May 22, 2017
Bhargav’s day at office would begin with a cup of coffee, followed by customary cigarette. Thereafter he would look into files and computer. He worked in District Collector’s office. Dealing with land issues was his job responsibility. He investigated and verified the files related to land disputes before sending for the Collector’s signature. Bhargav exhaled the last puff and entered his office. His assistant hastily alerted him.
"Your wife is on line 1," he was informed by his assistant.
"Hello. Bhargav speaking," he grabbed the receiver while sitting on his chair.
"This is Urmila," his wife replied.
"Why are you calling on landline?" he questioned. "You could have called on my cell phone."
"Check your cell phone," Urmila retorted. "I already called you three times."
"Sorry, I have kept my mobile in drawer," he remembered. "I have no time to breathe. Too busy. I left the house an hour back. What is so important that cropped up?"
"I have not called you for chit-chat," she firmly replied.
"Could you please tell me the reason behind this call?" Bhargav changed his tone and pleaded.
"Listen, can you come home early today evening?" She sounded emotional. "We have some guests coming over to our place for dinner. Do you know my US settled Uncle Puru and his wife Aunt Janaki? They are in town. Quite unexpected. Lovely people. They are staying at hotel. You have not met them. Uncle Puru is my Dad’s elder brother. They could not make it to our wedding. I have called them to join for dinner."
"Guests during weekdays…" Bhargav’s sentence remained incomplete.
"They are travelling before weekend," she cut him short. "Uncle enjoys daily booze, not much, just a drink or two. Can you get some good Scotch? What do you call it, Black...?"
"Black Label?" Bhargav was disturbed. "It is expensive."
"Once in a while it’s okay," she defended. "They are childless. The couple live stylishly with some taste for high life. I will cook the main course, as I know their taste. Could you bring some tasty appetizers from a good restaurant? They love Bengali sweets. Please do not forget. While attending University classes I used to have lunch with them regularly for three years as their house was close to my college. There after his company sent him to US. Now they are settled in US with occasional visits to India."
The line was disconnected. The conversation left him a bit depressed. They were his wife’s close relatives. He did not have any option to avoid. There was no point in arguing. They had married six months back. He was still unfamiliar with his wife’s close and distant relatives. Unanticipated expenditure bothered him. He worked in the District Collector’s office. Residents visited Collector’s office to resolve a variety of issues. Somehow, the guest’s entertainment cost had to be recovered. Bhargav decided stealthily to select and stalk his prey.
"Sir, someone wants to meet you," his assistant walked in and placed a file on his table. "His name is Prahlad. This is related to residential boundary dispute."
"Send him in." Multiple thoughts flashed through Bhargav’s head.
A man with wisps of gray hair appeared in front of him with a folder in hand.
"I am Prahlad," he stretched his hand. "May I sit down?"
"Please sit down." Bhargav reluctantly shook his hand. "Any problem?"
"I own a 1089 sq plot close to airport," soft-spoken Prahlad opened his folder. "The adjoining plot was bought by one Mr Charan Raj. He has built a house. While fencing Charan Raj has encroached about 100 sq of my property. I spoke to him. He has arrogantly refused my claim. I am seeking justice. I would be grateful if you could investigate and re-measure the land as per title deeds."
"One minute," Bhargav viewed his computer screen and pressed some keys. "Did you register a complaint?"
"Yes sir. Here is the reference," he flipped through some papers while reading a number.
"Have you paid all the taxes?"
"Everything is paid. Up to date. Do you want to see the receipts?" Prahlad lifted the folder from his lap.
"No need. I can find out online." Bhargav raised his eyebrows and relaxed back in his seat. "Some problem, not able to access the site. I am afraid, perhaps server is down."
"All records are here." Prahlad pointed at his folder.
"That is not the way we operate." Bhargav removed his eyeglasses and placed them on table. "All records are stored online. Your property location, description, tax receipts, complaint date etc are available online at the click of a button. Action taken by department against your existing complaint has to be verified. I will have to read through before suggesting the next course of action. I am sorry this cannot be done without checking online."
"When do you expect the server to be alright?" Prahlad gently asked.
"I am not a technician." A meaningless smile pulled his lips tight. "It could be five minutes, ten minutes, thirty minutes, and couple of hours or could be until evening. I cannot tell. Anyway, take a break and come after an hour. I hope it will be alright by then."
Prahlad opened his mouth to say something. He held himself back and refrained from commenting. A dismayed Prahlad reluctantly got up to his feet, emitted a long deep breath before walking out. Bhargav pulled the drawer and picked his cell phone. He went through his WhatsApp messages. He attended other visitors and updated their files. A few bucks were collected in the process by unethical ways. Bhargav was not contented. He had a big fish on his radar.
"Mr Prahlad is waiting for you," his assistant reminded him.
"Tell him the server is down." Bhargav replied.
The assistant nodded without seeking further explanation. Bhargav showed no interest to meet Prahlad. He stepped out his office at 2 pm to have lunch. White passing through visitors’ area he looked at his target.
"Sir, is your server working now?" Prahlad stood up respectfully with folded hands.
"Server is still down. You must be hungry. There is a top quality veg restaurant, close to our office. Would you like to join?" Bhargav changed the subject.
Prahlad followed him like an obedient student. They walked for three minutes and entered an air-conditioned high-end restaurant. They checked into the wash room, came out and occupied corner seats.
"When do you expect the server to be alright?" Prahlad asked after ordering food.
"I understand your plot is close to the airport." Bhargav looked around and whispered gently.
"You must have bought it very cheap."
"Oh yes," Prahlad replied proudly. "It was bought twenty years back."
"Really? Now it must be high-priced. I guess more than 10 million."
"Of course, the appreciation is giving good value for my investment."
"How about quid pro quo? Would you mind spending ten thousand for a quick fix solution?"
"Why ten thousand?"
"Server is down. Stakes are high. You are in an awkward situation. It would be my responsibility to arrange DC’s order to re-measure the boundary. I am working in DC’s office. I know the officials who accept gifts and I will make them swiftly move your file. If Charan Raj pays and moves faster, you could be left high and dry. Whoever that Charan Raj is, we have to put him in his place. The quicker you act, the better for you."
"……" Prahlad pondered in silence.
"Justice delayed is justice denied." Bhargav was irritated by the delay in response. "You seem like a nice person. I thought of helping you. If you are not interested…"
Bhargav stopped and swung around. Waiter appeared to place food on the table.
"I am ready." Prahlad’s face clouded and lips quivered.
"Your job will be done." Bhargav was excited.
Soon after they finished their lunch, Prahlad counted ten thousand and handed over.
"Would you pay the bill?" Bhargav shamelessly advised.
Prahlad was visibly upset. He paid the waiter while recovering his composure.
"Now you can leave and live in peace." Bhargav patted Prahlad’s shoulder as they stepped outside the restaurant. "
Bhargav reached his office with heaviness of money in his pocket. He felt energized and motivated. With a cheerful smile on his face, he went through land records online and picked up Prahlad’s file. The case study was done, report was made and the file was sent for Deputy Commissioner’s signature. His colleagues had left at five pm. Bhargav stayed late until 6:30 pm. Before leaving the office, he called Urmila and promised to reach home by 7:30 pm.
Bhargav drove his scooter and stopped at a wine shop. As suggested by his wife, the Black Label was bought. He collected veg and non-veg starters from a high-end restaurant. Bengali sweets were picked up from a posh confectionery store. He paid generously without any worry. He was duty bound to keep his wife happy and make her happier by treating her relatives as well.
Overwhelmed by smugness, he parked his scooter inside the gate. They lived on the fourth floor. Bhargav locked his scooter, carried the bags and entered the elevator. Urmila opened the door in a rush of panic as she heard the doorbell.
"You promised to reach by 7:30 pm. It’s eight o' clock," she spoke in hushed tone. "They are already in."
"What to do? You know the traffic," he went inside the kitchen to keep food parcels and then followed her.
"Let me introduce my dear Uncle and Aunt." Excitement was evident in Urmila’s voice.
A middle-aged couple were waiting to greet Bhargav. They stood up. Bhargav had seen this man before. The man with wisps of gray hair. What was he doing here? Stuck in trance, an utterly discomposed Bhargav felt as frozen as ice.
"Meet Uncle Puru and Aunt Janaki. Uncle Puru is my Dad’s elder brother. His name is Prahlad. We lovingly call him Uncle Puru," she introduced. "This is my husband Bhargav. He works in the District Collector’s office."