Srinjoy picked up his wallet from the drawer and let out a muted groan. It was nearly a month since he had bought a new leather purse from London, but for some reason or the other, he had not been able to transfer the stuff from his old, worn out wallet to the new one. Today had to be the day, he resolved, and ambled off to the bathroom to afford himself a quick shave and a shower before his wife brought the breakfast.
At 44, Srinjoy had established himself as a successful businessman, running a company that manufactured transmission parts for a couple of well known automobile manufacturers. The growth of his business had been nothing short of spectacular. In a short span of seven years, Techmax Auto had grown from being a one-room venture in a seedy side lane of Delhi’s Khari Baoli to a Rs 170 crore conglomerate, a rise that even elicited a mention by the Chamber of Commerce general secretary in his annual address at the GBM. The meteoric rise had got tongues wagging, and Srinjoy had to contend with Sales Tax enquiries, whisper campaigns and annoying labour issues, which he privately attributed to the artifices of his jealous business rivals. Surprisingly enough for his detractors, Srinjoy never found himself in trouble and appeared to glide through the hurdles with consummate ease. And now, in his opulent Noida residence, life was affording him all the pleasures money could buy.
Dressed in a crisp business suit and doused in cologne, Srinjoy took out the new purse from his wardrobe. It was a beautiful ebony Viviene Westwood, an expensive piece of handcrafted buffalo calf. He then took his old wallet and stuffed both in his jacket. Picking up his briefcase and the neatly folded issue of The Economic Times, Srinjoy descended the stairs in a huff and climbed into the plush seat of his silver gray Landcruiser Prado. As the driver pulled out of the kerb and swung the car onto the asphalt, Srinjoy eased the two wallets out of his jacket and slowly began extricating the stuff from the old, worn out wallet. He had been using this one for close to three years now, and the slots bulged with paper slips and business cards of those he had long since outpaced on the road to success.
As the SUV sped through the Greater Noida Expressway, Srinjoy set about arranging the credit cards and the bank notes in the appropriate slots of the new wallet. Then he sifted through the pile of papers, carefully unfolding them and going through the scribblings, and eventually discarding the ones he didn’t wish to retain. He threw away most of the business cards, the ones that weren’t needed anymore, into a small waste basket kept near his feet. The old wallet was now an empty bag of worn out leather. Srinjoy looked at it for a few moments and then, as if chucking a Frisbee, tossed it out of the window.
And then it struck him. Like a lightening. The amulet. Where was the amulet? Srinjoy suddenly felt his knees go agonizingly numb. He had forgotten to remove the amulet from a side pocket of the old purse, where it had lay untouched for the past three years. The last couple of times he had changed his purse, he hadn’t forgotten to retrieve the amulet. But on this occasion, he had carelessly thrown away his lucky charm, along with the purse into the barren landscape adjoining the highway. Even within the climate controlled comfort of his car, Srinjoy started sweating profusely.
“Stop! Stop the car!” he yelled at Ram Singh, the driver, who almost reflexively brought the SUV to a screeching halt by the side of the freeway.
“Kya hua Sahib?” Ram Singh whirled around and enquired anxiously. “Sab theek to hai?”
With an ashen face, Srinjoy explained briefly what had happened and ordered the driver to turn back. Looking out of the window, he snapped his fingers in nervousness and cursed himself as Ram Singh looked for a cut to turn the vehicle on to the opposite lane.
Blurred images of the amulet blitzed across Srinjoy’s consciousness as his memories wafted back to that sweltry summer afternoon seven years ago. Those days, life for him was an epic struggle. To make ends meet, Srinjoy had to toil 18 hours a day ferrying auto parts from a dealer in Khari Baoli to a service centre in Karol Bagh. He had just set up Techmax Auto in a 20 ft by 10 ft rented cubicle in a side alley of a busy marketplace, where he had installed a lathe machine. A graduate in mechanical engineering, Srinjoy had quit his job a couple of years ago over compliance issues, accusing his boss of graft in a tender scam, even testifying to the sleuths from a central investigating agency. Nothing came out of the investigation, his boss was eventually exonerated, and Srinjoy had to pay with his job. Since then, he had been scratching around, trying to start a business. He had just submitted a tender for supplying parts to a gear box manufacturer and desperately hoped that something favourable would come out of if. To add to his woes, his cellphone had just gone dead.
That afternoon, he had parked his Maruti 800 near an intersection and was about to enter a telephone booth when he heard a strange voice behind him, “Bachcha! O Bachcha!”
Srinjoy spun around and was startled to see a dark complexioned sadhu standing very close, nearly right behind him. His lanky, undernourished frame was wrapped in a crumpled orange robe with a string of rudrakha beads coiled around his neck. His long, unkempt dreadlocks fell carelessly over his shoulders. A pair of eyes that shone brilliantly in a dull ash smeared face transfixed Srinjoy as he stood rooted to the pavement, staring at the mystic with a wooden gaze. The sadhu then abruptly raised his right hand and placed it on Srinjoy’s head.
“Bachcha, give me a 100 rupee note, bachcha!”
“What?” Srinjoy shrugged off the sadhu’s hand from his head.
“Quick. Give me a 100 rupee note. I will show you a divine miracle, bachcha” boomed the sadhu impatiently, repeating his demand.
Srinjoy felt as if he was being smothered by a powerful hypnotic force that was draining away his consciousness. With the sadhu’s piercing gaze boring deep into his psyche , Srinjoy slipped his hand into his pocket, brought out a 100 rupee note and handed it to the sadhu. The mystic folded the note a couple of times, placed it on the palm of his left hand, and clenched his fingers over it into a tight fist. His face contorted into a mysterious smile as he vigorously shook his head and let loose a string of indecipherable gibberish that purported to appease the gods and invoke the powers of black magic. And then, slowly, the ascetic released his grasp and spread out his fingers to reveal a small amulet with the impression of a deity inscribed on it. The 100 rupee note was nowhere to be seen.
“Bom bhole! Sukhi reh bachcha!” The sadhu waved his hand in the air, dabbed a little ash on Srinjoy’s forehead and prepared to leave. It was then when Srinjoy gripped his arm and forced him around.
“Where is my money?” Srinjoy demanded, having come back to his senses. A small crowd had gathered around them by then.
“Devi has accepted you offering, Bachcha! You shall have her blessings soon.” The sadhu answered.
“What? You cheat!” Srinjoy screamed, livid with rage “give me back my money, you thug”. He gripped the sadhu by his arms and shook him hard. And suddenly, a folded 100 rupee note fell at the sadhu’s feet from somewhere among his robes. Srinjoy pounced on it and picked it up in a flash. The crowd gasped.
The mystic tried to free himself from Srinjoy’s grasp. “Let me call the police.” Srinjoy shouted, panting heavily.
The sadhu vigorously pleaded with Srinjoy to let him go. “I’m not a cheat, bachcha. Let me go. You have got back your money. Why do you want to call the police?”
“Rascal, you are not a sadhu!” Srinjoy yelled, “you are a petty thief who deserves to go to jail!”
A couple of onlookers came forward and implored Srinjoy to let the Sadhu go. Srinjoy sensed that the onlookers weren’t in a mood to earn the wrath of Gods by becoming an accomplice to an act of supposed blasphemy. “Okay, I’ll let you go, but give me that amulet first”, he demanded, pointing to the sadhu’s fist.
The mystic shrank back and looked at Srinjoy with an expression of fear and desperation on his face. “No no, I can not give you that!” the Sadhu said.
“If you don’t give me that”, Srinjoy growled “I will call the police right here and right now.”
“I can not give you that, it is my lucky charm! Please, please don’t take it from me”, the sadhu begged.
“Okay, you won’t understand, eh? Let me call the police. You won’t know what it is to cheat a person unless you are thrashed soundly at the police station”
A sizeable crowd had gathered around them by then. Srinjoy could see a policeman approach from a distance. The mystic too had seen that. He opened his fist and offered the amulet to Srinjoy. “Okay, take this, bachcha, and let me go. But this was my lucky charm. It had saved me from all troubles all these years. My life depended on it. I don’t know why it failed today. Take this, and never part with it.” He placed the amulet in Srinjoy’s hand and quickly made his way through the swarm of onlookers, striding towards the traffic intersection at a frantic pace. Srinjoy looked at the amulet and slipped it into his pocket. The crowd was dispersing. As he started walking back towards his car, he heard a sharp screeching sound of a vehicle applying sudden brakes, followed by a loud thud. Almost immediately, he saw people running towards the traffic intersection.
Srinjoy reached the scene in no time. A pick up truck was standing awkwardly in the middle of the road. And before it, in a pool of blood, lay the body of the sadhu, his lifeless gaze fixed at the fathomless horizon. Srinjoy felt a surge of nausea overwhelm him and he dropped to the ground.
The following week, Srinjoy came to know that he had won the bid for the contract.
“Sahib!” Ram Singh’s voice pierced his daze as the Landcruiser came to a stop. “Sahib, can you remember where you threw the purse, sahib?”
Srinjoy alighted from the car and looked around in bewilderment. The landscape had swallowed his talisman.