I was caught in a serious problem. My job, name, fame, character, integrity, social esteem… all under threat. An amount of Rs 500000/- kept under my custody was stolen. I was taken to task. My boss gave me left and right and held me solely responsible for the theft. Knowing me for the last so many years as an honest and straight forward hard worker, my boss spared me and gave seven days’ time. Otherwise, I being the culprit, would be handed over to Police. A tight jeopardy for a law abiding, ‘middle- class morality’ fellow. Grief stricken, knowing not what to do, and not getting a clue, as to who could have stolen the amount, I was totally shattered. I could not suspect any of my colleagues. I never harmed anybody and had no enemy.
When I told my wife, Menaka, I was almost in tears and with choked throat. She was shocked. Soon she composed herself and consoled me. “Thank God! Your boss was good enough to give you seven days’ time. First think of arranging for funds. Then find out who could have laid hands on office money. Take all my jewelleries and other valuables. For balance of shortfall, look for those friends, who can rescue us at this crucial hour.” I felt a small breather now. I was a blank head till then. I sat down to list my saviours having a big generous heart, Shreedharan, Madhavan, Ramnarayan, Ramachandran…. etc.
I was very sad. Even if they lent me the required amount, how was I going to repay? Having sold all valuables, what would I be left with, to offer them as security? Who would trust me and give me freely, lakhs of rupees? Why had such a big tragedy befallen on my head! Brooding! Brooding! Brooding over my fate was not going to serve any purpose. I had to shirk off all negative thoughts and set myself into action. From the list I prepared, after a long debate on who were most likely to lend, that too immediately, I chose, Achutan, who was running a chit-fund company. I went to him. I had to narrate my tragic story. Half-heartedly, he agreed to draw money in his name. Actually, I thought let me have it in my name and I would repay the amount slowly every month. But, to include me as a new member, I had to submit documents like my official status and salary slip, office address, etc., which neither I could produce immediately, nor would a new member as per their chit-fund rules, could get the amount immediately. So, I had to rely on Achutan’s plan. Having done so much, I felt somewhat relieved, as though, half the bridge was already crossed. I needed to refresh myself. So, I looked for a restaurant and went in.
There was a couple sitting in the cafe when I walked in. As the light was low, I didn't know who they were until the woman turned around, and I saw it was my wife. For a second, I was stunned… What was she doing here? Was she also trying to help me, by meeting her contacts? Though I could not see the guy, I knew he was a stranger. I felt ashamed. “See, we had to stretch our hands in front of all and sundry! For a few seconds of carelessness of mine, I fell into a trap. My wife, she too is dragged in now. Bad Time for us! Oh! God save us!” Ashamed of myself, with a heavy heart and without meeting them, I went home.
I was back to office, or else, I would be branded as absconding after stealing the amount. I avoided eye-contact with anybody at office. Many sympathised with me openly, but I knew that they would be suspecting me as a probable thief. ‘Having got huge money in hands, who can resist?’ Suddenly I felt someone standing by my side. He said he was Keshavan, sent by my wife, Manaka to meet me at office. Oh! That hotel-guy! That stranger, with whom my wife was conversing at the café. He said that he was aware of my being entrapped in a scam. He also said that he was working in an investigating agency as a private detective and if required, he could be of some help in tracing the real culprit.
By the way, he happened to be Menaka’s schoolmate and they recently renewed their contacts in their alumni meet. Actually, he could not attend the alumni meeting at that time. But he got the updates of all who attended that day from other classmates who had made it. He got Menaka’s phone and address from one such classmate. In their schooldays, both Keshavan and Menaka were branded by their class-mates as lovebirds. Actually, they were friends with thick bonding. What to do? Swaying tongues waiting for gossip, would lash anything about anyone. Luckily, they were very firm about their friendship and did not fall prey to infatuation. Thanks to their parents who also were in good friendship. After school, they never met each other and got drifted in their life. Their higher education and their parents’ transfers kept them apart. They never met again. Menaka after marriage, had lost all her connections with her school and college friends. Suddenly the alumni meet was conceived by one of her classmates and she got a golden opportunity to meet her old pals. She went there and met all. But Keshavan was missing in the group. In spite of so many years, they made fun of her by linking his name with her. Old memories die hard. She never thought she would be meeting him soon.
Keshavan had come on his official work to Menaka’s city. Before he would get involved in his assignment, he wanted to meet Menaka. He was thinking, “How excited she would be on meeting me! There is no doubt about that. Meeting after so many years and now all of a sudden, means it will be a great surprise to her. Will she be thicker than what she was? Will she come with her husband?” He kept imagining. Then he called on phone and asked her to meet him at Hotel Ruchi.
They met at the restaurant in the basement. Both were thrilled on meeting after a long-long while. There were many things to be exchanged. Just to refresh themselves of their old memories, Keshavan addressed her with a cunning smile, “Hi, Sweetheart!” She too responded. “Hello Dear!” Very soon they came out of their past. Menaka already possessed with her husband’s problem and it was running as undercurrent in her mind, could not be in her jolly mood. She could not freely converse with Keshavan. As a matter of fact, she was listening to him. When she learnt that he was a private detective, she immediately sprang into her usual self and caught hold of him and pleaded him to save her hubby. She updated him with relevant information. Now she was very confident that he would do something and save her husband. ‘No doubt, a friend in need is a pillar of support and mountain of support. Oh! God. You are great to send him at the appropriate time.’ Having sought his help, she felt relieved.
That was how Keshavan came to know about my accidental victim as thief and assured the best of his assistance. I was in a fix. On the one hand, there was an unknown person who cheated me for personal gain left me as a thief and here was one, equally unknown, but voluntarily offering, to pull me out. The proverbial saying was that ‘For a person drowning in a whirlpool, anything and everything is a lifebuoy.’ So, I had let him try.
Before setting his foot, he needed some details regarding place of crime, people associated with me and some more background information connected with the cash dealing. I told him that the amount was sanctioned for acquiring some raw materials as sample. Once they were found suitable after making preliminary tests, the actual order would be placed. Since it was just a sample kit, the suppliers demanded cash and made it a purchase-order on cash payment. Why cash -- was answered. Okay. He then asked many valid questions, for a person dealing with cash at office, why there was no provision for cash deposit locker, why no chest of drawers, why no lock and key, why no cage or counter and so on. He wanted to know, after receipt of bundles of notes, whether there was anybody drawing my attention unnecessarily, rather anybody distracting my attention, or any other interruption. Even a trivial matter between cash receipt and its loss, was of at most value, including my attending a phone call on landline or a visit if any, to restroom. I tried my level best to answer him one by one.
As the representative of the suppliers was to come shortly and take the amount, I thought it was not necessary to put it under lock and key in the cupboard which was kept in the cabin of my boss. That was one big blunder I committed. But this, I learnt after burning my finger. Coming back to answering him further, I was not given any cash box with lock and key. Ordinarily all transactions were by way of cheques, direct credit to accounts or settlement against recoveries. Rarely, there was any cash dealings and this was more so, after de-monetisation of higher notes by central government and subsequent restriction on cash dealings. Very occasionally and once in a long while, there were such cash payments. My bitter luck! It happened to be one of huge amount. The bundles of notes, all higher denominations, 2000s and 500s were tied neatly and kept inside a bag along with a note indicating details of supplier’s name and a stamp receipt to be obtained for having received the amount. The very bag of course, I kept it inside my drawer. Terribly unfortunate on my part, I did not lock my drawer. That became the very basis for easy lifting of the bag containing the bundle of notes.
Next in his query was whether anybody interrupted me or wantonly drew my attention away from my business. Yes. Now I recollected. I had to attend to a landline phone call, a few tables away. The very representative of supplier, who was to take the cash, had only phoned to say that he was caught in a traffic jam. In any case, irrespective of traffic jam, whatever be the delay, he would come for collecting the payment. That was only to ensure that I should not wind up my work and go home early without cash being handed over to him. At this point, Keshavan became sharp and said, even while attending the phone call away from my desk, I should have kept a watch on my drawer. Anyway, whatever happened, had happened. Then he asked me to recollect who came to my desk in that short duration and on coming back, whether I immediately verified and ensured if the bag was intact. I had no reply for this. A flat no was all I could offer. Actually, the very fact that the bag was missing, I learnt only when I looked for it to give it to the supplier. Soon, the scene got changed. I became panicky and I felt the ground slipping under my feet. Somehow, I managed to refrain from fainting. Whole office got alerted, boss held me and banged me, supplier got upset, his boss getting irritated, my boss pleading with him for pardon and bargained to get some time. High tension drama! Final verdict was, I had to make good the amount within a week or else be behind the bars.
At this point, Keshavan wanted to know whether we maintained any attendance register. Though I felt it an odd and irrelevant one, I did reply affirmatively. He further asked whether it was one time or twice a day… that is for morning only and or for afternoon session also. Yes. Attendance marked twice. We had to let office know that we were there for full day by marking in the register. If, anybody had to leave early, he would give suitable reasons or remarks for the same. He exclaimed. “That is remarkable! Find out, who were there in the morning and of them, who were not available in the evening.” On a quick perusal, I found Gopi having left early, had forgotten to offer reasons or comments for leaving early. I did say this a little louder in my excitement.
Keshavan got the clue. “There it is. Gopi is the culprit. He did not forget to offer remarks. He deliberately left early. Or, may I say he left the office with the bounty of stolen cash?” I meekly said, he was not the type to do so. By then, somebody contacted him on his mobile phone. Then too, Gopi insisted that he left early in a hurry, upon receiving a call from his wife that his child had swallowed a coin and she needed him urgently to rush to the doctor. Though I believed him, Keshavan did not. If it was a genuine reason, why he gave room for suspicion? He said, “Make a thorough search of his desk”. His drawer was locked and the keys were not with any of us. “Get duplicate keys and search the drawers. Even now, look here. There is a small ray of hope for you, Mr. Subramani. May be, you will get the bag and bundles, if he had not carried them with him.”
With difficulty, duplicate keys were obtained. At the very first click, they got opened. But, no luck for me! Keshavan found that the search was not done properly. Yes, I had missed out, one particular aspect. While swaying the hand inside the drawer, I could not do it fully till the end, by touching all corners. There was a mini drawer inside the drawer, which I had overlooked. Now, when that drawer was opened… Oh! My God! I just could not believe myself. I was awe struck. Tears welled in my eyes flowed incessantly without my asking. I simply hugged Keshavan. I stood speechless. Indeed, the very bag and details of my jottings, blank stamped receipt… all were there in tact. Keshavan, not contented with these developments, urged me to open the bag and verify….
“No, no, count all the notes and ensure availability of full amount”. Unless everything was found to be in perfect order, the case could not be construed as completed. I found Keshavan and his handling of temperamental, partly due to tension and partly due to excitement. I did as I was told. All notes were intact. The first thing I did was to take everything to my boss and simply hand over them to him. I stood there silently with due apologies for my carelessness and irresponsibility. He was not, all that excited. According to him, the money part was only secondary as compared to business integrity and office decorum, where I failed. Goodwill in business dealings, once lost, could never be brought back. He kept saying something more on these lines, half of which fell on my deaf ears and had no impact on me. I was fully relieved of my tension and was impatiently waiting to go home and break the good news to Menaka. Of course, I need to tell Achutan also, but that could be done little leisurely. Menaka first!
Menaka was beaming with radiance. Keshavan must have told her. It was really a paradise regained. I said, “How thoughtful of you to send your close friend Keshavan, to set me free from the tight noose around my neck. I am so grateful to him and of course to you also. We must celebrate.”
She said. “Sure. Let us do something. Before that, you please meet your uncle Murali and ask for Tilottama’s hands.”
I almost screamed. Then said, “What! Are you mad? No crude jokes at this crucial hour, please. I already have one apsara with me. Do I need one more?”
She told me “Oh! My dear foolish hubby! I am referring to your distant cousin, Tilottama. Meet your uncle and seek her alliance for Keshavan. If it works out, will it not be a befitting gift from us?”
Very nice of my wife to think ahead of time and in right direction. Truly, I am blessed to have her as my ‘better half.’ It must be the right thing for her friend … no-no, my friend … no-no our friend Keshavan. He entered in my life at the most appropriate time.
She was the best adviser in my adversities. Actually, she had all the six qualities as laid down in Niti Sloka for an ideal wife, be a good servant while discharging duties (Daasi), be a good counsellor when it comes to advising (Mantri), be good mother while feeding (Maata), be an enchanting entertainer when needed (Rambha), be a good looking graceful lady (Lakshmi) and be as patient as Mother Earth (Dharti). She is embodiment of all six virtues rolled into one. A cocktail of six. If I need to be born again, Oh! God, please bless me with the same cocktail lady.
Does it sound like an ode to a wife? So, what -- let it be. She deserves it. She is my wife and my sweetheart.