All the Chapters of the Book are now published here.

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For Chapters 2 to 6, and 28, please see the August, 2016 section below. Rest of the Chapters are in May, 2020 section below.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Chapter 37. God's hand

We reached home early morning. My mother had ordered poha jalebi from a nearby shop, in anticipation of our coming. Like many typical other women in our colony, she also held a view that bought food items were of a better class than homemade ones. 
My father was resting in his room. Sweety acknowledged her happiness with her tail, but did not leave his bedside. Without any understanding of medical reports, she had figured out that something was wrong, and now days never left his side.
He asked, “How was your journey?” I replied, “Pleasant. It is just four hours from here.” 
Then we had the Poha jalebi. It was an extreme sweet mixed with a salted dish, but this combo went well. I joked with Tilak, “Such experiments only work in Bhopal.”  But best part of the morning was mother’s tea. It had been many weeks now.
After breakfast, Tilak and Shafiq left. My mother narrated the medical events in utmost detail, including how long she had to wait for a particular doctor and how he looked like and behaved. She skipped the medical reports. Then she said, “The total cost in Delhi will come to four lacs plus our expenses. He has insurance cover for one lac, and bank balance of two lacs. You will need to arrange the remaining.”
Though in other room, my father’s ears had been trying to catch what she said. He shouted at her from there itself, “Why are you troubling him? I will arrange the amount.”
She didn’t say anything but got upset. I calmed both of them down. I signaled to her that I have the amount. Then I told my father, “I have arranged three lacs. It will be adjusted against my due salary at the trust I work with. You don’t spend your money. But don’t tell the doctors or the hospital that we have any money. Let me only speak to them about it.”
 That afternoon, I made a series of calls, starting with the Delhi doctor. He met out patients and took calls during the noon time. He was a renowned nephrologist and had many press clippings against his name for performing complex surgeries.  He had a sharp memory and knew the patients’ by name and their case details.
I said, “Doctor sahib, we are planning to come and admit him on January 2nd.  But till now, we have just been able to arrange two lacs, apart from the one lac insurance.”
He said, “But I had given the estimate to your father. It won’t come to less than four lacs. Also, I doubt if insurance company will clear the claim so easily. You arrange for that also.”
I said, “I have given you the honest scenario. Please see what can be done or refer us to a lower quality hospital. I will take that chance rather than biding for more time for the amount.”
Without wasting a moment, he said, “Okay, you admit him here. I will complete my procedure within three lacs. But if any other complication arises, it may cost more. I can’t tell you about that cost without opening up the patient.”
 I said, “Thank you doctor. If it goes beyond our means, all we can do is to leave the patient there at your mercy. We can’t print money.”
I wanted to set some hard expectations about budget. It was unfortunate that I had to deal with a well qualified doctor like this. There were cases of many rural families selling all their lands to get old and ill ones treated. Most of such cases went to cardiologists and gastroenterologists. The advancement of medical science, coupled with more illnesses, and the fight for longer life by even the poorest meant that assets preserved for generations were getting sold and transferred to hospital owners. Doctors were just executing agents for folks like Mr.Agarwal.
Then I called up the Insurance agent. He had been with us since decades. He heard the requirement and said, “I suggest you pay the amount there and come back and file a claim.  This way you will be able to get most of the one lac. If you process through the TPA, you will get only up to 60 percent at that hospital, and your whole limit will get exhausted.”
I didn’t know the nuances of the policy, but it looked unfair. I told him so. He said, “I know but TPAs are trained to find faults with claim and reject or reduce it. They will also delay the disbursement. If you give the bills to me, I will personally follow up.”
I said, “How long will it take for the claim to come? I will have to borrow money so I need to know.”
He said, “It depends on the Insurance Company. Sometimes, they process it in two weeks but if they have queries, then it may take long.”
I asked again, “How long in worst case scenario? And how much will be given?”
He was non committal. Then I propositioned to him, “You have known my father for decades. Let me take this loan from you. When the claim comes, you can take it back along with interest.”
He started looking for excuses but I didn’t want to trouble him more, so thanked him and hung up.  Whatever reimbursement we could manage upfront at the hospital seemed a better choice than the uncertain full reimbursement. I wondered that with such practices, insurance no doubt remained an attractive business in India, much more than doing some groundbreaking research or innovation.
The last call was regarding the amount. After some thought, I called up Mr.Agarwal. He said on cell, “How are you Bharat?”  I replied, “Good. I needed some help.” He said, “Tell me. I am here for that only.” I said, “I need about three lacs for two months; have to get father’s surgery done immediately.”
He said, “Will send the amount to you. You can ask for three hundred lacs. I will trust you.” It was obvious that he had been keeping a tab on my progress. 
I asked, “What will be the interest rate?” He replied, “Only if my situation becomes bad, then I will charge interest from you.”
 I said, “Agarwal Sir, You know me.  I will pay two percent per month. In lieu of that, please waive off some very needy man’s interest.”
Then I told him about the deal I had with the doctor.  I said, “If they exceed their estimates, then I will take you help.”
He said, “One of my close relatives is there. You meet him when you want to. He will help.”  Then he wished well for my father’s health.  I thanked him and closed the call.
All things settled, I started planning for travel arrangements. We still had four days to go.
Next morning, Sooraj visited to see my father. He had a lot of goodwill in our house. After lunch, we sat down in my study room to generally chat. He had been monitoring Mishra ji’s book of accounts once in a fortnight and it was a simple work, so we weren’t interested in discussing it.
I asked him, “How much contract work have you managed to get?”
He said, “One Hindi School has been added. It takes about two hours each day.”
I said, “But they won’t pay much.”
He said, “They pay a good amount, about thirty thousand a month. I will also get more accounts by their reference.” 
My worry was about his cash flows but it got suppressed for now. On the contrary, the amount he was getting seemed handsome for the kind of work he was doing.
He continued, “Bhaiya, you shouldn’t have made Tilak the person replacing you. It will quickly go to his head. Also he cannot handle these folks.”
It rang an alarm. One reason was that despite not taking up direct responsibility of the Trust’s work, Sooraj had a possessive opinion about it.  Secondly, he stepped into mine and Nagbaba’s territory. And third alarm, the major one was that ‘who told him about it?’ It was only day before yesterday night that we had discussed it. Tilak disclosing it was only a faint possibility.
I told Sooraj, “Hopefully, I will be back soon. It’s not such a big thing. We didn’t have much choice, and everything has to be vetted by Nagbaba. And, I trust Tilak because you introduced him to me.”
Sooraj said, “He is unpredictable. But as you said, it’s not such a big thing.”  
Then he went home, leaving some things to ponder over. Some instinct told me not to leave Tilak alone. I felt some danger to him, and probably to myself. I asked Tilak to come with us to Delhi, without letting anyone know.
Three days later, we four boarded the overnight train to Delhi. My father was admitted the same morning. The surgery was planned after four days as his potassium levels needed normalization first.  One attendant was allowed to stay with him. My mother insisted on being there all the time. I and Tilak found a cheap but nice hotel in the crowded lanes of Paharganj. It was around six kilometers from the hospital, a distance which I would happily walk down but the pollution on roads ruled it out. In peak hours, we found shared tricycle autos more convenient than the metro trains. We would make three or four trips to hospital each day.
In idle time on next four days, I started going around the New Delhi city in autos. Tilak thought I was exploring the city, but I was only keen on scanning women and children beggars at traffic crossings and marketplaces. Without any success, I tried for four days.
Fifth morning my father was taken to the operation theatre. We waited around his bed, before the staff would come and take him. He asked Tilak and my mother to go out for a few minutes. He wanted to talk to me. Then he took out a page and gave his old briefcase to me. It was the one he had carried since last twenty years. He started reading from the page: ‘My briefcase has all the house documents and bank account details. If I don’t make it, then your mother will get half the pension, but you will have to inform the pension office and get it in her account. Please take care of her even when she quarrels with you and says nasty things to you.’ 
Then he gave me the paper to read further. It further read: ‘My father was a primary school teacher, and I did well to become a state government servant. I wanted you to become a Civil servant or a judge. But you were too free and very intelligent from very young. You chose to go for degrees and jobs I did not understand, but we always felt proud. When you came back, we were selfish to be happy. But I soon understood that neither I nor you have the background for handling the scoundrels that are everywhere. Now the storm has passed and our small boat is stabilized. You get back to any service and live happily.’
Then he had written many mundane details about the documents in the briefcase, his friend list and office addresses where taxes have to be paid.
I read it completely to his satisfaction and said, “Don’t worry about it. You have a minor surgery without any risk. We will have ample time to discuss.” I assumed he would have given a similar text to my mother because my mother did not ask me about the note.
We saw him off on wheel chair till the O.T. gate, and then took my mother to the temple just outside the Hospital gate. She sat there praying for three hours, while I waited at the O.T. gate. There were many other folks waiting. It was a large hospital with more than twenty operating theatres working most of the time.
After three hours, a junior doctor called out my name and took me inside to another waiting room. He said, “We have completed the surgery. Due to the intestines coming in the way, we had to make a larger cut, around 9 inches. The malignant tissue has been completely removed. He will be under observation here for twenty four hours before we shift him to the ward.  He will fully recover. Now you can ask any questions.”
Had my mother been inside, she would have a long list of queries, including the time of the operation, the current sugar and blood pressure levels, and many more. But the doctor was lucky. I had no questions. I just had grateful thanks. I went down to the temple and informed my mother and Tilak. Both had been fasting there. Quickly, she brought out ten bucks and asked Tilak to distribute some sweets to folks around. She seemed so relieved.  In normal times, they were capable of quarrelling over smallest of matters, but when he was unwell, she would do whatever she understood best to make him recover. For her, fasting in front of God to get what she wanted was her best chance. It was indeed a tough penance at her age. That’s how the relationships went in that generation.
My father was to be kept there for another three days. He was being given strong painkillers but it was expected to subside in two days. Three of us went back to the Paharganj hotel as my father would not come out till next morning. My mother had been in hospital for last two days, so she needed a good sleep and a clean bathroom.
Next morning at eight, we took an auto rickshaw to the hospital. When it took a right turn at Jhandewalan crossing, I caught a glimpse of a beggar woman with a newborn. I was sure she was Tulsi, and it was not a hallucination or imagination.
I asked the driver to stop. Before they asked, I said, “ I have forgotten the credit card in the hotel room. Will go back and bring it. You both carry on.”  Before my mother could ponder over the omen of stopping the auto midway, I got down and it went on.
I briskly walked to the Jhandewalan signal and started going around it. There were five paths meeting there, and the beggars moved from one red light to another as the signal changed.  There were three of them, all women with small children. I reached the signal where they were, and positioned myself at the corner. Now I could say beyond doubt that she was Tulsi. Muniya was not to be seen but another toddler was tied to her back. 
I took out a small slip and scribbled an address on it. I had to have some excuse of talking to her. There was no point writing any instructions on it as she could not read.
Whenever the traffic stopped due to red light on one of the junction roads, the three women started begging from the zebra crossing end and went between the stopped vehicles. It was not prudent to follow and stop her while she begged from the stopped cars. Once the signal changed, they moved to position themselves in the adjacent road zebra crossing. The only natural possibility seemed to be to cross her during their road change over. I decided to ask for directions.
Then I moved in the direction opposite to their movement, during road change. This way I was going to cross them from front.
I had to make the most of this one chance. Multiple tries would raise the risk. I went slowly around the junction, and waited on the footpath of the road coming from Railway station. Tulsi was currently at the perpendicular road where the traffic had stopped. Next they were going to come towards my road.
When the lights turned green there, and simultaneously turned red on the Railway station road, I started walking towards Tulsi. She had quickly left that road and came towards my direction. There were five more office goers walking hastily in either direction.  My good luck was that the three women were not close to each other, and didn’t look keen on following each other.
I took the purse out and the paper slip. As she sped past, I made a loud call to her, making sure I sounded rude, “Hey, Can you tell where this is?” The rudeness didn’t encourage any other person to help. But she looked up, possibly having a faint memory of the voice. She just said, “Babuji!” I showed her the paper and signaled to hush up. 
Then feigning to be seeking directions, I asked her, “Where is Muniya?” She said, “Don’t know which place they send her for work but comes back to me in the evening.”  I asked, “What does she do?” She said, “She also begs.”  I pulled out a ten rupee note, to donate. Then I said, “Will take you once we find Muniya. When time comes; will send someone. Don’t hesitate.” She said, “These are very bad men. We will again be moved after seven –ten days.”
I said, “Don’t worry. Don’t tell Muniya- she may spill the beans.”  Then I gave ten bucks to the child with her. And went my way. 
I rushed to the hospital, walking for a while. I did not make any cell calls while walking, lest anyone was watching. Once beyond sight, I took a auto rickshaw and went to hospital.
I called Tilak downstairs in the lawn in front of the hospital and told him about the morning incident. Before he could complete his wonder and say anything, I called Mr.Thakur on his cell. He did not receive the call, so I called twice and then a third time. This time he said, “Am in a meeting. What is so urgent?” I said, “Spotted Tulsi. Delhi. Need advice.” He said, “Wait; will call you in fifteen minutes.”
Then I called up the Dhaba and asked him to send an urgent message to Nagbaba or Bajrang to come in cell network. Then I waited for their call.
By now Tilak had thought something. He said, “Bhaiya, I should go to that crossing and watch. I may observer things you may not.”
I cautioned, “But do not go close to Tulsi or enquire with anyone about her. We have a very slim opportunity.”
He said, “Trust me. I will remain at least two hundred feet away; will just have tea at a nearby shop while going to some place and coming back.”
I said, “Okay. Go.”
I gave him the directions and exact description of the crossing. He was supposed to go to the famous Jhandewalan temple near that crossing and come back.
I still had more than ten minutes before Mr.Thakur would call. In the meanwhile, I quickly walked up the stairs and rushed to my father’s room. He had been deep asleep, still under sedatives. My mother sat next to the bed. She said, “He is in a lot of pain but will be fine by tomorrow. The doctor had come in the morning; said it was a very big surgery. They have made a nine inches wide cut. But the doctor was happy we brought him before it could spread to other parts.”
I asked her, “Did you eat anything?” She had not; I ordered tea and breakfast for her. Normally she avoided it here since it was three time more expensive than outside. But I didn’t bother.
Then I came down for the call. Mr.Thakur called after half an hour. He heard what I had to say and had many questions. Then we agreed on a line of action. He was also going to send two gunmen, unknown to each other. They would be in Delhi by night but would not know the task. I had to arrange their stays.  He also planned to arrange a car when required. Most taxi drivers and owners would have ditched us the moment they knew our purpose.
Around 2 pm, I got a call from Bajrang. I told him, “Bajrang, I have spotted Tulsi and spoken to her. Without any hint to anyone, around twenty folks have to immediately come here. Start now; we won’t have much time.”
Tilak had also returned. He said, “Bhaiya, based on what I saw, I suspect that the mafia gang takes the status once in the morning, then in the evening. In between, there will be a long gap. Even if their men are stationed nearby, it will take them a minimum of fifteen minutes to reach there with force.” 
The day ended with a lot of anxiety about the coming events. The two police gunmen had arrived by late night, and were put up in two separate hotels near to ours. By next morning, twenty one folks arrived by the Tamilnadu express train. The group included seven women – one being Piya. They were split and put up in five different hotels, all nearby in Paharganj.
I asked Piya, “What made you come here?”
She said, “These guys have never been to Delhi before. So I decided to come along. Besides, who knows dangers better than me?”
I said, “And what if someone familiar spots you. Then we will have a new problem.”
She said, holding my hand, “I will handle them and any other goons that come our way.”
I smiled, “That settles the argument then. Let them come.”
The day's plan was finalized. Everyone was briefed where to go looking for Muniya. As soon as someone spotted her, nothing had to be done. They needed to call me or Tilak.
The problem was that amongst the twenty five of us, only seven cell phones existed, and two of them remained with me and Piya in hospital. I took my mother's cell. That made it, six on the field. Five teams of four and one of three persons were formed. The smaller team comprised of three persons – one woman, Tilak and one gunner. They had to keep an eye on Tulsi, without dropping any hint of it. They had to wait for instructions.
If the day came to an end, they would quietly follow where Tulsi went for the night. If we could figure that out, Muniya's location would be found sooner than later.
The others were instructed to go to five different zones, marked on the map. Each team was given a map and it was explained, but it was futile. It was too short a time to teach them about maps. They were instructed to jot down the name of the crossings and streets they had scanned.
Many ideas were floated, primarily by Tilak and one policeman. The most impressive was somehow passing a cell phone to Tulsi, who would then give it to Muniya. Then its location could be traced.
After some thought, it was dropped for the time being. The mafia networks would be sensitive towards such planted devices. The risk of its discovery was not worth taking till we had a hope of finding Muniya by the street search method.
When everyone went their way, I called up the taxi number that Mr.Thakur had given. The taxi came promptly within fifteen minutes to Paharganj. It was an Innova with a private number. The driver seemed well trained for  many such tasks. I and Piya took the car. We went to stock some iron rods from the scrap iron market. Our inventory of weapons was ten rods, two pistols carried by the policemen and forty strong tribal hands. I deemed that the hands were our best asset.
Then we waited in the hospital lawns. For a brief while, I went upstairs to enquire about father's condition. His pain had considerably eased. The staff had instructions to move him from intensive care to the general ward. He could be discharged tomorrow evening or the morning day after.
I had planned for multiple scenarios.  If Muniya was found today and both of them were lifted, it was likely that mafia would soon find the link to me. They would quickly scan the cell data. Discovering my presence here was only a matter of time. But I had to stay back, and could not leave my parents at their mercy.
I discussed it with Tilak and Bajrang. Finally, it came to two action items. The first one was that my cell was switched off. Tilak's cell was used as the central point of all calls. It would probably give me more time here. Some of the folks would stay in Delhi with me.
The second action item was long advised by multiple brains from Dau to Mr.Thakur. I feared having to enact it. Tilak and Bajrang had no such qualms, but for different reasons.
Tilak had lived on the edges between good and bad. He said, “You cannot stop them with words.”  On the other hand, Bajrang knew only two options when faced with angry animals in the jungle - one had to fight to finish or quickly leave.  So, both of them had the consensus of treating the mafia men mercilessly.

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