The Paan Wallah prepared betel leaf with areca nut as Datu waited patiently. He never tired of watching the process as the stall holder worked his trade. The Paan Wallah held out his hand before handing over the final product and gave his red stained teeth grin.
Datu reached into his money pouch and produced the usual payment while the vendor continued to hold out his hand in silent demand for more, then withdrew it reluctantly and handed over the leaf neatly folded with a shrug. One day the goddess Laxmi would reward him with a customer who didn’t know the local price and he’d thank her for that boon faithfully prayed for in his daily devotions at the local temple.
Folding his hands in mock namaste Datu received the Paan and stood stretching, then returned to his Vespa scooter to enjoy his return to work sitting watching auto rickshaws and other vehicles speeding past plodding bullock carts and a hach ghariwallah straining his way to the next delivery point.
He had a good job considering where he’d originally come from in the village of Chaltagaon. That had been a long time ago. He’d migrated to the big city at the invitation of relatives and settled in its fetid slums with those relatives sleeping on open streets except for winter and monsoon when they’d all cram into their tiny allotted space paid for by a regular contribution to the collectors of Bata Sahib at the top of the crime syndicate who exercised control over that slum.
Datu’s cousin Svataha worked for Bara Sahib as one of his cooks and it was through her Datu, who was working on the streets for a living initially, met the empire Bara Sahib controlled. He was tried in various jobs until he had their trust. Slowly this innocent village lad became one of the battle-hardened denizens of the city deeply involved in criminal activities leading him into a high risk but increasingly prosperous lifestyle. That was how he’d been able to afford his Vespa scooter, a prized possession.
He was moved from the slum to a sprawling complex used as headquarters for this criminal band. Each of its operatives were used but distrusted and constantly watched to see they remained committed to Bara Sahib. Several syndicates operated in the city, so there were constant enticements to break loyalty and join an opposing syndicate. Most of those tempted wound up floating in the ocean lifeless. Only a few made the transition alive.
Datu soon learned who the contacts were in police and political circles. He became the conduit through whom gifts were showered. It was always the same, loud protests that gifts to public servants at any level were inappropriate, but Datu would use the time worn expression as a softener. “So sorry, not for you Sahib, for your son’s or daughter’s birthday gift!” Fingers would be snapped to summon the servant waiting at the door for instructions and the present waved into the inner recesses of the home to be examined later and Datu would be waved off to speed on to the next contact on his vespa.
But then at an election to the surprise of all the political ruling party elite changed and score settling began. As a sop to the public who elected them on a promise to deal with corruption a campaign would be started to root out corruption and trophies would have to be exhibited. Those who’d received under the old regime now became prime targets in the corruption probe and were paraded through newspapers for the voting public to see. Those who’d initiated the bribe would be hunted down. As always, powers behind it all remained and the go between soldiers of crime like Datu would be sacrificed as villains to be dealt with in law along with disgraced police, and politicians of the losing political party.
Datu was warned of fearsome troubles in jail if he refused to take blame and hints were given as to the fate of his immediate relatives for no matter where they were hiding they’d be found. But if he played the game prison would not be without its privileges and after his release he’d be amply rewarded should he keep his mouth shut.
So, Datu played the game and found in prison life he received many privileges and was protected from terrors that existed for those without a patron like Bara Sahib. He served his time and on release was informed he should not return to the complex where Bara Sahib remained uncrowned Raja. The Vespa was returned to him with written instructions on where he should go and wait until further instructions. His clothes and personal effects would be sent to the bungalow rented for him in his name, the down payment in cash had already been arranged.
Datu spat paan juice to his side on the street and turned to again watch the Paan Wallah expertly preparing leaf and nut for customers. The bulge around his waist felt good though he worried that experienced curious eyes may guess what that bulge was all about. The exchange had been made in a safe place, but the courier had been nervous and anxious to return to the never-ending traffic and safety. However, Datu had noted the top of each wad was a one hundred rupee note. That should satisfy his needs until Bara Sahib contacted him again. This would be a good holiday in the hills, but he was anxious to get back to work again.
He kick-started the Vespa and began the long journey uphill to the plateau, then on to the hill station where the rich and famous enjoyed their vacations. It was a long and wearing journey but at last he arrived and introduced himself to the groundsman who checked the photograph he had with him against the face in front of him then handed Datu the key. Inside was luggage containing his personal effects. Bara Sahib arranged everything perfectly Datu mused as he checked his belongings. This was his reward for being a good soldier for the syndicate.
Meanwhile in the city, Bara Sahib was meeting with his most trusted fixers. Datu had been indiscrete in some of his conversations among prisoners during prison years it had been reported back by moles within the prison system. Bara Sahib was aware of the fact sometimes inaccurate reports were received when one of the soldiers had a grudge against another. Reports should always be cross checked but as the political situation was still fluid and needed to be cultivated more one could never be too careful.
Datu ate heartily at the best restaurant that evening with the rich and famous of his adopted city and other cities far away. His clothes matched those of the wealthiest there, but those who passed him gave him a wide berth as his face betrayed his lower-class village origin. It was a mark that couldn’t be removed by money social climbing.
Next morning, he decided on a nature walk to the side of the mountain where he could sit and look over the fertile plain far below with its small villages. A wave of nostalgia swept over him as he viewed those fields and villages. It had been a hard life in his childhood but there was a familiar feel about it and there was safety in its age-old customs. Unlike the city where life was stressful and threatening. As he sat contemplating he because aware of a group heading up the trail behind him and turned to give his namaste.
His eyes widened as he saw a gun pointed at his head. Must be after the money he thought as his mind raced trying to figure out how to protect that money hidden around his waist. Then there was a blow to his head and unconsciousness.
Next morning a wandering shepherd found the naked body of a man at the bottom of the mountain. There were no identifying documents or marks, but police noted he was a villager from somewhere. They shrugged and sent to dispose of the body.
Up on the mountain while vacationers moved up and down the main street luggage was being loaded into a car and a key returned to the groundsman with a liberal gift of baksheesh. A new face mounted and kick-started the Vespa speeding down the street to enter the road back to the city where documents would be created to legitimize transfer to its new owner.
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The above images by courtesy of http://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au and pixshark.com