Sunday, August 12, 2018

Penny Wise Pound Foolish

Shyam slips his hand in his trouser pocket and feels the emboss on the paper. It's the last five hundred rupee note left with him. He makes his finger to travel along the edge of the currency if by chance there is more than one. Unfortunately, it is the last one.

The background music has now become cacophonous, though it is still drumming one of his favourites. As the evening has slipped into night, Shyam is becoming more irritated with the jockey and at times rebuked him in loud voice. Jockey ignored him all along. It's not new for the jockey.

"Ha, these guys are not letting me concentrate!",Time and again he murmurs.

Shyam was a happy guy in the morning. It was his payday. He was also expecting his loan at his office to get sanctioned. The sparkling metal of the bike in the showroom swam before his eyes.

"Dad, please buy a bike. Everyone in the society has one and their father take them on rides. Chandu's papa even has a car. At least we should have a bike", His eight-year-old son Arjun was repeating the same request for the last couple of months.

"Haan je! we should have a bike at least. Sukhda of five number always boasts of the bike of her husband, as if it is an aeroplane. I doubt if the bike is a new one also! I am sure her husband had purchased it at chor bazaar (thief's market). It looks second hand. They buy most of the things from there", Rohini, his wife would leave no chance in supporting Arjun in this matter.

Whenever any relatives visit them in their own vehicle, Shyam has to do a lot of explanation afterwards. Arjun many times would cajole the visitors for a ride on their vehicle, which makes Shyam and Rohini apologetic. 

Shyam knew that it's not true, that they are the only one in the society not having a vehicle. There are in fact almost half of the residents who do not own any vehicle, but these kinds of arguments do not hold water in front of Arjun and Rohini. Even Raghu, his office colleague argued in favour of having a two-wheeler at home. In Delhi, though it does not make sense to go to his office on a bike, considering the distance, the cultural norms say that you should have a bike standing in front of one's house. It was Raghu who gave him the idea of taking a loan from office.

At around 11 AM, Shyam got the call from Finance department to collect his pay cheque. He heads straight to the finance department, without wasting any time. More than the monthly check, he was eager to know about his loan. The finance manager, Mr Sharma has assured him that his loan will get sanctioned. After all, he is an old and faithful employee of the company for so many years. His friend in the finance department Ankur has also told him yesterday that his loan has been sanctioned and he will get the loan amount with his pay cheque.

The distance to the finance department was never-ending. Soon he was in front of the payment clerk. The clerk handed him an envelope and asked him to sign on a voucher. Shyam signed and quickly came out and tore the envelope. The colour of his face changed to white. He could not believe it. He again looked inside the envelope in case if there is a second cheque. There was none.

Shyam went to meet Ankur and explained him the situation. Even Ankur was in disbelief.

"It was sanctioned yesterday only, I saw the MD sign on your application", Ankur took the envelope from Shyam and tried to search for the second cheque, though he knew that the department only issues one cheque in this situation.

"I think you better check with Sharmaji".

Shyam wasted no moment to be in front of Sharmaji, the finance department head. Sharmaji was busy on a phone. On seeing Shyam, he signalled him to sit and continued with the phone call. After a couple of minutes, Sharmaji finished his telephonic discussion and turned toward Shyam. Before Shyam could speak anything Sharmaji was ready with an explanation.

"Shyam, I am sorry. Your loan was sanctioned but M.D at the last moment rejected it considering that the company is not doing good and it would be difficult for the company to honour any such request. I will try it again as soon as possible, but it looks like it will be another six months before we can push for this again. I am sorry about that. Can I do something else for you?" In one streak, he finished his explanation.

Shyam not knowing what to say smiled at Sharmaji.

"No sir, that's fine." And with heavy steps, he went back to his workplace.

He first broke the news to Raghu who was also shocked. Raghu was planning to borrow Shyam's bike on some weekends to go for a long drive with his girlfriend. Raja, the office peon was listening to their discussion. 

"Sir, there is a place where you can double your money. A little risk but a lot of gains", Raja whispers to Shyam.

Shyam was still not sure what to reply, and even Raghu did not know how to react.

"Sir you come with me in the evening and I will tell you how to double or even treble the money. It's very easy", Raja continues.

"What you are up to?" Raghu retorts back. Raja is known for his bad habits in the office and has been put on suspension many times. However, he being the son of chairman's driver always manages to get back.

"Sir, why you worry about that? You want to earn? You eat mangoes and don't worry about seeds!", Raja chuckled back.
"Raja tell clearly what you are up to?", Shyam insisted. He knew that it will be some shady thing. Still, the money will get doubled! For him, money was the most important thing at the moment.
"You have to come with me to the Ambassador hotel. There you can double your money. It is easy!." Raja smelled the blood.
"And how do you double the money?", Raghu was little furious about Raja's attempt to create an air of mystery.
"Oh sir, you just have to predict some numbers and the money gets doubled. I have taken five people from my society and all have made their money trebled and quadrupled. One has even bought a bike out of it." Raja had followed the discussion of Shyam about the bike.
"You are asking to gamble?" Raghu was more furious.
"Give this idea to someone", Shyam on seeing Raghu non-supportive of the idea, also brought his caution back.
"Ok sir, as you wish. But if you change your mind let me know!", Raja smiled cunningly.

A little later Shyam and Raghu went to the bank to encash their cheques. Raja keenly noticed the duo going out and coming back. The increase in the bulge in Shyam's pocket thrilled him.

Shyam could not work properly for the day. He was not sure how he is going to face Rohini and Arjun in the evening. They must be eagerly waiting for him with the good news. Again and again, the statement of Raja that someone has even bought a bike, ringed in his head. At 5:30 PM employees started leaving the office. Raghu came to him, consoled him and left. Shyam thought about many stories which he can tell to Rohini and Arjun, but none sound convincing to him. Rohini would still understand but he did not know how to face Arjun.

"Raja, take me to that place", Shyam found Raja in the pantry, sleeping behind a bench.
"I know sir, you are smart to take such a decision." As if Raja was waiting for the moment.

Both came out of the office and hired an auto.

"Ambassador, near Yalta road", Raja told the auto driver.
The duo did not converse on the way. On reaching the Ambassador, Shyam paid the auto and followed Raja to the hotel. Raja took him on the side lane. They reached to the hotel back side and enter the hotel from a relatively small side door. There was a staircase which took them to the basement of the hotel. Soon they were in front of a big door. Two burly guards were on the front. On seeing Raja they smiled and let both of them go in.

It was a different world for Shyam. There were roulette machines, gambling tables and girls dancing on an elevated dance floor in the middle.

Raja took Shyam directly to the reception where a bald man was sitting and doing calculations.
"Saheb (Sir), this is Shyam saheb. A big officer in our organization," Raja introduced Shyam to the bald man.
"Welcome, sir," The bald man smiled at him. "Please make yourself comfortable and enjoy."
Raja took Shyam to the roulette wheel and asked him to wait there. He went back to the bald man and whispered.
"He is rich today. Got his salary today."
The bald man pulled a five hundred rupee note and pushed toward him. Raja showed his unhappiness.
"What sir, just a five hundred rupee. At least give a thousand. He is worth at least twenty-five thousand."
"Leave it also, if you do not want. Last time your guy doubled the money and left. I still have to recover twenty thousand for that." The bald man replied annoyingly.
"No, No sir that's fine," Raja was not ready for that.
"At least get me a drink," He tried to recover some lost ground.
The bald man did not like it, and it was quite visible in his face. He called one of the bartender.
"Ramesh, get him a peg of vodka," He told the bartender. "And charge him if he asks for more." He added further and pulled another bundle of currency from the drawer and starts counting. In the middle, he lifted his head and told Raja, "Raja, take your man to roulette 5 and ask him to put 456."

"OK, sir". Raja returns to Shyam and did as told by the bald man. Meanwhile, the bald man instructed one of his men to set the machine accordingly.

Shyam wanted to get a taste of thing before going full throttle. He puts fifty rupees in the slot machine. To his disbelief, he had hit the jackpot. Five hundred worth of tokens came tumbling down.

"Raja, you are great. I will give you a party," Shyam still could not believe his luck.
"Ok sir, you play. I will just come," Raja went to the bar to gulp his share of vodka. He came back and spent some more time with Shyam. A man constantly kept an eye on Shyam and made sure that he kept on winning at regular intervals. Soon Shyam was having double the money than he had brought with him. In the meantime, Raja left the hotel but Shyam was least bothered with his surrounding now. One good hand and the bike is his.

The greed in Shyam kept on increasing. He was still winning at regular intervals, but the interval was getting longer. His target was to get the price of a bike. At one point he even thought of leaving the place but it was very hard to resist the temptation.

And then he started loosing continuously. The man who was keeping an eye on him also showed no further interest in him.

At around ten in the night, Shyam was left with last hundred rupees note. He slipped his hand and clinched the note. It was the only piece of paper left in his pocket. To stake it or not.

"I only can win from here. Even If I lose, it's just a hundred rupees now."
He again went to roulette 5 and punched 456. This time nothing came out. He waited for more seconds in case the machine made a mistake. There was no mistake.

With heavy steps, he turns to exit. The bald man still doing his calculation did not even noticed him leaving. Shyam checked his all pockets and realised that there is a just a ten rupees note left with him. Five rupees can take him to the home if he gets a bus.

Shyam still could not believe, that he has lost his whole salary on gambling. In two hours he lost all his hard work of the whole month. He clenched the ten rupees note and proceeded to the bus stop. It was already half past ten.

The bus to his home comes soon. It was relatively empty apart from the bus conductor in it. Shyam boards the bus.
"Rajanagar," Shyam flashes the ten rupees note.
"Ten rupees," The conductor tears a ticket for him.
"Ten rupees," Shyam shows disbelief. "It is five rupees always from here to Rajanagar."
"It's night charge," The conductor is least bothered. 
"How can you do this? You are a cheater. It's not even 11." Shyam yells. He clinches the note tightly.
"If you want to come, then pay ten rupees otherwise get down here. When you will reach it will be over 11," The conductor also raised his voice.
"You are doing cheating," Shyam cries foul. He can see that the conductor is taking advantage of the situation.
"How dare you call me a cheater?" Conductor yells back.

The driver on hearing the noise stops the bus and comes back. Meanwhile, another fellow passenger tries to calm Shyam. He also reasons for him to give ten rupees as nothing else can be done. Any auto rickshaw would easily ask for two hundred for the same.
"What is happening?", the driver is burly and has a heavy voice.
"He is not paying the ticket," The conductor answered.
"I am ready to pay the right amount. It is five rupees from here to Rajanagar, which I am ready to pay. You cannot cheat like this. You all are cheaters," Shyam was full of rage.
"How dare you called me a cheater?" the driver is angry.

Next moment he slaps Shyam on the face. For a moment, Shyam could not understand what happened. He tries to retaliate, but in vain. The conductor and the driver both together beat Shyam red and blue and throw him out of the bus. The conductor comes down and takes the ten rupees note by opening Shyam's fist. He takes the note in his hand, crumples it and again throws it back on Shyam's face.

"Cheap fellow," the conductor spits on his side and gets back on the bus. The bus races ahead.

Lying there Shyam looked at the stars and is happy that his ten rupee note is still with him. He feels a sense of pride for fighting with the cheaters. The pain of losing the salary vanishes.

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