Hari waited for his boss to come out of the building and yawned. The March heat was making him sleepy already. He wondered how he would pull through another summer. Somewhere in the parking lot, a retro song played. It sounded like a lullaby to Hari, and he almost drifted off to sleep. A loud knock on the car window woke him up. His boss was back. As Hari quickly got up and took to the wheels, he realized how disturbed his boss was.
‘Let’s get back home,’ the man mumbled and Hari quickly manoeuvred his way out of the parking lot. The road ahead was clogged and in no time, they were stuck in the long queue of cars.
‘I don’t think we will be anywhere near this quarter’s target. And if that is the case, we lose on the annual target too,’ Hari heard his boss say over the phone. ‘I am scared, Ahana. I don’t know if any of the Ponzi firms will pay us the deficit money too. And we have been fools, running their ads and sponsorship logos for months. Trust me, if I had the slightest idea about this I would have cancelled all their spots. What do I do now?’ As the signal turned green, Hari smirked. His boss was always on the edge, never happy with his dealings of the day. Heading the sales and marketing wing in a regional channel, the man had access to a lifestyle that many would envy. ‘Bigger the houses and cars, bigger the problems!’ Hari thought.
Another week passed and Hari’s boss was in a state of perpetual worry. And then one day he terminated Hari’s services. ‘I am sorry boy. I can’t do anything. The organization is in a big soup and I have to feed my family, pay my bills. But I promise you I will get you back the moment things are set straight. And here take 2000 rupees extra and your salary too. Look for something temporary.’
Hari didn’t complain. His job was to drive a car and there were lakhs of cars in Kolkata. Every second person needed a driver.
Hari and his two buddies were at their Sonarpur home when Hari got a call that changed everything. ‘Baba Hari, I am finished,’ his father had called from their village in Burdwan. ‘I had trusted them, they had said they will give me double the money and I had sold the little piece of land and kept all my money with them. Now the office is locked. All my money is gone. I am finished. How do I marry off Geeta now? The wedding is in July.’
Hari’s world had fallen apart. He eventually realized his boss and his father were victims of the same Ponzi firm. He grabbed the remote and reached for a news channel. His father was right. They were gone, they were out of reach. There could be no way to get the money back.
For the next few days all Hari did was lie low, read every newspaper, follow every discussion on news channels and even take part in michils and dharnas. His father had stopped talking, informed his sister. Hari promised her to change everything. He wouldn’t let his family suffer. There was still hope. He would get a job and then they could start the wedding preparations again.
Hari had been right. Getting a job wasn’t a stiff task. He was to drive a car of a local counsellor and was relieved.
That day when he got home and realized his friends were in the mood for something else.
‘Why should we just take things lying down?’ said Ganesh. ‘These people have tons of money, and they cheat us, they treat us like we don’t exist. I lost my five thousand to that Ponzi firm. You lost your land. There are people killing themselves, Hari. What if tomorrow Kaka, your father, does the same?’ His friends were high on liquor, and Hari was not the man who would think pessimistically. He rubbished their talks and tried to get some sleep.
But sleep wouldn’t come easily. They had lost that little piece of land, and his father had lost everything. What if Ganesh was right? His father’s face kept haunting him in his sleep. When his village had been against his coming to Kolkata, it was Hari’s father who had stood by his son. He had undauntedly said he would live even if ostracized, but not kill his son’s dreams.
When he woke up in the morning, he was sure his father wouldn’t approve, if he chose a narrow path to success. The straight path was full of hurdles, but that would make his father proud. Grabbing his toothbrush he walked up to the front door. The lady who stayed in the adjacent ‘room’ was animatedly reading out a snippet from a newspaper to her mother-in-law.
‘Why do you look so rattled, Boudi?’ Hari asked as he stretched a little.
‘Ki bolcho? What are you saying? How can I not be rattled? Another man killed himself. The count is 20 now. Who knows how many more these cheats will claim?’
Fear had taken Hari in a vicious grip. Next could be his father or even his sister. With little steps, he approached his friends. Ganesh was sitting in one corner, disturbed, and puffing a beedi.
‘What were you saying last night?’ Hari asked in an unsteady voice.
‘Emm uh nothing. What is the point?’Ganesh gruffly said and looked away.
‘No, I ...I want to...I mean I have to do it Ganesh Bhai. I don’t want to see my father’s name in the next day’s newspaper.’
Ganesh looked at the introvert Hari, the young man who had dreams in his eyes, and sunshine in his smile. His eyes filled up. These people had pushed them on the brink of death. Their scams, their inner deals wouldn’t damage the lives of the rich. But they were poor, and they didn’t have an option.
The plan was set. There was no looking back. Hari, Ganesh, and two other men were ready, waiting for the other shops to close. Ganesh would give them a count of five and then they would barge into the shop.
Moniram Jewellers was a little shop, but Shyamal Banik was doing brisk business. Their customers had been with them from the time of his grandfather, and the coming generations had chosen to stay with them. That night he was just rounding up the day’s activities, checking the cash box and the register when the young men barged in. They demanded money and Shyamal Banik raised an alarm. He wouldn’t give away a single penny without a fight. And Ganesh wouldn’t just leave. Shyamal reached for the country made gun that Ganesh was all the while pointing towards him. A scuffle followed; Hari lurched forward to stop them, but the gun was fired. Shyamal let out a shriek as the bullet pierced him on the arm.
‘Run, run we can get another target!’ An alarmed Ganesh said. As they ran out, the alarmed neighbourhood was up in arms. First to go down was Ganesh, but he gave them a slip. Hari couldn’t, and fell to the blows of the mob. People had been angry already. There was no security, and the people who had to maintain law and order did nothing. Hari was their punching bag. They couldn’t get hold of the ‘system’ so they beat him to a pulp. After a point, Hari stopped struggling and smiled. His father had faith in God, and this is the fate his God had in store for him! He wished they would after a point throw his body into the river, that would save his family from spending money for cremation. As he closed his eyes, he saw his father’s helpless face; his sister’s broken dreams and the many others who had died because their hopes were stolen.
Hari didn’t have to deal with the summer after all.