‘Not fair!’ screamed Priya, forcefully slamming her cup into the saucer.
‘What’s not fair?’I asked, taken aback by the sudden outburst.
‘You are making it sound like Nishant’s girlfriend was responsible for the phone hitting the man’s head. How was she to know?’
‘I guess. But you know the most unlikely of actions can trigger events which eventually lead to extreme situations. History is replete with mass murders happening just because of an innocuous statement or a slight. Sometimes the slight was just perceived not even intended’
‘Enough with the philosophy lecture – As long as we are clear that the girl is not to be blamed.’
Our waiter came over to inform us that the dinner area would be shut down now. I finished the last of my drink in a gulp and we got up to leave. The trees on the hotel compound seemed to be whispering to each other as the night breeze picked up. The monkeys had all disappeared for the day. Crickets were starting their chatter in the far distance. The grass in the hotel’s lawns rustled as something scampered past. I wasn’t sure if it was just a mouse or a snake chasing a mouse.
‘Let’s go for a walk to Single Tree Point’ Priya tugged at my shirt ‘We rarely go for walks any more.’
‘But that’s at the other end of the hill. And we will have to pass through that lonely road through the jungle. Its past ten already.’ Truth was, I was petrified of wild boars and stray dogs and there was no dearth of those in the jungles here. And if that weren’t enough, snakes joined in at will just to add to the fun.
She smiled. ‘Don’t tell me you are scared. You aren’t chickening out are you?’
‘No way’ I put on a brave face ‘but one must behave rationally. Its late.’
‘Let’s try irrational for a change. Maybe it will make things better’ she smiled and pulled me towards the main entrance of the hotel. Our hotel was at the edge of town. The path veered off into the dark countryside almost immediately. On the other side, the road led to the centre of town and bright lights, screaming children, loud boisterous adults, horses and chocolate fudge.
We headed out to the lonely road that would eventually get us to our destination – a lone tree standing on a rock-face with a sheer fall on the other side. It was miles away from all human habitation on the hill. It was the last place I wanted to be at in the middle of the night.
Again her arm slipped into mine. We passed a puzzled security guard who undoubtedly was used to seeing people heading in the other direction at this time of the night.
‘Where do you think you are going?’ he demanded.
Priya stared him down ‘Where ever we feel like. What’s your problem?’
The man stood mute for a few seconds. Then he slowly walked up closer to us. I could see that he was drunk. Bloodshot eyes and the strong lingering smell of cheap liquor didn’t leave much to doubt. ‘Madam, do you know of the spirits that live in the jungles here? You city folks think you can just go for a stroll at any time of the day you feel like. The jungles hold many secrets. Deep dark secrets – and souls of those who still have unfinished business roam here at night. And they try to kill anyone who is foolish enough to wander into their path’
He swayed where he stood.
This was the last thing I needed to hear. ‘Lets turn back’ I suggested. ‘Yes Yes’ the guard agreed with me still staring at Priya.
‘I feel like meeting a murderous tortured soul today’ teased Priya. ‘Mister, We are going for that walk.’ she pulled my arm.
I had no choice but to fall in step with her as she marched towards the dark path ahead. I had to get my mind off the task and getting back to the story seemed like a good idea. ‘Talking of murders, something like that happens at Spectrum’
Priya gave a stunned look. ‘Does the terror kick the bucket?’ she asked.
On the roads of Mumbai
Nishant couldn’t believe what was happening. He had a healthy respect for Murphy’s law, but things were now bordering on the unbelieveable. He tried desperately to wake up the President, but he was knocked out cold. The cleaning crew had finished their work and moved on to another floor. Patil was nowhere to be seen. And then the horror of the situation struck him. As he knelt there, watching the president frowning even when unconscious, he realised that there was no way this could be explained to anybody! He grabbed his broken phone and ran as fast as he could. Rushing out of the building he ran out into the main road outside and almost jumped in front of a taxi that screeched to a halt, barely avoiding running him over.
In his perturbed state Nishant didn’t bother to ask the taxi driver if he would be willing to take him as a fare – he just pulled open the door and jumped in. His heart was pounding and sweat was pouring down his face in buckets. ‘Chalo’ he screamed at the protesting driver, who muttered under his breath about weird people who lived in this city.
The taxi driver kept glancing at him in his rear view mirror and tried to strike up a conversation. ‘Saar you look troubled. Like you did some murder.’
‘Murder? What the hell are you talking about ? I haven’t done any murder!’ It had never occurred to Nishant to check the man’s pulse. Surely a plastic phone couldn’t kill somebody. The taxi drivers casual statement had just added a new twist to the already sordid tale. What if the President was dead? His imagination started to run wild. A Black bag over his head as cops led him to the courts. Media reports on how brutally a senior executive had been murdered right there in his office. He would spend the rest of his life breaking rocks in a high security central prison.
While playing out these frightening scenarios in his head, it struck Nishant that something was odd about the conversation that he just had with the cab driver. He stopped wringing his hands and looked up. ‘You know English?’ he asked, astounded.
‘Yes. Saar, I am from Kerala saar. Kuttapan Pattikuttan my good name saar. I have Yem and Bee Yea.’
‘Are you are an MBA?’ Nishant blurted, forgetting his own worries for a moment. ‘Why are you driving a taxi?’
‘Aiyoo! No Saar, Not MBA heh heh! Maths hum naahi knowing saar. I am Bee Yea and Yem Yea Saar.’ stressing on the Bee and the Yem.
‘Okay an MA and you are driving a taxi, why?’ To Nishant it seemed incredulous that someone with a Masters degree would want to drive a taxi.
‘No job in home saar. My friend do Pee-yechh-dee in Political Science saar, and now he running tea-stall. Tea for 2 Rs, Appam for 5 Rs and political analysis he gives for free. I tried for Gulf saar but I am too qualified they say saar. So driving taxi.’
The unemployment scene in India’s most educated state would have been a fascinating topic of discussion at any other time, but Nishant had enough troubles of his own right now. He realized that he needed to call somebody who could help him out in this mess. But first he needed a phone. ‘Can I borrow your phone?’ he asked the taxi driver.
‘Yes Saar I have phone. But connection not working. The Spectrum company big thief company saar. Taking money and not giving any charge. I am changing to Hawatel saar. They giving new unlimited SMS offer from today.’
It took Nishant all of his self control to stop himself from screaming. If he heard about the stupid unlimited SMS offer one more time he was going to kill somebody. But then again maybe he already had.
‘Give me your phone. I will put in my SIM.’ Nishant said. Pattikuttan braked hard, narrowly missed hitting a bus in the next lane and pulled over to the side of the road. Vehicles swerved past, the drivers hurling choicest of abuses.
‘You not having phone?’ he glared at his passenger.
‘No, it just broke.’
‘Show broken phone then!’ he demanded.
‘I threw it away!’ Nishant replied wondering what his problem was.
‘No phone, sweating, all tension on face, putting SIM in my phone. Any lafda wafda?’
‘There is nothing wrong with me. Give me your phone I need to make a call urgently.’ Nishant begged.
Pattikuttan was not convinced that his passenger wouldn’t bolt from the cab with his phone and getting a new connection was such a pain with all the documentation they demanded these days. He decided to hand over the Blackberry Sabu had given him, instead.
Nishant stared at the Blackberry with his mouth wide open for a few minutes but didn’t ask the taxi driver how he could afford one. After considerable effort he put his SIM into it and to his dismay there were only two numbers stored on it. Berrywala’s and Patil’s. Berrywala was the type who would promptly hand him over to the police. Patil was the reason he was in this mess, but seeing that there wasn’t any other choice Nishant made the call.
After what seemed like eternity, Patil picked up his phone. ‘Kutte! Hamesha galat time pe call karta hai!’ he screamed over loud music in the background.
‘Dude I think I am in deep trouble. We need to meet.’ Nishant whispered furtievely into the phone. Pattikuttan heard this and raised one eyebrow. His moustache twitched.
‘No problem, tomorrow at office. Lets talk our hearts out over how we messed up the proposal.’ Patil seemed to be in a hurry.
‘No NOW! I need to see you right away. It’s a matter of life and death.’ Nishant screamed. Hearing this Pattikuttan got really worried and started grabbing the phone. Nishant slapped his hand away.
‘Well…Erm…’ Patil hemmed and hawed ‘Well come over if you must. I am at Club Ruby, do you know where it is?’
‘No I will find out. Just give me the address’ Nishant managed to yell out just as Pattikuttan leaned over into the back seat, his body at full stretch and forcibly took back the phone.
Pattikuttan was shocked when his passenger asked him to drive to Club Ruby in Borivali. That is exactly where Sabu had asked him to deliver the package. Maybe this was a test. This passenger must be a spy to make sure that he didn’t run away with the packet. He had always had a strong feeling that Sabu was involved in something really wrong.
For the rest of the trip neither man spoke. Nishant focused on taking deep breaths to get his heart rate under control and Pattikuttan kept glancing at him in the rear-view mirror all along. After a long battle with rush hour traffic, a couple of cows, and an adventurous stray dog that chased the car for almost two kilometers, the taxi pulled up in front of a seedy building with ‘Club Ruby’ displayed on the front in Neon lights. The ‘C’ and ‘y’ had stopped lighting up and the sign now blinked a bright green ‘lub Rub’
“Club Ruby” was situated in the most dilapidated building Nishant had ever seen. And having lived in Mumbai for several years, he had seen quite a few of them. But this one looked like the lightest of breezes would topple it over. Club Ruby was flanked on either side by Topaz Medicals and Diamond Wine Shop.
Nishant got out of the taxi and as he walked past two really scary looking men guarding the door, it started to dawn on him that Club Ruby was anything but a club. The heavy doors opened to reveal a large dark room with smoke and loud music. And on a stage in the other end were a couple of pole dancers.
Now he had to locate Patil. With his mobile destroyed there was no way he could call either. The bartender had a nasty looking scar on his face and didn’t seem the communicative types. But still given his lack of options Nishant mustered courage and asked him if he had seen a strange looking french bearded guy about five feet tall.
‘Oh Patilbhai? He is there in the front row. Swami saab ke saath’
‘Patil ‘bhai?’ What do you mean ‘bhai?’ Nishant asked.
Scarface didn’t respond but nodded at somebody in the background. A waiter appeared out of nowhere and started to guide him through the maze of tables. Fat men, heavily drunk, were dancing where they sat – some of them doing gross imitations of what the women were doing on the stage.
And then with a bow the waiter pointed out towards a sofa in a corner of the room. It was a monstrosity, covered in garish red velvet. Firmly ensconced there were Patil and a man – narrow faced, tall and totally bald!
‘Kutte!’ screamed Patil as soon as he spotted Nishant. He had to scream to be heard over the loud music playing in the background. ‘Come, meet Swami! Swami is the ultimate salesman. He can sell anything to anybody. He can even sell you to your mother.’
‘Selling me to my mother shouldn’t be such a big task.’ Nishant gasped, as he squeezed himself into a tiny chair beside them. Several printouts and notepads scribbed with numbers and flowcharts were stacked on the table.
‘Maybe you should ask your mother if she still wants you. ’ said Swami grinning. Nishant took an instant liking for the man.
‘Forget that. Tell me your so-called urgent problem. The boss called you to ‘discuss’ the proposal mess?’ Patil broke into uncontrolled giggles.
‘Actually it was Renuka, the so called girl-friend of mine. Besides this is serious stuff and I can hardly concentrate in here, can we step out?’
‘Why? Can’t you think with a hard on?’ asked Swami grinning. ‘I come here to see how well I can think without temptation. You see if you have too much of everything you can lust for then there is no distraction right?’
‘I guess.’ Nishant replied, desperate to have the serious talk with Patil. The leg pulling could go on all night and for all he knew the Police might be waking up his landlady right now looking for him.
Finally Jignesh and Swami agreed to go out for a ‘ciggie break’.
‘Don’t you want to take your laptop along? Someone might steal it in a place like this.’ Nishant asked, amazed at the casual way the two of them just got up and started walking.
‘Koi nahi lega. Patil-bhai ka laptop hai.’ Guffawed Swami emphasising on the ‘bhai’ and giving Patil a sharp poke in the ribs.
Nishant had to get to the bottom of this bhai and dance bar nonsense, but that would have to wait. Once he got out into the cold night air words gushed out in torrents. Swami and Jignesh became dead serious as they listened. Both didn’t say anything and kept puffing away at their cigarettes and nodding their heads in sync to emphasize that they were following what he was saying.
Swami took a deep draw on his cigarette and appeared to be in deep thought.
Patil turned to Nishant and said ‘One thing is obvious. You are screwed,’
‘and your career at Spectrum is pretty much finished. You are lucky that you haven’t been arrested yet. And stop asking your friend out for dinner. Its quite obvious that she is the root cause of all your problems.’ Patil went back to his cigarette, satisfied with his insightful analysis of the situation.
Swami gave Nishant a serious look and rattled a slew of orders, ‘Disappear for some time. Don’t go back to office ever. Don’t go to your apartment. Camp with me for a few days. Give me your SIM, I’ll destroy it.’
Nishant was just glad that at least one of them seemed to be thinking clearly. What this guy Swami was suggesting seemed like a sensible start, if not an ideal solution. Nishant reached into his pocket for the SIM and couldn’t locate it anywhere. After a few minutes of frantic searching in all his pockets and even in his shoes on Patil’s urging, he remembered where exactly his SIM was.
It was in the cab drivers Blackberry!
[This post is the second part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]