It is a clear day. Similar to the one when I first met Rohit at a bar in the notorious red light area of Foras Road in South Bombay. It was a busy joint and he suddenly came and plonked in the chair opposite to me. He asked after sitting, ‘Hey! Can I sit here?’ Well, as I didn’t have much of a choice, I shrugged in a non commital way. He laughed at my bewildered face.
He was a handsome guy with a bewitching smile. In his early thirties, he could be called fat, but carried his bulk easily. Some guys look obscenely happy, like the Laughing Buddha. He did. After my usual beer, I called for bill and was 20 rupees short. Nothing is as embarrassing in the world as when you don’t have enough cash to cover a restaurant bill. My uncomfort was evident on my face. Without any qualms, he simply picked up my tab, took a look and laughed loudly. He kept the bill in his pocket and asked the waiter to repeat our order. I protested feebly, but accepted the extra free beer. After all, money is very hard to come by nowadays. Once I was rich too, but now each beer pinches my pocket. Life has taken me through its rough rollercoaster for last 55 years!
‘Hi! I’m Rohit!’, he smiled and extended his hand. ‘I work in a nearby jewellery shop. ‘Rohit Palace’.’
‘I’m Saurabh.’, I said uncomfortably. I’m a reserved guy. And, this could be termed as one of those weird encounters. ‘I’m a writer.’ I sounded as if I’m confessing of being a rapist.
‘Wow! A writer? You mean like those guys, who write books? Wow!’
My bruised ego was soothed somewhat. Who doesn’t like to hear his praise! ‘Oh no, I’m not one of those famous ones! I just write short stories.’, I replied modestly but with a heart swelling with pride.
‘Well, I have a story. A real one. Just listen to me. I’m sure that a professional like you will grab it!’
I groaned! Like a film director, I’m tired of people trying to tell me that they have a story to tell. God! If I were to write all the stories I’m told, I’d be much written author than Shakespeare! But, you always respect a free beer! So, I settled down deep in my uncomfortable chair to listen to my benefector.
‘Well, Saurabh’, I’m he began, ‘It’s not a great story, but a unique one.’ I sighed in a relief! Hopefully a short one too! ‘I was a young man then. I was new in Bombay. I and my few friends used to live in a rented house in Kamathipura Lane 12. Then I met Anand. He was a safe breaker. Being a young man, I got attracted to the glamor of a criminal and his panache.’
I sat up a bit straighter. He didn’t seem to be drunk, but who in his right senses will admit being a friend to a criminal? Weird!
‘I belong to a decent family in Rajasthan. I didn’t want myself to be involved with him. He being a criminal, you know! But, he once told me that he can break in a shop through AC without anyone knowing. He taught me how. It was very simple. I didn’t think much then, but now I have decided to use that trick.’
Leo Tolstoy once said that the first drink makes a man a crow. Second a dog and third a pig. He starts talking after first. He will make a stranger his brother. Second will induce him to fight like a dog and third will roll him like a pig. He was turning into a crow.
‘The shop actually belongs to me by right. But, after my dad’s death, my uncle has taken care of it. He pays me a salary.,’ he looked moodily in his beer and smiled mirthlessly. ‘I don’t know what hurts most! Being cheated of my inheritance or being a servant in my own shop!’ I nodded sympathetically. ‘I could have used my talents to teach him the lesson, but I don’t have anyone to help me! It won’t even be a theft, you know? The shop is legally mine.’ he looked at me plaintively. I had a mischievous idea germinating in my mind.
We left the bar at 1 am. Both blind drunk. I was aware of his entire family history. So was he mine. Drunks make admirable friends while under the influence. Once sober, they won’t even recognize each other. Next day he called me with an invitation for another drink. At my age, regular intake of alcohol is akin to suicide, but a free beer is like mana from heaven! I couldn’t resist. Anyway, wife had been nagging since morning about some money to pay the rent. She thinks that I’m still a famous writer in my beloved film industry! I left. We met near Minerva Talkies and walked through to Foras Road. He was very moody. His face looking chinless without the ever present toothy smile.
‘Today he slapped me and asked me to move out of the shop. But, I can’t evict him. It will spoil my father’s name. Don’t know what to do!’
I had been thinking all night. I was a writer. I had a more fertile brain than the multitude, let alone the oratory skills! I had worked out a plan, in fact, which would have been a salvation.
‘Look Rohit…’, I said. ‘I have a plan. You may agree or not is up to you.’ He looked at me. ‘Why don’t you rob your own shop?’
‘You drunk before drinking?’, he laughed!
I smiled. ‘Buddy, you know that I’m a writer? I found a plot. Hope you will like it. I’ll help you for 50 percent. Is that okay?’
‘No. 30 should be fine.’
I would have agreed at 5! 30 was way better than what I expected! I explained him the plan. As expected, he agreed. He had the required tools and was fairly knowledgeable about AC etc. The operation went like a breeze! We rounded up the entire booty from the safe and scampered. We lodged in a third rate hotel and counted the gains. He was a jeweler by profession. He smiled. ‘Saurabh, it’s more than 6 cr!’
I was astounded! In all my life I never could accumulate 2 lakhs. Now I had 1.8 cr! Doesn’t cr is the acronym for CRazy? Hahaha… May be I was being crazy!
Saurabh left to get some beers to celebrate. I slept as I was too tired. Someone knocked heavily on the door. I opened it drowsily and was wide awake when I saw an inspector and a couple of constables.
The Inspector laughed when I explained the truth to him. There never was any Rohit in Rohit Palace. The magistrate was a grey haired gentleman, who looked like my grandfather, and he thought that I’m the worst criminal after Cain! Someone please explain him!
The eagle suddenly swoops down on an unsuspecting prey.
The wardon knocks on my prison bars…
‘Exercise time! And be quick, people!’