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Stories. 
The Betrayal
by Ramendra Kumar

This is the story of a farmer named Sajjan Singh who lived in Haryalpur village which was ten kilometers from the town of Tilaknagar. He was tall and clean shaven with short hair. Sajjan's wife and three year old son had died in an epidemic many years ago and he lived alone. He was honest, hardworking, kind and generous. He owned a plot of land in which he grew sugarcane. He had a fairly large house close to his farm. Since he was diligent the farm yielded a good crop every season.

Sajjan Singh liked living a simple life and he saved most of the money that he got by selling sugarcane. He had only one ambition left in life. Since he had no children he wanted to do something for the kids who had lost their parents. He wanted to set up an orphanage in Tilaknagar and was on the look out for a plot of land.

In the same village lived a money lender named Nemichand Jain. Short and portly, he had shifty eyes and a mean face. Even though he had sufficient amount of money he was very greedy and selfish. He had not married because he was afraid his wife would spend all his money. While everyone liked Sajjan, Nemichand was very unpopular. For this reason Nemichand was very jealous of Sajjan. Nemichand also wanted to grab Sajjan's house since it was located very close to the highway. His idea was to buy the house and convert it into a dhaba and make some more money. He had asked his friend Madho Singh to approach Sajjan since they knew each other.

"I am sorry Madho, I will not sell this house. I was born here, I grew up in this house, my little son too was born here - all my memories are in this house. I can't bear to part with it."
Nemichand was disappointed but when it came to matters of money he was not one to easily give up.

~*~

One day Nemichand came to know Sajjan was looking for a plot of land to set up his orphanage. He decided to approach Sajjan directly. A week later he went to Sajjan with a proposal.

"Sajjan, I learnt that you want to buy a plot of land for an orphanage."

"Yes, I have been on the lookout for quite sometime but I'm not getting anything suitable."

"I know a real estate agent. I had a talk with him. There is a plot of land between Tilaknagar and our village. It is 3000 square metres."

"What is the price?"

"Two lakh rupees."

"That is too much, I cannot afford that."

"I can lend you the money."

"Can you?"

"Yes, why not? But you'll have to mortgage your house."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that if you are unable to repay the amount on time the house will belong to me."

Sajjan remained silent for sometime and then asked,"Can I see the land?"

"Why not?" Nemichand said and straight away took Sajjan to see the plot of land. It was hardly five kilometres from Sajjan's house. The location too was ideal with a park on one side and a Hanuman Temple on the other.

After they returned to Haryalpur, Sajjan told Nemichand, "I'll think it over and get back to you."

The whole evening Sajjan kept thinking about the proposal. The more he thought about it the more he liked it. The land was exactly what he had always wanted. It was quite close to his house so that he could keep an eye on the orphanage when it came up. It was not very costly, considering the location. And Nemichand was charging him only 12 per cent interest whereas the market rate was around 15 per cent. Moreover, he had to pay back the loan over a period of three years which would not be all that difficult. Besides, Nemichand had used his clout with the estate agent to bring the price down to one lakh seventy thousand rupees. The only thing that worried him slightly was the mortgage. But he brushed it aside. Surely, with the way his farm was yielding sugarcane it would be easy for him to pay the installments and clear the loan in three years.

~*~

"I'll buy the plot," Sajjan told Nemichand the next day.

Nemichand was elated and he shook hands with Sajjan.

"You will never regret this decision," he said.

Over the next two days all the papers were signed. The legal aspects were looked into by Dattani, the lawyer suggested by Nemichand and Sajjan was now the proud owner of a plot of land where he would build 'Ashray'- his dream orphanage.

A month later tragedy struck. A fire broke out in the night and destroyed his sugarcane farm. When he woke up in the morning the farm was reduced to a rubble. No one could tell how or when the fire broke out. This time the sugarcane crop had been excellent and Sajjan was sure he would be able to sell it and with the money repay at least three installments of the loan he had taken from Nemichand. Now all his savings would go in rehabilitating his farm. He would have to sell back his land and repay the loan to Nemichand.

The next day he went to Nemichand.

"I was very sorry to hear about your farm. How did it happen?"

"No one knows," Sajjan replied and then looking at Nemichand said, "Nemichand, under the circumstances I will not be able to pay back your loan. I have decided to sell my plot of land. Do you want to buy it or should I sell it to someone else and then give you the money?"

Nemichand smiled mysteriously and said, "My dear Sajjan you cannot sell something which is not yours."

"I don't understand," Sajjan said, sure that he hadn't heard right.

"That land belongs to the Tilaknagar Municipal Corporation."

"What...b..but I paid one lakh seventy five thousand for it," stammered Sajjan.

"I am not denying it dear Sajjan. But you shouldn't forget that the real estate agent Vijju Shah is a real scoundrel and a dear friend of mine. He showed you a few forged documents and made you sign a few useless papers and you thought you had become a land lord."

"What about Dattani, the lawyer?"

"He too is a dear friend of mine. He helped me in organising this farce."

"Why you rascal! I'll strangle you for this."

"You are standing right now under my roof. If you dare to touch me I'll have you put behind bars. Moreover, you should not forget you are at my mercy. The house you are living in at this moment belongs to me."

"Your house?"

"Yes. My dear Sajjan if you carefully look at the agreement, there is a small clause which says that if there is even a single day's delay in paying any installment I can take possession of the house. Your first installment was due yesterday and you haven't yet paid me. So I have every right to seize your house," Nemichand said handing him a copy of the agreement.

Sajjan glanced at the portion marked in red and his face turned white. How could he have been stupid enough to be duped so easily by Nemichand? He tottered out of Nemichand's house his future in shambles.

Over the next few days he consulted several lawyers to confirm whether what Nemichand was claiming was right or not. All of them told him the same thing - that he had been conned by Nemichand thoroughly.

Sajjan sold his farm to his neighbour Sukhiram for a pittance and left the village taking with him whatever savings he had.

~*~

The house proved lucky for Nemichand. He converted it into a dhaba and named it Neemsarai. It proved an instant hit because of its location. In a few months, Nemichand expanded it further. Two years later he had enough savings to open another dhaba a few kilometres down the road. He named it Neemsarai Two. Over the next four years Nemichand opened a four more Neemsarai Dhabas in the towns and villages surrounding Tilaknagar and quite soon became the richest man in Haryalpur.

~*~

One day a middle aged man presented himself before Nemichand. He was tall and broad shouldered with shoulder length hair that had started graying and a thick salt and pepper beard. He had a solemn but pleasant face and bright unblinking eyes.

"Sir, I have come to know that you are looking for the post of a manager for your chain of dhabas."

"Yes, I am." Nemichand was a stingy and suspicious employer. He would pay his managers a pittance but make them worked night and day. That was the reason why every few months there was a vacancy.

Nemichand looked carefully at the man standing before him and like what he saw. "What is your name? And where are you from?"

"Muralidhar is my name and I am from the town of Piharnagar."

"Do you have any references?"

"Yes, of course." Muralidhar removed a sheaf of papers from the sling bag he was carrying and handed them to Nemichand.

Nemichand glanced through the papers. The references were very impressive.

"Why did you leave your previous employment?"

"Sir, the town life didn't suit me. There is too much pollution there."

"Your references are very good. I would like to keep you but I wouldn't be able to pay you much till you prove yourself."

"Sir, I will not take a singly paise till you are satisfied with me - even if it means going without pay for six months or even a year."

Nemichand was pleased to hear that. Already a plan was forming in his mind: 'I'll make this fellow slog free of cost for eleven months and then chuck him out on some pretext. That way I'll be saving on a year's salary'.

"Okay then you start work from tomorrow itself," Nemichand told Muralidhar.

~*~

Muralidhar turned out to be a gem. He was intelligent, hardworking and most important scrupulously honest. The staff loved him because he was kind and considerate. Very soon all the six dhabas started performing even better and Nemichand was delighted. He called Muralidhar to his chamber and broached the topic of his pay.

"No, sir. I have decided I will take my first pay only after the profits have been doubled," he said and quietly walked out. Nemichand was ecstatic. 

~*~

One day Muralidhar came to him and handed him a bundle of hundred rupee notes.

"What is this?"

"Sir, this morning when you came to my room to check yesterday's accounts you dropped this packet. It contains five thousand rupees from last night's collection.

Nemichand took the money. He couldn't remember keeping that much money in his pocket. Anyway, he firmly believed in the well known Hindi proverb -'When Goddess Lakshmi comes home she should never be sent back'.

Nemichand kept the money in his pocket secretly admiring Muralidhar's honesty.

~*~

It was more than a year since Muralidhar had joined and the profits had actually doubled.
Nemichand called Muralidhar to his chamber.

"Murali I am very happy with you. Now since the profits have doubled you will have no problem in accepting your pay," Nemichand said handing him a packet. "It is ten thousand rupees."

"Ten thousand!"

"Why? Is it too less?" Nemichand asked slightly alarmed.

"No sir, it is much more than I deserve. I was thinking in the range of four to five thousand."

"No, no you deserve it," mumbled Nemichand cursing himself for his largesse. He could have easily got away by giving five thousand, unnecessary he had doled out ten thousand rupees.

~*~

Very soon the entire management of the chain of dhabas was taken over by Muralidhar. Nemichand found he could just sit back and relax. Gradually he started getting bored. One day he called Muralidhar to his chamber. "Hey Murali you are managing the entire show and I have nothing to do. I am feeling bored."

"Why don't you develop a hobby?"

"A hobby at my age. I am soon going to be fifty."

"It is never to late pick up a hobby - something interesting like chess - the game of the royals."

"Chess!" Nemichand sat up he quite liked the idea. It would suit the image he was trying to cultivate of a rich, successful man with a regal taste and bearing.

"But I don"t know how to play."

"No problem sir. I can teach you. I play reasonably well.

And so every evening in Nemichand's house the chess coaching was conducted.

A week later Muralidhar told him. "Sir, I think you have picked up very fast. Your concentration and sharpness are quite remarkable."

Nemichand was thrilled.

"Come let us play another game. And this time Murali play seriously. Let us see whether I will be able to beat you."

They played a game which lasted for six hours - well past midnight. Ultimately Muralidhar got up.

"Sir, I admit defeat, your are too good. I never thought a day would come when you would beat me."

Nemichand was on cloud nine. Chess soon became his obsession. Anyone in the village, who knew how to play chess, was invited for a game. Invariably Nemichand won. Soon there was no one in Haryalpur who could challenge him.

One day Nemichand told Muralidhar,"I no longer get any thrill in playing chess. I have no competition. In Haryalpur as well as in the nearby villages there is no one who can beat me.

"Sir there is one person who might put up a fight."

"Who is it?"

"My distant cousin Govind. He stays in Avtar village."

"That is hardly eighty miles from here. Why don't you invite him? He can be my guest."

"But sir,you will have to play according to his conditions."

"Conditions?"

"Yes, sir. He won't play without betting. You will have to play for either cash or kind. Secondly he won't touch the coins."

"Why?"

"He is very superstitious. He believes if he moves the coins he will lose. I will move the pieces on his behalf. And since he is deaf and dumb he will use the sign language to communicate with me."

"Do you understand sign language?"

"I had stayed with him for a few years and picked it up."

"What if both of you join hands to beat me."

Muralidhar got up abruptly. "Sir if after all this time you still don't trust me it is better I don't stay here."

"No, no Murali, please don't mind. I was only joking. I have full faith in you. Please sit down."
Muralidhar sat down.

After sometime Nemichand spoke."It think it will be fun. Why don't you get Govind this Sunday?"

~*~

Govind turned out to be a rotund man with buck teeth and a toothbrush moustache. He looked more like a comedian in a village play rather than a chess wizard.

"Sir, Govind wants to play for high stakes."

"Murali, please tell him that we can start with five thousand rupees and then gradually increase," Nemichand replied. He didn't want to take a desperate plunge without testing the waters.

And so the championship started.

By the end of the day Nemichand had won six games and lost four. His net profit was eight thousand four hundred.

"Sir, Govind is getting bored. He wants to increase the stakes."

"What does he have in mind?"

"He says if he loses he will give you ten lakhs in cash and if you lose you have to sell him Neemsarai dhaba for one rupee."

Nemichand hesitated. But he was sure he would be able to beat Govind. He had won the last three games in a row. If he could beat him he would win ten lakh rupees - that was more than the annual profit from all his dhabas.

"I want my lawyer to draw out the agreement."

"No problem I'll call Mr.Dattani and he will be here within an hour with the agreement."

Dattani came with agreement and Nemichand and Govind took turns reading the terms of the agreement. They signed the agreement and the game began.

Exactly five minutes later, Muralidhar said softly, "Check and mate," and got up.

Nemichand stared dumbfounded, first at the chess board and then at Muralidhar. He couldn't believe his eyes. Except when he was learning chess he had never lost this badly. It was the most humiliating defeat he had ever suffered and that too when he had made the biggest wager of his life.

"Sit down Muralidhar. Only the battle is over, not the war. I want to play another game with the same terms."

"Sir, I don't think you should play. My cousin seems to be rare form. You will only lose."

"That's what you think," Nemichand snapped and turning to Dattani shouted, "Make another agreement. If I win, I get back Neemsarai or I lose my second dhaba."

Ten minutes later the papers had been hurriedly signed another game started. This time the end was even quicker. In three minutes the game was over and Nemichand had lost his second hotel.

"I don't care what happens.I am going to play another game," Nemichand screamed. He seemed to have gone mad with frustration.

"Calm down sir," Muralidhar said and turning to Govind conversed with him.

"Sir, my friend is refusing to play."

"Why? Is he scared I'll beat him. He can't go away after taking away two of my hotels. He has to give me a chance to win them back."

"That is into the reason sir. He has enough money to buy all your hotels. He now says there is no real challenge in playing for such small stakes."

"What does he want to play for."

"He says he will give you fifty lakhs and return the two hotels he has won if he loses the next game to you."

"And if I lose?"

"Then you should give him all your remaining hotels, this house, your savings in the bank and everything else you have except the clothes on your body."

"That is too much," Nemichand protested.

Govind got up in a huff.

"Sir, if you don't agree Govind will simply walk out," Muralidhar said.

"Okay, okay," Nemichand said and then muttered under his breath, "Just you wait, you rascal Govind, I'll win not only this bet but many others and reduce you to the status of a pauper."

Yet another agreement was drafted, signed and the game began.

Nemichand was sweating profusely. His heart was hammering in his chest. He tried his best to concentrate and deliberated on each and every move for a long time. The game lasted almost an hour. Just when it looked as if Govind was cornered, he gestured to Muralidhar and in three moves the game was all over. Nemichand had lost the game and with it everything he owned. He closed his eyes and collapsed on the sofa, his face a crumpled mass.

"So my dear Nemichand how does it feel to lose everything in one stroke." The voice was known but the tone was altogether different. Startled he looked up.

Right in front of him was a vaguely familiar face.

"S...Sajjan Singh," Nemichand stammered looking around. Dattani and Govind had disappeared and even Muralidhar was not to be seen.

"Where did you come from... and where is Mu...Murali - " Nemichand began and then stopped abruptly. It then struck him - standing before him was Muralidhar minus his thick beard and his long hair. For eighteen months Sajjan had been working with him disguised as Muralidhar and he had been unable to recognize him.

"After you took everything of mine I left the village completely shattered. It was not the loss of money and property that hurt me as much as the betrayal of trust. A person like me who had never cheated anyone had been duped. Now my primary ambition in life was to teach you a lesson for betraying my trust. I went and worked for a businessman who ran a hotel. That is where I learn the art and science of hotel management. His son is a state chess champion and he taught me how to play chess. I kept track of the developments in your life. When sufficient time had passed for me to remain only a gray zone in your memory I decided to assume another identity and presented myself before you. Slowly and surely I won your confidence. I even gave you five thousand from my hard earned savings to convince you about my honesty. When you mentioned you were getting bored a plan started forming in my mind. The scheme finally culminated today."

"B...but Govind?"

"Govind is an artist from a village theatre group whom I hired for five hundred rupees. Before getting him here I made him sign an agreement that whatever was won on his behalf would automatically belong to me. I played the game of chess while Govind made meaningless gestures for your consumption."

Nemichand heard everything in silence. He didn't know what to say.

"So my dear Nemichand, now that everything you have belongs to me can ask you to get out of my house and not show your wicked face to me again?"

Nemichand at last found his voice. "Please Sajjan don't do this to me. At my age where will I go. I don't even know any skill, I am not well educated, who will give me a job. I'll starve to death."

"You should have thought of that before you betrayed me."

"I am sorry, I am terribly sorry, Sajjan. Please forgive me," Nemichand got down on his knees and pleaded.

"Get up Nemichand. Don't demean yourself so much for the sake of money. When I lost everything did I fall at your feet? No, I simply walked out with dignity, struggled and made something of my life. Anyway, I am not interested in your wealth. I enacted this drama only to teach you a lesson. I only want back from you what you took from me. You hired people to set fire to my farm, you swindled out of me two lakhs and the house - all this works out to around three lakhs twenty thousand rupees. You write a cheque for the amount and I'll leave. This money will enable me to setup the orphanage for children."

The Betrayal Ten minutes later Sajjan walked out of the house after giving back everything he had won and only a cheque for three lakhs twenty thousand in his pocket.

~*~

The next day when Sajjan went to the bank to present the cheque he found Nemichand standing there.

"What happened Nemichand? After getting back your wealth have you change your mind about giving me even the little that is my due?"

"No, no," Nemichand said. "The whole night I couldn't sleep. I kept tossing and turning. The lesson you taught me has really opened my eyes. I now find that money and riches have lost their charm for me. I have spent my entire life chasing wealth. At least now in the autumn of my life let me contribute to a good cause. If you permit me I would like to sell my assets and help you set up your orphanage."

Sajjan looked at him in surprise. "Are you sure you want to do this or is this yet another scheme to swindle me?"

"No, no Sajjan please believe me. I want to repent for my sins and this is the only way to do it. Please allow me to be a part of your dream project. I'll be forever grateful to you."

~*~

Today, dear reader if you happen to visit Tilaknagar go across to Indira Colony. There behind Roshan Park you will see a huge bright building called 'Ashray'. If you take a tour of the building you will find children of all ages and sizes studying, playing, singing and dancing together. In the grounds there is also a nursery with flowers of every possible variety. There, right in the middle is a swing opposite which a group of three year olds is reciting nursery rhymes. On the swing gently swaying to the dulcet tunes of 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' and 'Mary had a little lamb' are two men clad in spotless white dhoti and kurta. Old and wrinkled they look fragile. But on their faces is a serenity which is beautiful to behold. There names? Surely, dear reader you couldn't have forgotten already - Sajjan Singh and Nemichand Jain.

Image under license with Gettyimages.com

18-Aug-2007
 
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