Thursday, June 23, 2022

Mr. Venkat Reddy


“Mr. Venkat Reddy? Any passenger here named Mr. Venkat Reddy?” the airline staff came to boarding gate B1 and screamed. No one responded.

Neither at B2. Nor at A2 or A1.  

“Mr. Venkat Reddy? Are you here, Mr. Venkat Reddy?” thirty minutes later, the voice boomed again. Same airline, different staff. No one stirred. Anywhere.


“Hello?! Is that Mr. Shailesh?” the voice had an urgency that Shailesh could not ignore. “Yes, this is Shailesh.” He replied.

“Do you know where Venkat is?” the voice asked.

“Errm.. in office, I guess? Who’s this please?”

“I am Venkat’s wife. Took your number from the office board after great difficulty. Venkat is not in office. He has not called me from Kolkata even. The hotel he was supposed to check into has no information about him. They say it was a no show.”

“Sorry, sorry, please come again and try and speak a little slower. What is Venkat doing in Kolkata? And, what is your name?”

“Sorry, my name is Latha. Venkat was supposed to be in Kolkata this week for work, no? He left for the airport, and since it was a late-night flight, I told him to message me after checking into the hotel. But I woke up in the morning, and there was no message. 

That’s when I got concerned. His phone is coming switched off. His whatsapp last seen is at 8 30 pm last night, when he might have reached the airport.”

Shailesh was nonplussed, but he thought fast on his feet. “Latha, please listen to me carefully. Do you have family with you? Is there anyone who can come with you to the office? Please make sure you don’t come alone. Do bring a family member with you, preferably a lady.”

“Why are you saying like this? Is something not OK with my Venkat?” Latha’s voice faltered.

“No Latha. This is standard operating protocol. We cannot interact with female family members without the presence of at least one other lady, preferably from their own family. This is our company’s rule.” Shailesh was telling a white lie, but in this case, it was necessary.

“Ok, I will be right over. Be there in 15.” If she was dejected, she was not showing it. Yet.


25 minutes later, Shailesh, his Executive Assistant, Navita, Latha, and her friend, Vandita, were seated in a cosy conference room. Navita had arranged breakfast for everyone, and there was tea and coffee.

“Latha, please tell us from the beginning. What did Venkat tell you about the travel?”

“He said that he needs to be in Kolkata till Friday this week, and will leave on Sunday night. He sent me the tickets and hotel stay confirmation email as usual. We always share travel documents with each other, just in case…

He left home at about 8, to reach the airport by 8:30 or so. Since I am an early sleeper, I told him to msg me after checking into his hotel in Kolkata. This morning, there was no message. I thought he might have forgotten, so I called him. The phone was switched off. He is in sales, he never switches off his phone. That’s when I knew there was a problem. I called the hotel and they confirmed that there was a reservation, but he never showed up. I think, that we should best involve the police.” Latha completed.

“Yes,” Shailesh agreed readily, “The police will have to be involved within the next hour or so. I want you to meet with someone from our security team. I have specially requested them to brief you on police procedures and your rights as a complainant. You should know a few things. It will be helpful. Do you have a lawyer?”

“Shailesh, you are not understanding. My first priority is finding Venkat. I am afraid that something might have happened to him. I think you should call up your Kolkata office and ask whoever he was supposed to meet. You usually send a car to meet your officers at the airport, no? Shouldn’t that be the starting point?”

“Latha, I am sorry that I have to break this to you. Venkat was not going anywhere for an official visit. He was supposed to be in office. So, if he has sent you those tickets from his office id, with office id hotel reservations, that itself is an intent to… well, mis inform. I don’t think he is in any danger at all. There are certain other things that you don’t need to know right now, but I will take the necessary approvals and try and share them with you by evening. Please meet the person in our security team. I am asking him to do this as a personal favour. After meeting him, you must go to the police station with Vandita and file a missing persons report. I can assure you, we are with you every step of the way. You have my number, call me anytime.”


Navita sat through the briefing by the security team member. Afterwards, she went to Shailesh’s cabin.

“When are you going to tell her about Afreen, boss?” she asked quietly.

“Is Afreen in office?”

“You know she is. That is the first thing we both checked. Also, she is appearing pretty perturbed, and she has asked me twice about Venkat. So, my guess is that she has no clue where Venkat is, either.”

“You didn’t answer her?”

“You know I cannot share the calendar of my bosses, boss.” Navita smiled.

Navita assisted Shailesh, Venkat, and Gautam – three department heads.

Venkat reported to Shailesh but he handled the largest region – West. So, in terms of power, he was not far behind Shailesh.


Latha came home by about 5 pm. Dejected and sore, she still kept dialing Venkat’s number. She tried accessing his google id to check his current location. The police, after knowing that her husband had sent her a bogus travel plan, had explained to her, nicely and gently, that her husband had vanished of his own free will, and she should try to get a lawyer and understand her rights and secure whatever possessions she could. It was a sad occurrence, but not an infrequent one. Husbands ran away all the time, as did wives.

Vandita, her friend, was with her. She prepared dinner, ensured that they both ate, and then stayed back with her. To her husband, who asked how long she was planning on staying, she said, simply, “As long as it takes.”


If it was possible, the next morning was even harder.

Shailesh and the legal head of the company, Gautam, came by to meet her.

“How are you feeling now, Latha?” Shailesh enquired gently.

“I am not better, but thank you for asking.”

“We are following up with the police. We have some information from there, and some that we want to share with you ourselves.”

“I think.. its not good news?”

Gautam shook his head, “I’m afraid you’re right. Its not. But the information from the police is positive. Venkat did check in, he did clear security. He simply did not board.”

“So, he was the airport, and then he just.. vanished? He was booked on a flight to Kolkata for sure, then?”

“And at the hotel, as you already know. You will be surprised to hear this, but we were not as shocked to know that he has vanished.”

“Why?” Latha could not believe her ears.

“Latha, over the last year, Venkat has pocketed about 30 crores of sales proceeds that should have come to the company’s accounts but somehow made it to third party accounts that do not belong to the company. In short, officially, he was under investigation for embezzling 30 crores, but unofficially, we all knew he had done it. We were just trying to get the money back. The focus of the investigation was recovery, not prosecution.”

“Venkat… did.. this? But.. why?”

“When did he last take you on a holiday? And where?” Shailesh asked.

“To our temple town, with his parents. Last July.” Latha answered, with some difficulty. Venkat was not a spendthrift kind of guy when it came to family.

“The Ba^&*d.” Shailesh muttered under his breath.

“Latha, you have only been married two years, I have known him longer. So, let me just say it out flat – Venkat was fond of the good lifestyle. He often fudged bills and took more money than he spent on company travels. But he was so good at his work that we simply looked the other way. He appeared to be this sincere, sweet guy, and he netted customers like honey nets bees.”

“So, you think he was a crook?”

“I KNOW he was a crook. It was only a matter of time. If he had refused to return the money, we would have filed criminal charges against him and then he would have had to see the inside walls of a prison.” This was Gautam.

“But he is an only child. What will happen to his parents? He must have thought about that, surely?”

Gautam shook his head, “I think, you will find, Latha, that men like him rarely think about the impact on their family when they do these things.”

“What do you think has happened?” Latha asked, “Please be brutally honest with me.”

“I think that your Mr. has taken 30 crores and vanished into thin air, leaving you to deal with the mess and with his parents. You are the scapegoat, the fall guy, in this story.” Gautam was as blunt as Latha had requested him to be.

“You are helping me. Why?”

“Because not helping you would amount to helping a criminal. Helping you find him brings us closer to our 30 crores – an amount we cannot ignore.”

“You think you can use me to get to him.”

“No Latha, we are decent people. We will not use you as bait. Further, he would not have done this had he cared half a penny for you. We are just looking to work together.”

That stung, but Latha knew it was true. Had Venkat cared at all, he would not have done this.

“Sure. Let’s get him.” Latha said with a new resolve in her voice.


It was at this point that Vandita stepped in, “So, we know what has happened, and we know why it has happened. I have been wondering, HOW did he do it? How did he vanish into thin air from the Mysore airport?”

Shailesh looked at her sharply. Then he smiled. Vandita was going to be priceless.


A small taskforce was set up. Vandita, Latha, Shailesh, Gautam, and two other people – Amar, the head of Security, and Akash, the inspector assigned to the case. After the CEO of the company made a phone call and shared the 30 crores information, the police were quick to appoint an inspector level officer with 2 SIs to track down the ‘missing person.’

The headquarters was established at Latha’s house. Venkat’s parents had come to Mysore and then returned to the village. When they heard what had happened, their worry shifted from their son to themselves, and the exit from scene was prompt.

It is funny how long a week can feel at certain times.

“It was Sunday night. He had to be on one of the flights. Check if he booked two flights on that day, and flew on one of them. That would be easy enough to do.” Amar was the first to speak.

“We have put his phone on surveillance. His debit card, credit card, his devices, google id, everything is on surveillance. But so far, absolutely nothing.” The inspector said.

“See, a guy cannot vanish in thin air. He has to deposit this 30 crores somewhere. He had company accounts. Start by checking those. The customers made payments into those accounts. Find out who opened these accounts?”

“There were no wire transfers. All payment was taken in DD for these payouts. The DD could have been deposited anywhere in India. The company name was the same as this one.” The SI informed.

“That is not possible. The registrar of companies will not allow two companies to open with the same name. It has to be a similar name. And, if a company has been registered in India, we know where to look.” Gautam spoke up.

“Relax, Gautam. I am a CA. This is the easiest fraud in the world. The name of your company is personal. All he did was open a personal account with that name. And deposited money in it. Pay Ashish and Co is the same as pay Ashish Company. It could be absolutely anywhere in the country. Or it can be at many places.” Vandita interjected.

“So, where can he be now?” Latha asked, yet again.

“I think I can answer that one.” Amar spoke up. “Mr. Venkat Reddy, and his money, are safely outside this country, in a country with which India does not have an extradition treaty. His money is in a crypto account somewhere. And we are not likely to hear from him again. I am sorry to say that his fraud may not be limited to 30 crores either. In the coming days, we are likely to hear from more customers about non-delivery of their products. We will then find out the true extent of his fraud.

I have spent the entire last week reading up about these financial frauds and how individuals do them. This, in short, is the playbook.”

An expletive escaped Shailesh’s lips.

“So, there is no point in looking for him, then?” Latha asked.

“There is always a point, Latha. He might think he has gotten away with this. But we are here – six people with 6 different types of expertise. I think, we can get him and make him pay. All we need to do is hang in there and not give up.”

“We are going to be detectives now?” Amar asked.

“With all that you shared today, I think you already are.” Latha replied, a shadow of a smile forming on her lips.

Another 3 days, nothing.

The task force was meeting frequently, in the hope that someone will hit something.

Today, Akash was the first to talk, “We have checked his Adhar and identity documents against all international departures. No one has flown out with this Adhar or passport. So, if he has flown out, he has done that on forged documents.”

“Yes, but I don’t think he has changed his name. When changing identity, criminals tend to retain some part of that former identity rather subconsciously. Venkat is there in some part of the new name. Find out about international fliers who have no previous history of flying outside the country and have a passport issued within the last 2 years.” Shailesh contributed.

Akash made a note.

“Amar was right that day. The fraud is now at 40 crores and counting.” Shailesh volunteered.

Latha spoke, “I am sure he is sending some money to his parents somehow. He used to be the only breadwinner. If we find where that money is coming from, we can find him.”

Akash suggested something to Latha and she agreed to visit her in-laws the following morning. The village was only 4 hours outside Mysore.


Two weeks had now passed. The team was meeting again. This was going slowly and painfully.

“You were right Shailesh. Venkatgiri Naidu had a passport with the same address as Mr. Venkat Reddy. It was issued 8 months ago, and his international departure was to Greece. Cyprus is one of the world’s top centers for unnamed cash, and of course, crypto.”

“Hmm, so he is in Greece. Can we find his crypto wallet?” Vandita asked.

No one knew how.

“Never mind, I will take care of that.” She said cryptically.

“I have just come from meeting his parents. I told them that since he is a fugitive, his family will be roped in next. I need money to hire a lawyer. They tried to buy time saying they will arrange in a day or two, but I played the full emotional drama and mentioned urgency, and viola, came 2 lakhs to hire a good lawyer and keep them out of jail.” Latha made her contribution.

“Hmm… that means that he is in touch with his parents for sure. They also seem to have enough money in the bank. Let me query their bank details. If the money is coming from  an Indian account, we will at least get a lead.” Akash interjected.

At the next meeting, Vandita held centerstage. “We have him!” His money is with Coinbase. He is transacting from Cyprus, as we guessed. His current wallet size is only about 2 million USD. This is less than half the money he has taken from you. Which means that the rest of the money can either be in benami Indian accounts or in bank accounts in Cyprus.

It was time for Akash to contribute – “No Indian accounts. We checked. His parents are getting transfers from an international account only. Small sums at a time. So, he is transacting from where he is. We don’t know how much he is spending. If his parents have 2 lakhs ready cash in their account, he is definitely not being thrifty.”


“How did you get your information, Vandita?” Gautam was curious.

“Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to, sir. Just that we freelance PIs (private investigators) have access to white hat skills that most institutions don’t. Let’s leave it at that.” Vandita was simple and firm.

“So, in addition to being a CA, you are also a financial investigator?” Akash asked.

Vandita just smiled her assent.

Now, the team knew where he was, and where the money was. The next hurdle was to bring him to India without using the legal route. How could they make that happen?


Like a bunch of expert hunters, they laid a trap. Time was of the essence, because the next step for Venkat would be to call his parents over to join him. They had to place the bait before that. Once, he had to be made to come back before the parents could fly the coup.

In this plan, the central role had to be played by Latha. Akash accompanied her to the village, where they pretended to have come to arrest the father. Latha played her part brilliantly, falling to the ground just as the father had to be taken away in the police car. Thus, she was stationed in the house.

Almost a month passed with no movement.  Latha remained with her in-laws. The police dutifully came every third day and had to return because the father-in-law was needed to take care of the women in the house. The in laws were grateful to Latha for falling ill when she did and took good care of her.

Not long after, Latha noticed some change in the demeanour of her in-laws. Her father-in-law was out of the house for 4-5 hours at a time. She knew that a movement was now imminent. Mysore airport was on alert again.

One Thursday night, as Mr. Naidu got off the flight, a police escort was waiting for him.


Venkat was sitting in the interrogation room, looking both angry and a little sullen. A lawyer had been summoned by and for him.

But the senior inspector in the room was an expert. He was from CBI, and Venkat was a small fry.

“Welcome back,” the inspector said gently. “Your lawyer will be here shortly, and then he can start emptying your pocket with his empty promises. Let me tell you how it will go. He will tell you that you are being sent to CBI remand and he will have you out on bail in 2-3 days at most. This circus will go on for 10 days, while he will charge you 2 lakhs per appearance for appearing in the CBI court on your behalf. After 10 days, your remand will pass to the police and the case to the court. From that point on, whether he charges 50k a hearing or 2 lakhs, is between you and him, but you, Mr. Venkat, are not going anywhere for the next 2 years. I promise you that, and once you cross the CBI remand home to the police remand home, you will find many examples to corroborate my theory. We know the law too, sir, and more importantly, we don’t get paid per hearing. So, contrary to what you might believe, lengthening your trial is in your lawyer’s interest and shortening it is in mine. Now, who do you want to listen to, to get out of this soup in record time?”

“What do you want?” Venkat hissed.

“A simple confession will do it. Anyway, you will spend many years in prison. The sooner you confess, the more lenient the judge will be. Take my word for it, or wait for about 100 court dates to figure this out. There will be no bail. Absconding is a non bailable section. Like I said, we know the law too.”

With that, Venkat crumbled, and the answers came quick and easy.

“How did you make it out of the airport?”

“I had a luggage loader’s uniform in my hand baggage. I left Mysore by car and boarded a flight from Port Blair.

The rest, of course, you know. The money was already stashed in an offshore account in Cyprus and in crypto."

“Was 50 crores worth it?” asked the inspector.

Venkat shrugged. “Like you said, I am small fry. It was big enough for me.”

“What were your future plans?”

This time, Venkat smiled before replying, “The usual. Stay in Cyprus, spend money, invest, live the good life, while you guys put Latha in jail, not willing to believe that she knew nothing about my scheme. I was not planning on calling my parents to join me, but your getting on my dad’s case forced my hand. I had to come back to sign the village land sale papers once. Then, none of us would have touched down in India ever again.  They would have flown out with me.”


Outside, 6 people silently sat on a chai tapri, drinking tea. No one spoke, but there was a glint in each eye.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Short Story - Dear God, Are you there?


“हाँ जी? आ गए? मैं हूँ!”

रोज़ की भांति सुधि ने दिया जलाया, और फिर टेक ले कर बैठ गई, और पूरे दिन का हिसाब किताब बताने लगी। कौन मिलने आया था, किसको ठीक किया, किसको लौटा दिया, क्या अच्छा लगा, क्या नहीं.. मन भर के बातें करने के बाद वह ज़ोर से खिलखिला कर हंसी। फिर ध्यान लगा कर सुनने लगी। सुनने की मुद्रा में कभी सर हिला देती, कभी ‘अच्छा, ठीक है’ जैसे स्वरों से स्वीकृति जताती। एकाएक उठ कर कागज कलम ले आई और लिखने लगी। लिख कर कागज दीपक की ओर बढ़ाती हुई बोली, “ये देखो, नाम और जगह दोनों ठीक हैं न?”

थोड़ी देर में एक सेवादार ने द्वार धीरे से खोल कर पूछा, “दीदी, आपको सोने से पहले और कुछ चाहिए?”

“हाँ। सुनिए, ये कागज कल गेट पर दे देना तो। इन्हें मेरी आवश्यकता है। कल इन्हें सीधा मेरे पास ले आना। कतार में मत रखना।“

“जी। ” कह कर सेवादार द्वार से बाहर हो गई, और सुधि फिर से कमरे में अपने साथ।

हर बार की तरह कागज़ पहले महाराज के पास ले जाया गया, जहां उन्होंने नाम और गाँव का नाम अच्छे से लिखा, ताकि कोई गड़बड़ न हो, और फिर गेट पर भेज दिया।

सुधि, यूं तो उम्र में बड़ी नहीं थीं, पर थी वे इस इलाके में दीदी। उनका आश्रम बहुत जल्दी बहुत प्रसिद्ध हो गया था। लोग दूर दूर से आते थे, और झोली भर कर जाते थे। सुधि दीदी और महाराज ‘कृष्ण कथा वाचक’ थे। ये लोग सन्यासी होते हैं, जो कृष्ण कथा गाँव जा जा कर सुनाते हैं। जिस गाँव में कथा सुनाते हैं, वहीं के मंदिर में रह लेते हैं। ऐसे ही एक दिन ये दोनों कथा वाचक इस गाँव पहुंचे थे, पर किस्मत से उस दिन गाँव के पंच की हालत ठीक नहीं थी। सुधि भी पंडित जी के साथ चल पड़ी, और वहाँ पहुँच कर जाने कैसे चमत्कार से, पंच जी को ठीक कर दिया। बस, फिर गाँव के लोग उन्हें कहाँ जाने देते? मंदिर के पुजारी जी का कमरा खाली कर कर सुधि दीदी को दिया गया, और अगला कमरा महाराज जी को। महाराज जी छू कर ठीक नहीं करते थे। वे बस कथा करते थे, और दीदी का ध्यान रखते थे। उनका खाना पीना, सोना, कितने लोगों से मिलना है, कब थक कर बैठना है.. महाराज जी ने मानो सुधि को अचानक सह-कथा-वाचक से बेटी बना लिया था। जैसे जैसे सुधि की ख्याति बढ़ती गई, महाराज जी और भी गौण बनते गए, परंतु सुधि का ध्यान और भी तन्मयता से रखने लगे।

जिस मंदिर में उन्होंने एक रात आश्रय लिया था, वही अब उनका आश्रम बन गया था। दूर दूर से लोग आते थे। सुधि दीदी कुछ को शिफ़ा देतीं, कुछ को दिलासा, और कुछ को अपना संयम। वे कैसे छू कर बीमारी दूर कर देती थीं, किसी को पता नहीं था, महाराज जी को भी नहीं। पर यहाँ, जहां दूर दूर तक डिस्पेंसरी भी नहीं,  वहाँ सुधि दीदी को भगवान ने सचमुच अपना स्वरूप बनाकर ही भेजा था।

विंध्य प्रदेश के बारे में बाहर के लोगों को ज्यादा कुछ पता नहीं है। हरे जंगल, नदियां, यूं ही फुट पड़ते झरने, और बहुत सारी गरीबी। यहाँ खेती के आयाम बहुत सीमित हैं, और उससे होने वाली आमदनी उसे से भी अधिक सीमित। कुछ असीमित है तो गरीबी। गरीबी यहाँ का नॉर्मल है।


अगले दिन, रोज की ही तरह कतार लंबी थी। गेट पर एक सज्जन ने अपना नाम और गाँव का नाम दिया, तो गेट वालों ने उन्हें बड़े आदर के साथ कतार से बाहर कर पानी पिलाया। नए आने वालों ने नाक भौं सिकोड़ी, पुराने आने वाले बस हौले से मुस्काए। दीदी को कभी कभी सँदेसा मिलता था, उन लोगों को सीधे दीदी के पास ले जाया जाता था। इस में भेद भाव की कोई बात नहीं। ये नाम तो सीधे भगवान से आते थे मानो।

जिन सज्जन को निकाला गया था, उनका नाम था ज्ञानचंद (गियानू)। वे पहली बार आए थे। बड़े भौचक्क! उन्होंने किसी से कोई सिफारिश नहीं की थी, किसी को बताया भी नहीं था वे यहाँ आ रहे हैं। कल उनके गाँव के मुखिया जी ने कहा था, “बिटिया की टांग ठीक नहीं होती तो एक बार सुधि दीदी के आश्रम में दिखाए आओ, क्या पता कुछ कर ही दें!”

गियानू जी ने बिना किसी को बताए, बस ऐसे ही सफर शुरू कर दिया था। फिर ये कतार से निकाल कर विशेष आवभगत क्यूँ?

गार्ड ने बताया – दीदी कभी कभी किसी आने वाले का दुख पहले से जान लेती हैं, उनके लिए सँदेसा सीधे भगवान से आता है।

सेवादार उन्हें सुधि दीदी के पास ले गए।

मुख पर दिव्य प्रकाश! आँखों में तेज और करुणा का सा मिश्रण।

गियानू जी स्वत: ही नतमस्तक हो गए।

“बिटिया की टांग ठीक हो जाएगी। कोई चिंता नहीं। आप ही के कर्मों के कारण कष्ट है, आप ही के कर्मों से ठीक भी हो जाएगा।“ सुधि दीदी ने मृदु, पर सटीक स्वर में कहा। गियानू जी ने ये सोचने की चेष्टा भी नहीं की कि इन्हें बिटिया की पीड़ा बिन बताए कैसे मालूम। दैवी जनों को पता चल ही जाता है।

“मेरे कर्मों से कैसे दीदी?”

“अधिया में कितनी जमीन दिए हो, और तिहैया में कितनी?”

“अधिया में 2 एकड़, और तिहैया में 10 एकड़ दीदी” 

“उन जमीन मजदूरों को कुछ खाने को नहीं मिला न पिछले साल? फसल हो गई बर्बाद?”

“सबकी ही हुई दीदी, अकेले मेरे ठेकेदारों की थोड़ी?”

“तो गियानू जी, जब उनके घर नहीं चल रहे, तो आपकी बिटिया कैसे चलेगी?”

गियानू सकपका गया।

“अधिया और तिहैया तो हमारी पुश्तैनी ठेकेदारी का तरीका है दीदी। सभी ऐसा ही करते हैं। तो फिर इस में गलत क्या है? और है भी तो अकेली मेरी बेटी क्यूँ तकलीफ में है?”

“गियानू, बताओ तो, हम व्रत कथा क्यूँ पढ़ते हैं?”

ये ज्ञान गियानू के बस का न था। “व्रत कथा क्यूँ पढ़ते हैं का क्या मतलब दीदी? व्रत अनुष्ठान के लिए! बिना कथा के व्रत कैसे पूरा होगा?”

“क्यूँ? पूजा में, व्रत कथा का क्या महत्व है?”

गियानू को ये सवाल समझ नहीं आया। जब सवाल ही समझ न आए, तो इंसान जवाब क्या सोचे। चुप चाप बैठ गया।

सुधि दीदी मुस्काई। “व्रत कथा इस लिए पढ़ी जाती है, कि जो एक के साथ हुआ, उस से सब सीख लें। एक बात सोचो तो। धूप में खटता हो किसान, बारिश, कीट से लड़ता हो किसान, और अपनी जमीन देने का, कोई आधी फसल ले ले, या दो तिहाई फसल ले ले, ये न्याय है क्या?”

“तो दीदी, क्या करें? जमीन मुफ़्त में दे दें?”

“यही तो आपको सोचना है गियानू। पुराने जमाने में, राजा अपनी जमीन किसानों को देता था, तब भी दसई या छठ से ऊपर कर नहीं लेता था। आप सोचिए, अधिया और तिहैया, इनका प्रभु के दरबार में क्या जवाब देंगे आप?”

गियानू जी चुप कर गए। क्या सचमुच उनकी बिटिया का दुख अधिया और तिहैया के कारण है?

“तो दीदी, जो मैं अधिया और तिहैया छोड़ दूँ, तो मेरी बेटी ठीक से चल पाएगी?”

“गियानू, तुम्हारी बिटिया ही नहीं, गाँव के और भी छोटे छोटे दुख दर्द कट जाएंगे। तौल के पलड़े बराबर रहें, तब ही व्यवहार होता है। पलड़े कोई अपने ज़ोर से ऊपर नीचे कर तो लेता है, पर भूल जाता है कि एक तुला उस के ऊपर भी तो है! ये उस तुला का वज़न पड़ा है तुम पर। घर जाओ, अधिया, तिहैया के बदले दसई , छठ, के बारे में सोचो। मेरे पास दोबारा आने की जरूरत नहीं। जब तुला के पलड़े बराबर हो जाएंगे, तब तुम्हारी बेटी यूं ही चलने लगेगी। ये बाट उठाना, संतुलन समझना, ये आप कर्ता लोगों को समझ आने वाली बातें है। हम प्रभु नाम में रमने वाले लोग है, तौल, बाट, पलड़े को कभी हाथ ही नहीं लगाया। पर जब कन्या ठीक हो जाए, तो अन्नपूर्णा माता का व्रत करना, और व्रत कथा में अपनी बिटिया की कथा कहना। जिसे भी, इस पूरे इलाके में, जब भी घर में कोई भी समस्या हो, वह अन्नपूर्णा माता का व्रत करे और शाम को आपकी कन्या की कथा सुने और सुनावे। जैसे ही पलड़े बराबर होंगे, घर की समस्या कट जाएगी। एक सुधि दीदी तो क्या ही कर लेगी, पर यह व्रत, बहुतों का भला करेगा।


कहने की आवश्यकता नहीं कि जैसा सुधि दीदी ने कहा था, वैसा ही हुआ। अन्नपूर्णा माता का व्रत, सुनते हैं, अब भी उस प्रदेश में होता है। सुधि दीदी और उनका आश्रम, दोनों को गुजरे बहुत समय बीता।



1.     Adhiya and Tihaiya are contract farming terms in the Vindhya region. In Adhiya, the landowner takes half of the produce, and in Tihaiya, 2/3rd of the produce is taken by the landowner, even though the farmer does all the hard work. Further, if the crop fails, the state govt reimbursement comes only to the landowner, not the actual tiller, since all contracts are verbal only. Not all landowners share this reimbursement with the tillers.

The tihaiya farmers of Vindhya region caught in a cycle of debt and destitution - Gaonconnection | Your Connection with Rural India


'Half-half farming': landlords win, tenants lose (


2.     Dasai is an imaginary term but it refers to one tenth of the produce being taken as tax. 1/16, 1/10, and 1/6 were the agricultural tax rates from Manusmriti to Arthashastra. In Arthashastra, it is standardized to Chhath (1/6), which is where it remained till the middle ages, when Chauth (one fourth) was introduced.







Short Story - It Happened One Night


It happened one night. You may not remember, but that is the title of an old romantic movie.

In that movie, a young, lovestruck young lady elopes to meet her partner. But she bumps into this young man on the way and then a series of events make it possible for these two to … well, fall in love. It ends well, according to the film.

It did happen one night. I did fall in love. But, lets start at the very beginning.

That night, it was 1 am. I was driving home after a long, hard day at work. When we went from being humans to mules I have no idea, but it’s a rather successful transition.

There was an accident on the road, so, it was jammed, and teaming with random people. Every young girl in Delhi knows that she must NEVER get out of her car at one am, no matter what the provocation. So, I sighed, relaxed, and prepared to wait. Another 10-15 minutes before the police arrive, then 5-10 minutes for them to clear the scene.

Suddenly, a well-dressed young man broke through the crowd. “Does anyone here know First Aid? Please step out and save my brother’s life! Any doctors, nurses, anyone here?”

He was screaming on top of his lungs.

I got out of my car, locked the door, and ran towards him.

“I know First Aid and basic nursing.”

He ran. I ran after him.

We reached the eye of the storm. Another young man was on the road. He was in excruciating pain, and the leg was starting to swell. There was no blood anywhere, but it was obvious that there was an internal injury.

I did what was needed – quick diagnosis, some basic first aid, so that when the police came, he was ready to be put on the stretcher, and he was breathing better.

When the police came, I moved to my car, grateful that it was over and glad that one could help.

“Madam, aap kidhar jaa rahi hain?” a male voice boomed behind me.

“Apni car mein..I only got down to give first aid” I responded, trying to sound as calm as possible.

“Madam, this is a medico-legal case. You have to come to the station to give a statement. We cannot let you leave.”

I tried to look for the young man whose call for help I had responded to so recklessly.

He was trying his best to work with the ambulance team to get his brother in without too much pain or further damage. This one I would have to go alone. So, I decided to use the universal Indian bystander.

“I have nothing to do with the accident. Please ask anyone standing here. I was not even here when it happened. My car got stuck in that jam, and when the victim’s brother asked someone to help, I just came out to give first aid. That’s all. I have no idea what happened here.”

“What first aid did you give?”

“Verified that there is no rib fracture by checking where the pain is. If there is no fracture in the rib cage area, we can raise the head slightly so that the person can breathe better. Then I checked his leg, where he said there is a lot of pain. I think it’s a fracture. I have just used planks on both sides of the bone, to keep it stable. The bone is not jutting out, so it looks like something an X ray and plaster can take care of. The bone will not get too much disturbed because of that support. That’s all. Raising his head helped him breathe better and that reduced his feeling of anxiety and pain.”

“They teach all this?”

“Yes sir, we are taught all this in a First Aid course.”

The conversation was civil, but I had just come out of a marathon 16-hour workday, and the police person had not yet said I could go. While he was thinking, I said, “Sir, it is nearly 2 am. If it was not a case of life and death, I would not have got out of my car at this time. Please let me go home and rest. I really need it.”

The police team took my contact information and let me go.


A few days later, there was a call from an unknown number. All unknown numbers are telecallers, so, as a rule, I start the call with a very gruff “Hello”.

“Mam, this is Vignesh. You saved my brother’s life on the road 3 days ago. I am calling to say Thank you.”

“How did you get my number?”

“From the police.”

“Hmm. How is your brother now?”

“He will recover mam. Even the doctors said that the first aid given to him was vital in saving him. We cannot thank you enough. Will you grace us with your presence for a small tea at my house? My mother would like to thank you.”

I said yes.


Vignesh and Taresh were gems. They lived with their parents. A very typical family – working dad, homemaker mom, 2 very attached brothers, one of whom had recently started earning.

On that day, they were standing on the edge of the road when a vehicle touched them, and Taresh fell down where he was.

Yes, I was drawn to Vignesh.

We started meeting.

Within a few months, we knew where this was going, but neither knew how to put words to thoughts. Those 3 magic words are magical only in films. In real life, no one knows how to say them!


The second part of this story also just happened one night. Vignesh, Taresh, Jyoti, and I were out, watching a movie. Taresh often tagged along with Vignesh and I, and we were glad for the company. It was now obvious to all of us that it was only a matter of time before I joined the family officially. Jyoti was my colleague and friend, and on this day, I had brought her along to introduce her to Taresh. She’d been reluctant, but I pulled her along anyway, certain that Taresh’s charm would do the rest. Things seemed to be going well. After the movie, all of us went to a restaurant to get dinner.

After ordering drinks, however, suddenly, Jyoti said that she wasn’t feeling well. A friend she had been texting all evening had had poor health and she was very disturbed. So, she needed to get home. Taresh offered to drop her but she requested me. Obviously, I could not refuse, since she was my guest in the first place. We said a rather reluctant goodbye to Vignesh and Taresh and made our way out.

When we got to her place, instead of getting out, she requested me to come up and have a cup of tea with her. I was also feeling strange about her being alone at home after getting such disturbing news, so we parked and I went up with her.

At her apartment, I offered to make tea. But she wanted to make tea for both of us – to distract her mind.

As I sat down, she sat next to me and said, “Vibha, I need to show you something. But you must promise me that you will not get angry, and will see it for what it is.”

“Have you backstabbed me on the Saket project? Don’t worry. That is the way offices work. Nothing personal, unless I am about to lose my job. Projects come and projects go.”

She said nothing, and quietly handed me her phone.

A Tinder chat was open. She requested me to read it. It felt awkward to read her personal Tinder chat with someone, but I complied. Maybe it was her Tinder date who was unwell.

The chat was very passionate. The guy was obviously a romantic at heart. He had sent her a lot of heart and love emojis. He had shared everything with her – his favourite places, food, drink, holidays, icecream even. At many places, he had asked her to meet. He had mentioned that he was very serious about her and wanted to meet her only to propose.

Something about this chat was off. It was sounding familiar, but I couldn’t understand why. The profile pic was also such that one could see the build of the guy, but not his face clearly. Even the pics he had sent her showed him in various poses, but the face was never clear.

Then, at one pic, I froze. The background was Vignesh’s bedroom. The wall had a distinct painting, which he had made and won a prize for. It could not have been anywhere else.

There was nothing left to do except confirmation. “This.. is.. Vignesh, isn’t it?”  

She nodded, then said, “I am sorry. I had no idea he was seeing someone else. I thought we were exclusive. I was going to meet him sometime soon and hopefully, fall in love.”

So, we were both shattered that night, and had the same grief to address.

This was going to be a long, long night.

“How do you know its not Taresh? And, you have never been to their house, so how could you know for sure that this is the same guy?”

As softly as she could through her tears, she whispered, “He ordered his margarita with a green chili thrown in.”