by Kersie Khambatta
Rohit Shah sat with hands on his bald head in the small, dark, dingy office, with one wobbly table and two rickety chairs.
The rusted fan whirled madly, but made no impact on the stifling heat.
He sweated profusely.
A large glass sat on the table, half empty.
“Hey, Rohit! What’s wrong?”
“Leave me alone! Go away!”
“No, I won’t…..Tell me what’s troubling you”.
“ Nothing? It has to be something.”
“I told you it’s nothing. I am just feeling tired, that’s all. Now go.”
“Look, don’t try to fool me. I know you too well. What is it, eh? Eh?”.
Two pear-shaped tears slid slowly down his pale cheeks.
“I’ve lost two lakh rupees”, he lamented.
“What! What! Have you been gambling?”
“I don’t gamble”.
“Will you stop saying what! It makes me mad!”.
“Ok! Ok! Will you please tell me what has happened. You will feel better if you do.”
“I will feel better if God gives me money.”
“God helps those who help themselves.”
“Don’t lecture me,……… I’ll throw this glass at you!”
He picked up the glass, with a fierce look in his eyes.
Sundeep carefully shuffled closer, and gently took the glass away.
“Come” he coaxed, “We will go for lunch. I know you love puri-batata”.
The paint on the door was once a nice, shiny grey, but now there was just the dull, dirty wood. The hinges groaned, as he pushed in the bolt.
There was a furore of activity in the Udipi restaurant. The din could be heard in the alley as they approached. The food was cheap and plentiful.
They sat on a two-seater with round, iron chairs which were so uncomfortable that nobody felt like remaining there after the meal was over. That ensured a fast turnover.
“Now,…..eat, and ……..then talk”.
The puris were piping-hot,…delicious.
They sipped pungent Kashmiri tea after that.
Sundeep listened intently to the cascade of words.
He wanted to help his friend.
They were about to leave, when a fat, dishevelled man with a protruding tummy, wearing a dirty, dhoti half-way down his waist, rolled in.
“Hey! You there!” he bellowed, rhinoed up, and crashed a large hand on Sundeep’s slender shoulder, causing him to wince in momentary pain.
He pulled up a nearby chair uninvited, and lowered his bulk into it.
“This is Chimpu” introduced Sundeep reluctantly.
They indulged in small talk for a while, and then suddenly an idea struck Sundeep.
“Chimpu is a well-known broker in the stock exchange. He makes a lot of money” whispered Sundeep to Rohit.
Rohit didn’t pay much attention.
“Give me your card, Chimpu” said Sundeep as they parted ways. “We will come to your office next week. We want some shares”.
“Good. Good. Yeah. There is an IPO of Reliance Kismet coming up. They will be gold, man, gold. Trust me. Will talk to you when you come.”
Sundeep took Rohit over to Chimpu’s office a few days later.
The big man overflowed the torn, green, swivel-chair. He boomed to his wispy secretary:- “Get three teas. Go!”
“Reliance Kismet! It’s great! Fifty rupees a share. You have to be quick. Thousands and thousands applying. You book with me; you get ten thousand shares straight. Hey?
Rohit thought the man must be a cricket fan.
“But I don’t have the money.” he wailed.
“No problem. I lend it to you”.
“Why then don’t you buy them yourself?”
“Not allowed. Brokers not allowed. I get commission only”.
“Will the shares grow?” asked Sundeep.
“Are yar! Reliance Kismet? Your kismet will change! You will become a multi-millionaire! Like that fellow in Kown banega crorepati.”
“Do they have a factory? What do they make? Do they sell to China?”
“No factory. No need. They invest. The money grows. The share grows. They give large dividends. Every year. What more you want, eh?”
“This is your chance, Rohit, your fortune will change.” prompted Sundeep.
“My kismet has slided down rock bottom. Can’t go any lower”.
“I’ll lend you the money. No worry, man. You just sign. Be at my lawyer’s office tomorrow at 10. Here’s the card.”
Sundeep and Rohit took the smooth elevator to the posh office. They sat awkwardly at reception, watching smartly-dressed men and women scurrying to and fro. The dainty statue of Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, looked at them with an indulgent half-smile.
“Come on in” said a woman in her late-fifties, extending her heavily-bangled arm.
The room had a fabulous view, overlooking the sea. The furniture was very expensive-looking. The telephone sitting on the vast table looked like it was made of gold.
She read their thoughts. “Yes, it is pure gold. Imported from Belgium”.
“Now” she prompted, “all you need to do is to sign this. Here. And here. And here”.
Rohit signed the papers. She slid them out of his hands before he could read a line.
They were shown to the door with a wide smile.
They waited for the money. It never came.
“Why do you want the money?” thundered Chimpu, “The shares will come”.
But they didn’t.
Their best efforts to follow up the matter with Chimpu yielded no result.
“I told you shares will come” he screamed angrily.
They back-tracked fast out of his office. His bloated face was purple with wrath. He looked like he was about to get a fit!
They followed the issue in the newspapers. It was over-subscribed ten times.
Rohit got a standard letter in the post saying that he had been allotted the shares.
That gave him confidence.
Rohit went almost twice a week to the share-bazaar, to watch the enormous, electronic board on the first floor. Sometimes Sundeep went with him. They saw the figures climb.
The company, however, did not declare a dividend.
Rohit was disheartened. He badly needed money.
His blood-pressure fell. His health declined.
It took him a month to build up courage to go to Chimpu again.
He pleaded with Sundeep to come with him. He was too petrified to go alone.
Chimpu glared at them.
“What do you want, eh? You got the letter, didn’t you? What more you want, eh! Eh!”.
“What money? What money? Shares not money!”
“The company not declared dividend.”
“You say one word,……. I recover my loan interest.”
They just stood there, tongue-tied.
Then suddenly he lowered his voice. “You go to my lawyer again. Sign more documents. You don’t sign,…..you regret. I have inside information about company. My brother-in-law works there.”
Rohit and Sundeep went to the same lawyers’ office again. This time they were offered cokes to drink, while they sat at reception. They sat patiently for a full half-hour, before they were invited into the same room by the same person.
Rohit signed the papers, and meekly asked:- “Please can you give me copies of what I have signed?”
“Sure! Sure!” she beamed, “We will send them to you in the post. No time to make copies right now”.
Rohit checked the post every day. He did not get anything.
He grew more tense. He talked to Sundeep, and they finally decided to go to Chimpu again.
This time they did not even get inside the door of his office, because the guard there with the scary rifle threatened them if they did not leave immediately.
They ran down and out.
“News! News! Latest news!”, the paper-boy screamed.
“What is it?” Sundeep asked.
“Here,…..only one rupee……Read the latest…… Reliance Kismet…”
They practically tore the newspaper out of his hand, and retreated from the crush of people to read it.
“Reliance Kismet shares jet up! Company signs agreement with Global Manufacturing. Deal of the decade……….”
“Rohit!….. Rohit!…. ”, stammered Sundeep excitedly, “Your shares have shot up. You will be a millionaire now”
They hugged each other, and jumped up and down in sheer joy, while the public on the road smiled indulgently at the two crazies, and moved on.
“Now, the company will surely declare a good dividend. Your worries are over.”
Rohit waited for the dividend cheque.
Chimpu did not even ask for the interest on the loan.
Things were looking bright.
The dark cloud had passed.
Two weeks later, a letter arrived bearing the envelope of Reliance Kismet.
Rohit tore it open.
“This is to confirm that all your shares in our company have been transferred to the buyer in accordance with your written instructions, and your holding is now nil.” said the letter.
Rohit stood there with a blank look. He was shattered.
He mumbled to himself. He felt weak and faint.
“News….news……latest news……..” the paper-boy shouted. “Top share broker arrested…….”
Rohit stumbled to the fringe of the crowd. He could not read the headlines of the paper in the hands of the tall, lean man who looked like a prosperous business-man, but he faintly heard the disgust in the words he said:-“Insider trading,…….eh…..he should be shot!…..”
Mr. Kersie Khambatta is a semi-retired lawyer practising in New Zealand. He is also a part-time writer of articles and short-stories. His writing is recognizable by his simple style, with short sentences and carefully-chosen words. He has a diploma of Associateship of the British Tutorial Institute, London, in English, Modern Journalism, and Journalism in India, and a Certificate in Comprehensive writing awarded in October 2005 by the Writing School (Australia and New Zealand). His pieces have appeared in Senior Living (B.C., Canada), Her Magazine (New Zealand), The Rusty Nail magazine (U.S.A.), and many other publications.
Art by Sheila Lanham