There were four, when it all began. 


Four friends, who shared a beautiful friendship. After all, the group was held together by the strongest bond known to man. All four of them were very transparent in their self interest and wanted to take advantage of each other. I know the statement sounds a little conflicting, but then isn't honesty the most important quality in a true friend? Think about it. Wouldn't you prefer to have friends who gave you their honest opinion? Friends who saved you from making huge mistakes in life, like quitting your career to become an actor or worse, a short story writer? I think most of us would prefer an honest friend, honest even to the point of being completely selfish most of the times.


Mr. Raj Kapoor had managed to find three such sooth conveyors on the day he moved to New Delhi. He had not relocated willingly of course and was at a low point in his life when he had to move there for work. It would be fair to say that he would have been extremely depressed had he not met his saviors at the local pub. But there they were, just in time to rescue him from the boredom that engulfs every lonely human being at a bar. They had managed to make him feel quite comfortable almost immediately after their initial introductions. And eventually, Mr. Kapoor had started finding even New Delhi tolerable. 


New Delhi is successfully tolerated by thousands, nay, millions every day. So then, what made Mr. Kapoor feel so uncomfortable in the heart of his own beloved motherland? The answer is quite simple. He had actually relocated there from the land of his adoptive Uncle Sam. Even though he looked like an Indian, cursed like an Indian and threw garbage on the streets like any average Indian, he was not an Indian. He was an immigrant from the United States of America.  A fact that he was terribly proud of, as are most natives of that land of the free and home of the brave. So proud in fact, that he had promptly signed up to be a part of their Central Intelligence Agency right out of college without even considering any other line of work.  


He had joined the agency back in 2002 and after many fruitful years of spreading democracy in willing and unwilling countries alike, had risen to the position of a respected, senior CIA operative by 2016. Ah yes, 2016. That’s the year, he had first met his current boss, Dr. Ted Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin, who had often beaten the charges of racism leveled against him, believed that someone of Raj's, let's say talents, should be in a more productive role in Southeast Asia. A belief that led him to create and fill the position of a CIA director in India, with Mr. Raj Kapoor in mind.  


This is precisely why Mr. Kapoor found himself drinking his depression away at Apsara Bar, New Delhi, surrounded by a few flies and his first future friend, Mr. Hirachand Patel. They immediately struck up a conversation when the generator at the facility went out and the fear of the flies entering their mouths while talking could be ignored in the dark.


Mr. Hirachand started the conversation by telling Raj about his booming illegal liquor business. Just like most middle aged men in New Delhi, he was a successful entrepreneur with an eye on expanding his empire. He sold Johnny Hawker, Jack Denials and Waywards 50,000 by the truck load to the thirsty public of New Delhi and intended to get into the cocaine business soon. And even though Raj already seemed duly impressed, Mr. Hirachand invited his good friend Mr. Srinivasan to support his boasts, and drive the point home. 


Although Mr. Srinivasan was known to be extremely honest in most situations, he supported Mr. Hirachand's false claims by quietly nodding in agreement that evening. You see, Mr. Hirachand had been lying this whole time. He did not sell illegal alcohol or drugs for a living. He just claimed to make a living doing so because his real business was too embarrassing to disclose in public. He was the owner of ten kabaadi shops and a junkyard. He was in the business of collecting junk, not in the business of supplying junkies. The pretense just helped him make friends easily and made him more socially acceptable. Srinivasan knew the truth though. He worked for the Indian Police Service after all. It was Srini's job to know the truth. 


The truth had never set Mr. Srinivasan free. He often felt trapped and baited at work because of being an honest officer. He had been investigated under corruption charges on many an occasion, due to inquiries initiated by the Ministers who perpetrated the crimes themselves and thought that they could use old Srini as a scapegoat. He had decided to quit his job when he had first met Hirachand. However, that King among menhad helped him deal with his problems by bribing people on his behalf and had convinced him to stay on as a Deputy Commissioner of Police in Delhi. Srini had returned the favor by nodding his assent at each lie that Mr. Patel had disbursed from then on. And even though it involved hiding the truth, Srini didn't mind hanging out with Mr. Patel. Well, at least not as much as he minded being around Hirachand's zany, wacky companion Mr. DhirajMarjaniya.  


Mr. Marjaniya was the fourth wheel of the wagon. A successful film director, he was not. A wonderful person, was not what one would call him. A caring friend, was the opposite of what his friends did call him, but he still found acceptance in many a merry company of men. The reason was his life partner.  His only winning quality had always been the fact that he had married actress Marina Kaif. This statement may have confused the casual reader, but it is the absolute truth. The logic is quite self- evident, if you think about it, logically. Everyone wants to know someone famous in the movie business. And so it was,that the glitz and the glamour of the industry drew many,including Mr. Hirachand, to accept Dhiraj as a decent man. 


 So, there were four, when it all began. 


Four happily married men with three happily married friends each, who possessed one happily married wife each. Those were the statistics of the matter before this happily married equilibrium was disturbed by some unhappy news that Mr. Raj Kapoor heard from Marina at a cocktail party. To his utter surprise, he was shocked to discover that Marina wanted to go back to her old career again. The surprise about the shock was quickly conveyed by him to his other two friends and they decided to meet at Apsarato talk about it. 


"Do you think they are having problems?", asked Mr. Hirachand, the primary vocalist of the group. "I don't know. Maybe it is not as bad as we think. Maybe she is just bored with the social scene and wants toresume acting on a different stage", said Raj, the optimist of the group. "I think they must have money troubles", said Mr. Srinivasan, the poor government employee of the group. "This is most disconcerting. We have to do something to help our friend", concluded Mr. Hirachand, getting in the last word as always.


"But what can we do?", resumed Raj, when they met at Apsara the next day. "I have an idea", responded Hirachand. "Me too, I have an idea too", chirped Srini. Raj was impressed by his friends quick thinking, "OK, let's hear them out." "I feel like we should not meddle just yet. They can sort this out themselves. Whenever my wife and I have a disagreement, she always has a crazy reaction at first but then manages to see my point of view and accepts it like every good Indian wife should." "What do you mean Hirachand? You have a very skewed image of what a good Indian wife should be, you know?” Srini said. He was visibly disturbed by his friends statement and continued to interrupt him, "Women are human beings who must be treated as equals." "Sometimes I feel like you are too progressive for your own good Srini. Think about it, if Marina resumes her work, she will be surrounded by successful businessman like movie producers, great thinkers, like film directors and handsome men like our lead actors. That kind of attention is too confusing for a woman's tiny brain to process. Can't you see this is going to end badly for Dhiraj?"  


The discussion continued unabated by the electricity failure the next day. "So you think that women have smaller brains? I cannot believe this." Srini retorted. He looked tired because he had not slept the previous night. The argument with Hirachand had kept him up all night. "No, I am sure they are bigger than some men's brains. Yours seems to be smaller than Marina's, for example." "Gentleman, gentleman, come now, let's not get personal. I actually have an opinion on the matter too." Raj interrupted his angry friends. "I think they need some time off to think things through. We should insist with Dhiraj about going to a couple's retreat in America. This way we can all get away for a while and work on our relationships." "Why America? It is too expensive, I think." replied Srini, as he opened his wallet and started to search for the money to settle the bar tab.  "Yes, I agree with Srini. America is too far. Plus, I think we'll be sending the wrong message to Dhiraj's wife. We want to keep her away from a land where women get to do whatever they want, except be President of course." 


"What if we got Minister Saab to name a park after her and gave Dhiraj the credit for coming up with the idea?" Srini blurted out even before they had ordered their drinks the next Monday. "How would that help?" "Well nothing works on a woman like flattery, of course!" "Are you serious Srini?" "I am. I think that would do the Minister Saab's image some good too. He hasn't successfully inaugurated anything in a while." "What do we get out of the deal?"HIrachand inquired while taking the first sip of his brew. "Hira, you can donate the land from your junkya..." "From my holdings in south Delhi you mean?" "Yes, yes. You can donate the land for the public park and get huge tax breaks. And Raj you could use the photo op to promote your business. It will make you popular. I am sure that'll help you in whatever you do." "And blow my cover", Raj thought.  ”I don't know Srini, Raj may not want any publicity for his mysterious trade.” Hirachand chimed in. "I have always wondered, what do you do Raj?" "I own an Indian spice factory." "Really? But you seem to have such an aversion to anything with flavor! What made you go into the spice business?" "I inherited it from my Boss." "I see. I find that really strange." Srini said in his policeman's voice. "I think Srini's idea is quite stupid", Raj glowered. "Why?" "I don't think we should get involved with a Minister. The next time he gets accused in a scam we'll have to deal with unnecessary attention. Plus Minister's are notorious for cheating everyone. He might take the land and never show us his face again."


"How about financing the movie?" Hirachand said while gulping down the first sip of his drink the following Friday. " What? How is that going to help?" "Srini, use some common sense. If we finance the movie, we can control her interactions with the other men on the set. Plus, think of all the money and publicity we will get while helping our friend out in the process." "I don't see how this will help Dhiraj."  "Don't you? We are the producers, so we can hire unattractive men to shoot the whole thing." "That sounds like bad business strategy though." Raj interrupted. His capitalistic instincts had not left him completely, just yet. 


It took Hirachand an entire week to come up with a solution to Raj's problem. "It would be a bad idea if we made a regular movie. However, if we hired serious (read ugly looking) actors like AwazuddinPiddique and moderately creative directors who have made a career out of stealing scripts, we can make it all work!" "That is a good idea Hira. Except for one flaw of course." "And what is that Raj?" asked a highly intrigued Hirachand. "Well…" "You can tell me Raj, it’s just us here tonight. I won't tell Srini a thing."  "Srini is a government employee, Hira." "Ah yes, I didn't even think of that." "Yes, he is so poor that he offered to sell me his kidney when we first met." "I see, and you feel that he'll feel left out if he is unable to invest in the movie?" "Exactly, and more importantly he might even create trouble if we don't help him out with his minister." "Yes. This business of helping people out is really tricky. Sometimes I feel like we are too generous you know. Doing everything we can to help a friend's marriage." "We are, we really are." "Where is Srini anyway?" "I don't know. He called us here tonight but has not bothered to show up yet." "Must be stuck at a Minister's inauguration event or something." 


Srini appeared eventually, looking utterly distraught and lost. It was a pitiful sight to see this gaunt, haggard man with a look of total disbelief in his eyes. He looked shaken and stirred. "Srini?" Raj inquired. "Huh?" "What happened buddy?", Hira questioned. "I...I don't know." "Why do you look so disheveled?" "My life..." "What about it Srini?" "My wife has decided to leave me." "What!" Raj exclaimed. "Oh my god!", Hira ejaculated. "Yes." "What happened?" "Well, apparently it was not because of the money problems we were having. She said she never expected to have enough to eat when she married an Indian government officer." "What was it then?" "She said that I had not been home for so many evenings that she had forgotten why she had married me in the first place. The only good thing about being in the government is that one gets to ignore work and run home, after all. And that is the one thing I did not do for her. I was never home." "Oh my god!  Srini. We are so sorry." "Yes. Apparently, she realized that our Milkman was the right man for her because at least he made time to meet her every evening." "I...", Hira's sympathetic sentence was cut short by a ring of his cellphone.


"What? How can you do this? How dare you? This is wrong. This is all wrong." "What happened Hira? Is everything ok?" "My wife just called to tell me that she is leaving me." "What!! Why?" "Apparently, my absence from home has given her tiny brain a lot of time to think about us. She has decided to run away with AwazuddinPiddique." "AwazuddinPiddique?" "Yes, they met at my Junkyard during a shoot for which he was in town. Since then they have been meeting every evening. She says that she did not like him initially  but meeting him after the sun goes down made her change her mind.They  fell in love under the dim lights of the Junkyard. She has decided to be with him. I can't believe this." "Excuse me, Gentleman. I need to go home immediately and check on something", Raj said as he sprinted towards the exit.


"This is how I found it when I got home." "You work for the CIA?" Srini asked in disbelief. "Well..." "How is the pay? Does your government pay you well?" "I think you are focusing on the wrong thing Srini. I don't think he wants to talk about money the same day his wife cleaned out his bank account and left him." "Thank you Hira." "Did she give you a reason?" "Well, apparently she got lonely every morning." "Every morning?" "Yes, it is morning in America when it is evening here, right? Right, Raj?" "Yes. My absence gave her a lot of time to think and she decided to go back to New Jersey to live with her ex-boyfriend." "This is horrible. This is positively depressing." "I guess we are all in the same boat as Dhiraj now.", Raj said dejectedly. "Ah!" "Oh!" "What happened guys?" "I guess you didn't get a chance to see the news yet." "The news?" "Yes. Let me put it on for you..."


"In a sensational turn of events, actress Marina Kaif has decided to void her contract with Starlight Entertainment and has backed out from starring in an upcoming film opposite Mr. AwazuddinPiddique. Ms. Kaif has sighted personal reasons to back out from the project. In a statement today, she said that, she and her husband Mr. Marjaniya have decided to focus on raising a family. The news of her pregnancy had already been leaked to the media prior to her decision but now it has been confirmed by her in this statement."


There were four when it all began. 


And then there were three.


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Nitin Chandola

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