8

Some one has very rightly said “where there is a will there is a way”.  The chance to earn some extra bucks materialized out of the blue in a very short span of time for Ranjit. He had gone to buy a packet of cigarettes for himself from the corner shop. He had asked the shopkeeper for a packet of Charminars.

“You smoke quite a strong brand of cigarettes”, the stranger asked him. “Do you prefer to smoke mere cigarette only or do you   add some fun also into your smoking”.

“I do not understand how do I add fun in cigarettes smoking?  May I know what the fun you are talking about is”?

He was offered his first taste of hashish that night.

“come just take a long drag here and after you have inhaled the first smoke you will feel as if you have been transported on cloud nine”. Ranjit accepted the already lighted cigarette from the stranger.  He took a few puffs and he felt his head clearing up. He had never felt himself lighter than this before. , the throbbing pain in his temples  and the stress of having been living in the prison like conditions created by his grandmother had been giving him a constant strain .He felt that all the pain  in the neck and other parts of his body  was gone in an instant . It was as if he was floating on the air of merrymaking and the world seemed a superbly full of mirth   place to live in to him.

“Do you want to make some extra cash for your self”, the stranger asked him.

Ranjit looked up at the unknown face out of amusement. He saw a short dark man with ugly pockmarked red face, and tummy protruding out, and when he gave him a warm smile, the beetle stained teeth added another horror touch to his face. His hairline was receding backward.  Ranjit could see a feeble attempt had been made by the gentleman to cover up his balding pate with the remaining strands of a few hairs on his forehead.

“He must be in his early forties”, thought Ranjit “and looks like the exact mock-up of villainous character shown in Indian films”. His ugly looks could have made many a children cry but he appeared friendly to Ranjit due to his affable smile. Ranjit who had been lacking the touch of human warmth and closeness in his life, ever since he was kind of disowned by the family was too touched by the endearing words spoken to him by the stranger.

The stranger was addressing his question to Ranjit once again “I know how difficult it is to meet the day to day expenses at your age. A little extra money is always welcome. How do you take your girlfriend out on a date if you do not have any money? Do you have a girl friend? I am sure you will want to make some extra buck”. The stranger winked at him. Ranjit wanted to get away from there but the disarming friendliness of this stranger   made him stop for a while. Ranjit was surprised to hear the words coming out of his own mouth “Oh sure. I do not mind provided you do not ask me to steal or kill any one”.

“Come on young man we do not do any such thing, nor would we ever ask you to get into any such illegal activities. We are only traders. All you have to do is deliver some of these packets at different destinations and you earn your rewards in return”, said the stranger as he showed Ranjit a bundle of small packets wrapped in a plastic bag, “There is none of your investment or risk involved. You get your money when the job is done”.

Ranjit once again gave an appraising look to the short dark, fat and balding ugly man who had covered up his balding pate with the remaining strands of a few hairs on his forehead. He was wearing quite expensive and rich clothes. His wrist supported a diamond studded gold watch. There were two thick gold chains hanging through the open buttons of his branded shirt. He could not look into the stranger’s eyes to see if he was making a fool of him, as the stranger was wearing dark glasses.

“Hum! It needs consideration. Give me a few days to think it over”.

“You may regret later”, said the ugly stranger. “Such an opportunity comes once in life time. It is not everyday that someone will provide you with the plan to make huge profits for yourself in life”.

“But please tell me why you should trust me. You do not know me nor did I know any thing about you”, said Ranjit.

“There is time enough to know each other once we get friends. However it suffices to tell you the fact that we can spot the talent once we look at the man. Money is something that we both need. It is a kind of mutual need. You need money and we require people like you to help us out in our business ventures from where we can make more money”.

“ yes but do I understand that your business is certainly not a legitimate one otherwise you would not have been picking on  a Youngman like me from the cigarette shop, about whom you know nothing about”, Ranjit knew it that  the  ugly and dark  looking stranger who had  covered  up his balding pate with the remaining strands of a few hair on his forehead was eventually luring him into pedaling drugs.

“ but what the heck it will at least be able to get myself  the most urgently needed cash” .

“It has been a long time since I felt the touch of hard currency note in my fingers,” his hands had started itching to get hold of the crispy notes once again.

“Your task is very simple. You will have to pick up the packets from predetermined spots. You will deliver them to customers all over the towns. Your commissions will be paid through me everyday”, the stranger had been able to strike a deal with Ranjit.

One evening when Ranjit had gone to pick up the delivery from the agreed point, he saw the policemen spread all over the market place and some of them had gone inside the shop that was selling cigarettes and cold drinks. His common sense of anticipating a danger beforehand told him to stop. He could see that the short, fat, dark and ugly man was already into some kind of trouble. The police was there everywhere. A policeman had held the short, dark, fat ugly man from the collar. Ranjit hid himself behind a pillar and saw the stranger being bundled into the van by the policeman. Every thing had happened in a flash. Ranjit left his motorcycle behind and ran on foot from there hiding himself into small streets adjoining the main road. He was sure the police must be looking for him too and will come after him.  He felt shivers run down his spine the entire week, whenever there was a knock at the door; he would imagine some one announcing his name. Grandmother looked at him suspiciously when he refused to come out of his room.

“You are my dear, grand mother! You must  Trust me I have done nothing that should annoy you so much ,” he had almost blurted out when he heard some one knocking  at the door of their  once early morning, but it turned out to be the washerwoman.

Finally after having waited for a week shut up in his small room at his grand mother’s house he  dared himself to go  to the marketplace to find out if the short, dark, fat and ugly man had been able to get himself a bail and come out of the police station . He also had not had the courage to go and bring back his motorcycle from the cigarette shop. He had , in a hurry  to  get away from the place had  left the motor cycle  behind, in front of the cigarette and cold drinks shop.  He found his motorcycle still parked at the same place. Ranjit went to the shop. He  bought a cigarette packet and lighted one. He wanted to make sure there was no policeman keeping watch on his vehicle.

“Just take your motor bike and get lost. No one is watching you and you can come back here in the evening, when you will be told the next spot for pick up”, it was the shopkeeper at the cigarette and cold drinks selling shop. Ranjit wanted to ask him as to what had happened to short, dark, fat, ugly and baldy man. But it was as if the shopkeeper could already have read the thoughts prevailing in his mind. “There are no questions asked by any one in this profession. He will take his own time to come out. It is possible you may be given his job so be back here in the evening”.

Ranjit could for the first time feel and live the threat to his freedom in this avocation. He for the rest of the day that day  kept on weighing in his mind the  answer to the question whether he should quit and look for some other means of making fast bread but he knew that it was impossible to unless he took to burglary which involved higher degrees of risk of getting caught. Eventually he fought over his fear and landed at the cigarette seller again in the evening.

The shopkeeper asked him to accompany another man for visiting the boss controlling the activities of area falling under the man who had covered up his balding pate with the remaining strands of a few hairs on his forehead. The bald and ugly man was still in the custody of the police.  Ranjit was no more hesitant to accompany the stranger. The man led him to different parts of town and brought the car to a halt in front of a bungalow in the posh locality of senior government officers and ministers.

“This is the office of our export/import organization and if you will wait at the reception I will go and find out if the boss can see you now”, the man spoke to the girl on the counter and went inside.

The cool air blowing out of the air conditioner was too chilling giving Ranjit the cold feet. The girl sitting at the reception desk did not even look at him when she announced “you can go and see the boss now, you take to the corridor straight down the alleyway and you will find him in his cabin at the end of the aisle”.

Seated behind the desk was an old man wearing three pieces Seville Row suit. He looked like a big businessman, his girth extending to cover half the portion of the table he was occupying. The villainy-looking guy resembled the ones they show in films with a cigar or smoking pipe hanging from the mouth. The old man lit the cigar with a musical lighter; Ranjit wondered why he did not carry the smoking pipe instead, “it would have suited him better”.

“So you are the one Sundar had employed” the authority in the voice was unmistakable “we are shifting you to the university area from today. You will henceforth be handling the money collection as well’.

“So the short, dark, fat and ugly stranger was Sundar. What a contradiction” thought Ranjit, “that man was nowhere close to the name, may be during his childhood he must have looked beautiful to his parents to motivate them to have given such a name; they must though later have wondered if they were justified in naming him so”.
Ranjit was given the assignment, to deliver the larger consignments containing smaller packets that were sold by the shopkeepers to the students. Ranjit would collect money from the shopkeepers later. The group of customers he handled was impressed by his courteous behavior, as he never bullied them like the earlier man named Sundar used to for getting advance payment before he would deliver the drug packets to them. Ranjit believed that the shopkeeper would never cheat him, as he had to depend for his next supplies on the source, which was controlled by Ranjit and the others like him. This got reflected in the quantum of business jumping up manifold as the dependence of the addict increased everyday. Ranjit’s smart ways of arrangement in such a manner   soon saw him earning the respect of the boss and he was made a member of the think tank of the group. They would often consult him on the new recruits and their training and initiation into the trade.

 

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