lacs is pending. We were not even informed.”
I told him, “You were never issued any receipts by us. Then you never gave any proof of stock with you, not even transport receipts. Besides, it’s not possible that an individual has kept so much stock with us without any trace of source. It is not possible for us to process your claim.”
That brought out the threat. He said, “If you don’t pay us, none of you will be able to live in this city. We will not spare you; if you run, then your parents will be here. So don’t try to run. We will give you a week’s time.”
Tilak had kept a cool head. But my father reacted out of fear and old age, “Get out of here.” And he pushed him. The man and his two accomplices swung into action. They pushed my father and mother very hard to make them fall on the floor. Tilak and I rushed towards them. But they were three against one and a quarter. I was a quarter –being a city academic kid, I was anyways half in strength to them. Then my hand was still very weak. Both of us got a quick thrashing. My parents kept shouting for help and received a few slaps. Before leaving, one of them took out a knife and made a deep cut in Tilak’s chest. He was an expert in knives. He made a cut to bring out a lot of blood without being fatal.
Then one brought out a country made pistol, fired one in air, and told us, “Next time there won’t be so much violence. Remember one week.” Then they fled. All this while, Sweety was tied outside and kept barking. Probably it was good for her as she was not a violent dog. They would have shot her had she been inside.
Shafiq arrived a few minutes later. Tilak was taken to a hospital where he received some stitches. I had some bruises and swelling everywhere. My father’s eyeglasses were broken and both parents had swelling in face.
This incident filled my parents with fear. With the knife use and one fire, they had left no doubt about their intentions. Any doubt that I had about their being a genuine farmer or trader also were cleared.
We called up the police station and they sent two constables for assessing the situation. But we didn’t know the assailants; only knew their faces. The names and addresses in their letters were fake. Even the lawyer who had sent their letter pretended to know only their fake names and addresses. But I noted his name and address for future.
The Police Inspector called my father with the advice to calm down and not file a written report. He said, “Sir, till now they have not committed a serious crime. Even if we find them and detain them, they will be out on bail in three or four days. Then they will be even more furious. It is best that you calmly decide before filing a written report.” He sounded sane to my father, so they decided to keep quiet.
I called up Raju Mama and told him about this incident. Raju Mama advised, “Bhaiya, both Dau and Sardars have many such loose elements, who roam around to make money. They are dangerous. You all will need to be careful.”
Tilak, Shafiq and their friends stayed at home that night. Mr.Lal advised me and my parents to leave town for a few days. Police, he believed, might be able to trace them in that time.
I informed Lawyer Verma ji. He asked me to be come back before the next date on April 30th.
It was four weeks away. My parents decided to stay with a relative who lived in Air Force Station, in Agra. They felt safe there.
Tilak’s friends escorted us till Agra. After spending a day there, I left the parents with the relative. Then I went to Mathura and took the train to Mumbai. I had to go somewhere, and Mumbai had been calling since very long.