All the Chapters of the Book are now published here.

One can select chapters from the Blog list below.

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

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Chapter 9: Living with Hyenas

Next three weeks passed without much incident. It was early November now. Raju Mama went to his village while Tilak and Shafiq became regulars at night.  In the room, there was a jovial atmosphere. The pace of change was slow. All I wanted was this time to pass fast. I was very thankful to be alive and rest could be taken care of.
In this week, I had to decide whether to go for the next surgery in the hand or to let it develop without assistance. The doctor’s visit was planned today. He visited my room, and reviewed the latest reports.
Then he asked, “So what have you decided?”
I had not yet taken second opinion or even sent my X-rays outside to another doctor. I believed that a senior doctor would not misguide, though he may err in judgments.
I told him, “I don’t have the energy for another operation. But if it is really a must, then there is no choice.”
The doctor assured me, “See, I will make your hand work as close to normal as possible. It will be a simple operation to set the alignment of the hand right. Then we will remove the traction after 3 weeks and practically you will be ready to run. Your upper arm will take its due course like a normal fracture.”
His charm worked on me. So we decided to go under the knife on his next operating date.
Same day, Aditya visited. He needed full financial freedom, now that I had not been working. But I was wary of it. Since he had joined us from a large company, he had executed many projects that called for more marketing spend, change of staff, and upgrading software systems.  Now, we had started running losses in retail trading. I allowed him to do as he wished but not to incur losses after two months. I told him that the senior folks’ salary will suffer if losses continue as it was a major part of the costs.
Once Aditya left, Sooraj started a conversation. Sooraj was very worried about his future and the cases.  I told him, “Look, we have three forts. As long as they are safe and healthy, we don’t have to worry about all this temporary stuff or small debts or legal costs. One fort is the huge payoff expected from our Pipariya storage projects this year. Second are the cash flows from retail trading and Aditya will sooner have a handle on it. And third is the goodwill of friends. We need a few good folks helping us while we handle the current situations.”
My father was overhearing and could not stop his skeptical self, “You would do well by being practical. You will end up losing all if people you choose are doing a job with you.”
I was furious and wanted an explanation, “Do you know how complex today’s processes and technology are?  And you know that I cannot be on ground for long time.”
He retorted back, “Good excuses cannot justify wrong decisions. I worked for lot more years than you and am still working. What you say is fine. But do you know anything about human psychology. I haven’t seen any of your good friends and investors all this while. They only appear to be distant phone friends. This goodwill is an imaginary thing. Your first fort that you mention is still a bird in the bush, and that is the reason why you are here. Let me see how long you can protect it. And you want to destroy what is in hand by leaving it to Aditya. I have seen you invest yourself in the trading work. That is why it still stands. Can you guarantee that from others in your place?”
My anger had grown when he started speaking but then it vanished as he finished.  I understood what he was trying to say but had no other path in mind. I am glad that I did not listen to him that day - lots of vital lessons would have been lost if I had been wiser.
Next day, I connected to the lawyer Verma ji again. The police was taking its time in investigating, before filing the charge sheet. There had been no identification of the dead assailant. Based on his belongings and body type and looks, he had been traced to a recent visit to a bar in Pipariya. There was no further trail. The vehicle that I had reported as chasing us had also not been traced. 
Verma ji said, “It means they are not interested in petty proceedings in court. They will settle it outside. The man who got killed was of no consequence but getting his identity revealed would lead to them. So the trail does not exist and no FIR is there regarding his disappearance.”
I was speaking to him on phone with speaker on so that my father and Sooraj could hear. “So what should we do now regarding this case?” I asked.
Verma ji replied, “Let us not do anything till the case comes up. In case police put up a reasonable demand, then it means they are not being paid by anyone.  In case they put up a hefty demand or remain silent, then they are going to tamper with evidence.  But we don’t have to worry.  We have all the facts and witness accounts in our favor.”
I could see my father worried. He feared the fickle nature of witness accounts.
I informed Verma ji about Nagbaba’s visit and what feelers he had been getting. Verma ji thought for some time, and then said, “I am not sure if this is relevant.”
I asked, “Meaning?” He continued, “Things don’t add up completely. It is likely that he is a simple tribal and too scared of being blamed, so he is imagining things.”
I interrupted, “I would rule that out.” He continued, “Then there are other possibilities. He is setting you up for some consideration. Or he is under stress as he says.”
He continued thinking as he said, “These tribals have problems of their own.  Also these people are not good at cutting any deal.”
He concluded, “Let us not worry too much till we see the charge sheet. Just do not forget one thing – if police brings an arrest warrant against you or Sooraj, avoid them. Hide somewhere but do not go with them. Let me know immediately.”
I was a first timer to such things. Surprised at that statement I asked, “Why?”
He replied, “Because once in their custody, they forget about you even if you have done nothing. It will take a hell lot of processes and trouble and money to get bail.”
I was still amazed that he wanted me to run if any such situation arose. My father said, “Sir, don’t worry. These boys don’t understand but I will be alert.” That came as a surprise as my father was the last person to avoid law.
Then he cracked a joke to make me understand:
“One day, a fox and a bison were desperately running away in the forest. A wise elephant stopped them and asked, ‘Why are you two running like this?’
The fox replied, ‘You also run and hide somewhere. The police is looking for the tiger. They have an arrest warrant against him.’
The wise elephant laughed, and said, ‘But none of us is a tiger. Why should we run?’
The fox said, ‘Brother, once they catch you, you will spend your lifetime proving that you are not a tiger.’ Upon hearing that, the elephant also started running.”   
The he said, “I am sure you don’t want to experience all that. Leave it to lawyers. On more serious note, if someone plotting against you is motivated and has clout, they can make you ineffective inside the prison and turn things against you outside.”
He continued, “In my view, the case has no merit. Let us not panic and act unnecessarily when the facts are in our favor.” With that our long conversation ended.
It left me unsettled for many days. Within the dark corners of my mind, I doubted the lawyer. At times I thought that he was deliberately asking us to not worry and do nothing for now. At other times, I wondered if he was showing the possibilities to make us nervous and let him handle the case as he wanted. 
I don’t remember how many times I had the same conversation separately with Sooraj and my father. I would start with, “Do you think Verma ji has not sold us out?” And they would reply, “Even we had been thinking that. But why do you doubt?”
I repeated, “On one hand he says things can be complex and on other hand he says he should sit tight and do nothing -there is no merit in the case. Then he says we have to wait till Police files charge sheet to see if there is a case. I don’t know why should we run and not fight it legally if they try to arrest someone.”
While Sooraj remained silent, my father would say, “There are other lawyers too. We will change him if required. But do you think he is hiding something?”
And so we would go round in circles till exhausted. Then forget it till next time.
In between those conversations, I had the second Operation. When I came to senses, there was a very heavy structure of steel around my lower arm. They had drilled four holes in my wrist and four in the lower arm and screwed heavy nuts into it. Then they had fixed any structure called external fixator to it.
This is not what I had in mind when I went in for operation. I protested and asked the doctor, “This is not what you had told me.”
He was calm, “When we opened the plaster, the alignment of the wrist was much worse than we had expected. This had to be done. But don’t worry; it will be there only for three weeks, as I promised.”
I was back to the room, and was sulking, “We should have taken another opinion.”  Everyone agreed.  I made up my mind to go to another doctor the moment I could wheel out. But that was still three weeks away.
Now I was waking up for more hours, almost like a normal person. Due to the structure around the lower hand, abrupt movements had become painful. The stream of visitors had come down to a trickle, and I did not have the concentration to read books. I had completely stopped wondering about my work; so only pastime was some hours of television and then conversations with those permanently around.
The daily routine had evolved into a pattern. Every morning, I would be wheeled out to the hospital balcony by a male nurse, accompanied by Tilak. While we had breakfast and read newspapers, my room would be cleaned. I did not need a wheelchair to walk around, but the hospital gallery was always full of relatives of patients, and I could not afford any push or fall.
Once back to the room, there will invariably be some conversation about the case with my father. Sooraj had resumed work in our city office helping Aditya. Tilak and Shafiq or one of them was always around and so were my parents.
Though we were still alert about any harm to me, my lawyer thought that there was no risk. He believed rightly that we were financially and politically much weaker than those who plotted the event. And so, it was much cheaper, convenient and lower risk for them to use the police and court and judges to get me out of their lives forever, and in a manner which conveyed this message to others.
Naivety is such a blessing in the hands of weak. It makes us overestimate what we have and we find a new drop of strength each time when it is required.
At the end of first week after last operation, I had the urge to assess all my previous savings. I had planned to repay all the expenses to my father, and to Mr.Agarwal.
The bulk payments to police, and for operations, and all that my father had blown up on hospital staff by borrowing from Mr.Agarwal at a rate unknown to me, had to be repaid.  Further, Verma ji had asked me to keep aside at least ten lacs, if the case went to the High court and above.
Before the incident, I had savings that were many times these possible expenses, mostly kept in equity funds. These were from my past career days.  But that was before September 2007. In these eight weeks, more than half of it had vanished with the worldwide crash of the markets. After provisioning for all the above amounts required, I was going to be left with very little.
Suddenly the base on which my world had been founded looked so fickle. The financial and physical wellbeing were at stake while the education and past experience and the network of friends were losing relevance. The past seemed disconnected from present.
I looked around in the hospital and saw the same worry in each patient and their families. One event was changing their lives and many of them would not stand up properly again. Many were borrowing from likes of Mr.Agarwal, while a few had started cheating or stealing or gambling. When I thought about them, I felt anger but I did not understand it was against whom? There was no enemy but an all pervasive system and network of people.
So my days dragged; thinking and worrying about many things in this world. I started to care for people around me. One day I realized that these few weeks had been changing my parents beyond their usual quarrels. They had stopped quarreling with each other, yet both had become darker in their thoughts.
My mother had found a new tantric who had been visiting the hospital. He had come from a village called Orai in northern India. Once every two to three months, he would visit the hospital and get a few devotees enlisted. Hospitals, courts and temples were where he found new devotees.
The tantric also visited my room. He put his hand on my head and affectionately told my mother that everything will be fine. It also broke my antagonism and I let him work. Then he scribbled something on a piece of paper and pasted it behind the door. He instructed my mother not to let anyone remove it. Through that paper, he would know the plots of evil men and be able to break them. He didn’t take any money from my mother but told her he needs a new cell phone.
When he went away, my father came and we laughed about his expertise in paper communication technology and his need for a cell despite it. My mother was not amused; she feared that laughing at the tantric can bring bad omen.
But tantric was not the reason for her inner darkness. She had, for the first time in life, started to worry about money.  She knew that my father’s savings were gone and he was in debt, she did not trust that I too had much savings as she had not seen any proof of it in these bad times, so she had decided it was up to her.
One day while giving me tea, she remarked, “You know Jain.”  I asked, “Which Jain?”
It was her chance since she got me listening. She said, “The one in our neighborhood. Their son is a junior engineer in a private company for last two years only. Yesterday they got ten lacs on engagement. Everyone says you can get more.”
I looked at my father; even though my mother had always been differently oriented, we both were against such thoughts and means of earning. It was instilled in me by him as I grew up. But today, he was silently nodding.
I had developed my own way to derailing her without getting into an argument. I told her with a smile, “Looks like you have become old and outdated and need to be retired from my service.”  She didn’t take to such an interpretation and always used to back off.
Then I turned to my father, “What happened to your views? You didn’t even take bribes while in government service. You only explained to me how costly such transactions prove in life. A wrong partner or friend just for money is the last thing one should have to bear.”
He softly said, “One has to change with changing times. My views and ideas won’t help you. When I retired from service, two lacs of my savings was a huge amount but today it goes away in one bribe.”
I was very worried about him. I didn’t continue the discussion but just said, “Hang on. It is not so dark.”
A large number of old people were the first victims of increasing corruption. They had fewer years and no energy to earn but had saved for later years, and small events like these were eroding them financially.
I did not blame myself or this event for his erosion, but many of the patients in the hospital were not as clear in understanding the systematic push to their distress. And my mornings in the balcony started to get a greater meaning. I interacted with others and tried to lighten them. I was very ineffective in telling them how their lives could improve once they got healthier and out of this place. But still I was an optimist in a very subdued place and drew attention like a small light does in darkness.
It started with a couple of regulars next to my wheelchair in the morning visit to balcony. In a week’s time, we had a shifting crowd of ten to twelve all the time. The conversations started getting longer and continued till lunch many times, with rounds of tea in between. 
To my surprise, most of the patients were from villages. Since the hospital specialized in trauma care, most of them had been injury cases. There were uncertainties surrounding everyone and inevitably linked to future prospects. One young girl who had a hip fracture when her bike skid was very worried about her marriage prospects, and that suddenly she had become a burden on per folks. I used to tell her about western women role models who had suffered physically like this and how much they could achieve alone. Another patient was an old woman who had broken leg due to excessive calcium loss. She was also on wheelchair. She would just listen to all our talk and smile. She seemed alone as I never saw any attendant with her and possibly she had gone beyond any plans for future.
In all this I forgot my own worries and time started flying.  Every afternoon, I had Tilak for company. Though his talks had a tone of gossip, I started realizing he understood the local politics, social motives and crimes much accurately. I asked him to learn and tell me more about Pipariya.
I had begun to understand him better. There was a corner in his heart I still did not want to touch. But I knew there was something that kept him human.  He had started caring for me. I had kept him and Shafiq for protection, but he had gone beyond his mandate and given dire threats to Hospital staff and Mr.Agarwal not to cheat us. They knew he was boundary less in his mind.   
Sooraj had noticed it. He told me, “Bhaiya, Tilak has become quite possessive about you. His collection business has gone down as he runs back to the Hospital leaving the work to others, fearing for your life.”
I had told Sooraj not to worry. I had planned to talk to Tilak when time came. It seemed to me like he had made me a cause, probably similar to one which he left unfulfilled in his earlier life.  
But my parents were quite happy with it. Suddenly my father had got strength in him. If Tilak or Shafiq were late, they would worry whether they will come back or not. After all they were known to be moody and not bound to anyone.  When they appeared, my both parents’ mood would lift. They started offering them tea and food.
Tilak and Shafiq were strangers to this warmth and hospitality.  They had long forgotten how to respond.  They knew it was a good feeling.

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These posts are fiction. Good fiction cannot exist without real experiences. Also, fiction is easier to relate to.

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