A Short Story by Satish Pandya*
After widespread death, deprivation and destruction, Second World War ultimately ended, but not before two atomic bombs, euphemistically called ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Boy’, decimated Hiroshima on 6th August, followed by Nagasaki on 9th August, 1945.
The War was neither fought on Indian soil nor engineered by Indians, yet they had to pay heavily for it by facing unprecedented shortages and spurt in prices of all commodities.
This, however, proved a boon for hoarders, traders as well as government officials who were appointed to arrest spiraling prices through controlled supply of scarce items like cement, iron and steel etc. by issuing a permit.
This is how the notorious quota-permit raj came into existence in India. These permits were issued by Inspectors who were especially appointed for this job. Addressed as Sahibs, they were the real interface with general public. Sunil Kumar, an ambitious young man was one such fresh graduate who had bagged this coveted post.
Being new to the job, Sunil leaned heavily for advice on all matters on his head clerk, Ashok Kumar. He was addressed as Badey Babu. Because of scarcity, only a limited number of permits were issued in a phased manner according to the availability of items. But there was a catch. Only those who could pay adequate incentive were issued the permit. Of course, the incentive was directly proportional to the demand and supply of items.
The incentive was, however, not handed over directly to Inspector Sahib. There was a well-oiled channel for receiving and passing it on. Badey Babu controlled the entire operation with the help of peons and an array of agents. Naturally, he wielded enormous clout. Ashok told Sunil that it would be prudent on his part to join the ‘system’ instead of trying to fight it. Initially Sunil was hesitant in this ‘give and take’ deals and join the ‘system’. But Ashok was persuasive enough and before long he convinced Sunil that fair exchange was no robbery as the traders were also making money with their help and ‘hard-work’. Soon he learnt that his higher-ups were fully aware of this ‘system’ in the department. From then on, it was no holds barred for Sunil and he soon started extracting much more money from the traders than what used to be the norm earlier.
After keeping adequate amount for himself and his staff, Sunil sent the balance amount to his bosses in sealed covers in the evening. It was on a daily basis, and always an ‘honest’ and ‘fair’ distribution. Sunil had never imagined his job would be so lucrative. In just about two years, his coffers started spilling over. Being privy to Sunil’s unaccounted wealth, the sycophantic Ashok became his confidante. It, however, never occurred to Sunil that Ashok would someday exploit him since he was fully aware of Sunil’s unaccounted money.
And, as a first calculated step, Ashok took Sunil to a popular night club for having a good time, of course, by splurging his boss’s money. He exposed him to the salacious company of Anglo Indian girlies who moved around with confident arrogance. It was a pre-planned step for corrupting a gullible young officer. In the first-ever such visit to a night club, Sunil, the uninitiated young bachelor, followed Ashok with unsure steps like a nervous child tugging on to his mother’s apron.
Seeing such an assortment of vivacious and gorgeous girls in sensual dresses, Sunil got hypnotized. He was still struggling to find his feet when Ashok escorted him to the bar. This was also the first time that the sahib had a drink. Not surprisingly, he got inebriated sooner than expected, and started behaving silly.
Weekend after weekend, they went to different night clubs. In every club, it was the same ambience: attractive and not-so-attractive, young and not-so-young, girls and ladies, enjoying their booze and making themselves available as companions for indulgence. Past midnight, one could see inebriated lasses leaning on whose arm they didn’t know.
Within a few months, Sunil got so fond of this life that he went on the razzle every week, and got hooked to a particular night club which was famous for its cabaret performed by Nancy, a sensuous dancer. Infatuated by her, Sunil soon became her admirer and started cherishing a secret desire to marry her. He shared his feelings for Nancy with his confidant Ashok but stopped short of telling him about the apprehensions he had in mind.
Sunil was always evasive on family matters but one day, after having large doses of pleasure drinks, he opened up to Ashok and started revealing details about his family which he was avoiding so far. He also told him about his apprehension that his step-mother would never allow any kind of relationship with Nancy. He was also apprehensive that his step-mother would also turn his father against him. His father was soon due to come home on his annual two-month break. Ashok probed him further and asked him who kept his money.
“My step-mother, Monica who else; I lost mine when I was a toddler, I told you just now”, Sunil replied wryly.
“What about your siblings”, Ashok persisted with his queries.
“None; my step-mom doesn’t have a child of her own though married for more than a decade.”
“What about your father”?
“A happy go lucky marine engineer; he remains on high seas for nearly ten months in a year”.
“You mean to say your mom is the reigning queen of the house?”
“Yes, she is also a very ostentatious lady and squanders all the money sent by my father”.
“Wonderful; woo her with costly gifts and expensive jewellery, and see the magic”, Ashok suggested with a mischievous smile.
“But I have no experience of purchasing jewellery.”
“Leave it to me, Sir. That is my responsibility”, said Ashok obediently.
A sparkling necklace was the first ever surprise gift from Sunil to his step-mom. Overwhelmed by its elegance and glitter, she wowed, “Fabulous.” Without bothering to know the ‘why’ for such a costly gift, she just put it around her neck and, standing before the mirror, admired herself to no end. She was euphoric. Sunil had hit the bull’s eye in the very first attempt.
After accepting many more such gifts, she became Sunil’s puppet dancing to his tune. Soon, Sunil made her the custodian of his coffer. There was never any trust deficit between them. The faith reposed in his mom paid Sunil rich dividend. She started pampering him like her son, and soon became an intensely possessive mother.
The flamboyance of handsome Sunil made him the most eligible bachelor sought-after by decent families. But he was besotted with Nancy, the cabaret dancer who had become his heartthrob. Nancy, however, saw in him a rich brat out to splurge money on her. Why not trap him and get rich, quick, she decided.
Initially designed deftly as a nasty game of getting rich quick, she developed a soft corner for him, and slowly, her life started revolving around him. Soon, she got so infatuated with Sunil’s suave persona that she started thinking in terms of renouncing her sleazy world, and marrying him. But, would he, with her disreputable background?
Unable to take any decision, she took her mother, Sofia, into confidence, and made her privy to her game plan. A fairly good catch, Sofia surmised and decided to invite Sunil at her residence, to size him up. New Year eve was, therefore, decided and auspicious occasion for this meticulously planned dinner. Sunil, dressed in his best attire, was there before time to impress Nancy’s parents. But soon he found out that Nancy’s father didn’t join them. On his polite query, Sofia replied, “Leaving us in lurch, he returned to England long back”, without making any effort to hide the disgust oozing out of her eyes.
With such an uncharitable background, the very thought of matrimonial alliance between Nancy and Sunil seemed a wild goose chase, thought the dismayed Sofia. But she was in for a surprise when Sunil, as a normal courtesy, enquired from Sofia if she would be kind enough to have dinner with his mother at his place. His polite invitation put Sophia’s anxiety at the back burner, and the mother-daughter duo, in an eye-to-eye contact, conveyed that they were, probably, not chasing a wild goose.
By keeping his mom in good humour, Sunil had skillfully conveyed to her his fondness for Nancy, and also her family background. His dinner invitation to Sophia was, in fact, a scrupulously charted out plan to allow both, his mom and Sophia, to engage themselves in pleasantries before throwing a hint casually about his inclination of marrying Nancy.
Sunil knew, for sure, that being an ambitious socialite, it would not be difficult for him to persuade his mother in accepting a cabaret dancer as her daughter-in-law. But he was mortally afraid of the caustic onslaught of the self-proclaimed puritanical society when the word will be out about his marriage with a cabaret dancer. Strangely enough, his mother was not unduly unnerved on this count.
Dreaming about her own ‘glorious future’ based on her son’s piling wealth and the cabaret dancer’s youthful company, Monica didn’t hesitate in agreeing with her son’s proposal for inviting Nancy and her mother for dinner.
Resplendent in sky-blue saree and ocean-blue blouse, the gorgeous Nancy looked ethereal. With a diamond necklace adorning her long and slim neck, she epitomized glamour. Sofia, too, was no less attractive. A fashion icon and a beauty queen of yester years, she had lost none of her sheen even in mid-forties. Being a high earning successful woman herself, she still loved young lovers to woo her.
By the time Sofia and Nancy settled down, Monica’s boisterous husband, Kapil, a trim and trendy handsome man, arrived in his inimitable style to enjoy the company of three charming ladies. After the introductory outpouring of niceties and clichés, the conversation shifted to interesting anecdotes, interspersed with sparkling wit and humour. In between a sprinkling of palatable sarcasm, Sophia made a subtle mention about Sunil’s liking for Nancy, but she also told that, Nancy, being a cabaret dancer, may not be suitable for a government officer belonging to a reputed family.
Before Monica could react, Kapil intercepted, “I agree with Sophia. Her apprehension is worth taking seriously. It is in the interest of our son’s career, as well our status. Let’s first enjoy the dinner; we can discuss Sunil’s affair later”.
The dinner was, indeed, a delectable fair. Before Sophia got ready to leave, Kapil said in his usual couldn’t care less style, “Hold on, pretty ladies. Please lend me your ears for a brilliant idea which has just flashed across my fertile mind”.
Looking patronisingly towards Monica, he said, “The proposed alliance can still be worked out if we shift to a fashionable bungalow in a tony neighbourhood coming up in the other part of the city. At such places, no one is bothered as to ‘who you are’, and we can lead a peaceful life. If Sunil and Nancy stay as a live-in couple, there wouldn’t be any brouhaha from moral vigilantes”. It was almost a revolutionary idea as live-in relationships were unheard of those days. At the most, rich Seths used to keep their mistresses in a separate house but that too in a different city away from their home-towns.
So Kapil’s proposal of this arrangement of live-in relationship in a far off bungalow clicked with everyone. More than Sophia, it was Monica who was elated at Kapil’s ingenuity. With overflowing coffers, ambitious ladies soon shifted their base to a swanky bungalow located in that rarefied space which has always been the preserve of the elite and the rich. Being an astute and scheming lady, Monica got the bungalow registered in Nancy’s name. Why this magnanimity, Nancy thought but soon found her answer.
Monica had now a lively companion in Nancy who, endowed with natural charm, soon became her confidante. Both started sharing their secrets, with Monica extricating maximum information about Nancy’s past and her affairs. Nancy, however, never doubted her intentions. Nancy continued with her cabaret performances and Sunil with his money spinning exploits in connivance with his badey babu, Ashok, who was his trusted comrade-in-arms.
Closely monitoring Sunil’s burgeoning wealth, Ashok became unreasonably greedy. Nothing unusual; now, he insisted that incentive should be divided equally between them. This was the beginning of their relations getting sour, and soon there was a palpable dent in the trust enjoyed by them. After a while, the chasm became so wide that Ashok decided to play nasty with his boss. He told himself: if I can’t have what I want, I will ensure that he, too, will lose his sleep; just wait and watch. Sunil, however, didn’t doubt Ashok’s loyalty, nor did he realize that his ostentatious lifestyle was going to be irrefutable evidence for his nemesis.
And, this is what exactly happened. Because of Ashok’s malicious manipulation, a posse of officials from vigilance department greeted Sunil with a search and seizure warrant, one early morning. Ironically, instead of getting panicky, the calm and cool Monica and suave Nancy welcomed them courteously with natural ease. Naturally, vigilance people were surprised. They had never been greeted with such warmth ever before. The result was that they carried out their search operation without being brash or intimidating.
After making an inventory of jewellery and hard cash, and examining the documents relating to the bungalow, the sleuths made Sunil to put his signature on it, while Monica and Nancy were made prime witnesses. A similar raid was being conducted at Sunil’s office where the badey babu, namely, Ashok was quizzed extensively. To every query, his cool reply was “Every case was processed after getting written instructions from my boss, Mr. Sunil.” Vigilance couldn’t nail the wily Ashok on any count.
Monica, however, being woefully afraid of dire consequences, rushed to her friend, Jennifer, a well-known criminal lawyer, and disclosed Sunil’s modus operandi for amassing wealth, and his live-in relationship with Nancy, a cabaret dancer. Being a congenital greedy and unscrupulous lady, Monica didn’t have any qualms in suggesting to Jennifer brazenly that, if need be, Nancy could be made the scapegoat, but Sunil must be saved at any cost from this sticky situation. .
Unable to swallow such a scandalous revelation and blatantly audacious suggestion regarding Nancy, an infuriated Jennifer blasted Monica with choicest of expletives, “You greedy mutt, I know you are notorious for your propensity to easy money, but to save your son from incarceration, it is you who should be made the sacrificial goat, not Nancy”.
“That will unmask me and my reputation will be ruined in one stroke. Please, for God sake, think of some other option to extricate us from this quagmire”, pleaded the fidgety Monica. Jennifer agreed to try her best, but made no promise whatsoever.
It was a watertight case against both, Sunil and Monica. Both were equally guilty, and neither of them deserved any clemency. Jennifer knew that prosecution will make sure that both of them were sent behind the bars.
For arguing their case in the Court, Jennifer asked Nancy to apprise her of their murky deals in detail. Being a feisty young girl, she made a clean breast of everything, and also Monica’s unabashed endorsement because of her proclivity to lead a flamboyant lifestyle.
“The only way to save Monica and Sunil from incarceration was for Nancy to tell the Court with conviction that the entire wealth and all assets belonged to her and not to anyone else”.
As expected, a real charade was witnessed in the Court when the prosecution lawyer presented the indisputable evidence against Sunil for having disproportionate assets vis-à-vis his source of income. Immediately, Jennifer, as Sunil’s defence lawyer, told the Judge, “My Lord, Sunil is innocent; he has committed no crime, nor he has amassed any wealth”.
“Then whose wealth it is for him to lead a life of luxury”, quipped the Judge.
“Sir, it belongs to Nancy, his live-in partner”.
“But how did she accumulate so much wealth so soon in her life”?
“Your Lordship may like to ask Nancy about it”, replied Jennifer.
Standing confidently in the witness-box, the gutsy Nancy replied nonchalantly, “Sir, regarding your query ‘accumulating so much wealth so soon’ I may humbly submit, if not so soon, when? I am still young, charming, seductive and heartthrob of many a high and mighty. And, for sure, I will earn a lot more before the age catches up.
Regarding the ‘how’ of your Honour’s query, I may submit, “Sir, no one here is naive enough not to know about the source of earning of dancers, call them courtesans if you like. There is no dearth of admirers showering money generously in full public gaze; not stealthily. In our profession, we don’t hide anything. I hope your Honour understands what I mean.”
Amused by her sarcasm-laced explicit confession, the Judge couldn’t help but admire her candour. Coaxing her, the Judge asked her to throw some light on her admirers.
“Sir, it is a can of worms; please don’t ask me to take off the lid. It would be highly embarrassing for you. Some of them, I have a hunch, might be known to you”, was Nancy’s yet another acerbic reply. For avoiding the situation getting murky, the Judge thanked her for cooperation, and withdrew all charges leveled against Sunil.
He was, no doubt, saved from incarceration, but not from humiliation and ignominy. Monica, too, was thoroughly exposed. They had forgotten that, in the end, everyone was a loser howsoever astute the players may be.
But, look at the poetic justice: it was Nancy who had the last laugh and reached her own bungalow by dancing and singing merrily!
*Satish Pandya is a veteran writer and has written hundreds of scripts for the Television during his active writing days. He has also published an anthology of short stories ‘Enlightened Souls’, an assortment of soul-searching stories of passion and compassion.
Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction and the views expressed in it are the personal opinion of the author and do not reflect the views of raagdelhi.com which does not assume any responsibility for the same.