Saturday, 2 January 2016

Over the dead body - A short story

Over the dead body

"What do you rich people think of yourselves?" the scary looking crook beamed at him threateningly. The women lamenting around the dead body wrapped in white cloth, stained with patches of red, looked at him with utter disgust in their eyes, ready to charge at him any moment.

Had it not been for his black coat over the white shirt and trousers, it would have been difficult to make out that this crook was a lawyer. His personality and diction was more like mafia. "It is because of me that you are standing here safely," he continued," look at the hatred in their eyes. His brother Shriajuddin and cousins are hell bent on avenging Rizwan's death."

Aryan Goenka looked at them from a corner of his eye.... a group of eight to ten lean and sturdy looking young men were leaning against a wall to his left. Two of them carried double barrels, while one of them stretched his back supporting his weight over a  hockey stick. They had come from the nearby village of Ghatampur, officially farmers by profession. It had been a bad idea to come here all alone, amongst the factory workers protesting outside the postmortem house. His father had strictly advised him not to, and now he understood partly why he had said so. There were around fifty odd family members and co-workers gathered there. He was shocked to see how the very same workers who very courteously bowed their heads down to 'namaste' in the factory everyday, were now shouting frenzied slogans against him. It had only been four months since he had joined the factory after completing his MBA.

 "But Saxena ji, we followed all the safety norms. Rizwan slept on duty, leaving the machine unattended. He was sleeping right under the machine, when the hopper fell over him. We are giving three lacs to comfort his family, double the statutory compensation norm. Please ask them to end the protest and send the body for postmortem," Aryan submitted politely, yet firmly.

"You got him murdered in cold blood. He had some inside information about your malpractices."

"What !" He couldn't believe this.

"It is not me who says this. His assistant Ramchandra, who was on duty that night, has given his statement to the police already. He says the overhead hopper could not fall down without someone intentionally fiddling with it."

"That's not true. Do you think we factory owners go around loosening nut bolts to punish sleeping workers?"

Saxena came close to him and whispered in his ear," I know your father. He is a very nice man. It is my personal advise...don't bargain too much. They are asking for 15 lacs, give them 10 lacs and get this over and done with. I will convince them. I know your time is valuable, don't waste it on this. Besides, it doesn't suit a lala...bargaining over a dead body with these poor people."

"But, I can't...".

"Sir, the Senior Inspector has lodged FIR against Aryan and Mr Shyam Goenka," Saxena's junior in matching dress, scuttled down and whispered close to their ears, " He is taking statements from Rizwans wife and his brothers along with Ramchandra."

" Look I told you..."

Aryan's head spun. If he did not take instant decision, this could be immensely damaging.It was a right decision to come here. After all 10 lacs wasn't really that much compared to a human life. Given the chance, wouldn't he have willingly given much more to save his life? Besides what about all the stress and loss of time they would have to face?

" Give me a moment," he told them, as he took a few steps away and called his father. He did not get much advise. Some scolding, followed by " This would not have happened at all, had you not gone there. Now come back immediately. Your safety is above everything else to me."

As Aryan hung up, he could hear the noise behind him grow. He turned his head to see a pack of the rugged looking armed villagers approaching him. The air was not good, something wrong was about to happen. Saxena held him by the arm and hurriedly pulled him away, " Let's go, these people are illeterate, the situations seems to be getting out of hand." They scurried towards the police station located a few hundred yards away on the opposite side of the road. Saxena's junior and Aryan's personal security officer escorted them.

Saxena flung himself on a cushioned bench in the SI's room at the Police station, gasping for breath. He signaled to Aryan to sit next to him. " So tell me , what did Goenka ji say ?"

Aryan nodded his head dismally.

" Okay, then I think SI sahab may like to stay here for taking your statements.You can call your lawyer if you want to. Let me tell you, your father's political contacts will not help much."

Aryan felt frozen... trapped. He sat down on the bench next to Saxena and started thinking...hard. Who could possibly help them in this situation. His father probably did not understand the gravity of the situation. They would both be charged and arrested. He had to take a!

Political contacts? Saxena had just mentioned political contacts. Of course, no one no one could ignore him. He picked up his phone and called Mr Harishchandra Trivedi, the influential Mayor of the city, who held his father in great regard. Trivedi touched his father's feet even in social gatherings and had helped them on several occassions.

" Don't worry. Accidents keep happening in factories, of course no factory owner would want a death in his factory. Who's the bloody fool threatening you ... Saxena ? Who Saxena ? Just switch on the speaker, let me speak to him ?"

"Saxenaji, this is Mayor Trivedi. These people are my family friends. Why are you threatening them ?"

Aryan felt a surge of relief. He had taken the right step at the right time.

"No Sir, you can ask Mr Aryan. I am the one who has been trying to help him all along. The situation is quite heated up here. The relatives of the deceased have already lodged FIR against them, and are demanding 15 lacs compensation. But these people are not willing to negotiate. You only tell, is this the way such cases are handled? If they remain adamant, these people may even proceed to their factory, protest and force shutdown. You have mediated so many cases, you put some sense into them."

"Okay, get the workers family to agree for 12 lacs...."

" Sir, I already got them partly agreed for 10 lacs, but even then Aryan is not ready. He is adamant on 3 lacs...tell me how can I speak such an absurd figure in front of the worker's family. After all , I am their lawyer."

"Aryan, beta, I have mediated settlement in many such cases. Dont be rigid. They may be demanding a bit more, but it's nothing over the top. It's in your best interest to settle this here and move on. Saxenaji, I am telling you a final figure...8.5 lacs. Get the worker's family to agree on this, keep my words."

Aryan called his father, and somehow convinced him about the gravity of the situation and how the best figure had been negotiated through intervention of Mr Trivedi. The papers were signed in Mr Saxena's office, cash handed over and the FIR taken back. It was only 4 pm and Aryan felt exhausted like he had worked a double shift.

He called his friend Rajat and they hung out for Car-O-Bar, over beer and garlic bread. Relaxed, he dropped Rajat back home. It was 7 pm and Aryan was headed home. He passed by Haldiram's and it occured to him that it would be a good idea to thank Mr Trivedi for his timely help today. He got a Pista-barfi box gift wrapped and stopped by at his bunglow.

The guard at the gate saluted him and confirmed that Mr Trivedi was in office, but would be leaving shortly.

He was about to enter Trivedi uncle's room, but he pulled back his hand which was about to push the door open. The voices coming from inside the room sounded familiar, apart from that of Mr Trivedi. It was Mr Saxena and the SI, Veer Singh.

"This young chap was a tough nut Trivediji, I must say. He was about to go back, when I had to remind him of his father's political contacts, so that he could think about you and call you."

"Of course you are smart Saxena, that's why I give these assignments to you. One of the worker's family members called me early morning and informed me about the casualty, seeking my help. You were fast, you reached there within half an hour and took control of things."

" Trivediji, this time make it fifty thousand... it's a request. Even Veer Singh ji gets that amount. See how hard I work to facilitate this."

"Who gets paid Rs fifty thousand for half a shift of work?" chuckled Trivediji . Aryan heard the sound of a bunch of notes hitting the table and the tinkling sound of glasses coming together for a toast.

"May I ask you a question if you don't mind Trivediji ," Aryan heard Veer Singh say.

"Yes, Singh Sahad, go ahead..."

"We paid the family 4 lacs and you paid us fifty thousand each, now the surplus three and a half lacs goes to party fund and higher ups as you say. Sir, all of it goes there, really .... all of it?"

"Oh come on Veer ji, just have the mangoes, don't go counting the trees.....". They all burst out into laughter, orchestrated by the tinkling sound of the glasses.

Outside the door, Aryan stood stupefied. He felt like barging in and holding them by their collars, punching them in their faces. But he was frozen....heartbroken. His eyes were moist. It was the biggest betrayal he had faced.

It was dusk. He drove to the seashore and stood on the rocks, looking at the waves splash below him. He had learnt his lesson. It was a cruel, merciless world out there.