Monday, July 09, 2018

Money! - Short Story


Mumbai.
I am finally in Mumbai. I have heard a lot about the city and also seen it in the movies but it is not the same. One has to breathe the air to truly understand what the city is all about. The wind hitting my face as we drive down is telling me a lot about this incredible city. Mumbai, I feel is all about people in it. It has all kind of people: Rich, poor, movie-stars, cricketers, politicians & criminals. Well, last two can be counted as one.


Mumbai is home to people you will either hate or love. Sachin Tendulkar calls it home, so does Salman Khan. This city has everything, this city has seen everything and today we have met for the first time.


I have heard that Mumbai is a tough city and only the best succeed here. I hope I will also succeed
and become famous like singer Mukesh.

You may be wondering who am I?

I am a criminal and tonight I have committed a crime.
Am I afraid?
May be, I am not sure right now
Is it risky?
Well...yes it is, but don't worry, I am a trained professional criminal and this was not my first
crime!...However, I think this will be my last.
You may want to ask Why?
Money! Plain and simple. For me it's always about money

*************

Unluckily, I was born in a poor family. Not only poor, but a large poor family of seven members
with only one breadwinner. My father sold dahi-vada (snacks) in our village, which obviously
wasn't sufficient to support seven people. Though he tried his best but more or less he failed. He
couldn't provide for our education. I dropped out of school after fourth grade and when things
started getting difficult, my elder brother was sent to nearest city to work as a labourer. He would
save a little and send the money back home. I would help my father in preparing his cart everyday
and some days would assist him in the market. With two earning members we were able to

survive, but still it wasn't enough. Father had to take loan for my elder sister's marriage. Things got

worse from there on. My father would say no to everything I asked for, even for new clothes during

festival.
What kind of father does that?

I think a poor helpless father.


I realized it later but that night when he refused to buy new clothes, we had a bitter fight. I left my home that night and vowed never to come back. I went to the city to stay with my brother and started working with him. I was earning now, Fifty rupees a day! The first day I got my salary, I was so excited that I couldn't decide what should I do with it. I had a peaceful sleep that night, with those fifty rupees under my pillow. I was proud of myself.

'I am a hard-working labourer and I will make it big in this city' I thought as I dozed off.

Next morning, I woke up to the harsh reality of the city life when my brother announced

"From today you have to pay for your own stuff." I was half asleep and he was sitting near my legs
"What stuff?" I asked, trying to open my eyes.
"Your food, clothes, soap, rent everything"
"What rent? We don't live in a house" I was curious.
"Rent for this cot you are sleeping on!" he stoop up and kicked my cot.
"What! Cot is on rent?"
"Yes! What did you think? Some good samaritan left it for you?”

"What is the rent for this old cot?" I was appalled as never even in my wildest dream I would have thought that I have to pay rent for those dreams!
Ten Rupees per night. Now get up and get ready for work, we have to return the cot as well.” My brother walked away after seeing me wide awake.

Rashid Bhai ran the cot-rental business. It was a successful business model as the homeless persons count was always increasing in the city and Rashid Bhai enjoyed a sort of monopoly. He was a willy old man who had been in the city long enough to know how to operate in the city. Within couple of weeks we became friends and since I was regular with my payments, Rashid Bhai gave me occasional discounts.


You know what, a man who has roof over his head when he sleeps at night is a rich man. Rest all are poor.” Rashid Bhai once told me.

Quality of sleep one can afford defines how rich one really is” he continued.

I don't understand, I sleep well here. I don't need a house, this concrete floor is sufficient for me.” I said
Wait for another month! Once summer kicks-in you won't be able to sleep here. You would have to look for a cooler place. You should ask Laalu, he sleeps near canal during those days.”

Laalu was another cot-renter. He delivered newspapers by morning and sold tea near the construction site for rest of the day. I saw him everyday, during my evening tea break.

That place is expensive, you won't be able to afford it” He told me when I asked him about the canal.
I have to pay to sleep there?” I asked the rhetorical question.
Yes dear! It is as good as sleeping in an AC. I would say it is even better. There is no power cut!!”
He started laughing at his own joke.
How much?”
30 bucks, cot extra”
What the hell! That's ridiculous” I was exasperated.

That was the moment when I realized what Rashid Bhai meant. I was poor.

To die poor is stupidity!” Laalu declared while we were lying on our cots near the lake. He had partially funded my sleep on that hot summer night. “What can we do my friend?” I asked him hopelessly.


Who else will do, only you can change your destiny?” Laalu angrily responded back.

I didn't know how to answer to that barb but thought it was the right time to ask one question that had been bothering me for past few days.
Laalu Bhai , if you don't mind can I ask you a question?” He grunted a yes.
Is there good money in newspaper delivery and tea business?”
He stared at me as he understood what I really wanted to know but didn't give a direct answer. “It is sufficient to live in the city my friend” He responded
Can you help me make a little more, so that I also have sufficient to live?” I posed another indirect question.
What can you do?”
I will do anything” There was a desperation in my voice which he noticed
Anything?” He confirmed again.
Yes!” This time my answer was firm.
Tomorrow we will discuss about this. Let's sleep now!” He adjusted the pillow and closed his eyes. I did the same except I couldn't sleep the whole night. The only thought in my head was 'I will not die poor!'

Next day he introduced me to his little dark side. Laalu was part of a three member gang which used to rob houses. Laalu's job was to find out houses to rob, which he successfully did during his day job – houses where newspaper wasn't picked up for two-three days were the obvious target. Once the house was finalized other two members used to break in and rob the house. Rewards were proportional to the risk hence Laalu's share wasn't much. I proposed an equal partnership to him and asked him to be a look-out when I broke in the houses. He happily accepted my offer and told me about a house which he had recently surveyed. 
We robbed the house that very night. Our loot was sufficient to last three months but we spent it all in a month. We ate sumptuous meals, watched latest movies and slept near the lake for entire summer. It was the best month of my life.

I think money is the most addictive thing in the entire world. It makes a man do things which he will probably never do if he had sufficient money. Also, for an addict no amount of money is ever sufficient. I wasn't an addict yet. We robbed one house or shop every month and it was sufficient for us, but when opportunity came to make some more I couldn't say no.

We were having our dinner when Laalu said “Festival season is coming” “Are you going to your village?” I asked
Are you crazy, this is the time to work more.”
I was confused and it was visible on my face hence Laalu explained like a teacher.
During festival people go to their villages, leaving their houses, so that good fellows like you and me can rob them. Do you understand now or shall I write it down for you?” I simply nodded while he continued

Last year with those two morons I robbed ten houses in four days. You must have read about it in newspaper. It was on the first page, they called us Festive Robbers. The best part was I only delivered that newspaper to those ten houses.” Laalu had a wicked smile on his face. “This year we have to break that record my friend.” He announced.
Sure” seeing his excitement I didn't want to argue.

We robbed four houses on day one and were confident that we will break last year's record. On second day we robbed another four houses. As the collection on second day wasn't great we decided to break into another house. As soon as we entered the living room someone switched on the lights.

Don't move else I will shoot your head off” thundered a loud voice. 

Both of us turned to find a six foot tall and muscular Major Rana standing in the middle of the room with his military rifle pointed towards our head. He looked like someone capable of blowing our heads. Even if he didn't had the rifle he could have beaten us to death. I looked at Laalu, he was sweating like a pig and as his eyes met mine he started crying.

Please forgive us sir...we are poor...look at our clothes sir...we don't have anything to eat...we came here looking for some food...please don't kill us...please sir...I beg you...for god's sake...forgive us.”


Laalu was now lying flat on his belly with his hands outstretched, joined together, asking for forgiveness. I was still standing with my hands up. Interestingly, the rifle was still pointing towards Laalu.


Shut up you idiot! Don't lie to me. Now get up before I shoot you, I don't want my new marble floor to be all bloodied up.” Laalu wiped his fake tears and stood up.
You have two choices. One, you go to jail. Two you don't go to jail and do what I ask you to do. Now tell me what you want to do?”
All three of us knew answer to that question.
Major Rana sat on the sofa while we first cleaned his house, washed his clothes and then Laalu made tea for him and I cooked him breakfast. As promised, he did let us go but not before warning
us that next time if he sees us in the neighbourhood he would probably kill us.
Headlines in next morning's paper read “Festive Robbers Shot and Caught” with images of Laalu's ex-partners. We knew we couldn't stay in the city. We knew we couldn't continue robbing like this.

We moved to other city, decided to buy fire-arms and upgrade ourselves to armed robberies.
I won't die a poor man” Laalu declared when we were looking for suitable guns in the gun-shop.
I won't either. Not in this life, even if I have to kill someone for it.” I was also determined.
Yes, In this life only. God is anyway not going to grant us any riches in heaven” Laalu said.

Now I can say, our lives changed when we stepped out of that shop. We met a few volunteers of a group- a big criminal group, way above our league. They were looking for new recruits. They promised to take care of us while we were part of the group and also of our families in case we die. We decided to join them. Initially we were trained together but after few weeks we got separated into sub-groups. That was the last time I saw Laalu, my only true friend in this world.

I had twenty-five members in my sub-group. We were given special training in multiple locations. On one of such locations I thought I saw Major Rana but I wasn't sure. Even if I was sure, I would have looked the other way.

Once the training was over, few of us were sent to Mumbai and that's how today I landed in this amazing city.

*************

Today Dera Bhai was my partner in crime. We reached CST railway station at around 9:20 PM. We were running late as our plan was to reach there by 9 PM. Dera Bhai checked his bags one last time while I was continuously looking at my watch almost every ten seconds.

Stop looking at your watch, we are on time. Just follow my lead, we will go to passenger area first” Dera Bhai commanded

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

I pulled out my AK 47 rifle at the count of one and started shooting in the room. The first bullet hit a girl who was talking to someone on phone. I saw her body hit the ground, she had a butterfly tattoo on her forearm which was now covered in her blood. I had murdered her. I murdered her and others in that room for some money that my family will hopefully get. I continued shooting till the last person was alive in that room.

Once the shooting stopped, Dera Bhai patted my back and said “Very well done Kasab! Let's move to platforms now. Remember my friend, for this God will grant you riches in heaven.”