July 17, 2011
Manikchandani Jewelers was very well known among gold merchants. Their success had sixty years of history and shared tremendous goodwill in the market. Old man Manikchandani had retired from office and his only son Roshan Chandani had grabbed the control.
Roshan Chandani’s most trusted staff was his accountant Yusuf. The fifty plus Yusuf had served the company for last twenty five years. In given circumstances Yusuf had remained honest, loyal, reasonable and acceptable. Fifteen years back when Roshan Chandani took hold of the reigns from his father, Yusuf was first among the staff to be given facility of computer. During those days Yusuf had absolutely no computer knowledge. Roshan had allowed him to enroll for a crash course at company’s cost. Perhaps the quality of being morally righteous was appreciated by his new boss.
On a Monday morning at 9:00 am Yusuf stepped out at his regular bus stop. Four minutes of walk was mandatory to reach the shop. The automatic glass door unobtrusively parted open as he reached closer. In Owner’s absence the shop was managed by Ajay, Roshan’s brother in law and he had the key. It was too early in the morning for customers. The sales staff appeared in informal conversations. An office worker was occupied in cleaning job. Yusuf’s desk was behind cash counter. His possession for his accounts assignment contained a table, chair, computer and filing cabinet. Roshan Chandani’s glass cabin was on his left. The boss was yet to arrive and there was no clear cut time for his entry. Mostly he would walk in between 10:00 and 11.00 am.
As Yusuf switched on the computer, the office helper placed a cup of tea on his desk. While pondering & weighing up the job tasks in hand, he suddenly remembered Roshan Chandani’s irritated admonishment just last evening.
Roshan Chandani’s occupation was beyond his ancestral gold business. He had spread his wings in different areas of money multiplying means and schemes. Investment in share market was routinely done. However he had immense proclivity towards private financing both in lending and recovery. Film producers were his targets where both risk and returns were astronomically very high. Gurudev was one such producer to whom Roshan Chandani had advanced close to the tune of 4 millions.
The box office dud was released three months back and since then Gurudev had turned dodgy showing no signs of repayment. Roshan had advised Yusuf to pursue Gurudev in order to succeed in recovery. Yusuf had religiously followed up the collection. He had gone in pursuit with repeated phone calls and even early morning visits to Gurudev’s residence. The riposte ‘by next week’ had become Gurudev’s favorite escape route. Yusuf had irritated Gurudev within his capacity. The thick skinned Gurudev had effectively managed to keep Yusuf at bay.
“Come on… You are chasing me as if I am going to run away. The distributor’s cheque is dishonored. Once it’s sorted out your payment is first on priority, by next week for sure. I will call Roshan Seth and explain. Don’t worry.” Gurudev had countered and tricked Yusuf more than once by presenting deceptive assertions of similar kind.
Yusuf had dutifully transmitted the messages to his boss.
“Do you know your problem?” The exasperated Roshan had yelled at Yusuf last evening.
Unlike father, Roshan Chandani’s approach was tough and highly demanding. He had no qualms in opting or facing unpleasant situations. Yusuf found it grueling and arduous to deal with Roshan. Tense muscles, dryness in mouth and speech difficulties bothered him to no ends.
“You have been working with us for donkey’s years. Sorry to say, you have not learnt the tricks of collection.” Roshan had picked holes. “In lending business there are very few who pay back in time. Rest who don’t pay in time, we have to go hard at them. These exceptional tough nuts understand only one language. That’s the threat. They pay in no time if you know how to threaten. How did you spend so many years in this office without knowing ploys of collection? I am surprised.”
He wanted to remind his boss that he had joined as an accountant to jewelry firm and not to his clandestine banking.
“I will try sir.” Yusuf had assured with immense hesitation.
“It will not help.” Roshan had disregarded. “I want results. Just terrify him with your threats. Once frightened, he will make arrangements to pay all dues with interest within one week.”
“Remember my word….”He went on. “An empty threat doesn’t work. A threat should be potential enough to knock your adversary off-balance leaving him stumbling and mumbling in no-man’s-land. So when the time is ripe to raise stakes, a well-timed threat is always your trump card!”
He had nodded while returning to his seat. Roshan Chandani’s private banking was conducted through black money and illegal funds. There was no way he could threaten Gurudev with legal consequences. Honestly he was not skilled enough to make threats. Still he decided make an attempt by dialing Gurudev’s number. As he stretched hand at receiver Ajay appeared, left a note on his table and turned back without a word. Ajay’s behavior was unexpectedly abnormal.
Yusuf looked at the message: ‘You have instructions from Roshan Seth to go to Motilal’s restaurant right now. You will receive a call from boss by next five minutes.’
He gulped his tea and squandered couple of minutes while trying to understand the situation. It was strangely deviant and never had happened in the past. Yusuf pushed the piece of paper to his shirt pocket and hastened from his seat. While hurrying through, his hand knocked the cup and leftover tea splashed on the table. The office helper was called to clean as he stepped out. He was gasping for breath on his way to Motilal’s restaurant. With his efforts of holding the nerve, he walked in. By then the buzz of landline emerged at counter.
Motilal’s son picked the receiver at cash counter. He looked around and signaled at Yusuf.
“You have a call.” The handset was handed over.
“Thank you.” Yusuf wiped moisture on his temple and collected the instrument.
“Hello.” He cleared his throat. “I am Yusuf.”
“Now listen carefully.” Roshan whispered from other end. “There is a possibility my lines are tapped. I am even avoiding cell phones. This call is made from public booth.”
“Why lines are tapped? What’s wrong?” His reaction was apprehensively instant.
“Oh shut up!” Roshan scolded him. “Don’t respond. There could be snoopers around. Just listen to me. I have inside information from income tax department. A raid is expected any time from now within next three days. Don’t go edgy, pay attention to what I am saying. You know my filing cabinet beside the table…. A black file is inside. That contains all information related to my private and secret financing. I want you to take that file and go home without any second thoughts. Keep it under wraps for few days. You may bring it back once life becomes normal.”
“But….” His feet wobbled with fear.
“You! I told you not to talk.” He clattered his teeth in anger. “Remember you are at public place. So avoid any questions. I am yet to complete and I will tell you before you ask. You want the key, Isn’t it? There are three goblet type pen stands on my table. Pick the black one. You will see two keys at the bottom, one for cabinet and second for locker. The black file inside cabinet locker. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.” Yusuf shook his head.
“Remember, this is highly confidential and you will not check, talk or show to anybody. Hide it in your bag and take it away. Don’t explain anything to Ajay. You may take an off for the day. I will see you tomorrow. No more questions. Good luck.” The line was disconnected.
Yusuf kept the receiver down and thanked the man at counter. The anxiety had caused confusion and mental imbalance. Such circumstances were completely new to him. He walked out of restaurant with rising trepidation.
The office helper had cleaned his table. A series of questions stemmed out and bothered him. The boss had commanded and he had to carry out his order. However why was he chosen where Ajay was an obvious choice? Perhaps Roshan Chandani trusted him more than anybody else. The sense of satisfaction boosted his low energy level.
Yusuf stepped into boss’s cabin. He picked black pen stand, removed scale, pens and pencils. Two keys dropped down while turning the stand upside down. In alternate attempts he opened cabinet and then the locker. The black file was pulled out.
After closing locker and cabinet he put the keys back in pen stand. Yusuf reached his table and placed black file in his leather bag. While locking the table drawer he examined his table to confirm everything is in order. Thereafter he informed Ajay and moved off in a huff.
On his way to bus stop he turned and looked around to ensure he is not followed. Once the specific bus arrived, he entered in and reached home subsequently in forty five minutes. His wife Wahida and eldest daughter Mumtaz were surprised to see him back at home. Minor health disorder reasons were given to convince them. He concealed the file underneath mattress in his bedroom and inhaled lungful of air with sense of relief.
Mumtaz had remained jobless after her graduation. Her aspiration to join a bank had no takers and he was short of funds to get her married. He had three more young children to support. Twin girls were in grade 11 and youngest boy was in grade 7. During his tenure in Manikchandani jewelers, he had counted in millions however had struggled for thousands in his personal life. The characteristic of being fair, truthful and morally upright had not paved way to financial contentment.
After having lunch with his family he came to bedroom with intention to unwind for sometime. Bothered by fidgety he could not relax. Wife and daughter were busy in hall, watching TV serial. The black file stood out in his mind. In voluntarily he pushed his hand beneath mattress and pulled the file.
‘Was it unscrupulous and unethical to go through boss’s private file?’
He fell to temptation, glanced and gradually focused on contents. The impact was sudden and unexpected. He was shocked to look at the volume of money in illegal financing. Funds were diverted into investment on high interest, money laundering, share market, property business, foreign accounts and secret lockers. Roshan Chandani was virtually sitting on a mountain of cash, could be worth in billions. Yusuf was his accountant just for heck of it. He had absolutely no knowledge of Roshan’s hidden wealth and veiled cash flow.
As an accountant his earning was measly salary braced by paltry increments. Until now he had no clue of Roshan Chandani’s accumulated illegal holdings. The black file contained everything that could make any tax official delightful. Yusuf was chosen by his boss to rescue from an unsafe situation. If caught, it could prove detrimental to his boss. Haughtiness surfaced and he took pride in being the knight in shining armor.
By next morning before he could arrive at office, income tax officials had gathered all over the place. Roshan Chandani’s residence and businesses were raided at same time in a synchronized operation. Being the accountant Yusuf was quizzed and grilled with nerve-racking queries. Even though forewarned, dealing with tax officials was never an easy exercise.
“You can tell the unaccounted wealth of your boss.” One sleuth was straight on.
“Don’t settle on conspiracy of silence.” Another lured with bait. “Remember, you would be rewarded.”
It wasn’t bad idea. An incentive was on cards in exchange of black file! ‘Is it an act of betrayal if law is helped? Why should he descend into risk of protecting Roshan Chandani? Would his boss offer the rightful monetary compensation for saving him?’
That particular night he remained restlessly sleepless. He was desperately in need of funds to provide a worthy future to his children. The monthly pay check was unsatisfactorily inadequate to support his cause. Roshan would not go poor by parting out a petty percentage of black file. Once after retirement, Yusuf’s chances of falling into pitiable condition were very high. Here existed a fertile opportunity to fix the loose ends of life. Would Roshan reciprocate with a sizable monetary gift for preventing him being harmed?
Would he? The possibility was very bleak. Under such circumstances what should be the next level of gambit?
He had enough secrets to compel with black file. Roshan had to pay a price. A threat to reveal the incriminating facts to tax sleuths was practically a workable strategy. Roshan Chandani would be left with no option to ignore or deny if a demand is made for five millions. His pulse rate shot up quickly in earnest and tense desire. Drops of salty liquid emanated from his forehead.
The temporary possession passed on by Roshan was not just a simple file. It was his boss’s life line. Considering the odds Roshan perhaps could pay more than five millions if demanded. ‘Should he jack up the claim to the extent of 10 millions?’
‘Remember my word… An empty threat doesn’t work. A threat should be potential enough to knock your adversary off-balance leaving him stumbling and mumbling in no-man’s-land. So when the time is ripe to raise stakes, the well-timed threat is always your trump card!’ Roshan’s words resounded.
The occasion was ripe for a well timed threat to raise stakes!
Yusuf prepared himself with repeated rehearsals to put forward an intimidating dialogue in front his boss. Ten days had passed after the income tax raid and that evening Roshan instructed Yusuf to produce the file by next morning. On eleventh day he walked in without the file, however with a well primed discourse. At 11.10 am Roshan Chandani marched into his office. By 11:30 am Yusuf was called in. Yusuf could feel his palpitating heart while stepping into boss’s office.
“Where is my file?” Roshan lost his cool. “How dare you come empty handed?”
Yusuf gathered courage to speak, coughed and failed to produce the act of confrontation. Perhaps he wasn’t ready and needed more time. He decided to return back to his seat and come back convincingly after some time.
“Where are you going? What happened to Gurudev?” Roshan changed the topic. “I don’t think you are capable of making a threat or the recovery. Just wait and watch the way I talk.”
Yusuf felt a shuddering feeling of coldness running down in his spine.
Roshan Chandani picked receiver and tried the number. A fragile Gurudev responded from other end.
“Hello. My dear Gurudev, what do you think of yourself?” Roshan raised his fist and banged the table. “When did you release your movie? You had promised to pay within one month of release. You must have forgotten, but I have not forgotten. My friend, when time gets tough there are no good people left in this world. Even the leftover like me, are induced to turn bad.
Sampat Lal is just a call away. Do you want your family lying and bleeding in pool of blood with slugs all over?” Sampat Lal was a dreaded underworld kingpin reputed for hired killing….Yusuf went breathless gripped by intense fear.
“You are a good guy.” Roshan Chandani webbed a chill of terror. “Sampat Lal could get very nasty and nothing can save you, not even the smile of your killer. If you are not keen to pay back, please make it clear. Henceforth I will not bother you. I will leave to Sampat Lal… No… no, I can’t wait for fifteen days. Fine, just ten days. On eleventh day, the litigation will be handed over to Sampat Lal.”
Roshan slammed the receiver down. The shivering Yusuf was unmistakably shaken.
“Do understand?” Roshan looked at Yusuf. “I had read it somewhere, it’s better to be feared than loved. When people know your ability to harm, fear works in politics as well in business. If you have will and power to follow through your threat, the ultimatum is like a trick up in your sleeve. I hope you understood my way of issuing a potential threat…. By the way where is my black file?”
“I forgot.” Yusuf wiped the diffused sweat on his face. “If you need it urgently, I can go home and fetch it by next one hour.”
“It’s okay.” Infuriated Roshan Chandani replied. “But don’t forget by tomorrow. I have plenty of unresolved issues to be referred from my file.”
“Sure sir. I will not miss it tomorrow.” The threatened Yusuf helplessly paced towards his seat. By then he had decided to return the black file without issuing any threat.