“Saheb, we needed you to sign this file,” the crisp and yet soft tone of the babu took me by surprise.
I looked up, surely he was standing there watching me with such deep intent. I had to say something to him. Perhaps my usual “ek cup chai” or “ek Marlboro“. But no today I find need of none of these two.
“Gaadi tayiyaar hai?” I asked him.
* * *
A small cottage met my sight, I checked the address. It seems this is the place. It is so unlike him, given his flamboyant past.
The mercedes and Pinkie, college’s hottest girl -all well in tow with the man who never stepped a foot in such humble abodes. Of course there was this one odd time he had to visit my half room (I shared with someone) set in final year. His notes had gotten lost and he trusted only the class topper to maintain perfect ones. A photocopy was duly furnished.
“Sanjay my friend you are here. I am so happy to see you,” his warm voice greeted my dead pan face and seeing no emotions whatsoever he almost stopped in his steps.
“Mahesh, this is indeed a pleasant surprise. I had no idea you would even stay in such a place,” I put immense stress on “such” to implicate that the tables have turned.
“Well what can I say. I am a changed man you see. Come inside, there is a lot to catch up,” he spoke cheerfully, strangely showing no effect of my acidic remark.
* * *
There was coffee on the table and the freshly made samosas. I wondered how that all could be done because there was no presence of any female in the house.
I guess my expression were quite loud because he instantly replied, “I cook.”
I only smiled weakly and nodded. I thought about my own wife, how she toils all day to prepare all meals and take care of the kids. Cooking cannot be my forte in seven lives. But well we were not here to judge on cooking skills, rather we had to move over to discuss the financials. I always did best in that.
“No news of you in the past few years. Last I remember you were managing your father’s business,” I of course only stated facts that invariably posed my question. What are you doing now? What have you done with your life? Give me the numbers, how much do you make?
“Dad died two years back and business took a dip with him. People had no faith in his dancer boy who only knew how to rush out of meetings in search of available girls. My reputation went way ahead of me, preventing me to turn into a new leaf at any time. Mum died and then from there on I had nothing left to survive for. But man is a strange animal, he’s more of a parasite. When he realises he cannot survive on his own he moves over to another human being. I met Megha only six months later and then she formed the reason for my survival,” he answered in a rather monotonous voice.
I observed him he showed no emotions, not even a hint of remorse which should have been etched all over his face. Strange. I always thought he wasn’t a great human being perhaps I had been right. So smoothly he is speaking about his maladies.
“Are you earning?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he replied instantly.
This was becoming a bit encircling. He knew what I wanted, the figures I wanted to know how much it is. But then he is very subtly avoiding it. He wants to subjugate me to ask the damn question. Well so be it.
“How much?” I finally forced myself to ask.
“Almost twenty to thirty lakhs a day,” he replied very softly.
I was shocked. My salary is a mere fifty thousand a month. And during periods when “extra cash” trickles down through “other means”, at best a lakh. This is huge. I so wish I wasn’t sitting there. I wanted to get up and go. The defeat was too much for me to take.
“You realise everything you say I might get it documented,” I spoke a bit lightheartedly.
“You don’t have to, I have all the papers with me. It will be very easy for you,” he replied still not showing any variation in tone or expression.
“Okay I need to go. I will of course come personally, it will not be as bad as you think,” I suddenly got up and began to walk outside.
Just about when we reached the main gate, he spoke very softly, “Its only Megha I am concerned about. I hope you do understand,” there were tears in his eyes. It was the first time in almost an hour that I saw him break.
I nodded and quickly moved towards the waiting car outside. I didn’t somehow want to witness more of it. It was having a very different effect on me.
“For the records I earn only fifty thousand a month. And well you sure did outclass me in numbers,” I finally relented and spoke the words I dreaded to admit even to myself.
He smiled and replied , ” I sure did.” It was the first time during that meeting that I saw the age old maverick mischievous look of Mahesh. Strangely it made me happy inside.
* * *
“Are you sure Sanjay?” the rather bulky and heavy man asked me suspiciously.
“Sir, here are the papers documenting all his credit card frauds. Close to thirty lakhs a month he siphoned. His name is Mahesh and he is living on the outskirts of the city in a cottage. Here is the address,” I handed over the file to him.
I noticed the tag on the desk, it said, “Assistant Commissioner of Police.” It would be another ten years before I can displace him.
“I believe department will be very happy with you, Sanjay for finally solving the case that has been boggling us for now over two years. We will try and get you not only awarded but also a quick promotion. Now let me go and arrest this guy before he dupes us this time too,” ACP rose from his creaking leather chair and began to walk briskly towards the door.
“Sir, would you mind if I came along and made the arrest. This is my first big case and I wanted to conclude it personally,” I spoke these words in a hurry. In the backdrop I could remember the words I had said to Mahesh ,” I will of course come personally.”
ACP looked at me with a strange expression but finally softened to reveal a smile.
“But of course, come with me,” he spoke stoically.
* * *
After a decade of trying to find him he finally replied to one of my long forgotten sent mail. Admitted his guilt (of which I had no clue) and offered a surrender but his condition had been very simple.
“Yes of course you can stay here with us. We always needed a governess for our children. Both of us are working you see,” I could hear my wife speaking to the lady who looked more bewildered than grateful in present times.
“Megha ji, please feel comfortable. We have already got your luggage placed in the outhouse. Consider this as your own home,” I spoke softly, trying to pacify the distraught woman who had no idea why her husband had gone on a long vacation and asked these strangers to cater to her needs in his absence.
* * *