He wasn’t so absorbed in his thoughts as not to notice a face that was so familiar; it was etched permanently on his mind, though it was nearly a decade after which he had sighted it. Although Jagdish was not sure it was the same face, his right foot inadvertently slammed the brake pedal to the floor and his Maruti Zen careened to a screeching halt. He turned back to peruse the face once again to confirm his doubts. There was no doubt. It was Srinivas Kankanwadi, known to his friends as Seenu. Back then when Jagdish was in the last year of his school, Seenu had a thin line of hair over his lips; it was now a fully grown, brush like moustache, half of it covering his upper lip. His hairline had receded to reveal much of his forehead. His dusky colour, the result of sun tan because of playing in the scorching sun, had also become light pale now. But the eyes and nose were unmistakably Seenu’s. He wore a striped brown shirt tucked into black trousers. Surprisingly, he’d not put on any weight and looked very fit. Still Jagdish can’t be too sure. He therefore, thought better of yelling out Seenu’s name and after killing the engine, he got out of the car.
Jagdish hardly had to approach the person to verify whether he was or was not Seenu, for the latter was scanning the car and the driver carefully and the moment his gaze fell on the face of Jagdish, he shouted with a pleasant surprise, “Jaggu!” and a wide grin covered his face revealing his tobacco stained teeth, which protruded out of his mouth always, permanently giving the impression that he was grinning. Only those who knew him well knew when was really grinning.
Seenu rushed towards Jagdish and gave him a bear hug. Though as pleased as Seenu was, Jagdish felt a bit uneasy and had to struggle a little to release himself from the tight grip of Seenu. Seenu at last let him go and said, “Well Well Well! Look who is here! My own friend, who is the only nearest and dearest friend of mine! I am so damned pleased to see you Jaggu! What a pleasant day it is. I knew something was going to happen today, because when I went to Hanuman temple this morning, although I was not praying for something in particular, a flower fell from the right shoulder of the God! Very auspicious it was. Wasn’t it? Then you appear, as a bolt from the blue! Now what more can I ask for from the God?”
Seenu was always like this; he never hid any of his feelings. He was very talkative, very articulate and unabashedly flamboyant. Every now and then in the classroom he would be standing on the bench as a punishment for being a chatterbox. But he didn’t feel ashamed at all when he stood on the bench and on the contrary he went on making faces at whoever cared to look at him, which made some of the girls giggle, and receive a warning from the teacher. He was also a wisecrack, although his quips ended in punishments that he endured willingly just to entertain the classmates. Once when the history teacher asked him where Mughal king Akbar was born, he replied, “I am not sure m’am but he must have born in a Civil Hospital!” On another occasion, a science teacher asked him what a cloth merchant would do if he’d nothing to measure the cloth but had a cloth with a length of 1.25 meters but Seenu wanted 2 meters of cloth. To this he replied, “Sir I don’t require 2 meters of cloth, my tailor asks only for one meter to stitch a shirt for me!”
“You were so quick to reconise me! How could you?” Jagdish asked.
“But for the unnecessary weight you have put on, you are as you were when I saw you last. I think that was more than a decade now. You didn’t have moustache then; now too you don’t sport it!” he replied jestingly.
“Well, you’ve kept moustache that is more than enough for both of us,” Jagdish too tried to be ludicrous.
“What are you doing for you life pal? Are you married?”
“I own a motor vehicle spare parts shop in Jamkhandi. Of course I am married and I have two children. Both boys,” Jagdish added proudly, and asked, “What about you?”
“After you went to Bagalkot for Diploma course in mechanics, I joined commerce. Of course I couldn’t graduate and even the graduates were not getting any jobs. I came to Bangalore about five years ago. I am now employed in a multinational company you know, as a sales manager and earning enough to support my parents also back home. Our company S&G is into BPO and Manpower Agency.”
“Not yet. I couldn’t think of marriage until I got a stable job. Now I am thinking of marrying. It is not too late I suppose.”
“Not at all. But now you’ve got to hurry,” Jagdish agreed with him.
Jagdish noticed that Seenu was carrying a cell phone when it cheeped. Seenu received the call, “Hello”
“Yes, Achari speaking”
Jagdish gestured Seenu to follow him to his car and unlocked his door. Seenu sat on the front passenger seat. Seenu was still speaking on his phone.
“No problem sir. You can have a look before you make a choice. I will personally be there at 4 in the evening.”
“Ok sir. Bye,” Seenu said, disconnected the call and smiled at Jagdish.
“When did you become Achari?” Jagdish couldn’t suppress his curiosity.
“Well, when I first came to Bangalore, I introduced my self as Srinivasachari to people here. The north Karnataka names are difficult for the people over here. So I dropped my family name Kankanwadi. More importantly, the name Srinivasachari is weightier than mere Srinivas dost. Very few people know that I am from the north. Many think I am from Tamilnadu!”
“Ah, funny. You must have learnt Tamil also”
“I know both Tamil and Telugu now. All these are required for sales job. And down here, these are techniques of survival!” Seenu made a matter of fact statement sternly, and then added with cheers, “Not all can be as lucky as you have been. You were so damn intelligent, the teachers loved you and most of the girls had a crush on you!”
Jagdish felt embarrassed at the praise.
“Are you free now? We have met after such a long time. You have brightened up my day. You were the best friend I had in the school. Remember? We have a lot to catch up.” Seenu asked after a while.
“I’d come to Bangalore to place some orders and make some payment to the supplier in cash. The supplier has gone out and he won’t be back until evening. So I am free,” Jagdish replied and then enquired, “Where are you taking me?”
“Since I am a bachelor, there is nothing you can see at my place. Let’s go to a resort where our company has a permanent booking. It is used for VIP guests of our company. And for me you are a VIP. My friend deserves only the best!”
“Alright,” said Jagdish hiding uneasiness and turned the ignition key and the car came to life. Seenu guided him and after driving for almost an hour, they came out of the hustle and bustle of Bangalore traffic and then Seenu pointed towards a small road on the left. Jagdish saw that the road ended with a two-storied building with outstretching bay windows and a tapering roof of red tiles that looked like a farmhouse fashionable among the rich to have, as it was surrounded by coconut, areca nut, mango, and neem trees. A liveried security guard stood at the tall iron gates, and he saluted as the car entered premises of the resort. A couple of stylish, latest models of luxury cars had already been parked in the place marked for parking.
The interiors of the resort were in total contrast to its exteriors. The floor was covered with Diamond tiles, huge but intricately adorned flower vases stood in the corners, the pillars were rounded and covered with brilliant colours, and the walls were covered with oil paintings. Everyone seemed to recognise Seenu and greeted him with welcoming grins. Leaving behind Jagdish to sprawl on a richly cushioned sofa, Seenu went to the reception counter and talked to a lanky person wearing jeans and T-shirt. He returned after a while and beckoned Jagdish to follow him to a room. The door was ajar and they entered into the tastefully decorated room to find a huge king sized bed, a sofa set with a glass topped teapoy. Jagdish noted that the bed was not made.
“This is our usual room. The company I work has rented it on monthly basis to entertain its guests,” Seenu explained.
“Must be very costly,” observed Jagdish. Again Seenu’s mobile sounded and he received it and grunted, “Achari”
“Please don’t worry. I will be there along with others at 4,” said Seenu before disconnecting.
“Seems like you are a busy man,” Jagdish said.
“The sales job you know, it sucks sometimes. I need to be in Mysore at 4 in the evening.”
A liveried waiter entered with a tray that was cluttered with Antiquity, mineral water, soda and a couple of packets of potato chips. As he was laying those thing on the teapoy, Jagdish said, “Seenu, I don’t drink whisky during the day time”
“Alright, you may have beer,” replied Seenu and before Jagdish could object to that he instructed the waiter to bring a chilled beer.
It was almost two in the afternoon and Jagdish had already consumed half bottle of whisky. Seenu too had finished two bottles of beer and at last a couple of pegs of whisky. Both had gobbled butter chicken with rice. They had covered all former friends and classmates, their teachers, and mutual acquaintances in their conversation. A short, stout almost bald person with a grim face, wearing jeans and a black wind sweater entered the room.
“Ah, hello Jacky,” Seenu greeted him rising from the sofa and addressing Jagdish said, “Jaggu, I’ll be back in a minute.” He did not shake hands with the newcomer, but both of them went to the corridor outside the room. As Seenu had not cared to close the door behind him, Jagdish could watch both of them conversing, although he couldn’t hear what they were talking. The stranger was waving his hands and making violent gestures. Seenu took out something from his pocket and gave him, but the conversation continued.
After a while, Seenu came back and sternly told Jagdish, “ He is Jacky, a salesperson from our company. His brother has met with an accident a couple of hours ago and has been taken to the hospital. He’s badly in need of money. I gave him five thousand bucks but that was not sufficient. He needs at least ten thousand more.”
“Poor fellow! Perhaps the company will bear the expenditure,” Jagdish suggested.
“Certainly, but not at such a short notice. After everything is over, he would have to present the bill to the company. The problem is I don’t use the ATM card, you know, because I feel it is insecure. I can’t even go to my bank now as I have got to leave for Mysore immediately. Perhaps you could lend me ten thousand so that I can help him,” Seenu requested.
Jagdish was in a fix. He could refuse, but the situation was difficult. He was meeting an old friend after a long long time, and couldn’t say he didn’t trust him. He thought for a while and took out his valet and gave Seenu ten thousand rupees. Jacky seemed to be satisfied after receiving the money from Seenu and just as he left the waiter came with the bill.
“God! I had forgotten all about the bill!” Seenu exclaimed.
It was a bill for a few bucks in excess of four thousand. Jagdish had to pay it. Seenu gave an embarrassing look, and said, “Jaggu, it was supposed to be my treat. I am so sorry”
“No problem Seenu,” Jagdish almost suppressed a whine.
“Sorry, I couldn’t meet you this morning. I had to depart suddenly to my native place,” the supplier Vishal Sharma apologized to Jagdish late in the evening.
“I would have certainly complained had I not one of my old friends this morning,” Jagdish replied.
“I know that if I had met you this morning, by now you would be back in your home. It was a lot of inconvenience to you,” said Vishal remorsefully.
“Don’t you worry. I will leave tomorrow morning. And thanks for caring,”
“Bye the way, what did you do till evening? Surely your friend couldn’t have kept you company the whole day. Everyone is busy in this damned city”
“My friend was there with me for most part of the day. He took me to a resort called Blue Moon”
“Blue Moon?” Vishal looked puzzled, “What’s the name of your friend?”
“Srinivas, but he is known as Achari here.”
“My God! I never thought you enjoyed going to such resorts. And that fraudster is your friend?” Jagdish could feel the jeer in the tone.
“I met him almost after a decade. He was my classmate in the school. But what do you mean by ‘such resorts’?” Jagdish was worried now.
“Just tell me more about your friend,” Vishal said softly.
Jagdish narrated the whole encounter he had with Seenu.
“Ah! Manpower Agency, he said, didn’t he,” Vishal said with some amusement, “He’s right in a way. In fact he provides escorts. you know what I mean? Women!
“When he first came to Bangalore, he was broke. In fact I have heard that he was a run away from his home. He worked for a Live Band for sometime. He was caught having an affair with a bargirl or whatever they are called. He lost that job. He used well the contacts that he had acquired working there for his business, as a matter of fact, very well. He was also involved in a chit fund scam. He tried his tricks in real estate also, but the goons in that business almost beat him to death. Thereafter he left real estate.
“He said that Jacky was an employee of his company and was in distress. Jacky must have come there to recover money on someone’s behalf. I know for sure that Jacky is used as recovery agent by private moneylenders. He is a small time thug with underworld connections. Anyway, you were lucky that you got away losing only a small amount of money.”
Jagdish was shocked and flabbergasted. Never would I trust anyone hereafter, he swore to himself.