Colloquial: i) An income tax and revenue officer
ii) A person who collects debts, a racketeer.
Diwali was cold in Doddabelle. But the Sun provided a sharp relief. Thus, sleeping dogs lay on the sunlit sidewalks, people basked on them. Daybreak resurrected marketplace activities. People had to finish their festival shopping; buy sweets, decorative lights, diyas, groceries for their feasts, and firecrackers.
“Lakshmi bombs, Atom bombs, and all by the dozen huh? Three dozen! Each”, smiled Benega Chandraraja, “…we’ll make this evening go Bphooooof! HEH HEHE”.
“We’ve got to have more bombs than Jishnu and Aayan”, yapped the boy.
“I want more phooljharis and anaars, Appa!”, the little girl insisted.
“Yes, yes, Kutti. A dozen more of those too! Appa will get it all for you. HA!”
The festive family spirits were being observed from the Ambassador parked paces away from the village thoroughfare. The car’s design distinctly dated to the previous century; it carried an air of authority along with it. The man behind the wheel had an anachronistic style about himself too. Something about the cut of his suit.
The Chandrarajan clan finished stocking their Diwali arsenal. Their rickety white Suzuki Swift drove through the narrow Doddabelle lanes. The cows, dogs, and people sprawling on the streets made for an obstacle course. The Ambassador tailed them at a distance.
The cars made their way to the junction at the South-Eastern edge of the village. The road forked into two, both paths leading to rows of construction projects. High-rises towards the East, “luxury villas” in the West, and between them – rows of visionary shanty shops peddling confectionaries and condiments to construction workers. The Swift took a right turn at the fork, coasting the undulating road. The Ambassador bobbed and weaved behind it. A construction site of a dull grey block of cement, scaffolding and iron beams stood in a plot of two acres cordoned off by tape, and a security booth. It was just one of the many sites in the area, but it was the one that concerned Benega Chandraraja.
The security guard sat in an oversized uniform, on an off-colour plastic chair, lost in his phone. His undersized baton lay on the desk. The ground was hard, gravelly and repeatedly tread upon by heavy vehicles. Like all sites, it felt parched of greenery, peppered instead with intangible grey construction dust. The building in construction was featureless and bland, with pillars and walls erected in the front and the scaffolding exposed in the back. Architecturally, only the fully constructed clock tower rising from the middle stood out. The clock stood still. Next to the building was a makeshift rectangular portable office.
Benega Chandraraja went past the oblivious security guard to interrupt the two idle workers enjoying their morning tea by the office.
“What do you think Appa is talking to them about?”, the little girl asked, fiddling with the radio dial.
“He is telling them to get to work. They are going to make a building bigger than every other building around here”, said the boy.
“Appa told me he is bringing the city to Doddabelle. This tower will be important like the Unity Building or UB City. It should be named with a ‘U’”, he continued.
“Do you think people will play music out of the wheel-box thingy in this building too?”, the girl asked, making the car stereo squeak out a melange of random radio soundbites.
“In UB City…that man stands behind a big box and plays music, people dance...”
“Oh…yes, they will…”, the boy said confidently, “…because Appa said this place will be a shopping place, like UB City.”
The boy rolled down the windows of the backseat, behind the driver’s seat, to peer out.
“I like that car”, he pointed towards the Ambassador parked yards behind them. “I will get one like that when I am an engineer.”
“That man reminds me of the Men in Black”, she said, singling out the figure standing by the car.
The kids watched their father make his way back through the hardened rubble-strewn site grounds, pass the guard, who detached from his phone to give a quick ‘salaam saheb’ and a salute. But his march towards them was cut short by the stranger’s voice.
“Excuse me, Mr Chandraraja. Happy Diwali. Can I please have a moment of your time?”, the sterile voice spoke. The figure cut across Benega Chandraraja’s path back to the Swift.
“Yes, what is it? How may I help you?”
“I am sure you know your position regarding…”
“Will you stop with the radio!”, barked the boy.
“I am trying to listen to what Appa and that man are talking about.”
“It’s not good to veesdrop, Renuka ma’am told us.”
“First, it’s eavesdrop. E-A-V-E-S…drop. Eaves…”
“You won’t understand anything anyway…”
“Aathrey! What did I tell you about swearing?”, the driving seat door opened. “Apologize.”
Murmured apologies followed from sibling to sibling. The Swift ambled on back across the village it came from, going past it, towards the colony closer to the highway, towards parts of the land already gobbled up by the city.
“Who was that man, Appa? Is he a MIB?”, asked the little girl. Aathrey groaned.
“Men in Black.”, the older sibling, incensed at his sister’s ignorance, clarified through gritted teeth.
The levity missing from their father’s face since the pitstop returned.
“HEH HE HEH! No Kutti. He was just someone Appa works with.”
“I promised we’d buy Arya that MIDI keyboard like the one Aastha has”, said Laajvanti waving the puja thaali around the study. For good fortune.
“Mmm…maybe at Christmas or New Year’s…”, Chandraraja had his eyes glued to the desktop screen.
“But we should at least get them some new clothes, no…a couple of new shirts for Aathrey, and skirts for Arya?”
Laajvanti went to each corner of the room. Placing her hand over the flame of the lamp (diya) on her plate, she gestured towards the ether to sanctify the space. She did so continuously as she walked across the room.
“Yeah, okay. We’ll get them something.”
“It’s festival season after all.”
She approached the desk and ushered her man to look towards her as she repeated the ritual on him. Chandraraja swivelled his chair towards the plate containing various accessories of auspiciousness; half a coconut, other food offerings for the Gods, the aforementioned lamp, and a small container of powdery vermillion paste – promptly applied between his brows by Laajvanti.
“Now, enough work… you must come and help us finish the rest of the decorations.”
“I’ll come in a bit, just let me finish something.”
“Benny! You promised to help around. You’ve got to stop with this…at least this evening…”
She slammed the thaali onto the desk, gently so as to not spill anything, but emphatically to suggest her dismay. Benny looked sheepish a moment, before flashing a cautious smile.
“How will we get Arya her keyboard without this, HEHE HEH”, his fingers vaguely tapped the table, between the plate and the computer.
“Oh please! It’s not the work, it’s the payments…they still haven’t come through, have they? You keep overworking yourself, and these guys keep delaying payments”.
Benny clicked his tongue, kept himself mute and tried to gaze at the screen. Laajvanti stood square in front of the desk, hands on her hip.
“I don’t think you should work with these government projects again. You should just focus on private projects they won’t do all this bullshit.”
Benny exhaled. “Arrey, it’s the same everywhere. But at least with the government, there is a guarantee of payments sooner or later. With private players, you never know.”
He turned the chair back to face Laajvanti. Conciliatorily he spoke -
“Look I know things are a bit difficult right now. And these guys are just the worst. I had to deal with a Collector this morning only…tax department”
“Ayyo, revenue officer? Benny?!”, her tone mellowed to one of concern.
“…It’s an audit of the project itself, on their end. Relax. But yeah…their financing is all in shambles. I told him. And he told me they’ll sort it out and all. So, another two-week delay in payments…”
“Oh, and tell me something new…”
“I got the Agreement to Sale ready from the buyer for the land, though. So, in a couple of weeks, we can expect that money to flow in too, along with the overdue payments. 3.2 crores for 3400 square feet. How’s that for a delayed Diwali gift, huh? Don’t say I don’t figure it out.”
Laajvanti let loose a smile. She picked up the forgotten thaali to resume her rituals.
“Oh! Wow. Raja! But we have to be smart with our money, and start putting it in things other than a savings account. Mutual funds and all, no?”
“I’ll give the responsibility to Aathrey, HEHE HEH…”, Benny smiled.
“Talk to Deepak and Veena, they do all this financial investing stuff. The filmmaking and poetry won’t be supporting their lifestyle…I think it’s a good idea…”
“Hmm, okay. I’ll see”, the smile sealed shut, and his face returned towards the computer screen.
“Anyway, it’s good we’re getting something. It’s been a tough year…and don’t think the kids haven’t noticed. But I guess our luck is changing.”, assessed Laajvanti.
“It’s not luck. It’s honest, hard work. Starting your own venture is risky, but I know I have the skills and Integrity most contractors don’t. Trust me, Laajo, it’ll all be fine.”
He might as well have been talking to his reflection.
“I do Benny. And I trust you to finish whatever the hell you’re doing right now, and come help with the decoration ASAP”, her voice sauntered into the study from outside.
The colony of Canterbury by Nath, Daniels & Co. was an island of red-bricked bouses and two apartments amidst the sea of dull white buildings. The once dusky locale, North-adjacent to Doddabelle, now boasted many residential complexes. Most were drab and basic, but Canterbury was class. The brick-and-mortar poster child of suburban affluence this side of town. The dwelling of genteel society.
In between the colony’s housing clusters lay a canteen that would open in the mornings and then again in the evening. It had stone slabs for seating and wooden pillars holding up a thatch roof; a curated, kitschy rustic feel about it; at any given point it housed only a dozen or so patrons. A point of confluence for the couples walking their dogs, octogenarians walking themselves, and the children running about the lanes of Canterbury; you could buy coffee, tea and confectionary, you could catch up with your neighbours, or show your visitors the vibrant life of the community at this spot.
The visitor on this particular evening was unannounced. He stood sipping his tea in a corner observing the scene. The people at the canteen were immersed in chatter, getting ready to celebrate the evening. Even though the sun still lingered somewhere on the horizon, the kids around the colony were already beginning to burst the odd firecracker as a warm-up.
The stranger in the suit matched the energy of the security cameras decorating the corners of Canterbury. His eyes objectified everything and everybody. The people paid no mind or maybe tried their best not to. Having finished his tea and returned it to the counter, he made his way to two couples sitting by the stone benches in the exterior of the canteen.
The group had their conversation interrupted with polite authority. They sensed an air of importance around this man carrying a briefcase. The strict manner in which he carried himself, his measured and practised words, and his respectful but humourless cadence. He asked them if they knew where Benega Chandraraja lived. To his luck, they did. He asked them to direct him to the house.
Perhaps to protect one of their own, or maybe out of genuine curiosity, one of the men asked the stranger how he knew “Benny” instead of answering his question. To which the stranger’s deadpan stare responded –
“I’m here on some important government business, Sir. Could you please kindly tell me where he lives?”
The group promptly answered his question. They directed him on how to get to Symphony cluster house number E 15. The suited stranger let loose a more genuine smile and “thank you”, and then turned to walk away from the couple, whose men he lowkey emasculated and women petrified.
The grey overcast sky had layered the land with premature darkness, so while daylight still sulked around, the Lightworks decorating the houses were already in full swing. E 15 stood sandwiched between two other houses, almost identical-looking ones; maybe a balcony, a porch, or a wall differed in its architectural position, but their overall aesthetic was oppressively uniform. Wrapped in pretty. Perhaps even more so given the LED-laden lightwork of blue, red and yellow; alternating sometimes at long static intervals, sometimes in a jazzed-up Morse Code. The floor of the porch was lined up with the more traditional diyas.
The third ring of the doorbell, following a reasonable interval of time, evoked no response from the house. No shuffling footsteps, no movements.
The stranger backtracked the maze of houses, decorative patches of gardens, and lanes; back towards the gate of the Symphony cluster. A diffused crowd of residents was fraternizing on the lawn – lighting up fireworks to rocket up the sky at the centre of it and overseeing the children running about with sparklers round and round.
He singled out Laajvanti Chandraraja in the crowd. He recognized her, having perused through files on the Chandrarajas. Government ID records. Photocopies. She was animated in good-humoured discussion with a short, dumpy woman and a short, stout man. He made his way towards them.
“Excuse me, Mrs Chandraraja?”
“Could this not have waited until the next day? You could’ve just met him tomorrow. What is so important that you have to tell me about it?”, Laajvanti sat frowning with her arms crossed.
The stranger in the suit had interrupted the banter she had got going with her neighbours. He told her he worked with Benny and came here to meet him. She told the unannounced caller; her husband had rushed off out of the house for “some work”. He had asked if he could have a few words with her, assuring her that it would be short and he would leave after that.
Having shrugged to her friends, and led him to one of the benches in the common gardens far enough from the escalating fireworks for intimate conversations, she impatiently tried to humour him.
“Again, apologies for barging into your celebrations, but this is important”.
“I had actually called Mr Chandraraja in the afternoon. I told him, I’d be coming to meet him.”
“But today’s a holiday. It Diwali. Could this not have waited until tomorrow? If You’d forgive Me for saying, but what is it with all of you construction people not giving Benny a break? He is occupied all time. Even weekends”.
She checked herself.
“Anyway, I’m sorry. You were saying…”
“Well…he’s not here, you say. Do you know where he went? He’s not answering his phone, this is a really important matter”, the stranger spoke placing the briefcase standing on the bench, between him and her.
“It is really important ma’am. These are some financial and paperwork matters that need discussing urgently with Mr Chandraraja. I didn’t want to cause a scene in front of the others like that. So, I asked if we could talk in private”, he continued.
“I don’t know…he didn’t tell me, he just left off saying some ‘urgent work’ had come up…”, Laajvanti shrugged, the mere recollection of events pushing her further into indignation, “…try the construction site maybe…I don’t know”.
The stranger tapped his fingers on the briefcase to a vague rhythm, his eyes scrutinizing the lady and her story. She felt the weight of the inspection and retorted with her own glare. It was all just for a moment; a pause between the two figures sitting on the bench; a pause long enough for them, but not for any outsider to notice.
“Okay, thank you for your time, ma’am”, the stranger stood up, “I have troubled you long enough, I shall try the site.”
Laajvanti, still sitting, was glad the man was leaving. Whatever Benny and his colleagues did in their drab never-ending cycle of work, least interested her. She could now go back to the celebrations with all the normal people who knew how to live a life; people like Benny and this stranger, she thought to herself, either lived in constant insecurity, or arrogance about what they did. Benny would either be venting about how ‘tough’, ‘ugly’ and ‘unfair’ construction business was, or how ‘great’ it was that he had a part in shaping the growing city. An ego stuck between two poles she thought. Perhaps, it was curiosity, then, that prompted her to say to the stranger walking away –
“I am curious, just what is so important that you and Benny have to work it out on a festive night like this?”
The man stopped and turned to back to her. She was still sitting on the bench.
“You’re aware of the attempted sale of a 3400 square feet piece of land in Jakkur?”
The chaos of children running up and down with sparklers, lighting up chakris (spinning top fireworks) and anaars (flowerpot fireworks); teenagers and adults manning the more explosive bombs and rockets; the ground behind the gates and the street in front were zones of suburban warfare.
Ashes, streaks of sulphur and arsenic-laced the ground; their smell cloaked the air. Every so often a BANG, BANG, BANG. And every other interval a colourful WhiZzzzzz lit up the air.
“Aathrey look…it’s the Man in Black, and he got his car here too, the one you want to drive.”, Arya observed with casual anthropological interest, pointing her sparkling phooljhari to the familiar figure entering the car parked paces away.
“What is he doing here? I don’t like him…and NO I don’t want to drive that car”, frowned Aathrey.
“It’s okay, he is going. Also, Aayan is waiting for you to fire that rocket. I think you should wait for someone older to help you”, her sparkler turned towards the boy stealthily kneeling by the rocket.
“Hurry up before they see us”, shouted his friend.
“We have to save some rockets for when Appa gets back. And you, SHHH!”, Aathrey ran to his friend to start the clandestine launch.
Laajvanti appeared at the gate to see her kids lost in the thralls of celebrations. Her eyes were damp.
The Ambassador gunned down the crackling streets of Doddabelle. It made, once more, to the right of the junction at the other end of the village. The row of constructions lay dormant in the dark, and silent too. The car’s light penetrated the darkness. The stray dogs had come to this vacant part of the land to take refuge from the firecrackers. In the future, this space too would become uninhabitable for them in firecracker season, but right now the relative desolation would do.
People are predictable; in times of crises, most freeze up. Benega Chandrarajan was frozen up.
The lone light in the darkness emanated from the makeshift cabin office next to the half-constructed building with the clock tower. Inside, Benny’s heart and mind were racing. Things were moving just too fast for him today. There was supposed to be time, he had worked it all out.
The desk was littered with documents, none architectural or to do with construction. His wits were scattered across the room and out the window. The floor was on wheels and his head was reeling. There was a desperate need to get a hold of himself. He had an inkling that shit was fucked up. And he could not shake it.
The whisper of the Ambassador’s engine crawled into the construction grounds. Benny heard it, he was wired like a cat. The gaunt yellow headlights glazed past the windows, and then the growl of the engine died.
“Mr Benega Chandrarjan?”, a familiar sterile voice projected through the plastic walls.
Silence was stupid now. The door opened and Benny stepped out. He was going to have to wing it.
“Oh…Hello Collector Saab, you’re here. Tell me what can I do for you?”, casual and courteous, he extended his hand forward in greeting.
The Collector was terse in taking it.
“I visited your house, but your wife told me you had gone out. I thought we agreed on meeting this evening.”
“We are now HEHEHEHEH…”, Benny smiled a bright plastic smile, “…I came here to collect some documents. I was just on my way back.”
“You could’ve answered my calls though?”, the Collector smiled too.
“Yes, of course. Sorry. I have been really scattered today.”
The conversation paused. The air was cold, it was damp. The smell of impending drizzle loomed around them.
“Okay, so come into the office and we’ll discuss whatever needs to be discussed. Looks like Diwali may be a little rainy today”, Benny gestured towards the cabin.
The white light in the office was abrasive. It made people squint. There was the more subdued lamp of yellow by his desk, but Benny had decided to use the former. A faint crackling of the tube lights filled the room. The papers, spread across the table, now rotated to give the Collector a view of their verisimilitude.
“Government work…they often get things mixed up, huh?”, the Collector sifted the documents in his hands.
“Hehehe, no need to tell me. This construction project has given me first-hand experience?”, Benny leaned back in his chair.
He paused. Then continued to impose his will on the conversation.
“You look quite high up in the ranks, if you don’t mind my saying…you’ve also got quite a style with the black suit and black car. My father had an Ambassador, he was his village’s first lawyer. You got the old-school class; he’d have liked your style”, Benny locked his hands and stretched them as he spoke.
He was rambling.
“Thank you”, the Collector said without looking up, lost in the papers he held.
“Umm…I am a little confused though Collector Saab.”
“Oh yeah? About what?”, he shot Benny a momentary glance as he spoke the words, without tilting his head up. His gaze went back to the papers.
“On the phone, you talked about irregularities with the land I’m trying to sell. But this morning when we met, you said that you were doing an internal audit of this project’s finance for the development authority. I am confused. What irregularities? And how does the sale of my personal property relate to this project’s finances?”
Benny leaned forward, elbows on the table, he put his hands together and rested his chin on it; giving the figure across him a deliberate, pointed stare. The Collector neatly stacked the papers and put them back on the desk. He looked Benny in the eye this time when he spoke.
“Actually, you have been under investigation for some time now Mr Chandraraja.”
Benny registered what was said, but remained still. His eyes quavered a bit but then locked themselves into glaring back.
“Excuse me, Saab. What is this? What do you mean?”, he spoke slowly.
“I’ll explain”, he said, leaning back and crossing his legs. He locked his hands and placed them on his knees.
“It started with an internal investigation by the state audit and accounts department. This project’s progress had been delayed for too long. You were just among the others put under investigation. Repeated overbudgeting and missed deadlines. Now the project finance…”
“Sir, with due respect, do not go blaming me for the project finances. I work with whatever I am given. Then money is always less than promised, it does not come in time. I have had to take out loans from my own side to keep the work going and workers paid. Check our books again if you want. This is ridiculous.”
Benny spoke with the conviction that one gets when spitting facts. Because none of what he said happened to be untrue, he had lived it.
“I am not accusing you of misappropriating government funds Mr Chandrarajan. Somshekhar will have to answer for that. But during my investigation, I found out about this sale of 3400 square feet of land you are selling for 3.2 crores, is it?”
Benny remained silent. He blinked and resumed his focus on the man sitting in front of him. His eyes did their best to soften the gaze, to look in the general direction of the Collector’s laconically enthused face but not to directly look him in the eye. The Collector seemed to be enjoying himself mildly.
“That’s a little below market price, no? Other properties there are going up to 4, even 5”.
“What is the issue? Sir?”, Benny was deadpan.
“Isn’t the land you are attempting to sell in the middle of a dispute with another party? The Ramdhari Ashram foundation? Isn’t it supposed to go to court?”
“What? No! There was a dispute, yes. But we reached an agreement. A Mr Nath from the Ashram agreed to settle it with us. That’s why the land is being sold at a lower rate. I am selling it to the foundation itself”.
“Mr Nath is not an official member of the Ashram. Did you know that? And also, the matter was still to be heard in court as far as the Ashram is concerned.”
“I have notarized documents attesting to the settlement of my land dispute with the Ramdhari Foundation, an Agreement for Sale with Mr Nath. And the Sales Deed, which I intend to pass on to him in the coming few days. I don’t understand what the issue is Collector Saab.”
Benny reached for the documents and held them up. His register was harsh and coarse. His eyes scolded the Collector’s.
“Mr Nath could have come in his private capacity. But it was your responsibility to wait until the matter was legally settled.”, the Collector sat comfortably, still leaning back, legs crossed and hands clasped together resting on his knees.
“He assured me that the Ramdhari Ashram was ready to settle it outside.”
“Yet, no motion was made in court for an outside settlement. You and him both went straight to the paperwork?”
“He said they took care of it! The Agreement for Sale should demonstrate that they are ready to purchase it.”
“Mr Chandrarajan. There may have been some misleading done on the part of Mr Nath. But you should’ve done your due diligence. Mr Nath did not speak for the Ashram officially.”
“Then he should be facing charges for misleading ME. He told me that there was some internal politics…that…that there was only a short window of time for us to settle out of court, and that…”
“Be that as it may. I will require you to come to the Office the day after, on Wednesday. There is likely to be a case against you, Sir. But before that, you can gather up your paperwork and arguments. I am giving you a proper chance to explain yourself, sir. I assure you everything will be done by the book.”
The Collector stood up. Having said it authoritatively enough. Benny’s face was red; he stood up and join his hands as in prayer and pleaded.
“Collector Saab. Please, if I have to pay a fine or something I’ll do it. But please don’t put a case on me. I can’t afford it. I have a lot of loans to pay back, our house is mortgaged. Sir, kindly understand”.
“I’m sorry to hear that. But no. No fines or bribes will help. As I said, you will get a proper chance to fight the case. I assure you. If you have done everything right, there is no need to worry.”
“Sir. PLEASE. I can’t afford it right now. I have a family too…”
“For the last time, you cannot just pay a bribe. This is way bigger than that.”
The collector took his leave.
The fall seemed long enough. The gravel on the ground – hard enough. The drizzle had not made the ground muddy. The static clock, the size of a truck wheel, stared blankly at Benny’s back.
“I’d advise you to stop”, a familiar dispassionate drawl creeped out from the entrance to the half-constructed tower.
“You’re still here?”, Benny did not turn.
“Yes. You get a nice view of the village from the outside, no? I am enjoying a smoke, the light rain and the view of the fireworks, and then what do I see this side? You climbing this tower and standing here like this…all blank. I got just a little concerned”
“This here, right now, that’s why?”
“Huh…huh How do you know…what…”
“Because men like you have a tendency of doing rash things like this. It’s one of the risks of my job.”
“Your job?!”, Benny’s head turned to face the figure, still standing by the entrance.
“…Yen Kelsa, Nimdu? Destroying people’s lives, huh…honest hardworking people.”
“Nanu Sarkarakkagi kelsa maddtini” The Collector smiled.
“Come on, Mr Chandraraja. I get you were under some heavy financial strain, and then this ugly land dispute with the Foundation. But you shouldn’t have rushed into the decision like this. You knew something unsavoury was going on though. The well-below market price rate, Mr Nath as an insider clandestine buyer? But they do not condemn you. You still can fight this, if you truly have done no wrong.”
“SIR, I am an HONEST MAN…”, Benny’s face contorted; salivating at the sides of his mouth.
“…but I’m working as a contractor for the government. This corrupt and ineffective government, with people like YOU. Doing whatever you want. Not once have payments been timely from the government for the constructions…sometimes only half, sometimes two months late…but they want me to continue work…I have to pay the workers, buy the materials all by myself…and whenever I pleaded my case…Bureaucrats like YOU… ‘Amele Kortivi Mr Chandraraja. Adjust Maadi Mr Chandraraja. Funds illa aadre Kelsa Maadbeku…’ and all kinds of bullshit….”
“I understand dealing with bureaucracy can be frustrating, Sir. But circumventing court orders and trying to sell disputed land? Now, that isn’t exactly very by the book, is it?”
“…You don’t understand anything…Nin Talle…”, Benny felt silent, searching for words.
“All I did was provide for my family. I have so many cut corners, done shabby jobs and pocketed their money. Never once, did I do anything unethical. Yet, I myself have had to bribe government workers, only because there was no other way. No profit of my own.”
“You against the world, no?”
“Sir, please help out. If I did anything wrong, I’ll pay for it. But understand…I’ll be forever grateful…I’ll be ruined…PLEASE”
“Mr Chandraraja, please. I have told you what is to happen. Have faith in the process.”
“You think it’s a joke. Never caught a break, I guess now it’s the breaking point HEH HEHE. That land was legally my family’s to sell. I did nothing wrong This is all a conspiracy! I know the Ramdhari Ashram has powerful connections. That’s why Nath can do whatever, and you can come doing whatever…and honest hardworking people like me are…”
“Then step down, and go spend this Diwali night with your lovely family. And come by the Office, day after tomorrow. Sort this mess out.”
“I did nothing wrong, but the system is all wrong.”
“Sir. Let me assure you…”
“…Assurance from you?! You’re in this conspiracy! And I will not let you ruin my reputation. My family’s…”
“Think about your family, Mr Chandraraja. Think about your two kids.”
The Collector’s smile transformed into a taunt
“Think about your lovely wife. She already looked quite distraught when I met her this evening. Now imagine, if I have to go back and deliver the news…”
“She was already so distraught with you abandoning her and your two lovely kids for Diwali. Actually…you know what I don’t mind comforting her if you pull this dumb move…she is quite gorgeous…”
The regular intervals of fireworks may have clouded the sound of the shots. Benny having raged and lunged at his tormentor crippled and fell in the alleyway.
The entrance and the alleyway towards the face of the clock, and the ledge, had a small wall fencing from the drop of the tower. So, when Benny raged and lunged at his tormentor, the chances of a fall reduced exponentially. Two shots rang out filling in the regular intervals of firecrackers ambient across the horizon. They could have been firecrackers themselves.
The belligerent and emotional man dragged himself in the narrow alley towards the entrance, weeping in anguish, his left leg rendered limp.
“Now I’ll have to explain why two bullets have been fired in my report. Lucky for me that’s also an occupational hazard.”
“FUCK YOU! I’LL PISS ON YOUR CORPSE…AHAHAHA…” Benny rolled on the floor.
“Come now, Mr Chandraraja. I guess we’ll have to take you into custody. There goes my evening too. But at least I stopped you from making too drastic a decision, huh? See…it doesn’t always have to pour when it rains”.
It was all schadenfreude and smiles for the man in the suit.
It had been a couple of years, but the lore was still too young to be a legend. People of Doddabelle discussed it in great detail. The new posh colony of red-bricked bungalows and apartments with an impressive clock tower was icing. The cake was the concrete brought into the city developing into the hinterland. Shrewsbury by Nath, Daniels & Co. was the prettiest
The residents of Doddabelle were a little bit disheartened. It was supposed to be a public plaza developed by the government; one they too could access and explore. They lost their grazing lands and their earlier visiting privileges. But the news reported that the contractor had committed fraud and the government suffered some severe losses. They were forced to sell it to Nath, Daniels & Co. It became a luxurious gated community instead.
On the other side of the village, the residents of the older red-bricked housing colony marvelled at the bigger, more ambitious undertaking of the builders of their own colony. Some of the affluent residents brought property there too. Because you can never go wrong with Real Estate.
The grapevine also discussed the fact that the contractor and his family used to live in Canterbury by Nath Daniels & Co. That their house was repossessed by the bank. The government project was said to have become unfeasible because of that individual’s misdeeds. The project liaison officer from the development authority’s side, Mr Somshekhar, attested to the fact.
At an obscure corner of the internet, ran a conspiracy theory blog about a wronged family, ranting about corruption in city development, government collusion with property developers, profit over prosperity, a Mr Nath, a foundation, cartelization, and a government Collector.