Sunderlal Patwardhan, was an industrialist who caught the imagination of common man and shot to fame in past four years. Hailing from a humble background, he ensured to stay attached to his roots as much as possible. However, it was becoming impractical with each passing day.
Being a part of the busy city life where life moved on hands of a clock rather than heart beats, it was difficult for Sunderlal to take out time for self or for family. Vacations for relaxations were meticulously planned to an extent that free time or me time concept had become extinct. In the initial years, he definitely ensured an annual visit for village festival but that the last too was 3 years ago. Though he wanted to, he never could go back.
One day, during a client meet, he stuck upon an idea to start a new factory at his village. He was happy to the core and signaled his Research team to start working on this new idea. The R & D team swung into action for making the research report. In the meantime, Sunderlal thought to visit his native and get viability from commercial view point. Since it was an official visit, his diary could pave way for this. He was excited and raring to go.
It’s been three years now
The Sarpanch kaka, the aaji, the oldies and everyone in the village always expected him to get something from the city. The gifts brought about a smile on their weary rural faces. They were proud of their son who was not only famous but also connected to them fondly.
With all the things loaded in his car, he started towards his favourite destination of life.
Another car with the research team joined him. “Sir, you seem to be happy from within and it is reflected in the glow of your face” said the Manager of R & D department. “Yeah, I’m really happy.” said a smiling Sunderlal.
There was lot of chit chat during the entire trip and everyone felt the positivity. The entire unit reached the village outskirt by afternoon. Sunderlal directed his team to move to a different place for the purpose of survey while he moved towards meeting the Sarpanch
As soon as he reached Sarpanch’s house, “What do you want, you can speak from there itself.” a harsh tone welcomed him. Sunderlal was taken back. This was never expected in his wildest dreams.
He thought for a while, that the Sarpanch might not have recognized him. So, he justified,. “I’m Sunderlal.”
“So what!” came the shock.
“I have bought gifts for you and the villagers.”
“No need of your gifts or anything. You can take them back and return to your city.”
It was a non-anticipated moment. He was unable to understand what was happening around. A village famous for its hospitality was behaving so harsh with its own son. He tried to calm down himself and asked, “What is the matter, kaka? Did I commit a mistake?”
There was silence all around. “No, nothing” came the cold reply after a pause.
Sunderlal half-heartedly accepted the situation and moved back without saying anything. He kept all the gifts at the doorstep and with a heavy heart walked towards his car. The other members of the team returned from their assigned task.
“Initially, on seeing a group of corporate people, they welcomed us and were very happy. But when we gave them your reference, the mood changed. There were internal murmurs without any communication with us.”. “We were baffled, but could not understand the reason for this weird behavior”
“Okay, lets go back. I need to find out the reason for this” said a worried Sunderlal. He was sure that something wrong had happened in the three years, he had not visited them. This reaction was a proof of the same. All his plans had gone for a toss. His factory has not even begun and already it seemed on its way to close down. Suddenly, the positivity in the team had turned into negativity. Sunderal was worried for obvious reasons and a lot of negative thoughts were running through his mind without any solution.
After driving for around 40kms, they stopped at a road side dhabha to have a tea-break. Suddenly, it dawned to Sunderlal that his school friend, Mahesh, could help him. Mahesh was staying away from the village but still was closely connected. To gather more information about Mahesh, he decided to take a U turn towards village, directing his team to proceed towards city
At the village, he got to know that Mahesh was a ‘taxi-driver’ settled in a nearby town. Collecting Mahesh’s contact details, he informed Mahesh about his plans to visit him in the next few hours. Mahesh was more than happy to welcome his school friend.
Mahesh hosted Sunderlal to the best of his abilities and tried to accommodate him in his humble house. Mahesh was ashamed as his living did not match the standard of the Tycoon who was at his doorsteps. Realising Mahesh’s akwardness, Sunderlal made him comfortable with calming words and explained him the reason behind this visit.
Both friends ascended to the terrace after a basic but scrumptious dinner.
Sunderlal narrated the entire day’s incident to Mahesh. After listening to this, Mahesh slowly opened up. He said “Last year, there were floods. All the standing crops were totally destroyed. Everyone was worried about their bleak future. They contemplated various options to come out of this disaster.”
“Then why did they not approach me?” interrupted Sunderlal.
“What do you think, They must have not? Everyone had unanimously decided that Ramlal and Bacculal would try to meet you in your office. So, these two senior citizens had left for the city. When they reached your office, they were not allowed to meet you. Leave apart meeting, they were not even allowed to enter the gate, and humiliated like beggars. They tried contacting you over the phone but it was not received too. The poor chaps spent 2 nights on the pavement outside your office without food and water, just to catch a glimpse of you. When the money they had carried exhausted, they decided to return. When they reached here and narrated the entire story, the Sarpanch did not believe their words. So, this time, he himself set out to seek help.”
“But I too not meet Sarpanch in last three years.” Interjected a confused Sunderlal.
“Exactly! When sarpanch arrived at the city, he was informed that you were out of town for few days. As you know Sarpanch is a learned man, he asked for your contact details but the guards thought otherwise and denied to share the same. Sarpanch was also insulted at the gate. He was trying for the sake of villagers and did not mind it but all attempts to meet you went futile. After many requests, when he finally got your contact number, it was out of coverage area. Five days with sight of yours disappointed him and he too returned empty handed.”
“Oh my God! I cannot just believe this!” exclaimed Sunderlal
“That year the village lost three farmers due to suicide and it was mayhem everywhere. Everyone wanted to help the other but there was no scope for self-survival. With each other’s co-operation and consistent efforts, they tided over the difficulty and life came back to normalcy. So, today when you visited them, they were not interested in talking to you.”
“Tell me Mahesh, how can I overcome this situation? I’m feeling guilty.”
“Actually, I do not know, what can be done.” replied Mahesh. “Anyways, it’s too late. Even you must be tired, let us catch up with some sleep. The Solution will be thought of in the morning.”
While Mahesh dozed off instantly, Sunderlal pondered over the conversation. There was flashback of events that occurred and he was unaware of the same. Recollecting the timing of the incident, he remembered during the time frame mentioned by Mahesh, he was not in the country at all. He was unaware of the flood situation at his village. He was feeling bad for not being able to stand with his villagers when they needed him the most. His eyes were moist. He prayed to God to show him a way out.
Next day, Mahesh suggested Sunderlal to accompany him to the village again. This time Mahesh said he would first meet Sarpanch and explain him that Sunderlal’s situation.
The drive gave both the friends an opportunity to rewind the golden days of life. They shared their memories of school days. Sunderlal tried to take a stock of all school friends from Mahesh and that refreshed him. He was now feeling a lot better and less burdened. Before the talks ended, they reached the village outskirts.
Mahesh headed straight to the Sarpanch’s house and narrated the entire story but Sarpanch was in no mood to forgive him so easily. He instead suggested to have a ‘Panch’ meeting with all villagers present and let the folks decide the next course of action. Sunderlal agreed because he actually had no other option.
The meeting was summoned at a common place. Within the stipulated time, almost one representative from each family had joined. The proceedings started. Sarpanch announced that Sunderlal had come on a visit to village after three years and also, and threw light on the incident which had happened last year. Almost every villager exhibited anger against Sunderlal as three lives were already lost. The members of the bereaved family were more hurt and voiced against him.
Sunderlal with folded hands announced financial package of Rs.5lacs each to every family that had lost their earning person. Also, he announced a package of additional 20 lacs for the village upliftment. He then announced the purpose for his visit which was to set up a factory that would provide job opportunities to the villagers.
Happy faces applauded Sunderlal. Even the Sarpanch patted him for his generous act. There was relief in both the camps. Sunderlal proudly announced that his school friend, Mahesh was to be credited for the success, as he played the role of a mediator perfectly. Sunderlal further added that all the relief money would be handed over to Mahesh, and he would do the needful.
Though the factory was not yet set up, it had manufactured happiness already.
Sunderlal left the place after instructing Mahesh to visit his office after a week to start delivering the promises.
A week later, Mahesh went to the city and collected the first instalment of Rs. 2 lacs and duly handed over to the Sarpanch. Everyone now knew that Sunderlal’s visit was not a fake promise. The trust increased multifold.
Over a period of next few months, this routine continued. Mahesh would go to the city for a day, collect the fund, bring to the village and deliver. The momentum added to the smiles of the villagers and the connect with Sunderlal also increased.
Meanwhile, the report of research was positive and Sunderlal decided to start initiating the action for his dream project. So, Mahesh was summoned upon to collect the funds from the corporate office.
Mahesh reached the office at the designated time. Sunderlal took him into his cabin for the first time. It was an airconditioned office. Mahesh kept looking at the interiors and was mesmerized. Sunderlal made him comfortable and handed over three large gunny bags of currency notes. He explained to him that this delivery might be the last delivery of cash but its huge. He asked Mahesh, if he needed any security to carry such a huge cash.
Mahesh said that if he takes security then people may doubt and rather attack too. He had been carrying cash many times and would safely take it back to the village. Sunderlal was not convinced but then Mahesh was his school friend and had shouldered this responsibility many times in the past. So, without informing anyone else in the office too, Sunderlal and Mahesh loaded cash in the boot of the taxi.
Generally, after reaching the village, Mahesh ensured to call and inform about the delivery of cash or let the Sarpanch do the talking. But this time, two days had passed but neither confirmation message received nor any call. Surprisingly, Mahesh’s number was switched-off too. Still, Sunderlal did not think too much.
When the fourth day dawned and no confirmation arrived, Sunderlal smelt fishy. On reaching Mahesh’s house, he was surprised to find it locked. The neighbours informed him that Mahesh was not seen over past few days. His fear started finding feet and he rushed towards the village.
The villagers gave a huge welcome. Almost everyone in the village rushed but Sunderlal’s eye was searching for someone else. He did not speak much to anyone and went to the Sarpanch’s house.
Sarpanch was very happy as the entire face of the village had changed over the time. Everyone was now eager for start of the factory. Sunderlal asked about Mahesh and his deliveries. Sarpanch proudly said that Mahesh was a person of great integrity and he had delivered the entire cash promptly – to each family and also the village panchayat samiti. When enquired about the cash he had sent 4 days back, Sarpanch asked him not to worry, as Mahesh must have kept it with him for safety purpose.
Sunderlal explained that Mahesh’s house was locked and he was actually worried. This time the consignment was anormal. Sarpanch too then had a worried look. Both of them with few villagers set out to search Mahesh. They ransacked every household, every corner to expose the thief but to no avail.
Desparation started to mount up on Sunderlal as the realization set in. He knew money did come with its set of temptations. He remembered how Mahesh has eyed his Rolex watch and touched his Audi Q5. He was definitely in awe of these unseen brands. He chose a corner to settle down himself and called the Sarpanch near him. “Kaka, stop everyone from going anywhere, he is gone. Let him enjoy his life wherever he is. I will manage more funds.”
“We cannot spare him this way. He has broken our trust. The money was meant for development of village. Even though, you might have pardoned him, we will definitely not pardon that b**t*rd.” fumed the Sarpanch. “We will find out the snake from wherever he has hid himself.”
“Kaka, this money is a great leveler. One might find solace in the initial days but then it brings in lots of worries along with it. It’s 4 days now, Mahesh must have travelled to some unknown destination. We cannot trace him now. Do not worry, I will arrange finance in a few days and return, the project will happen for sure. Believe me” said a confident Sunderlal and moved towards his car.
Like every time Moh-maya was successful in trapping yet another poor victim, this time it was a taxi-driver who eloped in search of his destiny.
* Prompt: Taxi driver; Elopes; Village
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