Dec 11, 2023
Dec 11, 2023
by BS Murthy
Chapter 14, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
Though the Gautams managed to cross the threshold of middle-class meagerness, their top-drawer lifestyle began to tell upon them. By then, Sneha too had a Fiat of her own to have the thrill of being at the steering. But, as she had to crisscross the city to help Sneha Travels, soon she developed weariness for driving. Insensibly, Gautam too was himself caught in the web of the spidering spadework that he came to build. Thus, he could hardly make it home before midnight. What with Sneha too keeping late hours at her office, their home that came to be admired for its interior decor was reduced as their rest house. Before long, the physical tiredness and their mental fatigue took a collective toll of their sex life. And added to that, their filial fulfillment had to go begging for want of time for their offspring.
Often at bedtime, all this made them wonder whether they had got on to the wrong track of life. As that invariably led them to reminisce over their Sagar days, they were wont to think what a happy couple they were then. It was thus, they were at a loss to realize how their ambition had undone them after all! And that made them view their materialistic abundance with a sense of vacuity for want of emotional fulfillment. They were certain their true happiness lay in savoring their mutual admiration and not in gloating over the public adulation. Overwhelmed, they were wont to feel it was time they quit the rat race and settle down for a bout of domestic bliss. But their euphoric resolve of love invariably lost out to the materialistic allure of the world. Thus, bogged down by their rigmarole, they failed to imagine life in any other way than the way they were used to by then and thus they kept the course to acquire wealth. And so they began to lead their life robot-like to scale ever new social heights.
It seems contentment is a state of mind and ambition the urge to succeed. If not, why should the feeling of contentment insulate man from being ambitious? After all, isn’t the sense of contentment all about the realization of materialistic insignificance? Why, it signifies the irrelevance of the self itself? On the contrary, won’t ambition exemplify man’s craving for his social relevance through every conceivable means? Given the collective irrelevance of man in the universality of being, what is the individual significance existentialism advocates?
But the Gautams were all too psyched up by the past of their social plight to come out of the glamorous ditch they had got into. And yet, realizing that the drudgery of the toil was self-defeating, they delved into easy ways for a cozy life. Sneha felt it was time that Gautam began to snare fortune into the spidering network he had so painstakingly woven. And by then, Gautam came to realize that the real bucks lay in lobbying for the defense deals. But, he was aware that the hurdle to cross to set up shop was higher by a mile. All the same, egged on by Sneha, he reviewed the feasibility report prepared way back, which he had tucked away in a corner of his mind.
It was to turn a lobbyist for some armament giant of the West, and to put in place a facilitating firm for that. Why, it had to be a sleek office in a posh locality. How else could one exhibit his credentials and which firm worth its bullet would deal with an entity in some backstreet? Well, the show had to be manned by ex-bureaucrats for it to be taken seriously in the South Block. And all this entailed a great deal of investment, and raising funds was not an easy proposition. Besides, the repayment schedules could choke the supply lines to the existing comfort levels.
Above all, what if the speculative venture wouldn’t take off after all! What's the guarantee that an ex-secretary could be a talisman for his success? It's not the same thing as being in the seat of power, isn't it? Were he to fail, filing the I.P. would be the only recourse left for him. Wouldn’t that make him a parasite on Sneha’s earning? An unwelcome development, anyway one looked at it, wasn’t it? Wouldn’t that signal the end of the road, besides blackening the face?
But, yet, how could he call it quits well before venturing into any? Wouldn’t that lead to a life of frustration? Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all, after all that was the conventional wisdom. What if he failed leading to his fall? But what were the alternatives? Anyway, a thrifty life of penny saving wouldn’t do either, as it would only turn pound foolish in the end, wouldn’t it? The big buck was the key but where would that come from? How was he to surmount the odds and cross the hurdles to pull it off in a big way?
Gautam began weighing the available options all again. For a start, he thought he could manage the manufacturing license for some promising product. After all, Mishra should not be averse to helping him as a one-time favor, and the bureaucracy too could be expected to pitch in for him. In turn he could transfer the license for a gain. Well, in the permit regimen there was a hefty premium on juicy projects. Enthused thus, he scanned the industrial arena for potential products begging for import substitution.
After short listing a few, he set his heart on sulubuloxine that needed only a modest investment. And when he figured out the return on investment, he was dumbfounded at the astronomical figures. In due course, having the license on Sneha’s hand, he paraded it in the marketplace. Even as the solicitations became overwhelming, the demand for the product began soaring to the skies. That left him wondering whether it was a good idea to give away a golden goose for whatever price. Besides, he had seen to it that sulubuloxine would be out of bounds for any till he had enough of it.
Computing the long-term benefits of the license, Gautam thought of a tie-up with a business house with the license as his share of the capital. But then, Global Facilitators, the grandiose lobbying firm of his dreams, would be a non-starter, after all. So he racked his brains as to how to retain his lien on the license and yet make his ‘deals facilitating’ dream a reality.
It was at that juncture at a stag party, that he met Ranjit Palit, the Branch Manager of the Oriental Fire and General Insurance Company. When he was reasonably high, Palit came to articulate the genesis of the arson that plagued the general insurance business. With the common denominator being utmost good faith, he articulated that insuring others’ properties was like entrusting one’s wife to another’s safe keeping. While misplaced trust in the former could occasion a fraudulent claim, in case of the latter, it might lead to an alien paternity. Thus, the breach of warranty in both would leave behind the unwanted in the end.
Blaming it all upon the Loss Assessors, Palit reserved his choicest expletives for them all. He thought they were but a bunch of self-serving nincompoops with weak moral fibers. They were all superficial to the core sorely lacking the needed skills to separate the wheat from the chaff. Wouldn’t that let the bluffing claimants to take this mindless lot for a smooth ride of exaggeration? And lazy as they were with their assignments, they were all alacrity when it came to criticizing their colleagues’ work.
What was worse, he averred, with right inducements, they could be easily made to look the other way, even in the case of apparently untenable claims. With such Loss Assessors around, it was little wonder that the insurers might go under one day. As though to appear balanced, even after consuming a pint, Palit conceded to the presence of black sheep on the underwriting side of the fence as well. It was such who form a ‘nexus of loot’ with the insured and the Loss Assessors, he concluded.
As Palit’s lament opened up new vistas to his goal, Gautam saw a chance opening. What with the industrial license already in hand, he wondered whether he could manage a ‘loss to order’ for Palit’s Company. With the hope of redressing his economic distress with the insurer’s largesse, Gautam began befriending the by then inebriated Palit. And slowly but surely, Gautam ingratiated himself with Palit with an eye on arson monies. The feedback he got about the Loss Assessors confirmed Palit’s poor opinion about them. And that seemed a good omen to him.
Conditioned as he was for not jumping at conclusions, Gautam wondered what, if by the law of averages, an oddball of a Loss Assessor turned up to call his bluff? Were that to happen, the tongues of fire the arson occasioned would all but consume his grand passion. And the money spent to stage-manage the show would go up in smoke, without a trace at that. Well, if he were to take the plunge, his claim should seem genuine even to the eyes of the most suspicious character.
Having prepared the road map to arson with ingenuity, Gautam surveyed it to see for possible pitfalls on the way. Though it seemed pucca all the way, just the same, he blueprinted the layout to detect design defects, if any. Finding none and noting that all macro and micro factors were featured into the coupe de fraud, he felt cocky and took the plunge.
It was thus, Ocean Organics, the proprietary firm floated by Sneha, soon came into being. Losing no time, Gautam took a sick chemicals unit at Faridabad on lease. The contract to modify the plant to produce sulubuloxine was awarded to Chemind Builders, the benami firm that Gautam himself floated. And that included raising the compound wall to eight feet height. So as to put the Ocean on the right side of the insurance claim, Chemind would exorbitantly bill the 250 TPY amalgamated unit.
Gautam went on a shopping spree for the scrapped chemical equipment and accessories in the junk markets of Ahmedabad and Bombay. In time, he managed to transfer them in their truckloads to the Ocean’s Faridabad site. As a decoy for the falsity, and to cover up the tracks, Chemind arranged accommodative bills for steel plates and pipes from Agarwala Traders, New Delhi. With the connivance of a transport operator, Consignment Notes were put in place for the fictitious transfer of Agarwala’s steel materials. As a foolproof measure, the MB of Chemind at the Ocean’s plant carried those quantities to the last kilogram. In a similar way all other plant accessories made their fictitious entry into the Ocean’s Assets Register.
the local fitters were bound to raise their eyebrows, Gautam took no chances when it came to the wagging of tongues. So, he brought a gang of loyal Keralites from the backyards of Nagarjunasagar. At length, ‘the scrap equipment’ was transformed into ‘a junk plant’ of the Ocean Organics. All it took then to provide a facade to the ‘state of the art’ chemical plant was a generous coat of blue enamel that smelled fresh as well. When, in the end, as he looked at the completed unit, unable to believe his own eyes, Gautam was greatly pleased with himself. However, he sent away the Kerala gang and hired some semi-literates from Madurai to man the Ocean’s idle unit.
While the work was in progress at Faridabad, Gautam struck a secret deal with Atlantic Chemicals, the major import-export dealer in Bombay, for turning Ocean Organics into a joint venture company by the next financial year. As a favor to the future partner, Atlantic Chemicals signed an accommodative buy back agreement with Ocean Organics. The deal entailed Ocean Organics to receive raw materials from Atlantic Chemicals for producing sulubuloxine exclusively for the latter. And to raise the worth of the finished goods in Ocean’s Stock Register, an exorbitant buy back price was ‘mutually agreed’. It was also agreed that Ocean Organics would arrange, at their own cost and risk, for the fire insurance on the material ‘held in trust’ by them. Thus, when all was in place, Gautam sought and obtained the Fire Policy certificate from Palit’s Branch Office to cover allied risks at Ocean Organics.
Then he bided his time to cross the sphere of the proximate loss to avoid the insurer’s stricter scrutiny and the consequent delay in the claim settlement. In the meantime, he contrived the material transfer between Ocean and Atlantic ‘on paper’ backed by dubious C.Ns of the co-opted goods carrier. Moreover, in order to accord legitimacy to the receivables and the dispatches, he obtained, again from Palit’s office, a marine cover for those fictitious transactions. All said and done, the ‘loss to order’ needed fodder to sustain fire. So at throw-away prices he acquired considerable quantities of contaminated chemicals from the salvage buyers in Bombay and Ahmedabad for use at Faridabad.
Further, to legitimize Ocean’s production records, Atlantic issued ‘cheques of trust’ for the job work charges that Ocean encashed in Punjab National Bank. And a proxy muster was too put in place at Ocean Organics. Just in case, the Loss Assessor, likely to come from Bombay, chose to interact at the lower levels, Gautam reckoned that the men from Madurai would erect the language barrier. When all seemed well, he found a hitch. The crucial excise record that the Loss Assessor was bound to scrutinize was nowhere in the picture. But given his clout in the government, it was no big deal for him to cook up one, and what was more, get it authenticated by the Inspector.
In the end, as Gautam saw it, there was still a big hurdle to cross for his leap into the big league. Oh, the success of the enterprise hinged upon the late arrival of Fire Tenders, wasn’t it? After all, all those truckloads of contaminated chemicals would surely need time to destruct the unit beyond recognition. What if the Fire Brigade arrived on call? Wouldn’t that lead to a premature dousing, exposing the dubious nature of the claim?
No way should the Fire Service make its way till all was burnt to the bone. But, the Oriental wouldn’t take the Ocean’s delayed call to the Fire Station kindly either. Besides, wouldn’t it open the Pandora’s Box? So, Gautam reckoned that the muhurat for the engagement should coincide with the preoccupation of the Fire Brigade with some major fire elsewhere. And with discreet networking, Gautam planted a mole in the Faridabad Fire Station to get wind of the opportune moment.
After what looked like an eternity for Gautam, the mole soon enough showed him the green light. Losing no time, Gautam pressed the button for the trusted aides to set the Ocean ablaze. While Sneha was dialing to Palit to prefer a two million-rupees fire claim on the Oriental Fire and General Insurance Company, Gautam rushed to the site of arson to have a clear picture of the destruction. As expected, the factory was gutted by the time he reached the site, and the Fire Tender came much later. At the end of it all when Gautam returned home a pleased man, Sneha welcomed him with all conspiratorial camaraderie.
At the receiving end though, the Oriental went into a huddle to select a surveyor-cum-loss assessor for the claim on hand. As the needle of the managerial favor tilted towards Suman Salgaokar, the senior from Bombay, he was asked to rush to New Delhi by the first available flight to handle the large loss.
The next morning, Gautam, with Palit in tow, was on hand at the Palam to receive Suman Salgaokar, the assigned loss assessor. On their way to Faridabad in Gautam’s Fiat, Salgaokar boasted about his exploits in the arena of large losses. Having got carried away in the end, he behaved as if the insurers should be beholden to him for his having accepted the assignment. Watching the surveyor all through, Gautam, who saw his hollowness, felt nervous just the same.
Gracing the charred remains of Ocean Organics that presented the sight of a total loss, the surveyor in Salgaokar fell at ease for that involved not much of an effort for the fat remuneration in waiting. Perambulating the premises with an air of self-importance, he stopped intermittently giving his views about the loss with the air of a know-all.
Thus, as Salgaokar’s big survey, hastened by his need to catch the return flight, ended soon enough, Gautam was afloat in his own daydreams. Palit, for his part, didn’t open his mouth as if it were a sacrilege to air an opinion before the omnipotent surveyor. Besides, he was afraid that any utterance from him other than a sympathetic word could be misconstrued as callousness by the valued client. Driving them back to the city, Gautam got the impression that Salgaokar was more concerned about his survey fee in the offing than at applying his mind to the claim on hand.
As the flight was overly delayed, Palit excused himself, leaving Salgaokar with the Gautams, as by then Sneha had joined them at the Palam. Gautam lost no time in inducing the Surveyor to shop around a little at Connaught Circus. Strolling in the mall, Salgaokar was truly mesmerized by Sneha’s graciousness and promised to accord top priority to her claim. What's more, to impress her further, he goaded Gautam to forward the papers and the 'photographs of waste' post-haste.
Shortly thereafter, though Gautam felt happy seeing Salgaokar’s back, all the same, he was disappointed at the paradox of the anticlimax. Oh, how he had all along wished that the loss assessor had quizzed his mastermind! However, his ingenuity got him a pat from Palit for the excellent documentation he provided for the smooth claim processing at their end. Thus, the claim docket went butter smooth from one stiff hand to the other all the way to the Board Room.
All said and done, Gautam couldn’t believe his eyes when the CMD of the Oriental Fire and General Insurance Company personally handed over that hefty cheque to Sneha as the full and final settlement of Ocean Organics’ claim preferred on them. To cap it all, the insurers photographed the occasion as publicity material to buttress their marketing effort. And that sent Sneha to the top of the world.
As the magnitude of their fortune began to sink in, the Gautams could not have a wink of a sleep that night. When in the end, Sneha thought aloud about the righteousness of their actions, Gautam philosophized that the ends often justified the means. Besides, where was the scope for qualms when the money in question was public money? After all, everyone was having a dig in at it, depending on their access to it.
Though Sneha all along shared his dreams to use the anticipated windfall to provide wings to his wheeling dealing, having had the money on hand, she had second thoughts. She felt it wise to rest on the laurels instead of hoping for miracles every time. As a way of sustained growth and as a means of making big in the end, she advocated branching out Sneha Travels to all the major cities. But, having set his heart on broking billion dollar deals, Gautam would have none of that. Failing to wean him away from the idea of Global Facilitators, hoping for the best, she gave in finally.
Gautam toyed with the idea to cede the license of Ocean Organics for a price as Agarwala Chemicals had rescinded on the MOU in the meantime. He made it clear to them by then that they had to run the show all by themselves for he saw his hands would be full with Global Facilitators. Given their trading background, Agarwala Chemicals had developed cold feet to run an industrial unit, that too in far off Faridabad. Besides, the superstitious inhibition about the fire mishap got the better of their commercial judgment. But, Sneha had other ideas. She wanted it to be leased out to someone who was prepared to build and operate the unit. For that, Gautam, though reluctantly, facilitated a long-term lease agreement with the Dalmias whereby Sneha retained her interest in the firm.
It was as though the ambitious couple accommodated each other's interests for marital amity but the way they gave allowances to each other’s obsessions finally led their union into a state of materialistic coma.
More by : BS Murthy